This is how a world falls apart, he thinks, when he sees the aftermath of the explosion. With a sky torn apart, with the Divine dead, with a single survivor locked away in a dungeon beneath his feet.
He has destroyed this world twice over.
But he cannot think about that. He picks his way through the wreckage, past the chaos and the bodies. No one gives him a second glance until he comes to a halt at the chantry doors. One of the Divine’s guards stands there; a solitary, calm presence among all of this destruction. Even so, she is surprised when the man before her tugs off his hood, revealing pointed ears. He reaches around, takes the staff from his back and holds it out. “I need to speak to whomever is in charge,” he says.
Despite her calm demeanor, the guard’s hands shake when she accepts the staff. “What shall I tell her?”
“My name is Solas. I am an apostate, and I believe you will have need of my skills.”
He has been away from Skyhold well over a year before he hears the news of the Inquisitor’s death.
There is some kind of shrine set up at a chantry, and one of the sisters is saying something about the Herald being brought to the Maker’s side.
He ventures through the crowds, gliding easily through the tides of townsfolk. His ragged cloak hides his pointed ears, and this far from any city, he blends in rather well. He is just another traveler, listening to a woman declare that the Inquisitor is dead. His heartbeat quickens but he forces himself to remain calm.
He can determine if this is truth or idle gossip, and he refuses to let himself be affected until he knows.
There are communication drops throughout Thedas, set up by Leliana’s spy network. Ravens come and go freely, their precious burden all but unnoticed to the untrained eye. But Solas is neither untrained nor inexperienced. And he may have stolen the locations of the drops before he left he Inquisition.
One such drop is a mere day’s journey away, in an even more remote village. Hood raised, ears covered, he drifts into the village like so many others. It is a trading outpost and little more, assisting travelers on their way east. The clouds overhead are gray and heavy with rain, threatening to spill over at any moment. Most of the villagers hurry to find shelter before the storm hits.
The drop is behind a blacksmith’s forge—tucked away in a wooden box meant to look like a bird house. He finds the missive in a false panel and unrolls the parchment. Of course it is in a cypher, but Solas took care to learn Leliana’s codes early on. This one is easily unraveled.
Keep watch—Venatori still unfound.
All funeral attendees being vetted—Tevinter ambassadors trying to appease us—investigate the Comte’s gardener—has sent messages north and could be in communication with—
The words blur together. He reads them, but they do not truly sink in. His eyes fix on that one word: funeral. But, no. This could mean anything. Just because the spymaster mentioned a funeral does not mean—
Do not let the Inquisitor’s death go unavenged.
His gaze falls upon the final words of the note. He reads it again and again, until the words are meaningless scribbles across a page. Carefully, he tucks the note back inside of its hiding spot and steps away. He finds himself on the street again.
The village smells of rain and smoke; a cool dampness seeps into his skin and he knows he should return to the forest. Standing in the open like this, in the sight of the villagers all scurrying for cover, will draw attention. But he cannot bring himself to move; the moment he takes a step, the world will crystalize around him, become hard and real. This is no Fade dream, no place he can reform to his will.
It shapes him, not the other way around.
Finally, he takes a step and then another. He keeps walking until the trees close in around him. The sound of rain on falling leaves should be comforting, but all he can think is how much she loved rain, how he once caught her standing on a balcony during a storm, wind caught up in her hair and her eyes dancing—
He falls to his knees and does not stand for long time.
The world does not end.
Honestly, he thinks matters would have been simpler if it had. Instead, Solas finds himself sitting at the bedside of a human mage, wondering if he inadvertently brought about her death.
She has taken a power beneath her skin that will likely kill her. He can sense the pulse and beat of it, like a second heartbeat. His magic curls around her insides, setting her aflame. Her breaths are shallow and her eyes flicker beneath closed lids. He watches her with a detached interest. She is rather plain, unremarkable, and undeniably human. He half-expects her to expire within a day, fragile as these mortals are.
But she surprises him. She wakes up.
She walks out of the makeshift healer’s building with knotted hair and hastily donned clothes. She looks just like anyone who has been asleep too long, undergone days of healing. She emerges to men and women on their knees, whispering prayers. Solas watches from a distance.
The mage takes a step back. She stares at those who would worship her with a kind of bewildered horror. As if this were the last thing she could have ever imagined—or wanted.
And for the first time, he feels a twinge of sympathy for her.
“She’s young,” says a voice beside him. Light and accented, but with an undercurrent of steel. Leliana has a way of creeping up on a person. She glides up beside him. He can only see part of her face—that cowl obscures much and he is sure that is the intent. She is all shadows and smiles, a wicked drop of poison in a sweet Orlesian wine.
“Very young,” she says, eyes on the mage. “Probably not even thirty yet. She’s from the circle at Ostwick. The youngest daughter of the Trevelyan family.”
He doesn’t ask how she knows that. Of course Leliana would know such things. He can only be grateful that she has more important matters than investigating the elf beside her.
“Your means of gathering intelligence are to be commended,” he says neutrally. “Is there anything else I should know?”
Leliana considers the question for a moment. Her mouth quirks and she turns slightly, that cowl falling to cover her smile. “She’s staring at us.”
Solas’s gaze jerks downward. Sure enough, the mage is gazing up at them.
“Good day, Solas,” says Leliana, and walks away.
He searches for her in the Fade. He walks the paths of Skyhold in his dreams, looking for the familiar flicker and glow of the anchor. But the halls are dimmer now, as if her presence was what kept them warm and alight.
He searches for three nights before he gives up.
Her loss does not shatter him. This is not some ancient tale of lovers; he does not tear at his clothes, devise poems about her beauty, or throw himself from a cliff—rather, he does the practical thing.
He goes on.
He has plans, after all.
But he feels her loss the way he might an old injury. It is a constant gnawing ache in the back of his mind. During daylight, he can mostly ignore it. He spends a week at the temple of Dirthamen, returning to the familiar, dark halls. He searches them for any rooms the Inquisition might have missed, calling upon spells he could not explain when he journeyed here with the others. He uncovers a map carved into stone that they missed, drawn in glowing lines. Good, he thinks.
Manually taking control of the eluvians is a task better suited for many individuals, not just one, but this is an assignment he will entrust to no one else. It is his duty, his penance, and at the moment, his best distraction.
When he sleeps, though, everything changes.
The Fade is his refuge. Or at least, it has been until now. His grief, easier to ignore when awake, becomes a lurking thing in his dreams.
He feels the grief creeping along his bones, like the first frosts of winter, and it takes everything in him to not freeze where he stands. He glances over one shoulder to see a familiar sight: a spirit of despair glides along the corners of his vision.
“I have no need of you, friend,” he murmurs.
The demon—for it is a demon, summoned by Solas’s grief—tilts its head. Its ragged clothing drifts as if through water. “Mortal,” it whispers. “Fragile. You left her behind, left her undefended.”
“Leave,” replies Solas, his voice a little harder.
“You could have saved her,” says the demon. Such a simple sentence, yet it strikes true.
Solas conjures an effort of will and throws it at the demon, banishing it. He has his own condemning thoughts; he doesn’t need another to whisper them in his ear.
Corypheus’s attack on Haven throws all of Solas’s tentative plans into chaos.
He stares at her, at that young mage with flashing eyes, lips pulled tight against her teeth in a snarl. She’s terrified—he can see it in how tightly she grips her staff, in the way her body trembles. She wants nothing more to run, but here she is, volunteering to trade herself to that thing.
Fear and regret churn within him, and he feels almost ill. There’s nothing to be done, other than let her go out there. “I will go with you,” he says softly. Because this is the least he can do.
She hesitates, then nods. “I’ll be glad for your help, Solas.”
He finishes his investigation at Dirthamen’s temple. There is no eluvian at this site, but that does not surprise him. Dirthamen was always cautious, and rightly so. He would never allow such easy access to one of his sanctums. But the map, the hidden map, leads westward and he follows it. Mostly, he keeps to himself, taking paths forged by wild animals. But when the going becomes too difficult, he grudgingly walks human roads. The constant journeying lets him fall asleep with little difficulty, worn thin by the walking. He does not seek out old ruins or even destroyed houses, because he has enough trouble with spirits already.
At night, he hears her voice. The familiarity of it feels like a knot in his chest, and he turns to see Evelyn.
Her form trails up to him, every movement liquid and graceful. She trails a fingertip over his chest. “You were looking for me?”
He presses on the illusion, testing it. Evelyn’s face flickers and vanishes. In her place is a woman with horns curling from her delicate face, her bare body lush and welcoming.
Desire demons are rarely subtle.
“Leave me,” he says.
She drifts closer. “I could make you forget that you ever missed her.”
He turns away. “No. You could not.”
After the battle of Adamant, Evelyn vanishes. Everyone is caught up in the aftermath: there are wounded to tend to, camps to set up, and messages to be sent. The desert heat has many soldiers looking for any sip of water, any scrap of shade. Solas is working with the healers, trying to offer what aid he can, when he sees the Inquisitor slip away.
He catches sight of her form drifting around one of the broken walls and something in her jerky step catches his attention. He follows, drawn after her as if by some unseen tether. He did not see her wounded during the battle, but it was all chaos and noise—he might have missed something.
He finds her behind the fortress. She is folded over at the waist, her forearm pressed to a stone wall as if it is all that keeps her from toppling over. She makes a retching sound, then straightens, wiping at her mouth. Solas hesitates; he does not want to leave her in in this state but he knows the bone-deep need for solitude, to nurse one’s wounds alone. If that is what she wants, he will respect it.
“Inquisitor?” he says in a low voice.
She flinches. “Solas.” Her voice is dry, as if cracked through by the heat.
When she emerged from the Fade, she looked like a conquering hero, the Herald of Andraste, the Inquisitor. Now, all he sees is a pale woman, her armor spattered with blood. She curls in on herself, as if she can no longer remain upright.
Solas is already moving, pulling his gloves off. His bare fingers find the heartbeat in her neck and the second pulse of magic beneath that. He closes his eyes, lets a sliver of his own power reverberate through her. That piece of himself that sleeps within her flickers to life, answers his call. He slows her rapid heartbeat, calms the ache in her lungs, lulls her body out of its panicked state. A breath rattles through her clenched teeth, but she does not pull away. Slowly, her quaking gentles into an occasional shiver.
She looks at him, brows furrowed. “What did you do?”
“Healing need not always be for obvious wounds,” he answers. “Do you feel better?”
She nods. “Yes, but I—I don’t think I can go back there.” She sinks into a crouch and after a moment of hesitation, he sits beside her. She stares at the golden horizon, at the distant dunes of sand. He lets her have a few minutes of silence before he speaks.
“I know you must be grieved over Stroud’s death,” he says. “It is the first time you have lost a companion, is it not?”
“I have seen people die before.”
“But not in front of you,” he says gently. “Not for you, specifically. There is a difference.”
“I have, though. Thrice over, in fact.” She laughs and it is a horrible, broken little sound. “Remember when I told you about the bad future? You, Cassandra, and Leliana all agreed to hold off the demons while Dorian cast his spell to get us home.”
A thread of unease goes through him. “You implied as much.”
“What I didn’t tell you,” she says, “is that when the demons broke through the doors, one of them was carrying your body.” A shiver wracks through her. “It tossed you to the ground like so much carrion. I couldn’t see where Cassandra had fallen, but I saw you. Then another demon got ahold of Leliana and—and that was when I tried to turn back, when Dorian had to drag me through the rift.
“Stroud,” she says raggedly. “I—I ordered him to stay. No one had to drag me out of the Fade—I went willingly.” She presses a hand to her mouth. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to live with myself.”
He takes a moment before answering. He knows her well enough by now—she will not take kindly to a meaningless reassurance. “We fight for the whole of Thedas. One life seems a small price to pay, in comparison.”
“But it’s not going to be one life, is it?” A fresh edge of panic enters her voice. “It’s always going to be someone else, someone taking the fall for me. And I’m letting them do it.”
Solas shakes his head. “Stroud believed you are the best chance of stopping Corypheus. It was his choice to make, and you diminish it by trying to take it from him.”
Her eyes flash up to meet his.
He says, “All of those who follow you do so willingly. Trust in them, trust that they see you for what you are.”
Her voice goes quiet. “And what is that? A herald? An inquisitor?”
“Hope.” The word comes easier than it should. “You are hope to them. Hope for a better world, for victory, for establishing order.” He forces himself to say the words slowly, placing each one at her feet like an offering. “Trust in their judgement. They would not follow you without good cause.” He takes a breath and the air rasps through his dry throat. “As for that future, put those memories from your mind. I am not dead, as evidenced by the fact that Sera is probably filling my bedroll with lizards again.”
Evelyn laughs and it comes out as a hiccup. “Thank you,” she says.
He smiles, a little thinly. “Come,” he says. He rises to his feet and holds out a hand. “The others will want to celebrate this victory.”
She allows him to help her stand. “I don’t feel much like celebrating.”
“Such is the burden of leadership,” he says, and gently releases her hand.
He finds one of the Venatori.
It is an accident; Solas is passing through Lydes to buy supplies when he sees the man. He is dressed as a messenger, a servant, but he does not walk like one. Servants keep their heads down, eyes on the cobblestones, pace brisk, ready to jump from the path of a carriage. This man does not see a carriage until it is nearly atop him and he scrambles away. Solas finds himself watching the man, so he sees when the outline of a knife presses agains the man’s calf.
He might be a bard—but then again, Solas is pretty sure that most Orlesian bards do not swear in Tevene when they think no one can hear them.
Solas marks the man’s features and follows him to his destination. The man slips into a noble estate as if he belongs there and perhaps he does. Working as a runner in a noble house would give his man access to information that the Venatori might desire.
Solas waits for night to fall, then he eases into the Fade and tries to find the man in his dreams. If the man’s dreams are typical—if he dreams of women or money or wine—then Solas will be on his way. He has little time for trifles.
But the man does not dream of women or money or wine.
The man dreams of fire and steel, and a woman. She has hair that is slightly frizzy, a mouth that always seems to smile, and brown flecks in her eyes. The sight of her is so familiar it makes Solas take a step forward.
And then she catches fire.
The Venatori watches as the Inquisitor burns, watches the flames dance with a look of satisfaction on his face. He turns to walk away, only to find himself in the shadow of a monster. An enormous wolf, with six red eyes and a gaping maw. A growl rumbles through the creatures’s chest and—
The man wakes up, and his presence vanishes from the Fade.
Solas remains a moment longer; the dream is already drifting away, its substance melting into smoke and mist. Without the dreamer, it cannot remain. Solas closes his eyes, tries to forget the picture of Evelyn on fire. Dreams are changeable; just because the Venatori dreamed of her death as a painful, excruciating thing does not make it truth. It could be a desire to see such a thing, a fantasy brought forth from the darkest corners of that man’s mind.
Solas comes to quietly, a soft gasp drawn through his teeth as he returns to the waking world. Running a hand over his face, he wonders if he has time enough to seek the answers he so desperately needs.
This hunt will be a short one, he decides, and rises to his feet.
He has lost many people in his time.
Friends, family, the whole of his so-called divine brethren. He assumed himself immune to loss—but when Wisdom is taken, he finds himself falling apart.
It is a nightmare from beginning to end: the desperate trek through the Exalted Plains, the sight of the burned bodies amidst the tall grasses, the shriek and cry of the demon chained by light and magic, and the fumbling idiocy of the mages.
“We’ll save your friend,” Evelyn promises. Her face is pale but determined and she looks upon the demon with a pity he never expected in her eyes.
She is as good as her word; she and her companions break the demon’s bindings, ignoring the blows and lightning that the creature throws at them. Cassandra’s nose is bleeding; Dorian is swearing in his own tongue; Evelyn’s wrist hangs at an odd angle and she favors her left hand.
But then nothing matters because Wisdom is free—and dying. The spirit gives him one last blessing and then passes on.
The loss of Wisdom leaves him hollow and aching. He wanders for a time, sleeps in the ruins abandoned in the Plains. He searches for any trace of his friend, but he finds none. What he does see are the echoes of their battle. The spirits of the Fade were watching and they are happy to show him wispy, faint images of himself and the others. He turns away, not willing to witness it again, but then he catches sight of Evelyn. He did not see her before; he had his back to her, staring at the place where Wisdom broke into pieces. In this memory, Evelyn reaches out a hand as if to touch him, then pulls back. Her face is crumpled with grief and streaked with tears. Crying for a spirit that she never knew, never spoke to—but she cried because Solas did.
He snaps awake and brushes away the remnants of the dream. He cannot tarry any longer.
When he returns to Skyhold, she meets him at the gates.
The Venatori does what all the servants do on their nights off—he goes to a tavern. It is not the warm, sturdy building on the same street as his master’s home; rather, he finds a seedy business tucked away in one of the city’s edges.
Solas shadows the man with practiced ease. Venturing into the tavern is a risk, but his hood remains firmly in place and in such a locale as this, no one even notices. There is some card game going on in the corner, and a loud drinking song taken up near the bar. Solas orders a drink he will not touch, and watches.
The Venatori is young, perhaps in his mid-twenties. Inexperienced, Solas thinks. The Venatori are probably full of young mages, new recruits, desperate for anyone to swell their ranks after the death of their supposed god.
This Venatori loses several hands of cards before he stumbles to his feet and leaves the tavern. Solas follows him outside, finds the man being sick in a nearby alley. The man looks up, wipes his mouth. “Well, well.” The stale scent of drink and sweat rolls off of him, but he is all brash confidence. “You picked the wrong man to rob.”
The Venatori throws a weak handful of fire at Solas; it is a harmless attack, meant to drive off a purse-cutter or inexperienced attacker. Solas is neither. He lets the fire die away at his feet, stepping over it without a second glance.
The Venatori goes still. It is the stance of a deer scenting a predator, of a man realizing exactly how out of his depth he truly is. He throws up a barrier, but it is a clumsy attempt. Solas strides through the magic as if it were made of cobwebs.
“What happened to the Inquisitor?” he says quietly, and comprehension dawns on the man’s face.
The Venatori snarls, a sound of pure frustration, and brings up a fist. This time, Solas does not let the man complete his spell. Solas feels the power flare behind his eyes and the man cries out, his spell extinguished. He fumbles for a dagger, but Solas kicks it from the man’s grasp and shoves him against the tavern’s stony wall. He gets his forearm beneath the Venatori’s throat and the man gasps for air. Solas pulls back a fraction and gives the man enough room to breathe.
A series of emotions play out across the Venatori’s face—apprehension quickly shifts into ill-considered defiance.
“You knew her?” The man’s smile is crooked and far too smug. “You weren’t there, though. I’d recognize your face.”
“You saw what happened,” says Solas. “Tell me.”
The man sneers. “What—you want a firsthand account? You want to know how a herald dies?”
A herald, Solas thinks. That is what the world mourns; that is what the Venatori think they killed. A herald, an inquisitor. A legend. Half of them probably don’t know her given name.
Solas says the words again. “Tell me.”
The man bares his teeth in a grin and remains silent.
Solas once told Cole that he did not practice blood magic, and it was true. Blood magic is a blunt tool, a broadsword when what he needs is a dagger. No, he does not use blood magic. Rather he reaches into the Venatori’s body, finds the soft and fatty tissues beneath his skin, and he freezes them.
The man screams. For a moment, Solas lets him. With a flick of his fingers, he silences both the magic and the man. The Venatori crumples to the ground, writhing, grasping at his own flesh. “Tell me,” says Solas, his even voice a stark contrast to the man’s whimpers.
“It was a raid,” he gasps. “The Inquisitor and three of her companions were staying near Redcliffe. We attacked the town, drew them in. She—she was trying to save people.” The man looks up, meets Solas’s eyes. “Children—families took refuge in a barn. She went inside after them—we hit it with a fireball. Caved in the doors and windows and let them all burn.”
Solas tastes something bitter on the back of his tongue. With a twitch of his fingers, he draws upon the magic again. The Venatori chokes, tries to scream and fails. Solas lets his agony continue for another moment before releasing his hold on the magic. The man pants, whines with every breath.
“I want the names of all the Venatori who were with you that night,” says Solas.
The man tells him. Twelve names in total, uttered in a voice that shakes and gags on every other breath. Solas commits every name to memory.
But the mage glares at Solas, spits blood and bile at his feet. He presses a hand to the ground, forces himself upright. “You think hurting me will bring her back? Face it, knife-ear. We won. We killed your damn herald, burned her alive.” A note of satisfaction enters his ragged voice. “She screamed in the end. Banged on the broken door and screamed for someone to help her. I was almost tempted to—not a bad looking woman, wouldn’t have minded getting to know her better—”
Solas clenches a hand, calls forth his power.
The man is dead before he hits the ground.
Solas has known her for nearly three years before he kisses her. It is a moment of weakness, one he cannot bring himself to regret. After that, they fall into an easy rhythm, colleagues during the hours of daylight, but when they are on assignment together, they always retire to the same tent. Even at Skyhold, more often than not she is at his door.
They never spend much time in her rooms. Evelyn prefers the rotunda or his quarters. His rooms are smaller than hers, filled with books and herbs and little else of entertainment, but Evelyn seems to like them. They spend nights in his narrow bed, limbs tangled together, and he learns of how she likes to sleep on her side, of the soft sounds she makes when she drags herself awake in the mornings.
After a long trek to the Mire, Solas is aching for a hot bath and a soft bed. The cold winds have settled into his bones, and it’s a relief to walk into Skyhold’s main hall. “Come on,” murmurs Evelyn. “My bath is bigger than yours.” Her fingers snag on his sleeve, as if trying to coax him into following.
He needs no such incentive; he follows her willingly up the stairs.
Her rooms are neat and clean, as always. He finds himself hesitating in the doorway until her fingers give his a light squeeze.
These rooms were furnished for the Inquisitor, not for Evelyn. The style is ill at ease with her own sensibilities—he sees Josephine in the ruffled curtains and Leliana in the ornate rug and bed. But he can find few traces of Evelyn in this room. Her own possessions are tucked into the bag she always takes with her on missions. This is how she’s lived for years—in a room meant for someone else, her whole life crammed in a bag.
At once, he knows why they’ve spent more time in his quarters than hers. She’s never been the Inquisitor in his rooms. Here, she’s never been anything else.
“It’s easier sometimes,” she says quietly, and he realizes that she’s caught him staring. “To let them make me into what I’m supposed to be. I am the Inquisitor, after all.”
His stomach turns over; more often that not, he still calls her by that title in public company. “Evelyn, if I have ever made you feel—”
“No.” She steps closer. “When you call me ‘Inquisitor,’ it’s fine. Honestly, it sounds more like a nickname at this point.” She brings a hand to his cheek, her fingertips warm against his skin. “Solas, you’ve never made me feel uncomfortable. Even in the beginning, you supported me, offered advice, and you were friendly.” She smiles, and it’s so gentle it makes his heart twist. “You’ve never tried to make me into anything I’m not.”
Guilt burns through him. He has never tried to change her—not intentionally, at any rate. But it is his mark beneath her skin, his magic that forced her into this role. And while there is no one else he would trust with such power, he can see how this life wears on her.
He kisses her and she responds with surprising heat, as if she needs his touch to ground herself.
Later, Solas rests against the numerous embroidered pillows, Evelyn’s head on his chest. The stitching digs uncomfortably into the bare skin of his back. “These pillows are rather uncomfortable,” he murmurs into her hair. She stirs slightly, eyes never opening.
The next morning, Cassandra strides into the main hall, a puzzled expression on her face. “Does anyone want to tell me,” she says, “why Sera is practicing archery on hand-stitched Antivan pillows?”
“Not particularly,” says Evelyn.
He leaves the Venatori’s body near one of Leliana’s drops. The names he tucks into a wooden box, beneath another false panel.
Part of him wants to continue the hunt, to play it out to its conclusion. But as much as the idea intrigues him, he pushes it aside. He has matters to attend to—
—And she would not want him to fall prey to vengeance.
He forces his mind back to its purpose, to the map he found in Dirthamen’s temple. It will lead him westward, away from the Venatori, and it is the path he should walk. So he does.
Solas’s organization has no name. There are small cells, planted throughout Thedas, and only he has full knowledge of them. Spies answering to other spies, loosely connected through codes and proxies. Only those in his inner circle use the eluvians. Those people he trusts—as much as he trusts anyone. Solas uses one of the mirrors to get to a small town on the edge of the Frostback Mountains. He has an agent stationed there, and the journey puts him days closer to his destination.
He finds a shack on the fringes of the town. It is little more than four walls and a rotting ceiling, but he smiles when he sees it.
There is a mark carved in the doorframe: an old elvish glyph. When he presses his thumb to it, it glows and the door swings open. The building’s interior is just as dilapidated as he expected. Three bedrolls are tossed in a corner, and a table made of two barrels and a length of wood dominates the room. The two chairs look as if they might have been stolen from a trash heap.
And sitting in one of them is an elf.
“Boss,” she says. Nalle is perhaps in her mid-twenties with coppery skin and short, black hair. She has the nimble grace of a scout and the surly manners of a grizzled mercenary. But she is utterly devoted, reliable, and proven herself in the field.
“I told you not to call me that,” he murmurs, but without any real ire.
Nalle eyes him. “You never offered an alternative, though. I’m not calling you ‘my lord.’ And if I go around calling you by your real name, that’d put an end to our secrecy pretty quick.”
She is city born, a youth with courage enough to fire an arrow at templars pursuing a fellow elf. That was back when he first awoke, when he did not understand that using magic in public company would endanger himself. Something in her demeanor reminds him of Sera. Perhaps it is the way all young city elves carry themselves—with a mixture of arrogance and experienced wariness.
“Anything I should know?” he asks, settling in the opposite chair. There is little in the way of comfort here; this house is a temporary shelter and his people have better things to do than find furnishings.
Nalle rises to her feet and prowls the edges of the room, her fingers twitching at the curtains. When she is certain no one is listening, she turns to him. “Mythal’s sentinels have vanished,” she says. “We received word a few weeks ago. One of our people at Skyhold said that they departed shortly after the Inquisitor’s death. Those cabins they were using out in the mountains—all empty.”
“Ah.” This news does not surprise him. The sentinels did not join the Inquisition out of a sense of loyalty. The Inquisitor, with her marked hand, was a curiosity to them—perhaps an opportunity to find their way to one of the supposed Evanuris. With her death, they would have no reason to linger.
It is of little consequence. With Mythal’s power, he will call the sentinels to himself when he has need of them.
“You were friends, right?” Nalle says.
He looks at her. “Excuse me?”
She shrugs. “You and the Inquisitor.”
He does not drop her gaze; rather, he lets the moment draw out, lets her consider her words. But she did not grow up with tales of the Dread Wolf and she has little fear of him. “I have not told you of her.”
She points at herself. “Spy, remember?” Her expression smoothes out into one of sympathy. “Never met the woman, but she seemed a decent sort.”
That familiar ache opens up inside of him.
“You want to send out new orders?” she asks. What she means is, Do you want me to tell our people to hunt down known Venatori agents? She would do it, he knows. He has sent her on such missions before.
“No,” he replies. “Keep everyone on their chosen assignment. I will only be staying here a night or two.”
She nods. “More ruins?”
He considers his words then says, “I found a map that might lead to a series of uncharted eluvians. They were kept by a master of secrets. Such a find would be valuable to our cause.” He has Briala’s eluvian network. But those are only the main doors, the obvious paths, and those such as Dirthamen always kept their own private escape routes. Not that it saved him in the end. And now, those eluvians will serve the cause of the Dread Wolf.
Surprise crosses Nalle’s face. He is not one for divulging his plans, not even to those he might have called friends.
“Should I succeed, we may be able to accelerate our plans,” he says, by way of explanation. “Keep our people on the inside of the Inquisition alert. I want to know who is leading them and what likely course they will take. Is there anything else I should know?”
Nalle taps a finger against the wooden table. She has the hands of an archer—heavy calluses line her palms. “It might be nothing, but one of my contacts says there are Ben-Hassrath in Orlais. Some human spies, a few elven.”
“That is not unusual.”
She looks at him with something like apprehension. “That’d be true if they were just lurking around, but they’re not. They’ve infiltrated the Inquisition.”
Ah. It is not an unexpected turn of events, but it is unfortunate. The Inquisition has swelled to an enormous size. It is simply not possible for the new spymaster, whomever that might be, to check everyone’s backgrounds. It is likely how the Venatori knew where to find the Inquisitor, how they planned their ambush of her. He exhales a long breath, releases some of the tension bound up in his chest.
“Tell our people to find these spies,” he says. “But do not act upon that knowledge. We will wait to see if this is simple reconnaissance or if the Qunari have some plan. I shall stay a day or two, then move on.”
“We’ve got an extra bedroll in the back.” She grins. “We can go to the tavern later. Their ale is shit but the food isn’t half bad.”
He makes a sound that might be agreement and rises to his feet. He is about to walk into the back room when Nalle speaks again.
“The city elves hear stories,” she says, her voice softer. “Passed through people in the alienages. Hard to tell what’s truth and what’s not sometimes. The Inquisitor—I know she closed the Breach and all, but people talk. Say things like, ‘I hear she rode an undead horse into battle’ or ‘I hear she took down a dragon near the Storm Coast.’ Makes her seem not entirely real, you know? More a legend than a person. It’s easy to forget that she’ll have people to miss her.” She meets his eyes. “I’m sorry she’s dead, whatever that’s worth.”
He turns his back on her. He will sleep a few hours before taking up a quill and beginning his usual correspondence. But he pauses in the doorway. He says quietly, “Thank you.”
She begins hunting dragons.
Of course she does.
She goes out into the Hinterlands and finds one—completely by accident, or so she claims. But after that first one, she begins to seek them out. She leaves Skyhold and returns with her armor singed and eyes overly bright. The Iron Bull is jubilant upon their return, and even Cassandra and Sera appear in good spirits.
She slips into his room long after nightfall. She’s quiet and slow, as if trying not to wake him. Without a word, he reaches out and wraps an arm around her waist. He feels more than hears her sharp intake of breath. “I thought you were asleep,” she says, almost accusatory.
He draws her down and she lets him, folding against his body. Her hair smells of ash and sulfur and that drink the Iron Bull favors. His hand lightly drifts over her torso in what he hopes she interprets as an affectionate gesture. The last time she returned from such an errand, half her ribs were cracked. She catches his hand, brings it to her lips. “I’m fine,” she murmurs.
He draws a blanket over them both. There is barely enough room to fit in his narrow bed, but she does not seem to mind. She settles against him, her body lax with exhaustion and drink.
He allows himself a small sigh. “You are being reckless.”
“This one was terrorizing Crestwood.”
“And was it terrorizing Crestwood before or after you provoked it?”
He hears the smile in her voice. “When have I ever done anything truly reckless?”
“I can bring a few times to mind,” he says dryly.
“When you told Varric that Cassandra was a fan of his work.”
She laughs. “That was a calculated risk. Cassandra still needs me.”
“When you played cards against the likes of Josephine.”
“I kept all of my clothes.”
His thumb finds the corner of her mouth. “When you hid beneath my desk and insisted on… distracting me.”
This time her laugh is decidedly wicked. “You enjoyed that as much as I did.”
“I enjoyed it until the Commander came in and attempted to have a conversation with me about rift activity.”
“And you managed so well. But even if he had seen me, I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time Cullen has witnessed such goings on. Circle mages are known for seizing the moment.” She nips at his fingers. “You have yet to come up with a single truly reckless moment, you do realize that?”
His own mirth dies away and he finds himself saying, “When you offered to trade yourself to Corypheus at Haven.”
Silence settles between them. He wonders for a moment if he stepped too far, but then she touches him, her hand settling on his neck. As if she thinks he needs comforting.
“That doesn’t count,” she says, “and don’t forget that you insisted on tagging along for most of it.”
“How does that not count?”
He cannot see her face in the dark, but he can imagine her weary smile, the way she might close her eyes. She presses a kiss to his palm. “Because—because it’s not reckless if it’s something I have to do.”
And there it is—the truth of the matter. She will do whatever it takes to protect the innocent, even if it means risking herself.
“I need to know how to kill dragons,” she finally says. “When the time comes, I’ll need the practice.”
He would protest, but he can’t bring himself to. Because he’ll take any advantage if it means she has a better chance of surviving her encounter with Corypheus. If that means she must venture into the wilds to hunt dragons, then so be it.
But he does insist on accompanying her.
Two more of Solas’s agents arrive at the shack. He listens from the main room as Nalle rattles off orders and listens to reports. These two agents do not know his true identity; they spare him only a vaguely curious glance before looking away. He must appear just another city elf to them—just another spy. Once they are sent off, Nalle turns to him. “I suppose I’m heading to Val Royeaux, then.”
“Good hunting,” he replies.
She presses her fist to her heart. “You too, Boss.”
The next day, he ventures across the mountains and into Ferelden. This time, he keeps to the main highways. There are enough carriages and foot traffic that a lone traveler will draw little attention. He keeps his hood up and his clothes are the tattered ones he wore in his apostate disguise. Even highwaymen seem to think he has nothing of value; he sees a few suspicious types lurking near an outpost, but they ignore him.
After a few days, he leaves the well trodden path. Dirthamen’s map leads just beyond the mountains into a forest. It is thick with undergrowth and new foliage and he follows trails left behind by animals. He expected another elven path, but there are none to find. The farther he forces himself into the forest, the more Solas understands.
What he seeks is not a temple, not a place for worship or supplication. This is much simpler—it is a place to hide. Dirthamen had many such places, tucked throughout the continent. Most were only accessible through the eluvians, but time has long since worn this world into unrecognizable shapes. This ancient refuge will probably have been broken open by wind and foliage. There will be guardians, of course, but Solas can deal with those.
When the light begins to fade, Solas decides to make camp. There is little point in continuing on—it would be madness to enter the ruins of Dirthamen without every advantage. Going in half-blind and hurried will only lead to a swift demise.
His evening meal is one of hard cheese and long-stale bread, but it matters little. He sits on his bedroll, tending to his weapons and waiting for nightfall.
He is not sure when he falls asleep. But he must be asleep, because he catches a scent on the wind and it belongs to her.
He glances up, readying himself.
When she steps through the trees, his heart twists in on itself. This demon must be older, more experienced than the others, because its approximation is perfect.
It pretends as if it does not notice him, walking through the trees with several water skins tucked beneath one arm. Solas moves forward a step, drawn against his will, and that is when the spirit looks at him. Her gaze snaps up and she trips over her own feet. Staggering upright, she lets the water skins cascade to the forest floor.
She, he thinks, because he is slipping. It is not a she, it is an it. A spirit come to tempt him—and doing a far more adequate job than any of its predecessors. Perhaps it is because it makes no obvious attempts to seduce him. By pretending to be human, this spirit has come closer than all the others to a perfect imitation. For a moment, he lets himself gaze upon her, drinking her in.
It will do no harm simply to look, he tells himself. To look at her and remember what used to be.
Corypheus is moving. With their armies dealing with the aftermath of the Deep Roads earthquakes, Solas knows that they are in a weakened position. Should the magister attack now, it could mean the end of everything.
Evelyn knows it, too. There is a rigid tension to her back and shoulders. She leaves the war room at a late hour, her mouth in a tight line. Solas waits for her in Josephine’s empty office. “You should get some sleep,” he tells her quietly.
Her eyes flash as if in anger, but when she meets his gaze, her face softens. “If anyone but you told me that, I’d probably say something unkind.”
He smiles slightly. “If anyone else were trying to get you into bed, I might react badly as well.”
The words have their intended effect and she laughs. He takes that as a victory, reaching down to weave their fingers together. She lets herself be guided to the stairway and up to her own rooms.
Once inside her bedroom, he undresses her. There is no heat to the act. Rather, he finds himself relishing these small intimacies. She closes her eyes and lets him strip away the layers of armor and clothing. Her fingers drift to his shirt, wishing to do the same, but she sways on her feet. “Get into bed,” he murmurs, touching his lips to her brow. “I shall join you in a moment.”
There is a distinct pleasure in watching her slip beneath the covers. There is no artifice to her movements; were she more experienced in the Game, she might arch her back or toss her hair. But this—this is so much better than any practiced seduction. She automatically moves to make room on the bed, waiting for him as if it is the most natural thing in the world.
He drapes his own clothes over the back of a chair and joins her in the bed. He pulls her against him, tucking an arm around her. “Ar lath ma,” he murmurs into her hair. He has only ever told her in elvish, in words she won’t understand. It is a selfish thing but he is a selfish thing.
“Don’t go back to your rooms,” she mumbles.
He grunts. “I was not planning on it.”
She rolls over onto her stomach, props herself up on her elbows. “No. I mean—don’t go back to your own quarters. You should stay here. Move your stuff in—there is plenty of room.”
He comes fully awake. “What? I mean, you want me here?”
She leans over him, presses the lightest of kisses to his mouth. “Always.”
He pulls back a little, trying to see her expression more clearly. “Evelyn… there are rumors enough about us.”
She reaches out, slow and just a little hesitant, as if afraid she’ll be rebuffed. Her fingers drift to his cheek, thumb stroking his jaw. “I don’t care what people say—I’m saving the whole damn world. Let them talk.”
“You would proclaim it to Thedas, then?” He smiles, teasing her just a bit. “Have your advisors send out announcements?”
“I don’t care who knows,” she says fiercely. “Solas, if you don’t want to, that’s fine. But we could—any day now Corypheus could…” She takes a breath, as if to steady herself.
And he understands. Everything is so close to ending—either for good or ill, soon it will be over. And if the worst comes to pass… then he wants to feel her every last heartbeat.
“I know,” he says softly. Her fingers tighten around the back of his neck, pulling him down and he goes willingly, covering her body with his own. He came here to sleep—only to sleep—but if this is what she needs, he’ll give it gladly. Her lips touch his, a hesitant gesture, and something between them shifts. That hesitancy hardens into something dark and desperate and needy. His hands find the familiar swells of her breasts and she moans into the kiss, arching into his touch. Her legs part and she ruts up against him, impatient and wanting, and while part of him wants to slow down, to savor this, he finds himself caught up in her urgency. He all but rips her nightdress from her, and she scrabbles at his waist, pulling at his breeches.
There’s a sharp edge in the way her fingers dig into his shoulders, as if she is afraid he’ll be torn from her. “Stay,” she says, almost a plea. He drops a kiss against her throat, lightly raking his teeth across her skin. She shudders, hooks her legs around his waist. He can feel the heat of her and he groans, nipping at her in a less than gentle bite.
Her hand squirms between them and before he can react, she takes him in hand, her deft fingers sliding over his length. A growl rolls up out of his throat and he sucks at the skin along her collarbone, his fingers still stroking her breasts. He knows he’s touching her a little too roughly but he wants to leave some tangible mark, to brand himself into her skin.
She strokes him again, then she shifts beneath him, angling herself, pressing the tip of him against her entrance and—
Her body is sweet and welcoming, and that first thrust always takes his breath away. She clenches around him and he cannot slow this anymore than he could stop his own heart. He rolls his hips, easing into her again and again, relishing her whimpers, the way she clings to him so tightly, the knowledge that he is responsible for every flash of pleasure that crosses her face.
“Solas,” she chokes out, and she is close. He shallows his strokes, finds that angle he knows will push her over the edge. She whimpers, turning her head to one side, the muscles in her neck drawn tight. A shudder rips through her.
His own climax coils at the base of his spine, and he gives into the ever-growing need to plunge into her, to roughly accept the pleasure she so willingly offers. A groan escapes him and he buries his face in the crook of her neck. She holds him tighter, murmuring words of encouragement and affection.
He makes a broken sound and hilts himself inside of her one last time. A soft, pleased breath slithers through her lips.
He lets himself linger, still joined, his forehead touching hers, as close as two people can be. “Solas,” she says, and her voice is shaky. “I—I love you.”
He goes still. He will have to tell her everything; he needs to tell her. But not now, not with sweat drying upon his skin and her body so sweetly pressed against him. He will tell her once the orb is reclaimed. When the focus is safely under his control, he will confess his true identity.
For now, he kisses her and hopes it is answer enough.
But he never told her.
The orb was shattered, along with many of his plans. He found its fragments in the aftermath of the battle, and rather than face Evelyn, rather than face any of them, he slipped away. Vanished quietly into the night, left the Inquisition to its victory.
And now this thing wearing Evelyn’s face stands before him. Perfect and whole, wearing the lightly armored leathers of a scout, her hair tied back at the nape of her neck. It is gazing at him with a mixture of confusion and hurt, and perhaps this is not a desire demon. Perhaps this is a fresh shade of despair, come to offer wordless condemnations in the guise of her form.
Her eyes are wide. “Solas?”
He yearns to reply, to take her into his arms and let himself pretend. To accept this moment, this stolen fragment of happiness, and cherish it.
She raises a hand, as if to touch him.
And then she strikes him across the face.
The blow is struck with an open palm and fire lances across his cheek. But it is not the pain that makes him stumble back—it is the shock of the touch. It is raw and real, the kind of sensation that one cannot achieve in the Fade.
It cannot mean—
“You complete and utter bastard,” she snarls.
“You.” Evelyn Trevelyan says the word as if it is the worst curse she can think of.
Solas’s shaking hand rises to his own cheek, touching the stinging skin. He is awake—and she is—she is—
She steps forward, her fists balled.
“Evelyn,” he says. It’s not his most eloquent moment, but he cannot bring himself to care. Because she is alive. Every moment he ached for the loss of her, spent nights turning away spirits that took on her form, tried to push away thoughts of her—she had been alive.
He says, “I met one of the Venatori. He said—he said you were killed. That you… burned.”
Some of the fury drains from her face. “They tried.” Her fingers flex and straighten, as if she needs the gesture to center herself. “They came very close. But I survived and decided that the Inquisitor was better left in the ashes.”
“I thought you had perished.” He feels laid bare by the words.
“Well, that was the intent,” she says sharply.
“I searched the Fade for you.”
Her mouth goes rigid. “I’ve been learning how to shield my dreams.”
“Why?” he says, startled. “Why would you hide yourself from me?”
She makes a choked noise that could be a laugh. “Oh, that’s funny coming from you.”
His own displeasure begins to rise to the surface, an unwise reaction but one he cannot control. She was alive all of this time. “You would let the world mourn you,” he says. “Let your friends grieve for you? Make them think they failed you?”
“I don’t know why you would have cared,” she says, and her voice is raised to nearly a shout. “After all, I was just someone to warm your bed. Why would my death matter to you?”
He opens his mouth to protest, but stops. Because—because that is how it must have seemed to her. She told him how she felt, while he kept his own confessions to whispered words in a tongue she did not speak. He planned to tell her eventually, when he told her of his past. When the orb was lost, he was so blinded by his own misery that he mistakenly led her to believe he never cared.
“You left, Solas,” she says, every word brittle with pain. “And now you’re back. Why?”
He fumbles for a lie, but he cannot give it voice. “The ruins,” he tells her. “I came for the ruins.”
Her mouth twists in a bitter smile. “Of course you did.”
Solas opens his mouth to reply, unsure of what to say but knowing he has to say something—when a fresh scent catches his notice. He straightens, his attention directed behind her. Evelyn hears the footsteps but rather than appear frightened, a relieved breath escapes her lips.
The intruder moves like a shadow made flesh; his gleaming armor has been replaced with dark leathers and a fresh cloak. But the hood is lowered and there is no mistaking his sharp features, pale hair, or the emerald-green vallaslin etched into his skin. He strides through the forest with ease, coming up to Evelyn’s shoulder as if he belongs there.
“Abelas,” says Solas.
The sentinel’s hand is already on the sword at his belt. “I heard you cry out,” he says to Evelyn. There is no true concern in his voice—it is a mere statement of fact. “Did you send for him?”
“No,” she whispers. “I—I did not.”
Two more figures rush out of the trees, no doubt drawn by Evelyn’s shout. One is dressed like Abelas—only this elf has bright red hair and carries a staff. Solas’s jaw clenches when he recognizes him. Elvyr’s gaze slides over Solas the way he might have regarded a dead animal. “Solas,” he says coolly, by way of greeting.
Solas does not bother with a reply.
The second figure is unmistakably human. A woman in a dark crimson cowl, her beautiful features feral with annoyance. “Well, well, well,” Morrigan says, and there is a wicked laugh in her voice. “If it isn’t our resident elven expert. So this is what all the fuss is about. The absent lover returns.”
The words seem to hurt Evelyn more than their intended target. She winces, her body curling in on itself. Abruptly, she turns on her heel and walks unsteadily away.
Elvyr steps up behind, his hand resting on the small of her back. The gesture bothers Solas more than it should; it bespeaks a familiarity that twists his stomach into knots. Solas remains in place, resisting the urge to follow. He forces himself to close his eyes, to tamp down his own impulses. He has no hold on her, no claim, and if he tells himself that enough times perhaps his own body will believe it. Old instincts are all well and good for the survival of one’s race, but they are a hindrance in polite society.
Abelas remains planted firmly before him, as if he knows what Solas desires. And he likely does.
“What ever shall we do with him?” says Morrigan.
It is not the company Solas would have chosen for such a reunion.
Abelas watches him with a keen eye, as if observing a deer he isn’t sure he wants to bring down. “We need to know why he approached the ruins,” he says, in his hard voice. “Is it for his own purpose, or someone else’s?”
Of course. Abelas has always suspected Solas’s true loyalties—and they are closer to the truth than Solas is comfortable with. An agent of Fen’Harel would come to a place such as this, his face bearing no vallaslin. Abelas may have little knowledge of the world as it stands today, but he knows enough of the Dread Wolf to suspect that he is still active within it.
“I came here through no will but my own,” says Solas. After all, the statement is not untrue.
“Then you may leave through your own will.” Abelas’s hand remains lightly on his sword hilt.
Solas keeps his own hands carefully at his sides. He is not sure what he did to draw such enmity from the sentinel, but he will not provoke him. Should the sentinels attack, he would have little trouble killing them all—but he has never desired their deaths. Their regard matters little; they are of Elvhenan and Solas will not raise a hand against them unless there is no other way.
“I would stay in your camp tonight, if you would permit it,” he says. He draws upon his old calm, wearing it as armor and mask alike. He inclines his head to Abelas. “I welcome the safety of a group for a night, and it would permit you to observe my movements more closely,” he adds, a little dryly.
Abelas does not speak. His eyes sweep over Solas, lingering on the places where one might hide a weapon. As if satisfied, he returns the nod. “You cannot possibly,” Morrigan begins to say, but he cuts her off.
“Should we dismiss him, there is nothing to stop him from approaching the ruins on his own.” Abelas’s hand drops away from his sword. “We will permit you to stay one night. But you will remain on the western side of the camp, and you will not venture into the ruins.” He strides deeper in the forest, presumably to their own camp. Morrigan watches Solas a moment longer.
“I suggest,” she says, “keeping away from the Herald, lest one of her friends decide you would look better with several arrows in your back.” And she follows the way Evelyn and the others went.
For a long minute, Solas stands frozen in place. She is here. Here and alive and—with the sentinels. And Morrigan, of all people. He forces himself to move: to gather up his small camp, packing up his belongings. His gaze falls to the water skins that Evelyn was carrying. They are still scattered along the ground, long forgotten. He goes to pick them up, one by one, until he has them all tucked beneath one arm. There is a small stream nearby—it is little more than fresh water trickling from a small spring, but it will do. He takes the time to refill the skins before following the scent of elf and human near the ruins.
They are camped a short distance away, on the edge of the ruins. The tents are familiar—Solas recognizes the make and fabric, even if the Inquisition seal has been hewn away. Sitting atop a fallen log is a young boy of perhaps ten or twelve years. Solas delves into his memories and comes up with a name: Kieran, Morrigan’s son. He appears to be toying with a puzzle box, aided by a female dwarf. Again, she is familiar and Solas can recall her name. She is the arcanist, Dagna.
A supposedly dead Inquisitor, a group of ancient elvhen sentinels, a witch of the wilds and her son, and a dwarf.
It is the oddest company that Solas could have imagined.
