Chapter 1: The Darkness of the World
But the one who repents, who has faith
Unshaken by the darkness of the world,
And boasts not, nor gloats
Over the misfortunes of the weak, but takes delight
In the Maker's law and creations, she shall know
The peace of the Maker's benediction.
Elisabeth looked over with a smirk when she heard Sera spitting off the edge of the lift. "You're much more likely to hit rock, you know."
"Doesn't matter," she insisted, kicking a chunk of shale off with a satisfied nod. "Still their house. Message sent." Elisabeth laughed, pausing to spit in obedient solidarity when Sera cast an expectant eye her way.
"Charming," Dorian drawled as he fiddled with a scratch on his staff. "And here we all were hoping that the cultural influences of your courtship would go the other way."
"Speak for yourself," Bull retorted with a grin. "Boss gets way too tightly wound with the whole 'running a kingdom' gig. No one better to keep her loose than the master herself."
"Bloody right." Sera slapped Bull's outstretched palm. "Unless that was an insult. Then you can piss off."
Elisabeth rolled her eyes and wandered to the other side of the narrow lift, unable to keep a smile from twisting up the corner of her mouth. Maker, was it good to be back in the field. No Orlesian lordlings clamoring for her attention, no trade agreements to study, no dull-as-dirt meetings to oversee. Six months since she'd saved the bloody world and she was already beginning to feel buried beneath the same responsibilities she'd fled in Ostwick all those years ago.
She reached out to lightly touch the wall of the shaft as it rose up around them, skating the pads of her fingers over the rain-slick stone. Potential budding crisis aside, she was more than a little thrilled to be descending into a realm as steeped in legend and mystery as the lost kingdom of the dwarves. What young adventurer hadn't dreamed of exploring the Deep Roads, after all? Following in the footsteps of the Wardens, cutting back the evil of the world at its very source. Just the thought made her muscles itch with excitement.
"Elisabeth, would you be so kind as to tell us what exactly we're to do once we reach the bottom of this Maker-forsaken hole?"
"There should be someone for us to meet down there," Elisabeth replied, turning her attention back to the others. "A Shaper from Orzammar."
"A record-keeper?" Dorian scratched his chin as he pondered the curiosity. "Why they would send one of them to parley with the Inquisition, I wonder. I would have thought the Merchants or Miners Guilds would have had more of a stake in the destruction of lyrium mines."
Elisabeth shrugged. "The letters Josephine showed me didn't say. The Shaper is apparently working with the Legion of the Dead in this area, so maybe she knows the lay of the land better."
"I've heard about the Legion," Bull said. "Tough bastards, by all accounts. Be good to see what they can do in a fight." Companionable silence settled back over them as the lift continued its descent, stretching out until grey boredom overtook the party. The air around them shifted gradually from the full, damp affectation of the sea to something Elisabeth had never experienced before. The smell of caves, stale and mineral, undercut by the hot, dry air one might feel around a forge. Already the dim light of the storming day above them had been cut to splinters, slicing across the unending procession of stone that might never have seen the sun before the quakes began. It made her uneasy, and she could not say why.
Dorian sighed dramatically. "Is this the slowest lift in existence?"
"Better than climbing down," Bull pointed out.
"I suppose." Dorian leaned on his staff as he yawned. "I could do with some music, though. Maybe something with a flute."
"Oh! Oh, frig; I can't remember it now. What was that song those blokes from Amaranthine did in the tavern last month? You hated it."
"The one that started a bar fight with the Orlesian merchants' guild that got out into the bailey and ended with fifty people at the healer's and twenty-eight in the stocks? Of course I hated it! It was positively boorish and I lost four sets of robes and three staves to the fires!"
Elisabeth started humming the words under her breath, grinning at the look of horror on Dorian's face and the raucous laughter from Sera and Bull as they joined in.
"Row, me bully boys; we're in a hurry, boys. We've got a long way to go…"
The last hurlock fell with a gurgling screech, and Elisabeth couldn't rip off her helmet fast enough.
"Andraste's tits," she swore, swiping the sweat away from her stinging eyes. "Are these things really necessary? I can barely breathe in this thing."
