"What made you start studying the Fade?" She matched her pace to his as they walked, listening as he described his encounters with spirits as a younger man. She shared a few stories of her own, such as her encounter with a spirit of wisdom not long after she'd first come into her magic. He seemed surprised that she'd had such an encounter, and she admitted that the Keeper had quickly discouraged such activities. "Is this why you joined the Inquisition?"
"I joined the Inquisition because we were all in terrible danger." He gestured. "If our enemies destroyed the world, I would have nowhere to lay my head while dreaming of the Fade."
"Herald..." He shrugged. "That is why I joined, not why I stayed."
"I wish you luck." She smiled.
"Thank you." Solas nodded. "In truth, I have enjoyed experiencing more of life to find more of the Fade."
"You train your will to control magic and withstand possession. Your indomitable focus is an enjoyable side benefit. You have chosen a path whose steps you do not dislike because it leads to a destination you enjoy. As have I."
Quiyala raised an eyebrow. "Indomitable focus?"
"Presumably." A smile danced around the edges of his mouth. "I have yet to see it dominated. I imagine the sight would be..." He gave her an appraising look. "Fascinating."
Heading into Redcliff just made sense. If nothing else, they needed to know what the mages were up to, and whether any of them were involved in what had happened. And it gave her the chance to get the measure of some of her new companions. "The Iron Bull..." Quiyala looked up at him. "How did you come by that particular moniker?" She glanced at his horns. "Other than the obvious."
"I picked it." He shrugged. "We don't have names under the Qun, just..." He waved a hand. "I don't know, job descriptions, I guess. When I came to Orlais, I chose 'The Iron Bull' for myself."
"But why specifically 'Iron Bull'?" Quiyala tilted her head up at him.
"This may surprise you, but I really like hitting things." He grinned. "Thanks for remember the 'The'. I like having the article at the front." He gestured. "It makes it sound like I'm not even a person, just a mindless weapon, an implement of destruction..." He grunted. "That really works for me."
"You know, I thought it was just Knucklehead..." She chuckled fondly. "But maybe Qunari are all just crazy."
"Knucklehead?" Iron Bull blinked down at her.
"Kathan. A Qunari..." She shook her head. "Vashoth I met at the Conclave." She shrugged. "He got me out of some trouble with a templar by claiming I was his little sister. Just grinned and pretty much dared the guy to call him a liar." Her smile turned sad. "Too many good people died up there."
"Well, nothing about that was in any way suspicious." Quiyala rolled her eyes as she walked out of the tavern. "I mean, a Tevinter magister taking an instant liking to two elven mages, an elven archer, a Seeker, and a Qunari? Sure it happens all the time."
"My keen elven senses detect sarcasm." Solas's lips twitched. It was clear the magister hadn't been fooling her even before the man's son had slipped her a warning. Still, she'd handled it well enough.
"Alright, let's go see what's waiting in the Chantry." She started in that direction, then paused before frowning. Then she turned, and looked back over the view. "I don't see any other tranquil."
The discovery of the skulls had disturbed him as well. "The man you spoke to is already on his way over to the Inquisition's soldiers." He gestured.
"Yes, but..." She leaned on her staff. "I never went to a human tower, but I heard talk of it. Sulana made friends among the templars and..." She exhaled. "It says just how bad things have become that I find myself hoping they were simply abandoned instead of..."
He put a hand on her shoulder. "There are some with the Inquisition, and you may have just saved another."
"As many lives as we can." She nodded. "Come. Let's go step into this trap."
Surprise surprise, another Tevinter mage. This one, however... He turned toward her after she'd sealed the rift. "Fascinating. How does that work, exactly?" He raised an eyebrow before smiling. "You don't even know, do you? You just wiggle your fingers, and boom. Rift closes."
"Who are you?" She looked him over. Handsome for a human, though dressed rather flamboyantly. Or perhaps that was just Tevinter.
"Ah. Getting ahead of myself again, I see." He gave her a small bow. "Dorian of House Pavus, most recently of Minrathous. How do you do?"
"Another Tevinter." Cassandra sheathed her sword. "Be cautious with this one."
"Suspicious friends you have here." Dorian shrugged. "Magister Alexius was once my mentor, so my assistance should be valuable - as I'm sure you can imagine."
"I think you're getting ahead of yourself yet again." Quiyala glanced around. "I was expecting Felix to be here."
"I'm sure he's on his way. He was to give you the note, then meet us here after ditching his father."
"He's ill." Quiyala frowned. "His father couldn't jump to his side fast enough when he pretended to be faint."
"He's had some lingering illness for months." Dorian nodded. "Felix is an only child, and Alexius is being a mother hen, most likely."
"Alright." Quiyala slowly nodded. First a Qunari spy, and now a Tevinter Magister were offering their help. The world really had gone insane. "Tell me what's going on."
