Philippa's jaw hung to the ground as fire erupted on the stage below her. Lithe and limber dancers pranced about, telling a story with their bodies and their masks. One that Philippa was admittedly unable to follow. The spectacle was like nothing she had ever seen. Her heart was racing as the light's dimmed and several of the dancers lunged toward each other, reenacting a battle of some sort. She thought... She watched in anticipation, her hands wringing around her playbill as she sat on the edge of her seat, peering over the balcony. Then, all of a sudden it stopped. Everything went still and the audience cheered. Philippa gaped, listening to Josephine shouting “Bravo! Bravo!” to her left. She glanced at her ambassador.
Josephine looked over at her and recognized her expression. Philippa began to stutter out her questions. “Was the woman in gold playing a King? Who was the man in feathers?”
Josie chuckled softly and patted Philippa's hand that was now gripping the arm of her seat with intensity. “Oh, It's all very simple! The first actor's mask is determined by...” Josie pressed her lips together as Philippa gaped, eager to learn. It must have been more complicated than she indicated because she cleared her throat and sighed. “Well, I will lend you the program guide... But tell me, did you enjoy the performance?”
“That was...” Philippa paused, searching for the right words as Josephine took on a look of horror at the thought that she may have bored Philippa. “Absolutely fantastic! I've never seen anything so amazing!” Philippa cried.
“Truly?” Josephine asked with a wide smile.
Philippa sucked in a breath. “That part with the glittery... and they actually set fire to...” She exhaled passionately and then chuckled with glee. “Yes, I had a blast, Josie!”
“Then I call tonight a great success!” Josie announced with pride. Suddenly, the theater went dark and fireworks sprung from the stage to explode on the high ceiling. “Oh, look! the encore signal!”
Philippa's head whipped around and the rest of the show was brief but intense. When she and Josie walked out of the theater, Philippa yawned and stretched, feigning exhaustion so she could slip away to the gardens and meet Cullen. Josie walked with her briefly, but soon veered off to head to her assigned room.
She walked alone, smiling excitedly. A rustling in the bushes to her left drew her attention and there was a fireball in her right palm before she could think. “Is someone there?” she called out. There was no response, not as though she had been expecting one. Assassins didn't usually answer when their target called out to them.
“Are you all right?” Philippa shrieked at the sudden voice to her left and she spun, ready to release her magic. When she saw Cole standing with his hands behind his back and his head cocked to stare at her, she slumped her shoulders and sighed.
“Maker's breath, Cole. Don't sneak up on me like that.” She closed her fist around the magic burning in her palm and placed the hand over her racing heart. “You'll give me a heart attack.”
“Your heart won't attack you. It's happy,” Cole said with a grin.
She chuckled. “I suppose you're right. What are you doing out here... lurking?”
“I'm not lurking. Maryden likes flowers and shiny stones. I was looking for stones,” he said with a shrug. “But none of the stones around here are right. They don't sing.”
“Okay, well, good luck,” she said. “I'm going to bed.”
“He's waiting for you,” Cole offered.
Of course Cole knew. She rolled her eyes and turned from him. “Thank you, Cole. Goodnight,” she called over her shoulder as she continued down the garden path. A few minutes later, she was past the courtyard and almost to the spa when her hand exploded in agony, lurching her forward as the night lit up green as the anchor flared. She gritted her teeth, grabbing her wayward arm with her right hand and pulling it back to her chest. Tendrils of stabbing pain lanced up her arm and into her jaw, like thousands of hot needles piercing her skin. Then as quickly as it had come, it stopped. She took a moment to catch her breath as she stared at the now calm Anchor. Philippa grunted, shaking off the residual tingle in her hand.
Before she could wonder what had just happened, Cullen stepped around one of the bushes that made up the edge of the garden. Seeing her, he smiled. "I thought I heard someone." She dropped her hands, ignoring the strange flare up of the Anchor and returned the smile. He approached her and placed his hand on the small of her back. "I managed to get you something to wear, and Mother Giselle agreed to lead the ceremony."
"Aren't we supposed to have witnesses?" she asked curiously.
He pulled her closer, his arm snaking around her waist. "Have I ever told you that Varric knows more than he possibly should?"
"All of the time," she chuckled. "What's he done now?"
They rounded the corner to where the small archway stood that was regularly used for weddings. Standing around, dressed in formal wear like they had expected Cullen's proposal were her siblings. "Apparently, he's been expecting me to ask you to marry me, and guessed it would happen here."
"Maker's tears!" Philippa gasped, her heart leaping. She rushed from Cullen's side and Bethany threw herself at Philippa with a giddy chuckle. "I've missed you all so much!"
Garrett waited his turn, grabbing her and lifting her off her feet like Bull had in one of his famous bear hugs. "Did you honestly think I'd miss this?"
When he set her down, Carver awkwardly approached, his hands stiffly at his sides. "Congratulations, sister."
Philippa snorted and nudged him before giving him her own version of Garrett's bear hug. Carver stiffened slightly, but allowed her to hug him for a moment before Garrett punched his arm and he flinched before wrapping his own arms around her. "Believe it or not, you're not the first person I've known who hates hugs. Like I told him, just let it happen, Carver."
Bethany took hold of her arm and Philippa noticed she had a white dress draped over her arm. "Let's get you changed while the boys finish up here."
They linked arms and started toward the changing rooms in the spa. "I can't believe you're here, Beth!"
"Did you think I would miss your wedding?" Bethany scolded.
Philippa snorted. "Considering I had no idea it was even happening until earlier today, I thought everyone was going to miss it."
Her sister chuckled sweetly. Her black hair, longer since Philippa had seen her last, was braided loosely and draped over her shoulder, a flower tucked behind her right ear. She had lined her eyes in a light dusting of shadow that matched the pink and purple dress she was wearing. The dress had thin straps over her shoulders that served only to keep the dress from falling down. Her shoulders and neck were otherwise bare. The sleeves were long, flowing and sheer, the dress itself silky and tasteful as she framed her ample chest without showing it off. "Well, you know Varric. If you even think too hard about something, he knows about it."
