Actions

Work Header

Pride (Didn't) Go Before The Fall

Chapter Text

The golden light of the candle on Ellana Lavellan's desk flickered as the door to her bedchamber opened with a squeal of rusty hinges. She didn't lift her head from the parchment, assuming it was her maid with the evening meal.

"Just leave it, please," she said, concentrating on each character in the letter. It was her reply to Divine Victoria, otherwise known as Cassandra, who'd sent them official word only two days ago that in six weeks they'd be expected to take part in the Exalted Council.

Footsteps entered the room, soft and slow. It wasn't the tread of her maid Millie. As Ellana looked up, blinking, her eyes opened wide as simultaneously her visitor spoke, "Vhenan."

"Solas," she said, breathing his name in a whisper. She put her pen back in its inkwell and rubbed at her eyes. "Did I fall asleep?"

"We are awake," he said and chuckled. She watched him move with the catlike grace she'd grown to love so much over the last few years, his feet almost soundless. She wanted to rise from her seat and embrace him but something stiff and stubborn—and wounded—kept her rooted to her seat.

Solas sat with a sigh at the end of her bed, setting his wooden staff down on the side closest to the door. He'd claimed that side as his own when he'd started sharing her bedchambers openly after the defeat of Corypheus. Back when he'd spent every night with her as her dedicated lover. Back when Millie and all of her advisers knew better than to enter the room without multiple loud knocks on the door and a few warning shouts.

She clenched her jaw, trying not to feel the stab of worry and pain in her chest. She missed those days and didn't dare let herself hope they'd ever begin again.

"You're upset," he said. It wasn't a question. He must've seen her expression, though he had only met her gaze for a moment before he began unslinging the pack he always wore while traveling.

"I missed you," she said and frowned at how hard her voice sounded. "I don't suppose you'll tell me now where you were or what you were doing?"

His pack thumped on the floor and he rolled his shoulders in their sockets. Ellana didn't miss the pop of a joint. "I apologize for my long absence," he said, shooting her a sidelong glance that she couldn't quite read. "I could not take the main roads for fear of bandits and Templars." He paused and his mouth worked into a frown. "And slavers."

"Solas," Ellana said, closing her eyes and covering her face with both hands as she found herself suddenly hot and shaky with some ugly, frustrated emotion she couldn't quite name. "You were gone almost three months. All spring."

"I know, vhenan," he said, sounding tired. "I am sorry. I reached out to you in dreams as often as I could."

She thumped her hands down on the desk and felt a brief, hard twist of satisfaction inside her when Solas' head jerked toward her. His blue-gray eyes met hers before he looked away. Was that shame she saw?

"Please, Solas," she said, the words quiet but her tone angry. "Where did you go? Why?" She closed her lips against the other words that pressed against her lips: Is there someone else? Have you tired of me? Have you chosen the Fade over me?

He met her gaze now, his lips twisting in a small smile. "I revisited the temple of Mythal."

Staring at him without blinking, Ellana waited for him to elaborate. After the silence stretched for several long seconds Solas dropped his gaze to his lap and absently brushed at his leggings as if cleaning off dust. When he looked up again his expression had softened. "I had hoped to find an artifact similar to the one Corypheus possessed in order to possibly gain a greater understanding of the magic used."

The artifact again, Ellana thought and kept herself from frowning with an effort. Solas had mourned that orb like it was a prized family heirloom and not just some oddity of unknown and dangerous power. It'd taken weeks for him to stop brooding about it after the final battle with Corypheus left it shattered.

"Did you have any luck?" she asked, letting a little tension out of her shoulders. The temple was a month's journey away by direct roads and Solas had said he hiked through the wilderness to avoid danger.

He shook his head, his lips down turned at the corners. "Unfortunately, no. However…" He leaned down to his discarded pack and began riffling through it until he pulled out a small square of blue silk tied into a knot. "I did find this."

Curiosity won out over her caution and lingering frustration with him. Ellana rose from her desk and strode to take the proffered silk knot. She tugged it loose carefully, opening the flaps of fabric to expose an arrowhead made of a dark green stone. A thin strip of black leather had been circled around the arrowhead's base, creating a necklace. Touching it with the fingers of her other hand, Ellana felt them tingle and sensed magic.

"It's made of stormheart. I found it in what was once an armory near the temple of Mythal," Solas explained, his voice quiet and soothing.

She almost closed her eyes at the sound of his voice, letting him lull her into complacency, but shook it off. "Did you enchant it?"

"I did," he answered and she heard the smile in his voice. "It will strengthen barriers cast over you." He chuckled and she cursed herself for nearly shivering at the velvety sound. "You've grown familiar with my magic, vhenan," he commented. "You may have latent talents yet."

"Not as familiar as I'd like," she murmured and dared meet his eye now, willing herself not to be upset but to move on. She had news. "I'm hoping you can take a break from wandering the wilds for a few months to accompany me to the Exalted Council."

His brow furrowed and his lips thinned. Her heart fell. Was he really about to say no to this? Instead he said, "Must you attend?"

She scoffed, shaking her head in consternation. "Solas—I am Inquisitor. Have you been away so long you've forgotten that?"

She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth as Solas' shoulders slumped and he crossed his arms over his chest. It was the body language of someone withdrawing from an unpleasant situation. "I did not mean for my absence to hurt you." He closed his eyes. "I thought of you every moment I was away." He paused a moment and then shook his head. "I do not want to have this argument with you, emma lath."

"Then perhaps you should not leave me for weeks on end to worry about you," she muttered, staring down at the beautiful stormheart arrowhead and blinking as angry tears sprang into her eyes. "Please come with me to the council," she said with a sigh. "I need your guidance."

"I doubt you will need a Fade expert at Halamshiral," Solas said, inching backward as if trying to run.

"Not a Fade expert," she countered, scowling. "Just you, emma lath." Why was he resisting so much?

Solas' jaw clenched and he raised his eyes to meet her gaze, a hard expression twisting his features. "Ellana," he said, using her name, "I do not wish to upset you, but with Corypheus now dead almost two years, I have come to believe the Inquisition no longer has purpose and will sink to corruption. The Inquisition should be disbanded to prevent such. There is no need for this Exalted Council."

Stunned, Ellana gawped for a moment, baffled and speechless. Solas had warned her on occasion that she should watch for spies as the Inquisition grew and changed. He'd counseled her on that even before Corypheus' defeat. Yet he'd never put it so bluntly before.

"We keep the peace," she said, shaking her head. Her eyes fell to the arrowhead still on its silk. Anger made her want to push it back at him, reject it. She didn't, clenching her fist around it instead. "We have purpose. We can't disband."

"Have you forgotten your position?" he asked, eyes narrowed slightly in challenge, the way he often did when trying to reeducate her on some bit of incorrect Elvhen history. "You are Inquisitor. You have but to give the order and it will be done."

"You expect me to just order everyone to lay down arms and go home?" she asked, her voice a growl. "It would be anarchy. The Inquisition does more good than either Orlais or Ferelden right now."

He looked exhausted, head drooping forward. "I'm sorry if this upsets you, but—"

"If you don't want to be here anymore, Solas—with me or with the Inquisition…" She broke off, sucking in a shaky breath as she thrust her fist with the silk square and the stormheart arrowhead inside it toward his chest. "Then go." Her jaw squared and her stomach clenched as Ellana waited for him to react.

Instead of anger or frustration or even more exhaustion, Solas appeared stricken, as if she'd slapped him. They stared at each other for a moment and Ellana watched as Solas' expression flashed something like despair for a moment before he seemed to shake his head once, as if shrugging off a spell. Then, slow but deliberate, he reached both his hands to her clenched fist holding the silk and held it in his grip, gentle but firm.

Staring at her over their joined hands, he said, "Ar lath ma, vhenan. Once we defeated Corypheus I did not stay to help the Inquisition. I stayed for you and only you."

She exhaled, suddenly realizing she'd been holding her breath. Her left hand burned along the mark, reacting to the stormheart arrowhead. The pain, though minor, broke the moment between them as Ellana hissed. She transferred the square of silk to her other hand and opened her left palm, staring into it to check on the Anchor.

Solas' gaze stayed on her, watching with a small frown. "Has it done this often?" he asked.

"No," she answered, flexing her hand.

Solas held her right hand, gently opening her palm and taking the stormheart arrowhead with a somber darkness in his deep gray eyes. "The Anchor is sensitive to Elvhen magic, as I suspected." He sighed. "I had not thought it would be this responsive."

"I thought you enchanted the arrowhead?" Ellana asked, then flashed a crooked, teasing smile. "Unless you're just looking to impress me passing off ancient Elvhen magic as your own."

His eyes flicked from the arrowhead to her and narrowed for a moment—he hadn't apparently found her comment funny. But after a beat he grinned. "I am a descendant of Elvhenan, as are you. My magic must be close enough for the Anchor to react. But I was of course looking to impress you." Slowly Solas unwound the thin leather strip from the arrowhead and stretched it, putting it over her head. "Yet," he whispered, "it is you who have impressed me, vhenan."

She laughed, using her right hand to touch the arrowhead where it hung at the base of her throat now. "And how do I impress you?"

He edged closer, his right hand rising to cup her cheek in a caress. "You are a marvelous spirit with wisdom to rival the ancients. You have changed this world, defeated Corypheus, and wielded unfathomable power spiritually and physically with an Inquisition that rivals nations. And yet you have not let it tarnish your virtue."

Laughing again, Ellana laid her hands on his chest, feeling the heat of his skin through his tunic. "How odd you should say that," she purred. "Because I'm having less than virtuous thoughts at the moment."

"As am I," he replied, his other hand moving to her waist and tugging her tight against him. He leaned into her, inhaling deeply. "How I missed you."

"And I you." Her heart pounded and her stomach flip-flopped with anticipation. Three months alone made her ache for him despite his vague explanation of where he'd been and what he'd been doing. Whatever spell he'd cast over her, Ellana had given up trying to escape it.

Solas closed the gap between them, kissing her with a hunger that made her moan with want. His hand at her waist dropped lower, pressing her hips to his. She arched into him, eager to feel his skin against her own. She opened her mouth to him and his tongue swept in to meet hers. He tasted of mint and something else that made her think of the delicious flavor of minerals dissolved in spring water.

The months apart dissolved away along with her tension as she slid her hands to his waist, gripping his belt and unlatching it. He sighed against her mouth, breaking away to trail soft kisses along her jaw and into the crook of her neck. His hands dug under her shirt to stroke his blunt nails over her bare skin. With a shiver, Ellana did the same, slipping her hands under his tunic.

"To bed then, vhenan?" he asked, nibbling her ear.

She shivered again, groaning as one of his hands found her breast. "Yes." She twisted her head to capture his lips again, breathing fast already. She let her right hand fall to the hard lump of his arousal and squeezed.

He broke the kiss to gasp, his breath shaky and his eyelids fluttering. "It has been far too long."

"It has," she agreed, her voice husky as she stepped back from him and undressed. Her skin felt warm under his hungry stare. He shed his clothing, somehow managing to do it both quickly and gracefully. Then he folded her in an embrace, his skin warm and smelling earthy, like pine.

They transitioned to the bed and Ellana pinned Solas beneath her, capturing his lips for another long, passionate kiss. When they broke it, breathing fast, Solas' eyes were wide and dark, dilated with his desire, but his features were soft with love. He stroked the arrowhead against her breastbone. Something like melancholy made his brow knit. "I should not have left you so long. Can you forgive me?"

"Will you come to the Exalted Council with me?" she countered, gripping his hand at her throat with her own and lifting his fingers to her mouth.

Hunger erased the sadness, just as she'd planned. "How could I not?"

Grinning, she kissed him again and maneuvered her hips, taking him inside her. He gasped against her mouth but she wouldn't let him go, keeping a grip on his shoulder with her free hand. He grabbed hold of her hip and moaned as she moved over him.

She sighed, indulging and enjoying herself with the taste of his mouth and then breaking the kiss to nuzzle his ear. He shuddered and held her as he sat up, moving with her as she ground against him.

"How long can I keep you tonight?" he asked, moaning with pleasure into her ear. His breath was hot as it puffed against her neck.

"All night," she said and laughed as he made a velvety noise in the back of his throat, apparently appreciating that length of time. "I won't let you escape now. You have three months to make up for."

He kissed her neck, nibbling. "Vhenan…"

The door to Ellana's bedchamber squeaked on its hinges then and a familiar female voice started to say, "I have your meal from the—" Millie cut herself off with a high-pitched croak and scrambled back out the door with the sound of clinking plates on her tray.

"Fenedhis," Solas said, the curse emerging as both growl and groan.

Ellana clung tighter to his shoulders and bit his ear. "Just like old times." As he chuckled she called to Millie, "Leave it there and close the door please. I am not to be disturbed."

"Of course, your worship," the maid said, squeaking. The door whined as it shut and Ellana heard footsteps thumping as they disappeared back down the hallway.

"Strange," Solas said against her skin, sighing as he stroked up and down her back. "She still thinks you divine even after—"

"You think too much," Ellana admonished, laughing as she kissed him again and ground her hips over him. She grinned with satisfaction when he moaned against her mouth. Pulling away to let them both breathe, she said, "Didn't Andraste have an elven lover, too? So it's only fitting."

Solas let out a gasping laugh. "Blasphemy," he teased, smiling and with his eyes half-closed, lidded with pleasure.

She picked up the pace, feeling the slick heat building inside her. Solas supported himself with one hand while the other guided her hips, his legs partway off the bed. She gripped him around the shoulders with both arms, leveraging her body over his lean frame. He kissed her throat as she tossed her head back, crying out as the climax seized her, sending pulses of pleasure through her. Solas grunted through gnashed teeth as he reached the peak just after her, his voice smooth even with orgasm.

Both of them sweaty and panting, Ellana found his lips for another long kiss. She kept clinging to him, moaning her satisfaction with each exhale.

Finally, when she'd caught her breath enough, Ellana chuckled. "I think we're both out of practice."

"Then we must remedy that," Solas said, husky and soft. "How long until the council?"

"Six weeks," she answered, shivering as he caressed her back. "You'll support me regardless of what happens there?"

He nuzzled her neck. "Ar lath ma, vhenan. My love is not conditional. I will support you whatever you decide."

She held his face with both hands, staring into his blue-gray eyes. "Promise?"

He smiled and she didn't miss the tinge of sadness in it before he pressed his forehead to hers. "I promise."

"Good," she said, smiling. That will have to do.

___________________________________________________

Author Note: I am still trying to work out how AO3 works. I have end notes for most of my chapters and it seems to display the first chapter's end notes together with the second chapter's end notes. So I am just going to tack them on down here or omit them where I can.

Elven Words/Phrases

Ar lath ma: I love you

Next Chapter teaser:

"Didn't you know?" Dorian asked, strolling up to within almost arm's length of Solas. He twisted his mustache as he spoke. "It's Ambassador Pavus now. I'm officially the token Tevinter for all of Southern Thedas. Isn't that delightful?"

"I suppose congratulations are in order then. I'm amazed to admit it, but the Imperium finally did something right." He let his smile broaden with a little smug edge to it.

"Yes," Dorian said with a sniff. "But don't say that loud enough for anyone to hear you. My countrymen have quite the reputation at stake what with destroying Arlathan, unleashing the blight on the world, and of course Corypheus and the Venatori." He sighed. "Well, now I've gone and depressed myself."

Chapter Text

If the musty smell of the horses didn't make Ellana vomit all over her formal attire in front of Halamshiral's nobility it'd be a miracle. The sway of the horse beneath her and the smell of its sweat and the distant stink of the city's sewage and docks all combined to churn her stomach. She stared forward, her head and shoulders held high, and hoped no one noticed her sweating or paleness.

Fen'Harel's balls, she cursed in her head. What did I eat?

Behind her, over the clip-clop of the horses' hooves, Ellana heard Josephine and Cullen chitchatting about the challenge awaiting them with the Exalted Council. She tried to focus on that rather than her constant queasiness.

"Another parade, another bloody negotiation," Cullen said, whining. She could imagine the snarl on his face.

"Smile everyone," Josephine admonished, her lovely accent like a caress on Ellana's ears even from a distance. "We must be careful how we present ourselves."

Ellana tried to follow Josephine's advice, but she knew it came out more as a grimace. Above them on terraced balconies she saw the Ferelden flag wafting in the wind. Men stood near it, shooting her and her retinue derisive glares. On the other side of her, also elevated above the common rabble, Ellana saw Orlesian nobles in all their silken finery—and wearing masks of course—despite the warm summertime sunshine beating down on them.

Cullen continued complaining: "Why did Divine Victoria call the Exalted Council? She's kept Orlais from bothering us for the last two years."

"At increasing political cost," Josephine reminded him, quick to defend Cassandra. "She's done all she could but the Exalted Council has now become necessary. Orlais would control us. And based on their many marriage proposals they have very specific plans for you."

Cullen groaned and Ellana heard him shifting on his mount. The horse grunted, jerking its head and making its bridle clink. She resisted the desire to twist and look at his disgusted expression. Poor Cullen had been fending off noblewomen's proposals of marriage ever since the ball over two years ago when Ellana saved Empress Celene from assassination.

Not to mention reunited her with Briala, Ellana thought, smirking for a moment before she saw an Orlesian noble gesture at her and quickly wiped the expression away.

"Our real concern is Ferelden," Josephine went on under her breath. "They would see us disbanded entirely."

Ungrateful bastards, Ellana thought and sighed. Of course Ferelden wasn't the only one that would happily see the Inquisition disbanded. She'd spent entirely too much time fighting with Solas about just that topic during the long journey here. She'd been fine hearing his opinion on it at first, but as the Exalted Council drew closer he'd become increasingly restless and insistent on it. For whatever reason, Solas really didn't want her to go and his solution had been that she should do Ferelden's job for it by ordering the Inquisition disbanded.

Her chest constricted at the thought that he had so little regard for everything she'd built with the Inquisition. When she questioned him Solas always had the same answer: the Inquisition would become corrupt and he wanted no part of that. Yet that didn't explain his reluctance to take part in the Exalted Council. Shouldn't he be eager for it since one possibility for the Inquisition was that the council might disband it?

They reached the gates of the winter palace. With a metallic clink and the whine of its hinges, the pair of guards standing watch opened the gate to admit Ellana and her retinue to the palace grounds proper. Ellana's horse tossed its head, nickering. The mare likely sensed that soon she'd be munching oats in the palace's luxurious stables. At least someone was excited about arriving.

They rode onto the grounds where more soldiers, both Orlesian and Inquisition, awaited them. A masked herald and several well-dressed servants also stood by, ready to greet Ellana, Cullen, and Josephine. The courtyard was empty, its white pavement and cobblestones pristine. Ellana tried not to think about her roiling stomach as she dismounted, fighting off a wave of vertigo at the change of position.

"Welcome again to the winter palace, Inquisitor Lavellan," the herald called out to her. "Greetings as well to Lady Ambassador Montilyet and Commander Cullen Rutherford."

Ellana stayed with her back to the guards, the servants, and the herald greeting her for several seconds, one hand over her stomach as she fought to find composure. She saw both Cullen and Josephine glance at her with perplexed expressions. Once her head had settled again, Ellana pivoted to face the herald and forced her lips into a smile.

"Thank you," she said. "It's a pleasure to be here once again."

The masked herald gave her a little bow, as did the servants. "Inquisitor, if you'd follow me, I will show you and your advisers to the honored guest wing where rooms have been prepared for you." He motioned toward the servants and ordered them, "Please unsaddle the horses and carry our guests' burdens to their respective rooms."

There were three servants, all of them elven. They bowed again and moved forward obediently, not making eye contact with Ellana or her advisers. Ellana started after the masked herald, willing her legs to be steady after the long horse ride. She heard both Josephine and Cullen following behind her along with a small entourage of Inquisition soldiers.

The herald chatted with them as he led them across the courtyard, telling Ellana that Empress Celene and Briala had prepared a dinner for her and her advisers that evening. The thought of eating made Ellana want to groan. Would the empress and her elven lover take more offense if she didn't eat or wound up vomiting after the first few bites? She'd have to ask Josephine.

The rooms provided to them proved spacious and as sumptuous as Ellana would've expected of Orlais. She had a bed big enough for three Qunari to fit in, with a silken bedspread in navy blue, walls paneled in gold and ivory trim and a bathtub larger than one of Lavellan clan's aravels. Cullen and Josephine's rooms were just down the hallway from her own corner suite. She had barely finished touring the room when a knock came at the door.

"Come in," Ellana called, leaving the enormous privy with its bath as the door opened and one of the elven servants from outside bowed to her.

"Your worship," the elf woman greeted her. In her arms she carried Ellana's saddlebags. "Where would you like these?"

Ellana directed her to place them on the bed and was about to make small talk with the elven servant—she couldn't help but notice the woman didn't have an Orlesian accent—when she heard Josephine's voice from the door. "Inquisitor?"

"Yes?" Ellana called. "Come in, Josie."

"Ah," Josephine said as she stepped into the room, taking in the place. "A lovely room, very good." She surveyed the area for a moment before her eyes fell on Ellana and her lips twisted slightly, her hands wringing together with worry. "Are you all right, Lady Lavellan? You looked quite…" She paused, clearly searching for the proper word. "Faint, earlier. Are you ill?"

Aware of the servant behind her still unloading the saddlebags on the bed, Ellana hesitated before bluffing. "I'm fine, Josie. You worry too much."

Josephine smiled, obviously relieved. "Oh good. I had feared I would have to postpone the dinner scheduled with the empress and the marquise tonight." She chuckled. "It would be a most inauspicious start to the Exalted Council if we were to renege on our first important event."

The servant finished behind her and left the room, her gait drawing Ellana's attention. There was something proud in her step and the set of her shoulders that didn't fit with a servant. Must be one of Briala's spies, Ellana thought. As soon as the servant was gone Ellana confided in Josephine. "I am a little concerned I may have eaten something that didn't agree with me."

"Oh, dear," Josephine said, frowning. "I will have some ginger sent to your room with your tea." She hesitated, one hand on her hip. "Will I have to postpone the dinner?"

"I haven't thrown up on my formalwear yet," Ellana said and laughed at Josephine's horrified expression. "So I think there's hope I'll make it just fine through dinner, especially with ginger in my tea."

"Very well," Josephine said and started for the door. "I will see to it at once. But should your health deteriorate, please let me know as swiftly as possible." She shut the door after herself, leaving Ellana alone for the moment.

Mythal's mercy, she thought and sighed. Please don't let me humiliate myself in front of everyone tonight.

She strode to the window, the silken curtains currently tied back to allow the most natural light into the room as possible. She unlatched the window and pushed it open, letting a warm breeze flow into the stuffy air of her chamber. Her view was out into the courtyard where already nobles had gathered, dressed in all their finery for the Exalted Council. Servants flitted between groups of chatting nobles, carrying wine or buckets of decoratively shaped ice that'd no doubt been created by a host of mages hired for just such purpose.

Somewhere in that courtyard Ellana knew Solas would be lingering, likely in a busy corridor where he could fade into the background and eavesdrop. He wouldn't be dressed in the same formalwear as he'd worn to the peace negotiations before Corypheus' defeat, which meant he'd be mistaken by virtually everyone as a servant.

She smiled to herself, knowing nothing could be further from the truth. Her Fade expert, regardless of his humble garb and loner nature, had never been subservient. He had the allure and wisdom of a leader, even if he'd never embraced it. She dug at the neckline of her formalwear until she'd managed to touch the stormheart arrowhead she wore beneath it and ignoring the tingle of magic it set off in her fingers. He'd never given her jewelry before. What had motivated him to do it now?

A knock came at her door then and a voice called out, "Tea for you, worship!"

_________________________________________________________________

"You there, rabbit," a man with an Orlesian accent shouted to Solas' left. He turned his head, keeping his expression impassive as he watched an Orlesian noble with a black mustached mask striding toward him. When the man saw he had Solas' attention he held up his slender champagne glass. "We require more refreshments over there on the balcony overlook."

When Solas didn't immediately leap into action, merely continued staring at the Orlesian, the man harrumphed and drew closer with an intimidating swagger. "What are you doing just standing around?" he demanded. "Where is your superior? I demand to—"

"Apologies," Solas said and stood up from his spot leaning on the courtyard wall. "I am not able to help you as I am not a servant in the winter palace. I am a guest of the Exalted Council." He allowed a small smile to twist one corner of his lip as he added, "And a mage." A little intimidation never hurt.

The Orlesian sputtered for a moment and despite the shadows of his mask, Solas didn't miss the man's quick up and down scrutiny, sizing him up. Solas wore robes in gray and green that looked nothing like the usual servant garb worn by the elves at the winter palace. He'd even left on the armband Josephine had provided him to ensure he and many of Ellana's previous inner circle could gain admittance to the palace grounds with little trouble. The armband had the Inquisition's symbol embroidered on it boldly and it was even on Solas' left arm, facing the Orlesian nobleman. Somehow the thickheaded man had still managed to confuse Solas with the servants.

"Oh," the man said, apparently seeing Solas' clothing and the armband at long last. Solas felt sure the man would be blushing with humiliation if his cheeks had been visible. "My apologies…sir." The way he twisted the last word made it clear he couldn't believe or tolerate the fact he had to say something polite to an elf.

Had Solas not been as tense as Ellana's bowstring before she fired an arrow he might've let the man leave without further comment. Instead he let himself chastise the fool. "Perhaps your mask obstructed your view or the heat of the afternoon has clouded your mind, but might I perhaps suggest you think before speaking next time."

The nobleman's lips twisted with a snarl. "Outrageous," he said and turned on his heel, marching away.

A familiar voice spoke up from Solas' right this time, laughing. "I see the last two years haven't made you any jollier, Solas."

Solas didn't restrain the slight smile tugging on his lips now as he saw Dorian approaching him with his usual confident swagger. He arched an eyebrow. "Ah, Dorian. I'm sorry; you're going to have to speak up. Two years later and I still cannot hear you over your outfit."

"That's no excuse. Didn't you know?" Dorian asked, strolling up to within almost arm's length of Solas. He twisted at his mustache as he spoke. "It's Ambassador Pavus now. I'm officially the token Teviner for all of Southern Thedas. Isn't that delightful?"

"I suppose congratulations are in order then. I'm amazed to admit it, but the Imperium finally did something right." He let his smile broaden with a little smug edge to it.

"Yes," Dorian said with a sniff. "But don't say that loud enough for anyone to hear you. My countrymen have quite the reputation at stake what with destroying Arlathan, unleashing the blight on the world, and of course Corypheus and the Venatori." He sighed. "Well, now I've gone and depressed myself."

Changing the subject, Solas cleared his throat. "Were you looking for the Iron Bull?"

"Yes," Dorian said, looking down to his sleeves and tugging on them. "But I already found him and caught up." He flashed Solas a grin. "I'm afraid you can't get rid of me that easily. I actually did stop to chat with you, specifically." He shifted in his spot, surveying Solas for a moment. "Funny how things work out with you and I being the last to leave after Corypheus' defeat. Who would have thought a loner hedge mage and a Tevinter 'spy' would have that kind of devotion?"

Wary, Solas didn't answer right away. He knew Ellana was close friends with Dorian and that had been one of the primary reasons the Tevinter mage hadn't left Skyhold for close to a year after Corypheus' defeat. Eventually he'd been drawn back to Tevinter, though. Ellana missed him a great deal and he had little doubt the two would immediately fall back into their close friendship during the next few weeks as the Exalted Council continued. But now he wondered what Dorian had heard. Had he already spoken with Ellana and listened as she confided some frustration about himself? Was Dorian needling him about his prolonged absence from Skyhold, hinting at disapproval that he and Ellana hadn't made some sort of official commitment to each other, or was it something else entirely?

Did Dorian know the Imperium crawled with Solas' spies? Had he learned of long prized and hidden Elvhen artifacts disappearing? Had he heard of slavers and cruel slave owners being slaughtered—in their dreams—by powerful elven mages?

"Yes," Solas answered with a nod of his head, hoping to convey nonchalance rather than the wary, tight energy he actually felt. "Odd where life takes us."

"How is she?" Dorian asked, arching an eyebrow. "I assume things are well between you."

"Ellana is well," he answered, restraining the relieved sigh building in his throat. Dorian was just after gossip after all. That was simple enough to handle.

"When is the wedding?" Dorian asked suddenly, a mischievous smile spreading over his lips.

Solas frowned. "Dalish do not marry. Wh—"

Dorian scoffed, interrupting him. "Rubbish, man. You're not Dalish. Is it because she is? Sod it all, you've only been together…what? Three years? Four?" He shook his head and scratched absently at his scalp, ignoring Solas' disapproving scowl.

"The Dalish do not marry," Solas repeated. "They take bond partners. But that's hardly—"

"Oh, so when is the bonding ceremony, then? Because you can't expect me to believe Ellana wouldn't invite me." He laughed as Solas looked away, rolling his eyes. "You cannot tell me you haven't any interest in the matter. It must have come up in the years you've been together."

Maybe gossip wasn't as simple or easy as Solas had expected. Crossing his arms over his chest, he jerked his chin in the direction of the tavern where Iron Bull was drinking. "Since you're so keen on this topic, perhaps you can explain to me why you and Iron Bull are not married."

Dorian burst out laughing, nearly doubling over for a moment as he held his stomach. "Oh, Solas, that was a truly wretched attempt to change the subject." He caught his breath and stared at Solas, grinning. "But surely you can see Bull and I are in a vastly different situation."

"Hardly," Solas said, almost snarling. He wanted to lecture Dorian about his relationship with Iron Bull just to turn the tables on the Tevinter, but he didn't want to encourage the other man to continue thinking along the lines of marriage. That and he preferred not to consider Dorian and the Iron Bull sexually. So he tried honesty instead and said, "I'd rather not discuss it."

"It's a surprise then," Dorian said, a glimmer in his eye as if he'd suddenly grasped a tricky new concept. "Ah, I see."

"Excuse me?" Solas asked, still scowling but less with disapproval and now more confusion. Dorian wasn't just toying with him or seeking out gossip—he'd been put on this conversation somehow. "I must have missed something."

"The dwarf," Dorian explained, his brow furrowing. "Varric. He mentioned something about a proposal involving the Inquisitor in front of me and the Divine Seeker." He sighed and shook his head. "I should have known."

"I should prepare to receive more such questions then," Solas murmured, more to himself than to Dorian.

"Probably," Dorian said, chuckling. "And you should learn to answer them better."

Spotting a familiar servant rounding the corner behind Dorian, Solas dipped his head slightly in acknowledgement, eager to make his escape. "If you'll excuse me."

"Right, right," Dorian quipped. "Off you go."

Solas retreated with as much speed as he could while also maintaining some dignity. He was ahead of the servant by a dozen feet or so and made sure to slow his pace as he rounded the corner and headed for an alley behind a little marketplace. He cast a look over his shoulder, very briefly seeking out the servant. She met his eye once and then looked away.

In the alley Solas casually leaned against the wall, covertly searching the area for anyone within earshot as he fished a small parchment scroll from his robes. The servant took her time entering the alley, carrying a tray with a bucket containing decorative ice shapes inside. "Ice, my lord?" she asked.

"Ar-melana dirthavaren," Solas replied, narrowing his eyes at her.

She nodded. "Revas vir-anaris."

Extending the scroll out to her, Solas smiled. "Ma serannas."

She ducked her head as low as she could without dislodging the bucket of ice on her tray. He didn't miss her whispered reply: "Fen'Harel enansal."

She walked away, her head high and her gait confident. His brow knit, irritated that despite having infiltrated the winter palace two months ago Lanya still hadn't managed to emulate the other elven servants as well as he'd like. But he knew from personal experience how difficult it was to adjust to this wretched, backwards world they'd woken into. At least uthenera hadn't claimed Lanya's sleek black hair the way it had his.

Not for the first time today he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose as he struggled to calm the little flutter of panic in his chest. How many times had he told himself he should leave the Inquisition and Ellana? How many times had he sworn to stop being Fen'Harel, falling silent for weeks at a time with his spies, only to return again? Whatever choice he made, Solas endured the hot stab of shame and guilt that tore into him.

He'd balanced two personas since the fall of Corypheus: Solas and the Dread Wolf. They were different elves now, different men. Mortal and god, he thought with a sneer. Mortal Solas wanted to pledge his life to Ellana, to leave the Elvhen in the past and focus on restoring this world at her side, even knowing it'd ultimately fail. But the Dread Wolf had a will of his own and struggled against Solas, as slippery as a slimy fish and just as desperate to survive. The Dread Wolf wouldn't let him be happy. It wouldn't let him forget that he'd destroyed Elvhenan by creating the Veil and he deserved no happiness for such heinous crimes. Certainly he didn't deserve the love of a beautiful spirit like Ellana.

But he'd always been selfish and every time he tried to give her up it failed. The first time, when he'd taken her to Crestwood after visiting the temple of Mythal, he'd planned to reveal everything and accept her hatred as soon as she learned he was the monster who'd destroyed the People and their world. But the thought of her turning away from him hurt too much—it still made him feel as though he couldn't breathe thinking about it even now. So he'd offered a half-truth instead and removed her vallaslin and he'd sworn to give up the Dread Wolf for Ellana. She would never know the truth and he would never have to lose her.

Trouble was the Dread Wolf just wouldn't die. His spies still sought updates. New Elvhen awoke from uthenera and Solas' closest lieutenants always knew where to find and recruit them if they could. Lanya was just one such Elvhen recruit, but Solas had dozens of others—Elvhen who he'd known before the long sleep and even before the Veil. Most of the newer recruits and elves born in this world didn't know who he was on sight, though he'd met all of them in the Fade through their dreams to take their reports and test their mettle. But in dreams he always came as the wolf, an enormous black beast with a multitude of glowing red eyes. It was the monster that haunted the Dalish elves' legends.

Like a lyrium addict, Solas just couldn't give up control of it. He couldn't stop playing the Game.

And now he had to deal with this accursed Exalted Council and it was already such a mess. The three months he'd been away from Skyhold and Ellana had been spent sabotaging the Qunari who'd infiltrated the eluvians and sections of the Crossroads. As much as he hated the Qunari, he had to grudgingly admit they were thorough in their tenacity to understand and conquer the ancient Elvhen artifacts they'd acquired, putting their discoveries to malicious use so fast it'd stunned even him. They had spies in the palace, brushing shoulders with his own. They'd infiltrated the Inquisition as well, despite his covert efforts to root them out.

Fenedhis, he'd seen battlefields that were easier to manage than this.

And in the thick of it was Ellana, his vhenan, with no idea the Qunari had painted a huge red target on her back using her own Inquisition. He wasn't sure yet how to stop them and save her without showing his hand in it all. He'd hoped she would disband the Inquisition or refuse to attend the Exalted Council, but of course he wasn't that lucky.

He sensed a presence nearby and lifted his head, opening his eyes to find Cole now standing against the hall opposite him. "The path forks," the spirit boy said. "One dry, brittle, crumbling. The other dark, overgrown, ugly. The wolf stops, torn, twisted, aching, but time flows on…"

"Hello Cole," Solas greeted him with a warm smile. "Have you helped many people here today?"

"A few," Cole replied, not making eye contact under the broad brim of his hat. "Most are fuzzy here, distracted and…empty."

"That would be the nobility," Solas said, still smiling. He knew how to keep parts of himself shielded from the spirit to reduce what Cole might read from him but doing so took considerable mental effort. It was one of the reasons he'd been avoiding Cole over the last year. Before Corypheus' defeat Solas hadn't been as active in his own spy network, making it easier to hide that aspect of himself. Now the challenges of being Fen'Harel were frequently at the forefront of his thoughts and worries, making them easier for Cole to access. Fortunately Cole's oblique way of expressing things made most people ignore what he had to say.

"I saw Varric," Cole announced, slipping into a more lucid moment. "He still calls me kid." The spirit boy grinned, innocent and sweet as the sentiment he represented: Compassion.

"It would seem the years have not changed him," Solas said, chuckling.

"Yes," Cole said and his eyes fixed on Solas then, seeing him in a way that made Solas' skin prickle and his muscles tense. "Things changing, water pulling in every direction, can't breathe, can't swim, can't let go…drowning."

That would be Solas' fear of losing control over the giant mess that was the Exalted Council. He sighed, closing his eyes. "Please, Cole." He raked his mind, searching for something to distract the spirit with, to redirect his purpose and coming up empty to his shame. His mind brimmed with other concerns: arranging meet ups with his spies, managing his people in the Crossroads, rooting out Qunari operatives in both the Inquisition and the palace's servant staff, and still doing a passable job of being Solas, Inquisitor Lavellan's lover and Fade expert.

Not to mention he had to find a moment to sleep in all of that to make contact via dreams with his agents in Tevinter…

Cole cocked his head to one side, his eyes losing their focus. "They were dead all along. There was no island." Then suddenly he gasped, eyes widening. "Sorrow comes…"

Solas frowned, making a connection out of Cole's last comment, and at that moment he heard the quick tread of steps on the pavement. He recognized Lanya as she rounded the corner, her expression tight and her movements quick and tense. Her blue eyes flicked once to Cole and then she turned away, disregarding the spirit. Like Solas, she knew who Cole was and that he presented no threat.

"Hahren," she said, her words curt but respectful. "A message." She pulled out a small scroll from inside the vest she wore as part of her server's uniform.

Solas took it quickly with a nod and Lanya walked away, returning to her work as a servant rather than an agent of the Dread Wolf. She knew where he'd leave a message for her if he needed to make a reply. They couldn't afford to cross paths and exchange words too often—someone was bound to notice if they did. The last thing Solas needed was for Dorian or Sera or Varric or Cassandra to see him lingering with another elf and report it to Ellana as gossip. With no one but Cole in earshot or watching, Solas read the scroll, finding it in written elven, all but indecipherable to most modern elves and humans alike. Along with the text the writer had drawn a detailed image of rounded barrels that Solas recognized only too well.

Danger increases at the Crossroads. The pack cannot contain it without its leader. The Dragon's Breath must be stopped. Its fire has spread in secret and shadow, through mirrors without reflection, all across the south. Halamshiral as well. The Dragon will unleash its fury very soon. Will the Wolf stand against the Dragon in the coming week? –Abelas

Rerolling the scroll and tucking it away, Solas left the alley with merely a nod in Cole's direction, knowing the spirit wouldn't begrudge him the sudden departure. Abelas was his lieutenant in the Crossroads, fighting the Qunari scourge there with guerilla attacks in Solas' stead. He'd hoped for good news from Abelas but expected bad and of course this scroll met those expectations. Abelas hadn't been able to disrupt the Qunari plans or reclaim the network of eluvians Solas' people had lost. And now Dragon's Breath had moved on Halamshiral and the Exalted Council, just as he'd feared.

The Dread Wolf had found him again, closing its jaws on his throat, but this threat endangered Ellana as well. Solas and alter ego alike had to act immediately.

Marching past the little tavern where Sera was laughing and Iron Bull drinking, Solas made his way into the courtyard with the fountain at the foot of the winter palace's grand staircase. Varric stood near the fountain, speaking with a human. The dwarf's back was to him so Solas didn't hesitate as he hurried past. If Varric noticed him he didn't call out.

Guards blocked the entrance to the palace, their eyes narrowing at him as he approached. "State your business," one ordered him when he didn't veer away to the right or left staircase and upper balconies.

"My name is Solas. I'm with the Inquisition," Solas reassured them, offering a humble little smile. He twisted slightly, letting them see the armband. "Inquisitor Lavellan summoned me." The lie flew so easily off his tongue even he could believe it, but he hoped these guards wouldn't question him or send a servant in to find Ellana and confirm his story with her.

The glint of amusement in the guard's eye and the curl of his lips into a leering smile told Solas the man had heard his name before and knew of the rumors about himself and Ellana. The guard grunted and gestured at his partner. "Let him in."

The other guard did as he'd been ordered and Solas thanked them politely before heading inside. He made an effort to keep his gait relaxed and his pace unhurried though his skin was prickling and his body flushed with heat. He knew where the palace kept its eluvian locked away and he knew how to activate it. In only a few minutes he would be in the Crossroads himself. He would answer Abelas' question personally.

Unfortunately he expected he'd miss Ellana whenever she emerged to speak with their old friends. She'd be upset, of course, and he'd have to come up with a good excuse for the absence, but he'd worry about that later.

_____________________________________________

Author Note: Still getting used to AO3. I have end notes on my chapters for translations and such. I haven't figured out how to italicize the text either, unless I have to just go through highlighting everything and using the HTML code, which would be a pain since I use italics a lot. Anyway, live and learn. Notes from original posting follow.

My notes from original post
Elven Words/Phrases:

Ar-melana dirthavaren. Revas vir-anaris: Fen'Harel's secret greeting. Translation unknown, but "Ar" is a personal pronoun, I. Melana is time. Dirthavaren seems to refer to "the promise" of the Dales, but that could be a modern meaning. Deconstructing it down "Dirth" has to do with knowledge, "var" is our and "en" could be the suffix for plurality so "ours." Revas is freedom, vir is path or way. As for anaris, I have no idea but in "bellanaris" meaning eternity we know "bel" is many so "anaris" would have to refer to the time part possibly? Unless it actually references the Forgotten One by that name? So: I/me time our(plural) promise/knowledge. Freedom path/way (forever?) Maybe something like I Promise Everyone the Path of Everlasting Freedom? Except it's two sentences so I'm stumped. I Promise my Time? The Freedom path [something possibly to do with time]. Yeah, I give up.

Ma serannas: Thank you

Fen'Harel enansal: Dread Wolf's blessing

Next Chapter teaser:

"Don't you feel better, my dear?" Vivienne asked as she sat up and surveyed Ellana, only to answer her own question. "Oh dear, you look dreadful. Are you all right?"

"It's passing," Ellana said, swallowing with an effort and sucking in several deep breaths.

"What ever is the matter?" Vivienne asked with a cluck of her tongue. "Usually this place works miracles."

"I've been feeling…off most of the day," Ellana admitted, wiping again at the slime left by the cheese. "The smell of the cheese is what's bothering me. And the horses earlier."

Chapter Text

The sun remained high enough by the time Ellana finished the dinner with Celene and Briala that it could still be considered afternoon. The so-called "dinner" had been more of a late lunch and mercifully short. Josephine's suggestion about ginger in her tea had worked wonderfully on Ellana's stomach right up until she smelled some of the more potent main courses that included seafood delicacies. Yet, luckily, Ellana had managed to keep her composure.

Now she found herself wandering the palace grounds, searching for Cassandra—Divine Victoria as most everyone insisted on calling her, even in private. The scent of alcohol from the tavern made her now full stomach clench at the stink of it so she marched right by it despite catching Iron Bull's eye and seeing Sera inside as she passed. Mother Giselle had told her she could find Cassandra on the balcony overlooking the countryside and Ellana found the former Seeker there as promised, but as she called out to her in greeting Cassandra flinched.

"Is everything all right?" Ellana asked as she took in Cassandra's enormous hat and Chantry robes with a smirk of amusement. Caasandra had told her once that she despised hats and looked terrible in them—but Ellana suspected everyone looked terrible in that hat.

Cassandra blinked a few times, still appearing stricken. "Yes, well. I…wanted to speak with you. And now you're here." She strode closer, her brusque motion still looking better suited to armor than robes.

A weight pressed on Ellana's shoulders. Whatever Cassandra wanted to talk about, it couldn't be good. "This seems serious."

"It's not about me," Cassandra went on. "It's about you." She fell silent, staring and blinking at Ellana. "Maybe you should sit."

What is this about? Ellana wondered. "I can stand," she told Cassandra, trying not to reveal how perturbed she felt seeing the warrior so shaken.

"Maybe I should sit," Cassandra said and looked toward the short stairs leading down to the overlook. She walked to them and sat, her back ramrod straight and shoulders squared as she stared straight ahead. Almost reluctant, Ellana followed and took a seat beside her, careful not to step on her white robe.

"Inquisitor," Cassandra began, finally launching into whatever dark topic clearly bothered her so much. "I want you to know that I am your friend. I will always be your friend."

Mythal have mercy, where is she going with this?

Ellana spoke up quickly, hoping to ease the strange tension in the air. "Oh, well, that's—"

"So I hope to give you sound advice on this momentous day," Cassandra said, interrupting Ellana. The expression on her face had changed from the tense awkwardness of before to something almost…tender? "Do what is in your heart, my friend. No matter what anyone might tell you," she finished with a small smile on her lips.

"That's…a lovely sentiment, Cassandra," Ellana said and meant it, but her head felt thick with confusion. Why would this work Cassandra up so much? Had she perhaps gotten wind of Solas' strong opinions about disbanding the Inquisition?

Now Cassandra turned her head slightly, staring off at a nearby point on the concrete as she launched into what Ellana could tell by her tone was a sort of soft reprimand. "Marriage is much more than a 'lovely sentiment,' Inquisitor."

"Marriage?" Ellana asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Yes," Cassandra said, her tone one of exasperation now. "Maker knows it's been a long time coming, but Solas has been…" As understanding dawned Ellana quickly turned her head away, but not before her expression must have revealed the truth to the other woman. "You're not proposing," she realized aloud. "To anyone."

Cassandra stood up, as fast if she'd been stung by a bee. Her hands clenching into fists. "I am going to kill Varric," Cassandra promised. "Why do I believe everything he says? Why?"

"Might I interject something?" a familiar voice asked from behind Ellana on the stairs and she twisted to look over her shoulder as Dorian stepped onto the balcony overlook.

"Dorian," Ellana said, grinning with joy at the sight of her friend—and glad for the distraction from this difficult conversation. She got to her feet, ignoring the little wave of dizziness that swept through her at the action. "Or should I say Ambassador Pavus?"

He smiled at her, full of warmth. "Just Dorian for you, old girl."

"What do you want, Tevinter?" Cassandra asked with a scowl, still angry that Varric had tricked her.

"Your Holiness," he said, addressing Cassandra and striding toward her with his arms opened to her as if he would embrace her but she made no move to reciprocate and he dropped the stance to motion at Ellana. "I think you're missing an excellent opportunity. Rather than direct your divine wrath at Master Tethras, you and I should combine efforts in an unprecedented union of the Imperium and the Chantry to apply political pressure on our darling Fade expert."

"What?" Ellana asked, making a face. "There's really no need…"

"I already took the liberty of questioning Solas a few hours ago," Dorian added with a mischievous grin aimed at Ellana. "I gathered from his reaction nothing was actually planned. But that doesn't mean we can't set things in motion."

Ellana bit the inside of her cheek and averted her eyes, a wave of heat passing through her at this topic. As much as she'd love to have Solas come forward with a promise of a deeper commitment, the last thing she wanted was for Dorian to embarrass or pressure Solas on her behalf. He was private and reserved and she'd learned to respect his boundaries, which included few public displays of his affection and no gossip. She didn't think he ever sought out advice and he certainly wasn't one to boast.

"Dorian," she began, her tone hesitant. "I'm not sure that's—"

"What?" he asked, his eyebrows leaping into his forehead and his mouth falling open. "You mean to tell me you don't want him to make an honest elf out of you?"

Cassandra made a disapproving noise in her throat and started to speak over Dorian, her expression firm and yet also sympathetic. "If you do not wish to discuss it, Inquisitor, then we will respect your wishes. Isn't that right, Dorian?"

"Naturally," he agreed smoothly, barely sparing a glance in Cassandra's direction before focusing again on Ellana, a knowing look in his eyes. "But really, you wouldn't have believed the way Solas squirmed. That's not the reaction of a man who hasn't given thought to it."

"Solas gives thought to everything," Ellana pointed out, refusing to acknowledge the way her heart picked up at the mere suggestion. The stormheart arrowhead felt suddenly warm against her skin as she remembered wondering why he'd decided to give her such a gift. In her clan betrothal gifts were common, but they were usually something practical—a bow, a staff, a blade, or new cookware. But Ellana had everything she could want when it came to practicality, so what would be appropriate for the Inquisitor?

The answer resounded inside her head, loud and clear and making her cheeks suddenly flush with warmth. He'd give her something defensive or protective, of course, to help her in battle because she wasn't a hunter of the People anymore.

"Yes, he told me the Dalish don't marry," Dorian said with a smirk. "I swear that elf knows everything. Or thinks he does."

"The Dalish do not marry?" Cassandra repeated, her face open and slack with surprise. "How can that be?"

"We take bond partners," Ellana explained with a shrug. "And swear oaths to Sylaise."

"Who?" Cassandra asked, shaking her head, still hopelessly confused.

Ellana's shoulders slumped. "Never mind." She faced Dorian again. "The point is I'd prefer you both not discuss this with him." She pinched her lips together, refusing to say more despite the anxious knot in her chest as her thoughts on the arrowhead continued to swell in her mind. If Solas had meant it to be a betrothal gift he'd have said as much. The arrowhead had been his way of apologizing for being away for so long, that was all.

Well, that and the sleepless night of lovemaking.

"Ah, but you want to discuss it," Dorian said with a chuckle and an arched eyebrow. "The look on your face, old girl…"

Before she could stop herself she snorted, laughing a moment before cutting herself off and squaring her shoulders. "Enough, Dorian. I'm serious. I have enough to worry about with the Exalted Council. I don't need you meddling in my relationship."

Dorian clucked his tongue with disappointment. "All right then, have it your way."

"Where is Solas?" she asked, quickly glancing around as if worried he might wander into the awkward conversation.

"I haven't seen him," Cassandra said with an apologetic look.

"I have, obviously," Dorian said and motioned in the direction of the courtyard. "He was over there, being mistaken for one of the hired help. After that I saw him marching for the palace, off to lecture with politicians and Chantry sisters about the true nature of spirits, demons, and the Fade I assumed."

Cassandra chuckled. "He would do that—and I would have to play mother hen later when they came to me for reassurance." She looked to Ellana. "Perhaps you should find him."

"Yes," Dorian added, laughing. "And keep him suitably occupied." He winked at her.

"I will…see what I can do," Ellana said, clearing her throat and fighting the blush stealing over her cheeks. For Cassandra she said, "I wouldn't want to cause you any trouble, Divine Victoria."

"For you it is no trouble, Inquisitor," Cassandra reassured her with a nod. Somehow the ridiculous hat of the Divine didn't come toppling off her head. She smiled, managing to look serene despite the mean scar on her jaw and the militant set of her shoulders.

Dorian sighed. "I suppose I should go mingle with the other ambassadors."

__________________________________________________________

The light in the Crossroads had a splintered look, glinting rose and green and gray against Solas' eyes as he stared across the distance between the floating islands. He'd emerged through a previously dark eluvian onto an island of rough gray-black stone. A waterfall splattered the rock ahead and far beyond he saw Qunari warriors charging over a rock bridge that should have been magically-masked. He knew where they were headed: the eluvian leading to the Deep Roads where their lyrium mine waited.

Well, it was their lyrium mine now. Like every other race in Thedas, the Qunari were growing increasingly adept at claiming Elvhen possessions and repurposing them. He felt an old, simmering rage heating his blood.

Because the Crossroads was a construct, neither Fade nor waking world, Solas didn't need to use the bridges linking the islands. Gravity still worked here, to an extent, but magic users could bend such rules or even appear to break them completely. He'd hoped to use this against the Qunari by deliberately leaving most of the bridges between the islands masked. Unfortunately the Qunari mages, called saarebas in Qunlat, had surprised him with how quickly they learned how to discharge the magic stored in the orbs along the islands, unmasking the bridges so their forces could cross at will. They'd even learned how to make a few bridges stay on permanently.

At least the saarebas still didn't understand they might be able to bypass the bridges entirely the same way the agents of Fen'Harel did using Fade step.

All of the people he'd stationed in the Crossroads were Elvhen mages with enough strength and skill that they could Fade step over the gaps between the islands. It wasn't flying or teleporting, but to the Qunari it'd look suitably intimidating and impossible—a nice perk for him and all of his people.

In a blur Solas flitted from the island with the eluvian connecting to Halamshiral and onto the path leading to the Deep Roads. He burst out of it in the middle of their group and immediately blasted them with a veilstrike. Three of the warriors fell off into the void, their cries thin and pathetic. The saarebas wheeled to face Solas along with one other surviving warrior who managed not to fall over the side.

Solas cast a barrier, shielding himself from the fireball the saarebas sent hurtling at him. Then he summoned Fade stone, creating a fist of it on his staff and flinging it at the saarebas. The Qunari mage ducked and yelped, falling over the edge.

The remaining warrior roared and charged at Solas, his spear held high. Calling another veilstrike, Solas simply swept him aside without even a grunt of effort. The warrior cursed and cried out as he fell, but the sounds died away quickly, leaving nothing but the ongoing hiss of water from the islands nearby. And, of course, the unending song of the Crossroads.

Rubbing his face with one hand, Solas walked back toward the island opposite the one with the Deep Roads eluvian. As soon as he stood on the solid stone, staring down at his feet in deep thought, he sighed. How many times had he come through here and intercepted them? How many times had he masked this bridge, hoping to trap them in the Deep Roads? How many times had he chased them into the Deep Roads to cut them down there, too?

The Qunari had numbers and time on their side and they weren't stupid, as much as he wished they were. He'd lost two of Abelas' sentinels over the three months he'd been fighting their incursion into the Crossroads. That was far, far too many. Every Elvhen agent was precious, each one a holdover from uthenera like himself and the only ones who recalled the way the world should be.

With a wave of one arm, his fingers glowing green, he recalled the stone bridge. It groaned, detaching from the island with the Deep Roads eluvian and slowly disappearing. Another saarebas would just reinstate the bridge eventually, but at least this would hinder them a little.

He turned to the eluvian behind him. This one led to a picturesque valley with a lake and several large watchtowers. In the time of Elvhenan Solas had called it Revasan, the place where freedom dwells. He knew the valley now was robed in green splendor, wild and unmarked by humans or elves except for the ruined watchtowers. It was barely a memory of the sanctuary it'd been, where once the People had flourished, living much like the Dalish off the land. They'd spat on the names and markings of the Evanuris and exalted the Dread Wolf for freeing them. They'd flocked to him, their faces bare and proud, and pleaded to fight for him.

In those days he'd had an army so massive it'd have been more than enough to topple any of the current human nations. But that was the past—a different world and a different life. Now Solas had returned to even more distant roots as spymaster and networker.

He glanced to the island where the Halamshiral eluvian waited, still active. There was no bridge to it currently; in fact there wasn't even an orb to store magic for the bridge. That would ensure no one could get to the now active Halamshiral eluvian. He'd found one of his spies within the palace—one who knew him just as Solas rather than Fen'Harel—to unlock the door to the room where Briala had stored the eluvian. That same spy had then locked the door again behind him. As far as anyone other than that particular spy was concerned, Solas would've just vanished from Halamshiral.

Had Ellana noticed his absence yet?

Shrugging off the thought, Solas pivoted to face the eluvian leading to Revasan, the elven ruins in the valley where Solas had become Fen'Harel and his legend had grown into a god. He strode for the mirror and stepped through.

____________________________________________________________

After bidding Cassandra and Dorian goodbye, Ellana walked past the tavern again, searching for any sign of Solas but finding none. In the courtyard she encountered Varric and stopped to speak with him—receiving the surprising news that the dwarf had become viscount of Kirkwall and that he'd reserved her a title and an estate there. Along with a key to the city that apparently controlled a chain in the harbor, according to Varric's flustered and flabbergasted adviser.

After he'd finished lavishing her with gifts that stunned both her and his adviser, Ellana asked, "Have you seen Solas?"

"Chuckles?" the dwarf asked. "Yeah, he came storming through here about an hour ago and headed up the stairs." He hesitated a moment, giving her a curious look. "I assumed you sent for him or something."

Solas was the only one of her inner circle who hadn't technically left the Inquisition, meaning Ellana could have summoned him. But of course she hadn't. Why would Solas rush into the palace? Her stomach suddenly felt as if she'd swallowed lead and her face must've revealed her worry as Varric asked, "Is everything all right?"

"Yes," she said with a little shake of her head and then deftly changed the subject. "So, how is your next chapter of Swords and Shields coming along? I'm sure Divine Victoria is waiting with barely concealed excitement."

Varric laughed, loud and hard. When he'd recovered he checked over his shoulder, as if to be sure the aforementioned woman wasn't about to come barreling into the courtyard demanding the book. "I suspect if I don't finish it soon she'll announce an Exalted March on Kirkwall." He froze a second later, suddenly awkward. "Uh, sorry. That was insensitive of me."

Exalted Marches, Ellana thought and restrained a sigh. The last one destroyed the Dales, scattering her people and breaking the promise of an elven homeland. She pushed the thought aside and shrugged. "Don't worry about it, Varric."

"Well," he said, opening his arms in a welcoming gesture. "There's always a place for you in Kirkwall, Lady Lavellan. I'd even welcome Chuckles as your Comte."

She smirked. "About that rumor you started with Cassandra and Dorian…"

Varric grinned, trying and failing to appear innocent. "What rumor?" She shot him a mock glare, hands on her hips and immediately the dwarf capitulated. He raised his palms up toward her, as if ready to ward off a blow or hold back her reprimand. "Let's be fair. I didn't say much. It's hardly my fault if Her Holiness and Sparkles misunderstood me. Besides, what's so exalted about this summit if it doesn't involve a long-awaited proposal of marriage?"

She tried not to smile but couldn't hold it back as she shook her head. "It was great catching up with you, Varric."

"Likewise," Varric said with a little bow as flourish. As Ellana walked away, heading for the stairs and the palace, she saw Varric's advisor rush forward again to resume nagging him.

At the palace entrance she was about to question the guards standing watch when Vivienne called out to her. "Darling, there you are! You made it!"

Despite herself, Ellana hesitated and turned to greet the Enchanter, vaguely remembering Josephine mentioning that Vivienne had asked to meet her. "Hello, Vivienne."

"I scheduled this appointment ages ago, and they do appreciate punctuality," Vivienne went on, reaching to gently grasp Ellana's arm and turn her away from the palace and back to the stairs.

"Appointment?" Ellana asked, letting herself be led down the stairs. She cast a last glance over her shoulder at the entrance to the palace and resigned herself to whatever the Enchanter had in mind. Solas was around here somewhere. She'd find him eventually.

"With the Imperial Garden Spa, of course," she said with a smile, her voice silken as always. "You work so hard, my dear. I wanted to treat you."

They walked across the courtyard, heading past the fountain and toward the pavilion that Ellana was just beginning to realize must actually be a spa. Vivienne led her to a pair of broad white couches and reclined on one. Without much choice, Ellana sat opposite her and decided to be polite. Weren't spas supposed to be relaxing? She could use something to unwind the knot of tension in her back and stomach. "That sounds like a fantastic idea."

"Of course it is, darling. That's the only kind I have," Vivienne replied, still smiling smugly.

Right, Ellana thought, somehow managing to keep her smile from falling. Attendants appeared as if on cue, offering a skimpy undergarment that did make Ellana frown. "What is this?"

"You don't want to get your formalwear wet in the spa, did you?" Vivienne asked as she accepted her own skimpy undergarment. "I'll go first if you like." She rose from her couch and retreated to a small dressing room.

Alone except for the silent, waiting attendants, Ellana rubbed her thumbs over the satiny fabric of the underclothes and sighed. Maybe this wasn't such a good thing after all. She'd been feeling wretched over the last few days and especially that morning before the ginger had settled her stomach. The afternoon sunlight streamed in through the archways of the spa and the sound of the water was beautiful and musical. The scent of the flowers made her close her eyes, remembering her life in the wilds of the Free Marches and the headiness of summers there. She hadn't had many moments to miss it this much as Inquisitor, but now…

If she did disband the Inquisition, she could retire from leading it and return to her clan. Did she want that? Would they even take her back? Or perhaps she could settle in at Kirkwall, as Varric suggested?

All too soon Vivienne reappeared and it was Ellana's turn to squeeze into the embarrassingly skimpy underclothes. She kept tugging at the hem at both the top and around her legs, unable to hide her self-consciousness as attendants appeared again. As Vivienne reclined on her couch and leaned her head back, accepting the two tiny cheese wheels her attendant placed over her eyes, she said, "You look pale, my dear. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." Ellana sat on her own couch and mimicked Vivienne's posture, reclining and leaning her head back. Her attendant stepped forward and placed a white cheese wheel over each eye. The scent was pungent, immediately making Ellana's volatile stomach churn. She swallowed the bile back, willing herself to find this as relaxing as Vivienne apparently did. "What are the cheese wheels for?"

"It pains me that you even have to ask. You've clearly been living too long in barely civilized conditions," Vivienne replied, neatly avoiding answering the question.

An attendant began massaging Ellana's shoulders, his hands strong and dexterous. She grimaced out of embarrassment as she immediately thought of Solas. She blushed to her ears as her attendant went to work on her neck then before eventually transitioning to her arms. Slowly, despite the nauseating smell of the cheese, Ellana began to relax—until she heard the distant echoing of feminine laughter and the patter of bare feet.

"Did you hear something?" she asked Vivienne.

"Relax, darling," Vivienne scolded her. "It's spa day."

Ellana let the attendant's hands work their magic again for a few moments, gradually relaxing as much as she could in her semi-nudeness and the strangeness of the cheese wheels both blinding her and making her queasy. When the attendants left them to relax, Ellana toyed with the stormheart arrowhead at her neck, which she hadn't removed when she put on the skimpy underclothes.

"How have you been?" Vivienne asked into the gentle stillness of the spas. "It seems ages since we've spoken. How are things with our dear Solas?"

Ellana barely managed to keep herself from snorting at the Enchanter's description. Our dear Solas?

"Are you digging for gossip, Vivienne?" she asked. "Trying to get me to give up the juicy details?"

"Merely expressing concern for your well-being, my dear. Someone ought to."

Ellana rolled her eyes beneath the ridiculous cheese wheels. Was Vivienne really going to start lecturing her on the dangers of apostate mages? When was she going to stop thinking Solas was about to be possessed by demons or take up a hobby destroying villages with reckless abandon?

She changed the subject. "Do you come to this spa often?"

"As often as I can," Vivienne said. "Sadly, no more than twice a year at best. Duty first."

The gentle thump of their attendants' footsteps came then and, mercifully, one of them lifted the cheese wheels from Ellana's eyes. She sat up, wiping at the slime left by the sweating cheese with a disgusted sneer. The combination of sitting upright and the lingering stink of the cheese made the room spin and bile rise into her throat.

"Don't you feel better, my dear?" Vivienne asked as she sat up and surveyed Ellana, only to answer her own question. "Oh dear, you look dreadful. Are you all right?"

"It's passing," Ellana said, swallowing with an effort and sucking in several deep breaths.

"What ever is the matter?" Vivienne asked with a cluck of her tongue. "Usually this place works miracles."

"I've been feeling…off most of the day," Ellana admitted, wiping again at the slime left by the cheese. "The smell of the cheese is what's bothering me. And the horses earlier."

"Hmm," Vivienne said, the noise of interest in her throat drawing Ellana's gaze now that she was more confident she wasn't about to vomit all over the white couch or the spa floor. The Enchanter's sculpted face had a pinched expression and narrowed eyes as she scrutinized Ellana.

"What is it?" Ellana asked, unable to keep herself from frowning warily at Vivienne's abrupt change in demeanor.

"Suffering from a heightened sense of smell, my dear?" Vivienne asked, arching an eyebrow.

"More like I ate something that didn't agree with me," Ellana said and rose to her feet, ready to be done with this spa and with Vivienne's nosiness. Looking toward the baths, Ellana's jaw dropped. Hams had been scattered about on the floor. "What…happened?" Had this been some sort of trick by Vivienne? But that hardly made sense…

"Darling. It's spa day. Don't fret. You'll undo all the good work they've done." If Vivienne noticed the hams she did a wonderful job of pretending otherwise. "Come along and let's get changed, darling. I'll let you go first."

After donning her formalwear again and bidding Vivienne goodbye, Ellana exited the baths only to spot Sera standing outside, grinning at her. "Here's you," she said in greeting and then gestured at the courtyard with a sweep of her hands. "And everyone! Glad to be back, all stuffed together. With the pressure full on. Again."

Elgar'nan's breath, Ellana thought, already grinning as she pieced together the mystery of the hams in the bath. Of course it'd been Sera. At least Sera wasn't meeting up with her in the tavern, the smell of which had repulsed Ellana every time she walked by it. "Hello Sera," she said. "It's good to see you made it."

"Don't worry, 'Herald of Everywhere,'" Sera said, grinning. "I came prepared. I know what everyone needs."

"Let me guess," Ellana said, raising a hand, finger pointed upward. "Pies. Crème pies in their faces. Especially the pompous nobility."

Sera smirked as she nodded. "Just like best times. Wanna come with?"

Ellana nodded. "Of course, but can we postpone this until tonight?" She edged closer, lowering her voice. "I'd like to pie the Ferelden Ambassador specifically and I'd prefer to do it under cover of darkness. I can't risk him recognizing me."

Sera giggled. "Oh, he won't if I dress you. Should get you out of that shite you're wearing now, anyway. Make you look a proper Jenny."

Ellana grinned. "Sounds like a plan, then. I'll meet you outside the tavern an hour after sunset."

"Frigging yes," Sera said, laughing. "Can't wait."

With mischief scheduled now, Ellana tried for the second time to investigate the palace gate. While she'd been in the spa with Vivienne she'd apparently missed a changing of the guards as the two men standing watch now were different men from the two she'd seen before. Ellana questioned them about whether they'd seen or heard anything about an elven mage—bald, barefaced, and wearing an Inquisition armband—passing through the gates. The two men stared at her, blank and baffled.

That meant Solas had left the palace before the before the change of the guard…or he was still in the winter palace somewhere. Why would he be in the palace in the first place?

Returning to the courtyard, Ellana checked in with Cullen and Leliana, keeping an eye out for Solas as she went and finding nothing. She headed to the upper balconies to find Josephine next, unwilling to go by the tavern again where the acrid stink of alcohol would be waiting. She finally found the ambassador in the dark corner under the archways of the awning engaged in whispered conversation with Vivienne. She waited a short distance away from them to be polite but when Josephine glanced past the Enchanter she seemed to flinch, blinking and interrupting Vivienne with a subtle gesture of one hand.

The Enchanter turned and her eyes widened slightly. "Inquisitor," she said and strode out from the shade of the awning. Josephine followed her, taking small, dainty steps and wearing an unreadable expression on her face as she stared at Ellana.

"Madam Vivienne," Ellana said with a nod. "Good to see you again."

"How are you feeling, darling?" Vivienne asked, her voice deep with her usual theatrical flourish. Her lips twisted downward in a frown that may or may not have been genuinely sympathetic. Ellana could never be sure.

"Well," she said. "And you?"

"Splendid, my dear," Vivienne replied with a little nod. "Now, I won't take up any more of Lady Montilyet's time." She glanced back at Josephine and said, "So good catching up with you."

"And you, Enchanter," Josephine said, but her eyes had a sort of dazed quality and her smile seemed less charming than usual.

"Now, if you'll both excuse me, I simply must speak with the Divine. Good evening, Inquisitor. Lady Montilyet." She gave a little exaggerated dip of her head to excuse herself and stepped daintily toward the staircase.

Ellana watched her go with a small frown as Josephine walked almost gingerly to stand beside her. "What was all that about?" she asked.

"Um." Josephine stopped and cleared her throat and a moment later Ellana felt the other woman's hand grip her bicep and steer her toward the shade of the awning. Ellana let Josephine lead her for a moment before gently but firmly pulling her arm from the ambassador's grasp.

"What's gotten into you, Josephine?" she asked, shaking her head in consternation.

The ambassador scanned the other nobility on the balcony, gaging their distance and how private the conversation would be. Ellana followed her gaze with a sigh, shoulders slumping as she anticipated she was about to learn something unpleasant.

"The Enchanter, like all ladies at court, is…" Josephine wrinkled up her nose for a moment as if she had to sneeze. "…most astute at ferreting out scandal and gossip."

Frowning, Ellana pinched the bridge of her nose. "Is this about the rumor Varric started again? About the marriage proposal?"

"What?" Josephine asked, almost blurting the word.

Ellana quickly explained what'd happened earlier in the day until Josephine laughed quietly. "Varric is the consummate troublemaker." She shook her head, grinning for a moment with Ellana before her expression sobered again and she cleared her throat. "I wish the Enchanter had approached me with that particular rumor, but unfortunately…"

"What is it, Josephine?" Ellana asked. She caught the ambassador checking the balcony for eavesdroppers again and tried to ignore the tightening knot of anxiety in her chest. "It isn't about Solas, is it?" she asked.

Josephine shot her a look that was both confused and wary, making Ellana's heart sink. "Not…directly," she answered and cleared her throat, lowering her voice into a near whisper. "I apologize for prying, Inquisitor, but I must ask after your health."

"My health?" Ellana parroted, eyebrows rising to emphasize the question.

"Yes," Josephine said, her voice hesitant. She licked her lips and shifted on her feet, clearly uncomfortable with the topic. "Madame Vivienne mentioned you nearly…" She stopped, pinching her lips together. "Perhaps you do not realize this, Lady Lavellan, but in a place such as Halamshiral the court thrives on rumor and scandal for entertainment. It's a vital part of the Game and while you are here for the Exalted Council you will be—sadly—unable to escape it."

"I'm aware of this," Ellana murmured, frowning. "What's your point, Josephine?"

"Forgive me," Josephine said and even in the shadow the blush stealing over her cheeks was impossible to miss. "I will be blunt. The Exalted Council could last for weeks. If your illness is more than just temporary and instead caused by a certain...feminine condition...it will be impossible to prevent gossip. My hope was to take preventative action if you are—that is, if the Enchanter's suspicions prove correct."

Ellana stared at Josephine, mute as thoughts began to connect inside her mind, snapping into place to form a larger picture. Vivienne asking about her illness in the spa, specifically calling it heightened sense of smell. The nausea that kept plaguing her. The memory of the many nights she'd spent with Solas since he'd returned to Skyhold and agreed to join her at the Exalted Council. And the sudden realization that she'd lost track of time.

A wave of dizziness washed over her. I should've bled weeks ago.

"Inquisitor?" Josephine asked, her brow knitting with concern. "Are you all right?"

"I…" She shook her head, feeling shaky body wide. She drew in a deep breath and let it out again. "What was it that Vivienne suspected?" she asked, her voice thin.

"That perhaps there will soon be another member of clan Lavellan," Josephine whispered, her voice tight but her lips and eyes warm and lighthearted. At least Josephine wasn't going to judge her negatively for this it seemed.

"It's possible," Ellana admitted, turning her head and averting her eyes. Her cheeks felt as if they'd been scorched by mage fire. Was it possible? She didn't know how human women managed such things, but within her clan—and with Solas as well—she'd relied on magical wards to prevent pregnancy, enchantments to nullify male seed. Ellana's own ward was in an anklet that she'd worn for years now. Her Keeper had crafted and enchanted it, as she did for all in the clan, male and female alike. They did need to be recharged every so often. Had hers run out?

"I will take what actions I can to prevent gossip," Josephine said. She reached out, laying a hand on Ellana's bicep. "I take it you did not plan on this?"

Ellana laughed and shook her head. "No." She hated the way Josephine's face twisted with sympathy. "But I don't know for sure. It's early…"

Josephine withdrew as if Ellana's arm had burned her. "You could see Leliana. She knows of some…" She cleared her throat, eyes shifty and awkward, unable to meet Ellana's gaze. "…other options that may be available to you. I don't know how the Dalish handle such unexpected…surprises…between unwed couples."

The clan women knew of herbs to flush an unwanted child from the womb and sometimes it was necessary—in lean years or times of conflict they couldn't afford to hamper themselves with babies. But overall Ellana's clan, and probably most clans, were more forgiving of women without bond partners having children than the Orlesians or Fereldens or any Andrastians would be. All elven children were precious as long as the clan could feed or care for them. After all, sex was just another way the humans encroached on the People. Children born to mixed race couples lost their elven traits. Before Ellana had left for the conclave her Keeper had cautioned her against mingling with human men for just that reason. As one of the Dalish, Ellana knew her blood was purer than most city elves—Solas included, though she had to admit he didn't seem like a city elf.

"They would welcome it, I think," Ellana answered Josephine and found herself smiling slightly before sighing, her head drooping again. "Assuming they welcome me back." She let out a bitter little laugh. "The barefaced Herald of Andraste."

Josephine reached out, touching her again to offer comfort. "Regardless, you will always have a place with the Inquisition."

Ellana laughed, dry and suddenly miserable. "Except that we might be about to disband. Fenedhis," she cursed with a scowl. "I have wretched timing."

"We will see you through this," Josephine said, her voice bright. "And I'm sure Solas will be pleased." She grinned. "Perhaps there will be a proposal after all."

What would Solas think? Where was he anyway?

Searching the balcony for any sign of him and finding none, Ellana let out a long breath. "Thank you for your help, Josephine," she said. "I…I need to…"

"You need to give Solas the good news," Josephine supplied with a knowing nod. "Of course. I will have more ginger sent with your tea from now on. I will be completely discreet. And I believe we can trust Madame Vivienne with this observation as well. For now, anyway. There is always the Game, sadly, and the Enchanter is very good at it."

"And I am most decidedly not," Ellana grumbled before recomposing herself and giving Josephine a little bow. "Thank you again."

"Any time," the ambassador replied with a smile.

______________________________________________________

Author Note: Well, I caught one spot that needed italics and inserted them with HTML, but daaaaaaaamn. That is going to be a problem going forward if there isn't an easier way.

Next Chapter teaser:

Chewing her lip for a second, Ellana took the plunge. "I'm—well, I might be…" She drifted off, choosing a gentler way of saying it other than pregnant. "…with child."

"Get off," Sera said, reacting immediately. She took a step back, her mouth hanging open as she stared at Ellana. "Droopy ears? I didn't think he had it in him." She flashed a goofy grin and giggled for a moment before sobering at the sight of Ellana's uncomfortable frown.

The Dread Wolf take me and my big mouth, she thought, grimacing and fighting the urge to cover her face with one hand, as if she could hide from Sera and what she'd just done.

Chapter Text

"The Qunari are deeply entrenched in the Elvhen library," Abelas reported, his eyes narrowed and his lips pinched thin. "They have been activating eluvians and exploring faster than we can keep up with them."

Abelas' voice echoed through the narrow corridor. The pale stones, ancient and brittle now, left a streak of white on Solas' fingers when he absently brushed them over the wall. They were in a sheltered part of the watchtower, shielded from view by a magic barrier that took the shape of a mural dedicated to Fen'Harel.

"We are too few to push them out," Abelas went on behind Solas. Green veilfire lit the room, hanging suspended without braziers, cast by Solas' own magic. The room remembered him, as so much did in Revasan.

"You recommend retreat?" Solas asked without turning to look at the sentinel.

Abelas sucked in a quick breath and Solas knew the other man would be squaring his shoulders, steeling himself for whatever he was about to say—something Solas wouldn't apparently like. "It is either retreat or duplicity, Fen'Harel. You excel at the latter. I do not understand why we have not yet enlisted the help of the Inquisition."

Solas closed his eyes for a second before a small frown pulled at the corners of his mouth and he pivoted to face the sentinel. "I cannot expose my connection to this place."

The other elf shot him a look of disapproval. "You have let your connection to the Inquisitor hamper you and it would destroy us."

"The inquisition cannot be trusted," Solas shot back hotly. "It is already infected with Quanri spies. We could not trust them to fight the Quanri here. It would lead to disaster."

"Do you not hear yourself?" Abelas asked with a shake of his head. "The Qunari have seen you fighting here. We could not have killed every one we encountered. Word will have reached them and the Qunari inside the Inquisition will make the connection if they haven't already. That has already compromised your identity within the Inquisition. The truth will come out. It is only a matter of time. A short amount of time."

Abelas paused, his glare cruel and cold and everything Solas had dreaded—because it carried the weight of truth. "You should not have returned to the Inquisition this time. You have only yourself to blame for putting her in danger."

"The Qunari reached the Crossroads on their own," Solas said, losing his temper enough to raise his voice. "Halamshiral is the seat of power in Orlais and all of Southern Thedas. And the Qunari fear the Inquisition's power and the Inquisitor's Anchor. They would have targeted both regardless of my presence."

"Then you have no choice, regardless. She is already involved." Abelas' stare was full of challenge. His forehead still carried the Mythal's vallaslin. He'd rejected Solas' offer to remove it. He and the other sentinel elves who'd woken in the temple of Mythal had almost all joined Solas, hoping to restore the glory of the People's past. However, Solas held no illusions as to whom they really served: Mythal. But in his day Solas had been her closest ally before she was murdered.

Of course the primary reason the Evanuris had turned on Mythal was for her close association with the Dread Wolf. He suspected Abelas and the other sentinels understood that, but they also knew Fen'Harel had been in contact with Mythal since waking and they likely assumed he had her support, a belief Solas was happy to foster. Yet none of that guaranteed trust from the sentinels.

"I have no desire to bring more death than is necessary to this world," Solas said, speaking slow and in a wary tone. "We have not exhausted our options yet."

A muscle in Abelas' jaw feathered, snapping taut, but he stayed silent. The two Elvhen mages stared one another down, waiting to see who would flinch first. Long, tense seconds passed as Solas felt his magic rumbling inside his core, ready to strike Abelas down if the sentinel made any sudden moves. He'd killed ruthlessly before, despite the preciousness of each Elvhen who'd woken from uthenera and joined his cause. To keep control of his own forces Solas knew he'd kill again without hesitation—but the thought still pained him like a knife into the chest.

Finally Abelas sighed and lowered his gaze. "I must be honest, Fen'Harel. It is a mistake not to use the tools at your disposal."

Solas had lost count of the number of times he'd cursed himself for sharing his thought of somehow using the Inquisition against the Qunari infesting the Crossroads. During his three months away from Skyhold he'd thought of contacting Ellana through dreams, claiming he'd been investigating eluvians on his own and had discovered the Qunari plot. But it seemed farfetched and, worse, he'd realized the ancient magic scattered about Revasan and the Crossroads would constantly react with and charge the Anchor. It'd enter meltdown and kill Ellana. He'd obtained and enchanted the stormheart arrowhead to test that concern and discovered the Anchor was incredibly sensitive, even to minute amounts of Elvhen magic. The only way to save her life would be to reclaim the Anchor himself and that would naturally bring on some…unavoidable questions about who he really was.

Not to mention Ellana might not believe his story. Once she started down that road of doubting him it wouldn't be long until she discovered the truth. And the Qunari had to know he was "an agent of Fen'Harel" by now. They'd never believe he was the actual elf who'd inspired the legends, but they recognized a leader when they saw one.

"The Inquisitor is not a tool to be used and discarded," Solas said, his voice cold and hard. "She is my ally, just as Mythal was. Would you suggest I endanger Mythal if she still lived?"

"That shem elf is not Mythal," Abelas countered with a growl. "Do not debase my goddess."

"She was no goddess and it is not an insult," Solas murmured, closing his eyes and bowing his head. He gnashed his teeth. The memory of the loss still cut him, sharp as needles stabbing into him. "And I should not have to remind you that we are all shem now."

"We will be restored," Abelas said, unbothered by Solas' reminder that he was mortal now too. "The world will be remade anew. Is this no longer your goal, Fen'Harel?"

"I would see it restored," Solas affirmed, his voice deep and grating with his subdued rage at Abelas' earlier impertinence. He wouldn't fight with the sentinel over Ellana's virtues, as much as he wanted to. Abelas was a reflection of himself years ago, before he'd joined the Inquisition. Abelas didn't interact with the waking world's humans or modern elves and so dismissed their value, disregarded their sentience. Until the sentinel saw otherwise on his own there was nothing Solas could do to convince him of the truth.

"Yet you hesitate," Abelas challenged him.

"I have seen the cost of my actions before. I would not repeat the same mistake without being certain of the outcome." Turning away from Abelas, Solas flicked a hand toward the short stair leading up to the magic mural that hid the room they were in. A green lash of his magic crackled, dissolving the mural when it made contact. Golden sunlight lit the stairs from the setting sun outside and crisp air rolled in. "We are finished with this discussion," Solas said. "I will aid you and the others in escaping. I know of a safe hold in the wilderness. And I will visit you in the Fade tonight."

"But you will not join us at the safe hold?" Abelas asked, quirking an eyebrow.

"My absence will have already been noted at Halamshiral," Solas admitted with a slight frown.

"Will you leave the eluvian to Halamshiral active?" Abelas asked as he walked for the stairs. "I may need to send someone to you if the Qunari—"

"No," Solas cut him off. "I will not leave Halamshiral so easily accessible. The Qunari could invade through the eluvian and kill the Empress." They ascended the stairs and paused at the railing, staring out over the green, forested hills. If the sun was setting here in Revasan, the freed slave sanctuary, Solas knew it'd be well after nightfall at Halamshiral.

"And if we encounter an unforeseen danger or require your guidance?" Abelas asked. "We cannot spare you in this time, hahren."

"I will be in the Fade and Halamshiral has dozens of our spies," Solas said, dismissing Abelas' concerns with an impatient wave of one hand. "With the eluvian I will never be far away, physically."

Abelas sighed and frowned, clearly displeased. "As you say, Fen'Harel." He started to turn away, heading for the stairway circling further up the tower, but Solas reached out and caught his elbow.

"Abelas," he said, his voice quiet and low with threat. "Do not test my patience." He hoped the warning and his accompanying glare carried his deeper meaning: Do not make me kill you.

The sentinel dipped his chin in acknowledgement. "Fen'Harel enansal."

They climbed the watchtower, passing ancient murals painted by freed slaves and willing servants of the Dread Wolf. At the top, standing beside an active eluvian, five other Elvhen mages and sentinels stood in shining armor in shades of silver, gray, and black. Solas stood out as the humblest dressed, lacking any outward armor. Three of the five waiting beside the eluvian were sentinels from Mythal's temple in the Arbor Wilds. The other two were arcane warriors, mages who'd served Solas before uthenera.

"Mathrel, Lyris," he called to the arcane warriors. "Do you recall the way to Hellathen Hamin?"

Lyris, the more talkative of the warriors, answered, "Yes." Her voice was deep for a woman, brooding with the promise of destruction to any who stood in her way. She and Mathrel had trained like siblings from an early age, always fighting in a cohesive unit. "Is the eluvian active?" she asked.

"Unlikely," Solas replied, tucking his hands behind his back like the commander he was and had been in ages past. "I will activate it when we reach it. You should be safe there from the Qunari."

One of the sentinel elves, a nimble and lithe rogue with brown hair, said, "I will not flee before these fools. I wish to fight. They cannot take the Crossroads. They cannot despoil Elvhenan."

The other sentinels shifted on their feet and Solas didn't miss the fire in their eyes. He stayed stiff and stern, watching them with narrowed eyes. The problem with Mythal's sentinels was their willingness to die for the cause. They were courageous and determined, honorable to a fault, but they'd never win against the Qunari or the waking world with their current attitude. They'd just die, accomplishing nothing. Even over two years mingling with his own Elvhen—and a few of the more talented modern elves he'd taken in—had yet to temper their enthusiasm for self-sacrifice.

"Arina," he said, addressing the rogue. "There is no honor in fighting a battle you cannot win. The Qunari are as numerous as ants and their blades are unworthy of your blood. Save your life—and your death—for something greater. The world we remake must have Elvhen to populate it."

"I am the weakest," Arina said, jutting her chin out with pride despite her words. "If there must be death, it should be mine." She wasn't referring to physical strength when she called herself weak. She was the only rogue in this group, but had the Veil not hampered her connection to the Fade she would've been a mage. Still she possessed enough magical talent to Fade step, making her valuable and unique enough to convince Solas to keep her here.

"I ask no sacrifices," Solas told her, his expression stern but his voice soft. "The Elvhen have sacrificed enough. Fight if you must, but you are not defending the temple any longer. This is a not a war, but a hunt. We are not an army, but a wolf pack. Each individual lost is a great wound and weakens the whole."

He sensed rather than saw Abelas nodding nearby with approval. Of all the sentinels Abelas had been the one to most easily grasp Solas' teachings. Freethinkers were always the best lieutenants…and also the most dangerous.

"Fen'Harel enansal," Arina said, bowing.

"Come, we must—"

An explosion cut through the air, the shockwave hitting them from somewhere below. The ancient stones of the watchtower quivered under Solas' feet and the world started to tip hard to the left.

"Through the eluvian," he yelled.

"We are under siege," Abelas shouted. "They fire from on the lake!"

"Go," Solas ordered, gesturing for the eluvian. The tower groaned from the impact of the explosion that'd hit somewhere below them, tilting further to the left and knocking the elves from their feet as they scrambled for the mirror. Solas hesitated, letting the sentinels and the warriors spring for the eluvian first.

Abelas was the last through and he paused a moment to look over his shoulder, a panicked expression in his eyes. "Solas!"

How amusing that he uses my true name now, Solas thought as time slowed with his own mind and body's reaction to the explosion and the inevitable fall of the watchtower. He used Fade step to surge forward, bumping into Abelas and pushing him through the mirror and careening in after the sentinel.

He spilled out on the other side, white dust over his robes, catching himself like a cat landing on its feet as the song of the Crossroads once more sang into his ears. His breathing slowed and his heartbeat gradually stopped drumming in his ears. All of his people had made it through onto the black rock of the island in the Crossroads and now stood about, eyes wide and faces flushed with their near death.

Finally Mathrel spat off the edge of the island into the void. "Fuck those Qunari shem."

Lyris laughed at him, slugging him in the shoulder.

Taking a breath, Solas spoke, "Enough." The other elves, including the warriors, sobered and stared at him, waiting and tense. Solas reached one hand to the eluvian behind him and with a green glow from his fingers it went dark. "It would appear the situation is…volatile." He felt shaky, as if he might collapse, and his stomach clenched at the realization that he couldn't return to Halamshiral just yet. "We cannot allow the Qunari to gain a foothold in Revasan."

"The Crossroads should be our main concern," Abelas disagreed. "The Deep Roads lyrium mine is a greater threat as well. Revasan is not worth our lives."

"Agreed," Solas said with a nod. "But the Qunari now have three nests. We will never eradicate them at this rate and we are too few." He scowled, thinking hard.

"We cannot lose control of the eluvians," Abelas said, the words a growl.

Solas shot him a glare. "We will not lose them. I will die before I allow the Qun to enslave Southern Thedas."

Abelas nodded, approving again, and Solas knew what the sentinel would suggest before he spoke. "The Inquisition."

Feeling their eyes on him, Solas nodded slowly. "But it must be done carefully. I must think on how to accomplish it."

"We don't have much time," Lyris reminded him.

"You are correct," Solas told her. "Lead on."

"Where?" she asked. "Hellathen Hamin? But the Qunari will probably just follow us there too. They followed us to Revasan."

"Yes," Solas admitted with a mild frown. "After four months. I will see to it they are wiped out before they have a chance to follow."

"You intend to summon a greater force?" Abelas asked, his expression wary. "Beyond the Inquisition?"

"In time," Solas said, deliberately vague. He kept his full plans hidden from different factions so that none of them could betray each other fully, allowing the network to survive such calamities. Abelas didn't know what Solas had set in motion in Tevinter, and his lieutenants in the Imperium likewise knew little of the struggle in the Crossroads.

He motioned across the void to a nearby, unconnected island. "For now, we must move."

______________________________________________

The Ferelden ambassador had a pockmarked complexion and a gaunt face that only contributed to his weasel-like look. He'd spent the last twenty minutes with a group of Orlesians, chatting as they sipped wine from elegant glasses. Ellana and Sera had taken up position behind a corner, tucked into an alleyway between a blacksmith and a small marketplace. Here they were just out of earshot and sight, but they knew eventually the Ferelden ambassador would have to pass this way to return to his chambers in the guest wing of the palace.

And when he did, Ellana had a crème pie with his name on it.

Ellana wore the servant garb of the winter palace while Sera held a large round tray loaded with tins of crème pies and a few spare bottles of wine and glasses. That way they could appease thirsty nobility who wandered by seeking refreshment or refills. So far none of them had asked about the crème pies, thankfully.

"The little people here are weird," Sera said after they'd caught up. "Everyone's…happy."

Ellana reclined against the wall in a position where she would be able to see and hear movement on the path from the balcony overlook. "That's a bad thing?" she asked.

"Oh stuff it," Sera grumbled with a wave of her hand. "You know what I mean. No one's asking for a Jenny. The bigwigs are still punching down like always, but no one wants to stick it back to them." She shook her head, her straw-colored hair flowing with the motion. "It's not right. It's like down is up. White is black. Not the way the world works."

Ellana recalled the proud gait of the servant who'd unpacked her saddlebags and nodded. "I think I know what you mean."

She crossed her arms under her breasts and winced, suddenly realizing they were tender. Of course they are, she thought and resisted the desire to roll her eyes at herself. She'd bounced between shock and denial over the last few hours since Josephine had spoken with her about Vivienne's suspicions, which had since become her suspicions as well. As much as she hated Vivienne's arrogance and shallowness, Ellana realized she was going to have to thank the Enchanter—assuming the other woman did keep her mouth shut.

And she still hadn't been able to find Solas. Elgar'nan's breath, where are you?

"You're doing that thing again, Herald," Sera reprimanded her with a sidelong grin. Then she mimicked Ellana's sour expression with an exaggerated frown. "We're supposed to be having fun! Can't be all gloom, all the time, always. Else you'll turn into droopy ears."

Ellana chuckled under her breath. "Funny you should mention him."

"Innit?" Sera asked, suddenly stepping forward, moving the tray of pies, glasses, and wine from her lap to the ground so she could edge close to Ellana to speak conspiratorially. Her brownish eyes glinted in the dim light cast from a nearby lantern outside the tavern. "Saw him out here earlier. Skulking round. Some servant, another elfy-elf like him, came by to see him."

Ellana stared at her. "What?"

"You heard. Could be droopy ears doesn't want to be found." Her expression was angry but as Ellana simply stared at her, confused and stricken, Sera backed off a step and gave a nervous giggle. "Or could be he's in the palace waiting on you, same as you are with him. You know, what do I know? Shite is what."

"What…happened?" Ellana asked, trying to swallow the sudden painful lump that'd formed in her throat. "What did you see exactly, Sera?"

"Nothing, really," Sera said quickly, hands raised palms up. "Just the same elf stopped and said hello. Just for a minute."

"Did he leave with her?" Ellana asked and cringed at how tiny and frail her voice sounded.

"Didn't see him leave," Sera said with a shake of her head. "And I saw her still round here after you got out from your fancy-pants dinner. So…no."

Ellana let out a relieved breath and then frowned, reaching into her neckline to play with the arrowhead again. Of course Solas hadn't run off with some stranger. That wasn't like him at all. But where had he gone then?

"He's probably sleeping," Sera said as if she could read Ellana's mind, her nose wrinkling. When she spoke again it was clearly meant to be mocking Solas. "Spirits are people. Save the demons. The Fade is awesome—all that shite."

Despite the weight of worry still pressing on her, Ellana let out a long, loud laugh at Sera's imitation. When she'd caught her breath she said, "I wouldn't be surprised if he is somewhere causing trouble like that. He didn't want to come here."

"But you made him?" Sera asked, eyebrows arching as she grinned. "Go you. We should crème pie him when we see him for making you worry."

Ellana laughed again before averting her eyes and staring at her shoes. "More than you know."

"Oh yeah?" Sera asked, moving closer, invading Ellana's personal space. "So tell me."

Ellana hesitated, staring into Sera's brown eyes as her heart suddenly seemed to be thundering in her ears and pressure building in her throat. She wanted to unload the weight of it to someone—anyone—but she knew that person should be Solas first. Yet, maybe she wasn't pregnant. Maybe she'd made a mistake with the timing. If she'd been with the clan she could have consulted them for guidance, seeing the healer. But here she could trust no one outside of her Inquisition, and of her inner circle Sera was both another woman and an elf. That made Sera the most likely one to talk to about this…

Chewing her lip for a second, Ellana took the plunge. "I'm—well, I might be…" She drifted off, choosing a gentler way of saying it other than pregnant. "…with child."

"Get off," Sera said, reacting immediately. She took a step back, her mouth hanging open as she stared at Ellana. "Droopy ears? I didn't think he had it in him." She flashed a goofy grin and giggled for a moment before sobering at the sight of Ellana's uncomfortable frown.

The Dread Wolf take me and my big mouth, she thought, grimacing and fighting the urge to cover her face with one hand, as if she could hide from Sera and what she'd just done. It already felt like a mistake.

"It's all right," Sera said, reaching out to touch her shoulder with a reassuring little squeeze. "This is a good thing—unless you think it's not. Then it isn't, I guess. Is that arse biscuit hiding from you? Cause of this?" She poked a finger at Ellana's flat abdomen.

"He doesn't know," Ellana murmured, trying to smile. Her face was still aflame.

Sera squeezed her shoulder again, trying to cheer her up. "You watch. He'll show. And when he does? We have a pie just for him." She mimed throwing one of the tins and made a noise with her tongue between her lips. "Splat." She laughed and Ellana found herself able to chuckle too at the mental image.

"Thank you, Sera. I needed that laugh." She searched with her eyes quickly around their little alley and the empty corridor beyond it. The night air was humid and warm, full of the promise of plenty from high summer. Drawing in a breath, Ellana gripped Sera's hand on her shoulder and said, "Can you keep this just between us?"

Sera's lips curled in a crooked grin. "Right, yeah. Not a word."

At that moment they both heard the crunch of grit beneath an approaching person's feet and Sera hissed through her teeth, stifling a laugh. Ellana leaned out and recognized the Ferelden ambassador's skulking frame drawing closer.

"It's him," she whispered and Sera scrambled to pass her a pie.

Ellana hefted it, feeling the uneven, lumpy distribution of crème in the tin and edged further out as she prepared to aim and fire. The ambassador walked with his head down, watching his feet. Ellana whistled to make him lift his head and then launched the pie. It smacked onto his face and he stumbled back with a comical yelp, fists flailing as he lost his balance and fell over.

"Run!" Sera said, grabbing the tray.

Laughing so hard her cheeks hurt, Ellana charged after her out the other side of the alley and into the darkened courtyard beyond. They heard a mixture of shouts and laughter behind them as the other nobility reacted to the ambassador's hilarious misfortune.

"That was good, yeah?" Sera asked, still breathing fast after their sprint. They crossed the courtyard, moving to the gardens to shelter in the dark behind a wall. "Eat it, you snobby codger."

"I think we should pie him again tomorrow night," Ellana said, grinning. "And every night of the summit."

"Frigging yeah!" Sera pumped the air with a fist, grinning. "He'll be pissing himself thinking there's a pie round every corner." Then, giggling harder, she asked, "Wait, do you mean Fereldy guy or daddy droopy ears?"

Ellana snorted and elbowed Sera in the ribs. "You know who I meant, Sera."

"Right, daddy it is then," Sera quipped and sniggered, dodging Ellana's next playful swing. The pies, glasses, and wine bottles on her tray slid off onto the concrete with a clatter and splat. A voice called out with alarm and Sera hissed through her teeth, "Run!"

____________________________________

In every scenario Solas considered, he lost. It was an unwinnable game, a quagmire. He'd faced a decision like that before—when he created the Veil.

He watched the moon rising into the summer sky, above the cracked and crumbling walls of Hellathen Hamin. It was almost full, bright and milky and beautiful, making him think of Ellana's skin. He heard the others behind him murmuring around the crackling campfire they'd lit and smelled the remnants of the rabbit they'd caught and prepared, seasoning with wild herbs. They'd passed around mushrooms and a few other vegetables they harvested in the hours since arriving as well. The food rejuvenated Solas and he'd hoped for a clearer mind as he withdrew from the others to stare at the sky and consider his predicament—but no easy answers came.

He needed to sleep to access the Fade and communicate with his people in Tevinter, but though his body was heavy with fatigue, his mind wouldn't stop spinning with possibilities. All of them ran into nasty roadblocks. He approached the Inquisition for help and Ellana discovered who he was and hated him. He did nothing and lost control of the Crossroads and eluvians. He wound up being unmasked as Fen'Harel and made an enemy out of the Inquisition, or Orlais, or Ferelden, or all of them, and found himself fighting the entirety of Thedas head on. And then there was the most likely scenario—Ellana died when the Anchor overpowered.

He knew he could save her life, but it wouldn't be pleasant. She wouldn't thank him for it if she knew the Anchor might remain stable the rest of her natural life, assuming she avoided ancient Elvhen magic. But Abelas was right that he needed to bring in help if they were to regain control of the Crossroads.

"Fenedhis," he cursed, scrubbing at his face in frustration. There had to be a path with an acceptable resolution.

A small rustle behind him made Solas tense, twisting to glare over his shoulder. When he saw it was Lyris, he relaxed, letting his guard ease slightly. "Lyris," he greeted her with a gentle smile and a dip of his chin.

"Hahren," she answered, also smiling. She had a thicker frame than Ellana, made muscular with centuries of intense training, though she was leaner now than she'd been before uthenera. Fortunately the long sleep had not claimed her white-silver hair. She moved with the grace of a cat, but with greater force and speed. Cassandra had often reminded him of Lyris after he joined the Inquisition.

He looked to the moon again, squaring his shoulders and lifting his head. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply, smelling the rich, earthy scent of the overgrown ruins. "Have you come to advise me, falon?" he asked.

"Would you listen if I did?" she asked.

"Nothing is certain," he replied, turning his head just enough to make eye contact, smiling at her. "But you will never know unless you try."

Lyris sighed. "Two beings cannot inhabit a single body."

"What of demonic possession?" Solas quipped, smirking over his shoulder.

"One being's will always overpowers the other," Lyris said. "You suggested I advise you. Will you not even hear it without mocking?"

Solas sighed, scowling. "You are saying nothing that has not already occurred to me a thousand times."

"Are you Fen'Harel or Solas?" Lyris asked, edging closer.

"I'm unsure that I have a say in the matter," Solas answered, continuing to stare forward at the moon. His chest ached with pressure growing from within. He wished he could release it with a keening howl like a real wolf, calling to his missing heart and cursing the harshness of the world he'd created that threatened to separate them.

"The Dread Wolf doesn't have a choice?" Lyris repeated and scoffed. "Fen'Harel of Revasan. Rebel and slave-freer. You have always fought to free the People, because it was what was right and it was your choice to fight. When did you become trapped? When did you submit? The wolf I know would chew off his own leg first."

Solas gnashed his teeth together. "You do not understand," he said, his voice rough with anger. "The elves of this time remember Fen'Harel as a monster. They do not remember a rebel, but a trickster, a traitor who sundered them from the Fade so completely they no longer remember the world is incomplete. They remember the Evanuris as gods despite everything I fought for. The Dalish have taught me I cannot control how I—or my actions—will be remembered. None can."

"So you will give in?" Lyris asked, the words full of her disbelief. "What was the meaning of it all if you give up now? What was the point of surviving, of remembering Elvhenan?" By the time she fell silent Solas could hear the thickness of tears in her throat, though he knew she would never shed them.

Solas pivoted to glare at her. "I have not given up," he snarled, glaring daggers at her. "I will never give up." He hesitated, taking a moment to breathe, calming himself. "I merely mourn for what must come next."

Lyris narrowed her eyes, searching over him for a moment before she said, "If the Inquisitor truly cares for you she will love Fen'Harel as much as Solas. And if she does, she might ally with us. She might be a shem-elf, but she's still one of the People. So why do you hold back?" When he averted his gaze and turned back to the moon, Lyris grunted. "There's something else, isn't there?"

"Leave me," he ordered. "I must think."

With a sigh, Lyris walked away from him, the grasses rustling as she retreated to the fire. Her words stayed with Solas, echoing in his mind: So why do you hold back?

Because I cannot bear to betray her and risk losing her.

_____________________________________________

The morning of the first day of the Exalted Council found Ellana lying sprawled on her enormous bed, drooling on her luxurious silken pillows. Then the knock at the door came as knuckles rapped against the paneled wood. She groaned and sat up, her hair askew and loose in its braid. The room spun a little when she tried to sit up, so she relaxed again and grimaced at the foul taste in her mouth as she closed her eyes again.

The knock came once more, making her remember why she'd woken in the first place. Tugging the covers up over herself—she slept in just her breast band and underthings—she called out groggily, "Who is it?"

"I've brought you tea, your worship." It was Josephine's voice.

Ellana crawled out of bed, grabbing the robe she'd hung up on one of the bedposts, and wrapped it over herself. "Come in, Josie."

The ambassador hurried into the room, fully dressed and balancing a tray with a small teakettle and teacups. She set it down on a little end table near the entrance and then knocked the door shut quickly as she turned to regard Ellana with a tight, worried expression. "How are you feeling, Inquisitor?"

"Tired," Ellana said, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "And like I really want that tea. And a bath. And breakfast." She shuffled to the tray and poured a cup. The ginger smell made her sigh with enjoyment. Sipping it made her eyes flutter shut with pleasure. "This is delicious."

