Chapter 1: Effloresce
"Effloresce" from an Obscure Word prompt list.
To be Keeper is to be responsible. She has trained for this for half of her life. She tells the tales, she listens in judgment, she provides as much wise guidance as she can muster from all she has gleaned. She is expected to be calm and provide a steady presence.
She can do that. She wants to do that. That is not in question. But under her skin her nerves crackle and thrum with the energy of tree-whipping tempests, and to set it arcing through her fingers and through her staff is to breathe free herself for a moment, for just a moment of her own.
Letting go is both the most difficult and the most desired thing to do. All burdens and all demands are lifted and she can be light. She can be loud. She does not have to be contained.
She listens to him speak quietly about magic, about dreams, and she tells him about listening to weeping young couples or carefully copying faded scraps of parchment. She does not think of the heady rush of magic and singing in the heart of a storm. But when he smiles, long fingers caressing the air to create a crystalline bubble of frost to patiently explain a theory, she understands she doesn’t need thunder to feel free.
Chapter 2: You Need to Leave
From a Tumblr prompt.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The ice had long since melted, but the wind still whistled sharp and cold through the remains of the shack. Occasionally words whispered through the wind, but Telana’s desperate searching cries were no longer among them.
She’d left Iron Bull talking with Harding about how they would get Hakkon’s skull out of the Frostbacks. Most of the carts weren’t quite big or sturdy enough. Kenric was still compiling reports and some of Harding’s scouts were at Stone Bear Hold trying to figure out how to get Storvacker to Skyhold when they weren’t drinking and feasting.
She had time, so she returned to the little island and sat in the blooms that marked the Dreamer’s final resting place. So long… so very long…
And Ameridan only now freed from the stasis in which he’d been held. “Telanadas,” he’d said her name was in full. Taken hope from it, and yet he’d known his fate as soon as he cast his spell.
She knew the difference between “not” and “nothing.” She’d learned it in the Fade in the calm negation of a Nightmare’s taunting.
She brushed her fingers over the flowers’ bare petals. The rift here had maintained this area’s own peculiar stasis. It was hard to say if there would ever be bees here.
She shouldn’t have been surprised. He never said her name anymore. He couldn’t frame his mouth around its endearment. She folded her hands in her lap and looked up. Solas had gathered his robe more closely to keep it from snagging on the bleached splintered wood. She missed the undyed wool sweater.
“What is it?”
“They had wondered where you had gone to,” he said. “Several plans have been formulated for our caravan back to Skyhold and your opinions are desired.” He stood just inside the shack’s ragged hole, his hands folded behind him.
“Cole could have come. You did not need to.” His hands were used to staves and paints, not oars. She could ask Cole to leave him some salve. He would never need to know.
“They could not find Cole.” He sighed and gingerly seated himself upon a tired bench. “There is nothing left here.”
“Is there?” She passed her hand once more over the petals. “I disagree.”
“The spirit here is gone,” he amended with a nod of his head. “I am grateful for its release. There is no more need for you to linger here.”
“There is,” she said, and raised her gaze from the flowers to his face. The pale light here made his eyes grey. It reminded her of Haven. “Some things yet endure.”
He closed his eyes. “Inquisitor-”
“You need to leave. Tell them I’ll be along when I am ready.” She dropped her gaze back into her lap and kept it there as he quietly left her again, robes brushing against the wild grass and felandaris.
“He doesn’t sleep well, here,” Cole said softly in her ear. He sat down next to her and picked up her hand. A tiny green spark bloomed and faded. “It presses too close.”
She pulled her hand away. “I wish you would help him, then.”
“I did. He wanted to see you.” Cole sighed. “Banal nadas. The bees will come.”
The reference to "Telanadas" (Telana's full name) and "Banal nadas" is to help disambiguate their meanings as well as add another layer of meaning to the story. "Telanadas" = not inevitable. "Banal nadas" = nothing is inevitable.
Chapter 3: Brontide
Another from the Obscure Word prompt list. I’m adding in the full definition from Merriam-Webster because of the neat additional meaning to brontide: “a low muffled sound like distant thunder heard in certain seismic regions especially along seacoasts and over lakes and thought to be caused by feeble earth tremors.”
“Are you sure about this?” Sera asked. Her bright eyes peered at her, worried, through the dark wrappings around her face. Somewhere above them was a very busy market in Vyrantium. No one liked to notice those who went about wrapped and cloaked, and would be forgotten sooner than two elves loose in a Tevinter slave market. “Last chance to call it off.”
“A Jenny is missing and with information we need? I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” Vhenaste said, her breath warming the linen scarf around her mouth. The only reason she could go along with Sera was her missing vallaslin. The full design (it’s been several years now and she still misses them like she misses the cadences of his voice as it rolled and echoed in the rotunda) would have peeked around the wrappings and gotten her killed outright in Tevinter. Now she was like any other elf.
(An elf with a missing arm that sometimes wakes her with remembered crackling pain, and his hand clasped on her rebellious limb before he harnessed the lightning and stole it.)
“We could always try someone else, like Charade,” Sera pressed. “They’d let her snoop.”
Miles to the north, the Nocen Sea crashed and rolled into the river that fed the city overhead. She imagined it was that she heard as water flooded down the lower sluicegates. Powerful surges forced into smaller channels, trickles to eat away at the foundations without magic to shore them up.
“I trust her, but she wouldn’t know what else to look for.” She’d depended on Solas once for being a creature of habit, only to find out how wrong she was. But there were still little telltale signs even his caution couldn’t erase. How letters were handled. Fruit peelings or their lack. Where or if he slept. (He slept, she knew he slept, it was him she could sometimes glimpse in her dreams on a far horizon, like the slow-lowering mountain mists that dissipate by noon.)
“Long’s you’re sure,” Sera said. “I know it’s a bit because of him, yeah? But I’m glad you’re here. You’re still with us. You know what’s real.”
“You’re damned right I do. Now, let’s go make some noise and see what shakes loose,” Vhenaste said, and prepared to climb back into a world that didn’t want, but needed, to be saved again.
Chapter 4: Indelible
Solas giving up his memories of Vhenaste.
Inspired by “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” R I T U A L “No Escape Out of Time” (specifically “Wouldn’t Be Love” and “Better By Now”) and The Cure, “Pictures of You”. Additional lore-meta support and inspiration from wyrdsistersofthedas’s post on uthenera and the origins of the elven people, and of course the codexes found in Vir Dirthara.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Each time Solas returns to Vir Dirthara, he feels parts of him fragment and fall away. It is just that the archivist bears witness, a kind of atonement the spirit will never understand even when it is whole. Its purpose remains pure, however, and will always reconnect him to what he has slowly torn away, piece by piece, and committed to this book.
He has no Well. There will be none he will bind to him with his thoughts and memories, and he cannot be certain of returning in any form. Once he is finished here, his own purpose will be pure again and the din’an’shiral almost over.
It is only the hope that she gave him that created this book of memories. If nothing else, it will be his epitaph and a lesson for others who follow. But perhaps some younger version of him will find it, someday, and reconnect.
On this page… snow falls and it catches on her lashes. Her breath plumes the air as she steps toward him, incredulous. “Felt the whole world change?” It was then his path wavered, undone by an unguarded moment between lonely souls.
On this page… she bursts into the rotunda, flush from victory. “I wish you had seen it. Terrifying, glorious.” She does not want to take pride in killing the high dragon, but the fight has brought her to life in a way that nothing else will, he discovers. She still crackles miles later, then stills on an indrawn breath. “Oh, Solas. Your work…” Her deeds, forever marking the castle he gave her.
On this page… her fingers brush reverently over crumbled mosaics in Dirthamen’s Temple. She sinks to her knees and weeps for Eladrin and Lindiranae and a hundred other names in the Dales long-forgotten even by some of her own people. Even as he warns her of the Sulevin blade, she forges ahead. Ever lost but determined all the same. He is never certain which of them derives more solace from sleeping together, forehead to forehead, hands within hands.
On this page… laughter. Only her laughter rippling up from the garden as Cullen beats her in another chess game.
On this page… climbing after her as rocks tumble into the sky, uprooted as he is, fear for her and the orb mounting. She flashes in this darkness, her uplifted mage’s blade bright with her righteous anger. She throws back Corypheus’s threats, denying this thing’s foothold in the world time and again until its source is stolen, hurled, cracked upon her power. She is now the fulcrum on which this world turns and he is broken on it utterly.
Page after page of this woman’s imprint on his heart, fluttering helplessly under his fingers, each of them lanced cleanly away and put here. Metaphorically he knows he ought to be bleeding and raw, but it would be an injustice to who they were - no keening poetry, here, but duty and faith in each other, only.
He fills a final page.
She cries out in pain and finally kneels before him, all illusions gone and her power killing her. And yet still, as in Crestwood, she believes they will endure together. “Var lath vir suledin!”
All he can do is take what is killing her and hope she will endure for her own sake. His is not worthy. A goodbye he did not give her before. “I will never forget you, vhenan.”
He stumbles on his feet, overwhelmed by a sorrow he cannot name. Absently he shelves the book in his hand, knowing that if it was important the archivist will direct him to it again. Meanwhile, he has a battle to prepare for and he knows the Inquisitor will give him no quarter in this final hour.
She is a formidable foe, after all.
Links to above mentioned things:
No Escape Out of Time: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:owPiPSLG6oAJ:www.astralwerks.com/news/rituals-no-escape-time-project-today/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
Vir Dirthara codexes:
Chapter 5: The Lie In Which You Linger
Vhenaste Lavellan, faith, and Solas's part in its crisis. Title directly and deliberately taken from Corypheus’s dialogue at the end when proclaiming he is your new god and will save you from the “lie” of the belief in the Maker.
Link to the original Tumblr post, because it has screenshots for illustration:
Of all the things Deshanna taught her, faith was not one of them. Vhenaste ingested it along with the rites and lore of her people - should you not believe that Sylaise will bless your hearth? That Ghilan’nain will guide the People? That Andruil will grant a successful hunt? She learnt the rituals and did them well. She spoke the ancient words. She tried not to be disappointed in the gods when she asked them to save a sickened halla she’d been treating, and it died instead. It must have been me. I wasn’t worthy. I did the ritual wrong.
She’d done it as well as Deshanna had, however. But from then on, she did all of the rituals perfectly.
* * *
The tent was hot and stank of the remains of the evening meal not yet cleared away. News gleaned from a friendly trader of what was to happen in Ferelden set the whole camp ablaze with talk.
“It’s a fool’s errand.”
“It’s a fool who would not go! The mages and templars-”
“Hah! A shemlen matter,” a hunter, Misaan, said.
Vhenaste touched the now-healed cut to her mouth and raised her voice above the murmuring throng.
“It became our trouble as well when their dogs came barking at our camp,” she said. Rogue templars who’d left Kirkwall for an easterly haven found her and several others gathering herbs. She killed the one who’d put a sword in her face.
Misaan muttered his apologies as the other hunters, abashed, looked away. They had failed to protect the clan, and afterward she’d been asked to intercede for them with Andruil. It hadn’t seemed to matter, because game had been well-frightened. The clan would need to move away from Ostwick soon, and much further east than any other templars come spoiling for a fight.
“Wisely said.” Deshanna stared at her. “The Chantry does not see how this fighting affects us. Perhaps without their Maker, they are blind.” The Keeper smiled. “So, my First, you should go to this Conclave. Be as Mythal’s voice, be the clan’s eyes. Perhaps with you there, the Chantry might finally see.”
Vhenaste nodded once, slowly, and touched her vallaslin. The voice of Mythal in the land of the Maker - did she have the audacity, never mind the authority? Mythal, lend me your wisdom and judgment. I fear Deshanna is right. Let me be your instrument. We are all of us endangered.
* * *
Her head and her hand throbbed in concert, both the cold and raw, unfamiliar magic burning her from the inside out. The massive, malevolent Breach swirling above Haven was unavoidably linked to her, and she had no memory after entering the Temple of Sacred Ashes at the Conclave. Vhenaste was tempted to blame Cassandra, but something told her that despite her rough interrogation and imprisonment, the warrior woman had nothing to do with her memory loss.
More likely, she thought as she glanced over at Solas, it is this magical cataclysm. I just hope it doesn’t kill me before I can try to fix this. She rubbed at her hand as it crackled painfully - though slightly less painfully after the elf had so rudely grabbed and shoved her hand at the rift, triggering its closing. If I am lucky, I hold the key to my own salvation as well.
She looked over at Varric trudging along in the biting snow, his wondrous crossbow slung behind him. June would like him. Would a god of the People look favorably on the durgen’len?
He should, Vhenaste decided. She would ask June’s blessing for Varric if they all lived. It never occurred to her that one day Varric would ask for her blessing, instead.
* * *
This is wrong.
When the Haven encampment knelt and called to her as a savior the first time, it was as frightening as it was unsettling. She had fallen unconscious after stabilizing the Breach, a prisoner of the Chantry hoping to avert further death and destruction. She had awakened not merely a hero, but a religious figure.
A Dalish elf, an Andrastian champion of the faith? The idea was as ludicrous and offensive as it was terrifying - centuries of history showed what the Chantry was capable of where it concerned the elves, and even Andraste’s own followers had not been immune.
But this had gone beyond even the likes of Shartan. Back from the dead, they believed her, witnessing the avalanche Vhenaste had buried Haven with and not her fall into abandoned tunnels and the long, dangerous trek through the near-blizzard after.
Herald of Andraste now more than ever to these people - herald to a goddess I do not believe in. Why not a herald of Mythal? Better yet Falon’Din, if she had been dead? Hear me! She often prayed, and listened for the gods to reply. But if her gods had voices, they were drowned out in the faithful of Haven, who had also witnessed her staring down a being who might well be a god for all its power.
Pretender, Corypheus had sneered. She felt that as an accusation, twisting in her gut as the singing rose along with the people’s hopes.
This is wrong. My people’s artifact brought this misery on us. I am not your god! But to them she was, she knew, and more importantly she was listening.
* * *
Why did it call you traitor? She wants to ask Solas. Of all things Vhenaste dealt with after conquering Adamant Fortress, this question haunts her most.
(”Ah, we have a visitor. Some silly little girl comes to steal the fear I kindly lifted from her shoulders,” it purred. The Nightmare stole her memory of Corypheus, the Divine, and the Grey Wardens at the destruction of the Conclave. Horrible as it had been, it comforted her. I was not Chosen. I am no Herald of Andraste. It was an accident, spurred on by the sound of someone in need. No one’s instrument but her own. Even too late to change anyone’s mind, she is reassured on that point for herself. This is not her crisis of faith but someone else’s.)
She studied everything she could at Deshanna’s knee. All the language they knew or could piece together. All the fragments shared at the Arlathvens. All the artifacts and tools preserved for years or recovered in ruins. And still, the Nightmare’s hollow voice intoning fluently had escaped her ability to translate thoroughly.
Solas fascinated and frustrated her. He spoke animatedly and passionately of all he knew of the elves from his discoveries in the Fade, and yet dismissed her clan’s struggles as willfully ignorant or as nothing he had anything in common. Beneath him, somehow.
“These are my people. My family,” she said to him quietly, struggling with her disappointment.
He stopped, looking into her eyes, and swiped his thumb at the corner of one, collecting the tears threatening to spill. “Ir abelas,” he said. “We’ll speak no more of this.”
“Dirth ma, harellan.” Corypheus seeks our ruins, vhenan. What could he possibly learn there? Our temples have been as quiet as your lonely grave. He will find as much answer as I have: none.