"I should be upset that our secret wedding isn't secret, but if it got you three here, I really can't be mad," Philippa shrugged. Bethany handed over the dress she had been carefully carrying and Philippa stepped behind the changing screen. "Dare I ask about your love life? How's Nathaniel?"
Bethany chuckled again, that same sweet humming melody. "We've been to visit his sister and her family a few times, and Garrett and Anders keep begging us to come around, but we're so busy most of the time, we rarely have time to stop and take a breath. With the damage the Warden ranks took during the war, it's been non stop recruiting with not much to show for it."
"Well, I won't beg, but if you are ever passing through, Skyhold is always open. We'd be glad to see you, and you could meet Azure," Philippa suggested as she slipped out of her dress uniform and into the dress. It was floor length, and silky, just like Bethany's, but the outer chiffon layer was inlaid with shimmering flecks of silvery glitter that gave the illusion of undisturbed snow glistening in the sun. It's sleeves were made of the same flowing fabric, and where the silk was sewn in at the back just above her shoulder blades, another layer of thin fabric hung like a mantle, trailing behind her.
She stepped out from behind the screen and Bethany gasped. "Well, now all that's left is make-up and accessories. Though you scarcely need them. Phil, you're gorgeous..."
About an hour later, she was properly attired in the flowing white dress and they were tucked away in a small, private corner of the gardens with Mother Giselle presiding. They stood facing each other, Bethany, Carver and Garrett standing in a semicircle nearby. Cullen picked up her hands and held them tightly. “Just now... everything feels like it was worth fighting for,” he whispered.
She couldn't help her laughter. “Don't be so sober... We're getting married...” she lifted her marked hand to tip his eyes to hers. “Here and now, Cullen...” she reminded him.
“This is...” he seemed at a loss for words as he looked her over in the long white dress. She remembered back to the last time they had been to the Winter Palace and she had worn an actual dress. So much had happened since then, but the look in his eyes was the same.
Mother Giselle cleared her throat with a grin. “This is the part where you make a promise.”
“Oh, right,” Cullen said and then cleared his throat and returned his attention to Philippa's face. “I swear unto the Maker and the Holy Andraste to love this woman the rest of my days.”
Philippa repeated the vow and Mother Giselle pronounced her an official Rutherford. Cullen pulled her close and they shared a loving kiss as Mother Giselle politely left them. “I love you,” Philippa said, her forehead pressed to his.
“And I you...” Then he sighed as Garrett approached and gripped them both up in a hug.
"It's so good we've got a new Hawke in the family," he said jokingly, kissing Cullen's cheek.
Cullen recoiled and Philippa laughed. "That's not how it works..."
"As far as he knows," Garrett hugged Cullen tighter. "But it's the rules. If you marry into the Hawke family, you're a Hawke..."
Philippa shoved him away playfully. "I'm sure Anders was thrilled to finally have a surname..."
Garrett released them and grinned deviously. "He'd much rather scream it out in bed than take it for his own..."
"Andraste preserve me," Cullen mumbled as Bethany reached over and slapped Garrett's upper arm.
Garrett clapped his hands together. "Right! Speaking of screaming out in bed, you're newly weds and we're lingering. Come on Carver, Beth... the tavern is still open."
With one last hug for each of her siblings, they watched the three of them leave and Cullen took her hand lightly. "You look beautiful in that dress."
She turned into his arms, glad for a moment alone. "But I'm sure I'd look much better out of it."
He leaned down to kiss her, the smile on his lips making the act difficult. "You read my mind, Lady Rutherford."
She lifted her arms to wrap them around his neck. "That's Comtesse Rutherford, I'll have you know."
He snorted. "Should I even ask?"
"As Viscount, Varric has abused his title to make me nobility in Kirkwall. By proxy, you are now nobility in Kirkwall," she said with a chuckle.
"Maker forbid," He chucked as well.
"So which of us do you think got the nicer room in the palace?" she wondered as they started toward the guest wing.
"Perhaps we should check them both... Just to be sure," he said with a devious grin.
She hummed out another chuckle. "A few hours in each at least to properly test," she agreed.
Cullen led her to his room first. Just inside his grey mabari sat on his haunches, his head tipped to the side with a bouquet of crystal grace in his mouth. She gushed as she stepped in and knelt before the excited dog. "Are those for me?" He dropped the bouquet into her hands and tried to lick her face. She giggled and evaded the slobber. "Thank you, good sir." He barked once and Cullen shushed him. With his tongue lolling, he moved to the other side of the room where a few pillows had been piled. He turned round a few times and laid down, yawning. She turned to Cullen and smiled. "They're beautiful. Have you given him a name or did he come with one?"
Cullen snorted, moving up to pull her against him. He reached up and brushed her bangs from her face. "If he came with one, the merchant didn't know it. It seems whoever owned him before taught him one thing. Fetch."
The dog lifted his head momentarily, but when he realized there was nothing for him to chase after, he settled back down. She sniggered. "Perhaps you should name him Gopher."
He grinned, leaning in closer. "I was right. Mages are evil."
She lifted onto her toes and captured his lips, abandoning the bouquet to a nearby table. He took her face in his hands and kissed her deeply, her body melting into his embrace. Then his hands moved to the back of her dress where a long ribbon beneath the mantle held it closed. As he undid the tie, she set her sights on his belt and the formal tunic and coat he was wearing. The dress quickly fell from her shoulders, falling to pool at her feet. Cullen's hands followed the fabric down her back and around her waist before he guided her backwards toward the bed, their mouths still connected. Then he bent, his arms wrapping around her thighs so he could lift her up. She wrapped her legs around his waist as he turned to sit on the edge of the bed, then she straddled his hips. Their hands were everywhere, touching each other like it was their first time. She reached between them, liberating him from the loosened breeches he still wore. Then she slipped from his lap, tugging them off completely and dropping to her knees. She caressed her hands up his now bare thighs, trickling tiny sparks of electricity from her fingertips as she moved toward his erection. A gasp escaped him and he whispered, "Maker's breath."
