Chapter 1: Gone
"Falling, fiery, faded. Like ash falling from the fire, growing cold. Vhenan she called, and here is all that's left."
His blood ran cold. He closed the book in front of him carefully, taking a steadying breath. No. Not possible. She couldn't be gone, he had watched her dreams just last night.
"Cole, is she alive?" His head swam, and his fingers gripped the desk to keep the edge from his words. Too hard. The wood began to protest, and his voice cracked anyways. Cole nodded, hat bobbing. Solas' eyes slid shut in relief, and a shaky breath worked its way free.
"It hurt so much, it pulled me through. I want to help. She hurt, and then it went quiet. The last bit pulled me to you. She says she's ok but doesn't think it. Too quiet."
"Where is she?" She was alive. There was only one other thing that could cause this, but he needed to see, he wouldn't accept until he saw her.
"She thought it was home once. I can't see her now, only with my eyes."
"Can you take me there?" Dread crept up his spine. Ironic, that she could make the Dread Wolf dread.
"Yes. Maybe. Not the way I came. I followed her thread here but it's gone and you can't trace it back. She's near the place that questions combs."
Right. His agents had been tasked with keeping an eye on her, but after his last agent's rather spectacular failure, she had slipped from Skyhold unnoticed and alone. The note she had left for her advisors had spoken of needing some time alone and promising to be safe.
"Questions combs?" His brows knitted together for a moment while Cole nodded. "Oh, yes, Wycombe. I can get us there if you can get us to her." The last place her clan had been. Somewhere that had once been home. One that may or may not welcome her back without her Vallaslin. Another stone on the mountain of his mistakes.
"I can find where the pain was, it's not enough." Solas could nearly taste Cole's sorrow through the words. He swallowed, eager to be rid of the bitterness at the back of his throat.
"It's a start." He smoothed his mask into place, tightening his control in preparation for what they may find.
Cassandra started at the knock on her door. Didn't Varric know she hated to be disturbed while reading? Ugh. Of course he did, which is why he was here. She carefully placed her marker in the newest issue of "Swords and Shields" and moved to open the door.
Where she expected Varric's head, however, she found a slight elf woman, unconscious, wearing what could best be described as a flimsy nightgown. Only... She was missing part of her arm. It was her former Inquisitor, hair falling over her face. She raised her eyes to see who was carrying her, and drew in a sharp breath.
"Makers breath, what did you do to her?" He was very lucky to be carrying such precious cargo or she would punch him. He refused to meet her gaze.
"May we come in, Seeker?" She rethought punching him at his cool tone. Lavellan would survive being dropped, surely.
"He didn't mean to. Consequences ripple out like water but he never wanted her caught in it. Her hurt hurts too much. Have to save her." An uncertain voice offered from behind Cassandra, and she jumped, refusing to turn from Solas to look at Cole.
She stepped out of the doorway and allowed him into her small room warily. He swiftly crossed to Cassandra's rented bed and gently rested Lavellan on top, his unfamiliar armor gleaming eerily in the candlelight. Cole perched awkwardly in a corner. Cassandra closed the door behind them.
"So this is your fault. What happened to her?" It wasn't a question. Solas' jaw muscle worked, and instead of responding, waved his hand over Lavellan's eyes and stepped back from her as though she was poison.
Her eyes fluttered open. There was something wrong, but Cassandra couldn't figure out why they looked so different. She sat up with a placid smile. Oh. Oh no. A brand, new and angry, marred her forehead. A starburst.
"Cassandra. It is good to see you." Cassandra’s scowl deepened. It couldn’t be.
"What happened to you? Why are you here? Why is he here?" She jerked a thumb towards Solas. If he wouldn't answer her, the former Inquisitor would.
"I assume he brought me here because you know that reversing tranquility is possible. I think he hopes you'll know how."
Cassandra went white as she was forced to acknowledge the truth, and looked to Solas.
"Her clan thought she was a liability and enlisted Templar help." His tone was nearly as monotone as hers.
"Dirty, touched by evil. The Dread Wolf took you and removed your heritage. Not to be trusted, not safe, but kin. A kindness." Cole supplied. He turned to Solas, eyes wide.
"I'm sorry, I made it worse! I tried to untangle it but it turned sharp and bled. And now you howl." Cole rocked himself softly, and for once, Solas didn't comfort him. He took a deep, steadying breath, slowly raising his gaze to Cassandra.
"Please help." He said simply. For everything Lavellan's eyes had lost, his gaze burned.
"I am fine. I closed all the rifts before the anchor was taken, defeated Corypheus, and fulfilled my purpose in life. I lost my arm, my heart, and my clan. This was the price for the only one I can have back. Even my friends have scattered to the wind." Her hand wrapped around the sending stone she wore tied around her neck. She looked at Solas."I loved someone who now intends to destroy this world, and was expected to stop him. Now it doesn't hurt." She stated it simply, placid smile still in place. Solas visibly winced, and waved his hand over her eyes again, settling her unconscious form back into a gentle repose. Cassandra’s gut churned.
"Why did you do that?" She asked sharply, eyebrows raised.
Solas' hands clenched into fists, but before he could answer, another knock sounded. Cassandra glanced at the door confused, and looked back to see Cole nodding with an encouraging smile to Solas.
"Hey Seeker, I just gotta know how you're liking the book!"
Cassandra crossed in two steps and opened the door for the unexpected visitor she'd actually expected.
"Unfortunately Varric, that seems to be the least of our concerns." She ushered him in, closing the door tightly behind her, and waved an outstretched hand to her assembled company.
His eyes widened, focusing on Solas, and he crossed the room in a few short strides.
"Chuckles!" He exclaimed with false cheer. "Do me a favor and lean over. So I can punch you in the face." His faux smile froze when he saw Solas' expression, and looked around.
"Shit. Why is Chuckles here? And kid... Not that it's not good to see you, but I'm assuming it's not. Oh shit. Why is Glowy here, unconscious, in a nightgown, with a Tranquil brand?"
Cassandra glanced at Solas and realized he hadn't been speaking because he wasn't sure he could without cracking. Good. Maybe she could get Varric a stepstool. She spoke in his stead, hoping she was translating Cole's words properly.