* * *
She hasn’t the language to tell anyone the revelation that is Mythal’s Temple in the Arbor Wilds. It is all she has ever hungered for from her gods, from her people. Did Mythal exist? Did it matter when her priests were so inspired to build this temple in her honor and give their lives and accumulated knowledge when their time was done?
All this and more is her heritage, her inheritance. Not an apostate shem’s. She felt it calling to her from the depths of her being. She felt the bond it would impose in exchange. Bond to what? Did she still truly believe in Mythal as more than an idea? The Sentinels surely did, that was clear, and that alone gave her doubts. Rationally, politically, it would be recklessly dangerous to give herself and the Anchor’s power to any entity.
But this wasn’t “an entity,” this was Mythal, she whose vallaslin she wore. She who she’d prayed to since she was a little girl, copying her parents at their own prayer. The goddess whom she’d always tried emulating and giving voice to with friends and colleagues alike. Did Mythal exist, Vhenaste could trust her. Couldn’t she?
Of course she’d respected Mythal’s rites. They were hers to perform.
She left the arguments and the pleadings of Abelas, Morrigan, and Solas behind, stepped into and fully embraced the Vir Abelasan, and she wept.
* * *
Meeting Mythal was another revelation: of suddenly knowing why prayers had gone unanswered, and still left the question of her divinity in doubt.
But Vhenaste had Mythal’s dragon and had plundered all her people’s ruins for any and every answer she could get of how to defeat a would-be god. She never believed in the Maker. She wasn’t sure about the gods of the People. Old Gods were Archdemons that could be slain.
Gods? Nothing but stories, ones she could hear whispering in the recesses of her mind, stories she’d once told, stories someone might tell of her someday.
* * *
The fresco at the Dread Wolf’s sanctuary took her by surprise. She stared at it for a while, touching her own face. Removing vallaslin. “You do not deserve what these cruel marks represent.” Enslavement. “Ar lasa mala revas.”
But am I? Numbness spread over her like a drop of water on paper, muting the constant ache and pulse of the Anchor up her arm. Am I free when I still hear his voice? When I can almost imagine him stumbling here?
Fen’Harel, freeing slaves. If I still believed, I could almost ask you to free me. The voices of the Well rose in a crackling column of whispers in her mind, a brief crescendo of static, before they settled again. Restless since the first eluvian. Restless since the guardian spirits at Fen'Harel’s sanctuary. And nothing made sense.
Not until she saw his face and all the stories, all the questions, finally fell into place.
What is it to be loved by a god, having tasted the bitterness of your own supposed divinity dissolving on the back of your tongue, when you have no more capacity to believe?
Chapter 6: The Crack
I like to think of this as the turning point, setting the groundwork for the Fade kiss scene. It feels now like a more natural progression.
Originally posted on Tumblr here:
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
She sits on the edge of the dock of Haven’s frozen lake, the faint glimmer of the Anchor through her clenched fingers a beacon drawing him forth. Vhenaste had welcomed the first group of mages from Redcliffe personally, making certain they had all their needs seen to, talking and eating with them until they were reassured. It was the most time she’d spent with anyone aside from her advisors since the two of them had spoken about what had happened with Geryon Alexius and this “Elder One.”
He is concerned. It does not seem like her to brood, and prior to Redcliffe she had sought him out often to speak of magic. Perhaps she had also desired a friendly face. There has been little of either.
Nights at Haven steal the breath with their chill. His barely fogs the air as she uncurls her fist and raises her palm slightly, matching it against the broken sky. Acidic green highlights touch the angles and graces of her face. She is careworn and thoughtful. A good leader ought to be, with all they have experienced.
And yet it is more than that, isn’t it? A foolish, fleeting feeling like a coal of fire searching for tinder. No, friends and allies deserve better. He will withdraw, leave her to the privacy of her thoughts, and find some rest. Closing the Breach will take much from them both.
“You might as well join me, Solas. Like most Dalish, I can hear you quite well,” she says, pitched for his ears alone.
“Ir abelas. I did not mean to disturb you, only to make certain you are well.” Her bite is sharper tonight, the shape of it telling him she is tired. They discuss and debate, but she has never sought to wound him as she has done with some of her advisors. So long as they need her, they are safe to bite. (As he is not, and this is a fact he does not dwell on.)
“Tel’thenera. I would speak with you, if you do not mind,” she relents, turning. Magic reflects through her eyes, lambent and green.
“I do not,” he says, and closes the distance.
“I missed the fireflies of the Free Marches,” Vhenaste says, glancing from him and back to the frozen lake. In few words, she has told him that she is homesick. He thinks perhaps her pantomime let her recall the dance of the little bugs, just as it also reminded her of her duty once all the mages were gathered.
“Have you had word from your clan?” he asks. They are important to her, and he ought to be supportive.
“Yes, they will be safe near Wycome.” She holds out her palm. “Deshanna could not have predicted this.”
He knows he is standing too close when he can smell the herbs of her soap overlaid with the sweet musk of the day’s exertions. He takes a step away, gently taking her hand and curling her strong, graceful fingers closed against its light.
“None might have.” Certainly not him, who had hoped for another world and had not expected this one or the possibility of a red nightmare. “Not even Dorian.”
Vhenaste laughs and she sounds much less tired. “You disapprove of my new peacock.”
“How can I, when he brought you back safely? Still, I wonder how he studies while strutting.” He has warmer clothes and shed his younger years, and is grateful for both.
“You might ask him, he converses wonderfully about magic in terribly technical terms.” She smiles. There is a small and fading scar on the edge of her top lip. “We spoke today, and it reminded me of one our conversations.”
Haven’s chill doesn’t often reach him. He shifts slightly, grateful for wool as he puts his hands behind his back. “We have had several.”
“About the Anchor,” Vhenaste says, re-opening her hand and leaving the dock for the lake’s ice. She does not move further away, staying where she lands. “What it is. What it might do.”
“It is like a piece of the Fade in your hand,” he says slowly, wondering what else in their conversations she was referring to.
“Correct. With it, I can close rifts.” She whirls on the balls of her feet, thrusting her hand up as she does in the field. He tenses: nothing happens. She smiles again, victorious. She has learned greater control. “This bit of Fade is like a bubble.”
“I am not certain I follow, but I congratulate you on your breakthrough,” he says, and he can’t help smiling.
“So is time travel,” she continues. “Soap bubbles. The water and soap connect everything to each other. If you were to travel on the surface, you could go round and round, over and over, and perhaps if you were small enough you’d never notice. You would just think forward and not understand there is a back and a side, as well. But to get to those backs and sides, you might need to go through, instead.”
“Dorian created the right needle to slide through and not destroy the bubble. If he and Alexius had not been more careful…” She stops and looks up at him, anguished. “I watched you die.”
She stuns him with her intelligence and care as Solas comes to understand what she is saying. She is quite right, and he is touched. He jumps down onto the ice with her. It is thick, unlike her bubble. As long as he treads lightly, he too can pass through and still offer her comfort.
“I am sorry for your hurt. I am here, Inquisitor.”
“Please. Call me Vhenaste,” she says, putting her hand in his and watching him with the light of the Breach in her eyes.
Translation: “Tel’thenara” = Don’t think/dream of it; it’s nothing.
Music: “Clocks,” Coldplay
"Lights go out and I can't be saved
Tides that I tried to swim against
Have brought me down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead singing
Come out of things unsaid
Shoot an apple off my head
A trouble that can't be named
A tiger's waiting to be tamed
Chapter 7: Veilfire
Haven lies buried in snow, and Solas speaks to Vhenaste outside of camp by a veilfire torch.
Goldfrapp, "Road to Somewhere" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qUhhjy1_Uw
“There is a place where the Inquisition can build and grow.” Vhenaste had listened to Solas with trepidation and relief alike, and now she needed to speak in turn.
“And what of me, Solas? You saw. I will– no, I am more than their guide.” The people who once shouted for her blood now sang her blasphemous praise. I am a First. Remember who you are! Reminding herself helped her square her shoulders for the Inquisition’s sake, but her terrified heart had spoken plainly to him. If these people knew the truth of Corypheus’s artifact, their chants would change again and her people would be in grave danger.
“Where should I build and grow?” Where is my safety, my bastion and bulwark against the inevitable? She stared at him past the veilfire torch. He’d been so proud, she’d heard it in his voice. But to be held so high meant only a greater fall when it came. Dalish history was written thus.
“It is not only for them, Vhenaste,” he said carefully, his arms relaxing at his sides. “If you would, consider it a home.”
“You would give a Dalish a home?” She laughed softly, bitterly. Her face was doing something strange, something that made his face worried and… sad? Surely not. “Our last was lost.”
“You will be First to find this one,” he said smoothly, mouth gentling into a slight smile when she laughed genuinely despite herself.
“Thank you.” Vhenaste shivered. She was still quite raw from burying Haven, so close to have buried herself for all of these people who now depended on her, looked to her as her own people had. Did. The adjustments would be hard.
“I’m scared, Solas.” Her quiet admission hung in the air between them like her hand, awkward and unexpected, until he took it. His grip was so very light, meant to be friendly and reassuring but a delicate, gossamer thread of uncertainty. Still: warmth, unlike the veilfire. Something she could hold on to.
“You are strong. You only need rest,” he said. He shifted his grip until her hand lay in his palm, weak green light limning his fingers through hers. “Let them have their faith in the Herald. My faith is in you.”
Chapter 8: Fulmination
Slightly NSFW. Erotic but not graphic description of masturbation. The ending on this is not as solid as I’d like, but it’s good enough.
He awoke, nerves ablaze with energy he hadn’t felt since… well. Too long. Much too long. He brought his fingers to his mouth, disturbed at how they still trembled at the mere memory of her kiss.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. It wasn’t supposed to happen at all, actually. All he’d meant to do was share something with the Inquisitor, who’d startled him by finding him in the Fade in the first place. It had to have been the Anchor’s doing. It had seemed natural, then, to take her to the place it had been bestowed and tell her what it meant for her to have gained some control over it.
He should have known better. It was so easy to reveal more of himself than he’d intended in the Fade. But then there was Vhenaste herself, expressing concern and gentle biting humor regarding Cassandra, and he felt it tug something loose in him. He said it before he could stop it - felt the whole world change.
And although true, it was a mere vibration heralding the real lightning strike.
Impulsive and soft in every gesture, every shift of this open and wondering expression of hers drawing him in. She’d been so careful and guarded before, could he be blamed for thinking her completely closed off? But it had been mere caution, because suddenly there she was, vibrant and uncertain but seeking…
What made him draw her back when she pulled away was the same, foolish feeling vibrating through his body now. Vhenaste was a bright spark to senses long left unkindled. The burgeoning emotional connection fostered at Haven, at Redcliffe, bloomed around him until all he felt, all he saw, was her. Her warmth, her curiosity, the underlying need for connection with a kindred soul - how could he possibly let this go?
It wasn’t until he could also feel his body responding that he’d stopped, alarmed. Her mouth on his, a searing question he didn’t know if he could or should answer but oh how he wanted. A desire that had followed him into the waking world and left him throbbing uncomfortably.
It was all so ill-advised, and he shouldn’t have encouraged it. Vhenaste had work to do, as did he. He couldn’t let a moment’s foolishness interfere with everything. He needed to exorcise her and get on with his day. He’d indulge this feeling for now and get her out of his system.
It wasn’t his hands on his body, it was hers. It was her fingers, touching him first carefully and then impassioned. Would her eyes be just as expressive? Yes, he decided, and his throbbing rose in a steady crescendo in concert with his fingers.
He writhed on the bed, aching for release from her. He couldn’t remain this caught up in her. He reached for something, anything, the sweat and desperate tension of his body an acceptable sacrifice to this hopeless longing. Hands and eyes got him here, along with her soft words, her kiss…
Her mouth, lovely in any twist of expression, framing his name, Solas. The velveted sound in his imagination made his body seize, rocked to the core by a need both granted and kept out of his grasp.
His own soft grunt into the early dawn air of his cold room brought him back to this world with a twinge of sadness and shame at his failure. It appeared it would not be as easy as he thought to keep his distance if this were to happen every time he let himself think of her. It would be best, then, if he simply… didn’t.
His conviction lasted until she appeared in his rotunda an hour later, her face caught between suspicion and a smirk. “I’ve never done anything like that before… on a number of levels.”
As before, her humor caught him off guard and he laughed despite himself. But her allowing him time to think about her proposal meant potential repetition of this morning’s exercise. A fever to his blood. Would he risk it?
A softer thrill passed through him as she settled down to work with him. He enjoyed her company and they were adults. It could all very well fade away before the end, and he would not lose her companionship. No matter how much her teasing smile and name on his lips turned him inside out like a closing rift.
Chapter 9: Ignis Fatuus
Post-Trespasser, several years later in the middle of their private war to keep him from ending the world. Vhenaste has undergone some shocking changes.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Somehow she’d learned to catch up to him in her dreams.
“Did you miss me?” Vhenaste said, her voice arch and amused. They both knew the answer already. Yet something in the way she said it at once reminded Solas of the lost but determined Dalish First she’d been, and also something else entirely older and acidly familiar…
Against his better judgment, he turned to look at her and ice sheeted along his nerves. She was dressed and adorned in magpie fashion, no piece quite fitting with another except in its utility and how it must have caught her eye. Pauldrons looted from a tomb, bedraggled and torn bright Rivaini skirts over leg wrappings, the sad remains of the potent armor he’d last seen her wearing as she knelt in pain…hair so much longer now, gathered in rough leaf-and-feather strewn bunches, muddy paint swathing those brilliant eyes…
Whether Vhenaste knew it or not, the sharp outlines of Mythal peeked obliquely through these odd choices. Fear of and for her momentarily choked his reply. All her kindness he’d known and loved could not be found anywhere in her expression.
“You are much less enamored with what you see,” she observed, tilting her head with frustrating uncanniness. “A pity. Myfeelings have not changed. Hardening my heart, as you suggested, has merely honed them. It would hardly be fair for you to complain.”
“I begged you once,” he said, finally finding his voice. “Turn back now, please. This is–”
“Not me? Oh, don’t look so surprised, you’ve always been so painfully transparent.” She leaned in closer against her spear-tipped staff and leveled her full gaze on him. “I am more myself than I have been in quite some time, and I am here to tell you the same, vhenan. My love is not so fickle as to allow you to continue with your plans.”
There was a wisp of green in her yellow eyes, and he shivered at the longing and threat in her next words.
“Mar lath vir bellanaris. Whether you heed me or not.”
“It is not yet too late,” he said softly.
She sighed. “Would that you listen half as well to yourself.” She straightened. “So be it. Our dance continues. Remember this, my love, when all light fades.”
And in a flicker, she was gone.
Translation: “Mar lath vir bellanaris” = “I will love you eternally.”
As I watch the stars align
And I keep the moon by my side
And as the fever starts to break
I’ll dig a hole for you.
And it would bury us
While we turn into dust.
- Houses, “Peasants”
Chapter 10: Verklempt
Wisdom's passing also affects Vhenaste.
writing prompt: "verklempt"
Caring was not the same as loving. Vhenaste thought she understood this already - she has done both for the people of her clan, some more and some less. She’d also witnessed the young couples and the old, what they did and did not do for each other.
Understanding it for herself was quite another matter, and it hit her for the first time as she watched Solas deal with his friend’s death. She still grappled with herself for not stopping his murderous rage against the Kirkwall mages, but at the moment all she understood was that he had needed a target and their carelessness was to blame. The fact no one else spoke out, either, though she endured many a questioning look, was small comfort.