She switched the magic to fire, warming her hands before she took his balls in one and his shaft in the other. Then as she looked up at him, she slipped him into her mouth, slowly taking him in until her lips met her hand. She squeezed lightly with her hands, and then began to slowly work up and down, maintaining a pace she knew would drive him to the brink but never quite over the top. She meant this night to last for them both. Just when she began to taste the mild saltiness that told her he was close, she ever so slowly pulled her mouth from him. When she removed her hands, she slid them up his chest as she stood and then pushed him onto his back. He shifted further toward the middle of the bed as she climbed onto the mattress and straddled him once more, teasingly higher up than would do either of them any good. She leaned in to whisper in his ear. "So, Commander... Do you have orders for me?"
His hands found her hips and he squeezed briefly before lifting her and physically positioning her so when she settled back down he could easily slip in. "Sit," he said with a grin.
She complied, slowly, his hands still guiding her until he met her cervix. She felt the moan of pleasure escape her mouth and her hips began to circle. Her palms rested on his stomach, steadying herself as they moved together. As deep as he was, she could feel him in her navel, each roll of her hips grinding him along her core. When his fingers slipped between them and found her clitoris, she gasped in ecstasy, releasing more magic along his skin. She felt the electricity as well, pushing her to the brink. "Oh, Maker," she cried, her head dipping. His free hand reached up and grasped her breast, squeezing almost painfully until suddenly, she slipped over the edge. She rode out her orgasm with a series of pleasured gasps. He pulled his fingers from between them and then pulled her down to him. With one arm wrapped around her, he flipped them before leaning down and capturing her lips again, stifling her moans. She lifted her arms, and slipped her fingers into his curls, grabbing tightly as they kissed hungrily. He began to move again, lighting up her senses as he caressed over and over her still sensitive core.
Her legs tightened around him as he too reached completion, the pulsing of his orgasm pushing her over the edge a second time. His head drooped and he nestled his face in her neck. "I love you," he whispered before laying a soft kiss on her neck, followed by a few more that led him back to her mouth.
He gingerly pulled free of her and moved to his side, lying next to her as she remained on her back, sweating and trying to catch her breath. "That is one templar smite I always enjoy being on the receiving end of," she said with a chuckle.
"You are insufferable," he grunted, leaning in to kiss her neck again.
"I thought that was why you married me," she reminded him.
He chuckled softly, pulling her closer and tracing his fingers over her skin. "It still sounds strange to hear you say that, but in a good way."
"I'm sure you'll soon tire of it, because I plan on rubbing it in everyone's faces. Her Lady Inquisitor-Comtesse Philippa Rutherford. It has a ring, don't you think?" she said, adding a poncy accent to her speech. "The Orlesians will be furious."
To cover up the laughter, he said, "Sweet Maker, shut up." Then he kissed her again.
They made love once more in his room and then slipping into the bare minimum of clothing they snuck to her room. "I knew it," she said when they stepped inside. "I got the better room. Suck on that, Commander."
He turned her in his arms after walking into her when she had stopped just inside the doorway. "Well, Lady Inquisitor-Comtesse Rutherford, there is something else I would rather be sucking on."
She lifted her arms to rest her forearms on his shoulders. "Oh? Is that right?"
He picked her up and tossed her on the bed, climbing on top of her and pushing the tunic she had thrown on up so his mouth could explore her stomach. Then he moved to her breasts, taking them in his mouth one at a time. All coherent thought left her as he moved downwards, pleasuring her with his mouth just as she had him, denying her that final pleasure until they had some mutual fun.
It had been a wedding night to remember, filled with laughter, moaning and happiness. When Philippa woke in the morning, her back huddled up against Cullen's chest, she felt like she had gotten hardly any sleep at all. Wishing she didn't need to get up and get dressed for the council, she groaned into her pillow before attempting to shift away from Cullen. He mumbled a negative sound, pulling her closer and kissing the back of her neck. She rolled into him, shifting so she was facing him. He smiled at her sleepily. "Good morning."
She reached up with her hand to brush his stray hair from his face, concentrating on nothing but him. Out of nowhere, his eyes widened and he grabbed hold of her wrist. "Ow, Cullen... what...?" That was when she saw it as pain lanced up her arm.
All around the glowing mark, tendrils of magic had begun to trail along beneath her skin, like the Anchor was spreading throughout her veins. The sight made her queasy, and she quickly pulled her hand from his grasp to study the anchor, sitting up and allowing the sheets to pool around her waist. Cullen sat up as well. "What's going on with the mark?" he asked haltingly.
"I... I don't know..." she confessed. Her fingers tingled with pins and needles like when circulation was being restored to a sleeping limb. Fear and nausea welled up in her gut, but she swallowed it and put on a brave face. "I'll look into it when the council concludes today."
"Hang the Council, Phil," he growled. "This looks bad."
She stood from the bed and hunted down her clothes, shaking her head. "You know I can't do that, Cullen. This is the future of the Inquisition... our future on the line, here." The Inquisition was doomed if the Inquisitor decided to skip the first day of the Exalted Council because she wasn't feeling up to presenting herself.
He stood as well, pulling on the trousers he had worn from his room to hers and stopped her in her tracks. "What future is there if that mark poisons you?" he asked, standing in her way.
"It wouldn't be the first time the Anchor's tried to kill me, Cullen. I'll be fine." Stepping around him, she did the best she could to prepare herself as his eyes bored holes in her back. She did not wear the formal clothing of the previous day, and in place of her mask, she simply applied light makeup, winging her eyes and then shadowing them to make it look like the dark circles that plagued her complexion were intentional. After more protests from him, she dragged herself to the Council Chambers.
