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The Healer and the Dread Wolf

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KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!

"Alyna, are you in? Open up!" the dwarf shouted while pounding violently on the door.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!

The night was pitch black and silent in Redcliffe. Three tall figures waited behind the dwarf or, rather, two of them bore the weight of an unconscious third. A trail of blood could be seen on the path they all had appeared from.

A faint light was lit In the small two-storey house and, after some rushed steps, the door opened with a creak. A black-haired human in her late twenties who had clearly been woken up unexpectedly stared at them from the inside. "Varric, is it you? Shit, what’s going on?" she asked, her sleepy eyes blown wide in surprise, still not believing what she was seeing.

The dwarf pushed the door open and rushed in. "There's no time to explain: we need your help. He’s been stabbed in the leg, but it doesn’t stop bleeding. He passed out about half an hour ago".

The woman pulled back and looked at the three companions who had crossed the house doorstep after the dwarf: a short-haired woman who looked terrified, wearing heavy armour. A middle-aged male elf with a staff sheathed behind his back; his facial expression was difficult to read but she would have guessed urgency and exhaustion. In the middle, a broad-shouldered redhead human unable to use his legs, his head awkwardly falling forward.

"We've been carrying him from the Witch Forest. Damn bandits!" Varric spat anger with every word. "They also scared away our horses!"

Alyna studied the situation, analysing, prioritizing. There was no doubt that the man was dying so explanations must have to wait. With a movement of her arm, she cleared the table off. "Lay him down here, on his back. Put pressure on the wound with this" she told the elf, throwing him the table cloth she had just removed. Then, she turned around and disappeared through one of the doors.

Both the warrior and the elf grunted, manoeuvring to release the wounded human onto the table. The elf placed his head gently on it while she raised his legs. He used the cloth to stop the wound and it became red way too fast for it to be a good sign.

"Glenn! Glenn! Can you hear me? Hold on!" the warrior said leaning next to the injured.

The healer returned with a brown leather bag and dismissed the elf from the task. First, she observed the patient: a male, about 35 or 40, in good shape, clammy forehead, cold, pale... clearly he had lost too much blood. She touched the side of his neck and waited a few seconds, frowning with concern. His heart was still beating but making a great effort and too fast: it was trying to pump blood that was no longer in his body. She examined his arms looking for any other injuries and her interest fell on his left hand. She touched the palm softly with the tip of her fingers noticing the unknown magic it emitted. "Not now," she thought, refocusing in his injuries. She removed the cloth from against the stab on his right thigh, feeling the remains of the basic healing spell that had kept him alive. No doubt the mage’s work as she could feel his mana print on it, although the spell was quite rudimentary, indeed. A squirt of blood flew over her arm and she stopped the stab again.

"I need you to warm some water up, please," she asked the mage with a surprisingly calm voice. "There are some bowls in the kitchen, you can use one of them."

The elf nodded his head and obeyed. After filling the bowl, he placed his hands on the outside and heated them gradually until the water began to steam. Meanwhile, she had pulled out a sharp instrument from her bag and cut off the man's trousers, leaving his leg exposed. She finally removed the cloth, observing the stab for a moment. "A clean cut, but bleeding profusely... The artery's been affected..." she muttered quietly.

"Can you heal it?" Cassandra asked terrified.

The healer looked at her knowing that she wouldn't give the answer she wanted to hear. "I will try". Without wasting any more time in futile conversation, she reached for a small box in her bag and pull out two jars with different plants in them. She put some of their leaves in the bowl the mage was holding. "Please, crush them," she said, handing him some kind of mortar.

Solas watched her doing while mixing the plants, somehow impressed about her methodical confidence and her knowledge. The healer had placed her hands, now shining with a cold glow, over Glenn's leg. She hovered them slowly over the injured part, scanning for a specific spot. A definitely more effective and sophisticated type of healing magic than his clumsy and old-fashioned spell. When the healer found the place she sought, closed her eyes and whispered something. The mage looked at her lips forming inaudible sounds and he could swear that he recognised some Elven words. Everything was static, silent. Like an illusory situation only comparable with the feeling of being in the Fade. Part of the wound was now slightly shimmering and it had stopped bleeding.

Suddenly, the spell broke when Alyna opened her eyes and withdrew her hands. Reality came back to full-strength as she used the herbal infusion to wash the stab carefully with a clean cloth. Both mages exchanged glances when she handed the bowl back to him. Just a few seconds were enough for Solas to notice the extremely pale grey colour of her eyes. Opening her backpack, she extracted another jar containing a thick green ointment. She used her fingers to apply it into the wound before closing it, pinching it for a whole minute. When she removed her hands, the cut didn’t open again. Cassandra looked at Varric with amazement and he returned her an I told you so type of gaze.

The healer checked again the breath and the heartbeat of the human, still with a worried face. Then, she spoke to Cassandra. "Are you a Templar?" she asked, placing her hands along Glenn's chest and abdomen.

The warrior looked puzzled with the question. "No," she answered. "I am a Seeker of the Chantry, but not a Templar."

The healer nodded and sighed, not relieved with the news. The Seekers belonged to the Chantry, anyway. A Chantry that had controlled the Circle of Magi in Thedas since the ancient ages. Even if the Circles were no longer active, terrible threats still existed for exceptionally powerful mages. Or for those whose abilities came from non-authorized sources. "I'm taking a great risk to save your friend and I do hope you don't turn this against me," she breathed out, serious and tired, speaking to Cassandra. "I stopped the bleeding and the stab wound is closed. But he’s lost too much blood and he won’t survive if I don’t go any further."

Cassandra remained quiet, taking in her words, understanding that the healer was about to use a type of magic she wouldn’t like. But saving Glenn's was far more important than her principles for sure.

When the Seeker nodded, the elven mage stood next to Glenn, curious.

The healer closed her eyes again, focusing her will and, suddenly, a flash of white light flooded the room and lit up the injured man's torso for a brief second. Simultaneously, he arched his back violently before dropping back onto the table.

And then, deep darkness.

Drained of mana, the healer's legs gave out, making her fall backwards. Suddenly, Glenn opened his eyes and sat up, gasping for air loudly, all pale and sweaty. "What happened? Where am I?" he asked, breathing sharply and looking around, utterly confused.

Cassandra hugged him with a relieved smile and it was Varric the one who spoke. "For Andraste, we thought we lost you."

"I only remember the fight. Then you dragged me down the road," Glenn recalled. He touched his head with a gesture of pain and fell back on the table, unable to sit up for any longer.

"Are you all right?" the mage asked Alyna with a velvety voice while lending her a hand to stand up.

She nodded warily, still feeling dazed. When she took his hand, Solas felt, like a soft tingle, all the magic that came from her even if her mana was low. "Fade magic. Although the spell was too powerful and there are traces of something else...” he thought while staring at their hands, lingering in the instant for a little longer than what it could be considered acceptable.

The healer also felt the crisp sensation of his magic on her skin: delicate, contained, and yet strong. She fixed her eyes in his grey-purple irises and murmured a quick thank you with a soft contralto voice. "We should better take him to my bed. He’ll be more comfortable there," she finally said, retrieving her hand, looking away from the interesting mage and back to the group.

The Inquisitor was barely able to keep his eyes open but he was conscious and had abandoned the extreme paleness of someone at death’s door. Varric and Cassandra took him to Alyna's bedroom, laying him down the bed. The healer applied some more elfroot infusion and performed a simple bandage on his leg to protect it from infections. "Who are you?" Glenn asked as she tied the bandages.

"Someone who has just saved your ass, I think," she said with a smirk before he closed his eyes again.

 

***

 

Varric was wiping the blood on the table when the healer came back to the room. The dwarf smiled and stopped what he was doing to hug her and she grinned back, happy but exhausted. "Thank you Alyna," he said. "You have just saved the person who will save us all ... I suppose that makes you our saviour!"

"Don’t kiss my arse, Varric. Every time you appear in my life, you turn it upside down," she teased him before collecting her healing tools. She put them in one of the bowls with a greenish liquid that smelled like disinfectant.

Varric chuckled and explained. "We met in Orlais, in Val Royeaux, and we travelled together for a year before the mage rebellion in Kirkwall. Dark times and a lot of darkspawn, although we also had some fun."

She stopped her doing to look at him with a smile on her lips. "How long has it been since we first met? Five years already? I can't say I missed you, though..." she joked.

"Will he be alright?" Cassandra interrupted, still with a worried expression and clearly referring Glenn.

"He'll survive, but he needs a couple of days to recover," the healer confirmed.

"And, what was the light ...?" the warrior continued asking, now intrigued.

Alyna tried to think on the best way to explain the spell she had used, choosing the correct words without revealing too much. She wiped her hands carefully. "It is a very specific magic... it accelerates the metabolism and the production of substances in the body ... These are processes that the organs do by themselves, but they can be pushed to do it faster, like blood fabrication..." She didn’t continue due to the deep horror face the warrior was showing. "He'll be fine by tomorrow if that is what troubles you," she summed up with a friendly grin.

Solas piled some trunks in the fireplace, lighting them magically, and chuckled at the sight of Cassandra's horrified expression before sitting on one of the cushions on the floor. His companions imitated him, invited by the healer. For a Templar, it wouldn’t have been difficult to detect her bond with the spirit in her last cast. Fortunately, Cassandra was not one of them.

Alyna brought glasses and a bottle of liquor and sat down next to them. Once she had filled the glasses, Varric raised his and made a toast. "To the reunion!"

Everyone drank up to the bottom, Cassandra wrinkling her nose, Varric, Solas and Alyna savouring the beverage, lost in their thoughts. The healer observed them quietly, trying to imagine what had led her friend Varric to join forces with a Seeker from the Chantry, an anonymous warrior with an unknown magic mark in his hand and a powerful elven apostate.

"Don’t you think it's time for introductions?" she asked with an enquiring tone, serving the second round of liquor.

 

***

 

Cassandra seemed to stand against telling the whole story and she tried to find excuses in the most polite way.

"Come on, Cassie, I trust her and she has just saved Glenn. She needs to know!" the dwarf complained.

Alyna understood her distrust somehow as she would have acted the same way with a stranger. But after all that happened, she felt extremely curious about what was going on. "This has something to do with the breach in the sky, am I right? News fly in the Hinterlands and people speak about a Chosen One who could fix it. And Glenn’s hand emits that sort of magic…"

The Seeker glanced at Solas, who was not surprised that she had sensed the Anchor in the Inquisitor’s hand. He simply nodded towards her and Cassandra began telling the story. "We didn’t know how it happened. The breach appeared in the sky one day close to our settlement in Haven, right above the Sacred Ashes temple where the relics of Andraste are kept. When we reached the enclave, fighting against all the demons that came from it, we found one of our captains, Glenn Trevelyan, unconscious on the ground with the green mark already in his hand. The Divine Justine was missing and we had no idea what the captain was doing in the building as his mission was to patrol the outside. But the Divine couldn't be found anywhere and he was the only suspect around... I set guards in the temple where the disturbance had shown and we arrested Glenn. He remained unconscious for three days while Solas studied the Anchor and the magic that seemed to come from it. The third day he woke up and he confessed that he couldn't remember anything at all. We thought him guilty in the middle of the chaos. Then, Solas had the idea of taking him closer to one of the small rifts to check the interaction of his hand with it and Glenn wanted to help… And… that’s basically what we did," Cassandra recalled.

Solas spoke then. "By putting him close to the rift, the Anchor activated and an uncommon bane of green magic closed the disturbance. It was a type of magic I have never seen before, extremely powerful. I guess the rest was convenient: people looked for hope; the soldiers looked for a leader; the Chantry, for a prophet… I believe he met everyone’s expectations. In a few months, the word had spread around and a new movement called the Inquisition was born as a new sort of religious power in Ferelden."

Cassandra, a firm Andastrian believer, frowned at him with disapproval. 

"Wait a minute," Alyna interrupted him. "The rumours are true, then? He can close the rifts on the Veil with his hand?"

"Yes, indeed," Solas continued while she stared at him, astonished. "I have searched for the source of its power but I haven’t been able to discover anything at all: it seems to be very ancient and powerful magic which has its origin in the Fade. I have also researched this one, with little results."

Alyna pulled a fur blanket over her legs, still trying to assimilate the information Solas and Cassandra had told her. Suddenly, they all heard a guttural and loud snore behind them, coming from the armchair Varric was now fast asleep on. The warrior carried on with the story after. "This afternoon we were closing one of the minor rifts that have emerged next to Redcliffe road when the bandits assaulted us. I still cannot believe it: after fighting against the demons and saving them, they ambushed us…" she was furious and her expression reflected it, making her jaw even more squared.

The healer noticed they both looked the same age, late twenties perhaps. Her facial features, as well as her accent, were typical from Nevarra: tanned skin, black eyes and dark short hair. She had a pointy straight nose and an obvious scar on her right cheek.  Her bearing, gestures and manners also caught the healer’s attention: she had to come from a noble family or, at least, a well-off one. She must be good at fighting if she belonged to the Chantry elite warriors.

Cassandra finished her drink and uttered an apology. "I am sorry, but I am far too tired. Thanks again for saving him," she said leaning her head towards the closed bedroom’s door. "Definitely, Andraste has put you on our path to help us."

Alyna turned the smile she had been receiving Cassandra’s grateful words into an ironic face when she heard the name of the Prophet. The warrior didn’t notice but not Solas so, who chuckled softly and served another round. "Goodnight, Cassandra," the mage said whilst the Seeker made herself comfortable in her bedroll next to Varric’s chair.

They drank quietly for a while, looking at the flames’ dance till Alyna asked. bluntly "And you? What is your story?" 

"What do you mean?" he answered with another question. "How did I end up here?"

She nodded.

"I believe I could define my story as an I was passing by. I was exploring the area with our common friend, Varric when the rift made its appearance," Solas explained. "I am an expert on the Fade and I thought it would be a good opportunity to study the anomaly even closer. However, Cassandra threatened to imprison me if I didn’t unravel the anchor mystery. I suppose being an apostate doesn’t precisely help to earn the Chantry's confidence."

"But you did it in the end."

"More or less: I was not able to find its origin. However, I discovered its purpose."

The healer looked at him for a little while with curiosity. "You don’t wear a vallaslin, but you don't look like a city elf, either," she observed, narrowing her eyes. 

"Well observed. Ar dirthan’as ir elgara," he added in elven, even knowing she wouldn't understand the words.

Alyna looked back at the fire, distracted. "A free spirit," she translated without effort. "No dalish, neither a slave."

Solas gazed at her, surprised at having obtained such a good translation. She kept staring at the flames which gave him a good perspective of her profile. At first sight, he thought she was beautiful for human standards, but now he was able to confirm it. The healer was slender, not excessively tall but irradiated strength and self-confidence. Although she must have been nearly in her thirties, she looked physically younger due to her pale skin and her subtle features, a little childlike. Didn’t do so her light grey eyes, that formed experience wrinkles on the edges every time she smiled. Her hair was wavy, thick and dark and long enough to cover her shoulders. Solas returned his sight to her full lips, recalling them whispering the enchantment in Elven and a faint suspicion grew in him, sensing the subtle familiar shape of her ears, meticulously hidden from sight. The elf lifted his hand towards their host and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, emitting a hum of surprise. Alyna startled with his touch but allowed him to carry on, tilting her head to make his task easier. Daringly, Solas slid a finger down her little but pointy elven ear once he had uncovered it. A shiver ran through her body and smiled at him still surprised about his bold touch.

"You had totally tricked me!" he exclaimed. "I suppose you also have an interesting story to tell."

"Is not my intention to trick anyone, I just omit the truth," she answered, simply. "It’s easier for me, pretending I'm a human. I avoid prejudices and allows me to look after my patients freely: no one rejects the help of a human healer." Alyna brushed her hair around her features, covering the ear again. It was, somehow, understandable: not having vallaslin excluded her from being dalish, but made her a slave under human eyes. Furthermore, not many people would accept the help of a slave.

"Have you always hidden it?" Solas wanted to know.

"No… Not really. I guess being an elf and I have had a complicated on-and-off relationship over the years. I have always been a human in Redcliffe, but it is a very long story," she said, letting the conversation die.

Solas looked at her with ill-concealed curiosity now, but Alyna had stopped talking and it was getting really late. "I will keep your secret, then," he promised.

The healer smiled, grateful, observing him. Solas was unusually tall for being an elf, and athletic, with broad shoulders. His skin was pale but subtly tanned, like someone who is used to live out in the open, sprinkled with discrete freckles. He could have been on his forties, more or less, impossible to say. His hair was fully shaved, which left his angular features, high cheekbones and sharp chin crowned with a dimple, exposed and more noticeable. His eyes were a strange colour, a mixture of grey and violet depending on how the light fell upon them. Despite his individual features were not especially remarkable, the combination turned out harmonious and attractive. He showed a serious bearing with elevated and ironic touches, being given by his experience and knowledge.

"I believe I should sleep, too," he said leaning back on his bedroll and putting one of the cushions under his head. "I'm sorry we have woken you up and occupied your house."

Alyna also lied down, trying to find a comfortable posture on the hard floor. "There is no need to apologize. Helping is always a pleasure," said while pulling a blanket up to her chin. "Goodnight, Solas."

"Goodnight, Alyna."

Chapter Text

When Varric got up the next day, Alyna was already awake and getting ready for work. A young human, who could only be her assistant, was in the living room too, collecting all the instruments she might need for the day while glancing at the asleep group with undisguised curiosity. The healer whispered goodbye to Varric and gave instructions to let the Inquisitor rest for the day. Then, they opened the door and left the house into the weak dawn light.

Varric woke up the others when he finished making breakfast. "Shine and rise, sleeping beauties! Tea is getting cold!"

Solas and Cassandra stretched briefly after the short night of sleep and got out the improvised bed. After finishing the first cup of tea, Solas just a herbal infusion, they talked about the events of the previous day and their next steps, the conversation turning back into the healer inevitably. "If Glenn gets strong enough, we should leave early tomorrow," Cassandra opined. "Have you checked on him, Varric?"

"He was asleep like a log when I got in the bedroom with his breakfast this morning, so I left him alone. He looked better, though," the dwarf explained spreading some butter on the toast.

Cassandra remained quiet for a little while and then shot the next question with a frown. "Was it blood magic what she used?"

Varric carried on buttering his bread, extremely focused on the task now and avoiding eye-contact, dodging the answer. Solas sighed, conscious of what the dwarf was doing. "No, but I don’t think the truth would please you either..."

"Try me out," the Seeker insisted.

The mage took some time, searching for the best words to express what he wanted to say. "As well as I do, she extracts her magic from the Fade. Besides, she also seems to have her powers linked to a spirit, but I don't think they are bound... Although I can't tell you for sure." The elf had also perceived that the healer was far more powerful than him at the moment, which was somehow annoying.

The warrior shook her head with disgust and stopped inquiring any further. She grunted something inaudible and went back to her tea.

They all remained quiet for some time until Varric broke the silence."I think she could be useful. You haven’t seen her fighting, Seeker. It’s not just the fact that she’s a healer: she's a berserker and so powerful… I’ve ever seen anything like her." There was clear admiration in his words. 

Cassandra sipped on her tea, taking some time. "I'm sorry, Varric but I don’t think is very wise..." Her tone was soft, but not apologetic at all. "You know her, but I don’t. I'm thankful about what she’s done for Glenn, but I don’t trust her." The Seeker could be very blunt sometimes. And distrustful. 

The dwarf didn’t take her words very well. "The fact that she's my friend is not good enough for you?" She didn’t answer and Varric snorted loudly, pointing an accusing finger at her and raising his voice. "You're wrong, Cassandra. And because of your bloody stubbornness, we are going to lose a great ally."

"From my point of view, she's an apostate and we know nothing about her, Varric. How can you trust someone who makes deals with demons? She could be an abomination!"

Varric was really annoyed at this point and looked at Solas, trying to find some support. The mage had followed the argument from the edge, despite he threw a severe look to Cassandra when she mentioned the apostates, irritated about how inflexible the Seeker could become, so he decided to intervene with his calm and academic tone. "Cassandra, you should differentiate between demon and spirit, as their essences are utterly different. Spirits don’t mean any harm. I don't know for sure what sort of spirit she's got the bond with but she uses that power for healing. Which I consider is not a bad thing according to anyone's standards. And, obviously, she is not an abomination. Regarding your argument, I don't think she'll come."

"And how the heck d’you know that?" Varric asked, glaring at the mage now.

Solas looked back at him and shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know who she was before, but she's made the choice of giving her life to the selfless task of healing. I can't hardly picture her fighting a battle within all the Inquisition paraphernalia around." Then, he carried on with his breakfast.

Varric knew he was probably right: his friend had never been keen on public recognition and even less in anything related to religion. But she was a superb fighter and, probably, the most powerful mage he had ever known. He had to try. "Before you scold me again, go to the orlesian merchant next to the dock, if he’s still there, and buy The Arcane woman. You’ll see the mage we are giving up on."

"Are you trying to dump one of your books on me?" the mage asked with a sardonic smile.

"Just do it!" the dwarf grunted.

Some minutes of tense silence went by in which Cassandra seemed to reconsider their options. "If you both agree she would be useful, ask her, Varric. Let her decide if she wants to come with us. I’m going to check on Glenn," she said with seriousness, standing and taking the Inquisitor’s breakfast to her bedroom.

 

***

 

Solas sat down on the dock holding Varric’s novel tightly in his hands, enjoying the warmness of the midday Autumn sun and the beauty of the shore landscape. He had spent part of the morning tidying up the chaos caused in the healer’s house. Chaos mostly caused for having four invaders, three strangers and one nearly dead, in her living-room. He was amazed by how quickly Glenn had recovered from his injuries when he found him sitting upon the healer’s bed, savouring his tea and chatting with Cassandra about their departing plans. Although the Seeker had brought him up-to-date about what happened and her version of the events, the Inquisitor also wanted to know Solas’ opinion. "According to Varic, she would be a precious member if we manage to convince her,” he explained.

"And what do you think about her, Solas?" the Inquisitor asked.

The elf deep-breathed before giving an answer. "I suppose we could do with another mage, especially a healer." He hid the fact that he was a little intrigued about her.

“Fair enough. I'll ask her, then,” Glenn ended. "I hope is not a mistake."

Varric disappeared at midday looking for the tavern, being still pissed about the argument with the Seeker. So, with nothing better to do and stuck in Redcliffe for another day, Solas had decided to listen to his friend and buy his book. “The Arcane woman,” he mumbled to himself while listening to the babbling of the waves breaking against the dock. A drawing of a woman’s face occupied the cover: half of it was drawn as a threatening black shadow with a steel grey eye; the other half was an elven face of idealized perfection. “Certainly similar,” he thought, looking at the features of the drawing and sliding his forefinger down her ear distractedly, as he also did the night before in real life. “Focus”, he scolded himself, opening the book and reading.

It was a prose text, not excessively long, about one of the trips to the Deep Roads Varric had organized in conjunction with the healer and group of warriors. It described their journey into the depths and their encounters with darkspawn in a very objective way. In spite of a couple of obvious author exaggerations praising her and her abilities, everything seemed to be quite realistic. The novel didn’t describe a healer at all, but an extraordinary and very powerful mage, able to keep a barrier for her allies whilst neutralizing their enemies with arcane spells, freezing them in time, subduing them to her will or turning them into dust. “A very advanced magic, difficult to learn and extremely dangerous if not well performed or if in the wrong hands…” he thought.

Solas closed the book and meditated on it for a while. His interest in that unusual elf had only increased and he was surprised himself when discovered he wanted to know more about her power and her story. “If what the book says is true, then she will be useful without any doubt. Probably, the best ally we will be able to find,” he considered whilst looking at the sunlight reflections on Calenhad’s lake waves.

 

***

 

Solas entered The Gull and the Lantern and wrinkled his nose with the strong smell of hops, roast meat and melted wax. Then, he scanned the place, looking for Varric. “Why all taverns smell likely now?” the mage asked to himself. 

He found his friend sitting in front of a pint of ale, on a table next to the bard who made the afternoon more pleasant with his songs. The elf walked towards him and, without saying a word, threw the book on the table. "Are you happy now? It is me who is paying for the beer you are drinking," he said, sitting on a stool in front of the dwarf.

Varric, definitely in a better mood than that morning and a little drunk, laughed and made a toast. “To the most powerful mage,” he said with a smirk, obviously not talking about Solas.

"How much of this is true?" the elf asked, ignoring the dwarf's teasing.

"Everything" Varric answered with integrity. "There is no made-up battle, nor spell either… Oh, wait! The Elven is made up, though... For Andraste! What an unintelligible language! I'm not surprised it's all lost, now..." he exclaimed before drinking.

Solas ordered a pint and looked at the picture on the cover.

"Did you know she was an elf?" Varric wanted to know.

"An elf? Ah, yes! Yesterday we conversed about it after you fell asleep."

The dwarf remained silent.

"She told me no one knows in Redcliffe and she wants to keep it that way," Solas finished.

"Elves ashamed of their race… Live to see…" the dwarf said pitifully, shaking his head at the same time.

"Yes… but it is understandable: she wouldn’t have any other way to be a healer. Elves are just a mere shadow of what they were once. Just a memory," Solas said with a grim expression.

But Varric was already too drunk and too interested in what was happening around to get the face and the tone of his friend.

They downed their pints chatting about trivialities.

 

***

 

Alyna had come back in the evening after a regular workday: a couple of fevers, a broken finger, a fishhook stabbed in an arm, some age-related muscle pains… The fact of making these people’s lives simpler and more comfortable made her happy, and that’s exactly what she loved about being a healer. When she got in the house noticed everything was clean and tidy and the fireplace was lit. A feeling of nostalgia invaded her, remembering old times. She closed the door to find Glenn sitting in front od the fire. Varric played cards on the table and Solas was concentrated reading one of her anatomy volumes. The last two looked up and greeted her, but kept themselves out of the conversation that happened next. "I don’t think we have been properly introduced, yet. My name is Glenn Trevelyan," the Inquisitor stood up and offered her his right hand to shake.

"I’m Alyna Weeks. Pleased to meet you. I’m glad you feel better today."

"Thanks to you, no doubt of it," then he sat back down on the armchair. "To be honest with you, I don’t remember much about yesterday, but I caught up with Cassandra this morning. I just recall an intense light and heat on my chest. Then I opened my eyes and I saw Cassandra and Varric. The next thing I think I saw was your face… You were... bandaging my leg?" he said dubious, touching his limb with care.

Alyna nodded, grave. "How are you feeling?" she wanted to know.

"Like if you have just pulled me away from death," the Inquisitor joked with a tired smile.

She chuckled. "Well, I suppose you can describe it that way," she replied. "Will you be alright to travel tomorrow?"

"Yes, I’m feeling just fine and I’m sure I will be even better in the morning," he fixed his eyes in hers, catching her hands in his. "I can’t thank you enough for saving my life."

The Inquisitor could be considered attractive: square jaw with a hint of a beard, blue eyes, ginger curly hair, robust constitution…  His warmth and kindness were noticeable from a distance but, at the same time, it could be easily found in him the seriousness and the bearing of a high-rank soldier. It seemed true that he just fitted in the leader role everyone had given to him.

Alyna escaped from his excess of gratitude with a simple it’s my job, releasing her hands, and dropped her eyes down to his left one where a slight red mark similar to an old scar could be seen. "How does it work?" she asked without further ado.

He looked puzzled about the boldness of the question. "I… don’t really know. Solas is the expert here," he said honestly, glancing at the mage. "All that I know is when I get near to a rift, energy emerges and closes it. I don’t feel any different at all, just heat and tingling in my hand, the place where the energy comes from. When the rift disappears, the energy does it so, and it deactivates."

"May I?" she stared at his blue eyes and he extended his hand to her as an invitation to explore.

She gently caressed the scar: the powerful mark of the magic. But it was impossible to perceive its origin or any previous trace, as Solas had explained before. The mage let Glenn’s hand go but was eager to learn more about that powerful magic and willing to study it in action.

"Varric has talked you up quite a bit," the Inquisitor resumed their talking, tilting his head towards the dwarf. "Not just as a healer, also as a mage."

Alyna leaned back in her chair breathing out slowly and looked to the lit fireplace, having a feeling about what would come next. Glenn could see the reflection of the flames on her pale pupils. "And what do you want from me?" she enquired with a bored tone.

"I want you to come with me and fight by my side," he answered, bluntly.

She showed a wry smile, shaking her head. "I think that time is over for me".

"But this is also your fight!" he went on. "We are saving the world!"

"Tell me, Inquisitor. Do you consider yourself the Herald of Andraste, just like the Chantry has named you?" she asked with inquisitive voice gazing back at him. 

Glenn hesitated, considering his answers carefully. Solas and Varric thought she would be a great ally so he had to do his best to convince her and he could read on her face that he should answer no to her question. On the other hand, he had always been a highly religious person, born and raised under Andastrian cult and a firm believer in the Maker. Since the Chantry first called him the Herald, he had toyed with the idea of truly being it. "I do not consider myself worthy of worshipping, but I believe in Andraste and the Maker and I think they both sent me this Anchor with a purpose, making me his chosen one," he stated after a few seconds of reflection that felt like an eternity.

Alyna kept silent with a twisted smile on her lips and Varric knew they have lost her. Not that her friend was a religious anarchist, as she was quite respectful with everyone's believes, but he knew she wouldn't want to take part in it. 

"But anyway, my purpose is not religious. We are talking about saving the world as we know it and closing that threat."

"And what will you do when this finishes? I mean, after closing the breach. Once you gather all the power you need, what will you do with it? Will you be a leader? A ruler? A god?... Will you govern us all in the name of the Maker and Andraste? I don’t doubt that your mission is honest and necessary right now but I’m worried about the power you will achieve. Sadly, there’s nothing more dangerous during uncertain times than a kind-of-a-god type of leader." She remained silent for a little while, leaving her words hanging in the air. "Even if I would like to help you saving the world, I don’t want to take part in your deify."

Glenn tried to reach for some words that could save the moment. She had pictured a whole situation that he hadn’t been even able to think about for now. Solas had raised his eyes from the book and studied her quietly.

"It doesn’t have to be as you say" Varric interrupted then, trying to help. "It is a fair cause! We don’t even know If we’ll be able to end the danger the breach on the Veil means. We do really need your help!"

Alyna glanced at him with a tiny glimpse of doubt in her eyes and then she looked back to Glenn, waiting for him to continue.

"Varric is right. All you’ve said pictures a very far future and the problems we confront now are different, dangerous and mortal if we don’t deal with them as soon as possible. The first thing we have to do is to get all the help we can to close the rift before it destroys the whole world. We need you!"

He hadn’t finished that last sentence when Cassandra burst into the house, interrupting the conversation. "I got us four horses for tomorrow!" she exclaimed without noticing the dense atmosphere in the room. All the heads turned towards her and she froze, realizing she had just interrupted something important.

"I should go to bed, it’s getting late," Alyna mentioned, excusing herself and leaving the Inquisitor's invitation unanswered.  

"Oh, you can use your bed again, by the way. I think I’m feeling well enough to share your living room with my companions. We’ll leave early tomorrow, at dawn. If we don’t see each other again, thanks for everything," he said as a farewell in a very kind and polite way, assuming what her answer had been.

Alyna considered the topic over for now. She needed to sleep on it but she shouldn't... It had been a hard decision to come back to Redcliffe. To stop wandering. To settle and give herself to healing because she knew she was still in debt...

"If I don't see you tomorrow, good luck on your mission," she ended shaking his hand. The healer repeated the gesture with Cassandra who seemed somehow relieved and hugged Varric.

"If you want to come for me, you know where I’ll be," the dwarf commented, quite disappointed.

"Be good," she replied, affectionately.

The last one was Solas. "Dareth shiral, lethallin, " she said politely,  looking at him in the eye.

"Ma serannas, Alyna."

Chapter Text

A garden, jasmine essence in the air and the babbling of the water splashing in the fountains. The polished white marble floor reflected the light like a mirror and the singing of the birds could be heard somewhere above, not far away from where the healer was sitting. In front of her, an empty white chair, a table and a glass chessboard with the pieces already set up on its top. She always played with the blacks, keeping the whites for the other player. Her wavy hair was tied back and plaited with silver threads. She wore a white silk dress, light and plain, and was barefoot.

This was her dream, her safe place in the Fade. It was there where she met Compassion when it wanted to visit her. She had explored beyond its limits countless times. She had met different spirits and interacted with demons but she unveiled facts that overwhelmed her and nightmares that tormented her with frequency, so she lost her interest in it. Just as she looked for shelter in Redcliffe, she confined herself in her area of the Fade. She could create there, build without limits and anything coming from the outside was not able to trespass without her permission.

She had sensed his presence the day before while playing chess with Compassion, but he didn’t interfere. “That’s a shame”, she thought, although she didn’t try to approach him either “I would have enjoyed his company.” But, considering how the events had developed today, she was sure he would try to reach for her.

And so he did.

First, she saw his silhouette walking towards her. Then, his shape materialized when she allowed him in.

"Hi, Solas", she said whilst standing up politely. "Do you play chess?" She pointed to the exquisite game on the table.

Solas looked around the dream, exploring with curiosity before nodding his head and sitting down with a confident grin. It had actually been a while since the last time he played. His travel clothes didn’t match the luxurious environment but he didn’t do anything to solve it. He looked at the healer to find her examining him back with curiosity, her head slightly tilted. Under the perfect white light of the dream, she looked more similar to the idealized book cover picture. "It could be interesting," he stated, enigmatic.

"I assumed you would come to meet me after the conversation with the Inquisitor." Solas moved his first pawn under her inquisitive staring and he met her gaze once again. The healer noticed how his eyes looked lighter in the Fade, with an unreal touch of violet.

"This is an uncommon place," he commented. "I didn’t know you were a dreamer. They are very rare in Thedas.”

“And I am not. At least, not a good one,” she admitted, making her movement. “My ability to shape the Fade is linked to Compassion and it's actually very limited. It took me a long time to create this place. But you must be one of those rare people if you are here now.”

Solas didn’t confirm her guess but smirked proudly. “Have you ever ventured outside?" he wanted to know.

"Yes, of course. But I grew tired of discovering truths."

"For example…?" 

"Hundreds of pointless wars, leaders making the same mistakes over and over again…" her voice turned into a whisper and then disappeared, leaving a sad echo in the air.

"Yes, I think I know what you mean," he breathed out, considering his own experience during all those years. "I haven’t come here to infuse you hope, not to say this time it would be different. But, as an exception, Varric is right: nothing will have the chance to happen or being averted if we don’t close the breach first. I have gone through the same as you, I have seen the same things in the Fade and I have the feeling that this movement might provoke the same disastrous consequences than all the others before... But the future is unknown and there is still time to model it to our will. And you will always have more control over the Inquisitor if you are close to him." 

Alyna caught a glimpse of his curious eyes and looked down to the board, hesitant. He moved another pawn.

"Has he sent you here?" she asked with no voice inflexion.

"No," Solas responded with honesty. "I don’t think Glenn is aware that I am able to trespass somebody else’s dreams. I came here freely and because I fancied talking with you."

The healer twisted a smile with his last words. And, regarding the invitation, she wanted to help. But she also had a feeling; a sensation in the pit of her stomach that prevented her. The same mistake had been repeated all over and over the story: a charismatic leader that wants to change the world for good, hopeless people who worship him, endless wars to gain more power and control… But, what if in the end there was nothing to save o no one to worship?

Solas sensed his plan was working: he had played the empathy card and had raised doubts on her. Probably, none of his companions had considered how far the Inquisition and the Herald could grow and expand except for her. Nor the consequences it might have. “There are so many things at risk,” he thought to himself. As powerful as she appeared to be, it was highly convenient for him to have her within the Inquisition's inner circle.

On the chessboard, the black pieces had built a defensive strategy around the king. Meanwhile, the white ones played mostly offensively, expanding on the board. They carried on quietly for some minutes, thinking about their conversation and focusing on the game. After twelve moves, Solas threaten the black queen. Alyna pinched her lower lip with her fingers, absently, roaming her eyes over the board, trying to find the best move to save her. While focused on the game, the mage took the liberty to examine her features and expression with calmness. In a place like the one they were into, decontextualized in time and space, a faint memory of his previous life arose: a beautiful and interesting woman, a luxurious environment, an idle evening without thinking in the war the eroded his nation... The thought brought painful memories back that he hurried to brush away. 

Alyna saved her queen at the cost of a bishop (or mage as Solas called them) with a triumphant smile. Even so, Solas won in eight more moves, cornering the black king between his queen and the mage.

"No! That’s not possible!" the healer exclaimed reviewing her last decision and finally leaning back in the chair, defeated. Solas smirked when they spoke about the game and their tactics. The healer realized that he was a better player than he had shown at the beginning and she complained, playfully, under his confident stare. 

His eyes were all the time fixed on hers with intensity, studying and analyzing her. It was certainly disturbing at first; perhaps a cultural difference with wherever he was from. Or perhaps just a personal curious trait. But she held his gaze, internally amused once used to it. Solas was also interested in knowing more about her bond with the spirit and was also quite blunt in asking. Even if the topic would have been a taboo for the many, he was just curious about it, not shocked at all. So she told him about Compassion, their deal and how she used its Fade magic to amplify her own healing powers. Alyna could see that his curiosity was not completely fulfilled yet but he stopped himself from asking any further questions. Then, he talked about other spirits, like Hope or Wisdom, those he had met and those who remained unknown, and conversed during the whole night sharing experiences and knowledge within the Fade and Thedas. They both were passionate about history and mythology and, obviously, magic, and Solas knew a great deal about those topics. The mage wondered how did she manage to stay away from the Templars or if she had lived in a Circle before but he didn’t want to push her privacy as he considered it a very personal question.

Alyna raised her eyes to the sky when the light in the place emitted a small tinkle. "The dawn is coming," she told him.

The mage had noticed it too. He was amazed by how fast the night had gone. Suddenly, he stiffened as he felt someone calling his name in the distance. He gazed at Alyna one more time with a sincere smile. "I think is my time to wake up. Lethalas, Alyna. Thanks for this night."

And just like that, he disappeared, leaving her alone in the garden.

  

***

 

Varric shook him thoughtlessly because of his lack of response. He already knew that Solas had a very deep sleep, because of his Fade things, but it had never been that difficult to wake him up. "Solas, WAKE UP!" he shouted, shaking his shoulders.

Finally, the mage opened his eyes, freeing himself from his friend’s grip. "Shit, Varric, you are all subtleness," he complained.

"Oh, shut up! You sleep like a bloody log,  Chuckles! " the dwarf stated ironically.

Varric and his nicknames.  

Solas grunted and rubbed his eyes, brushing the rest of the Fade away from them. Then, stretched his limbs: he was not a morning person at all. All his companions were already awake and faint sunlight made its way through the curtains. Glenn and Cassandra were having breakfast with all their stuff already packed and ready to depart.

"Promise me that if I leave you alone you won’t get back to sleep" Varric carried on his teasing.

This time he glared at him while standing up, pushing Varric away. He could still smell the subtle perfume of the flowers and clung to it while washing his face. He treasured the memory of the night just in case his plan didn’t work.

Waiting was the only thing he could do.

 

***

 

Alyna didn’t have time to say her farewells. All of a sudden, the chair in front of her was vacant and a loneliness feeling invaded her. She also felt oddly determined at the same time. 

Wake up” she commanded to herself.

The healer sat up on her bed, rapid breathing and an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach, but the voices whispering in the living room calmed her down. She got up, washed her face and looked at her reflection in the mirror, which stared back at her with something similar to disappointment.

But she had made up her mind and, at the end of the day, she would be carry on helping, anyway.

The healer tied her hair up in a messy bun and kneeled on the floor, pulling out a chest from under her bed. She opened it and took out a soft nug leather bag. She packed some clothes in it, her healing instruments, a blanket, money and selection of ointments, potions and herbs she always had prepared for an emergency. She also pulled out a pair of dark leather boots and something wrapped in velvet fabric: her old dragon leather armour. The healer took her nightgown off and put the clothes on in order: taupe leggings, a sleeveless linen undershirt, a knee-length dark taupe jerkin and a lighter colour corset. Finishing the attire, the armour gloves: the left one up to her shoulder and the right one to her elbow, as she needed more flexibility on that one, the one she used the staff with. To ease the cold, she grabbed her black wolf cape and tied it up over her shoulders.

Alyna avoided to look at herself in the mirror this time, being aware that she had promised, two years ago, that all these adventures were to end. Obviously, a lie.

She grabbed her bag and opened her bedroom door. All the others were sitting around her table, looking at the map that the Inquisitor was pointing at. All the eyes reached up at her with her quiet good morning mumbling, and followed with surprise her strides in the living room: the healer could feel the Inquisitor’s sharp gaze on her back and, if anyone was surprised about her pointy ears, no one mentioned a word about it. She walked towards one of the wooden columns in the corner and pulled the front panel, which opened with a snap, revealing a hidden cupboard. She pulled out something as tall as her, covered in black velvet. Alyna unwrapped a staff made of a very unusual black wood, delicately carved, which branched off in three, holding a black spherical gem on the top. When the healer placed her hand on the hilt, the staff activated and the gem emitted a peculiar purple shine. Her eyes reflected the violet light as she stroked the polished wood with care and smiled at her old friend.

Finally, she closed the fake cupboard, turned around and walked towards her own table, speaking to the Inquisitor. "On second thoughts... I think I want to help you."

He nodded and didn’t ask anything about her change of mind. Not even if she would follow his orders or for how long she would stay with him. "Welcome," he just said, inviting her to sit down.

 

***

 

The healer left a note for Carly, her assistant. She would be the one holding the fort, having the responsibility of her healing tasks from now on: to make ointments, medicines, diagnose and treat patients. They had worked together for less than a year but she was a clever girl and had learnt the main bits quickly. She was also a mage, although not as powerful as Alyna was. The healer also begged her to look after her house during her absence.

"She’ll be all right", Varric told her when she finished writing, leaving the piece of paper on the table.

"I know…" she agreed, not extremely convinced, though. 

Alyna took a quick last look at her living room, sighed and closed the door. When she turned around, she saw her four new companions already on their mounts and couldn't avoid feeling nervous at the thought of starting a new adventure. She walked towards her old mare and, with the gracefulness of someone who has repeated the same movement a million times, hooked her foot in the stirrup and got on the horse. She wrapped herself on the cape and set off towards the others.

"Let’s go!" Varric exclaimed.

Chapter Text

During the two days that the trip to Haven lasted, Varric had enough time to catch up with his old friend and she got to know her new companions better. Normally, Glenn and Solas led the group, discussing the best route or the risks they might find on their journey. They both seemed to have broad knowledge of Thedas. Alyna and Cassandra had pacified their differences during the first-day riding: both were well aware that they represented the most distant ideologies, but they had found some sort of balance between them, skipping the thorny topics on purpose. At least, Cassandra was not throwing any more suspicious glimpses at her, which was a step forward in their relationship. 

"Cassandra, who leads the Inquisition apart of Glenn, then?" the mage wanted to know.

"Glenn is the only leader, even if he is not one hundred per cent aware of it. We all consider him like it," she explained. "He’s got advisors, though: Josephine Montilyet, the antivan noble; she's our ambassador and has a gift to deal with the aristocracy and rulers. A fantastic gift I must say: I find it exasperating”.

"She’s got a funny accent, too!" Varric interrupted.

Cassandra ignored him and continued. "Leliana Nightingale is from Orlais and she's our spymaster. Trust me, you'll never know how far her spy network reaches, you would be surprised. I cannot say I agree with her methods and her procedures are not always honourable, but she's good at what she does and we need her. Solas takes also part on the boards if he's asked to. He made a sudden appearance and I am not very proud to say that I was about to incarcerate him… twice," Alyna frowned at her and Cassandra pulled back "But he’s got a wide knowledge about the Fade, magic and Thedas history, which is very helpful. The last one is Cullen Rutherford, from Ferelden, an old Templar captain. He's become the Commander of the military forces and is the military advisor, too."

Varric glanced at Alyna when Cassandra mentioned this last name but her expression didn’t swift at all, probably pretending she hadn’t heard it. Although the dwarf picked a subtle change on the way she diverted the conversation focus. "I believe I recall meeting Leliana in one of my journeys, a very long time ago. Back then she was a bard, or that was what she told me. We shared a couple of songs and nothing else, to be honest. I’m not surprised to find her here. She seemed to be very capable and determined."

The green landscape of the Hinterlands led to a more rocky and undulating land, always with the Frostback Mountains at the horizon, whose peaks had begun to whiten because of the first fallen snow. A weak green light blinked in one of the deep valleys: the only visible sign of the breach on the Veil.

During the second day, being fully into the mountains now, the group was delayed because of the heavy rain and they had to camp in a clearing, putting back their arrival to Haven until the next morning. The forest was wet and the pile of twigs and trunks they had been able to collect to light a fire was not an exception. But Glenn was stubbornly trying to light it without Solas’ help. His specialization as a mage was pyromancy, apart of Fade magic, and he was the one who usually was in charge of that task.

"I was able to do this when I was young, I just want to check if I’m still able to do it by myself," he uttered, piling up the twigs and using tinder and flint to light it whilst the mage watched him over his shoulder, amused.

They make an odd team together,” Alyna observed, sitting against a trunk and watching them. Cassandra had come closer to the Inquisitor, trying to help him and Varric fidgeted around while giving useless instructions and advice.

After a few minutes and not obtaining any results, Solas decided to move closer to Alyna. "Enjoying the show?" he asked her with his usual half-ironic smile, sitting next to her.

She nodded with solemnity. "I think is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. They wouldn’t know what to do without us."

They looked at the group for a while, both chuckling sporadically with their pointless efforts they were making. The elf was generally self-contained, academic and way too serious, according to Varric. But she didn’t consider him such a thing: he had a sarcastic sense of humour, caustic sometimes and was definitively intelligent and eloquent. It was true that he seemed to be serious and not very prone to laugh. However, he chuckled and smiled very often, at least, when they both interacted.  

The previous night, Solas had visited her in the Fade for some hours. They played chess again, a game that Alyna won thanks to his clues. He told her about their journey around the Hinterlands closing small rifts and informed her about the progression and changes the Inquisition had gone through since its creation. They reviewed the events from the Temple of Sacred Ashes and the three following days when Glenn was unconscious after receiving the Anchor, the mage studying his recently acquired power. Alyna was naturally curious and she asked him thousands of different questions regarding those days, the origin of the Anchor and the Breach. And Solas had been more than pleased to answer them all, being the Fade his main speciality field. They didn’t mention any other personal information, nor asked about their lives, although the healer had developed some interest in the elf and frequently found herself wondering if he would mind sharing anything about himself. Certainly, she had enjoyed their conversation and his company too much. “We are both odd specimens,” she thought.

Alyna also believed he had a sort of an arrogant bearing he did his best to hide, like someone used to give orders, which was definitively in contrast with the fact that he was a stray apostate. But she thought it might have just been an odd first impression.

"How are you coping with the discomfort of the outdoors life?" he asked, breaking the silence and turning his head to meet her eyes.

"Well… To be honest, I thought I’d be better today but my back is as stiff as hell and I have terrible pain in my bottom every time I sit down. Apart from that, not too bad, thanks."

Her spontaneity made him chuckle. "I don’t think this comforts you at all but, in my experience, this itinerancy is repeated so frequently that you will get used to it again shortly."

She frowned at him and snorted ironically. "Great! You have just cheered me up, lethallin,"  she replied with a face.

"You are far too smiling and chatty, are you sharing magic tricks?" Varric interrupted them, having realized he was annoying the others while lighting the fire more than helping them.

"Yes, the basics about how to make dwarves disappear," Alyna replied, sarcastic.

"Oh! A nice and private elven chit-chat interrupted by the dwarf..." Varric added dramatically. "I hope you know your hostility doesn’t frighten me at all.”

Alyna showed a broad grin and thought about how much she had missed that sort of interaction. Her life had been certainly lonely the last two years confined in Redcliffe. She made the dwarf a gesture to sit by her other side, a kind of a peace offer that he accepted. 

"So... how long would have taken you to light a decent fire, Solas?" Varric asked.

"Less than twenty seconds for sure," the elf replied.

The three of them were now sitting against the knocked down trunk, not missing any of the pointless movements of the warriors. The situation was turning comical. "Are all humans that stubborn or just the ones we are dealing with?" he wondered, shaking his head.

"I don’t really know… probably all of them… but those are your friends, you know them better than I do," Alyna added.

The personal challenge of the Inquisitor finally produced good results after half-hour of intense work. And he looked elated, having been able to light a more or less decent fire to cook and warm themselves up. "Solas, I don’t think I’ll need your services anymore" Glenn chuffed.

"I will recall these words next time you ask for a magic barrier, Inquisitor," the mage ironized.

The atmosphere was jovial and relaxed as if the recent stab wound suffered had been deleted from their memories. They seemed to be just enjoying the moment.

 

***

 

They reached Heaven during the next morning, dismounted and left the horses in the stables. Leliana welcomed them by the gate and two servants helped the group with their belongings. The spy recognised the healer immediately, even after the passing time. They exchange greetings and a few words together with the Inquisitor and Varric. "I’m glad you have decided to join us," she mentioned with sincerity. "We need all the support we can get and your help will be precious with no doubt."

After a short report about the trip, Leliana thanked the healer for her role in the story. 

Then, they crossed together Haven's gates.

Haven was a small village considerably populated regarding its size. It was located at the very bottom of a valley on the East side of the Frostback. Dozens of massive tents, barracks and big size weapons settled on the outside of the wooden city walls where soldiers and cadets trained: the army’s campsite. A barricade made of long sharp stakes surrounded it as a first defensive barrier. Inside the walls, there were the population houses, the Chantry and a small fortified palace. The families of the soldiers, humans mostly, women and children, elders and Chanters wandered on the streets or conversed loudly in the life-full settlement.

"As you can see, our army is growing at a good pace," Glenn explained. "We have kept the houses in the walls for the weakest ones. All men above sixteen are trained to be a soldier, even if they have any other professions or jobs as well."

"But everyone joins in willingly," Leliana added to his explanation. "Either for faith or protection for their families. No one is obliged to enrol our army if they don’t want to."

Alyna nodded, finding curious the strong faith that people shared.

"We plan to sum up all the support we can to face the Breach and close it effectively. I’ll give you some time to settle in, but if you come to our operation room the day after tomorrow, we’ll update you with our next steps and future projects in detail, as well as having a quick chat about your skills."

"But first, I suppose you would like to rest," Leliana hit the mark. "As Glenn said before, we lack space and most of the families are currently sharing accommodation. However, Solas and Varric have a spare room in their house. Other option would be to set a bedroom up in the infirmary."

The healer didn’t hesitate. "Well, I don’t like to sleep in the same place where I work, especially if I will spend most of my time there," she replied.

"So be it! I’d like you to come to the meeting in the morning. Ask Solas to take you there. I’ll see you then!"

Alyna smiled at him as he left and Leliana called Varric, who was speaking to someone a few steps behind them. She acquainted him about their new housemate.

"Just like the old days!" he exclaimed cheerfully as grabbing her arm. "Come with me, I’ll show you where our home is."

The healer rolled her eyes and waved bye to Leliana. Then, she let the dwarf drag her through Haven towards her new home.

 

***

 

The door creaked slightly when she tried to close it and had to push it harder to get it fully shut. The healer lied on the bed where somebody, probably Solas, had left a set of clean linen. Alyna noted down she had to thank him later. "Well, at least is comfortable," she said to herself testing the mattress and the pillow where she left a damp mark because of her wet hair: she has just had a bath.

The house was not very big. Neither small, but old and creaky. Varric had chosen the master bedroom on the ground floor, where there was also a kitchen, a living room and a toilet with, oddly, their own bathtub. “I can’t cope with heights, they kill me” he excused himself, being aware he had chosen the best bedroom in the house.

One of the rooms on the first floor was Solas’, so the other one would be hers. "It’s not a palace, but I have slept in worse places," she thought.

The healer got up and the boards on the floor creaked under her feet. She walked towards the window and opened it, looking outside. There were not too many two-storey houses in the village and life seemed bubbly in the street. After scanning around, blinded by the exterior sunlight, she decided to organize her belongings in the small chest of drawers and leave her potions, healing instruments and scarce books on the desk. Then, she dressed up with a beige shirt, brown leather leggings and her elven footstraps. Although she had been raised using shoes and boots regularly, which she still wore for riding and with her armour for obvious reasons, she had gotten used to the traditional elven footwear after living with the dalish, finding it more natural.

She opened the door and went down the stairs while hearing Solas’ argument with Varric about the time the dwarf spent in the bathroom every time he had to bathe.

"C’mon Solas, I have to scrub a lot!" the dwarf replied. "Look at all this chest hair..."

Solas frowned and muttered a common swore in Elven, making Alyna smile, before getting into the small bathroom, shutting the door behind him.

Varric was still wet, his waist wrapped in a towel and sitting on the sofa. His ginger hair was already tied up in a ponytail and he looked well-built with no clothes on, wide and chunky as a dwarf should be. He was mocking, ironic and loved teasing, although his manners revealed a wealthy family background.

"Marital problems?" the healer asked his friend, sitting next to him. 

"I’m a misunderstood... and he’s a grump!" he shouted loud enough to be heard behind the door, before changing the subject and lowering his voice. "Alyna, did you hear that Cullen is here?"

She nodded, with a neutral expression on her face. "Yes… It’s fine."

He looked preoccupied now. "Ok, but if you need to talk, you know where I am."

The healer showed him a faint smile.

Chapter Text

Varric was elated about Alyna joining the Inquisition and he decided to host a celebration: a sort of private party for his closest friends. He bought a piglet in the morning and spent the whole afternoon spinning it on the skewer, roasting it slowly in their little rear garden, Kirkwall style. Solas was in a meeting with the Inquisitor, so he would miss the cooking process, and Cassandra would also join in later on. The healer was thankful about having some private time to catch up with his old friend while drinking pints of Orzammar ale. They had exchanged frequent correspondence and knew the main events that had happened in each other's lives after their little adventure into the Deep Roads. But they hadn't had the chance to meet face to face, until now. "So, what have you been up to these years, then?" Alyna asked, sitting on the grass. "Because you have told me very little about what happened in Kirkwall with the Champion… I am not surprised at all you were in the middle of the revolt!"

"Yeah, well… What can I say? I’m a lucky guy!" he snorted, "After our journey together I had nothing better to do so I got really engaged in helping him. Hawke has always been a bad influence... A good paragon, but a very bad influence. Things changed after the Chantry was blown up by... well, you know. A disaster. But then, it was time to rebuild and with my brother gone, I was the only one who could give a helping hand with my family business, I guess." 

The healer knew very little about Varric's brother, just the fact he got mad during one of their incursions in the Deep Roads. So all the responsibility of the family business would rely on his friend one day, even if he never asked for it. She perfectly knew Varric was not very fond of helping with the management of the imports and exports empire, although he was very good at it. The business was based in Antiva and they transported goods across different cities and ports in Thedas. The most important one: Kirkwall. His writer facet was also there, meaning a good source of income from time to time and some recognition. As he liked to say, “I’m not even a good writer, but I give people what they want to read and that’s why I am so famous!"

"Well, all that means you have settled down somehow, haven’t you?" Alyna said after sipping some beer.

Varric pulled a face. "Aly, I’m a respectable businessman right now. You see me as a drunk dwarf, spinning a piglet in a tiny trashed backyard. And you'd be right, I have to admit. But you’d be surprised with the net of contacts I have grown in that city...." he said making a toast. "People respect me".

Alyna laughed in front of the very different picture she had of his friend right now. A bunch of his dealers and customers would be amused if they would be able to see him. "And you were there during the falling of the Circle… Where everything began..." she confirmed. "I heard you got along with Hawke. The book was very interesting, by the way."

"Well, yes, you know me, too tempting, I couldn’t stay put," he said without giving any more details. "I met him some time ago and we got along very well. That bloody little prick... It all began clearing up a bit of darkspawn in the Deep Roads before I travelled there with you."

"And… do you have any news about him…?" Alyna asked, raising an eyebrow with honest curiosity.

Varric exchanged a smirk with her, shrugging at the same time. "Not a clue. And stop asking: you know my lips are sealed."

It was not true. The healer knew Varric and Hawke were still close. He had helped the Champion and his elf partner to flee from the city after everyone thought he was involved in blowing up the Chantry. Obviously, neither the Chantry and the Templars were very pleased about his role in it: it didn’t matter that Hawke would have become a powerful member of the public and Kirkwall diplomacy: they both wanted his head on a silver platter.  

In that same moment, Cassandra and Solas showed up by the rear door. Varric glanced in a meaningful way to Alyna in order to change the topic: the Seeker from the Chantry had been assigned to Kirkwall after everything that happened and took part in the hunt when Hawke disappeared. She even interrogated Varric back in those days. The last thing he wanted was to slip any inconvenient word about the Champion that could give away his location. "But that’s enough chatting about me. Let’s talk about you. What Circle were you into when all this commotion blew up? It was Kinloch, wasn’t it?" he said diverting the conversation to her life.

She smiled, shaking her head. Kirkwall had been the catalyst for a chain reaction in all the Circles in Thedas but before it happened some of the Circles were already showing their disagreements with the Templars and their repression. When Alyna and Varric ended their commercial agreements, the rumours of the Circle revolts were growing loud and fast. However, the fire took some time to ignite completely. She was an apostate: she had never set foot in any Circle of Magi and was terrified about the fact of ending her days in one. Despite that, she felt morally obliged to join the mage revolt. That is how she met Knight-Captain Cullen. His friend perfectly knew those details but his off-topic drift worked and caught Cassandra’s and Solas’ attention. She asked herself how open-minded the Seeker would be for dealing with her story, as the healer could already feel her eyes piercing her skull. "You’re going to get me into trouble, Varric. If I confess my faults in front of her I’ll be the first one ending up in a new Circle if they are rebuilt," the healer teased her.

Cassandra cawed an ironic laugh while she helped herself a beer. It was Solas the one who spoke, standing up for the Seeker. "I am sure Cassandra is over that stage now as we are all fighting for the common good. Also, if she has not sent me to the dungeons yet... again... I do not think she will do it to you."

"Ok, I’ll trust you, then," Alyna winked at him. "Anyway, you’ll go in first for sure."

"Can you stop talking about me as if I won’t be here, please?" Cassandra exhorted. "I am a member of the Inquisition first."

"And I’m still waiting for my answer..." outlined Varric, finishing off his beer.

Solas poured himself a drink and another one for his friend and sat by the healer on the grass.

"Yes, I was in Kinloch Hold. How easy it would have been just to come back to Redcliffe… or even to Orlais!" Alyna explained. "How many troubles I would have avoided..."

"Have you ever lived in a Circle?" Solas dared to ask, at last.

Alyna shook her head. "No. Never. I’ve always been an apostate and I’ve always been free, in spite of Compassion’s power..." she looked to the Seeker immediately, eyes wide open, realizing what she has just admitted in front of her. 

But Cassandra played it down with a gesture before adding. "Knowing this much, probably the Templars would put me in jail as well as an accomplice."

"Ok, ok… but what happened?" Varric hurried her.

Alyna was trying to dodge the question as much as she could. "It happened that I’m too stupid and instead of going on my way I decided to join in with the mage resistance in Kinloch and free the Circle. The news flew after what happened in Kirkwall and the revolution spread like wildfire. But we lost control during our mission. Our task was basically to clear a path for the mages to escape, but when we were able to go through the magic defences we realized what had happened inside: the mages summoned demons to finish off the Templars and most of them had already been cruelly killed. Then, the demons turned against their summoners and murdered them, out of control. Others possessed the remaining mages, turning them into abominations and wandered around, just hunting everyone. There was a point when the right thing to do was to rescue the survivors, whatever side they belonged to, and neutralise the creatures."

"Something similar happened in a Circle in Nevarra," Cassandra added. "It was a massacre, although many of the revolts were peaceful, I have to say."

Thedas had many dark periods over its history but the fall of the Circles of Magi wasn’t the worst of them. However, it had been the most liberating for a huge part of its population. The continent had also gone over five Blights at the expense of a high level of lives. The last one only ten years ago. The fight that obliged all races in Thedas to join forces against an Archdemon.

Varric also knew what happened after the liberation of the Circle and, although he wanted to ask her how she was after all the story, he decided to keep it to himself considering the sharp look she pulled at him when the dwarf opened his mouth again to carry on with the interrogation: Alyna saved Cullen in Kinloch, where he had been based after Kirkwall. But clearly she didn’t want to share that part of her past with anyone.

However, Solas noticed the healer’s sign to the dwarf and he knew that the story didn’t finish there: she was probably trying to avoid mentioning the information that had been discussed during the board that afternoon.

"Can I ask you something?" Cassandra took part then, unaware of the nonverbal conversation that had just happened. They all waited for the Seeker to ask, Alyna thankful about the change of subject. "I’ve never had... this close contact with apostates before I joined the Inquisition and I’ve got a question bothering me... How is it possible you have gone unnoticed all this time? Has it been just good luck?"

Alyna and Solas exchanged a glance, shrugging slightly, waiting for the other to speak first. It was Solas who began. "I wouldn't consider it just good luck. Indeed, being a mage has been easier since the Circles fell, as we can be all be named apostates now. Before, keeping a low profile was essential, as well as minimising the use of magic. Not remaining for a long time in the same location, too. Although you cannot avoid the tension of being discovered, the perspective of ending in a Circle is crueller, so I guess you just do your best to survive."

The healer found herself identified in his words, but also added something else. "And it’s not just the spell practise: Templars are also able to detect magic auras... Our mana.  As well as nullify and dispel magic thanks to the lyrium. Some mages are better than others in hiding their power, even being able to make it completely disappear. That's what has allowed me…" she corrected herself, glimpsing at Solas "Well... allowed us to go unnoticed for so long. I’m really good at hiding my power and I think it has been determinant in guaranteeing my freedom."

Solas agreed. Some years ago, that was the main difference between being an apostate or ending up locked in a Circle. He had to learn, for his own sake. And it was utterly strange; completely alien since the Veil was in place, already limiting his power. But he even had to learn how to cast again.

"Like pretending you’re human when you’re an elf?" Varric asked, trying to find an understandable simile.

The healer twisted a smile in response. “Sort of.”

The dwarf got closer to the mages and lifted up a hand towards them, shaking it in the air in a comical gesture. Solas frowned in response, confused. "Varric, what are you doing?"

"Is it not something you can feel? The aura-thing, I mean," the dwarf asked.

Solas chuckled, amused, and Alyna burst into laughter. Cassandra had also come closer with curiosity. 

"It doesn’t work that way, Varric. You have to be a mage or have some kind of Templar training. And be hooked on lyrium, I suppose. For example, I can feel Solas’ magic right now, the same way I imagine he feels mine. It's like… a tingling sensation, I’d say? It grows, depending on how powerful the mage is. Although it can shrink and even disappear." It didn't go unnoticed to her how Solas' magic brushed over hers with her comment. A subtle gentle touch. But well-timed, making her fully aware of his presence next to her. Some auras were more compatible than others and, despite the fact that Alyna had been well aware of his magic since they first met, she didn't realize how pleasant she found being close to him.

"That actually sounds quite dirty, doesn’t it? Stop touching your auras in public!" Varric joked with a loud rumbling laugh.

They all chuckled at the teasing, but Alyna also blushed slightly: she had always being quite aware of how easy was to make her blush with any silly comment. And Solas seemed to notice too, and couldn't help a hint of internal amusement. “That is unexpected, as she always looks so self-confident…” The elf changed the topic. "Do you want to try, Varric?" he invited while creating a soft electricity spell around him that made Varric feel a tingling sensation in his hand.

Due to Varric’s satisfied smile, Cassandra lifted her arm forwards towards the mage, pulling away immediately with a terrified expression. Alyna laughed and made a toast with the Seeker still showing a deep panic face. "To your first magic experience, Cassandra."

Chapter Text

Solas walked Alyna to the small castle the next day, conversing about how organized the place looked like. "It is true that everything is very well planned: Glenn is a good leader but he is also able to delegate when necessary and accepts advice from the others around him. In my opinion, his decisions have benefited the growing and expansion of the movement and they are… or better said, we are doing a good job. Fear makes people stick together and work for the common benefit and the Inquisition is a clear example of it. "

"Do you think is viable? I mean, closing the Breach."

The mage nodded. "I hope so. All kind of support is being gathered for it. We have pending to contact Templars and Mages, asking for their cooperation and conditions to do so," he continued with his usual academic tone. Solas also told her that the Breach hadn’t stopped growing since it appeared, making clear how urgent was to end that madness as soon as possible. "You more than anyone should know how magic is: unpredictable. And that is my biggest fear" he confessed. "Anything could happen, even to get there with a splendid army not being able to confront the anomaly or do anything at all against it. That is why I consider a priority to enrol all the mages we can."

Alyna thought over his considerations. "I’d like to talk to you in more detail about the nature of the Breach and what we’ll need to close it if you don't mind. Although your comment about enrolling all the mages we can have made me feel ordinary," she complained, with a sly tone.

The mage twisted a smile. "I would like to provide you with all the information you require and investigate together in order to find any other theory or perspective I might have missed. And I didn’t mean to cause offence with my statement: you know full well that you are not an ordinary mage for me," he said holding her gaze and the door, letting her go in first.

Small flirt, meaning nothing. She grinned at him while entering the room.

They remained silent while walking in the corridors but Solas perceived a small change in the usually secure healer's steps. It was practically imperceptible but it was there: she seemed insecure. "Is everything all right?" he asked when they reached the place, noticing she had stopped in front of the closed door.

Then, she breathed deeply before answering, expressionless. "Yes", she said, pushing it open.

  

***

 

A circular room with long windows opening on the walls and a massive map of Thedas laid on the table was the first thing Alyna saw when she came in. Different locations were marked with small banners and different colour pawns and there were four people waiting for her, talking about locations and troop deployments. Glenn was standing in the middle, leaning onto the map, his hands resting on the edge of the table. He raised his eyes when heard the door being opened and smiled. "Alyna, thanks for joining us. This is Leliana, again; Josephine, our ambassador; Cullen, our military assessor and you already know Solas."

The healer shook hands with Leliana and introduced herself to Josephine fumbling in Antivan. Then, she greeted Cullen with a fake smile that he gave her back convincingly. She stood besides Solas, who hadn’t missed any of her movements, with her heart still pounding painfully in her chest.

She wouldn't take part on the board regularly but they all agreed on the value of their new asset and wanted to know her opinions in some matters. Alyna sided with the idea of recruiting the mages in Orlais urgently. Then, Josephine asked about her knowledge on the Empire and the healer realized her life had probably been investigated. She explained she had been in contact with Orlais aristocracy when she lived in Val Royeaux and Val Foret, working as a healer. She had also travelled Tevinter and the Free Marches and was able to speak Elven, Orlesian and Common tongue, apart of fumble through some Antivan, too.

"It doesn’t look like an elf normal curriculum, no offence," Josephine mentioned.

"No offence taken, don’t worry. And, yes, I’m aware that my life has been... diverse?" she replied, raising an eyebrow. "But you already knew all these, am I right?"

Josephine smiled: it was true that Leliana had drawn a full life timeline since the healer had abandoned Redcliffe, being 16, until she came back there two years ago: trips, battles, friends, locations, romances… She sighed with a crooked grin and decided to ignore the fact of being exposed, avoiding Cullen’s gaze at the same time. 

The Inquisitor observed her conversing with his advisors, sharing points of view and opinions and thought how grateful he was with her decision of joining in. An hour later, the meeting was finished: Alyna would have a leading post in the infirmary and would travel with the Inquisitor when he requires her to, which would be very often. Some of the inner circle members would travel to Therinfal as a first approach to the Templars, a mission no mages were accounted for. However, she would go to the Storm Coast and to Val Royeaux to deal with the exiled mages in a couple of months.

When the meeting was finished and the general curiosity fulfilled, Glenn asked his advisors to stay for a little longer to discuss their next journey, so the healer said her goodbyes and left the room. Only after a few steps, she heard the door being opened again and quickly shut. Then, someone’s steps followed her.

Cullen grabbed her arm without courtesy and stopped her in her tracks, making her turn around to face him. Alyna realized his fingers stung in her flesh even over her clothes. "I need to talk to you," he whispered gravely. He didn’t sound aggressive, probably just regretful.

The healer pulled her arm free with harsh steel eyes. "Not here and not now," she answered coldly taking some steps back, putting some distance in between them. "Actually, there’s nothing to talk about."

Being aware there were more people in the corridor and that the situation had attracted some attention, he recovered some composure. "Come to the military camp to see me, I beg you."

"Maybe. Do not touch me again," she ended, intentionally sounding threatening.

 

***

 

Alyna spent the whole afternoon occupied in the infirmary, introducing herself to her new colleagues. There were just three healers, none of them a mage. However, she had to admit that their practice was just fine: they lacked specialised knowledge and experience, things she would be able to provide. She explained to them how to distil the wound-close ointment and they used it in a couple of patients that same afternoon with a very positive result. They all agreed on what a relief having a mage in the infirmary was and how her skills would improve the well-being of the patients.

When she arrived home, Alyna decided to go straight to bed and hide in the Fade, trying not to overthink on her reencounter with Cullen, and so she did. Compassion joined her after a couple of hours and she told her about her decision and her new location. And he was happy for her. Compassion was not a very common spirit-like entity: he had the appearance of a teenager, blond, long-haired and somehow sloppy. Cole was the name sometimes he used for himself instead of Compassion. He left after midnight, leaving her alone with her thoughts until Solas came in.

"I don’t think I'm the best company today..." she breathed out as a greeting.

"Well, I'm willing to take that risk," he replied, witty. "If I see what you said it’s true, I can always leave."

She pulled a face but was relieved for having someone to talk with. Especially someone who could keep her mind busy.

"So… Tevinter, Orlais, the Free Marches… you have been almost to every part of Thedas," he began, clasping his hands behind his back in a very characteristic position, inviting her to walk along with a gesture of his head.

The healer stood up and joined him. Obviously, he wanted to enquire into her story but that didn't bother her. She was curious about him too, so she will pay him back. "As it’s been said," she stressed those words on purpose "I left Redcliffe when I was 16. I lived with a dalish clan trying to find out my origins and learning Elven, history and healing… They never thought of me as one of them, though. Even more when I refused to be honoured with a vallaslin, so I ended up leaving. Deep down I was grateful for it, for their rejection, because I realized that was not the life I wanted. I have been mostly nomadic since then." A halfway truth.

"That explains a lot…" he added enigmatically, not asking her any further questions. "Don’t be offended about your report. Leliana has done it to all of us, you are not the only one. May I ask why you were an elf growing and living as a human in Redcliffe?"

Alyna smiled wryly, looking sharply at him, asking herself how deep the mage already knew about her and how much would have been shared with the advisors. "This is not a fair trade, Solas: it seems to me that you know everything about me already and, even so, you are still asking me stuff," she complained about with a sarcastic tone.

The mage understood she was offended. "I am sorry if my question has disturbed you. It was not my intention to make you feel uncomfortable, nor being meddling. I will understand if you don’t want to answer me."

Alyna sighted. She didn’t mean to sound that aggressive and Solas... well, they got along and she could ever consider him her friend. "Don’t be sorry, it’s all right, you haven’t bothered me. I told you: today is not being my best day, definitely," she explained crossing her arms, feeling slightly ashamed.

Not many people knew her story and he asking meant not all had been revealed.

"Going back to your question, my adoptive mum was a human apostate who found me alone and crying with less than three years on the limit of the forest close to Redcliffe. Being compassionate, she decided to take me home with her. She had ever been able to have children on her own and her husband passed away the previous winter, so I think she took me as a sort of a blessing and adopted me, saying I was one of her orphan nieces. She perfectly knew how difficult life is for elves, so she didn’t mention to anyone the fact I was one of them. She raised me as a human being sure that my life would be easier doing it and… she also performed some kind of magic to prevent my ears to grow," the healer told with a kind of amusement. "It was a surprise for her discovering my magic too."

The elf frowned while listening to her story with an ounce of disapproval: Solas had already noticed the malformation on her ears that, in spite of being pointed, were considerably smaller than the usual elven ones. But, as a result, easier to be hidden. 

Facing his lack of response and his serious gesture, she carried on. "I can’t blame her at all about her doing. She loved me and did what she thought it would be better for me. She taught me all the magic she knew and how to hide my aura and never denied my roots. She even helped me digging for information about my past and my race when I began asking questions," she recalled with a nostalgic smile. "She passed away a couple of years ago when I came back to Redcliffe."

"I’m sorry," he said.

Alyna looked at him and played it down with a gesture. "She was old and had a full life, according to her. It was the next step on the cycle."

Solas smiled thinly because of her approach. "Have you been able to figure out anything about your birth?"

The healer shook her head. "Nope, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to: elves don’t keep reports on the births and I don’t have anything at all to look for. But I can live with it, just to let you know, in case you are concerned about my elven alienation."

He chuckled. "Glad to hear you are all right with it, then," he said ironically. "I just think is curious to find another elf feeling uprooted with our race."

"Not feeling fond on your people either?" she asked casually.

"I don’t consider dalish my people, now you asked," he answered shortly, emphasising the word dalish .

Alyna glanced at him with a strange gesture. "Well, who are your people, then. Where were you born?"

Varric had told her that Solas was generally discreet but she threw the question anyway. She has just told him her whole story after all. He took a moment to answer, as making an effort to recall. "I was born in a small village in the North of the Dales, the oldest of three brothers. It was a kind of a colony, just elven. Since I was a child I had the gift of forming a friendship with spirits. I was also very talented with my magic and as a teenager, I overtook any other mage around me. And I decided to flee. I was arrogant and ambitious, a very explosive combination in a full-of-pride mage."

"And then?" she wanted to know.

He seemed evasive now. "Travelling around, visiting the Fade in each place, learning… Not as different as you, I believe. Tevinter is a very dangerous place to visit as an elf," he changed the attention focus subtly.

She stared at his purplish eyes, slightly challenging: she will make him talk, eventually. "I was a human in Tevinter, too. Anyway, I didn’t stay very long there: I couldn’t cope with slavery and the religious Magisterium thing… The Circles of Magi were still ongoing and I remember being terrified about being discovered: an elf and an apostate… I don’t even want to think about what they would have done with me. Have you ever been there?" she asked him.

"Not at the same time as you, although the Magocracy and the Chantry were at their height. I also visited Kirkwall and its slave markets on different occasions and they horrified me," Solas frowned and harden his gesture with his last statement, showing his disgust. "Sadly is not just Tevinter and Kirkwall. I understand you want to hide being an elf, you cannot be blamed for it."

They walked for a little longer speaking about the Alienages they have both visited and the topic digressed into healing, theme in which the mage was not well versed, with very basic knowledge about. Alyna explained she had learnt her techniques with the dalish and also in Tevinter and Orlais. She offered him to borrow one of her basic healing books when they had the chance and even doing some practice if he was interested.

"Can I ask you something else?" she looked at him, questioning. "Kind of personal, I mean."

He nodded quietly, intrigued.

"How have you survived all this time not getting caught by the Templars?" she asked with honest curiosity. "I don’t mean to offend you but being older than me you must have lived for longer being exposed."

"It is not an offence if it is true," he replied, twisting a smile, although he hadn't. "As well as you, I am good at concealing my magic when necessary".

Alyna glanced at him trying to figure out how old he could be as she had never been very good judging ages, and this time it was no different. He had discreet wrinkles on the corner of his eyes and looked quite experienced... mature, although she doubted his baldness was a choice or not.

He seemed to notice the scrutiny he was being subjected to, glimpsing at her thoughts. "Ten... twelve more than you?" he commented without context, the healer realizing immediately what he was talking about.

Definitely, he didn’t look like. The healer smiled, flirty. "Old enough to call you hahren, I suppose" she teased him.

Solas chuckled at the term, as he hadn't hear it for a very long time on anyone's lips, especially referring to him. "However, I don’t think I can name you da’len, lethallan," he admitted, locking his eyes on hers. Probably he could. But not in these times, though.

It was Alyna's turn to chuckle: she was obviously not a child for elven standards anymore and she could say proudly that she had experience and knowledge. The same as him. She carried on with the playful conversation, a wide smile on her face now, faking outrage. "I hope you are not suggesting I am too old being 29, Solas."

"I would be shooting myself in the foot affirming that, so is far from my intention. I think your age is perfect as it is," he replied boldly.

A strange but nice compliment and Alyna grinned, enjoying the idea of their casual flirting. Two years locked in Redcliffe had been a long time, those attentions were enjoyable.

They carried on talking all night as if they were old friends. 

Chapter Text

"What do you want to talk about?" she blurted out at Cullen in the evening, startling him.

It had already been a month since she moved to Haven. She had got used to the structured life in the village, to his housemates and has blended perfectly in the infirmary, where she was already leading.

The Inquisitor and some of the Inner Circle members, Varric included, had gone to Therinfal redoubt to deal with the Templars - no mages for this mission, though - in order to ask them to join the Inquisition’s army. But his leader, Knight-Captain Denam, had gone crazy about his own demons and the use of red lyrium and attacked them. Half of their soldiers stood against him and refused to follow his orders, but the other half, under the influence of red lyrium as well, fought against the Inquisition. What it was meant to be a simple diplomatic mission ended up in a bloody battle. Thanks to the Maker, the Inquisitor finally won and the Templar order was officially disbanded when Commander Cullen killed his old leader. The remaining members were offered to join the Inquisition army and fight under its banner. Some of them accepted, some of them didn’t. There were no prisoners made within the Red Templars.

They came back just a week ago and many soldiers required medical attention. That was why the healer had spent most of her time in the military camp, running into Cullen with frequency. Definitely, more often than she would have liked to. The thought of holding this conversation was eating her alive and she was in a constant bad mood since she realized they should actually speak. "I have to do it, for the sake of my mental health, and I have to do it as soon as possible,” she thought that same morning.

And there she was. She had gotten into his tent like a storm, looking as cold and rough as one. 

"I’m sorry. I thought you wouldn’t come," he mumbled, springing up.

"And yet, here I am..."

The Commander stared at her, trying to find the words for a speech he had long ago make up. His expression was difficult to read. "Alyna, I… Damn it! I don’t know how to start... I want to apologize, for everything. For what happened and how I treated you," he began, looking utterly sorry.

The healer glared at him with steel eyes, waiting for the Commander carry on with whatever he wanted to say.

"It was a very difficult time for me, without lyrium… I was lost… And you saved me. You were all my world... And I feel guilty about how I left you. And even more about what I did. I would never mean to hurt you, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t control myself."

Alyna remained quiet, shaky breath and trying to read his expression with her heart racing in her chest. He looked genuinely sorry and honest although he had never contacted her to apologize and he only did it when all their story had probably been aired in the Inquisition. She gave herself three breaths to calm down and think about what her answer should be, trying to figure out how she felt about his words. She was still deeply hurt. And angry. That hadn’t changed. Less than before, though, no doubt of it. "Thanks for your apology, Cullen," she deep breathed again and continued. "As I said, it’s been a long time. It still hurts, very bad, but the time had made it bearable. And, no. I don’t think I can forgive you. Not yet." 

Cullen nodded with a gloomy expression in his puppy eyes, making Alyna even feel sorry for him. But then she recalled what she was doing there and whose fault it was. "I don’t want this to be an obstacle for our professional tasks with the Inquisition. We are both adults and I was the most affected. So, swallow your remorse and get over it!" she blurted out, resented, but doing her best effort to keep her voice calmed.

He listened to her disdain and clenched his jaws in response. The conversation hadn’t gone as he expected, not even by far. She was different, stronger, and seemed that there was nothing left of them both. "I only wanted you to know that I’m sorry and I’ll do my best to work together. I won’t bother you anymore with this".

Alyna's breath was still shallow when she nodded and left the tent, not even saying goodbye. She didn’t look back when she walked into the evening, back to the village. Having faced him felt good, but she couldn’t stop her eyes flood. Two pained tears rolled down her cheeks, impossible to keep them hidden anymore. But she had already shed enough tears for him during those years, so she decided to head to the tavern and celebrate that she had been able to shut that chapter of her life once and for all.

 

***

 

Weak candle lights and soft lute music. And over everything, the unintelligible mumbling of people who, like her, had nothing better to do on a Friday evening. Alyna stood by the bar and caught the attention of Gretchen, the owner. She ordered two shots of liquor and a pint of cider and drank them both right away after served, wrinkling her nose. They burned all the way down to her stomach, but it felt just fine.

Someone touched her shoulder softly and she knew it was Solas even before turning to face him. "Your mana precedes you," she joked.

"I would be worried if not," he replied with irony. Then, he looked at the two already empty glasses on the counter. "I'm with Varric on a table over there and I believe his intention is to get pissed, too. Do you want to join us?"

Alyna spotted Varric on a table in the middle of the overcrowded place. He waved his hand and she smiled faintly. But their company was not precisely what she was looking for at that moment. "Ehm…" she doubted, rubbing her forehead whilst trying to provide an excuse.

The elf confirmed then that something was going on. Although she maintained she was alright, the healer had been certainly evasive during the last week. "Alyna, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to, but I'm concerned about you. I'm fully aware that you have been avoiding me. And Varric." 

She looked up at Solas and sighed. It had been three days since the last time she visited him in the Fade and they had exchanged just a few words in real life.  And with Varric. Having in mind they all lived in the same house, she understood they both were concerned. Besides, he mentioned he was worried about her. The thought of him caring for her spread a warm feeling in her chest. "Ok," she surrendered in the end. "Let’s go."

Before moving she turned back to Gretchen and asked for the whole bottle of liquor and three glasses. Then, she followed the broad back of the elf back to their table.

"Happy eyes! If the healers in the infirmary have kidnapped you or are threatening you in any way, blink twice," Varric teased her, wryly.

She pulled a face that was meant to be a smile and sat in front of him, next to Solas, leaving the bottle on the middle of the table with a thump. "Solas is right, like almost always, and I have to admit that I’ve been avoiding you. Not just you: almost everyone," she confessed with honesty while pouring the liquor in the glasses. "I’ve been an awful housemate and an even worse friend, but I had my reasons. Very good reasons, trust me. And today, I’m celebrating, so shall I make up for it with a drink?"

Solas caught a glimpse with Varric, who chuckled and shrugged. Drinking was a culturally outstanding way to say sorry for dwarves and acceptable for elves. They all lifted a shot and waited for her to make the toast. "To the assholes," she pronounced with solemnity and a loud-enough voice to be heard in half of the tavern. Varric roared with laughter and Solas snorted before drinking up to the bottoms.

They had a couple of really interesting hours, talking and joking, finishing off every last drop of the liquor. Varric sang a couple of songs with the bard Maryden, gathering a huge applause at the end, while Alyna and Solas talked animatedly, the elf even laughing sporadically. When the dwarf finished his performance, he stumbled back to his stool with a harsh expression, probably drunk enough to stop avoiding the topic. "Well, what did he tell you?"

Alyna darkened her smile, knowing it was time to speak about the matter she had been dodging since they had set foot in Haven. She took some time to answer his question, though. "He said he is sorry. He felt guilty and he apologized, basically. Ah! And asked me for forgiveness," she stated with a sad half-smile.

Varric snorted and addressed to Solas. "You know who we are talking about, don’t you?" then looked back at Alyna. "Does he know?"

Solas answered before Alyna did. "I think you mean Cullen, am I right?"

"Yes… You hit the bulls-eye! Is it that obvious?" she complained of with an exasperated gesture.

"No, it's not. But something was mentioned during a board meeting," the mage replied.

Alyna sighed with a grimace.

"I can break his legs if you ask me to. Just say the words..." Varric offered, making her smile.

"Nah, it's been a long time. It isn't worth the effort, now," she joked. "And I think I mean it... I'm just fine."