Monstrous, she thought. But it couldn’t have happened any other way.
The second time the difference hit her was the first day upon returning to Skyhold and Solas was not there. He’d been so distraught, she thought he might come to his quarters and lock himself in for a while, perhaps. There wasn’t even the dregs of the teacup he’d left in the rotunda. Skyhold’s staff had been efficient.
She chastised herself for being entirely too sentimental. Then, hesitating, she sat down at his desk and stared at the unfinished mural until a raven flapped in, squawking, far above. Her heart pounded as she ascended the steps.
More reports of the Orlesian civil war. She kept her face as still as a mask while she seethed with distaste. Childish nonsense. She counted her badly shifted priorities among them.
It hit her again the next day as she kept herself busy with advisors, reports, and training. There was a little less life in Skyhold, and the lack brought her out to her balcony to sleep under the stars.
Again: Varric has bet her an ale Solas has run off into the Dales because Orlais’s civil war is safer than the Chantry still looking for someone to blame for the Divine’s death. He’ll be back, she maintained, stifling the urge to punch his already broken nose. She never thought she would hate Varric, who’d been charming but kind since the first day she met him.
You cannot hate a man for sharing what he’s experienced from his own friends. But she did, and smiled at him, and left the tavern before she vomited.
She thought she was done understanding the moment Solas walked defeatedly through the portcullis, her relief so strong she had walk slowly down the steps lest she fall. You came back.
You came back.
“You were a true friend. I could hardly abandon you now.” So: sad duty. An obligation to be met, nothing more. She brought her selfish heart to heel and offered him comfort instead. He still mourned, after all.
Being thanked for the courtesy was the final blow. She left him to his business and retreated to her room. She collapsed to the floor with a pillow from the divan and keened into it until she fell asleep, tears matting wisps of her hair to her face.
Vhenaste Lavellan loved Solas, and this realization had left her so completely unprepared. She’d long been used to serving, to giving what others needed. Now she wanted all he had to give and the force of it overwhelmed her. But the question remained if he would. If he’d dare. A longing to have that kiss one more time, to make him smile again, filled her troubled sleep until the next peaceful Skyhold dawn.
Chapter 11: Rainflower
The consequences of "Verklempt." Direct lead-in to the balcony kiss.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had taken Solas several days of grieving before he could make himself return to Skyhold and the Inquisition. Wisdom’s passing had shaken him badly, his sleep to search the Fade a fitful thing. It had only confirmed what he already knew, leaving him vowing to raze the institutions that shackled and mutilated mages and perverted spirits.
The plan cannot change. He had to correct his mistakes. And to avoid such a tragedy again, he had to endure working for however long it took to wrest his orb back. He had to go back to Skyhold. Back to the Inquisitor, and face the consequences of leaving. She had to have told Cassandra what happened. Could, or would, she protect him from the Templars as she once vowed?
None but her, late afternoon sun burnishing the deep red of her hair, approached as he entered the courtyard.
Vhenaste surprised him, welcoming him back with concern and questions about what had happened to Wisdom. Her inner circle cadre, on the other hand, usually met him with suspicion or derision. It was still difficult to accept her open curiosity. It threw him off-balance, like putting a foot wrong when missing a step.
“You don’t have to mourn alone."
He bowed his head; her hands were fisted at her sides as he thanked her. Surely she didn’t mean how it sounded to his ears. It flayed at already raw nerves.
As he walked away, dismissing the idea she had shown him anything more than concern for a friend, Solas felt as if suddenly he was not just off-balance but teetering on the edge of a precipice.
He needed to sleep and eat. He should be better on the morrow.
Even several days later, his ability to sleep somewhat restored, he was uncertain of his welcome. Seeing someone in robes standing by his desk did not allay his fears.
“Oh! Beg your pardon, ser.” She turned; it was one of the young mage researchers, who smoothed hair from her face before tucking her hands in her sleeves. She stepped to one side. “I was just leaving the books you’d requested.”
He glanced over at the stack on his desk: Genitivi, Rochefort, Petrine, Allembert… A bright yellow bundle to one side caught his eye.
“What is this?”
“Herbs and flowers?” The researcher tilted her head at him. “Lemon balm for sympathy, yarrow for healing, rosemary for remembrance, daffodil for regard-”
“Thank you, but I did not request this,” he said, picking it up to return to the mage.
“Wasn’t me,” she said, shaking her head and taking a step back. “I think the Inquisitor left it. I overheard her preparing it.” The young woman blushed. “I’ll just be going now.” She turned and darted quickly for the stairs.
He turned the small bundle over in his hands. The herbs and flower - a solitary daffodil in the herbal bunch - were meticulously wrapped. Given the meanings the girl had rattled off, he might have been content knowing it was a touching gift from a friend wanting to tender their sympathies for his grief.
He ran his thumb along the daffodil’s petals. Faint dew still clung inside. Regard? No: Unrequited love.
She really thought he didn’t, that he forgot, that he… The door to the rotunda opened as he felt a yawning chasm did underneath him. Vhenaste walked in, eyes bright as citrines as she offered him a guarded and uncertain smile, and he helplessly fell.
Flower meanings taken from here:: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_symbolism . “Rainflower” is Solas’s response.
Duran Duran, “Midnight Sun” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYvYBQiPdrc
(Catch me I don’t want to fall / But you pull the mountain from under me / Look I’m dangling up in the blue / and it’s a cartoon coyote eternity before I drop / down to you / what am I supposed to do now?)
Counting Crows, “Goodnight Elisabeth” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYEsEOijyTw
(If you wrap yourself in daffodils
I will wrap myself in pain
And if you’re the queen of California
Baby I am the king of the rain)
Chapter 12: Of Recoil and Grace
The beginning of the end.
First part of the “the end” for Solas and Vhenaste. I apologize if this doesn’t make sense - there’s obviously parts of this story I have not explained yet. The tl;dr has a lot of struggle and research and sacrifice and talking to old friends and new friends, and effectively taming the power of the Well of Sorrows after it fucks around with Vhenaste’s personality - see “Ignis Fatuus,” where he was partly right. The rest of it will make sense in time and additional pieces written.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Far above them in the upper levels of the ancient fortress, the Wardens were at war with each other. While Warden-Commander Mahariel had been glad to help Vhenaste, she’d made it clear she didn’t believe her kin had anything approaching a solution nor an end to the Blight. Pursuit of Fen'Harel and denying the corrupt Wardens what lay beneath Weisshaupt was good enough reason for Lyna.
“Hunt well,” she’d said as they parted company, and Vhenaste smiled tightly. She had been terribly successful the last time she’d heard that. She doubted Solas would wish the same now.
Now in the high-vaulted ruins in the bowels of the Deep Roads, with Sera and Thom and a scant handful of dwarves and Wardens between them, all she wished for now was an end. Preferably one with sunlight and hope instead of the dusty remains of fungus on ancient relics and a swelling darkness, or the icy dread of awakened, angry beings.
The black-tarnished eluvian waited at the lip of the chasm like a quiescent predator, its one eye staring in anticipation. The air of the deep was stagnant held breath. Some paced or fidgeted now, waiting for the final breath - one way or another. Only Thom stood patient, Sera caught between wanting to leave and to follow.
“But you can’t, Sera, I’m sorry,” she said. “Dagna would never forgive me if–”
“I know, the Blight.” Sera glanced, fascinated, at the mirror. “Friggin’ cold, that is, I can feel it.” She shuddered. “It’s so weird, and… this is it? What everyone’s so focused on?”
“Not exactly, but it’s close enough to help me finish this.” Every other option was a guaranteed death sentence either for herself or for Thedas. She only needed to live long enough for the latter. Thom would help make certain of it. She’d barely needed to ask before he agreed.
Finally, he’d said.
But you’ve done enough. You’ve paid your debts. Her heart had sunk, still hoping he would say no although she needed him.
Not to you I haven’t, he’d replied with wistful relief.
“I hate you’re making me go through this,” Sera said, wiping at her eyes.
“I hate it too. But it has to happen this way.” She embraced the younger woman and kissed her forehead. “You’re a better friend than I deserved. Thank you.”
Sera pushed her away for a moment, unhappy. “I don’t want to say you’re welcome. This is what friends should be.” A deep tolling noise reverberated from the mirror. Vhenaste felt some of its darkness recede like oil down a waxed canvas. She could almost feel the drawing of a curtain of night over the world. Solas had arrived on the other side of that shadowy, spoke-wheeled reflection.
“Shit. Out of time.” Sera’s eyes went wide and she unslung her bow. “Go. And remember we all love you.” Thom dropped his own kiss on the elven girl’s forehead and beckoned the others forth, striding with shining axe and shield toward the decayed heart of a dead city.
“I’ll always remember,” Vhenaste said, and followed Thom through the eluvian, crackling vines of green light erupting where her arm used to be.
When Vhenaste began thwarting Solas in earnest, she had pursued every possible lead, hunted every artifact, and spent countless late nights poring over ancient scrolls and Tevinter tomes in the vain hope of stopping each step he took. She had seen the arsenals he could potentially access, after all, and he had the advantage of knowing where his prizes could be located before she could understand what prizes he sought to begin with.
It was time spent with the voices of Mythal, asking the right questions, that completely reshaped how she would struggle against her former lover. Even so the Well nearly took everything from her until Sera’s good sense intervened. Blessed Vivienne - a leash did indeed tug both directions.
She had never needed all the orbs, nor even some of them, once she understood Solas’s plan. All she ever needed was to do was what she had done so many times before: follow. And pray for time.
Title taken from The Smashing Pumpkins, "The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning"
Chapter 13: Little Wing
Solas treats Vhenaste for a hangover after drinking with Iron Bull.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Solas could only watch as Vhenaste flew into Skyhold on the shoulders of the cohort she’d taken to the Western Approach. He emerged from his studies when he heard the returning fanfare to find her surrounded by her people, all of them excited by her successes.
Her eyes sought him in the courtyard then, finding, she laughed and waved.
“I’ll find you later! I’m being fêted!” And was carried away to the Herald’s Rest. He smiled at her wake and inquired from her porters what had happened as he helped carry in some of the supplies.
They were only too happy to talk about capturing an enemy keep and killing another high dragon. As that was not the impetus for going to the Western Approach, he had to find Leliana to discover more. Solas felt the true success was closing in on finding the Grey Warden ritual tower - given everything they’d learned thus far, they were doing something highly foolish and destructive. That was a priority. But as Leliana unfurled the full story for him with a coy smile, he couldn’t deny the pride that welled up. Her efforts had also brought them a draconologist.
Her third dragon, now, since the Hinterlands and Crestwood. He felt sorry for their passing, worried about the danger she was putting herself through, but most of all he exulted. For all her tender feelings, she swung her staff and cast her spells with fierce and conquering joy in the face of adversity. Watching her these days meant the hair on his arms standing up, and it could be as much from the ambient electricity she gathered around her as the simple fact she stirred him deeply.
In short, Vhenaste was a force of nature herself. To love her was to love the eye of a storm. And for as long as he was in it, he could let himself be lifted until it all fell apart.
He carefully brought a tray up to her room the next morning. She had been poured into her bed after drinking meraas-lok with the Iron Bull - a mistake, the liquor was incredibly potent. Bull should have known better than to encourage her to drink so heavily, but he supposed the thrill of victory could still be blamed. He’d been reckless in similar situations, before, and usually paid the price.
Hopefully her price would only be a terrible head, soon to be soothed with tea.
“Vhenan,” he said softly, setting down the tray. She lay sprawled face-down under her coverlet, hair an untidy mess over the half of her face peeking above the blanket. What a fool he was to find even this side of her endearing. He carefully stroked her hair from her sleep-gummed closed eyes, and stepped back as she squeezed her eyes shut more tightly and groaned.
“It is time to wake, Vhenaste.”
“Nnnnnngh.” She brought a hand up to cover her face, the coverlet falling off her shoulder. Whoever put her to bed had at least removed her outer garments. She muttered a sleep-blurred curse. “Let me die in peace.”
“I am afraid I can’t do that,” he said. “But I have brought ease for your suffering.”
“Is that foo- ugh,” she groaned again as she slowly shifted onto her back.
“Yes, there is food as well, but only when your stomach is less tender.” He could feel himself smiling just a little too much. Temporarily brought low with too much drink and she still made him feel giddy.
“If you love me, you could at least close the windows.” Ah, some of her biting humor was returning, at least. She cracked an eye and squinted balefully at him, withdrawing her other hand from under the covers to press at her mouth.
“The mountain air and sunlight is better for you. If you trust my judgment, you will soon agree,” he said, pouring the tea. Chamomile, mint, and elfroot faintly perfumed the air.
“I do trust, but we shall see on agreeing,” she said ruefully. “Nnnnngh. Bull had better be faring as badly.” She gestured somewhat impatiently for the cup, eyes more open but still struggling against the bright morning.
“Possibly, although his own bedmates are likely letting him sleep.” He sat carefully on the edge of her bed and handed her the cup.
“Hmph.” She took it and sipped, sighing as the herbs began to work. “Cruel and kind.”
“I suppose it is, either way.” He hesitated, then laid his hand atop her hand resting on the coverlet. “Welcome home. You have been missed.”
Title inspired by Jimi Hendrix, “Little Wing”
When I’m sad, she comes to me
With a thousand smiles she gives to me free
It’s alright, she said, it’s alright
Take anything you want from me
Fly on, little wing
Other music inspiration: Joni Mitchell, “A Case of You”
Chapter 14: Landing
The aftermath of the siege of Adamant, and the revelations and decision in the Fade, has left Vhenaste in need of comfort. Solas has his own reasons for needing it too.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Please come back to bed,” he says. Safe, clean areas are scarce here. Sharing a bed had only made sense, though he knew better. It had been more than that. It always has been.
She is standing several feet back from the open windows, moonlight gracing her in blue as she hums and sways from foot to foot. The soft evening light follows the ripples of skin and muscle. Through the windows come faint sounds of horses whickering, men murmuring and pacing on their watch, but all else is quiet and still but for her.
Hours earlier was battle, fear, rage, and sorrow. A terrifying miracle he’d not thought to happen - yet, yet - and uncomfortable revelations. The capture of Adamant Fortress and stopping the Grey Wardens had been wildly successful by any standard.
“O Lethanavir,” she half-sings on a whisper in the middle of her humming, and he recognizes now a piece of this dirge as she stops suddenly to raise both hands to tear-tracked cheeks.
“Vhenan–” He raises up, meaning to hold her.
“I can’t even mourn him properly!” Hands flung down, her eyes and anger focused on him now. “Where could he go? There are none to receive his spirit, and that? That? The chaos and despair of Nightmare’s realm…!”
She flings these words at him, expecting answers to her struggle that he cannot give. Stroud gave his life for a cause he believed in, never mind what Solas personally thought. But more than her body is bared to him now: her soul’s anguish over what next, how to make peace with all she has learned is completely open for him to see. What contrast with the cold, calculating rage upon seeing the captured Erimond - water or feed as you must to get him to Skyhold, nothing more. These emotional vicissitudes leaves him scrambling for purchase.
“…is but one area of the Fade, Vhenaste…”
“…is where he died!”
The stark plea in every gesture and syllable is too much. He pulls back the sheets and rises, holding out both arms. The chill desert air prickles his skin, missing her warmth.
“This was not a problem of your making, it was the Wardens and Corypheus. Terrible happenstance caught you in their machinations and made you an instrument of salvation.” He grimaces at his own poor choice of words, but he is tired. This partial truth would have to serve. “I am sorry for your loss of faith, I truly am. But do not lose your hope.”
