Skyhold is built upon a foundation of memories; every stone in the fortress has been honed and shaped by the countless touches of its former owners - the way natural rock formations are shaped by the wind and the sea. Thus, whenever Solas goes to sleep, he may be certain that he will come across a vision of the past: usually, spirits mirroring the people who passed through these hallways millennia ago. His people.
Watching them, reduced to nothing but shimmering shadows in a dream, when they could have been still thriving, still immortal, still wielding the power to reshape the world by sheer force of thought - it is a fitting reminder that all the battles he must fight, all the lies he must tell, shall all be worth it.
But tonight, instead of transporting him back into the world where he, and all true elves, belong, the spirits choose to recreate the happenings of a day much closer to the present. As sleep envelops him, Solas is startled to find himself walking down a corridor in the mages' quarters, unseen by its inhabitants, whose Fade likenesses glide right through him while continuing their conversation - but at the same time, able to observe all the comings and goings of the Inquisition's rebel allies.
At first, Solas is not certain why the spirits have decided to show him this particular scene: Enchanter Fiona is one of the few rebels with a mind rich in particularly noteworthy memories, and she is nowhere to be seen... called off to report to the advisors, perhaps? But after a short while, his unseen friends' intention becomes clearer - both figuratively and literally, for the figures of the mages and their surroundings gradually become more and more blurred, forming a hazy, desaturated background, against which only one shade stands clearer than the next. The figure of the Inquisitor - still not quite opaque, and fuzzy around the edges, but brighter and more discernible than the billows of mist around her. She glances around, giving a smile and a nod to every blurred silhouette of a person that she comes across; and this smile seems to make her ghostly form even more colourful, lighting up from within; while Solas feels himself being irresistibly pulled towards her by some invisible force... The way he always is.
She is a puzzle, this Yavanna Lavellan - but a puzzle that Solas has been quite happy to preoccupy himself with; rather akin to a friendly game of chess, challenging but without frustration. Before he met her, he thought he had her people all figured out: defeated captives, crushed and bound and thrust into the dank, stifling confines of a cave, where they sit around the firelight, backs turned to the entrance, and cling to the shadows that pass before them, stubbornly refusing to as much as entertain the notion that all they need to do is look behind, and see the real world, and the things that cast the shadows they care for so much.
Never, not for a moment, had Solas - he who once lived beyond the cave - considered befriending one of the captives, not like he used to befriend their ancestors, before he himself stripped them of their essence. But then... Then he got to know Lavellan, with her quick and inquisitive mind, her generous embraces, and seeming incapacity towards hatred, which she constantly keeps apologizing for.
She has accepted him into his inner circle, gleefully and without question, declaring him her friend before he could properly process what was going on. She looks to him for guidance, eager to learn more about the mysterious of the Fade and to master the power to delve deeper into the world of spirits, granted to her by the Anchor - and in turn, perhaps without properly realizing it, she teaches him to understand the warped reality he has created, and treat the Tranquil-like beings that dwell in the Veiled world with compassion and understanding.
And that is where the puzzle lies. Somehow, when he walks by the Inquisitor's side, when he smiles softly at her attempts to make him and Sera see eye to eye, when he casts a barrier over her in battle and sees her turn her head in silent thanks, when she uses the Anchor to weave roseate illusions in the Fade and eagerly seeks his approval... Somehow, Solas feels the same affection towards Lavellan, and by extension her mortal friends, that he has, in this era, been capable of feeling only towards his closest spirit friends. And... And for whatever reason, he even does not consider this to be a bad thing.
He was not exaggerating when he told Lavellan that, as he took her hand and helped her close her very first Rift, he felt the whole world change. She clearly loves the imperfect realm she was born in - a misguided feeling, but pure and earnest. She loves this world, and the people in it, no matter what their faults may be - and after being so close to such a powerful wellspring of love, the cave analogy does not seem all that applicable any longer.