It was mid day, and she had barely had a chance to get a word in edgewise while Arl Teagan and Duke Cyril argued through Leliana as she sat between them on the dais, her hands folded neatly before her. Josephine would pipe up every now and again to defend the Inquisition, but the Council was going just about as well as had been predicted.
“The Inquisition established an armed presence in Ferelden Territory. You outright seized Caer Bronach in Crestwood!” Arl Teagan accused, his finger wagging at Philippa who was currently glaring at him with her throbbing fist clenched under the table. She was doing her best to maintain a diplomatic air, but he was making it very difficult.
“Yes,” she agreed through gritted teeth. “It was overrun with bandits! Crestwood wasn't exactly in a place to do anything about them. I could go and offer it back to them if you'd like...”
Teagan huffed. “Your help was appreciated two years ago, Inquisitor. Now order has been restored, yet you remain. Invading under pretext of restoring order was exactly what the Grey Wardens did to us centuries ago, and we exiled them! Now the Inquisition is doing the same thing, with Grey Wardens in their ranks!”
Duke Cyril piped up, still haughtily insisting he was on Philippa's side. “Your concern is ill founded. The Grey Wardens have proved their worth time and again.”
Teagan snorted. “Of course Orlais tolerates this interference. The Inquisition is the only reason Celene still has the throne.”
“Rest assured, Teagan, the Empire of Orlais will not stand idle if the Inquisition oversteps it's bounds.” Philippa slowly dropped her head into her hands as Cyril droned on. “Unlike Ferelden, however, Orlais understands that these were the well-intentioned mistakes of a young organization.”
After rubbing her face, she glanced over at Josie who gave her an encouraging nod. Chin up, Inquisitor. It was hard to do that as the men argued. “An organization in need of a guiding hand. Yours, no doubt,” Teagan spat.
While the argument continued, an elven woman approached Philippa from behind and leaned in to whisper in her ear. “Pardon me, Inquisitor. Divine Victoria wishes to speak with you in private.”
Philippa turned to frown at the woman. She was dressed in Inquisition trappings and stood politely smiling at her. “The Divine Victoria... who is sitting just up there?” Philippa hissed quietly as she nodded her head toward Leliana who sat between the two arguing countries.
“Yes. And who was once your spymaster,” the elf insisted with a wink. Philippa flicked her eyes to Leliana and the smiling Divine had been replaced by the menacing looking bard that had once been her spymaster. Leliana nodded carefully, so subtle that Philippa was uncertain if she truly saw it. “It's a pressing matter, Your Worship,” the elf whispered urgently.
Philippa cleared her throat. The argument above ceased as both men gaped at her. “I apologize, everyone. There is something that needs my attention immediately. Ambassador Montilyet, would you kindly stand in for me momentarily?”
Joesphine sputtered out an affirmative. “I... Of course, Inquisitor.”
“This is highly irregular!” Duke Cyril called after her as Philippa stood and followed the elven woman from the chambers.
"Are we not even worth the Inquisitor's time?" Teagan growled loudly.
Philippa heard Leliana calmly call a recess and she went around the outside of the building to wait for the Divine. When she joined them, the elf led them toward the garden section that housed the tavern. A small building behind the tavern was their destination. A crowd was gathered and Leliana parted the sea of people by simply being who she was. They entered the single room guarded by two Inquisition soldiers and the sight before them made Philippa take a step back. “The guard said we should both see this,” Leliana mused, kneeling carefully on a section of the floor that was not covered by the pool of blood spreading from the dead Qunari propped against the back wall. “I believe she was correct.” Leliana examined the body as closely as she dared in her white robes and Philippa knelt beside her, with curiosity. “A Qunari warrior in full armor. How did he get into the Winter Palace?”
Philippa stood, unable to stomach the smell that permeated the entire room. With a wry snort, she said, “Why am I not surprised that we're back at the Winter Palace and someone is dead?” She sighed, trying her best to breathe through her mouth. “Will Josie be okay in there while I snoop around?”
Leliana waved her hands. “She will be fine. It's all speeches and posturing for the first few days, anyway. I will extend the recess as long as possible. I will also have our friends ready themselves for battle, if need be.”
Philippa's stomach flipped. “Battle? It's one dead Qunari. Do you think that's necessary?” She had enough to contend with as her hand continued to remind her.
“I think the Exalted Council may be more exciting than we expected,” Leliana said with a smirk.
Between the council itself, her hand acting up, and now the new mess they had unwittingly stepped in, Philippa thought she was just about at capacity for excitement. Philippa ran her hands through her hair. “I'll go see if I can't figure out where the big guy came from. It's a good thing I packed my staff and armor. I just knew this was going to turn into a shit show."
Philippa left the small room and made her way through the gathered crowd, picking up on the blood trail outside. It circled to the side of the building and she noted a few broken pieces of lattice on a nearby trellis. When she looked up, she saw blood on the white pieces of wood, all of the way up to the third floor. She debated on going around, but decided faster was better and carefully climbed the broken trellis. It wasn't the first trellis she had climbed in the Winter Palace, why not uphold tradition? What she found at the end of the blood trail made her jaw drop in shock. "How in the Void did you get here?" she mused. Standing tall in the middle of a room was an active eluvian glowing brightly. She reached out to touch it, but then drew her hand back. There was no way she was going in there alone and unarmed. A Qunari soldier had died in there.
She made her way back down the trellis and across from the cafe where a small rarely used smithy had been installed likely years ago and never touched. Only in Orlais could you find a smithy that was used as decoration. All of her former companions had been gathered. News spread quickly to those who Leliana decided to inform. When she walked in, they all turned to look at her with varying degrees of curiosity. She glanced at Varric, Cassandra, and Dorian, her usual crew... and grinned. "I hope you all packed your fightin' clothes, because there is an active eluvian parked in a guest room upstairs."