She stares up at him, grasping for her own place to land after being so thoroughly upended.
“I couldn’t sleep… what if…”
“I know. I was frightened as well.” Partial truths are again all he has. Will they be enough? Is he?
She breaks on a soft sigh, shoulders dropping, and steps forward into his arms. Her chilled skin against his, unsteady breath and heartbeat against his shoulder, eyelashes sweeping the remains of her tears across, roots him so suddenly in this moment. Her hair against his cheek. The soft-muscled planes of her back under his palms. Hip to thigh, belly to belly. Real.
“Help me sleep.”
He sweeps his cheek against her hair and holds her tightly, gently guiding her back to bed. This is all he truly wanted. And she follows, curling into him as if she has found a place to belong.
Yet again with the Duran Duran inspo: “Midnight Sun.”
Chapter 15: Howling
Vhenaste has lost her arm, her love, her clan, and her friends and the Inquisition itself has to move on. Trying to cope when your ex-lover needs to be stopped is a constantly triggering struggle, but necessary for everyone.
Trigger warnings for loss of limb and a slap.
“Hush, please, we have you now - kaffas, amatus, do not break the mirrors - Vhenaste, we are almost there, don’t you dare leave me–”
My left, he left - she is screaming in pain and loss, had been numb until Solas went through his eluvian and awareness snapped back, she snapped, too much, too much –
“Too loud,” the spirit says, pale eyes wide. “I am sorry, I can’t right now but they have you, they have you, they…” He disappears from the edges of her vision, scenery blurring past her in large grey arms.
“Let him go, kadan. Last one. Run, she’s looking blue.”
The cool shimmer, though familiar now, doused her consciousness like a candle’s flame. Gone.
“My lady, you are not well-”
Vhenaste ignores the Chantry sister. Her healer theoretically worked for the Divine but it was Dorian who kept her informed. She doesn’t dare trust anyone she doesn’t know after… The Exalted Council is meeting now and browbeating Josephine? How dare.
She struggles to put on her uniform, pressing her lips together to keep tears from welling. Her arm itches and aches terribly, her muscles trying to compensate for her loss, and she is sweating from the exertion.
“Help me or get out,” she bites at the fretting sister, who opts for both and flees as soon as Vhenaste’s left sleeve is pinned.
Scooping up Justinia’s writ is easier, her bootheels on the marbled floors keeping time with her furious heart. No more of this nonsense. She is done. The Inquisition is done. After all she has accomplished and all she has lost, this is the final insult.
So many of them leaving anyway - Dorian to Tevinter, Thom to the Wardens, Varric to Kirkwall - she might as well make it official. Purge the whole organization. Shake out the spies. Everyone gone.
It had taken months to find the sanctuaries again. They simply do not have the reach and resources they used to. Leliana had not liked but agreed to a ruthless and meticulous vetting of her people, dismayed to discover some of his people had infiltrated.
(”I should have been less trusting, Inq- Vhenaste.”
“Never apologize for that. The fault was mine.”
“Don’t talk to me as if I had no choice in the matter!”
“Didn’t you? We needed to grow quickly and you responded. Enough. We should send them away.”
“We could turn some, you know.”
“…only one. Her. Send the others away.”)
Every step is a painful reminder made worse when she reaches the island sanctuary and its mural. The voices of the Well stir uneasily. Her arm throbs and tingles despite her hooded cloak against the chill settling into the valley.
Deshanna Istimaethoriel Lavellan is gaping at everything, running her hands over the fresco. Had Vhenaste looked like this? She must have, she realizes with a pang of sorrow - this is where it came from, vhenan! You never got to see.
“Vhenaste.” Deshanna starts and turns. The sound of her name in the older woman’s mouth makes her eyes sting. Deshanna is everything she has missed. “Two years and I still can’t keep up with word of what you’ve done.” The Keeper holds her hands outward, gesturing at the sanctuary itself. “Is this your doing?”
“No. It is Fen’Harel’s.”
Deshanna narrows her eyes dubiously. “You cannot mean literally, and even so…”
Vhenaste pulls back her hood and tries not to flinch when her Keeper, the woman who’d been a second mother to her, pulls away on a gasp, the blood draining from her face.
“I do mean so. I have much to tell you: too much of our history has been lost that it has become warped around the missing pieces. You are looking at one of those pieces.” She rubs at her arm, her throat tight and her stomach churning, and tries telling everything - uncovered history, the artifacts found, the lost temples found. Stumbles when it comes to Solas, her own missing piece. But her ablity to tell a story has ceded ground over the years to politics and fighting, neither of which has a place between her and the Keeper.
“You’ve turned your back on us,” Deshanna says finally. She can barely look at Vhenaste and regretfully tears herself away from the fresco. “You’ve left the People, and denied Mythal.” She had applied Vhenaste’s vallaslin personally, proud she would choose the same path.
“No, everything I did was for us! How was I to know… Fen’Harel…Solas…” The voices of the Well clamor to make themselves heard. Mythal hadn’t cared about vallaslin! Vhenaste ignores them and steps toward Deshanna, who cocks her head and steps carefully away.
“Fen’Harel didn’t catch your scent, you gave it to him,” the Keeper says calmly and indicates the mural. “That was for yourself. Not for us. I am sorry. You have made your choice.”
There was little left to say after that. Deshanna was right and she had made herself clear. Vhenaste no longer has a clan. Gone.
She takes up residence in Kirkwall in the estate Varric has given her, and it is large and empty when Leliana and her handful of agents aren’t there. Varric visits and talks about everything and nothing - Wicked Grace, complaints about the Merchant’s Guild and being Viscount, guard captains and editors. Sometimes he hesitantly tries talking about the Champion.
“No offense, Varric, but Hawke has something I don’t,” she says one evening over a glass of wine. She’s perfected pulling out wine corks with her teeth once the bottle is pinned and the cork loosened.
Varric mutters into his glass - something something humor - then sets it down with an expectant look and sigh. She knows she’s been a terrible conversationalist, but she feels stuck and impotent and tired of no one understanding.
“A hand,” she finishes. This place is only technically hers - not a real home. The estate used to be Hawke’s. The Champion gave it up after the Templars turned on her. Dierdre had never wanted it, she’d confided in Vhenaste once. It was for her mother, and once she was gone all that was left was ghosts. Vhenaste has brought her own to keep them company and they crowd around her.
“Yeah,” Varric says slowly, almost hollowly. He knows it’s more than a hand. Varric can’t look at her without reminding her of other times. He tried asking once about Solas and she “forgot” to speak to him for a week. “But you both have friends. Thought I’d remind you.”
Varric finishes his drink and the door shutting behind him is heavy. Gone.
Something has awakened the Well fully, and the constant whispering at the edge of understanding is infuriating.
“Where is he?” she demands of Cullen and Leliana. The former looks tired and strained - she knows Kirkwall is haunting him, he’s only here to provide his own meager updates. He should be back in Ferelden with that ridiculous dog and–
“I have rumors once more from Serault,” Leliana offers warily. The whispering gets no more distinct but increases.
“Rumors!” The skirling, scratching in her head rises. “Fuck Serault!” She picks up the gauntleted fist map marker and hurls it at a wall. The piece crumples against the Free Marcher stone and ricochets, Leliana and Cullen flinching away.
She can’t stand the look in their eyes, the exasperation and pity alike.
“Fuck the rumors!”
She yanks the door open. Neria is holding a tray of food. Neria, his agent, the only one Vhenaste has allowed to stay. Neria, who is with her every day seeing to her needs.
“Where is he?” she bellows at the girl, who shrinks in terror. The hand she no longer has is a clenched fist of needles and if she could throw them…
“That’s enough,” Cullen barks.
She whips her head around - she had no idea how he could be angry and apologetic at the same time, but he manages with just the furrow of his brow. She stares at him, something in his demeanor trying to tell her something but the voices are too.
“You’re right,” she says hoarsely, and steps past Neria. She needs out. She needs air. Now.
Kirkwall is a different animal at night, something cool, alert, and on guard. It can help sharpen her senses again, walking out her frustrations in quick and forceful strides and gathering her wits. He’s had months. What is he doing? Why can’t anything go forward? She was flailing and resentful, unable to do anything personally lest he know for certain and leave nothing for her to hold.
“Someone’s a big tit!” Mocking laughter came from the rooftops several streets away.
Not now, not now, go away. She moves faster. There’s always someone desperate in Kirkwall even with Varric’s best efforts.
“A ripe, rich tit!” The voice nags at her even closer. Keep moving.
“Well fine, my Lady Tit, coming right at ya.”
Vhenaste ducks into another street. Right into Sera, who is scowling.
“What the frig is the matter with you?”
“It’s called a walk, Sera. You’re interrupting,” she says. She doesn’t want to do this to Sera. Not now. It’s been months and she deserves a better greeting, but the Well in her head tells her she’s running out of time with every whisper and she needs to outpace it.
“Ooh, so that’s what the rich tits are calling being a shit, now. A walk.”
“You don’t understand, I need–”
“I don’t, huh? We playing that again? Sera too stupid to understand anything?” Sera leans in and pushes Vhenaste’s shoulder, scowling deeper. She wobbles, off balance and flailing, and just catches herself stooped over.
“Been watching you. Told myself it was to protect you but come to find out it’s everyone else needs it. Leliana has a sad murder face, I can’t stand it. Bull says you’re not talking to Dorian. Varric looks like shit every time he walks out your door.” Sera’s on the verge of yelling, red in the face and gesturing wildly. “And Cullen! Never thought I’d stand up for a jackboot but you’re worse than him!”
Shame wars with the anger and frustration as she straightens up again. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“No? Then how about this: your poor serving girl keeps weeping because you’re too good to care about anyone else but you and that arse who left you!”
Vhenaste isn’t aware her hand has moved until Sera is cradling her cheek, the echoes of the slap reverberating in the hard stoney streets. She stills, horrified at what she’s done.
“Oh… shit… Sera…”
“Well. You still got one good hand.”
“No,” Sera says, rubbing at the angry mark. “You don’t get to ‘sorry’ me. Not ‘til you ‘sorry’ them first.” Her eyes are filled with tears. “We still care but right now I don’t like you.”
“You’re in great company, I don’t like myself either,” Vhenaste says bitterly. “Save the world. I’m useless.”
“This cheek says you’re not.” Sera stares at her, steely-eyed. “And if you can pull your head out of your arse, Mopey, there’s a chance I can get you a second hand to use on your Elven Glory hole. But you got to earn it. I don’t have time for arseholes. I only have arrows.”
Vhenaste blinks. Somewhere in all this, the Well has gone quiet. Sera is back, angry as her wasps and bees, and is…offering something?
“If we’re to be friends again, I need you to be a Friend. I dunno if Kirkwall’s gonna be yours, but it’s a start.” Sera shuffles her feet. “So’s doing something nice for Neria. She can’t help the shit you put her in.”
Her stomach clenches. “You know her name?”
“Told you I been watching.” Sera looks away. “Can’t watch anymore. Gotta do. And so do you.” She turns around and starts pulling herself back up a building. “Widdle says hi. Mopey tit.” Soon she is gone.
Vhenaste is tired of all the leaving, of feeling mired and unable to pull out of it. Every time she sees what’s left of her arm, she sees Solas walking away while she’s frozen in pain. She can’t find him, can’t stop him if she’s always like this.
She needs to get better. Be better. And if Sera has a way…
Vhenaste awkwardly searches out the sending crystal around her neck as she turns and heads back to the estate.
“Dorian…,” she says hesitantly. He could be asleep. He could be in the Magisterium.
“Kaffas, Vhenaste. I wasn’t certain you’d ever speak to me again.”
She feels like weeping. “I’m so sorry. I missed your velvety voice.”
He chuckles. “I knew you would.”
“Of course, you are rather brilliant. I hope you’re keeping all of Tevinter on their toes,” she says. The door of the manor is ahead. It’s hard to believe the simple lift in her mood now. She has a lot of work and a lot of apologizing to do.
“Naturally.” He coughs, his voice uncertain once more. “Do me a favor: don’t leave me in the dark like that again. I shall not forgive you.”
“I will do my best.” She bites her lip, then: “I’d sooner cut off my right hand.”
The relieved and watery laughter in reply said enough. She was slowly coming back.
Chapter 16: Hypnagogia
Vhenaste comes to Serault for atonement, aid in recovery, and investigating Leliana's and Sera's rumors. She loses and finds herself in the Tirashan.
If it helps, this bridges "Howling" and "Ignis Fatuus."
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Serault is faded Orlesian finery wrapped around ancient apostasy. The gildings are all but stripped and the Seraultine stag belches glassworks smoke day and night: her shame is lifted and now hangs oppressively over the Tirashan and the villages alike. New glass windows for the Grand Cathedral did not let the Chantry see its people any more clearly before the Conclave.
Vhenaste hopes her friend is a more visionary Divine than Justinia. Judging from some of the hollow-eyed stares she receives peppered among the stolid and the suspicious as she leads her horse through town, Cassandra could bring more to this region than coin for the Marquisate’s coffers. The people are as remote and strange as the land, with a bone-deep loyalty to the place Vhenaste doesn’t quite understand.
Leliana’s rumors and the Well’s whispers have brought her through Serault’s crumbling-plaster streets, the sun occasionally throwing dagger-shards of light from the Marquise’s thousand-windowed castle, to the tumbledown hovels by a pig farmer. A curious tension rules here; it and the Seraultine contact unnerve Sera.
“Keeps their secrets well-tucked. They can stay tucked. But there’s also trouble, I’m told,” Sera said in Kirkwall. Vhenaste had earned some forgiveness. Now she can earn more. Follow up on all the whispers, even if they get her nowhere.
A green smell cuts through the glassworks cinders and rotted river boats. She lifts her head: the Applewoods are alluring, its leaf litter rustling like soft-spoken words.
“She is in Serault,” the tinker tells him as he is passing through to Jader.
“Eyes like the sorceress who visited years ago,” says the rough-voiced woman who sips the tea he brews. “She saw enough to want to push.”
Vhenaste’s restraint in questioning pleases and puzzles Solas. Neria has told him enough he would worry if he did not have weightier concerns.
“Masked and unmasked, bound and free,” the little spirit says, bobbing and dancing to a tune he cannot yet hear. “Woods whisper for me, thee, and we.”
Now he understands. The Tirashan is an inverted Halamshiral, where the danger comes from things far older than Orlais’s Game, and it will have its due. It calls and she answers.
“Hunt well,” he wishes aloud like a blessing. She had humiliated her opponents into defeat, once - he remembers her stalking Florianne at the end like wounded prey, the arrows of the traitor’s own words striking the Duchess mortally because all could hear. He should but he cannot forget dancing afterward, flush with drink and victory and the smell of ozone in her hair. Gavottes in blood. Her mouth at his ear.
Distractions. He coughs, draws his mantle close, and prepares for Hunter Fell.
She remembers entering the wood looking for answers. Evasions, missing people, curious blank spots all here. Spending time alone, listening to the wind, listening to the Well… well. One gets lost for a while before one is found.
She remembers those both like and unlike her. Elves, yes. But red fingers and red vallaslin uttering names Vhenaste has only read in faded histories, never heard, never allowed. All distorted. They both fear and revile her.
“Asha-” one says before another claps hand over their mouth.
Vhenaste has followed them, learned much digging in their bones. The Vir Abelasan is a friend at her shoulder, clear and wise. Here for this answer. There for a weapon. He must be found and stopped. It’s so easy.