Solas kept himself out of their conversation. Thanks to the board, he knew that the Commander and Alyna had been romantically involved some years ago. And he also had a slight idea about how wrong things ended between them. He didn’t know the whole picture, though, and felt certainly reluctant to ask. But Alyna considered him a good friend and the alcohol had loosen her tongue enough to recall, numbing the pain. "After the matter of the Circle of Magi, in Kinloch… four years ago now… Cullen was one of the Templars we got out alive. He wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t been there," she made a pause, spinning the glass in between her fingers and forcing a smile. "We ended up together. I believe he was thankful and lost after I saved him. Cullen didn’t want to be a Templar anymore and it was not the first time he had nearly lost his life fighting for the Order. I offered him support and a starting point to rebuild his life. Something to hold onto after everything he knew was destroyed. We fled to the North, escaping the revolts and the Templars, but the lyrium came to an end after some time."

Solas listened quietly as well as Varric did. The dwarf obviously knew most of the story because Alyna had written to him several times trying to desperately find some lyrium for the Commander. Even if Varric knew many smuggler groups and dealers that trafficked with it, it got to a point when it became such an exclusively substance that was impossible to find any left in Thedas: it disappeared from the market gradually just as the remaining Templars, still addicts, had raids to confiscate it.

"He had a terrible withdrawal syndrome… violent most of the times. I used magic to protect myself and restrain his movements, trying not to harm him. But, even so, he hit me one day. Pretty bad. And I knocked him out with a spell. I hit the ceiling and I trashed our house with magic... I guess the lack of lyrium, fear about my reaction and his own guilt when he realized what he did were determinants, even if I forgave him... He left the day after, when I was not at home, to go back with the Order I suppose. We've never seen each other again. Until now..." Alyna pinched her lower lip with her fingers, thoughtful for some seconds, while her friends looked at her with seriousness. "I hope it was more or less accurate to what Leliana told you," she finally said with a thin smile that didn't reach her eyes.

"She didn’t give any details, just mentioned the fact you two were together for some time. He also admitted things didn’t end up well."

"They did not, for sure... I bet that the afternoon we met in the board you were all expectant to see how we interacted," she joked, tired.

"If there was any discomfort, trust me, it was not perceived."

The healer gave him a sarcastic look being aware he was not telling the truth. She thanked him for the lie, anyway.

"Did he gave you a reason why…?" Varric wanted to know after a long silence.

Alyna shook her head. "Not really… Although I don’t really want to hear it now, if I am honest with you," she admitted.

Varric stood up and made the toast this time. "To the bastards", he said.

The three of them drank.

Chapter Text

Varric had noticed some changes in Solas’ behaviour lately. He had met the elf six months ago, given or taken, and the dwarf had always described him as grumpy and stuck-up. The mage was always thoughtful and serious, and his most frequent expression of joy was his characteristic half-smile or a subtle chuckle. Varric, fond on nicknames, had precisely designated him as Chuckles ironically.

They found each other on a crossroad in the Free Marches. Varric was travelling West with a caravan in one of his commercial trips when they were assaulted by a group of bandits. The fight was not looking good for the dwarf and his goods when Solas passed by. He could have stayed out of the trouble but, instead, he decided to fight the bandits, helping the dealer. Varric, who was desperately looking for an excuse to disappear of his obligations and his family for a little while, asked the elf if he could join him on his trip for a couple of months. The mage had explained that he was heading to the Frostback Mountains and made quite clear from the beginning he was not very keen on the company. But Varric could be extremely persistent, even exasperating, so Solas ended up surrendering: anyway, a bit of a conversation and company wouldn’t slow down his plans. The dwarf delegated all his responsibilities to his deputy and he was sure that his family would be fuming mad once they knew. But he didn’t care at all. 

Their relationship could be described as simple: Solas was discreet and quiet most of the time but didn’t mind to listen. Varric stood on the opposite side: the dwarf was cheerful and easy-going and had stories and conversation for hours. The mage stopped frequently to explore the Fade in a sort of falling asleep everywhere, as Varric defined it. And Varric used those moments to write or visit the taverns, depending on his mood. From time to time, they got into trouble: some bandits on the crossroads, a bar fight provoked by the dwarf… By pure chance, or that’s what it seemed to be, they were close to Haven when the breach appeared. Obviously, the Fade expert couldn’t resist its call and Varric went with him, even knowing that it was totally out of their league. It was a very nasty surprise to find out that Cassandra was there, too.

The Solas from Haven was still serious but certainly more friendly and slightly less stuck-up. He seemed confident as an advisor, in that sort of power position, something Varric would have never imagined before. The mage had also established a good relationship with his companions, being especially at ease with Alyna. The dwarf had never seen him drunk until the night they spent together in the tavern. “It’s a change, definitively. He's growing more elvish,” he thought about his friend.

Alyna had made friends with Cassandra the day she asked her to practice some hand-to-hand combat technique. The healer had some experience in boxing and Cassandra some spare time in the afternoons, so they began training together. Although the Seeker was a very good fighter, she didn’t have enough patience to teach anyone. After a while, The Iron Bull joined them too. He was a qunari spy who Glenn enrolled, together with his mercenaries, during one of the trips to Storm Coast. He was one head taller than Cassandra, but she was the only warrior in Haven able to put a proper fight against him: in spite of the qunari strength, Cassandra was more agile. Bull showed her some new chokes and the healer had the chance to fill her curiosity about the Qun, interrogating the qunari about all the aspects of his religion, culture and society.

A former Grey Warden had also joined them, Blackwall. He was older than forty-five, although robust and fit and with a sort of feral look. A black mane and a messy beard were his most eye-catching features. The truth was he was even more reserved than Solas and no one had any relation with him, only Cassandra and Glenn. Varric explained that the Grey Warden had disappeared some years ago, being totally wiped out of Ferelden after the last Blight. Although the Order was still alive in different points of Thedas.

Sera, a former Red Jenny, showed up one day to join the Inquisition, arguing she had privileged information and contacts. Her ability with the bow was superior but she was totally bonkers, so it took Glenn a while to decide if he wanted her to take part in the inner circle team. However, she was able to prove her value as her spy network was almost as good as Leliana’s.  

Alyna and Solas found each other in the Fade almost every night and he had already met Compassion there. The spirit boy greeted the elf dryly with a gesture of his head and didn’t stop staring at him with his massive blue eyes. The healer identified a glimpse of curiosity in him, especially when they conversed cryptically about something related to parents and siblings who fought against each other. Cole mentioned then a mistake made by a younger elf, which deep pain was still ongoing. But Solas locked his memories and apologised to the spirit about it. They exchange a few more sentences related to spirits, the Fade and Compassion, and Cole left in the end, showing a strange relief. The healer was aware of how utterly odd their interaction had been. However, Solas didn't bring anything up and she didn’t ask, either, respecting his privacy. 

In the full knowledge she loved history, the mage had invited her many times to join him during his Fade explorations. And she accepted, abandoning her safe place for the first time in years. Solas knew many locations he had visited previously, some of them extremely relevant for the elvhen culture. One of the nights they were walking in the Fade, they found a small ancient chapel located in the Southeast edge of Elvhenan. The full elvhen pantheon stood up in front of them, represented by golden statues. Offerings and votives had been left in front of each of them by their worshippers, asking for favours or guidance. Alyna wandered around the place delighted, while Solas observed her, leaning his back on a column. Elgar’nar, Mythal, Falon’Din, Dirthamen, Andruil, Sylaise, June, Ghilan’nain and Fen’Harel. The place shone under the twinkling light of the candles and a subtle smell of incense filled his senses. That place was built many years before the fall of the Elvhenan, when the People fought against Tevinter Imperium. Many temples were built back then, in a loud cry for the help that never came.

He didn’t know exactly why he picked that place to show her. Probably because it was one of the last temples where the statue of Fen’Harel was still kept with the others. He actually hated that worshipping theatre, but he felt nostalgic about those times. 

"This place is amazing, Solas," she admitted with a full smile, touching gently one of the statues, feeling the precious cold metal under her fingers. The healer would have never been able to find that place without him and regretted somehow having missed the golden times of Arlathan, being able to visit all these places in their context.

"Are you still adhering to your opinion about gods?" he asked, distractedly, still observing her smile and recalling the conversation they had a couple of days before.

"Of course! They are nothing else than elevated representations of people desires. To be honest, can you think of any context in which we would need an artisan god unless the guild of artisans had decided to take on the importance of their labour?" she said while walking towards him. "And you, what do you think?"

It took him a few seconds to answer. "I believe there is a real story behind the people’s invention: probably June was a splendid and wealthy artisan. All the rest came later."

"So, you believe it was the people who worshipped them," the healer outlined, assuming they thought the same.

"Yes, but I believe that the gods also played a role in it," he explained walking along the corridor in front of the statues with his hands behind his back. "All beings have an insatiable thirst for power, which leads me to think they all contributed to building up their legend, one way or another."

Elvhen people ended up worshipping them, as well as Dalish did now. When help against Tevinter didn’t come, the legend of the Dread Wolf began to grow, dark and dreadful, and the statue of Fen’Harel was removed from the temples that still stood after the war. The Dalish maintained than Fen’Harel, the god of Rebellion, tricked the other Evanuris vanishing them from the surface of the earth. Treason that implied the fallen of Elvhenan. The Elvhen lost their freedom and fell into slavery, living in alienages in the human city suburbs or disappearing into the forests, grouped in clans. These clans considered themselves free and keepers of the old elvhen traditions and culture, still honouring the gods from the pantheon from where they took out Fen’Harel for his actions, being reduced to the Dread Wolf, the trickster god.

Alyna lost herself exploring while Solas sat down quietly on the polished tiled floor in front of Sylaise's golden statue. The healer reappeared after a while, still with a radiant grin, and sat next to him. Solas seemed to be daydreaming. "A silver for your thoughts," she said, briskly.

He came out of his trance, then. "A memory came back to me, that’s all," he mumbled, his grey-purplish irises still on the statue.

"Anything that can be shared?" the healer rested her head in her hand, curiously looking at him. 

Solas frowned, thoughtful and nostalgic, measuring his words. "It was a long time ago. Actually, it feels like a different life now. I told you where I was born and that I left my settlement very young. I escaped because I wanted to be the best mage, thirsty of knowledge and power. But there was a time when I settled somewhere… Actually, it was for a long time." He stopped the story, thinking of his words again. "I visited a magnificent camp on the outskirts of a lost forest in the North. The Keeper wanted to share my experiences about Fade and my magic and she was more than happy to share hers with me. I decided to remain there for some time as an advisor. She had a daughter, the same age as me, both still very young. Her spirit was pure and we could talk and even argue for hours. She was also beautiful, and a very powerful mage, but somehow innocent too." Solas paused his speech once more. He didn’t look sad, perhaps slightly melancholic. "Many years went by and we both changed during that time: our ideology, our beliefs, our feelings… We became apart. We evolved. So, it didn’t work anymore."

Both remained quiet for some time when he finished, his eyes fixed in one of the statues. 

"Thanks for telling me," the healer commented at last with a thin smile. The truth is that she couldn’t find anything better to say, as she was mildly in shock: he had opened his box of secrets and had revealed something extremely private. Being fully aware of how reserved he was about his life, Alyna felt grateful for his trust, as she was completely sure that not a lot of people knew of his past.

Sitting side by side, Alyna rested her head on his shoulder and he tilted his to rest his cheek against her hair on a tender gesture of confidence.

 

***

 

"When I retire, I hope it’ll be in this place," Cassandra said the first time they reached the Storm Coast.

The Inquisitor had been there before with Blackwall, Solas and Sera. This time, Varric, Cassandra, Bull and Alyna formed the group, apart of the mage, who travelled with Glenn almost every time. His mission would be to close the remaining rifts and wipe out the groups of bandits that were looting the North coast villages. Also, they had to stop the group of smugglers that had set a convenient, yet illegal, maritime trade route with Kirkwall. The landscape was astonishing: the coastline defined the North of the land, the vegetation was exuberant and white cliffs stood unshakeable in front of the push of the tides. And they were all in a good mood after a great night of sleep.

"I don’t think this is the best place to retire, Cassandra. It seems to be pretty cold and wet in winter and you’ll be an old lady… Think about the joint pains!" Bull said with a serious face, clearly teasing her.

"For the spirits' sake, Bull... We are practically in November and you are not even wearing a breastplate," Alyna pointed out, shivering, completely wrapped up on her wolf pelt while the qunari's torso was fully naked.

He suddenly burst on laughter. "This is the qunari uniform, bas saarebas. Tough skin and nothing left for the imagination," he told her.

"I think what Alyna tries to point out is that you might be warmer with a soldier armour," Cassandra added, politely.

"And deprive you of the fabulous sight of my abs? I’d never do that to you," he replied.

Truth being said, the qunari’s body was sculptural.

Cassandra snorted with disdain. Iron Bull loved those kinds of jokes, quite the opposite than the Seeker, who was quite demure. "Is there any normal qunari?" she complained.

"Well… define normal, sweetheart,” Bull requested, mocking her words. "What is not normal about me?"

Cassandra snorted again, giving up on the conversation.

"I don’t think you are actually showing off anything different than any other warrior here..." Alyna teased him, involving the other men in the conversation. 

"Ok, keep me out of this. He totally beats me. And my belly full of Orzammar beer agrees," Varric confessed from the back.

The healer glanced at Glenn then, hoping for support. "Don’t look at me like that," he joked with a crooked grin. "There are some things you cannot compete with. That..." he said pointing to Bull. " That is one of them."

"Well, I’m sure Solas can call and raise the bet," Alyna teased, looking at the mage who walked a few steps behind her.

He offered her a wry stare in response. Varric loved walking around their house nearly naked but, despite living under the same roof, Alyna realized she had never seen Solas shirtless. The elf had broad shoulders and didn’t seem to be in bad shape. But due to his training and battlefield speciality, it was impossible to compare his muscles to a warrior.

"Ah!... You’d be surprised, Aly!" Varric added, mysteriously.

The mage utterly ignored his comment but did not do so Alyna, who clung onto it. She stared at Solas with exacerbated admiration and a twisted smile, carrying on with the teasing in a private way. "Is that true, hahren ? Would I be surprised if you take your shirt off?" she asked playfully.

The elf shook his head with a smirk and answered with low honeyed voice, together with his serious academic tone. "I didn’t know you were that interested in anatomy. I could recommend you a couple of volumes from Haven’s library. However, if your interest is merely reduced to practice, we might be able to share a private lesson one day."

She kept staring at him, raising an eyebrow with unconcealed surprise and feeling how her cheeks blushed red. The well-known warm sensation spreading in her core was new, though. When he turned his sight to meet hers, he still had that sly half-smile on his full lips, and she looked away nearly immediately.   

Right then, the cold rain started and the healer was even thankful for it.

 

***

 

"At least some fun!" exclaimed Varric loading Bianca when the first of the shades appeared.

They had already closed four of the rifts Leliana’s spies had located in the area and there was just one left. The weather hadn’t been supportive at all the last few days and the rain had been a constant.

"This is Storm Coast, my friends. What did you expect?" Iron Bull grunted ironically every time somebody complained about how soaked they were.

Six shades, three wraiths and a terror demon came out from the breach with a buzz. It was definitely more than what they had found before.

Varric stealthily hid with Bianca; Solas compelled a barrier and they all took positions, ready for the battle, whilst hearing Varric’s bolts flying over their heads already. Bull and Glenn charged with their two hand weapons and Cassandra knock down one of the wraiths with a shield blast. Both mages cast spells against the shades: Alyna used arcane to freeze and drain them; Solas neutralized them with pyromancy.

The first fight was fierce but inclined to the Inquisition forces.

The second surge was definitely harder. Four shades and two rage demon appeared, and Alyna had to renew the barrier Solas had begun when he asked her to, feeling his mana too low. Glenn organized the strategy they will follow. "Bull, Cassandra, focus on the shades. Varric, I want bolts raining over all of them. Mages, we need an active barrier all the time: Solas, shades; Alyna, you with me, to the rage demon."

Solas began his attack with an immolate spell. Bull kept two of them busy while Cassandra fought the other two. Varric was able to skewer the neck of one of them, knocking it down on the ground, situation Bull took advantage of smashing its head with his mace. Solas cast flashfire against the one that was fighting with Cassandra, weakening it and knocking it out for some time. A time that Cassandra used to finish it, sticking the sword in its chest.

Meanwhile, Alyna froze one of the rage demons and drained its mana, using it to reinforce the barrier while Glenn kept the other one busy. Varric used his leverage to riddle the one the healer kept suspended. But the demon freed itself in the end and attacked the Inquisitor from behind. However, its headbutt ricocheted on the barrier, weaken it. Alyna cast Fade strike, throwing the demon against the wall, smashing it with a brutal force.

"SOLAS!" she shouted feeling her mana falter.

The mage was aware and was ready to strengthen the barrier again. Feeling free of the constant mana draining of the protective spell, the healer stole some from the rage demon that fought against Glenn. She put it in good use and stun the shade that had just knocked down Cassandra. She stood up and hit it with the shield, making it disappear. Solas threw another fire attack against Bull’s opponent, finishing it, realizing that the qunari was profusely bleeding from a wound on his arm. At the same time, Glenn stuck his two hands sword on the chest of the second demon, sentencing the victory. Solas dispelled the barrier then.

Presuming that the combat was finished, Glenn limped towards the rift, panting, and lifted his left hand while his companions tried to catch their breath back. But the green shine of the Fade sparkled again and, suddenly, six wraiths more appeared. With no time to react, Varric eliminated one of them with a well-aimed shot while the others flew towards the Inquisitor, already murmuring spells. Bull and Cassandra ran towards him when they realised the danger, but they were quite far behind.

"Solas, cover him!" Alyna shouted while running towards the Inquisitor too.

The mage already had cast a barrier which diverted most of the spells from the wraiths. Still, Glenn was knocked over. Alyna reached for him and, mumbling some words, cast a spell against them. A shadow sweep appeared, echoing loudly on the cave walls, and the beings disintegrated with a shriek. She fell unconscious by the Herald. 

Glenn sat up and touched his shoulder carefully: the place where the fire spell had impacted him. But his skin seemed to be intact. The healer laid next to him, but he had to prioritise. With a great effort and grunting in pain, he got closer to the rift, lifting his arm again. As always happened before, a green bane materialised from his hand with a flash, making the rift vanish with a loud snap. Everything went dark and silent again, with just the rhythmic sound of the rain outside.

Bull pressed his hand against his arm, still bleeding. Varric had crouched down next to Alyna and was shaking her shoulder, shouting her name. Cassandra checked on Glenn first before heading to her unconscious companion on the ground. Solas knelt by her, placing his hand on her forehead. Surprisingly, the mage didn’t look as worried as all the others were. All of a sudden, Alyna opened her eyes and gasped for air, feeling the mage’s mana pumping into her body. And the feeling was... strange. And extremely personal.

"Are you all right?" Varric yelled at her in panic.

"Yeah… yes… don’t shout at me," she told him, touching the back of her head, feeling the lump that had just grown there. She exchanged a glance with Solas when he offered her a hand to help her up. He definitely looked relieved and the healer showed him a thin grateful smile. 

"What happened?” Glenn wanted to know.

"The last spell drained her mana," Solas explained to the others. "It happens when you cast irresponsibly..."

The healer pulled a face, realizing she was being told off. "I’m ok. It’s not the first time it happens and I bet it won’t be the last, either," she explained with a grin, playing the issue down. 

"Well, you saved me... again, so thank you," the Herald said while holding her hand.

As soon as she was free of the Inquisitor gratitude, directed her attention to The Iron Bull and his arm.

Chapter Text

Alyna opened her eyes disoriented, feeling the fluffy mattress under her body and looking at the complex floral pattern that the ceiling decorations made over her head. She woke up but it felt as if she was still in a dream. The white silken bedsheet slid down her body with a rustling, revealing her breasts as she stretched lazily. The golden sunlight leaked through the heavy curtains that gave access to the balcony, making clear enough that it was late in the morning already. She thought about those last days in Val Royeaux and how her routine had changed: lunch and dinners with the nobility, diplomatic meetings, walks in the gardens, shopping in the city... "Just like in the old times," she told herself, recalling her life in Orlais. 

She got out of bed, taking a quick glance at the excessive dresses that Josephine had ordered for the occasion. Next to them, an embarrassing collection of ruffs, fans and hats with extravagant and colourful feathers sticking out. "I can do with the dresses, but the hats are ridiculous," she thought while standing naked in the middle of the room, stroking one of the soft peacock feathers, thinking about how much the fashion had changed within the years. She gazed with a hint of nostalgy at her old and comfortable travelling clothes, clean and folded on a chair. The healer had to admit that the Ambassador had made an extraordinary job organizing this trip, though. Josephine was an expert in the city culture and traditions, as well as its rigid class system and their taste for eccentricity, and she had been able to obtain everything they needed to perfectly blend with the aristocracy. Being the Inquisition a new-born movement with any sort of economic support or benefactors, it was certainly praiseworthy.

Leliana was the one who was meant to be occupying that bed and wearing those clothes but the board had decided that she wouldn't travel with the Inquisitor. It was not convenient for her to be recognised in a city where she had had - and caused - some troubles before. The spy had lived during most of her life in Val Royeaux and she would have stood out, definitely. Being able to speak the language and having lived in Orlais before as well, Glenn decided that Alyna would replace her.

Their agenda for the day included having breakfast with the advisors and with Divine Victoria, leader of the Chantry. Next day, they would attend to the Masked Ball at the Royal Palace, in which they expected to interact with the very own Empress Celene.

Orlais had grown as the mages refuge after the fallen of the Circles of Magi, four years back in time.  Given its cultural level and its taste for bizarreness, the orlesian aristocracy made a call to all mages who wanted to settle into its borders, promising wealth and work, under a contractual situation that made the mages servants for a noble family. Basically, the mages became upper-class slaves with privileges that served and entertained the nobility in their parties. The issue the Inquisition was facing was to convince the mages in order to help, as most of them were highly comfortable and settled within their new situation. The second issue, mostly diplomatic, would be to persuade the nobility to give them the chance to leave freely to join the Inquisitor.

Solas and Alyna, speaking on behalf of the Inquisition, presented all the story, research and fears about the Breach to the spokesman of the mages in Orlais: Dorian Pavus. Then, he and the mages representatives exited the room to discuss and assess the information. The sky was already darkening after a whole day of meditations in which Dorian kept walking in and out, requesting answers and detailed explanations to his questions. Finally, the mages came up with a decision and Dorian passed it on to the Herald: the mages in Orlais would help the Inquisition... if they were allowed to. Then, they could come back to their normal life in Orlais if that was their choice. But their employers had the last word on that matter, so they would be the next problem to overcome.

Alyna put her underwear and tights thinking in the army of mages they would be able to gather for their ranks if they could persuade the Chantry and the Empress to let them go. She chose a two-colour dress, white and dark blue with a long skirt and a matching sleeveless corset. Soon, the healer realized her incapability to lace it up without help, so she decided to fasten her shoes instead. Shoes that kept getting tangled with the edge of the underskirt every time she tried to buckle them up. In the middle of her desperate struggle, someone knocked on the door. "Come in! Whoever you are…" she shouted, impatiently.

Solas entered in her quarters with secure steps. "I thought you would be ready; they must be waiting for us in the meeting room."

She looked up at him with a defeated expression and breathed out slowly and loudly.

The mage raised an eyebrow, amenable. "Do you need any help?" he asked politely in front of her boredom.

"Please! I thought you'd never ask..." she answered swiftly, finishing with her shoes and jerking the underskirt out of them.

"Needing assistance every time you have to get dressed doesn't seem very practical nowadays... Don't you know any spell that can ease the process?" But it didn't sound like a complaint at all, even if Solas tried to. 

He offered her his hand to stand up and she accepted it while pulling a face. "Don't be silly! I know you enjoy this more than I do..." she reproached him with a playful grin on her lips before the mage made her spin to deal with the laces of her corset. 

Solas smirked. He finished fastening her corset with amazing and surprising skill and allowed himself to glide his hands over Alyna’s waist, smoothing some of the creases on the fabric, intentionally taking more time than strictly needed for the task. His cheeky attitude made her smile and she turned around, flirty, to speak to him. "You have grown very confident in this environment, Solas. I have to confess I didn’t expect it," she said, provocative, pushing him back softly to walk towards the dressing table.

The mage bit his tongue, suppressing his sharp reply and feeling slightly uncovered. Since the day they first met in Redcliffe, there had been some kind of connection between them. Both elves had shared experiences about their lives, fought together for the Inquisition and confessed their mutual admiration. They had become close companions and, later on, friends. Furthermore, Solas had proven to be charming with his words, sometimes infusing them with double meaning, and Alyna was sharp with her tongue and answered his flattery with eloquence in a game that could clearly be understood as flirting. It had been during those last days in Val Royeaux when the game had grown dangerously: probably because of the distance with Haven's obligations; or perhaps because of the changes in their lifestyles. Changes that made them forget what had taken them to Orlais in the first place.

She styled her dark curls and tied them sideways with a silver brooch, exposing her pale neck and one ear. Then, the healer met Solas’ purple eyes in the mirror, noticing how the mage had drunk all her movements with thirst.

"Shall we go?" Alyna finally asked.

 

***

 

The advisors were already sitting around the table, opulently laid as for a feast. Both elves appeared together in the meeting room, catching everyone's attention. Glenn, Cullen and Dorian stood up formally when Alyna came in.

"You are absolutely beautiful," Glenn told her while Solas pulled the chair back to help her sit down in a courtesy gesture.

"Thanks, Inquisitor," she answered with a flirty smile.

Cullen’s stare burnt on her.

"Forgive me if I don’t flatter you as well, Solas" Glenn joked.

"No offence taken, Inquisitor. I fully understand that she captures your whole attention," he replied with his habitual academic velvety tone. 

Alyna felt the heat creeping in her cheeks, blushing red because of the public compliment.

Cullen's glare was piercing cold.

The Divine turned up with her entourage half an hour later than expected. Being an important personality, all the presents had to stand up and kiss her hand. "Well, darlings, sadly I have got a tight agenda and I don’t have a lot of time to enjoy your company, so we shall be brief," she said while looking at Glenn. "The Chantry in Ferelden filled me in with your great feats and some of my chanters consider themselves your followers: they describe you as the Andraste’s Herald and they have assumed you are the only one who can save us from the doom. Anything else to add?" Her rushed pitch clearly reported her as someone who had already formed an opinion.

As they had agreed the day before, Glenn played the card of the uncertainty: he was not sure about being Andraste’s Herald, but he was sure that the prophet had sent him with a mission. His words pleased the Divine, stuck in old traditions. She would have never accepted a new prophet standing for Thedas, but a messenger... He explained the need for having all mages fighting by his side before giving the floor to Dorian.

"Illustrious Divine," he began pompously. "After having interceded between mages and Inquisition, some of the first ones are willing fervently to help to finish the anomaly on the Veil. They are perfectly aware of the contract acquired with the Empire and they will always be in debt. That is the reason why they ask for a permit in order to excuse themselves for some time. Time enough to fulfil their purpose. Naturally, they will be back to Orlais once their mission is accomplished, being back into their normal duties."

Pedant… I forgot how pedant diplomacy could be,” Alyna thought, leaning on the back of the chair.

"Dorian, my dear, I appreciate your talk but we are both in good terms, so let’s forget about formalities. Do you really think the mages will come back after ending the Breach? Because I think this is the perfect excuse to escape from here like rats."

Dorian carried on with this reasoning. "Perhaps for an apostate mage this place is a prison but for these mages who have been locked in Circles their whole lives, this is just a glass and gold cage. Most of them only want to feel safe. Here they have shelter, freedom, food and security and the price to pay for is relatively low. I can assure you that most of them are more than happy with their life in Orlais and I’m sure the majority will be back once the Breach is sealed."

Alyna had a shiver just thinking of those mages, frightened, subdued as livestock, happily living in between silver bars with no chance to be free. “I suppose it's just another life option and it's convenient for them...” she thought, trying really hard to empathize.

The Divine sighted, still examining Dorian’s eyes. Quietly, she tried a little bite of the frilly cakes with pink cream on top and drank a sip of the tea that was getting cold in the small porcelain cup with golden border. "Fine," she announced in the end, pointing at Dorian with her finger. "But you will go with them."

The mage opened his eyes wide with surprise and remained silent for a while, slowly taking her words in. There was no need to say that he highly disagreed with the outcome: Dorian had never thought about leaving the Court of Orlais, with all the pleasures and recreation it offered, as his adventurous spirit had been buried a long time ago.

The Divine made a gesture to stand up and Glenn rushed up to pull her chair back, kissing her hand after as the protocol established. Once the Divine and her people were gone, Dorian sank into the chair, defeated, while the others began to finally eat their breakfast.

"Welcome aboard," the Inquisitor told the mage with a wide smile, offering his hand for a handshake.

"You don't seem very excited about the plan, but I suppose we can always find you a position in the Embassy," Josephine said. "It would be helpful to have an experienced and eloquent helper with me."

"Yes… Well…" he seemed dubious. "Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I don’t want to go with you… Actually, I don’t. But I’m not brave, nor adventurous. I’m fine and settled living my life here..."

"We'll make you change your mind, trust me," Alyna replied ironically in front of her tiny cup of tea.

 

***

 

Josephine intercepted her on her way back to the room. "Alyna! Given that we have got the rest of the day off, I thought that perhaps we could go together to do some shopping. I have to run some errands to prepare the Ball tomorrow and I wouldn’t mind having some good conversation in the meantime."

The healer smiled at the Ambassador. It took them five days horse-riding to get to the Waking Sea, days where Josephine had suffered a constant back and leg pain. Being more used to the diplomatic tasks in Haven or comfortable carriage journeys, riding a horse had been a nightmare for her. The healer cast some healing and painkiller magic every night to her back legs and buttocks, for the rejoicing of all the indiscreet soldiers. Even Glenn ended up joining in with the jokes and laughs. Later on, they both felt deadly sick during the boat journey, not being even able to get out of their bunk beds. “I guess these types of situations create bonds,” Alyna thought. 

"I’d love to but only if you allow me to practise my Orlesian with you," she ended while Josephine smirked. "Give me a minute to get my mask and let my hair down."

It would be the first time she hid her race in Orlais. The elves were not considered slaves anymore. In fact, thanks to Empress Celene they had the same rights as any other human citizen. It was by the time she was learning healing in Val Royeaux when all those rights began to be applicable, not just nice letters on a piece of paper. That’s why she decided to show her truly-self there and in Val Foret, knowing her master would protect her in case anything happened. And so it was. Many elves currently still carried on with their service agreements for the noblemen and living in the alienage. However, some of them had begun raising as traders, professionals and scholars at the University, shaking the foundations of the slave society. Sadly, those cases could still be counted with the fingers of a hand and the racism was patent in the conservative sectors of the city. Alyna wanted, by all means, to go unnoticed. That is why looking like an Orlesian standard human was essential.   

With the silver mask tied up and the soldier who would accompany them assigned, they walked to the main shopping area of the city, the one frequented by the upper class. Even if Josephine was from Antiva, her life in Orlais had given her a perfect domain of the language.

"What is what we is looking for, specifically?"  Alyna asked in Orlesian.

"What we are looking for are some bits and bobs for the Ball tomorrow",  Josephine corrected her with her perfect accent.

Alyna sighted. It had been a while since the last time she practised. "I believe my Orlesian is rustier than I thinked," the healer added.

"Thought,"  she corrected her again.

"Stop it, or I will stop talking,"  Alyna laughed, elbowing her.

"But your accent is a wonder, however,"  Josephine tried to make up for her observations.

They walked for nearly half an hour in between chat and correction. She let Alyna interact in a couple of shops because, other than knowing the language, she knew the actual protocol for the upper-class shopping routine.

"I would have ever imagined than an elf from Ferelden had rubbed her shoulders with the aristocracy in Val Royeaux,"  Josephine confessed while leaving the shop where she had just bought a pair of gold earrings.

"Not very common, I am aware,"  Alyna dropped, enigmatic.

"May I ask?"

"I think you have already done it, haven’t you?"  she teased with a smile while her friend shrugged. "I came here after my years in Tevinter. In fact, here I meet… no, I  met  Varric: a long story. But I came to learn. While still in Minrathous, I heard a rumour of a famous healer living in Val Royeaux. He saw potential in me and he took me as his assistant. He was really old; I suppose that the story of the elven apostate softened him and I was well-liked. He died some months after we began working together and I carried on with the “business”: he was really well-known by the nobility because of his healing powers and I was… I  am really good, too. I continued with his task: everyone knew he was a mage and, however, he had been untouchable by the Templars. Then, I figured out it was because he had been under the protection of one of the most important Dukes in Val Foret. And he also took me under his wing. Soon, the gratitude turned into interest by both sides: he offered me the entrance to a world that was unreachable for me and you know how fragile marriages are in this place. He was older than me, attractive, powerful… So, we became lovers”.  

Josephine stared at her for some time, eyes extremely opened, expressing her surprise. Or her admiration. "Wow, Alyna.. wow…"  she said in the end " that’s a perfect story matching this place. Did he take you to Balls and Receptions?"

The healer didn’t say a word but nodded.

"That is my Orlais… sordid and decadent. What happened next?"  the diplomat wanted to know.  

“Sometime after, I was told that her wife was pregnant again.  I felt bad, sorry for her and I had one of that existential crisis. I dumped him. But doing it, I lost his protection and favour. Thankfully, Varric was there, ready to rescue me and take me into the Deep Roads."

Josephine was still in shock. "Honestly, I think you should write a book just with that story. Or to tell Varric to do it. I would be a best seller here"  she suggested. 

"I’m surprised Leliana didn’t mention any of it,"  the elf thought out loud while Josephine stopped in front of a shop window, still grabbing her arm. 

"She mentioned your studies. Not the affaire, though..."

Alyna felt an unexpected relief when she realized that Solas wouldn’t know about her colourful love life. And it made her wonder why she felt so relieved about it. Why would he even care?

"I am nearly sure that Leliana knew it, even more being from Orlais. That bloody spymaster…"  Josephine laughed. The Antivan told her about her family that, the same as Varric’s, owned an exports and imports business, wine in this case. They had extensive vineyards in the sunny Rialto and traded frequently with Orlais. "And that is why my dad sent me here, as firstborn and heir of the business. He wanted my Orlesian to be perfect, even if that meant losing family golden time,"  the diplomat explained with a complete neutral intonation, not letting out any kind of resentment or hard feelings.

"Do you blame him about him? Taking you away from your family..."

"Of course I don’t blame him! I would have done exactly the same if I would have been in his shoes."

It was nearly lunchtime when Josephine told her then she was meeting with an old antivan friend in a restaurant nearby. Despite she asked Alyna to join them, the healer found an excuse, being tired of the long shopping morning and the unusual heel-wearing. She encouraged their bodyguard, Steve, to stay with the Ambassador, as she would be more than able to make her way back to the hotel. "Don’t worry Jossy, I won’t get lost,"  she stated with an accomplice smile before walking back in the luminous and lavish streets.

The winter sun in Val Royeaux was warm and she deeply regretted not having more casual clothes to be able to explore any of her favourite spots in the city. But it would be an amazing plan for the afternoon if she was able to slip through the Commander’s constant surveillance. She thought about her companions and what they would be doing at the moment: Glenn had a commitment with a nobleman, right hand of the Empress. Cullen would be organizing all the guards they had come with them and would be in shock when he realized she was wandering the streets without any escort, a thought that filled her with perverse satisfaction. Solas had shown his interest in exploring the University Library, so he and Dorian headed there right after the meeting with the Divine. 

As it was expected, the Commander stopped her when she crossed the main door, and his expression, as expected too, was not friendly at all. "For Andraste... Where is Steve and why on earth you are coming back alone?" he asked, more alarmed than annoyed.

She shrugged. "He's with Josephine. She went for lunch with a friend, so she took him." She surprised herself speaking about the poor Steve as if he was a mere object. "Calm down, Cullen. I know how to look after myself and she needed him more than me for sure… Also, we went shopping, who would have helped her with the bags if not Steve?"

The Commander shook his head, horrified with her recklessness. He was about to carry on with his telling off but, in front of her sarcastic gesture, he completely gave up. Since they had arrived in Val Royeaux they didn’t have any other option than coping with each other more frequently than usual. They managed to keep a professional sort-of-friendly relationship during that time, although the Commander had begun to grow slightly aware of her good terms with Solas, ending the cordiality and growing in icy stares and caustic comments that she was doing her best to ignore, for everyone's sake. However, a faint satisfaction feeling invaded her with her mischief, drawing a smug smile on her lips at the same time that she waved bye to him, walking towards the stairs.

And, speaking about the mage, she knocked on his room, on the other side of the first-floor hall, but no one answered: his visit to the library was stretching out more than she expected it would. It was the first time the elf visited Val Royeaux and the healer had in mind to show him the beautiful city. But they hadn't had time for it yet. Not until today. So Alyna went back to her room, slightly disappointed with his absence, and struggled to get rid of her dress, changing her whole attire to something less formal: linen dark breeches, beige shirt and sandals. She tied her hair up in a messy bun, making her ears fully visible: a servant elf in Val Royeaux wouldn't stand out at all.  

After ten minutes, she opened the door quietly and peeked outside. Across the corridor, she saw that Solas had just arrived and walked towards his bedroom. "Merde,"  she muttered to herself, stepping out and closing the door behind her with no noise. She caught his attention with a clear be quiet gesture, but the baffled face of the mage spoke by itself. However, he opened his door, paying attention to his instructions, and invited the healer in, still in the most silent quietness. 

Cullen had soldiers stationed in the hall of the hotel almost always. Nonstop. Except for a couple of minutes before lunch with the guard changing. And they were three minutes away from that. "Ok," she began speaking really fast after shutting the door behind her. "I told you I’d show you around Val Royeaux and the time is now. You’ve got – she stopped to think – two minutes and forty seconds to get changed, something more informal, get sandals on, tie your mask up and come with me."

Solas had his mouth open, carrying a pile of books and stared at her perplexed. "What the…?" he began, trying his best to understand.

"Two and a half minutes and I am not going to stay here because of you," she threatened him with her finger. "Hurry up!"

The mage decided to obey, even if he still didn’t fully know what it was all about. He recalled having a conversation about Val Royeaux and how glad would she be of showing him her favourite spots on the city, but he couldn't understand the hurry. He threw the books over the bed and took his jerkin and his shirt off quickly and without undoing the buttons, shoving it to a corner of the room.

The healer looked away when he went shirtless, perhaps a little embarrassed. "Well, I guess Varric was right…" she mumbled, teasingly, facing the door after the brief picture of the mage's lean torso.

Solas noticed her comment and her embarrassment and showed a smug smile, remembering the conversation in Storm Coast. It was so captivating to make her blush… And so easy as well. He put a different shirt and sandals on. Afterwards, he reached for the mask on his bed and tied it around his head. He also picked up his cloak. "Well, let’s go. I hope you will explain to me what this is all about," he said, following her out of his room.

They still had half a minute. Alyna scanned the corridor, making sure there was no one there, and went down the stairs followed by Solas. She peeked at the Hall where the guards were, looking at the water clock on the wall. Then, they turned around and left the place, heading to the diner room. After a quick last look around, she made a sign to Solas and they both sneaked out of the hotel.

Chapter Text

"I cannot believe you have just made me sneak out of the hotel as if we were criminals. Wouldn’t have been easier to request it?" the elf asked walking on the street that led towards the port.

Alyna shrugged her shoulders with an innocent gesture. "No... I don't think so. You heard Glenn’s orders: no one leaves this place without an escort; do you hear me? No one!"  she said with a terrible imitation of his deep voice. "What kind of afternoon we would have had being followed by the guards all the time?"

Solas showed a thin smile: she had a point and he was also somehow grateful for some privacy at last. "Well, and what do you have in mind?" he wanted to know. "Remember that we have an official dinner at seven."

"Yes, I know… And it really annoys me, trust me..." she said rolling her eyes. "It gives us less time than I expected... I thought I could show you the port and the Circle tower. It’s been abandoned for a little while now, but the Veil is really thin there, and there's no danger of being locked up anymore, so it’s a mandatory visit. After that, we can go for a walk in the old part of the city with a stop at the viewpoint. I don’t think we’ll have time for anything else: it will have to wait for the next visit."

The elf nodded, amused by the fact she considered it would be the next visit"I think it’s been a wise choice to hire you as a guide. Remember me I have to thank Varric for his recommendation when we see him again," he joked, ironic, making her snort.

During their walk to the port, Solas was interested in the history of the city and, also, in her experience while living there. Alyna explained, the second time that day, about the circumstances that brought her to Val Royeaux, her career as a healer and her relationship with the upper class. She knew that Josephine would rather hear the sordid details, while Solas would focus on what she had learnt. So, she mentioned briefly her affaire, although, on the contrary than the Ambassador, he didn’t dig any deeper on it at all.

"And how did you end up meeting Varric?" he asked with honest curiosity.

"Varric had an unhealthy obsession with the Deep Roads and a very odd way of recruiting mercenaries for his trips: he put up posters around the city, like a public job offer, summoning for an interview. After all that happened with the Duke, I was afraid the Templars would come after me. I could have hidden, but I decided to flee instead. The advert just gave a date and a place, like on a blind date. And Varric was there, picking the best assets for his expedition. I proved my value, he established a payment rate and rules and we left Val Royeaux that same day. Then we even got along," she explained, recalling the beginning of that crazy adventure.

"Varric always has the ability to show on the appropriate time and place," the mage stated, ironically, recalling how they met.

Alyna led him through the busiest streets in the city, crowded with orlesian nobles with extravagant and expensive robes, accompanied by their servants, both elves and humans, normally carrying their shopping bags. No one paid attention to them, being totally blended with the pedestrians. If Solas would have put his hood on to hide his ears, due to his height and complexion, they could have perfectly passed for a human and his elven servant.

"And why you didn’t want to go for a simple walk, I mean, just orlesian clothing, guards…"

She shook her head. "You cannot get to know Val Royeaux if you are not able to explore all their corners and secrets, or if you are making a scene: two highly dressed up elves with Inquisition security… Shit… we would have had all the eyes on us! And all the comments, too! Despite how advanced this city is, comparing it with Halamshiral for example, the upper class is still quite racist. Blending is convenient sometimes, and it gives you some freedom."

Solas understood the healer effort to go unnoticed: she had been doing it her whole life and it was what had kept her alive and out of the Circles with no doubt. "And what are the masks for? Is it just a trend?"

She glanced at him with a sardonic smile on her lips. "It is just a trend, but at the same time, more than that," she explained. "Who doesn’t wear a mask in life, Solas? It’s a reminder that everyone hides something. That life is an act where a very few times you can show your true self."

The mage raised an eyebrow, thinking of her words, knowing that he couldn’t have defined life better.  

 

***

 

The Circle tower was isolated from the city, on the edge of the fishermen's port, in an idyllic settlement by the sea. 

"They named it The White Spire because of its colour," Alyna explained while they both walked towards it, following the docks. "The dome could be seen from every place in the city and serves as a landmark to guide the boats to the port." The structure was absolutely stunning, with polished white walls covered with marble and a massive diameter. It stood tall and lush, with the immense flared dome crowning its top. As they got closer, the thinning in the Veil became more pronounced, being perceptible as a tingle on their skin. 

"It is fascinating," Solas commented observing his hands. "I'm surprised no rifts have appeared here."

"Me too, to be honest," she added touching the cold stone wall. "I suppose the tower has more magical protection than it looks at first sight and it has prevented it."

Solas closed his eyes for a little while and tilted his head, thoughtful. Then looked back at her. "This might sound strange, but would you like to visit the Fade?" he proposed.

"What? Here?" she pointed around with surprise and an incredulity gesture.

The White Spire was fully isolated from the other houses in the city and it was only reachable following the old docks way. Didn’t seem to be a popular place to visit and the only thing you could hear was the burbling of the waves breaking on the dock. The door was tightly closed with magic and neither of them was willing to interfere with it. For Solas didn’t seem absurd at all to sit down, resting on the wall, looking at the sea, and have a little nap. He nodded his head, confirming his intentions.

The healer refused, scrunching her nose. "I don’t think I would be able to fall asleep here, not even remotely. And I’m going to interfere in your sleep if I do. You’re more trained than me for it. Just do it and I’ll watch over."

Solas studied her for a moment, thoughtful, considering the options. "I know a spell…"

The healer glared at him and shook her head. Solas was perfectly aware she didn’t like receiving any spell casting on her. Not even for healing her injuries after combat. "It is a sleeping spell, and it is perfectly safe," he continued, convincingly. "Trust me."

Alyna carried on staring, hesitant now. She didn’t like the idea at all, but it was Solas who was offering it: he had superb control of his magic and she trusted him, nearly blindly. She took her mask off and sighed. "All right," she gave in in the end with a hint of doubt still in her eyes.

The elf nodded with solemnity, taking his mask off too, and made a gesture, inviting her to sit down against the tower. The healer obeyed and breathed deeply a couple of times, accepting the fact that she was nervous. The place was not the most comfortable, but it had to do. Solas kneeled in front of her and cupped her face in his hands with care while looking into her liquid silver eyes. She was able to hold his gaze for some time, feeling the warmth of his hands and the soft tingle of his magic. Her stomach tightened with nervousness in front of the spell. And, strangely, because of his proximity, too. However, his closeness was not as awkward as she could have expected. On the contrary, it felt natural and soothing.

Suddenly, Alyna felt extremely relaxed looking at his full lips muting the spell and a stray thought of tasting them flashed in her mind unexpectedly. Soon, she stopped hearing the waves and her eyelids became heavier.

The healer closed her eyes.

 

***

 

When she woke up in the tower, Solas was already there, standing on his feet, waiting for her. "How is it possible? I fell asleep before you did!" she exclaimed frowning and surprised.

"I have practised entering the Fade with frequency, Alyna, and I am highly skilful at it. Trust me, you would be surprised," he replied.

The healer scoffed. Looking around, she realized they were, definitively, in the Fade. A very characteristic greenish tone covered everything, leaving no doubt about where they were. Tall bookcases full of tomes reaching the ceiling, deadly silence, some people reading sitting on the table, others copying manuscripts or taking notes… She could say for sure that they were in the Circle library. Some of the mages walked around busy as bees amongst the books while others were just reading, absorbed. Alyna wandered in the place while Solas took a look at one of the volumes, over the shoulder of its reader. A young boy and an adult practised a spell in the adjacent room, producing small green sparkles with every attempt. They looked like a teacher and an apprentice in the middle of a lesson and the healer stayed there, observing until the boy was able to cast a proper flame.

Solas kept nosing around, being able to find some interesting books he decided to take a mental note of, before meeting Alyna again on the stairs. They went down to the first floor, conversing about the spells the mages were casting and how life would have been in there. Templars patrolled constantly, giving orders to everyone to carry on with their duties.

"And this is what we have missed being apostates. Wonderful…" the healer commented ironically. "Is not that different from a military camp, is it?"

"Certainly is not, although it seems more like a prison to me," Solas pointed out. This was not the first time he visited the memory of a Circle, but it had always horrified him.

They enquired into the ground floor, where a couple of Templars were stripping a newcomer apostate. The man, probably Alyna's same age, resisted his undressing process, gaining a punch in return. The situation made her tense and Solas had to remind her that it was just a memory. The circle mage didn’t look extremely powerful, as just two Templars were required to nullify his power. The potion to drain his mana, megabane was called, would do the trick during his first days, until he got used to the Circle life, assuming he would never be free again. Many other mages, however, had been locked in since they were children and they were not really aware that a different life was possible. They didn't know what freedom meant. 

"How do you think your life would have been if they had captured you, Solas?" she asked, still staring at the circle mage with a grimace. "I don’t think I could have coped with it… I would have made the impossible to scape. Or, at least, make sure I died trying..."

In front of the sudden quietness around her, she turned to face Solas. But the elf was not there anymore. Alyna took a last sad glimpse at the circle mage and focused on waking up.

 

***

 

"It has been very interesting."

The healer heard Solas’ soft voice somewhere close to her, touched with a hint of sadness. She struggled to open her eyes because of the brightness of the evening. Blinding. But, when her eyes got used to the light, everything looked blurred. She realized then that the mage was seated next to her, his arm wrapped around her shoulders on a warm hug, and she was actually leaning on him, head resting on his chest. The contact with his body turned out to be quite warm and pleasant and the sensation of his aura around her was protective. Even his scent was relaxing: spices, and sandal perhaps, mixed with his own body one. 

She closed her eyes again, falling back asleep.

"Alyna," he said softly, realizing she was struggling with the remains of his spell. "Alyna, wake up."

Solas shook her gently, making her babble incoherently, but she opened her eyes at last. "I’m awake, I’m awake!" she exclaimed, stiffening her body and being fully aware of his proximity out of the sudden. Her heart thumped in her chest, a little embarrassed about the intimacy of their posture.

"I’m sorry. I didn’t think the spell would be that powerful," he said, freeing her of his embrace before standing up and stretching. 

The healer looked around, still slightly stunned, missing his warmth immediately. The sound of the waves came back to her ears and the sunlight decreased in intensity. The place was deserted.

Solas crouched down in front of her, with a worried gesture on his face. "Are you sure you are all right?" he asked.

Alyna just nodded at the same time she accepted the hand he offered to stand up. Her body felt extremely numb and heavy as she tried to walk to the shore. When she reached it, sank her hands in the cold water and wet the back of her neck. Her mouth felt as dry as hell. "I think I need some tea..." she managed to say, sluggishly, although more recovered. 

His worried face turned into a thin smile. "I think we have spent more time than you had planned", he said looking at the position of the sun in the horizon while she stretched, definitively more awake than before. "It must be nearly five."

"Well, no time to lose, then."

They put their masks back on and Alyna guided him back to the city, making a brief stop on one of the street stands to buy a cup of black tea. As expected, Solas turned down her invitation to have one too. She walked him to the Chantry and its garden and then to the old part of the town, full of entangled passages and alleyways: a labyrinth in which the healer managed well enough not to get lost. They ascended to the upper part of the city, ending up in a cul-de-sac alley. 

"It’s up there," Alyna told Solas, pointing to a place above their heads, on the roof of a house with no obvious access from where they were.

He looked back at her with a sceptical face. "After you," the mage said with teasingly courtesy.

Alyna twisted a smile and hold onto the decorative trellis panels on the wall, climbing gracefully up to the roof. Then, she waited for Solas to follow her. The mage was not able to recall the last time he had actually climbed up a tree, so that meant it must have been a very long time ago. He grabbed the structure and pulled to check if it would stand his weight, and began climbing. "I am getting too old for this," he joked when he reached the top.

She scanned him from head to foot, a sarcastic smile blooming on her lips. "Who’d say, hahren."

They just sat on the small flat roof, absorbed by the fascinating view, putting the masks aside. Almost all Val Royeaux could be seen from there, with the golden domes of the palaces, the Chantry, The White Spire and the sea in the background, shining under the decreasing orange light of the sunset.

"I love this city," Alyna broke the silence. And she really meant her words.

"Why you didn’t stay? You could have just hidden for a while…" Solas wanted to know, his eyes fixed on her while she looked at the horizon.

Some quiet seconds went by. "I think I just needed a change. I was doing well here, but it didn’t offer me what I was looking for, I suppose... Do you like it?" she said, finally looking at him.

Solas scanned the city silently before staring back at her. "The view is… breathtaking," he said at last with his eyes intently fixed on hers instead of the skyline. A crooked wolfish smile curled his lips up. 

Alyna suddenly felt restless with incredulity, eyes still on him. “Solas and his bloody damned ambiguity,” she thought, observing his profile when he finally looked away. She took in the sharp cut of his jaw and his high and elegant cheekbones and could have said for certain that someone had broken his nose in the past. The thin linen of his shirt revealed the muscles of his shoulders and a shot of his shirtless body flashed back to her mind, betraying her calmness. 

Feeling her scrutiny on him, Solas turned her head, meeting her eyes. The healer smiled nervously, her cheeks pale pink, as she looked away, focusing her whole attention on a far horizon, being aware that Solas was the one staring at her now.  

Being himself was a luxury that Solas had never had the chance to have since he woke up in Thedas. And that afternoon was the closest he had been of being his old self: courteous, acid, attentive, curious, caring... But the mage had to admit that he had gone way too far and the situation was getting out of hand when he found himself captivated with the smooth curve of her pale neck joining her shoulder. Even more when he wondered what her reaction would be under the touch of his lips in that area. “You must not,” he commanded himself, casting aside the thought. 

"Alyna, I think we should go," he finally said, recovering his mettle.

She nodded and, even if she hid it with skill, her eyes gave away that it was not the line she wanted to hear. 

 

***

 

Solas sank his head into his hands once they came back to their accommodation, the door closed behind him. He rested his back against the wall, thinking, putting himself together. 

Since he woke up from his uthenera, still in shock discovering what the world had become, he had thought he was walking through a world of tranquil, a new concept he had to learn against his will. The Circles were falling in Thedas, the pressure of the Veil was asphyxiating over him, the magic has totally gone from the surface, and he had to learn how to cast spells again. To use his magicHim. And his power was not even a pale shadow of what it had been. 

He met the Dalish and the city elves, too, disappointing in every way. And his first year awake was a torment until his plans began to run. There were humans everywhere, getting hold of the power like greedy leeches. And dwarves digging in the depths, waking up mysteries that were better buried. He had seen all that in the Fade, of course, but it was still unbelievable. 

Solas had to blend, learning, surviving as he always did before, with his mask on. Until they met. And she was... intoxicating. Uncommon for a modern elf. Unique. Just her presence around him was enough to catch his eye, being unable to focus his attention on anything else. She was not like any other elven people he had met in Thedas before: so critical, independent, unique, free... He felt he could be himself around her, and that was dangerous. And there was also the playful feeling that she provoked on him. He hadn't felt like this since the times in Arlathan, and that was even before his rebellion blew off. After that, he didn't have time for such things. There had been many other women, and some men, of course, but just a one-night stand, or more than one some times. But she... 

He had gone far enough answering back her flirts, stepping closer with every compliment, but the way she blushed was a delight. And he could feel her reciprocity. She was irresistible.

He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, trying to gather himself back together.

"No," he ordered. "You are fighting a war and she is just a distraction. Hold control of yourself."

 

***

 

Alyna closed the door and cast a fire glyph at the bottom of the bathtub to heat the water. She got undressed while waiting, trying to analyse what had happened on the rooftop. Like every time she wanted to rationalize something, she spoke out loud with herself. "What the hell is wrong with me? Since when you are not even able to take the first step? How old are you? Thirteen? For god's sake…" she said, probably too loud, exasperated.

She felt confused and lost in front of the signs Solas sent her. Even if she was nearly sure that their attraction was mutual, his reluctance to take any step at all made her doubt. Is not like if she wasn’t able to do it as well, but every time she thought about it there was a small gesture, a glimpse… tiny little things that told her that Solas was keeping his distance. "He might just like the flirting, and nothing else..." she said while tipping some lavender essential oil in the water, getting in after. "Perhaps is not the best time… the Inquisition is a duty and a responsibility… But no one told me anything about a vow of celibacy when I decided to join in…. And… I quite like him."

She ended up submerging her head under the water after that statement, trying to stop the overthinking process she had just begun. For her, relationships could be split into two different types: the hurried I love you forever and the Let's figure this out. Cullen had been an obvious first-type mistake and it didn’t finish well. The only one in her life, actually. She had always identified herself with the second concept: friendship, flirting, sex and… maybe… something else after. Some of her friends had described her as frivolous and superficial before because of it because of her negative to get involved in a formal relationship. But, why to do so if, after some sensible time, she didn’t feel it would work out?

Alyna came out of the water when the lack of air was painful in her lungs. 

She decided to go with the flow and stop worrying. But if he didn’t take the first step, she wouldn’t let another opportunity escape. She got dressed quickly, no need for help this time, with a simple A-line dress with long sleeves and round neck, in dark green silk. The dinner would be just for the advisers in the hotel, so there was no need to dress up.

Josephine was already in the dining room when she entered it, and with a gesture invited the elf to sit next to her on the bar with a wide blatant smile. "You do have to try this, Alyna", she said, cocktail in her hand while catching the waiter's attention. "It’s called Calore di Antiva. For Andraste’s sake, it’s amazing!" The Ambassador had a funny accent and her tongue tangled with some of her consonants in Common language.

Alyna chuckled, realizing Josephine was drunk. She ordered two more Calore di Antiva and made a toast to Val Royeaux. "Wait, have you just arrived from your lunch?" the healer asked when she noticed Josephine was still wearing the same dress and her hair was slightly out of place.

"Ssshhh!!!" the antivan ordered her, realizing Cullen had just appeared and was approaching them already. "He was a special friend."

Alyna laughed openly this time, understanding that her friend had spent, definitively, a very interesting afternoon in the company of the antivan man, although she also felt sorry for Steve, the guard. They exchanged some words with Cullen while waiting for the others to appear.

 

***

 

"I told you those volumes in the Library were absolutely amazing. I never imagined Val Royeaux was so well-stocked in knowledge: it has no reason to envy the great libraries in Tevinter!" Dorian commented lively during the dinner.

"It was a very interesting visit. Thanks for showing me around and thanks to Josephine for getting the diplomatic pass under Inquisition’s name," Solas added, politely, raising his glass towards the Ambassador.

She smiled and copied the gesture clumsily, drinking a sip of her third cocktail, the one Alyna gave up for being too sweet. 

"Well, and what have you all been up to today?" Glenn asked with a lazy pronunciation, being his cheeks also rosy.

"Wait... are you drunk as well?" Cullen asked him with surprise.

Glenn doubted, showing a funny face that shouted guilty. "That’s an answer, I suppose" the Commander ended with a sigh.

"Wait, as well …?" Josephine asked. "How have you noticed?" This time, all stared at Josephine, whose accent in Common language was getting worse with every sip of her cocktail. 

"Oh, Val Royeaux, quelle ville de débauche!"  Dorian exclaimed.

Alyna, Josephine and Solas chuckled and they all got involved in a conversation about their afternoon obligations, although it was completely impossible to make Josephine spill the beans about her date.

"Wait a minute... Why didn't you tell me you do actually speak Orlesian?" Alyna suddenly realized Solas didn’t need Dorian’s translation to understand the comment.

"Well, because I do not actually speak Orlesian: I read it and I am able to understand it moderately well," he informed her.

"Mmm… lack of practice with the oral, then?" she asked him with a clearly teasing intention and a playful smile on her lips, full of double meaning.  

He smirked, deep-breathing to calm himself down, trying to remain indifferent. She was, literally, driving him crazy. He could think a thousand answers that would have made her blush madly. Instead, decided to keep them for himself and under his contained mask. "If what you want is to redden me, you are going to need something more eloquent than a joke about my oral skills," he said with a soft whisper, calmly, eyes fixed on hers and carrying on with his dinner after as if nothing happened.

"Mmmhh... you seem to be quite self-confident… Interesting… I'll keep it in mind..." she continued teasing, gaining a new smug smile from him. "Well, you made me blush a couple of times, I believe it’s worth trying with you, just to check if there are any sort of feelings under your hard-rock armour." Her words were sharp as knives, even if she kept the playful tone.

Solas shook his head, hiding the fact that, in a different world, he would have repaid her insolence laying her on the table roughly and melting her under his tongue during the whole night until she screamed his name, pleading him to stop. But, again, he didn’t reply, so the healer addressed her attention back to the conversation around, slightly disappointed.  

"For tomorrow, the Ball begins at five o’clock in the evening," Josephine explained with a slightly slurred speech. "I left your attires and masks in your rooms. Just for your knowledge, the presence of any kind of blade and staffs is totally forbidden. Our appointment with the Empress will be after the hand-kissing ceremony… which we don’t know when would be: that’s how things work in Orlais."

"The soirée might be quite long, depending on the issues the Empress has to deal with. If I were you, I would go fully rested and ready for a long evening," Dorian added.

Josephine, Cullen and Glenn said goodnight to their companions right after the desserts and went back to their rooms. Solas talked a few more minutes with Alyna and Dorian, finishing off their drinks, and looked for an excuse to sneak out as well. The healer followed his departure with a somehow disappointed expression.

"Ah, mon ami, si les regards vont parler..."  Dorian exclaimed with sarcasm, showing what a good observer he actually was, noticing the wonder in Alyna's eyes.

"What? No!" she replied quickly in Common language, feeling exposed.

"Val Royeaux a cet effet sur les gens. Ne te sens pas coupable,"  he added, smiley.

"Honnêtement, j'espère que tu as raison,"  Alyna sighed.

Chapter Text

As the protocol dictated, all the men that had been invited to the Royal Ball arrived at the palace nearly one hour before than any lady. "Because it takes us more time to get ready so, being tired of waiting, the Empress established that they would begin the party earlier," Josephine explained to Alyna while the carriage took them out of town and to the fabulous setting where the reception and the Ball would be.

The Ambassador wore a pompous orlesian dress with a bell-shaped long skirt in shiny purple and golden fabric, but Alyna had chosen a completely different style for her dress, much simpler, yet elegant and with certain elven reminiscence: a long-sleeved A-line in grey satin, matching her eyes. A dress that daringly exposed her neck and shoulders, as she had her hair up in a formal bun. A long silver belt with crystals and a silver mask were the only jewellery she wore.

"You’re dress to impress today, definitively," the Ambassador admired with a roguish smile.

"I feel like your puppet, Josephine," the elf complained with irony. "Or like your exhibition pet."

Josephine laughed at the terms. "It’s a party, Alyna! Just drink, dance and enjoy yourself. Have fun until the Empress receive us. That’s the plan."

They remained quiet for a little while and, suddenly, the Ambassador spoke, all excited. "Wouldn’t it be awesome that your ex-lover was here today? Can you imagine the rumours?... You think he’ll recognise you after all this time?"

Alyna felt her heart sink in her stomach with her comment and stared at her, eyes wide open in mild panic: that was a possibility she had never thought about. "For fuck's sake, Jossie, no! Why do you do this to me?" she laughed with discomfort. "I recall that he had a good relationship with the Circle and the Chantry, but was not very keen on the Empress... I would be quite surprised if we find him here, to be honest," she said, not a hundred per cent sure of her words, though.

The Ambassador sighed with resignation and shook her head on a very melodramatic way. 

"Tu es une fille terrible,"  Alyna replied, making the diplomat burst on laughter.

The carriage dropped them off at the bottom of the palace's stairs and a human servant opened the door for them. Immediately, a waiter with a silver tray offered them champagne in fancy flute glasses. Josephine and Alyna exchanged a gaze and a mischievous smile before making a small toast, trying the dry sparkly and for sure expensive beverage. "Welcome back to Orlais, my dear," Josephine grinned, pulling up her skirt to climb up the steps that led into the garden.

It was just past six o’clock and the winter sun was starting to hide on the horizon. The two women went across the forge gates, following the white stone path, looking around with curiosity and enjoying the festive atmosphere and the music. The garden was sumptuous and excessively ornate, like everything in Orlais: there were wooden arches covered with red roses, hedgerow mazes where some attendants played hide and seek, shrubs pruned with different animal shapes and a line of lit torches on the edges of the path, creating shadows and reflecting on the people's masks. People that conversed in small circle groups, giggling and drinking casually. Alyna was able to discern attires from different parts of Thedas and many different masks with different shapes and finishes, covering more or less proportion of the faces. 

Some people turned to look at them when they passed by, probably trying to recognise who hid under their masks. Some others, mostly men, raised their drinks at them in a sort of a greeting and Josephine and Alyna played along, raising their glasses and drinking. A group of well-dressed men intercepted them when we're about to reach the doors of the Palace. They were all fun and laughs, clearly having a good time, and refilled the women glasses with a bottle they had stolen from a waiter. Then, they started the main game in this sort of masked parties: Devine qui je suis?  Using only “yes” or “no” questions, you had to figure out the identity of the other players. Josephine was recognised as the Inquisition Ambassador, and she also was able to guess the identity of one of the men: the son of a well-known and wealthy nobleman from the South of Orlais. As the other three and Alyna remained unknown, they introduced themselves formally before resuming their steps towards the palace with the promise of having a second glass of champagne if they came across again.

"This is new… the Guess who I am?  game," Alyna told to Josephine when the youngsters left. "A very good way to break the ice."

"Yes, quite new, actually. The idea of the game is, other than guess who is under the mask, remember their names in case you have the chance to play again," Josephine explained, amused and sly.

"I imagine in case you fancy what you see…" the healer with a twisted smile.

"That’s it!"

A highly dressed up servant opened one of the glass doors for them and a wave of music, perfume and warmth surrounded them. The hall where the Ball took place was enormous and spectacular: white and black marble tiles formed geometric patterns under their feet; two wide white stairs with solid balustrade climbed up to an opened first floor, where a row of balconies allowed the attendees to follow the events, the orchestra and the dance on the ground floor;  mirrors lined up on the walls, creating an infinity effect; a sumptuous chandelier lit up the hall, right above a string quartet. Servants dressed in white and without masks moved quickly in between the crowd, carrying trays with drinks and fancy food. And, at the moment, jugglers, contortionists and fire eaters with golden tights occupied the space reserved for dancing, performing.

"This is…" Alyna began with her eyes wide open in surprise. No parties she had previously attended to were remotely comparable to that one.

"Impressive? Spectacular? Astonishing?" Josephine completed the sentence.

"I was about to say too much, but yes… I think all those words fit, too," the healer admitted.

In the middle of the crowded hall full of masks and costumes, Josephine was the only one able to recognise their companions by their clothes. She scanned around, accepting another drink until she found them. Then, she held Alyna’s hand and pulled her through the people sea, guiding her towards the left stairs where the Inquisitor was.

"Devine qui je suis?"  Alyna asked Glenn when they reached him, recognising him under the golden mask.

"What?" he asked, narrowing his eyes, puzzled.

Josephine laughed. 

"You’re gonna have to rub your shoulders more with the aristocracy, Inquisitor..." Alyna answered him, amused and making a face, leaving him baffled again.

Glenn was wearing a red tunic with gold epaulettes and buttons with the Inquisition symbol, and blue sash belt. Black trousers and high boots, together with a full golden mask finished his clothes. Alyna realized that the man standing by the Inquisitor on the stairs was Cullen: the same tunic, but beige, and dark green sash belt with black trousers and boots. His mask was golden and well-polished. She looked around their position, but couldn’t spot Solas anywhere.

"Do we already know when the Empress will see us?" the Commander wanted to know once he recognised Alyna and Josephine. Cullen looked quite out of place there, as if he wasn't in his element at all.

"No, but I hope it doesn't take too long before the party goes wild and people get pissed. I never thought it was practical to deal with this sort of diplomatic issues in this type of events, to be honest" the Ambassador claimed.

Later, Josephine and Glenn got tangled up in a conversation about the Devine qui je suis? game, weird protocol stuff and other oddities from the Court, leaving Alyna and Cullen apart. "You look beautiful," he broke the silence after some seconds.

"Thank you," she answered with a neutral tone and a thin smile. "I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate for the Ball, but it seems to fit in just well, with all this paraphernalia..." The healer pointed discreetly to the mixture of bizarre attires that spun and moved around them and Cullen chuckled with his eyes still intensely fixed on her. They both had to cope with each other during that trip. Even if at first they both ignored each other, the Commander had gained back in confidence and resolution, enough to begin a subtle approach trying to earn her forgiveness, perhaps. Alyna, on the contrary, reacted just with courtesy, measuring carefully the distance between them and not feeding any hopes he could have.

In front of the recent whatever was going on in between Solas and her, the healer found herself thinking about Cullen and the time they were together before the addiction and his demons destroyed everything. Analyzing her feelings that same morning, she realized that, after what happened and the time passed by, there were only ashes left. Just nothing: she had turned the page. And that was something the Commander had noticed, too.  

They talked politely for some minutes about the mission and the hour they had been on their own before the ladies arrived. "We've been basically examining the place: escape ways, reviewing the plan, drinking…"

"And it seems you have lost one of you on your way..." Alyna joked.

"Ahm, Solas… Of course!" he complained about with a sharp sardonic tone.

She was surprised about his comment, unexpected and caustic. It had been more than two years since he abandoned her. “How dare he?” she thought, frowning. “I can’t believe he is being jealous after everything... after all that happened!" She terminated the conversation with a glare as cold as ice. "I’m going to get a drink."

"I go with you," he offered.

"No," Alyna refused quickly, stopping him with her hand. "Better you don't."

Cullen nodded with rejection, staring at her back with his light brown eyes, watching how she stepped down the stairs before getting lost in the crowd.

Still somehow surprised and annoyed, Alyna accepted the glass one of the servants offered her and wandered around the ground floor, listening to the music and admiring the paintings on the walls. She was not that affected by his comment, just shocked, finding hard to believe how selfish he turned out to be for such a stupid thing as her flirting with the elf. If that was what it was...

To kill some time, she studied the eyes and the behaviour of the people behind the masks. Few of them approached her, initiating conversation and trying to figure out who she was, but she excused herself saying she was not from Orlais. A guest with typical nevarran clothes grabbed her hand and led her onto the dance floor without even introducing himself, and she went along with it. When the dance finished, they had a quick chat in a friendly manner before she found an excuse to leave. She observed, amused, how the man came back to his friends like a real-life hero and the healer could no nothing else but smile with the situation.

She went up the right stairs, that seemed less busy, passing by a group of women with feathers, ruffs and kind of elven dresses that made her chuckle ironically. “The one and true Elvhen heritage...” she thought, sarcastically. When the healer reached the balcony, she bent over the balustrade, observing how the people had begun a new dance following the pace of the music. A man leaned over next to her, quietly, invading her personal space, and Alyna turned towards him, more than ready to shoo him away.

"I thought I wouldn’t find you..." Solas' soft voice expressed something close to relief when he spoke after making sure the person on the balustrade was Alyna.

The healer recognised him immediately and grinned openly. "What a happy coincidence! I was actually looking for you!" she exclaimed, playful. "Have you already played Guess who I am? ” she asked, looking in his violet-grey eyes.

"Yes… Sort of... I had to excuse myself a couple of times with my very poor Orlesian... I don’t really see the point of it if you are a foreigner. However, is a good way to start a conversation with the other guests."

"Oh... I suppose that eliminates my expectations to show you how to play," she replied, faking sadness.

"I don’t think we need any kind of introduction or excuse to talk anymore, don't you agree?" he replied with a crooked grin.

Alyna mirrored his smile and studied at his clothes for being able to recognise him in case they lose track of the others later. His mask was made of silver, with details in the edges, and left the lower part of his face exposed: his mouth and his characteristic chin. He was all dressed in black: linen trousers, short tunic/jacket and dark blue sash belt. The neckline of a black shirt could be seen under his clothes and wore leather gloves and boots. He was highly elegant and very different from the general style of the Ball. She couldn't miss the fact that Solas' gaze had lingered up over her exposed shoulder, neck and ear without any sort of disguise.  

"I have to say it’s a very peculiar event. I have never been before in the Court of Val Royeaux… It’s so… odd," her mind supplied, just to break the silence and his focus.

"You are right. Also, good music, fancy drinks, dance, intrigues, a Palace… I think it is perfect." His smile was quite interesting when pronouncing the words and it was imbued with passion.

"Is it your first time in this kind of party?" she wanted to know, a little intrigued about his comment.

"Well, yes. More or less. I have seen some before... in the Fade," he replied, swiftly.

The healer nodded her head in acknowledgement. "Not even in my best moments in the Fade I would have been able to imagine a party as sumptuous as this one," she admitted.

"The Fade reflects your experiences, not just your imagination. If you want to discover new areas, you have to travel to those places, as we did in the White Spire. Especially when seeking memories. Obviously, apart from being creative and interesting in order to shape it."

She looked at him, faking indignant, with her frown hidden behind the mask. "Wait, have you just said I’m not creative and interesting?" 

"I didn’t do such a thing!" he exclaimed with a smirk and an innocent tone.

Alyna laughed with their easy interaction, thinking of how many times Varric had defined Solas' as stuck-up. "Anyway, I have to say is the best excuse for travelling I have ever heard: enjoy your life and living experiences to know more about the Fade," she carried on.

"It's a side benefit if you want to put it that way."

"How so?" the healer asked him, intrigued.

"You train your will and your dexterity to control your magic and apply it on the battlefield. Your indomitable focus and the grace of your movements are a pleasing side benefit. You have chosen a path you don’t dislike because it leads to a destination you enjoy. The same than me with the Fade: I decided to live more experiences in real life to discover more of it," the elf explained, thinking of how accurate that definition had been during the last few years.

"Mmm… You should focus more on reality and less in dreams, Solas. You might be missing something important," she said, making a dramatic pause. "So... Are you suggesting I’m graceful, then?" Her question was mischievous and she was perfectly aware of it.

"No, I am declaring it. It was not a matter of debate," he stated, eyes locked on hers.

Alyna held his violet stare for a few seconds, incredulous, trying to find the appropriate words to reply. She felt the heat creeping up her cheeks once again, luckily hidden behind the mask. Then, she slid her look down to his lips, studying the wrinkles on his nose when he had that smug smile of his. Out of a sudden, she found herself wondering when he started to look so attractive. "Sweet-talker..." she muttered in the end, looking away and down to the dance on the ground floor.

Solas sighed, aware that he had stepped too far again and smiled when heard the term, still tense. Also, tried to distract himself turning his gaze to the dance.

It had been less than two seconds when Alyna touched his cheek gently, making him turn his face. Holding her breath, she stood on her toes and kissed him.

Solas felt the softness and warmth of her lips. Too brief, less than a heartbeat. And it totally took him by surprise. She stepped back with a sort of cheeky smile twitching on the edge of her mouth and turned around, ready to leave. But the elf reacted then and held onto her waist, enjoying her astonished gesture when he pulled her close.

He kissed her back.

Time stopped as she felt his gentle hands holding her steady against the warmth of his body. His mouth was on hers, the tip of his tongue teasing her entrance. She parted her lips, letting him in, and he pushed deeper, building up the kiss. A kiss that tasted like wine and red berries. She lifted one of her hands, cupping his cheek with a caress, her heart racing.

All of a sudden, the lights went off and a general murmur grew, making them suddenly aware where they were, interrupting them. Solas pulled away slowly, looking at her lips: they were red and glossy with his attentions, and still half-open, as a hint of a promise. Then, they both looked at the furthest point of the Hall, where an emissary had just announced the entrance of the Empress. The mage hadn’t moved his hand from the small of her back, though.

"We should look for the others," Solas whispered in her ear.

She just nodded.  

 

***

 

The Empress was a woman in her fifties with majestic bearing. Wearing a fabulous blue dress and a golden crown, the governor of Orlais greeted her guests during the protocol hand-kissing ceremony.

Solas and Alyna joined Cullen at the opposite staircase. Josephine and Glenn had already gone down the Hall to meet the Empress. All the attendees remained now silent, observing the movements of their leader.

“Glenn Trevelyan, leader of the Inquisition and Herald of Andraste; Josephine Montilyet, from the Montilyet family, Ambassador of the Inquisition” they were introduced. Both kissed the Empress gloved hand and spoke with her assistant. When the ceremony was finished, the music and the voices turned back to their previous volume and the Ball resumed.

"They will call us in an hour," Glenn explained when they came back. "Enjoy the party until then."

The Inquisitor, Josephine and Alyna got entangled in a conversation about how ridiculous the protocol was in this kind of celebrations with the Ambassador explaining some of the most bizarre situations she had been involved while Cullen went for a drink. Solas stood on the edge of the staircase, above the fifth step, observing the circulation of people in the Hall. He heard Alyna’s laugh and it sounded crystalline and pure. "What am I doing? If this would have happened at a different time… in a different place..." he thought. He was still able to feel the softness of her lips on his, and her taste.

Cullen turned up then, standing next to him. "Having a good time, Solas?" he asked with a harsh tone, probably affected by the alcohol.

The mage wondered if he had seen them, although didn’t care at all about what the Commander would think or say at this point. Solas glared at him but tried to restrain himself, avoiding a confrontation. "If you mean the Ball, yes, I think is meeting my expectations."

Cullen snorted. "You know perfectly well what I'm talking about, but I guess your answer will work for both, though," he said, cocky.

But Solas had lost the thread of the inappropriate conversation, looking intently at the crowd. The Empress interacted with a small group of people a few meters away from them. An individual with a cape walked towards her across the people, gripping a staff in his hand.

"Inquisitor," he called, pointing at the intruder. "That man, the one with the cape…"

The Inquisitor and all the others located him with a look. Cullen, from his high position, spotted two more people with daggers. The crowd around them began to move away in panic at the sight of the weapons. 

"We have to stop them," Glenn ordered taking his mask off. "Cullen, with me."

They walked through the multitude with difficulty, most of them still enjoying the celebration, unaware of the small commotion formed in view of the blades. They both went for the ones who grabbed the daggers, who were closer to the Empress.

Alyna was not on a good angle to paralyse or to attack the mage. Loud screaming could be heard now when the guests realized what was going on. Solas had waited until the last second to cast a barrier over the Empress, trying not to feed the panic. But given that the other mage was ready to throw a spell, he had to do it swiftly, confirming something bad was happening against Celene. Mages with no staves were dangerous, meaning always a loss of focus and precision that would affect with the spells: a very risky way of casting in a room crowded of people like the one they were into.

The enemy mage had attacked with lighting that ricocheted on the barrier, crashing into the chandelier and shattering it into pieces. After that, the panic spread and the crowd screamed and shrieked, trying to get out. Cullen and Glenn had intercepted the other armed guys and had gotten into a quite uneven fight. Alyna climbed up a couple of steps to get a better view of the situation. She subdued the enemy mage with mind control spell, making him attack his partners instead. Solas focused in reinforcing the barrier as a fourth enemy appeared suddenly, casting lighting again against the Empress too. The elf neutralized this last man with flashfire. When Glenn and Cullen finished off the other two, Alyna cast fade strike, throwing the other mage against the wall and smashing him.

The guards, warned by the human stampede, came in the Hall then. Some people laid on the floor, having been injured during the confusing runaway, mostly with cuts and bruises. The two mage terrorists were dead and the rogues arrested by the palace guards. 

The Empress, still terrified, had taken refuge behind a chair and only came out of hiding when the fight was over. "You have saved my life. Inquisitor, right?" she addressed to Glenn.

He nodded his head, still out of breath, wiping his bloody knuckles on the red fabric of his tunic.

"I know the reason why you are here today and what your request is. In gratitude for saving my life, my answer is yes. I will make all the official arrangements to issue the permit for the mages tomorrow."

Some of her advisers and entourage came in then and shielded the Empress, comforting her, while the guards took away the prisoners. None of the guests was seriously injured and, after some healing magic for Cullen and Glenn’s hands, the group met again in the middle of the Hall, now empty, with the previously spotless floor covered with broken pieces of glass and blood.

"The perfect way to finish a party," Glenn ironically said, taking a look around.

"Well, at least we are all ok," Josephine said with a tremble in her voice, straightening her dress. Her hair was a mess and her face still denoted her fear.

Cullen sighed; his fancy beige outfit splattered with blood.

"I don’t think the Ball will spice up after all this," Alyna joked. She looked quite untouched, as so did Solas: one of the good points of fighting from distance.

"Time to go home, then," Glenn ended up.

Chapter Text

The Royal Order reached their hands the next day in the afternoon and the Inquisitor arranged with Dorian and his advisors their departure in a couple of days time. All the mages who wanted to join the Inquisition were informed about the details of their journey, which would take one week by foot, and were invited to bring comfortable shoes, bedrolls and blankets.

Solas didn’t appear in the Fade the night after the Ball and accompanied Glenn during the last two days like his shadow, closing the last bureaucratic issues with the mages and gathering a list of books from the library with Dorian. Josephine requested Alyna's help to stock up on food and water for the journey, finding a couple of carriages and enough boats to go across the Waked Sea with the mages. The last afternoon, with nothing else to do, the healer used her spare time to restock some healing ingredients she needed for Haven, and roamed the city with no direction in mind, closely followed by two armed guards this time.

Alyna could not help the feeling that Solas was avoiding her on purpose. She had had plenty of time to think about their kiss, it’s meaning and the timing, completely inappropriate, literally in the middle of a mission. Although that was the only reason why she felt guilty about. And he had kissed her back, proving that the attraction was mutual and not just a one-way thing.

Quite late during the last night they were staying in Val Royeaux, the healer heard knocks on her door.

"One minute!" she said, getting out of bed where she was reading. Alyna straightened her white sleeping shirt, being aware that her robe had been already packed with all her belongings, and brushed her hair aside with her fingers. When she opened the door, Solas was on the other side. She was not expecting him at all and couldn’t hide a gesture of surprise.

Solas realized he had just got her out of bed, catching a glimpse of her nude legs.

"Hi! I was nearly asleep..." she said rubbing her forehead and frowning slightly. "What time it is?"

"Sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you. It's true that is late. We can talk another day if you prefer," he excused himself, still standing at the doorstep, ready to leave.

The healer doubted but, finally, she pulled the door opened and let him in. Solas stared at her after, calm and assured, searching for the best words to begin his speech with. He contemplated the heat on her grey eyes, the fullness of her lips and her dark hair falling on her left shoulder, giving her a messy look but sensual at the same time. The mage tried not to peep down to her legs but, all of a sudden, he wondered if she would wear any clothes at all under the nightgown and his self-confidence faltered. He tried really hard to cast the idea away from his mind.

The mage had had some time to thoroughly analyse the last events between them, trying to figure out what was going on, and it could be summarised in one word: attraction. Alyna attracted him as no other elf had done in millennia, with a passion he thought he had already forgotten. He felt the need to make her blush, flirt shamelessly, kiss and caress every inch of her skin, to possess her… He carried a heavy burden, but she made him feel alive with every word, with every chuckle, with their kiss... And he was overwhelmed about it, all over the place, although deep inside he knew he should not. He could not.

Solas had come to her room with a decision already made and a half-built excuse: the kiss had been impulsive and ill-considered and he shouldn’t have encouraged it with his words, neither his actions. The mage had planned to tell her that he would rather keep her as his friend and his ally, but he couldn’t go any further in their relationship as it would have been a pointless complication, considering their current dangerous situation and their responsibilities within the Inquisition.   

But, instead of preaching all those words, Solas found himself quietly caressing Alyna’s cheek with the tip of his fingers, lingering them up to her bare ear and downing them after over her neck and shoulder, mesmerized, enjoying the warm and soft touch of her exposed skin.

Her stomach twisted in surprise and desire, and the healer parted her lips, letting a breath scape out. "Solas…" she began with a whisper that died unfinished.

He waited for her to stop him, but she didn’t, so he continued gliding his hand down her cleavage and the smooth path between her breasts, following the border that her nightgown made. Until he found the first button detaining his fingers, knowing full well that there would not be a turning back from it.

Alyna perceived the hesitation in his eyes, but she didn’t want him to stop. Before he put his impenetrable mask back on, she brushed his hand away, staring up at his purple irises, and undid the buttons of her shirt. Her nightgown fell on the floor with a rustling, revealing her naked body, small breasts and gentle hips.

His eyes flicked through her skin and his breath became heavier. When he met her eyes again, she just saw desire, hot and primal, and she felt that same heat spreading through her veins.

She stepped forward and circled his neck with her arms, lifting on her toes to kiss him. Solas answered his kiss with gentleness, hands paralyzed by the sides of his own body, knowing he had lost the battle. When the realization was made, he definitively surrendered to her. His hands raised to grasp her hips, pulling her closer while his tongue looked for hers with heat. He was excited and Alyna could feel that excitement pressing against her body. She rocked on him and he groaned. And the sound was delightful, sending an electric wave of pleasure straight to Alyna’s core. One of his hands had dropped to her buttocks, keeping her steady against his hardness; the other, caressing her back with the kindest stroke that covered her with goosebumps.

