“Ebasit kata. Itwa-ost.”
“Your forces have failed. Leave now, and tell the Qunari to trouble me no further.”
Solas knew Viddasala would not obey. It was in her nature: brutish, stubborn, defiant and stupid to the end. He enjoyed turning her to stone, and continued to walk towards the Eluvian, stopping only when he heard his name.
He had sensed her approach. She had been faster than he’d anticipated.
The Anchor flared and it drove the Inquisitor to her knees, but she did not cry out. She was stubborn when it came to suffering; she did not like others to see her in pain.
He turned his head and reached for the Anchor, calming it with a flash of his eyes.
The Anchor settled. Meravas Adaar rose, her eyes on his. He watched her as she drew in his attire, his posture, his sad expression. He watched her process it, add it to the puzzle she was piecing together, and file it away.
“That should give us more time,” he said, offering her a small smile. She did not return it. “I suspect you have questions.”
“I do,” Meravas replied. But then she did something peculiar – she turned, and reached for Viddasala's face, brushing her fingers across the Qunari’s stone cheek. “I wish you hadn't done that, Fen’Harel.”
He shouldn’t have been surprised. She always had been remarkably sharp. “You figured it out. Well done.”
Her gaze slipped from the stone statue’s to Solas’s eyes. Her eyes had been violet merely a year ago. The Anchor, poisoning her, had turned them green. Solas hoped they would return to normal, after he separated the Anchor from her.
“The credit belongs to my agents, not me,” Meravas said. “I merely pieced together the information they discovered.”
“The Inquisition?” Solas queried, but even as he said so, he knew he was mistaken.
She smiled thinly. “I suspect you have questions, too.”
He had drawn her here to answer hers – because here, he had was in control. It was remarkable that Meravas was able to take him off guard once more. “Even now, you manage to humble me,” he said.
Solas would have postured in her position. It was his nature: he could not help but show off. Even during his chess matches with the Iron Bull, he had enjoyed the blatant display of his own intellect and cunning.
Meravas was as true to her name as he was to his: so shall it be. She was gracious, only inclining her head to acknowledge his praise.
“An answer for an answer, then,” she suggested.
It was one of their games: she would ask, and he would answer – for an answer. The Fade; her opinions on slavery. Spirits; her unique style of magic. Elven history; Qunari innovation. Ancient battles; the struggle for Seheron.
It seemed neither of them had been giving answers that were completely truthful.
“You are Fen’Harel,” she said. It was not a question. “The Dread Wolf.”
“I was Solas first. Fen’Harel came later.”
And so, he spoke. He explained his identity, his past, the truth of the history of the elves. His actions, his crimes, his regrets – and his plan.
“As this world burned in the raw chaos,” he finished, “I would have restored the world of my time… the world of the elves.”
He had expected horror, outrage, even grief, but she didn’t seem surprised at all. She absorbed his words, and finally sighed. “Your name is fitting, Solas.”
“I suppose it is.” He tilted his head. “An answer for an answer. You are of the Qun.”
He had wondered at first, when they’d first met properly in Haven. She’d convinced him otherwise. He was unaccustomed to being duped.
“Viddasala – she was yours?”
“Yes. Or I was hers, if we are being particular. She was my Arvaarad.”
An Arvaarad was the Qunari equivalent of a Templar, but worse: it was an Arvaarad’s duty to hold a Saarebas’s leash. If a Saarebas had been separated from their Arvaarad, even for only a few moments, they were considered corrupted: death was the only outcome. Solas knew that, because Meravas had told him.
“But you are a mage,” he said. “You claimed you were Vashoth. I have seen what the Qunari do to their mages. You ought to be bound and masked, your tongue sliced from your mouth and your lips sewn shut, and your horns hacked off. How did you escape the fate of a Saarebas?”
“I am of the Ben-Hassrath.” A spy. She saw his cold expression and offered him peace in the form of a small smile. “I did not lie about my past, Solas. My mother was a re-educator, and my father was Ben-Hassrath. They really did fall in love, and they did flee the Qun when my mother fell pregnant, and they did reach the Free Marches where they tried to live a peaceful life to raise me.”
He had heard that part. She implied afterwards, she grew and joined a mercenary band: nothing of interest in between, except the manifestation of her magic, and her lessons under a Saarebas. He had inferred the Saarebas was Tal-Vashoth – but when he thought back to her words, he realised that she had never actually said so.
“I lived seven years with my parents,” she continued. “And then, their past caught up with them. They were murdered by Ben-Hassrath agents. I was captured and taken to Par Vollen. Most children cannot hide their magic, but my will was strong and my devotion to the Qun undeniable. I was selected for the Ben-Hassrath when I was sixteen.” She turned to face the stone statute. “Viddasala was my peer. We trained fiercely together. By the time my magic was discovered, I was one of the Ben-Hassrath’s best agents. Some demanded I be made Saarebas. Others, like Viddasala, saw my worth. I would have been wasted as one of their ‘dangerous things’.”
He had a thousand questions, and had no idea where to start.
