Chapter 1: May we make it back to the light
“Mamae,” small hands clasp at a shade of a Woman without a proper face as she imitates her. Alnira feels as if she’s walked into a scene not meant for her eyes. Yet, it resonates within her. It a touch distressing. The chances are high that this is not for her eyes.
However, the quiet, familial intimacy of the scene can’t be ignored or mistaken. The little girl is blonde, with delicately pointed ears, eyes wide, shining in the firelight, her skin dark and she looks up at the woman, who is on her toes as well, with an adoration that stabs at the Warrior-Mage. What she would not give to know a love like that.
“Mamae! Mamae!” The phantom woman disintegrates in a single breath, and the little girl is running for her, hair bouncing, a smile pulling across her face, arms opening wide. “Papae taught us –”
The sharp penetrating chill of the wind jars Alnira awake. It shocks her, muscles stiffening, pain flaring up as the movements, slight as they are, aggravate her injuries. She lets out a single, pained breath. Her mind swirls as the events of the last few hours come into focus once more. The Elder One, Corypheus, magi, and Templar taking arms against their former oath sworn kin, the avalanche, all of it there at the forefront of her mind once more. She must return to her people. They must be informed of what he means to do.
Rolling, the Herald makes it to her knees before her vision greys around the edges. Healing oneself is tricky work, and her injuries are too numerous to deal with all right this second. Certainly not with her exhausted as she is. So, Alnira sits, curls smacking against her cheeks, frozen and escaped from the militaristic style she’d kept it in for the night. She deals with her wrist, healing the broken bones and bruising, before giving herself a bit of general pain relief, and several weak warming runes along the seams of her armor. The cold might act as an anesthetic, but she can’t become too cold, or she’ll never make it out of these caverns alive.
Stumbling, half crawling up an ice-covered call, Alnira comes to stand upright. Her breathing is labored, coming in short bursts, pain lancing through her torso when she attempts to take a deep breath. Broken ribs then, they’ll be a right pain to heal, she sighs, moving forward slowly. The wind whistles softer than she expected down the frozen corridor. Some five or maybe ten feet from where she came to, lay one of her swords, thankfully, the longer of the pair. Her lips pull into a pained grimace as she leans down to scoop it up. The Herald hopes she will have no need of it. But, hope hasn’t gotten any of them far of late.
It’s slow going, as she moves forward, checking each and every not and cranny of the tunnel as she tries to make for freedom. It feels like she has no concept of time anymore as she stumbles in the darkness. She cannot use a mage like, it takes too much concentration, especially considering the way she feels as if she keeps fading in and out. The world becoming grey around the edges before flaring back to full color giving her every indication she is going to pass out sooner rather than later. To use that much magic would be useless, a wasted effort. Alnira continues until the pain is so much she falls, a cry echoing in her frozen warren of a prison. The fight for her consciousness fails, and the warrior falls slowly under the tide of darkness.
“I can’t do this,” she hasn’t eaten in days, bent over as she is, retching into the grass. Any food she could have been afforded would have been wasted. Her world is still black, her magic is still tethered so tight that she can’t properly feel it, pulsing faintly in the deepest pit within herself.
“You have the ability,” Banreas’ voice holds false patience. It makes her skin crawl and the flight response trigger in her mind, though the dark woman stays very, very still. “You must use it, Alnirafenen, or what point was there in rescuing you? What point is there in attempting to reinstall you to your rightful position? I have many Sentinels, and any may rise to a Commander equal to Anduril’s or the Wolf’s. Unremarkable, easily toppled. You were special. You saw secrets, saw snippets of what will come to pass. You will regain the ability so dear to me, to the cause.”
The deceptively soft-spoken words are emphasized by a crack sounding in the stillness of the clearing, followed closely by a weak shriek. The dark woman falls to the side, cradling her hand, bleeding again. Every time it is the same. She reaches at this apparent talent, pulls at the power that isn’t magical and yet is in the same breath.
It is deeper than simple magic, different. This ability is not fueled by mana of any kind. It is just there, within her, waiting for her to find a way to open the lock that so securely keeps it from her grasp. Each time she pulls, it refuses to budge, she becomes ill from the strain, and she is punished.
The cycle will repeat itself until dusk – or perhaps night, she cannot quite tell. She doesn’t eat that day either, her arms and hands, back and legs are striped with lashes that bleed.
“Let me help you,” there is a spirit with her as she wakes, soft and kind, with the barest hint of what could be steel in its’ tone. Alnira shoves herself into a sitting position with quaking arms, heaving a breath only to grit her teeth and let out a high pitched sound of pain. Ribs still broken, maybe bruised, she still can’t really tell. Neither is ideal, still, she is alive. There is a chance yet to tell of Corypheus before her wounds take her.
“It will wear you out, my friend. I can’t operate under my own strength, not like I would under normal circumstances.”
“Then I will retrieve Strength, and we will both help you. You are our friend, we always help those who would help us.” The veil bends, shifting, rippling around her and the spirit is gone. With it, the slight warmth and vibrancy to the world fading quickly, alarmingly so. The Herald draws a halfhearted fire rune into the visible edge of her tunic before shoving it under her armor again.
It takes a bit to get her feet back under her, maybe a breath, maybe a full candle mark, but, she is soon standing. Her breath comes in little-puffed clouds. Alnira is ready to start forward, either walking or dragging herself, when the veil ripples.
“You’re going the wrong way.” The voice is different, lower, holding a quality that gives her some hope, however fleeting.
“It is the only way that I see.”
“Because you’re injured, no wounded animal makes the best choices.”
She huffs, mild offense diffused with genuine amusement at being called a wounded animal. “I would twist you in this state, it is too much of a risk.” The protest is weak, coming as her head turns, hand shoving wild, ice like curls that have come free of her braid away from her face.
“To help a friend, it is a risk I willingly take, that we willingly take.” The soft voice from before has returned, and it feels like it is right at her side, making her head move again to face it.
She stares hard at these phantom people surrounding her. It is such a risk, but without them, she will die here. The Inquisition will not know of Corypheus’ plans to rip apart the veil, to grasp at godhood. Her jaw twitches as she resolves not to corrupt them, to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe before nodding slowly. The pair fairly collides with her, bathing her in warmth. It feels so nice that her eyes close, the dark yellowed brown with silver ring disappearing from sight completely.
The spirits take the time to figure out how to work in tandem, speaking quietly as they start to guide their friend through the tunneled maze. Alnira sleeps, though her eyes open, brown gone, disappearing completely for glowing silver. The length of her sleep is unknown, for the pair only wakes her when some unnatural chill washes over the lot of them.
“Despair,” she breathes in a three-toned voice, shoving her friends hastily back and down within her. She has her sword, it will be hard, but she can, and must do this. Unsheathing it, Alnira edges around the corner, only to mentally groan, for sure enough, there are two freshly twisted Despair demons before her. Her heart breaks for them – they were once hope, and hope died violently in these mountains tonight.