"Lavellan has been made Tranquil due to her association with Fen'Harel. Cole and S... Fen'Harel found her and brought her here to cure her. But I only know of the process, not how to perform it. We will need the rest of the Lord Seeker’s notes detailing the procedure, and they are scattered across Thedas. I have been attempting to collect them since we discovered the possibility.”
Solas cleared his throat.
"I'm afraid it's worse than that. After carrying the anchor for so long, she has become irreversibly tied to the fade. Tranquility will most likely kill her. The longer she is conscious and cut off, the more likely her body will fail. I have put her in a stasis for now to stave off the effects."
"And it hurts to see her, vhenan but not, an empty shell." Cole added.
"Yes." Solas admitted. He buried his head in his bare hands, armor stripped earlier that night.
"Shit." Varric repeated.
Ow my soul. My poor Lavellan. Also, I love writing Cole!!! Please tell me what you think so far!
Cassandra's room was too small and crowded. No room to pace, no room to breathe. No room to turn from their scrutiny. Not that they were wrong for it.
"Please excuse me." Solas stood abruptly, making towards the door.
"Andraste's tits, Chuckles. You're just going to drop her and leave? Again?" Varric looked ready to fight.
Actually, a fight sounded good. Varric was a truly formidable opponent, for a mortal. And surely Cassandra would join in. When he had first awoken, they would have won easily. But circumstances had changed. It wouldn't even be a fight. And he had taken enough from Lavellan.
"She will require a specific herb mixture to sustain the stasis. I have no intention of abandoning her in this state. I will..."
"Bullshit! You were just fine abandoning her in that Maker forsaken wyvern cave! And again after Corypheus. She had to pretend to celebrate when the person she wanted there most disappeared! Without the explanation you promised her. Your promises are useless. Your word is useless!" Varric took a deep breath and seemed ready to start again, but Cassandra placed a hand on his shoulder.
"While I agree with Varric, this inn isn't exactly private. Solas. Do as you will but do not tell us you will return if you have no intention of doing so. We will cure her with or without your help. Though I suspect it will take months to travel Thedas to acquire the Lord Seekers journals that remain. I do not know if she has that long when not in stasis, and she must be woken to eat."
"He can't leave" Cole offered. "The thread will pull him back." Solas nodded, too exhausted to keep Cole out.
"I will return in a few hours. And I will grant access to my Eluvian network to speed our search. I suggest we move somewhere more private. Perhaps the space Varric uses for visiting dignitaries?"
Varric bit down on a scathing retort and nodded.
"I'll get some space prepped. I'll leave directions at the bar. Try not to be so... Fen'Harel -y when you get back. People will talk."
Solas gave a curt nod and ducked out the door. Obviously he could avoid being seen when needed. He worked his way out of the inn and to his Kirkwall Eluvian. He nodded to the agent watching it and slipped through, winding his way to his private chambers. He traded a few words with his people, dismissing them and setting wards.
Only then did he let himself break down. He didn't make it to his couch, or his desk, or his bed. He sunk to the floor, sobbing. To take the one bright and real person in this world and make her Tranquil? To make her even less real than the pale shadows that he woke to. It was a monstrosity. Worse than death. And it was his fault. She was branded with a mark far more cruel than the Vallaslin ever was.
He lost track of time. It had been harder since recovering Mythal's spark. The creak in his knees told him it had been at least an hour for his eyes to empty and begin to burn.
Something pinged his wards.
“Say how!” A familiar voice said.
“How on The-”
He glanced up just in time to see a small fist about to connect with his face, and not enough time to dodge. It stung a little, and he looked up into a very angry very familiar face.
"Screw your stupid elfy shite and your stupid elven glory and all this stupid magic!"
She had followed her Red Jenny lead. Some nob kept getting his servants killed protecting some dumb elfy thing, and she'd gone to see it through. Of course the dumb elfy thing would be his dumb elfy thing. Eluvine? Elu....whatever. Didn't matter. What mattered was little people were getting hurt trying to guard it, and the rest was rubbish.
She should let her gracious ladybits know.
Though if she did, there'd be the moodiness, and the crying. And then the drinking and crying. And then the cookies and the crying. It was a whole thing. Happy drinking with her was so much better. Plus cookies. Maybe it would be better to find him first and then tell her if it worked. Yea. Less elfy shite to deal with that way. Ladybits would be mad if there were too many arrows, so she decided to go stealth.
She stepped through the mirror, bracing for magic shite, and got lucky. Other than the rubbish feeling of walking through that thing. It was like walking through a waterfall, but of magic. Icky. And the runes that tried to whisper. Ugh. The guards on the other side weren't paying close enough attention, and she managed to slip past. Good thing she'd learned this little trick.
Two elves, mirror on the right. No elves, mirror in the middle. Five elves, mirror behind some vines. Lotsa ruins. Some grey stuff that lit in patches around the elves. Creepy.
She slipped through a few more Eluvians, trusting her gut to guide her and trying not to overthink it. There were some spaces with elves working on green glowy stuff that looked too much like the breach. She left that place quickly.
A few more rooms, and she found what she was looking for. Her ears twinged as she passed the threshold, but she found her goal. His dumb bald head was the perfect shiny target over his extra elfy armor. And he'd conveniently sat on the floor so it was perfect fist height.
“Say how!” She called to him.
“How on The-”
He turned toward her right as she connected, and his cheekbone made a very satisfying sound on impact. Shite those things were sharp.
"Screw your stupid elfy shite and your stupid elven glory and all this stupid magic!"
"Who'd you bloody well think?? I just knew when I saw that dumb mirror this would have to do with you. Stop gettin' little people killed!"
"You punched me." He intoned, shocked.
"Yea. That was for her ladybits. Arsebiscuits."
"How did you find out so quickly? And how did you find this place?" He stood, rubbing his jaw. Sera realized she should probably be afraid of him, and of being here, but she just couldn't quite be anything but annoyed.
"Still talking like some fancy pants elf? I should have stolen your breeches. Here's how it is. I got a Red Jenny call about some servants getting knocked off protecting some mirror for Duke fancyface. Took care of the nob and knew it was your elfy shite so I followed you through. Good enough?"
"If it's the Eluvian I think it is, there are a dozen more between there and here. How did you get through undetected until my wards?"
