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Inan'abelas

Chapter Text

 

"Some nights the sky wept stars that quickly floated and disappeared into the darkness before our wishes could meet them. Under these stars I used to hear stories, but now it seemed as if it was the sky that was telling us a story as its stars fell, violently colliding with each other. The moon hid behind clouds to avoid seeing what was happening."

-Ishmael Beah

~~◇~~

She had a nightly routine fixed in place for the fall of every sunset and sunrise, and tonight was no different. Ashinne would sneak past the keeper's hut, taking extra care as to not wake the hahren from his slumber as he dreamt soundly in a small tent next to the hut. She would then whir through the branches above the halla pen, giving a soft nod of mutual understanding to the watchkeeper that always seemed to be on duty at night.

Tamet... is the hunter's name. Taller than most elven boys at his age, but full of muscle and strong will. The blood writing of Elgar'nan adorned the soft, pale skin of his face, along with a few smudges of mud from being outdoors all night. She admired his bold choice in vallaslin, for many would rather choose to humble themselves with a tattoo of lesser gods.

Except this night was different from the rest. There was to be no nod to the hunter. There was simply no time nor place for such a gesture. So she kept her focus indomitable, leaping onward through the branches with swift grace and flexibility. All those years she trained as an apprentice hunter did her no justice other than for this very purpose. She was a healer, not a fighter by any means. A sword's blade against flesh made her cringe, as well as the metallic smell of blood and the piercing sound of weapons clashing in rage. The very moment she discovered her pool of mana, she never looked back on the world of fighting.

The world of magic was beautiful. So much to learn, so much to cast, so much to improve upon. Fighting was stagnant, forever the same. As a mage, Ashinne knew spells of every tree, and sitting down in an effort to learn more always excited her. It's one of the many reasons she chose to train as a healer rather than a hunter; she seemed to have more free time to read and study that way.

The pads of her feet met with the forested ground in lithe thunder, the crunch of leaves and pine needles muffling her agile fall from the branch. And then she ran toward the cliff of the mountain, hoping to catch sight of the floating night colors before the hahren discovered her leave. Bristles of low branches whistled in her flurry of wind as her legs moved past.

Soon, pine needles turned into gritty pebbles and sediment, and Ashinne knew she was getting close. When she ultimately saw the stars peeking over the small mountain ahead, her nerves started racing in excitement. Watching the night sky after dark was one of her favorite pastimes, and nights like these made Ashinne most anxious.

She didn't know what to call them, but she was fascinated by them. The swirling, glowing lights that parted the sky only certain nights of the week that shone with an intensity that put the color of her own vallaslin to dust. The murky emerald tattoo that stretched across her face was nothing compared to the bright green lights that stretched miles across the vast ocean of sky. They reflected in the pools of green that watched in awe beneath her brows, sitting in sockets that could only hope to see what brightness was daring to peek through any possible space her eyeballs would allow.

None. They would allow none, because Ashinne wanted to take it all in. The pure beauty, the pure spectacle of it all. Some aspects of the world were still a mystery to her, despite her countless readings and lectures on nature. Nothing could ever explain the beauty of the sky, no matter how hard she looked into the matter.

I wonder what's past the sky?

She's never had the pleasure of knowing. She had heard of the Fade, but she had never seen it. She had heard of Uthenera, but that was only in ancient tales. Oh, how she wished she could dream. No one understood why she couldn't. She was an elf, after all? And an elven mage? She just couldn't see past the darkness after her eyes closed. She wanted to explore the ancient stories the Fade held for her there, and as much as she prayed to the Creators to answer her wishes, those wishes were never granted.

The marvels, the mysteries... they greatly intrigued the young elven mage. She prayed again she she sat at the edge of the cliff, the soft air blowing past her eyelids. A hand flew to tuck a stray lock of black hair that had loosened from behind her ear back where it belonged. Her eyes gently fixated on the green hues floating against the midnight blue, and she tried to desperately to ignore the blasted chill slowly creeping up her arms and legs.

"Lethallan! Ashinne!" A panicked voice suddenly called out to her, followed by the rapid crunching of dirt beneath running feet.

"Tamet?" Ashinne vocally wondered, turning her head to face the embodiment of the quickly approaching footsteps.

"As-" Only a few letters of her name were able to be repeated before the arrow found the back of Tamet's head, his limp body falling hard against the rough ground.

Ashinne bit her lip as she stared, fighting the strong urge to scream his name in terror into the night. Whoever had fired the arrow was most certainly still near, and there was still the slim chance that they hadn't caught sight of the trembling elven maiden staring at the dead body of her falon.

She whispered a short prayer of death for Tamet's sake, her fingers grazing over the twisted branches of her vallaslin that just barely caressed the edges of her cheeks.

Falon'Din enasal enaste...

She trudged with great caution toward the body seeping with red, her green eyes focused on the leaves of the trees overhead. Any sight of movement within the leaves, and Ashinne would take no hesitation in running for her dear life. However, the leaves were as still as stones.

She heard screams in the distance, and the second she moved her eyes she saw the trees burst into flames.

Cahel, Keeper Sorwen, Mava, Yanet, Pailen...

She could hear each and every individual scream, and could atest to whom each one belonged to. Her feet began to move with a sharp passion, her heels crushing thousands of pine needles as they rushed against the bed of the forest. There was no preventing her from jumping straight into the fire, into the thick cloud of smoke lingering through the veils of the many trees surrounding her camp. Her home.

Ashinne's eyes burned. She could only hear the painful sounds of metal against metal and the flicking of a bowstring releasing an arrow into the cloud. Such sounds were deadly, and signified that Falon'Din would certainly be near soon. So much death she couldn't see surrounded her. She only saw shadows. Figmentations.

This isn't happening. This isn't real.

The shadow of a soldier appeared in her left peripheral, and Ashinne immediately ducked and sprinted from the blazing camp as far and fast as her legs could take her.

"Ashinne!"

It was the hahren. Her mentor, Cahel. He was the one that gave her the books that granted her indomitable knowledge, and set her on the path she had continued to walk until this very day, at this very moment. Yet she felt no desire to go back. She couldn't. Not when her own life could be wasted at the hands of some foolish soldier. But the others that were trapped in the smoke, were their lives worthless compared to hers? Of course not, but Ashinne was not a fighter. She took the path of flight most often, fleeing from harm at any given chance. Even as a young child, Ashinne steered clear of trouble. She remained studious, always remaining out of sight to study her books or sketch the halla.

And now was no different. When she eventually discovered that there would be no easy way out, she continued to push through the ring of flames. The smell of singed hair and flesh enveloped her nostrils, the pads of her feet stinging as they dashed against the uneven flooring. She could feel fire on her face.

Ashinne ran east past the camp's entrance, past the gated villa, past the rocky slope she slid down so often as a young da'len. It was all a distant memory, now. She ran until she could no longer see the sails of the mighty aravel poking from the top of the treeline, the haunting words of an endangered Cahel reverberating through her mind.

"Harellan! Fen'Harel ma halam!"

A traitor she was now deemed for fleeing her clan as it was being set ablaze by an unknown force? She'd rather go back now than continue on through the Graves, her desire to fling her body into the searing fire greater than the pain she felt from the skins on her feet peeling away as she trudged through the sand lining the river. There were no words to describe how much despair Ashinne was in.

As she peered into the soft waters on the river, she stared her ash-stricken complexion in the face. Those green eyes were so... unfamiliar, so full of sorrow that was typically unusual of the elven mage. They welled up with hot, troublesome tears that washed away the ash in dingy lines down her face, the murky tears falling in large droplets onto her clenched hands. Her fingers gripped the damp sand, the small particles digging into her nails.

Ashinne stared at her mirrored self in the water with displeasure, her eyes trailing over Falon'Din's marking with a rushed mental prayer. She splashed at the stream with fury, her reflection rippling angrily against the slowly flowing rush of water. The soft pattering of footsteps across the small length of the river got her attention, however.

A sensible-sized mass of dark fur stood before her, glaring at Ashinne's expression of anguish with pride. The creature's face was strong, its eyes undoubtedly watching her with either hunger or curiosity. It's like Cahel's curse had struck meaning in the heavens, and was now here to lay siege on the helpless elven maiden kneeling before it.

"What? Did Cahel's curse come true? Are you here to grant me misfortune, Dread Wolf?" She teased the creature, hints of anger lacing through the confines of her teeth.

It was then that she stared back down at her reflection in curiosity, her eyes tracing the lines of her vallaslin another time. It wasn't her first choice. The elven pantheon had been her favorite subject of study as a scholar, the stories associated with each of the Creators striking fascination within her soul with each read. When Ashinne finally came of age, she was disappointed to find out that there was no blood writing to represent the god she most favored.

The wolf ran off at the first subtle sound in the distance, its paws soaking in the icy water as it strided past her without a single care in the world. A tuft of black hair previously burnt away from the fire fell from her shoulder as she turned her head, her emerald pools watching as it trailed down the river.

Ashinne was falling apart. Not just in the mental sense, but in a physical one as well. It drained her of energy, resulting in her tired body slumping against the sand with her arms spread outward. One hand felt soft spears of grass tickling her fingertips, and the other felt damp sand resting against her peeling knuckles. A pain and a pleasure, such as nature always was. A calm before the storm.

She admired the beauty of the sky through the one opening in the treeline, drawing patterns in the stars with her imagination. So much wonder, so little knowledge about it. The Veil was a marvelous structure, able to hold back secrets of ancient civilizations and demons so hungry for the destruction of the world. If only Ashinne could walk through the Fade, she would be able to know more than she ever dreamed imaginable.

She wished for a blessing, a single chance to see what the Fade had to offer her. Her eyes grew heavy and burdensome, the stars in the sky disappearing behind closed lids.

Ashinne would not wake to see the sky break that night.

Chapter Text

 

"oh but that's the irony,

broken people

are not fragile."

-Clinton Sammy Jr.

~~◇~~

The Graves typically awoke with lonely mornings. Birds were too lazy to chirp, the wind refused to blow, and the river settled on running dreadfully slow. The vast forest was a husk of what it used to be-- a lush haven for both elves and wildlife alike, skipping happily through the grass and the trees. Now this place is just a holder of bark and leaves, its many wonders left to die in crumbles and soot after countless years of tragedy and death.

Ashinne peered up at the towering trees as her eyes pried open, a reminder of only a few lives lost during the Exalted March. In reality, hundreds upon thousands of spirits unknowingly floated around her, caressing the skin of her arms and the fabric of her tattered clothing. Everything that touched this place seemed to find catastrophe, one way or another.

Ashinne was just another soul amongst the many to touch the rich, sacred soil of the Graves.

She lifted her head to watch over her body, staring doubtfully at the frayed seams along the tears in her clothes. Pure cotton, now reduced to singed holes and ashen stains. She would have to trek through the forest with ruined clothing for who knows how long.

The elven mage found the strength to push herself to her knees and looked at her face in the river once more as she stood, shaking the remains of her once luscious locks of dark hair from her shoulders. Her hair now sat awkward and uneven along her jawline, occasionally dipping to her neck every few centimeters or so.

Would be better just to cut it all off at this point.

She sighed at the feeling of the cool grass brushing up against her hot, blistered skin and sticking between her toes as she stood tall, yet insecure. Afraid. There was nothing for her here. Not in the Graves. Not anywhere near here. She knew almost nothing about the places outside of the forest, but knew everything about the people that lingered there.

Outsiders. They walked valiantly, hiding their faces behind a slew of emotions both real and unreal. Some wore masks or expensive clothing and armors, and others humbled themselves by wearing simple cotton shirts just as her people did.

Their intentions were very much unclear. There were those that lived to purge, just as the ones that had ravaged her camp had. And then there were armies of the faithful, caravan-holding merchants, few good-doers, and masses upon masses of the average. Those were the people she enjoyed. Ashinne took joy in sitting among the branches of trees near the paths and watching as they strolled by, each one with a different intent for being there and story to tell.

She was never able to understand why both the keeper and the hahren despised all humans as so.

But now she understood.

Visions of searing flames and clouds of thick smoke burned through her mind, right behind her eyes. She curled her toes against the blades of soft grass, bunched her hands into tight fists, urging to fight off the tears that threatened to spill.

She fell to the dirt, her knees clashing harshly with the hard ground beneath her. The elven maiden cried out in agony, boiling hot tears of anger and sadness piling over her lids. She was helpless, yearning for a savior with an outstretched hand that pushed away the dirt as she lay herself upon the ground. Her tears soaked the century-old soil, the wet sediment collecting underneath her fingernails as she repeatedly clenched and unclenched it with a griping hand. The little wolf tattoo on her ring finger got covered up by the dirt, the tiny thing barely caught her eye.

Harellan .

That's all she was, all she knew. A traitor.

She heard Cahel's cry for help as she fled, and she refused to fight his words. His final words to her came out much harsher, staining her mind with a permanent scar of what could've been. Her clan could be alive. Cahel could've lived. Someone could've survived... if she would've gone back.

Now she was named a harellan by a dead man. She would never forget him.

Ashinne lie there for the next three hours drowning in her sorrows among the critters crawling in the dirt, picking at grass with her dirty fingertips. She never even thought about what she would do if someone were to find her here, miserably lying awake along the bank of the river whilst her peeling hands picked at the pretty greenery and waved at animals passing by.

The elven mage was nearly delusional. She cried madly for help, for a god, for death. She called upon her god of favor a splendid number of times, reaching her hands toward the broken sky that she wasn't able to see due to the cover of trees above her head.

"Falon'Din... ma halani. Ma ghilana mir din'an." She prayed with closed eyes, feeling torn threads brush up against her skin as she placed her hand over her heart. She waited for so long, waiting for the moment it would stop beating.

Much to Ashinne's disgrace, the moment never came. She reopened her eyes and gazed up at the treetops, watching as the leaves swayed peacefully in the morning wind. She fixed her ears upon the sounds in the forest, wasting away time to enjoy this prolongingly depressing piece of her life. Finally, the birds sang, the wind blew, and the river rushed. But she also heard a soft murmur of voices in the distance. Or maybe they were nearby, she couldn't tell. The river was far too loud for her to judge.

Ashinne quickly rose to her feet, slightly crouched in order to hide herself from whatever dangers could be lurking in the forest. The voices were near.

She darted behind a large boulder directly lining the river, drenching her blistered feet in the soothingly cool water. Footsteps soon crunched very near to her hiding spot, and the voices spoke once more in an accent the elf was not all too familiar with. She peeked just an inch from her cover, staring at the group of strangers with caution. They were dressed in a mix of light cloths and metals, and pale green, bulky hoods adorned the entirety of their neck and scalps.

She scanned them for any sign of a sigil, a crest of belonging, until she caught sight of one pinning the green cloth together across one of the stranger's chest. It depicted the image of a gleaming eye with crossing swords behind it. Ashinne narrowed her eyes at the crest, her brows coming together in thought. She had never seen this symbol before and had certainly never seen people of this description roaming the Graves prior to this. They were strange, and absolutely intriguing, but they bore weapons across their hips and backs. Shiny daggers and blessed bows dangled from their muscular forms, along with a full sheath of arrows tucked safely behind each bow.

They stood on guard, talking amongst themselves as if chatting in the midst of an ancient forest were normal.

"But the Inquisitor ordered us to investigate the Graves before she arrives. We must secure the camps ahead!" One ushered to another, navigating his words with the motion of his hands.

"This place is far beyond our level of expertise! It is simply too dangerous."

"The Spymaster would be disappointed to hear you say that. We survived Haven. I don't think anything could top that."

"Still..."

One of the four scouts, as Ashinne had determined from their conversation, had wandered off during the other three's argument to examine the river, to feel the cool water against her fingers in an attempt to wave off the heat of the beating sun. Ashinne had nowhere to run or hide, and she squeezed her eyes so tight hoping that she would simply disappear.

"An elf..." She heard the scout whisper, and Ashinne hesitantly opened one curious eye to see the woman looking at her with a look of utmost surprise. Her pulse quickened as she noticed the scout scanning her horrid appearance with a judging eye. She couldn't possibly imagine what the scout could've been thinking at that very moment.

"Are you okay?" The woman asked, peeking over her shoulder at her bickering comrades before crouching behind the boulder with Ashinne.

Ashinne flinched at the scout's sudden reach for her arm, giving the caring woman a blink for an answer. The elven mage bit the inside of her lip, trembling under the gaze of the hooded woman.

"I won't hurt you, if that's what you're worried about," The scout started, standing from her crouch. "I work for the Inquisition. We help people, and we're trying to fix the giant hole in the sky, save the world, stuff like that."

Ashinne blinked again, but this time in disbelief. Inquisition? Save the world? Hole in the sky? What had happened while she was asleep? How long was she asleep for? She stood abruptly, but continued to stare the scout in the face.

"Wait, what? Inquisition? Hole in the..." Ashinne looked up at the sky, but to no avail. What she hoped was still a sky remained hidden behind the lush cover of trees.

"You can't see it from this far away. It's better seen at Skyhold."

The elven mage glanced back at the hooded woman, her brows furrowed in confusion.

"I don't quite understand..."

"Come with me. With us. The Inquisition will fix you up and keep you safe. Inquisitor Trevelyan is very accepting of elves." The scout offered, reaching for the elven maiden with an open hand. Ashinne took it reluctantly, but also with hope.

"If what you say is true, then I will trust your... Inquisition," The elven mage faltered, her hand shaking against the scout's. The woman gave a simple nod in response and led her toward the group now frantically looking about for their missing comrade.

"You guys argue far too much," The scout told them as she neared the group, bringing the frightened elf with her.

Each of the scouts turned toward the woman one at a time, sighing in relief as their gazes rested upon her. Their looks of confusion when they glanced upon Ashinne, however, wrought insecurity within the elven mage. Her hand tensed against the scout's

"An elf?" One of the other scouts questioned, stepping nearer toward the frightened mage.

"I'm bringing her back to the camp so that she can be brought in for refuge at Skyhold. Pierre, come with us, since you do not wish to advance to the next with the others." The woman told the group, motioning for "Pierre" to walk with her. Her grip on Ashinne's sweaty hand remained.

The trio left down the rocky path without another word. The other two that they had left behind simply shrugged, then pressed onward. Ashinne couldn't bear to look at the forest in the same way she had done before. Questions regarding her fate swirled in her mind, and she closed her eyes in thought for a brief moment while trusting the hand holding her to safely guide her down the road.

How long was I asleep for? What is this "hole in the sky?"

Ashinne finally spoke for the first time in what probably seemed like hours, "About this... 'hole in the sky?' What do you know about it?"

Her voice was quiet, yet somehow strong. She was bravely putting trust into this pair of shems.

"Well, for one, it's spitting out demons from the Fade and causing tears in the Veil to appear out of thin air, essentially everywhere. Only the Inquisitor can close the rifts." Pierre spoke, his accent flowing smoothly over certain consonants.

The scout holding her hand shook her head, "It destroyed the Conclave... there was going to be a chance at peace between mages and Templars. It would have been revolutionary."

There was silence before she continued.

"The Divine was killed. The biggest of the rifts was only closed about two months ago, and then Haven was destroyed by some beast that the Inquisitor claims aspires to ascend to godhood and will do anything and everything to get there. We just settled into Skyhold after weeks of preparing. Everyone is so stressed."

"Wait... did you say months ago? Weeks?" Ashinne blurted out in query, suddenly halting her feet. The two scouts accompanying her stopped and turned to stare at the curious elf.

How...

Chapter Text

 

"Fear doesn't shut you down; it wakes you up." 

-Veronica Roth

~~◇~~

To her, the Fade was nothing but a barren wasteland. There were specs of glimmer every time she turned her head, but nothing would ever spark from them. It was like an endless pit of dark soil beneath her feet, and she sunk further and further the longer she slept.

There were ancient whispers of a voice. Or maybe it was many voices? They called to her in the darkness, hushing secrets from ages past in the hollow of her pointed ears. She heard these whispers each time she closed her eyes, each time she succumbed to the vast pit.

She desperately wished for a translation of the language. Most of the words were elven, but there were some phrases so beyond her time that she couldn't comprehend their meaning. Those phrases had been lost to years of misconception and forget, passing by the keepers of the Dalish clans with but a subtle breeze. She yearned to see color and mystery in her dreams and to walk the crumbled ruins of the ancient cities her people once thrived in. But each time she tried, she would only be returned to the wasteland to dwell in her lonely sorrows. And when she woke in the morning, there would be absolutely nothing spectacular to remember.

~~◇~~

Fellow scouts mumbled quietly amongst themselves about last night's happenings outsides of Ashinne's tent, waking the sleeping elf from her rest. The brightly-colored material the tent was made of stained her eyes, singing the hue into her vision as she shut them tightly again.

The color had been dull and pretty in the night, but it was a nightmare when reflected by the sun. This "Inquisition" just so happened to set up camp in the one patch of the Graves where the sun actually peeked through the thick roof of trees lining the sky. A blessing, and a curse, it seemed.

"I saw my wife in my dream last night. I wonder when I'll return to her."

"I dreamt that the Spymaster sent me off to execution for insubordination."

"I saw Commander Cullen in nothing but his knickers!"

The scouts whispering outside her tent snickered quietly at the one scout's dream, then set off hurriedly; their feet pattered loudly against the loose gravel.

Ashinne emerged from the den of her tent, her skin biting the morning frost as it clashed with the air. Her hands immediately flung from her sides to cover her bare arms from the cold, goosebumps refusing to budge no matter how hard she rubbed the skin. Bursts of freezing cold air blasted through the burnt holes and tears in her clothing, and her teeth chattered with vigor. She felt as if she were in the midst of a raging blizzard, yet everyone around her seemed perfectly fine.

One nosy scout happened to notice her struggle to keep up against the morning freeze, and went to fetch her a hooded shawl from an armory chest sitting near the requisition table. Ashinne thought not to question why the inquisition kept extra clothing about since each soldier seemed well-equipped with armor, and greedily took the thick shawl from the helpful man upon his return.

Now she felt only moderately cold, and started to wonder how long she would be stuck here until the squadron of soldiers arrived to safely escort her to Skyhold. Ashinne no longer wanted to watch the trees of the Graves wave at her in mockery. They knew of her wrongdoings, her betrayal to her clan. They were relentless and cruel, carrying the hahren's angered words of death through their rustling leaves to her ears.

She shook her head and looked away, hoping to find refuge in watching something else. But all she saw was green. Green, a color known to bring solace to one's mind but only brings agony to Ashinne's. She sees flames and smoke and ash swallowing the leaves, tainting them with blackened soot.

She looks at her feet and watches as the flames dance around her toes with glee, peeling the skin away to reveal muscle and bone. Her hands are no different. Her clothes burn away, leaving loose threads to be wisped away by the smoke. And now she has nothing.

Ashinne blinks, and the vision suddenly vanishes. She's back in the Graves, in the Inquisition camp. She hugs the shawl tighter around her frame and glances around at all of the weary soldiers snacking on cold bread and water. Her stomach growls with a painful ache at the sight of spare crumbs being wastefully littered all over the ground as they fall from chewing mouths.

The elven maiden winces at the sight as another ache rumbles from beyond her navel.

Overall, the camp held a looming depression over itself. Many of the people slowly wandering around its perimeter were either shivering or swaying with the light breeze. Scouts and soldiers bore looks of frustration and hopelessness across their faces, some singing a pleasant tune that Ashinne wasn't familiar with.

There were even other refugees, such as herself. None of them were elven, however. Most of them spoke with a rich, pompous accent that sounded heavy on the throat, and they held themselves with too high of a regard.

Whenever the elven mage attempted at making conversation with the high-spoken individuals, they tossed her aside with a simple hand, saying that they "refuse to speak with knife-eared servants." Ashinne would raise a harsh brow at their comment before meandering away, usually taking to sit in the large tree propped up against her tent all by her lonesome.

It was the same cycle for days, maybe even weeks.

Soon, the shawl became dirty due to its continuous wear upon the elf's shoulders, and she started to lose hope in the arrival of these Inquisition soldiers that were supposedly coming to escort the entire group of refugees to Skyhold. She just wanted to leave the Graves...

"The soldiers have arrived!" A scout announced, hurriedly scurrying toward the squadron of armored men to assist them with their horses.

Ashinne leapt down from the tree with great excitement.

I'm  finally leaving this place!

She could simply cry at the thought.

"You! Elf! You're with me," A woman's voice called out from behind one of the bodies of armor sitting upon the horses, patting the spot behind her on the saddle of her mare.

Ashinne waddled over awkwardly, not expecting to be called out so individually. A different soldier lifted her small frame up onto the back of the horse, and suddenly, the elven mage felt like she had an entirely different view of the world. She liked being just slightly taller, feeling envious of the lives that horses were gifted with.

And the ghost of a smile crept across her lips as she gazed beyond the trees, the chilly wind blowing the frayed ends of her hair across the chapped skin.

~~◇~~

Three days. That's how long Ashinne and the rest of the group had been traveling for until they had once again stopped for the hundredth time.

Damn the winter storms. They weren't even halfway to Skyhold before the wind and snow picked up, chilling the bones of the horses and the riders that sat upon them. Flurries of harsh snow whirred past Ashinne's pale cheeks, tainting them shades of pink and red due to the exposure. The shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders was not nearly warm enough. She had never ventured this far north, and she surely wasn't prepared for the even crueler venture through the Frostbacks soon to be set upon for her.

The shivering group currently sat around a crackling fire, the embers popping and flickering in everyone's eyes. The horses stood idly by, most likely resting their minds for the long journey ahead of them. Ashinne sat at the feet of her particular horse, feeling greater comfort in being near the animal rather than the humans.

The sight of the fire itself additionally brought growing fears and horrible visions. The elven maiden was perfectly content with sitting away from it. She could do without the hushed, dirty remarks being spoken about her from the throats of the rich-spoken men and women whispering amongst themselves.

She laid rest to her own eyes for a short moment, repeating an elven prayer of guidance through her mind over and over until she felt confident enough to open her lids again. She peeked a subtle glance up at the sky, which became uglier and greener the closer they neared to the Frostbacks. It truly was a heart-wrenching sight.

She couldn't bare to stare at it for long. It was the one thing that she loved the most-- and now it was gone, simply in an instant. The snow was equally as ugly, however, muddied by wandering footsteps of travelers and troops on horseback long gone. Both sights left Ashinne bored, leaving her to peruse the jumble of meddling thoughts racing through her mind.

Her eyes landed upon her scarred hands and dirty fingernails, and she found herself picking at them endlessly. A lengthy scar had nearly disturbed the ink of her wolf tattoo, the tiny thing being threatened by a massive line of fresh, pink, burnt flesh. The elven mage curled her fingers, thoroughly examining the damage done to her hand. It still hurt at times, especially now since her skin was currently dry and frozen. Then, she flexed her fingers, watching the flesh contort with the protrusion of the bones underneath.

And for a split moment, everything went green. An emerald flash of light splashed against the skin of her hand and the snow beneath her feet. A gasp emerged from the crowd surrounding the fire, and the horses went absolutely haywire. Ashinne was pushed to the side by her own horse as it dashed off into the night, away from the source of green light. The refugees spoke in languages unheard of to the elven maiden, and the soldiers and scouts drew their own weapons in defense.

She suddenly became afraid of the night. She feared turning around, for what she would face could become her very own nightmare. Oh, how she regretted turning so.

Off in the distance she could see a translucent figure, geometric in shape, sending spears of green light against the ground. From those spears emerged deadly creatures of every shape and size... and the tallest one happened to be curiously making its way toward the group.

It was truly terrifying. Its elongated limbs were further extended by a set of gnashing claws, sharp and ready to slice through any foe that were to oppose it. It walked in an unsettling sort of limp or stumble, and its face was devoid of any emotion except terror. Following the tall creature was a trio of green, ghostly beings, a few slithering shades, and one floating spirit wielding the power of ice.

Ashinne was, unfortunately, unequipped with any weapons. Her magic was limited in terms of offense, and she typically relied on others to fight for her. In this type of situation, however, there wasn't anyone she could rely on. The group was outnumbered, and after the last act of treachery she had committed, Ashinne refused to run.

The first one fell as a shard of ice penetrated his stomach.

The next one fell with a swipe of the creature's claws to her face.

As a scout stood strong along the distance firing arrows at one of the green spirits, she was taken from the ground as the lanky creature emerged from beneath her feet. She fell, too.

Ashinne couldn't stand to see another fall. Her feet kicked up snow as she dashed toward the scout's bow, and she slung the quiver of arrows across her form as soon as she got there.

In her peripheral, the elven mage watched as another soldier fell to the ground in an attempt to fight the great creature of terror.

It had been so long since she held a bow, and even longer since she held one not made by her clan's craftsman. It was obvious that, although the bow was not of her clan's craft, it was most certainly dalish-made. The markings of June adorning the face of the dead scout before her told her that much, at least. Ashinne raised a gentle hand to the elf's face and drew her eyes shut. She whispered to her Falon'Din's blessing before finally deciding to take a stand against the creatures invading the camp.

Were she not quick-minded and nimble, she too would have been struck down in that instant. A shade had found its way toward the elven mage, and with a simple tuck of her legs and a roll, she voided the creature's attempt to grab at her with its deadly hands. The bow still clutched tightly in her left hand was suddenly drawn in front of her; and, with a simple release of the string, the beast was slain.

Ashinne breathed. She breathed a long, overdrawn breath as she pulled the string back once more with a loaded arrow, and sent the arrow flying toward the terror demon.

It struck true in its leg, but the shot drew its attention toward the fearful mage rather than away from her. She breathed again, but this time in hopelessness. Before she could even draw another arrow from the quiver, however, the demon appeared beneath her feet, knocking her through the air and onto her backside once she landed.

Pain did not overcome the white, hot fear boiling through Ashinne's body. She crawled away with every ounce of strength she had, her fingers searching along the ground for the bow that had been flung from her hand. There were no more scouts, no more soldiers, and the refugees were seconds away from being slain themselves. Hope was truly lost.

Ashinne feared the absolute worst as the demon stumbled toward her, it's mouth opening to let out a horrifying screech that caused pain in the maiden's ears.

Its scream died out once it was hit with a blast of encasing ice, followed by a bolt of lightning that burnt up the creature inside. Only a mold of the body remained, and the ice disappeared to reveal her saviors in the distance.

It was a group of four brave individuals. The first was a beautiful female with dark hair and a hand of power that matched that of the strange shape hovering over the ground. She held her hand to it, transferring energy from the mark on her hand to the shape. The strain of such energy caused the shape to pop and crackle with a blast of warm, green light. More demons emerged from the spears of light that followed the blast, and Ashinne thought she would never feel more terror than she did at that very moment. Another terror demon appeared before her feet, and the elf could do no more than simply scream at the sight as it lunged at her.

Her savior just so happened to be a mage of elven stature with features that contrasted in the most unique of ways. The top of his head was smooth and round, yet the rest of his facial features were sharp and angular. He threw spells at the creature with an intensity she had never seen before, and his eyes narrowed into harsh slits in concentration. He was focused, steady, and professional-- everything she was not. Ashinne took the creature's distraction as an opportunity to run before its claws could gnash at her, slice her open, pick at her gorey insides.

As she ran across the battlefield, she caught sight of her third savior. Another mage, yet this one was as human as the first hero. His hair was dark, also, and so was his skin. His skin was a nice shade of tan, and the flames bursting from his staff were as intense as the fire in his eyes. A sort of soft glimmer enveloped his skin like a blanket, and Ashinne knew for certain that it was the cause of a barrier spell.

Her fourth and final savior stood near the third in an oddly protective stance, his large axe slung strongly at his side in preparation for the wave of spirits that were rapidly approaching him. He was, undoubtedly, a qunari warrior. A second passed, and suddenly he was charging upon the weakened spirits. He swung and slashed and raged in a berserk-like fashion, reigning terror amongst the demons that dared to face him.

And just as quickly as the fear had started, it ended. The dark-haired woman raised her hand to the shape again, and with a pop and crackle of green light, it was gone.

The two remaining refugees crawled out of hiding and praised their saviors in their thick accents, and Ashinne dipped her head in disappointment. This had now been the second time she had failed to save those around her, and it hung an enormous weight of guilt across her shoulders. Just the thought stung her eyes with tears; she sniffled loudly at the fresh visions of the hahren being slain by ruthless men and her camp burning to the ground.

"I could've sworn I saw another..." The tanned male spoke, his dark hair shaking in the breeze as he searched the remains of the camp with his fiery eyes.

Ashinne stood with hesitation. Part of her didn't want to be found, whereas the other part yearned to finally find refuge in a safe place. The visions bid her farewell as she stood, but she still remembered them as brightly as the flames that scorched her clan. One foot stumbled forward with confidence, followed by a step that shook her to her hands and knees. She was too weak with horror to even walk straight. A true embarrassment, for sure.

She wasn't alone in her struggle, however. The elven male that had saved her before was once again at her side, picking up her frail body with the strength of his arms. This time, she truly had a chance to gaze into his eyes. They were a beautiful icy blue hue and held great depth to them. Ashinne could see it all-- his wisdom, his secrets, his hatreds and pleasures, and his fears. She also saw the look of pure horror on his face as he first glanced from the tattoo on her finger to the ones stretched across her face. Insecurity racked through her veins at his judgmental glance, and she pulled her hand away from his grip with force. She gave the elven man a glare before looking to the pair of refugees huddled together behind the large qunari man.

Her ears pierced through the air like a hawk, picking up their whispers along with a few others traveling along the breeze.

Knife-ear. She grew tired of hearing it. She grew tired of hearing them.

In a matter of seconds, Ashinne appeared before them, her skin crackling with a magic unknown to even herself. Her quiver had been thrown to the ground unlike their bodies, which stood in fear at the sight of her glowing skin and magic-born hands.

"Dirthara-ma!" Ashinne cursed, pulling her right hand back as it charged with wild energy. She was a moment away from casting the spell upon them, when she suddenly felt a cold hand lie itself around her wrist, followed by a wave of fatigue washing over her.

The spell in her hand dissipated along with the sheen of her skin, and her body limply fell to the ground next to the quiver.

Chapter Text

 

"Beware of the false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves."

-Matthew 7:15

~~◇~~

Ashinne heard a voice that she'd never heard before.

"Ar lathem ma, ar nedan ma," The voice whispered, caressing the elf's cheeks with its breath.

The voice was familiar to her, yet she knew not why. The whisper embodied a spirit that held her close to it, touching her skin with its hands and placing its gentle lips upon her face.

Ashinne grew somewhat fearful of the spirit, and she pushed it away with another questionable spark from her hands. The spirit flashed with purple at the touch of her hands, and it looked back at her in disbelief once it came down from its shock.

"Elgar'athlanal..."

Ashinne gawked at the spirit in confusion, then stared back down at her hand which still pulsated with purple energy.

"I do not know what you speak of, spirit." She told it, reaching for it with her magical hand.

The spirit backed away in fear, pointing at said hand while shaking its head.

"Re athlanal'harel!" It cried, running into the endless abyss and leaving Ashinne alone.

~~◇~~

"Tel'vara!" Ashinne screamed, waking from her slumber with a start.

Her head arose from a warm, leather cuirass that smelled of embrium, and just the feeling and scent alone was almost enough to put her back to sleep. Almost.

She hadn't realized she was elevated from the ground, riding the back of a noble steed along with another individual. The person was feminine in curvature, dark-haired, and wore daggers upon her hips...

"Woah, there!" The female shouted, desperately trying to regain control of the horse that was currently flailing around in fear. Ashinne was too caught up in her own thoughts to understand the severity of the situation and was flung from the back of the horse with a single buck of its back legs.

She landed in a patch of powdery snow that chilled her skin and bones through her tattered clothing, reddening her cheeks and the tips of her pointed ears. But despite her sudden chill, she felt the need to relieve the woman of her troubles. As she stood from the snow, she felt eyes watching her, judging her, glaring through her. But she paid no mind to his eyes; those icy, blue eyes.

She allowed the calming spell to charge in her hand as she walked to the bucking horse, and once she neared close enough, she cast it.

"Atish," She spoke bluntly, watching the horse with a look of confidence as the steed came to a halt. The woman atop the horse loosened her grip on the reigns with a sigh of relief before looking to the elven maiden, a smile adorning her lips.

"I guess I should be thanking you," Said the woman, tilting her head forward to nod in Ashinne's favor.

Ashinne bowed in return, clasping her hands to her front in respect.

"You would have been in danger had I not stopped him," She told the woman, unclasping her hands to rest at her sides. The roguish woman simply laughed in response.

"I think he was startled by your sudden screaming," The woman reached down to pet the steed's luscious mane and caressed the side of his face gently. Ashinne sweat at her words.

"I apologize. I was..." She stopped as she recalled the events of her "dream," "not myself. I don't usually have such dreams."

"A nightmare, then?"

"More like a phenomenon. What I meant is that I usually don't dream at all."

She received curious glances from all members of the party. The tan male stepped down from his horse after tying it to a nearby tree and approached Ashinne with question.

"But you are a mage, yes?" He asked, his arms folded across his chest.

"Yes, but I do not dream. I have never experienced the Fade."

The male raised an eyebrow and huffed in laughter, shaking his head as a toothy smile graced his lips. "You are certainly joking," He jested.

"I assure you, I am not. Not even the Keeper could explain my... predicament."

She nearly choked as she spoke of the Keeper; the mage's eyes reminded her of the fires.

Next to step down from his horse was the elven mage, except he bound his steed with a spell rather than a harsh rope. His eyes burned with even more curiosity and wonder than the first mage's had.

"You're telling us that you, a mage, has never been to the Fade even though that is where you draw your own power?" His jaw flexed hard once his mouth shut.

The whispers spoke louder now that he was staring her in the eyes, and one such whisper spoke of his greatest regret. Her eyes were tempted to widen at such words. Instead, she focused her energy on her frustration with this certain group of individuals. She simply gave the elven man a short nod, then averted her eyes.

She looked into the orbs of the woman on horseback, and the whispers told her of her strong love for a man who also happened to be her greatest fear: a Fereldan lion who wielded a blade drawn on faith and lyrium, more the former than the latter. She feared his past rather himself, for his kind were the ones that tore her loving family apart.

Both the qunari and the tan male were divided between the strangest of whispers. The whispers of the qunari delved deep into his pleasures, and she blinked as hard as she could in hopes that that those voices would quickly go away. The man of jokes and glory had an overwhelming amount of whispers attached to him, and Ashinne had no idea which one was more prominent. Apparently, all were equally as important, just as he seemed to deem himself.

Ashinne shook her head in dismay, picking at the fleshy scars on her hands as a distraction in the awkward silence that ensued.

"We've been carrying you for quite a few hours now. Do you mind telling us your name?" The rouge woman asked the elven maiden, resulting in Ashinne's eyes to finally lift from her hands.

"Ash-" She started, suddenly remembering what had resulted in the fate of her clan. "No. I'm always too quick to trust. I will not tell you."

"Dirty apostate," One of the noble-throated refugees seated upon the fifth horse had spoken, earning them a sharp glare from the aforementioned apostate. She was about to speak when, instead, someone had spoken for her.

"I would watch your tongue. You are unaware of who you have spoken to," The elven man warned, throwing them a cold glare of his own. The tan male jutted in one as well.

The heavily-accented woman backed down immediately at the sight of the three angered apostates looking her way. The silence began to loom, once more.

"If it helps you to trust me better, I will tell you my name," The rogue woman offered, looking toward the elven maiden with sparks of hope in her bright, blue eyes.