Evelyn herself is helping secure the camp for the evening: tightening a tent’s bindings, kicking dirt over a dying fire, picking up her familiar pack and tossing it inside that same tent. She moves with the grace and focus of a sleepwalker—that is to say, none at all.
Solas carefully sets his own belongings between two of the far tents, across from her own. He supposes he will be sleeping in the open, but it matters not. With a small sigh, he takes the full water skins and ventures across camp. A few of the sentinels spare him curious glances, but most ignore him.
Evelyn stiffens when he approaches. He can see her pulling her anger around herself, readying for another round. He holds out the water skins. “I believe you dropped these.”
The straightforward statement appears to diffuse her ire. She accepts the skins with only the slightest hesitation. When she feels the weight of the water, she nods. But she does not thank him and he does not expect her to. She keeps her gaze averted, as if waiting for him to retreat, but he remains beside her.
“What do you want, Solas?” she finally says, and she sounds utterly worn down by the words.
He has wronged countless people in his life. But this—this is one wrong he might be able to fix. And even if he cannot, he can try to make her understand at the very least.
“Meet me in the Fade tonight,” he says quietly.
Her face darkens. “No.”
“Inquisitor.” He forces himself to use her title. He cannot let things end like this—and if it means he must leverage his one advantage over her, then he will do it. “Please. Give me this one chance to explain myself. If you want to know why I left, I will try to tell you.”
She hesitates and he sees it.
“Please,” he repeats.
A bitter little smile tugs at her mouth. “You don’t fight fair, Solas.”
“No.” He looks down. “I never have.”
Night falls quickly in the mountain forest. The camp goes quiet, save for the lone sentinel on watch. Curled atop his bedroll, Solas tries to draw on the stillness around him. Sleep evades him, his thoughts plagued with disquiet. He should not be here; he should cast a spell on the watching sentinel and venture into the ruins on his own. It is what Fen’Harel would have done—ignored the sentinels and simply taken what he needed. The eluvian will be somewhere in Dirthamen's refuge and it is his duty to claim it.
But Solas cannot leave her. Not like this, not believing the worst of him. He will try to explain without divulging the truth.
When he finally falls asleep, he does not control the dream. He lets the Fade close in around him, formless and malleable, but he does not command it. Seeking her out in dreams was fruitless before—he must wait for her to approach.
He is unsure if she will. After all, she owes him nothing. But curiosity has always been one of her defining traits, and it does not surprise him when he feels her mind brush his. She takes hold of the dream, and the world settles into place around them. He takes a step and finds hard rock beneath his feet. The skeletons of broken buildings rise up from the stones and the sound of distant thunder rolls through him.
He stands in the ruins of Haven after the final battle with Corypheus. The sky glows green and the rubble is edged with fire and light. The remnants of a battlefield, frozen for all eternity.
It is where he left her; it is where he returns to her.
He steps through the shattered rock. She stands on a ledge, overlooking what is left of Haven. Her eyes are downcast, her posture rigidly straight. She comes dressed for battle. Her barbed staff is in her left hand and familiar daggers are tucked into her belt.
Solas wears his old tunic, the jawbone pendant at his throat. Familiar clothes, ones she will not see as a threat. She doesn’t look at him when she speaks. “You promised me answers, Solas.”
“Ask what you will.” He straightens, tucks his hands behind his back.
“Where have you been?” She steps into this conversation as if wading into uncertain waters, testing the safest depths first.
“Many places,” he replies. “I returned to the Temple of Mythal first. I spent several weeks there, before moving on. I lingered for some time in Orlais, then I visited the temple of Dirthamen and I found a map leading here.”
“Inquisition scouts didn’t see anyone enter those ruins.”
He allows himself a momentary smile. “They would not.”
She scowls. “All right, then. What were you doing?”
“That’s not a real answer,” she says.
“It is the truth. And that is not the true question you wish to ask,” he says gently.
It is as if he has struck her. She bites down on her lip and all of her old anger flares to life. “You left.”
“You left the Inquisition,” she says. “Without a word, without a note, without any sort of explanation. You left us.”
He hears her unspoken words: You left me.
“I apologize for my abrupt departure.” He gazes at the horizon and wishes desperately he had a better explanation. “I was distraught at the destruction of the orb that Corypheus wielded. I thought it would be best if I departed quietly.”
“You thought it best?” She slams her fist into one of the ruined columns. “You were sad about the Orb? That’s your excuse?” Her voice is thick with suppressed emotion. “Maker, Solas. We were sleeping together—and I have to think that’s all it was because I can’t imagine a lover just up and leaving someone like that.” She closes her eyes. “If you wanted the orb so badly… is that why you—why you let me think—”
“No,” he says quickly, understanding her meaning. “I would not lay with you because I thought you would help me acquire the orb.”
“You say that like it is so ridiculous,” she snaps. “But what else was I supposed to think? You were there for the battle and then… then you just vanished.” Abruptly, all the ire rushes out of her. She wraps her arms around herself, as if trying to ward off a chill.
“I looked for you,” she says. “I thought something had happened—that you had fallen or been otherwise injured. I—I looked for you.” And again, he hears all the things she doesn’t say—how she must have spent days amidst the ruins of Haven, delaying her return, scouring the land for any sign of him, despairing when she found none.
“Leliana’s agents found you,” she continues. “They saw you as you journeyed away from Skyhold.” Her voice goes hollow. “I grieved when I thought you dead or injured. I shattered when I found out you were alive—but that I didn’t matter enough for you to tell me so.”
Her hurt is so much worse than her anger. Anger is something he is familiar with, can deflect easily—but the sight of her slumped shoulders and closed eyes makes him ache. He opens his mouth to offer up some explanation, but he realizes he has none to give. There is nothing he can offer her, nothing he might give her to prove that she was not some dalliance.
Nothing but the truth.
The news of her death shattered something inside of him; some wall between them came crumbling down and he did not realize it until this moment.
“It was mine,” he says.
She seems to barely hear him. “What?”
“The orb.” The words slip out so easily, but then again it is also easy to push a blade between someone’s ribs. “It was mine. The power it carried—it belonged to me. I let Corypheus have it because I was too weak to unlock it. I thought he could weaken its defenses, but I did not anticipate his immortality. I could never have foreseen an ancient magister taking an elvhen artifact for his own.”
Shock breaks across her face like a cresting wave. “I never meant for any of it to happen,” he says earnestly. “Corypheus was never meant to unlock the orb, you were never meant to touch it, the Breach wasn’t supposed to exist.”
He watches as her posture goes from one of pain to confusion. Her eyes dart back and forth, and he can see her sorting through memories, sifting through the events of the past with a newfound understanding. “You said the orb was a focus. That it belonged to one of the elvhen pantheon,” she says and there is a tremble hidden in her voice. “Did you lie about that?”
“No,” he replies.
She takes a step back. “What is—who are you?”
He closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to see the moment that her regard finally coalesces into—what? Abject terror? But he forces himself to meet her uncertain gaze. If this is to be his penance, so be it.
“My name is Solas,” he says. “But history remembers me as Fen’Harel.”
Her sharp intake of breath rings loudly through the silence. Her lips part, but she does not speak for a heartbeat. Then she shakes her head. “You’re mad,” she says flatly. “Or a liar. Or both.” She turns to walk away, anger in every line of her body.
And Solas shifts.
He has not the strength to change himself outside of the Fade. There, out in the cold and rigid world, he is Solas. Here, in this place of muted colors and changeable forms, he is what myth remembers him to be. He towers over her, and the tips of her ears barely reaches his chest. She gazes at him, at the wolf with gleaming black fur and six red eyes. He has not worn this form for centuries, not since he used it to terrorize the minds of his enemies. As the wolf, he is a thing of power, enormous size, an object of nightmares that the Dalish still use to curse their enemies.
“Fen’Harel,” Evelyn says, and her voice is almost calm. She gapes at him for a long moment and then her legs give out.
He is moving before consciously aware of it, shifting back into his elvhen form. He reaches out but she recoils from him, scrambling backwards on hands and knees. “What are you?” she gasps, and her voice frays with panic.
“You know who I am,” he replies. “You have known me for years. This is just simply… another facet of myself.”
“Another facet? What—are you even truly an elf?” She all but flings the words at him. Her eyes blaze but her body is another story. The stench of fear rolls off of her in sickening waves. He kneels before her. The broken rocks of along the ground dig painfully into his knees and feet, but he ignores the discomfort, hoping if they are at eye level, perhaps she will realize he means her no harm—
And then she finds her staff and swings it around, bringing the barbed tip to his throat. He goes still, lets the tip of the blade prick delicately against his skin.
“Do it, if you must,” he says softly.
“You’d let me?” she chokes out. “What happens if I kill you here? You’re not mortal—you cannot—” Her words strangle in her throat. He feels a line of blood run down his neck, beneath the collar of his shirt.
“Hate me,” he says. “Use my name like the curse it has become. But please, I beg of you, do not fear me.”
“You’re the Dread Wolf,” she retorts. “I’ve heard stories about what you are—about what you’ve done. Why shouldn’t I be afraid?”
He meets her frightened gaze with his steady one. “Because I would sooner thrust a knife into my own heart than lay a hand upon you. If you believe nothing I say, believe that.”
Evelyn opens her mouth and he is sure she wants to say something cutting, to flay him open with her sharp words, but then she goes silent. She blinks once, twice, and then looks down. The staff quivers in her hands.
“I am elvhen,” he says, when she remains silent. “Like Abelas and the sentinels, something you had already deduced.”
“How,” she begins to say, then falters.
“I slept. For ages.” He takes a breath. “I awoke a year before we met and found this world much changed—and not for the better. After Corypheus claimed my orb as his own, I joined the Inquisition to right the wrongs I had visited upon this world.
“I lied about my identity. I lied about the orb. But what we had—” He trails off, finds himself at a loss for words. He searches for someway to tell her what she means to him, but he doubts she will accept any declarations—not with a blade at his throat. “It was real,” he says.
Still, she does not lower the weapon. He wonders if this is all in vain, if she will strike at him and he will wake in his own body, only to find a real knife at his throat.
He lowers his voice. “You told me once that you did not care about my past.”
She laughs and it sounds hysterical, a release of fright rather than mirth. “I did. But in my defense, I just thought your big secret was that you were very old.” The blade falls away from him. She places her staff carefully on the ground, within arm’s reach.
It is not much, but it is enough.
“I am very old.” He gives her the smallest of smiles. “If I had come to you, proclaimed myself one of the elvhen Creators—the Dread Wolf of all people—how would you have reacted?”
She runs her hand through her hair, pushing the sweaty tangles from her face. She looks as if she has fought several rounds with red templars: out of breath and exhausted. “Honestly, I would have asked Bull if he slipped you any of his drink.” She gives herself a small shake. He can see her thinking, as if all of her old memories have taken on new meaning.
He waits for the inevitable questions. He fully expects her to ask why he would give his orb to Corypheus, if he is truly a god, his age, his motivations. But what comes out of her mouth is, “Were you ever going to tell me?”
“Yes,” he says. “After I reclaimed my orb. I was going to tell you.”
She makes no effort to hide the raw pain in her voice. “But you lied to me. For years. You could have told me at any time, but you didn’t.”
“I was afraid,” he says simply. “It is a coward’s excuse, but it is the truth.”
She looks at him incredulously. “You? You were afraid? Of what?”
He reaches to touch her and she flinches.
The world seems to narrow to that little gesture—to her instinctive need to escape his touch. Because this is what he is, what he forced himself to become in order to free his people. He is a nightmare.
His hand falls to his side. He hears his own voice say, “You have your answer.” And without another word, he rises to his feet and walks away.
Solas half expects to wake to the sound of her screams. Were he to open his eyes and find Abelas standing over him, a knife in hand, he would also not be surprised. He would not blame Evelyn; she has every reason to believe him a monster.
But rather than screams or a blade, he rouses to the smell of cooking food.
He sits up, surveying the scene before him. It is full dawn and the sentinels are awake and moving, drifting through the camp like shadows. Now that they’re all gathered here, he counts six of them including Abelas and Elvyr. Morrigan tends to a fire. Evelyn sits beside her, stirring a cooking pot, her other hand full of some dark berries. Her hair is still tangled from sleep, tied off at the nape of her neck. The two women converse with an easy, friendly manner. Elvyr crouches across the fire, and he runs a whetstone over a dagger with a practiced hand. It is one of Evelyn’s knives, Solas realizes. Kieran stumbles out of one of the tents, still bleary-eyed. He goes to Morrigan’s side and she reaches out to draw him to her.
It all seems rather domestic, and everyone goes about their morning routine with a practiced air.
But for one thing: everyone pointedly ignores Solas.
Well, there is one exception.
“There’s a creek nearby if you want to bathe,” says Dagna. She has a rather cheerful voice, and that combined with her quick, graceful movements put him in mind of a sparrow. “I mean, not that you need a bath or anything. But if you wanted.”
He isn’t sure how to react to the dwarf. Dagna isn’t a surface dwarf like Varric—he has heard she came from Orzammar, but for what purpose he does not know. The only thing he truly knows about the young woman is that she can fold magic into metal.
“Thank you,” he says, and means it.
He follows her directions out of the camp. The sentinels did a truly admirable job of hiding it; if he did not know what to look for, he wouldn’t see the subtle signs of people nearby.
The creek is slow-moving, clear, and so cold it makes his bones ache. He leaves his clothes on a nearby rock and steps into the frigid water. The cold hurts—but at the same time, he relishes it. He has spent so many months not feeling anything that this sudden sensation is almost a relief. His senses come alive under the water, and he rinses off the days of sweat and travel. As he scrubs himself clean, he considers his course of action. Remaining with the sentinels is a risk; Abelas will likely keep a close eye on Solas, and it will be more difficult to take the eluvian for himself. But he is not quite sure how to enter the ruins without their knowing it. If they do not approach them today, if they wait another night, perhaps he could go through with his rather crude plan of stunning the sentinel on watch and venturing inside.
After all, he has nothing to stay for. Evelyn is alive and well—and likely despises him. He saw how she reacted to his revelations. He will not torment her further by forcing his presence upon her.
It is enough that she is alive. That she is still in this world and—
—And walking out of the trees.
She carries something and picks a careful path down the slight hill. When she catches sight of his naked body, her eyes go wide and she whirls, turning her back to him. “Sorry!”
He steps from the chill water and casts a quick spell. It is little more than a breath of warm air, but it dries most of him in a few moments. Hastily, he dons his leggings and picks up his tunic. Evelyn keeps her back to him, but he can see the flush creeping along her neck.
“Sorry,” she repeats. “I asked Dagna which direction you went—I shouldn’t have—”
“Do not trouble yourself.” He steps up behind her, close enough that she will hear his footsteps but not so close that she will feel threatened. When she finally chances a glance at him, he is pulling his tunic on. Her eyes dart over him—the bare skin at his hip to the tips of his ears. He wonders if she is looking for any sign that he is not what he claims to be—if perhaps she thinks a supposed Creator would differ from any other elf.
“It is not as if you are unfamiliar with the sight,” he adds quietly.
Her flush deepens and she gives him a somewhat exasperated look. “Here,” she says, and holds out a bowl. It is a light, wooden thing and filled with food.
“It’s just porridge with some berries,” she says. “I managed to save a little. Kieran has a tendency to eat anything that isn’t nailed down. Everyone knows to get the food they can, but since you weren’t there…” Her lips press together.
It is not a peace offering. It is not how the ancient elves will interpret it, either—a woman bringing her bondmate a meal. It is… well, he thinks, it is Evelyn being Evelyn. A woman who would not let her worst enemy go hungry.
She hands him the bowl, and even if she tries to be subtle about it, he notices that she is very careful never to touch him directly.
“Thank you,” he says.
She shrugs. “It’s just breakfast.”
“It was considerate of you—but that was not what I meant.” He waits until she will meet his gaze. “You came out here alone, despite your own fears.”
She shifts uneasily on her feet. “I spent most of the night thinking about what you said,” she explains. “If you wanted me dead, you’ve had plenty of chances.” She gazes at him, with newfound knowledge in her eyes. “What do you want? I mean, why did you come here? To the ruins, I mean.”
“For the same reason as you,” he replies. “This place belonged to Dirthamen. Likely, there are many ancient relics kept within.”
“And which one were you hoping to find?” she asks.
He should not tell her; it will only complicate matters.
He hesitates but only for a moment. “I believe there is an eluvian hidden within.”
“Ah.” There is a note of satisfaction in her voice. “I wondered if you would share that little truth with me.”
He frowns at her. “You knew.”
“Abelas suspected,” she replies. “Morrigan hoped.”
“And tell me,” he says, “what would the former Inquisitor, a witch of the wilds, and an ancient elven sentinel hope to gain by finding an eluvian?”
She smiles, but it is a hard little expression—the kind he has seen her turn on Orlesian nobles. “You tell me first.”
A few moments pass and he is the first to glance away. “So this is how things will be.”
“This is how things have always been,” she replies and he is struck by how weary she sounds. “You always kept things from me—the only difference is I’ve learned to guard my own secrets.” She gazes down at the last of his clothes still tucked atop a large rock. Resting on the bundle is his jawbone pendant. Her attention lingers on it and her expression softens.
“How did you come to be here?” asks Solas. “What have you been doing since you left Skyhold?”
She shrugs. “Searching.”
She has always been able to twist people’s words back against them; it was amusing when he witnessed it at the Winter Palace. Now, he realizes it is the only weapon she can wield against him. He does not rise to the bait.
“And you took the sentinels with you,” he says. Nalle said they vanished shortly after the Inquisitor’s death, but it was not because they had nothing to remain for—it was because they went with her.
“Only a few. Abelas, Elvyr, and four more volunteers.” For a moment, she looks fond. “The others—they couldn’t accompany me. It would be too obvious. But I did need companions.”
“And the witch?” he asks.
“Morrigan wants the same answers I do,” she replies. “And Dagna was… well, she was simply too useful to leave behind. The rest of the Inquisition thinks she’s on loan to some university.”
He hesitates, unsure of how to phrase his next question without making it sound accusatory. “Do the others—does anyone know you’re alive?”
A shadow passes over her face. “Some do,” she says. “Varric, Cassandra, and Dorian were with me when… when it happened. So they know. As does Leliana. I’m sure Cole has read it out of someone’s head by now. Bull probably knows because Dorian will have told him.”
“Sera,” he says. “Madame Vivienne. The Commander and the Ambassador. Scout Harding. The rest of the Inquisition?”
If the names bother her, it does not show. She remains impassive. “As far as they’re concerned, I’m just another martyr.”
“You think it a kindness, to let them to mourn you?” He tries to keep emotion out of his own voice, but his grief is still so close to the surface that it betrays him.
For the first time, something like doubt clouds her eyes. Then she blinks and looks away, her jaw flexing. “There are worse things. They think I died defending my beliefs, defending theirs. It is… as good an end as the Inquisitor could hope to have. They have something to fight for.” There is a hint of challenger in the upward curve of her mouth. “I do believe you once said that posturing is necessary sometimes.”
He would protest, but he cannot bring himself to. He thinks of Mythal, of her first death and the quiet hum of her soul nestled within him. He thinks of the sentinels, dedicated to her—no matter the ages that have dragged by. They still fight for her, long after her bonds have fallen away. Perhaps the Inquisition will take on such a role: fighting and dying for a woman centuries dead, all for their belief in her.
He wonders if he will live to see it.
Evelyn sees the direction his gaze drifts. She glances back at the camp, hidden from view. “If they knew what you are,” she says, and lets the thought trail off. There is no fear in her voice—just a simple curiosity.
Solas clears his throat. “Abelas knows I am no modern elf. He may even suspect… but we shall have to deal with that in time.”
She raises an eyebrow. “We?”
“I would remain with your company, if you allow it. I suspect we desire to enter the ruins for the same purpose, and it would be wiser to do so as a group. Dirthamen will have left safeguards behind. Trust me when I say you might have need of another pair of hands.” None of his words are untrue; it would be safer to remain in a group. He may be able to deal with Dirthamen’s guardians without issue, but he will not leave others behind in his wake who might stumble into the same trap.
It is the right thing to do, he tells himself, and leaves it at that.
She gazes at him and there is something shrewd in her eyes. “All right. I’ll agree—but there is one condition.”
He inclines his head. “And that would be?”
“You meet me in the Fade,” she says. “Every night you’re here. And you answer every question I have. You give me honest answers. No evasions or lies.”
He blinks, a little taken aback. “To what end?”
“We spent three years in the Inquisition,” she says. “In that time, the only things you willingly divulged about yourself were that you were a mage, you like the Fade, and you hate tea. Consider this making up for lost time.”
Evelyn is no fool—she will be asking questions that are better left unanswered. And Solas has no delusions about this proposal. He knows she fears him, distrusts him, and will likely never offer him friendship again. But he does not care. “May I propose a counteroffer?”
She crosses her arms and remains silent.
“One question,” he says. “Every night. I’ll answer one question honestly and without evasion.”
“I stand in ancient ruins,” he replies calmly. “I would like to spend at least some of my time in the Fade exploring them.”
As this is not nighttime and they are not in the Fade, he does not regret this particular untruth. He does not tell her that if she has many questions, it will mean that many nights of answers.
And in the meantime, she will not send him away.
Most of the company is not pleased with Evelyn’s decision. No one says a word to Solas himself, but he can tell the others are uneasy with her quiet statement of, “Solas is going to remain with us while we venture into the ruins.”
Morrigan crosses her arms, making no effort to disguise her annoyance. Dagna beams at Solas and Kieran watches him curiously. Elvyr does not outwardly disapprove, but he steps close to Evelyn and murmurs a question. She replies in kind. The other sentinels look to their leader for how to respond. As for Abelas, his face could not have betrayed less emotion were it carved from stone.
The rest of the day is spent in preparation. It seems Evelyn’s party arrived mere hours before Solas and they have not truly tested the boundaries of the ruins. A wall runs along the edges—made of green and brown stone, it all but vanishes into the forest. The sentinels have been examining it in pairs, each going to find a crack or perhaps a place to scale over it.
“I would not recommend going over,” says Solas quietly. “Likely whatever traps remain would be ready to counter such action. We should find whatever path Dirthamen would have taken and use it—then perhaps the guardians will be less inclined to attack.”
Evelyn looks to Abelas. “What do you think?”
“Likely, there will be no sentinels,” he answers. “Mythal left us behind because we were hers, we were bound. We would never betray her. She trusted us. From the stories, Dirthamen trusted no one.”
Solas considers contesting that statement, but remains silent.
Dagna’s fingers trail over her pack. “We could blow a hole in the wall.”
Several rather scandalized looks are directed her way. She shrugs, entirely unaffected. “Just a thought.”
“We are not going to destroy the ruins,” says Evelyn firmly. Then with slightly less certainty, “Not unless things go horribly wrong, that is.”
Scouting the wall takes what is left of the day. Solas and the others set up a grid as best they can, dividing the wall into more easily manageable sections. Evelyn takes the first portion, Abelas the second, and so on. Again, there are the quiet warnings not to enter the ruins themselves, but to simply see if there is a way through. And then they are moving, drifting away from one another as they each approach the ruins and the wall.
Solas trails a hand over the stone. It is ancient—spells woven into rock and sand, shaping them with a will nearly as strong as his own. Dirthamen built this to last, to remain unseen, and Solas can almost admire the elf for it. There was something knowing in the design of this refuge, as if the false god knew that someday he would need a place to hide. Dirthamen would have anticipated betrayal because that was simply how he conducted himself. He trusted no one, because he could not be trusted.
Ah, Solas thinks, and smiles.
He presses his palm to the wall and lets his power run out. For a heartbeat, nothing happens. And then a line appears—glowing and small, trailing through the stones. Solas presses harder. Illusions are delicate things, torn apart by cracks in the facade. He finds those cracks and pulls gently, twisting the illusion so it falls away.
The wall flickers and then large portions of it simply vanish.
Solas allows himself a quiet laugh. Of course Dirthamen would craft an illusionary barrier to cover the real thing. When this wall crumbled, the illusion would make most people turn around and try to find a new way across—when all they truly had to do was step forward.
He toys with the thought of entering the ruins now but almost immediately dismisses it. The others will try to follow and likely trample into whatever traps Dirthamen has left behind. He turns and begins walking back to camp, to tell the others of his discovery.
Solas is nearly there when he hears two people conversing quietly. The voices are low and familiar.
His footsteps slow and he listens with rapt attention.
“—Ill-considered,” says a hard voice.
“Abelas, if you have a problem with him—”
A derisive exhalation of breath. “Abandoning one’s bondmate is hardly the action of a trustworthy companion.”
Solas allows himself to edge closer. Through the branches of a low-hanging tree, he sees the two of them. Abelas and Evelyn stand near to one another. Evelyn has her arms crossed over her body in a defensive posture. Abelas towers over her, but there is no aggression in his pose. Rather, he is turned toward her, his attention focused on her face.
Evelyn makes an aggrieved sound. “Of all the people to be offended on my behalf, I never thought to count you among them.”
“It is not a matter of offense,” Abelas replies. “It is one of loyalty. In our culture, bonds are sacred. Bonds of family, of house, of oath, of mated pairs. To simply walk away is… it demonstrates a willingness to act against one’s nature. It is the worst act of betrayal.”
She looks away. “For the last time, we were not married. Or bonded, or whatever you want to call it.”
There is something close to sympathy in the set of his mouth. “I know little of human tradition. Your ways may indeed differ from ours. But even if he is not your bondmate, he has still shown himself to be of fickle loyalty. We journey into the deepest part of these ruins, into the embrace of a god of secrets. We face threats enough without having one at our backs.”
She sounds so weary when she replies that it makes Solas want to step forward. “I know we can’t trust him. But he—he has knowledge we might need.”
“We had this conversation about Morrigan already,” she says, but there’s fresh warmth to her words. “I mean, except for the part about bondmates. If we’re going to find Mythal, we need people like Morrigan and… Solas.”
Abelas grimaces, as if faced with an unpleasant smell. “I will trust your judgement in this.”
“You mean you’ll be staying a few steps behind him at all times,” she says, without missing a beat. “Probably with a knife up your sleeve.”
Abelas does not smile. “As you yourself are so fond of pointing out, I am a sentinel.”
They’ve struck up an odd alliance, Solas realizes. The ancient elf and the young human mage. He wonders how it began—if she needed another expert on elvhen culture or perhaps a bodyguard. The last time he talked with Abelas, the sentinel’s only interest in the Inquisitor was her marked hand. He wonders for a moment how she won him over, but then he shakes his head.
So this is their aim—they are looking for Mythal. It seems obvious in hindsight: the sentinels would seek out their patron and Morrigan has bound herself to the Evanuris. As for Evelyn… that is the only part he cannot figure out. She has no reason to seek one of the supposed Creators.
If there is a such reason, perhaps he will learn it tonight.
He retreats quietly and returns to camp.
The first night of Evelyn’s proposed arrangement, they meet on neutral ground.
Solas conjures a place that contains no painful memories, no threats, no unfamiliar terrain. The Fade reflects their own camp, overlaid with the day's emotions and actions, so that it appears as a painting in progress. There are unfinished lines and colors, ready to be remade to the dreamer’s will.
Evelyn sits beside the campfire. Here, the flames are silver and heatless, casting a pale glow over her features. As the Fade imitates their own expectations, the sky is dark with night and the forest still and quiet.
Solas keeps a careful distance, and Evelyn seems emboldened by it. She gives him a little nod, akin to the ones she has used on sparring partners before a match. And this conversation has that same tone—a gentle tension hangs between them. “You came,” she says.
He asks, “You doubted?”
“Well,” she says. “It would not be the first time you broke a promise.”
Were this just another sparring match, the first point would be to her. He acknowledges this with an incline of his head. “Ask your question, if you will.”
Absentmindedly, she crosses her ankles and tucks her knees close to her chest.
“Did you banish the elven Creators?” she asks.
He waits a beat, then answers, “Yes.”
A look of consternation creeps across Evelyn’s face—it is the same expression he has seen when she was beaten at a hand of cards.
A point in his favor, then.
“I would suggest,” he says, smiling, “asking more open-ended questions in the future.”
She glowers at him. “We are going to pretend that did not just happen, all right?” She clears her throat. “Why did you banish the elven Creators?”
“Why do you think I did it?”
Her mouth twists into a scowl. “You’re not going to answer, are you?”
“I shall answer,” he replies. “I simply wish to know what lore has told you.” It is a careful tactic, this measuring of her opinion. A delay, yes, but a selfish part of him wishes to know what myths she has accepted as truth.
She lets out a breath. “I know what the Dalish say—that there was a war between the good elven gods, the Creators, and the bad gods, the Forgotten Ones. In the midst of the war, the Dread Wolf used trickery to lock them all away, leaving the elves to fend for themselves. There was also something about the Wolf giggling in glee for a couple of centuries.”
Those words should not hurt as much as they do. Solas closes his eyes for a moment, using the pause to collect his own thoughts. He never thought he cared much for the opinions of others, until he awoke to find himself cast in the role of villain. He will likely never be able to overturn such beliefs.
She must read some of his thoughts in his face, because her frown deepens. “So the Dalish have it wrong, I suppose?”
He gives her a steady look. “The truth is not quite as simplistic.”
“The truth rarely is.” She brings her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. It is the pose she often took when he told her stories of the Fade. She always listened, her eyes shining with interest. He feels a pang of longing for those times.
“The first thing you need to know is that there were no good elven gods,” he tells her. “But the Dalish would rather tell stories of some glorious past. After all, who would wish to hear tales of petty feuds?” His mouth curves into a mockery of a smile. “Or how the false gods warred among one another? Engaged in rivalries? How Dirthamen turned a blind eye to the sins of Falon’Din? How Andruil ventured into the void, went mad, and then began hunting people for the sheer sport of it? Or perhaps the time Elgar’nan decided to destroy the world in a fit of pique and had to be soothed by Mythal?”
Evelyn swallows. “They were tyrants.”
“They were the Evanuris,” he says. “False gods. They were an aristocracy, one that gained more power as the centuries passed, until they were thought of as divine—and half of them began to believe it themselves.”
“You keep saying ‘them,’” she says. “But… but all of the tales say the Dread Wolf was one of the Creators.”
He laughs hollowly. “The Dread Wolf was never one of the Evanuris—but Solas was. Back before they ruled as god-kings and queens, I stood among them. Tell me, Inquisitor, what did you think of Halamshiral?”
She blinks, thrown by the sudden change of subject. “I—I thought it was shameful. A display of wealth and petty games that could be better spent helping Thedas.”
“Halamshiral is a pale echo of Elvhenan,” he says coolly. “I want you to imagine all of the wealth, the petty games, the intrigue and the lies—and then imagine it tenfold. Add in thousands of years of slavery, of war, of intrigue and sex and lies and you might approach the kind of corruption that ran rampant through the empire. The Creators encouraged it, reveled in it. They cared nothing for the lives lost in their own games.” His voice simmers with an old anger. “They were driving my people to ruin and I could not simply stand by and watch.
“I began freeing slaves. I devised spells to remove the markings that declared them property, and I found places for them to hide. Such actions only threw fuel upon an already raging fire. The Evanuris named me Fen’Harel—and I took the name as a title rather than an insult. It became a point of pride for me.”
She bites her lip. “You sealed away the Creators… to protect the elven people?”
“No,” he says. “I did it because they killed Mythal. She was the best of us. She cared for her people, tried to save them.” He closes his eyes for a brief heartbeat, feels the pulse of the foreign soul nestled inside of him. “The Evanuris betrayed her. She was the lone voice of reason that stood against them and they destroyed her for it.”
Evelyn gazes at him, as if truly seeing him for the first time. Which, he supposes, is the truth. “It’s a rather different story than the one the Dalish tell.”
“The Dalish comfort themselves with stories rather than face uncomfortable truths,” he says. “They have spent ages worshiping those who never cared if they lived or died. Those tattoos they cling to—they are slave markings. They bind themselves to a pantheon that never cared for them.”
Her eyes fall to the fire and she watches the dance and glitter of the flames. “Did you hate them? The false gods, I mean.”
“I hated them,” he says. “I loved them. They were my brethren—perhaps not by blood but we were bound by ages and magic. But I knew it had to end. So I cut them off from their source of power and sealed them away far beneath the roots of this world. I thought it a kindness.” The words taste bitter on his tongue. “And with that kindness, I doomed the world.”
He forces himself to meet her gaze, to see what condemnations she might offer him. Because even if she does not know the whole truth of it, she can see the broad strokes: the fall of Elvhenan, the fall of the elves. All of it can be laid squarely at his own feet.
But when he looks into her eyes, he finds only sorrow. She opens her mouth as if to speak, then reconsiders. “We shall have to wake early tomorrow,” she says. “You should… get some rest.”
He is inclined to remind her that they are asleep and could continue this conversation at length with little change to their physical selves. But she is trying to give him a graceful way to leave this conversation and he should take it. He rises to his feet and walks away from the illusory fire, toward the false darkness of the forest.
“Thank you for telling me,” she says quietly, and he pauses mid-step.
“Good night,” he says and gently steps free of her dreams.
The next day, they venture into the ruins.
There is a palatable tension in the air. The morning meal consists of berries and cheese, and Solas notices that only a few of the sentinels choose to partake. Most prowl through the camp like leashed hounds, hands on their weapons. Morrigan has her own staff in hand, and even Evelyn has her assortment of daggers neatly kept at her belt. Her own barbed staff is strapped to her back, in easy reach.
Dagna and Kieran are to be left at the campsite. “Be a good lad,” Solas overhears Morrigan saying to the boy. “Stay with the dwarf.”
“Don’t worry about a thing,” says Dagna brightly. “We’ll be fine out here. Just be sure to get us once you’re sure whatever is guarding the area is gone. I want to see what’s inside.”
Morrigan’s face is rigid when she rejoins the hunting party.
Because this is truly a hunting party, Solas knows. If they are to get inside the ruins, they will need to find Dirthamen’s guardian. And there will be something guarding this refuge. Dirthamen would never have left one of his strongholds undefended. Likely, it will be a spell or perhaps a series of traps. One who called himself the God of Secrets enjoyed entrapping his enemies with subterfuge—like a spider lets its prey wander helplessly into its web. Solas stands at the fringes of the camp, watching the preparations with a steady gaze.
With Evelyn and Abelas at the forefront, their party begins the trek through the foliage. The forest smells of fresh rain and greenery and Solas breathes in the comforting scents, letting them soothe his own worry.
Morrigan glances over her shoulder, her eyes darting in the direction of the camp.
“How are Kieran’s studies going?” asks Evelyn quietly, as if sensing Morrigan needs a distraction. There is little use speaking quietly amidst the elves, but she clings to the illusion of privacy.
Morrigan smiles. “He is eager. He liked Skyhold for its libraries, I think, but he enjoys exploring the ruins, as well. I have been teaching him a little magic—he’s beginning to conjure elements on his own.”
“I wouldn’t mind helping,” says Evelyn, “if you ever wanted to take a day off. The circle wasn’t useful for a lot of things, but it did give me a pretty thorough grounding in all of the elements.”
“Except water,” Elvyr murmurs, as he strides past her.
Evelyn reaches out and casually gives his arm a light thwack. It is a friendly little slap, the way she might have once angled an elbow in Sera’s side or bumped shoulders with Blackwall. “Thank you ever so much for the reminder.”
Elvyr gives her a look that is wholly innocent. “I only meant that should the boy require instruction in water, I would be glad to offer aid.”
“Of course,” she replies dryly.
Solas watches the exchange and tries to feel glad for her. She has found a camaraderie among the sentinels, with that mage in particular. It is good; she deserves to be happy among those she counts as companions.
The walls loom closer until everyone’s steps slow to a halt. The illusion is firmly back in place, as Solas suspected. His gentle push against the magic would not have left any permanent mark. Evelyn steps forward, Elvyr at her shoulder. She reaches for the wall, finds the stone beneath her fingertips. She trails a hand over it. “It’s real here,” she says softly. She sidesteps a few paces, still touching the stones.
Abruptly, her hand sinks into the wall and she flinches, stepping back as if burned. Elvyr reaches out to touch the illusion, and his hand also passes through it. “All right, we’ve found our entry point,” says Evelyn.
Silence falls and for a moment, no one moves. Morrigan is the first to step forward, walking through the wall as if it does not exist—and she vanishes through the illusion. Elvyr follows, as do the others. Only Abelas remains in place, until all the others have gone through. He turns to give Solas a cold glance, gesturing for him to walk. Solas smiles slightly and does as the sentinel bids. If watching Solas makes the other elf more comfortable, then there is nothing to be gained by protesting.
As he steps through the illusion, he finds himself in what looks to be a courtyard garden. It has long since been overgrown, but Solas can see the remnants of the garden’s beauty. Flowers that have not been tended for hundreds of years crowd against one another, fighting for sunlight. Moss drapes over a statue of some long-forgotten creature. Dappled shadows fall upon the cobblestones.
It is as he suspected: this refuge is completely underground—or at least, it was until time cracked open the earth. Some of the cobblestones have crumbled away, worn by wind and rain. A tree’s roots have torn through the earth, and he can see the places were the ground sags every so slightly. “All right,” says Evelyn quietly. “Rope, please.” Her voice is hushed; the courtyard is heavy with the weight of history and it feels wrong to raise one’s voice in such a place.
Two sentinels step forward. With practiced ease, they tie off one side of the rope to that ancient tree, then knot the harness together. It is crude, but the rope will allow them to lower a single people below. “I’ll go first,” says Evelyn.
Solas approaches. “With all due respect, Inquisitor, I would be better suited—”
“And to think he once called me eager,” remarks Morrigan, her golden eyes shining.
“There may be traps we are unaware of,” he replies. He tries to keep his voice level but is not wholly successful—if anyone is to step into that unknown, it should be him.
“And how are we to trust that you will not simply venture into the ruins on your own?” says Morrigan coolly.
“I will not,” Solas begins to say, but Abelas raises a hand, silencing the argument.
“You are both correct.” He lifts his chin. “The first to be lowered down should be an elf—and it will not be you.” He glances to another sentinel, a male that Solas does not know. The elf nods, quiet acceptance on his face. He steps into the looped rope, fingers tight on the harness as he crouches beside the ruins. The others prepare to lower him into the ruins.
A chill runs over Solas’s skin. At first he thinks it is simply nerves—a quiet apprehension. But then he realizes what has changed: he cannot feel the sun on his skin.
Shadow—the entire courtyard has fallen into shadow.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Solas looks over his shoulder.
The enormous thing he took for a statue is… well, it is not a statue. Its skin is still gray with dust, but it is moving, rising to its full height, five enormous legs coiling beneath it.
“Evelyn,” he says softly, and he hears her small gasp.
It is smaller than a dragon, but not by much. It is all legs and angles, its head too small for its enormous body. It moves with a deliberate grace, and there is a terrible beauty to its construction. It is a living weapon crafted with stone, wind, and magic.
It has been ages since Solas has seen such a creature.
“Varterral,” whispers one of the sentinels.
This is why the walls exist. Not to keep intruders out—no, there was never any way for intruders to enter the underground refuge until time wore it open. These walls were built not as a defensive measure.
They are a cage.
The varterral takes one step and the ground shakes slightly with its weight. It regards the intruders, cocking its head from side to side in a rather bird-like motion.
“It will not hurt us,” says Abelas in a low voice. “It knows the People—it will not—”
Solas’s mouth goes suddenly dry, his body understanding before his mind does.
With a steady, almost graceful motion, the varterral’s gaze falls upon the two humans.
Its stance goes rigid and it opens its maw and lets loose a shriek of terrible fury. It is a sound meant to drive prey into a frenzy, to make its enemies immobile with fear, to drown out any reason with utter instinct.
But no one so much as flinches.
When its attempt at intimidation has no effect, the varterral sinks back into a crouch. And then it lunges. It moves like a spider, with its many legs and lightning-fast reflexes.
But as quick as the creature is, Solas is faster. He already holds a spell, has been gathering its power the moment he realized they were threatened. He feels the magic build behind his eyes. He will turn that varterral into a true statue, petrified and towering over this courtyard until it crumbles into dust.
He lashes out with his magic, with the combined will of the Dread Wolf and the All-Mother—
—And nothing happens.
Solas stumbles, caught off guard when the varterral rushes past him.
This creature belongs to Dirthamen and only his will, his magics, could defeat it outright. The power of Fen’Harel or even Mythal have no effect on it. Should Solas wish to defeat the creature, he will need more… conventional methods.
The creature shrieks another war cry and throws itself at the two humans, striking out with one enormous foreleg. Evelyn ducks beneath the blow, whirling her barbed staff. The blade bounces off the creatures’s armored hide, but it is the distraction Morrigan needs. She throws a handful of thick, viscous fluid at one of the creature’s legs. It staggers, caught off guard as the tar binds the creature in place.
Solas slams his own staff into the ground. Fire catches in the tar and the monster shrieks in pain, staggering to one side. Evelyn lets out a cry of challenge and rushes the creature.
He remembers how she fights.
She fights like a circle mage—with a carefully intellectual grasp of magic, that knowledge fortified by a ruthless practicality. She fights like someone who knows that surrender is unacceptable. It makes sense, in hindsight. Mages who joined the rebellion knew how to deal with templars—and it was not through brute force. Mages learned how to take them by surprise, to use shadow and illusion, then attack when it was most opportune. When the fight goes her way, Evelyn is always methodical, but when she is taken by surprise, she will lash out with a surprising fervor. She likes fire and wind and storm—all of the spells she could never cast from the safety of a mage tower.
It is easy to fall into old rhythms: he knows when she will move and she assumes he will cover her—and he does, of course. She lashes out with a lightning strike and he covers her flank when the varterral tears itself free and charges her.
In this moment, it feels as if nothing has changed.
The varterral moves with the liquid grace of a serpent, darting and weaving through the fight as if this is a dance it knows all too well. The sentinels weave through its legs, weapons flashing in the sunlight, trying to pierce the creature’s thick hide.
The varterral whirls, trying to pick a single target to focus upon. Solas is sure it would be attempting to slay the humans first, were the ancient elves not drawing its attention. The creature lets out a furious bellow, its head whipping back and forth. One of the elves darts beneath it, trying to slash at the creature’s underbelly.
The varterral slams its claw through the elf—and even through the din of battle Solas hears the sickening crunch of bone and sinew. When the varterral bounds forward, it leaves the fallen elf behind—he is little more than forgotten, dying prey.
The sentinel thrashes weakly, but Solas can see he will not rise again. A terrible howl of fury, of senseless loss, wells up within him. He gathers a handful of fire, preparing to counterattack.
Elvyr snarls and ice begins forming along the varterral’s joints. It shrieks, trying to shake off the painful grip of the cold, but the magic clings to its skin. It thrashes, limbs contorting in desperation, and as it stumbles sideways, it collides with a wall.
Well, not a wall—it collides with the illusion of the wall and falls right through.
Solas goes still, flames still flickering to life in his hand. The creature is gone from their sight, and all they can hear is the varterral’s huffing breaths, the crash of the undergrowth as it rights itself. It makes a noise that might be confusion, and its echoing footsteps fade away. It is walking away from the refuge, away from the fight, and perhaps it will give them time enough to formulate some kind of strategy—
Evelyn rushes past him. She runs at full tilt, her face drawn with panic. The fire quenches in his hand; he dare not attack, not with her barreling at the illusory wall. She vanishes through it, Morrigan at her heels. “What,” one of the sentinels begins to say.
“Camp,” Elvyr says tightly, and realization slams into Solas.
Without another word, he races after Evelyn. Panic sharpens his senses, lengthens his every step, and he finds himself outpacing the sentinels.
The varterral leaves a trail of broken trees and uprooted ferns that is easy to follow—and as Elvyr predicted, it followed the scent of human and elf back to its source. Solas sprints into the camp just in time to see the creature tearing through one of the tents.
Dagna is crouched by the still-smoking remnants of their morning fire. She is reaching slowly for her pack, as if she thinks that quick movements will draw the creature’s attention. And Kieran is frozen, his eyes gone wide. He is closest to the creature, nearly within reach.
“No,” cries Morrigan, her voice raw with panic. She lets loose a spell of molten rock and fire, aiming for the creature’s turned back. The varterral stumbles as the magic gouges through its skin, leaving scorched burn marks. Legs jerking and twitching, the varterral flings the embers free of its skin and scrambles to its feet, turning cold eyes on its prey.
But Evelyn gets there first. She stands before Kieran, her teeth bared, the blade of her staff aimed at the creature. Its gaze darts between the two humans, as if choosing. In that moment, she makes her own decision.
She raises a barrier around Kieran.
She leaves herself undefended.
As if sensing the change, the varterral charges at her, its crooked forelegs raising to strike. Evelyn lashes out with her barbed staff, countering the attack. The head of her staff snaps off, cut through by the claw, leaving behind a shattered length of wood. Snarling with fury, she gathers a handful of lightning and tosses it at the creature’s eyes.
The varterral lets loose a shriek that sends birds flocking from the trees. It staggers back and forth, its movements jerky and agonized. In its fury, it lashes out at Evelyn. She darts beneath the first strike, but she is unprepared for the second. The blow glances against her head and she stumbles. Blood wells up along her hairline. The varterral lets out a sound that might have been a chuckle of triumph, were it been human. It twists, ready for the killing blow.
Solas slams into Evelyn. He feels more than hears her startled cry, and they tumble to the ground—all elbows and gasped breaths until he finds himself on his back, a root digging into his hip. She sprawls beside him, her eyes dim with surprise and pain.
The varterral’s claw sinks into the damp earth a hair’s breadth from her thigh. It raises that claw, gathering its strength for another assault.
Solas throws up a barrier. The varterral’s leg descend and light shimmers to life around them as the creature tries to tear through the magic. Solas strains, his jaw aching from the effort. This creature was built to deflect magic, to shrug off blows that would have slain a high dragon. Letting out a growl of utter frustration, Solas raises his hand, trying to hold the barrier. The varterral is a construct of ancient power, one of the last remnants of the Evanuris. And he will be damned before he lets it claim another life.
Evelyn sits up and he feels the familiar touch of her magic reinforcing the barrier. But it is all they can do—they are helpless like this, pinned beneath the varterral. But if they can delay, perhaps the sentinels will draw it away.
The varterral slams into the barrier a second time and then a third. The barrier beings to unravel, the magic slipping through Solas’s fingers as though it were water. The barrier cracks and falls away. Solas has only a split second to see the sharp claw glinting in the morning light.
Evelyn rolls right and Solas left—and the varterral slashes at the ground, churning the earth between them. Solas can see the thoughts play out behind the creature’s eyes as if they are his own: it will finish the task given to it. It will kill the human.
Evelyn’s fingers scrabble at the ground for a staff that isn’t there. She rolls again, ducking out of the way of another attack, but there is no place for her to run to, nothing to hide behind.
Since waking from his long sleep, his life has been a carefully planned thing—strategies upon strategies, spies and knowledge, all a game of chess with his own world as the prize. He has thought out his every action, his every word.
But now, his mind goes blank and his lips form a single word.
Solas throws himself over her, his forearms pressed to the damp ground, bracketing her body with his own.
It has been over a year since he has been so close to Evelyn. The scent of her skin is familiar, as is the gentle touch of her frizzy hair. And in this moment, nothing else matters. She is dear to him—she is his tether to this ruin of a world, and perhaps the only part of it worth saving.
He closes his eyes, savors this moment of peace.
Her sharp intake of breath is all he hears before agony slices through his stomach.
And then everything fades away.
When his sight returns, the world is at an odd angle. He is looking up at the trees and there is a spreading chill through his limbs. The varterral is gone, but he can hear the sounds of a nearby fight. Evelyn leans over him, her hair brushing the bare skin at his wrist. Her cloak is gone from her shoulders, and she appears to be wadding the cloth into a ball. She places it over his stomach.
“Hold this,” she is saying, and she takes his hand, presses it against his own wound. Her fingers are tacky with half-dried blood. The moment she pushes down, the world comes back in all of its vivid, agonizing detail. It feels as if someone has shoved burning embers into his stomach.
