By Kristen Archer
Edited by Stephen Barteaux
Solas pulled back among the shadows in the shattered ruins of Haven’s Chantry buildings. He took one long look at them all. At her if he was being truthful with himself. He’d claimed to offer Lavellan just that, the truth. He’d come so close to telling her his true name. All of his true names: Fen’harel, the Dread Wolf, the Betrayer, He Who Imprisoned the Gods.
At the last moment he’d rethought his brash decision. He’d covered his momentary slip by offering her a tidbit of truth out of their shared history. Crushing another false dream of her people. A heartless gift to leave her with.
“I love her.” There. That was the truth. And it wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t his due. He didn’t get to walk away from his misdeeds, to drown himself in her eyes. Or her arms. Those were things that happened in songs. Beautiful lies. In the real world. In the blood and the mud there were decisions, and their cost. Nothing else. He carried the bloodguilt for their shared people, the elves of Thedas. He found himself in complete understanding of Blackwall’s decision to face his brutal past. That man had also carried an old guilt he needed to rectify. But Solas’ hands were too steeped in the blood of their kin to touch Wrenn. Yet he had and never warned her. Her faith in him, even if misplaced, now bolstered his courage to undo his mistakes.
He turned to the tall, regal looking woman waiting for him, out of sight of the small crowd of heroes below.
“Are you certain you don’t want to wait until tomorrow?” She asked, her tone mocking. “You did just aid them in healing the Breach for a second time, slaying a would-be god and saving the world. I believe victory celebrations can be very rewarding for the deserving hero.”
The voice was Flemeth’s, but the barely suppressed scorn was all Mythal’s. He didn’t begrudge her anger. She more than anyone must feel their shared impotence in stemming the destruction of the elven nation. A terrible and unforeseen consequence of imprisoning his warring kin. Yet if he had not they might well have torn their people apart in civil war. So he crafted a trap to imprison the powerful mages. Then sunk into a deep slumber himself, exhausted from his task. Yet Arlathan fell anyway while Fen’Harel slept. Without their leaders, the internecine wars increased rather than faltered. Afterwards the human Tevinter empire swept up the remains in what must have been the easiest conquest in history.
Fen’Harel woke centuries later to find dusty ruins and terrified primitives, where their grand civilization had once stood. He tried to dispel his incomprehension by reliving events in the Fade. He bore witness to the bloody infighting as it soared out of control. The human invasion. The bitter enslavement of his people. He visited every ruin he could unearth, reliving its past glories and sorrows. He tried to fathom the depth of his mistake. The scope of his arrogance. Then he had taken a new name. ‘Solas’ so he would never forget what his pride had wrought.
Now he looked into Mythal’s amber eyes with determination. “I am aware of what I deserve. And of all the debts I owe.” He cocked his head. “Shall we set upon this path you’ve chosen?” The goddess’ eyes glittered in unsuppressed satisfaction as she took her dragon form. Staying well above the clouds, they flew swiftly south.
Solas spared his love another thought while mountains and forests rushed by below him. He imagined the whoop of joy Wrenn would let out if she were here with him. How long, he wondered, would memories of her sneak up on him in unguarded moments. Not long at all he supposed, if Mythal’s plan was successful. The gods would be set free and they would fall upon Fen’Harel their betrayer, and sate their vengeance. Then turn themselves to rebuilding the elven civilization. And he would be released from seeming endless enduring. He told himself he welcomed it but his treacherous memory riposted with the sweet taste of Wrenn’s lips.
He shivered and pretended it was the wind. Cruel that he should meet one such as her now at the end of his long lifespan. At least her pain would be over soon. They lived such short lives now, the People. His fault too no doubt. How many hundreds of years of Wrenn’s life would she never see because he thought he could fix the world with a key?
Letting more beings, so powerful they considered themselves gods, into the world would dismay the Inquisitor. She had just finished ridding the world of one that craved such power. Now Solas was about to let out more. Yet without the key, which was destroyed in the fight today, opening the Eluvian that held the gods would be daunting. Impossible in fact, without combining their power, Mythal’s and his. The pantheon would remain, locked now in tombs instead of in sleep. And the People would wither and die as migrating savages on the plains or in the squalor of human cities. That outcome was intolerable. In this at least, Mythal and he were in agreement.
“When you learn of what transpired. You may not believe the truth in this but I did this more for you, vhenan, than any.” Solas sent that thought out across the distance increasing between Wrenn and himself.
The dragon spoke in his mind. Her voice sharp like knives and drier than dust. “I don’t recall you being this maudlin, Wolf. If we are both to perish on this day would it be too much to ask that we go to our demise with some dignity left? Or at least in silence?”
“Ir abelas, lethallan. I am sorry, my friend” He said with contrition. Mythal intended to let her life, her power take the place of the key he lost. In time perhaps she might learn the intricacies of this Eluvian enough to attempt opening it with Solas as the key instead. It was not likely, however. Nor was it feasible in any time frame that would benefit the few remaining elves in Thedas. This was how it would be done. Now. Without another age wasted. And she had a right to go to that last task any way she wanted to.
They flew in silence for a while before she broke it with another demand. “Tell me of her.” Was she tormenting him? Solas didn’t think so. She had met the Inquisitor once. When Morrigan, Empress Celene’s strange court mage, had summoned Mythal. The goddess of Justice could be petty but he thought she genuinely wanted to know.
So he did. He started with the Breach. A cataclysm caused by Corypheus a mad ghost of an ancient Tevinter magister, though the fault lay squarely with Solas. One elf had tumbled out of that massacre, marked with the magic of his key. He spoke of his marvel that she had walked the Fade in the flesh and not only survived but come away from it sane. He spoke of her perseverance and integrity. How she refused to kowtow to Chantry or politics. His admiration and pride in her fight against slavery. Be it of the body or mind.
Their journey went swiftly as he recounted the tale of the Inquisition and its accomplishments. He never mentioned the love he bore it’s Herald, yet Mythal sensed it nonetheless. And seemed to understand how one freedom fighter might love another.
“‘Tis a pity,” she thought to him as they circled a forgotten clearing deep in the woods. “It sounds as if this Lavellan could have ridden the wolf.” Solas bowed his head, and she added in a dry tone. “In more ways than one.” Solas slid down from her back to land in knee-deep grass. “Had things been different you and she might have forged a new fate for the People.” There was less rancor in her words than he expected but he did not reply. That dream had never been more substantial than the Fade itself. He gently pushed thoughts of Wrenn Lavellan away in his mind as Mythal resumed the form of Flemeth, the Witch of the Wild.
In front of them stood, obscured by growth and age a framed mirror, slender but almost twice his height. Apart from that the mirror seemed unassuming. Forgotten like so many of the riches that had once been Arlathan. Solas reverently pulled vines and branches away from the Eluvian, ignoring Mythal’s sardonic scoff behind him. In this place he truly was Solas. This had been the place that marked his pride. His arrogance. Once the mirror was cleared, he stepped away into the sunlight that dappled the center of the clearing. He breathed in the warmth and light, the vibrant life humming all around him and bade it a last farewell. Mythal meanwhile stepped over to the Eluvian, curiously touching its surface.
“It never occurred to you that I would refuse your request?” His voice was quiet and Mythal smiled sadly to herself.
“I knew you would come.” She turned, and appeared aged to Solas. It wrenched at his heart. They had quarreled so many times, but she was still one of his own. As much kin as anyone. “You should not have given your orb to Corypheus, Dread Wolf.” Her voice was heavy with regret. Solas swallowed around a sudden lump in his throat. Walking back to her with heavy steps.
“I was too weak to unlock it after my slumber.” Mythal took his hands in hers. Even through the heavy gloves they seemed so frail to him this day. He caressed her fingers. “The failure was mine. I should pay the price. But the People, they need me.” He yearned for her to disagree. To present just one more shrewd plan. But Mythal did not offer any such. There were no plans left, shrewd or otherwise save one. She cupped his head in a steadying grip.
“I am so sorry.” He whispered. She could not – would not forgive him for what he had done. But she knew his remorse was genuine. “I am sorry as well, old friend.” He felt her acquiescence like a knife in his own gut as he tore her open and absorbed her powers into himself. He caught her falling body in his arms. Embraced her in farewell as he gently lowered her to the ground. Her power seared him from inside and it seemed his skin would crack before he could contain it.
How long Solas fought to master the magic lest the last hope of the Elvhen die in an unspectacular pillar of flame he did not know. But he did finally claw himself and by extension his purpose, out of that blue furnace. Then Fen’harel the Dread Wolf turned Mythal’s wrath and his own burning guilt upon the serene doorway in the clearing. Today he would re-open the prison and face what came of it. He directed their combined power at the mirrored arch which tore open in a shower of sparks. It would never be usable again after this day but it never would be needed again either. Or if it did it would be someone else’s task to deal with. “Lavellan’s” the back of his mind supplied treacherously. But it was true and there was relief in that knowledge too. That if he failed yet again today, she would be there to repair his mistakes, again.
He peered with trepidation through the mists dissipating from the magical detonation. What he saw was akin to a shard of the Fade though separate from it and the real world. A pocket sized part of the Fade but unchanging, unlike the realm of dreams and dreamers. It should contain the sleeping forms of 7 people in 7 beautiful carved vessels. An eerie quiet settled around Solas as he stepped unsteadily across the portal threshold. He’d spent most of his energy opening the doorway. Holding it open was a smaller matter.
The remains of the sarcophagi were there, black with age. The telltale glow that proclaimed a sleeper inside, absent from all seven. At first Solas froze in shock. A deep groan tore from his chest and he rushed from one container to the next. They were empty. Any remains long since turned to dust. They were all gone. It was all for nothing. Everything. Mythal’s terrible sacrifice. Risking the orb in Corypheus’ possession in the first place. For this? He’d failed the People, failed Mythal and Wrenn.
Solas stumbled out of the Eluvian portal and fell to his knees next to Flemeth’s dead body. A howl tore from his throat. Not the sound of wolf nor that of an elf. It was a sound of anguish and loss any creature of warm blood would recognize.
He rocked on his knees and threw his anguish at the skies until nausea overcame him. When this heaving subsided at last, he curled up next to Flemeth’s body. Solas clutched the dead woman’s hand in his and wept until sleep found him.
Lin’ara. She had taken this new name for herself to reflect her new being. Just as the Betrayer had. She’d plucked Fen’harel’s new name from his mind as she stalked him. Pride, oh how he believes he suffers so nobly. But he knows nothing of suffering. ‘Twas not he who woke in the formless grey, to sleeping prisoners, madness and hunger.
She had resisted that unholy hunger for so long. Months? Maybe years? Who could tell in that perpetual gloom? Finally she fell on the first of her brethren. Devouring both flesh and power. She wept at the sight of her bloody hands while she stuffed her mouth. It sated her for a time. Power had coursed through her, burning away at her sanity. A fire that banished the chill of her horror. But months passed, and he did not return for them. So she had opened another casket. The second one was easier. With the power of two of her peers thrumming beneath her skin, she spaced the feeding of the third out over decades. He died so slowly, never waking to his plight.
Then she discovered their prison was more porous than first imagined. Drops and morsels of her feasts seeped through the floor and walls of their prison. Passing through to fall who knew where. It galled her that even as they died feeding her, parts of the others were escaping the cage. When she, with power boiling through her, could not! Black blood dripping through unseen bars in her grey cage. She rent her own flesh then in her madness, hoping to do as they. Were they not all but immortal? Surely it was possible to coalesce again on the other side given enough time? If her plan succeeded she did not know. Her spirit remained trapped in the formless grey prison.
She drank heavily of the magic and as her body withered, her hunger changed. Now she craved vengeance against the one who created her. The arrogant self-satisfied rebel who turned on them all. She would have his last tears before she took his blood and his power. And then had come this glorious day. The door shattered and he had stood beyond it. She willed him not to see her in that instant. Some old spike of shame even now. And he did not. She thought him a pitiful creature as he stumbled about from coffin to coffin finding naught but ancient stains. So much smaller than she remembered him. A shell of his former formidable self. His groans carried a touch of madness that brought a smile to her face. But his was a candle against her bright blaze. She could teach him true madness! Share his gifts to her with him.
To her distaste he curled up beside the corpse of an old human crone, weeping in long, ragged gasps. Her lip curled, or would have were she still in corporeal form. He knew nothing of sorrow yet. The sad little elf. So distraught. He never sensed her riffling through his memories like touching fabrics at a silk market. And what she found there widened her smile. A smile that once had charmed the masses.
“You are Pride, Solas. But I am Lin’ara. I am Hunger. And I will make my feast of Thee last a hundred years!”
She soared to let the winds carry her North, to the mountains. To a grey stone castle, with an Empress in all but name who owned the heart of her worst enemy.
Wrenn Lavellan fingered the costume of her office. It seemed to gain more gold brocade every time she looked at it. Perhaps she might ask Josephine to put some restraint on Skyhold’s dressmakers. It dismayed her that she didn’t want to descend the stairs and face the days petitions and decisions.
There was still so much to do. Pockets of squabbles had flared up all over Thedas not long after Leliana was confirmed as the new Divine. Her reforms were sweeping the Chantry like a wildfire. Wrenn worried that she had swapped Corypheus’ red dragon for one of her own. Shaped from the Inquisition. Leliana wielding it’s scorching flame to her own ends. They might teeter into a civil war at this moment and the thought was bitter ashes on her tongue. And still she could not bring herself to take up her duties.
“I won’t get in the way of your duties.” Solas had whispered those words with his sad eyes before he turned away from her. The memory shot pain through her, doubling her slender form over with a gasp. Worse than any battle wound. How did people cope with heartaches like this? How did she go on with her life without him?
