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Perennial Dues

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"You can't ask that of me!"

"It's the only way."

It is. Why can't he just accept it?

"After all we've been through! You've seen what kind of madness these things lead to. You want to repeat this disaster, all over again? Have you lost your mind?"

"It's different this time!"

"That's what people always say before fucking up big time!" Dorian mentions bitterly. "Like Alexius! Or Solas!"

She steps forward, invading his space. "Corypheus is dead, Solas is not! It's too late now. Everything is in shambles," she gestures to a nearby window and the pandemonium unfurling behind it. "I'm the only one who could have stopped him, and he has complete control over me! The sky is torn open, we're ass-deep in demons and everything is dying! The Anchor is gone, what other solutions do we have?"

A trembling sigh escapes the man as he glances at the door. "I need to go."

"No!" She grabs his collar and holds him there, lower lip shaking.

"Evelyn, release me," he orders softly, almost pleading. "I need to leave before you start to make sense."

Her head wildly sways left and right. "Just listen..."

"I can't. You'll get into my head, and I'll simply give in to your crazy demands, as always."

"I need you." She sobs. "Please. I can't do this alone, I don't know how... You have to teach me."

"Why? To save us, or to save him?"

"...Both."

His scowl deepens. "Why can't you save yourself for once? He wanted you safe. He said Skyhold would be safe, he told you to stay there. Why can't you do as you're told?"

A caustic chuckle finds its way out of her cringing mouth. "To what end? It's over. You said it yourself, I am but a shell of my former self."

She almost regrets the reminder when she catches the heartbroken gleam within his hard stare.

"Don't use my words against me, it's not fair." He still takes care to wipe off her tears, however peeved he is at the moment.

"Dorian." Her throat constricts painfully.

Somehow, the tight grip she has on him loosens, and he recedes toward the entrance of the small cottage in which they'd found refuge.

He halts at the doorway, irresolute, and looks at her over his shoulder. "I will not be part of this. I won't partake in your suicidal whims. How selfish of you to even ask..."

The door closes behind him, the sound of finality echoing through the walls.


---------


Two hours later, Dorian returns.

The two friends have considerably regained their composure by now.

"Traveling back in time, two times in a row? I always knew you were ambitious." His usual sarcasm has returned with him, and everything is back to normal.

"It's risky, but what choice do I have? I doubt the elves I'll encounter will give me a very warm welcome. Not all of them, at least. I'll need my arm, and the Anchor. And I can't afford to stay under the influence of the Well. If Mythal is still alive when I go back, she would have complete control over me. What chance does a puppet have against an elven pantheon?"

If she can get her companion to agree to her scheme, she knows exactly which period of time to return to, first. The brief interlude in which her beloved had disappeared after the death of his spirit friend is the perfect option here.

She can't risk crossing paths with Solas again.

She just can't.

Not before the execution of her plan.

"Good thinking. I keep forgetting that you're possessed by... whatever they are." His voice drops near the end, as if they could be invoked just by speaking about them.

"Well, I don't. Imagine having an army of condescending Solas in your head. Permanently." She pictures sourly.

Dorian shudders, his body visibly offended by the very idea. "Dreadful."

The Tevinter caves in, as he had predicted, spending the next hours teaching the spell he had crafted in Minrathous—and all its clever and various subtleties—to his former Inquisitor with a tranquil resignation.

That's how it's always been for them. They'll quarrel, sometimes for hours, sometimes for a minute. Eventually their respective arguments will begin to run in circles, until any hope of reaching an agreement perishes. Both will pout and brood in their own corner. Then comes the blessed truce everyone in the vicinity of the feud—or anyone with ears, really—has been waiting for. Or in other words, the moment poor magister Pavus finally capitulates.

"Assuming that the Eluvians are still unlocked when I arrive, travel shouldn't pose too much of a problem." Evelyn says, the magic portal she's just learned to conjure with the help of Alexius' amulet expanding gradually in the background. "I'll just have to find the Crossroads, without Morrigan's help this time..." she mutters, deep in thought.

"Using the mark to open a rift there might work."

"The rifts I used to open led to the Fade. The Crossroads are in between."

"Who knows? It was just a suggestion. I'm sure you'll figure something out."

"I hope so."

"If this works, you'll need to find information on your whereabouts and the political climate," he says. "Which part of history has already happened, and which hasn't."

"Then the Shattered Library might be my best bet."

The Archivist had told her he once knew everything, after all.

"Depending on what time frame you stumble into, it might not even be shattered at all." He implies in a savvy tone.

"That would be most helpful, yes."

"It would also mean that the Veil has yet to be created. And that our dear Solas—"

"Isn't busy snoring peacefully in some unknown location, waiting for me to swoop in to deliver the killing blow." She concludes for him.

"Would you?" The light twitch of his mustache tells her he's not very convinced.

"If I don't have any other alternative... Which I don't, at the moment."

She could either take on this particular path, or try to stop Solas from creating the Veil and banishing the evanuris altogether, by saving Mythal from her brethren's greed.

But then... What of them? Her friends... What of all the good people who had fought tooth and nail to bring the Inquisition to what it was prior to its dismantlement? With no record of human life predating the creation of Fen'Harel's impromptu barrier, she couldn't be sure she wouldn't be condemning her own people in the process.

He said this world had to die for the elves to return to their former glory. Why?

"Even having your back against the wall has never allowed you to choose the most fatalistic options before." Disclaims her confidant, wrenching her back to the present. "Especially in regards of the people you love. I don't see why it would now."

"Solas hasn't always been the man we know. He used to be cocky and hot-blooded."

"Ah, the exuberance of youth..." the Tevinter mage sighs dreamily.

"If he's anything close to the pompous ancient elves we've heard so much about, he might be easier to loathe. Easier to..."

She can't bring herself to say it.

"Murder?"

But she can always count on Dorian for a reality check.

"Don't say that."

His eyebrows rise in fake mockery. "Why not? It's a word. And it describes your intent perfectly."

"Dorian."

"Don't fool yourself, my friend." He admonishes tenderly, a hand on her shoulder. "You couldn't end his life even if he held a dagger to your throat."

Evelyn scoffs. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. I'm trying over here."

"Don't mistake my honesty for a lack of credence. You can do this. I have faith in you, Inquisitor."

"Don't use that title, not anymore." Her eyes drift close for a short moment.

"Come now," he tilts his head, like he's trying to be cute, "you'll always be the Inquisitor to us. Disbanded or not."

Beside them, the greenish portal dilates significantly, a sign the spell is nearing completion, magic crackling louder by the minute. A raw panic surges through her at the prospect of being dragged inside it without being able to say goodbye in time. She couldn't bid a proper farewell to the love of her life when he'd vanished without a word. She's not going to squander this rare opportunity by making the same mistake with Dorian.

At this thought, she practically hurls herself into his arms, her own locking snugly around his neck.

"I'm gonna miss you," she whispers into his neck.

"So will I," his tone pours the sentiment into the admission.

She draws back, a worried frown wrinkling her smooth and youthful face. "What if we never see each other again? What if... you don't even come to exist? Any of you?"

His grip on her tightens feebly, his azure gaze plunged into hers. "Then I'll have to stop existing knowing I did what I could to save this world, and my friends. And had a mighty great time doing it, by the bye." He appends with a light voice.

"It wasn't always rainbows and lilies."

"Meeting you was worth it. I'd do it a thousand times over, if necessary."

She's tired of crying, but her eyes aren't too concerned about her opinions apparently. "Stop it."

Once again, his thumbs find her moist cheeks. "Go. I can't afford to weep like a damsel on our last moments together. Tears ruin my good looks, and I have a reputation to uphold."

That rips a laugh out of her. "And I don't?"

"Darling, you look fabulous in any circumstances."

"You sound like Vivienne."

"See? I'm already turning into a woman." He winces. "Out with you."

A small push to her back sends her reeling closer to the magical gateway.

She rotates, unwilling to waste her last chance of commiting his complacent mien to memory. "I'll see you around, Dorian."

"I'll hold you to it. Goodbye, Evelyn."

His words and image progressively distort before she gets absorbed by the portal.


---------


She gets to work immediately.

Luckily, the spell had brought her back in a secluded area of Skyhold—that abandoned underground study full of spiderwebs—with no one around to witness their so-called herald materializing out of nowhere.

Her restored left arm feels more like a dead weight than a second chance.

No matter. She can concentrate on that detail later.

Evelyn briskly sets off, sneaking upstairs to the living quarters with a determined gait. Checking left and right to ensure the corridor is truly vacant, she then picks the lock of Dorian's bedroom door to retrieve the amulet he secretly keeps among his possessions.

A grounding reminder of the nightmare that could have been, he'd said.

Passing through Solas' study to get to the library is a tribulation in itself. How many hours had she spent contemplating his murals, in search of the tiniest clue about his reasons for absconding out of the blue? She didn't get the comfort of parting words, so she'd had to find it elsewhere.

Two horrid years of waiting... What did it get her in the end? Some answers, sure. And the crappiest reunion she could have imagined. Severing her forearm hadn't been enough, the selfish bastard had to kiss her while doing it.

Give her one last taste of what she'd never get to experience again.

His second desertion had proved more hurtful than the last. More painful than the loss of her hand. And all their ensuing meetings had resulted in failed attempts to deter his deluded plans. Her lover was set in his ways. Inflexible, even when faced with her distress. Oh, he'd looked torn alright. Miserable for being the sole cause of her anguish. But it had changed nothing.

She had changed nothing.

And now, all because of his folly, she's stuck in the past trying to play it cool while she ransacks the library just to fetch a fucking map. The tranquil researcher doesn't seem fazed by her frantic behavior. Merely disapproving. And by some kind of miracle, she's the only one around to witness it.

Found it! Finally!

Evelyn grabs the cursed map, a very old thing she'd came upon while scouring an ancient elvhen ruin during one of her excursions in the Dales. It's awfully similar to the usual map of Thedas people normally use, but with some variations here and there. And it's supposed to depict Elvhenan as it was before the kingdom's self-annihilation.

Might come in handy.

Deliberately overlooking the reverent glances some of the servants throw her way as she crosses path with them, she retreats to her quarters, ready to prepare for the journey to come.

In a rush, she slides her daggers inside the sheaths hooked to her belts and pulls her hair up in a messy bun before throwing a black cloak over her shoulders. She then loads her pack with a bedroll, some clothes, her precious map, a bit of food, a towel and some other useful stuff, and once ultimately satisfied with the contents of her ample knapsack, casts her spell.

Please, let this work.

Restless, Evelyn continuously paces back and forth as Dorian's trinket hovers above her rugs, right in the center of the room.

She needs to focus.

It's too early to decide what to do. To dwell on her options, when she still hasn't even got to the time-travel part. She's not even sure the spell is going to work as intended. Going back to Skyhold as the Inquisitor is child's play compared to what she's trying to accomplish here. She exists in that time, remembers it like it was yesterday, knows all there is to know about it. So of course, painting a picture of it in her mind so that the amulet can conjure it up and give her the opportunity to come back is simple.

But it's not like she knows anything about Arlathan, or what to expect from that period. Nothing concrete, in any case. Yes, she can reconstruct a mental image of what she thinks ancient Arlathan is supposed to be, but it doesn't garantee she's doing it right. What if the few facts she's come to learn about the old days are not enough? What if some of them aren't even accurate?

It would defeat the purpose. Could make things dangerous, perhaps.

There's also the matter of blending in with the elves.

She 'd have no problem understanding them, at least. Throughout her childhood, her old Dalish nanny had started her erudition in the old tongue, giving away precious bits and pieces of what once was at Evelyn's own request. Solas had enthusiastically strenghtened that knowledge during their time in Skyhold, and ultimately, the voices of the Well of Sorrow had brought the final touch to her linguistic education by revealing the plethora of nuances that elvhen language used to hold.

And yet, there's so much she still ignores...

Despite her best efforts, she already suspects she would stick out like a sore thumb among them, what with her ears, the freakish mark in her hand and all her very human... characteristics. Particularly her lack of knowledge on anything related to the Fade.

Quite a dead giveaway for people who were used to live in a world without veil.

Eventually, the magic operates. A vivid blur of green and blue appear on the other side of the portal. After a bit of squinting, she manages to make out a large pond, surrounded by trees. Everything seems exorbitantly colorful. The vision reminds her of the Emerald Graves, which might be a good omen.

There's no way to be certain unless she tries, anyway.

Fuck it.

With her bag equipped, she surges through the portal in a glare of light as violent as she remembers it from so many years ago, after Alexius' defeat. She doesn't recall brutally blundering into a hard body at the time, however.

Whoever she has crashed into groans, their fall cushioned by lush blades of grass. Recovering from the collision, the Inquisitor looks down to see to whom the ragged breaths she's hearing belong. An elvhen woman with barely any flesh on her bones, and dressed in what could only be labelled as rags, cowers before her. Falon'din's vallaslin adorns her face, cruel vines stretching across her forehead and halting right below her hairline. Her exhausted and dishevelled state makes it clear she has been running from something for a long while.

Bits of fluent elvhen pour out of trembling, dry lips in quick succession.

To say that the lass seems terrified would be an euphemism. Her wide eyes kept traveling between the now fading portal behind Trevelyan and the human's gaze, not knowing what to make of them.

The latter leans forward, invading the wench's space very slowly and carefully until they are almost nose to nose.

"Did Master send you? Please—"

"Shhh..." Evelyn hushes, so softly that she'd think the girl had missed it, if not for the anxious twitch of her ears. "You are a slave," she realizes with a frown. "Poor thing."

She does her best to convey her peaceful intentions through her gaze, giving the escapee time to compose herself once she finally perceives that the stranger facing her means no harm.

"Were you seeking shelter from your pursuers?" She wonders out loud.

The elf stares at her mouth, shaking her head. "I don't understand..."

Assembling memories of a spell Solas had taught her in the past to the forefront of her mind, Evelyn lifts her extremities until they hover above the elf's marred features, who flinches back in alarm. After an instant, turquoise light spreads across her hands. The lass ceases all movement, temporarily hypnotized by the magic currently hindering her view.

Soon, no traces of the disgraceful tattoos are left. The rogue-mage leans back, admiring her handiwork.

"Ar lasa mala revas..." she announces with a warm smile.

The elf blinks in surprise at the recognition of her tongue, before leaping toward the lake behind her, using the water as an ersatz mirror to track down any change performed to her face. A sharp gasp escapes her at the sight of her reflection, dainty fingers tracing her now bare cheeks in a mix of shock and wonder.

She turns back to the Inquisitor, still smiling down at her.

"What are you?" She whispers, finally standing up.

Their attention divert from each other as voices rise from beyond the trees.

Someone who needs to get a move on.

The ex-slave doesn't seem frightened by their impending company, which drives her to think she might have been looking for someone prior to Evelyn's arrival.

Still, she has to make sure the girl would be safe before moving on.

"Lethallen?" She questions, a finger pointing in the strangers' direction.

The elf nods, confirming her suspicions. Relieved, she starts to swiftly walk away, flipping the hood of her cloak over her head.

"Wait!"

She ignores the plea, aware that drawing too much attention to herself before she had even reached the ancient library would be a terrible idea.

Something in the air feels... different. Like an unvarying vibration against her skin. No. Not her skin.

My magic.

Her power is somewhat... untethered, compared to what she's been accustomed to. It's strangely refreshing. The sensation of burden attached to it since her birth is utterly gone.

Maybe the Fade is interfering with it.

Which must mean the Veil does not exist yet. And by extension, that the false gods are still around.

Nice! I'm just on time for the next catastrophe. Punctuality's always been my forte.

Disoriented, she walks for what feels like an eternity. Or totters more like.

No path in sight for miles.

Then again, this actual empire didn't have a need for those, from what she had learned of their culture.

Nature is unforgiving here, and every new step requires more effort than the last. Having magic mirrors to travel around is great and all, but the fact that a race as complex and magically advanced as the People had never even considered the concept of roads bewilders her.

In their place, thick roots and vines hide under large and treacherously flat leaves that give the ground a falsely plane and solid aspect. Until someone puts their foot on it, that is.

For all its beauty, elvhen wilderness turns out to be... unpractical.

Extremely unpractical.

How does anyone navigate through these woods? Even a snake wouldn't find its way past these plants.

Meanwhile, dusk is starting to settle across the sky.

Of course. Why would fate teleport me back during daytime? It's way more amusing if I can't see shit!

Minutes later, she miraculously manages to reach a clearing.

Now far from prying eyes, she crouches down to the forest floor and retrieves her map of ancient Elvhenan from her pack, along with an enchanted pendant hanging from a silver chain. Evelyn lays the paper down and dangles the necklace over it. Pale eyelids slip close as she concentrates on her desire to determine her current whereabouts. Her gadget instantly start spinning in a wide circle.

The crystal twirls more and more, faster and faster, and suddenly, darts harshly onto the scroll. As she attempts to take a closer look at her revealed location, the acute sensation of being watched stills her.

Her eyes inch up by degrees to rest on her ghostly intruder.

A pale, grey silhouette stands before her. No... floats. The form of it reminds her of the green phantoms she had met in the Fade while trying to reclaim her stolen souvenirs.

"Are you lost?" An ethereal, masculine voice inquires in elvhen.

Ignore it.

Her focus returns to the map.

The Arbor Wilds? Huh, interesting. Way more interesting than that thing in front of you, don't look at it.

She does, fool that she is.

"How do you withstand it?" it proceeds, spurred on by the renewed attention.

"Withstand what?"

Shut. Up.

It waits a while to reply, taken aback by her unfamiliar speech.

"The pain."

Good question. How does she?

"I take a breath, and move on," she sums up, shoving her stuff back inside her pack before slinging it over her shoulder.

Its translucent head tilts to one side. "But its weight... You should be crumbling under it."

"I can endure much more than my small stature lets on," she says, knowing the thing is probably used to only seeing elves.

Tall, broad-shouldered elves.

An image of Mythal's Sentinels pops in her mind at the thought.

"Clearly."

Deciding to push on, she sinks deeper into the forest, and ends up realizing that the newcomer has no intention to leave when she espies the faded figure wafting at her side from the corner of her eyes.

"Do you intent to follow me wherever I go?"

"For now," it replies honestly.

Awkwardly, she keeps thumbing the straps of her bag. "Well then, you could at least give me your name. You are a spirit, right?"

Please, don't be a demon.

She sincerely doubts it, but knowing her luck...

"Obviously. My name is Grief."

She snorts. "Of course."

Of course the first thing she'd attract would be rather depressing than encouraging. How fitting.

"You intrigue me," it asserts.

"How so?"

"You are strange. Unusual. Incomplete...?" It seems unsure about its choice of word.

"Ah, it's called being dead inside, where I come from." She quips, half-serious.

"That's impossible. Dead things can't feel, and you're full of it," it protests, its voice perpetually dreary.

"Feelings?"

"Sorrow."

Her tight-lipped mouth jerks in vexation. "Figures."

"Which ones?" it questions, scanning their surroundings.

A small smile forms on her lips at the spirit's confusion. "It's an expression. It means I should have expected that answer."

"Your words are unfamiliar. I've never heard anyone of the People speak them. I'm glad I can still understand you."

She stops, glancing around helplessly. Time to face the truth, she's lost. She has no idea where to go from here and her map is certainly not going to show her where to find an Eluvian on its own.

"What do you seek?" asks the spirit, sensing her concern.

"I'm not sure I should tell you..." it almost sounds like she's sulking.

"Your fear is unnecessary. I would never harm you."

"Would you be willing to keep my destination a secret?" She tries, feeling oddly contrite for refusing to satisfy its curiosity.

"From whom?

"Would you?" she persists.

"If you wish, yes."

"The Crossroads."

"It's an in-between, not an end to one's journey. The only reason for you to be there is to reach some other place. You don't want me to know where you're really going," it guesses.

"It's safer that way."

"How? I mean you no harm."

She sighs, folding her arms. "What if someone sees you with me? What if they ask you to reveal where I'm going? What if they have the means to force answers from you, even if you wish to stay quiet?"

"I understand. You are like no other. You fear the People's reaction to your presence here. To your existence."

She nods. "I heard some of them can be quite the bigots."

"Wherever you go, there will be people."

Evelyn shrugs. "I can deal with curious stares from a confused crowd. But should anyone dangerous start looking for me, I don't want to provide them with ways to hunt me down."

The spirit stays quiet.

"I need the location of the closest Eluvian that could lead me there, if you know of it." She offers, ready to lay down her arms.

"I could guide you," it proposes.

She blinks, surprised by its thoughtfulness. "Thank you."

"Follow me."

They progress quietly through the woods for approximatively half an hour. Night falls in the meantime, with the moon bright enough for her to be able to walk without crashing into every obstacle hindering the way. Albeit the peaceful hush between them is welcome, a detail keeps nagging Trevelyan and pressures her into breaking the ambient silence.

"Why help me?" She can't help but wonder.

"Compassion has been hounding me for hours before I found you. I'd rather keep you company," it admits."You're much more calm. Collected. And..."

"Miserable?"

"Yes."

"...Ouch."

The forest behind them, Grief leads her to the outskirts of a modest town encompassed by wooden ramparts. Up ahead, three elvhen men with the poise of soldiers are lurking in front of the open gates. The tallest of them is busy harassing what resembles a low-ranking citizen while his associates inspect the environs with intense scrutiny.

"Don't worry," reassures the ghost, "we don't need to get inside. There's a shrine on the left side of the stockade. There's an Eluvian there."

Sadly, the duo isn't fortunate enough to pass by unnoticed.

"You. Stop." The woman obeys, turning to face the pair who had just beckoned her. "Who are you?"

Their leather armors seem remarkably intricate, to the point where she wonders how they even managed to put it on in the first place. Falon'Din's sigil glimmers on the cuirass.

"A simple traveler," answers Grief.

Evelyn glances at her spectral companion, who leans closer.

"They are wardens of the noble that resides in these parts," it clarifies in her ear.

"We're looking for someone," the bald one of the two discloses. "A slave used the cover of the night to escape the grasp of our Master. She has been missing for twenty-four hours."

"A young girl, frail and skittish, marked with Falon'Din's vallaslin." Details the other one, a blond braid tossed over his shoulder.

"That sounds like the average female slave, vallaslin apart. Don't you have more information?" She presses innocently.

"No. We've never seen the slave ourselves. Her markings should be enough to go by."

You might have just saved the poor girl, Evelyn. Maybe you're not that useless.

Her shoulders rise and fall in quick succession. "Well, I haven't seen anyone that looked like a fugitive."

She tries to slip away, but a warm hand grips her wrist.

"Who said you could go? We're not finished," says the towhead.

The third guard rejoins their little group, gear similar to his comrades', if not a little more lavish. Probably the leader. Loose raven strands frame his angular face as he slants toward her.

"What sort of abomination is that?" His dark eyes sweep over her in a way that nearly makes her squirm.

"No idea. It has our magic, but its connexion is severed." Answers the bald man.

"Its bust is larger than most." The leader's attention is glued onto her cleavage.

Evelyn wraps her cloak a little tighter around her.

"A peculiar sort of demon, maybe? Here to tempt some poor souls with the call of the flesh?"

"Should we offer it to the Master as a new toy? Perhaps it would compensate for the loss of the previous one."

Great. She barely got here and the locals are already starting to piss her off.

"What is your name, creature? Desire? Lust?" The blond queries.

"She is no spirit." Informs Grief solemnly.

"Yes, you would know," mumbles the dark-haired elf. "Come here, let us take a look at you."

She backs away before his grasping fingers can graze her hood. Letting them see her ears would certainly make things worse.

"I'd keep my hands to myself, if I were you."

"Or what?" The grin he flashes her is absolutely deviant.

"Or you won't be keeping them for long."

The firmness of her tone leaves no room for misunderstanding.

Unfortunately for him, the fool does not heed the threat, pushing his luck by touching her anew.

Fast as lightning, she knocks out his two companions before leaping through the shadows to flank him from behind, a dagger at his throat. She feels him swallow against the blade.

"Can't say I didn't warn you."

Merciful, she pushes him away and the man casts a downward glance at his listless colleagues.

"You'll pay for this, little... thing."  He sneers. "The Master will see to that. No one insults the humble warriors serving a follower of Falon'Din and walks away unpunished."

"You're no warrior. You're a joke." She boldly states as she retreats from the half-unconscious group.

"What did it say?"

"Nothing," lies the spirit, falling into step with her a second later. "We'll be on our way."

Grief and Evelyn make their way to the shrine at a leisurely pace, loftily unbothered by the outraged mercenaries left behind.

"You're more pugnacious than I thought," confesses her new friend.

"Those who treat people like property tend to get on my nerves rather quickly."

"Thankfully, we shouldn't run into further trouble. There shouldn't be too much people around. No one that holds any sort of infuence, anyway."

"Why's that?"

"Festivities have been undergoing for weeks in Arlathan. It is conventional for anyone of the slightest significance to attend."

She frowns. "What's the occasion?"

"The evanuris don't need a reason to celebrate."

She'd recognize that tone anywhere. "You disapprove?"

"I do not care for frivolity. Sad souls usually avoid gatherings such as these, so I have no reason to be present."

One of Evelyn's dark eyebrows skeptically arches. "Ah, not enough despair to pique your interest?"

"None like yours."

"How flattering..." she huffs wryly.

The path to the sacred sanctum concludes in a dead end. And here, just as Grief had professed, a magical mirror stands between a running waterfall and what the Inquisitor fathoms to be a statue of Falon'din. She'd seen so many of them during her trips through the Emerald Graves, she'd recognize the pointing hooded man anywhere. Flowers sprout all over the arch which hangs above the altar, an owl made of limestone perched at its center. Azure flames flicker from the holes where the bird's eyes should be.

It gives the effigy a sentient countenance. Makes her want to hide from it.

The two of them cross the Eluvian, her ghostly friend taking the lead, and resurface amid crisp, snowy lands. Pines surround the area and snow has dried in some spaces, patches of dirt peeking from underneath the white expanses. Curious, the human halts a moment to repeat her previous ritual with the map. Her enchanted crystal points to the Frostback Mountains. She must look pretty addled since the spirit instantly enlightens her.

"There is another, not far from here."

With weariness grounding her, arising from her crouching stance proves difficult. Her energy had been drooping drastically in the last hour or so.

"Why would they put an Eluvian in the middle of nowhere?"

Ignoring her frustrating lethargy, she continues to walk, the ashen spectre following suit.

"These mountains are brimming with caverns. They are not as deserted as they seem. Also, there are rumors of a meaningful amount of lyrium being present underground."

"I see."

Bet that attracts the vultures. Oh sorry, evanuris.

They find the next mirror in record time, barely hidden between the powdery trees. Grief blocks the way forward before she can even move.

"I sense a form of depletion emanating from within you."

"I'm tired."

Don't tell me fatigue is also a strange occurrence for ancient elves... Isn't it enough to be immortal?

"Your presence at the Crossroads might draw attention. If you must rest, it would be wiser to do so ahead of crossing the Eluvian," reasons Grief.

"...You're right," she exhales.

She can't chance another random confrontation without regaining her strength first.

Scouting the environs, Evelyn takes advantage of a rock shelter present along the mountainside, installing her bedroll beneath its stony roof and proceeding to make camp for the night.

Fire is her only ally against the mountains' freezing heights and the constant gusting wind penetrating obstinately through her clothes. In spite of the incommodious temperatures, the situation could be worse. Precious years spent in both Haven and Skyhold had taught her body how to adequately withstand the cold.

Actually, what if every ordeal she had braved had just been a way to prepare her for this?

"You don't complain much, for someone so damaged," remarks the spirit.

"Nobody likes a whiner," she shrugs.

"The People tend to make a fuss over the pettiest matters."

She snorts silently. "Do they? Sounds accurate."

"Things not going your way is reason enough to feel offended in Arlathan."

"That probably only applies to nobility. I can't imagine slaves and servants are given much room to whinge about their condition."

"Indeed."

Quietude submerges the makeshift camp, and her eyes are drawn to her marked hand.

It looks incredibly wrong. Out of place. As if someone had inelegantly fixed a stranger's arm to her stump. Yet it is hers. So why can't her head wrap itself around the idea? She'd have a few years ahead of her before the Anchor would start killing her again.

Then it will just be another race against time.

Solas had done what he could to make the rending of her limb as painless as possible, but there was nothing he could do about the delayed side effects. The phantom pains would sometimes wake her from her slumber in the middle of the night, and have her clutching her sheets for hours. Not that it was that bothersome, considering that insomnia was already doing a good job at fucking up her rest all by itself.

The only reason she even tried to go to sleep was because she'd see her former lover in her dreams, ever since his grand revelations. That grey wolf with sad glowing eyes... Like a ghost, forever haunting her.

Perhaps she'd be the one to haunt him this time.

Presently however, her lost companions are the ones hounding her thoughts.

What she wouldn't give to catch a glimpse of Dorian's mustache again. Or hear Bull's boisterous laughter at his witty comebacks. She should have gone to Kirkwall to visit Varric, maybe bring Cassandra along. The dwarf would have loved to see what newly disgusted expressions she could pull.

I'm so stupid.

Evelyn could have gotten a tour of that estate he had promised her. Not that she'd ever live in it. It would remind her too much of her dire childhood, spent in that prison her family called a mansion. She wouldn't miss them at least.

They can rot for all I care.

But she's only deluding herself. She'd never have found the time to do all these things, not with Solas tearing down the Veil and unleashing chaos upon the world.

Instead, she has to fix this mess. His mess.

All that's left now that she's stuck in the past, are fond memories to wallow in.

"Who did you lose?" demands Grief randomly.

Ah, the good old sixth sense of beings originating from the Fade will never cease to amaze her. What an incredibly convenient gift.

After a few seconds of internal deliberation, she settles for the truth.

"Everyone."

"Were they killed?"

"In a way."

"Who did it?"

A god? A liar? A betrayer? No.

"A lonely man overcome with guilt," she says, flames casting shadows over her grim face. "I finished the rest by trying to fix his mess. Guess we make quite the pair, him and I." The smile she feigns does not reach her eyes.

Made... Made quite the pair.

"Do you think the hurt will fade one day?"

"I don't know... You're the embodiment of grief, you tell me."

"From what I have witnessed over the centuries, things never seem to get better."

Of course. What kind of comfort was I expecting to get from a gloomy entity?

Wild wolves howl as she lays in her cot, too distant and too close all at once for her to relax. Their desperate cries to the moon plague the first hours of her night, only to lull her to sleep down the line.


---------


She has absolutely no idea what to expect from her dreams tonight, but she gets the intuition she isn't going to like it.

Turns out, she has cause to be worried.

The place she lands in appears dreadfully familiar to the mountains where she's currently sleeping. Hearing soft noises coming from behind her, she turns around and notices a weird silhouette approaching a slightly younger version of herself. The outline of its head reminds her of the Chantry Sisters' uniform. When she finally notices the tents and crates encircling the fire, she realizes it's no one else than the sympathetic Mother Giselle. The campsite looks exactly as it did years ago. Evelyn is the only person clearly recognizable among the crowd, what with the others being depicted by blurry, undefined shapes.

Then the singing starts.

Really? Really?

How can the Fade reenact a piece of history that hasn't come to pass yet?

It's using your memories, dummy.

Completely absorbed by their faithful chant, elves, dwarves and humans alike come to kneel at her feet.

Well, the other Inquisitor's feet, more precisely.

Exasperated, the real Trevelyan shakes her head and sits cross-legged in the snow. Of all the souvenirs to choose from, it had to pick that one.

A minute flows by, and then...

"These people revere you," a female voice rises, close to her right ear.

Evelyn's viridian stare darts in its direction, where a disembodied elvhen woman clad in a dress seats beside her, mimicking her position. Yet it seems too fixated on the offhand performance to pay attention to her. To the human, the spirit's emerald hue immediately evokes the Fade.

"They think me an herald of their god," she answers truthfully.

"Are you?"

"Gods don't exist."

It finally turns to her, tilting its face. "How can you be sure?"

She shrugs. "I met countless. All pretenders. They all die, in the end. We all do."

A discreet smile forms on its lips. "You sound like a friend of mine."

"Another spirit?"

"No. A great mind and a good heart crammed in a body of flesh. Different than yours. Which leaves me with a question... What are you?"

What is she? According to Corypheus and Alexius, nothing but a mistake. According to Solas, a rare and marvelous spirit. According to the rest...

It doesn't matter anymore.

"Depends," she finally responds. "For now, I am an attempt. In the future... perhaps a solution?"

Her companion reflects on her reply for a few seconds before carrying on. "Do you have a name?"

"I'm... not sure I should share it."

The cloak-and-dagger attitude doesn't bother it, as far as she can tell. "A secret, then. I am Wisdom. This memory unnerves you," it observes.

"I don't like it. The kneeling, especially, is distasteful."

"Why not change it?"

"I can't alter the Fade. I'm no somniari."

Wisdom glances back at the frozen scenery. With a dismissive wave of its hand, the unmoving crowd disappears, leaving the snowy landscape for sole survivor.

Hm... Useful.

"Why are you here?" Evelyn questions.

"I simply am. I like this place. I have not strayed from it in a while. My friend and I are supposed to meet here. I noticed you nearby while waiting for him, and was drawn to your reminiscence."

She simpers, pondering out loud. "There's no wisdom without curiosity, I suppose."

"Correct," it nods.

Wait.

A spirit of wisdom embodying a female. Waiting to meet with a friend in the Fade. A man, most certainly an elf.

Fuck.

Abruptly, the human springs to her feet as if she had been zapped by a thunderbolt. "I should go."

She's not entirely sure, but the risk is too high. She's not taking any chances.

"So soon?" Her fortuitous visitor seems startled by her shifting demeanor.

"I wouldn't want to intrude on your meeting."

Wisdom gives her a kind smirk. "Considerate, but my friend is also of a curious nature. I'm certain he would not mind making your acquaintance. We are both fond of enigmas."

Well, I got a shitload of them for you.

"That's very nice of you, but I'd rather decline," she insists, knees jerking in anticipation.

The perceptive spirit frowns. "You suddenly shy away from company, yet you accepted mine. Why?"

"Spirits are another matter," she says. "They're less intrusive than people."

"You must not have met a lot of us, if you really think so."

Evelyn chuckles, amused both by the jab and her recollection of a very inquisitive Grief, earlier today. And also of Cole's propensity for untimely mind-reading. "Some of you like to pry, but unless invited, you don't overstep your bounds. Can't say the same thing of us fleshy creatures..." she adds wryly.

"I see." Its head hangs low, making her feel bad in return. "Too bad. I was hoping he could answer some questions on your mysterious origins."

"Sorry to disappoint. Have a nice... time." She bids it politely while tensely eyeing their surroundings.

"Should you like to discuss further in the future, you can find me here," appeals the ghostly woman.

"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."

As quickly as she got here, Trevelyan retreats to another part of the Fade, wholly unaware of the massive wolf that emerges out of thin air promptly after her departure. The beast slinks over to the spirit, its huge paws leaving prints in the snow.

"You look excited," it remarks, voice resonating around them despite its unmoving maw.

"I made a new friend today. You missed her by a hair."

"Oh?"

"It was very interesting. And confusing."

"You're rarely confused."

"Indeed. What about you? How did you find the celebrations?"

"As gaudy and eventful as ever."

"...You look worried, my friend. I thought you adored these events..."

The animal seems suddenly hesitant. "The evanuris..." the rest of its sentence evaporates in the wintery breeze.

Wisdom pats the empty space next to its womanly form, its voice gentle.

"Sit."

 

Chapter Text

 

She is lightness. Air personified. Something void of purpose that floats amid a radiant oblivion.

Gold beams harshly all around her, everywhere and nowhere all at once. A gilded light which sears straight through her retinas, but doesn't blind.

Her eyes are downcast, fixed upon her buoyant hands. Hands that fall apart under the constant probing of an indiscernible being.

Is it one? Or many? She can't tell. It, or they, feel ubiquitous.

Nothing to be done but watch as her limbs painlessly melt away.

Skin. Flesh. Bones. Matter.

All that she is is stripped down bit by bit, then rebuilt. Mildly. Placidly.

Moving would be a rational response, yet she can't.

She isn't restrained, per se, but the sole idea of budging feels intolerable.

Like an offense.

And so she remains sessile. Lets whatever is studying her satiate their interest.

Eventually, the weird alteration her body is experiencing ceases.

They want to speak, the strange, powerful sensation from within tells her.

Instead, they stay quiet.

Right when she finally resolves to question their silence, her unwitting presence is dismissed.

Evelyn awakes slowly, only to realize she is alone. Her spectral tagalong is nowhere to be found. It coud have gotten bored while she was asleep and wandered off in search of a distraction. Or perhaps the heavy fog is playing tricks on her and her friend is simply merging with the hazy landscape. Still groggy from her dreams, she inspects herself carefully.

Nothing amiss. Not even her restored arm.

Well, that was weird.

Her fingers tangle in her hair as she threads her hand through it, the lengthy mane having freed itself during the night.

After going so long without food, she decides ingesting something would probably be wise. Chasing her morning torpor by rubbing her lazy eyes, the woman goes through her pack to retrieve one of the fruits she had stashed away prior to her eventful arrival, biting into it gluttonously. The cold has freshened her apples, making every little nibble more pleasant than expected, especially after taking a gulp from her waterskin.

Once her meal is finished, Evelyn begins packing up her stuff, halting the moment she hears a strange rustling amid the pines.

"Grief?" she calls out warily.

Nothing answers.

Frowning, she goes back to her adjustments.

Soon, the swishing noises reoccur. Craning her neck to take a look isn't very effective, so she decides to check the perimeter herself.

She saunters along the woods' border, not wanting to journey too far of the Eluvian by fear of losing sight of it for good.

"Grief? Is that you?"

Something stirs within a nearby bush, drawing her attention, and the second she moves toward it, three terrorized nugs dash out of their hideout, scattering in different directions.

Just critters.

Relieved, the woman twists around, hoping to return to her camp, only to freeze on the spot.

[ * ]

A large beast with snowy fur skulks across the treeline, barely four feet away, three sentient and glowing blue eyes on each side of its slanted head. All solely focused on her. With the mist so thick, she wonders if it's able to distinguish her clearly. What it sees in this halted moment.

Mist or not, she knows.

Knows who is presently facing her with an attentive gleam within his sharp stare.

Evelyn attempts to hide any sign of recognition from her gaze, dubious of whether she succeeds or fails. She's always had a stronger propensity for failure, all things considered.

The fog clears around them as they regard each other in taut silence. Her chest swells under profound inhalations that let her apprehension transpire. Long hair flies about her face, dark strands slinking around her throat, reminding her of the caress of a serpent's tail, only to be repelled by the wind once more.

Seconds pass.

A white paw slowly prowls onward, as if to test the waters, as if the god knows, deep down, that the unfamiliar creature standing in front of him would elope like prey at the mere shift of the predator.

He's right to be cautious. She doesn't trust him one bit.

Never again.

She bolts like a hunted halla.

Considering the loud, rapid footfalls echoing behind her, the wolf is right on her heels.

Evelyn knows she'd have to keep an eye on Solas if she wants to make this work, she didn't travel so far back in time for nothing after all, but she'd prefer doing it from a distance. She isn't ready for a confrontation. Yet the bastard has caught her off guard, as usual.

Alas, no one heeds her prayers.

The beast swiftly tackles her to the ground before she can reach the mirror, her fall oddly gentle nonetheless. Now laid flat against both soil and snow, with her forehead pressed onto her forearm, she senses the wolf's paws lingering on her back for awhile.

"Your ears..." it soughs, sounding intrigued.

Ah, so he'd noticed her disparities.

There's a shift in the wind as a cracking noise resounds around them, then the pressure exerted on her shoulder blades is gone. When she rolls to lie on her back, the wolf has transformed back to his original form. The sight is nearly enough to take her breath away.

He looks... boyish.

And definitely younger. Much, much younger than she had anticipated.

The traits of his face are akin to what she knows, but smoother. There's always been something confusingly aristocratic about the curve of his nose, of his defined chin and chiselled jawline, but now, that impression is doubly multiplied. His clothes are as sophisticated as the armor he used to wear after retaking his role as Fen'Harel, a wide strip of tawny fur bedecking his right shoulder. Seeing him looking so... regal is disconcerting. So is the lack of baldness. His skull is shaved on both sides, with thick brown hair gathered in a high ponytail at the center. The upper part of a wolf's jaw bone rests atop his hairline, partially overlapping his forehead.

A true elf indeed.

"Does this form frighten you less?" He questions, sky-blue eyes pinned straight on her.

It's worse, actually.

Breathing in laboriously, Evelyn gets up and dusts herself in a hasty manner, snow falling off her pants. "You don't scare me."

"Then why run?"

Because I might have to kill you, idiot. Stay away.

"I'm not one for conversation."

From the corner of her eyes, she spots Grief emerging from the trees. It does not seem fazed by Solas' presence. Not one bit.

"There you are," it states calmly, gliding to her side. "I was searching for you."

"You know it?" inquires the elf.

"Yes. I met her yesterday, and stayed with her ever since."

"Her?" His face contorts in objection, the term puzzling His Majesty, apparently.

"Isn't she a woman? She has the shape of one... The men seem to think so too."

Solas' piercing gaze tracing her so-called 'shape' from head to toe forces an unwanted blush onto her cheeks. He looks perplexed by the spirit's assessment.

He probably doesn't like what he sees.

Even the Solas that loved her didn't find her appearance pleasing enough to engage in the sort of physical activities normal lovers would eagerly partake in, after all. Nothing beyond a few lustful touches and heated kisses. Another low blow to her fragile ego.

"It is hollow." The young man finally states.

What a wonderful thing to hear from the mouth of the person you'd sacrifice everything for.

Evelyn rolls her eyes. "Speak for yourself," she mumbles in her common tongue.

Prick.

"She isn't," insists the spirit. "She's suffering."

"Is that why you follow it everywhere?" he asks, that cocky rictus that makes her want to strangle him at the corner of his lips.

"Yes. I like her sadness. It's overwhelming, but pure. Noble." Gushes her companion.

She must look positively miffed. She feels like it, at any rate.

"It doesn't seem very happy about what you said," mentions the elf.

"IT, is standing right here." She dryly cuts in. "You can address it directly."

Solas approaches caustiously, presumably scared she'll run off again.

He stops in front of her, hands crossed behind his back indifferently. "I don't know what to make of you. Your existence unsettles me."

Her own arms cross over her chest. "Because my ears are round?"

He shakes his head. "It's not only the physical aspect. You're so different from anything I've encountered before. From spirits, from us..."

And so my divergence strips me of my humanity?

"You are disconnected from the sky," he continues, "and yet a piece of it resides in the mark on your hand. I can feel our magic on you. Who created you?"

"I could ask you the same," she replies sardonically. "Whoever it was must have been pretty disappointed when they saw the results."

"You're quite petulant." He scowls, like a parent gazing upon a misbehaved child.

"As much as you're conceited."

"You don't know me," he points out, an elegant eyebrow raising haughtily.

"Neither do you, and yet you judge me based on absurd preconceptions."

His head tilts, reminding her of a confused dog. Or wolf, in his case. "Which ones?"

"The ones that make you believe your people are superior to anything that plainly differs from them," Evelyn explains, returning to her modest encampment.

She's had enough of him for the next centuries.

"Where are you going?"

"None of your damn business."

He blocks her path, holding her in place with a hard stare.

"I would know what you are, and the motive behind your visit to our demesne, if I am to let you go." He clearly insists on the 'if'.

"Lick my arse," she articulates through gritted teeth.

Sera would be proud.

That catches him off guard. "That's extremely vulgar," he winces.

"Isn't that the purpose?"

Sighing, Solas turns to Grief. "You've spent some time with her. What do you think? Is she dangerous?"

Look who's talking.

"I don't believe so. She's wary of people and very defensive, but isn't that expected of someone roaming unwelcoming territories?"

"...I suppose there's logic in your reasoning, yes." He concedes with great difficulty.

Evelyn tries to walk past him, and gets stopped in her tracks once more.

She groans, arms flailing. "What do you want?"

Her growling makes him shrink back, as though she was the dangerous one.

Ever the expert at faking nonchalance, he easily regains his composure. "Nothing in particular. I felt the presence of something... exotic, while walking through these parts. I came to investigate, and found you."

"Congratulations. Am I permitted to leave now, your Highness?" Her voice positively drips with sarcasm.

Grief starts fidgeting awkwardly beside her, yanking everyone's attention to itself.

"Oh, no..." it laments.

"What?" Evelyn asks.

"Compassion found us."

She frowns, already uptight from her conversation with the elf. "Is it that bad?"

"You can judge for yourself."

All of a sudden, some kind of rosy shadow wooshes ahead of them, hellishly invading her space.

"Oh. It comes from you," it says, its lurid gaze penetrating through her as though she is see-through.

"What does?" questions Solas, jumping on the occasion to put her on the spot, no doubt.

Probably to uncover some conceivable deceit. That's rich, coming from the man.

"The pain. So much pain..."

She loathes the way those words compel the elf to scrutinize her even further.

"Here we go again." Grief's exasperation is evident, despite its monotone pitch.

"Are you wounded?" The god suspects, utterly oblivious to the subtleties of the kind spirit's ravings.

"Not like that," says Compassion. "Inside. Her soul, it's... aching."

"I'm perfectly fine," Evelyn grumbles.

"Too hard to breathe and everything hurts. Agony in her lungs and her heart and her soul. It burns from the inside, just like the sky. He wants her safe and she has no choice but to yield. Even at the end, he shows her no mercy."

Her eyes bulge out of their sockets when she fathoms the source of the spirit's babbling. She's been around Cole often enough to know what it's doing.

"Failure tugs, harder and harder. Crushing, unforgiving. She must save them. All of them. She can't let the monster win, can't let him come to be."

She needs to put a stop to it before it sees too much.

Compassion gasps out of nowhere. "It's gone. The light's too bright. I can't see anymore."

"It's pretty rude to peek into someone's mind without asking for permission," the human chides without raising her voice.

She feels like she's traded place with Sera, desperately trying to keep her thoughts and memories from Cole.

"I apologize, I meant no offense. It is just what I do, what I am."

"A nuisance," comments Grief.

"My friend!" It exclaims happily, finally noticing its counterpart. "I looked for you all day long, where have you been?"

"Away from you, obviously."

Ignoring the satire, Compassion turns to her, and claps its hands cheerfully.

"I will help!"

"With what?"

"Soothing your misery, of course. I can help you forget."

"Or make things worse," rebukes the grey phantom.

Evelyn takes a step back, scowling. "No. Absolutely not."

"Compassion, we talked about this already," intervenes Solas.

"Oh, am I crossing the line again?" Frets the pink ghost. "I'm sorry. Please, don't be afraid. I won't touch your memories, I promise."

It's too much like Cole. The outlandish banter too similar to the ones the Inquisitor's former little group of misfits used to have.

To what once was.

Wetness gather along dusky lashes as bile instantaneously rushes up her gullet. "I can't deal with this shit," she mutters to herself, sneaking away.

To the woman's dismay, the three of them follow. Paying no mind to the infuriating man currently studying her from a respectful distance, she completes the forsaken task of rounding up her stuff and tosses her pack onto her back, ready to escape the wolf's clutches.

"Are you really in pain?" interrogates the young god.

What do you think, genius?

She flashes him a hostile look.

"You need not worry. Her intentions are guileless." Evelyn can see how the snoopy entity struggles to get him off her back. "Please, she feels harassed," it implores some more.

Brows furrowed, the elf retrieves a small rock from the ground before closing in on her. "Touch this," he orders, palm holding the pebble extended toward her.

She peers at it askance. "What do you gain from me doing this exactly?"

"A safeguard."

Well, that couldn't be more cryptic.

Looking for reassurance, she glances at Compassion, who nods approvingly.

If that's what it takes for him to leave you alone, do it.

She complies reluctantly and after a while of her holding the damn thing, the god finally collects it from her, sliding it inside the pockets of his elegant tunic.

With one last befuddled stare, Solas withdraws into the forest, conviction wavering. She watches him go until his tall, refined silhouette ultimately disappears beyond the trees.

"I would like to stay with you, if you would allow it." Grief confesses.

"I'm going to Vir Dirthara," she admits, a lot more trusting than yesterday. "Things might get boring for you."

Its ashen head sways languidly. "I don't mind."

"Fine. Do whatever you want."

"Can I come too?" peeps Compassion innocently.

"No!" The two of them answer simultaneously, tone uncompromising.


---------


There's a drastic difference between the Crossroads she'd visited with Morrigan, and the ones she's ambling through right now. Prolific pink leaves spread over once barren branches, and the dried out grass is back to a healthy green. Everywhere along the paths, vivid colors and dazzling stones.

Is that what Sera was seeing so many years ago?

And people. People all around. Spirits too, in fair amounts.

Cassandra would have a heart attack if she saw this.

Thankfully, Evelyn has her dissimilarities carefully concealed by her hood, but it's not enough to avoid the few curious peeps sent her way, here and there. Not that she can really blame them. She'd most likely react in the same fashion. Most of the elves are perfectly content with ignoring her however, which she is grateful for.

She feels her mark pulse with energy in this place, not as much as when she finds herself in the Fade, but more so than when she walks amid the waking world.

"This one," her friend indicates by pointing to one of the mirrors.

Purple ripples envelop them as they traverse the magical gateway, the sensation equal to stepping under a potent stream of water. Until her feet finally land on the other side, at least.

The library's interior does not swerve excessively from what she remembers of it, except of course for the fact that it's not shattered. All is in order and no paths are broken.

Oh, and the librarians are no longer demons. Just friendly, uncorrupted spirits.

That's much better.

"Welcome, visitors." Greets them one of them.

Not one of them. A separate one. One she recognizes forthwith.

"You are Ghil-Dirthalen, correct?"

Seemingly entranced, the orange spirit pokes her exposed collarbone with a pellucid finger.

"I'm real," she confirms, presuming it confused by her alien nature.

"Pardon me! I was unsure... How discourteous of me," it apologizes, sounding quite ashamed.

"It's alright. I don't mind," she reassures. "If you want to make it up to me though, I have questions you could answer."

"Absolutely!"

Clearing her throat, she begins. "Have all the Titans fallen?"

She surmises the fight between the elves and the dwarves' creators had already happened, considering Grief's comment about the presence of lyrium beneath the Frostback Mountains. Otherwise, it wouldn't be aware of its existence.

"...Titans?" reiterates the visibly nonplussed specter.

Did she botch the translation by chance?

Ah, yes. Silly me.

"The Pillars of the Earth?" she tries anew.

"Oh! Highly improbable. The All-Mother has struck down a few of them, but the ones still in slumber remain. Only those who caused the great earthquakes were hunted down."

"Have their bodies already been mined?"

It pauses, supposedly deliberating. "The process is still ongoing as we speak."

"So the mines aren't sealed yet..." she murmurs in the common tongue.

"What was that?"

What did the elves find underground? The Taint?

"Nothing," she waves off absently. "What are the laws here? I'm not well-versed in what could be considered a crime in Arlathan."

"Murder, theft, torture and rape are not allowed. Anyone caught carrying out such actions without proper justification will be punished accordingly."

No shit.

The woman rubs her forehead, attempting to soothe the ache she could feel growing there. "What I meant is, are there any peculiar rules I should know of? Something that wouldn't be obvious to an outsider?"

"There are, I suppose. Flying in the shape of the divine is strictly forbidden. Only the gods and their chosen are permitted to take on this form. Is this the type of commandment you speak of, humble patron?"

"Yes. What is the shape of the divine?"

"Dragons. 'Majestic. Everlasting. Taking on the guise of such celestial beings is a birthright that should not be granted to the unworthy'." The spirit recites, as if reading an invisible book.

"Oh..."

Polymorphism, huh? Nah. No chance in hell. Her first—and last—attempt at it had resulted in a traumatizing outcome, courtesy of Morrigan. Her friend had convinced her to give the practice a try after discovering that Evelyn was capable of using magic. She'd been a lot more thrilled by the revelation than the rest of her inner circle. Well, her and Solas—who had been the one to root out her little secret. Most had simply been surprised, but Cassandra did not appreciate being lied to. Her grumpy moods had lasted for a bit, but the seeker had eventually came around, thanks to their shared chemistry.

A full afternoon in Skyhold's gardens... wasted. The witch had first proposed for her to morph into a cat, but Evelyn had never been very fond of the creatures. Too snooty for her tastes. She could not relate to the animal's nature in any way, which was required if she wanted the spell to function. So, her apostate friend had then suggested a spider. The Inquisitor's biggest fear. Not a brilliant idea, as one would suspect. Still, after countless minutes of insistence on Morrigan's part, poor Evelyn had ended up relenting.

The experience did not end well. Terrified by the eight-legged horror she could potentially turn into, Evelyn had messed up and changed into a chicken instead.

The wicked witch had spent the next five minutes laughing at her to the point of tearing up. Even Kieran had started giggling along, commenting that her fear must have been the source of the mishap.

Morrigan, always willing to add insult to injury, had wisely remarked that 'cowardly emotions could only lead to chickenhearted results'.

Fucking embarrassing.

"Also," the Archivist begins anew, disturbing her train of thoughts, "you cannot render justice yourself, it would be considered an offense to the gods. If someone commits a crime against you, you will have to petition The All-Mother. She is the one who handles these matters. She will judge the culprit and sanction him as she sees fit."

Hm. Sounds like everyone is obligated to walk on eggshells around this choosy pantheon.

"Alright," she huffs, not really elated at the thought of meeting such individuals. "Speaking of the gods, are any of them at war with each other?"

"Not at the moment, no."

"So things are going well? No conflicts at all?" Her fluctuating pitch could not sound more cynical.

"No. The troubles with Lady Andruil have been resolved. Peace has returned."

"...Are you talking about her... 'episodes'? After her trips to the Void?"

"Yes... Those." It acknowledges, palpably hesitant.

The Hall of Shrines inside Mythal's Temple contained writings about the Godess of the Hunt creating weapons and armor made of the Void, resulting in a mysterious plague eating away Andruil's lands. To Evelyn, the phrasing's always been awfully reminiscent of the Taint. If she could inspect these affected areas, corroborate her suspicions...

That would mean Corypheus was right. Him and his old Tevinter pals didn't cause the first blight. It already existed long before. If the Golden City was already blackened when they arrived, then that Void crap must be responsible for its corruption.

But how?

"You spoke words earlier..." recalls Ghil-Dirthalen, "I could understand the meaning, but they are unknown to me."

"It's my native tongue," she explains briefly.

"Fascinating! I would cherish the opportunity to learn your language, honored patron."

"I don't know..." she folds her arms over her ribcage. "Will you teach it to others?"

"Should they ask, yes."

"...Then no, sorry."

It's no fun if they know when I'm insulting them.

A fierce panic waves off her interlocutor. "B-But—All knowledge should be shared! Perhaps... Would you like something in exchange?"

She shrugs, bearing a false air of innocence. "If you promise to keep it to yourself, i might change my mind."

"I do not understand. What is the point of gathering knowledge if you cannot teach it to others?"

"Hm, no deal then." Evelyn turns her back to it, glancing at Grief instead, who had stayed silent during the entire exchange.

"But—I am study! Guiding seekers of knowledge true is my purpose! How can i fulfill it without—"

"Calm yourself. It's not the end of the world," reasons the other spirit, forever apathetic.

"Yes, I... wisdom from grief. I must stay collected, not be rendered useless. Apologies."

One of the librarians abruptly screams 'Delltash!' to the bunch of whispering elves assembled in a corner of the library, interrupting their deliberations about the weird hooded figure casually conversing with their dear spirit of knowledge. Like the nugs in the mountains earlier this morning, the conspicuous individuals dispel in a trice.

The next hours are spent further discussing with the Archivist and skimming through diverse memories and books to amass as much information as she can find. Not being familiar enough with elvish customs and ways of life, a lot of what she witnesses is incomprehensible. The souvenirs are too brief and personal—and completely devoid of context—for her to draw any sort of suitable conclusion.

