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Merely Dream

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A man pressed a small button on the door, causing a chain reaction to run from rune to rune inscribed deep within the walls. Like dominos, each rune is powered, turned on, leading to the destination. The magic within the runes seeks the energy from the lyrium nearby, an unknowing suspect. Victim. But, it all happens in an instant, and the last rune is turned on igniting a flame above the man and the bed within the room. The light pierced my eyelids and had awakened me from my slumber. My father standing at the doorway, his hand left the button since the light was now on. The torches lit up the room and I rolled over in bed groaning, for I was the unknowing victim.

“Good morning, da’len,” Or, good morning, daughter, he spoke a bit louder than normal to help wake me. “Big day today. You’re all packed?” I responded with a groan. “Ev? Don’t make me come over there.”

“Yes,” I said. His way of waking me up for most of my life included ripping off the sheets, then if I still wouldn’t get up he’d tickle me. Sometimes if I was having a particularly bad morning, instead he would scratch my back to help get the blood flowing.

“Clothes? Compass? Map? Canteen?” He went down a list.

“Yes, Paba,” Paba , it’s a mix between baba and papa , the elvish and common for father . I learned both elvish and common almost at the same time, and the words just seemed to mix and it stayed.

“Forgive me, ‘ma’da’nehn, I’m just worried,” My little joy. I smiled at the endearment.

“It’s okay,” I sat up, pulling the hair I forgot to braid from under me, “I’m worried, too.”

Paba sat down next to me on the bed and placed his hand on my shoulder, “Remember the stories? Ones of grand adventure, and you’d look to me and say..?”

“I wanna go on an adventure.”

“Today’s that day, yes?”

I sighed. It all felt surreal. Today, the 17th of Firstfall on 9:40 Dragon, merely ten days after my 25th birthday, I would travel alone to southern Thedas to gather information on the Conclave. Surely, after some editing, the meeting would be broadcasted onto the orbs. Keeper Deshanna is sending me to personally gather information to see how the clan should proceed. This would be my first time away from my clan, and they send me alone because I would travel faster and am less likely detected by highwaymen, bandits, or even slavers. At least I knew how to read a map. “Yeah, though, it’s intimidating.”

“Of course. You’ll be alone, but not entirely,” He started to rub my back, “If you ever need to contact us, just call me with the crystal. No matter what time, I’ll answer, got it?”

My ears folded slightly back and a small smile formed, “Got it. Serannas,” Thanks.

“You’ll do great. And never forget, I’ll be here for you.”

“I’m just going to observe a meeting,” I shrugged, “Is it really that great?”

“Sure. You’re going to travel across the continent for this. You’re going to see so many things you wouldn’t see here. You could pick up ideas the clan could use, or places to travel, or whatever. You’ll be gone at least two months, do you know the things you could discover in that time? The people you could help? Friends?” He gave me a heartfelt hug from the side that pulled slightly at my hair, “It’s a big step for you. It might even teach you more than the Keeper can about being First.”

First . First to the Keeper. Second in line. The one who will lead after the Keeper has gone. Shit. I hugged back, as the thought of being in such a position still terrifies me to this day. They keep telling me that someday I’ll be a great leader, that I’ll get the experience to lead a whole clan. My magic will be strong enough, I will be strong enough, this, that, and the other. But I’m still terrified. Being in charge of so many lives, lives that I care deeply about, and one small mistake could even kill them. I shouldn’t be leader, but I did accept the role . But the Keeper says I have great potential, where she sees that, I have no clue, “I’m scared, Paba.”

His hand held the back of my head and then rocked to try and soothe me. Paba hummed a short rhyme. A poem of triumph. One of my favorites and a song he used to sing to put me to sleep when I was a baby. I felt warm and safe. “You’ll do great,” He ended.

I pulled back and sighed while I stared at the leather sack across my room. Supplies. Organized for easy access, a leather and fur tent strapped to the back of it. Cast-iron pot dangled from the side and leaned up against the leather canteen. A map rolled and stuck up from the side. My orb lay in the other side pocket. Everything was ready to go, and I was too, essentially. I had lived in Clan Lavellan all my life, born here, roamed the Free Marches. The hunters taught me survival skills and the basics on how to hunt. My father and Keeper taught me to harness my magic. I was schooled in history, mathematics, science, literacy, and language. Books had been a close friend of mine throughout my life as they fueled my dreams and imagination, gave me goals and things to look forward to in life. I kept up on journaling and creative writing to have my own story. I wanted to leave my mark on this world that way, in stories, music, dance, and art. To discover and uncover, to help restore history especially to the Dalish. But most of all, I wanted to explore and adventure. A dream I was always afraid to pursue, and I know well enough as to why; I was emotionally hurt by those older than I frequently when I was a child. Knowing why never solved the problem, but it does help find the roots. Hurt to the point I am afraid of being less than perfect, of making mistakes, of losing this mythical purity . I remember second guessing myself during a maths quiz, two plus two equals four, yet I had to check with the calculator on my orb just in case. And I do it automatically. Maybe this is why I don’t believe I could ever make a good leader.

This would be the first time I step out of my clan. I wasn’t to take a halla, even the one who imprinted on me, because halla are hunted. Poached. But then again, so are elves. And mages. That I was a woman was an added plus to the sick shems that see us as objects. Might as well hold a target to my back, riding the halla would’ve made the target bigger. This is a job that needed to get done, even on foot. On the bright side, the clan would be here when I returned, as we had just unfolded the last house under a week ago. The garden had some minor hiccups on the journey, so repairs are being made, but the plants are doing well. Everything’s settled and I would come back to a place in working order.

I smiled at my paba, “I think I’m going to shower, and then say my goodbyes. Probably be my last warm shower for a while.”

He nodded, “Of course. Take your time. As long as you leave today, things will be good.” Paba stood up from the bed, “Oh, and I’ll make sure you have more than enough coins for the journey.”

“Thank you,” He bowed his head at my response and left the room.

Not without coming back in and saying, “The herbs for the paste are in the cupboard above the sink. I wasn’t able to make it last night, I apologize.”

I waved him off, “No need. I’ll make some when I go in.”

He took one step away and I shook my head smiling knowing that he’d be right back in just to say, “Lath na.” Love you.

“Lath na, Paba.”

I collected the clothes I would be wearing for the journey and headed to the bathroom. Elven rooms, and houses, are generally tiny and minimalistic due to the fact we move around as nomads often. Though, each clan is different from the other in how frequently they move. Most of our furniture can fold flat, and unfold usually into more than one type of object. A couch into a bed, a table that comes with chairs attached. Versatility is huge. Even the houses or buildings can be folded down flat, carried on aravals, drug by halla. And it doesn’t take too long, it isn’t like building a whole new home. Though the clan shares a lot between the people, and we all help each other as much as we can. Money and trade is common, especially when dealing with humans and dwarves, but it’s also as common as helping or giving out of the kindness of our hearts. Yesterday, our neighbor gave us the herbs and charcoal to make the paste needed to clean teeth. Mostly because he had extra, but still. The mortar and pestle on the sink is what we use to make the paste. I took care of myself and relished in the warm shower, made easy with the heat and cool runes that controlled the water temperature. Then I braided my hair, a simple single braid that went down my back. I could use the braid as a wip if I wanted, it was long and thick enough. The leather backpack felt moderately weighted on me, but I would be okay.

Before I left my room, I pawed under my bed for a small box that held my tarot cards. I did spreads on myself for fun and wanted to humor my mind on what would happen. The table in my room gave me just enough space to do this. I focused on a question, knowing I would do a three-card spread. Where am I at in life? Then allowed myself to be drawn to the cards, all looked the same when the back showed. One, two, three, they lie in front of me. The first one was the middle, which represented the present situation. Whether it be present week or present year was up to interpretation. When I flipped it, I got a bit worried. The Nine of Swords. Despair, failure, fear, but also can mean acceptance of reality, self-realization, and brilliant ideas. I respected tarot, though I had a hard time truly believing in it. I reminded myself that most of this is up to interpretation and nothing was written in stone. The second card to the left of the first represented the past. The Magician. Poor planning, unknown talents, childish, but also resourceful, power, inspiration . Made sense with what I knew of my past, how far back it refers to is yet again, up to the reader. Finally the third card, the future telling, what awaits me on this path. Death. I knew better than to view it as something to be scared of, if I was to be scared of any card it would be the Nine of Swords, or really most of the swords. An end to something, hopefully the Nine of Swords, and a rebirth. A lot of change. And with that, I carefully put the cards back in the box, thinking over what I had just self-read. Lost in thought, I put the box back under the bed and headed for the front door.

I stepped outside in the cool winter air, the smell of ice told me that snow would come. Merrisiara, my closest friend, stood beside the Keeper and my father. Some of the clanmates smiled at me as I walked past them, some nodded me bye.

“Gonna miss you, twerp,” Merri playfully jabbed before she hugged me tightly.

“I’ll be back, y’know,” I said.

“I know. But I’ll still miss you.”

“Taelhen,” The Keeper spoke to my paba, “As Evelyn is gone, you will be the stand in as First.”

“Understood,” He replied. Ironically, Paba was the original first, but my magic surpassed his own and the Keeper decided to focus more on me. Paba was never angry or upset by that, in fact he was proud of me and very supportive. If I were to perish, he would then become First.

“Now, Evelyn,” the Keeper placed her hands upon my shoulders, “May Mythal protect you on your journey.”

I bowed my head to her blessing, even though I did not wholly believe in the elven pantheon. Though, I do respect those who do believe in a god or gods. Merri and Paba are the only ones that know I don’t believe. The vallaslin on my face, a very simple version of the markings representative to Mythal, beautiful curves and swirls that lay on my cheek bones and go up to my temples; the rest of my face is bare, well, except for the freckles. I could’ve gone with most any other elven god, but if they do exist and are gods, I would wish for Mythal’s protection and forgiveness of my ignorance. Which might sound awful in a way, maybe even disrespectful, but at least in Clan Lavellan the vallaslin also represents the coming of age and adulthood. They all saw it as an honor, especially at the age of seventeen, the Keeper thought I was mature enough.

Paba gave me one last hug, a long embrace, and kissed the top of my head. They were all so confident I would return. Then it was time to leave, “Dar’eth shiral,” go safely on your journey , Paba said. And so did everyone else. “Lath na, Evelyn,” He said one last time. I bowed my head and said my farewells and love you’s back. As I walked away from the clan, the bustling noises and voices got quieter and quieter. Soon, it was just the wind that blew once in a while and my quiet footsteps.

My first destination is a place called Kirkwall, a place that’s seen some shit in the past decade. We were closer to the City of Chains before but when we saw a huge explosion and the top of the Chantry come off from a far distance, we packed up and left as soon as we could and as far as we could. This whole journey made me uneasy and anxious, but my biggest concern was going into Kirkwall, for they didn’t call it the City of Chains for nothing. There were some reports that suggested the slave trade was still active there up to the explosion. The targets of course were the elves in the alienage. But I needed to get to Kirkwall so I could take the boat to Highever across the Waking Sea. South and into Ferelden which housed Haven, the destination of the Conclave.

I walked parallel to the road, for I knew the wilderness more and could predict it more accurately than I could any person. Hopefully I would easily avoid any highwaymen or bandits this way. My clothes were warm and blended into my surroundings quite well, my feet swift and soft, my balance kept things from moving too much in my rucksack and avoided anymore noise.

It wasn’t an easy journey, nor was it too difficult. I knew I had to be quiet about being a mage, but I was mostly alone, so starting fires was easy. It would be easier if I used my magic to keep myself warm during the walks, but it would eat up too much of my energy. Using magic is like using an arm, almost like a muscle in the brain and why people can’t tell if they’re mages until they’re developed enough. Using magic constantly would make me move slower and require more sleep or food. Right now it’s a luxury that I cannot afford to use.

A few days into the journey, I came across another elf who was scrounging in the woods where I was walking. She looked different as in she wore clothes I wasn’t used to seeing. I froze when I saw her, not sure how to react, though she saw me instantly and smiled, “Hey, you lost?” She said in an accent I wasn’t used to hearing. She had a green vallaslin of Dirthamen on her face, her hair swept to one side but it was obvious that the sides of her head were shaven.

“I uh...don’t think so,” I checked my map to make sure, “Are you?”

“Nah. Gotta camp back up the road. We’re headin’ north.”

“I’m going south. To Kirkwall.”

She pointed behind her, “It’s easiest if you take the road. There’s a pathway past the Vimmark Mountains. Cuts right through.”

“Ah, well, I was trying to avoid the road to avoid well...people,” I said awkwardly.

She laughed, “Well, that’s smart, actually. If you want to do that, there’s another pass that leads through the mountains not many people know of. Take the southeast road instead of west. It’ll take a bit longer but, safer.”

“Oh, well, thank you,” I smiled and walked past her.

“Are you a clan exile, too?” Her voice stopped me and I turned around.

“Uh, no. My Keeper just is sending me out to do a job.”

“Oh, well. Good luck,” And with that she went back to scrounging.

It didn’t take long until I heard the sounds of people, mostly men, talking and laughing in a camp. Tents and all. Probably the camp she mentioned, but I crossed the road to the other side to avoid any confrontation as I didn’t want to talk to anyone else. The last one, though she was nice and helpful, still made me nervous as all shit. My adrenaline was still ready to make me run for hours after talking to her.

Twelve days had passed since I began my journey. Twelve times I set up camp in unfamiliar places. I wrote every night in my journal, and used the crystal to call my father and told him of the encounter with the elf who helped me to try and see if I should trust her. He reminded me that other clans are different than ours and she could’ve been exiled on a technicality, or her family banned, or any number of reason. Though, the vallaslin suggested she was an adult when she was exiled, or she got it afterwards. Not many clans would exile a child, but they do exist. In fact, there’s really only two that would out of the hundreds of clans out there.

The middle of the twelfth day I had arrived at the gates of Kirkwall, which was heavily guarded.

“Another refugee, eh?” One guard said to the other, “We don’t take you knife-ears as refugees.”

Paba had told me that some humans would be foul to elves, “Refugee from what?”

“From what? Are you daft? The mage war!” The guard scolded. The yelling had me tense up.

“I just need to get to Highever.”

“What’re ya paying with? Your rags?”

I held up my coin purse and jingled it, “My clan trades with humans. We’re reaching out.” I lied, but it was the best I could come up with. Half lie, anyways, we did trade often with humans.

“Let her into the city,” The voice of a confident woman called from above, “Most likely from Clan Lavellan. Many of our traders trade with them. They are trustworthy.”

“Ma’am she never said she was-” The guard was interrupted.

“You dare question me? I said let her in!”

“Yes, Captain!” And with that the gates to the City of Chains opened.

Chapter Text

The city is more or less in chaos. I couldn’t tell at first, but the interactions and conversations that I overheard told me otherwise. People are panicking or trying to calm the one another down. On top of that, this whole city feels foreboding. I never really believed in luck, but this place started to make me believe in bad luck. More than one battle was fought here, a few years ago the Arishok of the Qunari had ransacked the city and beheaded the Viscount. This is where a mage blew up the Chantry and boistered the mage-templar war. This is where women went missing in the middle of the night to become an experiment for some sick necromancer, one of our own almost fell prey to them. Slaves built this city, and it used to be the hub for the slave trade -- of elves. The metaphorical target felt even bigger on me now. In a few days the last month of the common calendar will begin, and thus some of the coldest months. The more south I go, the colder and harsher the winters, and Haven is located on the side of a mountain high enough to where it’s almost always winter. It’ll be rough.

I was informed upon entering that the ship to Highever will leave tomorrow morning and will be a one day journey. I planned to get a standard cabin since I had enough coin. Technically I could’ve gotten a more luxurious cabin, but then I would be completely broke. If I would’ve saved money and bought a cheaper cabin, then I would have to worry about hygiene, disease, being treated poorly, and other worse things. Especially since I am an elf. The poor here are treated horribly, a dog would get better treatment. As I walked through Kirkwall, I got glares, second-glances, and snarls. People held their noses up at me, turned their backs, clutched their belongings, or held a loved one tighter. What the fuck is going on in the minds of these people? And if they didn’t react in some kind of fear, the others, mostly human men, would eye me up and down checking me out like a piece of meat. I even overheard one say, “It’d be fun to pull her red hair.” Surprised me they could figure that out, my hair is red with brown undertones and depending on the light it looks more brown. I didn’t know dicks could see color.

There were some places to stay for the night, I wanted secure and not necessarily the best in form of luxury. For one I couldn’t afford it, and two, my safety is more important than a soft bed. There was one by the docks, it was cheap and not very good quality, but highly secure due to it being a high traffic area, guards were stationed everywhere and I saw some elf workers around. I bought my ticket for the ride to Highever before I bought a night for my room, and I stayed there for the rest of the day. The only things I brought out of my bag were some leftovers I had prepared from the journey to nibble on. I didn’t take off my clothes or shower, because I didn’t want to leave myself vulnerable. Even slept on top of the covers instead of under in case someone came into my room in the middle of the night and I had to move quickly. The bag stayed by my bed and within reach at all times. Trusting the place enough to fall asleep felt like an eternity, so I placed a frost rune with my magic at the locked door as a trap.

I was a fox, a halla in the city would be out of place, but a fox more likely. Swivels and swirls hugged my peripheral as I walked the city hiding in the shadows. Voices in another language boomed throughout the city, in fact Kirkwall didn’t look like Kirkwall, old Tevinter Imperium flags draped from the walls. The place was older, less technology, and had a different culture to it. The humans paid no mind to a fox such as I slithering in the shadows. I was viewing a memory.

Following the booming voices, I found myself watching elves on a platform get auctioned off. Hands and feet bound in chains. Malnourished and starving, some were beaten or ill. None of them had vallaslin on their faces, and some of them had the tips of their ears clipped off. My gut wretched at the sight. I was viewing a memory that took place in the Ancient Age, well before the Chantry. This is what Kirkwall used to be.

I didn’t want to stay here, I couldn’t handle the sight, my emotions were too strong, and that would attract demons to my location. So, I closed my eyes and focused on a time in history, and when I heard people speaking in common, I opened my eyes to find a modern-day Kirkwall. Still a fox, I stuck to the shadows and roamed the streets. Another memory played. There was a gated off area that I easily fit through, and then I was surrounded by large grey-skinned people, most with horns, each bearing the symbol of the Qun. The memory is recent in years, within a decade of current time.

But yet again, another language I didn’t understand was spoken between them. Qunlat. The tone sounded harsh, but when spoken softly the words sounded beautiful. More beautiful than what the Tevinter spoke, but then again, it could be because I’m biased. Though, my Keeper always told me to beware of those under the Qun, for they will try to convert me to their philosophy. I don’t know if that is true or not, but it’s not unheard of in history that the Qunari converts people.

Yelling in common. Someone telling a person named Hawke to look out. A plated warrior human ran past me and held up her shield, deflecting the spears that the qunari threw at them. Soon, the place was on fire, and I was running as fast as my legs could carry me, only to be stopped by a barrage of qunari marching by, led by whom I assumed to be the Arishok. I wasn’t careful and a boot stomped on my right front paw that made me let out a loud yelp as pain shot through me. My back pressed up against a wall as I tried to stay away from all the chaos and watched it unfold. The paw was numb and I mentally kicked myself, for I knew it would affect me when I awoke. I closed my eyes again, and focused on waking up.

Being a Dreamer can be fun, except the nights where it’s not. Nothing was physically wrong with my right hand, but it felt sore and bruised, the pain protested every time I bent my fingers. Only half a night had passed and I sighed. I looked over to where the rune was placed; it was still untouched. I was in an unfamiliar place and had the sudden urge to go into the next room to see if Paba was up. But he isn’t going to be there because I’m in Kirkwall. Homesickness washed over me at the same time as I felt touch-starved. My mind and body desperately needed to be cuddled, or embraced, or just held. I constantly got urges to check the next room for my Paba, only having to consciously remind myself that he’s not there.

I clutched the flat and stale-smelling pillow and sobbed into it. My knees were up to my chest also trying to hold the pillow, desperately holding to try and get some sense of care or love in return, knowing full well a pillow isn’t even alive. But I had to hold onto something, had to do something. The emptiness in my chest fueled my silent cries, my face and pillow became wet from my tears, which only amplified the stale smell. Time could not go by faster for me, in fact it was the slowest it had ever been all journey and I couldn’t wait to get on that boat to leave.

I’ve been on a boat before, not a big one, but my clan would visit a coastline clan quite often. My grandmother was from the coastline clan. My grandfather, Paba, and I all share the blood of Lavellan themselves, and it’s what holds us as future Keepers. Well, my grandfather fucked it up for Paba, which is why Deshanna is the current Keeper, as she took his place. But Paba was promising and he was going to take over, that is until I came around, a mage who developed magic faster than the others, a Dreamer, and another that held the blood of Lavellan. I am a quick learner, and adapt fast, but otherwise those were the only reasons Deshanna chose me to replace Paba.

Intrusive thoughts plagued my mind. I’m alone. Why must I need hugs? Am I not whole enough? I’m so alone...alone. No one else is here that I can trust. Why am I doing this? Why can’t I just wake up and be at the Conclave? And as much as I tried, it was a constant battle to fight against these thoughts. It only made the hole in my chest feel even bigger. Rationalize, Ev, rationalize. You’ve never done this before, and people are social beings that need to socialize and love and trust and touch. If not then our mental health deteriorates. You’ll be fine, you’re homesick right now and scared, but you’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. I learned most of the stuff I know now just from reading books, or researching on my own to write something correctly whether it be for fun or for school. Most shems think that elves are primitive, but we have just as much access to learning as they do. That’s what the orbs are for. A ball of crystal one can play games on or look something up or send an instant message to one another. A fairly recent technology built by the dwarves using lyrium and a series of runes. The orbs that originated here on the continent of Thedas all connect to a central hub deep underground by the dwarves. We can only view and access content that is uploaded to the Thedosian central hub. Which is the main reason we don’t know much outside of Thedas’ borders. That and Chantry fear tactics to keep the masses here.

Soon enough, I had cried myself to sleep, this time not landing in a memory but a place conjured up by my mind. A place I could completely dictate with my mind. But I always stayed on the down-low to lessen my chances that a demon would find me within. So, I tried to stay as peaceful as possible, most of the time I use this to meditate or maybe take a dive into some adventure fantasies if it didn’t involve changing the scenery too much. The atmosphere in the dream was a bit dark, had lots of cool-tones, greys, and shadows. No direct light. If there was sun it was cloudy. Sometimes, I let dreams simply play out, because it’s a semi-conscious effort on my part to rule over my dream completely.

When the sun pierced through the old murky windows and my orb played a tune to wake me up, nothing could’ve stopped me from getting out of there fast enough. I quickly made sure everything was in my bag and disabled the frost rune, then I checked out. No small talk, and barely any eye contact. But I remained as respectful as I could and only said what I needed to say. I patiently waited by the docks for a couple of hours to be able to board the boat. I also didn’t eat any kind of breakfast, not that that was a good idea.

Aboard the boat, I stayed secluded in my cabin, away from prying eyes and gossipers as I was the only elf in a standard cabin. Overall I felt uncomfortable being here, definitely felt unwanted. But I was glad to be away from Kirkwall, and I would soon arrive in Ferelden for the first time in my life. In fact, I’ve only roamed the Free Marches with my clan my entire life. I called Paba as soon as I could.

“Ev!” He answered happily.

“Paba! I miss you so much.”

“Already?”

“Yes. I really needed a hug last night.”

“Oh, ‘ma'da'nehn, I’m sorry,” He sounded worried, “What’s that background noise?”

“I’m on a boat. Standard cabin. The people here are...not pleasant.”

“Sadly, a lot of humans are like that. They see us a sub-class citizens if they even consider us citizens. Especially the ones in Orlais.”

“Good thing I’m not going to Orlais.”

“True. I think Ferelden is a little more welcoming to elves and mages now. Even if the Chantry likes to cover up the fact their hero was an elven mage.”

“Which hero?” I asked.

“Hero of Ferelden. Conqueror of the Fifth Blight,” He answered, “She stepped up for the rights of mages and elves as much as her title could let her. It did change a few things. Elves were given land for a while.”

I felt a bit lifted and inspired, “Maybe someday I can find a piece of history and help restore it. Maybe an old contract that is still valid and gives elves land.”

“Maybe. Or you could inspire shems to loosen up if there isn’t any. Maybe you can be a hero.”

The word hero made me lose most of all my uplifted spirit. It felt intimidating to hear. “Hero?” I questioned.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“I mean...nothing. It’s just, I don’t like the attention is all. I don’t think I could save lives like that. Or battle. Or lead.”

“You don’t need to battle or lead to be a hero. You don’t need to be recognized by the public to be a hero either. Ev, you’re already a hero to a few people.”

“I am?” I tilted my head and raised a brow as if he could see my facial expression.

“Yes,” he began, “you were a hero when you casted the demon back into the fade when one of our clanmates had summoned them. When Merri needed a shoulder to cry on you gave her that shoulder.”

“I don’t think that’s heroism, though. It’s expected of friends.”

“I think some sort of compassion and heroism is expected of any good relationship. If not, you’re just respectable acquaintances. No one is saying you’re going to stop what you’re doing in life and swoop down and save your friend. But have you?”

I thought for a moment, “Well, I have stopped what I was doing in the moment to provide support for Merri. She’s done the same.”

“Most good friends do. Was it expected? Probably not. I think it’s a paradox, once it’s expected, it’s no longer a good relationship. But those moments are what really separates the regular friends from the great. What’s the definition of a hero, Ev?”

“Someone who is brave and does what they can to be good,” I answered honestly.

“They are often seen as role models. What does friend mean?”

“Someone who is affectionate towards another, usually platonically,” I paused then continued, “One who supports and is on good terms with another.”

“Affection?”

“Love, being fond of, all that,” I was curious to where he was going with this.

“What is love?”

Many things entered my mind at once, “I...it’s a lot of things, Paba. Dictionary says it’s a personal attachment. But even that’s defined individually.”

“Role models are similar, no? Love and role model are usually in the same sentence. In the end it sort of wraps around. Heroes are passionate about doing good usually by being in love with their people or town, friends or family. Love is caring. They are heroes because of their love, Ev. And you’ve already been a hero. To the clan, and to individual people on a personal level.”

My thoughts had no filter, “Then when can I be a hero to myself?” And it struck me like I had just confessed a horrible truth to myself.

He hesitated, “I think you know when . You know that answer,” When I love myself… “I think the answer you’re looking for belongs to a different question.”

How do I love myself?

“Self-care, Ev. Treat yourself how you would treat the most important person in your life, because you are the most important person in your life. No one can pass that. We all rely on each other, because in the end I think that loving another person teaches us how to love ourselves. When we are born, we automatically rely on and mimic and love our parents. As infants we literally die without affection or attention every so often. That never goes away, but the period in which we can withstand not having attention or affection is longer. This is how all our minds work. It is how we have survived for so long. Because we cared,” I listened to his words intently, one could call this a fatherly lecture, but the tone was that of care. His voice was firm as his belief in what he said, but was open to interpretation, “There is no shame in needing love. We all do.”

“But, doesn’t that make me dependant?”

“Yes. But we all are. Yet we all remain whole. True independence is impossible. We need food to survive, we need someone to harvest or hunt the food, then to cook which requires a pot or pan probably not made by the same person.”

My pessimistic side wanted to come out, but I asked as respectfully as I could, “But with love, then hate exists.”

“Necessary evil, if it is evil. Is the hatred of evil a bad thing? Just as is the love of evil a good thing? Hate and love are both neutral if you want to talk morals. It’s how you apply it, just with most things out there. But, you are not evil, maybe to some people because you are born the way you are, but they look at morals in the wrong light. You deserve to be loved and to love yourself, no matter what. People aren’t inherently good or evil, they’re neutral and have the capacity to do both. We all deserve love, Ev. That includes you,” There was a pause because I wasn’t sure what to say next, “I need to go, I have a meeting. Ar lath ma, Ev. Dar’eth shiral.”

Even then I hesitated my response due to having such a blank mind, “Ar lath ma, Paba. I will,” And the crystal when silent, lost the faint glow of the working lyrium within.

And I sat there with an almost blank mind, my thoughts whispered in the back of my head and rambled, but I let them. The boat rocked and swayed, a slight creak from the wood and metal in time with the rise and fall. There was dim lighting from the lantern above that moved shadows as we crossed the sea. I held a blank stare at the wall, not just from the conversation with my Paba, also because there was just nothing else to do. There was laughter from friends in the corridor, the sound of heavy but fast footsteps from children playing games. It made me chuckle. So little, yet so loud, one of the first things I had learned growing up was to be silent. My childhood imagination considered me akin to a shadow as I studied the world around me curiously only to step out into the light to ask questions. I am the youngest in my clan, well, not anymore, but I was for the first sixteen years of my life. Some of the more outspoken children were less than kind to me when I was young. Being quiet and quick came in handy, I automatically walk a certain way to stay as silent as possible. Balanced glide step. In fact, balance was one of my strongest traits as a child, now it’s other things but my balance is still just as good if not better than before. As a child I was an idiot, walked across a lake frozen over in thin ice, but I was successful. I was an idiot because I had ignorance to the dangers, I knew it could crack, but I couldn’t figure up that ice water can be fatal. Back then I didn’t understand what death was. My child-self would be so excited that I am on this journey, but I was also carefree most of the time. I mean, it wasn’t that I hated myself, but the way I tend to treat myself isn’t exactly loving either. I sighed. Not hating myself is a damn good first step at least.

The noises continued for a few hours until dinner was called, and then I could only hear the rock of the boat. I didn’t dare leave to eat with the others, I knew what my presence would do. They would sit and stare, stop talking to one another, whisper or make snide remarks. Sure, I was only assuming, but is it not a good estimate considering that’s the only interaction I’ve had with them? Maybe some of them would be more open-minded, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath for it. I wrote in my journal for the duration of dinner and did my best to ignore the protests of my stomach. I knew it was a bad idea not to eat, when I don’t eat enough in a day I begin to shake and shiver, I feel overall weirdly wrong. Magic takes energy when used, but so does an overactive metabolism. Complimentary snacks were only given to those in the upper class cabins, the snack cart did come around here next but I had to pay. Just enough to get me through the night, though it wasn’t cheap. The snack cart didn’t even dare touch the lower class cabins. The human guiding the cart was snobby and rude to me, even as I said my pleases and thank yous with a slight head bow and smile it was all for nought. She looked at me like one would look at someone eating a pile of shit, and treated me as if I was a bratty child that wanted everything. The wilderness seemed more than comforting at this point.

Falling asleep could not have been harder, in fact I didn’t stay asleep. Only had an hour nap and that was enough for my body to stay up the rest of the time. A power nap, though unintentional. And it was the longest hours of my life. At least I could fiddle with my orb.

Chapter Text

A memory, my own. I watch myself with a group of other children around my age. Three others, one being held to impossible standards, one having a hard time emotionally, one being bullied, all labeled as lazy or having an attitude problem. They wanted to do a project, but their confidence was shattered. No leader chosen of the group. I knew those three, the one held to impossible standards enjoyed drawing. The one going through an emotional rough spot was good at relaying information. The last one, amazing handwriting even when writing fast. No one knew what they wanted to do, verbally said the project wasn’t worth it; they’re used to being beaten down for the things they enjoy even. I asked each one, gave them the idea for their role in the project. Art, information gathering, writing it down. I helped in all fields that I could. They got excited, someone finally gave them a chance to do something, they weren’t judged for what they couldn’t do, I cheered them on respectfully. Jokes were made between us. When the teacher came around they pointed to me as the leader. I never considered myself as the leader just us as a team. Is that what being a leader meant? The project finished early and was the best around the class, got a perfect score. I stayed friends with them, got close to the one who was bullied. Her name was Merrisiara.

I woke up in my tent. I was in Ferelden and a day traveled from Highever. All that remained of my journey was to arrive in Haven. Highever was more of a, I landed here and got places to be ; I was in the city for less than an hour. Fewer people gave me looks, but the amount wasn’t significant and being back out in the wilderness, parallel to the road, felt normal and welcoming. But then it hit me, I was really, really, far away from home. The plants here were a bit different, the smell, the feel, the atmosphere was all just a little different than in the Free Marches. There were similar plants, but also new ones I had only glanced over in books. Though the wilderness felt safer than the cities, this was new territory to me. There were resources from the orb on Thedas flora that I became familiar with; it was decently accurate.

The one thing I was ready to expect was heavy rain. Highever is already close to the Storm Coast, just to the east, and I had to go west to get to Haven. Though, I wasn’t directly in the area deemed the Storm Coast, I was in the vicinity. The smell of rain was in the air and grey clouds loomed overhead, the sound of thunder in the distance, flashes of lightning struck the direction I was heading towards. Wind rustled the plants, no sounds of insects or birds or any animal like there was the day before. There was a cloak in my bag that I pulled out and put on over the bag and I after packing up the tent. I needed to keep moving, the orb could tell me the position of the sun, something to tell time and that I was more used to reading than a clock. A pocket watch was stashed in my sack just in case.

The more I traveled onwards, the more a sinking feeling began to swell up from my gut, something that told me to wait for the storm to pass. It looked ugly up ahead. I don’t know how long the storm will last, and I cannot be late to the Conclave. Stories have told of storms that would last months on the Storm Coast, the land, along with the geography around it makes this area a hot spot for heavy storms. The winds got stronger and I knew I had to set up camp now. There was a small overhang from a cliff that I could camp under, the tent was decently waterproof but needed help. The moment I dropped to my knees to get out my tent, I heard a noise that made my blood run cold due to the vicinity.

A wolf’s howl. My head slowly turned to look behind me to find a large black and grey scarred wolf snarling at me. Ears laid back, both of ours, but mine out of fear. Its teeth bared, muzzle wrinkled, old scars and new, but fresh wounds around the eyes had blood slowly come out, making its eyes seem red. I thought maybe if I had just stayed still long enough, I wouldn’t be perceived as a threat and the wolf would move on.

But no. Instead the wolf slowly prowled towards me, the snarl getting louder. I was cornered, my only way out was to run towards the storm. I’ve hunted before, when I needed to eat. Only encountered a wolf twice, though I was only a tagalong when the hunters went out. I need to defend myself...magic? I don’t want to burn it alive...I don’t want it to die encased in ice. Electric shock? Knife? No, no knife, that means I need to let it get close. My instinct to run was pounding in my body, I had to consciously keep my legs still. Wolves are faster than I am. One wounded, hungry, lone wolf deemed just as dangerous as a pack. A part of me wanted to heal it, but before I could make any decision, it lunged at me. I rolled off to the side just barely missing, various things in my bag poked and pricked into my back. I stood up as fast as I could and flight instincts took over before I could think. As fast as my legs could take me, I ran, and towards the storm no doubt, as the wolf wouldn’t let me turn around. The wolf was just a bit slower than I, a hurt leg slowed it down. It snarled and barked as thunder roared and the winds howled. The sun was covered by the dark clouds, one could mistake it as night, only the lightning lit up the way and it caused slight disorientation. Rain poured, making it hard to see and gain traction; it weighed down my clothes and sack, my body struggled to carry the extra weight and still run at top speed. I panted, on the verge of hyperventilation from the weighted run and adrenaline. Unconsciously I slowed down, what was deemed my top speed lowered with every step.

It was too fast, still. One wrong step and I slid on the mud, down the side of a large hill and I rolled. Various rocks and twigs were in my way, my eyes were closed with yelps and grunts that escaped my mouth until I landed at the bottom. I was lucky that nothing punctured me, though at some point during the fall my cloak got caught on a fallen branch and was ripped off me. The wolf stood atop the hill and howled, the last I saw of it before it turned and limped away. I learned that the hard way that I couldn’t lie down face up due to the pouring rain and inhaled some water. I coughed and gagged as I turned myself onto my side. My clothes were torn and covered in dirt, my hands and what I could see from my arms and legs were scratched up, bruised, and muddy. Various aches and pains throbbed throughout my body, I was lucky my head wasn’t struck.

