A/N: This is my first Dragon Age fic and first fan fiction (huzzah)! I am really excited about getting this going.
Since I am lacking a beta, please excuse any grammatical errors you may happen upon during the course of your reading. I try my best to edit, but may not catch everything. Thank you for your time. Please enjoy!
His mentor had once told him that the world in which they lived was a mirror of each individuals' attitudes and expectations. Sound advice, though at the time he was not particularly interested in the ramblings of an old Templar. He had seen for himself in these past weeks, and since the extinction of the Order at Kirkwall, just how accurate that statement was.
He skillfully blocked a cleaving blow with his shield. The tarnished metal was adorned with deep scars and bore the tell tale pockmarks of more than one encounter with an Immolation spell. One such scar marred the top line of the shield - a chunk that had been effortlessly removed by Uldred. That one bothered him the most. Iit angered him into action in times such as these - not that he would need much coercion to raise a banner against a giant hole in the sky.
Parry, turn, block, and bring the blade down to sever the arm. He repeated these actions like a machine, occasionally eyeing his troops' status as he fought to bar the demons from taking the hill and overrunning the camp. It was like a dance, though he had never been one for dancing, one in which he could lose himself to his purpose.
He struck the final blow to a hissing demon, stepping down on the horrid things' rib cage to loosen his sword. An eye turned toward the doorway where still more demons were spilling into this world, but he had time.
He straightened and cracked his back, loosening his shoulder a bit as he regarded the form of the Seeker Cassandra hurrying toward him. Solas, Varric, and someone he did not expect followed close behind her.
"What in the Fade is she doing here?" He growled, narrowing his eyes on the seemingly harmless woman. The subject of his ire retreated a step, eyes wide, taking comfort beside Solas. As expected. Mages cling to other mages.
"She is here to help, Commander." Cassandra replied swiftly. She showed no indication that she objected to her charge, nor that the woman possessed a staff - a weapon. It was only through her confidence that he managed to leash more foul behavior.
"Well, let us hope she actually can. Incoming!" He yelled past them, issuing orders to his remaining troops as another wave of demons descended upon them. Untrusting of the prisoner, he watched her very carefully and didn't stray far from her side. If she did choose to run, he would restrain her.
He hadn't expected to find her so...lacking. She fumbled with the staff, as if she'd never held such an object in her life, nor could she manage to mete out an adequate spell. THIS was their help? Oh, he would have strong words for Cassandra if they made it out of this alive.
"Drop it!" A voice sounded just behind him as he attempted to distract a demon from them. Solas, he realized, was taking the staff from the woman. "If you feel more comfortable casting with your hands, my friend, then do so. We cannot afford to be a mage down in this fight."
The Commander snorted. Give him Templars in trade for mages any day - especially the kind of mage that murders the Divine.
Clearly more apt casting simpler spells without a catalyst, the prisoner and the rest of the group made short work of the demons. It appeared that no more were coming through the tear in the sky, at least for the moment.
The Seeker sheathed her sword and, after a pause, so did he. Solas assisted the prisoner forward to the rift, held up her hand, and to the Commander's amazement, pulled closed the tear. Well, that was certainly something. He eyed the larger tear just through the destroyed temple's archway. "Can you close that and end all of this, then?"
"That is the plan, Commander, yes." Solas replied. The woman still looked at him with the wide eyes of fear. If she was a murderous apostate, then she well should be.
"Come, then. We've not much time." Cassandra spoke. She was almost gentle with the woman. "Are you ready?"
The prisoner nodded. "I will try my best." Her voice was surprisingly cultured. It was soft, mild, and lilted like the music from a harp. He had not expected that, nor the ease of his temper with it.
He caught the Seeker's eye and nodded. "Maker watch over you."
"You cannot possibly presume to keep her here! She's a criminal! Send her off to Val Royeaux and be done with it."
"She can close the rifts. Do I need to explain again the benefit of such an ability when we are, if fact, attempting to do just that?"
"Regardless of either of your opinions, we cannot send her away. Leliana's point is valid, and now the people of Haven truly believe the woman to be the Herald of Andraste."
"We do not know that for certain. No one does! What if she simply manipulates us to further her influence over Thedas? What if murdering the Divine was the first step?"
An irritated sigh preceded a question. "Cassandra, you're the only one of us to have extended contact with her. What is your judgement of her character?"
The silence extended for a long while, so long that the woman listening on the other side of the heavy pine door almost gave up and entered despite the angst she would be exposed to.
"I...I do not believe she is responsible for what happened at the Conclave. Whatever she is, whoever she is, she is no killer. She cannot even manage a staff properly, nor utilize her powers adequately - at least from what I have seen in comparison with other Mages."
"I will concede that point," the Commander spoke, now calmer. "From my observations on the field, I agree that she could not have murdered the Divine on her own. That does not mean she did not have help."