Every day her feet took her into the rotunda of their own volition. She had ordered the room left undisturbed. When she caught a servant removing an old mug of tea from the table in the middle she’d snapped in fury at the woman. The drudge fled weeping from the room and Wrenn had been mortified at her own behaviour. Josephine smoothed things over. Finding the woman a nice position in the Orlesian countryside somewhere. Better pay and much better climate. Wrenn was secretly relieved that she didn’t have to face the woman again. Now that stupid mug was sitting out on her balcony. Cleaned and refilled with fresh tea.
She spent her mornings out there, reading every book Solas had ordered to the Keep. The titles ranged from volumes on ancient elven history and art, to botanical and chemical discourse on dyes. There were days she wanted to throw each one over the railing. Hardly proper behaviour for the head of the Inquisition. But those days the pain was almost bearable. If she could just stay angry with him. If he’d just explained why he had to leave. What she had said or done that made it unbearable for him to look upon her. There was a timid knock on the door but she sent whoever it was away with orders not to disturb her for a few hours. She crawled back into bed, wrapped up in Solas’ blanket and sunk into a fitful sleep.
In moments Wrenn found herself back in the Fade. This had happened with increasing frequency since her return to Skyhold and she was unsure if she sought the place on purpose or not. Like most people Wrenn never had any control over her dreams. This was before the Mark. Now she revisited past places and moments in her dreams, whether she wanted to or not and fully aware of her surroundings.
She had encountered no spirits in the Fade since her return to Skyhold. Neither had she sensed him anywhere. Solas told her that you shaped the Fade, on visiting, with your own thoughts and feelings. The muted surroundings Wrenn found herself in this time fit that description. A fallen oak tree was the most solid thing in this part of the Fade and added to the sense of life, long fled. She’d crossed the Veil with his blanket. Now she wrapped it tight around her shoulders and sat against the tree. It felt like an old friend and she drew comfort from that.
“Your pain calls across the Fade, da’len. It frightens the spirits away.”
Wrenn looked up to find an Elvish woman standing at the edge of the clearing. She looked strange yet familiar. Bringing Abelas and his kin in the Temple of Mythal to mind with their alien, feral faces. This woman’s features were similar but her smile glowed and her cheeks were rosy. If Abelas had a beautiful mother, Wrenn supposed she might look like this woman.
Embarrassed at keeping the stranger waiting Wrenn cleared her throat. “I… did not know that. I didn’t really mean to come here. I must have drifted off.”
The woman smiled wisely, letting her eyes slide over the faded memory of a forest clearing. “Did you not?”
She indicated a spot on the ground next to Wrenn with an elegant flip of her wrist. Lavellan nodded that she could join her and the elf crossed the distance with slow grace and lowered herself beside the Inquisitor.
“A long time ago. Long before you were born, da’len. I lived with my sister and our parents in a beautiful city of gold and marble spires.” The woman drew her hand across the air which rippled to her touch and showed Wrenn a dazzling view of a vast city. “We were privileged. Our house wealthy and in good standing. But most precious of all to me was my little sister.” The view changed to a private high-walled garden. An elven maid danced there. Willowy and so graceful, breath caught in Wrenn’s throat.
“We both had many suitors of course. Even before we ourselves had any interest in the matter. But one day one young nobleman caught her eye and her love for him made her shine so bright.” The woman’s eyes lingered kindly on Wrenn for a moment. Her voice didn’t change, it’s cadences alien and mellow all the same. But Wrenn caught a thread of sorrow that called to her own.
“He broke her heart. As is the won’t of young noblemen. It’s what they do.” Wrenn thought of Solas’ hunched shoulders as he left her. He hadn’t wanted to leave, but he had done so anyway. The view of the garden changed. It was empty now, and old leaves blew across the expanse of mossy flagstones.
“She withered from that day until there was no life left in her.” The woman sent ripples across the image again changing the view to show a garden pond framed with brown and golden boughs. Golden leaves dappling the surface of the water. “My father lifted her pale body out of the pond, but truly she died when her love turned away from her.” Wrenn looked away from the image. The beautiful golden pond. Now a place of unspeakable sadness.
They sat in silence for a while. It should have been heavier given the grim tale that had passed between them but was instead… companionable. “I take it you are a spirit of compassion?” Wrenn asked, leaning her chin on her knees. “Like Cole. I drew you here?” The woman hesitated before answering. “I can dull your pain. But if you know a spirit of compassion, I wonder that he has not done you this kindness already.”
Wrenn shrugged. “I know he’s been around the Keep but he has been avoiding me. I couldn’t say why.” The woman nodded. “Because you are close? He has a personal stake in your well being and perhaps that clouds his abilities. Or…” The woman’s gaze narrowed thoughtfully. “Perhaps he cares for he who hurt you so?” Wrenn looked quickly up at the stranger, her eyes wide with surprise and pain. The woman gave her a quiet smile and tilted her head to where the images had appeared. “Maybe that is truly why I was called?” Wrenn bit her lip and looked away. “They were friends too.” She admitted.
“Then let me do this service for you. Let me calm your pain.” She held up a slender hand as Wrenn opened her mouth to protest. “It can only be for a time. You must learn to cope with your loss yourself or risk losing what shapes you. But…” Her voice went up with a lilt of hope. “Smaller increments will allow you to do so and discharge your duties with no one the wiser.” She turned to look straight at Wrenn, her smile warm and comforting as she held out a slender hand. “What you need is to let in a friend who is solely on your side now. Is this not true?” Wrenn stared at her, her vision blurring. She sucked in a long, ragged breath and nodded.
Varric twirled a crossbow bolt between his fingers as he watched the Chantry procession. It swayed like a crowd of drinking buddies, towards the dais with the Inquisitor’s throne. Steeped in a cloud of droning and incense. His jaws creaked from the effort to keep a sneer off his face. It was a throne in every sense of the word now. Once it was a heavy burden his friend approached with trepidation and as little as possible. But these days the stone carved elf was a part of the damned thing. Stone? Not even that. She was all steel and gold now, inside and out.
Over the months after the desperate fight against the mad Tevinter mage, Inquisitor Lavellan had withdrawn behind a serene exterior. Varric had watched as all corners of Thedas demanded the Inquisition brought order and justice. Everyone wanted a piece of her. And she never hesitated, not once. Just handed over every breath in her body to priests and mages, nobles and commoners. Everyone had a wrong they wanted righted, and she was the one to champion their causes.
In time the requests for judgement and intervention became less and less obviously righteous. Old grudges were dredged up before this new, highest chair of judgement. The priests of the Chantry had closed ranks around Wrenn Lavellan like a steel trap. When his friend re-emerged she had become the living symbol she had tried so hard to avoid.
The priests clad her in a version of the Chantry priests garb. Instead of their red velvet chest drape, Wrenn emerged behind a golden surcoat over a shining steel chain mail garb. It had to weigh a ton but you couldn’t tell by looking at the straight backed form. Even her face and lips were painted with gold in the style of the dreadful Orlesian masks. The ‘mask’ took the shape of the Inquisition Sword with the crossbar over her eyes and the blade extending past her lips to her chin. Varric hated that gold shit. All that cold metal slithered across his friends form like the red lyrium had choked out life in the templars. He bit his lip and forced his thoughts away from that imagery.
He believed Wrenn still tried to be fair in her judgements. But justice untempered by compassion was a terrible thing to behold. And the still golden figure on the flame-wrought throne showed as much feeling as your average tranquil. For a brief moment he had feared exactly that. Closeted so long with priests and mages who knew what had transpired behind closed doors. But Lavellan was no mage and tranquil had no emotions left at all. Her rage was still there. Blackwall endured the full force of that when he began questioning her decisions. He was lucky there already existed a public judgement of his sordid past or Varric thought Wrenn might have beheaded him on the spot.
All the Inquisitor’s friends were drawing back from her. Their band dissolving in the glare of the new world order. Iron Bull and his Chargers upped stakes and disappeared one night not long ago. No mean feat in the face of an Inquisition armed by the combined spies of Divine Victoria and Marquise Briala. Sera vanished, but that was hardly surprising. Once the adventures dried up she got bored out of her skull.
Solas had been the first to disappear of course. Varric often wondered if he saw something on that last, dreadful battlefield in the sky. Something that warned him of what was to come. Or perhaps he just left because the war was over. Who could tell with that weird elf anyways. And while he listed off crazy mages to himself, both Vivienne and Morrigan had left too. Well that was fine with him. He didn’t much care for those two hags anyways.
Varric spotted Dorian leaning against a doorway across the Nave, watching the ritual with lofty disdain. He was preparing to return to Minrathous and had been for a while now. Leaving didn’t seem like such a bad idea any more. Sooner or later he would have to speak up like Blackwall and Varric wondered how that gilded statue over there would react. Banish him to Orzammar perhaps. Varric shuddered. He’d ask for the sword instead if it came to that.
As the months passed, the Chantry uplifted their shining Sword of Justice on the hands of their hordes of supplicants. All came to see Lavellan as their deliverer. Well, they wanted a god to cover with gold and songs who would tell them what to do. And they got one, in a sense. But he’d lost another friend. And Hawke damn well didn’t die to set this scary inquisition on the throne of the world.
The crossbow bolt snapped with a loud crack that bounced off the high ceiling. Despite the throng of people the sound carried. More than a few levelled frowns in his direction. He hunched down and tried to look contrite, cursing himself silently. Who me? Blaspheme? Never! You know me, I’m Varric, the Dwarf disciple of her Lady Justice and all that.
The moment passed, and all faces turned back to the elf in the golden robes. A new chant of Light was being threaded into the old one these days and bloody everyone sang the creepy thing. Words like ‘purity’ and ‘false gods’ gave him the creeps. Varric stopped going to the inn after someone cursed ‘by Lavellan’ instead of ‘by Andraste’. The same sick mounting dread assaulted him as it had in Kirkwall, with Bartrand and the red lyrium. Before he knew what the stuff did. An unsettled roiling fear of approaching horror.
The song died off echoing around the vaulted chamber on the drifts of cloying incense and the day’s proclamations were read out loud. The Inquisition judged one Fereldan landowner should have his holdings divided between two feuding offspring. No mention of what would happen to any of the holders.
The Inquisition decided to give a Free Marcher noble, who set himself up as a nodal point for the slave trade, to his slaves for judgement. There wouldn’t be enough left of the man to pack in a box. Varric didn’t feel sorry for the slaving bastard. But his heart quailed for the people who wielded those hungry knives. Everyone wanted vengeance but who ever got anything worthwhile in return for it? What justice is there to be found at the bottom of a pool of blood?
Mythal’s temple underwent a frenzied construction by Inquisition builders and architects. A city was springing up around it, populated by displaced and disgruntled Orleasians. Encouraged by the Inquisitor who expressed a wish for the old ruins to see use again. Come harvest time there would be a new central market for the surrounding lands, ravished by the Orlesian civil war.
She let Iron Bull’s mercenary band sweep through and clean out all of value first though. Afterwards Lavellan’s people tore down every last depiction of Elvish religion and culture in the temple and burnt them. Apparently the staunch defender of Elven legacy no longer cared for her own heritage. Varric didn’t blame her where gods were concerned. More trouble than worth, the lot of them. But he was uneasy at this abrupt change in his friends mindset.
None of these simpering fanatics understood that their uplifted Justice had never believed in the Maker. Or in any gods for that matter. Then they came face to face with what was presumably Mythal, elven goddess of Justice or some such. What that might have done to Lavellan’s personal beliefs he didn’t dare guess. It had shaken his world right enough. Varric wondered if the thing inhabiting Flemeth had infected Wrenn with its otherworldly spirit crap. It was like Cole in a way. Simple, single-minded and elemental. Which was what Wrenn was becoming. But where Cole was a single-minded Spirit of Compassion, she was turning into a Golem of Justice. Varric shuddered.
The chilling litany continued and Inquisitor Lavellan never even blinked. She didn’t seem to hear any of it, sitting there cocooned in steel and gold, cold inside and out. How did we go from a band of brothers in arms, against the ultimate evil to this chill? He couldn’t leave without talking to her at least once. It had to be possible. He made his decision then, staring up at his pale Elven friend on the throne. He would make one more attempt to reach her before leaving Skyhold for good. And this time he wouldn’t waste going through channels.
Wrenn stepped out of the garment with the help of two under priests. Squires in all but name. The thing weighed nearly as much as Cullen’s full Templar set. And strong enough to ward off a sword blow too, so there was that at least. She tried to pull her lips out into a strained smile at her own witticism. A dull, throbbing weight had settled in her head these days. As if she wore a leaden helmet on the inside of her skull. It wasn’t a real malady though. This was simply what life had become now. Better by far than the constant little cuts moving about Skyhold had been upon first returning.
Nobody could see but everything had bled her. The bedamned cup. A set of scribes gloves. A book still open on a page, flowing scribbles in the margin. He had touched every part of her world and now there was nowhere to escape from the ache except inside.
The priests left long moments ago, but she never noticed until the chill mountain air raised the hairs on her arms. The simple shift she wore was not intended to ward of the chill, mountain air. Lately Wrenn often came to in this way. As if her mind stopped, and went where? Not into the Fade. Solas was there somewhere, wandering the lost ruins of time. Dreaming of the long lost glories of their slaver forebears no doubt. The shock of discovering that bitter truth of the forefathers she’d revered her whole life, had merged with the other, deeper pain.
Knowing the glorious people of the tales, warred and enslaved their own kind same as the worst the Tevinter Empire ever did, affronted her. Now the wistful stories and songs of all the glory elves had lost burned her soul. Her ancient ancestors had probably taught the early Tevinter tribes the notion of slavery in the first place! Wrenn’s hands fisted against the rage boiling up inside her. Her noble elvhen ancestry. Oh lost Arlathan indeed!
“Not my people!” Abelas had proclaimed as he looked upon her. She didn’t know then that he beheld a lowly slave. Less even than he himself. The purpose of the Vallaslin was to mark slaves with the noble or god their owner served. Oh but Solas wiped those off her face. And with such joy proclaimed she was free. Only to turn away from her. He made her dance to his song, handed her his little truth and disappeared back into the Fade. And the whole time she never realized who the apostate mage truly was.