Ashinne shook her head, "That isn't necessary. I should really be heading my own way, in fact. I have a long journey ahead of me."

"Where to?" The tan male inquired. Ashinne's brows furrowed in frustration.

"I will regret telling you if I do so," She replied, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

"Do you really place this much distrust in us?" The elven man chided, stepping forward.

"I have my reasons for doing so."

"You are Dalish, are you not? A Dalish without a bow doesn't stray from their clan for mere 'reasons'."

"Do not-"

"Not to mention that you are also wearing clothing burnt and torn by fires. Your arms and legs show no difference."

"Inana mar av, Fen," Ashinne spat, her skin beginning to glow with the strange energy from before.

His icy glare widened at the spoken name she gave him.

"Ar'an ju'dirtha min'nydha."

And then he turned away from her.

~~◇~~

Night had fallen quicker than she'd expected. The darkness hid specters that had fallen to this place. Although none of the others could see them, she could. All they were were spirits that wished to be hidden from eyesight, but none could ever escape her eyes: the Eyes of Sorrow.

They were given their name by both the Keeper and the elder after she had told them of her "condition." Her visions were of no secret to her clan. She mainly used her abilities while working as a healer, prescribing the injured using the power of her mind rather than that of chance or knowledge.

"Your eyes are miracles!" Her clanspeople would tell her, gleaming over the beauty of her irises. "They're like... when you see the reflection of the trees in the water. Green, but glimmery, and somehow brighter."

She huffed at the thought, picking at random pebbles and placing them neatly in a small pile. Once more, she refused to sit by the fire. This time, after the elven man's comment about her fire-ridden clothing and burnt skin, no one pestered her about her reasons for not sitting around it. Yes, it had technically been months since the incident, but to Ashinne, it had only been a few weeks. And she was still healing, still completely oblivious as to how she had slept away months of time.

Distant; it was how she felt, and how she wished to remain to be. There was no one left that shared her blood or her likeness. She had never felt so truly alone.

Ashinne looked to the elven man with hesitation, and found it no surprise that he felt the same as she did. The others didn't seem to know. But she did because her eyes do not keep secrets from her.

Their eyes met across the way, burning holes in each other's skin with simple looks alone. Ashinne cowered from his intense gaze, looking to her pile of pebbles in hopes that he would turn away, forget her, maybe even remove her from this world with the power of his wretched magic. To cast a Veil around herself...

"I believe I am due an explanation."

He had spoken to her. Creators, he was speaking to her. Before, in the midst of their heated confrontation, there was no time to consider the situation. But now, how could she just simply sit and not bow?

She met his eyes and lay witness to the dreadful blizzard storm raging within them. The whispers had nothing of note to say this time, save for a single Elvhen word:

Fen.

The rest of his supposed title was not attached to it.

Ashinne shook her head, her dry locks flowing softly around her face.

"Not here," She whispered, glancing behind him at his weary companions. He raised a single, yet knowing, brow in response.

"Let us be away from here," He told her, taking her by the hand and raising her to her feet.

He led her through the brush, paying no mind to the curious glances received by the others in the party as they seemingly walked into the endless greenery. He stopped short of a large tree with twisted roots that poked from the ground on all sides. She continued to stand while he seated himself upon one of the roots, his arms folded against his lean stature.

"You know something that the others are not aware of, and I would like to know where you obtained this knowledge."

Ashinne bit the inside of her lip, but her gaze remained hard.

"I am unsure of this 'something' that you speak of."

"I think you do. Very well, in fact."

"Is it because I simply called you a fen as a result of your annoying, wolfish behavior? Because such was just a simple name, nothing else implied."

A lie.

"I never mentioned anything about an implication. You saying such indicates that you've something to hide."

He tagged a smirk alongside his words; a dreadful, wolfish grin. Ashinne remained steady, for she would not give into his desires.

"I do not."

The bald elf stood promptly and leaned his thin body against the large spine of the tree. There was no denying the sudden blizzard in his eyes that had charred into fire during their dialogue. It was fierce, hot, and unwavering. She could almost feel the heat radiating off of him.

"Do you still refuse to give your name?" He asked her, folding his arms once again. When she didn't respond, he inquired further, "Or anything about where you came from? Perhaps why your clothes are burned to shreds?"

The fire in his eyes unsettled her. She could just picture the smoke, the smell of it, the sounds of swords clashing and bowstrings desperately plucking away...

"Would you give me yours if I told you?" She looked away from his face and into the trees behind him. He nodded after seconds of nothingness, as if he were contemplating whether he should or not. She didn't need to look at him to know that he'd agreed; she saw the reflection of the moonlight against the shine of his head.

The elven maiden let out a breath before speaking, "Ashinne."

She looked at him then, cautiously watching as the fires in his irises dwindled into snowy blizzards once more. They were much prettier than the fires.

"Solas," He spoke quietly, yet surely. Ashinne thought about what she knew, and then smiled at the name he had told her. Fitting.

Pride.

Yet, she did not say it. She wasn't about to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"Was this all this was? A quick word and an exchange of names? I expected more of a fire, Solas." She teased him, not letting her perfectly good smile go to waste.

"What was meant to be was lost, due to your stubborn nature. I will ask again. Do not think that the fire has died yet, Ashinne."

He spoke her name mere feet from the clearing of the camp, yet spoke it in a low tone that the others could not possibly hear. It brought a gentle grin to her cheeks, and the others were so curious as to how a reclusive man such as Solas was able to make the independent elven woman speak. He said not a word about it. Not a single truth, at least.

She heard everything as she lie on her bed mat whist pretending to be asleep. She thought the party's stories to be heroic and fantasy and silently hoped they were all true.

That qunari and his crew of loyal mercenaries, bravely taking down a whole feat of fierce mages known as the Venatori.

That daunting man, setting aflame a whole camp of bandits and taking down their leader with just a snap of his fingers.

That woman, facing an entire array of demons from one of those "rifts" all by her lonesome while she was out collecting herbs for her toxins.

Solas, while he was not much of a willing fighter, told a story about his one of his happenings in the Fade. Ashinne listened attentively, her ears raised in curiosity. His story involved a great battle that had occurred in the ages of old, during Elvhenan's reign. He described the soldiers as having valor and loyalty, and they fought until the bitter end.

His tale brought her memories from when she studied all aspects of Elvhen history and how she used to put them in easy-to-understand story formats for the children and her peers. Even the story itself was familiar, and it drew her into the deepest of slumbers.

Chapter Text

 

"What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again." 

-Suzanne Collins

~~◇~~

She'd always been able to see through others. See their hopes, dreams, fears... everything. And just with a simple glance of the eye.

"Mamae, why are you sad?"

"Babae, why are you so excited?"

She'd never been able to understand how she could.

But she was brought into this world just as any other living soul had been. She isn't a spirit or apparition-- she lives and breathes as other mortals do. The only oddity about her is her inability to see the Fade in her dreams. She's heard of its beauty and horrors, and her one true dream is to see it as the other elves and humans do. She always had the fear that she were Tranquil, but being Tranquil comes with... lack of fear, so to speak. It's the only reason she knows that she isn't one of them.

She had thought about asking Solas his opinion that night they talked near the twisted tree, but the opportunity never arose. All she wanted was an answer other than, "I'm not sure, da'len." But even then, who was to say that he even had an answer. She had doubts.

~~◇~~

Solas watched over her as she slept that night, but only for but a moment. He watched as her chest rose and fell with each calm, steady breath and how her fingers twitched into half-fists as her body tried to relax itself. He thought her peaceful-- a pretty contrast to her conscious self. She was a fire when awake, and a serene breeze when asleep.

He had the plan of finding her in the Fade that night. Not in the bodily sense, for she had clearly mentioned that she cannot dream, but in a mental one. He would try to find her spirit or perhaps one that had answers as to who she was and what power she beheld. In his eyes, she was no ordinary creature to walk the face of this world. There would be answers.

~~◇~~

When he awoke in the Fade, there was an abnormal chill surrounding the area. Usually, in this place, it wasn't like this. Usually, it was abundant with pleasant spirits and energy but now, it was cracked, barren, dry, cold. Maybe it was being caused by the Breach. Maybe it was being caused by her.

It wasn't to say that the place was not one of beauty. Somehow, he believed the silence and lack of energy to be soothing and wondrous. But whatever dwelled here would never come to know the true beauty of the Fade. He knew that for a fact,

He sought out a spirit of wisdom after walking the cracked spanse of land for a time, and reached for it with his own energy, calling to it with his mind. The spirit seemed startled, as if it hadn't felt such powerful energy in a long, long time. Maybe it truly hadn't and it has been roaming this place its entire life. What a dreadful thought. He frowned at its presence in his mind.

"Wisdom," He called, beckoning it with his voice. "I need answers."

The spirit bowed its head in response to the mage's request, urging Solas to continue with his query.

"It was not my original intent to ask this, but what has happened to this place? Surely it was not like this before."

The spirit shook its ethereal head before responding, "No, it was not. Something is nearby, and it is affecting the nature of this place. I do not like it."

"Are you able to read the energy of this...disturbance?"

The spirit paused for a second, then continued as if nothing had happened.

"It is cold, filled with despair. It does not understand why it is the way it is. But it is ancient. I do not understand it, either. It is a form of ridden magic, ser."

Solas pondered Wisdom's words and could not come up with an explanation. He had been to this place countless times before, both in the days of old and new, and there was never any presence of "ancient beings" or strange, forgotten magic. Nothing was adding up.

"Thank you, Wisdom, but I now must request an answer to another question," Wisdom nods in acknowledgement, and Solas continues forth. "There is a woman of Elvhen culture residing at the camp. I was wondering if you could tell me anything about her."

"Ashinne," Wisdom whispers, then glances around the wasteland as if it were looking for said elven maiden. In reality, it was struggling to search for answers that were, ultimately, thin in abundance.

"I am sorry to disappoint, ser, but I have found nothing."

Solas' brows furrowed and his fingers twitched just slightly. Nothing?

"Are you sure?"

Wisdom moves to nod when, suddenly, it's ripped from Solas' sight. The sky above him bursts into light, but before he's able to question it, he too, is ripped from the Fade.

~~◇~~

He wakes to the sight of Varia's panicked face, the mark on her hand shining brightly into his freshly awakened eyes.

"Solas! A rift just opened up nearby. The camp is being attacked!"

It's with her words that he swiftly rises from his bedroll, grabbing his staff that was readily nearby. He had feared the worst, and now here it was. Again.

As soon as his limbs moved to grab ahold of his staff, the Inquisitor was off to fight her own battles with the rest of the party. The demons that dared to face them didn't appear too challenging... with the exception of a brutish, furious pride demon lurking steadily upon the Iron Bull. Solas distracted the demon with a burst of heavy fire, following his attack with the placement of three runes around the perimeter of the monster.

Barrages of fire and ice swirled with vigor. Struggled grunts fell from troubled mouths. Howls of anger and defeat screeched from the lips of dying demons with each slice, stab, and cut. Fires sparked upon the skin of those demons. Green light pulsed and flashed with each attempt to close the rift. The battle was so great that even the trees around them started to burn with their excessive use of magic. Heat seemed to increase with each wave of unleashed mana.

As the battle ensued, Dorian's voice emerged from the fighting, "Does anyone have any idea where those three went?"

He sounded angry, yet his focus remained on the task at hand. Solas was slow to understand, but as he took one glance around the camp, he figured out what Dorian had meant.

"No! They all ran for their lives!" Varia shouted into the night, her hand spilling a river of green energy trained on the rift in front of them all. It crackled as it calmed for a short time, then more demons poured from it.

They were gone. She was gone.

It was the only thing on Solas' mind as he fought the demons, reigning spell after spell upon two more demons of pride that slowly stumbled around the battle site. Surviving this fight was no small feat. The intensity at which he swung his staff around left his back and shoulders sore hours after the fight had even ended. And still, there was no sight of them.

The air smelled of smoke. The trees were burning, as was the brush and flooring around them. They left in as much of as a hurry as they could, hopping on the backs of their horses with the intent of speeding off with as much of their supplies as they were able to carry. They were mere seconds from taking off when Solas heard the screams.

They were blood-curdling, shiver inducing screams that made the fine hair on the back of his neck stick straight up. He wasn't the only one that had heard them; the ever-selfless Iron Bull jumped straight up off his steed and into the forest. The flames were unforgiving, lapping at the beautiful greens and browns without a single regret. Their fates were reliant on Bull's return.

And soon they saw his large shape emerge from the clouds of thick smoke, two of the three refugees slung over either shoulder. But something about them was off. They both donned long, well-kept hair and Orlesian-made skirts. Varia voiced his concerns before Solas could even open his mouth.

"Where's the third one? The elven girl?"

"I didn't see her, boss."

One of the Orlesian women hanging over Bull's shoulder hacked to the point where she was out of breath before rasping out a few broken phrases.

"...told her to stay... ran into the forest... the fire... frightened..."

Varia was about to hop off of her horse before Solas stopped her with a firm hand.

"We need not chase her directly. The flames are too large and we would only kill ourselves trying to find her. If she ran, she would've ran north, away from the fire. We will take the long route around and find her then."

Varia nodded as Bull seated both refugees atop the steeds-- one on Dorian's and one on his own. They both made sure the women were secured to the animals before taking off ahead of Solas and Varia, leaving the latter to stare at the elf with doubt and blind hope.

"I sure hope you're right, Solas."

~~◇~~

She wondered how far she would get before she finally succumbed to them. It was as if her fears had endless relent, chasing her no matter how far away she ran from the remnants of her clan. The forest knew, it hated her, and she hated it. As much as she used to love it, no matter of depth in her heart could ever find a place for that love now. Green is her least favorite color. Bark is her least favorite texture. The rustling of leaves is her least favorite sound. Pine is her least favorite smell. Elfroot is her least favorite herb. She would rather die than spend another day in the dreaded forest.

The flames, once gentle and slow, were now rapidly approaching her frantically moving feet. She prayed to the Creators for another chance to live, to escape, for her first chance had been less than successful.

Branches were snapping from trees to her left and right, and there was even one occasion where Ashinne had to nimbly dodge a tree that threatened to crush her tiny form. It had snagged the bottom of her shirt on its way down, ripping a large portion of the cloth from her back. The skin there was now exposed to the elements along with a fresh, new gash, too. It stung, but the pain of such a wound was not what mattered most. It was surviving the aftermath.

This part of the world was as foreign to her as any other that hadn't been touched by the tough pads of her feet. Was she still running straight? Would there be water nearby? Had she already passed some? Which way was left, and which way was right? She couldn't be too sure anymore. The ashen winds were starting to cloud the peripherals of her vision, and soon, she was running through a foggy tunnel of smoke.

Her lungs were giving out, too. Without water, Ashinne would surely die right here in the middle of this horrid forest fire. But the strength she had to outlive her fears was weaker than her will to fall to them. This fight couldn't go on for too much longer, she realized.

Her palms found the bulk of a standing tree, and her chest heaved as she leaned against the bark for support. Her mind... her body... it was all giving up.

"Mamae... babae...ma halani." Ashinne called out into the smoke-filled nothingness.

She shouldn't have ran.

Those women were right.

They probably got saved while she lie here dying, breathless, helpless.

And what would her clan think of her in this moment? Pathetic. Selfish. Stubborn.

No, she wouldn't allow it. Suddenly, anger fueled her bones and her will, and she picked up the pace once again. It was harder this time, sprinting against the soot in her lungs. But once she found the clearing, she felt relief and cool air rush over her ash-stricken face. There were no trees or brush to burn here; it was open and free of nature.

"Revas... revas... revas," The elven maiden cried to herself, slumping to her knees in reverence. She would cherish nothing more than this moment here. Alone, all by her self, the wind chilling her burning cheeks and soothing the wound on her back. Sorrow had never known any feeling greater than this.

And when her saviors found her once again, her smile grew even wider.

Chapter Text

 

"She lost herself in the trees, among the ever-changing leaves. She wept beneath the wild sky as stars told stories of ancient times. The flowers grew towards her light, the river called her name at night. She could not live an ordinary life with the mysteries of the universe hidden in her eyes."

-Christy Ann Martine

~~◇~~

The rain washed away the soot staining the youth of her face. It washed away the fear-induced lines, the worry, the blood from her back, all while revealing the extent of Falon'Din's reach across her skin. No one had seen it so vividly until now.

When they stopped along the path to allow their horses to rest, she stepped away from the group with the sole intent of relishing the weather. She allowed herself to fall to her knees with her hands cupped in front of her to gather the water. She scrubbed her face, her arms, her legs, shook her hair about her face as if she were a savage mabari. She felt overly... joyous.

But she hadn't expected the tears to start falling so soon.

However, she let them fall freely. She didn't hold them back, nor did she hold back the loud sobs that tore through her chest and her throat. She knew she would have gawkers staring strangely at her seizing form in the distance, but she did not care. Ashinne would savor the taste of her freedom for as long as the Gods would allow. It was almost hard to believe that they let her have longer than a few minutes. They granted her an hour of peace, and another hour of companionship.

"Lethallen," The word fell smoothly from his lips as he sat beside her, his face wearing an expression of concern as he looked upon her tear-stricken face.

She did not look at Solas at first. She stared straight ahead without any specfic thought or intention of ignoring the elf seated beside her. She was simply trying to keep the peace alive. When Ashinne finally spoke, her words were suprisingly selfless.

"I hope I didn't cause you or the others too much worry."

Solas leaned back a bit, taking a longer-than-necessary glance at the slowly healing gash across her lower back. It was a nasty thing to look at.

"Not too much. That wound will surely leave a scar, however."

"It's not like I don't have others already, Solas." She bit back, curling her hands into fists of self-consciousness. She hid them in the nooks between her calves and her thighs, her knees pressing even tighter into her chest. The elven man chuckled at her behavior.

"You never told anyone how you got them."

"I don't have to."

"What if wished to know?"

"That's your problem, then."

Solas turned his head to stare ahead as she was, watching as drops of rain fell from the gaps in between leaves. He couldn't help sneaking a glance at her face every now and then, tracing the lines of her vallaslin with his eyes. In a way, the shapes and lines made her more beautiful, but their presence alone left a harsh scar upon his heart.

"I did something that I believed to be righteous, and in turn, it became a frightful tragedy."

Solas raised a brow as his eyes settled upon her face. It was turned just slightly in his direction, her emerald irises discreetly glancing at his own face as she waited for a response.

"That's being incredibly vague."

"Well," She moved her hands from their resting places as she pushed her thin, yet lean legs out in front of her and then pulled them back, crossing them gracefully. Her hands were left to rest in her lap, her eyes looking down at the scars that tainted her flesh. "It troubles me to talk about it."

They sat in silence while her nails picked at her adundance of scars, but it was soon interuppted as she turned to speak to him once more,

"There must be something that brings you great sorrow to think about, let alone speak of it."

Solas was sure she was prodding at him with her knowledge that she claimed not to have, but he didn't press her on the matter. He simply shook his head.

"I do, but I would not speak of it lest the others would hear." His voice shook with unnerve, yet he was not aware of it. Ashinne heard the shakiness in his tone, however.

"Surely you can whisper it to me," She offered. Again, Solas shook his head.

"No. I cannot."

Ashinne tore her gaze away from the elven man and instead trained it on the little wolf adorning the ring finger of her right hand. Solas watched her with great curiosity. The elven maiden weighed her options as she stared at the tiny inked image: one would lead the elven man beside her onto more than she previously claimed to be true, and the other was her side of the truth. She decided to let him choose.

"I could say one of two things to you right now, Solas. And no, I will not say both," She gave him a look that told him that neither of his options were easy choices. She never did mention that this would be easy. But the beauty of the emeralds in her eyes distracted him from such. He was drawn away when she pulled her gaze from him.

"Both are answers to questions you've asked. Both are truths. I would prefer not to speak about either but I feel as if I owe you something. You saved my life twice. I shouldn't have been given such chances," Ashinne shook her head as she spoke that last sentence.

"What are my options?" She could hear the hesitation in his voice as he asked.

"My guilt, or my... burden."

"Are both not the same?"

"No."

He watched as her face became sharper with her reply. Her jaw hardened, her eyes voided themselves of emotion, and her brow relaxed. Those emeralds had glazed over with an immovable mask of distance; she was trying to detach herself from something. Everything about her in this moment was inscrutable.

"Tell me of your burden, lethallen," He attempted to place ease within her body, but there was truly nothing he could do to achieve such a task at this given moment.

"I will not blame you if you wish to abandon me here in this forest after I tell you, Solas," She stared up at the sky, allowing the raindrops to fall upon her cheekbones. "I do not know why I am about to trust you with this information. Something tells me that I simply can."

Solas gives her a nod in reassurance, but his face is as blank and void as her own. She lets out a single breath before finally revealing herself this time.

"When I... look at someone, I can see... them. I see fears, pleasures, distastes, secrets," She shakes her head, and her next words are but a soft whisper as she speaks them. "You can only imagine what I saw when I looked you in the eyes for the first time."

Solas only blinks. His eyes stare at the ground straight ahead, a mixture of so many conflicting emotions swirling within them. He wasn't angry that she knew, no; he was angry at the fact that she lied to him the first time he asked her about her knowing of him. And at the same time, he wasn't angry. He was disturbed at the fact that an elven woman that he'd only met three days ago knew everything about him in a matter of seconds. He was shocked at the power of her ability. He was confused with his existing knowledge on the burden she carried, for there was none. He admired her bravery, for telling a creature she had known was one of the old Elvhen gods that she knew his secret couldn't have been an easy feat. If anything, he saw more beauty in her now than he had before.

But his lack of response killed the nerve in her soul. She stood promptly and darted off in embarrassment, her small elven feet leaving imprints in the mud as she left. He would have no problem searching for her later if it came to it.

He couldn't judge how much time had passed since he had first sat with her. He continued to sit there for hours after she had left to Maker-knows-where, processing every word his elven ears had heard during their conversation together. He came to the realization that he enjoyed talking with the elven maiden for the longer he sat alone, the more he yearned to hear her speak once again. He thought her unexplainable source of knowledge intriguing, as was her character. She was witty in a biting manner, yet was gentle and soft in other aspects of her conversations. He knew her to be timid, but bold; harsh-worded, but thoughtful; silent, but holding the most crucial of information. It hurt his old soul to be without her words for so long. This is what he had longed for, for years, upon years, upon years: a creature with a beautiful heart and a beautiful mind, who also caged a beautiful spirit.

Solas lie back with his body against the dirt, letting the rain fall freely against his face whilst his heart clenched with an affliction that could have only been brought on by his own faults.

~~◇~~

Two days, six hours, fifteen minutes, and nine seconds more, and the two had still not spoken. Of the two of them, Solas was the most surprised; he thought Ashinne to have ran by now, but she hadn't. She had stayed. She rode and walked with distance from him, however, and refused to make any kind of eye contact. She, for the most part, kept her gaze on the ground, but made exceptions during the nights. He would find her sitting up in trees during the late hours of the night staring at the sky without any notion or acknowledgment to his prescence. Skyhold was not much farther now, and he was starting to wonder how much longer this would really go on for.

On the other side of the spectrum, she was afraid. Afraid of him and his potential power.

He's the Dread Wolf.

If the stories are true, and Solas has as much power and will as the pages had claimed, who was to say whether or not his real intentions were purely good? He could cast her and her abilities away with the rest of the Elvhen, therefore ridding himself of the only person knowing of his true identity. But she stayed, regardless. Where else could she go? She couldn't run now, couldn't hide, not with a god watching her from over his shoulder at every given second. She was starting to grow tired of the hunt.

And when he called her name that night, she nearly fell from her tree. It took all of the strength in her palm and in her fingers to keep herself upright, and when she finally came to, she refused to look at the elven man standing behind and below her branch.

"I am not worthy of speaking to your likeness," Ashinne told him, shaking her black locks from her face.

She heard the crunching of gravel from below before her ears picked up the sound of his voice again.

"And what makes you think that?"

"I think you know," She bit the inside of her lip.

It was silent for several minutes before either of them spoke.

"Why didn't you run?" He asked her, leaning his body against the rough trunk of the tree.

Her ears twitched in confusion at his query.

"What do you mean?"

"You're being distant. Afraid. You usually run from battles rather than fight them. Why haven't you done so this time?"

"I have nowhere else to go. My clan is no longer the same as it once was," She fought to choke back tears.

"They... changed?"

"That's one way of putting it. Quite lightly, in fact."

"Ashinne, I cannot read minds like you can."

"I would doubt that a character like you needs power like mine, Dread Wolf."

"And I would think you would be more careful when you speak such precarious things. The others are not far."

"Yet they are asleep," She jumps from the branch and turns to face him, looking him in the eyes for the first time in days. Solas notices how the green hues that were her irises retained the light of the stars she was staring at mere moments ago as she looked at him. It was such a rare and unique thing...

"What do you see?" He asks, pulling his weight away from the tree.

She blinks, and turns her face away from his seconds later.

"The voices say 'revas,' a thousand times over. You are the only one who walks freely among our people."

"That is all?"

She turns to face him again.

"No, but it is what's most prominent. The whispers are selective. They also tell me that you think of me often," She smiles.

"That is-"

"I may be able to hide from you, Solas, but you cannot hide from me. The truth will be the downfall of the wolf, it seems."

Solas shook his head at her words, a short grin caressing the sharp edges of his features.

"It wouldn't be the first time, lethallan."

Chapter Text

 

"every night her thoughts weighed

heavily on her soul but every morning

she would get up to fight another day,

every night she survived."

-r.h. sin

~~◇~~

There was another two days between their departure and their arrival. The people rushed to greet their dear Inquisitor, most especially a blonde beast of a man donning several metal plates and furs of all sorts, but Ashinne simply wished to revel in the appearance of the place. No one paid a mind to her existence, save for a lanky, redheaded elven woman who had introduced herself as Lanai. She seemed the most appreciative of Ashinne's arrival to Skyhold.

At first, she adored the place. One of the elven women had offered to cut her uneven length of hair and dressed her in clean clothes unmarred by holes and burns. It was then that Ashinne had felt fresh, beautiful, and pure.

But it was only within a couple of hours before they had assigned the elven maiden to her quarters and put her to work in the stables. A mere stablehand-- that's all she was, all who she seemed be. She and the other elves, it seemed, were nothing more than dishrags to assist in cleaning up the place. A few were put in the kitchens, a few in the halls, a few in the tavern, a few in the towers... and Ashinne in the stables.

She didn't mind it at first. She was more grateful to be out of the forest and to be sleeping on a real mattress than anything, but as the days were spent, so was her patience and initial love for her job. She grew tired of smelling of horse manure and dirt and having to scrub her skin raw trying to be rid of the horrid scent every night. Her hair became dry and thin from excessively washing it, her body became thin from a lack of consistent meals, and her skin had started to flake off in certain areas. Small rashes broke out on her arms and legs, and the elfroot soap in the washroom did absolutely nothing to ease her of her pain despite its healing properties.

She slept each night after drowning her face in silent tears, and would find herself waking at the littlest of sounds. After a week of this unintentional torture, her body finally gave up, and she had fallen flat while collecting milk in the stables. The other elven women seemed at a loss as to how to help Ashinne, and knew even less as to why she acted this way.

Only Ashinne knew, however.

After a day of restful sleep, the elven maiden came to in the middle of the night and found herself wandering the tents supposedly holding the wounded or the sick. She looked upon them with pity before making her way toward the stables once again to carry out the duties she had shirked the previous day. Any ordinary person would have stayed in bed or would have pretended to act unwell... but not Ashinne. She was gold at heart.

She worked until daybreak, where she sat to take a short meal break before continuing on with the rest of her duties.

Milk the cows... collect the eggs... deliver a report on the sale of mares in our stable to Lady Josephine... she read, the scrunching of her forehead onset by her current headache.

She knew the delivery to be a short task, as she was told by Lanai, and proceeded to grab the document from Horsemaster Dennet before heading toward the long set of stairs climbing toward the main hall's gaping mouth of an entrance.

The golden chandeliers, the long mahogany tables decorated with candles and luscious, red cloth, the beautiful drapery, the grand statues of Andraste, and the great height of the ceiling above her; to say that the view captured Ashinne's breath would be an understatement. It completely stole the air from her lungs, leaving her mouth to gape open like a fish left without water. To the others murmuring amongst themselves within the great hall, the elven maiden looked absolutely foolish, but Ashinne felt beautiful just standing in the glimmering rays of golden lights.

Never had she seen any one place holding so much glamour, enchantment, or romance such as this, save for the night sky and its billions of stars.

Once brought out of her trance, her eyes met those of a Fereldan noble's, and she quickly ducked her head out of undue respect and sped into the nearest room to hide her growing embarrassment. She kept the report clutched tightly in one shaking hand, the other pushing the wooden door open as if it were as light as a feather. The sound of the oaken slab slamming against the wall behind it startled whoever was within the room, for a delicately thin paint brush covered in yellow paint had clattered to the ground from afar. It rolled to her feet with a beckoning, daring the elven woman to pick it up with her, equally as delicate, fingers. The instance she did so, however, it was gracefully plucked from her grasp. Her eyes trailed the hand that stole her prize and met with a smiling pair of icy blue hues.

"Ashinne," Solas greeted, tilting his head forward ever-so-slightly in courtesy. Ashinne's brows raised in surprise, for she hadn't seen the man in weeks. He didn't give her a chance to reply; he started walking toward his small desk in the center of the cylindrical room, but she couldn't help but follow his footsteps.

"Are you faring well? I have not seen you since we arrived," He inquired, placing the thin paintbrush atop the wooden surface of the table.

Ashinne glanced amongst the walls, taking in the fact that nearly every inch of white space was beautifully painted with vast amounts of color and intricacy. She suddenly understood the importance of using such a thin and tiny tool to craft with. She stared for so long that she had forgotten what he had asked. She met his eyes once more and found them waiting-- searching.

"I did not mean to intrude, I was simply looking for..." She skimmed over the paper in her hand. "Lady Josephine?"

He nodded his chin in understanding, leaning his weight against the table behind him, "Surely she can wait another hour more? She has already waited many, from what I've  heard."

Ashinne's face flowered with heat, and she shook her head with vigor. Tiny pieces of dark hair sprouted from the braids Lanai had done for her.

"It was an accident. And there was no way you could have heard about that?" Her voice squeaked in shock.

"We elves hear many things, servant or not. And I'm hardly positive that overworking yourself counts as a mere accident."

"I do not overwork. I am simply given too much work to handle. Did the other elven girls mention that I work in the stables by myself? I am presented with no choice but to work 'til dusk so that the day's work gets finished." Ashinne huffed, the report floating to the ground as her hands flailed wildly while she spoke. Solas kept his demeanor calm, watching as the elf before him spoke out her frustrations. His eyes never seemed to leave her hands, which were now not only covered in burn scars, but in rashes, too.

He decided not to press her on the matter directly, but instead took one lithe arm in his hand and sat her in the large chair adjacent to the center table. Her big, green eyes looked to him in question, but they relaxed once she saw the calming blue light from his hands upon her arms. The coolness of his magic was relieving against her flaming, hot  skin, and she couldn't help but stare at his hands as he worked against the wounds tainting her very flesh.

"My body has a tendency to heal very slowly," She started, glancing up at his eyes for a second before returning to his hands. "The day the Inquisition scouts found me in the Graves, they told me that months of time had passed. In that, I realized that I had slept the entire time without healing of any sort. My body was still charred and searing. The memories I retained were still so fresh in my mind."

Solas' magic had retracted for moment as he whipped his head up to look at the elven maiden.

"Months?" He seemed as if he were in disbelief.

"It sounded just as wild to me when I first heard it. Sometimes I wonder if it was just an illusion, or if they were attempting to ruse me. The only reason I know it's true is because the embers had cooled by then."

"What embers?" He raised a brow, his eyes squinting in an attempt to understand Ashinne's sudden ramblings.

Her body hunched over just slightly as she sighed, her eyes suddenly devoid of all emotion except for a gleam of despair in the very recesses of her emerald green irises. She shook her braids once more, single wisps of waves falling in front of her face.

"I still do not think I am ready to reveal that story to you, Solas. It is a gravely personal matter that I do not wish to share," She stood promptly from his chair and dusted her hands on the apron of her dress. "Ir abelas. I did not mean to disturb you."

And with that, she gathered the report from the floor and scurried toward the door from whence she came; But, not before a cool hand took grasp of her wrist and spun her around to face its body. She could not deny that the body taking ahold of her wrist was indeed attractive, with its eyes being its most handsome feature.

"Come and speak to me after you have finished your duties around the stables. There is much I would like to discuss with you," Solas told her, the hint of a smile caressing the sharp lines of his face. Ashinne could only help but nod, returning him an even bigger smile.

She slipped from him then, disappearing behind the oaken door without a single word more.

Chapter Text

 

"People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar."

-Thich Nhat Hanh

~~◇~~

Her body refused to lay bare to his request. It had given up another night more in a forlorn corner of the stables, her fingers and eyes twitching with the grace of sleep. Ashinne saw nothing beyond her eyes this time though. It was, startlingly, pitch black save a few hushed whispers of elven nature in her ears.

The hand to graze her arm was slim and calloused, yet the mind its of its beholder was cautious of waking the poor maiden. To interrupt her sleeping would be rude and leave her tiresome in the later hours, but to wake her would mean her beautiful eyes would open and he would get answers from her.

"Ashinne," Solas beckoned, touching his fingers to the delicate skin of her arm. Her eyes snapped open in an instant, the emerald greens a dull lustre in the pale light of the moon. Her right hand flew to Solas' arm in fear, not expecting his presence so suddenly. He looked to the tiny wolf marking upon one of the five fingers gripping onto his forearm.

Once her eyes distinguished the form of his face, her look of shock molded into a mask of relief; the bags underneath her eyes were heavy with the weight of sleep. To say he didn't feel the slightest bit guilty for waking her would be a lie. But it certainly would not have been the first lack of truth to slip from his tongue. Oh, the lies he's told... and has regretted telling.

Ashinne caught herself staring at his sharp-featured face for far too long. Her mind felt disconnected from the rest of her body, leaving her squinting at the male elf before her. Where was she again?

"Am I dreaming?" She whispered. "Is this the Fade?"

Solas couldn't help but chuckle at her misinterpretation. She felt the tingle of the stars and the kiss of the Veil on her skin, he was certain. Such a delightful feeling it was, to feel so touched by those creations of both gods and man alike. To have the luck and power of being both was... indescribable.

"No, you are not dreaming. You fell asleep in the stables, again." He explained as he lifted her to her feet and steadied her with his hand. Despite her wobbling, she eventually found the strength to hold herself upright.

She rose her hand to her forehead and rubbed at the lines there. How could she have forgotten her inability to dream? The one thing that set her apart from other elves and other humans around her? A fool, she was. But she could not ignore the strange tingling that caressed the thin hairs upon her skin. It was not the first time she had felt it, and it was one of the few phenomena she did not have answers to.

"Solas," She started, leaning against the old wood of the stable wall as she gently ran her right hand along her left arm. Once again, Solas' eyes targeted the wolf. "What is this feeling?" She looked up at him then.

"If you're asking about that tickling feeling amongst your skin, it's the Veil. It's weak points fluctuate like the tides, and only those who are deeply connected to the Fade can feel when it's thin," He stopped to think for but a moment. "Most mages report having this feeling. But not dwarves, for obvious reasons. But..."

It never added up. No matter the theory, the science, the study, the calculation... it never added up.

Her.

She stumbled upon the Inquisition in mere accident. Turns out she's some sort of mystery to everyone, including Solas himself, and no one can figure out who she is or where she came from. He couldn't understand it. Whenever he thought he understood, it would quickly get debunked because of something else she says or does. And now she feels the Veil despite not having dreams? She's a mage, yet she's not connected; Like a screw fallen from a contraption-- it still functions properly, yet something's just a tad bit amiss.

"But?" She questioned, cocking an eyebrow at him.

"It would take me far too long to explain... not to mention that I don't even know how I would go about explaining my thoughts to you."

"This is why you wished to speak to me, yes? To get answers from me. Your intentions had not eluded me, Solas," Ashinne was fiery in her return, despite being tired and so suddenly pulled from her sleep.

"May we leave to speak in a place more... secluded?" He motioned to the floor above their heads, where there then came a loud snoring sound from the man asleep upstairs. Ashinne replied with a single nod as she turned to walk out of the stables, leaving the horses to their whinnies and the chickens to their coos.

The sky was undoubtedly beautiful, as was Ashinne. The way the stars and the moonlight illuminated the pale color of her skin would've had Solas believe that she were a goddess were he not himself. It lit up her features perfectly, all the way down to the belt buckles that flashed his eyes every time she took a step. Even her hair-- although it was tousled and marred with specks of hay-- reflected the sheen of the moon.

He just wished he could understand her nature and her spirit, from where she came, and why she is the way she is. Solas thought about it deeply as they walked toward a commonly forgotten corner of the courtyard. He could not think of her that way, especially since she truly knows him. He could not do such a terrible thing to such a beautiful soul.

But he couldn't help but just admire her ever so slightly. She sat herself upon a flat boulder within the corner and neatly tucked her knees to her left to prevent him from accidentally peering past her knees. She then shook her newly untied hair from their braids, ridding herself of the hay and giving her hair a most interesting, but lovely, texture. It had rolled into waves as opposed to the typical straight with a slight curl. The hay scattered to both of their ankles in the wind, but Ashinne paid no mind to it. Instead, her eyes were fixed upon Solas' face once again, staring at him with curiosity and wonder.

"What's on your mind?" She asked him, wiping her hands clean on her apron. "Far too much, I suppose?" She added with a slight chuckle.

"Undoubtedly," He replied simply.

They stayed like that for an awkward amount of time, the wind brushing past their faces with a whisper. Ashinne, as usual, found herself busy picking at the grime built up underneath her fingernails, and Solas leaned himself up against the lone wall to his left. He watched the stars, hoping for a sign of an answer; he begged the questions he wanted to ask, but could not yet find the will to do.

"Why don't you close it?" She piped up suddenly, and he looked to her to find that her eyes were fixed upon him. His eyes darted back toward the sky to find the very thing she was referencing, but it was too far and too shadowed by the moon.

"I cannot," Solas stated with a shake of his head. "I do not have the power to do so."

"But you are the Wolf, yes?"

"You are not wrong, Ashinne. But such power to do incredible things is not always readily available," He then looked to the grand staircase leading up to the main hall, his eyes lit with somber.

"...I see."

"That reason also accounts for why the Inquisitor has not taken direct action against Corypheus. To accomplish it now would be impossible."

She nodded once, then took to staring at him for a few seconds. Her mind danced with elven words unknown to her as she looked into his eyes; the beauty of them was unmatched by crystal glaciers and freshwater springs. She shook her head in frustration.

"I wish I knew what they were saying. They talk so much about you, but I cannot know what they speak of. The phrases have been lost to time."

"They speak in ancient elven?"

"Only when I gaze at you, or at some other elves. It's a very complicated manner."

"But yet you were able to figure out who I really was?"

She looked to the sky to admire its beauty momentarily before looking to him again.

"It was broken phrases, but they would whisper, 'Fen, fen, fen... Fen'Harel ver na.'"