She knows time passes as her hair grows long, limed and befeathered. Clothing comes to her from… somewhere. Offerings, perhaps, or the remains of finery from glories long past. Like Halamshiral… or was it the echoing drums of the deep? But she is done with dancing: she will have her due.
She enters her dream a huntress, circling.
The human hunter dangles the crystal in front of her and does not speak. The object is doing that for him.
“For Andraste’s sake, Vhenaste, you must wake up. Festis bei umo canavarum - can you hear me?”
She stares at the man and cocks her head. She doesn’t recognize him but finds him a little too brash.
“She can hear you,” the man says. His voice is rusty from disuse. “Keep talking.”
He should be kneeling, the Well says. Tell him.
She opens her mouth. Why should she care about this impudence? All she wants are her answers.
“Answers! Bless the Maker’s dimpled backside.” She must have said that aloud. The man in the crystal… Dorian. Yes. What was he- “Madame Vivienne has something incredibly clever and important to tell you. I traveled all the way to Orlais for this, I hope you appreciate my sacrifice.”
Sacrifice. The word rings so oddly to her. The hunter has stepped closer, watching her carefully, the crystal held higher. Swinging in front of her face. As if she should recognize it… and perhaps she does.
“Yes of course, darling, be a dear and quiet down.” She can almost picture a face. A warm, trusted face smiling carefully but genuinely, giving her a ring. “Listen carefully, Vhenaste. You are in control of this power, do you understand?”
“Of course I do, do not be absurd,” Vhenaste snaps. Except that is not quite what she wanted to say. She struggles to try again.
“Apologies, I…” The voices rise up: it is time to work the will of Mythal. And what of my will?
“My friend would not be so rude, so I shall try again. A compulsion can be broken. Do remember what I told you: a leash works both ways. Take hold of it tightly. I know you can.”
Vhenaste thinks Vivienne’s voice wavered a little at the end, but that could not be right. She is strong, ruthless, cunning, like herself. She also cares! It’s like a scream in her mind. She does slowly feel as if she’s waking up to a battle of wills, one that she is losing.
“You’ve a will of steel and friends who care about your well-being. And you cannot find Solas buried in the woods of a backwater Orlesian province.” Vivienne says this so firmly, so matter-of-factly it is like a cold slap to the face. Solas. After… Vhenaste’s arm aches. The Anchor. It melted down. Solas used its power to…
Vivienne had never once mentioned Solas to her afterward out of respect for her feelings.
The strange hunter closes the final steps and puts the crystal in her palm. “You lost this.” He turns and walks away, leaving Vhenaste slow-blinking tears in a sunlit copse.
“What was that?” Vivienne inquires from her palm.
No one of importance, says the Well.
“I lost my will, Vivienne.” She chokes this out because it’s true. How long did she wander these strange woods, having given up all she had left in the hopes it would ease the pain and be the solution she sought?
The solution is still here, the Well promises. We have many answers.
And I will take them, Vhenaste promises back.
“Thank you, Vivienne. Dorian. So long as I still have you…” She takes a deep, shuddering breath. “You are my friends. And this is no dream. Not any longer.”
When I am recovered, I am coming for you, Solas. She recalls, as from a dream, faint memories of ruins in Hunter Fell and terrifying things that should have stayed forgotten. A race, now, to see who could get to them first.
Crystal in hand, she stalks toward the village.
Put on "The Lost Temple" from the game's soundtrack for this. Playing "The Last Court" is not required but it's helpful to understanding.
Chapter 17: Tip of the Tongue
They closer they come, the harder he falls. The closer a choice must be made; the closer he is to giving the truth. And the Arbor Wilds beckons.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It is their far-from-private ritual by now. At least once a week - usually after spending an hour or two with Leliana, sometimes after a supper with Dorian spent debating and throwing books - Vhenaste descends the stairs of the rotunda in nightshirt and leg wraps with a bottle of wine in one hand and reading material in another. Whether Solas is painting or deep in his studies, she kisses the back of his head and takes his sofa, draping her legs over the arm, where she spends the rest of the evening reading and commenting aloud.
Sometimes it’s a report Leliana has cleared for others to hear, and Vhenaste is pondering over its issues and looking at them from several angles. Particularly complicated problems start her pacing, pausing for sips of wine. He listens and will offer a word when she trails off.
Sometimes it’s a dusty treatise from a rescued library, or a “heretical” work from Tevinter (invariably a technique stolen from elves and ascribed to their Old Gods instead), and she once again chews upon it aloud. Like a ragpicker looking for useful pieces among the debris of the dead, laughing in triumph or derision at what she finds.
On occasion he finds this useful as well, in that temporarily setting aside his work to discuss with her will jog loose a thought he can apply later. Most of the time he is happy to simply listen to her share her thoughts. It was her mind he loved first, and he is humbled she reveals so much of it to him.
Some evenings he listens with half an ear, and looks up when it is quiet to find her asleep with her book on her face and the bottle half-empty. He gently removes the book and finds something to mark her place, then retrieves a blanket to keep her from getting chilled. After the siege at Adamant, he enlists help picking her up and taking her upstairs to her quarters, after which he struggles with himself on whether or not to join her in her slumber.
Not all of his considerations had disappeared when he had taken the risk and admitted his love. There are deeper truths and vulnerabilities one exposes in lying with another, and even sleeping together comes perilously close. And so he holds back, but the strength of his resolve slips away with each intimacy. Would it be so terrible? This is the source of his struggle because he does not know, and he is already gambling so much with this.
He senses a time coming where either he must tell her or walk away. When Vhenaste reaches for him in her sleep, the Anchor’s glow against his cheek and her forehead pressed to his, he tells himself tomorrow.
He looks up tonight to find her watching him.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yes,” she says quickly, but a flush rises to her cheeks. “I was… thinking.”
“Oh?” She has never hesitated to share her thoughts, but he has sought to never assume the right to them. That she is slow to tell him now makes him somewhat uneasy as well as curious.
“About…” She stands abruptly and paces. He remains quiet to give her the space to work out the newest thorny issue. But no words are forthcoming.
“Would you prefer to talk in private?”
Vhenaste seizes upon this gentle prompt, stopping at his chair and taking his hand. Hers is very warm.
“Yes, please,” she exhales, and Solas allows himself to be drawn in her wake into the alcove that leads outside.
“What do you need, vhenan?” he asks quietly, noting Skyhold is particularly drafty today. He will suggest an extra blanket for her.
This time there is no hesitation as she cups her hands around his face, breathing out you as she draws him in for a kiss that threatens to unravel him completely. There is an urgent question hanging in the air with her body moulded to his, feverish and thrumming. He thought he’d already fallen far enough, but now finds himself dangling over another precipice, and this one with no safe means to land.
His hands have knotted themselves in her hair as she has slowly pressed him into the wall. He breathes in wine, cloves, ozone, and the scent of her skin, and breathes out a ragged groan of frustration he cannot hold back when she pulls away to nip at his jaw and his earlobe. Her hands are at his hips now and the suggestion of her touch wandering threatens to consume him.
“Vhen…” Even her name is so close to his heart. “Vhenaste, please…”
“I chanced to think of you touching me, and I have been able to think of little else,” she confesses. She shifts her stance against him, a thigh brushing against his. Sleeping together, even nude, has been nothing like this. That was for comfort, this a promised bliss he has not had in…
“I would, but–”
The door springs open. It’s Commander Cullen himself, his normally pomaded hair slightly ragged from finger-combing and his eyes fever-bright. He clutches a missive in his hand.
“Inquisitor!” Cullen stops his forward motion abruptly and turns his head. Vhenaste pulls away and Solas is ashamed of both his relief and his disappointment. You cowardly fool, he berates himself as he straightens.
“What is it?” she says. The cool mantle of authority reasserted even as she stands barefooted and bare shouldered with her nightdress askew.
“Corypheus,” Cullen says, refocusing upon Vhenaste, and hands her the missive. “He may have finally found what he is looking for in the Arbor Wilds. We’ll have to move quickly.”
“Go to the war room, I’ll be there shortly,” she says, the tenor of her excitement shifting. Cullen brushes past apologetically and shouts up at Leliana as he continues storming through.
Alone again, she stares up at Solas with bright eyes.
“Can we…discuss this again?”
“When we return from the Arbor Wilds, yes,” he promises, allowing himself this once to brush his thumb along her lower lip before withdrawing.
“You assume we will live through the experience,” she teases. She has pulled up her gallows humor to hide her nervousness. Every battle could very well be their last, both of them know.
“I assume you will be victorious,” he says, and she smiles achingly bright in response.
“No words of caution for me?”
“No, they would simply undermine you. I will save them for myself.”
“Then I look forward to our victory,” she breathes, stealing another impetuous kiss from him before she darts toward the war room.
His heart is in his throat. Tomorrow has come.
Music: Coldplay, "The Scientist"
Chapter 18: Ashes, Ashes
Vhenaste follows Solas's din'anshiral at Hunter Fell and the Silent Plains and begins to understand the true cost of everything.
Follows chronologically after "Hypnagogia."
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lanterns and towering brightly-robed statues dominate the streets of Hunter Fell, the gibbous autumn moon shining on every family’s ancestral pride and those who came to celebrate them. The pageantry is solemn, reverent, and joyful - a street carnival venerating the dead. It is nothing like the rituals she learned for uthenera, for Falon’Din. Although she doesn’t share the beliefs, she rather likes what she sees of the Nevarran practices. She would rather be remembered with smiles than lamented that she will not return.
“Know where you’re going, Boss?” The Iron Bull asks, pitching his voice just low enough for her to hear in the crowds. Vhenaste, cloaked against nothing more than recognition, has to scurry in his wake. He has an established presence here with the Chargers, so he is invisible through familiarity. There is a sizzle and char of roasting meat, the booming voices of actors and vendors, the murmur of people gathering and passing at the shrines. It’s just enough of a din to make it harder to separate the noises.
“Not yet. I’ll know it when–”
“–you see it, got it.”
There is much to see as well, far more than could possibly have been detailed in Brother Genitivi’s travels. Hunter Fell is a microcosm of the capital, its differences carved with the rise of Caspar Pentaghast and the fall of Toth. There are Tevene spires, rounded and baked arches, gilded domes; new Marcher blood mingles with the bastard lineages of Hector and Maferath. It’s proving somewhat overwhelming and difficult to focus. Solas and his agents are somewhere in this city and she needs clues.
A tug at her right; she sees no one, but she hadn’t realized she’d drifted so near the vendors. The elven fruit seller nearby straightens at her attention, anticipation edging her smile. She is swathed in richly colored and patterned cloth and there is a touch of gold in her ear.
“Melons and peaches, apples and berries! Honeyfigs, pears, and spices for cherries! Fruit for your honored dead, messere?”
Vhenaste’s mouth waters but she turns regretfully.
“Ma- my thanks, but I must go.”
“Wait.” No hand at her shoulder but she stops, string-pulled. The fruit seller is assessing her fast, eyes darting, as she holds up a fat little basket of ripe blackberries. “Take one for the taste of lathbora viran.”
Vhenaste blinks. Has she been recognized after all? She takes a blackberry with a slow nod and pops it into her mouth, its bittersweet flavor as keen as longing.
“Hey. Thought I’d lost you,” Bull says, appearing at her left. “What’s good?” He looks down at the fruit in the cart. “I keep hoping for bananas…”
“For you, maybe peaches,” she says, distracted. In the passing throng behind the seller is a visual snag. Her eyes follow the graffiti beneath eaves and outflung stone arms. Graffiti like the ancient scratched pictograms from the slaves of Coracavus, here from a society of servants as invisible: red hands, mien’harel, and winding blackberry vines.
She thinks to reach for Bull’s arm, only to be reminded her left hand is no longer there when it does not obey her. She has to think quickly.
“Your bananas might not survive a trip from Seheron to the Free Marches,” she says as Bull drops coin for two peaches into the woman’s palm. “I feel a little lost. Can you tell me of a path through this fog of people?”
The fruit seller smiles. “Follow the current, it will become plain.”
Vhenaste thanks her as they depart.
“What’s the plan?” The Iron Bull bites into his peach. If he is concerned it might be poisoned, he doesn’t show it. But she knows he picked up on her warning, the subtle shift of his body language as he covers her left despite it being his blind side all the affirmation she needs.
“Study the graffiti, and then some maps,” she says. She looks up at him, watching the play of light and shadow on his face as he eats. “This isn’t your fight. You should go see Dorian.”
“Can’t,” he says cheerfully through mouthfuls of pulp. “I’m paid to stick with you in Nevarra, Boss.” He finishes, wraps his peach pit in a handkerchief, and puts it with the uneaten fruit. “‘Sides, maybe I can get a rematch with that asshole. Fucking pawn.”
She understands she is as much at war with Solas as she is with herself. It is easy enough to blame on him the subtle ways she is thwarted under the city, racing to keep him from gaining a mysterious key - the timely distractions, the smiles of ill-defended people facing her unbalanced blade. It is more painful to admit she lets this happen because she is frightened of knowing she could easily crush them. This much she has gleaned from her ongoing struggle with the Well.
“There is power in surrender,” it whispers. She can feel its potential within, dark and cold depths as yet unexplored. It coils lovingly about the wounded and quiescent Anchor that also lurks, waiting to be awakened once more to tear open and amend a festering world. To open herself to them for the weapons - the solutions - she seeks would be to lose herself as she did in the Tirashan.
She came to all of this - from Keeper to Conclave to sky to Solas to people - to heal, not destroy. Vhenaste feels an impending death of this conviction, as did her faith, by inches.
“Some time ago we’d recovered some interesting information from Samson regarding the role of ‘Vessel’ he would have played for Corypheus,” Vivienne tells her through Dorian’s crystal the night before Vhenaste leaves for the Silent Plains. “Unfortunately the actual ritual notes had been destroyed with the Shrine of Dumat when he’d left or we could have puzzled it out much sooner.”
“A ritual.” Of course. For Corypheus to wield the Well’s power without drinking, he would have needed to leash it to him. Make Samson the glove over his fist.
“There are bindings involved that are so tight, the merest struggle would mean a permanent end,” Vivienne tells her. Triumph threads her words. “We have determined an adaptation that would work for you, my dear, and finally bring its power to heel.”
Vhenaste reels, dizzied, fighting against the cacophonous dismay as Vivienne patiently feeds the information word by phrase as often as necessary. It is not quite a binding for a god, but it is as close to one as she has ever heard. And despite its hold on her, she isn’t as certain she could do the same to the Well and risk its destruction. There is so much it still knows that could be shared, restored to her people…
“Hope yet remains for its restoration,” he’d said. For a world that was lost, not the people within it.
“I have not lost my hope,” she says aloud to a younger and despairing self and the Solas who encouraged her to hold on to it. It’s a realization that dawns as she considers those who still support her and care, despite their scattering after disbanding: Sera, Leliana, Dorian, The Iron Bull, Vivienne…
Still, she contemplates the leashing of the Well against what it would mean to lose it.
Green vines wriggle on the map toward the Silent Plains. Toward buried Barindur. Lathbora viran. What could rise from dead ashes?
Vhenaste, the Iron Bull, and Sera are coughing as they run through Barindur’s maze of excavated tunnels. There had been avenues, gardens, temples built atop that which was older still, both buried in searing doom. Centuries of fine ash and dust choke the paths that had been eerily silent until now. Undead and ash wraiths had dogged their steps, howling their indignation and rage at being disturbed until sent back to their rest with lightning, sword, and arrow.
If they could just reach the altar before Solas…
“Oh, fuck,” groans Bull. The ancient lanterns ahead shed pale, fading light through their tarnished filigrees, through a haze of still-sifting dust, onto recent devastation. The path forward is destroyed, and beyond the gap is its crumbling continuation to Toth’s altar.
