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The Space in My Bed

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The forest is hushed around us, and for once, so is our group. I am most at home with the three of them, with Solas, Cole, Cassandra.

I never thought that Cassandra would become a friend, or that my first spirit friend would be met in the waking world, or that I would come to the conclave and fall in love.

All three of those things are true, flitting back and forth around and through me like the emerald dragonfly on the clusters of prophet’s laurel, its colour matching the Emerald Graves.

It is still some ways back to Skyhold. Our forces will be a long time returning from the farthest reaches of the Western Approach, but we have moved on ahead, for which I am thankful.

The green around us is alive, in spite of this place being named for so much death. Instead of the red of blood watering the ground today, there is only the kind of green this place’s name does not even do justice. Being around trees has always calmed me.

The silence breaks a moment later, with Cole’s gentle voice.

“You don’t need to envy me, Solas. You can find happiness in your own way.”

“I apologise for disturbing you, Cole. I am not a spirit, and sometimes it is hard to remember such simple truths.”

There is silence for a long while.

“They are not gone so long as you remember them,” Cole says.

At first I don’t know who he’s speaking to, but Solas answers. Apparently the conversation wasn’t over.

“I know.”

“But you could let them go,” Cole says, insistent. He has found a hurt he wants to heal.

“I know that as well.” Solas’s voice is built of weariness.

He meets my eyes. If he doesn’t want me to hear this, he gives no sign.

Cole is quiet for a moment. “You didn’t do it to be right. You did it to save them.”

I slow, coming abreast with Solas. I take his hand. Doing so in front of Cassandra is a strange, new thing. She notices. It flusters her, but she says nothing.

“Solas, what is Cole talking about?” I ask. My voice I keep barely above a whisper, which I know he will understand to mean he doesn’t have to answer, now or ever or in front of Cassandra.

Solas gives me a wan smile. “A mistake. One of many made by a much younger elf who was certain he knew everything.”

The line from Redcliffe grows a bit longer, connecting to this point, this moment.

“You weren’t wrong, though,” Cole says suddenly. I add this to that line as well.

“Thank you, Cole.” Solas squeezes my hand, and then to my surprise, he raises it to his lips and kisses it. Cassandra doggedly looks away.

He will tell me, someday. I am certain of that.

The sun is bright above, the sky clear, what we can see of it through the canopy of the trees. I wish I could stay here, in this place my people once defended with the last drops of blood in their veins before those they guarded scattered to wander, unwanted and uncared for through the wilds of Thedas.

“I like it here,” Solas says softly, echoing my thoughts. “It is peaceful.”

“As do I.” His hand in mine is smooth and warm. I twine our fingers together, watching as a few threads of green light slip between our combined hands.

Camp is just over the next ridge, and though I know the Freemen of the Dales—what an insulting pack of fools to seek to claim this place of all places—are roaming about in bands. They ought to keep clear enough of an Inquisition camp.

Solas slows his gait, pausing. I look at him questioningly.

“Garas, da’lath’in,” Solas murmurs to me as Cassandra and Cole make their way ahead of us.

Two words, and he sets my skin humming. I do not think he simply plans to go for a walk.

“Seeker,” he says. Cassandra stops and turns. “We may be late. If there is any trouble, I’m sure Cole will know.”

Now I’m definitely curious.

Cassandra nods, trying to hide that she’s blushing. Sweet Mythal, what is he planning?

We split away from the camp, walking in silence for a time. Each of us sometimes stops to point at something that strikes us—the sun framing the moss upon a tree in pure light, august rams sharpening their horns upon a stump, even a litter of baby nugs, dark brown and squeaky.

“What’s this about, Solas?” I ask him curiously.

He gestures at an enormous tree, and when we reach it, he turns, nudging me until my back rests against its mossy bark.

“Listen,” he says.

“To what?”

A mysterious smile dances over his face, but he says nothing. He moves forward just enough so that his body touches mine, his eyes taking their careful survey of my face.

So I listen.

At first all I hear is our breathing, which is music enough to my ears. I am still unused to his easy proximity, still surprised that he would be so open with me around others. I did not expect that he would be someone given much to public affection, but I’ve certainly surprised him enough for him to be allowed to do the same to me.

A bird calls, a light trill, answered by another to the west. The wind ruffles the branches above us, so thick with the first refreshed leaves of spring.

Insects buzz. One of the august rams gives a lowing sound somewhere in the distance.

But perhaps what is most telling in this moment is what I do not hear.

No soldiers laughing or clanking or—as was the case in the bigger camps—farting. No conversations competing with my thoughts. No “Inquisitor!” said in insistent tones, demanding my attention even with their deference.

No demons. No rifts. No noise.

Just gentle sounds.

“Thank you,” I breathe, and Solas raises his hand to cup my cheek in his palm.

He winds the small curl just in front of my ear around his finger. He likes that curl. I love that he has a favourite curl upon my head.

We have not had much time to ourselves, since we left Skyhold. Oh, we shared a tent every night, shared our bodies in the Fade, but our caution grew the closer we came to Adamant, knowing how many demons awaited us. There was tension, tight and metallic and relentless.

That tension is not forever gone, but it has abated.

“My love,” Solas says, and as usual, it is not a preface to anything in particular.

He says it often, with comfort or kindness, relief or greeting. In his voice it is a declaration as much as anything else, no matter how gentle his tone, how much love weaves vines of itself between each letter. I will never tire of hearing it.

My love. Vhenan. My heart. Da’lath’in.

As has happened so often since Adamant, I find myself unable to answer. Simply looking into his eyes, I am overcome, gathered up like wildflowers in his gaze and undone like laces all at once.

He kisses me, then. He knows. Solas knows. His lips find mine, and I know he knows.

I kiss him back, pouring everything into the movements of my mouth on his. We come together like beads of water, perfect, round, shining, complete on their own—and then more, in the instant they touch. In the instant we touch, we are more.

Our mana blends so fully now, so easily, like it was always meant to. I feel his ripple through mine, feel mine wind its way through his like a stream among the hills.

He smells of sun and leaves and moss, and I don’t know how.

He, who walked the Fade with me in the flesh and returned.

His knee nudges between my legs, and I hear the scratch of bark against the leathers of my armour.

My lips grow swollen with our kisses. My body grows hungry with them, fully clothed and wanting. As always, I know I am not alone.

There is a small clearing that caught my eye, north of us, a bed of moss amongst the rocks, mostly sheltered from the knolls below.

“Solas,” I say, breaking our kiss.

He waits for me to go on. I almost lose my desire to move. Here, pinned against a tree in a bower of green, it is his eyes that hold me more still than any spell could.

“Come with me, vhen’an’ara,” I say, winding my fingers through his again.

It does not take long to find the spot I remember, but it takes too long.

It is a sheltered hollow among the trees, and above it is a break in the canopy.

“Isalan dera na aron tuelan,” I tell him.

For a moment, I am afraid I have said something wrong, but then his eyes soften, and he reaches for me.

“That is all you ever do, vhenan,” he whispers into my ear. “It is I who should say the same to you.”

My fingers find his belt, and in moments, his are finding mine. Our armour and underclothes quickly pool around us. The sun is setting, and the clouds through the trees to the west are more brilliant than dawnstone.

There is a spring chill to the air, but the moss is soft between my toes, and the rippling of the river to the north is a love song in the fading sunlight.

For a moment, I look up. “See the trees,” I say. “They hold the sky for us here.”

He follows, smiling. “They do, da’lath’in.”

I tug him to his knees, leaning him backward beneath me. His eyes are so bright against the green of the moss—where it should wash him away with the intensity of its colour, instead it makes his eyes shine like silver. Every line of his face comes alive.

I kiss first the scar over his right eyebrow, leaning over him. My few stray curls tickle at his forehead, his cheeks.

Easing down atop him, I brush my hands against his chest.

He is wanting; I feel it in him even without the press of telltale hardness growing harder against my thigh.

I pull myself backward, this time nudging his knees apart with my own, coming to kneel between them. My hands find him, feel his pulse in the vein that runs along the top side of his cock, the slight give of skin at the edge of the head of him that feels so delicious inside me.

I take him in my right hand, watching his eyes as my fingers move up and down on his shaft, my thumb finding that sensitive cleft on its underside, the ridges of my fingers giving way to one another. He is smooth, his skin nearly hairless like my own, and when I bring my mouth upon him to replace my hand on a downward stroke, his sharp intake of breath tells me that somehow I’ve surprised him yet again.

The feel of him against my lips and tongue is exquisite, the velvet smoothness and the heat of him. I roll my hand over the head of his cock before pulling him into my mouth again, and then again, and then again, my free fingers finding more sensitive skin to caress, cupping him in both my hands.

It doesn’t take long for him to grow tense under my touch, and I listen to his body, to the movements of his muscles, to the song of his sighs and the way he gasps, “Da’lath’in” when I know he is a hairsbreadth from falling from this ledge.

He strains against my lips, my hands. I can taste him, that early bead promising pleasure before his seed, and Solas says my name, and it is like a prayer.

“Ilaana,” he says.

I stop. My fingers still, my mouth leaves his skin, and he shudders, but he does not come.

“I made you a promise,” I tell him seriously.

Solas stares at me, utterly uncomprehending.

I wait for it to dawn on him in the gold-green of the setting sun upon this perfect place.

“Fenedhis,” he swears, and then he laughs weakly. “Ar lath ma.”

“Ar lath ma, vhen’an’ara,” I tell him. I mean it.

I take him in my mouth again.

What he has done to me so many times now, I repay him, coaxing him to his edge over and over again, each time leaving him wanting until he smells of my mouth, slick with my tongue and his own unslaked desire.

Every time, I find myself growing warmer and warmer as well, throbbing with his need.

After the tenth time or the thousandth, he looks at me, and I know I am in trouble.

He has me flipped onto my back so quickly, I almost lose my breath. Solas kneels over me much as he did our first night, holding himself, looking down with amusement at the drip that falls from the tip of his cock onto my belly.

I know that look. He is considering his tactics.

Solas leans down on one elbow, taking my mouth with his own. His lips are cool from the falling dusk, but they warm to mine, which are hot from his body. An errant thought strikes me when he pulls back to begin whatever it is he has planned, and it must show on my face.

“What is it, vhenan?”

I am seldom embarrassed by sex, but I do not truly wish to bring up another lover in front of him.

“A silly thing,” I say.

He leans back down, his face above mine. “Then share, so we can turn it to dust in the light.”

“You never hesitate to kiss me after I take you in my mouth,” I say. “Even after I finish you in my mouth.”

“Of course not,” Solas says. “Why on earth would I?”

He says it so definitively, searching my face with his eyes. A moment later, his expression blurs at its edges.

“Ah,” he says. “Some other lover found it distasteful.”

I nod.

“Am I correct in assuming this other lover expected you to kiss them after they had used their mouth upon you?”

I nod again.

Solas lowers himself on both elbows now, taking my face in his hands.

He punctuates his words with his lips on mine.

“When I kiss you,” he says, “and taste myself upon you, I taste your desire, your wanting. I taste everything that has been and will be, vhenan. My own passion is reflected back in you, stoking whatever fires we have already built.”

His tongue delves into my mouth, and one of his hands reaches down between my legs, sliding between my folds with ease. He brings his finger back, pushing it into his mouth, slow and deep.

“Mar rodhe ir’on,” he says. “Mar rodhe aron var lath.”

Solas leans his weight on his right knee and flips me onto my stomach, then to my knees with my back against his chest. His lips chart a path down the side of my neck, to the branches of the tree upon my shoulder. His hand reaches around me, where his finger finds my clit and circles it like I showed him and not—he has learnt when to vary, when to veer from the slow, revolving dance, and he does it now.

His thumb takes the place of his finger, his finger seeking my opening, entering me, pulling back and up on the pleasure spot just inside even as his thumb circles, strokes, and teases my clit.

His breath warms my left ear, startling my skin into goosebumps that cascade down my shoulder, my side, my leg.

“Isalan na, emma vhenan,” he says, and in one movement, leans me forward just enough that he can push inside of me.

Solas supports my weight, his right hand still moving between my legs even as he thrusts deep into me. His left hand holds my breast, skimming over the skin, kneading it even as his lips find my neck once more.

“Isalan na,” I gasp.

If this is his revenge, so far I am getting off easy.

My pleasure builds, the weight of desire heavy upon us both. I expect him to stop when I get close, but no sooner do I reach the edge than he pushes me over it, his skilful fingers and the steady movement of his cock not abating for even a heartbeat.

“Solas—” This time it is his name that is a prayer in my mouth, because with every movement of his body, my pleasure deepens.

I fall forward onto my hands, and his left hand splays between my shoulder blades, tracking the slightly-raised lines of the branches of my tree.

I let the gentle nudge of his hand move me until I am prone, my breasts against the moss and my hands digging into it to steady me. Solas moves me until my hips lower to the side, never leaving me, still moving slowly.

“Ah,” he says. “You are not yet finished, vhenan.”

Those words waken me once more even as my body throbs its release. His hands smooth the skin of my back, my shoulders, my chest. He is so deep within me. So deep I think I may shatter around him.

Again he moves me, lifting my leg, pulling it to splay open, ducking underneath it, turning me onto my back once more.

It is this unbearable perfect closeness that undoes me the second time, his weight pressing into my chest and his lips on mine. I cry out into his mouth and his pace increases.

“Sathan, vhenan,” he says, and I do not know what he is asking of me.

Yet he groans into me as if I myself am the answer, so close himself, yet holding back—how, I do not know, the sheer self-control of this man—and the sun is long gone beyond and the stars are points of pure light in the place where the trees hold the sky in a perfect pool above our heads, ready to rain down upon our gasping bodies.

I lose myself in him, and he in me. When he comes, he times it with my fourth or fortieth or four thousandth, and no sooner have we lain our heads back upon pillows of moss to catch our breath and let the breeze steal the sweat from our skin than we are reaching for one another again.

It is hours before we sleep, my body swollen and spent and his the same. A brilliant green meteor flames its path across the sky above our heads, and I cannot find words to name it, only the will to point with a still-shaking finger, and he sees it, and he pulls me against him the moment it fades, and in that moment is the brightest clarity of my life.

Bathed in starshine, I breathe my own stars into existence, where they shower us in blue and white sparks born of my mana and his, somehow his too, so completely are we here.

Solas follows them with a perfect tree of silver, and my stars hang in the air around it, and together we paint with our magic, deep into the night. We write our love in a thousand languages no one speaks but us, private and secret and whole. Through it we speak few words with our lips, and my heart knows it is because no words ever uttered could tell true stories of this stolen moment, returning home from war.

At some point, my hair came down, unraveling its plaits and bun, and it floats loose around my shoulders, over my chest. Solas floats in the lengths of my curls, pressing his cheek into them against my breast.

It is daybreak by the time our feet find the camp again, and there are knowing eyes upon us, but even in the half-hidden grins and raised eyebrows between scouts and friends, there is something hopeful and hungry when they see us. Cole sees us and breaks into the brightest smile, outshining even the dawn. Cassandra still looks as if she wants to look away, but she meets my eyes and gives up, something longing there, a loneliness she will not admit, but when Cole takes her hand, she lets him hold it for a time.

After Adamant, as the sun returns to warm our faces, it is nice to see myself and Solas reflected in the eyes of the Inquisition’s people as people, perhaps people giving them some little reminder that even now, even here, even in this place named for the massacre of our people and so much death, we can bring something of life.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sometime on the road back to Skyhold, Solas finds himself awake.

Not awake in the sense that his eyes are open, but awake in the sense that the sun is yellow and Ilaana’s nose is pink, and in the vast silver-green that is the sum of most of his existence, there are suddenly flecks that are not that colour.

Orange dirt on the road, remnants of iron. The purple of the sky at high dark. But purest in these moments is blue.

She points it out to him when the sun goes down each night, motioning toward the darkening horizon where the colour bleeds into midnight with its speckling stars. There is a precise colour she seeks when the sky is clear, and each time she finds it, Solas finds a bit more of himself in her.

It is the same blue that weaves itself through the serpentstone in his pendant, and she is drawn to it like it heals her. Maybe it does. Solas doesn’t know, and in those days, on the way back to Skyhold, with maybe spread out in front of him like rainbows, Solas secretly thinks it heals him too.

Perhaps it is partly because he sees Ilaana push back against the edges of the word Inquisitor when it is applied to her.

Sometimes in their tent, when they are slicked with sweat their quick breathing can’t dry on its own, he will murmur it to her. At first, she flinches from it. Solas knows that feeling, when you are taken over by something others put on you for no better reason than you make the right choice at the right time. Or maybe the wrong choice at the right time. Solas isn’t sure about that either.

He isn’t sure about many things.

But he thinks if he can make Inquisitor as warm to her in his voice as da’lath’in or vhenan, maybe there is hope for him. It is his blue at twilight, his cerulean dream.

Skyhold is awash with excitement when they approach. Banners have been hung from the ramparts, and the bridge into the fortress is lined with guards and Inquisition faithful who call out to Ilaana as she draws near them. Some of them call out to Solas, too. There is reverence to them that is strange to him, like he is basking in the reflected glow of her blue.

He watches their faces when they look at her. Solas has seen that look before.

More importantly, he watches her as she moves among them. A groom takes her mount, and she goes to the people without self-consciousness. Ilaana greets them by name, and she remembers so many names. She soothes fears, returns something solid to them, like they are floating roots just sprouted in water and have not quite found which way is down, where the earth will welcome them and the sun will feed them. She shows them both, and Solas watches them grow healthy in front of his eyes.

They have had no shortage of each other’s company in the past weeks, both on the march to Adamant and back, but being here, being in Skyhold with her, the maybe grows stronger. She is closer, realer, here.

Spring is late coming to the mountains, but Skyhold is special. Flowers bloom in the grasses, on the trees. Children flock to Ilaana with handfuls of the things, and she kneels and allows them to work the flowers into her hair with their small sticky plump child fingers. Her hair is getting long, past her shoulders now. Soon the black waves are home to tiny daisies and violets and honeysuckle and buds of embrium and even crystal grace.

Solas’s fingers itch to sketch her like this, and he fixes the image in his mind.

She looks to him once, beckoning, and he obliges her, coming to kneel beside her among the children. They are mostly human children, though a few elf children watch him with big eyes and ears that turn pink when he watches them back.

Solas suddenly wonders what it must be like for them, to have her—to have even himself—held up in this place to them. They are raised with knife ear a whisper away from even the kindest human tongues, and that is sharper than any knife itself in whittling away a child’s innocence.

“Did you really go to the Fade?” one child asks Ilaana, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her dress. The child has hair as red as the maples in autumn and eyes bluer than the Waking Sea. She even has freckles on the points of her ears.

“We did,” Ilaana tells her seriously. “Solas was with me. He knows a lot about the Fade, and he helped us get back.”

“I can’t put flowers in your hair, Solas,” the child tells him seriously, and Solas laughs before he can stop himself, a warm chuckle that makes the child jump, but she smiles shyly a moment later, swaying uncertainly from side to side.

The children, they are watching and still, but they are always moving, like Cole. Like they can only feel everything they need to feel if there is the soft whoosh of air on their skin and a little extra blood in their veins. They shift and fidget, eyes darting around, trying to remember.

“That’s quite all right,” Solas tells the red-haired girl. “I haven’t had hair to put flowers in for a very long time.”

“Here,” says one of the human boys, holding a sprig of honeysuckle. The boy has some of it tucked behind one of his own ears, and he places the sprig in his hands carefully behind Solas’s left ear. The child’s fingers are warm when they brush against the point of cartilage, and he doesn’t flinch from it.

The elven children seem to be emboldened enough to speak, and they chatter more questions at him, at Ilaana. Solas is utterly charmed, which catches him off guard. So when one of the human boys, one of the younger ones, probably little over seven or eight, tugs at Solas’s sleeve and looks at him with earnest eyes, Solas can’t help but smile at the lad.

“Do you love her?” the boy whispers, and a few of the other children giggle.

Ilaana turns to smile at him, the tips of her ears going pink like the children’s. All the elven children watch him, their eyes bright and hopeful. The humans look excited in a different way—for them perhaps they have not had time to learn the prejudices of their parents so fully. For them perhaps having Ilaana here, himself here, Sera here—perhaps that will dull the sharp lessons of the rest of the world that will teach them to think of elves as smaller. To them, Solas and Ilaana and Sera and the gaggle of their elf peers around them are still people.

“Yes,” Solas says simply, gazing at Ilaana’s face. “How could I not?”

 

Some time later, he is in the rotunda. He keeps picking up the wolves on his desk and putting them back down again. He turns them in the light, looking at them this way and that, this way and that.

Dorian comes in from the bridge, looking tousled by the wind—or perhaps tousled by the Iron Bull, if their unsubtle stares and growing laughter on the journey back were any judge.

The Tevinter is always respectful to him, even kind. Solas can see how much he loves Ilaana. Solas is far from a jealous man—he has lived too long to take much stock in envy—but he finds himself envying Dorian. Dorian is present, eager in himself in the freshest ways. He is cohesive in his ever-movingness, like fire. Different every time you look at him, but always what he is. Dorian was there with her in that horrid future in Redcliffe, and Solas cannot escape the spectre his own future self cast over the love of his heart. Ilaana has not told him everything of that experience, but he remembers too well the way she clung to him.

Solas thinks that is the moment he let go, for the first time. It is hard to be fully real in the eyes of another and not see them the same way.

“Good afternoon,” Dorian greets him cheerfully. “I imagine you are relieved to return here, if you and I have anything in common at all.”

“I believe we have more in common than might meet the eye upon first glances,” Solas says. He is trying. Dorian is special to Ilaana.

“What?” Dorian manages to give the word multiple syllables. He peers at Solas. “Are you very sure you made it back from the Fade in once piece?”

“Moderately,” Solas says with a half-smile. “In any case, we both love the same person, which should be enough in common for civility.”

“Indeed, indeed,” Dorian says. “Solas, I must say that I am relieved to hear it.”

“That we love the same person?”

“Well, naturally. You and I would have words if I thought she was simply some dalliance to you—excepting perhaps if such a dalliance were with the informed consent of all adult parties—but any fool can see that the gravity in the room itself shifts when the two of you are near.” Dorian’s voice is as light as always, grandiose, magnanimous, but beneath it there is something else. Genuine relief, the kind that lets new parts of your lungs fill with air. “We all saw those children today. I know Ilaana has no desire for children of her own, but of all the things I’ve seen you do together, that, I think, will be a quiet legend.”

The honeysuckle the small human boy gave Solas is in a wee jar on his desk.

“Perhaps you are correct,” Solas says.

“I’m very often correct,” Dorian tells him seriously. He claps Solas on the shoulder. “I may put my foot in my mouth often enough with you that you expect I think feasting on my own toenails a particularly fine Tevinter delicacy, but I do love her, and she loves you, and I am quite prepared to love you too, for her sake.”

“Why, Dorian,” Solas says, a smile hinting at the corner of his mouth. “I had heard you were off the market, as it were.”

“Oh, tosh,” Dorian replies, but his eyes grow warmer, and his face instantly crinkles with happiness around his eyes. “Purely a chaste love, my elven friend, if I might be so bold as to call you that. And an academic one. While we are at Skyhold, perhaps you would be interested in discussing the—how should I say this tactfully?—obscured overlap between what is known as Tevinter magic and your own? I find myself with the desire to seek out painful truths, and I suspect you would delight in sharing them.”