Her explanation nearly frightened Solas. But it wasn't just her words that startled him-- it was the power of her mind. His greatest fear may have been that of dying alone, but second place was to be awarded to that of not understanding the manner of things unknown, for he knew many, many things. He could barely conclude the fact that her mind was more powerful than himself alone. He couldn't understand her power's origin, nor could he wrap his head around the fact that he had never heard of such a phenomena. It completely gnawed at the cells in his brain.

"It's both a blessing and a curse," Ashinne continued, her eyes fixing themselves upon the perfect point of his left ear. "No one in my clan could help me. They thought it was a sickness, as did I for a time. I didn't tell anyone that my opinion had changed. I believed it to be the work of a spirit, but somewhere in the back of my mind I know that such a thing isn't true, either."

Solas simply shook his head in response and shifted his weight onto his other leg.

"Not a spirit. No, you and Cole are very different in that respect."

Ashinne pursed her lips at the thought of the pale-haired boy and his ability to read the thoughts and emotions of those around him much like she can. He, though, is connected to the Fade. He told her of this fact one fortnight ago upon the battlements; she was afraid of him sitting too close to the edge, to which he replied that he would be okay if he were to fall and that the Fade would just swallow him up again. She had been wary of the spirit boy ever since, yet very cautious of his actions.

"Cole tells me strange things," She told Solas, who in turn lifted the corners of his lips to form a gentle smile.

"He tells us all strange things, but he is just greatly misunderstood."

Ashinne shook her head.

"No, I am aware of the cause of his ramblings. But he tells me things that he says leave him feeling... very troubled and confused."

Solas met her eyes and cocked a single brow in her direction, "Such as?"

There was a long pause between them before she said anything.

"He keeps telling me that he doesn't know me and can't know me because his mind won't allow him. He calls me a 'shadow in the Fade,' and the 'beauty of Elvhen.' He tells me that my eyes are gorgeous, but then tells me that they should be gouged with hot iron rods. He says that the nobleman who sells handbags during the evenings would like that very much."

Solas held his hand out to stop her from saying anything further, but not before her eyes had become glassed over with hot tears. They were wiped away nearly as fast as they came, but the sight of the ordeal had not escaped Solas' vision. He took a step toward the unstable maiden.

"You need not gouge out your own eyes, Ashinne."

"I am aware, Solas. I am not foolish enough to carry through with the advice of a single nobleman."

"You are certainly bolder than most," He blinked at her in surprise.

"You would not be the first to say such a thing... poor Tamet," She recalls the elven watchman that would consistently allow her to sneak away during the darker hours to watch the stars.

The memory... she remembers the very sound the arrow had made as it struck the back of his head. The noise haunted her dreams every night, a variable she was forced to endure for committing a crime most unwise. It was a constant reminder of her failure in protecting her clan... how she'd let them down. She would never be able to tell them how sorry she was for letting such a naïvety tear down her guard.

"Ashinne?" Solas' gentle voice interrupted her thoughts, causing her to realize that her eyes had overflowed with tears once again.

Her eyes flickered to his face in panic as she hastily wiped the water from her cheeks.

"I'm sorry. I am not myself at the moment," She apologized within the instant. She didn't understand why she was telling Fen'Harel these things, of all people. How was she so sure that she could trust his figure... his motive? She should not be trusting a god who should be dead with this information.

"I don't think anyone would after having witnessed what you have. From what you've told me, you seem very distraught about it," He finally gave up standing and sat on the grass before her feet. It was an odd occasion to her, to meet eyes with a god who was currently seated at a lower position than herself.

But his words didn't stop the tears from coming back as they had tore down the Veil within her mind, wreaking havoc on the vessel that was her body.

"I cannot help but be," She gripped the flesh of her face, tangling her fingers within her freshly fallen locks as she cried desperately to the male elf. She no longer cared if he cared. "I destroyed the elders of my blood in embers that sparked by my hand! My love was struck down by a hail of arrows trying to warn me of the danger, and I was the only one that managed to escape. I made a grave mistake, Solas. I would hope that you, out of anyone here, would understand my pain."

It took him a grand measure of time to respond. He didn't know how to feel, or what to say, other than to feel and say sorry. He had never witnessed a war tear someone apart so viciously; the sight left him nearly stunned. The very vision before him reminded him of himself after he awoke from his ages-long slumber. He remembered tearing himself apart both inside and out; the beauty of an empire he was given the opportunity to rule had been reduced to a significantly lesser form of what it once was. Many elves lost the touch of mana and had taken to separating into two factions, both utterly distasteful and disagreeable. He saw nothing beautiful about the "new" world he had created. Not even the women, who now seemed to wear nothing but tattered rags for dresses and single pieces of cloth for shoes. Baths were the least luxurious thing to be handed to him since the days of Elvhenan. His materialistic desires were tough to give up, but they had mostly dwindled by the time he joined Cassandra and her Inquisition.

Her words ultimately struck a blow he could not dodge. The sound of her muffled cries and sight of her tear-stained skirt pulled at the strings within his heart. He could not disagree with what she had said, but what could he do? He was hardly a god any longer. That life had been forcibly thrown toward the past, and now, he could not do anything except watch as her sorrows held her underneath the water. He had done the very same thing after realizing all he had done. Now, she simply mirrored him.

"Suledin, Ashinne. The end is not near," He said soothingly, placing a hand upon one of her knees.

"I have not been able to mourn their deaths," She whimpered. "I am not sure if they would even want me to, even in death. Elvar'nas din'an..."

Her tears only halted momentarily once Solas stood. She rose just as abruptly in order to stop him from leaving. Her hand flew from her side, grasping onto the space just above his elbow.

"Ashinne, you must understand that with grief comes much needed space," He explained, his cool eyes staring straight into hers. She shook her head briskly in disagreement.

"I do not want space, Solas. I've had too much space all my life. Please, accompany me to the base of the mountain tomorrow morning. You do not have to mourn them with me. I just... want someone there."

Solas couldn't resist the warm look in her otherwise glassy eyes. If he didn't know any better, he would have believed her to be inviting him into her very soul.

He hoped a nod would suffice, and spun them so that her back faced the direction of the maids' quarters.

"You must rest, then. I will go with you whenever you are ready."

With that, he gave her a gentle nudge toward the quarters. She smiled in response, and Solas could've sworn he felt the ice coating his heart begin to thaw.

Chapter Text

 

"The Devil asked me how I knew my way around the walls of Hell. I told him I did not need a map for the darkness I know so well."

-t.m.t

~~◇~~

"Tel'ithast tarsul Fen'Harel, da'len. Is elana odhea geal," Her mother scorned her, scooping the small elven child up into her lithe, yet strong arms.

"But mamae," Ashinne whined, yanking at her mother's braid. It would have been far too complex for her mother to explain to her who, if not what, the Dread Wolf was to a child as small and naïve as herself. She knew that now.

"Be patient, da'len. You will learn soon."

But she did not want to wait. Ashinne, even in childhood, had the utmost curiosity about anything and everything that surrounded her. How did trees grow? Why did  Saerean  love his wife so much? Why can't the clan just get water from the spring? Her mind always swam with so many questions. It was hard to keep track of them all.

"I can't wait mamae," She whined once again, pleading to her parent with her eyes.

Ashinne's mother sat her down in the gravel nearby to the  aravels , and proceeded to sit cross-legged in front of her.

"There are things in this world more deadly than the wolves in the forest, da'len. We must stay far away from them."

The child pursed her lips into a pout in an attempt to try and understand what her mother had meant.

"But babae said the wolf is supposed to protect us."

"He is, da'len. But it is not for good reasons."

Ashinne tilted her head to the side. Such an innocent child, she was.

"He tricked our gods. Falon'Din, Dirthamen, Elgar'nan, Mythal, June,  Andruil , Sylaise,  Ghilan'nain ... all were locked away forever. The wolf is meant to drive the bad spirits away. Be wary, love, and never look him in the eyes."

"But the wolf is just a statue, mamae."

Ashinne thought her mother could not have looked more beautiful than in the moment that followed. She threw her head back and laughed such a heartwarming laugh, her long braid flung over her shoulder, her youthful face stained with delight.

"You are right, love."

~~◇~~

The next day, Ashinne didn't wake until an hour before noon. Once she realized that the sunlight pouring in through the curtains was much too little, she jumped from her bedsheets and ran outside as fast as her legs would carry her. Dark clouds loomed above Skyhold-- a sure sign of an oncoming rainstorm.

Nurses were ushering their patients inside tents, merchants were either packing up or covering the roofs of their stalls with waterproof tarps, and several soldiers on ground level were desperately trying to find cover without straying too far from their posts. Ashinne, however, was running right out into the open courtyard wearing nothing but her maid's uniform and a thin cloak. She embraced the arrival of the first few droplets that fell from the brooding sky, spinning so that the bottom of her long skirt fluttered from her legs in a circular pattern.

She did not care how silly she may have looked, or about how many pairs of eyes were trained upon the elven maid in the middle of the courtyard spinning so fast that they feared she would vomit.

But when she finally stopped, she felt fine. She ran up the steps leading toward Skyhold's gaping mouth of an entrance with perfect grace, even skipping steps every other step or two. But she didn't stop once she reached the top, no. She was boundless, dashing toward the door of the rotunda with an abundance of excitement. Her hair struggled to keep up with the speed of her own body.

"Solas!" She exclaimed as she burst through the door, causing the elven mage within to fumble with his book in surprise.

"Will there ever be a time where you come into the rotunda without startling me?" He asked the bumbling maiden, who now seemed slightly weary as she steadily strided toward him.

She laughed out loud at the memory of their last encounter within this space, her black hair shaken by the movements of her chest and her strenuous run from the maids' quarters to here. The way she threw her head back, the way her hair fell just short of her shoulders, the way her face lit up like the night sky when she smiled... he could not deny that the amount of adoration he held for her was vast.

"Ir abelas, Solas. I've not had any intention of startling you," She explained to him, a soft smile still adorning the edges of her lips.

Solas noted the page held in place by his thumb and closed the novel with a light hand, fully turning his attention toward the elven woman standing on the opposite side of his desk. She was beaming at him, a look he had not yet seen worn upon her face. It suited her, he thought. He also noticed the splotches of dampened cloth dotting her clothes.

"It's been raining, hasn't it?" He asked her, and the growth of her smile gave away her answer.

"Yes. I know it's not the most ideal weather for traveling, but I was hoping you'd still join me."

"You seem to enjoy the rain, so I do not mind," He told her as he stood from his seat and joined her at her side.

Her beauty was otherworldly, despite the agony he experienced upon seeing her undoubtedly intricate vallaslin. The way the darkened clouds still cast a shine upon her gorgeous emerald eyes, the way her dark hair gave little resistance to the breeze, the way her whole expression positively changed once they stepped outside, the grace with which she walked... Solas had not lain his eyes on someone so marvelous since the days of Elvhenan. A walking, living, breathing myth. Who was she really? He could not see through her like he could others, nor could the Fade tell him.

In fact, the Fade had changed drastically since he'd met Ashinne. It's environment had completely changed, and it was nothing but a barren expanse of land that stretched farther than the eye could see. It was almost as if she had tainted it with her very presence, much like how the blight would corrupt and kill a lone flower in a meadow. The mere concept shook his soul.

There was nothing more he desired than to know her. Her description nearly fit that of Mythal's enansal, but he could not know for certain. He couldn't know because the Fade was mostly unavailable to him. Whatever was holding Ashinne's connection hostage apparently didn't want anyone else finding out about her.

And maybe that was the key he needed.

It would hurt him, but would he need to press away from her for a time. He had to travel far enough to be outside of her range. He simply hoped that her "tainting" was not permanent.

~~◇~~

The rain poured buckets upon them the more committed they became in their journey. Ashinne seemed the least bit unfazed by it, and while Solas did mind it just slightly, the sight of the elven maiden thoroughly enjoying herself was enough to keep his ticking sanity at bay.

There was not a moment where her smile seemed to dwindle. Her face remained uplifted despite all of her hair sticking to her cheeks, her clothes cold and skin-tight, the weather cold and foggy. She was a beacon of light in the eye of a storm.

But there were also instances where Ashinne snuck careful glances at her elven friend striding beside her. She would peek at his nose, his jaw, his eyes, get a taste of what he was thinking about. The Dread Wolf always had a lot on his mind, she gathered. His thoughts had a sorrowful flavor, and she didn't enjoy having them invade her mind as much as she thought she would've liked. Of all the people she's ever read, reading his thoughts felt like more of an invasion of a very personal matter. For all that Solas had done in his past, he very much had a distasteful outlook upon it.

The thoughts he had of her did not escape her, however.

"You look as if you have a lot on your mind, Solas," She said, trying to lighten the silence between them with some small talk.

"I always do," He replied, giving her a shadow of a smile as she met his eyes.

"But you look as if something in particular is bothering you."

Her smile started to fade into a concerning frown, her eyes falling along with the apples of her cheeks. Solas suddenly understood why she was asking him rather than simply looking through him. Ashinne had already made the mistake once.

"It's nothing to be too concerned about."

What he had wanted to say was that he was clueless in regards to her nature and that her relation to the Fade was absolutely impossible, yet kept him wanting to learn about it. The infamy he gained for being a liar, however, left him with habits he could never find the will to give up. The act of deceiving was engraved into his brain like a mother's scolding would to her child... unless that child consistently ignored his mother's warnings and continued to do things perceived as unacceptable by the village.

And while Ashinne ultimately had doubts about Solas' words, she decided not to press him further about the matter. It was clearly something he did not want to discuss with her.

"The tension of spirits is strong here. We must be close," She told him, feeling the tickling feeling of spirits running their curious fingers along her arms and face. This piqued Solas' interest.

"You can tell there are spirits here, too?" He asked her, walking just a step faster in order to catch up to her.

"Yes. There are lots of them. Sometimes I think you forget that I am a mage, just as you are," Ashinne laughed at him. "My mind is not my only ability."

"You are a mage, yes. But your connection to the Fade is severed."

"I don't think my connection is completely non-existent. It's been much worse in my earlier years. I think whatever is holding me back has gotten more lenient over the years. Maybe it feels bad."

"It?"

"I don't know what it is, really. I would imagine it's something physical, like a spirit or a person."

"You are awfully optimistic."

"What other choice do I have?" She stopped walking, and turned to face him with an expression of despair plastered across her face. "To bask in the fact of what I cannot do? I can't dream, although to see the Fade just once is my biggest desire. I can only hope that whatever curse that's holding me down is lifted."

She turned away from him then, but directed one last comment over her shoulder. "We must stop arguing. Mamae hated it when I argued."

The shrine sitting at the base of the mountain was decorated beautifully, it was a surprise to see that no one had stolen any of the gems adorning the headstone as well as defiled it in any way. There were many offerings placed upon the altar-- some were directed toward Andraste and the Maker, some were simple notes written in Qunlat, Elven, or Tevene, and some were decadent treats, jewelry, or gold given in offering to whichever god the giver believed in. Some of the notes that Ashinne happened to glance over caused an ache to grow within in her heart.

"I hope the trip up the mountain does not kill us. My husband is very sick. Andraste, please guide us."

"I am on my last few rations. I pray that Skyhold is not much farther. The pilgrimage was long and brutal."

"My wife died during the trip. Maker, what do I do? Is a new life without her better than none at all?"

"The fire burned our house and everything we ever owned. Our clan is dead. Creators, let this new life be greater than our last. Inquisition, save us."

Ashinne froze upon reading the note written in Elven, and delicately picked it up with a shaking hand. She dropped to her knees while reading the words over, and over, and over again, hoping they would morph into new words or that the paper would simply disintegrate out of her hand. She did not fail to notice the dried tear stains that had already ruined spots of the paper.

"Ir abelas, ir abelas, ir abelas... ar myathem ghilan'him banal'vhen, i mala tel'nuvenan enansal. Ir abelas..." She cried as the paper remained clutched tightly in her iron-like grip.

"Ashinne," Solas called to her, trying to wake her tormented soul from the void.

"They live, Solas. There are some that survived."

She redirected her focus back toward the shrine and placed the note exactly where it once was. She sat in silence for many moments, reveling in the deaths of those that did not survive the fires. She had missed Solas' move to kneel next to her, his eyes reading over some of the notes that had been placed on the altars. His face contorted just slightly as he skimmed over the few from Dalish hands.

"Creators, guide me. Guide us home."

The elves still looked to the gods in repentance... but how much more repent could he possibly experience before breaking down again? He knew it didn't take much to set him off. But he could certainly hide his pain.

"Tamet, ar uth tel'dirtha, 'ar lath ma.' Ma uth tel'dirtha, 'ar lath ma.' Ar tel'itha min garalAr'am nedan el lath, ir abelas. Ar lath ma."

Solas' breath stopped as she finished speaking to the elven boy she called "Tamet." To live several years in the same clan together, and not tell each other how much they loved each other? He could not imagine the grief she experienced after...

Then it struck him. He still didn't know. He knew from his readings that there were fires but... what did she have to do with it? Why did she give herself all of the blame?

"Mamae, babae..." Ashinne's words halted in her throat as they struggled to surface, the tightness in her throat preventing sound to come out clear and solid. "Nuvenan ar emem sulrahn on'el dirtha mah ea din 'ir abelas.' Ar ema lasa ma dur. Ema ahn nuvenaan i em."

"Ashinne," Solas warned the elven maiden, causing her to snap her tear-stricken face toward him. The whites of her eyes were so distraught that her irises were nearly glowing-- like emeralds in the sands of the Wastes.

Ashinne stood with haste and tore the Dalish note from the shrine, shoving it in his face as her eyes narrowed in frustration pent up from so many days living as the last remains-- or so she thought-- of her clan.

"Look at what I've done! You bear the eyes of a god. Any mortal would see the wrong I've done."

Then she fell before him, her hands and knees clattering roughly against the dirt. Her hands tangled themselves through her hair, her fingers resting at the back of her head. She left her elbows to be scraped up by the ground below her.

"Fen'Harel, ver em."

Upon seeing her kneeling before him and hearing her utter those very words, his anger rose tremendously. He shook his head and grabbed both of her arms, pulling her from the ground in one swift motion.

"You will not call me by that name, nor will you treat me as a god. I don't know what wrongdoing you've committed, but from what you say, it cannot be any more justifiable than my own."

She withered in his arms, tucking her head to her chest so that he did not have to see her cry for another time.

"The elves that wrote the letter are likely taking refuge at Skyhold," She mumbled. "They will kill me. I cannot meet their eyes, Solas."

Solas stared down at the maiden in his arms, wondering if her gaze would ever lift to meet his again.

"They will not kill you under my protection, you have my word."

And then there they were, the emeralds of the sands. Beautiful and mystical, even when hidden behind a watery cage. They swam within the tundra for only a second before darting off to the side, focusing themselves upon a fold of rock along the concave walls.

She was avoiding him again.

"I... don't want to look at you, for fear of reading you. You have a plethora of secrets that I don't feel right just blindly peering into."

Solas let her from his hold, and she stepped away back toward the shrine. She gazed down upon it with an empty look in her eyes, and she placed the Dalish note back where it first lie.

When she turned her head back toward the elven man, her eyes met with his for longer than he was expecting.

"I believe the inevitable awaits me."

Chapter Text

 

"Forgive me hands, 

for I have held, 

everything but myself."

-Janne Robinson

~~◇~~

Daybreak was among them. Ashinne held anxiety within her veins, and the men that followed her walked only a few short steps behind her. To run would mean her death, but to stay would mean complete annihilation. Genocide, even-- to use that word would be the harshest of terms.

She would remain a sole survivor...and she knew this perfectly well.

"We are here." She muttered silently.

Only her foolish mistakes could lead her to this point of hopeless abandon... destruction, obliteration, demolition, eradication-- she could see every one of their souls laid bare upon the long horizon.

Only a fool would do such a senseless thing.

"Halt,  lethallen ," She told the hunters watching upon the entrance of their camp. "They bring no harm, only to bring negotiation to our clan."

Her lie was well-weaved through her teeth, not a single vowel faltering in fear. Years of telling dramatic stories had strengthened her tongue.

And the first step she took past the hunters would be the first she regretted. And so would the second, and the third, and the fourth...

There was no going back from here.

Her eyes met with Tamet's as she grazed by his shoulder, his muscles tense from holding his bow tight. He was not as confident as she was... and he had every right not to be.

She bit her tongue as her eyes flicked forward once more, aware of the sins she had committed and would live to apologize for. She knew that once she introduced the men as merchants to the Keeper, she would have committed them all. It was plain murder, and it was wrong.

But what was murder without a side serving of pride? The very thing to drive her here? Pride: it's what Ashinne feasted upon, and it's what she convinced herself would save her from this mess she was two steps from creating.

And then they met the Keeper.

"Tomorrow night. Be out of sight, or we will not hesitate to kill you," One of the men had whispered to her once they were out of earshot, his accent thick and bothersome in her ear.

She had no choice but to wince, goosebumps running up and down her body.

The next day, it was her turn to be deceived. They promised they would only capture the Keeper and the Hahren. They promised they would leave silently, and without a trace. They promised that her friends nor her lover would not come to harm. But it was not the slavers that had deceived her, no. It was her eyes.

She had not foreseen their lies nor their plans to set fire, rape, kill, torture, and capture the elves of her clan. Her eyes, which she had before seen as a boon from the gods, ruptured a massive link in her chain of pride and let sorrow begin flooding the gates.

When she had heard Tamet's pained screams, that's when she knew that everything had gone awry. It took only one look at the arrow lodged within his head for the panic to start setting in, and she started running.

"Be out of sight," That's what she told herself-- over, and over, and over again.

The fires had not completely dwindled her pride, not yet. But the screams of the hahren, that is what did.

Harellan.

Harellan.

Harellan.

The phrase stuck to her soul like a fly sticks to fresh sap. If she would have just told them to kill her or take her while they had her... if she never would have struck a deal... if she never would have ran away...

Damn the traitor, damn the liar.

Damn the pacifist.

~~◇~~

Ashinne's mental retelling of her story was horrendous. Mentally, she had broke down in sobs, hyperventilated, and forgot big chunks of details that she had forced herself to forget. Grief was a terrible, terrible thing. But she had to keep moving forward, despite her apparent agony.

She made sure to walk a step ahead of Solas so that he couldn't see her face, for her face was heavily strained with marks of despair. Her mind was at battle with itself-- she desperately wanted to tell someone about what she had done, tell Solas about what she had done, but her nerves could not keep at bay.

Solas, on the other hand, was growing increasingly worried about the elven maiden. She refused to look at him anymore and insisted that he stay behind her. He could not help but follow through with her request with hesitation. Something strong was brewing inside of her-- he could tell by the way she walked, the way her shoulders and back were tensed, the way her fingers curled around the end of her sleeve because he knew it to be a nervous habit of hers.

Something was undoubtedly wrong.

He especially knew this by the time they had reached Skyhold, for she had barely mumbled a "goodbye" to him before darting toward the maid's quarters. He reached for her as she ran off, but she was far too quick.

The next time he would see her would be in a way he never imagined.

~~◇~~

Ashinne entered the maid's quarters with her breath heavy in her chest, and barely had enough time to dodge the hand that swiped at her. However, she did not need to see their face to know who it was. She had been expecting them since she read the note planted at the shrine.

"Ar tu na'din, harellan!" She screamed at Ashinne, plunging a swift hand to grasp at the maiden's thin hair.

Ashinne was out of sight before she could land the blow, however. She had flickered away, blending into the surroundings like a chameleon. The moment Ashinne snuck away, she was able to confirm the face of the suspect. An elven woman with deep set brown eyes, olive skin that had been kissed by the sun, and hair the same color as her own. She bore the mark of Sylaise over her left eye, its color a lovely shade of burgundy.

Gela, was her name.

She was Keeper Sorwen's First, and was the most powerful mage in the clan. There was no doubt that she wouldn't make it out alive, and here she was in all of her strength and glory. But now Ashinne's misconduct has reduced her to nothing but a shell: pure strength and knowledge without anywhere to place it.

Ashinne could not stand to fight her alone, yet they were the only two within the quarters.

"I didn't do it out of hate for our clan," Ashinne spoke, her back pressed against the headboard of one of the beds. Her hand remained clutched to her side, where one single dagger lie locked into the notch of her belt.

"I know that very well, Ashinne. Your prideful skin would not let you be killed or captured by a handful of slavers. So much for being a martyr."

"Being a martyr was never in my nature."

One blast of energy against the top of the headboard sent Ashinne's body flying forward into the wall ahead of her, her invisibility spell breaking as she hit the stone.

"Being a martyr would have kept everyone alive," Gela spat, locking her fingers tight around Ashinne's throat.

"I did not know they would kill everyone!" Ashinne rasped, desperately trying to pry the woman's hand from her neck.

"You knew enough."

Gela drew her fingers tighter around the maiden's throat, and Ashinne's breath became stuck in her lungs. Was this her reward? Would her life end so soon? What would the others think upon finding her body here... alone, cold, and drained of life?

It was too bad her spirit would never get to experience the answers, because the door to the maid's quarters had slammed open before her lungs could run out of breath.

"What is going on down here?" Cullen's voice boomed through the small room, his very temper reverberating off of the old, stone walls.

The moment Gela leaped from Ashinne's body, a large intake of pure air filled her near-empty lungs. Gela dodged Cullen's blade each time he swung, and Ashinne took the distraction as the perfect moment to flicker out of sight once again. Within a matter of seconds, the dagger upon her belt was attached to her hand; and, with that hand, she slew the Keeper's First. She drew the invisible blade across her neck-- across her jugular-- and dropped the weapon onto her lifeless body after she had fallen.

"Maker's breath!" Cullen gasped upon seeing the bloody blade drop out of thin air, and then stepped back once Ashinne emerged from the spell. Her hands were covered in blood, and her neck was covered in bruises far too dark to conceal.

"Why is it always the servant's quarters? The Winter Palace was bad enough..." The ex-templar grumbled as he averted his eyes from both the corpse and the tainted elven woman before him.

"There is another. I do not know where he is, but he will certainly cause mischief if the matter is not dealt with," Ashinne told the commander, hoping to appear confident in the golden eyes of the lion. His eyes met her hands, and then her own eyes, almost as if he was trying to find a justifiable reason to trust her.

"How do you know?"

Ashinne's eyes narrowed as she trained them upon Gela's corpse.

"We were all part of the same clan, once. He is an elf that goes by the name of Feyralan, and he was our strongest hunter. May I also mention that he was a spy, if that is to make you any more concerned?" Ashinne bit with annoyance, her eyes angrily begging him to believe her.

"Are you implying that he could be hiding within our ranks?"

He was starting to see the danger of a foreign elf-- one with great skill, at that-- wielding Inquisition bows and daggers while wearing the armor of an Inquisition scout.

"I would not rule the possibility out."

With that, she stepped over the body of her former friend and pressed past the commander, her hand grasping the handle of the door to the courtyard. Before she could open it, however, one of the commander's large hands grasped her lithe arm and tugged on it just slightly.

"It's not my jurisdiction to completely offer this, but you clearly have skill beyond your duties as a maid. Have you ever considered working for our Spymaster?" Cullen told her, his eyes boring straight into her own. In the moment, she could not help but truly see him.

He was teetering on the edge of something, almost like a putrid addiction or another. Lyrium. It swam through his mind like pure water. But behind all of his crazed, rabid thoughts was the thought of another individual. Varia. The Lady Inquisitor. A woman she still thanked for getting her out of the mess she caused in the Graves. But once Ashinne saw into his desires involving the woman from Ostwick, she wished to see no further... and to unsee.

Ashinne laughed off Cullen's offer, his misbelief amusing her. "I am no rogue. I am a mage that has little skill with actual weapons."

Then, it was his turn to laugh. "That's not what I've been hearing. The Lady Inquisitor herself told me that she saw you strike down demons with only a bow and a few arrows. That was before, uh... you threatened the Orlesian refugees, so I heard. Your temper was so heated that Solas had to momentarily put you to rest."

Ashinne's ears erupted with flame, as well as her cheeks. Was that what had truly happened that night? She could not remember...

"I guess it was...? I apologize for my outwardly behavior, both then and... now, I suppose," Her eyes met his once again. "I have been refusing the urge to run from my problems, as of recent. I am sorry if my behavior has caused anyone any issues."

Cullen shook his head at the elven maiden with a soft smile. "It has been no issue, I can assure you."

He ushered Ashinne out of the door and signaled one of the nearby nurses to deal with the body that lie just inside of the maid's quarters. He was certainly a lot taller now that he was actually standing next to her.

"Do let me know if you decide to take up the offer. I will make a note to tell the Spymaster about it."

As he finished speaking, he left her for the comfort of his own office, away from the stench and drama emerging from the maid's quarters. Ashinne had completely forgotten about what had just gone down minutes prior until she gazed down upon her own hands.

And when she looked up again, she was no longer in Skyhold's courtyard. She was in a small, dark room with only a single mirror ahead of her, and she never thought she looked more strange than she did in that moment. Even as a child, she could never see what others told her was beautiful about her.

Her eyes were far too large for her liking, as well as her lips and her jaw. Her chin was too small, her nose too wide, her eyelashes too short, and her eyebrows too unkempt. She especially hated how short she had to cut her hair because of how much of it had burned away in the fires she started. Now, her neck was terribly bruised, hands caked in blood, and she hated her vallaslin. Not one thing about her looked beautiful. She looked as if she were a child. A naïve, foolish, mistake-prone child. She was no longer her mother's da'len; she was a savage elf who had murdered nearly every person in her clan. And although she could not see it in the mirror, she knew that her pride was stretched far too wide.

She knew her mother was disappointed in her, even if she was not around any more to actually tell her so. Both her mother and father had been gone for far longer than Ashinne could even remember. She was aware of how they died, but could never remember how long ago. She forced herself to forget that memory, too.

What allowed her to remember how were her tattoos. She had undergone her vallaslin ceremony the day following their deaths, and had gotten the little wolf engraved upon her finger in homage to the god she was most fascinated by, but was never allowed to worship. Each additional second she spent standing next to Solas, the greater her desire to rid herself of the wolf grew.

But her parents' deaths were a complete mystery to her until after the ceremony. Not one elf in the camp was aware of their disappearance until Ashinne came back from the family tent full-fledged with tears, lost and confused as to where her parents had gone. The hunters had found them and a few other elves from their clan deep in the forest, their bodies overwhelmed and mauled to death by rabid, white wolves. Their bows had been ruthlessly chewed on, and their quivers were empty.

Ashinne would not realize the significance of the god upon her face until that very moment, and how the wolf upon her finger would then signify a double meaning. Never in her life had she felt so weak, and the only way she thought she could fix it was to just run away from it all. She cut off connections with everyone, including Tamet. That's when their relationship truly started to fall, as well as her relationship with everyone else in her clan.

She didn't know how bad her actions would affect her pride, however.

Her pride became her primary source of sustenance, and suddenly everything she did, she did to boost her pride. No one took to caring for her after their deaths, so she took to caring for herself. It was a wonder that she never became an abomination within that time period.

So when she foolishly made the mistake of being captured by Tevinter slavers, she couldn't let herself go. She was her own parent. She struck a deal, allowing them access to the Keeper and the hahren in return for her escape.

What she had done was truly dreadful.

She couldn't even come to the realization that she was standing in the rotunda until she heard the sharp scooting sound of Solas' chair sliding against the floor. She must have looked like a walking horror coming here, walking through the halls of Skyhold with bloody hands and hideously discolored skin. She just barely felt his hand gently push her hair from her neck, for her neck was too numb and bruised to feel anything. She was sure he was speaking to her, asking her questions in that smooth, gentle voice of his... but no sound was coming from his lips. They were moving without purpose. It only left her staring up at his sharply-featured face with the most confused-looking expression Solas had ever seen on anyone.

Ashinne didn't know what was happening anymore. All she saw was his face, his gorgeously blue eyes, his perfectly pointed ears, his lips...

All it took was her sudden, frantic panic and his hands upon her face for her to realize that was she was feeling the very same thing for Solas that she had felt for Tamet years before. Except now, she felt it deeper... somehow it was stronger.

She thought she felt his name rumble from her lips, but still, she could not hear it. When she saw the icy blues of his eyes start to swim with worry, she knew her feelings to be certain.

Ashinne was in love with Solas.

Ashinne was in love with Fen'Harel.

Chapter Text

 

"she found 

the colors  to paint him

where the world

had left him gray."

-Atticus

~~◇~~

"Ashinne, you can't run from me forever."

No, she could... but she stopped because it was him. It was the first time she had stopped for anyone in months. Her feet had kept her moving constantly, dodging people's sympathies with a swiftness that could be matched to a hare. She didn't want pity from anyone. But she had been avoiding him, and her heart finally had enough of her running.

It had ordered her feet to stop.

She couldn't help but flinch when Tamet laid his hand upon her shoulder, like touch was some kind of foreign, taboo sensation. She had refused anyone's prying hand for what seemed like weeks.

"Please, talk to me."

His words put a strain upon her heart. She could just barely feel the maestro gliding the bow across her heartstrings, playing one, single high note for much longer than she liked. She didn't want to look him in the eyes, for she knew if she did, the maestro would play a tune that would rupture the very fibers holding her fragile heart together.

"Why won't you look at me?" She felt his hand traveling softly across her shoulder, toward her jaw, along her jawline until his cold fingers rested upon her other cheek. They gently pushed against her cheekbone, urging her head to turn toward his patient, softly-featured face.

And although she gave into his touches, she deeply regretted doing so. When she looked into his face, she saw a man troubled by heartbreak, the lines around his eyes and on his forehead growing deeper and deeper with each passing day. His youthful appearance was becoming tainted-- all due to her and her inability to speak to him.

She loved Tamet, but there was just something that didn't connect. She could feel it, like a puzzle piece with all of the right notches in all of the right places, except the two things were not exactly the same shape. Their love was a fruitless existence.

She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing would come out. Her throat would not allow her. Why couldn't she think of anything to say?

"Tamet..."

His name was all she could muster before her mouth became engulfed by his. She didn't disapprove of his actions, but she couldn't help but feel nothing by them. The feeling of his lips upon her own just didn't feel the same as it did before. Tamet pulled away once he realized that she was not returning the favor.

"Dirth em, Ashinne," He coaxed her in that soft, gentle voice she loved so much whilst tucking a stray weave of hair behind her ear. "Ahn ea del?"

All she could do was watch him. Watch his face. He looked so different in comparison to the last time she saw him, but she was certain it was still the same boy she loved. He had the same wide jaw, round nose, high cheekbones, and beautiful blue, almond-shaped eyes. The light freckles spanning the bridge of his nose and  under eyes was just an added bonus. It hurt that her heart refused to see him the same way.

"I cannot, Tamet," She finally managed to croak out, her eyes threatening to brim with tears. "Because I don't know what's wrong."

He took both of her tiny hands in his once he saw her eyes begin to waver, and just the act alone was enough to cause her tears to fall. He kissed each one away as it fell down her cheek, but each touch of his lips resulted in more tears. Not even Falon'Din's branches could catch the rapidly falling water of her pain. Nothing could.

Nothing would.

~~◇~~

Her mind could hardly focus on the words on the page in front of her, leaving her eyes skimming over lines of text that weren't even registering in her brain. Solas had insisted that she read to help get her mind off of whatever it was that was bothering her; he had even offered her some of his favorite works. The lot of them were dusty old things, the newest books he had given her were probably about three decades old. Ashinne hadn't recalled reading any of them before, even though some of them were written in the Elvhen language.

This was likely the only time in her life where reading greatly uninterested her.

She was stuck between mediums: reflecting on her old talks with Tamet, and peeking glances at the tall elf painting details onto his murals ahead of her. She would often find that looking at Solas reminded her of her previous lover.

Solas was different from Tamet in every single way imaginable, yet something about him was drawing her to him directly. Even the shape of his face was increasingly distinct from the elven boys she'd loved before. Solas adorned a much slimmer and sharper jaw, not to mention that his cheekbones were substantially pronounced, and his eyes were narrow and stern. He had a very angular look about him that stood apart from her love for Tamet's much softer, wider, rounder features.

And there was something about the sharp angles and pronounced ridges that she found very attractive.

"Enjoying the read?"

She blinked, not having realized that he had turned to mix more paint onto his palette and caught sight of her mindlessly staring at him. Despite her initial embarrassment, she found a way to turn it around upon herself.

"I can't focus," Ashinne told him, inwardly smirking at herself. Solas wasn't the only thing drawing her focus away from the book in front of her, but convincing herself that he was drew her attention away from more pressing matters.

Such as the origin of the bruises on her neck...

Solas hadn't asked her about them the previous day. He simply allowed her to rest on his sofa and brought her tea to help calm her racing nerves. She had accidentally fallen asleep there, yet still found herself in the rotunda when she awoke. Her neck was even more swollen and dark than it was before, and she was thankful to have been left a steaming hot cup of tea and a pile of books on the side table for when she finally did wake. He had greeted her as he entered to paint and suggested a few of the books, and they hadn't spoke since then.

"Would you find it more interesting to watch me paint?"

Ashinne didn't even need to give him an answer before he motioned her to come to him, her bare feet padding against the stone floor as she walked toward the ladder of his makeshift painting structure. The height truly gave her a new perspective of the grand mural before her. It depicted a very tall, womanly figure in a blue dress standing ahead of four elegant windows, one of which had a dark figure holding a knife standing within the frame. Ashinne couldn't help but gaze in complete astonishment at what Solas had painted.

"You painted this," She said to him as more of a statement rather than a question. Everything about his artistic style amazed her, even down to the clean lines with which created the form of every mural. When she turned to look at him, she noticed that the paint he had used to fill in the woman's dress had splattered onto his face, and she laughed at his misfortune. It was unusual sight-- to see an elf of such a cold nature appearing so vulnerable. She reached up to wipe away the paint after he had looked at her with confusion.

Her touch lightened both his soul and his heart, and he so desperately fought the urge to lean into her hand as it glided across his forehead, and then his cheekbone, and then just above his jaw. The burn scars that marred the skin of her hand didn't bother him in the slightest. His heart grew heavy once she pulled away from him, instead moving to tarnish her hosiery with the blue paint she had just wiped from his face.

Solas was starting to wonder how long he would last before losing all control of himself, unleashing himself to her in the feral ways only he knew how to express. He knew that he would have to change for the sake of her gentle soul. He would have to act as the wolf in sheep's clothing... not that hasn't been already, hiding his true self in spite of Trevelyan and her rapidly growing Inquisition.

She carefully sat near the edge of the tall, wooden platform, watching as Solas finished painting the woman's dress with a steady hand. His focus was truly indomitable. It would not allow his eyes to sway, not toward his paint-covered hands nor toward the dwindling amount of blue pigment on his palette. And somehow, his focus turned his jaw even sharper, and his eyes even cooler.

They were another thing she liked about him. Both Tamet's and Solas' eyes were nearly the same shade of blue, but only Solas' held that unique richness that tended to draw in the chill from her bones. Only looking into his eyes could give her that frostbitten feeling.

Contrarily, looking into her eyes gave him fire. Something within him burned alive when he looked into the emeralds that the gods had given her for eyes. It was almost too much to ask for, to gaze upon a creature created so perfectly in his eyes. Her beauty was otherworldly, and it was even more so when she was standing next to him.

He often found her in his thoughts, unable to let her go even when she had gone away for the night. If only there was a way to make her stay by his side forever, he would be plagued with happiness.

But there was a way. He just wasn't sure if she'd reciprocate the feeling. The gesture.