He makes a soft sound and her face goes tight. “Keep pressure on it,” she snaps, with an anger that is more worry than true ire. He tries to obey, but his arm barely responds. Dampness bleeds through the makeshift bandage, and he is hollow, so light that he might float away. Evelyn utters a curse.
She brings a hand to his cheek and her fingers are fever-warm against his chilled skin. She looks wretched—pale and bloodied but alive, and he cannot bring himself to regret this.
He wants to tell her to go, to help the others, that she can do more good with them. He swallows, trying to dispel the heavy tang of blood in his mouth. She leans down and presses her forehead to his. “You are not getting out of our deal so easily,” she whispers. She rises to her feet, her attention snapping back to the battle.
He turns his head, tries to watch as she rejoins the fray. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the varterral’s many legs, those claws cutting through the soft ground, tearing into roots and moss as it attempts to slay the sentinels. It howls when Abelas slams his sword into the joint of its foreleg. The creature staggers, flailing blindly at the elves.
The distraction is all Evelyn needs. She darts beneath the varterral, and a green glow collects around her left hand. It looks different from the other rifts he has seen her conjure. There is no sharp edges to the magic—it is less contained. But he has no time to consider the change. “Get back,” she is shouting, and the sentinels retreat, leaving her alone beside the monster.
She cries out and the world explodes with light and force.
The last thing he sees is her kneeling on the ground, clutching at her arm.
The first time Solas opens his eyes, he knows he is in the Fade. There is something in the quality of the air, a stillness that is unreachable in the waking world. He struggles to sit up, half expecting to see the gaping outline of a wound. But his skin is whole. He spares his surroundings a curious look—it is no place he can ever recall visiting. It is a stretch of hilltop, green grass tall and swept through with wind.
Evelyn comes walking toward him, dressed in robes he does not recognize. They are a heavy blue, of a fine make, and they are utterly wrong for her. Those robes belong in a Mage Circle and she does not.
She stands over him, blocking out the false sun and clouds. When she speaks, her voice is carefully neutral. “Do you know where you are?”
“No,” he replies. “I suppose this is a test to see if my mind remains intact.”
Her gaze slides over him, evaluating. “Perhaps. Do you remember what happened?”
Not at first. It takes a few breaths, a moment of calming his mind and sifting through odd sensations—pain, first and foremost. The pressure of her fingers, pressing against a wound. The scent of freshly churned earth and the tang of copper.
It comes back to him—the fight in the courtyard. The varterral.
He touches a hand to his stomach. “I had the pleasure of meeting one of Dirthamen’s creations. Nasty little things, the varterrals. I think he wanted to prove to Ghilan'nain that she wasn’t the only person who could make monsters.”
Evelyn’s calm mask flickers. “I have never seen anything like that,” she says, “and I hunted high dragons in my spare time.” She lowers herself into a crouch beside him. “Do you remember your name?”
He smiles slightly. “Which one would you like to hear?”
“All right, you’re fine.” She brushes grass from her robes, carefully using the task to avoid looking at him. She makes as if to stand.
“What happened?” he asks.
She goes still. “I conjured a rift,” she says, and her voice is deceptively light. “It confused the varterral long enough for Dagna to get one of her paralysis runes. That creature is currently frozen in place where our camp used to be.”
“Used to be?”
“We moved it,” she says. “Into the far west of the old courtyard. The walls may not be entirely real, but a little protection is better than none.” She clears her throat. “Morrigan cleaned and closed your wound. The claw impaled you,” she continues, and her voice is oddly distant. “It shattered two of your ribs, caused internal damage. The only reason you’re still breathing is because of whatever magic you used to keep yourself alive until the others could get to you.”
Ah. He does not remember conjuring such a working, but likely it was Mythal’s magic rising to the surface, keeping his heart beating long enough for help to arrive. Evelyn presses a hand to her forehead as if trying to ward off a headache. In those robes, in this place, she looks far removed from the woman he has come to know.
“Where are we, if you do not mind me asking?” he says.
She hesitates and he is not sure she will answer. Then she gives him a little half-shrug.
“After the mage uprising, we ran away from the Ostwick Circle,” she says. “The other rebels and I—we had to escape before the templars came after us. We trekked as far as we could, but we had wounded and children. We stopped in this meadow and it was…” She closes her eyes, as if savoring a fond taste. “It was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. In spite of the war, it was the first time I truly felt free.”
He gazes around him. It is a beautiful place and he wonders if it was always this perfect or if her memories are shaping the Fade to her will. “Thank you for showing me this.”
When he turns to look at her, she has already vanished to the waking world.
The second time he opens his eyes, he is alone.
It takes a few minutes for him to get his bearings; he blinks the blurriness from his sight and sees dappled sunlight upon a canopy. He rests on his back and there are blankets tucked beneath and around him. A tent, he realizes. He has been placed in a tent. Carefully, he lifts a hand and presses it to his stomach. Dull pain radiates from his gut, but it is not the sharp, cold agony of a fresh wound. The familiar scents of healing herbs are woven in amidst the reek of old blood.
He considers trying to sit up but thinks better of it. He is surprisingly comfortable on this bedroll, and he must be more exhausted than he thought, because he closes his eyes and the next time he wakes, it is to the sound of another person entering the tent.
Evelyn eases the canvas door open. He looks at her for obvious injuries; he is not sure why, but a memory nags at him. Evelyn on her knees—face clenched in pain—but he cannot remember why—
He tries to speak. “Uninjured?” The word comes out mangled, dry and strained. But she understands.
“I’m fine.” She moves with the detached practicality of one who has handled wounds many times before—sliding the blanket out of the way and checking beneath the bandages. The skin along his stomach is raw, scarred, as if from an old injury, but he can feel the internal damage; it will be slower to heal.
She holds a cup of water to his lips and he drinks.
Her clothes are stained with blood—his blood, in all likelihood. She hasn’t changed, has probably barely slept—only venturing into the Fade long enough to determine if his mind was sound.
She looks terrible. She looks beautiful.
“The other sentinel?” he asks. His voice is stronger, much to his relief. “There was one injured—I saw him fall.”
She swallows. “We did everything we could. But he—”
He watches as her carefully neutral expression falters. She has always felt the loss of life keenly. Doubly so with those under her command. Exhaustion is written clearly in the shadows beneath her eyes, in the limpness of her posture. She sits back on her heels, and for a long minute, neither of them speak. The silence is surprisingly familiar, a comfort rather than a strain.
“How long has it been?” he asks.
“Since the attack? It was yesterday. Feels longer, though.”
He is torn between fondness and a slight exasperation. “No. I mean when was the last time you rested?”
She gives him a look. “I’m fine.”
He says nothing.
“Since before the attack,” she admits. She wilts before his eyes. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I came in here for fresh clothes. I’d been planning on bathing, but the thought of wearing this again… I couldn’t.” She turns and picks up a familiar pack. It is the one he saw her carry around for years with the Inquisition—her clothes and few possessions, tucked safely away.
And then she begins to peel off her armor.
He makes a sound. He knows he must have made a sound because she twists to look at him.
“This is my tent,” she says, defensively. “I need to change clothes. Unless you’d prefer me to bother one of the sentinels.”
Solas has a fleeting moment in which he imagines her barging into Elvyr’s tent. “I would not wish you to be uncomfortable,” he says, and lets the thought trail off.
She snorts. “Like you said, it is not as if you’re unfamiliar with the sight. Just close your eyes if you don’t want to see.” There is nothing seductive in her stance or voice; she simply yanks off her bloodied leggings and digs in her pack for a fresh pair. He watches her, eyes gliding over the muscles in her calves, the full curve of her hip, to the faint scar along her ankle.
For a moment, all he can think of is how he used to undress her, slowly tugging the fabric over her skin deliberately, so she felt every bit of it. Of how he would brush his lips over her bare skin, enjoying the shivers he could coax from her. Of how her jaw would clench, trying to hold in a whimper, until his fingers would catch in the waistband of her trousers—
He looks away. He knows how easy it is to be caught up one his past; he refuses to tangle himself in old memories of her.
Her undershirt hits the ground and he cannot help himself—his eyes flick up out of pure reaction. She has her back to him, a fresh breastband resting her lap as she tucks the bloodied one into her pile of discarded clothes. She is bare from the waist up, but that is not what forces the breath from his lungs.
Several scars run along her back—long, shiny indentations along her left shoulder. They are fresh enough that the skin looks tight and angry.
“That is new,” he says quietly.
She glances at him over that shoulder and shrugs—it makes the scars twist and pull. “You know the Venatori tried to kill me.”
But her death was a ruse and after discovering she was alive, he honestly thought the danger had been fabricated. To see the marks of such an attack etched into her skin… He never thought about how close it must have been. The Venatori had not just attempted to kill her; they came close to succeeding.
“My apologies,” he says.
“For what? For noticing?” She adjusts her breastband and slips a fresh tunic over her head. “It doesn’t matter.”
She has never been overly vain—it was difficult to maintain such frivolities when hip-deep in the swamps of the Mire, or tracking through the heat and humidity of the Graves. He has seen her smudged with dirt, her hair a knotted tangle. She never seemed to care. But there is color in her cheeks and she will not meet his eyes as she adjusts her tunic. He wonders if the scars bother her or if his attention is responsible for her discomfort.
She straightens, and her discomfort falls away. “I’m going to wash the blood out of my hair now. I’ll be back soon, but if you need anything in the meantime, Dagna is nearby.” And without another word, she slips out of the tent, leaving Solas to his own disquieted thoughts.
It takes two days before anyone speaks of entering the ruins.
Of course, no one is idle during that time. There are tents to repair, food to hunt, weapons to salvage—or discard. Evelyn’s broken staff is one of the pieces piled atop the fire. She takes the barbed blade and tosses the rest aside.
Solas watches her from the tent; the door has been bound open, in part for fresh air but also so he can keep an eye on the goings on. He watches the sentinels as they stride through the camp, conversing quietly in elvish, as Morrigan vanishes into the woods and returns with fresh herbs, as Dagna sits atop a fallen log and studies what looks to be a varterral claw.
When night begins to fall, Solas pushes himself upright. The muscles in his abdomen burn, but he ignores the discomfort. “What foolishness is this?” says Morrigan, as she steps into the tent.
He wishes he could contradict her, but a cold sweat has broken out along his neck. “I do not belong here,” he says, hoping none will hear. “I can sleep in the open.”
Her lips purse. “T’would be simpler to say what you mean—you do not belong in the same tent as her.”
He refuses to look away.
“Do not work yourself into a self-sacrifice frenzy.” Morrigan gestures at someone outside of the tent and Kieran ambles after her. “She insisted that you would not be ‘dumped outside like a sack of rotten food,’ to use her words.”
A flicker of annoyance runs through him. “I am not helpless.”
“Then do not be a fool,” she replies. “The Herald declared you will sleep here for the time being. Accept help where you can find it—not all of us would be so generous in her position.” Her voice softens. “And I would not have you catch your death after I went to all the trouble to save you.” Her attention goes to Kieran. “I owed you that much.”
They will never be friends or anything close to it, Solas thinks. But she seems content to leave him be and that is almost a comfort.
It is nearly full dark by the time Evelyn ventures into the tent. She holds veilfire in her hand—a new trick, one he never taught her. She casts the wan light over the three prone figures. Morrigan’s bedroll is as far from Solas as is physically possible and Kieran sleeps near her. The only space left is between Solas and Kieran. If that bothers her, she does not let it show. She releases her grip on the fire and darkness sweeps in. Solas blinks; it always takes a moment for his eyes to adjust, but he can see nearly as well in night as full day.
She unbinds her armor, carefully setting it near the tent’s entrance. Her hair comes undone, and he can just see the outline of her bare shoulders as she bends over to unknot her boots. When she has stripped down to breastband and breeches, she takes her own bedroll and spreads it across the ground. She settles upon it with a small sigh, turning so that her back is to him. Even so, he could touch her if he were to reach out.
He wonders if their proximity makes her uneasy, considers asking why she allowed him to stay in her tent. Perhaps he will inquire in the Fade, when she seeks him out for her nightly question.
But his dreams that night are empty.
On the second day, Solas is able to walk around the camp. He stretches, pulling gently at the tender muscles of his stomach, and when his own mana has recovered, he applies his own healing spells. He weaves them into the raw skin and torn flesh, and by the time night falls, he feels nearly himself again.
“We will try again tomorrow,” says Abelas. He and Evelyn sit near the fire, conversing quietly. She holds a cup of tea—Morrigan’s creation, if he is not mistaken. She does not look at Solas when he takes a seat across from them. Abelas spares him a swift glance before turning his attention back to Evelyn. “We cannot tarry here,” he says. “The varterral will break free of the dwarf’s bindings eventually.”
“It’ll last a while longer,” calls Dagna. She sits next to Kieran, who is engrossed in what looks to be a dwarven puzzle box. “Trust me, I doubt a high dragon could break out of my runes in less than five days.”
“Tested that one, have you?” asks Evelyn, smiling.
Solas watches the exchange without comment. The sentinels discuss venturing into the ruins the next morning. In the full light of day, it will be easier to see any potential traps. Solas quietly removes himself from the fire, retreating to Evelyn’s tent. He is the first to retire for the night, and he listens as the others quietly begin to settle.
Evelyn does not appear, though, and he wonders if she is on watch. Or, some part of him chimes in, perhaps she has taken refuge in one of the sentinel tents—Elvyr’s, perhaps. He forces himself to put aside that thought; he has more important matters to attend to.
He waits until all is silent before slipping free of the tent. Keeping to the shadows, he picks his way through the camp, heading back to the ruins. Moonlight illuminates the crack in the cobblestones, and the half-fallen tree. The ropes are still attached to that tree. Of all the things to survive undamaged.
Carefully, he wraps the rope around his own hand and foot. Lowering himself takes some effort, but he manages. He lets go and lets himself fall for the last small distance and lands lightly on his feet, dropping to a crouch. He does not think there will be guardians in the ruins themselves, but he cannot be sure.
The stillness is absolute. There are no skittering footsteps of wild animals, no faint drips of water falling from the ceiling, no whisper of drafts flowing through the cracks overhead. This place is ancient, silent, and waiting for the return of the one who crafted it.
Solas rises to his full height. With a murmur and effort of will, he calls veilfire to his hand and walks into the stronghold.
It was built to withstand a siege. Ages ago, this place would have been invisible to the outside world—no entrance or exit, and it was tucked away beneath this forest. Inside, the ceilings and walls are reinforced with pillars and glyphs trail across the floor. He draws his fingertips through the dust and finds a glyph for strength, for will, for silence. This would be a place Dirthamen retreated to under only the most dire of circumstances.
Solas closes his eyes, lets his senses reach into the crevices of this ruin. His own refuges were guarded by spirits—a few of justice, who were infuriated by the keeping of slaves, a few of fortitude, who ensured his strongholds would never fall. Dirthamen might have done something similar… but he doubts it. Dirthamen trusted few people; only his own creations would be entrusted with the keeping of this place. Spirits might turn against their own purpose, where the varterral would remain silent and watchful for ages.
Satisfied, Solas opens his eyes.
And sees someone step free of the shadows.
Panic flares to life in his chest, a burn of heat followed by the familiar swell of magic. He feels that power build behind his eyes, aching to be freed, to be unleashed upon the threat standing before him.
But it is no ancient guardian.
Evelyn stands there, her arms crossed.
Solas releases the power, heart beating too quickly. It is easy to misuse Mythal’s powers sometimes, to call upon them as a first rather than a last resort. “What are you doing?” he says, a little harsher than he intended.
She does not flinch. “I knew you would come here. So I volunteered to take the first watch.”
He breathes, taking a moment to regain his composure. “That was a foolish risk.”
“I knew you weren’t going to hurt me.”
“The varterral might not be the only threat,” he says, and his words are still clipped with anger. “You should not have ventured into the ruins alone.”
She cocks a brow. “Like you just did?”
“I came down here because I am best suited to handle such dangers.”
“Just like you handled the varterral?” she says tartly.
A moment of silence.
“I apologize,” she says. “That was uncalled for.” A sigh escapes her, and she wraps her arms around herself. “I had hoped you would wait for us before you attempted to find the eluvian. It was a vain hope, I suppose.”
She is disappointed in him, he realizes. She thinks he is leaving her behind, venturing into the eluvian to vanish and never be seen again.
He will not lie to himself—he has considered doing exactly that.
But she deserves better. He will not abandon her company in these ruins, with unknown danger and a bound varterral nearby. He has done many things he regrets in his life, but he will not leave her so abruptly. Not again.
“If you wish to accompany me while I search for the eluvian, I would welcome the company,” he says, inclining his head to her. She blinks several times, apparently caught off balance by the offer, but then she gathers herself.
“All right,” she says, rather stiffly. Still unsure, still on the defensive. He cannot blame her.
He takes the lead and she lets him, falling into step. The veilfire illuminates the stretch of room before them. This bolthole is small, likely consisting only of a main sitting room, a bedroom, a washroom, and an armory. The ceiling caved in through the sitting room. Solas picks his way through the shattered remnants of a corridor, casting a quiet spell to search for dormant magics. But there is nothing—Dirthamen obviously thought that the varterral and the glyphs would be enough to keep trespassers from entering.
The corridor leads to the bedroom. There is still the shattered remains of a bed frame, the metal worked into intricate patterns. It has rusted over, and the thick, pulpy mess beneath must be what is left of the mattress. A large, utterly normal mirror is framed along one wall, and there is a desk beside it. There is a space for clothing and what looks to be a chest of valuables. Tapestries still hang along two of the wall and several forgotten staves are littered amidst the debris. The air is stale, and he tries to ignore the foul scent.
“This is where Dirthamen would have slept,” murmurs Solas, more to himself than Evelyn. “It is where he would have kept his most dangerous possessions… and his means of escape.”
Evelyn touches the desk. Her fingertips come away covered with dust and grime. “Where do you think he could have hidden the eluvian?”
Solas looks to the tapestries, then shakes his head. “Dalish myth considers Fen’Harel to be the trickster god, the liar, the deceiver. But my abilities paled in comparison to Dirthamen.” He takes two steps, until he is framed in the dirty, muddled reflection of the old mirror. “He would hide it in plain sight, because the best lies are those veiled with truth.”
Evelyn looks at the mirror. “You mean…”
“A real mirror to hide the eluvian behind,” Solas says calmly. “It was Dirthamen’s way. He trusted no one, least of all his own servants.” He touches the edge of the mirror. “Of course he would pick an object that allowed him to admire his own form while deceiving his enemies.”
“I don’t know what is stranger.” Evelyn glances around herself. “That we’re standing in what amounts to Dirthamen’s bolthole or that you’re talking about an elvhen god like Vivienne talks about her fellow Orlesian nobles.”
“The comparison is an apt one,” he replies. “Now, if you would be so kind as to help me move this.”
Their combined strength barely drags the mirror a hand’s width from the wall. It is enough to wedge one of those long staves inside and use it as a lever. “Somehow I thought exploring ancient elvhen ruins would not consist of so much heaving,” gasps Evelyn. She pushes at the stave while he pulls, and with a groan of metal on stone, the mirror moves another scant distance.
Solas takes a step back, trying to keep his own breathing even. The muscles in his stomach are set afire with fresh pain. “There must be a trick to it. He cannot have hidden the eluvian behind a mirror too heavy to move. It would be useless. There must be a spell or—”
Evelyn picks up a metal vase and slams it into the mirror. It shatters, shards of breaking glass hitting the floor and glittering in the dim light. He takes a careful step back, mindful of his bare feet, and so it is Evelyn who steps forward, boots crunching, to brush away the last shards.
“It’s back here,” she announces. When she turns to look at him, she makes no effort to hide her amusement.
“That mirror was ancient,” he says. “Possibly invaluable.”
“Not to Dirthamen,” she answers. “It probably wasn’t ancient when he put it there. It was just a mirror.” She brushes her hand against the eluvian. The surface is quiet and dark, still as a frozen river.
“Do you know how to activate it?” she asks.
He turns to survey the bedroom. “I have… suspicions. Dirthamen will have something in this room, I suspect. He would want to keep the key close.”
“How will we know what it is?” asks Evelyn.
Upon the desk are several scattered items—what looks to be a half-written letter, the parchment so fragile it falls apart beneath his fingertips, a small statue of a dragon, an inkpot long gone dry, and a small assortment of jewelry. There are rings that would probably fetch a hefty price at any Orlesian or Tevinter market. Tucked among them is a small silver amulet. The figure of an owl, with tiny rubies for eyes.
It is an amulet—with Falon’Din’s emblem etched into it.
Sentimental old fool, he thinks, but it is with a stab of pain.
Evelyn edges closer. “What is it?”
“It belonged to Falon’Din,” he says softly. “He and Dirthamen were inseparable. Dalish myth calls them brothers, but they were not bound by a blood tie. There were always rumors that they were lovers, but I never found the truth of it. I did not care at the time, to be honest. But I suspect this is what he used as key to his network of eluvians.”
“You sound as if you feel sorry for them,” she says, her voice also quiet.
“Yes.” He gazes at the amulet. “They are separated now, for all the ages. They deserve such a fate, but that does not mean I do not feel sorrow for their loss.”
A little hesitantly, she extends her hand. “May I?”
He gives her the amulet. She uses the edge of her sleeve to delicately brush away some of the dust. She regards it with a small smile, her joy at finding some remnant of the past clearly written in her face. She has always relished history—and her curious nature was what first drew them together. She would come asking questions and he would give her as many honest answers as he could. But he was always careful to keep his answers vague, for fear of rousing suspicion.
Now, they stand with no untruths between them but he feels utterly adrift from her.
She looks down, and he realizes the quiet has gone on too long, stretched into something uncomfortable. “We’re not in the Fade,” she says quietly, “but it is nighttime, so I’m going to ask you a question.” She meets his gaze, and there is a tentative unease he has rarely seen on her face. “Why did you save me?”
He toys with several answers—he holds half-truths on his tongue, waiting to be given voice. The lies in his mouth are at war with his own impulses. He should lie, should sever whatever remains between them, but the thought makes his chest ache. She looks vulnerable, her defenses finally brought down in this quiet, abandoned ruin. He wants to reach out to her, to smooth that stray lock of hair away from her face, to take her into his arms.
“I am old and selfish,” he replies, “and I know how it feels to lose you. I would not endure it twice.”
She is taken aback. “Saving me… was selfish?”
“Incredibly so.” He takes the amulet from her outstretched hand. “I have things I should be doing, plans that must be accomplished.” He tucks the amulet into his pocket, safely out of sight. “May I ask a question in return?”
She appears dazed by his answer. “I—yes.”
“Why are you looking for Mythal?”
Her eyes flash up to his and for a moment, she looks panicked. “You heard.”
“I may have been passing by during your conversation with Abelas.”
She frowns, rubs at a line in her forehead. “The sentinels were galvanized when they found out she was alive. It gave them… purpose, to know she still exists in some form. As for Morrigan, well, you know that the human who carries Mythal is also her her mother. So she is bound to Mythal twice over. She wishes for answers regarding Kieran—or something. I’m not keen on the details.”
“All good reasons,” he replies. “But I asked why you were looking for Mythal. You are not bound to her, as the others are. With the Inquisitor declared dead, you could have gone anywhere.”
She looks away and her left hand twitches. “We are all bound, one way or another,” she says, and there is a bitterness in her voice. And before he can question her further, she turns on her heel and strides out of the bedroom. He follows in her wake, keeping the veilfire held aloft so as to light her way.
When they reach the rope harness, Solas eyes the height. “I should climb up first,” he says. “I can pull you up after.”
She places her hands on her hips, giving him a thoroughly unimpressed stare.
He feels a small smile tug at his mouth. “I simply mean that I will have less trouble pulling you up then the other way around,” he says. “Though if you wish to climb first and try to pull me up after, I would not be opposed to the idea.”
Her defensive posture fades. “Point taken.”
He takes hold of the ropes; it is a simple matter to haul himself upward, but it takes more strength than he would have liked. His middle is still not yet healed, and he aches by the time his fingers close on the edge of the broken ground and he pulls himself over with a small grunt. He rises to his feet, brushing the dust from his palms, looks up—
—And there is a blade aimed at his throat. Solas goes still.
Abelas stands before him, body coiled, ready to strike. His golden eyes are hard. “What have you done?” The words are spoken in elvish. “Where is the Herald?”
Solas keeps his palms outward, his arms at his sides. “She is unharmed,” he says in the common tongue.
“I should never have allowed you to stay,” says Abelas, and for the first time, Solas notices that he is not alone. Elvyr stands some distance away, worry etched into the lines around his eyes, and Dagna is beside him, one of her runes in each hand.
“Stand down, Abelas, I’m right here,” comes Evelyn’s voice. “If someone would mind lowering the rope, I’d be happy to show you that I’m fine.”
Abelas lowers his weapon, but he does not relax. “Are you uninjured, Herald?”
“I’m fine,” she repeats. “I’d be happy to explain if—”
A noise like thunder booms through the air. The sound is so strong Solas feels it thrumming through his bones.
Abelas falls into a crouch, his teeth bared in a snarl. Dagna stumbles, and Solas finds himself frozen to the spot. The sudden absence of sound is deafening, a swelling silence that seems to swallow up the forest.
And then the ground shakes with the sound of the varterral’s furious roar.
“That’s not good,” says Dagna. She moves quite swiftly for one with such short legs—one moment she stands beside Elvyr, and the next she is sprinting for the camp.
Abelas takes a step toward the varterral, his body straining toward the sound, a hunter yearning to take flight after worthy prey. But he edges back, his instincts tempered by years of self-denial. He follows Dagna, his long strides eating up the ground between them.
Solas looks down, through the crack in the ground. Evelyn gazes back at him, her eyes wide. “Is that…?”
“It must have freed itself,” he replies grimly.
They cannot fight it. Not again, not here in the dark. They have lost one life to the creature and he will not allow it to claim another.
She sees the moment he comes to a decision. Evelyn’s hands clench into fists.
“Don’t you dare leave me here,” she says, eyes flashing.
“You can yell at me after,” he replies, and smoothly rises to his feet.
It is not his most elegant strategy to keep her alive, but it is effective. Even so, he hears her frustrated shout as he rushes through the trees. The camp is already in an uproar, Dagna, Elvyr, and Abelas having roused everyone. The sentinels dart through the camp, gathering weapons and torches, but Solas’s heart is pounding, his body remembering how easily that claw went through him. He forces himself to calm, to react as a person rather than an animal trying to escape a predator.
There is only one course of action he can think of, one thing that might save them.
He catches Abelas by the arm. “Into the ruins,” says Solas. They have no hope of outrunning the creature; they can only hope Dirthamen's defenses will hold.
Abelas considers for a heartbeat. Then he nods and begins shouting orders.
Solas hastens to Evelyn’s tent and snatches up her pack. Swinging it over one shoulder, he glances about the camp for anything else they might need.
Something crashes through the undergrowth, and the sound of snapping trees echoes off the courtyard walls. He can feel the thud of the varterral’s footsteps, the vibration through the forest floor. A deer rushes past him, startled out of hiding.
The sentinels do not bother with the rope harness; they simply leap through the crack in the ground and vanish from sight. Dagna goes for the rope, wrapping it around her hand and foot with expert ease, then rappelling downward. Solas glances at Morrigan. “Give me the boy.”
“What?” she says.
Then the varterral breaks free of the trees and there is no more time. Solas grabs Kieran and jumps. Air rushes past and he lands unsteadily, doing his best to take the brunt of the fall. The boy staggers, but appears unharmed.
“Mother?” he calls.
Morrigan lands on her side a moment later, all the breath pushed out of her as she slams into the stone. A pained gasp works through her mouth. Solas takes her arm unbidden and drags her upright. He glances about the group, trying to find all of the familiar faces. But there is one missing.
“Evelyn?” he calls, and his voice is less steady than he might have hoped. There is no answer and his heartbeat quickens. He thought there was no more danger, but if he miscalculated, if the ruins have other traps and he left her alone here—
With a grinding shriek, a claw begins tearing at the rocks overhead. The varterral can do little more than stab blindly, but Solas can see the ceiling begin to crumble.
“We should probably not stand here,” says Dagna. “Just a thought!”
“Follow,” says Solas tightly, and his feet find the familiar path along the broken stones. He hears the others following, and he leads them down the corridor, to the half-rotted bedroom.
A soft glow emanates from the far wall. When Solas steps into the room, his breath catches in his throat.
The eluvian is lit from the inside, little sparks of magic playing along its edges.
Activated, he realizes. But how—
And then Evelyn stumbles through it. She is shaking, and sweat beads along her brow.
“I will never get used to that,” she gasps. “Come on, everybody through! It’s safe on the other side, I checked.”
Morrigan does not hesitate; she takes hold of Kieran’s hand and hastens through the eluvian. The sentinels and Dagna follow without a word. Abelas waits until the last of them are through before giving Evelyn a nod and stepping through himself.
Solas watches her. “You should not have been able to open it,” he says, hand hovering over the mirror. “Not without…”
Then he sees it—Falon’Din’s amulet dangles from her fingertips. “This?” she says archly.
He fumbles at his pocket, but it is empty. “You stole that from me,” he says, unsure whether to be offended or impressed.
“Well, you left me down here,” she says, and she smiles. “I’d say we’re even.”
A crash makes him wince. Stone crashes against stone, and a wave of dust billows through the open door. “We cannot linger.”
“After you,” she replies.
Without thinking on his actions, Solas takes her hand. Her fingers are calloused, scarred, and fit perfectly against his own.
He gently pulls her through the eluvian and into the world beyond.
Evelyn Trevelyan has a recurring dream.
There is a mage. She walks through a thickly wooded forest, so dark that it blocks out the moon and stars. She catches a firefly and it glows green, trapped between the fingers of her left hand. She tries to let it go, but her hand is frozen in place, clenched in a rictus around the firefly. But, after a while, the light becomes useful—it shows her way in dark places, and the sharp gleam scares off predators.
But, as time goes on, the firefly begins to burn brighter. The creature scalds the mage’s hand and she tries to let it go but she cannot; the creature is fused with her skin and the green glow begins to work its way through her flesh, bleeding into bone and vein. The mage cries out in pain, but there is no one in the forest to hear her.
Evelyn bolts upright, a cry locked behind her teeth. The dream fades away, but the pain does not. She holds her breath and looks down. Sure enough, her left hand is wreathed in a familiar green light. She clenches and relaxes her hand, willing the magic of the anchor to release with it. But the magic simply sparks and dances, as if amused by her efforts. A sharp throb of pain spikes up her arm.
And then there is another hand on hers, familiar magic being pressed into her skin. Frost forms on the small hairs of her arm and she shivers. The familiar touch of ice numbs her. When the anchor flickers again, she does not feel it.
“Thank you,” she says quietly.
Elvyr’s attention is on her hand. He watches the anchor, as if entranced by it. “It is worse here,” he says, his voice quiet.
They are in the crossroads. Camped out near one of the mirrors that Dirthamen claimed for himself. Once they were safely away from the threat of the varterral, they stopped to take stock of their supplies and to rest for a few hours.
She glances around, looking for the familiar form of Solas. “He is not here,” says Elvyr. “He has gone scouting, he said. Off to chart the mirrors of these dark, long-forgotten paths.” He takes a breath, and he smiles at their surroundings. To her, all she can truly see are the dim outlines of those circular trees. It looks different to the elves, she knows. They see color where she sees mist. For them, the air is sharp and clean; for her, it is too thin and every breath feels as if it will not fill her lungs.
The Crossroads unnerve her, as they always do. There is awe to be found in this place, but there is a tenuousness to it, as beautiful and fragile as a soap bubble. Likely because it is so close to the Fade, she thinks. Nestled close without truly touching. Some of the dream world’s magic must bleed over.
“How long has he been gone?” asks Evelyn, forcing her mind back to the present. She is glad Solas is not here—he has not seen the anchor flare and burn, and she would like to keep it that way for as long as possible.
After all, a part of her whispers, one should not show weakness to a wolf.
“A few hours,” replies Elvyr. “Abelas went with him.”
Of course. Abelas distrusts Solas, has been suspicious of him since he first appeared. There is something between them, an understanding that each is dangerous but for different reasons. When Solas first appeared, Abelas pulled her aside, told her that only one god kept his agents unmarked, to make his spies more difficult to entrap. It was a warning, but he tried to do it gently—and she scoffed at the idea that Solas was the agent of some long-forgotten god. But that very night, Solas came to her dreams and told her the truth of himself.
Fen'Harel. The Dread Wolf.
She should tell Abelas. He deserves to know. They aren’t friends, not exactly, not like her and Elvyr. But in the months since she left the Inquisition, she has come to know him a little better. He is harsh and abrasive, but beneath that there is a fierce will, a dedication that she can’t help but admire. He will find Mythal or perish in the attempt and so long as Evelyn is joined in the same cause, he considers her to be among his people. He has defended her, kept her safe, and she owes him the truth.
But she has not told him, and she is not sure she can.
She knew he was not some modern elven apostate; she knew it since the first night they had been together, when he as good as admitted it. But she thought him to be like the sentinels—a remnant of Arlathan, left to sleep for ages, only to wake in a world unfamiliar and new.
And, she supposes, that much is true. But while he never outright lied to her, he never told her the truth.
It was almost easier when she could believe he was indifferent, when she was little more than a warm body or a comfort. She has been such things before, she has no delusions about most of her trysts in the Circle. They had been a physical release, little more. But if she were just been a pleasant way to pass the time, then she cannot explain why Solas threw himself in harm's way to save her.
She can still recall the sensation of his body pressed to hers, his ragged breathing, the familiar closeness, and then the sickening sound of impact when the varterral struck. He fell atop her, utterly limp and she was sure he was dead. It was only after she managed to roll him over that she realized he was still breathing. She remembers how his gaze, dim with pain, remained fixed on her as she tried to save him. He had looked… satisfied, somehow. As if her continued existence was worth the terrible price he paid.
No, Solas is not indifferent. But she cannot decide how he feels about her—whether he cares or if he saved her out of some misguided sense of guilt.
As for her, she has never been good at lying to herself.
She loved him.
She still might.
And that terrifies her.
“How long was I asleep?” she says.
Elvyr gives her a small smile. “There are no moons nor stars by which to judge time’s passing,” he tells her. “But I would wager it has not been long. The witch and her child sleep. The dwarf is studying the nearby paths. I advised her not to leave sight of us, and she agreed, but she is eager to take notes.” There is a gentle insistence to his voice when he adds, “You should try to sleep more, if you are able.”
She rubs at her left hand. The magic has died away, leaving behind only the memory of pain. “I don’t think the anchor cares whether I’m well-rested or not.”
Elvyr does not smile at her weak attempt at humor and she is not surprised; he took the news of the anchor’s deterioration with even less grace than Evelyn herself. But having him at her side has been a kindness she did not expect. In her past, rejected men retreated to find other people to sleep with—they did not stick around and become fast friends. Perhaps it is different for elves. Or perhaps he simply needed a friend as much as she did.
“How long until we leave this place?” asks Evelyn, as much out of curiosity as for a change in subject.
Elvyr’s lips thin out. He dislikes this stillness; Evelyn can see it in the way his body constantly shifts and readjusts itself, as if looking for an enemy he can fight. “I could not say. The…. Ah, Crossroads as Morrigan refers to them, are quite large. But these are not the main paths. The God of Secrets built this place for his own personal use, keeping it separate from the others.”
“To be honest, that’s the part I’m not all that clear on,” says Evelyn. “How are these Crossroads different from the others?”
Elvyr considers. “Think of it as a spiderweb, with strands reaching in all directions. We sit at its center, and when we choose one of these eluvians, it will take us to the end of a strand, into the world and off of the web. The main Crossroads are a separate web. As we do not know where these ones lead, it is imperative that we find an eluvian that will lead us to a place in the waking world that we are familiar with—or else will lead to an eluvian on the main paths.”
“Ah. And Solas is trying to find such an eluvian,” she says quietly. The name, as ever, sparks to life emotions she can’t quite name. There is pain, yes. The sting of rejection, followed by the ache of loss. She has missed him, missed his conversations and his company. But there is more—her body does not understand the separation like her mind does, and it longs for him with startling intensity. When he would touch something, she would remember how it felt to have their fingers woven together; when he talked, she remembers how his voice sounded in the early hours of the morning, heavy with sleep and sweet in her ear. She has pushed all of this aside in the wake of his leaving, but now it has come roaring back and it is all she can do to treat him with a cool anger, to draw upon her own pain to place a wall between them.
As if summoned by her thoughts, she hears the familiar step and glances up. Solas strides into the camp with Abelas a pace behind him.
Evelyn has learned to watch people during her years as Inquisitor. People will always look to the thing on the forefront of their mind—whether it is their purse filled with coin, a child, a dagger strapped to their enemy’s belt. Eyes betray one’s intentions, one’s desires.
Abelas’s eyes are fixed on Solas. He reminds her of a wildcat, all sinew and grace, coiled and ready to strike. When they enter the circle of the makeshift camp, Abelas quickly glances to his sentinels, silently marking their presence. And then his attention snaps back to Solas, his eyes narrowed.
Evelyn looks to Solas, half-expecting his gaze to be sweeping over the distant eluvians. They are what he came for, after all.
But he is looking at her.
Evelyn feels the moment their gazes meet and she looks away, her heart thumping in her chest. She hates that she doesn’t know what it means. Because it can’t—it can’t mean—
Elvyr smoothly rises to his feet, calling out a greeting in elvish. Abelas returns it with a curt nod.
“I don’t suppose you’ve found the way out of here?” says Evelyn. She extends the question to both of them, unsure of who she would like to answer.
It is Solas who speaks. “I believe I have. There is an eluvian that leads to… ruins. Ancient, tucked away in a distant corner of Tevinter. There is another eluvian, one that leads to the main paths, a short walk from it.”
“Tevinter,” says Dagna, her eyes bright and sharp. “All in a short walk. This is amazing.”
“Tevinter,” echoes Morrigan, frowning. “Am I to believe such ruins are left to their own devices? Or shall we walk into some Magister’s garden? They have no great fondness for elves, if I am not mistaken.”
“Nor Heralds,” adds Evelyn, a bit dryly.
“The ancient elves left precautionary measures,” says Solas. He shifts slightly, his balance a little off. If Evelyn did not know him so well, she would not recognize his discomfort. “The ruins will not have been disturbed.”
“Well, that’s not at all worrying,” says Evelyn. “These measures aren’t going to come alive and eat us, right?”
“No, no.” Solas almost smiles. The expression touches his lips, then fades away. “But it would be best to enter with caution.”
“As we shall,” says Abelas, with finality. “Now, we should gather our things and leave this place.”
As it turns out, the eluvian they need is a few hours away. It’s a short, easy walk according to Abelas.
Well, a short and easy walk for elves.
For humans and dwarves, the journey proves much more arduous. They walk along the misty paths, through the formless shadows and half-visible scenery. To Evelyn’s eyes, the place is ill-formed, a smudged landscape. Elvyr assures her that he can see everything as brightly lit, beautiful and full of color.
Evelyn knows that she, Kieran, Morrigan, and Dagna all look as if they’ve been forced to walk against a tide—their steps are slowed, heavy, each movement dragging against an invisible current. The sentinels easily outpace them.
Elvyr is with them, having slowed his stride to match their own. “Well, this isn’t embarrassing in the least,” says Evelyn.
“’Tis most aggravating.” Morrigan glowers at her own feet, as if they have betrayed her.
“This is fascinating,” says Dagna, her face aglow. “I mean, think about it. This place was built for ancient elves—long before humans ever showed up in Thedas. And while dwarves were around, they certainly weren’t traipsing through magical paths. This weakness we’re feeling—it isn’t truly physical because we haven’t gone that far. It must be—”
“Utterly irrelevant,” says Morrigan. “Unless you have devised a clever way to fix it.”
Elvyr laughs. “Lady Morrigan, if the way is too difficult, I could always carry you.”
Morrigan gives him an eloquently dark little glare. “Please, try. I would like to see you make such an attempt.”
“Actually,” says Dagna, “that could be interesting. Is it the Crossroads itself that affects us, or is it simply the ground we walk on? If one of us were carried by an elf, would that trick the magic into letting us pass more easily?”
“Regardless of your interest,” says Morrigan, “no one is hauling me over his shoulder.”
Dagna glances at Evelyn. “Oh, no,” she says quickly. She knows that look in Dagna’s eye well enough to be wary of it.
“Just a few steps,” she says, nearly pleading.
“Then you do it.” Evelyn shakes her head. “I’m nobody’s research experiment. Not anymore.”
“I’ll do it,” says Kieran brightly. But then Morrigan takes his hand and steers him away from Elvyr.
“A pity,” comments Elvyr. “No matter what I do, she always fends off my charms.”
Evelyn snorts. “I can’t decide if you desire her, or the fireball she is sure to eventually throw at your bedroll.”
Elvyr flashes her a grin. “I enjoy sparring, that is all. And life among my people offered little opportunity for such indulgences.”
“Just know,” she says, “if Morrigan does set your bedroll on fire, you’re not sharing mine.”
Elvyr’s smile calms. He glances at Dagna, who has fallen back a few paces, taking notes as she walks. “He watches you,” he says quietly. “He is watching right now.”
Evelyn very carefully does not look at Solas. She lets out a small breath. “Is he?”
“I think he may have heard the bit about you sharing your bedroll with me,” he adds.
She frowns at him. “What makes you think that?”
Elvyr gives her a little shrug. “Our kind—we can sense such things. Emotions carry a scent. Desire, fear, anger, jealousy. It is more difficult to sense such things on humans or even modern elves, but our kind… we can tell.” He pauses a moment. “Also, he is headed this way.”
“What?” Her head snaps up, and sure enough, Solas has slowed his pace. He falls into step beside her, his easy grace a contrast to her jerky steps.
“How are you?” asks Solas. The question is utterly polite and distant. The way he might have asked an acquaintance.
“Fine.” The word springs to her lips without thought. “Well, I mean.” She shrugs. “It’s not easy, walking here.”
“These paths were built ages ago,” says Solas, “in a time when dwarves and elves were not quite as friendly as they are now. The magic that drags at your steps was a safety measure, to ensure that if anyone were to encroach here, we could easily outpace them.”
Evelyn looks down at her own feet. They are mired in mist, and her calves ache from walking against it. “The ancient elves never thought they might form alliances outside of their own race?”
Solas looks regretful for half a moment—the expression flashes across his face and then it is gone. “There were fewer races in Thedas at the time, and we… we did not see much value in any people but our own.”
The tacit admission of his own age surprises her, but she supposes it makes sense. Elvyr must already know, and Morrigan is too far away to hear. As for Dagna, she is so engrossed in the Crossroads that a herd of druffalo might have trampled by and she wouldn’t notice.
“Power breeds arrogance,” says Solas quietly. “And the elves were quite powerful at the time.”
“The more I hear of Elvhenan,” she says, “the more it reminds me of Tevinter.”
He presses his lips together. “They are not dissimilar. I fear that most great empires are the same—one does not become a ruling nation because one is kind or unambitious.”
She thinks of the Inquisition, of her friends and allies gathered together to fight and protect. They had formed their own little empire, carved it out of nothing. “There are men who hoard power for their own gain,” she murmurs, “and those who hoard it to fight against them.”
He looks at her sharply. “You remember.”
“Contrary to what Sera says, everyone did not fall asleep the moment you opened your mouth,” says Evelyn wryly. “Some of us were listening.”
He smiles—it is a flash of warmth in this cold place. Then he looks away. “We will rest soon. A few hours of sleep, and then we will continue on.”
“We just rested,” she protests.
“This place will sap your strength,” he says. “As well as the strength of the others who are not elven. I would like us to be fully rested before venturing into Tevinter.”
She sighs and wishes she could protest, but it is difficult when he is making sense.
Setting up a camp is… well, difficult when they have nothing to set up camp with. They are low on supplies, having only grabbed the essentials when the varterral freed itself. Evelyn has her pack—thanks to Solas, she is willing to admit—but the others have little more than what is on their backs. Morrigan in particular looks uncomfortable in her thin clothes and when they settle, Evelyn offers the woman her bedroll. Morrigan accepts it with a small, surprised smile of thanks.
Evelyn sits atop a stretch of grass—or what passes for grass in this place. The ground is misty, chilled, and she will not be able to sleep in her traveling leathers alone. She glares at her pack, unwilling for a moment, then reaches in and pulls out a thick fur.
It is a wolf pelt. It was his, given to her on the night when the sentinels first approached the Inquisition. She tried to return it the next day, but he declined.
She kept it. Took it with her when she left the Inquisition. Carried it with her, all this time. It was all she had left of him, and part of her could not bear to give it up.
She is embarrassed to be seen with it, because it is a testament to her own feelings on the matter.
Well, as far as Solas knows she kept it because it’s warm and soft. Which is true.
She chances a look at him.
He is gazing at her. With some expression she can’t decipher.
“If you’re not on watch, please stop staring at me and go to sleep,” she says.
He makes a small sound of acknowledgment. “I doubt Abelas would allow me a watch. That would imply I were trustworthy enough to stand guard over all of you.”
“Then you should sleep,” she tells him. “Who knows when we’ll get another chance.”
She closes her eyes, rolls so that her back is to him. If she tries hard enough, maybe she can ignore his presence, ignore the scent of the wolf pelt tucked around her—the scent of herbs and old books, so familiar it is almost a lullaby all on its own.
She falls asleep and leaves the Crossroads behind.
There are no fireflies in this dream.
When she opens her eyes, she stand in a barn. It is crowded with piles of freshly mown grass, and leather goods are stacked against one wall. She turns in a circle, trying to calm her own beating heart, wondering why there are people here. Five of them, a man and a woman and the three children they managed to rescue off the street.
Rescue. The word catches in her mind. Because this is a raid. Because there are men outside who want to kill her, and these villagers are caught up in the battle. She reaches out a hand, to tell them that everything will be all right, but her voice won’t work.
And then the fireball hits the barn.
And she remembers that this is a memory, not a dream.
Her control of the Fade is tenuous, and when she tries to pull herself out of this memory, she finds she cannot. Its grip on her is too strong. The flames lick up the side of the barn and she knows, she knows this is what the Venatori want. They will burn her, like the Tevinter Imperium burned Andraste—to prove that they can.
She runs to the door, finds it locked. Slams a fist against it. “There are children in here,” she screams, but it is to no avail. The windows are boarded up, likely some measure against storms, and there is no way out.
They are going to die and it is her fault. She tries to conjure a spell, but the smoke is heavy in her chest and she falls to her knees. Her gaze has gone blurry and she squeezes her eyes shut, willing the nightmare away.
There are hands on her. Which is not right, because the villagers never touched her. She opens her eyes and—
Solas is crouched before her. The flames lick at his legs and arms, but he ignores them. “You’re not supposed to be here,” she tells him. She is not sure if she means that he is not in this memory, or if this intrusion is unwelcome.
He takes hold of both her hands and rises, half-dragging her upright. Then he turns and—it is almost like a Fadestep, but not quite. The world goes soft all around them, and in one sure step they are out of the barn, out of the smoke and flames. Here, the air is clean and the sounds of the battle are muted.
She forces herself to relax. “You’re real, I take it? You’re not some spirit or figment of my own mind?”
Solas’s attention lingers on the burning barn. “Were I a figment, would it change how you spoke to me?”
“Then presume I am not.”
She goes silent for few breaths, waiting for her voice to steady. “Why did you come here?”
“I wished to see if you would ask a question tonight,” he replies. “But when my mind brushed yours, I found it… preoccupied.”
That is putting it lightly. She closes her eyes and tries to focus herself.
“This is when the Venatori tried to kill you, is it not?” he asks, and his voice is soft. “This is how you remember it.”
With a resounding crack, the barn caves in on itself. Evelyn’s eyes snap open and she makes a choked sound caught up in the memory of how she was dragged by her own weight down, out of sight, into a darkness.
He steps forward; it does not matter this is an illusion, this is a memory. The image seems to affect him more than her—he gazes at the barn with a ferocity she has rarely witnessed.
“How,” he takes a breath, and it seems as if he must force himself to say the words. “How did you survive?”