Solas is surprised again. It seems to be his perpetual state of being when he is in proximity to Ilaana, and it seems she is contagious. Or perhaps it took loving her to see elsewhere what was always there.

“Happily,” Solas tells the Tevinter mage.

“Lovely.” Dorian lingers for a moment longer, nodding at Solas’s hands. Solas has forgotten that he was holding the wolves when Dorian came in, and he hasn’t put them down yet. “Looking for secret compartments?”

“Ah, no,” Solas says. “Simply admiring her handiwork.”

“As am I,” Dorian agrees. “As am I.”

He leaves Solas wondering what that meant.

For a time, Solas sits at his desk with a bit of graphite and paper, sketching out Ilaana on the bridge, surrounded by children. The first few are quick sketches, shapes, forms, feelings in lines. None of them feel quite right.

In the next, he takes a bit more care, and he adds himself, by her side, crouching with the sprig of honeysuckle behind his ear. He would like to paint this, but he knows he will have little time to do it the justice he wants to. Her hair is a wave of black lit with tiny flowers like stars in the night sky. Ilaana is so lovely even on paper that it steals his breath.

He is not surprised to see her enter after a short while, a small frown on her face. Solas has felt her moving about Skyhold, to the war room, to her room, to the hall, outside, to the stables. She is chewing the inside of her cheek like she does when anxious, and it makes her dimple more pronounced.

“Vhenan,” he says when she nears, and some of the worry smooths from her face as it does whenever he speaks to her. “You look troubled.”

She glances upward. “Have you seen Dorian?”

“Yes, he stopped by not long ago.”

“Stopped by?” Ilaana comes to stand beside him, her face reflecting his own sketch back at him in the changing sparkles of her eyes. She runs a finger down the outside of his arm, leaving the crackle of heat in its wake.

“To speak with me, briefly.”

“About what?” She is all curiosity now, with not a little wariness beneath it.

This is why he wants to try with Dorian. Ilaana wants them to be friends. It matters to her.

“About you, da’lath’in. About how we both love you and want you to be happy.” Solas reaches up to touch her cheek, realising a moment too late that his fingers are smudged with graphite. None sticks to her.

“Really?” She is skeptical, and Solas supposes he can’t blame her for that. He winces to remember a few of the…more curt exchanges he’s had with Dorian in her presence.

“Truly,” Solas assures her. “I believe we will be taking more time to get to know each other and learn from one another.”

“Really,” she says.

Her green eyes widen, and to Solas’s chagrin, he thinks he sees the sheen of tears. Something is wrong, and he does not know what.

Solas gets to his feet, setting his lap easel on his desk. “What is wrong, vhenan?”

“I’m not sure,” she says. “Mother Giselle—”

She breaks off, glancing upward. Something about Dorian, then.

“You need to speak with him,” Solas says, correctly interpreting her hesitation.

“I will tell you, but he should know first.” Ilaana takes Solas’s hands, the way she has done so often without thinking even before their relationship transformed into what it is. Her eyes search his, and she rises up on her toes to close the short distance between their lips.

Solas likes that she is nearly as tall as he is. He quite tall himself, and she is very tall. Standing straight, he can put his lips directly on the tip of her nose, which he often does, because she likes it.

“I’ll be back, vhen’an’ara,” she murmurs.

She vanishes up the stairs, and while Solas hears voices above from the library, hers and Dorian’s, low and quiet, tinged with no small amount of distress, Solas finds himself absently pressing his fingers against his chest over his heart, like in doing so he can soothe whatever pain they feel. He realises that even a short time ago, he would be worried about Dorian’s pain purely because it would transfer in some way to Ilaana, but that blasted grandstander of a man has wormed his way past that. There is something lost and lonely about Dorian, in spite of his certainty. Solas thinks it is part of what drew Ilaana to him. His vhenan is so like Cole in that way—if there is someone lost and lonely, she finds them and sits with them until they know exactly where they are.

Perhaps that is why Solas knows he wants to be that for her.

Someone certainly should. No one cared to do it for him until her, not for a very long time. Maybe never.

 

Chapter Text

I hesitate outside the Gull and Lantern. Returning to Redcliffe has been strange, the stature dedicated to Neria finally registering in my mind, the villagers staring at me, smiling at me, asking for blessings.

But the inn was empty except Dorian’s father. They are in there now, speaking, I hope.

I know what some people would say, that Dorian might regret walking away, never listening.

I also know what it’s like when someone has hurt you so deeply that that hurt becomes all you know of them. I know what it’s like when a father turns away. Even before I left my clan, I hadn’t spoken to my parents in months. They wanted nothing to do with me.

Solas has his hand on the lower part of my back, and the Iron Bull is looking around, almost dazed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought him. Whatever is going on between Dorian and Bull is new, fragile.

“I’m going to take a walk, Boss,” Bull says abruptly.

I nod at him, walking on rubbery feet over to a large stone. When I sit, Solas sits beside me.

“His father used blood magic to try and change him,” I blurt out, startling the small finch that’s tweeting in a nearby bramble into silence. “Did I do the right thing, walking away?”

“Yes,” Solas says, though he sounds troubled as well. “They deserve time alone to speak.”

“Will Dorian be okay?” My voice is shredded bark.

Solas still has his arm partway around me, resting on the side of my back, almost at my hip. “You truly care for him.”

“Yes.”

“He will be in pain, but pain can heal, da’lath’in.”

The sun feels cold when it is warm right now, like thick rays of yellow that are heavier than they ought to be.

“How could his father do such a thing?” I ask the question because I need to hear Solas’s answer, not really out of any disbelief of my own. I know what fathers can be capable of.

“Fear is a powerful thing,” Solas says. “But still, to try and alter the very fabric of your child is detestable. I cannot imagine a fear that would make me ready to commit such an act against one I loved. That is not love.”

I am quiet, listening to his words. That is not love. The silence must stretch on, because Solas’s hand moves upon my back after a moment, and out of the corner of my eye, I see him turn to face me.

“Vhenan,” he says. “Vegara su em.”

“Ame amahn,” I tell him.

“This has found its way to you.” It isn’t a question, and Solas’s hand increases pressure on my back, comforting, supporting me even though we are sitting.

“I was never enough either,” I say, surprising myself. “I didn’t marry or have a child, even though magic was dying in our clan. My first lover left me after she became a full hunter, and that was years ago. No one else in our clan came near me. I sometimes found friends, briefly, when we would meet or pass other clans, at gatherings. But it never lasted, and they never wrote after, not that there is much contact always.”

I’ve told Solas much of my life, but not this. Anuon still stings, my almost-friend, my first love who did not love me back. At least not enough to make a barrier against the harsh thoughts of the hunters.

“Did I tell you that my parents did not say goodbye when I left? Our clan needed magic, needed mages. Keeper Deshanna is old now, and she does not wish to remain Keeper until the end of her life. I am grown, and I was to take over soon. There was no Second to my First. Yet when we heard of the Conclave, the elders all decided to send me. Even the hunters agreed.”

Solas tenses beside me, and his hand stills upon my back. I think he is trying not to let his anger leak out his cracks. He is shaking his head in that way of his, this time because he senses some wrongness, something it seems he thinks should not be.

“It should have been an honour,” I say, going on. “But I felt like the moment I left, I died.”

“You could have gone anywhere, vhenan,” Solas says after a hitch in his breath. “You could have traveled, seen the world, found some other clan. They closed you out of your own, yet you still did your duty. Why?”

“I don’t know.” I stare at the dirt under my boots. Small grey rocks, too jagged to be called pebbles. Red-brown earth, footprints, some mangled grass. “Perhaps I thought if I did this thing, if I went to the Conclave like Deshanna wanted, maybe I would return reborn. It was the only hope I had.”

Solas folds me into his arms, surprising me. He pulls me against his chest and rests his chin against my head. It is like after Redcliffe. We are in Redcliffe again. His heart is a drumbeat in my ear.

We are in the middle of the village, and our exchange cannot go unwatched. Something in the way Solas does not seem to care pulls me back to myself. He is so certain of me, of us. Certain like the rain.

A cloud passes over the sun, and the door to the inn opens, startling us apart.

Dorian is walking toward us, his face a mess of emotions.

“Thank you for waiting,” he says without preamble. “I—what you must think of me. There is more to say, and I would not have you stuck sitting around the village all day, so I think I will meet you back at Skyhold.”

I get to my feet, feeling heavy.

“Dorian,” I say, and he looks at me like he’s swimming in his own depths and can’t find his edges. I walk to him and rise on my toes to kiss his cheek. “What I think of you is that you are one of the best men I know. What I think of your father is a different story at the moment, but I will reserve further judgement until you tell me how angry I ought to be at him. But you?”

He looks at me, startled.

“I will never think less of you for who you love, lethallin,” I tell him. “And no one should. You came here, knowing it would be difficult. You are brave, even if you don’t feel it. You faced someone who—”

I break off, because he knows. He gives me a crooked smile.

“Lethallin, is it?” he says. His eyes soften. He knows that word. Dorian glances over my shoulder at Solas, who is still sitting quietly watching us. “Very well, then.”

He wavers for a moment as if he is delaying leaving, and Solas stands, brushing a bit of dried grass from his breeches.

“Ilaana is right,” Solas says. “No one could have asked you to forgive today, or even to listen, not without possessing some cruelty or ignorance. I hope you find some peace.”

Dorian looks at Solas as if he’s never seen him before. “Tell Bull—” Dorian stops, confusion flickering like shadows under his eyes. “Tell him I’m sorry he had to witness that. Tell him I’ll explain everything later.”

“Of course,” I say, and I kiss his cheek again. He smells of sunshine and tavern.

He turns to go back. I want to help, to heal this hurt. Again I feel like Cole, but without Cole’s powers to actually make a difference.

“Home?” I say to Solas, suddenly weary.

“Home.” When he says the word in response, this time it is he who looks confused and lost for just an instant, but then his eyes find mine, and he comes and takes my hand.

 

I am walking on the battlements near the tavern. Dorian still hasn’t returned, but we only just arrived ourselves.

“Oi, Quizzy.”

I squint up into the sun to see Sera perched on the wide stone rail above where I first met Hawke.

“Hello, Sera,” I say.

“Come sit. Makes everything smaller.”

I’m not sure I have the energy for Sera right now, but she seems more peaceful than I usually find her, kicking her legs against the ancient stone, so I do, climbing the stairs and joining her with my feet dangling over the edge.

“Dorian okay?” she asks. “Weird one, that. But fun. Could lose a bit more Tevinter. But his face was the wrong colour when yous left.”

“He’s not really okay,” I say, unsure of how much to share. “Family trouble.”

“Nothing but trouble, those,” Sera says, kicking her feet. “That’s shite.”

“Yeah,” I say, for once in perfect agreement with her. “It is absolutely shite.”

“Quizzy saying shite! Alert the Chantry.” She dissolves into giggles, but then looks at me shrewdly. “Bothers you, him hurting all wrong. You and him, you buzzed the same way when you got back from that Coryfeefuss future, the one that was wronger than wrong. But you got back together, so you don’t like seeing him the wrong colour.”

“Yeah,” I say again. “He lost the most that day. I think he’s still trying to figure out what next.”

“Well, long as what’s next isn’t the next in that Coryface place, I’ll be sweet.”

“You and me both.”

“What’s this? Are we having a proper talk, you and me?” Sera shifts again, always changing like the clouds in the sky.

“Looks like it. I haven’t gotten too elfy this time, I guess.”

She looks at me again. The more time I spend around her, the more I do want to understand her. She sees what other people miss. That’s far from a bad quality.

“It pokes at you when I poke at Elfy,” she says. “But you like him. He likes you. Looks at you like you’re a puzzle he wants to put together and a puzzle he never will all at once, but he’d die before he let anybody pull apart your pieces. Don’t know how you got past his ice wall.”

“He’s a good person, Sera,” I tell her. “He cares.”

“You care. I think you make him care more.” Sera kicks her legs, and her enormous boots clunk against the rock. The wind is rising up, ruffling her hair. She holds up her hands, making a square between her fingers and thumbs. “It’s like this. He’s got this…focus thing. You could probably push him down a mountain and he’d land on his feet like a cat, still staring at whatever. But you…”

Sera widens the box. Moves it around in the air, then wiggles her fingers like she’s imitating something magical.

“He doesn’t know where to look without that box, cos he thinks the important stuff’s all in it, but it’s not. With you, there’s important stuff everywhere.”

“Beyond being too elfy?” I ask. I don’t know why it bothers me so much that she feels so…apart. But perhaps Sera knows who her people are better than I know who mine are.

“Oi, shut up.” She looks frustrated, dropping her hands to her sides where they grip the stone at her hips. “I never knew nothing about all that, like it was supposed to matter. People see the colour before they see the shape and all that. React. Put you in breeches that don’t fit.”

Now that I understand. My heart softens, and I take a deep breath of spring air. It feels good.

“You’re right,” I tell her. “Getting stuffed into the wrong breeches is proper rotten.”

Sera gives me a genuine smile, surprise all over it. She looks down at her knees, bouncing her legs now.

“Getting stuffed.” She giggles. “You two are all hands, too. Getting stuffed.”

I wince.

“Bet he yells out ‘Elven glory!’ when he does it.” Sera’s giggles dissolve, delighted. “But you’re good, you two. You stop to look down.”

“I try,” I say.

“Try and make him less boring.”

“He’s only boring if you don’t listen closely,” I murmur. “He says the most between the words.”

“Deep, Quizzy. Deep Quizzy. Gets too mad at me to say much, but I’ll try.” Sera stops bouncing, suddenly. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“It’s a test, you know? Red things in the market, too many breeches. It’s all bollocks, innit, but you came back with Vivienne and me. Most’d just get Madame Fancypants. She’s top, and she knows it, and she makes sure everybody else knows it. Shoves your face right in it, can’t look away.” Sera glances my way again. “But you’re different maybe. Come in with your elfy magic and paste the sky back together. Phwoar.”

“Phwoar.”

Phwoar.

For a time, we just sit, talking about nonsense and nothings. And it’s nice.

 

Dorian still isn’t back when Solas and I have dinner in my quarters, which is starting to feel like our room. Josephine had a huge stack of books and scrolls delivered while we were away, and they’re strewn all over my desk, mixed with a few of Solas’s that he recommended. When we’re done eating, we lie down on the bed, stretched out, each with a book. My head is on his stomach, moving gently with his breathing.

After a while of reading, I realise I’ve read the same paragraph four times in a row and close the book and my eyes, letting the book fall to my chest. It smells musty and old, leather and dust and a hint of mildew. I always liked the smell of books, even if it makes me sneeze sometimes. Keeper Deshanna had few books.

“Something wrong, da’lath’in?” Solas asks. His long fingers give my scalp a light scratch.

“Having trouble concentrating,” I say. I tap my head. “Busy up here.”

“Dorian?”

“Everything.” I’m still thinking about everything from the past few days. Weeks. Adamant and the long way home. Flowers in my hair. Solas in sketch form, crouched next to me with honeysuckle tucked behind his ear. “Tell me about a spirit you met.”

He thinks for a moment. His stomach beneath my head stills, then dips as he breathes in again. “I met a friendly spirit who observed the dreams of village girls when love first blossomed in their adolescence. With subtlety, she steered them all to village boys with gentle hearts who would return their love with gentle kindness. The Matchmaker, I called her. That small village never knew its luck.”

“That’s lovely,” I say. It is, in a strange bittersweet way. “I am glad someone was looking out for them.”

“Yes,” Solas says. “We are so used to cruelty and malice that finding simple warmth and comfort feels like a treasure. It is, but it should not be so rare.”

“Yes.” I pause, rolling onto my side to look at him. The moment feels like a thousand perfect snowflakes falling close to a fire, where they will soon melt. I want to keep them. “I spoke with Sera today, up on the battlements. She surprised me.”

“Oh?” I know Solas is not overly fond of Sera. I think she confounds him.

“For all she pushes away anything too elfy or too magic, I think she is closer than she seems, pressing her nose against the glass. Easier to push away than get turned away.”

“I think it is likely you are right, da’lath’in.” Solas’s brow furrows. “I can see how she might take an attempt to educate her rather as a reminder of what she does not know.”

I nod, snuggling into his chest. He smells a bit of paint, a bit of himself, of the soft lambswool of his tunic. The wolf jawbone is askew so it won’t poke my head.

“I am glad I didn’t just run away from my clan,” I say suddenly. “I’m glad I am here, for all of everything.”

Something in my chest feels too big for me to put words to. I scramble to sit.

“These people who come here, who found us, who want to be part of this. That is something special.” It’s not the first time I’ve thought it, but it feels like it’s gotten stronger, flexing its muscles.

“Yes,” Solas says, and he rises on his elbow, turning toward me. “Can you not see why?”

“We sealed the Breach. We try to help. They see that they can help too.”

“Yes, vhenan, but you discount something very important.” He pushes himself to sit, edging closer to me. “You are what inspires them. You. The way you care. It reminds them that they should too.”

“Perhaps,” I say dubiously.

There is a knock at the door.

“Come in,” Solas calls.

I like that he does that now, like this is his space as much as mine.

The door opens to admit Cullen, who I wasn’t expecting. He blinks at us, sitting on the bed with books all around us, our empty dinner plates on the small cart in front of the stairs.

“Inquisitor,” he says. “I beg your pardon. I didn’t mean to intrude in a private moment.”

“If it were that private, I’d have told you to go away. Is something wrong?” The feathers on his armour dip in the small currents of the air. I think something is wrong.

“Yes,” Cullen says after a beat. “I am sorry, Inquisitor. I came straightaway when Leliana told me. She is already making arrangements for travel.”

“Travel?” I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand. The moment has turned to smoke and metal.

“We both felt certain you would want to go yourself. The duke of Wycome has been compromised. Leliana’s scouts found red lyrium in the wells, confirming Josephine’s friend’s suspicion, and someone has been agitating the humans against the elves in the alienage with fear of the false plague.” Cullen stops, not saying the words the nobles of Wycome have given this false plague, the Knife-Ear Plague. I know that part. He goes on. “Anger has been mounting. We have been in contact with Clan Lavellan, and they are willing to help, but we will need to strike quickly and decisively if we are to save the alienage.”

Cullen rests one hand on the bannister at the top of the stairs, looking every inch the commander I would trust with something like this. I can’t seem to make words. I’m staring at him almost sideways.

“The bandits that have been plaguing your clan are not simple bandits. They were in the employ of the duke himself.” Cullen breaks eye contact for a moment, looking down the stairs at the door.

“Yes, I remember.” I feel…woozy. My head is light on my shoulders, too light, like ash taken aloft by the wind.

“They are planning a full purge of the alienage, Inquisitor,” Cullen says softly. “Clan Lavellan has agreed to help bolster our forces, and I suspected you would want to be present.”

“Of course, Commander. Thank you.”

It is like I have stumbled into thin air and cannot breathe. Dimly, I feel Solas’s hand between my shoulder blades.

“Meet me in the war room as soon as you are able,” Cullen says. “We have much to discuss.”

“Yes, Commander,” I say. “Thank you.”

I just said that a moment ago. Cullen looks worried, his hand gripping the bannister too tight, but after a few seconds, he nods and leaves.

“Breathe, vhenan,” Solas says, wrapping his other arm around to the front of my chest, holding me from both sides at once. My heart feels caught between his hands, held with care like it is a baby bird that fell from its nest.

I try to breathe.

“They’re going to help,” I say, and I’m not entirely sure who I mean. “The alienage is going to be purged?”

There needs to be stronger words for hate. Revile. Detest. Despise. Worse, more. The word purge is shards of red lyrium in wells. It is the Knife-Ear Plague. It is blaming us, always, always blaming us for everything that happens. It is—

I am breathing now, but badly. Gasping. Sharp and cold despite the fire, and I sink to my knees, Solas’s hands still holding me together because my ribs could fly apart at any moment, and the air is wrong.

“We will not let that happen,” Solas says. “Between the Inquisition and your clan, we will stop it.”

“Who are my people, Solas?” My voice is so small, so broken, shards of itself shattered on the stone far below something towering over me, vast and merciless, like all of history made flesh and aimed at my heart.

“It doesn’t matter right now, da’lath’in. We will help.” He moves around me, pulling me close against him, wrapping his arms around my shoulders and pinning my arms to my sides. “Breathe with me, vhenan. Can you do that?”

I nod, and he presses his forehead to mine.

“Listen to my body,” he says. “Listen. Feel. Close your eyes.”

I obey, concentrating on the pressure at my centre where he holds me, our foreheads touching. His chest, moving and taking up space. I make mine do the same.

Then smaller, out. Bigger, in.

I don’t know how long he keeps me there, murmuring words in Elvhen until my pieces come back together enough, just enough, fluttering at the edges of me.

When I finally am able to support myself, I reach out and touch the spot over Solas’s heart with one finger. I still can’t seem to speak.

But I feel more present. I recognise, somewhere dim and distant, that he’s just done for me what I have seen him do for Cole.

“I will be here when you return,” he says.

I nod. My feet start moving.

I make myself to go Cullen.

Chapter Text

We take ship to reach Wycome in time, and most of the way is anxious, all sharp edges and brightness, the bitterness of salt on my tongue.

I spend most of my time on board at the prow of the ship, as if being closer to where we’re going will help somehow. Solas moves like the waves, coming closer, ebbing back when he senses I need it, washing over me with his warmth when I am shivering with cold.

Dorian didn’t make it back before we left, and I couldn’t in good conscience bring Bull and leave Dorian to return a Skyhold devoid of both friends and lover. That jabs into my heart like a bent needle every time I think of him. I hope he is okay. Cole stayed behind for him too.

Instead, I brought Sera and Cassandra. I still don’t trust Vivienne enough, not enough to give her this kind of picture into my life before or my heart now. At first, I thought Sera might not want to come along to this elfy uprising, but the moment she heard the words “purge the alienage,” her face turned a whiter shade of pale, and her fingers twitched, and Varric saw it and nodded once at me.

Leliana is here too, mostly belowdecks reviewing stacks of papers and books.

By the time we dock in Hercinia—down the coast so as not to alert the duke of our presence—I feel as if the Anchor has consumed me. I pulse with energy that feels green, crackling, ready to open and close at once, through.

It has been half a year since I left. More.

Clan Lavellan is camped in a crook of the Minanter River, nestled between hills, and when we approach on horseback, I watch for the flickers amid the trees that indicate the hunters’ presence.

I ride at the forefront, my vallaslin clear to anyone watching, the Anchor ungloved and free. It is warm here, early spring heat like breath on a window pane.

The hunters show themselves a short distance from the camp, bows in hand, wary. I search their faces. There is Ghilen and Isera, and a off to the right, Anuon.

She is slight, blonde, with short hair in a silken cap atop her head and violet eyes. She is still lovely.

She stares at me as we ride forward, and I imagine how this must look. Me, the bloody Herald of Andraste, riding at the head of a column of mostly human soldiers that carry Dalish banners with the Inquisition heraldry at their heart. Josephine’s idea.

I dismount when the camp becomes visible, and Solas joins me at my side.

“Ea son, vhenan?” he murmurs to me.

“Vin,” I say.

He lets me lead as we walk into the camp. Behind me, I hear the others dismounting. Cassandra and Sera hanging back a bit—as much as Sera shies from elven anything, I think she is prudent enough not to wag her tongue with this many arrows outside her own quiver.