He felt the urge to commit to it as he turned to look at her, her face gleaming with joy as she looked up at him. Her cheekbones were high and pronounced, lit with the light of her beautiful smile. If he could just brush the color pink onto her cheeks, and relish in her smile with his lips... he would... he wanted to...

But cerulean would have to do. He could not suppress the pressure in his heart any longer. He crouched to her level and grabbed her smiling face with his painted hands, watching the spark of shock fill her eyes as he pulled her head towards his own.

Ashinne didn't know what to think at first. She thought that something unruly had suddenly come over him, and that she was about to tumble head first down the wooden structure and onto the ground below her. She had been terrified, a hot wave of fear coursing through her veins. But she found herself utterly shocked when it was not her body falling from the structure-- it was Solas' palette and jars of powdered pigments along with the one canister of paint-mixing medium.

None of the mess below them mattered, however. All that mattered was each other; lips upon lips, skin touching skin, Ashinne's frizzy waves of hair sticking to the paint that was now on both of their faces.

She never wanted it to end. She never wanted him to part from her, never wanted to stop breathing in his scent, never wanted his hands to leave her face for she feared that if he left, she would never be able to drink him in again.

But her other fear was that this love, or whatever it was that drew her to Solas, was just mere infatuation. The same thing that happened with Tamet would happen all over again, tearing her heart apart from the inside out. Nor did she want to break him like she had Tamet. And it was much too early to love anyone again. Had Tamet's death only been a few months ago? Had she not just mourned him yesterday?

And now was she really here, kissing the Dread Wolf?

Yes it was, yes she had, and yes she was. And that was what compelled her to draw away first.

Both had looked at each other with concerned faces, like both had some afflicting thought running through their minds while they expressed their initial love for each other. But both of their faces showed concern for different reasons.

Ashinne's had been in concern for him, for the reason that she didn't want her problems with love to dwell on him later. Solas' had been in concern for her, for the reason that his "heritage" would certainly rupture them later if precautions were not taken. But they couldn't help but feel a connection tying each other together.

Ashinne could feel fate tugging her heart toward the man in front of her, but she could also feel doubt tugging at her head, pulling her down the ladder as she avoided making eye contact with him. She knew that he was looking at her with a knowing gaze, for she could feel it burning through the back of her head like dragonfire. She tried to rub the blue paint away raw, running from the safety of the rotunda and out into the troubling confines that was the rest of Skyhold. Lanai caught her at the bottom of the stairs, and Ashinne had never been happier to see a familiar face. With all of the issues that had been brought up as of recent, Ashinne barely had time to see Lanai. It had been almost two weeks since they last met face-to-face.

"Ashinne, da'len. What has gotten into you?" Lanai set down her basket of supplies to comfort the distraught elven maiden that had broken into sobs at the bottom of the steps.

Lanai wet her thumb with her tongue and tried to wipe the paint from Ashinne's face much like her mother would have done when she was younger and had scraped her cheek or got mud on her skin. Lanai was much rougher and less patient with the stubborn nature of the paint, however, wiping so viciously that Ashinne's skin had started to turn red under the vigorous pressure. She had to swat Lanai's hand away, and stepped in the direction of the washrooms to imply that she would take care of the rest of the mess herself. When she stepped, Lanai took notice of the bruises wrapped around her neck like snakes.

"Where did you get such nasty bruises? Did some noble have his way with you, da'len?" Ashinne shook her head at Lanai's inquiry, ducking her head as the woman reached for her face once again. Lanai studied Ashinne's face closely, the older elven woman's eyes wrinkling around the edges as they narrowed.

"No, Lanai. Nothing of such a manner occurred."

"But your lips are so red and raw! You cannot have me believe that nothing happened! Whichever dirty shem had his way with you--"

"It was no shem, Lanai! Nor was it some foolish nobleman!" Ashinne began to grow heated and flustered, and now began to desperately wish for the privacy of the washrooms.

"So there was someone?" Lanai questioned, her voice a much lower volume than it had been before.

"There was nothing. We will speak later, if we are able."

Ashinne stormed toward the washrooms as she finished speaking with her older elven companion, ignoring the frustrated calls and complaints thrown at her back. Once she was within the humid confines of a washroom stall, all seemed considerably peaceful. There were no loud voices here, nor did any escape in from the outside. The only sounds here were those of sloshing bathtub water and showering mists.

She stripped herself bare, leaving her uniform and smallclothes on a tiny wooden table next to the wooden tub of fresh, hot bathwater. She spent a good amount of time allowing her skin to soak up the hot water, her hand not reaching for the soaps until her fingers and toes were already wrinkly.

But she didn't bother scrubbing her face until last. She didn't want to wash away the lingering feeling of Solas' hands gently resting upon her cheeks or the soft caress of his lips upon her own. It was a strange phenomena, wanting to relish something brought out of love. She had never felt this way about Tamet, not this strongly. It had never bothered her to wash away the feeling of his hands upon her skin. It wasn't that she was disgusted by it; in fact, she enjoyed the feeling as much as she had just then with Solas. It was the infatuation, the outside love. She loved the idea of him, of having him be her lover for all eternity. She couldn't recall a time where she ever felt so strongly about him in which she dreaded washing him away.

She feared the same thing would happen between her and Solas, and just the very thought made her worry for him. Solas didn't deserve a love like that, not after all he's been through. He was as much a man as every other man born into this world, deserving of a love that would sweep him off of his feet, Fen'Harel or not.

Ashinne didn't know if she could be the one to give him that after all she had done, especially to Tamet. She didn't want her foolish mistakes and her pride getting in the way of her heart, but she didn't know if she could stop it from doing so.

She would not allow herself to bare her ugly heart to him, despite what he may already know.

But if she finds that her heart is what he so desires, she won't know if she can give it to him. At least, not in its current state. Would a god of Solas' tastes really desire the impure heart of a lowly elven girl? She wouldn't know because she hardly knows him. She knows as much as she's seen, and she hasn't read his thoughts or desires since the first day in the forest. She doesn't even know what he thinks of her. He could be deceiving her, as a god of trickery would likely do.

But she doesn't know and can't know because she refuses to. But she wants to.

It's all a matter of her heart.

Chapter Text

 

"She wears strength 

and darkness equally well.

The girl has always been

half Goddess, half Hell."

-Nikita Gill

~~◇~~

Inquisitor Trevelyan was insistent on heading out toward the Emerald Graves just two days after Solas' endeavor with Ashinne. The preparation left him with no time to speak to her, let alone even see her. He was able to catch glimpses of her busy form from time to time, carrying bundles of animal feed and pulling wagons of supplies for the Horsemaster to and from the stables. Each time he saw her, more and more hay had collected on her stockings and in her hair.

He had wanted to talk to her about what happened between them. Not just about why she ran, but about everything. He knew that there were walls between them on both ends, but he wasn't aware of the reasons she had hers up for. He would speak to her in the Fade about it, if he could.

But that's what made him even more eager to travel with Trevelyan. If he could leave Ashinne's range for even just a few days, it would allow him access to the spirits in the Fade without issue.

Maybe then, he would get answers. He would just have to hope that they had the answers he desired.

~~◇~~

After taking note of Solas' leave, Ashinne decided to confront the Spymaster about becoming a scout for the Inquisition. She needed to find Feyralan before he caught sight of her, for if he did, he would start rallying the remaining Inquisition against her with the power of his strong coercion. She didn't need a force of scouts searching for an elven woman of her description to then be later tried for a crime she likely didn't commit. That's the way Feyralan tended to manage things back when he was a spy. He stuck to one agenda: find the perpetrator, spread rumors, allow the perpetrator to get caught and killed in his own web.

Maybe it suited him, too, to wear the vallaslin of Elgar'nan-- the All-Father, the leader of his pantheon, the God of Vengeance and the Sun. He was much bolder than some who dared to display the blood writing of the All-Father upon their faces.

Because of such, he would not be hard to find. Half his face should be shadowed in black ink, his red hair standing out from the dark marks upon his face. He was also tall and lanky for an elf, normally standing a good seven or eight inches more above the top Ashinne's head. She was sure that if he and Solas were to stand side by side, they would be the same height. In Ashinne's eyes, however, Feyralan was much more intimidating at that height. She knew that his raw strength was not something to be underestimated.

As much as she believed she would hate it, she thoroughly enjoyed the way the scouting uniform looked on her. She knew it would do well in hiding her true shape from Feyralan, especially the hood. She could only do so much with magic in order to change her true, physical appearance, and the fit of a bulky armor with a hood and partial face mask did wonders in altering it without the use of mana. The mask hid the majority of her vallaslin, minus the markings on her chin and neck, and the only distinguishable feature that remained was her eyes. She hid them with an overlay of brown via a spell, one that she was told not even the Keeper knew.

She gave herself one last look-over in the mirror before turning her back to it, her breathing shallow as her nerves started firing through her like electricity. She did not know if she could convince another member of the Inquisition that her doings were righteous. She knew that the Commander was soft-hearted at the core, easily swayed by words. The Spymaster, however, was callous and bitter, her eyes shooting sharp daggers at anyone who walks onto her floor of the rotunda. Whether she does it intentionally or not, no one knows. Something in her past must have really set the woman into place.

She knew the Spymaster to not be someone of mercy unless harm to a member of the Inquisitor's inner circle was being done. Ashinne would be shown no bounds if she were to be caught in the act, and she had to choose both her words and actions carefully this night. Not one soul needs to hear, nor see.

~~◇~~

The first objective she decided to tackle was to scour the barracks. Her eyes scanned over countless faces and bodies of men and women, scouts and soldiers alike, but none of whom she actually knew. Feyralan was on duty, which came as a relief because not many would be around when Ashinne eventually confronts the man, but there was still a threat. Each soldier and scout outside patrols his own individual route, one of which would come into contact with Feyralan's at some given point.

His corpse would be discovered within the night, without a doubt.

She prayed that he would be upon the battlements so that she could stalk him out from the towers, lying in wait while cloaked from his view. And after about half an hour of searching for him upon them, she saw him. He was lurking around the northeastern battlements, nearby the tavern and the infirmary. It was an unfortunate place to be, with so many refugees located so closely to the tavern, not to mention several of Trevelyan's companions. The Seeker of Truth, the Qunari mercenary and his crew, the sharpshooting Red Jenny, the Dwarven scout, and that strange, ghostly-looking boy.

This was truly the most dangerous place to be, aside from being inside of the complex itself. There were so many eyes, and with so little time...

"I know you're there, harellan," His voice emerged from his body, and while he still continued to stare out into the open mountain valley, Ashinne knew that he was speaking to her. She knew only one group of people that would know to call her by that name.

She didn't respond.

"I only know know one elf with a face like yours," He turned his head to glare at her from her spot upon the tavern roof. "And she doesn't have brown eyes."

He held so much anguish inside of himself-- for himself, for Gela, for his family that had burned in the fire. Gela was all he had left, and she selfishly took her from him.

"How much more must be corrupted by your hand before all I know of this world is gone?" He threw his hands into the air wildly, making his angry stride toward Ashinne from the other side of the battlements. He could not reach her unless he made the agile jump from the battlements onto the roof, however. It would be a daring move, considering the amount of space between the top of the wall and the ground.

"You!" Feyralan screamed at her, pointing an accusatory finger while leaning as far over the wall as he could. "You murdered all I had left, so that you could continue poisoning the world we live in with your very existence!"

With a huff of agony from his nose, he turned from the maiden sitting atop the roof, clutching his sullen face with his hands as he tilted his head toward the sky. The shadowed part of his face was revealed to her, yet she could still make out the brief glint of tears streaming down his face against the black ink. Sorrow pulled at the weak strings of Ashinne's heart, the pride she held for her murderous plan suddenly diminishing as if it were never a thought in her mind. Pride and sorrow-- it seemed to flicker within her soul like a light whose switch had broken with age. It seemed that all of her years wallowing in sorrow, however, had broken the switch with a quickness that she was not expecting.

How could she dare kill him now after he had exposed to her his complete and utter woe for all he had lost in such a short span of time? She couldn't do it. She...

"Please, Ashinne," He stared her dead in the face, his eyes hollow with an emptiness she hadn't seen in anyone but herself. "Let the Creators have me. End my life. A world in which everyone around me has perished except the betrayer is not one I wish to exist in."

Ashinne held his gaze for an eternity, not speaking a single word to the desperate man. She saw the spark of hope in him, the one that wished her to end his suffering so that he would reunite with his love in the Fade. She also saw his desire to see Gela's smiling face once again, one that Ashinne herself had after her own mother had died.

If her sorrow were not so explicitly present, she would have been jealous of Feyralan and his ability to enter the Fade and meet with his presently deceased lover. That would have been her pride, and she would have denied him his wish to die.

But this was her sorrow, and her sorrow tended to guide her hands with a much greater passion than her pride had ever been known to. Ashinne ducked her head as she stood, refusing to look the grief-stricken elf in the face any longer.

"You are sure that this is what you want, Feyralan?" She asked him, her eyes still connected to the rooftop tiles beneath her feet.

He replied almost instantly.

"I could wish for nothing greater."

Her sorrow lead her hands and feet to the man, his head strung low from the misery that had taken over his body. She had never been so distraught to take another's life, not since the first time she drug a blade across someone's neck. This feeling unnerved her, and nothing could prepare for her for what was to come next.

"Ir abelas. I hope you find happiness in the Fade."

As she drew her blade across his throat, he managed to gurgle out out more haunted phrase of anguish, one that struck Ashinne's soul with the pain of regret.

"Ma serannas."

His body grew limp underneath her fingertips, and she dropped the blade used to take his life the immediate moment his body completely slipped out from between her arms. She had forgotten to run in that moment. She was wholly overtaken by the immense amount of sorrow that Feyralan had transferred over to her already weakened heart. She held her bloodied hands in white fists of misery, her mind detaching itself from reality the longer she stood there.

"Falon'Din enasal enaste," She added with a shaky voice. "Ir abelas."

The second the last consonant slipped from her tongue, she heard the shuffle of curious footsteps, and she instantly knew that they belonged to no Inquisition scout nor soldier. They were too uneven and slow to belong to someone of that status.

"He's..." The soft voice began, his footsteps drawing closer to where Ashinne stood. She didn't turn to face him, despite her growing urge to threaten him to step back. "He's dead."

There was a vast moment of silence, aside from the unsettling sound of Ashinne's sniffles and hushed whimpers, before the voice spoke again.

"Mind racing, skin sweating... no, my head hurts too much to think. It wasn't supposed to happen this way, this is wrong... everything is the wrong color. My hands are red, not pink like they're supposed to be. What will S--"

"That's enough," Ashinne snapped, whipping her head around to face the humanoid spirit. "You will not tell Trevelyan about what happened, nor will you tell anyone that I did this."

She fully spun in order to face his form, and stared into the cold expanse of his large, off-putting eyes.

"I trust you know exactly who not to tell," She added, turning away from him and setting off toward the comfort of the washrooms just as she had mere days ago. However, she didn't leave entirely before putting in her last words. "I will be gone in the days to come. If Trevelyan arrives after I have left, tell her that I left foolishly and that you found my body marred on the path to Redcliffe. If anyone else asks individually, tell them similarly."

He opened his mouth to object, but Ashinne had already made off before Cole could even find the words to tell her. There was no helping a soul so badly torn such as hers. He found it painful, watching the small elven woman storm off in a muddy puddle of grief she had so mindlessly caused simply by acting, and now by existing. She was back to square one, back to that shameful morning spent in the Graves after having singed alive in the fires caused by her own accord. She should have let herself perish that day along with all of the others that had been so wrongly consumed by flames.

But instead, she escaped with her limbs intact, her skin lit aflame, and only a third of the length of her hair. She was alive, but at the cost of everyone else.

And at the cost of her joy.

~~◇~~

Ashinne found, after several attempts at trying to fall asleep, that she couldn't settle herself in her own bed. It didn't feel right sleeping in a bed that had been slept in countless times before, just for it to be passed down to Ashinne after its previous owner had fallen in battle. That plus the murmurs of other scouts whispering about a murder within Skyhold, gave the elven woman cause to wander the courtyard. She didn't know where she wanted to go, she just wanted to be free of the clustered barracks. She wanted her old bed in the maid's quarters, the one that smelled of fresh linen and crystal grace rather than musky cotton and old sweat.

Her feet had lead her right outside the rotunda door, where she stood for several minutes before yet another familiar voice resonated from beside her.

"How are you holding up, Lucky?" Varric asked her as he usually did on her way to the rotunda. Of course he would still be up, pestering his relentless energy into those who walked past the fireside nook where he often resided.

She turned toward the perky dwarf slowly, her head thudding with the pain of an awful headache. The use of her given nickname made the pulses come down even harder, causing her forehead and lips to collect into a cringe. The name came about her after the dwarf had caught her dodging very narrow situations several times. He had watched her catch herself whilst stumbling with an overfilled basket of lyrium potions, barely scrape by a noblewoman with a full tray of wines and ales, and of course, there was the matter of her wounds. He spun some make-believe tale about how she had gotten them, and not wanting to tell him the truth, she simply told him that she was lucky to be alive. He had laughed a laugh so great that it left a rumble in her own chest, and he has been calling her "Lucky" ever since.

In reality, such a name could not have been farther from the truth. She certainly didn't feel what the name was implying.

"I feel exhausted, Varric. I cannot sleep in the barracks no matter how hard I try," Ashinne told him honestly, her eyelids growing heavier and heavier by the second.

"I've got friends that tell me the same exact thing. Say, what's it like down there?" He chuckled.

"Dreadful. The sheets smell of rotten cupboards and sweat."

"Yeah, that smell will keep you up for damn sure. I've spent my fair share of time in tavern beds. I know what that's like," Varric grimaced, his eyes suddenly drifting toward her hand that was still on the knob of the rotunda door. "Missing Chuckles, are we?"

"Chuckles?" She was unfamiliar with the nickname he had presented to her.

"You know, baldy?"

It clicked in her head, then.

"Oh, Creators, you mean Solas," She sighed in understanding. "I was just heading to pick up a few of the books I left here the other day."

"Skirt around it all you want, Lucky. I know that something's going on between the two of you," Varric made motions with his hands as he spoke.

"Nothing is happening between Solas and I, we're just--"

"Lovers in disguise with the goal of taking over the world with the power of your connection? I've heard that one a million times, plus one."

Ashinne shook her head at his antics, and pulled open the door. "I'll see you tomorrow, Varric."

"I'll be watching for the signs, Lucky. You won't have me fooled just yet!" He called out to her jokingly as she walked through the doorway, the sound of her softly-treading feet bouncing off of the circular walls.

It was eerily quiet in the rotunda. She felt that it was too empty without his presence here, even if all he did was flip through books and paint the walls. His being added life to the room, whether it was with the presence of his spirit or through the art on the walls. No matter the perspective, it just didn't feel right to be here without the extra existence.

She found the stack of books still standing steadily upon the sofa where she last lie, and she could just barely make out the faint outline of her form dully skimming over pages of old text while her eyes remained focused on the painter's silhouette in front of and above her. The memory sustained until she noticed something out of place in the corner of her observant eye.

It was a book, small and leather-bound, held together by a flimsy string that was clearly overstretched with use. It's brown edges were somewhat faded, the leather starting to peel away around the corners. Some of its pages were even warped and wrinkled, signifying that someone had put water to the pages.

No, not someone.

This was Solas' journal.

Ashinne delicately unwrapped the string from around the leather book, being extra cautious as to not disturb whatever contents were possibly lying within his journal.

The first page she flipped to was filled with an abundance of scribbled drawings, none of which were too complex or detailed. A simple butterfly, a vine of elfroot, a waterfall near a tree, nothing really of note. The next page was covered with watercolor paintings that were somewhat more detailed than the ones that preceded them. There was the elfroot again, except now it was fully rendered in color. There was also a crow, likely one that had escaped its cage upstairs and flew down to his desk, and his own stack of old books that was currently sitting on his table.

It took Ashinne quite a bit of skimming through drawings and paintings before she got to the actual writing. There were several passages, all of which were scrawled in a legible, yet slightly sloppy style of handwriting.

She didn't completely understand what the first page of writing was talking about. It sounded as if he were ranting about something he did wrong, yet he never explicitly stated what it was that had bothered him. The second page talked about his encounter with Cassandra, and how she threatened to have him executed if he didn't "fix" Trevelyan. The third was about an experience he had while roaming the Fade.

The fourth passage wasn't written until two months after the third, probably implying that something had come up in which he wasn't able to write. He spoke of the night he pacified Ashinne in order to save the Orlesian refugees, and how her eyes had "completely mesmerized him, despite her anger. It was almost as if they had come straight out of the Fade themselves." He also spoke of the night afterward and his desperation to find her in the Fade.

Ashinne laughed at the passage for a moment, her eyes drooping in tiredness despite her continuous desire to read his writings. She skimmed on, catching note of his mention of the spirits he saw while in the Fade that night.

"Wisdom had no answers for me. They could only explain that the nature of the place was being caused by an external force that they were not familiar with, and I have reason to believe that this source of "magic" is her. I have been to this place many a time before now, and strange "magic" has never existed here. It is the only explanation I have for now, but I wish to learn more."

She read every sentence with meticulous thought, her weary mind processing every written word as if her life depended on it. She was curious as to what he thought of her, and now was her chance to get her answer. It all lie here, in his written experiences.

The first item of note she observed once she flipped the page was the date in which the following passage was written. It had been written yesterday, the graphite still fresh and delicate on the yellowed page. She had to read it over and over and over again before its contents fully registered in her brain, her skin becoming heated from the immense pressure that was building in her nerves.

"Trevelyan is planning to bring me along in her journey to the Emerald Graves. The preparation hasn't left me with much time to write, but I've had plenty of time to think. An area of the Fade in which one can see is bound to a specific place. I have noted that Ashinne carries her own "place," and I cannot see anything more than the wasteland she is attached to. I don't understand why this is, but I am hoping that my trip to the Graves will allow me to step out of her range and get answers. One can only see so much of nothing before they start to ask questions that cannot be answered."

Ashinne dropped his journal in complete panic, tying it back together with the loose string with an urgency she has never known before. So many thoughts ran through her frantic mind, her feet drawing her body away from his desk with the vigor of shock.

The immediate thought that ran through her mind was the one about his being. He is Fen'Harel. It would not matter if she tried to stop him from getting answers-- the spirits would gladly answer any question he has without regard to its nature. He will find out about her destructive pride, the origin of her sorrow, the infamous name given to her via the hahren.

A name such as "harellan" would certainly drive him away. She cannot possibly be what he deserves. Two burden-bearing elves cannot withhold the weight of another burden-- the latter being that of their rapidly growing attachment to each other.

The window in which she must leave was now much more narrow. There cannot be risk of an encounter between her, Solas, and Trevelyan in her escape. There could be no chances taken.

The dusk of the moon will surely hide her fleeing silhouette. To leave this night would be the best course of action.

Chapter Text

 

"The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery." 

-Anais Nin

~~◇~~

A million thoughts had wriggled their way into Solas' wandering mind during the trip to the Graves. Of them all, however, only one remained persistent.

Her. Ashinne. The marvelous, black-haired elven beauty with precious emerald gems for eyes. The rest of his pantheon surely would've scorned him for taking interest in such a lowly maiden. If given the chance, he would surely scorn upon them, too.

He was perfectly aware that things were moving way too fast, without purpose. Sometimes he even wondered if there was purpose, yet. He knew that she was attempting to escape from a life that she had so wrongly created, as he too, was trying to restore the one he had destroyed thousands of years before. They were two halves of the same sorrow-- one half in the shadows, the other burned in flames.

Both literally, and figuratively.

"Varia," Solas heard the Iron Bull's voice above his thoughts, his deep, ridged voice harsh against the serene sounds of the forest.

The Inquisitor gave him an indication of curiosity, her neck barely craning to meet the man's face. It was then that Solas noticed the look of questionable disgust that adorned Bull's features, as well as the same one upon Dorian's. Then the source hit him, too.

"I smell something... burning," Bull noted, and Varia's nose crinkled in the same manner.

There was an obvious, sharp smell of sulfur and rotten smoke-- clearly one that has lingered for quite some time. The treeline was dry and thinning, blackened soot replacing what was once a beautiful array of ancient nature. No one seemed to notice the sudden lack of greenery around them until Varia gasped and slowed her steed to a halt, taking in the unsettling aura about the place.

"There were elves here, I assume?" Dorian's voice erupted from the eerie silence, and Solas broke into a sudden sweat of shock as he whipped his head around to peer at what Dorian was possibly referring to.

Standing only a few meters away, charred and nearly broken, were two grand aravels. Their sails had been burned away as well as most of the bases. Only one of the ships had a full set of functional wheels; the other ship was tilted just slightly, for one of its wheels had snapped in half under the pressure of the heat. Solas hated that there was no indication of life here. No birds chirped, and there were no leaves left to be rustled in the wind. It was just the four of them and the dry earthen bed beneath their horses' hooves.

He was almost postive that he was the only one that knew exactly what this place was. He had read the note at the shrine, he was in Ashinne's presence when she broke down in angry tears of resent-- it didn't take much wit to understand that the puzzle pieces fit perfectly together. He knew this without a doubt in his mind.

"This place is weird, boss," Iron Bull told Trevelyan. "Something isn't sitting right."

Varia took one last look up at the canopy of trees, or rather the lack thereof, before nodding to Bull and steering her horse back around the way they came. As she did, she caught sight of Solas' grim expression.

"Something wrong, Solas?" She questioned, and suddenly every pair of eyes was on him. Dorian was certainly aware of his "affair" with the maiden, for the frequent affections whispered between the two did not escape the Tevinter's curious ears. He was only one floor above them, after all. The rotunda is also very much known for its ability to echo-- there is no conversation to be hidden amongst it.

Solas simply shook his head. "No, I am fine. This place unnerves me just as much as it does you."

It was not a complete lie. He certainly did not feel at ease here. It was likely more so than the others, but his mind could only do so much to forget the things he's seen. However, the potential utilization of this place did not escape him.

Solas would do well to remember the location of the burned-out camp. He would eagerly await his calling from the Fade, in the meantime.

~~◇~~

Night fell upon them faster than any of them could blink. Varia was the first to give into the lure of sleep, her face buried into the top layer of her bedroll to escape the slight chill in the air. Bull and Dorian stayed up just a while longer in their shared tent, silently joking about nonsense and bursting out into loud fits of unrestricted laughter. Solas sat quietly by the fire, staring into the distance and observing his surroundings as he waited for the two to fall asleep.

At the current rate, it didn't sound like they would be anytime soon. Solas contemplated telling them that he would be going out for a stroll, but didn't want to risk being asked questions or having to pull the responsibility of taking one of them with him because they were worried that the "simple, unprotected elven mage" couldn't handle a fight on his own. None of them would actually say that, for they all knew that Solas could pull his own weight in battle, but sometimes he just enjoyed to wonder. Sitting alone by a fire for hours really ticks at the mind, Solas discovered.

But another hour had passed and all noise from the tent had ceased, at least as far as he was aware. Instead, he heard the sound of loud snores erupt from the tent-- Bull's, no doubt. He lifted his body from the ground and took one last glance at the Inquisitor's sleeping form, making sure that the snoring did not stir her from her sleep. He set wards around their camp before making his way down the path they first came, treading with a light step in order to avoid waking any of the others.

Solas' feet carried him toward his destination. The blackened earth felt prickly and dry beneath his toes, not having felt such a sensation since the explosion at the Conclave. To think that it had happened so many months ago, and that he woman he was so curious about was asleep for the first two months of it. A month later, and they met face-to-face. Two months after that, and they had kissed in the rotunda. Too fast wouldn't even begin to describe the situation he found himself in...

The moment Solas stepped foot into the charred Dalish camp, sleep ruthlessly pulled at his eyes. He felt drowsy, almost as if he had been drained of power. Despite it not being the case, he took a seat, his back leaning up against the scorched bark of a nearby tree.

The eerie silence lulled the mage to sleep slowly and soundly, but Solas' mind was restless and focused. The Fade called him.

~~◇~~

" Mamae!"

Upon hearing the ear-piercing shriek of despair,  Solas'  resting eyes snapped open. He turned his head to see a young elven girl with graciously long, dark locks of hair. Her skin was pink in color, fresh tears streaming down her face in relentless rivers. He recognized the girl to be Ashinne, her green eyes standing out from the whites of her eyes that had reddened from the hurt.

"Babae!" Another scream erupted from the child, her eyes searching frantically for said persons. Solas winced, her shrill screams sharp in his ears.

He watched as she rummaged through their family's caravan, and then popped in and out of a nearby tent in search of her parents. Her face was pale as she emerged, her eyes dragging aimlessly along the ground in sorrow.

"Da'len?"

The voice belonged to a woman no taller than himself, her entire face spotted with tiny brown freckles and her forehead marked with the blood writing of  Ghilan'nain . Her skin was light with a tint of yellow; her hair was the color of milk chocolate and it rested plainly at her shoulders.

"What is the matter, da'len?" The woman asked the young Ashinne, her hands coming to rest on her little shoulders as she crouched to the child's height.

"Have you seen my mamae and babae?" Ashinne cried to the woman, her eyes flooding with hot tears.

The woman pursed her lips in thought as she glanced above the child's head toward the forest, then shook her head.

"No, Ashinne. I have not seen them since last night's dinner," The chocolate-haired woman stood, and took a step toward the Keeper's tent. "I will ask Sorwen if he--"

"No!" Ashinne lunged at the woman's sleeve, scraping her knees against the harsh ground as she slid with the woman's pace of walking. "Don't leave me, Mava. Mamae said that if I can't control my emotions then the bad spirits will... they will get me."

The child shook her head vigorously, as if she was trying to shake any lingering demons from invading her mind. The woman, now known as Mava, crouched to Ashinne's level once more, holding her hands to the child's head.

"The spirits will not get you, da'len. Fen'Harel protects us from them. He will--"

"The wolf is just a statue, Mava," Ashinne told her  assertively , standing up from her spot on the ground. "A stupid stone cannot make them go away."

Mava's  face suddenly twisted into one of aggravation, taking Ashinne's thin wrist in her hand and tugging her in the direction of the Keeper's tent.

"The Keeper will help you find your family. We are going to him now, da'len." Mava told her as she pulled the resistant elven child away.

As their forms left the vicinity, Solas started hearing new voices. New forms appeared, all elves from what he assumed was Ashinne's clan. As he walked among them, he easily made out each one. Sorwen-- the Keeper dressed in dark green robes; Pailen-- the craftsman teaching a young apprentice how to carve a bow out of  sylvanwood ; Mava-- fittingly tending to the halla; Cahel-- the hahren talking amongst the children; Yanet-- a healer seeing to a wounded elf, and beside her was Ashinne. She was much older and mature in this memory, her eyes watching Yanet with a dull sense of interest.

It wasn't what came out of her mouth that caught  Solas'  attention, however. It was the voice that shouted to her from behind him.

"Ashinne! I must speak with you," The voice was male, and he instantly emerged from behind Solas as he finished his announcement.

Ashinne nodded to Yanet and stood to face the male. Her voice was aged, laced beautifully as it was in the present time.

"Must it be now, Tamet?"

Tamet. Ashinne's former lover. Struck down by arrows. Never told the woman he loved that he actually loved her. Solas knew the man well for not ever truly knowing him.

The  blonde-haired male nodded in response and gently took her hand in his, leading her away from the makeshift infirmary and any pointed ears within their range.

"I cannot stand this, Ashinne," He exploded once they were well within the safety of the trees, his arms thrown into the air in  frustration .

Ashinne simply blinked at the man, her expression just as dull as it had been moments ago. Solas did not know what to think. He thought that their relationship had been ripe, but now it seemed that it had been withering well before whatever disaster struck their camp.

"I cannot stand the silence, the distance, or the lonely nights. I do not understand why you can't just tell me what is wrong!" Tamet began, his form pacing around the still elven woman. "I've told you that I wish to be with you, Ashinne," The man was on his knees now, knelt before her. "Do you not wish to be with me? I would rather have you say no than tell me nothing at all."

Ashinne's eyes were suddenly welled up with tears, her face pinched with distress.

"I cannot  explain  to you, Tamet. My heart does not understand what to say."

"Vhenan, please tell me something. Anything," He begged her, taking her small hand in his own.

Solas could not bear to watch the rest of the memory. His heart tightened at the sight of her tears, clearly for the reason that they were not the soft, foolish tears she had cried before as a child. These tears were real, and showed her true pain.

He didn't need to listen to her explanation to understand what she was feeling. He had felt it before, too,  millennia  before his slumber.

Solas distanced himself from the pair, her loud sobs being replaced with silence the farther he reached. He stopped once he saw her gracious length of black hair  willowing  in the wind as she sat atop a tree, her eyes gazing out into the aurora of colors before her. He didn't know whether to anticipate horror or just relax in the serene nature of the memory, for all was quiet around them.

The exact moment he heard a rapid crunching sound bounding toward her, however, his head whipped around to meet the source of the sound.

"Lethallan!  Ashinne!" Tamet's voice screamed, his eyes wide with absolute terror.

"Tamet?" Her voice struck down, her eyes clearly missing sight of the silver glint in the trees above her lover's head.

The arrow crashed down upon his skull as he tried to call to her again, his body falling limp before Solas' feet. His heart wrenched upon seeing the horrified look on her face. Her green eyes had sprung open wide, her skin instantly drained of its color, her face strained with the pain of death. He saw her lips move just slightly as she reached up to touch the vallaslin upon her face, her eyes searching wildly for something in the trees.

The moment she dropped from the branch, her legs carried her into a sprint through the burning trees, past all of the  wounded  faces of her camp. Why did she not stop to help them if she was there with them? Solas grew frustrated as he ran after her, watching as she dashed by countless elves being slaughtered by human hands. This also did not explain why she blames herself for the fires. Still, nothing added up.

" Ashinne!" Cried the hahren, his arms being held back by two burly men as another raised a dagger to his throat. Solas watched as Ashinne hesitated for a moment, allowing a section of her hair to catch on fire as the embers whirred rapidly around her face. She didn't even  look  back at the elderly man before returning to a  sprint , hurrying out of the forest as the man screamed elven profanities at her retreating form. Solas was blind to the whole thing, his mind whirring in raging shock. He only caught a few choice words of the hahren's rage before erupting into his own fit of passion.

"Stop!" Solas yelled out into the Fade, and suddenly everything disappeared. He took a moment to catch his breath and thoroughly composed himself before calling on a spirit of wisdom to answer the many questions he had.

"This hardly explains anything! If anything, this whole experience has left me greatly displeased, for more reasons than one it seems..." The elven mage growled, the spirit floating away from him for the moment.

"I could not find anything more that would be of relevance, ser. Perhaps other areas would explain further, but--"

"I do not have time to explore further. I must be on my way, Wisdom. Thank you for your knowledge."

~~◇~~

Solas awoke in the same place he had fallen asleep, his neck sore due to a lack of support. His aggravation drove him to walk to camp in quick, loud steps, feeling no pity for any sorry creature that had woken at the sound of his anger. Varia was sitting by the fire as he approached, her face seething with as much fury as he was giving off.

"By the Maker, Solas! Where did you run off to? We could have been attacked, and you would have been gone!" She angrily whispered at him, attempting to keep Bull and Dorian asleep.

Solas simply shook his head as he stormed toward the hammock tied to the trees only a few feet away, his desire to describe to Trevelyan about what he had seen in the Fade nonexistent.

"I do not feel like explaining myself," He told her harshly, tucking his body into the comfort of his hammock.

He did not know if he would ever feel like explaining to them what he had seen. What would he even say? That a heartless elven woman resided in her castle? Trevelyan would not care; she would find a reason to be merciful toward Ashinne. However, the more Solas thought about it, so would he. He has known her for too long just to let her die at the hands of the executioner. There had to be a reason... why would she just mindlessly run from her camp?

There was no time left to dwell upon it this night. Solas found the comfort of his hammock to be strong, and his eyes slowly drifted shut as he lie there... contemplating, wondering, questioning.

Chapter Text

 

"They muddy the water, to make it seem deep."

-Friedrich Nietzsche

~~◇~~

"Inquisitor!"

A scout bounded toward Varia, waving around a stack of crumpled papers held in his hand. A day's work for the Inquisitor seemed to never complete itself, even after just arriving to base from an expedition.

Trevelyan hopped from the back of her steed, meeting the frantic eyes of the young male.

"What is it?" She asked him, hoping for an answer she wouldn't need to go out and fetch. That, however, was plenty rare these days.

"Leliana requires that you meet with her at once. A most dire situation has occurred at Skyhold, Lady Inquisitor."

Varia glanced up at the tower where Leliana would surely be lying in wait for her appearance, anticipating the Orlesian woman to make a dramatic scene about a simple theft or desertion. She nodded to the scout and sent him on his way before handing her horse's reigns to Solas, kindly instructing the elven man to take care of her steed at the stables while she had a word with their Spymaster.

She marched up more stairs than she could ever count, her loins burning with fire by the time she reached the top. No matter how many times she's walked up those stairs, it would always leave a strain on her muscles.

Trevelyan noticed that Leliana was busy scribbling words on a page, her hand moving with a sense of purpose. Varia stepped toward her slowly, cautious of the woman's temper that may or may not be flaring at this very moment.

"I was told that you wanted to speak with me?" She asked the busy woman, picking her words carefully.

Leliana's eyes darted from the page to Varia's face, her head remaining the same level as before. Her eyes drifted back down to finish scribbling out more words before standing promptly, her eyes resting fully on Trevelyan's face. She motioned the woman to follow her out onto the balcony, the cool air rushing over her heated face as the Spymaster lead her outside. They stood there for a few minutes in complete silence before the Orlesian woman spoke up.

"A little more than a week ago, an elven woman was murdered in the maid's quarters," Leliana turned her head to face Varia. "I would assume that you heard about that."

Varia nodded, her head feeling heavy and weighted under the Spymaster's piercing gaze.

"She was unrecognizable by anyone who worked as a maid and by my scouts. I concluded that she was probably just a spy for some outside organization, and I waited," Leliana turned her head away, her eyes peering out into the beauty of the snowy Frostbacks. "A few nights ago, one of Cullen's soldiers stumbled upon another body."

Trevelyan gulped at the sight of Leliana's hardened demeanor, the Spymaster's glare sending icy hot chills running up and down her spine.

"It was the body of another elf; this time it was a male. I didn't know where to look for a perpetrator, for whoever killed him had left no trace."

Leliana turned to Trevelyan again, and a surprising ghost of a smile was taking hold of her features. Varia was confused. The security of Skyhold typically wasn't her concern more than it was the Spymaster's, so why was Leliana telling her all of this?

"I recently discovered, however, that they had spoken with Cole. He keeps spouting nonsense at me, telling me that he should only be speaking with the Inquisitor about what had happened. I do not know why he does not trust me, but I am hoping that whatever he tells you, you will inform me of."

Varia simply nodded, not wanting to anger the woman standing before her. She did not want to provoke any temper dwelling inside her Spymaster, lest the woman be standing over her bedside the next morning with a dagger raised to her head.

"I will speak to Cole about the murders. Thank you for the concern, Leliana," Varia told the woman in gratitude, then began to make her way back toward the many, many sets of stairs.

~~◇~~

Solas was busy placing books back in stacks, for something had disturbed them while he was gone. He was told that a mabari ran its way through the castle just yesterday, dashing through rooms and leaving muddy prints around the premises. The maids were especially busy today, in that case, but none caught his eye. He was nearly done setting up the last stack when he felt a presence appear beside him.