There was a faint knock on the door, and the Commander had a sneaking suspicion that the weak, unobtrusive noise was indeed produced by the subject of their conversation. "Enter."
At first he did not recognize her. Gone was the unwashed waif he'd scrutinized three days before. In her place stood a woman of noble mien, albeit timid and shy. Just who was this mysterious creature? If she truly had nothing to do with the Divine's death, then what on earth was she doing at the Conclave? And why, he grumbled to himself, did he find her particularly becoming as she walked through the doorway and to Cassandra's side?
That would not do.
"I believe more formal introductions are needed, since our guest will be remaining with us for some time." Cassandra made a point of holding the Commander's gaze until she was certain he had heard and understood her. An almost imperceptible, stiff nod was the only response she got, but at least it was not the argument she had been expecting.
"Yes, introductions are overdue," Josephine took up her banner of amenability. "Welcome to the Inquisition, Herald of Andraste. My name is Josephine Montiliyet. I serve as our Ambassador - to placate the concerns of the gentry and those who might be concerned with our motives."
Recognition alighted in the woman's eyes, the Commander noted.
"Montiliyet? I believe my family has had dealings with yours in the past." The prisoner spoke and again he found himself fascinated by the sound.
"Just who is your family?" Josephine scribbled something on her board as she asked.
"My name is Evelyn. I come from House Trevelyan of Ostwick in the Free Marches."
Josephine nearly dropped her quill. "Trevelyan? You're a noble?" she squeaked, then seemed to reign herself in. Clearly she had not been expecting their prisoner, the Herald of Andraste, to be of noble blood. "Forgive me, my lady. May I send word to your family? I will inform them of your survival."
Trevelyan seemed at once relieved, like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. "Yes, Lady Montiliyet, I would appreciate that very much." She hesitated. "Might you also add a note telling my father to stay put?"
"Of course." Josephine smiled. "If your father is Lord Adair Trevelyan, perhaps I should also send an emissary….and several gifts."
"Adair Trevelyan?" The hooded woman spoke, a smirk quirking up the corner of her mouth. "Indeed. I have heard stories."
The Commander felt decidedly put out. He recognized the name, but that changed little. He'd no patience for nobility. Were they to treat her like a princess, then? Were they to completely disregard her involvement in this recent mess?
Cassandra's voice cut into his thoughts as he began to feel the blood rushing in his ears. "This is Sister Leliana, the Left Hand of the Divine just as I am the Right."
Leliana nodded and smiled at Trevelyan. "I serve to protect our interests as quietly as possi-"
"She is a spy," Cassandra sighed, clearly not caring for the flowery words Leliana would drape about her profession.
"Yes. A spy. Thank you for your tact, Cassandra."
"A pleasure to meet you, Sister Leliana."
The Seeker ignored the ruffled spymaster, then turning to the disgruntled, stone-faced man who stood at the far end of the massive table. "And you have already met Commander Cullen," Cassandra stated thinly, watching him with an intent that told him to keep his mouth shut.
"Only for a moment on the field," he grumbled from between his teeth, quickly nodding toward the table. "May we get on with business? I need to see that our new arrivals actually know where to lay their heads tonight."
Trevelyan withheld her greeting. It appeared he would think little of it, anyway. She recognized him for what he was - a Templar. In the Ostwick Circle she has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of the Order's men and women cycle through. They were fairly easy to spot with their rigid stance and even more austere personalities. Still, she had never been in conflict with any of them until now. She might have even called some friends until the rumblings of the rebellion extended from Kirkwall to her Circle. Just why did he find her so intolerable? The uncertainty gnawed at her. She was unused to such open hostility.
She stood puzzling over him for a time as the others bent their heads over the array of maps and reports on the table. He was physically attractive, but he was an abrasive, unyielding man who was perhaps too keenly aware of himself and his standing. Prideful, she decided. Well then, he was not the sort she wanted to be around anyway. She swore to make herself scarce in his presence and avoid the cantankerous Templar at all costs.
Just as the vow completed itself inside her head did he look up, meeting her eyes for but a moment. Was that surprise? No. His expression morphed into a decidedly surly glare, and he quickly finished his piece and left the room.
"Blondy, it's fine. He's just got this giant stick up his ass."
Cassandra snorted, bringing a hand up to muffle her reaction to the Dwarf's statement. "Varric, the Commander is not only well qualified, but he understands explicitly what we are up against. He has fended off a demon uprising at the Circle Tower in Ferelden, he was instrumental in keeping the peace during the abysmal happenings in Kirkwall, and let us not forget that he is the one who organized the Inquisition forces so expeditiously after the Temple of Sacred Ashes."