She considers not telling him, saying something cutting about how he never offered up his secrets. But something in his face stops her.
She takes a breath, tastes ash and smoke. “You saw the first part,” she says. “The Venatori were attacking the village, trying to get at me. A man and a woman grabbed three children and tried to hide in a barn. I followed them, tried to get them to leave. We had reinforcements coming, and I thought they would be safest with the Inquisition forces.” She laughs, and it sounds hollow. “But one of the Venatori saw where I had gone. He slammed the barn door shut and locked it and… well. Set everything on fire.
“I thought I was going to die. But you know what saved me?” She smiles bitterly. “The fucking floor fell in. There was a cellar beneath the barn, probably used to store wine or extra grain. I fell through the broken floor and ended up in the cellar. There was air to breathe and the flames were being controlled by Dorian at that point.
“Nobody found me, at first.” Her voice goes softer. “That’s when the Herald died.”
He makes a sharp movement, almost as if he means to touch her. But then his hand falls back to his side.
“It was Varric who found me,” she says tonelessly. “But after he and the others realized I was alive, they kept it quiet. I recovered in a shack we found nearby. We decided if the Venatori thought themselves successful, they might be easier to hunt down. But after that…” She trails off, unsure of how to finish.
Because while everything she has said is true, she has not told him everything.
Solas looks from her face to the flames, and his lips thin out. “I have seen enough of this,” he says, and then with a sharp little gesture, the world fades away. Her surroundings reform, shape to his will, and Evelyn finds herself standing on the sheer edge of a mountain.
It is beautiful—and something about it is familiar.
“Where are we?” she asks.
He releases her arm and takes a step back. “A place of some importance to me. And to you, if I were to hazard a guess.”
She frowns at his vague answer. She should be used to this by now.
He looks at her, truly looks at her, and something in his gaze makes her look down. She is dressed in the same outfit she wears in the waking world: in the leathers of a scout, worn boots, fingerless gloves, and—
—And a wolf pelt tucked around her shoulders.
“I have missed you,” says Solas, and the words sound as if they’ve been torn from his throat. “More than I can say.”
Her own throat feels tight. She did not expect such an admission. “Nothing stopped you from coming back.”
His gaze falls from hers. “Everything stopped me.”
She does not know how to respond to that, but he does not seem to expect an answer. They fall into an uneasy silence, and she finds herself looking at the mountains if only for something to do. Their nagging familiarity is what goads her into speaking.
“Where are we?” she says again. “And don’t evade—that’s my question for tonight.”
Some of the sorrow falls away from his face, and she feels a gentle satisfaction. “That is your question?” he asks. “You may ask me anything, and you ask this.”
She shivers. “To be honest, I don’t think I’m up for any more dire revelations tonight. So, I’ll ask again: where are we?”
He shifts on his feet. “It’s where I built Skyhold.”
The words do not sink in, not at first. And then she sees it—the same horizon, the taste of the sharp air, the scrubby flowers that often climbed the walls of the fortress. Built, her mind snags on the word. Built Skyhold. It must have been ages ago.
He looks at her, questioning.
Of course. Of course Skyhold would be his. It was the first place she had ever truly felt safe, felt was hers. She claimed it—and all along, he had given it to her. Another small trick, a twist of the truth, but she cannot begrudge him for it.
“For whatever it’s worth, thank you for the castle,” she tells him.
He returns her smile. “For whatever it’s worth, you used it well.” He takes a deep breath, as if he needs to center himself. “Tomorrow, we will return to the Crossroads proper,” he tells her. “From there, you may go where you like.”
It is not what he says—it is what he does not say. And I will go where I like, as well.
Tomorrow, they will part ways. She has to find Mythal and he has… well, whatever he has.
She takes a step back, trying to put distance between them. “I wish you well on your journeys,” she says, with as much sincerity as she can muster.
A hollowness creeps into his eyes, but he says the polite thing. “Live well, Inquisitor.”
The anchor is killing me.
She almost says the words, but they are knotted up in her throat. She will not bind him to her side that way. He is not cruel; he will stay out of some sense of obligation. The thought of his pity revolts her. She will not endure being looked at like some broken object.
So she gives the only response she can think of.
“Thank you,” she says.
Hey, guys! Just so you know, it may be a week or two before I can update again. I’m traveling next week (ugh, planes) and I won’t have access to my computer for a while. To everyone who has commented: your words make me happier than I can say, and you make me look forward to returning to this fic.
PS. I will likely be posting previews of chapters to come on my tumblr, so you can check that out if you’re bored.
The journey does not take long.
It is another hour’s walk to the eluvian. As always the Crossroads allow the elves to pull ahead with relative ease while the humans and dwarf fall behind. Elvyr stays somewhere in the middle, but he glances quite often over his shoulder.
Solas knows this because he himself keeps looking back. He tells himself it is simply to keep an eye on his charges, but his eyes always stray to Evelyn.
They will part ways soon. And although he should be glad of it, he is not.
She cannot walk this path with him, no matter how much he might wish it. Even if she were to forgive his past transgressions, she will not accept the future he has planned nor the means he will use to accomplish those plans.
Their parting is for the best.
The eluvian is situated by an archway. Solas knows it for the dagger he left thrust into the ground—a crude trick, but effective. He pulls the knife out by the hilt and tucks it into his belt.
“This is the right one?” asks Morrigan. She reaches out to touch the mirror’s frame, stroking the intricate runes wrought within the metal. “’Tis similar to the others.”
“We stepped through it when last we came,” says Abelas. “This will lead us to the ruins, and from there we may enter the true Crossroads.”
“Come,” says Solas. He reaches for the power of Falon’Din’s amulet, uses it to coax the mirror to life. The eluvian flickers sluggishly, then light dances across its surface. “Step through, but do not venture in farther. Stay on the path.”
Abelas goes first, then Dagna, and the sentinels. Evelyn has her hand on Kieran’s shoulder, and they go through together, Morrigan following closely. She has her staff in both hands, a barrier at the ready. Solas ventures through last, the magic of the eluvian playing over his skin. It is always an odd sensation; the pressure of the air shifts, he goes from breathing mist and cool air to the tang and heat of Tevinter. Sunlight pours down upon him and he blinks, his eyes adjusting.
The others stand before him in a circle, eyeing their surroundings.
Someone gasps. A collective murmur runs through the sentinels. Morrigan steps forward, her lips parted in surprise. Evelyn is the one who manages to speak first. “I—I thought you said these were ruins.”
They stand upon the edge of what used to be a small, beautiful elvhen estate. The grass is neat, green, and flowers bloom. There are several small rotundas, still intact, linked by a walkways of paths. The lake is a brilliant blue, and there is a boat attached to a small dock.
“This could be new,” says Evelyn, wonder in her voice. “There must be spells in place to have preserved it.”
“Do not touch anything,” says Solas. He makes sure to glance at each of them in turn. “Do not stray from the path.”
The path gleams with a dark stone that seems to entrap all of the sunlight beating down upon it. Solas steps forward. The old spells are still potent here, and he can feel then singing through the ground, up through the stones, into the trees and the air. It feels oddly comforting, but he knows better than to trust it. Solas keeps moving, refusing to pause for a moment, but the others linger behind him.
“Do not tarry,” says Solas quietly. “We should move on.”
The others reluctantly follow… that is, until they see the remnants of the estate’s previous occupants. “What are those?” asks Dagna. “Some sort of—oh.”
Evelyn inhales sharply. “Maker,” she breathes.
It is Morrigan who voices the word aloud. “Bones.”
They are as perfectly preserved as the estate—bones gone brown with age, still in the positions the elves were in when they died. One is curled by the lake, as if reaching for something to drink. Another is by the metal table, its skull resting near an ancient game board. And yet another, and another, and another.
“How many are there?” asks Evelyn. She makes as if to move off the path and without truly thinking about it, Solas grabs for her arm. His grip locks her in place and she stumbles, an annoyed glance flashing between his hold on her arm and then up to his eyes. When she sees the expression on his face, her anger fades. “What is it?”
“The spells will entrap you here, if you let them,” he says. “There is a compulsion to remain, to stay above all else.” He releases her arm, his own hand falling back to his side. “Do not leave the path. I am keeping it free of the compulsion for now, but it is all I can manage. Should you step into those grounds, you will die here.”
Evelyn pales. “This place… it’s a prison.”
“For nobles,” agrees Solas. “They were sent here to pay for crimes against others of their station. It is a pretty cage, nothing more. Those who were entrapped here could not leave, even after the Evanuris fell, after Arlathan crumbled. Their immortality did them no favors when there was no food to eat.”
Pity crosses Evelyn’s face. “Oh. Oh, that’s horrible.”
“Do not concern yourself with their fates,” says Solas curtly. “You would think it a fitting punishment if you knew their crimes.”
Her mouth presses into a thin line. “No one deserves this.”
Solas knows better than to argue with her; he has seen her judge others in the past—and she tried for leniency when possible, and a swift death when it was necessary. Long, drawn out misery disgusted her. But then again, she has not seen the killing fields these nobles left in their wake, their hands bloodied and their eyes triumphant.
He cannot feel pity for them.
“Come,” he says quietly. His hand gently presses on the small of her back—an old gesture, born of habit, and when he realizes what he has done, he forces himself to step away.
Evelyn does not seem to notice his slip, which he can only be grateful for. Keeping the compulsory magic free of the path takes much of his concentration. It manifests as a hum against his temples, and he forces himself to focus on the spells.
The eluvian is kept in the largest rotunda. He keeps to the front of the group, guiding them toward it. He can hear Morrigan talking quietly behind him, and Elvyr replies in a murmur.
The rotunda is locked. Not by any physical means, but a spell lays in heavy loops around the building. After all, the prisoners would all have their own magic—and they could not be allowed to escape this beautiful, deadly prison.
“Morrigan,” he says quietly. She may not be Mythal’s true daughter, but the blood of her mortal shell may be enough to reinforce his own power. “If you would be so kind.”
Morrigan gives him a scowl, but even she can sense the power of the wards. “You need another pair of hands, Elven Expert?”
“Another would be useful, yes,” he agrees. “I will take down the barrier. If you could keep it open long enough for me to step through, I might dismantle it completely.”
She inclines her head, the most polite acknowledgment she has ever given him. “I have no desire to be trapped here. Begin the spell.”
Solas closes his eyes and inhales. He can almost taste the magic in the air—metal and rust, heavy on his tongue. Chains for the mind, rather than the body. He reaches into that part of himself where Mythal dwells and brings forth her power. He will not tear down these invisible chains, rather, he will soothe them into thinking that they are the guards, they are meant to walk into this rotunda.
The prison’s magic swells, answers his call and Solas eases the barrier open. Morrigan murmurs a word and her hand raises, painted nails glittering in the sunlight. Her own magic sinks into the barrier, a wedge to keep it open.
The prison’s magic flickers, changes in hue. It knows, Solas realizes. It knows there are intruders, and he can feel the magic creeping along his skin, straining into a high pitch that only he can hear—
And then someone screams.
The sound falls into the pit of his stomach. He knows that voice, has heard it laugh, cry, gasp in pleasure, and he has never heard her make a sound like that. He whirls around, fear a tight knot in his chest.
Evelyn is on her knees and clutching at her left hand. The anchor is alive, the green magic dancing as if it has caught fire. She is shaking, her eyes squeezed shut, another agonized sound ripping between her clenched teeth.
“Do not,” Morrigan begins to say, but Solas snaps back.
“Keep the barrier open,” he says harshly. Whether or not she can manage it, he can barely bring himself to care. Evelyn is curling in on herself, cradling her left hand, her face tight with pain. Solas runs to her, but Elvyr gets there first.
With a murmured word, he takes Evelyn’s left hand in both of his and conjures a summoning. It is not a healing spell—it is one designed to numb flesh, to chill away all sensation. The anchor continues to flicker, but the pain leaves her face.
Solas kneels beside them both. “What is wrong?”
Evelyn does not answer; breath drags between her lips and she gazes at the ground beneath her, unwilling to meet his eyes.
“It must be the magic here,” says Elvyr. “The mark is reacting to the old spells—it is the same as in the Crossroads. We must leave this place.”
Solas glances between him and Evelyn. “In the Crossroads?” he says, a little too sharply. He saw nothing out of the ordinary with the anchor, but what Elvyr is implying—
“It’s nothing,” says Evelyn. “I’m fine.” But he can see how rigidly she holds herself, her left arm clamped to her side.
“Solas,” calls Morrigan, a note of panic in her voice. It is perhaps the first time she has ever said his name, and for some reason, that makes him worry all the more. Then he feels it—the encroaching flicker of power. A chill creeps over his skin.
“The wards know we’re here,” Abelas says. “We need to leave now.”
Evelyn struggles to her feet, pushing away Elvyr’s offered hand. “I’m fine,” she repeats, but then her eyes widen. She reaches for Solas, seizes his arm. Her eyes are focused on something behind him. He whirls, searching for the prison’s guards, but he does not see anything out of place. The world is utterly normal—
But for the shadows.
Long stretches of darkness are cast upon the ground. They should be all canted away from the sun, but they are not.
Every single shadow is pointed at them. Their edges ripple and blur.
“That—that’s not good, is it?” says Dagna.
The words have barely left her mouth when the shadows rush them. They flicker through the air, boneless and devastatingly swift, and one of them wraps itself around Solas’s ankle. Sharp pain spikes up his leg as the shadow sinks what looks to be teeth into his flesh.
He knows what they are—spirits, bound in tight servitude, driven mad by centuries of slavery. They were likely normal spirits once, but they are so twisted and warped by their own need to escape, their own anger and fear, that they are nothing like the spirits Solas has dealt with.
Evelyn snarls a curse, fire gathering in her hand. She falls to her knees beside Solas, slamming her fistful of fire into his attacker. The shadow leaps at her but she is ready, using her power to fling it away. The shadow whips around, seemingly infuriated by her counterattack. It coils, a predator looking for a place to strike, and darts at her.
Evelyn’s lip curls and before the shadow can touch her, lightning lances through the air. The shadow twitches like a dying insect, vanishing as broken fragments on the wind.
But she does not see the second spirit. It bounds at her from behind, tendrils reaching for her throat. Solas has his own spell prepared and sears the shadow with flame. Evelyn looks up and their eyes meet for a brief moment. Her face is composed but he knows she is not prepared for this fight—she has no staff, no armor, and even her quick wits will not save her for long.
The others are fighting their own battles; swords and bows are useless against the creatures, and when one sentinel is dragged toward the lake, it is only Elvyr who manages to free him.
Solas feels Morrigan’s power begin to wane and he knows that if they are trapped here, these old spirits will not be content to let them survive as prisoners—no, they will all be torn apart. He draws upon Mythal and summons a mind blast. It reverberates through the group, lashing at the attackers. The shadows are cast away, weakened for the moment.
The others do not need to be told to run. They sprint toward the rotunda, breath coming in gasps and heaves, and Morrigan is shaking, sweat pouring down her brow as she holds the barrier open.
“Hurry,” she says through gritted teeth.
The eluvian comes alive with a thought and Solas halts beside it, waiting for the others to pass through. The shadows are reforming, their edges sharp with fury. Evelyn is the second to last one through, reaching out to yank Morrigan along beside her. Solas waits a heartbeat, then follows.
The world falls into quiet and mist, and again there is that sensation of the world shifting. He takes another step and he is in the Crossroads and everything is silent. Cool air drifts along his skin.
For a long minute, no one speaks. Solas waits for his heartbeat to slow, letting the frantic energy of the battle drain away. Ragged breaths are drawn, weapons are sheathed, and finally, it is Morrigan who breaks the silence.
“Just once,” she says. Her hair stands on end, and her golden eyes are ablaze. “Just once I would like to enter an elvhen ruin whose guardians do not wish to devour us.”
Dagna laughs. Morrigan’s annoyance seems to break the tension.
“In all fairness, Lady Morrigan,” says Elvyr, “that has happened once. When you entered Mythal’s sanctum, as a matter of fact. We might have killed you and dragged your corpses out of the temple, but we would not have eaten you.”
Morrigan turns an unamused stare upon him.
Solas steps through the small group, counting until he is sure everyone did indeed make it through.
Evelyn remains in a crouch, her head bowed. Solas takes a step toward her but before he can reach her, she rises to her feet. There is a hardness to her face, as if she were bracing herself. She follows the others, her gait unsteady but determined. Her left hand is clenched.
This time, there is no long journey. Rather, they take the first active eluvian they can find.
Solas steps through first, to ensure they do not end up in the middle of the Deep Roads or perhaps in another ancient horror. But this time, he stands in a forest. It smells of sunlight and greenery, and the trees are very old.
Morrigan glances about the forest, recognition on her face. “Brecilian,” she murmurs, but Evelyn does not seem to notice. She walks away from the group, and no one follows her. “There might be a Dalish camp nearby, if we were to look.”
“We should tend to the wounded,” says Abelas.
“Is anyone wounded?” asks Dagna. “I still have my pack with me—I have bandages.”
There are a few cuts and bruises, but nothing serious. Solas’s legging is sliced through and shallow teeth marks bleed sluggishly along his calf. He heals the small wounds with little more than a thought. Some of the sentinels offer to scout the area, to find food and water, and Morrigan begins setting up what scraps of a camp they can manage.
Solas looks up from healing his ankle, to see someone standing over him. Elvyr—of course, it is Elvyr.
Solas straightens, gives the younger elf a curt nod. “What is it?”
Elvyr hesitates, glances around him. There is no one within earshot, Solas realizes. They are as close to alone as they might manage within the camp. “You do not enjoy my company,” observes Elvyr.
“No,” says Solas. “I do not.”
Elvyr looks down, his jaw working silently. He seems to come to a decision. “The Herald has been a friend to me. And I to her. But her heart was claimed long before I met her, and I know that. She says you are not her bondmate, but you should know.”
Solas draws in a sharp breath. A quiet, nameless fear has nagged at him since he saw her on the ground. That fear hardens, twists into a cold and creeping dread.
“The mark on her hand is unraveling,” says Elvyr. “I cannot contain it. The magic is elvhen but it will not respond to me. I have tried every spell I know, and the human witch has done the same.” He meets Solas’s eyes. “She is unable to conjure rifts without great pain to herself. Whatever constraints were placed upon the magic will not hold.”
It is as he feared, then. For a heartbeat, Solas cannot speak.
Some of his distress must be plain on his face, for Elvyr’s expression softens. He looks at Solas not with anger or jealousy, but with pity. “I have done what I can to ease her pain. I am sorry I could not do more.”
“Thank you,” replies Solas. For the first time, he truly looks at Elvyr. An elf in service to a false god, but not so bound by his beliefs that he sees no value in this world. He was willing to court a human and when that woman found another mate, he was just as willing to be her friend.
“You should join me,” Solas says.
Elvyr appears taken aback. “Join you?”
“When I leave the sentinels, there will be new paths made clear,” he says quietly. “I am going to build something, and if you wish to be a part of it, I will make a place for you.”
And without further explanation, Solas leaves him. The quiet of the forest beckons, promising the solitude he yearns for. He steps slowly through the thick underbrush, focusing on keeping his gait steady. It helps focus his mind.
The forest is indeed old, as he suspected. He can sense the strength of the old trees, the deep roots beneath his feet. The scents of passing animals and ripened berries are carried on a warm breeze, and he allows himself a moment of peace. He draws in breath after breath, until he is steadier, until he can remember Elvyr’s words with a clear mind.
The mark is unraveling. Which is a subtler way of saying, the mark is killing her.
This is why she joined the sentinels, why she is so invested in the quest to find Mythal.
Over a year ago, he told her the orb belonged to one of the elvhen pantheon—and when it was clear that magic was killing her, she set off to find the only member of that pantheon she knew existed.
It was a last resort, a desperate hope.
This is why she left the Inquisition.
It all fits so well that he shakes his head, annoyed at himself for not seeing it sooner. He knows her; he should have guessed her motives. He takes another breath, letting the scents of the forest wash over him. Deer, rabbits, forest blackberries and—and a familiar smell. Faint, but clear.
Solas adjusts his stride, turning to his left and walking farther into the forest. He follows that distant smell, one of leather and flower-scented soap, until he steps into a small clearing.
He finds Evelyn sitting on a fallen tree. She toys with a long blade of grass, twisting it around her fingers again and again.
Solas has lost her twice over. The first when he left her, the dust of his shattered orb still upon his fingertips. And the second when he found a note saying she had been murdered by the Venatori. He has no faith, no god to thank for returning her to him. And no one to blame for this third demise—no one, save himself.
She looks up, sensing his gaze. Her face is shadowed with unease and she returns his stare the way one might an approaching predator—unblinking eyes and no sudden movements. It is how one returns the attentions of a wolf.
But then her eyes drop to the forest floor and her unease gives way to wry acceptance. “I thought you’d show up eventually.”
Solas carefully approaches her. She scoots to one side, making room for him on the fallen tree, and he takes a seat.
“How long has this been happening?” Solas asks quietly.
She clenches her fist, then relaxes it, as if to reassure herself that everything still works. “It… it started just before the fire.”
“This is why you let the world think you were dead,” he says.
Because in her mind, she already was.
“I thought it would be better for the Inquisition if I were to go out with a good story,” she replies, wincing. “Somehow, ‘the Inquisitor is slowly eaten alive by her own hand’ doesn’t seem like a good ending to one of Varric’s books.”
Something in her flippant tone sets his temper aflame. “Do not make light of this.”
Her eyes blaze at him. “Well, I’m sorry if I’m not reacting to my imminent demise with the proper decorum. Should I collapse into a weeping ball of misery? Would that please you?”
His ire is not directed at her, he realizes, but himself. Because he knew this might happen; he knew it from the moment he first laid eyes on her. The power of the orb was never meant to be wielded by a mortal. Back in Haven, he was surprised when it had not killed her outright.
She regards him with hunched shoulders and her left hand tucked protectively against her stomach. It puts him in mind of wounded animals, backed into a corner and fully willing to attack those who might approach. He cannot help her if she will not accept help. He takes a deep breath.
“Let me examine the anchor,” he says, then adds, “please.”
Hesitation passes over her face, but then she nods. She does not so much relax as slump inward, as if she is too tired to maintain her defiance. “All right.” She holds out her left hand and he takes it, thumbs working over her palm. Her fingers are relaxed in his grip. Trusting, he thinks. She still trusts him to do this.
“This may hurt,” he warns, but she rolls her eyes skyward.
He feels a fleeting surge of fondness—she has never shied away from physical pain, no matter how many times he urged caution.
Then he focuses his attention on the anchor.
The magic answers his call at once. He can feel it nestled inside of her, that second pulse, beating just out of time with her heart. It burns hotter than he remembers, as if it has used her own body as tinder. He presses his fingers to hers, and lets the smallest tendril of his own magic enter her hand.
It is as if he has set fire to her. Her whole body twists in on itself as the anchor’s power surges within her, clamoring to get out. It is as Elvyr suspected: the constraints are falling apart. Trapped within the confines of her body, it will consume her from the inside.
Her jaw is locked but a moan escapes her teeth and he murmurs a word, trying to calm the anchor. Another spasm; a gasp strangles out in her throat and she squeezes her eyes shut.
“Just freeze it,” says Evelyn, through gritted teeth. “Numb the hand—that’s what Elvyr does until the pain passes.”
“Fortunately for you, I am not Elvyr.” And then the anchor fades in on itself, retreating within her palm.
Evelyn gapes at him. “How—how did you…?”
“It was my orb, after all,” he says quietly. He waits for that to sink in.
“It’s your magic killing me,” she says, as if she’s only just realized.
His lips press together but his eyes remain firmly on her hand. “Yes.”
“Did you know this would happen?”
“I knew it was a possibility when I first examined you,” he says. “In Haven, after you were first marked. I was sure the magic would kill you outright, but you survived. After you stabilized the Breach, I managed to contain the magic, kept it constrained in your hand. I had hoped it would remain so.”
“You delayed the inevitable for a time,” she says. He is surprised by how easily the words come to her. She comments on her inevitable death as lightly as discussing magical techniques. His gaze flashes up to meet hers and she flinches. He knows how he must look—face drawn tight, lips in a thin line.
“I believe you once said that one person’s life in exchange for the world was a decent trade,” she says. “I did help save the world. And I suppose this is the price.”
His own words ring hollow in her mouth. Because this was his mistake; she should not suffer for it. He carefully turns her hand over, and he reaches for Mythal’s power this time, uses it to reinforce his own. He gazes at her hand and lets the magic draw him under, like a tide beneath a flowing river.
He can see the anchor, see its flow and pattern. He could remove it, he realizes. But the magic is twined through muscle and bone alike. It would be like ripping a nail from a rotted piece of wood—it would likely tear apart her entire forearm.
A solution. But not an ideal one.
He delves deeper into the magic, letting the rest of the world fall away. He can see where his power is entrenched in her flesh, like a string knotted several times over. He might be able to unravel it by degrees, tugging pieces free until her arm is unmarred by the magic. It will not be a short process and he does not know the specifics.
And then her hand jerks out of his. “What—what was that?’ says Evelyn sharply.
He looks up.
“Your eyes,” she says, and her face is bloodless. “They—”
Ah. She saw the glimmer of Mythal within him. He brushes away her concern. “It was nothing.”
Her mouth is a thin, exasperated line. “Fine, then. Don’t tell me.” Her gaze falls to her own hand. “Did you find anything?”
He nods. “The magic is breaking free of the constraints I placed upon it. I could yank the anchor free, but to do so… well. You have spent some time in Orlais. Do you remember those trees near the Winter Palace? The ones braided into various shapes?”
If his change of subject confuses her, she hides it well. “Yes. I had wondered how they managed that.”
“Thin metal wires,” he tells her. “Used to mold the trees when they grow—however, if one does not remove the wiring before the tree outgrows it, the metal becomes embedded in the bark.”
Comprehension flickers in her eyes. “You’re saying the anchor is… like a wire embedded in my hand?”
“Precisely.” He trails a fingertip over her wrist. “I could tear it free, but the anchor would be accompanied by large amounts of your flesh.”
She shivers. “From your tone, there’s another option.”
“I might be able to unwind it,” he says. “Peel it free, piece by piece. It will take time to pry it loose, but you will keep your arm.” He frowns. “I do not know the specifics of it—I’ll need to research this further.”
“Why didn’t you do this before?” she asks, brow furrowing.
He sighs. “Because I woke from my long sleep and I was… weak. I still am, in some ways.”
She frowns. “You’re one of the best mages I know.”
“If I were my old self, I could have removed the anchor with a thought,” he tells her. “And then destroyed Corpyheus a dozen times over.”
She gazes at him.
“There was a reason the Evanuris were mistaken for gods,” he says. “And it was not for a lack of power.”
Evelyn looks at the lengthening shadows. “Night is falling,” she says quietly. “I know we are not in the Fade, but…”
He knows what she means. “Ask what you will.”
She bites delicately at her lower lip, working it between her teeth. He can see the question forming before she finally gives it voice. “You’re different now.”
“That is not a question,” he says, smiling a little.
“I mean,” she replies, “your eyes. Your power. Something has changed. What is it?”
A small breath escapes him. He should have known she would ask this, should have had some explanation prepared. But he owes her the truth. “Days after I left the Inquisition, I met Mythal and her host, Flemeth.” Solas meets her gaze, lets a flicker of power show behind his eyes. “I killed Flemeth and consumed Mythal.”
Shock registers on her face. Her hands go to her mouth.“You… ate Mythal.” A panicked little laugh escapes the confines of her fingers. “Abelas is going to murder you.”
“I did not such thing,” he says. “Mythal needed a new host; I needed raw power. The union was advantageous for both of us.”
At the word ‘union,’ her face twists with revulsion. “She’s in there. With you? Can she hear everything we’re saying right now?”
He shakes his head. “She is dormant,” he says. “Her spirit sleeps; it is not easy to move from one physical host to another. But in the meantime, I can draw upon the raw magic she has managed to collect over the centuries. It is not an insignificant amount of power.”
“And you’re just going to… keep her?”
“For a while,” he says. “I cannot hold her indefinitely, but I will have her for when I need that power.”
She studies him, eyes raking over his face as if trying to see a difference in him. And then another laugh escapes her, this one high-pitched and just a little hysterical. He quirks an eyebrow.
“Sorry,” she says. “I’m just imagining you with Flemeth’s hair and I sort of lost it.” She dissolves into another laugh, turning away to hide her mirth.
He feels a smile tug at his mouth. “I am glad I can amuse.”
It takes a few moments for her to compose herself, but when she faces him again, she is still smiling slightly, another one of the walls between then broken away. He reaches out, touches her left hand.
“Why did you keep this from me?” he asks.
She glances away, and her face is almost ashamed. “You left, Solas.”
“And you equate my leaving with my wanting your death?” he says sharply. “ Do you think me so cruel that I would see you torn apart and do nothing to help?” He cannot quite conceal the flicker of hurt in his voice.
“No,” she says quickly. “Solas, I never thought you cruel. I knew that if you found out, you would want to stay. And you made it quite clear that you would not wish to stay with me."
The words break free of him, coming out in a rush. “I did not leave you because I wished to—”
Surprise flashes through her eyes; something in his tone startles her. “Then why?”
He should untangle himself from this world, that he could sever all ties to it—because he must. He cannot let himself be swayed by any weakness, least of all her.
She is the most dangerous thing walking this earth.
All of his enemies could merely kill him. She could unmake him.
And he would let her.
“I will need to research the anchor further,” he says, deliberately sidestepping her question. He rises to his feet. “I do not have the answers, but I know someone who might.”
She does not press; if anything, she appears relieved by his change in topic. “Who?”
“It’s difficult to explain,” he says. “It is better if I were to show you.”
“Not quite.” He nods in the direction of the eluvian. “Come with me.”
She stands, facing him. “Where?”
His gaze falls to her left hand, then returns to her face. “How do you feel about visiting a library?”
I’m baaaack! Trip successfully survived and laptop reacquired. Thanks to everyone for their comments and well-wishes! I adore all of you.
Evelyn knows libraries.
She spent quite a bit of time in them—particularly in the Circle at Ostwick, where it was widely known that the history section was less regularly patrolled by the templars and was quite a popular spot for mages to… indulge.
The library at Skyhold had also been a place of comfort, albeit for very different reasons. Evelyn enjoyed reading and listening to Dorian mutter about how their collection was woefully inept, and all the while she could look over the railing and down into the rotunda, where Solas could be seen at work. It was altogether a pleasant place to linger.
She took her time in the library at the Winter Palace, too. When her duties were finished, she made sure to return to the Empress’s private collection to browse what tomes Celene had deemed worthy. She liked the sensation of leather-bound pages beneath her fingertips, the smell of musty old pages, and the old comfort of tucking herself away within someone else’s words.
But the place Solas takes her—it is like no library she has ever visited.
For one thing, it is in that other place; wedged between this world and the Fade, it has the same sense of unreality of the Crossroads. When Solas leads her through the eluvian, she steps into an entryway. It is… broken. That is the only word for it. There are chairs overturned and books torn from shelves. Light shines through cracks in the ceiling, and shattered glass glitters upon the floor. When she steps farther into the room, she sees how it opens up into the air.
The breath catches in her throat.
Mirrors hang in the air, unsupported by any visible magic or construction. Rubble floats alongside them, as if there were perhaps more pathways or buildings that have since rotted away.
“What is this place?” she asks quietly. Somehow it feels wrong to raise her voice here.
Solas glances at their surroundings. “It is the Vir Dithara. The sum of all the knowledge of Elvhenan. We gathered it here, tended by spirits and elves alike. It was…” He tilts his head back, staring at the broken pieces still floating in the air. “It was a regrettable loss.”
“It’s still here, though.”
A small shake of his head. “It is fragmented. What was lost here will likely never be recovered—only small pieces are salvageable.”
“Even so,” remarks Evelyn, “somehow I suspect that this place would be of great value to modern elves.”
A brief smile flickers over Solas’s mouth. “I suspect you are correct. Perhaps they will find it one day.” He steps forward, his hand drifting to the small of her back. The warmth of his fingers sends a shiver through her; it is such a familiar gesture, she wonders if he is even aware of doing it. Together, they make their way down one of the broken paths, toward what looks to be one of the larger surviving structures.
As they walk, a flickering form appears before them. It’s so close that Evelyn jumps in surprise. Solas’s hand presses against her back, keeping her in place. “One of the archivists,” he murmurs. “It is harmless.”
The glowing form takes on a more human shape. “Andaran atish’an,” it says. Its voice is soft, vaguely feminine.
Solas answers curtly in elven. He must have requested a change in language, because the archivist says, “I will speak in a tongue your guest understands. I am Study.”
“Greetings,” says Solas. “We come seeking knowledge.”
The spirit glows brighter. “A worthy endeavor. If I may assist…”
“Thank you, but that is unnecessary. I know where we must go.” Solas steps around the spirit and Evelyn follows. She glances back at the archivist, where it floats and bobs in place.
“Is that normal for elven libraries?” asks Evelyn. “Spirits wandering around?”
Solas snorts. “Somehow I suspect that it might be normal for Tevinter as well, if Dorian’s stories about bound spirits are to be believed. But these spirits came here willingly, wanting to gather knowledge for themselves. They fed upon it, feasted on the words and stories that were brought to them. In exchange, they tended to the library. It was a mutually beneficial exchange.”
“But it looks as if the library is gone,” Evelyn says, as they stride through a broken archway. “Couldn’t they leave?”
Solas’s expression becomes brittle. “I suspect they do not possess enough of themselves to leave.”
Somehow, Evelyn thinks that Cole might have understood that statement better than herself. She decides not to inquire further, choosing to glance about her instead. They walk downward, through broken stones, past shattered bridges. Solas strides unerringly to yet another eluvian. She steps through, finding herself in what looks like an interior courtyard. One of those elven trees stands in the middle of a circular room. It crackles with magic; she feels it vibrate along her skin, making the small hairs on her arms stand on end. It feels similar to her own storm spells, but it is deeper somehow, older, and—
Pain throbs up her left arm. She cries out, stumbles, and falls to her knees. The anchor comes alive in her palm, the energy dancing along her skin. She tries to clench her fist, to force it back, but the magic does not answer her call.
Solas’s hand closes over her own. He murmurs a quiet word and the anchor quiets. It takes a moment, but the pain retreats until all that is left is the memory of the discomfort. Carefully, Evelyn rises to her feet.
“I apologize,” says Solas. “I should have realized the magics of this place might upset the anchor.”
Evelyn gives her hand a shake. “It’s fine.” She strides into the circular room, doing a little spin as she tries to take in everything at once. It is beautiful, despite the dilapidation. She can see how it might have all come together once—the lush, golden hue of the floor and walls, the corridors winding in opposite directions, the ornate windows allowing in natural light.
“You may explore, if you like,” says Solas. When she looks at him, she sees that he is smiling slightly. He must remember her fondness for libraries. “There is a section on magical transference that I hope will have survived.”
Evelyn nods, her feet already taking her to one of the high shelves. She picks a book at random and pulls it free. Dust flies in the air, catching in the light. The tome is heavy in her hands, and she carefully opens it. Of course, it is written in elvish. But the foreign script does not diminish from the book’s beauty. It is handwritten, the words swirling across the page in intricate patterns. Evelyn turns a page, and then another, simply admiring the writing. She glances up once, but Solas is already gone, off to do his own research.
Evelyn replaces the book and picks another. Nearly an hour passes in a blur, as she glances through each volume. Even if she cannot read them, a few are filled with ancient artwork. She thinks they might be depictions of the Creators—there is a woman with halla antlers for a headdress, a man with an owl perched on his arm, and a woman with eyes like flint and a notched bow in her hands.
“May I help you?”
Evelyn’s gaze jerks up, her fingers flinching on the page.
It is one of the archivists. It floats above her. “I apologize if I startled you,” say the spirit.
“No, it’s all right,” says Evelyn hastily, shutting the book. “I thought I was alone in here.”
The archivist tilts its head to one side. “You are alone.”
“But you are—ah, never mind.” Evelyn purses her lips, chooses not to pursue the matter. “I don’t suppose you know anything about the foci used by elven gods?”
The spirit flares brighter for a moment, then fades. “I—I cannot,” it says, and its voice is strained. “The damage to this place is considerable. If the book is not here, I cannot know—I cannot know—”
“It is all right,” says Evelyn. “If it causes you pain, do not attempt it.”
“Pain,” the spirit whispers. “We do not feel pain. But we are missing pieces and it—I apologize. This form is damaged.”
“I—I’m sorry,” says Evelyn, unsure of herself. “Can I help?”
The spirit appears to think this over; its edges glow brighter. “No. Not unless you are capable of shedding your physical shell.”
Evelyn touches her own chest. “Sorry, but that would prove difficult.”
“I thought as much,” replies the archivist. “Only those who built this place, who can touch spirit and flesh alike, perhaps they might fix me. But they are long dead.”
“Are you sure?” asks Evelyn, thinking of Abelas and the others. Perhaps there are more ancient elves, ones who might know the secrets of this place.
The spirit’s shine dims. “They are gone. Their bones are scattered throughout this place.”
Evelyn shivers, despite herself. “Ah. What—what did they die of?”
It is a throwaway question, a curiosity, but the spirit beams as if Evelyn has given it new purpose. “I can tell you that,” it says. “I can recite their last words for you, if you like.” And before Evelyn can reply, the spirit’s voice takes on a more even tone. It sounds as one does when reading aloud from an old book.
“What happened? Where are the paths? Where are the paths? Gods save me. The floor is gone. Do not let me fall. Do not let me—”
Somehow, the spirit’s calm voice makes the words all the more chilling.
“What happened to this place?” asks Evelyn, her stomach twisting.
“It was made of the waking and dreaming worlds,” says the spirit. “When the Veil separated them, many places such as this were shattered.” A shiver runs through the archivist. “I was sundered from myself. I cannot remember things I should.”
“The dreaming world,” repeats Evelyn.
“I believe your kind refer to such things as the Fade,” says the archivist. “I heard one of the Qunari call it by that name.”
This place was made of the Fade and the waking world—and the spirit just implied they were one and the same, long ago. The thought is staggering. Knowledge like this could remake magical theory, could shake the foundations of their history.
Evelyn takes a step back, feeling suddenly unsteady. “The Veil is not natural, then.”
“It is not,” agrees the spirit. “It is a construct.”
Evelyn feels a wave of longing for Dorian, who she knows would be brimming with excitement about this discovery. She wishes she had anyone to share it with—she would even take Sera, who would no doubt be panicking or Vivienne, who would declare this all elven nonsense.
“Do you have any books on the Veil?” asks Evelyn. Not that she could read them, of course, but perhaps…
“No,” replies the spirit. “No new knowledge has been added since that day.” It pauses. “But I can tell you what the elves said of the Veil, if you like.”
Evelyn nods. “Please.”
The archivist shimmers again, as if dredging up old memories. “How could the Dread Wolf cast a veil between the world that wakes and the world that dreams? The Evanuris will send people. They will save us. When have you last heard from the gods? When the Veil came down, they went silent! What is this Veil? What has Fen’Harel done?”
Fen’Harel. What has Fen’Harel done.
It was him—
No. Her lips form the word but she cannot give it voice. She needs to get out; she cannot be here. Turning, she hastens away from the spirit and the books. She finds a small alcove leading to the outdoors, but she freezes mid-step.
There is an elf there—or she presumes it was an elf, at one point. Now it is crumbling cloth and yellowed bones.
Evelyn stumbles back, hastening around the corner so she does not have to see that poor elf’s remains. She finds herself sitting on the floor, her legs unwilling to bear her weight. A wave of nausea rolls through her and it is all she can do to press her forehead to the cool floor, breathing ragged and unsteady.
When Solas returns, he finds her kneeling by one of the broken walls. She has her arms wrapped around herself and the scent of sick wafts up from the stones. “You created it,” she says hoarsely. “The Veil—you did it.”
She half-expects him to deny it.
“Yes,” he says.
Her throat is so dry that the word comes out as a croak. “How?”
“I was more powerful then,” he replies. “And I was… rather motivated.”
She feels as though she might be ill again. “The Fade used to be part of this world?”
“Yes.” He extends a hand and she accepts it, letting him help her upright. “As much as a current of air or a river winding through a forest. It was a world of dreams, of infinite possibilities, a reflection of this world. It simply was. My kind never knew a world that did not overflow with dreams and magic.”
“This is how you did it,” she says. “This is how you banished the Evanuris, isn’t it? You created the Veil. You said you cut them off from their source of power.” She shakes her head. “Why, Solas?”
“Because every alternative was worse,” he says heavily. “But even this was a mistake.”
And then she sees it—that endless regret. She has glimpsed it in moments when he thought she was not looking. A shudder runs through him. His eyes focus on something beyond her, as if he cannot look her in the face when he utters the words. “Old elven lore says that humans caused the elves to lose their immortality. But it was me. The Veil took everything from the elves… even themselves.”
The Veil. The Veil tore the Fade free of this world, encased dreams in a separate place, severed the elves from their longevity, killed countless people—she can still remember the bones in that horrible old prison, destroyed this very library—
And he knows, it too.
Abruptly she understands. All of it—every moment of grief, every self-deprecating comment, every time he has thrown himself into danger to protect another—it is his penance. He holds himself responsible for every woe visited upon the elves, for the Dalish being removed from their heritage, for the city elves living in alienages, for the fall of Elvhenan itself.
He thinks it his doing. The mistake Cole referred to.
You didn’t do it to be right; you did it to save them.
What must it have been like, to go to sleep thinking that he had saved this world only to wake up in… well. She remembers her own nightmarish future. It must have been like that for him, but there was no going back.
“You woke to this world,” she says slowly.
He lets out a breath, as if her knowing is a relief. “I awoke in a world where the Veil had blocked most people’s conscious connection to the Fade. It was like walking through a world of tranquil.”
He says the words with no particular heat, but she feels them like barbs catching in her skin. They yank and pull at old fears. She has had people look at her as if she were lesser for many years—it is how templars look at mages. It is likely how immortals look upon mortals. She saw that look in Abelas’s eyes for many weeks, until he accepted her. But she never—she never thought Solas would regard her as an inferior.
When she manages to speak, there is no hiding her hurt. “We aren’t even people to you?”
He blinks, surprise evident in his face. “Evelyn.”
“That is what you thought of me,” she says. “Unfeeling. Cut off. Tranquil.” She spits out the word, casting it between them.
“I was wrong,” he says. His gaze is intent on hers, as if pleading with her to understand. “You showed me that.”
It should hurt less, but it doesn’t. She finds herself going back through old memories, sorting through them, trying to pinpoint the moment that she became a person to him. Was it before Haven? After? Perhaps it was Adamant—
He takes a step forward, reaching for her, but she recoils. “You said that you doomed the world,” she says sharply. “You made the Veil, took magic and immortality from the elves, but that seems rather melodramatic to say that you ruined the whole world. I mean, it was a tragedy to be sure, but this world is surviving.”
A bitter little smile tugs at his mouth. “You say that because you do not understand the full extent of the damage I did.”
“Then explain.” She crosses her arms tightly over her chest.
Solas closes his eyes, inhales, and then reopens them. He appears to be making some sort of decision—to trust her or not trust her, she thinks. To decide if she is worthy of this knowledge. Her anger flares, and she turns on her heel. If he does not trust her, then fine. It’s fine. But she cannot be here with him, in this remnant of another world. She needs to be free of this place, and damn the consequences to her hand.
As she turns to go, Solas catches her arm. His fingers gently close around her elbow.
“Tevinter did not defeat Arlathan,” he says softly, and something in his voice halts her in place. “But it feasted upon the remnants of the empire as a vulture does a carcass. It took everything it could, repurposed the magical techniques, the lore, the knowledge. Those things it could not understand, it discarded. But those it kept, the empire renamed. They could not have people saying they were Arlathan reborn.” He releases her arm, tucking both his hands behind his back.
She swallows. “What are you saying?”
Solas looks at her, eyes roving over her face as if trying to memorize it. As if he thinks he is about to lose her. “Before the Andrastian faith rose to power, the Tevinter Imperium worshiped a pantheon of seven gods. Seven beings of enormous power who slept beneath the earth.”
Seven old gods, she thinks.
Seven sleeping gods.
Because two were never imprisoned.
Her throat jerks as she tries to inhale and fails. The color blanches from her face and she is shaking. “Seven old gods,” she whispers. “Nine elvhen gods—since two were walking the earth. You’re saying—oh, Maker. No. No, it—they can’t be—“
He says, “The Old Gods of Tevinter were the Elvhen pantheon. Given new names and purposes. Of course, they could do nothing to affect this world physically—but as your Andrastian faith proves, the inaction of one’s god does little to deter faith. The best the Evanuris could do was reach out through dreams, try to coax the humans into helping them.”
“How,” she manages to say.
“They wanted the Veil removed,” he replies. “So they gave a few Tevinter Magisters enough knowledge to venture through, likely hoping it would weaken the Veil. That had… disastrous results, as you are well aware. The Veil was not only keeping spirits and demons at bay, but it also provided a safeguard against the blight.”
Solas edges closer, concern on his face; she can only guess at her appearance right now, but she feels as if she has taken a blow to the head. “The Blights,” she croaks. “The—the archdemons are blighted Elvhen gods?”
He waits a moment and says, “Yes.”
“But—but they’re dragons—”
“We could all change our bodies,” he says. “Most favored that form, for its power and grace. I did not.”
Her fingernails dig into the solid stone ground. Jagged pain travels up her fingers. “You, you said you locked them away.”
Solas nods. “Beneath the roots of this earth. Far, deep underground. I could not defeat them, so I severed them from their source of power and banished them. They are sealed in tombs, in places I thought no one could reach. But the darkspawn sought them out, tainted them, and the Blights are the result.”
“Five blights,” she whispers. “Seven false gods. W-who is left? There’s you, Mythal, and…?”
He clears his throat. “I don’t know. I wasn’t awake when the Tevinter renamed them. But I have suspicions.”
“Who?” she says again.
“Dirthamen,” he says, and then hesitates. “Andruil."
She forces herself to think, to consider his words. He gazes at her, almost apprehensive. It looks as if he is waiting for something, for her to catch on.
And then she understands.
The orb. This is what he wanted the orb for—why he was so desperate to get it back.
“You’re going to wake them,” she says. Her voice is barely above a whisper. “That’s why you asked Blackwall what he thought would happen if there were no more archdemons. If you wake them, there will never be another Blight.”
“The blight itself will still exist,” he answers, “but it will no longer taint my brethren. There will be no more blighted Evanuris to scour the earth. They will simply be themselves, awake and weakened.”
A horrible little laugh crawls up her throat. “You’re going to wake them,” she repeats. “Dirthamen, the god of secrets. Whose maybe-lover was killed as a direct result of your actions. And Andruil—the goddess of blood and force.” She laughs again and it sounds strangled. “Andruil, who managed to bind Fen’Harel and was only defeated by chance and luck.”
Solas smiles, and there is teeth to that smile. “I’d like to think there was some amount of skill involved.”
Her voice rises. “Don’t. Don’t you dare make light of this—not when you’re telling me you’re about to unleash two vengeful gods upon Thedas.”
“Not gods,” he reminds her.
“Does it matter?” She turns on her heel and stalks away from him. Her every movement is jerky, and she restrains herself from reaching out and striking a wall. “These are beings with powers we cannot begin to contend with. Corypheus was one being who aspired to godhood and now there will be two—two who predate Corypheus and know more about magic than any living person in Thedas.
“And how—how are you going to wake them up?” Her voice trembles, but there is an undercurrent of iron within it.
“You know how,” he says softly.
She turns to face him fully, her whole body tense. A faint trickle of green flutters around her left hand, an ember flickering to life, then fading away.
Imagine if spirits entered freely, if the Fade was not a place one went but a state of nature like the wind… a world where imagination defines reality. Where spirits are as common as trees or grass.
“You’re going to take down the Veil,” she says.
This is why he showed her this place—this remnant of a world long dead. This place is proof of what one can accomplish with the power of the Fade. And it is beautiful, that much is true. But all she can think of are the lives that will be lost to recreate such a world.