"I cannot bear the pain of knowing any longer!" Cole's voice boomed off of the walls, worry laced heavily in his tone.

Solas watched as he paced around the room, his hands gripping and weaving their way through his pale strands of hair.

"Cole," Solas started in an attempt to calm the spirit, but Cole was unrestrained.

"You know her, the elven girl? The one with eyes the color of veridium. The one that thinks of you while she works, wanting to love you despite the hurt. Yes, her!"

Cole was pointing at Solas now, his eyes wavering with a variety of emotions. Solas was desperately trying to understand his intention.

"What about her, Cole?"

The spirit shook his head, his hand flying up to grip the side of his face.

"She's done bad, bad things. Killed a girl, then killed a man. And then... she ran away. She told me only to tell the Inquisitor but... the pain of knowing is too great. How do I lie to someone?"

Solas could hardly understand. Ashinne-- kill someone? And then tell Cole to lie as she ran away? Her faults truly seemed to lie in unruly places. He could slowly feel his anger sneaking up on him again.

"Wait, Cole," Solas began, but the spirit was too busy pacing to listen to him.

"I cannot say any more. I have said too much. You must forget this."

Cole stormed across the room, a purposeful look in his eyes, his hand raised to Solas' forehead.

"Your attempts to make me forget will not work on me, Cole. Train the hurt elsewhere. Speak to the Inquisitor."

The spirit blinked at the mage, the look in his eyes swimming with consideration. A second later, and he was gone. Vanished, right out of thin air. Solas looked about the room, cautious of the boy's ability to appear directly around him without notice. Once he was completely sure that Cole was gone, he strided toward his desk, laying his eye upon the aged, leather-bound journal sitting atop the wooden surface. The strap was still intact despite its wear, and the pages were still just as worn as he had left them.

He tried to believe that Cole's ramblings were false, but after what Solas had seen of Ashinne in the Fade, he wasn't so sure. There seemed to be more to her than what she was clearly letting on. Despite her visible strength, she was weak. She willingly let her friends fall into the hands of her enemies without care... what was he supposed to make of that? And now, she has allegedly disappeared from Skyhold without a trace, other than the words she had spoken to Cole before running off.

He could not possibly fathom what her true intentions were.

~~◇~~

She let her faith carry her forward through the Frostbacks. Before Ashinne had left, she prayed at the shrine one last time, relishing in the good protection of the Creators. She had no idea if her escape had been discreet or if anyone had noticed her absence. She would not suspect it to be so, but there was definite uncertainty in her mind. Lanai was her only true friend back at Skyhold, but they had separated long before her escape. Her friend had no desire to join the life of the scouts, remaining a maiden while Ashinne moved up in rank.

Ashinne had reached the outskirts of the forest by the middle of the third day, and sleep was plaguing her mind terribly. She had gone without sleep the first two nights due to fear of hypothermia, and her desire for rest was tearing down the walls of her focus. Everything was heavier. The bow and quiver on her back, the waterskin on her hip, the daggers on her belt, the boots on her feet-- everything on her person seemed to weigh more just for lack of sleep. She kept the scout uniform for warmth, but she knew that she would need to be rid of it soon if she were to truly hide away from the Inquisition. People would surely be looking, and an elf in uniform would cause a rise in suspicions.

Hardly a moment later, Ashinne heard a crunch of steps that were not of her own footing. Her hand flew to her back, wrapping her fingers around the girth of her bow and pulling it from the sleeve holding it in place. Her hand then plucked a single arrow from its quiver and locked it into place against the bowstring with hooked fingers, holding the string steady as she waited for the crunch.

It was there, to her right, that she heard them again. And again. And again. Now they were faster, and she pulled the string back with haste, her curled fingers resting up against her cheek near her shaking lips. She tasted sour fear on her tongue-- a taste put into her mouth no doubt by the bewitchingly gorgeous woman standing before her.

The woman stepped cautiously, yet there was a confidence in the way she walked that shook Ashinne's guard.

"'Tis usually not my place to indulge in the affairs of others but," Her eyes roamed Ashinne's body until they rested upon the badge sitting over her heart. "I cannot help but wonder what a lone ranger is doing out in the forest all by her lonesome. I know the Inquisition well, and I am certain that they do not send out lone maidens on assignments."

Ashinne kept the arrow pointed, her breath steady as she glared into the golden eyes of her accuser. Those same eyes came back up to rest upon her face, gold swimming with mystery.

"You are a mage," The woman noted assertively. "A strong one, no doubt. Your mana pool is so large that I feel as if I myself am swimming in it."

Her golden eyes failed to tear themselves away from Ashinne's face, and the elf felt as if her very defenses and armor were being stripped away by the woman's gaze alone. It was terrifying, and Ashinne felt her fingers slowing slipping from the arrow.

"Yet you wield a bow. Most interesting, indeed."

Ashinne's jaw tightened and she released the arrow, sending it flying toward the woman's heart. It would have been a guaranteed hit, too, were it not for the ward that suddenly appeared between the two. The arrow fell to the ground with a dull crunch, just barely rustling the leaves below it as it hit.

"You are trying to kill me? Whatever have I done to you, poor maiden?"

She didn't know how to respond. She indeed felt threatened and unnerved by the woman's presence, but she hadn't done anything to harm her. Not yet, anyway. This woman was most certainly very powerful. It was stated in her wardrobe, her beauty, her mystical eyes, the way she stood, the way she walked, and the way she spoke with a cocky sort of confidence. Ashinne feared she was in for the worst now, after firing that arrow.

"Lucky for you, I know your Spymaster on a personal level. She would be most displeased if she found out that one of her scouts were deserting the mighty Inquisition," She made a "tsk tsk" sound at the elven maiden, shaking her head in disappointment. "How hard can it truly be? You get information, you shoot a few things with arrows, you report back to your superiors."

Ashinne narrowed her eyes at the woman. Of course she wouldn't understand why she doesn't want to be associated with the Inquisition. Almost anyone would find it foolish if she told them the truth. Either that, or she'd be executed on the spot for committing murder alone.

"It's not that simple," Ashinne protested, to which the woman's eyes turned smug at her speaking. "That is not all I am."

"So you are telling me that you were a spy? And now you're fleeing the scene of the crime?"

Ashinne couldn't help but chuckle at the precision of her comment.

"If only that were farther from the truth. But no, I am no spy. I simply left for reasons of my own. It is not that I do not believe in the Inquisition or believe that the workload is too hard. I must tend to more important matters."

The woman smirked. "Such as?"

Ashinne was stumped. To find a scapegoat...

"I have family in the Hinterlands. My mother is growing old and I wish to see her before she passes."

"With vallaslin like that, I would have believed that you were Dalish!" The woman snorted, letting a hearty laugh rumble from her chest. "But I'll have you know that if you are looking to head in that direction, you need to cross onto the other side of the Frostbacks. You are heading into Orlais."

Ashinne thought of a retort quickly. "I am taking the long route down south, to avoid any other Inquisition scouts."

The woman nods, making a pleased humming sound in response.

"I see. Well, do not let me keep you any longer. You have a strenuous journey ahead of you."

Ashinne smiled at the mysterious woman, giving a slight bow in respect of her kindness.

"Ma serannasstranger."

She didn't hear any steps follow after her as she turned away, much to her relief. The woman was too curious and confident for her liking. And just as the woman had felt her pool of mana, Ashinne could feel hers as well. It was even more grand than her own, and she felt as if she would drown in the feeling of it if she got even closer to the woman.

But all did not feel the same as she walked. The trees started morphing into rippling waves of green and brown, becoming indistinguishable from the rest of the forestry around her. The snow became muddied, the stones had become mossy, and the river appeared as if it had dried up. But she could still hear the water flowing.

Then she heard ringing. Loud, inescapable, ear-piercing ringing. Ashinne covered her ears, but that didn't stop it. It was in her head, tearing her apart from the inside out. She thought she could just barely make out a woman's voice in the distance, but she couldn't be sure. Not anymore. Not when everything was so dizzying and disorienting.

Disorienting. Entropy...

It was a school of magic that she wasn't all too familiar with, but she knew of it nonetheless.

Then she felt it again-- that vast pool of mana in her presence. She attempted to face the woman with the golden eyes once more, but to no avail. Her legs had completely given up, lowering her to the ground without gravity or support to catch her fall. She felt the cold, wet dirt brush up against her cheek and saw her hand lying in front of her face, but thought nothing more of it. She was losing the ability to think straight, and then--

Everything disappeared.

Chapter Text

 

"Presume not that I am the thing I was;

For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,

That I have turn'd away my former self;

So will I those that kept me company."

-William Shakespeare

~~◇~~

There was something about the way the grimy cell floor felt beneath her knees and the way that the cold shackles clasped around her wrists that made her feel small. Insignificant. Powerless. The shackles would not allow her to dig into her mana pool, to cast spells that would set her free. There would be no escaping, this time.

She could hear the clock ticking in her head. Any second, the Spymaster would walk down this very hall, her boots clicking against the stone as she walked with dignity. After all, this was her job. To bring justice to those who have wronged the Inquisition.

But it was not her decision to make whether Ashinne would live or die.

It was the Lady Inquisitor's-- a woman she had only spoken to once in her entire lifetime. She did not know if the woman would be merciful or cruel. For what she's seen of her, she isn't nearly as callous as the Spymaster. But there really was no telling.

So when she heard the familiar pitter patter of footsteps sauntering down the long hall toward her cell, Ashinne's heart fell through to her stomach. Her eyes, which were previously comfortably resting shut, snapped open in utter dread. She did not want to be taken away. To be taken away would mean her fate would soon be decided-- something she did not find herself wanting. She wished to live. But she could foresee the Inquisitor not believing so.

Her breath became short and rapid, her hands clammy with a cold sweat, and the feeling of nausea pooled in her gut and made her head dizzy. The corners of the room were suddenly swaying, and Ashinne could not hold her head up any longer. The sickening wave of queasiness was too great.

The urge to hurl came strong once she heard the lock to her cell come undone, the boots worn by the Spymaster swept up by her long, dark cloak hardly coming into view. They, too, were suddenly spinning.

"I was instructed by Miss Varia Trevelyan herself to come and get you. Best not to keep her waiting, for she is a very busy woman."

Leliana grabbed the elf by her biceps, yanking Ashinne to to her feet with one hard pull. She swayed for a moment, palming her forehead with both of her cool, chained hands in an attempt to soothe her raging nausea.

"Let us be on our way," the Spymaster said, tightly gripping onto Ashinne's arms to guide her through the labyrinth of long hallways that made up Skyhold's lower levels.

Ashinne felt ashamed. Humiliated. She had walked by dozens of her own kin, elves, maidens, and scouts alike, her head hung low in embarrassment. What a shame. Maybe the hahren's screams had now finally come true. Here was the infamous harellan, awaiting her head on a pike or her neck strung in a noose as she walked the stride of shame toward the main hall. She wondered what Lanai would think if she were to ever see her. Likely disappointed; Lanai had acted as her mother figure, after all.

Then she realized that there was one thing standing in between her and the Inquisitor's throne-- the rotunda. There was no doubt that Solas would be standing outside of his door, his eyes waiting to search and identify the face of the criminal. She figured that he, too, would likely be disappointed in her. She was not ready to gaze upon him in her most vulnerable form: stripped of ability, her head spinning and face red with humiliation. This was the most ugly version of pride itself-- its downfall. And Solas knew it well.

She saw it in his face the moment she stepped into the great hall. She saw recognition spread rapidly across his features like wildfire; it had started in his shocked eyes, and fell to his mouth, and then caused his body to become rigid. His own thoughts were running amok, she could sense it in his being and in the way he looked at her. Yet at the same time, she could see the underlying anger burrowed underneath the lines on his face. The hardness of his jaw, the coldness of his eyes, the harsh angle of his downturned brow; every feature was a sign.

The judgmental gazes of every other person scattered about the great hall was enough to pull her mind from him, however. The eyes of every wretched nobleman, dame, elf, dwarf... each pair bore into her soul as if it were made of liquid. In that very moment, her eyes hardened, and the throne could not come to her any faster. She felt it. She felt it in their gazes. The infinite pool of sorrow in his mind. Feyralan's mind.

She now understood what he had meant, how he had felt. What other choice is there when Death simply stands before you? You bow to him, your hands clasped in prayer, pleading him to take your dear life. She felt it so strongly in her limbs, on her tongue. The desperate urge to plead guilty to Trevelyan, to instruct her to remove her head from her body. The greatest form of relief now would be the freedom of her spirit. If it meant that she would experience the Fade, she would have it no other way.

She felt her feet stop before the stairs to the Inquisitor's throne, and Ashinne's ears did not miss the hushed whispers of those around them, gossiping freely about the elf's status as they waited for someone to start speaking. Leliana released her from her monstrous grip and stepped to Varia's side. The clicking of her leather boots broke the silence, and every whisper ceased in death.

"Lady Inquisitor," the gilded woman to Trevelyan's left spoke. "Throughout the past week and a half, crimes have been committed within our walls."

The Inquisitor's face remained stagnant as she said this, dark circles pulling heavily at the skin underneath her eyes. Ashinne did not fail to notice how dully blue they appeared in comparison to the first time she saw the woman.

"Murders, my dear Lady," the woman continued, to which Trevelyan's face turned grim.

Ashinne sensed something stirring within the mind of the woman sitting upon the throne. It was sickening dread for the responsibility she was born to uphold. She didn't take pleasure in doing this-- playing as the god before another's feet to decide their fate. She failed to believe that there was any glory in this. This is not how praise should be achieved. If she could simply be without this, she would... but her advisers insisted...

"Inquisitor?" The woman called out to Trevelyan, causing her to double-blink rapidly and run a hand down her rugged, tired face.

"I'm sorry," Varia cleared her throat. "I'm listening, Josephine."

"Right..." Josephine started awkwardly, her eyes returning back to the papers in her hand.

There was a strange aura of intensity and silence about the room, the same kind that would occur if there were two people to witness a death and neither knew whether they should be the first to speak.

"Like I was saying... these are serious offenses on the table here, Miss Trevelyan. The court wishes to hear your opinion on the matter."

Varia's eyes flicked up toward Ashinne's pale face for a split second before gazing upon the faces of her court, each one of them anticipating the highly-valued opinion of their Inquisitor. Their faces bore disappointment once her eyes turned back toward her ambassador.

"Clearly murder is a serious matter, Josephine, but I've heard of no evidence. If I'm to make a decision then I need-"

"If I may interject?"

Ashinne's head turned to face the scantily-clothed woman with golden eyes from before... from the night she got into this mess.

"If you have any evidence on the situation, Morrigan, I would much like to hear it," Trevelyan told the witch.

"Then I think that you'll be pleased to hear that when I first encountered this dear maiden, she was alone in the woods in full uniform, likely deserting your precious Inquisition. And then when I approached her more closely, she drew her weapon in my direction! The nerve of some of your own is astonishing, Inquisitor."

"Your point, Morrigan."

"Well, not only did I notice that she was one and alone, but I also happened to notice that her mana pool was larger than anything I had felt before. But when I questioned her about her using a bow instead of magic, she fired. Do not worry about me, for I came out unscathed, but I think we should question the very nature of this dear maiden," Morrigan turned her back to Ashinne and faced the Inquisitor. "From where did she come?"

"She's a refugee. Dorian, Bull, Solas, and I found her and a few others in a tangle involving a Fade rift. Many of my own soldiers accompanying them had been killed by demons and they were the last to remain. If we hadn't swooped in, she and any of the others we saved would likely be dead."

"I see. And have you ever seen her wield magic?"

"I happened to watch as she used a calming spell to steady my panicking steed. However, the night we saved her I remember seeing a spell upon her hand that I had never seen before... it was..."

"Unfamiliar magic?" Morrigan turned her head back toward Ashinne's now worry-stained face.

"Is this to say that we have a potential hedge mage among us?" Leliana stepped from Varia's side, her dark and heavy cloak swaying as she walked.

Morrigan simply laughed at the woman. "You act as if there are not already a couple walking among you already! We are not monstrous beings to be chained and controlled, despite what the Qunari may believe. I, for one, have no such intention of harming anyone."

Varia sat up quickly in her seat, her hands flying to the armrests at her sides. "A couple?"

"Sit back, dear Inquisitor. There is nothing to fear from your dear companion."

"I do not like this," Trevelyan mumbled as she sunk back into the cushioned throne, unbeknownst to the two in conversation before her. Ashinne's great elven ears picked up her mumbles, however.

"Untrained magic is not uncommon among the Dalish. There is the possibility that she could be one," Leliana spoke once more.

Now they were making mere assumptions. Fear speared through Ashinne's heart. If they truly deemed her a hedge mage, a number of horrible things could happen. She could be made into one of the Tranquil, cast to the Qun to be collared like some beast, or just blatantly executed. Trevelyan would likely not re-imprison her after knowing her true identity. Ashinne didn't know whether she should expect the very worst or not.

"Ladies," Josephine announced herself for a second time, breaking up the talk between the two women. "It is court policy and the right of the defendant to be able to argue in her favor. So I will ask-- Ashinne Thellassan, what say you, if anything, in your defense?"

Words as well as tears flowed from Ashinne's body in rivers, ripping into the heart of the woman sitting upon the spiked throne.

"Gela was my friend once, and so was Feyralan. Gela had the full intent of killing me if I did not stop her. And so I did. Feyralan could not live without his Gela, and asked of me to end his life. I felt and witnessed every ounce of gut-wrenching sorrow that he held in his heart, and I could not bear to deny him his desire after feeling such a thing. And now I have no other wish than to die, too. Anything else is not punishment enough."

"I will not-" Trevelyan sat up in her seat again, her eyes hard with terror. Leliana lie a hand on the Ostwickian woman's shoulder and pressed her back into the cushions, glaring into her terrified face with a look that spoke of murder.

"You cannot keep letting your past get in the way of these things. You are the Inquisitor, and this is your duty to uphold to your court."

Varia fought the hand upon her and stood up from her seat, her eyes aflame with newborn anger.

"Inquisitor," Josephine called to her, the look on her face struck with panic.

"This is no more my duty than yours, Josephine's, or Cullen's. We run this organization together," Varia pointed a finger at the cloaked woman before turning her gaze to the elven maiden standing idly before the throne.

She inhaled slowly as her hand returned to her side. She closed the shutters on her eyes, taking a single deep breath to calm her fuming rage before reopening her eyes to focus upon the equally-as-angered face of the Spymaster.

"Carry out the rest of the judgement yourself. I have no will to continue this."

She slammed through the door to her quarters after speaking her final words, leaving the court in an utter state of awkward murmurs and a confused circle of advisers on standby. Leliana was left to stare at the throne, Josie hid her embarrassed face behind the board in which the papers relating to the trial were attached, and Cullen didn't know whether or not he should follow his lover into her quarters. Ashinne's gaze remained fixed upon a speck embedded into the ground, not daring to stare up into the face of the Spymaster.

"Cullen, return her to her cell. We will finish this at a later date," Leliana instructed the man, causing him to make up his mind in his decision.

Leliana, too, stormed off not a second later. She strided past Ashinne with a strong step, the clicking of her boots not missing a single beat. She was soldiered, armored, shielded, and guarded-- the woman had clearly experienced something so drastic as to cause her to act in this manner. Ashinne could only wonder what it was that had her so fortified.

Chapter Text

 

"The one you love and the one who loves you are never, ever the same person."

-Chuck Palahniuk

~~◇~~

Ashinne need not see the face belonging to the pair of feet treading lightly down the corridor to know whose steps they were. She imagined their face in her mind; hostile, curious, and forlorn, all at the same time. It came to her as a surprise as she witnessed no such emotion present itself upon his skin or within his body. He simply existed, standing before her cell with silverite eyes cast down toward her shell of a form.

"I suppose you know everything," She said from nowhere, her voice bouncing off of the walls and carrying itself down the hall.

Solas didn't reply in that instant. Instead, he sat himself up against the wall nearest her cell, his eyes meeting the highlighted curve of her spine in the darkness.

"Not everything," He told her. "But I am not unaware of certain crimes that had occurred while I was away."

Ashinne bit the inside of her lip, her cheek barely grazing the only light in the vicinity of her cell. Meeting his eyes would only grant her more sorrow that she did not desire to carry upon her weighted shoulders. Did he learn nothing of her? Was he never given the chance? She did not dare question him. If he had something to speak of, she would allow him space to say it.

"I know, Solas. I saw the horror on your face as I walked past your door with the Spymaster."

"It was not horror. I was simply in disbelief. Was I to truly believe it was you to be forced into the hands of our Inquisitor upon first glance? I thought it couldn't have been, until I heard your name being spoken from the Ambassador's lips."

"Solas," Ashinne pleaded as her face fully met the light, the glow of her pale skin finally kissing Solas' eyes. "I did not anticipate this happening. You have to-"

"Believe that what you had done was reason enough to kill two of your own clan? That it was justified?"

The shadows conformed to Ashinne's features, her eyes widening and her brow turning downward. The light pierced through her newly parted lips, sitting softly upon her sharpened tongue.

"Are you to say that what you did is any less? We are nearly one in the same. Your shame is surely no greater than my own, Dread Wolf."

"Dirthara ma, Ashinne. Listen to yourself speak. The walls have ears," Solas cursed, sitting attentively against the old brick wall behind him.

Ashinne lie back, the coolness of the stone floor pressing through the thin fabric of her shirt to soothe her flaming skin. She rested one arm across her face, burying her eyes behind her forearm. Every move of her arm brought searing pain from her wrist. There were circular cuts there from the tight cuffs that Cullen had just recently released her from. To watch as the former Templar released her, a powerful mage, from magic-suppressing bindings was truly astonishing. She never would have believed in all her life that such a person could change to be so kind so drastically.

"When I had said to you that you knew everything, this is exactly what I had referred to," Ashinne spoke, her voice only as brazen as a hoarse whisper. "You know everything I tried so hard to keep from you."

Silence swallowed the air in between them, aside from the grit sliding beneath Solas' foot as he readjusted himself.

"Is this who I'm to be? An animal forced to a cage?" Ashinne sat up, her hands grasping onto the bars as she looked at him with desperation. "Please tell me you think something different, Solas."

His eyes were cold, colder than usual. His thoughts were running rampant, screaming at him to tell her something different. She could feel it. The bolts of lightning zapping and singing her already burnt-out heart. Is this what heartbreak really felt like? It was true that she had felt it once before with Tamet, but it was never this bad. Tamet never had to fight himself in order to express the truth.

"I think that you're simply misunderstood," Solas finally told her, his eyes still as cold as they were before. Ashinne glowered at him.

"Is that the truth? Or one of your infamous lies?"

"I would not put lying before telling you the truth."

Ashinne's eyes became inflamed, suddenly overflowing with hot tears that she did not know had arisen. Her grip on the bars tightened, her knuckles turning white.

"You were debating with yourself, screaming at yourself to tell me that I am no monster! I would believe that what you told me was a falsity. Is that really what you think?"

"Ashinne," Solas had started, but to no avail. There was no point in trying to soothe the heated woman.

"I know that I have made mistakes. Everyone does. I had hoped that you, of all people, would've seen past them because I put my trust in you. I had belief in you, Solas. I..."

Her mind prevented her from speaking out any further, lest she say something she would later regret. But the elven man persisted.

"You what?"

"It was nothing important. Just me rambling," She sighed.

Five whole minutes passed without any words. Ashinne's hands had returned to her patient lap, and she stared at them fruitlessly. She waited for something to sprout from them, like leaves or vines or flowers-- something beautiful to take away the pain rousing in the pit of her stomach.

"Tell me about Tamet," Solas finally broke the silence, yet the name emerging from his tongue did little more than make her laugh through her nose. He suspected that it was no laugh of joy, neither.

"He was a member of Clan Thellassan, as was I. There is nothing more to discuss," She told him bluntly, not a hint of concern in her tone. 

"Just as I cannot hide from you, you cannot hide from me. I witnessed it. The way you broke down at the shrine, the pain in your eyes after we had kissed, I saw tears in your own eyes in the Fade," Solas stood from his position near the wall and inched closer to Ashinne's cell, crouching before the bars and reaching one hand through to grasp upon her own. "I know he meant something more to you. You were in love, Ashinne."

More tears streamed down her face at the memory of the sweet elven boy who wanted nothing more than her love: something she could not ever give him.

"I had believed it for so long. I dreamed of having a Dalish wedding, and holding his hand as we gazed out into the night sky together as newlyweds. But I was young, and the concept of infatuation had not occurred to me until it was too late. Our love was too quick, and I realized that I was only in love with the idea of being loved after I started getting bored. He took me to bed too fast, he showered me with gifts too often, and we spent every single night the same way. But I couldn't simply tell him that I no longer loved him."

Ashinne rested her forehead against the bars separating their bodies, letting her eyes rest in serenity before her body racks with sobs once again.

"A few days before the fires, I told him about my mamae's will. I told Tamet that it spoke of an arranged marriage between the halla keeper's son, Valaros, and I. I told him that I respected my mamae on all terms, and that he and I could not be together no matter how much we wished it to be. It was a poorly thought-up lie," Her voice broke at the last second, even more tears streaking down her face. Solas kept his hand where it was, encasing her much smaller hand within his own.

"Tamet was furious. He brought up my story with not only Valaros, but with his family as well. They told him that I had certainly lied to him. Tamet didn't know what to do. He screamed at me, cried to me, did everything in his power to try and bring my heart back. I had my mind already made up. His attempts to win me over were futile. I had played him a wicked game, and I felt so much guilt. Being the coward that I am, I ran from the clan. I was too afraid to tell Tamet the truth, and that alone drove me to flee. As fate would have me, however, I got caught by slavers who threatened to end my life unless I allowed them entrance into the camp. There was no winning. I was outnumbered, and if I would've let them kill me, they would have killed, tortured, or captured my clan anyways. Succumbing to their proposal was the best option I had."

Anger soon invaded her veins, and her fingers clasped around Solas' hand with more ferocity than she had ever displayed onto him before. She's cried on him, shoved papers in his face, screamed at him, but she's never put any furious physical pressure onto him before. Whichever method he uses to handle her heavily fluctuating emotions is beyond her.

"They promised me they would not harm my clan, only take the Keeper and the Hahren in the dead of the night without a sound. They claimed to be professionals. I was a fool to believe that any sort of slaver could be a professional. They are mere bandits with an understanding of inhumane trade. They are smarter, faster, and better-equipped than the average highwayman. They killed Tamet right in front of my eyes. They knew I was sitting in that tree. I didn't realize that until he was gone that I had truly loved him. I thought that love was supposed to be different, like in the human tales I had stumbled upon in my times of boredom. I knew too little of love to understand what it really was. I don't know if he would've wanted me to find love in someone else if he had ever passed before me. Now it's too late to find out," Ashinne shook her head vigorously, her tears flying from her face left and right.

Solas reached through the bars with his other hand and wiped the water from her reddened cheeks, her swollen eyes looking to him with remorse.

"If you ever see him in the Fade, tell him that I am sorry."

Solas' lips turned upward into a gentle smile, lying his free hand upon her empty one. Her hand was cold and shaky, and it was then that he noticed the hollow of her cheeks and the protruding bones in her wrists. In holding her long before this, he was aware that she was never this frail. He would have to bring this up with the guard upstairs. Or Leliana-- whichever came first.

"I will be okay, Solas," She said, snapping the mage out of his thoughts. "The more I suffer now, the better it will feel when I die at the hands of the executioner come morn."

Solas couldn't believe what he was hearing. She was to be executed? Tomorrow morning? He could not allow this to happen.

"Solas," She called to him in a voice softer than silk, squeezing his hand in an attempt to bring him back.

"This is unjust," He growled. "And the Inquisitor ordered this?"

"No. It was the Spymaster. Lady Trevelyan passed the judgement onto her, and she ordered for my execution. She claimed that I am to be made an example of for all her men. Murder is the most unholy of crimes," Ashinne folded in on herself, resting her forehead atop the hands encompassing hers. "Creators, what have I done?"

"I must leave if I'm to stop this," Solas said, suddenly standing. "I don't have much time."

Ashinne refused to leave his hands. She knew that there was no changing her fate. If there was nothing to be done, she wanted her last night to be spent in peace with him alone.

"Please, Solas, don't go. There is nothing to change. The Spymaster is adamant about this."

"You are giving up?"

"There is no other choice. I am dangerous. I hardly even know myself. I am not meant to exist here, in this world. This is not my place. If I'm given even the slightest chance to enter the Fade after death, I'd do anything to see a glimpse of it."

Solas' face turned grim, and he lowered his body to the ground once more, kneeling in front of the woman who had captured his heart within weeks of meeting her. She was fatalistic, as was he, and it was the aura of mystery surrounding her origin that kept him intrigued. He had hopes of restoring her, in helping her discover herself. He had gotten so far that to lose her would mean all progress would be lost forever. The answers had to be hidden within the Fade; it was that much that he was absolutely sure of.

"I'm sorry. I cannot let you give yourself away like this. Ir ableas, Ashinne."

He stood from her, ignoring her desperate cries for him to come back to her as he walked down the hall. There would be no getting her understand. He had only a few hours to save her, not only from the executioner's blade but from the brutality of the Fade. He knew that she would not be allowed to enter until whatever was holding her down freed her. It was the best he could do in order to save her from herself. It would hurt her now, but she would thank him later.

Just as he suspected, in the atrium of the dungeon stood Leliana, one regular watchman, and one Templar. She was giving them orders, specifically directing the Templar to stand beside Ashinne's cell until tomorrow morning and bring her up for execution at exactly 9 am. That didn't give him much time to plan. It being nearly dawn, he only had about 4 hours to think of something... anything...

He cursed himself for coming to admire such an enigma.

"Solas," The Spymaster lifted her eyes to meet those of the elven male. "You were alone with our prisoner for quite some time. How does she fare?"

"She is hungry and cold. While I do believe her to be able to hold her own, I think that the treatment being given to her is unfair," Solas said, keeping his tone neutral.

Leliana stepped away from the Templar and the watchman for a curt moment, her hands tightly clasped behind her back.

"I never had the chance to ask," She started. "What do you know of Miss Thellassan?"

Solas chuckled, recalling a similar, much more chaotic time not so long ago.

"You act as if she's the next Trevelyan."

Leliana, too, smiled briefly at his comment. "She might as well be. She is a stranger, and could potentially be a danger to us all. There is much we do not know."

"She's as much a mystery to me as she is to you. There is not much I can tell you, I'm afraid. As Trevelyan was, however, she seems to pose no immediate danger. But killing her will ruin any chance I have of finding out."

The Spymaster shook her head.

"I cannot allow her execution to be withheld any longer. These are desperate times, Solas. Desperate times call for desperate measures here in the Inquisition. Murder is unacceptable, and I cannot have my men believe otherwise."

"I understand," Solas said, his face and eyes as blank as fresh slate. "I will be taking my leave, then."

"I wish you a good rest of your evening, Solas."

He knew Ashinne would be able to see right through this woman. Any sane person could see the pain hiding behind the Spymaster's eyes. Something was telling her that vengeance was not the solution to every problem, but she knew no other way. Her eyes seemed almost... hollow. It was almost as if she were an apparition of some sort. But she was most certainly physical, there was no denying it. Solas decides to ignore this for now, for he has other, more important matters to attend to. He strides past the Orlesian woman, his head head aching as the knot of stress twists itself tighter inside his head.

"Likewise."

Chapter Text

 

"something is changing.

and it might be the seasons.

and it might be me."

-Alison Malee

~~◇~~

Ashinne did not know what would kill her first: the draft of frozen air rushing down the corridor every passing minute, the painful pangs of hunger in her stomach, or the executioner himself. It was like living through Hell. Her skin was as cold as ice, her nose and cheeks red with chill. She missed the time spent traveling from the Graves to Skyhold, where she had the comfort of a nearby fire and her horse. Here, in the dungeon, there was no fire. There was only the sorrow of being forgotten-- of being lonely.

It brought her genuine excitement to hear the clanking of shoe buckles coming down the hallway. Never would she have thought she would readily anticipate being taken away, especially when just a few days ago, she dreaded being taken to trial. Now, the switches have flipped. Ashinne wished for nothing more than to be reprieved from this damned cell and from the hands of the Inquisition whether it meant her head would roll or not.

She didn't hear the voice speaking to her. She didn't feel his cold gloves upon the chilled flesh of her arm, nor did she feel the metal shackles being clasped around her wrists. She didn't register that she was taking steps. The cement beneath her bare feet was so cold that it felt warm. Every step she took toward her own death sent spikes of fiery energy up her legs, through her body, swallowing the entirety of her head. It was as if someone had wrapped a thick, weighted blanket around her, drawing her closer to sleep. It brought her comfort.

There were no gazes of putrid humiliation burning through her skull this time walking through Skyhold. Instead, they saw her for her words during the trial, the lifelessness of her pale skin, the redness in her ears, cheeks, and nose, and her skinny figure. They saw her elven ears and gasped in pity. They believed it was their beloved Inquisitor who had sent this poor elf to the executioner's block-- their beloved Inquisitor Trevelyan, she who shows mercy toward all elves for a reason known only to her and her dear commander.

Even the nobles failed to turn their gazes away. But whether it was because a lowly elf to stare upon was walking past or because they felt sympathy for her, Ashinne did not know. Every pair of eyes looked the same.

There were so many faces, a majority of which she knew were human. She did not need to see the point of an ear to know. Her people were distinguishable, such as the one standing in the far back. He bore pointed ears, a lean stature, and the wide and deep set eyes of ancient elves. She had not seen him in his robes for such a long time that she had almost forgotten how much she liked the color of them.

Ashinne could not tear her eyes away from him. She noted the beautiful grain of light-colored wood adorning the weapon in his hands, the jewel sitting atop matching the raging tundra storm within his eyes.

The sound of heavy steps suddenly fills her ears, and she does her best to hang her head low. She does not want to meet the eyes of her defiler.

"We have gathered here today to witness the downfall of a traitor!" Leliana proclaimed, her voice loud and clear. "In her tongue, she is known as a harellan-- a traitor to one's kin."

Ashinne flinched, visions of bright orange flames dancing behind her eyes. She kept her gaze down, best focusing it on a lone pebble amongst the flat stone beneath her knees. Her lids grew heavy with tears, the smell of blood, ashes, and steel lingering underneath her nostrils. If only her hands were free... there was no telling what she would do to the woman beside her. She would likely die, given the Spymaster's skill compared to her own.

"Miss Thellassan has wronged our Inquisition by taking the life of one of our fellow scouts, deserting the cause, and then threatening the life of one of our liaison. I bring her down to show that this is not to be expected from anyone... regardless of your origin."

She felt the Spymaster's eyes piercing through the back of her head, her black leather boots turning so that the toes of the shoes faced Ashinne's body. Never has she felt so vulnerable. There would be no freeing her hands from their shackles until after being dead and gone, her limp body strewn carelessly across the platform. Her hair would be left to flutter in the wind, strands of black silk being tangled by those who handled her postmortem.

Ashinne thought about her vallaslin. The only remaining memory of her past life. She thought of the branches stretching across the expanse of her skin, twisting and curving to align with her features. She thought of the little wolf on her right ring finger, its beady eyes likely staring at the plain linen shirt covering her torso. She closed her eyes, the wind brushing a few strands of hair across her face.

She didn't need to see it to know that it was there. She pictured the heavy weapon in the executioner's hands, his dark helmet gleaming in what little sunlight dared to peek through the clouds above. She envisioned Solas' panicked face within the crowd, his eyes tainted with the fog of despair.

She reopened her eyes, hoping to meet his gaze one last time before the blade swiped her head clean, but she did not see him within the crowd. Every face she glanced upon was stained with horror, some even pointing at the poor elven maiden kneeling upon the stage. She did not understand. Even the executioner lowered his blade.

Ashinne looked everywhere for Solas, but she could not find him. The more she looked, the heavier her eyes felt. Now she was panicked. There was a tight, vigorous tugging at the back of her eyes, inside of her head. It was almost as if something were trying to pull her eyes back inside of her skull, but she knew that this was not the case. Something much worse, much more unknown, was happening.

She felt herself scream. Except, she didn't hear it. Her ears were numb to all sound save that of the dimension she was pulled into. It was cold here. The land surrounding her was vast, barren, and empty. Violent winds soared through her hair, brushing her bangs from her face. Her eyes began to water from how cold it was. The only structures she could see for miles were sharp spikes of ice sticking up from the ground like giant stalagmites.

"You are not what I had expected," a haunting voice spoke from the heavens, shaking the very winds themselves.

Ashinne was bewildered. She looked around in wonder, attempting to distinguish where the voice had come from and whose it was. Never had she heard anything quite like it.

"I am here, Ashinne of Clan Thellassan."

The voice was much closer now, so close that it was in fact behind her. Where she turned stood a demon of despair. It was floating, its face glaring down at her. She didn't even know if "face" was the correct term for it, for it was painstakingly unlike any other face she had ever seen in her entire life.

A large, gaping mouth took up the entirety of its head. Rows upon rows of large, sharp teeth were being bared to her, along with a few stragglers jutting from the edges of its lips. Just underneath the mouth was rolls of dark, demon-like flesh that seemed to disappear into a hood of some sort. Ashinne did not wish to see the rest of its horrid figure.

"Ahn ea del, da'ean? Too afraid to fly? Or is it because there is nowhere to go?"

The demon laughed at her misfortune in a pitch so high that Ashinne believed her ears would burst.

"What are you?" Ashinne cried, covering her poor ears and slumping to the ground in misery. Hell was truly all around her, and there was no way of escaping it.

"I think the better question worth asking is who am I? Our time here together is limited, da'ean."

"Then who are you and where are we?" 

The demon laughed again, shaking the ground beneath her knees to the point where the dry earth had cracked. She felt a rush of adrenaline shoot through her veins and cloud her head as she fell through the earth, but it didn't last long. A chilly wind licked up the end of her cream-colored dress-- one she didn't remember ever having worn.

This isn't real.

"You are smart, da'ean," the demon announced in its shrill voice, grabbing Ashinne by the arm with its cold, cold hands. 

It yanked her from the abyss, pulling her small, elven figure up toward its terrifying mouth of a face. Ashinne felt as if she would pass out any moment. Whether it would be due to fear or hypothermia, she did not yet know.

"This is your mind, da'ean. Flooded with sorrow, the earth barren, icy, and dry. This is where I have manifested for decades."

Ashinne blinked rapidly to keep the water in her eyes from freezing shut, her entire face slowly going numb from the wind. Her lips were blue and frozen, gaping open like a fish in attempt to speak words.

"You may call me Penumbra. I am part of you. I have been since you were the ripe age of seven. I only started to gain my power after your parents had succumbed to the calling of the Fade."

Ashinne croaked a sound that sounded of no words; her throat was freezing shut. Breathing was suddenly a challenge.

"There is no doubt in my mind that you have questions. I'm sure you do. But that is for a later time. I cannot keep you here any longer it seems. Our time has dwindled rapidly,"

With Penumbra's parting words, she was released into the cavernous abyss beneath her. An ear-piercing scream from her own throat shattered every piece of ice blocking her airways. 

~~◇~~

Solas could not fully believe what his eyes were seeing. All around him there was chaos, screaming, and panic. He had not seen this much mayhem since the appearance of the Breach and the destruction of the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Haven's downfall hadn't even experienced this much disarray. 