Her throat choked and pain shot up her arms from the palm of her hands as her nails dug in. He told her, he wanted her to learn the truth. Apparently this did not include revealing his own deception. Oh no. Just tell the little knife ear that her quaint beliefs were mud and walk away with a truth so terrible she couldn’t bear it. The world couldn’t bear it.
Briefly she tried to recall how she learned Solas’ true name. Fen’harel. The knowledge was there but where it came from hovered beyond her mind’s reach. She knew it as an obscure term from old songs. Old mysterious warnings that told a good Dalish girl to beware of the Dread Wolf. Now that name wore his face! Part of her wanted to reach back in time and pit her forces against every last one of those arrogant bastards. But to what end? They were not the ones perpetuating tales of their peaceful, enlightened forebears. All lies. As were the Chantry’s. As was the Qun’s. Lies to enslave the gullible and the fearful. ‘Sheep’ Leliana had called them. the Divine sat in Orlais now casting her own waves into the masses. She wanted freedom and equal rights for the mages, equal rights for the other races. An end to the alienages, a dwarven surface community with a true stake in Ferelden, Orlais or the Free Marches.
Wrenn vowed to see that the Divine achieved her goals. Whatever it took. And then she would lead the people on an Exalted March on Tevinter itself. And if the Quanari wanted a piece of her people she would put them to the sword too. And if the Chantry did not tone back its mysticism it would feel her sword as well. No more slaves. No more gods.
No. More. Gods.
When it was all over, she too would have to end. There had never been any gods. Just power. Too much power in too flawed people. Such as Wrenn herself now. Both the Inquisition and the mark. Between them she wielded more power than anyone had in Thedas since Andraste herself. It was too much power for one person to exert. She would give it up when she saw everyone freed of their slave bonds.
A rough voice cleared itself from behind her and she spun around, hands snapping up her bow in one smooth movement. “Whoa! Hey Little Bird! It’s just me!” Varric pressed his back against the door frame of the antechamber. He must have been hiding there while the priestesses undressed her. Seeing her in what passed as Chantry underwear didn’t bother her. But the fact that he had been there this whole time without her even sensing his presence was unnerving as hell.
Her lips skinned back in a grimace. ‘Little bird’ he called her that in their early days of adventuring. Sun dappled forest glades, sneaking up on mages and templars. Days of laughter and love. Solas had liked the nickname. He would chuckle and smile that special little smile and tilt his head at them when Varric teased her.
“Never call me that again!” Her voice hissed out between clenched teeth and the arrow pointed at Varric’s heart was rock steady. The dwarf swallowed and his face paled while his eyes fixed on it’s steel point. He dragged his gaze back up to her with an act of will. And behind the surprise and mounting fear Wrenn something worse. Disappointment? Loss? “You’ve changed so much.” His gravel voice sounded more rusty than usual. “Did something happen to you? Something we missed?” Dismay flowed across his broad features. “Is this our doing somehow? Did we let you down?”
Wrenn found she couldn’t move. The bow and string were firm in her arms but the arrow point began to tremble. The pain and loss, the gaping despair Solas had left in his wake welled up in her. Her vision blurred and she wanted to tell Varric. tell him everything. She had held him while they mourned Hawke, he would understand what she had lost. The soaring love that had lent her heart wings and the plummet when those wings tore off. But no. The love she bore belonged to a gentle and strong elf. A learned mage, passionate, principled and truthful. That man had only existed as the Dread Wolf’s mask. The lies of the Deceiver. As much a god in his own right as Mythal. The same sort of godhood Corypheus reached for.
She wanted those scalding tears to flow down her cheeks as she stared at Varric. Wanted it more than anything. But If it were known that Fen’harel was as real. Realer in some ways than Mythal. For he was his own being, where she had merged with mortals countless times to sustain herself. That he had walked among them in the flesh. It would all start over. With the gods, and the worship and the slavery. None of them would understand.
“Is that why you sent Blackwall away?” Varric broke into her thoughts.
Pain and a crushing guilt exploded in her mind. It was unbearable. A fire so hot across her soul it dried up her tears. Slowly she eased the string back on the bow. Her eyes fell from Varric’s as she turned around to place the bow against the table.
“No.” the Inquisitor said simply. “You could never let me down, Varric. Blackwall was a liar and a criminal. He knew justice was coming for him.” She turned her back on the dwarf and walked out onto the balcony. She hesitated in the arched doorway, a haughty faraway look on her face. “There is no reason to worry about me, Varric. I am doing my duty. You see to yours.”
Varric was shaken. In all the time he had traveled and fought beside Wrenn Lavellan, she had been a constant source of hope. A song of laughter and quiet defiance lifted against the tide of blood that threatened to drown Thedas. And her example made them – him step up right there beside her, protecting those engulfed by wars and horrors not of their choosing. And through the worst of it she always had a sparkle of joy in her. Gone now and without it she was a fundamentally different person. How and why she lost that spark he couldn’t say. But as Varric walked down the stairs from the Inquisitor’s tower, his impression was that of leaving the lair of a starved, wounded animal.
The tears had been real though. And there had been something else. Maybe it was a trick of the light but it had looked like her face changed. Not just the expression but her face! As if something, someone else was pushing out through her features to look at him. Creepy as shit. And what did that mean? Last time he saw her cry. Well, he corrected himself, the only time he’d seen her cry was when she brought back the news of Hawke’s sacrifice. Varric’s heart twinged at that memory again. It would always do that. Hawke would snicker if she knew. Wrenn hugged him so fiercely back then. Molded them around that furnace of anguish. Softening it to something bearable. Somehow he’d missed an opportunity to do the same for her but why or when he didn’t know.
Dorian waited at the foot of the stairs, holding an officious clerk at bay while waiting for Varric. As if the most normal thing in the world these days, was that Lady Justice should take counsel with her pet dwarf. The clerk clearly did not hold dwarves in high regard. Varric spared a scathing thought at the human who all but deified an elf but sneered at dwarves. Then he was gathered up in Dorian’s wake like a leaf caught on the wind. He headed for the ramparts behind the tall, handsome Tevinter. The younger man didn’t speak a word and walked quickly and purposefully out the main Keep, across the courtyard and up the stone stairs that clung to the outer wall.
Some of the smaller, towers still needed work done. Though Varric wondered if there were any foes left to assault the walls of the Inquisition. Likely, given her mood, Lavellan was looking for one she could kick in the balls. One corner of the square tower building was missing outright. Crumbled with age. Sanded down by the mountain winds that now snaked icy tendrils over the lip to curl around the two friends.
“What the hell happened, Dorian?” Varric asked as the tall mage crossed to a pile of rubble taller than Varric in one corner of the room. “I thought we won this thing? I even have the lyrium scars to prove it. But that out there?” He pointed across to courtyard to the audience chamber. “It doesn’t feel like winning to me.”
Dorian shoved his hands deep into his pockets before he answered. “Everything being relative, Her Holy Justice is still better than Corypheus the Dread God,” Dorian replied, his tone light. “But I take your point.” He conceded. He remained with his back to Varric and the spry, swagger drained off him, weighing down his broad shoulders. He pulled a candle stub out of his pocket and lit it, wedging the light between the stones of a pile of rubble in the corner.
“You care to share how your meeting with the Inquisitor went this evening?” Even his voice had lust some of its lustre. They were all changing, Varric thought. And not for the better. He scratched the back of his neck and swallowed hard to get the clump out of his throat. “She’s changed and I don’t just mean, things are different.” Dorian half turned and raised a sculpted eyebrow at him. The sole candle licked lights and shadows off his strong jaw line. Light in any room always hit the Tevinter just right. Varric doubted he even realized he did that. He snorted to cover up his brief amusement. “What the hell do I know about these things? I’m a merchant not a mage or a priest.” The Tevinter mage remained silent but crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“I’ll tell you what though.” Varric took a few steps toward him and pointed up through the ruined roof. “Whoever is up there in the tower in the gold paint, it is not the same person that clawed herself out of the Fade.” Dorian blinked. “You don’t mean that as a metaphor…” Varric’s eyes went flat. “Right,” Dorian hastened to add and pursed his lips. His eyes followed the direction of the Dwarfs accusing finger. The Inquisitor’s Tower was dark now, except for another lonely pinprick of light, much like their own.
Dorian looked back at the dwarf, his eyes now narrow. “She wants me to return to Minrathous and put her in contact with the leaders of the underground slave rebellion.” Varric looked surprised and Dorian continued, his voice growing dull with dread. “She wants to end slavery, Varric. All kinds of slavery. Tevinter’s, the Qun’s mind binding, probably the Chantry too in the end. If successful she’ll herald a new age of Freedom in Thedas.” He turned completely to face his friend. “An age baptized in blood. Starting with my people.”
“That… Does sound a little crazy but I hope you don’t expect me to feel sad about Tevinter slavers being put out of a living?” Dorian snorted. Varric noted he even made that sound stylish and delicate. Not like a nose full of snot the way everyone else snorted. “Of course not and truth be told I don’t care to uphold the custom either.” Varric’s eyebrows shot up at that but Dorian waved a hand to dismiss the dwarf’s surprise.
“It doesn’t matter what mine or anyone else’s opinion of slavery is. A all out slave rebellion Varric! One that has a shot at succeeding? Even the smallest, saddest slave revolts always end in a bloodbath. On both sides! It can’t be any other way.”
“Oh yeah?” Varric couldn’t help himself. “And here I thought your slaves were so well taken care of that the Fereldan poor can only dream of such a life in luxury?” Fury sparkled in Dorian’s dark eyes but he shook himself. “I don’t want to be the blade that opens the veins of my home country, Varric. Can you understand that? And maybe you are right.” He turned back to look up at the distant tower. “I couldn’t believe she would ask this of me. But if your suspicions are true, and something’s happened to her…” His voice trailed off in speculation.
“I am right! Something is wrong with her.” Varric said stubbornly and relayed his confrontation with Lavellan. When he described the ripples across her face, Dorian pulled thoughtfully at his lip. The tall mage was silent for a long while. “We missed something. But where?” He began pacing. His head bowed in concentration. “Something in the last fight? Some last desperate ploy of Corypheus’ perhaps?”
“Ripples of sorrow. Confused pain from a blind center.”
They peered up to spot a figure that was now perched on the edge of the broken lip. “At least,” Varric thought bitterly to himself. “I don’t remember he was sitting there a moment ago.”
“You are unique! In all Thedas I never… It’s gone?”
The boy form of the spirit of compassion rocked back and forth. A display of agitation unlike his usually immutable etherealness. “Cole?” Dorian flicked a look of concern at Varric who shrugged.
“He wipes the shame off her face. A dark truth… It’s gone!” Cole groaned and clutched at his head beneath the floppy hat.
“It would be kinder in the long run…” The writhing boy tumbled forward off the wall, hitting the flagstones with a thump and a gasp of pain. “Gone! Gone! GONE!”
Dorian and Varric reached the young man as his began thrashing in earnest. They pulled him around worried the fall had injured the boy. Varric tightened his grip on the thin shoulders. Cole’s head whipped back and forth with so much power he feared the boy would snap his own neck. Dorian leaned his weight on Cole’s legs but they might as well be trying to hold down a howling giant.
“Face behind her fffftthh!” Foam flecked Cole’s lips and his face glistened with chill, oily sweat. He went limp with such abruptness, Dorian had to brace himself on the floor or tumble over. Varric looked down into the boy’s face his heart squeezed tight. Cole’s eyes rolled back into his head but his breathing was regular if raspy.
“Can’t remember how she sounds but I can see her shadow. Turning to stone behind the hungry face.”
The silence that followed was uneasy as Varric met Dorian’s eyes over the exhausted boy’s body. “The fuck?” Varric mouthed at the mage who looked every bit as puzzled and worried as he felt. They both heard the door creak open on rusty hinges and a familiar heavy metallic footfall. Varric rolled his eyes. “Has Leliana been teaching you some of her tricks, Curly?”
Cullen’s smile was tinged with sadness. “I think she would find me a hopeless pupil. And truthfully I am sorry to intrude, I just…” He cast around for the words he needed. “The Inquisitor didn’t seem to want to discuss the matter after I told her.” He flashed that sorrowful smile again and to their surprise he pulled out a bottle. “I suppose I wanted to talk to someone else who’d known him.”
“Told her what?”
“Known whom?” Cullen took a step back in confusion at their chorus of questions. “About… Blackwall. You didn’t know? But…” He turned to face Varric directly. “I was told you have just been to see the Inquisitor, surely she must have told you?” Varric snorted, easing Cole down to lay flat on the flagstones. But Dorian broke in with his usual careless cynicism.
“Our Inquisitor,” He emphasized the pronoun. “Has been little in evidence lately, or weren’t you paying attention, old boy?” Cullen sighed. “Your words are true, I fear. She hasn’t been the same since defeating Corypheus.”
“You change everything…” Cole’s voice was a pained whisper. He sighed wearily and shook his head. “Also gone.” He scrambled back to his feet. “Ahh.” Cullen said, blinking in confusion. “I see you are here too.” Varric pulled the bottle out of the commander’s unresisting fingers and pulled the cork out. “So far, this night has been Hell bent on cramming as much shit as possible in before the midnight bell. So, here’s to your health, gents.” He took a long, long draught of the sweet wine. Too sweet for his taste but it might be that it was just what he needed to combat the bitterness welling up in him tonight. He passed the bottle to Dorian who took it with his eyes fastened on Cullen.