The kiss grew deeper, tongues twisting, and the pleasure began to growl and build. Without breaking the kiss, she followed with her fingers the neckline of his shirt until she reached the buttons, undoing them with expertise and pulling the fabric open in a rush. He took it off, one arm at the time, with the other still grasping her as if he didn’t want her to pull away, not even a breath.

Alyna slid her hands down to his body, feeling the muscles of his shoulders, lowering to his chest, his abs and going beyond his navel, reaching the waist of his trousers. His skin was warm and soft. And it felt real. When one of her hands was about to invade the swollen part of his groin, he stopped her, entangling his fingers with hers and leading her back up to his chest instead. Alyna emitted a soft groan of disapproval, crushing her hips onto his again as revenge, Solas biting back a moan. He felt the tip of her mouth twisting up in a smile, for sure realizing how undone he was.

They walked backwards and stumbling towards the bed and Solas was the one who broke the kiss when his legs bumped into the edge of it, ending up sitting on the mattress. She leaned over him, trying to find his lips again, but with a quick flick, he pulled her hips and twirled her back, sitting her right on his lap, regaining control of the situation. 

Alyna felt him hard in his trousers and rocked her hips provoking him a shudder. But the elf wrapped her waist with surprising strength, obliging her to stay put. He was also brushing her hair to the left with his fingers, tangling them through with slowness, every touch rushing adrenaline through her body. Then, he tightened his grip on it and pulled, tilting her head and exposing her ear, neck and shoulder.

She moaned softly when his mouth reached for her skin, kissing and nipping all the way up to her ear with calmness, and hissed when Solas bit on her trapezius muscle, soothing the red mark with a kiss after. The hand that was circling her waist moved to caress the inner part of her legs, splitting them apart to gain better access to her core. His clever fingers slid down the sides and she trembled. He repeated the action, this time in the inner part, following her wetness with a gentle touch and she arched her back, eager to feel his fingers in. But he didn’t pleasure her that way. He focused on her clit instead, trying different paces, intensities and movements, studying her breath and her answers to him. She realized he was testing her, figuring her out. His grip loosened on her hair, letting it go, and circled her shoulders, leaning her back on him when he found a steady rhythm they both seemed to like. Her body shook with every stroke, panting with the caress and the slowness of his expert fingers.

"Faster, please..." she begged him, being nearly over the edge.

But he didn’t speed up, pleasure building up slowly and flooding her in the end. Her back arched violently when she reached her climax and trembled, moaning his name while he guided her through it. It had been too intense, too much, and she sat limp over him, head bent back on his shoulder, feeling his tough arm around her.

"I hope my performance had been appropriate," he purred in her ear, teasing her.

"I… cannot complain," she whispered, trying to catch her breath back.

He smirked with pride and waited patiently for her to recover, keeping her on him, kissing her shoulder and neck softly over the red bite that marked her. Then, Solas cupped one of her breasts, feeling the tip of it hardening against his palm. He pinched it softly, catching her attention again with a gasp. When he repeated the action, she reached for his lips, spinning on him, ending up face to face sitting on his groin.

He was impossibly hard in his trousers.

It was her turn to drive him mad and the realization hit her with arousal. She placed her flat palm on his chest, pushing him and making him lie down on the bed. It was the first time she was able to properly look at him and she didn’t miss the opportunity to do so: his lips were rosy and parted with his breathing, and his cheeks, red in excitement, as well as the tip of his perfect elven ears. His eyes were locked on hers again, eager, and his chest moved up and down following the pace of his breath, together with his wolf jaw pendant. Freckles covered all over his broad shoulders, arms and chest, and even going down on the pale skin of his abdomen. He was lean and muscular.

"Gods, you are gorgeous," she said before bending over him, kissing him greedily, not giving him the chance to reply.

And things sped up again: he gripped his fingers on her buttocks while Alyna moved her attention towards his neck and ear. His ear, the sound he made when she bit it was primal... and she loved the fact he was so vocal. She downed her kisses to his chest and his torso, feeling his harsh breath when playing with his belly button and sliding down her attentions over the fabric of his trousers. When she kissed over the bulging part of it, the elf bit back a curse. She undid the laces and pulled his trousers and pants down, all at the same time, leaving him fully naked.

His size was… unexpected, over the average definitively, and heat shot her in between the legs just thinking of it.

Solas used her halt to gain leverage and dragged her back to the bed, laying her on her back and separating her legs. He kissed her, eagerly and needy, aligned his member with her entrance and thrust himself in.

She moaned, but a different kind of moan, and pushed his hips back with her hands.

Solas froze and stared at her. "Shit, I’m sorry, that was very rough..."

"No, no, it's all right" Alyna mumbled to his lips, a little embarrassed. "It’s just… It’s been a long time… and you are quite large..."

Solas held his weight on his elbows, using his hand to caress her cheek. "It’s been a long time for me too… Set the pace you want. I will follow you."

He moved his body up to let her reach his length and they fixed eyes in each other while Alyna dragged him against her sex. He slipped in, slowly and just the tip, before she used her hands to stop his hips to go any closer. He moaned, feeling her warmth and tightness around him, but didn’t move an inch, waiting for her to give him instructions. She gasped in his neck and pulled his hips, sinking him deeper. Solas could even feel the flutter of her heart around his cock. And her heat… It had really been a long time for him. Alyna pulled him again and he obeyed, as slowly as he was able to, hearing her soft moaning. His forehead fell on hers, fully buried and breathing sharply in her mouth, blinded by the sensation of her body. He looked at her, asking for permission to move, and she nodded her approval.

He thrust gently at the beginning, in long slow movements, rising almost to get out of her body and falling again, sharing their breaths. He couldn't think of anything else that was not her scent and the heat of her body. And then, her legs wrapped his hips, making the penetration deeper, and she moaned loudly in his mouth. He sped up his pace in response, long heavy thrusts, while reached for her clit, rolling it with his thumb, feeling her breathing became erratic. Her core tightened just as the pleasure built, her nails clawing into the skin of his buttocks just before she closed her eyes and cried his name.

Watching her climax, feeling her sex fluttering around him, he couldn’t hold his anymore. Solas buried his face on her neck and let a low groan escaped in between clenched teeth, sinking hard into Alyna’s body one last time, gripping her hips tightly.

He spilt himself fully inside her.

And, in that exact moment of his climax, he felt the most alive he had felt in millennia.

They stayed quiet, still connected, trying to gain their breaths back until the healer walked her fingers up and down his back a couple of times on a caress. That seemed to activate him because he raised back on his elbows and kissed her lips softly one last time. Then moved off, coming out of her and sitting by her side, his back resting on the bed’s headboard. She could feel his seed spilling out, dampening her legs, but it didn’t bother her.

"Should I ask if you want to stay for the night?" she broke the silence.

"I would like to, but I think it would lead to trouble," he answered, absently.

They kept quiet for a couple of minutes in which she curled up by his side while he caressed her hair, miles away, breathing her smell, like lavender, and sex. "Alyna, listen," he began gravely, catching her a glimpse of guilt in his eyes. "This is not what I planned it should happen today. I'm sorry, I've been impulsive, but I suppose there are always things that escape out of our control… this has been one of them."

The healer listened to his words, bewildered, and sat up on the bed, frowning. "Are you seriously apologizing for having sex with me, Solas?" she asked, between sceptical and amused, letting her hair fallen over his left side, covering that breast. She seemed disappointed, somehow.  "You might be right that it hasn’t been the best timing, but we are both adults and, tell me if I’m wrong, we both were seeking for this to happen. I'm far from regretting it, and you should be as well."

Solas thought about her words. Obviously, his circumstances were different than hers and he knew he had clearly made a huge mistake letting her pass through his defences. But she had no clue of who he was, of course. "I wouldn’t want to make more complex a situation that is difficult enough per se, like the task we are carrying out for the Inquisition," he said in the end. "I would appreciate if we could focus on it for now and discuss…  this later on."

She nodded at him. It sounded logical, in some way, although she was less worried about the meaning of their fling than Solas was. “What happens in Val Royeaux stays in Val Royeaux?" she asked, mischievous, mentioning the famous sentence, and lying back in bed, this time covering up with the bedsheets.

Solas showed a knowing smile with her words and got up, picking up his clothes from the floor. His feelings were frankly mixed up but felt calmer knowing he had won some time to put himself back together and his mask on. He left her room after saying goodnight with the certainty and the sorrow that indiscretion would be a one-night stand that could not happen again.

Chapter Text

Less than fifty people were congregated in the meeting point in Val Royeaux the departure day, waiting for instructions. Mages of all adult ages were ready to leave the city that had taken them in for years to join the Inquisition.

"If I’m honest with you, I thought they’d be more," Glenn said to Solas.

"Me too…" he admitted. "But this is better than nothing at all."

"Don’t lose your heart, the numbers are not that bad: there’re 27 mages from Val Foret who will join us in Haven," Dorian added, checking the list he had in his hand. "From Val Chevin and Montfort we are expecting 35. There’ll be a second group departing in a couple of days from here, guarded by Orlais soldiers. From Halamshiral and Verchiel we’ll get 25 more…"

Solas wished the Tevinter mage was right and all that magic will be ending up materializing in Haven in a couple of weeks. The only thing they could do at the moment was waiting.

Cullen gave orders to his soldiers and the ones the Empress had assigned to defend the group: the roads were dangerous in those days and all the armed help was welcome. Although he felt pitiful for the bandits that decided to attack a group of 50 mages. They set off to the port without further delay, ready to go across the Waking Sea again on board the four vessels Josephine had been able to hire.

While the Inquisitor, the Commander and Solas led the expedition, Josephine, Dorian and Alyna boarded the last ship leaving the port, trying to delay the tense sailing trip to its limit. Josephine was again extremely nervous and her usual tan and rosy colour had disappeared from her face, being already dizzy even before setting foot on the ship. Alyna also recalled her awful journey, but this time she had been foresighted. She took out of her bag a small glass bottle with an amber liquid in and drank a sip, handing it over to Josephine and inviting her to drink too.

"Thanks, but I think alcohol is the last thing I need right now," the Ambassador answered her. Her face colour was already turning greenish just with the swinging of the waves on the dock.

Dorian smiled, aware that his companions didn’t look very keen on sailing. 

"No, it’s a tonic. Against sickness. I haven’t distilled it, though: I bought it yesterday in one of the shops I went to."

Josephine looked at her with gratitude and drank the whole thing up. Sadly, it just didn’t work. Half an hour after leaving the city, Josephine was throwing up overboard and Alyna was laying on the floor with a similar face colour than the external mouldy part of the hull.

"Damn! You are truly sea dogs. I got along with the most adventurous pair in the Inquisition," Dorian joked.

"Fuck off!" Josephine shouted at him in between heaves, making Alyna laugh, regretting it immediately.

She should have been bringing him up-to-date about the ongoing diplomatic operations the Inquisition was holding with Tevinter, thing that obviously was not going to happen until they would reach dry land.

"If I come back to this bloody city, and I’m sure I will, I’m going to kill that shopkeeper," Alyna threatened from the deck.

Fortunately, the journey didn’t last long and the next day they were able to disembark in a small port not far from Halamshiral, where they will stay for the night.

The group travelled mainly on foot. Five carts bore the camp tents, bedrolls, blankets and provisions. A group of soldiers opened and closed the march intending to keep all the mages save… Or to prevent them from escaping. Alyna thought they looked like a strange flock of sheep whose shepherd is taking it to the slaughterhouse. She walked with Josephine and Dorian all the next morning, chatting animatedly about the life in Val Royeaux. The Ambassador was curious about the mage’s story and didn’t hold back at all, asking him every kind of delicate questions, same ones she had done before with Alyna. "So, are you leaving anyone special in Val Royeaux, Dorian?" she wanted to know.

"Well… There’s always someone special. Some times more than one… More than two in my case" he chuckled sly. "But nothing extremely important. You know what they say:  have a lover in each port…"

"Can I ask you why you had been exiled or is still too early to dig into that?" she carried on in the most innocent way.

"It doesn’t trouble me at all and it’s not a secret: as I’m sure you must have noticed because of my fine and effeminate manners, I’m gay. Inexplicably, in Tevinter is possible and socially acceptable to have sex between men in a level of decay only comparable with Orlais. However, contrirement à ici, it is socially looked down to go any further than a simple sexual affaire. Very hypocritical," he made a dramatic pause before continuing. "Sadly, I fell in love as an inexperienced apprentice, and my father didn’t take it very well. My lover carried on with his fake straight marriage, happy with his children, but I wanted to be free, so let's say I escaped. And then, they didn’t want me back."

"Is more opened-minded Val Royeaux now in that aspect?" Alyna asked. "When I lived there it was still not sociably acceptable to fall in love with someone of the same sex. Not that you couldn't have gay sex, though."

"Darling, Val Royeaux had changed so much the last years… You wouldn’t recognise it. If you already thought it was depraved, you must see the Chantry parties…"

Both women chuckled, thinking probably on their own experiences in the city. "Cassandra, our andrastian Seeker, is going to adore you when you tell her this, am I right Jossie?"

"Definitely," she agreed with a wry smile.

After their lunch the topics they dealt with began to be tedious for the healer: diplomacy, commercial agreements and all that kind of stuff, so she decided to say her goodbyes and slipped in between the Orlesian mages seeking for conversation. For some of them, the recent appearance of blisters on their feet showed their lack of outdoors experience in a very painful way. She discovered that there were a couple of healers, who had been treating the wounds of their colleagues. She made contact with them, conversing during some time and lending them one of her sterilizing ointments.  They were surprised by the fact she had studied and worked with the famous healer from the capital, thing that made her gain the trust of them immediately and, also, some status too. One of them, the eldest one, had also worked with the same healer during a brief period, more than fifteen years ago. Soon they found themselves sharing potions and recipes in a more or less fluent conversation.

The Inquisition inner circle joined in during the meals to catch up about the journey. They all were in high spirits, exchanging anecdotes and stories of their days, thinking that, at that pace, they will go through the Frostback Mountains in just three more days.

Solas had listened to Alyna’s line after their little fling and took seriously what happened in Val Royeaux would stay there for now. During those days she had enough time to think about it and she understood his friend’s decision about putting back anything that might happen between them until they had finished their mission. However, the attraction she felt for him hadn’t decreased at all, finding herself thinking about their encounter with frequency. Also, she found the elf glancing over at her more than once, so she imagined there hadn’t been any changes on his side, either. But the return to the routine and Haven had taken them back to reality too, and to prioritize the Inquisition issues. If there was something she was missing were his visits in the Fade, but it had been his choice to stop them and she could only respect it.

Next morning a storm found them and accompanied them during all the rest of their journey through the Frostback, mining the spirits of the mages. A couple of exhaustion faints, colds and fevers cases happened, also countless foot blisters, worsen with the fact of having wet clothes and shoes all the time. Alyna, together with Zack and Rob, the healers from Val Royeaux, emptied one of the carts and established an improvised infirmary in it. Although none of the cases was excessively complex, all those little treatments required mana and time, so it became a nearly full-time hobby for the healer.

It was the seventh day going across Edgehall when the breach made its appearance over the mountains, growing considerably. It followed them from the sky since then. Many of the mages started to show interest in the phenomenon and its nature. That is why Solas decided to organize an informal debate to resolve the fears and concerns and disclose all the information the Inquisition knew about the anomaly. Both the Inquisitor and Dorian attended.

"Is it possible to enter physically in the Fade just crossing it?" one of the youngest attendants asked.

"We don’t have certainty that is possible at all, because no one had experienced it but, theoretically, yes, it might be possible. You have to think it is a tear on the fabric that covers the Fade, and the only thing that fabric does it to keep the Fade isolated and strip your physical substance before you get into it. If we have a tear on it, any physical object should be able to come in it straight away, as well as going out from it. In spite it would be an interesting experience, I hope we don’t have the opportunity to discover it."

"Is the breach constantly expelling demons?" a middle-aged man asked, dressed in a rich tevene’s armour.

"The breach seems to activate with the proximity, hence, detecting any kind of presence around makes it expel beings. Not just demons, by the way."

"Can it also be trespass by Spirits?" a human mage, more or less Alyna’s age, asked from the first row.

"Yes. And let’s remember most of the Spirits are just curious about the real world, although some others don’t want to leave the comforts of the Fade. We have already found some spirits wandering around small rifts the Inquisition has closed in different parts of Thedas. They didn’t fight us; it is not their nature. Just observed us with curiosity and disappeared peaceably."

Alyna had joined the talk when she finished her obligations in the clinic, nearly when it was over. She sat discreetly as far away as she could and observed the mage for a little while, thinking how experienced and self-confident Solas looked whilst speaking in front a massive group of mages, all of them avid to know. "He has no reason to envy any scholar, that’s for sure," she mumbled, slightly surprised, getting lost in the smooth tone of his words and explanations, basically hypnotised by his voice. "Elf, mage, apostate and the greatest expert in the Fade from all Thedas… He would provoke a heart attack to all the Tevinter's magisters."

"I don’t have much real experience in combat," she heard a woman say somewhere on her left. "I don’t know how to fight."

It was not a question, just a simple observation.

The Inquisitor glanced at Solas, waiting for him to explain what they had agreed during that day. "When we arrive at Haven, training groups will be organized with instructor mages with battle experience to practice spells, casting skills and, above everything, mana dosage. I will coordinate this training myself with Luca and Domeri, who were personal guards of the baron of Vyrantium." Two well-built mages standing up on a side nodded to the elf and all eyes looked at them. "Alyna Weeks, mage member of the Inquisition, will also be an instructor, although I think she is not here right now," Solas said narrowing his eyes, trying to find her amongst the crowd.

The healer snorted with annoyance. If they were entrusting her with something as important as the training, they should have asked her first. She raised her hand with apathy, waving to Solas with a deeply ironic smile, smile the mage got the meaning of immediately.

"Ah! That’s her! That is Alyna," Glenn exclaimed cheerfully, not taking notice of her facial expression.

 

***

 

"So, you have climbed up the ladder! I always knew you will go far, Aly. How proud I am!" Varric teased her in front of his beer glass sitting in front of the fireplace where he had been, more or less, all day.

Alyna snorted crossing the doorstep, hair and clothes were soaked because of the icy rain, and sat by his side with a crooked tired grin after leaving her staff by the door. It had been a week since the expedition from Orlais had arrived at Haven and, during that time, a constant drop of mages had raised their numbers to nearly 200. During the whole week, her main task had been training them in magic defence, forming small groups, basically meaning the mages attacked her while she defended herself; then they repeated the drill the other way around. As well as the spells, she had to keep up a powerful barrier for her and her opponent, which was an exhausting waste of mana. She was drained.

"How was it?" they both heard behind them after the door opened. Solas came in, also soaked, tired expression too. He left his staff by Alyna’s and ran his hand over his head, drying the rain from it.

She glared at him with harshness, as if all this teaching-magic situation had been totally his fault. Actually, in part it was. Meanwhile, Varric was surprised they hadn’t arrived together, considering they both came from the same place. 

"I’m not gonna be able to stand another week at this pace," she complained. "My hand shakes just gripping the staff and the dizziness of being out of mana is getting a constant now. The mages, well, by the way. They get better every day, which is not good for me, actually."

He took his overcoat vest off while showing a twisted smile over her words, totally empathising with her exhaustion, as he felt the same way. Then, filled two cups with white wine and offered one of them to the healer, as a kind of peace offer, kind gesture on his face. She accepted it, raising an eyebrow, with no words at all.

Varric knew something was going on. He had perceived it during all this last week. They were… kind of distant. And that was strange.

"How is your novel going?" Alyna asked the dwarf, changing the topic, due to the massive mountain of written paper scattered over the table.

"Good, good…" he said with a face. "No, shit, just bloody awful: I haven’t written anything at all since we arrived at this godforsaken place… The inspiration has abandoned me because this is the most boring place in Thedas."

"You are omitting the fact we have an enormous breach on the Veil a few kilometres far away from here…" Solas replied.

"Crimes, Solas. And romance. I’m writing a love-crime story. The only crime that happened here is you haven’t told me anything at all about Val Royeaux… That would have been enough for a novel, I’m sure."

Fucking nosy dwarf,” Alyna thought with a murderous look.

"Well, what do you want to know?" Solas asked him with impassivity.

"A picture of the city as a beginning, impressions, drunk Josephine, the Ball… any other detail about the aristocracy would be welcome, too. You can save me the sordid details, although I’d also be willing to hear them," he said ironically, making a gesture with his hand.

Truth be told, buried as they were in the mage training, this was the first day they were able to chill out and had a chat as they used to do before, so they caught up on their experience in the capital of Orlais. Nobility, ostentatiously and decadence, described with all sort of details: the meeting with the mages, breakfast with the Divine, the Ball with the Empress… they both said nothing about their night together although Alyna knew that Varric was not stupid and he was aware their relationship had been slightly distant lately. It was not at the beginning but being back in Haven had changed things once more and it seemed that Solas was avoiding her in a very tactful way. And she was tired of his game.

The healer disappeared into her room shortly after, moment Varric decided to ask Solas about it. "Ok, now the ladies have abandoned the room, can you tell me what the hell had happened in Val Royeaux between you two?"

Solas didn’t say anything, sipping his drink, although his silence explained more than his words. "It’s… complicated," he pronounced in the end with a meditative gesture.

Varric sensed wouldn’t be able to make him say anything else and, whatever it happened, was still ongoing. "Solas, honestly, I hope you can work it out. She… I don’t know… looked happy. And you too, Chuckles."

Despite he had tried his best to keep the same proximity and warmth with the healer, it had been impossible to pretend nothing happened because the attraction was still there, burning him inside with every gaze. He was afraid of making the same mistake, the same slip. Slip he would have willingly repeated over and over again, kissing every inch of her skin and unravelling all the secrets her body hid. Sadly, in this world, for his sake and hers, he had to let her go.

Chapter Text

The healer pushed magically one of the greater terrors, throwing it closer to Bull’s range, who delivered a heavy blow with his mallet on its head, neutralizing it. In spite of her barrier, something shoved her arm, making her fell forwards, hitting her head on the ground. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Blackwall running towards her and killing the terror that had just knocked her over. Then, the human helped her up and disappeared as quick as he came to carry on fighting. Alyna touched her cheek, still slightly stunned, feeling something warm trickling down on it: her fingers were stained in red and it came from her forehead. It didn’t seem serious though, so she went back to the fight, re-casting the barrier and focusing her magic against the despair demon that had just appeared. She cast mind control to make it fight against its own kind, one of her own soldier allies staring at her with surprise. A terror demon used those two seconds to pierce his chest with his claws from behind and the man didn’t even scream, eyes wide open with pain, falling dead immediately. She killed the being after, with a hike on her adrenaline and a constant feeling of anxiety in her chest.

That battle was the one they had been getting ready for during the last months. That was why they had recruited and trained the mages and their warriors and had asked for help to Ferelden arls and orlesian armies.

The Breach had grown out of control since they came back from Orlais, like if it knew they were preparing to fight it, and it was now visible from different points of the Frostback. In consequence, they had to hurry their plans. The Inquisitor and his inner circle had prepared the strategy thoroughly: in two groups, the first one, commanded by Captain Lorenz and Blackwall, would clear up and secure the exterior area of the temple; the second group, led by the Inquisitor and the Commander, would get into it to close the Breach once and for all.

The battle had developed with promptness on the bridge, which were able to clear up and cross with relative ease. However, it got difficult in the areas and fields bordering the temple itself. The second group had reached the building only fifteen minutes after them. “Don’t let anything get in or out from this place,” Glenn told to Alyna and Blackwall before disappearing through the heavy wooden doors. Solas fave her a grave look before getting in the temple, together with the Inquisitor.

Some time of cruel battle after, the number of soldiers and mages fighting on the exteriors had decreased considerately and the Breach was still unclosed.

"Barrier me!" Bull shouted to the healer, who cast a barrier around the qunari right before he jumped against a group of wraiths, knocking them down with his mallet. Other three beings attacked them after, pinning the Iron Bull onto the ground in spite of the barrier spell. At least, he was unhurt. Alyna disintegrated two of them while Bull kicked the other one with all his might until it disappeared.

On the next wave, the number of beings dropped drastically, bringing no more than twenty. While the demons and terrors getting out of the Bread decreased, the healer noticed the high number of soldiers and mages laying on the ground, injured or dead. She ordered the group of healers to take away from the battlefield the ones that were still alive with extreme caution. Then, she came back to the temple doors, where Varric was sitting quite stiff, leaning onto the wall and extremely pale. His armour was torn over his shoulder and a massive claw wound could be seen across his flesh. "Shit, Varric," she said kneeling in front of him and lifting her hands to his shoulder, already casting the spell.

"Don’t you dare to waste your mana with me. I’m all right: is just a scratch," the dwarf commanded with a pained grimace, brushing her hands away weakly.

She completely ignored him and repositioned her hands over Varric's shoulder, glowing with the white shine of the healing spell while the dwarf protested. The healer rationed her mana, and only when her head began to spin slightly, she stopped her casting. The wound was not closed, but at least it had stopped bleeding.

With a murmur and a flash, another wave hit and more beings appeared: even less than the previous one. The soldiers got rid of them with ease but everyone felt utterly disoriented: the Breach was still shinning on the sky. Blackwall made his way through the battlefield to speak to her, dragging his sword, breathing heavily. "This is odd, and it doesn’t make any sense. The Breach hasn’t shrunk at all... Where are the beings?"

Alyna looked at the sky, at the green perturbance, and raised her hand. She focused her will in feeling the magic and the energy from the Breach, just to discover that it hadn't change at all: its power was still there, intact. With a shudder and a tired sighed, she realized that the worst scenario would happen after all...  "Fuck!" she breathed out, being perfectly aware of what was happening. Then, she ran across the battlefield, looking for Captain Lorenz, dragging Blackwall with her.

She found the Captain unharmed and organizing the recovery of the injured soldiers and mages from the field and administering first aid to some of his men. "We have a problem, Lorenz. We have to get into the temple, right now!" she commanded with ferocity, half of her face covered with the blood that dripped from her head. "The Inquisitor is not closing the Breach at all. They might not even have been able to reach it! We have fewer enemies outside because that thing is focusing its power inside the temple, where the biggest threat is, not here." It was one of the possibilities that Solas and she had discussed with the Inquisitor: that the Breach would be able to direct its power at will. And that was exactly what the healer thought it was going on. 

Lorenz stared at her, not fully understanding what she was trying to explain, but Blackwall did and backed her up in her assumption. "I think you are right," he admitted.

"But we’ve got orders from the Inquisitor: we cannot abandon this position!" the Captain replied, stubbornly.

Alyna scanned around swiftly: there were still many soldiers on their feet to confront more waves. No one would notice if a small group went into the temple to figure out what was going on. "I’m going in, Lorenz. And I need the Chargers and some mages with me. No more than ten. You still have enough people here to fight if things get worse, but we can make the difference in there. We have to try." She needed his consent to leave the battle and to disobey Glenn's order. However, and even if the Captain refused, she would do it, anyway.

This time was Captain Lorenz the one looking at the battlefield, considering her words. The Breach was still there, intact. As well as half of his army. "All right", he agreed in the end. "Take ten. And be wary."

 

***

 

Alyna gathered Iron Bull and the Chargers and a small group of her best student  mages. Then, explained her concerns and thoughts about the Breach briefly. Some of the mages turned down her pleading for going into the temple, but the most wanted to help. They recovered mana with lyrium potions while she gave the later instructions. "Don’t endanger yourselves, stay sharp and silent," she told them. "Our strategy will be to back up and protect the warriors and rogues from the rear-guard. To attack only if the target is clear, but save all the mana you can: we don’t know what we’ll find in there."

They opened the heavy gate with a muffled creak and slipped into the dark and cold first corridor of the temple, looking for the Inquisitor. A reception room, humongous, sumptuous and empty greeted them. Alyna guided the others through the door on their right, the only detail she barely recalled about the map that Cullen had shown her a couple of days ago. Everything was deadly quiet, amplifying their breaths and the muffled tap of their boots on the tiles floor. They found the cloister immediately after, square-shaped and partially demolished. The rift was visible through the central gap, shinning on the North with its surreal tones, dyeing all the place with a greenish twinkling light.

They headed North after, walking towards where the Circle tower should have been. Turning the next corner, the rogues found the first enemies. With stealth, they attacked the terror demons, leaving them all knocked out straight away. And everything kept being as silent, as cold and as dark as a tomb. They follow the next corridor, turning right into a narrow one that seemed to lead in the direction they were following.

Green and quietness. That silent that Alyna felt every heartbeat thumping in her ears. After some time walking without reaching their destination, a feeling she didn’t want to associate with panic grew in her stomach. She completely lost track of time and thought they could have been there for five minutes or an hour, impossible to say. Their steps reverberate in the empty corridor like a drum, even if they didn’t mean to. Luckily, the doors of the Circle tower suddenly appeared in front of them, out of the darkness, and a sigh of relief could be heard amongst the group. However, they were tightly closed and, when Alyna placed her hand on them, she noticed the powerful magic that kept them shut.  

"We have to dispel this magic," she commanded the mages, who got ready for it. "1, 2, 3!" At the same time the mages cast the nullifying spell, the Chargers pushed the door open, wrecking it into pieces, and they all entered the roar and the sudden clamour of the battle.

The tower had three levels and they found themselves on the second one, or what it was left from it. Taking a quick look around, the healer observed terrified how all the wooden floors had collapsed in the middle point because the roof had given away under the pressure of the Breach, sweeping along everything on its way. The Breach seeped through the upper levels and the building structure, dying the walls and the fight in green. Battered stone stairs sticking out of the walls still connected the floors, to her relief.

The battle royal was being fought in the three levels at the same time and Alyna acknowledged of the reduced number of Inquisition members. Another rush of adrenaline shot through her veins with the realization that they might actually lose that battle. She could only remember a fight that looked as bad as this one and a shiver ran along her spine, heart racing in her chest. She swallowed thickly and focused on her breath, trying to calm down but realizing how her focus faltered according to her fear's grown. She had to find Glenn… and Solas.

Alyna looked at the Iron Bull, aware of how fucked up they were, and he looked back at her, nodding his head, understanding her message: they were screwed up, but anyway, there was a fight to be fought. He shouted a dreadful war cry and charged against the Fade beings while the mages took up positions behind them, protecting them with barriers. Alyna paralyzed all enemies in three meters around her, giving the chance to her allies to finish them, opening a clear path to the other floors of the tower. 

Her eyes emitted a kind of dark glow when shouting to the Iron Bull to run to the third floor while she went down to the first one. Time was relative while going down the stairs, reducing its normal speed in a vaguely familiar weightlessness sensation, feeling her own fear becoming a blurred memory. A greater terror appeared out of nowhere and threw her against the wall with a hard slap. The healer hit the back of her head against the rock wall and fell onto her knees and hands. But didn't pass out. Actually, she didn't feel any pain at all, and that was dangerous. And she was fully aware of it. Alyna pulled herself back together and pushed the being with all her might, making it fall through the hollow centre of the tower without effort. Then, she used mental control with three of the wraiths and stationed them on the top of the stairs, making sure she wouldn’t be attacked again from behind. She cast a barrier spell for herself and carried on her descending, dematerializing everything on her way down with arcane magic.

Glenn and Cassandra were on the ground floor, fighting side by side. Cassandra’s shield was dented on the floor and her hand held her left side with a pained gesture. The Inquisitor looked exhausted but amazingly unharmed. Alyna spotted them from the steps and also perceived Solas’ magic in the barrier that protected them both, feeling immediately relieved. Although she was not able to locate him, the fact of knowing he was alive made her focus her powers again, slightly. Suddenly, a massive firestorm dropped from the sky, incapacitating and eliminating most of the Fade beings around the warriors. Then, the barrier weakened and disappeared around them, meaning Solas was drained of mana. But Alyna was now there to cast it back. 

Inquisition soldiers and Fade beings fought on the last section of the stairs before reaching the ground floor, but she needed to get to Solas, to Cassandra and to Glenn. They were disposable. The dark glow was again in her eyes and her hands when casting the spell for disintegrating them all, not caring about the fact that some of them were her allies: they were just mere obstacles on her way. A hint of clarity came back to her mind right a second before she attacked with a shadow sweep, and made her stop in her tracks, realizing what she had been about to do, clenching her stomach and making her sick. The healer leaned on the wall and breathed deeply, hands shaking again with renovated fear: the feeling was good, it meant she was not totally lost. Then, she focused her magic just on their enemies and paralyzed them, giving the soldiers the chance to finish them up.

With the deafening sound of clashing swords and screams, she reached finally the ground floor and looked for her friends.

 

***

 

Solas exhausted his mana with the pyromantic spell, saving Glenn's and Cassandra's life, protecting them from the creatures that were about to attack them. Once cast, he felt the light-headed sensation he would never get used to in that world. The feeling that happened when his mana was dangerously low. The dizziness made him fall on his knees and the world lost definition to his eyes, becoming dim and blurred. He tried very hard not to lose consciousness, focusing on improving his mana production. Even being about to pass out, Solas felt the new barrier protecting the Inquisitor and, after it, a warm hand touching his cheek with the well-known feeling of her mana pumping into his body. It was impossible not to notice the change in it and on her aura: the dark shine of her magic, extremely powerful. Alyna was bleeding, but he didn’t think she could feel any pain at all. 

Iron Bull and some of his Chargers made their appearance when the Breach twinkled again, really to release more creatures, and all got ready to fight. A pride demon appeared, with a dozen of wraiths and lesser Demons. And the fight began.

Solas observed how reckless she had become, being rash with her casting. Alyna was struggling to focus her power, putting in danger everyone in the tower. When she disintegrated two of the lesser demons without even protect with a barrier the Chargers fighting against them, the mage grabbed the wrist, the one she gripped her staff with, making her stop roughly. The healer had a steel look darkening her eyes but her face was blank. "What the hell are you doing? You are going to hurt one of us. Use your focus. Control your power."

She blinked a couple of times and her facial expression changed, like waking up from a trance. No doubt the bound with the spirit made her powerful, but she was clearly finding difficult to keep it under control. She nodded a couple of times, breathing heavy with the effort.

Despite the hand on her ribs, Cassandra stepped forwards and stuck her sword in the pride demon ribs and Glenn and Bull knocked it down on the ground. It threw an ice blast spell around them, but Solas created a barrier just in time to protect his companions. Before it could cast any other attack, Alyna pinned the creature on the wall his her magic.

The demon cried in pain, and then laughed madly. "You won’t be able to stop him… The end is here."

Not having any more enemies around, Glenn approached the Breach and lifted his hand to finish with it once and for all.

As always, a beam of light connected his hand with the anomaly and ten seconds after, it was closed with a snap. The healer crushed the demon against the wall with indifference until it stopped breathing and everything went silent. The warm afternoon light was visible again through the now nearly demolished tower.

Suddenly, a victory cry burst in the upper floors, spreading out with ferocity. The breach was sealed. The mission was accomplished and the threat, gone. There were greetings, praises and applause while the Inquisitor climbed up the stairs, helping Cassandra with her limping.

Alyna felt the elf's eyes piercing the back of her neck. She was still staring at the wall she had pinned the demon to, trying to catch her breath back, refocusing her power. She was petrified realizing it had been close… too close. That could not happen again. She startled when feeling his hand on her shoulder, with no words at all. Her head hurt and she was sure she had a concussion. The blood dripped from a cut on her scalp. And her body was gratifyingly painful.

With a faint reassuring smile, the healer turned around: no dark glimmer in her eyes anymore, pale grey again. It was not the first time Solas knew of a mage that had lost focus and control over their castings. Actually, he always wondered how Alyna, being as powerful as she was, was able to have such a superb focus on her magic. The answer was there: she could be overtaken, too. A mixture of panic in a nearly-lost battle, adding up the worrying for someone she cared of. A dangerous combination, in his own experience.

Alyna hugged a worried Solas with relief and left rapidly up to the other floors, to begin her healing tasks.

Chapter Text

The worst part of the battle always happened after it, when the rush of adrenaline had sunk and, as a healer, had to go over the battlefield looking for the injured in between the death, with the ferrous smell of blood in her nostrils, hearing the screams and cries. The second worst task is to establish a priority level in the infirmary, deciding and sorting the injured that had chances to survive from those who hadn’t. They set up a large clinic on the outskirts of Haven, using the soldier barracks for it. Fortunately, both healers from Val Royeaux were still alive and five more mages with any knowledge about healing joined the infirmary team during those days.

Seventy-three casualties and ninety-eight injured was the final human account of the battle in the Temple. A very positive balance as Cullen and the Inquisitor agreed.

Alyna dealt with Varric personally when he arrived, practically being carried by Iron Bull. He wasn’t unconscious, though. "You have lost lots of blood," she said with her hands on his shoulder, casting the spell, the dwarf all damp and shaky "I'm surprised you are still standing."

"Thanks, elf," he answered ironically with a pained gesture, clenching his teeth. "Well, a nice story to tell to my grandchildren, I guess."

She smiled, as it looked worse than it was. "It will leave a lovely scar on your shoulder, but you will be fine soon. And you know what ladies think about scars..." she tried to cheer him up.

Varric made another gesture of pain and a face before answering in a grunt. "That’s a bloody tale. But thanks, anyway.”

When it definitely stopped bleeding, the healer disinfected and bandaged it delicately. 

"Don’t burn yourself out here, please," the dwarf begged her when she dismissed him.

"I’ll try," she said, already tired, winking an eye.

Cassandra was a different matter. She came in on her own feet, limping, hand on her side and growling, and refused emphatically any magic was used on her. Alyna examined her, pulling a diagnose: clammy forehead and extremely paleness. When took off her breastplate and shirt she couldn’t find any wound at all, but her side was all purplish and it felt hard on touch. Definitive sign: he was also coughing blood.

"Cassandra, this is bad, very bad," she told her, worried pitch in her voice.

"But I’m not bleeding," she protested, gasping for air.

The healer shook her head. "You are bleeding internally. It’s worse."

"Isn't that were blood should be?... Whatever, no magic, please…" the warrior sighed with a pained grimace on her face, although she didn’t seem to be that sure now. She looked terrified and Alyna grabbed her hand, squeezing it in reassurance. 

The healer turned around to speak to Rob in a whisper and both came back to Cassandra’s bunk. Rob put his hands on the sides of her head, the warrior staring at him with terror, casting the sleeping spell, and she immediately passed out. 

"Thanks," Alyna told him, grateful, as after all happened in Val Royeaux, Solas hadn’t taught her the damn spell.

"Call me if she awakes," he said with a tired grin.

Then she put her hands over her torso, searching for the bleeding and casting, ignoring her petition completely. She could be mad at Alyna later, but at least she would be alive.

  

***

 

During the first four days none of the healers slept more than three hours non-stop, although, thanks to their efficiency and expertise, just a few injured remained in the infirmary by the end of the week. On Saturday they were transferred back to the original infirmary building, back in the village, moving all twelve people that were still admitted.

Alyna turned up in her house that night finally, after four days of sleeping in the clinic. Solas and Varric, who were sitting by the fireplace, turned their eyes towards the door when she opened it, making a gesture of surprise.

"You look great, Aly!" Varric exclaimed with deep irony in front of the wasted away aspect she had, pale and with deep purple bags under her eyes. "What about all that thing of not burning yourself out?"

She snorted and swore in Elven, Solas smiling at her words.

"Bloody elves…" the dwarf cursed as an answer, feeling ignored.

The healer sank into one of the chairs, dropping her bag by her side, and rested her arms and her head on the table. Solas stood up and got to the kitchen to get her a bowl of stew, heating it in his hands. She raised her head and followed his movements with her eyes, unable to stand up, and whispered a quiet grateful thank you when he passed it on to her.

She ate as if she hadn’t done it in four days, precisely. Solas sat on the other side of the table observing her with concern whilst she ate. Then, went back to his book.

When she finished, Solas spoke, severely, eyes not raising from the reading. "Go to bed, Alyna."

Weakly but stubbornly, she shook her head. "I should go back to the infirmary…"

"No," he cut her off, this time staring at her with harshness pitch. "What you need is to sleep."

The healer held his stare defiant but realized he was just worried about her and he was right. She ended up nodding and leaving towards her bedroom.

"Wow, your mental control trick is amazing, I hope you teach me how to do it," the dwarf admitted with a surprise gesture.

 

***

 

"It’s too much power... Too much… You will hurt people," Cole told her that night.

The healer hadn't appeared in the Fade since the fight, not just because she had been awake, also because she was trying to avoid this conversation.

Cole, Compassion, was really worried about the use she gave to his powers as they were only meant to be for healing. Her will and focus were splendid otherwise, she wouldn’t have been able to handle them, separating between her own and Cole’s borrowed one. But sometimes her feelings interfered. It didn’t happen very often, but it did it again, and the spirit always reproached her for it. He walked up and down the garden while she stood still on it, worried and grave, waiting for his reprimand.   

The truth is that she was also scared: she only had lost full control of her power once, and it had been a while ago. Thanks to it, she had gotten better in combat, gaining focus and being able to control her emotions. Or that’s what she thought. She recalled with a shiver how she was about to sweep with a disintegrating wave all the beings, humans or not, on the stairs of the Circle tower. 

"Cole, please, calm down. Nothing happened in the end. I kept it under control," she explained with a subtle hesitation pitch.

Compassion sat on the floor, next to her. "You are scared… terrified… Green glowing light and people screaming in pain. You cannot find them and your fear and rage grow with your magic…" he said, digging in her memories of the battle.

Her breath was uneasy now and felt a lump in her throat. "Don’t do that, Cole. You shouldn’t..." she let escape her lips, shaky voice.

"You shouldn’t harm anyone," he said, big blue eyes staring at hers, sad.

"I have also saved many lives after it. Thanks to you," she added, as an excuse.

Cole tilted his head, inexpressive, but nodded his head at the end. "I know. And I’m glad he is fine," said cryptically without any further explanation, although she knew he was talking about Solas.

Then, just like that, he disappeared.

 

***

 

That Sunday a big celebration was planned in the village to thank the Inquisition the breach had been definitively been shut and to say goodbye to the mages and soldiers who would be departing during the next few days, going back to Ferelden or Orlais. Many diplomatic personalities had been invited to the event, coming from every corner in Thedas, and praised the important role the Inquisition had on their salvation.

Alyna woke up past midday with the cries of joy in the streets. She stretched her limbs, feeling renewed after a full night of sleep, and slipped from under the covers, getting out of bed. Glancing out the window, she realized the first snow of winter had fallen in Haven and everything was covered with a white fluffy blanket. She got dressed, straps on her feet, and went down the stairs, to a house she thought was empty.

She was wrong: Solas was in the living room, reading, sitting on the sofa in front of the fireplace.

"I was not expecting you here," she said as a greeting, surprised. "I imagined you would be in the celebration with Varric."

He looked up, meeting her eyes. She seemed to be definitively better than yesterday and he was relieved about it. "And I’ve been. The Inquisitor is enjoying himself: ovations, gratitude…" he mentioned. "I had enough of it this morning: I don’t think I need any more appreciation for now."

She smiled over his words and poured some coffee in a cup. Then, sat on the carpet, drinking quietly. 

"Are you feeling better?" he asked.

"Yep… Thanks for sending me to bed yesterday. I needed it. I know I can get very..." she sighed "...stubborn sometimes." She was expecting him to mention anything about her focus during the battle, but he didn't. Instead, with an obliging smile on his lips, Solas went back to his book. 

"Is that the book I lent to you?" she said, narrowing her eyes to read the cover.

He showed it to her: Basic healing spells, volume 1

"What do you think?" she wanted to know, trying to keep the conversation going. She had missed their interactions.

"It’s always interesting to broaden your knowledge," he answered, and then, he stopped himself again.

"I think there's a spell for speeding healing of scars on the first pages, you must have gone over it already. Do you want to practise it?" she said pointing to the cut on her forehead.

He hesitated. Solas knew he shouldn’t, but it was always a challenge to put into practise a new spell, especially now. And his pride on spell casting preceded him. "Yes, why not," he finished, putting the book aside and kneeling in front of the healer, ignoring the heavy thump in his chest due to their proximity.

Alyna closed her eyes and they both felt the tickling sensation of their auras. They hadn’t been that close to each other since Val Royeaux when, before, it was something usual. She pulled her hair back, leaving in plain sight the part of her forehead and scalp that had been damaged, and Solas lifted his hands to her head. She felt the heat of his healing spell spreading on her skin, and it was wonderful, calming. During the minutes Solas cast the spell, she closed her eyes, perceiving the smell on his clothes, the same scent she had sensed on his skin in Val Royeaux. It brought memories back, his gentle touch on the small of her back, in the inner part of her tights… She blushed red eventually, lips parted with her breath and opened her eyes suddenly, just to find the purple stare of the mage in front of her.

The Breach was closed now, and that had been their deadline.  

"Is anything wrong?" he asked worried, thinking he was not casting the healing spell properly.

But she didn’t answer. Instead, she slipped her gaze to his mouth and got closer to him with slowness, holding her breath. She kissed him, her lips on his, just a gentle touch. And he let her do.

Then, he drove into her mouth, wrapping his arms around her body tightly and pushing his mana pushing into hers, leaving her breathless.

And, as suddenly as it had begun, he pulled away.

Alyna opened her eyes, confused. She hadn’t expected that reaction at all. His face indicated remorse, once more.

"I’m sorry, Alyna… I… I can’t" he said, accompanying his words with a gesture of his hands, before moving away from her, going back to her book on the sofa.

She remained on her knees on the carpet for a few seconds, trying to figure out what had just happened. The healer lowered her head with a quiet snort, realizing she had just been rejected by one of her best friends in the Inquisition. And what troubled her is that she couldn’t understand why. Although she hadn't had her hopes up, she had toyed with the idea of seeing if their attraction might become something else. That was not happening now and she couldn’t help the feeling of being disappointed. Even though, she decided not to act like a spoiled child and spoke to him. "I’m sorry if I have disturbed you, Solas. It won’t happen again," she said, as calm as possible, but still not looking at him.

And, in front of his silent wall, she left.

Solas left the book on his lap, cursing in Elven aloud, with a tight knot in his stomach. Then sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes, trying to refocus and calm down. He had looked into every corner of the temple during the last week, trying to find the Orb, and he hadn’t been able to. He couldn’t even perceive its magic, which meant the artefact was not in that place at all and he had been misled. It would mean a significant delay in his plans, acknowledging he would need all his resources, even the Inquisition ones, to find it and, sincerely, he didn’t know where to begin from.

"It would have been so easy just to recover it… And my mission here would be done, free to start a new life," he said to himself, recalling how heavy his burden was on his shoulders.

 

***

 

Varric, Sera and Cassandra were entangled in a dialectical argument about the meaning of the Orlesian word omelette, which was scaling absurdly little by little. Alyna drank a toast with Dorian and Glenn for the fact the mage had decided to stay in Haven, finding his adventurous side, assisting with diplomacy and helping the Inquisitor when he was needed. All the group had met in the tavern to listen to the new heroic songs about the Inquisition, but also to celebrate the fact everything had finished with the best possible outcome. The drinks were on Glenn, so no one said no. The place was bubbly, full of life, conversations and laughs. Cullen and Josephine talked with Blackwall and chuckled from time to time; Leliana and Solas, paying attention to the bard’s lyrics, chatted about the verses and the rhyme.

She hadn’t told anyone, but that would be her last night with her companions in Haven: now the breach was closed and her patients healed, she thought it was time to leave. Although, not that night.

Glenn stood up and made a toast for the Inquisition and all raised their glasses for it. Two hours later, Cullen, Josephine, Leliana and Blackwall had gone, and Varric restrained Cassandra sitting on the bench, whilst the nevarian argued with him. "Leave me alone, dwarf. I need a walk on my horse, I need it. I am perfectly fine to ride…" she said pronouncing the words on a very slow and funny way.

"Yes, Cassie… Yes… But later! You’re gonna miss the performance!" Varric tried to convince her.

"Uuuuh! Varric, let her go! I want to know what she can do on the horse that drunk. I bet she cannot stay on it for more than ten secs. Any other bet? Anyone?" Glenn suggested, all cheerful, and also quite plastered.

"Me! I give her five! Silly drunk…" Sera said leaving a silver coin on the table. "I’m gonna bring the horse. Varric! Let her go!"

"You are the worst friends ever…" the dwarf mumbled.

Cassandra lifted an accusatory finger towards the elf. "You are a foul-mouthed shitty elf. I’m sure I can ride the horse for at least twenty seconds," Cassandra replied, kind of angry and very drunk, making Sera burst on laughter.

"Nevarians are odd. You are odd," the archer said.

Dorian was telling some adult anecdotes about Orlais to an Iron Bull completely jaw dropped. "If I would have known this before… Val Royeaux was my dream place and I didn’t know it!"

"Silk and leather my friend… and hand-cuffs sometimes," the mage told with a very suggestive gaze.

"Varric, sing something!" the Inquisitor asked him, realizing Cassandra and Sera were about to get involved in a drunken fight.

"Yeh, well… hold the Seeker before she falls, or I would feel responsible."

Glenn took his place, keeping her put. 

"Alyna would you mind playing the chords? I don’t know how to sing and play at the same time…" he asked the elf.

"Oh Varric, I feel so elated! I promise I’ll do my best… " she joked. "I don’t even know if I would be able to put my fingers on the strings…"

"Merrin’s ballad?" he asked, and the healer nodded, strumming the melody.

They gathered few applause and Varric decided to move on to a very tasteless song, Alyna also knew. The customers, paying attention this time, laughed the jokes and obscenities and rewarded the singing with a thunderous ovation.

It was quite late, or early in the morning, when decided it was time to go home. Alyna said bye to all of them, affectionately, but not saying a word about her leaving plans. Then walked besides Solas and Varric to their house. They stopped every few steps to let the dwarf recite a poem making them laugh. When they reached the doorstep, Alyna held Solas back. "I’d like to talk to you", she told the mage.

Varric showed a sly smile and got in the house, leaving Solas behind. "Ok, ok… I know when I’m not needed," he laughed, closing the door from the inside.

Alyna sat on the ground, without minding the snow, and looked at the sky, gazing at the stars. Everything was silent now, deserted, just crickets chirping. A thousand small shiny dots twinkled up there. Solas sat next to her, staring at the reflection of the stars in her eyes, and waited for her to begin. "I’m leaving Haven. Tomorrow afternoon," she said.

He knew this would happen: she didn’t want to remain with the Inquisition and, now the mission was accomplished, she didn’t have any reason to stay. And he hadn’t given her one, either. But it was safer this way. For her. "Does Varric know?" he asked.

"Nope… I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye, so no one knows. The responsibility is on you, in case anyone misses me at any point, you can say I left."

The mage showed a bitter smile. "It’s a great responsibility, I hope to meet your expectations. Will you go back to Redcliffe?" he wanted to know, trying to figure out what her next steps would be.

"Yes… at least for now, until I can solve a couple of issues," she said, looking at him now with a faint smile. "Then I’d like to travel again, visit what's left of Arlathan, get lost in Antiva… We’ll see. And you?"

Solas confirmed there was no reproach on her words. Actually, she seemed excited. He had to remind himself it had been his decision to let this happen, to let her go. For his part, he still needed the Inquisition resources. "I think I will stay for some time. The Inquisitor is resolved to not let me go for now."

She nodded, with a hint of melancholy on her eyes. This was their farewell, clearly, and they don’t know if they will see each other again. But he clung to the idea that he would be able to find her once everything would be finished.  

"Ir abelas, Alyna. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you what you sought," he mumbled.

The healer smiled, as warm as the sun. "I told you there is nothing to feel guilty about, lethallin,"  she said, raising her eyes back to the starry sky. "Maybe it was just not meant to happen."

Then she turned to him and kissed his cheek, holding his jaw with softness in her hand, and Solas closed his eyes, losing himself in the warmness of her contact.

She broke the spell, standing up and leaving, and went into the house, keeping the door half open for him.

 

Chapter Text

A huge fuss sparked next to the wall gate at midday when a young lad appeared from nothing on top of it, four meters over the ground.

“It’s a demon!” one of the citizens screamed in fear.

“He’s just a boy… how did he climb up there?” an elderly lady asked the others.

The boy seemed to be scanning the town, big blue eyes sweeping the houses on the ground until he stopped on one of them. Cassandra and Cullen arrived then, warned by the soldiers and the commotion, and stared at the teenager, puzzled. "How the hell had he gotten up there?" Cullen asked.

Suddenly, he disappeared from the wall to reappear in front of the Commander, giving him a good startle. “Cullen… an army, from the mountains. They’re coming… Alyna!” he said, totally rambling and kind of scared at the same time, before turning around and running as if he was being chased by an Archdemon.

Both soldiers made eye contact, open-mouthed, and ran behind him, dodging the congregated people around. He knew Cullen’s name but he was sure he had never seen him before. The boy used a very strange magic and headed towards the healer's house in a very suspicious righteous way, like if he already knew the place. Instead of knocking on the door, he appeared in, making Alyna jump, who was alone in the living room finalizing the last details for her departure.

She gazed fixedly at him, totally astonished. “Cole? What are you doing here?” she managed to ask before turning her eyes to the door, where loud thumps could be heard as if someone was trying to knock it down.

“Alyna… he's coming… an army… He's too powerful…” the Spirit said right before the Commander got to knock the door over with a loud noise.

“What the hell is going on?” he asked, unsheathing his sword along Cassandra, exactly before the languid and guttural sound of the horn echoed in the valley, announcing danger.

They crossed quiet, worried glances then, alarmed. 

“Run,” Cole said right in front of her face, getting extremely close and holding her hands briefly before disappearing.

The healer was still frozen in shock, trying to take in all that had just happened. “Why was Cole in the real world? How did he…?” but her thoughts were interrupted by the second call of the horn, that broke the trance.

Two calls. Direct threat.

They all came back to reality, fear in the atmosphere now.

“We have to go to the gate,” Cullen enounced, leaving the house in a rush.

Alyna collected her staff before getting out, stepping on the useless door. Her gesture was serious, concerned, and felt a pinch of fear in front of the meaning of the horn call. 

With the fast growth of Haven, just the houses and the castle were protected behind a wall… and it was definitely not a wall that could defend the city from an army: Haven was not a fortress, just a town. They ran towards the gate, where Glenn and some of his companions were already speaking. Varric, Iron Bull, Sera and Blackwall looked at them when they arrived, worried expressions on their faces, same than the sentry soldier who was with them, the Chantry priest and Captain Lorenz.

“What is the situation?” Glenn asked the sentry.

“My men had spotted an army marching towards the valley. Two hundred given or taken, approximately. There is no cavalry, but archers, lancers and swords".

“Under what banner?” Cullen asked with a worried pitch.

“None…” the soldier said, showing the Inquisitor the message sent by crow, reading it with a serious gesture.

“Where are they coming from?” Cullen asked again.

“North. The other lines are clear,” the soldier answered.

“Expected arrival time?” the Inquisitor wanted to know.

“Hour and a half; two hours... They had scouts, though,” he answered.

Glenn nodded his head, thoughtful for a little while. “Tell your men to withdraw and pull back here as fast as they can, right now,” he ordered, and the sentry fled to meet his orders.

Solas, Leliana and Josephine appeared in that moment and joined the meeting, catching up quickly. The spy was sceptical at first, surprised she hadn’t been able to get any previous warning of this attack even with her wide net. Then she went into a deep regret, considering it a personal failure. All them knew Haven was not the best place to do battle, even less to stand a besiege, and even less right now. The Inquisition had troops deployed in Ferelden, protecting territories, and also some borrowed by Orlais. Besides, all mages had departed back to Orlais and the troops from fereldian Arls had been dismissed the day before. There were still many soldiers in Haven, but not enough to confront an army. 

Glenn sighed, thinking over his options, wriggling his fingers on the table in a nervous gesture. “This is a battle we won’t be able to win and we have to evacuate our people as fast as we can. I want fifty soldiers in that task, house by house, warning everyone and pulling them out by force if necessary. No personal objects. They’ll take them to the Chantry and they’ll use the tunnel underneath it to escape. We are in a crucial strike,” he said in the end, looking in the eye to all the people around him.

Cullen nodded his head, delegating the order to Captain Lorenz, who ran towards the soldier camp to meet the Inquisitor's orders. All the companions showed their intention to fight by his side, even the Iron Bull and Sera.

“Ok, deploy the soldiers outside the walls for now. One small group gathering provisions and taking the horses across the South access. Other small group helping Leliana and Josephine evacuating the Castle: documents and gold, nothing else.” Glenn continued, directing his attention at Cullen. “Commander, I need you to supervise the evacuation. You are the only one who can organize this chaos. We need you there more than here.”

Cullen protested energetically but ended up obeying the order the Inquisitor gave him and left the meeting as well. Leliana and Josephine went back to the castle, then. As only Alyna was armed, Glenn gave the inner circle ten minutes to retrieve back to their houses and get their armours and weapons, ready to fight.

Light snow began to fall while the panic scenes occurred around: children crying, elders being carried by the own soldiers away towards the Chantry, families trying to find out what was going on… The winter had fallen with all its weight over the Frostback now and all the mountains around were covered in a dense white blanket, so winter clothes and blankets were also quickly gathered around to protect the people from the cold. Varric, Solas and Alyna ran towards their home, worried gestures on their faces.

“For Andraste, what the hell is going on? Who is attacking us?” Varric asked out of breath whilst running.

“I’ve got no idea. This is… unexpected,” Solas answered, as puzzled as the others were.

“Compassion has been here… physically,” Alyna told the mage, and he frowned with the discovering, surprised. “He told me to run away, and something about a Being…”

Not a good sign. Not at all. Although Solas was beginning to put the pieces together, hoping he was wrong. “The Being…” he thought, extremely concerned about the meaning of those words.

None of them was surprised about the fact that the door was not in its place.

“What is Compassion ?” Varric asked.

“It’s a long story...” Alyna answered him, going up the stairs. “I promise I'll tell you later.”

“That would be if we survive,” Varric mumbled to himself.

Alyna finished her dressing process stuffing a first aid kit in the small bag on her belt, and tied her hair up while walking down the stairs. Both their friends were ready to go back, looking as uneasy as she was. The tension was dense in the air and felt her heart beating loudly in her chest. The dwarf picked up the manuscript of his novel and put it under his clothes. He nodded when ready, looking at both mages, and left the house together with the uncertainty if they would be back or not.

 

***

 

Glenn had already sketched a plan: they would use the large defensive catapults, borrowed from Orlais, to throw two projectiles to the hillside of Grizlow mountain. He pointed in the map to the precise place they would be aiming: the one with a massive snow concentration. If all worked as expected, it would cause an avalanche towards the village, running through the valley and devastating all in its path, including the enemy's army, but also assuming the risk of burying Haven with it.

The inner circle was divided into two groups: the Inquisitor, Bull, Varric and Alyna would aim the left side catapult, whilst Blackwall, Cassandra, Sera and Solas would go for the right one. For optimizing the result, they should wait till the last minute before shooting the projectiles, what would put them in a difficult situation due to the proximity of the army scouts, giving them less time to escape.

The afternoon went by, getting darker, and small luminous dots were now visible going down the valley. Some of them were definitively close already, probably belonging to advanced groups of explorers.

“We are to depart immediately. Once in place, we’ll calibrate and charge the catapults, and hold the position until my sign” the Inquisitor explained. “Once shot, we’ll have a very short time to run back to the gate. This will be shut two minutes after the shot, if not before that if the threat is worse. We’ll fly towards the Chantry and blow the escape tunnel after us. Under no circumstances we wait for anyone, nor in the wall or the Chantry. We cannot compromise the tunnel existence because we’ll reveal the position of the civilians. Do you understand?” Glenn asked them, acknowledging it would be difficult to accomplish.

They all gloomily nodded their agreement, accepting the order.

“Let’s go, then,” Glenn said, beginning the operation.  

 

***

 

The two massive catapults were one kilometre away from the main gate in the wall, in opposite directions. The Inquisitor’s team reached the one on the right clearing a path in between the first enemy explorers and Inquisition soldiers. The second group had fewer complications reaching their target, and began calibrating the weapon before the first enemy wave made them stop to fight. The afternoon was cloudy, dark and dull and the sleet hadn’t stopped falling since midday. The torches were visible going down the valley like fierce animal eyes while walking towards them, without reducing their pace. It was even possible to hear the murmuring of steps and the cries of the soldiers.

Varric shot a well-aimed bolt going through the eye of one of the enemies, killing him instantly. Bull approached him then and touched the templar's shield with his mallet, calling the attention of the others. “I thought the order was gone,” he said in front of the unexpected fact.

Alyna squatted by him and lifted the face shield of the templar, uncovering the open eyes, completely coloured black. Red veins stood out the skin on the unprotected part of his face and neck and, although he was obviously dead, he had foam at the mouth. 

“It’s red lyrium,” Varric said, still watching over the forest ahead looking for more enemies. “It drives you insane, especially the lack of it. It doesn’t let you think and annuls your will…”

The healer stood up and moved closer to Glenn, who was still by the catapult, watching over the mountain with concern. The army had gotten closer and the situation had begun to be risky. She was able to see the Inquisitor’s unsteady breath forming a cloud in front of his mouth. “Glenn, we have to do it now. They are nearly here,” she said with nervousness.

“Just a little closer…” he murmured, not looking at her at all.

The second team had already fought three enemies waves while calibrating the catapult and Cassandra and Blackwall threw anxious glances to the side the other catapult was, swords stained with blood. Sera made her bow snap and killed an explorer that had just appeared from behind a tree.

“Damn it, Glenn. What are you waiting for?” Solas asked to himself wondering what was stopping the other team in their mission, agitated about the fact the Inquisitor hadn’t shot yet.

“Ok… get ready to run…” Glenn told his companions when the shouts of the enemies were definitely getting nearby, audible through the forest.

In the wink of an eye, he cut the rope and the catapult threw in the air the massive rock towards the hillside. No one moved, following the projectile with their sight, waiting anxiously for the outcome, until it impacted the aimed spot on the mountain with a muffled plop. The expectation grew in the next five seconds, silence getting dense in between them.

But nothing happened.

Immediately, the second catapult launched its rock and all held their breaths until it crashed on more or less the same spot than the first one. 

The enemy steps were clearly audible now, fasten pace, probably running and ready to charge against them. A rain of arrows fell upon them and Alyna created a barrier just on time to avoid casualties.

Still, no one moved, nervous glances now, waiting for an end that didn’t seem to be happening. A pang of fear ran freely across the healer’s veins, thinking they had failed. No escape was possible at this point unless the fucking snow plunged.

And a dull murmur began to growl from the top of the mountain in the dark, slow and low at first. And it grew considerably when the white blanket detached completely from the mountain and rolled down free, totally out of control, sweeping along trees and the back of the enemy’s army, like a broken dam. The first triumphal grins and comments turned into scared faces when they all realized the avalanche was being more destructive than anyone thought.

“Fuck… run!” the Inquisitor yelled in the middle of the crescent uproar.

No more encouragement was needed to make them escape.

The second group reached the gate first, Solas ordering the Inquisition soldiers to withdraw to the Chantry. They had found isolated enemies on their way but sorted them with ease. The mage, Cassandra and Blackwall stayed behind, waiting for the Inquisitor and his group, constant nervous state. They have seen with panic how the snow was making its way down to the valley destroying everything along. The Seeker looked impatiently to the way they should appear, recalling Glenn’s orders, twisting her hands with the nerves on the edge.

“We can risk one more minute. They’ll come,” Blackwall said, watching how the white tide gobbled down the back of the enemies army on its way.

And, at last, they did.

Bull charged violently with Alyna’s barrier towards two templars, clearing their way, and Glenn finished up one of them with his sword, being the other knocked out by the mage.

“Let’s go! The gate is already there!” Bull grunted violently and exhausted.

The enemies were nearly upon them, as well as the avalanche, making everything disappear under it. Glenn couldn’t even think his plan would have worked so well, but now they began to fear for their own lives. They reached the gate and slipped through, out of breath, and there were quick hugs, relieved glances and smiles before all helped to shut the heavy door and blocked it with the crosspiece.

“Quick! To the Chantry!” Glenn ordered.

The wall collapsed in some points under the snow fierceness but they didn't stop running. It was then when they heard it. Over the loud roar of the snow hitting and knocking down the town defences like a violent tide, a scream, a deafening screech. It made them drop onto the ground, hands covering their ears.

“What is that?” Cassandra shouted, looking around, frightened.

“Fuck, what the hell…?” Varric yelled as well on his knees, looking up to the sky.

A black massive shadow overflowed the city, majestic and terrifying, flying in circles above their heads, making its way down.

“Is that…?” Alyna began asking, halfway terrified and astonished, also looking at the beast.

“It’s a dragon!” Iron Bull shouted with a massive odd smile on his face.

“It looks like an Archdemon…” Solas concluded with a harsh gesture.

“I don’t want to stay here to figure it out. Let’s go!” Varric finished, standing up and running through the streets, followed by the others.

The enormous winged beast descended over the city, spitting red lyrium fire, burning and crumbling everything on its way. What an hour ago was a pacific mountain village was now a pyre. Massive flames grew on the wooden roofs and red-hot debris fell on the streets with every sweep of the dragon. 

A new fire burst split the group up and Cassandra, Glenn, Solas and Alyna were left behind, being the passage ahead blocked by the fire. Alyna heard Varric calling her name, but they had to go back and find another way to escape. “Just go! We’ll be fine!” she shouted while watching how Bull dragged him away and out of the alley.

They backed to the square behind and realized with panic the Archdemon had silently landed there and was waiting for them to appear. It screeched loudly again before unfolding its wings with aggressiveness, and the group had to cover their ears again, Alyna and Solas crouching on the ground.

The beast lowered its head after and a Being made his way down from its back.

The Being Cole mention... he was the dragon's master, a tall humanoid figure, deformed but with human traces on its face. Definitively human. Its limbs were extremely long and some parts of its flesh were exposed, like showing the muscle on a blood-stained tone. It had sharp claws instead of hands and its torso showed bones out, impossible to describe if it was an armour or if the creature was half skeleton. He also seemed to have red lyrium crystals sticking out its skin. “Enough!” it grunted with guttural voice walking towards Glenn, menacing. “Pretender. You toy with forces beyond your ken. No more.”

“Whatever you are, I’m not afraid!” Glenn shouted while stepping forward, getting closer to the creature. 

“You should, mortal. Words mortals often hurl at the darkness. Once they were mine. There are always lies”, he continued, walking towards Glenn, saving the distance between them with ease. “Know me. Know who you have pretended to be. Exalt the Elder One. The will that is Corypheus” he said, lifting a sharp claw and pointing at his chest in a threatening gesture. “You will kneel,” he said slowly.

“Never,” Glenn grunted, facing him. “Why are you here, what do you want from us?”

The Being chuckled for his insolence, incredulous, and lifted a hand. And in his hand was holding a dark spherical object. With a gesture, Corypheus activated the orb, which shone in red light, emitting magic all over the place.

Cassandra and Alyna were both standing up far behind Glenn now, but ready to attack the creature, who was being carefully guarded by the dragon. The healer sensed the ancient magic of the object everywhere around when it was activated and glanced at it with curiosity. Solas was still kneeling on the ground, not believing what his eyes saw, totally dazzled by the situation. 

“I asked for nothing because is not in your power to give. But that will never stop me. I am here for the anchor. The process of removing it begins now.”  

Glenn’s mark woke up when the creature used some kind of spell on him, making him drop on the floor, on his knees, and holding his wrist while screaming in pain. His hand glowed in green out of control, bathing his face. His shriek startled Cassandra and Alyna with the realization of danger and they both rushed forward to defend the Inquisitor. Corypheus reacted then and lifting the orb's hand, cast a spell, pushing them several meters back, throwing them with strength onto the ground. 

“It is your fault, Herald. You interrupted a ritual and instead of dying, you stole its purpose. I do not know how you survived, but what marks you as touched, what you flail at rifts, I crafted to assault the very heavens. And you used the Anchor to undo my work. The gall.”

The Inquisitor could barely speak at this point. The creature was lifting him from the ground, linking them by an energy beam, but he put himself together to answer back to Corypheus and glared at him, challenging.

“It’s a boon from Andraste. She saved my life!” Glenn managed to scream.

The creature smirked at him. “Then your lady wishes me to kill you, for her boon is a beacon I cannot let escape,” it added with an extremely mocking pitch.

Corypheus came even closer to the Inquisitor and gripped his wrist, lifting him from the ground with ease, confronting him face to face. “I once breached the Fade in the name of another, to serve the Old Gods of the empire in person. I found only chaos and corruption. Dead whispers. For a thousand years I was confused. No more. I have gathered the will to return under no name buy my own. Beg that I succeed, for I have seen the Throne of the Gods, and it was empty.”

Then, his demeanour changed after unexpectedly, and turned into a mask of frustration and aggressiveness, throwing Glenn backwards. The Inquisitor bumped loudly onto the ground, falling on it like if he was a broken ragdoll, totally limp. After a few seconds of confusion, he sat up, touching his head, and the creature roared again. “The Anchor is permanent. You have spoiled it with your stumbling,” Corypheus spat with rage, before turning around and walking back towards the dragon. “So be it. I will begin again, find another way to give this world the god it requires. And you. I will not suffer even an unknowing rival” it faced them one last time and pointed at him with one of his claws. “You must die.”

Once it spoke the statement, the dragon moved towards the group slowly, mouth open and breathing in, emitting a hiss, ready to attack. But Alyna was faster and cast a Barrier that protected Glenn when the damn thing breathed out the lyrium fire straight on him. Her barrier was destroyed in a matter of seconds but gave the Inquisitor time enough to roll over the ground, finding cover. While the dragon reloaded, Solas stood up, getting out of the trance, and also cast a barrier to protect the Inquisitor while running towards them. With a glance, they all agreed they wouldn’t be able to win that battle. At least, not now so, under the mages barriers and as fast as their legs could run, they all fled through a side alley setting off for the Chantry, while the dragon took off under his master's command.

“Kill them,” Corypheus roared with a metallic pitch in the cold of the night.

Groups of templars had survived the avalanche and were positioned on the wall, shooting with their crossbows while the dragon followed them closely from the air, spitting lyrium fire, burning the city down to its foundations.

Solas and Cassandra ran together at the front, the mage protecting both with a barrier, while Alyna and Glenn were right behind them, the healer casting the same spell for Glenn and her. They meander through the streets and small alleys as fast as they could to reach the tunnel, even if they were not certain about it would be still there. Suddenly, the ground rumbled around them and a wall of bricks, stone and beams fell on Alyna and Glenn, holding them back. Although the barrier spell saved their lives, it dispelled and the debris smashed them against the pavement, blocking their way. With the dragon behind them, Solas and Cassandra didn’t realize their companions were not with them anymore until they reached the door of the Chantry a couple of minutes after.

“Where are the others?” Varric asked, terribly worried they were not together, once both got in the building.

The mage and the warrior exchanged puzzled looks, still catching their breaths back. 

“I don’t know… It cannot be...” Solas said shaking his head and pushing the door back open, scanning the outside as if they were just about to appear.

“They were behind us… we were running together… We have to find them!” Cassandra exclaimed in distress, ready to go back to get them.

Blackwall held her back, grabbing her arm. “No, no one goes back there. We will compromise the civilian's position if we do so. The Inquisitor had given orders and we must obey.”

Cassandra and Solas looked up at him, horrified with his words. Clearly, they both were in shock. “We cannot leave. We have to wait” the mage said, shaking his head, still not assuming the situation.

The dragon made another sweep over the houses, along the adjacent streets from the ones they had come through, still no trace of the healer or the Inquisitor. The surviving templars had overpassed the walls and were now invading the village, still far away from the Chantry.

Varric looked pessimistic as the seconds went by and a knot began to grow in Solas’ gut, watching the village turn into ashes, totally destroyed under the dragon's breath, feeling utterly powerless.

This never should have happened this way.

In the end, Blackwall spoke, “It is too late. We have waited enough. For the good of the Inquisition, we have to go.” The Grey Warden closed the door then, silently, and led a passive Cassandra to the tunnel entrance. Solas refused to move and Iron Bull had to literally drag him along.  They all entered the gallery and lit the explosives the soldiers had left behind to blow up their escape way, conveniently distributed on the main pillars of the building. The next step was just to run as fast as they could, heading the exit on the other side of the mountain. Just a minute after their race began, they heard the massive explosion and the walls vibrated with violence while the Chantry building and part of the entrance of the gallery collapsed by the effect of the blast. A cloud of dust coming from the entrance enveloped them during some time, making them cough and blinding them until it settled down and were partially able to leave it behind. 

To leave them behind.

Chapter Text

The healer and the Herald were dazed, knocked down on the floor. It was Glenn the one who was able to sit up first and began removing the debris they had on top. They were both coughing and covered in dust and ashes but, at least, alive, and more or less unharmed.

But a red-hot barrier of rocks and beams closed their escape path.

“Here, this way,” Glenn said grabbing Alyna’s hand and pulling her into the ruined house on their left.

They ran inside the half-destroyed houses, jumping through the windows and fallen walls, pushing Glenn the burned doors and avoiding the fires. They were both panting with a rush of adrenaline in their veins when stopped and ducked against a wall. And then they heard the blast that made the ground, shaky. That could only mean one thing: their companions had blown the Chantry.

Glenn rubbed his forehead, leaning his head back on the wall, preoccupied, listening to the sharp breathing of the healer by his side. A faint memory of the tunnel network under the town came back to his mind like a flash, just two of them leading to the mountains: the one under the Chantry and another one that began in the tavern, the one was used before to smug alcohol in town. But this one hadn’t been found or even less explored. He didn’t even know if it would be still intact after everything that happened, but it was their only hope to escape Haven alive. 

He made an effort to orient himself in the city, realizing they were only a few blocks away from their destination. “Alyna, let’s go. We’re gonna get out of here,” he whispered to the healer.

Suddenly noticed she hadn’t said a word since they stopped and her breath was irregular. She was sitting on the ground, eyes looking up and extremely pale. “Glenn… I… I can’t,” she stuttered and Glenn scanned her with a worried gesture. She held her the left side of her abdomen with a hand where a black bolt with green feathers stuck out from her waist.

“Oh shit! What can I do?” he asked her, frightened tone.

She bent her arm to touch the back of her body and groaned in pain. “It's gone through. I can feel the head poking out of my back,” she said, recovering her position with a pained gesture. “Glenn, you have to pull it out. Slowly but firmly…” 

She couldn’t finish as the dragon flew over them, spitting out more fire. Alyna tried to cast a barrier, but she couldn’t, so Glenn protected her with his own body while more debris and ashes rained on them. When the danger was gone, the healer turned around with difficulty, grunting softly, kneeling with her forehead and hands resting against the wall, ready to counterweight the pull. She begged to herself not to pass out.

Glenn was now even paler than her. “Ok… ok…” he mumbled to himself gripping the arrowhead with extreme care. "Firmly and steady..."

She breathed deeply a couple of times more before nodding her head, and Glenn pulled.

Alyna clenched her jaw, stifling a cry of pain for every inch the Inquisitor pulled the bolt out of her body. When he finished, she dropped on the floor, blurred vision and hearing, nearly unconscious.

Glenn sensed the sugary smell that came from the bolt, holding it in his hand. Even with the blood, the fire and smoke, it was noticeable, but he didn’t know what it could be. The Herald threw the damned thing away and wiped his hands on his armour, getting rid of the elf's blood. “We cannot stop now Alyna, we are close. We can get out of here,” he whispered while helped the healer up, bracing her waist with his arm, helping her walk.

Glenn heard the Templars running on the streets they left behind, as well as the screech of the dragon looking for them in the darkness. The tavern was right in front of them, the roof completely collapsed. They went in and Glenn released Alyna on the ground with care, locating the basement door, but it was blocked with the fallen debris. He tried to move the massive beams with no luck and swore with frustration, grunting before trying again. “Fuck, fuck. We are here. We can escape. C’mon!” he told himself.

The dragon found them through the non-existent roof and roared fire towards them, but this time Alyna was able to cast the Barrier, just before they heard a crack and the floor disappeared under their feet because of the pressure of the flames.

They both fell into the void landing on their backs, in the basement, a dense cloud of smoke and dust covered everything around, making seeing impossible. Glenn stood up in pain, touching his back and coughing, trying to find a similar trap door than the one in the Chantry. And luckily, it was there, under a carpet now partially scorched. He pulled the handle and the cool breeze of the dark tunnel welcomed him. He didn’t have enough words to thank Andraste for his good luck, but sighed with relief, reaching for Alyna, who was still curled up on the floor, coughing. The tunnel's floor was quite close, so it wouldn't be a big drop. Glenn dragged her towards the door and slid her in, gripping her hands. Then he jumped in the dark hole and closed the trap door.

The darkness engulfed them down there and the only audible sound was a stream of water meandering under their feet. The tunnel was quite low and narrow and obliged him to bend his neck uncomfortably. He moved his hands around, trying to locate the healer in the dark. In the end, she created a faint light in her hands, being Glenn able to find her. Then, he carried her up on his shoulder and ran towards the exit.

Three hours of arduous steep uphill walk, they found the other end and crawled into the cold winter at some point close to the mountain peak. Alyna had recovered some of her mana and had made a first-aid cure, dressing of the wound, but didn’t have better look than before. She checked that didn’t have any important organ affected and even stopped the bleeding, but was still shaky and extremely weak, and had a sweet back-mouth taste, very displeasing. Without anything else she could do, she leaned on Glenn’s shoulder and carried on running for their lives.

Once on the summit, the cool air was revitalizing and they both realized at the same time they had actually escaped alive, sighing with relief and smiling lightly, but the panorama in the valley was distressing: the dragon was gone, as well as Corypheus; Red Templars could be seen here and there, rescuing their equals and searching what was left of the town in search of the Inquisitor or any survivor. Haven was destroyed. Turned into debris.

“How are you?” he asked Alyna, turning his gaze to meet hers.

“Hanging on there,” she said in a whisper, bent on a tree covered in snow, as pale as it was.

Glenn nodded his head, examining the situation. He recalled the other tunnel led right to the next valley under the mountain they were on now. They should descend the other side and track them from there. Easy.

He helped her stand up and began to walk. 

 

***

 

The rest of the group had reached the other end of the tunnel in a race, still in shock about what happened, but safe. They couldn’t see the ravaged town and just the quietness and peace of the silent from the adjacent valley greeted them, emitting tranquillity. Blackwall and Sera examined the track on the fresh snow and found out where the population were heading to The Dales crossing, a narrow path in between mountains that would take them to the other side of the chain.

They walked all night without talking, immersed in their thoughts, not stopping for resting, reaching the others the next day in a spot close to the crossing. Blackwall and Cassandra explained to Leliana, Josephine and Cullen what happened in Haven and they listened, still not able to believe the outcome. “Did you see them? Did you see if they were attacked or knocked down or they just stayed behind?” Josephine wanted to know, clearly affected.

“I don’t know. I just know they were running behind us and, suddenly, they were not. I don’t know what happened: the situation was dangerous, there were a lot of Templars, and the dragon…” Cassandra broke down in tears and stopped the telling.

The Commander looked at Solas then, who had been unusually quiet. The mage didn’t seem to have processed the whole situation at all. “How could you leave them there?” Cullen blurted out, furious.

The elf appeared to wake up then and looked at him, enraged about his words, with real and primal hate, feeling the accusation burning inside his spirit. Solas fisted his hands, trying to hold back the magic that had begun roaring fruit of the rage. He knew the Commander was right but, even if it was breaking him to admit it, his mission was more important than Alyna or the Inquisitor. And even with that truth, he felt the ire growing inside: he was about to do something very stupid. “That's easy to say when you were the first one disappearing, Cullen” Solas answered stepping forwards, threatening.

“Stop it! Both of you! We were all following orders given by the Inquisitor. No one is responsible for this situation. None of you saw them… die,” she said, directly to Solas and Cassandra. “Alyna is a fantastic healer and Glenn is a good tracker: there’s still some hope.”

They agreed they would camp at the pass for a couple of days, since a snowstorm was coming and everyone knew about the danger that meant on the Frostback, giving the Inquisitor and Alyna the chance to catch up. If they were still alive. It was discarded to send a rescue team back to Haven, still too risky, as they needed all men as possible protecting the people.

After a couple of hours alone in his tent, Solas noticed the size of the knot he had in his stomach, and the pain in his chest, and was not able to sleep either of the nights they spent at the Dales crossing. He reviewed the facts and how they changed the progression of everything.

He had taken for granted that, after the ritual proved unsuccessful, Corypheus had died on his attempt to release the ancient magic of the Orb but, considering the events, that hadn't been the case.

All his thoughts were mixed up with a deep guilt and loss feeling for Alyna. Some days behind he comforted himself with the thought that he might be able to find her once everything would have finished, and their circumstances would be completely different. Now he could only think about the irony that the healer was leaving Haven the same day of the attack. He cursed himself for having made the decision he made, not coming back for her, although he knew it had been the wise choice for his plans. So, why did his chest hurt as if it was broken?

 

***

 

Glenn and Alyna walked non stop until midnight, reaching the peak of the mountain, and got ready to rest in a shelter. In the afternoon next day, they were able to get to the other tunnel exit and Glenn was able to locate and establish the track for their people, being the footprints and steps clearly visible, going northeast, the Dales crossing. But it was that same afternoon when the storm struck. The snow swirled around them, carried by a terrible wind, and the temperatures dropped drastically. They decided to make a halt in the tunnel and stay there for the night, waiting for the storm to ease off, although none of them both was able to properly rest. Even though Alyna tried to hide it, her state had deteriorated drastically. Glenn observed with worry how the elf had the skin totally damp in spite of the cold and was very hot on touch. Next morning, he also discovered she was wheezing and had difficulties staying awake. He helped her to sit against the wall and freed her from the top part of her armour without any kind of opposition to take a look at the injury. Even before removing the bandage, he knew something was not right. It hadn’t bled, but a net of thin black lines spread out from it, following the grid of her veins.

“It’s poison…” she said, observing her abdomen and relaxing the head back after, a worried glance in her eyes. “I don’t know which one, but is also blocking my mana regeneration to treat it.”

They remained in silence for a couple of minutes, Glenn observing her with concern, thinking on their options before the healer spoke again. “Glenn, the effect seems to be quite quick... I don’t know how much I have left…”

He didn’t want to hear the end of the sentence. “We’ll find them,” the Inquisitor said.

The blizzard didn’t ease, but they had to move. Glenn helped her standing up and loaded her by his side, literally dragging her at this point. Thanks to Andraste, the elf was quite light. They walked that way mostly all day, climbing up the mountain. Glenn felt Alyna boiling in her clothes and more than once her legs weakened and fell on the snow.

The evening arrived and the sun went down, sinking them in the dark, but the terrible storm didn't stop. The snow swirled around them furiously, not giving them the chance to see more than two bodies away from their position. Glenn wished with all his might he was following the correct way: even being a good tracker, under those conditions was nearly impossible to find any sure proof about what direction their people had followed, or if they had diverted at any point.

Alyna fell once more, and she couldn’t do the effort to move.

“Alyna… Alyna, wake up!” Glenn called her name, shaking her shoulder, realizing she had passed out. She didn’t open her eyes, not even when turned her around, trying to find her vitals. He sighed with relief realizing her chest still moving up and down, breathing.

“Damn it. Fuck!” he shouted, muffled scream on the wind. He squatted down and carried her on his shoulders with a grunt, resuming his pace.

It curious the strength survival gives you some times: strength and stubbornness. Glenn saw a weak light on his left and walked towards it. He was not even sure he had seen it at this point, or if it was just a trick of his mind, but it was the only thing he had.

Their only hope.

Chapter Text

The storm still hadn’t ease at all after two days, but some of the elders predicted it will do the next morning. “Old  knowledge,” Bull thought with irony. That would let them depart to the Dales and escape from those damned frozen mountains. The wind blew wild in his ears and the fear of suffering an attack hadn’t disappeared yet. That’s why two of his Chargers and ten armed soldiers were watching over that night.