He could only imagine what these people were thinking. Ashinne had the same look as that of the mage that blew up the Chantry in Kirkwall, and it was much too soon for another mage such as he to become unleashed. They feared she would tear asunder, rupturing in a way that would destroy Skyhold. Little did they know that that was not the case.

Glowing, lyrium-blue eyes replaced her pools of emerald greens, veins of the same blue stretched across her body like the Blight, and various strands of ebony hair flew around her face with the freedom of mana and newfound power. The Templars tasked with holding her back struggled to keep her at bay, and even Leliana was frenzied by the whole ordeal. 

Solas ran to her.

He saw the pain in her brow, heard the gut-wrenching screams flowing from her mouth. Even she was incapable of controlling herself. Not a single soul knew what had happened to her-- not even himself.

Leliana stopped him as he reached the stairs, hysteria wildly prominent on her face. 

"Solas, you must do something! The Templars' abilities are being nullified!" She yelled over everyone else's panicked voices, stepping aside to allow him access to the stairs.

It was bold of her to assume that he could do anything more than they. The Templars are trained for this sort of thing, not mages. But she was correct in presuming that he knew a spell that could calm her. He'd done it once before. He just wasn't sure if it would work the same.

Solas didn't need to stand directly beside her to feel the cool wafts of energy emerging from her skin. She was freezing up, her eyes as misty as glaciers. But the strain in her face had shown him enough. Ashinne wanted freedom from this agony.

The spell readied in his hand within seconds. He held it toward her face, his palm facing her. And as quickly as he cast it, the lights were out. No more lyrium eyes, no more glowing veins. She slumped over in the Templars' grasp, each one loosening their grip on the limp elf. They looked at one another with shocked expressions, and then to Solas with curiosity. 

"She is not dead, if that is what you believe," Solas told them plainly, causing sighs of relief to flutter from their mouths in unison. 

"Miss Leliana," one of them piped up. "What should we do with the prisoner? She is asleep, albeit temporarily."

Leliana made her way up the old, stone steps, a look of worry stained across her brow. She looked to Solas for answers. It surprised him to see that the famously independent Spymaster wished for his assistance. Rare things suddenly appear to come more commonly these days, it seems.

"I would take her back to her cell. I will volunteer myself to watch her, seeing as I'm the only one who can control her abilities for now. Have Hawke contact her mage ally. The man may know more than any of us here."

"Lady Spymaster!" A single soldier ran in from the crowd, urgency in his step. "Lady Trevelyan must speak with you at once, by her request, Miss."

"I will meet you in the dungeon, Solas," Leliana told the elven mage. She then turned to the newly arrived soldier and told the man to notify Hawke about their current situation. He ran off without a second thought or reply, dirt and dead grass kicking up from his heels as he moved with purpose.

Solas remained behind the Templars on their walk to her prison cell, allowing the one who had offered to carry her to do so. Ashinne looked so devoid of life in the man's arms, her body so puny and fragile compared to the figure in the bulky armor. Her skin had paled an enormous amount, her lips blue and chapped and the murky blue-red color of her veins showing through her skin. If he had not previously seen her chest rising and falling, he would have believed her to be dead. Even then, what he would give for a second chance to prevent this...

Nothing. There was nothing he could give, because he was fatalistic. Her coming to the Inquisition, her murdering two members of her own clan, her trial, the happenings of this day... all were predetermined by the stars. Not one thing he could have given would have prevented this. Now there was the slim possibility that she was slipping away, and there was absolutely nothing he could do.

Banal nadas.

~~◇~~

"How was your very first taste of real power?" Penumbra cackled in her face, screeching with joy at Ashinne's displeasure.

Her entire body, save her head, was encased inside a glacier sitting within a large canyon. Wind zoomed down the canyon walls at great speeds, causing Ashinne to shut her eyes to prevent her tears from freezing. If this is how those poor souls in that human novel she had read all that time ago had felt, she felt great pity for them, despite their misdoings. 

"Fenhedis lasa," Ashinne spat at the demon, her voice shaking from the cold. Penumbra did no more than chuckle at her.

"Such immaturity. Dirthara ma, Thellassan." 

Winds colder than she had ever felt before suddenly whipped around her head, sharp pricks of ice scraping her cheeks and burning them like fire. Winter fire.

"I hear that you yearn to discover yourself. You will receive nothing if you keep acting."

Ashinne screamed, and suddenly the winds stopped. She peeked one eye open just slightly and saw Penumbra's haunting face invade her field of view. She quickly shut her eye.

The demon shrieked with laughter, "Maybe I shall give you a taste? It may break your fragile mind, but all is worth the truth. That is correct, yes da'ean?"

Before Ashinne had any time to disagree, the edges of her vision clouded with black spots. Her mind felt faint, and one last shrill rupture from Penumbra's throat sent her into the void.

Chapter Text

 

I looked my demons in the eye, laid bare my chest, and said do your best to destroy me. I've been to Hell and back so many times I must admit you kinda bore me."

-Ray Lamontagne

~~◇~~

"Mihriel," a sweet voice called her, causing her eyes to open to the sound before her. It was a man a little leaner and much taller than herself, his face graced by the beauty of dark eyes and pale skin. Waves of licorice-colored hair framed his chiseled face, the ends of his thick, but nicely groomed, brows being hid away by his luscious locks. He was dressed in beautiful black robes with accents of gold built into them. An intricate-looking staff made of dark wood was strapped to his back, a carved stone emitting some sort of blue energy sitting upon the top.

Who is this man?

"Da'ean."

The name made her shiver.

A hand waved in front of her face, snapping her from her thoughts. She gazed into the man's dark chocolate irises, looking to him with question and curiosity. Was she supposed to know of this elf? His face was not painted by any identifying vallaslin. No, she certainly didn't know him.

This stranger acts as if he knows me. I do not...

"I wanted to check up on you. See if you were alright after what had happened," the gentle elf told her, giving her a soft smile.

She furrowed her brows in concern. She looked over her lithe arms, her pale legs, ran her hands across her face. Minus a few light scratches near her ankles, nothing seemed amiss.

"I seem to be alright," she looked to him. "Had something happened?"

A look of shock tainted the elf's face for a moment, his hand falling onto her arm as he looked over it. 

"You don't remember?"

Remember? What am I to be remembering...?

"Remember? Please do inform me, Mister," she pleaded, the ache for answers gnawing at her bones.

Who am I...

"Do you remember me at least?" the man asked.

Mihriel shook her head, no. A sigh of defeat escaped his lips.

"I was not aware that this was possible... damn that harellan. I am so sorry, da'ean."

She narrowed her eyes, her head clouded with the utmost confusion.

"I wish you would explain! Ma halani!" she barked at the elvhen man, causing him to repulse in sorrow. The expression made him look a lot older than he actually appeared to be. 

"Ir abelas. I sent you on a mission I believed that you would succeed in accomplishing. It seems that my beliefs have failed me."

The man's face hardened, his eyes becoming glassy with tears. She did not know why, but seeing this stranger overwhelm himself with sadness and distress made her, too, feel overcome by such feelings. Despite not knowing this man, she wanted to comfort him.

She reached for him, wrapping her skinny arms around his thickly robed body. Through all of the layers of rich, velvety fabric, there was a deeply troubled man. The beats of his heart were fast and erratic. She felt them as he enveloped her small frame with his arms, returning the favor she had just given him. Fresh tears fell upon her neck as he buried his face within the nook of her shoulder, the feel of his breath on her skin giving her goosebumps.

"Ma vhenan," he mumbled, his voice heavily strained by sorrow. "Ir abelas."

Mihriel tightened her grip around the elf's body, liking the feel of the dark velvet against her fingertips. Her eyes drifted to the staff that was now lying bare on the wooden floor, her interest drawn to the smooth carvings etched into the round surface of the stone that was enclosed within the branches at the top. 

What a unique structure... it almost looks familiar?

"Falon'Din," an assertive voice called from aside them, leading Mihriel's eyes astray.

A lanky elf dressed in sentinel's clothing stood in the doorway, his skin kissed golden by the sun rays beaming on them from above. A tangle of dark brown hair was tied tight behind his head. Vallaslin of the same color spanned his face, its branches meandering around his brows, eyes, and nose.

That looks like...

"I am occupied at the moment, Ilris. Please come back another time," Falon'Din told his messenger, solemn tones underlying in his voice.

"If you wished to die you could at least do so more honorably, milord," the messenger's face suddenly turned serious, throwing his previous comment aside. "It is about the war. It has reached the gates."

The elvhen man retracted his arms from her body, his face struck with concern as he glanced over at the sentinel. The messenger's face remained stoic, his hand motioning to the window. Falon'Din stood slowly, his umber eyes locked on the window. There was a glint of hesitation in those eyes, almost as if he were wishing for the sight upon him to be untrue.

Alas, not all wishes could be granted. That was something he had learned far too late, unfortunately.

"So it is true. The dreaded Wolf has sent his minions upon me. How lovely."

Ilris stepped beside him, pointing at something on the opposite side of the window, "Not the Wolf's. Look at their faces."

Falon'Din squinted, seeing the vallaslin of more curvaceous, elegant branches come into better view. His face drew back as he realized.

"Even after her death, Fen'Harel has her support," the god's eyes started to become glassy again, and his brow lowered in anger.

Fen'Harel?

Ilris turned to look at Mihriel, much to the elvhen god's dismay.

"Do not gaze upon her that way," Falon'Din snapped at the sentinel, guiding him out of the room in a harsh manner.

"I am simply expressing sympathy, milord. I cannot imagine the feeling-"

"Do not remind me."

Once Ilris had finally taken his leave, Falon'Din returned to Mihriel, his heart thudding in his chest at the sight of her big, green eyes looking up at him.

"So you are Falon'Din?" she asked. "I've heard of you."

The elvhen god nodded, crouching in front of his amnesia-stricken soulmate. If he was only aware of what magics lie dormant at that god-forsaken temple of Mythal's, he never would have sent her. Gods, what has he done?

"That I am," he took her hands in his own. "I apologize for imposing myself upon you earlier."

She shook her head, long, onyx locks of hair swaying softly against her cheeks, "There is no need. I didn't mind."

They sat like that for what seemed like hours when in reality, it had only been a few minutes. Falon'Din twirled his fingers in his love's flowing tresses, weaving flowers from the conservatory within the dark strands as she watched him with wonder. Her eyes were as beautiful as the vines crawling up the walls surrounding them, slithering across flower pots and invading the vegetable gardens. He could sit like this all day were there not a war waging at his very doorstep. He would get her to remember, get her to feel his heart again...

But there was no such time. 

"I fear I must leave you, Mihriel. The duty of being a responsible leader does not wait for anyone, regardless of the circumstances."

Falon'Din stood from his lover, his fingers entwined with hers until the very last second. His hand felt cold as they parted.

"Where must you go?" she questioned him, curiosity present in her wandering eyes once more. How he yearned to simply gaze into them for all eternity.

"To fight. Someone I once had the pleasure of calling my friend has decided that he wishes to be my enemy. He is... well, he plays a part in your faulty memory. I cannot allow him to get away with such things," the elvhen god picked up his misplaced staff from the ground and reattached it to the clasp on his back.

"Will you return?"

"That, I do not know. But I will hope. Have faith in me, vhenan."

Mihriel appeared stumped for a moment, her eyes examining the fine fuzz on the leaf of one of the many flowers weaved into her hair as she thought about what to reply with. Falon'Din waited patiently. He would, even if it meant that his enemies would seize him before she got to say anything.

"If that is truly who I was... your vhenan, then I will. Dareth shiral."

Falon'Din reached for Mihriel, his hands placing themselves upon her cheeks as he pulled his face to hers. Mihriel felt the feeling of soft lips on her forehead before the feeling was suddenly replaced by emptiness, her eyes reconnecting not with the elvhen god, but with a furious spirit that looked just like him. 

She screamed, feeling the spirit's cold hands tighten so fiercely around her face until she heard a pop, followed by indescribable pain.

~~◇~~

Ashinne woke in a cold sweat, her lungs grasping for air as her eyes snapped open. Her arms flew wildly, searching for anything to give her leverage. A hand jutted out in front of her, its fingers closed around a glass of icy water. Even the rims of the glass were frosted, she noticed.

Her eyes followed the arm to its beholder, meeting the sharp angles of a very familiar face as she gazed upon him. She let her guard down, a soft whimper falling from her lips as she recalled the confusing events of her dream and Penumbra's agonizing torture.

"Ane eth, Ashinne," Solas consoled her, catching the traumatized female that had fallen into his arms all on her own. 

He was careful to set the water back onto the wooden stool beside him before comforting her, feeling the fabric on his shoulder becoming wet with tears. He wondered what she had seen that made her so distraught so suddenly.

"You must re-hydrate, Ashinne. You're as pale as a sheet," he told her, pulling her from his shoulders and offering the glass to her once more.

She took it with delicacy, her fingers flinching at the touch of the cold surface. Ashinne could still feel the demon swarming within her brain. She felt cold, although her skin was undoubtedly as warm as it should be.

"Did you see anything of interest?" Solas inquired, leaning forward and resting one elbow atop his folded legs. He placed his head in the hand that was propped up.

Ashinne placed the glass on the floor and ran both her hands through the front of her hair, unsure of what to tell him. 

Should I tell him everything? How much do I even remember?

"I saw... a lot. I'm not even sure where to start."

Solas blinked, waiting patiently as she skimmed through her brain for a memory that would be of interest to him. The look on his face reminded her a lot of the look in Falon'Din's eyes as he waited for Mihriel's response. The thought reminded her-- who was Mihriel?

"I think I saw into someone's past, Solas," she admitted. 

The elven male raised his brows in response. Someone? He wondered who.

"You dreamt?" he was undoubtedly shocked.

Ashinne sighed, her head falling into her hands, "I'm not even sure it was that. There was something..."

She felt a wave of icy hot pain jolt through her body. Ashinne gritted her teeth and grasped onto her hair tightly in an attempt to ignore the pain. It didn't help much. Solas saw her struggle, piquing his interest even greater than before.

"Someone... was controlling what I was seeing. I think."

Solas was suddenly appreciative of his attempt to get Hawke to contact Anders. If Ashinne was some sort of abomination... well, he didn't want to think about what he would need to do as opposed to what he would want to do. He knew the right course of action to take. It was just a manner of following through with it.

"There is a spirit controlling you?"

The look in her eyes shifted to one of pure hopelessness.

"It is not a spirit."

Pain surged through her body again, this time in a greater form than it had before. She rubbed her temples, somehow hoping that doing so would purge Penumbra from her mind. Ashinne groaned, feeling a cold ache in her joints and in her limbs. The threat of a headache loomed at the back of her head.

"The vision I had," she started, trying to tough through the pain pulsing through her body. "I was looking through the eyes of a woman named Mihriel. I knew nothing about her other than that she had long and flowing black hair and pale skin."

Solas reached out and grasped onto her trembling hand, proceeding to rub circles into the smooth skin that graced her knuckles.

"There was another man. An elf. He claimed to be Mihriel's vhenan, but she had no memory of him."

"When did this memory take place?" Solas asked her, sensing an ancient memory of his own resurfacing as he listened to her speak of her vision.

"Your time. Elvhenan's time."

A woman barged into the cell immediately after she had told him, her bulky armor rattling with all sort of metal plates. She was breathing heavily, her hand resting against the doorframe of the prison cell as she tried to regain her composure. The woman was an oddity to Ashinne, having the likes and looks of someone she had never seen before-- not even for a human.

"Solas, I-" she huffed, straightening herself out once her eyes met Ashinne's face. "Oh, she is awake. You could have told me before I ran all the way from the Ambassador's office and across the courtyard. I haven't ran such a distance in months! I was not prepared."

Solas refrained from chuckling at the woman's humorous comment, peering over his shoulder to meet the woman's waiting eyes.

"She only woke just moments ago, Hawke."

Ashinne's mouth fell open.

"You are the Marian Hawke? The one that-" the pain originated in her gut this time, spreading like fire across her insides. She grunted and doubled over, wrapping one arm around her midsection and tightening her other hand around Solas'.

"Anders was never like this," Hawke noted, stepping closer to the agonized female. "Speaking of which, he is on his way from the Hinterlands. He should be here in two days if he takes short, limited breaks."

Solas looked to Ashinne, whose grip had finally loosened. His expression fell once he looked upon her, however.

"Now, that looks more like Anders," Hawke said jokingly.

Ashinne's eyes were twinkling with the bright blue glow from before, yet he could still see specks of green floating in there somewhere. Veins of mana were slowly crawling up her skin. Her flesh was icy to the touch, her breath coming out in puffs of frosty smoke. Solas had it figured out as her cool breath met his skin.

"Anders was not controlled by a despair demon, I presume?" Solas told Hawke, his tone biting.

Hawke gulped, a chill running through her bones at his words. She knew that it was not impossible, but the thought of another powerful mage running rampant with a being of the Fade controlling them sent dread soaring through her. She did not wish to recall the aftermath of the battle with Orsino and Meredith. For a long time, she thought that she had sent her friend to his death, letting him have his freedom in whichever place he decided to run off to. It recently turned out that he had been safe the entire time.

Certainly after what had happened in Kirkwall, and with so much authority running around, this elf would likely not get the same chance that Anders did. 

"D...don't let her t...take me again. I...I don't w...want to go back, Solas," Ashinne shivered, her lips trembling as she spoke. 

"Don't let who take you?" Solas asked desperately, gripping her hand tighter and checking the temperature of her skin with the back of his hand. 

The warmth of his hand felt nice against her cheek.

"P...Penum...the demon. Penumbra..."

Her eyes transformed fully and she writhed from his grip, her breath coming out sharp and panicked. The veins had completely snaked around her limbs and climbed up her face, casting a luminous blue glow on both Hawke's and Solas' faces.  

"G...get away from me. I d...don't want to hurt either of you," Ashinne told them, scooting as far back on her cot as she could from the two. 

Penumbra's pull was a lot stronger this time around, the constant screeching sound numbing her ears to anything Hawke was saying. She saw hand motions swirling in blue light, illuminating within the darkness like bright stars. It was so painfully intense that it engulfed her entire field of view.

~~◇~~

"You wish to play games, girl," Penumbra shrieked, calling forth magic to trap Ashinne in a cage of winter winds.

Ashinne shut her eyes tight and screamed, passionately hoping that anything in this realm would hear her cries for help.

"This is your mind, Ashinne. You are the only being that resides here; aside from myself, of course."

The demon's laugh shook cracks into the ground, toppling the elven female to the earth with the rocketing force of the powerful vibrations.

"There is only one thing more that I wish of you."

Ashinne wanted to tear down the barrier, kill Penumbra with the sheer force of her hands. What more could this grotesque creature want from her? She has given all that she could possibly give.

"I want the power that embodies your spirit. No, not your mana. Something greater than that."

Penumbra flew down into Ashinne's wind chamber, encasing the elf's body in solid ice so that she could not escape.

"I can only obtain it by showing you the truth."

Chapter Text

 

"The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution." 

-J.K. Rowling

~~◇~~

Time stretches-- it's running thin.

There were far too many people standing in one single prison cell, so many that the mage trying to pry his way through the masses was having difficulty in doing so. He nearly gave into the belief that they didn't truly wish for his help until they finally let him by, with the help of Marian Hawke. It almost seemed as if the Inquisition's entire council were in this very room. Some even spilled out into the hallway-- that's how many there really were.

But inside were few. A woman donning a long, dark cloak and cold eyes, a woman of the same height and class that he would've mistaken for Hawke had he just glanced by, Hawke herself, an elven mage with a shaven head, and a large blonde male whose eyes were judgmental when cast upon him circled a lithe elven female lying still upon a dirty cot. The elven female's skin had sprouted with veins of glowing lyrium, and a thin sheet of sweat glistened over her. The sight looked all too familiar to him. He'd seen this very image in a mirror before; except, he had been fully conscious and very much not himself when he had seen it for the first time.

"Anders, you've made it," Hawke said to him, her voice only slightly softer than her normal speaking voice. She did not wish to wake the elven girl, he assumed.

Anders nodded, and motioned toward the unconscious female, "This is the one you told me about. The one in your letter?"

"Yes," Hawke's face turned grim. "She's been out for five days."

Anders looked toward the girl upon the bed once more. Her chest barely moved when she took breaths, and her skin was as pale as a ghost. The only color that graced her flesh was spread across her nose and cheeks. She looked cold. He felt a pang of guilt rip through his heart like a spear.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get here sooner," he looked away from the girl. "There were difficulties along my travels. The Templars..."

Hawke shook her head, her eyes looking into his with that same look she had given him when they first met. Full of warm sympathy, she didn't understand what was wrong with him back then. Now she knew completely, but that didn't change anything about their friendship. How he wished it was more...

"Anders," Hawke called to him, beckoning him from his thoughts.

He raised a brow in question.

"I said let's not worry about that right now. You are safe. Please," she made a notion toward the elven girl. "Try and help us understand what's wrong with her."

Anders' mind started racing with anxiety once he stepped toward the maiden. She was beautiful and full of youth. Even lying without consciousness, that much was distinguishable. He needed to stop thinking in this manner. He had a duty to fulfill.

The elven man that he had knelt next to had turned to him and started speaking, "I believe that she is being controlled by a demon of despair, hence why she is freezing to the touch. I cannot determine any more than that."

Anders' eyes never left the girl. He traced the veins of lyrium with his eyes until they reached her youthful face, where they stopped just past her mouth. Puffs of frozen smoke passed through her lips with every shallow breath. 

"Hawke informed us that you have a... similar... condition and may be able to assist us," the mage continued. Anders could tell, even by only looking at the elven male with his peripherals, that his eyes were equally as cold as the first woman's. It was like he was staring right through him.

He was uncomfortable here. Four pairs of watchful, knowing eyes on him was far too many to his liking.

"I will do my best," Anders told the mage, not meeting his harsh gaze. There was too much on his mind already. He did not need another apostate looking at him in the face, staring through him with the knowledge of his misdoing to the Chantry. 

The girl was indeed cold. If she would not wake with a simple cleansing spell, he was not sure what more he could do. Such a spell did not work on his own self when he tried so long ago, so he had little faith. It was terrible thing to think, but it was the truth. She was on the borderline of possession. Maker knows, she could very much already be in that state. This is a demon they mentioned, after all.

He readied the spell in his hands, a calming blue light washing over his skin like any other healing spell. This one has proven to be more powerful than most, but there was no guarantee that it would help her. It had to work. If not, he did not want to break to the rest that either she had to die or that it would take blood magic or vast amounts of lyrium to return her to her usual self. And this did not look like the type of group to tolerate blood magic rituals.

The spell smoothed over her small elven body like a beautiful blanket, glittering and all. But once it cycled over her, her eyes still refused to open. This cause was hopeless. She would be stuck in the Fade unless...

"She will not wake. I attempted to purge the demon from her body naturally, but I am far too late, it seems," Anders told the group.

It pained him to say it.

"So she is possessed!" the woman who appeared much like his Hawke exclaimed in disbelief, her eyes wild with panic.

Anders stopped her, "Not quite. She is in between. She hasn't given in to possession yet, but she is not far off."

"Well, that hardly helps unless there is some solution," the armored man standing closest to the door said.

Anders felt a rush of anxious heat rush through his body, his own fears starting to kick into overdrive.

"I'm afraid that there is no solution other than to just wait."

"Then I don't see why we just kill her now. She has already done harm to the Inquisition, I don't see what the issue is," the short-haired woman spoke again.

"The Inquisitor would greatly disapprove of such an action," the elven mage replied.

"You know her stance on elves," the armored man agreed with the elf's statement.

After so many rebuttals in disagreement to her previous words, the short-haired woman dared not to say anything more. She nodded in silent understanding. Anders suddenly felt a dainty hand place itself upon his shoulder, sending shockwaves throughout his entire body.

"You did all that you could," Hawke's gentle voice told him.

"That does not mean that I feel don't feel sorry. No one deserves this fate," he said, shaking his head.

"We will wait," he heard the elf to his right speak. "If she does not wake..."

The elf's next breath of despair was hardly audible to both Hawke and himself, likely escaping the others surrounding them for it was so quiet that it would barely blow a hair out of place; yet, it was the saddest sound that Anders had probably heard in his entire life.

"... then I willingly volunteer myself to end her misery."

~~◇~~

Loud, angry voices were being thrown left and right, up, down, and diagonal. Mihriel stood idly by, the pain of her growing headache becoming more and more pronounced the longer this bickering stood. How she wished her lover or his fool of a brother would end this nonstop feuding. She had even lost track of what the argument was originally about.

"Durlahn!" her lover's angry voice finally bellowed above the rest, his face red with impatience. "You argue over nothing!"

An equally-as-angry voice rose above him, "Then you have chosen ?"

Falon'Din turned to face Mihriel, his dark eyes not wavering for even a second before he said, "I have."

There was great uproar. Simultaneously, Mihriel's heart sank into the well of her chest. She did not want this. She had told him she did not want to be the one. She was afraid. Not one soul in this very room wished for her to carry out this duty other than Falon'Din himself.

"I-" she stood, ready to protest when instead, his twin stopped her. 

Have I no say in this?

"The woman that sits before you all is not your adversary! This is not a matter for debate. It never was. She will be the one to slay our foe with great honor. Do not disrespect her, unless you wish for your head to rest upon a pike," Falon'Din told his council, followers, and army, his head held high with dignity. He was fortunate that not one unleashed a flume of furious fire magic upon him in response. It would not have been the first time, however.

"Lady Mihriel," he turned to her, his arm extended in grace. "Please, join me upon this pedestal."

She was hesitant at first. Hesitant of accepting his offer, but also hesitant to speak her mind. She wasn't sure if she wanted this. She had at first in order to please him, but now she knew that he held a softer side to him. But she didn't know if he was daring enough to show it to his entire holding of admirers.

Her steps were shaky and clumsy; they were not the steps of a god's suitor. The crowd stared at her with disgust. An even greater mistake: gazing upon the ground as she finally reached the pedestal. 

One of Falon'Din's followers wished to be so undeniably outspoken that he had to announce his beliefs to the god himself, riling up the rest of the crowd, "Asha'alas!"

The masses laughed in agreement, and Mihriel could not-- would not-- raise her face to meet the thousand faces of the roaring crowd. It was too much for her to handle. She felt tears pooling at the base of her eyes as she stared at her dirty feet shoved into what she believed were the prettiest shoes she had ever laid eyes on. They were flat to the ground and were made of a sparkly green material that had thin, golden threads weaved in throughout so that whenever she moved, the glint of gold would catch an eye or two. Atop the flap that covered half her foot sat a row of golden gems outlined with real diamonds. The shoes wrapped around to cover the back of her heel entirely-- a perfect fit. She was never in her life allowed the pleasure of wearing something so beautifully wonderful. Not until she met the Friend of the Dead. 

But she would never, ever gain the acceptance of his court. To them, she would always be known as an "asha'alas"-- a dirty woman from the slums of Elvhenan. No one would ever understand why their god fell in love with one of the forsaken. Nor would she. 

She felt his eyes on her crying face, on her most vulnerable form. If he didn't see her as weak before, he most definitely would now. She was ashamed. She could never be his queen.

"Mihriel," he called to her in the soft voice only known to her ears. 

He drew her from the pedestal, tugging her along with only one hand as she stilled her focus on the marble tiles beneath them. Dirthamen was left to bring order to the crowd, however, Mihriel failed to hear his rallying speech. All she heard were her own sniffles and the sound of her lover's footsteps as he dragged her to the hallway.

Once they reached it, she pulled herself from his grasp and moved to the other side of the hallway where she rested her forehead against the tan walls. She felt bad for letting her commoner tears fall upon the beautiful marble, but she could not look at her god in this state. It would be wrong.

"Mihriel," he called again, this time even softer than the last. She thought she heard a twinge of pity in his voice, but she couldn't be sure.

She started wailing once his arms wrapped around her midsection from behind, not believing herself to be deserving of such affection. She was dirty, tainted, forbidden from loving a god so physically. But here she was-- a commoner in Falon'Din's castle.

"I do not belong here," she told him plainly, her voice shaken by the tremors brought on by her own tears.

Falon'Din let his lover cry out the pain, making an attempt to soothe the girl by caressing her luscious, raven tresses. He would wait. He was always patient with her, no matter the circumstance. No matter how great his desire to scold his court was, he would wait. Always.

"To them, you don't," he stated plainly, enjoying the feel of her silky hair gliding through his fingers and across his knuckles. "But to me, this is where you will always belong, vhenan. I do not care what they think."

Mihriel continued to have doubts. There was never a time where they didn't persist.

"One cannot rule without approval from their court," she told him. Falon'Din turned her around so that he could see her, but she wouldn't allow him to meet her eyes. She stared at his feet, the tiles, his chest, anything but him. He raised his hands to her face and forced her chin up with little resistance from his lover. Her eyes were marvelous.

"One can. They simply must forget where you came. Why do you think I assigned you to this mission rather than Palowen?"

Mihriel furrowed her brows as she thought deeply about it, his words marinating within the doubts that plagued her mind.

"Sure, he can do just as excellent of a job as you, but I chose you for a reason. My court forgets that the slums produce the most exquisite assassins. They forget most things, within reasonable replacement of course."

They forget. They always forget, he tells her often. But they haven't yet forgotten from where their future queen has hailed. 

"I told you that I didn't want this," she was suddenly furious with him, forgetting all about the sorrow that troubled her just a moment ago.

"Your fears about Mythal are irrational, da'ean. She is no more powerful than I. I believe in you."

"You are very powerful," she said, disregarding his last statement.

"Mihriel..."

Screams and chants from the court started pouring into the rest of Falon'Din's castle, echoing off of the walls of the large hallway. They wanted their rightful king to return.

Both of their gazes had returned to each other shortly after the distraction ensued, and Falon'Din captured Mihriel's lips in a kiss with tingles that lingered even after they parted; this was true on both ends.

"Go to our room, vhenan. I will meet you there after I call this council to a close. It should not take long," Falon'Din told her, leaving her for the call of his court.

Mihriel brushed away the foolish tears that followed his leaving. 

He will not be gone forever, you fool.

It was the least she could say to truly convince herself.

~~◇~~

"Vhenan?" Falon'Din called into the large room, his voice bouncing off of the ivory-colored walls and marbled floors.

He heard a small pipsqueak of a sound emerge from the far left corner of the room, signaling that his lover was indeed inside. He smiled, sealing off the doors for the remainder of the night as he entered.

"I..." he heard her begin to speak. "Do not come into this corner. I am... indecent... at the moment."

Falon'Din chuckled to himself, obeying the girl's commands as he waited patiently on the other side of the dividing wall. He could hear the sound of rustling fabric as Mihriel hurried to dress herself, but nothing more than that. His heart skipped a beat once he saw his lover emerge from the other side of the wall wearing a frilly, blush-colored nightdress made of the purest silk. Oh, how he adored her so.

"You..." words refused to surface. There were absolutely none that could possibly describe his feelings for this perfect elven woman. 

"I, what?" she asked, an innocent smile dancing across her lips.

Falon'Din rushed forward, grabbing the girl's head with a loving force and pressing his lips to hers. Her hands dropped her day clothes at his feet and snaked in between them to rest upon his chest whilst his fingers weaved though silky strands of her hair. Their magics intertwined, playing an enchanted tune with the strings of both their hearts. Needless to say, the kiss was powerful.

"Ar lath ma, vhenan," Falon'Din said as they parted, his head bowed in order to rest his forehead against hers, for she was much shorter than he.

Mihriel wished she could dance to this tune forever; but alas, there were other matters she wished to speak to him about.

"I presume that you did not come up here to indulge in kisses and passionate silence Lethanavir," she teased the elvhen god, tracing patterns against the velvet of his robes.

Falon'Din felt himself heat up at her use of his given name, but still chuckled nonetheless, "I always come here for such indulgences. But, no, that is not the only reason I came."

He pulled her into him, enjoying the feel of her small frame against his chest as he embraced her. They stayed just like that for a quiet moment before he finally spoke. 

"You are aware that the court is angry, I won't press on that matter. But you must trust me when I say that I fully believe in you to carry out with this assassination."

Mihriel's fears sprang to life again, her heart fully racing with anxiety.

"I do not wish to lose you, vhenan. I don't want to think about what they will do to me if they catch me in the aftermath," she told him, expressing her terrors to him.

Falon'Din felt her suffering as if it were a poison coursing through his veins. He did not wish for her to be unhappy with his decisions, but he so greatly desired for her to be approved by his court. Why did they have to be as stubborn as himself? Of all aspects to take after, why that one? He released her from his hold and crouched in order to meet her emerald eyes, drowning himself in their beauty.

"They will not do anything so long as I am alive, ma lath."

Chapter Text

 

"Revenge itself may indeed be the best revenge, but slaying one's enemy does not give back what they stole." 

-Emilie Autumn

~~◇~~

She felt the tingle of his lips still on her forehead as she entered. Lethanavir, her lover, put his faith in her. She was a commoner; and yet, he continued to rest both his belief and this sacred duty in her hands. She would never admit that she was nervous, despite it all. Not while his court and admirers had so little confidence in her ability. This is all she was here for-- to prove them wrong.

Mythal's temple was breathtakingly gorgeous, even just looking down on it from the high rooftops and open shutters. Smooth ivory, granite, and beautiful, cream-colored tiles plastered nearly every surface. Windows made of lightly stained glass allowed light to pour into the various rooms in pretty patterns. Mihriel was lost just looking at the place, and she hadn't even stepped nearly a foot inside, yet. She was too busy reveling in the beauty of the materials the temple was made of. 

The temple was deserving of a gorgeous ruler, and gorgeous its ruler was. She stood before her silk-covered throne. Her chest and arms bore the jewels of those who admired her with the most passion and devotion, and her buttock-length strands of milky white hair were draped over one dainty shoulder. Her clothing was revealing of her most feminine features, managing to capture even more of her otherworldly beauty. Mihriel came to wonder how a single elvhen woman could behold so much allure. She was, after all, still just a woman.

She was speaking to one of her sentinels in a pained voice, the glint of silvery tears catching Mihriel's eye as the woman turned her head.

"I can do no more, Abelas. Protect the Well. If they come, guard it with your life," she told the sentinel, her voice smooth but wary. It was clear that she was crying.

The Well?

Before Mihriel could produce a second thought on the manner, she felt a strong hand clasp itself upon her shoulder. She turned swiftly, her daggers aimed to strike the assailant when instead she found that the man was not there to harm her. He was another agent. The agent of Andruil.

The Evanuris' plan to strike down the Dread Wolf and his allies was a grand conspiracy. Mihriel had found this out through imposing enough questions unto her lover until he finally revealed that there was one agent for every god, minus Fen'Harel and Mythal. They would each be there on the same night, and each one had a specific duty to fulfill. This was the reason for the great disapproval of Falon'Din's choosing-- the very shoes that Mihriel was given the honor of filling was that of the assassin. By the end of this night, Mythal's blood would be brandished onto her own blade.

The face of Andruil's agent was covered by a thin sheet mask, a hood with a layer of dark fabric attached at the top so that it draped down over one's face. But the only reason she knew that he was Andruil's was because of the silver band pinned above his heart. Etched into it was a fragment of the goddess' vallaslin, as was the same for each and every silver band out there. Carved into her own band was the "one-eyed tree," so Falon'Din named it. It was the bouquet of branches that would sit between one's brows were they to receive his vallaslin

"Halam'shivanas," the agent whispered to her. It was a sign that he was true and not some perpetrator who has come to disrupt their plans.

"Ar'an lasa mala revas," she replied. It was a grim dialogue that they had chosen, but symbolism meant everything in this line of work. There was always a reason for everything.

The agent nodded, "I met with the agent of June and the agent of Ghilan'nain before coming to you. They are ready."

"Have you seen any of the others?" she asked him.

He gestured to the rooftops across from them where Mihriel's eye caught a glance of two gleaming silver bands in the distance. Assuming that the agents across the way were in the correct position, that would make it six agents so far. Falon'Din, Andruil, June, Ghilan'nain, Sylaise, and Dirthamen. They were waiting on one other to make their appearance; however, they were presumed to be inside the temple itself clearing the way for the agents of June and Ghilan'nain at the south entrance. Spotting them would be tricky and time consuming. Perhaps their plan had failed already. Perhaps the man was dead.

"I see silver," Andruil's agent said, the angled eyes behind the thin sheet locked on a blurry figure all the way near the southern entrance. The man wore a sentinel's uniform, but sure enough over the heart was adorned a silver pin.

"That makes seven agents," Mihriel told the man beside her.

"I hope they are ready. Remember the plan? Do not enter until Mythal is distracted."

Mihriel nodded, her eyes locked onto the beautiful woman below that was to be her target. The sharp sound of glass being kicked in resonated to her right, followed by the very same sound across the rooftops. The agent dropped in through the window as Mythal began to flee in panic, the two on the opposite side dropping in shortly after him. Mihriel felt a chill surge through her veins.

Now is not the time for second thoughts.

Sentinels started flooding in from the side gates, as expected, but all were slaughtered by Dirthamen's and Sylaise's agents from across the way. The blood that spewed from their necks turned brown as it clashed against the cream and tan-colored tiles, glittering with a dull lustre in thin streaks. There was so much of it. 

The grounds below had erupted into pure chaos. Mythal had incarcerated two of the agents in their fight for victory, and Mihriel grinned as she descended upon them. Mythal shot out spells left and right, murdering her own sentinels as some had turned on her via frenzy spell. 

A furious roar of magic that had erupted from the southern entrance sped Mihriel's feet, quickened her blade through the air, even giving herself a boost to her speed with a tiny wave of her fingers as she whirred through the atmosphere with a sharpness that matched that of her knife.

Slowly, one by one, her allies were either turned to stone or were killed, and she hurriedly Fade-stepped behind the beautiful woman in the silk clothing and drew her blade across the woman's throat. As the body dropped, she met the fuming eyes of none other than the Dread Wolf himself.

"You," he growled, marching toward her with a fury matched by no other-- not even the god of vengeance.

Mihriel thought to flee, to scream, to collapse. Nothing she did, however, would save her from the rage of the rebel god. 

"You KILLED her," he shouted, his skin becoming subdued by smoke as his body morphed into that of his persona. The Dread Wolf.

The dark wolf bound toward her with great speed. Although Mihriel wished to flee, her legs would not allow her. The Wolf had trapped her in a spell of horror, damning her to feel the terror of his nearing until he appeared in front of her, clasping his suddenly human hands around her throat.

She had never in her life seen a man so angry.

Solas...

Tears welled in Mihriel's eyes at the lack of air, her loud, pained gargles being the only sound to fill this beautiful, beautiful temple. Something so ugly did not belong here. 

Fen'Harel lifted his hands from her throat and yanked her by the hair instead, nearly pulling her to her feet but left her dangling a few inches from the ground. She was too engulfed in the immense pain to marvel at the man's strength. 

"Who put you to this?" after a few moments of not answering, Mihriel was thrown back onto the ground and received an agonizing kick to the stomach. "ANSWER ME!"

She winced at his tone, "I... will not-"

"Falon'Din," he mumbled, his eyes suddenly locked upon the silver pin attached at her heart. He glanced around at each lifeless body that happened to don the black, hooded outfit that the agents were assigned, and grumbled the name of each Evanuris whose pin they belonged to. "They all betrayed her."

His eyes returned to Mihriel, cold, brooding, and seething.

