Ask me no more: thy fate and mine are seal'd:
I strove against the stream and all in vain:
Let the great river take me to the main:
No more, dear love, for at a touch I yield;
Ask me no more.
~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson
High in the Frostbacks, tucked in a cavern amid the mountains and snow, a group of scribes bent over their desks, pens scratching as they copied documents into bound books. Braziers set between the desks kept inks from freezing and fingers warm as they worked, occasionally stopping for a hot cup of tea or a bit of conversation with their fellows. As each book was completed, a Chantry acolyte would go between the various chambers and collect them, taking them to the main library in the back of the tunnels where the archivists waited to review and catalog the meticulously compiled volumes.
Each archivist supported a small group of librarians and researchers who researched and investigated lost knowledge, worked to preserve the older books, and who brought new work in for the scribes. In the old mountain vaults behind the Temple of Sacred Ashes, the work was mainly geared toward topics of interest to the Chantry: works regarding Andraste, books on faith, and church histories took precedence. It was good work, if you had the skill for it, and almost always interesting. Now, with the Conclave in the Temple proper, the archives seemed especially chaotic, everywhere except in a small room at the back of the main library where a young elf was rebinding a very special volume of writings.
She dipped her pen into the ink well on her desk and wrote in swift, fluid lines along the top of the manuscript, "The Urn of Sacred Ashes: The Collected Works of Brother Ferdinand Genitivi." The crisp black lines against the thick, creamy vellum brought a smile to her lips and she summoned a bit of heat to dry the ink properly, blowing hot air gently across the page. She reached for the gold leaf next and began the slow, methodical process of edging the crisp black lines with a gleam. This was the sort of work that took hours and often left her stiff and sore the next day, and, normally, she wouldn't be taking this much care with a compilation of her mentor's work. This book, however, was meant as a gift to the Divine Justinia herself, and Melori was determined to prove her late mentor proud with a truly worthy addition to the Chantry library in Orlais.
The main title was finished around the time one of the acolytes poked a head into her small room to inform her that the midday meal was ready in the dining hall. She smiled and thanked him, then stretched, letting her joints pop and flex before rising to make her way along the corridor. Around her, the other librarians, archivists, and scribes all murmured about the Conclave in the nearby valley. She let their words wash over her, but did not join them ... not that they would wish her to do so. They tolerated her because she had been Genitivi's student and because she now worked with the revered mother in charge of protecting his legacy. Elves, even those with her knowledge and skill, were expected to keep to their place and not interfere, which was fine with Melori. There were things she did not wish to share and it helped to keep a secret if you never spoke to anyone.
The corridor to the dining hall lead to the upper levels along an open gallery lined with tall, narrow windows that offered a lovely view of the snowy mountains and the Temple itself, tall and imposing against the sky. She paused and smiled, remembering exploring the space before it's renovations and listening to Brother Genitivi's excited ramblings when he had first shown her the various spaces and explained what it meant and why it was so important. "This is where the our Lady was laid to rest," he had explained that first day to his young apprentice and the Templar who followed after them. "I never dreamed I would be alive to record this, my girl, but here we are!"
His excitement had been infectious and she, a Dalish elf who had grown up in the Ferelden Circle on Lake Calenhad, thrived under his enthusiastic instruction. She wished he could see it on this day, with the Divine herself holding a Conclave for peace in the place he held most holy. A laugh down the hall caught her attention and she turned, idly hoping they would be having something spicy for dinner when there came a blinding flash of light and the floor rocked beneath her feet. She fell to her knees on the hard tiling as shouts and gasps rose all around. A second shockwave washed over them, bringing down snow from the mountain that fell in sheets outside the window, throwing room into darkness and causing the torches to flicker wildly.
When it stopped, the room was dark and she could hear people moaning. Somewhere, one of the Templars was shouting out orders and a torch flared at the other end of the gallery. The mountain was still rumbling ominously, and everyone who could stand was staggering to their feet, as well. "Get everyone to the east tunnel," Ser Draklyn shouted and she found herself moving with the group, bumped this way and that until they passed the corridor where her sleeping quarters were located. She turned in the crowd and tugged at one of the Templar's sleeves.
"Please, may I take some of my things? There are not many and they're right here," she asked. "I promise it will take me but a moment."
"Ah ...," he paused and eyed her garb for a moment, trying to ascertain if she were a mage or an acolyte, but finally shrugged. "Aye, but hurry. We have to get everyone out before something collapses."
"Thank you, Ser," She bobbed a quick bow and darted to her room, grabbing the half-filled pack by the door and shoving her things into it - including the 'walking staff' she carried when she went out onto the mountain from time to time. Some of the other archivists and librarians had had the same thought as she, and they met in the darkened hallway, faces pale and strained in the dim light. Mother Heddin, who was in charge of the chapel next to the library, had joined them and was carrying a pack of her own.
