The valley of the lake that hugs the rocky outskirts of Redcliffe Village is all ablaze with the last flares of sunset embers. The colours appear almost unreal: the rich purple of the sky, with generous, creamy dabs of blue and lilac clouds here and there; the smooth gold of the vast, calm waters; the thread-thin yellow flash of the horizon that separates them; and the omnipresent green funnel of the Breach, contained in its hungry growth for the time being and awaiting the Inquisition’s new mage allies to march off and seal it shut, hopefully once and for all.
The air is clear and crisp, and from the hilltop, the landscape unfurls for miles and miles, from the smattering of thatched toy cottages along tiny matchstick piers that jut into the bowl of gold, to the hazy blue mountains on the horizon, with a kaleidoscopic burst of hues lighting up on their slopes now and again as the clouds cloaking their peaks drift across the Breach and the sun shines through them.
The young man stands still, alone with his thoughts on the hill’s summit, in the deepening shadow of the old windmill’s wistfully creaking carcass. His hands are clasped behind his back, and his ashen-white face, with blackened veins faintly visible through paper-thin skin, is turned up towards the sunlight, catching the very last of the day’s warmth. Bracing himself for the approach of darkness.
He breathes in, slowly, savouring the freshness of the nippy southern evening - but has to abruptly exhale as his solitude is interrupted by the sound of rushed footsteps and occasional panting.
‘Lord Felix!’ a woman’s voice calls to him - and his round-eye look of being caught by surprise gives way to a genial smile.
It is her. The Inquisition’s Herald. The brave Dalish who worked to tirelessly, and combated such horrors, to stop the Venatori from enslaving the rebel mages and, eventually, unravelling the whole world. She is hurrying towards him, winded from the long upward climb and flailing her raised-up arms to draw attention. Her face is lit up by her usual friendly grin, and the elaborate net of black braids that crisscross her head has become frizzy from dashing about in the outdoors.
'I hate to disturb you, really! Contemplation is very important!’ she wheezes, dragging her slightly chubby frame up the final few yards, leaning on her staff as support.
'But your carriage has arrived - you know, the one that is supposed to take you straight to the nearest sea port - and some people… may have started to worry where you’ve gotten to! I had a hunch that you would go to a place kind of like this… to be alone… and went out to look for you before they launched an official search party!’
He shakes his head, his smile turning a little wry.
'Just Felix, please! So… Are the good King and Queen so impatient to see me gone?’
Lavellan half-laughs, half-coughs.
'Yeah, um… Something like that. Their subjects are good people, they really are - I should know, I helped quite a few of them return order to their homesteads after the demons clawed through them - but Tevinters… kind of make them uneasy. Especially after what happened in Denerim ten years ago. Which is very unfair to you, and to Dorian - I am sorry’.
'What of Dorian?’ Felix asks, voice shifting up in pitch with emotion. 'He said goodbye… In his joking, Dorian way… But I was not quite certain what he is going to do with himself, now that… the Venatori mess has been dealt with’.
'Oh, he is leaving with the Inquisition!’ Lavellan’s blue eyes twinkle fondly. 'He wants to keep helping, and I am so happy for it!.. I just wished more people acknowledged how heroic he had been during our travels to the future. I was a sobbing wreck most of the time, but he kept his head on his shoulders and brought us back!’
'You best not bring it up, or his head will swell so much he will need a servant with a fork for his neck to help hold it in place,’ Felix chuckles - and adds, softer, sadder,
'It is good that Dorian is coming with you. He functions best when he has a purpose. I… I will miss him. I will miss this. Standing up to the Venatori, proving that not every Tevinter wants to see the world burn… I would have gladly joined the Inquisition as well, if I were not…’
He clears his throat and concludes, with a forcefully cheerful intonation,
'There is little point moping now. I have made peace with what’s to come. Let’s not keep the royal couple waiting’.
He even reaches to Lavellan, offering to walk downhill arm in arm - but the moment they brush against one another, their surroundings change without warning, and without any logical explanation save for… magic?
The saturated purple and orange of the sky seeks away into a light midday blue, which then becomes obscured by lush foliage, which soars up in a splashing, rustling dark-green jet, as tall slender trees shoot out of the soil, straightening their trunks and lifting up their curly heads in a matter of seconds. The ground itself flattens, slabs of marble spreading over it as if someone had thrown down a pristine white sheet and it had then mysteriously solidified. And the view over the village, the lake, and the mountains is painted over in hasty brush strokes, presently replaced by a large, carefully tended garden, with cozy little terraces framed by carved balustrades and impeccably raked paths all running towards the centre, where there is a large oval lawn and an ornate gazebo on the bank of a small, sleepily gurgling creek.
Felix blinks, his eyes enormous on his pale face, like sparkling black saucers.
'That’s… That’s our country estate!’ he says, a bit shakily. 'I grew up here… I spent my uni holidays here… I… How did we get all the way to… Oh, wait… Wait!’
He swerves around and, trampling quite carelessly over the grass, yanks a flower out of a nearby shrub, clipped painstakingly to look like a roaring dragon, not a single leafy 'scale’ out of place. Hardly does the branch that held the flower let out a small dry 'snap!’, when a new blossom springs forth in its stead. An exact copy of the one Felix has just plucked.