"They ALL BETRAYED HER!"

His silent sobs filled the temple as Mihriel waited there, not daring to look up at the god of rebellion. 

"They all deserve what is coming to them," he said, glancing down at his hands that were readying a spell of some sort. The blue light was somehow... comforting to look at.

"And you," he cast the spell upon her, and a wave of calming, tiring energy washed over her like a heavy blanket. She tried to keep her eyes open for as long as possible, not wanting to succumb to him. "Do not deserve a fate such as death. The Fade does not need corrupted souls such as yours."

Her eyes fell shut.

~~◇~~

Mihriel awoke feeling sore, her muscles and fresh bruises throbbing with ache. She felt a familiar coldness clasped around her wrists and ankles. Shelves of bottles lined every single wall, and there was only one area of counter space directly to the right of her. She found that her arms had been strung above her head, and her feet fully drenched in a shallow pool of dirty, lukewarm water. Orbs of magelight danced in the corners, giving the room a very bright, yet shadowy, feel. The entire place was eerily haunting.

Faint screaming echoes could be heard from outside of the room. Mihriel's heart began to shudder with dread. 

Where have they taken me?

Someone was banging on the walls. Banging on metal doors. They were coming down the hallway. They gave Mihriel's door three hard knocks before the thing swung open, and a bloodied elvhen maiden appeared in the doorway. Her hair had been burnt to a crisp, her face blackened, her clothing torn. Dark bruises marred every other inch of her flesh, and she howled a deafening scream as two sentinels hooked their arms under the woman's armpits and dragged her away. 

Mihriel was traumatized by the sight. She felt all heat drain from her body and wash over her again as she saw the livid face from before, except now it was much more relaxed and not as strained by agonizing lines and red splotches of animosity. She would have thought him handsome if not for his disgusting behavior. 

He didn't even look her in the eyes as he spoke to her.

"Have you realized what you've done?" 

Mihriel responded by biting the inside of her bottom lip. Hard. The metallic taste of blood covered her tongue.

He scoffed, "You don't even know. You have followed Falon'Din blindly, without any thought as to what you would have been doing. Yes! Let's murder the All-Mother, sounds like a wonderful time!"

The man was delirious, his hands flying wildly as he spoke out his frustrations. Once his eyes met her, however, she felt a ripple of nausea pool in her gut. His eyes were swollen with tears, the whites of his eyes a soft pink along with the rims of his eyelids. He looked miserable.

"I know you. Your 'god' must not care much for you as he's thrown you into this bloody mess himself. Did he truly think that you would've either made it out alive or have avoided getting caught? A fool."

Mihriel felt her eyes begin to fill with hot tears. Her face was so cold that they burned as they rolled down her face. She felt her arms begin to lose circulation, her fingers going numb.

"It certainly won't have been the first time he's made such a mistake," he mumbled, casting another spell upon her as he wiped away her tears. 

This time, the energy was comforting in a warm way. She felt it surround her head before cascading down the rest of her body. She felt... cleansed.

"I now must return you to Falon'Din. It would be rude to keep you any longer."

"Falon..." she was confused.

"Falon'Din. Friend of the Dead. You will meet him soon."

Chapter Text

 

"You don't forget the face of the person who was your last hope." 

-Suzanne Collins

~~◇~~

"Da'len?" a voice called to her, echoing off of the empty blackness around her.

Mihriel looked around and recoiled her feet in fear once she realized that there was only emptiness below her. She was floating, swimming in what seemed like an endless abyss of nothingness. What was this place?

"Da'len?" she heard the voice again. It wasn't a voice that she easily recognized. In fact, it was one not familiar to her whatsoever. Who was calling her?

She glanced around, seeing nobody. She saw vast amounts of glimmering stars, but that was all. There was nothing else to sate her growing curiosity and confusion.

"Da'len, I have found you. Didn't you heard me calling?" the voice suddenly appeared behind her, much softer now that it was closer. Mihriel turned and saw the face of a beautiful woman. It that was a face that she recognized.

"Mythal..." Mihriel felt as if she were in the wrong place. Fen'Harel had not killed her, nor had Falon'Din... what was happening?

"That is me, da'len. Come, let me look at you," Mythal beckoned, urging Mihriel closer with a wave of her hand. Mihriel obliged, somehow growing nearer to the woman without taking any physical steps. It seemed that she could move by just thinking about it. Now she was even more curious to her whereabouts.

Mythal gently placed her hands over Mihriel's cheeks, running her fingers along the smooth skin. 

"No vallaslin... did you not serve any gods?" she asked. Mihriel shook her head.

"No, hahren. I was a commoner."

Mythal bowed her head in understanding and swept her fingers over Mihriel's brow, down the crevices of her eyes, across her cheekbones all the way down to her chin. Her eyes were judgmental, and Mihriel could feel the heart-racing chill of anxiety spiral over her under the All-Mother's gaze. She suddenly felt sick.

"You are beautiful, da'len," Mythal told her in a whispered voice, her eyes taking on a look of pity. "Haven't you ever wondered what you look like?"

Mihriel bit her lip in thought. Where she came from, the beauty of mirrors was not a privilege. It was something she was never granted the opportunity to have. She was taught to be selfless because only the gods were allowed to be the most attractive of creatures. Even when she was gifted the room in Falon'Din's castle, those lessons retained. She had never glanced upon herself within a mirror while she resided there. Mihriel shook her head.

"I was taught to never wonder. Only the gods are allowed to be beautiful."

Mythal kept her pitied look, but gave the elvhen girl a soft smile, "Then I must show you."

A blinding light consumed the both of them as the world around them changed, twisting, morphing, melting into a whole new dimension. The darkness had disappeared completely and was replaced by the comfort of a gorgeous room lit up by an orange fire. It was very spacious, and the furniture was undoubtedly the most elegant she had ever seen. Yet, it looked very familiar to Mihriel.

"This was my... our room," Mihriel recalled as she stepped away from Mythal, relishing in the beauty of the place as if she hadn't seen it in ages. While it wasn't true, it certainly felt like it.

She ran her hands over the burgundy bedsheets made of the softest silk, the fluffy rug, the golden carvings embellishing the exterior of the fireplace, and the little markings nicked into the mahogany table as a result of one of Lethanavir's many tantrums. She missed this place immensely. She missed him.

"Come, da'len. To the washroom," Mythal beckoned her, guiding the elvhen girl into the ivory-walled bathroom with polished marble flooring. It was a very brightly-colored space.

She rarely came into this room, if not at all. She typically used the restrooms closer to the maid's quarters-- the ones graced without mirrors and the reflective golden and silver detailing. They were the few parts of the castle that still made her feel as if she were at home with her mother and father, minus the higher quality towels and washtubs and the awkward stares given by the maids.

When she saw herself in the mirror, she urgently felt the need to look away. But Mythal kept her in her place, holding her head straight so that she couldn't turn away. Mihriel didn't know what to think. She didn't know whether to humble herself and think that she wasn't so beautiful or accept the goddess' words as being true. In truth, she was thinking both. But in comparison to the gods, especially the one standing behind her, she was nothing.

Dull black hair instead of glittering white hair. Green eyes instead of blue. Red cheeks, blushed cheeks. Scrawny build, thin and curvaceous build. Flat chest, full chest. Average-sized lips, plump and kissable lips. Plain nose, elegantly pinched nose. The only similarity between the two was their outfits, which happened to be white dresses that came just above the knee in the front and were much longer in the back. 

"Now you know. Are you happier?" Mythal asked her.

"I don't know. I feel like..."

I've seen myself before.

"I'm too different."

Mythal chuckled to herself and ran her fingers though Mihriel's locks, much like Lethanavir would before bed each night. The goddess took three chunks of the elvhen girl's hair and wove them together expertly, creating a braid that could either sit flat against her back or that could be slung over her shoulder.

"Not too different, da'len. The only difference is the people who created you and I. Yet, even that is not so different."

Mihriel furrowed her brows, "How so?"

"The Evanuris were not created any differently than you. We all have parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, distant relatives, and ancestors. In addition to that, I am one of the few that will admit that we were not the first gods and goddesses of our kind."

Mihriel squinted into the mirror, staring into her own emerald-colored eyes as she tried to process what the All-Mother was telling her.

"Have you heard of Uvian, the god of spirits?" Mythal asked.

Mihriel felt as if the name were familiar, as if she's heard it a thousand times before.

"His name attributes to that of the eluvians, our means of transportation, an object that nearly leads us to the world of the spirits. He created gods and goddesses that in turn created other beings of higher power. You understand how lineages are created."

She took a break and began to pull apart the newly woven braid in Mihriel's hair, instead twisting the strands into a new style.

"He created your ancestors. As the other Evanuris began to claim themselves to be the first gods and goddesses, knowledge of Uvian and others during his time were lost. Uvian's descendants were reduced to elves living in slums and in the streets as homeless. But you and many others are of a powerful people."

Mihriel was stunned, her eyes as wide as saucers. Was this really the truth? She ultimately wondered why the All-Mother, the woman she had murdered, was telling her this and how she came to know of it.

"What does this mean for my magic?" Mihriel questioned.

"In Elvhen legends," Mythal began. "Uvian created spirit and rift magic. He was able to draw his ability from the Fade to control the spirits of others and protect them. While anyone can learn the basic spells, only his descendants possess the most pure and original form of spirit magic."

Mihriel glanced down at her hands, which were strangely emanating a faint purple light. Everything looked warbled with color. She was never skilled with magic. Neither of her parents had ever taught her. They used to send her to archery lessons every weekend, probably never knowing of the gift that she possessed. Or perhaps they did. Sorrow suddenly filled her heart as she thought about how she would never be able to use Uvian's magic. She imagined that the sight of it would be beautiful.

"Do you know which of my parents had Uvian's gift?" Mihriel was so curious about her newfound power. She wished to know every answer.

"Likely your father. Since Uvian was male, it is more likely that Uvian's power is passed down in a patriarchal manner. It is uncommon for females to receive the gift, even if one parent possesses it. You, however, are a rare and wonderful thing."

Mythal was smiling. It was a wide, yet gentle smile that stabbed Mihriel's heart with guilt. She had destroyed such a wise and merciful creature. Mythal respected her people, never committing any wrongdoing. She was compassionate and loving... and Mihriel had ruptured her lovely soul with her blade. Elvhenan would never be the same again.

"Ir abelas, Mythal," she told the goddess, bowing her head before the mirror in shame. Mythal stroked Mihriel's hair.

"Whatever for, da'len?" 

Mihriel was shocked, "You have given me so much knowledge; and, in return, I have given you death. It is not a worthy trade, and I still yearn to understand why you have given me such knowledge when I am not of worth."

Mythal turned the girl around so that they met eye-to-eye. She still wore the same wide smile, even now.

"I have given it to you because I am the deliverer of justice. But before one can judge another, one must see. Your reaction to the knowledge I have given you was expected. I did not believe you to be a true follower of the blindly unfaithful. My son is known to be impulsive and his brother manipulative. You are untainted. They saw that, and that is why Falon'Din chose you to slay me. He knew you would give in eventually."

"I cannot believe one could go through with supporting the death of their own mother. I cannot believe that I followed him," Mihriel looked to Mythal, her eyes narrowed in anger. "Did he ever truly love me? Or was I just his puppet?"

"No, no, da'len," Mythal rested her dainty hands upon Mihriel's shoulders. "He adored you with everything in his being. He never cared that you were from the commons. I don't think I had ever seen true love until the moment my son came to me with the story of your meeting on his tongue. Affection had reached into every crevice in his old heart."

Mihriel looked down toward the All-Mother's neck, diverting her eyes from the crystal blues that lie above. Just as she did, a loud banging noise emerged from the main room, followed by the sound of heavy, authoritative footsteps marching in. Voices murmuring in elvhen filled the space after their entrance.

"What is happening?" Mihriel asked, her eyes bright with panic. Mythal's eyes reflected the same fear.

"They are storming the castle. We don't have much time left."

Who was "they"?

"Mythal?"

"Fen'Harel plans to cast them away. The Evanuris. I saw him speak of this in his study shortly after my death."

"Cast them away? How?"

Mythal shook her head as Fen'Harel's sentinels made their way into the bathroom, completely phasing through the two women as if they were made of water. 

"He plans to create a barrier known as the Veil. It will completely lock away the Evanuris into the Fade, separating the living world and the dreamworld until it is taken down again. It will trap us too, unless we escape."

Mihriel could hardly comprehend her words, "He truly has that much power?"

Mythal nodded, "Yes, da'len. Each of the Evanuris does. Casting a spell like that, however... will put one into Uthenera for millenia."

The soldiers finally exited the bathroom after searching and finding nothing of interest. 

"I have enough power left in me to give you a rebirth, a new life. You will appear the same, but you will remember nothing of this life. I will only cast it if you are willing."

"What will become of you?"

"I will need to find a host in the living world. I will have no power left to give myself a rebirth, but I can take over a magical soul that is willing to accept me. I have already found a potential option. Do not worry."

Mihriel thought hard for a moment.

"Is it possible that Fen'Harel will remember me if we meet?"

Mythal chuckled, "If that day ever comes, preserve me. It is very unlikely that you two will ever meet, given his current ambitions and the common luck bred into the world."

Mihriel embraced the All-Mother, watching in fear as magical light flooded into the room from the war waging outside. Mihriel observed as hundreds, thousands of sentinels in opposing outfits brutally attacked each other. Black metals and burgundy-stained leathers fitted Falon'Din's soldiers while Fen'Harel's soldiers wore plain steel and brown leather armors.

"They are valiant... as I hope you will be in your next life," Mythal kneeled before Mihriel so that their faces leveled each other's, and took her small hands in her aged ones. "Do not let others take control of you. You are your own mind. You are Uvian's gift. I give you my knowledge and a portion of my own power to send you away with. Do not feel as if you are unworthy. I would rather give this to no other being."

Her eyes began to emit a glorious blue light as Mihriel began to feel a surge of power start to stream through her veins. Her feet were grounded, but she felt as if she were floating. 

"Ar lasa ma ma'enansal. Ar lasa sal'shiral."

Mihriel was becoming weightless. She experienced all feeling leave her legs and arms, and the sensation slowly trickled upward toward her neck. Mythal, on the other hand, had become completely submerged in white light. 

Then she saw it through the window. A cast of destructive green light in the distance, plowing through everything in its path. It broke through lines of his own soldiers. It broke through the bridge. It was breaking through the walls of the castle as the weightless sensation rolled over her head entirely.

~~◇~~

Ashinne woke up with a gasp. Her lungs clutched at whatever they could to fill themselves with air, appalled by the shock that she had just experienced in the Fade. The room was a blur of shadows. She didn't even know if she was in a room. Where was she?

"She's awake!" an unfamiliar voice called out down by her feet. But she couldn't put a face to them.

Was she dreaming still?

"Ashinne," Solas' voice appeared to her left, groggy with sleep and hushed as if he were talking to a sleeping newborn.

"Solas," she replied.

She reached out, but she was unsure of how far to jut her arm out. She couldn't comprehend where his face was. Her vision was all shadows.

"Thank the Maker!" Cassandra's voice suddenly echoed, her footsteps coming closer to her bed.

Why couldn't she...

"What's wrong, Ashinne," Solas asked her, leading her to believe that she appeared confused.

"I..." she thought hard about what she was going to say, but could barely understand what was happening around her. It was difficult to do when she couldn't clearly distinguish anything or anyone. "Maybe I'm just adjusting."

"Adjusting?" the unfamiliar voice spoke again. Ashinne shot straight up in her bed, hoping it would give her some clarification. Alas, it did not.

"Who are you?" 

The man sighed before answering, "My name is Anders. I'm a mage. You... may have heard of me."

Ashinne shook her head to his response. She still felt the racing fear in her chest of not being able to visualize anything. It was all still a blur.

Then she felt that feeling again. That feeling of weightlessness like she had experienced as Mythal was casting her spell. She felt drained of mana, and she wasn't getting any weird voices in her head like she would when she looked someone in the eyes. She couldn't read Anders at all, yet she was sure that she was looking right at him.

"Ashinne," Solas mumbled again. She was starting to panic.

She tried casting a spell. Nothing was working.

"My... my mana," she blurted out, her voice trembling with fear.

"Your mana?" Cassandra asked.

She felt very cold hands take hold of her own, and she flinched at the touch because she didn't expect it.

"I don't sense anything. Not like before," Anders spoke. "Solas."

The cold hands released her and a much warmer, slimmer pair of hands replaced them. It was slightly comforting, but not by much.

"Nothing," Solas said. Despair laced his tone.

Once his hands left she started to panic even more. Footsteps shuffled all around the room, and she lost his own steps in the sound. She was fearful of making her way out of bed, of taking her first steps all over again. She would get lost, run into things, they'd all find out.

"They left to find Cullen and Hawke. They wished to be called down when you finally awoke."

Ashinne was starting to feel frustrated. They were alone. She could tell Solas, right?

"Who's... 'they'?"

There was a moment of silence before he answered, "Cassandra and Anders. You surely saw them leave?"

Ashinne felt the tremors of fear banging her heart against her rib cage as she tried to find the nerve to answer. First her mana, and now her eyesight? It's no wonder she couldn't read Anders...

"I can't see anything."

There was silence again. She heard a slight rustle of clothing.

"What do you mean you can't see? Have you-"

"I've lost my vision."

Chapter Text

 

"In the eyes of some she's a monster, but monsters come in many forms, and some monsters aren't really monsters at all. Some monsters are just fairies that are scared to be loved. And sometimes they are the ones that deserve love most." 

-A.R. Lucas

~~◇~~

Solas had refrained from asking her questions, at least for now. The others returned with Cullen, Hawke, and Leliana in the moments following. Ashinne had no clue which footsteps belonged to who, but she was certain that there were nearly six people crowding her bed. Three had steps that rattled with the burden of steel-plated boots, while the other three shuffled around with light steps. Two of those were pleasantly leathered, and still there was one whose steps were softer than than the rest due to the lack of space between their skin and the ground.

Cullen was the first to speak, and Ashinne quickly identified him at the foot of her bed, "How are you feeling?"

"I..." I'm blind. "I'm okay. Tired, but I can manage."

"Cullen," Cassandra said. Left of Cullen. "During your time as a Templar, have you ever experienced instances in which mages lost their mana?"

Silence broke out within the room, save for a gasp which likely belonged to either Hawke or Leliana.

"She has lost her mana?" Leliana asked softly, heavy emotion laced in her voice.

"I've... never seen anything of the sort, I'm afraid," Cullen finally replied to Cassandra's query. His voice was strained by the same heaviness as Leliana's.

"Please," Ashinne told the crowd. "Don't pity me. I'll adjust."

The blurred figures in the room began shifting, a pair of light and plated steps echoing down the hall as they left Ashinne's cell.

Four.

"Cullen, go tell Varia what has happened. Cassandra-,"Leliana began.

"What of her trial?" Cassandra interrupted her.

"I am releasing her. She is no longer a threat to us, and I... I have been persuaded to change my mind."

Unbeknownst to Ashinne, Leliana and Solas locked gazes for a brief moment before she turned back toward Cassandra. She resumed giving out orders.

"Assist Solas in guiding Ashinne to a room that I've prepared off the main balcony. It is where she'll stay until we have this matter resolved."

Leliana knows.

Cassandra nodded and Cullen left the cell, leaving the four within the room without a word to say. 

"I must return to my office. I will inform Josie about what has happened," Leliana continued. As she turned to leave, she stopped, craning her neck to look over her shoulder with a look of worry. "We must not let the Chantry receive word of this."

And then she left, too. Ashinne wobbled as Solas eased her out of the bed, her legs and arms shaking as she stood. Solas made sure that she held onto his elbow as they walked, albeit slowly, out of the cell. Cassandra trailed close behind the pair, giving extra caution to Ashinne's surroundings as they walked. There was no doubt in the maiden's mind regarding the number of the weird stares she must have gotten on the way to her new room. It felt like she had been walking forever, and treading up flights of stairs was an even more strenuous adventure. It required both Solas and Cassandra to guide her up the steps, giving reassurance that she wouldn't stub her toes nor fall backward.

Cassandra left once they made it to Ashinne's new room, after making sure that the maiden didn't need anything else, of course. That left her and Solas alone. He sat her in the velvety chair near the window while he stood, figuring it would be easier for her to stay still in one spot rather than trying to balance with the fear of not being able to see. He was truly starting to wonder if this would ever pass or if it was permanent.

He tried to slip his hand from hers, but she was insistent on holding onto it. Her hand was clammy and shaky, and the sound of a hushed, yet sharp, intake of air caused him to look at her. Tears were streaming down her cheeks in rivers.

"Don't go," she pleaded, trying her best to sop up all her tears with her free hand. "I won't know where you are."

Solas didn't say anything. He didn't even know if there was anything he could tell her to make her feel better, comforted, content. He didn't need to physically see the war brewing inside of her to know that there was one. He could feel it.

Keeping their hands attached, he sat on the table beside her chair, resting their hands in his lap once he was fully settled. That's when hell broke loose. Ashinne started silently bawling, her hand tightly gripping on to Solas' as her head fell forward to rest against their hands as she cried. It was the only sound to fill the room. Otherwise, it was silence. Solas stroked her hair softly, ignoring the weeks of oil and dirt built up within the strands. He would have her bathe later; now was their time.

"Tell me you've forgiven me, Solas," she sobbed, her voice slightly muffled against his leg.

He didn't understand. Forgiven for what?

"I'm not sure what you mean," he told her plainly.

Within the moment that he said it, she seemed shocked. Her eyes snapped open and her head whipped up toward the sound of his voice. There was a look of heavy concern on her brow.

"You don't remember?" she asked. Now he was stumped. What was she on about?

"Remember what?"

Her mouth parted just slightly, desperately lost yet thankful that he had not remembered everything. What would he have done if he would have recognized her during their initial encounter in the Graves? It was likely that she wouldn't be sitting here at all. But, eventually, she would have to break the news to him. A millennia-long slumber would definitely withhold traces of one's memory.

When she had told him of Mihriel before, he didn't seem to react. It was a known fact that he never knew her name. She would have to bring up the dreadful memory directly.

"What do you remember about Mythal's murder?" she asked, her eyes gleaming up at him. 

Solas looked into her face, staring deep into her eyes. She had that look. It wasn't one that he'd seen before-- it was new, at least in her own face. She looked scared, innocent, broken. Torn through the tides of sorrow and heartache. Somewhere down in that emerald abyss, there was a look of fear and betrayal, as if she had a reason to be afraid of him. For some reason, the look he was familiar with was pictured with a lot more scars and bruises and...

"You did it," he stated, his voice sounding hollow and empty. His very soul had left him in that moment.

He was staring into the face of his friend's murderer. And he was in love with this woman. 

"I... didn't think you'd recall the memory so quickly."

She was nervous, her heart beating with a force so powerful that it could be matched to that of the Evanuris' magics combined. It was so loud that she could hear it in her eardrums, plaguing her with its annoyance. It was a sound she quickly grew to despise, for if she couldn't hear what Solas was about to say, she couldn't interpret it via his lips either. She tried to calm her frightened heart.

Solas felt his own anger bubbling up inside of him. How could he forget? How could he forget the one face that haunted him for night's end, the memory of her darkened figure cutting the All-Mother's throat? Now he couldn't tear the memory from his mind. It played on repeat, over and over, the trickle of blood pooling on the floor growing larger with each memory until it swallowed his vision. His anger. It swallowed him until it blurred the picture of her beautiful face.

He couldn't stay that way, however. It had been forever since her murder. There were some things even he needed to see pass. The destruction of his empire? No. The death of his best friend? With time, possibly.

"Part of me is having a hard time recognizing that I'd even forgotten," he admitted. "It's been a long time."

Ashinne gently squeezed his hand, and Solas returned the gesture. It was such a strange thing, he thought, being in love with someone who was once your greatest enemy. He could not bear to remember her bloodied, bruised face marked with the pain of tears and the fear of failure. He had seen it then, too. That same fear toward him. 

Was this to burden him, too? To be looked at with terror because he was known to be capable of truly horrible things? 

"If I may ask," Solas started, the wavering in his voice signaling that he was unsure. He sought to alleviate his discomfort with the ease of her touch, wholly wrapping his fingers around her much smaller hand. "What spirit sent you back?"

The warmth of his touch soothed her. She felt him using fire, heat, to warm both his hands and hers. It was comforting to know that she had at least one person willing to help her in this time of ultimate desolation.

"I," her eyes suddenly dodged his, her gaze falling onto her lap. "It was her."

He couldn't fully believe what he was hearing. Solas had grieved, threw the remainder of his army at Falon'Din's soldiers, cast the Veil in resent of the Evanuris... and Mythal had forgiven her. She had given Ashinne, or Mihriel, a second chance.

His brow bunched, his lips curling up in a snarl, "Why would she do such a thing?"

Ashinne recoiled at his tone, her hand flinching beneath his. Did he not wish her alive?

"She never said," she told him, her lips curling up into a snarl that matched his. "From what she told me, I would assume she did so because she did not wish to see my kind did die out."

Solas was appalled, "Your kind? The elves? Mythal would not give so much as to resurrect one ordinary member of our people!"

"Not the elves, Solas. Hartha,"she scolded him, feeling the heat enveloping her own hand growing hotter as Solas' anger fumed.

"I am listening."

"You know of my kind. You easily nullified my spell before I got the chance to use it. You knew it wasn't just any ordinary form of magic, didn't you?"

Solas' face softened. She had him enthralled from day one. She had him in such a state that he had completely forgotten her origin. The Dalish wouldn't have been aware of the much older gods. Mythal had taught him much of them. She had taught him so much that he easily recognized the spell manifesting in Ashinne's hand the night he first saw her-- green, glowing, and beautifully geometric. There was no mistaking that type of magic.

"You are one of Uvian's descendants."

"I presume that is why Mythal gave me another chance," Ashinne started, shifting in her seat uncomfortably. "My parents never taught me how to use magic. I don't even know if they knew I was gifted with it, or if either of them knew how to wield spells. They put me straight to the bow. Mythal told me I was rare... a female with Uvian's power and bloodline."

Solas was taken aback. Ashinne was glowing-- not in reality, but Solas could almost sense the glimmers of power trying to resurface. Her bloodline was powerful, trying to develop mana from nothing. 

"You are. I can see your body trying to create magic and power from your own blood. It is marvelous. Such a trauma should not have occurred."

His voice was much softer now, admiring of the elven woman sat below him. Where his anger had pooled before, love had now replaced. He remembered her for being the simple and beautiful lover of his enemy, now returned to the world and in love with her former lover's enemy. He remembered her for being the woman who kissed him in the rotunda, pulling away because she was afraid of not loving him. He remembered her for being the distraught Dalish pre-teen in the Fade, dragged away by the halla keeper and crying over her missing family. He remembered her for being the woman who wept next to him at the shrine, stumbling aimlessly into his arms and kneeling before him before he snapped at her.

"I wish I could see you, Solas. It does not help to only have a pictured guess at what you look like in this moment."

"What do you picture?"

She could see the look on his face even behind closed eyes. His eyes always glittering with wonder and knowledge, the rest of his face neutral in an attempt to hide what he really knows.

"Your eyes... they are always so bright. You always want to know more than you do, yet now that you know me you can truly see me as I am. You look at me with awe, yet the rest of your face doesn't show it for you're afraid of giving away too much."

Solas reached over with his other hand to hold hers that was lone, warming it with the same fire and attention as he did the previous one. 

"Then I would say you are correct."

Chapter Text

 

"She has the kind of beauty that shames your understanding of the word. She is the waking dream I've had for so long."

-Kirk Diedrich

~~◇~~

Ashinne felt her eyes flutter open softly, relishing in the warmth of light that casted itself upon her face. The light was dull and blurry, but still somehow blinding. She could see shadows of figures walking through the light, as well as many plain structures sitting directly within its glow. 

The aroma was absolutely wondrous. It smelled of dirt, water, and flowers-- a smell that greatly reminded her of home. She caught hints of rose, lavender, crystal grace, embrium, and elfroot flowing through her airways. There were soft murmurs in every distant corner, speaking in a language she could only assume was elvhen. Gentle winds picked up every now and again, lapping at her warm skin and blowing her short strands of hair across her face. She reached up and tucked the rebellious hairs behind her ears, then continued to focus on her surroundings.

She was barefoot, her heels and toes pressed into the comfort of cool tiles slightly moistened by the humidity of this place. She stepped slowly, clueless as to where she was going and taking caution not to slip on said tiles. Whispering rustling leaves announced their presence as the winds picked up again, and Ashinne found her hand placed upon a cold stone structure that was smooth, flat, and likely wide enough for her to sit upon. She did so, carefully, and felt as the breeze blew the hair out from behind her ears and let it fly around her face from the back. 

She was too content in this moment to fix it. It was peaceful here, wherever "here" happened to be. It mattered not. She knew she was in the Fade, despite not being able to see what was happening. The unfamiliar sounds and smells, the magic of it all, the serenity of this place... every feeling about it spoke "Fade" to her.

"I was starting to believe that I wouldn't find you here. Not that I would have been entirely surprised."

She lifted her head toward the sound of Solas' voice, to her left. She heard the soft patter of his bare footsteps growing closer before they stopped completely, right off to her side. There was a very slight rustling of fabric as he took a seat beside her, his scent replacing the earthy flora one from before. The smell of elfroot was still a prominent note, but now there were traces of Amrita Vein and rosewood, too. 

"I was surprised to even find myself here," Ashinne admitted. "You've been working on alchemy, haven't you?"

She cocked him a self-contented smile, and she could only hope that he had caught on.

"How did you know?" he asked, a tinge of wonder coating his tone. Behind all that, she sensed a smile pulling at his lips.

Her laugh that followed was graced with mirth; she was pleased that she was able to shock him. She threw her head back as she did so, loving every moment of the Fade, the vibrations in her throat, the wide smile on her face, and the warm sunlight on her cheeks. 

"You smell of Amrita Vein and elfroot," she replied, returning her face forward and tugging at the shirt sleeve that was not too far from where her hand was already lying. 

He gave her a soft chuckle in response, one that softened her own smile into an affectionate grin. 

"You have no idea where we are, do you?" he asked, that same smile tugging at his lips through his words.

"No. But I feel wind, light, and smell dirt and flowers, so I think we're outside." 

She felt the warmth of his hand cover hers, his fingers wrapping around the one that rested atop the structure they were sitting upon.

"We're in Skyhold's garden. The time of this place, however, is not the one you're used to," he told her, his voice growing quieter as he turned his head to look around the place, silently reminiscing about what the garden used to be.

"I heard the elves talking earlier. What does it look like?"

Solas suddenly felt his smile fall as she reminded him of her condition. He felt sorry for her... for not being able to see the beauty of this place in its days of glory. It was beautiful, as was she, light trickling into every forgotten corner and slowly heating up the water in the fountain that had been broken and removed when the Inquisition arrived at Skyhold. There were more tiles and stepping stones present now than in the real garden, most of them having shattered or gone missing before the Inquisition's presence.

"It is... magnificent. Everything is lush and the flowers are in bloom. There is a fountain near the southernmost stairs. It was broken when we arrived to Skyhold so they had it removed."

"They couldn't fix it?"

Solas looked to her; her eyes were beaming with curiosity as she stared off into the distance, unaware of his gaze. He always manged to catch himself wondering how she's able to keep about so much question about the world despite not being able to see the reason behind it or even physically see it. Even before she lost her vision and she wasn't able to dream, her interest concerning the Fade was boundless. 

At first he suspected it was because she was Dalish-- living a life where all she knew was where the elves came from, how the Dalish came to be, and how her goal must have been to try and preserve the Old Ways. He assumed she didn't know anything about the outside world. But then one day in the rotunda, she told him of a book she had read once a time ago and he was struck wondering where she could have read such a grand piece of literature. It lead them to discuss a great deal of Dwarven history, of all things, and it was then he asked her how she knew of it all. Ashinne was a storyteller, a student of the hahren, and whenever the Keeper allowed a trader within the camp and she had accumulated enough coin, she would buy books. Storybooks. Tales of the Chantry, elvhen history books, poetry, Qunari readings. She knew a tremendous amount about the outside world, she just had yet to experience it. She was still naive in that aspect.

"No. They figured it would be a waste of time and resources. They planted a tree there instead," he said finally.

"I see," her voice sounded grim, empty. Filled with sorrow for a place she could not even bear witness to.

They sat there on that lone, stone bench for an hour, listening to the whispers of the elvhen gardeners and maids as the wind swept across their skin and clothes. Ashinne had fully given into the temptation to relax in this place, slumping her head against Solas' shoulder as their hands rested, clasped together, in between them. 

"Is the Fade always this nice?" she asked, completely forgetful of what had happened to her days prior.

Solas turned his mouth toward her ear so that she could hear him better over the loud gush of wind that suddenly blew through the garden, "I wish it was. What you told me of Penumbra leads me to believe that the demon used up fragments of your power in order to bring you to their realm of the Fade. Hence the surges of lyrium that would control you for short periods of time while you were in its domain."

Their faces were so close; it took every ounce of control within him to resist pressing his lips upon her skin, upon the tip of her ear that happened to be mere centimeters away from his mouth. It was torture. Yet, he didn't wish to scare her.

"I don't understand," she started, turning her face toward his. "I was brought back so that Uvian's magic wouldn't be lost to time. And now, it's been lost anyways."

"You were likely not the first of Penumbra's victims. A demon like that appears too intelligent to simply have started existing since you developed your magic. One can only wonder what it is planning to do with that kind of power. It is certainly a danger."

Her frown persisted, her brows furrowed in concern. He didn't enjoy such a look on her, especially since seeing her in the Fade, witnessing the looks of pure heartbreak and terror on a person who simply wished to exist in a world she wasn't meant to exist in. Neither was he, but luck tended to be a truly miraculous thing.

She looked away, turning her face toward the ground with a gaze that could only indicate that there were gears busy turning in her mind. For a brief moment, he saw her as Mihriel; the flicker of the vision flashed before his eyes like a dart. He saw her long tresses strewn over her shoulders carelessly, her lightly freckled face, her viridescent eyes, her skinny limbs. Then it flashed again, her limbs strung up in shackles in his prison and her skin bloodied and littered in bruises of every color. Then he saw her slumped over a table in Falon'Din's dining room, her left cheek flat against the wood and fingers limply bent around a golden chalice of wine. Her eyes were dull and cloudy, her skin much paler than usual. There was no blood. Drool trickled out from her open mouth, which had become infested with sores of all sizes. Dirthamen appeared beside her, taking the chalice from her fingers and lifting her finished plate of food from the dining table without a notion of care in his eyes. 

Dirthamen walked away simply, leaving Mihriel's body at the table to rot before Falon'Din then appeared, kneeling over the table and sobbing like a madman. When his twin brother appeared to explain the situation, all Solas could hear was muffled, tunneled words.

"It had to come to this, Lethanavir."

"You did this?!"

"It was necessary. There is a war at our doorstep."

"There is a war at my doorstep. This castle belongs to me. If I wished to return their battles, I would have."

Dirthamen left the dining room without a word more, the sound of various knives and bottles on his belt clanking together as he walked out of view. Falon'Din resumed in grieving over his lover. Solas snapped out of the vision when he heard Ashinne call his name, her face painted with worry for his well-being. Such a thing had never happened to him before. Seeing a memory within a memory? He didn't even think it was possible.

"You seem troubled," Ashinne spoke up, her beautiful emerald eyes focused heavily on his face. She was trying so hard to see... if only she could just see one glimpse more...

"It is no matter. You need not concern yourself with me," Solas told her, subconsciously reaching up with his free hand and tucking a windswept piece of hair behind her perfectly pointed ear. 

Her brows scrunched together again, bent upward in an expression of worry. 

"I want to be concerned."

Her own free hand reached up and swept across his right cheek, gently dragging her fingertips across the smooth skin until her thumb found the corner of his lips. She left it resting there, sitting the remainder of her fingers against the side of his neck. She felt his wildly beating pulse underneath his skin, the one sign of weakness he never dared to show upon his face. His heart. She wondered how many times he had been afraid during battle, his rapidly beating heart pushing against the confines of his rib cage, yet had to keep a certain composure about him. She wondered if he was wearing the same masked expression in this moment or if he had changed. For her. In the Fade.

Ashinne leaned forward, slowly, using the placement of her thumb to find his lips. Their noses fit just perfectly next to one another as their lips crashed together, taking Solas' breath away for an instant. She had him wrapped around her like a ribbon; he was completely captivated by her in every way possible. He released the hand of hers that he was holding and brought his hands to her cheeks, trying to pull her closer, kiss her harder, drink her in.

They drew apart breathless, neither of them understanding how something so simple could be so good. They had been apart for far too long. Ashinne made the mistake of running away from him once-- she wouldn't ever make the same mistake again.

~~◇~~

"There's still the matter of Adamant."

Varia Trevelyan rubbed her temples tenderly, bent over the war table at the waist as her elbows rested against the hard, flat surface of the wooden slab. She thought this meeting not worth having, due to most of her advisers being focused on another dire matter. A three-person conversation about Corypheus' plans could hardly be considered a worthwhile meeting. The two advisers with hands in the Inquisition's army were not even present. She could be using this time to write letters to her family in Ostwick...

"Are... you alright, Lady Trevelyan?" Josephine asked her, the Antivan's golden brown eyes taking note of the Inquisitor's stressed-appearing form.

"If I had to be honest, not really," Varia replied with a sigh, picking her head up from her hands and making eye contact with her ambassador.

The door to the war room opened, suddenly, and both Cullen and Leliana stepped in, their faces harsh with grim news. Once the heavy doors closed behind them, Leliana spoke first.

"Miss Thellassan has awoken, but her mana is gone. I suspect there is more to her predicament, but there's not much we can do at this point."

"How is her mana suddenly missing? Such a thing doesn't just happen," Morrigan inquired, her face scrunched up in confusion.

"We do not know. She is in no obligation to tell us. But she may tell Solas, in due time. There is no doubt in my mind that the two are close, seeing as how he never left her bedside," Leliana explained.

Varia felt a warm, strong hand cup her shoulder, much to her surprise, and turned her head only to meet face-to-face with her commander. She smiled softly at him for brief moment before turning back toward the Spymaster, concern lying well within her features. Cullen gave the one shoulder a slight squeeze, feeling the intensity of her knotted muscles underneath. He could only hope that this meeting would end sooner rather than later, his own regard for Varia increasing every time he happened to glance at her terrible lines of stress marring her youthful face.

"But she is faring well, otherwise?" Varia asked Leliana, her forehead creasing with distress.

As the Spymaster gave her a nod of approval, the clenched muscles in the Inquisitor's back eased and the lines between her brows and on her forehead softened. Cullen felt the difference immediately, his hand now slightly sinking into the soft skin hidden underneath the tan fabric of the shirt she typically wore. And although his worry for her started to decrease, there was still a nagging feeling in the back of his mind that sensed that something else was awry.

The meeting lasted far longer than both Varia and Cullen would've wished, the talks about Adamant and the Grey Wardens seemingly everlasting. Everyone else filed out before the pair, leaving them to their much-needed privacy. Varia, too, was about to leave until Cullen caught a hold of her shoulder, keeping her from walking any further.

"Varia," he called, his deeply concerned voice silky and smooth against her ears. Yet, she couldn't help but only just slightly dread the conversation she knew they were about to have.