It is still captivating, and highly entertaining.

At one point, sadly, Grief informs her that it has somewhere else to be.

Evelyn swallows nervously at the notion of being left alone without proper guidance. "Where exactly?"

"An orphanage in Arlathan."

Her thumbs are suddenly very interesting. "Um..."

"You can accompany me, if you want. It would be wiser than staying here, in fact. The capital would be a good start to find you a place where to rest and eat once night comes."

It raises a good point, actually. She'd run out of food sooner or later. And then what? She should seek out a better arrangement while the opportunity is still there.

"Yes. Good thinking."

The pair travels through a few more Eluvians to reach their destination, which does not disappoint in the least.

The city is everything Solas had described to her, and more.

Everything swims in a mix of cerulean and gold. Crystal spires that would put Halamshiral to shame twine amidst colossal trees and branches, so achingly blue that the mere sight threatens to melt her eyes away. Diverse buildings stand on floating islands that ascend all the way up to the sky—which looks extremely close now that she thinks about it. A bit too close for her feeble heart, even.

From here, the ether's regular azure tone leans closer to a viridian shade.

A soft glow emanates from the veilfire braziers dispersed along the boulevards. Runes illuminate tall walls and columns and glittering stones flank the aisles, like helpful little pathfinders trying to assist you in finding your way home.

Really, Orlais has nothing on elvhen architecture. Nothing.

And this is just one part of the big picture. According to her drifting friend, the place is composed of several more districts, each a bit disparate from the other.

Evelyn slows down the pace once they near the luminous, nacreous strips which connect the paths together. Some sort of fanciful platforms, or intangible bridges, emitting a white light that flashes with every colors of the spectrum when one makes the mistake of looking away.

Like a freaking rainbow.

Even with all the elves and spirits walking over it, she hesitates. There's no solid ground under their feet, after all.

"It is safe to walk on," urges her stoical guide.

With the speed of a snail, she puts one foot in front of the other. Her face turns blank as they cross, but the woman survives. Without puking, moreover. After a few further steps, they stumble upon an enormous fountain. A dangerous looking sea creature that she recalls being named a cetus is erected in its center, water springing from its open, sharp-toothed maw. Engrossed, Evelyn reaches to touch the liquid.

"No drinking," a sonorous voice surges from beneath her fingers.

Startled, she nearly trips over her own boots as she recoils.

"The water speaks?" she wonders faintly.

Grief is quick to rectify her assumptions. "No, the statues do."

Well, that's new...

At last, the sought edifice comes into view.

"That's a pretty big orphanage," observes Trevelyan as they halt ahead of the entrance.

"When parents die fighting the evanuris' wars, the children are left behind. Someone has to take care of them."

"Makes sense," she says dolefully. "What's your reason for coming?"

"I have friends among the orphans. I visit from time to time. They get worried after not seeing me for too long."

It cares, in its own bizarre way.

She smiles at it genuinely. "Go on. I'll wait for you outside."

"You should explore a little," it offers in return, "I can see you want to."

"But how will you find me if I stray too far?"

"I can ask around for your whereabouts. You're easily noticeable."

Tell me about it...

She nods and the phantom flits through the walls. Alone with her thoughts once again, Evelyn aimlessly strolls along the sparkling streets. She stops near a balcony of sorts, its banister formed of elaborate patterns. From her vantage point, lakes of mist and gigantic parks stretch beyond the capital's outskirts. Arms and weight supported by the balustrade, she continues to serenely admire the scenery.

Until the upper half of a transparent body ebbs down from the awning above her head to squint at her with suspicious eyes.

She sighs loudly, left cheek caught in her palm. "Another one comes to gawk at the freak."

These things are awfully attracted to her for some reason. Like bees to honey.

Or Iron Bull to redheads.

"Preposterous!" The armored spirit exclaims, its yellowish tint sprinkling behind it like gilded dust.

"Excuse me?" she scowls, dumbfounded.

"Betrayers should be slayed, friend or not!"

Maybe she missed something. "I don't follow..."

"Retribution must be delivered!" it prattles on.

"Ah. Let me guess... Justice?"

"That is I, yes." It announces proudly, fingers on its hips.

"I'm not interested in revenge."

"But there is much righteousness about you. I can feel it. You want to right the wrongs that were done. Tell me what they did, and I'll help you find an appropriate punishment."

"I'm not here to punish anyone."

"Mythal could help you. She helps those in need, all who suffer injustice."

"No thank you."

The knightly ghost scrutinizes something over her shoulder. "Ah, perfect! One of her devoted servitors is approaching."

"What?"

She barely has time to swivel before her nose bumps into a hard chest. Or the golden plates of a Sentinel's armor, to be more accurate. Wincing due to the collision, she looks up at the hooded man impeding her personal space.

Impassive amber orbs stare down at her, underlined by the jade-colored ink of Mythal's vallaslin, which is also embroidered across the elf's forehead.

She blinks wildly as recognition dawns on her. "Abelas?"

An imperceptible eyebrow arches at the appellation.

Of course. Right name, but wrong time frame.

"I mean! ...Ir abelas..." she blurts out incoherently in a desperate attempt to amend her mistake.

Fuck, Evelyn. Just screw everything up while you're at it.

Her old acquaintance waits a short interval before opening his mouth. "Mythal requests your presence."

"What an excellent opportunity!" interjects Justice. "It seems luck favors you, stranger."

Luck my ass.

"Why does she want to see me? I never met her."

Theoretically.

"I must bring you to her, no explanations were given." Just like in the past, his patience leaves a lot to be desired. "Come."

Disinclined to disappear without warning Grief at first, she ends up complying to the Sentinel's request after reminding herself of the spirit's parting words.

She is guided to a palace among the clouds, her newest companion trailing behind them. The whole extravagance of the structure is too much for her brain to process. At a given moment, they enter what she identifies as a throne room. Justice is bidden by the guards to wait outside the gates. Servants scurry out posthaste without so much as a glance in her direction, with the exception of one single woman who carries out her duties without a care in the world. Meanwhile, Evelyn is left neglected in the middle of the vast chamber, trying to discern what the elvhen guardian has been holding in his fist since the very beginning.

[ * ]

Suddenly, smoke slithers along the tiled-floor, eerie whispers arising above colorful mosaics.

Womanly curves progressively come into existence. In less time than it takes for her to blink, a youthful Mythal stands before her in all her splendor, from her golden eyes to her red-painted lips, to the silky white hair cascading down her sides. Some of the long locks are braided into horns atop her skull.

Like a dragon.

The beautiful woman nimbly catches the item Abelas throws her way as soon as her materialization is done.

A small rock. Things start to mesh together inside the human's head.

"Leave us," commands the goddess.

Obedient as ever, the Sentinel turns around and abandons her to her fate.

Bare feet graze the ground's surface as the deity meanders what little distance separates the two women. "A dear friend of mine warned me of your arrival, stranger."

Fucker.

She tilts her head, her all-seeing gaze perusing the other's uncommon form. "Calling you an anomaly is a bit of a stretch in my opinion," she asserts, a graceful finger stroking the tip of her chin. "Although I'll admit, your nature is unfamiliar, even to me."

Her eyes turn white and misty as a soft light embraces Evelyn's entire being, whose hood slips off unhurriedly.

"You wither." The idea appears utterly foreign to the goddess. "How appalling."

Mythal begins to walk in circles around her, making her feel like a prey.

"You are also awfully young," she says. "And... vibrant." An enigmatic smile emerges at the corners of her mouth.

How the hell does she know that just by... scanning me?

"Your magic confuses me above all. This," she takes hold of her marked hand, "I recognize, somehow. But there is another, nested in a deeper part of you, dulled and cloaked. Like a dim flame that has endured a thousand storms. A spark that needs to hide to survive." Her eyes narrow more and more as she speaks. "Why not let it free?"

Because it would have gotten her locked up in a tower for the rest of her life if anyone had known about it before she'd been forced to incorporate the Inquisition. But this, Mythal does not need to know.

"Freedom comes in short supply, where I come from." Evelyn pointedly glances at the face of the busy servant bearing the goddess' mark. "Seems like some things stay the same, wherever you go."

"Did you steal it?" Unlike her words, her tone is not accusing. "That power?"

This is Corypheus all over again. Marvelous.

"I'm not a thief."

"I hope so. This kind of violation is frowned upon in Elvhenan."

"For the powerless, you mean. But if someone like you were to seize for themselves something that doesn't belong to them, I'm sure no one would bat an eye." She implies, her survival instincts mentally berating her.

"What are you hinting at, child?"

"The Durgen’len, and the fate of their Titans."

"Ah," Mythal practically sings, "finally, things become clearer. Did they send you here? Are you an agent of the Durgen’len? Your ears are similar, but you are too tall to—" she pauses, pondering. "Were you created by one of their workers?"

Evelyn shakes her head, undisturbed by her allegations. "I'm not here to settle a spat between your people, or to avenge anyone. And I'm no agent. I answer to myself only."

"Then why the curt tone, all of a sudden?"

"I tell things as they are. Nothing more."

A silent moment elapses.

"Earth belongs to the People."

Evelyn can't decide if the woman is making an offhand declaration, or if she's trying to convince herself of her claim.

"Like lyrium belonged to you?" she retorts smartly. "Corpses still warm and you're already dividing the loot..." she then tuts.

The goddess noticeably takes note of the offensive remark but does not comment on it. "If you're not a dwarf, or an elf, or a spirit... then what are you?"

"A human."

"Hoo...ma'n?" Poor Mythal instantly looses a lot of her eloquence with that disastrous attempt at speaking common.

A laugh almost slips out but Evelyn skillfully restrains it behind amused lips.

"Humans. It's what my people are called."

The dazzling deity frowns, pensive. "So there's more like you, you're not unique?"

"No."

"Do they all possess..." she eyes her hand again.

Evelyn follows her stare. "No. We're all very different. Whether in our abilities, or..." she trails off. "Our cultures, religions and laws are very diverse, more so than yours, or the dwarves."

"You must be rather numerous, then." Lithe arms cross against the goddess' sumptuous, pearly robes. "Pray tell, where are all these people?"

"You're not gonna meet them," she assures.

"Why not?"

"I come from very, very far. A distance far greater than you could ever imagine. My people have no interest in this place, they consider it a myth. I came alone. No one is planning to invade you. I am not your enemy."

"If the journey here is as challenging as you make it sound, why come at all? What brings you here, so far away from your kinsmen?"

"She has to help!" An excited voice jumps in from the gates.

Compassion. Damn it.

The deity regards the approaching spirit with a strange hint of tenderness. "You met the girl, I presume?"

"Yes. Grief was following it. And then me. And then Justice," it enumerates, not even able to lie to save its own skin.

The human frowns, obviously ignoring that she had been shadowed by the entity all along. "You stalked me all the way here?"

"You attract quite the following," smirks the almighty being.

"She's harmless, really." Compassion pleads her cause, just as it had done this morning with the wolf. "She wants to help, like me. To save others from chaos, from cruelty."

"What an impressive curriculum," Mythal jests, mirth plain across her face.

The sight is so similar to Flemeth, it's like she's traveling through time all over again.

"It's true! Can't you feel it? She's used to it... Helping, saving, restoring—"

"Enough," cuts Evelyn. "You're very nosy..." she reprimands softly.

The goddess chuckles. "Excuse the poor thing. It means well, despite its meddling nature."

Gorgeous features harden slightly. The woman's shoulders slump as she lets out a heavy breath, her thumb caressing the pebble her 'friend' had graciously given her.

"I don't know you, little human." Her pronunciation is already getting better. "How can I decide that your intentions are pure, without any solid proof?"

Nothing if not unwavering, Evelyn gently seizes the divinity's empty hand, pressing its palm to her chest. "My heart beats. I breathe. And I bleed. Like you. However different I may seem, I am not a monster." Her point made, she lets go of the limb.

A vibrating hum leaves the evanuris' slender throat in response. "You speak our tongue with considerable ease, for an outsider."

"The spirits I encountered since I arrived helped a lot, Ghil-Dirthalen in particular." She lies effortlessly. "And I'm a quick learner."

"I bet," mutters the goddess ironically. "Very well. If Compassion deems you worthy of trust, then I'll take my chances."

The eccentric spirit twirls on itself, elated. A lot more than the concerned party, bizarrely.

"But if something foul happens because of her, I'll also hold you responsible." Warns the deity in a darker tone.

"I trust my judgement," maintains Compassion with unfailing confidence.

"We'll see..." Mythal turns to her. "From now on, you'll be considered an official guest. Feel free to roam around, as long as you don't cause trouble."

"Ma serannas," she nods respectfully.

She twists around to leave, only to get stopped by an invisible force. "Oh, one more thing."

"Yes?" Evelyn swallows stiffly, uncomfortable with the magical clutch that holds her in place.

"Do you have somewhere to stay?" The evanuris readily detects her reluctance to answer. "This isn't a trick question, girl. I doubt your spirit friends have any beds to offer you, and you're most likely not familiar with our currency, which crosses out the possibility of you finding shelter in one of our taverns, or any establishment of the sort..."

"...No, I have nowhere to stay."

Mythal turns to her hard-working servant. "Show her to one of the rooms in the abandoned section of the palace."

"Yes, my Lady."

"I hope you'll repay my hospitality in kind, stranger." She smiles mysteriously, vanishing in a dense cloud of smoke.

I might, if I find a way to prevent you from getting murdered.

 

Chapter Text

 

Her appointed attendant shows her to her rooms immediately after the goddess' departure. She doesn't speak, only nods her head in various directions when she wants her to follow. Guards, denizens and what she presumes to be priests send them stunned glances as they pass. The area she's led to is not called abandoned without reason. No one dwells here apparently, not even the wonted vermin you'd normally find in unpopulated corners. It's most likely the equivalent of being housed in an old bug-infested closet—without the bugs in this case, but it's more than enough for her. It's still as clean and beautiful as the rest of the place, even if less furnished. And this section of the palace has its own private baths, she learns, pragmatically adjacent to her designated room. That's an advantage she can't spit on. She won't have to strip and wash herself in front of complete strangers, at the very least.

The servant even gives her some privacy by turning around until she's engulfed up to her collarbones. Trevelyan settles into the warm water, letting her tired muscles slacken steadily with an appreciative sigh. The woman disappears temporarily to fetch her clean garments.

Once she's returned to place the clothes within arm's reach, Evelyn expects her to continue to either stand there silently until she is done with her bath, or walk out without a word and return to her usual duties.

Instead, her raspy voice booms through the inlaid walls.

"You were bold with your words."

The human halts her scrubbing for a second at the sound, then gets back to her task. "No one's above criticism."

"A wise conviction, but one that could get you killed."

"The threat of death would never stop me from speaking my mind."

"Honesty might get you far where you come from, but here, knowing when to mind your tongue does you more good," counsels the older woman, hands behind her straightened back.

Trevelyan gyrates until she can meet her guarded eyes. "Because of your wrathful gods?" she guesses.

"There are no gods. Only leaders."

"And did you choose yours?" she asks, cocking an eyebrow. "Or did she choose you?"

"I am here of my own volition."

"That makes you one of the lucky few, I believe." Evelyn soughs, turning her back to her once more. "You can go if you want, you don't have to cater to me. Thank you for the help," she adds gratefully.

The maid treads to the entrance, stopping in the doorway. "Heed my advice. Mythal is more lenient than the others. She might tolerate your opinions, encourage them even, but the rest of the evanuris wouldn't think twice about ripping out your heart over the slightest disrespect. So would their followers."

Evelyn looks at her over her shoulder, her gaze questioning.

"You can't save anyone dead," the domestic warns, alluding to Compassion's words on her motivations for being here.

Grief wafts inside the room as the servant exits.

"Trouble always finds you when I'm not around," it reflects.

No truer words were ever spoken.


---------


Her first night in this forlorn bedroom does nothing to improve her morale.

It feels incredibly lonely. Forces her to reminisce parts of her life she'd rather forget altogether.

Evenings spent locked up in her rooms at Skyhold, Solas sprawled onto her sofa and her tucked safely in his embrace while he reads her a tome of his choosing. Generally, it would have something to do with the Fade or some other type of magical mystery. They'd fall asleep like this, with her head on his chest and his arms around her, book completely forgotten by the end of the night.

The best ones were when they'd end up camping in the wilderness with their fellow companions, the two of them confined in a tent together, the soothing sounds of nature all around them, lulling them to sleep. The circumstances made him bolder, for some reason, which was pure torture for her. The impish elf would get her all hot and bothered, just to leave her hanging by refusing to take things to the next level. No one had ever been able to drive her as mad with desire as Solas had. It was his own special talent. One he knew how to employ all too well.

Even if she always wound up frustrated and hungering for more, he would still find a way to appease her and ease her into sleep. No matter how she'd strive to make him submit to her will, to tempt him with lewd bites and daring fingers, their passionate sessions would unfailingly conclude with the two of them slumbering, limbs entangled and minds at peace.

Those times were when she'd feel the happiest.

And now they're gone. Forever.

The painful ones should be too, but they tarry. Taunt her, even.

Memories of her time in Minrathous, spent forging alliances and gathering forces against Fen'harel's army. Of his secret visits inside her dreams, where he would try to dissuade her from starting such a direct conflict between their people with beseeching whispers and affectionate gazes. Of Leliana, and Cassandra, and Cullen, and so many of her friends, fighting at her side once again to stop this madness.

Of her and Dorian hunting down Solas all the way to The Tirashan, his main base of operations. Of him using her connection to the Well to take control of her and keep her from ruining his plans. Of him tearing down the Veil as a last resort to get his way, and her falling to her knees, face buried in her hands as her begging fails to postpone the mad man's schemes. Of Abelas witnessing the scene, a few feet away, a glint of pity in his eyes. Pity for the weeping shemlen hopelessly trying to stop her misguided lover.

All Evelyn can do is curl up on herself and cry about it, especially since sleep refuses to come. Grief stays beside her in these moments, a comforting presence despite its taciturnity. Compassion shows up at some point, lured by her emotional despair. It hugs her from behind, silent as well, its embrace full of awkwardness and warmth. She wants to reject the help, tell them that she doesn't need the support, that she's survived worse than this agonizing turmoil, but she can't.

She's not strong enough. So she takes what solace she can from it.

She barely gets any rest, but it's not enough to deter her. Never has been.

In the following days, she frequently visits Vir Dirthara during the afternoons. The library's patrons gradually get accustomed to her attendance. Not that they have a choice, now that Mythal has declared her an official guest. With all the honors it entails. It gains her disapproving looks from some and muttered gossip from others. At times, the chatter sounds genuinely intrigued. At others, purely conniving.

They all steer clear of her though.

Her favorites are the ones that blatantly ignore her existence, as though the mere sight of her menaces to infect them with some incurable disease. Those are pretty fun, she has to admit.

After hours of desperate research on signs of a potential blight spreading through Andruil's lands, Evelyn stumbles upon the brief memory of an elf traversing ravaged woods. The lackluster grass under his footwraps feels parched. The earth is spoiled and cracked and the wind carries a foul smell. The rivers he travels by are murky and the same stench emanates from the water. As he sinks deeper and deeper into this abysmal forest, a feral growl echoes along the darkened bark of leafless trees.

The traveler turns around to find the source of the noise prowling dangerously close to him. The pitless eyes of a rabid black wolf beam sickly across the short gap keeping beast and man apart. Its morbid flesh is partially visible in between patches of shredded fur.

Just as the ailing animal lunges forward to attack him, a fleet arrow pierces its skull. The memory's maker raises his gaze and spots his rescuer up in a nearby tree. Andruil's vallaslin is tattooed athwart his features.

"Keep away from these parts if you value your life, lethallin." Warns the roosted archer.

Progressively, the vision fades and the world around her comes back into focus.

"Let me take a look," requests Compassion before snatching the item from her hands.

"There must be more than that," she deplores in a hushed tone. "A plague isn't a common occurrence, how can there be so little record of it?"

She'd seen enough infected wildlife before to know the wolf in this reminiscence was definitely blighted. Which confirmed her suspicions. If she could find the original source of the taint, then there might be a way to contain it. No blights. No need for grey wardens. Or their dwarven equivalent. It would spare the world so much suffering.

Sadly, Andruil and her people would no longer be of any help since Mythal had already stolen the goddess' knowledge of how to find the Void.

It's like running in circles...

"We shall help you in your quest for answers, valiant soul!" Justice proclaims, a bit too loudly for her tastes.

And the glaring librarians'.

"Grand," Evelyn replies sarcastically while trying to make herself as small as humanly possible.

Her three spectral associates have clearly taken a liking to following her everywhere she goes. They would occasionally slip away to go about their business, or to assist another hapless individual, but for the most part, they seemed content to stay in her company.

Soon, the human finds herself surrounded by lofty piles of diverse tomes and scrolls, her freaky retinue occupying the vacant seats dispersed around her desk. Midway through her investigations, the graceful silhouette of a tall man struts up to their table.

"I need this," the stranger notifies her, pointing a slender finger at the book she's holding.

"Well, I'm using it. I'm sure waiting a bit won't kill you," she responds, turning her page without offering him a glance.

You elves have all the time in the world, after all.

"Do you even have the brains to understand these things?" he questions, sounding amused by the idea of her possessing even a spark of intellect.

"I'm probably as smart as you are insulting."

He hums teasingly. "That is a high praise to make about oneself."

"You are being rude, Felassan." Scolds Compassion.

Interesting name.

"Am I? How can you be rude to something that is soulless? Is the creature even sentient?"

"It is a woman," answers Justice.

"Really? Hm. Indeed, it does have breasts!"

Rightfully peeved, Evelyn finally twists her head toward the ill-mannered elf. Violet eyes are studying her attentively from beneath a large, navy hood that casts opaque shadows across his face. The only part of it she can properly distinguish are those intense, twinkling lavender orbs peering down at her.

"The arrow is slow indeed," she retorts impudently, index finger tapping her temple. "Your name suits you just fine."

She vacates her seat and slaps the tome against his chest with disdain.

"Well, this one has a sharp tongue," she hears him tell her entourage while she retreats to another part of the library.


---------


It has been three days since her encounter with Mythal. Or at least, she believes so. As expected, keeping track of time is not considered an absolute necessity in a society in which everyone has the luxury of being immortal. Thus, Evelyn has to make a conscious effort to carefully monitor each rise and fall of the sun.

The palace is more of a fancy maze than a noble residence, she also discovers. She gets lost way too easily amid its twisting halls when her new friends are not around to guide her. After politely asking the guards for directions, Evelyn takes advantage of a rare moment of solitude to grab something to eat.

Follow the smell, they said.

They're not wrong. A sweet whiff of exotic delicacies permeates the corridors, obstinately clinging to anything in its way. It doesn't take her long to find what she's looking for. As she enters, the kitchens are a battlefield filled by clangs and clanks. The servants scuttle along like agitated little mice while pots and cauldrons are set aflame with mindless snaps of their fingers.

Seeing the help wielding magic so openly is such a foreign spectacle for the former Inquisitor.

"I was wondering when you'd come poke your nose in here," greets the hoarse voice of Mythal's handmaid. "Don't you need food? Your people don't need to eat, maybe?"

"We do. I had some leftovers in my pack, so I finished them first."

Trevelyan purposely omits to mention that having an appetite with a knotted stomach can be quite a challenge.

"Good," the woman says, wiping her greasy hands on a towel. "At least you do not act like a scrounger."

She retires to the pantry and beckons her to follow.

Herbs of all sorts hang from the ceiling and jars of spice are floating in the air, driving her to wonder if shelves are viewed as obsolete for some of the ancient elves. As the servant reaches up to seize one of the containers, Evelyn espies the hilt of a dagger peeking out of the waistband of her skirts.

Caught staring when the woman turns back around, she tries to erase the wariness that has surfaced on her face.

Too late.

"Yes, I carry a knife around when I prepare food." The elf confirms in a tone which heavily suggests that the human is being an idiot. "Have you never cooked a meal in your life, girl?"

"It looked more like a dagger to me."

The maid snorts, opening the jar. "And what would you know of weapons, child?"

"A lot," she tells her, pushing the edge of her cloak so that the woman can spot the daggers fastened to her belts.

"All big and scary, aren't you?" The elf cocks an eyebrow at her the exact same way Evelyn had during their very first conversation. "Taste," she then urges, practically shoving the glass pot in her face.

Trevelyan sticks her finger inside to scoop some of the spice and proceeds to suckle the tip of her index in order to sample the colorful powder. "It's alright. Weird... but alright."

It doesn't taste like anything she's ever had, but it has a pleasant tang to it.

"It will do then," decides her interlocutor, leading them out of the scullery, container still in hand.

As they pass by the bubbling stews, she throws a tad of the substance inside.

"You look tired."

Evelyn smiles wryly. "A subtle way of telling me how ugly I am?"

"Your ears are off-putting, but I would not call you ugly. And I saw you naked," the elf adds, for emphasis.

"But—You turned around!" she protests, cheeks flaming with abashment.

"The water is clear, child."

Trevelyan clears her throat, visibly mortified. "Um..."

"No need to get awkward. You want ugliness? Look at the poor lad," the woman nods toward one of the male servants, "this one hasn't been blessed by the gods when he was born, that is sure."

"Viper," hisses the young man.

Servants have an entire society of their own, Solas had once told her. And just by watching these ones work and interact with each other in a similar fashion to the elves of Halamshiral, she believes it. Which leads her to wonder if there are spies among the help.

Perhaps Mythal has a Briala of her own.

"Try this," bids her the domestic, pushing something rugged into her hands.

She examines the item with a puzzled frown. "Bark?"

"Your people don't it eat? It has medicinal properties. Good for headaches too."

"We tend to eat the fruit which hangs from the tree, not the tree itself."

"Your loss then," shrugs the elf, snatching the piece of wood from her grasp before she even has a chance to gnaw on it. "I'll bring food to your room every day, from now on."

"You don't have to. I can walk to the kitchen myself."

"It's what I am paid for, girl."

Ah, she's been curious about that too.

"So you do receive compensation for your work..." she connotes dubiously.

"I am a servant. Not a slave."

"The line between the two can get pretty blurry, from what I've seen."

"I know." The maid mumbles, her voice so low that Evelyn almost misses it. "Go to your room, I'll bring you some stew once it's ready."

She complies, wandering into the palace's main hall minutes later with her head in the clouds. She's just in time to overhear a heated discussion about—

"Her!" A deep voice clamors.

She rotates to glance at the source of the commotion. Three familiar men are busy arguing with Abelas and his fellow Sentinels, their leader pointing an accusing finger straight at her.

Ah, those... They did imply i wouldn't walk away unpunished.

"No," she hears Abelas reply to the furious-looking elf as she gets closer to the group.

"Why do you insist on getting in my way?" The latter demurs.

"She is a guest of the All-Mother. No harm shall come to her. We have orders."

"So do I. My master wants this thing dead for interfering with our investigation. She had the nerve to attack me and my men."

"I did no such thing." She butts in. "You got handsy out of nowhere, and I defended myself."

"He barely grazed you," refutes the towhead with the braid.

They're obviously not gonna let this go without a fight.

"How about a duel?" she proposes. "I fight your leader, and if I win, you leave me alone. For good this time."

Everyone is staring at her wordlessly. The attention is starting to feel a bit too uncomfortable.

"You elves do duels, right?" she asks, suddenly uncertain.

Didn't she read something about Elgar'nan and Falon'din setting their champions against each other to settle their petty spats?

"It would be easier to escort them out," submits Abelas, ever the voice of reason.

"They would ambush me as soon as I set foot outside the city," she points out. "I'd rather deal with things now, if you don't mind, make sure no one needlessly gets hurt because of these idiots." The idiots in question glare harder. "You must have a place where we can settle this, away from curious eyes..."

His mouth is set in a thin line when he responds to her suggestion. "Very well."

The Sentinels reluctantly guide them to the courtyard inclosing the training grounds so that the merry band can fight without disturbing the peace. Evelyn and the leader of the noble's wardens position themselves at the center of the available space.

"You may be fast, but I'm stronger." Sneers the dark-haired elf. "I only need one strike to crush your bones into dust, little thing."

"That's if you're even able to graze me in the first place," she retorts.

He snorts. "Cheeky."

"Begin," announces one of the Sentinels.

Her opponent attempts to take her by surprise by immediately swinging his massive weapon toward her. She rolls out of the way and steadily starts to build focus into her mark, just in case the elf turns out to have more tricks up his sleeves than during their last encounter. As he comes for her once more, she draws her own arms. Thankfully, her blades are already coated with poison.

The first step is always to weaken the enemy.

She barely escapes his hammer as it fractures the ground, leaping forward to vault over his head. Flipping around mid-air, she lunges downward to plunge both daggers in the bare spot near his shoulder blades, careful to avoid his armor to achieve better effect. He groans while she twists the blades before throwing her off him savagely. Evelyn softens her dive to the ground with another well-executed roll.

After witnessing her tactics on the battlefield first-hand, Varric had begun to nickname her Creeper. 'Because of the way you sneak up behind them to slice them open! Makes you look like a creepy spider', he'd told her when she'd questioned the unflattering alias.

A charming comparison.

Facing her foe once more, she waits for him to make a move, but his eyes are fixated on her glowing hand. The sheen of it is getting brighter by the second, apparently distracting him.

Wary, are we?

Out of the blue, the man thrusts himself in her direction with renewed speed.

The next five minutes are a blurry mix of graceful dodges and dexterous attacks in which she counters each of his strikes with ones of her own. She can tell the poison is slowly tiring him out. He feels it too, considering his labored breaths. At some point, his sledgehammer starts to shimmer and turns into a giant sword. The bastard manages to cut into her waist as she whirls in the air, the force of the blow forcing her to drop one of her blades.

The wound bleeds and stings like a bitch, but she's been through worse.

Way worse.

Evelyn tosses her remaining dagger into her right palm. She's used to fighting with one hand anyway, since the loss of her arm. He's just doing her a favor.

And he doesn't even know it.

"Alright, little wench! I can be quick too," he says, letting his weapon heavily fall to the floor.

Panting, she watches him lift himself upward with the help of his magic, until his body is completely levitating above ground.

With a contemptuous little smirk for sole warning, fire bursts from his fingers in long, effulgent streams.

Forthwith, she activates the mark to release its contained energy and a spherical, green aegis emerges around her. Not only does it protect her from his incoming fireballs, but also deflects the blazing inferno back to him.

Judging by the alarmed grimace on his face, he did not see that coming.

His own spells send him flying into the nearest wall, and his limp figure sags to the floor with a pitiful sound. She approaches him, her empty hand pressed against her injury.

"Yield. I don't want to kill you."

Out of breath, the man pushes his weight onto his hands, lifting his chin to look at her defiantly. His silhouette promptly transforms into an enormous bear.

Evelyn blinks up at the animal. "That's cheating," she grouses, annoyed by the elf's stubbornness.

And perhaps also the fact that she can't do the same.

Sighing angrily, she evades his ensuing onslaught. He swipes at her wildly, all sharp claws and fangs, but she always succeeds in eluding him.

I swear, ancient elves and their fucking stamina...

Eventually, their frantic dance ends up separating them by a great distance. Frenzied to the point of no return, he lunges toward her without thinking.

Wanting nothing more than to be done with it, she rushes to meet him head-on and slides beneath the beast to cut its abdomen open. It roars in pain and crashes to the ground in a thundering racket. Left to bleed out helplessly, her adversary changes back to his true form. This time, he does not rise again.

"He needs help!" Evelyn yells to the Sentinels who are still attentively observing the match.

A mage steps forward and turns the elf around with the help of her boot before bending to his level and hovering her shining hands over the gash on his torso.

Soon, the slash retracts into inexistence, and all that's left of their altercation is the blood gradually drying on his leather armor.

Trevelyan stares into his eyes meaningfully. "Tell your master I am dead, and never bother me again."

A few seconds elapse, and the warden finally nods his consentement, his head knocking against the floor one last time as he falls into unconsciousness. The female mage beside her orders his associates to grab him and leave the city grounds. The two obey without batting an eye. Before slipping away, the woman hastily sweeps a hand over the human's wound. The latter gives her a grateful nod as it closes.

Feeling a mysterious sensation crawling up her spine, Evelyn raises her viridian gaze to discover that Mythal and Solas are cozily watching the scene from the high balcony overlooking the courtyard. They must have been for quite some time. She scowls at the two in a deprecating manner and strides up to Abelas.

"Sorry about that. I really didn't think someone would take the time to send their brutes after me."

The Sentinel is intently staring at her limbs. "What's wrong with your arm?"

"What?"

"It goes limp when you don't pay attention. Which is often. You treat it like a dead weight."

"That's... none of your concern," she feels herself color.

A clumsy silence stretches between them. To her pleasant surprise, he's the one to break it.

"You called me Sorrow."

He refers to their first encounter. The one he's aware of anyway.

"I tripped over my tongue."

"Sentinels have eyes for lies as much as they do for danger."

She huffs, rolling her eyes. "Why don't you give me your name then? You know, spare me the embarrassment of slipping up again..."

The writings on the temple's walls had said he'd shed his name twice. First, when he had began Mythal's service, then a second time, after her demise. So, technically, the Abelas standing before her is not yet Abelas.

"Shiva."

Duty.

"Huh," she says, eloquent as ever.

She should have known.

"Well, it's nice to meet you, Shiva." She offers agreeably.

"We have already met."

Air gushes out of her mouth furiously. "I know that, I'm just trying to be polite."

He frowns, forced to gaze down at her due to his towering stature. "You are a weird creature."

She tongues the inside of her cheek, fed up with that recurrent statement. The elf doesn't even have the courtesy of acknowledging her annoyance.

"Do you have a name?" He asks instead.

"I—" Her desire to sass him dies down when his unforeseen attempt at small talk belatedly dawns on her. "I'm Evelyn."

"...Ev'lin," he slowly articulates, uncomfortably uncertain.

"Well," her arms fold over her bust, "I'm sure it's written all wrong in your head but at least the pronunciation is somewhat correct."

Give the man some props, he actually tried to exchange words with another human being. Never thought I'd see the day!

He quietly stares at her some more, too listless for her to read what's going on inside his mind. "Try not to attract every scumbag you come across to our city, in the future."

The elf then turns around to rejoin his brothers-in-arms.

She doesn't know if she should laugh or glare at him for that witty scolding. "I'll do my best."


---------


The following evening, Grief invites her to tag along for one of its trips to the orphanage. Evelyn doesn't know if it's because she seems too lonesome and the spirit feels sympathy for her, or because it simply tires of her nightly routine, which consists of shedding unsought tears and thrashing about in her sleep.

She tires of it too, to be honest.

Most of her dreams are spent escaping unsolicited bouts of her past that the Dreaming seems to take great pleasure in reenacting for her eyes only. Like a private performance. It's unwittingly cruel. She feels watched as well, even when she's clearly alone. The sensation is intrinsically similar to the one she had experienced during her first night in Elvhenan. Amid that gilded void.

She would probably fare better by seeking out Wisdom's company, but she's scared of possibly bumping into Solas.

If even her nightmares are not safe from him, then what does she have left?

Albeit she's anxious about the whole ordeal of hanging around a throng of tiny ancient elves, she accepts the specter's proposal. An outwardly uptight woman whom she assumes to be the headmistress welcomes them as they arrive. Well, she welcomes the spirit, truthfully, and eyes the human with a blend of expectancy and vigilance. She might have already been briefed on the outsider's visit, since she does not oppose it. Evelyn is simply told to mind her demeanor around the children, as if her sole presence threatened to corrupt the little ones' innocence.

They mostly keep away from her for the first half hour, too busy playing and throwing harmless spells at one another. One of the caretakers is cradling a dozy little girl in her arms, rocking her slightly while humming a mesmerizing, peaceful tune. Evelyn is content to just watch from afar, fairly conscious of the inquisitive glances she sometimes gets from the children.

One of the young boys in particular seems quite captivated by her.

"What is it?" he asks Grief surreptitiously, still staring.

"A grieving soul, like you." Her friend answers.

Two minutes later, the child approaches her, looking at her with big starry eyes. "Did your papa and mama die?"

"My loved ones did."

He frowns, disconcerted. "But don't you love your papa and mama?"

She shrugs. "Why would I love someone who never cared for me?"

"Who fed you and loved you, if not them?"

"My governess."

"What's that?"

"Someone that takes care of you when your parents are unable do it themselves. Like the nice lady does for you," she explains, looking at the headmistress who she knows is listening in on their exchange.

"So you're an orphan too, then." Concludes the elvhen boy, pointing a finger at her.

"No," she shakes her head, "they were still alive when I was young."

"They needn't be dead. Every child deprived of their parents' love is considered orphan in Elvhenan," informs Grief.

"Yes. That makes you one of us!" The little elf decides before running off to play with his friends.

Well, I guess I don't have a say in the matter.

On her next visit, another kid trots up to her and asks permission to touch her ears. The request reminds her of her four-year-old self admiring her dalish nanny's protuberant features and declaring how pretty she found them. A reaction the woman had not been expecting from a tiny shemlen—a daughter of nobles moreover—according to her dumbstruck expression.

Staring down into the short elf's hopeful eyes, Trevelyan realizes she doesn't have the heart to refuse. Soon, a swarm of curious children join their comrade, each taking their turn to feel the human's ears. She unexpectedly catches the headmistress blatantly trying to conceal an amused smile.

She's never been very fond of the small creatures, no matter their age or appearance, has never had the patience to deal with their kind before. But when she looks at these kids, Evelyn sees something else than juvenile mischief and naivety. She sees dejected souls that crave hope and the promise of better days. That dream of more than half-hearted reassurances that their overwhelming feelings of loss will fade away in time.

She sees... a precocious maturity that came at a great cost.

She knows Grief sees it too, and fathoms it might be the reason for the spirit's attraction to this place.


---------


A whole week has passed since her arrival in the capital, and she's hardly more conversant with the situation she'd rashly put herself into than when she'd first landed here. If the evanuris are not currently warring amongst themselves, or with anyone else for that matter, that means Solas has yet to make a move against them. And Mythal's murder had occurred long after the inception of his groundbreaking revolt. It seems like the best thing to do is wait, but she's never been really good at that.

How long is it gonna take for them to start scheming against her? I can't exactly afford to wait aeons for shit to happen. It's not like I'm immortal, goddamnit!

Sick of her unsolvable concerns, Evelyn decides to make most of her afternoon by exploring one of the tremendous parks within Arlathan's outskirts. Compassion and Grief are gliding ahead of her, locked in a fervent debate that she does not care to hear. She would much rather take in the scenery. Birds of every color imaginable are perched in the trees, chirping happily at the sight of the multiple insects hastening along the trunks and leaves. She stops near a croaking raven, the critter reminding her of Leliana and her pets.

It gently nips on her presented fingertip before flying off into the sky.

"This place is incredible," she opines, her dilated pupils lost in the dense canopy above her head.

"It is," confirms an alluring voice behind her.

Swiftly, she turns to find him standing there.

He has that aloof, cunning glint in his eyes. The same one his older self would unknowingly exhibit whenever he was plotting something.

And he's nervously picking at his nails, even if he tries to hide the foible.

I'm going to like this, aren't I?

"Oh look, it's the tattletale." She practically croons.

He deliberately brushes her sarcasm aside. "Your encounter with Mythal went well, from what I heard."

"Yes. I haven't been reduced to a pile of ashes. Sorry to disappoint."

"It's not disappointing, it's—" he sighs. "Contrary to what you think, I do not wish you harm."

She licks her lips absent-mindedly, unable to take her eyes from the long brown strands atop his skull.

She'll probably never get used to him having hair.

"I never said so," Evelyn denies, refocusing on his face.

"And yet you act like it."

"Why don't you get to the point?" she demands, abruptly clipped.

His gaze widens slightly. "I'm sorry?"

"You want something from me. Don't pretend otherwise, I can see it in your eyes. You wouldn't take the initiative to look for me just to chit-chat."

"Why not?" Solas tilts his head. "Maybe you intrigue me and I simply cannot resist the appeal?" the insinuation seems oddly playful.

A pang of bitterness assaults her.

"I know better."

The words sound strangely more directed to herself than him.

He smiles, and her heart drops to her boots. "My agents discovered a group of escaped slaves near my castle recently. I decided to offer them shelter until they could find a more suitable solution. They were extremely grateful, and talkative. One of them had loads of interesting tales about a mysterious rescuer," he pontificates with grand gestures. "She even allowed me a glimpse at her memories." He reveals, with all the implications it involves.

His extremities cross behind him as the elf straightens his back, giving him an austere aspect once again. "Where did you learn that spell?"

"Why does it matter?" she counters defiantly.

"Because I came up with it not long ago, and never taught anyone how to use it."

Suspicion. Suspicion all around.

"It's widely known where I come from," she lies.

"...My interest for this mysterious place you won't name is growing by the day," the wolf comments indistinctly.

Mythal had definitely not omitted any details about their confrontation.

"If this spell is common knowledge among your people," he starts again, "I suspect slavery exists within your own empire?"

"It does. It's illegal in some parts. Punishable by law... But not everywhere, sadly."

"Are you used to freeing slaves?"

"I..." memories of her dear governess hit Evelyn with full force, "don't wish to speak about this."

He immediately mistakes the pain in her gaze for something else.

"Have you ever been a slave?" he speculates.

"No. Well, depends. We're all slaves, in a way. To greed, to fulfillment," fade-colored eyes capture cold blue ones, "to a cause."

Even you were a slave once, Solas. To unsound dreams of restoration.

"Funny you should say this..." he mutters under his breath. "I have a proposition for you."

He has her undivided attention.

"I am establishing a safe haven for former slaves who managed to escape their tyrannical masters. It is merely more than a project at the moment, but I hope to make it a reality in good time. For all your animosity and... peculiarities, I've come to realize we share the common belief that freedom and independence should be granted to all."

The start of his grand rebellion. That's what she'd stumbled into.

"Refugees need more than a sanctuary, though." Solas resumes. "They need people that can help them escape their chains, can tend to their injuries, or someone that can train them to fight effectively against their oppressors, for example. Would you be willing to help?"

She frowns, taken aback. "Don't you have agents for that?"

"You could be one of them."

This is the perfect opportunity. It would give you a chance to monitor him without raising suspicion. Just accept. Forget your pride.

"I would have to answer to you?" Sadly, pride has never been an easy thing to dismiss.

For either of them.

"Would that be so bad?"

"I'm not some mindless pawn here to do your bidding," she feels the need to stipulate.

"Good," he says. "I'm asking for assistance, not servitude."

You want to use me. Again.

"The beast takes and takes and never gives in return, except for beautiful words from a forgotten time." Compassion's voice resounds behind her, serving as a reminder of the two spirits' presence.

She sends it an indignant look over her shoulder.

"That's enough," decides Grief, grabbing its counterpart by the shoulders and leading it away from the two with subdued strength.

Evelyn waits for Solas and her to be fully alone before carrying on. "Why me? I thought I was just a weird anomaly."

"If your ego was hurt in any way due to careless words, then I apologize." He even has the courtesy of looking sincere.

"Yes, I suppose you're good at that." That's all he's ever done right when confronted with his mistakes, after all. "You still haven't answered my question."

The god sighs, as if uttering his next words out loud might actually kill him. "You exhibit greater morals than I expected from a foreigner. You can take care of yourself when it comes to fighting. That's a privilege slaves don't have the luck to share. You also own a great deal of power, apparently," he eyes her marked hand with obtrusive circumspection, "even if I still ignore to which extent. If you'd agree to use it for the people who need it most, you would do them, and me, a great service."

She keeps quiet, musing.

So His Majesty witnesses her removing the markings from a slave's face, and just like that, his opinion of her changes? Sure, compassion and respect for free will are the kind of things the Solas she knew had always esteemed, but the sudden shift in perception seems too good to be true. On top of that, the elf is still acting a bit too stand-offish and stiff around her for it to be the only reason behind his proposal.

Evelyn wasn't born yesterday.

Technically, she's not even born at all, yet.

"Perhaps I should also mention that the girl you helped is eager to see you again," he adds, tone turning sly. "She expects to meet you soon, actually."

The crease between her brows accentuates. "Why would she?"

"I confirmed you were working for me, when she asked."

"...You did what?"

He only smirks, smug beyond compare.

She scoffs. "That's mischievous at best, manipulative at worst!" she accuses, arms folded.

"She suspected it." He shrugs. "What was I supposed to tell her? You used magic that has only ever been known to be wielded by me. It is normal for her to associate you with my people."

"How convenient," she rumbles.

"So, will you accept?" The elf presses doggedly. "I wager the poor child would be disappointed, should she learn the truth. You left quite an impression on her."

Conniving little—

"...It's not all, is it? You're hoping recruiting me into your little rebellion will give you an opportunity to keep an eye on me."

Wouldn't be surprised if Mythal put him up to it.

"Ah," he drawls, "I guess there's nothing one can hide from that hawk-like gaze of yours." His boyish, toothy grin leaves her speechless.

Her brittle heart also skips a beat or two in the meantime.

Evelyn rocks her head from left to right in an attempt to pull herself together. "Fine. On two conditions," she haggles.

"Yes?" He thinks he's already won. It's written all over his insufferable little mug.

Oh, how she wishes she could make him swallow his misplaced complacency.

"I'll do whatever I can to help, but I don't take orders from you. Ever."

That sentence does nothing more than spur his curiosity. "Do you detest authority? Of any form?"

"Yes or no?"

"I'm genuinely curious."

"Yes. Or. No?" she reiterates, punctuating each word as if she was addressing a simpleton.

"...Agreed."

"And I want the rock back," she pursues right away, hand held out toward him.

He appears falsely confused. "The rock?"

"The one you use to locate me whenever it tickles your fancy." His mouth barely has time to open before she interrupts him. "Don't take me for a fool, I know you have it." She wiggles her fingers impatiently.

"You drive a hard bargain," he mumbles, fetching the object in question from his pockets to place it in her open palm.

"So it's a deal?" she asks, fist closing around the enchanted pebble.

"It is."

Why does it feel like I've just sold my soul to the devil?

 

Chapter Text

 

That night, she searches. Seeks out cold, snowy mountains. Familiar, yet not the same.

But every frozen location she visits in her dreams ends up unoccupied. No spirit of wisdom in sight.

She spins on herself as if looking for a sign, lost amid what the Fade deigns to show her, sighing with frustration.

It said it would be here if I wanted to talk. Maybe it thought I wouldn't come back and moved somewhere else. Fuck.

As she feels herself loosing her last ounce of patience, she hears a soft, chiming sound approaching from behind. What she recognizes as a wisp gently pokes her arm before advancing in a specific direction. When the ball of light realizes she's not following it, it halts and turns back to her, waiting.

...What?

After glancing around helplessly, Evelyn eventually decides that trailing behind her weird little guide is better than nothing. Dead whispers tease her ears with each step forward as her surroundings progressively darken to a deep shade of green. The sensation's akin to being trapped beneath the ocean, but with her feet touching ground and no actual water.

The wisp quickly becomes the only source of light available, making it easier to follow.

A few seconds later, the glow emanating from the ethereal being proliferates, swallowing her in its wake, and just as its glare fades away, the sought spirit appears, standing idly amid a vast, emerald void. It seems surprised to see her.

"You returned," Wisdom smiles. "I wasn't sure you would."

Evelyn's eyes wander the length of the translucent elvhen woman to make sure she's not hallucinating. "I wasn't sure either, to be honest."

"I am not expecting company tonight," it reassures before she can start fretting about the possibility.

"So I have you all to myself?" she retorts jokingly. "Nice."

Something over the spirit's shoulder suddenly catches her eye. Her lips part of their own accord at the sight.

In the distance, lustrous golden spires rise atop a floating island.

"The Eternal City," describes Wisdom.

"I've never seen it gold before," she soughs, voice full of wonder.

"How else would you see it?"

"Black," the word almost gets trapped inside her throat. 'Corrupted' never gets out.

"How is that possible?"

"It's... a bit too complex for me to explain properly."

It might even take years, in all honesty.

"Strange," the ghostly woman mutters. "I've never heard of it being black, even before the People came."

Evelyn's forehead is currently so creased that it starts to ache under the added pressure. "Before they... came? From where?"

"Before they came to be," it clarifies. "We existed before the People. As you know them now, at least."

"What do you mean by 'as you know them now' exactly?"

"They originated from here, like us. It is why spirits and Elvhen live in harmony together. Both came from the Dreaming. The flesh gave them desires of a different kind, and so they came down from the sky to build a life on earth."

So the Chantry wasn't completely off track with its zealous nonsense. The spirits truly came first.

Were the evanuris the first to descend to earth? Is that why they're so powerful? More than the rest of their people, at least. So much pieces of the puzzle are still missing. No wonder why the historians of her world had a hard time reconstructing the past adequately. Everything about the ancient elves is shrouded in secrets and none of it makes sense.

"You must be very old, if you saw this happen." She remarks.

"I didn't. But I know others who have."

"And you believe them?"

"They have no reason to lie."

You'd be surprised...

Dubious, the human turns her focus back onto the glorious metropolis. "It looks so bright, even from here. It reminds me of Arlathan, somehow. A golden version of it."

"That's not surprising. Arlathan's architecture was inspired by the Eternal City. Have you noticed how close the sky seems to be while walking through the streets?" Evelyn nods in affirmation. "That's because Arlathan is connected to the Dreaming. It is part of both worlds."

"Like the Crossroads, you mean?"

"No. These are in between. Arlathan is in both places at the same time."

Evelyn closes her eyes, shaking her head slightly in consternation. "This is so fucking complicated."

Wisdom chuckles. "You think so? It seems simple to me."

"Well, I'm not really from around here," she shrugs. "My people are used to the physical world, sorry—the Waking."

"Your people?" the spirit's pitch increases in excitement. "They are others like you? Oh, are you a Durgen’len?"

She snickers. "Don't you think I'm a bit too tall for that?"

"Perhaps there are taller Durgen’len than those I have seen inside the Dreaming. You have similar ears, but your body is more akin to the ones of the People. Could you be the result of an union between a Durgen'len and an Elvhen? You would be the first I meet, if that is the case."

Just the thought in itself is disturbing. Evelyn's mind strives very hard not to conjure up bizarre images of the so-called 'union'. She wouldn't want to throw up in front of her new acquaintance.

Can people even vomit in the Fade?

"Um, no..." she denies. "Both of my parents looked like me."

Thank the gods we had nothing else in common.

"Oh... Nevermind then." Wisdom almost seems disappointed.

Taking pity on the specter, she elaborates. "My people are part of another race entirely. Distinct from the Elvhen, and the Durgen’len."

"Fascinating. What are they called?"

"Humans."

"What you said earlier... about the color in which you usually perceive the Eternal City... Is that particularity inherent to your people?"

"Yes. I guess you could say that."

"How strange... Do you think I could meet others like you while exploring the Dreaming? Like I did with the Durgen’len?"

"No, sadly. I can't be sure, but I doubt it." Cryptic, but it's still a better answer than 'I'm not sure if we exist yet'. "Wait, you mentioned seeing Durgen’len here. How? I thought they didn't dream..."

"They don't. They are not aware of the Dreaming, but the Dreaming is aware of them. It holds recollections of their people. It's how I came to learn about their existence."

The opportunity is too good for her not to jump on it. "What have you seen exactly?"

"Ignorance. Fear. Despair."

"They must be quite shaken by the fall of the Titans. I can't imagine..." she trails off absently. "I wonder how they're faring."

"Would you like to see it for yourself?" it offers, obliging. "I could guide you to the most recent reminiscence I have found."

She nods frantically. "Yes, I'd like that."

"Take my hand," it directs, the limb in question aloft between them.

She does. The world around them spins at disconcerting speed, whirling in a blend of landscapes, structures and people. Her head throbs in rhythm with the pulsing colors and distorted visuals. Out of the blue, everything halts. A blunt indication that they've reached their destination. As her eyes meet the aching blueness of the lyrium veins scaling the ceiling and pillars encircling them, she realizes where she stands. Every little sound effortlessly rebounds along the cavern's walls, and among them, rough unintelligible noises.

Evelyn twists around in an effort to find their source, her spirit friend quiet and still beside her.

A group of dwarves in heavy armor occupies the center of the cave. The men are lined up in a military fashion, facing one of their own whose boisterous voice reverberates across the tunnels. One word sticks out among the dwarven gibberish.

"Urtok... It means dragon," she whispers.

The sentence draws Wisdom's attention back to her. "You understand their language?"

"Only a few words," she admits. "Not enough to really get what they're saying."

"The stone-less sky betrays with wings of flame," her interlocutor begins to translate without being asked to. "If the surface must be breached, if there is no other way, bring weapons against the dragons, and heed their screams."

[ * ]

The decor shifts.

Runes are etched into the grotto's walls. Small hands and ears belonging to a little woman are pressed against it, intently listening for something. Her voice is low and panicky. "It stopped," continues Wisdom. "No more song. Only darkness. Can't feel—"

Another shift.

Another dwarven woman, sitting on the ground with her hands glued to her ears, rocking herself back and forth in a manic manner. Her sobbing resonates faintly between the empty spaces and her red hair stick to her wet, rounded cheeks.

"Where are their thoughts?" the spirit starts anew, its voice perfectly synchronized with the movements performed by the woman's lips. "The link is gone. The link is gone."

Evelyn is assailed by mental pictures of Dagna. Sweet little Dagna. With her goofy smiles and unquenchable thirst for discoveries. Her nose perpetually stuck into old, mysterious runes.

A dwarven man materializes next to the girl as she slowly fades into nothingness. His calloused palms cover his eyes while he sways on his feet, manifestly as delirious as his predecessor. "We are blinded. Stone preserves us."

Even through Wisdom's monotonous tone, the words sound like a desperate prayer.

The man vanishes too, the scenery altering yet again. A pool of blood forms on the floor, some of it flowing up to Evelyn's shoes, forcing her to step back. The area is littered with tiny, lifeless bodies that pile up here and there, sometimes trapped beneath fallen buildings and rocks. Two young dwarves stand amidst the chaos, features too similar for it to be pure coincidence.

Brother and sister perhaps.

The girl weeps in agony, staring at the corpses. "There is only death here."

The boy takes her in his arms in an effort to calm her down, tears leaking out of his own eyes. "Do not cry. The Stone took them back. They are finally home."

The visions abruptly come to an end. Evelyn realizes she is crying herself.

"You feel compassion for them," comments Wisdom.

"I have—" she pauses, sniffling, "had friends among the Durgen’len. Not the ones we see here, but others. It makes me think of them."

Varric, Harding, Dagna, even Valta... What would they have been if most of the Titans had never been slain by the elves? This lost eventuality goes beyond her imagination. Or perhaps the thought is too painful. Maybe that's why any record of the colossal beings had been erased from the Shaperate. Because the revelations might be too much to handle for the dwarven nation.

"Yes. Your memory... Some of the shapes that knelt at your feet were very small," her companion recollects. "You must know a great deal about them."

"More than the People at least," she declares, biting.

"My friend told me they were mining the blue substance we see on the walls there. Do you know what it really is?"

The human crosses her arms, shifting her weight on her left hip. "That's easy. What does one usually find in a vein?"

"Blood?" tries the spirit.

Evelyn arches an eyebrow in response.

"So this is their blood?" it surmises, in awe. "The blood of the Pillars of the Earth..."

"Yes. The Durgen'len call it 'isana'. Lyrium, in my tongue."

Wisdom smiles happily, visibly thrilled by this newfound knowledge. "I think you and I could learn a lot from each other."

You don't say...


---------


She meets Solas at the Crossroads in the late afternoon, as they had agreed upon yesterday, right before his departure. The slave she had helped is supposed to be waiting for them at his castle, and since Evelyn is not supposed to know its location, the young god had promised he would escort her there himself.

If he only knew...