“Time to let the shoe drop, Handsome.” He said after taking a swig of his own. Uncharacteristically Cullen reached for the bottle and fortified his own nerves before answering. Varric felt a dreadful knowledge taking hold but Cole broke into the quiet. Eyes locked on the Commander his halting tenor rasped:
“I never even liked the man. But to die like that. In a forgotten, stupid skirmish that meant nothing?” Cole took a step toward Cullen whose brows furrowed in anger but the boy never flinched and continued. “After everything he gave for the Inquisition and for Thedas, did he have to give this as well?” Cullen closed his eyes. He pressed his lips together, and a vein throbbed with fury in his temple. Varric meanwhile sucked in air at Cole’s sad pronouncement and Dorian cursed a long string of invective venom.
“How did it happen.” Varric asked, his voice rough with grief. Cullen lowered himself to the floor against the wall. Cullen rubbed his face. His voice dull and leached of emotion. “He was being transported to Weisshaupt. In chains. Inquisitor’s orders.”
“Somewhere in the mountains they were beset upon by heretics. Former Andrastian priests and Templars who have formed a militant cult.” Cullen sighed. “They claim the Inquisition and the new Divine are destroying the true Faith.” Varric sat down heavily on a fallen stone next to Cole. “They fell on the escort at the first sight of Inquisition banners.” Cullen continued in a deadened voice. “I’m told Blackwall, still chained, fought like a madman. The few survivors of the clash said he whirled through the melee like a storm of steel and rage. He took a spear in the gut meant for a young lieutenant. The young man survived. It was he who reported the incident to me.” He drank again and passed the bottle up to Dorian who padded over to lean against the wall next to him.
“The cultists fled in the end and what remained of the escort buried their dead and returned to Skyhold.” They were quiet for a long time. Cole visibly quivered at the pain arcing between the men but they didn’t need his help. They were dealing with it on their own. Warriors expected to lose friends. It may be a bad day when those friends were lost without reason or honor, but it was hardly an unusual one.
“The strangest thing. She never said a word when I told her. Just looked at me, unmoving.” Puzzlement crept into Cullen’s tired voice. “I thought for a moment I glimpsed a… But that was probably just the sun glinting off my armor.” Varric looked up at the bowed man. “A face. Another… face? Is that what you saw?” Cullen looked up at him in surprise. “Yes I… You saw it too?” Varric’s fists clenched as his eyes fell on Cole. It was always hard to read the boy’s expression. The spirit stared at them in turn with a yearning, almost a hunger. He wanted them to grasp something he couldn’t for some reason tell them. Varric was certain of it.
“Well that cuts it!” Varric said and stood up, fists clenched at his side. “Something is wrong with Lavellan. Something real!” He drew a calloused finger in a circle encompassing them all and ending on Cole who nodded like a village idiot. “We owe it to her to find out what and put a stop to it!”
“Preferably before she unleashes the Inquisition on the rest of the world.” Dorian put in. Cullen drew a quick breath to refute the man’s insinuation but quailed at the hard look in Dorian’s eyes. The mage pulled back on his ire and patted Cullen awkwardly on his armored forearm. “Everything we and she has fought for may go up in flames if we don’t do this. We owe her as much as Thedas to prevent that.”
Cullen straightened at that. Resolve firmed his jaw and he nodded to Dorian. “Alright, do you have a plan?” Dorian looked back at Varric and Cole. “I think we have a place to start at least.” They looked at Cole who shrank in on himself under the weight of their gazes. The boy spirit had to be fighting a powerful urge to make them forget he was there… and winning. It made Varric inordinately proud of the lad. Dorian meanwhile stroked his moustache and looked speculatively at the boy spirit.
“Cole, I need to ask you something but I don’t want a repeat of what you went through before. Can you answer my questions without trying to…” He wiggled his long fingers in the air. “try to sense anything?” Cole nodded but his face looked dubious. Varric to a step closer to him and peered up at Dorian with suspicion. “What exactly are you…”
“You know what Cole is!” Dorian interrupted him impatiently, without taking his eyes of the boy. “He has a singular ability and purpose. He senses the pain of others and his primary mission in life is to help them overcome it.” The tall mage took a step towards the pair but his hand dropped to point at the ground where Cole had been wracked with spasms. “And what were we told happens when spirits have their purposes twisted on them? Or…” He turned to face Varric squarely. “Denied to them?”
“What are you saying?” Varric turned back to Cole. “You can’t sense pain anymore?” The boy’s face immediately took on an air of concentration. Dorian quickly closed the space between them and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Not now Cole, focus on the words.” To Varric he said: “He can though! At least he certainly seemed to be sensing Cullen’s just fine.” He tilted his head in Cullen’s direction. “Am I right Commander?” Cullen sounded uncomfortable with the topic but he responded with a gruff: “Aye, that he did.”
“But there is someone else he can’t sense isn’t there? I believe his exact words were: ‘Can’t remember how she sounds but I can see her shadow.'” He shook the boy gently by the shoulder. “You’ve sensed Lavellan’s emotions this whole time you’ve been with us only now you don’t remember? You of all people?”
“I didn’t make myself forget! I would know!” The boy said defensively his face set in stubborn lines. “You are certain?”
“He said he didn’t do it to himself isn’t that enough for you, smartass?” Varric broke in but Dorian didn’t twitch. “This is important. We must be sure.”
“I am sure. I did not cloud her from myself. I would not forget so much. I could not make myself forget the future!”
“You mean you wouldn’t put yourself in a position where you couldn’t sense her or anyone’s feelings later, am I right?” The boy nodded, a shiver went through him. “But Lavellan isn’t the only one whose memories you can no longer recall I think. And someone did this. Someone who didn’t want you to go poking in Lavellan’s head. Someone with secrets to keep and the power and knowledge to force a spirit of compassion against its purpose.”
“Vivienne!” Varric exclaimed.
“Morrigan!” Cullen cried out. Dorian blinked at them. “Interesting! I suppose I should be grateful I wasn’t on your list. But I was thinking of someone else entirely.” He looked intently at Cole before he continued. “It was Solas!”
“I can’t believe you deliberately made the boy faint again. You really are an ass you know that?” Dorian studiously ignored Varric’s reproachful glare as he held the inn door for him. Varric was carrying Cole up to his cot on the second floor. Dorian reflected, not for the first time, how odd it was that the dwarf would take such a shine to the spirit. “We needed to know.” But his voice was more subdued than defiant. Varric stomped up the wooden stairs, shrugging off the welcoming shouts of patrons. “And what exactly did we learn, other than the kid flips at the mention of Chuckles? How does that prove anything?”
“It proves there’s a connection. We now have a place to start looking for answers.” Dorian replied, lowering his voice and casting a suspicious look around the half empty tavern. Varric kicked the thin blankets aside on Cole’s cot and tucked him in. Other than an occasional twitch the spirit never moved. “If what you said about the Inquisition’s interest in Tevinter is true, I’m guessing you won’t be around much longer to follow up on any leads.” Varric’s declaration carried an accusatory note and Dorian fell silent for a while.
“I’ll leave tomorrow,” he said quietly and saw Varric’s shoulders tighten out the corner of his eye. “But I’m not heading for Minrathous.” He toyed with a loose thread on his sleeve to cover his discomfort at the dwarfs suddenly suspicious glare. “I’m going to Haven. It’s the last place we saw the mage. That’s where I’ll pick up his trail if I can.” Varric raised a sceptical eyebrow. “You must really love your homeland to charge off on a noble quest on your own, Sweet Cheeks.” Dorian’s nostrils flared, but he sat on his temper. “Lavellan is my friend too, and I don’t have many. She stood by me when… Let’s just say I owe her. I’m going!”
“And then what?” Varric growled.
“Then I find Solas, drag him back here to undo what he’s done to Cole and make him fix whatever’s wrong with Lavellan. It’s not a complicated plan, Varric.”
“It’s not much of a plan at all,” Varric snorted.
“You have a better one? No? Then I’m going.” He got to his feet and picked his way back down the staircase and left Varric to sit with the boy.
Lin’ara stalked around the inside of the painted rotunda. The silly little twit had welcomed her inside her mind. Embraced her newfound friend with a terrifying amount of trust. Perhaps Solas liked them a little simple so he might lord his own intellect over them? She had known males like that in her youth. Petty and pathetic but then males often were.
How anyone could find themselves attracted to that ugly bald creature Fen’Harel had become? His pate was so hairless it actually shone! Like a worm under the sun. Disgusting! Oh but how the Little Bird pined for his touch. It was as amusing as it was sad. With a body like this, Lin’ara intended to show the girl pleasures, she’d never dreamed off in her past savage life. The girl still didn’t fully grasp how completely Lin’ara controlled her, and that was useful. For now.
The people surrounding the Inquisitor, reacted to any changes Lin’ara made to her policies. Better to dribble any changes out little by little to get the apes used to them. No one were yet questioning her directives openly. Except for that foul-mouthed mountain man, and she dealt with him, keeping the Inquisitor asleep in her mind all the while. The man caught something briefly in her face. As had that vile durgenlen with the hairy chest. Despite the mask she crafted to cover any unfortunate slips of her face overlaying Lavellan’s!
Well, they were both well away from the keep now as well as that Tevinter cretin. She doubted the mage left to do her bidding in his homeland, but she vastly preferred fewer magic practitioners in the Keep regardless. Happily there weren’t more than a handful of those revolting Templars to contend with. That left no direct threat to her takeover in the Keep. Not after she tweaked the sad little spirit that wore a dead boy’s flesh. He may have seen her true face. But he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone. The geas she put upon him built on a compulsion she found there already. Placed by, oh delights of delights, Fen’harel himself.
He always was a hypocrite. She left the knowledge buried in the spirit. Any attempts at gazing upon her person or Fen’Harel’s, would fill him with every memory she had of starving and feeding on her own. Her spiral into madness compressed into a blink of an eye should more than suffice to twist the creature into a demon on the spot. She hoped she would be there to witness the event. It ought to be spectacular.
Lin’ara felt the Inquisitor stir beneath her skin. She would have to let the girl out again soon. She did have control, this was true. But the elf was surprisingly slippery when her emotions eclipsed. Especially for one without magical talents of her own. Except for that vile mark. She despised that thing. As much a slave mark as any vallaslin and it roiled and sucked at her like an abyss at the end of her arm.
The thought of the Vallaslin brought an unbidden memory from Lavellan’s seemingly endless treasures of Solas moments. She started to roll her eyes then stopped. He had removed her marks! Oh this was too precious. She ran through the memory again, watching with unholy glee. He had freed his little slave girl… Aaaw and stroked her cheek. And then walked out on her, shoulders bowed, ears all but dragging on the floor behind him. The woe-bedraggled pair…
Oh but she could use this! She giggled loudly and skipped around the rotunda. How she would use this!
Dorian wrapped a kerchief around his head. Most of the mountain slopes never lost their snow up here. The late spring sun sparkled off the white slopes and hammered anyone who walked the high mountain passes. Even at the best of times the path North into Haven had never been what he would call maintained. And these days nobody willingly wanted to return to that place. He led his horse along by the reins, picking their way with care around boulders and the occasional mound of debris from the nascent Inquisition’s flight last year.
The survivors had been sure they were finished. That it was just a matter of time before the red templars finished them off. But Lavellan had led them out of the snows, guided by Solas to find forgotten Skyhold. Most didn’t realize he had brought the fortress’ location to Lavellan’s notice. Dorian had extorted the tale from as many who would recount it for him. From what he could tell the lot of them followed Lavellan out of the snow without so much as a “Where are we going?” Crazy. But that was her. A light to follow through the darkness. It seemed fitting he should retrace her steps then and if there were any answers to find with the bald mage, he would have them.
He pulled an Orlesian cheese out of a pack and carved off slices while his horse rested and nibbled the stringy Winter grass. Behind him, the sound of hooves clattering echoed up from the path he had taken. He hesitated, a bite of cheese halfway to his mouth, listening. But then a gruff voice rose in a dreadful rendition of the “Song of Sera”. Dorian’s face split in a grin which he hastily wiped off his face before Varric’s wide, hairy chest cast its shadow on the road.
“Ahh, I thought you would never catch up.” Dorian exclaimed with aplomb. “Have some cheese?”
“You know,” Varric grumbled at him, his face red from having been caught singing. “For someone who’s supposed to be a heartbreaker, you lie worse than Curly.”
“Aah!” Dorian exclaimed heartily and clutched at his heart. “You wound me!”
“And I’m not having any of the cheese now you’ve wiped it all over your chest.” Dorian guffawed. It was excellent not to be walking to Haven alone. Varric smiled wryly at the mage. “Well, I figured that skinny elf isn’t just your friend, so you’re stuck with me on this damn trip.”
They set out without another word. As the sun set, a crackle further ahead on their path drew their worried attention. There would still be the odd Inquisition patrol out this way though no one who would impede their passing it was presumed. It was no soldier waiting for them but Cole, poking at a pot hung over the flames. Supply packs were scattered around the small fire and two pack mules flipped their ears at their approach.
“Do I even have to ask?” Varric asked.
“I wish I could go with them but I must stay and watch over her. I’ll send the strange boy… I made soup!” The boy added the last part with enthusiasm after delivering the first bit in an eerie resemblance of Cullen’s voice. “Well thank you kid and thank you Curly!” Varric exclaimed and began pulling packs off his pony. Dorian was not displeased to have another companion on the road but he looked at Cole, brows furrowed. “Are you sure coming along with us is a good idea for you? You know who we seek?” The boy nodded and a shudder went through him.
“He is my friend too. You think he hurt me, but he didn’t. He wouldn’t.” It might complicate their task, but sending the kid back would be futile. Varric thumped down next to Cole and peered into the pot. “Is coming with us going to be dangerous for you, kid? I mean more than for us.” Cole’s eyes flitted briefly to the dwarf and fastened disconcerting directness on Dorian. “I could be hurt. And if it’s bad… I’ll make myself forget.” He said simply with a stubborn set to his jaw.