But, her hope is still lit, and she comes from around the tunnel wall, squaring off, ready for the fight to come. Her left arm goes numb, mark cracking her hand with fizzing, popping light. For the first time since waking back in this place, the dark-haired woman can’t seem to quiet the mark. It pulses, the magic dug into her bones making her grimace as it grows in intensity. There is little hope or choice, so Alnirafenen lifts her arm and takes aim at the demons with a silent prayer. Her spirits are gently nudging her, guiding her to the faint crystalline call of the Fade. It is a strange, strange son, one that she reaches for without hesitation.
When she grasps it, the sound breaks? That makes her jump, stumbling back two steps when the manifestation of that break in song shows itself to be a rift forming. A rift that opens above and right between the two Despair demons. Eyes that are becoming progressively more silver watch in dueling fascination and horror as the demons are pulled back into the Fade, appearing to be pulled apart in the process. The mark pulses in her hand, and without a thought the Herald grasps and pulls closed the door she’d opened.
“That’s useful if a bit violent.”
“It was pretty, in a way…”
Her head shakes, the reactions and voices garnering a bit of amusement from her before she heads forward. This time it is Strength and Hope who rest. They speak quietly, keeping her alert. Hope speaks to her of her children, and Strength reminds Alnira to refresh her warming rune. Hope keeps her moving with reminders that there are people waiting for her. Strength tells her she has lived through worse thing than this. That it will take more than a few bumps and bruises to bring her down.
They move forward and out into the biting, angry cold with whipping winds that make her eyes hurt and skin smart. She squints against the darkness, the air, the glare of the moonlight on the snow and sees faint tracks. She hopes, at least, that is what they are, starting toward them. When she finds they are indeed, tracks of horses and mules, people, she follows them.
It’s slow going, terribly slow, and her mana is depleting her body temperature slowly dropping the longer she goes without refreshing the rune, but she must conserve her magic. Strength and Hope each offer up their own reserves, but Alnira refuses them, still held fast by the cold hand gripping tight around her heart saying she may twist them.
The Herald allows them to keep her upright at least, and her hope is renewed when the dying embers of a fire come into view. There is a touch of heat left to them, so she cannot be that terribly far behind her people. The dark woman affords herself a moment, basically kneeling in the soot and embers to refresh her rune, slap some snow onto her face and rest her eyes.
“You are like a babe learning to walk,” Banreas laughs at her, as she stumbles without a guide around the small room he has brought her to. Her room, by his decree. She isn’t sure if she believes it. She’s been stationary for so long, her legs give out a quarter of the way around, and he catches her.
She is cradled against a solid, if thin, chest, and placed on a soft pallet. She doesn’t know how to feel about this and shrinks away when he pulls the blanket up her legs. What if this is a trap? What if the kindness will turn to terror and cruelty in the blink of an eye?
How can she trust this? Trust him?
“Come now, don’t fret, we will have you up and walking within a fortnight, my Commander, my Alnirafenen.” Long fingers pull through her hair, hair that has grown out while she was captive. Her dreads are a thing of the past.
“You are like ice, we must warm you up a bit. Broth will do, I should think.”
Woods and wolves bring a drastic dip in her strength. It’s so unexpected and severe neither spirit has enough warning to keep her from the snow again.
“Vhenan, we shouldn’t,’ there is laughter in the betrayer’s voice. The laughter that warms her from the inside out, pooling in the pit of her abdomen, a voice she loves quite desperately. There is every chance they will be ‘caught’ by their fellows, but she doesn’t give a single shit. She misses him, misses his skin properly against hers.
They’ve spent days riding, and she’s done with being curled up beside Cassandra when she could be pressed against him in their very own tent. Basecamp is a blessing. She gives not a thought to anyone outside their enclosure as she crawls astride him, leaning in close.
“Hush, O hilo, kiss me.”
Alnira remembers nothing of the trek to the next camp she collapses in the embers of. It heats her armor, her skin, and Hope whispers they must leave now. They’ve given all they can. The Herald can’t bring herself to do more than whisper back a thank you within the confines of her own head. Hope got her this far, now it had to be just her and Strength. She knows their limits are straining, the stoic, determined nature the spirit has taken on tells her as much. So, she shoves herself up, starting up the incline.
Her teeth chatter violently, she shakes inside the metal that keeps what little warmth she’s managed to generate trapped against the cold while burning her skin from the cold it also absorbs. Her steps falter, her vision has black dots in it. Alnira feels no pain, and that alone keeps her moving. This has gone past the point of clarity, it is past the point where she can simply grab for it to fuel her forward motion. This is desperation and dangerous, they are at the doorstep of –
“She’s here!” Cullen practically screams as he sees a small dark figure in glinting armor fall to her knees in the snow. “Oh Maker, she made it.” He races forward, just managing to catch her before she falls completely. She is a sight, both joyful and terrifying to see. Her lips that are so berry-stained, are now tinged grey, face ashen, her eyes roll when she makes a feeble attempt to open then, and a light, one he has seen before, dims in them.
That light reminds him of Wynne, rather than calling up the image of Anders. It does little to settle or bolster him, but at least she had not taken the spirit permanently. At least she had not had to do so to survive. Though – that has yet to be seen. It may have been the only thing to keep her alive, and he now knows that feeling intimately.
“You followed her song,” the pale boy from Therinfal Redoubt is there, at his elbow as Cullen races back to the encampment. “It’s weak now, she is cold, breathing is hard, all she wants is blissful sleep. She needs help.”
“Healer! Where are all the blood healers!” He doesn’t stop to wonder why he simply follow’s the boy’s words as truth. Cullen just knows her life hangs in the balance, that there is no time to lose. The young Herald will die if they don’t warm her post haste, and any other injuries she has sustained must be seen to as well. It is a matter of survival, not just her own, but the Inquisition’s.
“Someone find Solas!”
Chapter 2: Snippets of Chilled Memory
Chapter by Tay Queen (Washedawaycloud), Washedawaycloud
Solas and Action pace, while the children are soundly asleep in a pile, all twelve of them, miraculously unscathed. Fenris stands watch over them, a cut healing on his cheek. Solas had offered to take care of it, and the warrior snapped at him, telling him to save it for their dancer when she made it to them. There had been a desperation in his voice, and it proved too much to ignore so Solas let him be.
Their bond to her, the shared bond between He, Action and her, is weak. The weakest it has ever been, even more so than those terrible days when he didn’t know if she was alive or dead in Redcliffe Castle. The deal that had been made is straining under whatever she is enduring, and it makes the wolf within him whimper. Their woman may well be dying, and they are at least half a league away from her, safe in a camp of terrified humans, elves, and dwarves. There has been much wailing and grief already tonight. Even the Chancellor for all his piss and vinegar of the months past, lays now with tears streaming from his eyes as death slowly takes him. They all worry for the Herald, their one great hope. A hope many were glad to see the back of nine times out of ten whenever she left to close rifts and gather people to the cause. Hypocrites
Solas’ hands run over his head, feeling the stubble there. The prick of it against his skin is almost soothing. It reminds him why he cannot simply merge with Action and shift. It reminds him why he cannot barrel through the snow, down the mountain side and save her. Still, his heart beats quickly, as if strained, as if he has been battling for his life. An apt description, he muses morbidly, for if Jayla dies before their deal is met, the bands so tight around each of their hearts will snap. A deal broken not by any fault of theirs, it is a truly frightening scenario.