"Necessary if you want to keep breathing, Inquisitor," a muffled voice answered to her left as the Legionnaire lieutenant pulled his own helmet off. "Darkspawn blood is poison, and it doesn't take much in your mouth to do the trick. Nasty way to go, trust me."
She did, solely from the dark undertone of his words. "What lovely creatures," she muttered under her breath, holding the dripping helmet a little farther away from her body just in case. When the lieutenant saw, he laughed.
She flashed a grin at him as they pulled off to a corner of the ruined chamber to wait for the others. "And you really must call me Trevelyan, at the very least. I usually try to save Inquisitor for people who want money from me."
"Fair enough," he chuckled. "Then you have to stick to Renn for me. I usually try to save Lieutenant for people who sod up my rations." He leaned his axe against the stone wall and stretched his arm across his chest. "You did real great out there, you know. Like you've been fighting darkspawn your whole life."
"That's quite a compliment coming from someone who does it for a living," Elisabeth said, feeling more than a little prideful at the words. She had been in pretty fantastic form for someone who was stuck behind a desk for months, after all. It felt so good to move again, to remember that before she was staple of the stateroom, she was a terror on the field.
"Word is you've hunted all sorts topside," Renn said, looking over with a gleam in his eye. "Even a dragon."
"Indeed I have," Elisabeth grinned rakishly. "You haven't lived 'til you've felt its wings pulling you in."
A new laugh echoed around across the stone as the others caught up to them. "Careful, Renn," the Shaper Valta smirked as she sheathed her sword. "I believe you're drooling." Renn rolled his eyes and made an amiably dismissive gesture in her direction.
Elisabeth chuckled at the exchange, winking at Sera when she came up beside her. Sera leaned into her shoulder with a grin. "You've been holding out on me, luv. Here I was thinking you couldn't get fitter."
"Have to keep up with you somehow," Elisabeth replied, nudging her back playfully. "You know Renn was just starting to ask me about our dragon hunting adventures."
"Plural? You've fought more than one?" he asked with clear excitement.
"Piss, yeah, we have!" Sera responded adamantly. "Four so far. We've leads on another three, but they're on the other side of this big frigging bridge that the Templars broke to shite."
"Tell me everything. Everything! Do their scales really make all sorts of patterns? I heard that some of them breathe lightning instead of fire..."
Elisabeth lingered against the wall as they started down the crumbling passageway that led deeper into the ruins of Heidrun, smiling around the mouth of her waterskin at Renn's excitable inquiries and Sera's animated explanations. When she noticed Valta paused beside her, she offered the skin over.
"Your culture is so different than ours," Valta noted between sips. "No lord of Orzammar would ever consort with someone like your archer."
Elisabeth snorted. "That's rather sordid sounding. I'm hardly a lord, and we're partners in most things."
"She rules your kingdom alongside you, then?"
"Well, no," Elisabeth frowned. "But I don't rule a kingdom. Lots of people do lots of different things. I'm just…I'm–"
"You're the head of the Inquisition, are you not?" Valta asked, tilting her head in curiosity. "You make the final decisions on the matters of your hold?" Elisabeth felt her hackles rising at the continued inquiry, which Valta seemed to sense.
"My apologies. I meant no offense. I was simply curious about the hierarchy of the surface."
"It's fine," Elisabeth replied tightly.
"The deshyrs of Orzammar have very strict expectations for their public presentation," Valta continued. "They all have companions suited to their desires, of course; but they are rarely the same person they present to others as their consorts. There are many political considerations to be taken into account when presenting someone on equal footing, after all. The lack of this on the surface is…alien to me."
"I wouldn't say there's a lack of it," Elisabeth muttered, sparing a passing thought for the piles of formal courtship requests that had become so persistent that she'd started using them for kindling.
"But you do not conform?" Valta looked over at Renn with an expression Elisabeth would almost have called wistful. "I imagine it must be very freeing, not having to separate one's self from one's duties."
"I don't think I'm as important as you think I am," Elisabeth pointed out with no small amount of discomfort. "I'm barely more than a figurehead. Better people than me do all the work it takes to keep the Inquisition going."