"Isn't it obvious? You're not as good as you think you are. Probably in more ways than one." She crossed her arms and sniffed at him, and he... Didn't rise to the bait. That was weird.
Wait. This whole thing was weird. He had been sitting on the floor instead of using any furniture. His eyes were red rimmed and looked hollow and feverish. And he hadn't even tried to fight back or get her out. In fact, he seemed kinda dazed. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Then you don't know what happened." He said, sounding oddly defeated. "We may need your help, and contacts. The former Inquisitor has been made Tranquil. Cassandra only knows the outline for what's needed, we will need to collect former Lord Seekers notes to determine the exact process."
She punched him again.
Varric carefully melted wax to seal the missives in front of him.
I know you've been worried about Glowy, but she's been exceptionally tranquil lately, and there have been some unexpected chuckles. We're working on it, but we may need some interference from prying eyes. Let Ruffles and Curly know too.
Hope you and Sparkler are still on good terms. Glowy needs us. Sparkler knows where.
Glowy's in trouble. Weisshaupt has stuff, bring it and meet us where the hawk rests. Might have an elf help you find the way.
May need your contacts for some elfy shite with Glowy. Meet at my favorite tavern and I'll get the first round. If you can stomach a little extra magic for speed, an elf will bring you through the shiny way. I know, your two favorite things, but it’s important.
That should do it. He grabbed Lavellan's sending stone and braced himself to break the news to Dorian.
"Hey Sparkler, I've got some news." After a few moments, he got a response.
"Oh beautiful. Our fearless leader gave you her stone to mess with me, didn't she?" His tone tried to be playful, but Varric could hear the slight edge to his voice.
"I wish. You sitting down? Have a glass of wine?" Actually, not a bad idea. Varric fumbled about for a bottle.
"Not yet. Dear, that bad?" How could you hear his moustache through the stone? He should figure out how to write that.
"I'll give you a minute. Wait. Have at least a glass first." Varric took his own advice and poured, though he favored something with a little more punch than wine.
Dorian sighed, and left the sending stone on as he sat, uncorked a bottle, poured, and had a few sips.
"As ready as I'll ever be I think." Dorian said with false bravado.
"Our 'friend' Chuckles dropped by with an unconscious Tranquil Lavellan. How fast can you put together everything Tevinter has on tranquility and get it here?" He heard a long string of Tevine curses, punctuated by what he guessed was drinking. He let Dorian work through it, quietly agreeing with every curse.
"Why in The Maker would anyone do such a thing? Have you talked to Cassandra yet?" Sparkler fumed. Varric was silently glad he wasn’t there in case things got… fiery.
"Looks like her clan did it to protect her from the Dread Wolf. Cassandra vaguely knows how to undo it, but the notes she has are missing large portions. Hopefully we can piece it together before she dies." He ran his hands roughly over the beginnings of stubble. Dorian let out an indignant huff, followed by a swallow and what was probably a glass being set down a little too hard. He’d drink to that.
"Dies??? Oh this keeps getting better!" Varric heard him pour another glass. "Surely, becoming Tranquil is a terror, but it doesn't lead to premature death. At least of the body." Dorian’s bitterness could probably pucker a lemon.
"Not this time. Apparently the anchor made her more Fade or something, and cutting her off will kill her. Or at least, so says Chuckles." He said the once amiable nickname as a curse. It had been for the last two and a half years, no reason to stop now.
"Do we trust him? He IS planning to destroy the world. And he took her arm. And broke her heart. And I will never be able to consume red wine and ice cream together again because of him."
"I know. I know! I was there for a few of those nights. I dunno. He seemed genuinely upset. And remember what she told us? He only lied to us once, other than his vague 'The Fade' bullshit." Varric couldn’t help the gruff edge that crept into his voice.
"How do we know he didn't do it himself to manipulate us?" Dorian asked.
"Shit Sparkler, you should have seen him. You know how he is, always so controlled. Even when arguing. But he was barely holding it together. I've never seen him like this, not even when his spirit friend died." It was a little scary, truth be told.
"Hmm. That is troubling. But not proof. Maybe he was counting on Cassandra to fix it, and gain something in the process?" Dorian was, understandably, all aboard the evil ex train. It was his job as her self appointed best friend.
"That does sound like something an evil mastermind would do. I'll see if I can ask her about it. Cole agreed though."
“Cole has returned from The Fade?” Dorian asked, surprised.
“He’s the one who found her. Hasn’t left her side since, won’t even look away. Says she’s invisible, and seems like he’s afraid she’ll just disappear if he takes his eyes off her.” Poor kid, Varric thought, then laughed at himself. Poor all of them.
"Well. That does change things. Alright, I'll gather what I can. I should be ready to head that way in a few days if I hurry. And use my boundless charisma to get what we need." Varric rolled his eyes as he could practically hear the grandiose wink in Dorian's voice.
“Oh, and Sparkler? Something you’re not gonna like. Chuckles offered to get everyone together through the mirrors.” Varric’s words hung in the room, heavy, for just a split second.
“Surprise! I don’t like that. Not a bit. Remember the part about him trying to destroy our world for some Elven utopia?”
“Yea. I remember. He’s some piece of work but I’m not sure how much of a choice we have. I hate it as much as you do.”
“And yet, I’m the one who will have to traverse them. Lavellan is lucky we love her.” Dorian sounded cavalier, but took a deep breath and a drink.
"Oh. Are you still in touch with Tiny? We could probably use his eyes and ears on this." Varric asked. Bull would be invaluable, but Dorian didn’t exactly proclaim their relationship status from the battlements. Hopefully they were still on speaking terms.
"Funny you should ask, he'll be here tomorrow." Dorian answered, clearly just little peeved at being caught.
"Try not to get too distracted by his....horns."
"At least we can always count on you to be inappropriate in a time of crisis." Varric could just picture the eyeroll that accompanied that.
"Well it's either that or red wine and ice cream, and I'm gonna need at least 5 years to stomach that again." Varric joked, without much mirth. He drained his glass.
"Touche. Vishante kaffas! I may need to tell Bull where he can hit something. I certainly need to now."
Well. One letter Varric wouldn't have to send. He sealed the others and sent them on their way.