She finds him waiting for her next to a seemingly deactivated Eluvian. Upon spotting her hooded form, he offers her a polite smile and the mirror suddenly comes to life. He appears... eager, which is never a good sign with him. His enthusiastic gaze frightens her and almost drives her to turn around and run back the safety of her quarters.

Grow some balls, Evelyn.

"Ready?" he asks as she stops in front of him. "I feel I should warn you, she seems ready to bombard you with questions as soon as we arrive."

She? Or you?

She snorts, observing the travelers drifting through the place in an attempt to distract herself from the edginess his company brings her. "I think I'll survive."

"I might have some of my own," he warns tentatively.

Ah, there it is.

"Then I'll ask you to keep them to yourself."

"You would answer her, but not me?" He can try to hide it all he wants, she still hears the meager offense in his tone.

"Hers come from genuine curiosity. You would interrogate me for hours as one would a captive, if I let you."

"How can you presume to know her intentions? You barely spoke to her."

"I looked into her eyes. That's enough. We have a saying where I come from, that eyes are the mirror of the soul."

And that girl clearly doesn't have a mean bone in her body.

"A wise adage," he concedes. "What do you see when you look into mine?"

He tilts his head a bit, as if the gesture could make him look any less dangerous.

"That's the problem," she says, gaze acutely trained on him. "I can't tell yet."

He frowns slightly at that. Being considered untrustworthy is no doubt unfamiliar to him. He hasn't lived through an age where his people called him a trickster or a traitor to his kin yet. They most likely look up to him. The rebel wolf, close friend of the All-Mother, who shelters escaped slaves and plans to build a safe haven for broken, destitute souls.

What is there to hate in such a man? To mistrust?

Without further ado, the two of them travel to the other side of the Eluvian. Evelyn has trouble locating herself at first, what with all the wild flowers and plants concealing the high stone walls, but the little stone path under her feet and fresh mountain air filling her lungs are telling.

Skyhold's garden.

Slipping her hood off her head to better examine the environment, she espies the freed slave sitting on a white bench a few feet away, staring at them apprehensively. After a reassuring smile and nod from Solas, she joins them with quick, spirited strides, nerver taking her eyes off the human. Evelyn feels like a brand-new painting in an orlesian gallery.

Thoroughly scrutinized.

"Greetings," the girl speaks, hesitant.

Does she think I'm gonna run off again?

"I'm glad to see you well," she replies, her voice hushed and tender, successfully diffusing any awkward tension that lingered between them.

The girl beams, and Trevelyan seizes the occasion to inspect her a little further. Her rags have been replaced with decent, warm clothing and she's noticeably filled out since the last time she'd crossed paths with her. Not exceedingly of course, it's been scarcely more than a week after all, but enough for it to be perceptible to the naked eye. She can perfectly picture Solas pestering the poor thing everyday just to ensure she was well-fed.

Out of love, naturally. Not just for the sake of being a nuisance.

An unknown elf—whose graceful, inconspicuous gait oddly reminds her of the one formerly used by Leliana's scouts—makes his way to the three of them, holding a huge map in his hands. "Sir, I have news."

Urgent ones, by the looks of it.

"I'll leave you to it," Solas softly tells them before walking away with unhurried steps, his agent in tow.

His unwillingness to let them be practically radiates from the castle's owner.

"What's your name?" demands the other woman.

Evelyn swears she catches a glimpse of Solas' ears perking up at the inquiry. His pace even seems to slow down for a minute, making his intentions quite clear. The crafty busybody had wanted to eavesdrop on their conversation since the very beginning.

"Evelyn," she reveals, distinctly enough for him to hear.

She'd give him that, if nothing else.

Foreseeably, the man's speed increases immediately after her disclosure.

He thinks he's so subtle.

"It sounds pretty," compliments the elvhen girl, diverting the human's distracted gaze back onto her. "Does it have a special meaning, in your native tongue?"

Trevelyan feels incredibly rude for spacing out on her interlocutor. She came here for the lass, not for Solas.

"I don't think so..." Her parents had never implied anything of the sort. Then again, they'd always been more proficient at throwing gaudy receptions than studying etymology. "If it does, then I'm not aware of it. What about you?"

The wench nips at her lower lip, bashful. "I don't remember my birth name. My master used to call me Than."

Tool.

Because she was just something to use and discard, probably.

"That's horrible," scowls Evelyn. "You should call yourself whatever you want, from now on."

"I know, but I have trouble choosing a good name."

"It's okay. Take all the time you need, you're free now."

"I am," she smiles, and what a kind, gentle smile it is, for someone so broken. "You fled before I had the chance to thank you."

"There's really no need. It was just a spell, you escaped on your own. You made it out because you were brave, not because of me."

An icy breeze infiltrates the human's cloak, provoking several shivers down her spine.

"Come. It's warmer inside," beckons the elf.

"No! I—" she exclaims with precipitation. Too much, perhaps. "I would rather stay outside, if you don't mind."

A tour of her bygone base of operations is something she cannot bear to endure right now. She has no desire whatsoever to witness what her prior lover had made of the castle. A castle he had once so generously bestowed upon her.

Another poisoned gift.

"Alright..." yields the other woman, bemused by her obscure behavior. "Did someone hurt you too?"

Evelyn blinks up at her. "Why would you think that?"

"Your ears... they're very short. And you seem mistrustful of people in general. I thought someone had maimed you. Cut off the tips to punish you."

Oh...

"No, don't worry. This is natural."

Hazel eyes lower to the ground. "I'm sorry. My probing must make you feel self-conscious," she says while scratching her neck nervously.

Trevelyan simpers reassuringly before gesturing to the bench behind her. Comfortably settled, the two women spend the next hour learning more about each other.

Solas was right, the girl has a million questions prepared for her. She answers the harmless ones honestly and manages to stay relatively vague about the others, careful not to give away too much about her world or the fact that she, in reality, came from the future. And finally, having never been to Arlathan herself, the elf asks her to describe the fabled place in detail.

Evelyn tells her of all the wonders she had witnessed inside the capital during her first week there. Amphitheaters made of living wood in which magic is discussed and taught for hours. Musicians and artists pervading the streets and pavilions at night, especially around the varied taverns and inns. Mythal's majestic palace predominating the sky amid Arlathan's upper districts. The talking statues and fountains, and the abundant wildlife roaming the parks and less populated parts of the city.

The ex-slave remains speechless through it all, gaping slightly in amazement.

In return, Evelyn learns all about the girl's past living conditions. That she'd never been allowed to saunter past the town her master lived in, and knew next to nothing of the world outside these walls. That her escape would have been near impossible without the help of other slaves she had met at the local market while purchasing random things for the noble. That she'd spent most of her life confined inside her master's private quarters. From her shameful tone, Evelyn gets an inkling of what the bastard mainly used her for, but the notion alone makes her sick to her stomach, so she decides to wholly focus on the elf's narration instead of letting her mind wander.


---------


Solas and her tread through the palace's main hall in utter silence.

He had obstinately insisted on escorting her back to her room. She has no idea where these sudden chivalrous manners are emerging from, and frankly, she's still too engrossed in her previous discussion with the girl to dwell on it. It's not like she has a choice in the matter, in any case. She knows how pigheaded he can be.

"When she asked for your name, I realized I've never introduced myself properly to you." He imparts as they enter one of the many corridors leading to her quarters.

"True. You were too busy chasing me down and bouncing on my back with your dirty paws."

He clears his throat, cheeks ablaze against his will. "I apologize for my poor demeanor. My name is Solas."

"Very befitting of your character." She then promptly changes the subject before he gets the chance to snap back at her. "How is the sanctuary coming along?"

"We've just found a suitable location." He sounds proud.

His smirk confirms it.

Befitting indeed.

"Knowing you, it's probably in the middle of the mountains." That earns her a strange, suspicious look. "What?" she shrugs innocently. "I met you in the mountains, your castle is on a mountain..." she lists off. "I wager you like that kind of landscape."

"Am I that predictable?" he mumbles to himself, frowning.

It accentuates the tiny scar on his forehead. During their time in the Inquisition, she's always wondered the circumstances behind that mark. In response to her observation, Cole's voice echoes distantly inside her mind.

"He did not want a body. But she asked him to come. He left a scar when he burned her off his face. Bare-faced but free, frolicking, fighting, fierce. He wants to give wisdom, not orders.”

She pales.

Oh fuck... No, no, no, no...

The implication is too overwhelming. She chases it away, but the sweat trickling down her nape has already turned cold.

What other substantial information had he kept from her? Did he think she wouldn't love him if she knew? Did he really consider her affections to be so shallow? She had accepted Cole unconditionally, had come to care for the boy like a little brother. Why would he think his case to be any different?

Anger begins to build up as she reflects on how much his propensity for omission had cost their relationship.

The Inquisition.

The whole fucking world.

"The place you come from, what is it called?" he questions, breaking the ambient quietude.

He never answered her questions, not the important ones at least. Why should she?

"I'm gonna keep that to myself, if you don't mind." She responds flatly. "I wouldn't want my people to end up like the Durgen’len."

"Ah, yes." He drawls knowingly. "Mythal said you seemed upset about the fate of the Pillars of the Earth."

"Of course. It was unnecessary. A careless bloodbath. The dwarves are gonna suffer the consequences of it while your people are busy reaping what they sowed."

"Dwarves?"

"The Durgen’len. It's how my people call them."

"So you do know them."

"I never said otherwise. I simply denied being one of their agents, as your dear Mythal suspected."

"With good reason," he defends straightaway. "You pretend not to be part of them, yet you obviously feel a great deal of outrage over their plight."

"Why wouldn't I? They're people! They are not soulless, witless constructs devoid of feelings! Just because you're blind to their sentiency, doesn't mean it's not there. Your people convince themselves that those not like them are miserable things so they don't have to feel like murderers when they slaughter them!"

The two stumble into a room full of priests and servants. Everyone seems too busy to pay them any heed.

"It was mercy, not slaughter." He corrects. "Their connection to the Pillars of the Earth made them mindless. Like automatons. Shouldn't they be happy to have regain their freedom?"

She stops, turning to face him in a trice. "Freedom? They died!"

The sheer audacity of this man will never cease to surprise her.

"Some of them, yes. Not all. The rest are free to live as they please now. As for the others who were sacrificed in the conflict, isn't death preferable to this kind of pitiful existence?"

All the unbelievable, prejudicial bullshit he had once told her and her friends returns in a flash.

"It was like walking through a world of Tranquils."

"If they must die, I would rather they die in comfort."

"This is not some fanciful story, child of the Stone. We cannot change our nature by wishing."

White-hot fury boils within her veins. "You truly believe Mythal did them a service, don't you?" Evelyn scoffs. "Unbelievable!"

"They were being controlled. They had no will of their own."

"Are you sure it was like that? Have you ever tried to talk to one of them? Or do you simply believe the tales your people spread of them?"

"Why would the People lie about this?"

"Because they don't know what they're talking about! Because they need an excuse to do as they please! Oh, earthquakes! What could we do? Maybe we should talk to the ones who are causing it, see if the situation can be resolved peacefully? No, nevermind that. Let's just obliterate them. Oh look! They even have some sort of magical mineral with extraordinary properties! Let's rip it from their corpses and take it as our own!" she blurts out fervently. "Don't you hear how entitled that sounds?"

Their animated quarrel is starting to attract attention from the bustling staff surrounding them.

They don't notice, of course, too preoccupied with their own argument.

"I guess if you put things under this perspective..." he grants begrudgingly.

"Exactly! Perspective! That's all that's required. Things could have gone differently if the evanuris had stopped admiring their own navels for one second and put themselves in the dwarves' shoes!"

He doesn't look very convinced, just more and more crossed. "I know most of them can be quite vain and arrogant, but Mythal is different. Not all of the People think as the evanuris do."

"No. Only the elite. And your Mythal might be more reasonable than the rest of her brethren, but she's not without flaws. I have a hard time understanding how this sort of senseless massacre can come from someone depicted as the patron of justice." She says the word in disgust.

"Perhaps you should practice what you preach, then." He replies, tone harsher than before. "Put yourself in our place. The Pillars were causing colossal earthquakes. It destroyed many of our buildings, ruptured some of our cities, and could have killed a lot of us too. We were lucky it didn't, in fact."

"So this is what? Petty revenge for a few crumbled bricks? As I said, communication could have been an option, but your people didn't even consider it, did they?"

He sighs. "There's no reasoning with you. It's quite evident you've already chosen a side."

"This is not about taking sides, it's about common decency!"

"Of course," he dismisses in a condescending tone.

The snotty acquittal only serves to bolster her hardly contained rage.

It burns and coils around her chest, twitching and yanking, roaring from within, ready to lash out.

"Stop treating me like a blathering fool who doesn't know what she's talking about!"

Just as her last word echoes through the halls, the glowing rune held by a nearby priest suddenly flies into Solas' face, violently hitting its mark. His eyes are wide as saucers as gravity pulls the object down to the floor. She'd find his facial expression quite comical, if her heart wasn't wrenching itself apart at this very moment.

The scattering of gasping bystanders looks positively appalled. Some of them are covering their mouths with their hands, inadvertently demonstrating their shock.

"I'm sorry," she apologizes, voice muffled by her lasting anger. "I didn't mean to do that. You deserved it, but—" she stops, grunting in frustration.

She doesn't know where to look, doesn't know what to say. She still feels dangerously close to striking him herself. She has to move. To escape this biased, narrow-minded version of the man she once loved.

And so she twists around, and without looking back, storms away.


---------


Evelyn pushes her bedroom door open to find Idrilla—she had learned the handmaid's name during one of their daily chats—meticulously washing the ground, skirts bunched up midthigh and sleeves rolled up to her elbows. Even with her balcony door ajar, the room is too stuffy for the incoming air to be breathable.

Which isn't enough to deter the mad woman, apparently.

Perhaps the bucket of water her hands were regularly plunging into helped with the insufferable temperatures.

"Why are you scrubbing my floors?" the human asks, eyeing the elf like she's insane.

"Someone has to keep the place clean. It's my job."

"Are you insinuating I'm filthy or untidy? I can clean my own room, you know. I'm not a slouch."

"I haven't said anything of the sort, girl." The older woman finally looks up at her. "Are all humans this paranoid?"

"Only the best ones," she simpers, watching the other work diligently with a canted head. "Hm, I imagined you'd have spells for that. Guess I was wrong."

The maid snorts. "Did you also think our arses wiped themselves after going to the latrines?" Evelyn's raised eyebrows indicate she seems to be giving some thought to the theory. "I'm sure it exists, but I don't know it. Not that I'd use it anyway. The best way to become lazy is to start using magic for everything."

"You've got a point there," concedes the girl, pursing her lips.

Plus, I suppose the elves wouldn't need slaves if they really could do whatever they want with their magic.

Crawling all on fours, Evelyn grabs another floorcloth and dips it into the bucket.

"What are you doing?" scolds the servant.

"Scrubbing," she answers before proceeding to do just that.

"You're a guest. You're not supposed to be on your knees scrubbing the floors."

"Well, you're right, I'm the guest. So if I want to help you clean, I can do as I please."

Idrilla shakes her head in consternation. "You're more stubborn than a wild hart, child."

"I need to take it out on something anyway," she says, her recent fight still in mind. "Might as well choose the floor, it's not gonna fight back."

Well, Solas hadn't either.

"I knew it was you I heard screaming like a hellcat. Didn't I warn you about wagging your tongue? First Mythal, and now her wolf friend. You're very good at making friends, aren't you girl?"

"Sass me all you like, he deserved it."

"What's your problem with the evanuris? Or the wolfling? You said you came from very far, but you seem to hold quite the grudge against people you've supposedly just met."

"I know their type. They think everything exists for their own convenience, that they have a right to take it all. Well, they don't. The world is for everybody. It doesn't belong to them, or anyone else. They need to start realizing that."

"And you think yelling at them is the solution?"

"Not necessarily, but it sure feels good."

"Oh, I'm certain it does. Up until your head is rolling on the floor for your impudence."

"If no one does anything, how can we expect things to get better?"

"And how would you change things, child? With words? You think individuals that are revered as gods would take the time to listen to some big-mouthed lass coming out of who knows where? That they would care?"

"They don't have to. How do you put entitled children back on the right path? You teach them how to share, and play nice, whether they like it or not."

"Speaking from experience?"

"Perhaps. My family was part of the nobility. My brothers and sisters were spoiled little shits, just because my parents thought having noble blood gave you the right to treat the rest of the world like garbage. The brats did a good job at following their example."

"But not you?"

"I was the last one. They left me in someone else's care, which gave me a different upbringing. Best decision they ever made, if you ask me. I'd rather cut my own throat than end up like the rest of these assholes," she nearly spits out the last part.

"Whoever has been given the task to raise you, I pity them. They probably lost their sanity in the process."

A wholehearted laugh escapes Evelyn.

They finish their task wordlessly, rays of moonlight illuminating their pale faces and casting shadows around the corners of the room. In the middle of their endeavour, something on the inside of the elf's forearms catches her eye. Her skin is strewn with straight, red lines that glaringly contrast with her white flesh.

That's a lot of cuts...

The servant senses her blatant gawking rather fast, and after discerning what she's precisely staring at, brings the edges of her sleeves back down to her wrists. The murderous look she shoots in her direction tells Evelyn she better keep her mouth shut if she wants to finish the night with all of her organs intact.

A few seconds of complete silence ensue, and Idrilla's scowl softens. Evelyn awkwardly observes the wet traces they had left across the floor dry swiftly due to the heat. She should mind her own business, she knows that, but the alarm bells ringing in her head are not so easy to ignore.

"Your people... they have gods of their own?" asks the maid, dropping their respective floorcloths into the bucket and rising up.

She shrugs, her eyes following the elf as she begins to stow her equipment next to the entrance. "Depends on which part of society we're talking about. The big majority only has one, though. They're pretty obsessed with him. Fanatical, almost."

Maker this, Maker that...

"But you don't believe."

"Seeing is believing," she says while finally getting up. "And I've yet to see any proof of his existence."

The older woman starts grabbing the clothes the human had littered around the room, folding them neatly before placing them at the edge of her bed.

"So they devote themselves to something they've never seen? Or talked to?"

"Crazy, right?" Evelyn snorts. "At least, your evanuris are real beings. Not some silly fantasy concocted to keep the masses under control."

"You think us all devoted to the evanuris?"

"No, obviously," she emphasizes, giving her interlocutor a pointed look, "but a big part is. And even if you said that there were no gods, you still made the decision to serve Mythal."

"People have plenty of reasons to do what they do, child."

"What's yours?"

Idrilla guffaws snidely. "You're not getting my life's story, girl."

"I just find it weird. I'd never pledge myself into someone else's service, especially if I don't even think them worthy of it."

"Really?" drawls the servant. "Didn't you accept to work for the wolfling not long ago? Strange. From what I've heard earlier, you don't seem very fond of the boy. Why would you put yourself in this situation, I wonder? Hidden motives, maybe?" The smugness plastered all over her angular face is hard to miss.

Evelyn frowns. "How do you know about this?"

"Mythal and him talk. A lot. And I'm always around to hear the interesting bits."

"There's a difference between helping an organization, and catering to someone's every whim. I'm not his servant. I help the slaves, not him."

"For now," the elf retorts with a mocking smile, then nods toward the books piled up on Trevelyan's wooden nightstand. "Interesting choice of literature, by the way."

Interesting, but useless. Evelyn had borrowed several tomes from Vir Dirthara throughout the week, picking exclusively the ones making mention of the Void or even the Forgotten Ones, since the two seemed to be intrinsically linked. Her pursuit for enlightenment had proven unfruitful.

Again.

"Did you go through my things?" she impeaches, arms crossed.

Idrilla snorts. "Please. You think I have nothing better to do? They were on the ground, and I needed to put them away to be able to wash the floor."

"Yeah, I should have guessed." She sighs, expression a little less guarded. "They're not very helpful anyway. I went through the trouble of reading them all for naught."

"Did you? What are you looking for in those books of yours?"

"The Void."

The servant seems to find her answer hilarious. "Ah! Haven't you heard the saying, child? You don't find the Void. The Void finds you."

"Well, I'd really appreciate it if it could hurry up a bit then."

"Careful what you wish for."


---------


Her diner tonight consists of a steamy casserole accompanied by some sort of bun filled with peculiar jellybeans. Expecting sweetness from the colored little seeds, Evelyn is downright thrown off by the salty taste that greets her tongue when she bites into it.

Even the food is fucking weird here.

A good kind of weird, if the way she starts devouring her meal is any indication.

"What happened?" Compassion asks, gliding through the wall unannounced and forcing a gasp out of her.

Her bun escapes her grasp and tumbles back onto her tray.

"Oh god," she breathes out, a hand over her beating heart. "What did I say about appearing out of nowhere?"

"Something happened," it insists in a worried voice. "You're distraught."

She exhales forcefully, tired at the thought of dodging yet another of its futile attempts to make her spill her guts.

"It's nothing. Ignore it."

Compassion scowls at the floor, chagrined and confused. "I don't understand. Everyone likes it when I help. The People seek me out themselves most of the time. But you... you don't want me to help. You are miserable and yet, you would rather do nothing about it. You and Grief are much alike on this point. It is... frustrating."

"There's nothing you or I can do to take my pain away. It will always be there. I have to learn to live with it, and you constantly reminding me of things I would rather forget is not going to make me feel any better. I know you mean well, but you have to let it go."

"But, maybe we could alleviate it a little? It doesn't have to disappear. Subduing it, even just a bit, would be an improvement." It sighs dramatically. "I wish you would let me in..."

Nuh uh. Not happening.

"I can't. You would see too much."

"Perhaps I already have."

She frowns, blood turning cold. "What do you mean?"

"When we first met, I felt a strong urge within you. Not just suffering. A desire to help, to save... someone. Everyone, perhaps. And you've been researching a lot of things about the plague that took Lady Andruil's lands. I can catch glimpses of your intentions when your guard is down. Often, it is hard to see beyond the pain, but when I succeed, I sense a sort of... warning. Sensations of impending doom, in a way. You come from far away, left everything you loved to travel here. Whatever the reason, it has to be important."

She huffs, knowing she won't be able to hide much more from the spirit. "You must keep this to yourself."

With a rush, it lunges onward until it is practically in her face. "Anything! Anything to help!" It exclaims, before putting on a more solemn countenance. "I won't speak a word of whatever you decide to share with me. I swear it."

"Even to Mythal?"

"...Yes." Compassion is visibly struggling to make the oath. "Even to her."

She wets her lips, dubious, then takes a deep breath. "I'm here to prevent something horrible from happening."

"...Does it have to do with the plague?"

"To a degree, yes. The People are set on a path of self-destruction. Something has to be done to prevent this world from falling apart. I can say no more."

"Then I will help! I have to! But... what about the monster you think so much about? The one causing you pain? I cannot distinguish its shape, no matter how I try. Thoughts of the beast bring forth devasting feelings... of betrayal, I think." It muses, poking its own mouth with a pink finger. "Is it responsible for what you're trying to avert?"

"Somewhat."

"Did it follow you here?"

He's already there. He has been for a long time.

"No, nothing followed me here."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because there's no one left, where I come from. Everything is dead."

It blinks slowly. "The loneliness... it's where it comes from. I thought it came from being so far from your loved ones, but it's because they ceased to be! It should have been obvious, with Grief following you around... It must have known. It kept it from me."

"Don't condemn it. It was only trying to help."

"You trust it more than me," it remarks, despondent.

"I have nothing against you. Grief is just—" she pauses for a second, "more discreet, generally speaking."

"I hope one day, you'll trust me enough to tell me everything."

"We'll just have to see."

Compassion tilts its head. "Can I hug you to sleep?"

Evelyn lets out a strangled laugh, shaking her head fondly. "You're so weird."

As if by a twist of fate, Grief chooses that instant to waft into the room. It stops at the sight of the rosy spirit, staring at it disapprovingly. "Are you harassing her again?"

The next five minutes are filled with accusations and feeble excuses which ultimately evolve into bitter reproach. Being already accustomed to their daily squabbles, the woman returns to her meal and decides not to interfere.

As the night elapses, Justice reunites with the strange little band.

Evelyn didn't think it would be back so soon. Days ago, the spirit had embarked on an impromptu adventure alongside a stranger it had encountered in a tavern. Some sort of elvhen warrior seeking revenge for the death of his comrades, who had ostensibly died under mysterious circumstances. Or so Justice had told her. It had seemed truly earnest in its desire to help the man.

Against all odds, she finds herself quite entranced by the spirit's anecdotes.

"We heard heavy breathing behind us. The cavern was pitch black. Something large moved around in the dark. It came closer, and the hero summoned veilfire in his hands to help us see the interloper. We thought it was a man at first, since it wore armor. But we were wrong."

"What was it then?" questions Grief.

"Some terrible beast with dragon-like features, standing on two legs, eyes glowing red, with sharp-looking fangs and scales for skin."

"Scary," peeps Compassion, drawing closer to Evelyn.

"What happened next?" she asks.

"The hero spoke to it. I thought it would attack, yet it listened. There was intelligence in its eyes, understanding. But it did not answer. When we tried to move closer, it hissed and disappeared into the tunnels. We searched the place for hours, in vain. All we found was a basin of ignited blood and an altar, fashioned in the shape of fire."

"I hope I never meet one of these things," says the pink phantom.

"Some of the People are known to drink the blood of dragons. It's a rare practice, but it exists. Perhaps if someone drinks too much of it, they start to transform into what you've seen." Grief suggests to Justice.

"Perhaps, lethallin. I guess we'll never know. But what a thrilling time I had!"

 

Chapter Text

 

[ * ]


She's there once more.

Floating, weightless and aimless, held into place by an invisible hand. Hypnotized by the golden nothingness that surrounds her.

From here, she can behold the unseen. Hear the untold. Taste the intangible.

But her poor understanding puts a veil over all that she attempts to decipher.

There is a presence with her.

Unconditional love emanates from it. It seeps into her pores, fills her with sensations of utter acceptance. Cradles her into welcoming arms. It draws her in, like a moth to a flame. Puts her soul under a spell, forfends her from fighting against it.

Multiple voices ascend from the radiance, resounding all around her, male and female, and neither, speaking in unison, the stinging hiss of it violating her eardrums with every word.

"You are unborn," they slowly stress. "You should not be."

Their speech pattern reminds her a bit of the voices of the Well.

These are different though. More ancient. Predating life itself, maybe.

She doesn't know where that assumption comes from, but it reels inside her head with niggling insistence, until it's all she can believe.

Her host molds a silhouette out of the air, the dust, the light even, shaping it right in front of her. It borrows her form at first, her own viridian eyes staring back at her, lifeless. Like a doll would stare at you from atop its appointed shelf. Then, the face adjusts itself, substituting soft features for sharper ones. Clear irises for dull rings of darkness. Rosy cheeks for pallid ones. Pliable young flesh for craggy, haggard skin. Only to turn back into something smoother, more delicate, the next second.

And so on and so forth.

Her double turns into various men and women, people she has never met before, all seemingly human, right until it finally settles for pointy ears, a bald scalp and a chin marked by an infamous cleft.

Evelyn scowls at this false image of her ex-lover. "What is this? This is not funny."

"This is what you love the most," the voices sough.

"What's the purpose in showing me this?"

"Solace. A familiar face. Something to love. To trust."

"You want me to trust you?"

"To feel safe."

As if on cue, the fake Solas warmly smiles at her. The sight feels terribly wrong.

"Why? So you can probe me as you please?" she evokes, remembering her first experience in this place.

If a place it truly is...

"You have already been studied," they inform her, diction as slow as before. "No substantial answers were found. Your existence remains a mystery."

She frowns even further, perplexed. "What are you exactly? Spirits?"

"You would not understand."

"You want me to feel safe here? Then tell me what you are."

Their tone turns enigmatic. "Something more."

Evelyn jolts awake.


----------


For all its extensive knowledge, Ghil-Dirthalen has no wisdom to provide.

The spirit knows nothing of the place she attempts to describe, and according to it, the real source of the voices—whatever their claims—could turn out to be absolutely anything. Evelyn tries to explain the situation as best she can, to dispense as much details as possible, but words often fail her. Defining something one doesn't understand is no easy feat, after all.

Dejected, the human returns her borrowed books and leaves.

Her days develop into a routine of round-trips between the library and Arlathan's amphitheatre, the latter being the most convenient place to learn about magic, since Elvhenan has no Circles. The spirits of learning there are of no help either when it comes to decoding her dreams, but seem fairly fascinated by what she has to recount.

Despite the exasperating shortage of plausible explanations, she receives plenty of tips and guidance concerning the arcane arts. And, as demonstrated by her last encounter with Solas, self-control over her magical aptitudes is something she is in dire need of.

But her magic skills are not the only thing she endeavours to hone.

Abelas' insightful comments have been gnawing at her for days now, incessantly echoing around a dark corner of her mind. Evelyn knows she's far from defenseless, but there is always room for improvement.

Especially when your severed arm magically returns into place after two years.

Additionally, if she has to teach slaves how to fight at one point, she'd rather do it properly. Not looking like a fool while swinging her daggers around would also be a plus. Albeit her own experience with limb loss might prove useful, if any of them turned out to be crippled.

The Sentinels' training grounds are entirely vacant at night.

She takes advantage.

She spends hours alone, lashing out at the enchanted dummies who seem to have a mind of their own and parry her blows with sturdy shields and indestructible spectral swords. Justice even participates on occasion, playing the part of an imaginary foe for her benefit.

During one of her nightly sessions, she catches Abelas quietly observing her from a narrow distance. He makes no effort to hide his presence and just passively stares at the scene, his golden orbs focused on her every move.

"You're just gonna stand around and gawk?" she asks.

He takes approximately three seconds to respond. "I would offer some assistance, but I've been told this was 'none of my concern'."

She chuckles at the derisive reminder. "Oh, come on!" she drawls sarcastically. "Not even a little advice? Nothing to show me how superior Sentinels are to everyone else when it comes to combat?"

One of the dummies' head flies away after a particularly hard strike on her part. It bounces off the wall, rolls onto the ground and starts twitching like a dying animal before floating back to its original place and interlocking itself to the rest of its body.

"Have you ever thought about using a bow?" the elf inquires, eyes locked onto her face while she regards the creepy thing reassembling itself.

"It might have crossed my mind once or twice but, I tend to stick to what's familiar." She shrugs as her interlocutor walks up to her with a nonchalant gait. "It's the most efficient method when something is trying to kill you."

Had she decided to go through with it though, Sera would have been an excellent option as a teacher. Evelyn could totally picture the blond using positive reinforcement by rewarding her with raisin cookies whenever she would successfully hit her targets. Otherwise, maybe she'd get a pie in the face.

"I'm not suggesting that you become an archer," he clarifies, the volume of his voice ebbing due to their closer proximity. "See it as a temporary solution. It would force you to use both of your arms at the same time. Once you get used to it and the reflex becomes more natural, you can return to your habitual arsenal."

"...That's not a bad idea."

"I still cannot fathom how one can so easily forget they have a left arm. Especially in the midst of battle."

She rolls her eyes, smiling slightly. "You make it sound more bad than it actually is."

"Perhaps," he concedes, vallaslin curving around his contemplative gaze. "No one will be able to help you appropriately if you do not disclose where the true problem lies."

Evelyn mulls over his remark, purposely remaining silent while her fingertips toy with the hilt of her weapons. She cannot afford to blurt out the truth, not with someone as keen-sighted as Abelas. Or should she say Shiva? Her brain seems unable to adapt to his current name.

He'll always be Abelas to her.

"Someone is watching you," suddenly alerts the elf.

Remotely, she spots a pair of eyes peering in their direction, but the hooded man that owns them disappears behind a tree as soon as he is discovered.

"Everyone is, in case you haven't noticed. I'm the newest attraction in town." She dismisses, deciding to play dumb. "You were just doing it yourself."

"I don't follow you around while lurking in the shadows."

He's right, but she won't admit it. Those little games of surveillance have become a common occurrence these last few days. More often than not, she'd hear padded footsteps echo down the halls after she'd depart from a room, briefly intercept a stranger's intent gaze behind a row of books in Vir Dirthara, or catch the wavy reflection of a unknown visage upon the surface of Arlathan's fountains, after glancing at the water.

Sometimes it's a man, sometimes a woman. Cloaked figures that merge with the background, frequently unnoticed. Not twice the same person, however. These individuals alternate everyday.

They never say a word to her, but Evelyn is fully conscious that people do not pay this much attention to someone unless they desire something from them.

"You should be more careful," warns Abelas.

"That's easy to say when you're not the one being followed."

One of his nonexistent eyebrows surges to his hairline. "Perhaps you should also work on your awareness, then."

"Aren't you incredibly helpful?" she teases back.

Exhausted, Evelyn sheathes her blades, ready to call it a night.

"If they try to make contact with you... Come to me." He mysteriously urges. "Do not engage them."

"Why? You know who these people are?"

"No. But I have my suspicions."

"Which you're not going to share with me." She guesses, wondering why the Sentinel would keep this type of information to himself.

"No," he confirms, already strutting away. "Do as I say, and watch your back."

Yes, Sir.

When Evelyn finally returns to her quarters, she finds a lit candle sitting atop her nightstand, with a torn piece of paper tucked underneath.

'To all who listen, in whispers we answer.'


----------


She'll never acclimate to this, even if it's been happening since she was a child. Looking at herself interact with people from an outside perspective is the cringiest thing she's ever had to endure. She'd even pick the times when demons would try to trick her into letting them possess her over this crap, because at least, the demons could be banished. Retrospections? Not so much.

If fate really had to make me a mage, it could have had the decency to make me a dreamer. But no, let's give me all the disadvantages, and none of the good stuff!

"You're adorable," her dream self giggles, making her wince.

The remnant of a lifelike Cassandra chuckles breathily. "There are far worse things to be," she says, turning to face her friend. "Being Inquisitor has brought you good things. Many good things." Her expression turns sour, almost regretful. "But only a few have been by your choice. Take what happiness you can from those, and do not let them go. That is all I meant to say. Advice from a friend, for the days to come."

The Inquisitor's hand lands on the seeker's shoulder and a fond smile graces her lips. "Thank you, Cassandra."

Why this memory? Why now?

"You look much more congenial in memories than in person," a voice interrupts her musings.

Evelyn looks down to see a white wolf sitting beside her standing form. The beast is so massive its head narrowly reaches her shoulders.

She can't hold back her surprise. She hasn't seen Solas in a week, not since their ridiculous one-sided dispute, and she certainly didn't expect to bump into him here. In her own dreams.

"How did you find me here?"

Speaking to his beastly form is... uncanny. The waggling tail is also a bit disturbing.

"Being a somniari, joining people in the Dreaming is conventional for me." He elaborates, his six eyes pinned on the human. "Furthermore, your mark makes you..." his head cants in consideration, "glow."

That's me, the human lantern.

Effortlessly, the young god retakes elvhen shape. He appears distracted by the surroundings the Fade had conjured for her.

Orlais, at the time of the Exalted Council.

A period he knows nothing about, and most likely never will.

His lapse of mindfulness gives her time to examine his appearance.

She hasn't damaged him. Or if she did, he'd managed to heal it pretty well.

"Your nose looks fine," she comments, a tad mocking.

He frowns, plainly vexed. "You have very poor control over your magic."

Ah. Seems like His Majesty is still not over it.

She watches him stroke his nose unwittingly. "If this is your way to apologize, then you're severely lacking."

"You are the one who assaulted me, yet I should be the one to apologize?"

"I already said I was sorry. As soon as it happened, moreover. You acted like an ass."

Solas exhales painfully. "Clearly, we infringed on a contentious topic."

"You think?"

"And I sincerely doubt this will be our last disagreement."

"You and I both."

The elf wets his lips. "This leaves us with two options. We could both stand firm in our resentment or, we could move forward. Personally, I would prefer the latter."

This is as close as I'll get to an apology.

"...Agreed." Evelyn then hesitates for a few seconds, her gaze oddly evasive. "I wasn't sure I'd see you again."

Due to the abrupt dearth of interaction between them, she had wondered if he'd eventually retract his proposal to join his cause.

Apparently not.

"I am not as prideful as you think." He twists around before progressing onward at an unhurried pace, weight supported by his staff. "Come. I want to show you something."

Evelyn trails behind him until verdant plains lost between sky-high mountains supersede the flamboyant orlesian setting. She recognizes the site instantly. But instead of ruins, she stumbles upon the incipience of his greatest accomplishment. A heap of intensely focused elves is amassing magical energy, channeling it into an aloft sphere that then redirects the whole into the self-building structure in front of them.

His sanctuary.

"What are they doing?"

"Drawing raw essence from the Dreaming, to power its construction."

"It looks well-advanced."

"Yes. Its completion shouldn't take long."

Quickly, the soft chiming of the orb becomes the sole background noise audible. The two stay like this for a short moment, simply admiring the elaborate ritual taking place before them.

The human comes out of her trance when Solas addresses her again. "I've thought about what you said during our last argument. Quite a lot, to be honest. 'Am I being gullible by believing what I've heard but never seen with my own eyes? Am I actually the biased one in this matter?' I've wandered the Dreaming in search of answers. Memories that could expand my knowledge on the Durgen'len, and their way of life."

"What did you find?"

"Not what I had imagined."

"Did they act like automatons, in your opinion?"

"...No. For a race rumored so practical, they revealed themselves to be quite... emotional. More than I expected. Not in the same way of the People, yes, but still. They... surprised me. I was too quick to judge, it would seem."

"So, you gave some thought to the possibility of being wrong? That's all I was asking for, you know. It's easy to think that we know everything, we all do it from time to time. Even me. Any idiot can claim to hold the truth, but that doesn't make them right."

"Are you admitting that your judgement of us might also be spurious?"

Evelyn sighs. "You misunderstand. I've never implied that your people were indisputably evil."

"Not all of them, no."

"I—It's just..."

"You think the most of us cruel and vindictive." He waits for a reply, and seems to consider her ensuing silence as extremely telling. "So be it. You are entitled to your own opinion. Still, I hope working with us will give you the opportunity of seeing us under a new light."

She swallows uneasily, gaze lowered to the ground. "So do I."

His tone softens, a sudden vulnerability seeping through his flawless composure. "What we're doing here will change the way things are. Shape the world into a better place. I can feel it."

"The nobles won't be happy, neither will the evanuris. It will put a target on your back. Give you many enemies."

"I don't care who I anger by doing what is right."

Spoken like a true rebel.

In another world, Evelyn would have locked her arms around his neck and kissed him with all the adoration she was capable of. In this one, she has to fend off these urges of the past and stare at him in mere deference.

She nearly laughs at the thought of his reaction if she dared to attempt any romantic move on him right now.

He'd probably think I'm insane... And disgusting.

A twinge travels through her chest as the last word crosses her mind. "Good."

Far away, a lanky silhouette wrapped up in a dark cloak captures her attention. She wouldn't have noticed the man in question if not for those haunting violet eyes.

Huh, it's a small world indeed.

She cogitates, irresolute, but ultimately opts to voice her thoughts as she nods in the elf's direction. "I know him."

The god next to her blinks. "You do?"

"Felassan, right? I met him in Vir Dirthara. He insulted my intellect and commented on my breasts."

Solas chortles, the same way he had when she'd asked Varric if he was part of the chantry during their first meeting. "That would be him, yes."

"He works for you?"

"He does. He's also a dear friend of mine."

"Why am I not surprised?" she mutters under her breath.

Great minds think alike.

He rocks his face from left to right, still amused by the anecdote. "Before I forget, there is another reason behind my intrusion here."

She cocks her head, waiting for him to carry on.

"The strangest things have been occuring ever since your visit to the castle. My agents and I have had... interesting dreams, in which its architecture would radically alter out of nowhere. Transformed by the influence of an abstruse force. I hypothesize it might have to do with the mark on your hand. Am I correct in supposing its aim is to affect the Dreaming?"

...Fuck.

"You might be."

"Then, I would be interested in studying it." The look she shoots him is probably not very amicable. "With your permission, of course."

He obviously didn't possess his Foci yet, or he would know.

"Who says I'm the cause at all?" she tries unconvincingly. "Aren't you jumping to conclusions a little too fast?"

"You are the only factor that could have provoked such a change."

Well, this is bothersome.

Out of instinct, her hand reaches for the crystal that used to always hang around her neck. The one Dorian had given her so that they could stay in constant communication with one another. But her fingers only find a hollow space between her collarbones. Evelyn wouldn't get the exquisite privilege of Magister Pavus' private counsel, this time around. At least, that's what the man himself liked to call it. With a modesty such as his, he would have fit in well with the elves of ancient Arlathan.

Alas, with none of her clever friends at hand, she'd have to come up with a way to evade Solas' delicate questioning all by herself.

How am I gonna get out of this one?

He barely gives her enough time to open her mouth before thwarting all her hopes of denial. "If you're only going to lie, then save it."

"I really don't know what to tell you."

"Then don't say anything. But know you this: solving conundrums is a favorite pastime of mine. Whatever you're trying to hide will inevitably be unearthed."

Is that what she represents for him? A puzzle of some kind? Something to figure out? His older self had once called her a mystery, as they stood amid the delusive image of Haven's dungeons. A mere reconstruction of the Fade. It was the first dream they had shared together.

The first of many.

And here we are again.

"I shan't make it easy for you, if that's the case."

His mouth forms a charming smile. "I hope you don't," he intimates. "Be prepared. You should hear from me soon."

Solas subsequently vanishes.

Can't wait.


----------


"I'm not sure this is such a great idea. It could comp—"

"If I recall correctly," Idrilla's raspy voice cuts off the woman currently conversing with her, "nobody asked for your opinion."

"You have no clue what you are doing. Being an old hag does not make you omniscient."

Listening patiently from the other side of the wall, Evelyn perceives a light rustling and the soft sound of bare feet brushing against the wooden floor. An indication that Idrilla is moving closer to her interlocutor.

"Careful, girl. I like you, but don't push me."

"I answer solely to my master. You have no authority over me."

"This is what your master wants. All that is left for you to do is obey."

The human can practically hear the girl bristle from where she stands. The telltale sign of receding footsteps connotes the end of the discussion.

Evelyn retracts her prying ear from the door.

It's not like she was making a conscious effort to spy on the servants. She just happened by a fraught exchange between the two maids while on her way to the kitchens. It was mere coincidence, really.

She'd arrived too late to grasp what they were talking about, anyway.

Doesn't mean you had to eavesdrop, you snoop.

Turning around posthaste, Evelyn has the painful displeasure of diving headfirst into Abelas' unyielding chest.

"This is growing into a habit," she mumbles, words muffled by the hand rubbing her sore nose. "Don't you know how to make sounds when you walk?"

"You are needed," he announces matter-of-factly.

She sighs. "Let me guess... Mythal?" He nods. "And I can't... just..." her thumb points to the kitchens' entrance.

"Now." His tone doesn't leave any room for argument.

Her hunger would have to wait, apparently.

The two wordlessly make their way to the throne room, yet when they barge in, the embellished seat has already been deserted. Instead, Mythal is standing in the center of the room, looking strangely high-strung. Her long fingers skim along the metallic crown encasing her forehead, eminently akin to the one Flemeth once wore.

Something's clearly afoot.

As the duo draws near, the deity abruptly comes out of her reverie.

Golden eyes hastily explore Evelyn's features, deliberately welcoming despite the disquieted glint dwelling within them. "I trust your accommodations are to your liking?"

"It would be quite impolite to complain, wouldn't it? I have a roof over my head, and free food delivered to my room every day. What more could I ask for?"

The gemstones and pearls woven into her hair tinkle at the slightest motion of her head. "You're awfully easy to please, for a member of the nobility."

Visions of Idrilla's stern face infiltrate Trevelyan's mind. "Information travels fast around here."

"My handmaid's purpose isn't solely to scrub the floors. I think she likes you, which is a feat in itself. She's quite the grumpy woman, as I'm sure you've noticed. It usually takes a lot of effort to gain her esteem."

"I feel honored. But I'm certain you didn't summon me to talk about your maid."

"How insightful," Mythal quips. "Follow me."

The women begin marching through crowded corridors while Abelas dutifully falls into step with them. Everyone seems weirdly agitated, yet mindful enough to clear the way as the goddess and her contingent pass.

Their little group penetrates a large rotunda that resembles a makeshift infirmary. Somewhere between its round corners, Evelyn distinguishes Compassion fretting over a quivery body laying on a cot. Her friend barely even reacts to their steady approach, too engaged in its caretaking.

They halt next to the bed. The sheets are drenched with the patient's sweat, whose breaths come out in heavy puffs. The elves agglutinated around him are shooed away with a wave of Abelas' hand.

"The fever is coming down," says the spirit, "but the healers are still struggling to determine what's wrong with him."

"This is one of the miners who are harvesting the blue element contained within the Pillars' bodies." Mythal expounds for her. "I believe you called it lyrium during our last conversation." She recovers something from a nearby table. "You are familiar with this, yes?"

After opening it, she extends a small casket containing a shard of lyrium toward Evelyn, who shrinks back in horror.

"Are you insane? This is raw. It could kill us all."

"Kill us?" Mythal scowls, rapidly closing the box before tossing it to one of the healers. "Explain yourself."

"Explain what? How long have your people been mining this? How can you not know its effect?"

"It is our fault." Evelyn turns to the sickly miner who has just spoken. "We let it happen," he rasps with difficulty. "Kept it a secret."

It's not hard for the human to put two and two together.

"Your skin is obviously blistering," she observes. "I assume you also suffer from nausea?" The man nods slowly. "Do you feel as if you're growing paranoid, whenever you're exposed to this?" she points to the sealed casket.

He glances at Mythal nervously before nodding again.

"Why would you keep this from me?" inquires the deity. "For so long?"

"We didn't want to disappoint you."

"So you would risk your well-being? What an absurd logic."

"She's right," Evelyn concurs. "You should have said something sooner."

"We thought we could handle the situation ourselves."

"And look where it got you now."

"We thought if we didn't touch it, then maybe the symptoms would stop. So we started mining it with the help of magic instead. We stayed as far away from it as we could, just to be sure. It seemed to be working at first. We were convinced the issue was resolved, but it was simply taking longer to affect us."

Evelyn remembers the lyrium well her party had found in the Deep Roads while investigating the Qunari plot, as well as the brimming stone coffers facing the spring. Each one had been filled by the elvhen miners.

They assumed quarantining it would suffice. They were wrong.

"Being in its presence is enough," she specifies, eyes drifting to Mythal. "It needs to be processed before it can be used. Failure to do so would only bring death."

"What does this processing include?" asks the goddess.

"I don't know. Where I'm from, only the Durgen'len can mine it safely, and the know-how of the procedure is a closely guarded secret, even among their own community. No one apart from their mining caste has any idea how they manage it."

"Why would a simple mineral cause so much damage?"

"Because it wasn't made for us. This is alive. It can explode, it can even contract diseases. This isn't some harmless gem you can stitch into your clothing for the sake of adornment. It's dangerous."

"Clearly. And you have no further information to offer?"

"No. If you really want to keep mining lyrium, which I don't recommend, you will have to seek the Durgen'len's help."

The suffering miner grunts feebly, drawing attention to himself. "I am sorry, my Lady. We failed you."

"Enough nonsense," Mythal gently admonishes. "The blame is mine." A prismatic halo enshrouds her hand as she talks. "Rest." Her glowing palm presses against his forehead, and just like that, the man is put to sleep.

The deity removes her extremity from the slumbering elf to absently stare at the frescoed walls.

"This is going to be problematic," she opines in a low voice.

"You could order the dispatching to be delayed as long as possible." Abelas suddenly suggests.

After a modicum of silent deliberation, Mythal nods. "You know what to do."

Without further ado, the Sentinel slips out of the room in order to do as he's told.

"Who is receiving those shipments?" questions Evelyn.

"Influential people, my brethren included." The woman starts pacing around, getting palpably angrier by the minute. "They must have known. And have conveniently omitted to share news of their findings. Those fools..." she curses, shaking her head.

"Maybe they knew you would suspend the deliveries."

"Acting like children, for fear of their toys getting confiscated? It does sound like them. For their sake, our speculations better prove erroneous."

Trevelyan can perfectly discern the conflict taking place inside the goddess' mind. Being Inquisitor had brought her many such battles herself. Leadership should never be about power, but about responsibility. About making the hard decisions for the people that rely on you. And the tiniest mistake always ends up feeling like the greatest failure.

Mythal glances at her, all traces of her prior wrath dissipated. "You are more versed in this than anyone else here. Any suggestions?"

"None other than definitely putting a stop to the process," she shrugs. "I sincerely doubt the Durgen'len would feel inclined to lend a hand after learning that you are stealing their lyrium."

The other woman frowns. "Stealing?"

"They consider it a gift from the Stone, for their use only. Regardless of what your people plan do to with it, they would deem it an affront."

"Fantastic," she scoffs. "It seems we find ourselves at an impasse." Her nostrils flare as she breathes out deeply. "I trust I can count on your assistance concerning this matter? Along with your utmost discretion."

"Of course."

"Good. You can go. I have to think about this."

Evelyn watches Mythal depart from the room with steps so light she appears to be floating, some of the elves dispersed around the rotunda rushing after their mistress like needy pets terrified at the notion of losing sight of their master.

"Evelyn?" Compassion beckons, its presence almost forgotten. "I am glad you are here with us. You may think you are not doing much, but you are helping."

"Don't feel obligated to comfort me."

"But I want to. I believe what I said." The spirit casts a benevolent smile her way. "And you needn't worry. Mythal is the Protector. She will find a solution."

"What if the only solution is to stop everything?"

"Then she will. You saw her concern, didn't you? She would never let the People come to harm."


----------


Tired beyond measure, Evelyn shuffles to her quarters with the gracefulness of a reanimated corpse. Massaging her stiff neck as she closes in on her destination, it takes her a good minute to realize that her bedroom door has been left ajar. Which means that some uninvited ruffian had taken the liberty to invade her private space during her absence.

Based on recent events, and a certain note in particular, she might have an inkling of her visitor's identity. The tiny box placed on her bed confirms her suspicions. Inside it, a silver ring. Or more precisely, a dragon with rubies for eyes, eating its own tail. The message paired with it is as concise as ever.

'What you seek, we can provide. Let the ring guide you to us.'

Abelas' warning be damned. I need to know.

Swallowing thickly, she slips the trinket on her finger.

Something hooks itself to her very essence and pulls, dragging her out of her room, down the corridor, and out of the palace altogether before she can even make sense of it. If she listens closely, Evelyn can hear soft whispers coming from the ring. They remind her of the eerie muttering that would sometimes emerge from spells, runes, or enchanted objects. Anything magical, really.

Solas' frost glyphs used to produce similar noises.

Dorian had once asked Cole if he could hear magic. The answer had been somehow ambiguous.

"Don't your spells whisper things to you? What is and could be, music in the mind of strange, far away places?"

Yet, if she had to explain what she's feeling right now, the spirit's words would be a perfect fit.

[ * ]

She walks for a long time, ambling through the metropolis, stripped of any real control over her own body. It's not like she's forced to comply, per se, but rather that the sway the enchantment has over her is too magnetic to resist. She could, if she wanted. She simply doesn't.

The mesmeric mantra takes her to a fancy-looking tavern located in the heart of the lower districts. Fearless, whether because of the ring's impact or her own foolishness, she enters the building. The patrons completely ignore her presence, plainly engrossed in their drinking, gambling and nonstop chattering. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Her gaze sweeps across the room and meets the innkeeper's eyes, which quickly check out her hands, swooping onto the jewel. After ensuring that he has her attention, the man pointedly glances at a gate in the farthest corner of the establishment.

She gets the message.

Behind the secluded door, red candles clutter the stairs leading down to the basement. Their flames all flicker in the same direction, guiding her toward the next entrance. The whispers amplify, greedily consuming her thoughts.

She steps inside the dimly lit cellar. Hooded figures are scattered across the floor, deadly quiet and bent over in worship. Only one individual is left standing, right in the middle of the freaky display. An elvhen woman that Evelyn has never encountered prior to this day.

Before she can react, the she-elf drags the blade in her grip to her right palm in a ceremonious manner, and briskly slashes into it.

Blood drips onto the ground, some of it splashing onto her threadbare shoes.

The girl's pupils expand, filling her eyes with darkness, until it is all there is.

The voice that rises from her throat is guttural and otherworldly, almost demonic.

"We finally meet, stranger."

 

Chapter Text

 

[ * ]

 

"You were bold to heed our call."

The entity stares right through her, eyes akin to bottomless pits of darkness.

As creepy as the whole atmosphere is, the air feels completely void of hostility.

The circumstances would normally lead Evelyn to believe that she is currently communicating with a demon, yet the unfamiliar and potent aura surrounding the possessed woman clearly states otherwise. She'd crossed path with countless demons before, especially during her time as Inquisitor, and had learned to recognize the buzzing energy usually exuding from the wicked beings.

This is not it.

After a few seconds, Evelyn finds her tongue again. "Who are you?"

"You may call me Geldauran," the haunting voice submits.

Something inside her clicks at the appellation.

"One of the Forgotten Ones?"

The elf's flaxen eyebrows mildly budge. "Not so forgotten yet."

"The elvhen people say you are gods of terror, pestilence, and malevolence."

"Fools love to demonize what they cannot comprehend."

The thing signals the prostrating people encircling them with a subtle motion of its hand, causing the hooded figures to stand up in flawless synchronicity. All stay put, gaze reverently glued to the ground.

"Your people implied you could provide what I seek," reminds Evelyn.

"You have questions. And I, have answers."

Briefly, she regards the woman's sliced extremity with a calculating eye.

"Your followers use blood magic," she notes suspiciously.

"Is that what you call it?" The entity observes the bleeding hand of its host for a moment. "A simple gift to our disciples. The False Gods would keep the powers of the Dreaming to themselves, if they could." The wounded flesh girdling the gash magically mends itself, and the god fixes its disturbingly opaque gaze back onto the human. "We give the People the means to defend themselves against their endless cupidity. Those smart enough to listen, at least."

"If you are also considered to be divine, why not rule together with them?"

"There are no gods. There is only the subject and the object, the actor and the acted upon. Those with will to earn dominance over others gain title not by nature, but by deed."

I've heard that somewhere before.

"The plague that spread throughout Andruil's lands... it was you, wasn't it?"

"It was no one's fault but her own. The wildling breached our domain, and paid the price for it."

"Did you intentionally drive her mad?"

"We did nothing. This place was not made for the likes of her. She knew the risks, and yet came back. Over and over. Typical."

"You won't see her again, from what I've heard."

"Yes. The False Dragons were afraid, as they should, and the little mother took action. Too bad. I rather enjoyed watching them squirm."

"Why the rivalry between the evanuris and you?"

"They are pretenders. Greedy children trying to emulate what they'll never be."

Out of the blue, images of scaled, winged beasts forcefully succeed each other in her head, temporarily disorientating her. Humongous and graceful, they glide across indigo skies like it is their demesne, dancing between wispy shadows and blinding rays of sunlight.

'The Great Ones', voices whisper in her ears.

She shakes them away, simultaneously chasing the old god out of her addled mind.

"Every grand civilization has its great war," the ancient being carries on, "and ours was no exception. They fought, and with each battle won, more and more titles were bestowed upon them. We were already there when they rose to power. Their delusions of grandeur did not take long to emerge. They lured the faithful with promises of safety and protection, used their fear against them, and enslaved the masses. But we refused to submit to their will. And now, here we are. Impostors do not appreciate competition."

That last statement brings forth vague memories of Corypheus calling her an unknowing rival, and proclaiming that she would have to die for that exact reason. The perpetual contest for absolute dominion is a concern that transcends the ages, apparently.

"The People felt safer by letting themselves be enslaved?" she scowls, confused.

"The war left its scars into their hearts. They desired simplicity. Someone to make the hard choices for them. But centuries have passed since these events, and some have forgotten their fear. Dread is gone. Replaced by resentment, and with it, the renewed need for freedom."

"There must be a reason why the evanuris paint you as malevolent entities."