When I looked up, the terrain was uneven and there was no suitable place to camp. Any decent place was made inept by the rain. Various rivers showed signs of flooding, flatter terrain was flat due to it being a weathered rock, decent areas were made indecent because the ground wasn’t sturdy. I thought about choosing the least horrible spot but realized, this storm would last for at least a few days. I could afford that time-wise, but being in these conditions without proper shelter was not as wise. There’s nothing to hunt, the fish in the rivers and streams are gone, it’s freezing rain and the middle of winter so nothing has bloomed. I couldn’t even find suitable insects to eat. I grunted and struggled to stand up, the rain came down so much and so hard, it had cleaned off most of my scratches. I have to get out of this place. But I didn’t know where I was in relation to Haven. Water doesn’t hurt the orbs, but it makes it almost impossible to use as the surface doesn’t recognize flesh if either is wet. Magic is the ability to manipulate energy of all kind. I used my magic to develop a barrier that made an umbrella of solidified molecules invisible to the eye that allowed the rain to keep this area dry to use the orb under and find my location. A barrier like this required more concentration than one would use in battle on another person. Spirit magic always required a bit more concentration depending on the use, but this barrier wasn’t attached to a person, in fact it was hovering. The concentration was on its position relative to the three axis, which is why it’s much easier to place a barrier on a person. Similar to aiming a punch, not only is there concentration but muscle being used. Once I got my position, I put the orb away and released my “grip” on the molecules in the air, allowing relief from me and the rain to fall in that area as normal. Such a precise magic requires help, which is why it’s called spirit magic , as a mage would draw power from the Fade just as a person throwing a punch would draw their power from the force of their body. Except the Fade is a metaphysical realm barely understood.

Knowing which way to go, I headed that way, slowed down by the uneven terrain and rain. I didn’t stop until the rain did, which felt like an eternity since I couldn’t go straight in one direction. Jagged edges, cliffs, hills, trees, rocks, falls, unsafe ground, and other factors made me turn at all areas. Because it was freezing rain, I was forced to have constant magic flowing to keep me from freezing to death. Like being told to hold a jug perpendicular to one’s body and the person has to keep remembering to hold it up straight, I was in a similar position with remembering to concentrate on keeping my body heated; only reminded when I couldn’t feel my fingers.

Time and distance passed enough, the thunder and lightning were finally behind me and the rain had stopped. The sky was dark due to it being night. And that was just being in the vicinity of the Storm Coast, I promised myself when I went back home I would not take this route. I never wanted to return here, and I didn’t want to know what the Storm Coast was really like. It didn’t take long for me to plop down at a safe spot in a small cave, start a fire with magic, pull out everything that got wet to dry, and get the bedroll set up. My body felt like stale gelatin and I was exhausted. My pulse throbbed throughout my body, intensifying in places that got struck harder, but I was also shaking due to a lack of food and general energy. I couldn’t go out to get food, I absolutely needed to sleep, and it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep.

Many exhausting nights passed from that day as I couldn’t afford a real rest. As time went on, the slower I felt. But it was relatively peaceful, I stopped at a place to get more supplies as some stuff was ruined by the weather and to make getting food a bit easier. The journey around Lake Calenhad was much easier to travel. The Ferelden Circle was in view while I traveled around the northern part of the lake, it seemed desolate and isolated out in the lake, but as I traveled south around, the Circle disappeared from view. Calenhad was one of, if not the largest lake on the continent of Thedas. But then came a point where I was done traveling south, and needed to travel west, and I was in a perfect world, only four days away from Haven. But Haven rested on the side of a mountain; at least there was a road, and for the first time on my journey I chose to travel strictly on it.

It was hard to avoid people now, but I was lucky that so far it was all travelers. I saw the poor, the rich, elves, humans, dwarves, qunari all from other parts of Thedas. And it was strange, in a semi-good way, mostly everyone just tolerated each other. I stayed out of their way and they stayed out of mine. Side eye glares were given to everyone by everyone, there was an unspoken tense feeling that amplified as more people came into contact. I was nerved by everyone, even intimidated by a few.

Thing is, predators pick off the loners of the pack, the sicker ones, slower. I was an easy target for a couple of people as everyone else traveled in groups. “Need a hand carrying that, elf?” a human man’s voice said behind me.

“You should let us help,” there was a second one, “a pretty girl like yourself shouldn’t be carrying all that.”

I didn’t look at them and I felt adrenaline start through my blood. “It’s not heavy.” I promptly said.

“Oh, not from Ferelden, huh?”

“Not with that accent.”

“Orlais?”

“Nah, up north. Prob’ Free Marches.” They conversed with one another. “Don’t get a lot of ‘em here.”

Needless to say, I was uncomfortable and scared. Ready to run. It’d be easier to freeze these assholes. No it wouldn’t, you know how much energy that takes. Fire? No. Just ignore them, they might go away. Can I fight? I have a knife...no, just...keep moving Ev. No one is saying you have to kill them, just, teach them a lesson if you have to. I don’t know if I can… I had zoned out what they were saying.

One of them grabbed me by the shoulder and turned me around, an evil smirk across his face, “Didn’t you hear what we said, knife-ear?” The derogatory term made my blood run cold.

I pushed off his hand, the other guy got close to me, “Yeah, elf .”

My expression wasn’t confident, I wasn’t confident. My lips curved downwards slightly, brows angled and raised, ears folded back. “I don’t need your help.”

“We wasn’t askin’.” They tried to grab me again, it was only us on the path and I couldn’t yell for help. I tried reaching for my knife but I was too slow or jittery and one of them grabbed my arm. So, naturally, I dropped to the floor. The slope that we were at and the unpreparedness of the one that took ahold of me, the drop made him not only release me but lose his balance and he went tumbling down.

As his friend went to help him, I got up fast and ran up the mountain. One of my talents so to speak is being able to get up fast. Ice skating and I fall? Back up in a mere second because of determination. The cold and dry air made it hard to breathe and I was out of breath fast. The running at an incline didn’t help either.

There was a group, a qunari in it, who saw me running. The qunari came over to me and asked, “What’s back there?”

“Two...two men.” I panted, hunched over trying to catch my breath. I was almost wheezing.

The qunari tilted their head and looked past me, and saw the men soon after. They stood up straight with a snarl and unsheathed their weapon, the group followed suit. I turned around and saw the men standing there, their faces went cold and filled with fear. “You bandits?” The qunari asked sternly.

“Uh, no. That’s our servant, you see. She was running from us.” One of them replied. In my mind I was furious and defensive, but I was too exhausted to show it. That? Servant?

The qunari didn’t even take one look at me before they responded, “Nice lie. You got packs of your own. That’s a one person tent on her pack. Not only that, but she’s actually wearing warm clothes. You people treat your servants more like slaves and objects. Now unless you want to get cut in half and made into a dessert, I suggest you go back.”

“We gotta get to the Conclave! We ain’t turning back!”

“Well, ain’t that some tough shit. You made your choice when you made her flee. So, this next one should be easy. Go back, or I have dessert tonight.” The qunari stayed their ground, their group ready to attack whenever. A small group, maybe five different people, but all trained and could snap the two guys in half like a twig.

The two men had a quick conversation that we couldn’t hear and then, “Fine. We don’ want any trouble.” And they turned around and left.

The qunari and their group sheathed the weapons. “I don’t really eat humans. But they usually believe it.”

“Thank you.” I said, my breathing turned back to normal over time.

“It’s no problem. We get shit all the time. If you want you can travel with us, ain’t safe being alone.”

I thought it over for a minute, and the qunari assured me that it was okay if I didn’t want to. “Thank you, I think that would be wise, if you all don’t mind.”

They smiled, “We invited ya. Free Marcher?”

“Yeah. Dalish.”

“You sound a mix of Marcher and Orlais. But that’s nice. First time here?”

“Yeah. Unfamiliar.”

They chuckled, “With luck, we’ll be in and out of here in no time. We were paid to help guard the Conclave. The rest of my men are a bit behind us. Thought it would help if someone needed it if we paced ourselves out.”

“Like me?”

“Sure. No shame in needing help.”

“Once again, thank you so much. I really wasn’t expecting anyone to help.” I admitted.

“It’s in our nature. How’d ya think people survived all these years? We’re all stupid and assholes in our own way. Protect each other from others, and ourselves sometimes. Ya need someone who can see what you can’t. And we’re all blind to something.”

Can’t see the forest for the trees.

But we made it. I walked with this group of people, listening more than talking, but they laughed and poked fun at each other. The 27th of Haring, last month of 9:40 Dragon, was when I arrived in Haven. One week before the Conclave. Half of my journey was now finished, and as horrible as some events were and ignoring the homesickness, I don’t regret it. I won’t lie, I was in love with the beauty of the land, I just wished I didn’t travel alone.

Chapter Text

38 days it took for me to get from my clan to here. 38 days I had traveled on foot and I couldn’t be happier to be here. Lots of people were camped out at Haven, the people who came earlier or were deemed important got the buildings. But Haven was a smaller town and didn’t have too much room. The Conclave would be held up the trail and up the mountain further to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Andraste’s ashes. I knew she was real, and a huge historical figure that was burned around nine centuries ago and many people loved her. Bride to the Maker, eh? What a position. Once again, a non-believer myself in the faith she had spread, but I respected all that I could.

A bookstore to me was like a candy store to a child. So many tales and stories, universes made by imagination and emotion. Biographies that tell the tale of lives. Books made me realize that every single being out there is basically a walking novel in the midst of being written. Emotional history, physical history, the stories of their travels and the people they’ve met. And it fascinates me. People fascinate me. There’s only ever one of any person, exactly how they are in this timeline and what they choose to do with their life. And each person is connected to another, intertwining their life stories. Each action a word, every reaction a sentence, the time frame a paragraph. Major events become chapters. A life a book. As a believer in reincarnation, things just turn into a saga. Each of these people here at Haven have a connection with someone, whether it be friends or family or simply being a role model to the public. And maybe that’s why I have such a hard time even defending myself, because I don’t want to hurt or kill. It would send off a domino effect, just like any choice in life, but they wouldn’t be the only ones hurt. Everyone connected would react in some way, too. Innocent? Maybe, I don’t know. The thing is, I know I need to stand up for myself and defend my being, but I care too much about other people and it’s to a fault at times. Where I think past the person I need to hit and think about how their connections would react. No matter what I do, I’ll always affect another person in some way. That’s true for all. I’m just glad I’m not in a position where I need to kill. I don’t think I could ever be a mercenary or guard. But it’s also why I don’t think I could make a good leader, because it’s these hard decisions that I seem to hesitate at. Compassionate to a fault… Changing my mindset is something that I worked on consistently, but has proved to be more of a project of catching myself and correcting. Yes, if I harm this man trying to rob me, his lover will be upset. But if I got robbed, my family and friends and the people who look up to me will also be upset. I need to protect myself for the sake of me as well. I just need to… I just need to remind myself that I am also important.

The Haven bookstore was quaint, but I became happily lost in it. My clan didn’t really have a bookstore, we simply shared the reading material amongst each other. But I saw all kinds of books here; fantasy, fiction, non-fiction, historical, science-fiction, auto and biographies, poetry, romance, adventure, and comedies. There was a book on display, and from the low stock probably the most purchased. It was among the most expensive as well, The Tale of the Champion by a person named Varric Tethras; a non-fiction book even. I shrugged and moved on and  was aware that I had judged the book before giving it a chance. It was popular and non-fiction, and so I moved on and made my way to the fantasy and adventure section.

I spent a few hours reading summaries of various books and trying to choose which one I would buy, but then I found a used book with a few frayed edges and crumpled pages that I had heard of. A romantic tragedy embedded in adventure, but the protagonists were elves. The author was an elf as well and it was based on a true story, it didn’t exactly belong in this section of the store, but it wasn’t dusted in ages either. I had heard it would make one’s heart sore and cry. I saw that the price was taken down more than once. So, this is the book I bought, sold for just a few copper. I knew it wasn’t the type of book I was looking for to begin with, but my clan talked about just how good the story was and I was decently surprised to see it was being sold here. I put the book in my now almost empty sack, the tent and most of my items were set up as a camp just inside the town. Maybe it wasn’t so smart to leave the stuff unattended, but I couldn’t just be confined to the tent in the middle of the snow for a week.

The next place I went to was a cafe which sold various pastries and coffee. Now, I had heard of coffee, but it was via the orb and it wasn’t something my clan traded. So, I decided to try it. A flakey pastry with what was the most popular choice of coffee at the time. The smell was divine, but the taste wasn’t. I kept coughing from the strong, unfamiliar taste, so I washed everything down with the pastry. At least I have tried something new today. Be proud, Ev.

Outside, I decided to really take in the view, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Haven sat on the side of a mountain range which had white snowy tops that poked the light blue, clear sky. The sun was warm against my face, while the wind was bitter cold when it blew, but thankfully the furs and textiles I wore kept me decently protected from it. Some smoke rose from where the blacksmith was outside the city, a white fog from the forge, and from around various fireplaces in homes and shops. The air smelled like ice and various cooked foods. There was chatter all around, footsteps against snow or gravel, a wooden spoon against a cast iron pot, and the distant clank of metal of practicing fighters and the hammer of the blacksmith. As I roamed the streets with my eyes wide open and a smile across my lips, the intake of senses morphed and changed just slightly. The clank got replaced with people dancing on wood in the nearby tavern, and I got a whiff of the various alcohol and smoke from pipes that caught a ride on the wind. It wasn’t a pleasant smell and I had never really liked the smell of alcohol in general, it was the fermentation that made me crinkle my nose. But I was curious to how the people are dancing, because maybe it’s a style I’m not used to seeing or haven’t seen before.

So, I sucked up my dislike for the aroma and entered the tavern. It was a warm environment, a small band played off to the side while various people danced, and those who were sitting down drank and stomped their feet to the beat. Some woos and other cheers happened and just an overwhelmingly positive environment. Of course, some people weren’t into it as much as the others, sulking over the bar with their backs turned to the rest of the tavern. The music was upbeat and instantly brought a smile to my face so, I paid attention to the violinist playing, listening to the notes as I tried to copy the fingering to play said notes on my left hand. I stood off to the side of the entrance and allowed myself to get lost with the music. Eyes closed, a deeper smile on my face, one hand mimicking the violinist, the other tapped to the beat. I had played the violin for the halla back in the clan, and of course for those people who were close to me. But that’s how a halla imprinted themself onto me, chose me, wouldn’t let anyone else ride them.

In fact, my father knew how to conduct before he became the original First, and he saw how excited I was for music and I asked every year if I could have an instrument to play. And on my tenth birthday, he gave me a handcrafted elven violin that I had been playing since. It sounded a bit different from the one that was playing here, but I could still tell what instrument it was.

The undeniable sound of a play-off started. The lute player stood up and began the song, eyeing or challenging the other lutist. I opened my eyes and cheered with the crowd as they played the song together. One wins the challenge by tricking the other player with a hard melody or riff that the losing player can’t quite replicate. That’s the so called chorus to this particular song. Challenger plays first, then the other tries to replicate what was played, all live and improvised. It’s usually the best out of three, after the first chorus they both play the song at the same time, then when it comes to the second, the challenger must replicate. Sometimes, even when a winner is decided, a third go around will play except it’s just the winner busting it out, focusing on the crowd and such. The crowd is free to cheer and clap or stomp to the beat, and that’s how I joined in. It was a friendly challenge, with the one who was challenged winning, and both were outstanding. At least I thought. I had always wanted to try the play-off but got too nervous when I was asked. It is possible to challenge one of a different instrument depending, like a lute couldn’t fairly challenge one who played a bell. But a lute and a violinist having a play-off is totally viable. I wish I had brought my violin. Though whether or not they’d be open to playing with me, is another question. The winner announced that they had bought everyone a drink on the house, and everyone cheered while I tried to maintain a smile. I was happy everyone else was having a good time and being happy, but there was someone bringing everyone a drink from a tray and they got to me.

“It’s on the house!” They smiled and handed me a glass. I tried to keep from gagging at the smell.

I kept the smile and responded, “Oh, no thank you. But I appreciate it.”

“Not a fan of beer? We also serve a variety of other things like-” And they listed off everything on the top of their head, and I couldn’t or I didn’t try to stop them in fear of being rude or continued to be spoken over.

Once they stopped I assured them, “Is there a way to skip over me? Maybe give that free one to someone else? I’m just here for the music.” I let out a nervous chuckle.

“Hm, okay. I can do that. But are you sure? Next order you have to pay for.”

“I’m positive, but thank you.”

“Yup. Okay, you there! On the house!” And they moved on.

I didn’t feel like being in there after that so I left and roamed the city once again, taking in the surroundings and such, I brought out my orb a few times to take pictures so that maybe I could draw it later. Or attempt. I wasn’t the best at drawing and it always took me a long time, self-perfectionist brain kept me from ever putting the pencil down after I had started. And of course, I was constantly hard on myself for it not being perfect, fully aware it was irrational but alas, those intrusive thoughts were automatic and took a strong conscious effort to fight against.

I spent the next day in my tent after buying some produce at the local shop. I started a fire with my magic when no one was looking so I could be warm and enjoy a meal later. The entertainment for today was the book I had bought yesterday. It wasn’t that long but it was full and rich, a tale of two lovers working together and overcoming various hardships gifted by living in an alienage. It was all very poetic in a way. There was a part in the book where the lovers exchanged gifts, except the gifts were tied to things that the other had to sell to afford said gift for the other person. But they stayed just as close, and laughed about it, saying there will come a time where they will be able to use the gifts and held onto it. The readers were right in that it was such a heartfelt story, so sweet and open. It made me long for such a relationship, until it reached the end and I cried. One of them died, the other went on to make the book to highlight alienage life. It was extremely tragic, a tear jerker. I knew relationships weren’t based on when they break up, but rather the journey, but I couldn’t stop thinking about such an end. The inside back cover of the book informed me that the author had died soon after publishing, some say suicide, some say that the same humans that killed their partner came back to finish the job. Though investigators didn’t look into it too much. Either bribed or they sadly didn’t care.

Most of my day had gone into reading, I even ignored a rumbling in my gut and probably didn’t drink much. I then made one of my favorite meals, a potato soup. Warm, thick, creamy, and filling, what my paba calls a stick to your ribs kind of meal, just in time and perfect for the slight shaking I began to feel. I talked to Paba that night and told him about the book I read without completely spoiling it and promised I would bring it back home for him to read. He told me that a tradition of the humans is to make a list of goals they’d like to do for the new year before it was over. And like us, they’d hold a celebration, and make the same jokes about doing an activity for two years straight at around midnight, or on the night of they’d tell each other that they’d see them next year. It made me somewhat excited that we had somewhat similar ideas. The goals for the new year sounded cute, so I wrote mine down:

Ev’s List of goals (in no particular order) For 9:41 Dragon
- Read at least one new book every month
- Have a play-off at least once
- Make a new friend Try to make a new friend
- Try to go on another adventure except not alone this time
- Try to write more, maybe finish the journal before buying a new one?
- Try and get out of my comfort zone and dance. (Ev, you’ve practiced for like...years now, you’re okay!)

After I had finished the list, I stuck the paper in my journal. Now, at least in my clan, every new year we would all make a wish at midnight for something to happen for the next year. And I would be able to make the wish tomorrow.

The 30th of Haring, the entire town was in celebration, most of the local shops were closed and one could hear happy new year’s eve every so often. For most of the day, the people were in the chantry doing, well, whatever andrastians do on this day, I wasn’t sure. A few times I heard a chorus of singing come from there. But, as most of the townsfolk spent most of the day inside the chantry, less people were out and about except for a few guards or those who couldn’t go for one reason or another. So, I roamed the streets once more, and it was peacefully quiet. There was a chirping of birds upon various trees, a few dog barks here and there, a cat prowled along the sides of houses.

I hummed, which turned into soft singing when I knew no one was around. I let my walk turn more into a dance and my arms moved gracefully. Once in every while when I would pause from singing and return to humming, a bird would mimic me, something that caught me by surprise but filled me with pure joy. I found the bird that mimicked me and sung to it, a few sounds at a time, and it chirped back. Once it deemed itself comfortable with me, I got startled when it flew over and landed on my head, the claws felt more than uncomfortable against my scalp so I carefully put my hand on my head to try and ease the bird onto it. But, I couldn’t stop from chuckling at the situation. The bird obliged and made my life easier. Then I got to see the beauty of the bird up close, still singing and humming because it just amazed me. A beautiful blue and white bird sat comfortably on two of my fingers. I stood in place spending almost a half an hour singing back and forth, ignoring the numbness in my legs from standing still. My heart felt so full in the moment, even after it flew away to do whatever it needed to do. Though when I looked back at my hand I found some shit. I sighed with mild annoyance and just chuckled. I knew the bird couldn’t help where it shits, and it was an easy cleanup. Ah, to be one with nature . I laughed to myself.

Later that night when it was truly dark, no one was in bed, in fact everyone stayed up until midnight. Flags waved around in the streets, people in costume, music and dance, I even got to see my first firework show in person. Atop the chantry there was a large bell that rang every hour, but when it struck this time, everyone cheered. Hugs and kisses, ribbons or the like thrown into the air, the band played a cheery and upbeat melody, tankards clanked. It was extremely hard to not be involved in the laughter and cheers. My face to the back of my head hurt just from smiling and laughing so hard, even if I was ignored by the crowd which worked out well for me because I didn’t mind just observing, less eyes on me. But there was a few times when I really wanted in on some game or activity but was too shy to approach and ask.

When things calmed down a bit, I went back to my tent. A small blue ribbon had landed on top of it and got stuck. So, I took the ribbon and tied it around the handle of my pot. A souvenir. It was time for a wish.

I ripped out a small corner of paper from my journal and wrote down one word as per tradition. I was inspired so much by the joy of today and from the past few days and thought of what brought me here. My desire to explore and adventure, my growth, because I was once too nervous to leave to even go hunting. Now I’m 38 days away from my clan and spend a good three hours laughing and having a good time. Growth . That’s what I wrote down. I wish for more growth. Personal growth, growth of nature, growth of my friends and family, growth of...the world. I crumpled the paper and focused on using my magic to set it on fire, a symbol to release the wish into the world. A small smile came across my lips as I saw it burn away, hope sprang inside me.

Five more days until the Conclave. Five more days until I can go home and tell stories and start my next adventure. But, I also have five days to enjoy what’s now.

Chapter Text

The day of the Conclave, 5th of Wintermarch, 9:41 Dragon. The Temple of Sacred Ashes is about a thirty to forty minute walk up the mountain to the entrance. To get to the top where the meeting will take place will be another half an hour. Though only permitted people were allowed to enter the main building.

“Hey, you said your name was Lavellan, right?” said the same qunari as before.

“Uh...yeah, what’s going on?”

“We gotta get you in, that’s where we’re going to be.” Their voice got really soft. “There’s someone here known for hunting elves. For fun.”

My blood ran cold, “What do you mean, hunting elves?”

“He’s a human that doesn’t believe any other race is really a person. Even dwarves. But he can get away with the murder of elves a lot easier than any other race.” Their hand went around my shoulder and pulled me off to the side. I became uneasy but I trusted them. “I have an idea. It can work but you must play along. Hope you don’t mind me being blunt.”

“I guess whatever keeps me safe.”

“It’s not uncommon for anyone to have an elf servant. When we get up to the main doors, I’ll introduce you as my personal servant. They won’t ask questions and you’ll be in and we can keep an eye on you and of course the meeting.”

“Am I the only elf coming up?”

“No. There are two others.”

Unsure, I asked, “And what did they say?”

“They’ll play along. Are you okay with this? It’s the easiest way, but there are other ways to make sure you’re good and not alone.”

I thought about it for a minute. It would help as a guise and would guarantee my way into the meeting to hear it firsthand, “Okay. I’ll play along.”

“Good. Just stick by me. The other two are with two of my guys. Higher rank.”

And so I followed them. The doors to the main meeting were heavily guarded as the Divine, the leader of the chantry herself, was here, and basically most of Thedas at this point. Not just the Divine but her successors and other important personnel. The qunari introduced themselves to the guard and introduced me as the servant, to which the guard replied with, “I figured as much,” and let us through. I held back any annoyance until after we were clear from the guard.

“That asshole,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Yeah. They can be. Hold on.”

Two people came rushing over, a dwarf and a human. “You’re the mercenary, correct?”

I zoned out of their conversation but noticed the guard had closed the door and locked it after us, an odd grin across his face. I excused myself and looked around, the place felt oddly quiet and everyone was whispering.

“Something’s off,” I overheard one say. The qunari called for their group to come over for a quick meeting.

What’s going on? I decided to check things out, my own curiosity yelling for satiation. When I got to the door I heard a voice that said, “&*( ^&*^&&)”

I went to &^&&#$^&%^)) and @#$%$#$%^&*&^%$#$%^&* *()^*$%&*$ ^*&($* *()&*(& dropped *&(*&()#%^)*( (&)()*& &(*)&$%#%^@#@$!%^&*()_ Pain shot )(*&^&*()(*&^%^&*(%^&*%^&%*#%^&*())^&^%*$^%&^*(

Blackness.

Whispers and voices filled my ears and I awoke in a dark place, unlike anything I’ve seen in the real world. Flakes of ash fell around me, everything was hazy from the dark green fog. I staggered up and saw steep steps up a tall hill, I could tell the steps were there to climb with all limbs. The only light came from something that looked like a person, except the whole person was glowing. Pain shot through my eyes at the light and I held up my hand, also to combat the ashen fog. It looked like they were holding out their hand and I stumbled over to the base of the steps. Only one way to go. My left hand I could’ve sworn flickered a green color, like an electric static, but every time I looked directly at it, it stopped. I felt all kinds of uneasiness and extremely unbalanced. My whole body was numb and at times I wasn’t sure if I was moving a limb or not, it was all disorienting. My breathing was the only thing I heard as I walked, whether my footsteps were so soft or if my breathing was that loud I don’t know. But I stumbled a lot as I tried to walk to this figure.

When I got to the base of the steps I heard some scratches behind me and some squealing. It sounded like nails bouncing on some kind of metal, except there was a lot and it got louder, so I turned around to find at least ten giant spiders charging at me. More than eight eyes and two very giant fangs was all I needed to see before adrenaline told me to get the fuck out of there. They cornered me to where I could only go towards the figure. With all my endurance and strength, I ran and climbed up the steps as fast as I could. My heart raced and pounded against my ears as these arachnids made their way ever closer to me.

Near the top, I looked back only once, these spiders had a vicious look to them, no hair, and very jagged edges. Almost made to entice fear. And it did the job. I whimpered and climbed a few more, the figure in front of me leaning down as much as she could to grab my hand, still glowing fiercely and I couldn’t tell if this was some kind of night terror and I’m unconscious, but I couldn’t control anything around me, and it felt real. My strength was drained and I could only rely on hoping that this figure could pull me up.

I got a stable planting on my feet and right hand, and when I went to grab her hand with my other, right before we touched I saw plainly that my hand had sparked a green light. My heart raced faster than it ever had, and in that moment all I could remember was the bright glow of the figure filling my vision for a split second.

I thought I had died. But from what?

My eyes opened to see a rock floor. I was on all fours, a green light above me had turned off or gone away or something. The last thing I remember before falling over unconscious, was my hand sparking green again and the footsteps of a few men rushing over.

Blackness.

My neck was extremely sore along with my back. I was in a chair, or kneeling on the floor? My vision was blurred as I regained consciousness. Maybe I was kidnapped and knocked unconscious? Was it all a dream? I saw my hands locked in a metal spreader and chained. My whole body was sore and too tired and restrained to do much. I moved my left hand over so I could see the palm, it had to have been a dream it had to, and just as soon as I saw the horizontal scar across the whole of the palm, it surged, like electricity almost, and glowed a green color. Pain like horrible pins and needles shot up the whole of my arm to my jaw and I yelped, my muscles all down my arm to my hand cramped up, tense.

Someone must’ve heard the noise I made and swung open the door in front of me. That’s when I noticed the room was dimly lit. What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck? What’s going on? Oh, fuck, oh, fuck, no, no, no. I started to pant, on the verge of hyperventilating. Ears went back and I was ready to cry at any minute. An armored woman quickly walked into the room, her presence caused the four guards around me, that I just realized were there, to sheath their swords. Another woman, cloaked and hooded with some chainmail over her mid-body, followed behind the first one. My panting got just a bit heavier. I’m going to die...no, no, no, please don’t hurt me, please. I squeezed my eyes shut. Paba I need you. I need anyone. Oh fuck, fuck, fuck. The armored one circled around me and I slowly opened my eyes back up, not daring to move. The hooded one approached with murder on her face, and stepped into the light, a symbol of a sword through some kind of eye was embedded on her chainmail.

I heard the other one behind me bend over close to my ear and with a raised voice, sternly said, “Tell me why we shouldn’t kill you now.” My head moved the opposite direction to get away from the sudden volume. My whole body started to shake at that very second and a silent tear escaped one eye. She had an accent, I couldn’t tell where from, “The Conclave is destroyed.” She stood up and circled back around, “Everyone who attended is dead.” She looked me dead in the eyes and finished, “Except for you.”

Dead? What the fuck do you mean dead? What the fuck is happening? “I-I don’t know why, or how or… What, I don’t know what’s happening I-” I sputtered out.

She interrupted me by grabbing my left hand and raising it up forcefully, the spreader made the cuff on the other hand go up with it and cause a dull pain. “Explain this.” She gritted through her teeth. The green surge happened when I looked at it, thankfully it was short and caused less pain this time. She threw my hand to the ground and I whimpered.

I looked up at her with a pleading look on my face, “I-I...I can’t.” My voice was shaky.

“What do you mean you can’t?” She circled around me again as she yelled. Then the other woman circled around me, if one was in front the other was behind.

“I swear I don’t know what that-that is. I don’t know how it got there. Please you have to listen to me, I don’t know!” I pleaded as more silent tears rolled down my cheek.

The armored one stopped in front of me and grabbed my shoulders, “You’re lying!”

But just as quickly as she grabbed me, the other one took her arm and forced her to step back with a stern voice, ‘We need her, Cassandra.” And looked back at me.

I lowered my head, “How am I the only… All those people? Dead? I… I can’t…” A terrible weight fell on my shoulders, one that told me I shouldn’t be alive, one that blamed me for being the only survivor. My body trembled in fear, frozen stiff. A lump in my throat ever present, tears fell against my will.

The one with chainmail spoke sternly, “Do you remember what happened? How this began?”

“I thought this was a dream.” I muttered looking back up.

“Tell me.”

“I remember… running from these monsters or something chasing me. And then a figure… a woman.” As my adrenaline ran out, I became more and more tired, and all I could do was submit myself and just hope . Mythal if you’re real, please…

She crossed her arms, “A woman?”

“I think… She tried to reach out to me, saving me. But then… I-I don’t…” I bowed my head again.

The one named Cassandra put herself between us and told her, “Go to the forward camp, Leliana. I will take her to the rift.” Her voice was much calmer, but still stern; my palms were sweaty and I found it hard to swallow from the dryness in my mouth. The other one, Leliana, left the room as Cassandra came and unlocked the metal spreader, freeing me for just a moment before tying my wrists together.

“What did happen?” I asked.

She helped me up, a solemn expression on her face as she answered, “It...will be easier to show you,” We both stayed quiet as she walked behind me, but still leading me, through the doors that led outside. The sky was cloudy but the sun was up...and something else. My eyes burned from the sudden light and I hid behind my arm. Except that wasn’t the sun. When my eyes adjusted I looked up to see what looked to be a large green portal in the sky, clouds circling around it. There was what seemed to be green lightning jumping around, it could be heard from here. A tail of green energy came from the portal to the ground. It looked like where the Temple of Sacred Ashes once stood. Cassandra walked up, “We call it ‘The Breach.’ It is a massive rift into the world of demons that grows larger with each passing hour. It’s not the only such rift. Just the largest. All were caused by the explosion at the Conclave.”

A portal to the Fade? How thin is the veil for that to happen? “Explosions don’t usually open a portal to the Fade.”

Cassandra walked around me, I noticed the scars on her face, one along her cheekbone and the other on the other side that went from her jaw to the middle of her cheek. Battle worn . “This one did.” Her brows furrowed, “Unless we act, The Breach may grow until it swallows the world.” A sound from The Breach was followed by two things, a sudden surge of light going down the tail, and a small quake. Not even a second later, the scar on my hand lit up and almost pulled me toward The Breach, along with an unbearable surge of pain that caused me to scream and drop to my knees shaking. I pulled my hand toward my body and curled as the pain soon died down to nothing. Cassandra took a knee to get to my level, “Each time The Breach expands, your mark spreads… And it is killing you.” It did feel like my arm was getting ripped in half. As soon as I focused on what she was saying, the mark died out completely, which told me this functioned similar to magic, just a magic I’m unsure of. It’s like just now figuring out I can move a part of my body. “It may be the key to stopping this. But there isn’t much time.”

“What do you mean?” I panted, calming down from the pain.

“The mark might be the only way to close The Breach. Whether that is possible is something we shall discover shortly. It is our only chance, however. And yours.”

“And me? You still think I did this? To myself ?” My tone came out just as pleading as it was defensive.

She shook her head, “Not intentionally. Something clearly went wrong.”

“And if I’m not responsible?”

She paused for a minute, “Someone is, and you are our only suspect. You wish to prove your innocence? This is the only way.”

I sighed and lowered my head. I don’t even know if I am innocent. But… This is way bigger than I’ll ever be. This rift or breach or whatever is growing, and could swallow all of Thedas, all of the world into it. Everyone could die, and not necessarily fast or painless either. This whole world with its life and beauty would perish. And I may be the only one that possesses the power to stop that. How I got the power? That will have to be answered later. Besides, maybe closing The Breach will stop this fucker, stop the pain. I swallowed and looked back up at her, “I...I understand.”

Her face lit up in hope, “Then..?”

“I’ll do what I can to help close The Breach.” Even if it costs me an arm and a leg. “Whatever it takes.” I know I’ll regret saying that, I didn’t want to because I’m afraid of the process of dying, even if I know it’ll happen no matter what. Maybe I was more afraid of dying young, but if I don’t do this...we will all die and the thousands of those who are younger than me will die as well.

Cassandra stood up and helped me to stand, looked at me with worry as her hand stayed against my back and led me through the camp. People looked at me differently, with scorn or worry and even grief. “They’ve decided your guilt. They need it.” Cassandra told me. Some gave one glance and looked away instantly. A deep well of sorrow opened up in my heart, they all thought I did this. What if I did and I cannot remember? How can I accidently kill and hurt so many people? “The people of Haven mourn our Most Holy, Divine Justinia, head of the Chantry. The Conclave was hers.” My blood ran cold. I might not have believed in the religion, but most of Thedas looked up to her as an idol and a figure of inspiration, a hero. The weight on my shoulders grew, for I had unintentionally pissed off the majority of Thedas. What will my paba think? We made our way out of the camp just as soon as we started. “It was a chance for peace between mages and templars.” Even though I knew that, I let her speak, she probably needed to get a ton of shit off her chest. “She brought their leaders together. Now, they are dead.” Up ahead past the growth of trees lay a gate and a few towers attached to it. Soldiers opened up the huge gate and I saw it was a bridge, but people had collected there. Cassandra still led me towards the bridge as she spoke, “We lash out, like the sky. But we must think beyond ourselves. As she did. Until The Breach is sealed.” The closer we got to the bridge the more I saw, crates and barrels lined the edges along with soldiers or scouts. She got quiet until we were on the bridge and she stopped me, the soldier that opened the gates now closed it. My eyes widened as Cassandra unsheathed a dagger from her belt and faced me but I stood ground. There was sorrow in her eyes, “There will be a trial. I can promise no more.” She held up my bounded wrists and with one cut of the sharp blade released me from the rope. “Come. It is not far.”

I massaged my wrists. “Are you taking me to The Breach?”

“No. It would be wiser to test your mark on something smaller than The Breach.”

“There’s another...thing nearby?”

“Rift, yes. About midway between here and The Breach. If you can close that, then we have hope.”

“Why not just go for The Breach directly?”

“We need to be able to muster up all our forces if this works. I do not want to waste lives if it ends up not working. And if you can close a rift, we need to be able to protect you at all costs so you can successfully close The Breach.”