The Commander had decided not to tell the population that the Inquisitor was missing. “Or more probably dead,” as he thought. He didn’t share at all Cullen’s decision of not telling anyone about his disappearance. “With this kind of things, the sooner, the better. It’s important not to create false expectations” mumbled walking up and down the narrow pass, wrapped under a bear fur one of the captains had lent him.

He considered the Inquisitor a good leader, a good boss and a good warrior and clearly, he would be missed. But the pain he had for Alyna was different: she had a curious bright mind as he had discovered during the conversations while training with Cassandra or the Chargers. Also, she had a superb power, nothing to envy to any of the qunari saarebas. Bull could say that he was really proud of having fought by her side. “A real shame…

Whilst lost in those meditations he heard Krem, one of his mercenaries, shouting at him. “Bull, crap! Look! What the hell is that?” said unsheathing his sword.

All looked at the black massive shadow that had appeared in the darkness. Bull stepped forwards, trying to figure out what he saw.

In the middle of the blizzard and the pitch-black night emerged a stumbling figure that walked towards them.

“Wait,” Bull said to the others, raising his hand in a gesture of patience while the snow swirled around them and the shadow kept walking, dragging its feet and limping sometimes until it reached the light circle around the patrol.

A tall red-haired man, face blackened with soot and covered in snow appeared in front of them when the light of the torches lighten him up. He was carrying a bulk on his shoulders, arms and legs visible on it. He dropped on his knees in front of them, exhausted, releasing his charge.

“For all the bitches in Par Vollen!” Bull swore when recognized Glenn. “But how the hell…?” He walked towards the Inquisitor, kneeling in front of him, and squeezed him with a massive smile. Glenn just huffed in response, out of breath, and everyone lowered the guard while one of the soldiers ran to the main camp, seeking for help.

The Herald was exhausted, frozen, bruised, starved and dirty, but alive and the qunari only released him when he caught a glimpse of the body that was lying limp by his side. Bull eased his clasp with a gloomy face. “No…“, he said with sorrow moving a hand to put one of the healer’s locks behind her ear. “This cannot be…”

“Bull… I don’t know if she's dead” the Inquisitor mumbled with a whisper, breathing heavily.

The Commander and more soldiers arrived at the scene and sighed with relief in front of the Inquisitor presence and the obvious good news. Cullen hugged him first, realizing after that the body on the snow was Alyna’s. He stared at her with genuine dismay, kneeling by her side.

The healers appeared then and made their way to examine them. “She’s still alive!” Zack, the youngest one from Val Royeaux told the others after checking her pulse and her breath. “But we have to take her to the infirmary now!”

Cullen was the one who lifted her from the ground with promptness, like if the elf was as light as a feather, and walked behind Zack to get the elf into their tent. He left her on the mattress and was literally thrown out of the place by Zack while the other healer, Rob, began taking her clothes off to examine her.

Glenn was, at the same time, taken by Bull to another tent to be examined as well and have his vitals checked.

Varric, Sera and Cassandra rushed into it immediately after Iron Bull told them the good news. Leliana, Cullen, Josephine and Blackwall were already there, talking to the Inquisitor, who was hidden under a pile of blankets, sitting on a bedroll, drinking from a steamy cup. They hugged him with relief, asking about his state and wanting to know all the details of their escape.

“Glenn, I am so sorry… We all thought the worst…” Cassandra apologised with the saddest tone in her voice.

“You were following my orders, Cassandra. There’s nothing to be sorry about,” he explained with a tired tiny voice but recovering his joking pitch. “It’s difficult to end me up, you know?”

“But how…? We blew up the Chantry...” Blackwall wondered.

“The tavern… The tunnel under the tavern...”

“What? That was not explored. Or even located!” Leliana jumped then with surprise.

“Well… I guess good luck, then,” he ended up saying.

All of them asked for Alyna, knowing that the healer didn't come out that well. “She got shot… not badly, but some kind of poison...” Glenn explained. “It didn’t look well...." 

"Zack and Rob are in the other tent with her,” Josephine added. “We will have more news in the morning, but she’s still alive.”

Varric had been holding his breath since he first came in the tent, expecting the healer to be there with Glenn. The news was worrying, but she was with them now, and she was alive. And that was definitively better than lost or dead.

 

***

 

“How is she?” Solas asked anxiously rushing into the tent.

He had run there at the moment the news reached him, still not believing it. The guards let him in with the excuse he was the Inquisitor’s advisor but, knowing the healers' way of working, he expected to be expelled immediately.

The two of them that were there at the moment raised their heads in front of the interruption. Solas recognised Zack, the youngest one. The other one was unknown and looked at him with a severe gesture, disapproving of his presence. “You shouldn’t be here. This part of the infirmary is private,” the older one begun, standing up, ready to take Solas out of the place.

The mage’s face hardened and clenched his teeth, not as aggressive as distressed.

“It’s all right Klaus. He’s her friend,” Zack said in front of the gesture Solas had shown. Solas was sure he knew they were close, as he had a good relationship with Alyna. He wouldn’t be surprised if he knew some bits of their story, too. “She has a small piercing wound on her left side of her body: a thin bolt went through her abdomen. Fortunately, it didn’t do any severe internal damage, but it was coated with Quiet Dead and some kind of Megabane compound. It’s a very dangerous poison for mages because it inhibits the mana production to treat it. Right now it has spread a lot, but the cold has helped to slow down its effects.”

That information was mostly irrelevant for Solas at the moment. “Will she be all right?” he asked with eagerness.

Zack looked at him for an instant, as he didn’t want to create false expectations: even for him, it was difficult to admit that her life was hanging on a thread. “It’s still too early to say. We are doing all we can. We have administered potions and Rob is with her right now, casting a spell to eliminate the poison from her body”

Solas rubbed his forehead, worried: that was not the answer he expected to find out.

In front of his gesture, Zack carried on. “This night will be critical. If she lives through it, I’m sure she will make a full recovery.”

The mage nodded again, not even a bit less concerned. “Can I see her?” he finally asked the healer, recovering some mettle.

He seemed to doubt for a moment. “Yes, but I warn you, it might be difficult... Shocking.”

Solas nodded as he didn’t really care: he needed to see her.

The healer led the elf behind a curtain used to give some privacy for the treatments, and they found Rob sitting on the ground and leaning over Alyna’s body, casting an unknown spell. She was lying on her back, unconscious and deadly pale. Rob lifted his head in surprise, but then made a gesture to Solas, recognising him, focusing again on the healer’s body. His hand shone in a golden tone, steady over her abdomen where she had been injured.

Alyna was naked except for her smalls, and Solas observed afflicted the complex net of black lines that covered her white silky skin, mostly all the left side of her body like a giant spider web, climbing up her chest and her neck and lowering to her left hip and leg. The elf sat on the floor by her side and caressed her forehead with the tip of his fingers, softly, as if he was afraid to break her more than she was. Her skin was clammy and her hair dirty and full of knots.

Zack had been right: seeing her in that state was shocking. He held her hand and lowered his head to kiss the back of it, forming his lips thankful words in Elven about the fact that she was still alive.

 

***

 

During that night the storm disappeared as quickly as it had come and the winter sun raised the next day, warming up the spirits. Cullen gave the order to dismount the tents and get ready to depart heading to the Dales, taking advantage of the pause the weather had given them. “We’ll leave in two hours. By that time we need all the stuff back in the wagons,” he explained to his soldiers while establishing who would help with each task.

Rob left the healer’s tent at midnight and was replaced by Zack, who stayed with Alyna casting the same spell than his colleague. Although there were no visible changes in her condition, Solas confirmed with relief how the black net on her neck had shrunk slightly, the same as the one on her leg.

“That’s a good sign” Zack mentioned breaking the quietness while his hands were still over the elf's body. “Even if there are no significant changes. These things take time, but I think the worst part is over.”

Solas nodded, a hint of hope in his eyes about his comment.

“When do you think she will wake up?” he asked the healer.

“Honestly, it’s impossible to know. It depends on the speed her body cleanses the toxin. It won’t be less than a week, that’s for sure.”

“Will there be consequences?” he asked again.

Zack shrugged his shoulders and sighed, thinking. “There should not. But I have never seen a case like this, where the poison was so spread over. The prognosis is usually good if treated on time, you know, and the mana regeneration goes back to normal in a few weeks if that’s what you are worried about.”

Solas had felt concerned when he'd realized during the night that Alyna’s aura was nearly nonexistent: she didn’t have any kind of magic power, no mana at all to cast. However, Zack’s words relieved that feeling slightly. “Why do you have so much knowledge about poisons? It is a estrange field of expertise,” Solas wanted to know.

Zack chuckled quietly. “Well, it’s safe to say it has been kind of  trendy  way to murder for Val Royeaux nobility from some time now: hemlock, arsenic, deathroot extract, crow poison… it’s a long list.”

“The terrible court problems…” Solas said with irony but didn’t add anything else, letting Zack carry on with his task.

The process was finished in the early morning, still sometime before dawn. The healer covered Alyna with a couple of blankets. “I’m going to sleep, perhaps you should do the same, Solas. She’ll be fine,” he told the mage before leaving the tent.

Solas nodded his head, although he didn’t move from her side. His eyes lingered on her features for a while and then he decided to get a damp wipe and clean the soot on her cheeks and forehead. He did it with reverence, just gentle touches. Her chest raised up and down with steadiness and she looked just asleep, which certainly eased the oppression in his chest. When he finished his task, Solas sat again by her side and observed her for a little longer, lost in his thoughts.

Dalish used the word shemlen on a pejorative way to refer the humans. It could be translated as quick children, although it didn’t have any sense in these times, when the lifespan of elves was, sometimes, even shorter than other species due to their living conditions. And it was thanks to him all of the races in Thedas were quick .

And she was also a shemlen, brief and delicate, a product of his actions, like everyone around him, and the realization made him feel old and tired. She nearly lost her life, her precious, unique and valuable life. He wouldn’t let this happen again.

He had plans to scheme, so he would give good use to the remaining hours until dawn.

 

***

 

Glenn showed up early in the morning to ask about Alyna. Having rested the whole night, no frostbite effects on his fingers and, except for some bruises and lumps, he seemed to be just fine. When he came in the tent he found Solas sitting on the floor, eyes shut but impossible to say if he was asleep.

“How is she?” Glenn asked, not even saying hello first.

His voice startled the elf, who opened his eyes immediately. He hated when taken off the Fade all of a sudden, especially when making important decisions. The elf massaged his back, stiff and achy after the whole night on the hard ground while standing up. “She is still unconscious but there is good news: the poison is in remission and the healers say she will do a full recovery.”

Glenn sighed, relieved gesture and a grin, one hand clasping the mage shoulder. “I’m really glad to hear that, Solas, I couldn’t expect better news.”

Solas nodded his head with tiredness before Glenn added with irony and a recovered sense of humour “You didn’t pay me a single visit… how disappointing!”

Solas twisted a smile in response. “I’m sorry Glenn. I knew you were all right, Zack told me. I thought about visiting you this morning, but I see you are out and about already."

The Herald grinned with satisfaction. “I understand your priorities, don’t worry Solas. You don’t have to explain yourself.”

The mage measured his next words carefully, doubting if he should make himself that obvious. “Thanks, Glenn, for bringing her back.”

The Herald smiled again. “Not needed. Furthermore, even with this, I think I still owe her one,” he joked before recovering a serious tone. “We’ll be holding a board meeting after breakfast, can you come?"

“Yes, I don’t think I would be any help here,” he admitted using his hands to rub his face on a tired gesture.

“I see you in a minute, then,” Glenn said turning around and getting out of the tent.

 

***

 

“Empress Celene would be happy to shelter us in Val Royeaux given the circumstances, and we have also sent a crow to Denerim’s Arl explaining the situation. Still waiting for his answer, but I think that could also be a good option for now.”

The board was trying to decide what would their next movement be and where they should settle. The Inquisitor didn’t want to grow linked to any aristocracy house or government, but if there was no other option, they would have to do it, for their people.

Solas spoke then, pointing to a recondite place in the Frostbacks, slightly North from their position. “There is a third option. An ancient stronghold that waits for a force to hold it. It was famous during Elvhenan because of its impregnability. A place where the Inquisition can build, grow… Skyhold.”

“Would we have enough space for the people? Land, water...?” Cullen asked with a brisk pitch and Solas stared at him, narrowing his eyes. It was clear the tension in between them after what happened two days ago and Glenn felt it but was lost about the entire situation.

“Last time I was there were crops and enough land to plant. There were already fruit trees. Different streams converge in a small lake, I recall,” Solas explained the others.

“And what about the location?” he carried on.

“A narrow passage gives access to the valley and the fortress is set on the summit of a steep mountain, being only approachable from the East by a stone bridge. It is hardly accessible from anywhere else and has great visibility over the surrounding areas."

Leliana gazed at Glenn and spoke, “It is just one day of travel away from our position, I think it’s worth the effort to try.”

“Josephine?” the Inquisitor asked then.

“Having our own place away from the borders and protection of any Noblemen would avoid us the servitude to them. We can establish new commercial routes to stock ourselves, a thing that can be arranged with the suppliers, but we won’t be identified with any ideology, which is good, diplomatically speaking.”  

Glenn moved his gaze to his Commander, who nodded his head, and back at Solas before lowering his eyes to the map.

“All right. We’ll go to Skyhold.”

 

***

 

Solas and Glenn walked at the front of the march, together with the Commander and a bunch of soldiers. The narrow pass in between mountains led them to the valley in which the fortress stood, majestic. The solid stone bridge crossed the deep cliff and connected with the main gate of the place. The fortress was highly fortified and its flanks were protected by many towers. Behind the walls the different buildings that conformed the place were visible. A lake and some land were also observable on its left.

They scouted the place, quick exploration before allowing others to come in. Some roofs had collapsed, there were beams on the ground and rotten wood everywhere. The place was impressive and was perfectly fortified, but its appearance was ruinous and it would require hard work to rebuild it.

“I didn’t remember the passing of the time had affected it so much,” Solas muttered absently, voice echoing in the empty walls while walking in where the throne used to be.

“We’ll need time and effort to get this place up and running again, but I think it’s secure,” Cullen admitted.

The Herald nodded and looked up at the ceiling, seeing the blue sky where the whole was. “Let’s make sure everyone has a place to sleep and we’ll figure out all the other things later," he said.

The fortress was divided into three different concentric circles, each of them walled: the third accommodated small houses and the military camp; the second, high-status houses, bigger in size, commercial areas, public baths and the remains of a tavern. The first circle was the fortress itself, formed of the main building and the bedchambers tower.  

An inventory of all the houses and resources was made the first day and all the families were accommodated under a roof, Glenn establishing a maximum priority to get the houses on the third circle repaired, as well as the building they had chosen as an infirmary, the public baths and, of course, the tavern.

From that same day and for two weeks no one stopped working: a specialized dwarven team, helped by the soldiers, cleared up all the debris and fixed the houses and the rest of the buildings. Luckily, they had found enough resources in one of the warehouses, in good condition and protected from the elements. Chimneys were cleared and broken windows covered to keep the snow and cold out. At the end of those two weeks, all families had shelter and the infirmary and public baths were already working.

From the beginning jobs were shared to carry on with some important tasks in the city: agriculture, hunting, fishing and material gathering were distributed between soldiers and members of the public. The land was ploughed and ready to be sown and some suppliers had begun to drop by on the fortress, selling their goods.

The Hall of the Throne was cleared up, as well as the adjacent locations and some of the quarters from the palace, but not repaired yet. Solas and Leliana established their workplaces in the Library Tower, the best-preserved part of the complex. It had three different floors: the ground one would be used by Solas as his study and investigation area; the first would be the actual library, and the second would be used as operation room by Leliana and her spies. Josephine would have a small office on the side of the Throne Hall, where there also was the new Operation Room. Cullen established his office in the closest tower to the palace, also connected with it.

Josephine had pulled the correct strings and Skyhold began to be included in the commercial routes in between Orlais and Ferelden by the end of the third week. The message she sent was quite bold: we have gold and we want goods. So, they could say they were properly supplied.

Varric and Sera fought for the best rooms on the top floor of the tavern. Cassandra and Bull went back to the military camp and, on his behalf, Dorian found a cosy room in the palace, where Leliana, Josephine, Solas and the Inquisitor also slept.  

That same week, in an emotional ceremony, Glenn was erected by his people as the leader of the Inquisition, the Chosen One, the Herald of Andraste. 

None of the spies caught any news about Corypheus, who seemed to have disappeared, at least for now.

Chapter Text

“I have just bumped into a very annoyed healer who told me you are by far the worst patient he has had in years,” Solas told Alyna, a playful tone in his voice, closing the door in her small room at the clinic.

She snorted while jumping out of bed, wearing the horrible brownish gown all the patients in the place wore: wide sleeves and knee-length. “I’m just bored, lethallin, please get me out of here before I get crazy,” she complained, rolling her eyes.

She had made a spectacular recovery this last week, although her mana production was still below normal, and she had also lost a ridiculous amount of weight. The healer would be officially discharged today, but she had to admit than during the previous days she might have been sticking her nose into some of the other healers' work far too much, more out of boredom than anything else. A fact that had annoyed one or two of his colleagues, although most of them were grateful with her help.

During those three weeks she had been convalescent, Solas used most of his spare time to visit her. He followed her progression with concern, even if she was out of danger. Alyna had been completely unresponsive for four days, her fever peaking, but on the fifth it had gone down. Slowly, the poison marks began to withdraw and disappear from her skin and she regained consciousness little by little, awaking fully on the seventh day. Alyna had blurred memories about what had happened in Haven, just weak feelings of pain, cold, heat… She recalled seeing Glenn mumbling unintelligible words close to her, his face blackened with soot, but they were muffled and lost in the wind, although she was perfectly able to recall the terrible two-days walk in the mountains before passing out. She was also able to picture having Solas at her bedside, caressing her forehead with a worried gesture.

Between Varric, who spent all afternoons with her, and Solas, they filled in the lost gaps in her story: how they disappeared and the others didn’t notice until it was too late; Glenn saving her life; what happened to Haven; what Corypheus was; everything they knew about the dragon...

At the end of the second week, she had recovered enough to get out of bed and she began practising with her magic again. Alyna was gaining her powers back at a very slow pace and it was frustrating, but Zack comforted her, telling her she would make a full recovery in no time.

The Inquisitor visited her that week, as he had been extremely busy with his new official role, occupied with diplomatic and organizational matters. She thanked him again for saving her.

“Oh, c’mon, you would have done the same for me… Although I’d have been heavier to carry” he joked, playing down the fact.  

Then, he asked her what she wanted to do now that the breach was closed. Basically, if she was still decided on leaving. Alyna didn’t know what to say and asked for some time to think about it. After a deep reflection, she decided to remain with the Inquisition and help Glenn again until Corypheus was defeated.

“Tell me you’ve brought me clothes, please,” she told the elf, combing her hair back with her fingers, trying to look presentable.

Solas lifted his hand, holding a small bag, and gave it to the healer, who opened it with interest. It contained black leather leggings, a maroon shirt, a dark leather jerkin and some nice black small clothes that made her emit a hum of approval. “Did you buy these?” she asked him, inquisitive, her cheeks reddening slightly.

“Mostly. Josephine helped me with the size. Why?” he wanted to know, amused.

“Nothing. Such a good taste!” she teased fixing her eyes in his before making a circle gesture with her finger, asking him to turn around, an order he obeyed pulling a face.

“I might be an apostate stray elf, but that does not mean I can't pick nice clothes for you,” he joked, slyly. “Cassandra kept your armour safe. It has been repaired, by the way. She also has your staff. As soon as Josephine gets you one of the Inquisition brooches you will be able to gather some more clothes, in case you dislike my selection,” he said with a playful tone, still facing the wall.

Alyna nodded, but she knew he couldn’t see her. Just like the others, she had lost everything in Haven: potions, clothes, all her belongings… Although everyone had had nearly three weeks to go over it, she would be back to reality now.

She put the smalls and the leggings on and was about to do her shirt when she stilled and lingered her fingers over the side of her torso, following the bumps of the noticeable bones of her ribcage until she reached her abdomen. She needed to gain back weight, desperately.

“Is everything all right?” Solas asked, turning slightly because of her lack of response.

He saw her sliding her fingers over the black scar the bolt had left on her lean abs, with some grey ramifications starting from it, staining her pale skin.

“It will disappear, just give it some time,” he said, soothing, recalling the state they found the healer and how the poison had spread widely over the left side of her body.

“I’m not that sure at this point,” she answered him with a serious gesture, her fingers still following the grey marks.

“Are you all right?” he asked her a second time.

She sighed at the end, fixing her eyes on his. “Yes, I will,” she said reaching for her shirt and putting it on. “It’s just… when we left Haven I had two whole days to come to terms with the fact that I was going to die. I was that sure that I would that I actually went over it. It was a new experience, scary. A really bad one.” She didn’t seem sad, just objective, but the words had made her eyes wet.

Solas gave up their distance and stepped towards her, wrapping her with his arms, pulling her close. She needed that comfort right now. And he did too. Alyna closed her eyes and circled his waist, feeling the warmth in his tight hug. She rested her head on his chest, so close that Solas could feel her breath on his neck, involuntarily ticklish and giving him goosebumps. Her mana was back, still weak, but tingling on his own and the feeling was good, far too good. Her hair smelled like lavender and jasmine and he tried to catch her scent and keep it in his memory.

She was the one who broke the hug with a faint smile, pulling back, and Solas changed the topic, trying to distract his thoughts. “We have a meeting about something related to jobs, opinions and advice. The Inquisitor asked me if I could be your guide.”

She smirked, then. “Don’t you think this has happened before?” she asked, ironic.

 

***

 

Skyhold shone majestic and spectacular, full of life: shopkeepers with varied accents exhibited their products in the market and people came in and out of a three-storey building that was clearly a tavern.

“Ok, how long have I been grounded in the infirmary? This looks already quite busy,” the healer observed.

“Well, Josephine has done a fantastic work including us in the commercial routes between Orlais and Ferelden, which is praiseworthy, and the reconstruction work hasn’t stopped at all during these three weeks, being now quite advanced, as you can see,” he explained, hands clasped behind his back, pointing with his head to a group of people working side by side on a scaffolding, fixing a roof.

“Are you telling me that after just three weeks here I can come to the market and get… I don’t know.. a bottle of fancy antivan wine?” she sounded incredulous.

“I guess it depends on the type of wine you wish to acquire, although I would recommend the white wine from next corner's shopkeeper. Antivan, of course,” the mage answered with a serious tone.

Alyna raised an eyebrow looking at Solas: difficult to say if he was messing with her or not. They kept walking through the market, admiring the items while Solas answered patiently all the questions the healer came up with. He explained how better things had gotten since they had arrived and went up to the heart of the fortress, only accessible through stone stairs.

That part of the city was still ruinous, including the palace: that was why it was still closed to the general population.

“Wow…” the healer said, slightly disappointed, looking at her feet and trying not to trip over the debris on the ground.

“I know. Glenn has set the other two circles where the people live as a priority. At least, most of the roof is still fine, even in the rooms, so the rain and the snow won't be a problem for now,” Solas explained.

The elf gazed at the pile of debris and rocks stacked here and there and the half-crumbled stairs that gave access to the palace. Even the wooden door was out of its place, resting on the side of the wall. The Throne Hall didn’t look any better, but the room was huge and luminous: great windows opened on the stone walls and beautiful stained-glass panels with floral elven motives, incredibly and surprisingly intact, decorated the wall behind the throne.  

Solas took her through the door on his right, leading into the Library Tower and, once in there, Alyna stood in the middle of the rotunda, looking at the walls, stunned by what she saw. “Solas, these are impressive! Who painted them?” she said while walking towards one of the beautiful murals that decorated the walls.

They looked fresh, new, so they had to have been recently made. “Well, it was me,” he said with pride. “Varric is documenting the Inquisition task with words, I thought about leaving a more permanent memory of it in the fortress since we are a part of its story now.”

Alyna looked at him with admiration and turned back to watch the paintings once more. The style was quite elvish, the same you could still see in some elven ruins: clear composition, simple, nearly schematic lines, and solid colours. It was beautiful in its simplicity. Two of them were already finished: the Breach over the Sacred Ashes Temple and the establishment of the Inquisition, with the symbol of the eye and the sword and wolves howling around it, representing danger and enemies. The lines of a third mural were already sketched out on the wall: a mage in between two lands, Orlais and Ferelden, closing the Breach.

“I also have the fourth, but I haven't had time to get to it,” he said, walking towards his desk to get the sketchpad that was on there.

“I can see you have been busy, how did you manage to find time to visit me?” she asked with an appreciative grin.

“Prioritising, I suppose. I’ve been investigating some artefacts in the Fade, so I can proudly say that I work while asleep. That saves me time,” he twisted the corner of his lips in a smug smile.

She chuckled and looked at the sketch of the fourth mural he showed her: Corypheus rising on a fully destroyed Haven, holding the Orb. Alyna changed her posture, turning serious all of a sudden. “Solas, that Orb… There was ancient magic coming from it. The same magic Glenn holds in his hand.”

Solas breathed out slowly. He had been avoiding the topic on purpose, but now it was time.

“Yes, there was. And yes, I also think it's the cause of the Anchor.” It was not difficult for a trained mage to recognise magical traces, especially when the magic was as obvious and powerful as the one contained in his Orb.

“Was it elvhen? Why does Corypheus have it?” she asked, curious and annoyed at the time.

Solas stared at one of the paintings, thoughtful. He had prepared the answer to that question many times during the last week. Another lie to add to his list. “I have heard stories about that Orb, or Foci, before, in the Fade. Mostly memories, linked to powerful elvhen magic based on creation and destruction. I don’t know where he found it, but I think it is a priority to recover and analyse it.”

“Do you think it is the element that had created the Breach?” she wanted to know.

“Definitively. And I’m afraid he will try again when the necessary power for it is gathered.”

There was a short period of silence, while Alyna organized her thoughts. Then, she carried on. “Have you told Glenn?”

“Yes,” he said immediately “I reckoned he should know, although we will keep its origin a secret for now. The rest of the Inquisition is aware of its power and importance, but not its origin. Only the board knows about this.”

Alyna nodded her head slightly, showing her agreement, and Solas continued. “If anyone discovers it belonged to the elves they will blame them… us, eventually. It is far too powerful in Corypheus hands, we have to get a hold of it.”

She met his eyes with a shadow of grief, as she understood his posture and was also afraid that the outcome might be just that: it wouldn’t be the first time humans would persecute elves because of their ignorance about their traditions or their magic.

“We have to discover where he found it, or who gave it to him,” Alyna mumbled the words, turning her attention back to Solas’ sketch.

 

***

 

The healer caught a glimpse of the known faces that waited for her in the Operations Room. All the inner circle was already there and a new map of Thedas lied on the old mahogany table. It looked really old as if it had belonged to the previous owner of the fortress. The room was quite luminous, just like the other parts of the building. The light shone through the elongated windows, some of them still showing remains of stained-glass with floral decorations, others just broken into pieces, shattered on the floor.

An old solid desk with a ton of papers on the top, a couple of comfortable armchairs and a matching bookcase filled the space of the Herald’s private office and the healer guessed that it would be the place where he would receive visits and deal with issues when he was present in the stronghold. All of them had come to the infirmary to visit her and gave her their greetings affectionately, even Cullen.

“Solas and Varric have filled me in about these last weeks. I have to confess I don’t really have a clear memory of it, but thanks again, Glenn. I wouldn’t be here if it was not for your stubbornness,” she said, twisting a smile.

He grinned back at her.

In spite of all they had lost in Haven, everyone seemed comfortable and motivated in the new settlement. Hopeful. Neither Leliana or Cullen had been able to catch any news about Corypheus, but some worrying information had risen about a group of warriors who called themselves Venatori, working under Corypheus’ orders. Also, there had been sightings of Red Templars in different locations of the Dales, a sign that their fight against the Creature was still ongoing, although the main battle was on standby at the moment.

“First things first, good job, everyone. To catch up with Alyna quickly, everything is still more or less the same. Josephine is doing an amazing job at supplying us as you can see, and work in the second circle have already finished. That means, next week the palace will be under restoration at last. Solas, one of our patrols in the Dales has recovered some fragments of something… I don’t know what they are, being honest, but it’s magical for sure. I need a full report about them.”

“I will examine them later,” the mage said, nodding his agreement.

“Well. Let’s see if we can get something to do with them. Alyna, you have already visited the clinic and I want you to manage it as soon as you are recovered. We are totally out of potions and medicines, but Jossy had just obtained a new distillation lab and it is already in one of the rooms there.”

“Thanks, Glenn but, honestly, I think that someone who could dedicate themselves to the task full-time would do a better job than me. I will often have to travel with you because of Inquisition matters. Don’t take me wrong: I am really glad you thought of me and I’m not refusing a responsibility I’d like to have under other circumstances, but I think Zack would be a better choice.”

Glenn thought over her words for a moment, realizing she was probably right: if he needed her in battle she would have to leave the place for weeks at a time. “Ok, I agree. Can you inform Zack that he has just been promoted? Anyway, I’d really appreciate if you could give him a hand, perhaps… You know, to pull the strings from the shadows for a little while,” he declared.

“Yeah, sure. I can do that,” the healer agreed.

“You might want to take a look at the goods from the nevarian trader in the Market. He is a herbalist. I’ll go with you later and we can catch up as well,” Josephine offered her with a wink, to which Alyna answered with a smile.

“By the way, your friend Cole appears here from time to time and insists he wants to help,” the Inquisitor carried on.

“Ah, Cole, fine. We can try, I guess,” Alyna said, without giving the fact excessive importance.

“I disagree with you,” Cassandra interrupted dryly. “We don’t even know what he is, or what kind of magic he uses.”

The elf looked at the warrior, perceiving the silence around, and realized all were waiting for her to explain the boy. She couldn’t blame them at all, as Cole's case was pretty peculiar. “He is not dangerous if that is what troubles you. He is a Spirit of Compassion, from the Fade, and he is good by definition. I don’t understand why he’s got a human form, he shouldn’t. And neither why he is here physically. But I’m sure he would help us if we allowed him to do so.”

Glenn caught a glimpse of Solas then, as the mage was willing to speak. “He is not an abomination, that is for sure, as he hasn’t taken possession of a body. I believe he has just incarnated one. I have only seen some cases of that situation and is… unique. The circumstances have to be very specific for that to happen.”

“Has he got magic then? Anything we can use?” Cullen wanted to know.

“I have conversed with him a couple of times and he is a good rogue. Skilful with two daggers. We should let him help us,” Solas ended up saying.

He felt the responsibility to look over him, at least, until he was adapted to this world. Being a Compassion spirit, it was in his nature to help. Certainly, all the inner circle treated him with caution and not just for the apprehension his presence caused. Cole also had the bad habit of reading the thoughts from everyone, spilling the deepest fears and secrets, a thing that had created obvious tense situations already. His presence was not convenient for him, but he felt empathy about the lad, who seemed to be quite lost most of the times.

“All right,” Glenn said with a sigh “but I want him watched. And, of course, no appearing in private places or doing mind-reading tricks.”

That’s gonna be fun,” Alyna thought, knowing that requirement would be impossible to meet.

Cassandra let out a snort.

“Dorian, I need you to combine your diplomatic role with your expertise in libraries. Leliana told me you have some experience in such tasks and inventories too.”

Dorian couldn’t contain a shudder. “I guess by the library you mean the disgusting mess on the first floor of the tower,” he corrected Glenn.

The Inquisitor made a face to confirm. “Mainly,” he replied, and Dorian let a sigh escape.

“All right. But I’ll need three people just to clean up the dust and fight against the spiders. That place is a pigsty.”

“Granted. You can begin tomorrow,” the Herald said in the end. “Well, I think we have all the assignments for now. I spoke with our master builder, Maese Zesten, and the dwarven builders will begin the works in the bedchambers next week. Just a little bit of patience and I hope all of you have found a comfortable place to sleep for now."

Alyna suddenly realized the fact she had yet to find accommodation.

"There are still some bedrooms at the tavern,” Varric suggested, hopeful.

“And in the tower, there are also a couple of them still roofed... more or less,” Dorian added.

Step by step.

Cullen changed the topic then, focusing on more saving-the-world issues.

“My soldiers in Orlais have reported about rifts still opened in the West, int the Western Approach and in the Forbidden Oasis. They should be our next destinations, strategically speaking.”

Glenn nodded. “We’ll depart in two weeks, Forbidden Oasis first. Just the inner circle and a small detachment,” he said glancing over the map on the table.

Josephine took part then. “I have also received some news from Orlais and it is quite certain the empress will hold a Reception in the Winter Palace in Spring. We are invited, of course, and we should attend. Orlais is going through an agitated period and she might need all the help we would be able to provide.”

“I don’t think she should be our priority in this game, Inquisitor,” the Commander disagreed.

Alyna frowned, being aware she had missed something important, politically speaking, in the last few weeks.

“What is exactly going on in Orlais?” she wanted to know.

Leliana explained the situation in short. “It is a delicate moment. According to the reports, our spies have gathered these last days, Gaspard, Empress Celene's cousin and head of the military power, wants the throne for himself. Being totally honest, it would make kind of sense, because he was the legitimate heir...”.

“Celene is losing control of the Empire. All that ostentation has gone to their heads in the Court. What Orlais needs is someone with strong command and ideals; someone that can actually govern over the place.” Cullen shared his thoughts.

Leliana shrugged, not giving her opinion at all, trying to avoid siding with any of the factions. Not Josephine, though, who answered the officer. “I don’t agree with you, Cullen. The Empress has ruled for more than four years now in a peaceful and very democratic period. She can’t just be judged for the last events.”

“Mmm, this is more interesting than I thought,” she whispered to Dorian and Solas, both standing next to her.

Glenn noticed the disagreement and the tension in between his advisors and there was also the Solas-Cullen thing still ongoing. He needed to hold a meeting with them to deal with those issues as soon as possible. “We have to avoid taking part in it now, and stay as impartial as we can: the Inquisition doesn’t serve governments. We will decide later on, only if our opinion is asked. For now, Leliana, I need all the information you can get about what is going on. I want to know all details and dirty rags from everyone.”

The spy nodded quietly. Easy peasy: she was the best at it. “I am already on it, Inquisitor. I understand there is no time to lose.”

“Good. So that’s all for now. In two weeks, we will depart to the West,” he finished, concluding the meeting.

Glenn asked his advisors to stay for a little longer and dismissed all the others, so they all went out to the Throne Hall, where Cassandra intercepted Alyna again for a hug. She looked relieved, even if the warrior had visited her more than four times during the last three weeks. “I still have your armour and your staff; I kept them safe. I have even been even able to repair and to wash it, I hope you don’t mind,” she said to the healer.

“Cassandra, you shouldn’t have done that! I could have done it myself,” Alyna complained, grateful though.

The nevarian made a small gesture with her hands and pull a smile. “It’s ok. I had nothing better to do at nighttime and I had to do mine as well. However, I haven’t touched the staff... I was scared I would make it work or something.”

Alyna chuckled, funny. “You are not a mage, Cassandra. For you, it's just a fancy piece of wood. But I guess you can always use it as a spear if you need one.”

“Well, just in case, you know,” she replied, still not hundred per cent convinced.

Alyna shook her head, amused. “I’ll drop by tomorrow after work. Will you be there?”

“Sure, I’ll see you then. I’m so glad you are all right…” Cassandra said again, giving her another cuddle and Alyna couldn’t do anything else than to smile. She had never taken the warrior for such an affectionate person, but she clearly was. Cassandra was still thankful to Alyna for saving her life, even if she had used magic for it. It had been the right call, and they both knew it.

When Cassandra left, Alyna stayed behind talking to Bull and Dorian.

“All that secrecy can’t be good, you know? I’d pay to know what they are saying right now. I’m sure they are criticizing all of us,” Dorian commented with a sly tone.

“Yes, you and your refined Tevinter manners, bas saarebas. Sure,” Iron Bull teased him, earning a huff from Dorian, who totally ignored him after the comment.

“I can recommend you a couple of stores than trade with good clothing from Orlais and Antiva. I guess you’ll need to build back your basic wardrobe,” he offered, talking to Alyna this time.

“Yeah, well I guess I’ll need a couple of things... Not that I was able to save anything in Haven. But I don’t have any money, though.”

“Don’t worry about it. Firstly, we are being paid for our services here, which is a nice gesture, for a change. Secondly, you can get one of those fancy brooches from Josephine, kind of inner circle VIP pass. Meaning the Inquisition will pay for your stuff.”

That was unexpected and a gracious surprise. Although she was not a spendthrift, she would use it wisely. Alyna would rather have quality than quantity and, truth be told, she didn’t need a lot of material things to be happy.

Bull huffed and puffed then. “Sadly, it doesn’t work at the tavern: I've already checked it.”

“That’s not true. Mine does,” Dorian added, cheerful.

“Wait, what?” the qunari frowned, indignant now.

“Yes, mate. They had to turn off the tap for you, literally and metaphorically speaking: you drink too much and the Herald himself requested it. Otherwise, you would have emptied the Inquisition vault on your own.”

“That sound credible, Bull. But, cheer up! We’ll make a toast for you next time with our free drinks!” Alyna teased him.

“Fuck you both. And hard,” the qunari ended up saying, turning on his heels and heading outside.

Both mages laughed out loud, Alyna recalling something all of the sudden. “Oh! Bull wait! I wanted to ask you a favour!” she commented, grabbing his massive arm and stopping him.

Familiarity breeds contempt… But I can’t say no when you look at me with those cute elven puppy eyes.”

“You are crazy, you know that?” she said while rolling her eyes precisely.

“I know,” he laughed. “What do you need?”

“I’d like to carry on training… and perhaps learn a bit more about hand-to-hand combat and self-defence. I don’t want to find myself again in the situation of not being able to cast a spell and being also unable to defend myself. I need a teacher and more serious lessons than just practising from time to time. Would you teach me?”

He stared at her with surprise. “Are you asking me to be your teacher? Wouldn’t it be better to ask someone your size? I nearly double you!”

“Yes, I know that, but I haven’t found anyone as good as you… and being honest, you seem to be quite idle at the moment.”

The qunari pulled a confirmation face. “Fair enough. I feel flattered about the offering and I’ll do my best. Just one thing: no magic. Not at all,” he ordered.

“You have my word.”

“Ok, I’ll see you tomorrow, one hour before breakfast, at the old stables in the military camp. Sport clothes. And be ready to suffer,” he threatened her.

“Shit… don’t make me regret this before we have even begun” she laughed, patting his arm once more before he chuckled and left the building.

“You don’t know what you’ve done, darling,” Dorian, who had followed the whole conversation said, shaking his head.

He showed her the way to the bedchamber tower and disappeared in his room. Alyna was not sure which of them were being used, so she set off to explore. In the end, she just assumed that the ones that were locked were already occupied. She tried on the ground floor, but all the doors were conveniently locked. It was a shame because there were the safest and best-preserved.

She climbed up straight away to the top floor. The Inquisitor’s room was there, the door on the left, occupying the space of four or five regular rooms. There were only three more rooms there, two in front of Glenn's: one of them was already being used and the other had no roof at all.

“This is a nice view. I won’t discard it yet,” she thought to herself in front of the pile of snow accumulated on the floor of that one. 

The third one was situated at the end of the corridor and the aspect of the door didn’t give her any faith at all. She opened it with a creak, realizing that the room was not that bad: medium size with a fireplace and a large window… with no glass pane on it. The room was fully empty, too: no furniture at all, which was quite discouraging. In one of the corners, she spotted a ladder and a trap door on the ceiling. She was now intrigued and got closer, touching the wood that looked solid under her pull. She climbed up, opening the small trap and the winter cold and blue sky welcomed her up there. She was on a balcony with an elaborated forged railing, probably an old observatory built on the very same rooftop of the tower. And the panorama over the valley was just breathtaking. “I guess I found my place. Anyway, who needs furniture having this view,” she said to herself, watching the landscape.

Alyna stayed up there for some minutes, bracing herself to stay warm, with only the steady howling of the wind around her until the freezing breeze hurt her bare fingers and made her go back down to the room. She first cast a barrier spell for the window, and then visited the kitchen to get some cleaning items, dedicating the rest of the morning to make the place presentable until her meeting with Josephine.

Chapter Text

“Look! I got you this!” the diplomat cheered with glee when Alyna appeared in her office. “We have reached an agreement with our dealers, so every time you buy something showing the Inquisition brooch, it will be on us. With great power comes great responsibility, so use it wisely!”

“Yep, I think I’ve been already filled in about this. No caviar, then?” she said grabbing the small eye skewered on a sword, the Inquisition emblem, and putting it in her pocket.

“Oh, mierda.  I could do with some caviar… I wish it was the season..." she wondered, biting her lower lip with gluttony.

“Sometimes I forget how posh you are, Jossie,” Alyna laughed.

“Well, give me two minutes to put my things together and we’ll go.”

“I might need some things for my room because it's completely empty. I’d need a bedroll or something.”

The diplomatic looked at her with surprise while opening a drawer to put some papers in it. “Wait. What do you mean empty? No furniture at all?” she asked frowning.

“Nope… not even a bed,” the healer admitted.

“Oh! But this is a palace. You wouldn't dare to sleep on a bedroll while living in a palace, would you?” Josephine looked quite indignant, not believing Alyna's words at all. “If you need furniture, just buy it, same as anything else. Otherwise, I’ll do it for you, and you know that will be worst.”

Alyna rolled her eyes as she knew Josephine was right: she would do it and her taste was opulent and overloaded. She didn’t want to take that risk.

So, they headed to the market where they bought a full stock of basic medicinal herbs from the herbalist: elfroot, embrium, spindleweed, blood lotus and deep mushroom. Sadly, some of the most difficult-to-find ones, were not available but the nevarran man promised her to search for them and have them available on his next visit to Skyhold.

She also bought a seed kit, explaining her intention to Josephine. “All these plants grow easily in the mountains… Well, not the deep mushroom, but all the others do. If we can make them grow next Spring we’ll have an unlimited supply of herbs! I think it’s worth the try,” she said enthusiastically.

“Whatever you think is more convenient. You heard the Herald: you are the puppeteer in the infirmary's shadows. I would like to help you, but I'm a terrible gardener,” the antivan excused herself.

Alyna remained quiet for a little bit. Everyone considered the elves good at gardening and forest things, something intrinsic with their race and nature. To be honest, she didn’t have a clue about any of those things and she would have to find a tome in the library to help her with it for sure.

The elf also acquired some winter clothes, elven footstraps, as she was currently borrowing one of Solas', underwear and sports clothes. In a woodwork shop, she also bought a bed, a couple of chairs, a table and a chest of drawers. Josephine wanted to add a bookcase and an armchair, but she refused. While she tried to choose the cheapest model for everything, the diplomatic did the same with the most expensive one. So, in the end, they reached an agreement choosing a medium quality. She also bought a mattress there and Josephine came up with the idea of a fur pelt carpet.

Satisfied and a little overwhelmed about the fact she didn’t have to pay for anything, they headed back to the palace, giggling and chatting about Skyhold and their companions. Then, the topic inevitably turned to Alyna’s injury.

“Have you got a scar, then?” Josephine asked after several questions about her mental health and experience.

“Yep… quite noticeable, actually. Although Solas says it will end up disappearing,” she answered, not giving it much importance.

“Uhm… Solas?” Josephine asked with a sly tone and twisting a smile, not asking anything in particular.

Alyna pulled a face at her, feeling the heat on her cheeks. “Shit, why I am blushing about this? Nothing was going on between us,” the thought crossed her mind as fast as lightning.

“Ok, don’t answer me: I’ll pull the words out. So, when has  Mr Fade  seen you without a shirt to evaluate the situation?” Josephine carried on with the teasing with a soft giggle.

Alyna shook her head with a grin. Although she was the closest she had to a girlfriend, she didn’t want to give any explanation, so she just played it off.

“We are friends and I asked him to stay for the last routine exams before being discharged. That’s it,” she lied, omitting the fact he had seen her scar when was half-naked in her bedroom at the infirmary. She hadn't been shy at all because they had enough familiarity together, having seen each other in even fewer clothes when they actually fucked in Val Royeaux.

Too long to explain. And too twisted. Josephine would die to know it.

“Oh! Because of the way he had behaved all this time, I thought you two were close,” she said with a mixture of deception and surprise. “He didn’t leave your side when you were unconscious and was very affected. He nearly attacked Cullen when the Commander reproached him for leaving you behind. I have to say that he deserved a punch for it.”

Alyna looked up at Josephine now, astonished at her words. No one had told her anything about it and it made sense now that, when Cullen had paid her a visit in the infirmary, Solas had immediately decided to leave the room. Varric had told her that the elf had been by her side nearly all the time during the days she had been unconscious, and even after she woke up he had been visiting her almost every day. However, he didn't come to her in the Fade, as he had also done before in Haven.

It was crystal clear that he cared for her. Too much. Why didn’t he want to admit it?

They said goodbye in front of the door of her office with the idea to set up another meeting soon at the tavern and Alyna went up to her room. It seemed that the barrier spell was already working, helping to keep the cold outside, and the bedroom had gotten slightly warmer little by little. She was enchanted about the fact that her new furniture was already there, piled up in a corner against a wall. She moved them all to their designated spot with the help of her magic, but it was exhausting, on top of the Barrier spell she had been casting for the window all day. The healer ended up sitting in one of her new chairs, trying to slow down her pulse and dizziness, a similar feeling of running low on mana.

“Zack told me not to make efforts, and here I am, moving a whole room with magic. Very wise,” she thought, wishing to recover her usual powers soon.

Someone knocked on the door and a servant came in with a couple of linen sets, towels, two blankets and feather pillows. He also brought in a fancy spotless washbasin and some toiletries. She had expected something more rustic and saw Josephine's hand behind. She could only be thankful for having such a good friend.

She got some firewood from the rear garden and lit a fire in the fireplace. Pyromancy was not her strength, but all mages prided themselves on knowing how to light a fire.

Alyna sat on her new carpet, relaxing after her first day out of the infirmary, back to her life. It was good, the feeling was good and she was looking forward to healing and working again. She crossed her legs and stared at the flames, thinking about the last months spent living together with Varric and Solas in their small house. They had daily touches, chats, constant jokes and arguments… It could be described as a nice feeling of belonging to a sort of family. Now she had a room as big as their previous living room, all for herself; Varric was far away, living in the tavern and she didn’t even have a clue about where Solas was sleeping.

 

***

 

“I need a book,” she told Dorian the day after, amused at the mage’s appearance, having just finished working for the first time again in the infirmary.

Her colleagues had decided she should have a sort of acclimation period so, instead of dealing with patients, she would be helping with the organization and management of the place and distilling potions for a couple of weeks, a task she truly hated. On the other hand, she would have some time to update her knowledge about poisons and venoms and she decided to use it wisely.

Dorian looked around with a smirk, glancing at the half-empty bookshelves full of cobwebs and dirt. His expensive tevene clothes were dusty and filthy, and even his usually well looked after hair had traces of spiderwebs.

She lifted her hand to get rid of a little spider that climbed up his friend’s shoulder and waited for him to speak, suddenly realizing how painful that arm movement had been. She'd had her first lesson with Iron Bull that morning: they had run a couple of miles, practised some movements, before she had punched and kicked the qunari’s torso shamelessly and followed a short strength routine. She was totally wrecked and shaky after three weeks of convalescence period and knew it would take some time to put on weight and get stronger to the point she was before, but it was a beginning. Her knuckles were sore and red, even after using protective wraps around her hands. Bull practically didn’t notice her punches but she could say proudly that she had been able to make a small bruise on his leg.

“This doesn’t smell like a bakery, so I guess you are in the correct place,” Dorian said with irony. “Topic?”

“Poisons, venoms, treatments… whatever you have. I am not picky at all.”

“Catching up with what nearly killed you?” he asked. Alyna liked his sense of humour, and she was even thankful for the fact he made fun of everything and everyone.

“Better late than never,” she answered shrugging her shoulders.

Dorian sighed and pinched his chin with his fingers, serious gesture, thinking. Then we raised his pointer finger on a very dramatic way, letting her know an idea had come up to his mind and walked towards one of the book piles on the floor.

“If in this in this well of chaos and literacy filth there is anything related to poison, it should be here. Good search, darling,” he said pointing to one of the piles covered in dust and leaving her there.

Alyna took a quick look around trying to find a chair or a desk, but everything had already been removed from the floor. She squatted by the pile and used her hand to wipe the covers of the books, looking for one that suited her curiosity. Two of them were written in ancient tevene and were about healing potions. There also was an elven encyclopaedia about herbs that looked very outdated. After having gone through half of the pile, she found a small botanic volume in Orlesian: Symptoms and treatment of poisoning.

It also looked quite old, like everything in that place, but it would do until she received the one that she had ordered in the market bookshop.

“Dorian, can I take it to my room?” she asked with her best-begging pitch.

It didn’t work though. “Nope, at least not for now. I haven’t inventoried those yet. Actually, the library is still closed, you shouldn’t even be here.”

She pouted comically and made him chuckle. “Ok, and what if I take it to Solas’ rotunda? Technically, it is the library…” she tested him.

Not even Dorian could argue with that. “For every law, there is a loophole, I guess. Bring it back when you're finished,” he said before turning around with his list of books and carrying on with whatever he was doing before being interrupted.

The healer glanced over the rail to check if Solas was in there, but couldn’t spot him. She felt disappointed, but that meant she would be able to claim his desk for herself. Alyna went down the stairs and sat comfortably on his chair. The table was full of folders, books and pieces of paper, but everything was perfectly organized. Even with that, she found some space to put her feet on the table, getting ready to translate and study the volume.

Ten minutes later, someone interrupted her. “I'm glad to see you have made yourself at home,” the velvety mage’s voice broke out in the room, sarcastic.

She startled with the interruption and raised her eyes from the book but, despite his reproach, didn’t put her feet down. Instead, she gave him a warm smile. 

“I was not expecting you here, shouldn’t you be working?” Solas asked. He was carrying a crate in his hands and it looked heavy.

“Yes, I should be… It’s a long story. As I’m not treating patients yet, I’ve been managing and distilling all day. And I am bored. I needed a break so I decided to find out more about poisoning,” she explained, showing him the cover of the book, which he read while stepping towards his desk. “And your rotunda was the only hidden enough place Dorian allowed me to take the book to.”

Suddenly she perceived the magic that came from the box he was carrying and her curiosity snapped, sitting up and lowering her legs at last, pale grey eyes flickering at the content.

“I am not complaining about your presence: you know your company is always more than welcome,” he said leaving the crate carefully on the table. “Are you hiding here? Do you know I could use that as leverage, reporting to the other healers where your hideout is?”

He had that crooked smile on his perfect lips; a smile Alyna could just melt just looking at. “I know you would never do that, Solas,” she said with a playful smile, her eyes locked on his. “You have made quite clear you enjoy my company too much.”

They stared at each other for a little while and the healer wondered what could be on his mind. He slid his gaze to her lips, less than a blink, before looking away with a deep breath.

That had been… intense, and the healer wondered once again what was going on.

Solas changed the subject, reaching for one of the chairs behind him. “How was your training?” he asked, dragging the chair to the desk and sitting in it, pulling the rock fragments out of the crate, and setting them on the table with care.

Alyna rubbed her knuckles inadvertently, frowning slightly. “How do you know?” she asked with surprise.

Solas shrugged, raising his eyes from what he was doing. “Bull asked me about some self-defence techniques. He is more… aggressive than a defensive type of person. He also asked me to train with you, if you don’t mind, as he is afraid he might break your arm.”

“Wait, do you know self-defence?” she seemed sceptical.

“I might have some previous experience in hand-to-hand combat technique,” he said absently aligning the fragments over the table.

Alyna narrowed her eyes. “Some like me or some like a lot?” the elf wanted to know.

Solas decided to interrupt his task to look at her with a smirk. “Rather some like a lot, I guess. I didn’t break my nose twice casting spells, sadly,” and he resumed his duty.

“And are you going to do it?” Alyna asked, tilting her head slightly, quite surprised.

“Am I going to do what?” he answered, amused, paying more attention to the fragments than to her, although the healer thought he was doing it on purpose, enjoying her bewilderment.

“To teach me, I suppose,” she answered back, taut voice and a bit annoyed at his impassivity.

“Only if you want to,” he affirmed, grabbing a fragment and palming it in his hand, raising his eyes to meet hers. “I don’t doubt Bull is a good trainer and boxing sack, but I wouldn’t consider him the best self-defence techniques teacher, mainly because it will be impossible for you to pin him down.”

Alyna was a little mixed up at this point, as she knew what kind of contact the self-defence training implied but Solas had been the one who volunteered, so any uncomfortable situation during the practice could be put on him. She wouldn’t be the one to say no if he wanted to spend some time together, being pinned on the ground.

“Fine, we’ll do it. When?” she said.

“I don’t know. Bull will let you know,” he said plainly.

“Fair enough. It will be a surprise, then,” she kept to herself before adding out loud, playful tone “I do really like your nose; it makes you look interesting.”

Solas chuckled and shook his head. “You are not going to ask me about it?”

“Perhaps another day, when we begin with the training,” she finished, her grey eyes locked on his while tying her hair up in a bun, her book already forgotten on the desk.

The truth is that Solas didn’t know what he was doing anymore. When Bull asked him for help with the healer he had refused categorically. Then, the qunari kind of begged him and the elf began to have second thoughts about the whole thing. In the end, they agreed he would just give it a try, and he was firmly decided to focus just on the practice. It would be sporty and educational and he would keep his distance. However, their attraction was still there, pounding loudly in his chest, creating a knot in his gut. He didn’t have enough of her in Val Royeaux, he needed more. “Just practice, professional. She is an enjoyable company and she is also willing to learn,” he thought. “This doesn’t have to mean anything.” He had never been very good at lying to himself and he realized that truth looking at the smooth curve of her pale neck while she tied her hair up, saying something he didn’t get at all, a flashing memory of his teeth biting her hard in that spot while pleasuring her with his fingers. “Bad idea… Fuck!” he realized, as he had gotten hard in his trousers with the thought. He shifted on the chair, trying to focus again on her words.

“Can I have your opinion?” he diverted the attention, at last, trying to divert the conversation back to the magical fragments.

“I thought you’d never ask,” the healer said, eager, reaching for one of them.

They were all black, with an irregular shape but with a flat side. 

“Have you checked if they fit together?” she wanted to know.

“Not yet, that will be my next step. They are clearly part of something bigger, but I haven’t figured it out, yet.”

She weighed one of them in her palm, grey eyes shining with excitement. “It is ancient magic, but not from the Fade… Is it an opening spell what I’m sensing?” she asked, narrowing her eyes with a thin smile.

“That is what I also noticed: they are keys. I need to investigate them, may I have my chair back?” he asked. Work had been always a good way to refocus.

Alyna stood up as well as him and they swapped seats. Solas’ desk chair was more comfortable than the other one. He crossed his legs on it and closed his eyes.

“Eh… wait! Are you gonna fall sleep here, just sitting down there?” Alyna asked him, but suddenly she recalled he had actually done the same thing in The White Spire without any kind of effort.

“Well, how else should I enquire about all the objects you see around if not by asking the Spirits in the Fade or researching for information about them there. We are in a shortage of books in the library, as you have been able to see,” Solas said pointing to a couple of mosaics, some regular objects with the trace of magic on them and a kind of gyroscope. “The Inquisitor has requested it to be confidential, why do you think I haven’t visited you in the Fade lately?”

Alyna was the one tilting her head now, frowning. It might be true then that he hadn’t done it on purpose as she had thought. Solas caught her face and understood.

“You thought I’ve been avoiding you?” he asked. “That was far from my intention.”

“Well, you did it in Haven, why would it be any different now?” she bitterly reproached him.

Fair enough,” Solas thought, but he didn’t answer back because he didn’t know exactly what to say.

Alyna ended up shaking her head with annoyance.

“You confuse me, Solas. And you are giving me a headache,” she said before recovering her book from the table and leaning back on the chair, reading or pretending to.

Solas twisted a smile, without able to do anything else, since she had the right to feel that way. At least, she knew what she wanted; how she felt. Although he knew it, too, he couldn't take his mask off.

She was delicious. Even more when she was annoyed and the way that single deep wrinkle parted her frown. It was selfish to give up his restraint. He would still try, though. But he needed her so desperately...

“I am sorry, Alyna. I will try not to mislead you any more,” he said with a neutral tone before closing his eyes shut and leaning on the back of the chair.

It was not at all what she had expected to hear, so ambiguous, and a sparkle of despair burned in her stomach. She raised her eyes from the book ready to ask bluntly if he was still interested in her, or what kind of stupid game he was playing, but his closed eyes and his regular breath indicated he was already in the Fade.

Merde,” she let the word scape putting the book aside and sitting up on the chair. He didn’t seem asleep, meditating, or resting; as if he would open his eyes with the smallest disturbance. The healer studied his features for a little while, his high cheekbones, the dimple on his chin, his lips… She had bitten those lips and got excited just thinking of it.

She couldn’t understand what the elf was doing, why he kept denying that there was something else between them. Right then a quick flashback of Val Royeaux came back to her mind. She was not sure the self-defence lessons would be the best idea. She left the rotunda forgetting to leave the book back in the library.

Chapter Text

At last, she had obtained the window pane. After two weeks of waiting and arguing with all the builders, casting the barrier constantly, and even asking Josephine to pull some strings for her, the pane was perfectly attached to the frame and the room was finished. It was scarce in furniture, and she already had a pile of books on the floor, the ones she had been sneaking out of the library while Dorian looked the other way, and some others bought in the market. 

Alyna left her room satisfied with the result and went down the stairs, slightly limping. She had trained with Bull that morning, kicks mostly, and her legs were so badly bruised and sore, she had to apply a numbing spell on them before heading to work. She discovered she loved training with the qunari and in just a couple of weeks, she had made very good progress either in her physical strength and her fighting skills. He was definitely a better teacher than she would have expected and he took the lessons very seriously.

Now that her mana was almost recovered, Zack had allowed her to treat patients in the infirmary, again. He was delighted with his new role, although at first, he had begged Alyna not to put that weight on his shoulders, terrified about the responsibility it entailed. Faced with her arguments, he accepted the position, but only if she accepted to be his second in command and helped him with the management tasks until he got used to them.  A perfect plan, according to Glenn’s instructions.

She had gone home really late today after work as it had been a particularly intense day, so what she really wanted to do was to have a bath and lie in bed to resume the reading of one of the tomes she had just acquire about orlesian history. Even so, she gathered strength to push the tavern’s door open, plunging into the faint light, the loud disembodied conversations and the quiet chords of the lute.

Maryden the bard had followed them from Haven and livened up the  soiree  with her songs. Varric and Cassandra waved their hands from the table they were sitting at with Sera, Blackwall and Cole. She waved back and went there with a bright smile. “How are things, guys? It’s been a little while,” she asked while she sat down on a stool, gently squeezing Cole's shoulder.

“More awaken…” Cole said enigmatically, his big blue eyes staring at her. They had been seeing each other in the Fade some nights, but the  Kid  was now formally adopted by Varric during the daytime, who had found him a room on the tavern. They had spent a lot of quality time together, as Varric had confessed to her, joking with her about having a kind of paternal attachment towards the boy.

“Ey, what’s up? Too long, elfy. By the way! You have to come with me tonight. Promise you’ll have fun,” Sera answered with a naughty and honeyed tone.

Alyna shook her head and smiled. In the last few weeks, they had seen each other with some frequency and had grown a strange friendship, mostly based on making fun of everyone and everything. They had roughly discussed some serious themes, but Sera’s ideology and her ability to live in the moment was somehow refreshing and exciting. The healer had to confess she had joined her in making a couple of pranks around Skyhold, mostly innocent ones, like hiding all of Josephine’s very expensive perfumes in weird places around her office; draining up the very expensive dwarven ink Varric used for his writing (he had plenty of money, he could afford more)  or, by Sera’s idea, cutting Blackwall’s beard one night while he was pretty drunk, giving it a funny three points shape. They had a good laugh out of it but the poor Warden had to reshape his long black beard after it. He never figured out what happened, but it had been hilarious. “Mmmm… what are you proposing?” Alyna said in a horny tone.

She knew Sera was into girls, a subject in which she had had some experiences, too. Very pleasant ones, she had to admit. But other than the flirting jokes and laughs, there was no attraction at all in between them: Sera considered Alyna too old and the healer always thought she was too crazy.

“I need someone to warm the bed for some of my friends, y’ know?” she said cryptically.

Alyna inhaled with surprise. “You’ve got them?” she said, and Sera nodded her head, confirming. “Ok, we’ll talk about this later.”

Blackwall conversed on the other side of the table. “Well, the soldiers are quite green and lazy in the winter. Difficult to train them first thing in the morning. A little bit of action would be interesting” he told Cassandra. “I think Skyhold is slowly turning into a routine town.”

“You are bored,” said Cole glancing at him and Blackwall nodded slowly.

“I think you are right,  Kid, ” he admitted. The Kid was Varric’s nickname for Cole and everyone used it.

Cassandra was sitting in front of him, looking at him out of the corner of her eye, and she seemed to still not be a hundred per cent convinced about his presence there.

The Iron Bull arrived at that moment and sat next to Alyna, ordering another round of drinks for everyone, a gesture welcomed by the dwarf. “Well, are you ready to depart in a couple of days? It will be the first mission for the Kid,” Varric said slapping Cole’s back in an affectionate way that made him jump with surprise.

“Hope you have fun. I’m not going,” Alyna dropped to his friend with resignation.

“Wait, what? You don’t want to or…?” Cassandra asked then, surprised about the fact.

“Of course I want to! I’m as bored as anyone here. But Glenn still considers I’m not fully recovered, so it’s wiser for me to stay in the infirmary for a little longer, carrying on with the tasks…”

“You have to be kidding me,” Sera said, incredulous face on.

Alyna shrugged. While it was true that his decision had annoyed her, she wasn’t yet ready to handle a battle like the one happened in Haven. Obviously, it wouldn’t be the same, not even by far, and she could perfectly fight against the small rifts. But what really hurt her was the fact that she was going to miss the outcome of the investigation she had been helping Solas with: the one about the metallic shards that led them to a secret cave in the Forbidden Oasis. She was fuming about it.

“Damn Aly. I cannot believe Cole will be your replacement…” Varric said with a mocking tone while she stared at him narrowing her eyes with fake rage. “Do you know if the arrangement will be forever on?” he carried on with the teasing.

Alyna snorted and told him to fuck off and Varric roared with laughter.

“But is the Forbidden Oasis, what is dangerous in there? There’s only nugs and snoufleurs!” Cassandra was still gobsmacked.

“As I said, not my choice. Have fun!” the healer said raising her pint and making a toast.

“Well, if that relieves you, I’m not going either. Nor my Chargers,” Iron Bull said. “We’ll go a week after and regroup in the Western Approach. Are you coming with us?”

Alyna shrugged again. “I don’t know… I hope so. Can you sneak me in your backpack if not?” she asked.

“You are small enough to fit, that’s for sure!” the qunari laughed.

“You are disappointed…” Cole told Alyna, and she pulled a face at him.

“What’s wrong with this… thing! Is there any way to make it stop?” Sera’s penetrating screech was heard in the whole tavern, alluding to Cole.

“You are confused…” Cole said then, now staring at the archer.

“Stop!” Sera threatened him with her finger.

“Now you are scared,” he carried on, his blue eyes wide open with surprise.

“I told you to stop!” she squeaked very loud.

“And now you are furious. Have I made you furious? It’s the first time I make someone furious…” he admitted mixed up glancing at Varric, asking for help.

“It’s all right, Kid. Everyone annoys Sera. Welcome to our world!”

Then they chatted in small groups, talking about the mission or just catching up on their lives. Alyna shifted on the stool to face Varric, who was sitting next to her. It had been a week since the last time they had seen each other, and that was a very long time for them.

“Are you still living in that freezer?” the dwarf asked her with sarcasm.

She made a triumph gesture before answering. “Not anymore! Today the pane has arrived! It looks like a room at last”.

“Wow! And it only took them two weeks. Do you know you could have moved here with me? There’s still one room upstairs. We would have had a lot of fun, and I miss you, Aly,” he admitted.

“Aw, that’s sweet of you. I miss you too. But stop it now or we will both end up crying. How happy we were in Haven, weren’t we?” she sighed.

Varric smiled remembering their arguments in the small cosy house. Especially, small. 

“Well, how is your book going?” she asked sipping on her cider.

“Not too bad, I have to say. Not that the place is precisely inspiring, but I think all the fuss has been good to pull out some new ideas from my head”.

“Yeah, well…  Be a blessing in disguise. You know Cassandra is eager to read it, right? She is your biggest fan, absolutely hooked on to your novels.” 

Her friend stared at her, sceptical and stunned, turning his gaze to the Seeker who spoke lively to Blackwall. “No way…” he said.

“Yep…”

“But she is always scorning my work! That cannot be… How do you know?”

Alyna smiled at him. “Don’t use this against her, but I think she would be very pleased if you gave her a copy of your script once finished… as a premiere.

“Yeah, why not. I can only picture her face when she sees it. I like the idea of knowing her little secret!” and he laughed very loudly, making all at the table turn their heads to him. “By the way, do you know anything about Solas? I’ve only seen him a couple of times since you got out of the infirmary. We met last week for a beer but he couldn’t tell me anything he has been up to lately.”

“Well… he has been quite busy, actually. Mostly researching magic stuff for Glenn, something you’ll use in the Oasis, but it is a top-secret kind of thing. I’ve seen him some evenings in his rotunda, but we barely spoke as he was busy working."

Varric nodded making a face and went back to his beer. Alyna had said the truth: she had been frequently reading in the rotunda, translating the book she had gotten from the library and Solas had even cleared up some space on his desk and got a comfortable chair for her to feel welcome, although just two times he was physically and spiritually there: the others he was in the Fade.

“Is he coming today?” Varric dragged her from her thoughts.

Alyna shook her head. “I don’t know… don’t think so,” she admitted.

“I miss him too. Damn Chuckles… How are things between you two?”

Alyna shrugged and wrinkled her nose with disdain, a gesture that made her friend shake his head.

“Bloody stupid elf,” he mumbled, pulling a chuckle out of Alyna.

Cole, who had been following their conversation, stared at the healer tilting his head and she copied his gestures. When he realized she was also staring, tilted the head to the other side and she copied it again. He looked quite baffled because of her behaviour and Iron Bull roared a laugh about the situation.

Two pints of cider after, nearly midnight, Cole, Cassandra and Blackwall left the place. Another pint later and already early in the morning, Sera and Alyna waved bye to Bull and Varric and left together, all giggles.

“Be all the naughty you want to, but I want all the details after tomorrow,” the qunari told them very loudly.

“Piss off! I get the pretty elf tonight, you'll have to jerk off!” she shouted back at him.

“Eh! I’m still here, stop talking about me as if I was not!” the healer joked.

Sera whispered something into Alyna’s ear and the healer laughed. Then, they left the place holding hands in a rush.

“Do you think they are gonna fuck?” Bull asked the dwarf.

“I do really hope so,” he answered him with an affirmation gesture.

 

When Bull went to bed that night felt something cold sliding up his side. He thought his drunkenness was playing games with him, but grunted, half dozed, when something tickled his feet. Then, he felt something running over his legs, small cold feet with sharp tiny claws getting very close to his groin. He sat up on the bed cursing loudly, terrified, and pulled the blanket away seeing immediately the shiny yellow eyes of five massive lizards staring at him.

He jumped off the bed, screaming this time.

“Bloody elves,” he grunted.

 

***

 

Alyna woke up at half-past six like always, although she hadn’t slept more than four hours and her head felt heavier than any other day. “Hangovers are getting worse… this is a warning,” she told herself rolling in bed sluggishly, thinking on all those days when she was able to drink all night and to be as fresh as a daisy the next morning.

The prank on Iron Bull had been epic, especially knowing the true aversion the little reptiles caused on him. He had always complained about the creepy feeling of lizard’s cool skin and she would have paid to see his face when he found them in his bed. But she didn’t think about the fact they had a lesson in the morning… So, she got mentally prepared for the worst, knowing Bull was about to kill her, a figure of speech, during the training today.

She got out of bed in the end and put on his cotton leggings, the breast band and her tank top, washing her face and teeth after, trying to also wash the laziness of her. Then, she grabbed her cape and her bag and walked towards the abandoned stables on the third circle. The virgin snow blanketed the place and crunched under her feet, still too dark, too quiet and too early to cross paths with anyone. When she reached the place she was surprised Bull wasn’t already there. The healer left her stuff on the ground and spent some time tying the protective straps on her hands and wrists and warming up, kicking the punching bag the soldiers used on their training when she heard a voice behind her. “Sorry I am late. I am not used to getting up this early.”

Alyna dropped what she was doing and turned around, shocked. Definitely, that modulated soft voice was not Iron Bull’s: Solas was there instead. She froze for a while, trying to figure out what was going on.

“Bull didn’t tell you anything, am I right?” he asked in front of her gesture, amused and sleepy, leaving his bag on the ground and taking off the thick woolly jumper, staying in a sports t-shirt, with his sempiternal wolf pendant around his neck.

Alyna had a quick flash of Bull saying something liketell me everything after tomorrow when she and Sera left the tavern and her stomach twisted with the realization that today’s lesson would be Solas’.

She definitely looks recovered, more toned up, not like the pale shadow of her that left the infirmary,” Solas thought in front of her surprised gesture, making the mistake of lingering his gaze over her body. Alyna was probably as lean as he was and slightly more muscular than the elves that had attracted him before. He remembered the feeling of her thighs and hips under his touch, firm and worked out. “She had always looked after herself, it’s not a surprise she is not as soft as any of my previous…” he stopped himself, casting aside the word lovers immediately from his mind with a deep breath in.

“Sorry, my brain is a little slower than usual. We went to the tavern yesterday. You didn’t come, by the way,” she said trying to swallow her nerves.

“Nope. Bull asked me to cover him today because he foresaw a long night. Was it the case?” he asked, recovering his steadiness.

“Yeah, kind of. It was funny. It’s sad you missed it,” the healer said while tossing the hand straps, knowing she wouldn’t need them today.

“I did not miss it voluntarily: I had a report to hand over and a trip to plan… The Inquisitor told me you are not coming to the Oasis, neither voluntarily,” he tested her. “I counted on you to continue our investigation about the shards.”

Alyna shook her head with a twisted grin, this time walking towards him and shifting her weight from one leg to the other, tilting her hips. “Shit, Solas. You are going to annoy me even before we begin with the practice. I want a full report of everything that happens there, lethallin. In the Fade. Every night.”

Solas grinned. “Consider it done. Shall we begin?” 

Solas training was not as focused on offensive techniques, although he was probably good at them too, rather than in defensive ones: disarming enemies, evading grips, eluding being pinned on the ground or, literally, kicking attackers off you. She had some notions about it so her starting point was not as basic as he thought it would be at first, which made their movements more fluent and the variety of holds they could practice wider.

She usually attacked first and Solas showed her the hold they would practise. Later, he was the one attacking. The first set of exercises consisted of disarming enemies with dagger, sword and mace, although they just practised it with the wooden sticks the soldiers used. They repeated each movement a couple of times on a slow-motion before speeding it up progressively, gaining in realism.

At the end of that first set, Solas was pleased with the progression of his opponent and surprised by her skills, both taking a break to catch their breaths. “I have to say that you are better than I expected,” he admitted when that round was finished, straightening his t-shirt.

“Let me guess: you thought I would be a clumsy and finicky elf that didn’t know what to do without her magic,” the healer laughed drying the perspiration of her forehead with the back of her hand.

Solas made a gesture that meant more or less, and Alyna snorted, ready to answer the teasing. “I’m glad I can still surprise you. I have to say you are in very good shape for your age, hahren.

It was Solas’ turn to snort, shaking his head. “I believe I hold myself together quite well, as you have had the chance to confirm,” he replied with a roguish grin.

She felt a sudden sting of heat in her stomach and her cheeks burned. Was he just talking about their practice? He was being ambiguous, again.

“Shall we carry on?” he asked right after with a gentle bow of his head, not giving her time to think any further, going back to his impassivity. The innocent tone in his voice made Alyna wonder if she was just making all these things up.

The next set was hand-to-hand, about freeing yourself from grips: arm, neck and leg. They were easy to perform and most of them ended with the attacker on the floor with a couple of well-executed movements.

“And why are you so nimble for being a mage? Why do you know all these things?” she said, catching her breath back in between holds.

Solas drank some water, also recovering before speaking. “There was a time when I thought it was completely necessary to know hand-to-hand combat, in case my magic… failed. Just like you, I suppose.” The truth is that it had been a very long time ago since he learnt all these things but, surprisingly, the technique hadn’t evolved at all with the years. He had lots of complications and enemies back there, so better safe than sorry.

“I guess it makes sense. But what about your nose?” she wanted to know with a funny frown.

Solas twisted a smile, recalling. “I told you already how proud I was when I was young: hot-blooded and stubborn. I might have been fighting adversaries much over my ability because I was too full of pride to admit my own limits,” Solas explained with a thin smile curving his lips. That had been a really long time ago.

“I think stupid is the word you are looking for. And twice, really? Do you ever learn?” Alyna asked making him chuckle.

“I was not as good as I am now. Boxing is also quite interesting, the technique and the movements; good for blowing off steam, too.”

“I will need to box with you one of these days for sure,” she said.

“Are you really that tense?”

“Around you? Yes. Too much. It can’t be good in the long run,” she teased him, full of double meaning as sharp as a dagger, locking her silver irises on his with a mischievous look.

Solas showed a wolfish grin before answering, heart thudding heavily in his chest. “I guess we can practise again whenever you want to. It’s not the only technique for blowing off steam in which I am an expert, though.”

He enjoyed the way Alyna muffled an incredulous chuckle and shook her head, looking at the ceiling, trying for him not to notice she had blushed again.

That was a flirt, bold and direct.

The comment had been too much and Solas was aware of it, but he was enjoying that game. Probably more than what he was entitled to. His barriers were crumbling again in front of her, totally his fault, but it was really hard to resist. They were not finished yet and, at that point, he didn’t want it to stop. Nor that he could do it, either.

There was a lot of contact in the next exercises. Solas showed her how to freed herself of a choking hold from behind and they repeated the movement a couple of times, Alyna attacking and struggling with his height, which made them laugh and joke. Solas was even able to lift her without any effort whilst she grabbed his back, forgetting the tension. But then they swapped positions and the elf was the one who stood behind her, trying to keep some distance in between them, placing his worked-out arm around her neck with care.

The healer felt the soft skin around her and the warmth of his body behind her. He was not close enough to feel him fully despite the wolf pendant bit on the space in between her shoulder plates and she shuddered with the contact. His mana was conveniently repressed, as expected, but buzzing in her ears, tingling on her skin. She realized then how much she wanted him to push his magic in her.

“Ok, one step forward, shift the weight to your left leg and kick back on the knee,” he uttered in a whisper close to her ear.

She could feel his breath on her neck before doing as told, being able to free herself with ease. Her skin was damp with the effort and her cheeks flushed red. Solas realized that her breathing was harsh and he thought she didn’t look that different when he was buried in her in Val Royeaux. And her eyes… she was staring at him again, provocative and challenging.

He was about to give up.

The mage backed-off to cool his thoughts and drink some water. He rubbed his face and his shaved head thinking that everything was getting out of his control, again. “What the hell I was thinking about when Bull proposed me this?” Their attraction was still there, heavy and noticeable, pounding in his chest and his groin. And after what happened in Haven, it had only increased: the fact that she nearly died… His perspective about them changed after those days, even if he was trying to convince himself it did not.

That desire... Passion... A gentle reminder that he was not a god, contradicting many of his equals since ancient times, who had tried to worship him mistakenly. This was proof that they were wrong, as he was entitled to feel lust, hate and pain like everyone else. And that made him feel selfishly alive.

Because that was what he was: selfish.

“The last hold we will practise today is how to free yourself when pinned on the ground,” he said, turning around all of the sudden with an unreadable stare. “You have to make your enemy roll off you using your body push.”

Alyna smirked, as she had already practised that movement before. He had explained it with total coldness and indifference even if his eyes were eagerly devouring her at this point. Perhaps that's why the healer decided to play dirty and raised the bet so, before he explained anything about the technique, just as he lied down with his back onto the ground, she shoved a leg over him and sat suggestively on his hips, leaning forward to rest both her hands flat on his collar bones.

Her movement caught him totally off guard.

“I wanted to practise this hold in Val Royeaux. It was a shame you didn’t let me…” she uttered with such a wanton pitch and gesture that even surprised herself.

And she was not the only one: to her satisfaction, Solas’ cheeks flushed bright red and his excitement grew noticeable under her, pooling heat in between her legs.

However, he recovered his speech with promptness. “I suppose you will know how to release yourself from this hold, then…” he uttered with a wolfish grin. He startled her with the fluent movement of his hands, gripping her left arm and bracing her hips with his legs, pushing her and making her roll over her back. Alyna ended up pinned on the ground, legs bent and apart with the elf in between them, his hips pushing against hers. Her uneasy breath coming out of her mouth is all that he needed in return.

“This looks more likely to Val Royeaux,” he purred with his eyes veiled with lust and fixed in hers. Her opened lips were an invitation and a thousand thoughts crossed Solas’ mind at the speed of light.

There were a million reasons why he shouldn’t have done what he did next.

Solas bent slowly towards Alyna and kissed her: warm, gentle and soft.

His lips parted and teased her entrance and she obliged, deepening the kiss. The reality seemed to stop around them, muffling the sounds of the awakening fortress and the forbidden taste of their action. The kiss grew in intensity once more, tongues dancing together with need, and the healer moaned in his mouth when felt his left hand unravelling her tank top, making his way to the damp skin of her stomach, subtle and delicate caressing her. His mana pushed on hers, as freely as it had been in Orlais and she pushed back, making him shudder. He slid up his stroke along the left side of her torso until he reached her breast band, drawing this thumb around the underline of it.

And, suddenly, Alyna stiffened, releasing herself from his weight and his mouth, pushing him firmly away. She sat up, panting heavily and making Solas go up to his knees in confusion. “I… I don’t understand. Why now? What is different?” she breathed out in front of a totally baffled elf.

He took some time to catch his breath back, understanding the deep consideration of her question. “I am being selfish… and a proper bastard,” the thought popped up in his mind. He improvised instead. “There have been… considerations. After Haven… Your situation is different now you have decided to stay with the Inquisition.” That was half true.

Alyna frowned, knowing that couldn’t be all, feeling of desire being slowly replaced by intrigue. “Are you telling me that my idea of leaving the Inquisition once the breach was sealed was your determinant?” she asked with incredulity.

“You had strong ideals and your future was already decided… and I wanted to stay with the Inquisition. I didn’t have the right to push you towards my will.”

His explanation annoyed her, giving up to enquire further into it, but it was clear for her that something had stopped him of reaching that level of intimacy with her before, even after she decided to stay. “He has his own battles,” she recalled Cole told her about the mage. Alyna deep breathed a couple of times, shaping her next words, convinced he was no telling all the truth. “Solas, is there anyone else? I don’t want to stay in between…” her pitch sounded strange in her ears.

“What? No!” he seemed even more bewildered than before, genuinely surprised by her question. “I would have told you if that had been the case.”

The look in his eyes was sincere, and she nodded, lowering her eyes to the wolf pendant that swung up and down on his chest, following his sharp breath.

They remained quiet for a few seconds that seemed to be ages until the healer spoke again, raising her gaze to meet his. “What happened between us… your refusal based on your inference of my reasons… that was not your decision to make. We could have found a half-way point.”

Solas stayed quiet, thinking of her words. She was right, although, obviously, it hadn’t been the main reason to let her go. “You are right. It was a mistake. I am sorry. I really apologize if you felt rejected, as you see, it is far from the truth.”

She shook her head, grey eyes on his on a long hard look, but then she spoke with empathy. “I know there is something else and you have doubts about... about us. I… don’t really know what to do, but I think you are the one who should make up his mind. I don’t want to push you into this... whatever this is.”

Solas answered immediately. “That is not the case. I might just be pushing myself too much. As I said, it has been a long time…” he began, leaving the sentence in the air and looking away.

The silence fell again in between them and Alyna decided to give him a friendly squeeze on his arm as he looked quite regretful now. She sighed after. “I have to go, I have to be in the infirmary in no time,” the healer explained, standing up and gathering her scattered clothes.

Solas gazed at her briefly before sighing too, still taking in how the events had evolved. He also stood up, picking up his clothes and putting them on. He slid a hand over his head and face, back turned to Alyna, wondering if it had been a signal about what he had been intended to do.

“If I don’t see you before you go,” Alyna uttered, voice clear behind him, making him look over his shoulder, “please, be careful in the Oasis. And look after Varric,” she said with a warm smile as a farewell, turning around afterwards and leaving the stables under the snow.

Chapter Text

A peek into Varric ́s day.

That was the third time. The third.

Varric made a ball with the piece of paper he was using as a draft and threw it into the fireplace, where it immediately caught on fire.

It was exasperating. His lack of concentration, the lack of inspiration, the cold in that place… everything! And it was even worse now with all covered in snow. 

“Well, you have to assume this weather is not for you. Fortunately, not long until you get out of here. Not long until spring's here either” he told himself.

Hard in Hightown was nearly finished, depicting the adventures of the city guardsman Donnen Brennokovic and the recruit, Jevlan, enquiring murders and mysteries in Kirkwall. It was hard to admit he had based some of the characters in his acquaintances and friends there, for example, it was not a coincidence that Maysie spoke and acted as Merrill and Belladonna did it as Isabella… Although he never told any of his previous companions about how inspiring they had been, he was sure they already knew.

Noir fiction was a boom in the Free Marches and he had been giving people what they wanted to read for years. It had begun as a hobby but he had an unexpected success; enough to launch him to fame and fulfil his pride and his pocket. But with all this thing of the breach, Corypheus and the bloody boring Fereldian towns, his inspiration had dried up, as well as his ink, which was actually quite.

“Damn, dwarf… It’s just the ending. It can’t be that difficult. What’s going to happen with Donnen? He was caught in an ambush… Jevlan is after the Blade of Hessarian. But killing him…? Shit, he’s one of my best characters and he still has a long way to go… On the other hand… kill him would be a bombshell and I could move on and begin something new…” he uttered out loud thinking about the possible outcomes for his latest masterpiece.

Varric stared at the flames on the fireplace for a little longer. His room was the best one in the tavern at Skyhold: comfortable, warm, with a massive fluffy bed... and his thoughts rambled back to his room in Kirkwall and even further.

“What would Bianca be doing now?” his mind betrayed him. “Well done, Varric. Now, your inspiration is fully lost."

He decided to give up, putting aside the pile of papers he had rescued from Haven, his manuscript and sighed loudly scrubbing his shaved jaw with both hands.

“I’ve been putting this back long enough. I have to write to Fenris,” he said, grabbing another blank piece of paper and opening a new pot of ink. “Andraste's tits, what is going on with the ink in this place?"

After what happened in Haven, after Corypheus made his triumphal appearance, he had been holding an inner discussion about writing to Fenris or not. Although Varric was not during that mission, the Champion of Kirkwall was. And he killed that thing. Varric had tried by all means not to get Hawke involved in any of this crap, but the fact that the monster was still alive required further assistance. He already knew Fenris would kill him, but the Inquisition needed Hawke's help.

“He would have the last word: he can decide if he wants to come or not,” he mumbled between clenched teeth, knowing already what his response would be.

The quill made a scratchy noise while sliding on the yellowish paper, trying to find a way to be as concise as he could, being highly unspecific, hoping they would get the message.