"But you are what links them. Leads them. Your choices are what the Inquisition comes to represent." Valta shook her head with a rueful smile. "Ah, you must forgive me my musings, Inquisitor. I tend to grasp for straws to avoid thinking overmuch about the darkspawn." She nodded in the direction the others were fast disappearing into the gloom. "Shall we catch up to them? I'd hate to lose Renn for another three days if he falls in a hole from his excitement over your partner's tales of dragon hunting."
"Of course," Elisabeth replied, trying to ignore the weight of uncertainty settling darkly across her chest.
The weight only seemed to increase the deeper they ventured into the thaig. Even in the relative safety of the Legion's far camp, sleep was not easy to come to. Elisabeth stared up the yawning darkness of the cave above them and tried not to think about how much she missed the sky.
She glanced over and up, seeing Sera stretching her arms out over her head. "Budge over, yeah? I'm knackered."
Elisabeth sighed and conceded, wedging herself a little closer to the wall to make room. Sera had grown up sleeping anywhere she was able, more often than not piled like a Chantry mouse with a number of other children of the street. The habit of proximity had been strange for Elisabeth to adapt to, but adapt she had. She wasn't quite sure how well it would work tonight, when they could not shed any but the outermost layer of armor.
Sera gave the bedroll an analytical look before kipping down, squirming until she made herself comfortable. Once she had, she stretched her neck up far enough to nudge the side of Elisabeth's jaw with her nose.
"Been awful quiet today, Tadwinks," she said as she settled. "What's on?"
Elisabeth shrugged as best she was able. "Just tired. I'd forgotten how wearing being on the road all the time is."
Sera snorted. "Noble ponce," she declared. "Do you good, this will. Can't have you getting soft on me. Especially before we get to Denerim. Lots of people to show you off to."
"We're going to Denerim?" Elisabeth asked.
"Yep. Soon as we're done here," Sera said confidently, grabbing one of Elisabeth's hands and toying with her fingers. "Take a few days to show you around right. Get some proper food, too; bloody sick of all this Orlesian rubbish. There's a stall off the market that does the best bangers and mash."
"What's so wrong about the food at home?"
"What's right about it? I'd give my left tit for a slice of brown bread and a kipper."
"What a shame, that's my favorite one," Elisabeth joked, waggling her eyebrows for good measure. Sera snorted again and hit her lightly on the shoulder.
"Who do you have to show me off to, anyways?" she yawned. "You said most of your Red Jenny mates were scattered all around."
"I know other people," Sera pointed out. "Loads. Give me a city and I'll give you two score people I know. I even know Sister Scary-Breeches' grown daughter that she doesn't talk about on purpose. Nice girl, wicked at Diamondback. Doesn't play the 'my other mum offed an Archdemon card' too often."
"Wait, what?" Elisabeth pushed up on her elbows and gaped. "Leliana has…with – how? And how do you…?" Sera grinned up at her smugly.
"Get to know me, Inky. I'm amazing."
Elisabeth shook her head clear and settled back down, resolving to delve into that particular revelation at a later date. "So these scores of people want to meet the Inquisitor, then?" she asked uneasily.
Sera scoffed. "No, I want them to meet you. Especially those shits down the pub, saying no girl with half a brain would get in a league of me." She fidgeted around until she found a comfortable spot again, head resting on the flat of Elisabeth's padded shoulder guard. "Show them. You've got a brain and a half, all the rubbish you've talked us out off. And you're nice to look at. And you'll stab them for me if I ask."
Elisabeth chuckled, started absently playing with the ragged edges of Sera's hair. "Be nice, won't it?" Sera pressed sleepily. "No one knowing who you are for a few more days. Just you and me. And trouble. Got word of a couple pricks who need a right knock-around."
"I can't think of anything I'd like more," Elisabeth admitted quietly, the hold on her chest already beginning to loosen. No need to be the Inquisitor at all. Just Beth. Just Sera's.
Sera made a satisfied noise. "Good," she mumbled. "Now you can stop thinking so loud. Gotta save the world again tomorrow, right?"
"Don't we always?" The question was half-serious, and the only answer she received was slow, steady breathing.