Such a thing has been known to twist spirits.
“You must rest, Solas.” Fenris’ Baritone makes him pause and recall just scant weeks ago when they were in Redcliffe and a similar if not the same words had been uttered. “Jayla is the strongest human I know. Perhaps even more so than Ava Hawke, and that is a feat. She will come back from this, she’s given her word.”
He cannot ignore or over look the bright frightened tinge of light in those green eyes. Fenris is afraid, doing an admirable job of carefully hiding the emotion away too. When had Solas become so familiar with the boy? How often had Fenris had to do so in the past? How many times has speaking in a strong tone, when all he wished to do was cower or outright run from what bore down upon him been his only choice. Often enough, and that is a bitter thing to swallow, that it is now his default. Solas can’t pretend to know what it is to be a salve, but he cannot imagine he would have been one who survived very long. It was not the nature of him to cower or follow orders for the sake of his survival or comfort.
He doesn’t look down on Fenris for his survival, it is rather the opposite. Fenris has a strength of character that Solas lack and is aware that he lacks. While Solas can easily sacrifice happiness for his goal, Fenris has sacrificed far more out of love for his family. It is not a matter of comparison between them any longer.
“I find that I cannot stay still,” his reply comes after a long pause, hands clasping together in a stranglehold behind his back. “Jayla is strong, I will not argue that point. However, we are all of us, only mortals here, and even she cannot out run an avalanche.” His breath leaves him in a great whoosh, deflating considerably. “I worry she did not find a way out.”
“All of us have that same worry, Solas. We cannot let it dim our hope. That woman is blessed. She survived lyrium branding, she has survived whatever tore her memory from her. Jayla is still there. I see her when it is least expected, and around the children, sometimes when she is alone with us.”
“Yes.” He agrees in a short manner, still pacing. Jayla is still there, within this Alnirafenen. Oh, but he hates that name, the accuracy of it, the clear glee that was no doubt felt when it was bestowed upon her. It is a slap, a mockery of their relationship. Had he doubted the brands on her, that alone would have told him Banreas was behind her lack of self. The little shit had always loved to rub his conquests in Solas’ face. That Jayla of all the people in the present and past, had fallen into that category, makes his blood boil.
It is sibling rivalry at its finest, and cruelest. Normal for their family.
“Someone find Solas! Get the fucking healers!”
His ears twitch as the panicked pitch of the Commander’s voice carries on the wind, and Solas wheels around. It takes him a moment, watery blue eyes widening before he darts from the tent, Fenris hot on his heels. The Commander is just approaching the encampment center, and cradled in his arms?
“Fenhedis.” Solas rips his way through the growing crowd, Fenris at his back until they get to Cullen. “Give her to me! We must warm her now, or she’ll surely die.”
For once, there is no argument, there is no insistence someone else could tend to her better. Jayla is his responsibility, from this moment until the day he breathes his last, she is his. His hands shake as she is deposited into his arms, and he turns, making his way back, with Fenris at the front this time, carving a path back to the tent they’d just vacated.
“Send for Adan. She will need potions while my magic does what it can do, and I will need extra strength to keep the spells alight on her.”
He has only to look over his shoulder and meet the eyes of one of the surviving Pages to the Soldiers, and the boy is taking off through the crowd yelling for Messere Adan. It seems a hush has fallen over the survivors, the air heavy with worry, and no small amount of disbelief. Hope is here now, however, color in their cheeks where there had been little prior.
“All right, all of you, back to your tents and duties. We must make sure we can feed ourselves and move once the Herald has recovered.” Cassandra is there, disbursing the crowd, and Cullen is quick to take up the cause as well. Solas is not surprised when Rickson appears, a bloody gash on his face, armor long gone, bandages that aren’t fully tied off visible under his tunic.
“I have healing potions with me, and lyrium.”
“I can’t ask –“
“You aren’t.” He speaks quietly with such resolve, Solas has to look at him. “I’ll suffer withdrawal to see her live.” Gone, apparently, is the silent young man content to ride and fight by his Mistress’ side. Here is a brother, worried for his kin. Rickson silently hands the pouch off to Fenris and takes up the rear of their quick procession.
When they breach the tent, he is the one who ties shut the door flap and sits beside the pile of children. He keeps his back to the two men who carefully remove armor so cold that Solas must wreathe their hands in warmth before they can grasp it for more than seconds at a time. It is, indescribable, and incompressible to see their fierce leader, and lover, lying so still. It hits places within the men they hadn’t been sure were there any longer. Solas hardly knows what to name what he is feeling. Action can only howl, and from the look of Fenris, the younger man wishes he could howl his pain as well.
“I had forgotten how small she is,” Fenris’ voice breaks the silence when finally, all the pieces of her armor have been removed. She lay in her padding and leathers, both stiff with sweat and the cold. These, at least, are far easier to remove, yet far more troublesome. The skin of her arms is just continuous bruising. There is no part of her that is seemingly untouched, and Solas can see where she’d haphazardly and badly mended a broken wrist. Were he there, perhaps this would not have happened.
Had he been beside her, they may have both died.
“Gods, what happened to her while we were running.” It isn’t a question; the younger man has seen Hawke in a similar state. The Herald had gone up against something far stronger than she, and made it out, but at a great cost to herself. He lifts the bottom of the sleeveless tunic and his breath comes in a sharp gasp.
The elder moves slightly, craning his head and curses vividly. Her side is distended, blood welling under her skin. Something had punctured, but recently. A small mercy. He’s quite honestly more shocked now, that she’s alive, immediately forgoing removing the last of her clothing.
“Tip her head back, pour the healing potions down her throat slowly. Rickson, come, massage her throat gently so she swallows, I must focus on healing that before we can get her warm safely.” His orders are gruff, but the three of them work in silent tandem. Fenris tips her head back, pouring finger sized phials of potion into her mouth, waiting as Rickson’s hand manipulates her throat for her to swallow. They are patient, and diligent. Solas pours his magic into her, feeling first for the broken places. Three ribs, her left hip has a splintered fracture, her wrist was healed wrong, her clavicle snapped, muscles torn and lungs with diaphragm scraped to hell and back. He carefully knits it all back together, coaxing the blood apart from itself. The dead must be destroyed, and the good reintroduced to its proper place within her body.
He is having a hard time finding what caused the internal bleeding, but he gives her a though healing all the same. It’s a delicate process, and the elder mage doesn’t keep track or give a thought to time as he works. His focus is on making sure this is done correctly. The only thing that matters is Jayla surviving her wounds.