She prepared herself while the others speculated. When she pulled her gloves off and saw the progression of the spreading mark had reached her wrist, she quickly slipped her combat gloves on. She was glad that the veins of green magic hadn't reached up her fingers quite yet so they could be seen above the finger-less gloves.
They all headed to the eluvian with Cullen behind them so he could relocate the mirror to a more secure location while they investigated. Once they passed through, Philippa looked around, recognizing the foggy grey landscape. "Wonderful... We're back in the Crossroads." She had spent some of the most nerve-wracking weeks of her life in the Crossroads, and she couldn't say that she was anymore thrilled to be back again.
"Ach, I hate this place," Varric grumbled, rolling his shoulders and looking about as uncomfortable as she was. As amazing a marvel as they were, the Crossroads still felt, to her, like they were holding on by a thread. This particular section was seemingly hovering over the Void, looking out over nothingness as far down as the eye could see. Gaining her bearings, and sticking near the center of the narrow stone path that looked more broken than the previous section they had traveled, she looked around and spotted more blood on the ground, dotting the path off to their right.
It led them to a second mirror. She had no idea what to expect on the other side of the active portal to Maker knew where, but it was her job to investigate. She squared her shoulders and stepped through into a narrow, darkened hallway with a bright light shining through at the end about 30 feet away up a few flights of stairs. She recognized the architecture around her, having spent enough time in the years since Corypheus' death trekking through similar ruins. “These ruins are elven. I can't even tell if we're still in Orlais.” She cautiously followed the hallway towards the stairs and spotted another body on the second landing. “And we have another dead oxman. This just keeps getting better and better,” she said, kneeling to examine the body.
"He's part of their military. Dressed for war," Dorian pointed out. Coming from Tevinter, Dorian would know better than her what a Qunari dressed for war looked like. The ones in Kirkwall had not been quite so well prepared as these.
She got back to her feet and sighed. "That makes me feel better. Let's find out how they ended up on our doorstep, shall we?" As she climbed the final set of stairs into the daylight that was pouring in, magic crackled on the air. There were several rolling green hills around a valley with a lake below. The hills each had a tower resting on it's peak. In the middle of the lake was a small island with another structure built on it, connected to the land by a bridge. As she looked around, suddenly a magical explosion rocked the valley, drawing her attention. A burst of green magic spread around the top of the tower directly across from them in a ring that slowly dissipated as it rippled outwards. The sound was like a muffled pop and it made Philippa's ears thrum uncomfortably as she turned her attention back to where they were. More immediately, there was an eluvian directly ahead of them and standing between them and the mirror was a cluster of Qunari that had been turned to stone, all in various fighting positions. In the middle of them all on the ground was a great black scorch mark. "Magic did this," Philippa pointed out.
"From a powerful mage," Dorian agreed, rolling his shoulders. "You can still feel the heat crackling."
Philippa frowned. "I've encountered a saarebas before. A Qunari mage. They would be capable of magic this advanced. Maybe one of them slipped it's leash?"
Dorian shrugged. "Or we're dealing with something unknown..."
"Have I mentioned I missed your optimism, Dorian?" she teased, glancing back at him as she headed for the next open eluvian.
He chuckled as he followed her through the mirror. "Darling, I would be surprised if you could muddle through without me checking in on you every few months. It's why I got you that present for when I'm gone."
She glanced around and frowned. The mirror had not deposited them in the Crossroads, but in the middle of the lake on the small island that held the mechanism that would raise the bridge for them to cross over to the center island. She stepped forward, squinting across the water to the structure ahead. "There are Qunari over there. And these ones are alive."
"But it looks like the statue that fits in the bridge mechanism got broken somehow," Varric pointed out, picking up the shattered stone statuette and dropping the bottom half onto the ground.
"Probably in the explosion across the lake," Philippa shrugged. "That shockwave made my ears ring. I'm sure it could shatter an ancient statuette."
"Do you think the elves kept a spare?" he wondered.
"One way to find out..." Their only option was to head for the active Eluvian to their left. The entire area around the lake seemed interconnected, like a web of tunnels, no crossroads between them. They simply went in one side and out the other to a new area. It was mildly disorienting. Philippa fought off dizziness as she stepped out of the mirror, her head swimming with the odd sensation that there were spirits nearby, but their intentions were neither benign or malevolent. Surrounding her were more gray walkways of stone. They were still by the lake, judging by the sun. Up a set of stairs, they were stopped by several translucent spirits. They felt like guardians. Dorian gasped in wonder as one holding what looked like a giant hammer addressed Philippa. “Atish'all vallem, Fen'Harel elathandra.”
Dorian whispered to her. “The elves bound a spirit here? It feels... old. Very old.”
“The question is, why?” Philippa mumbled. "It feels friendly, but I suspect that could change if we don't answer it's question."
The spirit spoke again, more demanding this time. “Nuvenas mana helanin. Dirth bellasa ma.” Philippa cringed.
"Sorry," she said to the spirit. "I was absent the day they taught ancient elven passphrases..."
Her sass seemed to upset the spirit, and it raised the huge maul it carried over it's head. "Virthar ma. Na din'an sahlin!" It let the hammer fall, and it swung downwards toward Philippa. Caught off guard, she barely got out of the way, the head connecting with her left shoulder and knocking her to the side. She felt the joint pop out of place and her already numb arm screamed in pain. She stumbled backwards as Cassandra grabbed her right arm, shoving her behind her, and effectively shielding her from another blow. The sound of the hammer connecting with Cassandra's shield echoed around the suddenly too narrow space. The warrior grunted and pushed back, driving the spirit into a more open position while she drew her sword. The other spirits started to fire ethereal arrows into their midst as Philippa scrambled behind a stack of crates that was nearby, clutching her arm. She could hear the fight raging and she slowly let go of her shoulder to draw her staff. Taking a breath, she stepped back out to get a look at what was happening as she twirled her staff between her fingers that could still function. She cast a chain lightning to eliminate the archers that were attempting to make pincushions of Varric and Dorian, and then she sent a concentrated stonefist at the first spirit that had smashed her shoulder. The four archers went down and she growled in pain, clutching at her shoulder again as Cassandra took advantage of her spell to stab through the spirit's chest as it was knocked back.