"Because our nature fits their propaganda? Good and evil. Right or wrong. Them, or us."

She briskly gestures toward the deity's cohort. "Why would anyone follow gods of anarchy? It doesn't make sense."

"You would be surprised. Some understand that to achieve change, chaos must come first. Life is a matter of balance. How could you experience elation without first experiencing sorrow? Fear could never be overcome without curiosity. All things in this world exist thanks to their opposite. Spirits and demons. Love and hate. Life and death. What is a hero without an enemy? The False Gods are considered benevolent solely because they have a darker counterpart to rise against. Without us, they would have never been. And yet, these ignorant braggarts want us forgotten. Seek our annihilation."

"And what is it you seek?"

"To claim power of my own. To strike in mastery against these impostors."

"Your motivations are not so different from theirs, then."

"Yet the means we employ drastically diverge."

"Pardon me but, I'm rather skeptical." She expresses, flashing a meaningful look at the motionless individuals.

"That is reassuring. Uncertainty requires an open mind. An indoctrinated fool never doubts."

Evelyn silently stares at her interlocutor for a bit, considering the sharp contrast between the woman's fair hair and those abyssal eyes.

"The Taint... How does it work?"

"When an unfortunate soul breaches the Abyss, their essence becomes corrupted."

"And you have nothing to do with it?"

"The darkness brings disease. Not us. But I won't pretend we wouldn't take advantage of this weakness, should the opportunity arise."

"So what exactly is the Void? Your 'domain', as you call it. Could it be some antithesis of the Dreaming?"

"You are starting to understand. It is an endless deep. An obscure reflection of the sky."

"Where is it located?"

"Within."

"Within what? That's not an answer."

"But it is."

Evelyn rolls her eyes, crossing her arms petulantly.

Freakin' gods and their cryptic bullshit.

"What do you gain by inviting me here?" she wonders. "Why take the risk?"

"Your kind is unknown to us. We have never met one such as you. A fleeting, ephemeral being. Your presence here is intriguing. You are a foreigner, and yet you do not seem very startled by what you have witnessed amid unfamiliar territories. If unfamiliar they truly are. Your actions and reactions do not always add up with your claims of nescience."

"I've seen some shit. It takes a lot to surprise me," she half lies, half confesses.

"So it would seem. Our agents say you see past the False Gods' masks. That is rare enough to deserve commendation. But also serves to prove our point."

"That doesn't answer my question."

"The Pretenders only allow people to see what they want them to see. They would reshape the truth to their liking, if left unchecked. But every story has two sides, if not more. We want to offer a different perspective. You esteem perspective, yes?"

It clearly knows about her fight with Solas.

How long have they been monitoring me?

"To what end?" she asks. "Is this some sort of recruitment tactic?"

"We do not need you to achieve our goals. But you might prove useful, eventually." It says, eyeing her mark for a while. "With time, you will realize the meaning behind our words."

She frowns. "You're planning something."

Two thin trails of blood slowly stream out of the host's nostrils.

"Our message has been delivered." The transitory occupant craftily overlooks her speculation. "And now, I must go."

"So soon?"

"The girl is reaching her limits. We will not speak again. Not for a while. Do not attempt to pursue us any further."

Using the elf's body to shorten the distance between them, Geldauran slides the ring off her finger, its fleeting touch making her tense.

"We will keep an eye on you. Should you speak of our encounter to anyone, we will know. Until we meet again, mortal."

The woman's pupils shrink back to their normal size, russet rings resurfacing once more. Strengths depleted, she falls to her knees with a feeble wheeze. Her associates seize her beneath the armpits and help her to her feet before escorting her out of the room. One of them stops at Evelyn's level long enough to dispense a word of caution.

"You have been warned. Do not give us cause to hunt you down."


----------


She wakes up to the sound of knocking.

"Go away Josie," she moans, forgetting where she is. "Just five more minutes..."

The annoying noise persists, even after she throws her pillow over her head.

She tosses the useless thing away. The sun peeking through the corner of her balcony door prevents her from adequately opening her eyes. Groggy, she sits up, realizing at last that her bed is not truly her bed, and that the person behind the door is most certainly not Josephine.

Probably Idrilla.

Rubbing her weary face, she rises from the bed with great difficulty.

Evelyn hasn't been able to sleep correctly since her enlightening discussion with the forgotten deity, three days ago. Her constantly churning mind has been keeping her awake for most of her nights. Too many questions, and too many answers all at once. The implications of Geldauran's words beset her, repeatedly echoing in her head as she tries to unscramble the potential clues hidden within.

Within... What the fuck did it mean by within?

To make matters worse, the trance induced by the ring had felt strikingly similar to what books pertaining to the Calling described. If the two ended up being related, then... That did not bode well.

She stares at the door, utterly out of it.

No one's tried to sneak into her room again. She knows. She's been holed up in here day and night.

No signs of the Forgotten Ones' devotees whatsoever.

Another series of knocks pulls her out of her unhealthy pondering.

Threading her fingers through her loose hair, she strides to the entrance and opens the door.

"Yes?" The sight of Solas greets her. "Oh, it's you."

He does not reply. Instead, his eyes seem strangely preoccupied with her legs.

As she looks down, she finally realizes her complete lack of pants. Or of anything besides her breastband and smalls, really. Fast as lightning, she grabs her sheets and wraps them around her torso, hiding her pale flesh from view while blushing profusely.

"Sorry, you caught me off guard."

"No need to apologize," he says politely, stepping in once she motions for him to enter. "The fault is mine. I did not think you would still be asleep at this hour."

He closes the door behind him.

"The last few days have been eventful," she sighs.

It's weird, watching him stand in the middle of her bedroom. It hasn't happened in years.

But since that train of thought can only lead to trouble, she quickly diverts from it.

"So I've heard. Mythal explained everything. We are lucky you decided to come here when you did, regardless of the cause. Your knowledge on the subject might prove useful."

"Not that much, I'm afraid. How is the miner?"

"Better. The symptoms are receding quickly. Others have arrived at the palace to receive treatment. It seems you were correct, being away from the lyrium seems to improve their condition."

Something's amiss. The way his eyes strive to focus on anything. The way his tongue aimlessly keeps tracing the back of his lower teeth. The abiding crease between his eyebrows despite his concealed attempt to slacken his features. She wouldn't be able to perceive all those details if she didn't know him like the back of her hand.

"You're worried. It's Mythal isn't it?" He doesn't respond, just openly gawks at her, discomfited. "Something wrong?"

"I'm sorry," he lightly rocks his head. "You read me like an open book."

"Does it freak you out?"

"It throws me off, rather. People seldom manage to see past what I allow them to. But not you. I guess I should learn to get used to it."

You should.

"If you don't want to talk about it, it's fine."

"No, no I... Mythal has been relentless in her quest for answers. I am concerned for her. I fear she will not allow herself to rest until she finds a solution, and that it might not even exist."

From what Idrilla had told her, the goddess' priests had entered Uthenera to scour the Dreaming in search of the dwarven processing Evelyn had previously mentioned. To no avail. Making direct contact with the dwarves might very well be their last resort.

"She's your friend. Your concern is natural." Again, he regards her strangely. "What?"

"Are you ill?" he genuinely inquires, frowning down at her. "You seem curiously well-disposed today."

She snorts. "If you want me to be a bitch, I can remedy to that."

"No, I most assuredly prefer this side of you." He admits. "I feel I should take advantage of this moment before your mood turns sour again." She gives him a questioning look. "These wardens Mythal and I saw you duel not long ago... The Sentinels explained the situation to us, after your fight. But one detail remains elusive. Why attack them?"

"They were looking for Than."

"Ah," the elf drawls, "so that's why—"

"Not entirely. They thought I was a demon for some reason. The lewd sort. It gave them unwarranted ideas, if you know what I mean. Don't know how they even came to that conclusion in the first place," she grumbles, pursing her lips.

He becomes oddly contemplative in the wake of her disclosure. "Your appearance is more... provocative than the average elvhen woman."

...What?

The old Solas had never alluded to anything of the sort. Evelyn wonders if he had ever given such thought to her outward appeal, shortly after meeting her. If he had ever found her proportions confounding. Surely not. He had already met plenty of other human women by that time, after all. Then again, the man had always been quite reserved about his innermost thoughts, so she has no way to be certain.

"How?" she queries. "I realize I'm smaller in height, but our bodies look the same to me."

"You obviously ignore the inner workings of the male gaze. What you said is true for the most part, but your... feminine assets, are..." she catches his eyes trailing downward for a second, "shapelier than most."

"...I see." She needs to stray from this awkward topic. Now. "Did you have a particular motive for visiting me?"

"Oh," he blinks, "yes." He clears his throat. "The construction of the sanctuary has concluded. The large majority of my people have already relocated to it."

"And you want me to come?"

"Yes. Preferably tonight. There are a lot of preparations to be made, and my men and I could definitely use a hand. The eluvian that normally leads to the castle should take you to the place I showed you in your dream."

"Alright, I'll be there." Although she expects her spirit companions might insist on tagging along. "Compassion might try to follow me. Actually, this applies to the other two as well."

He smiles, unbothered. "Does their company aggravate you?"

"It did, at first. It felt a bit... outlandish. Not so much now. It helps me familiarize myself with your world faster than if I was on my own all the time. And they give me some space whenever I demand it, so I don't really have any reason to complain."

Solas very slightly leans forward, as if his next words required more proximity between them. Two of the long strands gathered in his ponytail flop over his shoulders, framing his face and luring her attention to it.

She does not consider how his hair would feel against her fingertips.

She does not.

His extremities cross behind his back, like everytime he's about to elaborate on something. "Spirits are attracted to things that reflect their nature. The fact that Grief, Justice and Compassion choose to spend so much time with you reveals more about your character than you'd think."

"In a good or bad way?"

"Good, of course."

Idrilla appears in the doorway, halting at the sight of them, a tray of food in hands.

Her eyes wander the length of Evelyn's frame in a judgmental way.

"I see you don't waste any time, girl." She comments, walking in. "First you give the poor man a nosebleed and now you flaunt your goods under said nose. Humans are quite the paradox, aren't they?" she proffers to the other elf.

"That's not—" Evelyn ceases all attempts to rectify the servant's claims, closing her eyes and pressing cold fingertips to her flushed forehead.

Solas is hardly trying to contain his amusement. "I should go."

"Quick, before the rest comes off." Idrilla jests in a falsely serious tone.

The human sends a deadly glare in her direction, which she pointedly ignores while placing her tray onto the bedside table.

The situation reminds Evelyn of yet another embarrassing souvenir involving Varric, who had caught her and the elven apostate throwing longing glances at one another after a certain first kiss in the Fade.

"What is it with human girls and broody elves? Fenris despised mages, and he had Hawke swooning over him in no time. And now Chuckles got into the Inquisitor's pants, when he doesn't even consider humans to be people in the first place. Is it some elven trick I'm not aware of?"

"I did NOT swoon," Hawk had firmly contested.

"And no one got into my pants, Tethras."

"Not yet. I'm not blind Creeper, I know lust when I see it."

"Tis' as plain as the nose on your face," Morrigan had added unhelpfully.

"Ugh."

"Careful Inquisitor, Cassandra's starting to rub off on you."

Cheeky little dwarf.

The sound of her door closing brings her back to the present.

"I hate you," Evelyn quietly mouths to the maid.

"No," the latter smirks knowingly. "You really don't."


----------


"I am glad to see you out of your room," Compassion beams, walking next to her. "It was starting to get gloomy in here, to be perfectly honest."

"Are you talking about the room, or me?"

It stares at the ground timidly. "Both..."

She smiles at it in a nearly affectionate manner. They continue to traverse the palace, Compassion prattling all the while. There are much more People roaming around since the miners' arrival, and navigating through the corridors is a bit of a hassle. At one point, her and her translucent associate come across a curious display. The spirit immediately shuts up and both of them come to a halt.

Robed elves are transporting the inert body of one of their kin through the halls by means of a flimsy but sturdy-looking mattress.

Evelyn finds Abelas observing the scene himself a few feet away and decides to join him. "What's happening?"

"One of Mythal's priests has achieved perfection," he informs. "They are moving him to a bed of pure white, as is customary."

Okay, I'm just gonna pretend I know what he's talking about.

Probably some extravagant rite regarding Uthenera.

As the group of priests eventually evaporates, she glances at the Sentinel. His golden stare shifts between the human and her companion before ultimately focusing on her.

"You haven't come by the training grounds lately." His tone sounds almost accusing.

"Oh..." she lets out, surprised he had noticed at all. "Yes, I've been busy with other things."

His unsettling eyes always seem to perceive much more than they let on. "Are the individuals we spoke of bothering you?"

"No. Not at all," she denies. "Truthfully, I haven't seen them in days."

It's not like she's lying... Technically.

He hums, dubious. "Do not permit laziness to get in the way of your training. We cannot come to your rescue everytime you attract the wrong kind of attention."

She frowns, ego pricked. "I can defend myself, thank you very much."

"Maybe. You have some tricks up your sleeve, I will give you that much. But once you finally stumble into something bigger than you, those little ploys of yours might prove insufficient."

His thoughts distinctly shared, the man casually slips away.

"He means well," hints Compassion. "His tactless demeanor comes from a place of concern."

Evelyn furrows her eyebrows, bemused. "Why would he be concerned?"

"He thinks your unfamiliarity with this world might make you an easy target."

He isn't that wrong.

The two of them get back on track, escaping the palace via an eluvian and marching into the city to retrieve their other comrade. As per their request, she had promised Grief and his pink counterpart to take them with her on her trip to Solas' sanctuary.

Minutes elapse, and the duo reaches the orphanage at last.

The sorrowful spirit is waiting for them in front of the entrance. The gates are wide open, allowing laughter and high-pitched voices to emerge within earshot. Reunited, the trio sets off for the Crossroads, when Grief abruptly grips the edge of Evelyn's sleeve between its fingers, stopping her in her tracks. As she whirls around, the orphan boy that had questioned her parentage is rushing toward them while one of his caretakers watches attentively from atop the stairs leading to the doors.

"Here," the small elf grabs her hand and knots something around her wrist. "We learned how to make bracelets today. Since you're one of us, you get one too."

She examines the trinket. Blue and golden threads are tastefully woven together. A tiny crescent moon hangs in between the strands. The color scheme is eminently reminiscent of Arlathan's crystal spires.

"Thanks," she replies softly. "I'll take good care of it."


----------


The setting sun at their back, Evelyn and the two spirits penetrate the edifice with a wide arched entrance. There are a million things to do upon their arrival. Everyone is urgently running around, accomplishing task after task without complain or pause.

The sanctuary's state of affairs is predictably evocative of the Inquisition's beginnings.

It's like being back in Haven again.

Perhaps their days spent helping The Hinterlands' refugees had reminded her ex-lover of his own work here. It might also explain why he had been so approving of the assistance given to the victims of the conflict opposing mages and templars.

The structure's lower levels are filled with escaped slaves that either sit or lay upon their respective cot as Solas' people tend to their wounds and various other needs. Bowls of stew are distributed to the ones with enough strength to eat. Through it all, comforting whispers and smiles permeate the entire vicinity. Grief and Compassion already seem pretty fond of the place, which is not that astounding considering that the atmosphere is simultaneously saturated with both hope and sadness. Evelyn helps as much as she can, obediently following the instructions given to her by the healers, who were apparently expecting her. Meanwhile, the human is mindful to avoid proximity with any of the doors adorned with mosaics, afraid that her mark might start reacting to them, as it had in the past.

What would she tell the bystanders? Or Solas? That would be quite the predicament.

Amid the upper levels, the walls surrounding the stone wolf are dismally bare, but the lack of murals actually makes sense. The situation is pretty chaotic right now and Solas most likely hasn't find the time to paint them yet. If the idea has even crossed his mind in the first place...

The veilfire scintillating within the braziers give the whole area a dusky turquoise shade. She wistfully brushes her fingertips along the wolf's tail, admiring the gleaming Fade-colored flames burning within its eyes before going back to work.

Many hours have passed when she chances upon Than, clad in an impressive leather armor and looking ready for battle. The two women sit at the foot of the statue to converse in peace, caged between the beast's legs.

"I haven't seen you in a while," points out the former slave. "Were you on a mission?"

Evelyn would have to perpetuate the lie, thanks to Solas' deceitful fabrications.

"I guess you could say that. How have you been? You seem quite transformed."

"Oh," the girl smiles shyly, "I have a hahren now. He is teaching me how to properly use my magic."

"What have you learned so far?"

"Mostly, how to summon fireballs. Not much else, sadly. Oh, but I burned a rabbit to a crisp the other day! It was very exciting..." she recalls with a pleased mien.

Evelyn can't help but blench. "...Delightful."

Who the fuck is her mentor?

The girl notices her appalled countenance. "Oh, but I didn't do it out of cruelty!" she hurriedly rectifies. "We used it for dinner."

"Now, now..." a masculine voice interrupts the pair. "Why would anyone willingly confine themselves into a wolf's clutches?"

Felassan.

Without his hood shadowing his features, Evelyn can plainly discern the outlines of Mythal's vallaslin tattooed across his face.

Why would he keep this if he's part of the slave rebellion?

"Hahren, this is the woman who freed me of my markings."

"So there is a kind heart beneath all that wit? Color me impressed."

"You two know each other?" Than inquires with knitted brows.

"Let us say fate has a twisted sense of humor," she answers.

All of a sudden, someone calls for the elvhen girl from downstairs. The latter stands up in a trice, as if her rear had been set on fire.

"I have to go." She seems reluctant, her hazel gaze traveling between her mentor and the human. "You two play nice, hm?"

"You know me, da'len. I am the definition of pleasantness," Felassan quips.

Trevelyan waits for his disciple to be gone to correct his assertion. "Or pomposity."

"Ah, I was wondering where that sharp tongue had gone."

Evelyn proceeds to ignore the elf, playing with one of the ravens roosted on the edge of the statue's base instead.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you. Not if you value your privacy." She shoots him an inquiring look. "They are agents of Dirthamen. Their eyes collect secrets and track forgotten mysteries."

Feeling suddenly less inclined to entertain the bird, she aggressively shooes it away. It caws disapprovingly as it flies off. A deep chuckle resounds behind Felassan's sealed lips.

"He's messing with you," Solas intervenes, walking up to them with Grief and Compassion in tow. "Well, to a degree..."

The spirits calmly float to Evelyn's side as she rises from the floor.

None of them get the opportunity to further interact with each other however, as one of the sanctuary's sentries rushes up to address the young god. "Sir, a woman has arrived asking to see you. She seems distraught and keeps blabbering about fugitives and needing help."

"It's true, I can feel her anguish from here!" Compassion confirms.

"Let her through," Solas requests.

Seconds later, said woman barges in, frantic. A tawny hawk is flying closely behind her. She reaches for Solas as soon as she spots him while the bird settles onto the statue's snout.

"Please, my Lord!" she implores breathlessly. "The villagers, they whisper rumors about you. That you and your men help the People who wish to break free from their chains."

"They speak the truth."

She heaves a breath of pure relief. "Thank the Creators! I beg you, you must help. My sons, they are in grave danger."

"Slow down. Do not let panic overwhelm you," he instructs, giving her a moment to regain her composure. "Now, tell me what's going on."

"My oldest child, he used to be bound in servitude to Elgar'nan, but him and some of his comrades rebelled and fled. He sent word at our house, saying that they were in hiding and being hunted down. He even took the risk to give away their location. My youngest son left to help his brother a week ago. I hadn't heard from him since, and then his pet returned home with this."

The mother pushes a torn piece of clothing into the other elf's hands. After a whole minute spent staring into space, Solas wordlessly presents Evelyn with the fabric, which she accepts without hesitation. As soon as her fingers come into contact with it, her vision warps, the same way it would everytime she'd glimpse at one of the abundant memories compiled within the library.

It begins with a blur. The sounds of heavy panting and light boots dashing over soft soil and crackling leaves can be heard. Her surroundings start to materialize. Men and women are running at her sides, darting between the trees, desperately trying to escape from something. Arrows and bolts of thunder fly past them, missing them by a hair's breadth. Above her head, the piercing scream of a hawk resonates among the canopy. Her heart is pounding fiercely against her ribcage.

No. Not her heart. It belongs to the mother's son.

Some of his companions begin to fall under the ranged attacks of their pursuers, when suddenly, a hand grabs his and yanks him into another direction. The decor shifts. The group of survivors stumbles into a cave. Darkness reigns over the tunnels, forcing her host to summon fire into the hollow of his palm.

"Stay close to me," he whispers to the others.

Evelyn finally becomes aware of the sharp talons painlessly clutching his right shoulder. Treading along the walls with careful steps, the elves pass by a row of enormous pink eggs strewn in disarray across a damp, cavernous chamber.

"This is a nest," declares a man her host identifies as his older brother. "We need to get out of here."

"Are you insane? They're right outside!" protests a member of the group.

"Would you rather wait for their mother to return?"

The memory's owner walks backward, eyes searching for an exit, until his back bumps into something dreadfully large and bone-hard.

He twists around just in time to watch the eye of an imposing beast flutter open, revealing a slitted pupil that immediately focuses on the blue flame within his palm. A terrible roar shakes the entire grotto.

The setting changes once more. Out of breath, the elves find refuge inside an old, deserted temple. The dragon is vainly banging its head against the gates. Even after the noises cease, its presence can still be felt behind the walls. The group sinks further and further into the place of worship, halting beneath a round opening in the ceiling that casts a sliver of light into the room.

The older brother thoughtfully glances at the hawk perched upon his sibling's shoulder.

"Use Ghilanas. Send a message to mother. She'll do what she can to seek help."

"There's little chance it will work," remarks one of the women.

"We have to try. It's our only hope."

Her host tears the lower section of his coat and uses magic to ensnare his most recent memories into it. Trembling hands secure the material around one of the bird's feet.

'You know the way. I'm counting on you, friend.'

The vivid recollection ends as his fingers slide off the cloth.

Evelyn blinks the vision away. "They're trapped."

Felassan gently pries the item from her grip to examine it in his turn.

"They don't have much time," indicates the woman. "That thing will find a way to get inside. Please, help them. All of them."

"I have to stay here," Solas frowns, turning to Evelyn with a dispirited expression. "Would you..."

"Of course."

He offers her a tightly drawn smile, some of the weight on his shoulders momentarily lifted. "Your sole purpose will be to lead the fugitives to this place. Do not engage the beast unless it's absolutely necessary. Felassan will assist you. This will require discretion. Sending a large group of people might draw too much unwanted attention."

"We'll be fine, old friend." Felassan reassures confidently.

"Oh, ma serannas!" Exclaims the mother, pressing a relieved hand over her heart. "Take Ghilanas with you, it will guide you to them."

At her words, the hawk roosts itself onto Felassan's shoulder.

"I'm coming too!" Compassion cuts in. "I can help! I can make myself invisible. Oh, I can also make you invisible!"

Ah, yes. Evelyn had completely forgotten about Cole's peculiar abilities.

"The spirit might indeed come in handy," says the purple-eyed mage.

"Fine," she concurs. "You can come along."

"I'm not leaving you alone with this calamity," Grief interjects.

"A calamity? Where?" Compassion asks, forever oblivious.

The elvhen mage pats its head as if it were a child. "I guess our little party has just been expanded to four."

"I'll join you as soon as I can." Solas assures before beckoning his nearest agent. "Find her a bed for the night." He gestures toward the tormented mother.

Felassan meets Evelyn's eyes, a conceited smirk upon his lips. "I hope you walk faster than your tiny legs suggest, little partner."

 

Chapter Text

 

Evelyn, Felassan, and the two spirits start their journey at daybreak. Ghilanas is continually flying ahead of them, performing regular loops above the trees, its cries leading them onto the right path.

They reach the border of the forest crossed by the escapees in the span of a day. The process includes a few eluvians and a lot of walking. Thankfully, the human hasn't stuffed her pack too much, and the trek isn't as tiring as it could be. En route, Felassan frequently switches between being very talkative or very taciturn in a matter of seconds. He has plenty of questions about human societies, most of them inspired by whatever catches his eyes amid the villages they traverse.

What kind of clothes do they wear? Do they wage wars against one another? Which gods do they worship? What language do they speak? Have they all lost their connection to the sky, like her? When his inquiries become too bothersome, she simply glares in his direction while remaining stubbornly mute. It's apparently enough to prompt him to stop his pesky interrogation.

"We should make camp," the elvhen mage suggests as the sun starts to disappear over the horizon.

Evelyn isn't terribly fond of the idea of wasting anymore time, they ignore how long the fugitives have been trapped in the temple after all, and that makes every minute count. Felassan argues that looking for something in complete darkness is rather futile.

The elf has a point, and so she finally relents.

Grief and Compassion immediately waft toward the lake adjacent to the clearing where their little group settles for the night. Ghilanas roosts itself onto the thickest branch of the nearest tree and falls asleep in record time, head tucked into the puffy feathers of its back. According to the map and enchanted crystal Evelyn takes out of her pack, their current location is the Planasene Forest. Or its elvhen equivalent. The Valence cloister she had visited with Leliana had been right on the other side of it, somewhere upon the Waking Sea.

Their campfire made, she sits down around it and begins to grind the foreign but beautiful flower—leafed death, to quote Felassan's words—she's picked up during their travels, using a curved piece of wood as a mortar and an oval pebble as a pestle. She mixes the obtained powder with a bit of the herbal salve she's brought among her things. It's sufficiently greasy to replace the oils she usually employs to make her poisons stick to her blades. Once her mixture has finished brewing, she coats her daggers with it. From the opposite side of the fire, Felassan eyes her handiwork with a deprecating grimace.

"You don't even know what it does," he chides, alluding to her lack of knowledge on the newfound plant.

"You said it was lethal," she reminds. "Isn't that enough?" She lifts her gaze from her busy hands to peer at him, and a coy smile graces her lips. "Don't approve of poison?"

"It's distasteful," he sneers.

"Oh, because setting people on fire is so much more commendable."

Her task accomplished, Evelyn leaves her weapons on the ground, gets rid of her coat and boots and sets off to join her spectral companions. She sits at the edge of the lake, lodged between Grief and Compassion, soaking her bare feet into lukewarm water after rolling up the legs of her dark leather pants mid-calf. A pleasant breeze drifts through the saggy sleeves of her white shirt, goosebumps forming across her exposed shoulders.

"Divided in life, but together in death. Cursed be those who pretend to care, yet would deprive them of their freedom of choice." The pink spirit maunders out of nowhere. "The decision might be their last, but it is their own."

The human frowns. "What?"

"Two lovers drowned themselves inside that lake," reveals Grief. "Their families disapproved of their union. Both sides would have kept them apart forever, given the chance."

Charming. That explains why those two were so quick to rush here.

Over the next hour, her two friends regale her with popular facts about the various constellations visible throughout the sky. Unsurprisingly, most have to do with the elvhen pantheon. She listens attentively, gaze alternately wandering between the blinking lights emitted by the fireflies flitting above water and the stars both spirits expound upon by turns.

Weirdly, the crescent moon of her bracelet seems to react to the moonlight, deliberately reflecting its luminescence.

Wolves suddenly howl in the distance, sending her heart in a frenzy.

The alarm the sound invokes in her has become a reflex that she cannot control.

Compassion gasps, detecting her inner turmoil. "The beast... It was a wolf!" it whispers fervently. "I see its shape now... It took your arm. Devoured your heart." Evelyn can almost feel the sympathy it pours into each word.

No use in denying it now.

"That's one way to put it."

"I understand now." She meets its enlightened gaze, curious as to why the spirit keeps its voice so low. "You always feel quite tense around Solas. He must remind you of the wolf who hurt you."

"...Sometimes, yes."

Compassion stares at her left arm. "It feels wrong..."

"It's getting better," she assures, wrapping her fingers around the appendage. "Why are you whispering?"

"I don't want him to hear us."

Evelyn follows its gaze, only to find a cross-legged Felassan levitating above the lake, eyes closed in concentration.

Show off.

"What are you doing?" she asks, nonplussed by his antics.

"Communing with nature."

She snorts. "What's next, are you gonna hump a tree and dance naked under the moonlight?"

A faint chuckle rumbles within his throat. "If this is a stratagem to get a glimpse of my wonderful figure, I'm afraid it's not going to work."

"Reassuring. I have enough nightmares as it is."

"Perhaps if you gave meditation a try, nightmares would no longer be an issue."

I wish it were that simple.

Shaking her head, she leaves the man to his ritual and returns to their camp alone to bury herself inside her bedroll.

She falls asleep faster than expected, considering her latest nights.

Her dreams take her to Skyhold, or rather, the present version of it. The whole architecture is undoubtedly more elvhen than during the Inquisition's time. Every door, window or entrance of any kind is arched. Most of the rooms are so dissimilar to her souvenirs that she struggles to identify them, although there are bits and pieces of what had once been familiar to her scattered here and there.

The entrance hall however, she recognizes right away. Her throne—a detailed depiction of a hooded Andraste burning on her pyre, ensnared by gilded flames—stands proudly at the other end of the hall. The black pawns Evelyn's advisors used to place onto the war table's map are arranged in a perfect circle around the sophisticated seat.

Solas hadn't lied about the Dreaming altering its reflection of the castle. Stone and wood from both periods swirl around one another, creating whirpools along the distorted walls and floors.

The Fade is blending past and future together.

She strolls through shifting corridors, exploring every accessible area she comes across. There are no people roaming around, at the very least, which only works in her favor. She can't imagine her ex-lover's reaction to seeing humans, dwarves and Qunari running around the place as if they owned it. The Inquisition's heraldry can be spotted sporadically throughout the stronghold. Evelyn gently traces its contours, pensive. The symbol has always seemed incredibly eerie to her. An all-seeing eye with sunrays twisting around it, and a sword piercing through the lot. Had Solas gazed upon it and wondered about its meaning?

Probably.

One detail both relieves and worries her, though. No matter what room she wanders, the rotunda's frescoes are nowhere to be found.

If this shit keeps spreading and his murals start to appear, I'm screwed...


----------


They set off as soon as daylight emerges, sinking deeper and deeper into the Planasene forest. Purple and blue mushrooms are dispersed everywhere athwart the ground, their luminescent caps coloring the grass and leaves in comparable shades. But even the wood's beautiful fauna is not enough to diminish the ominous feeling that lingers in the atmosphere.

The further they go, the more sparse the vegetation gets.

"I feel a potent anger somewhere within this forest," Compassion warns. "We're drawing closer to it."

"Don't know about anger, but the air smells of scorched wood." Evelyn notes.

"And death," adds the elf. "Tread carefully."

It barely takes a few minutes for them to find the source of the stench. A dark seam separates the vicinity in two, significantly scaring the verdure, while everything outside of it appears contrastingly untouched. Bodies litter the ground, some almost reduced to ashes, and some in better conditions due to their protective gears, which are still too damaged to offer any clue on their wearer's identities. Felassan skeptically surveys their surroundings as Evelyn inspects the victims one by one. Ghilanas stops mid-air to peck at the corpses she's handling, as if the gesture could revive them. Bloated flesh and burned metal are fusing together around unprotected necks.

"I can't get it off," the human sighs after vainly trying to pry the helmets off of the dead's heads. "It's melted to their skin."

"Either one of them got out of hand with fireballs, or our dear mother-to-be has burned everything in her wake." Her partner suspects.

"The cave must be nearby," she deduces.

Each tree present within the scar's boundaries is completely charred, at the exception of one.

Felassan keeps eyeing it with a strange glint in his eyes. "I'm hungry," he complains, a hint of threat in his voice.

"Why didn't you eat before we hit the road?"

Evelyn watches him approach the oak at a predatory pace, Ghilanas perched on his shoulder. She briefly wonders if the inconspicuous, shuddery motions amid the tree's roots are just a figment of her imagination.

"I wasn't hungry then," he replies, abruptly ripping a chunk of its bark before putting it in his mouth.

A sharp cry of pain echoes across the forest. Inch by inch, a disgruntled face materializes at the center of the oak's trunk.

"This blasted winged serpent nearly roasted me, and now one of those tree-eaters is ripping off my flesh!"

Oh, a sylvan.

She'd read about the strange creatures but had never met one in person.

Well, before today.

"You hurt it," Compassion tells Felassan.

Gaze utterly apathetic, the elvhen mage reaches for the bark again, but Evelyn slaps his hands away before they can graze the wood.

"Enough. You're just gonna make it more angry."

"The anger will never fade," he informs, still chewing. "It is Rage."

"You, short ears!" beckons the great tree. "Get the lanky sprite away from me!"

"We apologize. The gangly fairy didn't know you were sentient," she lies. "It won't happen again."

"You're enjoying this far too much," the concerned party mutters with a frown.

She ignores the elf, focusing on the wooden spirit. "This winged serpent you mentioned, it was a dragon, correct?"

"It was drawn here by those malnourished sprites with markings on their faces, like the one beside you. There were other legged-individuals pursuing them too, but I couldn't see their features. They were covered from head to toe, with armors as golden as the sun."

"Elgar'nan's warriors," Felassan says while picking his teeth.

"The beast fried everything that stood in its way without prejudice. Some of them made it out alive, sadly."

"Which ones?" Evelyn questions. "The sprites or the armored ones?"

"Majority of his lookalikes survived," the oak points to her elvhen companion with one of its shortest branches. "But I saw some of the others rise from the ground a few hours later. They were heading in the same direction as their preys."

"So both the slave hunters and the dragon were stalking them." On edge, she glances at Felassan. "I hope we're not too late."

"If you come across that scaled terror, slaughter it in my name!" the sylvan exclaims solemnly.

"We shouldn't kill anything unless it attacks first," Compassion intervenes in a gentle manner.

Rage regards the spirit as if it were a buzzing insect flying too close to its ears.

Evelyn crosses her arms. "Everything around you is ravaged. How did you manage to remain unscathed?"

"I had to mold my roots into legs so I could get away in time. I detest being mobile!"

"Too bad," the elf butts in. "I heard that exercise does wonders for the mood."

"Silence, pest!"

"Why did you choose to possess a tree of all things?" continues the woman.

"Spirits are annoyingly noisy, like that pink one on your left. I left the Dreaming in search of tranquility, but these frolickers populating the Waking world are even worse than my brethren. I chose this place because it was quiet and far away from civilization." Rage's branches furiously undulate. "Now look at my predicament!"

"Why not just leave the tree?"

"It is my tree! My forest! I found them first. Why should I be the one to relocate elsewhere?"

"Perhaps you should calm down. You might burst into flames otherwise." Against all odds, the spirit seems to heed her advise. "Thank you for your help. We'll leave you in peace now."

"Good luck to you, short ears. Should the flying snake prove too much for you, you should feed it the vermin." The sylvan recommends, its beady eyes trained on Felassan. "It might just let you live, if properly sustained."

"I'll think about it," she smiles, finding the idea quite appealing. "It was a pleasure meeting you."

"Indeed," snorts the mage. "A real delight."

Evelyn elbows him in the ribs as they twist around to follow the trail of devastation left by the dragon.

"It called me annoying," Compassion mumbles in a doleful tone.

"Even Rage is capable of insight," retorts Grief.


----------


Their investigation culminates at the ancient temple witnessed in the boy's memories. To say that the impressive edifice has been reclaimed by nature would be an understatement. A layered moss covers the entirety of its facade, from the crooked spire towering above the roof, to the weathered tiles adorning the floors. The extensive bridge leading to the gateway seems infinite, even as they tread upon it. Evelyn has no trouble recognizing the emblem hovering over the entrance.

"The Forgotten Ones..."

"You know of them?" inquires a curious Felassan.

"I've read some tomes on the subject."

"This place was dedicated to them. It was purged centuries ago, by order of Sylaise."

"What does it represent?" she asks, motioning to the draconic effigy that had been present on the ring she'd been lent for an evening.

"Many things. The harmony of opposites. An eternal cycle. Or, its crudest symbolism: the evanuris' inevitable self-destruction."

His summarization correlates pretty well with what Geldauran had deigned to share with her.

"Why do they teach blood magic to their followers?"

"Blood magic? Oh, is that the term your people use for it?" She nods in confirmation, waiting for him to elaborate. "Regular spells draw essence from the Dreaming, and the evanuris are considered masters of this craft. By using blood as a fuel, the Forgotten's devotees do not require to draw any energy from the Dreaming. It permits them to wield a different sort of power. More raw and pragmatic. Something that the People are not well-versed in."

"So it gives them the element of surprise?"

"In part, but there are more benefits to such practice."

"Why not learn about it, then?"

"Some of the People do. It's just very rare. Most view wielding the gifts of the evanuris' archenemies as an affront to their glory. Others refrain from giving into their desire to learn the craft by fear of their gods' wrath."

"Do the evanuris even care? Magic is magic. As long as it's not used against them or their interests, what harm can it do?"

"You're right. It all depends on the individual, really. Someone as vain as Falon'din might take it as an insult, while I have a hard time picturing our fair Mythal feeling any concern over such matter."

Our fair Mythal, huh?

So the elf holds the deity in high regard? That would explain why he hadn't rid himself of his vallaslin, even after joining Solas' cause.

The four of them finally reach the end of the viaduct. Wooden gates have been burned down, leaving the large entryway unhindered. A dragon's feat, no doubt. Peeking inside confirms her suspicions. They find the beast peacefully sleeping in the entrance hall, its powerful snores practically stirring the walls.

"Now I help," Compassion whispers.

An imperceptible shroud encompasses her, and the hawk accompanying them—which had chosen her shoulder as a perch, for once—disappears. Actually, the entire group becomes evanescent. She figures that the spirit has turned everyone invisible, until she catches a glimpse of her hands and realizes she can still see herself.

"Are you sure this is working?"

"Yes," it maintains. "You are concealed from others, not yourself."

They enter, silently circumventing the beast. Being that close to the creature allows her to smell its foul breath, a mishmash of cinder and rotten meat that nigh on makes her gag. They attain their goal without complications, ascending the staircase succeeding the vestibule with noiseless steps. The temple's interior isn't faring any better than what they'd witnessed outside. The moss is less omnipresent, but dun mushrooms and all sorts of pervasive foliage have infested the walls and pillars. Not to mention the ceiling.

The translucent cloud enveloping them dissipates, leaving her companions distinguishable anew.

Progressing deeper, the band stumbles on a body wrapped up in a coat. Some of the flowers and worn candles strewn throughout the place have been purposely arranged around it in a circular fashion. The display is clearly meant as a tribute. Felassan pulls back the garment, revealing the chapped blue lips and morbidly pale skin of an elvhen woman.

"Dead," he diagnoses, carefully manipulating the corpse to further analyze it. "Deep wound in her back, infected."

"An arrow," Evelyn infers after espying the injury's shape. "The infection killed her."

He hums thoughtfully. "They probably didn't have anything at hand to treat her. Or it was already too late when they tried."

"The rigor mortis is long gone. She's been dead for more than two days."

"Correct. The decomposition has already started."

The reek is kind of telling.

"She wanted to die free," Compassion interrupts. "The fever made her delirious. Her last moments were filled with such dread..."

"She knew her friends wouldn't be able to give her a proper burial," Grief replies. "She died thinking she would be trapped in the Abyss for all eternity."

"On that cheerful note..." the elf drawls wryly.

Sounds of fighting greet their ears as they proceed ahead. Evelyn and Felassan glance at one another before rushing in the scuffle's direction. The disturbance takes them to the heart of the temple, which consists of a tomb. Several stone coffins are spread about the room, all presently emptied. The slaves they've been looking for are too busy battling the undead supposed to dwell within said coffins to notice their arrival.

Without a word, human and elf jump into action. Since stealth has always been her favorite weapon, Evelyn merges with the shadows to reappear behind one of the moving corpses and slit its throat. The fire glyphs her partner summons across the ground manage to disintegrate some of them forthwith. She leaps onto her next target, currently attacking one of the fugitives, and flanks the creature as an inflamed arrow pierces its skull. The decayed thing howls in pain before turning to dust. Her eyes capture the gaze of the archer. Thanks to her previous visions, she recognizes the group leader—and older sibling of Ghilanas' owner.

The thought drives her gaze to shift from the confused elf to search for the hawk. She finds the pet violently clawing and pecking the undead trying to kill the youngest brother. Evelyn decides to concentrate on the undead high priest—its clothes are a dead giveaway—floating in a dark corner of the room. She throws a small blade into the former mage's throat, which draws its attention onto her rather than her elvhen counterparts. Without warning, the creature teleports behind her. Just as she rotates to face her opponent, the clawed hand coming for her neck halts its course, hovering extremely close to her delicate flesh.

The cadaver is frozen in place, its white stare switching between her and something unseeable above them, as if it was listening to inaudible voices. Enraged eyes clear up in a flash, a sliver of sentience bursting through the surface. A deafening screech escapes the priest's lips before the latter whirls out of existence, green, wispy swirls rapidly drifting back to her assailant's coffin.

The hell?

She blinks in disbelief, realizing at last that the fight has come an end. Felassan's presence can be felt at her back. With the undead exterminated, the five escapees menacingly point their weapons toward the four newcomers, not knowing what to make of them.

"Peace," Felassan says, arms slightly upraised as a token of surrender. "We're here to help. Your mother sent us."

Bows, shields and swords are slowly lowered, hope replacing the unsure suspicion inside the slaves' weary eyes.

"Ghilanas..." soughs the youngest sibling, welcoming the bird that swoops onto his armband. "Thank Mythal, I didn't think this would work."

"None of us did," the bald elf beside him speaks with palpable relief. Golden earrings bedeck his lengthy ears. A disconcerted frown wrinkles his features as soon as his silver gaze stops onto the human. "Wait. What is this?"

"It looks female," observes a man with tied grey hair as he orbits around her.

"Is it a slave?" wonders the sole woman of their group, a blonde with shoulder-length hair. "Some kind of mindless pet?"

"Can't be," the hawk's master counters. "It has no markings."

"Here we go again," Evelyn sighs while her eyes roll to the ceiling.

For once, her associate comes to her aid. "Now, now, is that a way to speak to one of your rescuers?"

The oldest brother—a tall archer with ginger tresses—mildly approaches her. "Excuse them, stranger. I do not know what you are, but if you're here to help, and Ghilanas trusts you, that is enough for me."

"There's a well-mannered lad," Felassan praises.

"How long have you been trapped in here?" she asks.

"No idea," confesses the other sibling. "Days? More than that, we can't tell."

"How did you make it? We watched your memories, you didn't have any resources with you."

"Elgar'nan's men took us by surprise, we had to flee urgently. We couldn't take anything with us."

"We ate the mushrooms and edible plants growing on the walls, and Eirlen supplied us with water by creating ice and melting it." The elvhen woman gestures to Ghilanas' owner. "The temple also contained some weapons belonging to the undead's former selves. We used them to repel their assaults."

"Resourceful fellows," comments Felassan.

"My name is Telahn," reveals the archer. "This is my little brother, Eirlen. Those two are Ilvin," he points to the bald elf, "and Ithelanas." The latter gives her a respectful nod, his ashen ponytail bobbing with the motion. "And finally, Adahlena." Telahn concludes, presenting the girl.

"This is all of you?" Evelyn queries. "You seemed a lot more numerous in the visions."

Their tattooed faces crumble in tandem.

"There were fifteen of us when we escaped. We were down to six when we reached this place."

"Yes," Grief acknowledges. "We met your friend on the way here."

"You musn't give up," Compassion soughs woefully, "or your loss will be for naught."

The purple-eyed mage resolves to break the mournful atmosphere, stepping closer to the fugitives. "I'm Felassan. The short-eared lass goes by Evelyn. Now that presentations are done, we should get out of here before the dead decide it's time to stretch their legs again."

"Where do you plan to take us?" Adahlena inquires.

"A sanctuary. It was built for people like you. You'll be safe there." Evelyn turns to the two brothers. "Your mother is waiting for you."

"Let's go," says Eirlen. "I'm tired of this place. It gives me terrible dreams."

They walk back to the entrance, temporarily stopping midway so the slaves can pay their respects to their deceased friend one last time. Once everyone nears the staircase leading to the vestibule, a strident shriek resonates athwart the whole building.

"The dragon..." Compassion presumes.

Cautious feet shuffle down the stairs. Sure enough, the surviving slave hunters are struggling against the beast.

There's no way they got here after us. It doesn't make any sense. They must have been waiting to ambush them all this time. Our intervention probably thwarted their plans.

"Those fools roused her," grumbles Telahn.

"We might be able to use the distraction to our advantage," suggests his younger brother.

Unfortunately, fate seems to have other plans. A huge fireball strikes the column next to them, blasting it into pieces. The debris start to collapse onto the group, but Felassan is quick to react and conjures a magical barrier to protect them from harm. Their luck runs dry the instant that the commotion attracts the dragon's attention.

"There goes our distraction," Evelyn lets out ironically.

Roaring at the sight of the elves that had intruded her nest, the mother makes a dash for them, simultaneously crushing two of Elgar'nan's men beneath her mighty strides. They run to the exit, ignoring the remaining warrior standing in their path and opting to evade the bigger threat instead. Their strategy pays off, if the screams of the now blazing man are any indication.

One small yet important detail escapes their notice until they make it outside.

The central part of the bridge—their only safe way out of the plateau the temple had been constructed upon—has been blown to bits.

"They didn't want to capture us," fathoms Ilvin. "This was a suicide mission. They were just here to make sure we wouldn't come out of this alive."

The winged serpent, as Rage had called it, chases them to the edge of the shattered viaduct. Cornered, they turn their back on the precipice to look the creature in the eye, certainly hoping for a miracle. Good. According to Varric, Evelyn has a knack for miracles. Plus, it's not the first time she finds herself trapped between a vicious dragon and a crumbling bridge.

Let's hope this works.

Behind her, the anchor flares, its comforting heat spreading across her hidden palm.

"Jump!" she barks to her companions.

"What?" Adahlena cries out. "We'll plummet to our deaths!"

She's not letting them die. Not on her watch.

"Felassan..." she sighs sternly, gazing at her partner with pleading desperation.

The elf hesitates for a fraction of a second, most likely asking himself if madness has taken hold of her, before pushing their charges over the brink with a strong gust of air. He then plunges after them, vanishing into the emerald portal.

The blue-scaled beast facing Evelyn opens its giant maw, granting her a close-up view of the flaming orb forming at the back of its throat.

It's either getting cooked alive, or tossed into the Fade...

The fall is just as she remembers it.


----------

 

[ * ]

She collides with the ground.

Harshly.

The pain shooting through her back forces a grunt out of her.

"Every fucking time," she groans.

The portal closes behind Ghilanas, who had apparently decided to follow its master through the twirling gate, no matter the consequences.

"I have not been here in a while," she hears Grief comment.

"It is good to be home," Compassion beams right afterwards.

She pulls herself up, her head spinning madly. After regaining a semblance of steadiness, she scans the environs in search of her party.

Everybody seems to be in one piece.

Remarkably confused, yes, but alive.

Their surroundings are a tweaked combination of their prior location. The revised temple is open-roofed and missing most of its walls, not to mention the upside-down furnitures floating past them. Parts of the bioluminescent forest situated around the old edifice meld into its architecture. And, as always, the thick, viridian mist characteristic of the Fade permeates the whole area.

Well, still looks more inviting than the last time I was here.

"Where are we?" whispers Ithelanas.

"Are we dead?" Ilvin assumes. "Is this Uthenera?"

"I don't think we are dead. And I don't remember hitting the ground." Telahn declares while rubbing his forehead.

"That's because you didn't," affirms Felassan. "Her portal took us to the Dreaming."

"You mean we're here physically?" Eirlen snorts, finding the notion ridiculous. "That's impossible."

"Yes! Only the gods are known to enter the Dreaming physically," supports Adahlena.

"Damn it, not that crap again." Evelyn curses in common. She turns to face the elves. "I am not a god. Or anything like it. And by the way, don't you have eluvians capable of taking you here?"

"The evanuris are responsible for their creation. This process requires immense power. A power only they possess," the girl insists.

Great. Just great.

She'd hoped this kind of thing would be common occurrence amongst ancient Elvhenan.

"You didn't tell us what you were," the ashen-haired elf reminds, taking a step toward her. "Did they make you? The gods?"

"No. My people are called humans. They're different from you, but... not that much."

"Are you one of your people's divines then?"

"Help me," she hisses to Felassan.

The man shrugs in response, unwilling to meddle. Now that she thinks about it, he doesn't appear very startled by the situation. Or anything that happens around him, really. He must be one of those poised individuals who never lose control of their emotions.

"Let's find a way out of here, alright?" she attempts. "We can discuss all of this later on."

"Agreed," her partner concurs.

The two of them begin to blindly perambulate through the dreamlike scenery, the escaped slaves in tow.

"Thank you kindly," she grumbles, giving him the stink eye for his nonexistent helpfulness.

"You're welcome," he smiles, falsely innocent. "Wait until Solas hears about this."

"What? No! You better keep your mouth shut or I'll—"

"Oh, I would be more worried about them, if I were you." He swiftly glances at the group of fugitives behind them. "So, tell me... What will you do to the poor souls once they divulge your little secret? Hm?"

Air whistles between her gritted teeth. "I hate you."

"For now. Don't worry. You will learn to appreciate me, like everyone else."

She looks around as they walk. Spirits aimlessly glide through the site, continuously avoiding them everytime they draw too close for their liking. There is no breach to take them back to the real world this time around. They will have to make do with the means at hand.

"We need to find one of those eluvians."

"Good luck. The Dreaming is infinite."

"You're a somniari, can't you—I don't know, find the way or something?"

"You're clearly misinformed on the way this place operates."

"Isn't that obvious? I thought the People were supposed to be experts on these matters. Why not use your stupendous knowledge to get us out of this mess?"

"A mess you created."

"Oh, I'm sorry," she places a hand over her heart, "perhaps you would have preferred staying behind to converse with the friendly dragon that was about to roast and digest us? Offer it some tea, maybe?"

He chuckles, her bite causing him more amusement than harm. "No need to ruffle your feathers, lass. I was simply reminding you of who put us in this predicament in the first place. Far be it from me to appear ungrateful."

Of course.

She rolls her eyes, as she often does in his company, and chooses to focus on the fantastical landscape.

Echoes of the past linger here. Armored silhouettes massacring hooded ones with merciless precision. Some of the cloaked figures retaliate, others try to flee. Blood and tears paint the tiles and furnishings.

The purge.

A girl barely entering her teenage years stands amidst the chaos, a brown hood shadowing her face. She kneels in front of the inert bodies, snarling when her knees touch the cold floor. Evelyn can't tell if the child is overwhelmed by pain or rage. Maybe both. As the knights encircle her trembling shape, she slashes her wrist with the curved dagger squeezed into her palm. Her indiscernible eyes roll back into her skull, fading to white. Thin arms open toward the sky, and her lithe body lifts into the air.

The soldiers start to twitch, paralyzed on the spot, and bleeding from every orifice imaginable.

She leaves no survivors.

"So much misery..." deplores Compassion.

As they keep progressing, the environment turns more forest than temple. In fact, every ounce of the house of worship gets consumed by the woods and their effulgent flora. Everyone apart from her seems fascinated by the wonders around them. Or maybe wandering the Dreaming through their corporeal forms is what truly enraptures the elves.

She catches her reflection across the surface of a puddle. Her true reflection. The Inquisitor dully stares back at her. Armless. Hopeless. The black kohl smeared around her crying eyes cascades down her cheeks in dark streaks. Evelyn's heart beats a wild tempo. She swallows uneasily, glancing around to insure that none has noticed the pitiful state of her mirrored image.

Her foot roughly tramples the water, erasing any trace of her disturbing double.

It's just the Fade fucking with my head. Nothing to worry about.

"Time flows differently here," Felassan tears her from her musings. "I don't know how many hours, or days, will have passed when we return to the Waking."

She nods, barely listening.

From the rear of their convoy, Ghilanas squeaks excitedly.

"What's that?" Eirlen asks the animal.

Curiosity piqued, Evelyn twists around to assess what is suddenly transpiring and catches the brown-haired sibling fingering the mysterious item brought by his pet. She falls into step with him. "Found something interesting?"

"Just an amulet." He hands her the trinket.

A wolf's jawbone, held by two leather cords.

She drops the item as if it had burned her, cursing under her breath. It dematerializes upon touching the dirt.

Her companions stop to stare at her.

"Your mindset is influencing what we see here," informs Grief. "You must empty yourself of tormenting thoughts, or the Dreaming will try to emulate them."

"I wasn't thinking about it."

"Your subconscious is," Compassion notifies her, its weightless hand stroking her arm.

"How can I get rid of something if I'm not even aware of it?"

"I don't understand," Telahn interferes. "This is just a necklace. What harm can it do?"

Wolfish howls surge around them, echoing throughout the forest.

"We have to get out of here," the human says. "Now."

"That's what we've been trying to do since we arrived," points out Adahlena. "Let's face it, we're lost."

"Wait. Look!" Ilvin points to something behind Evelyn and Felassan.

A bright humanoid form descends from the murky skies of the Fade, staying afloat even as it reaches their level. It halts in front of her, the golden radiance it emits attenuating until she can finally make out what she's peering at.

She'd pinch herself, if she wasn't surrounded by so many perceptive people. Not that the method has ever proven effective, anyway.

"I've never seen a spirit so mesmerizing..." Eirlen whispers in awe.

"It wants to help," Compassion peeps.

"It is my purpose," nods the entity.

The exact entity that had once borrowed the appearance of Divine Justinia. Or perhaps not. Perhaps she's mistaken, and this is just another spirit sharing an analogous aspect to the one she had encountered in the past. Something with the same purpose.

"Why should we trust you?" she asks, leery of the newcomer.

"You know my intentions are pure."

She scowls. "How would I? We've never met."

"We have," it corrects knowingly. "Once."

How?

She blinks, and switches to her native tongue to keep the others from understanding her. "You can't possibly remember that."

"If you remember it, so does the Dreaming."

Are my memories what's altering parts of the Fade? It would explain why it solely affects places I have visited before.

"You have access to my memories?"

"Your dreams have been under constant observation since your arrival here."

Evelyn purses her lips, striving to untangle the jumbled mess caused by her intensive cerebration.

"Sorry to interrupt this heartfelt reunion," cheerfully quips Felassan, "but we should really get a move on."

"The elf is right," concedes the spirit. "I will guide you to your destination."

It wafts in the opposite direction.

"Well, isn't that convenient?" her partner adds, smiling at her and wiggling his eyebrows in a stupid manner.

She weakly pushes him away, both fed up and entertained by his demeanor, before rushing to the pathfinder's side.

The rest trails after them without further ado.

"Why help us?" she carries on.

"Because it wants me to."

"Who are you talking about?"

It tilts its head, looking straight into her eyes. "You know."

Flashes of a gilded void dart through her muddled mind.

"Why is it observing my dreams?"

"It seeks information on your people's conception. Your creator. But your dreams reveal nothing of it."

"Of course. Nothing made us. It just happened," she shrugs dismissively.

"Nothing happens by mere chance. Your people seem to think as I do."

She frowns. "What do you mean?"

"Your entourage mentions this 'Maker' quite often."

"It's just a fallacy. No one's ever seen him. Or it. Whatever it's supposed to be," she rolls her eyes.

"You would have never seen me either had I not allowed you to. Thus, following your logic, my existence must also be a fallacy?"

The entity has a point, but she's not about to admit it.

"The thing that sent you... What's its interest in helping me?"

"You bring change. Change is good."

They spend several more minutes treading the boundless expanse of the Fade. Evelyn continues her interrogation, but obtains no further answers. Meanwhile, Felassan briefs the questioning fugitives on the freshly-built asylum they will be guided to, including the motivations behind this new rebellion they've never heard about. Unlike Solas, whom they refer to as 'Mythal's friend'. The prospect of freedom seems to lighten their hearts a little.

At long last, the sought eluvian comes into view.