"I'm glad to hear that," Josephine said and cleared her throat. Ellana finally noticed the way the ambassador seemed to anxiously shift her weight from one foot to another, wringing her hands.

"What's wrong?" she asked after she'd downed the tea. She moved to refill it, shivering as the heat in her belly spread out.

"Leliana reported to me very early this morning," Josephine said and winced. Her face seemed to be stuck that way, as if she was in pain. "She said there are rampant rumors in the servant quarters about your…condition."

Ellana almost choked on her next sip. With suddenly shaking hands, she set the teacup onto the tray and turned to gawk at the ambassador. "What?"

"I don't understand," Josephine blurted, her eyes wide with barely restrained horror. "We've only been here a day! The servants shouldn't be able to guess anything handling your laundry or personal belongings, and other than your mild illness yesterday…" Her eyes roved over Ellana, silently questioning her.

Ellana laid a hand over her stomach and hunched over, groaning. "I'm going to kill that girl."

"Oh," Josephine said, almost squeaking. "So…you told someone…?"

"Fen'Harel's balls," Ellana cursed. "Fenedhis. Dammit." The tea seemed to be climbing up her throat. She breathed, trying to soothe it. Everything will be okay…

"Well," Josephine said, sounding calmer. "This is somewhat of a relief. I had feared this meant Madame Vivienne had turned against us. Now it would seem it is…merely your own indiscretion working against us."

"I am so sorry, Josephine," Ellana said, covering her face with both hands and groaning. "I was just so desperate to talk to someone and Sera seemed like…"

"Sera?" Josephine repeated. "Oh, no. Maker help us."

"I know, it was a mistake. I just…" Ellana's eyes started burning with emotion. She pressed her thumbs to her eyes and then fanned her face, still trying not to vomit at the same time as she struggled to hold back her tears. "I couldn't find Solas. He's just gone and I needed to confide in someone."

"You couldn't find Solas?" Josephine repeated, surprised.

"No," Ellana cried and suddenly the first tears were falling. She gritted her teeth and flicked them away. "He's just…gone." She sucked in a wet, thick breath, recomposing herself.

"I will put all of our people on alert looking for him," Josephine said, reaching out and gripping Ellana's shoulders. "We will find him. Wherever he is, I'm sure he's well. Everything will be fine, Inquisitor."

Ellana nodded, squaring her jaw and swallowing the last lump of stubborn tea and bile down her throat. "Okay…I can do this." She offered Josephine a wan smile, returning her grip with one hand. "Do you have any advice for me?"

Josephine bit her lip a moment and then said, "Don't tell anyone else. Don't confirm the rumor. Remember you are above it and this does not affect the summit. If any of the politicians attempt to use it against you personally, I will try and deflect it. Distraction, deflection, and humor. Remember those three things and you will do fine."

Distraction. Deflection. Humor. Ellana repeated it in a mantra as she washed and dressed for the council. Her breakfast was an assortment of fruits and pastries that she ate with gusto only to lose her appetite halfway through and reject the rest of her plate. Her abdomen felt heavy and tight now that she was aware she might be pregnant.

Might be? Mythal's mercy, denial much?

She listened to the birds chirping and the distant sound of conversation and laughter from the courtyard, willing herself to be strong when she walked through the halls and sat on the council to listen to Divine Victoria and the ambassadors argue about the Inquisition's future. And as soon as they took a break she swore she was going to find Sera and flay her alive.

A masked herald escorted her to the council chambers where she sat next to Josephine, who smiled pleasantly at her. Ellana didn't miss the steaming teapot at her table with a teacup waiting. The smell of ginger tickled her nose.

Right, can't have me getting sick in front of the politicians.

"Inquisitor Lavellan," the Orlesian ambassador greeted her with what she hoped was a genuine smile. With his mask on it was impossible to tell, but his voice seemed warm. "How good of you to join us. How are you feeling?"

Ellana stared at him, her lips curling into a feigned smile as she scanned over Cassandra and that weasel Arl Teagan, the Ferelden ambassador, sitting next to her. Had any of them heard the rumor or was he reacting to old news of her feeling faint yesterday? Cassandra had an innocent, blank look on her face and Ellana guessed that meant the former Seeker had no clue. She'd never been one to listen to gossip—unless it came from Varric of course. The Ferelden ambassador looked like he'd bitten into a sour grape, but was that because he was judging her or because he'd caught a glimpse of who'd thrown the pie at him last night?

"Very well," she replied to the Orlesian ambassador. "And you?"

"Very good," he replied and glanced to Cassandra. "Shall we begin, your holiness?"

Distraction. Deflection, Humor. I can do this.

________________________________

Original post author note:

I like to think of this earliest story arc as being the "Solas Doesn't Know" theme, which is utterly hilarious for its irony that Solas usually knows everything about everything. Putting him in this humiliating position brought me an inordinate amount of joy. I hope it does for all of you as well! So feel free to play "Scotty Doesn't Know" as a theme song for this chapter and the next one to come.

Next chapter teaser:

"I'd much rather continue this at a later time," Solas protested. In truth he had plenty of time, but he didn't want to spend any of it dealing with Dorian and his bizarre quest to force him and Ellana into matrimony.

"No such luck, I'm afraid," Dorian answered, teasing his mustache with one hand for a moment as he grinned. "Now, you simply must tell me. Are the rumors true?"

"What rumors?" Solas asked, terse and unconcerned.

Dorian, oddly, froze at Solas' innocent question. Staring at Solas, his lips pinched and his eyes narrowed, he was speechless for several long heartbeats. Finally he let out a quick, high-pitched guffaw. "You haven't heard?"

Chapter Text

Morning light colored the room and the sound of birdsong filled Solas' ears as he stepped through the eluvian and found himself back in the locked storage room at Halamshiral. He'd been away all night and by now he suspected Ellana would be at the summit, distracted by the endless droning of the politicians.

He started for the closed windows, staring out into the quiet alley below, contemplating. He could try and trick Ellana and the Inquisition into finding the active eluvian by themselves. It'd be easy enough to capture a Qunari warrior, mortally wound him, and then push him through the Halamshiral mirror. From there someone would find his corpse and follow the blood trail back to the mirror.

He'd considered that plan the night before but always dismissed it as needlessly dishonest. He'd already misled Ellana and the Inquisition for years and she was too clever not to begin asking questions once she started finding clues in the Crossroads or tangled with Qunari who'd call Solas "an agent of Fen'Harel." Better to try what Lyris suggested: honest alliance.

How can she forgive me for this? Solas asked himself, grimacing and shaking his head. But she deserved the truth far more than he deserved her innocent love. I should have told her years ago…

Turning from the window, Solas strode instead to the door, pausing a moment to brush at his robes and checking for bloodstains or debris from the collapsing watchtower. He found dirt and pine needles from the night he'd spent at Hellathen Hamin. Sniffing at himself, he made a face, wishing he had time to bathe and wash the campfire smell from his clothes. No such luck. He stashed his staff beneath a low table near the door, knowing it'd draw attention in the palace if he walked around armed—not that he needed the weapon to be deadly.

After listening at the door for a while to be sure the hallway outside was empty, Solas unlocked the door and slipped through. The palace beyond was still and peaceful, deceptively calm like Solas himself. He shut the door as softly as possible and strode quickly away, tugging the hood on his robes up and over his head as he walked. The servants he passed ignored him, set on their tasks, but he did catch a few curious stares as they registered he wasn't one of them.

When he encountered his first Inquisition sentry, a human man standing slumped along a corner beside some masked Orlesian guards, Solas clenched his jaw and kept his pace steady and his head downward slightly, hoping to pass unnoticed. But before he'd gone halfway down the hall the Inquisition man shouted, "You there! Halt!"

Solas obeyed and forced himself to smile in greeting. "Yes?"

"What are you doing in here, mage?" one of the Orlesian guards demanded with a pensive scowl. "Are you a speaker at the Exalted Council?" Unlike the noble who'd called Solas a rabbit the previous day, this guard recognized him for what he was on sight.

Before Solas could reply, the Inquisition sentry motioned at him and said, "Put your hood down."

The suspicion in the sentry's voice was impossible to miss, and his narrowed eyes told Solas he had no chance of getting by these men without being recognized. He tugged the hood down, somehow managing to smile even as all three humans reacted with recognition.

"You're Inquisitor Lavellan's Fade expert," the Inquisition man said. "Solas."

"Yes," he answered, keeping his voice lighthearted and calm. He twisted to show them the armband with the Inquisition symbol embroidered on it. "I was just on my way to the Exalted Council. I seem to have gotten turned around."

The sentry started toward him, his tread authoritative. "The Inquisitor gave orders for us to find you."

He blinked, startled by this news. Of course Ellana would have noticed his absence by now, but to have the whole Inquisition looking for him? Squashing his reaction, he allowed the sentry to walk up to him, ignoring the pounding of his heart. "Is there a problem?"

With his back to the Orlesians the Inquisition sentry's expression relaxed somewhat, but his voice was still gruff as he answered Solas' question. "No problem, sir. Just following orders is all." He motioned down the hall in the opposite direction from where Solas had been heading. "If you'll follow me."

With his back stiff and a knot of tension growing in his chest, Solas obeyed. Magic coiled inside him, ready to be unleashed at any moment. The sentry could be a Qunari spy, not a loyal member of the Inquisition.

The sentry brought him to a doorway that led outside and stopped, speaking in whispers with another set of Orlesian and Inquisition guards. The whole group stared at Solas, their lips quirking in a way he interpreted as withholding some emotion—smirks? Sneers? The previous day he'd been able to pass undetected through the palace, but now they all seemed to recognize him. Had all of Halamshiral gone mad the single night he was away?

Another Inquisition sentry left her post at the door and entered the pavilion beyond. Solas couldn't see inside, but he could hear raised voices and arguing. When he tilted his head, concentrating, he recognized Josephine interrupting, calling for a recess. Chairs scraped on the floor and a pompous male voice protested the adjournment, but already Solas heard footsteps thumping over the floor, coming toward the door—and he recognized the tread. It was Ellana.

Drawing in a breath, he steeled himself for what would surely become a confrontation.

________________________________

Ellana's blood had already been boiling with the Ferelden ambassador's attacks on the Inquisition, so when a sentry whispered to her that they'd located Solas, she was thrilled for more than one reason to leave the politician spluttering with barely repressed rage. Every step through the pavilion toward the palace made her heart hammer harder and faster in her chest, anticipating something…out of the ordinary. Her stomach fluttered, ever-volatile recently as she tried to keep her mind empty rather than coming up with bizarre reasons for why Solas disappeared the previous night.

The sentry exited the pavilion with her and as Ellana followed she saw they really had brought Solas—though by his expression he wasn't entirely happy about it. "Solas?" she called, trying to restrain her first instinct to rush toward him like the worried lover she was.

"Inquisitor," he replied with a nod, his posture stiff and aloof. Her first thought was one of panic. Did he know already? Was he angry or upset or just unhappy she'd been foolish enough to talk to others before him? But the shape and darkness of his eyes revealed not anger but something closer to despair. She held her tongue, aware of the curious onlookers. The Orlesian guards and the two Inquisition sentries both watched them with open curiosity.

"I apologize for my absence," he began then, his voice strained and formal. "I'm afraid it was unavoidable. I have dire news." His gray-blue eyes flicked toward the sentries and the guards. "Perhaps it would be best if we met with your advisers in a more...suitable location."

Unable to stop herself from frowning, Ellana said, "All right." Her skin felt hot and then cold, heavy with the sudden onset of dread as she wondered what could be so dire that Solas would pull her from the Exalted Council. "I'm sure Josephine can cover for me—but I can't stay away long."

"I understand," he said, but his brow knit and his lips worked as if holding back additional words. Finally he flashed a small smile, though it didn't reach his sad, dark eyes. "I did not wish to trouble you. I will await your summons in the courtyard."

"No," she blurted and then blinked at her own outburst. The single word managed to be both alarmed and angry at once.

Solas noticed it too and shot her a glance of confusion and—was it fear? His solemn expression intensified as he asked, "Inquisitor?"

Ellana licked her lips, about to tell him she needed to speak with him in private but stopped, aware of the sentries and guards within earshot. This encounter had been strange enough as it was. The last thing Ellana needed was to be seen pulling him into a side room to whisper in private. The guards and sentries would surely talk about it and make the connection between the rumors about her "delicate condition" and Solas' strange vanishing act.

Steeling herself, Ellana jutted out her chin and said, "I'd prefer if you waited here. It will only take a moment to summon Leliana and Commander Cullen." Before he could reply she turned and motioned to the nearest Inquisition sentry. "Please find our spymaster and the commander and bring them here." To the Orlesians she said, "I will require a private room to meet with my advisors."

Both the sentry and the guard hurried to do her bidding. Ellana waited in the hallway with Solas in what should have been companionable silence but was actually tense and awkward with the Orlesian guards still within earshot. Soon the Orlesian ambassador and Divine Victoria exited the pavilion, both stopping to make friendly small talk with Ellana as they left.

"Solas," Cassandra said with a warm smile. "It's good to see you again, my friend."

"Seeker," Solas greeted her, also smiling. "Oh, forgive me. Divine Victoria."

"I have never stopped being a Seeker, truly." Cassandra glanced to Ellana quickly before speaking to Solas again. "We missed you yesterday. Did you leave the palace grounds?"

"No," Solas said, his smile shrinking noticeably. "I was merely indisposed."

Ellana stared at him, forcing her expression to remain neutral to hide her disbelief. Even if he'd been extremely ill, a servant or someone would've found him. And that story didn't explain his reappearance looking pale and stressed, but otherwise healthy.

"Quite the coincidence," the Orlesian ambassador put in, his lips curling in a smile that immediately made Ellana's skin crawl. "The winter palace is simply fraught with mystery illnesses!"

Both Cassandra and Solas stared at the ambassador with blank or confused expressions. The reaction from Solas made the knot of anxiety in Ellana's chest ease slightly. If Solas had heard of her pregnancy in rumor she felt sure he wouldn't be able to feign the look on his face now.

Distraction, deflection, and humor, Josephine's words repeated in her head. Ellana let out a polite laugh at the ambassador's joke and then, feigning enthusiasm, said, "Speaking of mysteries, did you hear about the servants throwing pies last night?"

The Orlesian ambassador's mouth fell open a moment before he let out a loud laugh. "I did, actually. Arl Teagan was apparently one of the victims. He was livid about it last night."

Controlling her own laughter, Ellana gave a theatrical gasp. "Not the distinguished Ferelden ambassador. How dreadful."

"Yes," Cassandra said, shooting Ellana a knowing glare. "I will speak with the palace staff. We cannot tolerate such childish behavior during the summit."

"Certainly not," the Orlesian ambassador said, though he was still smiling.

As the sentry returned with Cullen and Leliana in tow, their expressions grave and their body language stiff, the ambassador and Cassandra excused themselves. A winter palace servant escorted the four of them to a small room down the hall from the outdoor pavilion entrance. Once everyone was inside with the door closed, Leliana immediately turned on Solas.

"Care to enlighten us on where you were yesterday and why?" Her eyes were hard and cold with suspicion.

The room they'd been given to meet in was a spacious study with one wall covered in floor to ceiling windows. Tall bookshelves took up the other wall space and a long table with unlit candles dominated the center. Ellana stayed near the door, wincing as she crossed her arms over her chest again only to remember that hurt now. She leaned against a bookcase, watching and waiting with her two advisers as Solas walked to the windows. The casual grace of his steps might've fooled Ellana years ago but now she didn't miss the way little muscles worked in his jaw and the side of his head. His pointed ears were red at the tips.

With his back to the three of them, Solas said, "As you well know, my extensive study of the Fade has made me something of an expert on Elvhen artifacts and their associated magic. Yesterday, I sensed just such magic. Upon investigating, I discovered an active eluvian."

"What?" Cullen blurted. "There's an elven mirror in the winter palace?"

Solas twisted at the neck to stare coolly at the commander. "Indeed, there are several in fact. I sensed them on my first visit to the palace during the peace talks before the defeat of Corypheus, but they were not active at that time. The one I sensed yesterday was."

"Solas," Ellana said, her voice tighter than she'd like. She swallowed, feeling an ache in her throat when he tilted his head to acknowledge her but didn't meet her gaze directly. "Why didn't you bring this to my attention?"

He stepped back from the windows, facing the three of them without meeting any of their stares. "I did not wish to interfere with the Exalted Council, but I could not ignore the eluvian. I had to see what lay on the other side."

"And what did you find?" Leliana asked. A neat smile curled over her lips, almost in mockery. Ellana recognized it as the look she often wore when she'd caught someone in a lie or half-truth.

Solas lifted his gaze to meet the Inquisition's spymaster with a little frown. "Qunari."

"Qunari?" Cullen parroted, his jaw dropping. "I don't understand."

"I suspect the Qunari intend to use the eluvians to deploy troops and invade Southern Thedas. Like Corypheus, they would greatly benefit if Orlais fell into chaos." His head turned slightly and for the first time since they'd set foot into the study, Solas met Ellana's eye. "The timing could not have been an accident. The Exalted Council would allow them to kill important leaders from all across Southern Thedas."

"Including me," Ellana murmured as the realization dawned. A little wave of dizziness passed over her but she pushed it aside.

"Especially you," Solas said, his eyes soft with tenderness. His watched her a moment, the tenseness of worry changing for a flash into something darker and unreadable before he tucked his hands behind his back, squaring his shoulders as he faced Cullen and Leliana. "I tracked and killed several Qunari warriors on the other side of the eluvian, but there were far too many for me alone to fight and I do not yet know the extent of their plans."

"Amazing what you have learned in just one night," Leliana commented, no longer wearing the coy smile.

"I can hardly take the credit for what I do know," Solas told her with a note of irritation. He looked to Ellana again. "Inquisitor, do you recall the sentinels in the temple of Mythal?"

"Yes…" Ellana answered. "They did not stay at the temple, I take it?"

Solas shook his head. "No, they have served their purpose with the Well of Sorrows now with Morrigan. I met their leader, Abelas, in the Crossroads—the fractured construct where eluvians meet." He paused a moment, his lips pinching into a thin line. "It was Abelas who told me everything I know of the Qunari plot."

"We must destroy the eluvian," Cullen said, thumping one fist against the palm of his other hand, his face set in a snarl that promised violence. "We cannot allow this threat to—"

"I would not recommend that," Solas said with a deep frown of disapproval.

"And why not?" Cullen asked, growling.

"Because then we will lose our only means of properly combating them," Solas countered with a glare. "Their efforts in the Crossroads have allowed them to establish far flung bases around Thedas. That is not the kind of power you allow an enemy to possess, Commander."

"Then you're suggesting we go to war with them?" Ellana asked, arching a brow. As Solas turned his blue-gray eyes back to her, his expression grave, Ellana felt suddenly nauseous. She strode to the long table separating herself and her advisers from Solas and leaned her hands onto the smooth wood, determined not to vomit or let on she was very worried about vomiting. "I can't commit to anything that extreme without more evidence."

"More evidence than my word," Solas added and she dropped her gaze down to her hands on the table, unable to look at him. She hadn't missed the emotion at the fringe of his words, but it wasn't the insult she'd expected. It was softer, reserved.

"Do not mistake me," Ellana said with a short sigh. "I trust your guidance, but you could have been misled. The Qunari offered alliance two years ago through Iron Bull."

"Yes," Solas said, a note of irritation in the single word. "And when we sacrificed their dreadnaught they made Iron Bull Tal-Vashoth. Even had we been allied with them, the Qunari cannot be trusted. They would have betrayed the Inquisition at the first opportunity. They will not rest until they have conquered all of Thedas and enslaved its people under the Qun. That is not a philosophy you can reason with, vhen—" He cut himself off as she looked at him, the half-uttered term of endearment still ringing in the air. He was red-faced, with anger and something akin to desperation visible in the set of his jaw.

"The entire journey here you insisted I should order the Inquisition to disband," Ellana reminded him with a glare. "Now you're begging me to declare war with it."

He withdrew a step, closer to the windows, glancing at Cullen and Leliana. The two humans stared at him, Leliana smiling again as if she found the confrontation amusing while Cullen sneered with disapproval. They hadn't known of Solas' fervent advice to their Inquisitor regarding the Exalted Council before now, but neither showed surprise.

The heated emotion drained from Solas' face, the tension in his body language easing as he visibly regained composure. "I am, yes," he admitted with a nod. "Because the threat is grave."

"I think that's something I should see for myself," Ellana said, pushing off from the table and raising her chin. She willed herself to feel like the leader she was, not the confused elven woman facing off with her lover and the father of her unborn, newly discovered child. "And I'd like to speak with Abelas to hear what else he knows."

Oddly the words seemed to make Solas flinch—or had he just shivered? But the micro-expression was so fleeting she was sure she'd misread it. "Of course," he said. "And there is more you should know."

"More?" Leliana asked and chuckled. "Should we sit down for this one?" Her blue eyes moved to Ellana, shooting her a sympathetic look.

Solas followed the exchange, his brow knitting slightly as he focused on Ellana. "Perhaps. I'm afraid it is not good news."

"It never is," Cullen grumbled.

Solas ignored the commander. "As you know, the Anchor is sensitive to Elvhen magic." His gaze softened with tenderness. "I fear that if you encounter such magic going through the eluvians it will destabilize the Anchor. The consequences could be fatal."

"Fatal?" Ellana repeated, eyes widening.

"How can you possibly know that?" Cullen demanded, losing his temper. "It's been stable for years now."

Solas hadn't stopped staring at Ellana. The pressure of his eyes on her made Ellana squirm, aware of the mark in her hand as well as the weight in her abdomen. Another dizzy spell made her close her eyes, but she hid the action by pinching the bridge of her nose in exasperation. "You stabilized it before," Ellana murmured. "You can't do it again?"

"It was blind luck before," Solas told her, the words as soft as a caress. "The Anchor is far more powerful now. I doubt I would have the strength to bring it under control again."

"I'll ask again," Cullen growled. "How can you be so sure about this?"

"I have seen such magic before," Solas replied coolly. "In the deepest memories of the Fade. And I have felt it again in the Crossroads. The mages of old were far more powerful than any living today. All Elvhen ruins remain charged with their magic. The Anchor will react to it. I am certain." In almost a whisper he said, "Vhenan. I beg you, do not go to the Crossroads. The Qunari must be dealt with, but you do not need to lead the assault. I will go in your stead."

Ellana flexed her left hand, staring into the palm, and sighed. Why had this happened now? How had everything fallen apart so thoroughly? The aching lump in her throat threatened to become tears but she swallowed hard and gritted her teeth together. When had she become such a soft heart?

"This is something to take into consideration, Inquisitor," Leliana said. "You do not need to endanger yourself personally…"

Ellana didn't need to look at her spymaster to know the other woman was subtly referencing her pregnancy. As if Ellana needed to be reminded of what was at stake. The thought made the room spin again and her stomach clench. She needed more ginger and something to eat. And Mythal's mercy, maybe just a little breeze into this stuffy room!

"I would also volunteer," Cullen put in. "Should this prove to be a credible threat."

"I assure you, Commander," Solas said with a tone of mild annoyance. "It is most credible." He chuckled, the sound dark and ominous. "I wish it were not."

Still thinking of tea, fresh air, and ginger, Ellana's shoulders slumped. "I can't decide this now." She fanned herself. "I need to see the eluvian and I need time to think. And I need some fresh air."

"And there is the Exalted Council still to consider," Leliana reminded her.

Solas was watching Ellana, a look of concern on his face. Seeing it, Ellana let her hand fall to her side, aware of how strange it must've appeared as the air wasn't especially hot yet and everyone had been telling her how pale she was after all. Solas likely saw it too.

I need to tell him, she thought, but the idea of it just left her exhausted with so much else happening.

"I need to get back to the summit," Ellana said and groaned.

"Solas," Leliana said. "Perhaps you can escort Commander Cullen and one of my sentries to the eluvian." She nodded in Ellana's direction. "I will walk back with the Inquisitor."

Ellana restrained the frown that tugged on her lips as she read Leliana's intent. She's splitting us up. Solas' slight hesitation told Ellana he'd noticed it too. With a quick glance to Ellana he dipped his head in acknowledgement. "Of course." He raised one hand, gesturing at the door. "If you would follow me, Commander."

As soon as the two men had left the room, Leliana crossed to grip Ellana by the arm, her hold firm but gentle. Her bright blue eyes met with Ellana's own deep green. "I am sorry for all this," she said, her smile melancholy. "How are you holding up?"

Ellana laughed humorlessly. "Does everyone know?"

"Word spreads quickly at the palace, but I would have been told regardless," the spymaster said, smirking. "And I would have guessed first if I'd had but a few more days seeing your symptoms…and with fewer distractions of my own."

"Always the Game," Ellana said with a shake of her head.

"Yes," Leliana said and all humor fled from her. She squeezed Ellana's arm. "I hate to tell you this, but Solas is hiding something from us."

The lump in Ellana's throat tightened as she nodded. "I was afraid you'd say that." She sucked in a shaky breath. "And…I suspected it too."

Leliana's jaw clenched, but her eyes stayed soft with sympathy. "He knows far too much for this to be a new development. And I knew about the eluvian in the palace. They keep it locked away in storage and have ever since Morrigan left. She warned them it could prove dangerous."

"So…how did he get into the room?" Ellana finished for the spymaster.

"Exactly." She made a noise of disappointment with her tongue. "What I don't understand is why he's trying to lie to us. He's a brilliant man and he must know I will catch him." She searched Ellana for a moment and then asked, "Have you told him yet?"

"No," Ellana murmured, dropping her gaze to the floor. "I haven't had the chance. The sentries just brought him here from…" She stepped out of Leliana's touch and groaned. "From wherever he was. Fenedhis, why do I always feel like I'm about to vomit?"

Leliana chuckled. "Nerves as much as the little one." Her footsteps thumped lightly over the floor behind Ellana. The spymaster brushed her elbow, guiding her toward the door. "My advice, Inquisitor, is to be cautious. It's clear Solas cares for you, but it has always bothered me how little I could find of him. I had thought that was because there was little to know—but I should not have assumed such. It's always the quiet ones who surprise you, and not always in pleasant ways."

The thought that she couldn't trust her lover of over three years made Ellana choke as pain stabbed through her chest, constricting it. She hesitated with Leliana by the door, breathing deeply.

"I'm sorry," Leliana murmured, her voice as gentle and reassuring, motherly. "Truly, I am. Whatever he's hiding will come out, and I think he knows that."

"Should I confront him?" Ellana asked. "Reveal that we know the eluvian was locked away?"

Instead of answering her question, Leliana motioned back toward the windows where Solas had stood. "The way he lingered there before speaking—perhaps I imagined it, but I feared he would flee. I doubt he would get far, but I would not confront him before you have exposed your own secret first. His reaction could be most telling."

I feared he would flee. The words pounded on the inside of Ellana's skull, robbing her of breath for a second before she managed to snort, finding humor in Leliana's advice. "I'd best hurry then since everyone seems to know about it."

"That would be best," Leliana agreed, opening the door for Ellana. "Because as usual, you are the talk of the winter palace just as you were during the winter ball."

Ellana could only groan and curse herself for confiding in Sera for the thousandth time that morning.

_________________________________________

Lanya found him in the same alley as yesterday. She balanced a tray of used glasses on one shoulder. Sweat lined her brow and her black hair was matted with it at the temples. She didn't look happy.

"Can I bring you something, sir?" she asked despite the fact her tray was clearly for returning dirty glassware.

"Information," Solas replied under his breath, leaning closer to her.

"Gaatlock barrels have been brought into the palace," Lanya told him, hissing through her teeth. "On Inquisition manifests."

"Fenedhis," Solas cursed, turning his head to glare into the corridor and the tavern beyond. Lanya stayed next to him, watching and waiting but silent as he weighed his options. Finally Solas looked back to her. "Have one of the shem-elves from the palace move it close to the tavern and subtly direct Iron Bull's attention to it."

"Fen'Harel enansal," Lanya said and dipped her head to him before hurrying away.

The warm, humid midday sun beat down on him, heavy as he stared unseeingly at the opposite wall of the alleyway. He rubbed at his neck, feeling the accumulating sweat, and letting his thoughts return repeatedly to the conversation in the study. He knew Leliana would poke holes in his story. It had too many variables he couldn't control because he hadn't had time to plot it out properly. Leliana had only to unravel a few and the entire structure of his lie would crumble.

He knew the spymaster had deliberately sent him away on a meaningless errand with Cullen so that she could speak in private with Ellana. Even Cullen seemed to see through it as he'd barely spent any time in the storage room with the eluvian. The sneer of instinctual fear on Cullen's face as he glared at the mirror had made Solas feel his literal age—a couple thousand. Cullen saw the eluvian as nothing but an evil threat and would've smashed it without a second thought. As a Templar and an Andrastian, he'd been raised to fear magic and the Fade from birth. As much as Solas resented that viewpoint, he knew he had no one but himself to blame for it and Cullen was a good man, for a human and a Templar at least.

And that was how Solas now found himself lingering in the courtyard, sweating under the noonday sun, itching to act and yet hampered by his subordinate position and subterfuge. Initially he'd intended to divulge far more to Ellana and her advisors, but after being apprehended and escorted to her almost like a prisoner…wariness got the better of him, to his shame.

Feeling thirsty and overheated, Solas left the alley and walked into the tavern. The crowd was lively, despite it being early for drinking and merriment. Nobles and commoners alike crowded the few tables and booths, but fortunately neither Iron Bull or Sera appeared to have taken up residence there yet to waylay him. He had no interest in drinking alcohol, but he procured a cheap mug from behind the bar and poured water from a glass pitcher.

As he drank, Solas felt the other patrons watching him, both covert and obvious. A niggling worry churned in the back of his mind as he pretended to take no notice. Something had happened yesterday or overnight to change the mood of everyone at Halamshiral, and it'd made the entire populace see him.

But then again, perhaps it was merely his imagination.

Downing his first mug of water, Solas took another when suddenly he heard a familiar female voice call out behind him. "Hey you, droopy ears!"

Restraining the desire to roll his eyes, Solas set his mug down on the bar and turned to regard Sera, one eyebrow raised. The elf girl wove her way through the crowded tavern and sat on the stool next to him. There was an unusually hard glint in her brown eyes as she flashed her lopsided grin at him. "Drinking already?" she asked. "You shite bastard."

Solas sighed, his patience stretching thin. "It is water. Perhaps you had not noticed, but the day has grown quite hot."

"Maybe for you," she said and giggled. She plucked at his gray robes and curled her lip with distaste. "I should stick you with an arrow, leaving the Herald alone. Right out of her mind, she was. All worried." She leaned closer, wrinkling her nose. "Right. So, where'd you go?"

"That is none of your concern," Solas answered, taking another swallow of his water.

"That bad?" Sera whistled. "I hope she lets me pie you."

"Excuse me?" Solas asked, shooting her a glare. He recalled the banter between the ambassador and Ellana regarding a servant throwing pies at Arl Teagan. Was that what had happened to so upset the palace?

"Stop with the questions," Sera said, scoffing as the anger in her eyes flared up. "Like you don't know shite. Yeah? You don't fool anyone, you twat."

"I can see the last two years have not dulled your charm," Solas told her, his voice dry and sarcastic. "Tell me, how have your dreams been lately? Perhaps you might enjoy discussing the extraordinary experience of walking physically through the Fade at Adamant Fortress?"

"Piss off," Sera snarled and leapt from her stool, storming away. She threw a last taunt at him, shouting from the tavern entrance loud enough that the others inside would hear her: "Daddy droopy ears!"

Solas made a face at the comment, baffled. Her slang had often confused him and she'd been surprisingly volatile during this encounter, as if he'd done something to offend her other than being absent the previous night. The rest of the tavern goers pretended to ignore the exchange, but Solas didn't miss the quick looks cast in his direction—far more than before.

Daddy droopy ears? Was that her less than clever way of calling him old? Odd.

Finishing his water, Solas left the mug on a servant's tray full of dirty glasses and exited the tavern. He knew where one of his Inquisition spies was stationed in guard rotations in the palace gardens and planned to cross paths with him to confirm Lanya's tip about the gaatlock. He passed Thom Rainier practicing throwing knives in one corner of the courtyard and made a wide circle around the Warden, unwilling to stop and chat with a man who, like himself, had multiple identities and a shameful past. But as he entered the gardens he heard another familiar voice and grimaced as Dorian hurried to catch up with him.

"Solas," the other mage greeted him with a mischievous grin and then, as he sidled up to Solas, he wrapped one arm over his shoulders as if they were the best of friends. Solas stiffened and glared his disapproval but the other man ignored his silent protest. "I've been looking for you all morning," he said. "You sly dog. Where did you run off to yesterday?"

"I'd rather not discuss it," Solas said and twisted, ducking out of Dorian's one-armed embrace. "If you please, I have somewhere I need to—"

"Oh, no you don't," Dorian said, wagging a finger at him as if Solas was nothing but a disobedient child or underling. "You're not going anywhere until you tell me when you're going to do right by the old girl and marry her."

Solas paused, blinking a moment before shaking his head. "We've already discussed this, Tevinter. I have nothing more to say on it. There are more pressing matters that require—"

Dorian interrupted him with an angry scoff and a wave of one hand. "I'm sorry, did you just try to brush off your responsibility to Ellana?" The icy tone of his words did nothing to hide the mottled blush of rage that spread over his face. "Because I may have to hit you if you did. I always thought you more respectable than this."

"I do not particularly care what you think of me," Solas snapped, losing his temper. They glowered at each other and Solas didn't miss the charge of hostile magic in the air, though he wasn't sure how much of it was his own and how much belonged to Dorian. He was about to turn away and leave when Dorian's head tilted to one side and the rage in his expression warped with something unreadable.

"I think we may have misunderstood each other," he said with a shake of his head. "Because I cannot believe you would turn your back on the old girl after three years with her."

Solas scowled. "Do not call Ellana that." The nickname always made him bristle with its casual familiarity and mild rudeness, reducing Ellana to some diminutive thing when she had always been so much more than her physical nature to Solas.

Dorian motioned to him with a smug smile now. "There, see? That's more like your usual stubborn propriety." He edged closer, dropping his voice and failing, or choosing not to notice that Solas recoiled as if he had bad breath. "Let's start over, shall we?"

"I'd much rather continue this at a later time," Solas protested, looking over his shoulder toward the gardens. In truth he had plenty of time, but he didn't want to spend any of it dealing with Dorian and his bizarre quest to force he and Ellana into matrimony.

"No such luck, I'm afraid," Dorian answered, teasing his mustache with one hand for a moment as he grinned. "Now, you simply must tell me. Are the rumors true?"

"What rumors?" Solas asked, terse and unconcerned.

Dorian, oddly, froze at Solas' innocent question. Staring at Solas, his lips pinched and his eyes narrowed, he was speechless for several long heartbeats. Finally he let out a quick, high-pitched guffaw. "You haven't heard?"

"I was indisposed," Solas lied, his brow furrowing as curiosity got the better of him. "I heard something about Sera pranking the nobility last night. Is that what you mean?"

Dorian threw his head back and laughed, eyes closed and shoulders heaving. "You really don't know!"

Solas' skin prickled with irritation. He cleared his throat, struggling to maintain composure. "No, as I said, I was indisposed."

"Indisposed," Dorian repeated almost mockingly, laughing. "Indeed. Well, since you haven't yet heard, I won't be the one to break the news to you."

Feeling his face afire with humiliation, Solas glared. "Then I have nothing further to say to you." He pivoted and stalked away, unable to keep his tread from thumping with his anger. What had he missed while he was away? It seemed his instincts had been right the first time that whatever it was it had involved him, somehow.

It doesn't matter, he consoled himself once he was out of Dorian's sight in the garden. He stopped beside a potted plant and felt absently over its waxy green leaves. Most of the scenarios for his current plot ended badly for himself and Ellana. She might never forgive him and he'd lose her love. The Anchor could destabilize and kill her, or if it didn't and he managed to save her life but not her arm, she could blame him for that loss and his betrayal.

Remembering his moment in the study, staring out the windows, Solas shuddered and closed his eyes. He'd feared attack when he revealed who and what he truly was, despite how well he knew Ellana. He'd seen people he usually considered levelheaded, critical thinkers react very poorly when faced with betrayal of far smaller magnitudes than his own. It could still happen that he'd emerge out of this situation having lost Ellana and any hope of alliance, honest or otherwise.

If it came down to it, could Solas disappear into the eluvians and leave Ellana behind for good? His lieutenants would approve such an action, as would Fen'Harel and his greater purpose. But Solas the individual was weak and the thought of losing Ellana to death or his own misdeeds made him feel as though icy hands clutched at his neck, robbing the air from his lungs.

Plucking the leaf and watching it fall, Solas sighed. Then he rubbed his face, as if he could scrub away these foreboding, gloomy thoughts. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

_________________________________

Needless to say, my dumb self finally figured out rich text preserves the italics. Derp.

I am a bit unique, I think, in my read of Solas. Seems like everyone thinks he's immortal. He may well be immortal in Bioware canon, and obviously he was before his long sleep and during it, but when I look at his actions in Inquisition I see a man who is pressed for time. If he's still immortal, his choice to let Corypheus unlock the orb rather than just sit and bide his time as he grew stronger, is truly awful and dumb. But if he's woken up now mortal like all the other elves...suddenly we have a man who has NEVER known mortal aging seeing every day that passes as a lost chance to right the terrible wrongs of his past, with so little time left to achieve his goals. How could he NOT make awful choices then simply by virtue of being short on time?

I also see support for this in "The Masked Empire" as Felassan, another elf who likely survived Elvhenan, wasn't described as not aging. He was an older man and Briala had known him for 20+ years. Yet she never mentions her mentor seeming ageless, at least not that I saw. My other reason for casting Solas as mortal now is his biggest fear in the Fade at Adamant. "Dying Alone." We read it and get all emotional about this scholarly, lonely dude, angsty and troubled. But we don't think about the Dying part of his fear. No one else had "Dying" as part of their fear. I take that to mean everyone else, born mortal, knows death is coming and accepts it as part of existence. But here's Solas, newly mortal for the first time, and so his fear includes death.

Anyway, like I said in my profile, I think way too much about the egghead. But I thought I'd discuss that if it wasn't obvious in my fic that I cast Solas as mortal and I have given it a lot of thought to come to that conclusion. Of course, probably I'm all wrong and Bioware will be like, "Nope! Dude's totally immortal still and all your reasoning about his life choices is wrong. Turns out Solas just is that much of a careless dipshit like, sure, giving a darkspawn magister who wants to be a god my Orb of Doom sounds like a GREAT idea."

Next Chapter teaser:

"So…uh, sorry to hear you were, ah, out of the loop yesterday." Varric clapped his hands together, rubbing them and looking away for a moment before his expression brightened. "Have you tried talking with Sera?"

"One does not talk with Sera as much as listen with only a vague hope of understanding every other word," Solas replied with a quick shake of his head.

"You're saying you did talk to her?" Varric asked, cocking his head to one side quizzically.

"She insulted me a few times and left," Solas explained, wiping at his forehead again. "I had hoped you would be more coherent."

Chapter Text

"One thing I've always wondered," Iron Bull said as he clipped on his armored shoulder guard and tugged it into place. "Are you elves born with those pointy ears or do they grow in?"

"Is that a serious question?" Ellana asked, unsure whether to laugh at him or frown. She wriggled her bare toes, adjusting the chainmail leggings of her Dalish hunter armor. Was it her imagination or did it already feel a tad snug around her midsection? The extra weight of the armor already made her breasts ache. She rose to her feet, stretching with a groan.

"Of course," Iron Bull said and she could hear the smile in his voice. "Why wouldn't it be?" He grabbed his two-handed great-axe and hefted it over his shoulder, surveying the storage room with his single blue eye.

"Why are you wondering about this now?" she asked, hands on her hips. The eluvian gleamed a cerulean blue behind her, glinting from Iron Bull's armor.

He grinned. "I think you know why, Boss."

"No," Ellana retorted, keeping her expression as neutral and unreadable as she could. "I really don't."

"I'm just curious," he said and laughed. "I've never seen an elven imekari before."

Ellana didn't bother asking for a translation of his Qunlat—she usually regretted it when she did. Busying herself with examining her bow, she tried to be nonchalant and shrugged in answer to his question. "We're born with them." Distraction, deflection, humor. "What about you Qunari? I assume your horns must grow in, but are your ears pointed from birth?"

Iron Bull snorted. "Yeah, but our ears are soft. I've bumped into Dalish by accident in a fight and her ears are like knifepoints." He hesitated a moment and then raised one meaty hand to gesture apologetically. "Uh, I didn't mean to—"

"It's okay," she said, pushing aside the desire to ask who had told him about her pregnancy, but that would break Josephine's cardinal rule not to confirm it. So instead she slung her bow over her shoulder and looked to the closed door of the storage room. "What do you think is keeping Cassandra and Blac—" She cut herself off, correcting the mistake. "Rainier."

"Cassandra is probably still changing her clothes," Iron Bull said. "And Rainier has that beard to take care of." He followed her gaze to the door. "Shouldn't we bring Solas?"

Ellana pretended to be absorbed with her finger guards on her drawing hand to avoid looking at Iron Bull. "He's busy elsewhere."

Iron Bull snorted. "Boss, you gotta learn to lie better. He's going to be mad as a high dragon whose hatchlings have been slaughtered when he hears you did something like this without him."

Yes, she thought and withheld a sigh. He will be furious. Her heart ached as if burning hands had hold of it and were squeezing. Sniffing, she checked the leather straps on her armor for the third time to stay busy and prevent herself from thinking about what she was about to do.

The door opened then, finally, and Cassandra strode in with Rainier and Dorian at her heels. The brilliant gold of the Divine's armor stole Ellana's breath. "Cassandra," she said, eyes widening even further as she took in the oblong crescent of her helmet that made her look as though her head was the yolk of a gold metallic egg. "Wow—I see they couldn't let you wear a practical hat even in armor."

"You know you'll have to get that armor dirty, right?" Iron Bull asked.

"Enough," Cassandra grumbled. "I understand it is ridiculous, but my attendants refused to listen."

"Since when have you cared what other people think?" Rainier asked, chuckling. He cleared his throat as Cassandra glared at him, adding, "Pardon me, your holiness." His own armor, the shining blue-gray of a true Warden, glimmered even in the low light of the storage room. The griffon emblazoned on the front gleamed like water in the sun.

"I have always cared about tradition," Cassandra reminded him. "And the armor is strong, even if it will draw enemy fire like a beacon."

"Not to mention blind them," Dorian quipped, earning another of Cassandra's potent glares. "No, seriously. I applaud the strategy. It's genius."

"Inquisitor," Cassandra said, her brown eyes landing on Ellana and her lips quirking in an uncomfortable half-frown. "I must ask you—are you certain you wish to do this?" Her gaze kept dropping lower on Ellana's body. "Leliana briefed me…on all of it."

Ellana felt her cheeks catch fire at Cassandra's pathetic attempt to be tactful. She shot quick, covert glances at the others and felt her shoulders slouch as she saw Dorian's knowing smirk and Rainier's sudden intense interest in his own boots. Fen'Harel's balls, everyone really does know. She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Yes, I'm sure I want to do this, Cassandra."

Cassandra shuffled from foot to foot, chewing a corner of her lip for a moment. "Shouldn't we bring Solas as well?"

"You said Leliana briefed you," Ellana reminded her, making a face. "That should have included that Solas isn't being truthful with us. I want to see the Crossroads and the situation with the Qunari personally."

Cassandra nodded, but she didn't look any happier. "I understand, Inquisitor, but surely we should at least let him know…" She blinked then, her cheeks reddening as she stammered to clarify her words. "About this expedition, I mean. Not—anything else."

Dorian burst out laughing from behind her, doubling over. Iron Bull had begun chuckling in his deep-throated voice as well, grinning in the Tevinter's direction.

"I don't see what is so funny," Ellana said, glaring. Her heart pounded in her ears as she struggled to keep her own reaction cold and unaffected—as if she truly didn't understand. Her lips kept twitching, her chin wrinkling as her inner emotions swung between humiliation, awkwardness, horror, along with the desire to just give in and laugh with them at the painful obviousness of Cassandra's explanation.

"I'll tell you what's so funny," Dorian said, gasping as he began to recover. "You see—I just spoke with Solas a few minutes ago and he doesn't know. Isn't that delightfully ironic, considering he knows everything?"

Cassandra growled. "Show some respect, Tevinter."

"Enough," Ellana snapped, raising both hands up, palms outward in a motion commanding them to be silent. "Can we just get to the Crossroads and get back before Arl Teagan declares war on us for ordering the extended recess?"

"I wanted to strangle that man with my bare hands," Cassandra said, snarling.

"You could throw pies at him like the Inquisitor did," Rainier suggested with a laugh.

"How do you—" Ellana shook her head, cutting herself off. "Never mind." Sera, of course. She pointed to the eluvian. "I'm going through that damned mirror even if I have to do it alone. Are you all going to join me or stand around here giggling like children?"

"I rather thought my laughter to be decidedly charming and rather manly," Dorian quipped, stroking his mustache with one finger as he grinned in response to her glare.

"I like it," Iron Bull said, waggling an eyebrow.

"See? My point exactly," Dorian said, smirking.

"Oh for—would you two get a room already?" Ellana scolded them. As Dorian laughed again she turned to the mirror and walked toward it, one hand outstretched. The sound of armor clanking and thumping footsteps followed her, letting her sigh with relief that the embarrassing conversation was over. Elgar'nan's breath, I can't put off telling Solas any longer.

She pushed her right hand through the mirror, feeling its cold magic send a chill over her. As soon as I've seen the Crossroads for myself, she promised. Then I'll tell him.

___________________________________________

"Have you seen Commander Cullen?" the noblewoman with the muffled voice asked, and Solas could picture her lips hidden behind a ridiculously high collar. "Who wouldn't want to bed him? Can you really blame the Inquisitor?"

Solas kept his expression neutral as he lingered in the shade of the garden wall, eavesdropping on a group of chatty Orlesian women standing just around the corner. He wiped sweat off his brow and then his head with one sleeve, frowning to himself and longing for a bath. So far he'd heard the women bounce between broad and often unrelated topics, usually inane and useless to him, but he knew they'd recognized him earlier when he strolled by and had hoped to overhear something valuable by lingering just around the corner from them.

"Did you hear Madame de Fer say our dear lady Inquisitor was faint during a trip to the spas?" asked the noblewoman with a higher-pitched, more youthful voice. She giggled, the sound grating on Solas' ears.

"Of course I've heard," the woman with the oldest voice replied, sounding irritable. "And it explains why the Inquisition's commander has refused every marriage proposal for the last three years!"

Solas scoffed under his breath, fast losing interest. Why had he decided this was a good idea? But he already knew the answer: because his Inquisition spy claimed he knew nothing about any rumors floating around the palace. And Solas knew he was lying.

The spy, an Elvhen man named Var, had once served in Solas' forces as a mage but had awoken from uthenera unable to access the Fade, much to his horror and shame. Solas had reassured him, encouraging him to join the Inquisition as a "city elf" recruit so they could train him as a rogue and overcome his newfound inability to cast magic. Var had recovered in the two years since joining the Inquisition and Solas hadn't doubted his loyalty previously—destroying the Veil was the only way for him to feel the bliss of touching the Fade and casting again—but he'd been twitchy and vague when Solas questioned him about palace rumor. The reaction suggested Var did know something, but he wouldn't repeat it despite Solas' urging.

That left Solas standing about sweating, trying to overhear whatever it was Var wouldn't tell him and wondering if he'd have to confront the spy about his loyalties. Both tasks were distasteful and left Solas with what felt like a permanent scowl.

Admitting defeat for the moment, Solas left the garden wall, searching for a better group to eavesdrop on. He crossed into the open space of the courtyard and saw Varric beside the fountain with his advisor. Instead of skirting around them Solas made straight toward them.

"Chuckles!" the dwarf greeted him, throwing his arms out wide in a gesture of welcome. "So good to finally run across you! The Inquisitor was looking for you yesterday and I heard you were…away?" He shrugged. "No matter. Good to see you're back."

"Hello," the advisor greeted Solas with a nod. "I'm Bran Cavin. You're Solas? The Inquisition's Fade expert?"

"Don't get him started on the Fade," Varric warned with a laugh. "He'll talk your ear off."

Solas struggled to quash the impatience pressing on him from within as he smiled at Bran. "I am indeed Inquisitor Lavellan's Fade expert." He barely paused before switching his attention back to Varric. "I was indisposed yesterday, but I am much recovered now." His mind churned, searching for a subtle way to draw out gossip from the human and the dwarf without getting bogged down in pleasantries. But he came up blank. Best to be blunt, then. "I haven't been able to catch up much with the Inquisitor today. What did I miss?"

Bran raised a finger, as if to interject something, but what he said was, "I'll let you two catch up." He whipped around and strode off to stand awkwardly by himself, still within sight and earshot.

Solas restrained a frown of irritation before Varric let out a dry laugh that turned into a groan. "So…uh, sorry to hear you were, ah, out of the loop yesterday." He clapped his hands together, rubbing them and looking away for a moment before his expression brightened. "Have you tried talking with Sera?"

"One does not talk with Sera as much as listen with only a vague hope of understanding every other word," Solas replied with a quick shake of his head.

"You're saying you did talk to her?" Varric asked, cocking his head to one side quizzically.

"She insulted me a few times and left," Solas explained, wiping at his forehead again. "I had hoped you would be more coherent."

"Coherent, yes," Varric said with an uncomfortable smirk. "But…" He sighed, giving an exaggerated shrug. "Look. Not a lot happened yesterday, but people are talking. All I know is Ellana was looking for you and couldn't find you." He smirked, his smile lopsided. "I'm not a relationship expert by any means, Chuckles, but if you have a question about the Inquisitor and…whatever happened yesterday…I'd suggest you try asking her about it. Not me."

Solas let out a little breath of barely restrained frustration. "I suppose you are right. Unfortunately the Inquisitor is preoccupied with the Exalted Council at the moment."

Varric's expression brightened with humor. "Actually you're in luck, Chuckles. A servant came by and told Bran and I about an hour ago that the summit has been placed in recess for the rest of the day."

The news hit Solas like a saarebas' fireball. He flinched and immediately looked toward the stairs and the palace. "The summit has been adjourned…?"

She didn't tell me, didn't send for me.

"Yeah," Varric said, a note of concern entering his voice. "Rumor is the Inquisitor hasn't been feeling the greatest. What that means is anyone's guess." He rubbed the back of his neck and cleared his throat, awkward and shuffling as he avoided Solas' gaze.

"Please excuse me," Solas said and strode quickly away. He didn't miss Varric's weak muttered curse behind him: "Ah, shit."

As he made his way up the stairs a few of the comments he'd heard replayed in his mind until he found himself with the permanent frown on his face again. Our dear lady Inquisitor was faint during a trip to the spas, the noblewoman had said. Varric's voice followed: The Inquisitor hasn't been feeling the greatest. The memory of Ellana standing in the study, fanning herself and looking as though she might gag at any moment kept flashing against his eyelids whenever he blinked. Could she have been poisoned by Qunari spies?

The guards at the gate admitted him with no trouble, nodding at the sight of his armband. Solas made his way at a swift, determined pace with his head up and his eyes narrowed, navigating confidently through the palace halls. Servants stepped out of his way and cast him nervous stares that he ignored. He saw three of his own spies—two from the palace and one with the Inquisition—gawp for a second before turning away as though they didn't recognize him either as Solas or Fen'Harel.

The door to the storage room holding the eluvian now had three Orlesian guards stationed there. They stiffened at the sight of him, their mouths tightening below their gilded masks. "I'm sorry, sir," said one of them, most likely the highest ranked. "You're not allowed here. Please move along."

"I must speak with the Inquisitor," Solas said, his voice firm and gruff.

"Inquisitor Lavellan isn't here," the guard replied. "I'd suggest you check the guest wing of the palace."

Solas hesitated, scrutinizing the men and weighing his options before his shoulders hunched slightly, resigning himself to searching elsewhere first. He wanted to be wrong. But as he pivoted and strode back down the hall, rounding the corner to be out of sight, the knot of anxiety in his stomach seemed to grow tighter with every heartbeat. Away from the guards but still within earshot, Solas leaned against the wall and covered his face with both hands, struggling to think through the anguish churning inside.

She would not go through the mirror without me…

"Who was that bald rabbit?" one of the guards asked in a gravelly voice.

"Didn't you know? That's the Inquisitor's Fade expert and jilted lover," another man with a pompous, nasally voice replied, laughing.

"Really?" asked the leader, who'd spoken to Solas. "That Inquisitor is a beautiful woman, for a rabbit anyway. Why would she bed someone obsessed with the Fade?" He let out a grunting laugh. "No wonder she turned him away."

Gravel-voice put in, "They say she walked in the Fade, physically. Twice!"

"So maybe she was obsessed with the Fade too?" Nasal-voice suggested.

"She must've woken up one day and realized he was too busy jerking it in the Fade to satisfy her," the leader said, guffawing.

Solas snarled to himself, hands clenching into fists. Clueless, barbaric shem fools. On silent feet, despite the rage roaring inside him, Solas stalked away for the guest wing, blind to the gold trim walls and ivory paneling and deaf to the whispering he heard from the occasional group of guards or nobles lingering in wider passageways.

_________________________________________

The light in the Crossroads stung Ellana's eyes and left her stomach loopy. She kept trying to see the light source, instinct making her check the time of day, but this wasn't reality as she knew it. As much as she hated to admit it to herself, she regretted not bringing Solas. At least then they'd know they weren't going to get lost in this place.

An hour had passed since she and the others entered through the Halamshiral eluvian and found a vertigo-inducing sight of islands made of black rock that floated on air. They had crossed over a rock bridge to the next closest island and discovered an active eluvian waiting on it beneath a rocky overhang. After some bickering they chose not to enter it and instead explored around the new island and found a second eluvian hidden around a corner and up a small trail through the black rock.

They'd returned to the front of the new island, instinctually staying close to the bridge that led back to the Halamshiral eluvian. Ellana kept squinting against the light, searching the distance for anything remarkable at all and finding nothing except more of the fractured, nauseating light.

"There's nowhere else to go," Rainier said for the hundredth time. "One of the mirrors on this rock must connect to another somewhere across the gap." He pointed toward the island in the distance where they could see the blue glow of another active eluvian.

"Or not," Dorian countered, the fingers of one hand resting on his chin as he considered their position. "You could step out and find yourself falling into the bottomless pit. I don't think this place is big on following the laws of nature, and I don't want to find out if falling to my death is still a thing here."

"We must be missing something," Cassandra said with a frustrated sound in the back of her throat. Her gaze landed on Ellana. "Do you have any ideas at all? "

"I've never been to this part of the Crossroads," Ellana admitted with a helpless shrug. "The part Morrigan took me to was like a courtyard full of mirrors, nothing like this mess."

"Solas would've known," Iron Bull put in, daring to speak aloud what Ellana knew they were all thinking.

"Yes," Ellana admitted aloud, frowning with disapproval. "But I wanted to see for myself if it was as bad as he claimed."

"If the Qunari are here somewhere, it's inside the mirrors," Rainier said. "And the truth is we don't know which are safe to enter—but I'd be happy to volunteer to be the first to try it out."

"Thank you, Thom," Ellana said with a warm smile. "I appreciate the offer but I'd rather not risk anyone's life on hunches right now. I had hoped we'd encounter the sentinel elves Solas said he met, particularly their leader, Abelas."

"Let's hope they don't see me first and attack us," Iron Bull said with a dry chuckle.

"We're doomed then," Dorian said, smirking. "Because you're a giant. With horns. Of course they'll see you first."

"You like the horns," Iron Bull said, his grin mischievous. "Everyone does. Gives you something to hold onto when—"

"I've heard quite enough of that," Cassandra interjected in a loud voice, her lip curling in disgust. "We must deal with the problem at hand."

Dorian sniggered, mumbling under his breath. "…at hand."

Cassandra glared at him, making a disgusted noise. "Ugh." Something glinted in her ridiculously gold, shiny armor, drawing Ellana's gaze away from the group and toward the island across from them.

Two bipedal shapes emerged from the mirror in rapid succession and sprinted toward the edge of the distant island. Gasping, Ellana pointed. "Look!"

They watched, wide-eyed, as the first two figures blurred in a snowy white streak, flowing across the gap to reach another island parallel to the one Ellana and her companions were on. More warriors, this time they were distinctly Qunari, spilled out of the mirror, rushing after the first two but halting at the edge of the island. Ellana saw them hesitate and then a green glow issued from the edge of the rock. The Qunari charged forward and the green glow spread with them, forming a rock bridge.

"I'll be damned," Dorian said with a whistle. "That's a mite impressive."

Iron Bull muttered something in Qunlat that might've been praise or a curse, it was impossible to tell. Rainier and Cassandra stayed silent, their eyes following the distant chase across the void. The Qunari moved quickly but had to stop at every ledge, doing something to unlock the rock bridges. The first two figures had long since vanished by streaking across the gaps almost unceasingly.

"Were those elves?" Cassandra asked Ellana, arching her brow.

"I think so," she answered with a nod. "Elven mages."

"They were Fade stepping," Dorian explained, his brown eyes still wide with astonishment. "At least, I think they were. It's a simple enough trick and useful for dodging in a fight, but I've never seen it used to leap bottomless pits before."

"Could you do it?" Rainier asked, unable to hide the doubtful tone of the question.

Dorian scoffed. "In the real world? I've been doing it since I was a child. We used to play games with it. First one to drop out gets his ass kicked and his nose bloodied, that sort of thing. But the stakes are a little higher here, as it were."

"Let's not try anything until we're sure it works for…" Ellana hesitated, catching herself before she used a slur for non-elves, humans in particular. "…everyone." They'd already established in their first few minutes in the Crossroads that for some unknown reason the light appeared different to Ellana here than it did to Iron Bull or the humans. The Crossroads had been created by elves for elven use and apparently that granted perks. Perhaps enhanced Fade stepping was one of them.

Dorian nodded. "Naturally."

The sound of shouting and war cries echoed from somewhere out of sight of their current vantage point and Ellana shuddered. Had the Qunari pursuers caught up to their prey, or had the elves setup an ambush? Was there a way for the fighting to reach them? And how were the Qunari manipulating the stone bridges between the islands?

She sighed, knowing she couldn't put it off any longer. They needed Solas. He would have all the answers to these questions and probably hours of additional extraneous knowledge. Her chest tightened with anxiety, anticipating that not only would Solas be furious with her for going alone, but she'd also floor him with the news of her pregnancy. The realization hit her like a slap across the cheeks that she had no idea how he would react to her news. They'd never discussed becoming lifelong partners or having children and although she routinely shared stories of her childhood with her clan, Solas never had anything similar to add. He'd always listened, laughing or consoling her as needed, but it was as if he'd fallen out of the Fade fully grown with no parents, no family life to speak of.

Leliana's comment rang through her mind again: It's always the quiet ones who surprise you, and not always in pleasant ways.

"I think we should return to the palace," she announced with a resigned sigh. "We need Solas to—"

The eluvian ahead of them on the island made a humming sound and flared bright as a lean figure wearing silver armor spilled out of it, scrambling forward and then flailing as it reacted to the Inquisitor's group. Ellana recognized the bright armor and caught the dark lines of gray-black vallaslin on the elf's forehead. Hoping to prevent him from attacking in confusion, she shouted, "Mythal'enaste!"

Another figure burst through the eluvian, landing with equal grace but stopping more quickly than the first elf. This one wore lighter armor and carried daggers on her back, but she too had Mythal's vallaslin on her forehead. Seeing Ellana's group she did a double take, her eyes wide.

"Where's Fen'Harel?" the male elf asked, shouting.

"Who?" Iron Bull called back.

Ellana shook her head, frowning at the bizarre question. Had this sentinel been smacked on the head? Was it maybe some kind of code to see if they were friend or foe?

The rogue yelled, "Qunari are behind us! Will you fight them?"

That was a question they could answer.

Ellana drew her bow, briefly checking on her companions to see they'd drawn their weapons as well. "We will fight," she answered. "How many—"

Before she could finish the eluvian hummed again, glowing brighter as two Qunari warriors in full armor charged out of the mirror, their weapons already drawn. They shouted war cries and ran headlong toward the two sentinels, not even noticing Ellana's party until Iron Bull charged at them with a roar, swinging his great-axe. Ellana drew her bow and put an arrow through the nearest Qunari's throat.

Two more Qunari rushed out of the eluvian and these stumbled as they registered the Inquisition forces. Their surprise gave Cassandra and Rainier the advantage as they pressed forward with shield bashes and hacked at the horned warriors with their blades. Ellana edged closer to Dorian and fired again, dropping another Qunari as he emerged through the mirror.

"Just like old times, isn't it?" she shouted to him over the fray. She felt her skin tingle as he cast a fireball and launched it at the Qunari about to throw his spear at Iron Bull's blind side.

"Yes, but with a lot more Qunari," Dorian replied, gritting his teeth as he cast a barrier over them both.

A Qunari with different armor came through the eluvian then and Iron Bull shouted at the sight of him, pointing. "Saarebas! Mage!"

"A lot more Qunari indeed," Ellana grumbled.

______________________________________

At the broad doors that marked the entrance to the guest wing, Inquisition and Orlesian guards allowed Solas through with a casual nod, acknowledging his armband. Solas passed endless doorways, most of them closed. The occasional arched floor to ceiling window showed him the courtyard outside, bathed in late afternoon sunshine and full of the nobility sipping wine and champagne as spies masquerading as servants flitted between them. After walking the full length of the guest wing he found it was mostly empty, though somewhere in the distance Solas could make out the moans of a couple having sex. With most of the doors closed he had no way of knowing where Ellana's room was.

With the anxious knot inside him feeling like a fist against his lungs, Solas returned to the guards at the entrance. He paused just out of sight of them, straining his ears to listen as they chatted together to pass the time, hoping to solidify or destroy his own growing fears.

"Divine Victoria went with them?" one of the Orlesian guards asked.

"Yes," said the Inquisition woman. "Decked out in her full armor!"

"Fenedhis," Solas cursed, squeezing his eyes tightly shut as the knot inside him pounded against his stomach. Dread and rage made it hard to breathe, like invisible hands choking him from within. After a few ragged breaths he opened his eyes and was about to round the corner when his skin prickled and he twisted at the waist to see Cole standing behind him.

"You're hurting," Cole said, his eyes unfocused. "Aching, torn, lost. How could she go? I begged her not to."

Solas kept his voice low as he replied, "I do not have time to talk right now, Cole."

"She thought the same," Cole said, his voice and gaze drifting off as he went on, slipping deeper into his spirit self, clearly quoting another person. "'Have you told him yet?' 'No, I haven't had the chance. The sentries just brought him…Fenedhis, why do I always feel like I'm about to vomit?'"

The elven curse made Solas hesitate, watching Cole. "Can you tell me about Ellana?" he asked, barely whispering the question.

Cole closed his eyes a moment and then said in a rush, "Ginger with tea, sharp, spicy, delicious. Where is Solas? I have to tell him. Where could he have gone? Whispers all around me, eyes following me. Does everyone know? The Dread Wolf take me and my big mouth."

He flinched at the Dalish curse, shaking his head, but he had little doubt now that Cole was in fact channeling Ellana. How many other Dalish elves were in the winter palace wondering where Solas had gone?

"Has she gone through the eluvian?' he asked, edging closer to Cole. "Cole, please…"

"Cerulean glow," Cole said, his voice soft as his eyes opened again. "Feels cold like water, prickling like magic as I put my hand through the glass…" He let out a little gasp and asked, "Am I…helping?"

"Yes," Solas said, his heart pounding against his throat. "But I must ask you for another favor that will help me a great deal more. Will you follow me?"

"Yes?" Cole said, though he phrased it as a question, as though he wasn't sure.

Solas rounded the corner and headed for the guards at the entrance to the guest wing. Cole followed him—though he was soundless, Solas could sense the spirit boy close behind him. The guards admitted him with nods, unconcerned by him. Their gazes slid off Cole, failing to take note of the spirit.

"Lower back aching," Cole said in a hushed voice as he took up a position at Solas' side. "Feet hurting. Maker, what I would give for a chair."

Any other time Solas might've commented on Cole's reading of the guards, encouraging or sharing insight with the spirit, but now he said nothing, remaining intent on crossing the palace as swiftly as possible. The fragments of rumor he'd heard kept churning his mind into chaos as he tried to make sense of them. Most of it would be rubbish, the usual rumormongering of the nobility. Yet Solas had known how to play the Game in Arlathan's court and understood it was more complex than a battlefield and could be just as dangerous.

Most rumors held truth in them somewhere—many of them only in the cultural reading, such as the guards' offensive banter about Solas being a jilted lover and his obsession with the Fade. That was a reflection of the Chantry's preaching against the Fade and the human assumption of superiority that dominated this world. The Orlesians expected the Inquisitor, beloved of the court, to have a lover they deemed worthwhile. Solas, as an elf, a mage, and a "Fade expert," was decidedly not beloved at court. Ironically, all of those things had made him a sensation in Arlathan with Elvhen men and women clamoring to hear his tales.

"Old hurts, older anger, memories of beauty masking ugliness, turning blind eyes to suffering," Cole chattered next to him. Blinking, Solas cleared his mind, walling off his thoughts. Arlathan's class system was gone now and he had other things to worry about.

At the corner where he'd overheard the gossiping guards outside of the eluvian's storage room, Solas stopped and spoke in a whisper to Cole. "I must get through them, but they will not let me pass. I don't want to hurt them, but I cannot delay. If you can make them forget for just a moment as I slip through…"

"I can do that," Cole confirmed. "I can make them forget, if it helps."

"It will," Solas reassured him with a small but genuine smile. "You have my thanks."

Taking a breath inward and clenching his jaw, Solas rounded the corner at a brisk pace, heading straight for the Orlesians. The trio glanced at him and tensed, perhaps sensing menace in Solas' quickened pace or the hard set of his shoulders—or maybe it was just the way he held his hands slightly elevated, as if about to cast…because he was just about to cast.

Solas pounded the three guards with a half-strength veilstrike. The noise of it was louder in the confined space of the corridor than he'd anticipated, but the guards all fell with a cry, stunned. Solas sprinted for the door and opened it. The room inside was the same as when he'd last passed through it. The eluvian gleamed invitingly.

In the hallway the Orlesians stirred quickly, whipping to face the room and deal with the threat. "How dare you…" the guard's voice faltered and stopped.

Solas checked over his shoulder and spotted Cole standing near the three guards. He raised a hand, taking the memory of Solas' attack. "Forget," he ordered them. His eyes slid to Solas. "Go," he said.

With a nod, Solas shut the door to make Cole's task of calming the guards easier, and grabbed up his staff from where he'd hidden it earlier, then rushed through the eluvian. As he stepped out with a little body-wide shiver at the mirror's magical caress, the song of the Crossroads enveloped him again. There'd been a time, long ago, when this place and its song made his heart beat faster with excitement at the journey it promised, the exploration and thrill of reactivating dark mirrors when he was little more than a boy on a quest to learn. Now he just felt his stomach drop as if he'd fallen into the void head first, knowing Ellana had stumbled into this dangerous maze of eluvians, Qunari, and Elvhen magic without him to guide her.

The rock bridge he'd left between the Halamshiral island and the one beside it, which held the Revasan eluvian, was still intact. And on the island he saw blasts of fire, illuminating the group of fighters. His gaze found Ellana immediately, her lean figure bright against the dark rock, an arrow nocked and her bow fully drawn.

Solas charged toward the edge of the island, Fade stepping over the distance and popping out of the charge at will beside her, casting a barrier over her at once. She turned her head, startled and gawking as she reacted to his abrupt appearance. He didn't bother masking his anger, letting her see the snarl on his face but using it to fuel his offensive magic attacks.

He turned a warrior jabbing at Cassandra with his spear into a living wall of flame. The warrior screamed with pain and horror, flailing wildly before he collapsed, his body already turning to ash. He sensed rather than saw the astonishment from Ellana and Dorian, but Cassandra he noticed gawking at the pile of charred remains, her eyes wide as dinner plates.

That was when he realized it was a spell they'd never seen before, stronger than the typical Circle immolation. Fenedhis.

The saarebas was all that remained, and he was panicking. He cast a sloppy fireball at Iron Bull as the horned giant barreled down on him alongside Rainier and one of the sentinel elves—an older elf named Zaron. He cursed Iron Bull in Qunlat, deflecting Zaron's spells even as he struggled to dodge the warriors' combined attacks. It was over quickly as Iron Bull's axe slammed down into the other Qunari's head and he crumpled in a spray of gore.

Breathing hard and with his heartbeat still roaring in his ears, Solas gazed at the group, taking them in. Ellana's companions appeared unwounded though winded, each of them taking stock of their surroundings and registering his arrival. The pair of sentinels saw him and made eye contact, standing tense like good soldiers awaiting orders from their commander—which was exactly what they were. He tried to will them with his glowering stare not to address him as Fen'Harel.

"Solas," Ellana said, her voice tight. He shot her a sidelong look, finding himself still breathing too quickly, though it had nothing to do with physical or magical exertion. She appeared unharmed and he could see her left hand wasn't glowing green the way it did around rifts or when exposed to Elvhen magic, but she did appear sweaty and pallid as if sickly.

Before he could speak Iron Bull called out, "Look who it is! The father to be!"

Solas stared at him, his angry frown changing immediately to confusion, as if the Iron Bull had started chattering fluently in elven. The words were strangely slow to process, as if frozen by a spell like winter's grasp, but finally he cocked his head, deciding he must have heard wrong. "…excuse me?"

"Oh," Iron Bull said, an apologetic lopsided smile spreading over his lips. He directed his next words to Ellana. "Sorry, Boss."

Solas' head whipped to Ellana, his mouth open and eyes narrowed, but before he could question her she twisted away toward the edge of the island. "Ellana?" he asked, his voice sounding strangled.

She held one hand up to him, palm out, signaling him to stand back. Then, unceremoniously, she leaned her head over the gap and proceeded to vomit.

____________________________________

Things start getting a little more serious, now. It's hard to make confessing "I'm the Dread Wolf, the great adversary of your people" very funny.

Next Chapter:

Her lip trembled as she stared at him, the pain in her eyes as excruciating to him as glass shards driven beneath his fingernails. Cupping her cheek with one hand, he stroked his thumb over her lips, hoping to stop their quivering. "Who are you?" she breathed.

"I am Fen'Harel." He swallowed, hardly able to form the words. "I am the Dread Wolf."


Chapter Text

Ellana spit into the void and wiped at her mouth, groaning. Solas watched her with his brow knitted and his lips parted, stunned into speechlessness. The heat of his anger drained away, replaced by the cold weightlessness of shock. The events of the last day started to fit together into a strange cohesion: Sera's new nickname for him, his spy's unwillingness to discuss palace rumors, Dorian's insistence that afternoon that he marry Ellana…

He saw the others either staring at him and Ellana or pretending to be absorbed with cleaning a weapon, adjusting armor, or looting the Qunari bodies. The two sentinels still waited for him to address them and he could almost feel disapproval radiating from them. Everyone seemed to be content in waiting for him to react more fully to this news, preferably in front of them so they could gossip about it later—

And that was when it hit him anew that everyone apparently knew about it. None of their current companions looked surprised and everyone Solas had spoken with on the palace grounds, from Ellana's advisors to companions like Varric, Sera, and Dorian, had all behaved bizarrely in ways he could now connect to this. He felt his cheeks bloom with humiliation but refused to let embarrassment show in his posture. He kept his back straight and his head up as he moved to Ellana's side.

"Inquisitor," he said to her, his voice quiet and cold with formality as he laid a hand on her shoulder. "Perhaps it would be best if we returned to the winter palace."

"Seriously, Solas?" Dorian asked, glaring. "You're not really going with that reaction, are you? The least you could do is drop the title, considering."

"I have nothing that needs be said in front of you," Solas snarled at him, speaking through gritted teeth.

Dorian scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest. "What? Just in front of me? How have I offended you? Oh, maybe it was because I dared suggest you should at least pretend to support her?"

Solas' hands curled into fists as he fought down the desire to turn Dorian into a stone statue. He knew he'd be red-faced and quivering with his rage, but it was mostly borne of humiliation at having what should have been an intimate, private conversation out on display for everyone to see. The Tevinter glowered back at him, his expression daring Solas to make the first move.

"Enough, both of you," Ellana scolded. She wiped at her mouth again, still staring into the void, one hand over her stomach. "We head back to Halamshiral," she said and cleared her throat, grimacing with disgust. "I really need some more ginger."

Zaron, the male sentinel, started to speak: "Fen'Ha—"

"Venavis," Solas cut him off, whipping his head in the sentinel's direction and slashing a hand at them, dismissing them without considering how it'd look to the others and Ellana. Despite his shock he did have the wherewithal to use elven as he issued them orders. "Return to Hellathen Hamin and…" He broke off, shaking his head as he realized he'd slipped into being Fen'Harel the commander, losing the comparatively subservient and humble Solas.

Ellana had straightened completely now and twisted to regard the sentinel elves. Her brow furrowed, eyes leaping between Solas and Mythal's loyal servants. She settled on Solas, her gaze critical. "What did he call you?"

Anger at the humiliating nature of this exchange evaporated, becoming horror that left him sweating and cold. Shame stabbed after it, cutting into his chest like a rogue's blade. He stared down at the black rock of the island, willing himself to ignore their watching, silent companions. "Vhenan," he said, his words ragged. "Please. I will explain everything when we have returned to the winter palace."

The tense silence dragged out as he waited for her decision, aware of Arina and Zaron judging him and seeing weakness. He kept his gaze averted, his mind as empty as he could make it. The conversation he needed to have with Ellana wasn't one he wanted anyone to witness—especially if she turned against him. He'd have to flee or face imprisonment, trial, or perhaps even execution. He deserved it all as Fen'Harel, and Solas might be devastated enough to accept that punishment, if not for the remaining need to restore the People. Only he could lead them to victory by tearing down the Veil. Only he still possessed the power and the knowledge to reshape the world as the last of the Evanuris of Elvhenan.

Finally, just when it seemed the pounding of his own blood in his ears would deafen him, Solas heard Ellana sigh. "All right. Let's get going." After a slight pause she added, "Cassandra, Rainier, Iron Bull. Watch him."

Solas closed his eyes, his stomach seeming to fall to his feet and pass through the stone, careening into the void below. Fenedhis, he thought, clenching his jaw. I've already lost her.

Ellana led the way and Dorian hurried after her, shooting Solas a nasty glare as he sauntered past. The warriors in their group stayed, waiting for Solas to start after the Inquisitor. The sentinels had shifted position, putting their weight over one leg and crooking the other. Their posture told Solas they were ready to leave and didn't expect him to flee from the Inquisition, though they had to know he could if he wished.

Weighing the decision for only a heartbeat, Solas followed Ellana over the black rock of the stone bridge between the Revasan island and the the Halamshiral eluvian.

As they walked, Cassandra spoke up from behind him. "How did you get past the guards?" The suspicion in her question was raw, making it more of a growl.

Solas stayed silent, staring ahead to where Ellana walked, her Dalish scout armor flopping against her thighs, her bare feet flashing with each step as she jogged over the rock bridge. He would miss her grace and the simple, comfortable joy of waking at her side or meeting her in a dream to show her his power to reshape the Fade. Bowing his head, he wished he hadn't survived uthenera if only to spare himself the suffering of losing her and continuing on the Dread Wolf's path as a soulless husk of himself.

Because he knew Fen'Harel would survive losing her, but Solas would not. Each new breath seemed to hurt more than the last, as if the invisible knife lodged in his chest kept sinking deeper and twisting.

"You cast a spell back there I've never seen before," Cassandra said. "Where did you learn it?"

Again Solas ignored her question, still watching Ellana and letting the iron grip he had on his mind slip slightly. How could she be with child? Shock left him cold and numb, but he knew better than to doubt it. Honestly, could everyone else be mistaken? He reran the exchange through his mind, realizing Ellana hadn't acknowledged it at all, which probably meant it was true. How long had she known? Had she planned this?

"I don't think he feels like talking, your holiness," Rainier said.

"Well," Iron Bull said from the rear most position. "I feel like talking. I think I've heard Dalish curse using the name the other elves said back there. Fenny-hair something. What does it mean?"

"Damned if I know," Rainier answered with a dry chuckle.

Cassandra added, "The only elven I know is that Solas' name means pride."

Solas gnashed his teeth and remained mute as the rocks they walked over.

As they reached the Halamshiral island and the glowing eluvian there Ellana stopped and stepped off to one side of it. Her green eyes found Solas, her expression pinched. Her cheeks were pale and damp with perspiration. Water splattered Solas from the waterfall on this island, making him wince and blink as the retinue halted.

"Dorian, take the lead. Then Solas, then everyone else," she ordered.

She was keeping him sandwiched, under watch by warriors or mages or both. Solas couldn't muster up a frown at the realization and simply sagged as she met his gaze. He lifted his hands, keeping them together at the wrist. "Am I to be bound, vhenan?"

The term of endearment seemed to hit her like a slap, breaking her. She blinked rapidly several times, then said, "No." She motioned at the eluvian. "Never mind. Just…everyone back through the mirror."

Despite her comment that the order no longer mattered, Dorian still went in first and then Ellana hesitated, watching him. Her jaw was tight but her brow furrowed and her eyes red-rimmed though tearless. Solas made eye contact, hoping she could somehow see the pain tearing into his chest that made each breath hard to take. When we are alone, he promised her with his eyes and then strode to the eluvian.

On the other side he found Dorian at the door, demanding to know how the guards had let Solas through. The Orlesian men stared, gawking in bafflement.

The eluvian hummed and pulsed as Ellana came through next, also checking on the guards with a quick glance before she said to Solas, "Let me summon my advisors."

"Vhenan," Solas said. "Please. I would speak with you alone, first." His palms were sweaty, his body cold.

As the eluvian thrummed again, admitting Cassandra through in her ridiculously flamboyant golden armor, Ellana stepped clear of it to make room for the others. Solas trailed after her, a silent and solemn shadow as she called to the Orlesians, ordering them to prepare tea with ginger and send it to her chambers.

"I will call Commander Cullen and Leliana," Cassandra volunteered, brushing past Solas to be closer to Ellana. She did not look at or acknowledge him. "And I will—"

"No," Ellana said, shoulders slumping. "That will not be necessary yet." Looking at him, Ellana said, "Will you follow me?"

There was a note of challenge in her voice and Solas wondered whether she was asking him for fealty or just wondering if he would come willingly. He nodded. "Of course, vhenan." He held back the other words pressing against his throat that he would always follow her if she would have him despite his betrayal and his alter ego. The less said in front of Cassandra, Dorian, and the gawking guards the better.

"Good," she said and took off at a brisk pace, making the guards scramble to clear out of her path. Solas marched after her, down the hall. Servants and guards stared at them, gawking as they walked past. It was most likely the armor and their weapons drawing the attention, but Solas couldn't stop the heat that stole over his cheeks realizing that many of them would also be thinking of Ellana's condition, assuming the entire palace was rampant with it.

They reached the guest wing, the guards doing a double take as they marched past. Ellana brought him to an enormous corner room and opened the door, striding in and immediately moving to a pitcher of water beside the bed. Solas stayed near the door, closing it and then hesitating a moment as he took several long breaths to compose himself and push aside the quiet rage simmering in his blood. Numbness was better, he decided. At least then he would not say something he regretted later.

Carrying the porcelain pitcher, Ellana circled around the bed and to the privy. Solas waited until she had disappeared into it and then moved to stand just outside, watching. She stood over a washbasin, scrubbing at her mouth with a finger, then spat. After doing the same routine twice she shot him what was almost a sheepish look.

"My throat won't stop burning," she said, as if she needed to explain herself.

"I have some mint," Solas offered and grimaced at how gruff his voice sounded.

"Perhaps after the tea," she said, a wan smile tugging at her lips. The pain in her eyes cut him with shame.

Taking a step toward her and then pausing, fighting the tension in his spine and shoulders, Solas struggled to find a way to start talking in earnest—though exactly what about he wasn't sure. Where to begin when everything was falling apart and spiraling out of his control? Seeing her pallid cheeks, her posture hinting at exhaustion, melted the steel at his core and suddenly he closed the gap between them, taking her in his arms. When she didn't withdraw or push him away but instead laid her head on his chest and let out a shuddering breath, Solas felt the warmth of love surge through him, easily washing away everything else.

Stroking her hair, he asked, "Is it true? Are you…?"

She let out a chuckle, the sound thick with emotion and tears. Sniffling, she turned her head, pressing her forehead to his chest. "I didn't realize until last night. I searched for you…"

Frowning at the flicker of irritation that lashed him, Solas tried to laugh, but it emerged as more of a grunt. "Was it really necessary to tell everyone else?"

She groaned and pushed back from him, her eyes narrowing with annoyance of her own. "I didn't. I consulted Josephine and I…" She turned away from him and shook her head. "And I told Sera. That was it." Jerking her head back toward him, she drilled into him with anger now. "I wanted to tell you, but you weren't here! And then when you were it just didn't seem right with the whole of Southern Thedas under threat."

At her admonishment Solas stared at the giant tub off to his left, feeling his cheeks grow hot with shame. "I am sorry, vhenan." He smiled, dry and humorless and forlorn. "The timing is…"

"Awful," she finished for him and he could hear the frown in the single word.

He searched her face, his lips compressing into a thin line as new, troubling thoughts invaded his mind. Her reaction left him no doubt she had not planned this child, but did she not want it? There were potions he'd heard of in his time at Arlathan that could empty a woman's womb. It'd been a common enough practice in Elvhenan among the nobility as their immortality ensured there were always too many being born and too few leaving the world. How ironic that circumstances had changed so dramatically that now the elven people, both the ancients from uthenera and the modern alike, would abhor the thought of destroying a pureblooded child.

Licking his lips, he opened his mouth to ask her what she felt and express these thoughts—only to snap his jaw shut and sigh with frustration. What right did he have fording into that topic when soon she might turn him away as the traitor he was to both the People and to the Inquisition? He could not carry the child, could not bring it to life or care for it in her place. If she no longer wanted him at her side, how could he ask her to keep his child?

"Solas?" she asked, a worried frown contorting her face. Her chin wrinkled as she struggled to contain her emotions. "Say something, please."

"I have no right," he blurted.

She shook her head, confused. "What?"

Something within his chest felt as though it was both freezing and burning at the same time. He blinked, his eyes feeling hot, but refused to look away from her. "Ar lath ma, vhenan. Forever." He sucked in a quavering breath. "But you should know who and what I truly am. Before I hurt you any further. You deserve the truth."

Her lip trembled as she stared at him, the pain in her eyes as excruciating to him as glass shards driven beneath his fingernails. Cupping her cheek with one hand, he stroked his thumb over her lips, hoping to stop their quivering. "Who are you?" she breathed.

"I am Fen'Harel." He swallowed, hardly able to form the words. "I am the Dread Wolf."

_____________________________________

The words impacted Ellana and strangely she felt nothing at first. Then her thoughts slowed, growing thick with confusion. For a moment her lips curled in a grin and then down into a frown. She shook her head, eyelids fluttering as a wave of vertigo passed through her. He was watching her, waiting for a reaction. She remembered meeting "Mythal" well enough and decided that must be what he meant, somehow. "What? How is that possible? Are you a vessel? Like Flemeth?"

"No," Solas admitted, whispering. "I passed the ages in the deep sleep of uthenera. I visited your people in dreams, trying to guide them." The bleakness in his gaze hardened briefly with something like anger. "But I could not help them as they would not listen to me."

A deadly stillness had begun to spread through her as this strange new reality continued. Why hadn't he laughed and revealed this as a prank? Or perhaps she was dreaming and this wasn't Solas at all, just a spirit in the Fade spinning a wild, unbelievable—and downright horrifying—story.

She remembered the sentinel asking, Where's Fen'Harel? Suddenly she felt nauseous again and tore free of Solas' embrace, hands lifted to ward him away as she shook her head. "Solas, please tell me you're joking. You cannot possibly be the Dread Wolf. It's…not possible."

Pain darkened his eyes and his shoulders hunched. "I'm sorry, vhenan. I wish I had told you years ago, but I was selfish. I feared losing you once you knew the truth."

Her knees had gone shaky. "There's more isn't there?" she asked and let out an involuntary whimper as he nodded, his expression grave. She laughed, dry and brittle. "Oh, good. At least I saw that coming."

He flinched but didn't back down or hesitate. "Do you recall the night I took you to Crestwood? When I removed your vallaslin?" He didn't wait for her to answer but plunged onward. "I planned to tell you everything then, but I could not bring myself to cause you pain. Your people are not wrong about me. I have made many mistakes, but I have always fought for the People. I will always fight for them…"

Laying one hand over the weight in her abdomen, she tried to keep herself from quaking as new connections snapped together in her mind. All of the ancient memories he possessed, his deep love of the Fade that was so opposed to Chantry rhetoric, the elven language that flowed so fluently from his lips despite him being non-Dalish…this news connected it all. The weight of it slammed into her like a fist.

"Mythal's mercy," she whispered more to herself than to Solas. "I've been sharing my bed with a god." I'm carrying the Dread Wolf's child… Her heartbeat boomed inside her skull like a drum.

Solas' mouth twisted into something neither frown nor smile. "I am as mortal as you now. I was never a god, just as Mythal and Elgar'nan and all the rest of the Evanuris were but mages with extraordinary talent and skill—leaders and victors in a bitter civil war." His lips curled, his nose wrinkling with rage as he went on. "And when it was over they were elevated as gods. They enslaved thousands, killed hundreds for sport alone."

"My people's legends say Fen'Harel sealed them away…" Ellana breathed, fighting to concentrate as the world seemed to tip around her, everything she'd thought she knew imploding.

"I did," Solas said, the rage draining from his face, leaving only despair as a dark shadow in his blue eyes. "After they killed Mythal. She was the best of them, the only one who truly cared about her people. Once she was gone I had no choice. The Evanuris would have destroyed everything." He broke off, closing his eyes and drooping his head. "Or so I believed."

She shook her head, confused. "But how did you seal them away? My people's legends say Elvhenan fell because our gods could no longer walk among us. If they were false gods, how did sealing them away destroy the People?"

Solas gave a bitter laugh, anger returning to his features. "Because to seal them away I sundered our people from the Fade and that destroyed them."

Ellana blinked, staring at him as her brow furrowed, trying to understand. "But we are still connected to the Fade. We aren't dreamless like the dwarves."

"Vhenan," Solas said, his gaze flicking over her. "The Fade and the waking world were once the same. This world you were born into is a travesty—a shadow of what it should be. In Elvhenan every elf was a mage and we did not age. Everything we did, or built, or recorded was done using magic. When I woke into this age, it was agony. It was like being made Tranquil. The most powerful mages of this world would be considered weak in Elvhenan. Dorian and Vivienne would be among the servant class at best."

She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again, speechless.

Seeing her reaction, Solas sighed and covered his face with one hand. "I am sorry, vhenan. I know this is…"

"But the Veil," Ellana interrupted. "Are you saying the Veil didn't exist?"

He stared down at the floor, crestfallen. "I created it to lock away the Evanuris."

"You created it," Ellana repeated and stumbled back from him as the world spun around her again. "Creators have mercy…" She caught herself on the tub as Solas reached out to steady her, then pulled free of his gentle grip. She backpedaled further away to get out of his reach, unable to look at him directly. "I cannot believe what I'm hearing," she said, the words tiny and frail. "I think I may vomit again."

Solas had frozen where he stood when she rejected his touch but at her comment he stepped clear of the room, but only long enough to fetch a chamber pot. She watched him, breathing as deeply as she could through the pain in her chest, swallowing bile. The devastation and grief in his face twisted the ache in her chest. But the tenderness and concern she saw beneath his misery started the familiar warmth of love spreading through her. His tiny act of caring in the midst of this dark and terrible confession made it impossible to see anyone but Solas, the man she'd shared her life with now for three years, who'd saved her life in Haven and fought with her to close the Breach and kill Corypheus.

And though he'd lied to her, hiding the truth, she found herself wanting to embrace him, to try and ease the grief she saw in him now. How many times had she sought out his wisdom and heeded his counsel? He'd stayed with her when even Dorian had left, and she'd assumed it was because they were lovers and he had nowhere else to be. But now she realized how wrong she'd been and how hard Solas must've worked to remain at her side despite the danger. Already she could see the weight of responsibility couched on his shoulders and sensed there had to be more he wasn't telling her. The thought made her want to sob with dread, but simultaneously she knew she didn't care what he'd been or what he'd done. How could it change who he was to her really?

Her heart ached anew as she tried to imagine the stress he'd weathered all this time, carrying the weight of his secret past.

As he extended the chamber pot out to her like a gift, she made eye contact with him. And suddenly she found herself laughing, though it had a choking, hysterical sound to it.

He winced and moved to the nearest counter, setting the chamber pot on it. "Vhenan? Are you well?"

"No," she said, shaking her head as tears abruptly filled her eyes and spilled onto her cheeks. "No, I'm really not."

He stared at her, his expression stricken.

Ellana went on before he could speak. "I've just found out my lover is the trickster god my Keeper always warned me about." She laughed again but cut it off with a choke as she wiped at the tears careening down her cheeks. "And now I'm carrying his child."

"I did not mean for this to happen," he said, his voice deep and rough with emotion. He stared off at the wall behind her, his gray eyes unfocused. "You cannot imagine how often I have wished I truly were merely Solas. Do you know how devastating it is to be remembered as a monster by the very people you spent your whole life fighting to save?"

"No, I don't," she whispered, the words trembling. "But one day Orlais and Ferelden could hate me, too." She chuckled thickly through her tears. "Maybe they'll hate me as soon as tomorrow for adjourning the summit."

"It is not the same," he shot back with heat, glaring in her direction now. "Do not make light of it. I destroyed Elvhenan. And the only way to set it right is to tear down the Veil. But doing so would all but destroy your world, Ellana." His eyes drilled into her, daring her to find a shred of humor in the situation now.

"You would destroy this world?" Ellana asked, almost breathless.

"To restore the People," he told her, clenching his jaw. "Yes." His eyes were bright with moisture. "I did not see this world or its inhabitants as real at first. But then I met you and once I joined the Inquisition I learned how wrong I was." Shame clouded his features and he turned his head to avoid her stare. "And yet I have not stopped searching for a way to do it. Can you look at me and tell me now that you do not see a monster? A trickster? Harellan?"

"You would sacrifice everything in this world? You would let me die as well?" Ellana asked, waves of hot and cold washing over her. A little sob caught in her throat as she stared at him, her heart in her throat. "I don't believe you."

"Fen'Harel would let you die," Solas told her. His chin wrinkled, lips twisting.

"And Solas?" she asked, gritting her teeth and flicking her tears away. "What of the man I've loved for three years?"

"Ar lath ma," he whispered, eyes closing.

"That's not an answer," she said, her body shaking. She wrapped her arms around herself. "Solas, you are part of this world. Part of my world. You helped save it from Corypheus. How could you choose to destroy it? To let me die?"

He didn't look at her. Shoulders hunched and grief written over his face, he merely shook his head. "Don't you see that whatever choice I make, as Fen'Harel or as Solas, I can never redeem myself? If I give up now the People will perish. We will die, snuffed out like candles by the humans' breath, but it was I who dealt the deathblow. And if I sacrifice you and this world..." When he at last opened his eyes, Ellana saw tears glistening. His throat worked as he swallowed. "I will always die a monster. Harellan. Alone."

Her heart beating against her breastbone, Ellana suddenly lunged for him, taking his face in her hands and staring up into his blue gray eyes. "There must be another way. You are not a monster. Not now and not in the past, emma lath. Let me help you."

A tear rolled down his cheek as he gazed at her, brow furrowed in something like consternation. "Help me? Vhenan, you do not understand what you ask…"

"Nothing you did before will make me leave you," she insisted, brushing her thumb over the tear to wipe it away. "You are not a monster, Solas. You cannot blame yourself for the fall of Elvhenan, but if there's a way to bring down the Veil and restore our people that won't kill us all…" She smiled, wan and trembling as fresh tears leapt to her eyes. "Of course I want to help."

His eyes crinkled with anguish. "And if we cannot find a way to restore the world without destroying it?"

Drawing in a shaky breath, Ellana dropped her right hand down and clasped one of his, squeezing it and drawing it to rest over her abdomen. "Then we reshape this world some other way. We make a future for our child."

________________________________________________

The tears glimmering in her green eyes made him think of the Fade, of the beauty and wonders that he'd robbed his people of when he created the Veil. Yet now he didn't think of the People abstractly—he envisioned Ellana, representing them all. Guilt tore at his flesh, as sharp as a blade. He wanted to believe her, to let go and embrace the rising longing inside himself, to accept the beauty of her offer, which was so generous it'd left him speechless for the moment.

But the weight of history clawed at his conscience. Elves had established a homeland before in the vain hope of rebuilding their lost empire and regaining their immortality, but with the Veil in place that could never happen. Eventually the humans, with their far greater numbers, would destroy it. But with the Veil gone the elves would reconnect with the Fade, accessing the fullness of magic that their Elvhen ancestors had possessed. They'd naturally outstrip the humans using magic. War would follow, but Solas knew the elves would emerge undefeated in spite of their fewer numbers. Magic would win them what good deeds and politicking and rebellions never could: freedom.

A half-sob, half-choking noise escaped Solas' throat. He brought his other hand to the nape of her neck and leaned close to press his forehead to hers. "We would fail," he said, voice cracking. "Just as the promise of the Dales did."

"You don't know that," she said, squeezing his hand over her abdomen. "Would you really deny our child a chance to live?"

Solas' gaze flicked over her face, searching her, forgetting to breathe. Before he could stop himself he wondered if their child would have its mother's eyes, or perhaps his hair color. What kind of spirit would it be? Brash and prideful and curious? Elegant and funny and courageous? Would it be born a Dreamer like him?

Something hot and needy curled inside him, pressing against his throat and setting his limbs shaking. He gave in, letting the thoughts spill out of him, shoulders heaving with each breath. "No," he murmured. "I would see it live. I would see our child ageless and eternal, free to seek knowledge and ask questions, to explore." He let out a sad laugh. "I would see our child grow, and I would teach it everything I know."

"Then let me help you," Ellana pleaded.

Another sobbing noise tore its way from Solas' lips as the emotion inside him seemed to break loose, shifting and giving way. He wrapped his arms around Ellana, crushing her to him and stroking her hair with shaking hands. She let out a breath, warm against his neck.

"I do not deserve your devotion," he whispered hoarsely.

"Ar lath ma, Solas," she whispered back, nuzzling his ear. "My love is unconditional."

He inhaled a trembling breath, his body quaking even more and hot tears pressing against his eyelids again. "For you, vhenan, for our child—I will try anything." Pulling away, he kissed her, quick but deep and needy and passionate. When the kiss broke, both of them breathing ragged with emotion, Solas held her cheeks cupped in his palms and stared into her green eyes. "There is still more to tell you, but there will be time."

She clasped his hands on her cheeks, her gaze darkening with gloom. "Promise me one thing."

"Anything, if it is within my power," Solas whispered, but he frowned as he said the words, worrying what she would ask.

A weak smile spread over her lips. "No more secrets. No more half-truths." Her eyelids fluttered shut. "Please."

He smiled, pressing his forehead to hers again. "Ma nuvenin, vhenan."

A thumping noise drifted in from the other room as someone knocked on Ellana's closed door. For a few heartbeats they ignored it, still holding each other, lingering in the moment of peace before the outside world could intrude on it. Then, as the knock came again, louder this time, Ellana shifted and Solas drew back from her.

"I suspect that will be my tea. And maybe dinner," she said, smiling wearily.

Solas nodded, briefly considering whether he should warn her about the servants in the winter palace and then, remembering his promise, immediately cleared his throat and spoke. "You must be wary, Ellana. Many of the servants in the palace are Qunari spies."

Her lips parted, her eyes widening with surprise. "Qunari spies?"

"Yes." He hesitated another second and then dropped his gaze to the floor, committing to the promise again for the second time in just the last minute. "And the Inquisition has been infiltrated by them as well. I know more of the spies there than I do in the palace. I can help you find them."

"And you know this how, exactly?" Ellana asked, her voice soft and breathy with shock.

Solas smiled humorlessly. "Through my own spy network."

"This is why you didn't want to come here," she murmured aloud. "And why you told me to disband the Inquisition."

He raised his head, meeting her stare with a sad smile. "You are as clever as you are beautiful."

Anger flashed briefly over her features, darkening them. "You should have told me."

Closing his eyes, fighting away the stab of regret, Solas said, "I know."

The knock pounded even louder from the other room and this time Josephine's voice accompanied it. "Inquisitor! Lady Lavellan? I have your tea. Are you…all right?"

Another familiar female voice—Cassandra—called out with a note of anger and fear. "Inquisitor! Please, you must let us in."

"I think I'd better answer that," Ellana said with a crooked smile. "Or Divine Victoria may declare an Exalted March on my bedchambers." She sobered, still staring at him. "What will you tell my advisors? Our friends?"

He tensed, his brow furrowing as he thought quickly. "They would not understand, vhenan. Restoring the world would return the People to power with magic. They fear the Fade and they would never choose to cede power to the People. They would oppose our plans."

She looked as though she might be sick again, one hand going to rest over her stomach as she paled. "You don't know that," she whispered, eyes closing.

"I do," he said, scowling at the unhappy truth of it and the way it affected her. "As do you." Grief lodged a lump in his throat, making it difficult for him to swallow. He had grown to respect and care for their companions as real people whose suffering mattered, but those emotions could never be allowed to stand in the way of empowering the People and fixing the world.

"Inquisitor!" Cassandra yelled.

Ellana shot him an unhappy look. "We will discuss this later. I have more questions…" Her eyes narrowed. "Fen'Harel."

He looked away, grimacing. "Please. I am just Solas. Let me remain Solas with you."

"Solas, then," she said with a solemn nod. "I won't reveal you." Thrusting her shoulders back and holding her head up, Ellana strode past him, but paused in the doorway. Reaching for his hand, she squeezed it in silent solidarity, her palms as sweaty as his own. Then she left the privy, heading for the door.

Watching her go, Solas let out a shuddering breath and slumped backwards into the enormous porcelain tub behind him. Scrubbing at his face, slimy with perspiration, he tried to bring his shaking under control. Conflicting concerns and emotions battered him from within, twisting his heart into knots that seemed to tighten with each beat. He had told her the truth—or most of it, anyway—and she had not turned on him. If she had, Solas knew he wouldn't have blamed her. But Ellana still didn't know of his role in the Breach, or that the Anchor on her hand would one day kill her if he didn't amputate it.

Her devotion and optimism made him ache, longing for her dream of a peaceful resolution to be true. Yet he could not see any way to restore the world without sacrifice and conflict. Whether that was merely his own death as penance, or the destruction of humanity and the other races of Thedas aside from the People, he wasn't certain yet. Putting up the Veil had nearly killed him so long ago as the shock of it sent him into uthenera. Taking it down might be easier, but reshaping reality as the chaos raged around him…

Din'anshiral. Walking the path of restoration would prove deadly, the punishment he'd long deserved for what he'd done to the People. Fen'Harel was content with such sacrifice, but Solas thought of Ellana and the unborn child she carried and felt nothing but enraged despair that he might not live long enough to influence its life.

His hands clenched into fists and his breathing became choked, tearless sobs for a few moments as he pushed aside those thoughts. Ellana was greeting Cassandra and Josephine in the other room, reassuring them that everything was fine. He needed to appear as though his world wasn't shattering.

For now, he thought, pressing his thumbs to his eyes as the wave of despair passed. I must not lose hope—for her sake.

__________________________________

Next chapter tease:

She smiled weakly and shook her head, sending ripples through the bath. "I was just realizing I hardly know anything about you."

His heart twisted with a cutting pain. Clenching his jaw and drawing in a quiet breath, he said, "You have but to ask, vhenan."

Chapter Text

"Those are definitely gaatlok barrels, Boss," Iron Bull said and let out a deep-throated growl. "What are they doing here?"

Ellana stared at the barrels, her arms crossed over her chest and her face set in an angry, frustrated snarl. "The more important question is who brought them here." Fortunately she already knew the answer to that, as bad as it was: Qunari spies working within the Inquisition.

It was well after dark outside the tavern. A few lanterns hung from the roof's overhang, casting a yellow-orange glow over the barrels and crates that'd been moved into this position by servants within the palace. Inquisition soldiers stood in a hard line around the tavern, blocking it off. Orlesian nobles and guards glared from a distance at the Inquisition's takeover, unaware that the explosive gaatlok had infiltrated Halamshiral right under their noses.