"Ugh! That son of a bitch!" Philippa grunted, leaning on her staff, her injured arm held tight to her body.
Varric was closest to her and he steadied her with a gentle hand on her opposite elbow. "That needs to be put back in place, Charmer. Sit down," he coached, indicating the stairs they had come up. She made her way down a few steps and he stood on the stair just above where she sat. He took hold of her shoulder and her arm in each of his hands, probing the dislocation and then grinned at her. "If you need to hit me, try not to aim for the face or the groin."
"On three?" she asked through gritted teeth as his touch cast searing pain up and down her entire side.
He nodded and they began to count together. "One... two..." Varric swiftly pulled her arm outwards and then the joint ground audibly back into place. After the burst of pain, her head swam briefly before Varric's gloved hand repeatedly tapped her cheek. "All done," he promised, jarring her back to her senses.
"You went early," she whimpered as the pain dulled to join the throbbing from the mark.
"Yeah, Hawke always hated that too," he patted her other shoulder and then held out a hand to help her up.
"All better?" Dorian asked when she climbed the stairs.
She nodded, rolling the joint and cringing as she cast a small healing spell to fix any tears in her muscles. "I think that spirit considered us intruders," she pointed out sardonically.
"To be fair, we are," Varric pointed out with a chuckle.
"The elves didn't go through the trouble of binding it here if it wasn't to protect something. Let's see if we can't find out what," she agreed.
They circled the tower which, considering the smoke and rubble all around, was the one where the magical explosion had occurred. They hunted for a way inside the tower to find whatever had been worth protecting. On the far side of the tower, they came across more dead Qunari. Stifling the fire between them and the corpses, Philippa headed down the stairs to investigate. A note on one of the bodies was written in both Qunlat and the King's tongue. It looked to be orders of some kind, and Varric harrumphed. "Seems like the Qunari weren't just passing through."
Moving around the scene, Philippa allowed her mind to briefly wander into the Fade, using the crackling magic in the air and her own power to catch a brief glimpse of how the Qunari had died without stopping for a nap. "These Qunari were chased down," she explained. "We need to figure out where this began."
"Add it to the list of weird shit we need to figure out," Varric said, following her back up to finish their circuit of the tower.
Around the next side of the tower, Philippa noticed a large, shallow alcove that looked like it was supposed to be deeper. A green mosaic rested in the middle of the alcove depicting an inviting swirling pattern topped with the head of a wolf. The mark tingled and she looked down at her hand and then back at the mosaic. She could feel the magic in the art, like an illusion. After rubbing her palm with her fingers, she tentatively lifted her hand to the wall and the Anchor reacted, bursting with magic like it was familiar. After a nearly blinding dose of agony from the mark, her eyes closed as a strange feeling of welcome flowed over her and a few images of elves greeting their haggard brothers and sisters and tending their wounds flashed by her eyes. A humming voice spoke in the background like a narration. Fen'Harel bids you welcome. Rest, knowing the Dread Wolf guards you and his people guard this valley. In this place, you are free. In trusting us, you will never be bound again. When the words faded, Philippa opened her eyes and the mark finished absorbing the magic. When it snapped from where she held it, the mosaic dissolved like a curtain to reveal the alcove's hidden section that housed another eluvian. She shook out her hand as the magic tingled through the spreading veins of magic. The sensation was mildly familiar if a hundred times more painful. "The mosaic held memories, like veilfire," she explained as she stepped toward the eluvian. "According to what it portrayed, this valley was where elven slaves came for refuge."
Varric frowned. "You mean the ancient elves kept slaves? Maker's breath, one more thing never to tell Daisy." She knew that Varric loved his nicknames, and from what she gathered from stories Garrett told her, Daisy was their elven mage friend who had used blood magic.
She nodded. "The best part is, apparently the sanctuary was created by Fen'Harel."
Dorian frowned as well. "Fen'Harel? The Dalish elves' god of misfortune?"
Again, Philippa nodded. "I wonder what Ariane will think of this..." When they went through the eluvian, Philippa stumbling again with the disorienting trip, across the valley to their right was the tower they had just left.
"So the old elves had many uses for these... devices," Cassandra said with a scowl as she observed the valley below. Dorian looked at Philippa askance, noting how the eluvians were affecting her differently than them. The trips, and the pain from the mark were collectively making her nauseous.
Shrugging, and offering him a questioning look, she pretended everything was fine as a pit settled in her gut. As she gathered her bearings, they headed up to a path that ringed the outside of the tower and Varric picked up on her discomfort as well, resorting to his usual silence filling commentary. "So, we're getting the band back together? That's exciting."
Cassandra scoffed, apparently oblivious to the unease that had settled over them. "We are not a 'band' of any sort."
Varric smirked. "Just because you can't carry a tune, Seeker, doesn't mean you're not front and center in our band of misfits."
"Marvelous, isn't it? What a change of pace from the Winter Palace," Dorian agreed. "A clear sky, a beautiful view, and..." he swept his arm out to encompass the valley they could see from the tall tower where they stood. "Yes! Fields and fields of stripweed as far as the eye can see!"
Cassandra allowed herself to be distracted from her scowl at Varric and she wrinkled her nose. "Strip-what?"
"Terrible stuff," Dorian explained. "Looks like grass stings like a knife, and causes sores if you so much as brush against it. So of course everyone in Minrathous insists 'it makes a very decent tea'."
Philippa could feel more of the elven spirits that had attacked them, lurking somewhere nearby. When they crested a set of stairs that led them up to the next level, she paused, seeing more dead Qunari. Cassandra knelt this time, observing the body. "Wounds on the back. No blood on his sword. Someone took him by surprise."