The elves warmly thank the spirit for its assistance, then slip through the mirror one by one. Despite his tangible reluctance, Felassan follows suit, giving the human the privacy she seeks to exchange a few more words with the entity.

"Will we meet again?" Her voice falters.

"Highly plausible," foresees her sparkling interlocutor. "Whether it will be me or my creator, I cannot tell."

"Thank you for helping me. Again." She backs into the eluvian, ready to return to reality.

"Your quest is noble. Do not lose sight of it." The spirit utters as she dissolves into the rippled glass.

Cold winds immediately assault her.

"You are quite the lodestone for unusual spirits," Felassan remarks soon after her emergence.

Her eyes stray from his skeptical mien to examine the arctic tundra they landed in. The sun is high in the sky, and a storm is brewing. Nothing around but rocks and snow. The mountains behind them drive her to believe they're probably situated in the Frostback region.

"Where are we?" inquires Ilvan. "There's nothing in sight for miles. Just snow."

Telahn observes the ether, a calloused hand over his eyes. "Judging by the weather, there'll be tons more of it in the next hour."

"Why guide us here?" wonders Ithelanas. "This is no better than being lost in the Dreaming."

"Our little helper took us to the closest eluvian," the purple-eyed mage emphasizes. "Not the most practical."

"We're gonna have to wait out this storm," she realizes.

Their ensuing trek through this milky wasteland takes them to a rock shelter, hidden along the mountainside and hardly big enough to accommodate them. But it will have to do. Comfort isn't really their first priority at the moment. They make camp, clumped together due to the dearth of warmth and space, and watch Felassan summon fire with a wave of his hand. Evelyn distributes some of their rations to their charges and snuggly covers them with the two blankets they have at their disposition. All the while, Ghilanas amuses itself by playfully gliding across the air currents, right outside of the little grotto. An ingenuous Compassion tries to imitate the bird.

With the elves well-tended, the human decides to don her own cloak. She runs her fingers through the strands of dark hair that have escaped her messy bun, surveying Felassan, who extracts a packet of herbs from his tunic's inner pocket and sprinkles them over the fire. The flames flicker with the colors of the Fade and an odd smell slowly pervades the high but narrow shelter.

"What are you doing?" she scowls, arms folded over her chest.

"Contacting Solas."

"With herbs? Are you two lovebirds going to communicate through the leaves?" she coos mockingly. "How romantic."

"The herbs will put him to sleep," the red-haired brother clues her in after swallowing a mouthful of bread.

"You're gonna take a nap? In the middle of the day? While we're stranded in the middle of nowhere?"

"The ritual permits entry into the Beyond," Grief clarifies.

"What if Solas isn't asleep? How are you gonna talk to him then? How long is this going to take?"

"Have some faith, little partner."

That's all she'll get from him, manifestly.

"Oh yes, don't mind us!" She gesticulates, hands slapping her thighs as they drop down. "We're just... gonna stay here and freeze to death. No big deal." The elf does not respond, already dead to the world. She leans over his dozing form. "Sweet dreams," she exclaims sarcastically, knowing he can't hear her. "This is ridiculous."

Frustration overwhelms her as she paces back and forth, the wind howling louder and louder with each passing second.

"Your pacing is making me nervous," Telahn's steamy breath fills the air as he talks.

Resigned, she sits in the vacant spot at his side, exhaling loudly. "We were supposed to rescue you, not get you killed by hypothermia."

The red-tailed hawk dives into the den before settling on Eirlen's knees to preen.

"You're doing what you can. No need to beat yourself up over this."

For a long minute, Evelyn studies the redhead's face, marred by Elgar'nan's mark. "What made you rebel against your god?"

"Besides being treated like insignificant rubbish and the aberrant living conditions?" he implies with dry humor. "We worked at Elgar'nan's temple. Some of us started to get transferred somewhere else, for some obscure reason. Truthfully, they never said anything about an actual location but, we assumed as much. They'd round us up every two weeks to select the healthiest ones. Once chosen, no one would ever see them again. We knew our turn would come, eventually."

"What do you think these slaves were used for?"

"I don't know... Frankly, I don't think I'd ever want to."

"Maybe we should have stayed," Adahlena wades in. "Maybe the others were granted freedom. It might be the reason why they didn't return."

"No master will ever grant us our freedom. Freedom is taken, not given." Telahn turns back to the human. "What about you? What drove you to travel to Elvhenan and join an organization that seeks to abolish slavery?"

"Uncompromising circumstances."

"Well, whatever they were, I wish you a pleasant experience among us." He casts her a charming smile. "I know the majority of us can be pretty unwelcoming toward foreigners. Or anything we don't understand."

His open-mindedness surprises her. "You don't think I don't belong here?"

"Our people have a saying... 'There is a fragile beauty to things that journey to places where they are strangers'." He stares at her intently. "I find it quite accurate, in some cases."

Eirlen snorts, glancing at his brother. "You haven't changed a bit."


----------


The five, agglutinated renegades have all fallen asleep by the time Felassan awakens from his slumber. As soon as his eyes open, the man incoherently rambles something about Solas being on his way. Even with the blizzard over, her partner refuses to budge from their refuge until his friend's arrival. As predicted, the wolfling finds them a few hours down the line, sprinting up to them in spite of the snow hampering his movements. The matching tint of his fur makes him hard to distinguish.

She wakes up the slaves, ignoring his presence as best she can while he greets his comrade. Compassion feels her uneasiness, remaining alongside her like a protective mother hen. She's exhausted, but the freezing temperatures combined with the ache in her legs and back have not allowed her any rest. Ghilanas hops on her shoulder as she softly prods Eirlen. It gently pecks her cheek, as if sensing her distress. She smiles at the bird before it flies back to its owner.

Elves must be used to seeing each other walk around in animal form, because none of the fugitives show any sign of amazement at the sight of the six-eyed beast. Succinct introductions are made between the leader of the rebellion and his new proteges.

"There's a village west of here," he then quickly announces, holding her gaze for a fleeting instant.

And with that, their journey starts anew.

She ends up at the head of the cortege, positioned between Grief and Compassion, while the elves behind her get to know each other and discuss serenely. She's too preoccupied to partake in their conversation.

The events of the day repeat themselves in her head over and over again. Her dreams of Skyhold. The undead priest sparing her and unexpectedly regaining its grave. The golden spirit guiding them to the eluvian. The words it shared with her.

She's so lost in thought she doesn't hear the footfalls of the wolf closing in on her.

"You've done well," Solas murmurs as he passes her by.

Her eyes linger on the spoors his paws leave on the powdery ground.

He knows.

She glares at Felassan over her shoulder.

"Snitch," she mouths.

As expected, the man doesn't seem very fazed by her ire.

Solas shapeshifts back to an elf upon reaching the hamlet. His apparel is far more humble than usual. Closer to what his future self would wear. Apostate hobo self, as Dorian would say.

Trying to lay low?

Evelyn has learned to hide her ears in public, either by means of a hood or her long, wavy hair. And so she does, untying her bun. Everyone in the vicinity can still feel her dissociation from the Fade, but at least no one will stare at her unless she addresses them first.

Which won't happen.

The group stays at an inn for the night.

Their cups are filled with a potent alcohol that warms her up but also makes her cheeks redden. It doesn't scald her windpipe like Bull's 'maraas-lok' once had, at any rate. Ghilanas is being fed dice of meat from Eirlen's plate. Solas' blue stare keeps traveling back to her person at frequent intervals. Knowing that she'll have to endure his probing sooner or later makes her rather grouchy.

Fortunately, the tipsy Felassan seated in front of her and his racy inquiries on her people's customs prove a nice respite from the god's scrutiny.

"How do your people reproduce?"

Ilvin chokes on his drink.

"Pervert," mutters Adahlena.

"The question is purely didactic, I assure you."

"The same way everyone does," the human answers. "Dad enters mom. End of story."

"You make the so-called story sound rather short. How long does the whole ordeal usually last?"

The elvhen woman cocks an eyebrow. "Totally didactic, uh?"

"I don't know, propably around ten minutes." Evelyn shrugs. "When you're lucky."

He sniggers, shaking his head. "Surely, you joke..."

"I'm afraid not."

He blinks, shocked by the revelation. "That must be incredibly unsatisfying."

"Well, it's still better that nothing at all," she replies bitterly, reminded of her ex-lover's reluctance to lay with her.

The same ex-lover currently sitting at the opposite end of their table.

He snorts. "Your people aren't the enduring kind, uh?"

"The women can usually keep going indefinitely, or until they pass out from exhaustion, at least. The men are... another matter entirely."

She takes another sip of her drink, conscious of the looks the escaped slaves are giving her.

"I feel sorry for your womankind," Felassan weirdly empathizes.

"Why? Is it so uncommon around here?"

"Our people like to take their time. We relish in everything we do. Even love. Rushing things when you have a delightful creature at your mercy is considered... offensive, by most of us."

"I see..."

"The more I learn of your kin, the more boorish they seem."

"They're far from perfect but they do possess redeeming qualities." She frowns, thoughtful. "Some of them..."

True to form, Solas can't help but interrupt their banter. "You often employ 'they', never 'we'. What does that say about you? Do they consider you different from the rest of them? Do you?"

"I don't know, why don't you ask them?"

"How?"

She shrugs once more. "Sprout wings and fly off into the horizon, maybe you'll find my fellow compatriots eventually."

"That sounds more like a way to get rid of me."

"Whoops, I've been caught."

"You two are so delightful," smirks Felassan.

An uncomfortable silence ensues, the ambient chatter produced by the other patrons becoming more pronounced. Beneath the table, Compassion's hand squeezes her own. The oblivious hawk continues to gulp down its dinner. Quite noisily. Telahn clears his throat before engaging Felassan in another light-hearted dialogue. The rest of his comrades rapidly follow his example.

Evelyn waits a few minutes, gets up, flips her hood over her head and sneaks out through the rear entrance of the establishment.

[ * ]

Outside, she stands amid gentle snowfall and unhurried winds, the setting a flurry of white and grey. The windows of the inn glow faintly in the background, and the breeze carries the scent of distant pines. Staring at the dreary sky offers her some peace of mind.

Until she hears the muffled, crackling sounds of feathery footsteps as they near her.

"I heard about what you did," Solas begins tentatively. "How could someone disconnected from the sky open a portal to the Dreaming? For someone like you to walk there, physically, without suffering any ill effect..."

He sounds impressed. Curious. A tad suspicious, perhaps.

"You're not gonna leave me alone until you get your answers, aren't you?"

"I am only trying to understand."

"You can't."

"I would appreciate if you gave me the chance."

He's nothing if not persistent. Always has been. Always will be.

Her eyelids close in exasperation. "The mark is on my hand. Not yours. It does not concern you."

He frowns, accentuating the scar on his forehead. "The magic is clearly elvhen. You, are not."

"It's not mine." He gives her a look and she knows exactly what he's thinking. "I didn't steal it," she hisses. "It was an accident. Someone from my world found an artefact containing this power and tried to use it in pursuit of godhood, which would have destroyed our world in the process. His name was Corypheus. I tried to stop him, but the energy went crazy and an explosion occurred during our confrontation. The power chose to go through my hand at that moment," she peers at her mark absently. "I don't know why. It's been stuck there ever since."

"Did you ever learn its origin?"

"...It belonged to someone really close to me," she hedges. "He waited until we got rid of the threat and then revealed that the power was his and that his goal had been to destroy us all along. Just for different reasons."

"He betrayed you. This is why you appeal to Justice. Its nature resonates with your desire for revenge."

"I have no such desire," she refutes sincerely.

"...What happened after his disclosure?"

"He disappeared. He wanted to find another way to accomplish his objective. I tried to reason with him, but I couldn't go through his head."

"What would this person gain by destroying your world? It sounds utterly senseless..." he seems baffled by the concept.

A knot forms in her stomach. Nausea grips her, refuses to let go.

"He was focused on the past. Wanted to recover things better forgotten. It would take me hours to explain his reasoning to you, it's too complicated."

Or too dangerous. For them both.

"Did you ever try to kill him?" he asks her.

The question is just another nail in her coffin.

She swallows thickly, heart stuck in her throat. "I couldn't."

"He was too dear," he guesses.

"Yes." She can't bring herself to look at him, not with her eyes brimming with tears. "I couldn't stop him. He walked the Din'anshiral. Wrecked havoc on our world. A lot of people died. People under my command. People I loved. I failed them all. My closest friend sacrificed himself so that I could escape."

Because she made him do it. Took the easy way out. Just for another chance. Just so she wouldn't have to watch him die, like the others.

Her tears redouble at the thought of his last smile, full of trust and conviction.

Dorian believed in her. And he died for it. All of them did.

"And you found your way here..." Solas deduces.

"Yes," she sniffles.

"The portal from which Than saw you emerge..." he suddenly comprehends. "You lost everything..." His voice wanes progressively. "Grief and Compassion's words make much more sense now."

Shivering, she flinches away at his attempt to touch her shoulder. "Don't."

I don't want your fucking pity.

Evelyn clenches her fists. Her teeth. Senses the empathy pouring out of him. It leaves a bitter taste in her mouth, makes her want to spit it out.

"My aim was not to make you cry," he expresses, regretful.

It's never been, and yet you have. Every single time.

She can feel the weight of the snowflakes gathering across her shoulders and the fur sewn to the edges of her hood. She tugs on the fabric, hiding her face from him. A useless gesture, but she doesn't care. Her knees stagger, hitting the silky ground. Wordlessly, Solas raises an elegant hand above their heads, the distinctive chime of his magic resounding in the air. A thin, cerulean bubble takes shape around the two, protecting them from the falling particles. She tries to rein in her grief, to deaden her sobs, but her laments refuse to subside.

Quiet and obstinate, the young god stays beside her through it all.

 

Chapter Text

 

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 somniari, 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.

 

Chapter Text

 

This is a good thing.

It is.

At least, that's what she keeps telling herself.

This is, after all, the perfect opportunity to assess the state of the relationship between Mythal and her divine counterparts. Perhaps they'll even discover what Elgar'nan and his people seem so inclined to hide from the rest of Elvhenan, with a little luck.

So why can't she help feeling so nervous about the upcoming days?

Her and the rest of Mythal's contingent are standing in a giant, open-air rotunda only delimited by pillars. A remote area of the Crossroads she's never bothered to visit. Seven ginormous eluvians encircle the assembly. According to Abelas, each of them leads to the evanuris' respective realms, including Mythal's own dominion. But even without incorporating Solas into her calculations, since his modest castle could hardly be considered a seat of power, the amount of mirrors stands at odds with the elvhen pantheon's numbers.

"Falon'Din and Dirthamen share the same domain," the Sentinel tells her after noticing her inner conflict.

No surprise there.

Her eyes scan the environs, searching for Geldauran's mysterious, dark-eyed follower among the waiting servants.

Does she work at the palace?

Sadly, none of the present faces resemble the woman's.

Evelyn exhales through her nose and readjusts her attire. Idrilla has forced her to dress in her nicest set of clothes: a black tunic adorned with golden leaves and tendrils that twine across her collar and decolletage, which reveals a bit too much cleavage for her liking. 'They'll be too busy looking at your breasts to notice your ears' had been the maid's main argument. Despite its dubious nature, the woman's reasoning is essentially what had compelled her to accept.

She'd do anything to avoid drawing attention to her human singularities, and the maid is clearly aware of it.

Too bad the latter had to go tend to Mythal before she could brief her on how to blend in with the crowd after getting thrown into a place brimming with temperamental deities.

"Are humans utterly bereft of patience?" Abelas asks her, no doubt annoyed by her pacing.

"Not humans. Me." Her legs refuse to subside. "What's the point of making me come here if no one's ready anyway?" she grouses. "I could have waited in my room. Alone."

"Your level of sociability is truly astonishing."

She snorts, amused by his cheekiness. "Says the wall of ice."

"A Sentinel must always—"

"A Sentinel must always expect the worst and never lose focus," she quotes in an accurate mimicry of his voice, "yes, I got it. Wouldn't hurt you to smile once in a while, though."

"Levity is an assured way to drop one's guard, or so we were taught. And you seldom smile yourself."

"Oh believe me, I have no reason left to do so. Especially today," she whispers, right foot impatiently tapping the paved ground.

"What makes you believe I do?"

"Because you're not... not..." his future name almost slips out, "sad."

This isn't who you're supposed to be. Not yet.

He cocks one of his invisible eyebrows, confused by her last word. "Sad? Hm. Again with your strange habit of associating me with sorrow."

They stare at one another for a moment. She does her best to hide her inner thoughts from the inquisitive elf, until a pink shadow suddenly glides beside them and breaks their quiet exchange with a heavy sigh.

She would be stupid not to make the most of this fortuitous distraction. "Compassion? What are you doing here?"

"Mythal has asked me to come."

"Likewise. Grief isn't with you?"

"It stayed behind, at the orphanage. It hates this type of events."

"Can't say I blame it."

"It told me to wish you good luck. Oh, and to... 'tune out the condescending knobs', I think?"

Her laugh is short and sharp.

Quitter.

Mythal finally makes an entrance, and a remarkable one at that. Clad in burgundy armor, the goddess marches through the crowd, her metallic boots and greaves clanking throughout the rotunda. Her face is shrouded behind a helmet shaped like a dragon skull, one that Evelyn has been acquainted with before. The statues she had beheld amid Arlathan—as well as the goddess' temple, back in the day—were based on reality, it would seem.

How can she see where she's going with that thing in the way?

Elgar'nan's envoy, Idrilla and Solas are trailing behind her. At least, Evelyn thinks it is Solas. The silver wolf masking his features should be proof enough. The ethereal azure erupting from its six flaming eyes is magnetizing, even at this distance.

As the four continue to stroll onward, she realizes that the mask is actually woven into the dark hood covering his head. Possibly an optical illusion. It stops right at the end of his nose, allowing his masculine lips and chiselled jawline to be admired freely. She's so enthralled by the sight that she forgets to pay attention to the rest of his fine apparel.

Without a word, the evanuris and her close entourage cross an eluvian framed by a pure golden light and topped by a glaring sun. Her servants and followers muster in an impeccable procession before succeeding them. Not one to mingle, Evelyn takes care to remain at the rear of the formal cortege. The fresh scent of dew propagates around the mirror's radius, a sweet foretaste of what to anticipate behind its swirling glass.

What awaits on the other side goes beyond anything she had imagined. The ostentatious protocol for their arrival has been meticulously prepared, as the ringing carions and curious and excited stares of the local citizens demonstrate. Their path is flanked by brilliant banners depicting the solium constellation, with long, buoyant flags wafting atop towering poles.

The city's architecture could only be described as both foreign and spectacular. The buildings' walls and outdoor floors are dark and polished, every single outline gilded with flawless precision. Runes of the same hue are etched into the stairs and delineate the walkways. Diamond-shaped lanterns that diffuse a Fade-colored light hang from every street corner. Despite the numerous representations of it strewn around the metropolis, the sun is bizarrely absent, hiding behind a blindingly white sky.

Her course halts at the view of crystal-like trees from which pours out the heady smell of rain. Their trunks and branches are filled with dancing, electrical arcs that react to her touch, following the lines her fingers trace along the carved quartz.

"Why create these?" she asks Compassion. "Why not just leave the natural ones?"

"Elgar'nan burned everything down to the ground in a fit of rage, a long time ago. None of the vegetation survived. A part of the ravaged fauna was restored through replantation, but it was decided to replace the trees with these magical replicas. Beautiful, isn't it?"

The question completely flies over her head, which is still stuck on the spirit's first sentence. "He would torch his own city?"

The poor people that reside here must permanently fear for their homes.

And their lives.

"His ire can be devastating. It has relatively dampened over the years, thankfully. Mythal is mostly responsible for this accomplishment."

"Good thing she's with us then."

"Oh, yes. I would never set foot in Tarasyl'nan otherwise. Did you know the weather itself is apparently reflective of his mood? Storms are frequent here, and it is common for the sky to turn red."

"This place sounds more and more enchanting by the second."

The duo quickly reunites with the now far-off convoy, plunging deeper and deeper into the heart of the city. Statues of Elgar'nan are scattered everywhere, and an awful lot of Rage spirits are roaming around, probably drawn by his short temper. The route to the palace is comprised of a protracted bridge, totally see-through and sloping gently upwards. She hates it. The dreadful crossing makes her head spin distressfully.

What's wrong with solid ground? Not even one little spark of glitter to let you know where to put your fucking feet.

Ripples form under each of her steps, traitorously inviting her to look at the void beneath her boots.

Compassion kindly holds her hand and advises her to close her eyes.

A sound recommendation.

With a lot of struggle on the human's part, the goddess' escort reaches its destination. Elgar'nan's dwelling resembles more a grim and gothic-looking citadel than the dreamlike picture Evelyn had painted in her mind. Its towers are square and dismal, evocative of the Black City's design.

It's all very shiny, nonetheless.

The head of the pantheon is already waiting for them at the gates. His lengthy and tightly pulled-back hair doesn't seem affected by the crown of sheer fire that sits upon his head. His whole set of armor glistens with elemental runes that conduct a stream of thunder-blue sparks all over it. He greets Mythal by delivering a polite kiss to the back of her hand, his clawed gauntlet dwarfing her feminine fingers.

Inside, the two deities retire to another section of the palace to engage in a private heart-to-heart. Evelyn has no trouble envisioning the crafty game of finespun pleasantries and unspoken truths that is being practiced behind closed doors. Idrilla informs her that they are the first to arrive, and that the rest of the evanuris will gradually turn up over the next few days. The All-Father's servitors guide both servants and partisans, including her, to their respective chambers. It takes many hours for everyone to be settled.

She's never been picky, but something about this new environment unnerves her. Getting accustomed to Arlathan had taken some time, and now she'll have to start all over again. Once her personal effects have been stowed in her freshly acquired room, she decides to meander the hallways in hopes of acclimating herself with this yet unexplored place.

Compassion, who has disappeared while she was busy unpacking, is nowhere to be found.

Night falls before she even has the time to get her bearings. In her hunt for sustenance, one of the slaves directs her to the dining hall, where nobles and priests alike have began to gather for dinner. She ignores the general populace and heads straight for the banquet table, suffused with a plethora of delicacies, some appealing yet prevalent, others exotic but cursed with an unsavory aspect.

Her hand stalls over the myriad of dishes, not knowing what to choose.

"Are we really going to let it touch the food? How unsanitary! We don't know where it's been!"

Evelyn turns toward the voice and is surprised to find not one of the People, but an unknown spirit, whose lusterless tint and revolted grimace remind her of her great-aunt Lucille.

"By the Gods! How many diseases do you think it carries?" The green specter covers its mouth with one of its palms, gagging. "Ugh, I'm going to be sick!"

"Can spirits even vomit?" she wonders, brows furrowing.

Her interlocutor seems outraged at her response. "Close your mouth, you're going to spread your germs around!" It runs its pale eyes over the nearby tables, searching for something, or more likely, someone. "Help! I think I'm infected by whatever ailment it has!"

"What's its problem?" she mumbles, watching it dart around the spacious room in utter panic.

"I see you've had a run-in with Disgust," Solas notes behind her.

Mythal and him are standing close, concealing her from the few nosy bystanders who have stopped digging into their plates in order to observe the one-sided altercation. Evelyn has seen very little of the wolf until now. The elf has been at the goddess' beck and call all day long, constantly breathing down her neck and acting like an overbearing bodyguard despite the Sentinels' continuous proximity.

So loyal and obedient... Like a good dog.

There is no mask to eclipse his features this time. Nothing to shield her from his amused yet conflicted gaze.

"Pardon the poor thing," the evanuris says, visage also exposed. "It tends to be overly dramatic due to its intrinsic mysophobia."

"You should stay in your quarters," counsels Solas. "It'll be safer for you. Even as a friend of Mythal, we can't predict how the others will react to your presence here."

"I will do as I please."

He blinks, perplexed by her sentence. "Of course. My advice is genuine. I do not want you to get into trouble."

"I can worry about my own safety. I am not a child."

He huffs. "Your stubbornness shows otherwise. There's nothing wrong with listening to others every once in a while."

She folds her arms over her chest. "Of course, father." The appellation makes him flinch. "We can never be too cautious. After all, someone from across the room could give me a dirty look... How could I possibly cope? Perhaps you should lock me inside my room until the festivities are done, as a precaution?"

He scowls.

The sweetness of her answering smile is obviously artificial.

Mythal observes them bicker with open mirth. "I'm sure we won't have to go that far," she chuckles.

The human meets her golden eyes, the tip of her tongue tingling with inquiries. "So, when are we gonna do what we came here for exactly?"

"Patience, child. The deliberations should start in the coming days. Enjoy yourself in the mean time."

The two gods return to their table.

Solas' miffed expression does not fade until they reach their seats.

Idrilla appears beside her, her light footsteps inaudible. "The servants eat in a room adjacent to the kitchens. Wanna share a meal with the little people?"

Smirking, Evelyn clasps the elbow the woman offers her. "Gladly."


----------


She finds an agitated Compassion wandering the corridors soon after walking out of the kitchens. When questioned about its attitude, the phantom blurts out a string of incoherent words that she fails to decipher.

She still manages to catch something about 'having to help' and a 'deafening tune'.

"Slow down, I can't make sense of anything you're saying. Where have you been?"

"I was exploring the palace, and came upon Elgar'nan's delegate chastising one of the servants. He said something I couldn't catch and the woman suddenly went pale and fell to her knees. I could feel her terror! She kept on imploring him but he stayed indifferent to her begging. And then two other slaves seized her to drag her outside."

"Where did they go?"

"The temple. I followed them and tried to deter them, but they wouldn't listen. They told me to stay out of it. They wouldn't even let me go past the vestibule."

"So you want to help her?"

"No, it's too late! She resurfaced barely ten minutes later. She didn't seem physically hurt, but when I tried speaking to her, she wouldn't even look at me. All I could hear inside her head was that... music. Unintelligible whispers, so close to each other that they almost formed a tune. She started humming it and proceeded to ignore me. I'm confused, do you think she needs assistance?"

Whispers in the head sharing a likeness with music?

Bad omen.

"Where is she now?"

"Back to the palace. But its no use talking to her, believe me, I tried. Something is going on. I don't know what to do..." Compassion laments.

It takes little to convince the spirit to lead her to the temple.

Night gives Tarasyl'nan's streets a mystical atmosphere. Unlike Arlathan, its avenues and aisles are practically vacant, save for the handful of civilians they encounter on the way.

From the outskirts, the house of worship looms over the rest of the city, like a statue upon its pedestal.

Effigies of the vengeful god coldly regard them as they pass the entrance, their snarling mouths and narrowed eyes anything but welcoming. A huge, humming crystal hovers in the center of the vestibule, brighter than the sun itself. The caption inscribed on the floor beneath it reads 'Elgar'nan's Light'. Dozens of kneeling elves are dispersed all around it, heads bent in prayer. Streams of water endlessly trickle down the walls on both sides of the room, yet the water level never rises above her feet.

Slaves are attending to their daily chores. She hears some of them murmur to one another as they venture ahead.

"The air is full of fear," Compassion comments.

Further inside, where the ground is dry, engraved chests and pots decorate each corner of the halls, and shadows produced by golden candles prance along the ceiling. A vibrant combination of orange leaves and tiny blue flowers adorns every archway they traverse.

Their undisturbed stroll is put on hold when her friend abruptly grips her arm.

"Someone's coming," warns the spirit.

She can't distinguish anyone, no matter where she glances, but she doesn't possess the specter's otherworldly faculties. Both of them hide behind a large column, just to be sure.

One of the walls slides open, revealing a secret passage from which steps out a small, scrawny silhouette. The person in question ends up being the envoy's personal attendant. She examines him from her vantage point, striving not to be discovered while he strides by them. His empty gaze is as unsettling as the last time she saw him.

His unnatural behavior does not appear to change, whether his master is there to monitor him or not.

Once the man has vanished for good, Evelyn and her companion enter the newly unveiled tunnel.

"Let's take a look," she suggests.

They journey down the passageway, landing in a rubble-filled chamber where a massive aperture has been forcefully excavated into the main wall. She's foraged enough old ruins to recognize the signs. Plain torches sparsely affixed here and there rapidly become the sole source of light available throughout their descent. The deeper they delve, the wider the caverns get. The ambient dust makes it hard to breathe without coughing, but she pushes through, using the collar of her cloak to protect her mouth from the flying particles.

Their surroundings look exceedingly similar to the dwarven ruins her and her party had scouted amidst the Storm Coast. The pentagon-shaped and moist stone blocks encompassing them from every angle bring back tons of unwanted memories.

We're definitely in the Deep Roads.

It doesn't take long for them to chance upon signs of life.

[ * ]

Dirty bedrolls and all sorts of clutter are occupying one of the chamber's alcoves. A cooking pot hangs above the central campfire, its content incessantly stirred by an elf that seems quite absorbed in his mundane task. Tattooed men and women pass them by, going about their business as if they weren't there. Others are sleeping in their cots, utterly dead to the world.

The diggers, perhaps.

The duo approaches a woman who absently stares at her fellow workers while standing idly.

"Excuse me?" the human tries. "What is this place?"

No answer.

The she-elf simply peers at her over her shoulder, not moving an inch.

Maybe those are the missing people Telahn spoke of.

"Do you have a name?" she attempts once more.

Again, no response.

"These guys are creeping me out," Evelyn says to her associate, turning her back on the slave. "Do you hear the tune?"

"No. I can't access their thoughts. I can't feel how they feel. Something is blocking me."

"Are they doing it deliberately?"

"I do not know."

Even as they walk away, the woman keeps staring at them with dead eyes. At the end of the chamber, Compassion and her eventually stumble on an imposing archway blocked by a magical barrier with prominent dwarven architecture behind it.

A thaig, clearly.

Additional slaves are perceivable beyond the diaphanous obstruction, carrying heavy containers from one point to the next in highly organized lines, their gaits nearly mechanical. Only a group of mindless machines would operate in this fashion.

Ants in an anthill. Fuck, what have they found inside?

Had Elgar'nan unearthed his own supply of lyrium? It would explain why he hadn't inquired about the deliveries' adjournment.

Her friend tugs on her sleeve. "Look, I think this mechanism deactivates the barrier."

The spirit points toward the adjoining wall, where sits a socket in which a shard-shaped key can be inserted. The system should presumably work similarly to the ancient elvhen doors she'd unlocked within the Solasan temple.

Right before her fingers can brush the slot, an extremely strong grip snatches her wrist, forcing her to twist around.

Two ghastly pairs of eyes stare back at her, enclosed by Elgar'nan's vallaslin. A bad feeling creeps into the pit of her stomach as she assesses the men's inauthentic smiles.

"You shouldn't be here," declares the first one after letting go of her limb.

Bruises are already forming around her wrist, caused by the elf's abnormal strength.

"Why can't we be here? Isn't this a place of worship?"

Playing innocent is the best way to go in this situation.

"This part of the temple is under renovation."

"Under renovation," echoes the second.

Their monotonous voices make her hair stand on end.

"These are the men I told you about," Compassion soughs in her ear.

She wets her lips, nervousness giving way to impatience. "Why put a barrier here? Isn't that a bit extreme?"

"For safety measures," the last one to speak carries on. "Landslides and falling debris are a common occurrence past this point. Wandering petitioners could get hurt."

"No one gets hurt this way," his cohort adds.

"No one."

Evelyn and Compassion share a skeptical glance.

Let's pretend to be gullible for now.

"...Alright, we'll see ourselves out then. Wouldn't want to be crushed by a rock..." she implies wryly.

Though the elves do not follow them on their way back to the entrance, she feels their attention linger on the back of their heads, senses the potency of their soulless gazes even through the series of walls separating them.

"There's something seriously wrong going on here," she conveys to her friend.

"I feel powerful magic on them. And some kind of... glamour charm?" it speculates hesitantly.

She frowns. "Why would they want to alter their appearance?"

Compassion shakes its head in disagreement. "I do not think they were the ones to cast it."

What could they do?

Kidnapping one of the bewitched elves to dispel whatever spell was influencing them wouldn't be considered very diplomatic.

Especially from supposed guests.

"We need to comb that thaig," the human determines.

"But where are we going to find the shard?"

"From the person in charge," she deduces, remembering Telahn's claims. "That prick with the fire cloak must have it. Or maybe his slave."

"I doubt asking them nicely will do the trick."

That's the problem, isn't it?

Familiar squeaks resonate across the vestibule as they exit the temple.


----------


"Rise again? You said they could be killed..."

"Yes," Wisdom nods. "If slain, their physical form will perish."

"What do you mean? What happens to the rest?"

"A soul is energy. Energy cannot be destroyed. Redirected, maybe even split, but not destroyed. Not entirely."

Interrogating Wisdom about the evanuris' rumored immortality is one of the best decisions she had made since traveling back to this era. Fortunately, the spirit does not seem to find her questions suspicious. Sagacity being a part of its nature, her friend most likely sees her as just another genuinely curious creature. There's nothing wrong with having a thirst for knowledge, after all.

And this is not a scheme to get rid of the integral pantheon—perish the thought! But, with the emerging eventuality of Elgar'nan becoming a problem for the rest of them, this kind of information might turn out to be beneficial, one of these days.

It might also shed some light on why Solas had judged the 'permanent exile to the Beyond' recourse more feasible than its violent alternative.

"Then why can I die?" Evelyn argues, perplexed.

"Can you truly? If you have a soul, then the same rule applies to you."

"But I don't come back to life afterwards, and from what you're saying, they do."

"The evanuris are not foolish. They know that power entails covetousness. Jealousy. And their power is immense. It's not surprising that they would know how to protect themselves if someone tried to steal their position and titles. Their authority has been challenged many times in the past, yet they remain undefeated."

'The first of my people do not die so easily', Solas had told her.

That's one thing he didn't lie about.

There might be hope for him yet.

"Do you know what method they're using to manage this... resurrection?"

"I heard they keep a piece of themselves stored away somewhere. A safeguard of sort. If that is the case, I sincerely doubt they would risk revealing where they hide it. It would be counterproductive."

Indeed.

Seated at the Inquisition's tavern over a mug of Chasind mead, Hawke had narrated a lot of her adventures to the Inquisitor. Something she'd taken from Varric, no doubt. One of her tales had involved her first encounter with Flemeth and the unconventional bargain that had ensued. How the witch had transferred a fragment of herself into an amulet, before asking the girl to deliver it to a Dalish keeper living at the foot of Sundermount. How she'd magically materialized upon the mountain's altar once the given task had been completed. However, the old woman had presumedly been slain by the Hero of Ferelden prior to this event. At least, that's what Morrigan had recounted to Evelyn, and Flemeth's daughter had seemed strongly convinced of her mother's demise.

Until Kieran had secretly raced through her eluvian to meet his grandmother, that is.

Mythal must have stashed a remnant of her soul somewhere, and used it to possess Flemeth after being murdered. How long did she wait to find a willing and suitable host?

"Is this common practice?" the human wonders. "Where did the evanuris learn that?"

"Supposedly, they took inspiration from The Forgotten Ones."

Corypheus had been able to revive himself inside bodies infected by the Blight. It would only make sense that the Forgotten Ones, who eternally dwelled amid its point of origin, would be capable of a similar feat.

Wisdom's voice disrupts her pondering. "It is quite ironic, since these beings own no corporeal shape. They are reputed to manifest themselves exclusively through their followers."

Yeah, I would know.

"So no one has ever laid eyes on them?"

"It might have occurred long ago, but—"

She brusquely wakes up to a racket outside of her quarters. Clashes and bangs rumble from one of the neighboring rooms and soon, the sounds of mutiple doors consecutively opening join in as well. Frustrated and tired, Evelyn rolls out of her bed, brain still muddled from her dreams. As she slips into the corridor, a pink tail connected to a clump of white fur turns the corner with impressive speed. So fast in fact, that no one, except for her, seems to notice.

Elgar'nan's delegate barges out of his chambers, looking absolutely furious. The commotion has attracted a bunch of slaves, and of course, the poor souls are the first to receive a taste of his wrath.

"These quarters need pest control! I just saw a rodent scurrying through my bedroom!" the man spits at the nearest lackey. "What are you waiting for? Look for it!"

The human sighs, bumping her head against the wall in defeat.

Here goes my sleep...


----------


A couple of days elapse.

More and more of the evanuris arrive by the day, dragging their devoted—if not indoctrinated—flock along with them. Before Evelyn can even blink, the palace winds up overwhelmed from dawn to dusk. She takes great care to avoid crossing paths with the deities and their affiliates, conscious of the recurring stares and whispers that her presence provokes everywhere she goes.

She is particularly wary of Dirthamen. She has no notion of where his presumed omniscience begins or ends, and bumping into the god of secrets could put her and her plans in serious jeopardy, thanks to her considerable succession of mandatory lies and omissions.

Better safe than sorry.

Despite her inherent aversion to change, Evelyn's top-notch capacity of adaptation helps her settle into a brand-new routine faster than one would expect. She often has company during daytime hours, and not just from her spirit friend, surprisingly.

Elgar'nan's knights' training process is proudly put on display on a daily basis within a gigantic, indoor amphitheatre, as if the soldiers were nothing but a mean of entertainment for the passersby. The armored figures never pause in their noiseless sparring, not even for breath. A spectacle that Abelas always makes a point to witness in his spare time.

The elf regularly incites her to join him, calling it a good exercise for the eyes.

He's not wrong.

She can barely keep up with the fleet flicker of their swords. She watches their expert movements through the reflective ceiling looming above their heads, admires how the fighting fluently turns into an intricate and astounding choreography. Practice makes perfect, as many would say, but sometimes, sheer perusal can serve as an adequate lesson too.

Solas also stays with her on some rare occasions, when Mythal's godly affairs don't require his attention and widely-known acumen. Their time together mostly consists of enlightening conversations. He expounds on the finely detailed murals and historical carvings scattered about the citadel, aware of her attempts at analyzing their significance. There's a lot of dragons and undecipherable symbols. Some even reference the titans' downfall. On that specific topic, the elf ensures to stay very objective in his explications, lest it would trigger her ire.

Along with this, the wolfling routinely demands to know if the locals are treating her unfairly.

She shirks the inquiry with a disinterested shrug every time.

Disgust always runs in the opposite direction whenever it sees her. The wraith has a reputation around the palace for incessantly hounding the slaves about their 'inefficient cleaning'. These latter don't take kindly to its undue advice.

All of her evenings are spent in the kitchens, eating with Idrilla and the rest of Mythal and Elgar'nan's servants. She learns many things during these dinners. That the underground part of the temple was supposed to be expanded months ago, for example. That the workers started blowing up the walls, only for their hard labor to be promptly curtailed. After this mysterious suspension, half of them were diverted to other tasks and only a few were allowed past the excavation point.

And then the infamous selection process begun, which led some of the slaves to rebel and attempt an escape.

The palace's personnel seems none the wiser about the god's clandestine business. Actually, the whole city appears oblivious to it.

Well, except for her and Compassion, of course, and... one other exception.

Straight after their return from the temple, and with her permission, Compassion had gone to disclose their recent discoveries to Mythal. The goddess had merely thanked the spirit and promised to investigate the matter on her own.

The human and her companion had agreed not to interfere further.

For now, at least.

I wonder what she's planning.

Today, Evelyn busies herself around Vir Dirthara and finally concedes to teach her native tongue to the scholarly Archivist. The task proves to be much more enjoyable than what she had predicted, though she keeps the profanities out of their educational exchange. No need to spoil her fun just yet. For some reason, Ghil-Dirthalen adopts a very quaint accent everytime it attempts to parrot her words.

She laughs.

A lot.

Until she catches Idrilla prowling through the aisles of bookcases, and is informed that the festivities are officially starting.

She knows what that means.

And it's exactly why she immediately dashes out of the woman's reach and rushes out of the library via the closest eluvian.

Why she ends up in this... predicament.

"Come down from the tree, girl." The maid commands, hands on her hips and foot tapping on the floor in a jerky rhythm foreboding of things to come if she doesn't listen.

"No," the human responds from her perch.

"I can levitate, you know."

"Don't care."

"Force me to get my hands on you, and I will grab you by your breeches and drag you through the entire Crossroads for everyone to see."

She flails her unoccupied arm towards a group of bystanders, her other limb clinging on to her branch for dear life. "They're already looking at us!"

"Last chance."

"Can't you empathize with someone's pain for once?"

"What about my pain? I have to take care of a lass that acts like a four years old whenever she has to dress up."

"I don't like being handled like a doll."

"Posturing is necessary, child. I thought a noble would know this. Come on, don't make this more difficult than it has to be. Don't forget I'm the one who has control over what you'll be wearing." The woman casts her an unnerving grin.

Sounds like a threat.

Defeated, Evelyn huffs. "Fine, but no corset, or I will resort to violence."

Idrilla barks out a laugh. "As terrifying as a fish out of water."

She comes down, in the end.

Back in the privacy of her quarters, exorbitant outfits have been spread across her bed. Glittering phials and wooden bowls of scented powders that she identifies as cosmetics swamp her desk's surface. Idrilla examines her from different angles before opting for one of the garments without even consulting her. A sleeveless, ebony gown with a gilded collar that coils around her neck like a choker and helds up the raiment's top part. Leaf-shaped pauldrons of golden scales bedeck the shoulders and hold in place the sheer black mantle attached to it. The dress' length reaches the floor and puddles around her feet, allowing her to stay barefoot if she so chooses. Not wearing shoes is pretty common for elves, from what she's observed, and she finds that option far preferable to heels anyway. The wide golden belt wrapped around her midsection accentuates her nipped-in waist but lets her breathe unhindered. She can't deny the attire's beauty, or Idrilla's refined tastes.

Her hair is styled in a thick, long braid that is then tucked in the hollow between her neck and shoulder. The attendant subsequently sprinkles some of the magical pigments in front of her face as if it were a canvas, making her sneeze.

"Try not to botch my hard work, will you?" she has the gall to chide.

Evelyn sniffles noisily, glowering at her interlocutor. "How would you react if I threw dust into your nose?"

"With more dignity, I'm sure."

With the tip of her index finger, the maid begins to paint her lips in a crimson color.

Pensive, she waits for the elf to move on to another part of her features before opening her mouth again. "You don't like the leaders that much, apart from Mythal maybe, but you agreed to work for one. Are you here to help your family or something of that sort?"

"I have no family."

"Everyone does," she rebuts, looking up at the hustling servant. "For some it's a good thing, for others... not so much. Unless they died, of course."

"They were slaughtered."

"Ah," she blurts out clumsily. "What happened to the perpetrators?"

"The fools got what they deserved."

"From the law, or from you?"

"What do you think, child?" Though she doesn't glance at her, one of Idrilla's eyebrows rises sceptically. "Don't pretend to be dense just to get more answers out of me, it doesn't suit you."

"Handy with that dagger, are you?" she accuses in a wry tone.

"I have many skills, girl. As I've said before, daggers will only get you so far."

Hushed minutes slip by and a few adjustments are made to her garb. As a final touch, a modest, golden headchain is hooked around her skull and fiddled with until the small viridian gem in its center rests upon her forehead. 'To match your eyes' is the only explanation she gets when she questions the trinket's utility.

Her assignment accomplished, Idrilla hums contemplatively, head slightly canted. "You could almost pass for one of those highborn ladies... if it wasn't for the ears."

"I really don't know if that's a compliment, or the complete opposite."

"One more thing," the woman adds.

Her hands sneak under the human's skirt to strap a knife to her hidden thigh.

"The fact that you think this is necessary at a banquet is not very reassuring."

The servant disregards her comment, smoothing down the creases of her gown absent-mindedly. "Stay as far away as possible from the leaders, unless Mythal is in your company. If you feel unsafe, stay near her or the wolfling. Speak with the other nobles if you want, but don't expect anything else than disdain from them."

"Are you sure?" she feigns shock. "And there I was, thinking I would make myself so many new friends! Such a downer."

The elf stares at her with a deadpan mien. "Rectification: keep your mouth shut. You won't make it otherwise."

Ready at last, they transit through deserted corridors and penetrate the dining hall, which has been reconfigured to host the event. The main part of it at least, since the room alone—vast as it is—isn't enough to accommodate all of the attendees.

Indeed, some of them are already starting to spill into the contiguous hallways.

An incredible amount of lavish food is strewn along the tables and none of it looks edible. To her utter horror, she even catches movement among the content of certain seafood dishes. Squirming, to be exact. It drives her to wonder if ancient elves have a taste for consuming some of their comestibles alive. Her negligible appetite instantly absconds at the thought.

Musicians are perched on a dais that overlooks the grand hall. The lithesome woman at the center of the band plays a convoluted luth enchanted with luminescent runes. Colorful curtains veil the room's many alcoves and icicle chandeliers bathe the vicinity in soft-hued lights. Her ears perceive the shrilly singing of the ice everytime she walks underneath them.

Aside from the servants, the crowd is dressed up to the nines.

The evanuris are easily recognizable, either by the masks covering half of their faces, or the extravagance of their costumes and makeup. Nevertheless, she still has a hard time discerning them all amidst the compact herd of guests.

Elgar'nan inaugurates the reception with a grand and soporific speech. She scarcely manages to overhear its conclusion over her yawning.

"As my brethren have been informed, this congregation is not without purpose. There are crucial matters to discuss. But for now let us rejoice in each other, for these precious times of reunion between us are too rare."

"Are they really?" she whispers to Idrilla.

"Nah. Well, the eight of them attending a feast together is rare enough, but not the celebrations in themselves. The elite always finds a reason for debauchery."

"The eight of them? Isn't Solas considered part of their little circle?"

"A complicated question. The wolf's allegiance and possible affiliations are still a matter of debate. One that has stirred many polemics over the centuries."

"His budding rebellion certainly won't help alleviate the gossip, I wager."

"Correct."

The maid returns to her duties, refilling Mythal's glass every now and again. The goddess sits next to a stone-cold woman arrayed in a fiery gown, her chestnut hair tied in a strict bun and decked with a tiara of autumn leaves. Most likely Sylaise, the Hearthkeeper, according to her aesthetics. Idrilla keeps sending discreet, sideways glances toward the divinity. And not the loving kind.

Seems like I found her least favorite of the lot.

Left to fend for herself in shark-infested waters, Evelyn sticks to the walls. Compassion emerges from the confluence and hurries to her side as soon as it spots her. It regales her with stories of the pantheon, and tells her that Solas had once been in really good terms with most of the deities. Dirthamen in particular. Sadly, their relationship had soured over the years due to severe divergences of opinion on Elvhenan's political spectrum. And an extremely possessive Falon'Din, whom Solas viewed as an arrogant twat.

"He still does to this day," the spirit highlights.

Her eyes sweep the area in search of the concerned party. She finds him swarmed by noble women. Like Cullen at the Winter Palace. But unlike the Commander, Solas doesn't seem uncomfortable in the slightest. With his arms serenely crossed and his back leaning against an ornate pillar, the god appears in his element. As if being cornered by a cluster of flustered, wanton women was ordinary for him.

Maybe it is.

She recalls his parting words at Crestwood's waterfall, the first of a long series.

"In another world—"

An eventuality voiced like a promise. A nonsensical one. What would he have done under different circumstances? Nothing. If the power of his orb had never taken refuge into her palm, the Solas she had met amid the blazing ruins of Andraste's temple would have never even deigned to accord her so much as a glance. Truth is, there was never a better time for them than the one they had at their disposition. And he ruined it. Grasped their only chance between calloused fingers, stained with the blood of his people, and crushed it of his own volition.

Perhaps they were not meant to be. In this world or the next.

What better proof of it than their current situation?

In this day and age, she's nothing special to him. Nothing other than a shemlen, even though his people have yet to come up with the term. She had been unique to him once, but today, the god is surrounded by his people. People that share his ideals and way of life. People worthy of his time and affection. Better people than her, in his eyes.

The hard reality of their wasted bond catches up with her, stabbing her in the heart and twisting the knife for good measure.

She forces her stinging, watery eyes away from the scene.

This is not the Solas you knew. Let it go, woman. You're being ridiculous.

She's so lost in her self-deprecation that she does not hear him approach.

Entering her visual field with the intent of treading past her, the elf marks a pause when his eyes randomly glide over her spruced-up image. He blinks for what feels like an eternity, failing to recognize her forthwith.

Realization ultimately strikes him.

"You are... quite the sight," he opines.

'You almost look like a person', he means.

She almost regrets not checking herself in the mirror before showing up here.

"I could tell you the same. The 'lordling' guise makes you fit right in."

He's never looked better, to be honest.

"She thinks you're handsome," Compassion lays bare.

She glares at her oblivious friend.

"Did I say something wrong?" it worries right away.

The wolfling slinks closer, smiling smugly. "I will take the compliment, whether it was meant to be heard or not."

His pack of admirers have their eyes riveted on them, chattering among themselves in conspiratorial tones.

"You intrigue them," he remarks. "They do not know what to make of you."

"Really?" she snorts. "They should ask their fellow noblemen for input. Mythal's followers have no shortage of delectable monikers to define me. Outsider, construct, creature, vermin," she enumerates, raising a finger with each spoken terminology. "I'm still waiting on 'shemlen', then the collection should finally be complete."

It takes him a full minute to figure out her meaning. "A... quick child? Quickling? That sounds pejorative. What does the term refer to?"

"Our short lifespan."

He frowns, taken aback.

Surely he knows.

"Mythal did not tell you?" His bafflement deepens. "I'm mortal," she confesses impassively.

His gaze widens temporarily, then flutters to the floor. "She skipped this part, it would seem." There is rancor in his muttering.

"Oh, no!" frets Compassion. "You musn't die! I would miss you terribly! And Grief would become even gloomier than it already is."

Oh darling, you're in for a whole world of hurt.

The elf helplessly stares at her, weighing her words. "How much time do you have left?"

"A few decades, probably."

If the circumstances were normal.

"Decades?" he gasps. "How long does human life generally last?"

"It's rare for us to reach a century."

He looks distraught by the revelation.

"Why would she keep this from me?" Solas mumbles under his breath, eyes suddenly elusive.

As though conjured by his query, Mythal steps in to offer some answers. "Because of your domineering heroic tendencies, my friend. Always the first to take pity on the frail and vulnerable... Even when your help is unwelcome."

"Why would it be unwelcome?" he protests.

"This is normal for her. Has the thought that the girl might have made peace with her condition a long time ago even crossed your mind? That she might not wish to change the natural order of things? Of course it didn't. Your instinct is to save, not to wonder if they want to be saved. What an odd wolf you make, Solas."

She sees the affection in Mythal's gaze. The chemistry between the two. She feels like an intruder. Like an unworthy thing that shouldn't breathe the same air as these two glorious beings. The imaginary knife lodged into her heart cuts deeper yet.

"The People would beg to differ," the god contests. "My actions are seldom portrayed as chivalrous. 'Double-edged' is often employed, however."

A latent bitterness saturates his statement.

"Your methods might seem peculiar to some, but the intent behind them is the same nonetheless. Let the girl decide her own fate. After all, isn't that the principle of free will?" Solas falls silent, having nothing smart to retort. The All-Mother beams at her confidant in a derisive manner, then turns her attention to Evelyn, eyeing her up and down with undisguised approval. "Exquisite get-up, by the way."

The human nods politely. "I believe you and Idrilla are responsible for this."

A pair of evanuris comes their way, two beautiful women with contrasting facades. The shortest one stops in her tracks to appraise Mythal's retinue. Or to size up Evelyn, to put it simply.

Her lean muscles and predatory gait readily betray her identity.

The Goddess of The Hunt lives up to her name.

Her associate, Ghilan'nain, seems to be made of white marble, from the antlers crowning her head to the wispy edges of her robes. The flawless, elvhen embodiment of a halla. She snubs them altogether and continues onward in spite of her companion's halt. Andruil looks wilder and more uncouth than her counterparts. It takes naught from the grace of her strides and motions though. Her skimpy and form-fitting armor leaves little to the imagination and exudes a pervasive smell of leather. A winged mask composed of tawny feathers frames her eyes, its contours hardly distinguishable from her dark, messy mane.

She juts out her chin in Evelyn's direction. "Did you make this one?"

Mythal's smile broadens. "The credit is not mine, I'm afraid."

"Does it warm your bed?"

Trevelyan chokes at her bluntness while Mythal laughs out loud.

"I doubt our mutual preferences would allow it. Furthermore, the girl does not appear terribly fond of me." Her golden gaze shimmers playfully.

"Then you will see no offense in me taking a chance? My bed has welcomed many who proclaimed to exclusively desire men. Their change of heart was as swift as my arrows."

Ah, the boasting.

She's one of them all right.

"Careful, huntress." Warns the white-haired goddess. "Contrary to her ears, her fangs do not lack length. They might prove sharper than yours."

"Is that so?"

Andruil's hand makes for her mouth, perhaps in order to check her professed set of teeth, but Evelyn quickly intercepts the obtrusive limb.

"No touching," she cautions stiffly.

The huntress' eyes narrow into slits as she studies her. She feels like a bug in a jar. Something prods the back of her mind. The unpleasant sensation dips all the way down to her feet. The blade fastened to her thigh grows colder, as if to remind her of its availability.

Andruil slowly retrieves her extremity. "I see. Its nature resonates more with my menagerie than one of the People." She peers at Solas askance. "Maybe this one would rather be mounted by a wolf."

"Shouldn't it be the other way around?" Compassion wades in, missing the point entirely. "I thought people were the ones to mount animals..."

"Your crudeness knows no bound," interferes Solas. "I guess a beast will always be a beast."

The goddess of The Hunt snickers. "I am not the one licking my chops at the sight of an empty piece of meat."

"Yet you were keen on bedding the said piece of meat barely seconds ago."

Huh.

She's now been formally promoted to 'sack of flesh'.

Way to go, Evelyn! You're making waves.

"It has no soul. What use could it have, aside from mindless coupling?"

"That's enough," Mythal declares in a hard voice, sighing heavily afterwards. "Forgive them, girl. Children would behave more appropriately than these two. They do not see eye to eye, and always feel obliged to squabble when confronted to one another."

Idrilla chooses this moment to reclaim her mistress' attention with the help of a guarded whisper. The evanuris offers them a brief valediction before being whisked away by her handmaid. Displeased by the turn of events, the other deity merges back into the bustling throng.

"Do not mind the huntress," the wolfling suggests. "Andruil knows nothing of self-control. She's never had cause to resist temptation before."

"I'm not trying to tempt anyone."

"No," his voice drops several octaves, and the familiar intensity within his gaze magnifies. "No more than a brightly colored fruit is deliberately tempting you to eat it."

She swallows with difficulty, mouth turning dry.

"I have nothing in common with fruits," she counters feebly.

"I cannot tell. Not without taking a bite first."

She feels her cheeks burst into flames. The look in his eyes tells her he finds her mortification deeply amusing.

What the... Is he... No. Just no.

"I need a drink."

She hastily withdraws to a table suffused with beverages without giving him the opportunity to reply, Compassion hot on her heels.

A fragrance of honeysuckle assaults her nostrils as she pours the content of a glass jug inside her newly acquired goblet.

Desperate to divert her thoughts, she inspects her surroundings.

Still no sight of Dirthamen, Falon'Din, or June. Not since the beginning of the feast, at least.

Promiscuous nobles are retreating inside the abundant alcoves for privacy, drawing patterned curtains behind them. Others are lounging onto luxurious sofas and carpets, eating and drinking to their satisfaction. A group of starry-eyed elves are perched on a platform held aloft by magic, swaying to the performers' tune while they blow elaborate smoke rings over their heads. The bowls of their pipes resemble blooming rosebuds. Their dangling legs repeatedly draw her eyes to the chandeliers. She had presumed they would melt due to the room's temperature.

She stands corrected.

"How many hours left until this masquerade ends?" she wonders aloud.

The pink ghost pokes its lips with incertitude. "How many hours are there in a week?"

"A week?" she exclaims. "You can't be serious. Don't they need to sleep?"

"The guests can return to their quarters to rest whenever they desire it. Though they tend to avoid doing so, for fear of missing out."