Fear chills her from the inside out, making her feel suddenly brittle. This—this is what he has been planning from the beginning. With his orb, he would have taken down the Veil. She imagines the Breach, the rifts, the chaos of the demons flooding into this world, the bodies of those she was unable to save. She thinks of Corypheus, a would-be god from some ancient age. He wanted to burn this world, and rebuild a new Tevinter from the ashes. And she thinks of Solas, dear Solas, who might be heading down the same path.
Please. If there is any mercy in this world, any at all, she will not be forced to turn a weapon on Solas. She is not sure she can.
Solas’s gaze drifts through the shattered remnants of the library, as if taking in the destruction. “The Veil indirectly caused the blights. It has severed elves from their magic, their immortality, their past. They have been attacked and made lesser for thousands of years.”
“And how will tearing down the Veil fix any of that?” she cries, whirling on him. She is trembling with a cold fury, the like he has only seen once or twice before.
His face hardens. “I will give the elves back their birthright: magic. If all of them could wield it, imagine the change that might be wrought. And the spirits—those spirits yanked from this world and imprisoned beyond the Veil, they will no longer be forced to escape the Fade through possession or slipping through a rift. I injured them, as well, and they do not deserve such a fate.”
“People will panic,” she says, and her fists clench. “The sundering of the Veil? Spirits and demons roaming our world freely? Two elvhen gods awake and vengeful? Do this and everyone will think the world has ended.”
“Well, perhaps it should,” he snaps. His voice echoes through the circular room.
She takes a step back, away from him, her eyes never dropping, putting space between them. She fears him, fears him just as much as the moment he revealed his true identity. Only this time it is not the form of a monstrous wolf that terrifies her—his words alone have managed that.
Fresh regret flashes across his face. He makes no move toward her, and his hands are loose at his sides. An unthreatening posture, one meant to reassure her. It does not.
A long silence stretches out, and it feels as if the distance between them has widened. Finally, Evelyn gathers her voice.
“When we first went to the Hinterlands,” she says, “I thought I knew what kind of person you were.” She swallows. “Do you remember that old elven widower? The one who asked if we could visit his wife’s grave?”
“I remember,” Solas replies. “Most people would have accepted the flowers, made the promise, and then left the flowers along the side of the river.” He shakes his head, as if still disbelieving. “But you visited the grave, spoke the words he asked of you. It was… the first time you surprised me.”
She tries to smile, but she is not sure she succeeds. “The only part of that I truly remember was how everyone else protested. Cassandra thought it was silly and even Varric wanted us to move on. But you—you remained silent until after I visited the grave. And then you said it was a worthy task.
“Back then, I realized that you were kind. That you cared for people who no one else would care for.” She looks down, and it is only when she feels wetness on her cheeks does she realize she is crying. “I don’t know what happened to that man, but I miss him.”
He takes a step toward her, slowly, giving her time to retreat. Carefully, he reaches down and places his hand beneath her chin, tilting her face up. She meets his eyes and makes no effort to hide her tears. “He has a habit of being an untoward ass,” says Solas. “I apologize. That… I did not mean what it sounded like.”
“Then what do you mean?”
He appears to steady himself, to form words in a way that will not send her running. “You know nothing but this world. You have become numb to its injustices.”
A twist of unease goes through her. “If you’re implying I care nothing for the plight of the elves—”
“You were imprisoned for most of your life.”
Of all the things she expected him to say, that is not one of them. “What?”
“You were taken to that prison when you were eight years old,” he says, his eyes ablaze. “You stayed there until you were twenty five, until you and others like you forcibly freed yourselves. Even now, there are those who would see you locked away simply for what you are, what you can do.”
She looks down. “The Circle of Magi… it wasn’t—”
“We slept in the same bed for several months,” he reminds her. “I remember your nightmares.”
She feels her face harden in sudden anger; she is not quite sure whether it is because he mentioned her past or theirs. “Don’t use my own fears against me.”
“I do not wish to cause your further pain,” he replies. “I only wish to make clear to you that elves are not the only victims of the Veil’s existence. You accepted the Circle because humans knew of no other way to deal with the fear of mages. If the Veil were torn down, magic would return to this world. It would simply be a fact of life, rather than an oddity. And since you mentioned the elves… my people. They are no longer themselves. I fear that immortality is forever lost to them, no matter what actions I might take. They are a changed people. But if I could return magic to them,if all of them could wield it, rather than a handful, that would change everything.
“Think of the Fade as a river,” he says. “I put a dam between it and our world, and only small streams can escape it. Those streams are what enable mages to connect to the Fade, to spirits, to all of it. But were I to remove the dam…” He grimaces. “Yes, it will be chaos. Everything will break free and there will be violence. But when the waters calm, when everything quiets, it will be better. Magic and spirits will be freed, and they will be just another aspect of our lives.”
She shivers. “How many people will die in the flood?”
“How many people have died in the blights?” he counters. “It is not a good path, no. But it is the only path I can see.” His face softens as he looks at her. “I take no pleasure in what I must do. I am not a monster. But I cannot leave things as they are, not when I have the power to change them.”
“Having the power does not give you the right,” she says. “Solas, please. There must be another way, we can—”
A shadow moves behind him.
It is a hulking thing, too large to be an elf, to large to be human, perhaps forty paces away.
Light plays on the edge of a blade.
There is no time to think, to speak. Evelyn lunges at Solas and slams into him, using her full weight to pull him to the ground.
Caught off guard, he staggers and falls. She follows, pressing him to the stone floor. His face is resigned, saddened, almost as if he fully expected her to attack him, to try and stop him. But he makes no move against her.
And then a spear slams into the wall behind them. The shaft quivers from the force of the throw, its tip piercing the stone—exactly where Solas was standing a moment ago.
She hears his sharp intake of breath.
His hands are suddenly on her, roaming over her back and sides, as if feeling for injury. A deep voice cries out behind them. “Katara, bas!”
Solas’s arms tighten around her.
A barrier snaps into place; she feels the ripple of magic in the air, making the world around them go hazy.
Even so, she can still see their attackers.
A company of Qunari soldiers stand by the eluvian, weapons in hand.
A war cry cracks through the air.
Beneath her, Solas tenses. He rolls once, twisting so that Evelyn finds herself flat on her back, Solas crouching over her. His narrowed eyes are fixed on the eluvian, at the intruders.
Another spear slams into the barrier, sending ripples of light dancing through the air.
Evelyn reaches behind her, grasping for a staff that is not there. Bitter fear floods her mouth—she has not had a staff, not since it was destroyed by the varterral. She is unarmed and he is unprepared, and there is no chance of help. They are on their own.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees movement. A Qunari darts around the barrier, blades in each hand. She bears the red and gray warpaint that Evelyn has seen in books, and something about the way she moves reminds Evelyn of a viper—swift and graceful.
Evelyn whirls around, so her back is to Solas’s. “You take the big ones,” she says. “I’ll get the stragglers.”
“In case it has escaped your notice,” says Solas, “they are all quite large.”
“Funny thing, that,” she says, smiling a little, but then the female Qunari rushes at them.
Evelyn narrows her eyes. She extends a hand, fingers pointed at their attacker.
It is more difficult without a staff; staves provide a sense of balance, a way to channel power without having it get well... out of hand. Magic can be cast without tools, of course, but it is more likely to jump its boundaries, to hurt the caster as well as the target.
Evelyn summons lightning; the hair on her arms stands on end. She can feel the magic upon her skin, rushing around her, and then she releases it.
The bolt catches the Qunari on the shoulder. It would have killed her, but she ducks to one side at the last moment. The Qunari lets out a snarl of rage and pain, and rushes toward them, all caution forgotten.
Evelyn calls fire this time, lashing with a gout of red and orange flame.
This time, the Qunari does not survive.
Another attacker, a male with a sword, comes leaping over the female's body. He roars, that huge sword arcing high, and Evelyn scrambles backward, the blade slamming into the ground at her feet. Caught off balance, Evelyn lets off another bolt of lightning, but it goes wide. She dodges another sword thrust .
Her heart beats hard, her fingers feel cold and the world is brought into sharp relief. With a whispered word, she kneels and presses a palm to the stone ground. A rune glows hot, then vanishes. Evelyn rises to her feet, takes a step back, spreading her arms as if in invitation. The Qunari lunges for her.
She rolls away, the world spinning into a blur of color and motion, and that oversized blade crashes into the stone floor, a hair’s breadth from her foot. Evelyn bares her teeth and with a twist of her fingers, gives the Qunari a little wave. He has only time to look down at his feet, at the fire rune glowing beneath him, before he is incinerated.
A dirty trick. But Evelyn has never claimed to fight fair.
Panting, she glances about herself, trying to take in the whole of the battle.
Solas is on the other side of the room, fighting his own attackers. He whirls his staff around in some complex pattern, casting a barrier and an attack in one graceful movement.
The eluvian flickers again, and another Qunari steps free of the mirror. This one is dressed differently than the others, but she recognizes it at once.
She has never seen a saarebas before.
She knows what they look like, of course. She has heard Bull describe them—and those descriptions alone were enough to give her nightmares. Being locked in a tower was one thing, but to be bound and leashed, lips sewn shut, eyes hooded like some beast of burden—
Well, she thinks, it turns out Bull’s description did not do the saarabas justice.
This one is male, hulking and somehow graceful, and it moves too quickly. Fade steps, she realizes. He is using a modified fade step to—
And that is where her thought ends. Because the saarebas cups his hands, a sphere of power forming between his fingers, and he tosses it into the fray.
Evelyn has just enough time to look at Solas. From across the expanse of the room, their gazes lock.
There is a heartbeat of silence, of stillness.
Evelyn draws in a sharp breath.
The sphere shatters and a wave of pure force rips through the library.
Her back hits the wall; she feels the impact of the shelves, and then she is on the floor. Books thud all around her. The world goes hazy at the edges, and her hearing fades out. The sounds of the fight come to her as if they were underwater. Everything is muffled and dim.
Except for the pain in her back—that she feels quite clearly.
She forces herself to her hands and knees. Her ears are still ringing and her hair has come loose from its braid.
A hand closes on her throat, drags her upright. A female Qunari is there—daggers in a row along her belt, her lips pulled back in a snarl. She pins Evelyn to the wall, fingers squeezing. Pain floods Evelyn’s skull, sudden tightness pulsing in time with her heartbeat. Gray floods her vision and—damn it all she is not going to die in some Fade library, being strangled by a random Qunari soldier.
But the Qunari is too close to use lightning or fire; such an attempt will only kill them both.
She hears Elvyr’s voice, quiet and familiar. Ice expands, thus if you want to injure your opponent, you find those liquid tissues and freeze them.
She has never been very good with water. But at this point, she has little to lose.
She reaches up, trembling fingers closing on the Qunari’s wrist. She fumbles for her magic; it sluggishly answers her call, and then with more force, she reaches into the Qunari and brings all of her power to bear.
It’s not very good—a clumsy attempt at best. But the blood in the female’s forearm goes cold. Not frozen, but chilled enough that the warrior screams in pain and releases Evelyn.
Evelyn’s fingers close on one of the daggers at the Qunari’s belt. She tears it free of its sheath, and slams the blade into her attacker’s throat.
With a choking gasp and a gurgle, the Qunari falls. Evelyn staggers away, trying to find Solas amidst the fray. Please—please let him be all right.
And there he is, fending off the saarebas with repeated summonings of earth and wind. Blood streams from a cut above his left eyebrow, but he looks otherwise unharmed. She expects to see Qunari strewn around his feet but—
But they are around him, upright and gray and… frozen.
No, not frozen.
She has no time to consider this. The saarabas is advancing toward her, and despite the hooded gaze she can sense his attention.
Evelyn throws out a blast of force; it rebounds off the walls of the library, knocking more books off the shelves. The saarebas staggers, and that is all the opening Solas needs. The Qunari is set alight; he falls to the stone floor and does not stand again.
The remaining Qunari hold back, as if hesitant to rush them. But she can see them—and even more of them—streaming from another eluvian. She is reminded of the time she saw the cook drop accidentally sugar on the kitchen floor in Ostwick, and the hundreds of ants that feasted upon it. There are simply too many.
“Come on,” says Solas. His eyes roam over the library and he reaches for her.
His fingers are tight on her forearm as they run. He leads her past the broken shelves, to a corridor she didn’t notice before. Stairs wind downward, and he takes them two at a time.
He turns again, and she thinks they on are some lower floor, but there are cracks and more floating pieces and—
And another eluvian. Solas strides to the mirror and steps through, his fingers still tight on her arm. She feels the familiar wash of cold over her bare skin.
A moment later, they are in the crossroads.
And they are not alone.
But this time, they see the Qunari spear-thrower before he attacks. Solas’s eyes flare bright and the Qunari freezes where he stands.
“We cannot linger,” says Solas grimly.
Then they are moving again, running through the winding paths of the Crossroads. Evelyn’s feet feel too slow, mired as if in slow water, but she ignores the exhaustion dragging at her steps. Solas takes them to another eluvian, one she does not recognize. With a murmured word, the mirror brightens. Solas presses a palm to it, and strides through.
Evelyn follows, expecting to see another place similar to the shattered library.
A warm breeze washes over her. It smells of clean water, of nearby forests, of mountains. Fresh sunlight dazzles her, and she has to blink several times before she can truly take in their surroundings. They are no longer in the Fade or anything close to it—this is definitely the waking world and it is bright and sharp and so very welcome. “Come,” says Solas, and she finds herself following in his wake as he strides down a long stone bridge. Pieces of it are broken, but he picks his way through the rubble. There is another mirror at the end of the bridge and they run to it.
The magic drags over her skin like icy fingers, and then she stands in a new place, similar to the last but not quite the same. Mountains rise up around them. There is a building wrought from the stone, and balconies wind around it. It looks like some kind of ancient tower, built high so as to discourage intruders.
And then she sees the spirits.
Her breath catches.
She has seen spirits before, ones ties to the waking world. She has traveled with a spirit, called him her friend. But none of the spirits or demons she has ever met resemble the beings that stand before her.
They are enormous, straight-backed and armed.
Do spirits carry weapons, she thinks wildly, but then Solas steps before her.
The first spirit calls out, its voice deep and male. Its tone is politely inquiring and amidst the elvish, Evelyn catches the word, ‘Fen’Harel’.
Solas answers in kind, and the spirit steps aside. Solas makes to walk forward, but Evelyn remains in place, gazing at them. He notices her hesitation.
"Are you hurt?" His gaze rakes over her.
“I’m fine,” she rasps.
Concern flashes through his eyes. “What happened to your throat?”
Her mouth twists into a wry half-grin. “What happened to your head?”
He reaches for her, fingers gently skimming over the skin along her neck. She does not need a mirror to know there will be finger-shaped bruises. “I will have a look at this once we are inside. But first, I need to issue new orders.”
Before she can guess at his meaning, Solas turns back to the spirit.
Oh. Orders meant for them.
She ventures a few paces closer to the building and when none of the spirits try to stop her, she relaxes. These spirits must be here as guardians, set to watch over this place—whatever this place is. Slowly, she walks along the stone ledge. A breeze catches in her loose hair and she draws in another deep breath, ignoring the fresh flare of pain in her throat.
A mosaic comes into view as she rounds the corner. Green tiled stones curve into themselves, swirling in an elaborate pattern. It is beautiful and something in it reminds her of the Temple of Mythal. It is the same green stone, she realizes, and she strides forward, intending to get a better look at the artistry.
The anchor jolts, comes alive like a spark hitting fresh tinder. A thread of power leaps from her left hand to the tiles.
She grits her teeth, expects pain.
But it is not pain that floods her senses.
Elves, so many elves—
Hands reaching out to them—
—A warmth, a steady presence and a smile—
—Fen’Harel bids you welcome.
She staggers, a cry tearing free of her aching throat. All of those images—not images, memories. They were memories of a time long past, when elves were bound by their own people. Until Solas broke their chains. And suddenly she understands this place, with its spirit guardians and forbidding height.
This was where he brought the slaves. This valley is his sanctuary. He must have made it a refuge for those he saved. The thought tugs at something inside of her; she knows a little of what it is like to be bound and imprisoned.
He freed people, she thinks. And while she knew that, there is a difference between knowing and seeing the evidence of it with her own eyes.
Evelyn watches as the mosaic tiles glimmer and then vanish from sight. The artwork was not there for decoration; it is a door, locked with ancient magics that must react to the one in her hand.
A moment later, Solas hastens around the corner. When he sees her, some of his rigid posture relaxes. “Ah,” he says. “I should have known you would be able to open that.” He steps through the open door and she sees yet another eluvian.
“You know,” she says, “I’m getting kind of tired of these things.”
He smiles and steps through.
There are more stairs. Another tower. Half-broken ruins. Ivy threads through the broken stones. And another mosaic shines brightly in the sunlight.
On any other day, Evelyn would have enjoyed such a sight. But this circuitous journey through the eluvians has taken its toll on her—she is stumbling, worn thin by fighting and running, and the aches in her throat and back make themselves known.
This time, the stairs lead downward. A darkened corridor opens up before them and Evelyn pauses. Cobwebs stretch from floor to ceiling and she shivers, wondering exactly how many years it has been since anyone walked these halls. Solas’s hand falls to the small of her back. The gentle pressure eases her forward.
Torches come to life along the walls, illuminating their way. “Remain here a moment,” says Solas quietly. “There are spells in the chamber—I suspect the anchor will react adversely to them.”
He opens another mosaic door and strides inside. The anchor flickers, as if sensing the nearby magics. But then she hears Solas say something in elvish and she senses the sudden release, as if the room were a person who just exhaled. She follows him inside.
The chamber is stark and nearly empty, save for the statues of archers and a few crates shoved in a corner. Evelyn considers the room’s trappings, then she stumbles to one of the walls and sinks to the floor. Maker—it is better than any plush sofa at this point. Discomfort prickles up her feet and calves and she closes her eyes, resting her head against the wall.
She hears a rustle of cloth, and then senses Solas’s presence. He kneels beside her, a line between his brows. In his hand is a glass bottle, stoppered with a wax seal. She cocks an eyebrow at the dusty glass. “And how long has that been here?”
“Long enough,” replies Solas. “Drink—it will help.”
Reluctantly, she takes the bottle and digs into the stopper with her thumbnail. The wax comes free and she sniffs. With a small sigh, she throws back the entire bottle in a single swallow. It tastes oddly of seawater—the tang of salt and metal, with a sickly sweet aftertaste. She runs her tongue over her teeth, trying to rid herself of the taste. But in a few moments, the aches of her body begin to recede. It feels as if she has taken a bit of sunlight inside of her; warmth suffuses her limbs, and she feels as relaxed as if she just woke from a heavy sleep.
“Where are we?” she finally says.
Solas wrenches his attention away from her, his mouth a thin line as he stares at their surroundings. “We should be safe here. Those spirits have guarded these paths for ages—they will not let anyone inside. And even if they managed to get past the spirits, the enchantments will keep intruders at bay.”
“I managed to open one of those doors,” Evelyn says. “What’s to stop a saarebas from doing the same?”
Solas slips her a significant glance. “The mosaics are spelled to my magic, and mine alone. If I am not mistaken, there is only one person besides myself to wield such power.”
She keeps forgetting that it was his orb, his focus, and it is his magic that is embedded within her hand. She has regarded the anchor as hers for so long. But it was simply borrowed power, one never meant for her.
“I don’t suppose you found those books you were looking for,” she says quietly. “The ones about magical transference.”
A pause. She knows what his answer will be before he utters it. “I did not.”
Evelyn looks down at her hand. If she had not accepted her death some months ago, she might have been upset. But as things stand now… well. She is not any worse off than she was before.
Solas must see the resignation in her face because he adds, “Just because the knowledge was not there does not mean we will not find it. You must hold on a little longer, that is all.”
That is all, she thinks a little wryly. Just hold on, just evade death a little longer.
She lets out a breath, finally letting herself truly study him. The wound above his brow still bleeds sluggishly, a clot of half-dried blood gathered around the cut. But otherwise, he does not seem to be wounded. “You should drink one of those potions yourself,” she tells him. “You look like Sera used you for target practice.”
Solas turns his face away. “I found only one among the supplies here.”
And he gave it to her.
Of course he did.
“All right, then,” she says. “Hold still. I was never very good at this.” She reaches for him and he stiffens.
“You do not have to,” he begins to say, but she snorts and gives him a look.
He voices no more protests after that.
When she was young, before her magic manifested, Evelyn was read stories at bedtime. There was an elderly servant, in charge of putting the unruly Trevelyan children to sleep. She would coax them into bed with promises of legends and myths, and every night Evelyn listened to tales of knights and dragons, of wicked mages and cunning demons.
As a child, she always cheered to hear such villains defeated. There was never any doubt in her mind that they were bad people who needed to be stopped. She never gave any thought to the villains themselves—if they had loved ones or hobbies or favorite foods. If they were people in their own right, with motivations that made sense to them.
If she were told this story when she was a child, Evelyn wonders if she would have given a second thought to Solas, to the mage who wishes to unleash a power that will tear apart everything she holds dear.
She cannot reconcile the man who would cause untold chaos with the one who winces when she applies a clumsy healing spell to his forehead. She manages to close the wound and wipe away the blood with her sleeve. He remains still under her ministrations, his eyes averted.
“There,” she says. “You might have another scar, but you won’t bleed all over your robes.”
He nods. “Thank you.”
This time, she is the one to glance away. “It was nothing.”
“Evelyn,” says Solas. “You saved my life in the library. You did so—when you might have done otherwise.”
She runs a hand through her tangled hair. She is too tired for this dance of half-truths and veiled confessions, so she says simply, “I couldn’t let you get hurt.”
His face softens. “You were always kind.”
She bites her lip; if that is what he thinks drove her to save him, that’s fine. He does not need to know that the idea of his death is intolerable to her, that she would bear any other wound before enduring it.
She loves him. All of him—his desire to help those in need, his pride, his fondness for questions, his patience, even his ridiculous hatred of tea. She loves him. Even if he does not feel the same. She is under no illusions about this; he is a friend, one who cares about her and is attracted to her. But the one time she blurted out her feelings, he remained resolutely silent. The memory comes to her unbidden, and she tries to push it away. It always makes her feel mortified with embarrassment, and there is still that old twist of hurt. Because he left a mere few days after she confessed her feelings. He vanished, and—
—And part of her wondered if that was the reason he left. If her saying the words somehow drove him away. It makes more sense now, knowing who and what he is. Solas will live on long after her bones have crumbled into dust. He has lived a thousand lives. She is a mere moment in one of them, a stolen comfort, and then she will be gone.
He does not love her, but that doesn’t matter. She cannot let him destroy this world. Because it will destroy him in the doing. It will pit him against all of his former friends, tarnish all of the good he has sought to do.
But to save him, first she will have to leave this place.
“What now?” she asks. “We can’t stay hidden here forever. Abelas and the others are probably worried—we told them we’d only be gone a few hours.”
Solas leans back. “We will likely have to fight our way through the Crossroads. We should take this time to rest and rearm ourselves.”
She blinks. “And you just happen to have supplies sitting around.”
He rises to his feet. “You forget I once waged war upon mages who considered themselves gods. Of course I have supplies tucked away in places such as this.”
She glances at the crates. “All right. Let’s see what’s still here.”
It occurs to Evelyn that while she knows Solas quite well, she can’t say the same for Fen’Harel.
In myths, he is the deceiver, the betrayer, a god of honeyed words and half-truths. He is a beast shrouded in shadow and nightmares. She has heard the Dalish utter his name before—either as a warning or a curse. The only aspect of him ever praised is his absence.
But that is the myth. From the small truths Evelyn has managed to learn, she knows this of Fen’Harel: he freed slaves; he fought against the Evanuris; he could indeed take the form of a monstrous wolf in the Fade.
And apparently, he was very fond of beautiful things.
Evelyn sits before one of the crates, staring down at its contents. Armor of all sorts is tucked neatly within it, and all of it is a varying shade of silver or gold, inlaid with runes or etched with intricate patterns. In the second crate are weapons—curved blades and bows and staves with emeralds worked into the hilts. She rocks back on her heels. Every single item looks as if it were lovingly crafted by the hands of a master smith. It is beautiful and so obviously elvhen it sends a pang through her. This is from the world he used to know.
She glances up, but Solas retreated from the chamber nearly twenty minutes ago with a murmured explanation of finding a private place to change clothes.
Evelyn reaches down, picks up a bladed staff and gives it a twirl, testing the balance. It is heavier than she is used to, metal rather than wood. But it will have to do.
She hears footsteps and glances up. Solas stands in the doorway, watching her.
She opens her mouth to offer up a greeting, but the words die in her mouth. She gapes at him.
Solas is not dressed in his usual clothes. She has grown used to his tunics, to the wolf pelts and that jawbone necklace. She never cared how he dressed; she has never placed much weight on one’s choice of garments.
Or, at least she thought so until this moment.
He wears something similar to the sentinel armor—it clings to his body, accentuates every line of muscle. Bound around one shoulder is a wolf pelt, but it is thicker and fuller than his old one. The fur looks luxuriant. She glances down and sees that even his feet are covered.
‘Good’ is a bit of an understatement. He is regal, forbidding, and moves with a graceful surety. He is power given physical form, and she suddenly understands why the ancient elves might have mistaken him for a god.
“Oh, if only Dorian could see you now,” she says.
He regards her with a small smile. “You think he would approve?”
She chuckles. “Actually, I think he would be rendered speechless.” She shakes her head. “It’s not exactly subtle, though.”
“There is a time for subtly,” agrees Solas, “but it is not now. Better to show the Qunari exactly what kind of opponent they face. Have you found anything for yourself?”
There are no full suits of armor for her—none will fit. But Solas digs through the crates until he finds a pair of golden vambraces, a gorget, and a breastplate. Her forearms, throat, and chest will be protected at least. She manages the vambraces and the gorget herself, but he ends up helping secure the breastplate. She feels heavier, a little off-balance, when she stands.
“If you are ready,” says Solas, “we should depart. I need to speak to one of my agents; she mentioned the Ben-Hassrath were working within Val Royeaux. I doubt that their presence here is a coincidence.”
Evelyn lifts her chin and picks up her new staff. “Let’s go.”
Qunari in elvhen ruins.
Stumbling through the eluvians. Blundering through them, weapons in hand, trampling what is left of his People’s history.
The thought leaves a bitter taste on the back of Solas’s tongue.
They are worse even than the Gray Wardens—meddling in powers they have no understanding of. But the Qunari do not have the Wardens’ excuse of trying to save the world. No, they do it for their own gain, for the furthering of their own people.
They will pay dearly for such a mistake.
Solas steps out of his sanctuary, Evelyn at his side. The marks around her throat are faded and her steps have smoothed out. She keeps fiddling with the pieces of armor he found for her, he will rest easier knowing that she is not walking into this battle unarmed and unprotected.
There is no time to speak. The weight of this unknown threat has him on edge, and he can see Evelyn’s unease as well. She was always fond of the Iron Bull, but she chose to sacrifice an alliance with the Qunari rather than see the Chargers perish—and Solas himself was glad to see her make such a choice. The Qunari are not a people one makes an alliance with. From the few dreams he has seen of them, they are caged in by their beliefs, bound by centuries of dedication to wiping out all who oppose them, and what is worse, they think it is a mercy. They would wrest all of the freedom from Thedas and feel it was the best thing for the people.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Those who have broken from the Qun—Bull himself, for one. But as a whole… well, of all the civilizations that will likely come crumbling down in the next few years, he will feel no regret about seeing theirs destroyed.
That sentiment is only strengthened when they rush through the Crossroads, seeking the mirror that will take them back to the forest, back to their makeshift camp—and Solas sees a sentinel on the ground next to that eluvian.
The eluvian itself is active, which gives Solas pause. And the sentinel is unmoving, a wound gaping at his throat.
Evelyn makes a startled noise and drops to a crouch beside him, her fingers seeking the intact skin along his neck, trying to see if he is beyond help. Pain flashes across her face. “Dead,” she breathes, and he sees the way the anger takes her—she stiffens, her fingers reaching for the staff at her back. “The sentinels—they must have come looking. Do you think…?”
And then there is no more time for talk, because a Qunari comes staggering through the open eluvian, an elven sword through his throat. He makes a wet, choking sound and falls, his limbs twitching. Before Solas can say a word, Evelyn sprints through the eluvian.
Solas grasps the hilt of the sentinel sword, wrenches it free of the Qunari, and—bloody weapon in hand—follows her.
The moment he steps through the mirror, the sounds of battle crash in around him. Steel rings out, flashes of fire and storm, and a familiar voice snarling old elvish curses. Solas steps past a Qunari immobilized upon the ground, one of Dagna’s enchanted runes atop him.
Either the sentinels came looking for Solas and Evelyn and drew the attention of the Qunari, or the Qunari blundered upon their camp in their exploration of the Crossroads. But it does not matter—Solas draws his attention to the battle, surveying the ebb and flow of it.
There are ten Qunari, two of those hulking warriors, seven smaller figures armed with swords and knives and—yes, that is the distinct hooded form of a saarebas. It is snarling wordless cries, flinging fire at a woman who dances away with a dark laugh and a glimmer of red. At least Morrigan is enjoying herself.
Solas considers reaching for Mythal’s power, but he should not. Using such an expenditure in the library was exhausting and he cannot risk burning up that much power too quickly. He calls the Fade to his will, tugs gently at the edges of reality, and attacks with more mundane magics.
The fight is all bloodied blades and quick wits, so swift that a moment’s pause can lead to a knife between one’s ribs. Solas darts into the thick of it, seeking out the largest of the warriors. Abelas has his sword in one hand and conjures with the other, his lips pulled back in a snarl. The Qunari’s back is riddled with arrows but it seems driven mad by the pain, rather than deterred by it. Solas sweeps a blow at the Qunari’s ankle; bone cracks and the warrior howls in pain, striking out with his battle axe. Abelas takes advantage of their opponent’s distraction and opens up a line along the unprotected skin near his collarbone. The elvhen blade slices through flesh as if it were mere paper, and blood spatters the grass.
Solas and Abelas share a glance, and Abelas’s eyes widen. His lips form a word that Solas cannot hear above the din. But then he whirls, facing another enemy.
For many moments, he is nothing more than a conjuration of familiar spells, air whispering as an axe slices through the air near his ear, the scent of raw earth when he leaps away and the axe buries itself into the ground; the sounds of the saarebas bellowing, a flash of light and force and then he feels another familiar wave of that magic tear through the trees, sending leaves fluttering through the air.
The saarebas rushes at Evelyn, but she holds her ground. With a twisted little smile, she raises her left hand.
Solas knows what she intends.
“No,” he cries out, but it is too late.
She unleashes the anchor. But this is no contained rift—it is pure and utter destruction and it slams into the Qunari. The saarebas falls to the ground, writhing in pain, resembling a half-crushed insect still trying to right itself. He might have pitied it, but Evelyn drops to her knees, a scream ripping through her clenched teeth. She clutches at her left hand as if trying to hold the anchor in. Light plays through her fingers.
The largest Qunari is frozen in shock. An arrow pierces his throat and he falls.
All goes still and in the wake of the battle, the silence feels almost too loud.
Abelas hisses a curse that Solas has not heard for ages. But he pays the sentinel no heed; he strides through the broken bodies, dropping to a crouch beside Evelyn.
Her hand spasms. She grits her teeth, fist still clenched, and lets him take her left hand. He pries her fingers apart and pain flashes across her face, as if little shocks trail up her arm. He delves into the magic, trying to push it back, all the while fearing that he will have to take it from her now—that he will be forced to rend her arm apart to free her of the anchor.
The anchor sparks, then quiets.
“You should not do that again,” says Solas. Relief makes his voice slightly unsteady. “I fear summoning rifts will hasten the deterioration.”
Evelyn gives him a wry smile. “Or you could just say, ‘Stop killing yourself faster.’”
Morrigan comes to stand beside them, confusion written across her face. “How,” she begins to say, then falters. “How did you—”
“The magic of the orb responds only to the one who created it,” says Elvyr. Something in his voice makes Solas look up.
Abelas is rigid. When he speaks, it is in a quiet voice. One of recognition, of acknowledgement.
Someone draws in a sharp breath.
Solas feels Evelyn tense beside him, as if readying herself for yet another battle.
She is not wrong.
This time, Abelas does not bother with his sword; Solas can feel the power surge through him, gathering around the elf. He will seek to incapacitate the Dread Wolf with his own magic, rather than relying on crude physical weapons.
Solas has barely time to react. He feels Mythal’s power well up behind his eyes, and he hisses a single word in elvish.
He does not need to say it aloud; it will have the same effect either way. Abelas freezes where he stands. His golden eyes are fixed on Solas, as if his world has narrowed down to a single point.
The sentinels are motionless, hands on weapons or still in the gesture of a spell.
Elvyr glances between Solas and Evelyn, as if trying to devise a way to leap between them. His face is pale, his mouth hard.
“Peace,” Solas says calmly. “I have not come here to fight.”
Someone moves. His attention snaps to Morrigan. “You cannot be,” she begins to say, then falters.
She is not a fool. Pride and ambition may rule her thoughts, but she has always been quick-witted. He watches as her face slackens; she reaches for the power of the Well, for the knowledge it gives her. He can only imagine the hundreds of voices hissing into her ear at this very moment, confirming what the sentinels know to be true. Denial, then fear flash through her eyes, swiftly followed by defiance. She reaches for her son, angling him behind her. Her knuckles are white.
“Well, well,” she says, her voice gone silky with anger. “Seems the elven expert has kept his own secrets to himself.”
Dagna glances between Morrigan and Solas, then back at Evelyn. Her brow is scrunched up in confusion. “I’m missing something, aren’t I?”
“He is the Dread Wolf,” says Morrigan. “The Great Betrayer. He Who Hunts Alone.”
Of course she would know all of the old lore—those stories she so readily accepts as truth.
Solas smiles thinly. “If you wish to recite all of my titles, we may stand in this forest for a week or two.”
Evelyn moves, placing herself before him. She makes herself a shield against any other attack. “Let us remain calm,” she says, in the voice she used so often as Inquisitor. “I know this is a shock, but we have other problems right now.”
“Other problems?” says Morrigan derisively.
Abelas takes a step forward. “There is only one who can command us,” he says, somehow turning the question into a statement. Solas meets his eyes with a steady look.
“I carry her with me,” he says, in elvish.
Elvyr makes a choked sound.
Abelas has not moved—he is a moment frozen in time, an ancient elf ready to attack and yet unable. Despite his immortality, he suddenly appears old, as if the weight of centuries has fallen on his shoulders. This revelation wrought a different change in them than the one he saw in Evelyn—they are quicker to believe, but they have a deeper understanding of his presence. Evelyn has merely old whispers and stories of the Dread Wolf, whereas the sentinels remember the war.
Abelas finally seems to break free of his own stillness. He straightens, slides his sword into its sheath, and murmurs a word in elvish to the other sentinels. “Regroup.”
The elves begin picking up the remnants of the camp, readying themselves in case of another attack. As for Abelas, he turns and strides into the forest, vanishing from sight.
“What did you say to him?” asks Evelyn, sounding a little offended on Abelas’s behalf.
“Nothing untrue,” says Solas. “He knows about Mythal now.”
Morrigan’s eyes snap to him. “What?” she says sharply.
Evelyn winces. And before Morrigan can raise the question a second time, Solas follows Abelas into the forest. The trees close in around him, and he follows the steel and magic smell a fair distance before he finds the sentinel standing beside a creek. He gazes off at the horizon, but not as if he truly sees it. When Solas approaches, Abelas turns to face him.
Abelas stares at Solas for one long moment.
And then he sinks to one knee.
In his youth, Solas might have enjoyed such a moment; it might have been satisfying to see the elf who once looked upon him with scorn offering supplication. But now he merely lets out a small sigh. “Stand,” he says.
Abelas does not look up. “The All-Mother.”
“She is dormant within me.” Solas makes little attempt to hide his annoyance. “She cannot hear you.”
Abelas finally meets his eyes. “You have protected her, all these years?”
“No.” Solas hesitates, wonders for a moment how much he should divulge. But he is exhausted and there is little point to subterfuge. “She found rest in a human host. But the human was aged. I needed more power and Mythal required a place to reside for the moment. It seemed an adequate trade. It will not be permanent.”
Dawning understanding gives Abelas’s features a hard cast. He rises to his feet. “You took her power for your own.”
“Mythal intended it for another,” replies Solas. “But she has thus far proved unwilling.”
It takes Abelas a moment, but then his gaze yanks in the direction of the camp. “The witch.”
Solas inclines his head. “Yes.”
Abelas regards Solas with wariness. He takes a breath, then another, as if willing himself to calm. Solas can almost see the thoughts working themselves out behind Abelas’s eyes—the old instinct to serve, coupled with a distrust of the Dread Wolf, and the slightest hint of curiosity.
“She was not a goddess,” Solas says, when he feels the silence has gone on long enough. “None of the Evanuris were.”
Abelas’s eyes harden. “I know of what you preach, Dread Wolf. I know what you did to this world.” His words come out as a snarl. “How long did you remain after you cast down that construct? Did you sever us from our magics and then enter the sleep? Or did you watch as our children withered and died, as our empire stagnated and fell, as we mourned of all the places lost to us forever?” He takes a step forward. “You have destroyed us all.”
Old, familiar pain rises in Solas’s chest; Abelas has not said a word that is untrue.
“I did it for her,” he says quietly and Abelas freezes. “After they murdered her… I lost part of myself that day.”
Abelas gives him an even stare. “The Dread Wolf was not there to defend her.”
“Not for lack of trying, I assure you.”
Abelas shifts on his feet. “What will you do with her power?”
And that is the question, isn’t it?
Solas considers and tosses away several replies—he will rebuild, he will destroy, he will rise, and likely he will fall. Abelas cares nothing for the fate of Fen’Harel, and even less for the fate of the modern elves. There is perhaps one answer that might draw the sentinel to Solas’s side.
Solas straightens, folds his hands behind his back, and says, “I will awaken those who murdered the All-Mother. Then I will kill them.”
And he means every word.
Abelas must hear the truth in Solas’s voice, because he nods in acceptance. “A worthy hunt, should you succeed.” His cool regard cracks, and Solas can almost see the burning fury hidden beneath that stark veneer. Solas feels as if he is truly looking upon Abelas for the first time—or at least, who Abelas was before he became Sorrow. He was a warrior, a bodyguard, and he failed in his duty to protect Mythal. Chained to the temple by duty and sleep, he became thin and brittle, and that is how the Inquisition found him.
But now Abelas smiles, and it is the smile of a hunter sighting prey long considered lost.
“I will not force your hand,” says Solas. “Those who work with me do so willingly.”
Abelas bares his teeth. “We will join you.”
There is a parting.
It is decided that Abelas and the sentinels will retreat to one of Solas’s bases in Nevarra. He has agents there, ones who would welcome their presence, and they can be fully integrated into his organization. Their presence here will only draw unwanted attention.
Out of the corner of his eye, Solas sees Evelyn embrace Elvyr. The elf appears troubled by their separation; his gaze keeps straying to her left hand, and his face is drawn with worry. But when she looks at him, he tries to hide his own fears and offers her a smile instead. “I will see you again,” he tells her. A statement, rather than a question or a request.
“Of course,” she answers smoothly, but when she turns away her face falls. She hides her own anxieties, tucking them away until she thinks no one is looking.
Morrigan, Dagna, and Kieran will stay with her. That much she insists on—after all, the Sentinels have completed their task; there is little need to keep the humans and dwarf with them.
Morrigan continues to eye Solas with suspicion; Evelyn fended off her questions with a muttered, “Mythal is with him now,” making no mention of Flemeth’s death, for which Solas can only be grateful. They have dealt with enough revelations for one day. He will speak with Morrigan another time.
“Where are we going?” asks Dagna. She seems to have taken his identity in stride, but then again, she has her own people’s beliefs to buoy her. The Dread Wolf is simply another fascination to her.
“Val Royeaux,” he says. “I must speak with someone there.”
“How are we going to meet them?” Evelyn wears a new cloak—given to her by Elvyr. Its hood will help disguise a woman thought dead. “We can’t exactly go strolling into the marketplace.”
Solas straightens his own cloak. “There is a place.”
Something in his voice must give her pause, because she eyes him. “What sort of place?”
He may as well tell her. “I own a house there.”
And of all the things he might have said, he thinks that surprises her the most.
The house is as he remembers it—a frilly Orlesian nightmare. But it blends in with the aristocratic neighborhood, and as it leased under the name of a long-dead noble, no one gives the elves coming and going a second glance. Many nobles keep second houses in Val Royeaux, and have their servants keep the households running.
No one will come looking for the Dread Wolf here.
And it will be nice to sleep in a bed again.
He slips around the house, to the servants’ entrance. There is a ward etched into the doorframe and he touches it, murmuring a word.
A moment later, there is the sound of footsteps and the door swings open.
Nalle stands there. She gazes at Solas, a cloak drawn tightly over his armor and a hood hiding his ears. Her gaze slides past him—to the woman wearing a similar hood and cloak, to the other woman dressed in leather and rags and feathers, to the boy at her side, and finally, to the dwarf beaming as if this is all some kind of wonderful adventure.
“Boss,” says Nalle, “you keep the oddest company.”
Solas rattles off introductions as he steps into the house, shucking off his cloak and handing it to one of the agents. He gapes at the company with ill-disguised awe, and Evelyn glances away quickly, uneasy with the elf’s regard.
They are shown to their individual rooms; the house has three stories, and Solas takes the master bedroom on the second floor.
He has told others to use it when he is not here, but apparently there are still some superstitions about the Dread Wolf, because the rooms are untouched.
His bedroom is tidy, as lavishly decorated as the rest of the house. He lets some of the tension run out of his muscles; as garish as this house might be, it remains one of his safe houses. There are enough wards to fend off a company of Qunari and the cellar is crowded not only with stores of food, but with weapons. He can allow himself a moment's respite here; it is as close to safety as he can manage.
He takes his time in the private bath, changes into clothes that will not draw attention, and ventures down the stairs to the main floor. The kitchen is alive with chatter and he finds Dagna, Nalle, Evelyn and Kieran sitting at the long wooden table. "Maker," Evelyn is saying, and she sounds rather annoyed. "I can't believe she did that. Well, I mean I can believe it. But honestly..."
"If it is of any comfort to you, the statue is quite flattering," says Nalle, a little dryly. “Looks just like you.”
"She knows I am alive," mutters Evelyn. "Leliana is one of the few who people who know. So of course she would use her newfound power as Divine to commission something like this. In front of the Chantry, no less."
"Rumor is," says Nalle, "it's good luck to touch the statue's left hand."
Evelyn groans. There is a cup of tea before her, and she looks as if she has also bathed. Her hair is damp and left to its own devices it has begun to curl around her shoulders. When she hears his entrance, she looks up. “Nalle has been filling me in on the news of the Inquisition,” she says.
Solas takes the seat beside her. “Is that so?”
Nalle gives him a swift look. “Well, not all of the news. I was saving a tidbit for when you arrived.”
There is to be an exalted council.
To discuss the future of the Inquisition.
Or rather, Solas suspects, to wrest power from its current leadership. Undoubtably Orlais and Ferelden have grown uneasy with an independent political power encroaching on both their borders. They will have little love for the Inquisition, particularly now that its Inquisitor is dead.
Evelyn looks stricken by the news. "I shouldn’t have left," she whispers.
Before he can think better of it, he lays his hand on her forearm. "Your presence would not have prevented this. I suspect such an examination of the Inquisition would have gone forward regardless."
She does not appear reassured. "I might have done something. Maybe appeased them somehow."
“I doubt it,” says Dagna. “I’ve seen this sort of thing before, the merchant and smith castes. A new person rises to power and everyone else clamors to bring them down. New competition always brings even the worst enemies together. They wouldn’t want to see things changed."
It is not how Solas would have stated it, but Dagna’s words ring true. “Precisely,” he says.
Evelyn takes a breath. "I want to be there, when it happens."
Unease makes his grip tighten on her arm. "Evelyn."
"I won't do anything foolish," she says quietly. "I'm not going to jump out of the shadows and declare myself. But I have not seen my friends in months. I just want to look at them, make sure they're all right." She lifts her chin. "This is Orlais. I will be just another masked woman trailing through the crowd."
He cannot argue with that. Rather, he looks to Nalle. “Can you procure appropriate garments?"
Nalle's eyes glitter. "Proper Orlesian garb and two masks. I think I can manage that much."
Evelyn turns to him. "Solas, no. You don't have to—“
"They were my friends, as well." And he surprises himself by meaning those words. He has indeed missed them all—the Seeker, Varric, Cole. He even remembers Dorian's barbs with fondness. Seeing them all, even from behind a mask, would be welcome.
“All right,” says Evelyn. “When is the council supposed to happen?”
“A week from today,” says Nalle. “Plenty of time to prepare. I can talk to the servants in the Winter Palace, see if they can steal someone’s signet ring and make an invitation for you—or rather, whatever noble you wish to be.”
Evelyn blinks, makes no effort to hide her approval. “You’re… well. Why didn’t you ever work for the Inquisition?”
Nalle beams at her. “Who's to say that I didn’t?”
The rest of the day is spent settling into their temporary place of rest. Morrigan and Kieran vanish into a guest room and do not emerge. Dagna and Nalle end up in some chat about dwarven exports, and Solas works on the latest reports until evening has settled through the city. Candles are lit; fireplaces are stoked; Solas sets his papers down on the table and rises to his feet. Exhaustion drags at his steps.
Once inside of his bedroom, he removes his clothing. Shedding each piece feels like a relief, and when he is clad in only his breeches, he stands before his own fireplace and stretches. The heat of the fire works into his muscles, relaxing him. He will rest easy tonight, in a bed, knowing the others are safe, he has coaxed the sentinels into joining his cause, and he may even visit the University while he is in Orlais, to see what spell books they have gathered on magical transference—
As if summoned by his own thoughts, there is a quiet knock at the door. He is not surprised when he pulls it open and finds Evelyn in the hall.
She is dressed in her night clothes—a loose shirt and breeches that end at her calf. He can see the faint outline of her breasts beneath the thin fabric of her shirt. “I thought we should talk,” she says.
He steps aside, allows her entry. She glances about the opulent room but only as if it is something for her to focus on. Her left hand is curled around the neck of a dark wine bottle.
“I found this in the cellar,” she says. “Between two of the weapon racks—Nalle says it was probably left by the former tenant.”
He half expected such a visit; since she learned of his plans, he knew she would oppose them. There will be too much bloodshed, too many lives lost. She has likely come to try and talk him out of it, to try and steer him off this course. But if this is some kind of persuasion, it is an odd approach to take.
Solas finds two glasses and he sits at the small sofa beside the fireplace. She sits beside him—not too close, but not so far as to appear uncomfortable with his nearness.
The wine is an aged vintage, redolent of blackberries and oak, and she downs her whole cup before he has finished his.
For a few minutes, they do not speak. Evelyn watches the fire dance behind its grate, and he watches her. The wine is consumed in a few glasses, and a pleasant warmth kindles within his chest. Evelyn turns to him.
“Do you remember when we used to play chess?” she asks.
It is not the question he expected, but he nods. “I enjoyed our games.”
This feels so familiar; the two of them dressed so casually, conversing in the quiet space of a private bedroom. He wonders if this was her aim, coming to him in her nightclothes with a bottle of wine—because it was something they would have done before. Perhaps she misses this as much as he does.
She smiles. “I was never very good, but I enjoyed it as well. It was better when you played against Bull, when I could see the strategy you both employed.” She brings her cup to her lips, throws back the last few dregs of wine. “I didn’t realize it then, but I was seeing the truth in both of you.”
She runs a finger over her cup’s edge, swirling around and around. “Bull was always straight forward. He would attack—never thoughtlessly, though. He was a good player, but his strategies were traditional. But not you. You would throw him off balance, sacrificing nearly all of your pieces to achieve your victory.”