While Solas muses to himself, the shade of Yavanna moves on down the corridor and approaches a small writing desk, her smile reaching its most radiant. Solas does not even need to shift his gaze to know who she has stopped to talk so - and instinctively, his lips curl into a scowl of disapproval. Wellspring of love indeed... More like a torrential stream, which keeps flowing on and on, not discriminating between feeding parched fields and causing damage.
Much as he appreciates - admires even - young Lavellan's ability to forge sincere friendships with the most impossible of people, sometimes it really does cross into the realm of foolish, regrettable naïveté. It pains Solas enough to see her proudly display the slave markings that, in a time long gone, would have labelled her as an object, an item belonging to someone who served Ghilan'nain... But she has also made the rash decision to offer her friendship and respect to two men who clearly do not deserve it. People whose kind has, for many centuries, enslaved her race, and bound and tortured spirits to do their bidding. Perhaps there is still some hope for Dorian, if he sheds his screaming peacock feathers... But the older man, the Venatori, he who wanted to play a hand in Tevinter's rise to world power, he who once told Lavellan that she should never have existed - how could she have forgiven him so readily? How could she have gotten it into her head that he is worthy of being treated as an equal to her friends - to the righteous Cassandra, the loyal Blackwall, the protective Varric, even the impossible Sera and the haughty Vivienne? How...
'How are you feeling?' the voice of the memory asks, genial and filled with that sort of vivacious warmth that can be heard when one speaks through a natural, unforced smile.
Still scowling, Solas looks on as the shade of Yavanna perches herself on the desk's edge, and the Tevinter researcher looks up at her, his imprint on the Fade also growing more defined, brimming over with soft inner glow. As his face becomes highlighted, Solas is able to make out the starkly contrasting shadows around his eyes: the man has obviously had very little sleep of late.
'Better, now that you have returned, Inq... Yavanna,' the Venatori confesses, a small smile touching his thin lips as he regards Lavellan - while the spirits make note that this is nothing like the sideways smirk he gave the Inquisition's agents as he lured them into his trap in Redcliffe.
'I... I may have encountered a hostile creature in my sleep,' he adds, lowering his voice and glancing around suspiciously: scanning the room for Leliana's ever-present spies. 'Nothing I could not handle, of course; but still, its attempts to stoke my rage were less than welcome'.
'I am sorry,' she says, in a small, anxious voice. 'But... Thank you for confiding in me'.
Solas is thankful that the reflections of the Fade cannot see or hear him: the contemptuous snort that he lets out almost rivals Cassandra's. Really - to be thanking a magister for telling her of his association with a demon... He was most likely the one who aggravated the hapless spirit in the first place, corrupting it with his own dark mind!
'What was that you said to me in Redcliffe?' the magister says, with a short, dry laugh. 'You have that sort of face. It is delightfully easy to trust you... when one is your ally'.
'That's me,' she chirps cheerfully; then, after falling silent for a moment or two, asks a tentative question.
'Do you... Want to talk about it?'
'I was supposed to collect some alchemy supplies for your... mage friends,' the Tevinter responds, getting up; his voice has a notable undertone of sarcasm. 'Of course, the Spymaster's people will keep me company - but sometimes one wishes to have a more appreciative person by one's side'.
'Well, how can I say no to such a gracious invitation to a garden walk!' Lavellan grins. 'Lead on!'.
As they set out on their way, the two shades do not walk off too far: it is the Fade that shifts and changes around them - just like, as you travel in a carriage, the surrounding landscape seems to move, while you appear to be stuck in place. And while the spirits reshape their surroundings, Solas can sense them being intrigued by what has him wondering as well: how could two supposed enemies have grown so close, so at ease around one another, in such a short spell of time? The past events of their story clearly contradict the present; to coin a corny, Dalish-style metaphor, the halla that once attempted to stomp the serpent into the dust, now frolics fearlessly by its side... And most remarkably of all, the serpent does not appear to have any particular intention to sting her.
As they approach the alchemy garden, the Venatori speaks again, with his eyes cast down and the fingers of one hand pressed against a jerking being in his temple.