"On what?"

"On all the interesting things that normally happen during such gatherings. Plus, the People are very resistant to fatigue. They can stay awake for long periods of time."

"Then why does the majority always go to sleep every night?"

"Sloth."

"Huh..." she lets out. "Not to access the Dreaming?"

"That too."

When she turns back around, Solas has found himself another victim to torment among his prior entourage. The ladies hang on his every word, giggling coquettishly at regular intervals. Three of them crane their necks to peek at her over the god's shoulder.

He doesn't notice their concern.

Look at him, making weird innuendos not even a minute ago and already forgetting about my existence the next second.

There was a time when only the Fade could take his attention away from her, now anything in a fancy dress will do the trick.

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

"Splendid," she rolls her eyes. "I don't see what this has to do with me."

"Because th—Um... What is this heaviness? I feel envy in your heart. And... a twinge of resentment?"

"Then your senses are deteriorating," she dismisses briskly.

"But—"

"Let's just focus, hm? We should keep an eye out for anything suspicious."

The spirit exhibits a despondent mien. "Alright..."

She swirls the liquor in her cup, taking a grudging sip.

And I thought orlesian balls were a pain in the ass...

 

Chapter Text

 

Evelyn tires of the celebrations rather quickly.

Time flows so slowly it feels like torture, to the point where she almost wonders if she isn't stuck in a loop. The elves don't care, of course. In fact, those creatures of leisure seem to thrive in this kind of environment. Things get violent sometimes, in between the feasting, frolicking and gossiping. Some of the guests challenge each other over pathetic insults or fancied offenses. Disputes are settled through fatal duels that always conclude with the slaves dragging the bloody remains of the losers out of sight. The gruesome spectacle leads her to fathom why Idrilla had felt the need to strap a blade to her leg.

She's allowed to retire from the banquet to rest and bathe, but the maid has forbidden her from changing attire. Weirdly enough, her clothes never seem to soil or smell. She wouldn't put it past the woman to have enchanted them with that purpose in mind. She catches glimpses of her reflection here and there, and over time, remarks that the cosmetics enhancing her features never seem to fade away. No amount of rubbing or water manages to wipe them off her face either.

She really thought of everything.

[ * ]

Three days have passed when, after wandering outside out of boredom, she stumbles on a congregation of Rage and Despair spirits amid an otherwise unfrequented courtyard. The demons disregard her presence, too busy sharing whispers of lost hope and oaths of revenge that sound like they're coming from the mouths of souls long gone.

A reenactment, of sorts.

Nature has reclaimed the area, transforming the ancient patio into a wild and luxuriant garden. An awning shades unkempt murals that are too dirty for her to decipher. Dry paint peeks through layers of dust and grime. Looking around, she spots a wall fountain near the end of the fresco. She picks up one of the pots sitting around it and fills it with water, splashing it onto the wall. The liquid efficiently removes most of the filth concealing the art from view, but some parts of it remain hidden.

Not good enough.

Thoroughly wetting her hands, the human begins to meticulously wipe the leftover gunk, only stopping once every detail of the painting finally becomes apparent. Dark elvhen silhouettes are aligned across a white background, bowing to a black moon half-filled with crimson eyes. She counts seven pairs of them. A hooded mage stands tall among his brethren, pointing his staff in the direction of the red sun held captive within the rounded star. The weapon represents a woman burning on a pyre, and Evelyn finds the design strangely familiar.

For a moment, she can practically feel the shaft's material between her hands, the warmth of its blazing tip dancing across her face, as if she'd experienced the sensation before. An image of herself proffering the staff to Dorian creeps into her mind.

Could it be...

Letters are etched along the murals' base.

'Shame on the fools that would bring imbalance to this world. Shame on the vengeful father which clouds the skies so that the sun may never shine brighter than he. He is no god of ours. Let him and his pitiful ilk condemn us to the shadows, for they are our domain. Our birthright. Let them taste retribution and let us watch them cower in fear in a world deprived of light. But most of all, let them strike without mercy, for when our time comes, we will have none either.'

As soon as her fingertips make contact with the runes, the chipped paint dissolves, leaving the walls without patterns. A few feet away, the spring's water turns red. In a matter of seconds, the garden is no garden at all, but a gigantic hall filled with kneeling, cloaked individuals.

The vegetation has utterly vanished and a large, circular aperture in the ceiling lets the sun reflect its own image onto the floor, right in the center of the room, forming a golden orb that gradually recedes into a crescent over time. A swift upward glance reveals that a solar eclipse is currently underway. The mage from the fresco stands before the throng, staff in hand. A naked woman is positioned next to him, her jet black hair covering the tip of her breasts. The dimming sunlight seems to desperately cling to her greyish skin. Twirling horns that look like they're made of charcoal protrude from her skull. A silver line connects two gleaming crescent moons of the same tint—the tiniest one rests upon her brows while the larger one encompasses her navel—dividing the left and right parts of her face and torso.

Her freakish onyx gaze reminds Evelyn of Geldauran's.

"Eternal night is upon us," the woman addresses the crowd, her booming voice ricocheting through the room. "Embrace the dark."

With that, abyssal eyes drift to the ether.

The followers' hands surge upward, blood dribbling along their wrists, and Evelyn feels her own prickling palms rise to face the sky. She doesn't remember slashing her flesh open, which forces her to realize that she is reliving someone else's memories. Just as the hooded figure's staff noisily hits the ground, the eclipse finally completes itself, submerging them all into total darkness.

Reality snaps back into focus, so sharply that it leaves her gasping.

"You look a little pale, my Lady."

Blinking wildly, she twists towards her interlocutor.

An elegant elf with striking grey eyes is staring back at her with a mix of concern and curiosity.

Probably another nosy noble.

"Fascinating, isn't it?" he carries on once she's clearly regained her bearings. "How fate can be chronicled in a few simple runes. How the tragic tale of so many souls can be preserved with the mere stroke of a brush. To think that this marvel will one day wear away... It breaks my heart."

She contemplates their surroundings, baffled by the contrast between past and present. "This place look so different now."

"That it does. Alas, so many monuments have been built atop the blood and bones of these people. This palace included. It saddens me to see these invaluable snippets of wisdom suffer from the ravages of time. So much could be saved with a bit of effort on our leaders' part."

"Who is this man?" she gestures to the mural. "The one with the staff?"

"Daern'thal."

I heard that name before.

"One of the Forgotten Ones?" she vaguely recalls.

"Daern'thal, a god?" he chuckles. "Pray that the man never hears such claims, for I fear his ego would inflate to monstrous proportions." He shakes his head with amusement. "No, he is but a simple high priest, a worshipper of the Old Ones. One held in high regard by the Forgotten's devotees. The beauty standing next to him on the other hand, I believe she is worthy of such title."

"Who is she?"

"Evuneras, Goddess of the Night."

"You sound quite knowledgeable on the subject."

"I am well-versed on anything involving the past," he declares, placing a hand over his heart. "The People consider me a historian."

"Then perhaps you can elucidate something for me. This eclipse, it felt... unnatural."

"Because it was. The evanuris were hunting down the Old Ones, seeking to banish them back to the Abyss for all eternity. But no deity lets itself be ousted without a fight, and in retaliation, the Forgotten Ones plunged the world into darkness. It was a dark age for our people. Many powers rallied under the evanuris' banner. Others chose to flee, abandoning their bodies of flesh to return to the Beyond in the form of mutable spirits, and for their cowardice, were declared exiled from the gods' lands."

"The Forbidden Ones?"

"I see you are well-read on our history," he says, not bothering to hide his appreciation. "Commendable, especially for an outsider."

"Why would they be punished for leaving? Maybe they just didn't want to get involved in ludicrous politics."

"A fair sentiment, I suppose. Regardless of their personal opinions or desires however, these beings held responsibilities towards the masses. No power is ever granted without compromise, my Lady. In times of war, one must sadly always choose a side. Or be forced to do so. They did not wish to make that choice, apparently."

"I suppose the evanuris managed to accomplish their goals."

"Of course. With their archenemies forever trapped inside the Void, Mythal cast the moon aside and brought light back to Elvhenan."

"How generous of her," she notes, and his wry smile tells her the sarcasm isn't lost on him. "When did this occur, exactly?"

"Long ago, when the Old Gods' feet still trod upon this earth."

In her world, Evelyn had never crossed paths with any of them. With their rivals out of the way, courtesy of Solas, it would have made sense for them to attempt a comeback. Mythal had wasted no time in pursuing her own goals after taking possession of Flemeth, so why wouldn't they?

Dalish legends claimed that Fen'harel had not only banished the evanuris from Thedas, but also the Forgotten Ones. If their tales held any truth, perhaps the dark deities had taken advantage of the infighting between the wolf and his brethren to find a way to escape their prison.

Did Solas trap them again? If so, where would he put them? Sending them back to the Void after they'd managed to get out would surely be pointless, and confining them in the same place as the evanuris would be illogical, if not careless.

No, he would've found another way.

"Do you think they'll ever return?" she inquires. "Physically, I mean."

"Possibly. I am but an educated man, my Lady. Not a seer."

"Their predicament doesn't really seem to obstruct their influence on this world."

Were the darkspawn their influence on mine?

"Their leverage has merely been deadened. I do not think they could ever truly be silenced. The repercussions would be too grave."

Lightning rumbles through the sky, startling her. Rain starts pouring down on them and the clouds partially redden, a telltale sign of Elgar'nan's bad mood. The Rage spirits roaming about seem to blaze even brighter with each strike of thunder.

"Someone ought to teach him how to manage his anger," she comments. "That much rage can't be healthy, even for a god."

"Agreed."

A mere snap of the elf's fingers, and there they are, sheltered from the storm by a dome of prismatic light.

"You haven't introduced yourself," she realizes. "Don't you have a name?"

He gives her a mysterious smile. "I believe I do."

She frowns at the evasiveness of his response but decides not to insist. "You don't look at me like the other nobles do."

"With contempt, you mean? Or disgust, perhaps?" he acknowledges, tilting his head. "Rumors of a short-eared newcomer have reached the four corners of Elvhenan. A primal creature with expertise on the Children of the Stone, placed under the protection of none other than the All-Mother herself. Such events generally loosen people's tongues."

The man glances at something over her shoulder, then grins as one would at the view of a long-lost friend. Turning around, she finds Idrilla waiting for her, hands joined behind her back.

"It's time," the latter announces.

Evelyn hesitantly looks at her previous interlocutor, unprepared for the end of their enlightening conversation.

"Don't fret," he says before she can utter a word, "I have obligations myself. It was a pleasure to meet you." Mischievous eyes suddenly target the older woman. "As well as your charming company."

All the maid offers him in return is a cold, disinterested stare.

"Goodbye," the human mutters tentatively.

"No need for farewells, my Lady. I have a feeling our paths will cross again."

Without further ado, the well-dressed elf disappears into the building.

The barrier stays in place, in spite of his absence.

"You always have to attract the wrong kind of attention," chides Idrilla.

"Funny, seems to me like you were the object of his flagrant ogling."

The servant ignores the jibe to focus on her dirty, wet hands. "Aren't you old enough not to jump into puddles and play with mud anymore?" she scolds, nodding towards the fountain. "Go wash your filthy paws."

"Yes, ma'am."


----------


They traverse the few crowded parts of the citadel, navigating through swarms of unruly guests, until they reach an area solely occupied by guards and Sentinels. As soon as they are out of sight, she catches Idrilla roughly biting her lower lip from the corner of her eyes. Before she has time to fathom what's happening, Evelyn is pushed into a dark nook, and her companion's mouth unites with her own. She becomes aware of the metallic taste imbuing her tongue once the servant withdraws from her personal space.

Puzzled, she touches her lips.

Blood coats her fingertips.

"What was that for?" she asks.

"Communication," she hears within her head.

"Wha—" the woman's palm interrupts her queries.

"With your mind, girl. Not your mouth."

"...Why is this necessary?" she tries, a bit shocked at how spontaneous and instinctive it feels to simulate a dialogue via one's mind.

It could easily be compared to thinking. The only exception is that her thoughts sound much louder. Too loud, almost. They boil and bounce around her brain, the feeling uncomfortable yet so natural. Something inside her awakens. Something which connotes that this is how she was meant to express herself from the get-go.

So why couldn't she?

"Dirthamen is near," explains Idrilla, tearing her from her internal conflict. "No word escapes his ears, but your thoughts are safe from him."

"He hears everything that is said around him?"

"Up to a certain distance, yes. His abilities have their limitations. Thankfully."

"That's uh... convenient."

"I will guide you through the deliberations, but first, there is something you must know."

Control slips from her grasp as mental pictures of several ornate coffers stashed inside a narrow alcove flash before her eyes. She feels Idrilla yank out her dagger from the waistband of her skirts and brutally thrust it into one of the chests' locks. The curve of the blade tickles her memory, filling her with a sense of familiarity. With a nudge from the maid, the lid slides open, revealing a batch of untouched, raw lyrium.

Gesturing to the freight, her host gyrates to face the person who has been standing behind her this whole time. Mythal is peering at their recent discovery with a troubled mien, arms crossed over her bust.

"What games are you playing, falon?" the goddess mumbles to herself.

The vision evaporates.

"He doesn't use it," Evelyn comprehends. "He knows the lyrium is harmful. I really didn't think he'd care."

"Caring isn't part of Elgar'nan's vocabulary," corrects the attendant. "Don't jump to conclusions too fast. There's more to this."

Their deceitfully quiet stroll through the palace begins anew.

"How long will this last? The telepathy?" she questions, indicating her temple.

"Long enough."

So our darling shrew is an adept at blood magic... Should have known, what with all those scars blemishing her arms.

Solas is waiting for them outside of the room appointed to hold their little conference, set apart from his peers, who chat among themselves as if he wasn't there. The wolf seems dead set on teaching her how to behave during the gods' impending deliberations.

"Do not speak before being directly addressed," he warns.

"I'll be a good girl. My big mouth will stay shut unless Mythal prompts me to open it. Promise."

"The evanuris will not like you," he foresees with an apprehensive frown.

She hums dubiously. "Andruil seemed to like my dress well enough."

"You have knowledge, and knowledge is power. They'll see you as a threat. The fact that Mythal gives heed to your opinion on the matter certainly won't help your case."

"You're not exactly helping me stay calm right now, you know?"

He sighs. "You're right. You'll have to excuse me, it's hard for me to unwind when—" one of Falon'Din's bumptious cackles momentarily cuts him off, "when I'm so painfully aware of how unpleasant this bunch can be."

"Don't worry, I'm sure we'll have a jolly good time."

Her attention drifts to Dirthamen. She can finally take the time to examine the deity, after avoiding him like the plague for so many days. A hood conceals his hair and forehead and a black shawl covers the lower part of his face. His piercing eyes are his only visible feature. Wispy shadows trail behind him everywhere he goes, crawling along the floor like thorny tendrils that subsequently breeze out of existence. Two broad ravens have found purchase upon the black mantle draped over his shoulders, talons hidden among the dark feathers stitched to the god's pauldrons.

"Nice uh... pets," she praises.

"Fear and Deceit," Solas imparts.

"Friendly spirits?"

He scrunches up his nose, like he used to after drinking tea. "The names should speak for themselves."

"Buzzards in disguise," Idrilla wades in through her thoughts. "Pay them no heed."

Dirthamen must have sensed their scrutiny, because his all-seeing gaze abruptly lands on them. The god ambles their way, halting in front of them. His silent staring lasts a while, gilded eyes successively traveling between Solas and her before concentrating onto something between the two of them. Something indiscernible to the average mortal, it would seem. Unfortunately, her elvhen friend appears as lost as her in regard to the deity's odd demeanor. His birds are equally transfixed by whatever peculiarity their master is perceiving.

Solas is just about to vocalize his perplexity when Dirthamen's uncanny focus specifically narrows down onto her.

"Good luck," he tells her, gliding away immediately after.

The human and the wolf share a confused look.

Okay... That was pretty random.

"What do they know of me?" Evelyn wonders.

"That you come from a place so distant it could be considered another world entirely and that you have Mythal's favor."

"One of the guests thought I was an expert on everything dwarven."

"Yes, I guess that is also part of the narrative." He cants his head, visibly bemused by something she'd said. "Have you at last found a friend among the nobility?"

"No need. I already have a friend," she smiles roguishly, glancing at Idrilla.

"Mythal preserves me," the concerned party replies, loud and clear. "It has grown attached."

Solas and her snort at the servant's wit.

Mythal's arrival instantly sobers her counterparts, hushing their chatter as tension saturates the atmosphere. At her invitation, everyone penetrates the chamber, a gigantic space devoid of furnishings. No table nor chairs. Stained-glass windows wholly engulf the walls, external light filtering in through a myriad of motifs and colors to create an iridescent pool upon the ground. The group arranges itself around the opalescent sphere, gathering in a flawless circle. Evelyn finds herself crammed between the goddess and her handmaid.

She winds up noticing, mystified, that the globe's surface actually reflects everyone's image as if it were genuine water.

"You already know the reason behind my summons, so I'll go straight to the point." The All-Mother initiates the discourse. "The people in charge of mining the blue stone have fallen ill. Their condition has led to troubling discoveries. Using this mineral in its raw form is dangerous, and ultimately lethal. But I needn't tell you that, do I? I believe you've been aware of this danger for quite some time now."

"You talk as if we purposely went behind your back to plot among ourselves," Ghilan'nain derides.

"How would you call it? You could have requested a parley, shared your findings with me. But instead, you chose to keep silent. Put your own people at risk. You knew I would stop the mining process if I learned the truth. And so you hid it from me. Your inaction has been a great disappointment to me. Which is why the shipments have been put on hold until a long-term solution to this issue is found."

"You shouldn't throw accusations around so lightly, lethallan." Elgar'nan protests. "I strictly forbade the use of the blue stone as soon as my subjects and I started to notice its effects."

"Then why stay quiet about it?"

"A lapse in judgement entailed by my busy schedule. But do not forget that you were the one who made the decision to harvest this mineral."

"A decision you agreed upon after I consulted you as a whole." Mythal slants her face slightly, her expression impish. "Are your old minds starting to slip, or do you simply suffer from blatant bad faith, dear friends?"

"You asked for our opinions and we gave it to you," Falon'Din horns in. "The cards were in your hands, not ours. I am sorry if any of your servitors suffered the consequences of your poor discernment."

"Should I remind you of what happened the last time you grew impertinent, young man? I believe your blood still dries upon the walls of your temple to this day," the white-haired deity evokes in a sweet pitch which, deep down, sounds more like an appeal for caution. "My people are fine, no thanks to any of you. Instead, they owe their lives to this child." A lithesome hand sweeps in Trevelyan's direction. "How terribly sad it was for me to realize I would receive more help and support from a stranger than my own, closest circle."

"Ah yes, your dwarven expert." June acknowledges wryly.

For the first time since Evelyn has met him, the All-Father takes the time to look at her. "You trust this foreigner?" he inquires to Mythal.

"To a reasonable extent, yes."

"How did you happen upon your knowledge?" The question is for her, this time. "Concerning the blue stone?"

Stillness impregnates the room.

"Go on," Idrilla wordlessly encourages, spurred on by the chary glance the human had thrown her way.

"My people often trade with the Durgen'len. Only them know how to safely transmute lyrium into a usable substance. We buy it from them regularly."

"So you are aware of its potential?" Elgar'nan asks.

"Yes. But gaining more power isn't reason enough to risk everyone's life."

"We will be the judge of that," Andruil counters.

"How do we know it's telling the truth?" June disputes. "What do you think, Dirthamen?"

"I see no deceit in her claims."

"I trust Dirthamen's insight," Falon'Din corroborates. "His instincts have never mislead us before."

"If it knows the Durgen'len so well, why not use it to establish contact?" Sylaise proposes. "Send it as an emissary."

"You can't just throw me to the wolves and order me to make demands," Evelyn objects. "The Durgen'len of your world know nothing of me or my people. I am as much a foreigner to them as I am to you. I don't even understand their language."

"Then what good are you to us?" Sylaise stresses before glancing at Mythal. "I think you have overestimated your pet's usefulness."

"Abduct one of those cave dwellers," Andruil recommends. "Force it to give up their secrets."

"Kidnapping is certainly not the right way to go about this," she demurs, appalled by the notion. "You already killed some of their people. What would that accomplish? You won't make any progress by starting a war."

"And you would know of war," Falon'Din surmises as he approaches her steadily, "considering the potent stench of death that clings to your fragile skin. Barely fresh out of the womb and it already smells like a corpse," he points out to Mythal. "Tell me, little thing, how many poor souls have you send to the Beyond in the negligible span of your existence?"

"You give me too much credit. The sum of my victims could never rival yours, I'm sure."

"Careful there," Idrilla whispers in her head.

"I'm surprised you haven't marked it yet," he says to the All-Mother, then settles his golden gaze unto the human once again. "Puny creatures like you don't last long without a master." Evelyn can't decide if his smile is more infuriating or unnerving. "You could join my flock."

"Not interested."

"You would refuse the honor of bearing my vallaslin?"

"I fail to see the honor in becoming someone's mindless puppet."

He glances at Mythal, clicking his tongue. "Your pet construct has never known servitude. I guess that explains its impudence."

"We are not here to satisfy your appetite for adulation," Solas interferes.

The blond snickers, scoffing at the wolfling. "You dare speak to me of vanity? Isn't the desire to be worshipped what motivated you to launch your laughable rebellion, Fen'harel?"

"Dread wolf?" He's never heard the derogative sobriquet prior to this moment, that much is clear. "Are childish monickers supposed to wound my pride?"

"Enough digression," Mythal arbitrates.

The woman spends the following minutes expounding on the dwarven implements her people had found, hinting that they might be the answer to their problem. Her audience doesn't appear particularly convinced.

"In the hypothesis of it even happening, how long will we have to wait until your subordinates make a breakthrough?" Ghilan'nain inquires.

"And what are we supposed to do in the meantime?" June adds. "Sit around and twiddle our thumbs? Most of my machines are already using the blue stone as fuel. High society has just been introduced to it, some have even started to integrate it into their daily lives."

"As long as the lyrium hasn't been modified, anyone who frequently lingers near it will die." Evelyn presses. "I don't see what's so hard to understand."

"Slaves and servants are the ones who stay in prolonged contact with the stone, anyway." Andruil argues. "They'll be the ones affected by it. Why should we care?"

"Lyrium does not discriminate," she retorts. "It will kill you, no matter your status."

"Do you realize the level of advancement this thing could bring to the People?" June emphasizes. "Not just in matters of the arcane, but from a technological point of view?"

"I am fairly aware," Mythal deadpans.

"He's right," the wildling asserts. "I say we find these dirt crawlers and do what's necessary to get the answers we seek. And if that means resorting to brute force, then so be it. This is about more than the tragic fate of a few labourers. Progress shouldn't be hampered over such trivial matters."

"Have you learned nothing of the last time you experimented with things beyond your understanding, child?" The All-Mother reminds. "How are your lands faring, by the way? As plagued and lifeless as I recall?"

Andruil looks positively miffed.

Mythal exhales tiredly. "How many casualties has your collective silence caused?"

"Not nearly enough to justify your dramatic overreaction," Elgar'nan responds.

"Overreaction?" Solas bristles. "Elvhenan is a kingdom. A whole that requires all of its pieces, no matter the range of their significance, to live in harmony in order to run efficiently. Contrary to popular belief, its nation does not gravitate around your self-important navels."

Ghilan'nain snorts. "How rich, coming from the traitor who strives to divide us."

"Quiet, all of you!" Mythal exclaims, eyes flickering white for a second. "I had hoped you would be able to see past your own selfish concerns. It seems like I was wrong. Who will you all reign over when the population has been reduced to nothing because of your actions? When none of your drudges are left alive to do your bidding? Such leaders you are."

Dirthamen slowly glides forward, speaking in a calm voice. "What if your people fail to come up with a way to utilize these tools?"

"We will find another way. We always do."

"Will the newcomer assist you in this endeavor, should the need arise?"

Even though the question is directed at Mythal, the god's eyes are set upon the human.

"Yes," Evelyn confirms without hesitation.

"Would she be willing to plead our cause to the Children of the Stone, if all else fails?"

"Be sincere," Idrilla advises, sensing her indecision.

"As long as your people are willing to keep things peaceful, no matter the outcome, then yes."

Deceit leans in to whisper something in its master's ear.

"Then I have no objection to your plans," he tells Mythal. "Do as you see fit."

The discussion starts deviating onto other topics, things Evelyn has no business meddling with. Trivialities which, sadly for her, drag on for hours. Ultimately, and perhaps as a result of the goddess sensing her exasperation, Mythal decides to put the deliberations on hold.

The evanuris are more than content to be offered a way out of this high-strung confabulation and leave the chamber with relieved sighs. Solas tarries behind the gates. He looks tormented.

So much so that she feels the itching need to do something about it.

She urgently reasons that her desire to rip him out of his depressing mood has nothing to do with any lingering affection she could have for the man. He was there for her when she broke down after the revelation of the Anchor's origins. The least she can do is return the favor.

"Frown any harder and your face might get stuck like that," she forewarns.

"They are blind to their own greed," he soughs absently. "They used to care, some of them at least." He casts a sorrowful peek at Dirthamen's retreating form. "I don't know what happened along the way, but something changed."

"They did. Power got to their heads. It happened before and I'm certain it will happen again."

"Quite the fatalistic outlook. Yet history would prove you right... What if I become like them, down the line?"

"From my personal experience, the best way to avoid that eventuality is to surround yourself with well-minded people willing to critize your decisions objectively. The ego can be a tricky thing. Sometimes it needs to die for us to move forward. Everyone needs someone to ground them back to earth when pride becomes more a hindrance than a crutch."

"How can I expect objectivity from people that look at me as you would a savior, or a god?"

"Emancipated slaves aside, I doubt Felassan, or even Mythal, would let you become a despot without interfering."

His mouth jerks into a fond smile. "Yes, their honesty has always triumphed over their affection for me. Thank you for your words. You're being surprisingly supportive."

"Surprisingly? You think I can't be kind?"

"On the contrary. But for reasons that elude me, your kindness rarely extends to my person. Mythal's attendant seems to have gained your friendship fairly easily. The Sentinel, Felassan, and others as well. I have known you for longer than all of them, and still, your guard never drops around me."

"The first time I met Idrilla, she prepared me a bath and gave me clean clothes. The first time I met you, you told me my existence unsettled you and tricked me into letting you track my whereabouts. A pretty contrasted sort of treatment, don't you think?"

He blinks, dumbfounded, and shakes his head frantically. "You can't possibly compare—I knew nothing of you. Of your intents. You could have been a danger to us. I obviously see things differently now."

"I understand that. And you're wrong, my guard does drop around you. More often than I'd like."

That's what scares me the most.

"Am I truly so terrifying?" he asks, tone both waggish and earnest.

She must have expressed her thoughts aloud.

"Do I remind you of him?" he continues before she can think of a response. "The friend that betrayed you?" She gapes for a brief time, then nods. "I thought it might be the case," he frowns, suddenly pensive. "What do we share in common?"

"Domineering heroic tendencies?" she quips, remembering Mythal's words.

He smiles wistfully. "Perhaps the wolf truly is as dreadful as the People perceive him."

Unable to help herself, she touches his arm in reassurance, drawing his eyes to where her hand rests upon him. "Don't give weight to their taunts. There's absolutely nothing wrong with what you're doing."

For now.

He stares at her face with great intensity, to the point where she wonders if something's wrong with it. "You should braid your hair more often."

"My ears would stand out."

He cocks an eyebrow, playful. "Is that supposed to be a bad thing?"

A genuine smile threatens to breach her composure.

She bites it off her lips.


----------


In the early evening, Evelyn sneaks into the kitchens to fetch herself something fit for human consumption. Fancy elvhen dishes might be very pretty and colorful, but they're also remarkably difficult to stomach. For her, at least. She's been sticking to fruits since the beginning of the feast, and from time to time, has been reduced to digging into the servants' leftovers.

Compassion stays with her throughout her hasty dinner, asking a million questions about what had been said during the council organized by Mythal. She winds up recounting the integral ordeal. Her spectral friend somehow manages to understand her every word despite the spoon regularly shoved into her mouth. It grows aghast when she relates Andruil's unrefined suggestions.

"Oh no, kidnapping isn't good!" it blurts out. "The Durgen'len would surely be very mad!"

"That's what I told them."

"Mythal must be terribly disappointed in them," it mutters with the tone of a worried mother. "I should pay her a visit soon."

If spirits had nails, they wouldn't last long on this one.

At some point, the conversation swerves to the noble she'd encountered earlier today.

"A historian?" the ghost muses. "Never heard of him. He sounds like a very proficient and passionate soul. Very few people are well-informed on what occurred during the Dark Ages."

"Why is that?" she asks while slurping her soup.

"Well, for starters, the Great Darkness dates back to an era that barely anyone is able to clearly remember. Secondly, the evanuris tend to prohibit access to anything that has a chance of tarnishing their reputation. If something they do not approve of has not already been forbidden, then it most likely has been left to rot. It's probably why the gardens you found looked so neglected. They think some things are better left forgotten, for the greater good."

"Or their own."

Compassion parts ways with her once she's finished her meal, fluttering away to go check on Mythal. Remote voices echo down the hallway as she exits the kitchens. Following the noise, she finds Elgar'nan's envoy circling Idrilla in the same manner a hound would stalk its game.

Intrigued, she uses the wall to remain out of sight.

"Always skulking around, frail and inconspicuous. Is that why your mistress picked you? Making oneself invisible to the untrained eye is a demanding art. How many years did it take you to master it?"

"Is there a point to your ravings, sir?"

"I recognize a rat when I see one. The smell they exude is quite... pungent." The man inhales the air around his prey, too close for comfort.

"You're treading on thin ice," the latter warns stoically.

The delegate's lips morph into a knowing smirk. "Were I of another nature, I would fear you, woman."

"I do not remember you acting so brave in front of Mythal. That lyrium fragment around your neck made you sweat an awful lot. You were quick to discard it whenever she wasn't looking."

The man's gaze hardens, twitching with anger. "Keep away from my slaves. I shan't repeat myself."

He departs, but the servant does not budge.

Her raspy voice rises amid the quiet hallway. "You should be at the festivities, not snooping around corridors."

Evelyn tries answering by thought, but from the look she receives from her, the attendant can't hear a word of what's going through her mind.

Guess it wore off.

"I was on my way," she explains, emerging from her hiding spot. "I didn't want to interrupt."

"Of course you didn't. Children never lose an opportunity to eavesdrop, do they?"

Without granting her room to reply, the maid reverts to her ordinary occupations.

Now alone, the human proceeds to her original destination. She comes across Abelas as she's about to enter the former dining hall. He surveys the packed corridor with his trademark, unwavering phlegm, looking like an effigy sculpted from solid gold.

"Guard duty? You'd think Elgar'nan's knights would be enough security."

His amber stare slides ahead of her, inspecting the assembly regardless of her proximity. He seems uncapable of identifying her on his own. She waves her hand lightly in order to assist him and finally captures his attention. An uncertain frown mars his features at the sight of her, his eyes double-checking her ceremonious apparel. She can't blame his befuddled state. She hasn't seen him in days, after all.

"Had some trouble recognizing me there, huh?" she figures, folding her arms over her chest.

"You almost merge with the crowd now."

A familiar face stands out amidst the throng. The dark-haired warden she had met shortly after her trip to the past is diligently tailing an unknown individual, whose conceited airs, spangled garments and shit-eating grin plainly showcase a possible affiliation to a superior caste.

The man who owned Sylvas, no doubt.

Unlike Abelas, the bodyguard has no issue realizing who she is. He hurriedly avoids her gaze, rattled by the memory of their last confrontation.

His flinching compels her to roll her eyes. "Such dramatics over a little ass-kicking."

"Men are seldom proud of being defeated by something half their height," the Sentinel points out.

"Are you calling me short?"

"I am merely stating facts." He pauses, giving her a sidelong glance. "Who taught you how to fight?"

"It was a long process," she chuckles. "Many people were involved. I used to train with village boys when I was a child. Got my ass kicked more than once but made some good friends that way. When they weren't available, I'd scour my hometown and harass anyone good enough in a fight to teach me their skills. Otherwise, I'd stay at home and observe the guards train in the barracks."

"And this is the extent of your training? I find that hard to believe."

"It's not. I ran from home when I was sixteen. There was a forest near my family's estate. I hid there for some time, knowing my father would send his goons to fetch me back. It taught me a few tricks on how to survive in the wilds. Eventually, I asked my friends for help. Some of them had contacts in other cities, people that could hire me for mercenary work or more... questionable jobs. I couldn't stay in town for long or my family would find me."

"So you became a criminal."

"I did what I had to do to survive. Even gained some experience along the way."

"Why flee your home in the first place?"

"My father... went too far. He was extremely bigoted towards anyone who wasn't human. He... hurt a lot of people. I had enough."

The increasing frequency of his 'hunting trips' into the inhabited corners of the local wilderness—or Dalish camps, to be more accurate—had been the last straw for her. The last of many.

She recalls her long, nocturnal walk through the dungeons of the Trevelyan manor. The torch in her trembling grip, illuminating desperate faces marked with vallaslin and trapped behind iron bars, waiting to be processed and turned into obedient lackeys.

Her shuddering hands unlocking the cells.

"Mythal's handmaid implied that you were raised by someone else than your parents. Why not go to them for help?"

"She wasn't human either. I forced her to come with me. I knew my father would hurt her if she was still around when he'd learn I had escaped." Especially with his hard-won 'property'. "She had a life before... before he had interfered with it. I told her to leave me in the woods and make the most of her freedom."

"Did her desires coincide with yours?"

"No. She was..." for a split second, Abelas' face shifts into her governess' fuming mug, "really mad." He gives her a blank yet judgemental look. "I had no choice. Me staying with her while being hunted down by his men would have put her in danger."

"Were you discovered, in the end?"

"No. I knew how to lay low. My new line of work helped a lot. My family eventually stopped looking for me. I was always a burden to them anyway."

A minute elapses, a time he presumably employs to digest the informations bestowed upon him.

"Your skills seem to stretch beyond those of a simple rogue," he then states.

"The organization I led back home arranged a special instructor for me. She taught me the ways of the assassin."

"A trained killer? Perhaps Mythal will one day employ your talents."

"I wouldn't hurt someone who hasn't deliberately caused harm to innocent people."

One of his hairless eyebrows arches. "An assassin with a conscience? Astonishing."

"You're awfully sassy tonight," she reproves with a smirk. "What about you? How young were you when you came into Mythal's service?"

"Very young."

"You've never known anything else?"

"Your tone suggests that the implication is a sad one."

"To me, it is. Having your life entirely devoted to someone else rarely ends well." She ponders over his fate for a spell, brows furrowing. "If something were to happen to Mythal, what would you do then?"

"Why would anything happen to her? Are you planning something?"

She snorts. "Don't be stupid," she rolls her eyes. "What would I gain from doing such a thing? Only chaos would ensue. I've met her counterparts. This world would burn if they were left to their own devices."

"A sound observation."

Drum sounds and crystalline voices distantly erupt from the room behind them.

She purses her lips, gauging him. "What was your name before becoming a Sentinel?"

"What makes you think I ever had another?"

"Just a hunch," she shrugs. "You don't look like a 'Shiva'. C'mon, that's not fair. I answered your questions."

"I didn't force you."

"You won't tell me, will you?"

Another Sentinel passes them by at that moment, commanding him to follow by jutting her chin in the course opposite to them.

Abelas complies without delay.

"Another day, perhaps." He tells the human over his shoulder.

The percussions' ardor amplifies as Evelyn steps inside the banquet hall.

An elvhen woman clad in an airy red dress is dancing upon a large, central stage, her anklet jiggling in rhythm with her motions. Female musicians and vocalists alike stretch behind her in an orderly row while the guests have stopped their anterior activities to amass in front of the dais, watching the scene with bated breath. The dancer twirls and twirls, her long and flowy sleeves whipping the air, until her hair catches on fire. Her ginger strands turn into literal flames that flit towards the ceiling and burn down the flower crown situated atop her head.

Cinders converge at her feet as the rest of her endures the same alteration, her skin and gown taking on a transparent, orange hue that makes her resemble a spirit. Steam escapes her mouth as she breathes onto the stalactite chandelier hovering above her. The tip begins to melt and drip onto the stage, forming a small pool that abruptly soars like a bird and changes into a blue, watery copy of the womanly entity. The latter returns to her dancing while her freshly born double kneels to the floor to cup the crown's ashes, crying silently. Her tears spill onto the substance, conceiving a green, earthy replica of its creator. The three start spinning across the platform, the sway of their ethereal sleeves creating a swirling gust that mutates into another translucent being, greyish this time.

The four elementals keep prancing gracefully for several more minutes, the drums and choir becoming louder and louder by degrees. The performance reaches its ultimate culmination once the quartet combines together and transforms into a body made of flesh. Back to her original form, the dancer awards her audience with a polite curtsey. The elves cheer and applaud in a collective, thunderous roar.

The public and attendees gradually scatter, moving onto other entertainments.

Still enraptured by what she has witnessed, Evelyn retreats to one of the exterior balconies, seeking fresh air.

"You seemed to be enjoying the performance," Solas denotes, inserting himself into the vacant space beside her.

Huh.

She didn't even notice him amidst the spectators.

"Yes. It was beautiful. I wish I knew how to make elemental duplicates of myself."

"You can always learn," he notifies, his forearms joining hers upon the balustrade. "Though it would take you many years."

"Baby steps. I don't even know how to conjure a flame in the palm of my hand yet."

"Ah, we shall have to remedy to that shortly, then."

"A warning, in that case: I prefer practice over lectures."

"I shall bear that in mind."

Noises of rustling fabric and rushed movements emanate from the neighboring terrace. Panting succeeds, along with the sound of something made of glass smashing against the floor. A combination of netting, shrubs and flowers makes it impossible to monitor what's currently transpiring next door, but the enamored murmurs permeating the vicinity rapidly clarify the situation.

Evelyn licks her lips, at a loss for words.

Just my luck.

To her dismay, the lovers' tryst only seems to further embolden the wolf's inherent curiosity.

"How do humans court each other?" he asks, falsely ingenuous.

"...Um, what?"

"Humans," he persists, a tad too accustomed to getting what he wants, she assumes. "Their courting rituals. I'd like to learn more about them."

Oh, boy.

"Well, it varies..." she shrugs, doing her best to drown out their neighbors' ongoing carnal ventures. "Depends on one's culture and traditions. Your position in society may also play a role. Gifts are a very common practice among humans. Poetry, flowers, expensive yet meaningless baubles... It's all very dull. The aim is mainly to make your intentions known."

"How very... materialistic." She can readily detect the grimace he tries to contain. "Our customs are much more personal and intimate."

"You tell me," she quips, glancing in the couple's direction.

"Not in that sense," he smiles. "There are protocols. A popular way of declaring your flame to someone is to store your most precious memory in an item of your choosing and offer it to the object of your affection. If the present is accepted, the courting process can begin. Scholars and their likes prefer to switch said memory for valuable bits of knowledge and world-changing discoveries."

"I get it. Share something intimate and of great importance to you to demonstrate the sincerity of your feelings. Although the letdown must be hard, in case of rejection. Are there other methods?"

"The most courageous will sometimes ask their infatuation to trade places with them for a certain duration. If the person consents to it, the two will then experience each other's daily life, their professions, hobbies, families and friends, until the agreed deadline is reached."

"A bit tedious, if not invasive, but I guess putting yourself in someone else's shoes is a great way to know if you're compatible."

"It is the main purpose of this experiment."

"Nothing else? Something a bit simpler perhaps?"

"Passion and Love have a knack for playing matchmakers. At a swain's request, one of these spirits can assist them in their pursuit to confess their love."

"What does the spirit do?"

"It touches their minds, creates a temporary connection between the two of them. The pair will see themselves through each other's eyes and be able to feel what the other feels. People who are not good with words tend to choose this option."

"Sounds romantic."

"I find it rather tasteful myself, to be honest."

A loud moan rings out nearby, its source evident.

She clears her throat, skittish. "Maybe we should take our discussion elsewhere."

Apparently, Solas would rather keep acting clueless. "Do you feel flustered?"

"You speak as if the circumstances were normal."

"In events such as this one, such things are to be expected."

"Perhaps, but I do not enjoy feeling like a voyeur."

"There is nothing to see," he remarks with a lilt in his voice, amused by her discomfort.

"The sounds leave little to the imagination."

His eyes take on a sultry glint, never straying from hers. "Very little indeed."

Heat spreads in the pit of her stomach like wildfire.

She swallows thickly.

"Horrendous!" a familiar voice resounds from the adjacent, occupied balcony. "Creators, why would you put your mouth on such a thing? Your disgusting fluids are pouring all over the furniture! Ugh," Disgust gags audibly, "I'm gonna—Ugh! Shoo, out of here you animals!"

The revolted spirit chases the lovers from their refuge, their footsteps hurtling back inside the hall with palpable urgency.

From their vantage point, Solas and Evelyn watch the phantom beckon some of the slaves with feverish gestures. "Servants, this place needs to be cleansed. Thoroughly! A bunch of uncivilized barbarians were copulating on the table. Can you believe it? People eat there!"

The pair can't suppress their laughter, simultaneously rocking their heads side to side.

"We should do the same," she appeals.

Before it starts throwing similar accusations at us.

Nodding, the wolfling follows her indoors. Disgust cries out the instant it spots her, curses Elgar'nan's name and runs off while grumbling something along the lines of "What a horrible, horrible day!".

An aggregation of nobles summons Solas with a friendly wave and the elf thoughtfully incentivizes her to accompany him. Not exactly in the mood to socialize, particularly after espying some of his admirers within the group, Evelyn cordially declines. As her mother used to do when she didn't wish to deal with her father, the human pretexts a headache and, after a congenial farewell, absconds from the party altogether.

She nears her private quarters when an unanticipated detail stops her dead in her tracks. A detail consisting of Idrilla incongruously dragging the body of an unconscious slave athwart the corridor leading to her bedroom.

"What the hell are you doing?" she berates, arms hanging aloft in a questioning fashion.

"Grab his legs."

"What?"

"Grab his legs," the maid reiteres in an uncompromising tone. "Before someone comes."

Uh... Maybe she's got a point.

Evelyn exhales with the daintiness of a druffalo. "I swear, Orlais or this place, no difference at all!"

She relents, at last, wrapping her fingers around the man's ankles to help the maid carry him inside an unused guest room. They dump him on a rug in the most unceremonious way and loom over his flaccid shape.

"Are they even fed?" she wonders. "The guy weights next to nothing."

Idrilla ignores her, focusing on her victim. She bends to his level, a radiant halo enveloping her palms, and skims her glowing extremities along the length of him. Her tampering dispels whatever glamour charm Compassion had previously made allusion to, his normally imperceptible aura adopting a red glare that pulsates around him like a second skin. Blisters sprout all over his flesh and the lens of his glazed eyes beam with an eerie, carmine color.

Evelyn had only witnessed one thing causing comparable effects in the past.

Red lyrium.

Shit! Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!

"Something's wrong with its eyes," the handmaid says, thumbs tugging on the slave's eyelids. "I've never seen this before."

A shaky breath escapes the human. "We need to find Mythal."

"No, she's busy. If you know something, tell me."

"...I reckon you know about the questionable shit going on at the temple?"

"Isn't that obvious?"

"I have an inkling of what the slaves could be harvesting, but I'd need to see it with my own eyes to be sure."

"Well, I guess we've got time for a little midnight stroll."

She doesn't expect Idrilla to extract the required and long-sought shard key from her skirts' pockets.

Or to teasingly waggle it in front of her stunned face.

But then again, the woman always manages to catch her off-guard.

 

Chapter Text

 

"Stop vibrating or you'll start buzzing soon."

"I'm not vibrating, you heartless shrew, I'm nervous." Evelyn admits, taking a quick gander at the slumbering slaves behind them and praying that none of them wake up.

"Then calm down. You said your fears were born from suspicions, not facts."

She watches Idrilla insert the shard in its intended slot, and thinks of Varric and what he would say if he was here. She can almost hear the dwarf whining about the obscurity and humidity of the place, like he never failed to do whenever they'd visit the Deep Roads. She never thought she'd miss his perpetual complaining, yet here she is.

The barrier soundlessly dematerializes, allowing them to progress further. The only noises audible over the frenetic beats of her heart are the ones her shoes produce everytime they graze the soil. Being able to feel the dirt against her skin would be a great way to ground herself and forget her gnawing worries. The calluses she'd developed under her feet would most likely be enough to keep any pebbles or other hard obstructions from harming her, but unfortunately, Idrilla wouldn't let her leave before she'd doned her usual pair of boots.

"So you can mess up the palace when we get back?" the maid had replied to her request to stay barefoot. "I don't think so."

"As if they'd make you clean it," she'd grouched in return.

Barely a minute after walking past the disabled barricade, the atmosphere starts to feel organic and the walls emit a soft rhythm, a heartbeat she'd heard before, after unknowingly navigating a Titan and fighting its toughest guardian.

Nearing the thaig's entrance, they stumble upon dwarven runes that Evelyn strives to decode to the best of her abilities.

Which prove, admittedly, quite limited.

"This reads like a warning. 'Isatunoll' could refer to 'The Stone' or 'home'. Other than that, all I can understand is 'breach'."

If only Valta was here.

"Just looks like simple lines to me," Idrilla comments, arms crossed.

"How do you think elvhen looks like to them?"

"Don't compare a fine art to primitive geometry."

"Gosh," she scoffs, "you almost sound like them."

"Them?"

"The people you serve."

They finally reach the lower part of the settlement. Lyrium veins rapidly come into view, and just as she feared, all of them glow a menacing shade of red. Aware of the implications, Idrilla sends her a meaningful glance as soon as she spots them. Though she lets very little slip through her composed mask, her expression seems more concerned now than when Evelyn had expounded upon the origins of red lyrium and the scope of suffering it had brought to her own people during their trip to the temple.

Reality is sinking in, I think.

The thaig looks like it's been evacuated in haste. Doors of dwarven houses have been left ajar and diverse items sparsely litter the ground, left abandoned by their former owners. At the exception of a few, the tunnels surrounding the area are predominantly caved in.

"This was deliberate," the servant fathoms.

"Maybe they were trying to delay the propagation."

Idrilla relights every extinguished torch they come across, since the brightness provided by the rivers of lava flowing beneath the city is of meager quality. Statues of dwarven warriors, paragons and colossal beings that she reckons as depictions of the Titans enclose ancient temples, communal halls, bridges and unpretentious homes. They find more runes etched along the structures, which drives Evelyn to give another shot to her amateurish translations.

"Isana is lyrium, this should be 'song'. And this... this could mean 'bad' or 'wrong'. Maybe 'corrupted'. One of those."

"Your suppositions are getting us nowhere, child."

"At least I'm trying. I'd like to see you do better."

A sharp gasp resounds from the cliff above them just as a pebble falls at their feet. They raise their gaze too late to catch the culprit.

"Be on your guard," the handmaid warns. "I feel eyes on us."

Subsequently more alert, the women continue their exploration. The human has to put her foot down whenever she catches her curious companion craning her neck towards the crimson veins infesting the outside walls and ceilings. It's not hard to figure out what her pointed ears are perceiving, and if the annoyed glare she receives in exchange is the price she has to pay to keep her friend safe from whatever tainted chime is currently permeating the air, she'll gladly endure it.

[ * ]

The sole lighting sources furnishing the interior of the buildings are the lava lamps typically strewn everywhere throughout the Deep Roads. They penetrate a small house that appear more affected by the lyrium's proliferation than the rest, its gaping, decrepit door luring them in. The earthenware quivers at regular intervals and lanterns suddenly come to life before snuffing themselves out directly afterwards. Mugs move on their own, splashing their molded content onto messy tables. Childish laughter and voices echo all around them, meek and inviting.

Playful, even.

"This place is restless," the elf informs in an unbothered tone that betrays her familiarity with such phenomenons. "Whispers of tragedy pervade it, and I don't think it's the red stone talking."

A door slowly creaks open, encouraging them to step into the freshly unlocked room. A request they follow prudently.

Bookcases and desks frame the corners while puzzles and toys clutter the ground.

"They have no beds," Idrilla remarks.

"As long as their connection to their Titan remains intact, they needn't sleep."

"Practical. As expected."

After their rocky adventures within the Wellspring, Valta had mentioned in her journal not requiring rest anymore. A journal which had mysteriously ended up in the pile of trade correspondence delivered to Skyhold on a daily basis.

Is this why dwarves don't dream? Because they were never designed to sleep in the first place?

A tiny urn swiftly flies athwart the room and purposely smashes itself onto a heap of colorful illustrations.

The loud clang pries a startled gasp out of her.

"Now this I can decipher," Evelyn announces, picking up the stack of simplistic drawings from the floor.

The pictures, though obviously sketched by individuals seemingly no older than six, are pretty self-explanatory. One of them portrays a humongous being reshaping the stone encasing it. Half of the colossus' body also seems partly embedded into it. The next one shows the Titan's tinkering resulting in a giant breach from which a thick, noxious-looking darkness emerges. The rest of the illustrations are representations of gleaming blue veins turning a murky red, of tremors and earthquakes shaking the thaig, of dwarves holding their ears in agony while falling to their knees, and at last, of Sha-Brytol throwing themselves into streams of lava.

Despite the unfinished status of this final drawing, peculiar attention has been paid to the lyrium parts of their encrusted armors, which glisten with the same bloody tinge than the Pillar's veins.

Why would the Sha-Brytol kill themselves? Shouldn't they be doing some damage control after the Titan's corruption? Unless its corruption caused their own... Did they judge themselves too impure to carry out their duties?

Over her shoulder, Idrilla's eyes carefully peruse the papers in her hands. "A 'breach' indeed. Congratulations. Seems like your rendition of dwarven runes wasn't that far off. Come on, let's move. We still have plenty of ground to cover."

The pair resumes their search for Elgar'nan's people elsewhere, proceeding slightly beyond the thaig and deeper into the passageways. These latter lead them to what resembles a bustling mine, where they find several clusters of haggard slaves harvesting red lyrium with nothing but hammers and chisels. One of the females stands removed from her peers, crouched and digging into a vein as though in a trance. Idrilla already has her gaze set on her, like a hawk ready to swoop onto a vole.

"Wouldn't a pickaxe be more time-efficient?" Evelyn presumes.

"They probably wanna avoid damaging it further than necessary."

"I don't think we should make our presence known," she says, scanning the vicinity from their hiding spot. "Compassion and I were not exactly welcome the last time we were here."

The maid gives thought to her words for a little while. "Don't move. I'll draw the lass over here and we'll deal with her together."

"Careful, they're really strong."

She's experienced it firsthand.

The air around her friend crackles and her tall silhouette abruptly shrinks dramatically. The human blinks, glancing down to discover a white mouse sitting among the dirt and rocks.

So that's why that emissary had entrusted the shard to one of his slaves. He caught her in his room while she was rummaging through his things disguised as a rodent, and knew it was no longer safe to keep it there.

Was he aware of the trespasser's identity? His 'smelly rat' comment would suggest as much.

"Of course," Evelyn lets out, remembering the nickname Mythal commonly used for her handmaid. "Metaphor, my ass."

The animal squeaks at her in a derisive manner before dashing in the slave's direction. It climbs the girl's back and, using its enlarged teeth, grabs the chisel from her hands, running away with it forthwith. Its victim follows. Idrilla turns the corner, rejoining her concealed associate behind their wall, and shapeshifts back to her elvhen form as she extracts the tool from her mouth, discarding it straightaway.

The two tackle the miner to the floor the second she reaches their level.

Her hammer drops beside her, forgotten.

"You shouldn't be here," she drones, staring up at them with apathy. "Master will be angry."

"Her mind is not her own," the older woman asserts.

"You think?" Trevelyan deadpans. "Can you do something about it?"

In response, Idrilla bites her thumb and traces a carmine circle onto the slave's forehead, breaking the control exerted over her with blood magic. "This won't last. Better make it quick."

Now assured that they wouldn't meet any resistance from their captive, the duo lets go of her.

"Wh-Where... The song..." the girl rises up, looking around and touching her ears, visibly disoriented. "I can't hear it anymore. It was so loud..."

"Can you hear my voice?" Mythal's servant asks.

"Y-Yes."

"Good. Do you remember your name, or why you are here?"

"I... My name is..." the girl's eyes flutter as realization dawns on her. "Oh Creators, no..." she cries, starting to hiccup hysterically.

"I think that's a yes," Evelyn says.

"We don't have time for this," the maid states, casting a spell to calm and bound the slave to her will. "Who is your master?"

"Master Sarel," the digger replies, utterly abated.

The rogue cocks a brow at Idrilla, who answers immediately. "Elgar'nan's proxy."

"He answers to the All-Father, as we answer to him."

"What have they done to you?" the human questions. "Why are you in this state?"

"The red stone. They feed it to us."

Great. Just when I thought I was definitely done with this red templar bullshit.

"To what end?" she presses.

"Make us compliant. It works faster that way," the girl rubs her stomach absently. "I can feel it growing inside, feeding on my blood. I feel so hungry."

Evelyn twists towards her companion. "Red lyrium is extremely lethal. If what she says is true, then they should all be dead by now."

"Dead?" the miner parrots. "Yes, that happens. New slaves are sent down here every two weeks or so to replace the expired ones."

"Where are the bodies?" Idrilla interrogates.

"They throw casualties into the lava pits." She frowns, vallaslin creasing around her bulging eyes. "No. We do... I—My sister, her body didn't react well to the stone... She died and I... dumped her in the..." Her chest heaves faster and faster as she flattens one of her overworked extremities against her trembling lips. "Mythal's mercy, why would I do such a thing?"

With a flick of her wrist, the maid reinforces her spell. "Focus, child. Don't linger on these thoughts."

"What happened to the people who lived here?" Evelyn stresses, conscious that they're running out of time. "The ones who built these monuments? Did Elgar'nan chase them away? Were they killed?"

"I don't know. This place was deserted when we found it. We never saw any Durgen'len."

"You've been stationed here since the very beginning?"

"Yes. Master said I was very resistant. He was extremely happy about that. They used us for... experiments."

"What kind?"

"When they saw that the stone was affecting us mentally, they tried using the effects to their advantage. The song made us easier to control. Some of my friends tried to rebel."

"What happened to them?"

"They were executed."

"If the red stone carries the Void's taint, it should be killing you. How are you and your peers able to withstand it?"

"No one knows. The stone is killing us but, in a way, it also makes us stronger. As long as we keep eating it, it keeps us alive."

"If you can call that alive," she counters, attention drifting unto the older woman. "I've seen this happen before. It might be a reverse effect caused by the lyrium. The Taint kills you, but normal lyrium makes you more powerful. Combine the two, and this might be what you get."

"What about the slaves camping outside of the barrier?" Idrilla demands, gaze fixated on the drudge.

"We work in shifts. When exhaustion grips us, we go there to rest, and another takes our place."

All at once, her magic wears off and the released slave doubles over, panting.

Evelyn compassionately strokes her back as she progressively regains her senses. Or what's left of them. "Well, now we know why Elgar'nan wasn't interested in Mythal's blue lyrium."

The goddess' servant exhales painfully. "Prepare yourself for the worst. Once the Lady learns of this, we'll have to deal with both of their tempers. Our night is far from over."

"Wonderful."

Heedless to their words, the girl keeps staring at the lyrium veins situated above their heads as if it were the holiest thing she'd ever witnessed, her lips parted with awe. "Can't you hear it? It sings so beautifully... It wants you to hear it too. Its hunger is boundless. It wants to embrace you... To embrace everything."

"Time to go," Idrilla concludes while scowling down at the blabbering elf. "We're not getting anything more out of this one."

As they turn around, the slave roughly grasps the rogue's wrist. "You... You're a threat," she accuses with the crazed tone of someone who just had a revelation. "You want to stop the darkness from spreading."