"Maker! What do you think happened?" asked one of the chantry sisters.
"I do not know," the reverend mother answered, herding them ahead of her into the hallway where a last, lone Templar waited with a light. "But we will soon find out. Let us not linger here or Ser Eddin will be greatly displeased with us."
He chuckled and shook his head, "Don't worry yourself, Mother. It's my duty to see you safely out. I'll not let anything happen to you or the others."
They climbed the stair that lead to the level where most of the Templars and male researchers kept quarters. It was brighter here, which was comforting. At least the entire library hadn't been buried in the avalanche. They all relaxed a little, following Eddin into one of the side tunnels and down toward the mountainside. At the top of the last staircase, they paused as Eddin came to an abrupt halt and raised a hand. "Do you hear that?" he asked, squinting ahead. The light was a strange, flickering green and Melori backed up a step, her hand gripping the haft of her 'walking staff'
They were about to take a step forward, to move closer to the exit when the lights ahead of them shivered and popped. A sound that made the hair on the back of Melori's neck stand on end followed ... a rattling, choking hiss that had all of them drawing together in response.
"Maker's breath," Eddin cursed.
"Demons," Melori whispered.
That is when the screaming began.
Eddin died badly. But he gave them a chance to run. Melori had moved almost before anyone realized what was wrong, shouting for them to go back, chivvying the small group of women down the hallway the way they'd come and up the stairs. Mother Heddin stumbled, but one of the librarians - Caro - grabbed her arm and helped her along.
"This way," Melori said, watching behind them with wild eyes. She knew these hallways better than most, having spent years here with Genitivi while she trained. They passed the dining hall and she harried them into a little used corridor, past the wine cellars, and into a space with high, barrel vaulted ceilings and beautifully carved statues of Andraste every few feet. This was one of the spaces no one used in order to preserve it. It was also one of the only spaces she knew of that had a door built of oak and banded with iron. It would take more than one rage demon to burn their way through, and, she hoped, could withstand the force if a pride demon decided to break in.
"Andraste preserve us," one of the sister's moaned, collapsing to the ground at Mother Heddin's feet. "What do we do now?"
"We wait, my child," the good mother said. "We pray."
Melori pretended to pray to the Maker with the rest, even though she was not quite able to remain still while everyone else knelt or bowed their heads. She paced instead, back and forth, back and forth, her heart sending out prayers to Mythal. It was hard to stand still, to push the magic down and pretend it wasn't there until the time came when she should use it. She wondered if the Reverend Mother would be shocked that Brother Genitivi's apprentice, once a loyal Circle mage, was now an apostate who had been hiding in the open from the Templars ever since the war had begun because no one seemed to remember that she'd been a mage at all. It almost made her laugh aloud, though she suspected the urge to be panic and not humor.
"Shhh!" One of the sisters near the door held up a quieting hand. Melori paused in her pacing, a bubble of panic surging though her chest. The feeling of wrongness outside the door made her skin crawl, though no one else seemed to notice it. Something scratched along the wooden frame and everyone backed away, pressing themselves to the wall. One of the younger acolytes began to cry, her sobs muffling in the reverend mother's robes as the older woman pulled her close.
The hours stretched on and on. They slept fitfully, if at all, what with the constant scratching, hissing, and mocking laughter on the other side of the door. At one point they were wakened by something immense slamming itself repeatedly against the door, but the iron held and the oak did not sag. They had a few bottles of wine and some other odds and ends to eat - foods hidden by the archivists for cold nights and long hours. It served them well now, though four bottles among nine women wouldn't last long.
Now and then the mountain quaked and they clung to one another, numb with fear and exhaustion. As the hours passed and then a day ... and another ... they began to consider this room to be their tomb. Not an unconsidered fate among those who haunted ancient sites in search of books, but hardly a desired one.
Melori was sleeping in a corner, her head on her pack, her cloak wrapped tightly around her body. One of the chantry sisters was curled up next to her, her head on Melori's lap. It was warmer this way, even if the human found herself forced so close to an elf. The librarian was dreaming of the sun sparking across the waters of Lake Calenhad, of the way the Templar blades sounded as they practiced in the sparring hall, of the sound of shouting and ...
Her eyes flew open, and she shook the sister in her lap with rough hands to wake her. "Help us ... we're here!" She began to rap her staff against the door as the others roused, some weakly, some rushing to join her. They heard shouts in the halls beyond and the sound of metal on stone. And then there was a cry on the other side of the door and everyone rushed to remove the bar to let their rescuers inside. Behind her, the Reverend Mother praised Andraste, soon joined by the others as they laughed and cried. Melori smiled at their joy and praised Mythal, though she kept it hidden and close to her heart.