The aravels are all packed, ready to move at a moment’s notice, the halla moving with apprehension. They always do know when something is amiss.

Anuon comes my way, just a little, peering at me.

“Andaran atish’an,” I say softly to her.

She looks like she wants to say something, her eyes lingering on Solas, then darting back to Sera. I can almost hear her thoughts. I turn up with humans and flat ears, an affront to everything she thinks should be true.

Creators, I am already tired.

There is movement among the aravels, people coming out to look. They certainly know of our coming and why, but their faces are blank. I could almost laugh. If the Inquisition expected a tearful, joyful homecoming, they are surely disappointed already.

I don’t see the one face I seek, but someone comes out from behind an aravel, tall and long-haired, a thick plait of red gold hanging over one shoulder. This is not a face I expect.

Datishan. Here, in the Clan Lavellan camp. He's here? He, at least, looks relieved to see me. His green eyes are warm, and I remember the safety I felt with him, back when we briefly shared our bodies and our minds.

“An’eth’ara, lethallan,” Datishan says, coming to embrace me. He presses his forehead to mine, clasping the back of my neck.

Some of the tension leaves the camp. They must like him.

“Savh, Datishan,” I say, breathing. He smells of smoke and woods, like a handful of healthy soil and peat. “Ame inansha itha en. Ir abelas o’mar’lethal.”

“Enaste, lethallan.” Datishan pulls away, looking over my shoulder at Solas.

I reach out for Solas’s hand. Leliana is not far behind, and she moves closer when I meet her eyes.

“Andaran atish’an,” Leliana says, and I start. She’s the second human lover of a Dalish woman I’ve met who has learnt some of our language. “Tuelanen i’na.”

Datishan looks completely flummoxed, glancing at me.

“This is Leliana,” I tell him quietly. “You have her to thank for uncovering much of this mess. And this is Solas, ara’esha.”

Leliana gives a small twitch at the last word. She must know it, and she already knows about us.

“An’daran atish’an,” Solas says politely. Any hint of his distaste for the Dalish is so far beneath his surface that it would take a thousand dwarves digging a thousand days to find it.

“En’an’sal’en,” Datishan says, then switches to Common. “Come. Keeper Deshanna will want to speak with you.”

“Vira, da’lath’in,” Solas says to me. “Ame atisha.”

Datishan gives him a questioning look, but he turns quickly to lead me through the camp. This is not where we were when I was last with my clan. It is familiar and not. Faces I know, names I have known my whole life, but I am walking through them as a stranger.

“Your lover?” Datishan asks when we are out of earshot. “A flat ear?”

“I would take care not to refer to him as such in his presence,” I say. “He is many things, many noble things, but tolerant of gross ignorance is not one of them.”

Shamed, Datishan pauses. “As you say.” We walk some little ways ahead before he speaks again. “I did not know until I joined your clan—”

He breaks off. The trees above are too quiet, empty of birds like a jar that once held dried berries and now has only dead remnants inside. The clan busies itself, some people moving in the opposite direction to gawk at the Inquisition. Their restlessness is bright and loud.

“You told me once, what it was like for you. I did not believe you.”

It is not what I expect to hear from Datishan, but then, I did not expect to be greeted by the faces of not one, but two former lovers and not the face of Keeper Deshanna.

“They are displeased, then. That is unsurprising.” What is surprising is how defeated it makes me feel. Grey and small. Wiggly like a stepped-on worm.

Datishan sighs. “They simply do not know you.”

This annoys me. “We spent a month together, lethallin. I was here for thirty years. They did not know me because they did not care to.”

“He calls you da’lath’in,” my former lover says. “That tells me he sees you better than those who have known you much longer. I am glad for you.”

“I—” I break off, stopping. “Thank you.”

“He is good?”

My heart softens. Datishan is watching me carefully, without malice or jealousy, only concern.

“Yes. He is good. He has spent his life learning and observing, exploring the Fade. His breadth of knowledge would shock you, and the depth of his thoughtfulness and compassion would warm you.” I didn’t mean to make a speech, but Datishan pats my shoulder.

“Then you are blessed, ‘ma falon.” He stops at the far end of the camp, where a lone aravel waits. “We did not expect you so soon, or I would have fetched her to meet you when you arrived.”

“Thank you,” I say to him.

Keeper Deshanna emerges from behind the aravel. She is twice my age, her silver hair plaited back from her face to fall in a mane down the centre of her back.

“I thought I heard your voice, da’len,” she says. “And Datishan, of course. Has he told you?”

“Told me?” No nonsense, no wasted words. It should put me at ease, the familiarity of Keeper Deshanna’s way, but it doesn’t.

“I am First,” Datishan says softly, as if he expects anger from me.

But all I feel is relief. “That is—Mythal enaste, lethallin.”

“Let me look at you, da’len,” Deshanna says, ignoring us both. She takes my hands in hers, looking at the Anchor with eyes sharper than Cole’s blades. I feel her mana, lightning quick and just as charged, delving into the mark. “Old magic. I do not know what tales to believe when they make their way to us, but at a guess, this is ours.”

“Yes,” I tell her simply. “Corypheus possesses an ancient elvhen focus orb. I picked it up, and it marked me.”

“Curious,” she says. “You have always had a way of finding the strange.”

Deshanna breathes out, dropping my hands. She searches my eyes for a long enough moment that Datishan politely excuses himself, making his way back toward the camp and the Inquisition.

“Walk with me, da’len.”

I follow the Keeper through the trees, skirting her aravel and the halla, who look up at me with liquid eyes.

“I fear I have done you a disservice,” she says. “When I sent you to the Conclave, I expected that it would be good for you, away from stares and whispers for a time. The irony of that is not lost on me.”

Our feet make little noise on the forest floor. This is more surreal than being in the Fade—my emotions feel deadened, as if they wouldn’t move even if I poked them with a stick.

“These are frightening times,” she goes on. She looks weary, wilted. Those are words I never thought I would apply to Keeper Deshanna. “I confess, Ilaana, were it not for your careful eye and the work of your spymaster, you would have had no clan to return to at all, however brief your visit.”

That chills me. I stop walking. “How close did it come?”

“Very,” she says. “We lost four hunters to Wycome’s bandit mercenaries, and just last week, Anuon discovered a family of city elves, apparently attempting to find us, slaughtered near the river. Parents and children.”

My anger flares. My throat is tight and scratchy, like the wind has been rushing through it and filling it with dust.

“Are we going to be in time to save the alienage?” I ask. Then, before I can stop myself, “Does the clan even care to try?”

Deshanna’s eyes are so deep a blue they are almost violet. Crushed violet, wounded. My words have hurt her.

“We will try,” she says.

I notice that she does not attempt to convince me the clan would plan to help had the Inquisition not been directly responsible for their survival to this point.

“But there is time yet to discuss all of those troubling things,” she says, changing the subject. “You have grown, since you left us. It pains me that we have lost you to the shemlen Chantry, but I would be amiss if I didn’t notice that you are stronger for it.”

The clouds scud above us, grey and bored. They ache like my heart.

“I hoped it would feel like coming home,” I say suddenly.

“As did I,” Keeper Deshanna says. She says it like it takes the air out of her lungs in one fell rush of deflating air.

She puts her arms around me then. Strong arms, like the branches of the oaks around us.   She holds me together at my seams.

“Ir abelas, da’len,” she says. In her voice there are cracks, spidering out from the syllables.

“Tel’abelas. I found home.” I speak it against a braid of her hair, remembering the times I would plait it myself. “You did your best to make this one mine. It’s not your fault it could never be.”

“But we are your people, Ilaana.” She answers a question I have asked myself countless times, a thousand tributaries flowing into an unnamed river.

“What does that mean?” I ask her, pulling back from her arms. There is no malice in my voice, only confusion. “If the Dalish are my people, what does it mean that they would show me the opposite every day of my life?”

When she is silent, I turn to walk back toward the camp. There is much to be done.

“What about the alienage?” I ask her before we reach her aravel. “Are they your people? With me are two elves the clan would call flat ear, but they are here to help without any personal gain to be had. Who could say such things about the Dalish? Sending me to the Conclave was a shock to everyone I met, that any Dalish clan would care enough about the goings-on outside our own aravels to pay attention.

“My lover,” I continue. “He is a learned man, a powerful mage with a curious heart full of wonder. He has explored the farthest reaches of the Fade, and when he has sought to share his findings with your people, he has been run out, chased off, threatened and attacked because they are threatened by what he knows and the lack of vallaslin upon his face. Yet he is here, to help.”

“You shame me, da’len.”

“If I do, it is because the Dalish have shamed themselves,” I say. “If you wrap a belt tightly around an arm, does not the lack of blood cause it to die? If we shun those the humans force into alienages because they are not us, can we lay claim to speaking for all elves? Can we boast that our way is truer? Who are your people, Keeper?”

Keeper Deshanna is quiet.

“We survive.” She pauses, almost as if wrestling with herself. “We survive, lethallan. We have done what we must.”

“The hand is stronger when blood flows through it,” is all I say.

It is the first time she has called me lethallan.

We walk in silence back through the camp, eyes encircling us as we go.

 

Solas sees my face the moment we return. He is in conversation with Datishan, and I suspect Datishan will be the subject of some whispers after this day, from the looks the hunters are giving him. Anuon sits some distance away, fletching an arrow with careful hands, eyes hardly on her work because she doesn’t need to look.

I introduce Keeper Deshanna to Cassandra and Leliana, excusing myself because my mind is too full, too jangled. I will go to them soon, once my lungs are full again.

“Garas, vhenan,” Solas says, and I go to him, sitting beside him on a low bench.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Anuon raise an eyebrow at that, but I ignore her. If she wants to speak with me, she knows precisely where to find me. She could throw a pebble and hit me.

Most of the Inquisition’s people are hanging back. I don’t know where Sera is, but since I don’t hear anything other than the hushed conversations and muttering, she is keeping to herself. Curious.

For a time I simply listen to Solas and Datishan speak. I am pleased that they seem to be getting on—Solas will have to know who he is to me by our greeting, or guess at least—mostly because it reminds me that I chose well in Datishan. He is kind and gentle in spite of the loss of his clan, and he will make a good Keeper.

Beside me, Solas is warm, his shoulder touching mine in reassurance. Sometimes he touches my knee, small touches, for me and not him. He grounds me in myself, in my work, in the growing sensation that I had to come back once to know I would never truly return. I feel like a ghost among Clan Lavellan. I have not even seen my parents.

Without meaning to, it slips out of my mouth like a hiccough, and Datishan stops speaking mid-sentence.

“Lethallan,” he says softly. “I thought Keeper Deshanna would have told you.”

The world is white at the edges of my eyes, and it makes it hard to hear.

“What?”

“She did not wish to put it in a letter, not with things so tense. Your mother and father were killed when the bandits first attacked. It is likely the duke of Wycome found out who they were and targeted them specifically.” Datishan says it with quiet dispassion, for which I am grateful.

“That is why—” My eyes jump to Anuon, of all places, and she is watching me. “Everyone blames me. They blame me?”

My words sound so loud in the midday gloom, loud like a maple among pines in Harvestmere. Even though I know I have spoken softly, they seem to echo.

Solas tenses beside me. His mana grows cold, the facets made of ice, frozen over by anger.

“Ir abelas, ‘ma falon,” Datishan says. “Ir abelas. I should not repeat what they have said. Keeper Deshanna should have told you.”

She should. My parents. Neither of them had magic, only with their crafts. My father had black hair, thick and heavy like smoke. When I was small, before things got bad, he would pick me up, and I would bury my nose in it. He had eyes like pebbles dropped into a lake. Mamae was small, but her mouth was big, and she used it to tell stories that made the children laugh until they shrieked. I cannot picture her face, all of the sudden. It has been only half a year since I saw her, but I cannot picture her face.

Solas is talking in a low voice to Datishan. “Tell me what it is they say.”

I am only half-listening when Datishan starts talking, but when he gets to, “They say the Dread Wolf haunts her paths, bringing chaos to the clan,” Solas’s entire being sharpens like a broken sword, and for one unworldly moment, I am afraid he is going to turn Datishan into a block of ice before my eyes.

My hand is on his shoulder, somehow, my finger touching the chain of silverite at the back of his neck. He does not relax, but he does shift under the warmth of my hand.

Datishan swallows, hard.

Then Solas seems to come back to himself, like his spirit left him for a moment and now it slams into his skin with the force of a pride demon’s whip.

“Tell the Seeker and the Keeper that we will return. I trust the Nightingale will be sufficient for planning purposes,” Solas says. He stands, taking my hand. “Tell them the Inquisitor and I will be ready to move.”

Datishan nods hurriedly. “Ilaana, I am sorry.”

“Eolasan,” I say. My voice sounds very far away.

Somehow we are outside the camp, cold. Solas has Fade Stepped us some ways. Or perhaps not. My mind doesn’t seem to be working.

“Fenedhis,” he growls. “Pointless superstition and for what?”

He is vibrating with the speed of a wasp’s wings, and he crushes me to his chest.

“Vhenan,” he says into my ear. “Are you all right?”

I can’t seem to make words. It is like I have been scooped out, scraped clean like a hide, all the bits of flesh and juice and meat gone, leaving me stretched and stinking to dry under a hidden sun.

Solas understands. He always understands. He begins to murmur, sinking with me until we are on our knees in the damp forest floor where it smells of life in spite of everything in me feeling dead.

“You have a rare and marvellous spirit, da’lath’in. You look for something kindred in everyone you meet. Your heart is bigger than the rest of you, and it has somehow survived. In spite of—” he breaks off, his voice clouded again with anger. He tucks it away, swallows it like a lump of gristle. “In spite of everything, you still reach out, even though your hand has been slapped more times than you could ever count. You shine everywhere you walk, vhenan.”

He sits back, looks into my face, though I cannot meet his eyes. My own are heavy, pregnant with hot tears that will not fall. He tucks his favourite curls behind my ears. I still cannot seem to move or speak.

My parents are dead because of me.

I must have said it aloud, because Solas is shaking his head violently.

“Atisha, da’lath’in. It is not so. Their killers deserve the blame, not you.”

“What if they are right?” I find my tongue, and it says nothing but foolishness.

“What if the Dread Wolf has cursed you?” His smile is sharp, angry, but not at me. “My heart, were Fen’Harel to look upon you, he would see only what I see, and he would raze to the ground any who stood against you. He would more likely love you than curse you.”

It is probably the most absurd thing anyone could say, but it helps. “I feel like I am cracking, Solas. Am I cracking?”

“You have built yourself a shell where you can dwell safely among people who could not see you for their own foolishness,” he says. “Leaving meant finding out such a shell was not necessary, that you are enough without it. If you are cracking, vhenan, it does not mean you are about to shatter, but that you are about to be reborn.”

My eyes finally rise to his face. His face, all sharp angles and cheekbones, pale and imposing if it were to stop at that, but he wears a smattering of freckles there, like a map to his heart, and his eyes are so bright it almost hurts. The scar above his left eyebrow, the indented cleft of his chin, the smooth curve of the crown of his head where I revel in the feel of his skin against mine when he lies with it against my breasts.

I am lost there, lost in the lines of his face like he is made of love, like we are made of love, impossible as a soap bubble and as fragile and as strong.

I kiss him, my hands finding his cheeks and their familiarity. He holds me, kissing me back. Our kisses are petals on the wind, and soon I taste my tears upon his lips.

I don’t know when we stop, but the sun jabs its rays through the clouds, lighting the woods and chasing away the weight of the world.

Illuminated there, in Solas’s arms, I feel closer to something, to anything. Myself or him.

When we return to the camp, I go directly to Leliana, and she explains the plan for Wycome.

Solas’s hand does not leave mine.

 

Chapter Text

The seizure of Wycome is short, brutal, and bloody.

Like Adamant, I remember it only in flashes.

Keeper Deshanna’s magic flowing like liquid lightning through the streets. Duke Antoine defending her with his life against his own rabid nobles. Stepping over the bodies of elves.

There is no brighter blood than that of innocents spilled upon a city’s streets. I am convinced of that.

It is a day of chaos, and one that will join my growing stock of horrors to chase away if I hope to sleep.

I am in the duke’s residence at the end of it, where a surprising number of human merchants and citizens have flocked to our aid throughout the day, recognising Clan Lavellan’s role in their survival when the nobles went mad in withdrawal from the red lyrium the Venatori had been using to “purify” their wells.

There is so much fear, so much.

Agitated, I find I cannot stay. With no more than a look, my companions join me. Cassandra’s armour is splattered with blood, though her face has been washed clean. Her short hair is still damp from dumping a bucket of water over it to rid it of grime, dripping a little from her hastily re-done crowning plait that circles the top of her head. Sera is quieter than I have ever seen her, but she’s half-bouncing at the chance to break away from this.

“Where do you wish to go, Inquisitor?” Cassandra asks me.

“The alienage,” I tell her.

I have never seen one.

To my surprise, Datishan and a few of the hunters decide to join us when they hear where we are going. I am not certain that is a good idea, but with a terse nod, I let them follow.

It is almost nightfall, but we are far enough north that spring has allowed for later light, and we pick our way through the streets without much trouble. Word spreads quickly that the Herald of Andraste is moving through the city of Wycome, and it isn’t long before people crowd onto the streets, clustered at the edges to stare, avoiding pools of blood and corpses alike. It is some time before anyone says anything to me, but it is inevitable.

“Andraste guide your steps, Herald,” a human woman calls out to me from the mouth of an alley, her eyes darting back and forth at me and the Dalish around me, at Cassandra in her Seeker armour and Solas and Sera without vallaslin.

One of the hunters grunts something, but Datishan silences him with a quiet, “Atisha, lethallin.”

I go to the woman and take her hands in mine.

“Thank you,” I tell her. “Are you well?”

“Well as can be expected, your worship,” the woman says. Her face flushes as red as a beet. “The nobles—they went savage. Never saw anything like it. If it weren’t for you—”

Her throat moves, and she can’t finish.

“Be at peace,” I tell her. “I am glad we could help.”

I am aware of eyes at my back, Datishan and the hunters, Isera who I saw when we arrived, and Ilen and Taralin, who I did not.

I try not to stop too often, responding to people’s benedictions with as much grace as I can until we reach the alienage.

There is a lot of blood at its gate. It has a gate, and the crank that operates it is only present on one side. The outside. There is blood on the gate's bars.

“Fen’Harel ver esh’ala,” Isera mutters, her fingers strumming her bowstring as if she plans to use it on whoever is responsible for the blood at our feet.

The vhenadahl stands at the centre of a cramped square, its leaves just beginning to spread from their buds. It is painted with script and symbols, like it is wearing its own vallaslin.

Faces appear in doorways, looking first with alarm and grief, then with curiosity.

“It’s the Herald of Andraste,” someone calls quietly. “The Inquisition is here, and the Dalish.”

There is a tight bubble at the top of my throat. My chest will not seem to work with my lungs. It wants to expand when I need to breathe out and contract when I need to breathe in. I am the Inquisitor. I cannot come undone the first moment I walk into an elven alienage. The look on Cassandra’s face is pity, on Sera’s, indifference, which I do not believe to be truth. Or perhaps she has seen enough alienages to forget how to be surprised at them.

All around me, faces like mine, but bare. Slowly I start to see children peeking around the legs of parents in doors, eyes wide and frightened. Their hahren did not survive today.

“Da’lath’in,” Solas says, and it is one of his declarations.

Immediately I know what he means.

I go to the first open door and kneel before it. A small child looks out from behind her mother’s skirt, and she looks up, peering at her mother with a question in her eyes. Is it safe? The mother comes out, and to my surprise, she kneels in front of me in the dirt. There is a lot of dirt. And other things. Smells of urine are strong and blinding. The smell of fear is stronger.

The child ventures closer.

“An’eth’ara, da’len,” I say. “My name is Ilaana.”

“That’s the Herald, Uvun,” the mother tells her child. “The one I told you about. Her people saved us.”

“Uvun,” I say. “What a powerful name, da’len. Do you like stars?”

The child nods, perches on her mother’s knees.

Around us, people are gathering. I feel them coming closer.

I hold up my hand and conjure a breath of silver light. There are small gasps around me. Cassandra will likely not approve. I don’t care. Uvun’s eyes are glued to the star in my palm, the star like her name.

“Would you like to hold it?” I ask her.

Her eyes get even bigger. Her eyes are grey like Solas’s, and they reflect back the light of the star in my hand. Uvun looks like she cannot answer. When I hold the star toward her, she flinches back at first, but when I stop, hold it out shining in front of her, she reaches out a small, dirty hand.

“Like this,” I tell her, and hold my other hand palm up.

She mirrors me, and I deposit the star into her upturned hand. Her eyes are stars themselves.

“It will not last forever,” I tell her. “But right now it lives in your eyes, and it will so long as you remember it, da’len.”

She is young, perhaps five or six. Her mother’s face is wet with saltwater like the stones on the beach.

Uvun stands up, holding her star out in front of her like she is afraid it will break if she drops it, and she walks to me on careful feet, passing the star back to my waiting hand. She scrambles into my lap, perching on my knee the way she did on her mother’s. I swallow, because she is small and warm and squirmy, and she is scared. A young boy who would nearly be of age to win his vallaslin in my clan is watching with hungry eyes.

I beckon him come, and I hand the star to him. He takes it with both hands, staring into it. “What is your name?”

“Viera,” he says. Every eye is on us, on me, on the star, on the children.

“This is a place of perfect names,” I tell them. “Viera, you fill find your path of dreams. Do not fear it.”

The sun sinks behind the buildings, but I stay. Someone brings out food, then someone else comes with warm drinks. The children gather around me, some leaning up against me, others sitting on their heels and watching. Some come close, and with their small fingers, they touch the lines of my pauldrons and sometimes my curls. My ears, like theirs. They feel their way to believing the Herald of Andraste is like them. They are curious and wondering. Only once or twice does anyone make a move to stop them, and one quick shake of my head cuts that off.

“Let them,” I say.

The star I made changes hands. Sustaining it with my mana is a simple thing, and soon it is not just my mana. I feel threads from Solas, and then others, from the crowd, bashful and timid. There are other mages here, hiding. Apostates living in plain sight.

Many of the adults are weeping. When I finally climb to my knees, I go to them, reassuring them as I can, telling them they were worth saving. It is not long before I am weeping too. I cannot stop hearing the word purge the alienage in my head over and over again. Each face I try to memorise. Each story I try to commit to memory. These people—I cannot find the words. They breathe. The sun has gone down, and they yet breathe.

Datishan hovers on the edges, speaking to those who speak to him, sometimes talking in low tones to the hunters, who flutter at the edges like moths around a lamp they know will burn them if they get too close.

Sometime over the evening, it comes out that my parents were killed, and then the elves of Wycome’s alienage are comforting me, offering handkerchiefs and hugs, bringing me tea any time my cup gets low. They bring the best of what they have without question, and not just to me. They share it with the Dalish who would normally shun them, with Sera and with Cassandra.

I don’t want to leave.

“Are you truly sent by the Maker?” someone asks me. A father, I think, as one of the children clinging to my shoulder earlier is now holding his hand.

“I cannot say,” I tell him. “Believe what you will. For my part, I am simply glad that we arrived in time.”

He nods, and I can’t tell if his face is full of relief or consternation.