Because the Inquisition had betrayed them.

"I will deal with this, Inquisitor," Leliana said, her expression angry. She shook her head, lips curling with disgust. "I cannot believe how close we came to disaster. I should have seen this coming."

"Don't be so hard on yourself, Red," Iron Bull said. "You're up against Ben-Hassrath."

"And I am the Inquisition's spymaster," she reminded him, glaring. "There is no excuse."

"Take the barrels into custody," Ellana ordered, motioning with one hand. "We'll keep this quiet and study the powder."

Iron Bull motioned with his hands up, palms out, signaling caution. "Have your people be careful, Boss. This stuff is dangerous." He made a face. "In fact, maybe you should back up a bit. And don't stand anywhere near while they handle it."

"You know the most about it, Iron Bull," Ellana said. "Would you help our soldiers move it?"

He nodded, though he looked wary. "I'll do what I can."

"Inquisitor," Leliana said. "Might I have a word?" She gestured away from the tavern. Nodding, Ellana followed as the spymaster led her around the corner, out of sight and earshot of the Inquisition soldiers, Iron Bull, and any Orlesian nobility, guards, or servants. Once they were in a secure spot Leliana edged close to her, speaking quietly. "I have already sent messages to my foreign contacts. We must find out the extent of this Dragon's Breath for ourselves."

Ellana kept her posture and her expression as neutral as she could. "You don't trust Solas?"

Leliana hesitated a heartbeat, remorse clouding her features. "My instincts tell me he is being less than truthful with us." She jerked her chin in the direction of the tavern. "Of course I appreciate him directing us to this and alerting us to the Qunari spies in our ranks, but that does not explain how he knew of it." Sympathy furrowed her brow as she laid a hand on Ellana's arm. "I am sorry. I cannot imagine how difficult all this is for you."

Ellana nodded, chewing her lip and evading the spymaster's probing stare. Less than an hour ago Solas had stood in front of her advisors and Cassandra to explain his involvement in the Crossroads and the Qunari plot. Some of what he'd revealed had been new to Ellana as well, such as Solas' claim that the Qunari were frantically collecting and cataloguing magical items and artifacts in an ironic quest to save Thedas from magic. That had been how they stumbled into the eluvian network and encountered the sentinel elves—which he now admitted to leading as their spymaster. The plan was called Dragon's Breath and included killing Ellana, Empress Celene, and Divine Victoria in a single gaatlok attack on the winter palace during the Exalted Council. Naturally, Solas had come forward to ask for their help in stopping it.

He had not, however, revealed to the humans his true identity as the Dread Wolf and Ellana followed his lead, as much as it made her feel sick to hide it. Solas will come around, she reassured herself and tried to believe it.

"Whatever he's holding back," she told Leliana, "I trust him." The words made her want to laugh as she imagined how horrified her Keeper would be to hear her utter such a sentiment. The Dalish even had a phrase to describe foolish life choices: Fen'Harel ma ghilana. It translated out as, 'The Dread Wolf guides you.'

Well, the Dread Wolf had been guiding her for years now.

"Of course," Leliana said, the sympathy in her face softening her. "But it's obvious to me it is not just the Qunari with spies in our ranks." Her pale blue eyes flicked over Ellana, scrutinizing her carefully. "He's told you more than he has told us," she said, reading the truth with a coy little smile. "Is this some kind of elven uprising?"

"We can trust Solas," Ellana repeated, her voice hard and firm. Both of them knew she had deliberately not answered Leliana's question.

Leliana arched an eyebrow, irritation flashing in her eyes. "If that is true, Inquisitor, why did he hide this from you? Why did he hide it from me when he first joined? I would have welcomed an elven spymaster. I've supported efforts in the past to improve the lives of elves and mages alike. Instead he remained separate and infiltrated our forces with spies of his own." She made a noise in her throat and turned away from Ellana, crossing her arms over her chest. "I'm sorry," she muttered. "I have no right to be angry with you, or him—only myself. I should have suspected."

With Leliana no longer watching her, Ellana allowed herself to frown. You could not have seen this coming, she thought, wishing she could console the spymaster. Instead she said, "I trust Solas to tell us what we need to know in time."

"I hope you are right, Inquisitor," Leliana answered, doubt unmistakable in her voice. She glanced over her shoulder at Ellana and nodded once. "I must send out some letters. If you'll excuse me."

Ellana watched the spymaster leave as Solas' words echoed in her mind: They would not understand. Her heart twisted and she groaned to herself, wishing she didn't believe him, but the Dalish remembered the way humanity had betrayed them. Elvhenan might not have crumbled because of humans the way history believed, but the Dales certainly had.

Fatigue dragged at her shoulders, making the weight resting in her abdomen feel even heavier. With an effort she kept her back straight and marched out of the courtyard, heading for the guest wing and a long-awaited date with her enormous bed, or maybe she'd try out that tub if she had the energy. Hopefully her bed wouldn't be empty tonight either.

The last she'd seen of Solas he'd accompanied Commander Cullen to identify and apprehend the Qunari spies within their ranks. The murderous fury on Cullen's face that evening had made her ready to cringe with sympathy for the spies. And maybe for Solas too. Cullen looked ready to strangle him during the meeting with all of her advisors. Ellana couldn't imagine how enraged the commander would be if he knew as much as she did about Solas.

He will come round, she promised herself again. We'll find a way to fix this.

_________________________________________

Crossing the courtyard after finishing supplying Commander Cullen with the names of the Qunari spies he knew of within the Inquisition, Solas noticed the way Inquisition soldiers and sentries kept watch on him. It was subtle: a flick of their eyes as they watched him walk or the slight stiffening in their postures when he neared. As he reached the stairs leading into the palace he noted a sentry following him, carrying a note and seemingly focused on her own, separate mission.

He smiled to himself. It's about time you had me followed, Leliana.

Solas knew that in revealing himself even partially to Ellana's advisors he'd humiliated the spymaster and she'd be as flustered as one of her ravens discovering it'd had its wings clipped. She now knew she'd been played, housing another "spymaster" unknowingly for three years. He wished he could reassure her that she'd done a passable job for the Inquisition, that she had never had any hope of uncovering who and what he really was because the clues were thousands of years old.

But he did feel mildly disappointed that it'd taken her this long to have him watched. Then again, he suspected his three years of loyal service and the fact that he was Ellana's lover had made her hesitant. Still, it was sloppy.

Of course Leliana could not follow him into the Fade, and that was where Solas did much of his most secretive communication. The benefits of being a Dreamer never disappointed in this world of Tranquil, all of them terrified of the Fade and its mysteries. It was like being the only person who could swim in a fishermen's village. Only the uneducated need fear the waters while a swimmer could play and dive to recover forgotten relics and riches.

To the right of the main landing in front of the palace gates Solas saw Vivienne chatting with a masked nobleman. He quickened his pace, eager to pass her without being noticed—but he'd had absolutely rotten luck most of the day so he wasn't the least bit surprised when she called out, "Solas, dear!"

He halted and turned to regard her as she walked daintily in his direction, a warm smile on her lips and cold, cruel delight burning in her eyes. He'd seen enough smugness in Arlathan's courtly Game to recognize it in the Orlesian mockery of Elvhen subterfuge. In Solas' day even dreams weren't safe from the Game.

"Enchanter," he greeted her, forcing his own feigned smile onto his lips. "What a pleasant but unexpected surprise. Did they forget to lock the door to your Circle's tower? How embarrassing."

She laughed a moment, finishing with a slight sigh as she stopped in front of him, one hand on her hip. "I've been meaning to catch up with you, my dear. There have been some truly dreadful rumors circulating."

Solas let out a little huff of irritation before he could stop himself. Not this again. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that the sentry tailing him had taken up a position standing beside the stairs with her back to him, as if on watch. Sloppy indeed, Leliana, he thought. The sentry should have continued inside and waited there, or better still there should be a tag-team of watchers dedicated to tracking his whereabouts.

To the Enchanter he smiled benignly. "Yes, I've heard quite the gossip since arriving. My favorite tale, however, is an older one—about how the Chantry clerics very briefly entertained nominating a mage to become Divine. Can you imagine?" He tilted his head, allowing himself a broader smile as he saw the words impact Vivienne, making her mask slip away as she scowled.

He made a clucking noise with his tongue, as if disappointed. "Sadly I heard the clerics were quick to discount the mage. Apparently her political machinations were rather poorly executed and the clerics saw them as little more than feeble attempts to wrest power for herself." He shook his head, feigning sadness. "Most unfortunate."

Vivienne's nostrils flared with her rage and Solas didn't miss the tension in the air, the prickling energy of offensive magic just at the Enchanter's fingertips. Long seconds passed before she drew in a deep breath and the cold smile returned to her lips. "I heard you were away yesterday, apostate."

"Yes," Solas agreed. "The Exalted Council has kept me very busy, as has my work for the Inquisition."

"A pity," Vivienne said, her lip curling with disdain for a moment before she smiled again. The cruel humor had returned to her eyes and Solas knew that meant she was about to strike with her verbal attack. "Had you been here you might have been able to congratulate our dear Lady Lavellan on her wonderful—if a bit unexpected—news."

The way she stared at him expectantly told Solas she believed he didn't know of Ellana's pregnancy. He wanted to grin, to show the strange joy and pride that'd begun building within him at the news, but he held the reaction in check. Instead he revealed only a glimmer of that emotion to let Vivienne see that he already knew. "Yes, I do wish I could have been here. But it is a private matter between myself and—"

"Oh," Vivienne interrupted him, the malicious humor in her eyes harder now. "But how awkward for you that the court is simply abuzz with such slander." She shook her head, a mock look of sympathy contorting her features. "To think that any of these fools would believe the Inquisitor could leave you for Commander Cullen. Or that he could be the one to have put her in such a delicate condition."

Solas paused, blinking as she spoke. The memory of the Orlesian guards outside the storage room returned to his mind along with the noblewomen's breathless gossip about Ellana sleeping with Cullen. Knowing Vivienne had meant to humiliate or enrage him, Solas quashed his initial reaction of irritation and instead laughed.

Vivienne glared at him for a second before the polite mask covered her features again. "Whatever is so funny, apostate?"

"Did you think to trouble me with such petty gossip, Enchanter? Halamshiral would be rife with such rumors regardless." He nodded to her, still grinning as he thought: But thank you for showing your hand, Enchanter. He would warn Josephine, Leliana, and Ellana that Vivienne could no longer be trusted. The rumor circulating about the palace about Cullen having a relationship with Ellana came from the Enchanter. He should have known, based on the pattern of who repeated the gossip. The Cullen rumor spread with the nobility, while the lower classes and all their friends knew the truth.

"Now," Solas said with a dip of his head. "I must take my leave, but it has been a pleasure as always, Enchanter."

Vivienne sniffed, her nose wrinkling as if she'd smelled something foul. "Apostate."

Solas took off for the palace gate again, passing through with barely a glance from the two bored guards on duty. Behind him Solas heard Leliana's spy resume her mission, tailing him through the palace foyer and to the guest wing. The sentry didn't follow him inside but must have stopped to make small talk with the guards outside to wait and see if he reemerged. She'd be bored soon enough because Solas had no intention of leaving before the morning unless Ellana turned him away.

At her chamber he raised one fist to knock but the door opened before he could and he found himself almost eye-to-eye with Lanya, his winter palace head spy. Careful to control his expression, Solas smiled politely. "Greetings. Is the Inquisitor accepting visitors?"

Lanya's eyes narrowed. "Lady Lavellan is indisposed."

He raised his eyebrows, unable to mask his concern. "Is she well?"

"Yes," Lanya answered and then explained. "She's in the bath…sir."

The thought made his body flush with the heat of desire, though he gave no indication of it as he nodded. The tightness in Lanya's face told him she'd likely heard the gossip about the pregnancy. There was little point pretending he wasn't at her door for personal reasons. With a servant that wasn't his spy this would be far less awkward. "Please ask if she would see me…" he paused a moment and then cleared his throat, adding, "When she is finished, of course."

"Of course." Lanya smirked and Solas didn't miss her double meaning. They both knew he wouldn't be waiting in her room and Lanya would shortly find herself kicked out.

Lanya closed the door and Solas heard her tread retreating deeper into the room, but he couldn't quite make out the murmur of conversation. But only a few seconds later Lanya opened the door wide for him. "Lady Lavellan will see you," she said and then, as he stepped past her, she whispered, "Fen'Harel, lasa ghilan."

She was looking for guidance, for new orders. Solas hesitated, thinking before he answered, "Theneras."

Pinching her lips together, Lanya nodded and left the room. She knew he would meet her in the Fade and commune with her there. Solas knew he needed to warn her and his other spies in the waking world that he was now under watch and the Inquisition spymaster would be combing through the ranks, seeking them. Unlike the Qunari, who could be any race, Solas' spies were exclusively elven. The Inquisition had plenty of elves within its ranks, drawn to the organization because of Ellana's race and her deeds, and many were not Solas' spies. Yet plenty were and it was an unfortunate and unavoidable weakness of his network. Leliana would naturally suspect all elven recruits now, but most likely those with bare faces who she'd assume would be city elves when really they were Elvhen.

Closing the door and emptying his mind, Solas strode to the shuttered doorway of Ellana's bath and leaned against the frame, arms crossed over his chest. "Vhenan?" he called softly.

He heard the gentle splash of water. "I asked the servant to leave," she said from within. "Has she gone?"

"Yes," Solas answered. He could smell the faint fragrance wafting through the slightly ajar door and let his eyes drift shut.

"Then why are you waiting out there?" she asked, and he picked out a note of teasing in the words that sent his heart hammering though he tried to quell it. He had no right to expect intimacy from her after his betrayal as much as he might long for it.

"I did not wish to intrude or…" He frowned, searching for the right way to phrase it.

"This bath is bigger than some of the aravels in my clan," she said, interrupting him. "I think it's meant to be shared. Besides, we weren't finished talking earlier. So, come in."

With her encouragement, Solas opened the door, blinking as he stepped into the smaller room and found it warm and humid. Ellana was submerged in water up to her shoulders, frothy bubbles floating around the edges of the tub and masking some of her body. Her head reclined at the edge of the tub, her hair loose and soaked, plastered against the porcelain until she raised her head and smiled at him. The expression had an edge of uncertainty to it, her green eyes narrowed slightly as she looked over him. Despite her jovialness inviting him into the intimate space she wasn't entirely at ease, exactly as Solas had expected.

He swallowed, finding his mouth dry and his throat tight as different emotions warred inside him—desire and love, shame and anxiety. He managed a weak smile in answer to hers. "What would you like to know?"

"Is my servant a spy?" she asked.

He uncrossed his arms, trying to ease the tension in his spine and using the motion to evade her penetrating gaze. "Yes."

"One of yours or one of the Qunari?" she asked.

He looked at her now. "Mine. I wanted you protected." He hesitated a moment and then revealed, "I have a chain of spies in place in the kitchens as well. I feared the Qunari or any one of our other enemies might try poison."

"You're very thorough," she said, the admiration and affection in her voice and her gaze impossible to miss.

Solas chuckled and glanced away again, taking in the small tray of bath oils and soaps on the counter across from the tub. His arrival had disrupted Lanya's administrations and pampering. Solas had chosen her for Ellana specifically for her softhearted nature and because of her compassion. Before uthenera she had been a middle class artist who joined him hoping to make a difference for their people, fighting for freedom. It was Lanya who'd designed the murals and many of the statues around Revasan, the sanctuary for freed slaves. With the Veil in place she lacked enough connection to the Fade to be a mage, making her ideal as a spy.

"Was poison common in Elvhenan?" she asked, splashing slightly as she moved.

"No," Solas admitted and frowned as he struggled with his instinct to remain vague and unclear, always hiding his past. "The goal of poison is to mask assassination as deadly illness. Immortal beings who know no disease cannot hope to use poison in such a manner. It would be obvious that poison was used."

"Immortality," she murmured, her voice somehow managing to be both sad and awed. Sighing, she leaned her head back against the tub. "Do I really want to know how old you truly are?"

He laughed again, grinning at her. "No, you would not. But I was still considered a youth at Arlathan and one of the youngest of the Evanuris." The humor drained from him then as he saw her somber expression. "I'm sorry. I suppose this must still be difficult to hear. I did not mean to trouble you."

She smiled weakly and shook her head, sending ripples through the bath. "I was just realizing I hardly know anything about you."

His heart twisted with a cutting pain. Clenching his jaw and drawing in a quiet breath, he said, "You have but to ask, vhenan."

"All right," she said and sat up, exposing her breasts out of the water and drawing his gaze before he averted his eyes again, ashamed of his own baser reaction during this tense moment. She drew her knees up, hugging them to her chest. "Tell me about your family. I've never heard you mention parents or siblings. How did the Dread Wolf become such a loner?"

He closed his eyes, drawing out the faraway memories and trying to keep his emotions in check. "I did not lie when I told you I was born in a remote village with little to entertain me as a child." He brushed one hand idly along his other bicep, recalling his mother's caress, her smile. The sound of his father's rich voice speaking in elven seemed to caress his ears. Clinging to those memories, and restraining the less pleasant ones beneath them, he said, "I could not tell you of my past without revealing my origins. Much of my childhood was shaped by a world that no longer exists. It will be difficult to grasp, even now."

"Try me," she said, the water sloshing as she shifted in the enormous tub.

He smiled, but knew it would come across more as a grimace. "Very well. My parents were middle class, with merely average magical talent. My father served as a…" He frowned, struggling to find the correct term. "An archivist within one of many interconnected Elvhen libraries." He paused, realizing he had to explain that this wasn't a physical place within the waking world. "The library was a construct, much like the Crossroads."

"And your mother?" Ellana asked.

"My mother managed the crops in our village." He laughed at her surprised look. "Elvhenan was not without the need for food. Far from it, in fact. Even then we could not subsist from magic alone—save some in the deep sleep of uthenera. Magic aided in the harvests and in growing the crops, but there remained plenty of toiling work to be done. The nobility and Evanuris ruled over vast wilderness with many farming communities like my village. They collected tithes from us in the form of food."

"That doesn't sound all that different from the way Thedas operates now," Ellana commented. "Except that magic was more widespread." She was silent a moment, her expression pensive. "There were no non-mages? None at all?"

"None," he confirmed with a nod and then dropped his gaze to the floor. "And the Fade was part of the waking world. But you would never have mistaken Elvhenan for Ferelden or Orlais or even Tevinter." He felt the old rage rise in his blood, hot and roiling inside. "We used slaves, and not as they do in Tevinter. The Evanuris bound thousands with vallaslin and in those days they used blood in the marks. It was blood magic. It stripped those branded by the marks of any free thought or passion."

"It was blood magic?" Ellana asked, her voice breathy with horror. He heard her move in the tub and when he looked saw her touching her forehead where her own vallaslin had once been. "Fenedhis."

"Blood writing," he whispered, the literal translation of vallaslin. "Yes. I do not know how the ink is made now, but in the days of Elvhenan the Evanuris oversaw each and every marking and bound the slave to them with their own blood." He sneered at the memory, his hands curling into fists.

"How could my people have forgotten something so awful?" Ellana asked, her voice strangled.

Solas smiled bitterly. "I have often wondered the same thing." At the sight of her horrified expression he let the rage evaporate, shaking his head. "Forgive me, I have strayed from our original conversation. It is difficult to revisit these memories."

"Your family was like Dorian's?" she asked. "You kept slaves?"

"No," he answered with a frown and a shake of his head. "Not…truly. We served Elgar'nan and each year he sent a hundred slaves to aid in the harvest. My mother had charge of them and despised every moment of it. She was a kindhearted but pragmatic woman, a lover of nature who spent a millennia wandering the wilds before she settled in our village with my father. Together they shared a love of knowledge and peace."

She smiled at him, her eyes bright. "You take after them both, then."

He chuckled and shifted position, moving to sit on the edge of the tub to ease the strain in his back and legs. "Mostly after my mother. My father was a very patient man, but my mother had the brash temper of a dragon." Something in his chest fluttered, remembering them as he hadn't allowed himself to do for millennia. To speak his true story aloud to anyone, even before uthenera, had been unthinkable until now. He found himself feeling lightheaded with relief as a weight he hadn't realized he carried eased from his shoulders. Speaking of them now brought them to life again, made them real, but he had to quash the pain that came with it to keep Ellana from seeing it.

"How did you grow from being the child of a librarian and a farmer into becoming one of the Evanuris?" Ellana asked, the dismay in her voice making it almost a whisper.

This would be tougher to explain to her, so Solas remained silent, contemplating for several heartbeats. Finally he said, "The People were all mages in the days of Elvhenan, as you know. But the Evanuris possessed truly godlike reserves. Imagine a mage who could turn you to stone with but a thought. And in the world of Elvhenan they could reshape the physical realm using the Fade, just as I can with dreams now. On the field of battle, Mythal and Elgar'nan could turn the air to water and drown entire armies. They could crack open the earth or lash it with fire sprung from nowhere."

She shuddered, clutching more tightly to her knees in the bath. "I'm starting to think you did the world a great favor, Solas."

Solas shook his head, rejecting her praise. "You do not understand. Elvhenan was built on magic in every way. We constructed our homes with it, we lit the world with it, even designed other realms like the libraries and the Crossroads. War was bloody and brutal—but so are the wars of this age. These tactics sound terrifying to you because they are foreign, but when I awoke and learned of all the ways non-mages use to bludgeon, bleed, and hack one another limb from limb…at least magic is precise and kills swiftly. "

At her look of consternation he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I have strayed again. I told you of Mythal and Elgar'nan so that you could understand that the Evanuris were unlike any mages of this day…" He raised his head and looked to her, swallowing the sudden lump in his throat. "Save one."

Her green eyes widened with disbelief. "Solas, are you telling me you can…that you are…"

He nodded once but did not smile as her jaw dropped. The shock in her face made his stomach twist and he turned his head to the bath oils to evade her stare, shoulders slumping. "I became one of the Evanuris because I am one of them. In Elvhenan the term referred to power as much as godhood."

"You cannot be that powerful," Ellana said, breathless with disbelief. "I have seen you injured. I've seen you weakened…"

"I am not as powerful as I once was, no. The long sleep and the Veil have weakened me greatly. And I have always been vulnerable to physical injury, but…" He smiled, lopsided and almost sheepish. "It was not only my past I hid as we defeated Corypheus."

She groaned, raising one hand to rub at her forehead. The sight and sound of her distress made Solas cringe, regretting that he'd revealed this truth to her. In just the course of one day he'd gone from being a harmless wandering apostate, quiet and reserved and of average magic talent, to being the trickster god her people most feared—and having the enormous powers that came with it. He rushed to apologize yet again. "I'm sorry, vhenan. I know this must be difficult to accept."

"That's an understatement," she said and relaxed backward in the tub, letting out a long breath and sinking in to her chin, eyes closing. "I still can't believe I've been in love with a god all this time and had no idea."

The words hit him like a slap and he cringed, feeling his cheeks heat at the reminder of how long and how deeply he had betrayed her. You do not deserve her, trickster, a little voice taunted him inside with the truth. He felt sweaty suddenly with the fear that she would change her mind and reject him. He would never hold her again, never get the chance to hold or see his child, regardless of what he did as Fen'Harel in this present world.

The idea made him feel sick.

"I promised you the truth," he said, his voice raw. "And I meant it." There was a pressure in his chest, a desire to keep speaking, to open up and explain more. She still didn't understand so much about Elvhenan—both its horrors and its glories. But he restrained himself, determined not to overwhelm her and risk losing their relationship and his child.

"I appreciate it," she said, her smile uncertain but her eyes tender with affection. "It's just a lot to take in." She nudged a clump of bubbles around idly for a moment before asking, "How is it that one of the Evanuris could be born to such humble parents? You said your parents were of average magical talent?"

"Yes," he confirmed with a small nod. "If they lived in this world they may not have even manifested magical talent naturally. When my talents emerged they were shocked. They did not realize I possessed power to equal the Evanuris, but they knew I would be taken from them if I were discovered."

"Taken from your parents?" Ellana asked, alarm and confusion coloring her features. "Why would they take you from your family if everyone was a mage?"

This was another way her world was markedly different from Elvhenan and yet, in a bizarre mockery of the past, it was also the same. "Dreamer mages comprised Elvhenan's upper class and they were often born to middle or lower class families. They were prized by the Evanuris like good horses or other beasts of burden," Solas explained. "We needed those skills for work in cities like Arlathan, not out in the fields or in the libraries. The greater the power of the Dreamer, the higher the class they will be assigned."

He paused, pinning her with his gaze to make sure she understood. "It was not a choice, vhenan. Although I would live in luxury, I would still be little better than one of Elgar'nan's slaves in the fields. I would never be free to do as I liked. I would be put to work, serving the People, most likely claimed by Elgar'nan like chattel. I would not see my parents often because they were lower class. And if I dared cause trouble or shirk my duty it would be those I loved, not myself, who would pay the price. My parents encouraged me to hide my talents to allow me to have a choice."

She shook her head, rippling the water. "Solas," she said, barely breathing his name. "This is the world you would bring back?"

"No," he said, shooting her a glare. "I would restore the simplicity of the middle class only—a life with small communities such as your clan."

"You wouldn't be able to stop the reshaped world from repeating the same mistakes," she said, frowning. "Surely you must see that, emma lath."

He stared at the cerulean tiles in the counter the tub was mounted into and tried not to think or feel anything, not to react at all. Waking from uthenera to discover magic and elves alike oppressed had been a shock, motivating him from the start to seek a way to tear down the Veil and undo it. Yet he'd also seen the way history warped memory and twisted motives over and over again. The Seekers of Truth. The Wardens. The Chantry. Elvhenan. Everything started out well, but fell apart over time, growing corrupt and turning a blind eye to the downtrodden and their suffering.

He knew he could not stop that by tearing down the Veil and remaking the world, even if he survived doing it to preside over his creation. But at least the world would be whole again, complete with the Fade overlaying it, and the People would not face a slow extinction at the hands of humans—and they'd be immortal, the sole race to possess such a gift.

"I would not restore the Elvhenan Empire," he explained. "And I could not prevent future corruptions. You are correct." He looked at her, feeling his eyes burning with emotion. "But if I do nothing we will fade like morning mist. Our people rely on the magic of the Fade, and I took it from them. We have been dying ever since."

She moved through the water, sloshing and splashing slightly as she reached one hand out to take his. The warm wetness of her touch and the sight of her lithe, naked body reawakened his desire despite the somberness of the conversation. Her green eyes gazed up at him, soft and sympathetic and beautiful.

"There must be a better way. Cassandra, Rainier, Cullen, Josephine, Leliana—all of the others—they do not deserve subjugation beneath our People."

"I did not say they did," Solas murmured, brow furrowing. "And I would not wish to see them harmed, but I am not naïve. There will always be those who are subjugated and repressed. Our only hope is to minimize it. But I would see the People elevated. It is the humans who are the trespassers to Thedas. I cannot allow compassion for our companions make me forget this as the truth it is."

He brought his other hand to her cheek, caressing the soft skin. "I remember an age when our people did not speak Common at all, when we had never met humans. I was an oddity in Arlathan's court for knowing even a few phrases of Common from my wanderings. It was not until uthenera that I learned it properly in the Fade."

"Arlathan's court," she repeated, closing her eyes and leaning into his hand. She smirked. "I knew you were too comfortable in the winter palace."

He smiled down at her, longing making his heart hammer. The floral smell rose up from her skin, inviting and tempting. "Yes," he murmured. "I have had some practice at it. There was a time when I was the talk of the court, just as you are now."

He could still remember the sheer, silken gowns of the noblewomen as they eyed him from the crowds at sumptuous parties at art galleries and theaters. In those days the whispers had been of the Lone Wolf, the mysterious Dreamer who'd rejected the upper class in favor of the wilds and the spirits of the Fade—considered an odd choice even among the ancient Elvhen in the nobility's eyes. He'd met Mythal in that court and fallen under her protection and tutelage. It'd been Mythal who finally saw through his guarded nature and realized he was not merely a powerful Dreamer but a full-blown Evanuris who'd somehow escaped detection.

And from there it'd all started crashing down…

"Did you ever take a bond partner?" she asked quietly. "Did you have children?" She hesitated a moment and then revised the question with a timid smile. "Other children. Before."

He chuckled. "No, vhenan. To both questions." He didn't reveal that children were rare among the upper classes because they so often disappointed their parents when they did not have the same magical capacity and would be relegated to the middle class or worse upon reaching adulthood. Instead he told her, "I was much like Commander Cullen is now. There were many proposals from the upper class and I spent most of my time evading them. There was a reason they called me the Lone Wolf then."

"He Who Hunts Alone," Ellana said, laughing. "My Keeper sometimes called Fen'Harel that."

"She would be wrong now," Solas replied somberly, gazing into her eyes and inching closer.

"Well, you could still be He Who Bathes Alone. So, are you going to enjoy this bath with me, Dread Wolf, or am I going to get wrinkly and cold waiting on you?" She grinned, her eyes bright with humor—and desire.

Excitement leaped in his belly, like a wolf pouncing on a hare. He kissed her suddenly, breathing fast with hunger. She rose onto her knees, meeting his desire with her own, wet hands smelling of flowers as she dug into his collar. Solas caressed one hand up her back, feeling over the little valley of her spine as his heart drummed in his ears.

She moaned at his touch, shivering, and tugging at his clothing. Solas broke the kiss to shed his over-coat, tunic, and leggings before slipping into the bath. Ellana watched him, a mischievous smile on her face. The water was still warm and rich with the floral scent of the soaps and oils Ellana had been using. He truly was in need of a bath, coated with sweat from the long, hot day and the short battle at the Crossroads, but Ellana was in his lap before he could give it more than a passing thought. He wound his arms around her waist, his hands sliding low.

Her hands cupped his cheeks as she straddled him, staring into his eyes. Solas could see the love in her stare and it set his body aflame with want for her. He captured her lips again, one hand moving to gently caress her breast and then trace its way along her shoulder and to her neck and arm. Ellana moaned once more, shifting to ease herself down, taking him inside her. The heat of her body over him stole his breath, making him gasp, breaking their sloppy kiss.

"This is what I wanted to do last night," she whispered into his ear.

He moaned, kissing her neck. "How can I make it up to you?"

"I have a few ideas," she murmured, her chuckle like a purr. She rocked her hips, making the water slosh rhythmically and obliterating his thoughts as the pleasurable sensation built. He moved with her, angling his hips and helping support her with one hand while the other stroked its way up and down her body, delighting him when she shivered.

"I have many talents," he told her, husky with his increasing arousal. "But omniscience is not one of them." He nibbled at her ear and felt her shudder in his arms, moaning. "Dirthera," he said, the word ragged as his breath caught in his throat.

She turned her head, kissing him as she pumped her hips over him at a faster pace, sliding over his length and grinding against him, then repeating it in a rhythm. As he gasped, struggling to keep his eyes open and his mind coherent, she grinned. "Is the Dread Wolf giving the Herald of Andraste orders now?"

"You…would not…listen," he struggled to say through the waves of pleasure. He gnashed his teeth, determined to delay and focus on her. His hand on her hip tightened, trying to slow her hips while the other dove between her legs. As he rubbed two fingers over her, back and forth, Ellana cried out with the heightened pleasure, rocking against his hips and his fingers. Her hands gripped into fists on his shoulders and her eyes rolled backward, the lids fluttering.

The sight and sound of her pleasure threatened to undo him, making his mouth water and his breathing stagger. He leaned forward, pressing his lips to her throat to trail kisses up her smooth skin. He continued the swirling motion of his fingers, teasing and stroking as Ellana's hips made the water slosh around them in the tub.

She set the pace, pumping faster and moaning. Solas wrestled with his own pleasure as it built, spiraling on itself. He let out only the occasional grunt as he held back the tide of his own orgasm by reaching for the magic in his core each time he neared the precipice. It was just enough to distract him and delay for her.

Then Ellana's features twisted as if with pain and she cried out, her muscles seizing over his length and snapping taut. As her cries filled the room, echoing from the walls, Solas let go of his own control and let the pleasure swell until it burst over him as well. He grunted, breathing raggedly against her skin and shuddering. Ellana cradled his head, leaning into his upper body, sighing with each exhalation.

As the euphoria and lassitude settled over him, Solas suddenly felt the press of hot tears behind his eyes—from joy and relief. If he hadn't known better from many years of experience, he would've believed this wasn't reality, couldn't be reality. At any moment he might awaken and discover it was all a hallucination and he'd never left uthenera, never found such a miraculous woman who could love him in spite of what he'd done to the world and their people.

And in that moment he was both whole and shattered at once as he realized he could never choose the People over her. He couldn't lie to himself. He'd grown selfish, and in so doing he'd condemn the People to die.

No, he thought, taking in a quavering breath. I will find a way to save them both.

He moved one hand through the water, brushing his fingers and then his palm lazily over her navel as the pressure of his emotions continued to pulsate through his blood. In the back of his mind he could feel Fen'Harel writhing in rage, but this was Solas' moment, not the Dread Wolf's.

Ellana shifted, pulling away enough to stare into his face, searching over him with a look of concern as she registered his distress. "Solas?" she asked. Her cheeks were flushed red from lovemaking, her pupils dilated.

"Ma serannas, vhenan," he whispered, swallowing to try and get rid of the painful lump in his throat. "You have given me hope."

One of her hands moved to cover his over her abdomen and squeezed as she smiled. "You give yourself too little credit. There was always hope." She leaned close, resting her forehead against his. "There will always be hope."

At that instant, both Solas and Fen'Harel could believe her. Solas kissed her, pouring his gratitude into it and cherishing the moment for fear it would soon leave him.

____________________________________________

Next Chapter teaser:

"You removed the Inquisitor's tattoos," Dorian said and then twisted his head to look at Solas with narrowed eyes. "Where did you learn such a spell?"

Solas smiled, open and friendly, beyond guile and suspicion. "I encountered a human mage in the Free Marches who made a living removing ink and blemishes from the skin of anyone who could afford his services."

"How did you pay for it?" Dorian asked, shaking his head. "You were a wandering apostate. What currency did this man want? Sticks and stones? Mud and muck?" The doubt in Dorian's face was easy to read, though he passed it off with his usual humor. "Sexual favors?"

Chapter Text

At midday the Exalted Council broke for recess and Ellana stumbled out of the pavilion with her head swimming in a fog of irritation and thirst. The day was quickly growing oppressively hot and humid, making her thick formalwear feel heavy and suffocating. Bodyguards accompanied her like twin shadows, their gaits stiff and their backs ramrod straight. Ellana led them through the now familiar corridors to the study where she'd been meeting in private with her advisors regarding the Qunari plot.

The bodyguards opened the door for her but stayed outside as she entered. Inside the study she saw a tray with ice water and tea had been laid out along with a platter of lunch dishes—pastas smothered in fragrant cheeses and dessert with Val Royeaux's famous little frilly cakes. She almost groaned with relief, her mouth instantly flooding with saliva. Scattered around the table she also saw Josephine, Leliana, Cullen, and a newcomer, an elven woman in a simple blue-gray dress waiting for her.

"Inquisitor," Josephine greeted her, motioning to the food and drink at the table. "I know you must be famished, but I hoped we might have a word."

Peeling her attention away from the frilly little cakes, Ellana looked to where Josephine stood beside the unfamiliar elven woman. "Yes?"

"Inquisitor, may I introduce Inan," Josephine said, motioning to the elven woman who dropped into a bow from the waist.

"Your Worship," Inan said.

"Pleased to meet you," Ellana said with a nod before sneaking another longing look at the frilly cakes on the table. Leliana was standing beside the window opposite her, a little smile on her lips as she followed Ellana's gaze knowingly. Cullen was off to Ellana's right, standing stiff as if mildly uncomfortable. What's up with the commander? She wondered.

"Inan is a healer," Josephine explained, clearing her throat to regain Ellana's focus. "I thought you might wish to have a physician on hand…considering." The ambassador smiled graciously to overcome her embarrassment as they skirted around the topic of Ellana's pregnancy. The elven healer was already sizing Ellana up with an appraising eye that lingered at her slim waist.

Now Ellana understood Cullen's discomfort as the only man in the room. She almost smirked with humor but kept her expression neutral as she dismissed the healer, promising to call on her later…after she'd asked Solas if Inan was trustworthy.

Once she and her advisors heard the door to the study open and close, signaling that they were at last alone, Ellana moved to eat. She kept swallowing mouthfuls of spit, her stomach gnawing on itself with impatience. At least right now she wasn't feeling nauseous. She scooped pasta onto her plate, eyes widening at the stringy cheeses. The clan never ate food this rich and usually Ellana didn't either but the smell was heavenly.

Cullen sighed suddenly, shaking his head. "I'll come right out with it, Inquisitor. I don't approve of this operation in this Crossroads. And…" He rubbed at his neck with one hand, averting his gaze as if suddenly bashful. "…I don't trust Solas."

Ellana's enthusiastic work with the spoon in the pasta slowed as she stared at her commander. "I'm listening," she said, trying to keep her face open and encouraging.

"Divine Victoria told me he cast a spell yesterday that she's never seen before," Cullen explained, gesturing with his hands to emphasize. "I understand he has a remarkably different background from any Circle mage, but what I find disconcerting is that we had not seen this before."

"I agree," Leliana added with a nod in Cullen's direction. "From what I heard the spell was most impressive, too." She asked Ellana, "Did you see it, Inquisitor?"

"I did," she replied. They were trying to turn her suspicions, convince her to either open to them with any additional information Solas had given her, or they merely wanted to warn her against trusting him. Ellana used her food as a distraction, shoveling a few bites into her mouth and closing her eyes with pleasure at the burst of flavor over her tongue.

"Did you not think it unusual?" Leliana prodded.

She half-shrugged, feigning nonchalance while frantically digging through her mind for a way to defuse her advisors' distrust. Don't reveal that your lover's the Dread Wolf kept repeating inside her head unhelpfully. As soon as she'd swallowed her latest mouthful she said, "Solas spent months with the sentinel elves. He's probably learned a few new spells from them. Whatever it was, I'm glad for it because it took out a Qunari spearman before he could harm Cassandra."

Cullen squirmed, shifting his position, always uncomfortable at the prospect of new and dangerous magic that was without control. "While I appreciate that he was obviously fighting on our side, I still have reservations about this operation in the Crossroads."

Ellana arched an eyebrow, unable to contain her annoyance now. "Is it the operation in the Crossroads, Commander, or is it the Inquisition mages?" That morning she had ordered a group of mages who'd remained with the Inquisition to fight the Qunari in the Crossroads under Dorian and Solas' command. They'd left through the eluvian hours ago, but they would return by nightfall if all went according to plan.

Cullen scowled. "Inquisitor, please see reason…"

Leliana cut in, shooting Cullen a glare. "What the commander is trying to say is we cannot help but be concerned with what's been happening. We all trust your judgment and Solas has been a valuable member of the Inquisition for three years now, but he is…something of a mystery to us." She let out a little huff, her shoulders slumping. "I am sorry, but I took the liberty of sending my scouts to investigate what little I do know of Solas' background and…"

Oh no, Ellana thought and knew her face had revealed her as Leliana broke off, watching her.

"You already know, don't you?" Leliana asked.

"What did you find?" Josephine asked from her side of the table, off to Ellana's left. Apparently Leliana hadn't briefed the ambassador as she looked alarmed, her eyes wide and her lips parted as she stared at the others.

Cullen, for his part, wore a deep frown and stared at the food on the table as if the frilly cakes had insulted his honor. Ellana shoveled more food in her mouth, cursing herself for being so easy to read.

Leliana turned her head, speaking to Josephine. "My scouts uncovered the village Solas told us he was from but it was ruins and had been so for centuries."

"More lies," Cullen said, snarling. "But why?"

Ellana coughed, choking on a noodle and setting her plate down as she scrambled, reaching for the pitcher of ice water to pour herself a glass. After she'd finished drinking she caught her breath and reluctantly faced her advisors, all three of whom were watching and waiting on her reaction. Their knowing gazes skipped over her and Ellana felt her cheeks heat up. Were they wondering if she'd willingly blinded herself to her lover's lies, or did they suspect she knew the answers and withheld them to the Inquisition's detriment? How long until they'd turn on her? She couldn't help but think that if she'd been human they'd be less upset, more inclined to allow her to maintain Solas' privacy.

"I suggest we ask Solas about this," Ellana said, sighing. "But I'd like to reiterate that whatever Solas' reasons are, he has served us for years now and continues to do so willingly. He came to us a lone apostate when Haven was a Chantry stronghold that would have locked him in a Circle tower at any other time."

She shook her head, glaring at each of them in turn. "He's told me that before I woke up Cassandra threatened his life. I'm sure he suspected he'd be pursued if he did flee and had given you any hint as to where to search." Rash anger made her sweat as she went on. "And look how fast you fall to doubting him! As if he's not the same man who saved my life at Haven and helped us close the Breach and kill Corypheus."

"But he could have been honest with us once Corypheus was dead," Cullen insisted with a sideways slash of his hand. Leliana nodded in agreement.

"And risk getting himself locked in a Circle tower or kicked out?" Ellana asked, brow knitting. "Solas has not been entirely truthful with us, no, but that doesn't mean he is no longer worthy of our trust and respect." Despite her own words and passionate defense of him, Ellana felt a bubble of dark amusement underlying it all. What would her Keeper say if she could hear one of her hunters advising humans to trust the Dread Wolf?

Leliana had averted her gaze, her mouth twisting with some unreadable, negative emotion. Cullen's expression held traces of remorse and embarrassment and he'd fallen to rubbing one hand at the back of his neck again.

Josephine said, "I agree with you, Inquisitor. Solas has been nothing but helpful. Surely we can afford more trust than this after three years?"

"Forgive me, Inquisitor," Cullen said. "I meant nothing by it."

Leliana smiled, the same coy look she'd given Solas when she knew he'd been lying yesterday morning. "You're right, Inquisitor. Of course."

Great, Ellana thought and started eating again to keep herself from frowning with disappointment.

_________________________________________

The guardian spirits of Revasan prowled around the tower, restless and watchful even though Solas had already given them his secret greeting to make them stand down. Some of the mages who'd accompanied him were elven and likely understood a smattering of the words he used, but it was unavoidable. If he hadn't greeted the spirits properly they'd have attacked the mages with him—though they wouldn't harm Solas because they recognized him as the one who'd bound them so long ago.

They'd been slogging through Revasan, routing the Qunari who'd set up in the sanctuary. In his sleep the night before Solas had ordered Mathrel and Lyris to join in their assault and he'd met up with them outside the mirror leading to Revasan that very morning. He could feel Dorian and the other mages inspecting him and these new barefaced elves with suspicion or curiosity, seeing the way the two arcane warriors deferred to him like the loyal soldiers they were.

Counting Dorian, Ellana had sent six mages to aid in the Qunari cleanup. Two were elven, the rest humans. They stood around the tower now, whispering with wonder at the distant, empty hills and the lush forest as they ate and drank from trail rations. A few of them took lyrium infusions for the big push to come when they moved on the central sanctuary situated on the lake. Sentinel elves had sabotaged the Qunari on the lake the previous day, ensuring they no longer had gaatlok canons to fire on the towers, but there were still plenty of warriors entrenched there.

Much to Solas' annoyance, Dorian seemed glued to him like his shadow, refusing to give him any chance to speak alone with Mathrel or Lyris. "This is quite the place you've found here," he said with his usual blend of humor and witty snobbery. "A bit rustic, but charming nonetheless. I especially like the magical murals. I'd hire the designer to decorate—if he weren't ages dead, of course."

She, Solas corrected him internally. And of course the artist, Lanya, was still alive, though he could never reveal that to Dorian. Solas ignored Dorian's blathering, surveying the lake with the island at its center in the distance with narrowed eyes. Millennia ago Solas had built this place, shaping the real world with his will and the help of the Fade. Now that past life seemed dreamlike, as if he'd imagined it or watched it in memories in the Fade.

Lyris and Mathrel lingered behind him, tense and watchful, while Dorian stood to his left with his arms crossed and picking at his manicured nails. The wind whipped by them, tugging at their clothes and whistling in a mournful wail.

"So," Dorian said, looking behind Solas, his voice bored. "You both are sentinel elves? You're not marked like the Dalish. Weren't the elves at the temple of Mythal marked?"

Solas didn't need to see the arcane warriors' expressions to know they'd be scowling at Dorian, unamused and uninterested in his questions. Sure enough he heard Mathrel's armor clink as he shifted his posture and spat off the edge of the tower, cursing in elven and then adding, "Shem."

"Ooookay," Dorian drawled with a disgusted sigh. "Solas, how long have you been with this lot? Can't you teach them some manners? Do they speak Common at all?"

"They do indeed," Solas replied, flashing a crooked, dry smile. "But you must remember, they have had little interaction with humans."

"How did you come to lead them?" Dorian asked, arching an eyebrow.

A very good, very dangerous question, Tevinter. He glanced at Dorian, smiling as open and friendly as he could manage. "We have other matters requiring our attention."

Dorian let out a quick, high-pitched laugh. "You're not going to tell me, are you?"

Squaring his shoulders and tucking his hands behind his back, Solas said, "Call the others. It's time we took the sanctuary."

"What sort of sanctuary is this place, anyway? Why use it as your base of operations?" Dorian asked, both his voice and his expression irritable. "And why keep the Inquisitor away from this place?"

"Your understanding is not required," Solas retorted, cold and firm.

"Yes," Dorian growled. "I've noticed." His brown eyes flicked to Lyris and Mathrel. "Fortunately for me, I am not one of your little minions the way these two are. The Inquisitor charged us both with leading the Inquisition mages here. So, unless you start playing nice I'm going to take my merry band of mages and head back. You can give my regards to the Qunari on the lake. Try not to take one of their horns through the belly. It'd be a pity to stain the place."

Clenching his jaw, Solas restrained the angry words crouched on the tip of his tongue and instead dipped his chin to acknowledge Dorian's power over the situation. "Very well—this is a sanctuary for elven refugees fleeing a war. That is all I know."

"The war with the Imperium?" Dorian asked, gazing with renewed interest at the tower.

Mathrel cursed again and spat, drawing a look of revulsion from Dorian.

"A civil war," Solas answered. "At least, that is what I have gathered from Abelas and the memories in the Fade here." He motioned up the short stair to where the Fen'Harel mural waited, glimmering and green in the afternoon sunlight. "Now, if you're satisfied, there is work to be done. Please call the others."

"Quite," Dorian grumbled, shooting Solas a glare before he whipped on his heel and strode to gather the others.

With the Tevinter mage's back turned, Solas strode up the stairs and quickly deactivated the mural, banishing it. The arcane warriors followed, silent and brooding. He had not had a chance to reveal to them any of the details of his alliance with the Inquisition, though he'd warned all of the elves serving him in the Crossroads via their dreams not to address him as Fen'Harel unless alone. Mathrel and Lyris were some of his closest allies—friends as much as soldiers, really—but their long background with him meant they accepted vagueness and silence as second nature to him and vital for the safety of their plans. He owed them no explanations beyond the necessary.

Still, he found himself wanting to reassure them, Lyris in particular, that he'd secured Ellana's support and disclosed his identity. Such news, though unnecessary for obedience, would bolster his position, even if they considered Ellana beneath them as a non-Elvhen elf. They knew the Inquisition would prove a powerful ally and that Fen'Harel had juggled such alliances before, moving freely between different forces.

Not to mention if a modern elf—a Dalish elf—could choose to follow the Dread Wolf…who wouldn't? Among elves, anyway.

Dorian reappeared, his expression tight and grim with the nearness of battle. The Inquisition mages stood behind him, stoic and tense.

"Lyris and Mathrel will lead," Solas said and motioned through the entry and down the short stair to the eluvian. "Dorian and I will follow. Be wary, the Qunari here employ mages as well."

The arcane warriors pivoted and made their way to the mirror, passing through it with none of the caution Solas had seen from the Inquisition mages. Solas feigned less comfort with the mirror as he stepped through it, walking a tad slower and with one hand out as if to prevent himself from falling or stumbling.

Then he was on the other side of the shattered bridge stretching across the lake, midday sun glaring into his eyes from a different direction now. Five Qunari roared and shouted in Qunlat just ahead where the stone of the bridge changed to grass as it met the island in the lake. Lyris and Mathrel were already cutting into one of the warriors with their spectral blades, whipping and dodging in a Fade stepping dance. The sight made his heart pound, a feral grin spreading over his lips at the ancient memories of Elvhen glory. These tactics would not be forgotten…

He cast a barrier over them and Fade stepped forward, flinging fireballs before he'd even exited the lunge. Three of the advancing Qunari went down while Mathrel and Lyris quickly slaughtered the remaining two that'd reached them. This first skirmish was over before Dorian and the Inquisition mages had completely emerged through the eluvian, but a dozen more Qunari charged at them over the grass, spears and swords raised to fight.

The hodgepodge group of mixed mages swarmed over their opposition, with Lyris and Mathrel cutting down any who drew close enough to pose a threat. But archers fired from inside the sanctuary itself and eventually a barrier failed at just the wrong moment and a human mage took an arrow to his shoulder. He screeched with pain, stumbling to his knees.

Dorian immediately sprang to his side, stooping to help the other man. "A little help over here!"

With a grunt of effort, Solas summoned firestorm on the archers, bombarding them with a rain of fireballs. As the archers cowered and panicked, catching fire or trying to flee, Lyris and Mathrel charged forward. Their voices rang out in a war song in elven that made Solas' skin prickle with gooseflesh.

Yet more Qunari rallied ahead, rushing to meet them. Dorian and the Inquisition forces regrouped around their wounded comrade, covering for him as one of them knelt to remove the arrow and cast a healing spell over him. Solas hesitated, torn momentarily between helping the Inquisition mages and rushing forward.

He caught Dorian's irritated glance and heard the Tevinter mage shout, "Stop the sentinels! Those fools will get themselves killed!"

Before Dorian had even finished speaking, Solas Fade stepped forward, falling in behind Lyris and Mathrel. He cast a stronger barrier over their group as archers from wooden scaffolding inside the sanctuary began shooting at them. The first arrows bounced off the blue-green light of Solas' barrier. A spear followed, also glancing off it.

Lyris let out a shout, clenching her hand into a fist as she froze a Qunari warrior rushing at them and lunged with her spectral blade, shattering the horned giant. The Qunari behind the now dead frozen warrior raced past his fallen comrade but Solas hurled Fade stone at him, clobbering him with a spray of blood. He fell, dead.

"Fen'Harel vir'enasalin!" Lyris shouted, a war cry Solas hadn't heard since before the long sleep of uthenera. He hoped Dorian and the Inquisition mages hadn't caught the name amidst the other elven words.

As Lyris and Mathrel charged, Solas surged ahead with them, maintaining the barrier and casting a powerful veilstrike to knock the enemy archers from the scaffolding. Once they fell Solas ignited a fire mine over them, setting the archers ablaze before they could even stand upright.

As three warriors closed on them the three Elvhen split up, Fade stepping in multiple directions. Solas dashed right, stopping near a now empty scaffold as two spearmen roared in Qunlat and charged for him. He used a focused veilstrike to knock the first Qunari's spear away, then hurled Fade stone at the warrior who hadn't thrown his spear. He cast another enormous fireball at the last remaining spearman, reducing him to ash in only a few heartbeats. As always the Veil strangled his drawdown of magic, leaving him dizzy when he'd cast too much too quickly. As soon as the Qunari went down he shook his head, powering through it.

From the entrance he heard Dorian shout, "Take that, you filth!" A Qunari spearman, the last enemy left alive, had charged at Dorian but now turned tail and fled as the horror spell—the Tevinter's specialty—took hold of him.

Solas casually flung Fade stone at the fleeing Qunari, killing him in one blow. Dorian's chain lightning crackled in the immediate aftermath, loud in the echoing silence now that the last Qunari was dead. Huffing, Dorian called out, "Did you not see that that cretin was mine?"

"You were taking too long," Solas retorted. Surveying the Inquisition mages quickly, Solas saw the injured human was on his feet if a little haggard with lingering pain. The arrow had missed vital organs and arteries fortunately. "We should keep moving."

Dorian scoffed. "And here I thought perhaps we should stop for tea."

Mathrel grumbled again, glaring without amusement at Dorian's comment.

"I'm sorry, Solas," Dorian said, sniffing with a little wrinkle in his nose as he stared at Mathrel. "But I seem to have offended your…minion. Charming fellow. In addition to lacking manners he seems to have no sense of humor either."

"Venavis," Solas ordered Mathrel and the arcane warrior nodded, though his lips pinched in an unhappy line. Lyris smirked but stayed silent.

They strode onward, Solas leading now at a brisk pace. At the far end of the sanctuary a statue of the Dread Wolf waited with a half-circle wall covered in a mural. Several braziers lined the wall, only one of them currently lit with the blue-green glow of veilfire. Ahead the island and the sanctuary itself ended.

Solas knew a plaque on the wolf statue offered a hint at opening the secret passage below into the hidden armory where more Qunari had taken up residence, like spiders sheltering inside their webs. He tried to move quickly, hoping Dorian and the other Inquisition mages wouldn't pay much attention to the artwork on the wall. But he hadn't been lucky lately and wasn't the least bit surprised when Dorian immediately whistled with appreciation.

"This is remarkably well preserved," he commented, striding closer to have a better look, one hand at his chin.

"Fen'Harel," one of the elven Inquisition mages murmured, his eyes wide as he gazed between the statue and the mural. "The hahren of my alienage used to spin tales of the Dread Wolf."

Solas gnashed his teeth, forcing himself to pause as though with interest. The mural showed a man wearing a wolf headdress, which hid his eyes and nose but didn't cover the smile over his lips. One hand stretched out to an elf marked with vallaslin standing ahead of him, the lines from his face flowing to the wolf god's palm.

Solas' skin prickled with sweat. Dorian was as clever as he was conceited, and unlike Vivienne he'd probably heard more elven tales throughout his upbringing, considering his Tevinter heritage. How could he not make the connection between this image of vallaslin removal and Solas, who'd removed Ellana's markings before they defeated Corpyheus? And, even worse, their experience with Corypheus had proven ancient beings from the distant past could survive to the present, one way or another.

Knowing he had to make some comment, Solas spoke, "Yes, I have seen this in the Fade. The vallaslin were slave markings."

"You removed the Inquisitor's tattoos," Dorian said and then twisted his head to look at Solas with narrowed eyes. "Where did you learn such a spell?"

Solas smiled, open and friendly, beyond guile and suspicion. "I encountered a human mage in the Free Marches who made a living removing ink and blemishes from the skin of anyone who could afford his services."

"How did you pay for it?" Dorian asked, shaking his head. "You were a wandering apostate. What currency did this man want? Sticks and stones? Mud and muck?" The doubt in Dorian's face was easy to read, though he passed it off with his usual humor. "Sexual favors?"

Mathrel cursed again in elven, snarling at the perceived insult.

Solas shot Mathrel another warning look before turning his glare to Dorian. "Hardly. The man was another apostate, running from Templars. He was a generous spirit and we exchanged knowledge. You may call that payment if you wish. He shared with me the spell I used on the Inquisitor and I taught him an elven mana cleanse incantation."

In truth Solas was mixing fact with fiction, with ease and familiarity that could only be achieved by those who'd spent most of their lives doing it. He had met an Elvhen middle class wanderer in the wilds after leaving his village and they had exchanged knowledge and stories. It just hadn't been in the Free Marches or in this current age. Also, the spell the wanderer had taught Solas was incomplete, only removing the binding power of the blood in the vallaslin. He'd had to improve the spell on his own until he could completely erase the markings altogether.

"Ah," Dorian said, nodding, some of his suspicion draining away.

"This is Fen'Harel removing the vallaslin?" the other elven Inquisition mage asked from behind Solas. "The vallaslin were slave markings? But…why would the Dread Wolf do this? He was a villain."

Mathrel and Lyris stood beside the brazier that would open the secret passage when lit with veilfire, their faces set in hard, unreadable expressions. Solas snuck a sidelong look at them both, silently pleading them to light the brazier and provide a distraction. Then, once more, he gave in to his usual role as the historical teacher on all things Elvhen that he'd supposedly learned from the Fade.

"Perhaps the legends have warped over time," he suggested, adopting his passive scholar's tone. "There may be multiple individuals as well, as was likely the case with other wartime figures, like Shartan. A composite figure from a lost war who was venerated here for freeing slaves." He hoped that'd be enough to satisfy their questions and Dorian's lingering, suspicious frown.

Lyris motioned with her hands, summoning the green-blue glow of veilfire into the brazier. The Inquisition mages standing closer to the Dread Wolf statue gasped as its eyes lit up and a mechanism clicked. Stone ground against stone as the wolf statue rolled backward, exposing a descending stairwell leading into the darkened armory below.

"Fenedhis," one of the elven mages cursed.

Solas nodded his head toward Lyris. "Ma serannas," he thanked her and started to direct Dorian toward the stairwell. "We should investigate—"

"Free the slaves of all races living in Tevinter," Dorian said, staring at him.

Solas scowled. "…excuse me?" But even as he asked in genuine confusion his mouth went dry and his heart hammered in his chest.

"You said that to me, once. I was trying to apologize for Arlathan and you told me I wasn't sorry unless I freed the slaves in the Imperium. All of them." He flashed a slow smile. "You and the Dread Wolf sound like you would've gotten along splendidly."

"Unlikely. If he resembled the myths at all I would expect a cowardly traitor." He motioned at the mural. "We do not know that there is any truth in this. It may be propaganda." He shook his head. "But this conversation is pointless. We must continue—if you are ready, Tevinter."

Dorian smirked. "Of course I'm ready. Are you?"

__________________________________________

As darkness settled over Halamshiral the summit finally adjourned for the day and Ellana was ready to strangle the Ferelden ambassador with her bare hands. Her head felt thick and heavy with fatigue, but at least her stomach was settled and her appetite still hearty as she retired to her room and took dinner there.

Midway through her meal, an Inquisition scout informed her the mages sent through the eluvian had finally returned and Leliana wished to convene a meeting. Pushing aside her fatigue, Ellana let the scout escort her to the study where she found her advisors along with Solas waiting. The room had a tense stillness to it and Solas looked filthy with grit and a few bloodstains, but his body language told her he was uninjured.

"Inquisitor," Leliana greeted her with a nod. "I thought you'd wish to be present as we discuss the operation in the Crossroads."

And your findings about Solas' village, Ellana thought but kept it to herself. She saw Josephine had prepared tea and left a tray with desserts—more frilly cakes. Though she'd just been eating, her mouth watered anew. Restraining the temptation, Ellana focused on the mages. "Anything interesting to report?"

"We had two injuries," Solas told her, his voice strong and authoritative—an elven reflection of Cullen. "Both minor. We cleared one Qunari base, but there are at least two others we must eliminate. They have a lyrium mining operation in the Deep Roads my people have been sabotaging for some time, but we have not been able to stop them. Attacking it will require significantly more men than we used today."

"A lyrium mine?" Ellana asked, shaking her head in consternation. "I thought only dwarves could mine it?"

Solas' expression darkened with dry humor. "The Qunari are nothing if not persistent. They have taken heavy losses, but through trial and error have managed to mine it, yes. With it they increase the power of the few saarebas they use against us."

"You suggest we focus our next assault on the lyrium mine?" Cullen asked from his spot to Ellana's right at the far end of the table.

"Yes," Solas answered, a polite smile in permanent place over his lips. "Once it has been eliminated the Qunari saarebas and operations as a whole will be weakened. With their limited magical understanding, the Qunari rely on lyrium as a crutch for enchanting and accessing the artifacts they have been collecting in their quest to activate more eluvians."

"I have seen to the removal of gaatlok barrels from the palace," Leliana said, her gaze flicking between Ellana and Solas, as if unsure who to report to. "And unfortunately I have received confirmation that gaatlok has turned up across Thedas at many noble houses." She sighed, shaking her head. "And in many cases, it was our people who brought the barrels in."

"We must keep this quiet," Cullen said, a note of fear and urgency in his voice.

Josephine made a noise in her throat, as if in pain. All eyes flew to her as the ambassador shook her head, brow knit and her eyes flashing with distress. "How could we have let this happen?" she asked, dismayed. "Today the Inquisitor and I sat at the summit and argued for the good the Inquisition has done, but this would ruin us. Ferelden would see us disbanded and only Orlais' lust for power because they hope to use us keeps them from turning against us as well. Divine Victoria cannot hope to—"

"Leliana and I are seeing to the traitors in our ranks," Cullen interrupted with a quick gesture. "We will tighten security in recruitment to ensure this doesn't happen again. We are doing all we can. What more would you have us do?"

Ellana glanced to Solas across the table and saw him watching her, his blue-gray eyes narrowed with sorrow. His lips were compressed in a line, as if holding back his own thoughts. She already knew what they would be and felt her shoulders sag.

Staring at the frilly cakes and the tea on the table, Ellana said, "Perhaps we should disband. Corypheus is dead, the Breach closed…"

"We must think about what is best for Southern Thedas," Cullen argued, his expression angry. "Ferelden is weak for all Arl Teagan's whining. Orlais is so busy throwing masquerades and parties that if the Qunari did invade they'd be caught by surprise. The Chantry might—"

"We won't decide this here," Ellana interrupted him. "But for now we keep the news of the gaatlok quiet. We don't want to start a riot or give Orlais reason to turn against us."

Solas let out a little huff, clearly disappointed. Cullen and Leliana both shot him quick looks, the commander's being one of hostility while the spymaster's remained unreadable. Ellana admired the frosting on the little cake closest to her, pretending she hadn't heard Solas' wordless rebuttal. Her limbs felt heavy, her chest oddly light as she sighed and decided to turn the conversation over to Leliana's suspicions—because it was what her advisors expected of her.

"Solas," she said, keeping her voice cool and distant. "Leliana reported some troubling news to me today."

He shifted in his spot, both hands disappearing behind his back. "Yes?" he asked and Ellana didn't miss the wariness in his voice.

Leliana took over. "My scouts found the village you claimed you grew up in." She was still smiling, subtle and deceptive considering their topic. "Care to explain why you told me you grew up in ruins that must be at least a thousand years old?"

Solas' face did not register surprise. He'd apparently expected this. The polite, friendly smile stayed in place. "My apologies, spymaster. I was determined to help close the Breach, but as both apostate and considering my background as a spy myself, I could not be forthright with you. My organization is a loosely connected one and I had been at Haven in the hopes of spying on the negotiations between mages and Templars." He motioned toward Ellana. "Much like the Inquisitor, or have you all forgotten that?" Breaking off for a moment, he shot her an apologetic look. "Ir abelas, Ellana."

Ellana nodded to acknowledge him but didn't say anything as she struggled to keep her expression neutral, hiding her own sudden doubts. Solas' presence at Haven hadn't been seen by anyone as more than good fortune or divine providence previously, and over the years since the conclave Ellana had given it precious little thought. Now she wondered if Solas' story was complete fabrication, though she wanted to laugh at the divine providence idea. What if it hadn't been Solas at Haven, but Fen'Harel, enacting some scheme? Had Solas been there to spy on the conclave or had he somehow been connected with the Breach from the beginning? The possibility made her feel suddenly cold into her very bones.

"I would still like to know more of your network and its goals, Solas," Leliana insisted, a flash of irritation in her blue eyes. "And of your background."

"I second that," Cullen growled, snarling in Solas' direction.

Solas glared between them, his nose wrinkling slightly with the force of it. Then his eyes landed on her, a silent request for intercession. Ellana refused to look away, squaring her shoulders and clenching her jaw. The icy sensation in her veins seemed to pulse, making her body tense with the certainty that Solas still carried heavy secrets.

Seeing that she wasn't about to intervene, Solas seemed to calm. "Very well," he said, returning his gaze to Leliana. "But there is little to tell of me, personally. I was born in a remote community and when my father died in a hunting accident my mother sent me to an alienage in Ferelden. The hahren there hid my magical talent from the Templars when it manifested and bade me flee before I could be caught. He also provided me the names and location of a group of elves working to improve the lives of our people across Thedas. It was the spies who raised me and taught me magic, though every chance I could I returned to the wilds in search of ruins. I only took a leadership role after joining the Inquisition."

"How innocuous," Leliana murmured, still smiling. Ellana didn't miss the spymaster's quick glance at her, checking her reaction for a second before asking, "And what is this spy network called?"

Now anger darkened Solas' eyes, though he remained stoic and calm. "I would prefer not to divulge it. I have told you of myself and my involvement with them. I do not see how it has any bearing on the present. Surely our time would be better spent planning the assault on the Qunari lyrium mine?"

Solas' ease with lying left Ellana uncomfortable, as if her skin were suddenly too tight for her frame. She wrapped her arms around herself and drew in a silent, deep breath to calm her nerves. The voice of her Keeper chastised her: You are disturbed that the Dread Wolf is such an accomplished liar? What did you expect, da'len?

The dry laugh at her inner thoughts burst out of her before she could stop it, making Solas and her three advisors all stare at her, startled by the outburst. She recovered quickly, clearing her throat and gazing between all four people. "I'm sorry, I can't stop thinking about shoving one of these little cakes into Arl Teagan's face."

At the mixture of irritation, disapproval, and smirking she saw around the table—Josephine aghast, Solas smothering what might have been a genuine smile, Leliana annoyed at being interrupted and Cullen scowling—Ellana had to swallow down her groan of embarrassment. She'd been a constant mess of emotions since the summit started and it was incredibly annoying. The thought of slaughtering some Qunari to prevent war sounded like an excellent distraction and a great way to escape the oppressive boredom of politics.

She started fanning herself, fighting the hot blush stealing over her cheeks. "But to get back on topic—Solas is right. We need to focus on the present, not the past. Tonight we should declare another recess at the summit for tomorrow and possibly the day after. Then I will lead an assault on the lyrium mine with Solas' help. Commander Cullen, can you—"

"No, vhenan," Solas blurted, interrupting her using his pet name for her in public. He'd leaned over the table slightly to be closer to her. His eyes were crinkled at the outer corners, pinched with distress.

"No?" she repeated, arching an eyebrow. "Didn't you just say we needed to take on this lyrium mine and we needed more people to do it?"

"Yes," he answered with a small nod, his lips twisting in a frown. "But there is no need for you to lead them. The Qunari plot your death in particular because they fear the Anchor and its connection to rifts. It is too dangerous."

Irritation lashed Ellana, sending a wave of heat through her that made her brow furrow and her mouth twist as if she'd tasted something foul. "Solas, I've faced countless enemies who wanted me dead, Anchor or no. I'm not about to sit back while—"

"Ellana," he said, his voice low and gruff as he leaned over the table, resting his palms on it. He opened his mouth to say more but his cheeks bloomed in red and he seemed to think better of it, shaking his head. Stepping backward from the table, Solas glanced around at her advisors and then to the floor as he cleared his throat. "Inquisitor, please reconsider."

She hesitated, her initial irritation cooling as she scrutinized Solas, wondering at his motivation. The leaden weight in her abdomen sprang into her awareness, drawing her mind to memories of clan life when another hunter had fallen pregnant and her bondmate became a paranoid wreck, worrying over her wellbeing. Was this Solas' thinking or was it more than that? Recalling his earlier fears about Elvhen magic affecting the Anchor, Ellana said, "Are you still worried about the Anchor destabilizing?"

"Yes…" he answered, but the way he dragged the word out made it clear there was more on his mind. Yet he stayed silent, his blue-gray eyes narrowed with unhappiness and his lips pinched together.

"Perhaps Solas is correct," Leliana added softly.

Josephine added, "Commander Cullen could lead the assault. That would accomplish the mission and it would keep the summit moving along and the ambassadors happy."

Cullen inhaled sharply, jutting out his chin. "I would be happy to do so." His brown eyes were soft as he met Ellana's stare. "You have only to give the word, Inquisitor."

Ellana sighed, looking to the frilly cake nearest to her and struggling to suppress the irritable press of her annoyance at all of them. Drumming the fingers of her right hand against her left bicep, she grumbled, "You're all becoming oppressively overprotective."

"I'm sure you would be more comfortable leading the summit rather than a battle," Josephine said with a gentle laugh.

Ellana lost her patience, groaning. "I'm pregnant, Josie, not an invalid."

At her bluntness Cullen made a choking sound suddenly, fidgeting and staring at the table with a grimace. Leliana and Josephine chuckled at his discomfiture. Solas remained stoic, though the tint of color in his cheeks had yet to fade. His gaze remained on her, as if everyone else had ceased to exist.

"Please, vhenan," he said, breaking his usual formality yet again in front of her advisors. She also noted that Leliana and Josephine covertly watched Solas, judging his reaction. Even her condition was part of the Game, fuel for it like tinder for a fire. Now, undoubtedly, they'd be judging him for loyalty and trustworthiness.

"I visited the Crossroads and I was fine," Ellana reminded him, lifting her left hand and displaying the palm, wriggling the fingers. "Are there Elvhen ruins in the Deep Roads?"

"There are some, yes," Solas said stiffly.

"And are they especially charged with magic?" she persisted. "Or are you just worrying? Do you know for sure the Anchor will destabilize the second I run across stray Elvhen magic? It did just fine in the temple of Mythal." She paused, eyes flicking quickly to her advisors, and then asked, "Or is there something you know about the Anchor that we don't?"

An expression of pain laced his features momentarily. He licked his lips before answering in a somber tone, "I do not know exactly how the Anchor will behave, vhen—Inquisitor. There is little Elvhen magic in the lyrium mine. You may visit it without any difficulty, but it is not a risk I would see you take."

Ellana read that answer as being an admission that his primary motivation was worry rather than hidden knowledge. Yet she made a mental note to ask him directly about the Anchor and his fortuitous presence at Haven during the conclave explosion. Considering what she now knew of him, it seemed highly unlikely he didn't know more than he'd let on about the ancient Elvhen artifact that had the power to tear the Veil open…

He was looking for the artifact, she realized, blinking. How had she not seen it sooner? The way he grieved its loss and had expressed such interest in it during their quest to defeat Corypheus…

Her head swimming, Ellana lurched for the table, grabbing at the cake on the tray. Taking a fork from nearby, she stabbed the cake and started eating.

"Inquisitor…?" Josephine asked, her voice worried.

After swallowing the heady, sugary mix of chocolate and toffee, Ellana used the fork to motion at Solas. "I don't care what you say—I want to see this lyrium mine for myself. And I am not sitting on that damned Exalted Council tomorrow."

Solas flinched as if she'd struck him across the face, but he quickly regained his composure and gave her a little graceful bow. "By your leave, Inquisitor."

"Are you sure about this?" Leliana asked, shooting her a perplexed look. No doubt Leliana had read her reaction as being less about logic and more emotional—a reflection of her doubting Solas.

"Stop pestering me," Ellana grumbled around another bite. "I've made up my mind." She pulled out a chair and plopped into it, suddenly feeling weak in the knees. When had she gotten so hungry? Or was she just shaken to realize how much she still didn't know about her lover? Staring at the cake, eating forkfuls with vigor, gave her a way to focus beyond the sudden cold, hollow shock that'd descended on her. "Josephine, please give my apologies to the ambassadors tomorrow. Oh, and I'll be eternally grateful if you'd make sure we always have these cakes."

Josephine dipped her head. "Of course, Your Worship."

"All right, meeting adjourned," Ellana said when her mouth was suitably empty to talk again. Her advisors filed out and Solas followed, his gait stiff and his expression dour. "Solas," she called him and he froze, his back to her. He twisted at the neck slightly, glancing over his shoulder at her.

"Inquisitor?"

She frowned, stabbing her fork into the center of the frilly cake as she glared at him, silent until she heard the last of her advisors file out. When she was certain they were alone, she said, "Tell me why you were at Haven just before the blast."

He faced forward again so she couldn't see his expression. His shoulders drooped and he lowered his head, sullen. "The orb Corypheus used at the Conclave was mine, vhenan."

Staring at his back, Ellana felt abruptly nauseous. This was worse than what she'd expected. "You were in league with Corypheus," she whispered.

He whipped around to face her, his expression warped with anger, but his voice when he spoke was calm and flat. "I did no such thing. I would never support a Darkspawn Magister with delusions of godhood. I spent my life before uthenera fighting against false-gods. I—"

"Then how did Corypheus have your orb?" Ellana interrupted, rising to her feet and stalking toward him, hands clenched at her sides. "Dirthera, Dread Wolf."

Flinching, he withdrew a step and shook his head. "When I woke from uthenera…" He closed his eyes, sighing. "The orb was gone. I had attendants while I slept, but something happened while I lay dreaming. My chamber was magically sealed, which kept me safe, but I believe tomb raiders stumbled upon the ruins. They took the orb."

The devastation and grief in his face silenced her wrath and suspicion. The explosion at the conclave, Divine Justinia's death and the hundreds who'd perished with her, the Anchor winding up on Ellana's hand…it hadn't been his fault. Her knees seemed to have gone boneless again with relief this time.

"I'm sorry," she told him, her voice soft. "I didn't know."

He flashed a miserable, wavering smile. "Your suspicion is understandable," he whispered. "And warranted. I have misled you before." He swallowed, his throat working. The blue-gray of his eyes seemed to hold the fathomless depths of the Waking Sea, unknowable and even frightening.

"Will you reconsider going to the mine?" he asked her and Ellana shook off the shiver coursing through her.

"You truly wouldn't be able to stabilize the Anchor?" she asked, making a face. She clenched and unclenched her left hand, feeling it prickle as always when she thought of the magic there.

"It's possible," he admitted, but his eyes were heavy with sadness and doubt. "But it was made to be tied to myself, not to another. The magic involved is complex and powerful. I did not expect anyone else to be able to wield it, let alone carry it for years. And you, a non-mage…" He sighed, glancing away. "Your life would be in danger." When he looked back to her, his eyes glimmered with moisture. "I cannot lose you, vhenan."

Ellana wrapped her arms around herself. "And I don't want to be locked away the rest of my life for fear it will destabilize. You may be able to fix it again."

He closed his eyes. "After Corypheus fell I searched for an alternative whenever I traveled. Another foci from one of the Evanuris or some other artifact that could remove the Anchor from you…" He shook his head, forlorn. "Two years and I have found nothing."

She reached for his hand and squeezed as he lifted his gaze to hers. "We'll find something," she said and meant it. "And I will be careful. I promise, emma lath."

"Then I will do everything in my power to protect you, vhenan," he said, solemn as though he were swearing a blood oath. He tugged on her hand, and she let herself be enfolded in his embrace, returning it as she snuggled her head into the crook of his shoulder. "Bellanaris," he whispered in her ear.

________________________________________

Fen'Harel vir'enasalin: "vir" is our path/way. "Enasalin" is victory/triumph. So translated as something like, "Dread Wolf's victorious path."

Venavis: stop

Dirthera: tell

Bellanaris: eternity

Next Chapter:

"Ten royals says it's a boy," Varric announced, arms spread wide as he gazed around the room, grinning. "Anyone wager it's a girl?"

Beside the eluvian, Solas scowled, his cheeks blooming suddenly red. He crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at the dwarf. "This is not a subject one bets on."

Chapter Text

The frilly cake wasn't sitting well anymore and Ellana decided if she never saw one again it'd be too soon. She'd spent a restless night, plagued with heartburn and then nausea until in the morning she gave in, leaving Solas sleeping as she crawled from their enormous winter palace bed and grabbed the chamber pot to heave into. Afterward she sat on the floor beside their bed with her knees drawn up, groaning as she tried to ignore the spittle and stomach acids in the chamber pot to one side of her.

Solas, usually a heavy sleeper, stirred a few minutes after her, inhaling sharply as he shifted. One arm wormed over the bed, searching for her, and when he didn't find her Solas shot upright in the bed, blinking blearily. "Vhenan?"

"Here, emma lath," she answered, grimacing at the acrid taste of bile and acid in her throat.

"You are unwell," he observed, leaving the bed and sitting on the floor at her side. His warm hands brushed over her shoulders and then combed her hair from her face. "How can I help?"

Still shaky from the nausea, Ellana leaned into his touch. "Josephine summoned an elven physician for me. I meant to ask you if she was one of your spies."

"No," Solas admitted with a small smile. "But I may seek to recruit her."

"Should I trust her?" Ellana asked.

"I will find out, but be cautious until then." He rose to his feet, striding to a dresser crafted of a black-brown wood and trimmed in pale gold where he'd left the pack he often wore during their journeys. After rooting through it he returned and offered her a pouch of herbs. Ellana recognized the crisp scent emanating from it: mint and ginger.

"Thank you," she murmured, taking it. As she chewed on a mint leaf Solas began quickly moving about the room, grabbing her robe and bringing it to her. Ellana took it wordlessly, exhausted and sluggish. Then she watched as Solas busied himself again, pulling on his tunic, overcoat, and the lacquered jawbone he always wore. When he'd finished dressing he headed for the door and Ellana called to him, "Where are you going?"

"To summon breakfast for you," he replied, pausing a moment to regard her, his hand on the doorknob. "Do you have anything in particular to request?"

She thumped her head backward onto the wall behind her, groaning. "Eating is the last thing on my mind right now." She tucked the mint leaf into her cheek, glad that at least that was sitting well and tasting pleasant for the moment.

"Vhenan," he said, a gentle note of reprimand in his voice. "You must eat regardless."

"And how many expectant mothers have you attended?" she asked, smirking.

"You would be the first," Solas said, a small smile on his lips. "But I hardly think one needs extensive study in this topic."

"The Dread Wolf guides me," she said, chuckling hoarsely. "More than that, he's acting as my midwife now." She grinned, despite the ongoing foulness still churning in her stomach. "What would my Keeper say?"

Solas returned her grin, flashing his white teeth like his namesake. "It is the least I can do. I am, after all, the one responsible for your illness." Was she imagining it or was he beaming at this declaration?

She snorted, laughing. "You're enjoying this."

Frowning, Solas made a noise of displeasure in his throat. "I do not enjoy seeing anyone suffer—least of all you, vhenan."

Shaking her head, she explained, "I wasn't referring to me feeling wretched. I meant…" You're excited. You're proud. They hadn't meant to create a child together and she didn't know how they'd managed to conceive it—the anklet charm her Keeper had made her still had enough magic in it to make Ellana's fingers tingle, so it hadn't failed completely. But with the shock of it over, Solas had accepted the news with open arms. Staring at his concerned look, she felt a warm rush of affection for him that seemed to work magic over her stomach—transforming nausea into hunger.

"Vhenan?" Solas asked, his concern deepening.

"Suddenly I am hungry. Starving in fact," she said and groaned, thumping her head against the wall again. "Ow."

"I will have the servants send tea and breakfast. And draw you a bath." He'd opened the door and left before she could object. She didn't have time for a bath.

Well, maybe a quick bath.

___________________________________

A new Inquisition scout stood at the entrance to the guest wing and Solas guessed she would be his shadow today, Leliana's eyes and ears on him. It'd be a boring assignment for her as Solas merely caught the attention of the nearest elven servant and began outlining instructions for food to be brought to Ellana's room. He also asked for them to bring hot water to run a bath for her. The servants, looking bleary-eyed at the early hour themselves, hurried to do his bidding. One of them was his spy, the other unknown to him. Neither knew of his true identity, only that he was Inquisitor Lavellan's lover and Fade expert.

And father of her child.

The thought shouldn't have made him happy, shouldn't have sent the excited zinger through his chest, but it did nonetheless. Of course that joy took a nosedive when he remembered her stubborn determination to place herself in mortal danger by fighting the Qunari…and his own cowardice when he'd lied to her.

Standing outside Ellana's closed door, waiting for food, tea, or hot water to arrive, Solas rubbed at his face and frowned with self-revulsion. The memory of the fear and fury in her gaze as she glared at him in the study, accusing him of working with Corypheus outright rather than tacitly using the darkspawn magister still made him shudder with horror. How could she think so little of him, that he would actually betray his own morals and ally with a monster like Corypheus?

You have no right to be irritated with her for not seeing the truth, he scolded himself. The Dread Wolf was the villain of the Dalish and Ellana could not help her upbringing, just as he could not escape his own, which had been shaped by the assumption that magical talent determined one's worth. Of course she would be inclined to assume the worst about him. And Solas, determined to be better in her eyes than he truly was, spun a tale of half-truths.

His uthenera location had been ransacked at some point. Artifacts had been stolen, his attendants murdered with their bodies left to rot away until they were only bones and dust. Solas would have died if his uthenera had not been so deep, so complete that magic alone sustained him. His orb would have been stolen and he killed just as he'd told Ellana, but he slept with it clasped in his hands and his chamber had been magically sealed. He had only survived, only woken in fact, because of the orb. Only when it had amassed enough power over the centuries to tear down the Veil did it finally jolt him awake.

By then he'd been barely alive, too weak even to walk more than a few paces before collapsing. It was luck that he'd woken in high summer and discovered edible mushrooms and fruit trees just outside. That had provided enough energy to rejuvenate his body out of the frailness of near-death. He still would have died from starvation and thirst, being too weak to travel far. There was also the threat of forest predators, human bandits, or Templars too as he could not defend himself in his feeble state. His physical form could not sustain any significant magic use, leaving him virtually Tranquil. But in dreams he had reached out and found the slumbering minds of a nearby Dalish clan and drawn them to him. They had given him safe harbor without ever knowing exactly who they'd rescued from the forest ruins.

Lying in the ruins of his uthenera chambers, his mind frantic and aware while his body failed him, had been the first time he felt the deep chill of terror close over him at the prospect of dying alone, his purpose unfulfilled. Considering it now sent a shudder through him, making him sweat and his heart pound as if he were in the middle of a battle. Wrapping his arms around himself to feel the reassuring shape of his recovered body, filled out with healthy muscle, Solas controlled his breathing, keeping it slow. He directed his thoughts to the upcoming day and the ongoing challenge of keeping Ellana's stubbornness from getting her killed.

From somewhere down the hall Solas heard servants whispering as they lingered just inside another chamber, out of sight of him and the guards by the door. "Did you see the bald elf man in the hall?" one asked, hissing the question.

"Yes," the other replied. "Isn't he the Inquisitor's jilted lover?"

"Hardly jilted, I should say," the first one said with a snigger. "They share the same chambers. But everyone says the Inquisitor prefers her commander—the pretty one."

Solas sighed, glad for the distraction even if it irritated him.

"Then her commander is the one who put a babe in her belly?" the other asked with a scandalized gasp.

"Keep your voice down," the first one shushed the other, hissing.

Damn you, Vivienne, Solas thought.

When he smelled the rich, sweet scent of food he raised his head, his stomach clenching with anticipation. "Ah, excellent," he greeted the servant—Lanya—when she neared, carrying a tray on her shoulder. "Come inside."

_________________________________________

"Here's you, yeah?" Sera greeted her, grinning at Ellana as she stepped past the guards and into the storage room where the eluvian waited. The elven girl was already wearing her armor, with her bow and arrow quiver on her back. "Heard you burped up your bits in the Crossroads. Woulda liked to see that! Wonder where it comes out?"

Ellana scowled, glaring at her. "I'd rather not talk about it." With her eyes she tried to tell Sera what she wanted to say was I'd rather not talk to you.

"Right," Sera said, rolling her eyes. "The thing that everyone saw is not something we talk about. Ugh." She put her hands on her hips. "You're no fun."

Ellana ignored her, moving to where her own weapons and armor leaned up against the opposite wall. She began strapping everything on, again trying to push aside the suspicion that it already felt tighter around her middle. But that might have more to do with the ridiculous amount of food Solas had insisted she eat that morning. She scanned the room and saw him already dressed and waiting beside the eluvian like a sentry, his posture tight and his eyes on her.

"Not everyone was lucky enough to see it, Buttercup," Varric said, chuckling as he moved to stand beside Sera. He clapped his beefy hands together and spoke to Ellana, "Am I allowed to congratulate you now on…things?"

Slinging her quiver of arrows over her shoulder, Ellana fought to control the heat in her cheeks. She didn't miss the speculative glance Varric aimed over his shoulder at Solas, who may or may not have been able to hear their current conversation. Dorian and Iron Bull were also in the room, but appeared to be occupied in their own quiet conversation. Was there a point in pretending anymore? Josephine's advice still spun through her head, but amidst their companions did she really need to hide it?

Making her decision, she let a smile curl over her lips. "I'll take all the well wishes and encouragement you can give."

Varric's grin turned sly. "Great! Well then, first of all congratulations. Now we can start betting on it."

"What?" Ellana blurted, freezing in mid-motion as she flexed the wood of her bow and checked the string.

"Ten royals says it's a boy," Varric announced, arms spread wide as he gazed around the room, grinning. "Anyone wager it's a girl?"

Beside the eluvian, Solas scowled, his cheeks blooming suddenly red. He crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at the dwarf. "This is not a subject one bets on."

"Maybe you don't, Chuckles, but I do." Varric laughed when Solas' glowering intensified. "Oh, c'mon. Have a little fun for once."

"I heard it's a girl whenever you can't stop tossing your cookies," Sera said, giggling. "So, girl, yeah. Ten royals." She stuck her tongue out at Solas. "Not like daddy droopy ears can stop us."

Ellana watched the interaction, her jaw hanging open and her cheeks aflame, still holding her bow in one hand. Mythal's mercy, what have I unleashed?

"I'm with Sera on this one," Dorian said. "And I'll raise you to twenty."

"Confident, Sparkler," Varric said, rubbing his hands together as if he could already imagine his coming payday. "I like it. You're on. What about you, Tiny?"

Iron Bull grunted, his single eye roving around the room for a moment before he answered. "I'll have to think it over for a while."

"This is preposterous," Solas grumbled. He shot Ellana a pained look full of sympathy, as if the others were discussing how best to torture her. He started to protest again when the door to the room opened and Cassandra strode in, glowing in her golden armor.

Varric laughed, slapping his knee. "Your Holiness," he said, gasping. "That is some armor you've got there."

Cassandra made a disgusted noise in the back of her throat. "So I have heard. Repeatedly."

"Right, yeah," Sera said, wrinkling her nose as she giggled. "Goldie."

Rainier squeezed in around Cassandra, nodding to everyone in greeting. "Good morning."

"Seeker, Thom," Varric said, grinning as he returned to the important business of setting up his wager. "The rest of us were just placing bets on whether little Lavellan will be a boy or a girl. Care to weigh in? Two to one it's a girl."

"Enough, Varric," Ellana snapped, pinching the bridge of her nose.

"I'm going with boy," Rainier said, chuckling before shooting Ellana a sheepish look. "Sorry, my lady." He shrugged, making his armor clink. "I had to go with my first instinct."

Cassandra groaned, stomping closer to Varric, her steps heavy in her armor. "This is not something you place bets on," she snapped as the dwarf scurried away from her, closer to the eluvian.

"Thank you," Solas muttered under his breath with a huff.

"Are you going to try to stab me again, Seeker?" Varric asked, lifting his hands in a motion to ward her off. "I thought we were past that."

"We've wasted enough time," Ellana said, slipping her bow over her shoulder. "We have a lyrium mine to deal with."

_________________________________________

The blue glow from the veins of raw lyrium glittered in the cavern high above, reminiscent of starlight and yet simultaneously alien. Solas could feel the weight of the cavern bearing down on him, countless tons of rock waiting to crush him if and when it collapsed. The strangling effect of the Veil on his magic had been like that when he first woke from uthenera, but over time he'd grown accustomed to the way it throttled his magic use. He'd never understood how dwarves could be comfortable beneath ground.

They encountered signs of struggle—Qunari warriors slain and gaatlok barrel explosions that'd caused cave-ins. Some of these mishaps had happened due to bad luck as unstable tunnels collapsed with Qunari mining activities, but most of the chaos afflicting this mine was due to Solas' own forces. Abelas routinely attacked the mine, sweeping through to ignite gaatlok and kill or harass Qunari. For three months Solas had done the same, sweeping in and out like a bad smell, ruining the miners' day and disrupting their pace.

The night before Solas had contacted Abelas through dreams, ordering the sentinel to bring his people and join them in the assault. So far there'd been no sign of them, other than recently killed Qunari. Where were they?

He found himself as tense as Ellana's bowstring, sweating and fighting the fearful weight of his own worries. He could feel the stray Elvhen magic in this place and knew that even if the Anchor didn't flare up visibly, it would be gaining strength. Though there was little he could do to prevent it, Solas stayed close to Ellana, always within arm's reach if he could help it.

They'd stopped beside some well-preserved elven statues of a pair of twin wolves, howling at the cavern ceiling high above. Ahead the cavern dropped into an enclosed formation, shadowed from the faint light of lyrium veins above. It was a cave within a cave, which made it as dark and intimidating as one would imagine.

For the second time in the last half-hour Varric groaned quietly. "I hate being underground."

"Shut it," Sera scolded him. "You hate everything."

"On the contrary," Varric replied, shuffling his short legs quickly to keep pace with everyone else despite the relatively slow, cautious pace Ellana set fording through the gloomy, rocky cavern. "I enjoy a lot of things—just not dark, damp, unstable places full of giant spiders and deepstalkers." He chuckled. "Oh, and Qunari, of course."

"Quiet," Cassandra ordered, then spoke to Ellana and Solas. "Where do we go now?"

"Solas says Abelas and his people might be here somewhere conducting a hit and run attack on their own," Ellana explained. "I'm worried about running into each other and exchanging friendly fire."

"What are these wolf statues doing down here?" Dorian piped up from behind them. "What were elves doing here?"

"Surface dwarf here," Varric said, shrugging. "Don't look at me. Chuckles usually has an idea, though."

Dorian's eyes found Solas' gaze, glimmering even in the faint light. "Indeed."

The single word carried a weight of deeper meaning and suspicion that made Solas' skin prickle, setting him on edge even further. After seeing the mural yesterday in the sanctuary at Revasan, Dorian had to be thinking along dangerous lines. Why had every place they visited in the eluvian network had something to do with Fen'Harel? Solas knew the smartest option would be to say nothing or very little, but he could feel the others' stares, seeking his usual deeper insight on the past.

With an exasperated sigh he said, "I have never searched the Fade here. I'm afraid I know little of what this place once was." The lie flowed smoothly from his lips and he could almost feel the others accepting it. But Dorian's posture and his challenging stare made it clear he wasn't entirely convinced.

Then Varric shouted, "Shit! Deepstalkers!"

They whipped around as the glinting eyes of the deepstalkers came into view. The bipedal, lizard-like animals scurried forward, hissing as they flowed toward the group, intent on surrounding them and making a kill.

Solas flung an enormous fireball at the three nearest to him and Ellana, making the animals shriek and panic, darting away only to collapse dead as the flames consumed them. Ellana's bow thwacked as she fired arrow after arrow, kicking and dodging the deepstalkers' snapping jaws. Solas cast a barrier over her, moving in step with her to maintain it. When a group of seven deepstalkers encircled them from the cave entrance, snapping at them from all sides, Solas knocked them away with veilstrike.

The others with them made short work of the deepstalker pack, with Dorian covering Sera and Varric as they fired countless arrows and Iron Bull, Cassandra, and Rainier hacking the little beasts limb from limb. Finally the hissing and shrieking died away as the last of the deepstalkers scurried away in panic or perished, bleeding out onto the black stone. Silence descended on the group as they stood tense, watching the shadows, breathing hard after the short, intense battle.

"I hate being underground," Varric repeated, shuddering.

A deep voice cut in from behind them, "How unusual for a child of the Stone."

The group turned as one, ready to fight Qunari, but Solas called out, recognizing the speaker immediately. "Abelas."

The sentinel stepped out of the shadows behind them, lithe and armored but wearing a black cloak over the glimmering metal to disguise its brilliance in the lowlight. Solas saw three other sentinels behind him but couldn't make out which ones Abelas had brought with him. "Lethallin," he greeted Solas with a nod. "We encountered Qunari in the Crossroads and were delayed."

Sera groaned. "Just great, yeah? More elfy-elves."

"We'll take all the help we can get," Ellana said, diplomatic as always and ignoring Sera. "You know the mine better than we do. What do you suggest?"

Solas had actually been the one to devise a plan of attack while communing with Abelas the night before in dreaming, anticipating this potentially awkward moment where he took a backseat to Ellana and Abelas. Coordinating from the sidelines had long been his preferred method of leading whenever possible. In this scenario he wanted as little attention on himself as possible. He'd told Ellana's advisors he had a leadership position over the sentinel elves, but he hadn't indicated how long he'd held it or why. Leliana and the others undoubtedly had already wondered what gave him the authority to lead the elves from the temple of Mythal. It wasn't a question he wanted them to puzzle out.

Now he saw Abelas' eyes slide to him, glinting in the dimness of the Deep Roads. "The Qunari use an explosive powder called gaatlok. I assume you've heard of it?"

"We have," Cassandra said and Solas could hear the frown in her voice.

Abelas nodded once to her. "They keep charges for the explosives at a central processing location to try and avoid mishaps with the barrels. I suggest we break into two groups. One will cause a distraction away from where they store the charges. The other group will infiltrate the storage spot and take the charges."

"And blow the gaatlok…where exactly?" Ellana asked with a shrug.

"The Qunari have left many of the barrels staged together across the mine. They move them out to strategic spots as needed for mining." His lips curled in a wry smile. "It'd be a terrible shame if someone were to set off a gaatlok barrel in the staging areas."

Iron Bull cursed in Qunlat then, shaking his horned head. "The explosion would probably bury this whole place, Boss. My vote is we just take them down the old fashioned way." He hefted his great-axe up and thumped it on the stone to make his point clear.

"But then the Qunari would only send more people to restart operations," Solas said. "Abelas is correct. We must destroy the mine to keep it and its lyrium from the Qunari."

"Are you sure?" Ellana asked, raising an eyebrow. "It doesn't sound very safe."

He smiled slightly, hoping she would sense the deeper truth underlying his words. "I believe there will be enough time to escape." Hesitating a moment, he lowered his voice. "I would prefer, of course, that you not be here for this as the explosions may cause unforeseen danger."

She frowned. "I'm not leaving that easily, Solas."

Biting back his sigh of frustration, Solas merely nodded. "As you wish."

"Do you know the kind of forces we're talking about blowing even a single barrel of gaatlok?" Iron Bull asked, his deep voice rumbling with disapproval.

As a matter of fact, Solas did know. Over his three months away in the spring he'd interrogated a Qunari specialist who understood how to make and use gaatlok, learning as much as he could before killing the man. He knew the mathematical formulas to describe the force of such an explosion and had worked out how many would be too many based on the stone in the cavern. But there were many variables, making his estimation unavoidably imprecise. As a result he'd hoped to dissuade Ellana from actually participating—but of course, she seemed determined to drive him mad with anxiety.

"We have watched and interrogated Qunari gaatlok specialists," Abelas said, speaking for Solas and doing an excellent job as usual. Solas dipped his chin in approval when the sentinel shot him a quick glance. "We are confident this will work to destroy the mine without bringing the entire cavern down." He motioned at the cavern. "You may have noticed there's an abundance of water here. The cavern will flood before it collapses."

"How comforting," Dorian piped up. "I've always wanted to die by drowning in pitch black darkness. That's much better than being crushed!"

"Inquisitor," Cassandra said. "You really should retreat back through the mirror. I will go with you. We cannot—"

"No," Ellana insisted. "I am not going to ask my friends to fight and die for me just because…" She broke off, scrubbing at her face.

Solas shifted on his feet, struggling to quash the desire to reach out and comfort her. If it'd just been their companions he would've given in, but Abelas and the sentinels needed to see him maintain the cool professionalism of a leader. Of course that was infinitely easier when he wasn't twisting inside with worry and doubt, imagining all the ways Ellana could be killed.

Taking a deep breath in, Ellana looked at him over her shoulder. "You're confident this won't blow up in our faces and get us all killed?"

"Literally blow up," Iron Bull added. "Gaatlok is some nasty shit."

"Confident, yes," he answered, pinching his lips together. "Certain? No."

"All right," Ellana said and faced Abelas again. "Let's get to it."

They divided into two groups: distraction and infiltration. The sentinel elves made up the bulk of the distraction team but also took Iron Bull, Rainier, and Varric with them. Solas, Ellana, Dorian, Cassandra, and Sera formed the infiltration group. After making their way through the dark cave ahead, stumbling on the cylindrical column-like rock formations, they reached an overlook and paused to stare at the structures off in the darkness. Lyrium glittered blue in the ceiling and distant walls of the cavern, but long ago the first miners had constructed an enormous series of bridges to span the gap of the abyss and now orange fire torches quavered on those structures like distant campfires.

Abelas and his group split off, moving to cause the distraction that'd allow Ellana's team to reach central processing with minimal resistance. Solas waited with the rest of Ellana's group, lingering on the overlook, waiting for the moment they heard Abelas' attack begin. Tense silence reigned as they watched the distant shapes of Qunari warriors patrolling the bridge. Solas ran the plan through his mind again, contemplating the raw math behind the explosions and trying to consider every variable for anything he'd missed and coming up empty.

Finally they heard shouting and saw distant flashes of fire from mage attacks. They left the overlook and headed for the bridge. Cassandra took the lead with Solas and Dorian in a secondary positions and both archers close behind them with their bows ready, arrows nocked. The bright gold of Cassandra's armor made Solas wince at its conspicuousness, shimmering and glinting against the torches on the bridge. It might as well have shouted their position to the first Qunari archers they came across.

The attackers yelled in Qunlat—a language Solas had spent the last few years learning whenever he had a spare moment—and immediately began firing. Solas cast a barrier on Ellana and Sera as they returned fire while Dorian protected everyone else. Spearmen charged over the bridge from the Qunari central processing storage area as the first archers fell dead, their bodies bristling with arrows and scorch marks.

Cassandra blocked an incoming spear with her shield and then lunged, bashing the warrior who'd thrown it at her. "Maker take you!"

After again casting a barrier over Ellana and Sera, Solas summoned firestorm, grunting with the effort of shaping and hurling the greater spell with the constant throttling grip the Veil placed over his magic. Fiery projectiles rained down on the remaining five spearmen, setting them alight. Three died outright, a fourth met Cassandra's blade, but the fifth fled screaming in Qunlat: "Saarebas! Saarebas! Help us!"

"He's calling for a mage," Solas shouted a quick translation, gritting his teeth.

"Oi," Sera yelled back at him, her nose wrinkling. "You understand that piss?"

Oops, Solas thought and didn't answer or look at her for more than a heartbeat. Unable to stop himself, Solas did glance behind him at Ellana to check her reaction. She wore a smile, her green eyes sweeping over him with appreciation. The orange torches on the bridge lit her Dalish scout armor a brilliant yellow like the sunrise. Any trepidation he'd felt before became a shot of warmth through his chest—affection and desire. Unlike Sera, Ellana prized knowledge and was apparently unbothered.

"Forward," Cassandra yelled, recapturing his attention. "Let's meet this Qunari mage."

"How about we just kill him?" Dorian quipped. "I think one Qunari in my life is more than enough."

They hurried across the bridge to the structure where Solas knew the Qunari stored the gaatlok charges. Two more archers fired on them as they entered and in the center of the room stood the saarebas, bulky and thickly built. As they approached he tossed aside a syringe still gleaming faintly blue—lyrium.

Solas cast a barrier over Ellana and Sera at once. Arrows bounced from it, falling away harmlessly as their own projectiles shot through unhindered. One of the archers went down, Sera's arrow lodged in his throat. The other stopped shooting when Ellana put an arrow through his side, clawing at it as his blood splattered on the stone floor.

Solas flung fire from his staff in basic attacks, aiming at the saarebas rather than the spearman—who was already staggering back from Cassandra's shield bash. The saarebas shrugged most of the fire off, his body infused with the pain-numbing and caution-destroying effects of lyrium enhancement. Dorian let out a shout as he cast one of his necromancy spells on the Qunari mage, but it had no effect.

"Die," the saarebas roared at them, hurling fireballs from both meaty fists. "Agents of Fen'Harel!"

"Whoa," Dorian said, gasping as he ducked and rolled to evade the fireball. "Temper, temper!"

Solas Fade stepped to dodge the fireball aimed for himself. Ellana and Sera were quick to leap away as well; both yelping with alarm as it smashed through the degrading barrier Solas had cast over them. Panic grabbed at Solas' throat with icy hands. "Vhenan!"

Ellana thrust her left hand up and the Anchor glowed a bright, intense green. A sphere of green energy encircled her for several meters—Aegis of the Fade. Solas gritted his teeth in a humorless grin of relief just in time to see and hear the saarebas launch another massive fireball at him. Solas pivoted to dodge while casting an enormous veilstrike blow. The force blew the fireball out of the air, smashing it against the stone in a rain of sparks and charred stone.

The saarebas roared with frustration, switching to electricity and slashing through the air, flinging the crackling purple energy every which way. Cassandra, bearing down on the Qunari mage, let out a warbling cry as it impacted her, crawling through the metal of her armor to shock her. The saarebas slammed into her shield, knocking her back, but an arrow—Ellana's—plunged into his shoulder.