He watched with his eyes. Not used to using them so much, hoping they were enough to help. It was all he could do to make sure. So bright she was blinding and now nearly gone. An echo of the place she used to occupy, like the outline of the sun after you look away.
He felt two familiar pains return where he had expected one. There was bickering, sharp pains that eased as they dulled each barb with memories. Sharing meals, a fire dancing lazily after a long day, and lizards, a barb in one and solace another.
“Solace, Solas. So close and yet, such different meanings. She thought of you as both.” One thread loosened and another tightened. Not enough to help. The other turned sharp like the bits of hair around her face.
“She shoulda thought of you as shite and picked anyone else.”
Angry, uncertain. A cookie shared, and guarded memories. He wasn't people to her, but he could still help he hoped. This new hurt washed over her, oddly expected. I should have known. I should have known I don't get to keep anything good. Have to help, but this hurt can only be healed by her laugh, free on the roof, or dulled. Dulling means giving up hope. Not yet.
The mournful wolf agreed with Sera but didn't say. There was always so much he didn't say. The thread dripped red, too strong not to pull him back. Woven into his pattern, too deep, too entwined to tug loose. Bricks woven of time into a clear path, made of mistakes mostly worth making, necessary, but a howling heart fresh and bleeding blocks the way. His mind smells like herbs and honey gone sour over centuries. Oh, not only his mind. It turns to grim hope in the room, mixing herbs and water and steam rises like a prayer. He had missed his friend.
“His nose wrinkles, but maybe the smell can mean hope. He wants to choose his heart, but the path is so old and so sturdy he won't be real if he doesn't walk it. There are so many hurts tied to it.”
“Nobody asked you!” Sera’s anger flared but if pointed at him it hurt less. A tiny compassion.
Cassandra was the quietest in the room. Strong, and unflinching. Her faith burned steady, certain in this storm. She would find a way. The anger was there, and fear, but the faith was stronger.
Varric came back. The echoes of stone song hummed, hurts that weren't real yet overlapping, drowning out the ones that were. They were quieter. Expected. A small cut wore a wry mustache as he carried a piece of his friend's pain, tasting of wine and chocolate.
“Buttercup!” His warm voice hung heavy, but lifted spirits. “How'd you get here, I just sent you a letter!”
“Came through the Eluvi-whatevers and found arseface here. Punched him, an’ he told me what was what. We got some shite and came here.” Discomfort, uncertainty. Feeling helpless as the problem loomed, so much bigger than her and full of fears, but she wouldn't show them.
“Is that the stuff to sustain the stasis? It smells an awful lot like tea.” Trying, needing to be nice. Struggling with her laying there, too still. Name like a curse in his mind. He would bear it for her.
“I'm aware. There's a reason I detest the stuff.” Offer bits to appease. Are they real? Should he adjust the weight of his mountain? When will it be too heavy?
“Right. So I talked to Sparkler. Says he'll be ready in a couple days, and be bringing Tiny with.” Horns and mustache make similar shapes, curling, not carefree but sometimes intertwined.
“I will make sure there is a familiar face to meet them, to ease things.” Ease, but not easy. A trust that would lead to complications. Necessary. He came into view of his eyes. He dipped his fingers in the mixture, and pulled a little of The Fade into it. Slowly rubbed it on her lips. Hesitation. Gut twisting at intimacy undeserved but wanted. Not like this. Not fair when she's hollow.
“Looks like the gang's getting back together. I'd thank you for the reunion Chuckles, but this is a shit show.” Almost an olive branch, and almost the idea of a smile in return.
It was good he came back.
I LOVE WRITING COLE
The training dummy practically exploded into splinters. Bull let out a roar, and Dorian set his lips in a firm line.
“And they call me the dramatic one.” Dorian forced himself into a wry smile. Deflect with humor, better than being a gibbering mess. Thank the maker for wine.
“I am going to wrap my hands around that skinny little neck of his and watch his eyes pop.” Bull growled. Dorian considered the image, and his smile was just a smidge less wooden.
“I’d love to watch that. Maybe light him on fire first. After we rescue her.” Because ironically, they needed him. It was his fault, and they needed him to fix it. He should have just stayed gone after having the audacity to leave her heart in pieces. But nooooo, he just had to come back and leave her body in pieces too. And now her mind. Insufferable.
“Rescue her? RESCUE HER?” A loud crack rent the air as another dummy was reduced to kindling. His booming voice sharpened to a snarl. “I don’t think you understand, Kadan. I’ve read the Ben Hassrath reports. Death would be kinder.”
“That is not an option!” He snapped, composure forgotten. The air around Dorian crackled and warmed. “She is TOO important!”
“Important people die all the time.” Bull’s voice had gone deadly. It was a punch in the gut.
“Not her. She has come too far. She can’t.” She can’t leave me, he thought bitterly. Bull seemed to hear what was left unspoken. He often did.
“I’m sorry.” Bull’s voice softened. “There were two Ben-Hassrath reports I read referencing tranquility being reversed. We thought they were just stories at the time. After talking with Cass, I looked at them with new eyes. Neither one of them ended well.” Bull shuddered. “Boss doesn’t deserve to go through that.”
“She doesn’t deserve any of this! She is my best friend Amatus! If you won’t help me save her I will damn well do it myself!” Dorian stormed off, managing not to light anything on fire. And people said he had a flair for the dramatic.
Short chapter is short, but I promise there will be plenty more Dorian in the future!
Bull found him in the library, surprisingly not drinking. He had tried to give Dorian time to settle, and hopefully not set shit on fire, but it was always uncomfortable visiting Tevinter. There was nowhere to go where he didn’t feel that itch between his shoulder blades, struggle not to envision every Vint dismembered on his blade. Even in Dorian’s estate, his hackles were up, watching and waiting for a poisoned blade. Well, more likely some magic shit, here.
“Hey. I’m sorry Kadan. If anyone can beat the odds, it’s her. Let’s help Boss.” He noted the books and scrolls. Most carried the Seeker’s mark. Even wounded and ragged, he wouldn’t fail her, wouldn’t stop fighting. Pride for his Kadan swelled, and a brief vision of books clattering to the floor as he claimed Dorian with the vigor of months apart flitted through his mind. He would have to table it for later. Heh. Table.
