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Things Fall Apart

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“Solas wants to see you.”

Cole's words were soft but they split the silence in Namira's little cabin like a knife. The spirit had been a frequent comforting presence over the past fifty years after the fall of the Veil. Her cabin never got many visitors, save for a few individuals from the nearby village when someone was in need of healing or a midwife. He often times helped with her garden, brought her food when her stores were low, and spent the occasional evening simply brushing her hair and talking about the people he helped recently.

A stable boy who lost his parents.

A mother who had just lost her daughter.

And . . . Solas.

Cole usually didn't speak about him when he visited her hut, but Namira knew the spirit visited him just as often as he did her. The occasional cryptic and vague statement usually tipped her off to when he had just come from a typical visit, speaking of soft sorrow and frustration. She really couldn't bring herself to care much about the information given. Solas had gotten what he had wanted in the end, and she had ended up the same way she had been found in the beginning before the formation of the Inquisition; in a little cabin in the woods of the Hinterlands.

She looked up at the spirit boy sitting across the fire pit from her. “And why, exactly, would the Dread Wolf want to see me?” she asked coolly. She poked at the fire a bit too harshly, sending a few sparks dancing across the stone floor and betraying inner tension that his words suddenly had brought about. She hadn't seen Solas outside of dreams since he initially left the Inquisition. Even then, she could usually avoid him if she took proper precaution. Her own skill manipulating the Fade was considerable, and after over fifty years of practice she'd begun to take pride in running from him in his own domain. She wasn't a match for him, but she could avoid him well enough.

Apparently this was getting frustrating for him, if he was willing to risk a physical meeting.

“He misses you,” Cole whispered. Namira watched him fidget with his gloves for a moment. He was clearly uncomfortable saying anything about it in light of her own tension. She felt a pang of remorse for it. Causing him any discomfort was not something she ever wanted, considering how much she valued his company.

He smiled and met her eyes. “It's not your fault. You can't help it. A dagger in the back, wounds that won't close. So many hurt when he left. Empty hearts and dead eyes, rage burning like undying embers. He betrayed us . . .”

“Yes.” Namira closed her eyes briefly against the anger that started to build up and pushed it down again. It was a practiced response after all this time. “I apologize, Cole. I wasn't really expecting you to speak about him. You usually don't.”

“I saw him before I came here. Shaping, building, old paths renewed. The libraries restored, a garden in bloom. She would love it if she saw it.” Cole's words became softly sorrowful, wistful as he spoke. He looked up again and scanned her face, his eyes emotionless as usual. “He wants to see you.”

She stared at Cole for a few moments as she thought about her reply. A small frown formed on his face as he sensed her thoughts.

“I have no desire to see him, or any of his kin for that matter.”

“He misses you.”

“I doubt that,” she countered. “He has his home back, he has his people. He doesn't need to see me.” She rose from her chair and moved to the pot hanging over the fire pit. Rabbit stew was on the menu again tonight, thanks to the spirit's hunting efforts. She stirred the pot, adding in a few dried herbs from her garden. Cooking was good. Cooking was calming. She could focus on the stew boiling in front of her rather than the emotions trying to boil up to the surface. She could remain calm. “What brought this on, Cole?”

“He visited the village.”

She turned to stone as panic rose to a fever pitch almost instantaneously. The spoon stopped stirring the pot just as her breath ceased to pass her lips.

The Dread Wolf had been at her doorstep. Fifty years and he had never once come close, and yet now he had been at her doorstep. He'd been close enough to find her.

No. No no no no.

Namira closed her eyes and drew a steadying breath, willing her heart to slow. “Cole, please tell me you didn't -”

“Wishing, wanting, he came to them with questions. An elf with black hair is known to them, kind to spirits and people alike. Cherished, loved. It might be her . . . I didn't tell him, but he heard from others.”

“I'm surprised they let him in the village,” she said. Her panic was subsiding slowly. He hadn't found her then, not yet. The villagers knew she wanted her privacy, and she had proven invaluable towards the village's growth and prosperity. Its population may consist of mainly humans, but many of them call her friend. They would not betray her location.

Not directly, at least.

She opened her eyes to find Cole smiling. “Firewood and apples. The village needed one. The children wanted the other. Solas brought them. It made the children happy. The tavern served pie last night.”

Though her appetite had long since fled, Namira carefully ladled a portion of the stew into a wooden bowl and sat with equal care by the fire as she absorbed the information. “He exchanged firewood and apples for . . . information?” she asked quietly. “A trade?”

“An elf in human lands. Healer, midwife, herbalist. She cares for the children, helps build their homes, cares for the sick, the dying. Hair as black as a raven's wing. Pale skin, like snow. It fits,” the spirit whispered. “The villagers thought you were in trouble. Thought that he'd take you away. They didn't say where you were. But the children talked to him.”

She was certain that a stone had suddenly grown in her stomach. Of course it would be the children. Of course. They wouldn't be able to tell that he was fishing for information. To them he would be the elf that brought them apples. They were too young to know of the Dread Wolf. They never knew of a world with the Veil in place. Even some of the parents were too young.