'We are in the Fade, aren’t we?’ Felix deduces, collecting himself and tucking the flower in his hand behind one of the many confusing leather adornments of his robe.
'Did your Mark do this? Throw us inside my memories?’
'That’s likely the best explanation,’ Lavellan nods, dancing eagerly on her tiptoes as she looks about, mesmerized quite in spite of herself. 'My friend Solas theorized that something like this could happen, though I have no control over it, yet… My, it’s probably nosy of me - but this place is so gorgeous!’
'A wedding gift from my maternal grandparents,’ Felix explains absently, meandering down one of the paths, closer and closer to the gazebo. 'They spared no expense; hired the best artists and architects to do the landscaping with magic… Maker, I have forgotten how much I loved coming here… It has been… A few years since I last visited… When I… um… fell ill, Father took me to Minrathous, where he could access libraries and healers and the Circle’s laboratories… Of course, that also meant the Venatori would track him down with more ease… More passersby to point you in the right direction when you are in the capital…’
'It’s all in the past now,’ Lavellan interrupts him, softly but insistently. 'A different past. A bitter past. This past is sweet. Happy. Isn’t it?’
'Bittersweet, I think…’
He trails off, and Lavellan does not attempt to pick up the conversation again, simply following his gaze towards the gazebo - and the little family inside.
A tiny boy, perhaps the same age as the chubby mageling that helped her get her ball of knitting yarn in Redcliffe - though, of course, better dressed, all fluttering silks and glinting, intricate embroidery.
A woman with springy copper locks and potion-stained hands, which the two onlookers - unnoticed, probably even invisible to the people in the memory - get quite a good view of, since she has rolled up her sleeves in order to cast a barrier spell when the boy, intensely preoccupied by chasing a butterfly, almost trips over his own feet.
And a man.
The man Lavellan has already seen. Surveying her from the other end of an impromptu negotiations table, hiding inklings of some buried pain under the layer of pointed, fake courteousness, with a shadow lurking behind his stretched-out smile. Snarling at her, drained of all colour in the searing green light of a spell, spouting jumbled speeches about the rise of Tevinter, screaming that she should never have existed. Dying in her arms in a twisted world under a Breach-filled sky, all his pain now spilling out into the open. All his fear, and regret, and grief.
He is free of that in this memory. He is younger, with longer hair untouched by grey, with no lines etched into his skin except the sun-like rays in the corners of his eyes. Tokens of frequent smiles.
He is smiling now as well - no, laughing, although the spirits of the Fade are playing out this vision with scarcely any sound. Just as the barrier encloses the boy, he adds a little magic of his own, and the bouncy green and blue bubble soars into the air, higher than the butterfly the child has been chasing, raining sparkles over the grass, while the tiny traveller smooshes his palms and his round, squirrel-cheeked face against its side, watching the garden zoom past him with a grin of wonderment. And the father laughs and laughs, flushed with movement and fresh air and mirth, his eyes radiating a warmth that would be utterly astounding, utterly unexpected for anyone who only knew him as the invader that barged into Redcliffe and tried to unravel the fabric of time.
'Your… your parents seem so wonderful,’ Lavellan says, transfixed on the beaming, elated face of her supposed enemy.
'They were,’ Felix sighs, glancing from the man to the woman to the boy, who has been carried within his bubble down to his father’s chest level and is now resting in his arms, the magic having worn off.
'They married for love, you know. Very uncommon among the Alti… Tevinter nobles. Named me Felix, meaning Happy or Fortunate, because they considered my birth the best thing that had ever happened to them. Father… he… He poured his heart and soul into caring for both me and Mother. And then… the darkspawn…’
He pinches his nose bridge, an inky vein protruding along his throat.
'It just… It broke him. By the time we came south, I could not recognize him. The man who had told me bedtime stories and comforted me when I cried had been replaced with… a stranger. A cultist parroting all that nonsense about the Elder One. And now… Now I will die knowing that… the father that I once knew is gone forever. That’s… That’s far, far worse than death itself’.
'No, Felix, please don’t say that!’ Lavellan cries out, voice shrill like a wounded bird’s - and before either of them can properly process what she is doing, she wraps her arms around him and places her hand on top of his head, drawing him into a long, swaying embrace.
'He is still in there… Your papae - your real papae. I saw him look up at you when he dropped to his knees and surrendered. I saw him cling on to you when you sat next to him and told him everything was going to be all right. I saw him. He is not gone anywhere. He is in a lot of pain, but he has friends in the Inquisition who might make the pain ebb away. He has Dorian - and myself. I will be asking mercy for him. Demanding it, if my glowing hand gives me any authority’.
'Mercy?’ Felix echoes incredulously, drawing away from her to search her face. 'After everything he did? I mean… I would be grateful for it, because I love him, but… In my rational mind, I know that he cannot possibly deserve it…’
Lavellan smirks in subtle self-deprecation.
'I never think with my mind, Felix. I think with my heart. My mentor Deshanna has always told me that it would make me a poor leader, because a leader needs to be just and firm, but… Being just and firm hurts my flimsy little feelings too much’.
And with that, comes the jolt of awakening. They find themselves back on the hilltop, with the valley below already submerged into waves of twilight blue. Darkness has fallen - yet when they descend into it, it is in assured strides.