Too soon, it is time to return to the duke’s residence and whatever awaits there. My star makes its way back to my hands, and it feels warmer, brighter, bolstered by magics not mine.

“Lasa en, vhenan,” Solas says, appearing at my side. He has hung back for most of this time, watching with an unreadable expression on his face.

He plucks a pebble from the ground and takes my star from my hand, frowning at both for a moment.

As the alienage crowds around to watch, Solas holds the pebble above the star, and after a moment in which I sense the swirl of his mana, he drops the pebble. It does not hit the ground, but vanishes into the heart of the star I made.

I can feel what he did, the edges of it. He spun something permanent out of my impulse of magic.

There is a small collective gasp as it rises from his hand in a curving path, circling the vhenadahl and coming to rest in a crook of its branches, where it shimmers.

“It should stay, I think,” he says.

“Enaste, vhen’an’ara,” I tell him.

We leave finally to a whisper of farewells. They are big. They fill up the space in my heart and the air around us. Little Uvun kisses my cheek before we leave.

The walk back is quiet, until it isn't.

“Oi. Quizzy.” Sera comes to my side, eyeing Solas askance, which he returns neutrally.

“What?” I ask. She’s barely spoken a word since we got here. Very un-Seralike.

“It was good, what you did there, innit? Duke Antsypants was gonna do ‘em all in, but he didn’t because you stopped it, and now they’re glowing with a star up a tree,” she says. “Mad magic, but you did it pretty. Why the light?”

“The child’s name means star,” Solas says quietly. “Ilaana made her one. It should also prove to be very difficult to steal, should any intrepid folk get the idea to try.”

I shoot him a grateful look.

“You’re a real elfy elf, Quiz,” Sera says. “And don’t get me started on Elfy Elfyarse in your bed, but you did a Jenny in there. Little things they won’t forget next time something gets too big for their breeches, yeah? They’ll remember the Inquisitor got down on her knees and got her breeches dirty where their feet walk, just to make a kid shine brighter.”

“Little things add up to big things,” I say, somewhat embarrassed to hear it summed up in Sera-speak, but she bursts into a grin.

“That’s it, yeah? The point.”

“I think so,” I tell her.

There are humans in the streets as we walk back, and I treat them as kindly as I can, though I’m exhausted all the sudden.

When we get back, news has already spread through the city about my visit to the alienage, and my scalp is throbbing by the time we get to Leliana and Keeper Deshanna, who are holed up in the duke’s office, discussing what comes next.

Deshanna listens to Datishan’s account of what happened with thoughtful eyes, and when the hunters leave, they do so with a glance at me, a glance at their feet, and “Lethallan” glancing off their tongues.

There is an unfamiliar face hovering at the edge of the room when I look around. I’m so drained that I didn’t even realise a stranger was here. Datishan looks at her once and leaves, and the pain on her face is clear.

She meets my eyes shyly, looking away several times, jumpy like a baby bunny. She’s grown, though, likely my age. She wears a vallaslin I don’t even recognise. Her eyes are huge, dark green like an entire forest, and her black hair is short, tucked behind her ears.

I’m moving toward her before I can think.

“Merrill,” I say. “You’re Merrill Sabrae.”

Deshanna is as solid as stone and about as easy to read, but Merrill’s face lights up like the sun hitting veridium.

“Yes! That’s me! You knew who I was? I don’t know how you knew that, but I wanted to meet you. Hawke said—” Merrill is moving so quickly that we almost bump into each other. “Hawke said you protected her. Ma serrannas, lethallan. Hawke is…”

She trails off, and then she glances over my shoulder. At Solas, I think.

“I understand,” I tell her. “Can we—can we talk?”

I don’t care what anyone thinks about me right now. Today spins through me like a child with its arms out in the middle of a thunderstorm, and I never expected to run into Merrill, not here. Hawke said she was helping the elven refugees from the mage-templar fighting, but it looks like that brought her to Wycome.

“Oh! Of course,” Merrill says. “You want to talk to me?”

“Excuse us,” I say to the rest of the room, and we exit, wandering through the duke’s residence until we find a small balcony on the second floor that overlooks Wycome.

“Hawke—Marian—sent a note,” Merrill says, her fingers worrying at each other in front of her. She doesn’t seem to be doing it consciously. “I owe you for her life, lethallan.”

“You owe me nothing,” I tell her. “I couldn’t—”

I don’t know how to say this. I never expected to see Merrill.

“You,” I say finally. “You, me, Neria. The world is big and unforgiving. You found someone. So did Neria. I don’t know if anyone can understand.”

I’m not making any sense, but Merrill is nodding, her fidgeting suddenly still.

“You know?” I'm not sure what she means, but her eyes are hungry, and she is staring at me without blinking.

“My clan thinks I’m cursed by the Dread Wolf,” I say bluntly. “Ever since I was a child.”

“Oh. Oh, dear. I’m so sorry!” Merrill speaks in short bursts, like she moves. “Mine thought I was just evil. But I just want to learn. There’s so much we could learn, but we don’t. I don’t know why.”

“Sometimes learning means change,” I say.

Wycome is quiet, splayed out before us, the delta of the River Minanter reaching fingers toward the sea. Gold lights flicker in the evening haze, lanterns and candles in windows. Somewhere in the distance, something of my magic shines in the alienage.

“People are afraid of change,” Merrill agrees. She looks at me shrewdly. “You knew who I was.”

“Datishan,” I say. “He was my lover once. I saw the way he looked at you.”

“Oh."

We are both quiet for a moment. Such a tangled mess. I know Keeper Deshanna thinks Marethari was a fool. I suspect she still does not excuse Merrill.

"It was never supposed to happen that way. Marethari, she let herself get possessed because she didn’t believe I could do it. She didn’t trust me to deal with the spirit. And the clan, they were waiting for a chance to fight me. Any excuse, I think. That’s what Hawke says, and I think she’s right.” Merrill looks lost and very small. “Marethari chose for me. I could have done it. Handled it. But she let the demon in, and it wouldn't be taken back out again.”

“People do strange things when they think they’re protecting someone they love,” I say without thinking.

“Yes. Yes, they do.” She sighs. “We tried to get away without hurting people. I wish she hadn't chosen for me.”

“I know, Merrill.”

We’re quiet for a while.

“Marian went to Weisshaupt,” she says after a time. “I worry. She’s very angry.”

“I know. What the Wardens did—I’m glad Neria wasn’t there. She probably won’t thank me for letting Alistair stay in the Fade,” I say. “Leliana says they were close.”

“Sometimes all that is left are the bad choices,” Merrill says. “I don’t know how to make it not that way.”

“If I ever figure it out, I’ll let you know.” I let out a long breath, looking sideways at Merrill. She’s not what I expected, but somehow she is. The is the opposite of what most people would expect a blood mage to be. “I’m very glad I got to meet you, Merrill. Did Marian tell you what I told her to pass on to you?”

“Oh! Yes. You’re very kind, to invite me to Skyhold. Thank you. I have work to do here, but I’d like to see it someday. Marian said it’s on its own mountain?” Merrill is nodding, thinking. “You know about me and you’re still being kind. You’re like Marian.”

“It’s lonely out here,” I say quietly. “The humans are happy to let us keep saving their world, but they don’t understand what it costs. I think I want to make sure something of ours is saved too.”

“Yes,” Merrill says. “That’s all I want. We live here too.”

“We do.”

She hugs me before we go back inside, and it heals something that has hurt for a long while. I tell her to write to me. She promises she will.

 

Later, when I am lying in a too-big bed with Solas curled up around me and the sound of his breath like the sea in my ears, I think he might have been right.

My parents are gone. I will never know what they thought of me, if they were angry or embarrassed or, in some twist of irony, proud.

Solas holds me against his chest, still awake, quiet and listening, and I sing softly into the darkness, a lament for the dead, and there we hold a private funeral for the life to which I can never return and for the people who raised me, loved me in their way, and lost their lives because they gave me mine. I still can't seem to feel it. None of it feels real.

I think, in this moment, with his breath against my back and his fingers entwined with mine, that perhaps there is no brighter blood than that which flows in veins with hope. There is a path unfolding, frightening in its scope, because it is shrouded by maybe, by Corypheus, by the Venatori who started the bloodshed here in Wycome. It is shrouded by the uncertainty ahead. But it is a path, and it is mine, and I think Solas was right.

Something today struck me at the fault lines of my cracks, and something shattered and broke away, and underneath was nothing but me. Nothing but new.

Chapter Text

I have not been able to cry.

The others, they are trying. Cassandra sits with me in the mornings in silence. Every morning she meditates, sitting careful and crosslegged, her eyes closed and her back straight. She does this in the prow of the ship as we cross the Waking Sea to return to Skyhold, with the wind in her face. I start to join her, and she allows me. I love her a little more for that.

Sera tries to cheer me on the journey back too, with little pranks like the little silver fish that swim near the surface of the waves. Small silly things, like putting oil on the wick of the candle in my cabin so it sparkles when I light it. She unwinds a bit of rope, pulls apart its many plies, weaves it into a flower. She puts its stem in a vase and sneaks it into the smaller, cramped cabin where we meet to discuss what comes next for the Inquisition, for Wycome. I appreciate these tiny gestures. The journey back is strange, yet less of a stranger for her trying.

We left Keeper Deshanna and my clan in the city proper, bewildered and a bit unmoored, jumping every time the humans greeted them with respect and the elves of the alienage came to help them. Whenever I think of it, it tries to evade me, something that feels not quite real even though it is.

Through it all, Solas sits beside me at night when I cannot sleep. We left sex behind somewhere, some days ago, and he warms me as much as he can. I think he understands how I feel before I do. Separate from my body somehow, like I’m floating just behind my eyes but the rest of me is somewhere else, untethered and unmoored. Solas seems to know instinctively what I need and gives it, spending hours aboard the ship teaching me from his own stores of knowledge, shoring me up with the best strength he knows. When we finally sleep aboard the ship each night, we go to quiet places in the Fade and listen.

Skyhold is different when we return. Everything feels different. My skin feels raw and exposed in the warm spring sun, and I am shivering despite it.

Word has flown ahead of us thanks to Leliana’s ravens, birds and people alike. Skyhold is somber this time. The heavy shoulders of those who greet us almost undo me. They are used to seeing me stoic, used to seeing me kind, resolved, intense. They have never seen me grieve. Not publicly.

There are meetings and responsibilities, but someone has arranged to give me space first. It’s how I find myself alone in my quarters except for Elera, who has brought me tea and a snack.

I am sitting on the chaise lounge, the tray in front of me on my table. My knees are spread, and my fingers make tents on top of them. I don’t know what to do here right now.

“Elera,” I say when she makes a move to leave.

The young elf pauses. Her hair is growing out. Far from the short, swept-back reddish cut she had that first day I met her in Haven, she now wears a jaw-length bob, shorter in the back. She looks older already.

“Yes, Ilaana?” It’s taken ages for her to use my name, and it makes me smile every time she does.

“May I ask you a personal question?”

Surprise lights her face, and her finger twitches at her side. “Of course.”

“Were you brought up in an alienage?” I ask.

She hesitates for a moment, meeting my eyes, then she nods decisively twice. “I was born in Denerim. I was five when the Blight hit. The Hero of Ferelden saved us. She brought in the Dalish, and they saved us. Neria Mahariel saved us twice. First when the slavers came from Tevinter and later when the darkspawn came to the city.”

Elera’s voice is dispassionate, reciting. This is a traumatic subject, and I instantly feel bad for bringing it up.

It is likely Neria herself never saw an alienage before Denerim’s. “I am sorry to grieve you, Elera. I had never visited an alienage before Wycome.”

Her eyes are unreadable, but there is a spark of something hungry in them. “I never knew anything else.”

“I know.” I pause, not sure of what I want to ask. “What did you think of the Dalish when you were young?”

“They were mythical,” she says. “My first memory of them is of them saving us. They came into the alienage in their armour, their bows fine ironbark and their vallaslin bright upon their faces. I remember that they stood against the darkspawn without even flinching.  I watched them fell an ogre, hiding on the top floor of one of the apartments and peeking out the window when I wasn’t supposed to.”

“That must have been terrifying,” I tell her. “You were so young.”

She nods. There is a beat.

“Did you really save the alienage in Wycome?” she asks. “You went there, to see them?”

“Yes.” I pat the chaise lounge beside me. Elera comes and sits, light like a bird. “Some of my clan came as well.”

“I heard you sat on the ground and held the children.”

“You heard that?” My face grows warm.

“Everyone was talking about it. Well. All us elves.” Elera’s face twists with something I can’t quite identify. When she speaks again, it comes out all in a rush like a gust of wind. “You don’t know what it means, to see you. Especially for the alienages. We know our place. But you don’t. You show us that place isn’t just what we—what the Maker gave us. You show us that it’s not the Maker who made the alienages.”

When she hears her own words, her face closes up tighter than shutters.

“Forgive me, Inquisitor, I’m sorry. I—”

“Elera,” I say, thinking of that lad in a Val Royeaux inn. “Things are very wrong in the world. Never be ashamed for speaking that truth. Any god who would put people in alienages just for being born is a poor excuse for a god indeed.”

I’ve shocked her, speaking like a person and not a religious leader.

“I don’t know what the gods think or what they do,” I tell her, more softly. “But I do know that any god worthy of being called one would not let people suffer out of indifference.”

Elera’s eyes shine, and she shakes her head. “Nobody’s ever said anything like that before. Not to me.”

“Someone should have. I’m sorry it took so long.” I open my arms, and she doesn’t hesitate for once. She throws her arms around me.

“I’m sorry about your family,” she says into my shoulder, and I feel the wetness of tears against my shoulder.

My chest shakes, surprising me. Shaking something free. And then I’m weeping too, clinging to this young person who they assigned to be my servant, but who has become a friend.

I hear the door open behind us, but it’s Solas. I feel him climb the stairs, and when he comes around the corner, he stops.

Looking up, his face is completely unreadable for once. Elera is sobbing into my shoulder, and I am likely a blotchy mess of my own tears.

Without a word, he goes to my desk and opens a drawer, pulling out the handkerchief he gave me back in Haven. Solas comes to us and nudges the table out of the way, kneeling in front of us.

When Elera sits up, scrubbing at her face with her hands, she hiccoughs. “I’m—ir abelas, hahren. I shouldn’t—”

“Atisha, da’len,” he says, and he gently dabs at her cheeks with the handkerchief. “There is no shame in sorrow.”

 

When Elera leaves, Solas and I are alone. Home. The wind is quiet outside the open doors of the balcony.

“I need to do something, Solas,” I say to him.

I am holding the handkerchief now, gently, cradling it in my hands like it might fall to pieces between my fingers. That first day he followed me.

“I spoke to Josephine,” he says. “The scouts you sent to the Frostback Basin have established an outpost with the researcher from the University of Orlais. Both Josephine and Cullen think that we have some little amount of time.”

“The Frostback Basin?” I wrack my brain, trying to remember. Everything feels wrapped in fog. “That was—the researcher is looking for Inquisitor Ameridan.”

“Yes,” Solas says. He comes to sit beside me, his lips pressing against my cheekbone. “That indomitable focus. Perhaps you could direct it at something else, just for a short time. Sometimes when we face grief with it too long, it starts to burn everything around it.”

“Yes,” I say. “We could go to the Frostback Basin.”

There’s so much from all the books I’ve been reading. Just the thought of doing something that isn’t to do with Corypheus or his rotten Venatori, his corrupted templars—it’s something. I feel lighter already. We just got home, but it will take a few days before we can go anyway.

“The Avvar are fascinating,” I tell Solas. “I’d like to learn more of them. Tyrdda Bright-Axe’s legend is a mystery. A mage, clearly one of their revered leaders of history.”

“We will go, then, vhenan.” Solas smiles at me.

For the first time in what feels like a year, a fresh wind sounds in my chest. Without thinking, I turn, lifting my leg over Solas’s lap to face him. He scoots back on the chaise lounge, leaning back on his elbows and watching me.

“Enaste, vhen’an’ara,” I say to him.

My fingers trace the line of his jaw.

“For what?”

There has been so little time and so much all at once. It feels like it did in Redcliffe, stretched out and sped up, spindled and spent. I’ve known him a lifetime and only a bare few months. This is it, I think, the paradox of my existence. It’s like the Anchor, in both places at once. Through.

“Everything.”

Solas leans forward and takes hold of my waist. His hands feel bigger than usual, or perhaps I just feel smaller.

He has that look he’s been wearing lately, since Wycome I think, or perhaps since Adamant. Half-bewildered, as if he’s not quite sure how he got here.

I don’t expect him to speak, but he does anyway. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“One word, and you manage to create an entirely new world.”

His face is soft, vulnerable. The crinkle that rests on the bridge of his nose when he’s stressed or concentrating is smooth over the slight ridge of a long-past break.

You change—everything. His words in the Fade, the first time we kissed.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “So it’s likely the same way you do.”

“Me?” That draws a small smile to his lips.

There’s a sticky, stuck spot in my chest beneath my breastbone. It’s gotten tighter since we left for Wycome, and while the discomfort eased a bit with tears, it’s still there, burning a hole.

I probably look as bewildered as Solas did a moment ago. “I’ve been—” I begin, but then I stop. I don’t know what I want to say. “It was hard, being back there. With them. I was never one of them. I got lost somewhere, thinking I knew where I was, but I never did. I just kept going from day to day, walking the same paths, saying the same words. I thought if I did that…”

“They would let you in?”

That’s it, exactly.

“It was never going to happen. I was always going to be too much.” I place my hands on Solas’s shoulders. Words tumble from my lips, half-nonsense like thoughts barely formed. “I’ve never been too much for you. You look at me, and—and I’m so in love with you, and you came with me to meet them, and you—”

His fingers tighten at my waist. “Stop. You are perfect as you are.”

Solas’s voice is low in his throat, straining under the weight of some emotion I can’t name.

I kiss him, needing to feel him. My fingertips brush the skin at his neck, and it’s not enough. His hands lift me with surprising ease, depositing me on my feet. At first I think he’s going to stop, but he takes my hand and leads me to the bed, spinning me so my back is to him. My knees touch the coverlets over the mattress.

“Solas?”

“Isalas, vhenan?”

My breath gives a little leap. “Isalan.”

It has been days. I’ve felt so apart from myself. But when he reaches around me, pulling me up against him with one hand over my heart and one over my hip, I am back home, back in my body. It is my bed my knees are touching. It is our space, here in this nest high above Skyhold.

“You are not too much,” Solas murmurs in my ear. “You are never too much. ’Ma arulinathe.”

His hands unlace my breeches, tugging them down where they fall to my ankles, and his lips skirt the side of my neck.

“Ma ghi’lana,” he says. “Ma ghi’lana, da’lath’in.”

My hands are free, and I use them to tug my shirt off over my head. I am not sure what my body wants, but need is strong and growing within me, and I lean forward over the bed, resting on my elbows. Solas’s hands slide to my waist with the movement, and he splays one hand over the branches of the tree upon my back. I hear his breath, shallow, wanting. The movement of fabric as he unlaces his breeches with his free hand.

He presses against me, hot and hard. My entire awareness centers at that single point of contact, skin on skin. My hips move against him, and I reach one hand back between my legs, finding him myself, pulling him to me.

My body is still in the early blush of desire; I am not so wet yet, and when he finds my opening, the slight resistance feels good today. He pauses when he feels it, his hand still upon my back like a question. I nudge my hips back in answer, pushing him deeper into me.

“Isalan,” I say again. “Sathan, vhenan. Isalan na amahn. Isalan ma gara suin em. Elvar.”

It’s not until the words are out of my mouth that the need takes me, and hearing the word leave my tongue does something to me even as I feel it do something to Solas. I cannot see him; my eyes are on the fur coverlets of the bed, but I feel him. He slows, half inside me.

His hand moves upward between my shoulder blades, firm upon my skin. And he inches out of me until only the head of his cock rests inside me. I can’t make myself breathe. Solas moves his right hand to my hip, his fingers caught on the ridge of bone, his left hand cupping my neck.

“Elvar?” he says.

That note in his voice is new. Low in his throat, almost a growl of need. It has as many facets as he does, and every one of them is a reflection of the deepening pulse I feel in each place our bodies touch.

“Sathan,” I half-whisper.

The nails of his left hand scrape backward up the base of my scalp, and he straightens his fingers only bend them again, to lodge them firmly in my hair, gripping me there.

I am wet now. I feel it around him, and he holds me still with one hand in my hair and one at my hip, and then he moves.

One sharp thrust, and he buries himself inside me to the hilt, and it’s only my reflexes that keep me braced against my elbows on the bed. He finds his pace, fast and relentless, his fingers tightening and giving way in rhythm with his thrusts, punctuated by the sound of his skin striking mine. He is still mostly clothed. I am bare and bent over my bed, my feet straining for balance against the rug with my breeches at my ankles, my toes curled in the padding of the carpet. I feel his skin, the quick contact of his breeches and the tickle of his tunic.

My head tries to loll forward, a moan caught in my throat and my movement caught tight in his grasp.

He pauses then, his right hand finding my chest at the exact moment he tugs me backward and upward with his left. I am impaled on him still, and I find myself upright, squirming. There is a low pain at my scalp, delicious and tight. His hand at my chest kept some of the pressure away from my hair, but not all of it. It hurts good, spreading through me. The wolf jawbone is hard and sharp against my back. My brain can’t make full thoughts. I am tethered to simple need and want.

Solas tilts my head back to rest upon his shoulder, his right hand caressing my breast.

“Sal sahl’in, vhen’an’ara,” I say.

His eyes are deep grey, and his lips find mine, his fingers still caught tight in my hair.

The angle is strange, but right in this moment, it is exactly what I need, pinned up against him like this. His right hand reaches downward. My clit is throbbing now, with him buried inside me and it yet untouched. Instead of parting me with his fingers, though, he merely cups me, reaching back until his fingertips brush himself at our juncture. Even that tiny movement, that minuscule nudge, makes me squirm up against him.

Solas pulls back from the kiss, looking into my eyes. His hand is hot between my legs.

“Ma’venirast,” he murmurs.

He starts moving again, and standing like this, it’s not as as fast or as hard, but the taunting heat of his palm against me nearly undoes me.

His mouth lowers to my cheekbone, then back, to the tender spot at my jaw where it meets my neck. Only then do his fingers leave my hair. His right hand pins me as effectively as his left did, and now the left hand roams my body, kneading my breast, thumb flicking over my nipple even as his lips kiss the side of my neck. First light, then deeper, more, his mouth open against my skin.

The sound escaping me is almost pleading. The slow motion of Solas’s body against my back, inside me—it competes with the movement of his hand upon my breast and the hunger of his mouth at my throat. When he bites me, I almost buck. His right hand is still, so still, so maddeningly still over me between my legs. No pressure. Only presence, only heat, slicked increasingly by my need. There is movement everywhere except where I need it, and I am slowly dissolving under his touch.

“Solas.” Somehow I manage to say his name.

My body is quivering, vibrating like a dragonfly’s wings, and he pays me no heed, because he is busy paying me every inch of heed. His cock within me is hard, so hard, nudged into the deepest places of me where every nerve is listening.

His mouth is still moving on me, lips and tongue and teeth. Tiny bites of perfect pain, and I realise I’m grasping at his arms, his hands. It is all I can do here, captured standing in this exquisite torture.