She finally looks at him, and he is struck by how much she has changed since he first met her. When they first met, he thought her plain, blandly human and young and so very ignorant. But here she sits, firelight threading through her hair, her gaze heavy with implication and she regards him with full knowledge of everything he is, and everything he has been. And she has not turned away.
Perhaps she has not changed; perhaps it is only his perception of her.
“You would do the same,” she says, “if it meant bringing back your world.”
He cannot bring himself to argue. “This world is wrong.”
“Then help fix it,” she says, and that anger he has seen simmering inside of her finally sparks to life. She comes ablaze. “Don’t just burn it down because it’s more convenient for you.”
“This is fixing it,” he replies. “I cannot help my people in this state—they are helpless. If I bring down the Veil, they will have magic again. Every slave in Tevinter will be able to fight back, every Dalish elf won’t fear the lords who might chase them from their lands—”
“Do you know how many enemies you will make?” she says. “The entire world will ally itself against you to preserve what is.”
He smiles; it is not a pleasant smile. “You say that like I have not faced such odds before.”
She rises to her feet, and the cup clatters to the floor. “We are not Evanuris, Solas. Those you’ll be facing—they’ll be your former friends, your allies, probably some will even be your own people.”
He stands, faces her. “I will try to avoid that,” he answers. “I have thus far managed to keep my people from clashing with yours—”
“You would move all of us around like pieces on a chessboard,” she says hotly. “As if this is some sort of game that can be played through to completion.”
The scant space between them feels charged. Solas knows he should retreat, should take the wiser path of not provoking this any further. But her anger summons his own. “You cannot think I take any joy in this,” he retorts. “You are being willfully ignorant—”
She is close, too close, reaching for him. Her hand lands on his shoulder, as if she would like to shake some sense into him. “Better willfully ignorant than willfully cruel!”
“I am not,” he begins to say, but he never finishes that sentence.
Because her grip tightens on his shoulder, and she moves forward as if to speak, and he meets her halfway—and then her mouth crashes into his.
It feels as if the argument is continued, but with physical gestures rather than words—she catches his lower lip between her teeth and he growls, the flash of pain coalescing into something akin to pleasure; he drags her closer; her nails rake over his bare chest and when his mouth falls open in a groan, she deepens the kiss.
In the past, he has always been careful with her. She is mortal and he is keenly aware of the softness of her body, of how easily she could be hurt.
There is nothing careful about this.
This is every forbidden thought he has had since seeing her again, every desire he has tried to suffocate with thoughts of duty. The softness of her mouth burns all of his plans away, until all that is left is smoldering heat and smoke, a sweet wine dripped upon the embers of a burning fire.
They stumble together, and Evelyn’s back hits the wall. Her hand goes to that wall, using it as leverage to arch against him. The tips of her breasts press against him, her legs are slightly parted, and before he can help himself, he slips a thigh between those legs. He wants to see her undone, needs to see it. Heat and dampness creeps through the thin material of her breeches and she keens, hands falling to his hips to draw him closer, and he can almost hear her thoughts, as they so closely echo his own.
She breaks the kiss, her lips skimming down his jaw, to to his throat, down his chest. Her tongue laves over the edge of his collarbone, only to be followed by a sharp nip of teeth.
All it would take is a moment to yank down her breeches, to free himself, and he could be inside of her again. The thought is intoxicating, all-consuming. But some part of him holds back.
Before she can react, he picks her up, angling her so that she is caged between the wall and himself. She makes a sound of approval and her legs wind around his waist, opening herself to him. He settles himself into the cradle of her thighs, presses his hard length against her core. She gasps, her nails digging into his shoulder, grasping at him to keep from falling.
He takes her full weight, using his strength and the wall to keep her secure. His hips roll against hers in a faint echo of the contact he truly desires. Ripples of pleasure coil in his stomach, and he groans. It has been ages since he rutted against a bed partner. The friction is tantalizing, not quite enough, but he does not care; there is a distinct satisfaction in watching her wantonly buck against him.
Evelyn is so beautiful like this; her mouth is sinfully swollen, hair mussed and face aglow. He wishes he had some way to capture this moment, to bring it to mind long after he loses her—because he will lose her, one way or another. Through time, if fate is kind to him. But more likely, it will be to his cause, to her need to stop him.
One of his hands remains tight on her waist as he grinds against her. His other hand delves beneath the hem of her thin shirt, and she makes a ragged noise when he drags his fingertips over the peak of one breast, teasing it, rolling it gently between his thumb and forefinger. She writhes, a steady whine escaping her clenched teeth.
He kisses her again. It is less artful now, their movements driven by instinct and want, and it is messy and rough and utterly perfect. He keeps his movements steady, focusing on the way her hips cant toward him, letting her find the angle she needs. He knows her body well, knows its tells and its secrets; she is on the verge of unraveling. But some part of her tenses against the release, as if it will somehow make her vulnerable. “Let go,” he says, and his voice is frayed at the edges.
“I—I can’t,” she chokes out.
He reaches for her hand, twines their fingers together. “I have you.”
And he does have her, if only for this moment.
He feels her climax, a jagged cry catching in her throat. He does not falter his pace, pushing her through it until her body goes slack. Her legs lose their grip on his waist and he compensates, gently keeping hold of her until she can stand on her own. She wobbles when her bare feet touch the floor. She is panting, dazed.
It would be so simple; he could pick her up again in one swift motion, place her on that oversized bed. He can see it in his mind’s eye—tugging the nightclothes from her, covering her bare body with his own. He wants this, wants it more than he has ever wanted anything. To take and give, to taste her skin, to whisper long-dead endearments into her ear, to lose himself to the kind of comfort he has only ever found in her.
Evelyn’s eyes flick up to meet his, her teeth snagging on her lower lip. She is thinking the same; he knows it.
And suddenly he realizes why he hesitated, why he hesitates now. If he allows this to go further, it will be more than simple pleasure.
“We should not,” he says.
Her breathing is ragged. “Because Fen’Harel couldn’t be seen bedding a human?”
“No,” he says. “Not that—never that.” He pushes the stray hairs from her face, tucks them behind her ear. “This is one path I must walk alone.”
He steps back, to put a careful distance between them.
The light of the fire seems to catch in her eyes. “All the more reason to take someone with you. You’re going to destroy yourself if you continue alone.”
“I will do what I must,” he says quietly. “If that means my life, my morals, my honor—then I shall give them up. But I would never ask that of another.”
“So what do you expect me to do?” she asks. “Do you think I will just stand by? Wait for you to unleash two Creators upon this world? Twiddle my thumbs while the Veil is sundered and demons roam freely through these very halls?”
He has tried not to think of this; her compassion is what drove her to take the role of Inquisitor. He is under no illusions; those same instincts will force her to oppose him.
“I meant what I said that day.” She utters the words just a little too quickly, and he’s put in mind of soldiers with arrowheads piercing their flesh, of how it was easier to tear the weapon free as swiftly as possible. Just do it quickly, he’s heard too many times. It will hurt less. She approaches this speech with the same apprehension. “You remember, don’t you? That last time we were together before we destroyed Corypheus.”
He does remember.
She takes another step forward. “Everything has changed,” she says. “I think everything will change again. But my—my feelings have not.”
She glances away, takes a breath, then forces herself to meet his gaze. “I love you, Solas,” she says. “I tried not to—I really did. And I know you don’t feel the same, but it doesn’t matter. I love you. But more than that, you are also my friend and I will not let you destroy yourself to satisfy your own guilt.”
Her words pierce him through. He is not sure what hurts the most—that she doubts his regard for her, that she still loves him, or that he cannot have this. He will not drag her on this path, if only because he knows she is the one person who might cause him to stray from it.
So he answers as he always has—in words she will not understand. “Ir abelas, vhenan.”
She gazes at him, uncomprehending. And he cannot tell her; she cannot know. There is still a chance that she will give up on him.
“You are not a bad person,” she whispers. She places her hand on his cheek. “Please.”
If she kisses him again, he does not know if he will have the strength to pull away.
A knock rings out, startling them both. Solas feels her flinch, gaze jerking toward the door. Carefully, Solas steps out of her reach. He should be grateful for this distraction, but he is not.
When he opens the door, Nalle stands there. She wears the guise of a messenger, and her hair is rumpled.
“Not now,” he says tightly.
But Nalle either does not hear or does not care; she pushes the door open and steps inside. “One of my people just reported in. We have a problem, Boss.”
And then she blinks. Blinks again. She gapes at him, at his half-dressed state, at the lines of fingernails along his chest. At the bite mark on his collarbone. Slowly, her gaze travels past him, to Evelyn, flushed and tense, her arms wrapped around herself.
Nalle locks her expression down; when she meets his eyes, her face is unreadable. “You’ll want to hear this. Both of you.”
“Then tell me.” Solas’s patience is worn thin. “Briefly.”
Nalle shifts her stance, body tensing as if taking up a challenge. “All right, then. The Ben-Hassrath are going to blow up the Winter Palace using exploding powder smuggled inside through Inquisition channels.”
Evelyn sucks in a breath.
Nalle crosses her arms. “That brief enough for you?”
Solas barely hears himself answer. “Quite.”
Just a quick heads-up! Thanks to a work project, I won’t be able to update this until after December 7th. But, as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder and I’m assuming that goes for fics as well as people. (And as always, I post snippets and headcanons to my tumblr.) Thanks again to everyone who has left feedback - I adore you all.
Evelyn does not return to her own rooms for many hours.
She pulls a robe around herself and joins Nalle, Solas, and two other agents in the kitchen—which seems to be the unofficial war room. Perhaps it is because of the large, sturdy table or the room’s proximity to the pantry. Evelyn finds herself cradling a cup of tea in both hands, listening to Solas’s agents give their reports.
It is far worse than she could have imagined.
Shipments of gaatlok, smuggled throughout the whole south of Thedas, into every place of power—all using Inquisition channels. Evelyn listens to one of the agents as she explains how she came across one of the Ben-Hassrath, found the shipping orders, and realized what the Qunari were planning.
Evelyn gazes into her tea; it has gone cold and ignored. She cannot bring herself to look up, to meet the eyes of anyone at the table. It will serve her better in the long run, she tells herself, to quietly listen. It has nothing to do with the bite marks she left on Solas’s throat, nor the fact that she still smells of wine, woodsmoke, and her own sweat.
“Orders?” asks the agent, once her report is finished. Solas does not immediately reply; rather, he appears to weigh his words with care.
“Return to your post,” he says. There is an air of command to him, a surety that he kept carefully concealed when he was with the Inquisition. “I will remain here. Keep watch and do not make any moves against the Ben-Hassrath agents unless they do so first. We should not reveal ourselves yet. But get word to Skyhold and check any shipments brought there.”
An involuntary chill shudders through Evelyn. “You think the Ben-Hassrath will target Skyhold?” she says, speaking for the first time.
Solas meets her gaze steadily, with no trace of his earlier heat. He was always good at walling away his emotions, she thinks. Much better at it than she was.
“They would be fools not to,” he replies. “It is one of the seats of power in the South. I highly doubt they would go to all of the trouble to destroy the Winter Palace, Denerim, and cities of the Free Marches, and not consider striking at Skyhold, as well.”
He rises to his feet and the agents scramble upright. They do not salute, but they do incline their heads in shallow, respectful bows. They clasp Nalle’s hand before venturing out of the house’s back door, and out of sight. Solas watches them go, his face impassive. He glances at Evelyn one last time. “You should get some rest,” he says quietly. “I have a feeling there will be little time for that in the coming days.” And then he simply walks away, in the direction of the stairs.
Before Nalle can leave, Evelyn catches her by the elbow. “Can I ask you something?”
Nalle tilts her head, brows raised. “Of course, Inquisitor.”
Evelyn grimaces. “Please, do not call me that. I ceased being the Inquisitor months ago.”
Nalle’s mouth twists into a smile. “Then what shall I call you? Herald? Your Ladyship?”
“My name would be preferable.”
Nalle laughs at this. “You shouldn’t want that, you know. Names have power and all that. Only use them when needed. That’s why I call the Boss like I do. Too revealing otherwise. You think Nalle is the name I was born with? Naw—people like us, those on the run, we can’t afford to use our names. It’s something we lose.”
There is just enough truth in Nalle’s words to make Evelyn’s reply die in her throat. She has not simply been Evelyn in a very long time. When her hand was marked, she became the herald. When someone put a sword in that hand, she became the inquisitor.
She is not sure what she is now.
“Can you translate something for me?” she says, instead. The hour is too late for philosophical discussions of identity. “It’s elven. I think it was ‘vhenan.’”
She knows what ‘ir abelas’ means; she has heard the apology exchanged between sentinels. But the last word is an unknown.
Nalle points at her face. “What do you see here?”
“Exactly,” says Nalle. “I’m not Dalish. I was never taught the language.”
Which, Evelyn notices, is a very neat evasion of her question. But she does not press the inquiry.
The word is probably some diminutive, like “child” or “annoying human that keeps following me around and attempting to stop my plans to destroy this world”.
Well, probably not that last one.
But then again, maybe elvish is a very specific language.
Evelyn returns to her own rooms. They are on the first floor, and despite not being very large, they are well-furnished and comfortable. The bed is far more luxurious than anything she has slept on since leaving Skyhold and she sinks onto the mattress with a sigh of relief.
Things will look better in the morning, she tells herself. They always do.
Things do not look better in the morning.
She wakes with the taste of sour wine in her mouth, her temples throbbing with the ghost of a hangover, and the knowledge that she made an utter fool of herself last night.
She groans and rolls over, pulling the blankets over her head. She went to Solas’s room to talk sensibly to him and instead ended up rutting against him like some animal in heat. Not that he minded, if his own reactions were anything to judge by. A flush floods her cheeks and neck; she can still feel the heat of his mouth, his clever fingers—
But honestly, that was not how that visit was supposed to go. She could blame it on the wine or that she has not taken anyone to bed in over a year, but she knows better. It is him; it has always been him.
And she told him as much.
I love you.
She squeezes her eyes shut, tries to block out the memory. Of course he would not reply in kind, of course he would look at her so sadly, as if her feelings were something to be pitied.
And then for one of his agents to walk in like that—
She briefly considers not leaving this room, simply staying in here until Solas has brought down the Veil and this world is flooded with spirits and demons and magic. Perhaps by then her embarrassment will have begun to dissipate.
She shakes her head, that imagining enough to rouse her from the bed. Even so, she takes her time when drawing a bath. There is a comfort to be found in the little luxuries she has not had for many weeks—in hot water, in bath oils and soaps. She scrubs all the dirt from her hair, runs a coarse brush over her travel-worn skin, and when she emerges from the tub she feels as if she has been reborn.
Her clothes are soiled by the weeks of hard travel and she eyes her pack with some amount of trepidation. She cannot abide by the thought of pulling on dirty clothes. She is just considering which items of clothing are least offensive when a knock comes at her door. Evelyn pulls a robe around herself. “Who is it?”
“Me,” comes Nalle’s voice, and Evelyn unlocks the door.
Nalle is barely visible over her armful of fabric. Draped over one arm is a small sack, and the piled atop the other is a large garment bag.
“I brought clothes,” she says. “I thought you might want ones that will let you blend in if you wanted to leave the house. And this,” she digs into the sack and pulls out a mask. It is a simple design, feminine lines of silver and pearlescent material that will obscure the upper half of her face.
“Thank you,” says Evelyn. She is a little touched by Nalle’s thoughtfulness.
Or perhaps this was Solas.
Nalle looks at her. Just looks at her, with that shrewd gaze of hers. Then she says, “You’re welcome, Lady Boss.” Without another word, she turns and strides away, leaving Evelyn with an armful of clothes and a new title.
Evelyn sets the clothing down on her bed and begins to sort through them, finding fresh undergarments—thank the Maker—and—and—
And then she realizes that Solas had nothing to do with this. Because if he had, he certainly wouldn’t have ordered Nalle to buy these.
Three of them.
One is a deep red, made of silk, with a corset that binds up the front; another is made of some shimmery gold material and the neckline sweeps low; and the last has a bodice that is all blue lace and nearly transparent chiffon—and she suspects the lace will cover her breasts and little else.
She stares at the dresses.
This is simply not her morning.
When she emerges from her room, she wears the red dress. It has the simplest design—but even so, the tight waist and flared skirts are an unwelcome change from her trousers and tunic.
It will be fine, she tells herself. She just needs to wear this dress long enough to get to a marketplace and she can buy her own damn clothes.
She sweeps into the kitchen—because that is how one walks when wearing skirts such as these—only to find that most everyone is done with breakfast. Only Kieran and Dagna remain at the table, talking comfortably with one another.
Dagna beams at her. “Well. That’s a change.”
“Not a word,” says Evelyn tightly. She takes two fistfuls of silk and tries to walk without tripping over her hem. She should be better at this; she spent most of her life in mage’s robes. But then again, mage robes weren’t quite this swishy.
Following the sound of voices, Evelyn strides down the long hallway to the sitting room. It is just as lavish as the rest of the house, all frills and oil paintings and furniture made of dark wood and velvet. Someone put together a morning tea, because there is a stacked array of sweets and pastries, and Morrigan sips something out of a delicately-wrought cup. Nalle and another elven agent are pouring over what looks to be a trade agreement, while Solas listens. He sits on the sofa, a half-eaten pastry on the plate before him.
At the sound of her approach, Solas glances at her and then returns his attention to the conversation.
He goes still.
Looks up again.
She thinks she sees his throat jerk convulsively, as if in a swallow.
“Ah, good,” says Nalle brightly. “I see the dresses fit. Seems I remembered some of those skills working as a lady’s maid all those years back.”
Evelyn tries to cross her arms and fails because the fabric will not stretch that far. Her arms fall uselessly back to her sides. “This is unacceptable.”
Morrigan’s brows sweep upward. “It looks quite acceptable to me. After all, you are to be the Orlesian noblewoman living in this house.”
Evelyn’s eyes narrow. “And when was this decided?”
“Tsk,” says Morrigan, and she is smiling, as content and comfortable as a cat stretching in a patch of sunlight. Likely because she knows she will not be called on to play such a role herself. “I spent too much time in the court. I will be recognized. Whereas you may go unnoticed, in a mask and the right garb.”
“We bought the house in some dead lordling’s name,” says Nalle cheerily. “No one minds us because we’re just servants keeping the household running. But if the neighbors see a human, they’re going to expect it to be one of the family. If anyone should inquire, you are the youngest daughter of Baron Delisle.”
It is not a terrible plan. Evelyn looks down at herself in grudging acceptance. “All right. Do we have any immediate plans for today, or are we simply waiting?”
Nalle rises to her feet. “I’ve got a letter to send. And a few drops to check.”
“Give it to me,” says Evelyn, impulsively. At least this will get her out of the house; she yearns to break free of these walls, to step onto the cobblestones and wander the city, just another masked woman of no true importance. It would be a kindness to be no one for a few hours.
Nalle glances at Solas. He hesitates, then nods.
“Right, then,” she says. “I’ll sketch out the spots on a map.”
Evelyn smiles briefly. “I’ll just go find my boots.”
Nalle returns the smile—but there is something wicked to it. “There are shoes,” she says, “for you in the foyer.”
Evelyn feels her smile drop. She can just imagine the shoes waiting for her; all at once, she remembers Leliana’s monologue on the heels at the Winter Palace and is flooded with images of shoes encrusted with diamonds or lace. She turns and hurries into the foyer, her skirts sweeping out behind her.
The shoes are not too bad. They are delicate, useless things that would not protect her in a fight, but for the streets of Val Royeaux they will not stand out. She awkwardly tugs them on, the corset’s edges digging into her hips. This is one thing she has never missed about Skyhold—the formal clothing.
When she takes a step, she realizes the true intent of the slippers. They are utterly silent upon the hardwood floors. Evelyn feels herself smile; Nalle knew what she was doing when she picked these.
She is walking back toward the front rooms when she hears the voices.
“Leave her be,” says Morrigan.
For a moment, Evelyn thinks she must be talking to Kieran, because there a distinctly mother tone to her voice. But it is not Kieran who answers.
“I do not know—” Solas says, and Evelyn stumbles. She catches herself on the wall and freezes in place. She listens, fearful that they heard her, but a moment later, she hears Morrigan.
“You know exactly of what I speak, Dread Wolf.” Morrigan’s voice is hushed, but it carries all the weight of a shout. “You may have healed those marks on your neck, but they were quite visible last night. Do not think me ignorant or unaware. I know of what transpired between you and the Herald.”
“You know nothing.”
Her laugh rings out. “Is that so? I know more than you, at this moment. Tell me, did your agents in the Inquisition inform you of how she reacted when you left?”
Of course he would have had agents within the Inquisition. She is only now beginning to grasp the full extent of Solas’s role within his own organization; he was spy and leader alike, playing his role so well that most of his own people don’t know his face. But she cannot bring herself to be angry with him. She might have done the same, in his place.
A pause. Solas must be deciding whether or not to answer. “They said she seemed fine.”
“Then they are fools, or you did not have an agent close to her. She is too prideful to tell you, but I shall,” says Morrigan. “She did not sleep for nearly three days after she discovered you abandoned her of your own accord. She thought it her fault, that she did something to warrant your disregard. She was in such a state that the sentinels thought you must have perished and she was in mourning.”
Solas’s voice is low, but Evelyn hears his patience begin to fray. Morrigan’s words were aimed true. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I tell you this not only to wound you, as pleasing as that would be, but to warn you.” Morrigan’s voice sharpens. “There are very few people in this world I consider friends. Hurt them at your peril.”
“You are aware that I could command you to be silent.”
Morrigan does not sound cowed. “Oh, yes. Command me if you will. But while you may hold sway over my body, you will control neither my thoughts nor my spirit. I will fight you every step of the way—force you to phrase every command just so, or I will misconstrue it. Perhaps I will creatively interpret your wishes.” Her voice lifts, as if she is smiling. “I will not be anyone’s puppet.”
Morrigan strides around the corner. She simmers with all of the heat of a banked fire, and in that moment, Evelyn has never admired her more. She has little doubt that Morrigan will choose her own fate, regardless of who holds Mythal’s spirit.
Evelyn takes a step back, wishing she could retreat to the back door, but she still needs that map from Nalle. Before she can quietly vanish, Solas appears. He bears no evidence of the argument—his hands are neatly folded behind his back and his face is composed.
When he sees her, that composure flickers. His mouth is drawn tight and the nod he gives her is just a little stiff. “Ah,” he says, after a moment. “You caught some of that, I think.” His gaze drifts somewhere past her ear. “I apologize.”
She almost wants to ask, For what? For arguing in a public part of the house? For letting her hear that? For leaving her in the first place?
But she does not ask and he does not elaborate.
The silence between them is too heavy to bear. Evelyn finds herself taking a step toward him, resting a hand on his arm.
“It’s all right,” she says.
“You forgive too easily,” he murmurs, as if to himself. “You always have.” A breath drags through his clenched teeth and then he looks at her. “I will accompany you on your walk. It is unwise for any one of us to venture out alone.”
She opens her mouth to protest but he cuts her off.
“There are Ben-Hassrath in the city,” he says simply. “You saw how effective and observant the Iron Bull was. There will be more like him in these streets, and if they catch sight of you, if they recognize you…” He lets the thought trail off. “I will send Nalle, if it would make you more comfortable,” he adds. “But you should not go alone.”
She turns that offer over in her mind; she likes Nalle, but she is not wholly comfortable with her. And—and this is Solas. They were friends long before they were lovers. She trusts him.
“I suppose we could both use some fresh air,” she says.
Val Royeaux is just how she remembers it.
It is a city of sparkling indulgences, edged by the corruption and poverty that the gilded walls try to keep at bay. For all of the golden cobblestones, all of the archways that open into shops and dining establishments, there are elven servants scurrying from place to place, beggars lurking in the shadowed alleyways, and the perfume of the noble ladies almost manages to cover the smells of sweat and horses.
Val Royeaux is a city of masks—in more ways than one.
Evelyn ventures into the city in her red silk dress, a cape covering her shoulders and that pearlescent mask covering the upper half of her face. She braided her hair, but even now she can feel it tugging free of the pins.
Solas wears a simple Orlesian tunic and leggings—the kind worn by high-ranking servants. His own mask is plain, and a hat covers his shaven head.
“So we’re back to this again,” she says. “Me posing as the woman who belongs here, and you as the manservant. Doesn’t it rankle even a little?”
Solas merely smiles. “I find comfort in anonymity,” he replies. “I always have. Now, my Lady,” he inclines his head, and she realizes that there are others within earshot. “If you would be so kind as to take a left, our destination is some blocks ahead.”
They walk in that direction—with her half a step ahead, Solas at her shoulder as they navigate the crowds. Evelyn tries to mimic the graceful stride of the other noble ladies, but for all of Josie’s lessons, she has never quite mastered the airs that nobles put on. She can barely remember her own etiquette lessons when she was a child; she has only vague memories of being taught how to curtsey and mumble a lord’s full title.
She ignores the calls of nearby shopkeepers and passes through a crowd surrounding a woman with a lute, sitting upon the raised platform of a fountain. She croons a soft song in Orlesian, and Evelyn wonders if she is simply a passing musician or perhaps a true bard.
At two intersecting streets, she feels Solas’s hand at her back. He presses gently and she is guided to the right. When she follows his silent direction, his hand falls away.
The drop is tucked away in a public garden. It seems to be a collection of flowering trees and boxed flowers. A courting couple sits upon a nearby bench, giggling and exchanging kisses beneath the shelter of a canopy of leaves. Evelyn ignores the twist in her stomach. Then she sees the small birdhouse hanging from yet another tree. Solas glances around, then surreptitiously reaches up and unlocks a compartment in the birdhouse. A scroll of paper falls into his palm; he replaces it with a new scroll. “Come,” he says, and ventures deeper into the gardens. She sees why a moment later—it is a garden designed for couples. Crowded with flowers and elegantly twisted trees, it is the perfect place to catch a moment of privacy.
Evelyn sits down on one of the benches. Solas hesitates, then takes a seat beside her.
“Anything important?” she asks, nodding at the scroll in his hand. He glances down at it, but not as if the message matters much. He toys with the parchment, reads a few lines, then shakes his head.
“I feel as if I should explain,” he says heavily.
She blinks. “It’s a drop. I know how it works, Solas.”
A flicker of amusement passes through his eyes, then fades away. “No. About my leaving. I never properly explained.”
She looks away, unable to meet his gaze. It all seems rather simple to her: Solas had nothing more to gain by remaining with the Inquisition after they defeated Corypheus—of course he would leave.
“You do not need to explain,” she says.
“It think I do,” he replies. “The manner in which I left you was cruel. I left without a farewell. I would not ask for your forgiveness without offering first an explanation.”
She is not sure what explanation he might offer other than the obvious: he is the Dread Wolf. He plans to cast down the barrier dividing this world from that of dreams. He will awaken false gods and likely tear this world apart. In the shadow of such enormous acts, whatever existed between them seems so small.
“You recall the battle with Corypheus,” he says.
Her mouth twists into a smile. “I might remember something of the sort.”
He echoes her smile, but it falls away quickly. “After the battle and we had been separated, I found the shattered remnants of my orb.”
Guilt pricks uncomfortably up the backs of her legs and arms. “I’m sorry. I know you wanted it.”
“The fault was not yours,” he replies evenly. “You did what was required of you to save this world. And I did not. When I held the fragments of the orb, I realized I had gone into that battle for the wrong reasons. My first priority should have been to retrieve the orb at all costs, to preserve the power it contained. That focus was invaluable.”
He drags his gaze to the trees, as if he cannot bear to look at her. “When I fought Corypheus, it was not to protect the orb. I fought to protect you.”
And it cost him dearly. She suddenly understands why he would have left, vanished into the darkness without a word. Because in his mind, he betrayed his own cause to fight alongside her rather than take the course that would have best served his people.
This time she is the one to look away. “I was a complication,” she says quietly, echoing words he spoke so long ago.
“You still are,” he says.
And the words hurt, even though she knows they are true.
“If the orb had not been destroyed,” she says, “what would you have done? I mean, you must have had a plan.”
It is a question she has considered a few times.
His gaze is faraway, as if looking at a future that never came to pass. “I was going to tell you,” he says, a note of quiet pain in his voice. “Once I had the orb, I would have been infinitely more powerful than I am now. I would have told you of my past, explained what I planned to do, and then—then I would have ventured into the Fade and torn down the Veil.”
She draws in a breath. It sounds so cold, the way he lays out his ideal future. What he does not add—what he does not need to add—is what would have followed. Chaos, magic, likely wars. Two very angry false gods trying to reclaim a world they deemed theirs. As for herself… she tries to place herself in that dark future and comes up blank.
Some of her thoughts must show on her face, because Solas says, “You would have been safe in Skyhold.”
Perhaps that is why he left her there—in a place he deemed safe. It seems a very Solas thing to do, to ensure a person’s safety even if they themselves are unaware of it. But she cannot reconcile his desire to keep the Inquisition safe with his desire to remake this world.
“Could you awaken the Evanuris without removing the Veil?” she asks.
He glance at her sharply, surprised. “Perhaps. Why?”
“You’re being foolish, you know.” She shifts uncomfortably, trying to breathe through the tightness of the dress’s corset.
He appears taken aback.
“Removing the Veil,” she continues. “Not only is it the more dangerous of your two goals, but it will also hinder your efforts to defeat the Evanuris.”
A pause. “And how have you come to this conclusion?”
Her voice is just a little too brittle. “You said that magic is hindered by the Veil’s presence. Your magic is weakened. That means their magic will be weakened, as well. But unlike them, you have more experience of this age. You have allies, connections, and the knowledge to use this world against them.”
He gazes unblinkingly at her for a long moment.
“There is some truth in that,” he admits. “But you forget one other reason to remove the Veil—it will give magic to all of the elves. With their help, taking on Andruil and Dirthamen will be simpler.”
“Will it?” she says sharply. “They are worshipped by the Dalish. You think those clans will not flock to Andruil? Or Dirthamen? You think those wearing vallaslin of other gods will swear loyalty to the Dread Wolf?”
Something close to pain passes over his face.
“I do not tell you this to hurt you,” she says, her voice softening.
His hands clench. “I know that. You are kind and I appreciate the sentiment. But I will remove the Veil,” he says, with quiet certainty. “And then I will destroy the remnants of the Evanuris. If I perish in the attempt, then so be it. I will have fixed my mistake.”
He says those words so plainly, as if he truly does not care if he survives. He carries the weight of this world on his shoulders, and it is only now she truly sees how he burdens himself with the past.
You are my friend, and I will not let you destroy yourself.
She only hopes she can live up to that vow.
A week passes.
Their odd company settles into the house. They all find their own tasks to stay busy—Morrigan tutors Kieran by daylight, and by night Evelyn catches her writing a letter. The next day, Evelyn overhears Morrigan asking Nalle if she can get a message to another outpost of Solas’s agents. “And who,” says Evelyn, “are you writing to?”
Morrigan sniffs. “It is no business of yours to whom I write.”
“Oh, I know that.” Evelyn makes no effort to hide her grin. “But now I’m curious. Did you and Abelas strike up a friendship when I wasn’t looking?”
Morrigan’s whole face darkens with distaste. “I would sooner send letters to a toadstool. Elvyr asked to be kept informed of our whereabouts,” she says, with a careless little toss of her head.
Evelyn does not say anything.
Something in her silence appears to fluster Morrigan. “It is a polite thing to do, yes? To stay in touch with one’s allies?”
“Very polite,” agrees Evelyn. She tries so hard not to smile that her face aches with the effort. “Send him my regards, if you will.”
As she walks away, Evelyn cannot hold back her smile.
Meanwhile, Dagna spends her time examining all of the house’s doors and windows. “It’s flimsy work,” she tells Evelyn. “The walls are sturdy enough—not stone, mind you, but as human dwellings go, it’s not bad. I mean—it’s not that I think all human homes are flimsy. Skyhold was definitely not flimsy.”
Evelyn considers telling her that Skyhold was built by an elf, then decides to keep silent.
“You think you can improve upon this place?” she asks, curious.
Dagna grins up at her. “Windows like this, they are practically an invitation to break in. Might as well use that. A few paralysis runes here and there… you know.”
Evelyn laughs. “Please ask Solas before you begin making modifications to his house?”
Dagna nods and begins reexamining the window frame.
Solas is not one to turn away help when it is offered and over the course of the next few days, Evelyn sees Dagna working on lyrium-infused runes for the doors and windows, setting them in places that will not be seen from the outside. Evelyn watches; there is something memorizing in the way Dagna’s nimble fingers can work the lyrium into the metal, folding magic into the physical world with all of the nonchalance that Evelyn might use to fold a shirt.
As for Evelyn herself, she finds her own little tasks to keep her busy.
She helps prepare meals and wash dishes; the work keeps her mind from wandering. There is always work to be done in a house such as this and she dedicates herself to it. She does not go out of her way to avoid Solas, but nor does she seek him out. They see one another at mealtimes and in the hallways. A quiet, polite silence seems to stretch between them and Evelyn does not know how to breach it.
She wakes on the fourth night, her left hand throbbing and the room flooded with green light. Evelyn chokes back a noise of pain, her left hand clenching into a fist. The anchor will not be ignored for much longer—she knows that. She holds her left arm tightly against her own chest, as if that might slow the anchor’s deterioration. The prospect of her death has always been a possibility, but facing it with such stark certainty frightens her. She cannot leave this world as it is now—not with her friends in danger from the Qunari, and Solas in danger from himself.
But the anchor fades away, as it always does, and in the morning no one comments on the shadows beneath her eyes.
To distract herself, she ventures into the city, buying supplies and gossip. Never alone—even when Evelyn slips out, there is always an elf shadowing her at a distance. At first, Evelyn tries to feel annoyed about her watchers, but the wisdom of it cannot be denied. They might be at war with the Qunari; if the Ben-Hassrath see the former Inquisitor, there is no telling what they will do. But Evelyn is not at all certain they would recognize her. The Inquisitor never pinned her hair into elaborate Orlesian fashions or wore dresses of silk and chiffon. There is a comfort to be found behind a mask, and she thinks she understands Solas’s ease with anonymity. It is a relief to have people look upon her and not see a title—just a woman going about her shopping. She even begins to appreciate the dresses.
All except for one.
That lace monstrosity.
That one she does not touch. Until the morning of the Exalted Council, that is.
For a while, Evelyn contemplates sneaking into the council in her nightclothes.
That is until she remembers her nightclothes still smell like Solas, and that’s the reason she has been sleeping in small clothes and nothing else.
Her lips press into a line and she gazes at the dress. The skirts themselves are not bad—layers of tulle that flow away from the bodice like ripples of shallow water. But the bodice itself is entirely unacceptable. The chiffon is transparent, the lace curling up from the bodice and covering her breasts before vanishing into the high neckline. The chiffon admittedly does disguise the scars running along her shoulder and back. But Evelyn gazes at herself in the mirror and feels a twinge of unease.
It is a dress meant for evenings, for seductions.
Evelyn closes her eyes and tries to breathe. Perhaps it will not be so bad. She walks quietly into the kitchen where the others are all eating their morning meal.
That is, until she enters the room.
Kieran drops his spoon. Porridge spatters across the table. Morrigan laughs. Dagna lets out a wolf-whistle.
Solas’s gaze is as heavy as a physical touch. The look he turns on Nalle is hard, almost accusing.
But Nalle’s arms are crossed. “Don’t give me that look, Boss. Mask or no, most of the people in that room will have seen the Inquisitor at one point—either in person or in a portrait. Or that statue. Time to play up the Orlesian noblewoman role for all its worth.”
“That dress will call attention to her,” says Solas.
“True, but no one will be looking at her face,” Nalle replies stoutly.
Which seems to end the argument quite neatly.
They leave the house in the guise of Lady Delisle and her elven manservant.
Solas walks alongside her, his eyes constantly roaming over the crowds. They do not carry staffs, and she feels that absence keenly. There are daggers strapped on the inside of her thighs, and she is sure Solas is also armed, but she cannot shake the sensation of vulnerability as they make their way through the city.
It does not surprise her when Solas retraces their steps from a week ago—back to the eluvian. He brings the mirror alive with a touch, and steps through first. Evelyn follows a moment later.
The mist of the Crossroads is cool on skin; she breathes it in, enjoys the silence. She has not noticed how the constant noise and thrum of the city wore at her, and it is only now that the discomfort falls away.
Silently, she falls into step beside Solas. He strides past the other mirrors, keeping to a certain path. His shoulders are tense and his fingers are tilted just so, as if holding a spell at the ready. She turns her own attention to the eluvians, wondering if the Qunari have come this far.
“Where in Halamshiral will we emerge?” she asks quietly, speaking for the first time.
Solas’s attention continues to roam over their surroundings. “In the Winter Palace itself.”
That nearly halts her steps. “You placed an eluvian in the Winter Palace?”
“I did not need to,” he says, almost smiling. “Briala did so before I wrested the eluvians from her.”
Ah. And not for the first time, she wonders if that was the reason for his jubilance at the Winter Palace. He must have taken the mirrors then. She remembers how unlike himself he seemed that night—but no, it was just he was more himself.
It turns out the eluvian is tucked away in a side room. A good choice of location, Evelyn thinks, as they quietly walk around a corner and see the proper entrance of the Winter Palace. It is a grand place, humming with quiet conversation and the distant sounds of a bard’s voice lifted in song. Solas has fallen behind her, taking on the role of loyal servant as Evelyn approaches the gates. Despite herself, her heart pounds. The guards are dressed in the traditional Oreleisan garb, bright and full, their masks covering their whole faces. They look inhuman, dangerous, and elegant.
“I feel ridiculous,” she says under her breath. “They are going to know. It will take more than a mask and an absurd dress to fool the palace guards.”
Solas murmurs, “A mask is more than what you wear on your face. If you believe yourself to belong here, they will believe it, too.”
She wonders if that is how he felt when he joined the Inquisition, if wearing a mask became so ingrained that even he began to believe it himself.
She is so caught up in her own thoughts, she almost misses his next words. “And you look beautiful.”
Her breath catches but she cannot reply, for at that moment, the guards step forward to take her invitation. It is a forgery, of course, but it passes the scrutiny of a guard and Evelyn finds herself joining the crowds heading for the main hall.
But then a guard reaches out and grabs Solas by the shoulder. He makes no effort to be gentle about it. “Servants are not allowed in the hall.”
Solas makes no effort to shake off the guard’s grip; he remains quiet and still, his eyes on Evelyn. She tilts her head, lifting her chin into the air.
“And who will attend me?” she says, giving him her most haughty look. She makes an attempt at an Orlesian accent. “You?”
The guard snorts.
“I will not be separated from my servant,” she says hotly. “Release him this moment.”
But then a hand presses to her lower back.
“I would be more than happy to fill that role in your servant’s absence,” says a man’s voice.
Solas stiffens. Beneath the mask, his face is smooth, unreadable, but she sees unhappiness in the set of his mouth.
She gives him a little nod; she will be all right.
The arm around her waist tightens, draws her closer, and then the man is leading her away from the entrance. The last thing she sees is Solas still in the guard’s grip, his gaze trained on her. Then she rounds a corner and he vanishes from sight.
“Coming to the Inquisition’s trial,” the man murmurs, “dressed like an Orlesian noblewoman, with none other than your previous lover playing the role of your servant. I should be furious that you have not kept in touch. But I suppose I will forgive in time.” His mouth curved upward. “You have no idea how good it is to see you.”
“Dorian,” she whispers.
Thank you for your patience, everyone! Your comments were very kind and kept me going through the hiatus. And now I’m looking forward to working on this again!
Stepping into the Winter Palace feels much the same as walking onto a battlefield. But this war will be fought in the shadows, behind masks and false words, and Evelyn feels herself slipping back into the role of haughty noble-woman. She tilts her chin, dares any of the guards to look at her twice. The rippled chiffon of her dress floats out behind her and Dorian’s hand at her back is just another gesture for show.
“You look quite the sight,” murmurs Dorian, as they join the crowds milling toward the main hall. “I never knew dead women dressed so well. If it became public knowledge, faking one’s death might become quite the fashion statement.”
She flashes him a small smile, knowing he will see it beneath her mask. “I missed you, too.”
Dorian’s hand presses against her back, guiding her away from the crowds. They stride into a side corridor as if they belong there, and no one tries to stop them. They slip into one of the trophy rooms, a garish display of stuffed deer heads and even a wild boar. “No one will be watching us here,” says Dorian, but even as he speaks, he casts a barrier around them.
She throws her arms around his neck, hugs him tight. He smells of his expensive hair oils and freshly laundered clothes—and it is so familiar and welcome that her throat goes tight. He hugs her back, and she feels the warmth of his hands through the dress’s thin material.
“I’m glad you’re all right,” he says. “When you left with that swamp witch, the sentinels, and Dagna… well. It wasn’t the most comforting of farewells I’ve endured.”
“I’m sorry if I worried you.” She releases him and takes a step back. He smiles down at her, looking fond and wry.
“You always say that,” he replies, “but then you go running off to fight a dragon or some other nonsense. And now, you’re running around with your old flame. I cannot believe you haven’t sent word with all of the gossip.”
“Hard to send word from the wilderness,” she answers, a flush creeping into her cheeks.
But Dorian is undeterred. “How did you find him?”
Evelyn closes her eyes for a moment. “It’s a long story. Let’s just say we ran into one another and—circumstances have kept us that way for a while.”
“And have the two of you…?” The corner of his mouth twitches.
She groans. “No. I mean. Almost—once.”
“Delectable,” he says. “The sheer amount of things I do not know at this moment.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I feel just as uninformed.” Evelyn gazes around at the trophies, her gaze lingering on a stuffed figure of a fox, its eyes marbled and hollow. “I didn’t find out about this until a week ago. Are they truly trying to dismantle the Inquisition?”
Dorian sobers at once. “Ah. Well. Leliana—I mean, her Holiness—has been doing her best to fend off the Southern nations, but they will not be deterred. Orlais is determined to sink their fingers into the Inquisition and Ferelden would see it utterly gone. They’ve become remarkably irritable with our presence of late. How quickly memory fades. It seems not long ago they were begging us to save them from the evil magister.”
“Who exactly knows I’m alive?” she asks. Because she has her suspicions, she would like them confirmed.
Dorian sobers at once. “Besides myself, Cassandra, Varric, and Leliana?”
He lets out a breath. “Cole knew it at once. Luckily no one was around to hear, and he seemed to understand that the best way to help you was for you not to be the Inquisitor. He hasn’t mentioned it again.” Another breath. “Bull knows. I told him.”
“It’s fine,” she says, smiling slightly. “I don’t mind.”
“And that’s it,” says Dorian simply. “To everyone else, you’re another Andrastian martyr who met a fiery end. You should have seen your funeral—it was quite the affair. Celene and her lot attended in all of their finery; even the King of Ferelden sent an ambassador in his stead. There were speeches, toasts, quite the party. There was the usual sobbing and prayers, of course, and talk of you being in a better place at the Maker’s side.”
She winces. “I didn’t want to make anyone unhappy. I just—”
“I understand,” says Dorian. “Trust me, I completely know the impulse to leave one’s life.” His hands go behind his back and he straightens—as if he feels the need to make himself taller. His attention slides away from her, focusing on the wall.
“My father is dead,” he says quietly, and she hears the ache behind his voice. “Killed, I think.”
“Oh, Dorian.” She reaches for him, takes his hand and squeezes. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes, well.” He shrugs, and some of the tension leaks from his shoulders. “We still weren’t speaking. But as you know, now I’m to inherit his position. I’ll be headed back to Tevinter to settle his affairs… and perhaps see if a little vengeance might in order.” His voice is a tangled mess of feigned carelessness, pain, and fury.
“If you need help,” she begins to say, but he waves her off.
“You have your own problems,” he says. “And besides that, you are dead. It would be quite the scandal for the supposedly dead Inquisitor to appear in the company of a known necromancer. Seems likely to start unsavory rumors.”
That gets a laugh out of her. She has missed him—his warmth, his way of turning her worst fears sideways with a quip, the way he can go from jesting to solemn in the span of a heartbeat. He does not know about the anchor’s deterioration. She never told him, hoping to find a cure long before it would become necessary. But now, the anchor’s magic throbs beneath one of her silken gloves, and she wonders if she will ever get the chance to tell him how much his friendship has meant to her.
“Listen,” he says, before she can speak up. “If you’re here for the reason I think you are—to spy on the proceedings—then you should probably take one of the corridors up to the third level. It’s where all of the lesser nobles are being shuffled off to, where they can watch without interfering. It’s all going to start in a few minutes.”
“Right,” she says, settling on the task at hand. She smiles briefly, gives him another half-hug.
“Perhaps I will see you after,” he says. “But in the meantime.” He reaches into his pocket and comes up with a small, clear stone. It is polished, and she sees runes tech into it. “Seems being a real magister comes with a few perks. This is a sending crystal—you can use it to talk to me. From anywhere, at any time. Just use it.”
Her eyes are suddenly overfull. The stone fits perfectly into the palm of her hand, warmed by its time in his pocket. She wonders who he would have given it to, had he not seen her. “Thank you.”
“Ah, ah,” he says, looking a little embarrassed and pleased. “No tears now. We can’t have Her Lady Noblewoman of the Lace Bodice—or whatever you’re calling yourself—crying in the Winter Palace. People will think I’ve upset you.”
She laughs and it comes out a little choked. “Well, we can’t have that.”
His own smile softens into something genuine. “No. I fear we will have enough to deal with in the coming days.” He exhales, a little sharply. “I suggest you take your place among the nobility. Varric’s saving me a seat with the other Inquisition spectators. It’d be a shame not to have a good place to watch the verbal bloodbath.”
Verbal bloodbath, indeed.
At first, Evelyn thought he might have been exaggerating. But once she takes her place on one of the upper levels, she sees the mood of the crowds. They are shifting on their expensive shoes, eyes darting behind their masks, fingers aflutter, and even the most withdrawn of the nobles lean over the balcony, as if they cannot get enough of the spectacle.
“—About time this charade ended,” a man murmurs to his lady companion. “This has gone on long enough. The Inquisition and all of their rabble will finally be brought to heel.” The lady’s painted mouth curves into a smile.
“But such pretty rabble,” she replies. Her fan cants, gracefully hiding her smile. “The Commander is a sight, is he not?”
Evelyn tries to glide through the crowds, but she ends up elbowing more than one spectator. To her relief, one of the older nobles—a man with a ruffled hat and graying hair—barks at a younger man to get out of her way. “Young men these days,” he mutters, in a heavy Orlesian accent. “Come, my dear.” He gestures for her to approach him. She gives him a grateful smile and edges closer, her gloved hands settling on the hard, dark wood of the railing.
“Thank you,” she says. “My lord…?”
“Duke Savatier,” says the older man, he takes her hand and she gives him a little curtsy.
“Lady Delisle,” she murmurs. “I—I had not thought a Duke would be…?”
Savatier gives the crowd a scornful look. “Exiled to the likes such of these? No offense meant to present company, of course. Half of my cousins are downstairs. I am too old to pretend I do not detest them.” He snorts. “And I suspect this display will not be a short one. Should I wish to retreat, I can do so more easily from here. But you, my dear, should not be tucked away in dark corners.” He gives her a cursory look, and she feels a bit like a filly on display for a horse breeder. “Delisle, you said? I have not had the pleasure of meeting your family, but I have heard of it. An old line, if I am not mistaken. You are yet unwed?”
She casts about for an answer that will not give offense, but he continues before she has a chance to speak. “My eldest son is downstairs,” Savatier says thoughtfully. “The boy is too soft for the Chevaliers, but he will inherit the duchy. Shy thing, cannot speak to a woman without stammering or spilling a drink on her. I do not suppose you would allow me the honor of introducing the two of you?”
Before she can answer, the clear voice of a crier rings out, announcing the advisors of the Inquisition. Evelyn turns away from the Duke, leaning over the railing to get a better look at her friends. They seem much the same—Josephine is graceful and poised; Cullen looks as if he would rather be anywhere but here; Cassandra eyes the members of the Exalted Council with the air of one determining how many sword thrusts it would take to behead them all. And Leliana sits with the council, dressed in the robes of the Divine, her hands folded before her.