The mage stroked his moustache. The boy spirit was a strange creature he had yet to show any other desire than to help Lavellan and their friends. Which of course, for Cole included Solas. Dorian wondered if the mage truly was their friend though. It seemed as if for all his preaching he had been quick enough to impose his will on Cole when the boy veered too close to the apostate’s secrets.
“He would not hurt me!” Cole repeated with quiet tenacity.
“I need proof of that, Cole.” He replied just as quietly. Varric looked from one to the other, aware he was missing part of the conversation. The boy nodded at Dorian without rancor and filled a bowl of soup. “It’s fish!” Dorian closed his eyes. “Of course it is.” But he took it anyway.
They spent the better part of two days crawling over every inch of the scrambled ruin of Haven. Buildings being lifted high into the skies to drop like a child’s toy lost much of their splendor. Coming back now, with some distance to the excitement of the battle, it amazed Dorian anyone walked out of that encounter alive. Pithy observations aside he honestly didn’t know what they sought. He’d never held the mysterious art of reading tracks in high regard. Declaring that a bear had walked this path yon fortnight ago and had elderberries for lunch, was a fine parlor trick, certainly. But rarely all that relevant in his experience.
What he needed to know was where that bedamned elf had taken off to after the fight. Dorian closed his eyes. He had himself been over here, leaning against what was left of this pillar. He patted it with his hand and recognized the feel of its rough edges. He remembered he’d twisted an ankle when the building came down. So he had struck a pose rather than mar the occasion by doing something as gauche as hopping on one foot.
Lavellan walked down that steep slope over there. Covered in dust and scratches deep enough to split her leather armor. He strained his memory. Reached for the smell, the sound of that moment and his eyes flew open. Solas had been at the top of the slope, behind her! He drew in a breath to call out to his companions when he heard Varric shout from the other side of the ruins. “Get your ass over here, Pretty boy. I found something!” The dwarf’s voice bounced off the few walls still standing. Dorian winced as he picked a path through the rubble as quickly as he could.
“I think these are from a dragon.” Varric told Dorian without preamble when he came into sight around a crumbled wall. “And I think they happened after the building hit the ground!” Dorian gave his friend a skeptical look. Varric was as much a city boy as Dorian when all was said and done. On the streets of Kirkwall or in the salons of Minrathous they were both savvy in civilization. Out here? They were just dumb in the dust.
Varric rolled his eyes at the mage. “This gash goes straight across all these cracks. And here,” He pointed. “It spans flagstones that were twisted apart in the fall. I’m telling you these are dragon marks and they were made after we killed Corypheus’ dragon.”
“Morrigan…?” Dorian began but Varric shook his head emphatically. “She was being snide at me the whole way back to Skyhold. Trust me, you don’t forget that woman’s tongue lashings soon.”
“If not her and not the lyrium monster, then…” Dorian blinked. “Mythal! Or whatever her name was. You told me! Hawke met her, and she turned into a dragon!”
“Well.” Varric spat. “The other way around but still. Flemeth yeah.” Dorian leaned back against the rubble and looked at the enormous scorings. The beast must have launched itself into the air from here. Out of sight of the survivors, more or less. Everyone had been too busy congratulating the heroes or gawking at the scar left in the sky. If they flew low at first until they hit the foothills, then rose with the mountains into the clouds. Who would have noticed? He turned a crestfallen stare on Varric who was patiently waiting for the man to catch up. “Exactly, Tevinter. How are we going to track a dragon across the skies?” The mage grimaced and rubbed his chin, staring out across the ruins. “Let’s face it, Precious. This is a fool’s errand. What do you and I know about dragons or tracking down crazy apostate elves anyway?” Varric grumbled, his voice dejected. Dorian looked back at him with a thoughtful frown. “You are absolutely right! We don’t know anything about tracking or nature or dragons. Well not much certainly.”
“Thanks…” The dwarf drawled. “I think you’ve missed your calling. You should always be cheering people up! You’re a natural at spreading sunshine.” Dorian’s face split in a rakish grin. “But you see we are good at other things! You with your crossbow and traps and devices. Cole with his senses and abilities and I myself am no slouch at magic I dare say.” He reached over and grabbed Varric’s shoulder. “We’re going at this the wrong way. We need to play to our strengths!” Dorian’s enthusiasm was infectious but Varric still did not see where the man was going with this. Dorian clapped him hard on the shoulder and barked a laugh. “Come! We have preparations to make. I hope you brought your toolkit along with you.”
Night was almost on them before Dorian finally sat Varric and Cole down to explain his plan. He set them to work on a handful of tasks. Preparing food and filling all available containers with water. Varric, he told to construct a crude, remotely activated fire trap. It wasn’t the dwarfs best work but Dorian had specified its important requirements and he tried his best with what supplies they had.
Dorian removed his clothes and cut a cross into the middle of a blanket. Varric’s blanket of course. “I’ll have you one commissioned in Tevinter silkspun!” was all the reply Varric had gotten for his protest. The mage was in front of the fire with the blanket pulled down over his head. He had taken up a cross-legged position in the center of Varric’s trap. He had brewed a strange smelling concoction over their fire which he now sipped with every show of distaste.
“I owe you two an explanation.” He looked from Varric to Cole of which only the dwarf showed any interest in his words. “The charming tea I’m imbibing will put me into a trance. The duration of which should be around 12 hours. You will notice I have brewed enough for several doses.” Varric narrowed his eyes following the negligent hand gesture towards the foul smelling pot. “I will enter the Fade and seek Solas out. Or to be precise, I will be calling him. Wait…” He held up a hand to cut interrupt Varric’s explosive retort.
“As plans go, this one has the elegance of Qunari folk dancing, but consider! He spends all his time studying the Fade, it’s his true vocation. What place makes more sense to look for him?” Varric shut his mouth, still staring at him as if he thought Dorian might sprout second head. “…And Cole can’t go.” Dorian continued keeping his voice sounding reasonable. “Neither can you, but me?” He smiled almost shyly at Varric. “This is what I can do.” They were quiet for a few moments in which Dorian sipped more of the pungent tea. Varric’s eyes fell to the trap and the coils of rope he’d had Cole prepare in advance.
“Well yes there is some risk. To you as well as to myself. We both realize by now, just how unpleasant the Fade can be.” Dorian nodded at the ropes and trap. “Those are to ensure any unpleasantness that might find its way back here are put to a… prompt end.” Varric tried to gather his skittering thoughts. “But the Fade is vast. How are you going to find one guy in there?” Dorian smiled beatifically and drained his cup. “I intend to shout until he shows up!” Varric’s jaw dropped.
Minutes passed and Dorian’s eyes were taking on an unhealthy glazed expression. “You are out of your damn skull, you know that right?” He tested the ropes that bound Dorian’s wrists and ankles to the remains of a fallen pillar. The mage’s moustache quivered in a silent grin that seemed almost a rictus to Varric. The dwarf wondered just how the fade poison worked. “I need you to ply me with water and that ghastly soup of Cole’s.” Dorian’s voice sounded glazed and faraway too. A lock of his hair fell down over one eye.”And you must make me drink of the potion again if I seem to be waking up.”
“What?” Varric exclaimed. “How long are we doing this for? How will you get back if you’re boozed up with this stuff?” Dorian smiled his upper body swayed in a slow circle. “Leaving the Fade won’t be a problem. I want to be able to stay until I get his attention.”
“If he wanted to talk to us he wouldn’t have left. What makes you think you can get him to meet you at all?” Varric pointed out reasonably. “I can be…” Dorian smiled dreamily. “Very annoying.” Varric swallowed against the acid roiling in his gut again. “Are you sure you made this stuff right?”
There was no answer.
Solas walked in the Fade. His mind revisiting paths he had taken before. Glimpses of history. Old elven glories. Some from his own past. Such as the amphitheatre in the Eastern parts of Arlathan. One of his favourite places to visit as a boy. Or the joyful construction of Halamshiral. Once a queen among palaces, now so crude, decked out like a tavern whore. He walked through so many memories without looking at any of them. He’d seen them so many times before, they were inscribed on his heart. Such glory would never come again.
He turned his feet toward the Northern Free Marches and watched the memories of one nomadic clan of the Dalish. He tried to really look at them this time. Without prejudice, without the eons of history that led to the existence of these people. He pondered their yearning for a better life. A long forgotten glorious Elven nation that had never really existed at all scourged him.
They were good people. They were his people, and they deserved so much more. More than Arlathan or any new coming of the Elven nations of old could offer them, he thought. But even so how could these… herdsmen be all he had left, to build a new future for the elves from? Alone. Truly alone now without the others. Without Mythal.
The Dalish were not his people. They were the descendants of his people. A different thing entirely. And he was now the last of his kind.
He finally gave in to the pull that drew him inexorably to the dreams of Skyhold. To one dreamer in particular. He shouldn’t go, he knew. But his heart felt shriveled and heavy in his chest. He needed her warmth, craved it like a dying man in the desert craved water. Even if only a small glimpse from afar.
He stepped with little effort from the dreams in the Marches to familiar paths in the mountains. And there, high above the dreams of too many clerks and soldiers one shining dream. He knew her dreams well. She had been able to pull him into them without intending to. Him! The fade walker! That had been surprising. So much she did surprised and delighted him.
He found her in a pale copy of her Tower bedroom, sitting in front of her dresser with her back to him. He pulled back and hid from her with a guilty twinge. She didn’t need him to rip up any old regrets. It had been weeks after all. Or possibly months. He had been lost to his grief and walked in dreams. For a while he even considered fading away entirely. Go to sleep and let his body moulder in a cave somewhere. But he thought himself too much of a coward even for that. And there were still debts to pay. Impossible ones now.
Being so close to her filled him with warmth as if he stepped out of a cave to drink the sun. He missed her touch. The scent of her hair. Missed it so much. He shouldn’t have bedded her, he supposed. But after that first time under the stars, not touching her was unbearable. That special night had been unavoidable as well. Too chilled, they camped early that day on the Northern outskirts of the Dales. Then spent a long cheery evening bundled up, swapping tales with the others.
Most had been sitting in pairs, doubling their cloaks against the cool bite of the wind. He’d sat behind Lavellan, shielding her back from the cold and wrapping them both in his own cloak. No one commented and as the evening progressed she’d melted back in his embrace. The smell of her hair more intoxicating than the wine Dorian was passing around. They had been too close for her not to notice his interest, but she hadn’t pulled away or let on with a word.
They’d offered to fill everyone’s water skins when the fire burned down to embers. Maybe they even believed it themselves when they left, but they never made it as far as the creek before she was in his arms. She had been so pliable and warm, arching her body against his. When his fingers dug into her flesh in his need she moaned into his mouth and it shredded what self control he had left. He’d pinned her to a fallen oak, nothing but hunger and burning kisses, drinking from her warmth.
There had been other, stolen moments since then. Few but sweet. So little time together before they ran out of time all together. Possibly the affair could have been avoided if he hadn’t kissed her back in Haven. But her stolen kiss took him by surprise and it wasn’t all she stole that day either. In hindsight he wondered if there truly was any way he could have taken her hand in his, beneath the ugly gash in the sky and not end up loving her.
Solas furrowed his brow at the annoying whisper that had bugged him for the past few days straight. He knew who was calling, and he was in no mood to attend the Tevinter mage and his petty interests right now. He put the man firmly out of his mind.
Wrenn was quietly doing her hair and painting her face. He wondered why she would spend her dreams doing this but what did it matter? Simply seeing her graceful movements lightened his heart. She straightened in her seat and turned her head slightly to one side.
“Welcome back, Solas. You have been gone a long time.”
He sucked in a breath in consternation then closed his eyes with a wry smile. Had he not just been thinking about how she always surprised him. He should have known she could sense his presence. “Vhenan.”
She stiffened in her seat and he wanted to kick himself. His term of endearment for her had escaped his lips before he could stop himself. He had lost the right to call her that when he left.
“I have been waiting for you to return.” She replied. Her voice did not acknowledge his slip of the tongue and Solas’ eyes narrowed in puzzlement. “You recall the marks you wiped off my face?” He cleared his throat but his voice sounded thick: “Yes.”
She did not rise nor turn to look upon him. In fact her hands were still moving, attending to whatever face paint she was applying. Was this her anger he was facing? He did not know. He had expected something else. Something louder perhaps. Possibly even the involvement of weapons. Not this cold, haughty demeanor.
“I have pondered that… gift. Of yours.” She said. Her voice tinged with an emotion he could not place. He did not respond. She obviously wanted to tell him something, and he owed her to listen to anything she had to say. That much at least he he could do for her.
“I thought about what I might give you in return. What does one give he, who has everything he can dream of after all?” A growing unease filled Solas at her words. Something was wrong. Something deeper than their shared heartache but what?
“And then it came to me. You never claimed a mark of your own. Did you Fen’Harel?” Solas hand flew up in shock as she spoke his true name but then she finally turned whipped around and he saw what she had been carving during their conversation. With a piece of shattered mirror, she had carved a bloody wolf’s head across half her beautiful face.
Solas cried out. “No! Wrenn what have you done?” And she threw her head back and laughed. A mad cackle that carved its own bloody grooves across his nerves. He ran towards her, his heart in his throat. This couldn’t be happening. Had she gone mad? How had this happened? Just as he reached her, she gestured peremptorily and he was thrown out from that part of the Fade with tremendous force. It wasn’t physical but the impact shook his spirit nonetheless. And her power and control awed him.
When he turned to go back he found, even more disconcertingly, that she and the room had vanished. Not in the way that dreams dissipate when dreamers awaken. Those dreams linger before they fade. She had locked him out of her dreams. Dismissed him as if he was powerless. It was impossible.
Dorian’s voice reached him more clearly now and Solas finally turned towards the part of the Fade the shout was coming from. Did the human have some part in this? Was it his doing? Fear and fury powered Solas’ steps as he willed himself to follow the mage’s calling.