Solas sent a chunk of Fade stone smashing into him. The saarebas stumbled but refused to fall despite the force of it. His shoulders heaved as he shrugged off more fire attacks from Dorian and sidestepped Sera's arrow, his wrath turning toward Solas.

As the saarebas launched another fireball at him and at Dorian, Solas Fade stepped out of its path and flung the Qunari mage to the ground with another powerful veilstrike. This time the saarebas collapsed with a cry of surprise and pain. Solas summoned another firestorm, using both arms to aim and bring the full force of it down on the Qunari.

Fiery rock pummeled him, singeing his clothing and then his flesh. His screams were high-pitched and bloodcurdling for only a few moments before Solas clenched one fist and closed his eyes, killing the mage by petrifying his head. The stink of charred flesh made Solas grimace, edging away form his handiwork and hoping the others wouldn't notice the odd way the saarebas' head seemed to have turned gray in a way that wasn't like burned flesh upon closer inspection.

As the firestorm spell at last quieted, Solas strode to Cassandra and helped her to her feet. "Thank you," she told him, a few muscles in her face twitching with the lingering effects of the shocking spell the saarebas had used on her.

"Fenedhis," Ellana cursed, still near the entrance. Her hand covered her nose, her face twisting with revulsion. "The smell. I think I'm going to be sick."

"Bout to toss up breakfast?" Sera asked, giggling. "You're so growing a girl."

"Let's get the fuses and get out," Ellana said, groaning. The sound of her discomfort made something twist inside Solas, painful with sympathy—especially because he had been the one to char the Qunari so badly.

Sera jogged ahead, searching for the gaatlok fuses while Ellana maintained her distance from the corpse with Dorian nearby. Certain Cassandra was all right, Solas hurried to join Ellana and his chest constricted with horror when he saw her left hand glimmering green.

"Vhenan," he said, gesturing to it. "Are you in pain?"

Still grimacing from the smell, Ellana opened her left palm, appearing perplexed. "It's just a tingle."

Dorian's brown eyes had narrowed to the point of almost glaring at Solas, as if he somehow knew everything. The idea was paranoid and foolish, but Solas found his blood suddenly pulsing in his ears anyway. But then Dorian smiled and cleared his throat, "I'll go make sure Sera finds those charges."

He walked away, leaving Solas and Ellana a little privacy just out of earshot of the others. Immediately she frowned at him. "I'm fine, Solas, really." She shook her left hand. "It's just from using aegis."

Reaching for her, Solas embraced her, cradling the back of her neck with one hand. "Please, vhenan, do not use it again."

She sighed, sounding irritable though her body against his relaxed, easing into his embrace. "You're going to drive me crazy with all this babying."

"I found them," Sera announced from the front of the room.

Ellana shifted in his arms and Solas reluctantly released her. With the charges in their possession Solas resumed his position behind Cassandra as they started out, but felt a quick zinger of alarm as he realized Dorian was still standing near where the saarebas' charred body had fallen. The Tevinter mage was staring down at it, a scowl on his face and one hand on his chin.

Catching Ellana's eye, Solas jerked his chin backward to wordlessly indicate Dorian. She followed his gaze and called out to the other mage. "Dorian, we have to leave."

"Yes," he said and whipped around, moving back into a position near Solas.

Solas pretended to be focused on the way ahead as they left the structure and returned to the bridge, but he felt hot and clammy, his stomach loopy as though he'd swallowed snakes that now wormed around inside him. The saarebas had called them all agents of Fen'Harel. That was now the fourth time Fen'Harel had come up in the last few days around Dorian. First the sentinel elves had nearly called Solas by his Evanuris name, then Dorian had seen the mural at Revasan, and now twice in one day he'd been reminded in the Deep Roads—first by the wolf statues earlier and now by the saarebas.

They're going to find out, the voice of panic taunted him. They will turn on you. Solas quashed it with the iron fist of his willpower and resolve. He'd escaped detection in this modern world for years and deceived the Evanuris and the Forgotten Ones repeatedly in the past all by refusing to panic and thinking on his feet. He vowed to himself he could handle this too.

They crossed the bridge, encountering little resistance. Solas took the lead now, guiding their group to the first gaatlok staging area. A small band of warriors sat around a campfire nearby and Solas attacked aggressively, Fade stepping into their midst and launching ice and fire magic. By the time Cassandra, Dorian, Sera, and Ellana had caught up the Qunari warriors were already heavily wounded. Solas let Cassandra, Dorian, Sera, and Ellana finish them off while he set the charges.

When he'd finished he lit them with a little flare of fire from his fingers and then Fade stepped away, coming out of it beside Ellana. "Run," he called out, one hand on the small of her back.

They hustled through the dark, gaining as much distance from the gaatlok barrels as they could before the blast went off. The cavern shook with the force of it and Cassandra halfway toppled over into a nearby stone pillar. Solas caught Ellana around the waist when she stumbled at another tremor. The roar of water pounded the rocks behind them, sloshing as it broke through from the ceiling due to the shockwave, glinting blue from the reflection of the lyrium.

"Somewhere on the surface I'm sure there are peasants panicking as their lake drains away," Dorian commented, huffing. "I really was hoping you were joking about the flooding bit."

"Blow up some shite, that'll fix it," Sera grumbled. "Brill plan, yeah? Except not. Shite elfy-elves and their shite-arse plans."

Shouts in Qunlat echoed through the cavern, competing with the constant low roar of the water. A pair of warriors intercepted them on their way to the next gaatlok staging area and after casting a quick barrier over Ellana, Solas Fade stepped to fight beside Cassandra. He knocked the warriors prone with veilstrike, then hammered them with Fade stone. Cassandra made the killing blow to one, stabbing him through a gap in his armor at the throat, and then Ellana or Sera shot an arrow into the other warrior's eye, dropping him instantly.

After the second charge went off more water gushed into the cavern, flowing in long waterfalls that hissed and splattered on the stone. The earth quivered with tremors, jostling all of them as they struggled over the uneven, stepped stone formations. The water made the rocks slick, sending Cassandra and then Dorian sprawling.

"Keep going," Solas yelled, raising his voice to be heard over the din of water. "We must hurry!"

They found the third staging area devoid of Qunari as by now most of the miners and warriors had probably fled. Solas left the others several meters away, Fade stepping to move faster. He set the charges and then they were running again, Solas in position with Ellana like a shadow as she scrambled over the rocks, nimble despite the near-constant shaking from the cavern now.

Solas barely heard the third explosion over the mind numbing roar of the water. When he peered over the ledge of the precipice as they raced back to the overlook, he saw the frothing water below, churning and bubbling as it rose. It glinted blue, lit by the lyrium in the cavern ceiling. Rocks fell from the ceiling with one of the larger aftershocks, careening down with eerie slowness and silence. The splash they made was lost amidst the cacophony of other water sounds.

And this is how Mythal's lyrium mine comes to an end, he thought.

________________________________

By the time they reached the overlook Ellana and the rest of the group were all completely soaked, dripping wet. Somehow, paradoxically, Ellana found her throat and mouth were bone dry. She tried not to see the rising water in the depths of the cavern or to consider they could find themselves trapped by a cave-in and still wind up drowning. She focused on Solas' warm hand on the small of her back or on her shoulder, encouraging and protecting her.

They found Abelas and the others waiting tensely at the overlook, not much drier than their own group. Ellana walked sandwiched between the sentinel elf and Solas as they made their way back through the dark cave and past the statues of the howling wolves. A few Qunari tried to stop them, but the terror in their eyes made them easy to fight and with so many mages the warriors quickly died. Most of them had likely been trying to flee the cavern through the eluvian only to be cut down by the sentinel elves and Ellana's Inquisition companions.

It almost made her sad, though she was too harried to give it much thought before they'd reached the cerulean glow of the mirror. Abelas and the sentinels rushed through it first and then Solas ushered her into it. The sudden relative silence after the extreme loudness of the cavern made Ellana gasp. She cringed against the strange, fractured light in the Crossroads, her eyes jumping between the black rock islands floating in the void.

As Solas and the others piled through, crowding the relatively small rock island, Ellana's knees seemed to become rubber. She sucked in deep breaths, trying to calm the reaction, and found Solas at her side like an overprotective parent. "Vhenan?" he asked, cupping her face in his hands and staring into her eyes. "Are you all right?"

Examining his dark blue eyes calmed the press of emotions inside her, letting her breathe slower as she nodded. "I'm fine—just catching my breath after nearly dying. That's all." She smiled, suddenly giddy with relief as she laughed.

"Lethallin," Abelas said from behind Solas.

Solas pulled back from Ellana and turned to face the sentinel. "Abelas," he greeted him. "Thank you for your help."

Abelas' eyes flicked to Ellana once and then returned to Solas. "You will not remain?"

"I will rejoin you when we clear out the Qunari from the library," he said. "Until then I am needed elsewhere."

"…enansal," the sentinel said, his eyes narrowing with something like displeasure despite what he said, which Ellana interpreted as a formal parting to Solas as Fen'Harel. But then Abelas' eyes leapt again to Ellana. This time they stayed there as he gave her a nod. "Inquisitor," he said. "It was a pleasure seeing you again."

Ellana started to offer him a similar remark but already the sentinel had turned on his heel and motioned his companions to follow. They charged past the Inquisition companions, who were still trying to shake the water from their clothes and weapons. Moments later the sentinels were Fade stepping over the void. Ellana watched them go, shivering in her cold, wet armor for a few heartbeats before she sensed Solas' focus on her. He was waiting and watching her like a soldier or a servant, not the lover and…Evanuris…he really was. She knew what that meant.

It was time for her to be the sole leader of their group again.

She squared her shoulders and addressed her companions with a wry smile. "So, is everyone ready to return to Halamshiral to change out of our wet clothes?"

They set off for the island containing the Halamshiral mirror, walking over the stone bridges. Ellana was in the lead as Inquisitor, with Solas immediately behind her. She slowed her pace, changing position to walk beside him. Cassandra was close behind, with Rainier and Dorian after that and possibly within earshot. She kept her voice low as she asked, "You said something about a library?"

Solas shot her a sidelong frown. "I did, yes. But you mustn't go there, vhenan. The library is a construct, much like the Crossroads. It is teeming with Elvhenan's magic even now. The Anchor will not react favorably."

With her left hand no longer glowing or even tingling, Ellana sighed with frustration, staring off into the void for a beat as she wondered if Solas was trying to hide something rather than protect her. He was one of the Evanuris and the Anchor was from his own orb. It was his magic, yet he claimed he could not control it. She wasn't sure if she wanted to believe he was lying because he was Fen'Harel or because it'd mean she didn't have to live in perpetual fear that the Anchor would one day kill her.

"It's fine right now," she insisted, lifting the palm for him to see. "It was only using aegis that made it glow before."

"We have been fortunate in the mines." He smiled at her, somber and sad, the look a parent might give to a naïve child. Seeing it made Ellana's heart twist with pain and the new certainty that Solas wasn't lying to her.

"You really can't control it?" she whispered, feeling her throat tighten with emotion.

"I wish I could," he murmured, shaking his head.

"Then I'm going to die," Ellana said, the words shaky with emotion as her mind spun with more questions. "How long would I have if it destabilized?" She laid her right hand over her abdomen and didn't miss the way his gaze leapt to the small movement.

"Forgive me, but I do not know." Solas' expression crumpled with grief. He wrapped an arm around her waist, leaning close to whisper into her ear. "I can save your life, but you would lose much of your arm."

Ellana's throat and chest ached despite the good news that she wasn't walking around on borrowed time. "I'd never draw a bow again."

"Do you understand now why I have begged you not to journey here?" Solas asked, his voice roughening as he drew away slightly. They were approaching the Halamshiral island.

She nodded, sucking in a breath to strengthen herself as they reached the eluvian. Parting from Solas, she stepped into it and immediately felt its cool magic wash over her. Emerging out the other side she shuddered, seeing the rich blue carpeting of the storage room and the closed door. Everything lay undisturbed, exactly as it'd been when they left that morning, but now late afternoon sunshine streamed in through the windows.

And then Ellana felt a hot tingling in her left palm. She swallowed the painful lump of emotion in her throat as she saw the Anchor had started to glow faintly green again. Shaking it out as the eluvian glowed and hummed behind her, Ellana turned to face what she believed would be Solas as he'd been right behind her—only to see Cassandra appear through the mirror instead.

Tucking her glowing green hand behind her, Ellana smiled at the Divine in greeting. "Cassandra—"

"Inquisitor," Cassandra cut her off, the anxious look she wore made Ellana scowl, her heart suddenly pounding. "Please forgive me, but I must speak with you—in private."

"Of course," Ellana said. Her stomach gnawed on itself, reminding her it'd been several hours since breakfast. "But perhaps it can wait until after—"

"No," Cassandra cut her off, her brow knitting. "I'm afraid it cannot wait." She checked over her shoulder, looking at the eluvian. No one else had come through…

Fear stabbed Ellana, cold and heavy and suffocating. "What's going on here?"

"The others will be along shortly," Cassandra told her, not answering the question. Her position in front of the eluvian, blocking it, registered with Ellana like a slap in the face. "We only needed to get you alone for a moment. It was Dorian's idea…"

Solas, she thought and a mix of rage and horror swept through her, her pulse pounding in her skull as she glared at Cassandra. "What exactly was Dorian's idea?"

_________________________________________

Next Chapter:

"He's got a point, Sparkler," Varric put in, chuckling. "I'm hearing a lot of mage envy and not a lot of hard facts."

"Great, it's just a pissing contest between weirdies," Sera said, rolling her eyes. "Can you two just whip out cocks and compare already so we can leave?"

Both Dorian and Solas glared at her as Varric and Sera laughed. Rainier cut off his own laughter and pretended to find the stone beneath their feet fascinating.

"Now I want to see that," Iron Bull said, also bellowing with laughter. "But we all know who'd really win that contest." He paused a beat and then said, "Me, of course."

Chapter Text

As Ellana stepped through the eluvian to Halamshiral, Solas followed close behind her—but a hand grabbed his shoulder from behind and wrenched him away. Caught off guard, he stumbled with a grunt and found himself facing Dorian.

"Not so fast," the Tevinter mage said, his expression contorted with anger. "I think it's time we have a little chat."

A quick glance at the others told Solas most of them had been taken by surprise by this confrontation—Sera, Rainier, and Iron Bull all wore confused or alarmed expressions. But Varric and Cassandra seemed unmoved.

Solas brushed Dorian's hand off him, taking a step back and shaking his head. "You had only to ask, Tevinter. I had thought the Imperium valued manners, but I can see I was mistaken."

Dorian snorted and tilted his head slightly to speak to Cassandra over one shoulder. "Go after Ellana."

She nodded and Solas' gaze tracked her brilliant golden armor as she stepped into the eluvian after Ellana. He shifted on his feet, his stomach twisting with anxiety. "Whatever you have to—"

He saw the flash of motion as Dorian struck just a fraction of a second too late to guard his face. The human mage's fist hit him square in the nose, sending a brief, hot spurt of pain through his nasal passageways. Solas flinched, pulling backward and grabbing for his nose as hot blood trickled in a little spatter down his chin and onto his over coat. He cursed in elven, the words thick and slurred through his painful nose.

Dorian shook his hand, glaring as he did it. "Imagine that. You have a head as hard as stone. I should have known, considering how stubborn and hardheaded you are."

"Dorian?" Iron Bull asked, a note of disapproval in his voice. "What's going on?"

"Yeah," Sera spoke up. "Herald's not going to like you beating on him. Shoulda used a pie."

"Solas here—our esteemed Fade expert—has been holding out on us, in more ways than one. Isn't that right, Solas?" Dorian asked, his lips curling snidely.

Solas spat blood, grimacing at both the pain and the metallic taste of it. Pinching his nose, he remained silent to let Dorian lay out the case against him, knowing better than to provide the other man with any additional fuel.

"Yesterday while fighting the Qunari we came across an elven mural in the ruins. It depicted their god, Fen'Harel, the one represented by the wolf, removing Dalish facial tattoos." Dorian had pivoted slightly to speak to the others, gesturing as he explained. "And I'm sure all of you remember how the sentinels asked after Fen'Harel too, yes? And then when we were picking up the charges, the Qunari mage called us agents of Fen'Harel." He made a high-pitched noise of amusement in his throat. "How is it that so many, ally and foes alike, keep bringing up this ancient elven trickster god?"

"Fen'Harel?" Sera asked, wrinkling her nose. "You're full of shite, Dorian. It's all shite. The lot of it."

"I'm with Sera," Rainier said, shaking his head. "What does this Fen'Harel have to do with anything?"

"Have you all forgotten meeting Mythal?" Dorian demanded, motioning between them in exasperation. "The elven gods or whatever they were are not mere tales." He turned his gaze back on Solas, lips curled to expose his teeth in a snarl. "And I've now seen our Fade expert cast some very odd, very powerful spells. How does a wandering elven apostate who claims to be self-taught know how to cast fire so powerful he can turn enemies to ash like that." Dorian snapped his fingers for emphasis. "Or even better. Sera, did you notice the way the Qunari mage died?"

"Fried by fire from droopy ears?" she answered with a shrug. "Just the usual magic piss."

"His head was turned to stone," Dorian said, sounding exasperated. "Fire magic doesn't petrify. Obviously. So," he said, glaring at Solas. "Care to explain yourself?"

Spitting more blood onto the stone, Solas snarled at Dorian. "I have nothing to say to you, Tevinter, except that your accusations are baseless and ludicrous." The pain in his face did an excellent job at letting him hide the cold fear crawling over his skin. He continued cradling his nose, glad of the distraction. He could see doubt and sympathy clouding the others' expressions. They likely knew less of the Dread Wolf than Dorian, most of them being less well read than the Tevinter.

"Then explain why these sentinels adopted you as their leader? Hmm? Maybe you can also tell us why the Qunari mage called us agents of Fen'Harel? Or how you always know so much about the past and Elvhenan." He wriggled his fingers next to his head in a mocking gesture. "Is Fen'Harel whispering in your ear?"

Solas let out a dry, thick laugh and then winced as burning pain cut through his nose at it. "You are a fool."

"Does Ellana know what you are?" Dorian asked, sneering. "Does she have any idea that every word out of your mouth is a lie?"

Dorian's words made Solas flinch. He covered the impact of the insult by spitting again before he gritted his teeth and answered, "I owe you no explanations. You are nothing but a paranoid man with some bizarre mage envy. Yes, I do know spells you do not. Why attack me if this bothers you? The problem lies within you, not me."

"Ridiculous," Dorian said, scoffing.

Seeing he'd hit a nerve and noting the way Varric, Sera, and Rainier all smirked with repressed humor at Solas' suggestion that Dorian's real anger stemmed out of jealousy than any real threat, Solas pressed his advantage. "Are you perhaps threatened to learn your privileged Tevinter education was not as thorough as you'd believed? Are you too proud to ask me for aid? Perhaps that is why I know more spells than you."

"That's not it and you know it," Dorian growled.

"He's got a point, Sparkler," Varric put in, chuckling. "I'm hearing a lot of mage envy and not a lot of hard facts."

"Great, it's just a pissing contest between weirdies," Sera said, rolling her eyes. "Can you two just whip out cocks and compare already so we can leave?"

Both Dorian and Solas glared at her as Varric and Sera laughed. Rainier cut off his own laughter and pretended to find the stone beneath their feet fascinating.

"Now I want to see that," Iron Bull said, also bellowing with laughter. "But we all know who'd really win that contest." He paused a beat and then said, "Me, of course."

"Fine," Dorian snapped. "If everyone is quite finished." He stepped backward to free Solas' path to the eluvian. "But this isn't over, Solas. If you won't answer to me, you'll answer to Cassandra and Ellana."

Wiping more blood from his chin, Solas shot Dorian a vicious glare. "I suspect you will be the one to answer to Ellana."

"Oh yes, hide behind your lover's skirts," Dorian grumbled sarcastically. "The lover you won't marry after three years."

Rage scalded Solas' blood, making his face burn all the way to the tips of his ears, but he bit back his reaction and went to the eluvian. As much as he despised Dorian's comment—on multiple levels—it was far truer than he cared admit. Ellana was the one whose opinion mattered…for the moment. He couldn't help but see that soon the humans' distrust would spill over onto her.

I am putting her in danger, he realized, feeling dizzy as the eluvian's magic spread over him. His heart ached as he realized that wasn't exactly true. He had always been the one endangering her, and it was only getting worse.

______________________________________________

"Inquisitor, please. You must see that Solas is still lying to us. I understand—" Cassandra broke off, huffing with the awkwardness of the topic. "We all understand you are in a difficult position considering your condition and your feelings for Solas, but you cannot keep the truth from us, if you know it. And if you don't, you cannot afford to be blind to his lies."

"Where is Solas?" Ellana demanded, edging forward. Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. When Cassandra stood firm in her spot blocking the eluvian, her chin jutting out and a muscle in her jaw feathering, Ellana snarled at the Divine. "Harellan. Traitor. Have you forgotten everything Solas helped us accomplish? If he were human, would you turn on him so quickly?"

Cassandra shook her head, her mouth curling downward with irritation. "I have always tried to be fair," she said. "But I could not ignore Dorian's suspicions."

"And what exactly were those suspicions?" Ellana asked with an exasperated shrug and a noise of disgust in her throat.

Cassandra's lips pinched together, eyes narrowing. "We have already met what's left of one elven god. Dorian fears Solas is a vessel, like Mythal."

"That's not possible, Cassandra," Ellana said, trying to muster up a laugh to dismiss the Divine's words. "The elven gods were locked away ages ago."

"Yes," Cassandra said, brow knitting. "By Fen'Harel. We have run across his name repeatedly while fighting the Qunari. The mage we fought shouted it just today, Inquisitor. Surely you cannot have forgotten?"

"Who cares what the Qunari think?" Ellana rejoined with a dismissive gesture, even as she struggled to hide her horror or at least feign a better reaction. Her cheeks were aflame, her body prickling with sweat.

"You are Dalish," Cassandra reminded her. "Tell me what you know of Fen'Harel that Solas cannot be him. Because Dorian's findings on the matter describe Solas perfectly."

"I will not stand here and listen to you impugn Solas," Ellana growled, shoulders heaving as she breathed. "You can ask him these things yourself. I'm sure he will be—"

The eluvian thrummed, glowing brighter as someone passed through it. Ellana's heart hammered and her breath caught in her throat as Solas stepped through, one hand covering his nose. Red stained the front of his robes in a few blotchy patches and had clearly rolled down his chin. His cheeks were ruddy, his eyes fiery with anger.

"Solas!" Ellana rushed for him, shouldering Cassandra aside.

"It is nothing, vhenan," he said, wrapping his other arm around her, but she didn't miss the way he glowered at Cassandra. "Ma serannas, falon," he said to the Divine, the sarcasm and anger in his tone impossible to miss. "You remind me why I have avoided humans in the past."

Cassandra said nothing as the eluvian thrummed again and Dorian strode through, shaking one fist and grimacing.

"You," Ellana snarled, leaving Solas to confront the Tevinter mage. "What in the great beyond is going on here?"

"I believe that question is best directed at Solas, Inquisitor," he said, the anger in his face warping it out of his usual smooth, masculine beauty.

"Dorian's right, Inquisitor," Cassandra said. "We must—"

"You expect me to just believe Solas bloodied his own nose then?" Ellana snapped, fury making her voice quake. "Have we resorted to striking one another like children when we have a disagreement?"

"Thank you, Inquisitor," Solas murmured behind her. "My sentiments exactly."

"You smug bastard," Dorian growled, stabbing a finger at Solas. "You're using her, hiding behind her and—"

"Enough!" Ellana roared, breathing hard and gritting her teeth. "No one else says a word until we settle this in the study, in private. Is that understood?"

The eluvian thrummed again behind them, admitting Varric through next. The dwarf scampered away from the mirror to gain some distance from it, grinning as he caught onto the tension in the room. "What'd I miss? Did the Inquisitor punch Sparkler?"

"No," Ellana said as she started heading for the door, her shoulders hunched with the burning pressure of her anger at how suddenly events soured. "But do let Sera know I see a pie in Dorian's future." Dorian scoffed behind her but said nothing.

"You got it, Inquisitor," Varric replied.

Ellana led the two humans and Solas out from the storage room, grabbing the first Inquisition scout she saw and asking him to fetch her advisors—and dinner. While she spoke with the scout he kept staring at Solas behind her, his brow knit with something like alarm. He was elven and barefaced, making Ellana immediately suspect he was one of Solas' spies, but it was just as likely he was merely alarmed to see her Fade expert struggling not to stain the carpeting.

Once the scout had left Ellana opened one of the leather pouches she wore around her waist and fished out a bit of ragged fabric she kept for cleaning arrowheads of gore. It was clean and unused, if still damp from their time slogging through the flooding lyrium mine. She passed it to Solas. "Take this."

"Thank you," he said, smiling. "Sadly, I'm sure I have already stained my coat."

"Don't worry, it's so shabby no one will notice," Dorian grumbled.

Ellana glared at him, as did Solas over the improvised handkerchief. "Quiet," she scolded and then resumed her swift pace to the study where she found Cullen and Leliana already present. "Where's Josephine?" she asked, impatient to get the meeting over with.

"She'll be along shortly," the spymaster assured her. "Just making nice with the ambassadors at the summit." Her smile turned dark as her gaze slid past Ellana to take in Solas, Dorian, and Cassandra. "I see you did not take my advice, Dorian." She sighed.

"What advice was that?" Ellana asked, marching up to the table and leaning both hands on it.

"She told me not to confront our illustrious Fade expert," Dorian told Ellana, stalking around her to stand near Cullen to her right. "But Cassandra disagreed. So I made up my own mind and went with the Divine's approach. Most Holy cannot be wrong, no?"

Cassandra groaned from her spot along the far left side of the table, where Josephine normally stood. Still wearing her armor, she grimaced, looking uncomfortable at the ongoing dampness of the leather and chainmail she wore that wouldn't be able to dry even a tiny bit through the thick cover of her metal armor. "I did not tell you to hit him."

"He deserved it," Dorian muttered, snarling at Solas, who stood close to Ellana's left side, a shadow that had said nothing so far as the others discussed him.

"What is this all about?" Cullen asked, frowning with confusion. He shot Dorian a disapproving look. "You hit Solas?"

"Yes, and proudly I might add," Dorian said, sniffing. "He's been lying to us for years. He's still trying to lie to us now." His brown eyes turned to Ellana, softening. "I'm sorry you have to hear this from me, but I'm certain Solas is not who he claims to be."

"Tell me something, Dorian," Solas said, scorn dripping from the words. "Do you enjoy needlessly complicating everything with your paranoid ramblings or does it grow tiresome even to you? Or perhaps it is merely the sound of your own voice you—"

"Solas," Ellana interrupted, shaking her head and frowning. "You're not helping."

The darkness in his blue eyes as he averted his gaze left her feeling heavy and cold with trepidation. He sighed but fell silent. Ellana refocused on Dorian, even though she already knew what he'd likely say. "Go on."

"Thank you, Inquisitor," Dorian said with a dip of his head, though his gaze was on Solas as he snarled, mocking Solas' earlier remarks when Ellana had defended him. "My sentiments exactly."

"Stop acting like children," Cassandra snapped. "Both of you."

"Perhaps it is best if you explain, Divine Victoria," Cullen suggested with a longsuffering sigh.

"The theory is Dorian's," Cassandra said, motioning at the mage across the table from her. "But I could not deny that it rings with truth." She turned her head, staring at Solas with narrowed—but also saddened—eyes. "We know so little of you, Solas, even now."

"You know I helped defeat Corypheus," Solas said, his voice thick through his blood-clogged nose. "You know I have remained with the Inquisition for three years. I have told you everything of import from my life before the Breach. There is little to tell you because I have spent much of my life alone, deep in the wilderness or within the Fade. There is nothing else to tell any of you."

The way he said it seemed so honest and open, even Ellana could forget what else she knew of him. She let her expression soften with care, the sight of his puffy nose and the blood stains on his clothing and skin twisted something inside of her painfully.

"Nothing else to tell us?" Dorian asked, scoffing with derision. "How about the way you petrified a Qunari mage's head today? Or before that when you burned a spearman in front of Divine Victoria into ashes in a few seconds? And every time we go into the eluvians to fight these damned Qunari someone mentions the elven god Fen'Harel." He shook his head, looking around the table. "I'm no scholar on elven gods, but I smell a rat. A very tall, very bald rat."

"I think you mean rabbit," Solas quipped, sneering.

"Enough," Ellana interjected again, raising both hands as if to keep them separated. "I'm not sure I follow, Dorian," she said, feigning confusion. She felt sweat accumulating along her hairline, even though her damp armor had her nearly shivering.

Cassandra answered instead of Dorian. "As I told you, Inquisitor, Dorian believes Solas is a vessel for the elven god Fen'Harel, as Flemeth was for Mythal."

"Ridiculous," Solas growled. He held out the handkerchief and motioned to his face and his overcoat to indicate the bloodstains. "Perhaps my understanding of gods is flawed," he said, "but I should think they'd do a lot less bleeding when punched by spoiled Tevinter princelings."

Ellana covered her face with one hand, breathing deeply to try and school her reaction. How was she supposed to react to this? How did the humans expect her to take this news? Denial.

She let her hand slap down on her thigh, thumping thickly against her armor and let out a dry laugh. "You must be joking."

"Unfortunately we are not, Inquisitor," Leliana said, her hands tucked behind her back. "I have heard Dorian's thoughts on this already, but I did not approve of him taking matters into his own hands." Her blue eyes slid to Solas. "There are many interesting connections we can make, however. I wonder how Lady Lavellan will react should we lay them out for her."

"Don't you think I'd know if I ran across one of my people's gods?" Ellana asked, frowning.

"Unlikely," Dorian said. "Did you recognize Mythal on sight in her vessel?"

"This is a waste of time," Solas spat, red faced and angry.

Ellana crossed her arms over her chest, ignoring the little spurt of pain from her breasts as she did so. "I'm not hearing anything convincing here. Why would an elven god like Fen'Harel join the Inquisition? It's ridiculous. You're all humans—you don't understand our gods. Fen'Harel would not fight to protect the world from the Breach. He was never fond of the People."

"No, but as I seem to recall it, he loved roaming the Fade for spirits," Dorian said, smirking. "Does that sound familiar, Inquisitor? And perhaps you'd be more convinced if you'd seen the mural I saw yesterday—of Fen'Harel removing Dalish tattoos. Maybe that will jog your memory?"

Now Ellana arched an eyebrow and, reluctantly, turned to look at Solas. "What mural is this?"

"A sanctuary through one of the eluvians," he explained calmly. "We found a mural depicting it, yes. It only confirms what I saw in the Fade in my dreams within ruins over the years. The vallaslin were used as slave markings." He glared at Dorian. "Apparently seeking ancient knowledge makes me some kind of god to Dorian. By that definition, I suppose you must be a god as well, Inquisitor, for daring to seek out the Well of Sorrows and Mythal's temple."

The ease with which he could deflect evidence, casting it into doubt or rendering it outright outlandish made her shiver, torn between admiring it as a sign of his formidable intelligence and seeing it as dangerous. How easily could he turn it back on her, using her own affection for him to blind her the way Dorian, Cassandra, and now at least two of her advisors surely believed he already was. She wished they could be honest with everyone, but she refused to betray him. Solas would have to decide when to reveal the truth.

"Doesn't it seem odd how much Solas knows about the past?" Cassandra put in. Almost sheepish, she looked to Solas, speaking directly to him after first addressing Ellana. "I understand you claim it is all through dreams, exploring the Fade, but…" She broke off, shaking her head. "No. You know too much. And your familiarity with the Fade is…unsettling."

"To your Andrastian faith, it is," Solas rejoined. "But I was raised agnostically, far from the reaches of the Chantry. Why should I be bound and judged to such rules as if they are absolutes when clearly they are not."

"Perhaps you can explain to us how you came to lead the sentinel elves, Solas," Leliana said, her coy smile in place. "Didn't they serve the goddess Mythal? Why would they swear allegiance to you?"

Now Solas faltered, staring at the spymaster but saying nothing.

"Ah," Dorian said, his grin dark with cruel humor. "Now we've come to it—a question he doesn't have a lie for."

"Mythal's sentinels would never serve Fen'Harel," Ellana cut in, glaring at the humans. "The Dread Wolf was no friend of our gods. You're all thinking backwards." She gazed at Solas, smiling a moment before turning back to the others. "This is evidence against your ridiculous claims. I've heard enough of all this."

"Inquisitor," Cassandra protested, her expression horrified. "Please, you must at least consider the possibility. After all that we've seen…"

"And he hasn't answered my question about the sentinels," Leliana added, eyes narrowing. "How does an elven apostate take charge of a dead goddess' sentinels?"

"By giving them purpose," Solas said, biting the words out. "I recruited them into my spy network."

"Oh?" Leliana asked, arching her brow. "What purpose did you give them? What does your network hope to achieve?"

"The same as the Inquisition's," Solas replied stiffly. "A better world."

Ellana smothered her own emotions, staring down at the grain in the wood of the table in front of her. Half-truths.

"I see," Leliana said, nodding somberly. She drew in a breath and then said, "I'd like to apologize for any role I've had in this mess—to both of you, Inquisitor, Solas."

"I vote we adjourn this," Cullen spoke up then, a look of disgust on his face. "What a waste of time, all this nonsense about elven gods."

"Thank you," Ellana said, nodding to both Leliana and Cullen, yet she noticed the spymaster's blue eyes were slightly pinched at the corners and couldn't shake the suspicion that Leliana was merely diffusing the situation and wasn't about to stop. She'd been opposed to Dorian's actions, but only because she didn't want their evidence exposed in front of Solas…and maybe Ellana too.

The thought made her shudder, arms hugging herself for comfort. Her armor was cold and heavy, still soggy, which wasn't helping at all. "If you'll all excuse me," she said. "I'd like to—"

A creaking noise from the door made them all turn to look as Josephine hurried in, a bright smile on her lips. "Sorry I'm late, everyone! But I've arrived with dinner as an apology." Servants carrying trays of food walked behind her, shuffling and cautious to avoid spilling their cargoes.

Despite the mouthwatering scent of meats, cheeses, and rich desserts, Ellana's gaze lingered on the servants. They were all elven, barefaced city dwellers she assumed, though some might be Solas' Elvhen spies. A better world, Solas had told Leliana. She felt abruptly queasy and weak with emotion, feeling the weight of her child inside her and wondering if it would one day walk bowed under a burden, serving human masters. Not a slave, but not free as she, and Solas in his time, had been.

Weighing the potential cost of that better world—the lives and wellbeing of the other races—Ellana found the fierceness of her own determination frightening. It robbed her of breath and seemed to swell her chest until her ribs ached at the thought of her child subjugated and abused. Aware of Solas just behind her, the realization hit her like a fist to the face that their child would likely be persecuted twice over as both elven and mage. Solas' restored world would elevate both their race and all mages—she would become a mage herself.

But would she sacrifice the other races for the sake of her child and the People if there were no chance to save them? Ellana wanted to believe the answer was no and would always be no…but she could feel herself teetering and it terrified her.

Dizzy and with her body flushing hot, Ellana said, "I'm not feeling well. I'm going to retire for the evening." She shook her head to clear it, quashing the struggle inside herself as she looked to Josephine. "But I do plan to sit on the council again tomorrow."

"Oh, good," Josephine said, her eyes and smile bright. "That is fantastic news. I will relay it to the ambassadors."

"Good night then, Inquisitor," Leliana said, smiling affectionately. "I hope you feel better soon."

Behind her Solas murmured, "You must eat, vhenan."

She sighed, shoulders slouching as the others feigned disinterest in the exchange between the lovers. Turning her back to the humans Ellana said, "I'll have something brought to my room later."

He nodded, blue eyes soft with affection. "I will accompany you and see to it."

"Thank you," she said, resisting the desire to add a term of endearment. Already she knew what the humans must see: a smitten elf woman who refused to doubt her lover. Did they also think Solas feigned his emotions?

Ellana left the study with Solas behind her, ever the dedicated shadow. As the door swung closed behind her she heard Dorian speak, his voice sour with disgust. "Vishante kaffas, those two are joined at the hip."

Her cheeks bloomed with heat overhearing that, but she pushed the embarrassment aside, marching toward the guest wing. Solas' tread followed close behind and as they entered an empty section of hallway Ellana felt the prickling sensation of magic wash over her shoulders. Twisting to look over her shoulder, she asked, "Solas?"

"A healing spell, vhenan."

She stopped and faced him, her brow knitted as she saw the puffiness in Solas' nose had vanished, though the bloodstains on his clothing and skin remained. Unable to hide it, she smirked. "You could have healed yourself at any time."

"Of course," he said, his own smile crooked. "As could Dorian had our positions been reversed. But there was value in letting the others see my blood. In that respect he did me a favor. As the wounded party my arguments had the additional weight of sympathy."

"You're playing the Game," she murmured and shivered, her skin breaking out in gooseflesh. She couldn't pinpoint whether it was trepidation or desire causing the knot in her chest.

"As are you," he replied, whispering. "As we must." With one hand he cupped her cheek, caressing with his thumb. "But for you there is only sulahn'nehn." Happiness and joy. He edged closer, as if about to kiss her, but the sound of footsteps reached them both at that moment. They paused, eyes locked on each other a moment before his hand fell away and he stepped back. Now Ellana had no doubt it was longing coiling inside her, warm and needy.

She checked on the person approaching and saw with a frown it was an Inquisition scout. Are we being followed? Grabbing Solas' hand, she said, "Join me?"

"Of course." He let her tug him into a position next to her as they resumed walking. "But you must eat."

"Later," she said, uncaring if the scout walking a short distance behind them overheard or not. "After I get out of this wet armor."

They reached the guest wing and the scout tailing them seemed to depart, heading down a different hallway, apparently on some other errand. Ellana didn't believe it though, and by the time they reached her chamber she was shivering with both anger and fear. Her mind kept returning to Leliana's eyes and the way she'd sensed the spymaster only wanted to put her and Solas at ease to play from the shadows until she was ready to strike for the kill.

As Solas closed the door to her chamber, Ellana spoke her thoughts in a choked voice, "They are going to turn against us. Our own friends. My advisors. All of them, Solas. We cannot continue like this…"

"I know, vhenan." He cast her a gloomy look before moving to the nightstand beside the enormous bed where a pitcher of water and a washbasin waited. He poured some into the basin and splashed it onto his lips and chin, washing away the dried blood.

Ellana watched him, still shivering. "What can we do?"

He sighed, his back to her and his shoulders hunched. His head drooped. "You will not like it."

"Tell me," she whispered, taking a step closer.

He raised his head, sniffing once, but didn't pivot to face her. "Disband the Inquisition. Resign as Inquisitor."

"But then I could not stop them if they moved against you," Ellana cried, her heart pounding and her body flushing cold with panic. "And where would we go? How would you remove the Qunari from the eluvian network?"

"That is one of my greatest hesitations in advising you to do this," Solas admitted with a sigh. He turned now to face her, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the nightstand, his expression miserable. "Without the might of the Inquisition my people may never clear out the Qunari. They are too many, too focused. They learn quickly as well."

"If I am no longer Inquisitor and I disband the Inquisition, Cassandra could order you arrested and forced into a Circle," Ellana murmured, a cold lump in her throat as she continued toying with the idea from every angle she could.

Solas laughed and her gaze flew to him, baffled. He regained composure quickly, but the smile didn't fade from his lips. "A Circle is the least of my concerns, vhenan. I have grown powerful enough now that they could not contain me if they tried."

The confidence with which he spoke made her shudder, tempted with desire again at the mysterious depths of his power. One of the Evanuris…

Seeing her stare, Solas sobered, whispering, "I have fought far more skilled and dangerous opponents and in greater numbers than either Qunari or the Chantry would send for one mage in this modern world. Even with the Veil in place, I am powerful enough now that it would take a sizable contingent of either force to kill me. Far more than they will believe necessary or reasonable to send."

"Do you really think if I disband the Inquisition and resign, my advisors and Cassandra will just let us both walk away?" she asked, her voice laced with doubt.

"It is possible," Solas said, nodding. "But I would not be surprised if they did threaten to coerce me into a Circle, as you said. Such a result would be disastrous."

"Would you kill them?" Ellana asked, barely breathing the question.

"I doubt I would need to," he said, evasive as always. Ellana wondered just how powerful he was and what he could do, both wishing she could see it yet also dreading it.

"Dorian said you petrified the saarebas' head?" she asked, frowning.

"I did not want him to suffer needlessly, so I gave him a swift death." He confirmed her words with a nod. "Dorian is clever and observant—and I have grown careless as my strength increases." He chuckled, averting his eyes. "It was far easier to feign weakness when I truly was weaker…" He looked to her again, smiling sadly. "And when I was not constantly distracted with worrying over you, the Anchor, and our child."

The swill of emotions she'd felt in the study when she saw the elven servants carrying food, bowed in servitude to human masters, returned to hit her like a fist. Ellana covered her mouth with one hand and closed her eyes, breathing shakily.

"Vhenan?" he asked, leaving the nightstand and closing the distance between them. His warm hands brushed over her shoulders. "You must be freezing." He began unbuckling her belt and then tugging on the scarf and shoulder pads she wore, all of them sodden.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, her eyes burning though she fought back the tears. "I'm such a wreck at the smallest things. I saw the servants tonight and I wondered if our child would be a servant someday too and…" Looking up at him, eyes welling with tears that quickly spilled onto her cheeks when she blinked, she whimpered.

Solas embraced her, one hand cradling her head and the other snaking over her shoulders. The sound of his heartbeat and lungs, as well as the warmth of his hands, seemed to unhinge her. She let out a weak sob, pressing her face to his chest. "In that moment I was ready to sacrifice them all for our child, for the People." She shook, clinging to him. "And I hated myself for it."

Solas let out a long exhale, his warm breath fanning over the top of her head. "You mustn't worry yourself over this now, vhenan. The blame is mine. We will not be able to take any action for some time and I will do nothing without being certain of the consequences." He pulled away from her enough to look into her face, both hands rising to cup her cheeks. "We must concentrate for now on escaping the Exalted Council and defeating the Qunari." Pausing, he smiled. "And on getting you something to eat."

She let out a weak laugh. "You are worse than my own mother." Then, seeing the tenderness and determination in his eyes, Ellana felt the needy desire unfurl inside her again and pulled him into a kiss. He met her halfway, lips parted and eager, his tongue sweeping into her mouth to taste her. She pressed closer, returning his passion with her own, already breathing faster.

Her hands dug at his clothing, sliding beneath damp fabric and light chain mesh to find the luxurious warmth of his skin. Solas' fingers slid to her biceps, unlatching the clasps on her chainmail and her armored surcoat without breaking the long kiss. Ellana shrugged out of it with a little shimmying motion, letting it thump onto the loamy carpeting.

Solas' hands on her bare back felt scalding, making her moan and shiver, breaking the kiss. He nuzzled her ear. "You're freezing, vhenan. Let me warm you." The suggestive purr in the words left her skin tingling with excitement. He tugged on her hand, guiding her toward the bed.

Standing behind her in front of the bed, Solas caressed her shoulders, his lips and nose against the base of her neck where her shoulders met. The warmth of his breath and his hands sent shivers through her as he unlatched the lower half of her scout armor. Soon she was naked, leaning against him and sighing as his long-fingered hands traced around one breast and then the other.

As desire tightened the muscles in her lower body, Ellana turned in his embrace, grinning mischievously at him. "I think the best place to warm us both up is between the sheets. Don't you?"

"Yes," he agreed, returning her grin with a wolfish one of his own. He kissed her again, his breath whistling though his nose and beating against her skin like heat from a flame. Ellana's heart pounded, an ache starting up deep within her, longing for him. She pulled on his clothes, and Solas broke the kiss, chuckling as he withdrew a step. "Such impatience."

As he shed his own clothing, Ellana watched with an appreciative eye, admiring his lean frame. The need for him coiled, hot and aching inside her. When he was naked she closed the small gap between them, running one hand over his smooth chest to feel the musculature beneath. The other hand dropped to his prominent erection, gripping and squeezing to tease him. He gasped, his breath puffing against the top of her head. When she gave a few quick strokes over his length he moaned, his hips arching closer to her.

"Now who's impatient?" she teased, grinning up at him.

Solas pulled her into a tight embrace, tilting her head to whisper into her ear. "Let me treat you, tonight."

Lightheaded with want and anticipation, she captured his lips in a heated kiss for a moment, then said, "How could I say no to a god?"

His mouth twisted downward for a fraction of a second, but then he laughed. "Indeed."

Solas moved with her to the bed and Ellana sat at the edge, legs splayed as he knelt in front of her. She shuddered, her body flushing with a rush of blood as he began trailing kisses along the inside of her thigh, his lips soft and gentle. One hand stroked along the outside of her leg, teasing her, while the other worked its way to the small of her back and hip, caressing the skin there. He lingered, drawing closer to her sex and then veering away again, leaving her craving more.

"You tease," she purred, voice already breathy and thick with arousal.

He paused a moment, smirking with catlike enjoyment, blue eyes dark with desire. Then his hand at the small of her back pulled her closer and he ducked low, finally kissing her where she wanted it most. His breath was already scorching on her skin, still chilled by her sodden armor, but his mouth was like fire that made her nerves scream with pleasure.

She gasped, her body rigid and shaking as he caressed her with his tongue, sending pulses of bliss through her. Hands clenching on the bedspread, Ellana moaned as the pleasure began to build, the ache intensifying. He continued the slow, firm strokes with his tongue, occasionally altering to a swirling motion that made her cry out at the waves of heat emanating from her core. Every flick of his tongue against her destroyed her thoughts, annihilating every worry and doubt until there was only the pleasure building within.

And then he went from the swirling motion with his tongue to gently sucking and she gasped, unable to breathe a moment as the climax hit her like a wall. She cried out at the top of her lungs, hips bucking as the waves of pleasure pounded through her. Shaking and sweating, she collapsed onto her back, the muscles in her abdomen clenching and unclenching as the last pangs of bliss rolled over her.

Solas rose from his crouched position and traced a hand up over her thigh, making her twitch as he tweaked a nerve around her hip. She cracked one eye, still breathing fast, and let out a half-moan, half-sigh of contentment. The sight of him, his self-satisfied smile and his own body still redolent with desire made her grin. "And how might I treat you?" she asked, her voice still husky.

He shook his head. "You owe me nothing, vhenan."

Sitting up, Ellana wrapped her arms around him and fell backward onto the bed again, dragging him with her. Perching on top of him, she ran her hands over his chest as she smiled down at him. "Nothing at all?" she crooned as she lowered herself onto him, taking him inside her.

He gasped, both hands immediately grabbing her hips. "Nothing owed," he said, eyes squeezing shut with enjoyment.

"But you'll take whatever I wish to give?" she asked, teasing as she varied the speed of her hips over him. "Is that it?"

He moaned, baring his teeth in a grimace. "Yes." His hands gripped her on either side, moving with her, arching his back to thrust up into her. Ellana ground over him, altering the angle and pace, her muscles taut over him. She could feel his body tense beneath and inside her, quivering as he neared the precipice. The deep moans and gasps from his lips a music that set her heart racing and her body burning from within.

He grunted, strangling his cry of passion, writhing as his own orgasm hit. Clinging to her and driving into her with each thrust as he rode out the climax. The sound of his pleasure and the sight of his gritted teeth with the intensity of it pushed her over the edge again. She cried out, almost with surprise as the wall of pleasure hit her again in waves. Gasping and shaking, she collapsed onto his chest, body heaving as she fought to catch her breath.

Solas stroked her back, making her shiver reflexively. Her body was slimy with sweat—as was his—but no longer chilled. She closed her eyes, sedated by the lingering pleasure and satisfaction of the aftermath, her mind drifting and peaceful. She might've fallen asleep had her stomach not growled then and Solas inhaled sharply, stirring beneath her.

"You're hungry," he said, sitting up and bringing her with him, still in his lap. "I will find a servant and procure us something to eat."

She leaned her forehead against his, kissing him quickly, refusing to remove her arms from around his shoulders just yet. "You really do sound just like my mother—or my Keeper."

Solas' eyes narrowed, his look somewhere between amusement at her teasing and disapproval. "I should hope I sound like a man trying to care for his beloved."

Seeing she'd wounded him, Ellana kissed him again and apologized. "Ir abelas, emma lath. Can you forgive me?"

"Of course," he said, smiling. "That is assuming, of course, that you agree to eat something."

She laughed. "You're incorrigible—yes, yes. I'll eat something."

His smile turned smug. "Good."

__________________________________________

Elven Used:

Ma serannas, falon: My thanks, friend

Ir abelas, emma lath: I'm sorry, my love

Next Chapter:

Now Ellana's lips twisted with sorrow while her eyes narrowed, darkening with anger as she laid a hand over her abdomen, immediately drawing Solas' gaze to the little motion. "If you miss the birth I'm going to name him after Dorian."

Flabbergasted, Solas stared at her with his mouth partly agape a moment before his brow furrowed. "You cannot be serious, vhenan."

Chapter Text

Two days later, during a lunch recess of the summit, Ellana found herself popping grapes into her mouth as Inan, the elven healer Josephine had found for her, needled her with personal questions.

"When did you last bleed?" the healer asked. She held a parchment and clipboard much like Josephine's. Her quill pen scratched at the paper as she took notes on Ellana's last answers regarding symptoms.

Ellana shrugged in her padded chair. "Honestly, I can't recall. Eight weeks ago?"

Golden afternoon sunlight poured in through her window and a breeze carried the sweet scent of flowers. Ellana let the sunshine beat on her cheeks, soaking it up like a cat as she tried to keep herself from worrying about the summit and Solas and the rapidly approaching moment when she would resign power and return to being nobody again—just a barefaced Dalish elf.

"And do you know who the father is?" Inan asked. She stared at Ellana over her clipboard, one brow raised though her voice had been neutral and businesslike.

Now Ellana felt her cheeks warm with a blush of embarrassment. "Of course I know who the father is!"

"A thousand pardons, Inquisitor," Inan said, dropping into a bow from both he waist and the knees. "I meant no offense. Palace gossip suggested there might be some…uncertainty in the matter."

Ellana rolled her eyes and plucked another grape from the tray of fruits and cheeses in front of her on the writing desk in her bedchamber. "Palace gossip will repeat anything, no matter how ludicrous." She tossed the grape into her mouth and crushed it between her tongue and her front teeth.

"Then the father is an elf?" Inan pressed. "Not one of the humans? Not the commander?"

The spurt of sweet juice from the grape almost choked her as Ellana scowled at the physician. She swallowed before answering. "The father is most definitely an elf. And contrary to popular court belief, I am not involved with Commander Cullen in any way other than a strictly professional relationship." After coughing to clear the grape juice from her throat, Ellana grabbed a square of cheese, fingering it as she glared at Inan. "Are you here to ascertain my health or collect gossip? If so, could you please make sure you repeat that Solas is the baby's father. I'm getting tired of hearing about how I've slept with every man between here and Tevinter."

Inan suddenly grinned. "The Tevinter was my next guess if you told me the child's father was human."

The humor lighting the middle-aged elven woman's eyes was contagious, making Ellana chuckle and then break out laughing. "Dorian?" she asked, shaking her head and then correcting herself. "Ambassador Pavus you mean?" She snorted. "If only you knew."

"Knew what, your worship?" Inan asked, smirking. "That he prefers men?" She laughed at Ellana's startled look. "Oh, yes, his liaisons with that Qunari fellow haven't been exactly discreet. But you needed the laugh."

"Oh," Ellana said, blushing. "I see."

Inan cleared her throat. "Back to business, my lady. The child is a pureblooded elf?"

"Yes," Ellana replied, eating the cheese she'd been toying with between her fingers. "Why does that matter, exactly?"

"Half-bloods are difficult for elven women to carry," Inan explained, a light frown quirking her lips downward. "The babes are too big for elven mothers, humans being bigger-boned as it were. It creates troubled pregnancies and difficult deliveries." She made notes on her parchment again. "Fortunately for you, my lady, that won't be an issue. Now, if you'll allow it, I'd like to examine you physically."

Ellana sighed and took a long sip of her ginger-laced tea to wash down the taste of the cheese. Solas had told her to remain cautious around the healer but that he had no evidence she was a Qunari spy, which suggested she was probably trustworthy. Setting her teacup down, Ellana stood up to face the physician. "Examine away."

Inan set her clipboard and pen down on the writing desk and, after apologizing profusely, began pressing on Ellana's abdomen. Her face contorted with concentration as her hands worked, making Ellana grimace when the physician pressed on her bladder. After a few minutes Inan withdrew, nodding and smiling. "It's early yet, but I'm confident you've got a wee little one there. He'll be born around springtime in the new year."

Ellana shot her a speculative look. "He?"

The healer chuckled. "Apologies, my lady. I always call the babes boys. I've no evidence of it, just seems the mothers appreciate calling it one or the other. Makes the babe realer, especially this early when you don't have the belly to make it obvious." She fell silent a moment, brow furrowing. "That father is a mage, my lady?"

"Yes," Ellana confirmed with a nod. Does being one of the Evanuris count as being just a mage? Licking her lips, she added, "He's a Dreamer mage."

Inan made a face that Ellana couldn't quite read. She reached for her parchment and began taking notes. "Magic is frightfully difficult to predict. Do you have any mages in your immediate family, Lady Lavellan?"

"My brother is First to our Keeper," Ellana answered, unable to keep herself from beaming at the chance to talk about her family, even to a stranger. "My mother was sensitive to magic but not strong enough to cast. Father was First to our Keeper but he was killed when bandits attacked our clan two years ago." The organized bandits sent by the Duke of Wycome who would have killed the entirety of clan Lavellan had it not been for soldiers Ellana sent to defend them. The thought of coming so close to losing them in the violence of that time still made Ellana's chest constrict. It was bad enough she'd lost her father to the attacks.

Inan nodded, still writing frantically. "And the babe's father? How strong does magic run in his family?"

Ellana pinched her lips together, considering how best to answer a moment. "Both of his parents were mages. He's an only child."

"Magic runs strong within the People. I'd bet fifty royals this child manifests talent of some kind, considering his father, his uncle, and three of four grandparents were all mages." She smiled as she finished her note with a little flourish of her pen. "But that's a distant concern. You have to grow the little one first, after all. For now, my lady, I recommend nutritious food and plenty of fluids. Avoid stress and excessive exertion. If you have any concerns or experience pain or bleeding at any time of the day or night, please summon me at once."

Ellana nodded, smiling. "Thank you, Inan."

Bowing, the physician excused herself from the room, leaving Ellana alone with the tray of food and tea—and her thoughts. For the past two days Solas had led Inquisition mages and soldiers with a few of Ellana's inner circle companions into the Crossroads to continue rooting out the Qunari menace. They'd found the Qunari leader, a woman called the Viddasala—which was her title rather than her name, as Ellana understood it—inside a library construct, similar to the one Solas had said his own father worked inside. Ellana wished she could have seen it, but Solas insisted it was too dangerous. The library brimmed with old magic and the Anchor was certain to react. As much as Ellana longed to draw her bow again and don her armor, or do anything other than listen to Arl Teagan rant and rave and foam at the mouth at each summit meeting, it wasn't worth the risk.

She rubbed over her abdomen with one hand, still a bit shocked to realize that a year from now she'd be a mother. The idea was overwhelming and daunting, sneaking up on her at times to steal her breath away and leave her numb with shock. But then she'd remember the pride she saw in Solas' eyes whenever the topic came up and her love for him would blast away any fear she had, leaving only wonder. Who would have thought the Dread Wolf would be a doting father and partner?

Smiling to herself, Ellana popped another grape into her mouth. Hunt well emma lath, Fen'Harel.

Then, thinking of her family and her clan, Ellana pushed the tray away and dug into the drawer at the writing desk for ink and paper. She didn't write nearly as often as she should, always finding herself busy to the point of constant distraction as Inquisitor, but she knew she had to amend that now. Soon she'd likely be with them again, a hunter and mother of the People…

Where does that leave Solas?

She froze, her left hand on the ink pen and the right on the paper. With the death of Ellana's father clan Lavellan had just the acceptable amount of mages: three, two trained and one waiting in the wings. Before their father's death, Ellana's older brother, Mahanon, had been prepared to leave the clan to make room for a child who'd just begun manifesting magic to take the position as Second to the Keeper. The humans' fear of magic placed this restriction on Ellana's people, and as irritating as it was, it worked.

But returning to the clan with Solas would displace Mahanon again and in the two years since their father's death Ellana's brother had taken a wife and welcomed a daughter. Their Keeper would probably not get along with Solas either, considering he had some strong opinions about their lore and traditions. And Ellana had little doubt her child would someday develop magical gifts, considering its father was one of the Evanuris and magic was so prevalent in both families. Eventually then her own child might be traded away or rejected by her clan simply for possessing magic.

The thought made her set the pen down and scrub at her face with frustration. If and when Solas brought the Veil down this would all cease to be a concern. Of course there'd be new, different problems in that case…like finding a way not to kill everyone in the chaos.

A knock came at her door and a servant called, "Your worship, Divine Victoria has reconvened the summit."

"I'm coming." Ellana grabbed a handful of grapes and cheese cubes from the tray and headed for the door.

_______________________________________________

"C'mon, Tiny," Varric said, chuckling. "You've got to have a gut instinct one way or another on this. Boy or girl? It's even odds right now."

"It's always even odds," Dorian muttered, grumbling.

"Yeah," Bull said. "That's why I'm flipping a coin. You can't predict this sort of thing."

Dorian, Iron Bull, and Varric sat behind Solas, just within earshot as they continued placing wagers on the sex of his unborn child. Solas' hands clenched into fists inside his sleeves. He refused to acknowledge their betting or partake in it, but the tips of his ears burned with humiliation and he knew he wore an unhappy scowl that'd probably make Dorian and Varric laugh with delight at his expense if they could see it.

The other scouts and the smattering of mages—all humans this time, he'd noted—that Leliana and Cullen had sent with him on Ellana's orders lingered around the shattered library, foraging its priceless knowledge. They were resting after confronting Viddasala and the dozens of Qunari warriors and saarebas she'd thrown at them. They'd had several injuries and now the mages set about healing them as best they could.

The shattered Elvhen library made Solas' edgy on countless levels. Foremost was his current fear of being unmasked as the Dread Wolf by something within the library itself. The unwounded Inquisition mages and scouts Leliana and Cullen had sent with him on Ellana's orders spent every moment browsing around the books still on the shelves or riffling through the debris on the floor. They were focused and fascinated, as they should be by the ancient Elvhen library and its wealth of forgotten knowledge and history, but Solas suspected it was more than curiosity. Leliana had likely given them orders to actively search for clues about himself and the Dread Wolf. Given long enough to snoop they'd probably find something damning, so he tried to keep them moving.

His second problem was the heavy weight of his crimes against Elvhenan. The library was a perfect reminder of what the Veil had cost his people. The library had once been a beautiful place of eternal learning, where young elves, including Solas himself, had stayed for countless years to learn the accumulated wisdom of the Elvhen Empire. Solas had told Ellana it was similar to the construct his father worked in—but that'd been a half-truth. In fact, this shattered library was where his father had worked, devoting his life to maintaining the construct and its knowledge, and managing its spirit archivists.

Every so often their group had encountered an archivist spirit, still bound but long since fragmented by the sundering of the Fade from the waking world. Solas doubted any of them had the conscious intelligence to recognize him, but he encouraged the Inquisition people to steer clear of them, warning they could be dangerous. He didn't miss the suspicious looks Dorian and many of the others sent his way. They didn't believe him but didn't press the issue because they'd just return to the library and investigate independently once Solas retired for the day to the winter palace, where he'd be under constant surveillance by Leliana. His own spies within the Inquisition and the elves in the Crossroads had already confirmed that the humans returned each night without him.

He was fast running out of time. The humans would spring their trap on him eventually, or possibly find a way to force Ellana to reveal what she knew. What he didn't know was how they'd react after confirming their suspicions. Would they try to imprison him? Kill him? And what of Ellana? The better option was to construct a graceful exit from this mess with her at his side. But how?

"I beg to differ, Tiny," Varric said, still trying to get the Tal-Vashoth to cast an opinion that didn't involve a flip of a coin. "A cousin of mine had a girl a few years back and I had a wager with her husband about it. He wanted a boy but I just felt it in my gut it'd be a girl, and it was. You got to trust your instincts on things like this."

Iron Bull made a noise of displeasure in his throat. "I've heard Orlesians yap about being able to tell by the way a woman carries, but I just don't get it. Maybe that's because we don't have mothers under the Qun, I don't know. A coin toss makes as much sense as seeing the way her belly looks to me."

"Yeah, but it's not as much fun," Varric insisted. "And the Orlesians are full of crap."

"Just let him toss the coin already," Dorian complained, scoffing. "Besides, even if Orlesians weren't spouting drivel on a near constant basis it still wouldn't help because Ellana isn't going to show for months. Maybe never."

"Does Boss have a wager?" Iron Bull asked.

"No," Varric said, laughing. "And neither does Chuckles."

Hearing his nickname, Solas' head lifted slightly before he stopped himself from looking back at them. He refused to validate their behavior, especially with the current topic. He didn't allow his own mind to wander in that direction even privately.

"It's their instinct I'd bet on," Iron Bull said, amusement deepening his voice. "No offence, Varric."

"None taken, but you know I'm going to be right. Just ask Sparkler." Varric laughed heartily. "I think you still owe me money from a bet before we defeated Corypheus."

Dorian scoffed. "Nonsense. You little liar." He clucked his tongue then and said, "What we really should be betting on is whether it'll be a mage. Fifty royals says it will be. Care to take that wager, Varric?"

Varric laughed. "Are you kidding me? Not a chance."

"Why not?" Dorian asked.

"Because that's like betting I'll have a dream tonight. Everyone knows the answer already. Sparkler, you're not even trying. You just want fifty royals."

Dorian guffawed. "Of course I do! But it's not a foregone conclusion. Have you forgotten I'm Tevinter? The Imperium has been trying to understand magical inheritance for millennia without success. Even with careful breeding, such as in my family, magical talent can be fickle."

Unfortunately this was true, even in Elvhenan. Within Solas' small middle class community he'd grown up alongside children who'd been born with less magical talent than their parents. They and their families lived with the perpetual fear that soon a noble would sweep through and discover they'd been born to the wrong class. Whenever that happened the noble claimed the child like chattel, as if Elvhen children were just another tithe due to the upper class. Solas himself had lived with that same fear, though for the opposite reason. Talented children were conscripted to join the upper class and Solas wanted no part of it even from a young age.

Dorian spoke again a second later and Solas could hear the smug smile and bristled with dislike. "My family lucked out with me, of course. In the magic department, anyway."

Finally at the limit of his patience, and unwilling to let the memories and despair of the library settle onto him any further, Solas straightened from his position leaning his against a bookcase and strode toward the others. "Let us go back to Halamshiral," he said, his voice firm and authoritative. "We can return to the Crossroads tomorrow for the final push to stop the Qunari. We have everything needed to activate the eluvian leading to the Qunari base."

The mages and scouts shuffled to their feet, though several of them groaned, drained from the battle with the Qunari and irritable at Solas' leadership, no doubt. Iron Bull and Varric had no complaints, but Dorian as usual glared venomously. Annoyingly, Dorian insisted on walking with Solas or just behind him, a less than subtle reminder that he still felt he shared power and leadership.

As they exited the eluvian and reentered the Crossroads, Solas lingered by the mirror. He took a headcount as each person passed through the mirror and when the last one came through he stepped in front of the eluvian and raised one hand to it. The warm rush of magic flowed through him, heating his blood with its familiar, sensual caress. He shaped it with willpower alone and channeled it through his hand and into the mirror. The eluvian thrummed, glowing brighter for a second before it faded and went dark.

He sensed rather than saw Dorian lunge for him and, without even looking first, sent a precise veilstrike at the other mage, knocking him flat to the stone of the island in the blink of an eye. Dorian let out a cry of surprise and Solas heard the satisfying thump of his body smashing into the rock as he pivoted to survey the scene.

"Whoa!" Varric shouted, lifting his hands in a placating gesture and stepping forward as if to break up a fight. "Chuckles, Sparkler—let's not get into another shit show. This island isn't big enough for it."

"You bastard," Dorian growled, hauling himself up to his feet and dusting himself off. "What do you think you're doing, turning it off? Vishante kaffas," he cursed, snarling at Solas and jabbing a finger in accusation. "And where did you learn that particular trick? Another wandering hobo in the Free Marches happen to teach you how to shut off eluvians?" He scoffed derisively. "Or I suppose you saw it in the Fade."

Solas glared at him, cold and somber. "I learned it from Abelas and Mythal's sentinels." He thrust out his chin. "A better question is why are you trying to attack me?"

"You know why," Dorian snapped, his nose wrinkling with rage. "Don't insult my intelligence pretending otherwise…" He curled his lips with disgust.

"Dorian," Iron Bull said, his voice deep, carrying a note of concern. "Just leave it."

Solas covertly checked the reactions from the Inquisition mages and scouts, finding them schooling their expressions but still unable to hide their open hostility toward him. They all understood why Dorian had reacted with such fury—they didn't know how to reactivate the eluvian and with it dark they'd never be able to access the library and its secrets. Solas had outmaneuvered them and they all knew it. Their only hope was to disguise their disappointment, hoping to hide how little they trusted Solas. Unfortunately for them Solas already knew.

"Fine," Dorian growled. His brown eyes promised retribution and Solas wanted to sigh with annoyance at the Tevinter's temper tantrum.

"If you're finished I'd like to get back to Halamshiral," Solas said, stolid and unruffled.

"Sounds good to me," Varric said, his smile tight. "But if you two are going to start fighting again can you give me a little advance notice? I'd like to charge admission."

"Don't be ridiculous," Dorian said, glaring at both Varric and Solas a final moment before turning his back and striding to the edge of the island to stare out into the Crossroads.

Taking that as his cue, Solas marched toward the scouts and mages from the Inquisition and gestured toward the rock bridge. "Let's be on our way."

They followed the rock bridges, discharging the stored magic in the orbs as the Qunari had to traverse the gaps, and returned to the Halamshiral eluvian without trouble. Solas' thoughts churned, planning and considering various strategies for the inevitable confrontation that was certain to come soon between himself and Ellana's advisors and companions. Varric and Iron Bull and Rainier, who'd joined their expedition yesterday, seemed not to care much about who and what Solas really was, but that could change as they learned more. It was Cassandra and Dorian who posed the greatest threat as they were already convinced he was Fen'Harel and had betrayed them.

He turned his thoughts to Ellana. He had to protect her and their child from the maelstrom to come, and the best way to do that was to outplay them in the Game. The answer that had repeatedly leapt into his mind was that he needed another emotional sleight of hand to make the humans doubt and hesitate—much the way he'd let himself bleed after Dorian punched him. He had the ideal distraction in mind: a marriage proposal. But doing it as part of the Game made him feel queasy with shame. It'd also be an insult to Ellana if she saw it as disingenuous.

Inside the winter palace again he separated from the others, leaving Dorian to report to Leliana and Cullen on their success routing Qunari from the shattered library. He knew they'd want to exclude him anyway as Dorian would report Solas shutting down the eluvian without consulting anyone, placing them in a tough position. They'd have to seek Solas' knowledge directly about how to turn the mirror on again or experiment on their own. Either way, Solas was content to let them flounder about while he returned to Ellana for the evening to make plans of their own.

___________________________________________

As Divine Victoria ended the summit for the day Ellana got to her feet and bid the politicians, Cassandra, and Josephine goodbye. The day had been hot and humid again, not as bad as the previous few afternoons, but Ellana still longed for a bath to cleanse the sticky sweat from her body and ease the tension from her muscles. Striding out of the pavilion she saw the usual variety of Orlesian palace guards and Inquisition scouts—and Dorian, leaning against the opposite wall of the corridor.

When his eyes met hers he immediately started toward her and the stiffness of his tread and the hunched set of his shoulders made her stomach clench. Whatever had brought Dorian to her now, it couldn't be good. Before she could stop herself, Ellana frowned at him and when he was within earshot she asked, "You didn't hit Solas again, did you?"

"No," he replied, his brow furrowing and his gaze angry. "But I damn well wanted to." He glanced around, seeing the masked guards and Inquisition personnel all pretending not to have any interest in their conversation and sighed. "Perhaps we might speak somewhere privately?"

Despite the growing knot in her stomach, Ellana nodded and forced herself to smile. "Of course."

She led him away from the pavilion and down the hall to the study that'd been reserved for her and her advisors to use as needed. Inside she let Dorian through first and closed the door behind them. When she turned round she saw Dorian strolling through the room, searching for eavesdroppers with his hands elevated slightly, as if about to cast. "Dorian?" she asked. "What's wrong?"

"Just being thorough," he said with a cluck of his tongue. "I learned back home that you can never be too careful. There's always some filth ready to spy for coin."

Ellana moved to stand in front of the table, waiting as patiently as she could with the knot inside her twisting on itself, nauseating her now. Finally Dorian seemed satisfied with his pass around the room and joined her at the table, standing to her right in what was usually Cullen's position. He fidgeted, crossing and uncrossing his arms and shifting from side to side.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Dorian scowled, averting his gaze from hers. "I wanted to warn you."

She blinked. "Warn me? About what? Solas?"

"Yes," he said, his unhappy look deepening. "But not in the way you think."

Wary and cautious, Ellana took a step backward. She shook her head. "If this is about that ridiculous theory of yours that Solas is some kind of god—"

"No, no," Dorian interrupted her, waving a hand dismissively. "Well, yes, actually. But I already know you won't listen to me." He sniffed and the anger leeched out of his face as he paled, meeting her eye again. "The truth is I can't stand Solas. I don't know what or who he really is, but I know it can't be good. Anyone who hid this much for this long is cunning enough to use all of us. And I think that's exactly what he's been doing—but to you most of all." He shook his head. "I'd like to be wrong about him, but I'm never wrong about this sort of thing. Still…"

"Solas isn't using me," Ellana said, unable to keep herself from springing to his defense.

Dorian's brown eyes narrowed. "I take it you know something more than the rest of us about him? A sort of lovers' special insight? I hope you do, though I am disappointed you wouldn't at least tell me."

Ellana tapped one finger on the table to her left, eyes closed as she struggled to school her reaction and find an appropriate response. "I appreciate your concern, Dorian," she started, still unable to meet his stare. "But I trust Solas and you all should too. We all have things in our past we aren't proud of. Solas is no different and I respect his desire to maintain privacy."

"There's maintaining privacy, Ellana, and then there's aiding ancient beings aspiring to godhood." His lips twisted in a snarl at the last word. "Just because this particular being isn't from Tevinter I—"

Ellana cut him off with a groan. "Please, Dorian. Not this again."

"Fine," he snapped, sullen at her terseness. "I just wanted to warn you that the others have started considering more…extreme methods of handling him. Cassandra in particular is most irritable."

"Extreme how?" Ellana asked, edging closer again, arms crossed over her chest. "Is he in danger?" She suddenly felt her eyes burning hot with emotion and closed them, sucking in a shaky breath. "I cannot believe I have to ask that. Have you all really forgotten that Solas is on our side?"

Dorian snorted. "Is he? From here I'm not so sure, and I worry for you." His expression softened. "That's why I wanted to warn you. Not for him, but for you…and, ah…" He smirked and motioned at her lower body. "The little one. My father wasn't exactly ideal, what with blood magic and all that rubbish, but I'm glad I knew him. Your child should have the same, even if its father is an unspeakable ass."

"Dorian," Ellana scolded, shifting from side to side a moment and then letting out a breath to calm herself before asking, "What danger is Solas in?"

Dorian's jaw clenched, a muscle feathering in his temple a second before he answered, "Divine Victoria is considering calling for his arrest as an apostate."

"She wants to force him into a Circle?" Ellana asked, her body flushing cold at the news. This was what Solas had predicted. Ellana had just hoped he was wrong.

"Mostly she just wants to get the truth from him and get him away from you," Dorian admitted. "I protested when it became clear they would consider charging you with crimes as well to prevent you interfering. So they threw me out of the meeting as a sympathizer."

Ellana flinched, a painful lump growing in her throat. "How could they betray me like this?" she whispered.

"They believe you will not see reason because of your feelings for him. And, of course, your condition." He shook his head, his eyes soft with sympathy but his lips pinched in a hard line. "If it makes you feel any better, old girl, they were torn up about it and they repeatedly told me any charges against you would be dismissed. They only want to keep you away long enough to get the truth from him. To be honest I don't really believe they'd do more than threaten to put him in a Circle."

Hands clenching at her sides, Ellana growled out, "I can't believe this."

"You want my advice?" Dorian asked, arching one sculpted eyebrow. "Order Solas to leave the summit. Have him retire. Didn't Varric give you an estate in Kirkwall? Or have him join your clan. Whatever you like. You're expecting and I assume he's at least pretending to have accepted that, yes? He'd better be. Anyway—take advantage of that to get him away from Divine Victoria and the eluvians. If he'll let go of all that…" Dorian sighed, his shoulders sagging. "Then I'd admit I've been wrong about him and I suspect the others will as well."

"Or they'll just arrest him on the road," Ellana said, snarling the words. Her limbs felt shaky, her skin flushed with hot fury. Yes, Solas was hiding the truth from them, but he'd done nothing but aid them. Against the Qunari. Corypheus. Why couldn't they just accept he was on their side?

"Possibly," Dorian admitted, shrugging. "But my money's on the others choosing caution. They don't want to arrest him. They don't want to move against him because it insults you. They want to trust you. I want to trust you."

"Then trust me," Ellana retorted, glaring.

"I do," Dorian shot back, his cheeks burning red. "That's why I'm here warning you. Come clean if you know something, or send him away and see if he'll obey." His expression and voice took on a pleading tone. "Give it some thought, yes?"

She nodded somberly, then, glad of the excuse her pregnancy provided, she laid a hand over her abdomen and said, "If you'll excuse me, I'm feeling a bit tired."

"Yes," Dorian murmured, smiling slightly now. "I imagine it's terribly hard work constructing another person, especially one that's half-Solas." He chuckled at her sour look. "No wonder you've been so sickly lately."

She sighed, rolling her eyes as she started walking for the door. "Very funny." Her mind buzzed with alarm as she entered the hallway, though she tried to keep her face from showing it. Walking at a brisk pace, Ellana headed straight for the guest wing and her bedchambers, hoping to find Solas there as she had for the last two days.

__________________________________

"We expected this, vhenan," Solas said when he'd heard Ellana's story of Dorian warning her of the danger to himself. The mixture of anger and pain he saw contorting her beautiful features set his own chest aching hollowly, though he'd already predicted this. "I wish it were otherwise, but the moment I entered the eluvian on that first day after we arrived I knew this moment would come."

He didn't add that Dorian's warning was an unexpected and thoughtful detail, one he hadn't anticipated. It was to Ellana's credit that Dorian cared enough to make the effort, despite despising Solas. As for Cassandra, Solas knew the former Seeker turned Divine would always seek justice and duty first and foremost. Ellana saw Cassandra's part in it as personal betrayal, but Solas knew it was a last resort for her. Had Solas not been Ellana's lover Cassandra would've long since arrested him for interrogation. As her past conflict with Varric demonstrated, she hated being misled. Solas had offended her sense of justice, of right and wrong. Of course she would try to find the truth, and Solas respected her for it. What else could she do as Divine and as a former Seeker but follow her conscience?

As for Leliana and Cullen—Solas suspected Josephine was too thoroughly distracted with the Exalted Council to be actively involved—their concerns were about security within the Inquisition. Already Solas' Inquisition spies had started telling him they'd been assigned menial work or guard duties exclusively, and their human compatriots had grown increasingly tightlipped. Solas' spies also reported that all elves seemed to be experiencing the same treatment. Patrols, guard rotations, and even sleeping and break room areas had become racially-divided. The Inquisition was fast transforming into a racially charged barrel full of gaatlok, just waiting for a spark to set it off.

"Then what do we do?" Ellana asked, her voice miserable with grief. She reclined on their enormous bed while Solas sat at her writing desk several meters away. Dinner had arrived on a tray along with tea. The tray was on the foot of the bed, hardly touched despite Solas' frequent suggestions that she eat more.

"Dorian's suggestion that I retire is not a bad one," he said with a slight nod of his head. "Unfortunately I cannot stop working within the Crossroads yet."

"But the Qunari will be beaten soon," Ellana protested, a note of pleading in her voice.

"And when they are gone my people will remain in the Crossroads," Solas told her, blank and to the point. "Even fragmented and shattered as they are, they're invaluable. I must maintain a presence there and restore the network."

"But do you have to be there personally?" she asked, a speculative look on her face.

He smiled at her, quashing the anxious squirming from Fen'Harel in the back of his mind. The wolf knew the danger and turmoil he'd cause for himself and his goals by doting on Ellana the way he longed to as lover and expectant father. He wanted to reassure her that he would be at her side throughout, but every day he was away or distracted they could lose ground in their fight to restore the world and the People. His network of sentinels and Elvhen warriors knew that only he could reshape the world, so if he wavered their hopes crashed into the abyss. He needed to compromise: Ellana would stay somewhere safe and he would split his time between her and his goals as Fen'Harel.

His tone cautious, he said, "I cannot afford to be away physically from my people or the Crossroads for long—but I will not leave you until I know you are safe. And I will visit as often as I—"

She interrupted him, "No."

Blinking, he shook his head as if he'd heard her wrong. "Excuse me?"

Ellana shot him a glare. "You are not leaving me in Kirkwall or with my clan while you vanish to risk your life for months on end." Chin trembling and eyes suddenly moist, she still somehow managed to look more angry than upset. "I'm going with you."

Grimacing, Solas huffed with frustration. "Vhenan, what you ask is impossible. More than that, it is foolish. You cannot—"

"Then it's a good thing I'm not asking," Ellana cut in. She sniffed, wiping at her eyes as she regained her composure without actually shedding a tear.

Solas glowered. "I will not allow you to harm yourself. There will be ruins brimming with Elvhen magic that could destabilize the Anchor."

"You need me," she said, pinning him with her hard green-eyed stare.

Something in her tone made Solas hesitate with wariness. What did she know? Finally he said, "I need you healthy and safe, emma lath. There will come a time when your condition will slow you and hamper your movement."

"Not for months yet," she said with a dismissive gesture. "But until then I can help. You'll need the Anchor eventually, won't you? It was part of your orb. Can it do something I'm not aware of?"

Solas tilted his head to one side, like a dog hearing an intriguing word. He would require the Anchor to fulfill his plans eventually, and it had been one of his ongoing trouble spots. He'd expected to reclaim the Anchor as part of the orb originally, but then found Ellana had claimed it through chance. That had been one primary reason he joined the group at Haven, to keep an eye on the Anchor. At the time he'd hoped to claim it if Ellana died, knowing from the first time he examined her hand that the Anchor had adhered to her completely so that even if he had possessed his orb he wouldn't be able to remove it. He hadn't lied to Ellana when he told her he'd spent much of the last two years seeking a way to remove it from her. Primarily now he wanted to save her life, but he couldn't deny he also needed the Anchor for his own purposes.

"Well?" Ellana pressed, sitting up and scooting closer to the foot of the bed.

Explaining this aspect of his plan wasn't something he relished, but he'd promised not to lie to her and enough time had passed with him silent that she'd guessed his reluctance. So he went for honesty and evasion, hoping to explain in more detail later.

"I will eventually require it, yes. But—"

"Then you need me," Ellana said, firm and confident. "Let me help you." He didn't miss the way her left hand in her lap flexed, as if eager to be put to the test. "You need to walk physically in the Fade again, don't you?"

"Yes," he admitted, but didn't elaborate even under the weight of her keen-eyed stare. Instead he focused on dissuading her. "Using the Anchor will only destabilize it."

"I've used it for years," she reminded him. "I think you're being overly cautious."

"Of course I am," Solas said, frowning as irritation lashed him with heat. "I have no desire to see the Anchor destabilize. If it does, it will cause you great pain and will ultimately kill you unless I take your arm. We have discussed this. The magic of the Crossroads and Elvhen ruins will destabilize the Anchor. It is only a matter of time. The more you use it, the sooner you'll lose control."

She turned her head, sighing. Her shoulders sagged as if an invisible weight settled on her shoulders. "We're off track," she murmured. "There are more pressing concerns at the moment." Her left hand opened and closed again in her lap and the seemingly idle motion told Solas she hadn't forgotten it and hadn't let it go.

"Indeed," he agreed with a nod. "I propose we continue as before. The Inquisition's forces will make short work of the Qunari Dragon's Breath. As soon as it has been dealt with you must disband the Inquisition and retire as Inquisitor."

Ellana's brow furrowed. "But then Cassandra will have you arrested as an apostate."

"She may try, yes," Solas admitted with a little frown as he considered proposing to her again. Dorian was right that it was the proper action for him to take considering her pregnancy and it could cast legitimate doubt on their suspicions about his identity. Fen'Harel was unlikely to retire from covert life as an elven spymaster in favor of domestication. Even humans with minimal knowledge of Dalish legends would see that as uncharacteristic of a trickster god.

He licked his lips, about to suggest it to her and then pushed it aside. She deserved better. How could she ever know he hadn't been pressured into it in the hopes of misleading their companions? So instead he said, "I am not afraid of Divine Victoria's wrath. She cares too much for you to be a true threat to me. But if I am apprehended you must not endanger yourself by fighting them overmuch. Let me be questioned while you feign innocence and outrage. Do not reveal my identity no matter how they bluster."

"You won't tell them who you are?" Ellana asked, shooting him a nervous look.

He shook his head. "No, as I have said, it would imperil my plans if they knew the truth and they would never support bringing down the Veil, even if doing so did not bring chaos to the world they know." Rising to his feet, he crossed to the bed and held onto the bedpost. An anxious pang shot through his chest at her doubtful expression, but he pressed on anyway. "Before you disband the Inquisition you must publically order me to retire from the eluvian network. You must be suspicious of me and angry when I seem to resist. I will then publically capitulate to your authority as Inquisitor."

Ellana smirked. "In public only, of course." She shook her head, the humor leaving her face. "They won't believe any of it. They'll know you're playing the Game."

"They may," Solas said with a somber nod. Heat crept over his cheeks, burning him as he considered again suggesting marriage and once more dismissed it. Clearing his throat, he murmured, "I intend to travel with you and Varric to Kirkwall—or to your clan, if you wish. If we are followed by spies it will prove a boring journey for them as I will not leave you."

"I'll need to write to my clan to let them know first and I doubt they'd get my letter and be able to answer before we have to leave. So that means Kirkwall. The journey will take weeks," Ellana said, making a face that was both hopeful and unhappy at once. "Can Abelas and the others spare you that long?"

With an effort he kept himself from wincing with his own hesitations at the absence and nodded. "I have been away that long before. Of course I will have to leave again before winter."

Now Ellana's lips twisted with sorrow while her eyes narrowed, darkening with anger as she laid a hand over her abdomen, immediately drawing Solas' gaze to the little motion. "If you miss the birth I'm going to name him after Dorian."

Flabbergasted, Solas stared at her with his mouth partly agape a moment before his brow furrowed. "You cannot be serious, vhenan."

"I am completely serious," she said, her expression hard and unyielding except for the small quiver of her lips. "Dorian's a good name and it will be fitting punishment for you."

Solas shook his head, blinking a few times as her earlier words registered with him anew, but from a different angle. "Him?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. The memory of Varric, Dorian, and Iron Bull bickering about the sex of his child returned again but now he didn't feel the same tension and irritation, only the pulse of excitement and the warm press of love swelling in his chest. "You believe our child is a boy?"

The twitch in her lips gave way to a grin that lit her eyes and made his heart pound suddenly with desire. "My brother had a daughter. It feels right that I should give the clan a son."

Before Solas could stop himself he blurted, "Not the clan."

She tilted her head, shooting him a wary glance, uncertain of his meaning. "What?"

"I'm sorry," Solas murmured, dropping his gaze to the bed and the barely touched food tray. "That was rude of me." The possessive heat still roiled inside him, hitching up his breathing rate. He tried to tamp it down as he struggled to explain himself. "I understand you see our child as belonging to clan Lavellan, but—forgive me—my first instinct was to…" He shook his head, frustration making him sigh and opt for bluntness. Lifting his eyes to search her green ones, he said, "Our child is ours, vhenan. It is Elvhen first. It is…mine."

Ellana stared at him a few heartbeats and then her lips curled in a smile. "Then I expect you to be there when he's born." Then, with a bit of annoyance, she added, "And there's no way you're going to keep him from meeting my clan."

"No, of course he will meet your clan, but…." Solas broke off, suddenly chuckling. "Now you've made me start calling our child him."

"You disapprove?" she asked, her voice tight.

"No," he murmured, contemplating it. "My concern is that we not forget that we do not truly know. Our child, and every child, deserves to be received by parents who will adore it without preconceptions and restrictions. In Elvhenan I saw far too many children with shattered confidence because they failed their families' expectations."

She scooted over the bed and shuffled toward him on her knees. Solas reached out to support her, embracing her and inhaling deeply. She smelled of ginger and lavender, one from her stomach calming tea and the other from the bath. "Boy or girl, mage or not, I'll love our child because it is ours. Ours first, as you said. My love is unconditional, emma lath, for both of you."

Smiling, Solas kissed her, and in the back of his mind made the decision to propose to her—but only once they'd escaped Halamshiral and the intrigue of the Game. She deserved to know he'd chosen to commit to her and the promise of their fledgling family because he wanted it, not because it might protect his alter ego as Fen'Harel.

____________________________________________

Next Chapter:

Clamping her mouth shut, Cassandra's eyes dropped to the floor as she sighed. "Then we have nothing further to say to each other—but I did this for you as much as for our security. I will always be your friend, and part of that is knowing when another has lost her way. Your feelings for Solas have allowed you to be blind to his—"

"Yes," Ellana growled, jabbing a finger in Cassandra's direction. "My feelings have allowed me to accept Solas for who and what he really is, not who I wish him to be, while you and the others only see him as a nefarious knife-eared apostate. If he were human you would not care."

Cassandra frowned. "And what is he exactly, Inquisitor?"

Chapter Text

Solas found Zevanni through the thick green mists of the raw Fade, standing at attention and waiting for him. Her brown hair was cropped short and her cinnamon skin had a grayish pallor in the less than flattering light of the Fade. She stood atop a small rounded hillock in the Fade, surrounded by stagnant, slimy pools of water.

He walked to her, taking his time and letting the Fade flow around him, its green mists caressing his skin. Reaching the hillock, he stared up at her lithe frame. She wore thick leather armor and a proud expression on her face. Her eyes found his and Solas felt something zinging like electricity wash over him. It set his heart pounding with anticipation. The silent communication between them as two Dreamers told him she'd had success.

Climbing the hillock, he did not speak until he was close enough to reach out and grasp her shoulder. "What have you found?"

Zevanni smiled, tightlipped but triumphant. One hand emerged from behind her back, palm up. The green mists of the Fade coalesced at the power of her will, flowing together and creating a transparent circular shape. An orb.

"A foci," she answered.

"Which Evanuris?" Solas asked, scrutinizing the ghostly image Zevanni had constructed in her palm for clues.

"Several," Zevanni said. "When I touch it I taste Dirthamen's magic, but also Falon'din and Sylaise."

Solas nodded, piecing the clues together from her explanation and his knowledge of Evanuris history. Falon'din had started a civil war when he attacked Dirthamen's lands, seeking more resources and slaves. Or out of vengeance against Dirthamen for some family drama. It began when Dirthamen, Falon'din's "brother," entered uthenera after his bond mate, Falon'Din's favorite daughter, left him due to his infidelity. Scandal followed and, somehow, Falon'Din's daughter wound up dead. Falon'Din blamed Dirthamen for it, as well as Mythal, though they of course denied any involvement in the death. With Dirthamen in uthenera to hide from that scandal, he was powerless to stop Falon'Din as he lay waste to his people.

Eventually Falon'Din moved onto Mythal's lands and that was finally when Mythal and the other Evanuris stepped in just in time to restore order. After bloodying Falon'Din in his own temple they combined power to bind Falon'Din in uthenera. The Evanuris eventually described the resulting chaos of Falon'Din's power grab and binding as his distraught reaction to Dirthamen vanishing into uthenera without telling him.

Nearly five hundred years later Dirthamen awoke and sought out his "brother" for an explanation but could not access him even in dreams because of the Evanuris' binding spell. He convinced the other Evanuris eventually to allow him to join Falon'Din for a few years under the same binding spell so that he could commune with his "brother" and see if Falon'Din could be unbound.

Somehow the Dalish had warped this horrific event into a tale of brotherly devotion where Dirthamen sought Falon'Din out in the beyond. They forgot the bloody civil war. They forgot Falon'Din's cruelty as he demanded the lower classes of Dirthamen's lands bow to him and submit to his vallaslin. They forgot that when these elves refused to kneel, Falon'Din tore them apart with a casual flick of his fingers and laughed about it.

Solas had seen it all first-hand—it'd been Falon'Din's civil war in fact that drew him out of the wilds and into Arlathan's court.

Solas brushed his fingers through the transparent foci, his lips curling in a snarl at the ancient memories. "Doubtless this foci was Dirthamen's originally, then became a spoil of war to both Falon'Din and Sylaise." He glanced at her face. "Where did you find it?"

"Forgotten in a Tevinter magister's attic, some family heirloom gathering dust." Her expression warped with disdain. "Fucking shem."

Like Mathrel and Lyris, Lanya and Var, Zevanni had served Solas before uthenera and knew exactly who and what he was. She was one of his most powerful lieutenants and could shape the Fade in her dreams despite the Veil. She'd been born to the middle class like him but hadn't escaped a noble's notice and soon found herself separated from her family and thrust into the Game in Arlathan's court. Solas had befriended her as the outsider she was, guiding her the way Mythal had with him. They'd been lovers periodically, but the relationship was mostly physical, a balm for them both to cope with the injustice of Elvhenan and the constant danger as they plotted against the Evanuris.

"Is it fully charged?" Solas asked, examining the image of the foci again.

"It burns yellow when I cast near it. Hurts like Elgar'nan's fire if I'm holding it."

Solas nodded and let out a little breath, closing his eyes. This changes everything. He'd imagined they'd not find another fully charged foci for years, but they'd gotten lucky. Searching in Tevinter had been the obvious choice from the start, but it satisfied multiple goals at one time for Solas. Tevinter had sacked Arlathan, making it a treasure trove of artifacts from Elvhenan. And it was also the seat of modern day slavery. Solas had spent the last two years taking on both issues with all the ferocity and stamina of his animal namesake.

"Tell me of the rebellion," he said.

Zevanni clenched her fist and the foci disappeared, dissolving into green Fade mists. "Last week was riots," she said, grinning. "Day before yesterday I killed a slaver in his sleep. Today my thieves brought me the foci. Tomorrow my spies have heard the some lords in Nevarra called for an alienage outside  Trevis to be purged with fire." Her grin hardened with bloodlust. "My people are in place and the city elves have been armed. Those soldiers are going to regret they were ever born. And once the fighting is over, we'll help them vanish and scatter."

He smiled, nodding his approval. "Very good."

Zevanni had always been ruthless and violent, but cunning as well. She'd organized rebellions among slaves before, and like Solas she could cast the spell to remove vallaslin. In Elvhenan that'd allowed her to recruit slaves freed of compulsion to the Evanuris. Now in the modern world it allowed her to remove Dalish vallaslin, letting them pass as city elves if desired. Because, encouragingly, angry Dalish clans near Tevinter who'd lost more than a few children or clan members to slavers, were happy to join Fen'Harel for revenge against the Imperium. According to Zevanni they made excellent guerrilla fighters, darting in to attack caravans of supplies or slaves and then flitting away like shadows.

Zevanni's brown eyes locked onto him, wide and dark with something like lust. She licked her lips. "The foci is what you needed to destroy the Veil," she said. "When do you strike? I want to be at your side when victory is near. You may need my magic."

Solas stared past her at the green stone of the Fade, the vapors winding and shifting idly. "There are extenuating circumstances that will delay me," he admitted, deliberately vague. "We must ensure this world is prepared for the chaos that is to come."

With a little impatient huff, Zevanni nodded. "As you say, Fen'Harel." She ducked into a bow. "I am currently traveling with several of my most trusted agents. We will reach the eluvian and enter the Crossroads in two days. Will I meet you in Revasan?"

"I am unable to leave the winter palace," he told her, scowling. "My position is too precarious to meet you. I will send Lyris and Mathrel in my stead."

"Pity," she said, her eyes roving over him.

Solas ignored her perusal and instead began issuing new orders. "Continue the chaos across Tevinter and Nevarra. Make the slavers count their every breath a blessing from their Maker. Bring your latest recruits into your dreams in two weeks and I will test their mettle as—" He stopped, catching his breath as a chill passed through him, prickling his skin and tensing his muscles.

Zevanni raised her eyebrows. "Hahren?"

Cold, ghostly fingers brushed Solas' ear. He batted one hand at it and twisted to search behind him, but the Fade was empty. A voice whispered in his ear: "They woke before dawn to catch you, the wolf in the snare."

"Go," he ordered Zevanni. "I must waken."

"Two weeks from now with the recruits?" Zevanni asked.

"Yes," Solas said, raising his voice with mounting impatience. "Now, go."

She nodded and pivoted, striding down the hillock at a jog. The Fade mists parted for her as she ran, splashing through the stagnant, slimy puddles. The raw Fade twisted around her, the rocks growing into slender tropical trees to reflect her physical location in the real world.

Solas closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath, and willed himself awake. Opening his eyes, he gasped as he saw Cole sitting on the bed beside him, his fingers on his ear. He checked with one hand, finding Ellana's warm body close, still asleep. He blinked up at Cole, realizing the sun had risen enough to illuminate their room in a bluish, soft light.

"Cole?" he asked, voice bleary and his heart still pounding away in his chest. "What's wrong?"

The spirit boy's eyes glazed over but his words trembled as he spoke. "She gives the order, hands clenching, bitter taste in her mouth, pain. She doesn't want it, but she won't risk doing nothing."

Ellana made a sleepy noise in her throat and mumbled, her hand finding his bare chest and stroking. Without looking away from Cole, Solas gripped her hand in his and squeezed. The sense of doom beat on him like the Fade stones he hurled at enemies. He already suspected he knew what Cole was trying to say.

"Are they coming to arrest me, Cole?"

"Armor clanking, swords clattering. 'Maker, let him come peacefully.'"

Solas let go of Ellana's hand and rubbed his face. "I see."

"Are you going to run?" Cole asked, blue eyes curious and innocent.

"No, but I appreciate the warning. You have my thanks—yet again." He felt Ellana stirring and said, "Will you watch over her?"

"Yes," Cole confirmed with a dip of his head. The broad brim of his hat blocked his face a moment. "She's bright and glimmering. Two souls. One is sharp, heavy, full. The other light, dreaming, formless. Both waiting, waiting…"

Despite the circumstances, Solas smiled, understanding Cole's spirit-speak easily. He twisted to caress Ellana's cheek, watching as she gradually came out of sleep, blinking up at him. "Solas?"

"Vhenan," he whispered. "Cole woke me with a warning. I believe Cassandra has called for my arrest sooner than we anticipated."

Her eyes sprang open wide and she sat up, cursing. "Fenedhis!" Before Solas could protest she was out of bed and scrambling to dress. She noticed Cole as she tore about the room, grabbing at the various pieces of her formalwear, and stopped to smile, friendly but tense with the storm that was fast approaching. "Hello, Cole. Thank you for helping us."

"I like helping," he answered, smiling guilelessly.

Ellana went to the privy and Solas heard her rustling about as she dressed, pouring water into the washbasin to scrub her face. Slow with reluctance, Solas left the warm comfort of their bed and grabbed his own clothes from the top of the gilded dresser nearby, shrugging into his tunic. He slipped the lacquered jawbone over his head, pausing to touch it and close his eyes, remembering the real animal it'd belonged to—his only friend for years after he first left his village and ventured alone into the wild.

"Old pain," Cole said behind him, his voice whispery. "Brown eyes glazed and lightless, breath shuddering out one last time—fur still so soft. 'Go in peace, my friend.'"

Solas smiled, sad at the reminder, and returned to dressing. As he slipped on his coat Ellana reemerged, her skin pallid and her expression drawn. Reaching for her, Solas embraced her. "Don't fight them, vhenan." He stroked her hair. "I will find a way out of this and then we will proceed as planned."

"I can't believe she'd do this…" Ellana said, choking on the words. "She can't just—"

A loud thumping came at the door and a male voice called out, "Inquisitor! Open the door!"

A chilled breeze wafted over Solas' scalp and he knew without looking that Cole had taken the moment to vanish. Sighing, Solas released Ellana and motioned to the door. "We had best not keep them waiting."

Stepping away from her just enough to cup her face in his hands, Solas kissed her, hoping to offer comfort. Cassandra and the others weren't going to harm him, truly. He just needed to outlast their suspicions and weather the interrogation to come. Considering he'd endured far worse scrutiny and suspicion from the Evanuris, he felt little more than the lash of irritation at the humans' interruption to his plans. But to Ellana it was a betrayal, a knife in the ribs, and seeing her pain made something inside him gnaw on itself.

When more pounding came at the door, Solas broke the kiss, pausing a moment to stare into her eyes, drinking in her features and brushing his thumb over her lips. "Ar lath ma, vhenan."

Releasing her, Solas strode to the door and opened it to see five Templars in full armor outside. Their presence sent cold prickles over his skin as his body instinctually reacted to their magic suppression abilities. This was something unique to this modern world. In Elvhenan magic was countered with stronger magic, or with devices like foci that could absorb and store it. The ancient elves saw no value in sapping or suppressing it.

"Apostate Solas," one of the Templars addressed him. "By decree of Divine Victoria, you are to be taken into custody." All five men tensed, hands on their sword hilts, ready to draw them.

Behind him Ellana's feet pounded over the carpet in muted thumps. She edged into the doorway next to him, glowering venomously at the Templars. "Solas is under protection of the Inquisition."

"Ellana," Solas murmured, gentle but firm.

The speaker nodded, his eyes narrowing in the visor of his shiny, steel helmet. "Divine Victoria understands that. She also understands that the Inquisition was formed to serve the Chantry." His lips curled in a snarl. "You will yield, Inquisitor."

"Ellana, let me go with them willingly—as a show of good faith." His heart hammered, sweat beading under his armpits and along the groove in his back.

She looked at him, fury and fear and pain laced together in her beautiful face. Solas held himself rigid, refusing to reach out or kiss her in front of the guards no matter how much he longed to do so. But he did plead with her using his eyes, confident that Cassandra and these Templars weren't truly a threat. This was just another part of the Game and if he could reassure their former allies he posed no serious threat…

Nostrils flaring with emotion, Ellana glared at the Templars now. "One of you, take me to Divine Victoria."

"We are not yours to command," the speaker snapped at her. Then, to Solas, he motioned. "Come along with us."

"Of course," Solas said, polite and docile. He entered the hallway, letting the five Templar surround him, making his body stiffen at the nearness as his magic recoiled. Sneaking a last look at Ellana, he saw her red in the face with rage, hands clenched into fists at her sides. Then the Templars started marching down the hallway—an escort of jailers.

I'll return soon, emma lath, he promised her inwardly. Please, be patient.

____________________________________

"You left me no choice, Inquisitor," Cassandra said, baring her teeth in a grimace. "Every report I receive from Leliana and Cullen about the Crossroads only leads me to suspect Solas further. We tried to make you see reason but—"

"Reason?" Ellana cut in, shouting and shaking with fury. "Reason? You call arresting the man who saved my life at Haven and was instrumental in closing the Breach reasonable?" Her shoulders heaved, hunched with the tension setting her body rigid. "And why? Based on ridiculous suspicions that he's some kind of vessel for one of my people's gods? The worst of them, in fact." She shook her head only to sway slightly, the room spinning.

"It is not as farfetched as you make it sound," Cassandra insisted. "We have met Mythal. We know this other wolf god of yours is free. At any rate, it is now clear Solas has been deceiving us for years, Inquisitor. If there is another explanation you're aware of, I'd welcome it. I did not want to order his arrest, but it was clear to me—as well as Leliana and Commander Cullen—that Solas has been using us to deal with these Qunari."

"And I'm glad he has," Ellana retorted. "Did you forget the Qunari planned to have us both killed in a gaatlok explosion? Solas saved your life and mine by exposing it."

"Yes," Cassandra admitted with a nod. "But it was obvious he only did so because he had run out of other options. He knew of this threat long ago but chose to hide it from us. He did not trust us, Inquisitor." Her brown eyes softened and her lips twisted in a tender frown. "He did not even trust you."