This will determine whether or not people sacrifice their lives for me... me . Oh, how did it come to this?

 

Chapter Text

 

People all along the bridge are mourning. A group off to the side were kneeling and praying with a chanter leading. I could hear various cries of people, a man to my left was rocking back and forth on the ground. People clung to each other, crying on their shoulders, some of them almost wailing. The sounds struck me and I felt the lump form in my throat. The sounds of grief, death, and loss. The boom from the Breach sounded off once in every while and so did various explosions. As I walked across the bridge, I felt the side eye glances and hateful glares. I started to tremble, overwhelmed with emotions of fear and guilt. I blamed myself for something I was ignorant of. If it really was my fault...even though I didn’t mean it...do I deserve to be redeemed? Am I forever guilty? Am I forever a vill-

“Open the gate!” Cassandra shouted and broke my thoughts. “We’re heading into the valley.” The two soldiers guarding the gate then pushed it open and nodded at Cassandra, though pretended I didn’t exist as we passed through.

The pathway that led to the left had makeshift barricades and trembling soldiers guarding them. A mix of ash and snow fell from the sky. Up ahead there was a cart, or what was a caravan, on fire and I could smell it as it burned. As we got closer, the smell of burnt flesh and hair filled my nose and made me gag. A few dead bodies were splayed across the ground, along with various personal belongings. Adrenaline coursed through me at the sight, my eyes widened and darted around as I breathed faster. Tears fell from my eyes and left a trail on my face. The cold bit at; it stung. I couldn’t stand looking at the carnage. Three men ran and stumbled past us yelling, “Maker, it’s the end of the world!”

I stumbled backwards away from the body. Cassandra grabbed my upper arm and forced me to keep going up the hill. “Don’t look,” she said. It was hard to not look as we came across more burning carts and dead bodies. Debris scattered everywhere. I think I even saw a lone finger that lay in pink snow. The sights and smells were repulsive and I kept wanting, almost needing to run the other way. I felt nauseous and shocked. I confused myself, because I also felt like dropping to the ground and crying. I couldn’t draw my eyes away and I kept staring. Cassandra picked up her pace and almost dragged me up the hill. Finally, she brought me around in front and kept a hand to my shoulder. “Just watch what’s in front of you.”

And I did, and I saw a ball of green light shoot out from the Breach and land up ahead. I couldn’t see exactly where it landed because of the terrain, but I heard the sound. Like a thick layer of ice cracked open. Another came flying out and landed around 100 feet in front of us and my mark flared up. Pain shot through me and I fell to my knees and whimpered as my body tensed. Please stop, please, please, please. This is enough pain just stop. More tears fell from my eyes. Unlike regular magic, I couldn’t stop the mark when it flared. Was it even semi-controlled? I want to go home...how worried is Paba? Where is my crystal? No time to call anyways...but... Right, I’m a prisoner. Cassandra came around me, one hand at my back, the other at my arm, and supported me back up. I shivered when the pain subsided but there was still a small glow to my hand as the flare went down. “The pulses are coming faster now. We must hurry.” Cassandra grabbed the back of my coat and pressed into my back to keep me walking. “The larger the Breach grows,” she continued, “the more rifts appear, the more demons we face.”

“The more this thing...incapacitates me.” My voice was cracked.

“Yes. That too.”

“How...how did you find me? Capture me? How could I have survived that?” I pointed toward the Breach.

Cassandra stopped and turned to me with a worried look. “They said you...you stepped out of a rift, then fell unconscious. That a woman was in the rift behind you. No one knows who she was.” She looked at the Breach and then dropped her head. “Everything farther in the valley was laid waste, including the Temple of Sacred Ashes.”

“How…how bad?”

“I suppose you’ll see soon enough.” She kept supporting me as we walked the path.

Though the path was littered with more debris, burning carts and crates, and dead bodies. It terrified me to see a life now limp. When my pet had died I remember being haunted for days by the sight. No blood. She died of age. But I saw her very last breath, and even though her body was sorta limp, I watched it go completely limp. Nothing was left. I didn’t want to let go. Now I’m seeing people strewn across the pathway, both young and old. How will the people they care about react to the news? Where has their life gone? Why must we die? “We need to press on,” she said, breaking my thoughts. Though I may not be thinking about it, the dread still weighed in my chest.

There was another bridge to the left that Cassandra led me onto. Three soldiers were also heading across, but about two-thirds of the way, another green ball came from the Breach and landed on the bridge. It decimated the bridge, completely crumbling it, and we went down with it. We hit pieces of the bridge as we fell, landing on a solid piece and then rolling off onto solid ice. Bits of debris had hit us on the way down and when we landed. I could feel the various bruises forming across my body. Adrenaline pumped through me in through me in those mere seconds. I looked around, a bit disoriented. The blast had sent some of the soldiers flying like ragdolls. I noted that the balls of light struck more frequently. Thankfully, the collapse wasn’t too big and we landed on a frozen lake that had an iced over river just ahead. My body was sore and I assume Cassandra’s armor helped to take the brunt of her hits. She helped me up yet again.

Another ball shot from the sky landing just ahead in the middle of the ice, a lesser shade came out of the small explosion. Cassandra pulled me back and unsheathed her sword, “Stay behind me!” then took out her shield and charged at the shade. I was frozen in place and unsure what to do. I had only fought one demon in my life and we were alone. I had never fought beside someone before. Should I even fight? I would need a staff to help channel and aim better but- From the impact, a green and black line snaked its way over and it got close but not too close. Black bubbles from the Fade itself formed where it stopped. I fell on my ass and looked side to side frantically searching for anything. A sword lay beside me but it was a greatsword and probably weighed more than I did. And then I saw a walking stick, a perfect temporary staff. Not that perfect, but it was better and stronger than hand magic. Plus, I could whack something at a distance if I needed to. The staff is like an extension of a mage’s arm, and supposed to make magic more concentrated and easier to pull off like lifting something using a pulley rather than just the arms.

From the bubbles shot up a green light, like a volcanic explosion. When it calmed down yet another shade came out of it. I looked past it and saw Cassandra busy slicing at the other shade. Though the demons came from the fade, they have to abide by the laws of physics here; it was taking hits. And when they die they almost evaporate away back into the Fade. Arrows, swords, and magic can all send a demon back into the fade. The one in front of me with its dark purple ragged coat, slithered towards me. There wasn’t much of a face to shades, and they strike with the talons on their hands. Fear made me stone still until I saw it raise its hands and I dodged the strike. I used the stick to channel as much fire as I could at it. This wasn’t a mage’s staff and didn’t make the casting any easier other than helping me focus and aim the fire. It felt like I had just sprinted a mile when I was done burning the shade, it was more fire than needed and I kept going a bit after it evaporated just to make sure. A small headache formed in the back of my head from the sudden tension and magical use. “It’s over.” I muttered.

Cassandra’s footsteps were heavy as she came towards me and she pointed her sword at me. “Drop your weapon. Now, ” She commanded.

I was panting and slightly bowed over, ready to drop the stick. “You know I don’t need this to use magic, right?”

“Is that supposed to reassure me?” She scowled.

The look she gave made me feel cold inside. “Look, I haven’t tried to hurt you yet. Or used any magic on you.”

“You…” she paused, the snarl on her face softened with thought. Her shoulders dropped and she sighed, “You’re right.” Her sword went back into its sheath. “You don’t need a staff but you should have one. I cannot protect you.” She carefully takes a few steps across the ice. “I should remember you agreed to come willingly.”

“Thank you,” I began, “It’s not much but it helps.” Though I was relieved to have it, I still didn’t feel safe.

“Yes well, better for both of us to be prepared.”

We trekked across the icy surface of the river carefully. The snow did not make it any easier, and at least the water was completely frozen at this time of year. We had a few stumbles but continued up the icy path, technically upstream.

“Here,” Cassandra stopped for a moment and kneeled down for stability. She handed over a small waist sack. “Take this. A small medical kit. Has a poultice in it and a few bandages. Maker knows what we will face.”

I cautiously took the bag and buckled it around my waist. “Where are the other soldiers?”

We carefully continued. “At the forward camp,” Cassandra began, “or fighting. We are on our own, for now.” The cold dry air did not help and we were both panting. I had a small coat on and one glove on my right hand, my left felt numb and each time I tried to move it, it would sting a bit. My mouth felt dry and our breath showed well in the air.

The frozen stream went under the lip of a cliff, icicles dangled and begged to fall. Though not to a point, it would still do harm if it fell on top of us. And each time a ball from the sky landed, the ground would shake and one or two icicles would break off. The path got blocked off by a fallen tree, so we went around it on a small hill. At the top of the hill we could see the rest of the lake and more of the side of the mountain, but also two different demons. One shade, and a humanoid, green, almost transparent figure on the other side that floated around. Cassandra quietly rushed past me and told me to stay on top of the hill so I could flank them. Then when she got into position, she charged.

The two demons spotted her and quickly went to attack. I wasn’t sure entirely what to do as she was close to the shade. “Up on the hill!” She directed my eyes. “It attacks from a distance!”

The wraith did just as she said it would do. So, I focused on it, sending over balls of fire across the frozen lake from the end of my stick. Not enough time had passed to give my magic a break, so the headache returned. It didn’t take much before the conflict was over and the demons vanished. I came down and met Cassandra on the lake to be met with more dead bodies that were hidden from my view. “I don’t understand.” I muttered. “How could this happen?”

“Surely as a mage you know how ruthless demons can be.”

“They’re usually more subtle than this.”

“Maybe. But the explosion at the Temple did something to make them all aggressive. Like opening the floodgates.”

“I just can’t...the bodies…”

She puts a hand on my shoulder, “I’ve never gotten used to it. You just learn to ignore or deal with it quickly.”

“I don’t know if I can,” I confessed.

“Then let’s close the Breach and deal with it later.”

We continued onward, on and off the frozen path. There was a long bridge ahead that got struck by one of the falling balls and it crumbled down. Cassandra screamed in rage which drew the attention of more demons. “They’re coming from the Breach!” I concluded.

“You think?” she responded and drew her sword. She charged over to two demons and I was faced with one. Three more flanked us.

“We’re surrounded!” I shouted in fear.

“Just keep fighting!”

“I don’t know how much I’ve got!”

“Give it all!” She never flinched. I was stone still, but I knew that if I didn’t do anything that she would die, and I would have enabled it.

Water is a good conductor of electricity… “Cassandra! Stand on solid ground!”

Without question, she backed up to a patch of snowy dirt. I struck my stick into the ice and focused strongly on heat. I just needed to melt enough of the top layer, and since the whole lake was frozen, I didn’t have to worry about the ice just resurfacing. The headache pounded the more I focused and changed the temperature of the ice around me, far enough to reach the six demons that hurried toward Cassandra. A thin layer of water covered the surface, so finally I lifted my stick once more and switched my focus, like switching muscles, into electricity and slammed the sick back down sending jolts of electricity to the demons to incapacitate them. It was so cold that a few seconds after the switch, the water froze back over, but at least it did damage. Cassandra yelled and sliced at the demons as I fell to my knees gripping the stick due to the pain in my head. She finished off the demons.

Now, with practice, working out my magic, I could have done that move easily without too much - if any - pain. But because I wasn’t used to that, it almost got to failure and I would’ve passed out. The magic would have succeeded, my body instead would drop like all over muscle failure and I would be asleep on the ground.

Cassandra rushed over, “Are you injured?”

“No.” I panted. “Magically exhausted. That...that sounds weird.”

“What do you mean?”

“Magic is...is like a muscle. Muscle in the brain. But also not really physically there. It’s...hard to explain. We call it...we call it mana. When you overexert your magic you’ll get mana failure. You black out. Pass out. However you call it.”

“Can it be fixed?”

“With rest. The way it grows and recovers is almost exactly like muscle.”

“I see. Are you well enough to keep going?”

“I’m light headed but...I...yes. I want this to be over.”

“That makes two of us.” She helped me back up. All around us the trees were leafless, on the ground, or on fire. Sometimes all three. It was a solemn sight, and I wasn’t sure if I was tearing up from the destruction and death or the pain. Maybe all three.

There were stairs that led away from the ice. Cassandra and I carefully walked over to them and then climbed them as fast as we could. There were sounds of clashing off in the distance. “We’re getting close to the rift,” she began, “You can hear the fighting.”

“Your soldiers?”

“Maybe. We’ll see soon. We must help them.”

The sounds got louder and louder as we followed the path past the stairs. Soon we came across the collapsed bridge to our right, but straight ahead there was a ball of green coagulation hovering in place about thirty feet in the air. It had a green aura similar to the Breach and demons were being fought under it. A couple of Cassandra’s soldiers and two men who didn’t quite fit in. A bald elf with layered and ragged clothes twirled his staff and casted magic at the demons. The mug and pan on his backpack clanked together as he moved. And the other one, a dwarf in a red jacket, shot demons with his crossbow. Cassandra spared no time to join the fight. The demons fought a losing battle and before I could do anything the last one fell.

The bald elf looked at me instantly and grabbed my left wrist to force me to come closer to the rift, “Quickly,” he spoke hurriedly, “before more come through!” The closer I got to this rift, the more the mark flared, but this wasn’t the pain like before. It felt like my whole hand had fallen asleep and had the sensation of pins and needles. The elf brought my hand up to face the rift and there was a link between the mark on my hand and the rift. I felt it pull. It was like the mark was being powered almost by the rift itself. This mark could do more than close rifts, it could make them bigger. But I concentrated more on healing the rip in the veil. It made a sound similar to a distant explosion but it imploded and the link was severed. The pins and needles were gone from my hand as the mark quieted down, and the rift was completely gone.

I looked to the bald elf with my hand retracted, he had let go, and stared at him in worry, “What exactly just happened?”

He had a calm grin and voice, “You have proven the mark can seal the rifts.”

I grimaced and looked at my hand, “At least it’s not all pain.”

“Whatever magic opened the Breach in the sky also placed that mark upon your hand.” As he talked I looked down at it and activated it like I had discovered that I had a new muscle to move in my body. Though, it is foreign, even as a magical addition, the pins and needles effect happened, just not as harsh as before. “I theorized the mark might be able to close the rifts that have opened in the Breach’s wake, and it seems I was correct,” he concluded confidently.

I heard Cassandra walk up behind me and I stopped playing with the mark. “Meaning it could also close the Breach itself.”

He glanced over my shoulder to her, “Possibly.” He looked back at me and held his hands together in front. “It seems you hold the key to our salvation.”

Another voice came from the side, it was the dwarf, “Good to know! Here I thought we’d be ass-deep in demons forever.” The dwarf adjusted his gloves then stood near me. He seemed confident and acted relaxed. “Varric Tethras: rogue, storyteller, and occasionally unwelcome tagalong.” He introduced himself and winked at Cassandra.

“Unwelcome tagalong?” I cocked my head, “Are you with the Chantry?”

The elf chuckled, “Was that a serious question?”

Varric fiddled with the cuffs of his gloves, “Technically, I’m a prisoner, just like you.”

Cassandra was quick to reply, “I brought you here to tell your story to the Divine. Clearly that is no longer necessary.” She seemed defensive in her tone.

He grinned and shrugged, “Yet, here I am. Lucky for you, considering current events.”

“Wait,” I began, “what story?”

“Ever hear of the book, The Tale of the Champion ?” He asked.

Then it hit me. I remembered that I saw his book at the Haven library. Oh shit. “Heard of the title. And that it’s quite popular.”

“Ah, so you haven’t read it?” I shook my head, though I felt my cheeks become warm. “It’s about my friend, Marinda Hawke. And how she saved Kirkwall about three times. The Seeker here was wondering where to find such a hero. And ‘contacted’ me.” He air quoted. “When this is over, if you want, I can lend you a copy.”

“Sure. It’s nice to meet you, Varric.”

The elf replied, “You may reconsider that stance, in time.” I could hear the smile behind his voice. Maybe these two have known each other a for a while? Close friends?

Varric feigned offense, “Aww. I’m sure we’ll become great friends in the valley, Chuckles.”

Cassandra walked past me and stepped between Varric and I, “Absolutely not. Your help is appreciated, but-”

“Have you been in the valley lately, Seeker?” He interrupted. “Your soldiers aren’t in control anymore. You need me.” He ended in a confident grin and she responded with an annoyed grunt then stomped out of the way.

A small smile formed on my lips, trying to find a light of positivity, “Your, uh, crossbow is really amazing.”

He turned his head to look at it put away on his back, “Oh, isn’t she? Bianca is quite the beauty.”

The elf cleared his throat and said, “My name is Solas, if there are to be introductions. I am pleased to see you still live.” His smile was nice and calm, in fact between his relaxed demeanor and Varric’s humorous attitude, it made me feel a little better.

Varric said, “He means, I kept that mark from killing you while you slept.

“Do you know much about it?” I asked, “Any hints on how to deal with it?” His facial expression seemed more open and pleased when I asked.

Cassandra tried to lead into his answer, “He’s an apostate. Well-versed in such matters.”

“Technically,” he began, “all mages are now apostates. My travels have allowed me to learn much of the Fade. Far beyond the experience of any circle mage. I came to offer whatever help I can give with the Breach. If it is not closed, we are all doomed. Regardless of origin.”

“That’s how I view it, too.” I said.

“A sensible attitude. Though, sense is in short supply around here.” He turned to face Cassandra more directly, “You should know the magic involved here is unlike any I have seen.” Solas glanced at me and then back to her, “Your prisoner is a mage, though I find it difficult to imagine any mage having such power.”

She bowed her head, “Understood.” She turned to the pathway that led down by the collapsed bridge. “We must get to the forward camp quickly.” Solas bowed his head at me and then followed.

Varric passed me, “Well, Bianca’s excited!” He smiled.

The pathway was blocked by some rubble and we all climbed over it, Cassandra led. “This way, down the bank. The road ahead is blocked.”

“We must move quickly, then.” Solas added.

Varric looked back real quick and then chuckled, “I doubt you want to be called prisoner throughout this shit.”

“Oh!” I sputtered. “Yeah, my name is Evelyn. Evelyn Lavellan. Can call me Ev if you want.”

“Doubtful,” Solas replied. “It’s rare Varric ever calls someone by their actual name. He gives everyone a nickname.”

“As long as they’re okay with it, Chuckles.” Varric said.

“I don’t remember you gaining my permission first.”

“And yet, are you opposed?”

“I-”

“Wait,” Cassandra said as he held up her hand to stop us in our tracks. “Do you hear that?”

We had traveled down the path and ended up by another section of the frozen river. Cassandra crouched down to the snow and peered over the hill. Hushed tones carried on the wind. “Demons ahead,” Solas whispered.

Cassandra nodded, “Only a couple. We can take them easily. You three stay on the hill, attack from a distance. They’re on the ice, I can take them there.”

“Glad you brought me now, Seeker?” Varric took out his crossbow and loaded it.

Cassandra responded with a head movement that followed an eye roll. “Go,” she said sternly and drew her sword as she stood up. She wasted no time charging at them. “Someone focus on the wraith!” Her focus was on the shade.

The transparent wraith shot at her from a distance, Solas and Varric targeted the shade. Solas conjured frost magic mainly, and Varric took risky shots but never seemed to fail. Sometimes, Solas would charge Varric’s bolts with magic that would make the shot more deadly. Yet, no one took the wraith, and it was wailing on Cassandra.

Through my staff I ignited fire and shot it across the frozen water to the wraith. A hit. Whether or not spirits or demons could feel pain as we do was still up for debate, but the wraith shrieked and flailed until it put itself out and targeted me. The magic they put off is a weakening agent, and also gives the victim a push of force when it strikes. As if I wasn’t already exhausted, I got hit and fell back against the snow. “Hold on!” Solas shouted. A barrier formed around like a second layer of skin. I used my staff to help myself back up without sliding down the hill. The wraith took another shot at me but it was absorbed by the barrier, weakening it, but better it than me. I concentrated as much as I could and charged an electric bolt through the staff. The shock flew and landed on the wraith, enough to see it disappear back into the fade. Relatively weak demons, but still a major pain in the ass. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cassandra had stopped running toward it when it faded and she looked up at me as she sheathed her sword.The barrier had timed out per se, a quick concentration magic. Slap something on and let it dissipate on its own and not have to worry about fully focusing on it the whole time. Weaker, but effective.

Two burned down buildings sat across the frozen water, one still burned. Smoke arose from both of the homes, the wood made to build them was now charred black and crumbled. My ears folded back as my eyes followed the trail of smoke up. So many people… If they’re not dead, they’ve lost a home. Lost heirlooms. Lost handcrafted pieces. Money. Family or friends. Ripple. It’ll ripple. Lost a home, the people suffer and those close to them will feel it, too. Laughter is contagious, but so is crying. So is grief.

“We need to continue on,” Cassandra said.

“Which path? There’s two,” Varric pointed out. One pathway lead up between the two homes. The homes were quite far apart and the pathway was safe from any debris. But another path went along the river to the left.

“If we’re lucky, this will be the quickest route to the forward camp.” Cassandra followed the left path for a bit to see just up ahead. “We can try. There seems to be a camp in a small cove. Maybe survivors.”

Solas, Varric, and I carefully traversed across the ice to meet up with Cassandra and followed her. When we got close enough to the camp, it wasn’t abandoned, but the people were killed. The torn fabric they wore and clawed throats suggested the shade demon killed them. Blood stained the ice and snow around them and a foul odor.

“Damnit,” Varric sighed.

“At least we avenged them,” Cassandra sorrowfully said.

I couldn’t move as I stared at the dead bodies. Look away. I can’t. Look away. Do you want more people to die? Look away. I forced my head to turn and my body followed. “The trail is blocked,” I said, broken branches and fallen trees lay on the path completely blocking it. “We need to go away-go to the other path.” This can’t be real. My hands quivered and my head twitched. It didn’t feel like my feet were on the ground, and yet they were. I felt desperate to grab something to keep me from floating away. Nothing felt right. My brows strained from the facial expression I made.

“We must keep moving,” Solas said.

“Agreed. And if that path doesn’t work, we make our own,” Cassandra led us back. A part of me felt grateful that I wasn’t around the bodies anymore. Another part of me felt horrible for feeling grateful. What more could I have done? I tried to justify. Yet, the feeling pursued.

“Evelyn,” Solas began as if to distract me, “You are Dalish, but clearly away from the rest of your clan. Did they send you here?”

“Uh, yeah. To get first account on the Conclave. Are you…?” I said in a small voice.

“Am I Dalish? No. But, I have wandered many roads in my time, and crossed paths with your people on more than one occasion.” My people?

“Solas, what do you mean by that? We are both elves, no? We are of the same people,” I didn’t turn my head as it felt stiff in place, but I looked over at him with my eyes.

“The Dalish I met felt...differently on the subject.”

“Can’t you elves just play nice for once?” Varric sighed.

Though I was confused, I was reluctant to speak any further on the topic. After we passed the first burning house, the mark flared up surprisingly and pain shot up my arm like a dart. Enough to make me fall to my knees, death gripping my wrist in hopes it woulds stop the surge. I felt the strain of my jaw as it clenched, a tsssst sound coming from my slow but hard exhale. A hand clasped my shoulder and when the pain stopped I doubled over panting.

“Shit,” Varric said, “are you alright?”

“Why does it do this?” I asked.

Solas answered, “It is connected to the Breach and a foreign magic to you. When the Breach expands, so does the mark in a way. You are not of the fade, so it is painful. It’s also a very powerful magic, and you are not attuned to it.”

“What will happen when I sever the connection it has to the Breach?”

“Probably nothing. You have the mark, but closing the Breach would stop it from growing thus also stop the pain.”

“Can it be taken from me?”

“Unlikely. Unless whoever in question has the magic to do so.”

“Fuck,” I muttered.

“Let’s not worry about that now. One thing at a time,” Varric said as he helped me up.

The pathway had ruined walls and debris littering the way. Cassandra led the way and I followed close behind her. Iced stairs made the way up treacherous and slow. My arms wrapped around my body for both warmth and comfort. My left hand was numb from the cold, and so was my nose. A bitter feeling. Everyone took cautious steps as we trailed upward.

Varric broke the silence, “So uh… are you innocent?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember what happened. I want to believe I am,” I said.

“That’ll get you everytime.”

“What?”

“Should’ve spun a story.”

“That’s what you would have done,” Cassandra said.

“It’s more believable,” Varric began, “and less prone to result in premature execution.”

“Premature execution?” I asked.

Hushed whispers traveled the wind. “Wait,” Cassandra said.

“There can’t be more,” I whispered.

“There are. We have to defeat them.”

I sighed. Heavy exhaustion weighed over me. My shivers were almost gone, but my eyelids felt thick and heavy. Every step I took was like walking through deep water. “I don’t know how much I can do,” I said.

“We must push through. Even if it pains us.”

“Everyone has a limit on how much they can take.”

“We have no choice,” Solas said.

“Varric, Solas, stay with me. But no matter what, she has to stay alive,” Cassandra ordered.

Solas took out his staff and Varric his crossbow. When Cassandra unsheathed her sword, that’s when they took positions.

Burden. I stayed back as ordered. Burden. Solas put up a barrier around Cassandra like he had done for me previously. I could help . Varric watched her back like a hawk and shot at a demon that dared to try and flank her. Why am I so weak? The staff Solas wielded shot ice spikes out that pierced the demons. If I was only happy staying in my clan, maybe all of this wouldn’t have happened. A heavy heart sank in my chest and time felt slowed. Everything on my body felt weighed down as if my emotions pulled me toward the ground. A bitter bite stung a trail from my eye down to my chin, a salty taste broke into my mouth. The only reason I’m still alive is because they think I can save them. What if I can’t? Is my worth only in the fact I might be able to save lives with some magic I didn’t even know existed?

Well, I’m definitely not proving myself any other way by standing here taking a break while everyone else fights.

Am I fair to myself?

I tightened my grip on my staff, there was no holder on my back like Solas had, so I had to carry mine. They finished the fight without me. Worthless.

Cassandra sheathed her sword, “I hope Leliana made it through all this.” Varric and Solas put away their weapons soon after. She motioned for me to approach and when I caught up, we continued on the path.

“She’s resourceful, Seeker,” Varric said.

“We will see for ourselves at the forward camp,” Solas said. “We are almost there.”

Wooden things burned along the path, no longer recognizable. Everything felt familiar. This path was the one I took to get to the Conclave, and there was a body on the ground I barely recognized, but I did. Impaled by some debris right through the midsection. They had died a slow and agonizing death. Why can’t I remember? The face? The name? What caused the explosion? The mark on my hand flares, but not with pain, with the tingling sensation.

As the path wraps around, the tops of a gate could be seen and the top of another rift. “There’s another one!” Cassandra exclaimed.

Everyone prepared themselves as demons spawned from the rift. “We must seal it!” Solas exclaimed, “Quickly!”

I linked the mark to the rift, and felt the pull of the magic, the hunger wanting. Instead of closing it, the rift sort of shifted and the demons shrieked. They were almost disoriented. My mark didn’t want to reconnect, it was like the rift was there but wasn’t at the same time. Everyone stopped for a minute mostly taken aback by the shrieks but after a few more seconds, the rift burst back open and the demons came back to their senses so to speak. The mark flared up again.

“The demons anchor the rift,” Solas said, “It won’t close fully until we destroy them!”

“Do it again!” Cassandra ordered, “We can hit them while they are weakened!”

“Yes!” He exclaimed, “Trying to close the rift while the demons anchor it, severs them from the Fade!” And demons and spirits are only used to a metaphysical realm, not a physical one with laws.

They ensued the fight and I tampered with the rift, one of the demons was weakened to the point it got sucked back through. One by one, the demons returned until all the ‘anchors’ were gone. Thus the rift was vulnerable. The pull to close it versus tempering was drastically different. Anytime I use the mark, it sends those tingles up my arm though when it’s idle, I only feel it in my hand. This is desperate. Like the rift is alive and starving for the magic embedded on my hand. Pins and needles traveled up my arm and down my side and up my neck, until it felt quiet. The rift was sealed. Gone.

“The rift is gone! Open the gate!” Cassandra ordered. The soldier responded and pulled the gate open, the forward camp was located on the bridge.

“We’re clear for the moment,” Solas said as he holstered his staff, “Well done.”

“Wait, for the moment ? Will the rift come back?” I asked.

“If we don’t close the Breach, then yes.”

“Hey,” Varric said, “whatever that thing on your hand is, it’s useful. We’ve got a chance at this.” I guess a chance is better than absolutely nothing.

The bridge was crowded. Where there weren’t people, there were supplies. There was barely any walking room and on the edges of the bridge held makeshift barricades. The bitter wind carried the smell of blood and sweat. Though, past the sounds of pained groans and cries, there were two people at an organized table arguing. One voice sounded familiar. The argument was about getting me to the Temple of Sacred Ashes.

“Enough!” the unknown voice yelled, “I will not have it!” The voice came from a Chantry dressed man.

Leliana was arguing with this man. My blood felt cold when I saw her. They were arguing about me. What’s happening? Cassandra joined them at the table where a map lay and the rest of us followed.

“Ah, here they come,” the Chantry man crossed his arms in a snarl.

Though it wasn’t a smile, Leliana’s face did seem to light up when she saw us. She stepped aside and gave full view to me, “Good, you made it,” she turned to the man, “Chancellor Roderick, this is--”

He held up his hand and interrupted her, “I know who she is. And as Grand Chancellor of the Chantry I order you to take this criminal to Val Royeaux immediately for execution,” He sternly told Cassandra. My heart dropped. Execution? No questioning? That’s what his mind immediately goes to?

Cassandra scoffed and took a step towards him, “Order me? You are a glorified clerk! A bureaucrat!” It had sounded like she was speaking through her teeth. “I do not answer to you.”

I wanted to speak but I was afraid to intervene. The Chancellor turned all the way to Cassandra and took a step, “And you are a thug. A thug who supposedly serves the Chantry!”

“I don’t think now is a good time to argue about this,” I finally muttered. Though after I realized I had said it, it was like my blood turned sour. Shut up, Ev.

“She’s right,” Leliana spoke up, “Both of them are right. We serve the Most Holy as you well know, Chancellor .”

The Chancellor snarled at Leliana, “But Justinia is dead! We must elect a new divine and obey her orders on the matter!”

“And how long does that usually take?” I stepped up, the little voice in the back of my head told me to keep down and shut up. I pointed at the Breach, “I think we have more pressing matters. Because if that thing continues to exist, you won’t get the chance to elect a new Divine.”

“And why should we listen to you?” He yelled at me, “ You brought this upon us in the first place! It wouldn’t be below an elf to dismantle the Chantry.”

“Enough!” Leliana yelled, though the force behind the word made it sound more like a growl. “You would let bigotry blind you from salvation, is that it?”

He dropped his head and sighed, “I-no, I’m sorry. But look at that cloud in the sky and our men. Call a retreat, Seeker,” he turned to Cassandra, “Our position here is hopeless.”

Cassandra leaned on the table, “No. We can stop this before it’s too late.”

“How? We won’t survive long enough to reach the temple. Even with your soldiers.”

“We need to make sure Evelyn gets to the Breach. She can close rifts, she might be able to close the Breach. We should take the quickest route to the temple,” Cassandra suggested.

Leliana shook her head, “But not the safest,” She pointed up to the mountains, “Our forces can charge as a distraction while we go through the mountains.”

“Not the safest,” Cassandra said, “We lost an entire squad on that path.”

The Chancellor straightened up, “Listen to me,” he begged, “Abandon this now before more lives are lost!”

How blind could- “And if we don’t do anything then all lives will be-” I was interrupted when the Breach expanded and caused the mark on my hand to flare. Searing pins and needles coursed up my arm to the base of my head. I tried to choke out the pain by gripping my wrist but to no avail. I held my breath and tensed to try and combat the pain, though the mix resulted in an unwanted whimper escaping my lungs. Cassandra approached and put her hand on my shoulder. The pain died down just as quickly as it came.

“How do you think we should proceed?” She asked.

I straightened up, “Wait, why listen to me?”

“You have the mark,” Solas said.

“That doesn’t make me qualified to put me in charge,” I said.

“We need another voice since we cannot agree on our own,” Cassandra said as she lifted her hand off me, “And you are the one we must keep alive.”

I wasn’t used to hearing that and grimaced. Suddenly this mark makes me more important than multiple lives. It felt...wrong but I understood the logic. In the end, closing the Breach would save many lives, and I am the only one that can do it. It wasn’t me who was worth more, it was my association to the mark. And I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about that. “You said you lost contact with the people on the mountain path?” I asked.

“Yes, we don’t know what happened to them.”

“So, could they still be alive?”

“Maybe, but we need to focus on getting you to the Breach.”

“Leliana says it could be the safest, it looks discreet. And that she can provide a distraction to make sure of it. Go the mountain path, and maybe we will run into your soldiers and we could technically have added forces to aid in the Breach,” I concluded. Plus reassurance. Cassandra’s face turned sour for a moment. “We need to work together. We all know what’s at stake.”

She nodded and turned to Leliana, “Bring everyone left in the valley. Everyone.” Cassandra then motioned us to follow her.

As we passed the Chancellor, he gave us all death glares, “On your head be the consequence, Seeker.”

Chapter Text

The trek up to the mountain path was grueling. There was no clear cut path and so we trudged through thick snow that reached up to my shins. And poor Varric had it up to his knees. The snow had made my pants wet and I could feel the cold seep through to my skin. My legs became numb and soon enough the wet got into my boots. I was probably the least prepared of the group.

The trek continued following the ridge of part of the mountain, part of me regretted taking the path especially when I looked down. There were a few times when each of us almost slipped, but we caught one another. Finally, we found the main path that led up to a set of ladders against the mountain side. Man-made structures and platforms were a welcome sight. The wind up this high blew harsher, colder, and drier. I had to breathe through my mouth because of my numb, runny nose.

Cassandra coughed, “The tunnel should be up ahead. Up those ladders. The path to the Temple is just beyond it.”

Solas was surprisingly not very affected by the cold, though he could be passively using his magic to keep himself warm. I would be using mine as well if I wasn’t exhausted. “What matter of tunnel is this? A mine?”

“Yes,” Cassandra answered, “Part of an old mining complex. The mountains are filled with such paths.”

Varric grunted through the snow, “And your missing soldiers are there?”

Solas said, “Along with whatever detained them.”

“We shall see soon enough,” Cassandra said.

“Up those ladders then?” I asked.

“Yes, try not to look down.”

The ladders and the wooden platforms they were attached to were rickety and old. Obviously weathered. Getting my legs to work properly while going up them was tricky. My body protested because of the cold and exhaustion. When we got into the actual mine, we all took a moment to shake off the snow and Solas offered to evaporate the melted snow from our clothes. It wasn’t enough to quell the numbness in my legs but it was a lot better than nothing.

The mine was deserted and dark. An old torch lay on the ground, still relatively warm which made me assume it was dropped. I picked it up and lit it with a quick wave of my hand. We led ourselves through the mine and smelled a foul odor, that’s when we found a dead body. They wore similar attire to the soldiers. There were a few dead bodies that led out through the exit.

“Guess we found the missing soldiers,” Varric sighed.

Cassandra coughed and counted, “That cannot be all of them. There were more.”

“Could they be holed up ahead?”

“Maybe.”

“Our priority is the Breach. Unless we seal it soon, no one is safe,” Solas reminded us.

“I’m leaving that to our elven friend here,” Varric said.

As we left the mine, I extinguished the torch and breathed in the bitter air, “Trust me, I’ll do my best.”

“That is all we can ask,” Solas said.

Crumbled stairs lead down to a level path on the mountain, the breach seemingly straight ahead. As we follow the path, it forks off, one leads straight to the breach and the other to a balcony overlooking the ledge of the mountain with a couple statues on it, soldiers fighting, and a rift. One of them saw us, “Lady Cassandra!” they yelled during the fight.

Cassandra happily yelled back, “Lieutenant! You’re alive!”

“Just barely!” My mark tingled as we got close to the rift. “The crystals won’t work around the rifts!”

“Interference from the Fade, most likely,” Solas responded.