Dorian did not feel the weariness of a man who had been shouting for almost three days might have. But he was weary and had gone past losing hope. Now he kept shouting because it was the only play he had left. He didn’t want to return to Varric and admit defeat. He didn’t want to return to Minrathous and prepare for war against the only people he called friends.
Spurring him on was an image in his mind’s eye, of Varric carrying Cole up to his bed in the inn. The dwarf really cared for that spirit. There was a tenderness in his bearing towards the boy despite their differences that touched Dorian. Though he wouldn’t have admitted it to Varric’s face. And they deserved more from him.
Thankfully shouting in the Fade didn’t ruin your vocal cords. One should be grateful for small mercies. A small part of him could sense Varric and Cole on the other side. Far away as if he was hearing them through water. They were worried. Varric would refuse to give him the potion soon, Dorian was sure.
He wandered through faded forests and remains of old elven ruins. Firmly keeping the image and sense of the elf he knew as Solas in his mind. A few spirits had gathered in curiosity but so far he had been lucky and not attracted the ire of any of the Fade’s less savoury denizens.
“As one who has spent many days walking in dreams instead of awake, I know the risk of staying here too long.”
Dorian turned towards the quiet voice behind him and felt his shoulders sag wearily. “Inconvenient time for you, Solas? I have been calling you for three days!” Dorian didn’t like how petulant that sounded but he was tired and more than a little angry with the enigmatic mage.
“Suppose you tell me what you need before the last of your time runs out. I’d rather not have your death upon my conscience.” The elf seemed paler than Dorian could recall, shaken almost. And there was a still air of violence held at bay about him that unnerved the Tevinter mage.
“What I need?” Dorian stared at him. “What I need? What about what Lavellan needs? Or Cole? What about him?” Dorian felt a rage well up inside, he hadn’t realized he’d been keeping a lid on since leaving Skyhold. “Interesting how you, who preached the rights and treatments of spirits, found it convenient to mind fuck Cole when he got too close to your secrets.” Solas drew back from him pale and surprised. So he was right. It HAD been Solas messing with Cole’s head. Just like the elf. Just like Dorian’s father would have liked to do to him. He was in full fury now.
“Did you do the same to Lavellan? Did you mess with her head too? You compelled Cole to forget your memories, I bet you did the same to her, didn’t you?” Solas backed away from the angry man but Dorian pursued him. He grabbed the front of the elf’s robe with both hands, pulling the smaller elf up to face him. “Only you messed up, didn’t you? You changed her! She’s turning into some sort of monster and it’s,” He shook the mage with every word: “All. Your. Fault.”
Solas’s hands had fastened on Dorian’s but he didn’t try to fend the man off. He seemed too shocked and remained silent. A long awkward moment passed between them as Dorian’s rage drained out. He hung his head and lowered the elf back to the ground without releasing him from his grip. He was all but leaning on the elf for support now, breathing heavy through the nose. Solas too drew a long breath. He squeezed the man’s wrists gently and cocked his head, trying to catch Dorian’s eye. “Tell me all that has transpired.”
Together they visited Dorian’s recollection of the past few months. The increasingly hostile decisions towards Chantry factions. The plans set in motion with the Tevinter slaves. Blackwall’s exile and tragic death. Varric’s recounting of his meeting with Lavellan. Her changed demeanor and golden mask. Finally Solas watched with Dorian as Cole fell from the wall of the ruined tower. He trembled visibly at the boys thrashing.
“Oh Cole, so stubborn. Don’t you ever give up?” He shook his head. “You were right. I did make Cole forget.” He sighed. “The memories he took from me are mine to carry.” He looked into Dorian’s face. “They were too heavy for him to bear needlessly and you were right.” He squeezed Dorian’s arm again. “I do have secrets I need kept for everyone’s safety.”
“But this?” he looked back at the tableau of Varric and Dorian trying to hold the boy steady. “I did not do this. I would not cause Cole harm, Dorian. I swear it.” There was quiet sincerity in his voice and Dorian believed him. He could not readily dismiss the naked pain and regret he saw in the elf’s eyes.
“Cole knows something about Lavellan. But it’s locked away too. We need you to heal him, Solas.”
“I…” Solas closed his eyes. “I wish I could, believe me! But you saw how the mere thought of me destroying him. What would happen if I were to walk up to him?” Dorian stared at the image, hanging eerily suspended in the air. “So we’re nowhere again.”
Solas’ eyes were slits of concentration as he stared into nothing. “Take them both to Morrigan. Apart from whoever cast this geas, she’s the only one who can undo it.”
“And if she is the one who cast the geas in the first place?” Dorian asked morosely. “Then you’re in trouble, my friend. Then we’re all in terrible danger I suspect.”
“Was that all he said? ‘Take them to Morrigan?’ What kind of daft idea was that? And you let him go?” Varric’s ire lost a lot of its iron due to his fussing over Dorian. “I did.” Dorian admitted between sips of cold water. His mouth felt as if someone had scraped the inside of it with steel wool. “He told us to head for the Korcari Wilds. Apparently she used to live there, and he had reason to believe she was returning.”
“Oh yeah and what will he be doing in the mean time? Taking another nap I expect!” Varric’s voice sounded disgusted. The Korcari Wilds was not a place anyone volunteered to visit. “He told me he intended to remain near Skyhold for now and keep watch but he’d be in touch in the Fade.” Varric sniffed but said nothing. Dwarves would never have an appreciation for the Fade. Dorian suspected furthermore that Varric had not enjoyed his single sojourn into it.
He peeled the soiled blanket away from his skin and tried to get blood pumping into his extremities again. “I believed he spoke the truth.” He looked over at Cole. “You were right. He didn’t hurt you.” The boy’s face cracked into a shy smile which Dorian returned wearily. “If I forget later. Let me say one thing now and be done with it. I appreciate the vigil you kept over me. I know you fed me and made me drink while I was in the Fade.” He looked away from them.
“Not many would have taken the trouble.” His voice was quiet and brimming with emotion. Varric cleared his throat in discomfort. “Yeah well… you can keep the blanket.”
“The best friends I’ve ever had have all been painful stubborn asses to be around. He’s no different… I gave you fish soup!” Cole interrupted. “Indeed!” Dorian exclaimed, covering for Varric’s chagrin. “And I think it only just that in return you help me to the creek for a wash.”
Solas appropriated a small cave half a day’s walk from Skyhold’s main access route. Late Spring was an easy time to find abandoned shelters in the face of the mountains. His current abode had belonged to some small variety of bear. The smell was tolerable and the cave itself had a useful bend that hid any telltale glows from his fire.
His forays into the dreams of the people in the keep disquieted him. They were tinged with a darkness that had not been in evidence when he was last among them. Currents of dread spread out among all the keeps inhabitants. Rings in dark water.
He had seen Wrenn again though only through the memories of the Keep folk. Her face unmarred. He had been almost certain it would be, but it was nevertheless a relief to have confirmation. That terrible laughter haunted him awake or asleep now. Varric was right something was amiss with her. He would have liked to see what the dwarf and Cullen had witnessed in her face. But dwarves don’t dream and neither, it appeared, did Inquisition Commanders. Solas suspected the man went to bed at night too exhausted even for dreams, judging by the hours he kept.
Lavellan’s golden face paint bothered Solas as well. The Chantry declared it a blessed version of the Orlesian masks, but it evoked older memories for him. The ancient elves would paint their faces with a task they swore themselves to. Unlike the vallaslin these decorations were not permanent. You wore your oath on your face until you fulfilled it. And Wrenn’s was a sword that cleaved her visage. The imagery sent chills down his spine. What had she become involved with?
He rolled up in his cloak and sent his spirit questing into the Fade, seeking out Dorian whom he knew would be waiting. So far the three companions had followed almost exactly the same routes Solas had travelled with Lavellan in the wake of Corypheus’ horrors. It made it easy for him to pinpoint where he might find the human now.
They should have made the Exalted Plains by now and would cross into the Heartlands in another day or so. By all accounts making good time so far thanks in no small part to the provisions and mules Cullen had provided them with. Solas wished he could contact the Knight-Commander. It seemed safer to not draw anyone else into this mess however. Whatever it was they were facing. And the answers he sought would likely come from breaking Cole’s geas in any case.
Dorian spotted Solas approaching as he had every night since their encounter at Haven. But he discovered, as the elf walked lightly towards him, that he had been hoping they would not meet tonight. Solas called out to him in a merry greeting that made Dorian’s mood plummet. Noticing the man’s grim demeanor the elf stopped and peered at him, worry frowning his brow.
“What is wrong? Is it Cole? He is well?” Dorian sighed and nodded. “He’s fine. He more or less sent me tonight with a message for you.” Puzzlement spread on Solas’ face and Dorian pushed himself away from the boulder. “Come with me. He insists that you see this. It is…” He pressed his lips together and looked away from Solas. “Something we came upon today, here on the Plains.” His voice every bit as heavy as his tread. He lead the way deeper in among the dramatic cliffs.
Solas picked out familiar landmarks and exclaimed that he knew where they were headed. Var Bellanaris, the ancient elven burial grounds would be up ahead in a secluded dell. Dorian merely nodded at him and continued in silence. This was the Fade. Shaped by Dorian’s recollection of this place which meant they walked in late afternoon sun, although it was night in the real world. Dorian finally broke the silence when the ancient gate came in to view.
“Among the things Cullen sent with Cole was a pass signed by him to allow us passage and Inquisition aid anywhere we went. So when we came across a column of Inquisition soldiers we stopped them to get news from Skyhold.” They could hear what sounded like stones popping coming inexplicably from the graveyard ahead. Dorian’s voice was leached of emotion as he continued. “They had just left this place behind.” He turned his face to look at Solas through brimming eyes.
“They had orders but the local Dalish…” His throat closed up and he choked around the words. “They realized what was going on and resisted the looting.” Solas’ began running before Dorian finished his sentence. Inside, Var Bellanaris, which hadn’t been a place of great beauty the last time he was here had now become a place of nightmares.
All the mounds were torn open. Coffins and bones were tossed on a great pyre in the middle of the clearing. Smoke billowed out of the double doors to the subterranean levels. But some of the corpses on the fire weren’t ancient. Solas stumbled closer, even in the dream the blaze was too hot to go near. But his eyes locked on the bodies of elves, men and women, slain and tossed on the pyre as so much offal. An Inquisition declaration had been hammered to a pole in front of the pyre.
In the name of The Maker and his Bride Andraste, by order of The Inquisition and Lady Justice, all elven worship is declared demon worship and forbidden in the Lands of Orlais and Ferelden. All demon worshipping rituals must cease immediately. All statuary, buildings and locales dedicated to demon worship will be seized and destroyed by the holy forces of the Maker’s Inquisition.
Blessed is the Maker, he who lights and guides us all.
Solas swayed, staring in incomprehension from the vile plaque to the mound of dead behind it.
“This wasn’t the only place that was hit.” Dorian told him thickly when he caught up. “Patrols went out everywhere. The Hinterlands, The Emerald Graves…” The mage recoiled in silence when Solas turned his fuming gaze on him.
“Lavellan did this?” His voice was a hiss between clenched teeth. His mounting anger made him seem like he was growing taller before Dorian’s eyes. The rage emanating from the elf stole Dorian’s breath away. “Yes, but Solas, she’s not herself…” Solas stared at him for one long fulminating moment, his wrath billowing between them. Then he simply vanished. “Maker’s breath…” Dorian breathed.
Solas willed himself out of the Fade without wasting another breath on the man. He stood up in his cave, gathered his power and stepped directly from the stone darkness into the bright, airy room at the top of the Inquisitor’s Tower.
“WHY?” The gold-clad figure half-turned, looking demurely over her shoulder with no apparent surprise at the raging elf bearing down on her. “You had the graves of our people despoiled. You destroy what history we have left and YOU ARE BUTCHERING YOUR OWN PEOPLE!” He spun her around to face him and she looked up at him through long, gilded lashes.
“Are you wroth with me, Dread Wolf?” Her voice was taunting and venomous. “Because I’m ridding the world of all those sweet lies? Not too long ago you wanted to erase some lies yourself, if I recall.” She trailed a suggestive slender finger down her own cheek. Solas’ eyes narrowed. “Is that what this is about? Us? Are you such a child you would lash out with your new toy soldiers because I hurt your feelings? You are destroying everything you fought for. For what?”
“Oh me, me, me. Must everything always be about you, Fen’Harel?” Solas shook his head in confusion. “Wrenn…” He began, but she doubled over in giggles. “Fine! You are of course right. It is all about you, Dread Wolf.” She straightened up and turned to him, gripping his head in her slender hands with deceptive speed and strength. She lowered her face until only a breath separated them. Her small hands stronger than any vise.
“How else is a girl supposed to get the attention of her lover?” She whispered and Solas’ eyes widened in horror as Wrenn’s face reshaped itself into another pushing itself out from within. He recognized the face though a millenium had passed since he last laid eyes on it. The recognition hammered him with shockwaves of bewildered hope and grief.
Her face tightened in fury and she threw him, head first across the room to slam heavily into the stone wall. “Not anymore! Not for a long time!” She made a sound that could have been both sob or laugh. Shaken Solas tried to stand but his legs would not support him. One had survived. The People, their future was not yet lost.
But Wrenn? She must be gone. Mythal had possessed Flemeth and the woman’s spirit had still been a part of her. But she had learned to accommodate for a mortal’s spirit over centuries of trials and errors. Sylaise had not had the benefit of that experience and she must have fallen on Wrenn’s mind like a mountain. Solas tried to get his thoughts into order but they bounced off his emotions like skittish bugs.
“That’s right, shiny little worm. Grovel for me. Your true Goddess stands before you, released by your own hand. Aren’t you happy you let me back out?” Solas wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and it came away scarlet. “Wrenn…” He sighed and shook his head. Too late for recriminations now. “You want to take your vengeance on me. I understand that and you have good cause but please, spare her. She is nothing to you, Sylaise, I beg of you.”