The words stung Ellana, particularly because she couldn't deny their truth. Solas had withheld so much from them—but she found she couldn't resent him for it. In his place, with so much at risk, she'd have hesitated too. She was doing just that now. The truth was, though she called Cassandra, Dorian, and her advisors her friends, she had no way of knowing how they would react to learning the truth about Solas. Rwevealing him seemed like too great a risk. Not to mention a terrible betrayal.

Choosing to ignore Cassandra's point, Ellana said, "How long will you keep him in custody? What charges are you leveling against him? Suspected elven trickster god? What's the punishment for that particular crime, most holy?"

Cassandra scowled, her lips pinching into a hard line. "He is an apostate, Inquisitor. I need no other charges and I will hold him until I am convinced he is no threat to the Chantry, or to the Inquisition…or to you."

Ellana scoffed, rolling her eyes. "The only one posing a danger to me right now is you, Cassandra." The enormous, luxurious bedchambers Cassandra stayed in as Divine swirled around her and her stomach clenched. One hand to her head and the other to her stomach, she concentrated on not losing what little she'd eaten for breakfast.

"Inquisi—Ellana…" Cassandra said, her voice abruptly gentle with sympathy. Ellana heard her step forward and a moment later Cassandra's hand gripped her shoulder. "I am so—"

Ellana batted the other woman's hand away and withdrew several steps, backing toward the closed door of the Divine's bedchambers. "No, you don't get to ease your conscience apologizing for this, Cassandra." Whipping around to face the door, she paused with her hand on the knob, swallowing as she fought back vertigo and bile. "Will I be allowed to visit him?"

"Of course," Cassandra replied. "And no harm will come to him—assuming he causes no trouble."

Ellana gnashed her teeth together, her grip on the doorknob tightening. "And what will you do if you believe he is a threat?"

The silence in the room stretched, heavy and thick. Ellana heard the sound of her pulse whooshing in her ears with each beat. Sweat doused her body. Finally Cassandra said, "I do not know."

Glaring over her shoulder, Ellana saw Cassandra had lowered her gaze to the floor. The Divine's expression was tight and unhappy. "You don't know or you won't tell me?" Ellana asked, almost growling.

Cassandra looked to her and then away again, her jaw squaring. "I do not know," she repeated.

But Ellana couldn't stop the answers to her own question spinning through her mind. What did the Chantry and Templars do with any mage deemed too dangerous even for a Circle? He could be made Tranquil. Her blood ran cold and her innards curdled with both horror and outrage. It seemed impossible that the humans could make an Evanuris Tranquil, but the mere idea...

Pivoting around again, glowering and shaking with rage, Ellana said, "Tell me they will not even consider the Rite of Tranquility. Promise me, Cassandra."

The Divine's expression pinched with pain. "I will never give such an order."

"But you'd sit back and let it happen, is that it?" Ellana asked, snarling.

Cassandra shook her head, her eyes narrowing. "No, Inquisitor. I will not allow it. But should Solas prove to be a threat I will have no option but to imprison him or order his execution. The Rite may soon look preferable to those options."

"I cannot believe you would do this," Ellana hissed, shaking her head. Her knees felt wobbly. "I thought you were my friend. I trusted you, Cassandra."

"I had no choice," Cassandra repeated, her voice and expression sad. "Solas' own actions brought us to this point, Inquisitor. If he is some kind of elven version of Corypheus we are all in great danger. My advice to you is to—"

"I don't want your advice," Ellana cut in, slashing the air with her left hand. Oddly, she felt her fingers tingle, but the Anchor remained dormant.

Clamping her mouth shut, Cassandra's eyes dropped to the floor as she sighed. "Then we have nothing further to say to each other—but I did this for you as much as for our security. I will always be your friend, and part of that is knowing when another has lost her way. Your feelings for Solas have allowed you to be blind to his—"

"Yes," Ellana growled, jabbing a finger in Cassandra's direction. "My feelings have allowed me to accept Solas for who and what he really is, not who I wish him to be. While you and the others only see him as a nefarious knife-eared apostate. If he were human you would not care."

Cassandra frowned. "And what is he exactly, Inquisitor?"

Flinching as she realized how close she'd come to revealing too much, Ellana turned and ripped open the door, calling over her shoulder as she stormed from the room: "My beloved."

_________________________________________

The Templars around Solas stood at attention, their bodies charged with lyrium. They repelled the Fade, making the waking world hard and unchangeable, smothering the mana in Solas' blood, skin, and spirit. Considering he'd been born a mage, like all Elvhen before the Veil, the disconcerting abilities of the Templars made his flesh crawl with revulsion.

He'd been in a windowless underground stone cell for about three hours now, guarded by four Templars. Two remained at the locked gate over his cell while the other two stayed inside the tiny space, staring off into space and ignoring him. After the first hour Solas had given up standing and waiting in favor of sitting on the chilled stone floor. Pulling his hood up to shield his scalp from the cold stone, he leaned back and tried to doze to pass the time—but the guards in his cell commanded him to stop.

"Am I not allowed rest?" Solas asked them, scowling.

"Not without a draught to suppress dreams," the right guard told him in a deep, grumbling voice.

Solas restrained a bitter snarl. There were herbs to block sleepers from accessing the Fade, but Solas never used them—for obvious reasons. But the unfortunate truth of having allies turn on you was that they knew the most about you. Cassandra and Leliana may not understand his abilities as a Dreamer and they couldn't begin to grasp the power he possessed as an Evanuris, but they did know the power of making him uncomfortable and just how to do it.

Obedient and passive, Solas then remained awake and used meditation to pass the time instead. Turning his thoughts inward, he refocused the mana in his core, steadying himself for a somewhat difficult fight if it became necessary. He made sure to murmur aloud to reassure his guards that he wasn't actually sleeping. The Templars likely felt his magical ministrations, even though they were internal and should have been invisible. It was the same way he sensed their ability to deny magic. They were foils of each other and despite Solas' earlier casualness with Ellana about the dangers Templars posed to himself, now he could not help but instinctually feel a chill of fear.

At long last, after over three hours, the guards at the door to his cell admitted another Templar with a slightly different suit of armor. The metal gleamed and clanked, heavy and authoritative. The man wore a helmet with the bristling feathers Solas had seen so much of in Red Templars during the fight with Corypheus. A commander of some sort.

"Elven apostate," the commander said, his tone formal and cold. "By order of Divine Victoria, you are to submit to questioning at the hands of myself and Lady Nightingale. Will you come peaceably?"

Solas gave a slight nod. "I will."

The commander motioned with one hand. "Bring him."

The two guards inside his cell strode forward to reach for him. Solas grimaced at their firm, frigid grips as the metal bit easily through his clothing. He twisted, tearing one arm free in a little motion. "I can walk of my own—"

One guard elbowed him across the face and Solas gasped, recoiling and holding his nose. He tasted blood and felt pain radiate from where his teeth had cut into his lip. Glaring at the guard and then the commander, he dabbed at the blood with his sleeve, biting back the surge of fury scalding him from within. "How very expected. Was that truly necessary?"

"The prisoner will not speak," the commander growled and then turned and walked out of the cell.

With his guards still holding him by the arms, Solas only half-walked from his cell as the guards also partly dragged him into the bleak gray hallway. Water dripped somewhere, leaking from a pipe or a crack in the palace's foundation. The air smelled musty and stagnant and there were only two torches flickering at opposite ends of the passageway for light. Solas focused on his mana core, like a man petting a beloved pet to find strength when facing turmoil. The strength of it provided comfort, reminding him that he could escape at any time, though he had no intention of doing so.

The guards escorted him up a set of stairs and to a dingy interrogation room with a crude wooden table and several chairs. Leliana stood in one corner, her blue eyes somber as she watched. The guards brought him to one end of the table and sat him in the chair, then stepped backward and took up positions behind Solas near the door. The Templar commander stomped in after them and Solas heard the metal door creak shut on rusty hinges.

"Was hitting him really necessary?" Leliana asked, irritation flashing in her gaze.

"He resisted," the commander grumbled.

"I did not," Solas said, wiping at his bleeding nose and sniffing. "I merely suggested that I'd prefer walking here as opposed to being dragged."

Leliana's glare aimed at the commander almost made Solas smile. The thuggish brutality of the Templars was already working in his favor.

"Solas was instrumental in closing the Breach," Leliana said, still glowering at the commander. "He is to be treated with respect at all times as long as he does not resist." She reached inside her pocket and fished out a handkerchief, moving to the table and extending it out to him. "Here."

Solas took the handkerchief but didn't thank her as he dabbed at his lip and nose. "I would prefer a healing spell, if I am allowed."

"You are not," the commander said. "Magic use is forbidden in apostate prisoners."

Solas gritted his teeth together and ignored him, focusing instead on Leliana. "Surely I have earned enough respect serving the Inquisition to afford me one healing spell?"

She sighed, closing her eyes. "I will allow it."

"Lady Nightingale, I must protest—"

"You owe him this," Leliana snapped, motioning at Solas. "For hitting him despite his cooperation. Divine Victoria's orders specifically stated he was to be well-treated."

"He's an apostate," the Templar commander snarled. "A powerful one."

"I understand that," Leliana retorted. "But he has never used his magic irresponsibly while in service to the Inquisition and he is not resisting us now. There is no reason a harmless healing spell should not be allowed, especially when that spell is to undo damage that should not have happened in the first place." She turned her gaze on Solas and nodded meaningfully. "Please, Solas. Go ahead."

At her permission he drew only the barest amount of mana from his core and murmured the quick incantation over himself. A moment later the pain in his nose and lips faded, leaving only an itchy tingling as the magic knit the small wounds together. Using the handkerchief again, Solas wiped at the residual blood on his face, cleaning it away.

"Solas," Leliana began then, her voice solemn and her gaze heavy with a sort of exhausted weariness. "You know why we have taken you into custody, I'm sure. We will hold you in custody until such time as we have learned the truth of your origins."

"Then I suspect you will hold me the remainder of my natural lifetime, spymaster," Solas said with a little shake of his head. "As I have told you everything noteworthy and that has not satisfied you. I cannot confess to be something I am not."

Leliana crossed her arms over her chest, staring at him stolidly. "If you are not a vessel of Fen'Harel, then how do you explain the sentinel elves following your leadership and calling you by that name?"

"Fen'Harel is a myth," Solas said, scowling. "There are no gods."

"And no Maker?" the commander asked, his tone promising punishment if Solas answered incorrectly. Leliana's gaze had gone cold as well.

"I made no such claims," Solas murmured. "I have no evidence for or against your Maker, but in my journeys in the Fade I have seen ancient memories and reflections like ripples from a stone cast long ago into a pool. In these dreams and memories I have seen glimpses of the true figures who inspired the elven gods and so I can say with confidence that they were merely mortal mages." He set the handkerchief onto the table, folding it neatly. "The sentinel elves did not consider Fen'Harel to be a true god or even a singular being in the way they do with Mythal. He is much like Shartan from the Chant—a rebellious figure. Dread Wolf is more a title to the sentinel elves. As the leader of a spy network myself, Abelas' elves insisted on calling me by that name on occasion as a sign of respect."

Leliana's lips curled in a coy smile that didn't touch her eyes. "How interesting. Yet I still find myself with more questions than answers. For instance, why are you and the sentinels in the Crossroads in the first place? What are your goals?"

Solas was sweating, fighting the instinct to fidget under her scrutiny. The knot of his lie was a tangled, unstable thing and the more questions Leliana asked the more likely it'd unravel and give way. When he ran out of things that hedged on the truth without going too far he'd have to start refusing to answer. Once that happened she'd know she had him trapped. And unfortunately she'd already come upon that point.

Forcing a smile, Solas said, "I would hardly be a very good spymaster myself if I divulged such secrets."

Leliana clasped her hands behind her back and lifted her chin in an authoritative stance. "And I would be remiss if I accepted such an answer when you have been operating within the Inquisition for years as though we might become enemies. Your spies are not merely within the winter palace. You have infiltrated our ranks as well, have you not?"

"A handful," Solas hedged. "And only after I began leaving Skyhold. I needed updates when I was not physically present. My desire was to ensure the Inquisitor remained safe."

"And you did not trust myself and Commander Cullen to adequately protect her?" Leliana asked, frowning with disapproval.

"Forgive me," Solas murmured, averting his gaze, feigning embarrassment. "I worried for her safety and preferred knowing I'd seen to it personally." That wasn't untrue, either, a fact that made his voice soft with tenderness when he spoke. "And had I not done so I would not have uncovered the Qunari spies within your ranks—which allowed me to save her life and Divine Victoria's."

The commander behind him shifted while he spoke and Solas resisted the desire to look at the man's face, but he suspected he'd see something like surprise. Chances were high that Leliana and Cassandra had ordered his arrest using the Templars but neglected to share much information with them. Ellana and her advisors had been covering up the Qunari plot on their lives, determined to clean up the mess before allowing anyone else to know of it. He kept the smirk from his lips with an effort, wondering if the Templar commander regretted his earlier cruelty, though he doubted it. Even with Cassandra's reforms the Templars were just brutish thugs who weren't encouraged to think, only to obey.

Leliana frowned briefly and then switched topics. "You've said this Dragon's Breath plot by the Qunari has them collecting magical artifacts. I seem to recall your near-obsession with one particular artifact two years ago—Corypheus' elven orb. Tell me, is that perhaps why your elven spy network and the sentinels are within the Crossroads? You're seeking another orb." Her brow furrowed, her expression dangerous. "For what purpose? I cannot believe you intend to tear open the sky as Corypheus did."

He stared at her, stunned that she'd made the connection. He also realized this was why she and Cassandra had ordered his arrest so suddenly. They worried about him having access to the Qunari base and its artifacts.

Smothering his surprise, Solas feigned a small, enigmatic smile. "Such artifacts have always interested me, much in the way relics from the time of Andraste or the first Inquisition would fascinate you. However, my interest in them now has grown because my hope is to save the Inquisitor from the Anchor should it destabilize."

The spymaster was silent a moment, her eyes flicking over him, judging his answer. Slowly, her expression softened slightly, though her eyes remained wary and doubtful. "We will take that into consideration during our operations there."

"You are sending forces after the Qunari without me?" Solas asked, eyebrows rising with surprise and then furrowing with disapproval. "You are putting your people in danger, Leliana. Even I do not know what artifacts will be at the Qunari base. Some of them could cause explosions like the one at the conclave. If you will not allow me to guide your people than at least permit me to ask Abelas to accompany them. He can—"

"Our people will manage well enough," Leliana cut him off, smiling coyly. He realized she'd been reading his reaction and found something interesting—most likely damning.

Schooling his expression and maintaining composure despite the itch of impatience that crawled over his skin at this latest news, Solas nodded benignly. "Very well."

The thought of all those artifacts, most of them from Elvhenan, winding up in the Inquisition's hands made his stomach clench. His people would need the power and magic inside those artifacts in the inevitable wars to come as the People reclaimed their heritage as immortal mages. But the Qunari didn't possess the foci Zevanni had found in Tevinter, and that was the most important artifact for his plans currently.

He drew in a quick breath and asked, "What else would you know of me? I'd prefer to finish this and not to spend the night locked up here. Also, I have not had a meal since last night."

"You will be fed shortly," the Templar commander said, almost grunting the words.

"How reassuring," Solas murmured, still looking at Leliana. "Am I to be released shortly as well?"

"To a Circle, yes," the Templar commander growled.

Now Solas twisted in his seat, snarling at the commander. "Excuse me?" He faced Leliana again, feeling his cheeks flush with rage. "Is this true?"

The spymaster merely stared at him, her expression unreadable. Solas' stomach seemed to drop through the floor, his heart pounding and his body breaking out in cold sweat even as his hands clenched, shaking with fury. He would not join a Circle. For them to even threaten him with it…

"I understand you've displayed some spells that even the Tevinter ambassador was unfamiliar with," the commander said, his voice dripping with revulsion. "The Val Royeaux Circle's First Enchanter has already agreed to come here personally to assess you. She'll be here tomorrow afternoon we expect."

"Is this true?" Solas asked, hissing. His lips curled back from his teeth as he glared at Leliana, shaking with rage. "After three years of loyal service to the Inquisition, this is my reward? To be enslaved inside one of your Circles?" Leliana met his stare but remained silent, her eyes searching over him and her body tense.

"The White Spire is hardly a prison," the commander said, snorting. "The mages live in pampered luxury, as good as any nobles. They'd certainly be able to get you better clothes than what you're wearing now."

"Yes," Solas spat without looking at the other man. "But even a gilded cage is still a cage and the mages are anything but free. The Chantry takes their children away and forbids them from seeing their families or taking lovers." He'd never be able to live freely with Ellana, never raise their child…

"I'm sure they'd make an exception for you," the commander said snidely.

"Yes, and I will still be a slave to your petty Andrastian fear of magic."

"Watch your tongue," the commander snarled.

"Or what?" Solas snapped, glowering over his shoulder at the Templar. "What more can you threaten me with? A lifetime of imprisonment here? What is the difference?"

"You could always be made Tranquil," the commander said, grinning.

Cursing in elven, Solas fought to breathe through his fury. His cheeks burned as if aflame. Gnashing his teeth and facing Leliana again, Solas placed his fists on the table, glaring at the spymaster. "I have nothing further to say to either of you." He could feel his core seething, ready to boil over with the power of his anger. "Please escort me to my cell."

Now at last Leliana arched an eyebrow. "You will not submit to the First Enchanter's assessment of your magical abilities?"

"Return me to my cell," Solas growled. Before I petrify you all. He stared Leliana down, waiting for her to flinch or reveal this had been a ruse to test the limits of his patience. Behind him the Templar commander shifted and Solas felt his skin prickle as the other man likely prepared for a fight. He could probably feel Solas' tumultuous magic right at his fingertips, ready to attack. What he didn't know was that the attack would happen without Solas even moving. There'd be no spoken spell, no wave of his hand or flick of his fingers. He'd brace for an attack when he felt Solas draw the mana but he'd never have a chance to deflect it before he turned into stone.

Leliana clucked her tongue then, smiling her small, coy smile. "Solas, there's no need for you to get so angry over this. I would never force the Inquisitor's Fade expert into a Circle. My only stipulation is that you allow the White Spire's First Enchanter to assess your magical talents and to collect a few drops of your blood in a phylactery. That will be enough to reassure the Templars you—"

"No," Solas spat, interrupting her. "I will not relinquish my blood to anyone." He thumped his fists on the table. "We are finished here."

"Insufferable, stubborn knife-ear," the commander grumbled behind Solas.

"Call me that again and I will kill you," Solas growled only to wince. His temper definitely got the better of him.

"Try it," the commander taunted sarcastically and then grunted. "Knife-ear."

"Enough," Leliana intervened, raising her voice. "Commander, please escort the prisoner back to his cell—and do not make him bleed this time." Her blue eyes pinned Solas. "We will continue this discussion after you have had a meal and had some time to contemplate my offer. We will not force you into a Circle should you agree to certain concessions—including the phylactery. But we will discuss those later." She motioned toward the commander. "Take him."

Solas rose to his feet and pivoted to glare at the commander before the other man could reach him. The Templar stiffened, ready to fight, but Solas strode past him for the door at a brisk but steady pace. Additional guards had gathered outside the interrogation room and several had drawn their swords and had their shields raised. Solas let them surround him, hoping they'd touch him or manhandle him along the way and make him lose his temper again—if only because he could be done with this charade. His patience had grown as thin as the Veil around the Breach in Haven. At any misstep by his guards he'd crack like an egg and wind up petrifying the lot of them.

At his cell he strode immediately to the far wall and watched with his heart pounding as the guards locked the gate. Two guards stood inside his cell with him, still watching him to make sure he didn't sleep. Glaring at them as he called out to the hallway, Solas said, "I request I be allowed to speak with Inquisitor Lavellan."

"Shut up," a guard growled from outside.

If they refused to release him without forcing him to provide blood for a phylactery, which would allow him to be tracked by Templars, Solas would have no choice but to show his hand and escape. To keep himself calm he returned to meditation, but his mind refused to empty and his fingers kept twitching, imagining the spells he would cast. The Templars' presence still made his skin prickle as they deadened the power of magic within their vicinity, but Solas knew it'd take an army of them to dampen his magic. He had only to wait a little longer to be sure…

______________________________________

Author note: So now things are definitely falling apart for Solas and Ellana. I typically think of this story having something like four arcs. We are now exiting the Exalted Council summit plot arc and entering...what comes next.

Chapter Text

"The Inquisition had no right to banish the Wardens from Orlais," the Orlesian ambassador said, his nasally voice grating against Ellana's ears. "The order provides an invaluable service during times of Blight. Without the Wardens Orlais and all of Thedas are in danger."

Josephine cast Ellana a sidelong look, no doubt checking to see if she wanted to reply. Subtly, Ellana moved her head and flicked a finger, indicating Josephine should speak. The hot afternoon and her anxious thoughts about Solas had left Ellana fighting a losing battle with her touchy stomach. She kept her other hand over her queasy belly, as if she could comfort herself with the touch. Josephine had been keeping a worried, watchful eye on her and encouraging her to drink the tea they'd supplied. It wasn't working, to the point that even the ginger tea had been refusing to play nicely.

Seeing Cassandra in her ridiculous Divine robes wasn't helping, either. At least the other woman seemed unable to meet her stare for more than an instant.

"We understand the danger," Josephine answered. "But as there is no sign of Blight at this time it was clear the Wardens presented a far greater threat as pawns of Corypheus."

"But Corypheus has been dead two years," Arl Teagan snapped, his weasel-like face contorting with derision. "The Wardens must be recalled at once."

And suddenly bile was in Ellana's throat. She shot upright, her chair squawking as it scraped the floor of the pavilion. With her hand clasped over her mouth, Ellana bolted for the short stairs leading to the enclosed gardens around the pavilion. The small crowd of nobility and visitors seated behind the panel where Ellana and Josephine sat for the summit gasped and broke out in whispers.

"What is the meaning of this?" Arl Teagan demanded.

Ellana reached the end of the stairs and bent over, retching at the base of a decorative bush. Heaving several times and spitting stomach acids and bile, she finally groaned with relief as the nausea abated for the moment. Now she needed some mint and water to rinse the putrid taste from her mouth. That thought reminded her immediately that Solas wouldn't be waiting for her in her bedchambers tonight. Her chest tightened, aching with worry and fear.

"I must apologize," Josephine said, sounding flustered. "The Inquisitor has been unwell."

"I am concerned for the Inquisitor's health," Cassandra said. "I suggest we adjourn for the rest of the day to give her time to recover."

Creators take you, Cassandra, Ellana thought and scowled, remembering there were no Creators. She spat again into the bush. Then, wiping at her mouth, she squared her shoulders and marched up the short stairs into the pavilion again. The nobles and others in the small audience gawked. Masked ladies in their finery cringed from her and whispered to husbands or friends behind fluttering fans. Their hissed words were all variations of the same rumor and Ellana's ears were too sharp to miss it.

"…with child, for sure."

At the panel she offered the ambassadors and Cassandra a little bow. "Please excuse me. I'm afraid I'm unable to continue at this time."

"Perhaps we should resume the Exalted Council in about nine months?" Arl Teagan asked, sneering.

Josephine was watching her, brown eyes pleading: Deflect, distraction, and humor!

"I hardly think it will take me that long to wash the taste of vomit from my mouth, ambassador. We can resume tomorrow," she said, turning on her heel and striding for the exit. Though she kept her head up and shoulders back, Ellana knew by the smirking looks the audience sent her way that she wasn't fooling anyone.

Outside the pavilion she found an elven Inquisition scout and ordered him to bring her to the winter palace's cellblock to see Solas. He nodded obediently and as Ellana took in the shape of his face—elongated and with particularly narrow, pronounced ears—she wondered if this was one of Solas' spies. She followed the scout through the palace's narrow corridors and grand halls until they left the gilded sections behind and passed into passageways that were tighter and made of gray stone. Eventually they reached a set of broad double doors made of rough-hewn wood. Two human guards stood watch, their armor and masks declaring them Orlesian.

"Inquisitor Lavellan wishes entrance," the scout announced her.

The men nodded and one of them unlatched the doors, letting Ellana and the scout through. At least the Orlesians still respect my authority, Ellana thought to herself. She rooted through her formalwear to find the pouch of mint and ginger Solas had given her a few days ago. She popped a mint leaf into her mouth and chewed to try and get rid of the vile taste of vomit.

They passed through another dank, poorly lit passageway and descended a stairwell to a lower level, guarded this time by Templars. These guards glared at her but didn't stop them. At the bottom of the stairs another Templar, a woman this time, did step into their path. "Halt," she commanded, her armor clanking. "State your business."

"Inquisitor Lavellan wishes to see her Fade expert," the scout answered for her. Ellana didn't miss the hint of anger in the man's voice.

The Templar woman nodded, her eyes flying from the scout to Ellana. "If you'll follow me, your worship." She motioned at the scout. "You stay here."

"Yes," the scout said, nodding and obedient though Ellana saw his lips quirk downward with displeasure. Definitely one of Solas' spies, she thought.

The Templar escorted her deeper into the cellblock. The air took on a faintly moldy smell and Ellana cringed at it, grimacing as her stomach churned again with nausea. Soon the guard brought her to a cell with an iron-wrought gate over the narrow door. Two Templars stood watch on either side of the entrance. Pretending to have no interest in her as she moved close to the bars.

"Solas?" she called, squinting and unable to see him. The cell had a narrow entrance, with a dogleg just an arm's length beyond the gate, meaning the opposite corner and much of the far wall were obscured. It was likely an isolation tactic as well as a way to make escape more difficult. With the dogleg and the narrow entrance the Templars could quickly block the entrance with their bodies, preventing escape.

She heard rustling from inside the cell and then the clank of metallic armor. She frowned as she saw another Templar guard inside the cell move into the entrance, blocking it. "You may speak to the prisoner, but he is not allowed to move to the bars."

Ellana's jaw fell open a moment and then her hands clenched into fists. She gripped the bars and cursed at the guard, "Get out of the way! How dare you…"

"Vhenan," Solas' voice came from just around the corner, out of sight. "Please, you must not worry yourself needlessly. I am well."

The sound of his smooth voice, heavy with what sounded like sadness, threatened to break her. She made a little choking sound, involuntarily inhaling as the mixture of anxiety and rage strangled her with burning hands. Her eyes stung with tears but she fought them back. "Are you soon to be released?"

He chuckled, humorless and somber. "No. Leliana has told me I must submit blood to a phylactery, so that these Templars may be able to chase me to the ends of Thedas if they wish. I will never agree to such a blatant restriction on my freedom."

Ellana's hands on the bars tightened until she could feel her tendons stretching to the point of pain. She snarled at the Templar in the entryway, baring her teeth and gritting them. "Shem bastards," she growled.

"Leliana may yet see reason," Solas told her, but she couldn't miss the doubt in his tone. "But they have already threatened to coerce me into a Circle, or suggested the Rite of Tranquility." Now she heard the anger deepening his voice and felt her own fury ignite at it.

Closing her eyes, she pressed her forehead against the cold iron bars. "Na nadas him revas." You must be free.

The guard grumbled, "Speak in Common."

Ellana ignored the guard's warning, her body shaking with the force of her conviction, her mind spinning. He'd told her he could escape at any time, that he had no fear of being forced into a Circle…but her chest ached and it was hard to breathe imagining him enduring here for days, weeks, or months. If he would not expose his power then she would have to take action.

"Vhenan," he replied, his voice sounding strangled. There was a soft rustling sound and footsteps over the stone and then he appeared behind the Templar, his eyes dark and glinting in the dimness. "Venavis." Stop.

Another Templar from inside the cell—they had two guards on him in there, Ellana realized—growled, "Are you two deaf? Common only."

"Ar nadas lasa mala revas," Ellana said, raising her voice with defiance. I must give you your freedom.

The Templar to Ellana's left shifted and slapped the iron bars with his armored hand right beside her head, making the gate rattle and clatter. She gasped, startled and jumping before glaring at him. The Templar said, "Last warning. No elven nonsense."

"Patience," Solas said to her, the soothing velvet of his voice making her throat tighten and her chest ache with love. His expression was twisted, lips parted and eyes narrowed with emotion. "Visit me again tonight before you sleep." He paused, lips pinching into a hard line. "They will not allow me to dream."

"Fenedhis," she cursed, glaring at the Templar.

"Dareth'shiral, vhenan," Solas murmured, smiling sadly.

She licked her lips, about to tell him she loved him, when the Templar inside the cell with Solas lashed out, knocking the elven mage backward into the wall. "You were warned, you knife-eared bastard."

"Solas," Ellana shouted, shaking the bars of his cell. She could just see Solas' face, his lips curled in a snarl of rage as the Templar moved to stand in the doorway, his back to his companion as yet another barrier between their prisoner and Ellana. "Damn you—he was just saying goodbye!"

"We warned you," the guard to her left snarled. "No elven rubbish." He reached for her, his armored hands rough and bruising. Ellana fought, letting out a cry and twisting. Defiant with fury, she spat, "Ar u na'lin emma assan, shemlen." I will see your blood on my arrow.

The Templar was stronger than her, easily twisting her arm. Pain streaked through her as he pivoted her away from the cell, intent on dragging her from it. Ellana gnashed her teeth together and let out a strangled cry, still trying to fight even as the world spun with vertigo. "Stop resisting," the Templar behind her ordered.

And then the world seemed to explode as all of her senses came alive so fast she couldn't process it all. From the cell behind her came the popping thump of a Veilstrike and the clatter of Templar armor smashing into the stone. Then another noise cut through the air, making the iron gate rattle. Ellana's skin prickled, waves of heat radiating through her. Her left hand burned with the sudden cutting pain of the Anchor flaring to life and she hissed through her teeth at it.

The guards both started to shout, their footsteps pounding on the stone, but Ellana couldn't process the words before another wave of dizziness made her stumble and collapse. Pins and needles raced over her flesh and her stomach clenched. A crackling sound echoed through the corridor—and then heavy silence fell.

Blinking and cradling her glowing left hand, Ellana twisted her neck to look behind her and gasped. The Templar who'd grabbed her had been petrified in mid-motion, his shield raised as he'd turned to face the cell. The other Templar guard, also a statue now, stood in front of the cell, his sword and shield both raised.

Breathing hard and shallow with shock, Ellana rose to her feet and stumbled backward, eyes wide. Distantly she heard voices calling, footsteps thumping on stone. "Solas?" she called, her voice trembling.

A light tread crunched on the floor and a heartbeat later her lover emerged with a look that was both furious and despairing at once. "Vhenan," he said. "Ir abelas. I…lost my temper when he hurt you." His gaze flew to her hand and the anger fled, his brow furrowing with misery. "The Anchor reacted."

"How did you—what did you…" She broke off, shaking her head and groaning. "You were utterly serious when you said there was no Circle that could hold you." She stared at the Templars turned to statues, the iron cell door that'd been blasted from its hinges. She felt her knees go weak.

"We have no time for explanations," Solas said, his face warping with tension. "We must be gone. They're coming."

She was lightheaded, her hand fiery with pain from the Anchor. Glancing down the hallway, she saw the shadows of the approaching Templars. "There's only one way—"

Solas lunged for her, wrapping his arms around her. Ellana yelped with surprise and had a moment to see five Templars and the Inquisition scout who'd escorted her here round the corner. Then the world went black and her skin came alive again, pulses of prickling heat tearing through her. It was both pleasure and pain, making her cry out. Her body seemed to suddenly be weightless, floating—and then falling.

Light exploded in her eyes a second later as a mist made of pinpricks of purple light vanished with a hiss. Her knees gave out and she gagged, falling forward—but strong arms held her around the waist and shoulders, propping her upright. She coughed, trying to catch her breath and blinking moisture from her eyes as the world gradually made sense again.

She was in a brightly lit bedchamber—her bedchambers inside the palace. "How…?"

"I'm sorry," Solas murmured into her ear. "My actions have condemned us both. We must flee through the eluvian."

Her knees shook again as she tried to place her full weight on them. Solas' arms kept her from falling, his breath warm on her neck and hair. Clinging to him, she shook, cold with shock. "I think I might retch."

"Breathe deeply," he instructed her, his voice soft with tenderness. "Empty your mind. Focus on reality and on my voice."

Sucking in a breath, Ellana stared at the bedspread and the nightstand where a pitcher of water and a washbasin waited. Thinking of the water gave her strength with the distraction. "I need a drink."

"I doubt alcohol will help, vhenan."

"Of water," she clarified, her voice hoarse.

"Of course," he said, nuzzling her ear and then half-guiding, half-carrying her to the bed. He eased her onto it and poured water from the pitcher into a small cup and handed it to her. She accepted it without meeting his gaze, but her hand shook so badly the water sloshed out. Solas took the water back from her and brought the cup to her lips like a mother tending a child. She closed her eyes as she sipped, letting the cool, crisp taste ground her.

"Ir abelas," he apologized again, whispering. "This is my fault. I did not think. My reaction was excessive and you're suffering for my foolishness."

When he removed the cup from her lips, Ellana sighed, some of the tension easing as the pins and needles sensation faded. The water had calmed her in mind and body, letting a bit of her strength return. She flexed her left hand, feeling the pain of the Anchor diminishing though it continued glowing. "What happened?"

Solas' eyes were somber, his expression heavy with something akin to shame. "Your body cannot conduct magic with the Veil in place, but like all of the People you remain sensitive to it. I cast more magic in that hallway than what we used to close the Breach at Haven." He smiled, small and sheepish. "I…overreacted, to my shame."

"They were no match at all," she murmured, searching his face and shivering with a mixture of awe and horror. One of the Evanuris. He'd told her that of course, but hearing it and seeing it on display were entirely different things. Her stomach clenched thinking about it and she groaned.

Solas returned the cup to the nightstand and knelt in front of the bed, cupping her cheeks in his hands. "We cannot linger here. We must leave—and there may be more fighting." He swallowed audibly, his expression grave and sad. "I will try to shield you, but we cannot delay. Can you walk?"

Clenching her jaw, Ellana nodded even though she wasn't sure she was being truthful. Her limbs felt heavy and shaky. "I'll try."

Solas nodded. "I will gather our things." He sprang into action, hurrying around the room and grabbing his pack and her armor. "Dress, quickly," he told her as he passed the Dalish scout armor to her. "They will have already begun searching and by now I suspect there is no doubt as to my identity."

Rising onto her shaking legs, Ellana began to shed her formalwear. "I can't leave the summit," she murmured, dazed. "I'm Inquisitor. How will—"

"They will no longer care about your rank, vhenan. They will assume you had a part in my escape. I left no witnesses in my foolishness who might defend you."

"The Inquisition scout who led me to you," Ellana said, swaying as she stepped out of her formalwear boots. "He was elven. I think he was one of your spies."

"What did he look like?" Solas asked. He had not paused in his flurry of activity, moving from dressers to the bed to the privy, grabbing food from a tray the servants had brought in for lunch.

"Long face, narrow ears, blue-green eyes and blond hair," she answered as she shimmied into her chainmail. "No vallaslin."

"Var," Solas said, pausing where he'd placed his pack to look at her and nod. "And yes, he is one of mine." He cinched the pack closed and slung it over his shoulders, then crossed the room to collect their weapons.

Ellana secured her chainmail in place and slipped into the armored surcoat. She fastened the belts as fast as she could, stopping only when Solas approached with her bow and her arrow quiver. She eyed his staff as she took her own weapons. "You don't need a staff," she murmured. It wasn't a question.

"Most mages do not require one for simpler spells," he told her, smiling slightly. "In Elvhenan most did not bother with them." His blue eyes swept over her, tender with worry. "Are you ready?"

She slung her bow and the quiver over her shoulder and took a deep, shuddering breath. "As ready as I can be."

His gaze dropped to her left hand, still faintly glowing green. He frowned and muttered a curse under his breath. "Fenedhis. I did not think." He covered his face with one hand. "Now I have left us no choice but to risk exposing you to further Elvhen magic through the eluvians."

"It will be fine," Ellana said, her voice firm even as her chest constricted, cold with trepidation. "But we must hurry before they find us."

"Yes," he agreed, a muscle in his jaw feathering as his expression hardened with determination. "Stay close."

They left the bedchamber and trotted through the guest wing hallway. Servants gawked, sidestepping and yelping as they struggled not to drop the trays of food or used dishware they carried. The Inquisition and Orlesian guards stared with confusion and mild alarm etched on their faces as Solas led the way through the door. Ellana made an effort to nod at them and feign a smile as she followed. This relaxed both sets of guards.

They made their way without resistance through the gilded corridors and past numerous guards and Inquisition scouts. But Ellana didn't miss the way the human scouts cast suspicious or confused frowns at them while the elves merely nodded in acknowledgement. How many spies had Solas had in the Inquisition's ranks anyway?

When they reached the hall where the storage room with the eluvian waited Solas slowed and raised a hand for her to stop. Heart pounding and muscles still quivering from the recent shock and exertion, Ellana panted. She drew out her bow, anticipating trouble. "What is it?"

"Do you hear them?" he asked, arching a brow.

Ellana strained her ears and immediately heard the voices and tread of men ahead. Her chest tightened, making it harder to breathe. "Oh no."

"Stay behind me and I will get us through."

"Don't kill them," Ellana blurted, gripping his bicep. "Please." The accents she heard sounded Ferelden as well as Orlesian, which likely meant some of them were Inquisition.

Solas nodded to her, his gaze somber. As she released him, Solas' shoulders bunched and he darted around the corner in the blue-white blur of a Fade-step. Ellana rushed after him, grabbing an arrow and nocking it as she rounded the corner. Ahead in the hallway a group of six guards—two Orlesians masked and armored and four Inquisition soldiers—turned to regard them with wide eyes. They raised their weapons, shouting, but Solas gestured and the slick pop-bang of a Veilstrike strike echoed through the hallway.

Ellana flinched at the sound but felt none of the force hit her, though her left hand seized with a spurt of pain. She ignored it, keeping her left hand still tightly clasped to her bow. She ran forward as she saw the soldiers and guards collapse in a unanimous thump. They gasped and cried out, shocked and stunned.

I'm sorry, Ellana thought at them as she darted through them, picking each step carefully to avoid stepping on any of them.

Solas flung open the door to the storage room and ushered her through it. The eluvian thrummed, glowing blue. Ellana ran straight into it without hesitation and felt the chilled, ancient magic wash over her.

_____________________________________

Solas saw the mirror ripple as Ellana passed through it. Behind him the guards and soldiers clambered to their feet, scrambling for their weapons and shields. Solas backed toward the eluvian, his lip curled in a snarl as he took in the six humans. Doubtless Leliana had reacted to his jailbreak by sending humans to the storage room, anticipating this was where he'd go. But would they follow him into the Crossroads?

He could switch the eluvian off after passing through it, but Leliana had told him there were Inquisition forces raiding the Qunari base. Deactivating the eluvian would leave those people stranded in the Crossroads with no way to return to Halamshiral. He had another option—casting a barrier of spirit flames. That would deter anyone from the palace following he and Ellana, but someone emerging from the Crossroads would step out into the fire and perish. Both options posed risks but Solas could mitigate them from the Crossroads.

"Do not try to follow us," he shouted at them and then sprang through the mirror after Ellana.

On the other side, as the chill of the eluvian's magic passed over him and dissipated, Solas whipped back to the mirror and thrust his palm up to it. His own magic flowed warm and comforting through his blood and the mirror thrummed in response and fell dark. The song of the Crossroads filled his ears, competing with the pounding of his heart. He surveyed the Halamshiral island, smiling as he saw Ellana standing in the shadow of the rocky overhang, her arms wrapped over herself.

"Are you well?" he asked her, stepping closer.

"A little overwhelmed," she admitted and let out a dry laugh. Her green eyes skipped over him and then landed on the mirror, now dark. "You deactivated it?"

He nodded. "I could not risk us being followed."

"But Leliana told me this morning she sent Dorian and a small contingent of mages and soldiers to the Qunari base." Ellana looked around, squinting against the unnatural light, which always looked like a late afternoon sunset, but fractured into pinks and greens. "Where is the eluvian leading to the Qunari base?"

It just had to be Dorian trapped on this other side of the eluvian. Solas let out a little huff of irritation before motioning to the small spit of rock that led to another mirror opposite the Halamshiral mirror. The eluvian there was bright, clearly active.

"I believe the Qunari set this eluvian here deliberately for faster travel. Once the gaatlok barrels exploded at the height of the Exalted Council they could then move their troops in through the mirrors, straight from their base." He paused, allowing himself to smirk. "I will alter the mirror's destination once I know the Qunari base has been eliminated."

She shook her head, her arms still wrapped around her torso, as if cold. "Should we go after Dorian and the others at the base?"

"No," he replied immediately with a frown. "The Anchor has been exposed to enough magic for one day. I will not risk endangering you further."

"But they'll be stranded here," she said, brow furrowing.

"Then it is a simple matter of waiting for them to return from the base," Solas said, smiling to reassure her. This was the best solution to the problem that he could conceive of on multiple levels. Dorian and the Inquisition forces with him would naturally be upset to find the eluvian to Halamshiral inactive and Solas waiting for them like a spider in a web, but they had little choice at this point. He could reactivate the eluvian and send them through, then shut it off again. Better still, Solas could reclaim any interesting magical artifacts they carried with them…except that their close proximity could prove dangerous to Ellana.

"You'll reactivate the eluvian and let them through?" she asked, filling in the blanks for herself as he'd known she would.

"Yes, of course. I have no desire to see them trapped and we are reasonably safe here—assuming no Qunari emerge through the eluvian." He walked closer to her, his feet crunching over the grit on the black stone of the island, and gestured to an alcove tucked away to the left of the mirror. There was a skeleton and some decayed detritus from what might have been a backpack or other supplies. He didn't miss Ellana's brief look of disgust.

"Sadly the Crossroads are not what they once were," he murmured, smiling wanly. He stared out at the rest of the island, at the rough-hewn rock and the waterfall spilling from Andrastian statues with a splatter into the void. "It was once a place of great beauty. I wish you could have seen it as it once was."

Ellana leaned against the rock and then gradually slid down it, landing with a plop. She sighed, her head hanging and shoulders slouching. "I never had a chance to eat lunch."

"Then you are in luck, vhenan. I anticipated something like this." Solas shrugged out of his pack and strode to sit next to her. Opening the pack, he pulled out a pale silk handkerchief containing several cubes of cheese and passed it to her.

An almost shy smile curled her lips as she accepted the cheese. "Aren't you hungry?"

He shook his head. "I was fed by my jailers." To avoid meeting her eyes and hearing the unsaid words hanging between them—that he'd killed those aforementioned jailers—Solas rooted through his pack and pulled out another swatch of silk. Unwrapping it revealed a neat loaf of white bread. He set it on the silk square on the rock in front of them for her to grab at her leisure.

"Is the water here safe to drink?" she asked, staring at the waterfall.

Solas followed her gaze and nodded. "Yes. It is summoned by magic, drawn directly from the Fade itself."

At her sidelong look Solas cocked his head.

She smiled slightly, her eyes dark with turmoil. "I'm wondering what will happen without me. What Leliana and Cullen and Cassandra and everyone will say." She let out a shuddering breath as tears filled her eyes.

Pain laced through Solas and he winced, reminded that her exile here with him had not been as voluntary as it was necessary. Now that he had revealed his own hand by foolishly losing his temper with the Templars and killing them in such a bizarre way, Ellana would not be considered innocent. She would no longer be the Inquisitor, but would be a pawn to be used against him. If Solas had left her behind Ellana would quickly find herself trapped in a cell while Inquisition forces tried to track him down using her as bait.

"Ir abelas," he whispered again, eyes closing with shame. Heat licked at his cheeks. "You deserve better than to be caught up in this mess. The fault is mine."

"It's all right," she murmured, her smile soft and tender now. "I was ready to march on that cell myself and break you out, remember?"

He did remember. The sound of her voice speaking elven had been like a caress, a balm for a burn. But he hadn't wanted to cause this difficulty for her. He'd learned through long experience that subtlety was always the most rewarding way to achieve one's goals. Leading from the shadows, manipulating from the background, had always been his specialty.

Chuckling under his breath, he reached over and caressed her cheek. "Ar lath ma, vhenan."

"Ar lath ma," she agreed, clasping his hand with her own. "Bellanaris." She scooted closer and Solas wrapped an arm around her shoulders, letting her lean against him.

They spent several minutes in companionable silence, the song of the waterfall and the endless groan of the Crossroads filling their ears. Ellana popped cheese cubes in her mouth and ate hunks of bread for a time and then sighed, getting to her feet and walking to cup her hands beneath the waterfall for a drink. Solas watched her graceful shape, admiring the curve of her legs and hips in her armor and wondering how much magic she would have when the Veil came down…

And their child, how much of his power would it inherit?

As she made her way back to him, her bare feet gripping the black stone rock with each step, Solas cleared his throat and said, "I could never tell you before, vhenan, but you sometimes remind me of Ghilan'nain."

Ellana halted, staring at him with a bemused expression. "What do you mean?"

He chuckled. "I mean that Ghilan'nain was a graceful hunter who preferred a bow, like you. She was clever and cunning and beautiful."

"Wasn't she a mage?" Ellana asked, frowning with confusion.

"Of course," Solas answered with a nod. "Magic can aid with the use of a bow, or a blade as well. This world has forgotten the wonders and limitless uses of magic." He paused, sighing as he remembered. "Ghilan'nain should have been like Mythal, but she did not have the strength of character to stand against any of the others. She was as gentle as the halla who now represent her to your people. In that respect you are a far stronger, wiser leader."

Ellana flashed a crooked smile at him, her green eyes mischievous. "Solas, if I didn't know better I'd say it sounds like you admired her."

He scowled, old irritation lashing him at the memory of the other Evanuris. "I despised them for claiming godhood, but they were each individuals. Some were worse than others. Ghilan'nain was younger even than I, but Andruil discovered her before Mythal found me. Ghilan'nain was Andruil's closest companion." He chuckled, the sound dry. "And her lover."

Crossing to sit at his side again, Ellana snuggled into him and sighed. Solas wound his arm around her again, stroking her shoulder and arm.

"So," she said, her voice quiet. "Tell me a true story of Elvhenan. Are there any stories my people got right?"

He sighed, resting his head against the cool, black rock behind him. What could he tell her that wasn't upsetting? Even in trying to compliment her by comparing her grace and beauty to Ghilan'nain he'd found himself reminded of the so-called goddess' faults. She'd been vain and insecure, easily cowed by the likes of Andruil and Elgar'nan.

"What would you like to know?" he asked, hoping she'd narrow the subject somewhat.

"Are any of the tales of Fen'Harel accurate at all?" she asked, a playful note in her voice. "I seem to recall one where Andruil caught the Dread Wolf hunting halla and tied him to a tree."

"Ah," he murmured and chuckled. "Yes. That one is true."

"Andruil caught you?" Ellana asked. "Was she more powerful than you?"

Solas frowned to himself. "Merely better trained at the time. I was quite young. I was in the wilds, seeking out the Forgotten Ones."

"The Forgotten Ones," she breathed and shivered. "Were they demons like the Chantry's Forbidden Ones? Like Imshael?"

"More powerful, vhenan," he answered. "Forgive me, I'd prefer not to discuss them now."

She made a motion against his chest, a sort of acknowledging nod, and returned to their previous subject. "So, Andruil caught you believing you were hunting halla?"

"I was hunting them," he answered, smiling. "I hadn't eaten meat in days and I'd been living luxuriously in Arlathan's court for a few years by then. I was very hungry. And yes, before you ask about it, Andruil did indeed devise a rather…unorthodox punishment for my transgressions."

"A year and a day of servitude in her bed?" Ellana asked, and laughed. "That seems quite tame considering other tales of Andruil I've heard."

Solas didn't answer for a few moments, considering the nuances Ellana couldn't possibly know and whether he should reveal them. Andruil had little interest in men, generally preferring female lovers. But at the time he'd been introduced to the court Andruil and Ghilan'nain had been trying for decades to convince one of the other Evanuris men to father a child on one of them in the hope that they could produce a child of equal strength to themselves.

Even the Evanuris could not escape the rigid classism of Elvhenan, based as it was on magical talent. Elgar'nan and Mythal had had many children, but only one ever matched their power—Dirthamen. The other children were all nobles but could never claim the mantle of godhood and their names fell away into obscurity. It didn't help either that Elgar'nan paid his less-talented children no attention at all and discouraged Mythal from associating with them as well.

Even as a newcomer to court, Solas understood Andruil and Ghilan'nain's designs on him and had no intention of giving either what they wanted. So Andruil's punishment for his supposed crime had all been a poorly laid out ruse.

He decided not to divulge this underlying complication and instead caressed Ellana's neck, feeling her shiver at his touch. "Andruil knew I did not care for her and that I opposed slavery. Her punishment was more appropriately cruel than you realize."

"I had cousins who used to like that story because they wished they were tied to that tree. Except they would not have tricked their way out of the punishment." She was silent a moment but when she spoke again her voice held the darkness of doubt in it. "Solas, if you bring down the Veil, won't you set the Evanuris free again?"

Solas let out a small breath, his fingers stilling on her smooth skin. Always clever, vhenan. "Yes."

She sat up, looking him in the eye, her gaze narrowing with concentration. "I don't understand. You want to set them free?"

Raising his head from the reclined position against the rock, Solas frowned. "No. They are…not as they once were. And even if they were unchanged, they would not rest until they had revenged themselves upon me. I do not wish to restore a world that will revert back to Elvhenan and its class system, corrupted by slavery and suffering. I tried to change Elvhenan from within as one of them for centuries, but the others undermined me. The slaves I freed they'd reclaim as their own. Nobles serving the other Evanuris would encroach onto my lands, their warriors burned my people's crops and—"

"You had lands? You had people?" she asked, eyebrows raised. "Officially?"

He stared at her, blinking as he realized she still knew so little of his past life in Elvhenan. Slowly, he nodded. "I was given Falon'Din's lands and people after he was bound for causing a civil war." He scowled. "The arrogant, bloodthirsty fool."

She licked her lips and started to say, "You mentioned something about that when we were in the Temple of Mythal. What—"

They both froze, eyes widening as they heard an eluvian thrumming. Ellana scrambled to her feet and jogged toward the spit of rock leading to the Qunari base mirror. Solas lingered behind a moment, collecting and wrapping the food, replacing it in his pack. Then, grabbing his staff, he moved after Ellana. Already he heard voices and the tramp of feet over the black stone.

And then Dorian's voice rang out, "Vishante kaffas, Ellana! What are you doing here, darling?"

Solas bristled at the nickname and emerged from the shadow of the island's rocky overhang. Dorian's gaze immediately flew to him and his lips drew back in a vicious snarl. "Shouldn't you be in a cell?" His brown eyes took in the dark Halamshiral mirror then and his mouth fell open a second before his glare swung back to Solas, accusatory and enraged. "What is the meaning of this, you filth?!"

____________________________________

Next Chapter

Dorian's expression turned somber, his lips pinching and his brow furrowing. "Ellana, if you're feeling trapped because you don't want your child to be fatherless…" His hands tightened slightly on her shoulders. "I could take you in. I've weathered worse scandals and I doubt anyone would believe it could be my child anyway, even if it is a mage those ears will just—"

Ellana burst out laughing, shaking her head. "That's very sweet of you, Dorian, but Solas would probably leap into the void before he'd let you take me to Tevinter."

________

Author note: Regarding the next chapter's teaser, I've actually read one very long, very detailed story about a Lavellan who does go to Tevinter with Dorian, actually marrying him. They have no children, but because she's a mage and a celebrity, she's granted Magister status. She and Dorian live in (non-sexual) wedded-bliss. I actually deeply enjoyed the narrative and closeness between the two. I wrote the teaser long before I read that other story, but I have to admit, I still love the idea and have definitely toyed with doing it myself. Dorian is just...I love him!

Chapter Text

Inquisition mages and soldiers continued appearing through the mirror, making it pulsate and thrum each time. Soon nearly ten people had gathered on the narrow spit of rock, forcing Dorian to edge forward though he seemed unwilling to join Solas and Ellana on the Halamshiral island, as if the stone they stood on might burn him. Among the Inquisition forces emerging through the eluvian Ellana also saw Varric and Iron Bull. The dwarf and the tal-vashoth warrior both stared at Ellana and Solas with baffled expressions.

"I will reopen the eluvian to allow you through," Solas told Dorian and the others, his posture stiffening and his hands tucked behind his back. "But I will require any magical artifacts you collected from the Qunari base before I allow you passage."

Dorian scoffed, still snarling. "You despicable bald spellbind. You're setting up a toll?"

"Merely safeguarding the Inquisition from potentially dangerous items," Solas answered, a sharp note of irritation underlying the words. His eyes narrowed. "However, as most of the artifacts will be of elven origin, they are mine to reclaim."

"Is that so?" Dorian grumbled sarcastically. He crossed his arms over his chest. "And if I refuse?"

"Dorian," Ellana interjected, trying to defuse the growing animosity between the two mages. "I'm sure we can come to a compromise. Solas and I would like to know what you found at the Qunari base. We…" She shot Solas an uncertain look, searching his reaction and finding only a stony somberness on his face. "…may have need of what you've found."

"For what purpose, exactly?" Dorian asked, arching an eyebrow. "And it seems to me I just fought through a legion of horned Qunari bastards in the name of the Inquisition—only to find myself waylaid by you two. As if you're not Inquisition." Motioning toward Ellana, he added, "As if you are not the Inquisitor." He let out a high-pitched, humorless laugh. "I always knew you southerners were insane, but if this is some kind of joke it's not very funny."

"Our purpose is not your concern," Solas told him. "But the Qunari took artifacts from Elvhenan using the eluvians. They are elven and therefore belong to our people, not the Inquisition. If you have found any, I will require them."

"I'll ask again," Dorian snarled. "Will you leave us to starve or fall off into the void if we refuse?"

"No," Ellana answered before Solas could. She kept her shoulders squared and her back straight, hoping she radiated authority. Solas wouldn't abandon them in the Crossroads—would he? No, of course not, she thought.

"No," Solas agreed with a nod in her direction, yielding to her. Ellana could feel the but hanging in the air, yet Solas didn't give it voice. She guessed he would use spies within the Inquisition to get the artifacts regardless of what happened here.

Instead of answering Solas' edict, Dorian just glared at him. "What's going on here? The last I heard Cassandra sent Templar thugs after you." His gaze flicked between Ellana and Solas, his features twisting with both suspicion and worry. "Inquisitor?" he asked.

"Wait," Varric said, "Cassandra sent Templars after you, Chuckles?" He shook his head, scowling. "Well, shit. Sparkler, you'd run too if her holiness decided you needed an interrogation. I'd know, remember? I've had that dubious pleasure. You know, she won't hesitate to stab you where it hurts."

"They threatened to make him join a Circle," Ellana said, her voice quavering with anger.

Varric's eyebrows rose and he whistled. "Did you spring him out, Inquisitor?"

"She did not," Solas answered immediately, his tone hard and authoritative. "And we are not here to discuss it."

"Touchy subject, Chuckles," Varric said, raising his hands palms up in a motion of surrender. "Sorry I asked."

"Ellana," Dorian said, brow furrowing and eyes narrowed and dark with a mixture of concern and rage. "Has he forced you to come here? Are you under some kind of—"

Solas made a noise reminiscent of a gag in his throat, cutting him off. "Do not be ridiculous."

"Let her speak," Iron Bull shouted, baring his teeth in a snarl that matched Dorian's. The other Inquisition men and women stared at Ellana, tense and ready to attack Solas to protect her.

Speechless for several moments, Ellana found it difficult to breathe in the oppressive and hostile exchange. Shutting her eyes, she forced herself to speak. "I appreciate your concern, but you're being ridiculous as Solas said. Of course I am here willingly."

Despite her words they didn't appear terribly convinced and Ellana felt her shoulders slump with exhaustion. How could they have grown so fearful and distrusting of Solas in so short a time? Where had it all gone wrong?

"Really," she said, making a shrug-like motion with both arms. "What else can I say to prove it to you?"

"Step away from him for a moment and come speak with me," Dorian suggested, throwing Solas a quick glare.

"Of course," Ellana said, shrugging again. She backed away from the spit of rock, leaving room for Dorian to edge past her. Ignoring Solas' frown and tenseness, she let Dorian take her gently by the elbow and walk toward the other rock bridge that led to the next nearest island.

Behind them Solas stalked to the Halamshiral eluvian and Ellana felt her skin prickle when he reactivated it, despite being several meters away. She shivered and Dorian stopped short, his gaze darting over her with concern.

"Are you all right?" he asked, his voice tender yet tight.

"Yes," she answered with a nod. "A little nauseous but that seems to be the norm now." She smiled at the attempted joke but let it fall from her lips when Dorian's expression of concern only deepened.

"I'm sorry I didn't give you more advance warning about Cassandra's plans," Dorian said, the sadness in his eyes tearing at her. "I didn't realize they would act so quickly. They did kick me out, after all." He smiled wanly. "But I understand now why they did it." He leaned closer, his breath brushing over her cheeks as he said, "He's using us, Ellana. That blighted Qunari base had more magical artifacts than the Fade has spirits."

She snorted, smirking. "Somehow I doubt that, Dorian."

He rolled his eyes, smiling with real humor now. "Oh, all right. Fine. The Fade has a few more spirits. Regardless, I'm sure you recall how deeply your beloved elven apostate cared about that foci of Corypheus', yes? He practically wanted to give that shattered orb funeral services."

Biting back the laughter bubbling in her throat, Ellana nodded. "I remember, yes. Did you find more?"

Dorian started to answer and then stopped, staring at her obliquely for a beat before shaking his head. "You already know his game, whatever it is."

She hesitated a second, glancing over her shoulder to where Solas was talking stiltedly with Varric and the Iron Bull as they began to march Inquisition soldiers through the eluvian. When she faced Dorian again his expression was nearly unreadable, though she guessed he was troubled and yet also curious. Licking her lips, she confessed, "I do know it, yes."

"Or you think you do," Dorian supplied, arching a brow. "You understand that if he's not merely Solas but is in fact something else he could betray you, yes?"

Ellana shook her head, dismissing his concerns with a wave of her hand. "Solas won't betray me."

Dorian sighed, staring at her with sad eyes. "I hope you're right, Ellana. I really do." Reaching out, he gripped her by the shoulders, his grip gentle as he gave her a squeeze. "You're not coming back to the winter palace or to Skyhold, are you?"

Suddenly Ellana's throat burned, tight with emotion. She swallowed. "I don't think so, no." She took a small breath in, steadying herself. "Solas needs me, and I need him. We're going to make the world a better place for…" When she saw his gaze drop to her abdomen she realized she'd laid her left hand over her navel and let it fall back to her side, feeling her cheeks heat up with a blush.

Dorian's expression turned somber, his lips pinching and his brow furrowing. "Ellana, if you're feeling trapped because you don't want your child to be fatherless…" His hands tightened slightly on her shoulders. "I could take you in. I've weathered worse scandals and I doubt anyone would believe it could be my child anyway, even if it is a mage those ears will just—"

Ellana burst out laughing, shaking her head. "That's very sweet of you, Dorian, but Solas would probably leap into the void before he'd let you take me to Tevinter."

"It's not what he wants, Ellana. It's about your happiness. Your safety," Dorian said emphatically, enunciating every word. "Just remember that whatever happens I will always be there for you—you have only to call." He patted the leather strap just peaking out over the neckline of his clothes and Ellana knew he meant the magic crystal that he'd given her at the start of the Exalted Council to ensure they could communicate even when a continent separated them.

Smiling with the warm affection brimming inside her own chest, Ellana tapped the pouch on her waist where she kept her own crystal. "Thank you, Dorian."

"Just don't start crying," he admonished, flashing a quick grin as he grabbed her in an embrace. "Or else you'll get me going, old girl."

She laughed again, though it emerged thick with emotion. "Too late," she said as they parted.

Wiping at her tears, she walked with him back to the eluvian and the others. Solas waited beside the active mirror, hands behind his back, jaw and shoulders squared. The Inquisition mages and soldiers had gone through the mirror by now, leaving Iron Bull and Varric waiting for Dorian with uncertain looks on their faces. Ellana didn't miss the somewhat wary gaze Solas sent her way.

"So, Boss," Iron Bull said, smiling closed-lipped at her. "Is this goodbye?"

She nodded. "For now, Bull."

The horned warrior grunted, grimacing. "Well then, it'd been a pleasure, as always." Turning his head to Solas, he said, "I don't know who or what you really are, Solas, but take care of yourself—and the Boss. Or the next time I see you I'll put one of my horns through your gut."

Solas frowned slightly but dipped his head in acknowledgement. "Meravas. Panahedan."

Iron Bull froze, his single blue eye widening. "You speak Qunlat?"

"Marginally," Solas said, but Ellana doubted that was the case. Solas never did anything marginally. Besides, Ellana had been there when Solas translated spoken Qunlat in the Deep Roads.

"As if I needed another reason not to like you," Dorian grumbled at Solas and then quickly said to Iron Bull, "No offense."

"Some taken," Iron Bull shot back, but he grinned. "We'll work it out tonight."

"Way more than I needed to hear," Varric said, wincing as he strode to the mirror, pausing to look up at Ellana and smile, a touch of something like sadness in his eyes. "It's been a pleasure, Lady Lavellan. I hope someday I'll get to see you at your estate in Kirkwall." He motioned toward Solas. "Chuckles can come too, since someone will need to watch the baby while we're playing Wicked Grace." He raised one meaty hand, finger up. "Oh, and that reminds me. One of you has to write to me when the kid is born. I've got twenty royals riding on it being a boy."

Solas scowled. "Absolutely not."

Varric chuckled and waved a hand dismissively at Solas. "Suit yourself, Chuckles. I'll still find out eventually. And I always win." He grinned at Ellana, winking. "You'll write to me, won't you Inquisitor?"

Ellana laughed. "Of course, Varric."

"Good," the dwarf said, nodding with satisfaction. "My work is finished here." He strode through the mirror, making it thrum.

With a last glance at both Ellana and Solas, Iron Bull entered the mirror next. Dorian lingered a moment longer, clearly reluctant to leave. In front of the eluvian he turned and met Ellana's gaze over one shoulder and said, "You'll remember my offer, won't you? It isn't ever going to change. I know the Imperium's not ideal for elves but—"

"What?" Solas blurted, his mouth twisting with displeasure.

"I'll remember, Dorian," Ellana said, smiling. "But Solas will keep me safe." She deliberately stepped to stand at Solas' side in solidarity.

Solas blinked at her once, and then his jaw clenched with something akin to determination—with a touch of annoyance. "Of course, vhenan."

"Then I suppose this is goodbye, Ellana." His smile brimmed with melancholy. "For now, at least." He stepped into the fluid-like glass of the eluvian and it swallowed him, thrumming and glowing a brighter blue.

Solas stepped in front of the glass and thrust his palm to it, sending a blue glow of magic from his hand to the glass. Feeling her skin prickle at it, Ellana wrapped her arms over herself and shuddered. A moment later the glass went dark, leaving them alone with nothing but the groan of the Crossroads and the constant pattering of the waterfall nearby.

"What did you tell him?" Solas asked, staring at the dark eluvian.

"Nothing," Ellana answered. "Only that I know your plans and I trust you."

He nodded, sighing. "It should not have happened this way. I did not mean to place you in danger or to make you an enemy of the inquisition, the Templars, the Chantry—any of them." He shook his head, still staring down at the black rock underfoot. "It was inevitable that I should become their enemy." He closed his eyes. "But I had thought to leave you behind, to part ways before…"

Ellana stayed silent, watching him and waiting, unsure what to say. Her stomach flip-flopped with anxiety and a lump had grown in her throat. Swallowing did nothing to clear it though she kept trying.

Solas drew in a shuddering breath, still not looking at her. "You should know, vhenan. There is still much I have not revealed to you of my plans."

"I guessed as much, emma lath." The smile on her lips trembled, as if her muscles were too weak to keep it up. "But you don't need to hide anything from me. I thought you'd have realized that by now."

"I do not reveal everything to anyone," he said, his voice dry and brittle. "It is the only way to ensure survival of the network and of myself. I have been harellan for so long it has become part of my blood."

"You know you can trust me," Ellana insisted, frowning with confusion.

Solas raised his head now and turned to look at her, his eyes somber and dark with grief. "I know, vhenan. It is not that I do not trust you." He averted his eyes again, shame coloring his face. "I do not trust myself."

Ellana strode to his side, reaching for his face and turning him to look at her. But Solas kept his eyes closed and Ellana felt his body tense under her hands. "Solas?" she asked.

"You asked for a true story of Fen'Harel earlier," he murmured, his lips trembling. "The truest one I know is that Fen'Harel brings death to those closest to him."

"Do you mean Mythal?" Ellana asked quietly.

Sighing, he leaned his forehead against hers. "Yes."

"Abelas said the Dread Wolf didn't kill her."

"My actions did," Solas muttered, his words thick with pain. "My rebellion made the other Evanuris turn on her for allying with me." He pulled away from her, finally opening his eyes and meeting her stare with misery. "But it was not just Mythal who paid for my actions. The very slaves I freed and encouraged to rebel rose up at the harvest one year and destroyed my village, killing my parents."

Ellana felt her eyes burn, her heart ache with sympathy even as she shook her head, uncomprehending. "But why would they—"

He made a small noise in his throat, a sort of choking sound. "They did not know. They struck at Elgar'nan's crops and followers without knowing that the middle-class families they killed were my loved ones. And how could they know? I told no one of my origins. The fault was mine. I thought to protect them from the Evanuris, so I kept my background a secret. They could have run when the rebellion took the crop fields, fled to the library, but they remained and tried to reason with the rebels."

He stepped away from her, scrubbing his face with one hand and clenching his teeth. "They did not understand the rage of the lower classes. They believed themselves innocent, that violence would not touch them if they refused to fight." He laughed, bitterly. It sounded closer to a sob as he turned his back to her.

Pain twisted through her heart, cutting like a hot blade. She whispered, "Have you alone carried the guilt of what happened to your family all this time?"

"Yes," he murmured. "I had to proclaim the raid and the deaths a victory when I heard of it." As he glanced over his shoulder at her the sight of tears in his eyes seemed to rob her of breath. His smile was bitter. "Who would follow a man if they learned he made such a foolish mistake? Everyone wanted to believe I sprang from the wilds, that I was born to wolves or to slaves. It was easy to let them believe whatever they liked. Anything but the truth."

To be the first person he had shared this horrible, tragic story with made Ellana feel dizzy. The words she wanted to say seemed caught in her throat, inadequate and useless. She could not imagine how excruciating it must have been for him. When she blinked she realized she'd started crying and sniffed. "Solas, I'm so sorry…"

"You are blameless, vhenan. I do not deserve your tears." He brushed his own tears away, evading her gaze and sighing. "I tell you this because you must know I am fallible. You must be vigilant. I cannot foresee the effects my plans will have, but I could not bear to lose you as well."

"You won't," Ellana vowed, reaching for him again. She wound her arms around his waist, pulling him tight to her and sighing as he returned her embrace and rested his cheek against the top of her head. "I love you, Solas, no matter the danger. Let me help you. Let me guide you." She broke off, laughing at the absurdity of her comment. "Though I'm hardly qualified to guide one of the Evanuris."

"Do not devalue yourself, emma lath. You have led the Inquisition for over three years. You know the burden of making decisions that will affect thousands of lives. You are a far better advisor than most of my arcane warriors ever were." His finger stroked the back of her neck, gentle and loving. "Although I fear what must come and I would have preferred we left the Exalted Council peaceably, I could never regret choosing to stay with you."

Two fingers lifted her chin and Ellana shifted to meet his lips with her own for a long, tender kiss. Ellana clung to him tighter and when the kiss ended they held each other for several minutes, just listening to the sound of the other's breathing. Finally Solas said, "We should make our way to my people."

Ellana watched as he knelt and began stuffing the magic objects the Inquisition forces had relinquished into his pack. She saw totems to the Evanuris: a halla figurine, a sculpture of an owl, and a dagger with a handle fashioned into the half-dragon, half-woman shape of Mythal. "They must have found more than that," Ellana murmured.

"They did," Solas confirmed as he finished loading the totems and closed his pack, standing up. "But that they relinquished anything to me is a measure of their profound respect for you." He smiled, though Ellana saw the sadness in it and knew they both couldn't help but think that they'd lost that respect with the earlier events of the day.

Pushing aside those thoughts, Ellana strode closer to him and took his hand, squeezing it in hers. "Let's not dwell on what's been lost. We have a world to restore."

He smiled, tender and gentle. "You are right, vhenan, as always."

Ellana motioned out into the endless sunset light of the Crossroads. "Lead the way, emma lath."

___________________________________________

After a half-hour walk across the Crossroads Solas brought Ellana to an inactive eluvian on a small island of black rock. The journey had been roundabout, requiring them to cross dozens of rock bridges that Solas cast or switched on using the magic-storing orbs at the edges of the islands. If Ellana had been a mage and able to Fade step Solas could've halved their travel time, but he cherished the idle time for the opportunity it presented for him to think.

They didn't encounter any of his people or Qunari on the journey and Solas hadn't expected to. He'd ordered Abelas and his arcane warriors to operate covertly, watching the Inquisition from a distance for nighttime activity in the Crossroads, expecting that he'd be there to witness anything they did during the day. Now the groaning song of the crossroads seemed hollow and lonely as they walked, likely the only living sentient beings within the construct.

At the dark eluvian that lead to Hellathen Hamin, Solas activated it with a quick flourish of magic from his right palm. Then, as the mirror thrummed and glowed, he told Ellana, "Follow behind me. They will not be expecting me and the eluvian is under watch on the other side."

Her eyebrows rose with surprise. "Will they attack you without being sure who you are?"

"Doubtful," Solas replied. "But I will take no chances."

Facing the eluvian, he stretched out his right hand and strode through it, shivering reflexively as the chilled magic of the mirror caressed him. Emerging out the other side he saw the familiar pale stone crumbling on either side of him. The sunlight here was pink-red, fading fast with twilight, but he still saw the silhouettes of the Elvhen warriors crouched on the walls of the ruins a few meters ahead. He felt their tension and their magic surge for a moment as they reacted to a person appearing through what had been a dark eluvian moments ago, and then they called out greetings in recognition.

As one figure leapt down from the wall, her armor glinting in the setting sun, Solas smiled as he recognized Lyris. Mathrel, her constant companion, remained on the wall, watchful as the eluvian thrummed behind Solas. Ellana stepped through and Solas turned slightly to check on her, ensuring the Anchor had not flared to life. The fingers of her left hand opened and closed, but otherwise he saw no sign of distress yet.

Lyris' steps thumped over the grass and dirt as she jogged to them. Her gaze swept over both of them as she ducked into a little bow. "Hahren," she greeted him with respect, caution in her eyes when she looked to Ellana. "You have returned. We did not expect you."

"Ir abelas," Solas apologized with a nod. "I did not expect to join you so quickly."

"What's happened?" she asked, immediately somber.

"I will explain in a moment, but first…" Solas sidestepped and motioned at Ellana. "May I introduce Inquisitor Lavellan." He quashed the frown that tried to steal over his lips as he realized he'd introduced her as inquisitor despite the events of earlier that'd probably left the humans considering her a traitor to her own cause. Ellana, for her part, showed nothing but her usual grace as she smiled and gave Lyris a little bow.

"A pleasure to meet you…"

"Lyris," she said, supplying her name and grinning. Her blue eyes slid to Solas, a knowing look glinting in them. "I've heard a great deal about you, Inquisitor."

Ellana chuckled, sounding nervous. "All good things, I hope."

"Lyris," Solas scolded her, frowning. "There is work to be done. I have important news. Where is Abelas?"

A thump ahead drew Solas' gaze to where Mathrel had leapt from the wall and landed with a heavy grunt. "Hunting," he answered for Lyris as he walked toward them, his armor glinting in the pinkish dusk light. Standing beside Lyris, he bowed. "Hahren, welcome. Inquisitor, I am Mathrel, bondmate and combat partner to Lyris."

"Pleased to meet you," Ellana replied. "You can both call me Ellana. I don't believe I will still be the Inquisitor after what happened today."

Lyris made a face, reading Ellana's sadness. "Ir abelas, lethallan. You will always be welcome among us as one of the People."

"Thank you," Ellana replied, her voice thick with emotion. She cleared her throat. "Is there a source of water nearby? Do you have any tea?"

"Take us to camp," Solas ordered Lyris before she could answer, then looked to Mathrel. "Deactivate the eluvian and keep watch. We were not followed, but I will not risk it."

Both arcane warriors nodded, murmuring under their breath and springing into action. Mathrel jogged past them to the mirror while Lyris did an about-face and led them through the tangled, overgrown summer grasses. She wove through the crumbling ruins, scaling a few broken walls where archways had collapsed. Solas took up a position behind Ellana, watching over her as they splashed through puddles and squelched mud between their toes.

Finally they came to a ruined courtyard, overgrown with trees and bushes, some of which had been hacked down by Solas' group in recent days. Brown tents had been set up in circles around two fires. A pair of Dread Wolf statues watched the campsite from a rundown staircase on one side while on the other a proud white stone stag towered over the tents.

As they neared Ellana fell to walking at Solas' side and asked, "What was this place?"

"An outpost my forces claimed from Andruil. We called it Hellathen Hamin," he explained.

Lyris led them to the far campfire where a pot of water sat nearby. She brought a mug and filled it with the water, then brought it to Ellana, who accepted it with a grateful smile. "Ma serannas," she said and slurped on it thirstily.

"What happened that has brought the Inquis—" Lyris broke off, brow furrowing as she rephrased it. "What has brought you and Ellana to us so unexpectedly?"

"Divine Victoria called for my arrest as an apostate," Solas explained, suddenly feeling tired as the invisible weight of guilt pressed on his shoulders. "She and a number of others in power within the Inquisition were convinced I was a vessel of Fen'Harel."

Lyris stared at him a moment and then grinned, laughing. "A vessel?" she asked. "Ridiculous."

Solas allowed himself a small smile before he went on. "I escaped and Ellana volunteered to join me." It wasn't entirely true, but would suffice. Checking Ellana's reaction he saw only the pensive, troubled set of her face and felt the weight on his shoulders intensify, remembering what he had cost her…what his actions could still cost her.

"Abelas will be pleased," Lyris said. "We will benefit from your guidance, Fen'Harel." She blinked then, suddenly glancing to Ellana with alarm.

Ellana extended the mug out to Lyris, chuckling. "It's all right. I already know." She shot Solas a curious look. "You didn't tell them I knew the truth?"

"Apologies Lyris," Solas said, sighing. "I should have made it clear to you or Mathrel specifically. I see that Abelas has not shared what I told him with you."

Lyris' expression hardened and Solas' many years working with her told him she was suppressing irritation. "Abelas did not," she confirmed and then, her volume dropping, she added, "I am glad of your return to us on multiple fronts."

Seeing her tenseness, Solas nodded. "We will speak in the Fade tonight," he promised her.

"Fen'Harel enansal," she answered, bowing as she recognized the dismissal. "Do you wish me to return to watch with Mathrel?"

Sensing movement at the edge of the courtyard, Solas turned his head slightly and saw the glint of the sentinel elves' armor as they emerged through a crumbling archway. Two of the sentinels carried a pole and tied beneath it was a dead ram, its throat slit to drain away the blood. Abelas walked at the front of the group, tall and lithe and stolid as they neared the encampment.

"Remain here with Ellana," Solas instructed Lyris with a quick glance at both women. "I must speak with Abelas." He started to take a step and halted, frowning as he remembered Zevanni and the foci she'd found. "Zevanni has found a foci," he told Lyris, his voice cold and stiff with formality. "And I believe it to be fully charged."

Lyris' lips parted and she grinned, as feral as a wolf. "Then we can take down the Veil."

"Sooner than I had anticipated," Solas answered, noting Ellana's anxious expression. His hand itched, longing to reach out and caress her cheek with a reassuring touch, but he stifled it. Now was Fen'Harel's moment, and Solas could wait. "If you will excuse me," he said and walked with a quick, even stride through the tents to meet with Abelas' group.

Two sentinels had already set upon butchering the ram, one stripping its skin away with a blade while the other maneuvered the body and held its legs. Abelas stood nearby, arms behind his back and his eyes dark beneath his hood. The vallaslin of Mythal remained proudly emblazoned over his skin.

"Abelas," Solas greeted him with a stiff nod. "You have hunted well."

"Fen'Harel." Abelas returned his greeting with a little dip of his head. "The forest here is remote with few humans or other races. The game is easy to catch and the meat rich in fat. We could support a few hundred on foraging alone here the remainder of the summer." He paused, eyes narrowing. "If you wish to build an army."

"An army is easily seen, even from a distance," Solas said, plastering a small, chilly smile over his lips. "We must cling to shadow a while longer, lethallin."

"Time is not a commodity we can afford to waste," Abelas reminded him, scowling. "As you are so fond of telling me, Dread Wolf, we are all shem-elves now."

"Yes," Solas said, letting annoyance creep into the edges of his voice. "Time is our greatest enemy, but we have a wealth of enemies. And many of them already possess armies."

"Yet none of those enemies have the backing of Mythal," Abelas muttered. He shifted from foot to foot, his expression twisting with some unreadable emotion before he went on. "I have encountered shem-elves in the woods. They live in a clan and bear vallaslin. You call them Dalish?"

"They call themselves that," Solas answered. Unlike himself, Abelas and the sentinels hadn't been able to watch the waking world through the Fade and knew very little of the modern world. All elves of this world were shem-elves to them, separated only by whether they bore vallaslin. "You have spoken with them?"

"I have," Abelas announced, thrusting his chin out. "Their leader claimed Mythal visited her in a dream and bade her heed my words. They would serve Mythal and join us willingly to restore the People." He edged close to Solas, urgency in his voice and posture. "Mythal moves with us, Fen'Harel, and she would urge us swiftness."

Schooling his reaction, Solas merely stared at Abelas and remained silent. He'd visited Mythal after defeating Corypheus and taken what little magic and power she could provide him without her soul perishing. She'd likely gone to the Fade, and quite possibly moved on to another vessel—such as the witch, Morrigan. Yet Solas couldn't be entirely certain Mythal supported him now. They'd been as close as mother and son, teacher and student, in Elvhenan at one time. Yet her soul had inhabited this modern world for millennia while he slept. Those accumulated experiences had undoubtedly changed her. Her goals weren't necessarily his own any longer. The idea that she could feasibly oppose him with a force of her own made something in his chest hurt, but he pushed it aside as unlikely. He'd have to find her new vessel at some point and commune with her to solidify an alliance.

"We will take action, sooner than I thought," Solas revealed, deliberately avoiding discussing Mythal or her intentions. Although the sentinels were individuals and appeared to be under no compulsion, Solas knew the vallaslin they wore likely carried Mythal's blood. Someday they could become slaves to her will if Mythal's new vessel worked out a way to wrest control of them.

"You have news?" Abelas asked.

"One of my agents in Tevinter has located a fully charged foci," he replied, keeping his voice low and soft.

Abelas' gaze slid beyond Solas to the other campfire beyond the row of tents separating the sentinels from Lyris and Ellana. "Is that why you have brought the Inquisitor?"

"In part," Solas hedged, again deliberately vague though it earned him a disapproving glare from Abelas. Ignoring the sentinel elf's look Solas said, "The Inquisition may no longer be friendly toward us. Be wary."

"And the Qunari base?" Abelas asked. "My people saw the Inquisition activate the eluvian and enter it early this morning without you." His brow furrowed and his eyes sharp. "They turned against you." It wasn't a question.

"They suspected me," Solas admitted. "But no matter. The Inquisitor has joined me and the Qunari have mostly been eradicated. I deactivated the Halamshiral eluvian so the Inquisition can no longer interfere with us."

"Then what is the next move, Fen'Harel?" Abelas asked, his lips curling in a humorless grin. "We have the foci to tear down the Veil and restore the People. We must consolidate our forces and build a larger army of shem-elves."

Solas kept his face impassive as his mind churned like rapids in a fast-flowing river. Even one such as Abelas understood that removing the Veil would cause chaos. Demons would find themselves suddenly free in the waking world, able to possess non-mages and mages alike. Spirits that had been peaceably dwelling in the Fade would abruptly be torn from their existence there and flung into unchanging reality. The shock would twist them, the same way a sudden strong breeze could whip up harmless dust into a storm. The result would be still more demons.

For weeks all the races of Thedas would find themselves inundated with bloodthirsty demons. Hundreds, even thousands would die in the first few hours and days. The weak, the young, the unprepared and the unlucky would perish first. After that it'd be a slow war of recovery as the Fade and the waking world returned to the reality Solas had known in Elvhenan. By the time the restored world began to stabilize it would be a comparatively barren place, lonely with so many dead—spirit and sentient mortals alike—but the People would be immortal and every one of them a powerful mage. They would emerge the dominant race, especially if Solas survived to lead them as the sole Evanuris, capable of transforming the waking world as he could with the Fade in dreams.

To protect the Elvhen survivors from the approaching chaos Solas had considered warding them off belowground for a year or two. To reduce the amount of food they'd need they could enter deep sleep, waking in turns to serve as attendants to those who remained asleep. Some would need to remain awake and on the surface, leading armies of shem-elves against the demons and other races. Solas had shared these ideas with Abelas and his arcane warriors, providing them with something to believe in as they did the preparatory work.

Yet now Solas couldn't help but second-guess himself. What if the devastation proved far worse than he imagined? What if, unfathomably, removing the Veil didn't reestablish magic among the People? What if it elevated all mortal races? What if the chaos never ended and the People were too few to survive it?

Abelas hadn't stopped watching him, waiting expectantly. Clenching his jaw, Solas nodded with a tight smile. "If you believe the Dalish clan you encountered is trustworthy, tell their Keeper I will meet with her in a dream a week from now." He doubted a wild ranging Dalish clan would embrace the Dread Wolf—they'd see it as a trick certainly—but perhaps if they met Ellana…

"Then it is time our forces grew," Abelas said, his expression set with grim satisfaction. "I will approach the clan's leader when we hunt again tomorrow."

"The Inquisitor and I will accompany you," Solas said, making a swift decision. Ellana was too perfect a resource not to utilize for recruiting the Dalish to his cause.

Abelas shot him a questioning look. "You will go to them in person?" Shaking his head, he asked, "Is it wise to allow them to see you before they have pledged allegiance?"

"You misunderstand," Solas said patiently, a small, tight smile over his lips. "I will not go to them as one of the People. They must know it is Fen'Harel who calls them as much as Mythal. They must be willing to follow my orders and for the Dalish it will be a challenge."

"And if they refuse after seeing the Wolf?" Abelas asked, a note of something like amusement in his voice.

"Then we will part ways peacefully," Solas said, scowling. "There is always choice. There must always be choice in the world we create. Do you understand?" He pinned the sentinel with a harsh look. "There will be no bloodshed."

"As you say," Abelas agreed, but his face revealed his doubt plain enough.

One of the sentinels who'd been butchering the ram appeared with a haunch of raw meat over a charred stick and extended it to Solas. "Fen'Harel enansal," she said.

"Ma serannas," Solas replied with a nod and, after sliding his sleeves up to avoid getting blood on them, he accepted the skewered haunch. With a nod to Abelas, he said, "Until tomorrow."

Abelas gave a more formal dip of his head. "Dareth shiral."

_________________________________

Next Chapter:

Ellana cringed, repulsed. Her lips curled in a snarl as she said, "I fought Corypheus to prevent that future from happening. You fought to prevent that—or so I thought."

"I did fight Corypheus to prevent that," Solas replied, heat in his voice. "There was more at stake with Corypehus than you knew. Had the Veil failed entirely in that future you saw the Evanuris would have been freed."

Chapter Text

The Dalish clan had set up their aravels in a clearing about an hour's walk away from Solas' encampment—Hellathen Hamin, as he'd called it. The sight of the aravels and the halla made Ellana's heart beat faster, joy and nostalgia warming her from the inside out. The faint scent of their campfire carried a rich, sharp scent as the hearth keeper burned ceremonial herbs. The smell sent Ellana's mind tumbling back to her childhood as she recognized it: a good luck charm to bless the area the clan had settled in.

The high summer grasses in the meadow were golden, dipping with the weight of maturing seeds in their heads. From her spot at the edge of the meadow Ellana could see three girls stooped among the grasses, examining the grass stalks and then plucking the ripest seeds. Their high, fluting voices were cheery and carefree with youth. Ellana knew if she were closer she'd see their faces were bare. These girls had not yet become fully-fledged members of the clan.

"You miss this life, vhenan," Solas murmured beside her, his voice soft. They stood in the shadow of thick pine trees and other brush, crouched low to avoid startling or alerting the clan in the meadow far beyond. Abelas and two of his other sentinels waited just a few meters away.

"It's a beautiful life, when the land is generous," she answered, smiling. She closed her eyes. "I do not regret leaving my clan, though." Glancing at him, she reached over the small gap between them and gripped his bicep. "Are you sure about this?"

One corner of his lips turned upward. "I would not attempt it without you acting as my ambassador."

"How many clans have you visited since you've been awake?" Ellana asked.

"A handful," he answered. "But I spent a great deal of my time in uthenera watching the People." His lips pursed as his expression soured. "I tried to guide them, but most had little interest in my advice if they discerned my identity."

"But we have Abelas now," Ellana said, trying to reassure herself as much as him.

Hearing his name, the sentinel cleared his throat. "We await your command, Fen'Harel."

Solas' blue eyes slid to Abelas and he dipped his head in a nod. "Very well." His attention returned to Ellana. "I will not appear until summoned. For your safety do not wander deeply into their encampment." He let out a breath, brow furrowing. "I will be unable to speak while maintaining the shape-shifting spell." He held a rolled wolf skin headdress from his pack clutched in his left hand and Ellana knew it was a backup option to allow him to mask his face while still personifying the guise of Fen'Harel.

"Are you ready?" he asked her.

She nodded. "Yes."

"Good," Solas said and shifted, unrolling the headdress. Blue tinted light flowed over the fur as he touched it and the flat, lifeless skin seemed to grow in size. The triangular ears perked up and the fur fluffed. Solas pulled the headdress over himself, the upper jaw with its toothy maw shadowing his entire face except for his chin and lips. He motioned to her and Abelas. "Ghilas," he said. Go.

Ellana led the way, stepping nimbly through the brush and into the clearing. In her scout armor and equipped with her bow and arrow quiver she would easily pass as one of them, minus her bare face. Yet, as with her own clan, Ellana knew they'd recognize her as an outsider with astonishing quickness because they knew everyone in their small community instantly on sight.

One of the girls raised her head and saw her first, her mouth opening to call out and then freezing like a halla at the scent of a wolf. She drew the other girls' attention to Ellana and all three of them sprang to their feet and trotted toward the aravels, calling for the clan's Keeper and war leader. Across the clearing voices shouted as those in camp came to attention.

Abelas and the sentinel elves followed Ellana as she walked casually through the grass and stopped halfway between the nearest aravel and the tree line to wait for the Keeper to come out and meet with them. As a middle-aged woman appeared in the garb of a Dalish mage and started toward them with two warriors and three young hunters behind her, Ellana called out in greeting. "Andaran atish'an."

"Andaran atish'an, da'len," the Keeper answered when they were closer. Her brown eyes swept over Ellana and the sentinels, her expression vaguely wary until she spotted Abelas and the hares slung over his shoulder. "Abelas of the Arbor Wilds. I know you."

"Lethallan," Abelas replied, though he should have called her hahren. Stepping forward, he motioned with one hand to Ellana. "This is Inquisitor Ellana Lavellan."

"Inquisitor?" one of the warriors behind the Keeper asked, his mouth falling open. "The one who closed the Breach in the sky?"

Ellana grinned. "Guilty as charged."

The Keeper eyed her speculatively. "We came across some human merchants some months back who told us of the Breach in the sky and that a daughter of the People led the human Inquisition that returned the world to order." She hesitated, her voice mildly incredulous. "You are this woman, da'len?"

"I am, yes," Ellana replied, chuckling. "I am surprised word has spread this far. These lands are rich and remote. I did not expect my name to carry any weight."

"Where are your vallaslin?" one of the hunters asked, frowning.

Ellana stared at the hunter a moment, drawing in a deep breath. "I had them removed when I learned their original purpose was to mark the wearers as slaves."

They stared at her, eyes wide and shocked. Then the Keeper scowled and shook her head. "You are mistaken, da'len. The vallaslin honor the Creators and protect us from evil. They have always been with us." She gestured to Abelas and the sentinel elves. "Look upon your companions. If what you say is true surely—"

"Abelas and his sentinels are servants of Mythal. They bear their vallaslin as a mark of that devotion. I…" She felt her throat threaten to close as she saw the irritated look the Keeper flashed her for the interruption. Her heart pounded and she felt sweat gathering in the small of her back. How could she expect this clan to accept what she had to say?

"We have come with an offer," Abelas continued for her when she fell silent, cowed by her own doubts. He shifted, extending the two hares he'd caught in snares set the previous night. "A gift for your clan, lethallan. We ask only that you listen in peace to our proposal and if you choose to turn us away we will leave in that same peace. We will shed no blood."

The Keeper, her warriors, and the hunters had all tensed. Ellana saw their hands gripping weapons but they made no move to draw them. The Keeper nodded slowly and reached out to accept the hares from Abelas. "Mythal bless you," she thanked him and then chuckled as she felt over the soft fur. "Although I must admit your request sets me ill at ease."

Ellana picked up where Abelas left off. "What we are about to tell you—to show you, hahren—will shock you, I fear." Dropping her gaze to the gently swaying grass between their two groups, she chuckled sheepishly. "I know it stunned me to learn the truth about vallaslin, but what I must tell you next will be worse." Squaring her shoulders, Ellana raised her eyes back to the Keeper. "Abelas has told me your clan was visited by Mythal in dreams and that she wanted you to join our cause. We have come to tell you of that cause—but you should know Mythal is not the Creator who walks among us."

"But I have seen her in the beyond," the Keeper insisted, shaking her head. "My First has also heard her whispers. A few of the others and the children wake with the same tale though they cannot remember their dreams as I and my First do."

"And what did Mythal say to you in these dreams?" Abelas asked, his voice deep and somber, yet also urgent. Ellana checked his reaction and saw the passion in his face, the devotion making him fierce.

"She whispered that the People's time to fight is at hand. She told me that I must ensure my clan is strong and prepared for what is to come and that when her champion emerged I must follow him." She stared at Abelas, something like awe glinting in her eyes. "Are you not Mythal's champion?"

"I am merely a representative of her champion," Abelas said and Ellana restrained the frown that tried to twist her lips. Had she heard a twinge of bitterness in his voice?

"Then who…?" the Keeper asked, her expression warping with confusion and loss. She turned her probing gaze to Ellana. "Inquisitor? But you are a woman and Mythal named her champion a man."

Before Ellana could answer Abelas said, "Your people have forgotten much of the past, lethallan. Mythal was not sealed away with the Creators. She was murdered in body, leaving her spirit as the one who spoke with you in the beyond."

The Keeper stared at them, stunned and speechless. The young warrior who'd spoken up earlier said, "But that's impossible. Mythal is a goddess."

"Mythal was an ageless mortal," Ellana explained. "The other Evanuris turned on her, killing her."

"How can you know this, da'len?" the Keeper asked, breathless.

"I have met her vessel," Ellana explained. "Two years ago, when I visited Mythal's temple in the Arbor Wilds. I also met Abelas there. It was Mythal's wisdom that allowed us to defeat the darkspawn magister who tore open the Breach in the sky."

Now anger twisted the Keeper's face and confusion clouded the warriors and hunters behind her. "If Mythal walks among the People, why do our prayers go unanswered? Where was she when the humans broke their promise and took the Dales from us?"

Shifting with discomfort at the topic, Ellana watched the grasses wafting in the gentle breeze again. "I asked her that myself, hahren. But the truth is she is no goddess and it is only her soul that walks among the People inside a human body." She heard the elves in front of her gasp with dismay and licked her lips, hurrying to reassure them, her gaze leaping between each of them. "I know this is difficult to accept. I know it is a shock and goes against everything you have been taught and cherished about our gods. But I am of clan Lavellan. I am one of the People and I have seen these things with my own eyes. As difficult as they are, I know them to be true."

The Keeper let out a wavering breath, her arms crossing over her chest. "I believe that you believe, da'len. But I hope you understand that I have not seen these things myself so I cannot help but be skeptical."

Ellana smiled, nodding. "Of course, hahren. I was skeptical too. But Abelas and his people are of Elvhenan and they are direct witnesses." Her stomach and chest tightened as if gripped by invisible fists, knowing what she must say next would be the hardest. "Mythal's champion is also a survivor of Elvhenan. He is—"

"Where is Mythal's champion?" the Keeper interrupted, her brow furrowing. She and the elves behind her scanned the clearing, apparently anticipating or sensing that Ellana, Abelas, and the other sentinels with them had not come alone.

"Mythal has allied with Fen'Harel. He is the champion she spoke of," Abelas said, blank and to the point, apparently tiring of Ellana's more delicate approach. Ellana shot him an irritated look as the Dalish elves gawked in shock at his words—and then bristled and tensed.

"You lie," the Keeper spat at Abelas, her face blanching. "Creators' mercy. This is a trick of Fen'Harel's devising."

"No," Abelas and Ellana said simultaneously, but she fell silent, letting him explain. "Your people's legends are wrong about Fen'Harel. He was Mythal's ally in Elvhenan."

"Our ancestors warred among themselves," Ellana said, her voice tight with desperation. "The Evanuris enslaved thousands, marking them with vallaslin." Heart pounding, she edged closer, willing the Keeper to understand. "The vallaslin were blood magic, hahren. The slaves had no control over their lives. The Evanuris ruled with more cruelty than the Imperium. Fen'Harel fought to free them, and he locked away the Evanuris as punishment when they killed Mythal. Now he has returned to fight for the People again, hahren. You must believe me."

The warrior who'd first recognized Ellana stepped forward to stand beside his Keeper, his face set with grim determination. "I believe you, Inquisitor."

"Hevis," the Keeper rebuked, hissing between her teeth.

The young man, Hevis, frowned at her chastisement but didn't break eye contact. "I have not dreamed of Mythal—or if I have, I cannot recall it. But I do believe in you, Inquisitor. If you vouch for whoever claims the mantle of Dread Wolf, then I will follow."

"I will not allow it," the Keeper said, her voice breathy and her face flushing red.

"Please," Ellana begged. "Will you not even meet him?"

The Keeper eyed her obliquely, a muscle in her jaw fluttering. Ellana felt sweat on her back, making her underthings sticky and damp. Long seconds passed with no sound but the gentle sigh of the trees around the clearing. Far beyond the Keeper Ellana saw other hunters and hearthkeepers, mothers and children and elderly standing beside their campfire or near grazing halla, watchful and alert for danger.

Finally the Keeper sighed. "I have never dreamt before as I did when Mythal visited me in the beyond." She shook her head. "I felt the power of her command in my heart and now I understand her warning that I would not find what I learned easy to accept." A hard smile tugged at her lips. "If you swear to me Fen'Harel has not come here to shed blood, I will meet with him."

"I will swear by my clan, hahren," Ellana said, the words heavy and somber. "By my mother and my brother who yet live. I will speak no different words to my own Keeper someday when we go to them."

"I have already sworn my life to Mythal," Abelas said, stiff and formal. "But I can assure you the Dread Wolf is not as you remember him and will shed no blood this day unless you and your clan attack first. We bring gifts and ask only for words and take nothing you will not willingly give."

The Keeper nodded, her smile softening slightly. "Then I will speak with him."

Ellana pivoted to face the tree line behind them and raised her left hand to signal Solas. She felt the weight of the Dalish elves' eyes on her, both those close to her and the ones watching from camp. A chill passed through her as a shadow in the trees moved, peeling away from the greater darkness of the forest. Slowly a gray-black wolf as large as a horse emerged, one step at a time into the sunlight of the clearing. The Keeper cursed under her breath behind Ellana and cries of alarm issued from the camp.

"It is Fen'Harel," the Keeper whispered, her voice strained with horror. "The Dread Wolf himself."

"You thought he would be a pretender," Abelas said with a note of amusement. "The Dread Wolf was determined to ensure you knew he and his power are real."

"But the legends of our people are wrong," Ellana reiterated emphatically. "He is no monster and wishes you no harm." She shivered again at the sight of the wolf at the edge of the clearing, though it stood motionless now, ears erect and mouth closed—a posture of neutrality.

"You serve the Dread Wolf?" the Keeper asked. Her eyes were wide, nostrils flaring with each breath like a frightened hare about to spring away.

"No," Ellana said, somber. "I follow the man."

"This beast is a man?" the Keeper asked, pointing a shaking finger at the distant wolf.

Rather than answer Ellana raised her left hand again to the wolf, signaling him to change shape. In a heartbeat the apparition of the enormous wolf evaporated into gray mist and then vanished entirely. Where the wolf's front legs and shoulders had been before a man now stood, lean despite the bulk of his robes and wolf headdress. At this less imposing figure the elves in the camp stopped their occasional calls of concern or entreaties to the gods for protection. The Keeper and her retinue visibly relaxed as well.

"Will you go to him?" Ellana asked the Keeper. "Will you hear his plans to save the People?"

Swallowing and with her face twisting with anxiety, the Keeper nodded. "I will listen."

Ellana smiled and looked to Abelas and his sentinels. "Then we will all go with you and speak a while, hahren."

____________________________________________

The sun was setting by the time Solas led Ellana and the sentinels back to Hellathen Hamin. They walked with quick, light treads, and even the sentinels were quick to smile and laugh as they chattered amongst themselves. The clean, fresh air of the unspoiled wilderness tickled Solas' nose with pollen, reminding him of near-careless days in the distant past when he'd been a youth, wandering the wilderness and Fade. Now, although he had a great deal more to worry about, he found the trials to come didn't press on him as much as they had mere hours ago.

The Dalish clan had pledged to fight for him in the name of the People and restoring the world, despite their trepidation and their traditional view of Fen'Harel as a monster. Of course he had told them little of how he planned to achieve his goals, but with Ellana's help and Abelas there to represent Mythal they'd been able to see and hear the passion in him and judged him a worthy leader. He had not thought wild Dalish clans far from the pressure of the Imperium's slave trade would pledge to follow him. In fact, he was certain this clan would not have done so if not for Ellana's persuasive presence and Mythal's mysterious dream intervention.

Of all the questions hovering in Solas' mind, Mythal's connection was the least clear. What were her motives in this? Did they match his own? Would she reappear soon in a new vessel? If so, Solas anticipated trouble from Abelas and his sentinels. Already Lyris had complained that Abelas kept his own counsel and his elves were ever tightlipped and guarded around the arcane warriors. They fought together well enough and didn't bicker, but Lyris sensed the division and told him she worried it was growing. Adding Mythal to the situation would worsen things exponentially.

Yet that concern seemed distant too as he watched Ellana walk ahead of him, a new bag made of white halla skin flopping against her hip with each step. The clan's Keeper had given it to her as a gift and she beamed with joy and pride as she accepted it. The bag was for gathering and Ellana often darted from their path to pick edible fiddleheads, mushrooms, and berries. By the time they reached camp the halla skin bag was bulky with foraged goods.

He had never thought to employ Ellana as an ally in her own right for recruiting the Dalish, but now that it had worked once he felt confident it would work again. He could double the size of his forces with Dalish recruits and simultaneously change their minds about Fen'Harel. In time they'd sing new songs and tell their children that the day the Dread Wolf returned to the People was the start of a new and glorious age. The prospect brought victory closer, filling his blood with the heat of pride and satisfaction. And he owed it to Ellana. Longing for her awoke in him like a flash fire consuming dry leaves, but Solas buried it, knowing it'd have to wait until they were alone.

As night settled over the encampment both groups of elves sat in a circle around the campfire, eating from a pot of thick stew that one of the sentinels had prepared. Solas let the sentinels and Ellana detail their interaction with the Dalish for Lyris and Mathrel, taking the opportunity to observe everyone. He noted Abelas stayed quiet as well in his spot across the fire from Solas, though he often cast unreadable glances at Ellana.

But when the conversation changed to their next plan of action, a topic driven by Ellana, Solas stiffened with tension. Her green eyes probed at him, glinting in the orange-yellow light of the campfire as she asked, "How and when exactly will you remove the Veil?"

With all of them watching—Ellana, both arcane warriors, Abelas and the four other sentinel elves—Solas kept his face impassive. "There is a great deal of work yet to be done," he answered Ellana, vague and yet sensible enough that he hoped she wouldn't pry further. "I cannot be certain of how long it will take, but the world and the Fade must be made ready before I can remove the Veil."

