He sees the smoke long before he sees the fire. It billows up in plumes high above the trees, roiling grey clouds against the midnight sky. Beneath the hood of her emerald cloak, Elgara’s expression darkens, gritting her teeth.
Solas looks her way, but there’s no point. She’s retreated into herself as she had in Halamshiral, all cold and calculating, head held high. Her grip tightens on the hilt of her staff, refusing to even consider what they both know to be true. She picks up her pace, her hood falling back as she fights the urge to run as fast as she can. Still, she almost trips over her own feet in her rush.
When they had visited her clan last, the clearing had been full of aravels with bright crimson sails, their wooden frames engraved with intricate swirls, and other Dalish imagery. Children had been running around, their feet bare, and chasing after each other while their parents looked on in amusement. Last time, Deshanna had pulled him aside, her thin lips pursed, and had told him that she knew his secret, that she knew what he was.
This time, however, there is nothing but fire, ruin, and rubble.
Flames lick uselessly at the barrier he summons around them both, fire dying as his magical shield absorbs the heat. There is nothing left of the clearing her clan had once inhibited but skeletal trees, their charred, empty branches reaching out towards the night sky. Overturned aravels are just visible through the smoke, their once vibrant coverings lying in the dirt, riddled with blackened holes.
She moves slowly until she stands in the centre of it all, his barrier protecting her bare feet from the embers she crushes underfoot. She grips her staff so hard that he thinks that the wrought metal might shatter beneath her fist, its silver surface glittering in the firelight. The bodies of her fallen brothers and sisters scattered the earth, their features long since burned away, leaving behind nothing but dark, charred husks that barely resembles living beings.
Elgara does not weep, her heart as cold as ice, and her grey eyes like steel as she looks out over what is left of her people.
There is nothing he can say that will ease her suffering. She had put the Inquisition first, had begrudgingly accepted the title they had forced onto her, and in doing so, she had lost everything. She is the last of her people now, just as he is the last of his.
Delicately stepping over the bodies that litter the ground around her, bodies as far as his eyes can see. “Was it worth it? Was this worth it?” she asks him, and he does not know. How many of the people around them were friends? How many were foes? How many, few as they might be, were friends caught up on the wrong side of this war they had never wanted to be a part of?
“I cannot answer such a question,” he says. He’d sworn not to lie to her. There are things he will change about himself, only for her. She deserves better than him as it is, and he will do his utmost to be worthy of her.
“I know. I feared every other ending though. Bloodshed, or our end. But what was it for?”
“Elgara.” She doesn’t turn at the sound of her name, still scanning the clearing as though someone—anyone—will come stumbling out of the smoke. No one does. “Vhenan.”
“It’s gone.” Her voice is hoarse, from the smoke or from unshed tears, he doesn’t know. “Everything’s gone. Everyone’s gone.” Her toes curl in the ash and dirt as she slowly makes her way through all that’s left of her people. “This is how it will always end. In flames, and with spilled blood that need not have been spilled. They will never let us live. In the end, they will always hunt down like sport, like the rabbits they call us.” She closes her eyes, fighting back tears, but still, does not lower her head from where she holds it, tall and proud. “They will pay for this. I will make them pay. I will burn all of Wycome to the ground, if I have to.”
She wears the face of Mythal, but she is named after Elgar’nan, and he cannot forget that. She is justice, but she is also vengeance. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
A life for a life.
“Not all in Wycome are guilty.” He does not know why he warns her against this path she has chosen to walk. The one he has chosen to walk is darker, full of even more suffering, of even more death, but she is better than this. Better than him. Though he has yet to commit the crimes he knows he must, the lives that rest on his shoulders already weigh him down. They will all die in the end, but not at her hands. This is her burden to carry, not hers. The guilt that has haunted him since he’d locked the Evanuris away had become a familiar friend. She deserves better, deserves more.
(She deserves everything he knows she cannot have so long as she loves him.)
“They are all guilty.” Her silver eyes are amber in the light of the flames, her fury burning from within, and the fire burning from without. (She is too similar to the one with golden eyes and golden skin, as proud and as fierce as she had been, but her anger is beyond compare.) “They built their empires on the bones of my people. They crush us beneath the heels of their boots as though we are nothing more than insects who only exist to irritate them. Even if there are those whose hands are clean of the blood of my people, they only live because the very ground upon which they walk is seeped with it.”
Solas knows regrets. Were the spirts not trapped in the Dreaming, he knows he’d be followed by a spirit of regret every waking moment. He cannot count the amount of lives he carries on his conscience, and he will never be allowed to forget that there is a reason the Dalish curse his name. Even if he had not betrayed them as their tales say he had, he is still the reason Elvhenan had fallen. They hate him for the wrong reasons, but the reasons hardly matter.
He cannot let her do this. She does not deserve to suffer as he had—as he does.
“This is not what you want.”
“You know not of what I want,” she says, fierce, angry tears pricking at her eyes. “Do you know what it is like to have lost everything?”
I know more than you know, my heart. Solas looks away, unable to meet her gaze. “Making the shemlen suffer will not bring them back.”
She doesn’t acknowledge his words, eyes flitting to focus on movement on the horizon. He follows after her, helpless and silent. Two of the Duke’s men have lingered behind, carrying lit torches in their hands that they use in an attempt to reduce an aravel to ash. They laugh and joke, uncaring of how many lives have been lost here, uncaring of how much thinner the Veil already is, uncaring of how the earth beneath their feet is stained with blood. Instead, they swat each other’s shoulders as they shatter fallen pots with the toe of their boots, laughing all the while.Elgara’s bared teeth flash in the light as she raises her fist, large shards of ice erupting from the ground, unaffected by the heat of the fires. It entombs the feet of the human soldiers, freezing them where they stand.
“You,” she snarls, their eyes widening as their gazes fall upon the Dalish mage. “You will pay for this.”
“Get away from us!” the larger of the two soldiers cries. “Knife-eared wench! You should have burned with the rest of them!” She clenches her fist tighter, magical ice crackling as it grows up the man’s body, his tone suddenly changing as he stammers out an apology that falls on deaf ears. “P-please don’t kill us! We were— We were o-only following orders! You s-should blame the D-Duke!”
“Trust me,” she says in a low voice, ice seeping into the man’s veins, slowly freezing him from the inside out. “Antoine will pay for this too.” She closes her fist entirely, and he shatters into a hundred small pieces of frozen flesh that thaws as soon as they land near the burning fires. The mage turns her gaze to the second soldier. “Tell Antoine I’m coming for him.”
With a dismissive wave, the ice encasing his lower half disappears, and she watches with gritted teeth as he scampers off into the distance.
As soon as he is out of sight, Elgara falls to her knees, dropping her staff by her side as she buries her face in her hands, choking on the sob in her throat. She is wordless, on her knees in the ashes, surrounded on all sides by flames almost as tall as him, desperately praying to gods that will never hear her.
“Dread Wolf take them all,” she mutters, so quiet he can barely hear her. “They will burn for this. They have taken everything for the last time. The Elvhen will bow to them no longer.”
“Getting revenge will not bring them back,” he says.
“And you cannot change the world with fury alone,” she shoots back, throwing back the words his friend had spoken to him all those months ago. “You are not one to judge me for actions.”
“I know,” he says, “but you will not be able to walk away from this.”
She still does not look up at him, but she has stilled somewhat, even if her breath still hitches in her throat. “And if I do not want to?”
“Then, my love,” he says, hand resting on her shoulder, “that is a price you must be prepared to pay.”