And they had taken a bribe of firewood and apples . . . and pie.

Damn you and your sweet tooth, Solas.

Cole's whispers continued, quick and urgent. “A small elven girl in a red dress, simple but finely stitched. A steady hand, graceful, guided. Her work. It has to be. Knitted warmers on her arms, scarlet with branches and fine vines. Shy, sweet . . . 'My name is Sonya.' Spoken in perfect Elvhen. She's here.” Cole's eyes were on his hands as he fidgeted with his gloves. “He doesn't know where, though.”

She carefully took a bite of the stew despite her stomach's now wretched state, the savory flavor doing nothing to bring her appetite back. She knew she had to eat. There had been very little in her stores this morning for breakfast. She had to eat.

Especially now that she might have to run.

“Don't,” Cole said. She knew he'd read the thought before she could even dwell on it. “You can't run. You promised Marin elfroot. Another house is being built in a few days. Elise is due any day now, worried, scared, hard to rest.” She could feel his eyes on her now as she struggled to swallow her stew. “They need you, Namira.”

She sighed. “I know, Cole.”

“He just wants to talk. He wants to see you.” The spirit was rocking back and forth now, usually an indicator that his stay was coming to an end as he listened to the hurts that called to his nature. “He won't force you to go with him. He won't hurt you.”

Namira closed her eyes as memories began to flash vividly in the front of her mind. Cassandra's bloodied and broken body dying in her arms. Dorian's funeral only a few years prior. Holding Cullen's son, whispering stories to the babe about a father he would never know. And Marcus . . . the Inquisitor, Herald of Andraste, her dear friend . . .

She opened her eyes to the now empty room. The dying fire's now meager light was no longer as comforting as it usually was.

He has already hurt me, Cole. More than anyone else.

Chapter Text

9.41 Dragon

Dusk and dawn had always been Namira's favorite time for her walks away from the little cabin she called home. They were times of transition, times in between that were calm and peaceful. She would usually spend her time gathering elfroot and other herbs or gathering kindling for her fire pit if she was low on such. Other times she'd hunt for eggs and berries for her food stores, relaxed and humming a tune from her distant childhood.

This day started no different. She rose just before dawn and gave herself a light wash with the cold water from the little basin in the corner of the hut. It was a ritual she had done a thousand times before, shivering in the chill air before drying herself with a spare cloth. It didn't bother her overmuch. The cold roused her from the usually pleasant haze that lingered when waking. It certainly wouldn't do to wander about the wilderness with her mind groggy and eyes glazed.

She dressed quickly in her usual attire; a simply stitched dress and hooded cloak, both dyed black but faded and worn from use and frequent wear. Worn foot wraps of the same color donned and tied with expertise. A friend of hers in Redcliffe commented once that she often looked like a mourner with all the black clothing she had in her possession. She could agree to that, though mourning was not the reason why she usually went with darker clothing. She did it for the same reason she harvested herbs and hunted during both dusk and dawn.

She was fond of hiding and observing.

And shadows hid a person better when their clothing was akin to their color.

A bookshelf beside the door held rows upon rows of dried herbs and spices, some packed into neatly organized jars and others tied into bundles and stacked like logs. Other rare and outlandish ingredients for alchemy were stored in neat glass vials and meticulously labeled. Books had their places in between some of the herb stacks but mainly they were scattered throughout the hut, cluttering surfaces and accumulating into piles around the small space. It lent the place a feeling of the typical organized chaos that often hung around an intellectual's abode. Neat and orderly while still feeling oddly cluttered. Cozy, cramped, and comforting with furs strewn about the place. Especially comforting when the small fire pit was lit.

Filled with healing items that could ease just about any ailment, with the right application.

And deadly, deadly poisons. For research purposes, of course.

She smiled to herself as she took inventory of her stores of herbs. Low on elfroot again, as always and it couldn't hurt to collect more crystal grace and blood lotus, if she had the time. The refugees in the Crossroads seemed to enjoy the berries she had brought the last time she ventured out. She might be able to earn some further goodwill should she bring more for her next visit to town, if the fighting didn't prevent her from venturing that far from her hut.

She grabbed her basket and strode through the door, already making a mental checklist of what to harvest and where to get it. She absentmindedly traced a ward on the door as she closed it. She never bothered with traditional locks; it wasn't as if she had anything of particular value to pilfer through. She had some rare scrolls and tomes, but those were hidden away and well warded from both curious minds and fingers. The ward on the door alone was be enough to deter anyone overly curious or those desperate enough to steal for coin. The ward on the trunk inside would make certain they never harbored those emotions again.

Or any at all, for that matter.

Her home secure and spirit peaceful, Namira set out on her way at a leisurely pace with a small smile. The air was cool and crisp. A light breeze stirred the tall grass and brought the scent of wildflowers to her nose. The early stirrings of wildlife added to the sound of the rustling grass and leaves. The morning was perfect for one of her strolls, especially since this one didn't really require her to do much other than gathering along the way.