"And that means what exactly?" Ellana asked, her smile crooked. "Tearing down the Veil will cause chaos worse than the Breach. I've seen a future like that at Redcliffe."

"Redcliffe?" Lyris asked, frowning.

"It's a human village in the Hinterlands," Ellana explained quickly. "A Tevinter magister named Alexius used time magic there while trying to kill me and accidentally sent me to a future where Corypheus had torn the Veil down almost completely." She shook her head, anger glinting in her eyes as she turned her gaze back on Solas. "There were rifts everywhere and demons attacked around every corner. The Breach took up the whole sky and red lyrium was growing everywhere. Is that the chaos you'll cause taking the Veil down?"

Familiar with her description and the events of Redcliffe, Solas clenched his jaw and hesitated. The other elves were unbothered by Ellana's story and as the silence stretched Solas saw her search their faces to find the answer he couldn't bring himself to utter aloud. Finally Solas said, "It would prove brief, vhe—Ellana."

Ellana cringed, repulsed. Her lips curled in a snarl as she said, "I fought Corypheus to prevent that future from happening. You fought to prevent that—or so I thought."

"I did fight Corypheus to prevent that," Solas replied, heat in his voice. "There was more at stake with Corypehus than you knew. Had the Veil failed entirely in that future you saw the Evanuris would have been freed."

Now she blinked, flinching as she made the connection.

Solas should have felt satisfaction or vindication at her reaction, but instead he just felt weary, as if heavy weights had been placed on his shoulders. "We will do all that is possible to save lives during the chaos until the world stabilizes. But initially there will be no way to avoid casualties."

She shook her head, her expression hardening with determination. "There must be another way." The firelight cast flickering, wild shadows over her features. "You promised me we would seek another way."

"I have not broken that promise," Solas answered, quiet and grim. "But I cannot sit idle and let the People die."

"But at what cost?" Ellana asked, choking on the words. "This world is not so ruined that it cannot be saved. Can you really be sure that tearing down the Veil won't make things worse again, permanently?" She sucked in a quavering breath. "And what of our friends? Dorian, Cassandra, Leliana, Cullen, Iron Bull, Varric—even Vivienne." Chuckling miserably, Ellana covered her face with both hands. "They don't deserve to die just because they aren't elven."

Mathrel grunted then from his spot beside Lyris to Ellana's right. "Humans, Qunari, dwarves. All of them are trespassers. Usurpers of Elvhenan's greatness. Leeches."

"Fenedhis," Ellana growled out, glowering at the warrior. "You're as bad as the humans."

Lyris clucked her tongue, scolding Mathrel. "Emma lath, dar'atisha."

The warrior scowled and apologized, his voice deep and gruff. "Ir abelas. But I am not some sniveling shemlen."

"Venavis," Solas admonished and then looked to Ellana at his side. "We can provide warning to Orlais, Ferelden, even Tevinter," he suggested. "We can provide aid and guidance as well."

"Assuming we even survive," Ellana shot back at him, baring her teeth in a savage grin. "You cannot promise that the People will even survive the coming chaos. You did not see the dark future in Redcliffe. I did."

"We will remain underground in warded safe holds," Abelas added, motioning with his hands. "In uthenera and stasis. We will survive."

Solas watched Ellana as she glared at Abelas, her face red with frustration even with the orange firelight painting it. Then Ellana scowled, staring into the fire as one hand rubbed at her navel absently. Solas knew what she'd be thinking with that gesture: What world will this leave for our child? Regret tightened its grip around Solas, but he swallowed the lump in his throat down, unwilling reveal his own doubt in front of the others.

Finally Ellana turned her head so that she met his stare. Her face was half lit by fire, half in the shadow. "I told the Keeper today that I follow you, Solas. I meant that." She let out a breath, her shoulders shaking with it. "There will be another way. I know it."

"Whatever comes the Veil must be destroyed," Solas said, firm and stoic despite the ache that seemed to be tightening in his chest. "Beyond that I promise I will do all within my power to save as many as possible."

She blinked and sniffed, her eyes too moist as she nodded. "Telanadas," she muttered under her breath and then rose abruptly to her feet. "I'm tired. I will see you all in the morning."

"Inquisitor," Abelas said, bidding her goodbye with a nod. Lyris and Mathrel and a few of the sentinels murmured similar goodbyes, polite and icy. Solas watched the fire, the tongues of orange licking at the charred logs on their hearth. He listened to Ellana's steps retreating away to the tent they'd shared together the night before. The victory during the day with the Dalish clan seemed faraway now, as distant as the cold starlight overhead.

Tomorrow he expected Zevanni would arrive with the foci and once Abelas, the warriors, and all the sentinels had seen it their excitement and eagerness would only intensify. Meanwhile Ellana's trepidation and doubt would grow. Unless Solas could find another way to restore the People that somehow did not destroy the rest of Thedas he risked driving her away. The idea left him cold and numb with dread—like his own namesake.

Abelas and the sentinels peeled away from the campfire, returning to watch duties or going to their tents to slumber for the night. Solas remained at the fire, his staff resting against his shoulder and his face twisted in a mild frown. To his right he heard Mathrel and Lyris speaking in hushed tones but paid them no mind until he heard Lyris call his name.

"Fen'Harel?"

He raised his head, meeting her eye. "Lyris?" he asked, finding the energy to smile somehow.

"Will you walk with me that we might speak?" she asked. Her eyes twinkled in the firelight. Beside her Mathrel stared into the flames, his arms crossed over his chest and his features creased with an expression that made him look like he might have a stomachache. Solas had known Mathrel long enough to know he was sulking, disapproving of whatever his partner was up to.

"Of course," Solas answered and got to his feet. He walked from the light of the campfire and wove his way through the tents to the edge of the ruined courtyard. Beneath the statue of the left Dread Wolf statue near the crumbling stairs, Solas stopped and regarded Lyris. "What is it?"

Her hands went to her hips, her armor clinking with the movement. "How far along is she?"

Solas cocked his head, like a dog trying to puzzle out an unfamiliar word. "Pardon?"

Lyris rapped her fingers against her belt, making a tapping noise. "Ellana is with child. Do not try and deny it. I've seen the way she lays her hand over herself. And this morning she was as green as a toad before you insisted she eat something." She let out a short laugh. "Not to mention how thirsty she is, constantly."

Frowning as he felt heat creep into his cheeks, Solas said, "This is not a topic for discussion."

Lyris scoffed at him. "Did you really think you could hide it? From me?" Anger formed a little crease above her nose.

If anyone was to see Ellana's condition so soon Solas had always known it would be Lyris, though he still wouldn't have expected it to be this quickly. He didn't know the personal histories of any of Abelas' sentinels, but Lyris and Mathrel had been parents before uthenera. They'd served Ghilan'nain in Elvhenan, but when Lyris fell pregnant they became bond partners, husband and wife. They raised a daughter together and had hoped to have her join their ranks as another arcane warrior. But their daughter grew into a Dreamer, just strong enough to be taken for the upper class.

Ghilan'nain had discretion over the decision and had been unmoved by Lyris and Mathrel's pleading that their daughter not be taken from them. Solas, who happened to be at court at the time, had overheard Lyris petitioning Ghilan'nain and viciously disagreed with the other Evanuris' decision. And that had been when Mathrel and Lyris left Ghilan'nain to serve Solas instead. They could not keep their daughter as Ghilan'nain's nobility claimed the girl, but they wholeheartedly embraced Solas' rebellion and the change it represented.

Solas had always known Lyris' goal for the world post-Veil had been to restart her family, to be a mother again. She would not have more children until she knew they could be raised in a world that would not rip them from her arms. Unfortunately she'd woken with Solas and Mathrel to find the modern world repressive and unacceptable.

"I have not tried to hide anything," Solas murmured, adopting a gentler tone than before. "I merely did not see any need to discuss her condition."

Now Lyris grinned. "So she is with child." Laughing, she shook her head, shooting him a sidelong look that made Solas frown all over again. "I didn't realize you intended on repopulating the restored world yourself."

Solas sighed. "Must we discuss this?"

Lyris crossed her arms over her chest, glowering at him. "I truly hope you're not this grouchy with her on the matter. She's a powerful ally for recruiting these shem-elf clans."

"You think I have not realized that?" Solas retorted, irritation clipping the words. He fidgeted with his coat sleeve to avoid looking at the warrior for a few moments as he wrestled with tumultuous emotions within him. The heat of humiliation at the personal topic and how swiftly Lyris had ferreted it out, along with the growing desire to confide in her how much Ellana's condition both thrilled and terrified him.

Lyris' expression was stony now. "You do not want a child."

Now Solas was the one to glare at her. "Of course I want my child," he spluttered, biting out the words. He drew in a breath, calming himself. "It is simply unexpected and the timing is unfortunate. I fear for their safety."

A slight smile tugged at one corner of her lips. "An accident then. And here I thought Fen'Harel planned everything."

Solas scoffed, feeling a blush heat his cheeks and spread all the way to his ear tips. He stared in the direction of camp, finding the tent he and Ellana shared and shifting his weight from foot to foot. Instinct and embarrassment made him want to deny Lyris' comment or scold her, but he quashed the reaction as unworthy of him. Instead he said, "The matter is private."

In truth he was still perplexed as to how it had happened. He had no doubt the child was his despite the rumormongering in the winter palace about Cullen, but he'd sensed the magic still inside Ellana's anklet charm. It should have been more than strong enough to prevent conception, yet clearly it had failed shortly after he returned to Skyhold. In the flurry of confessing his identity, fighting Qunari in the Crossroads, being arrested under Divine Victoria's orders, and now finding himself and Ellana effectively exiled, he'd naturally had little chance to consider how Ellana's charm had failed when it still held magic…

Unless some other magic had countered it.

And that was when he remembered the stormheart arrowhead he'd given to her, enchanted with his own magic. He'd meant for it to strengthen barriers around her cast by himself or other mages and to nullify hostile magic. Had he nullified the anti-conception anklet charm? The realization swept over him like a wave of hot water, making his head spin and then his skin burn with shame. How could he have been so foolish as to forget to check for conflicting enchantments and wards?

"It won't remain private," Lyris warned him, failing to see the shock of his internal realization as Solas stamped it out. "Everyone will know in only a few weeks." She reached for him, laying a hand on his forearm. "You cannot expect her to accompany you into the coming battles."

Chuckling dryly, Solas shook his head. "I have no desire to place her in danger. It is Ellana who refuses to see reason. I hope you are right in assuming I will be able to stop her short of tying her down."

Lyris smirked. "Well, you're in luck then. A baby will certainly tie her down." She sobered, her gaze heavy with sympathy. "I do not envy your position, Fen'Harel. She opposes our plans, yet is vital to them in more ways than I suspect she knows. Yet now her condition will make it impossible for her to enter uthenera or stasis, and a child cannot enter such a state either. You cannot delay and yet taking action will—"

"I do not need to be reminded of the challenge ahead," Solas cut her off with an impatient wave of his hand. Everything Lyris had said was true. Solas needed the Anchor to enter the Fade physically, so Ellana was a vital part of his plan's success and had been one aspect that'd held him back until now. With her on his side as a willing participant he could enter the Fade at will, but at the risk of destabilizing the Anchor and harming Ellana by bringing her to danger.

Lyris was also right about Ellana's condition preventing her from entering stasis or uthenera. The same was true for children. Anyone with a body rapidly growing or requiring more energy than minimal would perish in either state of being, no matter how much magic was used. She would have to remain awake as an attendant, protected behind the wards but vulnerable to starvation and thirst as food and water stores gradually ran out. If the Anchor destabilized while Solas was unconscious, or if their safe hold was breached in an attack, he'd have no way to protect her.

Putting these issues together meant Solas was trapped and no matter when he took action either Ellana or his child would be in danger…with the current plan, anyway.

The grim sympathy in her eyes hadn't faded despite his irritation with her. "Regardless, Fen'Harel…" Lyris paused, her brow furrowing. "Solas. You must support her, be kind to her. She told me she had to leave the Inquisition suddenly under less than ideal terms for your sake. She will need your reassurance doubly for her condition and recent events. She has gone very quickly from being a leader with a powerful force behind her to a subservient in a very different cause."

Solas nodded. "I understand, Lyris, and thank you."

"Don't thank me, Fen'Harel—just make sure you take it to heart," she said, her teeth bright against the dark as she grinned. "And congratulations. Fen'Harel enasal."

Solas shook his head. "There has been no triumph yet," he cautioned Lyris.

Immediately she frowned at his reply. Her voice was stern and sharp with reprimand as she said, "Every elven child is a triumph." As Solas stared at her, lips parted slightly with surprise, Lyris dipped her head in a little bow and excused herself, returning to Mathrel and the campfire.

Alone in the dark, Solas let his eyes rove up to the velvet black of the starry sky. Enasal, Lyris had said, referencing the triumph and joy one feels when overcoming adversity. Yet until the Veil came down, restoring both the People and the world, Solas knew he could not afford celebration and he could not allow his concern over Ellana and his unborn child to slow his progress. Every pureblooded elven child held value, ensuring the People continued on in this mortal world, but they had no future while the Veil remained.

Solas felt determination harden in his chest. He would provide that future for the People, for Ellana and his child and all pureblooded elven children born and unborn—even if it killed him. Even if the only way to do it meant killing the other races and in doing so drove Ellana away from him. How could he give anything less to her, his child, and the People?

The little voice of hope whispered in the back of his mind. Do not give up hope, there may yet be another way. He wished then that he believed in the Maker, that he might have someone or something greater than himself to beseech for an answer. But the stars and the enormity of creation spread out above and around him remained stoic and silent. He had no one but himself to solve this problem, just as he had been the one to cause it in the first place.

Leaving the Dread Wolf statue behind, Solas headed for the tent he and Ellana shared. Reaching it, he stooped and shuffled inside as quietly as he could, hoping not to disturb her if she was asleep. But as his eyes adjusted to the greater darkness inside the tent he saw the glint of Ellana's eyes as she blinked, watching him.

"Vhenan," he murmured softly. "You're awake."

She shifted, sitting up and taking the great bear pelt with her. The stormheart arrowhead she wore at her neck stood out dark against her pale skin even in the low light. Seeing it made Solas' cheeks heat with embarrassment at his own mistake. It was as bad as the time Vivienne had ridiculed him for catching his own coattails on fire.

"I dozed off a few times waiting for you," she admitted, the words thick with fatigue.

"You're looking to discuss our next step," Solas guessed as he shed his overcoat and tugged the tunic underneath it off. Folding them neatly and placing them near the closed tent flap, he said, "Unfortunately I have no new ideas as to how we can lessen the devastation of removing the Veil."

"Have you given it any thought? Where might we look for—"

"This is not a mystery we can unravel the way you did with Corypheus," Solas interrupted her with a long exhaled breath. "You must remember I created the Veil. I understand how it functions. Removing it unavoidably will create demons, just as destroying a dam will cause a flood downstream. There is no escape from that reality."

"Then maybe you need to consider it a different way," Ellana retorted in an angry tone.

Staring at her through the dark, Solas' shoulders fell. If he had weeks of time and energy to explain the nuances of the Veil and how it functioned she'd realize what she asked was impossible. There was no way to ease the sudden transition and its impact on both the Fade and the waking world. That left alternatives like uthenera and stasis to survive the devastation, but it would be impossible to protect everyone with wards. And the other races wouldn't benefit at all from uthenera or stasis. Instead they'd just starve behind the protection of their wards as the demons persisted for months or even years.

"Vhenan," he said, shaking his head. "You do not understand the—"

"Then teach me, Solas." She pushed the pelt aside, moving to take his hands in hers. "Help me help you solve this problem. Please." Her underclothes were thin and silken, loose against her frame.

It was as if she'd read his mind, but it did little to comfort Solas. Squeezing her hand, he smiled anyway, though he knew it'd be full of melancholy. "As you wish. Perhaps you will uncover a solution I have not considered." He wanted to believe it was possible, that he'd been staring at this problem so long that he could no longer see another way. But more likely teaching Ellana would just allow her to see the hopelessness of her desire—and that the cost of what Solas planned might kill him.

"Thank you," she said and pressed forward to kiss him.

Solas met her halfway, caressing his hands up her shoulders as he deepened the kiss, tasting her as the hunger he'd felt earlier that day reawakened inside him. When his fingers grazed the bare skin of her neck, sliding beneath her silken nightshirt, he felt the leather strap of the stormheart arrowhead. The magic of it—his own magic—leaped from it and passed through his fingertips.

With a little gasp he broke the kiss and cursed, "Fenedhis." Sheepish shame cut him, making it impossible to meet her abruptly concerned gaze.

"Solas?" Her hands found his still at her neck and gripped them. "What's wrong?"

He closed his eyes, grimacing. "Vhenan, I must ask your forgiveness."

"For what?" she asked, sounding confused.

Sighing, Solas turned his head back to her, though he looked at her throat, not her face. Slowly he dragged his fingers to touch the arrowhead again, feeling the magic tickle at his touch. "Your anti-conception charm never failed, vhenan. My gift to you nullified it as hostile magic. I was foolish and did not think to check for a conflict with any enchantments or charms you already wore." He risked looking at her quickly and saw her eyes were wide as understanding dawned. "The blame is mine. It was an inexcusable mistake that—"

She pressed a finger over his lips. "Solas," she said, smiling softly. "This is not something we assign blame for. It could have been my charm that failed just as easily since I hadn't considered it in a year at least." She chuckled. "And anyway, I think we're both responsible."

Remembering the night he'd given her the arrowhead made Solas' heart pound with excitement. He watched her face, eyes darting often to her lips as he wrestled with his own mixture of arousal and shame. She should be angry with him for his foolishness. He was angry with himself for it—yet somehow he didn't regret the child, even knowing how much it complicated everything.

Ellana's hand went to the arrowhead at her throat, her eyes losing their focus. "Would you take it back if you could?"

He knew without having to ask that she meant the child, not the arrowhead. He scowled and shook his head. "No, vhenan. Never." He smiled slightly. "Though I do wish it had happened after I removed the Veil."

"Then there's nothing to forgive and no blame. It doesn't matter how we made our child, just that he's here." Her smile was bright despite the darkness and it made Solas' stomach flip-flop with want. He didn't miss the way she'd called their child he again either.

Leaning his forehead to hers, Solas purred, "I believe we both know how we made our child, vhenan." His hands moved to her waist, one caressing upward while the other went low around her hip.

"Is that so?" she asked, her breath catching a little on the words. "You might have to refresh my memory."

"Gladly," he said and kissed her hungrily.

______________________________________

Next Chapter

"Aneth ara," Ellana shouted the friendly Dalish greeting used between clans, still searching the woods around them for whoever she'd sensed watching them. "We are peaceful."

A figure stepped into view from a thick bush atop the next hill, moving with the slow grace of all Dalish hunters. But as he moved into the dappled beams of afternoon sunlight streaming in through the canopy above Ellana's jaw dropped with recognition. "Negan?"

"Ellana?" he asked, quiet with shock. "Is that really you?"

Chapter Text

Ellana watched the halla grazing from her perch atop a rounded gray boulder. The sky was bright blue and cloudless, the air warm and heavy with summertime humidity. Flies buzzed her face and she waved them away. The river babbled nearby, reminding her she had to relieve her bladder soon, but she pushed that thought aside and continued her silent vigil watching the halla. Her bow and quiver were on her back, her scout armor comfortable though a tad warm with the mid-morning sunshine beating down on her.

This was the Exalted Plains, near Keeper Hawen's clan. How had she come to be here? The last she remembered she'd been on her way to Wycome, traveling a rough road through the wilderness with Solas, Abelas, and several other warriors and sentinels from the Crossroads network. Unable to recall, Ellana frowned to herself, then shifted again to try and forget the need to empty her bladder.

"They call it Dirthavaren," a familiar female voice spoke behind her.

Ellana leapt to her feet, tensing and twisting round. Morrigan stood in the shadow of the rocky cliff side behind her, her head cocked to one side and her golden eyes dark. The rocks around Morrigan had an odd green coloration and a wispy mist flowed around her legs, seeming to rise from the earth. That meant something. What did it mean?

Ellana's toes gripped the boulder, one hand on her bow and the other on the feathered fletching of an arrow. "Morrigan…?" she asked.

"Is the weapon truly necessary, Inquisitor?" Morrigan asked, arching an eyebrow. "'Tis an awfully rude way to greet an ally."

Ellana frowned and slowly lowered both her hands to her side, though she kept her grip on the bow. "What do you want, Morrigan?"

"Just to talk. I daresay we have much to catch up on after two years." She strode out from the shadow and into the sunlight. Green mist swirled around her feet and Ellana saw the dirt beneath Morrigan's boots had an emerald tint now. That's not right, Ellana thought but kept herself from frowning.

Morrigan interrupted her thoughts, clucking her tongue and inhaling in a mock gasp. "I see the rumors out of the Exalted Council were true. Inquisitor Lavellan with child! Oh the scandal!"

The scantily clad witch made a broad circle around Ellana, her eyes locked on her as she walked. Something about her seemed darker, larger and broodier than Ellana recalled. She fought the nervous twist inside her that made her hands sweat, longing to ready an arrow.

Morrigan went on, smirking, "I'm not convinced the rumors about the child's father are accurate, however. The good Dalish girl who bowed to Mother as Mythal wouldn't sully her elven blood."

Ellana rolled her eyes. "What do you want, Morrigan?" she repeated, letting irritation creep into her voice. She didn't try to refute Morrigan about her pregnancy—the slight swell of her belly was visible now even with her armor adjusted to be loose. Anyone who'd known her before the pregnancy would see she'd put on weight, and all of it was suspiciously in her middle.

"Nothing, yet," the witch answered, stopping now so that she blocked the view Ellana had of the grazing halla in the field downhill. "I had hoped to put you at ease bringing you here, reminding you of what you fight for at the Dread Wolf's side."

Bringing me here…The answer slammed into Ellana like one of Solas' Fade rocks. She twisted around, staring up at the sky and seeing the tinge of green in it now. "We're dreaming," she muttered, more to herself than to Morrigan. "We're in the Fade."

Then another thought made her turn back to Morrigan, eyes widening. "You shaped the Fade into this? How?"

Morrigan smiled, nodding once. "Not I, exactly. Not alone, anyway. I had a little help from Mythal."

Ellana gawked, speechless a moment. "You're Mythal's vessel now? What happened to Flemeth?"

"Yes," Morrigan said, the smile falling from her lips. "I am Mythal's vessel." She shook her head, baring her teeth for a moment in a silent snarl before her expression went blank again. "Though ours is not the most harmonious of unions, yet."

"She compels you," Ellana guessed, her mind spinning. "Because you drank from the Well."

"Yes, yes," Morrigan muttered, her mouth forming the snarl again as her eyes squinted shut as if with pain. "She and I are not always in agreement, but we are of one mind in this: Fen'Harel's plan to restore the People will lead to disaster for Thedas."

Ellana's throat seemed to swell with a hot lump she couldn't swallow. In the weeks since she'd first asked Solas to teach her about the Veil and his plans she'd learned a lot, but she'd come no closer to seeing a way around slaughtering thousands in the chaos. She had no reason to believe Solas would hold back vital information as she could see the pain in his face, hear it in his voice, when he considered the misery he'd cause when he tore down the Veil. They'd bickered about it countless times, but they always reached the same impasse: Solas carried the weight of the People on his shoulders and would not hesitate to sacrifice Thedas to return them to glory while Ellana refused to accept such an atrocity.

"Do you see a better way?" Ellana asked, her voice tight.

"I do," Morrigan said, staring at her obliquely from the corner of one eye. Her golden irises glinted in the sunlight. "But I fear approaching Fen'Harel directly as he will sense Mythal within me and…" She fell silent, grimacing again in a way Ellana was beginning to suspect reflected her inner struggle with Mythal.

"And what?" Ellana asked, still trying to swallow the lump in her throat. Her chest constricted, certain whatever Morrigan—or was it Mythal now?—had to say wouldn't be something good.

"Well," Morrigan said, a grim smile on her lips. "The last time Mythal met with Fen'Harel he killed Mother."

Ellana flinched as if Morrigan had struck her across the face. "You're lying."

Morrigan laughed and spread her arms out wide to indicate the glory of the Exalted Plains as reflected by the Fade. "Tell me, Inquisitor, do you really think I could create this without Mythal's help? I sought you out in dreaming. This is not a talent the Well gave me, but Mythal. And why would Mythal leave Mother, unless she were dead? Who do you think would have the power to truly kill Mother?"

Heart pounding and mouth dry, Ellana shook her head. She refused to believe it. "Solas would never kill Flemeth unless she attacked him first. He and Mythal were close in Elvhenan. He would never—"

"Your blind devotion is admirable, Inquisitor," Morrigan said, her sarcasm unmistakable. "But 'tis still foolish. Mythal knows your lover as you never can and she whispers to me now that his ruthlessness and cunning were renowned in Elvhenan." She cocked her head, eyes narrowing as if listening to a voice only she could hear. "Tell me, has Fen'Harel ever told you how he came to have control over the Crossroads?"

"No," Ellana admitted. Her hand opened and closed at her side, curling into a fist as she tried to keep calm and not fidget or wiggle in place—she really had to pee.

"Before he joined your Inquisition, Fen'Harel had an agent named Felassan who worked with Briala on his behalf. Strange, don't you think, that you have not met this agent? I suggest you ask your lover about Felassan and see what he tells you." Morrigan crossed her arms over her chest. "I think you'll find, Inquisitor, that Fen'Harel will resist answering your questions. He has sheltered you from the harsh truth of what it takes to be the Dread Wolf."

A cold tremor prickled Ellana's skin, making her shiver. Through gritted teeth she said, "I don't believe you. Why are you trying to turn me away from him?"

Morrigan's lopsided smile widened. "Isn't it obvious? I hope to steer Fen'Harel away from disaster."

"You said you know another way to restore the People," Ellana said, shifting her weight anxiously from foot to foot. "Dirthera," she commanded. Tell.

Again Morrigan spread her arms, as if to envelope the Exalted Plains in a hug. "Dirthavaren, Inquisitor. The Broken Promise of the Dales. This is the land you must reclaim."

Ellana stared at her, feeling sweat under her breasts and along her back, her bladder still screaming to be emptied. "You're mad. The Dales are lost. We could not retake them even with every Dalish clan and every city elf united as one army. The humans would still outnumber us and they would slaughter us."

Morrigan raised one hand, as if to interject. "I did not suggest you and Fen'Harel retake the Dales in war—not exactly. 'Tis a far better plan to make the humans leave the Dales of their own volition."

"And how would we do such a thing?" Ellana asked, baffled.

Now Morrigan grinned. "We make them want to keep their Broken Promise." She strode closer to Ellana's boulder, making her tense. "When you waken, suggest to Fen'Harel that perhaps he might consider removing the Veil in…pieces."

"In pieces?" Ellana repeated, blinking with shock. "Is that possible?" Her mind whirled, considering everything Solas had told her about the Veil over the last few weeks. It was magic itself, a sort of vibration that repelled the Fade. Creating it had taken enormous amounts of energy, far more than Solas could have channeled himself even as one of the Evanuris. His rebellion had raided the other Evanuris' holdings, claiming dozens of fully charged foci to provide fuel for it. Then they'd had to scatter them all over Thedas, a process that took years even with the help of the eluvian network. Beyond that Ellana knew little of the actual spell because she wasn't a mage herself.

"If Fen'Harel tells you it is not possible, will you believe him?" Morrigan asked, raising an eyebrow.

Pinching her lips together, Ellana refused to answer that question. Instead she asked, "How will removing the Veil in pieces help? And how would it allow us to reclaim the Dales?"

Morrigan snorted. "Surely you can see the value in being able to test something dangerous before expanding it. Do you dip a toe into steaming water to test it first or leap headlong into it without a thought to caution?" She sighed. "As to how this will aid you in reclaiming the Dales…I imagine you recall how terrified the good Andrastians were of the Fade rifts. When the Fade becomes part of the waking world once again they will flee at the sight of even peaceful spirits." She shook her head. "Humans are not prepared culturally or physically to comprehend a world where the Fade and reality are one. They will leave the Dales to Fen'Harel."

"And curse his name," Ellana said, scowling. "We have enough enemies, Morrigan."

An impatient look flared in Morrigan's eyes. "This is your only other option, Inquisitor. You will make enemies no matter what you do, but this way only hundreds will die rather than the thousands Fen'Harel will slaughter in the chaos of completely obliterating the Veil. An Elvhen homeland where the Fade and the waking world are one will create a place the humans will never invade, never destroy, while still leaving the humans room to flourish. And with one such as you to intervene politically on the People's behalf I am certain we can convince Thedas to give the elves their due. Initially some force may be required to scatter the more stubborn humans..."

"This is why you've helped Solas build an army," Ellana murmured, more to herself than to Morrigan—or Mythal, rather. Every Dalish clan they'd come across to recruit had Keepers ad Firsts who revealed they'd met Mythal in dreams and learned her champion was coming. Ellana had asked Solas about it after recruiting the Dalish clan around Hellathen Hamin, but he'd claimed he had not been in communication with Mythal. Ellana wondered now if "not being in communication" with Mythal included not killing Flemeth.

"Indeed," Morrigan replied, her smile sly. "But 'tis time you woke, Inquisitor. Remember our talk and Dirthavaren." With another broad gesture, Morrigan indicated the Exalted Plains, now swirling with the green mists of the Fade in the hollows and shadows. "I will speak with you again soon."

Ellana opened her mouth to bid Morrigan goodbye but found her throat closed and numb, unresponsive. Then the world tilted and went black, the plains vanishing. The babble of the river and the heat of the sunlight ceased and when Ellana inhaled next she smelled the musty odor of the great bear pelt Solas used as a blanket over their bedrolls.

Blinking, she saw the dim light of dawn had lit their tent. Her cheeks were chilly with the bite of the late autumn air, but warmth enveloped her inside the bedroll and beneath the pelt. Solas' breath puffed against the back of her neck and his hand lay on her waist.

Dread coiled inside her, a tight band that seemed to choke more air out of her with each breath when she considered her dream. It'd been too real, too vivid to be merely a dream. She didn't want to question Solas, didn't want to doubt him—but if it saved thousands of lives as Morrigan claimed Ellana knew she had to do it. And if he had killed Flemeth, or was as ruthless as Morrigan wanted her to believe…

Something fluttered against her bladder, reminding her how badly she needed to empty it. Grateful for the distraction, Ellana pushed the thoughts aside.

Shivering in anticipation of the chilly autumn air, Ellana started crawling from under the pelt as quietly as she could, hoping to let Solas sleep. But she'd only gotten halfway out before he sucked in a breath and stretched, fingers catching her by the thigh.

"Vhenan?" he asked blearily. "Are you well?"

Her heart ached seeing his sleep-drugged face, innocent and redolent of the many nights they'd spent lost in the fever dream of lovemaking. Deciding her bladder could wait just a few more minutes, Ellana slipped back under the pelt. She snuggled close to him, absorbing his warmth like a dry sponge takes in water. "I'm fine, emma lath."

Solas made a little noise of satisfaction in his throat and caressed her back with one hand, his eyes drifting shut. "We will be with your clan soon." He smiled, the tenderness in it unmistakable. "I must admit, I worry they will not approve." His hand had moved to the slight mound of her belly.

The fluttering sensation came again against Ellana's bladder and she winced. "I never had a chance to send word before—" She stopped, concentrating inward as the fluttering changed position, seeming to roll. Realization hit her and she gasped, then laughed. "I can feel him!"

Solas had opened his eyes when she broke off, his brow furrowing with concern. But then he blinked, blue eyes focusing on her with alertness. "Our child is kicking?"

"I think so," she said, grinning. Gripping his hand, she guided him lower on her navel, hoping to let him feel it. The fluttering had eased off for the moment but she held her breath, hoping it would start up again. "He's been dancing on my bladder all morning and I just now realized what it was."

They waited in silence, Solas closing his eyes with a look of concentration on his face. Ellana felt the rolling sensation again, higher now, and moved his hand over it. "There. Do you feel it?"

He frowned and started to say, "No, I—" And then the flutter came again and Solas' eyes shot open, an expression of wonder transforming his features.

"You felt that," Ellana said, chuckling.

"I most certainly did," he confirmed, also letting out a lighthearted laugh before pressing forward to kiss her. His hand stayed on her belly, waiting for more kicks even as the kiss deepened and intensified.

As the baby pressed on her bladder again, Ellana reluctantly broke the kiss. "I really need to use the woods," she murmured, flashing an embarrassed smile.

"Ah," Solas said, grinning at her. "Of course." He flung the pelt off them both and sat up, helping her do the same. "I will accompany you."

She snorted at him, wrinkling her nose. "Solas, please. I think I can manage this alone." Solas had been increasingly protective of her, rarely letting her out of sight as the weeks passed, reminding Ellana more and more of overprotective husbands and fathers she'd seen in her clan. Considering his troubled past Ellana tried not to be irritable about it.

"Of that there is no doubt," he said as he grabbed his clothing from where he'd left it near the closed tent flap. "However, I also need to use the woods, as you put it."

"Oh," Ellana said, blushing as she pulled on her warm traveling clothes. She wore a loose tunic, foregoing a belt to avoid drawing attention to her midriff, and a coat with a fur-lined hood. She shivered as she pulled the tunic and coat on. The morning air left the fabric chilled. Autumn had definitely settled on the Free Marches. Soon frost would rime their tents.

As she saw Solas put on the black lacquered wolf jawbone, Ellana stiffened, recalling Morrigan's questions. "Is it possible to remove the Veil in pieces?" she blurted.

Solas twisted to stare at her, both eyebrows raised with obvious surprise. Then he paused, lips pinching together as he considered. "Yes," he said. "But it would be unstable. The entire Veil would fail, much like the Breach. It would spawn demons, too. I see little point—"

"Would there be no way to stabilize it? Confine it to one spot?" Ellana pressed. "Perhaps the artifacts we encountered while defeating Corypheus could be utilized to secure the edges—a little like hemming a frayed edge in fabric."

Surprise brightened his blue eyes. "Yes, that would be possible. But what do you hope to accomplish?"

"A test," Ellana said. "Like dipping a finger into a hot bath to make sure it isn't scalding. We should make sure removing the Veil won't cause any surprises."

"The Fade would need to be isolated as well," Solas murmured, his gaze unfocused as he considered it aloud. "Or the tear would never cease attracting demons and ripping spirits through." He gave a little huff and frowned. "I would need to walk physically in the Fade again."

"That's what the Anchor is for," Ellana reminded him, lifting her left hand and flexing it.

He frowned but said, "I will give this greater thought. For now we have more pressing matters." His smile was lopsided. "Such as visiting the woods."

"But you will think about it, right?" Ellana asked.

Solas shot her an unreadable look, somewhere between curiosity and suspicion. "Of course, vhenan."

______________________________________

Wycome's walls reared on the hill far ahead. The city was on the high point of the local landscape, allowing for tactical advantage in a battle or siege. A few buildings lay scattered outside the city's walls—mostly inns, taverns, and shops. Knowing their party would likely attract attention, Solas had stayed in the protection of the forest some distance out, close enough to see the city and the road but far enough away that travelers and patrols wouldn't stumble upon their wilderness camp.

It was midmorning before Lyris and Mathrel returned from scouting a nearby tavern and reported exactly what Ellana and Solas had both feared—wanted posters with their likenesses offering an award from Chantry and Inquisition forces. Unfortunately Ellana's actions had drawn the ire of the humans as well, who already chafed at the elf-run council that'd been erected after the Duke of Wycome had nearly destroyed the city with red lyrium over two years ago. Ellana's Keeper had made no comments as to the charges against her, though the council had apparently condemned the apostate fugitive and spy, Solas, who'd supposedly abducted or enchanted her into leaving her own Inquisition.

Had Mythal visited Keeper Deshanna? And if she had, would clan Lavellan be able to follow without incurring the local humans' wrath?

"The city elves may be more open to us," Mathrel said as their group planned its next step. As always he spoke to Solas primarily, though his gaze often jumped to Ellana. After weeks traveling like this with Ellana at his side, Solas had struggled to come to a middle ground between his identity as Fen'Harel and the subservient companion Solas as he and Ellana adjusted to the changed power dynamic between them. When it came to recruiting the Dalish, Solas always deferred to Ellana's opinion.

Abelas shook his head, frowning. "The city elves will always be open to us. It is the clan we must focus on. Mythal will have visited them as she has with the others. We must find them before the memory of the dream diminishes."

Solas studied the sentinel leader out of the corner of his eye, his lips twitching downward on one side. Mysteriously, Mythal seemed to reach out to every clan they encountered, making them receptive to the Dread Wolf and calling for action. Abelas was a powerful mage, but Solas doubted he had the capacity to pose as Mythal. Could Mythal truly be reaching out from the Fade to support him? Solas clenched his jaw, unhappy with the loose ends here and certain there'd be a price or a trick somewhere soon if this was truly Mythal's work. He needed to uncover and anticipate it.

"I agree with Abelas," Ellana said, the words carrying a tight edge.

Seeing her anxious expression made Solas smile at her, hoping to offer reassurance. "We will seek out clan Lavellan first," he announced. "Any idea where they may have made camp?"

He had to bite back the instinct to call her vhenan. Nervousness wormed in his own gut seeing the cream-white of her large coat, knowing it obscured the gentle swell of her belly. This was not their typical recruitment—it was personal. If they rejected Fen'Harel they'd likely outcast Ellana and their child with him. The idea of causing her that kind of pain made him burn with a frustrated rage and then alternatively feel heavy with shame. As usual, he was the cause of most of the misery that befell those closest to him.

"No," she answered, surveying the forest and then the road and the city far ahead. "But it will be near water. Close enough to the city that my Keeper will be able to make the journey easily for council meetings, yet far enough away that their sewage won't sicken the clan." She wrinkled her nose with disgust.

"A day's walk away at least, then," Lyris said, grinning at Ellana.

"Further," Ellana corrected her. "Deshanna will ride by halla, I expect."

"Deshanna?" Mathrel asked, scowling.

"My Keeper," Ellana explained. "But you should call her Keeper Istimaethoriel."

"It's a lot of ground to cover," said Darae, one of the sentinel elves with them. "Is there a chance we could learn from the shem-elves in the city where the clan is camped?"

Ellana let out a quick laugh and then sobered when everyone but Solas shot her quizzical looks. Solas cleared his throat and spoke for her, "Clan Lavellan will not have advertised its position. It would be foolish to do so, particularly after the events of two years ago when human bandits and corruption within Wycome nearly killed the clan."

Ellana smiled at him, nodding her approval. "I suggest we find the nearest freshwater source and search around it. Also, we should hunt and forage. We'll likely run across my clan's hunters."

"I do not like this idea," Mathrel said with a little irritable huff. His brown eyes narrowed at Solas. "We cannot risk them betraying us when they see you, Fen'Harel. They will recognize you as Solas, the fugitive apostate and spy on the city's wanted posters."

Ellana's face twisted with outrage. "My clan would never—"

"You do not know that," Mathrel interrupted her, shaking his head. His gaze was soft with sympathy as he said it, but the words were hard as steel. "You have been away for years."

Ellana turned her head, looking to Solas with her brow furrowed, troubled with doubt. As much as Solas wanted to assume clan Lavellan would welcome them readily simply because of Ellana's connection to them, he couldn't be certain. And, if the clan did prove hostile or decided to turn him and Ellana over to the humans, Solas would likely be forced to show the full extent of his power to escape again. Subterfuge was always preferable to open combat. One must never reveal his hand until absolutely necessary. And, although he had little fear of imprisonment or death at the hands of either Inquisition or Chantry forces, Ellana and his companions were vulnerable.

Averting his gaze from Ellana, Solas nodded to Mathrel to acknowledge his concerns. "I understand your doubts and share them, but I cannot approach this clan as I have the others." He didn't need to explain why. Everyone knew or suspected by now Ellana was with child and they had little chance of hiding it. This clan wasn't just another Dalish group to be recruited for the eventual slaughtering of demons to stabilize a restored world. It was…family?

The idea still left Solas heavy with trepidation. He'd inadvertently killed his real family long ago. Perhaps it'd be better for Ellana and her clan if he never contacted them.

Mathrel grunted with displeasure but didn't belabor the point. "Fen'Harel enansal."

"You will meet this clan as Solas?" Lyris asked, arching an eyebrow. "Will you not tell them what you truly are?"

Remembering Ellana's comment that morning, he shot her a little smile. "I believe it would be gentler on the clan and ourselves to test the waters first."

Her smile back at him was nervous but bright. "I agree."

"Then let us begin," Solas said and motioned to the others, dividing them into two groups. "Ellana, Darae, and Abelas will accompany me heading east. Lyris, Mathrel, Zaron, and Arina, you will head west around Wycome. We will return here at sunset."

______________________________________

It was only two hours of walking before Ellana spotted the first evidence of the clan—a snare along a game trail that Darae nearly stepped in. The sentinel elf seemed flustered when Ellana called out to her to freeze and scrambled to point out the delicate but strong rope vine curling away into the trees overhead.

"If you'd triggered it the snare would've strung you up by the leg," Ellana explained. "Walk around it, carefully."

"Is this to fight intruders?" Darae asked, her voice laced with irritation.

"No, it's meant to catch hares and deer—or wolves and foxes. Any sizable animal the clan might eat or use for its skin."

Darae sighed, her nose wrinkling with revulsion. "Barbaric."

Ellana bristled with outrage. "Excuse me?" She glared at the arcane warrior who, like the other highborn mages who'd served Mythal as sentinels, wore a shiny silver armor and a dark cloak. Like Lyris and Mathrel, Darae didn't seem to use a staff either, despite being a mage. In fact, Ellana hadn't seen Solas use a staff often since leaving the Inquisition. None of the arcane warriors seemed to need one—though they did use a spectral blade like Vivienne had as a knight enchanter.

"Darae," Solas reprimanded, his voice deep with warning. "Athim." Humility. It was a command.

The sentinel shot Solas a glare and then looked to Abelas, who stood last in their file. Ellana saw him shake his head, brow furrowed. The message was clear and Darae capitulated.

"Ir abelas," Darae apologized, but the words were wooden and unfeeling. Her face still had the slight snarl of disgust plastered all over it.

Ellana's hands clenched into fists as she glowered at all three of the ancient elves, shoulders heaving as rage burned through her. This was what all of them likely thought of her people beneath their civility to her. Even Solas had been hostile toward the Dalish despite his own clear comfort with the deep wilderness and humble origin.

Assuming he told you the truth of where he came from, a niggling voice whispered in her head.

"The next time you're about to step into one of my clan's barbaric traps I'll let you," Ellana snarled at Darae. "That will teach you some athim, lethallan."

Taking the lead, Ellana picked her way through the thick foliage, maneuvering with the ease of experience through the terrain despite the awkwardness of her large coat and expanded frame. The two sentinels lacked her grace and were noisier as they followed, but Ellana knew Solas was even quieter than her, moving with the surefooted confidence of his namesake, the wolf. Thinking of him seemed to make the baby start moving again, which cooled the anger inside her. Recalling the awe and affection she'd seen in Solas' face that morning as he felt their child kick blasted away her worries. Morrigan—or Mythal—was wrong about him and she'd been wrong to let them convince her to doubt him.

The forest around them was bright with a mixture of golden, yellow, and green leaves as the onset of autumn painted the trees. Rolling hills obscured much of the terrain ahead, but Ellana had spent more than enough time hiking to judge that they were traveling downhill gradually, which meant they'd likely run across a river soon. The clan preferred rivers to lakes because the water was fresher and better tasting.

As Ellana reached the base of one rolling hill, using the trunk or a nearby birch tree to steady herself on the slick grass and moss underfoot, her skin prickled with the sensation of someone else watching her. The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood erect and she stopped, straining her ears and searching the next hill and the depression. Behind her she heard Abelas and Darae moving, their armor clinking metallically and their booted feet crunching on the underbrush as they gradually made their way after her. As usual she didn't hear Solas until he was directly behind her.

"We are not alone, vhenan," he whispered behind her. She felt her skin tingle anew from the nearness of his magic and clenched her left hand as a mild spurt of pain lanced through it.

The sentinels had halted behind them as well, sensing trouble by the way Ellana and Solas had paused. Ellana could imagine how their group appeared to a lone hunter of her clan—the sentinels armed and in bright armor, she and Solas dressed in traveling clothes that disguised light armor of their own. They'd be a curiosity, but also a concern, and clearly not members of another Dalish clan and unlikely to be city elves as the sentinels bore Mythal's vallaslin.

"Aneth ara," Ellana shouted the friendly Dalish greeting used between clans, still searching the woods around them for whoever she'd sensed watching them. "We are peaceful."

A figure stepped into view from a thick bush atop the next hill, moving with the slow grace of all Dalish hunters. But as he moved into the dappled beams of afternoon sunlight streaming in through the canopy above Ellana's jaw dropped with recognition. "Negan?"

"Ellana?" he asked, quiet with shock. "Is that really you?"

"It's really me," she answered, grinning at the sight of her hunting master, still strong and unbowed despite his ever-increasing age. He had particularly long, pronounced ears, which had inspired his nickname among the hunters: Fennec. He was older than their Keeper and the clan Hahren or lore master, probably the oldest member of clan Lavellan now.

"Who are these strangers you travel with, da'len?" he asked her, frowning now. Ellana noticed he had his bow in one hand and his posture was stiff and alert. Despite revealing himself and recognizing her as a clan member Negan wasn't ready to trust her yet. Ellana didn't look around again but she guessed he wasn't alone.

Ellana turned slightly to indicate Solas. "This is Solas," she said and then motioned behind her to the sentinels. "My other companions are Abelas and Darae, servants of Mythal."

"Mythal'enaste," Negan said in greeting to the sentinels. He bore Andruil's vallaslin, which suited him well because Ellana had never seen anyone more proficient with a bow—even herself—until she met Sera. Even then, Ellana wished she could see Negan and Sera compete to be sure the old man wouldn't still prove the master.

"Will you take us to meet with Deshanna?" Ellana asked.

Negan's frown lines quirked as he made a face. "Forgive me, da'len. Deshanna left this morning for Wycome's council meeting. She will not return until tomorrow."

"Did Mahanon go with her?" Ellana asked, taking a few steps closer to Negan, deliberately ignoring the tension she felt from Solas. "I heard I'm an aunt. I'd love to meet my niece…"

Negan sighed, shoulder slouching. "These are troubling times, Ellana. The humans suspect us and their Templars have threatened to take away Nelora, our Second. There are…" He winced, looking away from her. "The humans say dark things of you and your apostate companion."

He'd recognized Solas then. Ellana steeled her spine and opened her arms in a sweeping motion to indicate the forest. "Are we bowing to the humans of Wycome now that my own kin will deny me?"

Negan shook his head. "Ellana, please. I know you understand the danger. It was only your Inquisition that saved us two years ago. Without you to lead them now they are likely to turn on us."

"That is why we have come, lethallin," Solas said, raising his voice with authority. Ellana shivered at it and sidestepped as he moved to stand next to her. "We will not sit idly by while the humans destroy your clan or the People. We bring news of Hellathen." Noble struggle.

Negan shifted from one foot to the other, antsy. "Dangerous words, lethallin."

"They are but words," Solas responded. "There is rarely any danger in hearing them, and that is all we ask of your clan." He cast a sidelong glance at Ellana then and added, "And, of course, ma vhenan wishes to see her family again."

The term of endearment used in public made Ellana's blood surge with warmth. She smiled at him and felt the baby squirm as if he sensed her happiness.

Negan nodded, looking somewhat abashed. "Of course you are welcome with the clan, da'len. My concern was only that we cannot risk sheltering your companions for very long without risking Templar ire." He turned and called over his shoulder, "Nesa, you can come out now."

A young girl, barefaced and no older than ten, sprang out from the bush Negan had been hiding in, grinning and beaming with excitement. "Ellana," she yelled. "You've returned!"

"Look at you," Ellana said, gasping. "You're going to be as tall as your grandfather!"

Nesa charged down the hillside, slipping and sliding in her rush. She wore her black hair in a braid and had large, pronounced ears—an exact copy of Negan's. Ellana stooped slightly to be on the girl's level and grunted as Nesa collided with her.

Laughing erupted from Negan on the hill. "Come along now, Nesa. You'll have plenty of time to hug Ellana tonight."

Nesa released her hold around Ellana's shoulders but as she stood upright again the girl's hands snaked around her waist and held tight. In the unashamed, uninhibited way of the clan's children, Nesa felt over Ellana's abdomen, her mouth agape. "Are you growing a baby in there?" she asked.

Ellana's cheeks warmed and she ruffled Nesa's hair. Chuckling, she asked, "Hasn't the Keeper taught you any manners, da'len?"

"Ir abelas, hahren," Nesa intoned seriously and then grinned again—not sheepish at all despite Ellana's admonishment.

On the hill Negan watched her with a small smile, the way Ellana remembered her own father watching her before she'd left for the conclave. Negan had been as much a father to her as her own real father. The old hunter's gaze slipped to Solas for a moment, assessing him, but what he said aloud was, "Follow me. I will take you to the clan."

Nesa tugged on Ellana's hand as they set off through the forest, trailing Negan who set a swift pace in spite of his age. Crisp autumn leaves crunched beneath Ellana's feet and the refreshing scent of the woods pushed aside the anxiety knot and tension in her spine. Early after joining the Inquisition Ellana had suffered intense bouts of homesickness, finding herself overwhelmed by so many humans and all their unfamiliar faces and practices. Even the food and clothes were foreign. The sight of another elf, even one she assumed was just a flat-eared apostate—Solas—had been such a relief, even if he had unusual beliefs.

Over time the ache of that homesickness had faded with the rush of fighting for her life against Corypheus and she'd forgotten the charms of clan life. Falling in love, leading the Inquisition, engaging with the humans, and learning constantly of the world beyond her clan had made her past seem distant and small. Now the scent of the forest brought it back in a rush, making her lightheaded, her eyes heavy and burning with the threat of tears. How had she managed to survive over three years away from her clan?

After a few minutes of walking—in silence because even a child like Nesa understood the danger of attracting predators or enemies with chatter—Negan stopped atop a rocky outcrop and whistled. The birdcall was familiar to Ellana and she had to stop herself from repeating it back to Negan. The birdcall was the hunter's discreet announcement that he was entering another hunter's turf. The clan avoided friendly fire between hunters by establishing territories, the same way real predators would.

After a few moments another, slightly different call replied. Ellana recognized this one too and her heart clenched in her chest. She knew that particular whistle belonged to one hunter she knew very well—a snare-setter and warrior named Lerand.

Ellana's first lover, the man who'd nearly become her husband and bond partner.

Negan led them around the rocky outcropping that obstructed their path and into the depression below. The sentinels were noisy, drawing confused looks from Nesa as they dislodged dirt and clanked their armor with each step. Ellana could see the girl longed to question them, but she knew better than to speak without Negan telling her it was allowed. Silence was the first rule of the hunter. Solas shadowed Ellana but seemed at ease despite the storm she knew must be churning inside him. Her clan was unlike any of the others they'd visited for obvious reasons.

In the depression Negan led them in to the ground was loamy and moist, covered in moss. Ellana's feet sank into it with every step, muffling sounds. Even Abelas and Darae's footsteps were quieter now as Negan whistled the birdcall again. This time an answer came almost immediately and much closer.

"We will wait here for Lerand," Negan said, directing the words to Ellana's companions rather than her. "Speak freely," he said with a smile as he looked at her. "We are safe here."

"Why are you so loud?" Nesa asked the sentinels immediately, making a face. "Didn't your Keeper teach you to muffle your steps?"

Abelas and Darae stared at her, speechless, but Solas broke into a laugh. "An excellent question," he said after a moment.

Stifling her own laughter, Ellana tried to answer Nesa. "Abelas and Darae are warriors. It's hard to be quiet when you're wearing armor like theirs."

Nesa wrinkled her nose. "It's so shiny even a blind halla would see them coming."

"But it will stop an arrow," Abelas said, his expression sour. "And deflect most spells."

"Nesa," Negan scolded her. "You are being rude to Ellana's guests."

With a horrified look, Nesa bowed to Abelas and Darae. "Forgive me, hahren."

"There is nothing to forgive, child," Darae said gently. Despite her earlier grouchiness her eyes were soft as she watched Nesa. Solas had told Ellana that children were rare in Elvhenan, discouraged for multiple reasons. He'd told her Lyris and Mathrel had joined him after losing their daughter to Ghilan'nain's nobility and that such experiences were common. Now Ellana wondered if Darae had lost a child too with the way she looked at Nesa.

"What clan are you from?" Nesa asked them and tapped her forehead. "I like your vallaslin. I think I will choose Mythal too someday."

"We are not Dalish," Abelas replied, stiffly.

"Oh," Nesa said and then added, "I guess that's okay." Turning to Ellana the little girl's eyes widened. "Wait, Ellana—where are your vallaslin?"

"I…" Ellana cleared her throat, aware of Negan watching her. "I had it removed."

"Removed?" Negan asked, scowling. "Da'len, why would you do such a thing?"

"And how?" Nesa chimed in.

Ellana could almost feel Solas stiffening behind her, all amusement at Nesa's antics forgotten. The knot of anxiety in her own chest coiled tighter. "It's a long story," she said, opting to be evasive. "I'd rather not discuss it right now."

"Why not?" Nesa asked, perplexed.

"We will respect Ellana's wishes," Negan chided the girl in a somber voice.

Sighing theatrically, Nesa said, "Yes, hahren."

Then movement drew Ellana's eye as two more figures approached through the underbrush, nearly silent. They waved to Negan as they drew nearer and exchanged whistles again. Already Ellana's stomach was flip-flopping with nervousness, recognizing Lerand and his companion. When Lerand lifted his head and made eye contact he froze, his mouth agape with shock before he shouted her name. "Ellana!"

The blond-haired, brown-eyed warrior picked up his speed, outpacing his companion—his older brother—in his hurry. Lerand didn't stop until he was within arm's reach. "Ellana, is that really you? After all this time?"

She grinned, though she knew the expression would be tight with her anxiety. "Yes, Lerand, it really is me."

"Creators," Lerand said and laughed, reaching out and gripping her forearms. "I never thought you'd return." He grinned, handsome and mischievous. "You're more beautiful than ever—but what happened to your vallaslin?"

Solas shifted behind her but said nothing as Ellana felt herself blushing. "I—it's a long story."

"Restrain yourself, little brother," Samhel said, chuckling from slightly further away where he stood beside a smirking Negan and Nesa.

"Come now," Negan said and started walking again.

__________________________________

Next Chapter

Lerand greeted them both and then glanced to Solas again. "Pride and Sorrow?" he asked, arching an eyebrow. "Do you two hate each other or what?"

Darae snorted with derision, glaring. Abelas ignored him as if he hadn't heard the question.

Solas, however, chuckled dryly. "How astute of you, da'len. Isn't it comforting to know that one's character may be accurately surmised from the meaning of his name alone?"

_____________________

Author note: For anyone trying to keep track, which I was while writing, I estimated Ellana's pregnancy to be about 18-20-ish weeks. This is typically the point at which first time mothers notice "quickening" i.e. fetal movement. More experienced mothers pick out fetal movement much sooner. So I'm letting everyone see she's at roughly halfway mark, but just to be blunt I'm also mentioning it here.

Chapter Text

Lerand sidled up to her, close enough that his arm could brush hers as they walked. "You must tell me everything, Ellana. We hear so many rumors but know so little." He paused then, his face twisting with grief. "I saw your father die," he murmured. "It was one of the first attacks. He cast a barrier over me to save me from the arrows the bandits fired—but not over himself. One of their arrows caught him in the shoulder and pierced the artery there." Lerand's voice hitched and he sucked in a breath. "I'm so sorry for your loss."

"Thank you," Ellana answered, feeling her own grief settle on the anxious knot in her chest with an extra weight. "I wish there was more that I could've done."

"You saved us," Lerand said, the gratitude and sincerity in his brown eyes darkening them like rain clouds blocking the sunlight. "If you hadn't been there to protect us as Inquisitor we would've been wiped out. We all owe you our lives."

"I'm just glad I could help," she said and then suddenly found her eyes burning with tears. "You have no idea how much I missed all of you."

"But especially me," Lerand quipped, smirking.

"All of you," Ellana repeated, sniffing as she tried to compose herself. Her emotions were a blurred, messy mass of confusion. She drew in a deep breath and, seeking distraction, turned to indicate Solas and the sentinels. "Lerand, this is Solas."

"A pleasure," Lerand said, grinning. "Any friend of Ellana's is a friend of mine."

Solas nodded to the younger man, a polite smile on his lips, but didn't speak aloud before Ellana moved on to introducing the sentinels. "The warriors with us are Abelas and Darae."

Lerand greeted them both and then glanced to Solas again. "Pride and Sorrow?" he asked, arching an eyebrow. "Do you two hate each other or what?"

Darae snorted with derision, glaring. Abelas ignored him as if he hadn't heard the question.

Solas, however, chuckled dryly. "How astute of you, da'len. Isn't it comforting to know that one's character may be accurately surmised from the meaning of his name alone?"

Ellana's long experience with Solas told her this seemingly friendly tone was actually a straight-faced sardonic reply. She shot Solas a withering look.

Lerand frowned. "I meant no offense." But after a beat he smirked. "Of course, isn't it funny that you'd be the one to answer and not Abelas?"

"No," Abelas shot back, scowling. "It is not, as you say, funny."

"All right," Lerand said with a sigh. "I take it back. I'm sorry." He looked to Ellana again and all sign of awkwardness or vanished as he returned to grinning. "I'm just so happy you've come back, Ellana."

"I am too," Ellana replied, though her own smile was tinged now with the tension she sensed from the less than friendly sentinels and her bristling lover. The baby moved again, a fluttering that suddenly made her bladder feel ready to burst. She ignored it, still focusing on Lerand as they continued walking, hoping she could make it to the camp without having to disrupt the journey to relieve herself. "But we have serious business to discuss with Deshanna when she returns."

"Of course," Lerand said, nodding. "But you're staying, right?" He gripped her forearm, edging close enough that she could feel his breath fan on her face. "You're not just visiting, right? We heard rumor that you left the Inquisition." Concern furrowed his brow. "We heard you were…abducted?" He shrugged, looking confused or cautious as he cast a quick glance at Solas and the sentinels.

Ellana snorted. "Don't be ridiculous. Solas and I left because we had no other choice. The humans turned on him, arrested him as an apostate." She edged backward from Lerand slightly and he released his gentle grip on her forearm. "Negan said the Templars have been threatening the clan too. Is that true?" She laid a hand over her navel as she spoke unconsciously, thinking of the high likelihood that her child would almost certainly be a mage. Unless they restored the Fade to the waking world the humans would be able to threaten her child someday, too.

"Yeah," Lerand answered with a huff. "Deshanna's had Templars catch her in the city a couple times, and once they came around the clan camp once, asking about talented children." Anger clouded his features and roughened his voice. "We've always been allowed to have a First and Second, but in the last few weeks they've been threatening to take Nelora to a Circle."

"Outrageous," Solas snarled behind them, overhearing. "You must tell your Keeper to write to Divine Victoria. She will not tolerate Templars bullying your clan."

Lerand looked to Solas with an expression of surprised appreciation. "You think so?"

"Divine Victoria is a fair woman and she is…" Ellana broke off, feeling heavy again with sorrow. "Or was, I suppose, a good friend of mine."

"What happened?" Lerand asked, lips quirking downward with sympathy.

"I'd rather not talk about it right now," she said, averting her gaze to watch the forest and the other three members of her clan—Negan, Nesa, and Samhel—walking ahead.

The babbling song of water sang in Ellana's ears then as they descended another small hill and entered a clearing beside a sandy riverbank. The water itself was clear and immediately made Ellana's mouth fill with saliva, longing to drink it. There was never enough good water to drink while traveling. The water from their canteens usually tasted stale. Spindleweed and blood lotus dotted the shore on both sides and Ellana saw another familiar figure across the water, kneeling in the sand and plucking the herbs.

"Ah," Lerand said. "Look who it is."

"Rinaya," Ellana shouted and waved to the woman.

The brunette lifted her head and stared across the river with an incredulous look. "Ellana?" she asked, getting to her feet. A slow grin spread over her face then and she let out a little shriek of excitement. "Don't cross here," she called and pointed off to Ellana's right, further upriver. "The current's stronger than it looks."

Ellana would've trotted along the riverbank to keep up with Rinaya but Negan and the rest of her party seemed in no hurry—and at any rate, sudden movement was uncomfortable now with the baby being bigger. A short ways upriver and around a bend where the banks were steeper they found Rinaya beside a small rope bridge. She rushed forward, embracing Ellana and nearly knocking her over just as Nesa had. Rinaya's laughter was contagious and soon Ellana found herself joining in until tears streamed down her face.

When they parted, still holding each other, Rinaya sniffled, also crying. "I was so worried for you," she said, her blue eyes glistening with more unshed tears. "Deshanna said the humans told her you betrayed the Inquisition, that they're hunting you. I thought you'd be dead!"

"I'm very much alive," Ellana said, blinking more tears. She pulled Rinaya into another hug.

Lerand began the introductions before they'd finished embracing. "Rinaya, meet Solas, Abelas, and…" He grunted, suddenly embarrassed as he asked Darae, "What was your name again?"

The sentinel woman heaved a sigh and ignored him, speaking to Abelas and Solas instead. "May I suggest I return to our camp to let the others know we've made contact with the clan?"

"An excellent idea," Solas said. "Abelas, go with Darae. Ellana and I will stay with the clan tonight. Meet us tomorrow afternoon with everyone at this point and we will speak together with the Keeper."

"You're all welcome to stay with us," Negan offered, his voice scratchy and hoarse with age. He cleared it, spitting off into the underbrush.

Seeing it, Ellana sobered, a little spasm of alarm cutting through her chest. "Are you unwell, hahren?" she asked him. She didn't miss the way Rinaya's lips pinched and her gaze darkened at Ellana's question.

"Grandpa's fine," Nesa said with a shrug.

Negan nudged her toward the rope bridge. "Why don't you go on ahead of us with Samhel and let Mahanon and the hearth keeper know we're coming?"

"Do I have to?" Nesa whined. "Can't Lerand and Samhel go instead?"

"Come along, do as your grandfather says," Samhel said, striding along the sandy riverbank and snatching the girl's hand, walking her to the bridge.

As soon as Nesa was out of earshot, Negan answered Ellana's question. "I'm dying, da'len."

Ellana let out a little sound of alarm, her throat aching at his words. "Are you sure? Is there some medicine we could—"

"The healer says it's incurable," Rinaya put in, her head and shoulders drooping. "A slow wasting of the lungs."

Negan's expression was calm and serene as he shrugged. "Do not be sad, Ellana. It is the way of the world. The old must make way for the young." Now he smiled and Ellana knew he was thinking of her own baby.

Solas murmured something unintelligible and in elven, making the others and Ellana glance in his direction, but he had already turned away to speak to Abelas and Darae. "Return to our camp. Ellana and I will remain here."

"As you say, hahren," Abelas said with a nod, his lips set in a hard, grim line as he and Darae turned on their heels and took off back down the riverbank.

After they'd left Ellana searched over Negan's face, biting her lip as she tried to contain her sorrow. "How much longer do you have?" she asked, barely above a whisper.

"The healer doubts I will survive the winter," Negan answered with a small, sad smile before shaking his head. "But this is not a day for sorrows. This is a time of celebration."

Lerand was at her side then, locking elbows with her and motioning to the rope bridge. "If you'll follow me, Lady Inquisitor," he said, grinning. "I'm sure we can find your mother somewhere around here."

With Rinaya leading now, Ellana crossed the rope bridge, though the swaying of it made her head spin. Halfway across she had to slow her pace, gripping tighter to both Lerand and the robe bridge. The sound of the rushing river roared in her ears and she groaned.

"Ellana?" Lerand asked, patting her forearm. "What's wrong?"

Solas, who'd followed close behind as usual, pressed forward and overtook them. Ellana felt his arm snake around her waist as he ducked under her other arm. "Vhenan," he said, his voice tender with concern. "Are you well?"

"I can manage," she said, groaning again. "It's just the swaying." She noticed Lerand's unreadable, wary expression as Solas took most of her weight on his shoulder and with his other hand at her waist, helped her move ahead. After a few steps Lerand fell behind them, letting Solas have her to himself.

On the far side they met Rinaya who watched Ellana with a new, knowing look, though she said nothing. At Ellana's insistence Solas released her, though he stayed close, ever her shadow. Lerand joined them, a sheepish set to his features now and his posture closed with his arms crossed over his chest.

"Are you sick, Lana?" he asked, using her childhood pet name, an unsubtle reminder of how long he'd known her.

"I'm fine, just a weak stomach." Ellana sighed and scrubbed at her face, fatigue weighing down her shoulders along with the continued sorrow of learning Negan had so little time left—not to mention the loss of her father. She didn't need Lerand moping to dampen the joy of her homecoming. The fact that she was the Dread Wolf's lover would do that for her soon enough.

"You?" Lerand asked, chuckling. "Weak stomach? Weren't you the only one who didn't puke that time the healer made us go look for dragon glands in that half-rotted high dragon corpse?"

The memory of that adventure, particularly of the putrid smell, made Ellana's stomach churn now. She clutched her belly with one hand. "Lerand, shut up before I vomit all over my coat."

From behind her Ellana felt Solas caress her back as he asked Lerand and Rinaya, "Do you perhaps have any tea? I have some ginger that may help."

"Our hearth keeper always has a pot on the fire," Rinaya said with a nod. "We're almost to camp, Ellana. Whenever you're ready."

Sucking in a few deep breaths, Ellana straightened up. "I'm ready. It passes quickly."

Rinaya smirked. "I remember." She started walking out of the clearing and into the forest along a well-worn path. Ellana and Solas followed her with Lerand and Negan taking up the rear.

"Remember what?" Lerand asked, directing the question far ahead toward Ellana and Rinaya, sounding confused.

No one answered him as the group made their way through a narrow section of forest before entering a mostly flat clearing where the clan's aravels waited, arranged in a rough circle around the center campfire. Halla grazed at the opposite end of the clearing, their shepherd and his apprentice watching over the animals. The smell of wood smoke set that nostalgic ache twisting inside Ellana again for the umpteenth time.

She found Solas' hand and gripped it, squeezing. "I wish we could stay here," she whispered, unsure if he'd hear it.

"We will, vhenan," Solas answered, also whispering. "For now and as long as we can—as long as you wish. I will reveal nothing to your clan until you are ready."

She was about to reply to him when a middle-aged woman trotted out from around the nearest aravel and the sight of her stole Ellana's breath. "Mamae!" she cried and, heedless of how uncomfortable it was, jogged to meet her mother. They threw their arms around each other, laughing and sobbing at once.

With her heart pounding away like a fist against her breastbone and her throat burning—both with emotion and what was probably going to be heartburn—Ellana was breathless as her mother kissed her cheeks repeatedly, the same way she had when she was a child. Ellana's mother had hazel eyes, more tinged with green than brown, a color that made her think of high summertime, when the earth was at its most generous and fertile. Gray streaked her hair more now than Ellana remembered from before she'd left for the conclave, but otherwise she was still strong with few wrinkles despite a lifetime spent foraging under the sun. Ellana's mother was one of the clan's healers, the longtime first apprentice to Lavellan's actual healer, a woman nearly as old as Negan.

Ellana's mother clucked her tongue when they'd both caught their breath and wiped at Ellana's tears. "I missed you so much," she said, laying a hand over her heart. "We heard so little of you, just rumors and stories."

"I'm here now, mamae," Ellana said, clenching her jaw to avoid another outburst even as the pleasure-pain of the reunion seemed to swell out of control in her chest. "I'm so sorry I wasn't able to visit or write often."

"I think we can forgive you, Lana," her mother said with a joyful laugh. "You were only busy saving Thedas after all." She cupped Ellana's cheeks then, a frown of confusion warping her face. "Where are your vallaslin?"

"I had them removed," Ellana answered, the words catching in her throat and coming out hoarse.

"What?" her mother gasped. As if she didn't believe Ellana she began brushing her fingers over her forehead, as if hoping to expose the tattoos hidden beneath makeup. "How could you do such a thing?"

Ellana gripped her mother's hands on her cheeks and sighed. "Please, mamae, it's a long story and I'd rather not tell it now."

"Of course," her mother said and pulled her into another hug. When they parted Ellana's mother immediately gestured to Solas. "And who is this, Lana?"

Solas had lingered behind Ellana as usual, quiet and unobtrusive. He wore a small smile on his lips, his blue eyes pinched with warmth. "I am Solas. I presume you must be Ellana's mother." He dipped his head in an exaggerated nod to show respect. "I am honored to finally meet you."

"Such manners," her mother crooned, grinning. "I am Ashani. First to our healer." She smirked as she looked to Ellana. "And mother to the Inquisitor, or so they tell me."

Ellana's shoulders slumped as she sighed, averting her gaze from both Solas and her mother. "I'm not Inquisitor anymore, mamae." She shrugged with defeat. "Now I'm just Ellana."

Her mother smiled, her face bright with love, and hugged her again. "That's always been enough for me, darling."

A crowd of elves had gathered, watching with grins or looks of shock as Ellana and Solas as Negan, Rinaya, and Lerand returned to the circle of aravels. Ellana found herself inundated by the sea of familiar faces, all slightly changed from when she'd last seen them over three years ago and all of them clamoring to hear what she'd gone through or to understand how and why she'd lost her vallaslin. Soon her cheeks hurt from smiling and her throat was a nonstop ache of emotion, her eyes gritty and dry from outbursts of tears she seemed to have no control over.

And then she spotted Rinaya coming through the crowd with her brother, Mahanon, at her side and in his arms was a tiny child, somewhere between baby and toddler. Choking on her own joy, Ellana moved to them and found herself staring at her niece for the first time.

"Welcome home, little sister," Mahanon greeted her, moisture glinting in his hazel eyes, the same color as their mother's. "I'd like to introduce Deya." He twisted his body around, encouraging his daughter to see Ellana. "Say hi, little one. This is your Aunt Lana."

The tiny girl blinked her round, innocent eyes up at Ellana. The sight of the bright green made Ellana gasp. "She has Father's eyes."

"And his hardheadedness," Mahanon said with a laugh. "A lot like someone else I know." He pulled her into a half-hug with his other arm. Deya squirmed against Mahanon's chest, twisting to reach out so she could snatch Ellana's hair, then she squealed with excitement, showing her gap-toothed grin.

"Uh oh." Rinaya helped extricate Deav's fingers from Ellana's hair as the family laughed. "See? She only just met you and she already won't let go."

In those blissful few moments Ellana could forget this wasn't a real homecoming, but the moment proved short lived. When Deya grasped her finger Ellana felt her skin tingle at the child's touch. Immediately her smile fell as she saw both Rinaya and Mahanon had noticed it as well.

"She'll be a mage," Ellana said, the words hoarse and difficult to speak around the lump of emotion in her throat. The clan already had the maximum number of mages allowed by Templars. That meant someone would have to leave the clan, and usually it was the youngest child who'd be traded away or even given to a Circle. As if that weren't bad enough, Ellana also knew Deshanna would discourage Mahanon and Rinaya from having other children for fear they'd have more mages the clan could not raise.

Mahanon wrapped his other arm around Deya and kissed the side of her fuzzy, brown-haired head. "Yes," he murmured. "And she's still so young she's sure to be stronger than me, Lana. More like Father." His chin wrinkled as pride and grief warred visibly on his face.

Anguish and anger made her blood run cold, then hot. Glancing over her shoulder, out of the throng of familiar faces who watched her with smiles or awe, Ellana saw Solas beside one of the aravels, waiting patiently. The nervous knot in her stomach coiled tighter as she faced her brother and his fledgling family, her hands clenching into fists. "The Dread Wolf take the Templars and the Circles. Solas and I have come with news of an uprising. Of rebellion. We have no reason to fear the Fade or mages. Magic is a gift to the People and we must be free to embrace it."

"We are few, Lana," Mahanon reminded her, shaking his head. "Rebellion will only give the humans what they want—a reason to crush us."

"There's a way," Ellana insisted, shaking with the fierceness of her resolve. "When Deshanna returns from Wycome we will tell you everything."

Mahanon's hazel eyes narrowed, searching her. "I have had strange dreams, Lana. I thought them just vivid dreams or tricks of the Fade but…" He shifted Deya higher in his arms and gazed around the gathered clan. "Something's coming, isn't it? You are not the first to speak of rebellion."

"Something is coming," Ellana said, nodding solemnly. "That's why Solas and I are here."

Deya squealed then, reaching out for Rinaya and babbling, "Mamae! Mamae!" Rinaya took the child from Mahanon, hugging her tight though Deya had other ideas as she immediately began digging at her mother's clothing, trying to reach her breasts.

"I think Deya has the right idea," Mahanon said, chuckling as he raised his voice to speak to the rest of the clan. "It's dinnertime and we have reason to celebrate!"

The clan cheered and whistled, grinning and scattering to prepare for the coming meal. As the rest of the clan went to work, Mahanon laid a hand on Ellana's shoulder, his smile hard and somber. "We'll discuss whatever news you've brought tomorrow after Deshanna returns, Lana."

Ellana gripped his hand on her shoulder, swallowing to try and clear the painful lump still lodged in her throat. "Mahanon, what I have to say will be difficult to hear. Whatever happens—whatever Deshanna decides, I just want you to know I will always love you. I will always fight to protect our clan and our people." She blinked, feeling tears spill down her cheeks. "And I'm thrilled to have met Deya. You should be proud."

"I am," he said, grinning as he brushed away her tears with one knuckle. Then, after staring behind her for a moment—likely at Solas—Mahanon leaned closer and murmured, "Nesa has been running around camp saying you are with child. Is it true?"

She laughed, though it was thick with tears. "That girl." She laid a hand over her belly through the coat. "I didn't expect I'd have to discuss it so soon—but yes."

"We can give you asylum, Lana, but at great cost to ourselves. The humans despise us for having any power over them at all. Templars visited the camp in the summer. The next time they come I fear Deya will be strong enough they will sense her and take her away." His eyes slid again to stare behind her. "Your partner…" He sighed, his brow furrowing. "He is wanted as a fugitive—more than you. And he's a powerful mage. I can feel his magic from here."

You have no idea, Ellana thought and let out a choking laugh. "I know. We could never stay here very long without endangering you all." She shook her head. "I'm sorry." She gazed into his eyes, managing to smile though she knew it wavered. "We shouldn't worry about any of this until tomorrow when Deshanna returns."

"Of course," Mahanon said, his smile bright as he nodded to her. "We have much to celebrate tonight."

__________________________________

The innocence of the Dalish always reminded Solas of his earliest recollections from his childhood. After harvests or bonding ceremonies or the birth of a child, Solas' village had celebrated much as clan Lavellan did now—with food and wine, singing, dancing and storytelling. Yet Solas' village had used magic in most of it, which made preparing meals simpler and enhanced stories with images cast by the teller. Songs were richer, the food was better, and the wine could be centuries old and enchanted with emotion or sensations.

But there was one thing the Dalish didn't do that made them better than his village, his parents, and all of Elvhenan: there were no slaves here, or even servants for that matter. His own village had used slaves and servants to cleanup after such celebrations, to serve food and drink, and sometimes for far worse things. A servant, despite being free of the compulsion of vallaslin, could still find herself coerced by social manipulation or magic of some kind into laying down for a depraved noble in an alley. Slaves of course had no chance of escaping whatever cruel whims the middle class, nobility, or even servants had in mind. Solas' parents had turned a blind eye to such abuses even as they abhorred them.

But Solas had opted for a different path when, after the celebration of a new birth among the middle class, he stumbled on a middle class man from another village raping a slave woman. On that night, horrified and enraged, he first used his magic to kill. He'd been little more than a child, barely old enough to understand what he'd seen, yet burning the much older, more experienced man into a crisp had been easy once he let rage take him. Unfortunately, in his inexperience, Solas killed both rapist and victim. And he'd set fire to several buildings, inadvertently covering up his own actions in the blaze that followed.

His family and the village blamed the fire and the deaths on the dead man, assuming the drunkard cast a fire spell after passing out. Though the tenacity and size of the fire baffled everyone. How had it grown so big, so fast? And why did it resist magical efforts to put it out?

Solas never revealed the truth, but to his dying day he knew he'd remember the slave's face, twisted with pain though her eyes were glazed. She felt, she lived, but she was trapped inside the cage of her own skull, powerless to fight with the compulsion of vallaslin binding her. The horror of it had never left him and eventually drove him to become the Dread Wolf.

How ironic that the Dalish's innocent celebration had been exactly what he fought for and yet they remembered him as a monster—like the man Solas had killed that night.

Trying to distract himself from his dark memories, Solas drank very little wine and took to listening and watching Ellana's clan, trying to enjoy the present rather than tumble back into his past. The people of the clan all knew one another intimately, and most of them were distant cousins. As the lone outsider, Solas found himself both a source of curiosity and suspicion. Elders and children alike stopped to talk to him, sometimes to learn more about him, but mostly it was to welcome him by sharing stories of the clan. Ellana joined him periodically, but spent most of her time with her immediate family. Whenever another clan member wasn't speaking to him, Solas stared across the camp, finding Ellana smiling and laughing with her family. The sight made his chest ache, restarting the memories of his own lost family back in a time millennia ago when he'd been as innocent as clan Lavellan.

And then, after hearing humorous tales about Ellana and clan life from half a dozen people, Solas found himself greeting a drunken, slurring Lerand. The blonde youth—Solas had to keep reminding himself that his desire to call him boy was a result of his own irritation with this warrior who'd clearly been involved with Ellana in the past—carried a flask of wine and grinned toothily. He extended the flask out to Solas, offering him a drink.

"Pride," he said and sniggered. "Wanna drink? Ashani gave me the good stuff. From Antiva."

"Thank you for the offer," Solas replied with a polite smile. "But I must decline. I prefer to keep a sharp mind and I have already had more than enough for one evening."

Without being asked, Lerand took a stumbling step closer and then dropped unceremoniously onto the halla hide Solas was sitting on beside one of the aravels. He took a quick swig of the leather bound flask and then pushed it at Solas again. "Really, you should drink. You should be celebrating." He hiccupped and grinned at Solas. "Heard you're gonna be a father."

"Yes," Solas confirmed with a slow nod and small smile. "In the spring."

Lerand tipped his head back and let out a groan. "She was s'post to be mine, you know," he said and chuckled. "We had some good times, we did."

"I'd prefer if we did not discuss this," Solas said, scowling as he cast quickly for another subject. "Do you have any interest in—"

"What is wrong with you, Pride?" Lerand asked, slurring. He turned his head, staring at Solas through surprisingly sharp—if a little glassy—brown eyes that reflected the orange flicker of the fire. "Lana says you're not bonded. Fenedhis, I killed a bear for her once and she didn't want me."

Sighing, Solas quashed his initial desire to scold Lerand for the personal question and instead ignored him, staring at Ellana where she sat with her niece on her lap and her brother chatting to her. Both of them were grinning with joy. Ashani, Ellana's mother, was stooped in front of Ellana on her hands and knees, playing with Deya. Even from a distance he could see the resemblance in the family to one another. Ashani had given Ellana the pump heart-shape of her lips and mother and son shared the same nose and eye color. Deya, surprisingly, resembled Ellana a great deal. Solas had never had extended family before as both of his parents had been single children, as was typical in Elvhenan's middle and upper classes. Now he wondered if he would've seen similarities between himself and distant family members. Perhaps an aunt or uncle that'd never been born could have also turned out as one of the Evanuris?

"You wanna hear bout the time I killed a bear?" Lerand asked and then launched into the story unprompted. "So the clan was south of here by a couple weeks' journey and the whole place was overrun with bears. Mythal's mercy, you couldn't go anywhere without seeing one—or ten." He broke off, laughing a moment and taking another quick swill from his flask. "Anyway. Ellana was Negan's 'prentice then, like fourteen. And we snuck out to go kill one of these bears so she could get her vallaslin. See, I got mine that year. I was almost sixteen but I thought she could do it. She's a great shot with a bow—"

"I know," Solas interrupted. "I've fought alongside Ellana for over three years now." He frowned at himself, irritated that he'd fallen into a trap of justifying how well he knew Ellana to her old lover or betrothed or…whatever they'd been to each other.

"Yeah," Lerand said, unfazed by Solas' addition as he continued his tale. "And then the plan was we'd do the bonding ceremony right away once she had her vallaslin. Too bad Fehorn caught her trying to leave. He was a good First and as pure as a halla but fenedhis could he get mad!"

Solas placed the name Lerand had mentioned as Ellana's father, killed two years ago by the "bandits" that'd attacked the clan on the Duke of Wycome's command. Despite himself, Solas perked up at the chance to discuss Ellana's father. "Tell me, I've heard Ellana's brother say that their father was a more powerful mage than him and he suspects—"

Lerand snorted. "Creators, Fehorn made Mahanon look like a nug beside a halla. Ah no, please don't tell Mahanon I said that, but 's true." He looked at Solas, plaintive even through his drunkenness.

Smirking with amusement, Solas said, "Your secret is safe with me, but please, continue. What else do you know about Ellana's father?"

"Fehorn was traded in from another clan before I was born. Cuz Deshanna's kids weren't gifted." He shifted, pointing one hand out clumsily to indicate a middle-aged man currently singing with Negan and several others. "See him? He's Deshanna's son. And Negan is Deshanna's brother and the guy next to—"

"How long could Fehorn cast before reaching mana burnout?" Solas asked, interrupting Lerand. "How did his magic first manifest? Flames? Ice? Spirit?"

"I dunno. All of it?" Lerand drank again and groaned. "My head is spinning."

Very helpful, Solas thought and just managed not to roll his eyes. He reached over and took the flask from Lerand's hand. "I think you've had enough of this, da'len."

"Fen'Harel's balls," Lerand grumbled, glaring glassy-eyed at him.

Solas cringed at the curse. "Excuse me?"

"Why do you call me da'len? You can't be that old, not old enough to be my father—maybe thirty-five?" Lerand hiccupped again, squinting as if he could read the answer from Solas' face. "Didn't know she liked 'em older."

Solas searched the camp, desperate for a way to escape the conversation and saw Ellana watching him with an anxious expression on her face. Ah, excellent.

Passing the flask back to Lerand, Solas feigned a smile. "If you'll excuse me, da—" He stopped himself and said, "Lethallin. I must be going."

Lerand followed Solas' gaze and groaned, slurping as he drank yet again from the flask now that he had it back. "I remember going with her…you're so lucky…" He broke off, halfway collapsing as he bumped his head on the aravel behind him. "Fenedhis—ouch. Where in the great beyond did this aravel come from?"

As Solas rose to his feet and made his way around the fire he saw Ellana extricating herself from a sleepy Deya, passing the girl to her mother. When she got to her feet she wobbled slightly and Solas rushed to grasp her, supporting her. "Vhenan—are you all right?"

"Just tipsy," she replied smiling as she caressed his cheek. "Why don't you join us?"

"I did not want to interfere or draw you away from your family," he replied honestly. He felt the weight of the clan's eyes on him, despite the ongoing songs, musical instruments, and laughter. Tomorrow evening would they curse this night as a trick of the Dread Wolf, trying to seduce them all away using Ellana?

She jerked her chin in Lerand's direction, smirking. "Do I want to know what he was saying to you?"

Solas laughed and shook his head. "He mentioned something about killing a bear for you."

"Ugh," Ellana groaned and pulled him closer, pressing her head to his chest. "Please tell me he was too drunk to get to the part where my father made us clean and dry halla dung for six months."

Solas laughed again. "He was, as a matter of fact, too drunk to finish the tale. But now I find myself wanting to hear it."

She raised her head, grinning. "Dread Wolf take me first." He tensed despite the playful gleam in her eye, aware that her brother, mother, and sister-in-law were nearby and might overhear. But before he could reply or pull away Ellana snatched his hand and tugged him with her—but not toward her family as he'd expected. She led him toward the nearest gap between the aravels, pausing to grab a pelt from inside one of them. Behind them Solas heard cheering and ululating that was vaguely sexual. Throughout the evening he'd seen couples split off into the darkness after kissing or embracing near the fire—an entirely expected occurrence at any Dalish clan—but Ellana's clan was unabashed in encouraging those who left with cheers.

He might've been embarrassed or worried about how this would affect their discussion with the Keeper the next day, but the sight of Ellana beaming, smelling of food and wine and fire awakened a primal hunger inside him. When she'd found the pelt she'd been looking for inside the aravel and turned round to take his hand again Solas was already there. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he pulled her to him and kissed her, uncaring that the orange firelight still danced over them, meaning more than a few clan members could see them.

Ellana's hands snaked up his back, her breath picking up and her lips parting for him. Deepening the kiss, he swept his tongue into her mouth, tasting her and finding the lingering flavors of her meal and the wine she'd had. She pressed her hips to him, arching her back. The small bump of her belly against him set his heart pounding, his body burning for her at the reminder of past pleasures and the new life they'd created. Knowing she carried his child had only increased his appetite for her, especially as her condition grew increasingly apparent.

Breaking the kiss, Solas nibbled at her ear and her neck aggressively, grinning against her skin when she shivered. "Where should I take you, vhenan?" he teased.

"Fenedhis," she cursed, gasping before he kissed her again, hungrily. Then she pulled back, her eyes reflecting the dancing orange light of the fire. "Follow me."

"I am yours to command," he purred, low and husky.

_________________________________________

Gripping his hand, Ellana led him out into the darkness, the crisp autumn grasses rustling and crunching underfoot. Halla milled about in the darkness, some sleeping standing up while others lay curled like fawns. Nesa and a few other adolescents stood watch over the halla while the adults celebrated. One of them—in the dark Ellana couldn't be sure who—let out the playful lover's call, a teasing sound meant as a blessing on couples. The clan had yet to recover its full numbers after the bandit attacks so new children were more than welcomed, they were encouraged.

The only downside to clan life was the lack of comfortable beds. The aravels were mainly for transporting goods, not for sleeping. The clan would set out tents or other movable, temporary structures for warmth in the winter, but during high summer or any night that was warm enough they slept out under the stars. That meant lovers did too, in whatever private and preferably dry spot they could secure. But Ellana was no stranger to midnight romps in a bedroll and neither, she knew, was Solas.

At the edge of the clearing she stopped and spread out the blankets she'd taken from the aravel. Solas didn't make the task easy, distracting her as his hands roved over her from behind and his hot breath fanned out over her neck only to be followed by his kisses. She groaned as her skin dimpled and a shiver passed through her. The night air was brisk away from the fire but she still began opening her coat and fumbling with her other clothing as Solas continued nibbling at her neck and her ear.

"The ground, vhenan?" he asked, chuckling low and playful. "I have a better idea." Wrapping his arms around her, Solas stilled her hands and motioned with his chin to a tree a few meters away that had grown with a split near the base that formed a V-shape. "Sit."

She shivered and made a noise of anticipation in her throat, guessing what he had in mind. "You never disappoint, emma lath."

Laughing, Solas released her, but not before one hand caught her rear and squeezed. Ellana gasped, laughing as she grabbed the blankets from the ground and sauntered to the tree, feeling his eyes on her, his hunger a palpable thing—as was her excitement. At the tree she faltered, unsure where to place the blanket, but Solas took over. Wrapping the pelt around her shoulders, he asked, "How am I to kiss you as you deserve with your breeches in the way?"

She grinned, purring her answer, "Mm, let me fix that problem for you." With him holding the pelt around her Ellana was able to reach down between them, but instead of gripping her own clothing she found his erection with both hands and squeezed. He let out a jagged breath through clenched teeth.

"I seem to have found your staff," she murmured, then laughed.

"I have no need of it yet," he said throatily and then kissed her, breathing fast. Pressing closer, he backed her into the tree, using her body to pin the pelt in place so he could free his hands. His fingers were cold at her waist as they dug at her belt, unfastening it with the ease of long practice. Ellana shivered, using one hand to help him while the other grabbed at the blanket to try keeping the chilly night air at bay.

When her pants were around her ankles Solas broke the long, sloppy kiss between them and grinned lasciviously. "Sit back, vhenan."

She half sat, half stumbled into the seat of the V-shaped tree trunk, her heart pounding and her blood pumping hot through her as he knelt between her legs. Her skin quivered at his caress, both from the slight chill of his fingers and the gentle, blunt nails he trailed along the inside and underside of her thighs. She gripped the right side of the tree trunk while her left hand kept the pelt around her for warmth. Her muscles snapped taut with anticipation as she felt his hot, moist breath on her sex, but he veered away to kiss and nibble along her thigh, teasing her as he always did.

"Solas," she moaned his name, aching for him and unable to think as he teased her again only to switch his kisses to the other thigh. "Solas, please…"

As if her entreaty had convinced him, Solas' mouth moved to her sex, his lips and tongue scalding on her sensitive flesh. He started slow, with gentle flicks of his tongue against her, each movement sending a zinger of pleasure through her. Ellana writhed, trying to keep herself from crying out as the pleasure spiraled inside her, but pregnant sex always had her on the edge, inches from toppling over the precipice. It was too much and she didn't have the self-control to hold back her moans as he changed tactics, growing more aggressive as he caressed her with more pressure and longer strokes.

When he sucked gently she gasped and cried out, the climax hitting her suddenly, making her entire body convulse and shake. Solas didn't stop swirling his tongue over her and Ellana bucked her hips as the pleasure twisted, as intense as fire licking up through her, consuming her from within. Before she knew what had happened another orgasm hit, waves of pleasure washing over her and stealing her breath away as she cried out wordlessly.

Panting and with her mind thick from pleasure, she couldn't form words or think as Solas stood up, a smug smirk on his face. Seeing his desire, still trapped inside his pants, Ellana grinned at him and reached for his waist to free his arousal. Solas edged closer to her, the warmth of his body warding away the frigid night air and already restarting the frantic pulse within her. As soon as she'd freed his erection, Ellana guided him inside her.

He groaned, shuddering over her, clinging close. His lips nuzzled her neck and then her ear, his breath puffing hot against her skin. "Vhenan," he whispered in her ear, "I doubt I can hold out long."

She moaned, already feeling the slick heat of pleasure building again. "Then that makes two of us."

Moaning, he rocked his hips, grinding against her inside and out, watching her face as he picked up speed. She kissed him, sucking on his lips, uncaring that she could taste herself on him. She arched her back; meeting his increasingly fast thrusts with her own growing need, feeling the pleasure spiraling until it exploded.

Crying out through gnashed teeth, she rode the waves of bliss as they shuddered through her for the third time and heard Solas grunt as his own climax hit. He gasped against her neck, panting as his hips bucked, emptying himself into her. Ellana felt him twitch inside her, the pulses of his pleasure alternating with hers.

As the rush of bliss passed, leaving them holding each other tightly, breathing fast and shoulders heaving, Solas laughed huskily. "I suspect your clan will have heard us."

She didn't miss the smug satisfaction in his grin, lit milky white by the moon overhead. "It was hardly a secret why we left the party." She nuzzled his ear, nipping at the pointy tip and smirking with delight when he shivered. "Everyone already knows I'm pregnant and trust me, the clan knows how babies are made."

Solas chuckled, turning his head and pulling back to touch his forehead to hers. "I have enjoyed seeing you happy tonight, vhenan." He cupped her cheeks in his hands and kissed her, quick and tender. "In more ways than one."

Ellana caught the nervousness in his tone and moved in for a slightly longer kiss, aiming to reassure him. When it broke she smiled at him through the dark. "They will accept you tomorrow as you are, not as the legends say." With her hand that wasn't still holding the pelt, Ellana brought one of his hands to the soft swell of her navel. "You are family now."

Moisture glinted in his eyes as he smiled at her, though Ellana could see the expression carried as much joy as it did grief. She remembered what he'd told her about his family in Elvhenan and squeezed his hand. "The clan is strong, emma lath. With the Fade rifts gone they can vanish into the forest at the threat of attack. They couldn't do that two years ago with demons at every turn. And now they have your protection. You will not lose us."

Solas took a breath inward and averted his eyes from her, still troubled, but what he said was, "Ar lath ma, vhenan. Bellanaris."

She turned his head toward her with two fingers on his chin and kissed him again. "Ar lath ma, Solas," she replied. "Bellanaris."

______________________________________

Next Chapter

"I'm not the one you should be most worried about," Dorian told her ominously. "Because you see, a supply caravan coming into Minrathous a few weeks back was attacked by a bunch of organized elven bandits. Most of the bandits escaped, but two were captured alive and, unfortunately for them, healthy enough for torture. When my illustrious colleagues in the Magisterium finally broke the poor bastards they told us they were Dalish."

Still clutching the crystal, but now with a sweaty palm, Ellana hugged herself, biting her lip. "Dalish?" she parroted, trying to sound surprised.

"Yes, as in your people." He made a little high-pitched noise through his nose. "Did I mention they were barefaced, Ellana? But that's not the best part of it all. They spouted gibberish about serving the Dread Wolf."

Chapter Text

Keeper Deshanna looked as though she might vomit or break out into sobs, Ellana wasn't sure which was more likely. Mahanon, at her side, was as pale as a halla.

"This…" Deshanna shook her head as she gazed between Ellana and Solas. "This is a lot to take in, da'len." Stiffening, her pale brown eyes flew to Solas warily, no doubt realizing she'd just referred to Fen'Harel as child.

"I understand," Ellana said. "You do not need to answer us quickly, or at all. Whether you fight for us or not we will still protect you from the trying times ahead."

They sat together on animal pelts in the clearing some distance from the aravel circle, tall golden grass swaying in the gentle evening breeze. Abelas and the rest of Solas' Elvhen compatriots were now in the clan's encampment, currently socializing—which so far meant the warriors and sentinels stood around with longsuffering, sour expressions while everyone gawked at them and picked at their armor in wonder. Usually Abelas and the others functioned as backup in case the clan reacted violently, though only two clans had ever rejected them and neither attacked. After the celebration and friendliness of Ellana's clan the sentinels and warriors hardly seemed necessary, except as a way to prove remnants of Elvhenan lingered on.

"I trust you, Lana," Deshanna said, though her expression was pained. Her gaze moved to Solas. "Forgive me, it is you I doubt."

Solas smiled sadly. "I am not surprised or offended, lethallan. Your legends do not remember me kindly."

"The Creators were but mortal men and women?" Deshanna asked, repeating what Ellana and Solas had already told them. "A being claiming to be Mythal has visited me in my dreams over the last week, but she did not tell me any of this. I cannot believe it is so. Ageless or no, how could our people remember mere mages as gods? Legend says Elgar'nan defeated the sun, who was his father. He and Mythal shaped the very earth."

"They were no mere mages," Solas said, his voice rough and somber. "They were Evanuris, the most talented and powerful of Elvhenan. And they did shape the very earth—such was their power."

"Can you?" Mahanon blurted, eyes wide.

Solas' jaw clenched and he nodded. "I could, before the Veil sundered the waking world from the Fade. I am a Dreamer; we shape the Fade. When this world and the Fade were one I could transform both with enough will and magic."

"And you wish to restore the world as it was in Elvhenan?" Deshanna asked, her expression unreadable.

"Doing so will restore the People," Solas told her emphatically. "We will once more be ageless. Magic is the lifeblood of the People, lethallan."

"Magic is the gift of the People," Mahanon repeated what Ellana had told him the previous day, glancing to her with a somber darkness in his eyes. "But then none would be safe from the Templars or the Circles. The humans would destroy us in fear of our talents."

"We will have to fight," Solas replied, the passion in his voice making Ellana's skin dimple with gooseflesh. "It is inevitable." He paused, nostrils flaring as he breathed. "It is why I have survived—to lead the People. To right the wrongs of the past."

"Even with magic, we are so few," Deshanna said, frowning though her eyes were sad. "Our best hope is to endure and outlast the humans."

"We grow fewer every year," Solas retorted, his vehemence becoming anger. "In the cities humans purge the alienages on a whim. In Tevinter we are slaves. With every generation our blood is sullied by humans. We will not outlast humans, we will simply be absorbed by them." He fell silent a moment, blue eyes blazing with emotion. Then he said, "I refuse to give in when I have the will and the power to fight."

"Perhaps you are unfamiliar with our history," Deshanna said, irritated as well now. Her long, silver-gray hair gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight as she shook her head. "We fought once before, for the Dales. We lost them. We lost everything. We cannot afford to—"

"I am familiar with your history," Solas interrupted her, his voice almost a growl. "I watched it unfold from the Fade as I dreamed in uthenera. But what is coming is not a war the humans can win, even with greater numbers. When the Veil is removed I will once more shape the earth itself to defend the People."

"Forgive me," Mahanon said, fidgeting with his sleeves as Solas turned his blue-eyed glare on him. "With the Veil in place as it is now, what power do you wield? If the Templars were to arrive now for my daughter or Nelora, could you protect us?"

Ellana watched Solas' reaction out of the corner of one eye, seeing the way he paused, blinking with surprise. The clans they'd approached before had all been cowed with awe and fear, seeing the Dread Wolf as the Evanuris he was. That, combined with Mythal's influence through their dreams, made them more likely to accept Solas' proposal and the many hard truths he shared. But clan Lavellan had met him as Solas, Ellana's lover and fellow Inquisition member. Now, like Ellana had, they were having difficulty understanding how the nondescript, bald apostate could be Fen'Harel.

"Of course," Solas answered firmly. "I would not allow them to take anyone to a Circle."

"There were at least twenty bandits who attacked us two years ago on the day Father died," Mahanon said, suddenly animated. "You could have stopped them with ease?"

"He would have, yes," Ellana answered before Solas.

Solas glanced to her, his brow furrowed. "Vhenan—"

"They haven't seen what you can do. I have," she said, gripping his hand and squeezing. Looking back to her Keeper and Mahanon, she licked her lips and explained, "When the Divine ordered Solas' arrest, I went to go see him where they'd imprisoned him. When the guards tried to drag me out against my will Solas petrified them."

"Petrified?" Deshanna asked, confused.

"Turned them to stone," Ellana clarified. Both the Keeper and Mahanon stared at Solas, dumbfounded. "All four guards."

"Vhenan," Solas protested, grimacing as if hearing the story caused him pain. "Please."

"These were Templars?" Deshanna eyed him, something akin to hope in her gaze, awaiting his answer.

Solas sighed. "Yes, lethallan. It is not a moment I am proud of. I lost control and struck out to defend Ellana."

"And was that a challenge for you?" Mahanon asked, edging forward and dropping his voice in a near-whisper. "How many could you defend against? What limits do you have with the Veil in place?"

Solas shook his head, lips twisting with displeasure. "It was not a challenge, but in truth I do not know the extent of my abilities with the Veil in place. I have spent most of my time since waking hiding who I truly am and what I can do. I was still weak when I joined the Inquisition." He closed his eyes, shoulders slouching slightly. "I am still regaining strength."

"Then we should test your limits," Mahanon suggested, smirking. His eyes were bright with eagerness.

"Mahanon," Ellana scolded him even as she grinned. She knew Mahanon was remembering duels with their father where they practiced hurling fireballs and lightning, then putting out the fires they started with blasts of ice magic. Remembering those pleasant days watching her father and brother cast stirred the ache of loss within her but Ellana swallowed it down.

"I would pass any test you devised," Solas replied blankly, his eyes and mouth set hard with annoyance. "But I would prefer not to waste time on such frivolities."

"You truly are Fen'Harel?" Deshanna asked, her voice breathless. "The Dread Wolf who locked away the Creators?"

"They were Evanuris, not divine creators," Solas corrected her gently. "But I am Fen'Harel and I will see the People restored." He turned slightly, eyes locking with Ellana. The tenderness she saw in his face made her body flush with warmth despite the chill in the autumn air, remembering the night before. "I must ensure the world is right for my own child."

Deshanna drew in a deep breath. "I cannot believe I will say this then, but clan Lavellan is with you…" She made a face, somewhere between baffled and amused. "…Dread Wolf. Lana supports you and we owe her our lives." Her gaze was solemn. "We do not forget our debts."

"Nor I," Solas told her with an exaggerated nod of respect. "I owe the People a great deal and I intend to see them through the chaos to come." Something in his tone made Ellana tense, her heart suddenly lurching into her throat. A second later Solas began again, the words heavier this time. "I doubt I will be able to destroy the Veil before my child is born and there will soon be fighting that will be too dangerous for Ellana to accompany me—"

"You do not get to leave me here, Solas," Ellana cut in, her hands clenching into fists. "I can still help you. I can still fight."

Solas swallowed, his throat bobbing as he continued staring at Deshanna and Mahanon, as if Ellana hadn't spoken. "I would request you accept her into your clan along with a few of my warriors over the winter. I will—"

"Fenedhis, Solas," Ellana cursed, biting out the words. "I'm sitting right here and I refuse to let you go off risking your life without me."