“I guess we should fix that,” I opened a link to the rift and pushed through the tingling sensation to close it. It’s not getting any easier...at least it’s not getting harder.

“You’re becoming quite proficient at this,” Solas praised.

“Wait,” one of the soldiers gave me a stare, “just like that, eh? Not that I’ll complain.”

I shrugged, “Magic.” Cassandra rushed over to a soldier that was wounded and helped to bandage them.

“Let’s just hope it works on the big one,” Varric eyed the Breach.

“Thank the Maker you arrived when you did,” the wounded soldier said. Cassandra helped them up.

“You should thank Evelyn,” Cassandra pointed to me, “She’s the one who insisted we come this way.”

The lieutenant turned to look at me, “You were the prisoner, weren’t you? Then…” I nodded, though I was unsure where they were going with their sentence. They made a fist and put their right arm over their chest, “You have my sincerest gratitude, Evelyn.” Every life is worth saving if I can help it.

Cassandra and the wounded soldier walked to us, “The way behind us is clear. Go, while you still can.”

The lieutenant nodded, “At once.” They eyed each of the remaining soldiers, “Quickly, let’s move out!” Then as a group they went back up the path.

Solas walked to a higher point overlooking the path beyond us, “The path ahead seems to be clear of demons as well.”

“We should hurry before that changes,” Cassandra paced past and beckoned us to follow. The path before us became steep and we had to tread carefully.

“So, just to clarify,” I began, “I close the Breach, and then what?”

“We find out who’s responsible and take them down,” She responded.

“Has anyone thought that maybe the person who exploded the Conclave died? Was I the only survivor?”

“Not the only one I’m sure. But the biggest anomaly.” Cassandra led us down ladders as the terrain had become too steep. Unstable wooden platforms came after each ladder. We all had to be careful with each step on the ladder as most were covered with snow or ice. My foot slipped a few times and I could feel my heart jump each time. Once the last ladder was behind us, there was a slippery slope ahead. We all locked onto each other for balance and stability. I held onto Cassandra and Solas who held onto Varric.

Though, Varric slipped and knocked over Solas that brought me down with them and we slid past Cassandra to the bottom of the slope covered in snow. The chill seeped through my clothes and I had a bone-chilling shiver. Solas got up first and helped me up while Cassandra carefully slid down and helped Varric. She dusted him off while Solas used his magic to help warm us back up, telling me to save my energy.

“Thank you,” I said.

“No problem,” Solad replied.

“It’s just ahead,” Cassandra pointed, “See those jagged formations? That’s from the crater.”

We still had a ways to go, “How big was this explosion exactly?” I asked in disbelief.

“It leveled a mountain top,” Varric answered, “Pretty big. Though, holes in the Fade don’t just accidentally happen, right? Someone did do this?”

Solas answered as we continued down the path, “If enough magic is brought to bear, it is possible.”

“But there are easier ways to make things explode.”

“That is ture.”

“We will consider how this happened,” Cassandra interrupted, “once the immediate danger is past.”

As we got closer to the crater, down broken and slippery stairs, I felt my heart pound in my chest. The future has never felt so unsure until now. I felt so far away from home in many ways. Like I was teleported into another world. Wouldn’t be so funny if this was all just a bad fever dream? But it’s not. I can’t control things around me as I would normally be able to in my dreams. No, this is real. And there’s nothing I can do to change that. Just...have to deal with it… What if a rift opened near my clan? She said all over Thedas, right? Did she say that? Fuck...I can’t remember anymore… What’s wrong with me? Soon enough the light snow became ash as we approached the crater. I couldn’t tell if some rocks were reflective of the green beacon of light or had some kind of green vein to it. Pieces of buildings and structures were scattered everywhere. The air smelled of fire, burned bodies, materials with a pungent odor that shouldn’t be burned. There was an intense slope down as we officially entered the outskirts of the crater. On level ground, we began a search for an entrance into the middle. Some building still stood, and parts of the mountain were scattered making new walls and blockades.

“The Temple of Sacred Ashes,” Solas said under his breath.

“Well, what’s left of it,” Varric added.

There was a broken bridge up ahead and Cassandra pointed to just under it, “That is where you walked out of the Fade and our soldiers found you. They say a woman was in the rift behind you. No one knew who she was.”

“Where is that rift now?” I asked.

“Gone almost as soon as you collapsed on the ground below it.” We crossed over uneven terrain, the soil beneath our feet was loose Charred bodies cowarded in an upright position were along the pathway as if they were burnt to a crisp instantly. Debris scattered the plain and most were still on fire. Some burnt bones littered the ground. There’s an arch that leads to the center passed all of this. It had a dip in the ground that seemed to go into what was a lower level or basement, now the only level. We passed an oddly suspicious burned corpse as it had a reddish glow emanating from it.

Just straight ahead was the Breach, high in the sky but where we were it was almost eye level suggesting we still needed to go down. About two levels down when we got towards the edge. Giant glowing red rocks were embedded and scattered everywhere. Not only did they have an ominous glow but they smelled metallic and a bit sour. The Breach had a beam of green light from the main rift that went up into the sky, like we were standing in the eye of the storm. Clouds circled around the beam and had a low rumble to them.

“The Breach is a long way up,” Varric muttered. And for a second, he seemed more worried than I was. At least, I hadn’t seen him make that face before.

Plenty of footsteps are heard behind us and we turned to see Leliana and a group of soldiers. Leliana rushes up to us, “You’re here. Thank the Maker.”

“Have you men take up positions around the Temple,” Cassandra ordered. Then I heard Leliana distantly talk to them as I turned around to look at the Breach. I noticed a statue directly next to the rift. It was a large statue of someone I couldn’t recognize, it didn’t help that it was broken. Cassandra placed her hand on my shoulder, “This is your chance to end this. Are you ready?”

I’m ready for it to end, but I don’t think I’m comfortable with how this is supposed to go down...but, I don’t have a choice do I? “Yeah, I’ll try. Though, I’m not sure my mark can reach that.”

“No,” Solas began, “this rift is the first. It is the key. Seal it, and perhaps we’ll seal the Breach.”

How much will this hurt? Ev, your one life doesn’t matter compared to all of Thedas. Cassandra broke my thoughts, “Then let’s find a way down and be careful.” We began walking around to find a safe way down, that’s when I noticed pieces of the statue was floating. It’s like the Fade is bleeding into this world… It’s not just a casual opening, it’s a wound. Holy shit what have I gotten into…

A deep voice coming from the Breach started to talk, “Now is the hour of our victory.” Everyone stopped and looked at each other confused. “Bring forth the sacrifice.”

“What are we hearing?” Cassandra asked. That’s when I noticed, the green in the rocks weren’t reflections but more like veins and it pulsed like a breathing chest. The bleed from the Fade…

“At a guess,” Solas began, “the person who created the Breach.”

“Like a memory?” I asked.

“Precisely,” Solas remarked almost pleasantly.

As we continued to look for a way down, we came across large, jagged rocks that had a strong red aura with reddish orange veins that snaked out into the aura. “What is this?” I asked.

“Red lyrium,” Varric answered, “But what’s it doing here ?”

“Magic could’ve drawn on the lyrium beneath the temple, corrupted it…” Solas pondered.

“It’s evil. Whatever you do, don’t touch it. Drives you mad.”

“So, red lyrium is just corrupted lyrium?” I asked.

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Solas answered. “Though we should worry about it more later.”

Just then, the deep voice echoed again, “Keep the sacrifice still.”

“What sacrifice-”

I was interrupted by another voice that echoed, a terrified voice, “Somone! Help me!”

Cassandra’s eyes widened, “That’s Divine Justinia’s voice!” The pace quickened around the ridge as Cassandra led us. We had to carefully pass through a narrow ridge of red lyrium to get to a set of eroded stairs. The path just below wrapped back around to a dead end and a crumbled ledge that Cassandra gave no second thought to pushing herself off of. She rolled into a landing. Solas and Varric followed similarly. I hesitated but slid off the edge and rolled albeit not as gracefully as the other three. It only accentuated just how sore I was and how bruised I felt.

Cassandra marched towards the Breach paying no attention to us. I painfully stood up and dusted myself off then followed her. Though, as I got closer to the Breach, my mark flared up and the sensation traveled up my arm. “Someone! Help me!” the voice repeated.

Then my voice echoed from it, “What’s going on...here…”

Cassandra turned to me, “That was your voice! Most Holy called out to you but…”

She was interrupted by a sudden flash of light, a vision of a memory seemed to play out just below the rift with greyscale silhouettes. It was played as if there were a set of eyes in that exact spot. A large, eerie figure with something glowing in their hand peered over someone in high ranked Chantry clothes probably Divine Justinia. Her arms stretched out, a red aura of circles similar to the aura of the red lyrium seemed to be keeping her arms in that position. It was like looking at spirits. The thing is, the Divine seemed much more vivid than the large figure in front of her, as if the memory didn’t want to remember. Then a version of me ran into the scene. I could see the fear and shock in my face. Eyes widened. Ears suddenly flattened. A sudden stop as it seems I realized what was going on. “What’s going on...here…” vision-me repeated.

The Divine called to vision-me, “Run while you can! Warn them!”

The vision got fuzzy as it started to fade out. The last thing we heard was the deep voice, “We have an intruder. Slay the elf.” Then things seemed to be “normal” again. Nothing else played, vision or hearing.

Cassandra snap-turned to me, “You were there!” She stomped to me ready to hit, I felt my heart jump into my throat, “Who attacked? Can you explain what they’re doing?” Her questions rapid fire until finally she grabbed the collar of my top, “How… What are we seeing?”

I felt shaky and the raise in her voice made it difficult to bite back any fear, “I-I don’t remember! I don’t remember anything we just saw! I.... I don’t know why! You have to believe me!”

Solas was quick to intervene, “What we saw were echoes of what happened here. The Fade bleeds into this place. Even then, we cannot fully trust what we just witnessed.”

Cassandra sighed and let go of me, “I apologize, I reacted harshly.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. “I understand,” I said in a shaky voice. “Now, this rift is acting differently, yeah? I don’t think this will be a simple close.”

“You are correct,” Solas remarked, “This rift is not sealed, but it is closed. Albeit temporarily. I believe that with the mark, the rift can be reopened, and closed safely. However, opening the rift will likely attract attention from the other side.”

“That means demons,” Cassandra said.

“With this being important as it is, and just how big it is...I highly doubt it’s just going to be the demons we’ve faced so far,” I said reluctantly.

“That means even more dangerous demons,” Varric corrected Cassandra.

“In any case,” Cassandra began, “Stand ready!”

Archers get into position up on the ridge, soldiers join us down here. It’s not an army, but it’s a lot better than working alone. After everyone drew their weapon, Cassandra gave me a nod and drew her sword. I linked with the rift, but the sheer power of it felt like it was dragging me to it, I stumbled forward a bit but it doesn’t take long to reopen it. A bright light flashes just before a push of power that sends everyone on their ass. A swirl of green wisp shoots out from the rift and opens a small hole in the air nearby that materializes a huge demon. Dark purple and black, horned on its head, elbows, shins, jagged all over, large sharp teeth, taller than a one-story house. Pride demon . The small hole closed and the demon’s evil laugh shook the ground.

“Now!” Cassandra ordered as she held up her sword. Archers fired at the demon but most of the arrows simply bounced off its hardened skin and horns. Mildly annoyed, it turns to face some of the archers, its hand sparked and it lashed out, making a whip with an electric bolt that incapacitated the archers.

The demon casted a ball of electricity and shot it my way. I wasn’t fast enough to dodge it fully so I got a harsh shock that took me to the ground. Solas rushed to check on me. Can’t close the rift with a demon anchoring it here… I heard the sounds of clashing and grunts as people got hit, the rumble of the demon’s laughing that shook the earth. Cassandra shouted, “We must strip its defenses! Wear it down!” But I can tamper with the rift.

Solas offered his hand to help me back up, I took it and then immediately linked with the rift, the hunger it had yanked me forward enough to get back on my feet, albeit I wasn’t standing up well. After a few seconds, the link broke and the rift shifted. The demon dropped to its knees and I could see the hardened plates on its skin shifting around. Weakened . “The demon is weakened!” I shakily yelled.

“Its vulnerable! Now!” Cassandra ordered. Archers realigned their shots to hit the fleshy bits. Solas enhanced Varric’s bolts with spirit magic and Cassandra joined the other soldiers up close and personal with it. I felt dizzy and light headed, like I wasn’t all there. I shot basic fire out of my makeshift staff because it was all my body allowed me to do. Even those shots were heavily weakened.

Solas called out, “Save your energy! Focus on the rift!” Soon enough, the rift had realigned to its original shape, and so did the plates on the demon as it stood back up. It lashed out with another electrical whip that stunned half of the soldiers. Okay, don’t get hit and fuck with the rift.

Another link, more sensations and tingles. All unpleasant. Yet another jerk forward that almost caused me to fall over but I caught myself with my staff. This required energy from me with each tamper. I didn’t know how long I could last, my body was so sore and tired, freezing. Adrenaline had been coursing through me almost all this time. I felt like I could drop any second. The link broke and I desperately held onto my staff for support. Cassandra called out another attack though I couldn’t quite catch it because my hearing was going. My eyes wanted to stay closed, my muscles didn’t want to listen to me despite the killer demon within my vision. My breathing was slowing and I felt fuzzy. I almost collapsed but I saw the demon dissipate out of my peripheral, the sudden ounce of hope woke me up just enough to hear Cassandra say, “Now! Seal the rift! Do it!”

Just...one...more….push. I linked with the rift with all of my might and concentration, the pained, now almost numb, tingles pushed up my arm. I felt my energy being sapped from me. It was just enough. I saw the rift shift and close as I collapsed to the ground, my exhale loud in my skull. The last thing I felt was a harsh push of energy and a light that pierced my eyelids before it all went silent and black.

Chapter Text

Scutter. Shuffle-shuffle. Creak. I felt stiff as I woke up. I was surrounded by wood, a natural glow from the sun peered through a window on the wall. My head rested on a pillow and I was covered in a thick, warm blanket or two. Maybe it really was all a dream? There was a nice ambience of a crackling fire close by and more sounds of someone inside of the room. Or…

I carefully sat up and peered at the person in my room. A petite elf with short hair was carrying a crate. She saw me looking at her and immediately dropped the crate which made a loud clank sound. She immediately went into a defensive posture, slightly hunched over and her arms up by her chest, “Oh!” She squeaked. I quickly sat up and noticed the different clothes I was wearing and was taken aback slightly. I don’t think it was a dream. “I didn’t know you were awake I swear!” Her voice was frightened and her hands trembled. I was more confused than anything.

“Wait, why are you frightened? What happened? Where am I? How long was I out?” I asked, a tension forming in my forehead.

She looked away for a moment, “That was wrong was it? I said the wrong thing.”

“No, you-”

She dropped to her knees immediately with her arms stretched in front of her in a worshipping style. I was even more confused and quickly moved to sit at the edge of the bed, throwing the covers off me. “I beg your forgiveness and your blessing.” Beg? Blessing? “I am but a humble servant.” Who does she think I am? Her forehead reached the floor.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I confessed. “I have no idea where I am or how I got here.”

“You are back in Haven, my Lady.” My Lady? “They say you saved us. The Breach stopped growing, just like the mark on your hand.” I looked at my left palm and did a focus that activated the foreign magic. A horizontal green line formed across, the glow similar to the rifts. Gods, it wasn’t a dream. My heart sped up and my eyes darted around the room I was in. She looked up at me, “It’s all anyone has talked about for the last three days.” Three days?

“So… Are we safe? Am I still on trial? What’s next?”

“I don’t know anything about that,” She stood up, knees slightly bent and hunched over in a scared posture. “I’m certain Lady Cassandra will want to know you’ve wakened. She said at once.” Her hands were grasping one another and eyes widened; her arms still trembling.

“Where is she? Why are you so frightened?”

“I…” She glanced behind her and slowly backed up, “She’s in the Chantry, with the lord Chancellor.” Her steps became quicker. “At once she said.” She turned around and practically ran out the door, closing it behind her.

My heart pounded in my chest, I felt the strain from having my ears folded back for so long. The room I was in served as more of a one room house with the added amenity. I saw what seemed to be my boots by the fire, my old clothes folded neatly on a desk, a coat hung on a rack by the door. The bed I was on was a bit bigger than what I was used to. The linens smelled fresh, in fact the whole room had a nice aroma, which would be quite nice if I wasn’t on the verge of panicking.

I was still on the edge of my bed. I grasped at the sheets to try and ground myself. Thoughts flooded my mind. Why was she so afraid of me? Why would she beg for forgiveness as if I was an empress or god? Why am I here? Who changed my clothes? Who took care of me for three days? What all did they do to me? I didn’t want to move. Why can’t this be a dream? I felt so lost and confused. Scared. Maybe if I see Cassandra, I’ll have a better idea and understanding and I’ll calm down sooner. Just...breathe...one foot in front of the other.

I slowly stood up and the fabric from the nightgown draped down to my ankles. It felt nice at least. Warm. Ruffles at the edges. Okay seriously, who dressed me? I felt my hair, it was in one braid, a bit rough probably from the sleeping. There was a tall dresser in the room that I investigated. A few clothes, most seemed like they were never worn but would fit me. Fresh undergarments at least. That’s when I noticed from the window the group of people outside huddled around a path. They were all talking to each other but most kept looking back at the building I was in as if they were waiting. Oh no… That’s a lot of people. Why are they waiting for me? Is it for me? Why? To say thank you or something? I would’ve settled for a nice note. Please… My heart pounded in my chest again and I found myself stepping back, stopped only by the foot of my bed. My eyes darted around the room again, papers were on the desk with my old clothes. I rushed over and frantically searched through to get any insight into what the fuck was going on. There was one paper that seemed to catch my eye, as if it was torn out of a journal:

Patient observations

Vain hope: Someone better at this than me takes over before the survivor expires. Notes in case.

--Day One--

Clammy. Shallow breathing. Pulse over-fast. Not responsive. Pupils dilated. Mage says her scarring “mark” is thrumming with unknown magic. Wish we could station a templar in here, just in case.

I couldn’t tell if this was when I first came out of the rift or if it was three days ago. They know my name, why use the word survivor? I kept the torn page out where I could access easily. One thing I noticed was my crystal or orb wasn’t in the room, but my other belongings were. I got dressed quickly and put on a coat, I didn’t mind how my hair looked; I just wanted answers.

When I opened the door, I felt my eyes sting with the bright light and reflective snow. Two guards were saluting me with their hands over their chest. Guards lined the path in a similar stance keeping the huge crowd of people from blocking it. They all hushed when they saw I was out. I walked down the few steps the first two guards were guarding and felt the eyes of dozens of people on me as I walked the path. “That’s her,” one person began, “That’s the Herald of Andraste.”

The Herald of what? My breathing got faster. Who do they think I am? Do they realize where I come from? Do they realize I have no idea what I’m doing? The path forked off, Haven had an odd layout for a small town, though it was built on a mountain side. It seemed less people were at the left path so that’s where I went. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to run or not… So many eyes on me… I knew the cold wasn’t what was making me tremble.

Just before the next few steps, there was about five people eyeing me. “That’s her,” Oh no, don’t say it again, “She stopped the Breach from getting any bigger.” That’s when I turned around and saw that there was still a green swirl of clouds off in the distance. So, I didn’t close it… Was it because I passed out too soon? I felt my lips quiver and heart pound in my chest. My head strained from keeping my ears folded down so harshly. I quickly walked up the stairs, the Chantry just ahead. Chantry brothers and sisters crowded by the main doors, though they stayed out of my path. Why me? As I passed them I overheard a few people speaking.

“Chancellor Roderick says the Chantry wants nothing to do with us.”

“That isn’t his decision, Sister.”

“Most of the Grand Clerics died at the Conclave. Who will lead us now?”

“Andraste didn’t have Grand Clerics telling her what to do, and she managed nonetheless.”

“You expect us to be like Andraste?”

“Someone has to.”

When I got to the door, a Chantry sister smiled calmly at me, bowed, and opened the door. “Go in peace, Herald of Andraste,” she muttered.

I gave her a look, “What did you call me?”

“Ah, you best go see Seeker Cassandra. Furthest room at the back of the corridor. She will explain.”

I kept giving her a blank stare before I caught myself doing it for however long. I shook my head and slowly walked through the doorway. She casually closed the door behind me which made a loud echo throughout the corridor. The ceiling was high, and every column had a torch lit. A long rug led from the entrance to the back room. It was grand I give it that. As I walked I looked up and all around at the different sculptures and architectural designs. The carvings in the stone and wood. The paintings all along the wall. Decorative pieces and many flowers on almost all tables. A chandelier hung from the ceiling that looked freshly clean. It didn’t have the regular candles, instead it had the design that connected to a rune system to light them remotely. Banners holding the Chantry symbol and various Andrastian designs hung from the columns as well. It was warm in here, warm enough to make me sweat a little and so I took off the coat, wrapping the arms around my waist. As I got closer to the door I could hear muffled yelling.

“-taken to Val Royeaux immediately, to be tried by whoever becomes Divine!” The voice sounded familiar.

“I do not believe she is guilty.” That was Cassandra’s voice… I rushed to the door, though I hesitated to open it.

“The elf failed, Seeker. The Breach is still in the sky. For all you know, she intended it that way,” Is that that one guy? Chancellor something? I continued to overhear the conversation.

“I do not believe that,” she repeated, sounding more stern.

“That is not for you to decide. Your duty is to serve the Chantry.”

It sounded like she made a disgusted noise, “This again? My duty is to serve the principles on which the Chantry was founded, Chancellor. As is yours .”

“Do you not understand what’s needed?”

“And do you not understand what’s at stake?”

They’re just going to keep bickering until I enter… I took a deep breath and opened the door, two guards were standing by the door and looked over at me. “Chain her!” The Chancellor ordered, though both of the guards hesitated to move. “I want her brought to the capital for trial.”

Cassandra quickly intervened, “Disregard that, and leave us.” Both guards did the hand-to-chest salute and left the room closing the door behind them.

The room was small, but well lit. There was a wide table in the middle of the room, a thick scroll lay in the middle. Books and papers were scattered over the table. Leliana was also in the room. The Chancellor glared at Cassandra, “You walk a dangerous line, Seeker.” Chancellor Dameon? Derick? No...no… neither of those…

“The Breach is stable but it is still a threat. I refuse to ignore it,” Cassandra stepped closer to him and glared him down, though he seemed to keep composure.

“I wasn’t enough?” I asked, though in a small voice.

“Yes, which is why we shouldn’t waste anymore time on you,” The Chancellor snapped at me. Chancellor Dick… Roderick!

“Hey, I tried. I did everything I could to close it. I think it almost killed me.”

“You didn’t try hard enough as you yet live. A convenient result as far as you’re concerned.”

Cassandra snapped back, speaking through her teeth, “Have a care, Chancellor. The Breach is not the only threat we chase.”

Leliana stepped towards the Chancellor, “Someone was behind the explosion at the Conclave. Someone Most Holy did not expect.” Roderick took a step back defensively. “Perhaps,” Leliana led on, “they died to the others. Or perhaps they have allies that yet live.”

Chancellor Roderick gasped and I couldn’t help but silently snicker, “ I am a suspect?”

“You,” Leliana raised her voice, “and many others.”

“But not the prisoner?” He pointed to me.

“It’s Evelyn ,” I muttered.

“Your name won’t matter after they finally see your guilt, elf .” He glared at me, I wasn’t used to confrontation quite like this and looked away from his eye. A lump in my throat became present and I felt my cheeks burn.

“I heard the voices in the temple,” Cassandra began, “The Divine called to her for help.”

“So, her survival,” He started to stutter, “That thing on her hand--all a...coincidence?”

“Providence,” she corrected. “The Maker sent her to us in our darkest hour.”

That made my stomach turn, “Hey, you don’t really believe that do you?”

“And why shouldn’t we?”

“You do realize I’m an elf. A Dalish elf.”

Cassandra furrowed her brows for a moment, “I have not forgotten.”

“So, you realize how absurd this sounds, right?”

She shook her head and began walking to the back of the room to a chest I could barely see over the table, “No matter what you are, or what you believe, you are exactly what we needed when we needed it.” She opened the chest and began to rummage through it.

Leliana stepped back over to the table and looked at me, “However you see it, the Breach remains, and your mark is our only means of closing it.”

Roderick pointed at her and snarled, “That is not for you to decide!”

Cassandra marched back to the table with a big ass book in hand, stopped between Roderick and Leliana and glared at him while slamming it down on the table. The thud it made got me to jump a bit. It echoed slightly, too. Dust floated around and I could see the particles in the light. “You know what this is, Chancellor,” Cassandra stated more than questioned. “A writ from the Divine. Granting us the authority to act.” She put a hand on the book, over the symbol, a symbol I hadn’t seen before. An emblem, an eye with squiggles coming out of it as if it was a sun and then a sword going through said eye. “As of this moment,” she began and looked at me, “I declare the Inquisition reborn.”

“Wait wha-” I tried to speak, the blood in my veins felt cold and my stomach sank. I knew I was going to be heavily involved. I have no idea what I’m doing…

“We will close the Breach,” Cassandra began and slowly walked towards Roderick causing him to take a few steps back, “we will find the ones responsible, and we will restore order with or without your approval.” Although the glare Cassandra gave him was intimidating, Leliana’s was quite unnerving. He scoffed and bumped his shoulder past me to leave, slamming the door behind him which caused me to jump. Cassandra walks back to the table with a sigh and rubbed the back of her head.

“This is the Divine’s directive,” Leliana spoke to me, “rebuild the Inquisition of old. Find those who will stand against the chaos. We aren’t ready. We have no leader, no numbers, and now no Chantry support.” The discussion between the Chantry sisters I overheard earlier started to make sense.

“But we have no choice,” Cassandra sighed again, “we must act now. With you at our side.” She leaned on the table and looked up at me.

I was shocked and unsure of what to say. In fact I was numb. This was all happening way too fast. I ran my fingers through my hair and exhaled, “What exactly am I getting into? What is this Inquisition of old?

“It precedes the Chantry,” Leliana began to answer, “To restore order in a world gone mad.”

“After,” Cassandra continued for her, “they laid down their banner and made the templar order. But the templar’s have lost their way. We need those who can do what must be done united under a single banner once more.”

I stopped pacing, “Yeah but, what must be done? What’s the plan for now ?”

“Ultimately: to close the Breach and take down those responsible,” Cassandra answered.

“How? Like Leliana said, we have practically nothing.”

“We have you.”

“My mark you mean.”

“Yes, but it’s proven effective. People will join us, we just have to show them we can do the job.”

I sighed, “But aren’t you still tied with the Chantry? Bound by its...rules and union?”

Cassandra snort laughed, and though I doubt she meant it but I had taken a slight offense, “Is that what you think?”

Though Leliana gave a more direct response, “The Chantry wants to elect a new Divine, and that will take time. They want to wait for her direction. But with the Breach…”

We ,” Cassandra began, “cannot wait. So many Grand Clerics died at the Conclave…”

“It could take years to elect a new Divine. Years which we do not have.”

Cassandra shook her head, “We are on our own. Perhaps forever.”

“So, we are heretics? Do they see us as the enemy?” I asked.

“Maybe not the enemy, but many have decided you were behind the explosion. And since we harbor you…”

“Will this start some kind of sub-war? Another place to watch ourselves?”

“Once the Breach had placed its mark upon you, you were immediately involved. And you were immediately branded as the enemy to most of Thedas. We must first prove that you are not that. But to change the opinions of those who perceive themselves as saints…”

“Will be difficult, I presume?”

“Monumentally.”

I rubbed my temples to try and ease the stress in my head. More questions just keep coming instead of being answered. “I take it I don’t have a choice in being here?”

“You can go. If you wish,” Leliana stated. “We all have a choice.”

“You should know that,” Cassandra began, “that while some believe you’re chosen-”

That stopped me in my tracks and I interrupted, “Chosen?” I chuckled nervously, “Is that why they looked at me like that? Why they call me Herald? You honestly think I’m some kind of god-send?”

“It is hard not to believe given the circumstances. The Inquisition can only protect you if you are with us.”

“By putting me on a pedestal, I presume?” My tone came across more defensive than I would’ve liked it.

Leliana leaned on the table, “We can also help you .”

“It will not be easy if you stay,” Cassandra began, “But you cannot pretend this hasn’t changed you.”

I muttered, “No...no I can’t. And if I don’t stay, the world is practically dead.” The barrier to deflect the arrow. Who would they blame if the person died? The one in charge of preventing the blow, or the one who shot the arrow in the first place? It doesn’t matter, I should be doing this because it’s the right thing to do. If I don’t place the barrier at all, then I am partially to blame, but if I do all that I can… “If you’re really trying to restore order…”

“That is the plan,” Leliana said.

Cassandra’s face seemed to light up for a moment, she moved to stand by and face me, “Help us fix this before it’s too late.” Her hand stuck out to initiate a handshake. There’s no way of backing out of this agreement.

Of course not. You have no choice. You never did. I reluctantly looked up at her and firmly shook her hand. Leliana pulled out her crystal, “Commander, Ambassador? Please come to the back room. We have news.” She took the rolled up paper on the table and unrolled it, placing various objects on the ends to keep it flat. It was a map of southern Thedas. It seemed to include as far north as the Free Marches to as far south as the Kocari Wilds. As east as Fereldan and as west as the far desert of the Western Approach within Orlais’ borders.Leliana then tossed my crystal over the map. “I already linked up our crystals for easier access. I still use ravens to send messages as it is more discreet.”

“Thank you,” I said, but didn’t put any real meaning behind it. It’s funny, I could call Paba right now. Like I’ve been wanting to. But it feels so numb. I gazed at the crystal as I played with it between my fingers as if it was the only thing happening in the world. When the door opened and two people walked through I snapped out of it.

One was dressed nicely in gold and blue. She held a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other. She seemed quite sophisticated the way she carried herself. The other one was in full armor, a collar of long fur was worn around his neck and shoulders. He was scarred, eyes tired, and his hand seemed to constantly grasp at the pommel of his sword. Cassandra lifted her hand to draw my eyes to him, “May I present Commander Cullen, leader of the Inquisition’s forces.”

“Such as they are,” he sounded tired, but not in a sleepy way, “We lost many soldiers in the valley. And I fear many more before this is through.”

“The Inquisition has been operating for about five minutes and we already have anointed positions?” I asked.

“Heh, we’ve been talking about this for the past few days,” he responded. “Though, in secret from the Chantry.”

Cassandra directed my attention to the other person, “This is Lady Josephine Montilyet. She’s the ambassador and chief diplomat.”

She smiled, “ Andaran atish’an.” I felt myself perk up at the words.

“You speak Elven?” I asked.

Her smile shifted just a bit, “You just heard the entirety of it, I’m afraid.”

“And,” Cassandra continued, “you know Sister Leliana, of course.”

“My position here will involve a degree of-”

Cassandra interrupted her, “She is our spymaster.”

Leliana slowly looked at her, “Yes. Tactfully put, Cassandra.” I get the feeling they don’t quite get along…

I bowed my head, “Pleased to meet you all.” I’m the Breach closer. Closer of the Breach. Breach of the…Breach.

“Your mark needs more power to close the Breach for good,” Cassandra said.

“Which means we must approach the rebel mages for help,” Leliana immediately suggested.

Cullen snapped and turned himself to her, “And I still disagree. The templars could serve just as well.”

Cassandra gave the middle ground, “We need power. Enough magic poured into that mark…”

“Might destroy us all. Templars could suppress the Breach, weaken it so--”

“Pure speculation,” Leliana interrupted.

I was a templar. I know what they’re capable of.”

“So, what’s the plan?” I asked eager to get the conversation going.

“Well unfortunately,” Josephine began, “neither group will even speak to us.”

I let out an exasperated sigh, “So the goal is to get one or both groups to cooperate with us, power the mark, close the Breach for good?”

“It won’t be that easy. Especially since the Chantry has denounced the Inquisition--and you, specifically.”

“I saw that from the Chancellor.”

“Shouldn’t they be busy arguing over who’s going to become Divine?” Cullen rhetorically asked.

“Exactly, so why would they worry so much about an infant organization?” I gestured with my hand.

“Some are calling you--” Josephine began, “a Dalish elf--the ‘Herald of Andraste.’ That frightens them.” I grimaced at the name. “In a mere three days, the remaining clerics have declared it blasphemy, and we heretics for harboring you.”

“The Chancellor’s doing no doubt,” Cassandra mentioned.

“Approaching the mages or templars for help is currently out of the question.”

“Wait,” I intervened, “I get why the templars won’t help us with their connection to the Chantry, but why not the mages?”

“The agreement they have with King Alistair makes things complicated. If the King is openly helping heretics , there would be...implications. Mostly political, and most deadly.”

“So, denounce me as the Herald. Because really, why would I be the Herald of Andraste?”

“People saw what you did at the Temple,” Cassandra began, “How you stopped the Breach from growing. They have also heard about the woman seen in the rift when we first found you. They believe that was Andraste.”

“Wait so, people saw this, heard about this second hand or whatever, and decided to still brandish me the villain? Is it the tie to Andraste part because we could quell that and make our lives easier.”

“Even if we tried to stop that view from spreading--” Leliana tried to say.

Cassandra interrupted her, “Which we have not.”

Leliana glared at her for a moment, “The point is, everyone is talking about you.”

“Yet we have just as much a voice as everyone else, no?” I mentioned.

“It is quite the title, isn’t it?” Cullen asked. “Though, I take it doesn’t sit well with you?”

I snapped up straight, “No, no it doesn’t. I tried to close the Breach on my own accord. I did it because it’s the right thing to do. I’m no herald of anything. Particularly not Andraste. I don’t follow Andrastianism, I am a Dalish elf, a mage at that, so even if I was chosen, why me? The epitome of what the Chantry is against? It’s not a title I’ll accept, because it would be lying to the people.” If my clan saw the woman, they could’ve assumed it was Mythal. But no, since it’s shems, it’s gotta be Andraste, even when it makes zero fucking sense. The title also felt objectifying. Putting my ass on a pedestal for all to see and ask things of me. Things of which I am not qualified to do. Herald...chosen one...I’m a fucking person, not some damn godsend. They start calling me this, why would they ever treat me as Evelyn again? It wouldn’t be Evelyn helped, it would be the Chosen One of Andraste, or some shit. Something so easy to cover up by the Chantry by never writing my name, speaking my skills, or mentioning my origin story past the rift. I was here to close the Breach, which would help to save the world, but the world is not my responsibility. Naming me chosen...people would assume…

Cullen broke my thoughts, “I’m sure the Chantry would agree.”

“People are desperate for a sign of hope. For some, you’re that sign,” Leliana said.

“And to others, a symbol of everything that’s gone wrong,” Josephine added.

I scoffed, “So give people hope by telling them the truth. That someone, a person, a mage, a Dalish elf, however you want to phrase it, cared enough about Thedas and the people living on it to step up when she could’ve ran away. That’s pretty damn inspiring, no?”

“To some people, maybe but-”

I interrupted Cassandra, “Not everyone follows Andrastianism, anyways. So calling me the Herald wouldn’t invoke hope in them. Fen- It doesn’t invoke hope in half of the Chantry it sounds like. So at this point why call me the Herald under the guise of hope instead of taking a more religion neutral approach to instil inspiration and hope for more people? Don’t you think people thinking I’m a godsend would think of themselves as lesser and start thinking that they can’t help at all? Which would put more weight on the Inquisition to step it up.”

“It just…” Cassandra tripped on her words, “it wasn’t the Inquisition that placed the name upon you. It was the people. Shouldn’t they have the right to think that you are if it helps them not to give up? Many people lean on religion for a sign.”

“Sure, fine, whatever shoots your arrow, but as soon as the Inquisition backs that claim, it’s making a statement. And besides, since I’m part of the Inquisition, shouldn’t I have a voice in this matter? Especially since it pertains to me?”

“Let’s be honest,” Cullen began and leaned on the table, “they would censure us no matter what. They already have for a number of reasons.”

I rubbed the back of my neck, a lump formed in my throat that I had to mentally fight. “So then, what can we do now? Get this over with...as soon as possible. I don’t want to be here.