My breathing is ragged, but so is his. There is pressure suddenly where there was only presence, his hand supporting me between my legs, pulling me back against him when he thrusts into me. The wolf jawbone is sharp against my back, teeth digging into me. There are a thousand sensations warring for dominance, and suddenly I need him closer, barer, without boundaries.

My hands reach behind me, pulling at his shirt, and his hands leave my skin to obey. The loss of his touch almost changes my mind, but then shirt and jawbone are swimming in a pool on the corner of the bed, and he steps on my breeches for me to lift my feet out of them, and within seconds it is the full length of his naked body against my naked back, and he has not left me to do any of it.

Solas nudges my knees onto the bed, arching over me as I lean forward again, and this time his fingers do part me when he reaches around me. Sharp breath enters my lungs at his touch, and he pushes me forward onto the bed, kneeling behind me, moving faster now. We are both braced against the force of it, and he thrusts into me like I asked for, hard and deep and enough to undo me.

I am at the edge in two strokes, but it evades me, leaving me gasping in frustration and pleasure. I share in Solas’s momentum, my rhythm meeting his every movement.

“Please don’t stop, vhenan,” I manage to get out. “Sathan, vhen’an’ara, tel’diana, tel’diana.”

“Tel’judianan,” Solas says.

His fingers move in contrast to the power of his thrusts, agonisingly slow now, leading me along the length of the edge of pleasure where I cannot quite tumble over it.

“That indomitable focus,” he says then, and his finger dips back into the slickness, and he finds me again, this time faster.

And something breaks. His next thrust catches the top of that edge and holds it, holds me there, and true to his words, he does not stop. I cry out as it takes me, as he takes me and holds me at that pinnacle, thrashing under him. I’ve fallen forward against the bed, and he is still moving, his hand pinned beneath me now and his fingers pinned on either side of my clit.

My entire body is shaking with release, and still he hasn’t stopped. He is close. So close. His own climax crashes through me like aftershocks of my own with the rush of bright energy of his barrier with it, and his mouth clamps down hard on the other side of my neck, his own moans of pleasure humming into my very skin.

I don’t know how long it takes for us to come back to ourselves, but eventually, an eternity later, he pulls out of me, still pulsing. The space he leaves is disconcerting, the soft pleasure of his movement giving way to absence and cool air.

I roll to seek him with my hands, half-climbing around him, catching him with my legs for the first time after feeling him so completely against my back.

“Ar lath ma, vhen’an’ara,” I say into his neck.

“Ar lath ma.” His answer is nearly a whisper. His breath is still quick and shallow.

His arms are as tight around me as mine are around him, and I think in this moment, I have never been anywhere as true as here.

Chapter Text

The sun is fading when we finally manouevre ourselves to a sitting position, skin chilled by the breeze and the unlit fireplace.

There is something I need to do.

“I need to see Dorian,” I tell Solas.

I haven’t seen him since we left him in Redcliffe, and all I heard when we returned was that he had come back.

“Do you want to be alone?” Solas asks me.

“You were there that day. If you want to come…” I trail off, putting a hand on his still-naked thigh.

“Of course, vhenan,” he says. “Though it would probably be good not to go quite like this.”

“Do we really need clothes?” I grumble.

“In a perfect world, no,” Solas says. He nestles his head in the crook of my neck and kisses my collar bone. “But this world is far from perfect.”

We dress quickly because of the cold and reluctantly because home, and before long, we are in the hall, fielding greetings of “Inquisitor!” and “Messere Solas!”

Varric is in his usual place by the fire, writing—or trying to, from the way his thumb is smacking up against the end of his quill with obvious irritation—and he looks grateful for the interruption when we approach.

“Have you seen Dorian at all today?” I ask him, belatedly kicking myself for forgetting to greet him properly.

“If I had to guess, I’d say he’s at the Rest. It’s early yet—he’s probably only been drunk for an hour or two.” Varric rubs absently at a splotch of ink on one finger.

“Has he been that bad?” That doesn’t sound good.

“I think he’s been more worried about you than himself, but even Bull’s been trying to reel him in for the past few days,” says Varric.

I wince. “Thanks, Varric. Maybe we can play a game of Wicked Grace soon?”

“Anything to get between me and this damned letter,” he says, making a shooing motion with his quill.

I exchange a look with Solas as we leave the hall. The courtyard is dim in the setting sun, but the tops of the mountains visible over Skyhold’s walls are ringed with gold. It takes us several minutes to walk the short distance between the stairs and the tavern, because every two steps someone stops us to welcome us back.

The Herald’s Rest is quiet this early, though the smells of dinner are starting to waft their way out from the back. Krem’s the first person I see when we walk in. He’s sitting in his usual chair in his usual way—feet on the seat and arse on the back—and he seems to instinctively know who I’m looking for, because he just points up directly above his head.

“Glad to see you back, Boss,” he says as we head up the stairs.

We find Dorian and Bull at a table right where Krem indicated, just on the other side of the wall to Sera’s room.

“Ilaana, my dear,” Dorian says when he sees us approaching. “Also Solas, also my dear. You’ve returned little worse for wear. Dare I say you’re glowing?”

“Not as bright as you’ll be if you keep needling Solas about his sex life,” Bull mutters. “Because you’ll be on fire.”

I sit down across from them with a small sigh, and Solas joins me, giving my leg a squeeze under the table. I don’t particularly think he cares what Dorian says or doesn’t.

“Solas,” Bull says almost before our weight has settled. “We need another round. My hands are big, but not that big. Help me carry?”

Solas follows with a nod and another squeeze of my leg, leaving me alone with what appears to be a very drunk Tevinter mage.

“Dorian,” I say softly. “Are you okay?”

“Naturally,” he says.

His eyes are slightly unfocused. It seems Varric was right.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you got back.” I reach across the table and take his hand.

“I’d blame you horribly, but I’m told you arrived to a very frosty welcome from your own family unit.” He seems to realise what he’s said and grimaces. “Suffice it to say, you didn’t hurt my feelings, though I was rather worried for you.”

“This is a bit of a weird way to show it.”

“Ah, but my dear, this is all for me.” Dorian leans forward, taking my other hand and half-propping his chest on the table. “It turns out my father is rather desperately sorry for the whole ’use blood magic on his only child’ thing. The funny thing is, I’m not sure that makes it better.”

“It doesn’t have to, lethallin,” I say. “If someone tries to change the essence of who you are, you’re not required to forgive them.”

“This from the person I’m told brought the entire Wycome alienage to its knees with their very presence?” Perhaps Dorian’s not quite as drunk as he seems to be. His eyes clear when he says it.

“You heard about that?”

“Darling, everyone’s heard about that. I’d be surprised if they weren’t discussing it on the senate floor in the Magesterium in Minrathous by tomorrow.”

“It’s different,” I say. “I never said they should forgive the nobles. I just told them they were worth saving. Same goes for you, you know. You’re exactly who you ought to be, Dorian.”

“No, my friend,” he says. He rests his chin on the table dangerously close to a small puddle of spilled ale. “I’m hardly who I want to be. Felix—”

Dorian breaks off, and his eyes are dangerously close to tears. I squeeze his hands. I’m not prepared to see Dorian cry—Dorian, who got thrown forward in time and was practically chipper about it. If Dorian cries, I am going to cry, and I don’t want Solas to come back and find me having a salty puddle of a hug with a second person today.

“Felix would be proud of you,” I tell him, shoving my feelings down before they can spill out my eyes. “And as for your father, if you want to try and fix what you have, you certainly can. But you don’t have to. People make mistakes, of course, but trying to use blood magic to alter your son’s spirit is a plan, not an accident. If he’s sorry now, good. He should be. Whatever you feel? It’s okay.”

“Do you wish you’d gotten to see your parents?” Dorian asks suddenly, then waves his hand at my look. “I heard that too, yes, I’m horribly selfish not for bringing it up sooner.”

“I don’t know,” I say honestly. “We didn’t speak for a long time before I left. They didn’t come to say goodbye when I left for the Conclave. I imagine if they knew they were dying for me, they’d have died angry.”

I haven’t said that aloud to anyone but Solas, but it lifts something from me.

Bull and Solas are approaching, appearing beyond the rail as they come up the stairs.

“To parents who are absolute shit,” Dorian says, motioning widely with his arm. “May they experience the anguish they perpetuate on their offspring tenfold.”

“I’ll drink to that,” the Iron Bull rumbles.

He’s got an entire tray of stew and bread and drinks, and he places it in the middle of the table.

Two hours later, we’ve managed to mostly sober up Dorian enough to ask him to come to the Frostback Basin with us, and Cole has ventured down from upstairs to see what I’m doing with a stack of paper I stole from Sera (I’m folding it into birds).

“You crease it, create. It wasn’t a bird before, but it is now!” Cole is so delighted by the birds that I risk Sera’s wrath and use a bit of my magic to make them fly around.

I bring them to land in the highest corners of her room where she can wonder how they got there.

Solas has gotten Dorian mired in a conversation about magical theory in the corner, leaving me with Cole and Bull, the latter of which is mostly sitting in a half-recline at the end of a long bench, broad shoulders against the wall as he watches me.

“You’ve got a way with the kid, Boss,” he says when Cole wanders away for a minute.

“He’s probably older than all of us,” I say without thinking. “And he has to see and feel and hear the worst of all of us, too, reflected in other people’s pain. I like seeing him happy.”

Bull grunts noncommittally. Getting the others to engage with Cole at all is task enough, let alone admitting he’s a person.

“Thanks,” Bull says.

“For what? Cole?” I look up from the bird I’m folding, confused.

It’s nice just being somewhere—even though it’s getting increasingly loud, since Maryden’s started singing—and doing something small that probably won’t get anyone killed.

“For Dorian. Never thought I’d go for a Vint, but he’s…”

“Dorian’s Dorian,” I say when Bull trails off. “For the record, I think you’d have liked Felix, too. I wish I’d gotten to know him better.”

Bull nods. He itches under the string of his eye patch, turning his head from side to side. Somehow he manages not to bonk his horns on the wall.

“What do you expect in the Basin?”

“I don’t know. Nothing? Anything? I think I saw something in the initial report about really old buckles. Probably some Avvar?” I grin suddenly, going back to my folding. “I hear some among the Avvar are almost as big as you.”

“Well, that’s gotta be bullshit.” But the Iron Bull grins back. “As long as there’s something we get to fight, I’m in. Should be a good distraction.”

“There’s rifts, if nothing else. Wyverns, too, I think. But definitely rifts. You’ll get to hack lots of demons to bits if you get antsy.” The last bird finished, I flutter it into the air with a wiggle of my fingers.

I catch a glimpse of Cole downstairs. He looks up at me once.

“Excuse me,” I say to Bull.

“What, did you fa—”

“I’ll be right back,” I interrupt hastily before the entire tavern hears him ask me if I farted.

I get up from the table, glancing over at Dorian and Solas, who are still deep in conversation. Despite that, Solas meets my eyes briefly. It sets my skin tingling. He always notices me and never makes me feel like I’m under observation. Just cared for. Like I matter.

I hurry down the stairs, following Cole. He’s hovering just outside the door.

“Too busy?” I ask him.

He nods.

“Want to walk?”

He nods again, and we head up the stairs by the tavern, up onto the battlements. We end up near where I first met Hawke.

There’s not much talking between me and Cole, not often. I like walking with him, mostly because I don’t feel the need to fill it with any bits of words or sentences that everyone else seems to expect of me. But tonight feels different.

“You hurt,” Cole says after a while. “It was easier while you were folding things, when you could hear the hum of Dorian and Solas glowing near you, but outside it hurts again.”

“I’ll be okay, lethallin,” I tell him.

“I think I can help,” he says. “Do you want me to try?”

Strangeness steals over me. “What exactly are you asking?”

Cole seems to struggle with something. “It might hurt to hear, but sometimes hearing still helps.”

“Try,” I say.”

He is quiet for a moment, a thousand miles away, as if he’s listening.

“They didn’t know what to do with you, so she gave you to them, and you never felt like theirs.”

“What?” I’m not sure if it’s the wind or the blood rushing in my ears. Whatever I expected him to say, it wasn’t…

“They tried at first, but they listened too much to the whispers. They blamed her for giving you to them—it was never really about you.” Cole’s voice is earnest, pleading. He doesn’t realise yet that I have no idea what he’s talking about. “Please, you have to take her.   She’ll die.”

He’s quoting someone now. This feels familiar, feels like something I should know. Like when there was a hole in my head, in my memory, where the nightmare demon stole the day from the Conclave. But this isn’t gone, it’s just…

“Cole,” I hear myself say faintly. My words almost get swallowed by the wind. “Are you telling me that my parents weren’t my parents?”

“You didn’t know,” he says. “They didn’t want to tell you. They tried. They loved you. They stopped others from telling you, thought it would make it worse. Whispers and wanting to belong, waiting and weeping in the dark. They thought they were helping.”

The night is loud in spite of our distance from the raucous tavern. I think it’s my own heartbeat I hear, pounding like drums in the deep. Part of me knew. Sweet Mythal, part of me knew. Knew I didn’t belong. Knew there was something wrong. Knew my parents didn’t treat me the way other parents treated their children in the clan. Everyone else felt like a big family I was never part of.

Some part of me knew.

But another part of me didn’t.

“I don’t understand. Where—where did I come from?” I sound very small. Nothing makes sense.

“Kept, carried. Aching feet, knees, back, neck. The Keeper kept you, told her it was okay, that she could go, so she did. She went and was free, knowing the Keeper kept you. But you were wanted. You just didn’t know where.

I catch myself on the edge of the battlements, trying to stay upright. “Why are you telling me now?”

“Secrets hurt, and your hurt touches hers. Deshanna’s. She wanted to tell you when she saw you, but the hurt was already too much. She was afraid she’d make it worse.” Cole pats me on the back, gently, like I’m a baby nug. “She thinks you deserve to know.”

Deshanna.

“My mother’s dead?” Of all the things to get stuck on, that one. I know Cole by now, enough to know that if she went and was free, that’s what it means. “She died?”

He closes his eyes, nods. “Sharp pain, everywhere. The baby is cold and won’t make it without help. Can’t let her stay in the alienage. Mamae was Dalish; Mamae said her clan kept to the Minanter Valley. This is not her clan, but a clan still. Here there’s home, help, hope.”

Too many words in that sentence. Alienage. Me? My mother was from the alienage, but her mother was Dalish? There are so many circles spinning too close together. They blend into one another.

“I’m sorry,” Cole says. “I know this hurts, but it will help, I promise.”

“I know, Cole,” I tell him. “Like when I found your friends. Not knowing can feel like it will hurt less than knowing, but knowing lets you heal.”

“Yes,” he says. Then he quotes himself, the note he wrote when I did it. “I was upset until it saved them. Rhys didn’t hate me, and I didn’t hate you. Yes, this is like that. You deserve to know. Threads of your hurt all balled up with the Keeper’s. She blames herself. It’s why she sent you away. For you, for her—a chance. Ilaana can find a place in the world. Her own place, one I didn’t force her into. Irony, sharp and cruel, but truth, too. She is so proud of you.”

Deshanna is proud of me? Even after I practically scolded her?

I think of her in Wycome, surrounded by humans half-fawning on her, falling all over themselves to thank Clan Lavellan for saving them.

She’s staying there, to help them.

That more than anything makes me believe Cole.

“Thank you,” I tell him.

I’m nowhere near close to processing any of this—blood or not, the parents who raised me are dead, because of their connection to me. Any family I might have found is dead.

My skin prickles with chills when I realise that the closest alienage to the Minanter Valley is Wycome’s alienage. Is that why Deshanna agreed so readily to help them? Because she saw my face in every window? I don’t remember my earliest years in the Free Marches. We went south into Ferelden when I was a toddler—my first memory is the ship, the waves, the sounds and smell of the sea.

But we went back there when I was older, always then staying between Sundermount and Ansburg and Wycome.

Could I have had family somewhere in that alienage that day? A cousin, a sibling, a grandparent? Little Uvun and her chubby, grubby fingers.

I am overwhelmed, and Cole is there, again patting me on the shoulder.

“I’m glad you told me,” I say.

“Does it help?”

“It hurts still, Cole, but it will help. I think it’ll help.”

Who are your people, Ilaana?

There is only the cold wind on my face and the gently-thumping pats of a very strange spirit on the wrong side of the veil for an answer.

 

 

Chapter Text

As it happens, we are delayed getting to the Frostback Basin, as some apparently unfriendly Avvar have kidnapped Inquisition scouts in the Fallow Mire, which, as Dorian puts it, is “the most appropriately named fen” he’s had the displeasure of getting his foot stuck in.

We’re a week in the Fallow Mire before we manage to free the scouts and dispatch their captors, and aside from slimy undead, slimy swamp muck, and slimy flora, we do find one new ally. Sky Watcher is his name, and while he’s technically of the same tribe as the Avvar who we fought, he’s intrigued by the Anchor and my command of the rifts, and he offers to join the Inquisition to seek more answers.

I choose to take this as a good sign as we venture farther southward. I find Sky Watcher strange and curious, and for whatever reason, he leaves me a little charmed when he moves north toward Skyhold with the scouts we rescued. He speaks of the world as living and interacting with spirits, which feels so foreign after months of immersion in the Chantry way of thinking.

When we finally arrive at the Inquisition outpost in the Frostback Basin, we’re tired, cranky, and dirty. We’re a small party; it’s just me, Solas, Dorian, Bull, and Cole, and I’m finding I actually miss Sera’s presence. Even Vivienne’s been warming to me lately, since I helped her track down a bunch of Circle tomes over the past few months. Cassandra was interested in coming, but more preoccupied with tracking down the Seekers who have vanished, and between her fretting about that and Cullen fretting about the former templar, Samson, who’s running Corypheus’s armies, well. I figured she could use some space.

Lace Harding is there to greet us, of course, and after her usual spiel of “Welcome! Everything’s worse than we expected! Jaws of Hakkon want you dead! Have you seen all those Tevinter ruins?” in which she seems more distracted than usual, I tramp up to meet Professor Bram Kenric, who is about twenty years younger than I expect him to be, and I can’t help but notice the way his open, friendly face gets about three shades darker pink when he happens to glance at Lace, and she’s very studiously looking everywhere but him.

Creators bless them.

I’m exhausted, but my studies have paid off—I’m able to keep up with Kenric as he debriefs me on the state of his research, and I end up talking to him longer than I expected to.

After a scintillating conversation about buckles and following an eight hundred-year-old trail—I’m not being facetious—I finally make it back to the others, who are gathered around the campfire with a few of the scouts for dinner.

Solas meets me with a bowl of fish stew and hard tack, moving over so I can sit next to him on a low bench fashioned from a pair of stumps and a lone plank.

“How was the professor?” he asks.

“Lit up like a beacon at the sight of Lace,” I say quietly with a mischievous grin. “They both acted like…”

I can’t help it, I snort a laugh.

“Like what?”

“Like us, between kisses.”

I know he’ll know what I mean, and he certainly gets it, because the tips of his ears turn pink in the setting sun. Between the Fade kiss and the kiss on my balcony the night he came back.

He places his hand over mine when I rest it on his leg, and I want to keep it there, but if I do, I won’t be able to eat.

Dorian is talking to Bull about the ruins. “Absolutely fascinating,” he’s saying. “I hadn’t realised the old empire reached this far south, but it seems they gave it a try. If we get a chance, I would be very interested in exploring what they left behind.”

“You’ll get your chance,” I tell him wryly. “Lace marked at least six or seven rifts on my map, and they’re all over the basin. Might run into some trouble with the Jaws of Hakkon she mentioned, though. Kenric was worried that his research assistant might have already. She was out at one of the ruins, and we’re going to have to see if we can find her, as well. And hope the Jaws of Hakkon haven’t.”

“Did she not mention that some of the other Avvar in the area might be more hospitable to our presence?” Solas looks at me sideways as I shift to try and eat my stew.

“She did. Tomorrow we’ll have to head in their direction, see if we can borrow a boat to get out to an island just off the coast. Kenric thinks there’s a chance we’ll find something there.” I manage a few bites of stew. It’s surprisingly good. “Should be a busy day tomorrow. We should get some rest.”

I’m slow to take my own advice, though. When I finish my stew, I let one of the scouts take my empty bowl and acquiesce when Solas motions to the ground in front of him. With Cole and Dorian and Bull here, I feel at ease, or at least as at ease as I can.

“The Veil is thin here,” I say quietly to Solas. “It feels like the lightest gauze, like I hardly have to reach for my mana.”

“Indeed,” he says. “It’s strange for so many spirits to have gathered in this place.”

His thumbs find the knot in my neck where I carry so much of my tension.

“They came close to listen and stayed,” Cole says suddenly. He’s been quiet, almost dreamy since we got here. “Spirits gather here because they know they’re welcome. There’s been blood, bandages, but there’s laughter, long times of shared space, lingering. I like it here.”

“Right,” Bull says. “That’s not weird at all.”

“I’ve heard the Avvar have some interesting practices,” Dorian says, though he sounds a bit dubious about it. “I’ll be keen to see it for myself.”

I’m exhausted from the day of travel, and Solas’s hands are relaxing me to the point where I think I could fall asleep with my head on his knee in front of the fire here. I don’t realise I’m humming softly to myself until Bull cocks his head at me from across the fire pit.

“Didn’t know you could carry a tune, Boss,” he says.

“The Inquisitor is a beautiful singer,” Solas tells him softly, but I think the words are meant for me more than the Iron Bull.

“Oh?” Dorian perks up his ears. “I’d like to hear that.”

I’m suddenly very awake. “Erm—”

“Secret songs, sung alone where it doesn’t hurt as much,” Cole says. “They salve the soul. It’s never been for people, except Solas. But she loves us, so I hope we hear too.”

It’s Cole’s hopeful look that does it. I tilt my head back to look at Solas, who smiles down at me, upside down. He kisses my forehead.

I always have Maryden’s songs stuck in my head, so I reach for one of them that would likely make Sera squirm, and Bull will probably roll his eyes, but I like it. And with the Veil tingling upon my skin, a wave of vertigo hits me even though I’m seated on the ground. I have to take a few extra breaths before I can begin to sing—the strangest feeling steals over me. Fear melded with a longing so keen it almost takes what breath I have from my lungs.

“Vhenan?” Solas says quietly, bending to speak into my ear. “Tel’serranas.”

“Eolasan, vhen’an’ara,” I tell him.

I reach up to squeeze his hand at my shoulder, and I start to sing.

 

Enchanters!

The time has come to be alive

In the Circle of Magi,

Where we will thrive with our brothers.

Enchanters remind

That time will not unwind.

The dragon's crooked spine,

Will never straighten into line.

What we plea will be

A faithful end decree,

Where a man will not retreat

From the defeat of his fathers.

Enchanters!

A time has come for battle lines.

We will cut these knotted ties,

And some may live and some may die.

Enchanter, come to me!

Enchanter, come to me!

Enchanter, come to see!

Can you, can you come to see,

As you once were blind

In the light now you can sing?

In our strength we can rely,

And history will not repeat.

 

When I finish, Solas’s hands are quiet on my shoulders, and the entire camp has gone silent. When I venture a look around, everyone is staring at me for the half second it takes for them to hurriedly pretend they’re not.

Professor Kenric is not far away, and he’s staring at me like I’ve done the most surprising thing he can imagine an Inquisitor doing, and the others aren’t much better.