And so begins the Council.
It is indeed a battlefield. Swords are forged of barbed words, shields of past deeds and favors owed, and the first charge is a strong one, led by the Council’s Ferelden ambassador. Evelyn met Teagan in years past, and he seemed a firm, if fair leader. But the Inquisition’s occupation of fortresses within his land has not endeared them to him—and he is apparently done with with politeness. The Orlesian ambassador is all half-smiles and promises, but no less deadly.
“And now,” says the Orlesian ambassador, with one of those smiles, “let us open the council and discuss the Inquisition’s… illustrious future.”
By which he means, let us examine all of the ways the Inquisition stepped on the toes of other nations, so we might find the best way to take control of it.
The Inquisition’s transgressions are all laid out, for everyone to see, the way a butcher might carve open a fresh kill and hang it on a hook. It is a bloody, messy affair to see all of Evelyn’s past deeds described without context. She watches as her friends bear the brunt of it. Josie is unflinching; Cullen’s fingers tighten on the edge of the table; Cassandra’s mouth is drawn tight. They should not have to fight this battle—this world owes them a debt, not another war.
The Inquisitor waged war upon Corypheus, yes, but in the end she used much the same tactics as he did—
—Who is to say how they are any different?
Invading under the pretext of order was exactly what the Grey Wardens did centuries ago and we exiled them. Now the Inquisition is doing the same thing.
--Criminals, rebels, a fake Grey Warden—
The councilors are no kinder to the dead Inquisitor. Evelyn might have thought being a martyred herald of Andraste might count for something, but not in this room. She is painted as a zealot, as a dangerous rebel mage, as a woman who grasped for power and seized control where she could, as a leader who ruled through shadowy agents and force of arms.
All of her decisions are dragged into the light—the invasion of Redcliffe, the alliance with the mages, the exile of the Wardens, giving known criminals shelter within the walls of Skyhold—and speaking of Skyhold, there is much discussion of exactly who that fortress belongs to, if it might be claimed by either Orlais or Ferelden.
Like two dogs, Evelyn thinks, grasping at different ends of a scrap of leather. They will snap and yank until everything unravels between them.
The Inquisition will be no different.
She can see the future quite clearly: these two nations will seek to tear apart everything she has built. If these men have their way, Evelyn Trevelyan will be remembered as a grasping Inquisitor who sought to built her own empire amidst three wars. She wonders if Solas is somewhere in this room, silent and watchful, listening as her every action is picked apart.
“My lords,” says Cassandra, her hands flat on the table. “I fear you have forgotten one rather important aspect of our existence: we were formed to restore order, by whatever means necessary. And have you forgotten Corypheus? Had we not acted as we did, you would be under Tevinter rule.”
The Orlesian ambassador’s smile widens. “I fear sometimes,” he says smoothly, “the gossip and rumors might outpace truth. Surely, some of the… dire rumors were mere exaggerations. I tend to think of the Magister—if indeed, that is what he truly was—as a convenient villain for the Inquisition to oppose.”
“Convenient?” repeats Cullen, his face reddening. “Ask the occupants of Haven how convenient—”
He falls silent as Josie lays a hand on his arm. “What the Commander means is that Corypheus was indeed a true threat,” says Josie.
Teagan snorts. “I fail to see how dire a threat he must have been if a single mage managed to defeat him.”
Evelyn’s fingers tighten on the railing.
She bled for them. Gave everything she had, sacrificed friends, alliances, spent countless nights tossing in her bed for fear that she would fail them all. But she did it—she destroyed Corypheus, kept him from tearing Thedas apart.
But for them, it wasn’t enough.
Saving the world wasn’t enough.
Dying wasn’t enough.
Their words coil around her heart, twisting her insides into knots, until she is shaking.
Duke Savatier seems to notice her distress. “My dear, you are pale as death. This crowd is quite hot. Come.” And before she can protest, his hand is on her arm and he is snapping at the young nobles to remove themselves from his path. He gives an elven servant a curt order, and before she can truly grasp what is happening, Evelyn finds herself sitting on a bench at the back of the balcony, away from the crowds. A servant appears with a chilled cordial and Savatier presses it into her hand.
She is grateful for his presence; if not for his interference, she might have done something unwise. Of course, he thinks her a noblewoman who might make an easy alliance for his socially inept son, but she appreciates his kindness all the same.
She never thought herself overly concerned with her own reputation; she has very few illusions about herself—she is small, pale, not overly attractive, and she is scarred in more ways than one. To hear others repeat such facts has never truly disturbed her. But to have her time as Inquisitor picked apart… that is another thing entirely. She tried. She tried so hard, all the while wondering if she was doing the right thing, and even now the old uncertainties threaten to swell, to drown her.
She never asked for this. She never wanted it.
Not that these nobles care; in their eyes, she is just another mage seeking power.
Maker. If they use her name to try and round up the mages again—she is not sure what she will do.
A sharp pain throbs up her palm and she winces. Not that she will likely live to see such a thing. She gulps down the cordial, the tart taste of raspberries a welcome distraction.
“Thank you,” she tells Savatier. It takes all of her attention to cobble together a polite response. “I appreciate your kindness, my lord. But I think I will retreat to the gardens. The fresh air will do me some good.”
When she rises to her feet, he does the same. “Shall I accompany you? It would be no hardship to tour the gardens with a beautiful young lady on my arm. And I could introduce you to my son…”
She takes a step back. “I would truly enjoy such an introduction, but not until after I have had some time to collect myself. Perhaps later this evening?”
He bows, and she hurries to the stairs. Her slippers are thin and delicate, and she can feel every groove in the stones as she nearly trips in her haste, taking the circular stairs so quickly the world feels as if it spins around her. She tries to concentrate on those small details, rather than let her mind recall the words of the Council.
—Left to run rampant—
She strides down the long corridor, her dress billowing out behind her. Some of her turmoil must show upon her face, for the servants scurry out of her path like they would for a true noblewoman.
She leaves the palace, breathing in the fresh air of the gardens, tasting flowers and the water of nearby fountains, but it does not soothe her.
—Dangerous, if left to their own devices—
She steps into the small side room and shuts the door behind her. She feels vulnerable in this dress, in this place. It is too close to all of her old memories. The wall at her back is cool, solid, and she closes her eyes.
Light dances behind her eyelids. She opens her eyes and sees—
The mirror. The eluvian is alight with magic, blue illumination playing across the cobblestones.
Her first thought is that Solas must have ventured ahead of her, returned to the Crossroads.
But it is not Solas that emerges from the eluvian.
A Qunari soldier steps free of the mirror, and his gaze meets hers.
She does not move.
They stare at one another.
And then they both reach for their weapons.
Evelyn internally curses the dress as she falls to one knee, darting beneath the first sword thrust. Her own daggers are tucked against her thigh, buried beneath layers of tulle. She yanks one free and slashes upward, managing to catch the Qunari on his forearm. As she strikes back with steel, she murmurs a spell, calls lightning to her other hand.
The spell arcs from her fingertips, lances into the Qunari’s left leg. He staggers; the leg going numb and useless beneath him. With a snarl, he brings his sword to bear. It sweeps downward, and she rolls aside—or at least, she tries.
The dress snags. She has only a heartbeat to feel a flutter of fear, her breath caught in her throat.
He might kill her.
He might kill her—and she realizes that it won’t matter.
The world thinks her dead. They are already trying to undo everything she did when she was Inquisitor.
Perhaps this is what happens to martyrs when they last beyond their given time.
The sword slams into the cobblestones a mere hairsbreadth from her fingers. She slashes out with a dagger and catches the Qunari on the ankle, between the joins of his armor. The blade bites deep, severing muscle and tendon. The soldier does not scream, but a terrible choking noise emerges from his lips.
She gathers all of her anger, all of the burning resentment, all of her frustration, and uses them as tinder. She sets herself ablaze with fury, and uses that energy to defend herself.
She sees surprise reflected in the Qunari’s eyes, and then she drives her knife through his throat. He staggers once, and then falls. Her fingers are warm, slick with blood, and she is still shaking with anger, ready to take on any attacker that might appear. She whirls to face the eluvian, anticipating another attacker, but the mirror has gone still and dark.
A glance down at the body. It is cooling on the cobblestones, slack and quite dead. Evelyn closes her eyes, forces her breathing to calm.
Without thinking, she uses the skirt of her dress to wipe at her hands, trying to rub away the blood. It has leaked into the rims of her fingernails, edging her fingertips with crimson. No matter how hard she rubs, it will not come out.
All at once, she is lightheaded. Another Qunari. Here—here in the Winter Palace. Perhaps it came here to check on the gaatlok, perhaps even to ignite it. She falls to her knees beside the corpse, begins rummaging around in its armor. Orders. There must be orders.
There is a small leather satchel attached to his hip and she yanks it free, pulling out papers. There are scattered scraps of parchment, and there is no time to study them. She shoves the satchel in the only place she can think off—right down her bodice, between her breasts. And then she reaches for the other object she placed there earlier.
A clear crystal. She rubs her thumb over it and speaks. She feels adrift with uncertainty. Perhaps this will not work. Perhaps—
“Dorian, I need you,” she says.
The voice that comes through the stone sounds remarkably dry. “I always thought this day would come. Alas, my dear friend, you just do not hold that appeal to me.”
“Dorian,” she says again. “Please. There is a side door on the outside of the palace. I need your help with something.” She hesitates. “It’s a bad something.”
“Coming from you, that frightens me,” he replies.
She grimaces but does not contradict him.
He arrives only a few minutes after she calls for him; his face is pinched with worry when she unlocks the door and lets him in. “Is that… are you bleeding?” he says, and she looks down at herself.
She is not bleeding. But the lifeblood of the Qunari soldier is spattered across her lace dress.
Well, at least one good thing came of this. The dress is utterly ruined. “Not mine,” she says, and gestures downward. His gaze falls to the floor.
For a moment, they stare at the Qunari corpse. She watches him process this turn of events; several emotions flicker through his eyes—confusion, disgust, then his face settles into an expression of curiosity. “It’s one of their military,” Dorian muses, as if to himself. “What could this fellow have been doing here?”
“I’ll tell you,” she says. “But first, we need to move him. Somewhere the Inquisition will find him and be alerted to his presence.”
Dorian flashes her a look. “This is going to be one of those days, isn’t it?”
“It’s a long story,” she says, “but I’ll give you the short version: the Qunari are smuggling gaatlok into the Winter Palace, into Denerim, and many other major cities in southern Thedas. I do not know why, but I think this could be their friendly way of declaring war.”
Dorian opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it again. “Well,” he says, “Tevinter will be thrilled. Now, remind me—why do we need to move him again?”
“Because someone needs to find him and not here,” she says quickly. “Solas and I still need to get out. If he’s found here, we’ll never be able to approach this eluvian again. Dorian, please. If you could just…” She gestures vaguely at him. “Use your magic and get him walking again.”
Dorian crouches beside the soldier, eyeing the corpse with the air of a smith considering a broken sword. “I don’t think that will work.”
“Oh, come on,” she snaps. “It’s not like you haven’t done such a thing before.”
“I have,” he replies, “but look at that. You’ve severed all the tendons in his right leg. He won’t be able to walk. He’ll have to hop. And let me tell you that a bloody, fully-armored Qunari soldier hopping through the Winter Palace will likely draw attention.”
She grinds her knuckles into her forehead, trying to push away a headache. “All right. All right. We can do this—we just need a plan.” She glances about the small room; it must have been used as storage at one time, because there are rolls of tablecloths leaning against one wall.
Her eyes fall on those linens.
“I have a plan,” she says.
“This,” says Dorian, “is a terrible plan.”
“At least I’m consistent,” replies Evelyn. “Now get his leg—I think it’s slipping.”
Dorian grunts and does take hold of the Qunari’s other leg.
The soldier is bundled up in a linen that Evelyn managed to find—and it is the best they can do. They wrap him up and carry him like a particularly awkward bundle of laundry. One with armor spikes. They would have been seen immediately, if not for a clever use of illusion by Dorian, casting them into shadow.
They awkwardly trundle down the palace steps, away from the crowds, into the series of shops that have sprung up around the Winter Palace. No doubt some enterprising merchants saw the council as an opportunity to make some coin—and now it will serve Evelyn’s purposes just fine. “Prop him up over here,” she says quietly, once they have come far enough.
With a grunt, they both set the Qunari on the packed, hard dirt of a side path. Evelyn glances about, then unwraps the bloodied linen, leaving the Qunari soldier to slump against the ground.
Dorian ignites the linen, leaving nothing but ashes and a puff of smoke.
For a moment, Evelyn gazes down at the soldier and her stomach twists in on itself.
She hates leaving him like this, a bundle of dead flesh and armor, tossed aside like so much garbage. She does not pray; she has not prayed since she was very young. But she does close her eyes for a moment and whisper, “I’m sorry,” before rising to her feet.
“We need to find Solas,” she says. “I—I think we should check the servants’ quarters. He probably has agents within them.”
Dorian gives her an odd look. “What do you mean? Solas has agents?”
Oh, Maker. She is slipping, balancing too many secrets; they have begun to tip precariously—and she is too rattled to care. “Long story,” she says.
“You cannot use that excuse for everything, you know?” he says, but his voice is troubled. “Are you all right? You look…”
It feels as if a sense of unreality has settled in around her. She is removed from this place, with its beautiful trappings and the blood drying on her hands, and for a moment, it feels as if she might simply float away, drift into nothingness. And then everything comes back with a snap, and she is blinking and Dorian is gazing at her with concern.
“Let’s go,” she says, realizing she has lost the thread of the conversation. They reenter the palace through a side door, and Evelyn follows the familiar hallways down to the servants’ wing. Luckily, only a few elves see them pass, and something in her face or demeanor must make them realize that their attention would be better served elsewhere. She turns a corner, and some of the tightness in her chest relaxes.
Solas strides down the corridor. His mouth drops open when he sees her. “What happened?” he says sharply. She glances down at herself and remembers that the delicate lace of her dress is stiff with dried blood. No wonder the servants hastened out of her path. She reaches up, touches her mask to make sure it is still firmly in place.
“You do look rather ghoulish,” says Dorian, and pulls off his cloak. “Here—one last gift.”
“Thank you.” She pulls the cloak around herself, hiding the front of her dress. Solas comes to a halt before them, his gaze flicking between Evelyn and Dorian, his mouth set in a hard line.
“Well, Solas,” says Dorian, his voice sharp and chipper. “How have you been? Good? You look good, from what I can see of your face. You truly should write more.”
“Dorian,” replies Solas, with all of the delicate wariness of a dualist saluting his opponent. “I assume you had something to do with this?”
“Me?” says Dorian, with all of the innocence of a child caught with his hand in a jar of sweets. “I don’t know why you would assume such a thing. No, our dear former Inquisitor managed this one all on her own. I was merely called in for clean-up duty. Which I am always glad to be a part of,” he adds, a little dryly.
“Thank you, again,” says Evelyn quietly. “I—we should go. Dorian, I’ll speak to you again.”
Dorian’s fingers brush over a lump in his breast pocket—a lump the same size and shape as her own sending crystal. “Yes. You shall. I expect a full account of events.”
With a flourish, he gives her a little bow. To Solas, he merely nods. And then he sweeps away.
Solas waits until the corridor is empty before he steps forward. He reaches for her, pushing away the borrowed cloak, lightly touching the bloodied lace of her dress. His thumb brushes against her bodice, lightly, as if to check if she is truly uninjured. When he is satisfied, his hand falls back to his side. “What happened?”
She draws the cloak tighter around herself. “Qunari,” she says wearily. “Came through the eluvian. I killed him and Dorian and I dragged his body to a place where the Inquisition will find him. I figure it’s the easiest way to alert them that something is wrong. Oh, and I almost became a duchess.”
He cocks an eyebrow.
“But that’s not important,” she says. “We need to leave—this place will be swarming with guards soon.”
He hesitates, then nods. “I agree. I think our time could be better spent elsewhere.”
The trip back to his home in Val Royeaux is uneventful. Evelyn grips the hilt of a dagger the whole way through the Crossroads, and Solas makes no effort to hide the spell he holds at the ready. Their steps are just a little too hurried, their gazes wary as they pass by the mirrors.
The Crossroads are not safe—not even this far into the labyrinth. The Qunari at the Winter Palace proved as much.
Even when they venture into the city again, Evelyn cannot relax. Her mask feels too close, the stiffness of the blood itches against her stomach and chest, and she is unsteady with weariness. Solas makes no effort to slip around the back of his house; rather, he simply walks up to the front door and unlocks it. Evelyn all but stumbles into the foyer.
“Andraste’s knickers,” says Nalle, when Evelyn rounds a corner. “Who did you disembowel?”
Evelyn cannot bring herself to answer. She merely shoves the small leather satchel into Nalle’s hands. “This came off a Qunari soldier. I’m going to take a bath, but if you want to look it over now, I’ll join you in an hour.” Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Solas watching her. She turns away, and heads to her own rooms.
In the seclusion of her bedroom, Evelyn manages to untie the dress’s laces, yanking it off. The sticky fabric peels away, and she tosses it into a corner before striding into her small bathroom. She catches sight of herself in the mirror—and it is worse than she might have imagined. Her hair is messy, her skin bone-white, and flecks of blood cover her shoulders, her chest, her breasts, all down her stomach. Dorian was right; she looks ghoulish.
She looks exactly how the Exalted Council painted her.
A mage with bloodied hands, who resorts to murder when it suits her purposes.
No. She turns away from the mirror and goes to run the bath.
The water is crimson when she rises from it, but her skin is scrubbed clean. She picks up her traveling clothes—the leathers and the armor.
She is done being a noblewoman.
When she is dressed, she forces herself to leave the room. All she truly wants is to sleep. To lose herself in the Fade and dreams and forget everything. Duty demands otherwise—as it always does.
She pads down the hall on bare feet. The sound of voices from the kitchen make her pause.
“—Mining lyrium,” murmurs Solas. “It is as dangerous a venture as I could have imagined. The Ben-Hassrath need to be stopped.”
Evelyn goes still and listens.
Nalle makes a noise in the back of her throat. “You disagree,” says Solas.
“Not my place to disagree, Boss.”
A sigh. “Do not pretend to be a loyal servant. The guise does not suit you.”
This time Nalle snorts. “Fine. You want to know what I think? It’s pointless. Them Qunari will wreck the Winter Palace—and I say, let them. Those noble bastards took Halamshiral from our people. No elf will weep for their deaths. I say we get the servants out, and let the nobles get a taste of gaatlok.”
Evelyn’s breath snags in her throat.
“And Denerim?” says Solas quietly. “And the other cities that will be attacked?”
“None of our damn business,” replies Nalle. “Besides, does it matter? If this lot dies now, or if they die later—it’s all the same. We bring down the Veil, and it’s all a bloodbath.” She says the words matter-of-factly. “This is just a distraction. We need to focus on our own goals.”
Evelyn’s heart pounds. She listens for his reply, but it is a long time in coming.
Finally, he says, “I will do what I must, but there is no benefit in allowing harm to come to innocents before it is necessary. If they must die, I would rather they die in comfort.”
Of all the painful words she has heard today, those are the ones that pierce her heart.
She hasn’t—she hasn’t gotten through to him at all.
She cannot stop him.
The future stretches out before her: her friends from the Inquisition scattered, the world she fought so hard to save being torn apart from the inside, and the man she loves trying to tear it apart from the outside.
All at once, she feels worn down. Utterly exhausted and cold.
She is one person. She cannot fix all of this.
She tried so hard to fix things before, and look at what has come of it—a world ready to turn on her, to remember her as a tyrant and a villain.
He is determined to walk a path of ruination, to make a martyr of himself to fix his own past deeds. She sees something of herself in him, in the desperate desire to make things better. But not this way. Never this way.
And she cannot stop him.
That thought makes a sob rise in her throat. She has never been able to stop him; she cannot hurt him and she does not hold enough sway over him to coax him from this path.
The anchor flares again, hot and roiling within the flesh of her palm. Even her own power comes back to destroy her, and for the first time, that thought does not frighten her.
She closes her fingers in a fist. All right, then.
She will save Thedas one last time—and if she perishes in the attempt...
Well. It seems her first death made little difference in this world. Her second will likely not matter much, either.
Um.... Merry Christmas, everyone? XD
The Ben-Hassrath are mining lyrium.
Solas has met very few of the Qunari in his waking moments. He has seen them in dreams, watched them during his long sleep, and in those glimpses of their culture, he saw much of them. Even the parts they wished to keep to themselves—the baker hiding sugar in every loaf of bread, the warrior who fed scraps to stray kittens, the tamassran who gently guided her charges away from the most dangerous of occupations. He is not wholly ignorant of their plight; they are made slaves to their own rigid system. Some of them break free, as the Iron Bull did, but most spend their lives simply toiling away at the lives they have been told to live.
But there are others, those believe in the Qun, believe so strongly they would snuff out free will in all the lands to give their own empire room to grow. Those are the ones who bind the saarebas. Solas has seen those creatures more than once—and truly, they are made creatures rather than people for their abilities. Shackled and gagged, treated as little more than a beast of burden. Yet another explosive tool waiting to be tossed into a pit of the Qun’s enemies.
But never, never has Solas seen a saarebas with the raw power of the ones he has met in the last week. The Qunari mage in the library and the one at the sentinel camp—they were not what Solas has seen in his dreams. They were ablaze with power and Solas could not truly understand why.
Now, he does.
“They are mining lyrium,” he repeats.“It is as dangerous a venture as I could have imagined. The Ben-Hassrath need to be stopped.”
Nalle sits beside him at the kitchen table, a cup of tea before her. It has long gone cold. She leans back in her seat, and he knows her well enough to interpret her quiet grunt.
“You disagree,” says Solas.
Nalle shrugs. “Not my place to disagree, Boss.”
A sigh drags through his teeth. “Do not pretend to be a loyal servant. The guise does not suit you.” It is true; Nalle may serve, but she does not possess the temperament of a servant. She chooses to be here, and Solas does not lie to himself—she would leave if his plans did not so appeal to her. He still remembers Nalle, barely into adulthood, a tattered bow tucked against her back, eyes wide when she realized exactly who he was. What he might do—what he intended to do. I could have magic, she whispered. Like discovering a weapon that she never thought she could wield.
Nalle snorts, bringing him back to the moment. “Fine. You want to know what I think? It’s pointless. Them Qunari will wreck the Winter Palace—and I say, let them. Those noble bastards took Halamshiral from our people. No elf will weep for their deaths. I say we get the servants out, and let the nobles get a taste of gaatlok.”
“And Denerim?” says Solas quietly. “And the other cities that will be attacked?”
“None of our damn business,” replies Nalle. “Besides, does it matter? If this lot dies now, or if they die later—it’s all the same. We bring down the Veil, and it’s all a bloodbath.” She says the words matter-of-factly. “This is just a distraction. We need to focus on our own goals.”
Her words are harsh, but he can see her point of view. This is merely a hindrance, in her eyes. Saving some humans when likely a war will break out in a matter of years. To save the lives of those living in a city that rightly belongs to their people.
But he cannot allow this to continue. He may not be with the Inquisition, but he respects their people, considers some of them friends. And the thought of allowing the Qunari to encroach on these lands leaves a bitter taste on his tongue. He says, “I will do what I must, but there is no benefit in allowing harm to come to innocents before it is necessary. If they must die, I would rather they die in comfort.”
Because people will die. No matter what path he chooses. If he keeps to his current plans or follows the one Evelyn has laid out, people will die. By his hand, by the hand of the Evanuris, by the chaos of the Fade. He could choose to do nothing and people will still die—and most likely, those people will be his.
There is a noise from the hallway, a whisper of air; Nalle slowly rises to her feet, sharing a look with him.
While it is true that this is a sanctuary of the Dread Wolf, not all of his agents know the extent of his plans. To have such knowledge creep through the ranks might prove… trying. He nods at Nalle and she silently pads to the open door. She peers through. “Nobody there.”
He lets out a breath. Nalle reseats herself, takes a sip of her cold tea. He gazes at her, considering. “What if there were a way to… lessen the deaths?” he says.
Nalle downs her tea in a few loud swallows, then sets her cup down. “How?”
“A way of… removing a threat and ending a cycle of destruction,” he replies. “Before I take down the Veil.”
Her gaze narrows. “Why?”
Because the more Evelyn prods at his plans, the less certain he becomes.
Because there is an argument to be made for waking the Evanuris while the Veil remains in place. It would simplify things—as well as complicate others.
Because these people are deserving of that title—People—even if they are not his own.
“If I woke the False Gods,” he murmurs, half to himself and half to Nalle. “If I woke them before we removed the Veil, it would end the Blights and lessen the chances they would draw allies from the Dalish.”
Nalle’s frown deepens. “That’s not what’s been discussed, Boss.” Her fingers flex, as if reaching for a sword that does not exist. “You said we’d bring back the magic.”
“And we will,” he replies. “But if those Dalish with magic join with one of the False Gods, the war could destroy our people. The infighting will prove catastrophic.”
Anger casts a shadow over Nalle’s face. “You don’t think they’d do that, do you?”
“You have not met the Dalish,” he says quietly. “They do not simply fear me. I am the creature of their nightmares. They will not ally with me, not if there are more revered deities to cling to.”
She shakes her head and there is something awed in her expression. “Still not sure how you got that reputation, Boss.” Her mouth twitches up at one corner. “But it’s something. Tell you what—we deal with these Qunari invaders first, discuss our own issues later?”
He inclines his head. “That would be the wisest course of action. Would you mind seeing if the Inquisitor is ready? I would like her to sit in on this meeting.”
Nalle has always been good at hiding her true emotions, and Solas thinks that is the only reason why she does not roll her eyes or grin outright. “Of course you do, Boss. I’ll go find her.”
Evelyn emerges from her rooms dressed for battle. He smiles to see her in such garb; while she was lovely in the gowns, she is far more confident in her light armor and leathers. She moves comfortably, and when she slides into a chair, she looks at ease for the first time in days.
“You should look at the papers,” says Solas, nodding at the table before them.
The papers are spread across the wooden surface. There is the map leading to the Deep Roads entrance in the Crossroads, the small scraps of code that mean little, and the single word that Solas finds tucked among the missives. Silently, he reaches down and touches the scrap of parchment, pointing to a name.
“You see our problem,” he says.
“Someone’s talked,” says Nalle, in the low voice of a woman looking for the right place to aim an arrow. “Someone’s… shit.”
She understands a moment after Solas does.
He has many elves on missions at the moment, some of those assignments require silence. Any one of those agents might have been taken, tortured, and while Solas’s identity is safe, the name Fen’Harel is still known to them.
“Your organization is compromised,” murmurs Evelyn.
She is oddly subdued; her gaze averted from his. He tries to catch her eye and fails—she is utterly focused on the sheets of parchment.
“All the more reason to go after these Ben-Hassrath,” says Solas. “We cannot let this stand. We should locate their base of operations, and then move in with more of our forces.”
Nalle rises from the table. “I’ll get a small team together. Am I right in thinking you’ll want to lead it, Boss?”
A moment of consideration. This will be a dangerous assignment and he should go with them. He alone has the power to stand up to one of those saarebas. “Yes.”
Nalle nods, snaps a quick salute, and leaves the kitchen. Solas turns back to Evelyn. She sits quietly, her gaze still lowered. This is… odd. He cannot remember a time when she would not look at him, would not even acknowledge his presence. Even when she was afraid of him, when he first revealed his identity, she kept her eyes on him.
She is still pink from her bath and her hair is pulled into a tangled braid. Loose tendrils are already coming free, curling at the nape of her neck, and something about that small detail makes him yearn to touch her. But when he tries again to catch her eye, she will not cooperate.
It feels as if something has shifted between them; she has pulled away, gone to a place he cannot reach.
He waits until he is sure they are alone before he asks, “Has the anchor pained you?”
She seems almost startled by the question. Then she shakes her head, and she is distant again. “No more than usual,” she murmurs.
He reaches for her hand, but she twists subtly, angling her torso away from him.
“I said it is fine,” she says.
She is not fine. He has not seen her like this—hollow and cold—since the battle of Adamant.
It feels as if he is losing her, already lost her, even if she sits beside him. And abruptly, a cold sliver of fear slips down his back, settles like a sickness in his stomach. The more she pulls away, the more he longs draw her near.
She is straight-backed and her face a mask of calm. She looks much as she did in the role of Inquisitor—solemn and untouchable. It is a dangerous calm. Her gaze slides to him and then away, as if he is something she wishes to ignore.
"Evelyn?" he says.
She does not meet his eyes. "Yes?"
"You should remain here," he says, after a moment's hesitation. He fully expects her to protest, to say that this land's protection falls as much to her as to him. More, even. She will tell him that he is being foolish, that—
"Of course," she says.
Everything he was preparing to say dies in his mouth. He feels at a loss for words, adrift and abruptly uncertain. She is... too cold. As if all of her fire has been extinguished.
“What is wrong?” he says quietly. “Tell me. If you are in pain or something has happened, I would help.”
Slowly, her chin lifts. Her eyes meet his—and—
He has seen her eyes in many different lights, admired how they might appear sapphire one day and stormy gray the next. But he has never seen her eyes frozen over, as hard as the ice covering a lake.
“Because you wish me to die in comfort?" she says, and his heart plummets.
That noise in the hallway, it was her. Of course it was her. She heard those words, spoken in weary acknowledgement that any action he takes will cost lives.
He steels his voice to a steady calm. “That was not what I meant."
"It sounded rather clear to me." But perhaps the worst part is she is not angry. Anger is something he might have handled, but this cool acceptance is something else entirely.
“Evelyn,” he begins to say, but she cuts him off.
“I will not argue with you. I have done that before and it has little effect.” Her fingers tighten into fists. “You will simply say that this is who you are, that this is what you must do, and I see there is no way to dissuade you. I told you that I did not care who you have been,” she says. “And you told me once that you could never be more than what you are—and I did not understand it at the time. But now I do. You see yourself as an instrument of change, a bloody tool that will carve this world apart to make room for a better one. And you’re not wholly wrong. This world does need to change, but not like this. Not in a bloody battle, a war that will destroy both our people. I think you are afraid to admit that there are other paths, other ways to live.” She speaks slowly, as if each word pains her. “You could be more than this.”
For a long moment, he cannot speak. It feels as though she has carved him open—he is laid bare before her, his every fear and doubt written across his face. He would give anything for a suitable reply, but there is none. He cannot speak.
She stands and turns away, and it is as if she has stepped through a door, locked it between them.
Sharp pain flares in his chest but he tries to ignore it.
This is how it should be between them. It will make his path a simpler one to walk, now that she has removed herself from it. But he aches to follow her, to make this right.
He forces himself to remain seated at the table. He breathes, concentrates on the push and pull in his lungs, lets the familiarity settle him. She will be fine. She will be safe, here in this house, and when he returns he will try to make her understand. But in the meantime—
He will find the Qunari and end this threat.
And she will not do anything foolish.
Evelyn strides into Dagna’s bedroom. The dwarf sits at her make-shift work desk, carefully tucking several files onto a strip of leather. She rolls it up, then slides it into her belt.
“Dagna,” Evelyn says, and places the map down on the desk. The one she took when Solas was distracted. “If I asked you to do something incredibly foolhardy and dangerous…”
Dagna beams. “I’d ask, ‘When do we leave?’ And, ‘Where are we going?’”
“Now,” Evelyn replies, “And how do the Deep Roads sound to you?”
They wait for Solas to leave first. Once he, Nalle, and the others are gone, Evelyn takes her own party into Val Royeaux. She has the route to the eluvian memorized, and it is little effort to retrace her steps to the Crossroads.
Evelyn, Dagna, and Morrigan step through the eluvian one after the other.
“’Tis foolish to bring me along,” murmurs Morrigan, as she delicately picks her way along the misty path. “The moment your elven lover asks me what we have been up to, I shall be forced to answer him. If you desired secrecy, I should have been left behind.”
“Solas can know,” says Evelyn. “After we get back, it won’t matter. Either we’ll be dead or the operation will be ended. Either way, he won’t be in a position to argue with my methods.”
Dagna snorts out a laugh. “And to think this is the same woman who used diplomacy all across Thedas.”
“And is currently being declared a ruthless, power-hungry mage who was misguided at best and dangerous at worst,” replies Evelyn, without missing a beat.
“There are worse things to be called,” says Morrigan. “Weak, for one. The fact they must try to demean you is a compliment, my friend. It means they fear your memory too much to ignore you.”
Evelyn smiles. “So I’m your friend now, am I?”
Morrigan’s cheeks flush, but she keeps her head held high. “If you have not figured that out by now, then you are a fool.”
The Deep Roads are always unnervingly warm.
The smell is that of damp stone, the rust of abandoned tools, and the earthy tang of rotting corpses.
Because there are always corpses in the Deep Roads.
“This is old,” says Dagna. Her voice is quiet, unnervingly so. She is always so chipper, to see her subdued sets Evelyn on edge. “Far older than any of the mines I was ever allowed to venture into. Mind you, I never actually got to go into the Deep Roads. My family was merchant caste—none of us were ever called on to fight. The most we’d do is supply the warriors with tools or weapons.”
Dagna reaches out a hand and touches the wall. She drags her nails across the stone, catching dirt and small pebbles. She sifts through them with the air of a craftsman eyeing raw material, rubbing the dirt between her fingertips and frowning all the while.
“Old,” she says again. “This mine must have been lost or sealed up—and now the only way to get here is through the mirrors.”
“Do you feel it?” says Morrigan quietly. She looks to Evelyn, her gaze heavy with implication.
Evelyn is not sure exactly to which sensation Morrigan is referring—to the heavy sense of the stone overhead, to the sharp taste in the air, or the constant thrum of the anchor in her palm. Light spills across her fingers and no matter how much she tries to dismiss it, the magic remains. Perfect, she thinks wryly. It will act as a beacon to any nearby Qunari.
“Elvhen magic lingers here,” says Morrigan. “Your hand reacts to it as do…” She touches a finger to her own temple and Evelyn understands.
“They were here,” she says. “Ancient elves. The voices of the Well—they know of this place.”
“Yes,” Morrigan breathes, and her eyes flutter shut, head tilting to one side, listening. “Pain and blood—and hunger.” Her eyes flicker beneath their closed lids, as if in dream. “She came—walked a path of destruction in this place, but they had to shut it away, lest it—too much, it was too much—” A shudder rolls through her and her eyes flash open.
“We should not linger here,” she breathes.
A fresh tendril of unease draws Evelyn’s stomach tight. The anchor pulses, and a fresh agony spikes up her arm. She groans, bites her lip, and waits for the pain to pass. It subsides in a moment, but its light does not fade. “Come on,” she says, quietly.
They venture downward.
The heaviness of the earth makes her uneasy, and she has the sensation that she is being swallowed up by rock and stone. The mine is thick with the scent of smoke, and the green illumination cast by the anchor seems to play on the fog, casting eerie shapes before them.
The path slopes downward, deeper beneath the earth, and Evelyn tries to breathe evenly. She dislikes tight, enclosed spaces, and she can feel her heart pounding beneath her ribs. Morrigan is shivering, a quiet stream of elvish spoken beneath her quick breaths, and Evelyn can make out a few words.
“They closed this place,” whispers Morrigan. “Destroyed the entrances so no one would venture here again. It was—they took too much. The All-Mother—it was…” A shudder tears through her and she looks away. “Keep moving.”
They make their way down paths long forgotten, venture into the mines, and as they creep closer, Evelyn catches a familiar scent on the air. It is a dry tang, the scent of a smoke she once tasted on the shores of the Storm Coast. When a Qunari ship exploded, when—
“Gaatlok,” she murmurs. “It’s gaatlok.” She throws a look at Dagna, whose face is illuminated in the pale green light of the anchor. “They must be using gaatlok to mine,” she says. “That—that’s probably not safe, right?”
Dagna gazes at the thick lines of blue threading through the stone. “It’s mad. But brilliant. If the miners at home had this… but still. Even the most daring of dwarves hesitate to mine lyrium, and we have the best tolerance to it. For Qunari to mine it…” She shakes her head in wonder. “How are they still alive?”
“I suppose we shall find out,” says Morrigan, and they continue their steady march.
The cavern has all of the somber majesty of dwarf ruins, of yet another empire lost. But this mine is different; there is no telltale glow of magma, rather this tunnel is filled with soot and ill-lit. Every step is a tentative one—even with the glow of the anchor constantly thrumming through Evelyn’s palm, lighting their way. Morrigan was right. There is something about this cavern that calls to the magic within her, that whispers with the long-dead voices of the Well.
It is only when she sees the statues of the wolves that she wishes Solas were here; he might have known more, told her exactly what the ancient elves were doing here. But—no. It is better that he is not here. Her own anger is still too close to the surface.
Could the elves have mined lyrium long ago? But what would be the point, if the Veil had not yet been erected? Magic would have been plentiful; there would be no need to dig for lyrium.
She forces herself back to the present. There is no time for speculation nor investigation. They are here for the Qunari and nothing else.
And then they find the templar.
He is unkempt, hard-edged with fear and days spent beneath ground. But even so, Evelyn knows what the man is the moment he sees them. His eyes alight on Evelyn's staff, on the glow in her hand, and he reaches for a Chantry-crafted sword he does not carry—not anymore.
"Halt," says Evelyn sharply. Her voice rings with command and he is one used to taking orders.
The man's eyes flicker between her staff and her hand, as if unsure which to focus upon. "What—what are you doing here? Who are you?"
"'Tis none of your concern," says Morrigan sharply."You work for them, do you not?"
The man's attention goes to Morrigan. "What?"
"She means the Qunari,"says Dagna, as if trying to be helpful. "Interesting, though. I didn't think they got a lot of humans."
The man's lip curls. "They don’t—but. Well. I was in Kirkwall and..."
A templar from Kirkwall. Evelyn feels herself tense.
The templar looks at her, and recognition passes through his eyes. "You're a mage, aren't you?"
She does not answer. Old instincts surge to life, and she reaches for her staff.
But rather than make a move toward her, his shoulders slump in defeat. "Good. You might have a chance against them. I don't care if you're one of Fen'Harel's agents.You can have this place."
Evelyn forces herself to speak. She needs answers, after all. ”What makes you think I'm an agent of Fen'Harel? And where did you hear that name?"
The templar shrugs. "Heard the Viddasala say it.”
“Viddasala?” says Evelyn.
“Big higher-up in the Ben-Hassrath,” says the templar wearily. “Specializes in hunting magic, so I thought I’d fit right in. But she’s gone mad since she found out about this Fen’Harel. I figured he was just some big bad mage they're scared of. They say the South is falling apart, that magic has ruined it, that they're going to save it." He shudders. "You know what a saarebas is?"
"Yes," she replies.
"They're giving them lyrium." He shakes his head. "It’s—I’ve never seen the like. I've dealt with mages before, but these things... if you can stop this, I won't be sorry." He nods at the door. "Through there. You'll find a few soldiers, but if you can get through 'em, you might be able to blow this place. There are gaalok primers past the stone bridge, in the main hall."
"Why?" asks Dagna, sounding bewildered."If you work for the Qun, why would you help us?”
Morrigan snorts delicately. "Because some men’s loyalty means very little to them.”
The templar looks down at the stone ground. "It's not that. It's just... you haven't seen them. I fought magic all my life, but what they've created is worse than magic. I don't care who you are or work for, but stop them if you can."
He takes a step back, angling to leave, and for a moment Evelyn wonder if she should let him. He hasn't recognized her—she is supposed to be dead, after all—but he could still be a threat. Then she shakes off the thought; she will not become a cold-blooded killer.
She will not sacrifice a life when there are alternatives.
"Go," she says. "We'll do what we can."
Morrigan makes a displeased sound, but does not move to stop the templar. He gives Evelyn one last nod, and this one feels like silent thanks.
"Well, 'tis certain," says Morrigan. "They know of Fen'Harel. Perhaps they do not believe him to be the true elven god of old, but they know someone bearing that title opposes them. It might even be why they chose to invade. Better to conquer than to let the South fall into the hands of a mage, in their eyes."
"Elven gods," says Dagna, with a rueful shake of her head. "Titans. Old Magisters. Is it just me, or does it feel like all the old myths are waking up in a cranky sort of mood?”
Evelyn laughs. The sound echoes, startling her. She had not thought to laugh again, not after her conversation with Solas.
She pushes the door open and steps through. Her gaze rakes across the cavern, and that is when she sees them—rows of gaatlok mines, neatly stacked together.
For a brief moment, she considers rushing to the mines, scooping some of the powder into her pockets. This is the Qunari's greatest advantage, and if anything has been illustrated to her in the last few days, it is how vulnerable the South remains against an invasion. Perhaps if she could give the powder to Dagna or to Dorian...
But she did not come here to unseat the Qunari from a position of power or unbalance the delicate peace that seems to exist throughout Thedas. If the Qunari think they have lost the advantage, they will no doubt attack in force, to destroy before her people can create their own black powder.
No. It is better to let the gaatlok do what is supposed to.
Only this time, it will be used against its creators.
She is so focused on the barrels of gaatlok that she almost misses the whisper.
A voice slithers into her ear, low and feminine, the contented purr of a predator stalking easy prey. "Are you afraid of the dark, Inquisitor?"
A blade. A sharp edge aimed at her heart, glittering in the green illumination of the anchor. It descend and Evelyn lunges to one side, staggering out of reach. She hears Morrigan draw in a breath and Dagna cries out a warning as a female Qunari steps from a shadow, daggers in each hand.
They know me, thinks Evelyn, and then there is no time for thought.
The Ben-Hassrath, because she must be Ben-Hassrath, is a skilled assassin. She moves with a sinewy grace, easing from one strike into another as if this were a dance. Evelyn has little choice but to throw up her left hand and summon.
It is not a true rift, but the green light flares bright, a miniature sun in this unlit cavern, and it is blinding. Evelyn's eyes are safely squeezed shut, but the Qunari's are not. She snarls in pain, and Evelyn uses that moment of distraction to send a spike of lightning through her heart.
She sways, then topples over the high ledge.
Morrigan is battling with a spear thrower, his burly muscles straining as he tries to drive his weapon through the woman's chest. Morrigan's painted fingernails glitter in the green light and she gestures, with almost contemptuous ease. The Qunari's throat simply opens up, and blood cascades down his front.
Dagna darts around the legs of the largest Qunari; it is armored and hulking, a battering ram made flesh. But one well-applied paralysis rune later, and he is on the ground and immobile.
"Come on," says Evelyn grimly. "They'll be more of them."
There are, of course.
In a few moments, they are surrounded and Evelyn finds herself falling into a familiar rhythm. She casts and casts, her metal staff singing through the air, its blade gleaming with flame.
The world narrows—becomes little more than flashes.
A sword raised high.
Uneven stone beneath her feet, keeping her off balance.
Shouts of challenge.
Morrigan’s dark chuckle.
Screams of agony.
A gap opens up before Evelyn and she takes it, rushing ahead.
Another female assassin steps free of the shadows.
A step to one side, a whisper of sensation as a blade passes by Evelyn’s throat.
And the Qunari falls.
Evelyn cannot be sure how much time passes. Her senses are sharpened with nerves, and she can feel the blood running down her left arm, feel the staff’s weight in her hand, taste the cold sweetness of lyrium on the air. She is fighting recklessly, with little thought for barriers or defense. It is brash and ill-advised and perhaps that is why she revels in it, throws herself in the battle with little care for her own fate. She carves a bloody path toward her goal and part of her wryly observes that this is what the Council accused her of—and perhaps, in the end, they were right.
The path opens up before them. The ceiling is high, held up by huge columns of stone, and the bridge itself spans a wide chasm.
“That’s where the man said the primers would be,” says Dagna. Her voice is slightly out of breath, but she is grinning. “Come on—let’s see what we can blow up.”
They barely make halfway across the bridge before Evelyn sees the tall figures emerging from the shadows. She recognizes the outline of the leader’s armor, curving metal around its horns, its stance hunched and somehow graceful. A saarebas.
“The big one is mine,” says Evelyn, and steps forward.
The saarebas looks like the others of its kind—the eyes are hooded, the lips forced closed, and it moves with a feral agility. She tries to think of the saarebas as an obstacle to be overcome rather than a fellow mage; if she hesitates, she will be killed. She senses its gaze, even if she cannot see it. Perhaps it is aware of the anchor.
Evelyn swings her staff around and slams it into the stone. A crack opens up between them, and the saarebas lunges from the spell, surprisingly swift for its size, and lightning flickers, cracks through the air. Evelyn twists her staff, catching the lighting on the blade and pivoting, throwing the spell at a Qunari on her left. He lets out a bellow and collapses.
The saarebas’s hand cups thin air, and magic coalesces between his fingers.
Evelyn knows that spell—it is the one that blew her across the library, left everyone dazed and helpless.
They cannot afford to be helpless here. If they die, the Qunari will continue mining lyrium, and they will use it to conquer her home.
Solas’s words come back to her, spoken as if across a great distance. I fear summoning rifts will hasten the deterioration.
Well, it is not as if it matters anymore.
The anchor is still alive, reverberating with its borrowed power, alight with the presence of elvhen magics. It writhes beneath her skin, struggling to escape her, and when the pain blazes through her arm, she does not flinch. This power will consume the Qunari and if it must use her as tinder, then so be it.
In the past, her rifts were as contained as she could manage. But this rift is rough-hewn, messy and sprawling, and it slams into Evelyn herself with all the power of an ocean wave. She crashes to her knees.
The saarebas makes an odd noise—and it takes Evelyn a heartbeat to realize that this is what it a scream sounds like with one’s lips sewn shut.
And then the saarebas is simply gone, torn apart by the force of the explosion. Evelyn forces herself to her feet and looks around. Morrigan stands some distance away, gawping at Evelyn as if she has grown another head. Dagna is moving, nimbly leaping up the stairs to what looks to be a chest of some sort.
“That was—ill-considered,” says Morrigan, after she regains enough breath to speak. “You—you may have injured yourself.”
“I am fine,” Evelyn replies.
But Morrigan’s eyes are on her left hand and she looks down. Her hand feels oddly numb and unresponsive, and the magic still seethes through her flesh.
She tries flexing her fingers; they respond sluggishly.
Which might worry her on any other day.
But not now.
It takes surprisingly little time for Dagna to set off the charges. When she is finished, she takes a step back. “This could get messy,” she says, but she sounds delighted. “All right. Everyone prepare to run in three—two—one—”
She strikes with flint and stone. A spark catches.
And then they are running, scaling the tall ladders, trying to get to higher ground before the explosion tears through the cavern.
Evelyn has never heard anything like it. It is almost reminiscent of the deep roar of a dragon; she feels the reverberation through her bones, shaking and terrible, and then there is water cascading over her ankles.
The stones are slick beneath her boots and she takes care on the high ledges. It would be just her luck to thwart the Qunari, only to find herself falling from a tall height.
Even so, she is smiling. A vicious satisfaction settles in her chest. She has done something to aid Thedas, and she does not care what it costs her. The anchor throbs, refusing to calm, and she pays it little heed.
The return journey takes half the time. They scramble up the paths, past the wolf statues and the cryptic elvhen script, to the faint glow of the eluvian. “We did it,” says Evelyn, and she touches her right hand to the mirror, pushing at its surface. She steps through—
—And slams into something. Not something, someone.
She lets out a surprised sound and reaches for her weapon, but hands clamp down on her forearms. The sunlight is blindingly bright and she cannot see anything but armor and a tall form and—
The voice does not belong to a Qunari. She goes still and blinks, her eyes watering painfully. “Cullen?” she says.
She blinks him into focus, and realizes he is not alone.
Cassandra, Dorian, the Iron Bull, Cole, Blackwall, Sera, Vivienne, Varric. They are here. All of them—here.
Those who knew she was alive are looking at her with smiles—while the others gape at her as if she is some trick of the eye.
“What—what are you doing?” she says.