Fenris feeds Jayla five of the lesser potions before he stops, hand brushing her defrosted and wet curls away from her forehead. He’s never seen her so pale, considering the depth of her skin tone, it’s a disturbing sight. He’s seen her bloodied, feral, slightly broken, but never like this. She is not a woman to be still, even when meant to be, and this is entirely unnatural. Fen has no love for the Maker or his Bride, the two that allowed the elven people to be trod upon as if they were simply unruly grass. Nor has he love for the Creators who stood by and continue to be silent in the face of the atrocities that befell the elven people – their people. He has no one to pray to, he doesn’t know who might listen. Still, he does. Fenris gives a nameless prayer that the Herald, Jayla, Alnirafenen – woman whom he cares for a great deal – will not die, that this little human woman will survive against the odds that have been placed on her.
They have so many steps to walk together, so many paths that have as of yet gone unexplored. He has so many things to tell her yet. There is so much he dreams of doing with her. Perhaps settling on Llomeryn island when all is said and done, the gaggle of children around them, a weathered and reticent scholar in their house as well. He isn’t entirely sure when he began to think of himself and Jayla as a couple, certainly not the night he’d woken inside her, but likely soon after. Just as baffling is when had Solas become an ally and part of that couple rather than a rival? How as this large group of lives become his life?
Just a few months ago he was leading miniature rebellions along the border cities of Tevinter. He helped ferry slaves to safer waters and burnt unredeemable estates to the ground. He was resolved not to become a part of a merry band of idealists every again. Resolved to a life devoid of partnership. And yet, here he is, praying or a human woman, while an elven man, her former lover, mends her. Watching over the woman’s elven children, fighting at her side, sleeping in her bed.
They’d slipped into this partnership in the blink of an eye. Something that had not happened even with Hawke.
She, most importantly, treated him as an equal. There was no tiptoeing around his feelings. He was never lesser, never hired and at risk of being ‘fired’. Jayla looked at him and looked at Solas as if they were any other men as if their ears were not parted. There needed to be more women in the world like her, more humans, more people, like her.
“I’ve done what I can do, for now, the potions will have to continue their work. “Solas’ voice is ragged, and Fenris nods mutely, taking up several of the more powerful potions and feeding them to her. There is only so much magic can do. Only so much it can be allowed to do before it becomes something to fear rather than praise. He’s glad that Solas did not walk over that line, that he’d stopped before more than mana was needed to fuel the healing.
“She’s so still.”
“Yes. Come, we must get these things off her, and warm her, slowly, just us and the blankets first. Then we will use tepid water to bath her, and finally, fire and warming runes in the tent while we sleep. We will all sweat as if the judgment has come, but it will keep her alive.” His lips twitch ever so slightly, something Fenris finds comforting, startlingly so.
Neither man comments as they get Jayla down to her breast band and smalls, drying her off methodically before stripping down themselves and finally getting her fully unclothed. They are utterly silent as they bracket her on the bedrolls with her. Unasked, Rickson who had clearly been listening, piles more blankets on top of them. Together they work her over carefully, rubbing her skin to get friction and warmth building back up in her body. Fenris isn’t sure he’s been breathing the entire time they’ve been warming her.
Solas is sure that he has been holding his breath since he heard the call to find him. She is still so pale, and it doesn’t bode well. Once upon a time, this arrangement would have made his hackles rise annoyed at the sight and proximity of the younger man. But, right now, he’s half tempted to tell Rickson to get his clothing of and to get in here with them. He needs her to live. She has survived so much already, being pulled into the Fade, from another realm entirely, survived in the raw Fade, the fall, his magic, Dirthamen. Something so simple as the cold cannot be her downfall.
It’s this forest again, the one that makes the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. The same one she’d killed the soul of the Sentinel that had attempted to murder, a different, younger version of herself. Her footsteps are silent, a fact that gives her pause. Are the silent because she is in the Fade and controlling it, or silent because the dream is suppressing sound, or silent because she cannot hear?
A jolt moves through her, making her eyes narrow, now intent on the world around her, aura flaring wide before snapping tight against her skin. Her awareness is her failsafe, it keeps her alive, has kept her alive in many a situation she should not have walked away rom. Moving between the great trees, she weaves and wobbles along in a serpentine and random path. Her eyes seek out spirits. However, Alnira sees no fear, anxiety, nor a nightmare or despair. Neither dies she spy a glimpse of wisdom, knowledge, purpose or strength. It is not right. This dream is wrong.
“It took you long enough, girl.” The voice snaps her ramrod straight before she whips around, sword in hand. The vision before her makes her falter. A woman with ink in her skin, startlingly similar to what decorates Alnira stands before her. Her dreadlocks are white, thick, and fashioned into a crown upon her aristocratic head. Her proud wide nose is decorated with two golden rings, her mouth is wide, generous to match, with eyes that radiate knowledge staring at her.
For a moment, the way the woman stares at her is distressing to the younger woman. The feeling persists as the Elder walks away from her, forward and silent as the wood. A small part of Alnira wishes to run, to flee through the trees. There is something about this that is familiar, but not quite right. It’s not quite what brings the double beats of her heart pounding against her ribcage or sweat slicking the palms of her hands.
“You’re still so lost. Find the paths, girl. Walk the path meant for family, daughter.”
Alnira sits up straight, even though a mountain of blankets is atop her, gasping for breath, her eyes wide. For a moment, nothing registers, not the heat of the tent, that she is in a tent, that she is naked, that there are arms draped across her lap that had been around her middle, one from either side. The sounds of childish glee to not reach her, ranging from robust to weak from illness. It isn’t until an arm moves that the world worms its way back into her awareness. The movement has her humping, not out of the bed, nor really anywhere, but she gasps, pulls away, muscles jumping.
Wild silver ringed eyes finally see. This is one of the crimson tents of the Inquisition. She is sweating like a madwoman, there are – oh stars. Blinking slowly, so no one will catch on to how this development affects her, she looks at the men who bracket her. Green eyes. Blue eyes. This isn’t truly a new development, not when the last night in Haven flashes before her eyes.
“Haven,” she croaks the word, hand flying to her throat as her lips pull down. Lips that are normally berry and plush, are dull, cracked, a little scabbed up.
“Destroyed, but the people, a great many, were saved.” The voice on the left, her head swivels to meet green eyes. She takes him in as if she’s never seen him, the shock of white hair, the silver markings so like her own. Similar, but crude where hers were fine and cruel.
“Fenris.” Her eyes move back toward the first and it is again as if she has never seen him. Bald, but a dark shadow of hair along his scalp, blue eyes pale like calm seas, though she knows they can turn blue like a brewing storm, shorter, more elegant ears, a scar just there beside his brow. “Solas.” \
“We’re here,” the elder elf is looking at her carefully, as if concerned. Alnira can’t blame him for it, she’s reacting slower than what she feels is normal. Her body feels leaden, sluggish, tongue too dry, her head pounds, bits o her skin are sore and throbbing fiercely. The snow!
“I survived.” She sighs the words, sagging minutely in relief, sending soft thanks into the Fade for Strength and Hope once more. They had done it, and she had kept her promise of not twisting them. Now things begin to fall into place a bit faster. She’d been found because she clearly had not walked into the camp. By who, she wondered, for she would need to thank them for their timely aid.