The maid unsheathes her dagger in a trice, but Evelyn positions her free hand between them to curtail any impending bloodshed. "We shouldn't. She might know more. Mythal might find a cure for them, maybe she could be saved."

"Don't be naive. The lass is beyond help. This is no time to be soft, child."

The possessed miner shakes her head, her fingers sliding off the human's limb. "You poor, poor things. Blind and deaf to its greatness. Death is a mercy. I shall be the one to bring you peace."

In the blink of an eye, she collects her hammer and lunges for Evelyn, who rolls out of the way just in time to evade the first strike. Retrieving her hidden blade, the latter sneaks behind her unsteady attacker and hits the back of her head with the pommel, rendering her unconscious. Or so she thought. A powerful hand wraps around her ankle as she spins around, hurling her to the ground. Taking advantage of her brief, consequential blackout, the slave crawls on top of her, wheezing like a wild beast and clearly intent on wedging her tool into Evelyn's skull. Her weapon still in her possession, the human wastes no time and quickly slashes the elf's jugular. Blood erupts from the wound, spurting all over the upper part of her gown, which remains in pristine condition thanks to Idrilla's enchantment. The same can't be said of her throat and collarbones. Or the right side of her face, for that matter.

Looking away as the slave gargled and bled to death hadn't sufficed, apparently.

Throwing her assailant's corpse off of her, she stands up on wobbly legs. The maid stabilizes her by clutching her waist with both of her extremities, only letting go once she deems her stable enough, and confiscates the knife from her.

Both of them peek at the dead body sprawled next to them. The glamour charm secretly cast on the miner has dissipated, revealing a plethora of sores as well as the predictable red lyrium fragments inlaid into her flesh.

What a mess.

The two women start making their way out of the mine.

Idrilla stays stubbornly silent until they find themselves halfway through the thaig. "You need to learn to protect yourself."

"I already did."

"Hardly. You should have been able to incapacitate her without requiring physical contact. I don't know how people manage to survive without ever using magic where you come from, but here, that's gonna get old very quick. You were born with it for a reason. So use it."

"I'm sorry I don't have your talent for multitasking," Evelyn retorts, referencing her blood magic tricks.

"It's all about practice, girl. And focus. Meditation would do you some good."

"I can't imagine how sitting cross-legged and thinking about nothing is gonna help me get better at magic."

"As always, you are missing the point. Your brain is like a cog that never stops turning. An overheating lump of flesh cannot function properly. It's why you're so mediocre at magic, or anything which doesn't involve the green mark on your hand. Probably the reason why you sleep so badly too," the older woman adds under her breath.

The human stops in her tracks, prompting her associate to do likewise. "And what would you know about my sleep pattern?"

"Please," the attendant snorts, rolling her eyes. "I don't know whether you think me blind or plain stupid. Where should I start? The purple bags beneath your haunted little peepers? The dry tears staining your cheeks when I bring you breakfast in the morning, while you're still half asleep? When you ask me to wait outside of your room so you have enough time to hide your chamber pot out on your balcony, simply because it is filled with vomit? Or perhaps the way you turn your head in the opposite direction whenever you address me, so I won't smell the sickness on your breath? The nightmares must be pretty intense."

She speaks as if it happened everyday.

Which isn't the case.

She's been doing better these days. Not tremendously better, but still.

Idrilla advances towards her in an unthreatening fashion, backing her against the wall of a dwarven house. "I don't understand how anyone could consider you an empty shell when you're so clearly full of trauma."

Trevelyan folds her arms under her breasts, unimpressed. "Trauma, is it?"

"Course it is. What kind of person leaves their people, their whole world behind to venture into the unknown?"

"Th—"

"No. I'll tell you..." The other woman drawls, leaning closer. "The ones who lost it all."

The rogue smiles, unperturbed by her friend's perspicacity. "Mythal sure knows how to select her spies. Is there anything your almighty eyes can't perceive?"

"Foolish girl," the servant says fondly, a tad of pity in her voice. "One should try to mend themselves before attempting to fix the rest of the world. Be mindful of the untended cracks, lest the pot breaks for good and its secrets start to spill out."

I'll keep that in mind.

A minute later, as their backtracking through the infected Titan is about to culminate, Evelyn espies a group of short silhouettes disappearing behind a monolith amid the upper levels of the thaig.

According to Idrilla's unfazed expression, however, the sight might just be a product of her faulty imagination.


----------


They barge into Mythal's private quarters without ceremony, interrupting her ongoing discourse with Compassion and Solas. Blinking at the sight of Evelyn's gory aspect, the spirit and wolfling rush to her side and begin fussing over her. She has to certify them of her well-being insistently while Idrilla discloses what they've discovered beyond the temple's barrier into her mistress' ear.

Mythal listens, attentive, and shoots an inquisitive glance Evelyn's way once the handmaid's lips cease all movement. The human takes it upon herself to corroborate the servant's claims by sharing every crumb of knowledge she owns on red lyrium with the evanuris.

A profound silence succeeds her declarations.

"Has he gone insane?" Solas blurts in disbelief, pacing the room.

Compassion seems to have a hard time processing the news.

Kneading her temples with tangible irritation, the goddess calls for her Sentinels, who shortly arrive as a cortege led by Abelas, and commissions them to seize the temple with the utmost discretion. She then dispatches Idrilla to Elgar'nan's chambers to summon him to an impromptu late-night meeting.

"Be sure to inform him of what his precious trove contains before he gets here," she tells the attendant as she's about to leave.

The maid gone, Mythal diverts her attention back to Evelyn.

"Is that why you are here? Did your people send you this far to find a solution to this scourge?"

"...Not exactly."

The deity stares at her, waiting for further elaboration.

It's time for her to come clean.

Well, mostly clean.

"There's something I need to tell you."

She spends the ensuing quarter-hour recapitulating everything she had previously told Solas concerning the provenance of her mark and the destruction of her world. Nothing more, nothing less. During her account, the goddess' eyes sometimes drift to Compassion and Solas, gauging their reaction. And from the crease gradually developing between her ashen brows, their lack of surprise must be a telltale indicator of their cognizance of these details.

As her tale concludes, Mythal's golden orbs fall onto the spirit. "You knew?"

It stares at the ground, toying with its fingers. "Uh..."

"It knew about my people's fate," Evelyn wades in. "Nothing else."

"What about you?" the evanuris asks Solas.

"I did," he concedes in a tone a bit too shameful to her liking. "I—"

"He thought I should be the one to tell you," she cuts in once more, "and he wanted me to do so on my own terms. He would have told you right away if he had any suspicion that I would try to hide this from you forever."

Mythal's fingers perform back and forth motions along the arms of her padded seat. "Why not say so from the beginning?"

"My world had just been ravaged. My people, my friends... Everything was still fresh in my mind, and you were a stranger. It wouldn't have been wise for me, an outsider, to show any sort of vulnerability in front of you. The answers I gave you were as genuine as possible without putting my safety on the line. I know you are worldly enough to see things from my perspective."

The white-haired woman mulls over her admission for a spell.

Evelyn fathoms that her taciturnity shouldn't be misconstrued as a sign of acrimony, but that doesn't make the ordeal any less nerve-racking.

"If you have any other omissions to lay bare, I suggest you do it now."

She'd like nothing more.

But she can't.

This is not the right time.

Not for Solas. Not for Mythal. Not for any of them.

Will it ever be?

Notifying the evanuris of her eventual murder at the hands of people she erroneously calls friends would only drive her to seek retribution against them. Flemeth had been the living proof of that, what with her predictions of a 'reckoning that would shake the very heavens'.

As for Solas, he would be eaten away by guilt if he ever learned what his actions had cost his people.

It would propel him down the obscure path she wants him to shun from.

The truth would sabotage their hope of a better future, sentence all the races of Thedas to the tragic destiny they couldn't escape in her reality.

And yet, as she alternatively contemplates the wolf's apprehensive mien and the goddess' inflexible stare, she can't help but hesitate.

I'm trying to save you, goddammit. Let me try.

"I have nothing more to confess."

Her dishonesty might later seal her fate, but it's not like she has a myriad of other options.

Elgar'nan arrives with Idrilla in tow, marching up to them in great strides while the servant lingers near the gates. A few strands of hair have come loose from her usually impeccable bun and a strange, feral glint flickers in her eyes, conflicting with the detached countenance she upholds at all times.

I see it's been a shitty evening for everyone. She sure got the short end of the stick, having to put up with the moody prick.

"How could you be so reckless?" Mythal rebukes without delay, arising from her chair.

"Have I committed a crime?" the god disputes, jutting his chin forward. "You found this 'lyrium', and decided that your people would be the ones to harvest it. Mine found the red stone, and I simply did the same."

"Do not turn the tables on me. I never kept my findings a secret from any of you. What were you expecting? You would think what happened with Andruil would be enough to deter you from taking such stupid decisions."

"I ignored that the stone had been touched by the Void."

"Yes, because knowing would have been enough to stop you. You were aware of the blue stone's effects, there's no way you could have possibly believed that a blighted version of it would be any better."

"This thing could make our slaves inexhaustible, our armies invincible. Don't you see? We would be unstoppable. This is just another milestone for us. We could learn so much from it."

"It is tainted. Since when has corruption ever brought prosperity to an empire, you imbecile?"

Might be her imagination again, or perhaps the cumulative amount of sleep deprivation, but Evelyn feels tremors in the walls for a second.

Mythal shuts her eyes for a fleeting moment, nostrils flaring gently. "You are supposed to be my equals. Shoulders I can lean on in times of crisis. Instead, you rampage everything for the sake of some self-serving, passing fancies and I am the one who has to clean up your bloody mess. Every single time. And I am tired, lethallin. So very tired."

"You are already delivering a verdict without even giving me the chance to defend myself. How is that fair? In the name of the bond we once shared, I would ask you to reconsider my approach."

"Yes. Our 'bond'..." she soughs thoughtfully, before looking at the human. "Your friend. The betrayer. What would you do if he was here? If you had a chance to see him again? Would you slay him? Avenge your people?"

Well, she would certainly try speaking to him before doing any stabbing.

But... what would she tell him?

I love you? I wish things had gone differently? I wish you hadn't used me and my loved ones to further your own agenda?

...I wish we'd never met?

That last one would be a big fat lie.

She does all she can to not peer at Solas and stares at Elgar'nan instead, who is clearly the target of the goddess' query.

She knows one thing.

Pitting them against each other would be a terrible idea.

"I would offer forgiveness," she finally responds.

The evanuris' eyebrows surge to her hairline. "Even after everything he did? Everything you lost?"

"Even so. For all my rancor, I won't forget my part of responsability in what happened. As his friend, I should have been able to stop him. I wasn't. I should have forced him to stand down, but I chose to reason with him instead, knowing full well that my previous attempts had been ineffective. He took advantage of my indecision to bring his plans to fruition."

The Well's markings flash across her face, searing hurtlessly. The fingers coiled around her dagger are forced open, letting the weapon fall to the floor, as her knees wobble and follow its course.

"How fucking dare you?" she spits at him, jaw clenched to an aching point.

"Ir abelas, vhenan."

"You're not sorry. Not at all."

His palm caresses her cheek in a condescending manner, and her struggles against his dominion in order to dodge any contact with him are entirely vain. "It's all right, my love. We both know you would never have gone through with it."

"Fuck you Solas!"

Tears of rage transition to despair.

She knows what comes next.

"My people were doomed," she continues, "not only due to his stubbornness, but because of my attachment to him."

"Would you make the same mistake, nowadays?"

"I'd like to think I wouldn't."

Mythal turns to Elgar'nan, slightly appeased. "Our brethren... do they know about your recent activities?"

"That's irr—"

"Do they know?" she reiterates sternly.

"They do not."

"I'll let you inform them," she says with an odd casualness, returning to the comfort of her seat.

"Me? Shouldn't this be discussed between us all?"

"Oh, don't fret, we will talk about this. All of us. Let us pray that they prove capable of listening to reason, though I have little faith, after our last conversation. In the meantime, my Sentinels have seized control of your temple."

"I beg your pardon?"

"You heard me perfectly. You leave me no choice."

"This is my city. My temple. How dare you dictate to me what I can or cannot do with it?"

"I fear that when one completely lets go of all rationality, it is a friend's prerogative to intervene." She leans back into her chair, crossing her legs confidently. "Feel free to oppose me, if you dare."

This is the catalyst. The very push that impelled the wheel to spin the opposite way.

It has to be.

The inevitable treachery is not for now though. It will come later.

Leery, Evelyn peeks at the windows to assess the sky. Unnoticed by the chamber's occupants, a tempest had began consuming the city a while ago, dark clouds discharging their fury onto the external world with a punitive vehemence.

The room must be soundproof.

"This is not over," Elgar'nan swears sourly.

"Indeed, it is not. Do not forget, my friend: patience is a virtue. From this point forward, I implore you to be smart. Keep away from trouble. Only my wrath could rival one such as yours, falon. You would do well to remember that."

Idrilla narrowly maneuvers herself out of the seething god's path as he departs, slamming the doors behind him.

Solas sits next to the remaining evanuris while she addresses Evelyn. "I understand this must be triggering for you, given your past. I will not ask you to be part of our next deliberations, if you do not wish it. Know that I would appreciate your support, nonetheless."

"I—"

"Take the proper time to consider. Do not make hasty decisions on my behalf."

To her relief, the rogue is then dismissed from Mythal's quarters.

[ * ]

After a much needed bath to rid herself of the slave's blood, Evelyn goes to bed, Compassion settled alongside her.

The warmth of its back against hers soothes her throbbing spine.

"It's rare to see her so angry..." the specter evokes. "Don't worry, she understands why you kept quiet about the circumstances of your arrival. Though I think she wishes you would've spoke of it sooner. She's wondering who she can trust right now."

"She should be."

The atmosphere is very silent and peaceful, despite the storm raging outside, which is almost inaudible in the confines of her room. The sensation feels akin to sleeping under an Inquisition tent during a rainy night. She pictures Tarasyl'nan's citizens barricading themselves inside their cozy homes, left to wonder if this is the moment where their god's wrath permanently turns them to ash.

"I miss Grief," Compassion murmurs.

"Me too."

"I don't like this place. I can't wait to go back to Arlathan."

"I don't like it either." She's the one to reach for the spirit's hand, for once. "Why not visit the orphanage soon?"

"Mythal wants us to stay within the palace until the feast ends."

"We could sneak out," she yawns. "I'm good at sneaking out. And you can turn invisible."

"I wouldn't take that risk."

"After the feast then. It shouldn't be long now. Maybe two or three days, from what I've heard."

"Yes, I'd like that. I wish we could also see Justice, but I think it will be too busy."

Just as Solas had left Felassan in charge of the sanctuary in his absence, Mythal had asked Justice to serve as her substitute in all of her judicial duties.

"Don't worry, Cole. I'm sure our friend is having a blast delivering sentences to the lawbreakers," she slurs, already out of it.

"Evelyn?"

She hums sleepily.

"Who's Cole?"

Her heartbeat reacts to the name, forcing her eyes to open for a second, but she's too dazed and drowsy to care about a harmless mistake, and simply drifts into sleep. She dreams of darkspawn and red templars that night. Of broodmothers and archdemons. Though she doesn't wake up to puke the nightmares out, for a change.

Perhaps Idrilla had managed to scare her stomach into submission.

She'd have to thank her for that.


----------


The next day is just a grueling continuation of all the other ones, save for the newfound disquietude permanently nestled within her chest due to last night's upsetting development. Yesterday's events have left her drained of energy.

And hope, to be honest.

She wonders what Abelas and his men may have uncovered inside the temple. What sorts of horrors the Sentinels have had to behold. Horrors that Idrilla and her might have overlooked throughout their impulsive investigation, like the remnants of these 'experiments' the crazy miner had mentioned. What if Mythal's guardians proved too susceptible to the lyrium's influence? What if their sanity fell prey to it?

Hopefully, they're clever enough to stay clear of the stuff.

Evelyn can't wait for this daily charade to end once and for all. She feels like a mad dog trapped between four cramped walls. Why bother keeping up with the festive pretense when this red lyrium threat looms over them all?

Fucking elvhen parties. Dorian would have loved this.

The guests have grown accustomed to her. Some are even bold enough to attempt small talk, now and then. She does what she can to appear interested, but her preoccupations end up making her a wordless and indifferent interlocutor. She roves around the banquet hall for most of the evening, aimless and alone, eyes glued to Idrilla. Idle, the woman loiters a few feet behind Mythal, patiently waiting to cater to her mistress' needs while the historian Evelyn had met the day before distinctly flirts with her. His actions couldn't be defined as anything else, really. The elf never strays from her side and frequently whispers mysterious things in her ear. The attendant only responds with glares and discreet thrusts of her elbows into his ribcage, trying to create more distance between them, which only amuses him further. She seems on the verge of murdering the man, yet something respectful dwells in the glowers she directs at him.

These two know each other. There's no doubt about it.

Despite her advanced age, the maid doesn't look past her fourties. Her face is fairly appealing, but not enough to stand out in a crowd. There must be something peculiar about her for the nobleman to find her so engaging and not be afraid to show his attraction to a mere servant in public. Idrilla's deliverance comes when Mythal—currently sitting next to Sylaise—asks her to bring them some refreshments.

Evelyn watches the smirking historian vanish into the surrounding throng as the object of his desire wanders off to fulfill her task.

The fact that she chooses the farthest table to do so is what inspires the human to tail her, though she takes care to stay out of her sights. She observes the maid pour wine into a pair of scintillating goblets, pause to give the room a quick once-over and, to her stupefaction, bitterly spit into one of the cups. Her covert misdeed executed, Idrilla returns to the goddesses' table, handing the sullied beverage to an unsuspecting Sylaise, who eagerly drinks from it.

The rogue can't repress the dumbfounded snicker that flits out of her mouth.

Damn, what did Sylaise do to deserve this kind of treatment?

Her meandering resumes and a half-drawn curtain amid the row of alcoves captures her attention. Peeking behind it, she finds Solas comfortably seated inside the booth, fully immersed in the various designs he fervently traces along his parchment. The ambient hubbub of the hall doesn't seem to inconvenience him. His pastime wouldn't have alarmed her one bit, had she not realized that his sketches were nothing but meticulous reproductions of the Inquisition's heraldry. She'd surmised that the weird renovation the Dreaming had inflicted upon its mirrored version of Skyhold would intrigue him, but not to that degree.

Her lurking doesn't go unnoticed.

"I'm sorry..." she mumbles as his azure gaze darts up to hers. "You seemed really focused and I didn't want to... I'll leave you to it."

"No, please. Join me," he urges, pushing the drapes aside as an invitation.

Face still pink after being caught red-handed, Evelyn battles the compulsion to flee and slides next to him with palpable reticence, closing the curtain behind her. This is a good opportunity to determine if he's figured out anything new about his latest fixation.

He serves her a drink while she examines his drawings. One of them peeks out from the bottom of the pile, and all she can see are the outlines of a slender neck and a beaming smile before Solas hurriedly covers it with other papers.

"June is delighted by the revelations of your origins," he declares, shoving his sketches towards the table's edge. The one she wouldn't be able to reach without indecently climbing over him. "According to him, your story validates his theories about the existence of parallel universes. A multiverse, as he likes to call it. He thinks you landed here by breaking a dimensional barrier separating our two worlds."

"W-Wait. How could he know about that? Mythal hasn't spoken of any official meeting between her and the others yet."

"The evanuris don't always need to meet face to face to keep tabs on one another."

"But it's barely been a day since I told her everything."

"You underestimate the speed at which rumors spread around here. Elude him at all costs, or he'll hound you relentlessly until you divulge everything there is to know about your world."

"The same way you harass me with questions on my mark, you mean?" she challenges, glancing pointedly at his illustrations. "I dreamed of your stronghold when Felassan and I were searching for the fugitives. These were on the walls."

He stares at her, enthused but guarded. "I must seem obsessed to you. I just... I find it fascinating. I keep wondering if the castle's reflection would further evolve if you happened to visit it again."

"I would rather not go back there."

"Is there something somewhat unnerving about my home? Sylvas told me you'd refused to come inside during your first reunion."

"I'm wary of castles. They bring forth unpleasant memories," she dismisses, gesturing to the Inquisition's sigil. "Looks like an emblem. Do you know what it means?"

"I was hoping you could enlighten me, since your mark made it appear."

Look at you, you cunning little—

"Well, I wouldn't ask you if I knew."

Seconds elapse, and she detects a hint of distrust in the way he's assessing her.

It fades away as fast as it had surfaced. "The eye could symbolize omniscience. As for the sword, it could mean many things. Perhaps an order behind which to rally, or a military organization. Maybe both."

"Sounds fitting. What about the sunrays bursting from the eye?"

"I'm still trying to interpret this part. But I would welcome suggestions."

She could smell his intent from over a mile away, but being right beside him makes it even easier.

"Sadly, I've never been very good at symbolism. I go through enough pain everyday trying to decipher things from this world, imagine me attempting to unravel secrets from the Dreaming itself."

"What could possibly give you such a hard time?"

"These 'Forgotten Ones', for starters. I chance upon so many vestiges of them, yet not many people are willing to discuss the subject. Your peers appear uneasy when I make mention of it."

"With good reason," he concedes, sipping on his own cup.

She drums her fingertips against the stem of her untouched glass, debating what to ask first. "I found a mural, not long ago. It contained memories of an eclipse. A man claiming to be a historian explained these events to me, but I still can't wrap my head around what would push the evanuris to exile the Forgotten Ones to begin with."

"A thirst for power, what else? Both groups have always been at opposite poles. The evanuris kept rising in rank and most of them jealously coveted their counterparts' substantial following. They did not wish for competition. The others saw their antagonists' nature as a hazard to the new order they were trying to impose on Elvhenan. They thought purging the world of any potential chaos would grant them sympathy from the masses, and secure them the positions they so dearly longed for."

"Seems like they were right."

"Perhaps, but they failed to realize that their unwise desire to preempt the anarchy a bunch of indomitable gods could cause would result in exactly that. They brought turmoil to the People, and punished the Forgotten Ones for crimes they had yet to perpetrate."

"You deem their banishment unfair," she notes.

"At the time, yes. Though I was not yet around when it happened. Now that resentment has compelled them to resort to malignity, however, I am not so certain letting them roam free would be a good idea. Still, this is a much better outcome than the one my brethren had originally planned."

"Wasn't their initial goal to annihilate them?"

"It was. Just another one of their many unreasonable whims. Killing these beings could lead to catastrophe. A fact the evanuris should understand more than anyone else, no matter how vexing they find it."

"Do you ever confer with any of these Old Gods?"

"On rare occasions. Calling us friends would be a stretch, considering our history, but most of them tolerate me due to my complicated relationship with our leaders. I presume they regard it as a last resort to sow discord, should the need arise. The rest does not care for me. Well, at the exception of Anaris, who thoroughly despises me."

"Shocking! Could he be immune to your remarkable charms, I wonder?" she quips. "You must be crushed."

"I think I'll survive. After all," he drawls, "I've been recently praised for my handsome looks. My 'charms' must still be effective, to some extent."

She glares, her jaw tightening. "I've never actually said those words."

"But you thought them."

You wouldn't have known that if Compassion had kept its big mouth shut.

She scowls at his complacent mien. "Maybe Anaris is averse to your legendary modesty." The taunt isn't enough to rid him of his insufferable smile, so she decides to get back to the topic at hand. "You're starting to amass quite a number of foes among your people, for someone so reputedly charismatic."

"The Forgotten Ones have nothing to do with my people. They are... something else entirely."

"How would you describe them?"

"...As a necessary evil. If one truly believes in the blinkered concept that everything has to be either black or white."

"So, unlike your brethren, you don't picture them as malevolent beings?"

"One does not get to choose its nature when it is given life. I doubt the Forgotten Ones had any say in theirs."

She tongues her inner cheek, suspending her next question for a bit. "If the blight is caused by the Void, and not them, why are they not affected by it?"

"It would make no sense for the Abyss to deliberately harm what it has birthed. Furthermore, the knowledge we've gathered from the pestilence engendered by Andruil's escapades showed that the blight only affects organic life. An immaterial entity has nothing to fear from it."

Yet she'd heard stories of demons and spirits who would avoid adventuring too close to the Black City by fear of becoming tainted themselves. Morrigan had also told her that some eluvians seemed to carry traces of the blight within them.

Nothing organic about eluvians or spirits.

Perhaps they could be corrupted by this 'blight magic' Solas and Vivienne used to argue so much about. The one Corypheus had employed for his false Calling.

"I thought the Forgotten Ones had bodies of their own," she recalls, reminded of grey skin and onyx eyes.

"Had is the key here. How do you think the evanuris managed to banish them from this realm in the first place?"

It takes her a minute to put two and two together. "They forced them out of their corporeal shells... Only their souls were exiled to the Void."

He nods. "Not the most foolproof way to achieve their goal, in my opinion. Alas, running out of time always leads to hasty decisions. Especially with leaders such as ours."

"How would you have done it?"

"An organic body, no matter its form, can prove more restrictive than anything else. It can even become a prison in itself, if one knows how to play their cards. This is why spirits rarely choose to possess things made of flesh. Doing so would restrict a fair amount of their natural abilities and would burden them with new needs they would be obliged to sustain in order to survive."

Cole had always been a spirit attempting to pass as a person. He'd never actually possessed the human body of the real Cole, who had died of starvation, hence why he'd never required food, water or sleep. Not at the beginning. Yet Cole had started losing some of his powers after Varric and her had persuaded him to accept his humanity and even submit to it. The boy had started eating and drinking too, soon after that.

Experiencing life in the flesh always comes with a price, apparently.

"So you would have kept them in their original shapes?" she presses innocently.

"Or found them more limiting ones to inhabit."

"Even so, I assume they would still be able do serious damage. From a physical point of view, at least."

"Not if you lock them in a cage and eternally keep the key out of reach."

"I suppose the word 'cage' is to be taken in a metaphorical sense?"

"You suppose well." The corner of his lips twitches upward.

"Sounds like you've given a lot of thought to that possibility," she points out while swirling the alcohol ensnared within her glass.

"Not that much. This is all speculation, I assure you. In any case, the Forgotten Ones are the leaders' concern, not mine."

"But Mythal is part of those leaders, and she's your friend. She would listen to your counsel, if you happened to offer it."

"Undoubtedly, yes."

A tranquil hush settles between them, which gives her time to cogitate.

There is something to what he's just admitted. Something worth holding onto, worth memorizing.

"Your audience with Mythal..." he starts pensively, "it seemed to me like you were trying to defend my integrity. I must admit, I did not expect this kind of response from you."

"I have a feeling the days to come are gonna be challenging. For everyone. Mythal in particular. She needs to be reassured of who she can trust. She needs to know she can trust you. I wouldn't do anything that could jeopardize your relationship with her."

"You needn't worry. Mythal and I go a long way. It would take more than a little omission to sever that bond." He frowns, once again losing himself to his incessant ruminations. "Everything you tell us of your world paints it as an incredibly dark place. This red lyrium, the blight, the prohibition of magic..." he trails off. "Do you miss it, despite these factors?"

"I miss my friends, most of all. Not so much the world I lived in."

Except for the cuisine.

"Of course. It must be lonely for you here. I know you have already found some form of companionship among us but, if the thought of what was lost ever becomes too much to bear, I would not mind lending you a supportive ear."

"You want to hear me whine about my traumatic past all day long?"

"You don't strike me as the whining type."

"I'm more the angry sort," she shrugs.

"So I've noticed," he replies with a shrewd smile.

She feels his knee lightly brush against hers. The curtains give them a privacy that reminds her of the secluded evenings they would formerly spend in his office. Nights of passionate discussions and intimate gestures of affection.

She wonders if the old Solas would have done any of the courting rituals his younger self had told her about, had he not been obliged to hide his real identity, and by extension, his old age.

"Are you offering me your friendship?" she suspects.

"I am." He tilts his head, the tip of his ears jerking up. "I suppose this is the moment where you attempt an escape?"

"Whatever do you mean?"

"Everytime progress occurs between us, you always back away, as if in fear. You conceded yourself of being scared to drop your guard around me. I'm just wondering how far back my proposal will take us, this time."

He's right to be worried.

She should tell him to expect nothing more than common civility between the two of them, that she wants nothing to do with his comforting words and gentle stares. She should shelter herself behind a mask of aloofness, preserve what little dignity she has left and seal it off for all eternity.

But she can't.

Who is she kidding?

The thought of turning him down, of hurting his pride, simply for making an effort... It's too much for her.

She can be his friend.

She'd just have to be careful not to send him confusing signals that could lead him to misinterpret her camaraderie for something else.

Something more.

"Well," she shrugs, "I can't run away forever."

"Lucky me," he smirks.

One day, this cocky grin of his will be her undoing.

She's certain of it.


----------


It's over.

It took two more days, but this maddening feast is nothing more than a bad memory now.

What a nice thought to wake up to.

Evelyn leaps out of bed and shimmies into an ordinary pair of pants, finally free of her cursed dress and ready to go fetch Compassion so that they can embark on their eluvian-filled journey to the orphanage.

That's how the day was supposed to unfold, at least.

Idrilla intercepts her at the door, determined to ruin her plans, like the spoilsport that she is.

"Training?" she protests. "Right now? I have to—"

"You're not going anywhere. Sit down."

Throat rumbling, she plops down on the floor, aware that objecting to the woman's directives would be futile. "You don't have to do this. Solas implied he would teach me."

"I thought you found the wolfling annoying. Aren't the two of you constantly bickering?"

"...He's been a bit more bearable lately."

"I bet," the servant teases. "You'll learn faster with me. The cub would go too soft on you."

"Sure. We wouldn't want this to be easy, would we? Or pleasant."

"Spare me the tongue-in-cheek repartee, girl. Now, tell me, what's your experience with spells?"

"I've attended a few lessons at Arlathan's amphitheatre. Spirits of learning have given me advice on how to control my powers when my emotions become unmanageable. I've also read some tomes in Vir Dirthara, but I've yet to put any of it into practice."

"What about before? Have you brought no wisdom from your old world?"

"One of my friends tried teaching me how to shapeshift into a spider, once."

"What was the result?"

"I turned into a chicken."

Idrilla's sardonic smile does not bode well for Evelyn. "Now I can't wait for us to get to that part," she blatantly jubilates. "But first, meditation."

"Grand," the human mumbles sarcastically.

"Close your eyes," the maid bids as she starts circling her. "Deep breaths. Empty your mind. Focus solely on my voice, or your breathing."

She obeys. Her brain fights back, setting her up for failure by coercing random thoughts into her mind every chance it gets. It's as if her attempt to sunder herself from her individuality had triggered some kind of intrinsic defense mechanism. Eventually, her struggles pay off. Her wonted cerebrations evaporate and the cadence of her breaths significantly decrease.

Idrilla waits for this exact moment to speak again. "What do you see?"

"Darkness? Ow!"

"Do better!"

Abelas might not be the most cheerful soul around, but at least he'd never pinched her for her shortcomings.

"I see... lights? They're really bright. Colors too. Wavy lines and shapes..."

Warmth spreads from her hairline to her brows, pleasant, and something akin to invisible fingers begins massaging her forehead. One of her hands lifts itself to chase off the itching sensation, but gets instantly swatted away by her instructor.

"Don't scratch yourself," the maid forbids. "Any tingle or pressure you feel is part of the process."

Easier said than done.

"What do I do now?"

"Look within you."

"I don't think my eyes can roll back that far. Ow! Enough with the pinching already!" she complains, rubbing her sore arm.

The sting of it drives her to open her eyes.

"Don't test me, girl."

"I'm not. This is all gibberish to me. What am I supposed to do?"

"Listen. That's all there is to do. I'm only trying to help you, child."

"Clearer instructions would be really helpful, in that case."

Idrilla sighs through her nose. "The glow that surrounds our flesh is not all we are made of. There is darkness within us all. You must accept this. Accept what you are, and what you are capable of. The good, the bad. All of it. Master yourself, and you'll master the world. Don't, and you'll accomplish nothing."

Evelyn stares at her extremities, reflecting on the attendant's words, and her vision suddenly blurs around the edges, giving her the impression of watching the world through a warped tunnel. Gold and inky flecks overlap each other across her skin, interweaving together until the prismatic aura enveloping her limbs reveals itself to her gaze.

"I think I see it."

"Everytime you use magic, you connect yourself to the Dreaming. This connection permits you to tap into a pool of unlimited power. It opens your eyes to all that there is. The white, the black, and all the complex, mingled shades of grey in between."

The conduit stretches and the air encompassing her stills and sharpens. She can't feel the ground against her backside anymore. Physical sensations vanish altogether, and even her own weight is a thing of the past. She realizes how unnaturally thin and insignificant her link with the Fade used to be, now that there is no Veil to deaden it. Green submerges her field of view as mental images of a place she recognizes all too well manifest out of nowhere.

"It's there. I feel it."

"Good. We'll start with the basics. I believe a little spitfire like you shouldn't have too much trouble with flames. Use the power of your mark as reference. Feel its energy. The heat. The tingling. Picture your magic flowing from the tip of your toes to the crown of your head. Again and again."

"I got it."

"Now direct this energy to your right hand. The bare one. Imagine it blossoming into a vivid flame."

Several minutes roll by.

She's ready to give up when Idrilla pokes her forehead, goading her to open her eyes, which she doesn't remember closing.

A tiny blue flame rests in the hollow of her palm.

"It's barely a spark," she remarks in a letdown tone.

"Use your rage, girl. Like when you hurt the wolf's snout. Think of something that makes your blood boil."

The evanuris' persistent carelessness is the first thing that comes to mind, followed closely by her dear father. Him, and that absurd zealot in charge of her family's chapel. The Revered Mother who always called her younger self a heretic and a godless brat for declining her 'blessings' and repudiating the Maker. Their relationship had not improved over the years, especially after Evelyn had told her to shove her idiotic Chant of Light where the sun doesn't shine. The stuck-up harpy had made sure to inform her parents of her brazen words.

The flame burns too brightly, turning orange and scorching her skin.

She curses and wiggles her hand, dousing the fire.

"Do it again. Put some restraint into it this time."

She tries and tries, but with said restraint entering the picture, all she manages to produce is the equivalent of what one would find at the tip of a candle. Idrilla seems to find the aftermath of her efforts quite anticlimactic. "Magic is will," she asserts. "Will it."

As though bolstered by the exhortation, the flare expands to the desired size.

Her success incites the human to wonder what her teenage years would have consisted of if she'd been consigned to Ostwick's Circle. She would have passed her Harrowing with flying colors, as her regular interactions with demons had demonstrated in the past. But what about the rest? Would she have been an honor student or part of the untalented cases? Judging by her tendency to kick overbearing templars in the crotch, her days as a Circle mage would have been rather short-lived.

"And so she learns. All hope isn't lost, it would seem." Satisfied at last, the maid beckons her to smother her veilfire. "You'll do this every night before going to bed, meditation included."

"Yes, ma'am."

"We're done here."

"That's all? I thought we'd do more."

"Look at me, child. Do I look like someone who gets to experience the joys of leisure? I have things to do. Be grateful that I take time out of my busy schedule to tutor you."

"I am. Truly."

Idrilla stares at her, appraising her sincerity. She then turns on her heel and makes for the door.

"Before you go," Evelyn interjects, postponing her friend's departure. "There's something I wanted to ask you."

"Ah, yes. You and your inquiries."

"During the deliberations... none of the evanuris commented on my mark. I thought it was weird."

"The power condensed into your hand is too familiar. Not to mention too similar to their own. You are not one of us, therefore, you are unworthy of it. Like everything that offends their pride, they simply refuse to acknowledge it."

"How very predictable. I shouldn't be surprised, at this point."

"I have a question of my own." The attendant retraces her steps and squats in front of her apprentice. "Your whole world has gone to shit. It now lies in shambles. And yet you managed to survive. Do you believe fate brought you here? To us?"

She remembers Flemeth's words to Morrigan.

"You seek to preserve the powers that were, but to what end? It is because I taught you, girl. Because things happened that were never meant to happen."

"I think some things happen for a reason. Might as well make the most of my circumstances, and try to be useful."

"Useful?"

"I've seen chaos. I've seen the signs which lead to it. And let me tell you, the People are no better than humans when it comes to dooming themselves to extinction."

"Do you plan to prevent the downfall of an entire empire by your lonesome?"

"This world certainly won't change by itself. Someone needs to do something."

"And you believe yourself to be that someone? What will you do, girl? Nudge destiny in the direction you wish for?"

"Maybe give it a little shove, if required."

"Are you gonna save us from ourselves?" the elf asks mockingly.

"I just might."

"I'll be watching with great interest, then."


----------


Compassion has been clinging to Grief for a whole hour now, but apart from sighing in exasperation and comparing its counterpart to a leech, the grey spirit has yet to try to break loose from its friend's clutches, as it normally would've.

Someone's been missing their partner more than they wanna let on.

Putting up with excited orphans is much more gratifying than putting up with obnoxious nobles, as it turns out. The children have many queries about Elgar'nan's eccentric citadel and the feast organized by the evanuris. The headmistress eventually charges the young elves to set the table for their impending meal, liberating Compassion and Evelyn from their overwhelming audience.

The painted portraits hanged upon the lounge's walls attract the rogue's gaze.

"We keep records of all the children who have stayed with us," the older woman tells her.

"This one reminds me of someone." She points to the image of a golden-eyed boy. His pale eyebrows are hardly discernible. "I can't put my finger on it."

"You live at the palace, right? You might have met him in person."

"Does he work there? One of the slaves, perhaps?"

"Not a slave, no. Sahren was born in a very respected family, hence his name. His parents were Sentinels. They died fighting for Mythal. He joined the ranks himself as soon as he was able. I believe he calls himself Shiva, nowadays."

Huh. Guess I got the answer to my question.

She retires to the courtyard, yearning to relish in the cool evening air. She sits on the stairs and admires the ground, dotted with mosaics modelled after the moon. It's not surprising to find a prominent symbol of the All-Mother here, since the deity had been responsible for the orphanage's creation. Grief soon reconvenes with her. Compassion seems too busy playing with the little ones to notice its absence, which grants them an occasion to catch up in private.

"Mythal's people have invaded his temple? Elgar'nan must still be brooding as we speak."

"He hasn't been spotted out of his quarters since their confrontation. The weather is getting worse and worse."

"This red lyrium business might defer your return further than you anticipated."

"Tell me about it. At the rate things are going, I'll be burried before any of this shit gets resolved."

An appalled gasp brings their attention to the left, where a little boy stands agape amidst the grass.

"You said a bad word," he accuses.

"So? Are you gonna report me to one of your guardians?" she taunts jokingly. "Where did you even come from?"

"I went to the privy. You two were outside when I came out." The kid approaches, installing himself in the vacant space beside her. "I won't tell on you." He nods towards his headmistress, whispering into the human's ear in a conspiratorial voice. "She'd enchant your tongue to make it taste like soap. She says it reminds uncouth children to watch their dirty mouth."

"That's... pretty ingenious. My parents would simply beat my ass." The small elf lets out another shocked gasp. "Sorry! I meant my... posterior..."

The child conceals his opened mouth behind his palm and remains frozen for a second, before emitting a furtive giggle. His merry expression sobers as he appears to ponder on his ensuing words. "Can I ask you something?"

"Go on."

"Where did your Papa and Mama go when they died?"

"I wouldn't know."

"Humans don't have a place where to rest after death?"

"We assume we do, but in reality, we know nothing of it. My people like to confuse wishful thinking with the truth."

"Mine are the same. The grown-ups always speak of the afterlife, but I don't think they know what they're talking about. It's just pretend. They just want to sound smart," he pouts.

She snorts. "They do, don't they? What makes you think they're wrong about the afterlife?"

"...Papa died on the battlefield, but Mama survived long enough to say goodbye. She was put in a cot. She asked them to bring me to her so we could speak one last time. The others say I'm lucky I got to see her before she was gone, but I'm not sure if that's true. She didn't seem like herself. More like the odd people who stay at the sanitarium. She kept staring at the ceiling, whispering about a golden place..."

"A golden place?" Evelyn frowns. "Like a gilded void?"

"Yes! Have you heard of it? It was the first time I saw her cry, but it didn't look like sadness. She looked relieved."

"Perhaps the feeling of being at peace moved her."

"She said she was finally home right before dying, but we weren't. We were in a tent. I hope she found Papa, wherever she is now."

"I'm certain she did," she heartens, planting a hand on his shoulder. The gesture draws her eyes to her sparkling piece of jewelry. "The bracelet you gave me... A friend of mine implied there was something special to it. Does it do anything particular?"

He pauses, dusky pupils wandering to his own trinket. "You'll know when you need it. It'll only work once, so be very careful and don't ever take it off, especially at night. It recharges with the moonlight."

"Is it for protection?"

He nods. "We have no one left, so we must look after one another."

"Right you are."

"Dinner is served!" a caretaker yells from the kitchens.

The little one rushes back inside.

"Isn't this gilded void the place you've been asking Ghil-Dirthalen about?" Grief questions. "The one you only access in your dreams?"

"It is."

"You might not be the only one to have witnessed it, then."

Evelyn looks up at the sky, so close, and tinted by a nearly imperceptible shade of green.

Maybe not...

 

Chapter Text

 

She must have fallen asleep during her meditation routine.

Again.

There's no other reason for her to be standing amid the main hall of the Trevelyan estate. Or for her parents and siblings to not only exist in this reality, but also be staring at the younger Evelyn standing next to her. The twelve-years-old is glaring at her brother Brann—who sports a bloody nose and an abashed expression—while their father watches the two with a curious gaze, scratching his beard pensively. She notes the few elven servants dispersed around the room, her governess included. Lady Trevelyan and her three oldest daughters spectate the scene quietly, arranged in an orderly line beside the head of the family.

She can't help but marvel at the level of details her dreams have progressively gained over the course of a few nights. All because of a mere exercise practiced before bed. Her memories are no longer permeated by a distorted, murky background.

Everything is sharper, the faces and decors less hazy.

"I don't remember asking for a family reunion," she states, deciding to take advantage of her peers' silence in order to give a piece of her mind to the intrusive entity that was, she now knew from experience, most likely eavesdropping. "You know, if you're gonna keep running through my memories without my consent, the least you could do is pick the nice ones. I can offer a few suggestions."

"Why are you so silent?" the false Lady Trevelyan admonishes her husband.

Guess I don't get a vote.

"Remind me boy," their father finally says, "how many years separate you from your little sister?"

"Three years."

"Three years," he drawls. "And a head taller, at that. And yet, she managed to subdue you."

"S-subdue?" the boy scoffs. "She punched me! Took me by surprise. Look, she even bit me!" he exclaims, putting his bruised forearm on display.

"He was picking on Myrini and the help!" young Evelyn defends herself while gesturing to her nanny. "He wouldn't leave them alone, they were just trying to work!"

"No one cares apart from you. It's just a bunch of knife-ears!" Her brother turns back to their genitor. "She's crazy, father! I wouldn't be surprised to learn she has rabies. I probably have it too now," he adds, contemplating the angry teeth marks marring his skin.

"You were the one who came to me," Lord Trevelyan nonchalantly approaches his son, "told me that you were ready to follow in your brother's footsteps and join the Teyrn's forces. Claimed that you were finally old enough. That you deserved my trust, not as a son, but as a man. Do you truly believe that terrorizing the servants and getting your arse handed to you by your little sister is working in your favor? All you ever do is whine and boast. Unnecessarily. I see no man before me... only a pathetic wimp."

"B-But..."

"Wipe your nose, boy. You're ruining the carpet."

Brann blinks stupidly, then proceeds to do as told with the help of his sleeve.

"You're just going to let this go, aren't you?" Their mother perceives. "I swear on my life, Maxwell, if you don't do something against this—" she points to Evelyn and pauses, searching for the appropriate word to describe the bane of her existence, "this pest—"

"What am I supposed to do, dear wife? The girl clearly isn't afraid of me. Nothing I say or do will make her behave, you know that."

He was right.

No amount of spanking or caning had ever managed to render her docile. Corporeal punishments had proven entirely futile. Weirdly enough, her father had never seemed genuinely interested in hurting her. His blows were uninspired. Half-hearted. Much too light to make a real impact on her psyche. A restraint she definitely hadn't expected from the cruel Lord that showed no mercy for the poor and needy and saw no issue in raiding Dalish camps for his own sick enjoyment. She'd often get the impression that the sole reason he'd resort to physical discipline—whether on her or her siblings—was to please her mother, who apparently refused to raise a hand against her children despite having no qualms about using her husband to do it for her.

Miffed by her spouse's passivity, Evelyn's mother sends her the most hateful look she's ever received from her.

And there has been quite a lot.

"We should have aborted you when we had the chance."

"I wish you had," the twelve-years-old responds. "A little advice: Try to keep your legs closed next time father gets in the mood."

She hears her sisters gasp in outrage, hands covering their gaping mouths out of refinement. Etiquette had always been a priority for their mother and the woman had made sure to shape her daughters into proper ladies.

No noteworthy nobleman wants to marry a boor, after all.

Or so she'd said.

Among other things...

"You may look like a swan, but you have the manners of a bogfisher."

"Only something that has spawned from a swamp would find your conduct attractive, girl."

Evelyn sees her little double's unfazed mask fall apart as the child meets the disapproving gaze of her governess.

She's about to get an earful.

"You're going to let her talk to me like this?" Lady Trevelyan frowns at her husband.

"She did this for you," the man tells Myrini. "You're the only thing she fears around here. Why don't you find a way to teach her a lesson?"

The elf seems to ponder on this as she stares at her charge.

"I believe I have just the thing, sir."

The interior of the Trevelyan estate melts away, replaced by the familiar outskirts of Ostwick and its brightly-colored roofs. Her younger self and her nanny stand before the sad remains of a freshly scorched house, the famous double walls encasing the city visible in the distance. Evelyn remembers the smell of burning wood lingering in the air despite the few hours that had passed since the incident.

Not far from the humble abode, a lanky teenage boy stares at the plethora of emptied yet still damp buckets scattered all over the ground, hands bound behind his back with chains that look too big for his wrists and utterly oblivious to the city guards currently flanking him. The judmental whispers continually erupting from the crowd of nearby bystanders don't appear to bother him either.

Resigned to his fate.

"This is what happens when you lose control," the elf declares.

After witnessing the mayhem engendered by the blazing property during her weekly trip to the local market, and no doubt inspired by her father's earlier suggestion, her governess had decided that the sight of the aftermath would be a good deterrent against Evelyn's fiery temperament.

"It won't happen to me," the latter asserts.

"Won't it? You think yourself above other mages? You think yourself invincible?"

"That's not what I said."

"Isn't your wrath the very reason why you discovered your powers in the first place?"

"I've been careful ever since. Like you asked."

Myrini snorts, spinning around to face her properly. "I spend my whole days watching over you. I watch you run around the manor's grounds, stealing food from the pantry for the hungry servants, helping them with their chores when your mother purposely works them to the bone, sneaking treats to the dogs when the houndmaster isn't looking, listening to that lonely old geezer of a blacksmith and his redundant life stories because you know his grandchildren have stopped visiting him years ago... In all these moments, I see a sweet, caring little girl that could melt the coldest of hearts. And then your father barely opens his mouth and do you know what this little girl turns into? A feral beast."

"You can't stand him either, so why are you lecturing me right now?"

"I may hate your father but do you see me talking back? Do you see me lashing out and breaking things everytime he treats me unfairly? No."

"Well, maybe you should!"

"Don't be daft. What good would it do me, huh? Would it better my condition? Would it set me free from your family's grasp? We both know the answer to that. I've always wondered how so much rage could possibly fit in such a tiny thing. It's beyond my understanding, really."

"It's been two years. Nothing's happened."

"Luck," the elf dismisses.

"Why can't you just trust me?"

"Look me in the eyes and tell me you can trust yourself."

"I can."

"Liar," she chides softly, leaning down to the child's level. "Stop lying to yourself."

"I'm not."

"You are. Every minute of everyday. Everytime you tell yourself that you wish your relatives were dead. That you never cared about any of them."

"It's true!"

"You wish. I see the way you look at the smiling families passing us on the streets. Why the shame, girl? It is normal for a child to desire their parents' love."

"I have love! I have you! I don't need them."

"You won't have me for long if you persist down this path. It only takes one slip up. One mistake, and it's over." She grabs her arm and forces her to look at the soot-covered teenager. "Look at him, girl. Does he seem happy? Do you think he wanted to burn his whole family alive?"

"No," the twelve-years-old says in a hushed tone, gaze drifting downward as she attempts to turn her back to her caretaker.

"How did it happen then?"

"He got angry."

"And what was the result?"

"Everyone's dead. He's all alone."

"He'll have to dwell on this for the rest of his miserable life, wasting away in the rotten tower the templars will be dragging him to. Do you really want to be that boy? Do you want to be taken away, child?" Undeterred by the girl's stubborn silence, the governess tugs on the limb in her grasp, pulling her back to her original position. "Answer me!"

"No!" Evelyn yells, eyes brimming with unshed tears.

"Then curb your impulses. When someone aggravates you, ignore them. Look the other way, tune them out and act as if they didn't exist."

"Easier said than done," she pouts.

"You'll learn. You'll have to."

"...How do you do it?"

"I go somewhere else."

Unbeknownst to the distracted duo, three templars arrive to haul the boy to his new home.

Or prison.

"What do you mean 'somewhere else'?"

"Right here," the woman taps her fingertip against Evelyn's forehead. "You go right here inside your mind. There is a place there, a place of peace that no else can reach. Not your father. Not your brothers and sisters. Not even this supposed Maker your kind likes blathering about."

"What about your gods? Can they?"

"My gods? I'm the only god I need."

"But the Dalish—"

"My people are free to believe whatever they want. And so am I."

"But your vallaslin—"

"Was forced upon me when I came of age. I could have struggled, told them their beliefs were not my own and refuse their ritual. They would've exiled me and I would've died by myself, lost in the woods. Does that sound like a smart choice to you?" Evelyn shakes her head slowly. "No, it doesn't. The elven gods might very well exist, or they might be a fantasy invented by people that cling too hard to the past. We'll never know, and it doesn't matter to me. 'I can fall to my knees and pretend to profess my faith to whomever my clan worships, as long as it keeps my belly full and my limbs warm in an aravel, but my soul is my own. It belongs to no god. I won't give it away.' This is what I told myself as I let our Keeper coat my face in her foul ink. What I'd tell myself everyday so I could carry on without being separated from my loved ones. So I could survive. And I did."

"But they're gone. They're all gone. So why put yourself through this?"

"Isn't that obvious?" Myrini pushes a lock of Evelyn's hair behind her ear. "I have a new family now. It's rather small, and quite fallible, but it's enough for me."

The human's mien softens drastically. This is the closest she'll ever get to a declaration of love from her elven custodian.

"We both fight, child, for the very same reasons. Only our methods diverge. You defy your father tooth and nail, while I keep my mouth shut and retreat to my special place."

"And you want me to do the same."

"I'm asking you to give it a try." The woman presses a thumb between the kid's eyebrows. "It's yours, girl. You just have to claim it."

Surprisingly, the tip had worked.

She had eventually learned to brush aside her relatives' antics and cope with her furious urges in other ways. Her screams had morphed to quiet, disdainful looks. Her scowling lips into derisive smiles. Counting the fancy patterns adorning the walls and ceilings had become her most fruitful trick to overcome the ardent desire to obliterate something whenever her dear family members would get on her nerves. No more brawls. No more bloody noses. No more disputes. Or messy ones, at least. She would resort to witty retorts to voice her objections instead. There were still things she refused to relent on though.

Mainly: Her religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

At that thought, her fifteen-years-old self materializes a few feet away, buttocks glued to the ground. An opened book sits between her and Mother Maxine, who's settled in a chair, clad in her hideous pink robes.

"You will stay on your knees until you have recited all of your verses, and I will not move from that seat until you are done. Are we clear?"

The teenager spits on the tome's pages.

"You have no respect for anything," the woman cringes.

"Must run in the family," she answers placidly.

Bruised from the hours they've spent against the floor, her knees resemble the sloppy palette of a painter: a nasty blend of yellow, blue and purple. The girl clearly can't feel her legs anymore, but she doesn't yield.

Just stares at the woman, mocking and defiant.

Maxwell Trevelyan enters the chapel with a blithe gait. "How are the lessons coming along? Any progress?"

"I'd have an easier time trying to tame a wild boar."

"...Leave us," he orders after a little while.

The Revered Mother walks out of the room without protest, plainly eager to be rid of her task and the infernal child that comes along with it.

Alone with his daughter, the man begins to pace in front of her. "You know, for all the trouble you cause for our family, I've always been awed by your tenacity. Your siblings do as they're told, but they lack your resolve. Sometimes I wish your brothers had been born with your meanstreak."

"They seem mean enough to me."

"For all their accomplishments, and despite all my efforts, their squeamishness has persisted over the years. They know how to hold a sword, yes, but their will is weak."

"Coddling your precious demonic spawns their entire life might have something to do with it."

He disregards her jibe again, too absorbed in his own monologue. "There's nothing that can stop you once you set your mind to something. It's admirable, really."

"Better pray that I never set my mind on killing you then," she smirks, looking him in the eye.

Her father grins. "You'd have no one left to hate. What would you do then? Your days would feel quite empty without me, don't you think? Isn't your sole purpose in life to be my greatest disappointment?" He saunters to the gates, and his next words sound unmistakably less amused. "If the Chantry's ways won't make you conform, I'll find something that will."

She thinks the threat empty, Evelyn recalls, until she wakes up one morning to the sight of raw, bloody stripes strewn across her nanny's calves while the concerned party scrubs the floor on all fours. The fruit of her efforts had shattered at this simple view. One of her nails had broken off from the pressure she'd exerted on it after discreetly clenching her fists beneath her sheets. She'd feigned unawareness by putting on a drowsy facade, not wanting to rouse the elf's suspicion. She'd then stomped her way to her father's office and waited until the door was closed to finally snap, hurling the first thing that came in reach at her genitor's head.

An orlesian vase.

Which he'd dodged, with so much ease one could speculate that he'd been anticipating her visit for quite some time.

As she reminisces it, the confrontation plays out before the Inquisitor.

"I warned you before!" The fifteen-years-old shouts as she rushes toward her patriarch. "You want to take out your anger on someone, you take it out on me! She's off limit."

The man rises from his seat, taking confident strides in her direction and halting barely a foot away from her huffing figure.

As if to add fuel to the fire simmering in her guts, no word escapes his smug mouth.

"Nothing? Go on father, go grab that cane of yours! What's wrong? Am I too old? Not helpless enough? Is it not satisfying anymore?"

"You were never helpless. Your governess, however..."

"Of course. That's the whole point, isn't it? Even when I was a child... You've never put any heart into it, now that I think about it. You prefer to prey on the ones who can't fight back. Because you're a fucking coward!"

The slap to her face stings like hellfire.

She chuckles bitterly, rubbing her throbbing cheek.

"See? Wasn't so hard, was it? Now, you know me well, father. Everything I get, I always give back. Tenfold."

She swings at him, catching him square in the jaw. He stumbles backward. Her victory is short-lived, however. He retaliates with a well-placed punch to her flank. Destabilized, the girl gets locked in an awkward embrace meant to immobilize her. She dislodges herself from it seconds later by repeatedly elbowing her adversary in the face.

Both grunt and wheeze, walking in circles as they assess one another in an attempt to predict their next move.

He comes for her.

She ducks to the side, his incoming strike grazing her temple while she counterattacks with a kick to the knee that makes him wobble. Balancing her weight on one of her legs, the teenager viciously thrusts her foot in his stomach and sends him flying into a bookcase. The shelves tremble, several tomes collapsing to the ground. She tries to regulate her breathing but he's on her again in an instant.