Dear Fenris,

I hope you and your brother are both all right. I do miss your company and Kirkwall, but duty calls in Orlais and Ferelden with the Inquisition and I think it will keep me busy for a little while. A couple of weeks ago I ran into one of your well-known old friends, the one that annoyed you with Janeka and Larius three years ago. He was not very nice to me, but I thought your brother would like to know he seems to be ok. Quite angry with everyone, though. I might need some advice in case I bump into him again, probably a couple of kind words or a present that can make him forget the issue. Any thoughts? I send you my formal address in case you want to keep in touch with me and just to let you know of any help would be welcome as his annoyance seems to be quite serious.

I hope to hear back from you soon,

Varric T 

 

Good enough… thanks to the Maker he was good recalling names. Varric was not sure if Leliana was controlling their letters but even if she cracked the code, she would understand it was for the common good.

“Hi, Varric!” 

Cole’s cheerful voice made him jump, coming from somewhere behind him. “Shit,  Kid ! You’ll kill me one of these days. What did I say about using the door?” he screamed, still feeling his heart pounding in his chest.

Cole stared with his big blue eyes behind the golden fringe, under the massive hat.

“Sorry… My bad… I startled you…. I’ll try again” and when finished articulating the sentence, he disappeared.

Varric shook his head, eyes wide open, still trying to get used to the boy and what he was able to do. He inhaled deeply and folded the piece of paper whilst hearing the knocks on the door.

“Come on in,” he mumbled, knowing already who was behind it. They had practised that simple thing over and over again, but the Kid seemed to be a little reluctant to human manners.  

Cole sat on the bed. “I need cheese…” he said.

Varric looked at him with half narrowed eyes, suspicious. “Are you hungry?” he asked.

“It’s not for me… it’s for the mice” Cole explained.

“Are the mice hungry, then?” Varric tried to follow his thoughts.

“Not really… they lure the cats… and I’ve got mint for them. It makes them dance and play and the cook will be happier seeing them and she won’t be cranky anymore.”

The dwarf kept silent, crossing his arms. The Kid was totally serious about it, no joking at all, while he just wanted to burst into laughter.

“Ok… so be it. We’ll get some cheese for your mice. Shall we go now?” he asked thinking on the letter he had to send on a crow.

“You know he will come… He will want to help… And you don’t want to involve him, but it’s not your fault: you have to do what is better for everyone… Is his choice in the end.”

“Crap, Cole… Ok then. I’ll send it. Fine… It’s just… Cassandra is here. He’ll be exposed…”

“He’ll be fine… As he always is,” Cole stated holding his gaze with his big blue inexpressive eyes.

The dwarf sighed, still dubious. Then faced his desk again and wrote the address of Fenris’ house close to Wildervale, in the Free Marches, where he and his brother had escaped after all the fuss. He blew the ink to dry it up and wax-sealed it with his family stamp.

“Well… let’s get your mice some cheese, then” he said standing up.

 

***

 

A peek into Cassandra’s day.

She was exhausted, panting heavily and the sword weighed in her hand as if it were a mace. Even with that, she couldn’t give up. Not even when her opponent kicked her shield making her stumble back with a fierce gesture and a fierce cry.

Instead of the clash of the metallic swords, loud wooden blows coming from the fake swords made clear it was just a practise. But that was not an excuse for not taking it seriously as well.

“Shit, girl. You are tough,” Krem told her, bent over and totally out of breath.

Cassandra was also worn-out: they had been fighting for nearly half an hour, one to one and with their armour on. 

“Give me… a minute…” she said, sitting on the dusty ground and panting.

The fighting style of the Seeker was superb and she had been able to beat Bull and even Cullen some times. But Krem… the bloody mercenary was a different story: she could see herself reflected on his movements and he anticipated most of them, being always ready to fight back. And that was annoying. Very annoying. She was completely pissed right now. But couldn’t stand up from the ground.

Krem ended up sitting in front of her on the training pitch, chucking his shield away. More soldiers and warriors were fighting around them and a bunch of archers made their bows sing in the distance, target practising with the bullseye. Cullen fluttered around instructing the cadets and giving random orders and advice to the soldiers. 

“You don’t seem as chatty as always, Cassie. Are you alright?” Krem asked her taking his helmet off, still gaining his breath back.

She had indeed been quieter and more thoughtful than usual. Probably still overwhelmed about the circumstances.

“Yes… I will…” she said, being quite non-specific.

The Seeker had her gaze lost in the warriors around, but Krem realized her eyes were wetter than usual.

Their friendship might have been strange, but it was true that they both got along once they moved into Skyhold. All the Chargers and Bull lived in the soldier camp as well as Cassandra, and Krem had joined in with the dairy training she carried out with Bull. Now the qunari was teaching Alyna, Cassandra and the lieutenant had practised with frequency, even talking during long hours after, getting to know each other very well. The Seeker was baffled about his story because he was quite opened about it. Even being as narrow-minded as Cassandra was sometimes, she didn’t make a single comment about Krem’s sexuality and carried on with their relationship as it was before. And, to be honest, Krem was grateful for it because he didn’t want to lose her as a friend.

Cassandra had also opened her heart to the lieutenant one day. Even if she had already decided on what procedure follow with her feelings, the Seeker told him anyway: she cared for the Inquisitor. More than she wanted to.

“I see that his answer was not what you expected…” Krem guessed.

Cassandra just nodded her head, her gaze still lingering around them.

“Did he say anything at all?” the man asked playing now with the dusty ground around, fisting it in his hand.

The Seeker looked at him with a bitter grin. “The Inquisition is more important. A priority. It actually makes sense… I mean… he is… ” then she snorted. “I’m a fool.”

Krem deep breathed trying to figure out what to say next. He knew no one knew about what Cassandra was telling him, so he had to do his best. For her. “Well, I’m sure there are more fish in the sea. Shall we go to the tavern tonight and get plastered? That’s always a good painkiller,” he said pulling a face in front of the fierce look Cassandra threw at him. “With all the people you have around and it had to be him… C’mon Cassie, you are pretty, a skilled warrior, a noblewoman and your family have properties! You are a very good catch. You’ll go over this… and there will be more, even queuing!”

The Seeker snorted, shaking her head. Perhaps it had only been a crush. She was sure she will survive. “The first round is on you. Today, before dinner. Tavern,” she said with a thin grin.

It was a beginning. She’ll heal.

Krem smiled back at her.

“For how long have you been sitting on the ground!? Is that the example you want our cadets to follow? Lift your asses up and train like everyone else is doing!” Cullen’s voice blasted out in the field, even over the noise of the swords and the pretend battle.

“Yes, sir!” Krem mocked at the Commander, standing up immediately and putting his helmet back on. “Milady” he teased Cassandra with a bow while she put hers on with a wide smile this time in front of his gesture, standing on guard, ready to resume their fight.

 

***

 

A peek into Bull’s day.

“Well, what do you think?” Dorian asked the qunari all full of joy and enthusiasm and Bull tried to mask the fact he didn’t have a single clue of how the library looked before, so there was nothing he was able to compare with.

“Wow, Dorian… It looks… great!” he rumbled trying to sound convincing.

Dorian pulled an exasperation face, realizing he was kind of apathetic about his excitement.

“You didn’t see it before, did you?” the mage asked him and Bull wrinkled his nose and shook his head slowly, making Dorian snort.

The truth is that the library had changed massively during those two weeks. Even if still half-empty, everything was clean, dusted, moped and, at last, all the spiders had disappeared. An inventory of the catalogue had also been made and he even had a list of essential books they should gather as soon as they could.

The Iron Bull had come at midday to speak to Solas as he wanted to check how the lesson with Alyna had been, but the mage was not in the rotunda. So he decided to climb the stairs up and pay a visit to, why not to say, his favourite mage in the place (the healer would understand), fulfilling an idea he already had for some time.

“Sorry, Dorian. I would gladly share your enthusiasm but… I have not a clue about how this place was like before. Was it that bad?” he asked with a thin voice.

“Well… more or less like hell,” Dorian exaggerated, looking around, wiping his hands on a cloth.

“In that case, well done, I guess,” Bull said with a smirk.

“Can you tell me again what are you doing here?” the human asked him, frowning.

He didn’t have a proper plan in mind, perhaps just to exchange a couple of sentences. But there was something about him… even if their main conversations until that moment had been teasing each other. He wanted to know more about him. "I haven’t told you yet, actually. I was just passing by. I came to say hello”.

His conversation was strange. Too stiff. Too unnatural. Dorian had noticed that and now was intrigued, but Bull resumed his speech.

“I was thinking you would like to go for lunch, perhaps? It’s getting late and you are going to eat, anyway… we could go together,” he uttered in a very casual way.

Dorian opened his eyes widely. That was definitely a surprise.

“Wait. Are you inviting me out for lunch?” he asked, perplexed but with a cheeky smile on his face.

“Maybe… it depends on your answer,” Bull said, temper recovered and a crooked grin.

Very blunt. Self-confidence was one of his best qualities when he was interested in someone.

“Fair enough. Let me get my stuff and we’ll go,” the mage obliged, still in a mixture of astonishment, flattery and excitement, turning around to gather his cape and his bag.

Bull’s eyes lowered involuntarily to his lovely arse in those leather skinny trousers typical from Tevinter when Dorian bent over to get something from the floor. He didn’t hurry to look back up when the mage faced back at him as he knew Dorian would be flattered with his attention.

“Wait, have you just stared at my ass when I picked up…?” Dorian spoke with a pretend outrage, knowing the answer already. Bull might have slipped a couple of clues about his sexual preferences but Dorian didn’t even think… Well, that Iron Bull would be interested in him.

“Let’s go, mage!” the qunari said with a satisfied smile on his grey face.

 

***

 

A peek into Sera’s day.

“Oh shit… Not good… this is not good…” she mumbled reading again the letter. For the first time in many years, The Red Jennies were giving her more headaches than satisfactions and that was bad. She didn’t like bad.

Some members of the organization had been ambushed in Ostagar, doing who knows what. “Probably stealing something from someone to feed others…” she thought. But it was a pain on her bottom because she was no longer in control of the situation. The Red Jennies had grown too much and it was impossible to keep track of their actions anymore. That meant it was also impossible to coordinate anything at all. 

“Moles! We have got friggin’ moles!” she shouted in the wind holding the letter tight in her fist.

“Ey, Sera. What are you doing up there?” Blackwall’s deep voice startled her: she thought she was alone on the roof of the stables. And in the whole building.

“Nothing! I’m just pissed off! Leave me alone!” she screamed back at him, even if she didn’t know where he was exactly.

The archer stayed up there, tapping her fingers on her knee on a regular pattern, thinking and getting more and more heated every time she went over the facts.

After a few stomps and new cries and burst of curses, Blackwall stuck his head out of the small door that gave access to the roof. “For Andraste, Sera. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing!” she screamed. “No, everything!” the archer screamed again, louder. “Everything is wrong!” She knew she would have to take care of the situation before it got out of hand.

“Mmmm… I brought some cookies. Do you want one?” Blackwall’s deep rumble sounded even tender when pronouncing the words, showing her at the same time the small packet with the sweet treats inside.

A smile snapped in Sera’s face. “Oh! You old Warden. You know how to conquer a woman,” she said while he got out to the roof and walked clumsily towards her, like a big bear, as Sera always compared him to.

Surprisingly, they had gotten along very well.

Sera waited patiently for him to sit down with a groan and opened the package with a clear lack of haste. She was anxious now, though. He gave a biscuit to the elf and they remained quiet for a while, enjoying the treat.

Blackwall had the patience and the calmness of an old man… and obviously, he was. Like someone that had lived loads and now runs in slow motion every day. He was not overwhelmed by passions, nor by feelings… And his serenity infected her very often, being the only one able to calm her fidgety behaviour down, making her more… normal.

“Well… can it be told?” he asked her while brushing with his hand the crumbs from his beard.

Sera looked at the sun sinking into the horizon. “Nope… I’d have to kill you if I do so… You don’t want that now you’re in the prime of life, do you?” she teased him.

Blackwall shook his head and laughed. “Can it be solved, then?” he carried on helping her with the introspection.

Sera pulled a face. Not a funny one. More like a grimace. “No. I don’t think so…”

“So, why to worry? Options are clear. The decision is made. No need to scream anymore,” he said with a rumble.

That was true. She knew what to do. The Red Jennies were unsustainable. It had to end.

“Blackwall, it was me who cut your beard a couple of weeks ago. Alyna helped. We were drunk. Sorry about that,” she confessed with a pout in front of an astonished Grey Warden who frowned deeply raising unconsciously a hand to pull out his now scarce facial hair.

“Shit elf… You are more irritating than an Archdemon…” he mumbled looking at the sky, still touching his beard.

Sera chuckled.

“I’m sorry,  grandpa … You look better now, though,” she replied with a perfect sorry pitch, accompanying it with the saddest gesture on her face, so terrible that made Blackwall snort and shake his head again.

“All right… all right… Thanks for the confession…” then he stood up, leaving the cookies next to her, ready to go back inside. “Don’t go to bed late: remember we are travelling tomorrow.”

Sera nodded and followed his unsteady steps on the steep roof back to the building, deciding that he was a good man.

 

***

 

A peek into Cullen’s day.

“You look tired. Are you sleeping well?” Leliana asked him with her graceful Orlesian accent. They were both in his office in one of the towers that conformed the defensive wall from Skyhold.

Cullen was sitting on his desk, barely able to read the reports laid in front of him. It was late, but the Inquisitor was marching the next day towards the West and everything had to be ready. Perfect.

“Yeah. Yes. Everything’s fine. Just tired, you know?” he mumbled feeling a drop of perspiration rolling down his temple even with the cool temperature of the room.

Leliana nodded, wary, but didn’t ask any more questions.

“My spies haven’t detected any threat on the route they are following to reach the West. Anyway, a group of rogues under my command will join them in Val Firmin: there have been Venatori sightings around the area, so better safe than sorry. They will clear the place for them”.

The Commander nodded again, running a hand over his damp forehead, trying to focus on the spot of the map of Orlais Leliana was pointing to.

“The group will depart tomorrow after dawn with a small detachment of soldiers. I see you then,” she said with a last look, and in front of his lack of response, turned around, leaving the room.

Cullen clenched his teeth and his fist and punched his desk once she was gone, feeling the pain on his hand comforting. It was true he hadn’t been sleeping properly. He had nightmares. Terrible nightmares about his experiences as a Templar: his kidnapping in Lake Calenhad's tower when he was just a recruit, the Circle in Kirkwall and Kinloch… Kinloch had been his particular hell. As well as all that came after it.  

He leaned back in his chair and buried his face in his hands, realizing then how much he was trembling.

“Fuck!” he screamed trying to calm down, resting both arms on the desk, trying to ease the tremor.

After a while focusing his will in controlling his breath, he opened the first draw on his right and pulled out a small wooden case. The solution to his problems was clear. Just one shot and he would be fine. Cullen opened the box with reverence, observing the content: a small grinder, a stone of lyrium, a flask with water… all the necessary elements to ease his withdrawal symptoms and to keep him going for a little longer. Unwrap, slice, grind, pour, shake and drink, as so many times he had done it before. He hesitated. Should he give up?

Suddenly, he snapped the box shut. With a quick movement, he threw the damned thing against the wall at his front. Meanwhile, the door of his office opened. Josephine jumped when sensed the wooden box smash next to her.

Joder, Cullen! What's going on?”

The Commander stood up, embarrassed, realizing he had lost control.

“Sorry, Jossie. I didn’t mean to… I…” he couldn't form any more words as the ambassador squatted down, picking up the wrapped lyrium stone from the floor.

“Is this…?” she asked, even if she already knew the answer.

“Yes… I gave it up in Haven,” he explained, keeping to himself it had been after Alyna joined them, clenching his shaky fist.

Josephine looked at him with concern. “What? You are not taking lyrium anymore? But what about the side effects?” she looked shocked as everyone knew how bad the lyrium withdrawal syndrome was.

“It's…” he thought for a little while, staring at her brown eyes. He couldn't lie. “It's getting worse. Every day” Cullen said in the end, sinking back on his chair.

Josephine walked towards him as he seemed vulnerable. That was new to her. “Have you spoken to Glenn? And to the healers? They might have something to ease the symptoms, she advised him. “I think Rob has dealt with Templars before…”

Cullen gazed at her, pleading. “I’ll do it. I have to. Please, don’t tell anyone. Not even Glenn for now. This job keeps me going. I wouldn’t know what to do without it.”

Josephine nodded, dubious. “Speak to Rob tomorrow without fail. Reach for me if you don’t want to be on your own. This is important, Cullen. We already know last time didn’t work very well. We don’t want that to happen again.” Her voice was a warning, subtle and veiled, but a warning.

It was his time to nod his head. “Yes. I’ll… I’ll do it…” he stuttered, pushing his hands again towards the table. “Thanks, Jossie.”

Josephine gave back to him a thin worried smile.

“Go to bed. And call me if you need anything. Tomorrow we’ll figure this out, all right?” she said tenderly before leaving his office, leaving him alone.

 

***

 

A peek into Glenn’s day.

It was the third day in a row he spent part of his evening kneeled in front of the statue of the Prophet. One of his priorities, when the reconstruction jobs began in the first circle, had been to get a small chapel ready for praying. Even if the first days there was not even a statue of Andraste in it, a quiet room had been more than enough to calm down his religious fervour.

He mumbled without sounds the words of the prayer, thanking the Maker for the anchor and for having saved his people. Also, he asked for his blessing because of the journey they would begin tomorrow.

Glenn was their chosen one. The Herald of Andraste. It was his duty to end all the madness Corypheus meant.

And it was not just Corypheus.

Countless pieces of information reached his hands every day brought by Leliana’s crows: the power issue in Orlais; the tyrannical government of some Arls in Ferelden; darkspawn still surfacing in different points of the West; abusive commercial contracts in the Free Marches; slavery in Tevinter… There were so many things to fight against. So many things to do to turn the world into a better place… And he had the power to do it. To change things…

Glenn sighed.

“Corypheus must be ended first. Everything else will come at the right time,” he thought while standing up.

Chapter Text

It had really been a very busy day.

“Have you checked the budget for next month?”

“Yep.”

“Looked over the inventory?”

“Yes.”

“Written the order for next week?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Made a list of the potions we should make?”

“Done too. As well as a timetable saying who is in charge of them.”

“And the roster is also done, I suppose…”

“Done and checked!”

“How many patients are in the clinic right now?”

“Just four on the ground floor. All fast asleep.”

Alyna smiled with pride. “Well, I don’t think you need me here anymore. I can go home knowing you’ll be a worthy heir of the infirmary,” she teased him. “I should think about moving on onto something different… they might need my skills in the tavern or the stables, perhaps…”

The young man smiled at her. He had turned out to be more organized than what she thought at the beginning and he showed promise as an excellent infirmary lead.

They were making the last verifications before going home. The night shift had begun three hours ago, but there had been an emergency related to a fall and a couple of broken bones and they both had to stay for longer.

Alyna said goodbye while wrapping herself on her wolf pellet and walked towards the first circle under the starred sky. Even with the cold, today would be a perfect night to go into her private balcony and locate some constellations, but she was exhausted and it was past her sleep hour already.

Skyhold was deserted at that time and the fortress building was not an exception. She had missed dinner and the kitchen would be closed for sure, but the healer knew that some leftovers were kept in case any night owl like her had a craving during their sleep. She walked downstairs ready to beg for some bread and a bowl of broth as she had done many times before. However, the maid refused to give her any dinner today, leaving her perplexed. “I’m sorry, milady, but the elven advisor… Solas I think he’s called… He ordered me not to give you anything… I think he took some to your quarters, I believe.”

“What? Solas…?” Alyna furrowed her eyebrows with surprise. "That's unexpected... especially after what happened this morning..." the healer thought although, deep down, she was sort of flattered about his daring. The girl still looked devastated. “Ok Salma, it’s fine. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then."

“I’m sorry, miss. About the food…” the servant added.

Alyna shrugged before speaking. “Advisor’s orders, I suppose,” she said with a mocking tone.

The healer went up to her room and stopped in front of the door, taking a deep breath. She was not sure why the fact of having him in her own room made her somehow excited. Just touching the handle, she was able to feel the trace of Solas’ magic on it: a lock that she had actually locked when she left her quarters in the morning, now was fully open. She shook her head and snorted with incredulity because of the bloody elf that had broken into her quarters shamelessly.  

She had enough time during the day to think about the events of that morning during their training session and she felt a little remorseful about her role on them, as she had been the one who had given the first step to end up pulling back later. The healer was not sure about how far they would have gotten to on their make out before he stopped her again... or perhaps not. But two things were clear: he liked her as well as she liked him, and he was clearly stopping himself in initiating anything. 

Alyna was sure he had a secret, deep inside, something he didn't want to tell her. Perhaps about his past? But that only added an extra shot of intrigue on the mystery who he was, waiting to be unravelled. She also discovered that she was ok with the fact that he wanted to keep that part of himself private; she didn't mind at all as she also had secrets she was not ready to share with anyone. The point was that they liked each other, they could have sex without making things more complex and for sure they will have plenty of time to figure things out if they decided to go one step further.

That was her speech, the one she had composed during the working day to tell him once they got back from the Western Approach. But It seems that Solas would speed up things with his daring. So she pulled the door open.

The fire was lit in the fireplace and there was a big bowl of soup and a fresh loaf of bread on the table, as well as a bottle of white Antivan wine, the one she most liked. A small bunch of lavender flowers rested in a vase.

But Solas was not there.

It was nearly midnight and the Inquisitor was departing early in the morning, so she was not surprised he had already gone to bed. However, she couldn’t help the feeling of disappointment, thinking she would have to wait until his return to have a proper chat about them. The little gift had been nice, though.

She left her bag on the floor without care and sank into the chair, heating the soup with her hands, stomach rumbling with the smell. But when she was halfway through it, she realized that the trapdoor on her ceiling was not completely closed and a suspicion grew in her, slowing down her late dinner until she fully stopped. She stood up and poured some wine in a glass with a thin smile, realizing one of her blankets was also missing. She climbed up the ladder leading to the balcony.

And her suspicions were confirmed.

The night was cool and clear and the snow on the floor had been magically melted, forming a dried circle around the seated figure of the elven mage.

Solas was there, leaning on the blanket and admiring the moon-bathed landscape. The elf had cast a barrier around the space he was sat on, being protected from the extreme cold of the mountains. Involuntarily, she startled him but he smiled after as if he was truly glad to see her there, at last. Then, his face changed into confusion, looking at the sky and trying to figure out the hour. “I’m sorry. I must have lost track of time. I didn’t know it was this late,” he uttered, standing up to greet the healer. 

Alyna chuckled and reproached him with irony, “I am really surprised you do apologize for losing track of time but not for breaking shamelessly into my quarters... That door was heavily locked with magic!” 

Because of her tone, Solas knew she was not really bothered about it, so he smirked cockily instead. "Well, nos as heavily locked as you thought if I was able to dispel your spell, I suppose. You have one of the best rooms in Skyhold, by the way. It’s worth the intrusion. Although I hoped to gain your forgiveness with some food, actually.” 

The healer smiled, amused. All his self-confidence was back, as well as his charm and his sweet talk: a face of him none of their companions had seen. She could perfectly picture him as a handsome devil in his youth. "Fair enough... And the antivan wine is better in good company, so I let you stay for a little while,” she said, handing over her glass, that he accepted.

They both sat on the floor, side by side, looking at the stars, enjoying the wine and the views in silence. There was a feeling of confidence in that gesture: the fact you can actually sit with someone and make the quietness comfortable. 

“Thanks for this, Solas,” she broke the silence after a little while “Although you made me think I would starve tonight.” He chuckled softly, turning his gaze to hers, but the healer carried on speaking before he could reply. “This morning… I…” she gestured with her hands, stopping her speech, trying to find the most convenient words. “I don’t know how to act around you… With you. I don’t know what you want from me.”

Solas stared at her, deep and intense. Then, he lowered his eyes to his clasped hands around his legs, thoughtful. There was a clear distinction between what he wanted and what he should actually do. “You have the right to be upset. My situation is… complicated for various reasons. So, once again, I am sorry.” The elf couldn’t take his mask fully off, but he was aware that he had let her see enough of him already: who he truly was. He couldn't tell her but she didn't deserve another lie either. 

Alyna nodded her head, thinking of his words. Clearly, she won’t be able to pull any more out of him, but she was fine with it: she also had secrets buried deep in her heart that the healer didn't want him to know about. It could be considered a tie, then. “I'm not demanding for you to tell me, Solas, although you know I would be glad to listen,” she said after a little while, soft understanding tone and eyes locked on his purple ones. “I will totally respect the fact you won’t want to share your... situation with me.”

Solas deep breathed in and let the air go out slowly, knowing that her last sentence would alter the progression of the events. He didn't have a plan outlined and he was not even sure about what the outcome would be if he gave in, but he wouldn't have to worry about it for now. Because she didn't mind. “You change… everything,” he declared, sounding more a statement than a compliment and she chuffed, not knowing what to answer to that.

She looked at the sky again, where hundreds of little twinkling stars and a full moon spilt their white light on her features, giving her an ethereal touch to her pale skin and her grey eyes. Her gesture flicked and a thin playful smile curled up her lips, trying to ease the mood. “So, you have broken in my room using magic, annulling mine,” she began with a teasing pitch, breaking the tension.

The mage chuckled and shrugged. “A small collateral damage.”

“A little invasive, don’t you think?”

“Well, from my perspective, desperate situations call for desperate measures,” he affirmed, following her lead on a sly way.

“Gaining back my favour was a desperate situation?” she asked, amused.

“Highest priority, considering I depart tomorrow."

The healer shook her head, openly smiling this time. “And why lavender?” she wanted to know, frowning with curiosity.

Solas thought the answer for some seconds, trying to find the words to shape it. “Because I cannot stop thinking of Val Royeaux. Is a scent that reminds me of you. I suppose I still have the memory of smelling it on your hair and your skin…”

Alyna didn’t expect that his answer would lead them to Val Royeaux again and felt her cheeks blushing in front of his words. He seemed satisfied with the effect he had on her and slipped his unreal eyes to her lips. Her heart skipped a beat.

“Although is not the only thing I remember about that night,” he added, leaning forward and bridging the distance between them.

She could even feel the warmth of his lips before he kissed her as that same morning happened: sweet and slow, barely touching each other. His lips felt soft on hers, natural and perfect.

They played with the feeling for a little while, not daring to hurry, not intending to, until Alyna nipped his lower lip on a playful way, making him snap his eyes open with surprise, bringing down his barriers.  

And, as well as that morning, the kiss built up and she felt the wet pressure of his tongue teasing hers. She answered lifting one hand to the back of his neck preventing him to break the kiss and resting the other on his chest, right over the wolf pendant.

Desire spread from her core, reaching even the tip of her fingers, especially when they both had to leave each other mouths to breathe. His hands caressed her waist and the small of her back, inviting her to get closer to him and she obliged with a fluid movement, sitting on his lap, facing him.

Her warmth, her scent, her touch, the way she looked at him, full of desire… Solas found her pale eyes in an instant, acknowledging he could be all night pleasuring her until she begged him to stop. He wanted to drink her body; feel the taste of her skin; unravel her. His hands slid over her back on a subtle caress, enjoying the brief stop. Her irises were darkened with her arousal and her open lips gave away her fastened breath.

“You are the most beautiful woman Thedas has ever seen,” he purred as if it was the only and definitive truth, using his fingers to move behind her ear a stray strand of her hair, caressing her cheek with his thumb on the way back.

Alyna felt the heat on her cheeks competing with the one that warmed her core. Even in that situation, he was able to make her blush. Damn him. “You enjoy it, don’t you? Redden me...” she asked, leaning forwards and teasing with subtle kisses the tips of his lips.

She felt them twisting up in a smile and he looked for her whole mouth again but, instead of following his lead, Alyna raised a hand to cup his chin, tilting his head and exposing his neck and ear to her. She nipped his earlobe and bit it before descending a trail of wet nips along his neck while he groaned, totally lost in the sensation.

His answer was to grab her hips and drag her closer to him, sitting her over his hardness. And she rocked and the world sparkled in colours because of the pleasure: she wanted him, and she wanted him now.

Gentleness was forgotten when Solas took off her shirt, too eager to even undoing the buttons, and Alyna imitated his action after, freeing him of his, wolf amulet still resting in between them. They entangled in a fierce kiss before the mage directed his attention to her breasts. Still, with the breast band on, he cupped one of them in his palm with ease, squeezing it. He recalled how she liked his touch over that area in Val Royeaux and doubled his efforts there, rolling his nipple in between his fingers, probably a little too hard. But the healer moaned in his mouth, Solas’ erection twitching under her.

She lowered her hand, sliding it over his lean chest and abdomen, reaching for his length. The healer stroked him over his trousers, feeling him fully harden as he growled and bit her lower lip with need. Solas was about to roll her off him and pin her on the ground, but Alyna acted faster: she stood up and took her leggings and her smalls off, reaching for his trousers as well and pulling them off him.

During a brief second, she could feel the need in which Solas devoured her with his eyes. She felt the same way. Despite that, he didn’t move from his seated position against the wall, waiting for her to take control over and set the pace. So Alyna kneeled back on him, grabbing his length with her hand and, with a last wet kiss, lowered herself down.

The grip on her hips intensified and turned into a dull pain as he disappeared into her body, stretching her. Solas emitted a muffled hiss and the healer realized then that, at some point, they had stopped kissing; instead, they were sharing their ragged breaths. Inch by inch she made her way down to his lap, sheathing him in her. She rocked her hips, head falling back with a sigh, finding that sweet spot in her. Solas grunted, feeling a bolt of electricity in his core.

The feeling of fullness was exquisite, as if he belonged to her, together. As if it was a timeless truth. Solas was heavily panting, nearly mad in her stillness, but waiting patiently for her. Alyna rested her forehead on his before opening her steel coloured eyes and locking them on his. With her arms on his strong shoulders, she lifted her body, nearly until he was totally out of her, and lowered herself down slowly with a wanton moan. Seven. Eight. Nine times, driving him insane with the steady slow pace while Solas dug his nails in the soft flesh of her hips in desperation. The next time she lowered herself on him, she also rocked her hips and pushed her mana on his, making him hiss loudly. The mage felt he was about to shatter into pieces already and he felt the tip of her lips curling in a lewd smile. "Is this pleasurable, Solas? Should I stop, so you can regain some control?"

The elf clasped her waist with an arm as an answer, steadying her on his lap. His other hand reached for her hair and fisted it while kissing her fiercely and toying with her mana. Alyna was the one who moaned now, deep in her throat: she had been with mages before, but no one like him, though. No one had been able to bring her so much pleasure using just his magic. Never. The feeling of sparkly electricity ran on her skin, giving her goosebumps, right before a cold wave of ticklish ice brushed over her, amplifying all the sensations and leaving her breathless. One of his clever fingers had slid down to her sex and was caressing her clit at the same time with the pleasurable feeling of being filled, but completely still in her. Her breathing became ragged, and she felt her orgasm building way too fast with his attentions. He smirked over her mouth, brushing her lips when he purred, "I believe you are not the only one who knows how to play this game, Alyna."  

And, all of a sudden, he thrust into her again, long, fast and hard, and Alyna actually screamed, feeling all the pleasure built in her core burst out free. Her orgasm stormed in her like a hundred lighting spells, making her arch her back and shudder out of control, trying to slow his pace down. But Solas didn’t allow it as he was very close to the edge himself. His thrusts became erratic and his grip had tightened on her buttocks. The elf couldn’t hold his climax back anymore and, with a deep low groan, emptied himself in her, in one of the longest, most needed and intense orgasms he was able to remember.

They both stilled, the mage keeping her on him and circling her waist with his arms again and kissing her softly while catching their breaths back. A faint smile appeared on his lips and Alyna backed off slightly, observing him with curiosity: no traces of culpability or regret this time. At least, not visible ones. She smiled back at him without words, enjoying that gesture of intimacy in between them.

Solas undid the clasp and caressed the sides of her torso softly, lowering his fingers to her abdomen and touching with his thumb the scar the poison had left on her body: the memory of her nearly lost battle. Indelible.

She realized what he was doing there and joked, “I don’t think you can rub it from my skin, but thanks for trying,” looking how Solas lurked his fingers along the grey lines that started from the scar. The truth is that she had gotten used to the mark. It was not bothering her anymore. She took advantage of him looking down to drop a kiss on the crown of his head.

The mage chuffed with the furtive gesture and raised his head again to meet her lips with a gentle smile, cupping her cheek. “I didn’t ask you after Val Royeaux and I should have. Are you taking precautions?”

She immediately knew what he was talking about. “Yes, there's this tea... Don’t worry about it,” she said, nodding at the same time, still stuck to his lips.

They spent some more minutes enjoying the relaxed feeling until she laughed, pushing him back. “My legs are feeling very numb now. I don’t think I’ll be able to stand up.”

“I don’t see the problem, then,” he smirked with a sly tone, pulling the healer closer again, still deep-buried in her.

She chuckled and shook her head. Then, made her first attempt to get off him but fell again, partly being dragged by his arms.

“Don’t go…” he begged her, again kissing her lips softly, playful.

“My knees will be bruised tomorrow and I’m gonna have to explain a lot if anyone notices… which will lead me inevitably to mention this moment. And you,” she teased him.

Finally, he let her go with a pretend grimace, feeling the cold on his body when she stood up unsheathing him. Solas lied back on the wall, observing her stretching movements, captivated by her nakedness. She picked up her clothes from the floor in a graceful way.

Noticing his immobility, Alyna threw him his trousers, interrupting his daydreaming. She laughed at his startle, and the sound was pure.

“Do you want to stay tonight?” she asked him once he had been taken out of his self-absorption.

This time he agreed.

 

***

 

Solas didn’t know what his dream was about, but Arlathan was there, breathtaking, within his reach. And empty. Deadly empty. An extreme loneliness feeling hurt his chest, like a deep sharp stab wound. And he needed to stop hurting...

The elf opened his eyes with his heart racing, hearing the loud bangs, but was not able to process what was going on.

“Alyna! Alyna, wake up! Is Solas with you?”

The healer was there, right in front of him, naked, eyes shut and fast asleep, sharing his pillow. Her legs were entangled with his and a possessive arm circled his waist. Solas looked around, sleepy eyes and still confused, remembering all of a sudden he was not in his room. His eyes went back to the female elf, contemplating her messy hair and her perfect features, now recalling the previous night. And the arousal made its way back to his body.

Again, a string of loud thumps was heard, as well as some dwarven swearing, and she opened her eyes, giving him a dozed smile that the elf returned.

“Solas, shit, open up! I know you are in there. We are late, damn elf! You have overslept and you’re not even in your bloody room!”

“Is that Varric?” Alyna asked him, sluggishly confused.

Suddenly, he seemed to remember something and fully woke up in a fraction of a second. The mage swore in Elven, jumping off the healer’s bed, now perfectly aware of the bangs on the door. He picked up his clothes from the floor and put them on in a rush, just stopping to kiss Alyna one last time before leaving. At some point, she had burst on laughter, finally understanding what was going on and covered herself with the bedsheet when he half-opened the door, getting out of the room to find the dwarf mischievous gaze.

“Oh! Hello, Chuckles. Did you sleep well? Because, to be honest, it doesn’t seem like it…” he uttered to his friend, narrowing his eyes and all sharp sarcasm, but also taping his back triumphal gesture.

“How did you know I was here?” Solas wanted to know after closing the door after him.

Varric stared at him with condescension and his tone was quite ironic. “C’mon, Chuckles. Do you think I was born yesterday? I knocked for ten minutes in your room and it was empty. You were not in the rotunda either… This was the last only plausible option. And I’m glad it was!” Varric said, smiling with satisfaction, following the quick steps of the elf down the stairs towards his bedroom to get his armour and his backpack as fast as possible.

“I would appreciate… We would appreciate if this stays between us,” Solas said once he opened his own room.

“I’ll be like a grave, although it doesn’t mean I’m not very curious about it. Curiosity I hope you can satisfy.”

Solas snorted as an answer.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe they haven’t let you go with them… I’m sorry to say you are missing an amazing holiday right now”, Dorian told her in front of the bottle of wine they were sharing in the tavern.

She shrugged with a grimace and drank a sip. They hadn’t seen each other for more than a week and they had been catching up: Dorian explained the library was already finished, inventoried and some new books ordered as well.

“Glenn considered I was still weak and not ready to go… according to his own words. The infirmary seems to need me more than him, I guess”, she said, being quite disappointed about his decision.

It had been a week since their companions departed and this was her first chance to get out of the work-home routine at last. Iron Bull had arranged the meeting after their morning training: they would join the Inquisitor in the Western Approach, leaving tomorrow, and the qunari used to plan his journeys the day before in the most sordid tavern from the city he was into. Sadly, in Skyhold there was just one.

They had met Dorian there as well and, as far as she was aware, they both were getting along quite well. The Tevinter mage had some diplomatic work to do with Josephine so he wouldn’t join them in their mission this time.

“I think  weak  is a word that should not be put next to your name at all…” the qunari told to her friend. “Anyway, you’ll have a wonderful trip with my Chargers. Unforgettable”.

Alyna gazed at him, raising an eyebrow.

“Should I be concerned about what you have just said? That sounded scary”, she asked him.

“Nah… You’re tough…. You’ll be fine”, he answered her, clearly teasing.

“That’s a yes”, Dorian added.

“Oh, c’mon! The route is decided and it will be easy as cake. And you already know Krem, Dalish, Grim, Skinner, Stitches, Rocky… You’ll be fine”, he repeated drinking from his glass.

The elf smiled. They were a nice bunch, an odd and eccentric group formed by mercenaries from different origins and backgrounds. Extensively trained and highly effective, in her opinion.

“Do we know anything about the Oasis?” Dorian wanted to know.

“Yes! Solas told me they had found what they were looking for! Apparently, they located the hidden cave and he used the magic fragments to open an entrance” she exclaimed in front of Bull’s and Dorians inquisitive gaze. “They had a tough battle there, with Arcane Warriors I think, but gained the amulets they were guarding”.

She stopped herself when noticed the thin smile on Iron Bull’s lips. She realized she had spoken too much already, probably too intendly. The interrogation began.

“So… Chuckles has visited you… I guess in that thing you call the Fade, I presume” the qunari uttered fully ironic.

She made a crook grin and tried to appear as neutral as she could.

“Yes, we investigated those fragments together. The less he could do was to keep me informed about what they opened…”.

“Aha… And how many times has he visited you exactly? The Fade can be quite intimate, am I right?”.

“One… yesterday” she lied in a hurry. It had been three, actually, but not for a long time, though.

Bull threw a suspicious glare at her, narrowing his eyes. Alyna had shown up mysteriously late to the training on the day their companions departed to the Oasis and she bore a suspicious  love mark  on her neck, clearly correspondent with a  wild passionate sex night , according to Bull. Since then, he had been trying to make her spill the beans to find out who her lover was. He had already tried with Sera, Blackwall, Varric and even Cole and now was Solas’ turn… He was not that misguided this time.

“And the hand-to-hand lesson… was it…  close ?” he teased her again.

She chuckled and blurted out. “Shit Bull, you are so fucking nosy…” she mentioned trying to dodge the topic.

“Oh! Self-defensive… That’s a yes!” Dorian added himself to the conversation at that point, eager to know more. “Is there anything between you two, then?”.

Alyna took a couple of seconds to think about it; about their situation. After his rushed departure, he visited her in the Fade that same night: the first time in months. They didn’t really reach for a welcome kiss, neither of them looked for it either, but something was different, difficult to put it into words. They had been relaxed and comfortable as they haven't been for a while and the feeling of intimacy was kind of new and exciting, as well as the future perspective. They spoke about his journey and he asked her about her day in the infirmary before engaging in a conversation about dalish traditions and useless aravels. They joked and he flirted bluntly even if merely teasing her to see her blush. Solas had been… different somehow, but still the same, and she didn’t know what the reason for his change of mind had been but she was grateful for it. Oddly, she couldn’t stop a kind of nervous feeling every night. Excitement. But she was not the type of person that rushes things. Their visits were pretty brief but it seemed they both had clear at last what they wanted. Prioritizing the Inquisition tasks, of course.

“Ay, my dear… you’re so quiet and so thoughtful… This comes back from Val Royeaux, am I right? And look at that smile!” Dorian laughed speaking to Bull.

“So, it’s him!” Bull nearly shouted in the middle of the tavern, thumping on the table with his open hand. However, he didn’t look extremely surprised. “I knew those lessons were too hot for you to bear with”.

Alyna blushed and grinned, picturing the long week of those type of jokes Varric would have given the poor mage.

“I would like to keep a low profile with this matter if you don’t mind”, she said.

“Yes, of course, but… Has it been a night thing or…?” Dorian wanted to know.

“I guess we are still figuring it out”.

Bull and Dorian grinned at the same time in a very childish way, Bull pronouncing a cute “aw” and the healer felt highly embarrassed with their behaviour.

“Well, stop this now. Don’t make me regret having told you” she shushed them quickly with a thin smile still on her lips.

“It’s a shame, Dorian. I lost the best opportunity I’ve ever had for ending up with an elf… I’ll have to do with you, then” Bull teased his friend on a kind of flirty pitch that surprised the healer, although it was Dorian’s answer that left her bewildered.

“You know I always leave my door unlocked at night time. You’ll be always welcome” the mage answered, playful.

She hadn’t been the only one busy, apparently.

 

***

 

Their journey to the West was too long and too tiresome. The Frostback mountains were at the critical point of Winter and the snow complicated the horse’s steps, but once they rode down the Dales their trip improved considerably. The weather was warmer and drier in Orlais in spite of the season they were into, although at night, the temperatures could drop below zero. Both the weather and the desertic land favoured the growth of medicinal plants and Alyna was decided to collect for the infirmary as much as she could. The Western Approach was also famous for its abundant mineral seams. Only nomadic tribes lived in the area, but there were also a couple of more permanent settlements and a prison.

“So, our job here is to eliminate the Venatori… that’s always a pleasure”, Krem mentioned one day, nearly reaching their destination.

“Yep, clean everything out. I don’t want prisoners” Bull said. “I won’t be with you this time. The Inquisitor needs me”.

“Oh, Boss. What will we do without your guidance?” Dalish said, ironically.

“Probably a better job than with me!”, Bull and the others roared a laugh then.

In that week travelling with the Chargers and Iron Bull Alyna had discovered how interesting the mercenary group was. “Made of human spoils… The ones nobody wants in their groups”, Bull told her one evening while formally introducing the members of his squat: a shy mage who pretended was an archer, a city-elf assassin, a renegade kind of healer, a crazy-for-dynamite dwarf, a mute warrior and Krem, his lieutenant, a formal member of the Tevinter army condemned for being a woman.

They arrived in the Approach by the sunset on the seventh day and the group found the Inquisition camp already set up. Their companions looked relaxed and serene after the mission in the Oasis, even if Alyna knew it hadn’t all been a bed of roses. But, above anything else, they looked clean, clearly in contrast with the new arrivals, who were tired and covered in dust. There were brief chats and warm salutations while Alyna searched the place and only stopped when her eyes made contact with the mage’s ones, showing a knowing smile. He was staring at her from the distance and a shot of adrenaline rushed in her veins with no reason, just noticing his gaze on her. Alyna was surprised that his hair was slightly longer, close-cropped instead of shaved as he used to have, kind of brownish colour. He also had a cut on one of the sides, although it had begun to heal already. She walked the distance in between them when finished the round of greetings.

“What happened?” the healer asked raising her hand to touch the wound.

He smirked and tried not to lean his head at the contact of her fingers. A joking answer would distract the impulse.

“Is that professional deformation or you are really worried about it?” he teased.

Alyna raised an eyebrow, lacking in patience, hurrying him to speak.

“An accident during the fight of the shards. Nothing remarkable. One of the Arcane Warriors knocked me over, that’s it”.

“You didn’t tell me anything…” she said still examining the cut.

“There was no need. It is just a scratch. It would be better if you stop touching it, in fact” he told her.

“Moaner…” she teased him lowering her hand, and he snorted loudly. She used that moment to change the subject “I thought the shaved head was more an obligation than a choice,  hahren ”, she said looking at his head.

Solas had hair. Quite abundant, actually.

“Are you done with the teasing or will I have to put my mouth on yours to make you quiet?” he asked her with a low honeyed voice.

The healer stared at him with surprise, biting her lower lip. She wouldn’t complain at all if he wanted to do that and she made the mistake of lowering her sight to his lips, where a confident smirk had appeared.

“Yes… I think so. At least for now” she grinned feeling her heart fastening in her ribcage with the  threat .

Varric had followed the whole conversation from the distance, staring at them with a wide satisfaction smile. Alyna noticed then and made a gesture to make him stop, but the dwarf just shrugged his shoulders and laughed, diverting his attention to something different after.

Solas whispered to the healer, “It has been a very funny week, trust me. But he said he would be discreet”.

Both knew they valued their privacy, although Alyna was not worried at all about what the others might think or say about them. Too early to think about such things.

She helped Dalish putting the tent together and both went to the small stream to get rid of the dust on their clothes. Dinner was made, and they all sat around the fire, sharing stories about the Oasis.

“They’ve been the best holidays I had in a very long time. Crystal-clear water, lush vegetation, tropical weather, the sun shining everyday… I only missed some beer and better company, if you understand me”, Varric claimed, winking an eye.

“Yeah, well… that’s because you were not with us the day we went into the cave behind the waterfall. Solas, give us your version of the story. I’m sure it’ll be more accurate”.

Varric laughed as the mage made a face, recalling the battle where he had gotten hurt.

“Curious thing the magic keys… who might think all the fragments we collected would open the gate…” Blackwall thought out loud.

“In fact, it was a simple spell. As we saw, a lock is not always necessary to seal a place”, Solas mentioned, “although it is true that was hard to come up with a use for those shards… They guarded something valuable in there”.

“The Spirit Arcane Warrior was not easy to eliminate, but his amulet was the most powerful one. It’ll be useful against mages and other Demons” Cassandra said recalling the fight.

“There was no way we could stop it! I skewered it as a frigging hedgehog… and it was still standing! Damn thing!”, Sera explained to Bull and Alyna.

“The amulets were protected by four Arcane Warriors representing the elementary magic forces: fire, ice, lighting and spirit. Sera is right and that last one was especially difficult to eliminate”.

“Oy! So, that’s what I say!” Sera screeched.

 

***

 

Some light was starting to break in the horizon when Alyna woke up. Cassandra and Dalish were still fast asleep in the tent and she sneaked out as quietly as she could, finding the cool breeze of the dawn pleasant. Cole was by the fire, staring at it. A bulky figure neatly wrapped in blankets was next to him, snoring profusely. It was Blackwall, who had the last watch with the  Kid . The healer sat by him and the boy explained to her even before she asked anything.

“He was tired…”.

“Have you wrapped him like that?” her head nodded to the man on the ground, looking like a massive chrysalis.

“Yes. He was cold… but he didn’t say it. He doesn’t say much. He keeps lots of things for himself…” he said enigmatically.

The Spirit shared his tent with Solas and Varric, although he barely slept, he pretended he did it sometimes.

“He dreamt with you today… Furtive caresses… entangled in bed. Warm silky skin under his fingers and the scent… lavender…” he told Alyna, who showed a shy smile when she understood what he was talking about.

“Does he dream often?” she asked him.

“He hasn’t stopped dreaming of you. And you of him.”.

The elf lowered her glance to the flames with a stupid satisfied grin on her lips.

“How was the Oasis?” she asked trying to regain her temper.

“I can’t say… There was a fight. We killed Demons and we got amulets. I don’t like killing, but it’s necessary sometimes. The Demons didn’t want any good: they were corrupted”.

“How are you coping with it? I mean… they were like you”.

“They were not like me. I’m something different now. My purpose has changed”.

Alyna narrowed her eyes, trying to understand what he meant.

“What is your purpose, then?”

“To help. Like before. And something else. I don’t know yet”, Cole explained with his usual impassivity.

“I hope you can figure it out”, Alyna told him gripping his forearm with a warm smile, although he didn’t look lost at all. His lack of emotion was scary sometimes. But enviable in an irrational way.

They made breakfast together or, better said, Alyna made it while Cole asked her about the origin of all the ingredients she was using for it. All their companions woke up progressively, Blackwall the first of them, wondering how he got into that cocoon of blankets. While eating, the Inquisitor explained the mission for that day. The Herald and his inner circle would go West, exploring some ruins, wiping out the Venatori groups and collecting healing plants.

Sera had shown her willing for doing  elfy things , as she called them together with Alyna. She assumed she meant kind of dalish things picking up healing plants for the infirmary and she spent a while explaining her which ones are the ones they were looking for and which would cause her a rush on her fingers if she touched them.

By midday, Sera had already cursed the name of all the elven pantheon, for Solas’ amusement, when she touched her seventh stinging nettle with her bare hands.

“Damn it! Bloody Mythal and fucking shit!” she jumped around while scrubbing her sore fingers with the leaves of Dock the healer had given her after the first mistake.

“Sera! You’re not even paying attention! That plant doesn’t have a red stem. Embrium does! Gods!” Alyna shouted at her. The elf was getting on her nerves, and she had to stop her collection again to cast a numbing spell on her swollen fingers.

“I don’t want to help you anymore! I’m going to lose my fingers!”

“You’re a drama queen,  Buttercup ” Varric exclaimed while the archer stuck her middle finger out on a very immature gesture towards the dwarf.

“By the way, how are the Jennies doing?” Varric asked her while Alyna performed the magic on her.

“That is not your business, but not too good”.

“I’ve heard you are leaving us for a little while to  solve things ” the dwarf carried on.

Sera gave him the last warning look and Varric laughed. She was, by far, the most contradictory member of the Inquisition and Alyna and Varric had begun to suspect that the anarchist group she belonged to was, in some way, under her influence. But Sera denied it every time they asked.

The sun was sinking in the horizon when spotted the ruins of a Temple down in a hollow on the dunes. Groups of half-knocked down columns were scattered here and there and, in the middle, a small building made of stone blocks stood. All the group went in except for Cassandra, Sera and Bull who watched the entrance of the place.

A swift shadow crossed the sky above their heads, like a shooting star. Bull looked up, but there was nothing there.

“Have you seen that?” he asked the others.

Sera rolled her eyes while talking. “Please, tell me you haven’t lost your mind yet. It would be odd ‘cause you have a very big head, difficult to lose whatever you have in there”.

Bull hissed at her with irritation and continued walking the perimeter. Instantly, the same shade was seen flying over the ruins before disappearing again.

“Ok, I’ve seen it this time, too”, Cassandra backed Iron Bull up with her eyes wide open looking at the sky.

“Great! Two loonies are better than just one!” Sera snorted.

A loud screech made Varric come out of the Temple.

“Andraste’s tits! What the hell was that?” he asked.

Suddenly, a massive flying figure was perfectly obvious on the sky, majestic.

“Oh my…” Sera muttered looking up.

“Is that…?” Cassandra started.

“Yes! A dragon!” Bull exclaimed with a wide smile on his face. “A wonderful dragon”.

He seemed to be oddly satisfied for their discovery.

“Solas… Alyna… Glenn… I think we might have an issue out here” Varric called the others, who were unaware of what was going on outside.

The creature flew down towards them growling and shrieking, threatening.

When the other members of the group made their way out of the ruins and looked at the sky, the Inquisitor mumbled a curse.

“Damn it…” Alyna thought, exchanging glances with Solas and casting the first barrier, gripping her staff tightly.

The dragon was perfectly visible now, ready to fight for his territory against their intrusion. It landed in a cloud of dust still flapping its huge wings and roared loudly, confronting the group.

“Well, it seems that we’re gonna have fun in the end!” Bull concluded waving his maze about while everyone reached for their weapons.

 

***

 

“It was the best fight in centuries. A dragon! A huge dragon! And that roar… and it spat fire! For the Qun, I have ever heard a roar like that…” Bull carried on and on in the tavern.

They were sitting around one of the tables, speaking about the events in the Western Approach. After exactly four days scouting the area, most of the dirty job done by the Chargers, the Inquisitor gave the order to return to Skyhold.  So they were back in the tavern, the infamous meeting point, and even if it had been two weeks already, Bull continued recalling the battle as one of the most important moments in his life; a milestone; something that would go down in history.

“I had no idea you were that fond of killing dragons, Iron Bull. It might not be the only one we find. There are still lots of hidden things over Thedas surface” the mage told him in front of his enthusiasm.

“Oh, my friend. I truly hope you’re right…” the qunari carried on with a broad smile.

Varric burst into the conversation then “I thought the qunari were somehow far related to dragons… mostly because of those twisted horns”.

“The Iron Dragon would have been a better name than the Iron Bull for sure”, Cole said, distractedly.

Bull stared at him, wide eyes and thoughtful face.

“Shit,  Kid , you are right. It is too late to change it, isn’t it?”

Cole didn’t answer him and jump to a different topic.

“Varric, Cassandra is hesitant… but she doesn’t want to ask. What is going to happen with the Knight-Captain in  Swords and Shields.  She needs to know…”

Cassandra jumped at the hearing of her name and, realizing what Cole was asking, blushed red immediately.

Varric already knew the Seeker was one of his fans, so the question was not a full surprise.

“Oh!   Swords and Shields ? Really, Cassandra? Why not  Hard in Hightown ? Is a better one? I’m proud of it…” he grumbled.

Cassandra could feel the heat on her cheeks when asking. All her companions were looking at them now.

“Because… you killed my favourite character in the first one, chapter 3… I’m still upset about it…”

Varric opened his eyes in surprise… Chapter 3… character… He couldn’t even remember…

“Oh, no! Please, tell me Kirmy the soldier was not your favourite character! Such a shame! He was not made for that book… Too weak” the dwarf stated. “By the way, I didn’t know you were such a fan. I have to say I’m equally surprised and pleased”.

“Yeah, well… is easy reading… you know…”.

Varric chuckled.

“Good excuse. Anyway, I’ve got the new  Hard in Town  finished and I’d like to have a second opinion about it. Would you mind reading it?”

It took the Seeker some time to understand what he was asking for.

“Do you want me to read your new novel?” she asked with her eyes wide open in surprise.

Varric pulled an acknowledgement face.

“Yes! That would be great! Thanks, Varric!” she ended up saying impossible to hide she was delighted with the idea.

The murmuring of voices jumbled in the place revealing some accents from different parts of Thedas. Skyhold was a mandatory stop in between Orlais and Ferelden now, even with the snow covering with its white blanket all the place. The Inquisition's importance grew after every mission and with it, the Inquisitor as well. Glenn had received innumerable diplomatic visits from all Thedas and had meetings with mostly all Arls in Ferelden. His capacity to spend time with his inner circle had been drastically reduced.

Whilst Cassandra and Iron Bull got into an argument about the main character's destiny in Varric’s novel, Solas conversed with him.

“Varric, may I ask you something? About your culture” the mage asked him.

“Shoot,  Chuckles

“Once, in the Fade, I saw a memory of a fisherman dwarf. Life had snatched his wife and his son and he was alone. He could have struck on his own to find a new land, new people, but he stayed, catching fish in his little boat and looking at the stars” the elf explained.

“Well, I can think of worse lives…” Varric said.

“How can you be happy surrendering, knowing it will end with you? How can you not fight?”.

“Solas, you thought he gave up, right?”

“Yes”

“But he went on living. He lost everyone, but he still got up every morning. He made a life. You don’t know if he found a new love or had more children. Even if he was alone. But that’s the world! The only choices you get are to lie down and die or to keep going. He chose to keep going”.

Solas remained quiet for a little while, thinking. Considering his words.

“I cannot believe I left you speechless, Chuckles. This deserves a toast!” Varric grinned, raising his pint.

“Fire… it breathed out fire!” Iron Bull carried on telling everyone around.

Chapter Text

“Did you know that each tree that grows in this land is in memorial of the lives lost during the Exalted March?” Solas asked them while exploring one of the many forest enclaves in the Exalted Plains.

Thousands of trees spread out in front of them in a wild, broad forest. The place was now completely deserted except for a couple of Orlesian military stations and some dalish camps. Magnificent ruins of elvhen temples and other constructions were scattered here and there, creating a huge contrast between their white marble stones and the wide range of green shades from the trees.

Small altars broke the brushwood continuity and some of them had fresh flowers and gifts on them, meaning that some Dalish were in the area. They found some elvhen sculptures too: Dirthamen, June and a wolf for Fen’Harel, all damaged but still standing in spite of the millennia.

They had departed almost immediately after coming back from the Western Approach, as Empress Celene had required the Inquisitor’s presence to deal with an important matter. She requested him to close the rifts that had appeared there. The same ones that were slowing down the war between the Empress herself and her cousin, Grand Duke Gaspard. Josephine had established the mission as a critical priority due to the clear strategic advantages that would mean to gain both noble’s favours. 

“I don’t really get what the military interest in the area is. This is deserted…” Alyna told Glenn after their first day of scouting the place, walking along a narrow path in the forest. 

“None. The area is in the middle of non-where and there’s nothing valuable here. Is a simple competition. A show-off of power: this land is under Celene’s protection and Gaspard wants it for himself,” Glenn explained.

She shook her head. “So, what’s the plan? What will happen when we close the rifts?”

“Instead of fighting against the Fade creatures they will resume their killing spree against each other, I presume,” Solas shortened. 

The Inquisitor had only called Varric, Cassandra, Alyna and Solas for this mission as it didn’t seem to be complex. And it turned out to be so when, being guided by Leliana’s notes, they reached and closed the three rifts they were looking for in less than five days. That meant the Orlesian factions would resume their fight shortly.

“Humans are a lost cause…” Varric sighed from the back of the line. 

“Eh! You’re talking about a whole race. Don’t apply that judgement indiscriminately” Cassandra complained. 

“I’m truly sorry, Seeker. Obviously, you’re safe of that disqualification,” he sucked her up. Cassandra had read the manuscript of Varric’s new novel and she loved it. Her friendship with the dwarf was better than ever and she had even asked Varric about some of the character's background to get to know them in depth. Some of her questions were so twisted and complex that the only thing Varric was able to do was to shrug, having no idea what to answer to them. “C’mon Seeker, who does really care if the Knight-Captain was still intimate with the First Enchanter? That happened three novels ago!”

“Yes, but in the first chapter of the new book, you say she still misses someone from her past. Do you mean him?”

Varric pulled a face, rolling his eyes. “Sometimes fans are really annoying… Would you stop asking if I say yes?”

“Yes! Absolutely!” Cassandra exclaimed with a satisfied grin. “Any chances they go back together?”

“Don’t push your luck… He might end up dead in the next novel… Who knows?” Varric threatened her, joking, just to see the effect of the suggestion on her face. 

The Seeker turned pale with the thought. 

The evening after closing the last rift they camped in a clearing on the East, close to a small stream and an extraordinary but battered ruin. 

“I think it was a temple in honour of Dirthamen. The ancient people thought of him as the god of secrets and knowledge… They used to confess their deepest secrets and fears in his presence, although some of the legends tell that he benefited from that knowledge, using its leverage to become one of the most powerful Evanuris” Solas explained to the others with his usual academic voice. 

Alyna enjoyed learning more about Elvhenan but she was shocked that he had been able to gather all that knowledge. A knowledge that was completely lost in time. He maintained it all came from his study of the Fade but she was not aware that anyone could be able to enquire in that depth into ancient history just using dreams and memories for it. Apparently, she had only been able to scratch the surface while the mage had deep-dived into it. The healer realized she could be for hours listening to his velvety voice and she lost herself in his words, staring at his lips. The elf seemed to notice she was daydreaming and staring because he made a subtle face and a crooked grin twitched his lips, waking her up from her self-absorption.

“Look! Deer! I’ve never seen them that white!” suddenly Cassandra said.

They all looked at the place she was pointing at, Solas and Alyna smirking with sufficiency. 

“They are not deer: they are hallas. Sacred animals in the Elven culture” the mage uttered.

“It is true that they look like deer…” Varric added.

“It’s been years since the last time I saw one. I’m going to get a bit closer. I’ll be back” Alyna said, not waiting for Glenn to reply.

But the Inquisitor stopped her before she turned around. That last week he had been more serious and formal with everyone. “Wait. You can’t go alone, it’s too risky. Can anyone go with her? I don’t want anyone wandering around on his own”.

The healer clicked her tongue with disapproval but waited for someone to join her. Varric smirked at Solas when they exchange glances as Cassandra was still busy putting her tent together. 

“I will go with her,” the elf said in the end, trying his best to sound as neutral as possible, although he was very pleased about the thought of having some sort of privacy at last.

“Enjoy the walk,” Varric teased them both after seeing Alyna’s grin when Solas volunteered.

 

***

 

“I think I could live happily here. Don’t you miss it sometimes? Nature, a much simpler life…?” Alyna asked Solas whilst walking the undulated green distance that separated them from the animals.

He smiled, perhaps nostalgic. “Yes, I do. It doesn’t matter how much we tried to live in cities, palaces or in courts. The elven origins have always been linked to Nature and magic. I believe is normal to miss it.” 

The healer breathed in catching the forest scent, fresh and sweet. She could feel the touch of the grass under her feet, sprinkled with dewdrops and the subtle breeze carried traces of rain. The sun was sinking in the horizon already and they had lost sight of the camp when they got into the massive temple columns that were crowned with flower capitals. Grass grew wildly where the floor should be and the hallas were now in front of them, elegantly and quietly eating. The animals didn't seem to be bothered about their presence, making obvious they were used to elven visitors. 

A small calf got closer to them and sniffed Alyna’s hand, probably in search of food. The healer smiled, amazed about the cold contact of its snout on her skin. The animal rubbed the head against her leg and moved away, looking for its mother. 

“In ancient times all Thedas was riddled with them, not just these hills. It is a shame their numbers have decreased so much,” Solas said.

“They are perfect and so beautiful… I can understand why Dalish consider them sacred,” the healer whispered, her eyes fixed in them still with a smile.

They continued roaming the place getting deeper into the ruined construction. 

“This place was magnificent: vaulted ceilings, rich green and magenta floors, bas-reliefs on the walls, alabaster statues… A place of pilgrimage for some people,” he explained clasping his hands behind his back, wandering his gaze along the columns.

She stared at him with bad-concealed curiosity: sometimes Solas shocked her with the longing on his comments. 

“It is not the first time I have visited this place… in the Fade,” he explained, being conscious of her stare. 

“This temple crumbled into pieces thousands of years ago, Solas. Why are you so affected?”

The mage realized he had to stop that kind of comments: he could not be swept along by his nostalgia. “Perhaps because I have been present in all those moments in the Fade, when our civilization was still at its peak, during Elvhenan… Sometimes I find difficult to accept the fact elven people have almost lost their whole identity.” 

She thought about his words for a little while, the evening darkness beginning to fall around them. Although she shared his point of view, all that happened nearly 2000 years ago and there had been more than enough time for grieving. She was more troubled about the ongoing reality, where elves were enslaved in most parts of Thedas, being worse treated than vermin sometimes. She decided to appeal to the humour to play down his gloominess. 

“Mmm… you’re being grim and fatalistic in the hope of getting me into bed, aren’t you?” she asked, playful, getting closer to him.

Solas showed a crooked smile before circling Alyna’s waist. “I am grim and fatalistic. Getting you into bed is just an enjoyable side benefit,” he declared, his lips so close to hers that she was able to feel his breath.

Inevitably they kissed, slowly and tenderly, before he pulled away. Alyna bit her lower lip, eager for more, but it was not the place, nor the time. They had to go back before the Inquisitor would send any of their companions to look for them.

“Maybe tonight…?” she dropped the unfinished question, still in his arms.

Solas smiled. Their contact in the real world had been quite scarce since their first time in Skyhold, basically due to travelling and many other Inquisition duties. So it wouldn’t be the first time they find each other in the Fade to explore each other. However, as well as any other sexual dreams, the chances of transferring their subconscious act to their physical bodies in the shape of nocturnal emissions were quite high, so discretion was mandatory. 

It wouldn’t be the same than physical sex, but they had to do with it for now.

 

***

 

Solas pushed her backwards, cornering her against one of the columns of the temple with his body. His mouth covered hers with urgency while gripping her hip with one of his hands, being the other one conveniently occupied cupping her breast over the dress, his thumb rolling on her hardened nipple.

Alyna broke free from the kiss to moan softly and Solas took advantage of it, sliding down a path of wet kisses and nips along her neck. Then, he pushed with his mana into her body: a cold lick washing over her skin that gave her goosebumps and made her groan with pleasure. 

“You have to be quiet, lethallin. Can you do that for me?” he purred suggestively in her ear before biting her earlobe, jerking his swollen groin against Alyna’s body. He pushed with his mana at the same time while the healer tried with all her might to bite back a curse. He loved to take her to the limit as he had turned out to be quite dominant in their encounters. And she loved it, although she also loved to fight back, turning the act into a very pleasant game for control.

Unexpectedly, they both had a strong feeling of being observed and broke their kiss with sharp breaths. The Fade was unpredictable and, sometimes, curious Spirits came into their dreams to learn. Other times, Demons tried some kind of interaction moved by their own desires. But this time was different and she realized it when Solas stared at a spot on their left, looking over her shoulder. His face was troubled, frowning, like if he was not sure if what he was seeing was real. Alyna glanced at that same place while he released the healer from his embrace.

“What happens?” she asked, confused.

A Spirit was standing there. A mere shadow of a real Spirit. It seemed to be crying but it was blurry and impossible to say for sure.

“I need your help, Pride,” the shadow said. “They have me… The Graves…”.

Solas tried to move towards the Spirit with a pained gesture on his face, but before he could get any closer, the shadow vanished in the air. 

He looked confused. Genuinely worried and even broken. “No… No…” he mumbled.

“Where did it go?” Alyna asked looking around, confused.

“She’s not here anymore. I can’t feel her. She is bound somewhere in the real world , against her will. That’s why she has disappeared” he explained. “She is Wisdom, an old friend of mine. I think I know where she is. I have to go to her.” 

Alyna perceived the anxiety in Solas’ voice, his worry and distress soaking through his usually contained cover. She grabbed his arm in a reassuring squeeze. “Solas, wait. You can’t go by yourself; you don’t know what you’ll find. Let me go with you. Tell Glenn about it. We can help you.” 

The mage weighed his options and seemed to partially recover his cold temper. He nodded at the healer, knowing she was right: he was not who he used to be and his power was not, either. He will stand more chances with his companions' help than without it.

It was still dark outside when Solas woke the Herald up and told him a slightly modified version of what happened in the Fade. A version that avoided any intimacy with the healer.

“All Spirits turned into Demons if they are denied their original purpose. My friend is a Spirit of Wisdom. If they don’t use her to acquire knowledge, she’ll become a Pride Demon and then... We have to go now, please,” he almost begged the Inquisitor.

The Herald looked overloaded with all the new information about the Fade, Spirits and their peculiarities, but he perceived the hurry in Solas’ voice and behaviour. “Where is she? Do you know?” Glenn asked.

“Yes, I think so. Not far away from here. Nearby one of the rifts we close yesterday… If I would have known when we were there…”

Alyna spoke then. “Solas, there was no way you could know it, this is not your fault. We’ll do whatever we can for her” she stated, glancing over Glenn, who nodded his agreement.

The Inquisitor had lots of unanswered questions, the information was imprecise and the task seemed dangerous. But they had already finished their mission in the Graves. And it was Solas: they had to help him. “Wake up Varric and Cassandra. Were leaving immediately.” 

They walked until dawn following the narrow path, Solas leading them back to the top of the hill. The forest was completely silent and a white dense mist covered the ground making their steps unsure. It was damp and frosty and they could see their own breath forming white clouds in front of their mouths. When they reached the top, they were able to see a green glowing coming from clear in front and they heard a terrible growl. 

“What the heck was that?” Varric asked with frighten tone.

Solas shook his head with a sorrowful gesture when he realized what was happening. “We are late…” he mumbled quietly.

The invocation circle was formed by five stone pillars that shone in green while three mages cast a Barrier spell around a Pride Demon. One of them ran towards the group, ignoring the devastated expression on the elf’s face.

“Mages! Thanks to Andraste you are here… Have you got any lyrium potions?” the middle-aged man asked. He was dressed in a very expensive tunic, probably from the Free Marches because of the manufacture. “Most of us are exhausted. We’ve been fighting that the Demon the whole night.”

Solas suddenly switched his face into a mask of pure hate. “Fighting? You summoned that Demon! Except it was a Spirit of Wisdom at the time, you made her kill! You twisted her purpose!”

“I understand how it might be confusing to someone who has not studied demons, but after you help us I can…” the mage tried to find an excuse.

“We are not here to help you,” the elf spat out.

“Word of advice? I’d hold off on explaining how Demons work to my friend here, mate,” Varric said ironically. 

“Listen to me! I was one of the foremost experts in the Kirkwall circle…” the Free Marche’s mage carried on.

“Shut up!” Solas cut him off with a snarl, one of his hands firmly clenched in a fist, the other tightly gripping his staff.

“I doubt this man unleashed the Demon deliberately, Solas,” the Inquisitor interceded then.

There was a tense glance exchange in between both mages. Alyna noticed how the elf was making an effort to restrain himself. This side of Solas really clashed with his usual self-contained one and it was the second time today. She must have been very important to him. “The summoning circle,” the healer said trying to ease the tension. “If we break it, we’ll break the binding, too. There may still be hope.” 

The Kirkwall mage stared at her in panic, being aware of what she was suggesting. “You are insane” he stuttered, turning around and running towards the others. “Run! They are going to free it!” The two mages that were still casting stopped their spells and ran away.

Solas seemed to be himself again. “I will try to contain her” even if he knew the chances of success were minimal at that point. “Destroy the pillars.” 

They rushed towards the summoning circle, Cassandra and Varric keeping their distance with the powerful Demon, now hardly contained in it. Solas approached it speaking in Common tongue, asking her friend to remain calm. He was trying to establish any kind of communication or waking up the Demon’s empathy, wondering if there were still any traces of his friend in there, but the Demon attacked him, smacking him with its massive hand. The attack crashed onto the already thinned Barrier and dispelled it with a loud snap, so the mages had to cast their own Barriers to protect the group. Then, Solas used Fadestrike to knock the Demon down, pinning it on the ground. 

“Quick!” he hurried the others in breaking the remaining pillars.

When the last one was gone, Alyna had to help Solas to restrain the Demon as his mana had already weakened. The Inquisitor, Cassandra and Varric stayed back, observing but ready to defend the mages if it was necessary.

“I can revert the process with a spell but it will need a great amount of spell power and mana. I need your help.” 

Solas realized this was probably the first time in his whole life he had to ask for help with his casting, but he was clearly not powerful enough. Alyna just nodded, holding the hand he offered to her, letting her mana pool free against his. Then, he looked at the Demon intently and muttered some words that bore a resemblance with Elven but they were not. It was not the first time Solas used that kind of magic, old and primal. Magic he had attributed to his explorations in, of course, the Fade. One last growl escaped the Demon’s chest before it transmuted into the shadow of a Spirit. The one they both had found before in their dream. The mages untangled their hands and Solas ran towards his friend, kneeling in front of her. It came naturally to Solas to speak in Elven but he used Common tongue instead.

Lethallin, I am sorry. I didn’t get here in time...”.

“Don’t be, Pride. I’m not. I’m happy. I’m me again” the Spirit spoke. “You helped me. Now, you must endure. Guide me into death”. 

He closed his eyes with sorrow and sighed. “As you say. Dareth Shiral ” he gave her, mumbling some words after which the Spirit disappeared in the wind.

Time seemed to freeze and only the howling of the wind could be heard for a while until Alyna moved closer to the elf and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Solas” she said, afflicted. 

The sorrow expression he had shown until that moment disappeared and it flicked into a hatred one. Solas stood up and walked towards the Kirkwall mages who were watching the scene from a safe distance. “This is all your fault!” he cried with rage, recovering his staff and getting ready to attack.

Before he could cast any spell as the Inquisitor intercepted him, holding him back. “Solas, don’t do it. It doesn’t worth it. Don’t get your hands dirty with this,” Glenn told him with a calm pitch, grabbing his arm and trying to stop him from making a mistake.

But instead of backing off, Solas confronted him, releasing his arm from his grip. “Is not for you to decide how or with who I get my hands dirty, Inquisitor.” 

His face was a mask of harshness while speaking face to face to the Herald. Although Glenn was more muscular, they were both the same height. When Solas made the intention to dodge him and resume his pace, the Herald grabbed his shoulders, impeding his movement. Solas felt his remaining self-control leaving his body with his last sharp breath. Cassandra commanded the mages to disappear after the mage pushed Glenn firmly on his chest, making him stumble back. When Glenn put himself back together, he threw a direct blow to Solas’ arm, making him drop his staff. Immediately, the Inquisitor tried to clamp it in a restraint hold. Solas' reaction was to raise his left then and, after a few seconds, the Inquisitor released him and dropped on his knees with his hands around his neck. Both Cassandra and Varric were frozen on the spot, petrified and unable to process what was going on.

But Alyna knew what he was doing and ran towards the fight. “Solas, stop it! Stop!” she shouted at the same time she pulled his arm, making him lose focus and stopping the casting.

He seemed to come back from a trance and blinked his eyes a couple of times, looking at the fallen Inquisitor. Glenn stood up touching his neck, gasping for air, making a gesture with his hand to calm things down. Solas freed himself from Alyna’s grip muttering a curse, realizing what he had been about to do, running a hand over his head. He deeply breathed in and out, trying to calm down.

“I am sorry. I am truly sorry,” the mage said in the end, facing Glenn and directing the last words to Alyna who was standing a few steps behind him, “I need some time.” 

He turned around, picked up his staff from the ground and walked in the opposite direction the mages had taken off minutes before. 

 

***

 

“I didn’t know he would take it that bad, but I had to stop him,” the Inquisitor told Alyna, seeking for her support while she examined him.

She didn’t stop the task or answer him either. “You are fine, Glenn. There are no bruises or injuries. It was nothing physical at all”.

The Herald touched his neck. He didn’t feel pain. Just pressure. And after it, he hadn’t been able to fill his lungs with air. “Do you want to go and get him?” he asked, knowing they both were close.

She shook her head. “He said he needs some time and we have to give him that. He has just lost his friend”. As odd as it was befriended a Spirit for all people, she could somehow understand it.  Although his visceral reaction had left her as bewildered as everyone else.

“You disapprove the fact I stopped him, right?” Glenn asked her.

She shrugged, not wanting to give out that she would have acted the same way Solas did. And she knew Varric would have also done the same choice. 

“Law is above everything, even for the ones that don’t obey it” Cassandra took part then, sitting nearby with the dwarf. 

“I guess everyone has different points of view,” the healer ending up saying, avoiding more confrontation. 

“I’ll try to get a hold on them as soon as we get back to Skyhold. I don’t know what I’m going to frame them for, but I’ll do something. I’ll also ask Leliana to track him down.” 

The conversation on their way back was scarce, being the healer most of the time getting into the Fade trying to figure out what happened to Wisdom or finding hints about Solas, but she was not able to find anything at all. She wanted desperately to comfort him but also understood his need for being alone with his thoughts. Varric was worried about him but Alyna told him not to be. 

“He’s been fine for forty years. He can perfectly look after himself,” she said while quieting the little voice in her head that wondered if he would come back. 

Chapter Text

Solas came back to Skyhold exactly one week after his companions did. The elf didn’t need that whole time to realize his aggression towards the Inquisitor had been a terrible mistake and a great stupidity but needed some time to figure out how to proceed next. This was not his army and he was not a leader, just Solas, and under no circumstances that should be forgotten. He was too used to making decisions independently and having them accomplished without questioning but, once again, here, he was just Solas. The death of Wisdom had shown his weakness and torn apart his mask and, this time, not just in front of Alyna: in front of everyone. The Inquisitor’s aggression also let out a side of himself he hadn’t seen for a very long time: not just the part of him he was trying to hide, but rather the part of himself he was trying to forget. He didn’t wish any kind of pain or suffering to anyone around him and getting into a brawl like the one he had gotten into with Glenn was stupid, and it left him in a clearly disadvantaged position.

He had to swallow his pride and go back to his role: this organisation was still his best opportunity to reach his goals and… she was also there. The healer had become someone important to him. More than he was ready to admit and definitively more than it would have been wise to do. 

The infirmary was his first stop, and he was ready to honestly apologise to Alyna for his outburst and his abrupt departure. Again, that was not typical of him. Not even of his other him at that stage. Zack greeted him when he came into the building and Solas scanned the place in search of the healer. She was there, next to one of the beds, checking the arm of a human child. They both conversed in a lively way and she smiled while twisting his elbow and wrist, perhaps testing how his broken bone had mended. Her spirit doubtlessly brightened the usually gloomy infirmary environment. She took notice of his presence there a moment later. To Solas’ surprise, she smiled with a blend of relief and happiness before looking back at the child and saying goodbye. She walked towards the mage with confident steps and circled her arms around him, standing on her tiptoes to reach his neck. It took him a little while to hug her back, surprised about the fact that she was not annoyed. She probably knew he was all right as he had made all his steps easy to locate for Leliana’s spies.

“I’m glad you are here. Are you alright?” she asked him after a few seconds, breaking the contact and sinking back on her heels.

“Yes. I will. It always hurts, but I will survive,” he didn’t let her hand go and held it in his own. She needed an explanation. 

“She was my best and oldest friend. I met her a long time ago when I first began conversing with spirits. She helped me during some decisive moments in my life and I just… I cannot believe she’s gone in such a futile act.”

The healer was not shocked that he had just confessed that his best friend had been a spirit, even if he knew how odd it did sound in those times. Instead, she looked at him sharing his sorrow. Solas felt a gentle reassurance squeeze from the hand he was holding. 

“I am sorry about what happened with Glenn: I was totally out of my wits. And I should have let you know that I was all right during the week, I apologise.” 

Alyna sighed. “It’s ok, Solas. I understand that you needed some time. You could have said something, though, but I knew you were fine. Well, Leliana’s crows… You know…” he had made sure of leaving fresh footprints and a clear track wherever he went. “Your reaction just bewildered me because I didn’t know you were that… close? But I can empathise with it.” 

The elf nodded, looking at her silver eyes while caressing the top of her hand with his thumb. “How did you know I would be back?” he asked her, going with the flow of his feelings.

“Because I would have done the same. Even if I had decided to leave, I would have come back here first to say goodbye, and I would have tried to drag you with me,” she answered with a wry smile.

Solas snorted softly with her comment before entangling his fingers with hers, feeling her warm calloused hands, thinking if he would have been able to do the same. 

“Solas, you know you can count on me. I mean, if anything like this happens, you don’t have to be alone.” 

He was moved by her words and stared at her with surprise as if she had just mentioned something that had never crossed his mind before. “Thanks. The truth is that it’s been so long since I can trust someone... To have a connection this deep. I forgot how it was.”

She smiled nearly involuntarily. “You should go to speak to Glenn." 

“Yes, I should,” he said, letting go of her hand but a question popped in his mind after she took a couple of steps back. “Alyna, would you have stopped me? With the mages, I mean. What I was intending to do.” 

He would have killed them in cold blood, no doubt of it. And he was also sure he wouldn’t have felt regrets about it. Alyna took some time to think, considering what she would have done in that same situation. Revenge was a very personal feeling and she hadn’t seen herself in the need of it. But she was closer to his morals than to Cassandra’s and Glenn’s. “No, I don’t think so. It was your call to make.” 

Solas nodded after her words, thinking it might be still hope, and left the clinic in search of the Inquisitor.

Luckily he didn’t cross paths with anyone until he reached the Inquisitor’s office, where Josephine welcomed him, without being extremely surprised he was there. The diplomat’s smile was always warm anyway.

“Have you spoken to Alyna already?” she asked in a very casual way, making him smirk. He knew they both were close friends and the diplomat’s curiosity about mostly everything around her didn’t go unnoticed by anyone: she could even be overly inquisitive sometimes. He didn’t open his mouth to answer his question, just nodded his head. Josephine seemed relieved and eager to know more, but she had to be content with it or speak to Alyna to satisfy her curiosity.

“Come in,” Glenn’s deep voice said from inside.

“Hello, Inquisitor,” he uttered with a studied gesture, closing the door after. 

“Solas! I’m glad you have returned!” he commented whilst standing up from his desk, hidden behind some piles of papers and folders. No traces of harshness or hard feelings in his voice.

“I guess Leliana shared all of my steps with you, am I right?” the mage asked with modesty, still standing up by the door until Glenn offered him a seat with a gesture of his hand.

The Inquisitor snorted but didn’t answer. 

She had him followed while he went towards a small dalish settlement to get some provisions. Then he travelled South to the old Sylaise temple and visited the Fade looking for Wisdom or what was left of her. Not much, though. It took him longer to get back without his mount. 

“I apologize, Inquisitor. I got swept up in my rage.”

“Solas, it’s not the first time I get into a fight like that with a companion. Or even worst. We have different points of view and different opinions. Sometimes is normal to be carried along.” 

“Always working under the frame of the legality. A paladin. I wonder how long until the weight of power cracks his shell, although I hope it never happens,” the elf thought, based on his experience.

Glenn also informed him that he had issued an arrest warrant towards the mages and that they would be subjected to a trial.

“You have seen the worst side of me, Inquisitor. I would understand if you decided I shouldn’t continue working with you”. A studied sentence with a studied regretful gesture and a mask of modesty on. He was a strategist and a leader, but a terrible liar and had never imagined ending up as a spy. His weakness had been his feelings. 

But his plan seemed to work because Glenn stared at him with a lack of understanding. “Solas, I cannot do this without your help. It was a difficult situation and we got carried along; we all go through them. Don’t worry about it. You are a valuable member of the Inquisition and a good friend. I cannot let you go. Although I am confident it won’t happen again.”

The elf nodded, still wondering how he could have been that reckless, but everything had ended as he had planned, obtaining Glenn’s forgiveness. He couldn’t afford to make another mistake like that. Especially with all that was at risk. 

“Just remind me to not ever annoy you anymore. By Andraste, what a grip!” the Herald joked touching his neck slightly.

Solas twisted a smile, certainly amused. Sometimes it was truly difficult to keep his distance with almost everyone. Again, he was not a good agent. “Well, my arm has been bruised for nearly one week. Don’t play yourself down, Inquisitor,” the elf replied standing up in front of Glenn’s sincere grin. 

The mage tilted his head as a farewell and left the room, ready to carry on with his duties for the Inquisition. 

 

***

 

“What were you like? Before all this happened, I mean,” Solas asked her after moving one of his pawns forward.

Alyna didn’t stop frowning at the board, pinching her lower lip with her fingers, as she always did when she was extremely focused on something. Solas knew she was not paying attention to his words, nor to the intense gaze in his eyes. The cup of tea he had made for her was getting cold on the side of his desk, forgotten. 

The rotunda smelled like fresh paint and sandal. And something herbal Alyna had never been able to place at all, but all together was his scent. The weather had been awful for the last couple of weeks, nearly since he came back, and the snow had fallen constantly during the day making it hard to leave the fortress. Two weeks during which Solas had made up for the lost time: they had woken up naked in a knot of limbs for various days; he had kissed all her curves and unravelled her secrets in real life, and made her beg and cry in pleasure with his magic in the Fade. The balance was perfect, no labels and no pressure. None of them demanding more but coming back to the other every time they had the chance. They had also explored the Fade together. Solas was a superb dreamer and he had been able to show her Arlathan and the Dales during their golden age and the battle against Tevinter’s Imperium. They had spoken for hours until dawn every single day, Solas wondering what the chances to find someone like her were. He would be travelling soon to Haven, leading a mission to recover some books, weapons and documents and to gather hints about the attack and Corypheus’ whereabouts.  

“What do you mean?” she said in the end, raising her eyes just for a fraction before glueing them back to the board.