“Of course she will.” His words were forced, clipped, and exhausted. Bull realized he hadn’t slept much since the news, and wasn’t likely to, until he could help. He knew better than to try and get his heart to rest when he was like this.
It had been similar when Dorian first returned to his inheritance and found it included Elven slaves, and a society so steeped in Elven blood and slavery there was no viable way to untangle himself. Bull knew he had pictured Lavellan’s fierce face on every one of them, and then realized they were all as much people as him. That realization had wounded him more than he would ever let on. But he had found a way to change it.
Bull noted the tremble in Dorian’s hands, and how he wouldn’t even glance up from the tome. He sat down across from him carefully, always cautious of furniture made for humans.
“This pile is the unread ones, right?” Bull reached for the top of the pile. Dorian flicked his gaze up and nodded. “I always hated this part. Poring through paperwork for clues. Haven’t had to do stacks like this since training.” Dorian took a deep breath, and when he released it, some of the tension eased from his shoulders. Good. He was forgiven.
“Thank you.” Dorian said softly. Someday, Bull hoped, his Kadan would stop being surprised that he wanted to make him happy. Soon, he would have to tell him what the reports said. He wondered just how much Lavellan would have to live through. He hadn’t lied. If anyone could beat the odds, it would be her. But the cost would be steep, and she had lost so much already.
He hadn’t said anything when she returned from Crestwood without her weird Dalish tattoos, and a voice straining to maintain normalcy. He figured she would tell him when she was ready. He saw how Solas had retreated into a reserved detachment again, a new layer of complication unnoticeable unless you knew how to look. It had eaten at her, enough that kid Cole had brought it up. After his disappearance, after the drinking and crying, the attempts to move on, it had become obvious that she was changed.
“I would really like to punch him in the face.” Bull broke the quiet that had settled, and for the first time that day, Dorian gave him a genuine smile.
He glanced up from the journal for the tenth time. It was taking too long, and the words that should have been riveting kept leaking from his mind.
They had taken over one of the large state rooms, with plentiful desks and a welcoming sitting area. Cassandra’s collection of Seeker’s journals and notes lay scattered, ready to be pored over. She clearly had not been idle since finding the truth, and it seemed she lived up to her title admirably. He placed a careful bookmark to hold his place.
“Unfortunately, I must attend to some affairs.” He stood, carefully smoothing his ‘apostate hobo’ garb back into place.
“You mean you gotta make sure your people and our people aren’t killing each other.” Varric grumbled.
“I do not believe either party would act on such rash judgements with so much at stake. However, that does not preclude unforeseen circumstances. I will attend to the matter personally.”
“Better than waiting here wringing your hands. Reading the same damn line a dozen times and not being able to remember what it said.” Varric said, rubbing his face with his broad hands.
Solas let himself out, silently agreeing with Varric, and worked his way through the network, tracing the steps to find them. If they had been diverted from the direct path, this could take time.
He pondered Sera’s uncanny ability to traverse them as he did. She had no passwords, no guide, she simply found her way. In some ways, she was much closer to his people than any who walked this world currently, despite her protestations. She was so apart from her heritage, wearing it as shame instead of pride. Well. He had enough for them both, now didn’t he?
He found no sign of them along the most expedient route, and furrowed his brows. Revas would not betray him, but Dorian and Bull may have made things unnecessarily complicated. Or. Oh, of course. He must be slipping if it had taken until now to see it.
He set off purposefully, and found his target quickly after reframing his expectations.
“Oh joy, just the would be god trying to destroy the world I wanted to see!” Dorian said as he approached. Bull just watched warily, clearly uncomfortable in this land of elven magic.
Revas’ glare was palpable, and he turned in an instinctual bow. Solas waved him up impatiently.
“At least I have the will to change what must be done, Dorian. And this is not why we are here.” Solas bit down a scathing reply about the state of slavery in the Imperium, but there were more pressing matters.
“Well, at least Abelas has been the model of cold distrust.” Dorian sniffed.
Ah. Yes. They did not know his new name, and it did seem likely Revas wouldn’t offer it.
“May I speak with you Revas?” Solas asked, deeming it safer to ignore Dorian. His eyes widened, most likely remembering Solas’ words to Abelas before leaving the Temple of Mythal. Revas nodded, and Solas cast a barrier around Dorian and Bull, and a soundproof one around the two elves. He schooled himself into a calm exterior, turning his back to Bull, who always saw more than he let on. He let a deadly edge creep into his voice. Posturing was necessary, and in this humble guise more so. “Please explain to me why you chose to take them through this path as opposed to the most direct one, as instructed.”
“I thought it best to avoid showing our opposition any parts of our operation that could be avoided.” Revas offered, unapologetic. Solas could sense his frustration through his metered words.
“That was not your decision to make. Time is of the utmost importance, and I would be displeased to find my trust misplaced.” Solas said, folding his hands behind his back. Revas’ gaze did not flinch.
“There are those who would say this should not be our concern. Your connection to the former Inquisition may be a weakness, or this may be a clever plot against us. I could not bear to expose more than necessary, lest our work become compromised. Tel’abelas, Fen’Harel.”
Solas considered. Most would cower before challenging him, but Revas was no stranger to the power of the Evanuris. He would have to find an appropriate punishment, as unchecked disobedience could not be borne in his position. However, Revas was intelligent and loyal to the cause. Too harsh, and he risked rebellion in the ranks. He would have to be creative. And there was still no time.
“I see. Do you believe I have become compromised?” Solas asked, tone dangerous.
“I do not. Yet. Though I cannot help but see your focus wane. It will not be long before the others do as well. It may cause them to take matters into their own hands. You have already had to quell those who would attempt independent movement against the former Inquisitor.” Revas answered. Anger flared in Solas, tamped down brutally. Bull was far too perceptive and his body language could not give him away.
“You forget your place, Revas.” Solas said, voice deadly.
“You asked, Hahren. I too would prefer to see her, and the knowledge I guarded, kept safe.” He kept his tone even, placating. Solas carefully released a breath.
“Indeed. Ir abelas, Revas. I value your insight and shall take these new developments into consideration. I will take them from here.”