Evelyn watches them one-up each other in turns. She knows her double—pumped full of anger and adrenaline—stupidly thinks she'll gain the upper hand. But her younger self, as capable in a fight as she may be, forgets one considerable detail: The fervor of the boys she wrestles and manhandles on a daily basis is nothing remotely comparable to her father's brute strength. The only reason she seems to be winning right now is because the man is holding back. Which doesn't last.

Their scuffle ends with his bulky frame trapping her against his desk, a meaty forearm pressing against her throat while he pins both of her wrists down with his remaining free hand. Thrashing her legs about does nothing for the child.

He has her.

"You're getting stronger," he notes, a gleeful twinkle in his eyes. "You'll serve the Templars well. Perhaps I should thank those paupers you train with. Ask the Teyrn to lower their taxes, as a sign of gratitude."

"You ever touch a hair on her head ever again, and I'll murder you in your sleep. With your own bloody dagger."

The chandelier above them begins to sway menacingly, its shadow prancing over her features and the back of her father's skull.

The girl had been the only one to notice the phenomenon, luckily. Not that he was smart enough to deduce that she'd been the one to unwittingly influence its movement, anyway.

A good minute flies by before her father speaks anew.

"Your mother thinks you were a mistake. I disagree. You are the offspring I deserve. This is what the Maker has cooked up as punishment for my sins. To watch my strongest child become my greatest failure."

"The maker had nothing to do with it. It's your own fault. All you had to do is pull out and spill on her thighs, but you didn't. And now you have to deal with the consequences."

His ringed fingers wrap around her jaw. "You inherited your mother's pretty looks. Her nose, her porcelain skin, that graceful chin... All of my children have taken after me, all but the latest addition to our precious family. Feisty little Evelyn. I've had doubts about your mother's faithfulness in the past. They only grew stronger after your birth. But in moments like these, I see that cruel gleam in your eyes, and I come to realize... You truly are my daughter." He smiles creepily. "We're not so different you and I."

"We're nothing alike."

"Really?" He steps back, relinquishing his hold on her. "Prove me wrong then, I dare you."

The scenery evaporates. In its stead, a dense line of trees bursts forth, veiled by the night's obscurity. Not far from the forest's border, a dozen of Dalish elves listen to the ongoing argument between Myrini and herself, holding up torches plucked from the manor's dungeons to lighten their surroundings. The Trevelyan heir looks hardly a year older than in her previous memory. Everyone's winded and tired.

"What will you do now?" the governess asks.

"I'll find a way."

"How? No money, no food, nothing. Such a stupid girl."

"Better that than the alternative."

"You had a roof over your head!"

"At what cost? At least I can live with myself now."

"Is that all that matters to you? If you can sleep at night? What about me? What about what I want, you selfish child?" the woman crosses her arms over her chest. "I hope you enjoy your cold nights under the stars."

"This is your ire speaking. You didn't want them to go through this," the girl motions to their band of onlookers, "and you know it."

"We could have found another solution."

"He would have suspected us right away!" she cries out. "Come on Myrini, don't you remember what he did to you? To your family? How many times did we turn a blind eye on his practices, all because you didn't want me to get into further trouble? Because you were scared that I'd be discovered? Enough is enough. Scream at me as much as you want, I'm not going back home. Not ever."

"And what am I supposed to do?"

"Go with them. You have a chance to go back to what you had before. Take it. I can't return your clan to you, but I can give you this much." Her tone lowers, becomes more intimate. "We're free of them now. We can start a new life. I just wish we could do it together."

"You're the one who refuses to stay by my side."

"I know," she soughs.

Remorseful, viridian orbs vanish behind pale eyelids.

Her nanny exhales woefully, the dander that had stiffened her features until now gradually dissipating. "If you forget about me girl, I'll come back to haunt you when I die."

The human's lips loosen into a tiny smile. "I look forward to it, you old witch."

"Tch—Who's the apostate?"

The elf unclips a brooch from her belt—an obsidian peacock feather with a ruby eyespot—and shoves it into the teen's palm.

Evelyn's stomach churns painfully.

Almost forgot about it.

She'd treasured the pin for years but had unfortunately lost it during the attack on Haven. Probably after falling through the ground and landing into these damn underground tunnels. She'd asked Krem and his associates to keep an eye out for it when they'd endeavored to scour the settlement's ruins for gear and refugees, but the Chargers had found no signs of the trinket whatsoever.

"This is all that's left of them," Myrini explains to her charge. "It was passed among my family for centuries. From mother to daughter, from father to son, for each generation."

"Keep it for your—"

"Don't be stupid, girl. It's too late for that now. I'm drier than the Hissing Wastes' desert."

"Would you have done otherwise, had the circumstances been different?"

"Of course not. You know my opinion on children."

"And yet you cherished me just fine."

"You're a special case. In every sense of the term," she appends dryly. "Now, do me a favor and try not to get devoured by wildlife."

"I'll do my best."

Sensing the human's hesitation, the older woman draws her into a snug embrace. The child's fingers tighten around the brooch as she strives to hide the tears gathering at the corner of her eyes. She averts the quivering of her lower lip by pressing her face further against her nanny's neck.

The two stay like this for what feels like an eternity, lulled by the sound of the wind and the distant hoots of the owls.

"This isn't goodbye," the sixteen-years-old mumbles. "I promise."

"Don't make promises you can't keep."

She retreats first, suddenly remembering their audience, and looks at the Dalish keeper. "Please, keep her safe."

"We will," he says, handing her her torch back. "Dareth shiral."

Time suspends itself.

Considering the direction her thoughts are taking, Evelyn has an inkling of what's about to follow.

Their fateful reunion.

"No," she forbids out loud.

She's not in the mood for another reenactment.

She tries to will the memory away but her environment is already shifting into what she's been dreading.

"Enough. Stop it for fuck's sake!"

As though alarmed by her outburst, the retrospection whirls out of existence at a frightening speed.

A flawless replica of the Solas she once knew forms out of thin air, staring at her apologetically.

She knows who's to blame.

"I don't need your pity."

"Not pity," the entity corrects through her ex-lover's mouth. "Comfort."

"There's no comfort in fallacy."

She regains consciousness soon after those words.


----------


Evelyn soon realizes that she should have maybe—just maybe—taken the time to appreciate the company of Dream Solas a little more, once crossing paths with the real one starts becoming a rather rare occurrence. She does not suspect him of avoiding her deliberately, no. She's well aware of the importance of his duties. That his days are spent counselling Mythal about the red lyrium issue and dealing with all of the court intrigues brought on by the evanuris and their followers. What he does of the rest of his free time, on the other hand, becomes an enigma.

Simultaneously, Compassion makes a habit of staying by her side during most of the day before mysteriously disappearing in the middle of the night. She eventually hears from Ghil-Dirthalen's mouth that her friend and Solas have been loitering around the library for a good part of their nights lately. Researching something at Mythal's behest, maybe?

What Evelyn doesn't understand is why Compassion would feel the need to hide this fact from her. It's not like she has anything against the two of them hanging out together... So why the secrecy? The spirit is usually so overly talkative and willing to share its every thought with her...

Left to her own devices, she spends even more time in Idrilla's company. The woman seems tired of finding her brooding alone in her room and regularly invites her to join her in her daily activities. Which, today, consist of brewing poisons while they discuss the many peculiarities of the operations lead by Elgar'nan's people. The handmaid keeps her updated on whatever Mythal allows her to disclose concerning the situation. She learns that the Sentinels have chanced upon a laboratory containing all sorts of horrific experimentations. Ones that could rival, in their unsavory nature, the ones Alexius had once conducted inside Redcliff's castle. The drudges having reached the point of no return in their insanity have been disposed of, while the ones lucky enough to have been recent additions to Elgar'nan's little project have been relocated 'somewhere safe', but not before being administered a mysterious remedy composed of dragon blood.

"All the atrocities he's committed, on his own people to boot... And in the name of what? Progress? I expected more acumen from a god, even a self-proclaimed one. Did he really think he wouldn't get caught?"

Speaking over the loud bubbling noise emitted by the mixture boiling atop the burner proves a bit challenging, but she manages nonetheless.

"He certainly wasn't expecting you to show up. None of us were," Idrilla adds under her breath, most likely to herself.

That has her thinking.

"Do you think... Do you think my presence in Elvhenan has changed things?"

"Changed things?"

"I mean... Do you think it would have taken longer for Mythal to discover this mess, if I hadn't come to this world? That my visit here has already altered the course of destiny?"

"Perhaps... How would I know? Divination is not one of my fortes, girl. Speaking of weaknesses, has the meditation improved the quality of your nights? Your dark circles seem to be fading away."

Evelyn nods in agreement. "It's strange, really. I feel well rested, yet so tired at the same time. Like I could fall asleep any second. My dreams are getting more intense too. More... tangible."

"You're becoming more attune with the Beyond. Your body needs time to adjust."

"I never imagined doing absolutely nothing would be so exhausting. You were right though, it does help with the magic." The human lights one of the candles sitting on their table with a flick of her wrist and a proud little smile.

"Have I ever been wrong?" Her partner's eyebrow arches as she slips her extremities inside a pair of leather gloves.

"I haven't known you long enough to answer that."

The older woman briefly treads up to a doorless cabinet to pick up a jar filled with purple flowers.

Evelyn's eyes slightly widen. "Oh, I know this one. We call it 'aconite', in my tongue. Induces violent diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pains, and finally, death. Usually by paralysis of the heart and lungs."

"A connoisseur," Idrilla drawls approvingly.

Hands protected, the latter tears the plant's roots, drops them inside her mortar and proceeds to grind them into a fine powder.

The door opens, letting the hubbub of the neighboring kitchens disturb the soothing atmosphere of the room the pair was holed up in—some large chamber which conveniently functions as a cellar, a pantry and an alchemy lab altogether.

"Look who I found lurking behind the door," says the intruder, dangling a rat by the tail between his thumb and forefinger and cradling a bottle of wine in the crook of his opposite arm.

Evelyn recognizes him as one of Mythal's servants.

"Probably lured by the cheese," the handmaid surmises.

Well... they are surrounded by food and alcohol.

"Should I kill it?" the newcomer submits.

"What for?"

"Because it might devour everything it comes across? Or it could be carrying all kinds of nasty diseases? Plus, it's unsightly. The red eyes are especially creepy."

"Leave the little bugger alone, will you?" Idrilla rebukes, commanding the other elf to deposit its discovery next to a set of vials with a subtle gesture before swiftly trapping the rodent underneath a glass bowl. The creature doesn't even flinch, standing on its hind legs to better observe its captors, snout and whiskers twitching adorably. "If unsightliness was reason enough to get rid of someone, your mother would have abandoned you at birth. Oh wait, she did." A throaty snicker escapes her. "Must have been that beak of yours."

"Beak?" Evelyn wonders.

"No one would call that thing a nose," the maid clarifies, pointing at the man's face.

"I almost forgot what a wicked bitch you can be."

"Happy to refresh your memory, boy."

She returns to her work, bringing the finishing touches to their concoction, which the newcomer sizes up with a critical air as he glides his bottle along the furniture until it reaches his elvhen counterpart. "Are you training her? I thought you didn't want an apprentice."

"Is that jealousy I hear? Can't two girls have a little bit of fun without people immediately jumping to conclusions?"

"I wouldn't personally associate deadly toxins with fun."

"To each their own," she shrugs.

Evelyn and the man watch her pour a portion of the preparation into the wine with the help of a funnel.

Wait... What?

"You two have been spending a lot of time together lately," he accuses. "Especially behind closed doors."

"Perhaps we simply like to keep the subject of our conversations private," Idrilla says, and Evelyn nearly misses the very prompt glance she casts towards the rat.

"And why is that? Women aren't usually shy of sharing their opinions with the rest of the world... Unless it is to conspire, of course."

"He's onto us," the human whispers roguishly.

Her companion seems more than happy to contribute to her jest. "And there goes our plan for world domination."

"To think we were so close..."

"Very funny," their victim grumbles. "I see you've found someone who shares your dry sense of humor."

"For you," the older woman offers the poisoned bottle back to him, a playful lilt in her voice.

"What will it be with this one? Did she ask you to put on a show?"

"Would you expect anything else from her?"

"Great. I better not be the one cleaning up after him. I've had my fill of blood-soaked pants with the last one."

"Nobody asked you to. And there won't be any blood this time. Though his trousers are sure to change color."

His features scrunch up in revulsion. "By the Gods..."

Without further ado, the servant exits the room, his lethal prize secured under an armpit.

"The poison wasn't just for demonstration purposes," Evelyn points out, arms folded. "You're planning to use it."

"An astute observation."

"Who is it for?"

"Some young lord who doesn't know how to keep his hands to himself."

"What did he do?"

"He was caught molesting one of our own. A frail lass who was too scared to defend herself. The Lady wants him to be dealt with, publicly, and so it shall be done."

"'The Lady wants'? Shouldn't the victim have a say in what happens to him?"

"What is it? Do you feel pity for the rapist?"

"Of course not," she scowls. "It's just... the way you worded it. It sounds like the only reason he's being punished at all is because Mythal wills it. Like the maid wouldn't have received any justice otherwise."

"Correct."

She scoffs, beside herself. "Doesn't that anger you? Did Mythal even bother to ask her opinion on this? Maybe she doesn't want him to die, maybe that's too easy! Maybe she wants him to spend the rest of his life in a decrepit cell, or maybe she thinks he deserves to get tortured daily for—"

"The girl hanged herself. Her bunkmates found her this morning, her sheets around her throat."

The wrath swelling her chest deflates instantly. "Oh..."

"I'm sure the All-Mother would have appreciated her viewpoint on the matter, had she ever had the chance to inquire about it." None of them speak for a spell, and the she-elf winds up shortening the gap between them, as though in reassurance. "He'll die a slow death. The process will be excruciatingly painful, not to mention humiliating. He's to be an example, you see, in case another noble gets the idea to mess with her people, significant or not."

"Won't the other guests complain that Mythal's reckoning is ruining their dinner?"

"Everyone's aware of what's about to happen. Everyone but him. Believe me, no one will miss the man. Plus, this is the occasion for the 'mess hall' to live up to its name..."

Evelyn cringes in disgust as she pictures the scene. "Sweeping the halls during the day and poisoning government officials at night. Is that the life you dreamt of as a little girl?"

"Dreams are for gullible fools who think the world owes them everything just because they were born in it. Rich, poor, beautiful or repulsive, ingenious or dim-witted... Fate bears gifts for no one. I do not waste time fantasizing, child, I act."

"By cleaning the chamber pots of ungrateful aristocrats?"

"You have it all figured out, don't you? Me included." The maid tilts her head to the side in an inquisitive fashion, her hazel gaze piercing right through her with unconcealed mirth. "Tell me, what did sweet little Evelyn used to expect of the future?"

She doesn't wait for a response and instead, goes to retrieve a small wheel of cheese and a large knife from the nearest cupboard after tossing her now tainted gloves away.

"I've never had any set goals," the human shrugs. "I knew I wanted to escape from my family, leave everything behind, which I did. Apart from that... I guess I just wanted to be happy."

With Solas. Anything with Solas.

Inquisitor Trevelyan would often picture what their lives had the potential to become after Corypheus' hypothetical defeat. Him and her, happy and void of responsibilities—and in the best case scenario, holed up somewhere unfindable. A cottage in some unwelcoming, forgotten woods, perhaps. Or any other secluded area where no one would come looking for them. Forget the cottage, she'd be fine with a wobbly, weathered cabin if it meant she'd get Solas all to herself. They'd spend their days in bed, alternating between making love and napping to their hearts' content, their unconscious, tangled bodies still stuck here on Thedas while their minds wandered the Fade together.

Idrilla snorts, aborting her naive daydreaming. "How did that turn out?"

"Well, pretty terrible, to be honest."

"As with all expectations," her partner remarks, cutting a chunk of the wheel into tiny cubes. Satisfied, she then turns her way. "Your constant concerns over my mediocre standing are unnecessary. Because you've never been in my place, you fail to realize something important: There can be power in servitude."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

The elf slides a dice of cheese under the bowl. Its crimson stare doggedly set on its savior, the rodent scoops it up and slowly brings it to its mouth before taking a strangely reluctant bite.

"Pray that you'll never have to find out."


----------


One placid afternoon, belly sprawled upon her mattress and calves fluttering through the air, Evelyn finds herself wrapped up in a fascinating book, one that Ghil-Dirthalen had recommended to her after her many queries on the origins of the 'Great Ones', these giant dragons she'd once espied in a vision that had been jabbed into her mind by Geldauran. The pages are suffused with myths and legends pertaining to the glorious beings, as well as succinct recollections from a handful of civilians that were lucky enough to encounter them in various parts of the world. The beasts also go by the appellation of Sleepers, due to their tendency to randomly hibernate for long periods of time.

Elvhenan's skies used to be teeming with the creatures, allegedly, but their numbers had diminished throughout the centuries. Most of the survivors seem content to live out their days in complete seclusion, deep into the wilds, while the rest are said to have taken refuge in some remote sanctuary referred to as Eral Lav'ta.

'Sleeping Peak'? Perhaps it's on a mountain?

The clanks of greaves and boots—a distinctive noise she's come to associate with the Sentinels—echo along the walls outside her room, later followed by hushed voices. A prickling sensation sprouts along her nape. Led by some foreboding gut feeling, and hoping to cross paths with Abelas, the human leaves the comfort of her den and sees a fully armored Mythal and an unknown Sentinel crossing the adjacent hallway, Idrilla and Compassion at the goddess' side.

"Hard to say," she hears the soldier announce. "We weren't able to decipher anything of what they were saying. Or shouting."

"I can help with that!" the spirit volunteers.

"Yes. You can," the evanuris confirms, returning her attention to the guard. "Where is Solas?"

"I spotted him in the lobby a few minutes ago, in Falon'Din's company."

"Falon'Din?" she frowns. "Were they fighting?"

"Their exchange seemed amiable."

Mythal throws a puzzled glance at her handmaiden, who answers with a shrug.

"Strange," she mutters absent-mindedly. "Fetch Solas for me will you?" she asks the Sentinel. "And June. Tell him to bring this device he keeps prattling about. His prototype. This is the perfect occasion to put it to the test."

"What about your escort?"

"Do I look so incompetent? I'll find my way there on my own."

"Yes, My Lady."

"Should we inform the rest of the evanuris of this development?" Idrilla inquires while the soldier walks away.

The goddess appears to give it some thought. "Give me a head start to assess the situation first. I can already predict their reactions and I can't allow their recklessness to ruin things for us. And keep an eye on the girl. Make sure she stays within the palace. I'll send for her if needed. Don't tell her anything."

"I won't."

Evelyn doesn't need to be a spirit to feel the tension in the air, or notice the unwonted rigidity in the deity's stance as she heads for her destination. The maid twists around and saunters down the corridor, coming to a halt when she ultimately takes note of the human waiting just around the corner.

"I see your stealth has improved," the servant remarks. "You heard the lady. Be a sweet girl and go to your room," she pats her cheek as she passes her by.

"I was planning to go outside," Evelyn lies in an attempt to worm out some information out of the elf.

"Then I'm afraid your plans will have to be postponed."

"You're not gonna offer me any clues about what's going on, are you?"

She has to raise her voice a little, since the woman is getting farther and farther away by the second.

"It's for your own good."

"Where are you going? Aren't you supposed to keep an eye on me?"

"I have more important things to do than play chaperon. Don't take this as an invitation to sneak out, I will know. You don't want to find out what I do to naughty children who break the rules," Idrilla wiggles her finger warningly before dissolving behind a wall.

The human then does what she does best whenever she's nervous: pace from one end of her room to the other, occasionally chewing on the skin of her fingers as hundreds of ominous scenarios run through her pessimistic mind. Barely fifteen minutes have passed when, from the viewpoint of her balcony, she discerns some of the Evanuris marching across the city, their respective guards in tow. Elgar'nan is not among them. Partisans and slaves alike look more agitated than ordinary.

Meanwhile, the citizens observe the lengthy convoy aim for Elgar'nan's temple with wary faces.

Did they find something new?

When the gods finally penetrate the edifice, their retinue is held back at the gates.

Knowing she won't uncover anything substantial by staring at those stupid doors, she gets back inside and sits at her desk, winding up slouched over the furniture.

It takes half an hour, but her salvation comes at last.

"Evelyn."

Her heart performs a little somersault.

Abelas.

Her hands are on him before he can even blink, lifting his hood so she can check his eyes, then pushing both edges of his cloak aside to inspect the rest of him. She's relieved to find no speck of red in his golden orbs, nor any blemish to his flesh. The man doesn't seem to know how to react to her uncharacteristic groping. She's surprised he hasn't shoved her off, in truth, especially with reflexes such as his.

"You look healthy," she states, allowing him to fathom the motive behind her demeanor.

"Concerned?"

"About you staying in a ruin brimming with a toxic mineral that drives people insane? Of course not," she intones sarcastically. "How are you feeling? I haven't seen you in a while..."

"I hope you did not take my absence as an excuse to ignore your training."

"Me? Slacking off? Never. Now answer the question."

"There is no reason to fret over my well-being. My health is as good as it has ever been. The turn of events, however..."

"Mythal sent you, didn't she? What's happening?"

"The Durgen'len have established contact with us. Direct contact."

"What? When? Shit, that's why the evanuris were... Please, tell me these fools are not trying to kill each other."

"Not yet. Their leader has requested your presence."

"Me? Why? How do they even know I exist?"

"Their scouts have spotted you and Mythal's attendant while you were exploring their thaig."

"Oh..."

So I didn't imagine the silhouettes. Guess I'm not going insane. Good to know.

"They suspect you to belong to their kind. Though your height seems to confuse them."

"Well, that's one thing we have in common."

[ * ]

Abelas and her begin their journey to the temple, or more explicitly, to the upper section of the thaig, where both elves and dwarves await them amid an edgy climate. The first thing she perceives is the magical dome encompassing everyone. Dwarven archers are perched upon the monolith she'd previously seen, their lyrium-infused crossbows pointed at the deities, seemingly protecting their fellow compatriots located below them. One man in particular stands ahead of the others. Their leader, she gathers. Positioned on each side of an arched line of evanuris, the Sentinels have their bows drawn and ready to fire.

Compassion is floating behind the elves, holding an odd globe in its hands and appearing deeply focused, if not a bit strained.

Her gaze lowers to the patterned orb as she stops near her friend. It reminds her of a dismantled Foci comprised of three fragments that drift close enough to one another to form a sphere. A crystal hovers in its center, sharing the same shade of blue as the dome stretching above the assembly.

June's device, I presume.

Whatever its purpose, it's palpably feeding on Compassion's energy.

"There is no pain," the spirit reassures, sensing her concern.

The two opposing factions can manifestly understand each other, considering the amount of austere interjections constantly flying between them. A privilege that has yet to be bestowed upon the human, who cannot interpret any of the sentences pouring out of the Durgen'len's mouths.

Andruil chooses this instant to exhibit her ever so tactful nature. "Lower your weapons at once, filth."

The dwarven leader grumbles something unintelligible.

"She should be on her way as we speak," Mythal declares.

"This is ridiculous!" the huntress exclaims. "Not only do these things have the gall to ambush your men, but you comply to their absurd demands when we owe them nothing!"

"Would you prefer for us to slaughter each other, my dear?"

"As much as it pains me," Solas horns in, "I agree with Andruil. If we are to broker a truce between our people, this discussion should not be held under such circumstances."

The wolf has swapped his standard outfit for a reinforced version of it, and the longsword strapped to his waist further connotes that he's readied himself for the worst outcome.

"A puerile attempt at intimidation," comments June.

Harsh hisses arise from the throng of dwarves.

"For their sake, your machine better be defective. I think I just heard this one call me a sissy," Falon'Din informs his counterpart, scratching the inside of his ear with his index finger.

The motion draws her eyes to the god's shadow, projected onto a broad vein of red lyrium, and to the wispy wings attached to its shoulder blades. She'd noticed them on effigies of him in her anterior life, but had always considered them metaphorical. She'd been wrong, apparently. Why the appendages are not also visible on the man himself is a whole other question.

"The reason I invited you here wasn't so you could antagonize them," the All-Mother chastises. "I would appreciate if you didn't make me regret my decision so quickly."

"This concerns us just as much as you. You need us here."

"As a matter of fact, I don't. Your hostility is only making things harder for us all. I could have opted to exclude you from this talk like I did with Elgar'nan, yet here you are. Your participation is a demonstration of good faith on my part. You can keep your composure or you can leave." An absolute silence ensues Mythal's ultimatum. "Now, will you finally behave in accordance to your stations, or did I make another mistake by choosing to put my trust in you?"

Not a peep is heard from the row of evanuris.

Gently nudged by Abelas, Evelyn enters the hemisphere, clearing her throat, and the dwarves' words miraculously start to make sense.

"Right there!" A young dwarf situated beside his leader points her out. "The giant who could read our runes! See? I told you it looked like us."

Giant? I like him already.

"Like our women, you mean." Another dwarf butts in. "Well, minus the love handles."

"I'll be sure to tell your wife what you think of our morphologies, Ahren." One of the female archers snaps back from her roost.

The man grunts in response, readjusting his grip on his crossbow.

Mythal beckons Evelyn towards the group.

A dwarven lady begins to circle her, examining her through a strange optical contraption. "Fascinating. A mutation of her genetic material, perhaps. It would explain her abnormal growth. I wonder if her Stone sense was also affected... Was the red lyrium responsible for your transformation, stranger?"

"I am not one of you. And I am no mutant. I was born like this."

"By the Stone..." the youngest one gasps. "The mother must have died during labor. Imagine pushing something that big out of your—"

"Shut it, you moron." The leader delivers a swift slap to the back of the boy's head. "And you," he aims at the tiny woman, "don't start analyzing the girl without asking for permission." A sheepish smile contorts his lips as he glances up at the human. "My apologies, stranger. My people tend to have a hard time containing their excitement. That, or they simply like to embarrass me at every turn."

"It's all right. You wanted to see me specifically?"

"Yes. My name is Lothar. I used to preside over this thaig. The lady with no sense of personal space is Pietra, our best researcher. And this is my son, Luka." The young man next to him waves at her sweetly. "Him and his scouts have witnessed your probing. They heard you pronounce dwarven words. You seemed able to comprehend the meaning of our runes, according to them."

"You understand our language, right?" Luka inquires with an expression that implies he's been dying to confirm his suspicions for a pretty long time now.

"Very little of it. Some of my friends are dwarves. Surfacers, mostly. I picked up a thing or two on your tongue and traditions from them."

"Surfacers?" Pietra says. "Those are pretty scarce..."

"The death of the Titans might have bolstered their numbers," the scout named Ahren theorizes. "If any of them managed to survive, that is."

Luka's eyes keep traveling between her and the stern elvhen deities. "Are these elves holding you captive?"

"What? No. I'm here on my own volition."

"If you're not a prisoner, why would you commingle with them?"

"Why wouldn't I? Is there something wrong with them?"

"Ah!" Ahren barks. "That's putting it mildly."

"The distaste is mutual," Falon'Din retorts.

"For people who have never communicated before, you sound quite distrustful of each other."

"We know their type," Lothar tells her.

"Our type?" Solas repeats.

"Living underground does not make us oblivious to what happens in the rest of the world, elf. We've heard about what your people have done to some of our brethren. We know who is liable for their Titans' demise."

"I see," the wolf responds in a low voice.

"Here comes the whining," Andruil rolls her eyes.

"Girl," the All-Mother warns gruffly. "Do not make me mute you."

Luka walks closer, plainly transfixed by Evelyn. "You're clearly not one of them. So, if you're not one of us either, then what does that make you?"

"What makes you so sure I'm not an elf?"

"Aside from the ears? You don't buzz the way they do."

"Buzz?"

"Can't you feel it? The way the air flexes around them? It makes this annoying vibration that grates your ears. 'Magic', is that what they call it? You do exude something similar, but it's more subtle. More bearable. Well, except for your hand. Your hand is loud."

"And shiny," adds the researcher, zooming in on her with her weird spyglass.

"I'm a human. That's what my people call themselves."

"A new race!" Pietra exclaims eagerly.

"Fantastic. Let's hope these ones solve their problems differently than the tree-huggers," another dwarf mutters. "Less butchering would be an improvement."

The dwarven leader sighs and grants himself a moment to collect his thoughts, the stroking of his beard a patent stress reliever. "Their meddling with the lyrium has ceased since your visit here. Their empty vassals have vacated the mines. I assume we have you to thank for that?"

"Actually—"

"You assume correctly," Mythal intervenes, stepping forward.

Andruil scoffs. "Don't give her more credit than she deserves."

"This woman discovered what was transpiring here and reported her findings to me, so that we could put an end to it. These shameful operations were deliberately kept hidden from me by some of my people. Believe me when I say that I would never have agreed to any of this otherwise. I apologize for the abject display you had to witness here. And for the fate of your fallen comrades. I, however, will not pretend to feel remorse for the retaliation taken against your masters."

"We have no master," Lothar rebuffs without delay. "Our people are free. Slavery has no place in our kingdom."

"Nor should it anywhere else," Solas appends.

"Retaliaton?" the petite woman parrots, blinking confusedly at Mythal. "Against what? All we've ever done is mind our own business. We've never involved ourselves with the elves, least of all aggressively."

"I'm sure you are aware of the earthquakes that shook the earth a while ago. We were gravely affected by it. Though no deaths were reported, many citizens were harmed. Houses were razed. Entire cities, crumbled. My people were at risk. They implored their leaders, us, to take action. Our deeds were driven by fear, not cruelty. The intended goal was never to exterminate your people and their Pillars, only to stop those responsible for the tremors."

"And so you attack without asking questions first?" Ahren criticizes. "Save your excuses, woman."

"You bring only death," the dwarven leader soughs despondently. "You and your empire of slaves."

"My people had nothing to do with this. The Pillars were killed on my orders. If you want to hold someone accountable for your loss, then that person should be me and me alone. Perhaps the situation could have been handled in a better, less violent way. I will not deny it. But what is done is done."

One of the background dwarves scoffs. "What is done is—The nerve!"

"So what?" Luka says. "You think honesty will drive us to forgive you?"

"Why would I? I am a ruler, not an idiot."

"Do you know what caused these earthquakes?" Evelyn wonders. "I've found drawings here, children's drawings, that seemed to imply you have been exposed to them too."

Lothar's gaze wanders to the ground, wistful. "Something disturbed our Titan. When the tremors began, we believe it was trying to find its way around whatever was upsetting it." He nods in Mythal's direction, "The Titans that were wiped out by you and your kin might have experienced the same thing. We tried to communicate with it, but it was either stubbornly quiet or too frenzied to make sense. And then there was the breach... The isana turned red and its tune started changing. What was once so uplifting and full of light became eerie and consuming. There is a... hunger to it. A dark promise. The first time I heard it, it felt like my feet were sinking into the ground. Like the earth was going to swallow me whole. I would have lost myself to it, had my men not been there to pull me out of it." He casts a grateful glance to the warriors behind him, then carries on. "The infection kept spreading. More and more of our people were overcome by madness. There were so many deaths... The Sha-Brytol resorted to suicide. Our connection to our Titan was ruptured. We fled to the nearest thaig and sealed as many tunnels as we could along the way. Our brethren took us in, nursed us back to health and mourned our losses with us. We are forever changed. They keep their thoughts to themselves out of courtesy, but I see the way they look at us when our bodies beg for rest. Like broken things to pity."

"Your kin considers sleep as an impairment?" June questions.

"We've never needed it before. Imagine losing a limb," the leader illustrates, and Evelyn almost snorts at the irony.

Believe me, I can.

"How would that make you feel?" he continues. "We are maimed. Undirected. Without purpose."

"Why send your scouts back to the thaig, after all you've been through?" she queries.

"To keep an eye on them," Luka replies, eyeing the evanuris meaningfully.

"It was my son's idea, really. Took some of his friends with him and came back here behind my back."

"I had this... feeling," said son describes, "that leaving this chaos behind us the way it was might bring only more trouble down the line. That someone else might find this place. Other dwarves, perhaps. I was right to be wary. We'd come back once every week to monitor what the elves were doing. We couldn't stay of course, or we'd end up like them. And we had to keep our distance or risk being discovered. We saw what they did to their own kin, we had no doubt of what they'd do to us if we tried to interfere. And then one day you came along. Everything stopped soon after that. The haunted faces were replaced by others. Saner, less threatening. We thought maybe we could reason with them, so we took a risk and made contact."

"To what end?" Solas asks.

"Warn you. Tell you to stay away from this corruption."

"We didn't require your interference to reach that conclusion," Sylaise comments.

Mythal partakes in their negotiations once more. "This abomination holds no interest to us, I assure you."

"What are you here for then?" Lothar wonders. "What do you seek by agreeing to talk to us? Peace?"

"Civility would be a great first step, don't you think? You don't have to forgive me for us to get along. All we can do now in order to move on from past missteps, is to help one another."

"Help?" Ahren snorts. "How convenient."

"Enough, boy." The leader scowls. "Waging wars in times like these wouldn't be wise. We didn't come here looking for a fight."

"Neither did we," the All-Mother concurs. "We can come together and find a way to get rid of this bane, or we can murder each other needlessly. I know what I'd rather pick." A wave of her fingers is all it takes for the Sentinels to withdraw their bows. "Which will it be for you?"

After a minute of wordless deliberation, Lothar signals to his associates to sheathe their weapons.

No longer threatened by the row of arrows that were pointed at her priorly, the researcher slinks toward the group of standoffish evanuris to take a closer look at them, gadget at the ready. She concentrates her attention on Falon'Din, who fends off her interest by making his golden eyes radiate in an unnerving manner. Pietra gasps and flinches away, taken aback. Her intimidator seems quite proud of himself. Contemplating the scene with a blank stare, June utilizes his magic to steal the spyglass from her and studies it thoroughly, lips pursed. Not one to let herself get bullied, even after a good scare, the dwarf tugs on his purple robes and extends her palm as an indication for him to give it back.

His inspection done, the god sourly capitulates.

"What are you doing with the lyrium you've mined?" the mistrustful scout insinuates. "The regular one? Not much, I bet. Encountered some troubles by trying to use it, haven't you?" he goads. "I wouldn't be surprised. It was never meant for you, after all."

"This is a discussion for another time," Mythal responds detachedly.

"Ah, told you!" Ahren rasps. "They massacre our brethren, plow the lyrium out of the Titans' corpses, and now, they stand before us and claim to have peaceful intentions. Can't you see through their games?"

"Have you?" Lothar asks the goddess. "Managed to use the lyrium?"

"Our attempts were mostly unsuccessful. The blue stone has made some of my subjects sick."

"So the boy isn't entirely wrong in his assumptions?"

"No. We are looking for a way to safely use the blue stone."

"And you want us to show you how to do just that."

"Ideally." Mythal peers at Evelyn, who tries to convey something by aggressively rolling her eyeballs toward the group of dwarves, brows furrowed. "But it is too soon for us to throw requests your way. Our priority should be to earn your trust. You owe us nothing, I understand that."

Nice save.

"No shit," grumbles the sullen scout.

"So, let me summarize..." Lothar starts. "You're willing to help us destroy the red lyrium, or at least stop its propagation, and in exchange, you want us to teach you how to transmute raw lyrium?" The goddess nods. "That's not for us to decide, lady. Even if we were willing to assist, we'd require permission from the King."

"Then speak with your King. Tell him that Mythal is open to an audience with him and his court, if he so wishes. In whatever terms he sees fit."

Foreseeably, most of the evanuris appear frustrated by that notion.

Downright offended, even.

"I guess there's no harm in trying..." the dwarven leader concedes, uncertain.

The All-Mother leans down to whisper in her ear, eyes trained on the red lodes splayed over their heads. "Is this stuff even destructible?"

"Sure. Just pound it until it breaks." The deity gives her a sideways look. "Worked for my friends and I," she offers with a shrug.


----------


"I love you," she says in her native tongue.

"Ar lath ma?" Ghil-Dirthalen translates. "Hmm. It doesn't sound as poetic as the elvhen version."

"Humans are not as extravagant as the People."

Footfalls resound behind her, perturbing the serene ambiance the Archivist and her have cocooned themselves in. June emerges in her line of sight, presenting the crystal that was formerly integrated in his device to her spirit friend, who shifts from intrigued to elated in a matter of seconds.

"Here it is. Do not damage it."

"So many new things to learn!" Ghil-Dirthalen gushes while it twirls merrily.

The god turns to her as it glides away to revel in its newfound entertainment.

"Alone, at last. You're difficult to get ahold of. Too busy shunning my brethren and I, I believe."

She'd managed to follow Solas' advice and make herself scarce, until now. But all good things must come to an end, as her governess used to say.

Her ensuing attempt to sneak away fails miserably when June takes advantage of the rows of bookshelves ensnaring them and fade steps ahead of her, obstructing her only way out.

"You're not getting away this time," he forewarns. "Why so skittish? I have nothing but inquiries for you."

Be smart about this, Evelyn.

"How about this..." she proposes. "I'll answer some of your questions, if you answer some of mine."

"...Very well," he drawls leerily.

"Do you think Elgar'nan was right to handle the lyrium situation as he did?"

"I certainly understand his curiosity, though I would not have kept my findings from Mythal, had I been in his position. The woman has proven... vindictive, in the past. She has little tolerance for being kept in the dark."

"Are you afraid of her?"

He snorts, vexed. "Afraid? I am not so easily daunted, outsider."

"There's nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has fears. They urge us to be cautious, keep us alive."

"Being forced to deal with simpletons is the only thing I dread. Hence why I mostly keep to myself."

"What would you have done in Elgar'nan's place?"

"Why are you so interested in hypothetical decisions I will never have to make?"

"Just trying to understand how your mind works," she shrugs.

"I've been wondering if yours even works at all since I first laid eyes on you."

"Ah, here he goes, insulting my intellect. It's fine, I won't pretend to be the sharpest tool in the shed. And unlike you lot, I can handle criticism, warranted or not." He raises an eyebrow at her barb and she decides to steer their discourse to a more appealing topic. "Your device is impressive. How does it work?"

"Spirits understand people through their intentions. It's why they can decipher the meaning of your words even when those are alien to them. They are innate translators of the soul. My invention functions in accordance with this principle. A spirit connects itself to the orb through touch and serves as a conduit. Anyone present within the dome's radius will share its aptitude. You hear what your interlocutors mean, not what they say."

"Which would mean that the Durgen'len have souls."

"I suppose."

"Maybe this fact will make it easier for you to consider them as people, then." His grimace gives his skepticism away. "The bond the Durgen'len share with the Pillars does not make them mindless. I don't know where this assumption came from, but it's a gross misinterpretation."

"They act like pawns. I've seen it with my own two eyes. This kind of blind devotion is just another form of servitude."

Would you look at that! A slaver owner disparaging servitude... That's rich.

"Then you're looking at this the wrong way. Think of it as a symbiosis instead."

Valta's fusion with the Titan had certainly given her the impression of something more profound and poetic than thralldom.

"A symbiosis worthy of the name would not leave you impaired once terminated," June disputes. "What were the terms their leader employed? 'Maimed'. 'Undirected'. 'Without purpose'. In other words, useless. Helpless without a host. Like parasites."

Empathy is ineffective with these people. Time to appeal to their greed.

She links her hands behind her back, like she's seen Solas do whenever he believes himself on the verge of winning an argument, and steps closer to the evanuris. "Despite your predictable narrow-mindedness, I expected someone as self-absorbed as you and the rest of your godly peers to be more enthused about the prospect of this partnership. No matter what you might think of them, they have a lot to offer. Aren't you interested in machinery, technological marvels? The Durgen'len excel in that. You could learn a lot from them. And they could learn a lot from you."

"What could we possibly teach to creatures that cannot wield magic, or aren't even capable of dreaming?"

"Are you implying this is all the People are good at? Throwing spells at each other and taking remarkably long naps? Doesn't sound like the grandiose nation you gods always love to glamorize." She sighs, aware of how headache-inducing the task of impugning a deity's convictions can be, yet amenable to try. "We all bleed the same color, you know. You, me, the Durgen'len we met earlier... We may appear outwardly distinct, but deep inside, we're all made of the same stuff. If dwarves and elves slaughtered each other, you wouldn't be able to tell to which side the blood painting the ground belongs to. Isn't that meaningful enough? Dwarves don't need to dream. They have the Stone, and the Pillars. Not to mention the lyrium. They have wonders of their own, just like you. Give them a chance. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. What do you have to lose?"

"More than you know, should they choose to repay our efforts with betrayal." He cuts her off with a very princely gesture as soon as her mouth opens. "My turn. Are all humans such mouthy little things, or are you just an exception?"

"We certainly are opinionated, I guess."

"You don't say," he deadpans. "Now, about this portal—"

"Evelyn?"

She catches June rolling his eyes before she turns to the voice's source.

Solas looks as disconcerted as he'd sounded when he'd called her name, probably not envisioning the possibility of her ever interacting with a member of the pantheon without somehow being compelled to against her will. Which is exactly the case, but the wolf is not yet cognizant of that fact. She's startled to find Dirthamen at his side, his impish ravens perched upon his shoulders. Her body instinctively draws closer to June, though she knows the man will be of no help in shielding her from the god of secrets and his incisive eyes. Or those of his pets.

"I will collect my due at a later juncture," the inventor vows in a surly tone, no doubt engendered by this interruption. "Don't expect me to forget our agreement."

"I warned you to avoid him," Solas berates her as his counterpart walks off.

"He cornered me."

"What agreement was he refering to? Has he tried to—"

"Solas, I'm fine. I can handle a few imperious shitheads, I've done it my whole life. There's no need to worry," she guarantees, her pitch getting consecutively more mellow. "What are you doing here? Compassion isn't with you?"

"Why would it be?"

"You two have been spending a lot of time here as of late, or so I've heard. Did Mythal ask you to do some research for her?"

"Um... yes. Yes, that is what has been occupying us."

Why does it sound like he's grasping at straws?

Deceit cackles.

"You'll have to do better than that," Dirthamen counsels offhandedly.

"Amateur," Fear caws.

Because he is.

"Would you mind...?" Solas bids through gritted teeth.

The jet-haired elf seems to get whatever point the wolf is trying to get across, ear flickering as he pretends to listen to some far-off summon from his most beloved friend. "Falon'Din requires my attention."

His pretext uttered, the god vacates the library. Evelyn won't feign to be bummed about his departure. He always puts her on edge, even after learning that he can't read her mind. She's not fond of the way his stare dissects every bit of her interactions with Solas whenever he's around.

"He's... singular," she admits, "to say the least."

"And more and more of a tease year after year. His feathery cohort have more sway over his mind-set than he lets on."

There are so many things she wants to ask him, she doesn't even know where to begin. The way he peers at her tells her he faces the same dilemma.

She resolves to take the lead, for once. "How are things at the sanctuary? Are Telahn and his friends doing okay? What about Sylvas?"

"They are in good hands. Each of them. Felassan frequently accesses my dreams to keep me posted on everything."

"How is he dealing with his new responsibilities?"

"Better than he's willing to admit. He would rather torment me with his usual prying than acknowledge my appreciation. He's been quite quizzical on your capacity to engage with the evanuris."

"What did you tell him?"

"That you've done an outstanding job at not letting them walk all over you. And at calling out their deplorable demeanors."

"And what was his reply?"

"He wasn't shocked, given your personality. He compared you to, I quote, 'a petulant kitten that tries to claw its way out of your hands'."

"Wait until we get back," she mumbles. "I'll show him claws."

The wolf chuckles. "Are you eager to return?"

"Well, I believe I was supposed to act as one of your agents... Facilitate the evasion of fugitives and all. And I haven't been doing a whole lot of rescuing lately."

"You have. By exposing Elgar'nan's wrongdoings, you've saved the lives of the many labourers that were being exploited and subjected to his heinous experiments."

"Majority of them had to be put out of their misery regardless. I can't stop visualizing the countless vulnerable souls that are in similar predicaments across the world, and have no one to help."

"It troubles me as well. We can return to furthering the rebellion's cause once Mythal no longer requires our assistance with the lyrium crisis."

Silence spreads between them once again and she thinks that perhaps, the elf might be too courteous to straightforwardly declare that he has more crucial matters to attend to at the moment. Like his 'research' for example. Although Dirthamen's words seemed to indicate this was a lie. But she can't fathom why Solas would opt to mislead her over something so trivial.

"I should get back to my quarters," she determines, "before another evanuris decides to ambush me again."

She's already halfway down the aisle when he briskly intercepts her.

"Would you like to—"

"Yes?" she spins around abruptly, and damn does she sound disgustingly hopeful.

Her barefaced anticipation only serves to hearten him. "I was about to fetch dinner and retreat to a quiet spot for the evening. Would you like to join me?"

"What about your research?" she taunts cordially. "Isn't that why you're here?"

"Not this time, no. And the research can wait. We haven't had the occasion to talk privately in a while now. I thought it would be a nice opportunity to catch up. And with all that's happened today... I wouldn't mind hearing your opinion on our first contact with the Children of the Stone. Unless you've already had your supper..."

"No. No, I haven't eaten anything either."

"In that case..."

She sucks in a breath as his hand finds her lower back, ushering her towards the closest eluvian. His touch leaves an imprint that sets her flesh on fire even through the flimsy material of her blouse. She has to make a conscious effort not to bump into him by accident as they walk due to his suffocating proximity. He brings her to a picturesque, circular glasshouse located at the summit of the palace's highest tower. The place is delimited by gorgeous statues and massive bay windows, which offer a spectacular view of Tarasyl'nan in its entirety. Their meals are delivered by the servant Idrilla regularly pokes fun at for his protruding nose. His astounded gaze drifts between her and the wolf, a worrisome hilarity successively pervading it. The sly grin he launches at her before retiring from the room suggests that Idrilla will surely hear about this.

The next two hours tick by smoothly. The elf expresses his disdain for the way the Durgen'len have chosen to introduce themselves to his brethren. She argues that the dwarves have every reason to remain vigilant, points out that him and his people are typically just as loath to take risks and would have done the same in their shoes, reminds him that no one got hurt, in the end, and comments that there's no need for him to be such a sourpuss over a mere ambuscade. That earns her a glare. Smirking at his annoyance, she flaunts her progress in the magical field by incinerating the clump of grapes he was about to pluck from their tray of delicacies.

His disappointment at the news that someone else had outstripped him of the chance to teach her how to enhance her magical talents is evident. But Solas proves to be a good sport and requests more details on Idrilla's lessons. Evelyn's only dabbled into the elemental aspect of the arcane arts so far, fire being the sole element she's able to control currently, so there's not much to say. Yet he listens. He listens to everything that egresses her lips as if it's the most riveting thing he's ever heard.

At his incentive, the topic diverts to other themes, all predominantly revolving around humans and their customs.

She catches him staring at her moving mouth on multiple occasions, which drives her to compulsively skim her tongue along her gums and teeth, thinking she might have food stuck in there. To make things worse, he transforms into an insufferable flirt whenever the mood shifts to a less serious tone. Evelyn does her best to act unaffected throughout the evening, and not swoon everytime his foot incidentally brushes against her calf beneath their table, or when his fingertips graze her ear while he removes a fallen leaf from her hair.

He tells her he's missed her company at one point, and she rewards him with a warm smile. That's all she can do to prevent herself from returning his confession. Everything he does seems unbidden and innocent, but she knows better.

The trickster is testing the waters. He cleverly probes her boundaries, and she lets him get away with it. For appearances’ sake.

But her indifference doesn't fool him. His eyes say it all.

The vines and climbing plants pullulating the walls and ceiling become an adequate diversion anytime she senses that her waning resilience is about to fracture. She can't figure out how she manages to survive their encounter with her sanity in check, but she succeeds. She must have, since she's still in one piece when he escorts her back to her quarters.

They part ways at her door, farewells concise and polite, and she can breathe once again.


----------


At midnight, Idrilla barges into her room, plops a glass of water in front of her and tasks her to convert its content to ice. The human's questions are met with no further instruction than a clipped 'figure it out' as the elf makes a beeline for the exit and subsequently vanishes. Though not ostensibly angry, the woman definitely isn't in a conversational mood tonight.

Dragging her assignment along, Evelyn sits at the foot of her bed, spine against its frame, and directs all of her focus on the liquid. Everything but the concept of its solidification is eradicated from her thoughts. She pictures the ridges that would emerge along the receptacle, then the cracks. The water's surface bloating before flattening out as the last drop of fluid crystallizes.

[ * ]

Her meditative state must have knocked her out, because she can't remember what happens next, except for the fact that she doesn't get to open her eyes again. Instead, the sensation of being catapulted skyward assails her, and she finds herself submerged into an all-too-familiar, beaming oblivion.

Seconds elapse before the androgynous voices manifest themselves.

"You cannot come through. Not like this."

"Like what?"

Someone taps her shoulder, demanding her attention. She's greeted by her armless doppelganger, the one she'd seen reflected in a puddle during her physical trip inside the Fade. Inquisitor Trevelyan, whose glazed eyes refuse to deviate from hers, seems to possess as much sentience as a mutilated doll. Even as the corner of her parched lips curve into a disconcerting sneer.

"Leave it behind," the entity commands.

"I don't know what you want from me. I don't know what to do."

It waits. She can almost taste its indecision, and the resignation that results from it.

"There will be pain, but not for long. Endure it."

Her ghoulish twin inserts itself back inside her.

Shimmering tendrils materialize out of nowhere and suddenly charge at her, diving into her chest. She feels like she's being burned from within. Her screams of agony are soundless as the threads rip things from her. Black, vile, rotten things.

Fear. Resentment. Rage. Anguish.

The torture eventually subsides, superseded by a sentiment of renewal. But she doesn't have time to catch her breath. A shift occurs, so rapidly that she thinks she might very well topple over. She can feel the motion underneath her feet, though she's not sure if her feet are still here in the first place.

When the world stops rotating, the dizziness she'd anticipated never comes.

And then she's floating among the stars.

The sun and moon are there too. And a planet, on which, upon further examination, she distinguishes Thedas, as well as other continents. The Sunless Lands and Amaranth, to name a few. All marginally explored, inhospitable territories where every single attempt of colonization had resulted in failure. For humans, at least.

"What is this?" she asks.

"Perfection."

"You think this world is flawless? Think again."

"Look closely."

She does.

And she sees it all. Like she never has before.

The Fade, wrapped all around them, right above the sky. The Stone, rooted deep within the earth, connected but disparate. And finally, the Void at its core. A dark, inky mass of nothingness embedded within this magnificent globe of greens and blues.

Within it all.

"Perfectly even," the entity conveys.

Creation and destruction, intimately intertwined for all eternity.

Equilibrium.

"It's not that way anymore," she debates. "One is overthrowing the other."

"Yes. Balance must be restored."

She's propelled forward without warning, tumbles into obscure depths.

Sounds and sensations are dumpened here, as if she's stuck underwater. The gravitational pull is so strong she can barely move a muscle. She hears a faint, distant tune. A sombre hum that vibrates all around. A paralyzing song that wants to ingest everything. Something inside her resonates with its rhythm. With its yearning. Geldauran's disclosures fleet through her mind, reverberating against its walls.

"When an unfortunate soul breaches the Abyss, their essence becomes corrupted."

Her stomach sinks.

"Fear not," the voices tell her. "You are protected."

Limbs of darkness lunge at her in vain, banging into an invisible barrier that ripples on contact, like splatters of rain on a window, and revealing the golden sphere secretely engulfing her being.

But the bubble is not enough to stifle the uncomfortable feeling of being scrutinized.

A myriad of indiscernible eyes are fixed upon her, something nauseatingly sinister emanating from their owners.

This feels wrong. I shouldn't be here. Let me out!

She's thrust back amidst the stars forthwith.

"Why would you put me in there?" she huffs, indignant.

"To mend this world, you must first understand its inner-workings. Both sides would see it tip to another extreme and bring doom in their wake. You have overcome the constraints of time, and its linearity, so you could come here. So you could undo another's mistakes. We will aid you in your quest, but we cannot act in your stead."

"We? So you are numerous?"

"We. I. No difference."

"That's not how semantics work."

"All is one, and one is all. Together, the children form a whole. A truth they have forgotten."

"The children?"

Visions of diverse and colorful spirits flash before her eyes. They travel between realities as they please, playfully tailing colossal dragons that soar through the ether and transcend to the Beyond to explore its skies, then swoop back down to earth to glide over forests and seas.

The Great Ones.

The phantoms admire them longingly, keeping a respectul distance throughout their incessant yet inoffensive chase.

"They began to covet the winged children's flesh," the entity explains. "Wanted to experience individuality. Feel the Stone beneath their feet. They longed to create, rather than imitate."

"Why would the spirits want that? Aren't they already individuals, in some sense?"

"Not in the way they desired. Being nothing and everything, nowhere and everywhere, all at once, limited them in other ways. Ways that you cannot fathom. Not as you are."

[ * ]

All of a sudden, the spectral crowd gets engulfed in an intense, golden light. Their figures explode into millions of opalescent flecks. Billows brimming with starlike particles start flowing around, resembling swirling nebulas. Bones form amid empty prismatic silhouettes, then muscles, and ultimately, skin. Evelyn can't tear her gaze away. Something inside her reacts, profoundly satisfied by the view. Something primordial. Ancient. A fluttering sensation imbues the space where her lungs belong. She'd cry, if only she could. The light pulses, like a heartbeat, then dissipates, leaving behind a cluster of confused and naked men and women. Elves. They fondle their flesh in a slow and painstaking fashion, beguiled by the texture of it, then each other's, mesmerized by their freshly-acquired organic envelopes.

"The first of the People," the voices sough.

The phenomenon correlates with what Wisdom had told her.

"So you gave them what they wanted? Why?"

"The ones who never change can never learn. Why would one impede another's pursuit for enlightenment?"

"But they were turned into elves. It sounds like they wanted to be dragons. They might still do to this day, judging by what I've seen. They're really taking the whole shapeshifting thing to another level. Especially the 'gods'."

"Though indirect guidance is sometimes permitted, it is no one's prerogative to infringe on another's journey. Not even mine. This universe is governed by many laws. Fundamental rules even we cannot bend. Interference should be avoided as much as possible. Perhaps the People will find a way to become what they so greatly aspire to be, or perhaps life's many lessons will incite them to change their mind. The outcome is of little importance. All that matters, is free will."

You and Solas would get along just fine.

"Are you also responsible for the Titans' creation?" she wonders. "The dwarves'?"

"No."

"Then ho—"

"The Stone birthed the Pillars, and the children made children of their own."

Cole's voice seeps through her ears.

"They made bodies from the earth, and the earth was afraid. It fought back, but they made it forget."

"Why show me this?"

"You were blind, and now you see. Take this gift of knowledge, and heed this warning: In the absence of light, shadows thrive. Darkness will bring many tribulations. Do not falter."

She feels her grip on the world around her waver gradually.

"Wait," she implores.

"Help the children. Teach them how to coexist, for segregation leads solely to ruin. Your world must never come to pass."

A powerful force wrenches her backward and her entire trip to this starry universe replays in reverse.

Evelyn wakes up with unfilled lungs and an overall stiffness grounding her limbs. Her breathing is erratic. The first thing she notices as her vision clears up is the melting ice in the glass alongside her. The second one is Compassion, who seems to be trapped in a full-blown panic, eyes wide as saucers as it frets above her.

"You're back!" it yelps. "Creators, where were you? I couldn't feel you at all, even in the Dreaming!"

"The Dreaming? Wh—"

It's hard to speak. She still hasn't regained full clarity.

"I was so scared! You were missing, totally unreachable! I was about to scream for help."

"Compassion," she wheezes wearily, "I was right here all along. You know I tend to fall asleep while meditating, why are you so upset?" she questions, words muffled and nose squashed by the hand rubbing her pounding head. "T'was just a dream."

One hell of a fucking dream...

"What are you talking about? You weren't dreaming Evelyn... you were dead."

 

Chapter Text

 

"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?"