'When the demon approached me,' he utters hoarsely, 'I suddenly felt so angry... So angry at the world... for remaining unchanged... for being indifferent to my pain... Felix is gone, his mother is gone - my heart might as well have stopped beating. So why does the bloody sun keep rising every morning? Why are there all these stupid leaves on the vine outside my window? Why hasn't everything turned grey and desolate?'
His voice cracks; Yavanna bites into her lower lip and rests her hand on his forearm.
'I... I can't pretend to understand how much you are hurting,' she says sadly. 'And all my words will probably mean nothing to you, because I am so much younger, and I have lived a completely different life... But... But you are my friend now, and I want to bring you at least some comfort... So I am gonna repeated what we talked about with Cassandra, when she said that the world stopped making sense to her after... after a loss of hers. I think that, when you look at the world and see that it has not changed, you could treat it as... Not being indifferent, but being there for you. A lot of things in it are so beautiful - even little things like the squares of sunlight on the wall, or the rainbow cloud rising over a stream of water, or frost drawing its swirls on a puddle of water... And they will still remain out there, when all else is lost - begging you to look at them, to appreciate how wonderful they are. My... My friend Solas has taken me to meet a lot of spirits, and most of them are really confused by how solid everything is here. But I like to think that... solidity is comforting, you know? This sort of... constancy in nature. People are wonderful, too - but they can leave, they can move on from you, they can make you feel hurt, often without meaning to... And nature - nature stays, and if you ever need soothing, you just have to look at it, and it will be there, calm and serene and majestic. That's... That's what I believe...'
She runs her fingers sheepishly through her unevenly trimmed black hair.
'A load of nonsense, isn't it?'
'Not necessarily,' the Tevinter points out, while lowering himself on a bench in the ghostly garden and idly casting a spell to uproot a nearby plant without getting himself dirty. 'I cannot say you have... converted me - but that could be because I am a city dweller at heart. I have always been more curious about people and the way their minds work, than about the wilderness. But you have made an interesting point. I shall make an attempt to look at this stubbornly unchanging nature with a more sympathetic eye... Maybe it will help me feel more at ease'.
'Oh, I am curious about people, too,' Yavanna confesses, a rich reddish glow pulsing within the tips of her ears. 'About how to make them happy'.
'Many people your age wonder about the same thing,' the Venatori says softly. 'Felix did... I did as well, when I had the strength to care. And who knows... I might start wondering again, given what company I keep'.
They exchange another pair of small, fleeting smiles; and then, there follows one of the bizarre tricks of the Fade - the sort of tricks that make the realm so hard to navigate for lesser minds (but not for seasoned explorers like Solas, of course). A second set of shades separates from the figures of the Inquisitor and her inexplicably favoured researcher; they look just like them, only more translucent, the reflection of a reflection. And while the brighter apparitions remain as they were, the man sitting down and the elf standing at the side of his bench, their faint shadows move in what Solas finds a most perplexing, even disconcerting manner.
The second Yavanna leans down, with one knee thrust forward to rest on the bench's seat, inches away from both copies of the Venatori, and grabs the back of the bench with one hand, pulling herself so close that her face almost touches the Tevinter's. In turn, the second researcher also shifts in his seat, reaching out to embrace Yavanna around the waist, while she slips her free hand along his shoulder in a slow caress. It is not long before their lips meet - nor is does this come completely unexpected, given the more than suggestive position of the two shades. And yet, Solas still starts, feeling utterly confused, torn between incredulity and shame over his own role as a peeping interloper, perhaps intermingled with a slight hint of distaste. It is hard to say what exactly he is witnessing - but he is inclined to believe that this scandalous little scene did not actually happen; that the faint shades merely reveals how the memory might have played out but never did... How one of those involved may have wanted it to play out.
He knew it. He knew Yavanna was too hasty to trust her captive. Once a slave master, always a slave master. He covets her, the way humans covet elves across Thedas; killing her having failed, he now wants to humiliate her, to defile her, to taint her with his darkness the way he tainted that poor spirit with his rage - the way, if given a chance, he might have tainted the whole world.