Leliana spoke up, “I have received word of a Chantry cleric by the name of Mother Giselle residing in the Hinterlands. She wants to speak to you. She is not far, and knows those involved far better than I. Her assistance could be invaluable.”

“Wait I thought most people from the Chantry declared us heretics?”

“I understand she is a reasonable sort. Perhaps she does not agree with her sisters? She is tending to the wounded near Redcliffe.”

I felt tension in my brow, “Wait, what is my role here? I thought I was just going to close the Breach…”

Cassandra answered, “Yes, but, to have you out in the field, you can close the straggling rifts left by the Breach.”

Cullen added on, “Plus you can look for other opportunities to expand the Inquisition’s influence.”

“You are the face of the Inquisition, after all,” Josephine concluded. “To see you in person, helping others, being yourself, gives a lot of first hand experience and would ensure an easier time persuading the others not to brand you as a heretic. We need agents to extend our reach beyond the valley. And you’re better suited than anyone to recruit them because of that.” Oh no...oh no no no no.

“In the meantime,” Cassandra began, “let’s think of other options. I won’t leave this all to the Herald.”

“We will gather up information and resources. We won’t get a lot of requests so early but, it’s a start,” Josephine smiled.

“We should meet again tomorrow, around noon. We should have more information by then,” Leliana said.

“Spread the word of the Inquisition,” Cassandra ordered. “Leliana, use your contacts, ravens, whatever you must. Ambassador, write the letters. And Cullen, work on getting recruits for our forces.” They all agreed and casually dispersed the room. As I was stone still, there was a heavy weight on my shoulders. I looked down at my mark and grimaced. “Does it trouble you?” In my peripheral I noticed Cassandra looking at me.

“I want it gone. But it’s needed to close the Breach. But it also failed to close it. It feels like a leech, a parasite.”

“You did everything we asked of you.”

“It still didn’t work. It still needs more.”

“Well, it’s stable and so is the Breach. That’s what’s important. You’ve given us time, and Solas believes a second attempt might succeed--provided the mark has more power. The same level of power used to open the Breach in the first place.”

I shook my head, “No one needs that much power.”

“But in this case, it is necessary to right a wrong.”

“You’re putting a lot of blind trust in me.”

“We have to.” She patted my back and turned to leave, “The house you woke up in, you can stay there. It’s yours.”

“Thanks,” I muttered.

I had heard her walk towards the door, “If you need me, I’ll be outside the main gates to the city at the training grounds. The blacksmith it out there as well if you need him.”

“Thank you.” Then her footsteps got distant.

I was numb and lost in blank thought. Distant from the world, my hands fiddled with the crystal on their own accord. Sounds - like the mix of heavy and light footsteps from two different people - were acknowledged in my head but also went over it, too. Two familiar voices getting distant, maybe Josephine and Cullen, but there was no spark of curiosity as to what they were saying. There was no spark. Just a dull emotional ache. The only thing that actively got my attention was the loud banging that echoed in the hall from the main door. I straightened up and shuffled down the corridor, the sounds stopped while I was halfway through. I opened the door and stepped outside into the cold and bitter air with no reaction; Cullen, who was holding a hammer, and Josephine were looking at the door admiring something. The banging was loud enough to draw the attention of a few people, including the Chancellor. I let the door close behind me and I looked.

The same symbol from the book was at the top of a page, a red ribbon holding the page and symbol to the nail that was hammered in. A decree of the Inquisition, our stance and goals written on the page. I could tell from the coloration and feel of the page that it was cured to hold up to weather conditions. I could see the words on the page, but my eyes only skimmed, my mind was still refusing to acknowledge a damn thing.

I heard a scoff, Chancellor Roderick had stormed off. Josephine waved to get my attention and then approached, “I’m certain Seeker Cassandra told you that you have a place to stay.” I nodded. “Well, if you ever need us, not only do you have a connection to our crystals but, I’ll most likely be in my office in the Chantry. All the way in the back and just to the left of the door to the back room.”

“Alright. Cassandra told me that she’d be out in the training yard.”

“I think Cullen will be there, too. Training troops. Sister Leliana will be here,” She pointed to a large tent, small campsite right next to the Chantry. There were cages that held ravens and Leliana was tending to them. “Or she will be inside at the back room.”

“Thank you, Ambassador.”

“Not a problem, Herald.”

“Could you please not call me that?” I looked up at her, “You could call me literally anything else.”

“What I call you people will take note of.”

“Exactly.”

She sighed, “Well, how about Mistress Lavellan?”

“That works, thank you.” I began to walk off only to stop in my tracks, “Uh, if you need me, I’ll be in my little...house.” I refused to call it a home.

“I will contact you if need be.”

I walked to the house, the crowds of people and guards were gone. Though, people did stare at me as I walked by. Some bowed, some grimaced, some refused to look me in the eye. Others whispered to their friend, and some went quiet. I couldn’t acknowledge any of them, I could barely acknowledge everything else.

Once I was alone and behind closed doors, I fell immediately to the floor on my knees and clutched the fabric of my shirt. I sobbed, I cried, I wailed. To the point where the muscles in my face were painfully sore. To the point where no more tears could come out. I clutched everything as a desperate attempt to ground myself, but nothing was working. I wanted a hug…

I needed a hug.

I couldn’t move, but I was trembling at the spot. The weight of the world...the literal weight of the world. Me...Why me? Why? Why? Why? I couldn’t go home. But neither can those who died, now can they? But why me? There was no rationalizing this. The probability of this all happening, no one could have guessed. I just had my whole world stripped away from me in a damn second… Why did I ever leave? Why did I ever want to adventure? Why did I ever agree to this? I can’t do this, I can’t, there’s no fucking way. I’m not a godsend, I can’t be what they want me to be...I’m no hero, I’m just…

I’m just…

Me.

It all happened so fast, too fast. And in an emotional fit, I stood up and grabbed a knife off the nearby table. Grabbed my braid and held it still. The back of the blade felt cool at the nape of my neck. And sliced. Not all the hair was cut in one go, it needed more. Of course it needed more, why wouldn’t it? Another slice. There was some sting from the pull of the remaining hair in the braid. Another. Another. Another. Until I held it all. My head had never felt so light and empty. Empty. I saw all of the hair in the palm of my hand. The braid. It was mine. I worked on it for years. I was so proud of it. Was. I used to be able to sit on it. Used to.

What have I done?

Hate, rage, guilt, oh so much guilt, filled my heart. The braid slid off my hand and landed on the floor. I wanted to scream, I wanted to go back in time and stop myself. I didn’t want to do this… Why did I do this? I never wanted this! Why did I do this? Just why? Why would I let myself do this? What have I done...gods what have I done… Guilt, but no one to blame but myself. So, hate. I hated myself in that moment. Why couldn’t I have controlled myself? There was no regulation, it could’ve stayed. I had a choice to keep it. I felt the grit of my teeth, the strong headache pulsed in my head, my hands grabbed at the remaining hair on my head and pulled taught. My eyes squeezed shut and I had felt so distant, so out of control, I broke down again. I fell to the floor, and somehow cried harder, let out silent screams, loudly apologized to everything, to everyone, to me, to objects. I can’t handle this… I can’t do this… I can’t… I can’t…

But I have to.

Chapter Text

I woke up with a raging headache. It was too easy to lift my head weight-wise. I could see short strands doing their own thing in my peripheral. I remember throwing my braid away in a bin, then covering it in loose paper so I didn’t have to see it. But I could still see the repercussions in my peripheral. I need to look in the mirror at some point… might as well try and clean up the new look. Also...my head. I had no idea if any poultices or remedies could be found here. I searched the cabinets in the bathroom, and there seemed to be one pain reliever in a blue vial, cork as a lid. I took it and it didn’t taste as bad as I thought it would. Though I looked around a bit more and saw differences everywhere. How the sink looked, to the bath, there was no mortar and pestle. A silicon tube held paste, a brush with bristles I wasn’t sure of. Even the hair brush had a different shape and style to it. How much would I really need this though? I had the urge to throw it away but fought against it.

I finally mustered the courage to look at myself in the mirror. I look awful . There were shears in one of the cabinets I looked through that I took out  and snipped away the choppiness of the cut. It wasn’t perfect, but it looked a little better. I hate it. I took a section of hair and tried to braid it, even a little bit. I lost hair quicker and had to grab more, more often. The braid was short, really short, and I felt disappointed.

I hated how easy it was to brush. I hated how quickly I took care of it. I hated that I couldn’t do much with it, at least from what I could see. I hated how light it felt. Because it made me feel like I was missing something, something I enjoyed doing. I was too tired to cry again. Disappointment and guilt were all I felt.

A voice from the crystal in the other room broke my thoughts, “Just a reminder, there will be a meeting in a few hours at noon.” Josephine’s voice. I could talk to Paba… I should, but… My thoughts trailed. I grabbed a hair tie and put my hair in a really low ponytail, though not all hair could make it in.

I picked up the crystal and called Paba. A very frantic voice spoke on the other end, “Evelyn? Is that you? Please tell me it is… Where are you?”

My voice cracked, “I’m here, Paba.”

I could hear him cry and mutter something in elvish, “‘ma'da'nehn, are you okay? What happened?”

“I...I don’t know where to begin.”

“I tried calling you so many times when I heard the Conclave had exploded, when you didn’t answer...I…”

“I think I may be one of the only survivors.”

“When can you come home?”

Home… “I...I don’t know. Paba, I’m part of an inquisition now. I have a strange magic flowing through me from the explosion. I don’t know what exactly happened. The magic is only on my left hand, but it can close rifts and it could close the Breach for good with enough energy. They need me here.”

“Are you safe there?”

“Yes. I’m at Haven. They gave me a roof over my head. People here are debating whether I’m a godsend or not...it’s overwhelming. They keep calling me Herald of Andraste.”

“Andraste? Why Andraste?”

“Look I don’t know how it happened but I had come out of the fade, physically, and collapsed somewhere that they found me. They saw a woman behind me as the rift closed. They think it was Andraste.”

“How did you physically get into the fade?”

“I...I can’t remember. That part of me is blocked off. But I remember being in there and running away from some kind of spider, there was a woman and it gets fuzzy but I remember reaching out to her and...I blacked out. It was like one minute I was at the Conclave and the next inside of the Fade, and the next in shackles. I had to prove my innocence.”

“I...I don’t know what to say. That woman could’ve been anyone. A spirit, maybe. They reside in the Fade. The spiders make me think it would be a section of Fear’s realm. None of the other main demons are known for the spiders.”

“Yeah.”

“Spirit of compassion? Maybe courage or hope? I’ll tell you this, it doesn’t make me think of Andraste.”

“They keep trying to force that title on me.”

“Typical.”

I sighed, “I...I did something last night I’m not proud of.”

“What?”

“I don’t know why I did it, the weight of the world on my shoulders? So far I’m the only one that can close the Breach, and they want my opinion on shit...or use me as a mediator. I saw so much death...bodies torn apart from the explosion and demons from the rifts. It was all...too much, Paba. I...it sounds so stupid but I just…”

“Take your time, Ev.”

“In a fit of emotional distress I took a knife and cut off my hair. Up to my neck.” It sounded so stupid...of everything I had seen, I break down the most over my hair? Hair? It’s not that important. “I know it means nothing compared to everything else but it’s bothering me…”

“Oh, Ev.” There was a pause, “Don’t bully yourself. You loved it, you made it such a part of you and your life. You would braid when you were stressed. It made you happy, so of course it’s a big deal. I don’t think you’re overreacting to it. I also don’t think you’re ignoring everything else wrong by being sad over this. You’re overwhelmed, and people do things they never thought they would under stress. You’ve been through a lot in about a week? You’ve been through things no one could ever think of in a lifetime. And you were alone, I assume?”

“Yeah,” I sniffled.

“That didn’t help things and probably led more to the spiral down. The good thing is, hair grows back. Just like you will. I have a strong feeling you will be knocked down plenty of times in this Inquisition. But you will get back up, tougher and stronger. I’m sure there’s going to be change, too. You’ll see things you never want to see again, maybe things that cause a large amount of distress like the bodies. It will be a lot. But, you have my full support, ‘ma'da'nehn. You call me anytime you need me.”

“I don’t want to change.”

“Not all change is bad. There is good and bad to everything in life. Acknowledge the bad, focus on the good. Learn from the bad, make it good. Understand the bad to make it good. All of that. Easier said than done, mind you, but like I said, you can always call me. If you are crying or about to break down, I want you to call me so you’re not alone, okay?”

“Okay.”

“And promise me, I’ll see you again.”

“Paba,” I felt a tear run down my cheek, “I can’t make a promise that I don’t know I can keep. The future for me is so fuzzy. I can’t even predict the next few hours.”

“Ev, promise me you will try. If not for me, for yourself.”

“I’ll try.”

“I’m so relieved to hear your voice again. I wish I was there for you in person.”

“Me, too.”

“Ar lath ma, ‘ma'da'nehn.”

“Ar lath ma, Paba.” My mind couldn’t think of anything else to talk about, and so the crystal call ended. I buried my face into my hands. This isn’t what I meant when I dreamed of an adventure. I didn’t mean hero and thousands of lives at stake. I meant uncovering mysteries and gaining more knowledge and experience, seeing vistas never seen before. Being able to take in the beauty of nature, not fuck up the sky. My face tensed up as if I was crying, but barely a tear escaped. I dug my nails into my skin. I felt hair fall out from behind my ear and brush against my face, which only made me want to scream.

I took a deep breath and slowly got up. Just...one step at a time. I need water. Just...focus on water. I got a small cup and got water from the sink, though the rune didn’t make it cold enough, so I used some magic to make it to the temperature I wanted it. Almost ice. Then I slowly drank it. It wasn’t much, but I assumed I was quite dehydrated so I needed something, even if I wanted to protest every action I did in this day. More than once did the bed look like a promising place to just rest forever, or at least pretend I slept past any alarm. Resisting that temptation was more than difficult. In all honesty, the thing that kept me from doing it was the impending doom that would come by doing so. Not the healthiest way to decide to do something, but…

I slowly got dressed into something casual and warm. The style of clothing wasn’t something I was used to, a bit more fitted than I would like. And fluffier. Whatever they used to clean it also wasn’t something I was used to. I could never call this place home.

But they didn’t have to treat me like this. I could’ve gotten a tent.

So, be thankful.

It was near time for the meeting to start so I made my way over to the Chantry with a hood over my head. I refused to make any eye contact with anyone. As I reached the doors to the Chantry I stopped myself. Is it disrespectful to wear a hood inside here? Which religions did that, again? Better to be safe than sorry I guess. It was a particularly cold day and there weren’t any Chantry brothers or sisters outside to ask. I took down the hood but left it scrunched up around my neck. I entered the back room to be greeted by Leliana, Josephine, Cullen, and Cassandra.

“Ah good, you’re here. We can begin,” Cassandra said.

“I like what you did with your hair,” Josephine said innocently.

There was a lump in my throat and I bit back spiteful thoughts. She meant it in good faith… “Thanks,” my voice cracked. I faked clearing my throat, “Sorry, still waking up.”

“We should talk about how we will find and approach Mother Giselle,” Leliana began, “From my reports, the area in the Hinterlands that she’s at is in the middle of a deadly warzone between the local templars and rebel mages.”

“Sending our troops would be too risky,” Cullen stated, “Our numbers are too few and could make matters worse.”

“It’s a very delicate situation,” Josephine read off her clipboard, “People are busy trying to survive and I have little connections there.”

“That’s why I propose,” Leliana began, “that I send out some of my scouts. Quick and quiet. They can set up a camp nearby and give us a waypoint in a matter of days.”

“It seems we are all in agreement,” Cassandra said, “Leliana, send out your scouts.” So, I was not needed for this. “We need to make sure she stays alive and well at all costs.”

“I know the risks, Cassandra.” Leliana made a small note on a little paper, “I’ll contact my lead scout after the meeting. We will hear from her again after a few days at best.”

“Scout Harding, correct?” Cullen asked.

“Yes. Now on to other matters,” Leliana looked at me, “I’m sure you’ve been in contact with your clan since your crystal has been returned.” I nodded. “Your Keeper has been worried and sent out this missive to the Inquisition.” She pulled up her orb and a picture of text sprawled across the glass. She’s concerned I’m being held as prisoner...although it feels like it, I’m not.

“I talked to my Paba this morning. They should know I’m safe. When was this sent?”

“Yesterday afternoon. But I want to show your clan that we can be trusted.”

“I’m sure they can take my word for it,” I assured her.

“Out of good faith, Mistress Lavellan, I propose we send something your clan needs.”

Josephine added on, “Besides, we want you to be as worry-free as possible, with the stress that you have to endure. Though if you prefer, we could send word of our plans and deeds to them. I could send elven scribes to show our fair treatment.”

My eyebrow raised, “I can keep them informed on that, personally. Leliana, what do you have in mind to send? How would you send it?” I crossed my arms. They want to really rope me into the Inquisition, don’t they? Play nice to my closest friends and family...no way I will let them tell my clan things that don’t go through me first.

“We could send troops-”

I interrupted Cullen, “No.” That was rude… “Sorry.”

“My agents would send the gift,” Leliana began, “What they need, I was hoping you would inform me.”

“How many agents?”

“Two. They’ll be quick. Less than a month, maybe a week and a half to get to your clan. I would send word so they are to expect the package.”

I thought for a moment. “Ores. We are abundant in hunters, tailors, gatherers, and even gardens. Where we lack is in mining of any kind. Even trading with others. Our stocks are okay, but we will need more, and more soon.”

“We have a good amount of iron, onyx, and drakestone we could give. We could give better quality later once we get enough ourselves,” Leliana propositioned.

“This will be ongoing?” I asked.

“As long as we have the resources to spare, yes.”

Not everyone is trying to go after you, just breathe… I took a moment to breathe and to settle, “Alright, Leliana, send out your agents.”

“Will do.”

Josephine raised her pen, “I recently got a proposition from Varric-” she handed the letter around, starting with Cullen, “Another author trying to publish the next book in his Hard in Hightown. Of course without his permission, and is profiting.”

Cullen scoffed, “Don’t you think this this a little frivolous?”

“Raising morale is never frivolous, Commander.”

The letter finally got to me and I skimmed through it. His handwriting isn’t half bad. “Seems like he was also pushed over by this Merchant’s Guild for information he already knew.”

“If this author evaded the Merchant’s Guild,” Leliana began, “I think we need to look into another option.”

“Like what?” Josephine asked.

“The Antivan Crows.”

Cassandra quickly intervened, “I don’t think we should become acquainted with assassins so early on in the Inquisition, Leliana. I agree with Cullen, we can worry about this later.”

“Well, wait,” I began, “he wanted Josephine’s help, right? What would you do?” I asked her.

“Well, I do have a friend in Antiva that I could contact,” Josephine said.

“How long will that take?”

“I would contact them with the crystal. How long until he gets information depends on what they do.”

“Either way we’re not wasting resources or putting the Inquisition...out there. And helping one of our members.”

Leliana looked at her, “Who is your friend?”

“Catarina Vallesti,” she answered promptly.

“Not a bad idea, but the Crows would be more direct.”

The room looked at me, waiting for a response. “I mean, he did contact you , Ambassador. So, I say go for it.” I don’t think it needed to be brought to the meeting.

“Good, we can continue,” Cullen pulled out a letter, “From Teyrn Fergus Cousland of Highever. The Teyrn wants to hold a vigil for Divine Justinia and would like the Inquisition to attend.”

“Word is spreading fast,” I mentioned.

“We not only put up banners or sent ravens, Mistress,” Josephine smiled, “We used the orbs to spread information as well.”

Leliana looked over the letter, “I know both Teyrn Cousland and Divine Justinia. We could write to them. I’m not sure how many of the Inquisition members we can afford to send.”

Josephine looked at her, “Why not send a diplomat and some templars? Maybe ones who knew the Divine?”  

“It might be more impactful to Teyrn Cousland to send Fereldan Officers as an Honor Guard,” Cullen mentioned.

I looked at Cassandra who then sighed, “I don’t believe we can seriously address this right now.”

“It would spread a more positive word on the Inquisition, which is something we need, Seeker,” Josephine reminded her.

“She...deserves more than what we can give currently is all.” There was grief in Cassandra’s voice.

Yet another impasse… “Well, since it is for the Divine...that diplomat idea doesn’t sound bad.”

Josephine nodded at me, “I can contact them after this.” She scribbled some notes down on her paper.

Cassandra pulled out her orb and text appeared against the glass, “Well, we have another chance at gaining support for the Inquisition.” I bit back a sigh, I wanted the meeting to be over with. She tapped on the orb and it sent the text to ours, “From Lord Kildarn of Ferelden.”

We all took a moment to read over the text. A nobleman that calls refugees, specifically the mage and elves, filthy savages and wants them gone from the city in which he lives in. Great. Fucking great. I grimaced and noticed the others in the room had a sour look to their face, though Leliana had a more blank expression.

“We can win both sides. Move the refugees somewhere else which would gain the Lord’s favor,” Leliana propositioned. “My spies could help the refugees.”

“But where would we move them?” Josephine asked. “Besides, I know this Lord is a pariah amongst his peers. We should send a polite refusal and nothing more.”

“If we’re seriously considering favor with this Lord, we could send a few patrols. Though, I’d prefer them helping the refugees,” Cullen suggested.

“We should get the refugees out of there, to Bann Traft’s land at least. Letting them stay with the Lord will only worsen their treatment,” Leliana said.

“Yes but,” Josephine began to refute, “if we win the Lord’s favor, it will be seen that we are aligned with him.”

“Not necessarily. Officially, we can claim we moved the refugees somewhere safe.”

I finally stepped in, “The refugees should be safe. I don’t care what the Lord thinks at this point. Leliana, I think you have the best option.”

“I agree with the Herald,” Cassandra said, though the name made me cringe. “Keep the refugees safe, but gain the favor of a Lord.”

“Consider it done,” Leliana wrote down some more notes. “Anything else to bring to this meeting?” Everyone collectively said no. “Good. I’ll keep everyone updated when I get informed.”

“Count on my word as well,” Josephine concluded.

“Good. Leliana, we need to hear about Mother Giselle above everything else,” Cassandra reminded her.

“I know, Cassandra.” The room gradually emptied out.

I leaned over the table and sighed. I felt like casting fire to the bits of hair the fell out from behind my ear. It wouldn’t help a damn thing. Just be patient.

Patient.

That was a word that made my blood boil in this situation. I lifted my crystal and had an urge to break it, in fact I had an urge to break anything. I took a deep breath and calmed myself down long enough to call Paba. I only told him that the clan should expect the ore delivery in the next couple of weeks. The sound of his voice was enough to quell the destructive urges. Maybe if I take a walk I can calm down. Maybe...the tavern? Can’t believe I’m considering that. I sighed and left the room.

As I left the Chantry, I pulled back up the hood. Cover the regret. Maybe it was because I was covered up enough, but no one seemed to recognize me. Which was good, it felt safe not to be noticed. I made my way to the tavern and noticed a story nailed to the door. It was called the Singing Maiden because of revenge? Vengeance? Asshole King made The Maiden, an iron casket with spikes within to instil fear and punishment. Someone stood up to him and made him go in through cunning words, and of course he made pained noises. It was here. I felt my face turn. Great. Love it. Totally splendid. Death...death...more torture and death. Before I became victim to my thoughts I forced my way through the door. People populated the tavern and a singing bard provided entertainment. It reeked of the tell-tale smell of alcohol. Maybe people will be too drunk to recognize me .

I approached the bartender, who recognized me immediately. Her eyes widened and she practically dropped the glass she was cleaning, “Oh Maker, you’re her. You’re the Herald of Andraste.” I felt like shushing her, though it was too late. Half of the tavern went quiet except for the bard, who I thanked internally. “You were sent to shame us for mistreating the elves.”

“What?” I hissed through my teeth unintentionally.

She started to stutter, and continued to quickly clean her glass, “I pay my elves good and fair, I swear. Friend of the alienage and all. And…”

“Who are you?”

“Oh well, I’m Flissa. And I… Oh… I mean, can I get you a drink?”

I sighed, “No. And please, don’t be afraid. I’m not the Herald of Andraste and the Maker didn’t send me.” I’m not staying here anymore.

“Is this a test?”

“No, Flis-”

She continued by muttering, “I heard there might be tests of faith. It’s going to be alright. Just…don’t say anything.” She was consoling herself. She straightened herself up, “Not long ago, Leliana brought me in to set up a tavern. A place for the soldiers to rest. It’s uh, nothing fancy, but it’s safer for the soldiers than looking for trouble in some village.”

“Why would they cause trouble in another village?”

“Oh well, stress from battles. And if they have to go far for some rest and relaxation, it adds to the frustration.”

“How do you know Leliana?” I asked, genuinely curious.

She shrugged and moved onto another glass, “Dumb luck. I managed an inn in Denerim. When I heard interesting gossip, I’d tell Leliana. Sometimes it would be helpful. Then she asked if I wanted to own my own tavern and well, I said yes. Though, I didn’t realize she meant this.”

“What do you mean by this ?”

“Working here in Haven is much different than Denerim, Herald. Plus, the...well, the Conclave. It’s been a stressful week for everyone.”

“Well, I don’t suppose you could also let me in on gossip, right? Could help me.”

“Of course, Lady Herald! What would you like to know?”

“Any places of interest here?”

“Oh not really. Haven’s a small town. Though, I heard Adan, he’s the apothecary here, has been looking for some notes. Well, not actively, but he was distraught over losing them.”

“Apothecary?”

“Yeah. He helped you when you fell out of that rift. You were out for a few days if I recall correctly. All that time, the Breach was growing.”

I tilted my head, “Was he also in charge of helping my recovery after the fact?”

“Oh yes. Though he may not be a true medic, he deals more with the chemistry of alchemy as he puts it, he does heal the soldiers as best as he can.” She placed down the glass and leaned against the countertop. “If you want a good blade or chestpiece, y’could see Harritt just outside the main gates. He runs the smith next to the main stables. Though, we don’t have a proper stablemaster just yet.”

“Can he make staffs?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. Threnn might be able to find one. They’re the quartermaster up by the Chantry.”

“Finding one is much different than making one.” Making one I could have it truly attuned to me and my powers.

“Well, if you need any fancy crystals or equipment to make it, up by the main gate, just before you leave, is Seggrit. He sells and buys. Manages a small little shop with a few others. His prices are fair...so far. You’re a mage, right?” I nodded, “You might be interested in talking to Minaeve. She studies creatures, beasts, animals, all that. She has a room adjacent to Ambassador Josephine’s room if I recall correctly.”

“Thanks, do you know any really quiet areas?”

“Here in Haven? Not particularly. Many refugees and soldiers. Outside the main walls there’s a path to the west, it’ll fork off. Continue west and there’s an abandoned house there. Go past it and continue on the path. It’s a forested area, but the path’ll lead you to a dock over the frozen lake. In fact if you walk just outside the main gates and head down to that dock, you can easily see the other one I’m talking about. I never see anyone out there, except when the lake thaws and fishing starts. But since it’s the dead of winter, no one cares to go over there.”

“How far away is it from here?”

“You can still see the gates from the far dock, and the Chantry. So not too far. Though far enough that you’ll really only hear nature instead of people.”

I sighed in relief, “Thank you, Flissa.”

“It’s my pleasure, Lady Herald.”

“But seriously, you don’t need to call me Herald, okay? Coming straight from my mouth, you don’t need to.”

“Oh well, uh...okay,” she gave a weak smile. “I hope you have a good day.”

“Thank you,” and I left as quickly as I could without making it too obvious.

I headed to the solitary place she described, past the main gates, the abandoned house, and through the small woods. I saw wildlife roaming around with thick coats of fur, skittish to my presence. In an odd way, it made me feel more at home. There was a small warmth in my heart that was missing for days. Then I made it to the docks. All I could hear was the sweet serenity of nature. The Breach was off putting as it was constantly in view where I was. The best part was that this dock was a bit lower in terrain than the whole of Haven, so I could see the wall and the gate, but not the people. Not the soldiers training out in the yard that I so hastily ignored. Once in a while I could hear the distant sounds of clashing from the swords and shields, but that was it.

I sat at the edge of the docks and let my legs hang off, lightly swinging them. What day was it? Three days since I fell out of the rift. A day to deal with the Breach. Three days out again. A day to start the Inquisition, and today. Conclave was the fifth… It’s the 14th of Wintermarch. Has it really been over a week since I got this? I peered down at my mark. I played with it and studied the visual effects it had on my hand. Though, when I stopped and the green mark disappeared, I noticed an odd scar across my hand where it shone from. It wasn’t a cut, or a burn, not even resembling a stretch mark. It could be easily missed, but it was there. A very small indentation, with the edges of flesh a slightly darker color. It didn’t hurt to poke, nor when I stretched and collapsed my hand. It was just there. Though, now that I was aware of it, there was an off feeling when I made a fist, the two pieces of flesh that I simply wasn’t used to having touch together like that. What felt weirder was when I ran my fingertip along the indentation. It fit pretty well. Tickled, but fit.

I peered up at the Breach. It had killed so many and will continue to kill if not put in check. But even then...who did it? Will they do it again? The job’s not over that easily. I sighed. When is it ever? I felt scared, scared of the future, scared of whoever caused the explosion. I couldn’t see what was to come after all of this. Of course, I could never predict the future, but I saw myself as a Keeper just a few months ago. I saw myself heading back to my clan with information on the Conclave. I saw myself gaining ancient tablets or some shit and bringing it back to the clan. I saw success, happiness, adventure, myself with a smile. Now, it’s all so fuzzy. I couldn’t imagine myself with something as simple as a smile. Nothing came up in my mind’s eye, the goals aren’t there. They’re not mine. Save the world. Close the Breach. Catch the villain. While I agree that these are things that need to happen, and that I would take part in it, it just didn’t fall into personal goals. I felt stripped of being me. They don’t see me as a person. They see me as a tool. A chosen one. A herald.

No. I don’t want to cry again. It hurt too much last time. The lump in my throat was already prevalent, and a sneaky tear or two had already escaped. I want to be held and told it’s going to be okay. That I can do this. Because telling myself isn’t enough. Or maybe it would be if I actually told myself that. I felt like a servant with a god’s crown. A god’s duties now on a young mortal. I kept staring at Haven. I could run away, right now. Chop off my hand if it ever became an issue-no, no stop. I’m not cutting off my hand or running away. It would only lead to my own doom anyways.

I sighed and stood up. I need to occupy myself. Maybe I could check out the abandoned house? Plus, get out of the cold. And so I went back, putting my hands in under my arms to warm them up. The house looked like it was abandoned recently, as both the interior and exterior were still cluttered with objects. The rune switch near the door still worked to turn on the candles and sconces. The veil was fine here as far as I could tell, so it wasn’t that anyone died here recently either. There was still food in the coolers and on the counters that were still good to eat if one wanted to.

The whole place was bigger than the house they gave me, but it oddly felt cozier. Could be from the knowledge that barely anyone came down the path and that it was away from other people. But why did they call it abandoned? I decided to snoop around, I mean if it was a missing person case or runaway, there could be a clue, right? In the bedroom there was a writing desk covered with plenty of paper. Scribbles of someone who had fast thoughts, drafts of something else, sketches of diagrams. I remember from basic study, that these diagrams are used to figure out different kinds of potions, poisons, or poultices. In some of these scribbles I could make out the name Adan . Had no one been in this house? Would these be the notes Adan wanted apparently? Though, I guess with the Conclave and chaos, investigating one house wasn’t high on the priority list. I carefully scooped up the papers and held onto them. If I’m wrong and the owner comes back for these, it’ll bite me in the ass. I considered leaving them be for a moment, but ultimately decided to hold onto them then give them to Adan.

I turned off the lights to the house and left. As I traveled along the path to the main gates, there were a couple tents with two people bickering back and forth. “Better that than stay here with this ‘Inquisition.’” One of them spat.

“You’re awfully quick to dismiss the people who saved your life,” the other spat back.

“Is everything alright?” I intervened.

“Ah, you’re the one they call Herald.” I regret intervening.

“Not by my choice,” I muttered.

“These things have a way of taking on their own life. But I’m glad it hasn’t gotten to your head. I’m not willing to adjust my faith so easily, but I appreciate what the Inquisition is trying to do and your role in it. Though, you may find not many templars do. We’re a distrustful lot by nature.”

“Wait, hold on, what’s your name?” I asked.

“Lysette,” she answered. “Templar. Though, our Order is in ruins.”

“Were you at the Conclave?”

She shook her head, “No, I’m just a recruit. Belief and faith alone doesn’t get you closer to the important meetings. Though that distance did save my life.”

“How far away did they have you?”

“Not too far from Haven, but on the road.”

“What makes you think so fondly of the Inquisition?” I was curious to hear other people’s views on us.

“Well, when the explosion happened, your forces rescued those of us still alive. My life is in debt to the Inquisition. And I intend to repay, however I can.”

I had to readjust the papers in my hand to keep them from falling. “You’re quite loyal.”

“Thank you. If you need me to do anything specific, just let me know.”

I had an idea I wanted to try, “For now, don’t call me Herald.”

She tilted her head and looked at me funny, “I can try.”

“Better than a no, I suppose.” There was a bit of awkward silence before I cleared my throat, “Well, I should, uh, go. Papers.”

She nodded, “Of course. Maker be with you.”

Right by us was the training grounds, complete with dozens of large tents and practice dummies. The sound of clashing swords and shields filled the air. As I walked past to head to the gate I heard a stern voice shout out, “You there!” I stopped and turned my head, Cullen was giving out orders to the trainees. “You have a shield in your hand, block with it! If this man were your enemy, you’d be dead!” I’m glad I’m not a soldier… He turned to look at the man standing next to him who seemed as stiff as a board. Whatever Cullen was telling him, I wasn’t close enough to hear over the clashing sounds. I could see what’s going on… Curiosity will be the death of me. After the other man walked away I approached Cullen who had his arms crossed. “We’ve received a number of recruits-” he smiled at me, “-locals and pilgrims.” He relaxed his posture and turned to face me, “None made quite the entrance you did.”

I held the papers up to my chest for easier holding, “Trust me, I didn’t want it to be like that .”

“I’d be concerned if you did.” He crossed his arms again and faced the troops. “I was recruited to the Inquisition in Kirkwall, myself.” He motioned me to follow and we walked through the training field. His strides were long and quick, for me to keep up I was practically speed walking. “I was there during the mage uprising. I saw firsthand the devastation it caused.”

“Ser!” A man behind us with a clipboard rushed over to the Commander.

He turned around and took the clipboard, “Cassandra sought a solution. When she offered me a position. I left the templars to join her cause. Now it seems we face something far worse.” He looked up at the Breach.

“Wait, the Inquisition wasn’t even in question until about a week ago. Kirkwall is a ways away.”

“Yes, her original plan was on how to deal with the mages. Though, the plans have severely changed. ” He looked over the clipboard.

How to deal with the mages, huh? Great. I really fit in here, don’t I? “A huge explosion that killed...how many? Not even counting the rifts it has opened and the rippling effect of that. And that’s just recent. Things aren’t looking too good.”

“Which is why we’re needed.” He looked back up from the clipboard. “The Chantry lost control of both templars and mages. Now, they argue over a new Divine while the Breach remains.” he relaxed his arm, holding the clipboard by his leg. “The Inquisition could act when the Chantry can’t. Our followers would be part of that. There’s so much we can…” He took a breath. “Ah, forgive me. I doubt you came here for a lecture.”

“It’s good to know the situation and to be passionate about righting wrongs.”

He placed his other hand on the pommel of his sword, “Look around. Our people are well organized and committed. Despite what some clerics think, we are in the best position to help. There’s still a lot of work ahead.”

Before I could manage a word out of my mouth, another man came rushing up, “Commander! Ser Rylen has a report on our supply lines.” and he was holding another clipboard.

Cullen smirked and took the clipboard, “As I was saying.”

“I shouldn’t keep you from your duties,” I said.

He glanced at the papers I was holding, “And I, yours. Although-” he took the papers off a clipboard and put it onto the other one, handing me the empty board, “-here. Gives me one less to worry about.”