Cole has his eyes closed, and he is smiling to himself so sweetly I almost start singing again if it will keep that smile on his face.

“Damn, Boss,” Bull says, breaking the silence. “Damn. You could put Maryden out of a job.”

Dorian just gives me that half smile of his, the one that says too many feelings. He’s such a softie, and he thinks no one notices.

“If no one else is going to ask you to sing another, I will,” he says. “Lovely, my friend.”

The moment stretches out, and I try to keep it, like I can snatch it from the swift flow of time and hold it for a while, forever. The forest around us is settling in the evening, changing its dance partners from the songs of birds to the quieter song of insects, the sound of waves not far away. Verdant green darkens, mutes itself, turns to gold in the flames of the fire that itself dances upon the faces of those I love.

I nod to disguise the fact that I’m swallowing a lump in my throat, clambering back to my seat beside Solas because I need to see his face too, add it to this picture of serenity and a feeling of acceptance so bone-deep it threatens to undo me.

And when I look at Solas’s face, everything I feel is reflected back at me. He kisses me gently, a ghost of a smile at the corners of his perfect mouth.

So I sing another song, this one in my own language, and then another, and when I tire, Kendric nudges Lace into the circle of firelight, and Bull’s cheer makes her blush to the last freckle. She sings a sweet, fast song, and she passes the torch to another scout.

I’ve never had this before.

It’s almost too soon when we finally make our way to our tents.

Solas undresses me himself in the soft glow he’s conjured, his hands smoothing over my skin, clothing me again in his love with every touch.

“Ar lath ma,” he says, and when I curl against him in our blankets, for once we drift to sleep at the same time.

 

The Fade feels different here. Closer. Cleaner. More welcoming and less torn. I don’t know how to describe it, but when I find Solas, I give him one fierce smile before breaking into a run. I know he’ll follow.

I need to feel movement. I let instinct guide me forward, watching the river spread out ahead among trees that tower so high above our heads, they look as though they will brush the clouds.

I want to go faster. When I look over and see Solas running beside me in nothing but his leg wraps and breeches, the glimmer of serpentstone at his throat, a different kind of longing takes me.

Wolves run. I’ve watched them as we travel when a pack shows itself. They never attack us now, not since I gave Solas that amulet. My heart expands, and I leap over a stream, my bare feet splashing in the water at its edge, and for a moment I am weightless, floating, formless.

Changing. I almost panic at the sensation that covers me, my body flowing into something new and ready and wolf.

My paws hit the ground on the far bank of the stream, and I skid to a halt. Solas has stopped too, and he is staring at me with undisguised wonder.

“Vhenan—” he starts, and then he laughs, a peal of pure delight.

And he changes.

In seconds there is a large, grey wolf standing in front of me, tongue lolling out.

He does it without a thought, without even the slightest hesitation, slipping into the animal form as if he’s done it a thousand times before, and in that moment I realise he has.

Solas circles me, and I turn with him, feeling out the ground under my paws, the movement of my tail. He nudges at my shoulder with his nose, and I lean into him, still a bit shocked. I have managed to change the Fade and my clothing, but never anything like this. And it was easy.

You are safe, vhenan. I hear his voice in my mind. Run with me.

He moves in front of me, jumping up a bit to land with both front paws stretched, playful the way I’ve seen wolves play, or invite play. I can smell him. There are a thousand new scents in the air, and when I let out a small, excited yip, Solas does the jump-pounce thing again and turns tail—literal tail—and takes off running.

I follow, slowly at first, but within a few steps, my new body answers, finding a rhythm with four legs and tail. I catch up to Solas, elated.

This feels real. This feels right. How has he never told me he could do this? We could have been running like this as often as we pleased.

The folds of hill pass us by swiftly, and before long, I feel him shaping the Fade around us, opening up the landscape until we’re somewhere that looks like the Emerald Graves, bounding through endless green. If it weren’t for the Black City hovering in the sky, I’d think we were awake.

It fills me with such intense joy that I stop running at the top of a mossy rise and sing. It comes out in a triumphant howl. Solas has gotten some distance away, but he circles back and joins me. The sound of his voice rising with mine makes my fur prickle all over my body. This time I’m the one who does the hop-pounce, dancing away when he comes closer, then leaning into his shoulder again—which gives way beneath my weight, and then suddenly we’re rolling pell-mell down the hill. I tumble to a stop and flail to my feet, staring at him.

His tongue is lolling out, and he sits back on his haunches looking smug.

I’ve never seen Solas play. Not like this.

I bound toward him, and he doesn’t move, and I crash into him, knocking him to the grass. I don’t know how he spoke in my mind, but I need words. Thinking it is enough—I am squeezing back into my usual elf body, and then he is too, his eyes still alight.

I’m perched half-leaning on his chest, and the lightness in my own makes me feel like I’m about to float away.

“Ma galanor,” I say to him.

He pulls me down to him, kissing me, wrapping his arms around me. In a heartbeat I am on my back, and his knee is wedged between my legs.

“Isalan, vhenan,” he says.

It is the Fade, and he’s already undressed me once tonight. I’m naked with a thought, my simple breeches and tunic gone. Solas’s mana washes over me. It melds with mine as always, but wilder, brighter. It sings.

He bends to me, kisses me with a teasing touch of lips and dips to nip at my neck. I am flushed with energy and utterly charmed by this new facet of the person I love.

Solas’s mouth is at my neck, so he doesn’t see my lips curl in a smile as I loop a leg over him and flip him back onto the moss, landing on top of him where I can feel him hard against me, as eager as I am. When I reach down to guide him into me, his hands both go to my hips, sliding around me to grasp hold of my ass.

I bend over him, bracing myself with my elbow just over his shoulder, and I catch the tip of his ear between my teeth. His breath hisses in, and he pulls me down upon him, pushing himself deep within me. When I let go of his ear, he is smiling, and I feel his muscles tighten an instant before he rocks himself to a sitting position in one movement. He wraps his arms around me.

I am reminded of our first time, that first night, and I think he is too. Some of the mischief in his eyes turns to something softer for an instant. His hands fall back to their previous spot, and I can’t help the giggle that escapes me at the small hum of appreciation when his hands tighten on my ass.

“It amuses you that I enjoy your body?” he asks into my ear, leaning forward. His breath sends little shoots of tingles down the side of my neck.

“It delights me that you have a…preferred place.” I gasp between the words as one of his hands leaves my backside, and his thumb finds my clit.

“I see,” he says, tilting his head as he pulls back to look me in the eye once more. “And what do you think of that particular part of you?”

“You want to know what I think of my ass?” I can’t help grinning at that. “I’m afraid I’m never in the position to get a look at it to form an opinion. But it seems to aid me in my nefarious plots to seduce you, so on that count, I think it might deserve a medal.”

Solas laughs, and it’s a beautiful sound, deeper than usual, his voice happy and thick with pleasure. “I’ll see that it gets one. It certainly deserves recognition.”

He nudges me backward, then, reluctantly removing his hand from its place with a squeeze, and he starts moving in time with the circles of his thumb on my clit until I’m gasping, just at the edge.

When he stops, he grins down at me, and I make a sound that is almost a growl.

My body is pulsing with him. His need is every bit as strong as mine, but he’s making a game of it, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.

I tighten my internal muscles around him, and he falls forward, nipping at the side of my neck again. We take turns teasing, passing pleasure back and forth until we are both breathless and still beaming, and when he finally pushes me over my edge, he is, as always, not far behind.

Miraculously, I do not feel tired as we lie together in the Fade. I can feel his wards now, so carefully surrounding us. The thought makes me feel foolish for forgetting something so important.

When I sit up, he sits up beside me and kisses my shoulder. “Is something wrong?”

“The wards—I was just feeling a bit silly for not thinking of it sooner.”

“Ah. There is no need to worry when you are with me, Ilaana.” Solas runs his fingers up the length of my arm. “If you would like to, though, I will try to remember to cast them with you, to form a habit.”

“Yes, please,” I say.

“You have never changed your shape here before,” he says then, looking up at me with that wonder again. “You seemed to have no trouble with it. It is not such an easy thing to do, vhenan.”

I blush. “I needed to run, and I looked over and saw your amulet, and it just happened.”

“Amazing,” Solas says softly.

I will never tire of hearing that note in his voice. “It was amazing.”

“I meant you are amazing.”

Oh. “The same should be said of you. I love you like this, Solas.”

“Like what?”

“Playful. I haven’t had this much fun in…ever, maybe.” I beam at him. “I wish I’d thought to try it sooner.”

“There is little use in regretting time that has already passed,” he says, and I notice he most definitely heard the first part of what I said, because his entire face is open and relaxed and almost a little shy. “And…thank you. I have not felt this free in a very long time. Most things are easier for me in the Fade, but play is something I too often forego for more pressing matters.”

On impulse, I lean over and kiss the curve of his head just above his ear. He is looking at his feet, his arms draped over his raised knees, rocking a little back and forth. Solas looks at me when my lips leave his skin.

“Ma melava halani, da’lath’in,” he says. His voice clouds with unexpected emotion. “It is important to remember to let go sometimes.”

“Nuva lasa su ma enaste,” I say automatically, the words rolling off my tongue.

Solas looks at me sideways. “As always, you are full of surprises. That is a phrase seldom heard these days.”

“Keeper Deshanna must have used it,” I say, but I am suddenly unsure of myself. “My parents had little of the language. She is who taught me most of what I know.”

“I treasure you, vhenan,” Solas says. “Every part of you is beautiful.”

The confession is not so very out of the ordinary, because Solas always takes care to tell me what I mean to him. This, though, coupled with the way he is looking at me with such open hope—it catches at my heart.

“Sweet talker,” I say.

He will certainly hear the cracks in my voice in those two words, tugging the unbroken line between our first kiss and now.

“Me?” The mischief comes back to his eyes, and he pushes himself to standing, extending his hand to pull me to my feet. “Did I not hear the words ‘ma galanor’ cross your lips?”

“Ah, but that was the simple truth.” I can play, too.

Solas chuckles, but it gives way after a moment. “It seems you do not believe me, if you do not see my assessment of you as simple truth. I shall have to convince you.”

“You’ll have to catch me first,” I say with a grin, and with that, I let my body find the wolf again, running as soon as my paws strike the earth.

He is hardly a heartbeat behind.

Chapter Text

It doesn’t take us long to find the fisherman’s hut Kenric sends us off looking for, but the man we meet, Arvid Rolfsen, won’t lend us a boat to go out to the island without the permission of his thane, so no sooner do we arrive at the shore do we leave again, heading up along the steep slope of cliffs that makes up Stone Bear Hold.

I have the strangest feeling as we approach the Avvar hold, like I’ve been here before. The way the sun shines on the waves of the massive lake to the south, the call of sea birds, the occasional squeak of a nug, the curious stares and frank questions from the Avvar who greet us—it feels familiar. It shouldn’t, but it does.

“You are smiling, vhenan,” Solas says at my side, looking at me curiously.

“I like this place,” I say. “The Veil almost doesn’t even exist here, Solas. Do you feel it?”

“Easy, slight and slippery, I could skate right across,” Cole says behind me. He sounds almost chipper.

“It is remarkable,” Solas agrees, and something passes across his face. “Perhaps unique.”

I want to say something else, to chase down whatever it was that changed his face just now, but Bull grunts behind me.

“Surrounded by mages and this kid,” he mutters. “You’re all a bunch of weirdos.”

“Would you prefer us to be more normal?” Dorian says brightly. “Nice and boring, speaking naught but the Chant and eating boiled potatoes?”

“That’s not what I mean,” Bull says, but the look he gives Dorian is a little bewildered.

He’s gone and fallen in love with a mage without bothering to find out what it means, without really understanding that magic is part of who we are.

I meet Solas’s eyes and know he’s thinking the same thing.

“I like your horns, The Iron Bull,” Cole says suddenly. “But they’re dragon horns, not bull horns. You could have named yourself The Iron Dragon.”

I hide a smile. Cole’s helping.

“Oh, shit,” says Bull. “That would have been better.”

That diverts him until we veer around an outcropping to see a crowd of cheering Avvar. They’re not cheering for us—there are two men scaling a cliff. There are hand-holds the whole way, but the upper body strength it would take to do it at the speed they’re doing it is impressive.

“Damn,” is Bull’s predictable reaction, breaking a sentence about dragons right in half. “What are they doing?”

“I believe they’re climbing,” Solas says blandly.

One of the men reaches the top half a torso-length before the other, and the crowd cheers even more. Someone’s waiting at the top of the cliff on the ledge for the winner, and they lift the man’s hand high to louder yelling.

There’s a low wooden dais not far away, and on top of it are two Avvar, a woman with blonde hair and a man in the black and white Avvar armour Kenric warned us marks one of the Jaws of Hakkon.

“You would be safer under the Jaws of Hakkon,” the man is saying to the woman, who ignores him.

“Hask Fishersen has taken victory in sight of the Lady of the Skies!” she proclaims instead of responding. “Parve, you owe four rams to Hask, not three.”

“Ha!” someone crows, to the grumbled “Tyrdda’s tits” from someone else.

She goes on as if that didn’t happen. “Wind lift your oath to the Lady of the Skies. And hand the rams over come sunrise.”

“May your people be as strong as your hold beast,” the man on the dais says.

His words have an edge to them, one I don’t understand, but from the too-flat look the woman gives him, she suspects something. When I approach, he looks at me, assessing me, along with the rest of the party behind me.

“This is not my hold, lowlander,” the Hakkonite says to me. “I will not shed your blood here.”

That would be more of a relief if he weren’t surrounded by people who so clearly distrust him, they push away from him like magnets pushed the wrong way together.

But then he goes on.

“You will face the full might of the Jaws of Hakkon soon enough.”

The woman next to him, who I presume is the thane of this hold, ignores him pointedly again.

“We’ve heard of your arrival, lowlanders,” the woman says, her next words confirming my suspicion. “Come, share my fire, where we might speak.”

She turns her back on the Hakkonite without a thought, and I follow her lead, refusing to acknowledge him as I walk behind her toward a wide cave.

“I am Svarah Sun-Hair, Thane of Stone-Bear Hold. You have guest-welcome here,” she says as we reach a large, throne-like chair at the rear of the cave.

The throne is made of bone and decorated with the huge, toothy maw of a beast I cannot recognise. Some sort of enormous...fish?

I nod to her in acknowledgement.

“Your Inquisition has done much to heal the holes in the sky,” she says. “We are grateful. You and your people have come far from the safety of the lowlands.”

“We have not come to cause trouble in your home, Thane Sun-Hair,” I tell her. “We have learned that the last Inquisitor may have died here hundreds of years ago. We seek his body.”

She nods, a glimmer of respect in her eyes. “Giving peace to the dead is a worthy quest. Any help we can offer is yours.”

I like this woman already. She lounges in her throne comfortably, and I have a feeling her sharp blue eyes miss little.

She hesitates for a moment before going on. “Sadly, the Jaws of Hakkon will not offer so warm a welcome.”

“So I gathered,” I say dryly.

Sun-Hair nods. “You have met their thane, Gurd Harofsen. I wager you have crossed blades with the Jaws of Hakkon in the wilderness.”

“Not personally, but Inquisition forces have,” I say.

“If you would search this place for your Inquisitor’s body, they will want you to pay in blood.”

I’m surprised to see that Svarah Sun-Hair does not seem remotely pleased with saying so. There is friction then, between her and the Hakkonites.

“I’d welcome learning more about your hold, if you are willing to tell me,” I say to her.

Part of my asking is simple curiosity, to see if I can suss out why exactly this place feels so welcome to me. But I also want to see if she will tell us about that tension with the Hakkonites.

“We are not the largest hold,” she says, “but our warriors are strong, and our singers are pretty. Ah, words are for boasting around the fireside. You should look yourself, if you will.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a nod of approval from Bull. I’d be surprised if he didn’t find something here that made sense to him, even if we weirdos keep going on about the Veil.

“I would, and I will. Thank you. What can you tell me about the Jaws of Hakkon? I confess my few encounters with Avvar so far have been limited, but…interesting,” I say delicately, and Sun-Hair barks a laugh. “We encountered one group in the Fallow Mire who sought my head and kidnapped our scouts, but that seemed to be a bit of an anomaly, according to one of their own. You have been hospitable already, and we are grateful for that.”

“I heard about the foolishness in the Fallow Mire only yesterday,” the thane says, sounding disgusted. “While it is no great credit to best fools in battle, I’m pleased to see that you did. I am afraid that your first encounters do the Avvar a disservice, painting us as fools and bloodthirsty graspers, but I hope that your time in our hold will show you a better picture.”

“For myself, I have no plans to judge the Avvar as a whole by the actions of a few rogue groups,” I say.

Thane Sun-Hair grimaces. “I wish I could tell you that the Jaws of Hakkon are simply that. They are not the first hold to take that name. All have been foolish. What would you know of them?”

“What do the Jaws of Hakkon believe that makes them so angry?” I ask.

“A wise man honours each god to its strength. Bjorn Reed-Beard for fishing, Rilla of the Fireside for making babies. The Hakkonites care only for Hakkon Wintersbreath, god of war and winter.” Sun-Hair makes a small disgusted noise. I think she and Cassandra would get along. “There is no evil in Hakkon. There are times to fight. But the Jaws of Hakkon care for nothing else. They raid, they fight. Eventually they die, and their stories are forgotten. It is the way of things.”

That doesn’t sound good. “What can you tell me about this group, in particular?”

“They came here a few years ago, after the Blight took their hold. There was land enough for both, so we were friendly. We did not see their anger.” She sighs, and this time it is not disgust, but sadness. “Gurd Harofsen lost too many in his hold to darkspawn. He thought only of battle and war. But only a fool lights the world on fire to do it.”

Wise words, I think. When I say so, she nods her assent.

“You said that there were earlier groups known as the Jaws of Hakkon,” I say. “What can you tell me about them? Perhaps there is some meaningful connection.”

“Yes. Many ages ago. They thought of nothing but slaughter-glory. They attacked the lowlanders. Your people fought back and destroyed them. They were fools.”

I consider for a moment before venturing, “If the Hakkonites are attacking my people, I would welcome any assistance you could offer.”

She smiles at that, a smile made of knives and readiness. I would not like to be on the other side of that smile.

“Bathing my blade in the blood of the Hakkonites would be cause for a feast for most in this hold,” she says. “The Hakkonites are fools, and they have forgotten the old ways, but we have pledged peace with them. To attack with lowlanders at our side would make us oath-breakers. This is poor weather for me to ask that of my hold.”

I can’t say I blame her. I nod, accepting her answer. “I understand your concern. Is there anything I could do to help?”

Thane Sun-Hair inclines her head. “Among the Avvar, a hold draws strength from its hold-beast. They are as kin to us.”

I remember what Gurd Harofsen said outside, the edge in his voice. I am very unsurprised that this is the first thing she mentions.

“When our hold-beast is strong and happy, there is joy. When it sickens and dies, it is an ill omen,” she tells me. I appreciate her willingness to explain her culture to us when we are strangers. She reminds me a bit of Sky Watcher in that. “Our bear, Storvacker, has not been seen in days. The hold fears for her. I cannot ask the hold to break peace-oaths unless Storvacker returns.”

A bear. Interesting. I try not to grimace, remembering the other bears I’ve encountered in the Hinterlands, and the great bear we slew near the Inquisition camp in the Emerald Graves on the way back from Adamant. That bear was enormous, enraged, and a mother. Not one of my prouder kills. Had we realised sooner, I would have moved the Inquisition rather than impede on her territory.

And that wasn’t precisely what I was asking—I don’t want to coerce anyone into breaking an oath. But Sun-Hair offers this so readily it strikes me as a curiosity.

“Do you have members of the hold searching for Storvacker?” I ask.

Sun-Hair shakes her head. “The hold is already fearful. A great hunt for our hold-beast would show weakness to the Hakkonites. If she were dead, the augur would know. So the hunters watch for tracks. That is all we can do.”

I know only vaguely of the Avvar augurs. Diviners, I think. Mages, perhaps. I push that aside to think on later.

“The way you asked us to help find Storvacker made it sound like you were willing to break your oath,” I say carefully.

She gives me a sardonic smile. “I could say that Avvar hold all oaths sacred, that no true Avvar would break them. It would be a good lie.” She chuckles. “Lowlanders doubtless say the same of themselves. A cunning thane can find a hole in the tent of any promise, a place for the cold wind to sneak in. We are bone and blood. Oaths last until they are broken.”

Still, I do not want to see these Avvar put in peril because of breaking an oath to help me. The Inquisition cannot divide its forces right now, not to protect people in a remote corner of Thedas.

“If I find Storvacker and you break the oath, what happens to Stone-Bear Hold?” I ask her. I think I see a slight nod of approval from Solas.

“Other holds share oaths with the Jaws of Hakkon. They are sworn to defend or avenge them.” That does not sound promising, but she goes on. “If the Hakkonites were friends, they would attack us. But they are friends to few. We will send offerings, trade and gifts, to pay the price of oath-breaking. The storm will pass.”

Sun-Hair says this so casually that it assuages some of my worry. I have no desire to tromp into her land, ask for her help, and leave her getting attacked by her fellows with little assistance available from the Inquisition. Nor am I keen to disrespect her people, their culture, or their beliefs. She has already greeted us with kindness, and as a Dalish elf, I can grimly understand the risk of treating a Chantry Inquisition so.

She see something on my face, or she must.

“I do not do this lightly, Inquisitor,” she adds. “But the Hakkonites are tiresome.”

“I understand. Regardless, I am grateful for your welcome. We will do our best to be worthy of it.” I give her a self-deprecating smile. “Though I should say, bears and I traditionally do not get along.”

“You have fought bears?” Sun-Hair laughs delightedly. “You lived! Good for you! Fear will keep you respectful, should you find Storvacker. You will be fine.”

“So you’re saying she’s friendly?” Bull pipes up.

Sun-Hair raises an eyebrow at him. “Ehhh.”

Dorian laughs at that.

“One final thing I should ask you,” I say. “We asked about borrowing a boat from Arvid down at the shore, to reach the island. But he said he could not do so without your permission.”

“Bah, Rolfsen,” she guffaws. “He worries like a scared baby goat. The boat is yours. Tell him I said so.”

“Thank you,” I tell her earnestly. “We should be going.”

“Ask the hold about Storvacker. They may know something they have not told me,” she says in parting.

As we step back outside into the cool air and sunshine, I ask the first person I see where we can find the augur. We are directed up a path that runs along the side of the cliff, the occasional home or other building against the cliff face.

The augur’s hut’s door stands open, and inside I can see a man who resembles Sky Watcher, standing over a raised brazier of blue veilfire. When I enter, he looks up curiously.

“So she arrives,” he says. Then he barks, “Don’t throng!”

Wraiths appear in the room, and I feel their own curiosity. They approach like butterflies to a bright flower, and as delighted as it makes me, I can almost feel the Iron Bull loosen himself up as if ready to fight them.

If the augur notices Bull, he gives no sign. “Behold, worthy ones. The woman who blazes like fire and mends the air.”

I am assuming he means me, but that is not quite the introduction I was expecting.

“Aw, crap,” mutters Bull.

“It’s safe,” Solas tells him. “They mean no harm.”

“Hello!” calls Cole, watching the spirits with the delight I would love to give into.

Dorian just shakes his head, looking at me as if he’d like to repeat Varric’s usual line of does anything normal ever happen to you?