“THAT IS NOT MY NAME ANY MORE!” She screamed at him and her power ripped across his skin with a thousand tiny blades. He fell back against the wall, every surface of exposed skin instantly turning red with blood. For a moment all colour in the room faded. Tinted towards her as if her power sucked at the light itself. Then she breathed in heavily and lowered her wrists into an elegant pose in a caricature of Orlesian etiquette.
“You may call me Lin’ara.” Her voice sweet and lilting again. “And I’m keeping your little strumpet.” She hugged herself like a little girl. “I’m going to squeeze and squeeze until what’s left of her little mind goes pop!” She laughed and it sounded like sweet, terrible bells. “It won’t be long now.”
“And she has so many pretty things and what was it? Oh yes. Toy soldiers to play with!” Lin’ara skipped over to him, the heavy garment not impeding her in the least. “Don’t worry Solas!” She bent over on tip-toe, lifting his face with a finger beneath his chin. “I can use her to wreak my vengeance on you over and over!” She placed a featherlight kiss on his lips and cackled into his face. “What fun we will have!” She stroked his cheek with feigned tenderness. “They will name this age for your torment, Fen’harel”
Rage gave Solas the strength to move. He shot up from the floor, gripped her by the throat, and pulled the other hand back, wreathed in blue flames to strike. She didn’t fight him, just threw her head back and laughed that wild, mad laugh. “That’s right Wolf. Kill me. It’s the only way you will free your little whore…” She gasped and convulsed suddenly in his arms. He held her up solely by the throat and his other arm reached around to support her before they both toppled.
“Solas. Oh Solas please do it. You must kill her. I can’t keep her away for long” The voice was Wrenn’s, and it was her face again. For one long moment he felt the whole world turn around them as he stared into her hazel eyes. Much as it had in Haven when he’d thrust her mark at the rift. Then he sobbed in relief and fell to his knees, clutching her fiercely in his arms.
She was alive! By some miracle she was still there. Intact! Possessed by the spirit of Sylaise. Dominated by the mind of an elven god and still she persevered! He pressed his face against her chest while his body bucked with his sobs. Her heart beat against his cheek like a frightened bird and it was the sweetest song to his ears.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry Solas. I didn’t know what she was.” Wrenn’s voice was a whisper broken with terror and pain. He hugged her fiercely kissing on her face. “I thought she was a friendly spirit. Like Cole. But she’s truly mad. Please listen Solas. I can’t hold her at bay.” But he shook his head and cupped her face to look at her.
“I thought you were gone.” His face crumpled at his own words but he continued, buoyed by hope and joy. “But you always surprise me with your strength.” Tears streamed down his bloody face. “Why do you not listen, Solas? You have to end it now!” Wrenn’s voice was tinged with desperation.
“No.” He replied gently, and she squirmed in his arms to pull free. He turned her face back to look at his. “No!” He repeated. “Until you spoke to me I thought you had been slain by her and I would have sought her life although I freed her. But knowing you are still alive, defying her with will and mind. Now I can endure her worst to save you.”
“I can’t let her wield the Inquisition to satisfy her vengeance. The destruction she has wreaked already… It must end, Solas, can you not see that.”
“And it will, vhenan. We will end it. We will fight her and help will come.” He said simply but with all the conviction he could muster.
“How? I only managed to push her aside now because… Because you.” She touched his torn cheek and bit her lip.
“Strong emotions must be the key then.” He smiled sadly, brushing a lock of hair away from her eyes. “You must have been very angry with me.”
Wrenn snorted. “No. Hurting and being angry with you is what let her in in the first place.” Her reproach was mild, but he bowed his head in sorrow. “When I saw you, even through her mind, I was so happy. Solas. Happy you had come back. Happy yours would be the last face I see.” He tilted his head, speechless at the love he read on her face. “Ahh. What a fool I am.” His bruises and the multitude of cuts began to clamor for his attention and he momentarily closed his weary eyes.
“I couldn’t agree more.” Solas’ eyes snapped back open as Lin’ara’s mad giggle erupted from Wrenn’s lips again.
“Did you really think she overpowered me, sap?” Solas dropped her to the floor and scrambled back to the wall, eyes casting about the room for anything of help. Lin’ara rose from the ground, hovering a foot above the floor as if she was weightless.
“I carry the essence of the other six within me. I am more than you ever were. Nobody. NOTHING has the power to defy me. Not you. Not the witch you hope will come to save you both and certainly not your little slave girl.” She gestured with a finger and lifted Solas to fling him against the far wall.
“You think she fought free of my grasp, you miserable cur?” She sneered at him. She gestured again, this time pulling him upright and pinning him flat against the wall. “I let her out!”
“Prove me wrong, pet. Fight free of my power and you can have her! Play with me, Dread Wolf!” She laughed and twirled in a slow circle in the air. A golden fairy, beautiful and terrible.
Morrigan stirred the contents of an old pot in the fireplace. The ramshackle hut was a far cry from the luxury she had lived in at the Orlesian court and she had to admit she’d forgotten how bad the place smelled. But the old place had drawn her after her encounter with her mother. The voices of Mythal’s priests had relayed Mythal’s plan to free the other gods. She supposed it was done now then. The voices had fallen silent over the last few months. She hadn’t sought them out yet to test if they were gone. She wasn’t sure if she wanted them to be or not and the thought chafed at her.
She was also annoyed at her mother. This was nothing new. She had been annoyed with Flemeth since she grew out of pigtails. But a strange lump had settled in her stomach after their last meeting. Flemeth always did this to her. Twisted things around so they were no longer clear. Her mother had been a spirit, jumping from woman to woman, wearing them out. This was true. And she was going to use Morrigan for her next vessel wasn’t she?
But it was also true that Mythal would not have been able to possess Morrigan without her express and tacit permission. She had told Morrigan in as many words. What did that mean for their relationship? Was Flemeth the Wicked Witch of the Wilds or was she her mother in more truth than Morrigan had believed? Typical of the woman to leave her with questions like these unanswered right before getting herself killed
“Are you going to let that stew boil dry, girl? That’s the only good pot left in the place.”
Morrigan yelped and dropped the ladle in the fire. “Mother?!” She said out loud to the empty shack. But of course Flemeth was not there. The dry voice was in her mind. Echoing in the same fashion the Mythal priests had. “In a manner of speaking. Get that spoon out of the fire before it blackens and sit down. We have much to discuss.”
The three companions had been unusually quiet since leaving the Exalted Plains behind them. Their spirits quenched at those meaningless deaths and darkened still by the terrible fury that had carried Solas off. Both Dorian and Varric wondered darkly if there would even be a Skyhold to return to at this point. Yet they still forged ahead. At the very least they could still hope to cure Cole of whatever ails him and get some answers. The subject of their morose thoughts walked a short distance ahead of the other two, pack mules trailing behind him.
He stopped without a word in the middle of the dusty road and the others rushed up to see what had caught his attention. “I’m getting a little tired of know-it-all mages showing up when you least expect it.” Varric exclaimed grumpily. “I know exactly what you mean,” Dorian said in agreement without even a shred of irony.
“Well, well…” Morrigan began in her sultry voice, swaying as she walked towards them but Cole interrupted her.
“Long summer nights she let me run about the Wilds. I never appreciated…” In the blink of an eye Morrigan loomed over Cole, her flashing eyes less than a hands width from his face. “Finish that sentence, spirit, and see what sort of compulsion I can add to your collection!” Cole’s mouth shut with a click, his wide eyes fastened on hers.
Varric exchanged a look with Dorian who took his meaning and cleared his throat. “Ah, Lady Morrigan we were…” But she interrupted him impatiently. “I have been waiting on your arrival since yesterday afternoon. Whatever is taking you three so long?” She held up a hand. “Nevermind. No time. Ahead a ways you will find a small path that leads south into a thorn thicket. There is a woodsman’s cottage at the end of it. Find me there. You,” She turned back to Cole who was still leaning back out of her reach. “Come with me, we can get started on you right away.”
The air compressed uncomfortably around them for a moment. Then where Morrigan had stood an enormous dragon now raised its proud head. It reached out, plucking Cole away from the pair of terrified, screaming mules and took flight with a powerful downsweep of her enormous wings. Varric pulled his handkerchief off his head and threw it on the ground with disgust. “Bloody mages!” He fumed. Dorian shook his head, still stunned. Then he clapped the dwarf tentatively on the shoulder. “Come on, let’s get those mules back or we’ll probably hear for that too when we catch up with her.”
They had ended up backtracking to find the path Morrigan had described to them. It wasn’t much more than an animal trail through the tall grasses. It was twilight by the time they smelled cooking smoke through the straggly clumps of brush. There was indeed a cottage or the ruins of one at least. It looked to varrick as if the place had been hit by lightning once. Half the roof was charred black and the doorway was nothing but blackened splinters.
Morrigan reclined outside, next to a small fire. She looked weary, staring into the flames with her hands cupping a mug. Varric stomped into the clearing before the hut and she looked up at him. “It is done. He’s inside… resting” She added the last in a disgusted tone.
Varric stormed inside the hut while Dorian wordlessly saw to their horses and pulled foodstuffs out. When he turned back to the fire with their provisions, he spotted Varric coming back out with Cole in tow. The boy looked waxy and uncomfortable. But then he always looked that way to Dorian.
“He says he’s going to be fine.” Varric rumbled with satisfaction and Dorian offered the witch a courtly bow of thanks. “My lady, you have our sincerest thanks for your intervention. Will you not share our wine and food and maybe we may learn what this is all about?” Morrigan chuckled but she seemed well pleased at his display. Varric rolled his eyes and pressed Cole down by the fire.
“Foolishness is what this is all about.” She scoffed. “Foolishness and old mistakes.” Her voice trailed off as she stared into the fire. “I won’t bore you with the intimate details that led to your foolish elf friend’s decision to compel the spirit. Suffice to say that partly to blame is the oldest tale in the world. But understand this. Solas is not what he appears to be and while I am moderately convinced he means none of your friends any harm he does have his own agenda.”
“He’s another one of them isn’t he? One of them elf gods, am I right?” Morrigan blinked once, slowly at Varric. “You are surprisingly observant for a dwarf.”
“I think if you’d care to see past the chest hair, you will find that my friend here is in possession of a first rate mind!” Dorian retorted sharply and added a belated “…Mylady.” to take the sting out of his words. Both Varric and Morrigan stared in stunned silence at Dorian, who looked a bit surprised himself at his own outburst.
“Indeed.” Morrigan broke the silence. “Nevertheless you are correct, Varric” She emphasized his name. “That is exactly what he seems to be. And it is another such that you saw on the Inquisitor’s face. Cole doesn’t know who she is but he knows what she is.” She looked at them all in turn. “Vastly powerful and beyond mad.”
“Hunger, always hunger in the formless grey. Must eat but mustn’t, no no no. Eat them all and escape to eat the wolf.” Cole offered the memory in a weary, listless voice.
“I can remember her now. The Inquisitor is trapped behind her. Drowning in another’s hunger and madness.” He looked sadly at Dorian. “The Dread Wolf aids her in the fight but they cannot win. The other has feasted on all her kind. She is too powerful.” Dorian grimaced and privately wished every ancient elf to the Fade and beyond.
“So how do we get that thing out of Lavellan? Can you help. You have the power from the Well of Sorrows.”
“That knowledge is whispering to me right now with a solution but ’tis not one you will approve of I fear.” She looked thoughtfully at Cole who nodded once. His demeanor more serious than usual. “Balls,” Varric murmurred. “Alright out with it. What’s your plan?”
“‘Tis in fact my mothers and it hinges on your friend here’s special abilities…”
“This is a worse plan than anything even you would come up with.” Varric hissed at Dorian as they walked boldly back into the courtyard in Skyhold. “I always appreciate your vote of confidence Varric, but given what we are up against I think we’re doing well to have any plan at all.”
They were surprised to find no sentries posted at the main gate. But the empty courtyard was even more shocking. “What the…?” Varric stopped and looked around. In the space of a heartbeat the light in the courtyard darkened considerably. Where moments before the sky had been clear it was now choked with angry clouds and hail, bigger than birds eggs began falling. “That explains why no one is outside.” Dorian yelled as they ran up the ramp to the doors of the main keep. “Ya think?” Varric yelled back. They tore open the doors and tumbled inside, grateful to get out of the deluge.
“Dorian, Varric! Is that you?” Cullen came striding down the main aisle, in full armor. “Curly? What’s up with the weather and where is everybody?” Varric peeled his vest away from the back of his neck to allow clumps of ice to clatter onto the stone floor. Cullen clasped their arms in turn before answering.
“We sent all the civilians and retainers down the mountain until we get a handle on this. The weather. Well… It’s coming from the Inquisitor’s Tower.”
“We?” Dorian asked and peered past the Knight-Commander who nodded with a grim expression. “I have a contingent of templars readying for another assault on the tower door.” He looked from one to the other, eyes filled with sadness. “She’s up there and I believe… she’s become possessed. How that can be I cannot say.”
“Ah…” Dorian said, wincing at Varric. They began walking fast towards the throne and the private quarters’ access hall. “That’s not… exactly what’s happened.” Dorian explained hesitantly. The last thing they needed now was a bunch of templars looking to pin the possession on the apostate. “Lavellan is under attack from a… Powerful spirit. Solas has been helping her combat it and sent us for reinforcements.” Cullen blinked at them in confusion.
“You are obviously well informed. Which reinforcements are those then?” A tremendous roar shook the tower as the sound of great, leathery wings swooshed by outside. “That would be her now.” Varric said thinking fast. “Prepare your knights, Commander.” He gripped Cullen’s arm. “Anything coming down those stairs that looks like a demon. You and your templars kill it. Don’t let anything escape, can we count on you?” Varric raised his voice as they passed along the column of templars. Cullen had to lengthen his stride to keep up with the pair now. “Of course you can. But what are you…?”