“How bad is it?”
“Some frostbite, but that is repairable, you were cold near straight through, dehydrated, exhausted, and the combination nearly put you on a pyre. Your broken wrist was terribly mended, three broken ribs, a shard nicked something in you, and there was blood between skin, muscle, and organ. “He pauses and studies her. “You need water, food and more rest. The potions are still doing their work, and the magic must settle.”
Alnira makes a disapproving noise. “I will accept food, some water, and more potion, but we are in no fortress, I can’t –“
“Amatus, please. Do not fight him on this.” A hand that lay across her lap presses to her stomach, it’s close enough to where the bruise had been, where the skin was still tender though the magic had moved the blood back to where it needed to be.
The Herald growls, bringing her hands up to pull at her curls. Why do they care if she is in pain or not? Hungry or not? Because they care, you fucking moron. Her voice, different accent, an odd cadence. She stops pulling at her hair, taking a deep, slow breath. “I can’t just rest to fully recover. We can’t stay in a place without proper walls for too long right now. That damned monster wants me dead, I won’t –“
“Please, Vhenan, one day. One day to sort ourselves out. The guards are vigilant, we are surrounded by mountains and there are enough mages to keep us warm at least. A day so you do not become injured once more, rejecting the magic I’ve poured into you.” Solas pleads gently, keeping the words from the children with a practiced ease that makes her chest ache.
“It may keep me alive,” she replies, spitting the words in Elvhen, knowing her wolf will know what she says, “but it very well could kill the others.” Alnira doesn’t register that she has thought of him as hers since waking, before that really, back when she was ready to die. She starts to shove herself from between the two bodies and mountain of blankets, needing to be away from their pleading eyes and comforting hands. She wants out, into the near-oppressive heat but relative freedom of the tent.
“Mamae! Mamae,” a small, soft and very strained voice catches her attention, makes her stop her struggles against arms that are gentle but tightly wound around her. She turns her head and finds within seconds, the awkward pile of awake and still children. The smallest of them all tumble out, toddling to them, cheeks gaunt, fel redness to her eyes.
Alnira feels her breath still in her chest. The child gives off a sickly song, one that is gaining in strength. She is little more than a toddler and already looking at death’s dark gate. Solas is out of the bedding, scooping up the child before she can move much further and bringing her back to Alnira. There is no thought to nudity, it is a natural state, especially given the need for warmth.
Her arms curl around the girl when she is within reach, noting how she is far too bony. Too bony, and too light.
“Eldhru.” The name slips from between her lips as she nuzzles into tangled corn silk hair. It is an unconscious reaction to pour the magic she feels welling under her skin into the child, much to Solas’ displeasure. She doubts it is her healing Eldhru that displeases him so, but rather her lack of rest before doing something so winding.
Jayla doesn’t care.
“Mamae.” The weakness of her child’s statement makes her blood boil and her vision water. Corypheus ordered this. He ordered the poisoning of children, the ripping of their very souls from their connection to this physical plane. She holds her littlest girl tight against her chest, murmuring reassurances to her in elvhen. She would fix this, Mama would fix this.
In the end, the men are granted their wish. Jayla sleeps, slowly surrounded by more and more children, letting magic settle inside her as it settles into Eldhru to try and fight off the red infection. She is bracketed once more by fade green and lyrium blood auras as she rests for the sake of the child.
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Chapter 3: Cut Scene
Bright is her song, strong is her will.
Night has come and gone and come again when Alnira wakes and allows food to be forced into her before bursting from the tent. She is full of hot broth, warm mead, and enough potion to drown a horse. She looks as if she has not just endured a near-death experience, lively, actually, though the effects will be temporary. Her mouth opens to ask after the council from Eric when yelling drifts to their edge of the camp on the wind. She needn’t ask then, turning away from Rickson, who follows silently behind, walking forward to find the owners of those distressed voices.
“What would you have me tell them? This isn’t what we asked them to do!”
“We cannot simply ignore this, we must find a way!”
“And who put you in charge?”
“We need a consensus, or we have nothing.”
“Please, we must use reason, without the infrastructure of the Inquisition we’re –“
“That can’t come from nowhere!”
“She didn’t say it could.”
Alnira pauses, listening to the bickering. She’s listened over the weeks since Redcliffe, sought out memories not her own – for those are simply gone to her knowledge – within the Fade. She has seen herself through the eyes of others, and while she knows what she would do now; she does not know what Jayla would do. A kind heart in a wicked and cruel situation. She wonders at that a moment. How that soft heart would have survived so long amongst warriors and rogues, had befriended or been befriended by a Templar, had seduced the Great Wolf, and taken a second into her bed, how she had found a family within them.
“Enough,” her voice rings out over the din of the argument. The far-away look in her eyes slips away as she settles them on her advisors, walking forward with a noticeable stiffness still. “This fighting will not inspire confidence, nor will it help us find shelter from the bitter cold.”
Coming to stand among the four who had helped to guide her to this point, Alnira looks over the remnants of the army, the Mages, the Templars, a scared and huddled mass of simple craftsmen and servants who had followed the Inquisition because of their steadfast faith.
Faith. Her lips thin, countenance becoming severe. This is a religious military order, and it had died in the snows of the Frostbacks. What comes next must be stronger, must have no such blinders on, must look at the world and find the forest, the trees, the traitors in the underbrush. They needed to believe in themselves, in the advisors, in her, without a promise of divine protection or intervention. They had to walk into the battle and know what they would come up against. Stalking forward, Jayla climbs onto the nearest flat and tall enough surface.
“Inquisition!” Her throat protests the yell, but this is far too important to be limited by her body’s aches and pains. “For months you have called me your Herald of Andraste. You have followed me as we ventured into a war we had no idea if we could take on if we could fix. You have seen people saved and healed; you have watched a family be torn apart by insidious plot and prejudice. You know me as a savior.”
She listens intently as people shuffle, turning, quieting soft worried conversations to look and hear what their Herald has to say. “Our home has just been destroyed – the physical presence wiped off the map. Yet, we are all here. Our home is within each other. Our strength is in the shoulders and backs of the person beside you. The Elder one? Corypheus and his so-called General – Samson? They feared what we have become. They attacked us at our heart, and we still came out with that heart beating strong, without pause. You saw me on a mad quest for my children – and they have been recovered – abused, poisoned, but breathing. My friends, my people – Corypheus ordered that, the torture of children. Is that a man we will allow to win in his quest for glory and godhood?!”
Gasps and loud cries of outrage raise up onto the winds and Alnira nods in grim approval. They would not be easily silenced. They would not emerge from the snow and cold broken and useless.
“The Maker, he did not create me. I will not rest upon his blessing when it was not him who put the mark upon my body. I am not here to save you for your God. I am here for you, each and every one of you in front of me – I am here for you. I am here to bring my home, my people, into a new era, I am here to cut out the cancerous darkness and allow the light to warm you, guide you all upon your own paths. I am not Andraste’s Herald – I am your Herald. I bring only your change, your truth, your blessing to this world. I make way for all of you to see changes within yourself and the world that is long, long overdue.”