There he stands, hands outstretched with a web of spring light between them reaching out to cup the slow-spinning orb on its mount, and she sees the green touch the surface and surge to brilliant orange, a shocking wave of orange lashing out, and he looks so pale, gray, washed out and wan, hope and despair contorting his face…
He cries out as the orb snaps into his hands, staggering back with sought burden found.
“No!” She surges forward, unthinking, and Sera grabs hold to pull her back from the edge. There is a sulfuric stench arising from the gap and bathing her face with heat.
Vhenaste can see his face is waxen and he coughs, recovers to meet her eyes from across the distance. The long minute of his stricken expression and his halting step forward stretches out until the rumbling from below begins, then he turns with a lingering look and flees down another path with his prize humming in his hands.
“Frigging bastard! C’mon, we have to go,” Sera spits. “I don’t like the sound of this.”
“Yeah, that smell? Whole place might crack. Again. If we hurry we might catch up topside.” Bull unslings his greatsword, staring down at her. It’s possible he knows she wants to object and is ready to put her over his shoulder if he has to. But she knows better and swallows her sadness to join the sick pit of her stomach.
Solas had warned her of the din’anshiral but had not let the idea sink in of the actual cost to him. Death would have been kinder than whatever this was.
“Then let’s go. I’d rather not become a part of this history, at least,” she says. She mourns the loss of her faith once more, wishing she had something to pray to for comfort as she downs a restorative and follows her friends back out of the depths.
Solas was willing to destroy himself for a world Vhenaste wasn’t sure had a place for her or her friends, and certainly would not have him in it. Flawed as it is, she prefers this world. What he’s done to himself might not be possible to undo, she thinks, choking away more ash and tears, but her friends at least deserve a chance.
Once away from Barindur, she will use the binding ritual. The risk is acceptable.
Music: Loreena McKennitt, "Marrakesh Night Market"
References to "lathbora viran" ("path to a place of lost love"/ referencing the poem "Under the Blackberry Vines") and "mien'harel" (short blade = rebellion) can both be found at the Elven Language wikia page:
Map of Nevarra:
The Lost City of Barindur:
Note: It is my headcanon based upon information found via the above links that Barindur would have a temple to Toth with an elven Dreamer's foci in it. There is no evidence in lore otherwise. The Archdemon Toth was killed at Hunter Fell in the Third Blight but obviously had not stayed there long enough to scar it significantly. Hunter Fell's autumn festival is on the Nevarra wikia page and noted as celebrated in the capital city - it made no sense as to why it wouldn't be celebrated elsewhere if it's a significant part of Nevarran culture, hence I brought it there as well.
Chapter 19: The Cutting Edge
Neria asks Solas to let her go.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Solas feels rather than hears Neria’s arrival. There is a tenor in the atmosphere of this place that shifts with the coming and going of people, and when he is alone there is an almost suffocating hush if he lets himself dwell upon it. Activity in this sanctuary has dissipated over time, like water left to boil too long, but it is an ongoing fact. What he needs is often buried in someone’s territory, so political contacts and manipulations has been as necessary as bodies with picks and shovels or swords and a dream. They have facilitated his pyrrhic victories, throwing themselves in the Inquisitor’s path as if cordwood could smother.
Each victory whittles away at his body and soul, draining at his resources and vitality. He feels skeletal, the vigor of magic wrenched from their sources now what empowers even as it corrupts him. The promise of what was and what could be again is a hollow hunger under his skin, but it is one of the few things remaining to him. That and…
Solas refocuses upon logistics and bodies and the last movements on the board, away from the painting he’d rescued from a looted sanctuary. He had restored Vhenaste’s face to how it had been by a misty evening waterfall, removed the char and soil and slashes that literally defaced her, and found himself often returning to it to add yet another detail. Restoring the branches of the vallaslin, highlighting scars at lip and eye, the isolated trio of freckles under her mouth punctuating her smiles.
No matter Vhenaste’s voice had been more Mythal than herself, she was right: it was he who said to harden her heart, and here he is, soft as spring rain, not heeding his own words. She is a wellspring of hope whose endurance has mired him in its opposite as they have fought, afraid of the corruption that lies in wait for her soul the moment she succumbs to temptations of power. To stop him, as she has vowed (there is no saving, the dinan’shiral takes all), would surely lead the Inquisitor to the tainted promise of godhood the Well offers. It is only a matter of time and it is running out.
When Neria appears, he sighs with the fulfillment of inevitability’s promise. That the Inquisitor allowed her to remain this long–
“Let me go, my lord,” she says without preamble. She folds her hands tightly in front of her, pressing against her kirtle.
“How fares the Inquisitor?” Solas asks as if he did not hear - the request startles him in its abrupt simplicity, so falls back on Neria’s intended purpose.
Neria’s hands tighten and twist. “Better in most ways, now. Dresses herself, mostly. She and Miss Sera work often and sometimes she wears a hand that was made for her. People you’ve asked me to look for come and go - the Viscount of Kirkwall, the Tevinter magister, the spymaster, and others - and she smiles more, though naturally it’s not all good news…”
“Of course.” He can sometimes track Varric’s or Leliana’s work without Neria’s help. Thwarting their efforts stops the Inquisitor, who would have to look elsewhere for help. He grips the edge of his desk, bracing himself as he stands listening to Neria’s report. “And the Well?”
“Hers,” the servant replies simply, straightening. Prideful?
“Explain.” She does not flinch at his narrowed eyes.
“Still talks to herself, but she doesn’t get…” Neria pauses, searching for the words. “Lost. Not anymore. There was a time no one could find her and by some miracle a shemlen found her talking crystal. She was strange off and on for a while, my lord. As you know.” She takes a deep breath. “I don’t know the how of it and never will. But Lady Lavellan was mostly her before your travel to the Silent Plains, and all her after she came back. If you don’t mind my saying, much about her is still off balance, though. She endures a lot. She’s sad. She’s angry. And she isn’t alone.”
“Good,” he says, relieved she has gained some mastery over the Vir Abelasan although it still leaves her vulnerable to its more persuasive whispering. “She should not be alone, you–”
“I am not returning, my lord.” Neria tenses, regarding him both defiant and wary.
“Why? What did you do?” he demands, his own anger rising. If she has jeopardized his work, revealing more to the Inquisitor than she was allowed to, everything could be undone. It frightens as well as angers him - so much more could be lost than his wayward spy could possibly guess, and he realizes in that moment that more than anything else he wants an ending to it all (and it is subtle, insidious and seductive, entwined with the corruption).
“I have done as you have asked, my lord. As she has asked. Sometimes more, because I believed in your dream and in her,” Neria says as she takes a step back. Her flinch stops him in his tracks; she was meant to be a tool to both spy on and help Vhenaste, but, like his association with the Inquisitor, has turned into something more complicated simply by virtue of Neria’s caretaking. It pains him to think Neria should be afraid of him. The weight of it roots him to the spot and drains away some of his anger.
“I am tired, my lord,” Neria continues explaining, her soft voice firming. When did the lines begin appearing around her eyes? Had they always been there? There is a warmth to her brown eyes surely he’d noticed before, likely in judging whether Vhenaste would accept her into her employ or not, and now those eyes regard him steadily.
“I cannot continue to serve you both. To watch you destroy each other for the sake of the world. To use me to do it and not see me.” She swiftly detangles one of her clutched hands to wipe the back of it against her eyes. “I deserve better, and so do the rest of us. Our people don’t need saviors, my lord. Not in the way I now see you intend. All we need is to be left alone. We’ll do it ourselves.”
“Neria, there is more to this that you do not understand,” Solas begins patiently. There are threats that lie in wait he can only deal with if his plans go forward. He can’t possibly explain it all, especially not if he can convince Neria to return to the Inquisitor. If she knew, she might stop him in her imperfect understanding, and calamity would surely follow.
“My lord, I think it’s me, maybe, you don’t understand.” She wipes at one of her eyes again. “I grew up in an alienage. Nobles and Chantry always dictating what I could do. What our lives could be. The Breach and Inquisition let me meet Dalish and apostates and you know what I found out? Some stories of heroes, when elves had to be, but also some history. Lady Lavellan told me about the Evanuris. Miss Sera and I talked, and things she said made sense to me. We had someone telling us our lives for a long, long time and maybe it’s time that stopped.”
Neria is so small and thin, even with access to good food and a better life. Her education is better than it had been, even as it was a little better than what her peers had, but sorely lacking in everything he deems important. Had she been born to Dalish parents, her face would be tattooed with slave markings, but weren’t the alienages little better than the same? A life of unending servitude?
“Please, my lord. Let me go. Lady Lavellan already granted me her leave and blessing. I have money and somewhere to go.” Neria is begging for her freedom – from him. Another part of his heart breaks at the realization, sending him into a coughing fit. Dizzy, he gropes for a seat - he doesn’t dare bolster himself with the magic he hoards for bringing down the Veil.
A small soft hand guides him to his chair and hands him his bloodstained handkerchief. He looks up at Neria as he presses it to his mouth in gratitude, glancing at the Inquisitor’s portrait behind her. Her head turns to follow his gaze and then returns to face him, resolute and sad.
“Perhaps, my lord, it is time for you to let us go,” she says as he silently grants her leave, taking her dignity with her and leaving him in his pain.
He has but a few things left to do, so near the end. Neria was right. He would go to Vir Dirthara, and the end could truly begin, cut free finally of all that had held him back. Suffocating silence descends once more as the young elf leaves, breaking only for the tears that join his blood-flecked coughing as he destroys the canvas.
Music: Dean Lewis, "Chemicals" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuUXIj2UXvQ
"And all these little things, they start to slip away
And all these little things start to fade away
And you said
“Hold me, I’m falling apart”
‘Cause I’m scared and lost in the dark
And this feeling surely can not last"
So I took it away, took it away
Away from you"
Chapter 20: The Fading of the Light
Actually publishing this to Ao3 first, but will add the Tumblr link when it's published there too. A favor to MoonlightBrunette, who wanted to read at work and wouldn't have the chance to for a while. :)
Also, the part "Once I was but a woman" is a direct quote from Flemythal from DAI talking to the Inquisitor about how Mythal came to Flemeth.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Touching the eluvian’s magic called the dormant Anchor forth, but it was as Vhenaste passed through the corrupt portal that it exploded through her like a Breach. Agony sheered her vision, green sparks leeching into white and obscuring the twisted, echoing darkness ahead and Thom clutching her arm, shouting, beside her. She took one step, stumbled, and collapsed screaming on the other side before she blacked out.
“Once I was but a woman, crying out in the lonely darkness for justice. And she came to me, a wisp of an ancient being, and she granted me all I wanted and more...”
The familiar words are hollow and sonorous from the rippling, translucent, green figure as it paces toward her. Arms upraised? Great, sweeping horns? Either and both.
“Finally it is within our grasp. All that is needed is a choice.”
She floats up from an abyss, drawn into its arms and held tightly. All her edges are dense, desperate demands, heavy hungry hurting help me help me help me
“An instrument, if you will.”
An impression of amusement. Harsh humor hiding...Memory. ‘Lend me your wisdom...’
‘We are all endangered...’ Realization, real, risking wrath... Will? ‘A soul is not forced on the unwilling...’ No. Another way.
"Stubborn, fickle...” Terrible, tenacious, it presses upon her until she shoves, panicking, wrestling and clawing and roaring until she grasps the other by the throat. NO. My will. My need.
“So be it.” Sullen, leashed fury. “For now.”
A heavy pressure and rushing noise in her ears, like emerging from under the waterfall in the grotto near the clan’s last campsite before the Conclave -- that quick, deep gasp of air filling all her senses as the Anchor receded and Vhenaste arced upward, arms outflung. No sunlight to greet her, but the familiar hazy green swamp-like mists of the Fade clinging to the empty, ancient halls.
“Maker’s balls, am I glad you’re back.” Thom was at her right and helping her up. He was greyed, sweating, the rest of his cohort as openly worried as him. “As I recall, we don’t survive here without you.”
She almost gave him a pithy reply out of habit, then shook her head, grimacing and rubbing at the consuming fire in her left side. He deserved the honest reply of a good friend.
“You’re right, you don’t. And if you’re to have even a chance, we need to...”
She looked around: the walls here weren’t literally black. There was nothing to indicate they had been golden, either. The pale stone was instead shrouded in a dark miasma that reminded her of the ward at Solasan except a thousand times more potent. Even as she marveled at it she felt she should have expected as much from the man who created the Veil.
Even so the architecture here was strange, both recognizable and warped. Alien. Discomfiting. This vast wheeling chamber, the more she turned and took in its details -- seven arching doors, eluvians fitted in each and crested with bears, owls, hares (dragons above what leads back to Weisshaupt), thrones and ritual fixtures -- was the heart of some larger edifice. The pulse of it wormed its way in and dragged at her very soul, complementing the renewed but throttled Anchor’s beating. The ragged edges of a tune ghosted along her senses, felt more than heard, and she knew if she tried to listen she would be lost. Just as were a few scouts in the Emprise du Lion.
Here, then, the black and empty thrones of absolute power waiting for the deified to reclaim. Here the magisters would have imagined themselves inheritors and dared to grasp it, seating themselves, only for this to forcefully and horrifically reveal them for the monsters they’d become. "Lust for power,” yes. And lack of a key.
“...move fast,” Vhenaste finished, her mouth dry. She felt fear seeping in her shredded nerves and shortened breath, and for a moment could hear Nightmare’s chuckling. No. Push it down. Do not let the Fade make manifest your--
The deep tolling noise bloomed up around them all, repeating its earlier alarm, and this time she could see the shifting of the miasma as it joined the slowly darkening air.
“Do what you need,” Thom said grimly, beckoning the others to fan out as he drew his sword. He couched it and shield. “We will be ready.”
Vhenaste wasn’t ready and wasn’t sure what she needed to do. Solas was here, somewhere, and he did know. If keeping the Evanuris imprisoned -- she glanced at the eluvians, and she imagined she saw hungry eyes locked in black misted depths - were as easy as smashing a mirror she wouldn’t be here now. And she certainly couldn’t let him bring down the Veil, Evanuris or no. The world also wasn’t ready.
“Now we take what is ours,” the voices of the Well whispered in a unified, amused laugh. Her legs walked stiffly toward the high throne adorned with dragons, and curling, snapping green vines of light erupted from her side to swirl around the central device in front of it. Currents of pain froze movement; she watched as something resembling an orb glowed into a grooved space. The first pin of the lock clicked.
Elgar’nan’s gate was engulfed in flame and its guardian disabled. Solas could feel its gibbering subsiding and joining the howling fury of Andruil’s. Next would be Falon’din’s bloodlust, Ghilan’nain’s interminable dissections, Mythal’s...
Mythal’s gate had been breached, its guardian no longer there.
He bolstered himself on his staff, shivering and scowling. The Inquisitor was here. This complicated matters, but not irrevocably. The plan could still proceed. Unfortunately, it meant she must finally die.
He clutched the enchantments woven into his robes to ward off the Evanuris’s fevered sendings, disturbed at the pleading whispers he did not understand that did not dissipate, as he moved to shatter the next gate of the Black City.
Vengeance. All that should have been hers, stolen and locked away -- until now. The hungering exaltation was not hers, although she understood it. Every frustration at realizing the scope of history lost; staring in the eyes of Chantry representatives blithely telling her she had no right to their archives despite knowing what she might find in them; chased away from lands Lavellan had trod year after year, and perhaps centuries before; the bleak stares of alienage elves in Halamshiral who’d been burned out of their own homes on their lands.