It is Dorian who speaks up. “Preventing an invasion, of course. Care to join us?”
Coming back from the dead is loud.
There is shouting. Cullen’s hands are still on her, and he looks at her, half-afraid and half-hopeful as if she is something he cannot trust. And then Sera’s arms are around her and Evelyn cannot breathe all that well, because there are hugs and then there are people clinging on for dear life and this is most definitely the latter. Morrigan and Dagna blend into the group seamlessly—actually, Sera leaps on Dagna, and their kisses go from joyful to sinful in less than two heartbeats.
Evelyn yanks her gaze away, hoping to give them some semblance of privacy. Varric nods to Morrigan, who gives the crowd a cool once-over. A hand is on Evelyn’s back—Cassandra’s, Evelyn thinks, because she knows the feel of those armored fingers, and then Bull is shouting gleefully, and Varric is speaking over him, and Vivienne’s smooth words manage to slip through a beat of silence.
“Well played, my dear.”
“I had not thought to see you again,” says Cassandra, and Evelyn thinks the older woman sounds a little relieved. Apparently, Dorian was not the only one to be uneasy with the circumstances of Evelyn’s leaving. That is to say, sneaking out of Ferelden with a swamp witch, a dwarf, and several ancient sentinels.
“You knew,” says Cullen, his voice fraying. “You kept this—”
“It was necessary,” replies Cassandra. “She was nearly killed, we needed to root out those Venatori, and the Inquisitor wished to keep her continued existence a secret.”
There is some more shouting after that. A few accusations, some cries of relief, and enough hugs that Evelyn thinks her ribs might be bruised. “I’m sorry,” she says, out of breath, “but how did you come here? How did you know?”
It seems Dorian followed up on her little tip. They ventured into the Crossroads on their own, discovered a Qunari, found notes on his body.
“Killed with some great magic,” says Vivienne, her eyes on the road and her fingers lightly stroking the edge of her staff.
From there, they found notes detailing the Dragon’s Breath conspiracy, including the lyrium mining. They were going to investigate when they ran into Evelyn.
“And now,” says Dorian, “I do believe it is time we showed these Qunari back to Seheron.”
“The agent we found had papers saying that the Inquisition fought at the behest of Fen’Harel,” says Cullen. He and Evelyn take the lead, falling into familiar habits. Cassandra and Bull take up the rear, with the archers and mages in the middle. “I do not know why the Qunari think we are affiliated with some elven god, and I can only presume it is due to some misunderstanding.”
Morrigan’s laugh rings out.
Evelyn glances over her shoulder, giving Morrigan a sharp glare. The witch is smiling, delighted by the others’ ignorance, her painted nails pressed to her lips. “Please,” she says. “Please let me be the one to tell them, I beg of you, Inquisitor.”
“Later,” says Evelyn shortly, and she leads the way through the first eluvian.
The base of operations is a fortress called the Davaarad.
The stone road leading up to the fortress is littered with the shattered remnants of mirrors—eluvians, Evelyn suspects, that the Qunari could not activate. The air has a tight quality, the way it feels just before a lightning strike. She draws a breath over her tongue and tastes the cold tang of lyrium.
There are soldiers on the walls, and a shout goes up. A quiet growl escapes Bull’s clenched teeth and for a moment she wonders how he is handling this. “You all right?” she asks softly.
A muscle works in his jaw, and his gaze is hard on the fortress. “Fine, Boss.” He glances down at her, nods once. “I’ll be fine. They’re the ones who should never have come here.” He hefts the sword from his back, cracks his neck, and leads the way into the first charge.
The battle is a swift, bloody affair.
The Qunari soldiers are well-armed and trained, but against the best of the Inquisition there is simply no contest—Vivienne sets half of them on fire while Dorian reanimates a few corpses, Sera picks off the enemy archers, and Bull draws attention to himself with a loud bellow, crashing into the enemy ranks.
Evelyn keeps her own staff low, in a defensive posture, slashing at any approaching Qunari with lightning.
Her left arm throbs. When she grasps her staff too tightly, she winces and looks down. The anchor is alight with magic and no matter how she tries to ignore it, the pain simply will not leave her. She almost wishes for the numbness to return, if only so she will not be distracted.
One of the Antaam throws himself past the main line, sword lashing out at Evelyn. She parries the blow, catching it on her staff. But the force of it yanks the weapon from her hand and she stumbles, caught off guard. With a growl, the Qunari reaches for her left arm, catching it in his huge hand.
He looks down and his eyes widen. The magic crackles between them both, and Evelyn bares her teeth in a snarl. “Wrong person to grab,” she says, the anchor flaring to life.
And she lets it loose.
The magic sears through her, flying through her veins, her bones, and she thinks she might be screaming, but the resounding crack of the explosion deafens her, throws her backward. She rolls once, twice, and comes to a halt, curling inward around her left arm. When she looks up, the soldier is dead.
Torn apart, as if he stood too close to one of those gaatlok explosions.
Hands are on her, helping her stand. “That—that’s not good,” says Varric, and the worry in his voice seems to draw her back. The pain is sharper now, a continual throb just out of time with her heartbeat.
She can feel the magic more keenly now, the way she might feel a sliver shoved beneath her skin; it is settled wrong, twined with flesh and bone, burning her from the inside.
“Let’s keep moving,” she says, and her voice sounds cold, tight.
She hates that they will be here to see it; they watched her return to life only to lose her again.
She loves them all, dearly.
She squeezes Varric’s shoulder with her right hand.
He hesitates, and she sees the knowledge in his face. He knows how this will end, has seen it coming for a while. Perhaps he knew the moment he laid eyes on her. The mind of a storyteller, he once said, when he called her a hero.
And in the best stories, he said, over a game of Wicked Grace, the heroes always die.
She picks up her staff and rushes toward the fortress.
She has dealt with enough of the Ben-Hassrath to expect the misdirection, the knife-wielders in the shadows, the constant barrage of arrows and even the saarebas that step into the light. A spear slams into the stone at Evelyn’s feet and she snarls, casting fire at the thrower.
Cullen leads a charge into the fortress, the warriors at the forefront, while Dorian and Varric slip into the shadows. When all of the attention is on the warriors, the mages and archers pick off those Qunari foolish enough to run into the open. Evelyn watches one of the saarebas; its eyes hooded behind a mask, its fingers edged with power.
The saarebas lunges, and it must warp the Veil because one moment it is across the room and then it is a mere arm’s length away, reaching out with fire and fingers alike.
Evelyn twists away, and she aims the point of her staff at the Qunari’s throat. She misses; the saarebas strikes out with its own knife, batting away her bladed staff, and then that same knife comes up, and she lets it. After all, an enemy is at his most vulnerable after he thinks he has won. So she allows the blow to land, the knife surging toward her heart, slicing through her shirt, and she feels the impact of the weapon against her armor. It does not pierce flesh—no, she has Solas’s ancient elven breastplate to thank for that.
The saarebas is so intent in trying to gut her that it does not hear Blackwall until the man’s sword is buried in its back. Blackwall twists the blade, and the saarebas jerks, goes limp, and falls to the stones. Evelyn steps back, nods her thanks.
“Been a while since we’ve done that.” Blackwall sounds fondly reminiscent, reaching out to clap Evelyn on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you.”
“You, too,” she replies, smiling.
The fortress’s gates are locked tight, and it takes Varric’s quick wits to devise a way to open them—some nonsense to do with weights. Evelyn’s gaze roams over the courtyard, gripping her staff hard, waiting for the next attack. If Solas has already come this way, there is no sign of him or his people.
Perhaps he has already found this Viddasala.
“We cannot all venture inside,” says Cullen. He rolls his wrist, flicking the blood from his sword. “We’ll draw the attention of every troop in this fortress. We should break into teams—draw the attention away from those going farther in.”
“Right,” replies Cassandra. “A smaller team will have a better chance of going unnoticed.” Her own armor has a rather large scorch mark down the back—courtesy of an archer with a few flaming arrows. But she is uninjured and her attacker is in two pieces. Evelyn has the sudden and unwise impulse to hug her.
“We’ll go in deeper,” Evelyn says, nodding to Cassandra. “Cullen, you and Vivienne, Sera, Blackwall, Dagna. Draw what attention you can here, see if you can secure the fortress’s entrance. If you can’t, get back to the eluvian and alert the others that an incursion might be imminent.”
She hesitates, realizes that she has fallen back into old roles.
But this is not her life, not anymore.
“I mean,” she says, suddenly unsure. “If—if that is what you think—”
Cullen takes a step back, never breaking her gaze, and brings his fist to his heart. “Inquisitor,” he says, with something like fierce pride in his voice. “Go.”
Cassandra, Bull, Dorian, Varric, Morrigan, and Evelyn venture deeper into the fortress. Bull takes the lead—or rather, he is the one to run at their enemies while everyone else scrambles to keep up. “I think he’s taking this invasion a little personally,” confides Dorian, over the clash of steel upon steel.
Evelyn calls fire to her fingertips and follows her friends into the fray.
The Qunari are remorselessly efficient. There are no boastful words nor moments spent posturing. The Antaam and the Ben-Hassrath do not feel the need to declare their own ruthlessness. Nor do they need to.
They fight with all of the experience and skill of those born to it, trained to it, made into weapons of flesh and bone. When Evelyn finds a group of gaatlok mines and uses them to take out one of the barracks, it is not the Qunari who hack and cough in the heavy, smoky air; no, their lungs are accustomed to it.
Dorian’s eyes are streaming by the time they reach the deepest reaches of the fortress. “This is one thing I did not miss about home,” he says raggedly. “The smoke, the explosions, the constant—” he slams the tip of his staff into the skull of a slender assassin “—interruptions of one’s day.”
The assassin falls, an arrow buried between his shoulder blades.
“Admit it,” says Varric, working Bianca’s slide, his gaze already moving to the next enemy. “You would have hated missing this.”
“Probably,” replies Dorian, “but just once, can we please go somewhere that does not involve so much blood spatter?”
“I’ll take it under advisement.” Evelyn ducks beneath a spear gets under a Qunari’s armored fist and sets his clothing on fire. He bellows and that is when Cassandra finishes him off.
They work as a team. As they have always done.
Evelyn smiles wearily, pain flaring through her arm.
It is a good fight.
It will be a good end.
Solas has fought wars before. He knows the taste and scent of battle, remembers the familiar weight of a weapon in his hand. In the past, such conflicts were waged with will, with magic, with a world that might be altered beneath one’s own feet. He has fought physical battles, when all he could taste was the copper of blood in his mouth.
It has been many ages since he fought in a war, but such experiences never quite leave a person.
When he breaks through the Qunari ranks, he gauges their strength and numbers. They are a swelling horde, ready to tear this world apart. He makes no attempt to hide his scorn when they try to stop him.
Most do not get close enough to try.
And those that do end up with an arrow in their throat.
Nalle stands a few paces behind him, smiling like a child at a street fair. “So what’s our strategy, boss?”
Only she would follow him into this carnage without asking that question beforehand. She believes in him, in his cause and his power, and together she also believes they will rend this world apart.
She reminds him a little of how he used to be, in those early days. Untempered, brash, and simmering with badly concealed fury. She has tasted enough of this world to know of its injustices, and she will not flinch when he casts down the Veil.
When, he thinks, and not if.
“There is no need to kill them,” he says, idly casting at an assassin that creeps too close. The assassin crumples. “Such an endeavor will only waste our time.” He lifts his gaze. “We will take that which does not belong to them.”
Nalle’s face hardens with understanding.
These Qunari have taken and used old magics, ignorant of their origins or true purpose. That will put them at a disadvantage. Once he takes the means of their travel, they will be trapped again in their own lands.
Or better yet, not in their own lands.
Let them try to find the way home once these mirrors no longer answer their call.
It is a simple matter to wrest the eluvians from them—simple, but bloody. He cuts a course through the Qunari, ignoring their warriors and their saarebas alike, calling to the old spells bound in the mirrors. He needs to find the one that leads to their homeland, to cut them off at the source.
He loses track of how many eluvians he passes through; the world flies beneath his feet, his enemies vanishing in a blur. He runs until his armor feels heavy and too warm, until he is calling cool winds to brush away the scent of burned flesh and smoke. He keeps a tight hold on his magic, only using what he needs to eliminate the barriers in his path. He will spare none of Mythal’s power on these creatures; he needs her magic for something more important than this annoyance.
The mirrors take him through ruins he thought lost—he has not explored this part of the labyrinth, had thought it lost to the ages, but they are still bright with sunlight and for a moment he is lost in time, looking out at half-broken bridges and roads and remembering how they looked so long ago.
How they will look again.
Nalle snarling as a spear narrowly misses her elbow. An arrow sinks into the Qunari’s eye and it goes down, a spray of blood spattering across the grass.
They are nearly to another eluvian when a figure rises from a crouch and lumbers into Solas’s path.
This one is unlike the others.
The air around him sings with power, and Solas can almost see the magic rising from his skin like heat from a sun-warmed road.
Masked, bound, hooded.
“You were foolish to come here,” says a voice. It is feminine, haughty with command, and Solas realizes that this must be the Ben-Hassrath’s leader. She is sinew and grace, her armor untarnished. Either untested or no enemy has come close enough to scratch it. Her gaze slides over Solas, cool and unafraid, and she says, “Fen’Harel will not have this land, nor any others. Your master will be forced to retreat and abandon his plans.”
She does not know. The name was likely tortured out of one of his people—yet another crime the Ben-Hassrath will pay for. But none of them know.
“You call yourself an organization of intelligence,” says Solas quietly, knowing his words will carry. “But your own ignorance will be your undoing.”
The female Qunari smiles. “Kill him, Saarath.”
The saarebas’s masked face turns and Solas feels the heavy weight of his gaze.
“You couldn’t have not provoked them, boss?” says Nalle. He can feel her at his back, and when the Qunari rush them, she lets out a curse.
Solas draws in a long breath, settles into himself. He watches this Saarath with a calm contempt. “I shall take the large one,” he says, and he nearly smiles at the memory of Evelyn’s words in the shattered library. “You have your pick of the others.”
Nalle nods once, the motion jerky with nerves. He can smell the sharpness of her exertion, sweat and fear and determination, as she notches another arrow, draws the bowstring tight.
Solas glances back to his own opponent.
And nearly misses the fist a hairsbreadth from his chest. He lurches to one side, catching the blow on his shoulder, feels his armor creak with the impact. He calls wind and uses it to push himself back, feet sliding across the broken cobblestones. Battles are about finding the upper hand, keeping one’s opponent off balance. And this one has not begun in his favor.
Lightning crackles around Saarath’s fists, and he brings them to the ground, scattering raw power across the stones. Solas reaches out a hand, calls a barrier and sinks it deep within the earth, countering those sparks of power, catching them, redirecting them—and several nearby Qunari fall senseless to the earth. If Saarath cares or even notices that he has slain several of his kinsmen, he gives no indication. Rather, he twists his neck around, crouches, and reaches for magic.
The Veil seizes around him and Solas senses the wrongness of it; most mages call power with a simple twist of the Veil, but this creature seizes power with both hands. Saarath bends down and the world shifts, blends, and he vanishes.
It cannot be a spell meant to hide; this is no illusion Solas has ever come across. But then, why—
Magic, crude but potent, blasts Solas off his feet. He falls hard, and the grass beneath him suddenly browns, turns black, and he rolls. The place where he landed catches fire, magic glowing bright beneath his feet. Solas grimaces; blood trickles down one of his arms, gathering in the tip of his gloves.
The air is heavy with the tang of lyrium and blood, and he cannot seem to draw breath without it catching in his chest. He is run ragged, throwing half-formed spells at the saarebas.
He will have to use Mythal’s power.
It is the only way.
Her voice is more of a shock than any of the spells; he is frozen where he stands, and it feels as if her shout has lodged itself between his ribs.
She is here. Dressed for battle, her hair bound up in a braid. The sunlight catches on the blade of her staff.
And then the others pour through the eluvian, following her into the fray.
Solas sees the familiar shield of the Seeker, hears Varric’s shout of challenge, watches as Dorian aims a spell at a Ben-Hassrath, and lastly, the Iron Bull and Morrigan join the battle.
Solas’s attention passes over them, coming to rest on Evelyn. Her jaw is clenched, and he realizes that she is wielding her staff with one hand. Her right hand.
Her left hangs limply at her side. The anchor burns hot in her palm, and he can sense its power, even at this distance.
And he is not the only one to notice.
The female, the leader, lets out a snarl. “You are dead, Inquisitor! Your soul is dust!”
As if sensing the change, Saarath’s gaze swings toward Evelyn and he presses a fist to the ground, gathers his strength and the power of the Fade, and leaps toward her.
Solas’s steady calm shatters. His heart is suddenly thudding in his ears, and the bitter taste of panic catches in his mouth. Yet another Ben-Hassrath blade comes swinging at him. He snarls a curse, and burns the Qunari to cinders. She is here; she is here and the anchor is killing her. There is no more time, not for this.
He barely catches glimpses of the battle around him—Morrigan laughing and reaching for the throat of one of the assassins, the Iron Bull rushing for the Qunari’s female leader screaming, “Viddasala", Nalle laying down cover fire for their unexpected allies, the sound of Dorian’s triumphant yell as several Qunari are engulfed in smoke and begin to panic, Cassandra slamming her shield into Saareath’s side, and Varric aiming several arrows at the saarebas’s chest.
Saarath ignores both of them. He and Evelyn circle one another, and Solas wonders if it is because the two recognize something of themselves in their opponent. They both wield powers that they were never meant to—Evelyn, the anchor, and this Saarath has clearly been given too much lyrium. They are consumed by their own magic.
Saarath throws himself at her, raining blows upon her, his power thrumming through the ground, making the rocks themselves quiver.
She unless the power of the anchor once—twice, another time. It seems the anchor’s magic is the only thing that can keep him at bay, keep his attention on her rather than the others. Solas clenches a fist and the Qunari warrior attacking him turns to stone.
She is staggering now, her arm a sickening black, green lacing through the veins.
Some of the others have realized what is wrong. Solas catches a glimpse of Varric, his finger frozen on his crossbow’s trigger, his face pale and mouth pinched shut. He knows; he knows that she is hurting but he cannot help her—
Saarath lunges for her, and Solas sees the blackened fingers of her left hand touch the Qunari’s chest.
Were he closer, Solas might have shouted. But he is too far, too late—always too late—and the anchor flares to life with such power that it throws her backwards, sends her slamming into one of the broken ruins.
His body slams into the cobblestones and Solas hears the crack even at this distance.
The certainty in the Viddasala’s face vanishes. Her body shifts, going from predator to wary prey, her steps lengthening as she darts back, her eyes still on the battle. She makes for the eluvian, intending to escape.
Solas might have let her; after all, her power is gone and her forces destroyed. She might return to her people, tell them of the threat called Fen’Harel. Let them rot in their own fear, knowing that they tried to stop him and failed. She calls several of the Qunari to her, and they all make for the eluvian.
But Evelyn sees the Viddasala retreat, and she lurches upright. She staggers after the Qunari, and vanishes through the eluvian.
Solas runs; his feet barely touch the ground and the sounds of the battle seem to vanish, silenced by the rasp of the breath in his dry throat.
He steps through the eluvian and seals it behind him.
He has passed into more ruins—and he knows them. They are remnants of the empire, still beautiful, overgrown with trees and vines, but the air is sweet and unblemished by battle. Nor are there any sounds of a fight, and that alone chills him. He hastens up the hill, and that is where he sees her.
The Qunari are strewn around her in a circle. They are little more than charred flesh and singed armor, and the scent of cooked meat turns his stomach. And Evelyn crouches in the midst of the carnage, clutching at her what remains of her left arm. It is wreathed in magic, the poisonous green of it seeping into the ground. Her eyes are squeezed shut, her face tight with agony, throat gone stiff with the effort of not screaming.
She has done this—torn herself apart to protect this world.
He kneels beside her. He touches her—a brush of fingertips against her cheek. He expects her to flinch, but she leans into his hand, her eyes fluttering open. “Solas?”
“Yes.” He feels himself try to smile, to reassure her.
She looks up at him with pain-glazed eyes. “So much for dying in comfort.”
“No.” The word slips out, a denial made even before he is truly aware of it. “I can stop this.”
The anchor surges, as if looking for a way to escape the confines of her body. She screams, falling forward and scrabbling at the ground as if she needs something to grab, to squeeze, to keep her grounded in this world. He takes her hands, lets her grip him painfully tight. He bids the magic to recede, but it is beyond his power to command. He waits for the painful spasm to pass, feels it wrack through her body.
When she relaxes a fraction, he gently tilts her chin upward, forcing her to meet his gaze. Her face is pale and her lips bitten and bloody. “I can remove the anchor,” he says. “But I fear you have already done too great a damage to yourself. There is no saving what contains it.”
She understands at once. “My hand.” She is already touching her left hand, cradling it in her right. “Y-you’re saying I’m going to lose my hand.”
“The entire forearm, most likely.”
He hates the look of panic that crosses her face; he has seen her face down magisters and demons without a second glance, but now she is shaking.
“My arm,” she chokes out. “Maybe—maybe I shouldn’t—”
Perhaps she doesn’t understand. “You are dying,” he tells her, but no surprise flashes across her face. “The mark will utterly consume you.”
She looks away and her expression is not one of panic—it so much worse. She looks resigned, calm. “I know.”
A bolt of undiluted fear goes through him. “No.” He clasps her right hand in his, squeezes tight. “You cannot surrender to this.”
“Solas,” she says. “I’ve played my role. The world already thinks I’m dead.” She shivers, closes her eyes. “Besides, that world you’re planning to make—I don’t think I’ll have a place in it.”
“That does not mean you should let yourself die.”
She smiles at him—a sad, fond smile. “You have made it clear I cannot dissuade you. And I—I would rather die here than watch you destroy this world. What does one life matter? There will be many lost, if you continue on this path.”
She is still so calm about this, as if making this choice has soothed her. There is truth to her words; should she perish now, it will be easier to go on with his plans. She will not organize her forces against him, will not stand in his way, will not distract him.
He can see that path quite clearly. She will die and he will be hollowed out by her loss, but he will endure. He will cast down the Veil, awaken the false gods, bring about a war. He will build a home for his people, but even should he live, should he survive all of that, he will never truly be himself again.
Solas will die with her. It will truly be the Dread Wolf who rises up to build this new world.
And in this moment, something within him shifts. He feels knocked off balance, almost stunned.
You could be more.
He takes her in his arms, presses her to his chest as if he can hold her together through sheer force of will.
“Evelyn,” he says, “ar lath ma.”
She chokes out a small sound of pain. “Y-you never told me what that means.”
And he says what he should have years ago. “I love you.”
He feels her stiffen in surprise.
He cups her cheek, drawing her gaze upward so she will see his eyes when he speaks, see the truth there. The words come spilling out. “I had thought it would be easier to put distance between us. It was cowardly and foolish, and if you do not forgive me for it, I will understand. But you must know that I love you.”
She lets out a hiccuping breath.
He presses his forehead to hers. “And more than that, you are my friend and I will not let you destroy yourself.”
She closes her eyes for a moment. She is so warm, too warm, burning up with the magic. He gazes at her, at the familiar lines of her face, the stubborn set of her jaw, the hair that is always slightly messy. She has taken root inside of him and he cannot remove that part of him without cutting out his own—
“Vhenan,” he says softly. “Please.”
She shudders, body wracked with the magic. “Do it,” she breathes and squeezes her eyes shut.
He kisses her.
For a moment, her mouth is hard and unyielding. Then he feels a breath escape her lips, almost a sigh, the kind of sound he has heard her make when she slipped into a warm bath or unbound her too-tight corset after formal dinners. Her lips part and she returns the kiss, allowing herself this moment of comfort.
As her body relaxes, his fingertips skim up her left forearm. The warm skin is soft and familiar and his stomach coils into a knot. This will not be pleasant, but it cannot be helped. He calls the magic home. The anchor surges, a hound let free of its leash, and he feels the familiar thrum of it enter his body, settling within him.
He deepens the kiss, presses a little harder, hopes it will be enough to distract her. Her right hand is tangled up in his cloak, holding tightly to him.
He finds the healthy flesh just beneath her elbow and he strokes it for a moment. Then he calls his will into his fingertips and cuts.
She cries out, her body twisting away from him, but it is too late. Her left arm falls to the ground, already beginning to burn away. He casts at once, healing magic cauterizing the wound. Even so, he can feel her blood damp on his fingertips and she slumps to one side, her eyes unfocused. He barely manages to catch her. Fresh pain is written across her face, but is not the unnatural agony of the anchor—this is a clean pain, the ache of loss.
He pulls her close, murmurs quiet reassurance in her ear. Elvish and common alike, the meaning all the same. Apologies and oaths are tangled together, interspersed with her name.
She shivers harder and he fears she will go into shock at the loss of a limb. They need to get somewhere warm, some place safe.
He offers his hand and after a moment of hesitation, she takes it. They rise together.
We are so close to the end, friends. So close.
The Qunari retreat.
The Inquisition disbands.
And Evelyn sleeps.
She rests in his bed. Her hair is tangled in a messy knot, the blankets pulled up to her chin, and her breathing is even. He could almost imagine this were any other day, if not for the bandage winding around what is left of her arm. Solas brought her here, to his home in Val Royeaux, as it is still the last place anyone would look for him.
She did not protest when he gave her a draught for pain and sleep; he tended to her wounded arm as she slept, casting healing spells, encouraging the cauterized flesh to remain healthy. He supposes he could have tended to her in her own room, but that felt wrong somehow. This is where she belongs.
A day passes.
And then another.
News of the Inquisition comes from Dagna and Morrigan. They appear at the house’s doorstep with Nalle, having found their own way back. “We weren’t followed,” says Nalle, letting herself in. “And I thought you should know how the Exalted Council has ended.”
They tell him of the Inquisition breaking apart, of everyone going their separate ways, and how news of Solas’s identity as Fen’Harel has become… well, it is not common knowledge but all of Evelyn’s old friends are now aware. There was some panic after Solas and Evelyn did not reappear. “Rumor has it that the Dread Wolf has kidnapped the resurrected Herald of Andraste,” says Morrigan archly.
He spends what is left of the day quietly conversing with his agents. His people will hound what is left of the Ben-Hassrath, send them scurrying back to the North. Let Tevinter bear the brunt of their wrath, he thinks, with a certain amount of satisfaction.
When he has done all he can, he returns to his rooms. Evelyn remains still beneath the blankets. A stray strand of hair has fallen across her eyes and he gently strokes it away from her face. She sleeps and he should be glad for it; in sleep, she might find some peace. And he is unsure as to what will happen when she awakens. His path is yet uncertain, as is hers. She could return to her former life, or—
He forces himself back to the moment. He will not think of what might be.
“She has slept for nearly two days.” A familiar voice makes him turn. His room, it seems, is already occupied. Morrigan stands a few paces away, leaning against the wall, her arms crossed.
“I am aware,” he replies coolly.
Morrigan sidles up to the bed. “The loss of the arm will pain her. The loss of the anchor, more so.”
Impatience gives his words a bite. “Did you come here to tell me things I already know?”
“Actually, I came with the Arcanist," replies Morrigan. “Dagna wished to take some… measurements.”
Solas’s brow twitches in silent question.
“The dwarf thinks she can build some metal replacement for the limb,” says Morrigan. “There might have been talk of runes and sensitivity to touch and warmth and she spoke of involving a few mage friends—without telling them the reason, of course. To be honest, I stopped listening after the first few minutes. She left some time ago to begin her work and I remained here.”
He looks at her—at this human mage, the chosen vessel for Mythal’s soul. She is prickly, an unrepentant thorn in his side since they first met, and even now when she knows he might control her, she raises her chin and does not offer surrender. A pang goes through him; she reminds him a little of Andruil, before she ventured into the void. Before all of them became drunk on ill-gotten power, until they nearly brought this world to ruin. He wonders what Morrigan might do, given such power.
“Your mother is dead,” he says suddenly.
Morrigan jerks in surprise.
“She was too old to carry Mythal for much longer,” he continues. “And I needed the power. I took the soul of my friend and the power she carried in exchange for a promise.” He turns to look at her straight on. “Your mother hoped you would take Mythal. She is dormant within me, but I can only carry her for a short time."
She eyes him coolly. “Why do you think I would agree to such an arrangement?”
“Sit,” he says, and it is as if someone has pressed her down beside him. Her knees give out and she finds herself upon the floor. It is not the kindest reminder, but he feels worn thin by the events of the last few days.
“You,” Morrigan begins to say, her voice brimming with fury.
“You will take Mythal because it is the only way to ensure that no one can ever control you again,” he replies.
She goes still.
“If Mythal is taken into another’s body, that individual will be able to command you at will. I assume you do not need another demonstration of this?”
Her eyes blaze at him but she does not say a word.
“If you take Mythal, she will become a part of you.” He gestures at her. “You will be partners, and no one save yourself will be able to take control of your actions.”
“And how do I know she will not… change me?”
He smiles and it is a bitter thing. “Likely, she will. Every time we take another person into ourselves, we change.”
“And I suppose you just want to hand her off?” Morrigan snaps, every word clipped with fury. “Just like that?”
“No.” Solas turns his attention back to the sleeping woman in the cot. “I still need her for a time. But when this war begins in earnest, you will want the power and protection that Mythal can offer you.” He glances to Evelyn’s still form. “You should know that this world will face great trials in the years to come. If you wish to keep your loved ones safe, I suggest you find whatever power you can and hold onto it.”
“What is this—the Dread Wolf offering me advice on how to live my life?” But some of the heat simmers free of her voice, and Morrigan looks at him with more curiosity than anger.
He does not answer.
For a few moments, Morrigan watches him. Then she rises to her feet. “You should sleep.”
“I do not need—”
“For her.” Morrigan interrupts him without hesitation. “She is likely wandering the Fade, confused and hurt. You do her a disservice by leaving her alone.”
A faint smile curves at his lips. “What is this—a witch of the wilds offering advice on how to live my life?”
She makes a disgruntled sound and walks away without another word. Solas turns his attention fully to Evelyn. She is still pale, likely from loss of blood. He sits on the edge of the bed, reaches for her left arm. He casts another spell, tries to encourage healing.
His own exhaustion pulls at him.
He gazes down at her, at the familiar way she curls the fingers of her right hand around the pillow. In the past, he has reached for that hand more times than he can count. With a soft sigh, he goes to the desk. It is far less comfortable, but he will not risk disturbing her rest. And it will not be the first time he has slept in a chair.
He places his arms on the desk’s surface, settles his forehead in the crook of his arm, and closes his eyes.
It feels as if it has been ages since he reached for her in the Fade. It almost makes him smile, to think of those nighttime interrogations after he first discovered she was alive.
He finds her in the meadow—the one she brought him to after he was injured by the varterral. The scene is still beautiful, trees swaying in the breeze and the brilliant sunlight scattered across the wildflowers.
Evelyn sits on the grass, toying with the fingers of her left hand.
“Vhenan,” he says quietly, so as not to startle her. She glances over her shoulder.
“I should have known you would show up.” He goes to sit beside her and she does not protest. She reaches down, plucks a wildflower from the grass. She twirls it in the fingers of her left hand. “How long have I been out?” she asks.
“Two days,” he replies.
Her brow creases. “Have I missed anything important?”
He considers what she would find most important. “The Qunari have retreated. My people will make sure the gaatlok is safely removed.”
At once, she relaxes. “Good. That’s good.”
For many minutes, they do not speak. But the silence is not uncomfortable; rather, it is simply the quiet of those who know one another so well there is no need to speak. Finally, she looks up at him. Her face is soft, open, and he wonders if she will gaze at him in such a way when she wakes. Here, it feels as if all of the barriers between them are stripped away.
“I have two arms,” she says. She flexes her left hand. “Is that… is that normal?”
“The Fade is changeable,” he says. “We can imagine things into being.”
She scrutinizes her own fingers. “If you destroyed the Veil, would we be able to imagine things into being… in the real world?”
He hesitates. “No. It… it was not like that.” He sits beside her and reaches for her left hand. She allows him to take it, to touch the familiar lines of her palm. “But with the magic of the Fade running through our world, I could craft a hand that would feel and act just like your old one.
“The Fade would not change our world so drastically,” he says. “It would simply make magic part of our everyday lives, bring spirits and demons into nature. They would be as natural as the deer or wolves you see running through the forest, and as benign or as dangerous as either. We would learn to deal with them, as we deal with nature.”
She looks away, and there is something like grief in her face but she takes a breath, steadies herself. She does not draw her hand away and he finds his thumb stroking the edge of her knuckles. It is a simple touch, a habit he has forced himself to forget.
“I haven’t asked you any questions in a while,” she finally says, echoing some of his own thoughts. “And we are in the Fade.”
The edge of his mouth twitches. “Ask what you will.”
More silence. But this time it feels as if she is gathering herself. “Did you mean it?” she asks and he does not need clarification. “Or was it just a ploy—”
Her voice cuts off, but he hears the words she does not speak. A ploy to keep her alive, because she is useful or because he is used to having her around or even because he could use a connection to the Inquisition.
“The Inquisition has disbanded,” he says.
He feels her flinch. He continues, “It was Cassandra who made the decision, from the way I hear it. She declared their purpose had been ended—that they had restored order. But I fear they will soon turn their gaze upon a new task, regardless of their official stance.”
She shifts, as if resisting the urge to get up and pace. “You think they would stop you, if they could.”
“Of that I have no doubt,” he replies. “And to answer your original question, yes.”
She looks at him sharply.
“I meant it,” he says simply. “I meant it the first time I said it and every time thereafter.”
“Well, you can’t blame me for doubting,” she murmurs, looking down. “It’s not like you ever told me in a way I could understand.”
He deserves the bite in her voice. Her anger is familiar, and so much better than her despondency. “My silence hurt you. For that, you have my apologies.
“You should wake up,” he says, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “I think Morrigan is worried and Dagna is eager to begin work. She will likely be buying dawnstone for your new arm.”
She sputters out a laugh. “So what you’re saying is, I should wake up before she sneaks into my sickroom and begins measuring me for a pink replacement?”
“She has already taken her measurements. But waking now might allow you some influence over the color.” He forces himself to release her hand. “We have lingered enough in dreams. There are decisions that need to be made.”
He sees his own uncertainty reflected on her face. She lifts her left hand, watches the sunlight play over the skin, then her arm drops to her side. When she glances at him again, her face is composed.
“Yes, I suppose we do.”
She wakes at the same moment he does.
Solas sits up; his neck is stiff and his shoulders ache. Evelyn rolls over, pushing the blankets aside. She wears her small clothes—it is not the most comfortable clothing for her to sleep in, but he refused to undress her fully. She glances down at herself, shrugs, then glances about the room, realizes where she is. Then her attention settles on him. “You slept at the desk?”
He rolls his shoulders. “I would not intrude.”
“This bed is big enough for five of me,” she replies. “I probably would not have noticed. But no.” She huffs out a breath. “You would rather do yourself an injury than risk approaching me. Come here.”
He rises to his feet. He settles on the edge of the bed and when she rolls her eyes and pats the spot next to her, he allows himself a smile. “You weren’t hurt during the battle, were you?” She studies him more closely.
“A few cuts and bruises, but that is all.” He reaches for her left arm, hesitates. “May I?”
Her lips press together. She nods.
He unwinds the bandages and casts yet another healing spell. The flesh is mended, the skin pink and new. “I can still feel it,” she says softly. “It feels like it should be there, but it’s not.”
“I am sorry.” There is so much he would apologize for but this seems the best one to settle on. “I did not mean for you to bear the anchor, to pay the price for its existence. I would have taken it from you, if I could. But I did not have that power when we first met.”
“We have spoken of this before,” she says. “But what now?”
And that is the question, isn’t it? He swallows and his voice is level when he finally speaks.
“You could return to your life,” he says. “Your friends would welcome your return, I think. You might join in helping the mages settle into society. Since the Spymaster abolished the circles, they have been trying to live among the people. Or you could leave, find your own quiet home, and live away from the politics and the power struggles.”
A pause. She bites delicately on her lower lip. “I notice you do not offer a place with you.”
“I could not do that to you, vhenan.” This time his voice does waver. “You are human, mortal. I am not. You have this one life to live and… you should do what will bring you joy.”
Her face hardens. “And you think I can’t be happy with you,” she answers. “Because of what you plan to do.” She edges forward and he does not retreat. “Solas, could you ever have planned for this? For me?”
He feels a smile touch his lips. “You know I could not.”
“Then take that a little further.” She gazes at him, as if he is a puzzle she has finally figured out. “I will not give up on you, because if I know one thing, it is this. Plans change. Tell me, what if you decide that this is too dangerous? What could you gain by waking the evanuris before you attempt to cast down the Veil?”
His chest tightens. “But what if I perish?” he presses. “What if I fall defeating the evanuris, and the Veil remains? My people will never regain any part of themselves. They will remain sundered from their own power. I must give them that before waking the evanuris.”
“You are not going to die,” she says hotly. “I won’t let it happen.”
He laughs, but it sounds more incredulous than amused. “And how shall you prevent it? Would you remain at my side as I walk into a war, fight god kings and their age-old servants?”
Her answer punches any reply out of him.
She takes him by the chin, her grip a little too tight to be playful. “I will help you with this,” she says. “We will find another focus, and we will use it to weaken the Veil—where the evanuris sleep. We will not open the floodgates; rather, we let some of the water through in degrees. And we wake the so-called Creators. We will ensure this world never faces another blighted old god. And no risen member of the elvhen pantheon will have enough power to retake this world.
“Tell me, I’m wrong,” she replies, and releases him.
He forces himself to consider her words and to forget the warmth of her touch. “You are correct in thinking an intact Veil will hinder my brethren. And make no mistake, the false gods will be in a fury when they wake.”
“All the more reason to keep them,” she waves a hand about, “well, not powerless but less powerful. You have an advantage at the moment. Use it.”
“And should I still wish to remove the Veil after we have survived this war?” he says, a little sharply. “Will you still aid me? Or will I be the next false god that you destroy?”
Her gaze narrows. “I suppose that depends.”
She does not answer aloud; rather, she catches his hand, with her own. She brings his fingertips against her cheek and for a moment, he thinks this must be her silent farewell, a way of severing the bonds between them. But then she lifts his wrist to her mouth and bites.
It is not gentle; pain spikes up his arm, but she soothes it with a kiss. The mark throbs gently beneath her touch, and it feels like a promise.
Like a claim.
The last of his defenses fall away.
He is moving toward her before consciously making the decision to do so.
Her mouth meets his, and it feels as if a wound has opened up inside of him; he cannot bear any distance between them. His arms are around her, pressing her close and she is gasping against his mouth, and then her fingers are on his chest, working at the clasps of his breastplate. His armor falls away in pieces, shoved to the floor, until he is bare before her. He tugs at her breast band and the cloth falls away. She stiffens, looks down at herself.
He can see the question in her face, in the trace of her fingertips over her own skin, over the scars along her shoulders, down her chest, to the the fresh, pink skin around her left elbow. Her gaze falls away, and she shrinks into herself—and that will not do.
He catches her wrist, brings it to his own mouth. He does not bite her—no, he claimed her long before this—but he does kiss her, skims his mouth over the pulse point in her arm, up to her elbow, then to her shoulder. He whispers long forgotten endearments against her skin. She is trembling, her eyes fallen shut, when he nips gently at her lower lip. Her mouth parts for his willingly, and he kisses her; long, languid kisses that feel like worship. He kisses her until her fears melt away, until she is pressed against him, her body pliant and needy.
He cannot stop touching her—fingertips skimming over her jaw, her throat, reaching up to feel the brush of her unbound hair against her knuckles. He missed this, missed her, with an intensity he should fear. It is dangerous for anyone to have this much power over him, but he cannot bring himself to care. One of his hands remains tangled in her hair and the other, sweeps downward, thumb dragging over the peak of her breast, teasing her. She moans, the sound caught between them.
Her next kiss has a bite of teeth, and he senses her impatience, feels it himself. His mouth curves upward and his hand skims over her belly, to her mound. His fingers skim over her damp curls, finding that hard little nub and circling it, making her hips jerk and spasm. She cries out, pulling back from the kiss. She clenches around his fingers, as if desperate to keep him there. He loves her like this, open and unabashed, eager for his touch. Part of him wishes to draw this out, to make her whimper and see how many climaxes he might tease out of her with his fingers alone, but she has other ideas.
She growls, pushing back at him, swinging her leg over him. He reaches for her hips, helps her settle astride him.
She takes hold of his length, strokes him with a teasingly light touch. She is beautifully determined, her brow drawn as she readjusts herself, rising so that she can position him against her entrance.
He drives up and into her, forcing a strangled cry from her throat. Her head falls forward, resting on his shoulder. She feels—oh. She feels. Warm and wanting in his arms, the heat of her burning through him, and he strains not to simply buck up, to take and give in equal measure, to push the air from her lungs and break down every wall between them until she is senseless with pleasure.
But this isn’t lovemaking; this is the sweet agony of setting a bone, of putting things the way they ought to be.
Her hips flex and she pulls herself upward, the heat of her dragging a groan from his chest. When she sinks back down upon his length, he matches her movement, pushing back. They find their rhythm together. The pace she sets is impossibly slow, and he drops a kiss against her collarbone, savors her nearness.
Her fingernails rake up his back and he adjusts his angle, grinding into her. She lets out a small whimper and he strums his fingers over her with a fervent need. He whispers all the things he never told her—at least not in a tongue she could understand.
She is balancing on that precipice, every breath accompanied by a whine, her hips straining to meet his. A line appears between her brows, and she falters in her steady rhythm, taking up a frenzied pace. He keeps one hand on her hip to steady her; the other cradles her cheek, thumb stroking the corner of her mouth. “I have you,” he whispers.
She lets out a breathless little sound, fingers clawing at his shoulder. Her mouth opens and she catches his thumb between her teeth, her tongue swirling around him. He feels her flutter around his length. She falls against him, spent and breathless, and he catches her. They stay that way for a heartbeat, tangled together, and he revels in her presence, in the rise and fall of her chest, the taste of her skin, and the tender caress of her fingertips. She smiles, sated and yet still ravenous.
He rolls over, arm carefully around her, so they are on their sides, her leg curved around his waist. She rolls with a shriek of startled laughter, which dissolves into a soft whimper. He begins thrusting into her in earnest, letting himself indulge in the sweet, sharp pleasure her body offers.
He loves the noises he can coax from her: the breaths that catch in her throat to the stifled whimpers. She always appears slightly embarrassed by her own sounds, and he attributes that to her growing up in a place with very little in the way of privacy. She is trying to muffle her cries as he takes her—sharp, quick strokes as he eases himself into her again and again. He watches the muscles in her stomach shift and clench, her fingers tangled in the sheets as she presses back against him, matching her rhythm to his own.
“Solas,” she says. She is shaking, a flush hot across her chest and neck, and she is moaning openly now, her body straining toward his, chasing another climax.
When she comes, her whole body jerks and her eyes fly open. The pleasure tears through her in a violent torrent, and she shudders, his name caught between her teeth.
He would draw this out but it has been too long, and the sound of his name is his own undoing. He follows her over the edge, unable to stifle his own gasp. Her hand curls around the back of his neck and her gaze rakes over his face, as if trying to commit him to memory, as if fearful she will not have this again.
He draws her close, pulls her against his chest. It has been too long; he has forgotten the simple pleasure of holding her in his arms, feeling her breathe and relax against him. He strokes her hair, the messy strands damp with sweat, curling at the nape of her neck.
“If you could have anything,” she murmurs, “anything at all. What would it be?” It is a frivolous question, the kind they used to pose to one another in moments of peace. But he has no frivolous answers to give her.
“To see the world remade. To ensure freedom is a given, not a privilege. To know that Thedas will never face another blight.” He hesitates, then says with less certainty. “To wake every morning with you beside me, whole and hale, and just as vibrant as you are now.” He drops a light kiss against her hair.
“You have asked your nightly questions,” he says quietly. “And now I will ask one: what am I to you?”
The corner of her mouth twists into a half-smile. “A complication.”
He laughs. He can’t help it; the sound bursts free and it feels like a release, a snapping of the tension that hangs between them. “Ar lath ma,” he says. Because he does—he truly does.
She tilts her head, meets his eyes. “What’s that other word? Vena-something.”
He touches his finger to her chest. “Vhenan. Heart.”
He feels her sharp inhalation. “Oh.” She relaxes further, her head resting on his chest and he wishes he had the power to capture this moment, to hold onto it for as long as he can. “I love you,” she says softly.
For many long minutes, there is no need to talk. She settles against him and he strokes her shoulder, savors the softness of her skin beneath his fingers.
Suddenly, she begins giggling. “Do I dare ask what has amused you now?” he says, with fond indulgence.
“It’s just,” she says, barely managing to speak the words, “it’s that one phrase. The one the Dalish tend to use.”
He knows the one she means without her having to say it. “May the Dread Wolf take you?”
“I will never be able to hear it again without either blushing or bursting into laughter,” she tells him. “I hope you realize that.”
He smiles. “At least there is one person who will not use that curse.”
“Does it bother you, what they’ve made you into?” she says, her fingers stroking the line of his neck.
He missed this. This intimacy, the exchange of pleasure and words. “Yes and no. It bothers me that they still brand themselves, bind themselves to a pantheon that never cared what became of them. To see them venerate people such as Falon’Din is unsettling.
“But as I once told you, artifice is a powerful weapon. To have the Dalish whisper my name in fear or use it to curse their enemies… it might serve me well in the days to come.”
Evelyn goes still. “You mean, when you wake them. You think rumors of your terrible nature will reach your brethren, make them afraid of you.”
“Of course. And fear of what I have become might stay their hands, for a while.”
She huffs out a sigh, crosses her arms and rests them on his chest. “And give us further advantage after we wake them.”
He smiles again; her determination is something he has long admired. “And why are you so certain that I will acquiesce to your plan?”
She shivers a little, and he reaches for the blankets. “Because it costs you nothing to try this my way,” she says, after a moment. “And should my plan fail, you can still go ahead and try to bring down the Veil. My plan will save lives, make the transition smoother, ensure that whatever history books are written do not cast the Dread Wolf in the role of maniacal villain. For the second time,” she adds. She sits up suddenly, her palm resting on his ribcage. “Because I cannot be with a man who could destroy this world to make room for his own vision.”
He cradles the back of her head. “But you could be with a man who will awaken two incredibly angry false gods?” He lets some of his sorrow show on his face. “Even if I follow your plan, this will cost lives. Andruil and Dirthamen may listen to reason, but I doubt it. They will come after me—and anyone who stands with me.”
“All the more reason to have a skilled mage with you then,” she says.
He thinks of her standing beside him, thinks of her facing those two would-be gods—and a shudder tears through him. He should send her far from this land, try to convince her to leave. She will not be safe with him. “This is not your fight.”
“You chose this fight,” she replies. “And I chose you, to whatever end.”
The words are spoken like a vow.
He would reply, but he finds he cannot. So he does what he has always done in times such as these—he kisses her hair, murmurs quietly in elvish.
But this time, she understands.
With a sigh, she settles against him, and her gaze on the window. Golden sunlight has begun to spill through the glass.
She watches the sunrise and he watches her.
Her fingers squeeze his and it feels like a silent acknowledgement. It is a quiet moment, the first quiet moment he can remember in months. Everything is still, a breath away from dawn.
This is how a world a world falls apart, he thinks. People change, and the world changes with them.
But he thinks the new one will be better.
Ha! Bet you weren’t expecting another update so quickly, were you?
Well, I couldn’t leave it hanging.
In September of 2015, I began a story. It was supposed to be five chapters long and maybe 15,000 words.
Seventeen chapters and 84,000 words later, here we are.
Well. It seems I might have underestimated how much story I wanted to tell.
(Also, this is not the end. Not yet. Expect a follow-up. I enjoy this universe far too much to let it go quite yet. But first, there are a few other AUs I’m going to explore.)
I just wanted to thank everyone who has commented, bookmarked or left kudos. You are all wonderful. Thank you for going on this journey with me.