"That makes two grouchy warriors that need to pull their head's out of their asses," Varric muttered beneath his breath, though not nearly quiet enough for Evelyn to ignore.
She reddened at the language, momentarily trying to envision such a position and failing. "Still, Varric, I do not understand what I have done wrong. Surely if I approach him and apologize…"
"That will not work." Cassandra spoke, effectively cutting Varric off. "You have done nothing wrong. The Commander's own misgivings about you are his doing and his alone. He must change how he perceives you. It is a combination of his past as a Templar and his own personal experiences with mages."
"Way to be a great cheerleader, Seeker." Varric rolled his eyes, settling them on the rather pretty Herald of Andraste. Her pale, almost white-blonde hair hung over her shoulder in a simple plait, blue eyes shifting between the Seeker and the Dwarf with uncertainty.
"Whatever happened," Evelyn began carefully, "it was bad?"
"It is not for me to say, but I will let you know that he has good reason to be cautious. His spite is something I do not agree with. One mage might attempt to take your life, but that does not mean ever magic user in Thedas is a dangerous criminal."
Evelyn's spirits were bolstered by Cassandra's words. She had come to view the Seeker as a mentor, a teacher of sorts. Despite her rather blunt attitude, she was honest and listened to what Evelyn had to say although the Seeker was much more experienced in the field. It made her feel part of the Inquisition, though for the moment they were only keeping her for the value of the strange mark on her hand. At least with Cassandra, she felt as if she had some value beyond that.
"A mage tried to kill him?" she asked, expression forming into a frown, hand resting at the base of her throat. "Perhaps he did have good reason."
"I do not know the entire story, but yes. That is the long and the short of it."
"Dunno about you guys, but I have a feeling the faster we get these horses for the Inquisition the happier Curly will be. The Commander has been bitching about faster troop movement ever since we got that missive from Harding."
Evelyn looked around at the vast expanse before them as they meandered their way down to a small village. Large formations of granite reached up toward the cloudless sky, breaking up the young greenery in the distance. Early spring had arrived in the Hinterlands, and she would be remiss if she did not take the opportunity to enjoy herself. Flowers bloomed everywhere, a multitude of animals scampered out of their way, and while the sun was out there was still a coolness in the air that would make the long walk to Master Dennet's farm pleasurable.
If she were honest, she would say she was relishing in this experience. Although her Circle had dissolved some months before, Evelyn was still getting used to feeling the sun on her skin when it wasn't shining through a window. The feeling of fresh air and all of the sights and smells she knew she would keep with her for as long as she lived. For a Circle mage, getting out and seeing the world was a dream come true.
"This place is wonderful!" She exclaimed, turning round as she walked for a complete view.
Varric eyed the vacant homes, rotting and breaking thatched roofs, decrepit gardens, and the mud he was sloshing in up to his thighs and raised a brow at her wide-eyed fascination. "You know, you're acting a lot like a dwarf seeing the surface for the first time."
"Varric," Cassandra growled, "Circle mages rarely leave the confines of their towers. They get windows, but little else."
"The windows were barred shut on most floors," Evelyn spoke gently, still preoccupied with the scenery.
The Dwarf smacked his palm to his forehead. "Right. Sometimes I forget Circle mages get the short end of the stick. Scratch that- I'd like to forget. Hawke was lucky."
"Indeed, she was. It was risky living as an apostate, but she hid her talents well."
"Well enough to hide from the Chantry, eh Seeker?"
Cassandra glared at him, eliciting a petulant chuckle.
"Ah, that would be Fort Connor up ahead," Solas finally spoke, drawing Evelyn's attention back to the path before them.
Cullen had considered the wisdom of his decision in allowing the prisoner to leave with none in attendance but Cassandra. The apostate elf, he felt, would do little if she tried to make a run for it and he was always uncertain of Varric's motives.
While he had no doubt of the Seeker's capability, he'd not had time enough to assess their newest mage addition to ascertain her abilities. So far her only recommendations were a murdered Divine, the Breach, and a conveniently misplaced recollection of events leading up to that entire debacle. The chaos was enough to set his teeth on edge. He enjoyed order - to a fault according to some. Back in Kirkwall he received countless manner of teasing from his subordinates, though by far his worst critic had been Hawke. The reckless, egocentric mage had called him everything from a "guilty prude" to "nug-humping altar boy". He could hardly keep the derisive snort from leaving him as his small contingent of soldiers prepared to move eastward from the Crossroads.
Hawke. He sighed, bringing up one hand to rub his temple. Frustrating though she was, he found he missed their heated little spats. Near the end of their association he would have almost admitted to being infatuated with her. It irked him to no end that he'd nearly fallen for a mage, but in all their time together he had come to see more than that in her, and that terrified him. If anything had happened to her, Maker forbid, would he have been able to do what was necessary to end her?