"The air is cool and the blood hasn't coagulated. This happened recently," Philippa agreed, glancing around. She had a feeling the spirits had done this.
Directly ahead of them, another of the mosaics stood, shimmering invitingly. The pattern depicted a man with the head of a wolf, likely Fen'Harel, surrounded by several other elves. After the initial burst of pain, this mosaic offered hope that coiled in her gut as behind her closed eyes, she saw an elf clad in wolfskin among a group of freed slaves and more words fluttered around inside her head. Fen'Harel has been falsely named a god, but is as mortal as any of you. He takes no divine mantle, and asks that none be bestowed upon him. He leads only those who would help willingly. Let none be beholden but by choice.
When the voice faded and the mosaic disappeared, the mark tingled again, making her clench her fist and then shake her hand again. It was probably a terrible idea to be using the mark when it was in this state, but it seemed she had little choice. "This memory stated that Fen'Harel was not actually a god."
Looking around, Cassandra frowned. "He took great pains to renounce his supposed divinity."
Varric snorted. " 'Ordinary guy saves people, accidentally founds religion'. Sounds a lot like the Chant, actually."
Dorian scoffed. "Fen'Harel sounds quite the rebel. The old 'elven gods' must have simply loved that."
Behind the mosaic was an impossibly dark stairway that descended in a circle. Four landings deep, Philippa followed the light from her staff to see where she was going. Elven paintings lined the oppressive walls around them. The art was strangely familiar, but with her muddled thoughts, she could not trace the feeling. Picking through rubble in the dark, they found another mosaic. Philippa sighed as she lifted her hand toward the magic.
Dorian reached out and grabbed her forearm and pain lanced up her arm. She flinched as he said, "Should you?"
She shrugged. "No choice." Dorian released her arm grudgingly and she offered him a smile that she hoped looked cheerful before reaching again for the magic. She felt a fury rise above the hope from the last mosaic as she watched a group of mages claiming godhood as they enslaved tens of thousands. The gods, our Evanuris, claim divinity, yet they are naught but mortals powerful in magic who can die as you can. In this place, we teach those who join us to unravel their lies. Philippa laughed out loud as she shook her hand again. "Fen'Harel wasn't the only false god it seems. The elven gods were known as 'Evanuris'. They were bloody mages. Powerful ones, but no more immortal than Corypheus."
Cassandra gasped. "Was this the start of an uprising? Freed elven slaves against their former masters?"
"Led by the 'Dread Wolf' himself. He was the one to reveal the lies," With the new revelation, Philippa continued into the room ahead that was completely dark save for a massive chandelier that hung from the ceiling emitting odd bursts of magic. Through the sparks of green light from the source, she could see the outline of a pedestal. She approached cautiously, but before she reached the pedestal, one of the sparks of magic licked toward her and the mark reacted, stinging her like a whip. She cried out in surprise and pain as the room went pitch black around them.
Dorian moved up beside her, laying a hand on her back. "Are you hurt?"
Gritting her teeth as the burning pain receded, she held the mark up in front of her. "I don't have a clue. Whatever it was, it's gone for now... Something's different about the mark."
She could feel odd new tendrils linked to the magic of the mark. She reached inward, tracing the new sensation. When she took hold of it and pushed it outwards, the mark burst with magic, leaking some of the built up energy that had amassed since she had absorbed the memories from the mosaics. All around her, light trickled, and her skin shimmered the color of the magic. She glanced up and noticed that it was encompassing her friends as well. "And we're glowing..." Varric sighed, rolling his eyes.
"It's a barrier," Philippa concluded after tasting the magic. "Rudimentary... and it won't last long, but it's strong. Might be useful when the Qunari start throwing spears."
"Granted you can replicate it," Dorian agreed with a nod.
In the light from the magic, Philippa turned and looked at the pedestal. "There you are, Varric! The elves did keep a spare."
On the pedestal was an unbroken replica of the shattered wolf statuette from the bridge mechanism. Philippa reached out and picked it up as the mark's magic faded, bathing them in darkness again. The change was only brief, however, when the statuette left it's pedestal and about six of the guardian spirits shimmered into existence. "I don't think they want you to have that, Charmer," Varric warned as the spirits charged at them with inhuman speed.
"Oops?" Philippa said as she pulled her staff and erected a normal barrier around them all. The spirits were almost as fast as the sentinels they had met in the Arbor Wilds, flicking swiftly back and forth, in and out of sight and slashing at them with angry daggers. After trying to hit them, unsuccessfully, Philippa resorted to calling on her force magic. She cast a gravitic ring, snagging the elves in the radius of her spell and slowing their movements to a crawl. Varric quickly sniped as many as he could while Cassandra struck down the rest with her sword.
When the magic and the spirits faded, the room went dark again. Varric grumbled. "This place is creepy. Let's get back to the bridge."
Philippa couldn't have agreed more. They backtracked through the eluvians in silence, Dorian's eyes boring holes in her back. He could tell something was off. She fitted the statue into the base and a click resounded before the bridge began to raise from the lake with a loud rumbling. As soon as they crossed over, a group of Qunari piled out of the large sanctuary building ahead and the lead one shouted. "Vashedan! The Inquisition doesn't leave alive."
They attacked with vigor, some of the warriors throwing their heavy spears into the fray from great distances, making Philippa paranoid. More than once, she had to dive out of the way, rolling back to her feet and taking cover behind anything she could find to get a handle on the situation, only to be charged by massive shield wielding warriors that hit like a druffalo. She got banged around several times, relying on her Fade step spell to get her away when someone got too close. Her heart was racing in fear, her brain constantly reminding her that she was only alive after being speared last time because Anders had been there to save her. She had no one but herself this time. Dorian was a fair healer, but he wouldn't have the mana or the skill for that big of a job.