Revas started bowing, and stopped himself midway and inclined his head instead. It would take more time yet to lose the habits of millennia in Mythal’s service. But he would have none bow to him. He dropped the barriers, and beckoned a spy and a mage who both hated him to follow through a maze of mirrors.
“While Solas is gone. I know the basics of how the ritual is to be performed.” Cassandra said, pulling Varric aside. “In my Seeker training, I spent a year meditating and fasting to become Tranquil. Once I had, my faith drew a spirit to me, and when it touched my mind, it returned. I do not yet know how to draw a spirit of Faith to tranquil mages.”
“Shit. Glowy didn’t exactly have a lot of faith before this happened. How are we supposed to save her?” Varric cast back to her, tone low and careful.
“I do not know. I fear telling Solas as of yet, when he may use the knowledge in other ways, or bring a demon into Lavellan. We must learn more. I have written to Vivienne, as I believe her skills might be necessary, or her resources.”
“Smart. Haven’t heard back from Hero yet, which seems a little odd.”
“We have not received much news from Weisshaupt in the last few months. Something we may need to look into in the future. When we are not dealing with a tranquil former Inquisitor.”
“Hmmm. I hate that we don’t have our good ole reliable Fade nerd anymore. Wouldn’t Chuckles be able to go into the Fade and just find the spirit we need?”
“Perhaps. However, Solas himself has little faith with which to call such a spirit to himself, and I am loathe to give up this information if it can be helped. If we are able, it would be best to keep him from the process entirely and keep it among ourselves. I do not wish dangerous and easily corrupted mages to be added to his growing forces, or for him to decide it can be done without us, and take her.” An agitated look crossed Cassandra’s face.
“Ugh. Yea, you’re right. Shit. Sometimes I hate being right. Told Tiny back in the day that the best villains were the man beside you all along. And lo and behold. We’ll tell him if it gets dicey, yea?” He grumbled.
“Absolutely. Should the stasis become questionable, we shall inform him.” She sighed, brows knit together. “The notes I have read thus far speak of a ritual with several parts. They do not reference them much more specifically I am afraid.”
“Great. Vague ritual, spirit of the exact thing Glowy doesn’t have, all mixed in with her world ending ex. Just great. We sure it has to be a spirit of Faith? We can’t use the nice spirit of compassion who’s right here?”
“Unfortunately all mentions speak of Faith, specifically. I do not know that we should meddle with such things.”
“Hey Kid!” Varric called to Cole. His hat tilted with his head.
“Yes?” He asked, not turning.
“Poke Glowy for me? Just in case.” Varric asked, and Cole reached out a finger and poked her on the shoulder. Nothing happened. “Damn. Maybe because of the stasis? Maybe she’s fine now and just asleep.”
“I… Do not believe so, Varric. Though I wish it could be that easy.”
Don't you just love when trust could solve a problem but everyone is just way too stubborn for that?
Chapter 11: See With My Own Eyes
Chapter by Dirthenera
I finally passed the block I was having on this! So expect more frequent updates!
“Wake her up.” Dorian demanded, tone clipped. “I need to see her.”
His eyes lingered on the brand. A starburst, pink and angry, mocking what she once was.
“I do not believe that to be in her best interests.” Solas responded calmly. How was he always so damn calm? His fingers itched to light that abysmal tunic on fire and see just how calm he could stay then.
“Small, too small to hold her. The light is gone but the shape remains. Did it ever fit? Red wine and chocolate turn terrible, a promise made for tears he hopes to see. A crystal wasn’t enough.” Cole said softly. He was sitting on the corner of the bed, staring at her.
“She is my best friend and I need to see with my own eyes.” They stung. Bull put a large, steadying hand on his shoulder, and Solas nodded. The return had been tense, and it hadn’t helped nerves to find her in a nearly deathlike sleep, eerily fragile.
Solas stepped forward to the bedside where Dorian had immediately sat to grab her hand, and the dread apostate waved a hand over her eyes. He stepped back immediately, as though she would burn him. The thought amused Dorian for a split second before her empty eyes opened and focused on him. She sat up, one of the brightest lights in his life… gone. He dropped her hand as she sat up with a doll like smile.
“Hello Dorian. It has been much too long. It is good to see you.” She intoned with some terrible perversion of warmth. “Oh, and I see Bull and Varric are here as well. I am glad to see it.”
“My dear. It is good to lay my gaze on your lovely visage, though I’ll admit the circumstances are dreadful.” He told her, trying to keep the sting from his eyes by winking.
“When have the circumstances ever been good?” She replied pleasantly. He recoiled from the wrongness laced in her tone, a caricature of who she was.
“Can you please tell us what happened, precisely?” Dorian asked, a flourish in his voice to mask the shake.
“I sought to return to my clan. After the removal of my Vallaslin, and my relationship with Fen’Harel, I was turned away. The new first found me later and told me of a cleansing ritual which might allow me to return. It turned out to be the ritual for Tranquility. They waited until I was deep in meditation to bring the templars. I called out to Cole and Solas as my mind slipped away, and when I woke again, they were there. I believe my former self would be upset at what they did to the clan’s first.”
“Shit.” Varric added helpfully.
“They were glad. They rang with twisted purpose. My knives found where they needed to be.” The spirit said darkly.
“Have you seen enough?” Solas asked. “It is not good for her to be conscious in this state.”
Dorian nodded, and Solas pulled a hand over her eyes again, gently laying her back down. As much as Dorian didn’t want to admit it, it was better this way. He could still pretend she was sleeping, so long as he didn’t look at her forehead.
Cassandra made a gutteral sound in her throat, pulling his attention from the elf in front of him.
“I understand why that was necessary, but it is not the sole reason you were called here. Do you have information?” She asked.
“Unfortunately it is not something spoken of in Tevinter, and rarely acted out. I brought what little we have on the rite, but I’m afraid I’ve found nothing yet on its reversal.” Dorian answered, keeping level steel in his voice, refusing to look at Solas with that damned calm expression.
“There were two reports I saw while I was with the Ben-Hassrath. Neither one of them ended well.” Bull added.
“Please elaborate, Bull.” Cassandra said, no room in her tone for dissent.
Bull glanced at Dorian, whose mouth tightened, jaw muscles clenching.