I took it, “Thank you.” Though the papers I had were slightly bigger than the clipboard, it helped to keep them all together. I began to walk away then I heard an odd noise coming from the side where the training dummies are. I went to investigate and found that Cassandra had completely decimated one of the dummies. She huffed, shook her head, and paced in place. We made eye contact as she went to the next dummy over. She hesitated to strike it. “Sure that one can take what you gave the other one?”

She scoffed, “One could hope.” She relaxed her sword arm.

“Are you alright?”

She tossed the blade on the ground by the dummy, “Did I do the right thing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Founding the Inquisition. What we set in motion could destroy everything I’ve revered my whole life. One day, they may write me as a traitor, a madwoman, a fool. And they could be right.” She rubbed her temples and seemed to contemplate picking up her sword again.

“What does your heart tell you?” I asked. “Your instincts?”

“I believe you are innocent. I believe more is going on than what we can see. And it feels no one else cares to do anything about it. They will stand in the fire and complain that it is hot. But is this the Maker’s will? I can only guess.”

Hmm , “Though, you consistently refer to me as Herald. Herald of Andraste.”

“I think you were sent to help us. At least, I hope you were. Though how the Maker helps… It can be difficult to discern who it truly benefits. Or how.”

“Well, how can we help?”

“First, lessen the Chantry’s panic over you before they do more harm. Then, close the Breach. After that, we find out who’s responsible for this chaos, and we end them.” She quickly picked up her sword and struck at the dummy. “And if there are consequences to be paid for what I’ve done here,” she strikes again, “I pay them.” The next strike doesn’t hit as hard. She sighs, “I only pray the price isn’t too high.”

“Cassandra,” I began in a soft but loud enough voice for her to hear, “you didn’t have a choice. Like you said, we’re the only ones that seem to be willing to do something about all of this. About the Breach. Shit, I think we are the only ones that can . Considering my...mark.”

“Didn’t I have a choice?” She struck the dummy a few more times and hung her head for a moment. Then looked back at me, “My trainers have always said, ‘Cassandra, you are too brash. You must think before you act.’”

“You did, at least from what I saw.”

She dropped her sword again and took a step towards me, “Yes, I see what must be done, and I do it! I see no point in running around in circles like a dog chasing its tail.” Like the Chantry? “But I misjudged you in the beginning, did I not? I thought you were...I thought the answer was before me, clear as day.” She sighed, “I cannot afford to be so careless again. The world can’t.”

“Well, you didn’t kill me. You were being cautious. Besides, I stepped out of a rift after a hole formed in the sky, that’s reason to suspect.”

“I was determined to have someone answer for what happened. Anyone.”

“That’s understandable, and I think hundreds of others were too. Though you and Leliana got your hands on me first, and let’s be honest, how many emotional people would’ve killed me on the spot?”

“Many. Hundreds.” She took a minute to think, “I get what you’re saying, and...well, you said you don’t believe you’re chosen. Does that mean...you also don’t believe in the Maker?”

There were a few ways to answer this. Best to keep it short and simple, “No, I don’t.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Do you believe in the elven gods?”

“I...I don’t know. I think I do, but I don’t know,” I answered honestly. I felt heat rush to my face unsure how she would respond.

She took a moment, her face not exactly pleased, “Well, whatever the case may be, I have to believe we were put on this path for a reason. Even if you do not.” Her tone was less than welcoming. I know now what not to talk to her about... Once again she picked up her sword. “Now, it simply remains to be seen where the path leads us.” She hacked at the dummy some more, but at least she didn’t seem as stressed. I didn’t want to feel sour or uncomfortable around her, especially when talking about something personal. Well, Ev, there’s a lot going on right now, she’s not here for you. Let it go. I bit back at my thoughts and left the area swiftly.

It’s okay to be uncomfortable with how that turned out. I corrected my earlier thoughts, something Paba taught me. Sometimes I can’t stop a thought from being too harsh on myself in the moment. But, I can correct it later. It’s not about being perfect, he’d say, it’s about learning, growing, and doing the best we can. Even if that means our best comes later. I took a deep breath and headed through the main gates to search for Adan, because quite frankly, I was tired of holding these papers. The apothecary was at the far east side of Haven. On the other side of the town where I’m living temporarily… great. There were a few houses on each side of the building I was looking for. There was a distinct smell of herbs, incense, and a reactionary smell from a brew of the herbs and liquids. The apothecary had a wooden sign that dangled above the door marking what the building was used for.

The door nearby the building opened and out stepped Solas, “The Chosen of Andraste. A blessed hero sent to save us all.” His strides were careful yet elegant as he walked out, as if he was trying to be quiet. A glide step of sorts.

“Oh, no, please don’t…” I sighed, “I have no interest in being a hero, Solas. I simply want to close the Breach.”

“Pragmatic, but ultimately irrelevant.” How the fuck do I respond to that? The greeting smile he had vanished as he walked by me and looked up at the Breach just behind the house he came out of. “I’ve journeyed deep into the Fade in ancient ruins and battlefields to see the dreams of lost civilizations.” I felt my fast twist with interest as he spoke. “I’ve watched as hosts of spirits clash to reenact the bloody past in ancient wars both famous and forgotten.” I stepped closer to him, curious as to what he was referring to. Is he..? He turned to face me, “Every great war has its heroes. I’m just curious what kind you’ll be.”

“Wait, what do you mean when you say you see the dreams of lost civilizations?”

“Any place strong enough to withstand the rigors of time has a history. Every battlefield is steeped in death. Both attract spirits. They press against the veil, weakening the barrier between our worlds. When I dream in such places, I go deep into the Fade. I can find memories no other living being has ever seen.”

“You’re a dreamer, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I am, too. Albeit with less experience than what you seem to have.”

“Ah, but then you’ve explored the Fade as well.”

“To an extent,” I answered honestly, “I can see memories in various places, like Kirkwall, but I’ve been too timid to explore a lot. So, I sit back and watch if I can. Hide myself away.”

“Listening is a good way to learn and get comfortable with your abilities.”

“It seems you’ve been quite deep within the Fade, and if I’m being honest, I think that’s extraordinary. Just being able to imagine all the things you’ve seen…”

“Thank you. It’s not a common field of study, for obvious reasons. No so flashy as throwing fire or lightning.” He smiled, “The thrill of finding remnants of a thousand-year-old dream? I would not trade it for anything.”

“The history in such a dream would be remarkable.”

“It would. If you are interested in honing your abilities, I would be open to mentor you. Though I suggest that be at a later time. There is much more to worry about in the present.”

“True.”

He paused momentarily, “I will stay, at least until the Breach has been closed.”

“You had doubts?”

He responded sternly, “I am an apostate mage surrounded by Chantry forces and unlike you, I do not have a divine mark protecting me.”

“I did not intend to offend.”

“You haven’t. Though, Cassandra has been accommodating, you understand my caution.”

“I do. But you’ve come here to help. And so far, you’ve done a lot. I won’t let them use that against you.”

He cocked his head, “How would you stop them?”

“Influence, persuasion...anyway I had to.” In all honesty, I didn’t know what would happen to him if they decided to act against him. Though, from what I’ve overheard from reports to my clan, it has never been pretty. Or anything I’d wish upon another being.

His face lightened up, “Thank you. For now, let us hope either the mages or the templars have the power to seal the Breach.”

“You know about that?”

“Indeed. So does Varric, I believe. Ambassador Josephine has kept us updated with such plans.”

“Though, not all of Haven I presume?”

“Correct. But we have things we must do presently.”

I glanced at the clipboard I was holding, “Yeah, we do. Well, we will talk later, Solas.”

“That we will.”

I gave a gentile smile and a small head bow before finally walking through the doors of the apothecary. The smell of brew and herbs were quite strong. A tall man in robes was busy checking inventory, though he turned around to see me walk in, “Look who’s back from the dead. Again.” He was completely occupied by what he was doing.

“Are you Adan?” I asked.

“Yes.”

I saw familiar notes on a table of his, handwriting that was similar to the note of observation I found in my room. “Are you the one responsible for my well being?”

“Well, someone had to patch you up after you staggered out of Maker-knows-where. So, you’re welcome.” He moved to another section with herbs hanging down and continued writing things down.

“Well, thank you, Adan. I appreciate what you’ve done,” I kept a gentile smile, though he couldn’t see it.

He paused for a minute and looked back at me, “Yeah, well… You can pay me back by fixing the world.” Then he scratched his beard and put down the paper he was writing on, “I’m in charge of keeping our little band here stocked with potions and elixirs.” He muttered, “Not that Seeker Pentaghast seems to care whether we’ve got the supplies to actually do that.” He then sighed, “Forgive me for not properly welcoming you in.”

“It’s okay, really. You’re like the first person today that’s treated me normally.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. Well, I think we will be heading out to the Hinterlands soonish. I could pick up more supplies,” I offered.

“That would be a big help. Though, we are fine as far as raw labor goes. And you’ve got bigger concerns, so I’d prefer that if you do pick up supplies to just tell our laborers where to go.”

“Well, I have something here that might help. It was in the abandoned house. It looks like notes.” I walked over and handed him the papers.

He looked through and his eyebrows raised, “Master Taigen’s notes! Ha!” He smiled, “The old codger was on the edge of a breakthrough here, but he couldn’t see it. You want some of these mixed up, just give the word.”

“What happened to Master Taigen?”

“Died at the Conclave. The abandoned house was his. I didn’t have any time to try and find these notes.”

“Oh, being the healer doesn’t really gather a lot of free time, does it?”

He opened a desk and neatly started to organize the notes, “There’s no shortage of work that’s for damn sure. But, I’m not the healer. I’m an alchemist that’s forced to play mother hen. Someone has to take up the role, right? You want something to burst into flame on contact with the air? Done. Gladly. That’s my area of expertise. But, I know basics of healing and medicine. To know what hurts the most, you have to know what helps, too.”

“Are there no official healers or doctors here in Haven?”

“If there were I wouldn’t be the main healer.”

I was shocked, with a town as important as Haven, I was surprised there wasn’t any. Though they could’ve been at the Conclave. But why have healers and medics at the Conclave? “Did they all attend the Conclave?”

“Of course, the Divine was there. Almost every healer in Haven went. They all went just in case something bad happened. You saw how that turned out.”

“Right...yeah,” I watched as he started to work again, picking up his paper, “Well, I should let you continue your work.”

“I’m sure you have things to do as well.”

“If not I’m sure it’ll find me. Dareth-” I shook my head, “Farewell, I mean.”

“Farewell.”

 

~~~

 

Back at my house, I had a candle lamp lit on my desk. A leather notebook and fountain pen were my tools. We need to recruit more healers, doctors, medics. More supplies for potions, poultices, poisons, elixirs, and the like. The priority is Mother Giselle, of course, but we need to be successful in the long term. I also noticed the lack of mounts at the stables. Replace the dummy Cassandra tore down. We just need more people.

I sighed and leaned back in my chair. I had successfully ignored the stress that loomed over me throughout the day. But now that I am alone, writing down what needs to be done, the weight was ever more present. I truly wanted to help, but at the same time, I dreaded doing it. I put my head into my hands. What am I doing? How can I act like I know what I’m doing when I don’t? I obviously cannot rely on plans, the damn explosion and hole in the sky fucking proved that. I leaned forward with my elbows on the table, one hand held my head, the other played with magic.

A little dot. A snowflake. More little dots. They would dissipate in the air before it actually landed on anything. But it was something to captivate me, to distract me. A blank mind. Just, all I could see were the snowflakes I was creating, my eyes focused on them and made the fire from the candle lamp behind all fuzzy and blurred. All I could hear was the ambient sound of the fireplace crackling behind me. All I could feel was the focus in putting energy through my magic. I didn’t want to think. I didn't want to break down again. I don’t think my mind wanted to either. So, it shut itself off in a way. I felt numb.

I need to sleep. I can bring this up in a meeting. But I need to sleep. I waved off the candle lamp and reluctantly stood up. Had to change clothes, but going to sleep like this felt just as tempting. No, just change into something else. Just do that. It’ll be okay. Normally, if I didn’t feel like changing I would’ve just fallen asleep naked, or just about. But I wouldn’t dare do that here. I simply didn’t fully trust the area I was in. I knew I was safe, but the way people talk about me, hold me on a pedestal...it felt like the opposite of home or anywhere I’d feel comfortable with just being in my skin. At least they gave me options...most are in dress form, which isn’t too bad. If I get my hands on a needle and thread, though, I’m adding embroidery.

After I changed, I made sure the fireplace was out. I had put a blanket in front of it while I wrote so it would warm up. And it made the little hairs on my body stand up when I wrapped myself in it. It felt so welcoming, and I could fall asleep easy with it. I remember I even smiled when I wrapped it around myself. A genuine, reactionary, content, and satisfied smile. It had felt like so long since I did that.

I promise, it’ll happen again.

It has to.

Chapter Text

17th of Wintermarch...so, which will happen first? That people actually listen to me and stop with this herald bullshit, or that I close the Breach? Because neither have happened so far. I casted an ice spike into the frozen body of water. Could’ve been Mythal. Another spike. Could’ve been a spirit. Another. Could’ve even been Sylaise or Andruil or fuck - Harder spike - Ghilan’nain! I sighed and looked at the now jagged area of ice. Andraste my ass… I’m no damn chosen one either. It’s coincidence, that’s all. A pity spike. If I could just fucking remember what happened...just...why me? I don’t get it. I slumped and crossed my arms over my legs that hung off the edge of the dock. This cannot be by any kind of divine will, that’s for damn sure. You can’t have one person save the world, it’s not a good idea to put that kind of weight on one singular being. If the foundation for saving the world is a pin, keeping that pin balanced and unbent to the weight will be a challenge in and of itself. Under enough pressure, even a good nail would break or crumble.

Maybe luck, coincidence, whatever, chose me to bear all of this because I’m such a bad candidate. Sacrifice or ruin one life for the sake of everyone else. Like an oh hey she won’t be missed by many, sort of ideology. Does luck or coincidence have ideologies? Maybe...no, it can’t be that bad, can it? I can’t seriously be that much of an inconvenience, right? No...that’s silly. The forces of chance aren’t an entity. But...still.

Was it my wish at the beginning of the year? My longing for adventure all throughout my life? Is this a way to teach me and thus others to be careful for what you wish for? Or to just be in gratitude with what you have? If that all has a chance being true, then the opposite has to as well right? No, we have to be fighting against chance. We have to.

A voice from the crystal broke my thoughts, “We’ve heard back from Scout Harding. A mandatory meeting has been called.” Well, hearing back probably means they were successful. I slowly stood up and once more looked at the jagged ice. There was a ping of guilt. The ice didn’t deserve this. It was so pretty before I fucked it up. So, I focused a bit of magic to melt the area and let it refreeze. It wasn’t the same as before, but, it looked healed. I’m sorry.

 

~~~

 

“Mother Giselle refuses to leave the Hinterlands until we ensure the refugees’ safety. And for, you Commander,” Leliana turned to Cullen, “The retired horse-master Dennet was unreachable due to the fighting.”

“So, we go and deal with the mage-templar fiasco and all should be swell,” I said, adjusting my hood.

“I wish it were that easy,” Cassandra scoffed. “That’s also assuming quelling the mages and templars will be easy.”

“Cassandra’s right,” Leliana began, “There’s also reports of a food shortage, people freezing overnight, they’re in need of a good healer, and are also being flanked by bandits.”

That’s...a lot. “And then Mother Giselle will come with us?” I asked.

“Yes. Though, I suspect that doing most of this will be enough to suffice. The main issues are dealing with the apostates, rogue templars, and bandits,” Leliana answered.

“If they don’t have to worry about someone killing them while they look for resources, that would be a huge help in it of itself,” Cullen added.

“But we could do everything, right?” I asked. “Not just minimal effort to drag someone off.”

“We definitely could. And it would make the Inquisition look better in the process,” Cassandra said.

“Either way,” Cullen began, “the Inquisition will be looked upon more fondly for whatever we try to do.”

“It’s just whether or not we go above and beyond,” I added.

“Correct.”

“After the meeting we should get Varric and Solas,” Cassandra turned to me, “Tell them to start packing and getting ready to travel to the Hinterlands.”

“Scout Harding has a campsite ready to go by the Crossroads,” Leliana brought up her orb. “These coordinates. It’s out of the way and right on the outskirts. You’ll have the high ground.” Cassandra received the coordinates on her orb. “Another thing, Clan Lavellan is excited and thankful to be receiving the shipment of ore in the near future.”

“Yeah, they are. Thank you,” I said.

“Speaking of personal reports,” Josephine began, “the issue involving Varric’s rogue author has had an advancement. We know of the courier that sent the manuscripts. I’ve sent the letter forward to Varric.”

“What happened to the refugees and the nobleman?” I asked Leliana.

“The noble sent us some gold, and the refugees are safe,” she responded briskly.

Josephine pushed a note across the table, “And the Teyrn of Highever will be sending weapons for our troops within the month.”

“It’s a good start,” Cassandra read over the note. “Anyone else tried to contact us?”

“Sadly, no,” Cullen reluctantly responded. “People are still quite apprehensive to us. It is a good start, but without some sort of Chantry support, people will stick their nose up at us.”

So, traveling to the Hinterlands is our only option. Well, we get to help people in the process, we are in that position. “So, let’s prepare to meet Mother Giselle.”

“Yes, let’s,” Cassandra placed the note back on the table. “I will go talk to Solas. Herald, you should talk to Varric. Let’s not communicate information over crystals or orbs unless we absolutely have to.” I cringed at the name, once again.

I looked at her in the eyes, “I can understand why, Seeker Pentaghast. Discretion is quite important and we shouldn’t risk anyone, especially the unknown enemy, to get any idea.” Her face soured when I called her name.

“Yeah, that was my idea, too. Also, you don’t have to call me that. I’m fine with Seeker, or Cassandra.”

“Is that your preference?”

“Yes.”

“I’m fine with Ev, Evelyn, or Mistress Lavellan. Preferably over Herald.” I gave a half smile.

The other three were looking back and forth between us, Cassandra seemed to fumble over what words to chose next, “I...Well, I uh, see, Mistress Lavellan.”

“Well, I should go see Varric now,” I nodded. “Wait, where would he be?”

“Down the first set of steps to your left, he likes to hang out by the tents there,” Cassandra answered.

“Does he have a house here?” I asked. Solas and I seem to have one.

“We brought him in for questioning a while ago, and we weren’t prepared for when he decided to stay,” Cassandra responded.

“Did he ever have the option? Can he have that option?”

“Well, not with everyone in Haven now, no. In fact there’s a campsite where his tent is.”

“Apologies, Mistress,” Josephine began, “but we don’t seem to have enough buildings to house everyone equally.”

“What about like, sharing a home?” I asked.

“That’s up to the individual who owns that home. We cannot make them share.”

“I want incentives, then. Posters across Haven to push people to be more open to refugees and people trying to help the Inquisition. It’s the middle of winter, and a tent can only keep someone warm for so long.”

“Well, we do have rooms in the Chantry that-”

“Is Varric aware?”

“I believe so, yes.”

“Well, I’ll go make sure, then.” I looked at everyone with a sigh, “The meeting is over though, right?”

“Yes, Mistress Lavellan.”

It was awkward leaving, there was an air in the room that felt unspoken, ignored, but everyone was well aware of.

I checked in with Quartermaster Threnn about the iron supply used to make our weapons. Of course, she doesn’t directly report to me. The advisors are usually more aware of the situation and need to be, but my curiosity needed to be satisfied. When I first met Threnn, she thought me of a servant, and gave me what felt to be a backhanded compliment. First mistaking me for a servant because I’m an elf, but then going on to saying that if anyone gave me shit to come to her and she’d take care of it. When I explained who I was, she apologized, but it had really set the tone of where I was. If they didn’t see me as the savior of the world, they would view me as the exact opposite with minimal sympathy mixed in. The hood stayed up.

Varric was just below and he was relaxing by the fire. We never had a one on one chat before. He seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at once, always busy. Though, I suppose many could say the same of me when I go down to the docks. I quietly approached, “Heya, Varric.”

He tilted his head to look up at me from his crouched position, “Hey, Ev. Almost didn’t recognize you.” He stood up, “Almost didn’t hear you, either.”

“Yeah, I’ve been avoiding people when I can.”

“Are you holding up alright? I mean shit, you go from being the most wanted criminal in Thedas to joining the armies of the faithful. Most people spread that over more than one day,” he had a casual smile on his face.

The fabric tickled my ears as they moved back against the hood, my eyes darting away momentarily, “I have no idea what’s happening anymore. It’s all...so much. Not to mention the...well, the lives already lost. I don’t know how to deal with the weight of the world.”

“That makes two of us. For days now, we’ve been staring at the Breach. Watching demons and Maker-knows-what fall out of it. Bad for morale would be an understatement. I still can’t believe anyone was in there and lived.”

“I don’t think there’s any descriptor in any language that can accurately describe the Breach. Though, from what I hear, I was out for most of the carnage. I...I definitely don’t think I would have been able to handle the full brunt of that.”

He shrugged, “Most people didn’t. Many have changed since. Keeping it together during all this shit? It’s overwhelmingly tough.”

“Why’d you stay? You can technically leave any time.”

He scoffed, “I like to think I’m as selfish and irresponsible as the next guy, but this…” he gestured vaguely, “Thousands of people died on that mountain. I was almost one of them. And now there’s a hole in the sky. Even I can’t walk away and just leave that to sort itself out.”

“I don’t think it can sort itself out without being turned inside-out.”

“Heh, yeah. It’ll all go to shit before it can fix itself.”

I bring up a hand and rub my temples, “I still can’t believe all of this. The possibility of it happening is just...storybook.” I chuckled nervously.

“If this is all just the Maker winding us up, I hope there’s a damn good punchline coming. And you might want to consider running at the first opportunity. I’ve written enough tragedies to know where this is going.”

My face tensed, “Well, it may be one of those moments where we can be thankful it’s real life and not a story.”

“It’ll be worse than a tragedy if left unattended I can guarantee that. Heroes are everywhere, Ev. I’ve seen that. But the hole in the sky? That’s beyond heroes. We’re going to need a miracle.”

No, we need a solid plan and many backup plans. “Speaking of which, Leliana’s scout was able to contact Mother Giselle. We’re heading out to the Hinterlands tomorrow. You, Cassandra, Solas, and I. Well, if you’re up for it.”

“Of course. Know what you’ll bring?”

“Makeshift staff and my knapsack is all I usually need. A tent. And knowledge about the wilderness I’m stepping into.”

“Travel light, don’t you?”

“I traveled to the Conclave alone like that. It wasn’t too bad,” I shrugged.

“I need to get more bolts for Bianca. She’s running low,” he motioned towards the crossbow in his tent.

“I could pick up your bolts," I offered.

"Only if you're headed out that way," He adjusted his cuffs.

"Well, I asked our blacksmith if he could add a blade to the end of my staff."

"Ah, well, thank you."

"It's no problem, Varric."

 

~~~

 

Harritt had just gotten done talking to someone as I approached him. I heard the clash of the swords and shields from the training ground nearby, but not overwhelmingly loud. “Expected you’d be by,” he said as he reached for my staff. His story began in Lothering and left when it was taken over; ended up here in Haven right before the Breach opened. He showed me the staff, it was ragged but holding together. “Made a few fixes, I hope it doesn’t mess up the channeling in your staff.”

“It shouldn’t. It’s not really attuned to me.” The blade was nice and stable at the end. Enough to quickly stab someone if they got behind me, also offers a nice grip on unstable ground. “Hey, I was also wondering if I could pick up some bolts for Varric’s crossbow?”

He held up his finger and went to the back and picked up a quite full quiver of bolts across his shoulder. “This should last him a while, I think. He’s a damn good shot, but I don’t know how much trouble the wilds’ll give you.”

He handed over the quiver which I slung over my shoulder. “Thanks. When we come back from the Hinterlands, we might have more ore.”

“It’d be nice to reopen the supply line to there. Though, most of it are things we already have. Still, good to have a bit more than what you think you need. Margin for error and all.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep the rest of us safe while we traverse the wilderness. Hopefully Solas will help in that regard.”

“Oh, I’d stay way clear of Lady Shayna’s Valley if you go out that far.”

“Why?” I tilted my head.

“There was a mining company and a docking company out there. I’ll tell you this,” he leaned in a little closer, “it wasn’t the mages or the templars that caught the whole operation on fire and destroyed it.”

“Then, what was it?”

“From what I’ve heard, it’s the Fereldan Frostback.”

“The who-what?”

“She’s a high dragon.” My heart raced in both excitement and fear. Oh shit! Oh shit… “The valley is like her little cove now. She doesn’t stray far from it, but her roar can be heard for miles. If it wasn’t for the mage-templar war there, the people would’ve actively fought against her by now. But, strange times when a dragon isn’t high on the danger list.”

“True. Yeah. Thank you for the tip.”

He rummaged through a small notebook he had in his pocket and pulled out a folded up piece of canvas paper. “A refugee decided to draw her. I mean, she’s a high dragon and hard to miss. But this one’s the Fereldan Frostback. One of the younger ones apparently.” He handed me the paper, “Keep it. For reference.”

“You seem to know a lot about dragons.”

“Oh, it’s every blacksmith’s dream to work with dragon bone and hide. One of, if not the , strongest material out there. Their blood is laced with magical properties, both alive and dead. The meat of a high dragon could feed the town of Haven for a week! But alas, pure iron wouldn’t bring her down. You’d need a lot of preparation and a solid team.”

I open the paper to see a colored sketch. Long, golden horns similar to what one might find on a druffalo, if the horns were upside down, or on a bull. A shorter snout with large, thick teeth. The pattern on her hide was an odd variation of swirls, in amber and green. Eyes surrounded by black hide with piercing yellow irises. Four strong legs and a pair of wide wings. Artistic interpretation or she seemed to prefer walking rather than flying. And a tail that could easily knock down a building. The warm colors on her hide suggested that she breathed fire. Of course the fact the operation got burned down is another giveaway. Sword-like spines came from her neck and went all the way down her back. No riding her… The ones on her neck were webbed. It seemed to replicate down by the back of her front arms. One swipe and she could impale a person…

“She’s fierce,” I said.

“She is. Beauty. I almost feel bad that she has to die. Too close to people, already squandered an operation.” He pointed at her mouth on the picture, “Dragon’s teeth. Meant to pierce dragon flesh. Crack dragon bone. Find a way to shatter those beauties and implement them in your weapons or armor, you’ll be fit to fight a god.” He palmed the wood of his desk. “Well, metaphorically speaking, of course.”

“The trick is to get it from the dragon,” I smirked.

“More than that. Gotta shatter the tooth just right. Or break your tools doing so. Or ruin the tooth in general. Good thing they have more than one. When I was in blacksmith training, they had a tale that said a blacksmith could shatter a tooth of the dragon after cracking it a few times. Once in half, and then those in half, and so on.”

“You seem to be daydreaming,” I chuckled.

“It’d be an honor to work with it, Mistress Lavellan. But don’t get yourself killed in the process. We need you for other things. Like you said before, we don’t need anymore of the luck that caused all this mess and our survival.” He referenced a conversation from a few days ago.

I looked at the makeshift staff and thought about an attuned staff made completely from dragon. Some scales, I hear, are iridescent, perfect for easily manageable fire magic. Ice was my reactionary magic. For instance, when I’m scared and I jump, sometimes I freeze something nearby. Accidentally, of course. Of the elements, it’s the one I’m best at, lightning or electricity is my second best. I can admire fire magic, definitely, but it is not my strongest school of magic whatsoever. Having a staff that allows me to easily cast fire would help to balance out what I can do. A fire-based attuned staff would require very little to no energy pushed through to cast a damaging fireball. Fire would be its automatic setting one could say. I wouldn’t have to focus on creating heat. I could still easily cast ice or lightning or any other school through the staff with less energy than without, but I would have to focus on it a bit more to get it to cast what I wanted. Bone blade, sharpened to the point that you wouldn’t be able to tell you cut yourself on it. So sharp, you couldn’t feel the pain. But not as brittle. Laced with the teeth, able to take impact after impact. An almost unbreakable staff. I had to break my thoughts and come back to reality. I chuckled, “Thank you, Harritt. I should go back to Varric before I get too lost in dragon thoughts.” I laughed, “Guess you could say I’m dragon on.”

He gave me a look, smiled, and shook his head, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Should get back to work, myself.”

 

~~~

 

After I gave the bolts to Varric I could hear a voice nearby, like a whisper, a small plead. Varric said he couldn’t hear anything and we investigated behind the tents. Although the voice became louder, they weren’t here. Must’ve been up the stairs on the level the Chantry sits. Leliana? Her tent sat on that level. So, I went up to check on her.

Leliana was crouched in the back corner of her tent. Her palms over one another up by her forehead. “Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.” Was she praying? “Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.” I wasn’t sure if I was intruding, but I wasn’t confident enough to make my presence known or to leave. “In their blood the Maker’s will is written.” She paused for a moment, and then in an angry mutter, “Is that what you want from us? Blood? To die so that your will is done?” She straightened up, hands fell to her side, “Is death your only blessing?” Her head turned and glared at me and my blood turned cold, “You speak for Andraste, no? What does the Maker’s prophet have to say about all of this? What’s his game?” It was like staring at a cat, unblinking despite the bitter cold.

“Leliana, I don’t understand,” I stuttered.

“Do you see the sky? What about the temple ruins? The bones lying in the dust?” She shook her head and raised her voice, “Even if you don’t support the Divine’s peace, you wouldn’t call this right. Who could?” She sighed and took a moment before speaking again, “So many innocent lives--the faithful murdered where the holiest of holies once stood.” She snapped her head away, the lines on her face became more prominent. “If the Maker willed this, what is it if not a game or a cruel joke?” Her glare soured as she looked back at me.

I dryly swallowed, “Leliana, you--I don’t speak for Andraste. I can only speak for myself and my actions. I’m sorry I don’t have the answers for you.”

Her face softened slightly, “You probably don’t even worship the Maker.” She scoffed, “Lucky. He asks a lot.”

“You’re right, I don’t.”

She stood up, “The Chantry teaches that the Maker abandoned us. He demands repentance for our sins.” Her glare twisted into a mix of solemness and anger, “He demands it all. Our lives. Our deaths. Justinia gave Him everything she had, and He let her die!” She walked from the back of the tent to where I was standing to meet me more face to face. The grief showed more as her features relaxed.

Does she need a hug? I don’t know if she’d accept one from me. “You have my sympathies. You seemed to be very close to the Divine.”

Her lips quivered and voice cracked, “Not just me. All of us. She led the faithful. She was their heart!” I wanted to reach out but I still didn’t know if that’s the kind of comfort she wanted. Leliana looked up at the Chantry, her voice calmed and soft, “If the Maker doesn’t intervene to save the best of his servants, what good is He? I used to believe I was chosen, just as some say you are.” I tensed slightly at that. “I thought I was fulfilling his purpose for me, working with the Divine, helping people.” Leliana faced me again, one wet streak that led from the inner corner of her eye to her mouth. “But now she’s dead. It was all for nothing. Serving the Maker meant nothing.”

“Whatever you need, know that I’m here for you.”

“Thank you but--no, this is my burden. I regret that I even let you see me like this. It was a moment of weakness. It won’t happen again.” Before I could mutter a word she briskly walked away to the back of the tent where she had a makeshift table of crates, “To work then. We will speak later. And, Ambassador Josephine wishes to speak to you.”

Showing emotion is not a weakness… But, I don’t think she wants to hear that right now. She was already deep in her work to the point I felt awkward saying anything even a simple goodbye. But it felt weird to just leave it, too. Standing here won’t make it any better. I turned and left, though I felt empty doing so.

Josephine, huh? I walked into the Chantry, her room was in the back and just to the left. The door was closed and it sounded like she was talking to someone, or, someone was talking to her. I didn’t want to intrude, but since I knew she was expecting me I knocked on the door. A moment of silence and Josephine quickly opened the door. She had her clipboard in her hand and the other person in the room took me by surprise. His outfit was bizarre, and he wore a full mask that only showed his eyes and lips. The color scheme seemed to be brown and yellow with a checkered, large, collar. To top it all off, he wore thick, white gloves.

“Allow me to introduce you to the brave soul who risked her life to slow the magic of the Breach,” Josephine introduced me, stepping out of the way to welcome me into the room. The man looked at me and it felt strange to have so little emotion, hidden by the mask, staring back at me. “Mistress Lavellan, this is Marquis DuRellion, one of Divine Justinia’s greatest supporters.” I wasn’t sure if I was intrigued or creeped out by the mask, maybe both. I bowed my head to the man as a greeting.

A strong accent heard mostly from those who hailed from Orlais, slipped out of his mouth, “And the rightful owner of Haven.” Your fashion sense doesn’t seem to match Haven… In fact who wears their belt up by their chest? And one at the waist... “House DuRellion lent Justinia these lands for a pilgrimage. This Inquisition-” he air-quoted, “-is not a beneficiary of this arrangement.” The r’s in the Orlesian accent sounded more like a hack from the back of the throat. Interesting…

“I was unaware of Haven having an owner outside of the Chantry,” I responded.

He was quite expressive with his hands and body movements I felt I needed to backup a few times. “My wife,” he began, “Lady Machen of Denerim, has claim to Haven by ancient treaty with the monarchs of Ferelden.” The door is still open behind me, right? I pawed behind me. Yup, I can step back a little more. “We were honored to lend its use to Divine Justinia. She is… She was a woman of supreme merit.” He stepped quite close to me and raised a finger, “I will not let an upstart order remain on her holy grounds.” I felt muscles I wasn’t used to being used in my neck as I stretched back away from his finger.

“It wouldn’t be admirable to turn injured people out on the snow, now wouldn’t it?” I said.

“And who benefits if they stay?”

Josephine snapped, “Divine Justinia, Marquis. The Inquisition, not the Chantry, is sheltering the pilgrims who mourn her.”

He turned to her, giving me some breathing room, “And why would the Chantry be ignoring the faithful?”

Josephine stood tall, “Because it remains in shock.” The Marquis sighed heavily and paced the room. “We face a dark time, Your Grace. Divine Justinia would not want her passing to divide us. She would, in fact, trust us to forge new alliances to the benefit of all. No matter how strange they might seem.”

He stopped pacing and turned to face her, “I’ll think on it, Lady Montilyet. The Inquisition might stay in the meanwhile.” He bowed his head and left the room.

I looked back at Josephine who seemed to be relaxed now that he was gone, “Does he have the power to kick us out?”

She smiled, “His Grace’s position is not so strong as he presents it. Despite their Fereldan relations, the DuRellions are Orlesian.”

“That part I could see.”

She chuckled, “Orlesians do love to be seen. Now, if the Marquis wishes to claim Haven, Empress Celene must negotiate with Ferelden on his behalf. And her current concerns are a bit larger than minor property disputes.”

“What’s going on in Orlais?”

“Empress Celene and Duke Gaspard are at war in a sense, for the throne. Of course there are many rifts open within their borders that does not make the fighting any easier.”

“Well, I’m happy that the Marquis can’t toss us out into the cold.”

“His Grace is only the first of many dignitaries we must contend with.”

I’m not sure I could handle more like him… “There’ll be more?”

My face must’ve twisted in a way that made her chuckle, “Undoubtedly. And each visitor will spread the story of the Inquisition after they depart.” She walked back to her desk and sat down in her, quite plush, chair. That’s a nice chair… “An ambassador should ensure the tale is as complimentary as possible.”

The last time we had talked she told me of how she came to be an ambassador, apparently her and Leliana had been friends for quite a while. She expressed just how working for the Inquisition had become over the past few days. Before the Inquisition, Josephine was the royally appointed court ambassador from Antiva to Orlais. She knows many people, either through acquaintance or reputation. How she keeps track of all this information and people is beyond me, and is something I respect.

“The Inquisition is fortunate to have you as an advocate,” I smiled and bowed slightly. I hope that didn’t come across as mocking…

“Thank you,” she seemed sincere, “Let’s hope so. Thedas’s politics have become...agitated as of late. I hope to guide us down smoother paths.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you know much about them, because I surely don’t. They already sound confusing, especially what I just walked in on.”