She was sitting in front of him, legs crossed on a strange posture only she could find comfortable, her hair cascading free over her features. And she looked so human… The consideration was strange. 

Solas chuckled about her indomitable focus. He knew she didn’t like to lose and he might have been giving in a little bit. Although she was a good player, he was definitely better. 

“I think you are an exceptional person, with a wonderful spirit. Unique. I wonder if you have always been like this or if joining the Inquisition has changed you in any way. Your mind, your morals, your… spirit?”

The healer raised her eyes at last and noticed for the first time his violet eyes fixed on hers. She couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks, Solas. But I don’t think I am such a wonder,” she said, amused but flattered, recovering her tea. “I don’t think the Inquisition has changed me at all: it has just been another choice that added up something to me. When I was young I was more… hot-headed and egoistic I suppose. There was a time when I was only worried about my learning, my goals and my survival and I didn’t care who I stepped onto to get to my objectives. My decisions and experiences have made who I am now. And you? Has this pantomime changed you?”

She looked back to the chessboard and moved a bishop forward to a square that put at risk Solas’ queen. “That’s a mistake,” the mage thought, already knowing which move would be his next. 

“I have always been more rebel and nonconformist than I am now. Too hot-blooded, perhaps. And too proud. But I think you have changed me: you have made me reorganise my priorities, foreseeing some possibilities in the future that I couldn’t even think about before.”

She observed him with curiosity now, puzzled by his words and frowning in response, not being fully able to understand what he meant. He realized how unspecific he had been and laughed. “I apologise. It is difficult to explain,” Solas said before showing a serious gesture again. “I just wanted to say that I could not bear the idea of losing you. You have become someone very important to me, vhenan. ” 

Alyna blinked a couple of times and grinned involuntarily with the pet name. It was an Elven term that could be translated as my heart.

“You are trying to distract me, right? You don’t want to lose…” she said trying to calm down her cheeks blushing with a smirk.

The mage chuckled and leaned back in his chair, his intense gaze still piercing her, delighted with the effect that his words had. He was blunt, confident, direct… Keeping in mind that she was not shy, he had the power to make her blush deeply with those kinds of comments. And that half-smile on his lips drove her crazy every time.

She held his gaze. “You have also grown very important to me, Solas. I like what we have and like the thought of having a future together once all this is over. Wherever and however.”

Solas kept his stare on her, thoughtful countenance but with the smile still on his lips. He remained some time in silence before going back to the board. “Checkmate, by the way,” he said, moving his knight forward.

Alyna abandoned her self-absorption and looked down to the game, clearly annoyed when she realized her mistake. Then she looked back at Solas. “I knew this was all a trick,” she pouted, narrowing her eyes.

He shrugged in an innocent gesture. “ Ir abelas, vhenan.

And a thin smile came back to her lips.

Chapter Text

 

"You should give him a chance, Glenn. He has defeated him before” Varric told the Inquisitor.

“Well, I don’t think he did a very good job if we find ourselves with this problem again, am I right?” he replied. “Shit, Varric. It’s been more than four months already. Why you didn’t say anything?”

They were both sitting in the Herald’s office, holding the very uncomfortable conversation behind two glasses of liquor. It was already late and Glenn was slightly annoyed as he couldn’t understand why Varric had withheld this revelation from him all this time. Even more knowing how desperate he was to find any clue that could lead them to Corypheus, and the weight of the responsibility that rested on his shoulders.  

“There were considerations to be taken into account, Glenn: he’s a fugitive and he is still wanted by the Chantry; there’s an official outstanding arrest warrant for him and, believe it or not, he’s got a life that I’m not really keen to disturb. Coming to Skyhold to hold a meeting with the Inquisitor is not precisely one of the things that help to keep a low profile, you know? And then, there is the Calling thing, too...”.

Hawke had done some research when he received the dwarf’s letter and contacted a few Grey Wardens to gather any information about the Being they kept imprisoned in the Vimmark Mountains. His contact Loghain was very short of acknowledgement about the whole story but he had told Hawke something even more worrying: the Calling was being heard again and the Wardens were being summoned to the West consequently.

“We can’t manage a new blight. It’s only been ten years since the last one…” Glenn said before downing the remains of his liquor. 

“I’m sure there’s an easier explanation… Hopefully, one that’s not a blight. He wants to meet you” Varric insisted. 

The Herald sighed. Cassandra would be fuming if she knew. But having Hawke around would really help with his mission. “Ok. He is our only clue and we could do with an extra pair of hands. The gates of the city are open for him. Where is he?”. 

Varric didn’t seem pleased. Just concerned. “Crestwood I think. Just a couple of days from here. And Cassandra…?” 

That would be another thing to consider.

“We’ll keep this private for now. Only you and the advisors will know”.

The dwarf nodded and knitted his brow while touching the edge of the glass with his thumb, only hoping for his friend to be fine.

 

***

 

Garret Hawke crossed Skyhold’s gates in the evening after a two days journey, hidden under a travel cape and alone. When the guards stopped him, he introduced himself as a traveller and Varric ́s acquaintance. The only thing they knew was that the dwarf was officially waiting for a friend, so they let him in, pointing him in the direction of the tavern. 

Riding across the mountains had been tough with that awful weather and the warmness of the tavern struck him like fire on his exposed face. He narrowed his eyes and scanned the place, looking for his old friend. They hadn’t seen each other for a while. Last time was when bloody Anders blew up the Chantry and they fought against Meredith and the Templars, right before he had to flee with Fenris. He knew Knight-Captain Cullen was here. And Leliana. Although he hoped not to bump into either of them. 

“It’s a small world…” he thought removing his gloves. His focus going back to the tavern and being aware of the dwarf’s preferences, he knew Varric would be on a table near the fireplace and close to the bard. 

And Hawke was right. He found him in front of a pint of ale by the chimney, but there were more people with him: a middle-aged man, built strongly and with black hair and beard; a massive shirtless qunari and a young elven woman with mesmerizing grey eyes. “ A mage, perhaps? ” he thought while glancing to the group with his hood still on. Varric was speaking nonstop, of course, probably telling one of his tales while the others laughed and intervened eventually. After a couple of minutes observing the place, realizing the coast was clear, he walked towards them and grabbed a stool, sitting on the table. “Good evening, Master Thetras. Gentlemen. Miss. I hope not to be interrupting anything important”. 

The group startled with his interruption but Varric recognised his friend’s voice immediately. He uttered a curse in dwarven language and hugged the stranger with emphasis. 

“By Andraste! I’m glad you came. I hope you haven’t had any problems to find me”. 

“Sorry to say you are quite predictable, Varric. I perfectly knew I would find you in the tavern” Hawke said before pulling back and taking his hood off.

Blackwall recognised him immediately. “It’s an honour to have you here, sir,” he said in a formal way, half making a military salute.

Bull and Alyna were still watching the whole thing not fully understanding what was going on. Hawke shook Blackwall’s hand. 

“I’m no one anymore, even less someone of military rank. You can save the formality. A Grey Warden, am I right?”

Blackwall confirmed. “I served in Orlais for many years, securing the Deep Roads, but I was briefly in Kirkwall before the events surrounding the chantry”.

“Well, my friend. The Grey Wardens are finished. Or disappeared. I’m surprised you haven’t heard the Calling, though”.

Blackwall looked cautious now and avoided asking any more questions.

“Hawke, this is Iron Bull, a special Ben-Hassrath agent who is working with us, and she is Alyna, a healer and mage who will kick your ass with ease”.

“Wow, Varric. Your introductions get better every time you say them,” Alyna said, finally understanding who had interrupted their evening chat.

Hawke shook hands with Bull with a hint of distrust: he still remembered the battle in Kirkwall. Then he courteously kissed the healer’s hand.

“I’d like to speak to the Inquisitor as soon as I can, if not a problem,” Hawke said to the dwarf, taking a nervous look around. “I think the news I bring are quite urgent”.

“Yeah, sure. Bringing him into the tavern would catch some interest… as well as taking you to the fortress. I think is better if we meet in 15 in the stables. Is it ok for you?” the dwarf said, finishing off his beer and standing up.

“Whatever is better for everyone,” Hawke replied.

“Ok, let me get the Inquisitor and we’ll meet there. These are my companions, you can trust them. I’m sure they’ll bombard you with questions as soon as I’m off, though. Good luck.” And he left the table.

Hawke ordered another round for the four of them while Varric disappeared in the chilly night.

They spent a few seconds in complete silence, looking at the new guy with curiosity until Blackwall decided to break the ice.

“Varric has told us some stories about you, but never how you two met”.

“Well, it’s a very short story: he offered me to take part in an expedition to the Deep Roads with his brother...Some things went terribly wrong, but others just worked and we came back as rich as we’d never been before. Later on, a small battle with the Qun, no hard feelings” he said facing Bull, “Blood Magic, oppressive Templars, an apostate blowing up the Chantry… There’s nothing like a war to make friends with someone”.

“A toast to that,” Bull said, drinking.

“And why did you side with the mages? Because Varric painted you as very altruistic in his novel...” Alyna wanted to know.

“My sister was a mage in the Circle and Meredith was a tyrant, there was no doubt about that, but I can’t say the mages were less guilty, as blood magic was commonplace. But the Templars called for the Right of Annulment and I could not let them kill my sister or any other innocent people just because of their magic. It was madness”.

 “And when the heck did you meet Corypheus?” Bull asked.

Hawke sighed, obviously tired, and leaned back in the chair. His hair and beard were as black as Blackwall’s, but better looked after. He was also slightly taller than him and thinner, although his physique was strong as a warrior.

 “Varric told me what he did to your last settlement and I am truly sorry. I never thought he could have survived after our battle. It was… one of the hardest fights I have ever had. And trust me, I had very bad ones. Whatever happens, he has to be stopped”.

He also explained briefly how he thought the creature was pretending the Calling and how the leader of the Gray Wardens was summoning them to the West. 

When 15 minutes went by, he said goodbye and went into the night to find the Inquisitor.

“He is a good fighter and a good diplomat. He did his best when my people there was accused of murdering, avoiding a larger conflict. Even if we ended up fighting, anyway… It could have been worse,” Bull explained the others. “I can’t believe he is still being persecuted”.

“Well… the Chantry doesn’t know what his role was in the Chantry attack. He maintains he knew nothing about the apostate’s plans, but who knows…” Blackwall added.

Alyna played with her glass for a little while before saying, “I hope Cassandra doesn’t get out of the military camp today, for everyone’s welfare”.



***

 

Hawke found Varric and the Inquisitor where they had agreed to meet. They had a long conversation during which the Champion of Kirkwall explained everything he knew about Corypheus and his past as a Magister, where he had been locked in for thousands of years and even the role of his father and his blood in all that madness. However, Hawke was not able to explain how he escaped, as he was sure he left it for dead.

“I don’t know how he is able to fake the Calling, probably it has something to see with him being darkspawn… But my Warden contact maintains the nightmares smell fishy as he has lived them before, so I’ve got real concerns that the own Corypheus is behind it. As far as I know, the Templars are already his allies. Whatever happens, we cannot let him add the Grey Wardens to his ranks. He would be unstoppable, too powerful. We have to look into it”.

Glenn took a few seconds to think over his words. “How do you know the Wardens are hearing the Calling?”.

“Because not everyone considers me dreadful, Inquisitor. I count some Grey Warden’s among my friends and they keep me informed. It began some time ago but the Orlesian ones are being summoned to an ancient Ritual Tower in the Western Approach in just five days from now. As you can see, there is no time to lose”. 

“What do you propose?” Varric intervened.

“We have to go there and check what is going on. It is the only lead we have on Corypheus,” Hawke ended.

Glenn was dubious but he accepted that the Champion’s plan was the best option the Inquisition had, at least for now. “Ok. We’ll go there. Let me gather my inner circle. We can depart tomorrow” he said.

“Inquisitor, if you don’t mind, I would depart right now. No offence but I don’t want to be seen with you: I don’t want to draw any unnecessary attention towards me. Believe it or not, I’m still trying to keep a low profile”.

The truth was that he didn’t want to travel with Cassandra at all. Varric pulled a wry face at his words.

“But it would be safer” the dwarf refuted him.

“Trust me, it won’t. You are too well-known and there are also some… people than I wouldn’t mind to avoid”.

“Fair enough. Give us the location and we’ll see you there in five days. It’s going to be a hard ride, though” the Inquisitor uttered realizing they would only have five days to make a normally seven days one.

As Hawke had said, he departed that same evening. Simultaneously,  Glenn summoned his inner circle to a meeting the morning after at dawn.

 

***

 

“We are to depart to the West in an hour,” he told to everyone in the war room. “Yesterday, I held a meeting with someone who can help us stop Corypheus, and we have a lead on a very urgent issue that requires our presence in the Western Approach. As far as I’m aware, the Being seems to be imitating the Calling and Commander Clarel is summoning Orlesian Grey Wardens there with an unknown purpose. We have to go”.

“Within an hour? When are they being called exactly? ” Leliana asked.

“In five days. We have five days to reach the meeting point in the West”. 

“And who are you meeting with?” Cassandra wanted to know with a suspicious tone in her voice. 

Varric exchanged glances with the Inquisitor: the dwarf knew that the secret would be revealed. He was only trying to put it back as much as he could.

“There is no reason to keep it secret: the Champion of Kirkwall was here yesterday and he is the one who is going to meet us and fight with us,” Glenn explained.

Cassandra glared at Glenn first and then at Varric with real hatred. The dwarf could feel her disappointment. “You knew it! You have known it all this time and you lied to me! And I trusted you!” she accused him, nearly crying.

All the people in the room remained in an uncomfortable silence.

“He is my friend, Cassandra. Your bloody Chantry accused him for something he didn’t do! And before you say it, he didn’t know about it, either! Since Anders disappeared, they were only looking for a scapegoat and he was the perfect one!”

“Fuck, Varric! Fuck!” the Seeker swore really angry. 

Cassandra, even working under the Inquisition flag, was still a Seeker.  She had turned away a life of wealth and privilege with her family to embrace the Andrastian faith and join the Seekers of Truth. She had been the youngest one since the Storm Age and was proud of her order and her mission. “I would rather not to join with this mission, Inquisitor. If you can spare me I would really appreciate it. Otherwise, I would be betraying my principles and my God”. 

Glenn took a couple of deep breaths, considering the options. Blackwall wouldn’t go with them, either. Considering he was a Grey Warden it was wise to keep him behind this time. Sera was somewhere in Ferelden, solving something related to the Red Jennies, and Solas was on a mission to Haven, which made Dorian the second mage on board. He would still be able to count on Bull, Cole, Varric and Alyna. Hawke was also a two-handed warrior.

As expected, Cullen stepped up. 

“I can go with you if you need me, Inquisitor”.  

Alyna felt a shiver just thinking about the possibility of sharing a who knows how many week with the Commander and fight by his side.

“Thanks Commander, but I need someone to look after this place while I’m not here, and that’s you. We have missions in Haven and the Dales that need coordinating. We need a leader here, and that could only be you. We’ll be fine,” Glenn finished.

Cullen nodded once but his gesture expressed his disagreement. Not that he missed the action of battle: his reasons were more selfish, having in mind Solas was not joining the Inquisitor for the mission.

“As I said, we’ve got five days to reach the West. You’ve got one hour to get ready. I’ll see you in the stables”.

Chapter Text

Two warriors, two assassins and two mages didn’t make a bad team, although they didn’t know exactly what they would find once they reached the Western Approach. The only weakness Alyna found in the mission was that they were not the usual teammates: she had gotten used to fighting side by side with Cassandra, Glenn and, obviously, Solas. Coordination and rapport were always important during the combat, especially between mages in order to keep the whole team protected and the barriers up. This would be the first time she fought with Dorian. 

The spring had made its way through and the crescent warmth had melted the snow on the peaks already, so the weather would be milder during the journey. Bull and Glenn rode at the front all the time while Varric and Cole closed the march. Varric had grown a nice paternal friendship with the Kid after a long conversation in which Cole assured him that Bianca, whoever she was beside his crossbow, still secretly loved him. Varric explained that everything was far more difficult than that, but Cole carried on with the topic and asked him if he would forget her if he would be given the option to. The dwarf rejected the idea, scandalized. “That’s not how life works, Kid. All those experiences made us who we are now. I would never want to forget what that name means for me. What she had meant for me.”

They rode the whole days, only stopping briefly to give a small break to the horses and stretch their own legs. The group flew across Verchiel and Halamshiral at the expense of their reduced sleeping hours, reaching the border of the Western Approach in the evening of the fourth day. The weather, as always in that part of Thedas, became warmer and drier and they sank into the characteristic desert-like landscape.

Dorian was not used to the difficulty of the path and he was often tired and pained from the riding position and the outdoors sleeping, although he was doing his best to keep up with the others. Alyna gave him a couple of ointments she had in her bag to relieve the pain and had joked and flirted with him when she applied the analgesic spell over his leg and bottom to ease the pain. 

“I know an elf that would be certainly jealous right now, given the situation,” the mage joked while the healer kept her hands over his buttocks. 

“Shut up, Pavus, or you’ll lose your privileges.” 

But he carried on with the teasing. Dorian and Solas clashed several times, mostly because of the fancy and elaborated magic manners of the Tevene, although it was mainly harmless teasing. “To be honest with you, he doesn’t seem to be the jealous type at all. Too self-confident, isn’t he? And too… mature, am I right?”

Alyna pinched his left buttock as an answer.

“Eh! Watch those hands, bas saarebas , or I will be the jealous one,” Bull shouted to them both. 

“Oh! Hush, Amatus! Her hands are glorious… No offence.”

“Remind me to never volunteer for a mission again,” Dorian complained to Alyna, exhausted under his expensive and now filthy mage armour imported from Tevinter.

Alyna tied her hair up when she finished, although her forehead and neck were still damp with perspiration: the sand of the landscape stuck there with no compassion, creating a red-like crust on her skin.

“Not that you have any other options this time… It’s not always this terrible, although I have to admit I’m starting to hate the West.”

Garret Hawke was already waiting for them in the agreed location, himself also showing the effects of the rushed journey. Varric and Glenn met the warrior while Alyna, Bull and Dorian went straight to the fountain to get some water. 

“This weather reminds me of my childhood in Par Vollen… The heat is nice and restorative.”

Both mages glared at him as if he was totally bonkers and none of them wanted to know how mid-Summer would be in that place.

“We shall depart immediately. It’s been an hour now since the deadline was met,” Hawke said with seriousness after a short greeting. “The place is just fifteen minutes south.”

They rode along a sharp precipice, arriving in a plain where a fortress could be seen ahead in the distance: the ancient Ritual Tower. The group spotted armoured figures patrolling the perimeter.

Hawke said out loud what the others thought, “we will be completely exposed.”

Glenn took a minute to consider the best strategy. Not that many options were possible. “Alyna and Dorian, we’ll need your Barriers all the time and they have to be strong enough to allow us to get there unharmed. There ́s no other option than a frontal attack,” the Inquisitor ordered the mages at the same time he spurred his horse on, immediately followed by the others. 

They were close to the fortress when the first enemy spells rained around them. The barriers did their job and, at least, there were no archers in the place. The warriors that patrolled the gate, Venatori as their armours and shields showed, were already on guard and ready to greet them. Cole dismounted and he used his stealth to vanish out of sight, ready to begin with his backstabs, just like Varric did. Glenn, Hawke and Bull charged the Venatori while Dorian cast an ice spell that froze some of them, making the Inquisition warriors’ task easier. Alyna focused on keeping the barriers up for all of them at the same time while trying to knock down any of the mages on the tower. 

The Inquisition group was able to come out on top after some minutes.

They climbed up the steep stairs that led to the top of the tower not finding any resistance on their way until they reached a wide-open space where a sort of ancient ritual was currently taking place. There were no walls left in that place and it was shaped like a flat roof. Whatever was happening there, it was interrupted by their arrival. 

“Inquisitor! Lord Livius Erimond at your service,” a long-haired man with a goatee bowed in front of Glenn and his companions and Alyna was able to catch a glimpse of his Venatori armour. 

A group of ten Grey Wardens were standing in a circle in front of them, with their heads turned to look at them. Their eyes were completely black and their faces, inexpressive. Some of them had a demon standing by their side, as static as they were. 

“What is going on here?” the Inquisitor asked taking a look around with worried gesture. Both demons and Wardens were totally still as if waiting for orders.

A golden container full of blood was placed in the middle of the circle, right beside the dead body of a Warden.

“It’s blood magic. They are summoning demons and bonding them to the mages somehow.” Dorian explained to the Inquisitor. Coming from Tevinter, the mage was somehow used to that type of exhibition.  

“No one could have explained it better.” Erimond chuckled and carried on, “when Corypheus has his Mages and demon army thanks to the Grey Wardens, he’ll be completely invincible!”

“Is Clarel aware of all this madness?” Hawke stepped ahead with a harsh gesture. 

 The Venatori laughed again with disdain.

“She was the one who came to me, desperate, begging for help when the Wardens heard the Calling. So we came up with a plan together: to summon demons and create a powerful army to march to the Deep Roads and end the Ancient Gods once and for all! She doesn’t know that Corypheus is behind this, so preoccupied trying to end the Blights that she didn’t even think none of this is real at all!” 

“Summoning Demons doesn’t seem to be the best way to end up a Blight…” Varric observed quietly to Alyna who snorted in agreement.

“Well, this is just a trial to check that both the Calling and the ritual work. Sadly, I can’t stay for a chat. Wardens, don’t let them escape alive.”

The attack was sudden and unexpected. His words made all the Wardens and creatures that were located on the tower come back to life at the same time and none of the Inquisition mages were able to create a Barrier fast enough to protect their companions. A spell threw all of them onto the ground and Cole, Alyna and Hawke hit the only still standing wall with brutal strength. Varric stood up quickly and shot a rain of arrows to their opponents to keep them distracted while Dorian set some ice mines on the ground. 

Alyna touched her back with a grimace and accepted the hand that Cole lent her to stand up.

“Are you all right?” he asked, concerned, while she nodded with her head. Hawke struggled on his feet, groaning and touching the left side of his torso. 

That hadn't been a good start but, being positive, it could only improve now. Cole disappeared immediately after and Hawke ran towards the closest enemy swinging his sword, while the healer looked around at the battlefield, examining the situation.

“Dorian, tell me when you can’t keep the barrier anymore,” she shouted to the Tevene. 

And the fight truly began.

She got to control one of the most powerful mages and made him attack the other Wardens. A  Fadestrike spell made one of the mages fall off the tower. Dorian’s mines had frozen on their tracks a couple of the demons and Bull and Glenn ended them with their swords, while Cole and Hawke killed in partnership the ones that were in front of them.

Four demons out. Just seven mages to go. 

And then things turned sourly difficult for the Inquisition when one of the enemies cast a lightning bolt towards the Iron Bull. It hit its target and the Qunari dropped on the floor, totally knocked out. 

“ALYNA!” Dorian called her to renew the Barrier while he ran towards the fallen man with Glenn.

She cast the Barrier spell but the Warden mage she had been controlling until that moment turned around and attacked her, hitting her leg. As a revenge, she threw him against the wall with a groan, smashing him hard.

They took Bull far from the combat area and Cole killed another one of the mages with the Mark of the Assassin. Varric was able to stick a bolt in a Warden’s head and took cover again. Alyna heard Hawke by her side, panting heavily, struggling to keep up and still touching his side.

“Dorian, stay with Bull but cast the Barrier for me!” she shouted to the other mage and he did it immediately. 

Without the draining of the barrier spell, Alyna protected Hawke and threw a Shadow sweep to her right to turn into dust the two mages he had been dealing with. The Champion of Kirkwall stared at her with unconcealed surprise. Then, she paralyzed the one in front of her, who was about to cast something against Cole. Varric did the rest with his crossbow.

The fight was over but, definitely, it hadn’t been an easy one.

“Shit… that magic has been…” Hawke said to the mage. “My sister wouldn’t be able to do that in her whole life for sure.” Alyna smiled with pride. He was still holding his ribs with a pained gesture, trying to catch his breath back. 

“I'm a little tired today, to be honest with you.” she joked, also panting and applying a small healing spell on her injured leg. After it, the Healer asked him to sit down and stay as still as he could. The Inquisitor and Varric checked the place in order to find more enemies or any clue about their leader, Erimond, but the location was now empty.

Cole was sitting down beside Bull, looking at the red liquid that stained his own fingers with curiosity, puzzled by its meaning: he had a small bleeding cut on his forehead. Meanwhile, the Tevene was trying to wake up the Qunari, still lying unconscious against the wall.

“I´ll take care of Cole,” Varric said, squatting in front of the Kid and pressing on the wound with a clean cloth. It was not serious, so there was no need to waste her mana on it.

She brushed a terribly worried Dorian away and sat on the Qunari’s legs, way too tired to squat or kneel by him. She opened his eyes, checking his pupils, and also his pulse and breathing frequency. 

“Is he all right? Will he be all right?” the human asked, anxious.

The Healer put her hands on the sides of the Qunari’s head right below his horns. They glowed slightly and she whispered some words, not paying attention to Dorian’s requests for information. After several minutes, the Iron Bull opened his eyes with a jump and touched his head with a groan and a grimace on his face.

“What the hell happened?” he asked, his voice showing hints of his pain while Dorian hugged him. 

Alyna slid down the Qunari’s leg and sat next to him, on the ground. “It’s difficult to explain… Those electric spells usually hurt the heart, stopping its beat, or the brain, making it… I don’t know. Stop?”

“It feels like if I have a thousand drums in my head,” he complained.

“It will last for a few days… Get used to it.”

They took the Qunari inside, to a small chamber that would make a good bedroom for that night. Perhaps it was not the wisest choice, but they had to rest and Bull needed to recover before being able to get back on his horse. Varric and Glenn brought up some food and water and prepared some dinner while the Dwarf explained to Cole what the red liquid was and why he shouldn’t have any of it out of his body.

“I didn’t like it… It hurt… It’s not nice…” the Kid explained while washing his fingers with some water, rinsing the blood on them. He didn’t have the concept of pain registered, as he had never felt it before. His fighting style was usually reckless because he was not totally conscious of his mortality, a concept that Varric, Solas and Alyna had been trying to explain to him many times before.

Hawke was perplexed about their conversation and looked at his dwarven friend, waiting for any sort of explanation.

“Cole is… complicated. We don’t know exactly who… or what he is. Fade things, you know?” Varric said shortly.

Hawke nodded his head, feeling the big blue eyes of the Kid fixed on his. “They blamed you, but it was not your fault... He fooled you after you gave him your trust... Rancour and pain… You wish you could change things, but you know it is impossible. Perhaps defeating Corypheus…” Cole read in the Champion’s mind.

“Cole, stop,” Alyna commanded, shaking his shoulder to break the visual contact. He obeyed, turning his gaze back to his fingers.

After giving Bull the clear content of a small flask to make him sleep, she turned her attention towards Hawke, asking him to take his breastplate off, but the human looked reluctant.

“I would do it if I were you, Hawke. You already saw what she’s able to do.” Varric advised him. 

The warrior obeyed, accepting her help, huffing in pain. His left side was completely bruised and she ran her hands over it, examining the damage. Hawke looked quite uncomfortable with the whole situation.

“Do you look at Fenris like that when he touches you? Shit, Hawke. I didn’t know you were that shy!” the Dwarf teased his friend.

“Fuck, Varric. How much I missed you…” the Human said with a wry tone and a grunt.

Alyna chuckled. “Honestly, I hope that Fenris touches you better than me because you are not going to like this,” she said, suddenly putting some pressure on his ribs with her bare hands.

He hissed and cursed, but stood still. The Healer left her hand on that place for a couple of minutes, her hands glowing again and pronouncing words and the Champion felt how his pain decreased slowly but constantly. 

“You have some broken ribs and a very strong contusion. I put them back in place and I cast a spell to speed up the healing of the broken ones, but I’m afraid I can’t do anything else for now besides wrapping your torso and advising you to rest: I don’t have enough mana.”

“Thanks,” the warrior uttered, still surprised by her abilities.

“Alyna, you’re bleeding,” the Inquisitor warned her, noticing the blood dripping from her leg. 

She played it down, pulling up the tunic of her armour to examine her ripped leggings. “It’s not serious,” she said, although the wound was bleeding profusely now after her first casting dispelled from it. She got to a corner of the room with her Healer kit and undid her corset, taking her leggings off after, standing in her smalls.  

Dorian scoffed next to the Iron Bull while watching the two Humans look away from her nudity immediately. Varric copied their behaviour with a shrug after a quick chuckle and a glance towards the elf, as it was not the first time he saw her without her trousers on. Cole, of course, didn't get a hint of what was going on.

The Healer cursed in Elven and Common tongue when disinfecting the wound and applying the close-wound ointment she always carried with her. She didn’t have any mana left to do anything, so the best she could do was to dress it with a bandage. Then, she used one of the blankets to make an improvised skirt covering her legs.

“In the purest Val Royeaux style,” Dorian commented after, making her smile. 

She laid exhausted on her bedroll by the Iron Bull, who was now snoring loudly, hoping for a good and long night of sleep at last.

 

***

 

Hawke departed with the dawn the next day as he didn’t want to be seen with the Inquisition. 

“I doubt this is over. I will speak with my contacts to find out if there is any other Calling or where Commander Clarel is,” the Champion told the others while packing his stuff.

“Our spy network can also lend a hand with that. We’ll keep our eyes peeled on the West. Varric knows how to contact you, so we’ll keep in touch if anything happens.” The Inquisitor shook his hand and Hawke nodded.

“You have valuable and powerful companions here, Inquisitor,” he said while pointing to the others. “If anyone can defeat Corypheus, is you.”

As he had done before when they met in Skyhold, he shook hands with a mildly recovered Bull and then, with Cole and Dorian. Hawke hugged and patted Varric’s back and kissed Alyna’s hand before leaving the place.

The trip back to the Inquisition’s fortress was without any doubt more relaxed and less hurried and it took them nearly ten days in total, with no incidents at all other than talking about the coming days, the origin of the Venatori leader and the common doubts Cole had every day. Although the Iron Bull was still feeling weak and wobbly on his mount, the effects of his injuries disappeared completely the day they arrived back at Skyhold.

Cullen went out to meet the group once they crossed the gates and the Inquisitor, Varric and Alyna filled him in about the mission and their discoveries.

“I’m not exaggerating if I say it was the worst battle we have ever fought before. And Hawke was right: the Grey Wardens are involved, even if they are not aware of who is behind the Calling. We have to find out where they are hiding and contact Commander Clarel as fast as we can,” Glenn explained to the Commander.

“I’ll get Leliana to work on it immediately, Inquisitor. So, that Erimond…? What is he doing with the Wardens?”

“He tricked them, we think. Well, Corypheus did, copying the Calling. Erimond gave them an effective and easy escape for it: why wait for the Archdemon to come out of its den if we can create a Demon army and catch him by surprise in the Deep Roads before all the madness is released again” Varric explained with a witty tone.

“Well, I have to recognise that, except for the part about the pact and bonding with demons without any kind of control or supervision, it doesn’t sound that insane at all,” Alyna mumbled to herself.

“It’s a crazy idea, and even worse with blood magic! I can’t believe that the Grey Wardens have decided to do that.” Cullen opined in shock.

“I totally agree with you, Commander. They have lost their ways and they have to be stopped.” the Inquisitor agreed with a nod.

“Well, at least I’m glad you are all ok,” Cullen finished the conversation with the group. 

Varric and Glenn carried on walking while Alyna stopped to get some of her stuff out of the saddlebag. Surprisingly, Cullen waited for her.

“It seemed like if you were justifying blood magic,” he stated seriously.

After two weeks without a proper bath and sleeping under the moon, the last thing the Healer wanted to do was to argue with the Human. She didn’t bite her tongue, although her tone was calm and considered. “Binding Demons is wrong. But blood magic is just another way to an end.” She stuffed her bedroll in her backpack, waiting for his response. Alyna was able to perceive that he was scandalized with her answer even though she had never used blood magic before. Not that she needed it. 

“Blood magic brings only pain and destruction. After what happened in Kirkwall and in Kinloch Hold I thought you would agree with me.” His voice and his gestures were harsh.

Alyna sighed as she knew that she shouldn't be giving explanations to him. Even more when the battle was impossible to win. She decided not to dig deeper on it and avoid the topic. “It’s just my opinion, Cullen. That’s all. I don’t really want to begin a dialectic fight about blood magic with you. Especially with you.”

He understood her reasons and sighed, walking now by her side, making their way to the fortress. The Commander had some terrible experiences about that kind of magic, demons and the Fade. There was no need to recall all those things now. So he changed the subject. “I’ve been quite worried about you. We haven’t properly spoken since that afternoon in the infirmary. Are you alright?” he wanted to know. 

That was true. Since the afternoon he visited her in the Clinic after her injury, during which Solas left the room, they hadn’t been even close to each other. Anyway, the conversation was quite forced. She hadn’t forgotten Val Royeaux yet, nor his outburst against Solas after Haven. So she kept the interaction neutral. 

“Yes… I mean, I think so.” She shrugged with a thin ironic smile. “This battle has been hard, but you know is quite difficult to get rid of me. Thanks for the worry, but there’s no need.”

Even if her tone had been friendly, Cullen came up with a really icy comment. “Well, I suppose the elf worries enough about you now, am I right?”

That was unnecessary and Alyna pinned him with a frozen furious stare, still surprised by his words. Cullen, getting jealous when he dumped her after two years.

“This is ridiculous. I’ve had enough of this and enough of you,” she said, her face expressing her tiredness and anger at the same time, quickening her pace to catch up with Glenn. 

The Inquisitor was a few steps ahead, waiting for her. “I didn’t mean to be nosy, but it seems to me that you are getting along at last.” He said with an unexpected sharp tone after a minute walking under a tense atmosphere.

Alyna rolled her eyes and deep-breathed before speaking. “Come on, Glenn. You probably know my whole life better than myself. You know what is going on.” 

The Inquisitor chuckled quietly as she was probably right: her life and her relationship with his Commander hadn’t been a secret since the beginning, and he also knew something was going on with Solas, although none of them showed any sign of their relationship in public. 

“I was hoping for you to tell me.”

“You already know the story, there’s no need to discuss it any further. It’s been a bloody while already but…” she stopped herself, wondering if she should carry on talking, considering the pros and cons, “there might be something between Solas and me, and it seems to be affecting him anyhow…”

“Yes, I am aware of it,” he uttered, looking at the front with a serious gesture.

That was not a surprise at all.

“Glenn, the last thing I want is to slow down or drag out the job we are doing in the Inquisition. I supposed we were all able to be professional, but it seems that I was wrong. I don’t want to start a fight and even less to have anyone else fighting because of me. But is also true that I endured more than I had to for Cullen and I’ve had enough of it.”

“Ok. I’ll have a word with him regarding this and I’ll try to figure out what is going on.”

Ayna sighed with resignation. Not that she wanted anyone else resolving her problems, even less the Inquisitor. But it was getting out of hand.

They said their farewells in the Throne Hall and Alyna came into Solas’ rotunda, although he was not there. She decided not to tell him anything about her quarrel with the Commander: the last thing she needed was another round of threats and reproaches full of testosterone.

Looking around, she noticed the elf had finished the third mural and had the base for the fourth ready. His desk was spotlessly organized as always, with a pile of volumes about Tevinter history for an unknown and odd reason. There was, also, his sketchbook and the Healer felt curious and she decided to take a peek. She dropped her bag and her staff and sat on the edge of the table, grabbing the notebook and opening it. She found a different composition for the fourth mural, Corypheus, and he had been trying diverse options before deciding the final result. She turned the pages absently, looking at the different drawings of Dalish-style wolves and a couple of sketches of herself on one of the pages, in a more realistic style. That made her grin stupidly.

“That sketchpad is meant to be private.” His voice sounded serious but he had a thin smile on his lips when she raised her gaze from the page.

The Healer smirked. “And you shouldn’t leave it in plain sight if you don’t want anyone to take a look at it,” she said wittily, standing up and handing him the pad. “I’m sorry, it was too tempting.”

He twisted a smile, accepting the sketchpad and fixing his eyes on hers with intensity. 

“The Inquisitor told me you had a rough mission. Are you all right, vhenan ?” 

“Yeah, I think so. Just bruised, exhausted, starved and with a new scar on my tight. But fine.”

The impulse of kissing him was too strong when he raised his hand to caress her cheek gently, and she leaned into the contact. The rotunda was right under the library, generally packed, and Leliana’s spies headquarters. Any sensation of privacy they might have was completely false. And they both had decided to be discreet with that matter, even if it was common knowledge in the inner circle.

“It’s been a while since the last time I practised the healing spell you taught me, and I can also do some relaxation casting for you if you want to,” he stated with fake solemnity, making her chuckle.

“That sound… certainly interesting, Solas. I hope is no trouble for you.”

“Trust me, it would be my pleasure,” he said with a crooked smile. 

The mage moved his hand away from her face and showed her his fingers, now all dusty from the dirt on her cheeks. Suddenly, she felt aware of how actually dirty her armour was and the crust of mud she had on her arms and legs. Better not to think about how her face would look like. “Ok… You know what…? I think I might have a bath first.” 

Solas smiled again and the healer left the rotunda, picking up her things from the floor first. Once she was gone, he opened his sketchpad on the last page. There was a drawing of a male elf dressed in a wolf pelt, hugging from behind a female elf with dark wavy hair and small ears. He tore the page off, folded it and put it in his pocket with a mild worry, wondering if she’d had the time to see it. 

Chapter Text

“No,” Solas stated again, annoyed by his insistence and trying to end the conversation once and for all.

“But you like Demons!” Cole squeaked with frustration.

“I enjoy the company of Spirits, yes, which is why I do not abuse them with bindings,” the mage explained once again.

“But it isn’t abuse if I ask…” the Kid replied.

“Not always true.” Solas’ gesture gave out his exasperation. “Also, I do not practice blood magic, which renders this entire conversation academic”.

Cole intercepted Solas that morning in the second circle in Skyhold, while the mage was making his way back from the market to his rotunda. After their last mission in the west, Cole had been thinking a lot about how the Venatori had been able to bind Demons using blood magic and how Solas’ spirit friend ended up as one too because of the summoning ritual, and he was terrified about the idea of someone binding him as well. Even if he was somehow anchored to reality, his true nature was still spiritual and linked to the Fade, and therefore, vulnerable to summoning rituals.

The Kid had turned to Solas looking for help but the mage refused to perform any binding magic on him.

“Besides, why are you asking me, Cole? You are on good terms and already have a deal with Alyna. Why not her?” Solas wanted to know.

Cole replied as if the answer was utterly obvious. “Because you are stronger. Perhaps not now, but you will. And because it will last forever!”

The elf stiffened his shoulders, regretting his question immediately but not at all surprised with Cole’s answer. He sighed as forever was a word that had always made him consider the gloomy perspective of his future: eternity was a long time to think about things. He was not surprised by the revelations of their conversation. Cole knew who he was, that was pretty obvious, and the elf stared at him thoughtfully while the Spirit looked him back in the eyes, more desperate than interested in his secrets. 

Even with his own worry ongoing, the Kid did his thing , “it doesn’t have to be this way… ancient pain… a decision that saved most… slumbered through the ages… but life goes on, Solas. I can make you forget if you want,” he offered, opening his eyes.

For a fraction of a second, the idea of forgetting blinded Solas and it shone in his violet-grey eyes, even allowing himself to toy with the perspective. Then, the light faded and his gesture went back to serious.

“I’m sorry, Cole. I can’t. Neither one or the other. I cannot bind you,” Solas ended with a tight pressure in his chest.

Alyna and Varric came out of the infirmary at that exact moment and Cole ran towards them, gesturing with his arms.

“He won’t bind me! He is a mage and he likes demons, but he won’t help!” he complained to the dwarf and the healer.

“Wait, what?” Varric asked, his voice showing his bewilderment and his jaw, dropping. He didn’t have a clue about what all this fuss was about. Probably Fade stuff .

“Cole, why would you like Solas to bind you?” Alyna was as boggled as the dwarf was.

“So I’m safe!” the Kid exhorted with a grimace, “If Solas doesn’t do the ritual to bind me, someone else could. Like the Warden mages and then…. I’m not me anymore...”

“But Cole, what if the binding changes you? What if that takes away the part of you that makes you… well, you” Solas asked him.

“Helping makes me who I am. Helping is what I do. All I do…. I don’t want to hurt innocent people again,” he stuttered while turning his gaze to Alyna, who stiffened her shoulders immediately at his words and her eyes darkened with pain, a situation that didn’t go unnoticed by Solas.  

“Ok, I might be out of my payroll here, but there must be some middle ground in between doing nothing and binding you with blood magic, am I right?” Varric asked.

Solas was the one who replied. “Indeed. I recall some stories of amulets used by Rivaini seers to protect the spirits they summoned from rival mages. A spirit wearing one of these amulets would be immune to blood magic and binding. Perhaps we’ll be able to use the Inquisition’s resources to locate one of them”.

Cole didn’t speak but drew a smile on his face.

“Well, let’s tell Glenn and see what he can do, Kid,” Varric grabbed his arm and took him to the fortress and Solas followed them after glancing at Alyna, who smiled thinly at him before going back to her duties in the infirmary with the dark weight of Cole’s words still on her shoulders.

 

***

 

Leliana was gifted at her job and it didn’t take her longer than a week to locate the talisman based on the research Solas had carried on about them. “A dalish group had it. They have a stational settlement in the Brecilian forest, right next to the temple you found during your research. It was not a bargain, so I hope is important”. 

Solas grabbed the amulet with disgust at the mention of the dalish, feeling the tingling ancient power in his palm. It didn’t matter how much they had gained with the transaction: selling an antique like this one earned no forgiveness. Especially for such a breed of elves that declared themselves the preservers of the traditions and direct descendants of the Elvhen. They didn’t really know how misled they were with their gods and with the meaning of their vallaslin that honoured them.

“It is important, indeed. Thank you, Leliana,” he uttered before taking the side stairs to go back down to his rotunda, not really surprised by the fact that Cole was already there, waiting impatiently.

“Have you found it, Solas?” the Kid asked even if he already knew the answer.

The mage nodded. “I sent someone to gather Alyna and Varric: they wanted to be here. Do you mind?”

“No. As Bull says, the more, the merrier ” Cole replied, and his gesture and his tone showed his relief when Solas showed him the amulet.

A few minutes later, they both came in the room.

“Ok, so how does it work then? Do we even know if it does?” the dwarf asked with his usual witty tone.

Solas fastened it to the Kid’s jerkin while Alyna expressed her concern about his security and physical integrity. 

“Have you checked there is no other magic in it? Nothing bad at all…?”

“Yes, I did. Furthermore, there are texts that give a detailed description of it and the effects are quite specified: to prevent binding. Nothing else”.

The healer looked at the mage and took a deep breath before nodding her head. “Ok, let’s charge it,” she ended, getting ready for a spell both Solas and she had been practising for together.

“Are you ready, Cole?” Solas asked while standing in front of the Spirit, who looked a little nervous now. The mage stepped back and raised a hand, focusing his power on activating the amulet. Solas’ hand glowed with the usual golden glimmer as he muttered a spell. Unintelligible whispering raised from the talisman and it vibrated on the Kid’s chest while Alyna stood by the mage, ready to support his casting if necessary. Varric watched the scene with nervousness in contrast to Cole’s quietness.

Three seconds after, a blinding flash and an energy blast interrupted the spell and made them all stumble backwards, covering their eyes.

“What the hell is going on? What are you doing to Cole?” The Inquisitor came into the room with a knitted brow, warned about the loud bang and the intense light and looking at the boy in the middle of the improvised ceremony. 

Alyna reached for Cole to check on him. He was unharmed but seemed devastated. “They are preventing blood mages to bind me, but it didn’t work”.

“The spell was adequate. I don’t understand what happened, unless...” Solas said, pensive, looking at the healer, who shrugged.

“Perhaps he’s been for too long in this world and he is too human now?” she opined.

Solas made an acknowledgement sound and raised an eyebrow in surprise: that was a possibility he didn’t think about. That would mean that Compassion had been walking on Thedas in that body for longer than he considered at the beginning. Anyway, his nature was still clear for Solas. “He looks human, but in essence, he’s a spirit”.

“I don’t know how he looked before, but I think he looks quite fleshy now,” Varric expressed his thoughts out loud, getting into a conversation that was beyond his understanding of the Fade and the reality.

Alyna glanced at the dwarf with a frown and looked back at Solas. “You said it yourself: spirits’ nature can be modified. What if Cole embodied someone by accident… a kind of possession, maybe, and he has been for so long here that he is picking traces of humanity? Wouldn’t his essence be changed?” 

She was closer to the truth than Solas was ready to admit, but there was still hope for Compassion. Most of the spirit’s story was still lost and unrecovered. Recalling his origin would be a good starting point.

“I don’t matter! Just lock away the parts of me that someone else could knot together to make me follow! It has to work!” the Kid shouted while walking in circles in the rotunda, impossible to calm down. 

Varric and the Inquisitor exchanged glances, as well as Alyna and Solas did. 

“Cole, let’s try something. Focus on the amulet. Tell me what you feel?” the mage asked him.

The Kid ducked his head, looking and the floor, and spoke, “Warm… soft blanket covering… but it catches tears… I’m the wrong shape… There’s something…” he suddenly looked up and pointed his finger towards one of the murals on his right. “There”.

They all turned their heads to look at the painting he was pointing at. And they all hold their breaths.

“Corypheus? Haven?” the Inquisitor asked surprised, as it was the one of the destruction of the town. 

Cole blinked a couple of times, getting out of his trance. “No. Not the mural. That direction,” he explained.

Varric and Glenn sighed with relief while Solas walked swiftly across the rotunda to get a map of Thedas out of a bookcase.

“What is over there? Is it Ferelden?” Alyna asked them.

“Is the East. It might be,” The Inquisitor informed.

Solas found the map and unrolled it on his desk. They all remained quiet, waiting for Cole to decide where to go. It didn’t take him long to mark a point on the map: a spot nearby Redcliffe. “There,” he repeated.

It took them some time to speak again. 

“Well, I guess we are going on a trip” Varric announced with irony.

 

***

 

Solas, Varric, Cole and Alyna departed for Redcliffe the following day. The Inquisitor had some other important issues to deal with, like the diplomatic situation in Orlais, and couldn’t spare time for the task. 

It only took them two days to reach the small fishing village on the outskirts of Redcliffe. Cole spent those days in an unusual quietness while Varric tried to pull words out of his mouth with his comments and questions. Alyna and Solas discussed all the way there about the terms of the pact Cole and the healer had, trying to figure out how exactly to prevent Cole from being bound. Alyna explained that they had met in the Fade many years ago when she was just a child and was discovering her magic. They became friends but it was further on, when she was learning healing magic, that she decided to ask the Spirit about borrowing his powers. And he accepted, according to his compassionate nature, but only if she used those powers to help.  Solas knew such pacts were possible if the spirit agreed to it, and although he had come across none in this age, they had been more frequent in ancient times. Obviously, there were no summoning or blood magic involved, just a mere arrangement between the parts. 

Nearly reaching the town, Varric and Solas became embroiled in an argument about Cole’s perspectives. 

“I understand your point of view, Chuckles : you like spirits. But he came to this world to be a person. Let him be one”.

“This is not some fanciful story, Child of the Stone . We cannot change our nature by wishing,” Solas replied, realizing that Varric and Alyna had involuntarily teamed up against him. But he didn’t want Cole to suffer as he did: it was better for him to remain as a spirit. He was sure it would be kinder in the long run.

“But what if he could? Why he wouldn’t take the chance? You think it is better to be a spirit than a human being?” the dwarf asked in a very planned line of thought that he had avoided answering to when Alyna brought it forward a couple of hours ago. 

Perhaps it would have been… ” the elf thought, although his mouth uttered something different. “I’m just saying that, for him, is better to be a spirit… because he is actually a spirit!” he finished with annoyance.

Alyna overheard the conversation while riding along Cole and clicked her tongue, thinking about Solas’ words. She couldn’t understand the elf’s obsession about making Cole remain as a spirit rather than a human being and he had not given any particular explanation about it other than Cole’s original nature as a spirit. It was pretty unusual for the mage to be so stubbornly out of arguments.

“You have covered your ears… You don’t want to be seen” the Kid told her, unaware of the argument behind them, and watching her pull the hood of her cape over her head. 

“I don’t want anyone to know I’m here… And my ears… It’s just in case I come back once all this finishes,” she explained to the spirit. Cole stared blankly at her. Although he didn’t say anything, he knew that would never happen. 

They dismounted at the entrance of the village and walked the short distance towards the market. It was midday and people crowded the small town square where some stands sold fish, vegetables, bread, cheese and meat. They followed Cole who wandered to one of the deserted side alleys and they found a small fancy goods shop from Orlais. There was nothing else there but his steps were now secure walking towards the stand. When he stopped in front of it, the shopkeeper was turned backwards, picking something up from one of the boxes on the ground, and Cole just stood there, staring, and suddenly snarled when the man turned around. 

“You!” Cole said with a pained grimace. “You killed me!”

The three companions reached for their weapons and bridged the distance with the spirit before the situation got out of hand but before they could blink, Cole had moved in front of the man, who was now on his knees with one of Cole’s hands over his forehead.

“What? I don’t even know you!” the terrified shopkeeper said from the ground.

“You forgot. You locked me in a dungeon in the White Spire. And you forgot. And I died!” Cole’s face was a mask of hatred now and his tone reflected the deep pain of his memories coming back.

“Cole, stop,” Solas ordered him with strictness. The man used the moment of pause to get up and escape. 

“Kid, take it easy,” Varric intervened with Bianca in his hands.

“No! You don’t understand. He killed me. He killed me! That’s why it doesn’t work. And I have to kill him back”. Cole was shouting now, ready to disappear, the bright green glimmer of the Fade magic announcing his Fade jump.

“Cole, this man cannot have killed you. You have not even possessed a body. You were a spirit,” Alyna explained, raising her hands to grab Cole’s shoulders and squeezing them slightly,  trying to calm him down. 

His magic dispelled as he breathed deeply a couple of times, following Alyna’s instructions.

“A broken body, bloody, banged on the stone cell. Guts griping in the dark. A captured apostate” the Kid explained with sorrow, remembering his past, while all the other’s faces turned darker with his words. “They threw him into the dungeon in the Spire at Val Royeaux. They forgot about him. He starved to death. I came through to help… and I couldn’t. So I became him. Cole”.

Varric sighed with a sorrow gesture and Solas had the gloomiest face. Alyna stepped forward and gave a hug to the Spirit. 

“Let me kill him,” he begged to the healer in a quiet husky whisper.

“Cole, you are Compassion…” she began.

“But I need to! I need to...” he said freeing himself from her clasp and sitting on the ground, clearly distressed and overwhelmed about what he was feeling and its intensity.

“Did he ever tell you anything about this?” Varric asked her.

“No,” she answered, shocked. “I don’t think he remembered anything before today. When I met him, he was already Cole. He… had a human shape, even in the Fade. But I had never seen him physically before Haven. What was he doing in the Fade if he was already embodied?”

“Perhaps just travelling in it as we do,” Solas explained briefly. “We cannot let Cole kill the man. It’s against his nature”.

“I don’t think anyone was going to suggest that, Chuckles ,” Varric scoffed.

Solas looked at him with a harsh gesture and carried on talking. “He’s a Spirit of Compassion. To regain that part of himself, he must forgive”.

“Come on! You don’t just forgive someone killing you”.  

“You don’t. But a Spirit can,” Solas replied.

“He just needs to work it through, like a person,” Varric explained, not extremely convinced.

“A Spirit doesn’t work through emotions: they embody them! Besides, you would alter the essence of what he is”.

“He already did that when he left the Fade, Solas,” Alyna stepped into the conversation, showing her support to Varric’s point of view.

“And shouldn’t we ask Cole what he wants to do?” the mage asked with a neutral tone.

They all turned to look at the spirit, who was still sitting on the ground, extremely focused on his hands.

“I… I don’t want to change. Feelings… they hurt. It’s too much. I don’t want to kill that man, but I want to at the same time. I want to be who I was before. I want to be Compassion.”

Varric and Alyna couldn’t help but exchange a pitiful gaze, but that had been his choice. Solas nodded his head with concealed pride because of his decision and walked towards him.

“Come with me, Cole,” he told the Kid with his hands clasped behind his back.

They both followed his steps and the scene was repeated once more: Cole succumbed to his fury and Fade-jumped towards the guy, but Solas was now ready to guide him through.

“Can you feel this man’s pain, Cole?”

“Not possible, is not possible…” the man mumbled looking at Cole in his blue eyes, still not believing what he had in front and clearly repenting now. 

“He was a Templar. And he remembers now. He knows he killed me.” Cole looked shocked with the mixture of the man’s feelings.

“No. Feel his pain. His guilt. The shame that drove him away,” Solas pushed him further.

The gesture on Cole’s face became milder. And then, even sorrowful while reading the ex-Templar memories.

“‘Don’t worry, we’ll erase his records.’ They clap me on the shoulder, smell of oiled metal and blood. They smile like Louis did when he made me drown the kittens. Laughter bounces off the walls like a thin child’s fists,” he read while the man looked at him with tears rolling down his cheeks.

“He’s hurting, Cole. And you are a Spirit of Compassion,” Solas recalled him, feeling the presence of Alyna and Varric behind him.

The Kid’s face turned inexpressive when he cast the magic to his hand. 

“Forget,” he said touching the terrified man’s forehead on a slow and kind gesture. A silver light similar in colour to Alyna’s magic filled the place and it was done.

The ex-Templar stood up in silence, as if waking up from a daydream, and ran away, not understanding who he had in front of him or what had happened. Immediately, the amulet on Cole’s jerkin lit up. 

“You all right, Kid?” Varric asked with some concern.

Cole hid under his hat, although they all were able to notice that he seemed calm. When he looked up, they saw the inexpressive gesture on his face.

“Yes. He’s free. We are both free,” he said, distantly before turning his head to one of the houses on the street, “ just need to hear the song again… just for a minute… she’s worried that she’ll never be back … I’m alright, Varric” 

Varric and Alyna sighed with resignation whilst Solas was somehow relieved that the plan had worked. 

“And he could have been a person…” Varric shook his head.

“Possibly. But would that have made him happier? Are our life and feelings easier to bear than his beautiful simplicity, by any chance?” Solas left the question hanging in the air, gaining a reprobatory look from Alyna.

“Do you think that what they have is better? Being reduced to one simple feeling without free will? He had the chance to feel as we do, to experiment, to make choices and learn from his mistakes…”

“And again, is that better or perhaps easier? Being human is not a bed of roses: it requires sacrifice and suffering, and dealing with the consequences of your actions with disregard of how painful they are or how they brand you for life…” Solas fell silent when he realized he was being carried along by his feelings, raising the volume of his voice. Her gaze was imbued with concern and a hint of sadness now because of his words, and he knew he had already spoken too much. 

“I… I do really hope that one day you can tell me what you are so hurt about, Solas. And perhaps I might be able to help you,” she uttered with a soft whisper, her eyes and features still hidden under her hood.

Chapter Text

“I don’t understand why it is called the Winter Palace if it isn’t Winter anymore… they should change its name with the seasons. It would make more sense,” Cole told the healer while walking through the gardens, waiting for the reception to begin.

Alyna drew a smile at his words because she knew he was being completely serious in his statement. He was somehow right: it didn’t feel like winter anymore: the night was clear and cool and the snow had disappeared, allowing daffodils to sprout, giving beautiful yellow brush-strokes to the green layers of grass. 

As a consequence of the decision taken a couple of weeks ago in Redcliffe, the Spirit had been, appearing and disappearing from reality at his will and helping people more than ever, being able to choose if he wanted them to remember him or not, which was actually quite spiritish. Solas had spent extra time with him, maintaining tangled and surrealistic conversations about the real world and the Fade and showing him some human habits in order to make his presence more bearable for everyone. Still, the Inquisitor had requested Varric, Solas or Alyna to keep an eye on him during the ball - the whole Inner Circle had been invited -  and the healer had volunteered for it as he was one of her oldest friends. 

“Honestly, Cole, I love the idea. You should suggest Glenn create something similar in Skyhold. Naming the Throne Hall with something that changes according to the hours, perhaps… or with his mood in the morning.” She was clearly joking, but Cole was not very good at recognizing sarcasm. 

After staring at her for some time during which Alyna was perfectly able to see the gears working in his mind, he gave up. “I can’t think of anything half as good as the Winter Palace . I have to think harder. ”  

She had to chuckle at that.

They stopped next to one of the numerous fountains that decorated the gardens, choosing that place because it looked quiet and Cole needed quietness sometimes. Doing so, Alyna had time to take a proper look around. The guests, all dressed up in their best attires, were wandering in the luxurious place enjoying the drinks and the conversations. Blackwall, Cassandra and Cullen were interacting with a Nevarran military officer. Someone important judging by the badges on his tunic, but the healer didn’t have a clue about the military ranks in that region. Leliana and Josephine were chatting with a younger version of latter, giggling sporadically. A distant memory of the Ambassador telling her about her younger sister living in Orlais and mingling with the Orlesian nobility came to her mind and she inferred that girl would be her. The Iron Bull and Dorian were sitting together on a bench, talking and drinking. The qunari had captured all the attention since they all came in the garden and many guests tried to interact with him, just to check if he was real or just one of Celene’s eccentricities. At least, he had agreed on wearing the Inquisition suit, not his usual shirtless clothes, but he seemed quite uneasy having the light spot on him. A situation that was not at all affecting Dorian, who was actually enjoying the attention.

Once the doors were opened, inviting everyone to get into the Winter Palace, Alyna had made sure the Inquisition emblem was clearly visible, pinned to her dress: Halamshiral was still quite racist in spite of the efforts the Empress was making to guarantee the elven rights and she didn’t want to have any trouble during their mission there. 

“You are ashamed...” Cole said walking next to her.

“I’m not… It's not shame. I’m uncomfortable, that’s all. I would rather have my hair down and more discreet clothes,” she explained, looking down at her beautiful burgundy dress which had a long skirt and an embroidered corset with a very low neckline, leaving her shoulders exposed. It was too eye-catching and the badly concealed peeks she was getting from the noblemen around them supported her statement.

While walking towards the door, they spotted Varric on their left, speaking animatedly with a group of dwarves and humans. He was signing one of his books when his eyes met Alyna’s, showing a broad smile. “Well, you are not gonna believe who we have here!” he told the group and the healer lowered her eyes to the cover of the novel he had just signed: “the Arcane Woman”. All the group turned around to face the newcomers and she gave Varric a murderous glare, not being likely to be related at all with that elf in the story. The dwarf caught the message and backed up, stumbling on the words slightly. “Oh. No one, then… My apologies, my lady. I thought you were a different person...” 

She gave the group a smile before resuming her steps with promptness, pulling Cole’s arm. The Spirit scrutinised her with massive blue eyes and the elf could perceive he was holding his tongue. 

“Ok, what?” she asked at the end.

“Why?”

“Why I don’t want to put a name on the character? Because I am discreet, Cole. And I do really appreciate my anonymity. Besides, I don’t really need everyone knowing how powerful I am. I’m sure it would lead to trouble...” she explained but he carried on staring.

“No one here knows, Alyna… It’s gone in time and memory. You have changed… Perhaps it’s time to forgive yourself… ” he replied without any context, as he always did.

The healer breathed slowly, letting the air escape in between her lips, trying to bury the memory. “No one really changes, Cole. Just as well, it is not that easy to forget. We just learn how to live with it.”

“Anyway, you are different now. Better...” he ended, pulling a sad smile out of her.

“Thank you, Cole.” She meant it and was genuinely thankful for his words.

She startled slightly when a warm hand snaked around her waist and she felt Solas’ mana caressing hers before she could turn to look at him. He leaned to sneak a kiss on her temple. “I just came to say how stunning you look in that dress, but I think I would rather have you naked in my bed. You are beautiful either way.”

The healer felt the usual heat crawling in her cheeks with his words. He could still be called a sweet-talker without any doubt . “You only do this to make me blush, am I right?” she asked in a playful tone, previous mood forgotten already. 

He showed her a mischievous grin. “Yes. But it doesn’t make it less true.” And she bit her lower lip when his hand lingered for a little longer on the small of her back, sliding it further down before pulling away. “How are you doing, Cole?” he asked in the end, knowing that the spirit was sometimes overwhelmed about crowds. 

“Is like that party in the Arlathan palace… The boy didn’t want to go… his parents took him anyway… Too many people around… animal masks scaring him… chords and a choir of unknown words...”

“Yes, I remember that… But he only had to stop looking at the people there and everything went just fine.”

Hearing them speak about the Fade was nonsense and pretty confusing most of the times. 

Solas was wearing the dark Inquisition uniform and also had the emblem pinned on his lapel. Alyna couldn’t ignore the fact that people were turning their heads to look at them while they were on their way to the entrance: the result of being elves without vallaslin in a Court ball like that one. All those people were probably just wondering why they were not in the kitchens, instead. Every time that happened, Solas offered a frozen stare back in response and a full-of-pride grin. 

“You are enjoying this, I see...” she affirmed without an excess of surprise: under his moderate and polite behaviour, Solas could be quite rebellious in his opinions and actions, sometimes. 

“Why I wouldn’t? It is  controversial. And liberating, somehow.”

“And you love it, Solas. Admit it.”

“Yes, I definitely love it, vhenan ,” he accepted with a sly look and a crooked smile. 

They walked to the Main Hall, built of white marble - that was the reason why it was called Winter Palace. Two stairs opened on the sides, leading to the first-floor balcony, adorned with tapestry in Orlais blue. Conversations with different accents and giggles jumbled in the air over the string orchestral music at the background. Even if this party was far less busy than the masked ball in Val Royeaux, it was more opulent and exclusive. The Inquisitor was to be announced once the reception would begin, together with Josephine, so they were still waiting to be called in the Hall. Cullen would be organizing the whole operations while the Herald interacted with the aristocracy, the Empress and the pretender to the Throne. They made their way through the crowded hall to the salon they would be using as a meeting room in the Palace, next to the main hall, where an exhibition of Orlesian armours watched over them. It didn’t take long for all their companions to arrive, Leliana and Cullen included. 

“I don’t think we can count on the Herald during the whole evening, so you’ll be reporting to me once the orchestra make the first break. Today is a great day for Orlais and we have to be sure the negotiations are not interrupted, and to guarantee the security during the event. Keep your eyes peeled: we don’t know what we are going to find here tonight, but we have heard rumours about a sabotage” he explained before specifying the on watch positioning for all of them.  

Alyna couldn’t avoid showing a disappointed gesture when she realized that Cole and herself would be guarding the party from the outside hall instead of the ball one. All their companions turned around and left the place to have a fabulous and glamorous night while they would have to do with the leftovers of the party. But they were there to work, not for pleasure. Cole took her out of her thoughts offering her his arm in an unexpected human courtesy gesture, that she accepted with a confused grin.  “I have just seen that man over there doing it with the girl... “ he explained, pointing to an Orlesian nobleman with a tilt of his head. “She’s not his wife… he’s scared that she would find out… But it’s adequate for us.”   

His comment made Alyna openly laugh and they headed together to the hall, ready to monitor the development of the evening. From there, Cole was able to see first hand how Glenn Trevelyan, Herald of Andraste and nobleman from the House Trevelyan in Ostwick, and Josephine Montilyet, Inquisition Ambassador and heir of the noble house Montilyet from the City of Antiva, were called in to say their greetings to the Empress. Meanwhile, Alyna interacted with one of the elven maids that were serving drinks on a silver tray: the only good point to being an elf in that kind of human parties was the camaraderie with the servants, who were often a valuable source of information. Thanks to that, the healer discovered that Celene had had an affair with her elven handmaid, Briala, who had been invited to the Ball as an ambassador for the elves. Even if they were not together anymore, the maid was also sure that the Empress was still in love with Briala, which is why she had been granting so many rights to the elven people: to regain her favour. 

“Well, that is… interesting. And unexpected, too,” Alyna said. The fact that a female elf had been able to conquer, win the heart and manipulate the same Empress of Orlais was actually quite shocking.

“It is, but it was good for us. I hope they can solve it... But be careful, miss: Briala has many spies in the shadows. And in this Palace. I would rather be her friend than her enemy,” she said before carrying on with her duties. 

She would have to report that information immediately.

     

 

***

 

“Dear cousin, how lovely of you to come by,” Empress Celene uttered ironically once the Grand Duke Gaspard got into the office where they would be holding the meeting. 

“Save me your comments, Celene, and let’s go straight to the point. Why have you killed my ambassador?”

Glenn observed how the Empress straightened her back, gaining in presence even sitting on the chair as she was. 

“Revenge, my dear. That would have been my reason if I had done it, but sadly, I didn’t. Perhaps you can explain to me why my own ambassador is dead, too?” She was getting furious with every syllable in her speech and Gaspard chuckled with sufficiency.

“Where is your elf friend? Was her name Briala? I’m sure she’s having a very good time with all this crap.” The Grand Duke knew that the elven woman probably had her hands dirty with the issue and Glenn took note to figure out who she was.

“Celene, I don’t want to take this into a proper war. My troops are ready to defeat you by force if necessary. I hope we don’t have to get to those terms.”

“I challenge you to do it, dear cousin,” she threatened him with a smirk. 

Glenn ran a hand over his ginger hair, trying to ease a more-than-sure headache. Maybe this wouldn’t be as simple as he had thought. “Well, now greetings have finished, let’s see if we can find a common baseline.”

 

***

 

“I have to go to the toilet, Cole,” Alyna said after an hour of total calmness and boring interactions in the area they were watching over. Not that there were a lot of guests in that part of the Palace either, considering that the party was next door. 

“I’ll be fine,” he said reading her mind. The healer had been instructed not to leave him alone, but it would be just five minutes… Even so, she had her doubts and glanced at him with a hint of hesitation. “I will. I won’t move from here. I promise,” he reiterated.

“Ok. I’ll be back in a minute. Be good.”

Cole nodded and leaned on the balustrade while Alyna turned around with a last warning look and left the hall towards the Ball. She found her way to the bathroom in one of the ground floor rooms. Toilets were never a very glamorous place, nor in Thedas and neither in the Winter Palace, but at least the heavily decorated partitions that separated them gave some privacy. Struggling with her dress due to the lack of habit, she washed her hands and got back into the party, waving in the distance to Varric, Josephine and Leliana, on the balcony of the main hall, before she spotted Bull on the next room. The qunari was sitting on one of the thoroughly decorated wooden benches while a cloud of ladies fluttered around him, giggling almost hysterically over the delicate sound of the music. And Bull looked… quite fed up, actually.

“What the heck are you laughing at?” he blurted out at her mocking smile.

“Are you having a good time, Bull?”

He scoffed and spoke in a whisper. “I’m starting to get tired of explaining that I’m with someone at the moment. If any of these… ladies … ask me to go to a quieter place again, I’m gonna get really mad!”

“Mmm… do you need backup, then? Should I call Dorian?”

The massive qunari sighed, still keeping his voice low. “For sure he’ll have a huge laugh out of this, so better not… This is definitely not my place. Just… look at them! They are so unnatural! I can’t even see what they have under that makeup mask. I would rather lay with an elven servant than with an Orlesian noble.”

“Well, I’ll keep that in mind next time I take you to a party, although you seem to be a little engaged now to be looking at servants,” the healer said in a teasing tone referring his relationship with the Tevene.

A smirk twisted on his lips and Alyna was sure he slightly blushed for the deepest grey tone on his cheeks. 

“Uhm! Is it that bad, then?” she asked in front of his reaction.

“It seems so,” he answered with a laugh and added with a sarcastic tone, “and speaking about bad crushes, I saw Solas in the next room, in case you want to pay a visit.”

It was Alyna’s turn to chuckle, shaking her head and sharing with him a complicit look. “Well, maybe I can take a detour!” she said with a bright smile.

The next room was packed and she had to make her way towards the other side dodging people in massive fluffy dresses and full-face masks. Some eyes raised to look and her ears, shifting then to the Inquisition symbol on her dress in a very unpleasant way. The healer spotted Solas at the back of the salon, leaning confidently on one of the huge statue pedestals and speaking with a young blonde woman in an elaborated Orlesian dress with an incredible resemblance to a meringue pie. The noblewoman interrupted the conversation abruptly when Alyna reached their side, ducking her head to greet both of them politely. 

“I’m really sorry to interrupt, Solas, but I was not expecting to find you here. And even less having so much fun,” Alyna said with a gentle smile in contrast with her ironic tone.

The mage scoffed with her words and his usual crooked smile appeared in his lips while the young human scanned her from head to toe with a sour face. Then, she turned around and disappeared, not before giving the elf one last mischievous look. They both followed her back while she blended into the crowd. 

“Mmm… I didn’t mean to scare her. I was hoping to practise my Orlesian a bit. Anyway, you seem to be enjoying the party.” She was clearly teasing him now. Not that she was jealous, but faking offence was fun sometimes. Very adequate for the setting, actually, according to the Court standards and the Orlesian ways. 

Solas’ answer was a sardonic smile before explaining, “I try not to catch attention, but is not very common for people of this social stratum to interact with apostate elves, even less if they are a part of the Inquisition,” he explained, adopting his usual lecturing posture with his hands clasped behind his back. “I believe we provoke curiosity, as well as disgust.”

“Well, you provoke curiosity and I, disgust, clearly: you only had to look at her face.”

Solas chuckled softly, shaking his head and the healer carried on with her teasing. “She was very interested in what you were saying, hahren . Should I be jealous?” she stepped forwards, bridging the distance in between them, perhaps a little closer than the protocol established for two Inquisition inner circle members in the Court of Orlais. Then, she also clasped her hands behind her back, copying his pose in a mocking attempt and looking up at him with sarcasm. 

Solas was able to smell her perfume at that short distance. Her lips were parted and tinted with the burgundy shade that was so popular in Orlais at the moment, creating a beautiful contrast with her silver eyes. Looking at her for a quiet moment he could only think on how thirsty he was for her lips, seriously considering ignoring the protocol and kissing her right there, getting drunk off each other until they were both willing to sneak out to find a quieter room to carry on with their encounter. That was also part of that Court game he knew pretty well in Arlathan but the setting was now different. And the situation too. He leaned forwards until both their breaths mingled, feeling her incredulity and anticipation, although he turned his face in the last moment, whispering in her ear instead, “I should be the one to feel jealous as you have attracted everyone’s interest once you stepped into this room. You look astonishing in that dress, but I can only think about stripping it off of you.” 

His tone was soft and velvety, just a purr in her ear but enough to turn her skin into goosebumps and feel liquid heat spreading in her body. He moved back, looking at her silver eyes intently, reading the lust on them. The pink colour had crept up to her cheeks again.

Touché , elf…” she sighed quietly, feeling her heart thumping in her chest and stepping back reluctantly. “It’s a shame we have so many eyes on us right now.”

“I know,” he admitted, partially recovering his steadiness, “but I hope at least you’ll pleasure me with a dance tonight. Perhaps once this is over.”

Alyna smiled and was about to reply something when the orchestra stopped playing, marking the first break and she realized all of a sudden that she had left a certain spirit for more than a while in the hall by himself. 

“Shit, Cole!” she exclaimed, leaving the room in a hurry to pick him up before reporting to Cullen.

 

***

 

“It’s been impossible. They have been throwing sharp knives at each other and I fear that this might end up in a civil war. We have to stop that. Has anyone heard anything about someone called Briala ?” Glenn asked during the first music halt. He had been able to join the inner circle to give them some briefing about the situation.

Alyna raised her head then, suddenly aware of her discovering. “Yes. She is the elven ambassador, but one of the servants explained to me that she also has a broad spy net in the Palace. The rumour says that she and the Empress were romantically involved.”

The Inquisitor made a thoughtful gesture before speaking. “I need to have a word with her. Gaspard suggested she is not very trustworthy but she might have something to say.”

“Well, this is the Court of Orlais. What would you expect?” Dorian commented with a smirk.

Suddenly, Cole’s gesture turned into a blank mask and looked at the vault with panic in his eyes. His body trembled in between Alyna and Varric and the dwarf turned to him with worry. “Kid! Kid, what’s wrong?”

His forehead was damp and he seemed to be horrified when he spoke. “They are screaming… suffering… We have to help!”

Glenn was suddenly thankful that they had their own private room for their meetings because this would have made a scene in the middle of the Ball.

“Who?” Varric asked, holding the Spirit’s hand to calm him down.

“Swords and blood… in the heart of the Palace… They suffer.”

“There can’t be weapons here,” Cullen affirmed with conviction and a knitted brown.

“Spirits don’t lie,” Solas replied dryly.

They looked at each other in confusion. Meanwhile, the Herald considered his options for a brief second. Solas was right: Cole had never lied before and he had the feeling that something bad would happen for sure.

“Alright, Alyna, Varric and Cassandra, go with Cole and find out what is going on. Don’t get into trouble: we are not armed. The Empress guards are right outside the Palace in case you need backup. Report to Cullen once you are done. I’m gonna find this Briala ,” he said, leaving the room, closely followed by Josephine while all the others went back to their positions.

Alyna turned towards the Spirit. “Where, Cole?”

He guided them without words out of the salon and across the main hall towards one of the small rooms on the corner, where a camouflaged door could be seen on the wall. 

“The servants quarters?” Cassandra asked with incredulity. “Why would they be involved in all this?”

Seeker , trust me: there are always loads of things going on in the Court,” Varric said distractedly, receiving a nod from Alyna in agreement with his statement. “It could be anything.”

“Ok… But we are not getting into trouble: just an exploration as the Inquisitor has said. If things get rough, use magic to cover our retreat,” she ended.

They all nodded their agreement and waited until no one was around to open the door. Steep stairs badly illuminated welcomed them on the other side.

“Have you noticed there were not any servants in the party at the moment?” Varric suddenly realized, earning a concerned gesture from his companions. He was right: all the silent elves that were moving around with trays of food and drinks had mysteriously disappeared.

Alyna led the descent, manoeuvring her skirt to keep it away from her steps. Magic was more complicated and unpredictable when no staves were involved in combat and required a huge amount of focus she would really have to gather.

They arrived into a kitchen. Waiting for their eyes to get used to the lack of light, the unmistakable ferrous smell of blood reached the healer’s nostrils.

“This is a kitchen… In the middle of a party. And it’s empty. Where is everyone?” Varric wondered.

They were exploring the place when Cassandra heard her own feet step into something wet. The Seeker looked at her feet to see a massive black puddle on the spotless light floor. “By Andraste…” she exclaimed getting out of the wet area, leaving dark footprints behind. “Guys… Is that…?”

Varric reached her side, also glancing at the puddle and the bulk that seemed to be in the middle of it: five dead bodies, one of them just a child. All of them belonged to elves. 

“Shit. This looks bad. Pretty bad. Alyna?” he called the healer, who had already figured out what was going on and had her hand on the doorknob leading to the inner garden with a concerned gesture. 

She opened the door only to discover, under the dim light of the moon, six more bodies scattered on the floor. She suppressed a shudder when she recognised in one of them the maid she had spoken to a few hours ago. She looked young, no more than twenty, and her face was contorted into a grimace, with her eyes wide open and fixed at the door, probably looking for an escape route. Her neck had been slit open from ear to ear: a terrible way to die. 

“There’s a dagger here…” Cole’s voice took her out of her mourning and turned around, leaving the door open for Cassandra and Varric to look outside, too. 

The dagger Cole was holding with his fingers was expensive and elaborated, more ceremonial than a combat one. The crest of the Grand Duke was visible on one of the sides despite the blood covering it.

“Well… shit. This is very twisted now. Gaspard killing elves? Why?” the dwarf asked.

Cassandra shook her head. “It hasn’t been the Grand Duke: he had been with the Inquisitor and the Empress the whole night. Perhaps his soldiers?” she asked with some hesitation.

“Why would they have this dagger? This is totally out of the budget of a soldier. A present perhaps?” the healer commented, estranged about the expensive blade. “Very stupid mistake to leave it here, though… If it was Gaspard… what did he pretend to accomplish by doing this?”

Cassandra shrugged. “You said Briala had spies. Perhaps he needed them dead.”

The healer was still shocked. It seemed like a really clumsy movement to do, considering the delicacy of the situation. “I don’t doubt he has reasons to, but isn’t this too obvious? And how did he get soldiers in the Ball?”

They were still discussing the scene when the door to the servant’s bedrooms slammed open and two figures attacked them with a cry that ricocheted in the quiet room, echoing everywhere. Cole had the exact time to fade jump before the two-handed mace one of them was swinging, impacted on the table he had been leaning on. The other soldier, a rogue with two daggers, appeared out of nowhere by Cassandra and tried to stab her, forcing Alyna to create a swift barrier to protect her. Even so, the Seeker fell on the ground with a scream. Before the rogue could attempt to stab again, the dwarf had situated himself behind him, and kicked him at the back of his legs, making him stumble in front of the Seeker, who reached for his hands to fight for the daggers’ control. Cole appeared then with a pan in his hand and hit the guy violently on the head with unbelievable strength, knocking him out. He banged his head on the kitchen counter before he dropped on the floor, motionless. Meanwhile, Alyna had been able to dodge a mace blow and focused her magic to cast a shadow sweep that disintegrated the warrior into dust.

“Well, that was unexpected,” Varric panted, standing up from the floor and lending a hand to Cassandra to help her.

“Is he alive?” the Seeker asked and Alyna kneeled by the knocked out man. After a quick touch on his neck, she shook her head. The healer took a closer look at the dead human and, to her surprise, she discovered a known emblem on his armour. 

“This man is a Venatori,” she informed, puzzled, looking up at her companions.

“What the hell is going on here?” Varric complained with a frown and Cassandra shifted her weight on her legs with nervousness with the discovering before jerking on her skirt to straighten it.

“How can Corypheus be behind all this?” the Seeker asked.

“Power, I suppose. And chaos. But, who is the one working for him?” Alyna asked. Suddenly, she realized that they should have tried to keep them alive for interrogation.      

Silence fell in the kitchen: while Cole looked at the garden blankly, Cassandra examined the Venatori and the dagger with Varric and Alyna glanced around pensively. 

“We have to tell the Commander and the Inquisitor. He must be speaking to Briala right now. And we need to inform the Palace guards,” Cassandra finally sighed, and all of them straightened themselves before going back to the Ball.

Chapter Text

The Inquisitor had been filled in during the second music break and reached the conclusion that it would have been impossible for any Venatori to get into the Palace unless they had received help from the inside. He found and informed Briala about the luck of the elves, confirming she actually had some of her spies infiltrated in the Palace, but also that someone had killed all the servants not minding about their age or sex or if they were spies or not. To Briala, finding Gaspard’s family dagger nearby one of the bodies was proof enough against him, but she admitted that she couldn’t picture him making deals with Venatori. The elf Ambassador confessed that she possessed information suggesting that Gaspard was planning to do a coup d’etat during the Ball, with his soldiers having already infiltrated themselves, and that the Empress herself was aware of it, but she couldn’t foresee his plans on killing the elves.   

The Herald also confronted the Grand Duke, showing him the dagger his inner circle found by the dead bodies of the slaves, but he denied any link or acknowledgement of the murders and reiterated he had no deals with Venatori, explaining that he must have been set up. “Why would I go to Corypheus for help? He wants to destroy the world, no matter what. My reasons are more much simpler: I want to reign in Orlais.” He admitted having sneaked soldiers and mercenaries into the Palace, though.

“And who is telling the truth? We can’t really trust one or the other...” Josephine sighed after the Inquisitor explained the situation to his advisers. 

“Well, we need proof. We can’t just pop in front of the Empress and throw a bunch of wild guesses concerning her ex-lover and her cousin,” Leliana added.

“Finding the dagger there… I don’t know. Doesn’t it seem too obvious? I mean, why would a mercenary have the Grand Duke family emblem on his blade?” Cullen’s deduction made perfect sense, but he was clearly siding with the Duke. 

“Yes, but if he had sneaked soldiers in the Palace and knowing his aversion to Briala, it would make perfect sense for him to throw an attack on her spies. It might have gotten out of hand, perhaps? It is heartless, but this is a war and there are many things at stake,” Leliana answered the Commander with coldness. “Whatever happened, we need proof before making a formal accusation.”

However, their meeting was interrupted by the Grand Duchess Florianne when she asked him for a dance. Leliana coughed softly next to him, inviting him to decline in front of the delicate situation they were holding, but Josephine glanced at her with an annoyed gesture: diplomatically speaking, he had to say yes to that dance. The Inquisitor seemed to take the hint, even if he was surprised by the invitation, and offered his hand to the Duchess with a bow and guided her to the dance floor: Glenn knew how to play this game and he was ready to show it off. He grabbed her delicate waist with softness while the string orchestra played the first chords of the piece, and Florianne smiled at him behind her mask. She was… well, seductive, and a clear wave of heated tension rushed in his veins when some thoughts he was not proud of popped into his mind. However, he could not lose time with such things and discarded them: he could not afford any distractions.

“I believe tonight you and I are both concerned by the actions of… a certain person. You are a nobleman yourself, Inquisitor. How much do you know about our little war?” she asked with a casual tone looking at him in the eye.

“Orlais’ war is Thedas’ war, milady.”

They span around the hall following the pace of the music with gracefulness. She had been right: he was an aristocrat, he knew how to handle a dance and the Orlais Game.

“It took a great effort to arrange tonight’s negotiations. Yet, one party would use these occasions for blackest treason. This meeting won’t take us anywhere. The security of the empire is at stake.”

How did she know…?

“Do we both want that, Lady Florianne?”

Florianne chuckled bitterly. She knew something for sure.

“I hope we are of one mind on this.”

“Well, in times like this is hard to tell friends from foe, is it not, your Grace?”

She was making herself quite obvious befriending him, but if Glenn knew something for sure it was that you can’t really trust anyone in the Court Game.

“I know you have been exploring the Palace. You are a curiosity to many, Inquisitor. And a matter of concern to some.”

“Am I the curiosity or the concern to you, your Grace?”

Her broad smile put him off guard. It was not a warm one, but a grin full of poison.

“A little of both, actually. Perhaps just another pawn… Do you even know who is friend and who is foe? Who in the Court can be trusted?

“An excellent question. I might ask the same of you, your Grace.”

Another poisonous smile wrinkled her eyes and twisted the tips of her lips. 

“You have little time. The attack will come soon. You must stop Gaspard before he strikes.”

It was true then: the Grand Duke was planning a coup d’etat. The Inquisitor held her hand to guide her in the last spin before leaning her back matching the end of the music.

“In the Royal Wing garden, you will find the captain of my brother’s mercenaries. He knows all his secrets,” she said, returning to her standing position and bowing in front of the Herald, marking the end of their interaction. 

Glenn watched her back while stepping away from the dance floor, wondering about her reasons for betraying her own brother. The truth was that she had a comfortable position at Court, as one of the Empress’ advisors. Would that be reason enough to give away her brother’s plan? He didn’t know of any ongoing confrontation between them; it just didn’t seem credible. 

He strode back to his advisors and informed them about the new information lead. No one was worthy of trust in that place and he was starting to grow tired of that whole stupid Court game.

“Cullen, I need a group to explore the Royal Wing: we’ve got a lead on the mercenaries and we can use that against Gaspard. It can be a trap. Be careful.”

The Commander nodded his head. “I’ll lead the group myself, Inquisitor.” 

“Good. We need proof against the Duke and Briala and I need to talk to him about the reason why his own sister would give him away.”

 

***

 

“No, and no again! I have no reason to have mercenaries in the Royal Wing as well as I have no reason to kill any bloody elf in this place!” the Duke barked in front of Glenn’s accusations. “I don’t know why my sister would say something as stupid as that. I was not aware that she was actually informed! She is clearly lying.”

“Ok, let’s not hurry in our suppositions, yet. Where are your men, Grand Duke?”