“They aren’t pretty. One was possessed by a despair demon and they had to kill it. The other one…. The other one came back, but they spent the rest of their life raving.” His lover said, a growl hiding just behind the words, and an apology for their truth. Dorian blinked, trying to clear the sting from his eyes.
“The rest of their life was short, only a week. They committed suicide.”
“He cries. He doesn’t want to go back, doesn’t want to be locked away from the dreams that feel like living. He said it felt like never waking.” Cole added.
“Vishante kaffas.” Dorian spat.
“Agreed.” Varric said, scrubbing the shadow of stubble on his face.
Chapter 12: Grand Enchanter
Chapter by Dirthenera
Short chapter is short, so you get two today!
“Grand Enchanter, this arrived for you.” One of the templars in service handed her a rolled letter, bearing a rather familiar crest, and she hid the concern that flickered across her face, too quickly to be noted.
“Thank you darling.” She murmured, shooting him a smile she knew would quell the questions from his pretty face. She had caught him blushing several times and she knew just how to use it.
She sauntered to her study, looking to all the Circle as though there was naught amiss, and once alone, quickly unfurled the scroll.
“Grand Enchanter Vivienne,
I know we do not keep in correspondence, but I’m afraid the situation is dire.
Sol Fen’Harel has returned, and has brought Lavellan with him. She has been made Tranquil due to her association with him. I had hoped you might have access to any of the previous Lord Seeker’s diaries. I know they did not often stay with circles, but I have hope you may be able to help.
It is… Disturbing to see her such. I know, though we had our differences, that you were close with her, despite your differing views on magic. I have written to you before writing to Fiona with the hopes that we may keep the situation discreet. Before I know more about reversing the rite, I would prefer to keep the possibility of such limited to as small a number as possible.
If you have any leads or information on the subject, it would be quite appreciated.
Vivienne scanned through the letter one more time to be certain of the full amount of its contents before retrieving her quill and new sheaf of parchment.
Darling, you were quite right in contacting me before Fiona! Though she is quite a talented mage I fear her leadership skills are lacking. Were you to inform her of this, I fear we might have another rebellion on our hands after she announced its possibility publicly. Order must be maintained, and I’m certain Divine Victoria would agree with me my dear.
It is quite the predicament with our dear Lavellan! You do know just how fond of her I am. And to hear our less than dear wolf has resurfaced. Perhaps this could be an opportunity in disguise, to defeat the coming storm before it comes to pass.
As for Tranquility, darling, I will tell you what I know. Please do keep in mind, however, that tranquility serves a purpose. It keeps society safe from those unfit to be mages, and allows weak mages to keep their precious lives. It also serves as a reminder, a monster under the bed, so to speak, for those planning dangerous magics.
There was a rumor, during our pet demon’s time as the ghost of the White Spire, that a group had found a tranquil made mage again in the Western Approach. There was to be a meeting with Divine Justinia, but it was not to be. The mage was killed before his veracity could be verified, phylacteries were destroyed, the Lord Seeker was killed, and the rebellion began shortly after. I will search the archives for anything else we have on the subject, but I do not believe we have any written records available of such a thing.
I do hope this information is of use to help our sweet dear former Inquisitor, and I hope you will heed my words regarding Fiona and the spread of information.
Grand Enchantress Vivienne.”
She sprinkled sand across the words to set the ink, then neatly rolled the parchment, sealed it with her crest in silver wax, and made her way to the rookery to have it sent before Cassandra could do something as stupid as trust the elf who had handed hundreds of mages to Tevinter.
“Commander, I believe you should see this. You too, Josie.” Leliana said, handing Cullen the missive, and Josie pulled close to read it as well. It had been a long ride to Skyhold, but necessary to deliver this news in person. Even if she could not stay long. Cullen’s brows shot up.
“Is this about Lavellan? We just sent scouts to see if she can be found.” He responded, and Leliana nodded. Cullen caught the look on her face and hesitated, and Josephine reached for it, plucking it from his fingers.
“This is from Master Tethras, yes? The news from Kirkwall can’t be so bad! The city has stabilized under his rule.” Josephine commented, unwilling to read the expression on Leliana’s face.
Her beautiful fingers unfolded the letter, and she read it aloud for Cullen’s benefit. They began shaking partway through. Poor delicate Josie. And poor Cullen.
I know you've been worried about Glowy, but she's been exceptionally tranquil lately, and there have been some unexpected chuckles. We're working on it, but we may need some interference from prying eyes. Let Ruffles and Curly know too.
“Maker’s breath!” Cullen swore. He snatched the letter from Josephine and pored over it. Leliana watched his heart plummet, face twisting into a grimace. A phantom shake settled into his off hand, and he threw the letter to the table with disdain.
“Has… Has Solas made Lavellan tranquil? He… Seemed as though that would be the against everything he believes. Were we truly so mistaken?” Josie crumbled, and Leliana went to catch her.
“Shhh, Josie. Cassandra will find how to fix this.” Leliana soothed, stroking her hair. She pulled back as Cullen sunk into a chair, trembling. It seemed some things would take longer to heal, though at least he had his mabari now.
“Fix this?? Lavellan is not some broken toy Cassandra can fix! You act as though this will not change her, warp her. You forget what I have seen in my time with circles. She could become an abomination! Have you even deigned to consider that?”
Josephine fixed him with wide eyes, and Leliana with determined steel.
“Truly? She could… After everything we have overcome? She has overcome?” Josie asked.
“If anyone can make it through this, it will be her. She has faced worse odds and come out victorious. I have faith in her. And she has given no one in this room reason for doubt.” Leliana reassured her, flashing Cullen a look.
Cullen’s lips tightened.
“So what now?” He asked.
“Now, Commander, you go to Kirkwall. I have brought everything the Chantry has on Tranquility, but my absence will be noted soon, and I cannot shirk my duties as Divine. Josephine, with so many members of the Inquisition gathering, there are bound to be rumors and disquiet. We do not need Orlais and Ferelden quarrelling as we handle this. Can I count on you?”
“I can leave on the morrow.” Cullen answered immediately.
“I will see what strings I can pull to keep things quiet.” The Antivan woman said, settling herself into resolve.