“Oh, well, if you’re ever interested, there’s plenty of books here that could teach you. And of course, if you have any questions, I am open to answering them.” She held a resting smile on her face. In fact her whole demeanor seemed very welcoming.

“Thank you, Josephine, that’s very kind. Though, I doubt it will be a while before I can touch the books. Cause, well, the Hinterlands tomorrow.”

“Oh!” She rummaged through a drawer, “That reminds me.” She pulled out a note, “Minaeve is feeling ill today but her and the tranquil had discovered a few things about some of the demons that come out of the rifts. Here are the notes on that.” She let me take the note.

Minaeve is a nice person, she likes to spend time with the tranquil. A bittersweet thing, as they cannot feel or express emotions but they live and breathe just the same. Every mage at some point fears one of two things, or both; possession and tranquility. Though, tranquility is man-made. Kirkwall had its fair share of unnecessary tranquilities. Taking a mage’s ability to feel and leaving them utterly emotionless at the price for passing love notes. But hey, they cannot cast magic anymore, as they’ve been separated, more like ripped, from the fade completely. Tranquility was born of fear. Some mages express that they’d rather be possessed than tranquil. Others vise versa of course.

Minaeve was actually part of a Dalish clan, though she expresses disdain towards them as she was kicked out for being a mage when she was seven. I had never heard of a clan that would do such a thing, as mages are held in, almost, the highest regard. Only Keepers and Firsts can be mages. Then again, every clan is different. I feel for her, and I wish I knew what clan so that I may inform my Keeper and maybe we could talk to them as to why they did that. Maybe the clan lived too close to a heavy templar area? Too many mages could attract the attention of templars, sure, but kicking out a child? No clan is perfect, in fact my grandpa was the Keeper of Lavellan before Deshanna. Though, he had corrupt views on the world the rest of the clan did not agree with, and thus he was exiled. It wasn’t a simple argument either, or a single opposing view. It was many opposing views. I don’t know what happened to him after that, but from what I heard, I do hope he saw the good and the light in the world. Our clans can be so separated and far apart, it wouldn’t surprise me that a far away clan would have a completely different hierarchy. Though, we do try to keep in touch with each other during Arlathvhens every few years or so. Or through the traveling Keepers. It is also extremely baffling that Minaeve was exiled when she was a child. Even though children cause me to tense up, they’re highly protected and cared for. To exile a mage child, of all people, seems so alien to me. I wish I knew her clan name… I did talk to Paba about it the night she told me, and even he couldn’t think of a clan that would do such a thing. Usually when a clan couldn’t hold a certain number of people, they would be traded, or adopted, into another clan. Usually with welcome arms, too.

“I hope she feels better,” I said as I put the note in my pocket.

“I do as well. Ah, but, you have some things you need to do before tomorrow, yes?” Josephine hinted.

“Packing. And a quick overview of what to expect in the Hinterlands wilderness.”

“I wish you the best of luck, Mistress Lavellan.”

“Thank you,” I nodded and left the room. At least I won’t be traveling alone, this time.

Chapter Text

There were reports of a storm brewing in the south west, winds traveling north east. “Hopefully it won’t hit us,” I said as we carefully traversed down the road from Haven.

“Do they know what kind of storm?” Varric asked.

“Probably a snow storm,” Cassandra answered, reading the report from the orb, “It is the middle of winter. I packed a few extra things just in case.”

“Good thing we’re going off track when we get down from the mountain,” I said. “Easier to find shelter from storms. Caves don’t naturally follow roads.”

“Inns do, though,” Varric mentioned. Oh, right.

“While a roadside inn might be wonderful,” Solas began, “I do much prefer the shelter of a cave.”

“Don’t think too far ahead,” Cassandra panted as the slope became more intense, “It’ll take about a day to get to good flat land.”

“Especially in these conditions,” I muttered.

“Keep us updated, Seeker,” Varric said.

“Will do,” she responded. There were a few moments of speechlessness, the only thing heard was the sound of crunching snow under our feet. I was too focused on where I was stepping to really think or say anything, in fact whenever I looked up from the ground my peripheral was swirly. Some kind of optical illusion from staring at the ground for too long? Then Cassandra broke the silence. “I must confess, Solas, I’m surprised you decided to remain.”

“Why? The Breach remains a threat to us all,” he responded. It amazed me how he could walk the path without much trouble at all, his head held high.

“Just the same, I wondered if you might leave now that we have a plan to seal it.”

“Ah, because I am an apostate, I might flee before the Inquisition throws me in chains?” Varric and I passed glances, wondering if we should step in. “I take my commitments seriously, Seeker. Come what may, I shall see this through.”

“As you wish,” Cassandra sighed, “though I cannot guarantee what will happen in the days to come.”

“Even as an apostate,” I began, “Solas has already done a lot to help. Is there a form of pardoning?”

“I suppose...but, it wouldn’t be up to me,” Cassandra said.

“I know you’re not like the leader of the world, but I believe you are highly influential, yes? Being the Right Hand of the Divine and all.”

“You do remember that most of the Chantry is against us, right?”

“Sure. But will they be after Mother Giselle? After sealing the Breach? The Inquisition can at least help cover his tracks if or when he decides to leave if the pardoning cannot happen at all.”

“We can...we can do what we can.”

“I appreciate that,” Solas said.

“Too bad the Breach didn’t form in the spring or summer. Could’ve at least had half the decency of that,” Varric complained.

“I don’t think the Breach wants to be civil,” I responded. “Though, I don’t think the Breach can really think, now can it.”

“True,” Solas began, “it is simply the reaction of a cataclysmic event.”

“Yes, and we need to find the one who caused all this, too,” Cassandra chimed in. She almost slipped on a part of the path and her arms flailed. Thankfully, she caught herself.

“You okay, Cassandra?” I asked. The group was careful to avoid that spot.

“Yeah. Some parts of the path are just icy.”

“That snow storm won’t help any of this,” I muttered.

“That’s if it hits us. Besides, going any faster might not be a good idea.”

“Yeah, I guess we don’t want to be reckless in icy conditions.” Though, getting to a good spot before any storm hits in the winter would be great...

 

~~~

 

There was no doubt in my mind that we would’ve put our adventure to the Hinterlands on hold until winter was somewhat over, but the world won’t be put on hold. The mages, templars, and bandits would still be fighting, resources are still diminished; we can’t afford to wait on the weather. Though of course, the weather won’t wait on us either.

The winds howled, and even though it was midday, it was as dark as night. Snow blew at piercing speeds and we could barely see in front of us. A whiteout. It was blistering cold and my face stung to the point of numbness. “We need to take shelter!” I yelled out. I wasn’t sure I even moved my lips all that much.

“Agreed!” Cassandra replied, “But I don’t know where we could find such a place!”

Most of us struggled in the snow. Our hands and arms were up to block the blinding wind and snow. The drifts seemed to come from everywhere. “Here!” Solas’ voice spoke through the winds. “There’s a cave!” He came towards us and led us to the nearby cave. Snow had accumulated at the entrance and we had to dig our way through. Solas and I had to use our little leftover energy on our magic to help warm the group up and start a fire once we were inside. The cave wasn’t very deep, but it was enough to shelter us from the deadly storm.

“There’s a chance we could be stuck in here for a few days,” I said. Everyone was huddled around the fire. Cassandra started to unpack things from her rucksack. The winds whistled, and every once in a while a cold breeze would be felt.

“Well, guess it’s time to cozy on up,” Varric tried to make light of the situation.

“Cuddle pile for warmth?” I suggested, though I got some odd looks from Cassandra and Varric. “What? It’s a genuine idea that works in extreme conditions such as these. I’ve had to do it a few times before.”

Cassandra went back to unpacking, “I would prefer if we didn’t.”

“Mistress Lavellan has a point,” Solas began, “We’d be comfier in a pile rather than letting the winds chill us.”

“Yeah,” I began, “it’s not like this cave has a door. And that fire will go out at some point. Which, yeah we may be okay if we all stayed separate, but sleep would be consistently disturbed and we’d wake up miserable if we even got good sleep at all. Which, four people being miserable in a very closed environment isn’t a good idea.” It’s more of a survival thing and a comfort thing. What’s so bad about the idea?

Varric smiled and sighed, “I mean, you’re right, it’s just…”

“You’re both too prideful to sleep next to each other, even if it benefits all parties,” Solas finished for him.

“Is that really it?” I asked. You’ve got to be absolutely kidding me.

“We will do it if it’s absolutely necessary,” Cassandra said. “Right now, it’s not. We are fine.”

“And it’s not exactly common to suggest that first,” Varric shrugged.

“And it’s not exactly common to be stuck in a small cave while a blizzard bellows just outside,” I retorted. I glared at Cassandra, “And yes we might be fine now, but wouldn’t you rather make sure we are good for the whole night instead of waiting for things to be utterly undesirable to do something as beneficial as a cuddle pile?”

Solas was sitting right next to me so I could hear him mutter in elven, “It wouldn’t be the first time humans waited until the last minute to do something about a situation.”

“What was that, Chuckles?” Varric asked.

Cassandra sighed, “Look...I see your point. It’s just…”

Solas shemlen, ” I muttered under my breath. Prideful human… I hope no one heard me.

“I think Varric and I would prefer to stay separated,” she finished.

I rolled my eyes, “Then don’t sleep next to each other. Solas and I will be in the middle between you two. Or Varric could be in the middle between us. Doesn’t matter to me.”

“Wait, did I hear that right? You called Solas a shemlen? ” Varric chuckled. “Isn’t that the term you use for humans?”

I sighed, “Yes, but solas also means pride. It’s not entirely uncommon for elves to be named after elven words. I know humans do the same with their vocabulary, or what they call certain plants or crystals. Shit, I think I know of a human named Crystal, she traded once with our clan.”

Varric held up his hands, “Fair enough.” After he relaxed he spoke again, “Is there a process to be named? What determines your name?”

I thought for a moment, “Well, some clans have a naming process. Mine doesn’t, though. Just determined by the parents.”

He nodded along in understanding, “How’d you, uh, get your name?”

The question didn’t surprise me as it’s definitely not the most elven sounding name. Though the story was connected to my mother and I disliked talking about her in anyway. “My ma was a part of an alienage. She had a friend named Evelyn that helped her out of the alienage. She was so inspired, she named me after the friend.” In fact, whenever I’m reminded about my mother, I’m also reminded that I look extremely similar. Damn heredity… Got her hair, general face shape, eye color. A name from part of her history.

My face must’ve turned into a scowl because Varric asked, “Touchy subject?”

I smiled, “Not really. Just lost in thought.” The question itself is innocent, and I generally don’t mind answering it.

There was a cold gust of wind that seemed to come from the back of the cave even though it was a dead end. The warmth of the fire being in front of us, it felt interesting. My hands and face felt blissfully warm, but then the back of my neck gets a bone chilling bite. It was as if I was toasty on the outside, but still frozen on the inside. Because the cold pierced deep, I started to shiver, periodically getting a stronger and more intense shiver. I did have a fleece blanket in my rucksack that I took out and wrapped myself in. I turned my back to the fire to help heat up the blanket, but since the front of me was so used to the heat, facing away only seemed to amplify the cold. They say things in life have a flip side to the coin, but this felt like I was physically on the rim of that coin.

Cassandra had finished setting up her bedroll by the fire and finally started to at least seem like she was relaxing. She did have her legs up to her chest and seemed to be shivering as well. Solas seemed quite calm and also unaffected, though he is magically more experienced than I am he’s probably maintaining a heat barrier. His recovery time must be quite short, or his experience made him strong enough to the point maintaining a barrier like that would be like picking up a piece of paper. Maybe both. That’s definitely a goal. Varric seemed fine, even though his back was facing the entrance to the cave. Actually, maybe that’s the better place to be? The wind seems to be hitting the entrance at an angle, hitting a lip of rock or wall that causes the cold to move more inward and past the middle of the entryway. Of course the wind would circulate back out but not before hitting the fire. His position isn’t getting the wind but instead getting the calm chill of the outside temperature. “Hey, I think if we all sorta curl up by the left side entrance, or just the left side in general, we might be warmer. The wind’s blowing on the right side.”

There was a moment where we all looked at each other, then silently Cassandra got up with her bedroll and moved over to the left side between Solas and Varric. I decided to join her in the move, going between her and Varric. “This is...a bit better,” she concluded. And it was. Not having the bone chilling wind bite at my neck every few seconds was a relief and it became much easier to soak up the fire’s warmth. A few minutes of silence rolled, it felt like it was on the cusp of an awkward silence. No one seemed to know what to say or if they should say anything at all. Even though we knew a few things about each other and had the initial part of the Breach to deal with, we were all still very much strangers. Well, maybe not Cassandra and Varric, but they’re definitely not on good terms. At least they’re trying to have a respectful environment, I guess, even if that means not talking. “So,” Cassandra broke the silence reluctantly, “maybe it would be best if we...huddled up for warmth tonight.”

“Agreed,” Solas said.

“Still want the most distance between you and Varric?” I asked, not even in a mocking way. I wouldn’t want to sleep next to someone I disliked either if I could help it.

“I think the order we are in is fine,” she replied. I noticed her tone seemed to be quite a bit calmer than usual.

Then, my crystal activated and I answered, “Uh, hello?”

Leliana’s voice came through, “We heard there was a blizzard going on around the area we believe you’re at if you stayed with the travel schedule.”

“Oh don’t worry, we’re in it,” I chucked, “We’ve followed the schedule pretty well, but we think we might be stuck here for a day or two which would set us back.”

“Are you safe?”

“Yeah, we’re taking shelter in a small cave. Nothing in the cave and I don’t think anything else is going to come in.”

“We should set up runes before we sleep, Mistress,” Solas recommended. “Traps in case something does come in.”

“I agree with Solas,” Leliana said. “Cover your bases when you can. Keep us updated and let us know when you’re on the move again. I’ll keep you updated if there are any reports of activity in your area.”

“Thanks, Leliana. And will do,” I ended the call.

There are magical tracking devices that we could use so she’d have a precise location on us, but those can be easily intercepted by both mages and templars. So, we have a travel schedule, and Leliana is accurate. We should be by the next village perimeter by tomorrow, but that’s not going to happen. Leliana then tunes into her orb to see any kind of report or sightings in that area, and if something should be watched out for, she will let us know. Or if her scouts have heard anything, though messages through ravens are not as fast as orbs, but they are less likely to be publicized.

“Well, we should set up the runes,” I said as I stood up.

“We’re staying here for a couple of days at most, right? Just wondering if we should start rationing,” Varric asked.

Solas and I focused on our magic to place the traps, some on the floor and some on the walls. “I think we should be prepared,” I said. “Best case scenario; we’re out by tomorrow morning. Worst case; we could be stuck for a month. It can get that bad.”

“We definitely don’t have a month’s supply of food,” He replied.

I looked back at him and smiled, “Know how to hunt in extreme conditions?”

“When pressed I think I can manage.”

I tilted my head, “Well, yeah. I’ve never had to hunt in extreme conditions, my clan hunters were usually sent out for those times. But I know, in theory, how to.”

“Better than nothing.”

Solas and I came back to our spots, and the three of us that didn’t have our bedrolls out decided now would be a good time. Weapons and armor were placed near us in an easy-to-grab fashion. The bedrolls were pushed together and we each had our own blanket. Our rucksacks were a bit further away but still within sight. We decided to let the fire die out overnight.

I admit, it was a little strange curling up with people I didn’t know very well, and I think they thought so as well. It was slightly awkward, but in the end we settled down in the comfort of our warmth and insulation. Actually falling asleep was difficult for me as I’m usually a restless sleeper and it takes me a few tries to get my sleeping position just right, but I didn’t want to disturb them with my moving. Cassandra laid on her side with her back to me, and Varric had his back to me as well. Solas seemed content on his back and fell asleep the fastest. I settled on my stomach, it was just finding where to put my hands and face that made it difficult. All bodies were touching, and some blankets over-lapped. The blissful warmth had made the bottom of my blanket, feet, and legs quite satisfying.

I couldn’t actually dream that night. The phrase, “Sleep with one eye open,” came to mind. I remember opening my eyes just slightly to move in my “sleep” and each time someone’s hand moved and smacked me, I hazily woke up. It was restless and long, but I didn’t have to worry about hypothermia. There was a moment, I assume soon after the fire had gone out, where we were all still sleepy, but slightly awake. A moment I cannot remember vividly. It got cold after the fire died, but no one wanted to relight it, no one really talked either except for a few slurred lines. We all collectively got closer together, and I remember hearing Cassandra’s voice asking, “Is this okay for you?” Then someone, may have been me, responded with a mhm , sound. I remember the smell of lingering sweat and musk as I buried my face into someone’s back, though I was half awake and not thinking.

We all awoke at varying times, Solas was first and then I was. It was interesting to see Cassandra and Varric wake up right next to each other. Varric rolled over pretty fast when I got up. It was easy to tell when Cassandra woke up because she shot up like an arrow when she realized I wasn’t blocking her from Varric any longer.

“Think we should finally make some food?” I asked in amusement.

“That...yes. Please,” Cassandra responded, red-faced.

The entrance to the cave was completely covered with snow except for a sliver at the top which allowed in sunlight. A good sign. The fact we could hear the chirping of birds was another good sign. “Don’t worry,” I said, “I think we will be out on the road soon. If not today, then tomorrow. We’ll be at the Hinterlands in a few days, no?”

“One would hope.”

Chapter Text

The camp was situated on high ground, protected by the cover of trees. Tall, yet slightly off color grass surrounded the area, the pine trees still evergreen, but those with leaves were barren. The blizzard had set us off by a few days, we were supposed to arrive around the 28th, but now it’s the second of Guardian. In just about a week, the official beginning of spring will arrive, new growth could be seen on the ground already. There was a frost in the air but it felt significantly warmer than Haven, a few days ago at least. The grass crunched beneath our feet as it was stiff against the cold.

A dwarf with a wide smile emerged from a nearby tent to greet us, “The Herald of Andraste,” Oh shit… “I’ve heard the stories. Everyone has. We know what you did at the Breach. It’s odd for a Dalish elf to care about what happens to anyone else.” We do care, it’s just difficult to act on that when everyone treats us as lesser. “But, you’ll get no back talk here. That’s a promise.”

“I’ll hold you to that, uh…” I realized I didn’t know her name.

“Inquisition Scout Harding, at your service. I--all of us here--we’ll do whatever we can to help.”

“Harding, huh?” Varric began, “Ever been to Kirkwall’s Hightown?” Is he going to…

Harding focused her attention to him with an unchanging expression, “I can’t say I have. Why?”

“Cause you’d be Harding in...oh, never mind.” I couldn’t help but silently laugh at his failed attempt. Cassandra was less than amused as she rolled her eyes and grunted.

“Well, Scout Harding,” I grabbed her attention, “you can call me Mistress Lavellan, or Ev if you wish. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“Not a fan of Herald?” She asked.

I shook my head, “No, not really. So, what’s going on here?”

“The situation is pretty dire.”

“The way you said that makes it seem like dire was either an overstatement or understatement.”

“Understatement. We came to secure horses from Redcliffe’s old horsemaster.” She paused for a second, “I grew up here. And people always said that Dennet’s herds were the strongest and fastest this side of the Frostbacks.” Her eyes mixed with anger and sorrow as her brows knotted together, “But with the mage-templar fighting getting worse, we couldn’t get to Dennet. Maker only knows if he’s even still alive.”

“Any news regarding Mother Giselle?” I felt bad for switching topics, but, “Any solid good news?”

“She’s at the Crossroads helping refugees and the wounded. Our latest reports say that the war’s spread there, too. Corporal Vale and our men are doing what they can to help protect the people. But they won’t be able to hold out very long.”

“How much longer?”

“Less than a day, Mistress. We understand you were caught in a storm a while ago, but here the weather was fair. Things continued to decline rapidly over the days.”

“Is Mother Giselle in danger?”

“Quite likely. We haven’t heard back in about an hour. They’ve been fighting back the mages and templars since we last heard from them.” Oh shit…

“Then we better get going.” As sore as we were from the journey, losing Mother Giselle or part of the Hinterlands would be a major detriment.

“Right. No time to lose. You can keep your supplies and rucksacks here. It’ll be safe.”

“Thank you, Harding.”

“When you’re ready, let me know. I can give you the directions to the Crossroads. It’s not far from here, but I have the points on the map.”

“Will do.” And with that, she nodded and went back into her tent.

We spent the next half hour preparing. Our rucksacks were placed by Harding’s tent per invitation. Cassandra made sure her armor pieces fit well and snug and did a few practice swings with her sword. Varric made sure Bianca was properly working, nothing snagged or locked in place and the bolts shot smoothly. Solas kept a pack with him in case of emergency and he was getting things organized. We weren’t entirely prepared to be thrown into the thick of things as soon as we arrived, we weren’t in the best of moods either. It was a good thing we didn’t talk much at this time. We knew what we needed to do, because the world sure as shit will not wait.

We synced up with Harding and got various waypoints on our orbs and maps. When we exited her tent and she pointed in the direction of where the Crossroads were, there was dark smoke in the distance that suggested a fire. There were a few smaller mushroom clouds forming as well, and many astray fire bolts. “That’s not good,” I muttered.

“The mages are hitting hard. Those fireballs you see? Deflected by templar shields,” Cassandra mentioned. “The Crossroads aren’t going to survive for long.”

My heart raced, I wasn’t ready to go back to fighting, much less other people. I’ve never killed another person before. But much more will die if we don’t intervene. “Let’s be quick, and hopefully we can turn the tide.” I’m not up for this, but I don’t have a choice. And neither do the innocents caught in the mess. Everything was telling me not to go, but I had to ignore it which gave me a weird numbness in my body.

“Alright,” Cassandra beckoned, “let’s hurry. Looks like the shortest way to get there is to drop down from here.” She stood at the edge of the ledge, a small drop down that continued to have drops like a giant’s staircase. There was a pathway that lead down a safer path, but it winded around according to the map. This was more direct. “Just keep your balance and allow yourself to slide down.”

“Watch your step,” Varric warned.

One by one, we carefully slid down the edges. Our hands and backs were covered in dirt once we reached the bottom, a stone road paved the way onward from here. One of the ledges had a rock that seemed to have nicked my tailbone and I felt that pain up in my throat. The pain made me walk a little funny for a while.

“C’mon, the Crossroads aren’t that far away, just down the road,” Cassandra said as she waved us on. The sounds of clashing swords and the deep boomph of fire balls being casted filled the air as we got closer. But the closer we got, the more numb I felt. Our pace quickened after we saw the bodies of a mage and a templar around a corner. Cassandra unsheathed her sword and jogged down the road. Varric soon followed with Bianca in his hands.

It was a mess. Anything wooden seemed to be on fire, especially the makeshift covers from crates. Inquisition forces were few in the area, and the only reason there was any left was because the mages and templars didn’t team up. They were more down each other’s throats than our forces, which allowed for some advantages. The smell of smoke and burning bodies were strong, with the tang of blood, and the absolutely pungent smell of decay. The perfume of war.

Arrows flew from our forces and from a few wearing templar colors. Ice and fire runes were set as traps all along the battlefield, which was the Crossroads. This is just a village… People hid away in their homes, some waited for a time to flee across to a safer place. Some carried their children with them. Some couldn’t make it, caught in the crossfire.

I gripped my staff, mouth too dry to swallow, and my stomach churned. I could hear my heartbeat, not just a pulse pounding against my ears, but loud enough that I’m sure someone next to me could hear. And it raced, along with my breathing. My eyes darted everywhere while my mind stayed silent.

Cassandra focused on shielded templars, Varric made sure no one came from behind her. Solas enhanced both of their attacks. I have to do something. I was standing stone still in one place for too long. An enemy mage had me targeted, though instinct told me to freeze, even as I saw the fireball fly my way. Solas deflected it, “Do you wish to live, Lavellan? You must fight!”

It took almost all of my might to ignore instinct. Every motion I made wasn’t without a lingering tremor. At first, I merely deflected incoming spells, but with each deflect I felt more and more adrenaline. Things...started to get fuzzy, as if I had tunnel vision.

Then, I finally made an offensive move. I fired one of the strongest ice spikes I’ve ever casted in my whole life. Sharp, huge, and extraordinarily fast. Pierced right through the midsection of the mage, instantly killing them. It was powerful enough to pretty much ignore their barrier. It almost felt like a switch went off in my body, because I didn’t plan that. The more I fought and defended, the more my vision seemed to narrow, until I couldn’t remember anything else I did.

 

~~~

 

There was a coolness to my forehead. A wet one at that. The next thing I felt was the worst pounding in my head, like someone decided to crack a brick over it. I could hear mumbled and muffled voices as I slowly regained consciousness.

“I hadn’t seen a power like that in a long time,” a familiar voice stated.

“She’s waking up, hush.” Okay, that one was Cassandra’s. As my eyes opened I realized I was on the ground, Cassandra loomed over me. “You alright?”

I groaned as the light from the sun only pierced through my headache. “My head feels like it wants to kill me.”

“Do you remember anything?”

“No...not-not really.” I tried to sit up slowly, but even that made my vision blur. The damp cloth that was on my forehead slid off as I became more vertical.

“Well, you fought for a while. Took out most of the apostates. Then you collapsed. Solas had to confirm you were still alive.”

“Gave us quite the scare,” Varric said.

Solas kneeled down next to me and took a vial out of his bag, “Here, it will help ease the pain in your head.”

I couldn’t have taken the vial faster. In fact, I don’t remember ever tasting it. “Thank you, was it magical exhaustion?”

“Perhaps. You casted a wide variety of powerful spells consecutively. Though, since you don’t seem to remember the fight, I’m led to believe it was caused by adrenaline. Or a mix of the two.”

“I assume we won?”

“Yes,” Cassandra replied with a hint of relief in her voice. “We even managed to put out most of the fires. Wounded soldiers are being tended to by Mother Giselle. And people feel safe enough to freely leave their homes.”

“We also put up a fancy banner that basically says the Crossroads are under Inquisition protection,” Varric said. “Don’t worry, it’s not a lie. It also might catch the attention of people, make them believe in us or join. Either way.” He shrugged.

“How long was I out?” I asked.

“Couple of hours,” Cassandra answered. “I’ve reached back to Haven, Cullen says he will spare a few more troops to help out here. And, Mother Giselle wishes to speak to you personally.”

“Can I wait for the poultice to kick in first?”

“Yes.”

I looked around a bit, the village seemed a lot better now, though the smells lingered. Charred wood, soot-covered stone, burn patches on the ground, and people tentatively roamed. Since I had the time, I noticed the giant statue of a woman in what seemed to be the middle of the Crossroads. A small pond lies in front of it. That’s not Andraste is it? No...wrong symbols carved in the stonework. A bit off the crossroads, there was a large Inquisition banner on a pole sticking from the ground. The eye symbol apparent at the top and a red ribbon decorated. Chantry colors.

It only took a few minutes before the poultice started to kick in and my head wasn’t pounding as hard. Standing up was not so bad. Mother Giselle was up the path a ways upon a small hill tending to a soldier in a cot, at least that’s what I assume was what was happening. Tending or praying if he’s dying.

 

~~~

 

“Mother Giselle?” I approached the woman in the red and white Chantry gown.

“I am. And you must be the one they’re calling the Herald of Andraste.” She replied with a thick accent. Orlesian? I’m still new at this.

I held up my hand, “Not by any choice of mine.”

She took a moment to reply, her face expressionless, “We seldom have much say in our fate, I’m sad to say.”

I felt tension in my brows, “So, you agree with them?”

She straightened her posture, “I don’t presume to know the Maker’s intentions, for any of us. But I did not ask you to come simply to debate with me.”

“Right, you can help the Inquisition...right?”

She motioned for me to follow her away from prying ears, “I have suggestions. I know of the Chantry’s denouncement. And I’m familiar with those behind it.” I walked with her along the path. “I won’t lie to you: some of them are grandstanding. Hoping to increase their chances of becoming the new Divine. Some are simply terrified. So many good people, senselessly taken from us…” She stopped and looked away for a moment, as if to think.

Of course they’re busy with religion politics… Debating with her will not help that fact. “What happened was tragic.” Could’ve sounded a little more sympathetic there…

“Fear makes us desperate. But hopefully not beyond reason. Go to them. Convince the remaining clerics you are no demon to be feared. They have heard only frightful tales of you. Give them something else to believe.”

I made a vague gesture at myself, “Won’t me trying to appeal to them...make matters worse?”

“Because you are a mage?”

Well… “That, too. On top of everything else.”

“Let me put it this way: you needn’t convince them all. You just need some of them to doubt. Their power is their unified voice. Take that from them, and you receive the time you need.”

Like a herd. This is one odd wolf hunting party. “So, I show up with the mark on my hand...give them a show?”

“I honestly don’t know if you’ve been touched by fate or sent to help us...but I hope. Hope they can as well. As hope is what we need now. The people will listen to your rallying call, as they will listen to no other. You could build the Inquisition into a force that will deliver us...or destroy us.”

“I’m not exactly the leader of the Inquisition, Mother Giselle. Just the face.”

“But the one with the mark. People see power in that. I will go to Haven and provide Sister Leliana the names of those in the Chantry who would be amenable to a gathering. It is not much, but I will do whatever I can.”

“Thank you.”

Mother Giselle nodded and walked down the path, heading straight for a few Inquisition soldiers. Is she going back now? Up the other path, Cassandra approached me, “How are things?”

I quickly explained the Mother’s plan. “And now I think she’s heading back to Haven. Will be there well before us, I think.”

“Well, it is better news than nothing. Corporal Vale is coordinating the Inquisition’s efforts in the area. He has a good idea on the mages, templars, bandits, and other survival issues. If we still wish to help.”

“Of course, have a stable foothold here and make that Inquisition protection banner mean something other than a decoration.”

 

~~~

 

It had been a grueling past few days. Filled to the brim with fighting, defending, and death. And every night I had cried. I know that fighting is something that will always exist, the same with death. It’s necessary for protection. Corporal Vale told us about the mages, templars, bandits, food shortage, warmth shortage, and medicine shortage. As planned, we took care of the more immediate threat first. Starting off with the bandits.

They were along the East Road, a trail of them leading to a camp. Along the way we ran into another Dalish elf, her clan was killed by demons from the Breach. Though, she and Solas were interested in a nearby cave. An artifact lay there that could help strengthen the veil, and Solas taught me how to use it. The artifact was needed, demons were in the cave seemingly guarding it, and I could summon veilfire within the area. Even saw an ancient rune inscription on the wall with it, so there was no doubt the veil was quite thin in the area. But our temporary friend was happy to work with us for the time being. Though, she wanted to continue on her own way, which I don’t blame her.

We had followed the bandits trail afterwards to their camp. The thing is with these bandits, is that they wanted to keep people away, specifically from their main encampment elsewhere in the Hinterlands. They were definitely more organized than either the mages or templars. More brutal. Their leader swung a giant warhammer about the size of a child. Poor Cassandra took a beating, so we needed to stop for the day. Thankfully, nothing major in terms of injuries, but the place of the camp interested me. Hidden away behind a small mountain, and a large cave going through one side and out the other into a large valley. We didn’t dare stray too far off, as plenty of places in the valley were covered in fire and scurrying with dragonlings. That night we slept to the occasional roar of a dragon. I remember fully waking up after each one, paranoid we would be attacked by her in the middle of the night, but our camp was in an area too narrow and hidden for a dragon to successfully take us. Nobody had a good night. Though, after we awoke, we sent out word to our main camp to have an Inquisition one set up here, for a stronger foothold in the area and to investigate later.

The East road sooner or later met up with the road that lead to Redcliffe. Perfect, we could get medicine on our way! That’s what we thought, but the gate was closed to everyone due to the war. When I introduced us as the Inquisition to the gatekeeper, she merely scoffed and said, “The Herald of Andraste an elf? Oh, and I must be the Empress of Orlais. Get lost.” Annoyed is a severe understatement to how I felt, but there was no fighting with her. Can’t rationalize with bigotry or idiocy. Up the road had a lovely rift that I was able to close, if only the gatekeeper saw that. Alas, we were too far away.

So, dealing with the mages and templars was next. We came across a few abandoned huts on the road back to the Crossroads from Redcliffe, one of which belonged to an apostate. There was a well written note in beautiful cursive talking about mages being chosen ones, fanatical writing, but persuasive. It said to follow the signs in Witchwood, a densely wooded area here in the Hinterlands. And it wasn’t difficult to find, just off an area of Redcliffe road was an iced over area, runes etched into the broken stone walls. This was one way into Witchwood. Iron and wooden cage-like structures hung from dead trees. The area felt eerily cold and foggy, and that was what we had to follow. Because not all of Witchwood was like that, but when we followed the cold and fog, it lead us to their base, and a nearby rift of course. A hideout in a large cave. There was no infiltration, they saw us and attacked. Solas and I had a run for our halla as we kept up with the tens of dozens of mages. Throwing up barriers on all of us, casting our own magic, bringing down their barriers, dispeling hexes and rune traps, all the fun stuff. We were all exhausted in the end, at least the cave had bedrolls and overall shelter. For Solas and I, we had been on the verge of magical exhaustion the whole time, which says a lot more about him considering he can last a lot longer than I could. We both developed the tell tale signs of it as we got searing headaches. Shit, we couldn’t even light a decent fire. If it was a candle, we could’ve given it a baby flame, but that was it. Varric had to manually light the fire, and Solas and I passed out almost just as fast.

Though, my dream that night was blank. A still area, nothing much going on in the name of scenery. I was really the only being there. And all I did was cry because I didn’t have time to when I was awake. I was curled up in a ball on the floor, my face buried between my knees as I screamed and wailed. I hated taking lives, I knew it needed to be done, but that wasn’t enough to quell the emotional turmoil. The smell of it all… The decay, defecation, blood, sweat, and the fire had burned itself into my memories. The end of a life… Just, gone. Just like that. With each kill, each witness to one, I felt more and more rocky. As if the ground beneath my feet wasn’t there, as if anything I were to try and grasp was to simply dissipate after I touched it. It was overwhelming with absolutely zero time to process it. At least for now. My heart had felt heavy, yet also empty. I refused to want to be okay with this, with killing. I felt like I had to carry the weight of each person that died because I didn’t want to be a bad person. If I didn’t would I lose my altruism? My empathy? Would my very self degrade in a way I could never recover from? Someone would mourn them, then someone will feel for that person. But if they didn’t die, more would’ve been killed. Innocents. I am not them. It was conflicting in my mind. I knew when I killed it was for a different reason: to protect and defend. When they killed it was to make a point, to bring down the opposition. Our reasons were not the same. But something inside me refused to merely accept that and be okay with that. I didn’t want to kill...but I had to. I didn’t want to take lives, I didn’t want to be their end. But I wanted to end the suffering and torment of the innocents, which required the death of the oppressors. So, enter in another war, another battle. This time, it’s with myself. And I’m terrified of losing. Losing any battle. Losing friends. Losing myself…

It was time to wake up and move on. Another day to hold it all in, because there wasn’t time. But I know for a fact, I’m not in that much control of myself. I don’t know if anyone truly is, now that I think about it. I see it in their eyes: Cassandra’s, Varric’s, Solas’, they’re drained and tired. They’re trying to hold it all in as well. One of us may burst beforehand, because people can only hold so much. I know my emotional tolerance is much lower, I’ve never had to do things like this before. Fuck , I cry a lot. When I’m angry, sad, happy, joyful, sentimental, it’s so easy for me to get an overwhelming sense of emotions that cause me to cry. The adrenaline from battle, having to kill, having to keep going with minimal breaks, is wearing us all down. It didn’t surprise me that we only talked when we absolutely had to. No one wanted to make small talk at this point because it felt like some of us could snap at any minute. Especially me. Maybe it was only me and I was projecting myself onto everyone else. I wanted to lash out, I wanted to bite at times. I wanted to be away from people and scream. I was drained in so many ways that my perception on the situation was twisted. Or at least, it was possibly twisted. I don’t know. I don’t know…

We only had to deal with the templars, then we could relax a bit easier back at the Crossroads before helping out with the other issues. The medicine would have to be put on hold, but it didn’t stop me from collecting various herbs and keeping hold of it. Even got the stronger version of elfroot; royal elfroot. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

Templars… I would argue they had two bases, which made the day run long but it was only them we had to deal with. There was a section of the Crossroads that went through a short cave to reach another section of the village, it was overrun with the mages and templars and it looked just how the rest of the Crossroads looked a few days ago. Since the mages didn’t have backup from Witchwood, the templars were able to quell them here and at the rundown fort nearby. Fort Connor overlooked the village, but was broken down though it still gave a strong foothold in the area. At first, we thought the templars moved into the Fort and used it as their base with just how many there were. The problem is, it was way too close to Witchwood, in that it was basically on the outskirts of the forest. Plus, more templars came from up the road heading west.