Deshanna and Mahanon looked between the couple, tense though they remained silent. Somewhere behind them, closer to the aravels, one of the halla bleated and a child practiced the hunter's birdcall whistle. Ellana realized she had to pee again as the baby wriggled and tapped on her bladder, but she ignored the urge, too focused on Solas.

"Where I must go will not be safe for you, vhenan," Solas said, at last meeting her eye. "There will be Elvhen magic. It could destabilize the Anchor."

"The Anchor is fine," Ellana insisted, lifting her left hand to open and close it, showing the pale palm. "You worry too much, emma lath."

"And you do not worry enough," he said, frowning with a sad gleam in his blue eyes that made Ellana feel weak-limbed with something akin to dread.

"Lana," Mahanon said, clearing his voice and cringing when both she and Solas whipped around to stare at him. "Solas has a point. Battlefields are no place for expectant mothers." He shot a nervous glance at Solas then, licking his lips. "Forgive me…hahren…how am I to address you?"

Solas smiled. "I was Solas first, long before I had any other names or titles." He directed the words to Deshanna as well, tilting his head slightly. "For clan Lavellan I should like to be just Solas." Pausing a moment with a thoughtful expression, he added, "I suppose lethallin is correct, though one day I hope to know you all as falon."

Mahanon smiled back. "I would like that as well."

As her lover and her brother continued bonding in front of her, Ellana crossed her arms over her chest and scowled, letting out a disgusted noise. "Creators, you two are impossible." She looked to Deshanna, ready to beg. "Hahren, could you please talk some sense into Solas? I cannot stay here while he fights alone. Our child won't come until the spring and the first snow hasn't even fallen yet."

Deshanna's regretful expression told Ellana before the older woman had even opened her mouth that she wouldn't like what she had to say. "Lana, the days will fly by and travel in winter is difficult, if not impossible. If you leave the clan now you are unlikely to return to us before spring and by then it will be too late. You could find yourself giving birth along the side of the road with no healer and only warriors at your side who have never held an infant, let alone birthed one."

Solas frowned briefly and Ellana knew he was thinking of Lyris and Mathrel, though he didn't refute her Keeper.

"No," Ellana grumbled. "I don't care what any of you say, I won't sit back just because I'm pregnant." She gnashed her teeth, glaring at Solas. "You need the Anchor."

"Not for my plans this winter," Solas said, keeping his explanation vague though Ellana knew he had a sizable enough force now that he could ford into the eluvian networks to find the mirror leading to the prison construct he'd created long ago for the Forgotten Ones. Solas had been cagey in his explanations to her, but Ellana guessed it was as dangerous as it sounded. Imprisoned or not, the Forgotten Ones had been enough to give multiple Evanuris pause in Elvhenan from what Ellana understood of her people's legends and what she'd been able to learn secondhand through Solas. What she did know was that Solas could not remove the Veil without being certain both the Evanuris and the Forgotten Ones would not be released in the process.

"We can send the clan an eluvian," Ellana suggested. "Then I can return here quickly from Hellathen Hamin. I won't be stuck traveling in the spring or the depths of winter."

Now she saw she'd made him hesitate, a crease forming between his brows as he considered. Finally he looked to Mahanon and Deshanna again. "Would you be willing to take on an Elvhen mirror? It is a magical device that allows instant travel between locations. It would allow Ellana to—"

"Could we use it to reach you?" Mahanon interrupted, arching an eyebrow. "Or to flee if we were attacked?"

"Yes," Solas replied with a nod. "I can teach you how to activate it. But securing and transporting one may prove difficult and it will take weeks."

Deshanna gave a shrug. "I don't see why not. It sounds like a wonderful tool to have."

"Great," Ellana said, squirming slightly as her bladder again reminded her it was full. "Now we don't have to argue about whether I'm staying. I'll return when I'm closer to my time." Her eyes widened as she realized an eluvian meant she could make visits any time she wanted. Grinning, she said to Mahanon, "I'll be able to—"

With a little huff, Solas interrupted her. "Vhenan, please, you must see reason and remain with your clan. With an eluvian I can return frequently, but if I cannot secure one and get it here before the snow impairs travel you will have no way to return before spring."

"No," Ellana grumbled, scowling. "How many times do I have to tell you that?"

"Hardheaded as our father," Mahanon said with a snort, anger darkening his hazel eyes. "You put everyone above yourself, just like he did, Lana. But you can't do that anymore, not when you're carrying a child."

"Thank you," Solas told Mahanon.

The sight of them agreeing with each other—and Deshanna frowning at her too—made Ellana groan. "The answer is still no. There's plenty of time yet." Unable to ignore her bladder anymore, Ellana got to her feet with a grunt.

"Vhenan?" Solas asked, rising as well, graceful despite the sudden motion. "Are you—"

"I'm fine," she grumbled, irritated as she noted both Deshanna and her brother wore concerned expressions at her sudden departure. "Just going to find a tree, as usual." She half expected Solas to insist on accompanying her and felt her shoulder slouch with relief when she saw him sit back down on the halla hides.

He's only going to worry more as time goes on, the nagging voice in her head scolded her. It was true, and she knew he did it out of love, but she had to stay with him as long as possible. The dream she'd had with Morrigan returned to her mind, the worm of distrust writhing in her chest with a flutter of dread. What if the moment she was sequestered with her clan, where she couldn't object or fight him on it, Solas destroyed the Veil and began a bloody genocidal war?

She wanted to trust he would never do such a thing without clearing it with her as their only choice. She wanted to believe that he wouldn't lie to her—hadn't lied to her since revealing who and what he truly was—but Morrigan's seed of doubt remained strong within her, ready to sprout. He might love her, their child, and the People with every fiber of his being, but how far would he go to restore the Fade and its magic? How much would he sacrifice? He had, after all, sacrificed the Fade when he created the Veil, and he'd loved it and the spirits inhabiting it too. It hadn't been all that long ago when he'd cagily considered her as an acceptable, if miserable and unforgivable, loss.

Pushing that thought aside, Ellana marched into the trees. After finding a suitably sheltered spot and relieving herself, Ellana stood and refastened all of her clothing, but as she tightened her belt she heard a high-pitched chime. It rang in pulses, distinct and growing louder for a few beats and then quieting again. A moment later it chimed again, restarting the process.

Ellana located the source of the sound and her jaw fell open, realizing it was the crystal Dorian had given her, chiming away inside the leather pouch she wore on her belt. Opening the pouch, she grabbed out the crystal. It was white and opaque when normally it was translucent. It tingled in her hand, alive with magic.

When she squeezed it tightly the chiming ceased and the golden autumn forest around her fell abruptly silent for an instant then Dorian's voice rang out, sounding tinny and distant. "Hello? Ellana?"

"Dorian?" she asked and then grinned, laughing. "I can't believe this."

His snort carried well through whatever magic the crystal used and she could easily imagine the way his nose would wrinkle at her. "Really? You've fought an ancient darkspawn magister, met a murdered elven goddess residing inside a witch, traveled through time, walked in the Fade—twice—and found a Titan in the Deep Roads, but this is what you can't believe? Long-distance communication using magic?" He laughed and Ellana grinned at the sound, finding it contagious even if it was a bit odd to be standing beside the bush she'd just piddled by, talking to a crystal like a crazy woman.

"I always knew you Southerners were backward," Dorian went on. "But really, old girl, I think the cold down there must really be getting to you. Are you all right? Did I catch you at a bad time? I hope the shock of using the crystal doesn't send you into labor."

Shaking her head, even though she knew Dorian would never see it, Ellana chuckled. "I'm fine, Dorian, and this is actually perfect timing."

"I see," he said, letting the words trail off before adding, "…and is your bald apostate lover in earshot?"

Frowning to herself, Ellana surveyed the woods, finding them as empty as she'd expected. "Actually no, Solas is not with me at the moment." She walked further into the forest as she spoke, keeping her voice quiet. Leaves crunched underfoot but her breath didn't fog in front of her yet.

"Are you alone? Can we speak freely?" Dorian asked, his tinny voice still managing to carry a note of urgency.

"I'm alone," she said. "What's the matter? Has something happened?"

"You could certainly say that, yes," Dorian grumbled. "I take it you don't know. Is he keeping you locked up somewhere? I should think you'd have heard by now."

"No," she said, letting irritation make the single word sharp. "I'm with my clan." She winced, wondering if revealing that was a good idea. Solas wouldn't approve, but she trusted Dorian wholeheartedly. Leaning her back against the white trunk of a mature aspen, she said, "I know both the Chantry and the Inquisition want to get their hands on Solas and I, but I've been traveling a lot." And not socializing with humans, she thought. "I haven't had a chance to catch much in the way of news," she admitted.

"Well," Dorian said with a sniff. "If you had you'd know my homeland is virtually in tatters. Since the summer, actually…come to think of it, this all started right around the time you and our esteemed Fade expert—or whatever he really is—decided to run off. It's been nonstop riots and mayhem by elves and slaves, with a healthy dose of assassinations and plundering of rare and dangerous magical artifacts." He paused for emphasis. "Ancient elven artifacts."

Already Ellana's heart had started thumping against her ribs. She knew very little of what Solas was doing in Tevinter, but she knew the foci he'd had his agent named Zevanni locate and bring to him had been based in Tevinter. As far as Ellana knew, she still was. The orb itself Solas had left at Hellathen Hamin, guarded as the prized possession of his Elvhen warriors. Solas had warned her to stay clear of it repeatedly, like a father trying to shepherd a fearless child from falling into the campfire. They'd left shortly after he obtained it from Zevanni and Ellana was grateful to get away from it—she hadn't told Solas but being within about fifty meters of it always made her left hand sting.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Ellana said, her voice tight. She coughed to clear it. "Are you all right? You haven't been hurt?"

"I'm fine—for now," he answered, sounding glum through his usual sarcasm. "But just last week some elf ruffian tried to jump me and put a knife through my back. So it seems anyone with a title is fair game to these cretins, even the ones like myself calling for reform and abolishment of slavery."

Ellana sighed, closing her eyes as she again remembered Solas' story of how his own rebellion had killed his parents and destroyed his village. Was history doomed to repeat itself without end?

"I'm just glad you're okay," Ellana said, the words shaky.

"I'm not the one you should be most worried about," Dorian told her ominously. "Because you see, a supply caravan coming into Minrathous a few weeks back was attacked by a bunch of organized elven bandits. Most of the bandits escaped, but two were captured alive and, unfortunately for them, healthy enough for torture. When my illustrious colleagues in the Magisterium finally broke the poor bastards they told us they were Dalish."

Still clutching the crystal, but now with a sweaty palm, Ellana hugged herself, biting her lip. "Dalish?" she parroted, trying to sound surprised.

"Yes, as in your people." He made a little high-pitched noise through his nose. "Did I mention they were barefaced, Ellana? But that's not the best part of it all. They spouted gibberish about serving the Dread Wolf."

"Dorian, please," she said, her voice shaking as she shivered. Her mind raced, trying to come up with an excuse for whatever clan had attacked in Fen'Harel's name. Had it been on Solas' specific orders, too?

"Please, what exactly?" Dorian asked, sounding irritated. "Please don't point out the obvious connections?"

"I cannot control what other Dalish clans do or think, Dorian," she snapped, losing her patience at his sharp tone.

"Yes," Dorian growled. "Just as I could not control the fanatic beliefs of my countrymen in the Venatori—but I did join the Inquisition to fight them and I went to great trouble warning you about it all."

His words hit her like a slap across the face, making her cringe. The baby kicked, fluttering inside her, as if it'd felt the emotional impact through her.

"I know you'll deny it, but I'm certain you're close with these elven fanatics' leader. I'm hoping you have some leverage with that bald son of a bitch as well. Do my homeland and myself a favor, Ellana, and see if you can get him to scale back the chaos a bit, yes?"

"I'll…" She drew in a quavering breath. "…see what I can do." Squeezing her eyes shut, she felt her stomach clench. You just admitted to all of it, a panicked voice in her head shouted.

"The caravan had mostly innocent traders bringing goods and lyrium into Minrathous," Dorian said, anger deepening his voice. "They weren't slavers. Tell Solas that."

Lyrium. Of course Solas would attack the lyrium trade to disrupt Tevinter. She'd never seen him use it and at least within Ellana's own clan it wasn't used by the mages because they avoided anything addictive that could only be obtained by trading with humans—save perhaps alcohol. All Dalish clans knew they had to be ready to disappear into the wilderness, to survive on their wits and knowledge of the forest. Lyrium addictions made that difficult or impossible.

"I will," she murmured, grimacing. Solas wouldn't stop the attacks no matter what she told him. The chaos in Tevinter now was only a shadow of what it would be when the Veil came down and demons poured out from the sky. She felt queasy, imagining herself behind the wards somewhere safe underground as Dorian and all of her friends fought for their lives against endless hordes of demons. How was it different from what she'd seen at Redcliffe, minus Corypheus and the red lyrium?

"Good," Dorian said with a huff. "Because you know I'm not the only one making these connections, Ellana. Her holiness will be hearing of the chaos here and I'm sure the details about barefaced Dalish serving Fen'Harel won't slip her notice. Underneath that horrendous hat they make her wear she's a brilliant woman and with Leliana unofficially leading the Inquisition now they'll—"

"Unofficially?" Ellana interrupted. "Why wouldn't she become Inquisitor since I'm gone?"

"Because they still hope you'll return," Dorian said. "They're under the impression that bald hobo of yours has you enchanted or some rubbish. They were also rather fond of saying that you'll come to your senses once you're finished…" He trailed off and made a grunting noise that Ellana interpreted as embarrassment. "Gestating. I gather Orlesians believe women in a most delicate condition are prone to bouts of madness. Sounds positively delightful, but I told them it was dribble."

Despite the anxiety gnawing at her insides, Ellana laughed. "I miss you, Dorian," she admitted, her voice shaking. Thinking again of Redcliffe brought stinging tears to her eyes and Ellana choked on the lump swelling in her throat.

"What is that? Are you crying?" Dorian asked, flustered. "Stop that right this instant or I'll be forced to—"

Solas' voice cut through the air, "Vhenan?"

Startled, Ellana dropped the crystal with a yelp. It fell into the leaf litter with a clatter against the crisp leaves. Dorian's voice had gone silent, the connection severed as soon as she released it from her sweat-slimed palm. Twisting to look back toward camp, Ellana saw Solas striding through the underbrush, his brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed.

"Vhenan? I heard voices."

She hesitated only an instant before stooping and grabbing the crystal. "It was Dorian." Watching his face for a reaction, she went on, "He told me barefaced Dalish elves are attacking lyrium caravans going to Minrathous."

Solas stared at her, stoic and unblinking. The lacquered wolf jawbone against his tunic stood out dark in the growing shadows of evening. Finally he dipped his chin. "I am not surprised."

"But did you order it?" Ellana asked, frowning.

Solas tilted his head slightly, his smile dry and humorless. "Vhenan, you must not trouble yourself with—"

She left the aspen tree, whipping around to face him directly, taking an angry step toward him and slashing with a violent motion of one hand. "Answer the question. Did you order them to attack caravans of lyrium? Are elven assassins attacking magisters on your orders too?"

Despite her rage Solas hadn't flinched or even blinked. A cold tremor rippled through Ellana at the sight of him: cold and regal—and alien. Where was the man who just that morning when they woke had felt over her belly, his eyes lit by wonder as he waited for their child to kick? This was not Solas—it was Fen'Harel.

"It was by your order," Ellana said, reading his silence. "All of it."

Solas' jaw clenched and he broke eye contact, staring off into the trees to his right. "The humans have an expression. One cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."

"A few," Ellana repeated, curling her lip in a snarl. "How many does the Dread Wolf consider a few?" Taking another few steps closer to him, Ellana tried to keep herself calm but knew her face was bright red with rage. She no longer felt the autumn chill, only the blaze of anger. "Dorian told me he was attacked. Are you assassinating our friends now, Fen'Harel?"

His blue eyes slid to her and narrowed, his own anger pinching his lips together in a hard line. "No, I would not do that."

"But if they die in the chaos, that's an acceptable loss, isn't it?" Ellana asked, baring her teeth.

Solas shook his head. "You are naïve if you believed it was possible to accomplish our goals without chaos and death. It is inevitable that some who are dear to us will be lost."

"As long as they're not elven," Ellana retorted and then her hands clenched into fists. "Or is it Elvhen? My people and the city elves are just pawns in a game of chess."

Solas' nostrils flared, his jaw squared. A muscle feathered in his temple. "Ellana," he growled. "Please. You are being unreasonable."

"And you are harellan," she snapped. He flinched at the word, taking a step backward. Immediately Ellana's stomach dropped as horror stole her breath. Her head swam, pounding as she struggled to compose herself. "I'm sorry," she said, her cheeks burning with shame. "That was unfair. I didn't mean it."

"You are upset," Solas agreed, his voice cold and his blue eyes steely. "But this is what must be done. For the world to be remade there must be sacrifice." He turned his head, staring off into the trees and drawing in a deep breath. "Your people and the city elves outnumber the Elvhen many times over, but it is the Elvhen who must lead them. It is the Elvhen who understand how to fight best with magic, and that is how the chaos will be won when the Veil is gone. They must be preserved. I do not take pleasure in this, but it is the hard truth."

Closing his eyes, his shoulders slumped, the anger draining from him visibly. "The blame is mine. Let the blood be on my hands, vhenan. I will gladly pay for it with my own life to see you safe and the People saved."

Icy, invisible hands reached out to strangle her. "Solas," she breathed, almost choking on his name. "Are you saying destroying the Veil will kill you?"

"In truth I do not know," he admitted, his small smile humorless and hard. "But I did not enter uthenera willingly. I was not weary of life—creating the Veil nearly killed me. Destroying it should not prove as taxing, but I may not be strong enough to accomplish it and reshape the restored world."

"There must be another way," Ellana said, her heart pounding, aching with each beat. "Please." She reached out to touch him, to grab his hands and squeeze them as if to reassure herself he wasn't about to vanish, but Solas withdrew a step and shook his head.

"Forgive me," he said. "I should not have told you this." The small smile returned to his lips, distant and wan. "I may have worried you needlessly. As I said, I do not know with certainty what will be required of me in the path ahead. What I do know is that the People must survive it and emerge victorious." Real warmth touched his expression now, softening it. "And you and our child will endure. That is all that matters, vhenan."

"The cost is too high," Ellana protested, her words shrill with desperation. "Please—what if you only removed a small part of the Veil? What if we could create an elven homeland, like the Dales, where the Fade and the waking world are one?" At his surprised look Ellana plunged on. "We could spare Thedas the chaos and save the other races. The humans would never claim our lands because they fear the Fade. Once we stabilized the tear there would be peace, and managing a nation instead of a continent has to be easier for you."

Solas' brow furrowed. "Where have you gotten these ideas?"

Ellana shut her mouth, pressing her tongue to the roof of her mouth as if she could hold back the answer or deny it. What had Morrigan said? She feared meeting the Dread Wolf directly and hoped to manipulate him. If Solas knew where this plan came from, would he reject it based on that alone? No, she thought. He could be stubborn, but Solas was never one to deny reason.

"Morrigan visited me in a dream," she admitted. "She is Mythal's new vessel."

"I see," Solas said and grunted with interest. He frowned and evaded her gaze. "I must consider this."

Ellana was about to speak again when she heard Deshanna's voice echoing from the trees, calling for them both. Solas sighed. "Perhaps we can discuss this later?"

Feeling dazed, Ellana nodded. One hand lay over her abdomen, as if to comfort the baby, though the motion was more about reassuring herself. Her thoughts spun as Solas walked with her, his hand at the small of her back to usher her forward. Did he really believe he would die destroying the Veil? The thought of enduring such a loss made her feel as though she couldn't breathe, as if a rift had opened inside her somewhere and was sucking her into its dark, crushing depths. She pushed the possibility aside, refusing to give it credence.

___________________________________

Early the next morning clan Lavellan bid them goodbye, gathering with gifts of food, supplies, weapons, and tools. Warm smiles surrounded Solas and he knew without the Keeper telling him that she'd not shared his identity with most of her clan. If they'd known he was Fen'Harel he doubted they'd be smiling as they gave out their finest knives, staffs, ironbark, and enchanted trinkets as gifts.

Yet, despite Solas' inward doubt, he found the Keeper and her First, Mahanon, smiling and friendly as they and a few others closest to Ellana escorted them to the rope bridge over the river. Ellana's sister-in-law, Rinaya, carried her niece Deya in her arms as the group walked. Solas caught the baby smiling at him often, her gap-toothed grin innocent and contagious. He couldn't resist returning her smile, though grief made him heavy and hollow inside, unable to stop himself from wondering if he would live to see his own child grow to Deya's size.

At the rope bridge Solas sent Abelas and the arcane warriors across while he lingered with Ellana, her family, and the members of her clan who'd walked with them from the clearing. He noted both Mathrel and Lyris had almost painful expressions on their face at the sight of Deya and their postures seemed hunched with emotion. Seeing the clan's children reminded them of course of their own goals and what they'd lost so long ago.

"I really wish you would stay, Lana," Mahanon told Ellana as they embraced. "You would be safe here and we would happily care for you and your little one."

"I know," she said, her lips trembling as she smiled. "But I must see this through." Solas didn't miss the quick side-glance she shot him. Learning about his chaos-causing activities in Tevinter had shaken her faith in him and Solas wanted to curse Dorian for it, though he knew he had only himself to blame. Surely Ellana could see the necessity of what he was doing, it'd only been the surprise of learning of it from someone else that'd bothered her.

Ashani, Ellana's mother, was next to enfold her in a hug. "You must return in time for the little one's birth," she exclaimed, sniffing as she struggled to withhold her own tears.

"I will, mamae. I promise."

Solas struggled with himself, refusing to add to her family's ongoing admonishments that she should be staying here. He watched Lyris and Mathrel across the river, their eyes still on Mahanon's daughter. Then his gaze moved to Abelas and the other sentinels. Most of them milled about, their boredom with this domestic scene obvious in their crossed arms and slack expressions. But Abelas' attention was on Ellana, following her as she moved to embrace Rinaya and Deya next.

"We will have to practice casting techniques together when you return," Mahanon said, drawing Solas' attention back to this side of the river. Mahanon flashed a friendly smile, though his green-brown eyes held a spark of wariness. "Maybe you can teach my daughter someday," he added, chuckling.

"I would be delighted," Solas replied honestly, a broad smile spreading over his lips as he looked to Rinaya and Deya standing nearby. "On both counts."

"We will eagerly await this mirror," Deshanna said then, somber as she addressed him. "But should you require us sooner, lethallin, you have only to send word." Looking to Ellana, she smiled. "And you as well, da'len."

Ellana's eyes were bright with unshed tears. "Thank you."

Abruptly Solas registered footsteps and then the croaking, wet cough from behind him. Before turning around he knew it was Negan, the old hunter they'd met upon first arriving and guilt stabbed through him. Disease and aging were ailments he'd brought to the People, not humans or the other races. Yet Negan looked comfortable despite the racking cough and he smiled as he approached their group, wearing scout armor and with his bow slung over his shoulder. His granddaughter, Nesa, skipped along behind him, her braided hair bouncing on her shoulders. Further behind the young girl Solas also saw other hunters, including Lerand and his older brother, Samhel, lingering nearby to catch final glimpses of clan Lavellan's most famous member…and the strange apostate she'd brought with her.

"Brother," Deshanna greeted Negan, her eyes dark with concern. "Are you well this morning?"

"As well as can be expected when I must keep up with this one," he said motioning to his bouncy granddaughter.

Nesa giggled, the quiver of smaller arrows on her back clattering woodenly as she hopped, alternating between one and two feet. "I'm going extra slow for you, granddad."

"As you say," Negan said, chuckling before he nodded toward Ellana. "I wanted to say goodbye, da'len."

The croak in his words had nothing to do now with his cough and Solas could see the whole group—minus Nesa and the baby who hadn't grasped the truth yet—reacting with restrained grief as they faced the inevitable. Ellana's lips twisted, caught between a smile and a frown. When she blinked tears spilled from her cheeks and she moved to embrace the old man.

Solas closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath, accepting this as yet another reminder of his crimes. He knew of blood magic spells that could extend Negan's life, curing his illness for a time, but casting them would inhibit his own connection to the Fade. Blood magic was traditional magic's antithesis, strengthening the physical world and repelling the Fade. Solas had studied it but had only cast it once while sealing away the Forgotten Ones. Even in Elvhenan Dreamers had abhorred blood magic because it made altering the Fade and the waking world difficult and so much of what they did required the Fade to be malleable.

He could have saved Negan and had known that from first meeting the old man, yet doing so jeopardized his other goals. Mentioning the spell or offering to teach it to Deshanna and Mahanon would only garner their fear and scorn. Resolving to say nothing, he bowed his head, accepting the old man's inevitable death as just another burden on his conscience.

Harellan, Ellana had said and the word stung him even as just a memory. Trickster. Traitor to the People. He knew the clans he'd recruited had only fallen in line because Ellana stood at his side and because Mythal—Morrigan now, apparently—had mysteriously lent her support. Even Ellana's Keeper and brother wouldn't have been as friendly had they not also had Mythal's word to reassure them. The Dalish might never trust him, and Solas might never quite smother his own bitterness toward them for remembering him and everything else from Elvhenan so wrongly, but he would still fight for them. He owed it to them for sundering them from the Fade, for robbing them of their immortality and condemning their whole race to slavery and servitude for millennia.

But most of all, he owed it to Ellana. If he didn't survive the coming chaos she needed her clan to comfort her and for all the faults of the Dalish, clan Lavellan would be an ideal place for his own child to be born and grow.

With their farewells said, Solas followed Ellana across the rope bridge to rejoin the sentinels and the arcane warriors for the long walk toward the road again. They traveled mostly in silence for the first hour, moving with little stealth due to the constant faint clink of the Elvhen warriors' armor. Ellana walked with Arina, the rogue sentinel, ensuring their party evaded any Dalish snares they encountered. Solas followed close behind them both with Lyris and Mathrel trailing him. Abelas and the other sentinels took rear position. The early morning forest, resplendent in the vermillion and saffron hues of autumn, rang with the cheery cries of birds and Solas could almost forget that he wasn't a youth again, wandering the wilds of Elvhenan when the forests had been alive with the songs of spirits as well as birds. In those days the entire world had been alive with song.

And then, as they neared the road, Ellana suddenly broke the quiet by glancing over her shoulder and asking him, "Tell me about Felassan."

He froze, staring at her. "What?"

She clung to the rough gray bark of a young pine tree that she'd been using as leverage while they scaled the latest hill. Breathing a little fast, she looked again over her shoulder and repeated her question. "Tell me about Felassan."

"The slow arrow of the Dalish legend?" he asked, brow furrowing. "I should think you would know the tale better than I."

"No," she said, facing forward now. "The elven man who served you."

His throat suddenly seemed to close. Lyris and Mathrel had halted just a few paces downhill from him, the leaves still crackling under their feet. The rogue, Arina, had stopped further up, twisting at the waist to watch and listen.

Keeping his voice quiet, Solas said, "Perhaps we might discuss this later?"

She was silent and motionless for a long, tense moment. Then, slowly, she turned to face him, still gripping the pine tree trunk with one hand. Leaves rustled under her feet. Her shoulders appeared bunched with tension as she glared at him. "Did you kill Flemeth?"

He blinked, feeling his own body tense with alarm, his skin prickling. What is going on here? Heat lashed through him before he swallowed, walling it off. Unable to come up with a convincing half-truth or diversion on so short a notice, Solas tried to dodge. "We can discuss this later."

Her green eyes narrowed, her mouth quirking between a deadpan neutral and a steely frown. Then Ellana nodded to him, her jaw clenching. "Fen'Harel enansal," she growled and pivoted away from him, resuming the hike uphill.

Arina scrambled upward as well, her feet skidding on slick leaves, but not before Solas caught the slight twitch of the rogue's lips as she smirked.

Looking behind him quickly, Solas found Abelas watching the scene with a furrowed brow and narrowed eyes. Mathrel and Lyris wore baffled expressions. Solas shot them each an individual glance, searching their reactions, but both arcane warriors gave a single shake of their heads. They hadn't revealed anything to Ellana. Solas had no reason to doubt either of them, and Abelas wouldn't know about Felassan and to Solas' knowledge hadn't known in what form Mythal endured.

But Morrigan, who'd stayed in Empress Celene's court and had doubtless been exposed to Briala, would certainly have had opportunity to learn of both deaths. Yet it wasn't the witch pulling the strings here.

Mythal. With his hands clenching into fists, Solas started uphill again, scowling to himself. What are you up to?

_________________________________

Next Chapter

"Still burping up your bits?" Sera asked, grinning. "You look it now." She traced a half-circle over her own slender navel with both hands, as if rubbing Ellana's visibly rounded belly. "Like knocked up, not fat, I mean."

As her other Inquisition companions sniggered and the elves shifted uneasily, Ellana shook her head, chuckling dryly as she felt a blush steal over her cheeks. "Thank you for that, Sera. Very touching."

"Course," Sera said, still grinning. "Anytime, yeah? Still betting it's a girl."

Chapter Text

This time when Ellana saw the golden grasses of the Exalted Plains, strewn here and there with grayish boulders, she knew at once this wasn't real. She was dreaming and most likely Morrigan would soon join her. Still, she drew in a deep breath as she stared out at the wild halla and tried to keep her mind empty of doubt or worry. The sun above warmed her skin, its glare bathing the world in a brilliant gold.

When she heard and sensed a presence nearby, Ellana didn't turn quickly to look. "Fancy meeting you here, Lady Lavellan," Morrigan's voice spoke from behind her.

"Lady Morrigan," Ellana answered in the same vein, casting a slow look over her right shoulder to see the black-haired witch in the shadowed gap between the boulders. "Still wishing I'd been the one to drink from the Well of Sorrows?"

Morrigan let out a dry, humorless laugh. Her feet rustled against the grass and gravel crunched underfoot as she strode to stand beside the boulder Ellana sat upon. "More than you know," she admitted, a mild frown creasing her features. "But I am content, for now." Her disconcerting golden eyes slid to Ellana with a sly look. "You, however, must be shaken by what you've learned of your lover. Tell me, do you find yourself wondering if you can trust him?"

Clenching her jaw, Ellana watched the grazing halla and ignored Morrigan's needling question. Yet she couldn't stop the cold fear twisting within her, knowing the witch was right. Her bare toes scratched against the boulder she sat on as she shifted her position, wafting at a bit of green ether drifting upward from Morrigan's direction. "Do you shape this place, or does it draw from me?" Ellana asked. "Or is it Mythal?"

Morrigan's nose wrinkled as she smirked with a mixture of amusement and annoyance. "`Tis a mixture of all three," she replied with a little huff. "But we have little time for idle questions. I have a proposition for you."

Ellana closed her eyes, willing herself to turn Morrigan away, to refuse to listen to her, but the hot spark of her conscience refused to dim enough for her to do it. Over the past two weeks Ellana had gradually questioned Solas about Felassan, his activities in Tevinter, and whether the idea Morrigan had shared with her about an elven homeland where the Fade and the mortal realm were one could work. But Solas often answered evasively or diverted her by changing the subject or launching into a complex magical explanation that she couldn't quite grasp without being a mage herself.

Frustrated, she'd tried asking Lyris and Mathrel whenever Solas was out of earshot with Abelas and the sentinels, but the arcane warriors were even worse than her lover. All they did was shrug or tell her not to worry about the past or the nuances of magic. Not for the first time since leaving the Inquisition, Ellana realized she was not leading these elves, but worse was the crushing weight of knowing she was also apart from them. As much as she'd grown to enjoy Lyris—the female warrior was easy to talk to and had helpful tips regarding her pregnancy having once been a mother herself—both she and her husband were loyal to Solas to a fault. Any chance Ellana had of learning more about Solas from an outside source evaporated as she realized Lyris and Mathrel would never talk. Worse, she sensed Solas knew she was fishing for information from the others, which meant the warriors told him of it.

Because Ellana often walked with Arina, the sentinel rogue, she'd started striking up conversations with her as well, hoping to learn something eventually. But Solas was rarely out of earshot while they traveled and Arina always seemed wary and tightlipped, though Ellana had started to get the rogue to discuss what life had been like before the Veil, when she served Mythal. Now she wondered if Arina or any of the sentinels had dreams with Morrigan in them too. Was it possible for Morrigan, with Mythal's help, to let multiple dreamers commune with one another in the security of the same dream?

"I'm listening," Ellana said finally to Morrigan.

With a slight upward turn of her lips that wasn't quite a smile, Morrigan strode around the front of Ellana's boulder. She faced the plain below with its sedate halla, grazing in the sea of golden grasses, and raised her left hand skyward in the same gesture Ellana used with the Anchor. "What if I told you, Inquisitor, that Fen'Harel will never find a way to spare you from the power of his own Anchor? Not for lack of trying, of course. Yet the problem remains."

Morrigan's palm glowed blue-green and the magical energy glowed, extending down to her elbow until it enveloped the whole forearm in color. Where she pointed, in the gold-white sky around the sun, the air thrummed and darkened as it turned greenish. Ellana winced and flexed her own left hand as she heard the crackling sound of the Anchor—but it came from Morrigan, not herself. She gnashed her teeth, trying to ignore the sudden cold sweat that broke out over her skin.

With a flourish, Morrigan tore her hand downward and the dull crack of a rift opening echoed over the boulders. The halla in the plains lifted their heads and bleated with alarm, scattering as the sky above them tore open. Ether from the Fade dripped and swirled, bright and dark greens intermixed, casting a shadow over the land below. No demons spewed from it, though Ellana's body still tensed and she found herself fumbling for the bow slung over her shoulder.

"What are you doing, Morrigan?" Ellana asked as she heaved herself to her feet, bow in hand and her eyes on what she knew was a fake rift. They were already in the Fade, dreaming. Nothing could harm them here…well, except powerful Dreamers like Solas. ...And demons.

"I am refreshing your memory," Morrigan answered, smirking at Ellana over her shoulder. "Closing rifts was your specialty, was it not? But what I need—what Mythal needs—is for you to open one." She gestured to the plains. "In the Dales. Some secluded spot where no one will care enough to stop you. The Emerald Graves perhaps."

Ellana frowned. "Solas would never agree to travel that far from the eluvian network now that we've returned to Hellathen Hamin." She didn't add that Solas was about to launch an offensive into the Crossroads, seeking the eluvian that led to the Forgotten Ones' prison. Despite agreeing to listen to Morrigan—and Mythal through her—Ellana wasn't about to feed the witch any information that would betray her lover.

"I did not suggest that he would, Lady Lavellan," Morrigan said with a sly grin that narrowed her golden eyes. "I know that he intends to confront the Forgotten Ones in their prison."

Schooling her reaction, Ellana said nothing. Staring at the rift, she tried to admire the swirling greens of it and not consider that if this were real demons would've spilled from it in droves.

Morrigan's grin broadened even further. "I also know that you and Fen'Harel are not a harmonious couple at the moment."

Now Ellana shot the witch a glare. "Stop calling him Fen'Harel. His name is Solas."

"Truly?" Morrigan asked, her teeth white and sharp in her mouth. "How can you be so sure? After all, you have only known him a few years. Mythal whispers to me that your lover has been Fen'Harel, Dread Wolf, and Fen'Sa, the Lone Wolf for far longer than he was ever merely Solas. I suspect there were times he nearly forgot his given name."

Fen'Sa, she thought. Solas had a name she hadn't even heard before. Of course he does. Angry with her own lack of surprise, Ellana's hands clenched, one empty and the other holding her bow. Ellana growled, "Get to the point, Morrigan."

"Fen'Harel does not wish you to accompany him on his assault on the Forgotten Ones, but you refuse to be set aside," Morrigan said, sobering now. "I am suggesting you agree with him. Set him at ease."

"No," Ellana muttered immediately. "I want to see the prison and these Forgotten Ones for myself."

Morrigan smiled, the crafty gleam entering her eyes again. "But your lover has legitimate concerns, does he not?" She motioned to Ellana. "Every day you grow larger with his child and killing the Forgotten Ones, weakened though they must be after millennia trapped outside of the Fade and the Void, will require an enormous amount of magic—just the kind that will destabilize your Anchor."

Again Ellana averted her gaze from Morrigan, struggling to control her reaction. Pain ached in her throat and chest. Was Mythal even now going to shame her into letting Solas fight alone? No, she thought, Mythal is not here simply for concern over my wellbeing. Oddly, the realization helped ease the pain inside her. It reminded her of the truth: Mythal was trying to use her in some way. She had to be wary.

"Do not throw your life away, Lady Lavellan," Morrigan said, her voice soft now. "Or that of your child. I am not a mother, but Mythal was and she and I are in agreement on this. Fen'Harel is the last Evanuris—whole and untainted. Such heritage is worth saving and must live on if at all possible. Fen'Harel may not survive restoring the world, `tis true, but his child will doubtless be a powerful Dreamer and there are precious few remaining."

Intrigued despite herself, Ellana looked back to Morrigan with a raised brow. "How can you possibly know anything about my unborn child?"

Morrigan snorted. "Perhaps you should ask your lover about the Evanuris' children and how many of them were Dreamers."

"Solas has told me my people's legends were wrong on almost every count," Ellana murmured, shaking her head. "I know Falon'Din and Dirthamen were supposed to be brothers, sons of Mythal. And Andruil and Sylaise were sisters. Is any of this true?"

Morrigan smiled, closed-lipped. "More than you know. There is always truth in myths and legends, buried somewhere. Mythal and Elgar'nan did have many children, all of them Dreamers of great power, but Dirthamen was the only one of their children with power to equal theirs."

"And what of the other Evanuris?" Ellana asked, feeling over the bump of her abdomen absently. She'd known her child would almost certainly be a mage, but hearing Morrigan—or Mythal, rather—react with such confidence made her skin prickle with something akin to awe.

"Andruil and Sylaise were sisters, yes. Andruil had no children of her blood, but Sylaise and June had many children together. All of those children were Dreamers." Morrigan tossed her head slightly, knocking her hair from her eyes. "I suspect more than a few of those children survived the fall of Elvhenan. Their blood endures within the People…" She broke off with a sigh before adding, "…and within elf-blooded human descendants."

"I'm not an Evanuris," Ellana said, stating the obvious. "I'm not even a mage. I don't see any reason why my child would be born any more powerful than my father or my brother."

"I'm sure you know magic inheritance runs in families," Morrigan said. "I've touched your brother's dreams. I've seen his fears for his own daughter who is also gifted. When the Veil is removed, Mythal believes your brother and your niece may both be Dreamers themselves." She smirked. "And you, Inquisitor, navigate dreams so easily. Mythal whispers to me that she suspects it is more than just the Anchor on your hand that allows you to do so."

Ellana scowled. "I can't even cast a spark. Even my mother can do that."

"Then perhaps you have not tried the correct school of magic," she retorted, a note of impatience in her voice. "`Tis not important. I told you this so you could understand that you are important in the struggle to come and Mythal wishes to see you preserved and protected. If you go with Fen'Harel to kill the Forgotten Ones the Anchor is certain to destabilize." Her lips curled with distaste. "Fen'Harel will reclaim the Anchor then as well as your arm. Then he will have no further need of you."

Ellana glared. "You cannot seriously expect me to believe Solas would kill me."

"Do not be hasty, Inquisitor," Morrigan said, flashing a smile laced with irritation. "I said nothing about Fen'Harel harming you—though it is reassuring to see that you know he is certainly ruthless enough to consider it."

Anger burned inside Ellana. Baring her teeth, she growled, "Solas would never—"

"Calm yourself, Lady Lavellan," Morrigan cut her off with a cluck of her tongue. "I apologize if I have offended you, but you cannot deny you have doubts about your lover. And you should. He would gladly order the deaths of any friend if it furthered his cause substantially."

"I don't believe you," Ellana snarled. Looking to the fake Fade rift, twisting and gleaming in the sky, she gnashed her teeth with frustration.

"No?" Morrigan asked, quirking an eyebrow. "Mythal whispers to me that she's certain Fen'Harel knew of the plot to kill her. Yet he took no direct action to stop it as doing so would have significantly weakened his own position and cause."

The words impacted Ellana like a slap to the face. She gazed at Morrigan, wide-eyed and speechless, her body suddenly doused in cold sweat.

Morrigan nodded to her. "I can see this news shocks you. Did you know Mythal was like a mother to him? She trained him, honed his magic, and guided him. She protected him from the other Evanuris' wrath at every turn." A note of passion entered Morrigan's voice and the witch seemed to shake with the force of it. "When he emerged as an unkempt wildling who barely remembered how to speak elven, she defended him. When he returned to the wilds and attacked Andruil's hunters, Elgar'nan's armies, and Gilan'nain's warriors, she calmed their tempers on his behalf. When his agents caused riots across the empire, she discouraged their calls to unite against him. And when Elgar'nan and Falon'Din finally learned Mythal had sheltered Fen'Harel's armies in her lands, she was the one they punished."

"Solas couldn't have known," Ellana insisted, her mouth dry and her heart hammering in her throat.

"Couldn't he?" Morrigan asked and let out one short, bitter laugh. "Perhaps you do not comprehend how powerful he had become. His army was larger than Elgar'nan and Falon'Din's combined. He had more spies than Sylaise and Dirthamen. His artists and craftspeople rivaled June's. What's more, he held sway over the Forgotten Ones, something even Mythal does not understand."

"My Inquisition did not know of the Qunari threat," Ellana retorted. "And yet we rivaled kingdoms." She pinched her lips together, certain she must be right. "Solas would've stopped her death had he known."

Morrigan slashed a hand sideways, dismissively. "Regardless, Inquisitor. Whether you will believe it or not, Fen'Harel will use you. Doubtless, he weighs your worth now and sees it as invaluable. A most prized possession as you can serve him four times over—lover, mother of his child, Dalish recruiter, and wielder of the Anchor. But one day he will need to take the Anchor from you for himself and that is what My—" Morrigan grimaced and then rephrased it. "What I must prevent."

"And what makes you think I will help you?" Ellana asked, still clutching her bow in a death grip.

Morrigan sighed, looking suddenly exhausted. "Because, as you said, he will never agree to allow you to come here, to the Dales." She gestured to the fake Fade rift, silent and beautiful in the sky over the plains. "He will humor your questions and delay until one day—after you've given birth, I suspect—he will take the Anchor from you, whether it has destabilized or not. Then he will destroy the Veil and reshape the world, even though it will cost his life."

"No," Ellana said, shaking her head violently. The dream around her spun, the Fade rift blurring in her gaze. "No, you're wrong."

"Am I?" Morrigan asked, crossing her arms over her chest. "Or is that denial I hear in your voice, Lady Lavellan? Fen'Harel has told you he may be called to give his life for the People, has he not? When he met with Mother he spoke of a price to be paid, and that he should be the one to pay it." Her jaw clenched, golden eyes narrowing. "He does not expect to survive. This is din'anshiral for Fen'Harel, Inquisitor. Surely you must see that."

"No," Ellana growled, sucking in a shaky breath. "No. You're wrong."

Morrigan smirked, though her golden eyes held the gloom of sadness in them. "Keep saying that, Inquisitor. Perhaps you may yet make it the truth—though `tis doubtful. The strength needed to reshape the world amidst the chaos Fen'Harel will release would require the power of all remaining Evanuris. He is but one. Such stress will inevitably kill his physical form."

Ellana turned away, her feet shuffling on the scratchy boulder beneath her. Her body shook, though she tried to keep her mind empty, refusing to fully consider the witch's words. "That won't happen," she whispered. "I'll convince him to take the Veil down in pieces. He's said it's possible, that he could do it. Why wouldn't he agree?"

"Many reasons, I suspect," Morrigan replied, apparently having no trouble hearing Ellana's whispering. "He will refuse to limit the People in favor of the humans and other races. Why should they share Thedas and restore only a small portion of it? More than that, he will oppose retaking the Dales because then we must fight on two fronts: against the chaos of demons and the Orlesians. More of the People will die. Also, Mythal whispers he will resent leaving the Veil intact anywhere as it is an unnatural state of being that he is determined to rectify. His love of the Fade demands he set things right."

Whipping around, Ellana shouted, "None of that is worth his life!"

Morrigan shrugged and laid a hand on her chest. "Not to me, or Mythal, or you, perhaps. But to Fen'Harel?" She raised a brow, challenge in her golden eyes. "You know the answer he will come to."

With her eyes burning with emotion, Ellana asked in a snarl, "What do you want?"

Now Morrigan smiled, somber and stern. "While Fen'Harel makes his assault on the Forgotten Ones, you will journey with Abelas and his sentinels into the Crossroads to an eluvian leading to ruins in the Dales. Abelas will guide you and protect you, but once you've chosen a secluded place, like this one…" Morrigan motioned to the fake Fade rift over the plains. "Open a rift as wide as you can and enter the Fade."

Ellana froze, her mouth going dry. "You want me to enter the Fade, physically?"

"You've done this twice now, Inquisitor," Morrigan said, grinning as she shook her head. "I should think the shock would have worn off by now. The Anchor will allow you and several of Mythal's sentinels to enter the Fade physically. Abelas will stabilize the tear and then, once you've killed any demons in the area, you need only hold the region until you're ready to expand with another rift."

"I could destabilize the Anchor," Ellana murmured. She felt a flutter inside her and laid a hand over her abdomen, thinking of the baby. Was she wakening? Or did the baby's movements in her sleep crossover the Veil to her in the Fade?

Morrigan frowned, turning to scan the plains as if she'd heard something. Her posture was tense with alertness. "Damn," she grumbled, facing Ellana again with an expression of anxiousness. "I believe Fen'Harel will soon find us." She licked her lips, urgency in her voice as she went on. "I will meet with you physically in the Dales, Inquisitor. Unlike Fen'Harel, I—Mythalwe know a way to take the Anchor without also taking your arm. Do as I ask and she will save you and your arm."

"How do I know you won't just take it for yourself?" Ellana asked, fear twining cold hands through her.

Morrigan snorted. "And earn the full brunt of Fen'Harel's wrath? I think not."

"He will be furious regardless," Ellana said, narrowing her eyes at the witch. "And how am I supposed escape Hellathen Hamin while—"

"We do not have time for this, Inquisitor," Morrigan said, spinning quickly to gaze around the empty plains. She raised one palm to the sky again in a casual waving motion, her palm glowing. The fake Fade rift spluttered and went out, disappearing like a candle snuffed out by a stiff breeze. "Place your trust in Abelas and he will guide you."

Morrigan began walking toward the nearest boulder, her steps swift and hurried.

"Wait," Ellana called after her and started to leave her boulder, ignoring the uncomfortable leaden weight in her belly as she hopped down. "Morrigan—will this save Solas' life?"

Just before the gap between the boulders, Morrigan paused and pivoted to stare at her. "Mythal believes it will, yes."

Ellana had stopped, one hand clutching her bow still while the other rested as it so often did these days on her expanding belly. "Thank you," she said, already knowing she couldn't pass up this opportunity, even though she knew this could be a trap Mythal had planned all along. "Mythal'enaste."

Morrigan dipped her head in a meaningful nod and then stepped backwards until the boulders obscured Ellana's view of her. As soon as the witch had vanished the sun over the Exalted Plains seemed to wink out. Ellana gasped, feeling the boulder underneath her go suddenly flat, the texture transforming to something soft, as if covered with fur. The warmth she'd felt from the sunlight became the enveloping heat of the blankets covering her.

When she opened her eyes she found herself in a room with walls of pale gray stone, unlit except for the reflected light of a brazier outside the doorway. Sensing movement nearby, Ellana shot upright, her heart racing as she twisted to look to the opposite side of the room only to relax as she recognized Lyris' silver armor, glinting even in the darkness.

"Lyris?" she asked, her voice thick with the remnants of sleep. Noticing the other side of the pallet where she and Solas slept was currently empty, she sighed. "Where's Solas?" She'd expected to find him sleeping next to her, trying to ferret out her dreams. If Morrigan hadn't sensed Solas in the Fade, who else could it have been?

"He rose early to meet with the latest Dalish warriors who've joined," she answered, her deep voice soft and gentle.

In the long weeks of traveling and recruiting around Thedas Ellana had had to constantly remind Lyris and her husband, as well as the sentinels, that her people were Dalish, not shem-elves. It'd finally sunk in now that they had returned to Hellathen Hamin it seemed. A good thing too as the ruins of Hellathen Hamin had been increasingly crowded with Dalish arriving in droves from every corner of Thedas along with a steady influx of city elves. Solas' Elvhen lieutenants greeted them, and occasionally Solas himself, though he didn't use his Evanuris title with them when doing so, leaving a degree of separation and confusion as to the true identity of the Dread Wolf among the modern elves. The last count Ellana had heard put their forces at nearly three hundred—right at the number Solas wanted to lead against the Forgotten Ones.

Sitting up and throwing the covers from herself, Ellana shivered against the chill in the air and quickly moved to don her armor. "Did he send you to wake me?" she asked Lyris over her shoulder. "What time is it?"

"Just after dawn," Lyris said. "And no, Solas did not ask me to wake you, but considering the issue at hand I felt you were the one I should consult." She edged closer, her armor clinking with each step. "Two of Abelas' sentinels returned a few moments ago with intruders they found trespassing in the Crossroads. They claimed to be your Inquisition companions and I…recognized the mage with them."

Stunned, Ellana froze in mid-motion, pulling her surcoat over herself. Whipping around to face Lyris, she repeated what the warrior had said. "My Inquisition companions?"

Lyris nodded. In the darkness, with only the brazier behind her casting a flickering light, the warrior's face was obscured and impossible to read. "The sentinels discovered the Halamshiral eluvian active about two weeks ago. I suspect the mage has learned to turn it on."

The grimness in Lyris' voice made Ellana frown. "You say that as if it's especially bad." She adjusted the surcoat and then began securing her belts and straps, scowling as she found today she had to loosen it around her hips again. Morrigan had been right when she said Ellana was growing everyday. Or rather, the baby was growing everyday.

"It is," Lyris said, shifting her stance with tension. "Because unless Fen'Harel is the one using them, that eluvian and many others require a passphrase to activate." She paused, the silence heavy with Ellana's anticipation. "The passphrase is Fen'Harel enansal."

Ellana bit back a groan, barely. Fen'Harel's blessing. Yet already her heart raced, twisting with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. A wave of dizziness washed over her, but Ellana pushed it aside. If the mage was who she thought it was…someone Lyris recognized and who'd been clever enough to find the passphrase as well as whatever magic was required to activate the eluvians…

"Take me to them," she said, unable to bring herself to call them prisoners though she knew that was what Lyris and the sentinels considered them.

Lyris dipped her head in a bow, waiting patiently as Ellana finished dressing and pulled on her long coat as well. Ellana marched after Lyris as the warrior led her out of the small stone chamber she and Solas slept within and out into the hallway beyond where the brazier burned as much for light as heat. They were belowground in the ruins, where the temperature was always chilly but constant and above freezing.

The first frosts had come to the area, making food scarce as edible plants withered and died, but the forests were still rich with game and all of the incoming elves arrived with dried meats, cheeses, and other rations from their journeys. Even so, the ragtag army would soon fall apart without a food source. Oddly, Solas didn't seem to be concerned by that, which likely meant he had a contingency plan in place, though as usual he'd shared little with her about it. Ellana made up her mind to ask specifically about it the next time she had him alone.

They ascended a crumbling staircase, going slow to avoid loose and disintegrating bricks. Ellana felt wobblier than she thought she should, but she wasn't certain if that was due to the changes in her body or her increased wariness and caution. The last thing she wanted was to stumble and hurt herself or the baby.

They emerged out into the courtyard, lit with the pink-orange of the rising sun, low on the horizon as it peeked over the ruin's collapsing walls to the east. Tents had been pitched in neat lines, made from both fabric and furs. Campfires smoldered with coals still glowing in them. Elves sat around each fire, tending them and maintaining watches throughout the area. More tents filled the next open clearing beyond the ruins, and dozens of aravels stood around the edges of the encampment. Frost rimed the tents and crunched on the grass underfoot as Ellana followed Lyris out of the courtyard and up another crumbling staircase.

"Why did the sentinels bring them here?" Ellana asked as they entered the narrower, open passageways of the ruin. The roof had collapsed long ago, leaving the earth beneath their feet littered with large stone blocks that they had to pick their way through. Now, with the morning frost, each block was slick.

Lyris grunted indelicately. "They claimed they believed it was the best choice to keep the prisoners locked up under our control until Fen'Harel can change the passphrase. Then we can send them back to Halamshiral."

The note of anger in Lyris' voice made Ellana scowl. "You don't believe that?" she guessed.

"No," Lyris growled.

"Then why did they bring them?" Ellana pressed, wishing Lyris would turn and meet her eye. It seemed like an extremely foolish mistake on the sentinels' part—leading a troupe of Inquisition agents here only showed them which eluvian would take them to Hellathen Hamin. Considering their long lives, dedication, and extensive training, it seemed highly unlikely the sentinels had chosen to do this out of foolishness.

Now Lyris stopped and her shoulders worked as she breathed a moment. Then she turned, her face a mask of anger that almost made Ellana flinch backward. "Because they serve Mythal and the human mage with them keeps talking about her." She snarled. "I will never serve a leader who proclaims godhood."

"The mage mentioned Mythal?" Ellana asked, eyes wide with disbelief. Was it a bluff by a smart mage—Dorian she assumed—or was Morrigan really that busy? "Do you think he's telling the truth? All the Dalish Keepers have claimed Mythal visits them in dreams. Could this be—"

Lyris cut her off, terse and irritable. "What does it matter? Mythal abandoned the People. Her vessel was human. If she's spoken to this mage as well…" Lyris' jaw clenched, her blue eyes dark with anger. "I do not trust any one who once proclaimed godhood."

"But she allied with Solas," Ellana said and then sighed, correcting herself. "Fen'Harel, I mean."

"And now they dance in courtly intrigue," Lyris grumbled, lips curling in revulsion. "Even though the court is in ruins."

"The Game," Ellana supplied with a nod.

"Yes," Lyris agreed with a sneer before her shoulders fell. "Come with me, Lana."

They resumed their walk, threading through the ruins until they reached the dead-end corridor where they stored the eluvian. The mirror was bright blue, active and humming with magic, lighting the pale, half-collapsed walls around it. Standing there in front of the mirror were several elves and four familiar faces—Dorian, Thom Rainier, Sera, and Iron Bull glaring at their elven captors. Seeing them brought a wide smile to Ellana's lips before she could stop it and as the sound of her steps and Lyris' armor both drew her friends' gazes they too broke out grinning.

"Ellana, old girl!" Dorian exclaimed, immediately beaming. "There you are!"

"Quiet," Mathrel shouted, snarling. He bristled, fully armored and deadly. "Shem."

"Vishante kaffas," Dorian grumbled, glaring. "I'm not even allowed to greet my dearest friend?"

"Arse," Sera put in with a sneer at Mathrel. "You blind yourself in the sun with that armor, yeah? Bad as her most holy lady lumps, that."

Ignoring them, Mathrel glanced toward Ellana and Lyris. "Emma lath," he said, speaking to his wife and partner. "You should have brought…hahren." His brown eyes slid to Ellana with a look that was both regret and embarrassment. "Ir abelas, Ellana."

"Hahren was occupied," Lyris replied, curt and cold.

Mathrel seethed, launching into a snarled explanation of what'd happened. "These shem have been trespassing into the Crossroads from Halamshiral. They reactivated the eluvian to the library and—"

"I know," she cut him off with a dismissive wave, irritation making her terse. You should have brought hahren, he'd said to Lyris. Ellana knew who exactly Mathrel's hahren was. Observing the four sentinels she recognized Arina the rogue, Darae, and Zaron, while the fourth was a lower-ranked rogue whose name she didn't know as she hadn't traveled with them to recruit among the Dalish. One of them, Arina, shot Ellana a somber glance over her shoulder. The certainty hit Ellana that none of this was an accident, making her skin tingle.

Focusing on Mathrel, Ellana said, "These are my friends. They won't attack us. There's no reason they need be treated as prisoners."

Mathrel scowled and shook his head. "They are prisoners. Until hahren says otherwise."

"Who's this Hahren guy?" Iron Bull asked with a grunt.

"Damned if I know," Rainier muttered.

"Probably another name for our bald friend," Dorian grumbled with a snort. "Since he has so many titles these days. My favorite was always apostate hobo, naturally."

Ellana clenched her jaw, schooling her reaction as Mathrel shouted again, cursing in elven and ordering them to be silent. His hands had curled into fists, his shoulders bunching up with rage. "Mathrel," Ellana called out, her voice ringing with authority. "Perhaps you'd like to go and fetch hahren yourself. I would like to speak with my friends without you spitting and hissing like a cat."

The warrior glared at her and then spat off to one side and charged away, pausing as he brushed past Lyris and growled out, "Stay here, emma lath." Eyeing Lyris out of the corner of her vision, Ellana saw the other woman nod, her lips pinched in a hard line. Then Mathrel stomped away, his armor clinking faintly.

"Downright cranky fellow," Dorian said with a sniff. "Worse than Solas." He cocked an eyebrow then, staring Ellana down with a glint of anger. "Or should I call him Fen'Harel? Perhaps you can tell me, Ellana?"

As the other three merely stared at her, waiting, Ellana felt Lyris' gaze on her and flexed her palms, finding them coated in sticky sweat. She took a few steps closer to their group, stopping beside the sentinels who'd remained silent but alert with their weapons or magic at the ready. Ignoring Dorian's question, Ellana said, "I'm sorry we're meeting like this, but it doesn't change the fact I'm happy to see you all."

"Still burping up your bits?" Sera asked, grinning. "You look it now." She traced a half-circle over her own slender navel with both hands, as if rubbing Ellana's visibly rounded belly. "Like knocked up, not fat, I mean."

As her other Inquisition companions sniggered and the elves shifted uneasily, Ellana shook her head, chuckling dryly as she felt a blush steal over her cheeks. "Thank you for that, Sera. Very touching."

"Course," Sera said, still grinning. "Anytime, yeah? Still betting it's a girl."

"Now," Ellana said with a sigh, trying to move on. "Care to tell me why you're here?"

"We volunteered," Dorian answered and when the others turned to watch him Ellana pegged Dorian as the informal leader. "Well, I did. Divine Victoria offered resources and access to the eluvian in Halamshiral when she learned of certain…information myself and my colleagues in the Magisterium have gathered in recent weeks." He shot a vicious glare at the sentinel elves and Lyris. "Something about a certain elven trickster god that I have a sneaking suspicion is bald and enjoys flapping his gums about the Fade quite often." He twisted his mustache with one hand idly, feigning a pensive expression. "Now what was his name again?"

"Daddy droopy ears," Sera supplied with a smirk that was somewhere between anger and amusement.

Still blushing, Ellana cleared her throat, determined to continue ignoring the fact they seemed entirely confident they knew Solas' identity now. Refusing to admit or deny it was tacitly allowing them to see the truth, she knew, but Ellana didn't want to fall into that quagmire of arguing. "That doesn't tell me why you were in the Crossroads." Feeling a little residual anger at Cassandra, she frowned. "What does most holy want with Solas and I now? Was it not enough that she had him arrested and threatened to lock him in a Circle?"

"Yes," Dorian said, flashing a lopsided smile. "She feels dreadful about that, but you know Cassandra, honor and that whole seeking the truth rubbish. But the truth, Ellana, is that she and Leliana hoped to come to a…diplomatic solution to what's happening in my homeland and the rest of Thedas."

Ellana stared at him, her chest constricting. "What do you mean?" she asked, the words breathy. His words rang in her skull like a gong: the rest of Thedas.

Frowning, Dorian cocked his head, apparently perturbed by her question. "I told you about the chaos in the Imperium, but I take it you've not heard about alienages rising up and elves just…" He made a whooshing sound with his lips and gestured as if knocking an imaginary glass or other small object over. "Gone. Servants and slaves and Dalish alike, all of them up and leaving. And that's not to mention the guerilla attacks that started about three weeks ago raiding farms and villages, taking food and supplies—oh, and killing everyone. Can't forget that. And then, of course, they just vanish." He smiled sarcastically. "Delightful, don't you think? Strange, Cassandra says the reports are always that it's elven apostates primarily."

Ellana stared at him, dumbfounded. The chaos in Tevinter she understood because it held both slaves and ancient artifacts, two things Solas desperately wanted to change. But rebellions elsewhere and guerilla attacks? She'd just wondered how Solas intended to feed this growing force and now she knew. Any spot within reasonable distance from an eluvian would be open to attack.

And this is why he risked so much to gain the Inquisition's help removing the Qunari, she realized. The eluvians allowed him incredible power and freedom, and he'd used her to secure his hold on them. More than that, Ellana remembered Morrigan's words when she'd taken her to the Crossroads through Skyhold's eluvian. Elvhenan had struggled with the mirrors being used in this exact way, forcing them to deactivate most of them. It was no coincidence that Solas had returned to them now.

Fen'Harel will use you, Morrigan had said to her in the Exalted Plains, mere minutes ago. He already has, she thought and felt her stomach clench, waves of hot and cold washing over her.

"Ellana," Lyris said, her voice strained. "You mustn't listen to this fool shem's poison."

The sentinels remained tense, but Ellana caught them shooting her anxious looks, dark with meaning. The baby kicked inside her, his little jabs strong. Oh da'len, she thought at her baby. How could I have been so blind?

"Poison, is it?" Rainier growled. "The rest of Thedas calls it daily news."

"Actually, they're calling it an elven uprising," Dorian said, glaring in Lyris' direction. "And it sounds a mite suspicious to me, Ellana, that your friend over there isn't the least bit surprised by it, but you are." He shifted on his feet, arms crossing over his chest. "We volunteered to enter the Crossroads hoping to make contact with you or that bald apostate bastard to learn the truth and settle this mess before it gets worse."

"We need you back, your holy lady bits," Sera added, straight faced.

"Or you can talk some sense into Solas," Iron Bull growled. "Before I put a horn in his gut instead."

"You'd be dead before you even knew what happened to you, Qunari," Lyris snarled.

"Enough," Ellana grumbled, closing her eyes and shaking her head. Her hands were trembling, her knees weak. "I need to—" She broke off, her skin suddenly prickling and the Anchor crackling as it responded to magic. Gasping at the pain, Ellana cradled her hand and almost missed the twining, flash of purple-black energy shooting past Lyris. And then, between one eye blink and the next, Solas stood beside the sentinels, wearing his silver armor and the black wolf headdress over his face, obscuring it.

Everyone, including Ellana, flinched with surprise at the sudden, unnatural arrival. The sight of Solas, glimmering and malevolent, his lips twisted in a deep frown, stole the breath from Ellana's lungs. He was magnificent and terrifying, his arms behind his back and his shoulders squared with his namesake: pride.

Lyris was the first to speak, greeting him automatically. "Hahren."

"Hahren," Sera repeated in a mocking voice. "You shite bastard, daddy droopy ears."

_____________________________________

Next Chapter:

"Do you not understand our position?" Solas asked her, biting each word out. "We cannot achieve our goals if you reveal our plans to our enemies!" His grip tightened, the metal on his fingers biting into her skin. "Why did you betray me, vhenan? Why must you oppose me at every turn? Do you delight in causing me pain?"

"I could ask you the same thing," Ellana snarled, even as she saw the anguish in his gaze. "They are not our enemies. They could be allies if you would but listen."

Chapter Text

The sight of Ellana grimacing as she cradled her left hand where the Anchor had flared to life made Solas scowl as he took in the scene. He bit back the press of worried words ready to rush out of him, questions about the Anchor and apologies for causing it to activate with his spell. He could not be Solas right now, not arriving in his headdress fresh from greeting new elves eager to fight for him.

The four sentinel elves remained wary and alert, ready to execute the trespassers should he give the order, but Mathrel had already told Solas that Zaron and Arina had brought Ellana's friends here. It was a blatantly stupid act, thinly veiled as a desire to control the trespassers while Solas reset the eluvians. Lyris, meanwhile, just to his left and behind him, radiated a tight, nervous energy. Mathrel had already told Solas that Lyris brought Ellana, something her husband didn't approve of, and he wondered now if she worried she'd lost favor with him or had even garnered punishment. Both arcane warriors had known Felassan. They knew Solas didn't take deliberate failure or sabotage well.

Dorian spoke up then, his face twisting with a snarl. "Teleporting now, are we? That's a new trick. But then again, you're just full to the brim with new tricks since we last met." He raised one hand, listing them off on his fingers. "Banditry, rebellion, murder, theft—"

"Enough," Solas snapped with a dismissive wave of one hand. The single word carried, strong and powerful with authority. Dorian sneered but fell silent. "Why have you come?"

"The Divine is looking to discuss peace," Rainier answered, gruff. "She knows you are—or were—a reasonable man."

"They carried texts on them from the shattered library," Zaron added then, looking to Solas. "These are lies."

Dorian scoffed. "Naturally, condemn us for trying to learn something while we're hoping to stumble across you in the Crossroads with no clues as to your motives or location. Because we simply must be lying about—"

"Is it true?" Ellana blurted, drawing Solas' gaze. He had to tilt his head up slightly to see her better from under the headdress. She wore an expression that made his heart wrench with pain and regret, her lips curling with revulsion as she glared at him. "Tell me you're not attacking innocent people all over Thedas, taking their food."

His shoulders slumped as the weight of her furious stare tore at him, but he steeled himself, recovering. "We can discuss this later," he told her.

"No," she shouted, taking a step closer, left hand still cradled in her right though the Anchor's green light had faded. "Answer my question now. Are you ransacking human settlements for food to feed your army?"

Solas had known this would be a miserable day since waking before dawn to mingle with the latest arrivals. He didn't believe in superstition, but he hadn't been able to shake the coiling weight of anxiety in his belly all morning and now it seemed justified. Dorian, Rainier, Sera, and Iron Bull all stared at him with varying levels of hostility, awaiting his reply. It was Ellana's glare that made him feel as though jagged glass was cutting into him with each breath. He'd held back the logistics and other details of their growing army because it was what he always did, compartmentalizing his forces and keeping them in the dark. He led this force, not Ellana.

"We will discuss it later," Solas repeated firmly, then, before she could object, he motioned at the sentinels. "Take the prisoners to the far end of the ruins to the old cells and keep watch on them." As the sentinels nodded and stepped back, motioning at Dorian and the others, Solas spoke in a low voice to Lyris, "Go with them."

"Fen'Harel enansal," she murmured, quiet enough that perhaps the former Inquisition members wouldn't hear her, then she sprang over the jumbled, frosted stones from the collapsed roof and walls to do his bidding.

As their footsteps retreated, Ellana snarled at him. "How could you, Solas?"

"I do only what I must, vhenan," he replied, vehement but struggling to keep his voice calm and even. "I take no joy in it, but the army we created must eat and the land here cannot sustain so many over the winter. I have no powerful allies, as you did through the Inquisition. This modern world abhors both magic and elves. So we must take what we can."

"By attacking innocent people," Ellana retorted, brow furrowing and her eyes clouded with both anger and sorrow. "How many people have you killed in these raids? How many more will die of starvation because we took their food and supplies?" She shook her head, appearing as though she might vomit. "We could have traded for some food. We have plenty of animal skins and ironbark. We could—"

"Raids would still be necessary," Solas interrupted heatedly. At her angry frown Solas felt some of his own emotion drain away. "I'm sorry, vhenan. I should have told you of this, but I knew it would trouble you. I worry for your health with the child and winter setting in." Shame stabbed at him, whittling away at the cold resolve keeping him from going to her, closing the gap to hold her if she'd allow it. "I did not intend to move so quickly, but with the foci and with our child coming I must act."

"You used me and the Inquisition to keep control of the elvuians," she muttered, her nostrils flaring and shoulders heaving. "And now you use them for war just the way the Qunari planned."

"Eluvians have always been used for war as much as travel," Solas told her sadly. He lowered his gaze to the stones strewn about underfoot, all which remained of the once proud and beautiful outpost Andruil had created ages ago. "I am not the first to use them for that purpose. As long as the network exists, it will be used for both good and ill. There is no escaping that."

Seeing the rage still coloring her face, Solas looked away again, jaw clenching. "I did not use you, vhenan. I may have taken advantage of your position and your power, but you would have done the same in my place. And I did so with your full understanding. You knew I am the Dread Wolf. You knew I had plans for the eluvians. I have not misled you."

"I did not have full understanding," Ellana growled. "You never told me you planned to use the eluvians like this. I would never have supported it."

"Would you have preferred the Qunari?" Solas rejoined, unable to keep the quiet rage from his own voice now.

Ellana jerked her head away from him as if he'd hit her. Her lips pinched in a tight line and a muscle feathered in her jaw.

The sight of her anger made Solas' own emotions fizzle. He had to make this right. With his voice soft now, he said, "I have ever been your ally, vhenan. Yes, I have taken advantage of that, but never under false pretense once I revealed myself to you."

Some of the furious red blush on her face eased, though she continued breathing harder and faster than normal. Then she said, "Take off the headdress, Solas."

Calling only a tiny bit of energy from his core, Solas' palms glowed and he passed his hands over his head, removing the enchantment from the headdress that kept it glued tightly to him. He closed his eyes as the magic finished surging through him, always relishing the pleasurable sensation it left, like stretching a muscle. Then he gripped the headdress and pulled it backward, off his bald scalp. The chilly autumn air made his hairless scalp and neck cold on contact but he ignored the sensation.

Staring at Ellana, he let out a long, sad breath. "Ma nuvenin." Solas took a few steps toward her, picking his way almost unconsciously through the crumbling bricks littering the ruin. He held the headdress in his hands in front of him, his head bowed. "Tell me how to make things right between us, vhenan. Let us reach a compromise."

Her brow knit, her green eyes dark with doubt that made Solas nearly flinch. "I don't want to be your ally, Solas," she said, her voice deep with melancholy. "I want to be your partner."

Now he did flinch, torn as both irritation and anxiety warred inside him, setting his heart racing. Solas had never shared power equally. Ever. The closest he had come was with Mythal and that'd wound up getting her killed. Just as he'd been unable to shake the sensation of dread since waking this morning, he couldn't dispel the certainty that the closer someone was to him the more devastating the consequences. Already Ellana had lost her position in the Inquisition due to his own loss of control with the Templars. He had to consider the dangers of sharing power with another, not just the risk of betrayal, but the risk that his partner would be used against him and targeted—exactly as Mythal had been.

There was no logic behind the superstition, only painful emotion shaped by experience, but that made it no less powerful. He couldn't deny it, couldn't lie to Ellana or make a promise if he couldn't keep it. Soon none of it would likely matter. He was unlikely to survive reshaping the world anyway.

"Forgive me," he said, his throat tight. "I have never shared power, only led or served. My path is one best trod alone." Unbidden he recalled laying helpless and weak in the ruins of his uthenera chamber, clutching the foci and feeling the frustration, terror, and despair of knowing he lacked the strength to survive and would die unfulfilled. Suddenly shaky, Solas pivoted around and walked back to the short crumbling stairs, his pulse hissing in his ears. He had to return to the troops, had to fight to make his life and his death meaningful.

"Solas," Ellana called to him and he heard her feet crunch over the frosty grass. "Please—don't shut me out. Don't push me away." The anger in her voice had given way to something raw and painful. "You don't have to do this alone. You don't have to sacrifice yourself, dammit! There's another way."

He froze at the top of the stairs, a niggling though like a splinter lodged in his mind. Mythal. "What other way?" he asked, the words guarded. He didn't turn to look at her, knowing that if he did he'd let himself think about losing her, in his death or with her own, never seeing their child grow and never living to appreciate the new world they'd fought for.

"I can use the Anchor to open rifts and expand them slowly," Ellana said, rushing to explain. "We can stabilize them—you've said so yourself. We would only need to hold off the humans until then. They won't want whatever land we restore because they're terrified of the Fade. Doing the work in pieces would save you, emma lath. Please."

Solas' head bowed, eyes closing. What she said was technically possible, but there were so many things wrong with it. The entirety of Thedas should be restored to correct his mistake. There would be thousands of elves still outside of the immortality the Fade provided, still helpless and enslaved or indentured and impoverished. Ellana made defending the area sound so simple, but it would be far from easy. The humans might fight them on principle, even knowing the Fade had been unleashed within it. Worst of all, they could adapt and overcome their Andrastian fears of spirits as plenty of other human cultures had. Spirits and demons would be blocked from the stabilized tear, but inevitably they'd find ways through from time to time, driven by curiosity or desire. Corralling them like that made Solas' stomach clench—it wasn't fair to them to place the waking world in their own and then ban them from it.

Thedas should be whole, he thought. The way it once was. The way it was before I destroyed it.

Slowly, still holding the wolf headdress clasped in both hands, Solas turned to face her. Her eyes searched him and he didn't miss the way her expression fell, her shoulders slumping and her throat working as she swallowed. She'd already read the answer from his demeanor alone.

"Ir abelas, vhenan," he murmured, avoiding her gaze. "The Veil must be destroyed in whole. There is no other solution I can foresee working in the long term. What you suggest would kill many more of the People and we would have to defend our holdings. It is too visible, and incomplete—unfair to both the People and the beings of the Fade."

"But it will spare your life," Ellana repeated, almost shouting. "Once we are immortal we can expand it as we need." Her smile trembled, hopeful and desperate at once. "But we will need an Evanuris and you're the only one we've got."

If he hadn't been so miserable, Solas would've chuckled. Instead he just shook his head gloomily. "That is not a reason to legitimize cowardice to allow me to shirk responsibility. I created the Veil. I destroyed the People. Only I can return what we've lost."

"But it doesn't have to cost your life," Ellana said, her voice shrill. Her hands had fallen to her small belly through the coat, a motion that never failed to draw Solas' gaze. He looked now and winced, longing to turn away if it would ease the sudden forlorn ache inside his ribs.

"It may not," Solas said, forcing a wan smile. He didn't believe his own words, but hoped they'd bring her comfort.

Her green eyes glimmered with moisture, but her jaw clenched and her nostrils flared with anger again. "Solas, please…"

Casting his eyes downward, Solas drew in a silent breath and raised the headdress. He pulled it on, his chilled scalp and neck glad of the covering, and then resumed the spell to keep it on with a quick pass of both palms over his head. "We can discuss this…" He paused, realizing his words were a lie. He had been about to tell her they'd speak tonight, but he'd planned secretly for the last few days to leave this afternoon into the Crossroads. The time had come for him to lead the assault on the Forgotten Ones.

And Solas had planned to leave without telling Ellana—because he could not take her with him.

Seeing her frown, the fury and stubborn determination still in her posture, Solas knew she'd fight him if she knew the truth. She'd demand to accompany him despite the danger to her life, their child, and the risk of destabilizing the Anchor on top of everything else. As much as he wanted to keep his promise never to lie to her, he had to make an exception this time for her own good.

Sighing, he spoke with more resolve now. "We will discuss this tonight." At her anguished, angry glare he added, "Ir abelas, vhenan, but I am needed elsewhere, however, messengers have told me clan Lavellan has sent warriors. Your brother is among them." He hoped she would take joy in her family while he was away and that by now, with the passage of several weeks, the Keeper had completed the gifts he'd asked her to create for Ellana.

"What of Dorian and the others?" she asked before he could turn away.

He frowned slightly. "I cannot reset the eluvians just yet," he admitted, though he didn't explain why, hoping she wouldn't ask or notice. "We shall keep them here until I can." He nodded to her. "I suspect they'll have questions for you."

"What am I supposed to tell them?" Ellana asked, anger mottling her cheeks. "They came here on a mission of peace but you have no intention of meeting with them to discuss it, do you?"

"Unless they were to agree to restore the world with us there is nothing to discuss." Seeing her hands curl into fists at her sides, Solas winced as something ached inside his chest, regretting the hard truth. "I do only what I must to ensure success," he repeated, as cold and stoic as he could manage. "Contrary to what I expect they will tell you, Ellana, the raids we have conducted are not bloody. Only those who fight us are slain."

She huffed out a breath, still glaring at him and then her shoulders slumped and her rage transformed abruptly to despair. "This is not how things should be," she said, voice trembling. Then she repeated herself, "Don't shut me out, Solas. Please…"

"We will speak soon," Solas promised her and then, considering he could conceivably perish fighting the Forgotten Ones, he moved down the steps and enfolded her in an embrace. Inhaling deeply, he stroked her soft hair, trying to ignore the way she shook in his arms and didn't return his hug the way she usually did. "Ar lath ma, vhenan," he murmured and pressed his forehead to hers, ignoring the awkwardness of the headdress.

Ellana pulled away from him, partly turning her back. Her rigid shoulders spoke of her bottled fury, as did the slight, rough tremor in her voice. "Dareth shiral," she told him and stalked off, heading in the direction the sentinels and Lyris had left in.

Watching her go, Solas felt something hard aching in his chest, like a stone lodged against his heart and lungs. When she disappeared around a half-collapsed wall, Solas closed his eyes and summoned his magic again, vanishing as suddenly as he'd appeared.

____________________________________

Ellana wasn't sure if the burning in her throat was just heartburn or if fury fueled it. Marching through the dilapidated ruins, she made her way to another, smaller courtyard where yet another jumbled staircase descended belowground. Ancient elves had painted the pale stones with images of halla in yellow-gold and white figures riding black mounts, along with doodles inside the cells occasionally that were less artistic and more graffiti. Ellana and Solas' chamber, also a former cell, had an image on one wall of two female figures engaged in a lewd act. The artist, likely a prisoner long ago, had used ash and blood as ink.

The stale air belowground held a sour scent, chill against her skin but warmer than aboveground. The passageway was dark, unlit by natural fire though several veilfire torches now cast a flickering green light. Marching past gateless cells where the metal bars or whatever had formed the door had long since decayed, Ellana saw Lyris and two sentinels beside one cell near the end of the hall. All three elves watched her approach with trepidation.

"Ellana," Lyris greeted her when she reached the cell. "Has hahren given instructions on what must be done with the prisoners?"

Seeing the cell they'd chosen to toss her friends into, Ellana scowled. The ancient iron bars had rusted into red dust in spots, leaving sizable gaps that someone as lean as Sera could possible squeeze through. And a man as strong and massive as Iron Bull or even Rainier would easily be able to knock the bars aside with a charge, breaking the fragile steel in either the hinges or the lock. It was a flimsy prison, yet her former companions made no attempt to challenge their captors—yet. Their eyes glimmered green from the nearest veilfire torch.

"Ugh," Sera said with a groan, squinting against the green light. "I hate that green fire stuff."

Swallowing to try and ease the gathering fire in her throat, Ellana spoke to Lyris, "Solas said to keep them here for now." She didn't care that she'd confirmed that hahren was their veiled term for Solas, that he was indeed their leader. Stepping in front of the cell, she tucked her arms behind her and squared her shoulders, trying to feel more self-assured than she actually did about what she was about to do.

"Dorian," she said with a tight smile. "You said the Divine is seeking a peaceful solution to conflict in this elven uprising?"

"I did say that, yes," he answered lips quirking as though they didn't know whether to smile or frown. "What I didn't say in front of…him was that I volunteered to leave the Imperium after I had an encounter in a dream with a certain witch who helped us defeat Corypheus. You know, the one who turned into a dragon?"

Ellana nodded. "Morrigan has visited me in the Fade as well."

"She seems to have grown quite significantly in power recently, wouldn't you say?" Dorian asked, the words slow and carefully enunciated with meaning. He motioned to the sentinel elves lingering behind Ellana. "I told these two about it when we ran across them in the Crossroads. And that's what made them bring us here."

Lyris made a noise of disgust in her throat, but otherwise said nothing. Turning her head, Ellana glared at the other woman. "Shouldn't you be with Solas? I truly don't need a babysitter. My friends aren't going to attack me."

The other woman shook her head, steely blue eyes narrowing. "Ellana…" her voice carried a warning. Undoubtedly she sensed Ellana's rage simmering just beneath the surface and could guess something unpleasant for Fen'Harel was about to happen.

"Stay if you prefer," Ellana told her with a glare. "But don't try and stop me." Facing Dorian and the others again, Ellana said, "Fen'Harel will not discuss any terms of peace with you, but I will."

At Solas' Evanuris name spoken aloud Lyris gasped and cursed in elven. "Ellana," she hissed. "You go too far." Grabbing her by the forearm, Lyris began pulling her away from the cell.

Ellana ripped free with a snarl. "Do not touch me." They glowered at one another through the greenish dim light. The sentinels were frozen, silent as they watched the confrontation. From the cell behind them Sera sniggered, a nervous twittering that ended in a snort.

The sound made Lyris blink as she withdrew, raising her hands in submission. Her gaze had become sorrowful and pleading. "You are making a mistake, da'len. Think of Felassan. Think of your child—your future."

"I am," Ellana growled under her breath. "I won't help Solas destroy the world and kill himself or my friends. Thedas belongs to everyone, not just the elves."

Lyris pinched her lips together. "Say no more, please."

Ignoring Lyris' begging, Ellana pivoted to the cell again and cleared her throat, trying not to feel as though she needed to vomit. "I have a steep request to ask of the Divine," she said. "I must have the Dales returned to the elven people, immediately."

Dorian's jaw dropped as he stared at her, speechless. Rainier and Sera both watched her with wide, shocked eyes, but Iron Bull grinned. "Way to go big, Boss."

"You cannot be serious," Dorian said, shaking his head in consternation. "You know she'll never agree to that. Even if she did, I'm certain the Orlesians would never accept it. The Dales have been theirs for…what? Seven hundred years? I applaud your bravado, old girl, but negotiations usually mean compromise. What could you possibly grant in return?"

"The rest of Thedas," Ellana answered deadpan.

Dorian burst into a laugh. "I'm sorry, really I am, but have you gone mad? I can't tell Cassandra that. She'll think I'm making it up or she'll assume that shabby, wolf-loving filth of yours has enchanted me somehow too. Delusional Dorian, that's what she and Leliana will call me."

Aware of Lyris' stare on her back, Ellana said, "You can tell the Divine that the uprisings will soon be the least of her worries." She sighed, taking the plunge. "The Dread Wolf intends to take all of Thedas for the elven people. Sacrifice the Dales or lose Thedas. It should be an easy decision."

Dorian snorted, his mouth hanging open in ongoing shock. "Ridiculous. You cannot believe this."

"Is Solas somehow this Dread Wolf?" Rainier asked, his bushy eyebrows meeting over the bridge of his nose. "I still can't believe it."

"The Herald of Andraste and a fucking demon," Sera snarled. "Load of codswallop, that is."

"He's a vessel," Iron Bull supplied. "Like that Flemeth."

"Dragon lady," Sera said and sniggered.

"Ellana," Lyris hissed behind her, still trying to stop her.

Ignoring both Lyris and the tense sentinels, Ellana said, "Solas is Fen'Harel. He is not a vessel, not a demon, and it's not a title inspired by legends."

The four of them gawked at her. They'd known or highly suspected Solas' connection with the Dread Wolf for months now, but hearing Ellana actually say it aloud was naturally shocking. Behind her Lyris cursed in elven and suddenly strode away, her boots clapping over the ancient stones. Ellana gnashed her teeth as she heard the warrior leaving, already knowing exactly where—and who—Lyris would retrieve.

"But how?" Dorian asked, eyes searching her. The green light flickered over all of their shocked faces.

Ellana swallowed again, her stomach roiling. "That's not important. What is important is that the world will change dramatically very soon." She felt her hands curl into fists. "Fen'Harel and I disagree on how extreme those changes must be. Give me the Dales and I may be able to convince him not to go through with his plans and choose mine instead."

"Solas can't actually hope to take over Thedas," Rainier said, frowning beneath his thick mustache and beard. "He wouldn't stand a chance against that many fronts. Everyone would oppose him. Thousands would be slaughtered—humans and elves." His eyes were dark and solemn as he stared at Ellana. "My lady, you cannot support this."

Ellana smiled at him. "I don't, Thom."

"But that can't be what he's planning," Dorian said with a nod, brow furrowing as he thought. "That bald bastard is too clever for something so…brutish."

They know so little, Ellana thought and sighed, hunger and acid writhing in her gut. The baby squirmed and she rubbed at her belly when it made a particularly strong kick. Your father is going to be so furious with me, little one. Oddly, she smiled, hard and humorless and cold at the thought.

"That's not his plan," she confirmed for Dorian. "I'm sorry, but I can't tell you any more than that."

"Whatever it is, Boss believes it will work," Iron Bull observed aloud, reaching out to grip Dorian's forearm. His demeanor was somber, even grim. He growled deep in his throat. "That's the part that's important, Dorian."

The four of them looked to her with newfound horror and Ellana drew in a shaky breath as she twisted to motion at the sentinels. "Did Mythal contact you both?"

Zaron, a middle-aged man with silvered hair, nodded. "She has, yes. She warned us we would encounter trespassers in the Crossroads and that we should bring them here. Fen'Harel may demand our lives for it."

"Ouch," Sera mumbled, shuffling in place and looking to her feet. "Shite."

"I will try to protect you," Ellana reassured them in a quiet voice. She saw a look of gratitude pass over Arina's face, though Zaron remained grim.

"You may be unable to protect anyone soon," Zaron said in a low voice. "You should not have revealed hahren."

"Are you in danger, my lady?" Rainier asked, sounding concerned.

"I'll take my chances," Ellana said, both to Zaron and Rainier. "But I appreciate the concern."

"If he lays one finger on you, Maker's balls, I'll strangle him myself," Dorian blustered.

Sera snorted, laughing. "Think it's a bit late for that, Dad, with her growing a baby and all. Droopy ears laid a whole lot more 'n a finger on her. In her, too." She broke off, chortling.

Ellana scowled, her cheeks burning. "Yes, thank you for that obvious and unnecessary comment, Sera."

"What?" Sera asked with a shrugging gesture. "Like you all weren't thinking it too. `Specially you, Thom."

He started to protest at once, sounding both amused and aghast simultaneously. "I was not—"

"Enough," Ellana growled, pinching the bridge of her nose. After a quick steadying breath, Ellana looked to the sentinels. "Can I trust you both not to repeat everything I've said to Solas?"

"Do you serve Mythal?" Arina asked, her voice and expression tense.

"I serve what I think is best for both the People and the other races of Thedas," Ellana said, deliberately vague before she gave a slight nod. "Right now Mythal's plans sound to me like everyone's best option."

Arina shot a quick glance at Zaron and then both of them dipped their heads in bows. "We will aid you as best we can in hiding whatever you plan," Arina said and then, flashing a smile, she said, "Fen'Asha." She-Wolf.

Oh no, Ellana thought with an exasperated sigh. "Not another title, please."

"Why not?" Dorian asked. "You seem to collect them, Inquisitor."

"Herald of Andraste," Sera added with a smirk. "Your worshipfulness. Lady elfy-elfness. Holy lady-bits."

Ignoring their bantering, Ellana pressed on, a note of urgency entering her voice. "I will soon be leaving through the eluvian—in the next day or two I suspect. I don't know how long Solas will keep you all here, but if you've returned to Halamshiral by then I can stop by that eluvian and reactivate it." She drew in a deep breath. "I could use help." From people who aren't connected to the elven pantheon, she thought with a frown.

"We are to accompany you," Arina said. "Mythal instructed us as such."

"I know," Ellana said with a nod. "And I appreciate all the help I can get in this."

Zaron scowled. "There is no place in the new Elvhenan for humans and Qunari."

"I'm Tal-Vashoth, actually," Iron Bull corrected him, unfazed by Zaron's racism.

"I doubt he cares about the semantics," Dorian said sourly.

"Did Mythal tell you that?" Ellana asked, anger making the words curt and clipped. "Because maybe you hadn't noticed, but her new vessel is a human woman. I'd wager Mythal doesn't much care who helps us create a new elven homeland."

The older sentinel muttered unhappily under his breath, averting his gaze. Beside him Arina's expression was cautious but open. Ellana read it as meaning the rogue sentinel trusted her and wouldn't put up an argument. Good, she thought.

"I'll go with you," Dorian agreed immediately, his brown eyes somber. "Though I think it'd be best if we acquired some weapons before we took off." He spread his hands, palms out to show he was unarmed.

"Yeah," Sera grumbled, jerking her chin toward the sentinels behind Ellana. "Those tits made me toss my best bow into the…whatever…in the Crossroads. And all my arrows, yeah? Took me hours to make 'em and you blighters just whiff." She made a swooshing sound with her lips and then clapped her hands together. "Splat. Andraste's ass, where does that shite come out? Cuz I want my stuff back!"

"Speaking of which, I lost a great sword and my shield the same way," Rainier grumbled.

"We'll worry about that later," Ellana reassured them, smiling slightly at their antics. "If it comes down to it, we have plenty of weapons here. I don't know exactly when I—"

When the veilfire torches abruptly dimmed, spluttering with the sudden cold wind that whipped through the corridor, a chill raced through up Ellana's back. Turning her head to gaze down the long hall to where the bright white of the outside sunlight reflected off the pale stone walls. She saw the shadow pass over the entrance, as complete as though the clouds had obscured the sun. But she knew in her gut this was no innocent cloud and only moments later the shadow flowed down the ruined stairs.

The sentinels behind her both inhaled sharply, tensing as if they expected violence. Ellana watched, her jaw clenching and her shoulders hunched with her own rage, as the shadow became a familiar man, walking with the authoritative, deadly stride of a commander. Yet the shadow lingered around him, an unnatural and brooding darkness that made her blood freeze with ice. Even his armored thighs, usually resplendent and shiny, seemed dulled by it. The shadow as much as distance obscured his face.

"Ellana," he called her name in a growl.

She shot Dorian, Iron Bull, Sera, and Rainier one last glance, noting their concerned expressions, then pivoted to face Solas and marched toward him. "Emma lath?" she asked him, her voice mockingly sweet.

"Come with me," he ordered her, cold and stoic. She still couldn't make out his features as she drew closer.

Despite the fury still curdling the acids in her stomach, Ellana followed him as Solas whipped around on his heel and strode to the stairs. The magic emanating from Solas made her skin prickle, the fine hairs all over her body standing upright. The baby kicked against her stomach, making her feel less hungry and more like vomiting with every movement.

They emerged into the sunshine, cheery and innocent, as though taunting the angry intensity between them. Out of the shadows Solas was no longer shrouded in darkness, but his armor didn't gleam the way she expected it and his skin seemed ashen despite the fury she could see smoldering just beneath his blue-gray eyes and in the stubborn set of his lips.

Lyris and Mathrel stood a few dozen meters away, giving them a measure of space while still being within earshot. Ellana glowered at Lyris until the Elvhen woman evaded her gaze, something akin to shame darkening her features.

Solas gripped her by the shoulders then, his hold tight enough to make her wince before she tried to take a step back, to shrug his hands off her. "Let go of me," she spat.

"Do you not understand our position?" Solas asked her, biting each word out. "We cannot achieve our goals if you reveal our plans to our enemies!" His grip tightened, the metal on his fingers biting into her skin. "Why did you betray me, vhenan? Why must you oppose me at every turn? Do you delight in causing me pain?"

"I could ask you the same thing," Ellana snarled, even as she saw the anguish in his gaze. "They are not our enemies. They could be allies if you would but listen."

He shook his head, a bitter, scornful look clouding the pain of seconds ago. "Have you forgotten so quickly that our friends were willing to separate us for the rest of our lives by locking me away in a Circle? The same friend who claims she seeks peace through Dorian was the one who ordered my arrest. When she learns I am indeed responsible for the unrest in Thedas, do you truly believe she will welcome you for peace negotiations?"

She swallowed, her throat burning and aching and tight. He was right, as much as she hated admitting it. Stubborn and determined to convince him, Ellana started to defend herself anyway. "There is no harm in trying. I refuse to give up. There is a way our people and the rest of Thedas can coexist." Her fury dissolved at the cold misery and temper still burning in his eyes, despite his ashen skin and oddly subdued armor. "I'm trying to save you, save everyone. It's worth the risk."

"No, it is not," Solas snarled. "If you were to leave my protection now that Dorian and the others know who and what I truly am they will take you and hold you against me." He broke off, swallowing. "I could not bear such a loss, vhenan." Closing his eyes and releasing her, he withdrew a step and let out a shuddering breath.

Then, Solas called to the arcane warriors, "Lyris, Mathrel. Take Ellana to our room and stand watch over her."

Shock made Ellana gape at him a heartbeat, but anger quickly burned through her as the arcane warriors stepped forward to do his bidding. "Solas—don't do this. I came here to fight at your side, but you've done nothing but push me away for weeks. Now I'm to be your prisoner?" She let out a strained, unbelieving laugh. "You cannot be serious."

The look he sent her way was pinched, brow furrowed and eyes crinkled with anguish. "Ir abelas, vhenan. I cannot let your compassion and naivety destroy any chance we have of restoring the People." His shoulders sank. "And I cannot allow you to endanger yourself and our child."

The fury swelling inside her, scorching her blood from within, made her twist violently out of Mathrel's hold as he tried to grip her bicep. She slapped at him with her other hand, incensed. She cursed in elven and then, as Lyris appeared at her other side and took her arm there, the rage dissolved into despair. She would never be able fight the warriors, both of them much stronger than she and fully armored. More importantly, her pregnancy had advanced enough that it impacted her balance and she knew she'd be unlikely to outmaneuver them and could injure herself or the child. Slumping and shaking with emotion, she tried to restrain the surge of tears and failed as she began to sob.

"This isn't right, Solas," she cried. "Please. Don't do this."

"Forgive me, vhenan," he replied, gruff and hoarse with emotion. "But you leave me no choice." To the warriors he said, "Watch over her until I return. Allow no visitors except her family and clan members."

"Until you return?" Ellana asked, brow furrowing and voice trembling. And then, seeing the dullness of his armor and skin and still sensing the tingle of magic over her body emanating from him, the answer solidified in her mind. He had cast some strange magic over himself, preparing for battle. Her throat closed and she made a choking sound, struggling to speak. "You're leaving. Today. Now. The Forgotten Ones."

His expression hardened. "I am. I could not risk telling you. It is too dangerous for you." His head drooped. "I'm sorry."

"You promised me you wouldn't hide things from me," she hissed, shaking violently and feeling sick to her stomach. "You promised not to lie."

"I had to make an exception," he said, scowling. "For your safety. I cannot risk you."

"Liar," she spat. "Harellen."

He cringed at the insult and averted his gaze. "If that is what I must be to ensure you and our child are safe, then so be it." He motioned slightly at the warriors. "Go."

Ellana glared at him as they dragged her off, her skin broiling despite the cold, heated by the rage in her blood. The Dread Wolf was determined to endure the sacrifice of restoring Thedas alone. The realization that she couldn't trust him hit her like a hammer blow to the chest, crushing her heart and twisting like a knife between her ribs. She went limp, sobbing inconsolably all the way back to the tiny cell that functioned as their bedroom.

Inside she curled into a ball, as much as her burgeoning belly allowed without compressing her stomach too much, and willed herself to sleep. Not because she hoped to encounter Mythal, but just to stop feeling or thinking. Just for a few hours of respite…

The darkness closed over her.

________________________________

Next Chapter:

"Solas will have to get through me before he can get to you." Iron Bull's voice rumbled, deep and reassuring. He had yet to even break a sweat as he jogged. "And when you mess with the Bull, you get the horns."

"Your horns are most impressive," Mahanon said, puffing with exertion as they crossed the rock bridge. "But the Dread Wolf is a god."

_____________________________

Author's note: Thank you all for the kind comments and excitement over this story! You honor me! <3


Chapter Text

Wearing his wolf headdress, Solas watched as the first of his army of three hundred elven mages entered the eluvian. He tried not to think about Ellana and what she'd done. He could not afford to let the events of the morning undo the previous two weeks of effort. The fight ahead would be challenging enough as it was.

Over the next few hours he would lead this army deep into the Crossroads to an eluvian that would only open for him, having been sealed with his blood millennia ago—one of the handful of times he'd been forced to use blood magic. Through that eluvian lay the Forgotten Ones' prison construct. During the time of Elvhenan Solas knew his army would have been little more than an inconvenience for just one of the Forgotten Ones, but millennia locked away from the Fade had weakened the ancient beings.

Like all spirits and demons, the Forgotten Ones embodied intangible things of the waking world—emotions, ideas, thoughts, and desires. Unlike most spirits and demons, the Forgotten Ones did not represent such innocent things as fear, compassion, wisdom, or desire. Instead the Forgotten Ones fed off even darker aspects of the world: destruction and death. But even they, in their maligned way, had some capacity for good. After all, death can only exist when there is life.

In Elvhenan the Forgotten Ones had tempered their destruction with bouts of peace to ensure they never ran out of future victims. They were like shepherds or gardeners, pruning the weeds or culling the sick from a herd. Their primary motivation was always establishing balance between the physical and the intangible. In the world of Solas' time, when the People were immortal, death and disease came primarily from the Forgotten Ones. And though their ways were horrible and frightening, they were not without purpose, which was one of the many reasons Solas had not killed them.

But, as with many other things he hadn't foreseen, Solas had altered that balance and changed the Forgotten Ones by locking them away. By severing them from the Fade and the waking world, he feared their already dark natures had grown twisted into true demons. Denied their purpose for so long, the Forgotten Ones had weakened, but they now wielded their destructive powers with reckless abandon. They were no longer shepherds or gardeners tending the physical world. Instead they'd become embittered, spiteful and gleeful in their wanton destruction. If unleashed they would turn their wrath upon every living thing in Thedas.

Actually, Solas suspected they hadn't even needed to be free to wreak havoc.

It had been their voices, reaching out through the powers of blood magic to bypass the Fade and sing straight into the ignorant ears of Tevinter's mages, urging the destruction of Arlathan. They wove lies, alternate identities, claiming to be the massive dragons slumbering in the abyss: the Old Gods. They'd encouraged the humans to breach the Golden City, knowing the magisters would walk into a trap and return to Thedas carrying the Blight.

The Blight had begun in Elvhenan as the Forgotten Ones' greatest tool, after all. And it was the Blight Solas feared most when attacking them now.

Looking over the forces he'd assembled, Solas kept his arms clasped behind his back and his shoulders squared. They'd formed into three groups of one hundred, each led by one of his Elvhen lieutenants—Zevanni, Abelas, and Mathrel. Beneath them each group of one hundred had sub-commanders: Zevanni's second was Darae, Mathrel's was Zaron, and Abelas' was Var, the Elvhen spy Solas had recalled from the Inquisition's ranks.

Solas had gone to great care to ensure the sentinels were intermixed with his own more trustworthy warriors. He knew the sentinels saw his machinations and the lack of trust it revealed, but there was little he could do. A reckoning would come one day between his people and the sentinels who served Mythal. He had no doubt of that, he just hoped it wouldn't be in the heat of battle.

His three lieutenants stood below him now, their faces tense but serene, even Zevanni's. Unlike the modern elves they commanded, these Elvhen warriors remembered the enormous and terrifying powers of the Forgotten Ones first hand. They'd spent the last two weeks preparing for the assault by creating enchanted talismans from any trinkets the elves had brought with them. The modern elves did not realize they were warding themselves against Blight with an ancient spell long forgotten from the world. It was better if they didn't know the full danger of their enemies, but Solas had personally walked through their ranks that morning to check every individual to ensure they'd cast the magic correctly. He couldn't afford to let even a single mage infected with the Blight slip through the ranks.

Abelas entered after the first troop and Zevanni followed the second. Only a hundred remained. The modern elves had a variety of backgrounds; from Dalish Firsts and Seconds to city elves who'd escaped Circles or apostates who'd never been part of a Circle. Aside form the magic in their veins, the only things they had in common were their lithe figures and elven heritage. Many of them stared at him with awe or murmured entreaties as they passed.

Solas ignored them and fought off the wave of revulsion that made his stomach clench. No matter how many times he tried to convince them otherwise they still believed him a god. He could have foregone the wolf headdress to let them see how unassuming he appeared as just Solas, but the sad, infuriating truth was that he needed to inspire that awe and devotion now more than ever.

Once the Veil came down he could prove to them their devotion hadn't been misplaced. He would never claim godhood, but he knew his power, fully restored, would crush their enemies so thoroughly he might as well be a god.

When the last group of one hundred had passed through, leaving only their leader, Mathrel, waiting before the mirror, Solas leapt down from the wall. Landing lightly on his feet, he asked, "Are you ready, falon?"

The grim warrior nodded. "Fen'Harel enansal."

"Have you bidden Lyris goodbye?" he asked, hesitating a moment as he wrestled with the desire to ask how Ellana was. It twisted inside him, gnawing like an animal. He quashed it.

"I have." Mathrel's dark eyes narrowed with something akin to concern. "Ir abelas, but I must caution you, Fen'Harel. Expectant mothers are often emotionally unstable. You must not judge her too harshly for—"

Solas cut him off with a small wave of his hand. "I appreciate your concern and your wisdom in this matter," he said, admitting Mathrel did have more experience in dealing with a pregnant partner. "But now is not the time."

