In the grey predawn, the bar is finally completely quiet. Dust and spilled booze fill the space that seemed clean enough when they closed up last night. Eris doesn't mind. It gives her something to do. She starts a pot of water boiling, and sits in the silence.
Her head pounds, and echoes of uncertain whispers scrabble at her brain. The voices are in Tevene, a language she never hears here, and one that is growing less and less comfortable with each passing day. And even though she should be able to understand them – she can't.
The voices are accompanied by streaks of bright green light and fingers pushing at the insides of her brain. And old memories, things she hasn't quite forgotten, but wants to. No wonder she can't sleep.
Motion helps, and as she waits for the water to get warm enough to be useful, she grabs a rag and starts scrubbing down the tables and the bar. She digs at a particularly stubborn stain, feeling someone's eyes on her. She stops. And waits.
"You're up early." The voice is familiar, soft and lilting. Eris doesn't relax. "Be at ease, dear one."
Eris sets the rag down on the table and turns to her old friend. Or occasional employer. She's still not entirely certain how to describe her relationship with The Left Hand Of The Divine, except to know that she almost never refers to her that way, even in her own mind. It's just Leliana.
And Leliana could use a drink. Eris sets a bottle of whiskey down on the bar and pours a shot, sliding it over to the spymaster. Neither of them cares that the sun hasn't yet risen.
The human woman looks more worried than Eris has ever seen her. Which is saying something. Her face is drawn, with a deep furrow between her eyes. She bites her lip, and her hand falls to her waist, where Eris is certain her belt hides a knife or two.
"What's wrong?" Eris asks softly.
Leliana sighs. "Walk with me," she commands.
Eris hesitates just long enough to pour a mug of tea for her, knowing that it'll be more acceptable out on the streets of the city than a bottle of liquor would be. The Chantry's Nightengale accepts it gratefully and though she frowns when she notices that Eris has not poured a cup for herself, she does not protest it. She understands the importance of protocol and appearances. It's Orlais. Everything is watched.
The shabby tavern in the merchant district is still – like everything in this city – in the shadow of the Chantry's enormous cathedral. Leliana doesn't steer her elven accomplice toward that esteemed building, however. Instead, they walk in the other direction, toward the docks. Neither of them speak, not even when Leliana stops at the water's edge, leaning over a rusty metal railing that serves as the only protection offered pedestrians from a sudden drop into the breakwater.
Eris frowns, as seagulls circle overhead. Even though the events that really concern the spymaster are taking place a world away, Eris doesn't have to work to remember what they are. "You're worried about the Conclave," she murmurs. It's not a question.
Leliana turns away from the railing, staring out into the colorful sun rising over Val Royeux. The buildings are beautiful, even more so in the dawn, but Eris just feels nervous and far too out of place. There's no mistaking the dirty looks she's getting – an elf outside the alienage. It hardly matters that she's far from the only one. Servants move smoothly through the streets, mostly unnoticed. Eris pays attention, watching the way they interact with each other, noticing which buildings they take special care to avoid.
"You're so jumpy," Leliana murmurs. But that's why she trusts Eris, after all. The elf can get places that she cannot, especially with a little help, a few whispered words, a few opened doors.
"You called me here, remember?" Eris can't help the edge of hostility that bleeds into her words, but far from calling her out on it, Leliana smiles appreciatively. She remembers when the former slave was far too afraid to invite anger.
"I did," Leliana agrees. "Tell me, what have you heard?"
Val Royeaux is a long way from Haven, where the Divine had hoped to put an end to the war ripping Thedas apart. But even here, wheels turn. Rumors fly. Leliana needs more than rumors.
Eris grinds her teeth, and avoids meeting Leliana's eye. It still bothers her, how well the other woman can read her. "Fuck the riddles," she spits, as she stares down at the dark water. "You know what happened."
It's true – but Leliana is far less concerned about what has happened, which cannot be undone now. What matters is what will happen. "The Divine is dead," she says. Her voice is soft, but there is no mistaking the hardness in it, the shield that covers the fact that she's breaking inside. For now, when she needs it to, her anger can overwhelm the grief she feels in private moments.
Eris isn't sure what she expected, but this wasn't it. The news freezes her, as she begins trying to work out what this will mean.
Leliana is always at least one step ahead of her. She's been pulling strings for far longer than Eris has; she lets herself see with wider vision. Even though the news destroys her, of course she'd planned for the contingency of the complete destruction of the Conclave. Justinia had planned for it too, and Leliana holds the proof of those plans in her hand.
The parchment is pristine, the handwriting formal but familiar to the woman who has spent years reading – sometimes even forging – messages written by that same hand. There is a gentleness, almost a prayer, in the words on that page, and though Justinia knew better than to include any personalization or words of endearment in professional correspondence that might be intercepted, Leliana feels the ghosts of those moments anyway. It's not the first time the bard has wondered if there is magic she is unaware of, a way of leaving imprints in simple objects – like letters, or words, or a simple piece of paper.