Silence greets Alnira but she does not falter. She has their attention; thousands of eyes are on her now. She feels the change in the air and grabs it with both hands.
“Night is always darkest at the edges of dawn. The snows are always coldest before the spring begins a melt – will you follow me into the daylight? Will you follow me into spring, into a new day where we take hold of our fates? Where we – together – tell the darkness to go back to the void it so eagerly crawled out of? Will you let me be the Herald of your change, your truth?”
The silence is holding and now she worries. Do they need a God to guide them? Would they require it of her? Would they turn tail now –
“Lead me, Herald, out of the darkness.” Rickson’s bellow makes her smile, a beaming wide smile turned upon him and then turned upon the Mages who yell for her to bring their change, the Templars who follow them with the same words. Children scream for her to chase away the monsters, and it breaks her heart they knew what she speaks of. It is a domino effect, loud and real in what had been a solemn, fearful night. The change is here, and it wraps around her tight like a blanket, like her armor.
“Who are we?”
There is no silence this time, no hesitation, just a single roar of ‘the Inquisition’ reverberates through the camp.
The Herald isn’t sure there is a more relaxing sound than the roar of ‘to bring peace’ that she has ever heard in her memory.
“Will we survive the trial laid at our feet?”
When Alnira comes off her impromptu pedestal, the advisors, her Council, swarm her. Cullen, with his haunted and sunken eyes, claps his hands on her shoulders. For a moment, she feels a bolt of fear and knows he has stolen away her magic before, has dropped her to the ground screaming without lifting a finger. She knows this in her bones, but, his smile, with its warmth in his expression chases the fear away, warming her slightly instead.
“My lady, it is good to see you well.” Other hands come now. Hands and arms.
Josephine wraps the Herald in a hug, one so tight it shocks the small warrior-mage. SO much all she can do is huff a laugh and endure the embrace. Sister, her mind whispers, teacher, friend. Cassandra clasps her right shoulder tightly and Leliana brushes her left, a fleeting touch, one easily deniable.
“We are all happy, no, we are beside ourselves to see you alive and whole,” Josephine’s voice is watery, and her eyes shimmer in the firelight. “Lady Shepard, Alnira… When you didn’t immediately follow, my heart broke. I thought of all that you had to learn, had to endure when you first came to us, and the pain was so intense –“
Alnira has little idea of what Josie is talking about, but, she can see the sincerity in the gold clad, richly colored woman. Her arms squeeze the puffy bloused Ambassador reassuringly. “It is the past. Everything that came before the Avalanche, is dead now, buried with Haven, the mistakes, the harsh words, the uncertainty. All of us, we’re new now. We walk a new path. The goal may be the same, to bring that bastard to heel for his heinous crimes, but the steps we take now are not those we might have once chosen.”
Commander and Cassandra share a look, the Seeker opening her mouth to ask a question when Solas appears. Truly, the man doesn’t quite just appear, Alnira feels his approaching aura and turns from those around her, eyes on the spot he will allow himself to be seen. She isn’t disappointed. Familiar shoulders, a stubble covered head, those ears, those eyes, come into view within seconds. His eyes are tired, and his mouth set in a tense line.
“Advisors, may I steal away the Herald a moment? She needs another potion.” Something in that sentence makes Alnira twitch. It must be the tone, something about it is off. Something in the atmosphere has shifted. Without waiting to see if they will allow it, Alnira disentangles herself from the group and walks toward him.
“I’ll be but a moment.”
He turns on the spot and walks toward their tent, with her following wordlessly. She extends her aura curiously along the way, sliding it along his, looking for a clue as o what is going on with the elder Mage. All she finds is a familiarity that should repulse and anger her yet does not. The wolf is hers, both of them are, that truth sings in her blood, whether or not she allows it to be a reality is an entirely different matter. Acceptance of fact and acting upon it are two desperate things. So, she keeps her peace until they are past their tent, past the outskirts of the camp, surrounded by snow and a single unlit torch. That is her limit, and she stops, arms crossing, armor making little noises as it slides and rubs with the movement.
“Solas, what exactly is this about.”
“You know far more than anyone could have anticipated, Vhenan.” His voice is mournful, and stance open, hands behind his back as always. To others it may seem lazy, to Alnira, she knows it means he is ready to act in the blink of an eye. He is ever ready for action this unassuming visage of a man. “More than I could have ever foreseen or even guessed at. You survived Dirthamen, his cruelty masked no doubt as kindness. You’ve become something far more than what you arrived as, Herald. I beg you, do not think even less of me for what I am about to reveal.” He is looking out into the gully, the steep valley between their peak and the next.
Chills run through Alnira and she has a terrible feeling this is not supposed to happen as it is. There were different steps, a different path, she can feel it as they walk down another. “What is it, Fen’falon. What has you so cryptic.”
“This is – all of it – my fault.”
Her breath stills, eyes narrowing at him as her stance shifts slowly. All her training, conditioning is screeching at her to strike down the wolf, the traitor. However, her heart fight that urge, though there is something about his expression, the lack of protest over the nickname too close to a title she knows to be his…Whatever comes next, whatever he has to say, she isn’t going to like. “Solas…”
“You saw the orb –“
“The foci? What of it?”
“It was mine, it is mine, stolen after a fashion.”
“Wolf,” Alnira finds her jaw working without words leaving it. She recalls the years by Dirthamen’s side, a world without the strange grogginess that plagues her here upon waking. A world is broken and at war. What was she missing? What pieces did Solas hold that would make the puzzle become a coherent picture again? “What have you done?”
So sorry this is short. Summer came with Oral surgeries and work from left field. Good work, however! Snippets of original stories and far-flung into the future scenes from this story are available on my Patreon. As always, your comments are my lifeblood. Take care, my dears.
Solas takes no joy in revealing himself like this. However, the circumstances of Jayla’s stay in Redcliffe have taken his choice in the matter. There are no clever steps which he could take to out run what is all too clearly, inevitable. Jayla knows who he is, Dirthamen will have tried to paint him the monster, the next enemy to be dealt with once Corypheus had been dealt with. Had he not seen and heard proof of that in the first hours of her return to them? Her fire, the rage in her upon just seeing Fenris had convinced him, his dear ‘brother’ had filled her head with lies. A fact that irritates him, that makes his heartache. He still loves her, he won’t ever stop, and Banreas would have seen that had he looked into the young woman’s mind. It’s exactly the sort of move they would have made against one another as children.
Looking at her, the suspicion that lines her shoulders, the flint in her eyes, and he knows that Jayla Shepard, is the only woman he can fathom being bound do. That much, at the very least, he’s come to terms with. The young wolf – well, for now he will tolerate him, and perhaps learn to care for him, because it’s clear Jayla is set upon a path where they are both beside her. Why he is still graced with the privilege, he doesn’t and likely will never fully understand, but he will not look a gift halla in the mouth.