It was hard enough fought that when they entered the sanctuary after that group was gone, she groaned in frustration at the mess of Qunari already engaged with more of the elven spirits inside. She was tempted to allow them to kill each other and pick off the spoils, but the easier solution was to handle it themselves while they were distracted with each other.
The entire building was littered with Qunari and all of them took a ridiculous amount of damage before falling. "Why, in the Maker's name are the bloody Qunari attacking the Inquisition?" Philippa gasped as she healed a shallow cut across her upper thigh that stung and then moved on to her numerous bruises and her companion's injuries.
"Qunari never act without orders," Cassandra supplied as Philippa closed a gash on the warrior's forearm. "A commander in the Qun must have given them."
"So this isn't just a faction? All of the Qunari want us dead?" Philippa asked, her eyes widening.
"Well!" Dorian barked a short laugh. "At last the Inquisition and Tevinter have something in common."
At the very rear of the sanctuary stood a massive wolf statue sitting in a relaxed position. A plaque in front of it stated, The Dread Wolf keeps it's gaze on the one light that illuminates the way forward. The walls formed a circle around the statue and were covered in a rather impressive depiction of an elf clad in wolf skin casting a spell on some others kneeling before him. Philippa studied it carefully and hummed. "The one in the wolf skin. I'll assume that's Fen'Harel... but what's he doing? Are the tattoos being removed from the Dalish elves?"
"Isn't this place older than the Dalish?" Varric mused.
Philippa nodded and then shrugged, noting the veilfire sconces nestled along the wall at regular intervals. "It's not like the Dalish invented tattoos. Perhaps if they are meant to honor the gods now, they were like Orlesian masks back then. They represented the Evanuris that particular slave served." She wished they could stick around and puzzle out more of the clues, but she needed to find out the answers to her more pressing questions first.
Varric grunted his agreement. "Like branding your livestock..."
Philippa grimaced at the comparison as she glanced back at the statue. It's gaze was fixed directly at one of the sconces. Puzzling out the riddle from the plaque, she lit that sconce. The veilfire illuminated a shadowed button between the feet of the statue. She pressed it, and a mechanism activated, the entire statue, along with it's base, slid aside to reveal a stairway down. "Oh, secrets..." she said with a grin as she started downward and was stopped by another of the shimmering mosaics. She was inundated with a great determination as the mark connected with the magic. Clear faced elves flashed by, clad in armor and clutching weapons. The brand of the Evanuris can be lifted from you, that all may know you oppose their cruelties. None here are slaves. All are under our protection. All may choose to fight. She grunted, shaking out her hand, as they passed through the disappearing mosaic and saw a hidden armory. "So after the Dread Wolf freed them, the slaves rose up to fight against their oppressors, but only by choice. Nothing was expected of them."
Dorian hummed in thought, rubbing his chin. “Interesting word, 'Evanuris'... If all it means is 'mage leader', well, they were basically Magisters.”
They followed the stairs down past the armory into what looked like a barracks. On the far side of the enclosed room, there stood another Eluvian surrounded by a huge group of Qunari. It was an enclosed space and Philippa felt extremely uncomfortable. She felt trapped as Cassandra stepped in front of her, shield raised, and the Qunari spotted them. She did everything she could to keep out of reach of the Qunari, but they had a female that fought with two daggers like Garrett always carried, and she was fast for her size. Philippa was backpedaling as she slashed at her, spinning and reaching with those deadly knives. Varric grabbed Philippa's arm and pulled her out of the way as Cassandra rushed in, bashing the female with her shield and knocking her away. Dorian took down the other Qunari still standing with a concentrated lightening bolt and Varric let go of Philippa's arm as she doubled over, panicked breathing threatening to overwhelm her. She swallowed a wash of nausea as she gathered her wits and called on her mana to heal the slash across her stomach from the bottom of her sternum to her hip. It was shallow, but it was bleeding heavily, staining her clothes. "You good, Charmer?"
Philippa swallowed again and nodded. "Yeah, just... I have issues with fighting Qunari. You'll recall the last time I went up against them, I ended up with a spear through the gut." She straightened around the tugging of the healing slash and inspected it gently before sighing and shaking out her arms in an attempt to shake off her fears. "I'm fine."
The barracks seemed to be where the Qunari had set up shop, so Philippa moved toward a long table laden with papers and maps, hoping for clues. Shuffling through the correspondences, she spotted one in particular that drew her attention. Scrolling over the Qunlat, she read the translated script below. "According to this, the bastards only came here because this section of eluvians leads to Halamshiral."
"A staging ground?" Cassandra guessed. "For an invasion?"
"If not an invasion, they were after something. The orders are pretty vague," Philippa sighed, setting down the paper and picking up another. "Look at this... The spirits that attacked us... Someone the Qunari called an 'unknown intruder' activated the valley's defenses to waylay the Qunari.
"It must be a mage," Dorian interpreted. "They killed any Qunari in the way and let the spirits do the rest."
"So, not only are the Qunari involved, but we have a mystery agent that seems to at least be against them. Enemy of my enemy and all that. I wish I knew who our friend was." Philippa sighed. How had this gone so sideways? It was meant to be a boring few weeks of deliberation... "At any rate, we should get back and warn everyone about the Qunari and their plans to infiltrate the Palace."
After they stepped through the eluvian in the barracks and found themselves back at the beginning of the labyrinth where they had first entered the ruins, they made their way back down to the mirror that connected to the Crossroads and the Winter Palace. Cassandra moved up to walk beside Philippa, an encouraging smile on her face. "It has been too long since we have traveled together. I have missed it."
"Aw, you missed me!" Varric interrupted, before Philippa had a chance to respond.
Cassandra rolled her eyes. "It! I said I missed 'it'." One of her signature noises of disgust slipped from her throat and Philippa chuckled lightly. If they were going to be fighting Qunari, it was at least good to have her favorite team of friends at her back.