“I am the augur of Stone-Bear Hold,” says the man. “I greet you, as do our gods and the gods of our ancestors.”

“I am honoured,” I tell him. It finally registers that they see spirits as gods.

The spirits make a loud noise, and Bull jumps, but they are not hostile.

“There!” the augur says. “It is done. Be welcome! I’d hear news of the north.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been introduced to spirits before,” I tell the augur.

“The gods of the hold clamoured to see you. I obeyed, for I am their voice and their augur.” Then he grins. “And if I didn’t show you off, they’d hound me for months.”

“What did you mean when you said I blaze like fire?” I know what Cole has told me I feel like, but I’m curious.

“How do you think you appear to the gods of the Fade?” the augur asks. “To those beyond the Veil, your hand burns like the watchman’s bonfire.”

“Are you saying the spirits in the Fade know where I am?” The thought is more than a little disconcerting, especially since I am a Dreamer and have not been thronged, as the augur put it. Does Solas ward us so well?

“Only those nearby, but thoughts spread quickly among the gods. They tell me strange things. That you muddied time’s waters where the cliffs are read, and you returned again.”

I am going to have to speak with Solas about this later. This is likely how Thane Sun-Hair heard of what happened in the Fallow Mire when we ourselves only arrived here yesterday.

“May I ask something?” I say to the augur.

“Ask.”

“It would seem that augur is another word for mage,” I say delicately. “Are you a mage?”

“I am a mage, but not all mages are augurs. I give counsel to other mages and the thane. In turn, an augur takes counsel from the gods and shares it with the hold. I make their will known to us and ours to them.”

Fascinating. I can almost hear the whisper of the word from Solas’s mind as well.

“Some have wisdom,” Solas says. “For those willing to listen.”

The augur nods, pleased. “They protect the hold. They help drive off spirits who’ve gone bad with rage or gloom. The gods live with us. Ignore their offerings, offer them nothing, and it weakens us all.”

I remember in Haven once when I asked Solas if it was possible to live peaceably with spirits. The Avvar do. Even with the Veil that Solas said prohibits such understanding, they have found a way. I am utterly gobsmacked. This place is precious. If only I had time, I would love to come here, to study the Veil and learn from the augur what I could. What a remarkable way of living. It is so different than to the north, where even outside the Chantry among the Dalish clans, spirits are misunderstood and feared more often than not.

“So wait a minute,” Bull says. “You call spirits gods? Do you think they’re divine or something?”

“The spirits watched us even before we came from the north,” the augur says simply, looking at me rather than at Bull. “They shaped themselves into our gods, and we grew to love them. Their secret gift is this, Inquisitor: they reflect us as water does the sky. They show us what we wish to be. That image gives us strength. For that, we thank the gods.”

I am brimming with thoughts when we leave his hut, and I want little more than to pester him for the rest of the day, but we have much to do, and the day is not getting longer if we are hoping to reach the island and return before dark.

“Spirits fuckin’ everywhere,” says Bull as we tread back down the path to return to Arvid. “If I get possessed, feint on my blind side and strike low. Cullen says I leave myself open.”

“We’ll bear that in mind,” I tell him wryly, then suppress a smile at the accidental Storvacker pun.

“Don’t worry,” Dorian says to Bull. “I’m here. I’ll protect you.”

It’s what he said to me in Redcliffe, and I can’t help but snort at him. Redcliffe. Even the augur here has heard of it, and not from the usual sources.

Solas catches some of the wonder on my face, moving close enough to me to feel his mana brush up against mind.

“Enaste, vhenan,” I say to him quietly, knowing he’ll know for what.

Coming here was the best idea in months.

Chapter Text

We make our way back down to the water, skirting the shoreline until we arrive back to Arvid’s home. He seems to live well, with a lot of space and a beautiful view. I’d envy him, but I have Skyhold. I think I’m not allowed to envy anyone’s domicile ever again.

Arvid’s cleaning fish outside when we arrive, and he looks up.

“Thane Sun-Hair gave us guest-welcome at Stone-Bear Hold,” I say after greeting him.

“Aye, she sent word,” Arvid says.

That was quick. “As a guest then, may I please borrow a boat?”

“We would be poor hosts to refuse.” The Avvar fisher chuckles, jerking his head to indicate the boats moored at the small dock. “The boat is yours. I hope you come back alive.”

“Sounds promising,” grumbles Bull.

“Afraid of water?” I ask him.

The look he gives me is as dry as a desert. “I like you, Boss, but if you want me to help row—”

“I’ll be good,” I promise with a grin.

Dorian, though, looks less than amused as we walk out onto the dock, Cole and Solas trailing along behind him.

But for all that, once we’re all in the boat, Solas surprises everyone by waving his hand when we go to pick up oars.

“It might be good to preserve our energy,” he says, “and the spirits in this area are eager to help.”

Spirit magic to row a boat. I raise an eyebrow at him, and Bull almost glares.

“We do have a lot to do today,” I say.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bull says, then grumbles something under his breath about his arms working as well as any spirit.

The island isn’t far, but even Solas and I grow tense when we approach, and he releases his mana when we’re still a short distance from the shore. I readily pick up an oar, and together we row in silence until we reach the land.

We see what had Arvid nervous before we even get out to drag the boat ashore—there are remnants of others’ passing, both literally and figuratively. A small shack, spattered with sand and torn by wind and age, sits near the water, and not a few skeletons can be seen around it.

Before we’ve gone ten paces, a voice cuts through the air.

“Sleep. I need to—I must find you.” A woman’s voice, heavy with exhaustion and need.

There’s a letter on a barrel, somehow preserved, talking about how safe the island is in spite of Avvar wariness. Seeing it surrounded by corpses, well.

Solas and I exchange a glance, and Bull looks like he’s itching to walk with his massive greatsword in hand.

“This blood,” the voice says in disbelief. “My blood? No. I can’t—”

There, over a hillock, is a wraith, visible. It does not venture near us, but it is here, close. It is like in Crestwood, in what remained of the old village when we found it. The Veil is so thin as to be virtually meaningless. Felandaris grows in the clefts of the small hummocks of grass, reaching its thorn twists toward the sky.

No one speaks as we walk, but the voice does not fall silent.

“Ameridan,” she says. “Ameridan, why?”

Something in her voice reaches its fingers into the deepest places of my heart. I don’t have to look at the others to know they heard, or that they understood. Someone was so desperate, so at the end of her hope that her memory remains here, calling out to Inquisitor Ameridan even eight hundred years later.

Why what? What did he do? Why was she alone?

The love in her voice is clear—she loved him. This must be the lover we’ve heard about. There are rumours—rumours the Chantry has sought to stamp out and has actively derided—that Ameridan had a lover who was a mage. Could this be her?

“Vhenan,” she says, heartbreak in her words.

I jump at the word, my gaze moving to Solas, who is looking at me. She called him vhenan. She was an elf, then. An elven mage. No wonder they erased her.

The thought sticks in my skull, and have to stop walking for a moment.

I am an elven mage.

A thread of anger twines in me. In my studies I have seen much of the Chantry’s pruning. The Canticle of Shartan was stricken from the canonical Chant of Light after the Exalted March on the Dales. Again I can hear the voice of the elf in Haven pleading with the Chantry sister to give him something of himself in the religion he clearly believed in.

The Chantry has erased this woman as well as Shartan, it seems. They do not deserve the benefit of my doubt in this. If all that remains of her is rumours, it is because they have cut away her truth and called it lies.

Will they do the same to me? After all I have given them?

“Vhenan,” the woman says again. “I’m…dreaming.”

I feel a pull, and without heed to the others and whether they’re following, I move in its direction, around an outcropping of stone and toward a wooden structure on a hill across from us.

“No, no, no,” she says.

Anguish. She was in so much pain. I already know she is long dead. Eight hundred years dead, but the urgency I feel is now, and my feet speed over the ground. Behind me I vaguely hear Bull saying to Dorian that we should be cautious, but Cole is silent, and Solas is silent, and in matters of spirits, theirs is the only judgement that matters to me.

There are more wraiths as we get closer, and they turn toward us in curiosity before drifting silently away. The sun is high, but it has to fight through the clouds to touch us in long fingers of red-gold light.

My Anchor flares on my hand, not hurting, but responding to—a rift. Nearby. I’m almost on top of it. It doesn’t feel like the rifts from the Breach. It is not nearly as jagged and raw, but old and fluttery like the fabric worn away from that shack on the beach.

There is a bubble of green energy inside the wooden house ahead, and I hurry toward it.

“I can’t,” the woman says, her voice heavy with tears and grief. “I can’t, not without…”

The bubble is not hostile, not to me. With a backward glance at Solas, I step into it to touch the rift. The Anchor leaps to it.

As I reach for the rift, a spirit appears, looking at me with wonder.

“Telana slept…I slept. To find him in dreaming. But I—the blood. I’m…she’s gone,” it says, the words tumbling forth in confusion and pain.

Telana.

This woman’s name was Telana. Her name means without voice.

I try to hold myself together. Something about this—it feels close, under my skin already without needing to try.

The spirit is speaking again. “Telana wanted to reach Ameridan again, one more time, but she couldn’t. I couldn’t. I died.” It watches me, searching my face. “I tried to stay, but only pieces came through. You opened the sky for the rest of me.”

I try to pour every ounce of compassion in me into my face and voice when I say, “You—or she—wanted to reach Ameridan again? We’re also trying to find him.”

“Ameridan.” The spirit’s voice, Telana’s voice, is a sigh of love and relief and yearning. “Yes. Inquisitor. Beloved. I—she—came with Ameridan to hunt the dragon.”

“The dragon?” I ask. How vast was Telana’s love, to weather so much time?

“Huge,” the spirit tells me, as if in answer to my unvoiced question as well as my voiced one, but then she continues. “Power like none had seen. It came from the mountains with the Avvar. Towns fell, all dead. One last favour for Emperor Drakon. Slay the Avvar-dragon, save Orlais.”

I need to pull myself together. My chest is moving too fast with breath. This is too close, to close.

“Inquisitor Ameridan died saving Orlais from a dragon? How could history just forget that?” I ask, because I can think of no more useful question.

“Not forgotten,” she says. “Forbidden. Darkspawn in the north, all of Orlais afraid. No one could know. Orlais must stand unstained, no fear to falter. ‘Please, my friend. For both our peoples.’”

She must be quoting Drakon himself.

Both our peoples?

My eyes find Solas’s, and like mine that are now filling with tears against my will, his say he already understands this as much as I do.

“Both our peoples—” Dorian says, confused.

“He was an elf,” I say, and the spirit nods. I don’t need to be told.

“They fought at the shore,” the spirit says. “Spirits and magic, cold, so cold. How I found her, how she found us. They rested here, then up the river. Metal spires. A way to stop the dragon.”

The spirit stops as if the pain is about to overtake her, just as its reflection is about to overtake me.

“Then Telana returned here alone to wait for him. Forever waiting, dreaming. Then dead.”

The words are brittle in the air, should be crumbling to dust from the weight of history on their shoulders.

“Thank you,” I tell the spirit. “You have waited here all this time. We’ll find Ameridan. You don’t need to keep waiting here, not anymore.”

“Thank you. It was hard,” she breathes. There is a pause, a perfect silence. “I—she—went a long time ago. I stayed because she asked. Her things are there. She wanted them found.”

As the spirit vanishes back into the Fade, she whispers to me, taking hold of the strands of magic in my Anchor as if she’s taking hold of my hand, squeezing it it comfort and in friendship as if to say that all this time she had to wait was worth it because I found her. Because I will carry Telana forward now, and I will. And she shows me this swirling bubble around us, how it has preserved this space over the ages, what it can do for me, how to wield it.

“Ma melava halani,” I murmur to her, and then she is gone.

Telana. I wrap her name in my heart, and no one moves forward to search her things, hanging back instead. They know this is my duty. I need to do it. For her. For this faithful spirit who waited so long.

We find a beautiful heartstring bow that must have been hers, this Dreamer who loved her Inquisitor. It is warm when I touch it. It feels alive. We find Ameridan’s orders.

I have no energy or patience for the small band of Hakkonites on the beach we encounter when we seek to leave, and I watch their surprise as I summon what the spirit whispered was called the Aegis of the Rift, which their arrows cannot penetrate, and leaves me free to pile my ice mine on top of Dorian’s fire mine when Solas uses a spell he’s been studying to summon a small rift of his own and yank the Hakkonites into one spot.

They are easily dispatched.

There was much we needed to do today, but it can wait. I will not risk Ameridan’s and Telana’s story being questioned because something happened to Ameridan’s orders before I could deliver them to Professor Kenric. I will spread the word of it myself to ensure the Chantry cannot quash these rumours now.

They have hated me being an elf as the Inquisitor; now they will have their faces pressed right against the fact that they erased the last elven Inquisitor and his elven mage lover as well. All to crush the Dales. All to drive us nearly to extinction, to corral us in alienages and call us rabbit, knife ear.

 

We are a quiet bunch the whole way back. Cole and Solas both stick close to me, both knowing in their way what I need. Solas holds my hand, and Cole just stays near, occasionally murmuring a quiet, “You helped. You’re helping.”

When we reach the outpost again, I am drained yet again, but I call out to the scouts to bring me paper and quill, and before I even go to Kenric with Ameridan’s orders, I make two copies myself, ask Dorian, the Iron Bull, and Scout Harding all to sign them as witnesses, and I give one to Solas, folding the other as soon as the ink is dry and placing it in my belt pouch.

I keep Lace in my sight after she’s signed it, and I can see her almost itching to go talk to Kenric about it, but a quick shake of Solas’s head is clearly enough to warn her that my words are going to set the tone of this one.

Only then do I go to Kenric myself. Solas comes with me, but the others go off to find food.

I knock quietly on the door frame, since the door is open. He’s leaning over some papers on a desk, and it reminds me so much of how I so often find Solas that I give Solas an amused smile. He doesn’t seem to understand why.

“Inquisitor,” Kenric says, straightening. “You’re back sooner than expected.

“Professor Kenric,” I say. I incline my head to him in greeting. “I was hoping to discuss Ameridan with you.”

“Of course,” he answers, sounding a bit bewildered, which also shows in his round, boyish face. “Your predecessor, after all. Existing historical records are contentious, as we discussed before. Some say he was a devout Andrastian. Others suggest he cared little for religion, gaining leadership of the Seekers through Emperor Drakon’s friendship.”

Ameridan and Drakon must have been very close friends. For a moment, the thought of the emperor of Orlais having an elf for such a close friend is unthinkable, but then I remember what Leliana has told me of Briala, the woman who has been harassing both sides of Orlais’s civil war. If Leliana is to be believed, which she very likely is, Briala was Celene’s lover. So perhaps history doesn’t change so very much, though the nature of their relationship is secret and would be scandalous if publicly acknowledged.

That thought almost sours me, and I miss what Kenric says next.

“Ameridan disappeared around the time the Seekers of Truth, the original Inquisition, incorporated into the newfound Chantry,” he’s saying now.

I nod. We’ve been over this already. “The rumours that he wanted one last great dragon hunt,” I say. “Which, Professor, we can now safely dismiss.”

“I beg your pardon?”

I glance to Solas, who has the original document I copied. He proffers it to Kenric, who stares at it like we’ve handed him a live baby dragon.

“We’ve been to the island, Professor,” I tell Kenric. “What we found there clears up a great many things, though there is still much to answer. A spirit on the island held the memories and possessions of Ameridan’s lover, a woman named Telana. An elven woman. A mage, as the stories said.”

Kenric blinks at me, looking down at the parchment in his hand, which is now trembling.

“This is extraordinary,” he says. His eyes skim the paper hungrily. “Her actual memories?”

“I’ve made copies of that document already, immediately upon my return. Due to certain other things we have already found, I think you will understand my caution,” I tell him. “While I cannot yet offer you evidence on this other point beyond words passed from Drakon to Ameridan to Telana and the spirit, I very strongly suspect that we will find that Inquisitor Ameridan was himself an elf.”

I’m not sure Kenric heard any of that from the way he is staring at me.

“That would mean—” Or perhaps he did. He looks down at the paper in his hand again. “That would mean that it wasn’t forgotten so much as erased. Even if they sent Ameridan down here in secrecy, as this says, due to the Blight, I think it is highly unlikely that Ameridan would have remained shrouded in such mystery if he had been human.”

I think I understand something of the way Solas feels when he looks at me with such surprise sometimes, though it is not particularly a comforting thought. I was not expecting Kenric to grasp it so readily, nor to do so with such a tone of disdain.

“I assure you, Inquisitor,” Kenric says to me. “We will find whatever truth we can of this matter, and I will be the first to ensure that it is recorded and sourced and made open knowledge. Following the trail of Ameridan has been my honour and my passion, and even if it hadn’t, my conscience as a scholar and historian would not allow truths to remain hidden away simply to assuage the desires of those who perceive them to be inconvenient.”

“A rare resolve,” Solas says quietly.

“Thank you.” Some small amount of weight loosens from my chest. “For now, we have found some strong evidence of his lover and a source of what brought him here, and we have an idea of where Ameridan went next.”

“Andraste’s dimples,” Kenric says. “I may have received tenure from that sentence alone. Ameridan's lover. Telana, you said? The Inquisitor’s lady mage? There was such debate over whether she existed, and well, I think you have stumbled into why. These orders, that this was a request from Drakon—this changes everything already.”

“How do you mean?” I ask. I don’t think he means that they were elves, though that will likely be a subject for a later discussion.

“Some scholars took Inquisitor Ameridan’s respect for the Chantry to imply that he remained celibate,” Kenric says. “As we discussed when you arrived, there were stories about him and his lover, a mage. They made it out to be a star-crossed romance. The Chantry silenced the stories strenuously.”

Yes. Solas moves closer to me, and I meet his eyes. He must know what I’m thinking. And who knows—perhaps he sees himself in Telana in this moment, in some small way. I haven’t asked what the Chantry thinks of our relationship, and I don’t care. Or I didn’t, anyway. I doubt Solas particularly cares whether Chantry history remembers his existence or not, but it matters to me. I will not disappear in plain sight, and neither will my lover.

We are real. We are people. We risk our lives every day for the Inquisition. They do not get to demand that of us and then pretend we never existed.

They don’t get to do that to Telana and Ameridan anymore, either.

As if Kenric has followed my thoughts on my face, he says fervently, “Knowing this changes everything, Inquisitor. Whatever current theories posit that Ameridan ran off out of boredom to shirk his responsibilities will be put to rest. He was not an embarrassment. He was a patriot protecting Orlais while Drakon fought in the Second Blight. I would not see that suppressed any longer.”

I reach out and shake his hand. Kenric looks at me in surprise.

“Thank you, Professor. I am proud to be working with you.”

This pronouncement seems to fluster the man, so I chance the subject to give him a chance to recover. We talk briefly about what will come next, and then Solas and I leave the small house.

“This matters to you, vhenan,” he says when we are out of earshot of the professor.

“She was like us,” I tell him softly, and at his surprised look, I go on. “An elf. A mage. A Dreamer, even. And they erased her, as history so often does. They twisted Ameridan into someone who abandoned Orlais in its greatest hour of need. They made him harellan, when he was instead a hero, or at the very least someone who was guarding their flanks while their enemies advanced.”

Solas falls silent at that, and after a slow beat, he nods. “Yes, da’lath’in. You are right.”

“He deserves to be remembered as he was, and so does she,” I say. “Not as history forgot or painted over them. They do not deserve such treatment, and neither does their love.”

We are in the middle of the outpost, surrounded by scouts. I can see the Iron Bull’s horns over a low bush between us and the fire where he’s likely eating with Dorian and Cole. But Solas stops me in my tracks, takes both of my hands, and kisses me. He kisses me full on the mouth, the way he did in the Fade that Satinalia night, with a shake of his head and a look of absolute desperation, and I am so startled that it takes me a moment to kiss him back.

He does not shy from public affection, but this is—this is—

“‘Ma vhenan,” he says when we finally break apart to a few whistles from the scouts and a “Atta pair, you two” from Lace as she heads to Kenric.

Solas interlaces his fingers with mine, and he leads me back to the others.

I cannot find my voice.

 

Chapter Text

Our time in the basin quickly moves into a breakneck speed. We chase Telana’s stories of  metal spires up the river, catching up to Inquisition soldiers struggling to hold off the Jaws of Hakkon at every turn while venomous spiders spit poison at us from the water. There is some new danger around every corner, painted in brilliant colours and singing the songs of birds that flit above our heads as if to call out that they’re just glad they’re not us.

Despite the nerves and frustrations of the basin, something is driving me onward. It’s not a secret of any kind that I feel connected to Ameridan and Telana, but I hardly expected this kind of compulsion.

It feels wrong to build Inquisition camps in this place. We are not supposed to be an occupying force here, and I am uneasy with every new tent we raise. While the Avvar of Stone-Bear Hold are our allies, I can’t blame the Jaws of Hakkon for seeing us as interlopers, intruders. Though my unease is assuaged some little bit by the knowledge that Stone-Bear Hold were here first, and the presence of the Jaws of Hakkon at all is at their sufferance.

What we find at the head of the river, though—that is beyond simple claims of territory.

A Tevinter ruin stands there, spikes of metal clawing at the sky like a dragon itself. The Hakkonites have camped there, but in far too few numbers to pose an obstacle to us. If I thought for a moment they might not attack, they immediately disabuse me of the notion.

I wonder that their leader seems inclined to send so many of his people to their death. Surely their numbers are not endless.

The fight over the ruin is short, brutal, and one-sided. We make it as quick as possible for them, and my newfound Aegis of the Rift keeps Dorian, Solas, and myself safely out of the way of Hakkonite arrows and magic. Neither Dorian nor Solas are anything but grim about the task, however. Nor am I happy to be killing more people.

“It is as Amund Sky Watcher said,” Solas murmurs to me when it is finished. “Do not blame yourself for the follies of others so eager to die upon your blade.”

I smile at him, though wanly. We make our way up into the ruin. Cole volunteers to go back to the closest Inquisition camp to send a runner to fetch Kenric and Lace, and since he can remain unseen in plain sight, he’s by far the best to take such a risk. He vanishes into the brush with barely a displaced leaf to tell tales of his passing.

This place feels different than many of the others we have visited. Though perhaps that is the connection I feel to Telana and Ameridan. I can’t be sure. I listen to the others banter while we wait. Or it starts as banter, at least. Cole returns not long after leaving, but he remains hovering at the edges of our little group where Bull and Dorian are sparring with words. After a moment, though, their back-and-forth dies out.

“You doing all right?” Bull asks Dorian in a quieter voice. “Family stuff can be tough.”

“What would you know about it?” Dorian says, but there’s no bite behind it, not really. “Qunari don’t have families.”

Bull’s silent for a moment. “Eh. My Tamassran wasn’t thrilled when I turned myself into the re-educators. Hell of a thing, feeling like you’re disappointing the people who love you.”

There’s something that remains unsaid there, and from Bull’s very carefully avoided glance at Solas—I’ve watched the Ben-Hassrath spy enough to know some of his tells, no matter how hard he hides them—he doesn’t want to give Solas any more ammunition against the Qun.

“I could be much worse,” Dorian says brightly. “I am rather grateful to learn my father has been flagellating himself over what he attempted, but that brings with it a whole new set of complications I would prefer to cut through with a sharp pair of scissors.”