However, the matter at hand is not their relationship, that might come later, and nor is it an easy thing to explain. There are so many places he could begin the tale that will ultimately end at this moment. There are many versions that are neither the full truth nor full deception. His intentions and the events as they transpire – the truth lay somewhere in between, and he has been sleeping so long now that even he isn’t sure what’s completely true.
“I woke, nearly three years ago now, from Uthenera. Weakened considerably, utterly alone, as my Sentinels are long passed, I meant only to find a way to access the power I’d stored away within my foci. Imagine my distress when I was far too weak to do so. The veil prevents it. I can’t access even what could be a fifth of my magical potential in this world state.” No one can, rings through his mind, settles on the tip of his tongue, but he shoves it back. He has the sense, at least, not to divulge that much to her just yet. Small pieces. Smaller steps. Still, the jumble of words that has fallen from his lips and lays between them is a rather important piece of information. It lays between them, and he isn’t sure either of them has taken a breath yet. He waits for something from her, anything really, before sighing heavily. To his ears, was he someone who had not been there, who hadn’t known of Uthenera, hadn’t seen an awakening first hand, it’s utter nonsense. So, he cannot imagine what it must sound like to Jayla who has no reference for what that truly entails. Even if Dirthamen laid it all out for her, it is hard to grasp the concept.
“Perhaps I should explain a different way. You knew me when you came from whenever you had been sent by the Magister.” Sharp blue eyes watch her carefully, wary of what she will tell him. “Wherever you were, did you see June, Sylaise, Elgar’nan? Or just Dirthamen?”
In the low light, he can still see the way her head moves, shaking slowly. “No,” she speaks carefully, clearly on guard, worried. “I physically laid eyes upon Banreas and Adahlena. I didn’t catch sight of the Wolf properly, nor any other, but names were often bandied about. We were meant to be confronting the monster, Corypheus.”
“Yet you called me, Wolf on more than one occasion since your return. No doubt you are more than aware of their distaste for me.” The snort that leaves her makes his own lips twitch.
“After a fashion, Banreas was far less … set on the Wolf’s demise than Adahlena. The woman is borderline deranged.”
That worries him. It’s been centuries. The poisoning should be waning now, as it had in the past, she should be of sound mind. Or as sound as she could ever claim. But the news she wanted him dead or in pain is not surprising. Their rivalry, sibling – if twisted – within the First of his people has always been intense. It likely always would be if he could restore the world as it was and those still sleeping could awake. It is a somehow comforting thought.
“I locked my siblings away within the dream, some eleven hundred years ago or so if we are to follow the Chantry’s established calendar. ‘Twas not out of some petty desire to be finally free of them, or for the sake of the trick, though our… distant kin do currently delight in painting it so.” He looks at her, and her eyes seemingly shine in the darkness, not unlike his would. A fanciful thought, of course.
“I did this terrible deed in an attempt to preserve the world. More accurately, I wished to attempt to better the world, while saving it. My siblings, the world under our feet now, would not be had they been allowed to continue. They used magic far too heavily and fare more destructively than I ever chose to, and warred fiercely with our – well, you could call them Cousins, of sorts. Those cousins are whom the Humans refer to as the Forgotten Ones. Better still, we were waging a civil war amongst ourselves as well, after the murder of my dearest friend, Mythal. A war of such a scale, on two sides – there was no winning side. No one could win such a war. There was only loss and on a massive, devastating scale while we all attempted to see someone, anyone come out a victor.”
He waves a hand as he speaks, calling forth the memory of fire into an oddly placed metal brazier. He looks at it a moment before turning entirely from Jayla and walking to the edge of the cliff they stand upon. He needn’t look to know she follows. He can hear her steps. This is all sensitive information, she recognizes that, the lower he speaks, the less their voices carry, the better for them all.
“It was a war that would have destroyed Thedas. The People, the First men, Children of Stone, Dragon children – all of them and the rest would have become caught up in the crossfire, ultimately destroyed. It was a last and desperate attempt to keep that from becoming a reality when I devised my plan. It was something that would end the wars and bring changes about that were direly needed. And it did work – but not as I envisioned. It worked too well, if I am completely honest. I was so drained by my work, I had to sleep, the great work left to its own devices. I did not see what burnt, nor how far I had truly gone in an attempt to save it all. When I woke, well, I certainly saw how far I took things then, didn’t I?” His lips twitch, tone wry, face contorting into an almost grimace, his brows pulling together.
“This. This was not how anything was supposed to be. I could not access my magic, not to speak of accessing the Fade properly. I could not enact a plan to mitigate the disaster I had wrought. I placed my orb in the hands that would eventually put it within sight of Corypheus’ agents when I heard of him surfacing. He would find it some six months before the Conclave. The resulting chaos is to be laid directly at my feet.”
“If this were to be known,” she hakes her head and runs her hands through her hair which hands around her shoulders. “It would sign the death warrant for the entire species of Elves in Thedas.” The words are devoid of any emotion he could connect with Jayla. Alnira speaks to him, but the knowledge is Jayla’s, the words are Jayla’s. Still, it makes him recoil, shoulders slumping, ears drooping. This would be the end then. This would be where he was sent away or taken back to camp in chains, named an enemy to hunt as surely as they will hunt the “Elder One.”
“Yes. The Humans and Dwarves, no doubt even the Qunari would make war on the Elves. My people have –“
“They are my people as well, Solas.” He blinks, looking up from grey tinged snow as Jayla cuts him off, her hand slicing through the air with some finality. “I am a Sentinel – I am the Second of Banreas, or at least I was. I protect the People. I commanded his troops, and it was my place to do so, had always been my place if you were to listen to Banreas himself. However, I obeyed because I was convinced it was my duty to keep the peace for those who could not fight. I was his greatest tool, so I could save the lives of those who could not hope to survive the war that was coming for them.” Her words are steady, filled with the truth he knows as well as his own magic.
“I cannot say there was nothing there or growing with Dirthamen, nor can I say that he did not plant those seeds purposefully. That time is becoming muddied within my mind, my dreams. There is something off about the taste of the memories, about all of this, and not just your admission of gift wrapping an artifact far too powerful to even be near the breath of a madman.”
“Jayla – “
“Solas.” She pins him with her eyes, eyes he knows well, and loves. “This is – how do you want me to process this, here, in the middle of a bloody mountain range after nearly crossing into the beyond mere hours prior? At the hands of the monster you apparently helped to create, might I add. A monster who has severed the soul of three of my children – your children and poisoned another three with tainted lyrium! I know, yes. I knew who you were the moment I stepped from the rift, but – this. I don’t know what to say to you, or do, or what you even expected from me after hearing a revelation like this.” Her chest heaves with the fire bubbling up from within her. All of the pain, all of the distress she can only vaguely remember, can be laid at the feet of the man who she loves. One of the men that are hers, that she would be bound to, if they had a moment to breath.
“I,” he speaks slowly, after a great silence has settled between them. It’s hard to say what he expects or expected of her. For truly, he expected only to be thrown from this very cliff to meet his death after such a confession. This is a serious transgression, by the standards he’d lived by, governed by, and certainly by the compass of Jayla’s morals. His folly is a crime, not only against a people but the entirety of Thedas.