The man seemed quite uneasy and confused now and his gesture was concerned. The accusation from her sister… he couldn’t have ever imagined that she would set him up as she did. Something smelt fishy in her behaviour.

“I… They are positioned around the balcony for strategic leverage, with another group stationed by the main door and the last one in the gardens. They won’t attack unless they are told. But, once again, there is no one in the Royal Wing and I have no deal with Venatori! My cousin cannot know this, I beg you.”

His anger felt genuine and he had no reason to lie as he had actually given away his whole plan. He was actually begging for his silence and Glenn acceded to it for the time being. Josephine, Leliana and he made their way back to their improvised meeting room in the Palace.

“But, if what he says is true? Why would Florianne send us there?” Josephine asked.

It took Leliana less than one second to respond. “Because she is the one who has set up the trap.”     

“Shit… How long have they been gone?” the Inquisitor asked walking into the room in a rush with alarm. Bull, Dorian and Blackwall were missing, as well as Cullen: they must have sneaked in that part of the palace already.

“You mean the Commander? I don’t know… fifteen minutes?” Varric replied with a shrug. “Why?”

“It’s a trap. I’ll fill you in on our way there. Let’s go!” the Inquisitor hurried them.

 

***

 

The Iron Bull and Dorian had searched the bedrooms on the west side of the Wing without results and had found no opposition but empty beds. 

“I wouldn’t mind lying down for a little while,” Dorian told the qunari with a playful grin while sitting on the edge of the fluffy palace bed, stretching his legs and tapping the mattress next to him as an invitation for the qunari to sit next to him.

“Honestly, I’m looking forward to the moment we’ll get out of this Palace. This is definitely not for me, Dorian.” 

The mage chuckled with his confession. Truth be told, he was not actually enjoying himself as much as he should considering they all were there trying to avoid a war and Corypheus seemed to have his claws on it as well. 

“Oh, amatus . Come on. You are doing a great role, indeed, blending very well… More or less. I think the circumstances are not really helping,” he said, putting a hand on his leg and squeezing it softly. 

Bull sighed and put his hand on his. “Maybe.” He took a look around and fixed his eyes back on the mage. “Could this be the first time we are on a bed and we are not naked?” he asked with a cheeky smile, making Dorian laugh again.

They both stood up with promptness when they heard the hurried steps in the corridor and Cullen and Blackwall came in the room, clearly agitated.

“There’s a group of armed Venatori coming up the main stairs. A dozen or more. We have to get out of here,” Cullen explained with a low voice. 

“Wait, what?” Bull asked, bewildered.

“I don’t know, but this place is a death trap: there’s only one stairway. We have to find another way out.”

“Are we going to flee?” Bull asked with horror.

Cullen and Blackwall exchanged glances before looking back at the qunari. “Inquisitor’s orders: avoiding combat, especially if we are unarmed.” His tone was demanding and, even if Bull didn’t agree with the order, he complied with it.

Dorian spoke then. “I recall seeing a balcony in one of the other rooms. We can jump to the lower floor from there.”

“Good, lead the way and be vigilant.”

 

***

 

The Inquisitor and the rest of the inner circle had reached the garden area in the Royal Wing. Both Cassandra and he wielded old rusty blades they had borrowed from the weapon exhibition salon. They wouldn’t be able to stand more than three blows, but it was better than nothing. 

The place was utterly empty when they went into the building and even the music and the loud murmur of voices in the Ball had disappeared completely. The door opened with a soft creak and lead them to a richly decorated salon with sofas and a massive golden fireplace. The servants quarters and the kitchen were also on that floor and the Inquisitor found highly improbable that Cullen and the others were there. Otherwise, having the door at hand, they would have already made their way out. The stairs in front of them led to the first and second floors, where the aristocracy bedrooms were.

“Alyna, Cassandra and Varric, first floor. Solas, Cole and I will go to the second one. I want a quick sweep of the place. We’ll meet back here, at the bottom of the stairs. We are to find resistance, probably Venatori, so be careful. We count with the element of surprise here,” he said before leading the way up to the second floor, hoping it was not too late.

 

***

 

The first floor was unusually dark and quiet, but after a halt in the corridor, Cassandra, Varric and Alyna were able to perfectly hear the sound of rushed steps, doors opening and closing and even the metallic cling of armours. Cassandra moved forwards, protected by Alyna’s barrier and holding her blade on guard. They all had taken off their shoes to be as silent as they could and were sliding stealthily in the corridor, with their backs against the wall. It didn’t take them long to hear muffled voices in an open room and the Seeker peeked inside. With hand gestures, she explained there were three men in there, two on the left, one on the right.

“I’ve got the left,” the healer said making her way to the frontline. 

“We’ll get your back with the other,” Cassandra told her in a whisper. The healer nodded and sighed, concentrating and refocusing her magic, closing her eyes. 

Three heavily armed and armoured Venatori against a mage, a rogue and a warrior with an old blade. The tension was dense.

“One… two… and three!” Varric whispered, and Alyna kicked the door fully open. 

Everything then moved too fast. The three Venatori turned around at once and the healer cast a shadow sweep to her left. The black mist slid swiftly towards them, turning them into dust. She covered herself with a barrier while the other Venatori swung his sword over his head and rushed towards her, ready to attack. But Cassandra appeared then and hit the man with her sword. And the old sword shattered into pieces just with the contact on his armour. 

“Shit!” the Seeker muttered while the Venatori refocused his attention on her with a war cry. But Varric showed behind him and threw a blow to the back of his knee, making him fall. Cassandra took advantage of that moment of weakness to fight him for his blade while the healer protected her with a barrier. The seeker was finally able to snatch the sword from the man, sinking it in his chest. 

Their fight resounded on the empty corridor and it didn’t take long until they heard more footsteps running towards the room: more Venatori were coming. The healer refocused her mana with deep breaths and got ready to cast another sweep towards the door. The tension was thick. Two more armoured figures appeared. 

 

***

 

On the second floor, darkness and silence reigned. Cole, Solas and Glenn waited behind the corner for the three Venatori that were walking on the corridor, unaware of their presence there. It was a proper ambush. The element of surprise worked and one of them walked directly onto the fire mine that Solas had cast on their way, finding himself immediately covered in flames. The other two Venatori hurried to grab their swords, but Solas was able to neutralize one of them with pyromancy before he had time to attack, while Glenn thrust his blade towards the other one. His sword, just like Cassandra’s, shattered into pieces and fell on the floor with a metallic sound. 

“Oh, crap!” the Inquisitor said while dodging the blow the Venatori threw, still holding the broken hilt in a useless defensive position. Cole appeared from behind the Venatori and grabbed his head with his bare hands, pulling it back and exposing his neck under the helmet. The warrior struggled with fierceness, but Glenn understood the Spirit’s intentions and sunk the remains of his blade in his exposed throat. Cole let him go and the Venatori fell onto the floor with a gurgling sound.

 

***

 

The third door on their left led them to the small room with the balcony Dorian remembered, but they were soon discovered by one of the Venatori who raised the alarm, alerting the others. They heard a chaos of footsteps running in the corridor towards them before they slammed the door shut. Bull and Blackwall leaned against it, resisting the impacts of the Venatori trying to batter it down from outside. Cullen opened the balcony and studied the situation: it would be impossible for all of them to escape and Blackwall seemed to be reading the Commander’s mind while enduring the charges on the door.

“One of us has to get help,” the grey warden opined.

Cullen agreed and was about to send Dorian down the balcony, but he didn’t have time to give the order: the door broke into pieces and a sword thrust made Bull and Blackwall jump back to dodge it.

The three Venatori got into the room while Dorian rushed to cast barriers for all his companions while freezing one of the enemies at the same time, slowing down his advance. Blackwall and Bull made eye contact briefly before the qunari charged to headbutt another one, pushing him towards the wall behind and beating the hell out of him with his bare fists. Meanwhile, Cullen wrestled with another one, struggling for control of the sword the Venatori held. Blackwall had collected a piece of timber from the floor and was giving a good beating to the one Dorian had slowed down. 

They were on those terms when the mage shouted with alarm. “Oh! shit, oh shit, oh shit… There are two more coming in!” It was true: two more warriors came into the room, alerted by the fuss and the screaming. 

The Venatori Cullen was fighting with now laid limp on the floor, dead or unconscious because of the chokehold the Commander had gotten him into, and Bull had knocked his opponent down too. They both picked up their swords, ready to confront the new appearing enemies in a more balanced fight. Two new Venatori soldiers appeared in the room, but they were not expecting two of the best Inquisition warriors to confront them with blades and the combat didn’t last for long. Once all the enemies were eliminated, Blackwall had a black eye and Cullen’s lip was bleeding but Bull and Dorian were mostly untouched and helped their companions to stand up and get out of the room.

“We don’t know how many there are still in the building. We have to leave, now,” the Commander hurried them in a whisper, leading the march towards the stairs with quiet steps. He made them a gesture to stop at the next corner: everything around them was dark, but they were able to distinguish muffled footsteps in the corridor on their right. With another hand sign, the Commander ordered to wait: they had the element of surprise this time, but the other steps had also ceased nearly immediately. He was not giving their enemies, whoever they were, the time to set up an ambush, so he looked at his companions while counting down from three with his fingers. The quietness was deafening when he reached the zero and the three warriors and the mage charged with a fierce cry, turning the corner just to find there the bewildered face of the Inquisitor, Cole and Solas, who barely had time to dispel the fire mines he had cast on the corridor before any of the others stepped on them.

“No!” the Inquisitor shouted, raising his own borrowed sword to protect himself from the blades, the other companions freezing immediately, recognising the group. 

“Shit!” Cullen blurted out with his hand on the chest, trying to calm down his racing heart and his eyes wide open in surprise, dropping the sword. “What the hell...?”

“We came to the rescue. But I see you didn’t need any…”  Glenn explained still panting because of the startle. “Are you all alright?” 

“Yeah, I think so… more or less,” the Commander said wiping his nose with the back of his hand. Blackwall patted Bull’s and Dorian’s back with a relieved grin and Solas and Cole relaxed behind the Inquisitor. 

“Thanks for coming, anyway,” Dorian uttered from the dark, catching his breath. 

“Well, there were twelve more or less, as we saw before. Five of them are out in that room,” Cullen explained.

“And we had another three on the corridor, on the next turn. That makes eight.”

They all heard the no more cautious steps behind them and Alyna, Cassandra and Varric showed up on the stairs. 

“We had five more on the first floor. I suppose the others are here somewhere, am I right?” Cassandra asked getting closer to the group. A red mark crossed her jaw as if she had been punched right there, but Varric and Alyna seemed quite intact, too.

“Well, I’ve had enough of the Venatori for now. Time to go back to the party, then.”

Chapter Text

“Dear Florianne… Making deals with the Venatori is bad. Really bad,” the Inquisitor told the Grand Duchess on the balcony where they had met together with Gaspard, Celene and Briala. The Captain of the palace guards was also there, as well as Leliana, holding in her hand a carefully folded letter. 

“Your beloved cousin, my dear Empress, has worked under Corypheus’ command to sabotage this ball and the whole peace negotiations. I suspect she’s the one who ordered the assassination of the servants, trying to eliminate Briala’s spies. She also tried to send me and my inner circle to a trap in the Royal Wing where a group of Venatori attacking us.”

Celene studied him with a harsh gesture and her eyes paused on all the characters on the balcony, trying to understand the situation. 

“What were you doing in this private area of the Palace, Inquisitor?” she asked with arrogance.

“I was sent there by the Grand Duchess in order to gather proof against the Grand Duke Gaspard but, as you can see, things turned out quite differently.”

The Empress nodded her head, looking Florianne straight in the eyes. “You have sold me, then. To Corypheus. To chaos.” The harm her advisor had inflicted was noticeable in her words.

Florianne smirked with condescendence. “And I would do it again. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t bring enough of them to finish the Inquisitor. Things would have been so different… My master will be disappointed…” she explained with a sudden worry and a shiver. She had confessed, even if the evidence they had against her were more than enough to condemn her.

“Who killed my servants?” Empress Celene asked in a contained voice.

Florianne twisted a smile. “Servants and spies, all of them. I would be careful with who your lovers are, Celene. Don’t let the enemy move freely into your own house,” she said threatening, referring to herself and Celene’s ex-lover, Briala. 

“I think I have had more than enough of this. Take her to the dungeons.” 

“And that is not all, your Grace,” Glenn interrupted the silence again as two of the Palace guards immediately took her away. 

“We have found a group of Gaspard’s soldiers and mercenaries. One of them maintains they were hired to interrupt the celebration by orders of the Grand Duke, using force but without hurting anyone. It was meant to be a clean strike operation, but they never received the signal. He wants to make a former statement if it avoids him jail time. It was a coup d’État attempt, your Grace,” the Captain said. 

Celene glared at her cousin with a coldness that could have frozen him, but he held her glare with pride. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing… bringing soldiers and mercenaries into my house, planning to overthrow me… In the middle of the peace negotiations and our truce!” She spat hate with every word, even if her voice didn’t raise its volume at all.

“It was for the common good, Celene. Your empire is crumbling into pieces!”

“Well, it is clear for me that the Grand Duke has the military power to secure the stability. Perhaps, a cooperation agreement concerning the army would be convenient… given the proof we hold against you, Grand Duke. I don’t think exile is a better option.”

Glenn’s words were copied, word by word, from Leliana’s mouth. And the blackmailing attempt worked, considering the gesture Gaspard made at the mention of an exile. 

The Grand Duke sighed with resignation before speaking, finally giving in. “Fine. If my dear cousin agrees with your decision…”

Celene looked at the Herald with doubt, but he nodded his head slightly, reaffirming his words. 

“I can’t believe you will be working with him, Celene. He would harm the elven rights without hesitation!” Briala complained in front of the Empress, who was doing her best to keep her Orlesian figurative mask on at that point. 

“Perhaps there’s no other option than cooperation, my dear Ambassador Briala.” The Inquisitor handed the Empress the folded piece of paper Leliana held, with bloodstains on it. “We found a letter in one of the servant’s pockets. Orders that came directly from the Ambassador, demanding to monitor the Grand Duke Gaspard and their men tonight. She was aware of your cousin’s plan all this time, but didn’t say a word about it.”

Empress Celene’s eyes aimed daggers at the elf, who hardened her gesture, feeling exposed. “I didn’t mean any harm. I needed proof to expose Gaspard, as well as you did.” Her face radically changed and her features softened when she faced the Empress, speaking to her. “I still love you, Celene. I was just trying to help you with this matter.”

The Empress seemed doubtful for a minute in front of the revelation, and her heart won the battle to her head.

“I believe you, Briala. I… could do with your spy network once things are more settled. I truly could.” 

Gaspard snorted loudly next to Leliana, who hush him off. An alliance between the three factions was the most convenient outcome for the Inquisition’s plans: they would have to work together, faced with all the proof the inner circle had been able to gather during the ball. Proof that might cost them their positions and exile them forever if the collaboration failed. 

“Fair enough, then. The Inquisition will accept this bond and will provide assistance and support to Orlais as we did before. Thanks for tonight, my ladies. My lord,” Glenn said, ducking his head before leaving the salon followed closely by Leliana.

 

***

 

The healer had her blank stare fixed on the horizon, leaning on the balcony’s balustrade, and startled when she heard his voice.

“I thought you had left the party, already,” Solas said, entering the balcony where she was.

Alyna sighed with tiredness. “I just needed some air. I saw enough stupidity and innocent deaths for today, I think.” Solas noticed that her eyes were slightly moister than usual, although her lips had formed a thin smile with his presence. 

“Are you sure you are alright?” he wanted to know.

The healer wrinkled her nose, trying to play the gloominess down a little. “I’m just tired. I didn’t expect the ball ending as it did: murders, treasons, Corypheus… It doesn’t make any sense! This entire… Game … Let’s talk about something else, please.”

The elf leaned by her side in silence, thinking what to say. Finally, he smiled, cockily. “Do you know that the Orlesian lady came back to speak to me for a little longer? She was pretty surprised by the fact I was able to maintain a proper conversation with her, as she affirmed that all her servants looked at their feet every time she addressed them. She was also quite insistent in leaving the party together, to find a quieter place to chat.”

Alyna cocked an eyebrow and pulled an incredulous face, looking at his wolfish grin, still not believing what he had just said. “Wow, Solas. You really know how to cheer up a girl,” she joked. “Besides, she’s just a da’len: she could perfectly be your daughter!” Her outrage was faked, but she was playing indignant, teasing him. 

The mage laughed loudly and grabbed her hand, pulling her closer. Once she was leaning against his body, he slid his hands on the small of her back, entwining his fingers there. “Are you jealous, vhenan? Is that a subtle reproach echoing in my ears?”

She pulled a face and answered with wittiness, “it is a subtle reproach, warning you to pick on your-same-age someone next time, hahren .”

“Well, in that case, I don’t think I would be able to pick on you either, vhenan. Are you sure that’s what you want?” he asked, dropping a chaste kiss on her forehead.

A wave of pure pleasure ran through her body with the kiss: the elf had imbued it with magic and made her shiver with the sensation. Alyna bit her lower lip, letting out a soft moan, her silver eyes fixed on his violet-grey ones. 

“Sometimes you are so cruel…” she managed to say, wriggling to get away from his grip, all in vain, making his smile wider.

“And you are a unique spirit, vhenan. Never in a whole life would I be able to find anyone remotely comparable to you,” he said, accompanying his words with a caress on her cheek, looking intently into her eyes.

Alyna smiled briefly and skipped a heartbeat when she realized the torrent of feelings that was about to escape from her lips. But she stopped herself from going any further with her words. And Solas changed the subject, then, breaking the silence.  

“You promised me a dance before the ball finishes, remember?” he asked her then, adopting the typical Orlesian dance invitation posture, lending her a hand, with the other behind his back.  

And she chuckled, the moment of confession already broken. “You are right. How could I have forgotten?” she uttered, grabbing the offered hand.

The last song the orchestra played was an orlesian waltz which Solas led with gracefulness, nearly in an old-fashioned way. 

“I never thought you would be such a good dancer...” the healer mentioned with amazement, and the elf grinned without words, focusing back on the steps.

When the piece ended, they both stepped back with a small bow and a meaningful smile before Solas saw the healer looking over his shoulder, straight to the door behind him, knitting her brows, puzzled. A faint cough made him turn around to face the intruder.

“I’m really sorry to bother you. I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Josephine excused herself from the doorway with a cheeky tone, hiding her diversion and her surprise with mastery. “The Herald asked me to tell you that we will be spending the night in the Palace. The Empress has arranged a late dinner for us in the Guests Wing. I just came here to guide you there.” 

The meaningful glance exchanged between the Ambassador and Alyna spoke by itself. 

“Good. Thanks, Josie,” the healer said with sharp irony, and her friend pulled a face as an answer, looking at Solas discreetly and cocking an eyebrow in an interrogative gesture. 

The mage sighed with resignation. “I don’t know for how long you’ve been there, Josephine, but it would be better to go with the others before we have to explain this to anyone else,” Solas said with a thin smile but a formal gesture in front of the other advisor, feeling somehow uncovered.

He let Alyna go first, walking side by side with the Ambassador who elbowed her as a reproach for keeping that little secret hidden from her. Solas just shook his head and followed them. 

 

***

 

The dinner was not as sumptuous, nor as elegant as they could have expected from the Winter Palace, but it was food in the end, and they were all starving. Everything was delicious, and they had the opportunity to wash it down with Nevarran pale ale and red wine from Orlais, which raised the spirits of the group after a very long and difficult evening.

“I cannot remember the last time I had a Nevarran beer. I thought your people didn’t export anymore,” Varric commented to Cassandra, who shrugged her shoulders with indifference.

“I’ve got no idea… My family told me it was a good harvest year. Perhaps it is just the surplus…?”

“Or perhaps Orlais has enough money to dry up the whole Nevarra, buying all its beer,” Dorian added with a smirk.

That could be perfectly plausible, too.

Cole had made the huge mistake of telling the Iron Bull that, during the Ball, a human girl had flirted with him… or that was what he thought. Bull immediately felt an odd interest in knowing more about the sexual experience of the Spirit in the real world

“Sooo… Cole. How many girls have you kissed?” the qunari wanted to know.

He furrowed his brow with bewilderment as if what Bull said was totally alien to him. “Do you mean that thing of smashing the lips together?”

“That’s it! Kind of. That would be a starting point… I don’t think we would be able to go any further…” he said, addressing the healer, who shook her head with disapproval in front of his interrogatory. “So, number?”

“There was this time… She longed the contact… very ill and alone. Not much time left…” the Spirit began to recall.

“Ok, ok. That’s enough. It sounds depressing and terribly wrong. I don’t want to listen to it. I mean a kiss, a proper real kiss,” Bull carried on.

“I suppose never, then,” he admitted, making the qunari shake his head with pity.

“Bull… Spirits don’t work the same way that you and I do. How many times do I have to say it?” the healer insisted with patience.

“Ok, kiss him,” the qunari told her.

“What?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.

“What?” Cole repeated, baffled.

“Kiss him! A simple kiss. Lips against lips, no tongue involved. Unless you like men, Cole. I can help you with that. What do you prefer?”

Cole seemed as inexpressive as always and the healer doubted he was properly following what was going on. “I don’t know… I don’t mind… Is all the same in the end. Skin, caresses and warmness. Is that his tongue? I can’t believe it is his tongue… How daring! I have to tell him to shave… he’s raspy… And the horns…” he uttered, once more out of context, but with his eyes fixed on Dorian, who had dropped his jaw totally puzzled, recognising his thoughts of one of the first times Bull and him made out. He glanced at the qunari who looked utterly amused and fully satisfied at the moment.

“You know what, Cole… We are gonna leave it for now. We have enough information,” the healer said with a funny face, tapping Dorian’s back who had, incredibly, blushed slightly.

The Inquisitor was sitting at the head of the table together with Cullen, Josephine, Leliana and Solas, and conversed about the events of the Ball.

“I think is the best that could have happened, honestly. Celene has always been keen on working with the Inquisition but Gaspard would complement her power with his military forces,” Leliana opined. “We’ll have him dancing to our music with the evidence we have gathered. I’m only uneasy about this Briala…”

“Well, it's only a matter of time before we discover where her loyalties are,” Cullen opined. A little shake to the hand he was holding his glass with made him put it back on the table. Then, he used the back of the other hand to dry his damp forehead with craftiness. Noticing his state, Josephine glanced at him in a silent question. 

“Cullen, are you all right?” Leliana asked him.

“Yes, I am,” he said in a husky voice, his hand digging in a small fabric bag on his belt under Glenn’s and Solas’ attentive looks.

The Inquisitor continued the conversation with Leliana as if nothing happened and all the eyes moved away from the Commander’s movements. All except Alyna’s, sitting nearly in front of him. The healer watched how the human struggled with his trembling to get a small flask out from the bag. Then, he poured the liquid into his glass and sipped it, realizing Alyna’s inquisitive gaze.

“I… quit lyrium. Again,” he mentioned to her, meeting her eyes without any previous question, making all the advisors stop their chatting to look at him, although neither Josephine nor the Inquisitor looked surprised by the revelation. 

After their return from the Western Approach, Glenn had asked him what was going on and Cullen had to confess: he had quit lyrium once more and was being treated for his withdrawal syndrome. He had admitted he suffered from mood swings and had a really thin skin with anything related to Alyna, including her recent interest in a certain apostate. The Commander was perfectly aware that his behaviour hadn’t been adequate: the abstinence had amplified his aggressiveness and jealousy, making it irrational and unbearable, leading to occasional outbursts.

“I don’t know what I was hoping for. Perhaps that there would still be something between us… But I abandoned her. And it’s been two years…. Of course, she’s moved on. I’m a fool,” he confessed to Glenn.

“I’m sorry, Cullen, but life goes on. And, as people say, there are other fish in the sea. ” The Herald reiterated how proud he was about his decision to quit lyrium although he hoped it wouldn’t interfere with his professionalism.

Back in the Winter Palace, Cullen finished off the content of his glass and smiled, uncomfortably, lowering his gaze. They all noticed that he was reticent to say the next words, “I hope this will be the last time. You may have noticed that my behaviour has been… unpredictable and moody… aggressive sometimes. I’m sorry if you have been struck by it.”

There were some seconds of quietness where Solas, Alyna and Leliana processed his words. Nor Solas or Leliana changed the serious expressions on their faces, but Alyna’s softened.

“Are you ok?” she wanted to know, making him raise his eyes to meet hers.

“I’m better. And I hope to be ok. I’m sorry. Also, there’s this new drug,” he said lifting the small flask, “and it’s working for now.”

The healer smiled thinly. That was not an excuse for his behaviour. Not even by far. But it could be an extenuating circumstance. She was happy for him and about his decision.

“I forgot! I had another piece of news for you before we go to bed! The Empress will send an advisor mage as a liaison to the Inquisition. Her name is Morrigan and she’ll depart tomorrow towards Skyhold,” the Herald informed the whole group.

“Are we going to have a spy in our den?” Blackwall asked with irony.

“It seems so. She doesn’t seem to be the fighting type, rather than advising, so she’ll be part of the board too,” Leliana added with a disdain gesture, declaring her disagreement and disgust at the decision.

“Well, well… everything would be fine in the end…” Blackwall stuttered with red cheeks, no doubt effect of the wine.

“It seems to me that our dear basalit-an is drunk!” Bull exclaimed loud enough for Blackwall to hear him.

“A little drunk, perhaps,” the grey warden said with a wide grin on his face, “and I think I should be going to bed… if you excuse me…” he ended, stumbling on the chair before being able to stand up, and Varric had to grab his arm to stabilize him. Then, he disappeared slowly in one of the corridors, being followed by the amused looks of Bull, the dwarf and Dorian.

“I think we might need to tell him which room is his… because he’s walking the opposite way,” the tevene commented with a chuckle.

“You are terrible, Dorian… Just let him have a little fun. He’ll be fine,” Varric told him.

But Cole became suddenly serious. “He’s lost.” 

The other three burst in laughter.

Alyna lost the thread of the conversation she was holding with Leliana and Josephine and her eyes lingered, tired and distracted, towards Solas. The mage had one of his arms resting on the table, his slender fingers fiddling with a napkin, and conversed seriously but animatedly with the Herald and Cullen. The silver top button of his tunic was undone and the healer involuntarily admired the sharp perfection of his jawline and chin. She did really want to kiss his dimple. A simple and innocent kiss, without caring if they were in front of anyone else.

She was not very good at remembering important dates but she was able to recall that it was exactly seven months ago when Varric, Cassandra and the apostate had knocked on her door in Redcliffe, carrying a half-dead Inquisitor with them. “Seven months already,” she thought, her eyes still roaming over his perfect elven features. Alyna was sure about her feelings for him, but their balance of whatever they had was perfect as it was: they had no labels or obligations and, even so, they reached for each other every time they had the chance to do so, enjoying every moment together. 

She had been about to speak the words on the balcony not long ago, but she didn’t want to dispel the sensation of freedom and the mutual understanding of their affair, finding excuses to justify the little voice in the back of her head that warned her about the most stupid little things. “He’s older than you… Obstinate and stuck-up sometimes… And certainly visceral… a little aggressive, perhaps… And there is something in his past... Something he doesn’t want to tell you but he’s clearly hurt about it…” 

The healer only knew a few bits and pieces about his previous life, but she definitely knew much more than any of their companions. And there was also that strange rightness feeling as if she belonged with him. Together. Even since they met.

Still immersed in her daydreaming, she noticed how one tip of his lips twisted up in a crooked grin and the wrinkle that gesture formed by his nose. Alyna looked up lazily, finding his violet-grey eyes fixed on her. His acknowledgement of her staring pulled her off from her self-absorption and she smiled back at him before he carried on with his conversation. 

I love him,” she thought.

Chapter Text

“I don’t think I get it…” Morrigan told the healer, following her around the clinic while she checked on her patients, “if Cole, or… Compassion… whatever… gives you his power for healing… what would happen if he stopped doing it?”

Alyna looked at the human mage, the Court of Orlais’ liaison to the Inquisition, with a tired gesture. Without stopping what she was doing, applying a healing spell to the fractured arm of a five-year-old child, she replied, “I would need to redistribute my magic, I guess… which would make me less powerful in the arcane.”

“And for how long has this spirit been feeding you with his power?” 

Morrigan always looked and sounded smug and self-important and, even if Alyna could perceive that she was making an effort to be friendly, her tone and gesture gave away her lack of empathy. The healer finished her spellwork on the child without giving her an answer. The little boy still had tears rolling down his dirty cheeks and she gave him some comforting words and a caress to calm him down, before cleaning his face with a wet wipe. While wrapping his arm, and being quite aware of Morrigan’s impatience, clearly visible in the way she crossed her arms and tapped her right foot on the floor tiles, she explained, “I’m not sure, Morrigan… Perhaps nine or ten… It was right before leaving the clan… Probably ten years ago.” She was perfectly able to recall the date, although she didn’t have any interest in sharing that data with her: it would perhaps lead to more questions.

“Uhm…” Somehow, Morrigan knew there was more to the story behind her dodging efforts, but she stopped herself from asking any further and diverted her interest to another topic. “Fade magic has never been my preference, and I think your magic and Solas’ are very… rustic… Elvish perhaps. But interesting. But you would be so much more powerful with blood magic… have you ever thought of trying it?”

Of course she did, and of course, she had tried it. A long time ago, though. Not that it worked for her, as it interfered with the Fade magic, but those were details the witch shouldn’t know, so the healer shook her head, “No… It would break my connection with Compassion and the Fade… I don’t think it's worth the try.”

Morrigan nodded, sceptical, observing the healer’s movements in the clinic with interest. Alyna was not really aware of how powerful her interlocutor was, as she seemed to be very good at concealing her own powers, just like any other apostate mage. She had refused to help the Inquisition in any fighting issue, merely providing as a wisdom consultant, as she called herself. Her aim was to gather all the knowledge that could be useful for Orlais, although the healer was sure that she meant herself rather than the Empire. Morrigan seemed to be versed in that type of ancient magic that is not practised in Thedas anymore as well as mythology and folklore. She could already hear the clashes she would surely have with Solas.

They spent a couple of minutes quietly, during which Alyna wrapped the boy’s arm, comforting him with a cuddle, and walked to the next bed where a young girl sneezed and coughed loudly. Morrigan spoke again, then. “Why this, Alyna? You could be in a more important position… somewhere better,” she said with a furrowed brow, pointing around.

Alyna sighed, tired out: Glenn had asked them all to be welcoming with the Orlesian liaison, it didn’t matter how impertinent she was. 

“I’m perfectly fine as I am, Morrigan, but thanks for your concern, anyway. If I ever decide to go to the Court of Orlais again I will let you know,” she said with irony, taking care in remarking the important words in the sentence.

The human laughed dryly in response. “I wish I had discovered you a few years ago… six or seven… You seemed to be quite interesting, I would have loved being your friend back then.”

The healer showed her a crooked grin full of irony, thinking that she might have been right… five years ago for sure, they would have gotten along. Morrigan left the infirmary without saying goodbye, but not before applying a meticulous cleaning spell to her hands. The healer wondered why she had Glenn so captivated… literally eating from the palm of her hand. For sure the physique helped on that.

After examining the young girl and providing her with syrup for her temperature and a routine of vapours with eucalyptus essence, she said her goodbyes to the other healers and left for the tavern, where she was to meet some of the other inner circle members to catch up. The Inquisitor had summoned them all that midday to inform them that they would be departing for Adamant next day.  As a common agreement, and to carry on with the tradition, they had decided to meet at the tavern the evening before the trip. 

And, as always happened in Skyhold, the tavern was crowded, full of people looking for the warmth of the place, the soft music and the warm spiced wine and cider.  It didn’t take long to find her companions in the middle of the hall, as they were the largest and loudest table without any kind of doubt. She ordered a drink and sat between Sera and Varric, ready to tell them about the visit she had dealt with at the infirmary. 

“I think she’s treacherous… like a viper that eats food from your hand but doesn’t hesitate in biting you after,” Varric gave his opinion when she finished telling them about Morrigan.

They all laughed with the description that was, actually, quite accurate. 

“Oh, come on! But you have to admit that she’s stylish… I expected so, coming from Orlais…” Dorian added.

“Stylish?” Cassandra replied with irony. “If by stylish you mean walking around showing off her boobs, I suppose you are right… What that mage really needs is an armour and to stop wandering around naked.” 

“Cassie, don’t be so prudish! Let her delight our eyes a little bit” Bull joked and Dorian gave him a reproach glare and a slap on his shoulder, making the qunari laugh. “Oh, silly mage… you know I only have eyes for you,” Bull said, grabbing an indignant Dorian by his chin, lifting his face to kiss him.

Alyna smiled at the action, as they never held back with their public affections. They were very sweet.

“Uuugh! Go to a hotel!” Sera screamed at them both with a fake disgusted face. A face that changed into a serious gesture when she seemed to recall something important all of a sudden. “Wait a bloody minute! Now we are with filthy things… How dare you!?” She turned to Alyna, with a finger pointing at her chest, accusatory. “How dare you not to say a word about him to me?!” Sera had been that loud that all the tables around were now following their conversation.

The healer stared at her with blown-up eyes, puzzled at first and not understanding her outburst, although she put two and two together with ease, realizing she was talking about her and Solas.  “I don’t know what you mean…” she said with a witty tone, evasive on purpose, bothering the archer even further. 

“He’s got his head full of ancient crap… And two elves together? Seriously, what a lack of originality! A qunari is fine… even a dwarf… but an elf??? AND HE IS SO OLD!!!” Sera blurted out, bouncing in her chair, catching everyone’s attention. 

Alyna burst into laughter and all the other’s did their best to contain themselves. Definitely, discretion was something that was not possible in Skyhold. 

“He’s not that old…” she played the indignant card. “And, what if he is old? I do like old... Wait a minute... how on earth did you know who I am with?” she asked, narrowing her eyes in suspicion, as the archer had been away for the last few months and there was no way she could have known. Unless…

“This place is worse than Tevinter’s Court, my dear…” Dorian winked at her.

“You have played it very well… very well hidden, I have to admit. But I have spies everywhere, elf… I would never give out my informant, of course! Not that Josephine had been telling everyone your dirty little secret during the dance at the Winter Palace… Actually, I had to get her really drunk to make her talk, trust me.”

“Josephine… of course…” Alyna thought. It was the most plausible option. She was not bothered at all and didn’t mind if they knew that she and the elf were together... Although they had never defined if they were together, indeed. 

“I’m sorry, Sera. I should have told you a while ago, but as you have been busy with Jenny…” Alyna said, shrugging. Sera was not her best friend, not by far, but it was true that they had gotten along and had some really funny moments together.

“But everything makes sense now… that’s why you rejected me and my charms… I bet you are still wanting me secretly…” she carried on. “I knew you had something going on, but I would never have thought it would be Solas! Andraste’s tits… I bet he calls you elven glory in bed, or something like that! Uffff...”

Now it was Alyna’s turn to slap the archer’s arm and the bonkers elf nearly fell off the chair in laughter. Varric, Dorian and Bull joined in with the joy while Cassandra did her best to conceal her grin, as she was the one facing the tavern’s door. 

“Well, speaking about the devil….” Varric said, lifting his pitcher to greet Solas, who had just entered the tavern.

Elven glory, Sera? Seriously?” he said, dragging a stool to sit next to Alyna, looking at the archer with a deep frown. 

Their relationship had never been the best: to Sera, Solas represented the moderation, the tradition and the old stuff and silly things of the elders. To Solas, Sera was just crazy. However, he had to admit that their ideology agreed on more points than it dissent: they both rejected the Dalish traditions, were rebellious against the slavery in Tevinter and they also were both quite critical and sceptical about elven gods. Sera was a revolutionary and her group of Red Jennies showed it on a small scale. But he had to stay in his role, even if secretly proud of the crazy elf.  

“What? Do you mean that you don’t do it? Don’t lie to me, Solas. Of course, you do… Oh! Shit! I’m visualizing it now! Stop! Get it out of my head!”

The elf shook his head, giving up on reasoning with her: he had decided long ago that it wasn't worth his time or his efforts anymore. He sat by the healer, giving her a shooting smile.

“Hey, Chuckles! Any news from the high command?” Varric greeted him. 

Solas breathed in deeply and, breaking his usual content and cautious self spoke with honesty. “Morrigan… is so… arrogant. I wonder what is she doing here.” There was a sharp exasperated tone underlying his words. 

“You see? Now you feel as I feel every time I speak to you…” Sera carried on with her teasing, and Solas pinned her in the chair with a frozen violet stare.

“I’m sorry to say that you are late for the topic regarding Morrigan: we have milked it during the afternoon,” Alyna told him. 

“But we’re always keen on carrying on with the bitching. Tell us what happened!” Dorian said, leaning forward on the table. 

Alyna gazed at the elven mage, sitting next to her. He looked quite… fed up, perhaps? He was very good at hiding strong emotions under his mask of self-restraint, making him difficult to read, although she was getting better at it.

“She’s just obsessed with studying and recovering some elvhen artefacts… the Eluvians. She thinks Corypheus will use them to defeat the Inquisition...”

“And what do you think, Solas?” Cassandra asked. 

“I think that she’s utterly wrong. And the issue is that she’s also misleading the Inquisitor, diverting his attention towards those devices that we don’t even know if they exist anymore...”

“I’ve never heard about them…” Varric admitted. “Are they useful? And why are you so sure he’s not after them?”

Solas took a couple of seconds to answer, looking thoughtful. “The Eluvians are… like magic portals that connect different geographic spots. In Elvhenan, they were used to travel instead of normal roads: an immediate trip to everywhere you could imagine.”

“That sound useful,” the qunari opined, gaining an approval nod from Cassandra and Varric.

“They were,” Solas agreed, “but it is uncertain that they still exist. Even so, the lack of knowledge about how to use them turns them into a pointless digression. The problem is that she’s dragged the Inquisitor in her opinions: Glenn is now obstinately convinced that we have to find the one she seeks... I found his stubbornness that suspicious, that I even used a magic detection spell, just to make sure she was not using any type of casting on him.”

“Obviously, nothing to be found,” Dorian said.

“Obviously…” Solas admitted after a deep breath out. Morrigan’s obsession with the Eluvians could be a new obstacle to overcome, as he was not expecting anyone to take part in the search of these artefacts, apart of himself, of course.  

“How odd… I would never think of Glenn as someone that makes his choices thinking with his… well, you know...” Dorian said.

“Willy?” Sera added.

“Yes… thanks, Sera, that’s the word,” the tevene ironized.

“Hawke was in the board, too,” Solas informed, changing the topic. “He has departed this afternoon towards Adamant.”

Cassandra knitted her brow but didn’t say a word. The Champion of Kirkwall had shown himself reliable and skilful and that was why she had decided to be more flexible with her approach towards the matter. 

“Adamant at last! Get ready to fight!” Bull exclaimed, full of joy.

“You didn’t end up very well after the last one, amatus… I would be careful,” Dorian reminded him. 

“Qunari injuries heal fast,” he replied swiftly.

“Thanks to me, you mean?” the healer added with a smug smile.

 “I don’t know what will happen with the Grey Wardens once this finishes… Has Glenn said anything about his plans with them?” Cassandra asked Solas.

“Not really… Although he’s considering the option of forgiveness if they subdue to the Inquisition,” the mage explained.

“That is…” Varric couldn’t help his disgust face. “I don’t even know what to think anymore…” he gave up, making everyone aware of his opinion opposing the Inquisitor’s will. 

“After all that happened, how can he even consider that option? By Andraste, they are helping Corypheus!” the Seeker exclaimed, puzzled and as indignant as Varric was.

“Booooriiiiing!” Sera spoke aloud, rolling her eyes. 

“Quite the opposite! I think forgiveness is the wisest choice to make… Besides, they’re being manipulated and the Inquisition could really do with their great war experience,” the Iron Bull was the only one siding with the Inquisitor and Dorian joined him after, nodding his approval.

“And what if this happens again? How can we be sure that they won’t be tricked again? I think they are corrupted, even if unaware of it… They are not trustworthy anymore,” the healer opined. 

“Whatever happens, it won’t be our decision to make,” Solas explained. “The Inquisitor has made quite clear that the last word about this matter would be his.”

 

***

 

Solas closed the tavern door after her, leaving behind the loud blending of voices and music and the yellow light of the candles. The night was clear and starry, but there was no moon to be seen and everything was quite dark around them. When he turned towards the path to resume his steps, the mage bumped into the healer, who was facing him and on her tiptoes to be able to reach his lips. She kissed him slowly, circling his neck with her arms, and Solas couldn’t help but answer the kiss back, feeling the delightful warmness and softness of her skin on his. The tips of Alyna’s lips turned upwards into a smile, as she was aware she had caught him by surprise and she was still smiling when he pulled back. 

“Solas, I think now that everyone knows our little secret, we won’t have any more problems to get a tent for ourselves the next time we go on a mission,” she joked, cocking an eyebrow playfully. 

Solas twisted a smile in response. “There’s still Blackwall left and you know how we, elder people, are within this type of matters… tradition is everything!” he followed her teasing. She scoffed at the words, as she had never considered the mage as old as the ex-Grey Warden was, but it’s true that their ages shouldn’t be that different. Anyway, even if not actually being a rule, couples usually avoided sleeping together as in a non-spoken norm: pointless and stupid, if any of them had to be asked.  

“Oh, you are right, hahren … Better we confine ourselves to Skyhold quarters and carry on sleeping chastely in different tents since I don’t want to be worried about your health. Or Blackwall’s, if he came to know about us,” she uttered with a mocking tone, raising back on her tiptoes to kiss him once more.

Solas chuckled again and caressed the back of her neck and her scalp the way he knew she liked, giving her goosebumps. His next action was to fist her hair softly, tilting her head back to have better access to her mouth, kissing her again, his tongue teasing hers this time. 

She was seductive: her words, her actions, her teasing… He would not grow tired of their conversations, or any of their moments together anytime soon.  

“We are to depart tomorrow, vhenan … And who knows how many days we would be away, sleeping on the hard bedrolls over the coldness of the stone. I would like to feel your naked body against mine today, vhenan,” he whispered in her ear, very much aware of the effects his words had on her. “To taste your skin…” 

But he didn’t get to finish before Alyna had pulled him back into a hungry kiss. Solas circled her waist with his arms and pressed his body against hers. The healer rocked her hips in response with a quiet moan coming from her throat, feeling his excitement growing against her belly.  

As if it was not clear enough for their actions, the healer spoke the words. “Does that mean you want me in your quarters today, hahren ?” 

 

***

 

They walked backwards in his bedroom while kissing fiercely, and bumped into the table knocking down a vase with fresh flowers that fell, shattering into pieces with a loud noise and interrupting the quietness of the night in Skyhold. Both elves startled at the sound and stopped their kissing with a burst of muffled laughter. She looked at Solas’ expression, at how different he looked when away from his usual seriousness or his crooked grin: this had been a real proper laugh and that was precious and scarce.  

The elf caught her in the middle of her stare, as he usually did, and ran a thumb over her cheek in a gentle caress, his violet eyes locked on hers. And he thought of how much he would like to lose himself in those eyes forever. 

Touch her. Breathe her. Be with her. 

When he kissed her lips again, he wondered when exactly she had gotten that deep under his skin. How stealthily she had moved from someone he was attracted to, to someone he cared about, to someone he actually…

Her back against the wall of his bedroom took him out of his worries. Because that was what she was for him: a worry. Alyna arched her body towards him, inviting him to remove her clothes. And, obviously, he obliged, freeing her of her shirt and her breastband with expertise, his slender fingers lingering over her neck, her chest and all the way down to her breasts. She moaned when he reached her nipples, beading under his cold touch, and the mage slid his hand further down over her abs and into the waistband of her leggings. 

Solas was lost in her, drunk on her sounds and her scent when he began to caress her under her clothes, her breath already turning raggedy. “ Vhenan … you are so wet… Is this my doing?” he asked with a low purr right in her ear before nipping her lobe, going all the way down to her soft neck.

He had so many secrets… And a mission in which weaknesses or failures were not an option. He would make enemies that would find out all his secrets in order to hurt him. To defeat him… But it was too late. Fen’Harel became perfectly conscious that he had fallen: he had lost his first battle in Thedas at the hands of a modern elf… A shemlen elf. 

He suddenly stopped himself, retrieving his hand and gaining a reprobatory moan from the healer as a complaint. But he wanted her there, right on the edge. The mage took his shirt off, leaving the wolf pendant around his neck as a reminder that control could not be given up completely. Not even then, as he was still to decide what to do regarding her. Regarding them.  

Solas grabbed the back of her thighs and lifted her from the floor, kissing her again and walking towards the bed. The healer circled his shoulders with her arms and anchored her legs on his hips. Even with the small margin of movement she had, she managed to rock her hips over his length, throwing a bolt of pleasure into his guts and making him shudder. 

If they had been in Arlathan, he would have peeled off the clothes of her body slowly, one at a time in an interminable but exciting game. He wouldn’t have touched her skin at all; not during the first hours: Solas would have used his magic to caress her, to excite her and bring her to her climax many times before he even thought about sliding a hand over her body. They would have made love for days. Weeks perhaps, as immortality completely distorted the concept of time that people in modern Thedas had. 

But things were different there, as he had gotten the chance to confirm many times before.

He laid Alyna on his bed and freed himself of her embrace to remove her leggings off, shoving them to the other corner of the room in real need.

“Someone's eager...” she muttered, her voice husky and lewd, oblivious to the elf’s worries and his internal conflict. 

“I assume I’m not the only one,” Solas said looking at her reactions to him while removing his trousers and climbing on top of her, leaving a path of kisses and nips all over her body from her knees to her lips.

Alyna parted her legs for him and the elf settled in between them, the wolf pendant biting both their chests when he rested his body on hers. 

“I want you…” the healer whispered that close to his mouth that could feel her soft lips forming the words.

Solas… Fen’Harel… he wanted her too… And he loved her.

The elf grabbed her hips and rocked his, finding her entrance with ease. The sound she made when he entered her was enough to set his body on fire.

“You are a wonder, Alyna,” he purred, thrusting slowly and deeply into her, leaving his heavy breath on the crook of her neck.

Chapter Text

The Adamant fortress was located in the very edge of the Abyssal Rift, in the Western Approach. It once belonged to the Grey Wardens who protected Orlais from the darkspawn that emanated from the chasm under the fortress. But with the passing of the years, the enclave was abandoned as the remaining Grey Wardens pulled back to their headquarters in Montsimmard. Currently, the place was neglected and deserted but there had been reports of faint lights at night time in some of the windows that had caught the eye of some travellers. Alarmed by the news from the Approach, Hawke was able to discover that a detachment of Wardens, with Commander Clarel at the front, had returned to the fortress with not-known intentions.   

Even if abandoned, the place was still highly fortified and more than ready to endure a siege, a matter that worried the Inquisitor. That’s why he had decided to ask Orlais for military force and resources besides the own ones. 

“We’ll clear a path to Clarel, keeping the Grey Wardens busy along the walls with our army. The orlesian artillery will focus on the flanks, but on the south one especially. While occupied there, we will open a breach on the main gate with a battering ram to grant you access, Inquisitor.”

Glenn nodded, his fists tightly clenched over the table, and looked at the planes of Adamant in front of him: there was no other way to face this mission than brute force. And Cullen agreed on it.

“It will be a massacre for our men…” Blackwall muttered, shaking his head. 

“Our army is splendid and is ready for the battle. We also count with Orlais’ support. Although our fight against Corypheus had been discreet and based in small strikes and espionage, we must not forget that this is a war, with all its consequences. And battles and death are some of them,” the Commander replied with resolution.

The siege began that same evening with the dusk, and the first negotiation attempt was utterly rejected by the spokesman of the Wardens. Clarel was nowhere to be seen and, after the unsuccessful exchange of words and the refusal on explaining why the Wardens were being summoned to Adamant, the battle began.

The Commander led his men towards the south and north wall while the catapults sang with a non-stop projectile throwing. Sporadic hail of arrows came from the fortress, killing without mercy the unlucky men below, lessening the Inquisition and the Orlesian numbers dangerously. But the Commander efforts were enough to open a breach as predicted and the humongous doors were finally knocked down with the sunrise, granting the access of both armies in the not-anymore-impregnable stronghold, and allowing the Herald and his inner circle to finally get into Adamant. 

Beyond the walls and in the fortress, the battle was rough and harsh: the clash of the swords and the agonic screams both in Grey Wardens and Inquisition sides were the only sounds around. Deafening. However, it was not the group mission to join in with that fight but to find Commander Clarel as soon as they could.

Alyna focused on her breath, trying to remain calm. This type of battles, where chaos and dead sprung from everywhere around, were not the best scenario for her to fight.

They headed east and climbed up the stairs that would lead them to the inner part of the stronghold under the protective barriers of the mages, while Varric and Sera discharged their bow and crossbow restlessly. And it was there where they confronted and ended the first wave of shades and terrors.

“So it is true then...“ Blackwall mumbled to Stroud, sorrowful, catching his breath back once the supernatural enemies were taken down. “The Wardens are summoning demons…”

The Captain of the Grey Wardens, Hawke’s ally, looked at him, pained, although didn’t answer. The Champion did, though. “Have you ever doubted it? They are utterly corrupted now.”

In the meanwhile, Cassandra, Bull and the Inquisitor struggled without results to open the heavy door that would grant them access to Clarel. Solas stepped forward, touching the wood with his hand and closing his eyes. “It is magically sealed… I will need your help,” he commanded to Alyna and Dorian.

The Grey Wardens had a powerful army of mages under its ranks and, as far as they knew, they were totally submitted to Corypheus will. Magic resistance is precisely what he expected to find in that place.

The three mages rested a hand on the door for a few seconds, focusing their willpower, and Solas made a gesture to the Inquisitor to try again.

“At the count of three: one… two… and three!” he shouted, and the group of warriors pushed with all their might. 

The solid wooden door opened with a creak and the inner circle members found themselves in the central patio of the fortress, bursting into the ceremony that was taking place there. A hundred of Grey Wardens stiffened and turned in deadly silence, facing the intruders. A summoning circle was drawn on the ground and a pride demon was contained within its limits. On a sort of an altar, above everyone else, Commander Clarel and Erimond in front of the corpse of what seemed to be a Warden with his throat slit open. His blood dripped in a small ceremonial bowl and was employed to enlarge the magic that was being used to bring the demons from the Fade.

“Grey Wardens practising blood magic… Shame on you, Clarel!” Stroud shouted to his Commander, devastated. His scream put everyone on guard, tension obvious around them, although no one attacked. 

“Stop them! We must complete the ritual!” Erimond ordered. But the Wardens didn’t move a muscle, waiting for Clarel’s instructions. 

“It’s done, Clarel. There will be no ritual and no demon army!” the Inquisitor stepped forward and addressed the Commander, ignoring the Venatori.

“Then the Blight rises with no Wardens left to stop it and the whole world dies. Is that what you want, Inquisitor?” Erimond replied, challenging.

“We make the sacrifices no one else will. Our warriors die proudly for a world that will never thank them,” the Commander intervened, although her tone was not as sure as anyone expected to hear.

“And then your Venatori ally binds the mages to Corypheus!” The grunt of Hawke was clear and loud and triggered a murmur of puzzled voices in the patio. 

Clarel looked around, confused. “Corypheus? But he’s dead…”

“This people would say anything to shake your confidence, Clarel…” Erimond tried to convince her, but traces of doubt had begun to surface.

“Plese, I have seen more than my share of blood magic. It is never worth the cost!” Hawke said.

“I trained half of you myself! Do not make me kill you to stop this madness!” Stroud added.

“Clarel, listen to me. I have no quarrel with the Wardens and I have spared those I could. I don’t want to kill you, but you are being used!” the Inquisitor insisted.

“Clarel… we have come so far…” Erimond whispered in front of the dubious gaze of the Commander. “You are the only one who can do this...”

There were a few moments of quietness where Clarel seemed to be analyzing her options. What if the Inquisitor was telling the truth? What if all had been for nothing?

“Perhaps we could test the truth of these charges, to avoid more bloodshed…” she told him with a hesitant voice.

All the Inquisitor group sighed, relieved with the Commander’s words. It seemed that the fight would be evitable in the end. 

“Or perhaps I should bring in a more reliable ally…” Erimond muttered angrily, walking away from Clarel with a hardened gesture on his face. “My master thought you might come here, Inquisitor! He sent me this to welcome you…”

Even if the day was breaking, the clouds darkened the sky that was still nearly pitch black. But the loud shriek that came from above their heads brought a faint memory of the fallen of Haven, although the beast was nowhere to be seen yet.

“Oh, Clarel… too many doubts now… But our agreement was so good until now! How easily you came to me, desperate in front of the Calling. You clung to blood magic as the only possible option to save Thedas. You clung to me!” Erimond kept talking while tapping his staff onto the ground.

The Commander stared at him, petrified now,  taking his words in, finally realizing she had been fooled. 

An eventual flap of wings was audible now and a new roar, followed by a screech, made everyone look at the sky. Some Wardens screamed when the dragon emerged from the clouds, breathing out lyrium fire. It perched on one of the towers of the complex, scanning the patio with narrowed eyes and a threatening posture. His talons had begun to break the roof tiles as if they were made of bread.

“I was hoping not to bump into this thing ever again…” Varric grunted to Alyna, who was looking at the thing with a concerned gesture. Solas glanced at her, recalling the consequences of the last fight with the fake archdemon: he wouldn’t let her disappear from his sight this time. 

“This doesn’t really work in our favour... Get ready to find cover!” the Inquisitor ordered to the group. 

The seconds stretched without any movement until the tap of Erimond staff broke the quietness one last time. The dragon roared immediately and took off, plummeting towards them. 

“Wardens, help the Inquisitor!” Clarel shouted to her men, definitely making up her mind and directing her magic against the Venatori.

Right after her words, a war cry was emitted by the still loyal Grey Wardens and the tension was broken in the form of chaos when everyone took their weapons, beginning the fight.

The creature breathed out lyrium everywhere over their heads, reaching some of the Wardens and unleashing mayhem. At the same time, loads of Fade enemies appeared from the summoning circle. Some of the Grey Warden, mainly mages, still under Corypheus influence, finished the summoning of the pride demon which attacked whatever thing moved around it. 

Alyna’s and Solas’ barriers were necessary to protect the inner circle members in front of the flood of creatures that came against them. But after a few minutes of sword and mace clashes, flying arrows and a rain of ice, fire and arcane spells, Cassandra pointed out in a shout “Inquisitor, Erimond is escaping!” 

Both, the Venatori and Clarel were running up the side stairs of the tower and away from the battle.

Glenn pushed back towards Bull the shade he was fighting with and the qunari knocked it down with a well-aimed mace blow on the head. Then, the Herald looked around, trying to find out where Erimond had gone. 

“There!” Hawke shouted, pointing to the tower. “We have to hurry!” The Champion of Kirkwall strode towards the gate that gave access to the tower stairs, followed closely by Stroud. 

A decision had to be made regarding the group who would help to catch the Commander and the Venatori. In less than a second, the Inquisitor weighed his options. “ Hawke’s a warrior, and Stroud a rogue… ” he thought. “Solas, Cassandra, Alyna… come with me. All the others, stay here and conquer this fortress,” the Inquisitor commanded and the whole group nodded at the order at once. 

The named people ran behind Hawke and Stroud, protected by Solas’ barrier. They had to fight a group of shades that had cornered them on the stairs while dodging the lyrium fire and the pride demon attacks. Once at the top, and about to leave the patio, Alyna turned around to look at the battlefield: Bull and Dorian fought side by side with Blackwall in a perfect harmony of freezing spells and two-hand weapons, breaking their enemies into icy pieces. Sera and Varric had sheltered behind some boxes on the altar and, from the elevated position, shot every adversary they were able to reach. Cole appeared and disappeared behind the wraiths and shades, slitting their throats open with what could be even considered a delicate and merciful movement.    

However, something was not right… even with the roar of the fight, everything was just too quiet around them. “The dragon!” Alyna looked all around and up at the clouds.  “I can’t see it!” she shouted before resuming the race.

Right then, turning the next corner of the building, the lyrium dragon made its appearance for a second time. The beast came from out of nowhere, startling them and stopping the whole group on their heels with a powerful screech. It spat fire over the group and swiped his talons forward, trying to catch them, but Solas was able to strengthen the barrier, protecting them until they all were able to find cover behind the columns. The power of the creature shattered the mage’s spell in no time though, with an elevated expense of mana.

Then, the dragon took off again.

“It’s following us!” Hawke shouted to the group. “We have to hurry!”

“It’s too powerful to even consider an attack. Our best option is to run and keep the barriers up, but you have already seen what he’s done to mine…” Solas informed the others while running up the stairs again.

“But you’ll give us some seconds to hide. That’s better than nothing,” the Inquisitor argued.

Alyna turned her eyes to Solas, certainly insecure about the plan, reckoning the high mana waste that it would mean for them. Although the mage nodded his head towards her, reassuring: even if crazy, it was their best option without any type of doubt.

“The path is clear. Let’s go!” Cassandra informed, turning the next corner of the building.

The black shade flying swiftly over their heads was all the warning the mages needed to act. The dragon attacked again from the sky even before they were able to hear the beat of its wings. With her heart thumping in her chest because of the adrenaline, and in a display of quick reflexes, they were able to create a barrier and keep it up for time enough to allow the group hiding in a small storage room. 

Luckily, the dragon was too big to glide on the same spot for more than a few seconds and it had to keep flying around the tower. It emitted an annoyed shriek, being obliged to leave its preys unattended again, and flew away once more. 

“Ok guys, this is the last run before getting to safety. Go!” the Inquisitor shouted, and they all run once more to the security of the inside of the tower. 

But right before they were able to disappear through the open door, the dragon showed up again, knocking down with its attack the pillars around them and creating a rain of blocks of stone. Besides some wooden boxes, there was nothing else they could hide behind, so Solas and Alyna cast the barrier spell once more. After some seconds, Solas’ grimace spoke by itself when he had to stop his casting, feeling his mana lowering too dangerously and the new but well-known at the same time dizziness that came with it. The healer saved them, keeping the spell up with a low pained cry coming from her guts. She was wheezy when the dragon disappeared and Hawke had to help her stand up, as drained and exhausted as she was after the effort. 

They rested for some minutes under the protection of the walls, catching their breath back and the mages recovering. A faint brightness presaged the beginning of the day, filtering through the thick blanket of clouds in the sky. However, everything around them still looked dark, dim and ashen. A thin rain began to fall when they finally reached the top of the tower. 

They were at the peak of the fortress, on a flat roof that connected the side mountain with Adamant by a suspension bridge. The same bridge that presented now a massive crack in the middle and where Clarel was on, casting electric spells against Erimond. The Venatori was nearly defeated, laying on the ground at the crack’s edge.  

“You’ve destroyed the Grey Wardens,” Clarel grunted, walking threatening towards the man.

“You did that to yourself, stupid bitch,” he answered with a hatred gesture and Clarel snarled at him. “All I did was dangle a little power before your eyes and you couldn’t wait to get your hands bloody!” the Venatori replied, caustic, spitting the words out with disdain.

Totally out of her wits, Clarel answered his provocation with a massive attack that threw the guy a few metres flying back on the bridge. A painful moan escaped his lips before he could speak again. “You could have served a new god…”

“I will never serve the Blight!” she replied on a scream, ready to cast an ending spell on the Venatori. 

However, before she was able to finish the casting, the dragon appeared out of nowhere and headbutted her with fierceness, throwing the Commander against the farthest wall in front of the shocked eyes of the Inquisition group, who had just gotten there. The onslaught left her on the ground, unconscious and bleeding profusely.

Right then, the dragon landed behind the group, circling them and cutting their only exit with a roar. The tension was palpable when it screeched menacing, walking towards them and against the abyss, opening and closing its jaws. They all drew their weapons and got into combat position, ready for the fight that would be finally happening. However, they all were  conscious of the superiority of the creature against them six. 

It bit and took swipes with its sharp-as-knives claws, making them pull back on the bridge, even if the main danger was it’s fire breath. Both mages were already focused and prepared to cast their barriers, despite being highly drained by the previous efforts. Besides, there was nowhere to hide and Alyna wondered for how long they would be able to keep them up before they shattered with the dragon’s power. 

The creature made them move back slowly towards the edge of the broken bridge, stalking, hunting them. Solas felt the ground vibration every time the dragon took a step forward and also noticed the healer’s fastened breathing right behind him. In a more than sure useless display of protection, his instincts guided him to create a protective spell around them both, even being aware that he wouldn’t be able to maintain it for long if the dragon decided to charge: not at his current weakened state. “ It certainly would be ironic to end up like this... eaten up by an orb-invoked dragon… ” he elf thought, impossible to restrain a sarcastic smirk with the idea. 

“Get ready to fight at my sign…” the Inquisitor ordered to the group when the bridge came to an end and the abyss opened dangerously behind them. 

That fight didn’t look good for the Inquisition. 

The dragon breathed deeply in. 

But, suddenly, they all saw how the fatally hurt Commander seemed to come back from the dead and raised a hand with an electric glimmer towards the beast while muttering some words they were just able to infer. “In war… victory… In peace… vigilance…” 

Right when the dragon was about to breath out lyrium fire, Clarel triggered the spell that hit like a hard blow to the beast, knocking it off and pushing it to the edge of the bridge, dragging Erimond along. On its disorientation, the creature tried to use its talons to get a grip on the crack without success, crumbling the stones under its powerful claws.

The Inquisition group had just a few seconds to throw themselves to the sides of its trajectory. When the dragon finally lost his foot, the shriek of its falling chilled their spirits until a loud thump was finally heard.

Commander Clarel took her last breath on the quietness of the dawn, while the companions stumbled to a standing position again, wondering if their fight had been finally won.

But before they were able to completely process the evolution of the events, the chaos began.

And then, everything happened way too fast. 

They were still taking in the outcome when the first cracks were heard, alerting them that something was not right. The muffled sound ended up in a thunderous rumble when the bridge began to collapse under their feet like a giant domino, piece by piece. Without any further ado, and after a quick exchange of panicked glances, they all turned towards the tower and ran for their lives. 

Stroud tripped over and Glenn stopped to help him up. Cassandra and Hawke dodged the loosen stones, running side by side. Alyna felt the floor disappear under her feet and fell into the darkness. With a rush of adrenaline and a scream, she reached for the broken edge by an inch, hanging over the abyss. She felt a primal panic and a sharp pain on the tips of the fingers that clung to the rock above her head. Then, she felt how someone clasped her wrists bruisingly hard and pulled her up the edge, getting her to safety. Solas grabbed her hand with a determined gesture and ran again, keeping her by his side. 

However, the group was not fast enough to get to the safety of the tower and watched with dread how a new crack opened in front of them, making their escape way impossible to reach. The ground tilted and crumbled under them, disappearing. 

They all fell into the Adamant’s void.

Chapter Text

Stop, stop, stop! ” Alyna thought right after the green light engulfed them all, raising her arms and focusing her mana in the spell she was casting in spite of the circumstances. 

Right in time, she managed to stop their free fall using a Fade strike in the opposite direction to annul the gravitational force. It lasted less than a couple of seconds, but it worked, slowing down their hit onto the ground considerably. 

Even so, Hawke and Glenn landed heavily on their backs behind her and Cassandra grumbled on her right after a loud thump. Solas fell next to her, protecting his head with his hands and forearms. 

But, at least, they were all alive. 

The elf rushed to sat up, scanning around, looking for her. “Are you hurt, vhenan ?” he whispered with a worried face.

The healer shook her head, still mildly in shock: she was bruised probably, but not injured. She drew a thin smile to her lips to ease his concern and looked around with curiosity, trying to figure out where they were, as the surroundings definitely didn’t look like the Western Approach anymore.

“What is this place?” Stroud asked, preoccupied, already on his feet.

“Are we dead?” Hawke also asked.

Alyna looked at the ground and dipped her fingers in the small green puddle next to her, rubbing them together and feeling the non-existent dampness of the water with a puzzled face. However, Solas was well aware of where they were. “No. This is the Fade,” the elf informed. “The Inquisitor opened a rift. We came through. And survived!” 

The Herald looked at his hand, utterly confused: this was the first time he had actually been able to control the power of the Anchor at will.

“I never thought I would ever find myself here physically…” Solas carried on, oddly delighted with the discovery of their location while the others looked around with worried gestures and growing concern in their guts. Even the healer, as she suddenly understood the dangerous implications of their situation: this wasn’t just taking a peek through a dream or a memory as she usually did with Solas, or a chess game in her safe place in the Fade. They were physically trapped in there, meaning that they might actually die there if they couldn’t find their way out. And the thought of confronting the unknown was unnerving and unsettling.

“Is that the Black City, Solas?” she asked, trying to distract herself from her worries, pointing to a distant shade on the horizon. 

“The Golden City once… Yes, it looks like… Almost close enough to touch…” he wondered.

“I get that we are in the Fade, but where are we exactly?” the Inquisitor wanted to know, making the priorities clear once again.

“It’s difficult to know... I have ever seen anywhere like this place. I’m unaware of the spirit who commands it,” the mage spoke.

“The story says that you walked out of the Fade at Haven, Inquisitor,” Hawke said, “Was it like this?”

Glenn seemed quite confused, trying to get his memories back with a grimace. “I don’t know. I still can’t remember what happened… I don’t remember any of it.”

They carried on examining the clearing around them: the surface was dark, disturbing and doleful, and the whole place was coloured in a curious tone of green. Fade green. Streams of emerald water converged on the middle of the clearing, forming a sort of pond. A thick grassy surrealistic mist covered the ground, making it difficult to see where they stepped. Where they could actually see the ground, distressing piles of bones and skulls piled up as if the place was a huge ancient graveyard. The temperature was warm and the air around them unpleasantly damp, making their skin sticky and moist. 

“Can you make another rift?” Alyna asked Glenn, breaking their silent contemplation. 

The Herald raised his hand, focusing during a few moments creating a great expectation, but nothing happened. He cursed, exasperated, grabbing his wrist and shaking it.

“Well, I opine that our best chance now is to find any of the other rifts that connect with our reality,” Solas concluded with seriousness in front of Glenn’s powerlessness. Not that he had expected the Inquisitor to be able to open rifts at his will: the elf knew that he would never have enough control over this power to do that. 

“What are we waiting for? Let’s get out of here,” Hawke ended, leading the march towards an elevation on the terrain. “Look, over there,” he said pointing to a light that shone in the distance. “Might that be a rift?”

“Definitely, it seems so,” Solas opined. “We should head in that direction.”

“Well, we won’t solve anything just standing here. Let’s go,” the Inquisitor ordered, heading to the group towards the crack in the Veil.

Alyna sighed in front of the grim perspective around: the place was gloomy, ghostly and somehow grotesque like taken out from a horror tale: it definitely wasn’t the Fade she was used to visiting. 

There was something wrong in that place... Something bad awaiting.

They walked for some undetermined time in silence, avoiding crevices and spiky peaks. The scene didn’t really change a lot around them.

“This is fascinating,” Solas, who seemed to be having a wonderful exploration time, told to himself, walking next to Glenn. He stopped to gather some green water in his hands, feeling the warmth but not the usual wet traces of it on his fingers. “It’s not the area I would have chosen but to physically enter the Fade, though…” 

“Solas… focus...” the Inquisitor complained, “but you are the expert on this place. Anything helpful?”

“The Fade is shaped by intent and emotions… Remain focused and it will lead you where you wish to go. The demon that controls this area is extremely powerful. Some variety of Fear, I would guess...”

But the mage cut his speech short when the Inquisitor stopped in his tracks, looking open-mouthed at the path ahead. 

There was someone standing there. An elderly woman in Chantry clothes. Waiting for them.

“By the Maker… ” Glenn muttered while Cassandra stepped on by his side, also astounded.

“This cannot be real,” she whispered to herself trying to keep her sanity afloat.

Divine Justinia stood at the next crossroads, staring at them with a gentle thin smile curling her lips. 

“Divine Justinia? Most Holy…?” the Seeker asked the female figure.

“Hello, Cassandra,” she answered with a ghostly distant voice, clearing up the doubts.

“Cassandra, you met her… Is that really her?” Glenn asked, cautious. 

“I… I don’t know… Maybe…” her eyes had dampened with the vision of her old friend and leader of her Order. “The Chantry believes that the souls wander in the Fade before resting in eternal peace… So, perhaps...”

“I’m here to help you,” the spirit carried on. “The shape doesn’t matter, but the intention does.”

“Solas?” the Inquisitor asked for advice.

“She might be Justinia… or if it’s a spirit that identifies so strongly with Justinia that it believes it is her, how can we say it is not? It seems interested in helping us. That much is clear.” 

“Fade things… This is insane...” Hawke whispered to the healer with impatience.

“Inquisitor, do you remember what happened at the Temple of Sacred Ashes?” Justinia asked.

The Herald shook his head, pensive.

“This region of the Fade is ruled by a demon of bad dreams: Nightmare. He grows and feeds on your darkest and most hidden fears, and makes them disappear.”

“Oh… that seems somehow helpful,” Stroud commented. 

“It might have been at first a spirit, but now he works with Corypheus and has surrendered his powers to him. He’s corrupted. Now, he tortures people, making them relive their nightmares time and time again. He’s the one who stole your memories of the creation of the Breach, Inquisitor. Until you get them back, you won’t be able to defeat the Elder One, nor escape from here.”

“Great…  A quest. As if it was not bad enough to be trapped…” Hawke ironized.

The spirit utterly ignored him, speaking to the Inquisitor again. “Look for the wraiths on your way out. Eliminate them and they’ll give you what you seek.”

Then, she vanished into thin air, startling everyone.

There was a compassionate silence that ended up stretching for too long. 

“Do you really think that killing those wraiths will bring my memories back?” the Inquisitor asked to no one in particular in the end.

“It’s worth the try…” Stroud answered. “And it might be the only way to make our way out of here.”

The whole group gazed at the enemies ahead and the healer spoke. “There are only four of them over there… we can try…”

“Fair enough. Let’s go for them.”

The spirit was not lying. Just as they eliminated them, the wraiths dropped small gem fragments. When Glenn put them all together, the group fell into a sort of trance when the first memory of the wicked day the Breach appeared was shown. 

 

<<Corypheus was there, right in the middle of the room. Four Grey Wardens held the Divine afloat while the Elder One raised his Orb, ready to kill her as a sacrifice. Right when the Orb shone in Fade green, the door opened and Glenn Trevelyan got into the scene. “What is going on here?” he asked, unsheathing his sword against the group. In the middle of the confusion, the Divine slapped Corypheus’ hand and the Orb fell onto the floor, rolling away from its master and stopping at Glenn’s feet, who picked it up with his bare hands. Corypheus made an instinctive movement then, running behind the Orb. But it was already too late. In the middle of a blinding light that came from the foci, Glenn screamed and fell onto his knees, unconscious.>>

 

So that is what really happened… ” Solas thought when the memory disappeared from their minds. “ A clumsy movement and a mere coincidence...but it still doesn’t explain how he survived…

“So your mark didn’t come from Andraste… It came from the Orb that Corypheus used in his ritual,” Cassandra said with clear fear and disappointment in her tone. 

The Inquisitor also seemed disenchanted about the true origin of his mark, as his quietness and stillness gave away while examining his hand.

After a little while, and growing tired of their immobility, the healer spoke, “I don’t think this is the best place to discuss the non-religious or transcendental origin of the Anchor. We have to get out of here before Nightmare finds us.” She resumed her steps towards the rift, walking next to Hawke.

“Fear is a very old and very strong feeling. It predates Love, Pride, Compassion… Every emotion save, perhaps, Desire. Be wary: Nightmare will do anything to weaken our resolve,” Solas warned them with his usual academical tone.

“After what he did to my fellow Wardens, I say we find a way to strike it down.” Stroud seemed quite serious in his statement,  determined.

“We still have to find the exit first. You can kill whatever we find on the way there.”

They walked in silence… it could have been for minutes or hours as none of them were able to track the time in that realm of reality, whilst the air turned even damper and heavier. On their path, they found new wraiths and recovered more of the Inquisitor memories. However, none of them could avoid the feeling of having all their movements meticulously observed since they had begun the arduous march towards the exit. 

After taking care of a bunch of hairy spiders, cockroaches according to Hawke, larvae to Cassandra, they heard a deep rumbling and mockery voice surrounding them and ricocheting on the narrow corridor of the labyrinth they were into and the group froze. “Ah! We have a visitor. Some foolish little boy comes to steal the fear I kindly lifted from his shoulders. You should have thanked me and let your fear where it lay, forgotten. You think the pain will make you stronger… The only one who grows stronger with your fear is me. Or perhaps I should be afraid, facing the most powerful members of the Inquisition...” A burst of evil laughter followed the demon’s speech and gave them all goosebumps. Nightmare had a physical effect on their bodies, as Alyna was able to check: an increase in the heartbeat rate, irregular breathing, general distress… When she looked at her hands, she realized she was trembling involuntarily. They all had signs of being terrified.   

“Don’t listen to him and don’t let his words affect you in any way. He would do whatever is in his hands to stop us,” Solas advised, although his voice gave away a hint of nervousness and his tone was not as self-assured as it always was.

They kept walking. However, it didn’t last for long until the beast spoke again, “Your Inquisitor is a fraud, Cassandra.  Yet more evidence, there is no Maker, that all your faith has been for naught.” 

“Die in the void, demon,” the Seeker answered, although her insecurities were clearly reflected in her eyes. Her faith… that was the only thing she truly had. And knowing that neither Andraste nor the Maker had anything to do with the Anchor, had been a hard blow.

“Warden Stroud. How must it feel to devote your whole life to the Wardens, only to watch them fall? Or worse: to know that you were responsible for their destruction? When the next Blight comes, they will curse your name.”

“With the Maker’s blessing, we will end this wretched beast!” the Warden shouted, trying to convince himself rather than anyone else.

The conversation was interrupted by a new evil cackle and the group managed to recover some more memories, conscious now of the heavy words the demon was awarding them with. Words that certainly dug into the deepest and most hidden secret fears, lessening their courage and determination. And it didn’t take long until it decided to carry on with the teasing. 

“Did you think you mattered, Hawke? Did you think anything you ever did mattered? You couldn't even save your city. How could you expect to strike down a god? Fenris is going to die, just like your family, and everyone you ever cared about.”

“I’m going to enjoy killing this thing…” the Champion mumbled to himself with a clenched jaw and Alyna noticed he was truly affected about the words. 

She was precisely the next one, and the healer stiffened her shoulders and slowed down her steps when Nightmare rumbled her name. “Alyna… the elf that hides under human clothes. You are way too powerful and way too dangerous: an abomination. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to make up for your mistake, because you’ll never be able to quiet their voices. How many did you kill last time? How many will be next? Because there will be a next time…”

Her breath caught in her chest and a shiver ran down her back while her throat tightened in a painful knot. She tried, by all means, to remain calm, but tears flooded her eyes and she had to work hard to contain them. Solas looked at her after Nightmare’s words, figuring out the grave accusation the demon had just revealed, but she avoided his gaze, looking at the ground instead.

Solas didn’t have time to react when the creature spoke again and he understood that the message was addressed to him. “ Dirth ma, Harellan. Masal halam? Mien’harel mirthadra, u na emma suledin la ar solas ena mar din. Atish’all vallem. Din ellasin selah? Din la selah? Danal enasallin abelas.”

And, without time to put himself back together after the harsh premonition of the demon, Solas answered back “Banal nadas.”

And he immediately regretted his words: Elven… a dead language in Thedas… Solas cursed himself mentally in his mother tongue, irritated by his own clumsiness: he had shown that he was able to understand a complex sentence and actually speak a language that no modern elf could do nowadays. The curious look from Alyna burned on his neck as he realized that he would have to add another lie to explain what had just happened... 

Still with tears prickling in her eyes, the healer felt certainly confused, as she was not aware that Solas was able to understand Elven at all. She had only been able to identify his name, that also meant pride, as well as the elvhen word for trickster. However, it was not the right moment to ask.

“Where are we?” Cassandra asked, terrified about the sight of the place that their steps had taken them towards. 

“Damn it…” Hawke cursed, looking around, his heart thumping in his chest.  

The enclave was not as different as the rest of that terrible place, but it was splattered with tombstones. 

And all their names were on them. 

The Champion of Kirkwall walked towards the one on the middle: the one showing his. At its bottom, a single word carved on the stone: loss. Cassandra looked for hers as well to find out that her deepest fear was helplessness . Alyna found hers on the opposite side of the yard: remorse. On Solas’ the words were dying alone.  The Inquisitor didn’t stop to look for his, although it was the most magnificent one, right in the middle of the graveyard. And, on it, you could perfectly read failure

“We cannot stop. We are nearly there,” the Herald ordered, going past the tombs and heading to the stairs that, apparently, lead to the flatland where the small breach was. All his companions followed him in the end, although none of them could say they were not affected by the truths revealed. With luck, they would be out of that place in no time and the rift was right there, just a few metres away from them, within easy reach. 

The steep path they were following guided them to a small elevation surrounded by stone and a cliff, just with one clear exit and two entrances.

“I don’t like this… it too quiet…  the perfect place for an ambush…” Stroud said with a low rumble, and he was right: a dozen wraiths, shades and terrors invaded the place with threatenings grunts and shrieks before they were even able to draw their weapons. The healer managed to cast a barrier fast enough to protect the group from the first attack, giving them some time to get ready to put up a fight.   

However, the spirit of Justinia materialised in the middle of the confrontation and, with a golden explosion of light and a deafening low rumbling that made their eardrums throb painfully, wiped out all the enemies. “The exit you seek is right ahead, but Nightmare has grown on your fears. You must confront him before you leave.”

After recovering all the crystal shards from the wraiths and putting his memories back together, the Inquisitor had understood at last what happened to him on the Temple of the Sacred Ashes. In these memories, Justinia and the Inquisitor were sent into the Fade after the Orb left the Anchor on Glenn’s hand, perhaps falling into the Breach. But, once there, the Divine had sacrificed herself to get him back to the real world to defeat the creature. “You saved me back in Haven… Everyone thought it had been Andraste, but it was you...”

“Yes, it was me. A sacrifice that I would gladly repeat. And I'm likely to think that it was Andraste’s will for me to save you. This world needs you to end the threat that Corypheus is. And perhaps more after him. It doesn’t matter where the Anchor comes from: what is important is what you do with it.”

A loud rumble and a string of stomps that made the ground shake under their feet got them back to reality. Nightmare then made his appearance in front of the group: a tall and fleshless human shape, with its grey skin stuck to its bones. Spider legs poked out its back and a sort of mask with tentacles covered - or was - his face. Behind him, there was a terrifying massive beast, ready to attack. It was repulsive, horrifying, and a wave of pure fear ran through everyone’s spine at the sight of the monster. 

“Inquisition, I’ve had enough of your fears. Now is time to die!” Nightmare barked with disgust, pointing his sharp set of claws towards the group in an order than the beast immediately followed, stepping forward to get them.

While everyone remained totally frozen at the sight of the creature, the spirit of Justinia became a shape of light and flew towards it. “If you would, please tell Leliana ‘I am sorry. I failed you, too’” she said with the saddest tone before disappearing, engulfed by her own blinding brightness, stunning the monster out temporarily.

“This is our chance, we have to go, now!” the Inquisitor shouted, unsheathing his weapon to deal with the wave of enemies that Nightmare had also summoned with a loud growl. “Guys, go! We’ll cover you. Go!” he ordered, talking to Alyna, Solas and Cassandra, who were already fighting and eliminating some of the shades that plagued the escape path towards the rift. The trio managed to clear it and made their way to the breach with relative ease while the others contained the creatures. However, before crossing it, the healer stopped and looked back, unsure about following the order blindly. The Inquisitor, Stroud and Hawke were just some steps behind them, nearly reaching the rift. 

But the monster was waking up. 

“We can’t leave them here with no mages,” she complained to Solas and Cassandra. 

“Alyna, go. It’s an order!” the Inquisitor barked again, running towards them now, escaping from the monster.

Reluctantly, she turned around and let the elf pull her through the rift.

They landed heavily on the other side, rolling on the muddy ground under the dense curtain of water that the fallen rain had become. There was a surprised and aggressive scream and the group of soldiers that guarded this end of the rift raised their weapons, ready to eliminate them without any sort of mercy. Luckily, they realized right in time that they were no demons, just the Inquisitor’s advisor, Solas, Cassandra and the healer mage covered in a thick crust of mud. 

The mages and the Seeker stood up and waited impatiently for the others to emerge from the green crease. The tension grew exponentially them when the seconds went by without any movement.  

“Come on… Come on, guys…” Cassandra muttered nervously.

All of a sudden, a new green flashlight brought Glenn and Stroud out of the Fade with cries of relief and joy growing within the troops that circled around them. 

Then, the Inquisitor faced the rift and raised a hand that shone, ready to close it. 

Alyna frowned, confused. “What? Where’s Hawke?” she asked, stepping forward and pulling Glenn’s hand down, stopping the magic connection. Everyone muttered around them and even Cassandra gasped at her impudence. 

The very own Inquisitor’s hand, interrupting the sealing procedure. 

He looked at her coldly, clearly annoyed by her daring. “He had to stay: someone had to cover our retreat.”

Her eyebrows furrowed even deeper with a pained gesture: she seemed to be horrified at his words. “But… We cannot leave him locked there! We have to go for him!” she complained of with a high-pitched voice, arguing the decision of the Herald of Andraste in front of everyone.

The Inquisitor glared at her before pulling his arm off of her grip. “This has been my choice. Now, step back, Alyna,” he uttered with a frozen tone, lifting his hand once more. 

The healer was totally out of herself at his acceptance and passivity and her anger spilt from her guts. Why did they leave? They should have all stayed until everyone was safe… She was about to shove Glenn to interrupt the Anchor’s magic once again when Cassandra and Stroud dragged her away from him with a long and loud string of protests coming from her mouth. 

The Herald resumed his task and the rift closed with a loud snap.

Chapter Text

The rain had intensified in the morning and was literally pouring when the group came out of the Fade. After her argument with the Inquisitor, Cassandra dragged a very distressed Alyna through the patio and towards the stables. Once there, the Seeker dropped her on the ground and the elf scrambled up, confronting her. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? I could have stopped him!” Alyna shouted, out of her wits.

“Don’t speak nonsense! The Inquisitor gave you a clear order!”

Most of the inner circle members had also arrived in the stables, eager to know the outcome of their disappearance and were puzzled when they found both women heatedly arguing. Although they all knew that the healer and Cassandra had their differences before, the picture of them both screaming at each other was not a common scene. Varric was the one to think that something must have gone very badly during their mission if this was the outcome.

Alyna rubbed her temples in exasperation and ran a hand over her soaked hair, doing her best to calm down and trying to understand the Seeker’s position. However, her conclusion was the same: this could have been easily evitable. That’s why she was so broken about the development of the events. Her next words came out in a quieter tone although they were full of bitter pain. “He could still be in the Fade. For fuck’s sake, Cassandra, alive.”

Cassandra shivered and her face shifted into a grimace at the thought. Alyna scoffed, shaking her head, and carried on speaking. “He was the easiest option… The less valuable person, wasn’t he? We never leave anyone behind… We never did it before.”

“What on earth happened? Did you end up in the Fade…?” Iron Bull asked with a furrowed brow, expressing everyone’s curiosity.

“Wait a minute,” Varric said with a concerned gesture, finally putting two and two together. “Where is Hawke?”

Cassandra lowered her gaze to the ground and Alyna sighed, covered in mud, looking at her dwarven friend with sorrow. After a moment of quietness that stretched too much, it was Solas who stepped up to explain what had happened. “I’m sorry, Varric. The Inquisitor took us to the Fade, physically. But there was an attack. And he didn’t make it.” 