He wasn't sure.
A weight settled on his heart as he swung a leg over his mount, signalling to his men to begin their march. They would head eastward and cover ground in the opposite direction of Cassandra's party. It was Cullen's hope that they would make contact with the Templars in this region and be able to persuade them to the Inquisition's cause. While he had his misgivings about the leadership within the Order, the majority of the men were decent.
He nudged his black war horse with the heels of his equally black boots, urging the beast to climb a rather steep hill situated near one of their outposts. As the group reached the crest of the hill he paused, the smell reaching him before the sight of the huge black plume of smoke just off the road.
"Fire!" He yelled, the rest of his contingent spurring their mounts after his own as he drove his stallion up yet another hill driving him straight into a group of Templars. They did not look particularly pleased. In fact, one swung his sword right at his mounts' chest causing him to quickly dismount and draw his own weapon.
"Desist!" He called, blocking yet another blow from the same man. "I'm not with the mages! I'm with the Inquisition!"
"Piss on your Inquisition!" Another yelled. "We will not be swayed from our duty to eradicate magic from the surface of Thedas!"
Ah, yes. This was going so very well. He grunted at another blow, glancing this time off his shoulder as he wished he'd had the sense to pull his shield off his horse. Just in time, however, his men joined in, taking but moments to put down the other Order deserters.
Disappointed though he was that the others had not survived their misplaced anger, his own gleaming sword was angled just so over the throat of the man who'd first engaged him. He wanted this man judged. Those of the Order were to be held to a much higher standard. It seemed this brute had lost sight of that. "Arrest him," he ordered quietly to his second who jumped into action. Only when the brute was sufficiently bound did Cullen remove his weapon, now looking at the skeleton of the farmhouse engulfed in flame.
There was a snap to his movements as he ordered his men to remain with the Templar and jogged to the door of the house, squinting his eyes against the brightness of the flame. It took two well-placed kicks to the weakened, locked door before it burst inward revealing a dozen or so bodies.
He felt his eyes beginning to water from the smoke billowing around him, entering the home and purposefully moving toward the tangle of bodies. Dead. Dead. More dead. Damnit! His blood boiled in his veins. Desperation had him checking each un-moving body.
"Commander!" He heard the call somewhere behind him. Beams holding the roof cracked and sagged overhead. Please, Maker, if there's only one…
An answer to his prayers, she whimpered when he removed the dead woman from atop her small body. Not waiting for the roof to cave in and seal her fate, he swiftly tugged her from the floor and made for the door, exiting in time to hear a small pop and a crash as the far wall buckled beneath the weight of the frame.
Sucking in lungfuls of blessedly cool, clean air, he held the young girl in his arms, carefully looking her over.
She could not have been older than ten years, a slight thing. Her weight was featherish and concerning. How long had she been out here in the wilderness, practically starving to death?
"Commander?" He looked up at the fresh faced recruit, concern beetling his brow.
"My water skin." Cullen ordered, carrying the girl over to a woodpile far from the burning building. He propped her up against the unyielding detail, removing his gloves and taking the skin from the recruit. Having poured a bit of water into his palm to wet it, he gingerly began to wetten and removed the soot from around her nose and eyes so that she would not inhale more of the offensive and deadly matter than she already had. She stirred again, eyes fluttering open. He did not believe that she could discern his shape or any other. Her eyes were unfocused and bloodshot, but at least she lived. It was more than he could say for the others that had sought to protect her.
Again he felt the red haze of rage settle over him. Standing slowly, he told the recruit to watch her, thrusting the skin into his hands under the order that he was to give her the remainder upon her waking. It was then he stalked over to the suitably hog-tied man, the ring of steel sluicing through the air above the roar of the flames in the background. Sword drawn, Cullen stopped feet from the vile creature, eyes narrowed.
His voice was quiet when he spoke. "Did you set fire to this home?"
The thing spat, an inflaming chuckle bubbling from between his teeth. "There was a whole group inside! Got them magic-loving bastards in one g-"
The words were silenced. Cullen's sword lodged skillfully between the vertebrae of the man's neck. Naught but a disgusting gurgle left his vile mouth then.
"Put him on the fire with the others," he growled, wiping the blood off of his blade before re-sheathing it. Surveying the scene, the destruction, the brutality - this was why he left the Order. He could not abide such inhumanity.
He made his way back to the girl, pleased to see she had been roused enough to drink. Still bleary-eyed, she managed to sit up further as Cullen crouched to meet her.
"Thank you, ser," she managed, voice emerging as a croak. It wounded him, but he took solace in her still beating heart.
"No thanks are necessary," he reached out to ruffle her hair, a rare smile softening his expression. "You are safe with me."
Thank you for reading, everyone! Favs, comments, and follows are welcome! Let me know what you think!