“We are going up. We brought a key of our own.” With impeccable timing the heavy tower door emitted a quiet click and opened a crack. An infernal screeching sound escaped from behind the heavy planks before Cole’s head popped out to beckon them in. Varric let Dorian go through ahead of him and turned back to survey Cullen and the templars. “You hold! You hear me. Hold this door!” He thumped the heavy planks once. Then he pulled the door closed behind him.
“Kill anything that looks like a demon?” Dorian whispered to him as they helped Cole pull a heavy armoire in front of the door. “Did you want a bunch of bloodthirsty templars into this mix? They’d be as likely to kill all of us on the off chance.” Dorian fell silent but Varric heard him mimic “Hold this door!” behind him with a chuckle. At the foot of the stairs up to Wrenn’s quarters the noise was louder than the hail outside had been. They slid up the darkened steps, each preparing for combat and bracing themselves for what would meet them above.
The room was trashed. The heavy framed four-poster appeared to have exploded outward, taking a chunk of the ceiling with it. There wasn’t a single piece of furniture left standing and coloured glass covered the floor. Solas laid crumpled against the wall. Unconsciousness sucked at him. Beckoned with promises of bliss and release. There wasn’t an inch of his body not covered with cuts or bruises and he was exhausted beyond belief.
Again and again Wrenn had broken through Lin’ara’s control. Sometimes holding on for hours. The only rest Solas had had in the past few days were those hours Wrenn had wrested from the mad goddess. But Lin’ara always returned. Raging and laughing. Taunting them for their efforts. He was so tired and heartsick now. He had watched Wrenn slowly lose this fight at his behest and now he wondered if he had asked too much of her.
A dust mote twinkled, hovering just beyond his outstretched hand. He watched it, reminded of an enchanted end to a ball in Halamshiral. He had asked Wrenn to dance. Her eyes had twinkled with a thousand stars that night as they swayed to the music.
A cool hand laid against his cheek and he looked up to see a shining figure lean over him.
“There’s much, much more trouble ahead. For now, focus on what’s in front of you.” Warmth spread from the figure’s hand. Solas felt his aches and pains drain away as if they had never been. His vision cleared. “Cole.” He whispered. The boy nodded and extended his hand to Solas.
“Come! Before the band stops playing. Dance with me!” Cole’s face was blank as he pulled the wounded mage to his feet. “That is a good memory, Cole.” Solas told the boy quietly and nodded his greetings to Varric and Dorian. “Yes, but all your memories are laced with pain. So I can always see them.” There was mild reproach in the boy’s tone and Solas smiled sadly. “I should change that.”
“Yes” Cole agreed.
Morrigan made another pass at the tower, flaming as she went. Out on the tower’s balconies a slender figure hovered. Screeching in rage and flinging thunderbolts that scorched the dragon’s thick hide.
“She cannot change into a dragon. She absorbed too many dragon forms from the others to be able to form a single one.” Solas explained. “She’s not going to turn into a herd of dragons is she?” Varric asked trying not to look at Solas’ battered body. “No, my friend she is not. More importantly she has no intention of letting Lavellan go and I don’t know how much longer the she can hold on.”
“You’ve seen better days too, I note.” Dorian supplied darkly. “Aye, that I have,” Solas agreed. “I take it Morrigan has received some useful council from the Well and that you brought a plan to free Lavellan?” Varric and Dorian exchanged looks at the restrained hope in Solas’ voice. “There is a plan alright.” Varric replied and asked dubiously: “Mythal?” Solas was momentarily confused at the question. Mythal was dead. Then he felt himself, his consciousness gently buffered aside as if by giant, feathery wings. Cocooned in a sense of warmth and safety in the back of his own mind, Solas watched in amazement as another spoke with his voice.
“My daughter has prepared you. We will have one attempt at this. I only have the power to jump once more. If we are to save your friend and all of Thedas we must do so now and quickly.” They both nodded to Solas whose facial features were now remolding themselves to appear as Flemeth’s. “Creepy shit…” Varric breathed. He hefted Bianca, his crossbow besides Dorian who began casting a shielding spell.
Solas understood instinctively that it was crucial he didn’t disturb Mythal’s concentration. But he had so many questions. Starting with how long she had been conscious within him. He could sense a lot of her memories now. Flashing by, close enough to touch. But he wanted to know what her intentions were for dealing with Lin’ara and those were thoughts she was shielding very powerfully from him. It made him fearful for what was to come. What new dreadful price his mistakes would exact on the people he cared about.
“Sylaise, give up your claim to the girl. You cannot stand against all of us.” Solas realized Mythal was trying to pass as him. He found the notion… disturbing.
The slender figure on the balcony whipped around to look at the torn and bloody elf and his new companions. At the sight of Varric and Dorian she threw her head back and cackled loudly. “You think to pit mere mortals against me, Wolf? Whatever could you hope to gain from that?” She gestured at the pair but they were ready for her. Dorian bent his shielding into a ball that engulfed them both as they went flying across the room. They crashed into the remains of the bed but rose apparently unscathed.
Solas was impressed at the mage’s creativity. Varric returned fire with a succession of rapid-fired explosive bolts. They drove Lin’Ara back towards the balcony where Morrigan had landed, a menacing ball of ice growing between her hands. Dorian focused on attenuating Lin’ara’s attacks as best he could and holes appeared in the sturdy walls where her spells exploded.
Solas watched as Mythal walked forward, casting a stream of kinetic blows toward Lin’ara. It surprised him. It was hardly his best spell and did little more than put an opponent off balance. But she must have a plan with this? “Inquisitor! Focus on our memories. Let Cole in!”
Solas watched in mounting confusion. His friends battered the raging goddess with shouts and spells while Cole slipped up behind her, slim hand outstretched. Mythal spoke to Solas directly in his, or possibly their mind, he wasn’t entirely sure how that worked anymore.
“Everything has a price, Dread Wolf. You know this. Tomorrow you will be paying by rebuilding the People. You will find a way. We both will. But today, you must endure.” Mythal did not give him a moment to contemplate her grim words. He felt a brief sincere apology from her and then pain. An agony beyond imagining as she ripped her essence out from where it had entwined with his.
Solas screamed and fell to his knees. His arms flung wide. His scream rose in crescendo with the pain as Mythal tore loose and he sensed her diving straight into Lavellan’s body.
Through pain clouded eyes Solas watched Lin’ara jerk spasmodically. She changed into Wrenn who drew in a sharp breath and let out her own scream of unendurable pain. Behind her Cole stepped up quickly and held a palm to either side of Wrenn’s head. Painful blue light streamed between his hands. It burned so bright it seemed to be consuming him. It was consuming him Solas realized. The spirit was burning itself alive. Solas fell forward onto his hands and knees gritting his teeth and cursing his frail form. He tried to reach Cole to do… something. What was the spirit doing. What was he sacrificing his life for? Where was he directing Wrenn’s pain?
Solas had his answer moments later as Wrenn’s face changed back to Lin’aras in a rictus of pain. He held a trembling hand up to shield his eyes from the light Cole was generating and saw, around the shadow of his fingers, first three forms overlapping where Wrenn stood and then a host of them.
Lin’ara was pushed, inch by inch out of Lavellan’s body. Squeezed out by Mythal and these other spirits as well. The mark on Wrenn’s hand flared and she opened a rift. Sensing the pull of the Fade beyond the shimmering green tear, Lin’ara clung all the more desperately to Lavellan. Screaming her defiance.
“Solas, please. Push her in. I can’t hold it open for ever.” It was Wrenn’s voice and he got to his feet, stumbled and fell forward, hands shaping a spell to propel the spirit into the abyss.
“You do this, Fen’Harel,” Lin’ara’s vicious voice hissed at him in his mind. “And know I will be waiting for you on the other side of the Veil. Your next step in the Fade will be your last!” He hesitated. She was powerful enough to do just that. If at all possible she would subjugate the Fade and turn it against him.
“Banal nadas, Lin’ara. Nothing is inevitable.” he whispered and shoved her through the rift. A stunned twilight and quiet replaced the brilliance of the spells and Cole’s magic. Solas pulled himself over beside Wrenn’s body where it had fallen next to Cole’s. He carefully lifted her limp form in his arms, his heart in his throat. Still breathing, he sighed in relief. Then he turned his gaze to Cole’s body laying beside her, hands still outstretched in his last task. The spirit was gone from the boys body. Already his face was relaxing into death and Solas’ fingers dug into Wrenn’s shoulders as he grieved the loss of his friend.
He looked up into her face. “I’m here, vhenan. Is that really you?” She nodded tiredly. “Just you?” He probed. And she smiled her crooked smile at him. “I don’t think privacy is going to mean the same thing to me for a long time to come.” He sighed sadly. “I never wanted anything like to happen to you, my love.” She nodded. “You wanted to save the People. From the gods, from themselves. Sometimes you have to lose everything to appreciate what has true worth. They are in here with me now. And they are not the same as the arrogant monsters you locked away. They have seen through Lin’ara’s madness. They have now shared Mythal’s long vigil, and,” She touched his face. “They know of your chronicle of our fall from Arlathan too. In time, Mythal hopes they will find new homes but for now they sleep within, contemplating all they have learned.”
“She is here, but has withdrawn for now. She fought so very hard, my Dread Wolf, as did you.”
“And us?” He whispered to her. He pressed his cheek against her touch. Wrenn chuckled quietly at him. “Was that a serious question?”
Dorian tilted the heavy chair back taking in the varied smells of paints and cleaners in the rotunda. He was drunk. Happily and completely drunk. He was drunker than… Drunker than a dwarf in an ale barrel! Solas had thrown him more than one resigned glance since he’d tottered in. He’d won a battered lute in a game of cards earlier and he now played it, despite its missing string. This was a new song that had spread like wildfire in the once again bustling keep. And it never failed to embarrass the elf to no end.
Tonight Dorian serenaded him with it while Solas put the finishing touches on his last picture panel. He had changed the outline he’d planned before their battle with Corypheus. It was now bisected, and the new panel shone with gold leaf and a beautiful emerald tint that seemed alive. In the back a dark green tree, spreading it’s boughs protectively across the sky. In front a golden dragon accompanied by a lone wolf.
Now that was the place for the colour of gold! Dorian thought with approval. On the scales of a noble dragon. He tilted his head back and sang lustily to the faraway ceiling.
You taught me how to close the rifts
And in return I stole a kiss
Elves are never taught to be audacious
Your deeds are yours as was that kiss
I stole it back from your sweet lips
There was a time we were nothing but courageous
Who are you, vhenan?
It’s all so new, vhenan
Do you feel it too, vhenan?
Ma’arlath, Ma fen’vhenan
would be kinder in the longer run
to end this before it has begun
but losing you would tear my heart asunder
What care I for a longer run?
We’ll be lucky enough to see the sun
Stay, my heart and fill this night with wonder
Please don’t go, vhenan
you hurt me so, vhenan
Don’t tell me no, vhenan
Ma’arlath, Ma fen’vhenan
You danced with me below the stars
You told me this had all been ours
with your tales you set my dreams afire
I danced with you, my hand in yours
Your wisdom stopped the bloody wars
Your beauty and your strength I must admire
What’s that you say, vhenan?
Why can’t you stay, vhenan?
What did I say, vhenan?
Ma’arlath, Ma fen’vhenan (I love you, my wolf’s heart)
I did all that was asked of me
I fought the god, I slew the beast
And yet you left and took my heart away
You never said a word to me
No goodbyes to set me free
Perhaps the Fade has lured you far astray?
where have you gone, vhenan?
It’s been so long, vhenan
Please hear my song, vhenan
Ma’arlath, Ma fen’vhenan
I am here, vhenan
Dry your tears, vhenan
I am sincere, vhenan
Ma’arlath, Ma da’vhenan
Fan fiction is a rude sport in many ways. It is not entirely unlike breaking into someone you admire’s home and wearing their clothes for the afternoon. Fun, perhaps if you are into breaking and entering but you’ll never fill those shirts out the same way. It is the same with the characters I have not so much borrowed but wholly kidnapped to tell my own little tale.
I have not done Patrick Weekes’ Solas or Cole justice. I doubt I ever truly could. Neither have I done David Gaider’s Dorian or Mary Kirby’s Varric the justice they deserve. And that’s not even acknowledging the work of Karin Weekes, Ben Gelinas, Cori May and who knows how many others that helped shape these amazing characters. Thank you for setting my imagination afire!
All I have done on these pages, is steal the car keys and take the Thedas mobile for a joyride. I hope to park it back where I found it with a minimum of candy wrappers left on the seat. And I fear I would unashamedly do so again simply for the thrill of the ride.
EDIT: October 29, 2015. This fan fiction was initially posted on wmafanfiction.wordpress.com on March 13, 2015.
I decided to move this fanfiction over here to consolidate my stuff. This text is also available from Archive of Our Own: Wolf’s Heart.
“Let the Dread Wolf in” A Solavellan song written and composed by PhemieC.
While I struggled with my (clearly) inferior song writing talent I apparently scribbled the following in the margin with frustration:
what you sayin’, vhenan?
I ain’t playin’, vhenan
It ain’t no game, vhenan
(I need help >< )
Check out this gorgeous piece by Sara Cuevo depicting the removal of the Vallaslin!
My friend on Twitter was keeping me up to date as she worked on this Solas piece:
Slugette’s Solas depictions are so poignant!
Sabalmirss’ Lavellan and Solas piece made me misty eyed all over again:
CoupleofKooks blew me away with this rendering of Solas and Mythal in front of the Eluvian. UHmazing!
>> EDIT<< 06/16/2015 Reposted ‘Ma Fenvhenan’ as I discovered I hadn’t posted the full song for some reason. Oops!