"Cullen, I have lots of work to do and-"

"You've been avoiding this. Avoiding everyone. Everyone is worried about you."

She tried desperately to push it all away, "It's nothing, really. I'm just tired and-"

"You've been thinking about her again, haven't you?"

Varia was shocked. Was she really that easy to read? Or was he just that good at reading others?

"What?" she asked, still hoping to somehow divert Cullen's attention from the subject.

"You've been thinking about Maliya. Listen, Varia," Cullen started, turning the Ostwickian woman around to face him. "I don't wish to cause you more pain. But I hate seeing you like this."

She felt her stress washing over her like a great tidal wave, eating up every single ounce of self-control she had laid down over the past week. She cried against her commander, mourning over the loss of a friend that had passed no more than two years before this all happened. She wondered what Maliya would think of her now, if she were still around. Would she think Varia to be too big to associate herself with? Would she feel even more endowed to her? There was really no way of knowing.

Maliya was one elven servant among the many that served House Trevelyan. Varia always enjoyed her company, and found ways to sneak her from her duties to spend time with her in the gardens or hidden away under one of the many stairwells in the vestibule. She was Varia's first kiss, first understanding of real love-- not some love forced upon her by her very noble parents. She remembered the first time she was caught by her mother in the gardens, the look upon her stern face as she stared upon the embrium flowers Varia had specially weaved into Maliya's hair. She remembered the argument that followed, the loud disagreement between her and both her parents. She remembered the looks on her older siblings' faces, each one stained with a certain emotion of disapproval. Embarrassment, confusion, anger, disappointment.

Maliya was given leave from her duty, never to set foot in the Trevelyan household again. Varia, however, would not stand for her superiors' punishment. She soon found herself to be the one sneaking away from her studies, from her rest in the night, from her daily leisure time to go and see her lover at a dairy stall in the marketplace. 

But House Trevelyan was a network; a family with blood ties that expanded so far and wide that you couldn't walk ten feet without bumping into someone with ties to the Trevelyan name. Varia hadn't known that, then. She found herself wondering where her elven lover had gone when she missed her at the stall for three days straight. It turned out that the human that taken her place had ties to the Trevelyan name, and she found Maliya's bloodied corpse in a moldy bin not far from the marketplace a day later. 

She remembered being furious. She remembered not having time to mourn because she was so angry with the people that raised her. She remembered feeling joyful for being sent to assist her relatives in ending the mage-templar war at the Chantry conclave because she had  gut feeling that something would go wrong. Maybe then, she would have gotten to see her lover. Maybe then, she wouldn't still be feeling so much resent toward her own flesh and blood. 

She always understood how Dorian felt. From the first time they spoke, she just knew that he was just like her. An outcast. A reject. Called by your family to serve a higher purpose just to be cast as an embarrassment-- some stray dog. Varia never wanted to be a templar. She never wanted to serve the Chantry. All she ever wanted was to have faith in the Maker without some superior force always telling her that she needed to give more than what she had. Maliya never forced those wishes on her. She was always supportive in the choices she wished to make.

Even Cullen, having served the Order for years, never told her to give more to the Maker than she had in her heart. In a way, he reminded Varia a lot of Maliya. Maybe that's why she felt so much sorrow for her previous lover now than she had before. And Ashinne-- it was like the Maker had sent that poor elven maiden to her to give Maliya the fair trial she was never given the opportunity to rightfully have. When it came to it, she couldn't send her to her death. She couldn't say anything, in fact. Her eyes were nearly the same exact shape as Maliya's but rounder, and they were an exceptional shade of green rather than brown. 

It was the look of pure hopelessness in her eyes, though, that reminded her the most of her beloved. The look of being thrown away once, and then fearing that it will happen again. She saw that look in Maliya's eyes every day at the dairy stall. She always expressed her fear of being caught, of somehow knowing that something wasn't right. She knew how expansive the Trevelyans were. She was much wiser than Varia in that respect, but Varia was always insistent on coming despite the potential danger. And look at where that got her.

She didn't want to be caught making the same mistake twice. She wouldn't send two innocents to their deaths in the time span of three years.

"It will be alright," Cullen soothed her, rubbing slow circles against the Inquisitor's back as she cried silently in the war room. No one could hear them here, not while those big, wooden doors remained.

But in Varia's head, nothing seemed as if it would be alright. The world was coming to an end. She had doubts every day. So many people depended on her, and yet...

The war room doors slowly opened, exposing Varia's splotchy face of sorrow and Cullen's grip around her back. Leliana hurriedly stepped through the doors, a boyish-faced scout in tow.

"There are Dalish elves approaching Skyhold."

Chapter Text

 

"We are all broken,

that's how the light gets in." 

-Ernest Hemingway

~~◇~~

Solas had told Ashinne that a group of Dalish elves had made an appearance at Skyhold, and Ashinne could only wonder what a group of Dalish would want from this place. She sat alone in her room, waiting impatiently for Solas to return. She traced the polished lines of wood on the table with her finger, liking the feel of its smooth surface against her skin. She could fall asleep again, out of boredom. Without the ability to see, trying to find worthwhile entertainment was fruitless. She could only read if Solas read to her, and could only find herself being able to sleep if he was lying there with her. She couldn't draw or paint unless she wished to only create meaningless scribbles, and she feared walking from her room to chat with her friends because if she wished to talk to anyone other than the Madame de Fer, there were a hellish number of stairwells awaiting her.

She decided to stay put for now, resting her weary head upon her arms as she waited for the old, creaky sound that indicated that the door to her room was opening. It felt like hours before it finally opened, her eyes growing heavier with each passing minute. She barely heard the soft steps he was taking as his bare feet met the cold stone floors, the sound completely disappearing as he walked over the rug. She felt a hand brush itself over her hair and smooth over the roundness of her head, and she felt his cool breath on her face as he kneeled to her level.

"If you wish to sleep, vhenan, you should at least sleep in the bed," he chuckled, causing her to open her eyes fully. She shook her head.

"No, I don't want to sleep. I just got bored while waiting for you," she replied. "There isn't much to do without vision."

She could tell when he was smiling. She could hear it in his voice when he talked. That much, at least, was becoming easier. Reading others' expressions.

"I've been hearing that Varric has been wishing to speak with you. Says he misses seeing you on your way to the rotunda every morning. You could have gone and chatted with him?"

She snorted, "And risk falling down the steps or running into some old wall that cannot risk being bumped into lest it crumble upon me? I think not, Solas."

"You make a fair point," he said, returning the same cocky smile she had given him, despite her not being able to see it.

The laughter shared between them was merry and full of heart. He had missed this side of her, the one that often startled him upon entering the rotunda or that acted giddy every time rain fell upon Skyhold. He missed hearing her giggly laughter, the way her hair convulsed around her shoulders as she did so, the sparkling sheen over her viridescent eyes, the tinge of pink that coated her cheeks whenever she smiled for more than a minute.

He put his hand over hers, grasping it and gently pulling her to her feet.

"Come, there are some who wish to see you in the courtyard."

Her smile suddenly fell, her brows scrunching together in confusion. What was he hiding?

"Who?" she asked, standing up from her chair but refusing to move forward from it.

She felt Solas' other hand catch hold of the one that still lingered freely by her side, and felt his breath on her face again as he pressed his lips against her forehead once.

"I don't wish to hide anything from you, but I do not think you will want to go if I tell you," he told her, his voice smooth and easy.

Her brows angled in ire, her eyes narrowing in an attempt to understand his reasoning. 

"If you do not think I will want to go, then why are you making me?" she questioned him angrily, feeling her skin start to sear with the heat of aggravation.

Solas sighed. It was a deep and heavy sigh that had Ashinne wondering if he really wanted this for her.

"Healing is a process, Ashinne. I think you need some light in your life, after all that has happened as of late," he explained, now his voice low and thick with sincerity.

It was amazing how quickly he could change, going from loving to neutral to coaxing to sincere all in a matter of minutes.

It was her turn to sigh, now, her breath heavy with defeat. 

"If you insist, then I will go with you."

"I'm glad you saw through, vhenan. I do not think you will regret this too much."

With that, Solas pulled her from her cramped, humid little room, re-introducing her to the crisp autumn air of the outside world. Ashinne's nose and cheeks turned pink almost immediately upon impact due to the sudden chill of the air. Winter was to be shortly among them in a few short months; she missed the smell of fresh blooming flowers in the gardens and the rustling of autumn leaves in the trees. Their branches were barren now, their leaves left to scatter upon the ground as the autumn breezes rolled through. She heard the dry crunch as people walked over them below.

Before Ashinne could even register it, she was back inside, the smell of musky wood and old stone hitting her like a draft of cold air from outside. Various voices boomed throughout the great hall with vigor, each one holding a conversation deemed too important to simply drop. Not one voice was aware of the elephant in the room-- the short-haired elf that had stood before the Inquisitor's judgement less than a month ago. They were too noble and mighty to remember an insignificant elf, even one that had committed crimes within the castle in which they stayed and visited.

The act of walking down the stairs was becoming easier with each passing day. Of course, Ashinne refused to try and overcome them by her lonesome, but traversing down them no longer took more than five minutes. On a good day, walking down the stairs took only slightly longer than a minute.

The talkative voices of the nobility were even louder on the first floor. Guttural, drunken laughs and haughty conversation were most of what Ashinne could make out amidst the talk of the groups. Solas ignored them, pulling her through the hall hurriedly lest some of the nobles remember her face. He did not wish to put up with them today, did not wish to have them taint her mind with their meaningless opinions.

"Careful, there are more steps," he warned her, slowing guiding her down the set of stairs that led out of Skyhold's main entrance. 

He let his left hand rest against her lower back, his right grasping onto her own right hand in caution of her falling on accident. He sighed as he saw even more stairs in the distance, followed by the sight of the Dalish elves waiting just past those sets of stairs. Thankfully, the elves must have seen the pair steadily making their way down, for they started to walk toward Solas and Ashinne with a sense of urgency in their feet. Even the oldest member of the group, who Solas assumed was the Keeper, was running. Ahead of him was a pair of twins, a young man and woman, and a woman who appeared to be in her mid to late forties. 

They wasted no time in surrounding Ashinne as soon as her toes met with the soft grass at the bottom of the stairs. 

"Ashinne," the oldest one spoke, and Ashinne's eyes snapped open so wide that Solas thought they would fly from their sockets at any moment. In her face was fear.

She knew that voice. She had heard it a hundred times in a hundred different tones. Scolding, joyful, wise, disappointed, fearful. She specifically remembered the voice offering her the position of First, only to hear her own voice turn down the offer. She pictured his wrinkled, smiling face. She remembered exactly how the lines in his face folded and creased when he grinned.

"Keeper Sorwen?" she called out, so quietly that she thought he didn't hear her at first. Except, elves were known for having truly exceptional hearing.

"Ashinne, da'len."

Tears sprung in her eyes as she slowly walked in the direction of the Keeper's voice, being extra mindful as to not foolishly trip over her own feet. She let her heart guide her in her direction in place of her eyes, speeding her pace in order to find herself in the Keeper's welcoming arms much quicker. She embraced the man tightly, and soon she found two more tiny pairs of arms wrapped around each of her calves. Then she felt another around her waist... and another arm above that pair.

She felt overwhelmed. She couldn't see the faces of any of these people, but she knew they were all part of her. Of Clan Thellassan. All that remains of them, at least.

She recognized the identical pairs of tiny arms as Freyya and Fenor-- twins that were born only four years before the fires. Ashinne could only hope that either their mother or father made it out alive... and that one of them had their arms wrapped around her at this very moment.

"We heard you were alive da'len, along with many others. Are you alright?" the Keeper and the rest of the "clan" released her from their grips, yet Keeper Sorwen's hands remained on her shoulders. "Were you hurt?"

Ashinne gave him a pained smile, one that told him much without telling him everything that actually happened while they were apart. 

"I was, but I am... alright now," she reassured the weary old man, saving him the details of her current condition.

"Ashinne," a woman's voice sounded from beside her, and Ashinne turned her head to face the blurry figure of what she assumed was another member of her clan. Her voice, too, sounded very familiar.

"Yanet," her voice croaked, letting out half a cry as she stumbled her way into the woman's arms. 

Yanet's hold was soothing, both of her frail hands holding Ashinne in a grip that made her feel safe, comfortable, and warm. She felt trails of cool, calming magic cascade over her skin as she held her, most of the spell washing over her head from the thin hand that was placed there. Soon, Ashinne was no longer shaking. She was at peace, finding solace in those that surrounded her despite not knowing exactly where they were.

That was the first thing she revealed to them once they had settled well within the courtyard.

No one said anything about it for awhile after she had told them, save for who had traveled with the Keeper. Ashinne noted where each of them were in relativity to herself as they introduced themselves, and she even had Solas nearby to help her keep track. 

There was Yanet, Keeper Sorwen, Freyya, and Fenor, of course, but she was also made aware of Reana and Athlhen, the widowed wife of one of the hunters and... Tamet's father, respectively. She could only manage a small, sorrowful smile in Athlhen's direction as he was announced, then hung her head in grievance for the man she once loved and had done so wrong.

"We heard there were others," Keeper Sorwen started. "Gela and Feyralan. Are they here?"

It now seemed she would hear each tragedy after another. Would she ever be given a break? She tried to hide the disappointment on her face as she met what was hopefully the Keeper's eyes, and not his chest.

"They... didn't stay long. They moved on a long while ago," Ashinne lied, gritting her teeth behind her closed lips as she finished. She felt a wave of heat rush over her in anxiety, praying that the Keeper did not see past her facade.

"Did they not appreciate the safety of this place? Why would they move on?" he questioned, adding to her growing state of uneasiness.

She shook her head, "I tried to convince them, Keeper. But they insisted on building their lives outside of walls so heavily occupied by shemlen."

Her voice shook with the fear of being dismissed, the fear of them seeing through her lie. Yet she kept her face steady, just as a wolf would when faced with certain terror. The wolf would do anything to protect his pack, his mate, his elders. In thinking this, Ashinne realized that she and a wolf were so very different in that aspect. She pictured the Keeper's face, blind with horror as he watched the faces of his clan be slaughtered or dragged away; she pictured Freyya and Fenor, screeching with panicked faces in hunt of their parents; she pictured Yanet, a brave soul attempting to flee yet still doing everything in her power to save those that had fallen; she pictured Athlhen, wildly searching for a son long gone as he tried to evade the flames. 

She was not the wolf. She had failed her elders, her friends, her lover. She had stared death in the face... and fled like a coward. 

"Da'len," Keeper Sorwen called to get her attention, and her attention he managed to grab. Ashinne blinked once, twice, three times, somehow forgetting that the blurriness could not be shaken away so easily.

"Forgive me Keeper, I... I am not myself," she said, suddenly feeling very drained of energy.

He placed a hand on her shoulder, a gesture that she was not expecting, and she flinched.

"Are you going to be alright?" he asked, smoothing out the wrinkles on the shoulder of her sleeve. 

She nodded, "I think so. I am just tired. Today has been very... overwhelming for me, as you can probably imagine."

She sensed the smile on the Keeper's lips once he spoke next, directing his voice toward the elf that was patiently standing behind her, "Will you be needing any help in getting her up the stairs, lethallin?"

"I doubt so. She's becoming proficient in getting herself around, though I appreciate the offer," Solas told the Keeper, his eyes filled with concern for the weary female that stood at his side, her mouth wide open with a yawn.

Keeper Sorwen examined Solas' face with a judgmental eye, his brow creasing in an attempt to understand the foreign-looking elf.

"You are not one of our people, lethallin. And you do not carry yourself like a city elf," he noted as Solas and Ashinne started to turn away from the clan. Solas glanced at the Keeper's wrinkled face from over his shoulder, trying to determine the greater meaning behind his curiosity. 

"Must I associate myself with a group? The Breach threatens all of us, regardless of our origin, hahren," he told the Keeper, freezing Ashinne's chest in place. She was shocked, never having heard anyone, least of all Solas, speak to Keeper Sorwen in that manner-- with wisdom and a sense of conceitedness lying dormant behind that wisdom.

"Take care of dear Ashinne, lethallin. I wish to speak with you, once you are finished putting her to rest."

Solas nodded toward the Keeper, and guided Ashinne's hand to his elbow as they started to make their way toward the stairs. Together, they made their way up slowly but effortlessly. Ashinne would never admit to feeling as if she could take on the steps herself, liking the extra support that Solas' presence dawned upon her. She could even multi-task, conquering stairs while talking at the same time. But she never wanted him to stop guiding her.

"I wasn't expecting that," she admitted, referring to Solas' comment to Keeper Sorwen from earlier.

"Neither was I. I was not expecting your Keeper to be so prying," he said, tugging her along once they finally reached the second floor of the great hall.

She let out a small chuckle, "He's always been that sort of way. He's too curious for his own good."

"I see."

He stopped walking once he realized that she was no longer holding on, and turned to see her gazing out over the walls and into the gardens below them. He couldn't help what wonder what she was seeing, if she was even seeing anything at all. He walked until their legs just slightly met and he set his eyes over the walls as well, looking over the gardens alongside her. There were only a few Chantry priests amongst the greenery, tending to the few shrubs that required water during the night. He couldn't imagine her being able to see anything due to the lack of light, so his mind wandered further.

"I like the feel of the wind. It reminds me of home," she said, almost as if she had read his mind. "I would sneak out every night and climb through the trees until I reached the cliffs. There, I would seek out the stars and the green lights. I always thought about the Fade while I looked among them."

She folded her arms along the wall horizontally and rested her cheek upon them, relishing in the feeling of the chilly winds upon her warm face.

"I think... that's one of the things I miss the most. I miss seeing the stars. I haven't seen any since the Breach appeared, almost like the sheer force of it scared them all away. And now, I'll never see them," she told him with a sense of solemnity, her eyes lax as she looked down into the garden.

Solas brushed a stray lock of onyx hairs behind her ear, just as he had done but a dream ago. 

"Don't say that. You'll see them again one day," he told her, all reassurance in his tone.

She snorted softly through her nose, the warmth of her breath clouding up the air around her face.

"You say that like there's a cure for my condition, Solas. Don't give me false hope."

He smiled down at her, laying a single hand upon her arm tenderly, "Thedas is filled with both  wonders and mysteries, vhenan. There are secrets embedded in these lands that have been lost for ages. But it is not every day you stumble upon the unusual, though I did happen to stumble upon you."

She felt a rising heat creep up her neck at his words, and she silently hoped that the darkness that surrounded them kept her blush hidden. 

He continued, "Someone knows of a cure, somewhere. I asked all the Fade would allow me until I procured an answer. However, it will be some time before we are able to meet this creature. In the meantime, you must rest."

He took her elbow and pulled her along the balcony slowly until they reached the door of her room. She immediately felt the difference in temperature as they entered, her cheeks burning from the frosty breezes that had chilled her skin. She felt warm all over, and felt like she was burning in the places he was touching her. 

First it was her right elbow, then he placed both his hands on her waist, pulling her closer to his alluring self. 

His lips were on fire, as was his mouth and his tongue. She had been lit aflame by his gentle caress, his hands on her waist, her back, her arms, her neck, her cheeks. He settled one hand to tangle itself in her ebony locks, and the other on her neck, his thumb simply resting upon the spot in front of her ear. She left her hands on his waist, too engulfed by the fire pooling in her belly to even think about moving them. She was so in love, too afraid to let her hands leave him for even a second for she feared that if she did, he might pull away. She wanted him to leave her breathless, on fire, and swallowed by desire. 

She would have let her lungs run out of air if it meant that she would never have to let go, but Solas' craving for a breath was greater than her own, and he pulled away from her feverish lip. However, he did not pull away without feeling empty of her warmth himself. She needed to rest, not get carried away by their foolish impulses of love. He let her get settled into the blankets, enjoying the fiery red tint that coated her cheeks the entire time she did so. 

He left her with a single kiss upon her forehead, wishing her to be well upon his return, which he told her would not be too long a wait if all went well. She responded with a smile that warmed his old, cold heart, completely unaware of her being unable to sleep until he was next to her again.

~~◇~~

The Keeper held up a single round bottle filled with nothing but air, and Solas stared at the old man with a puzzled expression. He didn't understand.

"I think the idea absurd. I will not place any of her essence in a bottle just so you can track her. She is right to be free-"

"That is not what I'm saying," Keeper Sorwen refuted. 

Solas sat up straight in his chair promptly, his face filled with anger toward the Keeper.

"That is precisely what you are saying! You ask me if I am familiar with phylacteries, and then task me with gathering some of her blood. And for what purpose? You didn't define, so I am only left to assume, Keeper. I refuse."

The Keeper shook his weary head, little strands of ashen hair sprouting from the front of the pulled-back style he wore. 

"I am not asking you to help me create a phylactery. Hear me out," he pleaded, setting the delicate bottle onto the table with care.

"Explain," Solas demanded, his face hot with rage.

The Keeper took a step back from Solas' desk before he started to tell of his plan, folding his arms across his chest in habit of concentration.

"You said you are familiar with the Fade. As such, you would know that the Fade reflects the world around it. You gather just a droplet of her blood into the bottle, and her spirit is endowed to both her and the contents in the bottle. Carry it with you, and her spirit remains with you."

Solas shook his head, "I do not see the purpose of this, Keeper."

"You travel with the Inquisitor, and Ashinne does not. It is for sentimental value, Solas. Because you have part of her spirit locked away, you will always be able to dream with her and see her, even when you are not near her."

He then pulled a small vial of blood from the recesses of his pocket, holding it with the steadiest of hands. The look on his face was filled with grief, sorrow, pain.

"My wife, she died in the fires. This is all I have left of her. For me, it grants a reminder of a much more comfortable time. For you, it would save great distances."

Solas grimaced as he thought about that woman's spirit, severed by the walls of a tiny glass bottle as half roamed free and half remained stagnant, caged. If she was dead now, he would be able to dream of her anywhere. He thought it would be better for the Keeper to let the vial go. But for Solas... the offer was tempting. He could walk into her dreams while he remained here in Skyhold, but in other places access was definitely restrictive. He thought about how he would be traveling to Adamant in a few days, and how the light of her spirit would definitely bring him comfort during his travels and, often, sleepless nights. Any magic concerning spirits and the Fade enticed his interest.

"This is certainly strange magic, hahren. And what happens when the bottle breaks?" Solas asked, his eyes locked onto the vial in the Keeper's hand.

"First, a specter of the spirit's owner appears, almost as if they have come to life before you. But they themselves are spirits, shells of their earthly bodies. They remain for a moment, reflecting on the environment around them. Then, if the spirit's body is alive, it simply returns to them. If not, it returns to the Beyond to connect with the rest of itself there."

Solas nodded in understanding, then motioned to the vial in Keeper Sorwen's hand, "If your wife is no longer alive, why keep her spirit severed? You can dream with her anywhere you'd like, if she no longer exists in this world."

He returned his gaze to the tiny bottle, his brows knitted together in concentration. 

"You are saying that I should set her free?" he asked, now looking up at Solas. The elf simply nodded.

"By keeping her here you are only doing her more harm than good. She can only feel whole once you are asleep. From what you tell me, this... process works best with living beings."

The Keeper stared at the vial once more, "I will... consider what you have said. I do not wish to hurt her. She has already gone through enough pain."

Solas stared at his notebook, watching as his own scribbled penmanship danced in harmony to form a recollection of events on the page. It, specifically, related to the area of the Fade he explored while asleep in the clan's burnt out camp, telling stories of Ashinne's life. 

"I saw what had happened," Solas started quietly, not wanting to disturb the Keeper with his findings. "The fires. No one should have to go through anything so horrific. Ir abelas, hahren."

"Ma serannas," Keeper Sorwen replied, stuffing the vial back into his pocket.

Solas' gaze drifted as they stood there for a moment in silence, each thinking deeply about the horrors of their own lives. His stormy eyes rested upon the round body of a clear glass bottle, and in his peripheral, he watched as the Keeper stepped away through his door.

Chapter Text

 

"For a few seconds they looked silently into each other's eyes, and the distant and impossible suddenly became near, possible, and inevitable."

-Leo Tolstoy

~~◇~~

Not one person was sure how to proceed without feeling some type of sick, dreadful urge to throw up, followed by the rushing wave of shaky anticipation that followed. Maybe it was one feeling that caused the other, or maybe it was something in the food they ate. Solas was certainly positive that it was due to the former, their hearts racing as they dashed on horseback through the simmering sands of the Western Approach. The sun never seemed to set here, and if it did, the moon only dared to show its face for a few hours before the sun peeked over the dunes again.

His exhaustion was relieved by her presence, though. She was hesitant to give her blood willingly, at first, shaken by thought of it being some joke just to get her essence in a bottle. But after Solas explained its true intent in further detail, she was more than happy to prick her finger for him. 

So now she lay bare across his chest, sitting just above the hard bone of his wolf jaw necklace in a tiny round bottle so that the two did not clatter. He wouldn't want the bottle breaking, spilling her blood over the front of his robes.

Each heard the sound of swords clashing and bones breaking in the distance, readying themselves to fight as the scene of the battle drew near. The soldiers were the first to lay siege upon Adamant, assessing the strength of the corrupted Wardens and their demon counterparts, and taking the brunt of the fall. By the time Varia and her small party arrived, it was mostly lingering demons that remained. 

"There are areas on the upper ramparts that need clearing out!" Cullen's voice boomed over the sound of metal against metal, and metal against thick demon flesh. He had drawn his own sword in the midst of it all, slashing through a few Wardens that were proving to be too challenging for a small group of regular Inquisition soldiers. 

Varia and her party raced up flights upon flights of steps, taking no time to admire the ancient influences of both Orlesian and Dwarven hands that had once touched the fortress. Once a time ago, this place would have been a marvel, a spectacle to behold upon the ancients. Now, it had been left to dwell among the raging sandstorms and cold, lonely nights that inhabited the Approach. Not to mention it's current shelter for an army of Grey Wardens-turned-demons, their commander, and some strange, out of place Magister. Nothing about this place was spectacular anymore. It's appeal had been long lost to time.

One more flight of stairs and the party happened upon a small battle between Hawke, Anders, and a few rage demons. It was over just as they arrived, the smell of smoke and sulfur still lingering in the air around them.

"You finally made it," Hawke called above the sound of loud clashing swords against swords from the level above them.

The look on Anders' face was troubling, his eyes wandering and all over the place. It made sense. He was a Warden amongst the many others that were here, likely hearing the Calling just as they were. It was very possible that Justice could emerge, or that he would be lured just as the other Wardens had been.

"Where's Stroud?" Varia asked, tucking her daggers back into her belt for the time being.

"He's just up ahead," Hawke replied. "I told him to go on ahead and scout out the potential danger. We should probably go and catch up with him."

They ran, slicing through both lone demons and groups of them alike while miles of old stone trembled beneath their feet. There must have been more than hundreds here. While Varric and Hawke both enjoyed counting their kills for bragging rights, they each had quit counting after... maybe the 16th Warden or demon?

Luckily, Stroud hadn't made it that much farther ahead before finding himself ass-deep in demons, one pride demon standing high above the rest of them. It was terrifying; Hawke had not seen anything more terrifying since First Enchanter Orsino's abominable, grotesque form he had taken some years ago. But even after witnessing the death of the First Enchanter, Hawke sometimes still has nightmares about that terrible Harvester shape. She didn't wholly believe mages to be so terrible, definitely not seeing them how Fenris sees them, but the Enchanter was an exception to her beliefs. That man was a monstrosity.

"Take care of the big one!" Stroud shouted, his sword piercing through a screaming shade. "I can take care of the rest!"

Varia began to carry out with his request almost immediately after the words sprouted from his lips, her body becoming one with her surroundings. She stalked around the demon, reappearing from her cloak as she leaped forward and sank both her daggers into its scaly back. Bull daringly took on the demon from the front, cutting deep into the flesh of its belly with a single swing of his axe. Solas worked on targeting its vulnerabilities, striking the demon with flurries of spirit magic. Varric, Anders, and Dorian worked on the offensive, sticking the demon with anything and everything that would make the damn beast bleed. 

Hawke assisted Stroud with fighting the smaller demons, which after awhile, turned out to be a persistent and endless task. They were appearing from seemingly nowhere, much to their confusion and frustration. There were still shades and terror demons, even long after the main party had killed off the pride demon.

"These guys sure were busy while we were away!" Varric shouted above the ear-piercing shriek of a terror demon, releasing a bolt into the demon's face. He watched as it fell onto its back, then as it disintegrated into nothing.

"No shit," Hawke replied, suddenly appearing beside him.

Varia glanced around once they were sure all the demons in the vicinity were cleared out, counting the number of heads in her party. She counted seven, then dashed toward the lone crate sitting underneath a tent, digging through in hopes of finding some health poultices of any sort.

"Please, Maker," she prayed, burying her hands through to the bottom and moving the contents of the crate around. She was lucky to find two health poultices and one lyrium potion for one of her mages. But in regards to health-related items, that was all she was able to find.

"Is anyone badly hurt?" she asked around, holding up the two health poultices in each hand. 

Most of the party shook their heads no, save for Stroud and Bull who gladly took the potions to heal their wounds. It made the most sense. They took on the head of both fronts, and likely suffered because of it. 

Stroud downed the potion in a matter of seconds, hardly even grimacing as the foul-tasting liquid burned down his throat. A seasoned warrior such as himself must have had to become used to the taste and fire the hard way: through hard-won battles and countless days spent fighting in war. Varia recognized this without fault.

"We must keep moving. There are more ahead," Stroud announced, marching away toward an area of the battlements where there was a clear indication of fighting. Varia could see flames and smoke, followed by the flashing of bodies bearing iron helmets in that same distance.

She narrowed her eyes, trying to get a better glimpse of who was fighting who, but to no avail. Her party picked up the pace, stepping into a jog in order to get to their destination faster. They arrived with the haste of protecting the Inquisition soldiers that were desperately trying to rid of the demons. One fell as they arrived, his fault lying in his drifting eyes as they landed on the sight of his rescue rather than the pair of demon claws gnashing at his chest. These demons were able to be killed with ease, fortunately.

"Have you caught sight of any more Wardens?" Varia asked one soldier, her breath labored.

The soldier pointed toward the southern end of the fortress, luckily in the direction they had already intended on heading. 

"There's a whole 'lotta them out that way. There's some guy screamin' about sacrifices of somethin'. Was too afraid to peek my head in any further than that," the soldier said, clutching his right hip. "Demon burned the hell outta me. You don't happen to have anything on you?"

Varia shook her head, remembering that she had given the two poultices she had found to members of her own party a short while ago. However, she directed him in the direction they had come from, guaranteeing that it was clear and that he could rest there.

It wasn't too much longer until they had run into another pride demon surrounded by even more lesser demons. The ramparts went up in smoke as they started fighting; rage demons swung their arms left and right, terrors screeched, and one despair demon wailed out its sorrows with a shrill pitch. Taking the results of the last major fight into consideration, Solas stood back on the defensive, this time using spirit magic to buffer the abilities of the party and heal the wounded. 

Bianca fired bolts with more power and accuracy; Dorian had more mana to spend on casting fireballs and static cages; Varia had more stamina to flank demons with; Iron Bull swung his axe with a greater strength than he had before; Hawke and Stroud grew less tiresome from holding up their shields and using their energy to keep the demons at bay; Anders cast spells at a much faster rate. 

"I fucking hate demons," Bull grumbled under his breath, sheathing his axe upon his back as the last of the demons fell. 

"And why's that, hm? I always thought they looked so friendly with their menacing faces and such," Dorian jested, appearing at Bull's side with a sarcastic smirk plastered across his lips.

Bull simply grumbled again, "Not funny."

"You'll learn to thank me later."

Varia heard the shouting that the soldier had mentioned not a split second later. It was glorified, mentioning the necessity of sacrifice toward some cause. 

What cause, though?

She rounded the corner with her party in tow, glancing over the hundreds of heads all gathered together as each pair of Grey Warden eyes stared up at the martyr who had just been killed by his commander.

Warden-Commander Clarel.

The man at her side objected to the party's sudden appearance, calling on the Wardens to prevent them from coming any further. And while the first triad of Wardens that approached them didn't appear very intimidating, it became increasingly so as more and more pressed their boundaries. Soon, a whole army of fearsome Grey Wardens had them surrounded.

"Clarel!" Varia shouted, projecting her voice above the many heads that had them blockaded. "If you complete that ritual, you're doing exactly what Erimond wants!"

She saw the magister scowl as he held his hands in the air, feigning innocence, "What? Fighting the Blight? Keeping the world safe from darkspawn? Who wouldn't want that?"

Varia switched her gaze to lock eyes with Clarel, who didn't appear to be the least bit troubled by all this. She held a hand out, keeping the Wardens from advancing any further. All the added body heat was making her even more nauseous.

"And yes, the ritual requires blood sacrifice," Erimond continued, "Hate me for that if you must, but do not hate the Wardens for doing their duty!"

"We make the sacrifices no one else will," Clarel added, "Our warriors die proudly for a world that will never thank them."

Varia glanced over at Stroud, who kept his face strong and his emotions steady. However, she could tell by the deep uneasy look in his eyes that he was completely distraught by all this.

"And then your Tevinter ally binds the mages to Corypheus!" he shouted, narrowing his eyes at Clarel.

Varia saw her mask break. The look on Clarel's face changed from proud and intense to wary and afraid all in a matter of seconds. Erimond saw it too, and Varia watched as the confident look in his eyes began to slip. She saw the name "Corypheus" form on her lips before Erimond approached the confused commander, telling her something that caused a change in her demeanor entirely.

"Bring it through," the Warden-Commander ordered.

Varia felt a pulse in her hand as she saw the closed rift before them swirl with energy, a few Warden mages giving everything in their power to open the closure.

Gods, no.

Varia started to walk forward along with the members of her party, opposing the will of the Wardens that stood to prevent them from coming forth. Those Wardens, too, stepped forward.

"Please!" Hawke hollered, staring into the faces of both figures standing on the ramparts above. "I have seen more than my share of blood magic! It is never worth the cost!"

"I trained half of you myself! Do not make me kill you to stop this madness," Stroud exclaimed, nearly pleading.

Once more, Erimond turned to Clarel, telling her something that was likely to confirm that she was doing the right thing. Yet his words were lost to the sound of the rift crackling, straining to keep whatever was threatening to come out inside... or to push whatever wished to pass the Veil out.

"Listen to me!" Varia announced, focused on swaying the Wardens more than anything. "I have no quarrel with the Wardens! I have spared those I could! I don't want to kill you, but you're being used... and some of you know it, don't you?"

Her claims were met with agreement from some of the Wardens, their doubts finally dragging them down. They were worried, frightened... some of them knew that what Erimond and Clarel were trying to achieve was not right.

"You cannot let fear sway your minds, Wardens!" Clarel opposed.

"They're not afraid, you are. You're afraid that you ordered all these brave men and women to die for nothing," said Hawke.

"I honor your bravery, my brothers and sisters, but this is not the way. You have been tricked," Stroud told them, and every member of the party watched as horror struck their faces.

The Wardens that had been persuaded by Varia and her party turned, slowly, one by one to meet the faces of their deceivers. Their liars. Their tricksters. She saw as Clarel's mask broke again, her brows and scarred skin wrinkling in worry. Clarel turned to Erimond, her face heavy with doubt as he spoke to her.

"My master thought you might come here, Inquisitor," Erimond shouted, slamming the end of his wooden staff against the stone repeatedly. "He sent me this to welcome you!"

There was the sound of a familiar screech followed by heavy, beating wings as he finished abusing the ground with his staff. Varia felt a rush of adrenaline send shivers down her spine as she remembered the snarling teeth, the dark scales, the red ribbons of energy that surrounded it. She had hoped after Haven's destruction that she would never have to face that demonic dragon ever again. But she never was one to have much luck.

The dragon breathed lyrium into the small courtyard space where they all were crammed, and feet sprung from the ground in all directions in an attempt to avoid the blast. There were some Wardens that had been unfortunate and didn't leap in time, the energy of the breath sinking into their bones and killing them. The dragon circled the fortress once before landing on one of the structures overhead, its menacing face peering down into the space below. 

Varia almost missed the purple spark that rose from the battlements above, Erimond's body slamming into the wall as he became engulfed by lightning. Then she saw it again, that purple spark. But this time it was aimed at the dragon, who did not seem pleased by the attack, letting out a breath of energy in Clarel's direction. She heard the Warden-Commander tell her army to "help the Inquisitor" before running off, trying to avoid the dragon that had just launched from its perch.

A hulking demon of pride leaped from the rift, shaking the very ground as its feet hit the stone. A mighty roar ripped through its throat as its chest pressed forward into the air, its claws sharp and electric with energy.

Varia left the Wardens to take care of the demon, ordering her party to assist her in following Clarel. Demons littered the entirety of the upper ramparts, giving the group little to no time to take a breath as they hurried along. 

"So that Clarel chick? She had no idea?" Bull asked, slicing a shade in half as he spoke. Varia was nearly out of breath; she couldn't comprehend how Bull was able to talk and fight at the same time.

"Correct," she told him plainly, flanking a terror demon that was about to disappear into the ground.

"Seems pretty..." he stopped as he let out a grunt, heaving his greataxe down toward the ground to finish off a wraith. "Stupid of her, if you ask me. You know, with the Tevinter magister and all that."

Varia shook her head, pressing forward into an alcove when she heard the familiar shriek of the lyrium dragon. The ground shook tremendously as the dragon's face appeared below one of the arches, its flapping wings creating both tremors and a strong draft of hot desert air to flow through the narrow space.

She pressed back against her followers, her eyes wide with fear as she told them to head back in the opposite direction, "Run!"

They sprinted away from the dragon's breath just in time, and then made a note to simply press forward and ignore the small hordes of demons that lingered in their path. Varia made it her focus to reach Clarel and Erimond, with or without the dragon getting in her way.

But she soon found that the dragon was no longer interested in her, instead swooping down and snatching Clarel's body as soon as she and her party had found both mages fighting one-on-one in a large area close to where the fortress sat along the Abyssal Rift. The dragon circled the area, landing on a high point of one of the towers where it could shake the Warden-Commander's body to filth, throwing her down upon the stone with the power of its mouth alone. 

There was no saving her; blood pooled around her head the second she hit the ground, and the dragon did not seem content on leaving her there. It shook the ground as it landed, letting out a screech of a roar as it neared the gravely wounded woman.

Varia thought she misheard it at first: words that had once coated a different, much more familiar tongue. 

In war, victory...

It had been such a long time since Varia had seen her sister. Most people weren't even aware that Lady Trevelyan had birthed two women. The brothers of her family were often more notable. She constantly wondered if her sister was still alive, of if she had been here at Adamant alongside her. What if her sister had been one of these Wardens?

In peace, vigilance...

Perhaps she would never come to know. Not even Varia knew if she would survive this fight against Erimond and Corypheus' lyrium dragon.

In death, sacrifice.

A massive explosion drew her back, opening up the ground where Clarel and the dragon had previously been. Clarel's body was nowhere to be seen, and the dragon desperately tried to claw onto something before falling down into the chasm itself.

The ground was crumbling rapidly now. Varia let her own feet carry her to safety until her brain told her to stop, Stroud's voice piercing through the earth-shattering sound of ancient stone rumbling and breaking as it met certain doom. She ran to save him when instead the ground broke apart beneath her own feet, sending both her and Stroud into the glowing abyss where Varia had no other choice than to use her own power against it.