She gathered as she walked, humming softly to herself as she weaved between the trees and shrubs that she had passed countless times before. There was little worry about regarding the apostates and Templars in this remote area. There were resources if one was a hunter or herbalist, but the fighting had yet to spread to this location. Still, she kept her aura out as a precaution as she traveled just in case someone stumbled across her peaceful section of the wilderness.

She had been walking for half an hour before she came across a rather large patch of elfroot at the edge of a small clearing. She knelt amidst the plants and began gathering what she could, her basket already rapidly filling with more bundles to dry and store once she got back to her cabin. The vibrant green plants practically hummed with an earthy aura all their own. She drank it in as she knelt, small sips as she clipped and pulled the plants free from the earth and bound them gently. Her own aura both ebbed and swelled as she worked with peaceful and calm undulations. She spread it out further, sending searching tendrils out to find any further patches nearby.

She stilled suddenly when a distant part of her aura brushed lightly over another's, the unexpected sensation shattering her calm and putting her on edge. She withdrew quickly and her eyes widened in shock as she felt it follow after her briefly before pulling back. A mage, then. A well-practiced one if they could feel her subtle tendrils, not to mention follow them.

She quickly stood and pulled up her hood. She knew the intruder's general direction, but unfortunately that also meant that they knew hers as well. Whoever it was didn't feel like the apostates she'd come across; the aura she had brushed against was far too strong and controlled. That didn't mean she could afford to be careless. She quickly darted to the shadows, cursing at the brightening sky. The shadows wouldn't be as concealing for much longer.

She didn't have to wait long before movement caught her eye across the clearing. The individual who emerged was certainly not what she expected. An elf, possibly taller than any other she'd met before and at least a head taller than herself. Some of her anxiety was replaced with curiosity as she studied him. His head was bereft of any hair, clothing well-worn and poorly patched in places. A staff was strapped to his back and appeared to be well cared for. He was dressed for travel, various pouches strapped to his person here and there and attached to his vest. She could see a few potion vials secured in leather straps and guessed he had more on him within some of those pouches. The overall impression she got was traveler, vagabond, and most definitely an apostate, though most likely not one allied with those warring against the wayward Templars.

The elf's gate was confident but cautious as he stepped into the clearing. Namira watched as he scanned the area. She was certain that she was well hidden, so her eyes widened in shock as his gaze narrowed in on her general direction. The elfroot patch in particular.

Where, of course, her basket sat innocently amidst the greenery completely forgotten in her haste to hide.

Her fucking herb basket.

Well, shit.

He approached it slowly, scanning the treeline carefully before kneeling next to it to inspect its contents. She watched as he carefully lifted a few bundles before setting them back in place.

"Is someone there?" His voice was surprisingly melodic, an accent to it that she couldn't quite place. Not entirely dissimilar to her own, though her own voice had a good deal more of a husky tone to its melodic notes.

She watched as he stood and slowly scanned the area. The shadows were already thinning and she was close enough to him to realize she would be caught momentarily. He didn't appear hostile at least, but she steeled herself before stepping away from the shadows. Appearances were deceiving. She remembered the feel of his aura, however brief the contact was. If he decided to attack she'd have quite the challenge on her hands.

She approached slowly, making certain her footsteps rustled audibly to announce her presence before he saw her. The elf froze in place as she came into view about twenty paces from where he stood, but she sensed no tension in him and he made no move to grab his staff.

He studied her for a moment before gesturing to the basket at his feet. "Yours, I presume?"

She nodded slightly. "Yes. I'm afraid you interrupted my gathering." She kept her stance guarded. "I'm not able to entertain guests at the moment, so if you could state your business and be on your way it would be appreciated."

She watched as the elf tilted his head slightly as he studied her. He had grey-blue eyes that were oddly intense, like he was studying a creature he'd never encountered before. He seemed to consider his next words carefully before replying.

"I've come from the Crossroads. The fighting between the apostates and the Templars has spread to that area recently. The company I've been traveling with encountered several groups attacking the refugees there." He paused, seeming slightly hesitant to continue. "Are you Namira?"

She must have visibly tensed, because the elf quickly held out his hand in a peaceful gesture. "I mean you no harm," he reassured. "One of my companions was injured while protecting the refugees. The healers there are stretched thin with the number of injured they're tending to. Someone in the village suggested we could find assistance from a woman that lives in these woods."

She relaxed slightly. "Yet you are here, and not at my home?" The villagers knew she valued privacy above all else and precious few knew of the exact location of her cabin. She had fostered quite a bit of trust with the locals, and though they were primarily human she had been treated well. The situation must have been dire if they were willing to point someone to her location, even generally.

"They seemed . . . reluctant to divulge your location. The individual I spoke to only suggested the direction I should take." The elf looked around with a faint smile that almost looked sheepish. "I confess I may have strayed from that suggested direction. I have been searching for you for some time. You are Namira, I presume?"

"And you are . . .?"

He tilted his head slightly, a polite and seemingly humble greeting. "My name is Solas, if there are to be introductions."