After his mouth presses against the Inquisitor's, the ghostly Venatori closes his eyes and frowns a little, as if the kiss were some complex spell, requiring his full concentration - but the frown does not linger. Instead, his expression changes to that of gratitude and joyful disbelief - not feelings one might expect from a predator falling upon his prey. Nor does Yavanna exude any sensation of fear and pain; among the spirits weaving the likeness of herself and the man she is kissing, there is no disturbance that might have indicated aggression or mind control. Instead, the Fade around her throbs with warmth and happiness, as though Solas were basking in the purest, golden summer sunlight. It appears that this kiss that never was, this prolonged, passionate embrace between the two shades, is as much Yavanna's fantasy as it is the Venatori's. She relishes being in his arms, catching at his lips, stroking his shoulder, the side of his neck, his cheek, his jawline... Even if it does happen only within the confines of their minds. But then, Solas has always put more stock in the mind and the spirit than in the incomplete and inadequate physical world.
For a while, the vision of the Skyhold garden, the two Inquisitors, and the two magisters, fades from view obscured by other images, most likely conjured up by the spirits by association. These images are even hazier than those of the kissing couple - but still, Solas can hazard a guess as to what they are supposed to depict. He can make out the figure of a man, stumbling and weary, seeking shelter from a storm; and then, that of another man, being led away from the misshapen clots of encroaching darkness by a woman with a candle held high in her hand; and then, of seemingly dead, arid earth, with a flower slowly lifting its stalk out of one of the deep black cracks that crisscross it.
And then, it hits him - with such unannounced abruptness and stark clarity that he feels overcome by the urge to mould an enormous armoured fist out of shards of glowing, green-tinted rock and thrash something with it.
He realizes why - at least in part - he has been so resentful towards the captured magister. It has not all been about being protective of his trusting mortal friend, and dismayed at the thought of her becoming a slave like the true elves once had. It has also been about... Jealousy.
He has been jealous of the Tevinter - of this selfish human, who sought to destroy the world for the sake of a single, brief life rather than a whole civilization, a whole reality, a whole true plane outside the cave. All this time, he has been jealous. He has wished, ardently, foolishly, to find himself in his place. To lay bare his heart, raw and throbbing, with all the darkness and the sorrow that eats it away. To reveal his fears and his secrets, to tear out of the tightly shut, wolf-like jaws of his own lie. To be listened to, to be comforted, to be held close and caressed, sheltered and showered in light and warmth... And perhaps, to be dissuaded from what he knows must be done. To be made to understand the beauty of the world that he has severed from the Fade. At least for a moment. For a single blissful moment, to fully and completely plunge into the cave, and see, like the mortals seem to see, that its walls are made out of glimmering jewels, lit up by the inner radiance of the woman that he...
The haze clears; and once again, Solas is standing unseen in the alchemy garden, with only two shades remaining in his field of view. The mirage of the kiss has dissipated; Yavanna is back to standing next to the bench, a little flushed in the aftermath of her longing thoughts, and watching the magister hover magically the blossoms of the plants he has dug up. He has separated the flowers and the leaves from the roots - and now, with the most serious and focused of expressions, appears to be using telekinesis to bend the stalks and entwine them with one another, forming some sort of... crown-like shape.
'What are you doing?' Yavanna asks, as her eyes light up brightly, showing that she is about to giggle.
'The alchemical experiment in progress only requires the use of this plant's roots,' he explains, guiding the now finished dainty little flower crown towards the elf's head, which she readily bows down, allowing the blossoms to slide in place. 'And this is as good a use of surplus resources as any, do you not agree? Besides, this is the sort of undignified thing that you might do yourself - so I can safely deny everything should your Spymaster catch you walking around like this'.
His words make the carefree giggle, which has been building up behind her lips - stretched into a smile with dimples at their corners - finally burst free. And at this point, Solas can watch the dream no longer.