Finding their main base had also required happening upon a note, this time found on a body of one of the templars we fought when overtaking Fort Connor and upon a bench. The note was more blunt and favored intimidation, the handwriting was crisp in scripture instead of cursive. It talked about how mages and mage sympathizers are demons that can only breed abominations. How most people in general are mere sheep to authority, and that they would not report to the Lord Seeker in Val Royeaux but stay here and fight. They talked about how the Just had the duty from the Maker to destroy the mages. Blood thirsty bastards. “Our battle must continue until no mage draws breath.” Genocidal maniacs. I almost didn’t feel bad about killing them, they definitely showed no mercy towards us. At the fort and their encampment, they put up a strong fight. Organized but ultimately brutal. They had shields, archers, two handed weapons. But at least they didn’t place hexes or runes. Cassandra and Varric definitely had an easier time with them than Solas or I. To be fair, templars are especially effective against mages. Though that only pissed me off more. I was enraged during the fight, frustrated, to the point where I almost felt satisfied when they fell. Until I remembered. It’s the death part...they’re awful people so why do I still show guilt towards killing them? It was a quick and painless death, much better than what they would’ve done to the mages. Is it that… I feel guilty because there was no chance to change their minds, no chance to grow into a better person. That it just had to end there. But it’s not my fault, they imposed it on themself. I had to defend! They didn’t want to change their ways and died on that hill. They would’ve killed many more…

Why do I want to justify this? Is it justifiable? Have I already lost myself into being a killer?

No...I’m not them. I killed mercifully and swiftly. Because I have to. They want to kill, they’ve explicitly stated they wanted to kill a whole group of people! I’m doing right!

But that’s what they also thought...that they are doing right by killing the mages. Maybe they started off thinking like I am now...is this my first dive down into the pit? Or is there still a line to cross? Where is that line? When I stop feeling the guilt? When...if I start to enjoy killing?

Is my mind already tainted?

Chapter Text

The ninth of Guardian. We needed more than a day off before heading back out. Needed, but couldn’t afford. Though, we made a lot of progress here in the span of about a week. That means Mother Giselle must be about to Haven. Though, before we returned there were still a few things on our list that needed to be taken care of. First, the food shortage here. Haven cannot set up a supply line to here quite yet, so we offered to help manually for a time. There’s plenty of ram in the hills that we can assist with hunting. Another hunting party was sent out about a week ago, but they hadn’t returned, maybe some complications with the mages and templars or even the rifts. But we quelled at least a third of that. Severing the major communications and killing the leaders of both sides at least here in the Hinterlands.

Secondly, while we can’t get into Redcliffe for medicine, we can help with the lack of warmth. The rebel mages and templars had stocks of supplies, but the mages usually carry around extra cloth for their robes. Plus, the robes are usually more insulated. The problem is, they had dead drops for their supplies and it was scattered around. Finding them would take some time, but we could possibly find them while doing our hunt.

Finally, we needed to find Master Dennet. He had horses and we can work with him, if he’s still alive. Word is, he has a ranch to the far west of the Hinterlands. If he’s alive, there would obviously be things we need to settle with him before he would feel comfortable with allowing us to borrow or have most of his horses. We needed at least four so we could cut the travel time back to Haven, and everywhere else, in half. Plus, since he is by a few farmlands, we could set up a stable supply link between the farm and the Crossroads. Not like Redcliffe is in the mood to accept anything incoming, besides, the city has a port. The Crossroads can barely keep up with minimal hunting. Their local gardens destroyed by the flames.

The best place to go hunt was to the southeast. A few Inquisition soldiers were able to accompany us to take the ram kills back to the Crossroads. During our hunt, we came across a small pathway leading up to a cabin. Smelled like a bakery almost, smoke came from the chimney. The plan was to stop by and ask for tips or see if they needed help.

As soon as we got close to the house, templars rushed from the back and a fire erupted. There was a few screams coming from the inside and banging on the door. Though, as soon as the templars saw us, they started attacking. To our advantage, we had a few more people with us and took them down with minimal effort.

“C’mon, we gotta get this door open!” I ran to the entrance, using some magic to help quell the fire.

Varric got a pick out of his pocket and went to work on the door. I kept cooling off the lock so Varric wouldn’t burn himself. As soon as it was unlocked we needed Cassandra to open the door as it was stuck on something else. There was a few people on the ground, most were dead, crushed by the falling ceiling or suffocated. Only one survived and was unconscious. Cassandra carried them out.

We found a place down the road that we let the person lay down, as the cabin collapsed and made the area a hazard. They were slowly being brought back to awareness but still in a haze. Solas and I kept a close eye on them as Varric got some water to share.

“Wh-where am I?” They asked in a raspy voice.

“Safe,” I answered, “We’re the Inquisition. Templars-”

“Ex-Templars,” Cassandra corrected. They carry the name...ugh whatever.

Ex-Templars , burned down your home.”

“Did...did anyone else make it?” They slowly sat up on their elbows and sipped the water given to them.

“I’m afraid not. I’m sorry.”

“Are you a mage?” Varric asked. “Apostate?”

They seemed hesitant to answer. “Y-yes. But we thought we were secluded and away from...all of this. The rebels in Witchwood are crazy! Look, we just wanna...we wanted to live a normal life.”

My heart ached for them. I know what that’s like, friend. “The Inquisition can give you a safe haven-”

“You honestly want this apostate to join the Inquisition?” Cassandra scoffed.

I glared at her, “Are we to close off our doors to everyone that we deem somewhat dangerous, Cassandra? Would you snuff your nose up if they were an ex-templar?”

“I...maybe not. But apostates are mages that don’t follow rules.”

“Ex-Templars are trained soldiers that don’t follow rules, either. What’s your point? Besides, we had more trouble dealing with the templars to the west than the apostates in Witchwood.”

She turned her head. Varric chimed in, “She’s got a point, Seeker.”

“I know , Varric,” She grumbled then sighed. “Fine. You’re right, Hera-Lavellan.”

I turned back to the mage, “So, how about it?”

“I-I don’t want to cause trouble,” they stuttered. Their brows twisted and lowered into a saddened look. They’re afraid.

“Then don’t,” Cassandra spat.

I closed my eyes and sighed, “It’s no pressure. But, we can offer safety from the ex-templars. Better than here.”

They relaxed their facial expression and looked away. “Is...is there another way to repay you?”

“Repay?” I tilted my head, “You don’t owe us anything.”

“Wait,” Varric interrupted, “you’re an apostate, right?” I snapped to look at him and he smiled at me with a look that told me to trust him.

“Yeah,” they replied.

“Well, we are aware that the apostates had caches of cloth. The people at the Crossroads could use a few extra blankets. If you know where they are.”

They took out their orb, “I know of five locations.” A map of the Hinterlands appeared on their orb. “I can give you the waypoints.”

I took out my own and accepted the share. Soon, the X’s were marked on my own map. “Thank you.”

“May I go, now? I need to...I need to mourn my friends.” They refused to meet any of our eyes and their posture was less than confident.

“Of course. Just remember, you are welcome within the Inquisition.” I reminded them.

“I know. And, thank you. But, right now...it just doesn’t feel right. I need...I need time.” They slowly got up and thinned their lips in an attempted smile. Then did a half bow before stumbling away.

“Think the Seeker scared them?” Varric asked with a sly smile. Cassandra scoffed.

“No,” I answered. “They’re grieving. Probably not ready to accept new friends either.”

“Or help,” Solas quipped.

“Well, we cannot force them to accept help. Forcing would have the opposite effect we wished.”

“In any case,” Cassandra began, “we got what we needed. The waypoints to the cache sites.” She turned to the few Inquisition soldiers with us and shared the locations. “I think we’ve hunted long enough, go and get those caches. Bring it back to the Crossroads.”

They saluted with a fist over their chest, “Yes, Ser!” and walked down the hill.

“Think ten rams are enough to feed the Crossroads?” I asked. I knew how picky humans were with their food, ignoring certain organs of the animal for no other reason than what they associated with it. Ew, I’m eating guts! Well, no shit, Emma. What did you think you were eating? Rainbows and sunshine? Many more humans refused to eat the cartilage of their kills as well, or would discard bones completely. I viewed it as a waste, could use bones to make a bone broth, or crush them up into a fine powder. Wasteful, you took a life, you better make use of every bit. Well, I guess it’s not a total waste. Decomposition is a thing. If the shems don’t use all the bits, nature definitely will. So, not a waste entirely?

“More than enough,” She answered. “The cook knows how to ration out parts and take the best cuts.” You usually ignore the best cuts…

“Well, that covers mostly everything we can do here. Dennet’s?” I suggested.

“Sure that-” Cassandra was interrupted by some rustling coming up the pathway. She drew her sword, “State your business!”

“Wait!” They rushed up, an Inquisition spy, “My apologies, Lady Cassandra. I didn't mean to sneak up on you.”

She sheathed her sword, “You should be more careful.”

They sighed, “Yes, yes I know. I’ve just been looking all over for… for Ritts.”

“For whom?” I asked.

“Ritts. She was scouting the area, and she’s yet to report in.”

I looked at Cassandra, “I don’t think we are done in this area yet.”

“That appears to be the case,” she sighed.

“We’ll help you then,” I said.

“Thank you. I’ll keep looking in this area,” they walked past us and off the path.

That’s when I noticed something. I looked to Solas, “You’ve been oddly quiet. Everything alright?”

“Quite. Simply observing, is all,” he responded with a gentile smile.

“Ah, well, as long as everything’s okay then. Let’s go.”

 

~~~

 

The search for Ritts led to an interesting location. One with an odd mechanism pointed toward the sky. I had to close a rift nearby and we had to fight more templars to get to this object. Templars that had ambushed caravans and wagons traveling along the roads like bandits. Of course their target was mages, but not everyone they killed were mages. The mechanism was a welcome distraction to the recent events.

“I feel like I should know what this is,” I mumbled as I ran a finger over its spherical shape.

“An astrarium,” Solas responded.

The name clicked with me, “Ah, yes. I’ve only read books on them. Originally thought to be of Tevinter origin, but based on ancient Elvhen magics.”

Varric walked up to us with a note he found, “Says it could lead to a cache of something . Presumably treasure.”

I carefully took the note, “Well, how?” If anything the treasure could help us financially. I read through the note; each of the astrariums could point to a secret cache if one knew the three constellations that mapped to each device present at the site. Connect the dweomers in the correct configuration and it would be revealed. I carefully looked on the sphere and saw where the dweomers were. There was also a lens at about eye height, and a bigger one that looked up to the sky. A telescope of sorts, but turned into a puzzle. I looked around and up, blocking the sun with my hands. There’s no stars to look at currently because the sun is too bright. I weighed my options and looked into the astrarium to find a sea of stars in an odd light. “It’s...there’s some kind of magic blocking out the light from the sun here. Making it easy to see the stars!” I smiled. It was fascinating. I looked around the sky through the device for a bit before realizing that the Judex constellation could be seen. It looked like a downward sword in the sky. Sword of mercy, or justice, depending on where one’s from. My hand fiddled with the various gears to connect the dweomers as instructed. Finally, when I locked them in place I lifted my head to see two beams of blue light coming from the device leading to what I assume are the two others needed to lead us to the cache sight.

“Would you look at that,” Varric smiled, his hands on his hips, “You solved that pretty damn fast.”

I shrugged, “I like stars. And I like puzzles.” In fact, I would’ve loved to have stayed and studied it more. But, alas, we were still looking for Ritts. We had sent word out to the other soldiers that were with us but they hadn’t seen her. Though, they did mention they had set up a camp in a good spot. By a ruined tower that provided partial shelter, which gave us a bit more foothold in the area.

I sent word out to the camp to keep the astrarium under observation just in case. The forces that were sent here are being stretched thin by what we are ordering them to do, so I also sent word via raven this time to Leliana to see if we could get more people sent here.

We continued our search for Ritts, hoping that she wouldn’t be dead. Varric broke the silence, “You know Seeker, for someone with your tact and charisma you assembled a... pretty good little Inquisition. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you didn’t drag them here by force.”

She responded blandly, “How kind of you.”

“I mean, you never know. You could have kidnapped Ruffles and she’d be too polite to say anything.”

“Ruffles?” I interrupted.

“Josephine,” he answered.

“Leliana recruited her. They’re...friends,” Cassandra said.

“So there’s a rational explanation after all. Just when I thought you had layers,” Varric quipped.

We ducked under some low hanging branches. I scoffed, “You two okay back there?”

“Seeker and I? Oh, peachy. Giving her shit because she kept me prisoner...interrogated me...uh, brought me in for said interrogation. And now, we’re partners!” He feigned delight.

Cassandra grunted, “That’s one way of putting it.”

“It makes sense that Leliana did the recruiting when the Inquisition started,” Varric continued, “Not everyone can be intimidated into signing up, after all.”

“I recruited Commander Cullen,” Cassandra corrected him.

“Oh well, lucky him,” he responded dryly. I slowed down and glanced back at Solas who seemed to be mildly enjoying their interaction.

“He’s made no complains about my manners,” Cassandra said.

“His last boss was a raving lunatic who turned into a statue. That’s not a high bar.”

I stopped in my tracks, “I’m sorry, what?”

“You really need to read my book,” Varric chuckled. “Cullen’s even in it! It’ll give you some insight into Curly.”

“Most of it is about Hawke, we were looking for her,” Cassandra began, “She could’ve…”

Varric’s voice suddenly got defensive, “I know why you wanted Marinda, Seeker. Too late to dwell on it now.”

“Is she..?” I asked.

“Dead? No. I just don’t know where she went. Here,” the gentile smile returned to his face, “when we return to Haven, I’ll get you a copy of The Tale of the Champion. Can read up on her and everything that happened in Kirkwall.”

“Thank you.” I said softly but still genuinely. Not sure if I will have time to read it. Then, continued the trek. His book interested me, because it’s a first hand account of what happened. Accounts I’ve only heard from other sources while I was in my clan.

After some time, Solas spoke up, “Varric, you joined the Inquisition when Seeker Pentaghast questioned you?”

He responded, “She was very insistent that I help.” I could feel Cassandra’s eyes roll at that remark.

“Interesting.”

“What’s interesting?”

Solas’ voice got a hint of excitement, “It surprised me that an elven apostate is the one who joined the Inquisition voluntarily.”

“Well, he can leave at any time,” Cassandra remarked.

“Oh but, Seeker,” Varric began, “that would be irresponsible of me.”

I shook my head and ignored the sarcasm. It was a long day and the sun was finally setting, though there was no way we would look for Ritts in the dark.

That is, until we saw a few templars ganging up on someone with a bow, and a dead body on cloth by a...picnic? Cassandra drew her sword and yelled a guttural yell to draw the templars’ attention. To which the archer shot an arrow through the head of one. The gore of the arrow piercing from his face gave my stomach a turn. Varric shot a bolt into the throat of the other templar, leaving only one left which the archer quickly took out. Needless to say, we were impressed with her abilities.

“Thank you,” she huffed, “If not for you, I’d be dead.”

“You’re welcome,” I walked around the bleeding bodies, focusing on not looking, “Say, have you heard of Recruit Ritts?”

“That’s...that’s me. I should probably report back, shouldn’t I.” She seemed to be hiding something.

I checked out the body on the cloth. Mage...apostate. Elf. “Who’s this?”

“Eldredda, yes.” She answered quickly but then stuttered, “I think that was her name. Least I’d heard the other apostates call her that.”

I looked up at her with doubt, then pointed to the two drinks and the bottle of alcohol, “So, where’s her partner?”

“Uh, yes, the mage and her partner...blood magic ritual most uh...most likely. The templars attacked the apostate. I just got caught in the middle.”

I stood up, “Ritts, what’s really going on?”

“So, the truth...I may have been, uh, passing time with Eldredda.”

“I get that. It’s hectic out here. You don’t have to hide it.” If I had someone to be with in the midst of all of this, I would definitely be in their arms...man I really need a hug.

“We were… Yes. At first she was just a mage who saw me and didn’t attack, but later we… So, are you going to report me?” She couldn’t look me in the eyes.

I looked over at the group, “Hmm, I don’t think so.”

Varric stepped up, “Look, kid, if you can talk an apostate out of her pants in the middle of a war. You’ve got a gift. Use it. Make contacts. Get information, and help the Inquisition. Do that, and our lips are sealed.” I figured they would be anyways.

She looked up at me, “All right. I can do that. And… Thanks for going easy on me.” She saluted me, arm over chest and I saluted back.

“Cassandra?” I called and she acknowledged, “Should we tell the scout Ritts is okay?”

“Yeah,” she began and brought up her calling crystal, “I’ll do that now.”

 

~~~

 

It took us a couple of days to reach Dennet’s ranch. From where we were with Ritts to where Dennet was, took us across the Hinterlands. From the southeast to the northwest. Solas noticed the wolves that had attacked us seemed to be off. More feral and bloodthirsty than usual. A green tint in their eyes, and it glowed. Affected by a nearby rift maybe?

It wasn’t just a ranch, there was large farmlands on the outskirts and a ranch of druffalo. Multiple homes and storage huts. They seemed to be settled in what felt like a valley as the outskirts of this area were backed by tall hills, or small mountains. Too small to be a mountain, too big to be a hill… The smell reminded me of where we kept halla, so like wet fur, dung, and various animal food. We asked a farmer where Dennet was and they pointed to the cabin he was in.

I politely knocked on the door, “Master Dennet? Mistress Lavellan with the Inquisition.”

The latch to the door clicked and it opened. A bald older man with a white, thick beard answered, “So, you’re the Inquisition, eh? Hear you’re trying to bring order back. It’s high time someone did.” He took a moment to look me and my group up and down. “Never thought it’d be a halla-rider from the wildlands, though. Come in. I assume I know what you’re here for.” The halla-rider comment was a little off putting, but he didn’t seem adverse to me. I looked back at everyone with me then walked in. It was cozy, the warmth of a fire nearby, smelled of firewood and earth.

The man pulled out some chairs around a table in the main room and we all took a seat. Then introduced himself, “Name’s Dennet. I served Arl Eamon for thirty years as horsemaster. I hear your Inquisition is looking for mounts.”

“Yeah,” I began, “we’re in desperate need of horses. We walked here from Haven. Got caught in a bad snow storm. Can you help us?”

His lips thinned and he sighed, “Not at the moment. I can’t just send a hundred of the finest horses in Ferelden down the road like you’d send a letter. Every bandit between here and Haven would be on them like flies on crap. The Inquisition’ll have mounts once I know they won’t end up as a cold winter’s breakfast.”

I felt tension in my brows, “That was fast. We did take care of the bandits by the Crossroads. Do you have a personal problem with me?”

His eyes widened and he sat up straight, “What? This because I called you a halla-rider? Those halla are damned majestic beasts. I’d give my left arm to ride one.”

Hmph. “Well, just know that’s not something you wanna open up with.”

“Right. I got it. Look, the bandits you took care of, there’s more. There’s always more. Plus, we have many issues here. It’s tough keeping care of what we got here. Our farmers are constantly threatened by these wolves.”

“They are acting strange.”

“They are the definition of strange. Usually after the livestock, but wave a torch in their face and they run. But these ones remind me of when the dead rose up and attacked us all those years ago during the Blight. Ruthless. Awful. We’ve already lost a few people to them. Probably held up in a cave up north. Cross the river and head up, there’s a spot there the wolves like to make their home.”

“I’m guessing wolves aren’t the only issue?” I sat back in the chair and crossed my arms.

“I wish. We need defenses. The Crossroads need defenses. Actual defenses. You quelled the bandits so far, but they’ll be back. Watchtowers. Put them up and the horses have a safer path to travel along with the people. We can all rest easier at night. Crossroads’ll have more warning before the next attack. You would too.” He pulled out his cracked orb and a map of the Hinterlands, “See these spots?” I leaned in. “Great places for those watchtowers.”

I pulled out my orb and shared the locations then turned to Cassandra, “We should send immediate word back to Haven. No raven. We need builders to come in as soon as possible.”

“I agree.” She stood up. “I’ll go out and talk to the advisors about this.” She kept the door ajar and we could hear the muffled tone of her talking just outside the building.

I turned back to Dennet, “So, watchtowers and wolves. One’s already being attended to.”

“Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but if you are feeling extra good, we have a rift that needs closed close by. The druffalo rancher down there lost one of his best druffalo, smart beast that one.”

I slumped a bit in my chair, “Anything else?”

“That’s the list, Mistress. Until then, you and your immediate group here deserve a ride. There’s a few chestnuts outside in the stables. Purebred Fereldan Forder. Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you, Inquisition. We will also welcome a camp at our outskirts if you ever need a place to watch over.”

“Well, thank you, Master Dennet, we will get to work on this. And thank you for the horses.”

Cassandra came back into the room, “They need your input, Lavellan. We can’t decide how to use our people for the project.”

I sighed and stood up. Solas and Varric did as well. I reached out and shook Dennet’s hand, “We will keep you updated.”

“Thank you.”

I walked outside and spoke into Cassandra’s crystal, “So, why is it that assigning builders are an issue?”

Leliana answered, “Because our men are already stretched thin.”

Then Josephine said, “I know of a few nobles near Redcliffe who would gladly help the Inquisition if we made them the offer.”

“True, but nobles tend to take their time,” Cullen began, “My soldiers will have those towers up in short order.”

“Would that take soldiers from the Hinterlands or from Haven?” I asked. “Because Haven’s people are extremely stretched. Which is why we sent the raven a while ago.”

“Exactly,” Leliana said.

Cullen sighed, “From Haven. Since you requested more troops anyways, they would stay there after the construction. It’ll be faster than what the nobles would be able to do.”

“Your soldiers would have to travel to the Hinterlands, first, Commander,” Josephine remarked. “The nobles by Redcliffe could be there much faster.”

“True, but they would take weeks or months to get it done. Then they would go back to their homes. Consider their debt repaid.”

I rubbed my temples with one hand, “Alright, enough. Cullen, send your men. Josephine, try to see if the nobles can help us another way. If not, then send them over to help the soldiers and get it done faster. Work together. As long as the shit gets built.”

“Got it.”

“Will do.” They answered and then stopped their call.

Leliana sighed over the crystal, “Thank you, Mistress.” Then the crystal went silent.

I had my eyes closed when I gave the crystal back to Cassandra, then slowly opened them with an exasperated smile, “Let’s go herd a druffalo back and get one thing off the list.”

“Hate to be that guy ,” Varric began, “but shouldn’t we take care of the rift and wolves first so the druffalo doesn’t die?”

I sighed, “Let’s go close a rift and fix some wolves so we can herd a druffalo back to safety.” That’s not a phrase I thought I would be saying in my lifetime.

Chapter Text

It was the twelfth of Guardian when we began our journey back to Haven, this time on horseback. Dealing with the issues at Dennet’s ranch was surprisingly easy. When dealing with the wolves, it was but a single demon that made a home in their den that made them act the way they did. Sadly, killing the demon before the wolves did not cease their attack, but the green glow from their eyes did fade away. At least it wasn’t a rift in the den .

Horseback would cut the travel time in half, so it would take less than a week to get back to Haven. Learning to ride a horse wasn’t much different than a halla, except I had to use human terms to help direct the beast. She was beautiful, though. Dennet was right about her being hardy and enduring.

We didn’t get far from the Hinterlands before we hopped off our mounts to take care of a rift that was along the path. Right as I was done closing the rift, the tingling feeling in my hand still dissipating from the use of magic, a voice came from afar.

“Hey, wait!” The voice called. Low-toned, and gravelly. Raspy? Or groggy?

I turned to see a tall, about seven foot, qunari slowing down at the sight of us. Cassandra glanced between the both of us and stepped out, “State your business!”

The qunari woman held up her empty hands, “Ah, trust me, I’m not here to harm anyone. Besides, my mace is holstered.” There was a nervous smile on her face. She slowed down to a halt a ways away from us. She was right, a mace was strapped to her belt on her right side, and a tower shield laid on her back. She wore a pack-belt, tall black boots, brown pants, and a lightly armored curias. “You’re Inquisition, right?” She rested her hands on her hips.

I stepped out in front of Cassandra, “Yeah we are. And who are you?”

“Oh, pardon my manners,” she quickly bowed with her head, long white hair in a braid fell over her shoulder. Oh...long hair. “I’m Veil. Veil Adaar, technically. And even more technically speaking, Veil is just my nickname.” She looked back up and threw her braid back behind her. That’s when I noticed the brass adornments she had at the tips of her S-shaped horns. Sleeping on her back has got to be a pain.

“Veil, huh? Like the Veil that separates us from the Fade?” Varric asked.

Veil chuckled, “Nah. It’s ironic. Veils usually hide shit, yeah? I can’t act to save my life. People usually call me blunt and honest.”

I smiled, “Blunt? Explains your choice of weapon.”

Her eyes widened then looked down at her mace, “Oh, shit. I guess you’re right. Hadn’t really sunken in until now.”

“You still haven’t stated your business,” Cassandra glared.

“Well, a while ago I was part of a hunting party in the Hinterlands. We had just gotten back. And when we left, the templars, mages, and some bandits were threatening the borders of the Crossroads. When we left, there was barely any food left and people were freezing. When we came back, there was a banner with your emblem on it. And a note that said under the protection of the Inquisition. The templars, mages, and bandits had ran away with their tails between their legs and people were sleeping soundly with warm blankets and bellyfulls of ram. Also there’s like, five less rifts in the area now.”

“Your point?”

“I was getting to that.”

“Well, you were more monologuing,” Varric smiled.

Veil laughed, “Yeah, guess I was. Anyways, you get shit done. Honorable. Good intentions. All that lovely shit. Plus people have been saying you plan to close the hole in the sky. I want to help.”

Cassandra scoffed, “How will you help?” I glared at her.

“My qualifications for the job, huh?” Veil crossed her arms. Fuck those are a lot of muscles… “I was a guard in my old community. I also have on-the-field medical knowledge. And I can catch up to four people on their horses.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,” I began, “why did you leave your own community, Veil?”

That’s when her face shifted. Her brows fell and her resting smile disappeared. “It’s a long story. Short version, I was out hunting bandits a while ago. They threatened my home. But when I came back...shit was on fire and I was told to run. So, I did. To the Hinterlands. Crossroads to be exact. Been helping out ever since.” She scoffed and the smile returned, “All happened after the Breach. Truth is, I offer help to the Inquisition, and it gives me a sense of purpose. Don’t even have to pay me. Just keep something over my head, and food and water in my system and you have my mace.”

“Well,” I glanced at Cassandra who seemed to be more relaxed, “we do have more need of people up here with us. Front lines, kind of thing.”

“Front lines as in infantry or bait?”

I chuckled, “Not really either. You’re a warrior, and right now we only have one warrior working up front. I’m talking you are part of our inner circle. You get to know the details to missions and maybe even take part in a meeting or two.”

“Well, it beats starting off as a laborer trying to prove my worth.”

“See, exactly.”

“You know,” Varric began, “I’ve been wondering. Are you a tal-vashoth?” He crossed his arms.

Veil held up her hand, “Imma stop you right there. I am not. You call me tal-vashoth around certain people and an immediate price is put on my head. Well, not really, the Qun doesn’t do commerce. It means true grey ones , basically people who left the Qun. Qun doesn’t like that. I, on the other hand, haven’t touched the Qun with a ten-foot pole. I was born outside of it in my little community to my parents who are tal-vashoth. I, am in fact vashoth. Or just grey one .”

“Vashoth,” I repeated, “sounds easy to remember.”

“It is! Less to say. Tal-vashoth? Nah,” she shook her head, “too long. Damn the extra syllable. Vashoth?” She nodded slowly, “Perfect. It’s easier to walk life knowing that a whole organization doesn’t want me dead, because I don’t even think they know I exist, and to drown out Qun persuasion attempts.”

“I...can see that.” I nodded.

Solas smiled and slightly bowed his head, “It is good to meet a friendly face.”

“It is, Chuckles,” Varric said. “The last time I was face-to-face with a qunari was the Arishok.”

Veil’s face frowned and her eyes widened, “Yeah, I’m a bit different than that one. Oh, and uh... Chuckles?

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “Right, our names. Chuckles is Varric’s nickname for Solas.” They exchanged smiles. “Even though I think I’ve only heard him chuckle once. Uh, this is Varric Tethras.”

“You’re that author, aren’t you?” Her voice raised in pitch.

“Yeah!” Varric uncrossed his arms, “Have you read any of my books?”

Veil got a guilty look on her face, “Well, I bought them. I just never had any time to read them.”

Varric shrugged, “Oh, well, that’s not too bad.”

“And this is,” I gestured to Cassandra, “well, Cassandra. She’s our other warrior.”

“Does Varric have a nickname for her?”

“Quite a few,” he chuckled, “but I can’t say them when she’s around. So, it’s just her title, Seeker.” Cassandra rolled her eyes and scoffed.

I sighed, “They uh, have history. If you don’t know it you’ll soon hear about it.”

“Nice, nice,” Veil slowly nodded. “And you must be, who? Every Inquisition needs an Inquisitor, are you her?”

I laughed nervously, “No, not really. We don’t exactly have an Inquisitor yet. It’s mostly just five people working together in the war room. Which involves me-”

Cassandra interrupted me, “She’s better known as the Herald of Andraste.”

I felt tension in my brows, “Sure, whatever. Please call me Evelyn. Evelyn Lavellan. Mistress Lavellan, Lavellan, or shit you can even call me Ev. Anything other than that.

“Will do,” Veil acknowledged. “Ev, huh? One syllable, easy to shout during battle. Short. Simple. Sweet.” She paced herself walking towards us. Her height, and our height difference became more and more apparent as she stood two feet taller than I. And about a foot taller than Cassandra. “Well, it’s nice to meet you all. I, uh, sadly do not own a horse.”

“These horses are sturdy, I’m sure we can fit you on one of them with us.” I looked around, “Could share mine or Solas’ if he doesn’t mind.”

“I do not,” he answered.

“I honestly don’t mind either way,” she shrugged.

It’d be easier on the horse if she shared with me since I’m probably the lightest here. “Well, then, you can share with me.”

Veil smiled, “Nice! Well, we got that figured out.”

“We did,” I felt my face lift up into a smile, “And welcome to the Inquisition, Veil. It’s good to have extra help.” I extended my hand.

“It’s a pleasure,” she said in her raspy voice as she shook my hand. Fucking shit, I am tiny! Her hand more or less enveloped my own.

“Back to the road, then,” Cassandra said as she hopped on her horse. The rest of us soon followed.

 

~~~

 

As everyone was settling down in their tents, I stayed out by the fire. The warmth of the flame kissed and relaxed my skin and I found myself gazing into the flames completely lost in thought. My chin rested on my knees as I held my legs close to my chest. If I could I would fall asleep like this.

Heavy-set footsteps in the grass told me someone was approaching. Then she sat down next to me, “Hey, Ev,” Veil’s tell-tale gravelly voice began, “are you alright?”

It was either the heat of the flame or the question itself that caused tears to fall down my face. “I’m hanging together as best as I can.”

“Varric told me the synopsis on how you became part of the Inquisition. I cannot begin to imagine how rough that was.”

“I don’t think rough is enough to describe it. I feel like I was ripped away from my life and home. Everything I knew changed right before my eyes. I was scared...terrified, and met with a blade.”

“How are you dealing with this?” She adjusted the way she sat.

“Y’know, part of me says that I’m not.” I lowered my hood, something I kept up all throughout this expedition. “I used to have really long hair, y’know. I could sit on it. I loved braiding it. Shit , it was like my baby. But, after the Inquisition formed, I broke down. Cut it off. I hate it. I regret it. I regret it so fucking much. Because it felt like the last thing I had control over in this fucked up world.”

“Is that why you keep your hood up?”

“Yeah. Everytime someone calls me Herald or Herald of Andraste, it’s like a dagger reopening a wound. It also feels so...objectified. They put me on a pedestal and expect me to be perfect.”

She took a minute to respond. “Not to mention you probably don’t follow Andraste or the Maker.”

“Exactly. I hate it, but they continue to call me it. Like believe what you want but don’t fucking force it on me.”

“In a way, or maybe not, I get it. Not wanting to be called a name. But in my case it wasn’t because of objectification, it was because people kept saying my name wrong. They see it spelled and pronounce it as cute , then make fun of me for it. Cooing at me and shit. But it has a long O sound, like in book . So, that’s why I settled with Veil. Plus, everyone knows how to say it. Mostly.”

I looked up at her, she was gazing into the fire, “If you don’t mind me asking, what is it?”

She glanced at me, “ Kute . Name my parents gave me. Qunlat for light, sun, bright, and similar shit. Which, by the way, I’m a special case.” She chuckled. “Since I’m vashoth and raised outside of the Qun, I get an actual name. My parents had to name themselves because the Qun gives you a series of numbers. Your job becomes your name, and you pick your nickname. Or others pick it for you.”

“So, it was like a mix of non-Qun tradition and Qun tradition?”

“Yeah. I got a name, but also chose my own. Humans like it when people have first and last names. So, I’m technically Kute Adaar.”

“Does Adaar mean anything?”

“Weapon,” she chortled. “I’m the sun weapon. Or dangerous light , if you’re feeling poetic.”

“Kinda reminds me of the symbol people use for justice or protection. Didn’t you say you became a guard?”

She looked down at me, “Yeah I did, didn’t I? Huh, coincidence I guess.” She looked back into the flame with a soft smile, “That’s pretty neat, actually. Point is, I guess, Ev, you won’t catch me calling you Herald. Cause I know how names can hurt.”

“Thank you, Veil. I think you’re the first one to not call me Herald.”

“Hopefully I won’t be the last.” She looked back at me, “Would you like a hug?”

The question made me sit up. I can’t remember the last time I got a hug. I was both hesitant to accept but also craved it. “Yeah...please.”

It was kinda weird, the angles at least, since it was only our torsos that twisted. Our arms wrapped around each other and well, it felt...safe. I squeezed a little tighter and buried my face into her shoulder. I couldn’t help the tears that fell from my eyes and the lump in my throat because it felt like ages since I was last touched. She also squeezed a little tighter and rubbed her hand on my back. “I think things will be okay, Ev. I really do. It’ll be tough and rough, but it’ll be okay.” It feels like a shit ton of stress just got relieved from the depths of my heart. ..

“Thank you,” I mumbled into her shoulder before we pulled back and sniffled. “I honestly cannot remember the last time I was touched,” I chuckled.

She rested her hand on my shoulder and had a consoling smile, “Well, if you ever need a hug, just let me know. Everyone needs hugs. Well, if they like hugs at least.”

“You always this friendly?” I smiled. “I’m not complaining, I think we need more of that in this world.”

She let her hand drop to her side and laughed, “I think so yeah. Can’t be anything but myself to save my life, remember? Ah, think I might’ve gotten it from my parents. Every Friday my dad would bake stuff, mostly some kind of bread. Banana was his favorite. Anyways, every Friday we would give our community the baked goods. Just out of kindness. It felt...really good. Cause we made everyone’s day, y’know?” Veil had a soft, genuine smile that also showed in her eyes.

“You miss them, don’t you? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring it up.”

She waved me off, “Don’t be. I’m happy for the memories, especially the good ones. It feels good to remember.”

“Hey, thank you for talking with me.”

“It’s no problem. Trust me when I say the people at the Crossroads didn’t want to talk to me all that much. It feels good to chat.”


 

Kute 'Veil' Adaar