Every step closer to Kirkwall grew more uncomfortable. The Waking Sea roiled, and he could not help but think how he had never wished to return. His armor creaked, salt spray dulling the polish, bringing spots of rust to scrub away lest he arrive as eaten away on the outside as he felt.
Lavellan, tranquil. Calling him back to the land of so many mistakes.
His stomach turned at the thought. How many had he, himself, performed the rite on? It was seven now. Seven faces burned into his mind. Seven eyes filled with fear one moment, and nothing the next. Four had requested the rite, all had politely thanked him after.
What would she look like? Her deeply expressive eyes blank?
He remembered the moment he met her. A small creature, an elf and a mage, and beautiful. She had struck him as so very beautiful, even then. Even before she proved over and over her resilience, her willingness to do what was needed regardless of the cost, which had only deepened his esteem.
And then she had flirted with him, and Maker, he had been so flustered. So caught off guard. He had thought it unprofessional, and by the time he had thought, perhaps… She was with him. And now she was tranquil because of him.
If only she had not picked Solas. Even if she had not picked Cullen, she would still be far better off.
Perhaps it has been enough time now. He had thought, as they prepared to visit Halamshiral for the Council. Perhaps she had been able to heal from her wounds enough, that she might be able to trust again. Might be able to revisit the conversation they had after that night… The night she had apologized for that he could not think of as a mistake, except that she wasn’t ready. Perhaps she is ready now. It has been two years. Two years to grieve.
Her mark had flared, a plot revealed, and there was no time to discuss, no time to tell her how much he feared for her. That each time she strode through those accursed mirrors he wondered if he would ever get to see her again, or if she would be consumed by the mark before she could return. He watched her face twist in pain helplessly.
And then Solas had returned, revealing himself the wolf she cursed, taking her arm, and speaking of his plans for the future. In which she merited no consideration. He truly was cruel, to claim he loved her and yet threaten the very world in which she lived.
It was clear she had been lost to him then, as she hid her tears behind steel and promised to save him. And Cullen? He would do anything for her, even help her save him. But she would not receive the same from him.
The boat rocked on another wave, and he tightened his grip on the rails. Whatever she required of him, he would be there for her.
For whatever remained.
Kirkwall stunk. A tremor returned to his hand, harder than it had been in years now. The city was grotesque, a twisted thing that rose from the water, shining marble on high looking down to the rotted carcass beneath.
He hadn’t missed it.
He made his way through the city, mouth set in a grim line, muscles tensed for the moment things went wrong. Adrenaline sang beneath his skin, waiting, waiting to flood him for the inevitable terror.
He swallowed and pushed the thought aside. There would be horror, yes, but not terror. He hoped. Though this was Kirkwall.
A woman bumped into him and he nearly drew his sword. He forced himself to smile instead, the scar on his lip pulling uncomfortably. He had not noticed it much since it had healed, except…
Her glance darted to his mouth as he spoke, eyes warm and heavy. He realized with a jolt that she was looking at his scar. That she was… Appreciating it. He felt his face warm further, further than the warmth from the ale, and she flushed as well. It was beautiful. She, was beautiful. He reached across and brushed her hair from her face, and her eyes drifted shut languidly. She raised them again slowly, gaze burning, and her lips curled into a smile.
He shook himself from his thoughts. It would not do to be distracted here, though distractions were certainly more welcome than the stench that surrounded him now. Though perhaps this was better than the conversation the next morning.
He woke from the best nights sleep he’d had in ages to the sound of fabric rustling. He rolled over carefully, a foggy feeling in his skull, to see her donning her clothes. He appreciated for a moment, a smile spreading over his face.
“Good morning.” He told her, and she froze. Slowly, she turned towards him, and his smile fell as he caught her expression.
“I’m so sorry Cullen.” She said, guilt and grief across her face.
“Sorry? Is… Is everything ok? Are you alright? Maker’s breath, did I…” The question hung on his lips, throat suddenly thick. Had he taken advantage of her?
“No!” She said quickly. “I thought… I thought maybe I was ready to move on. I wanted to try, and I knew I was safe with you. That maybe I could be happy. That maybe, just maybe, I was allowed to be, after everything…”
Her voice caught in her throat as she finished buttoning her pants and sat, burying her face in her hands. He didn’t know what to say. It had been months since Corypheus, longer still since she had come back from an excursion with Solas without her tattoos, all good humor fled with them.
“I’m so sorry.” She repeated. “I used you. I wanted so desperately to move on, to get him out of my head but… It turns out I can’t leave him as easily as he left me. I’m so sorry. I hope you can forgive me for this.”
He had. It had taken a few months for her to return to her normal self around him, and then more yet for her smile to return, though it fell each time another member left Skyhold.
His attention snapped back to the present as the Viscount’s came into view. The crate of books he carried grew heavy as the weight of what waited settled into his bones.
Varric greeted him in the foyer and led him to the quarters they were staying in, offering a more thorough explanation than the half coded note. The room with Lavellan was large, full of books, and he added his to the pile at Cassandra’s orders.
Solas sat by her bedside with one such tome, and his hand instinctively went to his sword before he quelled the urge.
“How could you do this to her?” He demanded.
“A cost, mistakes made, over and over. He tried to fix it but it wasn’t enough. She always hurts for him, but she is the one who can heal, who can save everything.” Cole said, and Cullen’s gaze snapped to the spirit he had not realized was there, just for a moment, before turning back to the Dread Wolf.
Solas calmly put a marker in his research, and shut it, lifting his gaze to the former commander.
“I am doing all I can to reverse the process. At the detriment to my own goals.”
“Nothing you have ever done has been a detriment to your own goals!”
“That has been true for most of my life. Now if you’ll excuse me, I would have her suffer for as little time as possible.”
“You would, would you? Then why on Thedas would you have allowed her to become attached in the first place? You have taken everything from her and given nothing but suffering in return!”
“It was a mistake.” Solas said quietly. “If I could undo it, I would.”
“THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.”
“Ok boys, why don’t we move on out of here. I’ve got Sparkler, Tiny, and Buttercup upstairs sleeping and the walls aren’t as thick as they’d need to be for this shit.” Varric said, shooing them out of the door.
Cullen jerked his head toward the door, beckoning an ancient Elvhen God to follow. He placed his book down with a curt nod, and rose to follow.