Meravas filled the silence for them both. “Did you really think my presence at the Temple of Sacred Ashes was a coincidence?” she asked. She seemed almost sad that he had not considered this for himself. “A Qunari mage and mercenary, conveniently patrolling the Divine’s corridor? No one hired me, Solas. The Ben-Hassrath had been tracking you for months. Hundreds of elves and elven viddathari vanishing from alienages and across Thedas and from Seheron, with a whisper of a name, a promise, on their lips. Of course, we didn’t know the one called Fen’Harel was the real Fen’Harel of elven legend, but it seemed that if some grand statement of elven magic or uprising were to occur, it would be at the Conclave.”
“I had no plans to disrupt it.”
She shrugged. “We were not ultimately wrong.”
No. She had not been.
“When you told me orb Corypheus wielded was elven, it confirmed our suspicions that Fen’Harel was somehow responsible for the devastation.”
And yet, she had not raised any of that with the Inquisition. She had kept them focused solely on the threat of the Breach and Corypheus – just like how she kept silent while Solas and the Iron Bull displayed their cunning for all to see through a verbal game of chess. She had merely listened – allowing the elven spy and the Qunari spy to play their hands, to learn their tactics, while giving nothing in return. Solas had inferred her silence as an inability to play, too proud to consider anything otherwise.
“Did Iron Bull know about you?” Solas asked.
“Hissrad served his purpose.”
Then no; Iron Bull didn’t know, and now he was dead by Meravas’s hand, likely to be blamed for the leak in the Inquisition – the mastermind behind the Qunari’s infiltration. “He was your lover,” Solas said.
“I was your friend,” Meravas pointed out. “You had no trouble pulling my strings, only to betray me when the time was right.”
“The two situations are vastly different.”
“Are they? I took Iron Bull into my bed. You took me into your mind. One is certainly more intimate that the other.”
A weakness of his he could not afford to entertain further than their brief embrace in the Fade.
“The Qunari agents in the Inquisition – you always knew they were there,” Solas said, determined to change the subject. She allowed him to do so. “You are complicit in the Dragon’s Breath plot.”
Meravas inclined her head.
He felt as though he was looking at a stranger – as though he was balancing on his toes on the edge of a great height, looking down a cliff and only just realising how devastating the fall would be.
“You would have plunged the world into chaos,” Solas said faintly.
“I would see the corrupt power structures of this chaotic world fall to corner you and your agents before you tore the world asunder.”
“I will tear down the Veil,” Solas said; his voice turned hard. “Your world will end, and mine will be restored. But there is no need for this world to suffer under the hand of Qun until then, so I say to you what I told your Arvaarad: you have failed. Your own Inquisition found the barrels of gaatlok spread around Thedas and removed them.”
“Oh, Solas,” Meravas murmured.
There it was again – that pitying expression, as if he had failed yet another of her tests. The Dread Wolf had forgotten what true fear felt like.
“I know you think the Qunari brutish,” she continued, “but we are not stupid. Those barrels were decoys, filled with ash. Your agent in the Inquisition tripped over the Qunari agent in the Inquisition to force you to play your hand. Your agent brought it to the attention of the Inquisitor. The Inquisition removed the barrels your people noticed. But my agents had hidden gaatlok around Thedas months ago – and they did not arrive in conveniently identifiable barrels.”
Solas breathed, “What have you done?”
Meravas frowned slightly. “Does it matter to you?”
“You were the one who showed me value in this world, Inquisitor!” Solas cried. “I take no joy in what I must do.”
“And yet, you still plan to do it. I take no joy in what I have done either, but I value this world too much to see it torn asunder by a false Elvhen god’s foolishness and pride – particularly if you intend to unleashe the Evanuris. If that means the fall of its governments, its leaders, then that is a small price to pay.”
“I beg of you to stop this before it’s too late.”
“Too late?” Meravas shook her head. “Solas – it is done . I gave the order for Dragon’s Breath to be enacted soon after I brought my party through the Eluvian.”
That could not be. “The dragon in the Darvaarad –”
“Ataashi,” Meravas said. “Symbolic, only – she had nothing to do with the plan’s success or failure. I freed her. She will return.”
“You lie,” Solas said, but he knew she spoke the truth: he could feel the echoes of destruction emanating through the Fade, blood and death and fire, pain and terror, washing across Thedas.
While his back was turned – while he postured – they had all been murdered. King Alistair and Queen Anora of Ferelden and their young daughter. The royal families in Nevarra and Antiva. The Imperial Magisterium. The Winter Palace. Divine Victoria, Leliana, Cullen, and Josephine. Empress Celene and Marquess Briala, all nobles with a claim to the throne, the leaders of the new College of Magi, the Templars, the Banns and Teryns. King Bhelen and Paragon Ilona Aeducan in Orzammar. Clan Lavellan in the Dales. Kirkwall, only just recovered from the last explosion. Skyhold and the Inquisition’s forces; the great armies of Orlais and Ferelden; even the Grey Wardens –
All laid to waste in black powder and fire to pave the way for an invasion, designed and directed by Meravas’s unmarked hand.