The dwarf’s expression shattered into a million pained pieces with this announcement. Varric crouched down, resting his back on one of the walls, not believing Solas’ words. “No… that cannot be… Hawke… I can’t tell Fenris…” he muttered, his eyes fixed on an unknown point on the furthest wall. 

Cassandra sighed and gave him her condolences and Alyna sat next to him with a hand on his knee, her gaze lost in the distance, too. 

“I don’t understand… What happened?” Blackwall asked, still bewildered.

Solas, who had never lost his composure, nor his mettle in front of a situation, shortened the story of their adventures in the Fade: Nightmare, Divine Justinia, the memories belonging to the Inquisitor that were recovered... and he answered all the following questions in his modulated soothing voice with a cold objectiveness. “The only thing we know is that they stayed behind, protecting us, while the Inquisitor ordered us to go,” he ended with an unconcealed seriousness and a hint of disgust that didn’t escape to the healer.

“Stroud said that they both volunteered to fight for the Inquisitor. To give him the chance to leave. But the Herald decided that Hawke had to stay behind…” Cassandra explained, gaining some approval and understanding faces from some of the inner circle members and some hardened disagreement gestures from the others.

Alyna shook her head again with grief and sighed deeply, giving a reassuring squeeze to Varric’s leg. Even if Hawke was not a member of the Inquisition, nor of the inner circle, his cooperation in the whole matter had been essential. And never before had the Inquisitor given an order to leave a fight, abandoning one of them behind. It didn’t matter how harsh the situation was or how bad things were: they were a family, they trusted each other. No one had never stayed behind. 

Until that day.

Besides, and strategically speaking, Stroud had become the highest ranking in the Grey Wardens with the death of Clarel… If the Inquisitor was actually planning to rebuild the order, he was the most valuable option to keep safe. 

And Garrett Hawke was no more than a wealthy fugitive. Expendable.

“Any word about the battle here?” Solas asked the group that had remained in the fortress. 

“Yes, well… We won… shortly after you disappeared. The demons were killed, and as soon as that happened, the Grey Wardens surrendered. Two hundred casualties and more than three hundred injured for now...” Dorian explained, gaining a confirming nod from Iron Bull.

“It seems that they would be able to join us, in the end,” Blackwall stated solemnly as if they were great news, making half of the group react with a deep frown.

“What? Just forgiveness for them, then?” Alyna asked, indignant.

“That’s what it seems…” Dorian replied, being the most partial.

The healer muttered a curse in Elven while Varric shook his head. Cassandra, to everyone’s surprise, seemed very displeased with the Herald’s decision, although she didn’t say it aloud. Cole stared blankly at the wall and Solas’ expression hardened, clenching his mandible in a subtle and contained sign of disagreement. Like Cassandra, he didn’t speak any words, although his expression spoke by itself. 

“Shit. All this is just fucking horse shit…” the healer breathed out, mentally and physically exhausted, starting to wonder if she had made the right choice to remain within the Inquisition ranks. 

However, before she could once more compare the last decisions of the Inquisitor to the final product of a horse digested meal, someone broke into the stables, interrupting the conversation and calling her with a breathy voice. “Alyna… Thank the Maker… I’ve been looking for you all around… Zack sent me… We need you at the infirmary.” The young lad wore one of the grey tunics that gave away his healer apprentice status. 

She looked back at him, inexpressive, and suddenly a rush of guilt invaded her when the words of Nightmare ricocheted in her mind. It didn’t matter that she wanted to give up and send everything to hell: helping was the priority now. 

The boy held her stare, but he was clearly growing impatient with her quietness. 

“Ok, let’s go,” she breathed out firmly at the end, standing up after giving a quick hug to Varric. “Come and see me if you need me,” she whispered in his friend’s ear. 

Solas gave her a concerned glance once she passed next to him. A glance that she answered with a thin smile. “I’ll see you soon,” she whispered to him. 

Then, after muttering a quiet ‘goodbye’ to everyone else, she left the stables and got lost in the heavy rain. 

 

***

 

A week had happened since the battle and no traces of the dragon had been found at the edge of Adamant’s abyss which meant that the beast was still alive. After this week of sweet and sour victory, all the inner circle was departing back to Skyhold, together with the majority of the army. However, the infirmary was still full of mildly and severely injured warriors that would have to remain for at least two extra weeks in Adamant under the healer’s expertise before they would be able to stand such a long trip back home. Most of the healers would stay behind with a small detachment of the soldiers, including Commander Cullen, in order to guarantee everyone’s safety while travelling to Skyhold.

The sun had just broken over the horizon when Solas, who was fastening the saddlebags to his mount, heard the heavy steps behind him. Despite recognising them immediately, the mage carried on with his task, waiting for the newcomer to speak first. 

“Solas,” Cullen called him as a salutation with a subtle nod of his head and a mask of courtesy.

The elf turned around to face him, squaring his shoulders and lengthening his spine in an involuntary gesture: he towered nearly one head over any other modern elf but was still not used to be shorter than some humans, finding it quite annoying. Especially when the shemlen was the one in front of him. “Commander,” he answered with his usual contained politeness. 

But Cullen surprised him, ignoring any type of formalism between them and speaking with a familiarity the mage didn’t expect at all. “Look, Solas, you know I wouldn’t come looking for you unless I thought it was really necessary, but I need your help.”

Solas frowned at his words. He knew there would be only one reason for Cullen to look for his help, but he waited for him to confirm it.

“I know you are leaving with the others and…” the Commander made a sort of grimace and a pause, “I also know that you met with Alyna yesterday… I’m not trying to be meddling, but she hasn’t left the infirmary at all during this week… Neither did she yesterday, as you probably know already. I tried to send her to sleep today and she basically told me to fuck off.”

The mage snorted although he stopped his doing with the horse and sighed, thinking of the conversation he’d had the day before with the healer. She avoided speaking about the obsessive healing spiral that she’d been caught in and the mage was perfectly aware of her erratic and scarce napping in the infirmary. But she also assured him that she would go to sleep straight away after him departure. “So she didn’t last night, either?” Solas asked just to make sure. 

A question that Cullen replied with a shake of his head. “I was thinking that perhaps you can speak to her before you leave. Come to terms… She’ll listen to you more than to me...”

The mage caressed the snout of his horse, gaining a soft neigh from it. He really admired her determination, although her stubbornness had reached a dangerous point, irrational. Nightmare’s words addressed to the healer came back to him as they had done many times during that week, and he wondered once more what could have happened in her life before to make remorse her worst fear. “Ok, I’ll speak to her,” he finally said. 

 

***

 

Alyna strode towards the basin and washed her face with a deep breath and a weary face that got eclipsed with her paleness and deep dark circles under her eyes. Cullen’s accusations were all true: she hadn’t left the infirmary at all. At least, not for sleeping: she had bathed and changed her clothes, of course, but that was all. The shorts naps on the bedroll under one of the tables could hardly count as proper sleep.

Even so, she lied. “I’m alright, Solas. Just a couple of hours and I’ll go,” she uttered, glaring murderously at the Commander leaning on the threshold, still not believing he had been so vile as to call the mage in after her outburst. 

“Well, you told me the same yesterday. And you clearly lied,” Solas replied, serious, grabbing her arm unceremoniously to make her stop walking around. He scanned her aura with his. “Don’t you realize your focus is not adequate to favour your mana production? For spirit’s sake, you are exhausted in every meaning of the term.”

The healer locked her tired grey eyes on his and the wall of bricks that she had built around herself during that week seemed to crumble, realizing how preoccupied he actually looked. “I can’t,” she muttered in a pained whispered, shaking her head. “It’s what I have to do… It’s my responsibility.”

Solas softened his gesture and let her go, surprised by the curtain of raw pain that covered her eyes. 

“Alyna, don’t be stupid. Why not? Is this so important to give your own life in return?” Cullen intervened, bewildered by her answer and discerning the secret behind.

“This is about Nightmare’s words, am I right?” the elf asked, ignoring the Commander. 

She remained quiet, sorrowful. 

Knowing the origin of her power, some of her story and circumstances and putting it all together with Nightmare’s message, Solas had been able to glimpse that she had lost control of her magic at least once in the past, as it nearly happened at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, too. And that she had killed people: perhaps her allies amongst the enemies, or perhaps innocent people. But he didn’t want to bring the event up that while in Adamant, or even less in the Fade. Besides, Nightmare had also called her an abomination , even if she was only borrowing Compassion’s powers… Could that agreement be considered a sort of possession? Where did the connection between the spirit and the healer ended? Or, to put it into different words, how much of each other did they share?

Whatever happened, Alyna was trying to make up for it with the healing and Solas could do nothing else than admire her strength and determination. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked her, cupping her cheeks in a loving gesture. 

“No,” she replied without hesitation, evasive. “Not now.”

They heard Cullen snort coming from the door, although Solas was clearly expecting that answer. “Promise me that you will rest today.” His tone was calm and soothing, but there was an underlying imperative demand for it. 

She nodded, confirming. “Tonight. I promise.” The healer broke free of his embrace with before saying goodbye and going back to her patients, leaving them stranded in the small room.

Solas sighed softly and turned on his heels with still a mild worried feeling in his guts: he was worried for her. “ One way or another, that’s what you thought she would be: a worry, ” he told himself, making his way out of the infirmary, closely followed by Cullen. In spite of the obvious negative tone of his thought, he was strangely on terms with it: it had been a very long time since he had worried about someone he loved. Although he had never been that seriously involved with anyone like her: determined, strong and as hunted by her demons as he was. 

“Thanks for trying. I suppose she hasn’t told you what happened…” the Commander spoke carrying the elf away from his thoughts, narrowing their eyes at the blinding sunlight of the newborn day. 

“No. I don’t think I know more than you do.” Solas looked up at Cullen. The Commander was around Alyna’s age, blonde, with a permanent five o’clock shadow, attractive under human standards… the perfect portrait of how a shemlen should be. Since his confession about quitting lyrium in Halamshiral, the Commander had definitely shown himself more friendly, giving some signs of acceptance towards their relationship. However, that was not enough for Solas, who was trying his best to maintain a certain veil of formality and professionalism around him. The elf knew that, if the circumstances were different, he would have wiped Cullen off the map after Haven without any type of remorse or hesitation. And that sort of camaraderie was somehow strange, sharing a conversation about Alyna without her knowing, considering they represented her past and her present. 

“I only know blurred parts of the story: something happened right after she made the deal with Compassion. But I’m sure you are already aware of it.”

“I might have noticed something, yes,” Solas replied cryptically, and Cullen smiled when he realized the mage wouldn't give anything away regarding the topic. 

“Well, you have seen them while fighting… You know what she can do. How powerful she is.”

That line was not actually a question rather than a statement directed to pull some information out of him, but he didn’t take the bait. Solas couldn’t ignore the fact that the Commander spoke with respect and a hint of fear of her magic. “ What a terrible irony to fall in love with Alyna… A templar and a mage who represents everything he had been trained to hate and fight against during his whole life. Besides, she was the perfect picture of why mages ended up locked in Circles: as a preventive measure .” Solas recalled the battle in Haven, the dark shine in the healer’s eyes and her power of the arcane… She was powerful. Definitely more than himself at the moment. 

Even if he was starting to get over it, it was an obvious fact that Commander Cullen was still in love with the healer. And Solas knew perfectly well that he would not find anyone better to look after her during the weeks she remained in Adamant.    

“Take care of her, please,” the mage requested him, and it was impossible for the human to conceal his surprise, as his expression gave it away. 

But once he recovered from the shock, the Commander nodded. “I will.”

 

***

 

Finally, Alyna listened to Solas. That same evening, realizing that the patients were in a stable condition, she took, at last, a more than necessary break. She didn’t leave the infirmary though, but this time she moved her bedroll to one of the empty rooms on the top floor, where peace and quiet could be found. The mage was annoyingly damn right, as he always was: she was absolutely exhausted, wasted. Her mana was not recharging properly and she was well aware of it. But the healer had other knowledge and skills apart from her magic, and they all had been highly useful for her task. 

Besides, she didn’t want to be left alone with her thoughts.

Guilt. Remorse. Those feelings were not as powerful as Fear, Love or Pride, but they were always there, in the background, scratching on the walls that she built to keep them hidden. From time to time, they managed to knock them down and reappear with renewed strength, ready to engulf her whole world and invade all aspects of her life. Until she was able to build a new cage to put them back in. New walls.

And Alyna was perfectly aware that she would have to live with it for the rest of her life. To deal with her mistakes, to try to make up for them. “ It won’t happen again, ” she dreamt in the middle of her delirium of guilt during her sleep.

Back when it had happened, there were too many new things in her life: new healing knowledge, a new clan and the new pact with Compassion. She had never been a good dreamer, nor a good Fade explorer, but her wanderings and her determination had caught the spirit's eye. They became friends when she told him about her expectations, her need to do good. And he offered his help.

The clan provided the knowledge: dalish healing tradition based on the ancient healing ways of Elvhenan. The Keeper also gave her the spells and offered her a vallaslin, a mark of belonging. An offer that she refused. She didn’t want to belong: there were many places to be explored, many cities to discover and so much knowledge to acquire... She had decided to leave already when everything happened.

The battle was harsh, as they always are, but she was still too young and too inexperienced in combat. For many years she could only recall the sharp panic in her chest and the certainty that she was going to die. Later, a blinding dark light. And then, darkness.

When she woke up, everything was pitch black, but there was light enough to discern the piles of ashes around her: no hurlocks, no troll, no dalish, no humans… Guilt appeared then, but the healer also realized how powerful she truly was thanks to Compassion. And Pride covered the Remorse. 

She confronted Compassion in the Fade that night: he was horrified and wanted to retrieve his powers but she begged him not to do it. To trust her, because she could do better. And she did, improving her self-control, stopping on that thin line that made her cold and heartless with her enemies, but without stepping any further. However, sometimes her focus faltered, making her castings go off the secure limits, especially when Fear for any of her allies was involved, like at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. 

To compensate for her actions, she threw herself into healing. 

Alyna had travelled the world, learning, improving, trying not to get attached to anyone during her youth. But as she became older, strings began to link her to different places and to different people. And the feeling of Terror appeared. Terror that the scene in the dalish forest would be repeated. Terror to lose control again during a battle and hurt someone she loved. 

She would have to make up for her mistakes. Forever.

That was why it was so important to her. That was why she gave her life to it.

 

***

 

“Well, I’m glad at least he made you come to reason…” Cullen smirked teasingly when she appeared the next day in the infirmary. “Zack told me that you have been out for nearly twelve hours. Tell me, were they needed?”

Alyna rolled her eyes at his presence. “Have you kept watch on the door, checking I wouldn't come back? Didn’t you have anything better to do?” she joked, full of irony.

“No, I didn’t have anything better to do other than keeping an eye on a bloody obstinate healer that would rather die working than admit she needs a break.”

She snorted at his words. The tone of the conversation was not serious, rather than ironic. But there was a clear reproach underlying it: Solas was not the only one worried about her. 

“Is the criticism the only motivation for your visit, or is there anything else that troubles you, Cullen?” she sighed out. 

“I just wanted to ask you if you are all right. That’s all.” His tone was honest, no trace of wittiness or condescendence: pure and crystalline concern.

And the healer took some time to answer, tying her hair up in a messy bun over her head with a serious gesture. “I will. Like always,” she said, convincingly. Alyna had expected him to leave then. But the silence stretched a few seconds without words and it was starting to turn awkward. “Thanks for asking. How are you?” she asked in the end.

Cullen observed how some stray locks escaped from her attempt at an updo, grazing her cheek. He wanted to dart his hand forward and tuck them behind her ear, but stopped himself, fully aware that he would be overstepping: that time had already gone. She stared at him with curiosity at his quietness with those silver eyes that one day had been his weakness. He ended up drawing a smile on his lips, breaking the wondering silence. “I’m alright. Surprisingly better than the last time, I suppose. Although…” he seemed thoughtful now. “I have no excuse for what happened in the last few months. And I’m sorry about it...”

The healer remained quiet, trying to work out if she should say anything at all, but Cullen carried on before she made up her mind. “...Also… I’m happy for you. But just for you. I hope you understand why I don’t get along with him…”     

A quirk of a smile twisted Alyna’s lips. This Cullen was more similar to the guy she could recall: witty, stumbling on his words, somehow funny… “Thank you, Cullen,” she spoke at least. 

“And whatever you need... Anything…” he resumed his chat.

“Yes, I will let you know.”

Commander Cullen gave her a last tender meaningful look and turned on his heels, leaving the infirmary while she followed his steps with her gaze. It was hard to believe that addiction had cost them everything and was still carrying so many consequences in his life. But, sometimes, things are just not meant to happen. 

The ex-templar would hold on his shoulders the weight of his decisions, the same way Alyna would always carry her guilt on hers.

Chapter Text

Their return to Skyhold was delayed for two more weeks while they waited for the remaining injured soldiers’ condition to improve, but then a crow from Leliana arrived with a coded message: the Inquisitor needed both Alyna and Cullen back to the fortress as soon as possible, as there had been new sightings of Corypheus’ troops in the South. So they were to depart immediately with a small escort. 

The concept of fun that Alyna had in mind was miles away from travelling together with Cullen for a whole week. Actually, she was miles away from being remotely comfortable with the idea, even if they both had mended fences to achieve some sort of a normal relationship. But it was also true that, with her guilt buried once again, she missed her sort of mundane life: training with Bull every morning, pranks with Sera, drunken chats with Varric, pretending to read in Solas’ rotunda while watching him paint… Well, she actually missed everything about the elf: his relaxed facial expression when meditating to enter the Fade, the same once he had when sleeping next to her; the way he held the charcoal pencil with his slender and elegant fingers and the subtle control he had with them to capture reality on a piece of paper; the small wrinkles that appeared on the sides of his mouth when he smirked, or the scarce and precious sound of his laugh; his gentle touch on her body when they were together, nearly reverent but full of passion at the same time… They had found each other in the Fade every night once she picked up a regular sleeping routine, but the visits had been brief, avoiding any personal-related topic. Not a strange thing, considering the words Nightmare had addressed to both of them in the Fade. Words that the healer wanted to discuss face to face with him. 

As expected, the discomfort between Cullen and her was constant during the first days. Thanks the spirits, the soldiers that travelled with them were friendly enough to make the interactions slightly more natural and spontaneous. Only two days before arriving at Skyhold, Alyna discovered that her conversations with the Commander had become more bearable and he had even been able to pull a couple of laughs out of her. Anyway, Alyna was grateful when they set foot in the fortress and she was finally able to put some distance between them.  

Her first thought when she left her mount at the stables was to have a bath. She could kill for one. Or beg for it. However, her steps took her involuntarily to Solas’ rotunda with a strange excitement feeling. She was thirsty for him: to see him, to kiss him. To get in his bed and stay there for a whole week.

But, to her disappointment, Solas was not there. 

She sighed and spun in the empty room, admiring the beautiful frescoes on the walls once again. It seemed that the elf had kept himself busy during their time apart: Halamshiral and the Empress with her fabulous Orlais-blue dress was already finished and, next to it, Adamant fortress and a glimpse of the Black City were already fully sketched and half painted on the wall. Alyna had never been the one to appreciate painting, perhaps because she had had scarce contact with it before. But Solas’ frescoes were breathtaking in their simplicity: he was highly skilled and his compositions were elegant and balanced. And, as always, she couldn’t help to take a little peek over his table to see his sketchpad: she loved analyzing the evolution from the first idea to the final result on the wall, surprised by how his creativity flowed. 

However, the sketchpad was not there. Instead, an envelope with the word vhenan rested in the middle of the desk. Alyna recognised his cursive calligraphy, so she opened it and pulled out a note from it. Only two words were written on it: my room.

Her heart raced strangely in her chest with nervousness, anticipation building up, so she headed there. The thought of taking a detour and having a bath before meeting him flashed in her mind, but she brushed it off, blinded by the need to see him. Before her brain was able to provide any other rational thought, she was in front of his door, knocking, still covered in mud and dust from the journey. 

“Come in. It’s open.”

His voice… how much she had missed his voice. 

She pulled the handle and got into his room. They had slept there countless times. Together. The last time barely a month ago, when they dropped the fancy vase, waking up half of Skyhold for sure. Butterflies in the stomach , some people called the feeling she was experiencing. Stupid, but an accurate description. 

The vase was fixed and back up in the middle of the table with fresh flowers in it. Also, there were a couple of sandwiches, a jug and two cups. The figure of someone squatting down next to the bathtub caught her eyes: Solas was checking the temperature of the steamy water. Water that smelled like lavender, of course. The healer chuckled, realizing what he was up to, and closed the door behind her. 

“I see you have received my message,” he said as a greeting while standing up, drawing a thin smile.     

His voice brushed over her senses like a warm sunny day after a month of icy rain and the healer surprised herself thinking of how naive that sounded for her. “Are you running a bath for me?” she asked with an incredulous tone, still frozen by the door. 

He openly smiled and closed the distance between them, freeing her from her backpack and her staff. Then, he cupped her chin with his fingers, tilted her head up and kissed her lips. Soft, sweet and slow. It made her feel dizzy with his warmth. “Leliana informed me of your arrival this evening. I thought you would be tired and I am lucky enough to have a bathtub in my room. I also brought you some food, in case you are hungry.”

She shook her head with a small laugh breathed out between clenched teeth, clearly touched. “This is… Thank you. I was not expecting…” 

Her voice broke and the mage stared at her, knitting his brows. “What’s wrong?”

Alyna chuckled, feeling stupid. She tried her best to make the lump in her throat disappear and was able to avoid the tears spilling. “Nothing! Nothing at all. I mean… I was not expecting this. It’s one of the nicest things… Arg! I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” she laughed at the end, feeling utterly defenceless. 

Solas couldn’t help but smile. It hadn’t been his intention to have that sort of effect on her. He just thought it natural. A small little gesture. “I’m glad it surprised you. Will you be able to take your clothes off or will you perhaps require further assistance..?” he wondered smugly, with a smirk at her stillness, already fiddling with the laces on her corset.

The healer reacted then, brushing his hands away. “Don’t you dare touch me! I’m absolutely disgusting right now. I do really need that bath.”

Alyna walked towards the tub taking off and scattering pieces of her armour around until she was fully naked. Then, she got in, immersing her head under the hot surface, enjoying the peace and quiet for a little while. Her feelings were choking her and the healer was not sure if she would be able to keep them bottled up any longer. But first, she needed to speak to him about her secret. About what she did. Alyna had made the decision that he had to know about it before taking any further step in their relationship. Or whatever it was they had…

She broke the surface of the water, slightly gasping for air, and looked at the elf, who was now sitting on a cushion, his back on the wall next to the tub with a book in his hand. “You’ll find soap and a sponge on your left,” he said, raising his eyes from his reading of History of Tevinter, vol. 4 .

Her eyes narrowed in suspicion while playing indignant when she picked both items from the small tray. “These are my soap and my sponge. Have you broken into my quarters again?”

A shrug and a smug smile was all that she got back from him. “You should protect them better; you are powerful enough to do so,” he replied with a witty tone. 

She chuckled and proceeded to clean herself up properly while the elf stared at her intensely, the book in his hand now totally forgotten. Once she was done, the healer rested her arms and chin on the edge of the bathtub, studying him with her silver eyes. Solas held her stare, wondering. A beam of the sunset sun fell upon him, dyeing his eyes in a curious tone of amber and giving him a strange appearance. As if he was not himself. A compassionate silence stretched between them before Alyna decided to speak without any preambles “Solas, Nightmare’s message… It was Elven. I mean… proper Elven...”

Straight to the point... ” the mage thought with secret amusement, conscious of how much he liked that trait of her. She hadn’t drafted any questions at all, just a simple statement urging him for answers. “It was, indeed. Nightmare found a language no one else could understand to deliver my message.”

The healer kept staring at him with inquisitive pale eyes. Obviously, she was curious; he would have been too. “I didn’t know you were this fluent in Elven… I could hardly understand a couple of words… I thought most of it was lost...” 

“Sadly, I’m far from being fluent. However, the Fade is full of memories spoken in strange languages for those who are eager to listen. And spirits willing to recall and to teach it, if you are eager to learn.”  

Being able to speak, read or understand Elven was a rarity in Thedas, as most of the language got lost with the fall of Elvhenan. It was practically unused amongst the city elves nowadays, but some Dalish clans were still able to partially speak it. They taught its remains to the new generations. Nevertheless, the ancient language was broken, shattered, irretrievable… 

It was obvious that Solas’ knowledge of Elven was superior: it was his mother tongue after all. But he was perfectly aware of how uncommon that was for a modern elf, even with the ‘Fade’ excuse. It had been really hard for him to focus on speaking Common only since he awoke.

Solas thought of how tired of lying he was. She didn’t deserve that. And, during a whole second of weakness, he wondered what Alyna would say if he confessed: his name, his origin, his role, his mission… Would she accept him? Would she forgive him? 

That weakness was growing at the same rate that his feelings were. 

“Well, yes. Makes sense I suppose... You are a box full of surprises, Solas. Any other languages you can understand?” she asked, raising her eyebrows and tilting her head with curiosity.

The mage felt some relief, aware that her expression was less serious now: she trusted him. And she shouldn’t. Solas sighed deeply before speaking, remorseful, recalling… It had been so many years in the Fade… “Ancient Tevene and some Qunlat, too… And many more ... But I don’t like bragging about it.”

His words made Alyna chuckle. “Wait, you don’t like bragging?” she properly laughed, all sarcasm, gaining a reprobatory glare back from him. “C’mon! You love showing off your broad Fade knowledge, admit it!” 

Solas crooked a grin. He knew her suspicions had been dodged, but his spirit didn’t feel eased at all. “ Another lie that will tear us apart… ” 

“Perhaps you can teach me some basics...” she wondered, her eyes now full of amazement. 

“Perhaps… Once we have more spare time I would gladly do it, although I think you would be disappointed with my oral expertise, this time.” 

She was the one who crooked a grin now, playful. “Well, I think your oral expertise is for me to judge,” she replied flirtily.  

The silence fell upon them again when Alyna gave a second wash on her hair. Then, the mage asked, casually “You are not going to ask me what Nightmare’s message was about?” 

Her lips turned into a fine seam of indifference, shaking her head at the same time. “I told you I wouldn’t ask any questions unless you wanted me to,” she replied, thoughtful.

Solas sighed again, wondering how an old broken being like him could still feel so intensely. What had he done to deserve someone like her? She deserved better: the truth. He wouldn’t lie this time. “You saw the epitaph on my grave: dying alone. Nightmare reminded me of that to me: it is still my fear after many years... Although I would rather not reproduce his exact words...”

“You won’t die alone, Solas,” Alyna replied with determination and a piercing look in her silver eyes, locked on his.

She had pronounced those words with an intensity that stirred his spirit deep inside. 

Relief.  

Perhaps… She’ll understand... ” he thought.

“Your hair… It looks quite long,” she carried on, trying to ease the mood with a change of topic,  interrupting his meditations abruptly.

A snort escaped involuntarily from him with the totally unexpected comment and Solas did his best to forget his previous gloomy line of thought. “The concept of long is arguable. Although, you are right: it’s longer than before.”

“Why?” she wanted to know.

He breathed deeply in, looking for the answer. Deep down, he was perfectly aware that he hadn’t shaved his head because the borders of his promise were fading within the events. In Elvhenan, shaving your head was a tradition during war times, when dangerous battles were to be fought or when a mission had to be accomplished. Even if his final goal was still there, perhaps he was just in denial: enjoying a fake feeling of being alive again as much as he could, forgetting his burden. Growing his hair was just an act of rebellion towards himself. And towards his fate. “Laziness, I suppose. I needed to check the progression of the grey ones,” he supplied instead.

Alyna chuckled with his answer, unaware of his real motives. “And how went the counting, hahren ?”

“Not as bad as I thought. Although they are still advancing,” the elf carried on. “What about your return trip with the Commander?”

The question made Alyna raise an eyebrow, questioningly, although she didn’t detect jealousy or any other feeling apart from honest curiosity. “As uncomfortable as expected. But thanks for asking, anyway,” she blurted out, wringing out her hair and standing up after, water dripping from her skin. “Did you miss me?” she asked.

“Of course I did, do you seriously have to ask that?” he replied, perhaps a little offended, standing up to grab a towel for her.

“I just like it when you say it,” she teased, getting off the bathtub.

Solas sighed and wrapped her with the towel, pulling her closer to him, lowering his head to reach her forehead with his lips. She was wet, warm after the bath and her cheeks were lit, although her eyes were still clear as the moonlight. The elf’s mouth hovered over hers, breathing the same sweet air. However, he didn’t kiss her. When he spoke his next words, she was close enough to feel each of them on her lips. “I missed you each and every day we haven’t been together, vhenan .”   

His answer clearly pleased her. “Mmm… still a sweet talker , I see…” she teased him, making him smile.

“You need to eat something before you go to bed,” he said caringly, walking her back towards the small table. 

“I’m so tired that I don’t think I'll be able to…” she complained when he sat her down on the chair.

“I’m sure you can make the effort,” he told her while tidying up the bathroom, drying the water from the floor and emptying the tub magically with a small flick of his wrist. 

“Can I stay over?”  

The mage looked at her with a puzzled expression before answering. “I thought that was implicit with the invitation, not a matter of debate.” 

He provided her with clothes that he had also borrowed from her quarters. Once all the food disappeared from the plate, Alyna got in his bed, covering herself with the blankets while Solas stacked up the plates. 

“Solas…” she spoke, deeply breathing before continuing. Cautious. And exhausted. “I would like to tell you what I did. What Nightmare told me...” 

Vhenan , whatever it is, I’m sure it can wait until tomorrow. You are tired. You should rest now,” he said softly, leaving the room to take everything back to the kitchens. 

When he came back, she was already fast asleep in his bed, cuddling one of his pillows. 

 

***

 

Alyna was waiting for him when he entered the Fade, sitting on the dusty road with her back facing him. The Fade was embroidered with heavy sadness and the salty flavour of her tears. She looked utterly alone, small and scared. Terrified in the middle of the dream. In the middle of the fight. In the middle of nowhere. 

A distressed group of human merchants and their wagons had been halted by a group of hurlocks and genlocks. The few mercenaries that protected the humans fought against the creatures, although the fight didn’t look well for them, number-wise speaking.

The yellow dust of the road mixed with the blood spilt, forming reddish puddles of mud with ferrous smell around the healer.

Solas looked around and grunted at the sight, certainly preoccupied and perhaps a bit annoyed. “I told you this could wait until tomorrow, right?” he asked with a deep frown in front of the female elf that had turned to face him, aware of his presence now.

There were no traces of tears in her eyes, though: just a full inexpressive mask. “I was having a nightmare. This is my Nightmare. The one that comes back to me. The one that will haunt me every day of my life.”

“Alyna, I can take you out of here if you want me to,” he offered with a serious face.

But the healer shook her head. “No. I need you to see it. You will be the first one,” she replied, still in the middle of the path.

Then, as if she had dispelled an arcane spell, the scene came back to life. 

The fight, pained screams, growls and grunts and the metallic clash of swords filled the air. At that exact moment, a group of six elves, a small detachment, appeared from the glade on the left side, ready to help the humans. Solas recognised Alyna in one of them, very young, no more than 18. Half of her head was shaved in a dalish style and the other was ornamentally plaited. She carried a staff and began her attack, protecting the families with a potent barrier and paralyzing some enemies around the human mercenaries. However, Solas perceived in the memory that her focus was faltering, making her spells dangerous for everyone around. 

Ten minutes went by. Ten minutes during which the superiority of the darkspawn was obvious. There were only three mercenaries left standing and her own clan warriors were exhausted and making mistakes. The elf that had been fighting next to her, her friend, dropped on the ground with a hand grabbing his throat when a hurlock slit it open. The gurgling of the scarlet liquid pouring out of him, sliding down his fingers, and his useless efforts to breath were the only sounds around for a few eternal seconds. She pushed the hurlock away with a fade strike and dropped on her knees to help his friend, using all her magic to contain the haemorrhage. But the wound was too deep to be healed. As the life escaped the wounded elf, Solas saw how her face changed: she had been nervous before, but now she was panicking: her focus completely lost. She sprung up when another creature charged towards her, swinging its sword over its head. But, instead of attacking, she stared at her hands and her forearms, fully covered with his blood. Her breath had fastened and she felt as if she was about to pass out. 

All of a sudden, there was a substantial change in her aura: her face became expressionless, and her eyes shone like frozen steel with the same dark glimmer that Solas had seen in the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Before the hurlock threw its attack, the healer raised her arms with a cry and cast a powerful shadow sweep that expanded around her, turning into dust any living creature on its way. She passed out, drained of mana, before knowing for sure the real radius the spell had reached. Although Solas was nearly certain, given the magnitude of her powers, that no living creatures on that road were able to survive. And, deep down, Alyna knew it, too. 

The setting and the dream turned pitch black as she fell unconscious and Alyna gasped for air, choking in the dense dark Guilt that had invaded her nightmare. 

But her gasping turned into a sob, and she cried. And Solas’ heart throbbed painfully in his chest: he had never seen her cry before. 

There was no need to ask for permission. He dispelled the darkness and created a new environment swiftly: a clearing in the forest under a starry summer night and a waterfall. The quietness was only interrupted by the constant singing of the crickets and the sound of the water. 

She stood on the same exact spot, slightly shaky but breathing normally now, with her eyes shut close. However, her tears were still being shed. The elf came closer to her and dropped a kiss on her forehead after encircling her in his arms. “Thank you for letting me see it.”

She breathed a couple of times before being able to speak. Her next words were devastating. “I’m a murderer,” she said, broken.

Solas thought of a hundred reasons that would act as extenuating circumstances but, according to his experience, he knew that none of them would help. She needed more time to forgive herself. A time that her shemlen life would not give her. But he spoke, anyway, soothing. “You made a mistake. You were scared and you were handling too much power.”

“But I killed them...” Alyna whispered.

“But you were trying to help. They would have died anyway, Alyna. And you within them.”

The healer looked up at him with reddened eyes and shook her head, muffling a sob. “Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t…”

“You weren’t meant to. You have done a lot of good since then with your healing powers. Your debt has been more than settled.”

She scoffed, sniffing slightly while the mage used his thumb to dry a stray tear on her right cheek. “I don’t know how many lives are the equivalent for what I did… I don’t think it could ever be settled…”

Solas understood she was right: there was nothing he could do or say to make her feel better. To make her feel less remorseful. 

Just like he would never be. 

The mage held her in his arms again tightly until her tears dried up. And she felt grateful with the fact that Solas was still there, even after knowing about her terrible secret. He was still with her. No one in Thedas knew her as he did: Alyna had opened her soul to him and told him her deepest secrets and fears. She had never done it with anyone before. 

“Solas…” she said pulling back from his embrace. 

But he didn’t let her continue. With a hand on the nape of her neck, he bridged the space between them and kissed her. It was subtle, tender and full of meaning, giving a glimpse of the words none of them had dared to pronounce yet: because Alyna didn’t want to break their perfect balance and because Solas knew he would be completely lost.

The elf moved back, looking at her intently in the eyes. He sighed, defeated once more, perhaps forever. “ Ar lath ma, vhenan ,” he whispered, caressing her cheek.

Ar melana ma lath .”

 

***

 

Sitting in the armchair, he observed pensively the shape of her body under the bedsheets. He had woken up after their confession and couldn’t go back to sleep. From the orange shades that started to stain the night sky, he knew that the dawn was coming. Alyna breathed steadily in her dream, looking at the empty pillow where he had been resting a minute ago. 

She looked peaceful in her sleep. And beautiful. 

Nightmare’s words came back to his mind: Greetings, Trickster. That’s what they called you. You were right banning them from existence, despite the People’s lost. But you are too proud to let it go. Your only mission is to redeem yourself at all costs. Does anyone know who you really are? Does she know? There’s only solitude on your path ahead.     

What a gracious whim of fate that she had appeared in his life to disrupt a path that he had to walk alone. A path that he wouldn’t wish upon his worst enemy, even less the woman he loved. He had fought against their attraction, their connection, his feelings... all in vain. And now it was just too late. Fen’Harel had been selfish once again telling her that he loved her, but she was a warm reminder that he was alive. That he could feel love. Perhaps, that he could be redeemed. Because he loved her the way he hadn’t loved anyone in a long time, probably since happier times in Arlathan. And there had been enough lies. “ She has to know the truth... The truth of what happened. The truth of who I am. What I did… I want her to know… I need her... ” he thought, resting his sharp chin on the palm of his hand. “ She will hate me but there’s hope. I hope that she will forgive me... But I will protect her. Once I recover the Orb, I will confess… ” 

The decision had been made: he had decided to bare his soul to her once his mission would be accomplished: to tell her the whole truth. Even knowing that it would hurt her deeply and there was a chance that she wouldn’t be able to forgive him. Nor agree with his intentions.

In any case, his plans had to continue. And that was something no one, not even Alyna, would be able to change.

Chapter Text

“Thank you all for coming. Especially you two, Commander and Alyna. I know you arrived yesterday and you must still be tired for sure, but the news can’t wait any longer.”

All the inner circle stood around the mahogany table and the new Thedas map in the operations room, waiting for the Inquisitor’s briefing in the matter. Most of the furniture was brand new, including Glenn’s desk, two comfortable armchairs and the massive and, for sure, expensive tapestries with the Inquisition emblem embroidered on them.

Both Alyna and Cullen nodded at their mentions with seriousness. In fact, every face circling the table was quite grave. The Herald let Leliana explain the situation. “We have a lead on Corypheus. There have been sightings in the south, close to the Arbor Wilds. My spies have reported a battalion - three hundred men - of venatori and red templars marching from the west towards an unknown location in the forest. We have eyes on them and constant reports and they assured me yesterday that Corypheus was within the troops, as well as Calpernia.”

“At last! Are we to depart soon?” Bull asked, highly motivated. 

“Not good news for us, especially after Adamant, as our army is still weakened…” Varric pointed out, not being able to share Bull’s enthusiasm at all, still not fully recovered from the last events and loses.

“No, the timing is not the best. But, once more, Orlais is willing to help. The Empress has been informed and has sent two hundred soldiers to the location marked on the map,” Josephine explained. 

“They will arrive in a week's time. That means our army has also got a week to reach the Wilds. Preparations have to be made immediately,” Cullen spoke, as determined as always, observing the map and drawing the best route to achieve the Arbor on it. “We will shortcut through the forest, getting straight into the place we’ll meet them.”

“We are all to depart with promptness. This afternoon at the latest,” the Herald informed. Then, he moved the small wooden pieces that represented the army and the Inquisitor to the southern part of the map, ready to confront the Corypheus’ piece. 

“Do we have any clue about what he is actually looking for in the Wilds?” Cassandra asked, putting into words everyone’s thoughts.

The silence fell upon them while Morrigan and the Herald exchanged glances, undecided, hesitant about sharing any of the information they both have been handling lately. At last, the witch spoke with her contralto voice. “We think that Corypheus aims for the eluvian that rests in the elvhen ruins in the forest.” 

There was some mumbling and whispers, as well as concerned gestures, as they were all well aware of what the strategic importance of the eluvians was. However, that was not the whole truth, and only Solas was fully aware of it: an eluvian was already resting in Skyhold, brought by the witch from Orlais. He had been able to sense its magic since first the day it arrived in the fortress and even more so when it was activated to show the Herald the deep implications of the power they would be able to handle if they gained their control. The elf knew that both, Morrigan and Glenn, had ended up in the Cross Roads, although he doubted they would have been able to travel any further. Definitely, Morrigan knowing the password to activate an eluvian was an inconvenience he would have to deal with. An inconvenience that would be soon sorted out once he would be able to travel to the Cross Roads and ‘reset’ the magic net. 

Besides, a different secret rested in those ruins. A secret that no one had put a name on yet. And Solas was also sure that Corypheus sought that secret too. 

“What do we know about the ruins?” Commander Cullen asked Leliana.

“We haven’t had enough time to scout them inside. Strategically speaking, they are huge. A kind of fortress, protected from the outside and the elements. What seemed to be the main entrance collapsed a long time ago, but my spies had found a different access point on the east. That’s all we know for now.” 

The Inquisitor breathed deeply in, expelling the air through his nose, thoughtfully looking at the map. “Can you add any other insight?” he finally said, looking directly at Solas, Alyna and Morrigan. 

Morrigan shrugged her shoulders slightly, indicating her ignorance. But Solas fixed his gaze on the map and the spot marked on it. He held his breath, washing down the pain of his memories before speaking. “The Arbor Wilds were one of the last elvhen refuges. After the fall of Elvhenan, numerous elvhen survivors fled there. I am also aware that the Elvhen fought bloody battles against the Tevinter Imperium army in the area, decimating their numbers dangerously, although the Tevenes won in the end.” There was a sour undertone in his voice, perfectly concealed with his usual academic tone, though. 

“If the Elvhen looked for shelter and lived in the area for some time, it makes sense that some of the artefacts could be found there...” Glenn thought aloud. “Do you have any clue about what the ruins might be?”

The mage remained quiet this time and it was Alyna who spoke instead. “The Dalish tradition says that the Elvhen were highly religious. Especially during their last years, when they tried to summon the elvhen gods back in order to help against the invaders. If I had to guess, I would say it is a temple, although it might be something else, like a palace or a fortress. However, I doubt they had enough time to build such buildings in the middle of a war that they were not winning. Not by far.”

The truth is that the temple - indeed - was far more ancient than any of those facts. Although it was true that the Elvhen had turned into their gods for help. No one answered their call, though.

“Whatever it is, I’m sure and eluvian sleeps there. We have to find it,” Morrigan estated with a strange greedy shine in her eyes.

“And what is he going to do with just one? I mean… I suppose he needs to analyze it, but is there any other that actually works? Has any other been discovered? Because it feels like a one-way road...” Varric said, all sarcasm, demanding more information with a deep frown, perfectly acknowledging they were keeping something for themselves.

“Of course there are more. There are some of them, untouched but inactive, in Tevinter. I’ve seen them with my own eyes,” Dorian said.

The Inquisitor’s expression was neutral although Morrigan was easier to read: her smug smile gave her away. Cullen and Josephine lowered their gaze slightly, trying not to meet anyone's. That made Alyna narrow her eyes in suspicion, thinking of how pointless all this pantomime was: clearly, they knew or even had already one of the mirrors: an active one. There was no other reason to act that weird in front of the inner circle trusted members. “I don’t see the point of keeping it hidden from everyone, but it seems clear to me that you also seek that power, which makes sense. Is it in Skyhold already?” Alyna asked, caustic, obtaining just silence back. “I think that would have been something important to share with everyone, you know? Does it work?”

Since Adamant’s events, Alyna had grown certainly critical with some of the Inquisitor’s decisions. And she was aware that some of the members of the inner circle agreed with her. Glenn stared at her with seriousness and a contained calm, until he finally succumbed. “Confidentiality was necessary. And, yes, it is here already. And it works.”

The healer scoffed. So, yes, that confirmed the doubts: the Inquisition was also fighting over the control of the eluvians and not just to keep them away from Corypheus. The confession gained Glenn some reprobatory glances around the table.

“It’s ancient and powerful magic. Although I feel terribly curious, I think it shouldn’t be disturbed,” Dorian opined. 

“If some things have been extinguished over the years, we should consider why. Ancient magic never brings any good…” Varric said, shaking his head from side to side. 

“On the contrary, I think controlling them would make the difference in this war. And for the Inquisition, too,” Blackwall added.

But the Inquisitor cut the crescent murmuring short with a roaring command. “We are not here to discuss what the Inquisition plans are if we get to gain control of the eluvians, as that is my decision. For now, our priority is to ban Corypheus from them. That’s where I need you all.” His outburst quietened everyone. 

Glenn Trevelyan had definitively grown as a leader. The movement had already reached the whole magnitude of Thedas and further away from its borders. And, with every victory, the Herald’s leading figure and his power grew along. He had always counted with the Chantry approval, of course, being the Herald of Andraste, but some people in Orlais and Ferelden had begun to worship his name. As a prophet. Or as a sort of divine being. A leader sent by the Maker. 

And he had morphed to his new role. 

“More information will be disclosed when things are tied up. That’s all you should know for now. I’ll see you right after lunch in the stables.” The meeting ended and, nearly immediately, there were small circles of comments, concealed whispers and nervous words in front of the news until the healer felt Glenn’s voice right behind her. “Alyna, do you have a moment? I would like to speak to you. In private.”

She nodded, knowing that that meeting would happen sooner or later. While the members of the inner circle left the room, she thought about how much her relationship with the Inquisitor had changed since they first met in Redcliffe. She had been somehow right. About the movement. And about him.

The Inquisitor poured two glasses of expensive nevarran red wine, offering her one, and sat behind his new desk, signalling with his hand the armchair in front of it. “We haven’t had the chance to speak about what happened in Adamant. I just want to remark that I made that decision thinking in the common good. Also, I would like to congratulate you and all the infirmary team for the quick recovery of our soldiers. You all did and are doing a fantastic job.”

Alyna smiled with condescendence. She was obviously not expecting an apology, neither a mea culpa . However, she accepted his compliment. “Thank you, Glenn. There’s a great healing team in this city. Perhaps you can go down to the second circle one day and congratulate them yourself. They would be really pleased with your visit, trust me.”

Her tone was neutral, not ironic at all. Honest and crystalline. However, she had laid her criticism subtly within her words.

The Herald nodded, smiling and sipping from his glass. Truth be told, he was so occupied with diplomacy, the orlesian game and court issues that he couldn’t remember the last time he actually went to the tavern to grab a beer with his old companions. He had different matters to care about now. More elevated ones. “I note it down,” he simply replied, evasive. “I can’t help but notice that we are dissenting in many aspects lately. I only wanted to ask you if you are still feeling part of the team. You are a precious member and I wouldn’t like to let our divergent opinions spoil our relationship or our common goal.”

It was Alyna’s turn to keep a neutral expression on her face. “ In short, do you still want to play along? ” she thought. “I do really appreciate that you hear what I have to say, considering different points of view, even if at the end of the day, you are the one making the decisions. And I already told you: I will remain with the Inquisition for now, as I want to help.”

Glenn didn’t seem completely pleased with her words, though. “Can I trust you will follow my orders, then?”

She smirked as an answer. “You can trust I will follow your orders, as long as they are in line with our common goal.”

“Defeating Corypheus?”

“Defeating Corypheus.”

 

***

 

The croaks and buzzes of frogs and mosquitoes were only interrupted by the sporadic conversation between the Iron Bull and Solas regarding the chess game they were both mentally playing. It had begun two days ago or, better said, Solas provoked it, gaining a definitely not gentle smug little asshole out from Bull, who accepted the challenge. Two days, and many more depreciations after, the battle was still ongoing, to everyone's amusement and expectation. 

“After careful considerations, knight to D5,” the mage carried on.

“Arishok takes pawn at B2,” Bull replied

“Mage to D6.”

“Arishok takes tower. Check. What are you doing, Solas?” Bull was puzzled at this point. Solas was already some pieces down. Losing a tower was not the best movement for sure. “King to E2.”

“All right… Tamassran takes tower. Your last tower, by the way,” Iron Bull mentioned, casually, but with a sly smirk. 

However, Solas remained coldly calm. “Pawn to E5.”

“Really? I’ve got my whole army bearing down on your king and you’re moving a pawn? Are you even trying anymore?”

“Think about it, my friend…”

Alyna was good at chess and saw the point on Bull’s words. As she had been able to check before, Solas was usually quite aggressive in his strategies within the game. But she felt lost after a couple of movements: she was certainly not as good as to be able to follow and preview the steps in an imaginary board. Especially, when walking their horses through one of the numerous swamps they had found on the shortcut they took in order to reach the Arbor Wilds faster. Definitely, the spring and the thaw didn’t play on their side as the warmer temperatures presaging the summer had melted all the snow in the Frostback Mountains faster than anyone expected. 

Taking that shortcut had been a great mistake. 

The Inquisitor, the inner circle and the detachment of soldiers struggled with every step, freeing their legs from the muddy waters in a pitifully slow pace. But the worst part was the deep scent of rotten vegetable matter. Or animal corpses. Who could tell at that point?

“I completely ignored there were such nice places still standing in Thedas,” Alyna joked to Varric and Cassandra once the chess battle came to a halt once again. 

“Even so, I’d rather be here than in Minrathous without any kind of doubt” Varric answered with seriousness.

The healer chuckled with his statement. “Don’t you dare to tell that to Dorian or he’ll skin you alive!” 

Varric faked an indignant face and used his best mockery tone, imitating the tevene’s accent and speaking manners “How could I, love? Although I don’t disagree with the dwarf statement: Tevinter stinks!”

Cassandra politely smiled at the words while Alyna openly laughed. Dorian, who had overheard the whole thing, shot a murderous glare at Varric. “Ha, ha, ha… very funny. As if Kirkwall’s slums were not as full of shit!”

The darf’s reply came fast to his mouth. “Trust me, they are! But the difference between us, my dear friend, is that I am fully aware that my city stinks!”

There was no real annoyance in his statement, being clearly teasing, easing the mood and making their journey more bearable. Alyna found herself back in time, walking the beautiful, foreign and full of life streets of Minrathous and its markets when she was 20. The smell of its harbour, however… It was just hideous and she felt sick just recalling it: a mixture of human faeces from the slavers boats and rotten fish. Sickening.

But the worst part, the one that truly revolted her stomach, was the constant fear and panic of being discovered. Not just as a mage, but as an elf. The city had one of the most prosperous slave markets in Thedas, followed closely by Kirkwall. Hundreds. Thousands of human beings, elves in their great majority, were sold weekly as slaves in the market square. If their fate was on their side, they would end up at the service of a gentle master, perhaps in a decent nobleman house. If not, prostitution, abuse, rape, or death were the most common outcome for some of the unlucky spirits.

A life of servitude and outrage. And nothing had changed over the years. 

“You are making a beautiful picture of both cities…” Cassandra complained of with a sigh, the squelch of her boots in the mud as a repetitive underlying phrase under her voice. 

“No! Don’t get me wrong! Both cities are impressive. Monumental. They are worth the visit… If you are human,” the healer noted with a grim gesture. 

“Well, lucky me, then. Although I had planned to invite you to join me, perhaps I should just let it go for now...” the Seeker ironized, making the healer chuckle.

Cassandra had been extremely critical with Glenn’s decision on letting the Grey Wardens stay within the Inquisition and had spoken to Alyna about the argument between them right after her arrival in Skyhold. The Seeker couldn’t sleep for a couple of days thinking about everything, questioning the remains of her faith, trying to put it back together. And it had been more difficult than anything else she had done before in her life. 

Leaving Hawke behind was a mistake. But the orders were to be followed. And that was the huge disagreement point in between Alyna and her. Even so, and once more avoiding the thorny topics, the relationship between them was, once again, good - time had cooled things down - and it was quite clear that the Seeker cared about her first recruited companions… Her friends.  

“Have you heard from Fenris yet?” Cassandra honestly wanted to know, as it seemed to happen that she also met Hawke’s partner during her time in Kirkwall.

Varric’s expression suddenly changed and shook his head with sorrow. “No. It will take time… Fenris is… Well, Fenris. I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to blow off his mourning on a slave master massacre or something similar. Just, don’t say I told you this.”

“You have spoken about him a lot but, who is this Fenris?” Alyna wanted to know.

The dwarf seemed thoughtful for some seconds where the disgusting squelch of their feet on the muddy ground and the buzz of the mosquitoes were the only sound around them, now Solas and Bull were quiet and back into their meditations.

“He was a slave. A broody one. Andraste’s tits… how broody he is… Well, something happened in Tevinter. His master, a magister, did some sort of magic trick on him… using lyrium. He tattooed it under his skin. Thanks to that he gets certainly moody and brutal when in combat.

“That sounds cruel. And painful...” Alyna opined although she couldn’t conceal her curiosity. “Has he developed any magic from then?”

“It was painful… And he’s still hurt, although apart of a lyrium rush that lets him go through walls and flesh, there’s not any other magic.” Varric sighed with the thought of Fenris opening the damned letter in which he announced Garret’s death. A low blow for everyone, even worse for him. “I think, after all this mission finishes, I will ask for some weeks to go back to Kirkwall and check that everything’s alright.”

“You are a good friend, Varric,” Cassandra stated.

“I try, you know… I try…”

“All right, Solas. I thought about it,” Bull interrupted Varric’s sentence with a renovated energy. “Ready to finish this?”

The mage rubbed some mud that had splattered his cheek before turning his eyes on the qunari, ready for the challenge. Dorian looked at Alyna and they both snickered, still not believing how seriously both their partners were taking that stupid game. 

“Ben-Hassrath to A6.”

“Knight takes pawn at G7. Check,” the mage said with confidence and calmness.

Bull grunted. “King to D8”

“Queen to F6. Check.” Solas replied, swiftly.

“And now my Ben-Hassrath takes you queen…” Bull said, surprised by his sacrifice and thinking that the game was definitely his. “You’ve got no towers. You’re down to a single mage. Too bad you wasted time moving that pawn to… to...” His expression suddenly swapped and his eyes snapped open when he realized what the elf’s plans were. “You sneaky son of a bitch!”

However, Solas didn’t gloat over his victory. “Mage to E7. Checkmate.” 

The qunari emitted another frustrated grunt. He was definitely not expecting that recklessness and aggressiveness on such a moderated personality. Solas had caught him off guard with his strategy. “Nice game, mage.”

“And you as well, Tal-Vashoth.”

“Well, now the battle has reached to an end, can the rest of the mortals carry on with their normal conversations or we are still in danger of interrupting your meticulous deliberations?” Dorian ironized, getting closer to Bull who used one of his massive arms to circle his waist, plaint a brief kiss on the human’s cheek as an apology.  

“You never interrupt, you know that,” the qunari said, flatterer.

“Yeah, well… That’s not what you said two minutes ago, amatus . And I’ve got witnesses!”

Alyna couldn’t help but notice the subtle quirk of a smile on Solas’ lips with their teasing. 

“Ey, lovebirds, keep us out of this, if you don’t mind. Too big to fight him, Dorian,” Varric complained about it with a smirk, making them all laugh.

Their interactions in front of everybody were sweet, although Alyna had never been prone to such sentimental exhibitions in public. And it seemed that her personality matched the mage’s one in that aspect, as he was not given to those public displays, either. However, there was his characteristic and courteous flirting, stolen kisses when no one was meant to be looking, the casual mana brushes, or caresses that lingered sometimes for a little bit longer than expected… However, that didn’t mean she didn’t like teasing him in front of everyone else. Actually, she loved it. 

They reached the edge of the swamp nearly in the evening, so they decided to set camp to rest for the day, Solas helping her, as always, putting her tent up. With a subtle difference this time, though: once her tent was done, he lifted the flap door and shoved his rucksack in with hers. 

The healer couldn’t hide her surprise and stared at his every movement, cocking an eyebrow. “You know…? I don’t really remember inviting you in…” she teased him with a smirk.

“Me neither. So I decided to take the lead,” he explained with a half-smile on his perfect full lips.

His confidence and his change of mind made her chuckle. Everyone knew they were together already. Who cared anymore? “Fair enough. But I just tell you that Sera is going to be upset with your intrusion...” she said, getting closer to him suggestively and circling his waist with her arms, running her hands over his lower back muscles and the sunken line that parted them right on his backbone. She pressed her body onto his, feeling his warmth and the usual tingling of his magic.

Solas half-smiled after pretending he reconsidered his action with a thoughtful face. He seemed to make up his mind when Alyna caressed his mana at the same time she rocked her hips slightly, feeling him grow hard against her belly.  

“Mmm… I didn’t mean to kick her out of the tent, yet to share it... But I think I might be able to accommodate her somewhere else…” he whispered, answering her with a subtle and chaste kiss on her forehead, leaving her eager for more.

“You tell her, then. Put the blame on me if you must. And hurry up: I’ll wait for you inside.”

Chapter Text

“We can confirm that Corypheus and his men are heading towards the ruins right now,” Leliana informed the group the day after they had settled camp. “My spies have obtained confirmation that it was a Temple, indeed, dedicated to the elvhen goddess Mythal. It seems to be even more archaic than we’d first thought...”

“The scouts reported that the main entrance has collapsed, although we have been able to find a side access. The temple is fully surrounded by Corypheus’ forces, but if we set our men here, here and here,” Cullen pointed to three different clearings on the map, “we’ll be able to open a breach for you to reach the entrance, Inquisitor.”

The Herald nodded, confirming the instructions. “What about the river? It seems to be the easiest option…”

“Sadly, it is not. The vegetation is quite dense and blocks the path at some points. The best option is to go through the forest, even if that means going through the battlefield too.”

“Obviously… too easy would be too boring,” Varric joked quietly, gathering some snickers around. 

Glenn, alien to the comment, studied the map in silence for a little while. Then, he raised his eyes from it, searching for the elves in the tent. “What should we expect in the temple? Who was Mythal?”

Surprisingly, Solas remained quiet, lowering his gaze while tinkering with one of the buckles of his belt. Memories of that place stung in his mind, happier times and terrible ones, flooded him with the mention of his friend. It was not the best moment for him to speak if he could avoid it, and he knew it would be difficult to keep his usual facade intact. It was Alyna who explained what they both knew about the place. “Mythal is often considered the Protector and the Mother. A goddess of love, according to the dalish tradition. The dalish invoke her name when seeking protection. Regarding the temple… I would be cautious: it hasn’t been explored for a thousand years and we have already tested how powerful ancient elvhen magic is. I would be as respectful as we can be, once inside.”

Solas breathed out. Respectful was a concept that he doubted any supreme power in Thedas was anymore. “We should not disturb the ruins, that’s my advice.” 

Glenn’s blue eyes followed the conversation with the elves before going back to the map, considering what his team would be for this mission. “Solas, you’ll come with me. Cole, you too: I’ll need an assassin. Bull, you always keep your head cool with all this magic and Fade things. And Alyna: we don’t know for sure how much elvhen magic we’ll have against us. And obviously Morrigan. All the others will remain under the Commander’s orders, fighting against the Elder One’s army.”

Everyone around the table nodded at his orders and Leliana seemed actually quite relieved. “I could do with some more archers in my ranks. Varric? Sera?”

“Of course, Nightingale . Count on Bianca. And with Buttercup here, too,” the dwarf said, leaning his head towards Sera, who nodded once and stuck her tongue out to Varric at her nickname.

“Get ready. The battle will begin soon.”

 

***

 

The group was walking along the river, waiting for the scout to tell them that the Commander had been able to open a breach for them to cross the battlefield. There were sounds of distant swords clashing mixed with the peaceful flowing water sounds, only interrupted by the occasional squawk of blue birds somewhere over their heads. No one spoke, however, focused on the mission to come.

Cole, in his own world as always and unworried about the battle, looked up, trying to locate the parrots at the top of the trees. However, his expression changed and he came closer to the healer, whispering with secrecy. “A place of secrets, buried but not forgotten... They stir the past and it's painful... He will never forget...” 

Alyna fixed her eyes in the spirit’s massive blue ones, puzzled, although she was accustomed to his ramblings. “Who are you talking about, Cole?” She failed to notice Solas’ piercing stare from the other side of the clearing. Obviously, he was well aware of who the spirit was referring to in his statement.

Cole opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, considering. He decided not to speak in the end, much to Alyna’s surprise, and looked back to the sky when another parrot screeched. Before the healer could insist on her questioning, the scout they had been waiting for arrived. “Inquisitor! Commander Cullen reports that you can proceed cautiously,” the man said out of breath while the group gathered together around the Herald. 

“Remember, we have to avoid confrontation as much as we can: we have to go straight to the temple. Solas, Alyna, I need a constant barrier on everyone. Bull and I will go at the front. Cole, do your thing but don’t get far from us. Let’s go!”

They ran towards the first clearing, over the slope, while the clash of swords, screams and war cries made a gradual crescendo around them. Too soon, it became deafening. Solas cast the first barrier once they started the descent on the other side, heading towards the fight. Once the spell was active, Bull charged against the Venatori that had intercepted them while the healer focused on mind-controlling the ones that were still on their feet, making them cover their backs. Cole appeared and disappeared, using his tactics to mark his victims for death, killing them stealthily from behind. After making their way through the enemies with some struggle, they reached the second slope and disappeared into the glade. Solas dispelled the barrier and Alyna turned the Red Templar that had guarded them into dust using her arcane.

“Impressive…” Morrigan commented, impossible to hide her admiration.

“Some support would have been welcome, too,” Alyna complained, hands a little shaky for the mana spent, running next to her. 

“I don’t know what for. You had everything perfectly under control,” the witch said, while also studying Cole, trying to find any sign of tiredness in him.

The birds’ twittering turned louder and then was muffled by the sounds originating from the next fight once they got closer to it. An old and crumbled elvhen bridge built over the river had been chosen by Leliana as an outpost for her Crows. From there, arrows flew over the enemies, ending them at a distance, while rogue assassins with daggers and fine blades fought against the Venatori on the ground. 

Alyna met Solas’ eyes without words and cast a barrier for the whole group, understanding she would be the one protecting them this time. “We are ready,” she said to the others. A formality not really necessary for Solas, Morrigan or Cole, anyway.

Bull charged again while Glenn waved his sword over his head, running towards the closest enemy. Solas invoked a firestorm on a group of Venatori that had dodged the Crows’ arrows. Then, he cast igneous glyphs underwater along the path where more enemies were to appear from.

The healer was at the back of the group, moving forward in the boisterous brawl, focusing all her willpower on the barrier and, every now and then, paralyzing some of the enemies around them. Suddenly, she perceived a blurred shadow moving swiftly from the corner of her eye and she turned on her heels, ready to confront the attacker. But nothing was there. As an automatic response, perhaps a sort of a premonition - or just good luck - Alyna reinforced her own barrier. And thanks to the spirits she did because, before she could resume her steps, a tall figure dressed in a golden armour had thrown a deadly stab aiming for the soft flesh at her shoulder and her neck. It ricocheted onto the barrier with a strength she was not expecting at all, shattering her magic into pieces with a loud snap and making her fall backwards with a pained scream. She saw, for a brief second, the tall and pale attacker who wore a golden fitted armour. He stared at her with deep amber eyes imbued in bewilderment, his head hidden under a dark hood before he disappeared again as fast as lightning.      

She scrambled promptly after the initial shock, casting the barrier again around her companions and examining with her fingers the area that had been hit by the blow. It felt swollen and sore and the healer was sure that it was already starting to bruise, but the skin was not broken. 

“Are you ok?” Solas had run back from the battle to find her as soon as he heard her scream. She didn’t answer, but confirmed with her head, touching her pained shoulder, and headed together towards the end of the clearing where the Inquisitor was already waiting for them.

“What happened?” he wanted to know. 

“I don’t know… It was way too fast and powerful. We need stronger barriers.” While talking, Solas removed her hand and pulled down her armour to examine the injury. She hissed in response at his cold spell on the muscle of her trapezius, although it numbed the pain immediately. The group looked back into the battle, able to confirm that enemies and Inquisition army men fell indistinctly dead under flashing strikes. But there were no known warriors to be seen behind the attacks.

“We have to keep going,” the Inquisitor encouraged them.

“What happened there? Have you seen anyone?” Bull asked the group, climbing up the steep path towards the top of the hill. 

“They are guardians… Assassins… Sentinels. They wake to fulfil their mission… Mythal is in danger… They commend their lives to it…” Cole explained, reading the thoughts of one of the beings. 

“Great. A bunch of super-fast deadly warriors...” Bull replied with mockery. 

“This is definitely not good news…” Morrigan complained, starting the descent. 

Once close to the clearing, they crouched down, studying the fight. The Commander, together with the Inquisition and Orlesian men fought bravely against the bulk of Corypheus forces there. The water under their feet was lightly dyed in the scarlet colour of the spilt blood.

A few steps ahead of their position, the healer saw one of the sentinels laying on the grass, motionless, and she couldn’t stop herself from getting close to examine him. She kneeled next to the fallen with caution and curiosity, checking his vitals, but the absence of breath and heartbeat indicated he was dead. Pulling his hood off his head, she couldn’t help a hum of surprise: because of his physical complexion, height and broadness, she had assumed these beings were humans. However, the unequivocal elven ears said something different. His brown eyes were open and unfocused in the sky above. Deep rich brown eyes. The same colour than Mythal’s vallaslin that covered his forehead. It was not the same elf that attacked her, but he was also extremely pale and had no hair at all.

Alyna closed his eyes as a sign of respect, tracing the lines of his vallaslin with her fingers, wondering who those elves were and where did they come from. 

Solas was certain that his heart had stopped beating the moment he realized that the elf who laid dead in front of him was one of his People. The Elvhen People. He was not aware that anyone in Mythal’s temple had survived after the attack that partially destroyed it a long time ago… Nor that it had survived the Veil, either. And yet, he laid dead. “ There might be more, ” he thought, hopeful. Suddenly he wondered how he would be able to stop a fight between the Inquisition and his People, given the case. Who would he side with? Solas could only hope he wouldn’t have to take that decision while he mumbled some elvhen mourning words for the fallen in combat, carefully hiding from everyone.

“We have to go on.” 

The mage’s barrier was immediately back around them and the whole group was running towards the ancient white steps, only half visible on the other side of the clearing. Cullen shouted some instructions, gaining a war cry back from his men, and the brawl thickened around them. A group of archers came into the scene to reinforce the Inquisition ranks and a blast of well-aimed fire arrows cleaned their way ahead. After a few killings, some pyromancy around them and an accurate fade strike casting, they reached the steps and climbed them up without looking back over their shoulders at all.

At all the speed their legs allowed them, they dodged the broken stones, tree trunks and plants, the sounds of the battle once again muffled by the sounds of the forest. When the only audible thing was the rustling of the leaves and their own ragged breaths, the Inquisitor slowed their ascent. The vegetation had caused the stairs to disappear when they reached the landing where the statue of a naked woman with head and wings similar to a dragon welcomed them. Next to it, a narrow opening on the wall penetrated into the darkness of the ruins. 

Catching their breaths back after their escape, Glenn ran a hand over his clammy forehead, drying the perspiration on it. “This must be the entrance the spies discovered,” he said, sounding still breathy. “Be ready: Corypheus might be already on the other side.”

The narrow passage took them straight into a humid darkness with the feeling of water under their feet. Farther, it led them into the luminous clarity of day again: they had appeared on a balcony above a vast patio surrounded by a thick wall. A bridge, clearly elvhen in its architecture, connected the space with a humongous wood and gold door: the Temple’s entrance. To no one’s surprise, someone else was already walking on the patio and towards the bridge. 

Na menala sur, banallen!” the elf sentinel exhorted with a husky voice, standing on the bridge, protecting the entrance against the Elder One.

“The wreck mocks you, Master,” Calpernia, the Venatori leader, mentioned smugly.

Suddenly, the tall and bony figure of Corypheus emerged behind her, walking menacingly towards the elf on the bridge. “These are but remnants. They will not keep us from the Well of Sorrows.” 

“Well of Sorrows... “ Morrigan mumbled, greediness spilling over her words, giving a meaningful glance to the Inquisitor, who nodded his head discreetly. 

Bull and Cole remained impassive, although the spirit twitched at the mention. Alyna looked at Morrigan’s expression first. Then, at Solas. The mage held a blank face, staring at Corypheus and the elves. But it was strangely apathetic and Alyna wondered what his thoughts were.

The being raised one of his long sharp talons against the sentinel who had backed off slightly with his companions. Corypheus seemed more than ready to rip his head off. 

Once the Elder One set foot on the bridge, the statues that guarded it shone in a warning. “Be honoured! Witness death at the hands of a new god!”

Nevertheless, and all of a sudden, a beam of powerful magic was emitted by the statues and Corypheus stopped on its tracks, paralyzed by the ancient elvhen spell. 

“What is that…?” Morrigan wondered in a quiet whisper, surprised. The lack of mana traces in this magic had Alyna bewildered, too: that magic was like nothing they had ever seen on the surface of Thedas before. 

After a few quiet seconds, Corypheus’ skin started boiling. Melting. Dissolving slowly. Dripping on the ground. The creature only emitted a pained scream when its skull was left naked. The magic spell reached its summit with a ringing noise and blinding glow that made them all look away.  

Then everything blew up. 

When the spell dissipated, the Elder One’s body was scattered all over the patio, and the sentinels were dead because of the explosion, as well as most of the Venatori guards. However, Calpernia and some of her men were still alive, having dodged death to reach the golden gates on the other side of the bridge without looking behind.

“Well, I have to admit that it was not as difficult as I expected it to be…” Bull ironized in front of the picture, all the others still bewildered at the easy outcome.

After a little time, and being everything still calm, the group climbed down from the balcony and crossed the patio as cautious as they could be. They reached the bridge with a hint of fear, but the statues didn’t shine again. 

But a loud crack, fleshy sounds and grunts made them look back towards the corpses.  

The sound came from one of the venatori warriors that laid death some steps behind them. The corpse opened and shut its eyes and its legs and arms contorted in rhythmical spasms. As if it was readapting itself after the explosion. 

“That can’t be...” Alyna muttered with a mixture of incredulity and bewilderment, her eyes wide open, as well as her companions’.

The corpse stood up slowly and vomited dark matter all around: it definitely looked like darkspawn blood. Once fully on its feet, new cracks and creaks shredded its skin, tearing it and making it fall apart, revealing the features of the Elder One under the human skull.

“No way…” Bull mumbled.

“That’s impossible…” Glenn joined him, completely in shock.

“It can pass to darkspawn infected beings… That’s how he reached immortality!” Solas' expression was even more puzzled than the others.

Corypheus, still incomplete, groaned and growled with fury, pointing at them with one of his sharp claws. And, right then, the lyrium dragon made its appearance in the sky, summoned by its master.  

The flying creature plummeted to them with a screech.

“Across the bridge, now!” the Inquisitor shouted, turning his back to the creature and running as fast as they could towards the temple’s entrance. 

The heat of the lyrium fire crackled right behind them while they raced the hundred metres that separated them from the doors. Once in front of them, they all slipped through, sheltering themselves from the blast of fire. The annoyed screech of the dragon was too close on the other side when they all pushed the doors close at once, locking themselves into the temple. The thin seam of the junction shone with golden light once closed, sealing the gates magically and locking them inside: another trick of ancient magic. 

“That was amazing…” Alyna muttered, running her finger over the line where the seam of the door had been a minute ago, again without being able to perceive any trace of magic on it.

“Well… I suppose that our only option now is to move forward,” the Herald announced, looking at the vast space of the temple ahead. 

Chapter Text

“You said Corypheus wanted the eluvian, but he mentioned a Well of sorrows . Which is right?” Alyna asked Morrigan, who seemed reluctant to give out any information.

After the brief confrontation with the lyrium dragon or, better said, the running away from it, they walked their way through the temple’s hall. Even if the roof had partially collapsed in some locations, the place where they ended up was magnificent: lancet windows opened on the high walls and columns lined up on both sides of the corridor, forming splayed arches over their heads. The dimensions were astounding, denoting that the place was not a mere sanctuary, but a very important building dedicated to the goddess Mythal, whose statue was erected next to the gates. Besides, the presence of the sentinels also gave away that something important was being kept safe in that place. Something that was worthy of sacrifice in order to be preserved. 

“I am uncertain of what he referred to…” the witch half-explained. 

Both Alyna, Solas, and probably Cole too, knew that she was lying.

“Whatever the Well of Sorrows is, Corypheus seeks it. We have to keep it from his grasp,” the elf said, determined. Despite being perfectly aware of what the temple hid and what the repercussions of the creature obtaining the Vir’Abelasan would be, Solas could not show his knowledge. Besides, he was still in shock with the discovery of the sentinels, his own People, still alive and guarding the enclave. It would change all his plans, having new allies…

They walked through two of the vestibules without finding any opposition but ready to attack in case the sentinels reappeared. They did not, though.

“Those elves… They seemed to be too powerful. Too… unusual,” Bull mentioned, doing his best to muffle his heavy steps on the rocky ground.

“They might just be just a group of Dalish separated from their brethren. Cultists. Mythal fanatics...” Morrigan countered.

“No… They’re old… Forged in the past… Destined to die protecting the secret…” Cole added to the conversation.

“Elvhenan?” Alyna asked, incredulous, but knowing that the spirit had no reason to lie at all. Cole nodded once with his usual blank expression on his face. There was a thoughtful silence while the healer took in their discovery. “If they truly are elves from Elvhenan, I cannot imagine all the implications that it would have… What we could learn thanks to them!” Her mood had shifted from a partial apathy in front of Morrigan’s lies to excitement with the perspective and her eyes shone, showing her emotion. She caught a glimpse of Solas’ stare but he immediately looked away, avoiding eye contact. The healer couldn’t figure out his expression at all.

After a few more minutes in a tense and alert silence, they all arrived at a patio with ancient floor mosaics as the only decoration. Some sort of ancient magic emanated from them. 

“It appears that the temple’s magic is still strong,” Morrigan commented, moving forward to an inscription on one of the walls.

“Is this Elven? Does it say anything about this Well of sorrows ?”

Solas took more time than expected to respond. “ Atish’all Vir Abelasan ,” he read, adopting a clumsy pronunciation on purpose. “It means ‘Enter the path of the Well of Sorrows’.’”

“There’s something about knowledge… Respectful or pure…” Morrigan tried to keep up with the Elven with poor results. “That’s all I can translate. But that it mentions the Well is a good omen.”

“So…?” the Herald asked, lost on the meaning.

“I suppose there is some sort of ritual we have to fulfil before getting in,” Alyna provided.

“Supplicants of Mythal would have first paid obeisance here. Following their path may aid entry,” Morrigan added to her words.

“A ritual to please the old elvhen gods?” Bull snorted. “Did you forget the army fighting for us out there? The longer we play around, the more Inquisition soldiers die.”

And Cole strangely agreed with the qunari “People die out there while we take care of this…”

However, Alyna was not sure that skipping the rituals was a good way to get in term with the temple. “I think we should solve them… We shouldn’t underestimate the power that lays here, or what could happen if we don’t perform them…”

“I agree. This is an ancient ground, deserving of our respect,” Solas interceded.

Bull snickered at the mage’s comment and told Morrigan in a teasing tone. “They’re together, and always agree with each other. It’s quite cute, but irritating.”

“Mmm… interesting…” the witch replied with a smug grin, looking at both mages with her amber irises. Not that she hadn’t suspected it before, but her suspicions were now confirmed.

Alyna glared at the qunari with steel-frozen eyes and he laughed, amused at his comment while the Inquisitor busied himself in solving the puzzles with Solas’ assistance.

“These customs must have been as familiar to ancient elves as bowing to a queen is to you and I,” the witch spoke. 

“You said this Mythal was worshipped as a goddess… As Andraste is?” Bull wanted to know.

“Well, that’s what the Dalish say…” Alyna commented. “But perhaps Mythal was just a powerful elf. A ruler among her kind. History often plays storyteller with facts…”    

“Her divinity is to be questioned… And there are varied accounts on her. I even doubt it was a single entity,” Morrigan explained. “In most stories, she exercises motherly kindness: the deliverer of justice, the protector of sons and the earth. Others paint her as dark, vengeful. Pray to Mythal and she smites your enemies leaving them in agony.”

“More Dalish tales, I assume?” Solas’ sarcasm coming from the edge of the ritual tiles didn’t escape anyone’s ears.

The same mosaic flashed with blue magic once the Inquisitor completed it. “If you know more about this, Solas, speak,” Glenn ordered while striding towards the next ritual.

The elf regretted his comment immediately, following the Inquisitor’s steps. He shouldn’t be giving anything away, but the way Dalish twisted the story… It was not fair for Mythal. “The oldest accounts say that Mythal was both of them. And neither. She was the Mother, protective and fierce. But this is not the place to stir old stories.”

Morrigan scoffed. “Whatever the truth, all the accounts of Mythal end the same: exiled with her brethren, tricked by the Dread Wolf and trapped in a land beyond the Fade.”

Solas’ blood boiled at her comment. Of the picture that everyone in Thedas had of him. He was expecting this conversation to pop up, sooner or later: the name he had been avoiding since he joined the Inquisition had finally been mentioned. It was better to remain quiet, though, and he took in some deep breaths, trying to calm himself.

“Is that all? No more flashy things to light on?” Bull asked witty when the last mosaic was finished. 

“It seems so. Let’s continue,” the Herald said.

Climbing up the infinite steps, and turning towards their left, the group found a side chapel with a white wolf statue lying peacefully. It was partially covered by ivy, but fresh flowers and a few votive offerings were set on a small altar at its paws. 

Solas remembered that place. He remained next to the entrance, trying not to get any closer to himself.

“Hmm...” Morrigan muttered, thoughtful.

“Mind sharing?” Glenn asked her. 

“I just wonder why this would be here,” she said, walking in front of the statue.

“A guardian, perhaps?” the Iron Bull asked.

Alyna was as puzzled as the witch was. “This is a representation of Fen’Harel. The Dread Wolf, if you prefer. In Dalish tales he tricked the gods, sealing them away beyond the Fade and making Arlathan fall under Tevinter Imperium. It doesn’t make sense having his statue here.”

A shiver ran down Solas’ back at the mention of that name on Alyna’s lips and his guts twisted with the painful memory history had accepted as a fact: a lie that was not fully a lie.

“They are true...”  Morrigan ventured. “Setting Fen’Harel in Mythal’s greatest sanctum is blasphemous.”

He couldn’t stay put. “For all your knowledge , lady Morrigan, you cannot resist giving legend the weight of history. The wise do not mistake ones for the others.”    

Alyna tilted her head towards Solas, certainly baffled about his comment. He had just called the witch stupid in front of everyone for stating what every elf in Thedas took for granted about their mythology. 

“Well, and what meaning does our elvhen expert sense lurking behind this?” Morrigan retorted.

Solas backed off, realizing his pride was surfacing dangerously. “None we can discern by staring at it.” He ended the topic, striding out of the chapel, avoiding eye contact with anyone.

The group followed the elf back to the vestibule and walked in the main aisle, aiming for the golden door ahead: no doubt, the entrance of the actual temple. However, the Inquisitor stopped once more and walked to the small side chapels where statues and mosaics of the remaining elvhen gods stood. The stances were dimly lightened by torches, but the gold and richness of the mosaics were stunning.

“Who’s this mean to be?” Glenn asked in front of one of the mosaics, representing a human figure.

“Falon’Din. Overseer of funerals and guide to the elven dead. I have heard that Dalish invoke him on their deathbed. Or before quests from which they expect no return… Sometimes, they refer to him as the merciful one.” 

The witch looked at Alyna, expecting her confirmation, but the healer didn’t have the chance to reply before Solas stormed into the conversation. “I do not believe they sing songs about Falon Din’s vanity, though.”

Once again, Alyna was surprised by his sharp point and the fact that he had never mentioned having that deep and diverging knowledge about any of the elvhen gods before.

“Do you know any legends, Solas?” the Inquisitor questioned him.

His tongue and his pride were betraying him again, flooded by painful memories, carried away by his feelings. Things that he thought he had forgotten: the truth from those days. “It is said that Falon’Din’s appetite for adulation was so great that he began wars to amass more worshippers. The blood of those who wouldn’t bow low filled lakes as wide as oceans.” Alyna’s face was as shocked as Morrigan’s was sour. But he didn’t stop there. “Mythal rallied the gods once the shadow of Falon’Din’s hunger stretched across her own people. It was almost too late. Falon’Din only surrendered when his brethren bloodied him in his own temple.”

“I’m surprised they let such a monster live…” Glenn added, distractedly looking at the walls.

“One does not lightly kill a god, Inquisitor. Even in legend.”

That same routine was repeated four more times: the Inquisitor stopping in front of the shrines, asking his companions for information. While Morrigan or even Alyna gave a more or less standard version of the known mythology, Solas surprised them both with a completely discordant point of view about Elgar’nan, June, Andruil and even the very beloved Dirthamen. 

Alyna waited for him to walk by his side when they exited the last chapel, still taking in all the information he had just provided. “Let me guess… Does it all come from the Fade?” the healer asked him with a certain irony, gaining just a dry nod in response. “In our many conversations about mythology you never told me any of this…” she complained. 

There was a clear reproach layering her words and Solas didn’t know what to reply. His eyes never met hers. “I didn’t feel it was the moment, vhenan .”

The healer sighed, not insisting any further, and studied him for a while, wondering why keeping these old stories to himself would have made any difference at all.

The Herald’s steps guided them towards the golden gates ahead. They looked securely locked, but when Glenn placed his hand on the door, it glowed and both wings split in the middle, opened by, once again, an unknown and ancient magic. 

The chamber where they got into was oddly well preserved considering the general ruinous condition of the whole complex. The floor created intricate patterns of yellow and brown mosaic tiles and all the torches were lit on the walls, reflecting their lights on the polished gold decorations and statues.

The doors closed behind them with a silent creak, startling them slightly in the dense and deafening quietness. Their steps echoed on the walls loudly, even if they tried to avoid it. 

A line of silent sentinels appeared behind them, preventing their withdrawal, but the group didn’t notice. 

Cole whispered “We are being watched,” when archers showed up on the balconies on both their sides, aiming at them. It was right then when the whole group realized they had just been lured into a trap: they were surrounded by sentinels and there was no possible escape. With a rush of adrenaline, Alyna drew her staff from her back, casting a barrier spell over her companions. Glenn looked at the balconies and around, worried: they had been cornered in no time. The fight seemed unavoidable.

“We’re trapped!” Bull exclaimed, gripping the hilt of his mace, ready to fight. 

Solas gripped his staff in a mild panic, feeling that the situation he had been hoping to avoid was finally occurring. The Inquisition would never stand a chance against so many sentinels. He was pretty sure of it. 

Venavis, ” a hoarse voice ordered, and the sentinels obeyed, lowering their weapons. 

A tall figure with an elvhen armour and a hood covering his head showed up on the front balcony and examined them with golden inquisitive eyes. Alyna immediately recognised her first attacker: a powerful ancient elf. “You... are unlike the other invaders.” His voice was slow, deep and methodical, and a clear but unknown accent tinted his words. “You stumble down our paths at the side of one of our own. And you bear the mark of magic which is… familiar. How has this come to pass? What is your connection to those who first disturbed our slumber?”

The Inquisitor stepped forward, his hand still grabbing his sword. “They are my enemies, as well as yours.”

The amber-coloured eyes of the sentinel lingered over the group, searching for eye contact with each of them with curiosity, baring their souls. His irises were mesmerizing, and they stood up over his paleness and the green tones of Mythal’s vallaslin . Finally, he looked back at the Inquisitor. “I am Abelas. We are sentinels, tasked with standing against those who trespass on sacred ground. We wake only to fight. To preserve this place. Our numbers diminish with each invasion. I know what you seek. Like all who have come before, you wish to drink from the Vir’Abelasan .”

“The Well of Sorrows… he speaks of the Well!” Morrigan whispered to the Inquisitor.

“It is not for you. It is not for any of you,” Abelas remarked.

In a desperate attempt, the Inquisitor asked Solas for help. “Perhaps he’ll listen to you…” The elf was in a delicate position, knowing that he couldn’t interfere without putting his own mission at risk. He didn’t want to fight the sentinels, but he didn’t want to have the Vir’Abelasan despoiled. But, most and foremost, his true identity could not be exposed. When he looked at Abelas, the sentinel was already staring at him with inquisitive eyes, certainly recognising his ancient magic as he recognised his. And Solas stared back, arrogant, shaping the correct words to keep his cover up. “What shall I say, Inquisitor? Shall I sway him from millennia of service by virtue of our shared blood? He clings to all that remains of his world because he lacks the power to restore it.”

Abelas narrowed his eyes and hardened his posture and Solas glimpsed a hint of surprise on his expression, knowing that he had recognised him as kin. Probably, as who he truly was. But, even if puzzled about his presence there, the sentinel didn’t give his secret away.

“Alyna…?” Glenn asked, dubious, desperate.

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