She understood it terribly.
“How do we stop Solas?” Vhenaste murmured, fascinated at the outlines of the plan she could see unfolding in her mind and looking for where she knew it should overlap with his. In those points would be the opportunity to help or to destroy.
In the corner of her eye she could see Thom’s uneasy face as old magics stirred. He had seen it gone awry before. They all had.
“Become a god,” came the canny reply. Ascension, apotheosis: promised and granted to Ghilan’nain, denied the magisters. “Wake the power of the chamber, take hold of it, and you will be free to do as you like. He cannot stop you.”
Even knowing the trap that lay in wait the temptation was powerful.
Clenching her jaw, Vhenaste directed the Anchor at each throne, one by one, and they unlocked. Eager laughter welled up through the pain and doubt, almost bubbling out of her mouth. She saw Thom tense and shoot worried looks at her. Not much longer.
An ancient mechanism released its care with a loud, whooshing clank and several interlocking spheres emerged from the center of the floor on a pedestal, a marvel she could not begin to fathom before it whirred into life with a teeth-chattering vibrating hum. It exerted a dreadful pull on her as it drew upon the threads of the Anchor she’d flung out, and she stumbled, dizzied, toward it.
“What are you doing? What’s happening?” Thom shouted. He and the other Wardens shifted their defensive postures, unsure now of the greater threat.
The spheres whirled and spun arcs of magic and light, and she could see where someone could place their hands -- her laughter cracked out harsh and raw -- to harness its energies. The latent, discordant song rose in pitch as Vhenaste first placed her right hand, then rested her left stump, against their prepared homes. She felt like a riverbed, the collected magic roaring through and out of her grasp. As it built she saw the Wardens cry out, stumbling and covering their ears, her own knees weak.
She could give in. It was seductive and she felt it: felt the yawning empty promise of the Void and all it could grant. Her mouth opened in a rictus of pain -- if she screamed, she could not feel nor hear it. All that had been sundered would be made whole again.
“I don’t believe in gods,” Vhenaste said and, clutching desperately at the Ascension spheres, fought to stand.
“It does not matter -- as close as makes no difference. Take it! Now! Why do you hesitate?”
This time when the deep tolling resounded, it was punctuated with a noise like shattering. Solas stepped through Falon’Din’s sundered arch, cloaked in shadow and terrible orange light, his face pale, gaunt, and furious as he saw Vhenaste locked in the center of the chamber. Her bittersweet joy at seeing him one more time was overwhelmed by grief and determination.
“In this, Mythal, you and he are much alike. Neither of you ever understood me,” she said as she gathered her will, focused, and wrenched the chamber’s energies from granting power to its utter destruction. A chorus of thwarted howls winged out of her mouth and died away as Solas strode straight for her.
It struck him, bitterly, that he should have known the Inquisitor might still reach for more power. They all had, in the end. Every one who had counted themselves friend but turned enemy, grasping for more than they should. And for what? Little bargains with their souls, good intentions turned sour, mad, and cruel.
He ignored the Wardens (and was this Rainier among them?) uselessly fumbling thanks to their thrall to the Blight and focused upon the Inquisitor. Lavellan held the Ascension Chamber in a web of energies from the Anchor, teeth bared in a grimace as she wrestled its dangerous power.
“Don’t,” she warned.
“You dare,” he said, his skin prickling in response to the force of his anger and waking his stolen Anchor. He raised his hand for a spell, but had to fling it last-minute at the Warden who attempted to interfere. A new stone statue joined the Black City’s menagerie of pain.
“Dammit, Solas,” the Inquisitor gasped. A crackle of green leaped from her web and snapped toward him. She slumped a little over the spheres, escaped tendrils of hair slashing her pale face in coppery red. “You have to stop.”
“I will do no such thing,” he snarled, and raised his hand again.
“Just say what.” A knife at his throat. Sera? But how did--
“Sera no!” the Inquisitor cried out. “You shouldn’t be here, you have to go back.”
“I know but I wasn’t about to let him kill you! S’already a mess,” the elven girl muttered behind him, steadying the cold steel at his neck. “I can’t-- it’s not fair.”
“No, it isn’t, but you have to let him go. The others will need you.” The Inquisitor grunted and shifted her grip. Solas was puzzled, curiosity leeching away at his anger. If she’d wanted to become one of the Evanuris, Sera wouldn’t be helping. That much he could be certain of. Rainier and the Wardens, who struggled to bring weapons to bear on him, muddled things.
“So wh--” A thin line of fire along his throat -- Sera’s warning.”I do not understand. Explain.”
The Inquisitor sighed, yellow-green eyes locked onto him in grief.
“I am stopping you, ma vhenan, in the only way you’ve left open to me. Our people will get the better world they want and I am prepared to die for it. A good thing because killing you will take the heart from me, and I am tired of living without my heart.”
He was stunned. “...vhenan?” Was this declaration of feelings a ploy?
“She means stay and die or go and live,” Sera said, disgusted, “though I’d still watch my back if I were you.”
“He forgot.” A young man’s soft voice. “That is what he means.” A boyish shape, a gaunt young human with straw hair and wide haunted eyes, appeared between Solas and the Inquisitor and peered at him from under his wide floppy hat, a book hugged tightly to his chest.
“Cole?” The Inquisitor’s voice broke on the boy’s name, several tears escaping her eyes unheeded.
“I couldn’t stay, Vhenaste. I am sorry. I wanted to, but here is where the hurt would happen I could heal.”
“We didn’t need you, Creepy,” Sera hissed. Rainier glanced between him, Cole, and the Inquisitor, gripping his sword and shaking his head, torn.
“I know,” Cole said, and walked toward Solas, holding out the book. “You forgot this.”
“I... I do not believe now is the appropriate time, Cole,” Solas said, perplexed and frustrated. The more time that passed, the greater the risk the Evanuris would break free from their chambers in the city. But spirits -- remembering, now, that is precisely what Cole was and marveling the pain he must be feeling even in the Black City’s weakened wards -- did not lightly ask or offer anything. This book, which resembled one from the Vir Dirthara, must be important.
“Now is the only time you have,” Cole said softly as he opened it.
“What’re you doing, Creepy?” Sera said, voice heavy in distrust. He felt her grip on him tighten, and though he had the power to easily break free, what Vhenaste had done would need a calm head and the power he had to undo. He already regretted expending the spell on the Warden.
“Sera--,” the Inquisitor began.
“It’s alright,” the boy said, taking Solas’s hand. It was warm, wistful, and weakening. Cole placed his hand on the open pages. “Remember.”
A flood of images and feelings rushed in, filling in gaps he didn’t know he had. The Inquisitor -- Vhenaste, blessings of his heart and people -- embracing him and all that he was, offering comfort and understanding, challenging and arguing with him, remembering once more what it was like to no longer be alone. The rifts - ice and snow - dragons - kisses - ruins - daffodils - laughter, tears...
“Vhenan,” Solas gasped on a sob, shaking. For just a moment, the knife at his throat, his shattered health, the slow erosion of the Black City’s enchantments and what it contained, the Veil, the passing of time -- none of it mattered, only that sense of painful wholeness as he felt watching Vhenaste trying to master the most complicated magics ever dreamt because of him. She was scarred, messy, perfect. And dying.
“This is precisely what I did not want you to see,” he said. “My failure has only damned you with a terrible end.” Tired, sorrowing, and ashamed.
“You damned me before you ever touched me, vhenan. At least this way I die saving you, and the world from you.” She smiled weakly. “Walk away, please. Let the past die. The Elvhenan you want is gone and would crush Thedas to dust.”
Little tremors shook the chamber. Solas felt and heard Sera stagger, the knife no longer at his throat, and he took the opportunity to rush forward. As he feared, they were running out of time.
“Vhenaste!” Thom called out in warning as he caught Sera.
“Take her and go,” Cole said, his form flickering. “It’s all right.”
“We’re not leaving!” Sera said, voice rising into a panicked shout as the chamber shook harder.
Vhenaste regarded Solas warily. Her face was damp with sweat and tight with pain.
“Last chance. Go or I kill you. I swear it, vhenan. All the Nerias should be free.” Another tear escaped and her fingers tightened their grip.
“Ma nuvenin,” he said. He was so tired of fighting, the endless rounds of struggle and betrayal, victory and sacrifice. He had hoped, in making the world whole once more, that it would be free of the corruption that helped doom his people. But he could not deny it could still happen with or without the lessons of the past. He no longer had the strength to prevent it.
But he did have just enough power to at least make certain whatever future came could not be Blighted.
“Yes,” Cole said. “Banal nadas.”
“We’ve a third option: both. I could not live in this world without my heart, either,” Solas said, looking into Vhenaste’s Fade-touched eyes, calling upon his Anchor to join hers.
“NO!” Sera screamed, writhing frantically in Thom’s grasp, the Ascension chamber now visibly cracking in the hum of merging songs.
“Together?” she said, searching his eyes, desperate with hope.
“Mar lath bellanaris,” he replied, taking the final steps forward and placing his hands over her grip on the spheres. Her voice shuddered with a relieved, choked sob.
“Go with Thom, Sera. Everything will be alright now, I promise.” Vhenaste glanced over at the Warden and the girl. “No more gods. Just us. I believe in us. I believe in you.”
“No more Pride cookies--” Cole was flickering toward Mythal’s gate. The other Wardens, understanding their task was at an end, staggered back through Mythal’s gate.
“We have to shatter the eluvian, Thom. You must go,” Solas called out as the orange of his Anchor interwove with Vhenaste’s. He could feel his stolen energies slipping away the further it stretched out to encompass every point on the dangerously wobbling web of magic. They had to act quickly before this act consumed them both.
“She’ll say yes,” the boy said to Rainier as he pushed both Thom and Sera. She fell through, Thom one step behind her. Cole faded away as the eluvian closed on Thom’s foot, the rest of him safely through.
“We must work together. Quickly, now -- once the gates are shattered, we have one chance to destroy this whole place and end it all,” he said, his legs feeling weaker by the moment.
“Give me your hand,” she said.
“Give me your hand,” she repeated, desperately.
“I can do better than that,” he said, drawing them both together about the pedestal and lowering his head to kiss her.
“My love,” she whispered, pressing her lips to his, and his joy, his life, exhaled.
He gave her everything he had left, and the world turned white as they faded away.
Music: Duran Duran, "The Universe Alone" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RAu8mirJMM
I'll see you in some other lifetime
On the other side of what we'll never know
Together we have walked a fine line
Now we go to face the universe alone
How beautiful the closing down
The fading out, it spins and goes around
With darkness and the heart of man
And here we are back where it all began
Chapter 21: Epilogue: Dawn
A well-deserved happily ever after. The bees came.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was a little warmer than the last time Thom had been in the Frostback Basin, but ten years ago he’d also been paddling to a haunted island in a leaky boat to help stop an Avvar god.
His wife Isobel and daughter Sally sat across from him now in a bigger boat belonging to the Chantry and rowed by acolytes, who helped take care of the Inquisitor’s memorial at the Lady’s Rest. Izzy was showing Sal the fish in the water, the birds in the sky, the trees on the horizon, and he loved the way her hair blew in the wind and mingled with their four-year-old’s. Sal was curious about everything, always demanding answers, and he found it difficult to keep up though he tried. Izzy was patient. One of the many reasons he fell in love with her, along with being there for him after he lost his foot.
The boat pulled up to a second little dock that had been built. The Lady’s Rest was small enough, and made smaller by a caretaker’s cottage and the memorial. Thom had heard it had a small, devoted set of visitors who liked to make it a pilgrimage of sorts. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Once he’d been ready to believe Vhenaste Lavellan as the Herald of Andraste, but she’d never been comfortable with it. Time spent as a Grey Warden gave him a small idea what it was like. Nothing, not even doing good, was worthy of worship from other people. It was isolating and he was done with that forever.
“Are you coming, or are you just going to brood into your beard again?” Isobel said with a laugh, wiping wisps of her light brown hair from her face and giving him her hand. Sally was already skipping on the shore and nearly tripping the acolytes heading for the cottage to get warm.
“I could do both,” he said, grasping her hand to pull himself out of the boat and onto the dock. He steadied himself on her shoulder and then on his cane, smiling down at her. “Day’s young yet.”
“We’ll see about that. I dare say Sera won’t let you mope on,” she said, tugging lightly on his chin before turning to herd Sally away from a withered clump of felandaris and toward the wooden stairs leading up the hill.
“And neither do you, my lady.”
Isobel rewarded his tease with a mocking glare from over her shoulder as she followed Sal. By the Maker he loved her. And it felt good, if strange, to bring his little family here.
“Oh look, here’s you!” cried Sera. Thom just finished his climb on the stairs to see his little girl fling herself at the elf, who giggled and swung her up in the air. “What’s your mum and dad been feeding you, Britches?”
“Bears!” giggled Sal as she slid in for a hug around Sera’s neck.
“That’s not true,” Izzy protested. “Mostly ram, a lot of cookies, and sometimes bears.”
“Oooh, cookies. That’s it, then. I’ve got some cookies to keep you big and fed up. That all right, mum?” Sera asked Isobel, swinging Sal down.
“Don’t I get a say? Or a hug?” Thom said.
“That depends, Beardy. You going to give one back? Got no say on the cookie, only Izzy does.” Sera squinted at him with a big grin, fidgeting and rocking on her feet.
“Aww, of course I’ve got hugs,” he said, and his face began to hurt from grinning as they embraced.
“Alright, one cookie,” Isobel said.
“Two cookies!” Sal squealed.
“One cookie, and maybe you can get another when your father and I are done visiting,” Isobel said. “If you’re good.”
“Two cookies, pleaaase,” Sally begged, wriggling and jumping up and down.
“You listen to your mother, Sal,” Thom warned. “You see now, Sera? You’ve got her riled up. Best to get that cookie now or we might not hear the end of it.”
Sera stuck her tongue out at him then waved excitedly further up the hill where Telana’s shack used to be. In its place were two trees, still slim yet but budding (and how did they grow so fast and tall, all twined around like that?), shading a statue of a crowned and hooded figure holding a book and the hairy-eyed sword of the Inquisition. it looked neither like Vhenaste nor Ameridan, but he supposed it was meant to be symbolic of their roles. Showing who they were would have been more complicated than the Chantry was ready yet to handle.
By the statue and trees were Dagna, a slim and dark-haired young man, the Hero of Ferelden (Thom still had trouble just calling her Lyna, and it was more the way she could stare right through him than anything else), Lyna’s Antivan husband, and her two children. The younger child, who Thom thought must be two years old now, toddle-ran after a butterfly and fell on her side with a wail. The older child, a somber five-year-old, sighed dramatically and tried comforting his sister with pats on her back.
“Widdle! I need a cookie for Britches!” Sera called out.
“Ooh hey, you’re here!” Dagna said to Thom. “This is great! I’ve got some designs for your new foot that I wanna measure you for, and I need your input about a few tweaks we can make–”
“Save it for later, Honey Tongue? We’ve got wild kiddos and we promised,” Sera said. Sal had spied Lyna’s children and, overcome by sudden shyness, stared at them with a finger from one hand in her mouth, her other hand clutching Sera’s and swinging it back and forth.
Thom cleared his throat. “I’ll, ah. Make sure we talk about it, Dagna.” He still had some complicated feelings about losing his foot, but he was also ready to make his life a little easier.