The darkness was beyond disorienting. This deep into the earth, this far away from the crumbling splendor of the Roads, even the air seemed thick with it.
"I can't see a shitting thing," she heard Bull growl for the fourth time. The hairs on the back of her neck stiffened when she the awareness of his shape behind her faded into the black. Both Renn and Valta had sworn that something was lurking in the caverns around them, insisted against the lighting of a torch for fear of inciting their awareness, but Elisabeth was fast reaching the point that any manner of beast they might encounter would be preferable to the nauseating isolation from her senses.
A sound was growing in intensity beside her; rapid, panicked breathing. She reached out, her hand landing awkwardly at the crook of Sera's tensed arm. "Alright there?" she asked quietly.
Sera jerked away violently. "Fine. Completely frigging bloody fine. Shut up." Elisabeth pulled back, barely managing to muffle a startled shriek when a hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. "D-don't. I'm sorry, alright? Don't go."
"I won't." She reached down and pried Sera's fingers off as gently as she could, sliding the hand up her own arm so Sera could feel leather and mail and the warmth of something real. "I won't."
"Did anyone else see that?" Dorian asked sharply from the other side of the narrow passage.
"What?" Elisabeth squinted at the space ahead of them, unable to see a thing in the wretched black.
"Eyes," Renn growled. She heard him stop and draw his axe, the telltale sharpness of shifting plate echoing off the wet stone around them. "Show yourselves," he ordered.
His answer was brief. The air split with the sound of a projectile screaming at speed, then stopped with the wet, breathless thunk of contact. Something spattered across Elisabeth's face, hot and slick.
Valta managed a horrified call for Renn before chaos descended upon them.
Light came in blinding flashes, casting garish blue shadows around them as the ambush was sprung. For the first time since she was barely more than a child playing at mercenary, Elisabeth stuttered and jerked around in search of a target, nearly paralyzed by the fear of striking one of her own in the confusion.
She slammed her eyes shut and listened for something, anything she could place. A smell struck her instead. The sour tang of lyrium. Something made sharp contact with her shoulder, a muffled strike that barely pierced the armor, and she whipped around to thrust her knife in the direction from which it came.
It became a pattern she could follow; strike, turn, counter, wait. Each cut she made glanced off solid metal until she blindly found a joist. The death rattle was muffled in a way she had never heard before, the blood that spattered on the floor from the arc of her swing so tainted with lyrium that the smell began to sicken her.
The battle-blood burned in her arms as she cast about for another attacker. "Dorian," she heard Bull roar from amidst the storm. "No use in hiding anymore, is there? Light 'em up!"
"Gladly," he yelled back as the damp air of the cavern began to dry and heat. "I advise anyone who does not want to be burned alive clear the cave floor immediately." Elisabeth sheathed her off-hand knife and groped forward in desperate search of a wall. Her fingers had barely scraped against the rock when someone else's hand latched hard around her arm and pulled.
"Hush." It took a minute of blinding fear to hear it as Sera's voice, to know the arm around her middle had been there countless times before. "Handhold up and left, prat. I've got you."
As she reached and remembered how to breathe, Sera called out over her shoulder. "Beth and I are clear! Bull?"
"Clear! Where are the dwarves?"
"We are clear." It was Valta's voice, thin and strained and wrong-sounding. Elisabeth looked over as Dorian's spell covered the wet stone in lightning, burning up anything unfortunate enough to touch it from the inside out. The cavern rang with screaming, the smell of burning flesh and scorched lyrium enough to make her gag. In the harsh light of it all, she could see the outcropping where Valta and Renn had managed to find refuge.
Renn was still and limp, half lying in Valta's arms as she held them off the deadly floor. A thick, dark stain was already dripping across the stone beneath them, the same color as the splatters across Valta's face. She met Elisabeth's gaze as the lightning began to fade, the heat of hatred palpable even at a distance.
You did this, her eyes said. You did this, Inquisitor.
The light sputtered and died, and they were left alone in the dark.
"Alright there, Boss?"