“I expect – I expected nothing. My purpose was only to make you aware of the depth of power that Corypheus has stolen and partially corrupted. That, and to keep these people, your people, alive.” He doesn’t move toward her, too scared, no, too aware that she may lash out at him. Her teeth are grit, jaw jumping as those dark eyes of hers stare out into the night. Solas feels hollowed out. He has handled this poorly, the telling of the tale that began thousands of years ago. He is too afraid of losing the petite darkly colored woman before him to lay out all the bloody, damning, and often embarrassing details. Because of that fear, she may move beyond his reach. He may have once again altered her path with his selfishness.
“I can help.” Compassion blinks into view between them, and the Herald’s eyes narrow as they settle on the wisp thing and snow pale boy. This time Solas is sure they shine in the flicker of veilfire. The lyrium, no doubt. He is, unfortunately, terribly aware of her. He can track every movement of her wild and beautiful curls, kept long in some unspoken defiance of what would have been expected of a Sentinel under Banreas’ banner. Every twitch of her muscles draws his attention. That flicker and flash of silver in her eyes, it makes them seem impossibly darker than they had been before her leaving.
“It would be best if you forgot.” Solas starts, abruptly thrown back to the present by the words of the spirit beside him. The elder mage moves to speak, to protest further tampering of Jayla’s mind when the spirit continues. “It hurts you, confuses you, it wasn’t meant for now. I can take it away. I can help. I just want to help.”
Silence falls between the three and Solas has to wonder at the situation. He has fumbled it – that much is fact. He has been half-cocked since Jayla’s disappearance, unable to find his equilibrium of late. A second chance at this revelation would afford him time to find true north, to choose the right words and timing. He says nothing to sway her, selfish in his intention of trying to grab extra time, a second chance. Yet, he will not influence her for anything. Not anymore.
“No.” Her word rings out, shocking both man and spirit. Compassion flails. He has seen the road she’s supposed to take. She was supposed to demand it be taken, and then so too would the Wolf ask it of him. Harmony would then be restored.
How she defies, is unexpected. Cole does not fully understand the people around him. Not the Commander full of fear and pain, wishing to know every moment of it, believing he deserves the dreams and demons that torture him each night. Not the dark woman with her secrets and bloody past. Not the woman with hair of fire who pines for a love long lost and who continues to careen toward a different sort of darkness that will consume her if steps are not taken to keep the softness in her. He knows this woman, however. This woman with her dark color and bouncy, pretty, hair of midnight. He knows Action with his careful coils and then an absence of anything at all upon his head. He knows them older and younger without any context in different places. She was meant to be here, but over there. He was meant to be now but is back then.
“I. But. This isn’t – “
“Peace, little brother.” Her voice is soft, eyes shining silver, and it makes him still. Calm like Serenity, but firm like Command. “It’s all right. We will be all right. Things are different, but different isn’t bad. What is meant to be, will be. Fate is nothing if not set.”
Her words do little to reassure Cole. However, Jayla who is Alnirafenen, who is Mother, who is Sadness, who is Love, is not wrong. Not as far as he can see. Things happen as they are meant to, it takes a strong will to change that. Her will is strong, she is changing the flow of the river, and yet she isn’t changing the destination. Not yet, not really. Even if she does manage to change it, would it be so bad for change to come? Would the future be better than what he knows it to be, will be, has been, if her will holds out?
“I – I trust you. Sister.” He speaks carefully, distress coloring his words as well as acceptance. His shoulders slump, spine relaxing. She made the choice; the Wolves will fall in step beside her. There is little to be done now. Little can be accomplished without her making a different decision.
“Thank you.” Her smile is sweet, and radiates Mother, making him smile in return, though it is a fleeting thing, with warmth in his chest. How strange. How interesting. He wonders if she will smile more and if he will feel that warmth again. For the moment, he has other calls to answer, other hurts to heal, so Cole turns away, and steps through the veil to travel quickly to another’s side.
Silence sweeps over the cliffside, falling heavy on their small area of snow and dirt, neither one knowing the right words to convey all that needs to be said. There is so much to be explained, debated, put back together, between them, with Fenris, with the children, with the Inquisition.
“There is far too much for us to confront and replace into a semblance of order and coherency tonight. Our priority for the foreseeable future is to find a home, some shelter to carve into and begin to reform what was all but crushed in the snows that cover Haven. We cannot strike at Corypheus like this. We will not survive, as we are now.” Alnira is resigned, tired, exhausted really. There is so much to deal with. There are so many things to sort out, what is lie and what is fact. They must take stock of who has died, and who have survived.
What Banreas and Adahlena told – no – drilled – into her was extensive, but she isn’t as sure of it as she had been that it is the truth. That any of it had been true, her identity lay in shambles around her feet. Her family is fighting to see another sunrise. Her people are stranded in mountains that she holds the deed to half of, and the winter is gunning for them.
“That, Vhenan’ara, is something I have a solution for, at the very least. To the North of us, following the Dragon star, there is a fortress. It lays in ruin, but it is fast, and the foundation is strong, the lands still fertile. It waits for new people to walk into the fortifications, for new hands to move its soil for their purpose.”
Silver-Dark eyes cut to blue, searching carefully. Sincerity shines in those stormy eyes and Jayla has little choice or desire to do anything but trust that evidence. He has not led them to folly thus far. In fact, Solas hasn’t made a single move to lead the Inquisition at all. He has stood in the shadows, at the edges of all the flurried movement, giving what information he has apparently deemed fit, and let them let her, figure out the rest.
Her hands lift, scrubbing roughly over her face before she nods sharply. Her eyes feel as if there is grit under the lids, and she wants nothing more than to sleep. Food is not important. The promised warmth of her children, of her men, however, is a siren’s call.
“Thank you.” The desire to ask if the Fortress is one he knows if it was the property of his or perhaps one of the other’s bubbles under her skin. The Herald resolves not to ask that question. She doesn’t want to know. Refuses to ask, to know if Solas is making amends, reparations, the only way he can see to do so. Perhaps there was another reason. Jayla doesn’t want to know. There are more important things to turn her attention to, than Solas’ possible ulterior motives for giving her this information. “Come, we need to inform the Advisory Council, and get the scouts moving. I need sleep, the entire camp needs sleep, the sun rises soon, and we move in the morning.”
“As you say, my Herald.” He inclines his head to her, and she walks away, toward the dancing firelight, her head swirling. There is so much empty space being filled with the ghosts of feelings, the whispers of memory, knowledge she doesn’t remember learning and yet knows. It is a strange, heavy burden that she cannot shake. She loathes the feeling, the knowledge there is much about herself she can’t yet know, can’t find. Things she has only seen echoes of memory of etched deeply into the Fade.
Please don't kill me. This chapter was longer, and then it was shorter, and then it was deleted and then it got re-written four times because Cole was a little jerk nugget who didn't want it to happen this way. But it's out. So smoother sailing ahead for following chapters. RIght? Of course.
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