Cole is notably quiet, though he is watching the two of them with interest, perhaps curious about the fact that they seem to be helping themselves.

Or perhaps not. He looks…flustered.

“It’s brighter here. Glittering. Glaring. Glinting. I can’t…” Cole says suddenly.

I feel the Veil ripple, and I am about to go to Cole when Solas speaks, stopping me. “It’s a mild tremor in the Veil. Nothing to worry about. Focus on what is here, in this world.”

“But…what is here?” Cole looks so lost, and both Dorian and Bull have fallen silent now.

“Feel the ground, the breath in your lungs, fabric rustling against your skin.” Solas glances at me. He does this for me sometimes.

My throat catches.

Cole breathes in deeply, staring at a point somewhere in the air between himself and my knees. “Thank you.”

“It’s nothing,” Solas says. “It can be overwhelming for anyone.”

“He’s right, kid,” Bull tells Cole, for once not making some crack about the Veil or magic. “It can.”

The unexpected support from Bull makes me blink suddenly, turning away.

“The Iron Bull, you’re being nice to me.” Cole sounds genuinely confused now.

“Yes?” Bull says.

“But you hate demons.”

My heart almost crunches at those words from my friend, from Compassion himself, here with us. He is always sweet, to everyone, even if they call him it and push him away. Bull shakes his head a little. Clears his throat.

“Yeah, well. Listen, Cole. You might be a weird, squirrelly kid, but you’re my weird, squirrelly kid.” Bull’s voice is gruff and a little too loud, and Dorian turns to stare at him incredulously.

“Oh,” Cole says. “Thank you.”

“Just don’t make it weird. No full hugs. Maybe a one-armed slap on the shoulder.” Bull is normal again, his usual bravado restored.

“All right.” Cole, surprisingly, looks to me.

I give him an encouraging nod and walk a bit away, down the stairs where I can stand alone with my prickling eyes under the pretense of waiting for Kenric and Harding. When a soft footstep says someone has followed me, I expect Solas. But it’s Cole instead.

“You hurt for me, anticipating. Fear, feeling, finding what might come and cause more pain.” He rocks a little, his arms wrapped around himself, breathing carefully like Solas suggested.

“I care about you, lethallin,” I tell him. “You belong as much as anybody.”

“Thank you.” He’s quite a moment. “You wanted to help. Solas did it first. ‘He does this for me sometimes.’ That helps. Here is bigger, harder to change, but changeable anyway.”

“Yes.” The woods are quiet, and in the distance, I think I see Kenric and Harding approaching. They will be some minutes yet, but having them in sight eases a little of the worry I haven’t otherwise let myself entertain.

“He needs it too, sometimes,” Cole says softly. “You remind him.”

With that, he turns away, and I’m left staring after him, the line from Redcliffe growing just a bit longer. Remind Solas of what?

 

Kenric and Harding are along not long after.

“Lady Harding was quite nimble in the wilderness!” Kenric exclaims as they come up the stairs toward us.

“You all go on,” Lace says, looking embarrassed. She’s blushing crimson under her pattering of freckles. “I’ll make sure the Hakkonites don’t come back.”

She slips away, but I catch the backward glance that she sneaks over her shoulder when she thinks Kenric won’t see.

Solas falls in beside me as we climb the stairs. His presence is warm, heady. The air around us is chilled in spite of the lush foliage, but the bubble between us is pure heat.

We’re bringing up the rear, and just before we crest the top of the stairs where the others are, his hand finds the small of my back, scooping just a bit lower over my rear. He slows, letting me move ahead, and I suppress a smug smile.

Dorian gives me a knowing twitch of his eyebrow when I look at him, smirking. Though I don’t think they’ve ever actually voiced it to one another, my lover and my friend share a ridiculous appreciation for my ass. I do like watching you leave is common to hear from Dorian’s mouth whenever duty pulls me from one of our conversations, and with Solas a bare few spans beneath his chunk of library in the rotunda, he’s most certainly heard it. I happen to know for a fact he feels the same. Lechers, the pair of them.

“Tevinter,” Kenric is saying. “From well before the last Inquisitor’s time. I understand they used such tiles as locks.”

There are tiles on the ground, and though I’m half-distracted from the now-absent warmth of Solas’s palm on my backside, I squint at what I see.

“Not the best locks when you put the key on the ground in front of the door itself,” I say, and Solas chuckles.

“Leave it to the Vints to assume everyone’s a dumbass,” Bull grunts.

Dorian gives a dismissive wave of his hand. “Likely they weren’t put here to guard anything spectacular.”

It doesn’t take long to get the two doors flanking us open, and Dorian’s right. A few nice weapons and some very old gold is all that’s in the rooms, but I am somewhat surprised the Hakkonites didn’t get in here. Perhaps the ancient Tevinters weren’t as overly optimistic as it seems.

Back behind the courtyard with the puzzles is a barrier. One unlike any I’ve encountered myself. Veilfire braziers stand on either side of the door.

“Veilfire, veilfire everywhere,” I murmur. For something apparently so rare, it’s popping up in every new place we go.

Solas gives me a curious look, but Kenric is already bustling around the glowing barrier. This is where we’re meant to go. I feel it. The barrier feels—I’m reaching my hand out to it without realising, and my fingers fall away. It feels like Telana’s magic, or maybe like Ameridan’s. Maybe their magic felt similar, the way I think mine does with Solas sometimes.

I lead the others through bringing the barrier down with Lace even coming back to watch after satisfying herself we’re free of the Hakkonites, and when the barrier dispels, there’s a blast of ancient air that dissipates into the ruin.

“Theneras,” Kenric says, reading an inscription. “The elven word for dreaming, if I remember correctly. Oh, well done. Well done indeed!”

The inside of the ruin smells like it did in the shack on the island, preserved, like the air flooding into my lungs is only a breath or two after Ameridan himself released it. The sensation is strange, disconcerting. An elven ruin at the centre of a Tevinter shell. Curiouser and curiouser.

And there, in front of us and flanked by two burning veilfire braziers, is a shrine. At first glance, it looks Andrastian, but there’s Ghilan’nain represented with her. Two halla sit just above eye level on the shrine.

“There’s something you don’t see every day,” Lace says, surprise lighting her words brighter than the veilfire.

“A pair of shrines,” Kenric says in awe. “One of them is clearly Andrastian, albeit from a very early period. Probably pre-Divine. But this is elven. One of their gods. Erm. What was it?”

Amused, I glance at Solas in unspoken agreement to let Kenric try and figure it out himself.

Kenric drops his face into one hand, squinting. “Every mother finds druffalo among sleeping juniper groves,” he recites. “G-something, the one with the deer.”

“What was that?” I can’t keep the amusement from my voice. “Every mother finds druffalo?”

“Oh, erm.” Kenric looks at his feet, blushing in the light of the veilfire. I can see why Lace likes him. “It’s a memory aid, to help me with the names of the elven gods. Every is Elgar’nan, mother is Mythal, finds is…fallow-something.”

He coughs.

“I was more focused on early Chantry history. I didn’t really do elves.” Kenric looks a bit flustered with both me and Solas watching him.

Still, I can’t resist poking at him a little more. Only Falon’din made it into his sentence, so I look at him sideways. “Are you sure your memory aid caught all the elven gods?”

“Well, there’s only one F for—Falon’din, that’s it—I suppose I forgot Fen’Harel!” he exclaims.

“Most people do,” Solas says in a voice so deadpan I have to stop myself from looking over my shoulder at him.

“This isn’t him, though,” Kenric says. “It’s one of the ladies. G-something.”

I decide to help Kenric out. “That would be Ghilan’nain. Mother of the Halla.”

“Yes!” The professor exclaims, throwing his hands up. “Brilliant, thank you. That would have bothered me all day.”

“So it looks like Telana was an elf,” Lace says, looking at me sideways.

“Oh, that’s good,” Kenric says, and Lace’s face turns a shade darker in the greenish light.

“It appears that you are correct,” Solas says to me. “More evidence they were elves.”

I give him a tight smile.

“The Chantry expunged references to elves before the Exalted March on the Dales,” Kenric says, apologetic.

“You didn’t do it,” I tell him.

“Yes, well,” he says. “Anyway, they erased the Canticle of Shartan from the Chant of Light itself, so I think it’s safe to say they wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to Ameridan and Telana.”

“Quite,” Dorian says.

Cole is hanging back with the Iron Bull, who has his impassive Ben-Hassrath face on.

“The Chantry should not rewrite history to cover up inconvenient truths,” I mutter.

I already know Kenric agrees. He nods. “Regardless, the important thing is what this tells us. This is not a burial site—that much is obvious.”

“Look at those flowers.” Lace motions to the wildflowers growing in an array of pink and orange and yellow around the shrine. “They’re not native to the area. Maybe they were left as an offering.”

“Yes, a night of prayer before battle against the dragon,” Kenric says. He’s putting his face in his hand again. “But then where—where? We’re missing something. What are we missing? Where did you go?”

I leave him after a few moments, wandering around the rest of the ruin. Most people do. I’ve never heard Solas’s voice quite so wry, and what he said is a bit absurd besides. Certainly no elves forget Fen’Harel, do they? Every Dalish clan I’ve encountered has a statue of him to ward him off by particularly noting they don’t forget him. What a strange thing to say.

But then, Solas does tend to say strange things about the Dread Wolf, I suppose, like when he told me Fen’Harel would love me rather than cursing me.

For someone who claims not to believe in the elven gods as he does, something about Fen’Harel seems to get under his skin. He usually only pipes up about things that are particularly close to his heart or mind.

The others make their way out of the ruin, with Kenric lingering, longing in his eyes before Lace prods him out through the door. Solas waits for me.

“Are you troubled, vhenan?” he asks.

“No, not really,” I tell him. I’m not going to bring it up. It’s a bit silly to wonder if perhaps he knows something more about the Dread Wolf, saw something in the Fade maybe that makes him frustrated with the knowledge that survives. “I think I am feeling a bit impatient, though Ameridan has been dead enough years that he can likely wait another day or so to be found.”

“Indeed,” says Solas. He opens his mouth to continue, but there is a grating noise outside, followed by a triumphant crow from Dorian.

“Hey, Boss!” Bull yells. “You’re gonna want to see this.”

With a glance at Solas, I go out, and on a ledge above us, Kenric and Lace are beaming, with Dorian across the courtyard atop another ledge opposite, green energy crackling through the metal spire contraption I saw when we came in.

“It looks like we’ve found a way to use those trail markers we saw,” Dorian calls down. “Shall we see where they lead?”

A chill passes through me even as I nod in excitement.

Wherever this leads, I am already certain it has to do with Ameridan. And I am not certain I am ready.

Chapter Text

Watching the enormous metal spines illuminate with crackling green energy does not grow tiresome. Each new trail marker we meet fills the entire group with a sense of excitement. It bounces between us, the anticipation that this is leading somewhere Ameridan walked eight hundred years ago.

Solas holds my hand as we walk, and it’s a strange sense, this retreading of past paths in the waking world. When I meet his eyes, I think he is having the same thoughts. He gives me a small smile, knowing.

For a few glorious hours, I am happy, even though our path takes a circuitous route around a cliff as we try and find our way up to another trail marker.

My ease is broken by the sound of yelling and snarling, however, when we leave the wide delta of the river heading to the east and toward Stone-Bear Hold.

“Well, that doesn’t sound good,” Bull says. “Might be Kenric’s assistant.”

“Shit,” Dorian agrees delicately. “Sounds like it’s coming from that gully. The one that seems to be filled with enormous thorny vines.”

But one of us is Dalish, and navigating forests and thick underbrush is ingrained in me deeper than this permanent mark on my hand. I move on ahead, Cole at my side. He’s hardly more than a shadow.

I find a trail down toward the yelling, and when I reach the floor of the gully, jumping down from a boulder, I can hear Bull grumbling behind me as he crashes through the brush.

It’s definitely Kenric’s assistant.

“Inquisition!” I yell out to let her know we’re friendlies, throwing a barrier over her where she fights.

The poor elf is sweating profusely, her arms shaking on her sword as she fights off a trio of lurkers. Our arrival was perfectly timed, it seems. Any later and she’d be lunch.

The thought of lunch reminds me that I haven’t eaten. My stomach gives an unseemly growl as I cast Immolate at the lurkers.

With the help of five trained fighters, the battle is quickly over, and the assistant—Colette is her name—half-collapses forward with her hands propping her up against her knees.

“Thank the Maker you came along, Inquisitor,” she says in a soft Orlesian accent between gulping breaths. “One I could have handled, but it brought friends. I am still finding it difficult to breathe, but I am not strewn about the landscape, so thank you. I’m Colette. Professor Kenric’s research assistant.”

“I figured. I am definitely glad we made it when we did,” I tell her. “What are you doing down in this swamp? Kenric said you’d be at the ruins.”

“I was hoping to conduct a survey of a Tevinter ruin in the hills,” she says. “I may not have chosen the best route.”

She manages to stand upright, though she still looks a bit shaky. Her auburn hair is tied back, and her eyes are still a little wild.

“You are a student there? Orlesian institutions aren’t always welcoming to people like us,” I say to her.

Colette gives me a sardonic smile. “So the glances and loud whispers remind me.”

“How do you find it there otherwise?” I am genuinely curious, and perhaps talking to her about something else will help her gather herself.

“It is not easy,” she says, “but it is what I want. And I like working for Professor Kenric. Elven research students, where publication is concerned—their work is often deemed not substantial enough for formal credit.”

There is a dual noise of contempt from Solas and—surprisingly—Dorian.

“Fools,” Dorian says. “They let their prejudices squander worthy minds.”

Colette doesn’t seem to know what to say to that, and after a nod of acknowledgement, goes on.

“But Kenric cares about people who want to learn. If our research finds an audience, I know my name will be included. I’ve read everything we have on Ameridan,” she says. “I won’t waste this opportunity.”

“We’ll escort you to the ruin,” I tell her, and when Bull looks like he’s about to object, I give him a slight shake of my head. “We’ll make time. I don’t think the Hakkonites behind their wall are going anywhere tonight.”

 

We make camp with Colette at the ruins when we arrive because the sun is already going down, and the path up to Nigel’s Point was rocky enough that I’m not of a mind to risk anybody’s ankles on the way back down.

The sky is clear, but it’s chilly. We don’t have tents with us, and even though Colette tries to insist on giving me hers, I refuse with a pointed gesture at the vallaslin on my face.

“Dalish,” I say. “Sleeping outside is sort of my default.”

“How quaint,” Dorian says.

I pointedly ignore him.

Solas and I find a corner of the ruin where we can curl up. It will likely not be the most comfortable night we’ve ever spent, but I prefer privacy and a wall at my back to the proximity of the fire tonight. Bull and Cole volunteer for watch.

“Did you hear what Colette said about the lights she saw in the swamp?” I ask, yawning as I remove the breastplate from my armour. “We’ll probably want to look around there tomorrow.”

“I did,” Solas says. He glances in the direction of the swamp. “There is unfamiliar magic there. I think it would be wise to investigate.”

He is sitting with his back against the stone wall, leaning his head back to look up at me. The heat in his gaze is unmistakable, and I remember the way he lingered behind me on the stairs earlier. Feels like it’s been days since then.

Instead of sitting beside him, I kneel to one side of him and swing one leg over his. The moon is up, huge and bright above our heads. It dusts him in its pale blue light. So many moments like this, stolen only a few spans away from our friends, under the sky or the fabric of a tent.

Yearning for Skyhold takes me so insistently for a moment that I just look down at Solas, at his eyes on me, the soft part to his lips.

“What is it, vhenan?” he asks.

“Homesickness,” I tell him. “For Skyhold, I think. Or perhaps just privacy and home and you.”

“We have two of those. Perhaps one and a half.” He smiles at me, reaching up to touch my cheek.

I lower my lips to his in answer. It is a soft kiss, feather-light and almost tentative. The nerves in my lips respond to every tiniest move of his skin against mine.

Washed in starlight, my skin does not feel up to the task of containing the emotion that rises in me. Kissing him, holding him—even through the layers of fabric of his clothing and mine, it threatens to overwhelm.

There is space between the stars, just as there is space between the points we hold together. Even as I kiss him, I can feel that space. For the first time, perhaps, a negative space around the solid warmth of the love that flows back and forth between us.

I do not know what it is, but it is like inching blindfolded to the edge of something and reaching over it and realising it goes down and down and down and down but having no way to look and see just how far.

There is…vastness to Solas.

I have been building a ladder rung by rung to climb down over the edge, to get closer to whatever is there in that vastness, but I am suddenly wondering if it is like building a ladder to the moon.

My lips still on his, and I pull back, unsettled by this wave that has overtaken me.

“Something is wrong,” he says.

I don’t know if I could articulate this even if I tried. “Tell me something,” I say, at a loss. “Something true.”

“You look as though you might float away at any moment,” Solas says to me, then after a pause, “That is not the something true, though it is true.”

I swallow. His arms go around me, pulling me up against him. They root me here.

He presses his forehead to mine, and I close my eyes.

For a moment, I just breathe there.

Solas’s voice is soft when he finally speaks. His breath stirs the tiny, fine hairs of my face.

“I saw a young Qunari woman working in a simple kitchen, baking bread as she was ordered every morning. In every loaf, she broke the rules. She’d take a pinch of sugar and would fold it to the centre, like a secret. And this act of small rebellion brought a shining smile to her face.”

His voice falls quiet then.

“That is beautiful,” I murmur.

I slowly lean my weight onto my right knee and disentangle myself from him, much as I don’t want to. I sit up against the wall, and together we wedge ourselves into a corner where we can lean against each other to sleep.

For as uncomfortable a position as it is, sleep does not elude me.

 

As it turns out, the swamp where we both felt the disturbance is where we find Storvacker, the hold-beast of Stone-Bear Hold. She’s imprisoned by Hakkonites, and though we’re easily able to get to her through the few they have stationed outside the old Tevinter prison, getting back out again proves messy.

The swamp is full of hummocks of squishy grass and surrounded by sweeping, intertwining branches of thorns as long as your forearm. The Hakkonites know the terrain, and we do not. Our small party is quickly separated by their warriors, leaving Solas stranded on a lump of earth under an overhanging vine.

There are seven or eight Hakkonites to our five, and though we’ve fought larger numbers than that with ease, the massive looping vines obscure our vision. I can only hear Bull and not see him, and Dorian is only visible by the flashes of orange fire that appear through the branches.

A Hakkonite bruiser advances on me, a harsh grin on his face as he hefts his maul.

“Inquisitor,” he says. “I was hoping to meet you face to face.”

Something tells me his use of the word meet is a euphemism.

“Glad to oblige,” I tell him as blandly as I can, but I am afraid.

Solas’s barrier springs up around me, and I’m far enough away that he couldn’t have caught himself in the same cast. Fenedhis. He is leaving himself vulnerable for me.

The thought steals my breath, coating me with the tinny taste of anxious anticipation. I throw down an ice glyph beneath my feet. The bruiser is still advancing. He is in no hurry.

Faster than a shadow, Cole’s daggers flash in the dim light, stabbing into the Hakkonite’s sides. The bruiser bellows, but doesn’t fall. Just then, Solas yells in pain.

“Help Solas!” I shout at Cole, leaping back a few steps.

The bruiser doesn’t bother to go after Cole, continuing his advance. The vines on either side of me mean he can’t go around my glyph, but he doesn’t even seem to care to try. His foot hits it, and he swings the maul in my direction just as my magic triggers. Frost leaps from his feet all the way up to his shoulders, but it barely slows him.

I hit him with Winter’s Grasp, which should take advantage of the frost to freeze him solid even if this Hakkonite has built a resistance to cold.

It doesn’t.

I am on the defensive fully now. There is a tree at my back, and I cannot see any of my friends. I can’t even hear the Iron Bull now. Only flashes of magic glinting off the water tell me Solas and Dorian are still casting.

Three more steps and this Hakkonite bruiser will be close enough to hit me with his maul.

The mark twitches.

I don’t want to draw upon it to fight one Avvar warrior, but if I don’t, I might not live to face their leader. The others could be in trouble.

I reach through the Anchor, tugging open a rift over the bruiser’s head. He roars in pain as green light cracks through the air, slowing his movement even as he raises his maul. I set him on fire, moving as quickly as I can to dive around him back to more open ground where my back will be unprotected, but at least I won’t be cornered.

His slowed strike catches me on the shoulder, and I pitch forward, thanking Solas for the barrier that is now useless—without it, this Avvar would have crushed my upper arm with that swing even lacking its full power.

With the rift still thrumming in the air, I realise I’m not out of danger yet. I’ve seen Solas pull a fist of stone through the raw energies of the Fade, but I have never tried it myself. But I’ve seen what he does.

I can’t see Solas anymore. No flashes of light, no yelling.

My mana isn’t replenishing as quickly as I need it to, but I think I have enough for this. I use the rift to amplify me, grabbing at the edges of my mana, moulding the Fade itself into an enormous battering ram of stone.

It flies toward the Hakkonite just as the rift flickers out, and it hits him square in the chest.

He soars backward into the tree. The haft of his maul snaps up and hits him in the chin.

The bruiser passes out cold.

“Ilaana!” Solas’s voice calls out with pure panic.

He will have felt what I just did. Both Solas and Dorian appear from around a thick vine. Dorian is spitting blood with a sharp shake of his head, and Solas—

My breath catches. He is bleeding.

“Amahn, vhenan,” I say. “Where are Bull and Cole?”

Dorian motions behind me, and I turn to see Cole slitting the throat of the unconscious bruiser. Not for the first time I am very, very glad Cole is on our side.

Bull arrives with a splash and a grunt, and I hurry to Solas, drawing on what’s left of my mana to seek out where he is injured. His leg. Solas catches my arm.

“Atisha, da’lath’in,” he says softly. “The arrow hardly scraped me.”

My breath leaves me, and I nod. There is a rumbling growl that sounds more like a grumble, along with another splash.

Storvacker, the very bear we came to free, is lumbering around the edge of a hummock.

“Dunno how the Stone-Bears got an actual bear to like them so much,” Bull says, “but she took down two Hakkonites herself.”

“Thank you,” I say to the bear automatically, then immediately flush.

Storvacker swings her head and moves away through the swamp in the direction of Stone-Bear Hold.

“She’ll go home now,” Cole says, relief in his voice. “She’s very grateful.”

Dorian wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, managing to look disdainful as he does it. “As am I to still be alive after that. That nearly ruined my armour, along with the precious and delightful me within it.”

“Is everyone okay?” I ask. The feeling of the bruiser’s maul connecting with my shoulder is too fresh.

“Only rumpled in pride, my dear,” Dorian says. “Let’s try not to let something like that happen again, shall we?”

Solas still has his hand on my lower back, but he nods in the direction of a looping vine where a strange pyramid of sticks dangles from a hook, glowing golden. “The magic they set here did not help us in this fight. I believe it is part of why they captured Storvacker.”

I agree, but I do not move, not yet.

They’ve all gotten closer to me. Solas is still holding my hand, looking around, and Dorian himself gives me a kiss on the cheek while Cole flits just at my back, a quick press of his hand at the crown of my head his form of strange reassurance. Bull claps me on the shoulder. They’re all touching me. It takes a moment to realise it’s because they were afraid.

Bull clears his throat. “Don’t know about you guys, but I’d like to get my ass out of here.”

“In that case, I suggest we follow the bear,” says Solas.

So we do.