"Fine," Elisabeth answered without looking over her shoulder. The lyrium light splintering up the walls and over the ground had her eyes pounding, and the constant hum of it had her teeth so far on edge that her jaw ached. The nick in her shoulder was kept open and raw by the pressure of her pack strap, her feet were throbbing from running around on solid bedrock and she felt so caked in sweat and rubble and blood that she would likely never be clean again, but she was still alive to feel this miserably fine.
"You seem a little on edge." Bull pressed. She stiffened when she felt his massive hand fold over her good shoulder. "I know you want to hold everything down, but you're gonna burn out if you don't some shut eye."
"I said I'm fine," Elisabeth snapped, jerking away. "Go help Sera set up camp or find Dorian and Valta and whatever ancient vagueness they've tripped over this time. I'll go make sure we're actually alone."
She stalked off, clinging to whatever manner of shadow she could find among the colossal stalactites in the hopes of holding back the swelling headache for a few more blessed moments. Between the crumbling rock and the near constant attacks from the Sha-Brytol, she couldn't remember the last time she'd slept for more than a few hours. She could taste the sour burn of exhaustion in the back of her throat, feel the weight of her own body increase with every step she took. Maker take this place, she thought angrily, spitting on the stone when it slid out from under her boot and sent her face-first into a boulder.
As she managed to right herself once more, a curious sensation skated across the back of her mind. Cold water buffeting around her feet on a hot day. The smell of salt and sealing pitch. The excitement of escaping the estate to see how people really live.
Something compelled her to turn, to begin walking towards the cliff edge rounded out by the rolling sea beneath it. Such a curious thing, so much water so far beneath the earth. Always moving, always changing. Such a lovely shade of blue. The damp air that curled up her nose as she approached the edge felt cool. Such a nice contrast to the crawling heat beneath her armor.
The sight of the water pushed her headache back in waves, the sound of it rising over the lyrium hum. Together they had form, structure. Rhythm and melody. It was beautiful, really; even out here in the thin, dead air. How much more lovely would it down there, in the living, breathing water.
"Whoa!" There was a sharp jerk on her pack, pulling the strap into her shoulder with a vicious sting. "What's on, Tadwinks? Doze off on your feet or something?"
Sera's face was shadowed in the sharp light, her brow furrowed in worry. "You look like shite, luv. Come have a kip, yeah? I'll take watch." It hurt to look at her, to remember the pain and failure and endless, grinding darkness. She would understand. Surely, she would understand.
"I have to go," she said, shucking her pack in one last burst of tearing skin.
"Go where?" Another hand on her shoulder, thumb against the bare skin of her neck. "Andraste's tits, woman; you're burning up! What's happened to you?"
"I have to go," she said again, smacking the hand away and starting to pull frantically at the buckles of her armor. There could be no more waiting, no more time wasted being lost in the loud, chaotic darkness. No more monsters, no more expectations. Only music.
"A little help here!" Sera called out in rising panic, moving between her and the cliff's edge. "Bethy, stop it, okay? Listen to me. You're sick."
"I'm sick?" she laughed in disbelief, throwing her cuirass on the ground as hard as she could. "You're sick! Sick and deaf! Can't you hear it? It's everywhere and it's beautiful and you want me to stay here in the dark with you? I thought you loved me."
"What's – Maker's breath!"
"Oh, shit." She was swept off the ground before she could force her way past.
"Piss, don't hurt her! She's not right in the head."
"She was about to shove you off a cliff, Sera. 'Not right in the head' might be the understatement of the age."
"Set her down flat, please, Bull. You'll need to hold her still enough for me to examine her."
"Let me go!" She struggled in vain against the wall of muscle that lowered her to the stone and held her there. A new pair of hands moved through the cold sweat drying on the skin of her arms. "Maker, that's a high fever. No wonder she's been so touchy. I don't understand how any infection could have progressed to this point so fast; she was completely well not even days ago and…" A sharp intake of breath as the stinging, tearing pain in her shoulder flared.
"What? What's wrong?"
"There's a laceration at her shoulder, streaks under her skin. There's…Andraste, there's lyrium caked around the edges of it."