Eris reaches out and takes her hand. She pushes a little, on the other woman's emotions, dampening the pain. Leliana frowns in confusion. She shakes her head, trying to clear the fog. "What are you...?" She locks eyes with Eris, pushing past the fatigue. She can rest later. Time is short. "I need you," she says, with sharp clarity. Eris doesn't look surprised – her features don't register any reaction at all. But she must've expected this, or something like it. Leliana doesn't track her down for casual chats. "With the Divine's death, the Chantry as we know it has... fallen into chaos. There must be someone who can return order and stability to Orlais. To all of Thedas!"
There is a zealous fire in her voice that Eris has never heard before. She can see the echoes of the woman who, at least according to all the stories, survived the Fifth Blight at the side of the now-dead Hero.
"You think we can fix it?" Eris asks cautiously. There is a tremor in her voice, a vulnerability, that Leliana very rarely hears. She frowns, worry for her friend momentarily overtaking all other concerns. Perhaps the spymaster is simply seeking a distraction. Or maybe she is desperate to help where she can. Leliana takes Eris' hand, waiting for the elven woman to pull away, but she doesn't.
Leliana smiles softly. With her free hand, she pushes at the carefully folded letter in her hand, opening it just slightly before flipping it closed again. She doesn't look at it. She doesn't need to, she's memorized the words. "Whatever we were before, we are now the Inquisition."
"What?" Eris asks. Her brow furrows in confusion.
"Divine Justinia... she wished more than anything for some solution to be found to the chaos and turmoil in the Chantry. And more than simply the Church. There is so much needless death. So much suffering. We are forming now an Inquisition, like the one of old, to return sanity to troubled times."
"An Inquisition? Leliana, you're not making any sense."
"There is a survivor. One survivor. A man rescued from the wreckage of the Temple where the Divine's peace talks were being held. It is said that he walked out of the Fade itself, and that with him there was a golden woman. Many are hailing him as the Herald of Andraste."
"Brilliant," Eris mutters. She has little tolerance for people who tell wild stories, especially where faith is concerned. Eris likes to understand how things work. Yet another unexplained force of destruction will only make things worse, as far as she can see.
"Do you believe him?" she asks, after a moment.
Leliana holds her gaze. "I'm not sure I believe in much," she finally admits.
"That's not true," Eris blurts out, and Leliana laughs.
The elf's cheeks flush with embarrassment, but Leliana just shakes her head, still smiling. She squeezes Eris' hand. "I want you to speak your mind, little bird. You are not blind. When you see things, you should speak of them."
But only to you, Eris thinks. She doesn't begrudge Leliana for the gag order though. It's comforting, to have someone to report to. Someone who she can believe might be looking after her when it matters. "I just meant... you believe more than any of them, all the Chantry people I've ever met. And you believe in this Inquisition thing too."
"Perhaps I do. Or perhaps I am simply desperate."
Eris shrugs. "I want to help," she announces. She's surprised by the truth of the declaration, but she is... tired. Afraid. So sick of wandering.
Leliana once told her to keep herself open to the word of the Maker. Perhaps, she is finally beginning to hear it.
Questions crowd into her mind, overwhelming the uncertain silence. Eris knows that Leliana would answer her, truthfully, but still, she knows the time is not yet right to ask. She does not imagine that she can keep any secret from a spymaster for long. But a little while longer might be just long enough.
"Thank you, Eris," Leliana murmurs. "For now, I will be leaving you. For some time, I imagine. The Inquisition must begin in Ferelden. There, the wounds are raw. I need you here. Watch and listen."
"That's it?" Eris asks. There is something inside her that rises up in revolt, but she quashes it. Those voices never live for long inside her skin. Old habits crush them quickly, before they are ever seen by anyone on the outside. "Just watch and listen."
"For now. We must build slowly, if the foundation is to be at all stable."
"Eris, trust me."
The elf scowls. She doesn't trust Leliana, she doesn't trust anyone, not completely. And the human woman must know that. But the Chantry spymaster does not ammend her words, and Eris finds herself nodding. Watch and listen. With a long enough, perhaps she can do far more than that.
Leliana smiles. It softens her features and makes her eyes seem a little bit brighter in the sunlight. And it makes Eris relax somewhat, though she still frowns, deep in thought and drowning in pain. Her fingers tangle in the cord that hangs around her neck.
"You still wear it," Leliana notes. Her voice is soft and soothing, barely above a whisper.
Eris shrugs. "It's habit." She lets go, letting her right hand rest on her forehead instead. Her head pounds with flashes of agony that pulse with each beat of her heart. She can barely open her eyes.
Leliana shakes her head, that familiar smile dancing on her lips. "You wear it because you want it to mean something," she insists. "That's not a bad thing."
Eris shrugs. It's not particularly a good thing, either. Especially now, when all evidence says the world is falling apart.
She doesn't mind Leliana leaving; she sees the woman only once or twice a year as it is. But she notices the Chantry spymaster has been keeping close since the burning of Halamshiral. Since then, she has become more than a boss Eris occasionally reports to.
"You don't have to worry about me," Eris tells her. She's been taking care of herself for so long that she can't imagine not doing so, for one thing. And for another, Leliana already carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. She worries about so much.
Leliana holds her gaze for a long moment, enough time for Eris to be accutely aware of the fear of loss the other woman carries inside her, pulling her down from the inside out, an empty hole she's never filled.
"I'll be fine," Eris says. She doesn't bring up the other woman's ghosts. There is nothing to gain by doing so.
"Be careful," Leliana orders.