"You are correct." Mathrel dipped his chin in acknowledgment. "Apologies."

Gesturing to the mirror, Solas said, "Let us begin." Mathrel pivoted and strode through the mirror.

Alone, Solas let out a long, uneven breath and then, steeling himself, followed Mathrel through the eluvian.

____________________________________

Ellana found herself bathed in warmth, curled tightly in a lightless space. Walls enclosed her, soft and malleable, in every direction. She should have felt claustrophobic in such a tight space, but instead she was weightless and carefree. The strangeness of this environment struck her, but it seemed as though the ether of this existence soothed her from the outside in, as if with her every breath she drew in tranquility.

Except she realized she wasn't breathing, just opening her mouth. There was a taste on her tongue, tangy and salty and unfamiliar. And through the complete darkness of this tiny, enclosed world of weightlessness and warmth, she heard a comforting drumming beat echoing through it all. The sound was dull, as if muffled, passing through liquid.

I must be dreaming, she realized. But what kind of dream was this?

When she stretched her limbs against the flesh-like walls enclosing her they stretched and then gave way, light spilling into her eyes. Weight settled onto her shoulders again and she blinked, eyes adjusting to the dull, diffuse light.

She recognized the raw Fade—pools of stagnant water, gray-green stone and tawny sand with spindly red stalks growing along the edges, coated in a slime. Grimacing, Ellana turned in a circle, taking in the Fade around her and tensing with confusion. What's going on?

She saw a wispy shadow nearby and flinched from it, heart pounding as she expected it to attack. Her hands moved automatically over her shoulder, seeking a bow and an arrow to nock in it and finding nothing with a spurt of panic. The shadow flowed closer to her and she yelped, scrambling through the uneven, lumpy terrain of the Fade trying to evade it. But the shadow moved too quickly, lurching at her. She cringed, bracing for impact—but the spirit passed through her.

In the heartbeat that the spirit crossed through her, Ellana felt curiosity buzz in her mind, briefly replacing her fear. Then the wisp was behind her and she whirled to watch it, wary but perplexed. From what she'd gathered from Solas, most friendly or neutral spirits that were too weak or simple to speak chose to emulate something from a dreamer's memories to communicate. And usually they appeared as greenish specters or orbs of light. This spirit chose darkness rather than light, which had alarmed her immediately, yet it had done nothing hostile and the sensation she'd gotten from it seemed harmless enough.

"Can you speak?" she asked it.

It floated toward her again, moving into her face. Ellana backed away from it, trying to bat it away. Her hands cut through it, tearing thin tendrils of its essence away as if she could scatter it like mist. It was warm to the touch as it passed through her again, leaving her with that same curiosity tingling her skin.

"Please," she said, whipping around and trying to evade the shadowy spirit as it immediately turned to make another pass through her. "Stop that." The spirit hovered a moment longer in front of her face when she spoke, as if observing her, then darted forward to pass through her again.

Ellana groaned, batting at the spirit though that proved just as useless as before. The shadowy, shapeless form continued to dash around her, like an oversized and annoying gnat. Trying to ignore it, she started walking, making her way through the mixture of sand and stagnant, oily puddles. The sound of the splashing as she walked drew the spirit's attention and, as if easily distracted, it began to circle her feet and brush against the sand and the pools.

Strange, she thought.

Rounding a corner of green-gray stone, Ellana and the shadow spirit reached a broad, open space, flat except for the many small depressions filled with water. Greenish ether rose from the ground in ribbons, swirling on invisible air currents. In the sky, craggy rock islands floated in the bleak orange-gray sky, making Ellana remember the Crossroads. Far in the distance and high in the heavens, Ellana saw the foreboding spires of the Black City, gloomy and inaccessible as always. Scattered over the plain ahead were pale white stones and Ellana recognized them as being elven ruins, likely from Hellathen Hamin. A statue of the Dread Wolf sat, partly submerged in the sand and muck; the stone looked slimy.

The shadow spirit zoomed away from her, circling the Dread Wolf statue before losing interest and flying back to her. Again it passed through her, filling her briefly with that same bubbling curiosity. This time she heard a sound as it made another pass, slower now: the steady muffled beating from the dark, weightless dream. Ellana watched it, eyes narrowed as she steeled herself for its next dive through her again.

Then movement drew her gaze to the plain again. Staring out into the open space, Ellana saw faint shapes in the pale green of spirits that had materialized into bipedal shapes. The slim, gracefulness of their lithe bodies even while armored told her they were elves. Dozens of them moved over the plain, voices murmuring just a tad too quiet for her to make out any of the words.

A memory of the past, Ellana thought. This was just the sort of thing Solas claimed he sought out in ruins.

The shadow spirit sped away into the plain, streaking fast to zip through the incorporeal figures of the memory. The spirits reenacting the scene seemed to glimmer at the shadow's touch, flickering a moment, but they didn't falter. After a few passes through one spirit, the shadow flew to another and repeated the process.

A small splash behind her made Ellana gasp, whipping around to look behind her. As she recognized Morrigan she relaxed. "Morrigan," she said with a nod in greeting. "I didn't expect to find you. This isn't our usual meeting place."

The witch cast her a strange, almost wary look as she moved to stand at Ellana's side and overlook the plain. "My apologies, Inquisitor. I did not dare reshape the Fade until I knew your companion posed no threat." She gestured out into the distance at the spirit figures still walking and murmuring amongst themselves with the shadow flitting between them like a bird seeking handouts.

"My companion?" Ellana asked, frowning. "The shadow spirit? It seems to be harmless. Annoying, but harmless."

Morrigan smirked. "Annoying but harmless?" She laughed. "`Tis an apt description, I suspect, but I doubt you would say such if you understood what it is."

Ellana shook her head. "And what is it, exactly?"

Morrigan's smirk widened into a full smile. "Mythal whispers to me that it is a Dreamer—but a child." At Ellana's shocked stare, mouth agape, Morrigan laughed again. "The presence I sensed with you when we met earlier, it was the child entering the Fade, not Fen'Harel or one of his servants."

"How can you be sure that this is…" Ellana stared out into the plain, one hand covering her mouth as she remembered trying to swat the shadow away. "I hit it—I thought it was trying to attack me…"

"I doubt it was bothered in the slightest," Morrigan said with a shrug. She was silent a moment, golden eyes glazing as she tilted her head, apparently listening to the goddess dwelling inside her. "Mythal assures me that only another Dreamer mage could harm its spirit here. Even demons cannot tempt a being as simple as an unborn child. It wants for nothing, understands nothing. I suspect it shaped the Fade unconsciously until you happened to dream with it and introduce it to a world outside the womb."

"Are we in the raw Fade because of my child?" Ellana asked, shaking her head in consternation. She felt dizzy with this bizarre new discovery.

"I…cannot say," Morrigan admitted, frowning. "But Dreamers access the raw Fade as others cannot, so it is possible. However, it could also be the magic of the Anchor." Grinning, Morrigan chuckled. "Is it truly so shocking to learn this, Inquisitor? Your child is the offspring of the last whole and free Evanuris after all. Mythal tells me that her own children manifested this way in ancient Elvhenan. She suspects your lover will be most pleased—though I doubt you will wish to share this knowledge with him after what I am about to reveal to you."

Ellana gnashed her teeth, the heat of fury making her skin flush red. She'd tried to sleep to escape reality, but Morrigan's reminder brought it all back to her, crashing onto her like an avalanche. "I am his prisoner," she growled, hands clenching into fists at her side. "I will not be able to escape. Solas has placed me under guard."

In the plain ahead of them the shadow had frozen amidst the elven figures, its shapeless form flowing like mists, growing tumultuous. It hovered and then rose into the air above the plain, buzzing around a floating stalagmite like a giant moth.

"I am aware," Morrigan said, sounding coy. "But he will not be able to stop you from leaving if that is your choice. I have commanded Arina to aid you should you wish it."

"How?" Ellana asked, frowning with confusion. "Arina must still be awake, guarding Dorian and the others. How can you be in communication with her?" How had Morrigan known that Solas had imprisoned her as well? Ellana stiffened, wariness sending a chill arcing through her.

The witch tilted her head slightly and grimaced as if in pain. "I…she can reach out from the Fade to any of the sentinels. Because of their vallaslin."

"They are slaves to her then," Ellana muttered. For all her fury with Solas at the moment she had to admit that he remained loyal to his own principles. The power of vallaslin to compel servants and warriors and whole armies had a dark appeal to Ellana as she considered how useful they'd have been in dealing with her own Inquisition. But of course she would never stoop to such a low—though it was easy to see the appeal.

"They are not slaves," Morrigan snapped, sounding offended. "Mythal did not use such bindings the way most of the Evanuris did. Her vallaslin allow a connection, that is all." She huffed. "`Tis unimportant, Inquisitor. What is important is that you must understand Fen'Harel has long since broken your trust. It is time you learned the truth."

With her heart whooshing in her ears, Ellana wrapped her arms around herself and sucked in a deep breath. "You don't have to pour poison in my ear to make me go to the Dales, Morrigan. I've already made my decision."

"I understand," Morrigan said, lips twisting downward. "But Mythal insists that you must know that Fen'Harel has been a bane to Thedas ever since he woke from his long sleep. She knows you will waver as his lover and mother of his child and she fears your affection will blind you, leading to disaster for us all."

Striding ahead, shaking her head as if she could dislodge Morrigan's voice, Ellana called out over her shoulder, "I don't want to hear it."

"Fen'Harel gave Corypheus his orb," Morrigan shouted at her. "Did you know that, Inquisitor? Did you know that the explosion at the conclave, the former Divine's death, the Anchor that pains you—`twas all his doing."

Ellana froze, staring out at the plain and the memory still playing out with the shadow now watching from its elevated position, unmoving. Slowly, with a frown, she pivoted to face Morrigan. "Solas told me the orb was stolen and fell into Corypehus' hands."

The witch's smile was hard and cold as she shook her head. "No, Inquisitor. Your lover's spies passed the orb off to Corypheus. They tracked him, spied on him, and fed the information to Fen'Harel so that when Corypheus made his move and unlocked the orb, the Dread Wolf would be onsite to reclaim the Anchor and the orb together. He would have destroyed Thedas that very day by tearing down the Veil."

Shaking with rage even as the air seemed to have been squeezed out of her lungs by the pain and grief of betrayal, Ellana stammered, trying to deny it. "Why would he do such a thing? He despised Corypheus…"

"He woke near death from uthenera," Morrigan answered. "He planned to have Corypheus unlock the orb and die in the process, but he miscalculated on multiple fronts."

"How could you know this?" Ellana asked, her voice thick and breathy. Her stomach clenched and she swallowed, feeling as though she might vomit, though she wasn't sure she could do it in the Fade.

"He sought Mythal out for guidance in dreams," Morrigan answered. "She disapproved of his plans and refused to help him."

"He lied to me at Halamshiral," Ellana whispered, more to herself than to Morrigan. Her eyes shut tightly as she covered her face with both hands, her throat closing as she tried to fight off a sob. He broke his promise from the start…

She felt a tingle on her skin and heard the faint, muffled thumping of the shadow—her child, if she believed Morrigan and Mythal—and raised her head in time to see it darting back and forth nearby. When it passed through her again and swung around, circling, it had begun to flicker, the dark mists twining and coiling on each other. It hesitated well clear of her, as if observing her with caution now. Could it sense her distress?

"Will you serve Mythal, Inquisitor?" Morrigan asked, her quiet words clear and crisp despite the distance between them. "Fen'Harel may yet follow with you leading the sentinels. That is Mythal's hope, and why I have approached you."

Ellana shook, holding herself and fighting the miserable weakness of despair at the betrayal. Her eyes followed every little movement of the shadow as it wove back and forth. She felt the muffled thumping—a heartbeat—pulsing through the air. "You deserve a father who won't lie to you, little one," she whispered at it, her eyes burning though no tears formed.

"Inquisitor?" Morrigan pressed and then, softer now, "Ellana?"

Letting out a long, shuddering breath, Ellana looked to Morrigan and frowned. "I told you, I will go to the Dales. Help me escape Solas and I will do as Mythal advises." Pausing, she assessed the witch, her brow furrowing. "And in return Mythal can safely remove or stabilize the Anchor, correct? I won't be able to help anyone if it kills me."

"Indeed," Morrigan said with a meaningful nod. "I will meet you in the Dales, Inquisitor. Try not to leave me waiting."

_________________________________

For an hour after waking Ellana had waited in her bedroom—what had become her cell, actually—sitting in silence on the furs over the pallet she and Solas had slept on just that very night. A Dalish elf still bearing her vallaslin arrived with stew, thick and meaty, but Ellana could only manage a few bites before her throat seemed to close or the food rose back up her esophagus like liquid fire.

"You must eat," Lyris scolded her from just outside the cell. There were no bars, no doors, no obstructions except Lyris herself. Ellana knew the warrior wouldn't hurt her but would never allow her to pass and likely had a paralyzing spell or a sleeping draught to force her to behave.

"I'm not hungry," she said, voice thick with anger.

Lyris sighed, shoulders sagging. The sound carried the weight of the unhappiness Ellana could see darkening the warrior's face in the golden torchlight. "Fen'Harel is doing only what he must," she said gently. "Mathrel would do the same to me if I refused to stop fighting when—"

"I would've stayed," Ellana interrupted her, glaring viciously. "But he didn't ask. He didn't tell me. He's shut me out and lied to me." She broke off, choking on both the fire of indigestion in her throat and the intense ache of her emotion. Closing her eyes, she laid the hand not holding the bowl of stew over her abdomen and tried to steady her breathing. Envisioning the baby, remembering the raw curiosity she'd felt as the shadow of its consciousness passed through her in the Fade, helped calm her.

"He loves you," Lyris murmured, but the conviction in her voice was unmistakable. "I have never seen him so devoted to another, and he has had many lovers, Ellana. But he will always do what he must for the People. He carries a terrible weight on his shoulders." She paused a moment and then added, "I believe you are the only one who lessens that burden. Do not add to it with useless strife."

"But what he's doing will kill him," Ellana protested, the words emerging strangled from her throat. "There's a better way—but he won't listen."

"Mythal's way?" Lyris asked, growling. "You cannot trust her."

Ellana opened her mouth to reply but then the sound of footsteps clapping on the stone in the corridor drew both women's attention. The warrior glanced over her shoulder, scowling at whoever approached. Ellana's heart took off racing, her body breaking out in a sweat immediately, certain this must be Arina come to rescue her.

"Fen'Harel ordered no visitors," Lyris grumbled, pivoting to face them.

"He's with her clan," answered a voice Ellana recognized as Arina. "Says her Keeper sent him with a gift from Fen'Harel."

Leaving the stew on the pallet, Ellana rose to her feet and stepped toward the narrow doorway, trying to see around Lyris' armored form. In the shadowed, dim lighting of the corridor she saw two figures, one feminine that she recognized as Arina and another taller shape behind her that was also familiar. She squinted, trying to make out his features, but Lyris shifted, blocking her view.

"And Fen'Harel wished for you to bring the gift to his lover?" the warrior asked with a shake of her head. "Do not insult my intelligence."

And then, suddenly, there was a shout and a whump sound. Ellana cringed backward, her skin tingling with the nearness of magic. Suddenly the air was thick with sparkling dust. One whiff of its bitter taste revealed what it was—a rogue's knockout bomb. Ellana clapped a hand over her nose and scrambled to cover the lower half of her face with her scarf as she saw the shadowy shapes of two figures in the hall clashing, heard metal clang and magic sizzle. Then a shouted curse came from Lyris as the warrior coughed.

Another shape moved through the dust motes, distorting the golden torchlight as it entered the small room. Ellana reached out to grasp the person, guessing at once it'd be Arina, turned invisible. When her hands met with the invisible rogue Arina reappeared with another whump sound, grabbing Ellana's arm. "Come with me," she ordered, her voice muffled through her own mask.

They jogged from the cell and into the hallway, Ellana fighting off a wave of dizziness from the knockout bomb. She saw Lyris had fallen to her knees outside the cell, her shoulders heaving and her head drooped. The hilt of her spectral blade was still clasped in one fist, her blond hair disheveled from where it'd slipped from her tight bun. An elven man in full Dalish armor stood in front of her, an axe in his hand and his body tensed, ready to fight. Like Arina he wore a mask over his nose and mouth, but closer now Ellana recognized him at once.

"Lerand?" she asked, agape under her scarf.

The blond-haired warrior whipped around to her and started jogging with them. "Great to see you again, Lana!" She couldn't see his mouth but could hear the grin in his voice.

"We have little time," Arina scolded, tugging insistently on Ellana's arm. "We must get through the eluvian before Lyris comes after us."

"My friends," Ellana protested, tugging against the rogue's hold. "From Halamshiral. We have to—"

"Samhel and Mahanon are bringing them," Lerand answered, hurrying along just behind her. His hand moved to the small of her back, ushering her up the ruined stairs.

They emerged into the courtyard. Ellana's eyes smarted in the bright sunshine and she winced but didn't slow. The fields of tents and campfires where their army had been camped now appeared deserted. A cold hand gripped at her heart inside her chest. Solas has taken them, she realized and then pushed the thought aside, unable to dwell on it now.

They hurried through the courtyard and into the ruins proper. She shivered in the chillier air aboveground, breathing hard and fast and grimacing at how uncomfortable the sharp movements were on her rounded belly. She clutched at her abdomen as they jogged, winding their way toward the eluvian with Arina at the lead and Lerand at her side. When they reached it, hopping down into the collapsed corridor where the mirror thrummed with magic, glowing blue, Ellana heard Iron Bull shout, "Hey there, Boss!"

Panting and grinning, she found all four of her friends standing tensely around the mirror with Mahanon and Lerand's older brother Samhel nearby. Her eyes quickly took in the new, elven weapons they each carried and recognized them as being of Dalish design specifically. Apparently Lerand, Mahanon, and Samhel had done more than just rescue her friends, they'd armed them too.

"You made it," she said, laughing even as her eyes stung with tears of relief. She tried to suppress the emotion, irritated that she couldn't go any length of time without crying these days.

"This is some jailbreak you've managed, old girl," Dorian told her with a warm smile. "Good to have you back."

"We must go," Arina ordered, pushing at Lerand and then Samhel and Mahanon. "Through the mirror!"

"What about Abelas?" Ellana asked, looking around with a frown. "Morrigan said he was to come w—"

"He will join us soon," Arina said, pushing her again. "Go, now! Lyris will already be coming after us."

They sprang for the mirror, leaping through it one by one, making the eluvian hum with magic each time. Ellana burst through the mirror and out the other side, heart pounding and body shuddering. As the groaning song of the Crossroads filled her ears, so too did the crackle of the Anchor as it flared to life. Pain spurted through her hand and she cried out, stumbling to her knees as she cradled it.

"Lana," Lerand shouted, his hand on her shoulder, trying to haul her to her feet. "Are you all right?

Others quickly clamored around her, calling her name. Hands gripped her beneath her arms, lifting her. Gnashing her teeth, Ellana forced her shaking legs to bear her weight, though the Crossroads still spun around her. "I'm fine…" but panic fluttered in her chest, as strong as her baby's kicks. Why had the Anchor flared like that? It usually only reacted to Solas' magic or other ancient Elvhen magic. Had the eluvian's magic been enough to set it off now?

The sentinel rogue was at her side then. "Can you run?" Arina asked, her face pinched with something like horror.

"Not very well," Ellana retorted with a scowl, still cradling her left hand as the Anchor's glow began to gradually dissipate. "I'm pregnant, remember?"

"Let me carry her," Iron Bull said, stepping forward.

Arina's lips curled and her eyes narrowed. "I don't trust you," she said.

Ellana pushed the rogue away, growling with the press of frustration and pain. "I do." She lurched toward Iron Bull and he caught her, taking her into his arms as easily as he would a child. With a little grunt, he grinned down at her, and asked, "Comfy?"

"Grateful is more like it," Ellana admitted, wrapping an arm around his neck for support. She tucked the left one, still aching along the Anchor mark, against her rounded belly.

"One of you," Arina shouted, jerking a finger to Dorian and then Mahanon. "Can you deactivate it?"

Mahanon just stared at the rogue, baffled, but Dorian sniffed. "Yes, since you asked so nicely." He strode to the mirror and thrust out one palm, a bluish glow passing into the mirror from his hand. A second later the mirror went dark.

"This way," Arina yelled, rushing ahead with all the dexterous speed of any well-trained, knife-wielding rogue. They took a narrow rock bridge leading left, heading for the next nearest island. Everyone moved after her at once but the elf-friendly nature of the Crossroads sped Arina's pace and soon she and Sera had both outpaced everyone else, though Mahanon, Lerand, and Samhel chose to lag behind them, deliberately lingering near Iron Bull.

"How are you, Lana?" her brother asked from where he trotted along just ahead of Iron Bull.

"Never better," she bluffed, trying to reassure him. "Though I'm guessing this is all a little strange for you."

He laughed. "You could say that, yeah. We only just arrived around dawn." Shooting her a worried look, he asked, "Please tell me I haven't just killed myself by betraying the Dread Wolf."

"I…" She frowned, clinging tighter to Iron Bull, trying to muster up the strength to believe she could still trust that she knew anything about her lover with certainty. The constant jarring bounce of each step the massive warrior took sent her head spinning and her stomach clenching.

"Fenedhis," Mahanon cursed, facing forward again. "Mythal have mercy."

"Solas will have to get through me before he can get to you." Iron Bull's voice rumbled, deep and reassuring. He had yet to even break a sweat as he jogged. "And when you mess with the Bull, you get the horns."

"Your horns are most impressive," Mahanon said, puffing with exertion as they crossed the rock bridge. "But the Dread Wolf is a god."

"He's not a god," Ellana corrected irritably with a groan. "How many times do we—" She cut herself off, choking on the words because even now she knew she was thinking of Solas, defending him or making sure others understood him the way he wanted. Starting again she said, "How many times do I have to tell everyone that?"

"I thought you said he was?" Iron Bull blinked his single blue eye at her.

"No," she grumbled. "He's just a very powerful mage. A very powerful mage." Closing her eyes, she groaned again. "I'm not sure I can take much more of this bouncing. I'm probably going to vomit."

"Warn me first," Iron Bull said with a grunt. "If you puke on my shoulder guard I'll never get the smell out."

Their group crossed from one rock island to another, Arina and Sera still in the lead. Ellana squirmed in Iron Bull's arms, craning her neck to gaze behind him toward the island they'd left in the distance. She could still just see the eluvian, still dark. Then it lit up, glowing a cerulean blue, and, as if it knew she watched it, the mirror rippled and Lyris stepped through. The growing distance between them made the arcane warrior look tiny, but Ellana knew Lyris had the advantage in this place. As an Elvhen mage, she could Fade step over the gaps while most of their party couldn't or didn't know how.

She turned and shouted to Arina. "Lyris is behind us!"

The rogues leading their group quickened the pace, though neither Sera nor Arina glanced back at Ellana's call. Feeling bile in her throat as her heart pounded, Ellana kept turning to stare behind them as best she could over Iron Bull's bulky, muscled shoulder. Lyris had indeed seen them and came streaking in their direction, Fade stepping a gap and then trotting onto a bridge to cross a longer expanse. Apparently there were some gaps that were just too wide even for Elvhen mages. It didn't seem to matter, however, as the arcane warrior had already crossed an enormous distance in half the time it'd taken them. She would catch them unless they reached an eluvian soon.

Up ahead, as if Arina had read Ellana's mind, she heard the rogue shouting for Dorian. "Shemlen! Mage! I need you!"

As Iron Bull stepped off the latest rock bridge, Dorian edged past him, muttering under his breath, "Yes, yes, of course you do. Everyone needs me." Mahanon and the Dalish warriors stepped aside, allowing Dorian through.

"Let me down," Ellana said, squirming again.

"You got it, Boss." Iron Bull eased her down feet first and Ellana found with a cool burst of relief that her legs bore her weight easily now. She took a spot near Rainier at the edge of the rock bridge, staring out into the void at where Lyris had reached the island next to their own. In only another few heartbeats she'd be at the edge of that island and could likely Fade step directly over the gap.

"Any tips on how to fight her?" Rainier asked, brandishing a sword with a hilt that had halla horns twining over the hand guards.

"We try reasoning with her first," Ellana said, risking a glance over her shoulder to where Dorian now stood beside Arina and Sera. Her keen ears heard the sentinel rogue shouting the passphrase Dorian needed.

"Ellana," Lyris shouted over the gap at them. "Stop this foolishness. Come back with me, I beg you!" She'd paused at the edge of the island, beside the rock bridge connecting the two solid landmasses. The stiff set of her body, legs splayed in a fighting stance with knees slightly bent, told Ellana she was ready to fight.

"I can't do that," Ellana yelled back to her, the words hoarse and strained through her pain. "I won't help Solas kill himself and destroy Thedas."

"You're being deceived," Lyris called, shaking her head and baring her teeth. "Mythal will use you, as she uses everyone."

"Solas used me," Ellana roared back at the warrior, snarling. Her fists clenched, nostrils flaring as she breathed. "To fight the Qunari. To recruit the Dalish clans." Thrusting her left hand up into the air, displaying the still glowing and painful Anchor, she yelled, "And someday he'll use me for this too. At least Mythal is honest."

"Honest?" Lyris shot back, the disgust in her voice making her already deep voice manlike and gravelly. "What do you know of Mythal, Ellana? Truly?"

"I know she aided us against Corypheus," Ellana growled. "I know she has told me the truth about Fen'Harel being the one who caused the Breach and the conclave explosion when he gave that monster his orb."

"Solas did what?" Rainier asked at her side, gawking.

"Shit," Iron Bull snarled and then muttered something in Qunlat.

From the eluvian Ellana heard Dorian shout, "Cry havoc in the moonlight." Out of the corner of one eye she saw the dark eluvian light up, glowing blue. Then, immediately, it began to thrum as Sera ran through it.

"Through the mirror," Arina shrieked, desperate. "Ellana!"

"Ellana," Mahanon called for her as well.

"Go," she yelled at him without breaking eye contact with Lyris. "All of you, start going through the mirror."

"Not without you, Lana," Lerand said behind her, the note of devotion in his voice making her shiver even as she gritted her teeth, steeling herself against whatever might come next.

Her left hand opened and closed at her side, the pain still cutting through it like a knife, but Ellana blocked it out. Sweat lined her forehead as she held her palm outward, letting Lyris see it. "Don't make me use this," she begged.

"You're making a mistake," Lyris said, hissing the words. Her brow furrowed, her eyes narrowing and glimmering with emotion. "Mythal's help always carries a price. Fen'Harel may have misled you or held back the truth but—"

"No," Ellana shouted shrilly, almost choking on the word. "He lied to me."

Lyris shook her head, her expression warping with something akin to devastation. "Please, do not do this. Fen'Harel needs you. And you need him. He's the only one who can save your life when the Anchor destabilizes. He has his agents in Tevinter scouring the whole Imperium hoping to find something to save you."

"Mythal will help me," Ellana said, though her heart pounded and the sweat dousing her skin had turned icy cold.

"Will she?" Lyris growled, flashing a hard, humorless grin. "Or is she just telling you what you want to hear?"

"I say they're all full of shit," Iron Bull snarled, brandishing an axe that had a motif of ivy leaves spiraling up it. Another elven design.

"Don't listen to her, Ellana," Arina yelled from beside the eluvian.

"I told you to go through the mirror," Ellana snapped. She started to back up, pushing Lerand with her right hand to make room for her as she went. Samhel broke from the line of warriors and sprinted for the mirror next, rushing through it. Iron Bull charged after the Dalish warrior next now that there was more room, but Rainier and Lerand stayed with Ellana as she backed off the rock bridge and onto the island, gradually distancing themselves from the arcane warrior.

Lyris took a step onto the rock bridge, but she'd dropped her battle ready stance. Now her hunched shoulders and stiff steps revealed only the bitterness of defeat. "Think of your child, Ellana," she pleaded. "It will need Fen—" She broke off, shaking her head once and starting again. "Your child will need its father. There is no one else who can teach it to control the powers it will possess."

"Then it's a shame Solas is determined to kill himself restoring all of Thedas," Ellana retorted only to shudder, biting back the sob that tried to wrench its way out of her chest. "Fenedhis," she whimpered, too quiet for Lyris to hear. "I'm doing this for him." Even after he'd lied to her about the orb, distanced himself from her and hidden the full, ugly breadth of his actions in Tevinter and across Thedas.

He loves you, Lyris had told her. Would he understand why she'd done this? The baby kicked against her ribs and she gripped her belly, gritting her teeth as she struggled not to break out into inconsolable sobs.

"Ellana," Lyris said again, taking another two steps onto the bridge. "Please."

She raised her head, sucking in a wavering breath, her left hand still glowing as she held it aloft. "Go help him fight the Forgotten Ones, Lyris," she said, her lips trembling. "Tell him I'm doing this to save him and Thedas. Tell him I love him. Please. Just go."

Lyris had frozen on the rock bridge, staring at Ellana with her jaw clenched and her brow furrowed. "Tell me where he can find you," she begged, quiet enough that Ellana almost didn't hear it. "Tell me and I will go."

Shuddering, Ellana almost collapsed with relief. Her left hand flopped down at her side as she nodded. "We will be in the Dales. I'm not sure where."

Lyris sighed, shoulders slumping even more. "So be it." Then, without another word, she pivoted on her heel and Fade stepped back to the other island, jogging away from them.

"A reasonable woman indeed," Rainier commented, sheathing his sword. "I'm glad of it."

Lerand wrapped an arm around her waist and ducked beneath Ellana's other arm, taking her weight onto his shoulders. She buckled with the threat of attack now gone, her chest burning and aching with grief. Every breath hurt.

Mahanon rushed to her other side, helping her as well as they made their way to the eluvian. Through her despair Ellana managed to hold her breath, steeling herself for the blast of pain she expected from the Anchor. The cold magic of the eluvian passed over her like a blast of water and for a heartbeat she was weightless and she recalled the simple comfort and peace of the strange dream she'd had before meeting the shadowy consciousness of her child in the Fade.

Then they stumbled out into the waking world, into a dim, dank space that smelled of mildew and mud and was lit only by veilfire sconces lining the cracked, ancient stone walls. The Anchor crackled, lighting up brighter and streaking with pain, tendrils of it shooting up into her elbow. Ellana cried out, shaking body wide as her legs gave out. Lerand and Mahanon kept her upright, though both of them called to her with panic tingeing their voices.

Through blurry, tear-laden eyes, Ellana saw Sera, Samhel, Iron Bull, and several other elven figures wearing the now familiar gleaming metal of sentinel armor. One of them, hooded and imposing, strode toward her. Even through her pain Ellana recognized Abelas.

"Keep her up," he instructed Lerand and Mahanon. Then he reached for her left hand and forced her fingers to open so he could grip it in his own. Sizzling pain shot through Ellana's hand and she screamed, jerking against his hold.

"Lana!" Lerand cried.

"Fenedhis," Mahanon yelled, his voice blustery with rage. "What are you doing?" He released Ellana's waist and shot a blast of ice at Abelas, but the sentinel blocked it without pause or effort.

And then, before anyone else could retaliate, Abelas let go of her and Ellana sucked in a shaky, wet breath, shoulders heaving. The Anchor no longer glowed and the pain had ceased, leaving only the faint tingle of magic.

"You bastard," Iron Bull growled. "The fuck was that?"

"Yeah," Sera snarled. "Start talking or I feed you arrows."

"I'm all right," Ellana said, hoarse and weak. "It's…better."

"My apologies," Abelas said, speaking to everyone in the dank little space. "The Anchor collects magic. I merely discharged it in a safe manner."

"And how did you know to do that?" Mahanon asked, growling.

Abelas arched a brow. "Fen'Harel anticipated a moment such as this one and taught most of Mythal's sentinels and his warriors what would be required." His cold, golden eyes drilled into Ellana as she struggled to catch her breath and recover, but after a beat his expression softened. "I am sorry for causing you pain."

Ellana couldn't find the breath or the energy to answer him. His words echoed through her mind like a gong: Fen'Harel anticipated this. She'd thought she left the Game at Halamshiral, but in truth she'd just changed playing fields. Worse, she wasn't even a player. She was a pawn.

Exhausted, Ellana let her eyes drift shut. The world went black.

__________________________________________

Next Chapter:

Glancing to the sentinels watching from behind Abelas, lit green by veilfire, Ellana asked, "The Veil is thin here?"

"Indeed," Abelas said. "You intend to do it here." It wasn't a question.

"Do what?" Dorian asked, still gawking. "Tear open a rift so we can have a nice romantic stroll with some rage demons? That sounds like a lovely end to a very exciting day. Just wait here a moment and I'll fetch Iron Bull so we can enjoy it together." He broke off scoffing with a snarl. "Have you gone mad, Ellana?"

Chapter Text

For nearly half a day Solas marched his army deeper into the Crossroads, leading the way by Fade stepping smaller gaps and teleporting in a flurry of purple-black flames over the largest expanses. When they encountered islands that had no bridges, no visible way forward at all, Solas crossed the gaps and created a path, willing it into existence with nothing but his own mana and strength. The modern elves close enough to witness this gawked, eyes wide and mouth agape.

Abelas' group was first behind him and for the first two hours of the journey through the Crossroads Solas found the leader of the sentinels behind him, grim and focused. As the army progressed forward Solas and Abelas would stand watch in silence, observing the mages. Then, knowing the way ahead was clear, Solas parted ways with Abelas and checked in with the next group of one hundred, led by Zevanni.

As the most powerful mage in his forces—second only to himself—Zevanni had been the one to carry the foci. Standing near her made Solas' skin prickle, alive with the nearness of the ancient magic. He hoped not to have to use any of its power against the Forgotten Ones, but couldn't risk failure by leaving it behind. Her brown eyes were feral, alight with the promise of the battle to come.

"Fen'Harel," she greeted him from where she stood atop a small hillock on the island her troupe was currently walking across. "Have you come for the foci?" she asked and then, lascivious, grinned at him. "Or did you need release before the fight?"

Solas knew her question was as serious as it was playful. He'd sought her out in Elvhenan before dangerous battles before, eager to lose himself momentarily in the pleasure of another's body, but now the idea made him scowl with disapproval. "No," he told her, blank and to the point. "Give me the foci."

Unfazed by his blunt rejection, Zevanni reached one armored hand into the large pouch at her waist. She grimaced as she produced the foci. It sparked, yellowish magic dancing along her fingers for a moment as she proffered it to him.

Taking it, Solas felt the magical caress and heard whispered words in elven echoing inside his mind. The foci ceased its sparking at his touch, going dormant. It recognized something in him, knowing he was an Evanuris, and at once became obedient.

Staring at it for a beat, Solas wondered for the thousandth time how Ellana had managed to destroy his own orb. Even with the magic mostly discharged from it after not one but two breaches, the orb should have been impossible for her or anyone other than a very powerful mage to destroy. Instead it'd crumbled when she dropped it in the battle after using its magic to close the tear in the breach.

Pushing those thoughts aside, Solas tucked the foci into a hidden pocket inside the wolf headdress he still wore. "Thank you, falon," he said to Zevanni with a nod.

"Why have you been so reluctant to hold it?" Zevanni asked quietly. "You're the only one who can use the damned thing without it scalding you." As if to emphasize she shook out the hand she'd used to hold the orb, discomfort twisting her mouth. When he remained silent she filled in the answer for him. "It's the Inquisitor, isn't it? The foci's magic is like a bad smell and lingers on you." She smirked. "You can't very well climb inside her reeking of the very magic that will slowly kill her through the Anchor."

He shot her a glare, though with the wolf headdress obscuring much of his face in shadow she wouldn't see it. Still, she sensed it well enough and grinned.

Then, abruptly, Zevanni sobered. Her brow knit and her brown eyes hardened. "The sentinels move against us, Fen'Harel. You cannot trust them. The shem-elves are far more trustworthy and lead well when educated. You should kill the sentinels before they can betray us. We don't need them."

"Should they betray us I will end them," Solas promised, letting a cruel, tightlipped smile curl over his lips. "But until then they are a valuable tool when I have little at my disposal."

Zevanni arched an eyebrow and motioned at the mages still filing past on the rock island below their hillock. "So little? Fen'Harel, your shadow grows ever broader over Thedas. Slaves of all races come to my agents in the Imperium. They plead to join us. They beg to fight for you, in your name." The admiration gleaming in her eyes was hot and fierce, a stark reminder of why Solas had so often given into temptation and joined her for sex.

But seeing it in her gaze now only made him look away, his thoughts turning at once to Ellana, remembering the pain in her eyes. Didn't she see that he was protecting her? He wished he could see the same admiration glowing in Ellana's eyes, but knew he never would. Ellana was a beautiful spirit, courageous and idealistic and brimming with hope. It was why he adored her. She would never approve of his darker methods.

"I admire your spirit, falon," he told her, though he knew his voice emerged too stiff. "Hunt well." He meant it as a goodbye, turning on his heel to stride down the short uneven stairs in the naked rock to surge ahead through the void and rejoin Abelas. Yet Zevanni called to him, making him hesitate though he didn't look back at her.

"My second—the sentinel woman, Darae—she's squirrely. If I didn't know better I'd say she was a coward."

"I will check on her," Solas promised and then made his way down to the edge of the rock island and, with a surge of magic that caressed his skin in thousands of needle prick sensations, teleported over the gap. As he reappeared with a flourish, arms spread for stability on the slick black rock of the new island, he heard some of the mages across the expanse gasp and utter oaths to the Maker. He paused for a time on that island, watching as the mages in Zevanni's group continued filing past, searching for Darae.

When he saw Zevanni leave her perch as the last of her troupe passed by, walking over the rock bridge to the next island ahead, Solas frowned to himself. Where is Darae? Fade stepping and teleporting across the gaps, he moved parallel with Zevanni's mages for several minutes, pausing to search. He didn't see her—and, alarmingly, he saw none of the sentinels amidst the mages.

And then, before Zevanni's group had entirely filed past him in this new location, the entire army came to a stop. They stood in clumps and queues, baffled or anxious looks on their faces. Although Solas could guess that far ahead, out of sight around the floating islands in the distance, the front of the army must've come upon a bridgeless gap, his heart started pounding with trepidation. Something's wrong.

Hurrying now, he surged ahead, teleporting as far as his reduced abilities under the Veil would allow—which was still hundreds of meters depending on how much mana he expended. The mages in Zevanni's group blurred past him and the song of the Crossroads changed from a groan to a hum as he streaked forward, blinking in and out of existence at will. When he reappeared near the very front of the army he found Abelas' group of one hundred standing around idly, crammed onto a large island that had three bridges connected to it. A cold sensation started in the pit of his stomach. They had not come to a bridgeless gap as he'd expected. Instead he realized they'd stopped because they didn't know which way to go when faced with two different rock bridges.

But that shouldn't have stopped them. Abelas, like all of Solas' lieutenants, knew the way to the eluvian. Solas had shown them the night before in a dream and escorted them each individually to the eluvian while awake as time allowed over the previous two weeks of preparation. When he saw Var, Abelas' second in command, walking along one of the two bridges leading away from their current island, Solas wreathed himself in purple flames and reappeared on the spit of rock behind the rogue.

He heard gasps and cries from the mages back on the island—which he'd just teleported over in a heartbeat—and saw Var whip around to stare at him, wide-eyed. "Fen'Harel," he said and dropped to one knee, his head bowed. "Ir abelas, hahren. We do not know the way. Abelas directed us to this island and said he had to find you further down the line."

"When?" Solas asked, the single word strangled.

Var raised his head, the worry etched into his features obvious. "Perhaps half an hour ago. He did not find you?"

Clenching his jaw, Solas didn't answer Var's question. Instead he motioned to the other bridge, heading off to the left, deeper into the Crossroads. "Travel along that bridge. We are near the eluvian."

"Yes," Var said and shot upright, scrambling to obey as though he sensed the seething, pressurized mixture of emotions roiling inside Solas.

This close to the mirror Solas couldn't spare the proper time to uncover whatever Abelas was up to, but the dread and rage rising up from his stomach to his chest, making his heart pound, was undeniable. He drew several deep breaths, emptying his mind and idly summoning a faint veilfire flame into his right hand. Staring at it as the mages began walking again, taking the bridge he'd indicated, Solas concentrated on making the delicate tendril of veilfire curl around his fingers, dancing.

Where would Abelas go? What would he do? Why would he do this now? How many sentinels went with him? Was it only Darae and Abelas who'd gone or had all of the sentinels chosen this moment to betray him?

Closing his fist to extinguish the veilfire, he banished the questions as unimportant. He had only a handful of sentinels in this fight. Their absence would not impact the outcome overmuch. As to where they'd gone and what they were up to…

He slammed those questions and worries into a dark space inside his mind, locking them away. The Forgotten Ones would be quick to seize such concerns and use them against him. He'd be vulnerable to their mind tricks and then their dark, twisted magic could infect him physically. After so long cut off from their natural food source—physical suffering and death—in the waking world, the Forgotten Ones would be desperately hungry.

Squaring his shoulders, Solas shot forward over the island Abelas—now Var's mages, actually—were still crossing, teleporting back down the line. Moving in parallel again to the army, he took stock from afar, searching for the sentinels. He found none of them. All of them had apparently managed to slip away. Fury scalded his blood while fear tried to freeze it, making his stomach churn and clench.

This wasn't supposed to happen, he thought as he gnashed his teeth, grinding them together so hard his jaw ached.

But when the line halted again he knew that Var's group in the lead had reached the eluvian now. He had no time to uncover whatever treachery the sentinels had committed, though he could not stop the idea from popping obsessively into his head that this was all about Ellana. Mythal had been communicating with her, with the Dalish, and almost certainly with the sentinels as well. She had opposed his plans when he'd sought her out in dreams after waking from uthenera, but she'd aided Ellana through Morrigan in defeating Corypheus and had been instrumental in convincing so many Dalish clans to join them. Now he suspected the hidden strike had come, right when he could least afford it. This was, after all, just a continuation of Arlathan's courtly Game. Even physically dead, Mythal knew how to pin him as she always had. She'd offered something irresistible with one hand—recruiting the Dalish clans—and with the other she took something away…

Sucking in several long, deep breaths, Solas again made the veilfire flame dance over his hand, concentrating on its delicate beauty. Shaping and controlling it emptied his mind, cooled the fire of rage and eased the icy grip of horror clutching at his throat. He knew the mages could see the odd behavior as they waited, confused as to why they'd halted and now stood in line with nowhere to go and no direction, but he didn't care. He couldn't spare the mental energy as he locked down his thoughts and emotions, stuffing them all into that dark little box in the back of his mind.

After a few minutes he extinguished the veilfire and raised his head, eyes narrowed as he drew on the magic to teleport forward to the max of his abilities. Vanishing with a streak of purple flames, he reappeared several islands away and then Fade stepped over another gap. The mages who could see him gawked and pointed, though after several hours they had to have seen him display such tricks before.

Soon he saw the small, isolated island in the orange-gray void of the Crossroads, the eluvian mounted in the center of it so dark it was black. Var and a handful of other mages stood beside it while the rest of the group waited in a long line on the narrow bridge that connected the island with the next nearest spit of rock. In a mist of purple and black, Solas materialized at Var's side, startling the modern mages nearby into gasping and flinching from his unexpected arrival. Var, however, only blinked with surprise for a moment before bowing his head again.

"Fen'Harel, have you found Abelas?" he asked.

"I sent Abelas and the other sentinels back to Hellathen Hamin," he lied. "I fear the ancient magic in their vallaslin may make them vulnerable now."

Var's brow knit, likely sensing that was a lie. To his credit, however, he nodded in obedience. "As you say, Fen'Harel." He motioned to the mirror. "The eluvian is sealed?"

"Only for the moment," Solas replied and then drew a small blade from another hidden pocket in his headdress. Without hesitation he made a slice over his palm, barely feeling it through the numbness that'd settled on him since calming himself with the veilfire exercise. As his blood, rich and red, began to pool from the wound, he clenched his fist and threw it onto the black glass of the mirror. The glass flickered, the blackness somehow darkening further as the blood spatter soaked into it, disappearing.

An elven mage behind Solas hissed with disapproval. "Blood magic. Maker preserve us."

"A seal only," Solas explained. It was barely blood magic, but even this little trick made his skin prickle as he felt the weight of the Veil strangling his connection to the Fade more acutely. Yet he could not escape the necessity of it. Millennia ago he'd lured the Forgotten Ones to this eluvian and then hurriedly left them inside it, using the seal to trap them and keep anyone else out. Only his blood could open the way now.

The blackness in the mirror swirled, like smoke trapped behind the glass. Solas wove a mild healing spell over his palm, closing the cut almost entirely until only a slight ooze of his blood remained. Using that, he raised his palm to the eluvian and sent a spurt of bluish magic twining into it. The mixture of his magic and his blood, combined with the passphrase that he murmured aloud now in elven, reactivated the eluvian completely.

With a crackling noise the eluvian glowed blue, glimmering just as any other mirror would. Solas stared at it, struggling to feel nothing, think nothing as he completed the healing spell over his cut palm and burned away the blood with a flicker of green veilfire.

"I will enter first," he said, aiming the words at Var though he didn't look away from the mirror. "Follow after me and do not stop." Without Abelas here Solas had no choice but to plunge headfirst into the prison construct with these first one hundred mages. With Var not a mage with the Veil in place he'd be unable to seal the eluvian with a spell from either side of the mirror and the modern elves would almost certainly cringe from the thought of casting a blood magic seal. That meant Solas had to rely on Zevanni or Mathrel to do it when they arrived with their groups.

Pray you have not underestimated them, he thought and then, magic suffusing his body in a warm glow as he reached for his mana core and stroked it for reassurance, he stepped into the mirror.


 

An acrid scent burned through Ellana's nostrils. Cringing from it, she rolled her head from side to side, moaning. A warm touch lay over her cheek a moment, then started tapping it gently. "Come on, darling, come out of it," a male voice said, soft and affectionate.

She blinked, seeing double for a moment before Dorian's face swam into view. The tension left her body at once, seeing his friendly smile and warm, brown eyes. "Dorian…" She tried to shift, sitting up, but he laid a restraining hand on her shoulder.

"Take it easy, love," he cautioned.

"Love?" she repeated, chuckling hoarsely. "What's gotten into you, Dorian?"

"Well, my concern might have something to do with the fact that when I came through that blasted mirror the first thing I saw was that tattooed cretin attacking you—or so I thought." He sighed and transferred his grip from her shoulder to her left hand, squeezing. "Do you remember what happened?"

Rolling her head against the soft lump under her head, Ellana took in her surroundings with a frown of confusion. She remembered the dark room they'd emerged into, smelling of mildew and stagnant moisture and earth, but she'd woken into the diffuse orange of twilight. Directly overhead she saw the grayish branches of a massive tree, its leaves gray-brown in the gathering gloom. "Where are we?" she asked.

"Outside some charming ruins in the middle of what I think are the Emerald Graves." He shrugged. "Or possibly the Arbor Wilds. Really, all I can see are trees and hungry wild animals out to kill us and eat us."

The weight of the baby in her abdomen pressed uncomfortably against her spine and despite Dorian's disapproving cluck of the tongue she rolled onto her side and sat up. Her head spun, making her shut her eyes until the vertigo passed. "We made it, then," she murmured with a sigh. "Good."

"Your sentinel friends are less than enthused that you apparently told that lackey of Solas' exactly where you planned to go," Dorian said with a smirk. "They also don't seem to like Iron Bull, Rainier, and I. They might like Sera if she'd just stop yapping about how all of this magic offends her so. Then again, we always knew making nice with other elves was never her specialty."

While Dorian spoke, Ellana took in the rest of her surroundings and saw the other enormous trees growing nearby, their branches tangling high above her in the canopy that still had most of its leaves despite the nearness of winter. The air was moist and fragrant with the scent of green growing things and recent rains. Hellathen Hamin had been frozen already, but the Emerald Graves apparently hadn't yet tilted into full-blown winter yet. Even so, the air held a chill and Ellana shivered.

"Here," Dorian said, reaching behind her and unrolling the soft lump that'd been her pillow to reveal a halla skin. "One of the Dalish men with us insisted you have this." He smiled as he wrapped it around her like a doting father caring for a sick child.

Ellana gripped the pelt around her shoulders, offering him a trembling smile. "I should be cross with you for coddling me like this," she mumbled. "I can barely stand it when Solas does it."

Dorian scoffed. "Let's make a new rule while we're here, shall we?" He laid a hand on her shoulder with a gentle squeeze, staring into her eyes with a mixture of somberness and his usual witty amusement. "We don't talk about a certain bald elf and his abysmal lack of fashion sense and dubious status as an actual elven god. Because every time you mention him I see the hurt in your face and it makes me want to punch him—for both of us, you understand. My homeland is in chaos and I have him to thank for all of it." He let out a long breath and withdrew his hand, turning his head to stare out into the gloom of the forest. "So, let's focus on this, whatever this is."

Swallowing the ache in her throat, Ellana forced the wavering smile on her lips to stay there as she nodded. "I can try to honor that," she said. "But I'm afraid you'll find it hard not to run into elven gods while you're with us." She hesitated a second as he frowned, then added, "You and the others don't need to stay with us. What we're planning here will seem like madness to you all and it won't win you any favors politically or with Cassandra."

"Yes," he murmured with a glint of amusement in his eye. "I've heard the elves whispering that word homeland a lot. Scandalous. Lucky for you, old girl, I adore scandal." He twisted his mustache with one hand as he smirked.

Laughing, Ellana reached for his forearm. "Help me up."

He obliged, grunting as he stood, dragging her with him. "There you are." He watched as she dusted herself off, slapping at her backsides, middle, and legs with one hand while the other kept the halla skin wrapped over her shoulders. When she straightened again he cleared his throat, a look of awkwardness flitting over his features. "I'm afraid I don't know anything about expectant mothers but, ah, how long until the little one arrives?"

"You can relax," she said, chuckling at his anxious tone. "He won't come until spring."

"So it's a he now, is it?" Dorian laughed. "I may just lose that wager with Varric after all."

Ellana smiled, wanting to laugh or react with embarrassment, but her chest constricted and her throat burned with more than just the ongoing annoyance of heartburn. Her first thought had been that aside from her own instinct that the child was a boy she now couldn't help but imagine her baby as a little, innocent version of Solas. After all, she'd just encountered the child's consciousness in the Fade that very morning. But she'd promised not to mention Solas—too bad she couldn't stop herself from thinking of him incessantly too.

Feeling over her abdomen idly, she took a few unsteady steps away from the mossy ground beneath the tree where she'd been resting. Dorian shadowed her, one arm extended out to offer support. Ellana didn't take it, finding her limbs bore her weight easily. Through the brush she saw pale stones scattered over the uneven, lumpy earth. A crumbling wall had a veilfire sconce set into it, burning green. Standing beside it Ellana recognized Abelas' tall, armored frame, glittering green from the veilfire torch. A few other sentinels lingered nearby, conversing in quiet voices using elven.

When Abelas noticed her he made a slight motion with one hand, silencing the others, and strode toward her and Dorian authoritatively. "Ellana," he said with a tight smile. "It is good to see you awake."

"How long was I out?" she asked, shaking her head in consternation.

"About an hour, maybe two," Dorian answered. "Just long enough for me to convince your kinsmen that hovering over you wasn't helping."

"Where are they?" Ellana asked, searching the forest around them and seeing no sign of any others.

"I have sent them to scout the area," Abelas replied. "There are no better scouts than the Dalish, after all." His smile was softer now, his voice carried a note of humor.

"Sera and Rainier went with them," Dorian added. "I suspect the five of them are getting on splendidly as they try not to get eaten by bears. That was my favorite bonding experience while we were here fighting Corypheus."

Abelas shot Dorian an irritated look and ignored him as Ellana chuckled. "Oh come on now, Dorian," she teased. "You know we ran into a lot more bears in the Hinterlands."

The Tevinter mage snorted. "Yes, but those bears were little ones. It takes a lot more little bears to impress me. We put Iron Bull on guard duty precisely for that reason. He's far more impressive to everything out here that wants to kill us."

"Lethallan," Abelas said to her, all trace of amusement gone now from his face. "We are short on time. Fen'Harel will not allow us to remain here long uncontested. I have my people guarding the eluvian, but should he come through it himself they will be no match for him."

"Then don't fight him," Ellana retorted with a shake of her head. "There's no sense in us fighting each other. We want the same things or—" She frowned. "Nearly the same things."

His golden eyes flicking to Dorian with a wary expression, Abelas said, "I fear you do not quite understand Fen'Harel's ruthlessness. He may not leave us any choice. We have betrayed him and he does not tolerate failure well."

"Hold on a minute," Dorian said, raising a hand, index finger pointing up. "Can someone explain to me exactly how Solas survived thousands of years since—"

"He slept," Ellana supplied quickly. "The ancients were immortal and sometimes lapsed into prolonged sleep while their spirits wandered the Fade."

"Ah," Dorian said with a meaningful nod. "That does sound like something he'd do." Gesturing at Abelas, he said, "Much like your lot did within the Temple of Mythal."

"No," Abelas said with a frown but didn't elaborate when Dorian arched an eyebrow expectantly. Instead he focused on Ellana again. "We may only have a matter of hours, lethallan. I regret that I must ask you to use the Anchor so soon, but if we do not make our move we will lose our chance."

"You cannot be serious," Dorian growled, abruptly angry. "Did you not just see the trauma she endured? How can you possibly think—"

"He's right, Dorian," Ellana interrupted him, her left hand opening and closing at her side as she straightened her spine. The baby kicked against her stomach as if it could sense her growing tension. "I have to have something to show Solas when he arrives."

"You should not have told Lyris where we were headed," Abelas muttered with disapproval.

"She saw the mirror we passed through. He would have just followed us anyway," Ellana shot back, feeling her face heat. "The eluvian would—"

"My people could have redirected it," Abelas cut her off with a slash of his hand. "They could have sealed it. But now it does not matter, does it? These lands are filled with hidden ruins with intact eluvians and Fen'Harel would have no trouble activating another with his magic. Regardless of what we do it will only delay him. Like all Elvhenan's devices the eluvians will bow to his will as an Evanuris and send him where he wishes to go."

Her ear tips burned at his reprimand. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Then let's quit bickering and do what we came here to do."

"And what was that exactly?" Dorian asked, gazing between them.

"That is none of your affair, shemlen," Abelas muttered, scowling.

"I'm sorry," Dorian said with a sniff. "Perhaps I missed something, but as I seem to be standing right here helping Ellana, it seems to me it is my affair, you stuffy tattooed buffoon." He jerked a finger at Abelas' chest. "I understand this is some kind of elves-only club, but I'm not about to let you or anyone else get Ellana killed without—"

"Dorian," Ellana shouted over him. When he turned and gazed at her, eyes crinkled with emotion, she let her voice soften. "I appreciate your concern, but Abelas is right and I am the one who gets to decide what I will and will not do. Do you understand?"

His features warped, wounded. "Of course I understand that." His shoulders slumped and he rubbed at his face with an exasperated sigh. "I apologize. I'm just concerned for you."

Despite the weight of fatigue beginning to grow on her, Ellana smirked. "Well, you're not going to be happy with me when you hear what we have planned." Raising her left hand, Ellana flexed it, feeling the anticipatory tingling already in her skin. "How would you like to walk physically in the Fade?"

Dorian stared at her, wide-eyed and speechless. Then he swore. "Vishante kaffas. You're serious aren't you?"

"Yes." Glancing to the sentinels watching from behind Abelas, lit green by veilfire, Ellana asked, "The Veil is thin here?"

"Indeed," Abelas said. "You intend to do it here." It wasn't a question.

"Do what?" Dorian asked, still gawking. "Tear open a rift so we can have a nice romantic stroll with some rage demons? That sounds like a lovely end to a very exciting day. Just wait here a moment and I'll fetch Iron Bull so we can enjoy it together." He broke off, scoffing with a snarl. "Have you gone mad, Ellana?"

"We don't have time to explain," she shot back before speaking to Abelas again. "Is this place remote enough? Can we defend it against whatever comes out?"

"Your clansmen have yet to return with news of the area," Abelas explained. "But there are no obvious signs of shemlen settlements." Pausing, he motioned over his shoulder and the three other sentinels lingering near the veilfire sconce stepped forward, their gait militant and their faces stoic. "With your Qunari I suspect the demons will be easily thwarted. It will only take a few minutes to stabilize it, lethallan."

"He's Tal-Vashoth," Dorian snapped at the sentinel before reaching for Ellana, clasping her left hand in both of his. "Please, Ellana, do you remember my advice to you after Adamant? You cannot seriously be considering this insanity. Walking physically in the Fade once was enough but—"

"Twice, actually," she corrected him blankly. "And yes, I am in fact considering this insanity." Hesitating, she shrugged out of the halla blanket and passed it to him with her right hand. "Dorian…the Fade and the waking world were one in the time of Arlathan."

"What?" The single word emerged as barely more than a breath. The shock on his face would've been funny if not for the seriousness of the topic. He had yet to take the halla skin blanket back from her.

"Solas sundered our people from the Fade to lock away the other Evanuris." Speaking the words aloud to someone else made her feel nauseous. Her chest tightened and she struggled to swallow and continue. "He created the Veil. He…inadvertently destroyed our people. The Imperium wasn't responsible, Solas was. Now he hopes to set it right." She tugged her left hand from his grip without breaking eye contact with him. "I hope to set it right."

"I…" Dorian shook his head as if dizzy, his eyes fluttering closed. He pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand. "I'm starting to think you shouldn't tell me anymore until I've had something strong to drink. Brandy, maybe. Lots and lots of brandy."

"We have no time," Abelas reminded them. "Fen'Harel will—"

"Vishante kaffas," Dorian cut him off. "I know, I know. Maker's breath, what a killjoy." He took the halla skin from Ellana, folding it while glaring at the sentinels. "This is what I get for listening to Morrigan, I suppose."

Abelas scowled. "Lethallan, please. If you are going to act, I am ready."

In the gathering gloom Ellana pivoted around and strode into the space between the two massive trees she'd woken near. Night insects had begun to sing, their voices calm and beautiful, a mark of the tranquility of this forest that she was about to shatter. Facing the last lingering sunlight through the trees, Ellana drew in several deep breaths and closed her eyes, steeling herself against the pain she knew was about to come. The baby squirmed inside her and she wondered again if it was possible for it—him—to sense her emotions.

Hang on, little one, this will be rough.

Gritting her teeth, Ellana reached inward the way she'd learned to do during her time fighting Corypheus, feeling the tingle of magic in her palm and tweaking it. Pain erupted along the crease in her palm and she hunched at the sharp, stabbing sensation. The green light glowed, crackling and sparking as it grew, sensing her intention. She swallowed the cry of pain building in her throat as she extended her palm out, aiming low, and flexed her hand.

Green light shot out, zapping the air and making it erupt with a spurt of ether, as if she'd tossed a stone into water, making it splash. She felt resistance, a tugging against the fine bones in her left hand. The pain increased, white-hot and burning. She powered through it, clenching her hand and pulling on that green light, that thread of resistance. With a little boom and a crackle, the air rent in a way she had not seen for at least a year now, not since she'd closed the last Fade rifts. Shimmering and gleaming like an emerald, the Fade's ether dribbled from it like slime.

Behind her Ellana heard Dorian curse and spring for the base of the tree where she'd woken. She watched him in her peripheral vision as he grabbed up a simple wooden staff of a Dalish design—another weapon made by her own clan. And suddenly Ellana realized with a jolt that she had no weapon, no way to fight at all…

"I need a bow," she yelled, backing away from the rift as it began flickering, shooting off tendrils that bubbled, growing as the spirits that'd slipped through materialized and warped into demons. The first wisp appeared, popping up from the earth and strafing left and right. A terror demon hauled itself upright a few meters to Ellana's left, shrieking in a way that seemed to liquefy her guts. Yet, long years of practice made pushing away that primal fear easy as she hurried to fall behind the sentinels.

"I need a bow," she pleaded with them, but they only shot her apologetic or confused looks before charging to engage the terror demon.

Dorian was at her side then, teeth gritted as he cast a barrier over them both. "You opened it without having a weapon?" he asked. "I'm starting to question your judgment, my dear."

She laughed, dry and humorless. "You can scold me for being stupid later. Just find me a bow and a quiver of arrows."

But already the sentinels had taken down the two terror demons that'd spawned. As a rage demon manifested and spat fire at Abelas, the sentinel effortless blocked it with a wall of ice. Then, twisting acrobatically to miss a wisp's hurled spirit energy attack, he lobbed a massive ice spike at the rage demon, skewering it. Ellana felt something like envy curdle her stomach at the sight of the sentinels destroying their foes, graceful and sleek and fast, their armor glittering green under the light of the rift.

Beside her Dorian hurled fireballs and cast his necromancy spells, always maintaining a barrier over them both. The magic made Ellana's skin tingle, prickling. The Anchor continued to burn, but through the chaos and danger of the battle it was easy to ignore.

After two waves of demons had slipped through the rift shrank into itself slightly, going dormant. The sentinels relaxed for the moment, taking up readied positions around it. The rift was low to the earth as Ellana had intended, easy to step into from the ground.

"This is the part where you'd close it if you had sense," Dorian quipped at her side.

She shot him a half-smile and motioned at the shimmering tear. "Care to take that romantic demon-infested walk through the Fade now?"

He let out a sigh and shook his head in the negative even as he replied, "How could I say no, old girl?"

From across the clearing Ellana heard footsteps and saw a massive figure approach. She recognized Iron Bull with a smile. "Well, it looks like I'll have to play third wheel."

The sentinels tensed, watching the warrior charging toward them, but as he drew nearer he slowed and motioned with his axe at the rift. "Where the fuck did that come from?"


 

Next Chapter:

"Is this really what it looked like at Adamant?" Dorian asked Ellana while they walked, the sneer of disgust in his voice palpable.

"Just about," she answered, scowling as she noticed how winded she felt trying to breathe the thick, humid air. They skirted around the stalagmite and its dripping, slimy water. "Maybe a little less slime. And no elven archer statues or ivy, either. But otherwise, yes."

"Charming," Dorian muttered. "And your pet apostate with the affinity for wolves wants to bring this into our world?" He made a noise of disgust in his throat. "I'm trying to be supportive, darling, really I am—but I'm having trouble seeing how that would be an improvement. Nature is already filthy enough. I'm not sure how you look at this place and think 'Why, wouldn't that floating rock dribbling slime just add so much to the Dales?'"


Chapter Text

As soon as Solas exited the eluvian his skin flushed with heat, prickling as though insects crawled over every last bit of exposed flesh. Blinking through the discomfort, he took in the prison construct and found it more intact than he'd dared hope. It was a black except for the beams of pale, milky light streaming in far overhead, through cracks in the ceiling. Gray stone walls stretched out ahead of Solas, covered in an inky blackness.

The mirror thrummed behind him, admitting Var. Solas strode ahead to make room for the modern elves that would follow. As he reached the wall of darkness, away from the beams of light cast from the cracks overhead, Solas murmured under his breath to summon an orb of veilfire. It lit up the space a meter ahead of him in green-white, illuminating a floor of stone covered by a layer of dust.

More elves poured in through the eluvian and many of them muttered under their breath, rustling as they scratched at their skin. "Blighted spiders," one of them grumbled. "Feels like they're crawling all over—"

"Silence," Solas ordered them in a low voice. His heart had started galloping in his chest. The Forgotten Ones would have sensed the eluvian activating and he had little doubt they were already nearby, perhaps drowsy and dormant to conserve strength, dreaming of better times and longing for freedom. But they'd undoubtedly stir for this.

The mages continued arriving, making the mirror hum unceasingly. Solas walked ahead, casting more veilfire orbs as he went, leaving them to float overhead. The prickling sensation continued over his exposed skin, but it was easy enough to ignore. The Forgotten Ones had always affected others this way. Their magic was caustic to the physical form, causing visceral reactions in a way the ethereal energy of the Fade never could.

The Evanuris had dubbed themselves creators, physical beings who used their will and magic to shape the physical world. But the Forgotten Ones were the exact opposite—spirit beings who used their magic to destroy the physical world. It was inevitable that they would fight one another, of course, yet it'd been the Evanuris who broke the unspoken rules of the war by learning the magic of the Blight. They'd appropriated it from the Forgotten Ones, expanding on it, marring an already deadly tool of destruction into an abomination that could destroy all of Thedas.

It was that altered Blight that had infected the Tevinter magisters in the Black City and created darkspawn.

At the end of the long, empty corridor, now lit in white-green by veilfire, Solas paused at a square doorway. Var lingered a few steps behind him and the modern elves followed him, tense and pale with fear. The enchantments and wards they wore—in necklaces, bracelets, rings, anything small and capable of channeling strong magic—made them all appear dim and washed out.

Solas summoned another veilfire orb and with a slight wave of his right hand sent it flying through the stone doorway. As it passed the threshold, lighting the reddish glass set into the walls on either side, one of the modern elves asked, "Are we in the Deep Roads?"

"Can't be," another mage answered, a woman this time. "Feels like a construct."

"A construct meant to look like the Deep Roads," Var supplied in a quiet voice.

The Forgotten Ones had always enjoyed darkness and there were few places darker than the Deep Roads. Yet there'd been another reason for their interest in this place late in the war after Mythal's death. To trick them, Solas had shaped this construct with the help of dozens of others' magic, creating an exact replica of a real section of the Deep Roads, beside Dirthamen's slumbering dragon—what would later be called Dumat by the Tevinter Imperium. An Old God, what Solas knew to actually be an Evanuris' insurance policy against death by using dragons to house part of their powers and souls. Exactly as Corypheus had done with his own dragon.

Solas had promised the Forgotten Ones he would lead them to each dragon and help them kill it to cripple the Evanuris. And when they'd entered the eluvian they'd been deceived by the quality of the replica and a few well-hidden spells that disguised the feeling of the construct around them. It'd been a gamble, but the Forgotten Ones had been so eager for any chance to gain victory over the Evanuris that they'd been easy to trick. Solas had led them just to this doorway, far enough to trigger runes in the stones of the floor that activated holding spells, freezing each being for a few moments. And then, teleporting back to the mirror, he had fled and sealed it with his blood before they could follow.

Such a simple ruse shouldn't have worked so well. But it had because despite their terrifying powers, the Forgotten Ones were never the threat the Evanuris were.

The veilfire orb Solas had cast illuminated a wider space beyond the door. Solas hesitated, watching the shadows around the orb for any unnatural movement or clinginess. His senses strained, waiting for the moment he would feel the power of the Forgotten Ones' close proximity, which manifested in varying ways: a metallic taste in the mouth, or the stink of rotten meat. Nothing came, just the ongoing prickle on his skin like a thousand spider legs crawling. Behind him the mirror continued to thrum and the mages inched forward, a swelling press behind him as they filled the hallway.

Quashing the cold tremor in his guts, Solas Fade stepped through the doorway and into the space beyond. Beneath the veilfire orb he rematerialized and immediately cast three more orbs, slinging them out into the darkness. In the same instant he tasted the harsh tang of iron on his tongue and the rancid stench of decay hit him.

Daern'thal, he thought. Original creator of the Blight, a demon that fed on illness, suffering, wounds, and—like all the Forgotten Ones—death.

Erecting a barrier over himself with one hand, Solas spun to his right in time to see a vaguely bipedal shape lurch at him, hissing in a dry voice. "Fen'Harel," it said as wispy, tentacle-like limbs lashed against his barrier, sending blue sparks flying. "How good of you to bring us a meal after all this time."

Solas threw his arms wide, using a powerful veilstrike. Daern'thal fell back with another hiss, tentacles flailing. A fireball came flying out from the doorway as the first of the mages charged into the space to join the fight, their faces wrenched with disgust as they too tasted iron and smelled the odor of rot.

Flinging veilfire orbs out for increased lighting; Solas Fade stepped further from the doorway, searching for any sign of Geldauran as it tended to accompany Daern'thal. Sure enough he felt his tongue begin burning alongside the iron tang. That was Geldauran's influence, the taste of malice. One demon beget the other as Geldauran inspired violence and Daern'thal thrived on the wounds left by that violence.

At the edge of his farthest veilfire orb's greenish light Solas saw a black shape, roiling and frothing, formless and seething. It barreled down on him, splaying wide as it impacted his barrier, splashing like oil, viscous and tarry. Solas thrust a palm out, attacking with a wave of cold. Geldauran's voice was the crackling of fire, despite its liquid appearance as it growled his name, "Fen'Harel."

Yes, yes, Solas thought as he hurled more ice at it. Nice to see you again as well.

As Geldauran reared back, repulsed by the ice, Solas hurled more green vieilfire outward with a flourish and twisted to observe the mages tackling Daern'thal. Dozens of them had come through, casting in a flurry of fire, ice, storm, and spirit. The air buzzed and roared with magic around Daern'thal as it writhed, a confused mass of black tentacles. Still more elves piled through the doorway, joining their magic to the fray. Daern'thal appeared overwhelmed by the assault, unable to right itself and return an attack on the mages. If they could hit it hard enough and long enough the demon would dissipate, its spirit broken.

Unfortunately there was a high likelihood that Daern'thal would not truly die. Its essence would return to the Fade and over time it would re-form as something similar, one or more spirits dedicated to balancing the physical realm. That was another reason why Solas hadn't killed them, though the primary reason had been he hadn't had the chance before erecting the Veil sent him into uthenera. Now he had little choice because destroying the Veil would further weaken constructs like the Crossroads and this one. Though the prison had seemingly weathered the Veil well enough all it'd take would be a tear just large enough that the demons could pass through into the Fade and they'd be free to destroy the world with Blight directly.

At least a reborn demon sprung from Daern'thal's will in a few centuries probably wouldn't be twisted with wrath the way its predecessor was. In death these beings could have a fresh start. Seeing Daern'thal's weak thrashing, Solas almost wondered if they'd welcome the chance to begin anew…

Then Geldauran launched itself at him again and Solas blasted it with more ice, the element it was weakest against. "You will die slowly," it said, voice gargling. "Daern'thal will lap the blood from your wounds. I will twist your thoughts, turn your hands on those you love and make you watch as they die."

How charming, he thought and his lips quirked in a smirk as he changed tactics, pummeling it with a powerful veilstrike. A blue circle formed beneath Geldauran and flared white as it went off—an ice mine. The mage who'd cast it charged closer, already preparing a mindblast spell. A woman surged forward with Fade step, stopping just shy of Geldauran and lobbing a fireball at it. Chain lightning crackled, flickering wildly against the dark expanse of the demon's tarry, blob-like form.

Geldauran gurgled, feeling the assault and shrinking backward. Solas pushed ahead, hurling ice with one hand and fresh veilfire orbs to light the space around them. The orbs illuminated pools of blackness left in the demon's wake and Solas shouted, "Do not step in its leavings!"

Too late one of the elves, a young Dalish man, did exactly that. He shrieked, the sound shrill with pain, then warped with rage. A blast of light emanated from him as he summoned fire and turned to the nearest elf at his side, flinging it at her. She cried out with surprise as the fire broke against her barrier but had no defense ready as he charged at her, roaring and frothing at the mouth.

Solas flattened him with a veilstrike that was hard enough knock him unconscious. Solas grit his teeth as he held back the desire to simply petrify the man because there was a chance they might kill Geldauran quickly enough to save the man. Redoubling his efforts, he flung fireballs at the black pools Geldauran had left, setting them aflame and making several mages yelp at the close proximity. Burning away the demon's rage mines.

Then a woman in the circle of mages attacking Daern'thal screamed with agony. Solas saw the demon had speared her through the gut with a tentacle and hefted her into the air. She kicked and struggled, but blood gushed from her mouth and dribbled down the beast's tentacle, dripping into the seething black mass of its body. Feeding it.

Solas' eyes flashed as he petrified her, ending the suffering and denying the demon her blood. Daern'thal hissed, in triumph or irritation, Solas couldn't be sure which. It thrashed that tentacle, lobbing the woman's petrified body down and out at its attackers. The stone body collided with three other mages, knocking them aside as the physical attack cut through their barriers with ease. They fell, crying out with pain as the impact shattered bones and crushed limbs. Solas heard the wet crack of bone.

"As you die, I grow stronger," Daern'thal said, laughing.

"Fen'Harel has led you to your deaths," Geldauran added in its gurgle. "He has betrayed you just as he betrayed us. Turn your fear, your wrath upon him. The wolf will suck the marrow from your bones at Daern'thal's side."

Daern'thal lashed out again, laughing as its tentacles flew in a frenzy. With so many mages now around it—how could it miss? Two tentacles managed to stab into mages, hauling them into its body as they shrieked in horror and agony. Blood splattered on the stone and the stink of voided bowels and urine joined the already overwhelming stench of decay. The mages around Daern'thal were nearing their breaking point, the moment when their horror would overcome their courage.

"Enough," Solas roared and summoned firestorm on Daern'thal in the same instant that he petrified the demon's latest victims. As brimstone and fire lobbed onto Daern'thal, pinning it to the stone, it shattered the bodies of the mages the demon had slain.

The elven mages yelled in triumph, surging forward again in their fury, taking advantage of Daern'thal's moment of immobility. Fire bloomed, lighting the stone walls around the fight, pushing back the shadows.

"You will not prevail," Geldauran's voice gargled, but it had backed into a corner, writhing and twisting as dozens of mages pelted it with ice, lightning, and spirit attacks. Already they'd gleaned from its reactions that fire attacks did little harm to it and altered their strategies accordingly. They could sense the demon weakening and pressed their advantage.

Solas joined them, standing between the two demons, casting ice at Geldauran while he kept Daern'thal pinned with firestorm spells.

Then Zevanni was at his side, letting out a high-pitched ululating cry from deep in her throat. With a fierce grin on her face, she summoned a second firestorm on Daern'thal, doubling the fury of Solas' attack. "Fen'Harel vir'enasalin," she shouted.

Fen'Harel's victorious path.

"Falon," Solas greeted her, also grinning. "Let us finish them."

"Fuck yeah," she agreed with a laugh.

More mages surged in from the hallway; so many that not all of them could fit into the space. Many of the newcomers could do nothing but cast barriers over those in front of them. Solas knew it was only a matter of time before both of the demons succumbed to their assault. They had lain in this first room, as he'd expected of these particular demons, but there were still three more Forgotten Ones. Daern'thal and Geldauran attacked physically, which was easy to understand and defend against, but the Anaris demons and Tua'verdhe were just as likely to use psychological tricks that could prove far deadlier.

Geldauran let out a gurgling cry then, bubbling and splattering as it grew desperate. Flinging off bits of itself, the black, tarry blobs struck the nearest mages. The mess bounced harmlessly from some barriers, but in three others the splatter struck with the perfect timing, right as barriers failed. Two others stepped on the puddles and chaos erupted as they screamed, enraged and wild as they turned on those around them. Fire flew—Geldauran's favorite element—and the other mages shrieked with alarm as their clothing burst into flame or their skin burned.

Solas petrified all five afflicted mages and then pounded the statues and Geldauran with a powerful, focused veilstrike. The force of it kept Geldauran pinned and shattered the petrified mages. The air clouded with dust and the chamber echoed with the chaotic din of the mages' shouts of alarm.

"Beware the tar," Solas yelled. "Burn it!" He launched more ice at Geldauran. "Do not waver! It is almost beaten!"

"I will make a necklace of teeth from those you love," Geldauran promised, gargling. "Then I will make you wear it. I will cut off your genitals and leave you in agony!"

"All bluster and no balls," Zevanni roared back at it, punching a fist into the air. Ice spears rained down into Geldauran. "Suck my icicles, Geldauran!"

Emboldened by their reinforcements and by Zevanni's taunting, the mages pressed ahead again, redoubling their efforts on Geldauran. Solas made sure the other group tackling Daern'thal stayed ahead by unleashing another firestorm.

And then, suddenly, Geldauran made a sickening, wet gurgle and collapsed into itself. The black of its tarry body lightened until it was a deep, putrid green goo. The mages gasped and scrambled back as the viscous fluid oozed outward from the corner, glinting green on green in the light from the veilfire.

"Ha!" Zevanni said, roaring with laughter. "Geldauran has fallen! Forgotten Ones, Fen'Harel ma halam!" Dread Wolf ends you.

Solas grinned as the mages around the rapidly evaporating green-black ooze cheered with victory and crowded closer to where the fight continued with Daern'thal. The black mass of tentacles hissed, writhing and flailing, but the dozens of mages surrounding it countered its every move. It shrank back, unable to make contact under the flurry of ice, fire, lightning, and spirit based attacks.

"Blight take you," it hissed, its voice like old, dry bones clattering together. "All of you." It let out a belching noise, producing a reddish mist that clouded the air. Solas paused, watching with his heart suddenly in his throat as the mist spread out, reaching the nearest mages. It bounced backward, rolling away as if it'd encountered a solid wall. Solas felt himself sigh with relief. The ancient wards against Blight had worked, barring Daern'thal's pestilence.

Apparently enraged when it saw the Blight could find no purchase on the elven mages, Daern'thal let out a high-pitched shriek. The mages closest to it cringed but none of them let up. Just as before, they could sense the demon was almost dead.

Then a cold wind whipped through the room, rank with an acrid smell that burned in Solas' nostrils. Unleashing a firestorm on Daern'thal and then lobbing a few fireballs at it for good measure, Solas pivoted away from the fight and Fade stepped deeper into the room toward a doorway on the far adjacent wall. He knew that acrid smell well.

Tua'verdhe. Chaos. Mother of mystery. Queen of cunning. Lady of insanity. To the Imperium she had been Razikale, the dragon of mystery that actually belonged to Sylaise. To Solas she had been a teacher, his first ally among the Forgotten Ones. For, despite her name and association with chaos and insanity, she had also been a creature of contrariness and not wholly unfriendly to him in the distant past of Elvhenan.

While the other Forgotten Ones manifested themselves as sexless and often formless, she chose the opposite of her nature as if mocking herself. She presented herself as a woman because only females created order from chaos—making children from the mess of male seed. In the natural world she had caused drought, flood, earthquakes, forest fires, and windstorms. And from the chaos of her wrath, life sprang anew. Floods fertilized fields, and forest fires cleared underbrush for new growth to sprout. But in war she had brought nothing but terror to the People, and so Solas had locked her away as well.

Now, after millennia sealed away, Solas had little doubt she'd be anything but friendly, and she'd never been predictable.

At the other doorway Solas cast several veilfire orbs, sending them ahead to light the gloom beyond. The wind continued rushing past him, stirring dust and bringing the sharp chemical smell with it. Every inhalation made Solas' nasal passageways and throat burn. Behind him Zevanni shouted in victory, declaring Daern'thal's defeat. The mages cheered, alternatively praising Fen'Harel and then the Maker, as if Andrastian faith and the elven pantheon weren't at odds with each other, or that the idea of gods actually conflicted with the Dread Wolf's ideology.

Veredhe would be pleased with the contradiction, Solas thought as he watched the green light of his orbs dart ahead into the inky blackness. The green light reflected from shiny, uneven stone and then shone off into nothing. It was a narrow path with a precipice to one side, just the sort of place Veredhe would favor with its contrast between nothingness and hard, stable stone. Taking the mages out onto the ledge would be disastrous. Veredhe could simple blow them from the path and into the void, slaughtering them all without lobbing a single blow.

The only way to deal with her would be to lure her into the confined space they were already within. Unlike Daern'thal and Geldauran, Tua'veredhe wouldn't be as simple or as patient—but she had to be hungry.

More mages had begun shuffling into the room behind him, their bodies warming the space and the smell of their sweat nearly overcoming the lingering stench of the Forgotten Ones. Zevanni and Var moved into place behind him, tense and alert.

"What now?" Var asked.

"Chaos," Solas answered in a solemn voice. "But she is also cunning. The way ahead is a path beside the abyss. If we venture onto it she will simply kill us."

"We're trapped here?" Zevanni asked.

"Only until her patience thins," Solas murmured with a smirk.

As if she'd heard him—and she probably had—the wind picked up again, buffeting them and making their cloaks and coats flutter and flap. A white light glowed outside the doorway, flaring brighter than the green of all three veilfire orbs Solas had cast out into the space beyond. It reflected from the rocks, making Solas' eyes tear with its intensity.

Speaking in the ancient tongue Veredhe had taught him all those centuries ago in Elvhenan, Solas said, "She comes in light because we expect darkness."

Feminine laughter, high-pitched and maniacal, echoed through the abyss and Solas heard the mages mutter quick prayers to the Maker for mercy and good fortune. Their tension charged the air with the weight of magic, doubling the prickling sensation over his skin. The white light moved slightly, edging closer to the doorway. The shiny stone allowed Solas to see the reflection of a naked woman, her skin as pale as snow. But between one blink and the next the image had vanished, leaving only the bright light.

"How very expected, Dread Wolf," a woman's voice said, clear and clean. Nothing like the gurgle and hissing from Daern'thal and Geldauran. "You come to me exactly as you were when you left us here." She broke off, laughing again, more of a titter this time. "Oh—but it is not exactly, is it? Now your heart beats for another and you sow seeds of creation instead of chaos. Pity."

Ignoring her baiting, Solas said, "Meet with us, Veredhe. Do you not wish to return to the Fade? To your greater purpose?"

She laughed again, a sour note in the sound that made Solas' shudder involuntarily. "Why would I seek to leave when you have brought me a greater purpose, Fen'Harel?"

Then, suddenly, the brightness darted into view, blinding in its brilliance and scalding with heat. Solas hissed with pain and hurled spirit energy at her with a veilstrike, hoping to knock her down or backward. A blast of air hit him and he sensed movement—a streak of something glistening and wet—and then water roared around his ankles and swelled up in a heartbeat to his knees.

"No," Solas snarled, feeling the magical, tingling caress of the fluid as it picked up speed, sucking at his feet. He hurled a mindblast into it, scattering the essence with a loud splash, but more of it rushed through and around his legs, coming from behind him.

"The bitch is flooding the room," Zevanni shouted. "Fenedhis, how can—"

"She is Chaos," Var reminded her. "At least it's not fire."

"I could put out fire," Zevanni yelled back at him.

The light outside the doorway had retreated, faded almost to nothing, but Solas could still smell the stench of her. Veredhe had cast a spell unique to herself—water. And now, before Solas could react or think with the water rushing up around his knees and the mages shouting with alarm as from nowhere the ceiling rained in a downpour, he felt a cold blast from the doorway. When he looked he saw a wall of ice form, sealing them off and blocking the water's natural escape into the abyss.

She was going to drown them all.


With her left hand still afire from opening the rift, Ellana clutched the simple bow one of the sentinels had give her and tried to think past the pain as she stepped into the Fade. Her foot landed in soft, squishy sand, sinking in to her ankle. Abelas, who'd walked in first with his head up and shoulders square, gripped her forearm to steady her, pulling her through.

"Thank you," she told him.

He nodded, his expression warm and yet solemn. "Tread carefully. The pools may be deeper than they appear and the sand may not release its grip."

"Quicksand," she said with a nod. "Got it."

Dorian stepped through next, grimacing as he looked around and hunching his shoulders. "Well, this place is certainly cheery, isn't it? I wonder who decorates it."

They'd stepped out onto a relatively flat plain. The raw Fade was dank and dotted with oily puddles, just as it had been when Ellana last walked physically through it. Slimy moisture dripped from a nearby stalagmite that hovered high overhead, landing with a plopping noise in the sand beneath it. Ahead, through the swirling green mists, Ellana saw an elven archer statue, coated in wet ivy that appeared out of place considering they were in the Fade. But, then again, the Fade did tend to reflect the physical world that corresponded to it, according to Solas.

And he would know, Ellana thought with a frown.

"Are you in pain?" Dorian asked, seeing her expression.

She raised her left hand, still clutching the bow, forcing a tight smile onto her mouth. "Nothing I can't handle."

A muscle in Dorian's jaw flared as he shot a glare to Abelas. "Was it really necessary for her to come here?" he asked, growling. "Hasn't she done enough?"

Abelas frowned. "It was indeed necessary. The runes to stabilize the Fade must be activated with very specific magic—Fen'Harel's Anchor."

"Of course." Ellana sucked in a breath, closing her eyes as she anticipated even more pain. "Let's get this over with then."

"Before we attract the attention of whatever filth lives here," Dorian added with a grumble.

They waited a moment as another two sentinels stepped through the rift, blinking against the pallid, grayish light. They were warriors, both male, and unfamiliar to Ellana. As soon as they'd arrived Abelas directed them to the right and left of the rift with a terse order. They obeyed, their boots squelching in the sand and splashing through the puddles. Then Abelas motioned to her. "Stay close to me. Should the Anchor flare I will intervene."

Clenching her jaw, Ellana nodded. With Abelas leading, they struck out across the empty, soggy plain, bodies tense and senses on alert.

"Is this really what it looked like at Adamant?" Dorian asked as Ellana while they walked, the sneer of disgust in his voice palpable.

"Just about," she answered, scowling as she noticed how winded she felt trying to breathe the thick, humid air. They skirted around the stalagmite and its dripping, slimy water. "Maybe a little less slime. And no elven archer statues or ivy, either. But otherwise, yes."

"Charming," Dorian muttered. "And your pet apostate with the affinity for wolves wants to bring this into our world?" He made a noise of disgust in his throat. "I'm trying to be supportive, darling, really I am—but I'm having trouble seeing how that would be an improvement. Nature is already filthy enough. I'm not sure how you look at this place and think 'Why, wouldn't that floating rock dribbling slime just add so much to the Dales?'"

Chuckling, she had to concede the point. "To be honest I'm not sure how returning the Fade to the waking world will change things. But Solas has said it will…" She broke off, searching for a vague way to explain it without revealing too much. Solas had been adamant that she not tell their friends, but she trusted Dorian too much to lie to him or hide the truth. "It will restore our people to their true nature."

"Which is…?" Dorian asked expectantly and then let out a little yelp, splashing and stumbling. He managed not to fall and had recovered by the time Ellana turned to him and reached out with a steadying hand. "Can you believe this shithole?" he cursed, brow furrowed and face bright red. "I almost face planted just now."

"It's not any worse than the Fallow Mire," Ellana said, smirking and glad to change topics. She tugged on his hand, noticing Abelas had gotten ahead of them and paused, throwing them an irritable look over one shoulder. "We're coming," she called.

Abelas reached a large wall of grayish-green rock and then reached inside a small pouch at his belt and produced a knife. Ellana couldn't stop herself from letting out a little gasp as he sliced his palm open. As the blood began to well up, stark against his pallid skin, Abelas rapidly sheathed the knife and dabbed a finger of the opposite hand into it. He traced shapes, whorls and lines, creating a rune that dribbled red down the surface of the wet stone.

"Oh goodie," Dorian said in a mock-cheery voice. "And now we get to partake in blood magic! My favorite." He groaned. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Blood magic is not the evil you believe," Abelas said without looking at them. "We must tie the physical world to this spot in the Fade. We are binding it. There is no harm in this magic." Clenching his fist, Abelas stepped back from the stone and motioned Ellana toward it. "Summon the Anchor and that will activate the rune."

Nodding solemnly, Ellana couldn't help but glance to his bleeding hand where blood dripped between his fingers. Following her stare, Abelas tucked it behind himself, out of sight. "Please, lethallan. We have little time."

"I'm starting to think that's your mantra," Dorian grumbled. "But I trust you will let us know when we have plenty of time, yes? I'd like to know when I can indulge in that brandy."

Smothering her laughter at the way Abelas glowered in Dorian's direction, Ellana stepped closer to the rune, written in blood with rivulets running in the grooves of the rock. Gritting her teeth, she closed her eyes, feeling the tingle and pleasure-pain caress of magic embedded in her palm and the Anchor crackled, reigniting. Green shot out from it, hitting the rune and immediately the feedback cut off the magic. Ellana yelped with surprise, pulling her hand back and making a fist. The Anchor had dissipated, leaving her mercifully pain free. And on the rock the rune now glowed brown, then alternated to green, a melding of the physical and the spiritual.

"Well done," Abelas praised. "Come—we have many more runes to activate."

"Blighting blood magic," Dorian complained under his breath as Abelas started walking at a quick pace, circling the rift some meters away. "Are you all right?" he asked Ellana.

"Yes," she said, risking a glance at her hand as they walked over the difficult, uneven terrain. "It's actually not hurting at all right now."

"Well," he said with a small smile. "That's something at least."

They stopped at another rock and Abelas again used his blood to paint a rune. Ellana activated it, feeling only a brief and minor surge of poain from the Anchor as she did so. They continued on, eventually reaching runes that'd been painted by the two warrior sentinels who'd followed them in. Like Abelas they'd used blood and now held their bleeding hands clenched at their sides, dripping into the sand and muck of the Fade as Ellana activated these runes too. There were eight runes in total, one for each point on the compass when the between directions were counted: southeast, southwest, northeast, northwest.

With the last rune active Ellana felt a warm wave pass through her and she shivered reflexively. The air seemed to caress her. The men with her showed no sign they'd noticed it though so she didn't mention it.

"Now we must return through the rift," Abelas said. "We will make similar runes there and charge them in the same way. When that has been—"

"Pain, stabbing and hot," a voice said from behind them, making all three sentinels, Dorian, and Ellana all gasp and whip around, tensing. But at once Dorian and Ellana both recognized the young man standing a few meters away, behind the stone where their latest activated rune had been drawn in blood.

"Ah," Dorian said. "It's just you."

"Cole," Ellana exclaimed and motioned quickly at the sentinels, trying to calm them. "He's a friendly spirit."

Abelas nodded at the other two sentinels and they relaxed slowly. "If you say this spirit is a friend then we will not attack. But we cannot linger here. The runes must be tied to—"

"Wrenching us apart," Cole said, his voice strangled and his blue eyes wide. "Twisting in two directions, warping and pulling." He fell silent a moment and then said, "You're tearing this place away, like a blade cutting out a hunk of cheese from the wheel."

"We're restoring the world to how it was," Ellana explained. "Before Solas created the Veil."

"I know," he answered and then, abruptly, pushed his hand forward pass the rock with the rune. A wall of energy flickered to life, crackling at his touch.

Ellana gasped at the loudness of it, stumbling back. Dorian laid a hand onto her shoulders and gripped her forearm, stabilizing her. She shot him an appreciative look before speaking. "Cole? What was that? Are you all right?"

Cole's expression was pinched and unhappy. He bowed his head. "They sing a new song. It won't let me pass."

"The runes prevent spirits and demons from crossing," Abelas explained blankly. "Fen'Harel will not approve of this division between the wild Fade and the tame one we allow into reality."

"You mean to say you're bringing the Fade into the waking world but devoid of any spirits or demons?" Dorian asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Yes," Abelas answered, the mild curl of his lips revealing his disdain for the human mage. "Fen'Harel's solution is one of chaos. He would remove the Veil suddenly. The result would be—"

"Redcliffe," Dorian snarled. "Yes. I've seen the result wrought by another being claiming godhood."

"Solas isn't a god," Ellana protested, sighing. "He's never claimed to be one either."

"Yet his goals remain the same," Dorian snapped, brow knitting. "I'm really sorry, old girl, but I'm now absolutely certain I'm going to have to set your hobo wolf on fire the next time I see him. Is he insane? Have you told him about what we saw in Redcliffe? How can he—"

"Solas isn't that kind of wolf," Cole protested. "He cares, he hurts—an old hurt and a weight on his shoulders only he can carry."

"Enough," Abelas said with a dismissive wave of his hand at Cole and Dorian. "We must return through the rift, Ellana."

Ignoring Abelas for the moment, Ellana asked Cole, "Can you come through the Veil to where we are? You're welcome to join us but we can't remove these runes."

"Yes," he answered with a nod. "I can. I have to. He asked me to watch you."

"What?" Ellana asked, frowning in confusion.

"Solas," Cole answered and then, eyes scrutinizing her up and down, the spirit boy said, "You're bigger than you were before, brighter." He grinned, joy lighting his face. "Floating, warm, comfort, peaceful. Muffled sounds. That beat in the dark. Familiar—"

Dorian chuckled. "I think we've lost him. He's doing that word confetti, poetry nonsense."

Recognizing what Cole was referencing, Ellana smiled and laid a hand over her abdomen. "We're going to return to the waking world now, Cole. Will we see you there?" she asked.

Cole dipped his head. "Yes." And with that he vanished, leaving only the green ether of the Fade where he'd been standing before.

"Creepy," Dorian murmured.


Next Chapter:

"Traitor," Banal repeated, dragging the word out in that same bone chilling cry that echoed inside his skull. "Harellan. Monster. You will lose your lover as your enemies steal her away. She will curse you with her dying breath. Your child will never know you and deny its heritage in shame, bowed and broken as a slave in Tevinter."

Despite himself, Solas felt anxiety lick its way from the very base of his belly, cold and quivering with mild panic. Banal had no eyes, no face to tell him it watched him, but Solas knew that it did, and like Cole it read him beneath the surface. Like its far simpler brethren, fear demons, it knew just what to say to set its victims on edge. Solas quashed his reaction, focusing on the magic he cast.

Soon, minutes later though it felt like hours, Banal'anaris let out a long wheezy sigh and its black essence fluttered, shrinking as it entered its death throes. Its voice called out one last time, howling in its despairing wail. "She has already fled from you, Fen'Harel. Your loss is nigh."

 

Chapter Text

The water rose quickly, swelling up to Solas' thighs in only a few heartbeats. Behind him Zevanni and Var shouted, arguing over how best to tackle the problem. Var wanted to attack the ice wall while Zevanni hoped to stop whatever spell had been cast.

"I will destroy the ice," Solas told them. "But we must move quickly to—"

Before he could finish speaking the wall of ice blockading the doorway shattered with a glasslike clattering. The water roared, set free and surging forward and straight for the precipice. Solas, standing barely a meter away, had no chance of staying upright as the current swept him under and tore him out the door. The cold water muffled sound and light, stunning him for a heartbeat before he saw, through a spray of bubbles, the darkness of the ledge racing toward him.

Twisting, Solas teleported sideways, rematerializing to the right of the doorway, which the rushing water had now transformed into a waterfall. Zevanni and Var floundered past him, falling away—but Solas blasted the water with ice, creating a ledge below them. They fell onto it, coughing and scrambling for purchase, waterlogged and clumsy.

More mages flowed out with the water, screaming and splashing. Solas cast another wall of ice at the edge of the precipice, creating a dam that blocked the flow. The water smashed into the ice, parting to flow over its sides. The mages carried with it hit against the ice instead, then scrambled to find purchase. Thinking quickly, Solas drew hard on his mana core and formed an ice wall along the edge of the stone path, creating temporary barriers like railings. The water flowed along the path now, thinning as it spread out. Solas stiffened as it rushed past him, tugging at his ankles, but the current no longer had enough strength to dislodge him.

Below the ice railings Zevanni cast ice of her own, creating a parallel walkway. Var scrambled behind her, fleet-footed and agile as he checked the daggers at his shoulders and readied for a fight. He didn't possess enough magic to cast, which had made Solas reluctant to bring him, but he'd needed someone he could trust as Abelas' second in command.

Too bad Abelas had betrayed him.

The mages swept out by the water now accumulated on the path, righting themselves and splashing as they jogged to join him on the path. Zevanni and Var reached the end of Solas' ice wall railing where the water flowed around it in a steady stream into the depths of the black abyss. She flash froze the waterfall and then used it to climb up from the ice ledge she'd created with Var following. Solas advanced to help them both up.

"Where is the bitch?" Zevanni asked, dripping wet and snarling with barely contained rage.

"Retreated, I suspect," Solas replied. He couldn't detect the sharp, burning scent on the air any longer. "The spell she cast must have drained her. Yet she is not known for patience. She will return soon." He nodded toward the path. "We must advance quickly to escape this exposed spot. The spell she cast will wear off shortly. Watch your step."

They hurried forward, Solas lighting the way with veilfire orbs and creating ice walls at the edge of the precipice to ensure the others' safety. He heard and sensed the cold wind from behind him as the mages following continued casting ice as well, strengthening the impromptu railings.

The sound of rushing water diminished as Solas reached a spot where the stone wall to his left stopped. He knew from his memory of this place that this was a large courtyard with pillars carved out by dwarves every so often. It cut deep into the rocks, eventually forming a massive archway and circular platform where a dragon would have slept. In the true Deep Roads those dragons had been walled in to seal them away from darkspawn, making it harder for them to be found. But the Forgotten Ones hadn't known that and for dramatic flair Solas had left the dragon's sleeping platform and chamber open in case he needed to take the demons deeper into the construct before fleeing.

Flinging more veilfire orbs out into the empty space, Solas Fade stepped forward twice and then paused, assessing the inky blackness. Sure enough his next breath brought the sharp, burning scent of Veredhe—but Chaos wasn't alone this time. He felt his stomach clench, gnawing on itself with a sudden, intense hunger, and at the same time a chill swept over him, his skin going numb. Those were the hallmarks of the Anaris demons: Isa'anaris and Banal'anaris. Famine and nothingness.

For light rather than combat, Solas summoned firestorm. As the fireballs rained down on the courtyard, casting orange-yellow flashes of light, he saw the all-consuming darkness of Banal'anaris in the corner beside the archway leading to the empty platform where Dumat would have been sleeping. Beside it stood the pale-skinned, skeletal figure of Isa'anaris, tentacles sprouted from its back as its hollowed eyes made contact with his own. But where was Veredhe? What form had she taken now?

And then, from one of the pillars illuminated by his firestorm, water poured out, splashing as it struck the stone. Already Solas suspected this was Veredhe, but when the water rose up into a vaguely bipedal form he knew with certainty he had found her. Veredhe's voice cackled as his firestorm ended, plunging the courtyard back into darkness.

Solas flung out more orbs of veilfire with one hand while with the other he summoned pull of the abyss, hoping to keep all three demons trapped in the same area. The spell roared as it activated, shimmering as it created a wind, sucking at dust and debris. The light revealed Solas had caught the Anaris demons together as he intended, but Veredhe streaked toward him, making the stone underfoot quake.

Fade stepping to the left, away from the courtyard's edge and closer to the platform that would've housed a sleeping dragon, Solas let loose with lightning on the Anaris demons while he summoned a powerful veilstrike for Veredhe. More mages joined him, blurring as they used Fade step, popping out and immediately casting offensive attacks at Veredhe.

She roared, wind gusting at the newly arrived mages in a powerful blast that knocked several of them off their feet. One man shrieked as he was flung across the courtyard, sliding over the stone toward the edge. His staff clattered after him. Even from many meters away, Solas was able to create an ice wall to stop the mage from going over the edge before sending Fade stone flying at Veredhe. The physical impact knocked her over, disrupting the wind spell she'd conjured.

More mages rushed into the fray, focusing their attacks on Veredhe because she was closest. Solas kept the Anaris demons pinned down with a heavy veilstrike, smashing them to the ground and then adding pull of the abyss as well. Zevanni joined him, shouting a battle cry again as she hurled fireballs at chaos and then lightning at the Anaris demons. Var joined in the attack as well, daggers slashing as he darted in and out.

"This is how you repay me, Fen'Harel?" Veredhe demanded, her voice making the courtyard shake. A few mages stumbled, their spells fizzling, but they had enough elves that soon all three demons had been surrounded. The handful of rogues Solas had brought with them went to work, hacking and slashing.

"Trapped here over the ages," Veredhe shrieked, her voice shrill and painful enough that everyone near cringed. "After all I taught you." Her voice rose impossibly high, earsplitting. The wind howled again and Veredhe lashed out, sweeping aside a handful of mages, men and women, knocking them with tremendous force into a stone pillar. Solas heard their screams of pain intermixed with the crunch of broken bones. But the mages didn't let up as more moved into position, keeping the heat on Veredhe.

From the Anaris demons then Solas heard another wailing scream and saw Isa'anaris had managed to strike one of the mages with a tentacle limb. Unlike Daern'thal, however, its tentacles did not pierce the man's body but passed through him. The effect was still immediate and terrible as he staggered backward, howling and clawing at his neck and then his stomach, retching. Isa'anaris caught two more mages with its tentacles, sending them reeling away as the uncontrollable vomiting seized their bodies.

Banal'anaris, a black shape that was more lightlessness than anything else, broke free of the encircled mages. It moaned, a hollow sound of despair, and before Solas could cast pull of the abyss again to keep it pinned, the demon brushed three of the attacking mages and they froze, staring unseeingly. Numbed by its touch, their skin turned ashen, their life leeching away to feed Banal'anaris. With a flash of his eyes, Solas petrified them rather than feed the demon.

Pull of the abyss corralled Banal'anaris back to its counterpart, the pale, wizened figure of Isa'anaris. Solas summoned firestorm, battering both demons together with the fireballs and then following it at once with lightning.

The mages afflicted with Isa's touch had the pr