"Probably caught one of those little bolt things in the caverns and passed it off as a scratch. Ah, Boss…"
"Someone better tell me what in the fucking Void is going on before I–"
"She's been poisoned. Very badly. Raw lyrium in the blood brings all manner of damage to the body, but even more to the mind. The higher her fever gets, the more of her we will lose."
"Let me go!" she tried again, straining against the weight on her wrists and screaming. "I have to go!"
"Fasta vass, I don't even know where to – Sera? Sera, come back!"
"She can't deal with watching right now, pretty boy. Put the Boss out so we can hear ourselves think, alright?"
"Alright." Magic twisted through her and muffled the world until it was black and silent.
The song was everywhere when she woke. Music in her eyes, color in her ears, throbbing through her veins with the warmth of whiskey. It was lovely. So much better than the itching, crawling fever in her blood. The memory of pain was hazy, fading quickly beneath the music. Had it even happened? Had there been anything before this wondrous moment?
"Bethy," she heard someone say. How strange to hear a voice among the noise. Did she know it? She certainly didn't know the name. "C'mon, Tadwinks. Need you to come around for me."
She saw a woman when she complied with the request, sharp-featured and sad. Pretty. She felt her heart stutter in her chest for some reason.
"Hey, you," the woman said, smiling in a way that didn't fit her face. Why was she sad? She should never be sad. "We're almost done here, yeah? Gonna go check out the creepy statue over there with Valta then we're going home. Get you fixed up right and proper soon as we're there, you'll see. Everything's going to be fine."
Looking at the woman made her itch. The half-memory of a laugh, a look, a taste. Violence, warmth, music that was not the song in her head. She did not know this woman, but she wanted to.
"Who are you?" she asked. A breath passed between them, full of pain and fear. She knew somehow that the touch on the side of her face was far too gentle.
"You'll remember. You will."
The woman paused for a moment, then took her hand away. She leaned back on her heels to fish something out of a pouch at her belt. "This'll help. Matches mine, see?" She pulled out a shiny little band of metal, let it glint in the fogged light next to the one on her own finger. "Was saving it for something better than this, but it might help, right? Next time you get confused, just look for this. You'll know the person who has one like yours."
The metal was warm around her finger. A stripe of white-gold in the blue haze. Pretty.
"Back in a tic, luv," the woman said, leaning forward again to press her lips to her forehead before standing. Her face faded into steel and song, and the itch was replaced by a hollow, sour note buzzing against the back of her head. There were other voices, other movements. The buzz began to hurt, and her own voice fell discordant across the music.
Then everything in the world snapped.
Grinding rock, shattering glass, the chaos of infection. Shouting in the distance, roaring. She covered her head with her arms and curled into herself as the rhythm threatened to crush her skull. Something made a dull impression of a sound, stone on flesh, then a body scraped back across the ground beside her. Too loud, too loud, too loud. She couldn't understand, couldn't feel beyond the terrified bewilderment of something that was not her splintering through her insides, looking for a name, a context, something. She bit the inside of her mouth in the midst of the agony and felt the slow leak of blood coat her tongue.
The sound abated in an instant. The relief from pain was so intense that she wept. There was only the music now, only the quiet hum of life around her. When the sound of movement scuffed beneath it, she felt pulled to watch.
It glowed like the sun she could almost remember. Her eyes stung to bear witness.
"Peace, child of the marsh. You have served your Creator honorably."
Numbness spread like vines from her shoulder, winding down her arm. She looked down, fascinated by the flecks of blue sand gathering along the edges of a cut she did not remember getting. Soon there was enough for a small pebble of it, and as it fell away she saw her skin was whole again.
"The Stone will remember your name and deed, Elisabeth Trevelyan. Be now as you were, and return to your world."
Pure magic lanced through her body as lightning through the water. She cracked her head back against the stone when her back arched from the force of it, and Elisabeth drew in a terrified, choking gasp of air as the world fractured back around her.
Where in the Void was she? It was so bright; far brighter than the lyrium caverns were. What had happened? Why was she alone? Why couldn't she remember how she got here?
"Hello?" she tried to shout, the word ripping weakly out of her dry throat. Maker, did that hurt; like speaking after a bad fever. What is the pissing Void was going on?