He felt like one microscopic cog in her catastrophic plan. Solas tasted ash. “I never thought of you as someone capable of doing this, Meravas,” he whispered.
“It seems we’re both disappointing each other today.”
“I am not a monster,” Solas snapped. “If this world must die, I would rather the people die in comfort!”
“And I would rather this world not die at all,” Meravas said, cold now. “History is fraught with disaster. Thedas survived the Breach. I have taken no pleasure in this. I will ache for the friends I have lost, feel guilt for those I have betrayed, but I did it to stop you. The people will survive the disruption. They will learn to respect their new leaders, and will find comfort in structure and order, and be grateful that I offered them salvation from your sundering. And now you will have nowhere in this world to hide.”
“Was any of it real?” he asked. “Was any part of you real?”
“I was always me, Solas. Just as you were always you. We were both blind to each other.” She issued a soft laugh. “Ironically, you were the reason I did not raise the issue of the elvhen threat to the Inquisition. I always suspected you were not loyal to the Inquisition, and that you had been stationed to spy on me. I could not have predicted your true nature. I admire that. I admire you. Not many people have managed to deceive me as you have.”
She was deserving of the same dues. “Nor have many others managed to deceive me as you have.”
“For what it’s worth, Solas: you have shown me that my people are wrong about magic, and the Fade. There is beauty in my power. The Fade is something to be admired.” She smiled once more, though there was a hint of pain in it. Her left hand flared. “Thank you for imparting your wisdom upon me. I hope, in time, I may be able to impart it to my people in turn.”
“Your people are terrified and hateful of magic.”
Her eyes narrowed at him. “I have my suspicions about why my people fear mages, but revere Qunari born without horns.”
“A discussion for another time, perhaps. There’s still the matter of the Anchor. It’s getting worse.”
“Yes,” Solas said. “I’m sorry. And we are almost out of time.”
Green flared; it crackled in the air. He could taste the raw power of the Fade, his own magic, singing in the air as it slowly took Meravas’s life.
“The mark will eventually kill you,” he said. “Drawing you here –”
Meravas rasped a laugh; he fell silent. “Even now you are so arrogant as to believe you are the only one pulling strings,” she said. She was in agony: sweat was beginning to bead on her forehead. Solas enjoyed seeing her composure crack. She still managed a wry smile. “My people found these Eluvians independently. We were once elves, I’m sure of it. Ghilan’nain’s monstrous creations, her elven slaves mutated with dragon’s blood, exiled out of disgust, and tamed by the Kossith. Elven slaves you turned your back on. ” She grimaced. “You have no room for us in your plan, do you, Solas? So eager to purge world of your peoples’ mistakes?”
His silence was enough to confirm her suspicions. He was not surprised she had worked that out, too. Humbled once more by a Qunari he had misjudged, humbled by a woman he hated he loved, even now, with the truth laid bare between them.
Corypheus was an arrogant fool who wrought destruction but lacked the intellect and patience to be considered a true threat. If what the Inquisitor said was true – the Qunari invasion had begun – then there was no peace left to keep, all he’d done to protect the people of this world from a few years of comfort had been for nought, and the Inquisitor’s life would serve no purpose. There was no reason to allow her to live. If she lived, she would hunt him down for the rest of her days.
Solas could not tolerate that threat – yet, she was the only one in this world who truly understood him.
And there was something rather thrilling about the idea of being hunted by this terrifying, magnificent woman.
“You would have made an exceptional Evanuris,” Solas murmured.
“You would have made an exceptional Ben-Hassrath.”
They did not smile at each other, not exactly, but it was something close to it. “Meeting you here gave me the chance to save you,” he said. “Take my hand.”
She extended her hand, the forearm consumed with the raw fury of the Fade. She did not cry out. Dignified even on her knees.
“I will stop you, Solas,” she said.
He equally had to stop her. He had thought this world would be given a mercy – to be at peace until the inevitable destruction. He had been a fool – too proud – to consider that some would fight for their right to survive. It would have hurt him to destroy the world Meravas made him care for; he had no such qualms about destroying the one Meravas had created to stop him. He knew as little about the Inquisitor as he’d originally thought, but one thing he did know for certain was that she would fight until the bitter end.
He hated how much he was looking forward to it.
“You may try,” Solas replied. He grasped her hand gently, and severed the Anchor from her spirit. The arm would be lost, but she was a mage of great talent; the loss would not impede her in any way. He spoke to her in her language: “Asit tal-eb.” It is to be.
“Banal nadas,” she replied in his, a challenge in her eyes. Nothing is inevitable. His lips quirked. Of course she knew elven.
“Ir abelas, falon,” he said. “Dareth shiral.” I am sorry, friend. Safe journey.
Her hand slipped from his. He turned away.
“Panahedan,” his enemy murmured. Take refuge in safety.
He stepped through the Eluvian, and into Meravas’s world of chaos.