“You got it! Hey, Sally, I’m so glad you’re here,” Dagna said, now directly addressing his daughter. She waved her over to the blanket on the ground. “This is Junar and his sister Merana. We were just about to have cookies, and I can tell the story how I met their mom and the Inquisitor!”
“Sounds lovely! Sally, how about you join them?” Izzy said.
“Yeah, Britches. She’s got the cookies and your mum and dad and I want some chats with the others. I can swing you ‘round some more after, and play some games, alright?” Sera swung Sal’s hand a bit more, then gently pushed her toward Dagna. Sal hesitated, looking back them both.
“Two cookies,” Thom said. Sal’s eyes lit up and she ran for Dagna.
“Thom!” Isobel said.
“Sorry.” He wasn’t sorry for making his little girl smile, but he would need to make it up to Isobel later.
Sera rolled her eyes. Thom watched Lyna Mahariel distractedly send her children to join Dagna and Sal, her attention fixed on the dark-haired young man. Something about him reminded him of someone, and he couldn’t remember who until the young man smiled. It was small and secretive, just like Morrigan’s. Her boy, Kieran. He couldn’t have known Lady Lavellan very long or had the clearest memory of her, but he had as much claim to come reminisce as did Lyna. He had no idea what they had to talk about, and wondered why Kieran was here without his mother.
“C’mon, Beardy. Let’s catch up. I wanna share something of Vhenaste’s I found,” Sera said, beckoning Thom and Isobel to come sit with them under the twining trees.
It was a spring day in the Basin, and it promised to get warmer, bees already nuzzling at the daffodils that proliferated around the stone marker that read, “First Inquisitor Ameridan and Telana - 1:22 Divine. Second Inquisitor Vhenaste Lavellan and Solas - 9:49 Dragon. Var lath vir suledin.”
Music: Flogging Molly, "If I Ever Leave This World Alive" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVPTu4l6OnE
"She says I’m okay, I’m alright
Though you have gone from my life
You said that it would
Now everything should be alright"
Chapter 22: Var Bellanaris
Just when I thought I was done, I got a prompt (this chapter) and a bee in my bonnet about canon dialogue (next chapter). I don't foresee adding any more to this at all, but *shrug*: things happen. Chronological reading order adjusted, of course.
apostatetabris: things you said through your teeth for vhenaste and solas (eyes emoji)
Mmm, coincidentally I got feels from First Aid Kit’s “Fireworks” and it fits here. So if you’re feeling brave, put it on and listen – and then read. Post Crestwood.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Though the civil war had been largely pacified, the Exalted Plains still bore its scars. The latest to add to the pile of broken promises that was the Dirthavaren. Soon to add one more.
Vhenaste’s stomach roiled as she led the way into Var Bellanaris, Cole, Solas, and Cassandra trailing behind. It had to be only them. Bad enough what she planned: she could not afford to have it so readily identified and attached to the Inquisition. Every nation would see her action as a repudiation of her own people and use it to excuse elven abuse, delegitimize Wycome, and add scandal that would be difficult to smooth over. Vhenaste could survive that, but the Inquisitor could not.
Vhenaste wasn’t sure, however, that she could survive the absolute self-loathing she felt right now.
Golden late afternoon light bathed the plains and ancient ruin, early crickets busily signalling the oncoming evening. Distantly she could hear the wandering halla galloping, the rush of the Enavuris, the normal hush of a recovering land. Dappled light fell through the graveyard’s trees onto Var Bellanaris’s stones. It felt so peaceful.
Cassandra stood by patiently, if somewhat uncomfortably, hands near her weapons. Perhaps Vhenaste put too much stock into the Seeker’s childhood with the mortalitasi, perhaps she just felt grateful someone had been concerned enough about her bare face to say something to Solas. Perhaps the woman was grateful for Vhenaste’s help with her old order and thus why she agreed to come. Regardless, Cassandra’s presence felt necessary and somewhat comforting.
Cole had barely needed to be asked to come. He’d twisted his hands but nodded. “They will not understand, but I do.”
Solas… she’d descended into the rotunda a week ago, as had become her habit after a debriefing with Leliana, and told him in clipped and cool tones that his presence would be required and to pack for the Exalted Plains. The day before that: Why? Heart stuck in her throat keeping her from all but shouting it at him, eyes fixed to the jawbone necklace to keep from breaking under a gaze she’d once sought.
She could feel the trio watching her as she stood, watery at the knees, over one of the gravestones with a war waging inside her. Who am I that I do this? Corypheus digs through our ruins for weapons and I dig to get there first.
Am I still Dalish if I throw away all that meant something to me in the name of recovering a past that doesn’t want us? Have I traded who I am for a freedom and future that doesn’t exist?
I can’t even say the prayers. Imposter.
She clenched her hands and glanced up. Soft blue-grey eyes met hers and slid away. So he does revile me after all. I gave in too easily.
“You don’t have to do this,” Cole said.
“I do. If we fail I do not want it to be because I did not try and use everything,” Vhenaste said.
“I know I have not always understood your ways, but–” Cassandra began.
“Ar lasa mala revas,” Cole said.
A chill went up Vhenaste’s spine.
“You are so beautiful,” Cole said.
Solas’s breath caught audibly. “Cole.”
“Why?” Cole said, his voice wavering in her heart’s language.
“Please, Cole, let it go,” Solas said quietly. “This is not–”
“Let him finish,” Vhenaste said, jaw clenched against the pain that threatened to overwhelm. “Since you will speak with him and not the foolish and faithless Dalish girl.”
She heard Cassandra make an awkward noise as the woman shifted toward her, her hand slipping into Vhenaste’s.
“I had no choice,” Solas said, voice full of restrained pleading, finally bringing his eyes to meet hers.
“She thinks it’s because of her,” Cole continued, and turned toward her as if to explain. “He hurts, an old pain from before…”
“You cannot heal this,” Solas said with a conviction that made her swallow.
Cassandra’s hand tightened around Vhenaste’s.
“You’re real, and it means everyone could be real. It changes everything, but it can’t.”
“You change… everything.” As snow fell in a Haven that no longer existed.
“They sleep, masked in a mirror, hiding, hurting, and to wake them…” Cole gasped. “Where…?”
“We have work to do,” Vhenaste said abruptly, squeezing Cassandra’s hand and disentangling from it. Whatever Cole had meant to do, all it had done was remind her of her duty to the Inquisition and the desecration she had planned. Whether that was better or worse than listening to Solas turn away from her yet again, she couldn’t have said.
Before I figured out how to do the exploit to get inside without the key, I’d smash the graves in-game after getting the Dalish approval. No actual smashing in Vhenaste’s fic universe – the dead were handled with as much care as she could provide, given the circumstances – but I did still want a chance to bring in that sense of desecration and why that might be chosen when she doesn’t know all it would get her was a mosaic tile and a few goods to sell.
Also: I got the Cole/Solas post breakup dialogue there. No lie. It was surreal at the time. Now I’ve contextualized it for everyone’s feels. And goddammit you cannot tell me Cass wouldn’t be sympathetic like this. She, Sera, and Josie are the only people to comment on your missing vallaslin and that’s a fucking crime.
Finally: “Our Eternity” – Var Bellanaris – is too damned apt for Vhenaste and Solas. I cried writing this, y’all.
Chapter 23: Unearthing
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Solas sat on the little bench outside of his cabin, enjoying the wan but clear sunlight of Haven’s morning as he sketched. The little village was still waking up, the kitchens, blacksmith, and healer the focus of activity. Compared to the chaos of a week ago, it was quiet and calm. Lavellan successfully stabilizing the Breach had done that. Ironic for them to now look to her for worship after they’d been howling for her head.
Ah. And here was the subject of his musing now.
The Dalish woman still bore faint bruising under her eyes, but it was better than the waxy pallor and other signs of violence from her struggles with the Anchor and its bestowing. She seemed in fairly rugged good health, actually, her cheeks competing with her hair from exertion in the cold. She bore armfuls of elfroot and other herbs, a smear of dirt on her face and bits of leaves and thorns clinging to her hair. Her boots were secured to her belt; her feet were muddy.
Solas smiled faintly. Perhaps both shining steeds and griffons were out of the question, here would be a hero striding the earth itself. And, if her offer were serious, wrestling the likes of Cassandra to protect him from the Chantry.
He continued his sketching – the landscape, for practice and studying how best to leave – as Lavellan knocked at the apothecary’s door. Adan answered with the gruffness he’d come to expect from his neighbor, but Lavellan seemed to take it in stride, handing him the fruits of her labors.
“Thank you. It’s possible we’ve got people for this, but no one’s got the time and so supplies run thin,” Adan grumbled.
“Well, right now I’ve the time,” she replied. “And perhaps if I keep doing this, people will stop referring to me as the Herald.”
Solas couldn’t see her face, but her tone was clear. The gentle, rueful repudiation harbored a dislike that sounded genuine to his ears, but only time would tell the truth of Lavellan. Recent events would provoke reactions in anyone, but aside from that he had no sense of who she was other than a mystery and contradiction. For someone professing such fierce protectiveness of his apostate nature, very little emotive depth tended to cross her face that he’d personally witnessed. She was a mage, she had a connection to the Fade that most lacked; this calm of hers unnerved him a little, if he were being truthful with himself.
“That bad, eh? Well, thanks again,” Adan said. He shut the door and Lavellan turned away.
Solas sketched the wooden palisade and the fragments of mountain and frozen terrain he could see through and past it. It was lovely, in its rough way, but the walls could use some reinforcing.
He glanced over; he saw Lavellan’s muddy feet, toes red through the earth caking them, before he saw the rest of her standing by diffidently.
“I almost didn’t see you,” she said. “You surprised me. I don’t wish to intrude, but… may I sit?” She indicated the seating next to him on the bench.
“Yes, of course. Please do,” he said. He gave her a polite smile.
“Thank you,” Lavellan said, and sat. She was quite close, but if he adjusted his seat it would ruin his viewpoint for the sketch, so he remained where he was. She was redolent of fresh-cut herbs, dirt, and clean sweat. It, too, was better than the smell of sickness and the ozone of her magic clashing with the unstable Anchor mark that had permeated the dungeon. She removed the boots from her belt.
“Sketching? Are you an artist as well?” Lavellan asked, rubbing her hands together and then applying to a raised foot, brushing off the mud and massaging her toes.
“As well as…?” he said, smudging at the shadow of a mountain.
“A dangerous apostate,” Lavellan said with an amused chuckle.
Solas glanced at her; her yellow-green eyes were avian, a faint smile turning the corners of her mouth. Interesting. A self-aware joke? She flexed her toes before pulling on a boot, brushing the mud off her fingers.
“As much as anyone might claim, I suppose,” he said.
“May I see?”
He half-closed his sketchbook. Lavellan was rescuing her other foot and watching him with her hunter’s eyes.
She sighed a little, as if disappointed.
“I’d like to know more about you, Solas. You’re an apostate, yet you risked your freedom to help the Inquisition.” She finished with her foot and drew the other boot on, bringing both legs up so she perched on the bench, hugging her knees. Dirt clung under her nails and smeared on her trousers where she gripped.
“Not the wisest course of action when framed that way,” he muttered. He kept the sketchbook half-closed, his finger holding his place in it.
“We will be working together, yes? I respect your work, and it would help me understand you better.” She turned her head to the side and pressed her mouth to the tops of her knees, her eyes flicking curiously over his face.
“I’m sorry. There’s been so much fear in the air… what would you know of me?” He sat up a little and turned toward her, abandoning the view. He could resume it another time.
“I’m still interested in your work,” Lavellan said, a sudden mischievous slash of a smile flickering across her face as she pointed at his sketchbook. “I promise I will keep my hands to myself.”
He chuckled politely; clearly a ploy to put him at his ease.
“Very well,” Solas said, and opened his landscape for her viewing.
“It’s lovely,” she said, leaning closer to examine. She kept her fingers tucked in behind her knees, then glanced up. “Do you sketch other subjects?”
“Sometimes.” Solas hesitated. “Spirits, mostly.”
“Oh! I should have guessed. What made you start studying the Fade?”
“I grew up in a village to the north. There was little to interest a young man, especially one gifted with magic,” he began slowly, searching for the right balance of truth and evasion. Lavellan didn’t seem to want to know anything detailed, judging by her conversational tone, and yet there was something subtle in the shifts of her demeanor that made it easy for him to speak about what truly mattered to him.
Solas spoke about discovering, cherishing, and honing his Dreaming gifts and she listened thoughtfully. He might have almost said raptly, so focused was she, if she hadn’t asked more questions following on each thought sparked in the wake of his speaking. Lavellan released her knees and stretched them out as he told her about traveling to enrich his life and continue his explorations of the Fade. She set her hands on the bench on either side of her hips, bracing herself, and her sharp eyes lost focus as she stared up at the sky.
“I wish you luck,” Lavellan said wistfully.
“Thank you,” he said, surprised. “In truth, I’ve enjoyed experiencing more of life to find more of the Fade.”
“How so?” She glanced at him, but it appeared the subject of the Fade had caught her interest. It was as if she was staring past him into areas he couldn’t see. The thought of a shared interest drove him on. It had been so long since he could converse this easily.
“You train your will to control magic and withstand possession. Your indomitable focus is an enjoyable side benefit,” he explained with a smile. “You have chosen a path whose steps you do not dislike because it leads to a destination you enjoy.” He smoothed a hand over the cover of his closed sketchbook. “As have I.”
Lavellan’s head tilted and she raised a brow at him, her full attention back on him. He was reminded briefly of the last time that had happened: when he’d grabbed her hand.
“Presumably. I have yet to see it dominated. I imagine that the sight would be… fascinating,” Solas said, the words tumbling out of his mouth without thinking. From all he’d seen thus far, Lavellan did have a powerful strength of will. She would have to, to have withstood so much. Anything that could overcome what she’d brought to bear thus far was admittedly fascinating, if in a terrifying way.
Lavellan slowly smirked at him and he flushed, suddenly realizing what she must be thinking.
“Have you always worked alone?”
“No, I have formed friendships with spirits in my journeys, as well.” He felt intensely studied and a little off-center.
“Subjects of your sketches?”
“Yes. They are just as real to me as Varric or Cassandra are as real to you. Is Varric defined by his chest hair and not his wit, or Cassandra by her cheekbones and not her faith?” Solas said, gripping his sketchbook.
“You have an interesting way of looking at the world, Solas,” Lavellan said, removing her hands from the bench and shoving them between her knees. It was strange: he felt as if she’d waved a carrot in front of his face while retreating.
“I try,” he said wryly, now matching her head tilt. “And that isn’t quite an answer.”
“I look forward to helping you make new friends,” she said, steadily holding his gaze. The smile she offered was a dare.
“That should be… well,” he said. Lavellan was a bundle of surprises. He didn’t know what to say, though he wanted to say something.
“That isn’t quite an answer, either,” she said, her smile broadening. He flushed, and her sudden peal of laughter rang out against Haven’s quiet.
“Come on. I need to wash my hands, and we could have breakfast and talk some more. It’s only fair I share something of myself as well,” Lavellan said, standing up. She glanced at the tavern.
“I’ll feel better about ‘Herald’ this and ‘Herald’ that,” she said, looking back at him. “Please?”
“Alright,” Solas said. He wasn’t sure where the impulse came from. “…Herald.”
“Ugh,” Lavellan said, stooping down and scooping up a handful of snow to fling at him. He chuckled and shielded his sketchbook.
#my interpretation of the Haven flirts #because frankly I hate the "dominating" thing as read #so yes this is spitefic
- preserving my original tags-as-commentary because that's the whole inspiration, here.