She heard the grinding rumble of rock giving way, but felt no hint of the tremors for the first since they'd been down here. When she craned her neck back to get an upside-down glimpse of the source, she was as relieved as she was alarmed to see her friends stumble out of the rubble, battered and bloody. When they saw her, they started running. Sera reached her first, swearing profusely dropping to her knees hard enough to skin them.
"Hello, darling," Elisabeth offered with the best approximation of a smile she could manage. "Do you perchance know where we are?"
"What's your name?"
"Esmerelda Titsborg," Elisabeth replied flatly, sputtering when Sera smacked her across the face with the washcloth she was using to dry herself. "Sera, for the fiftieth time, I'm alright now! I remember everything."
"What's. Your. Name." Sera repeated with a pointed glare. Elisabeth sighed and complied.
"Elisabeth Trevelyan. Daughter of Bann Richard Trevelyan of Ostwick, leader of the Thedosian Inquisition, Herald of the Blessed Andraste, and mistress to the most illustrious and ignominious incarnation of Red Jenny ever to pie an Orlesian courtier in the face."
"Ponce," Sera returned, biting her lip to hold back a grin. "'Beth' would've been enough. Where do we live?"
"Skyhold," Elisabeth yawned, lying back on her bedroll and pushing the damp hair away from her eyes. "Where it is much less rainy. I'd almost forgotten how moist it is up here."
"Ugh, I hate that word. Moist." Sera shuddered as she wrung out the cloth on the ground in the corner of the tent. Elisabeth laughed under her breath, closing her eyes and relaxing her sore neck across the lumpy pillow. She was just beginning to slip off to sleep when she felt a sudden weight drop down over her hips.
Sera stared down at her with a very serious expression. "You are a tit," she said firmly. "A right bloody stubborn tit. You know you almost bit it because of that, right?"
"Says the queen of stubbornness herself," Elisabeth deflected, smile slipping into a frown when Sera showed no reaction.
"M'serious here, Bethy. It's a literal frigging miracle that you're alright this time. We could have kept it from getting that bad if you had just told someone."
"Told them what?" Elisabeth sighed. "It was just a nick. There were more important things to deal with."
"Right away, sure, but it took three days for it to get as bad as it did. Didn't hear a word from you then, when you were being all Inquisitor-y about everything." Sera hesitated, eyes darting around as if looking for anything else to focus on. "I mean, I get it, right? You saved the world and all that pish, and that's grand and everything, but it's done now and you're still throwing yourself in front of every problem like you want to –"
She cut herself off abruptly, shaking her head violently at the thought she couldn't vocalize. "'Always' should be more than a few months, yeah? More than a few years, even. Stop being stupid about this." The reason for her behavior suddenly clicked for Elisabeth.
"Is that what this is about then?" Elisabeth raised her hand and wiggled her fingers in Sera's face, the dim light catching on the ring around the third one that she'd puzzled over upon waking. Sera glanced at it, getting red-faced and wide-eyed for a split second before looking away with a scoff.
"It's…whatever, I don't know. It helped when you were sick, didn't it? And it looks nice, so you should probably keep it. Y'know, because it's pretty?" She ran a hand through her hair with a small, helpless noise, looking so uncharacteristically flustered that Elisabeth was helpless but to sit up and kiss her.
"I love you, too, loony," she said. Sera grinned and giggled a little, like she always did at the words.
"Still not marrying you, though," she clarified as her smile became predatory, pushing back on Elisabeth's shoulders until she was lying flat again. "Wouldn't want me to get bored, would you?"
"Maker forbid." Elisabeth slid her hands around Sera's hips and began to lose herself in the rising heat. It had been easy once, before misfortune had burned a destiny into the palm of her hand, to a different woman for every situation. She had learned how to be a soldier to some, a leader to others, and to hold the pieces left of herself away from all the roles. But to this wonderful, confusing mess of a woman, she was everyone all at once. A soldier that could not afford to be sacrificed, a leader who had to be cut off at the knees occasionally. Pieces of a woman being stitched back into a whole.
Sera was a force of nature, after all. Maybe it was time to stop resisting it.