"Look, you must know there's danger." Dorian exhaled. "That should be obvious even without the note. Let's start with Alexius claiming the allegiance of the mage rebels out from under you." He raised an eyebrow. "As if by magic, yes? Which is exactly right. To reach Redcliffe before the Inquisition, Alexius distorted time itself."
That was... "He arranged it so he could arrive here just after the Divine died?"
"You catch on quick." Dorian smiled.
"That is fascinating, if true..." Solas stepped to her side. "And almost certainly dangerous."
"That weird rift we saw when we got here." Quiyala nodded to him. "The one that seemed to make time fluctuate, just like the one here." She exhaled. "So it's not just the world coming apart, but time." She looked back up at Dorian. "How quickly are they spreading?"
He seemed almost a little surprised that she'd grasped the implications. "I'm not certain. I helped develop this magic, but when I was still his apprentice it was pure theory. Alexius could never get it to work." He tapped his chin. "What I don't understand is why he's doing it? Ripping time to shreds just to gain a few hundred lackeys?"
"He didn't do it for them." Felix joined them.
"Took you long enough." Dorian gave Felix a warm smile. "Is he getting suspicious?"
"No, but I shouldn't have played the illness card." Felix shook his head. "I thought he'd be fussing over me all day." He turned to face Quiyala. "My father's joined a cult. Tevinter supremacists. They call themselves 'Venatori'. And I can tell you one thing: whatever he's done for them, he's done it to get to you."
"Why would he rearrange time and indenture the mage rebellion just to get to me?"
"They're obsessed with you, but I don't know why. Perhaps because you survived the Temple of Sacred Ashes?"
"You can close the rifts." Dorian shrugged. "Maybe there's a connection? Or they see you as a threat?"
Felix nodded. "If the Venatori are behind those rifts, or the Breach in the sky, they're even worse than I thought."
"Now we just need a plan." Quiyala waved a hand.
"You know you're his target." Dorian nodded. "Expecting the trap is the first step in turning it to your advantage. I can't stay in Redcliffe. Alexius doesn't know I'm here, and I want to keep it that way for now. But whenever you're ready to deal with him, I want to be there. I'll be in touch." Dorian started to walk away, then turned back to his friend. "And Felix? Try not to get yourself killed."
"There are worse things than dying, Dorian."
She hesitated only a moment before catching up to Felix before he could leave the chantry. "Felix?"
He turned back to her. "Herald."
"Quiyala." She smiled. "People out to do the right thing can call me Quiyala." She took a deep breath. "I'm a healer. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I..." He shook his head. "No. But I thank you."
There was still the matter of heading back to Haven and determining their next step. The circle mages might not be her brethren, but leaving them to the magister didn't sit right. There were those like Minaeve among them, who had sought the circle for protection. Quiyala sighed, then fell into step with Solas. He had a lovely voice. "I'd be interested in hearing your opinions on elven culture."
"I thought you would be more interested in sharing your opinions of elven culture." His voice was curt. "You are Dalish, are you not?"
Her eyes narrowed. "My people come from the elves who refused to surrender when humans broke their treaty and destroyed the Dales."
He rolled his eyes. "Your Keeper was not wrong about that, at least." He spread his hands. "We must mark the occasion of the Dalish remembering something correctly. Perhaps we should plant a tree."
Quiyala took a long step then stopped right in front of him, arresting his forward movement. She narrowed her eyes. "You insult my people."
"They insult themselves." He shook his head. "Remember, I have walked the memories of the Fade. I have seen the history the Dalish imitate."
From time to time, others had come to the clan. City elves, mostly. The Dalish were not always kind to their cousins. "Ir abelas, hahren. If the Dalish have done you a disservice, I would make that right." She raised an eyebrow. "What course would you set for them that is better than what they know now?"
His eyes widened a little, then he sighed. "You are right, of course. The fault is mine, for expecting what the Dalish could never truly accomplish. Ir abelas..." Solas inclined his head toward her. "Da'len. If I can offer any understanding, you have but to ask."
Despite how the conversation had started, it didn't take long for him to start enjoying it. Quiyala was attentive, asking questions and listening to his answers. Even the times she argued a point it was often more a request for clarification. She even was willing to discuss blood magic without the usual superstition.
Considering her intelligence, perhaps it would be wiser not to converse as much. It would be all too easy to betray more than he intended, and yet it was nice, having someone who listened and treated him with genuine respect. And if he were entirely honest with himself, it didn't hurt that she was a beautiful young woman. Her skin was darker than any elf he'd seen thus far, at least outside the Fade. It wasn't just tan, like many Dalish, but a lovely shade of mahogany. He could, if he looked carefully, make out youthful freckles.
She laughed, a delightful sound. "I was First of my clan, destined to become Keeper." Quiyala shrugged. "But my Keeper was concerned I was asking too many questions." She sighed. "I think that's why he sent me to the Conclave. I was supposed to see just how wrong humans do things and come back with a stronger belief in Dalish ways." Her voice became a mutter. "And willing to marry Vathran."
"Excuse me?" Solas blinked.
"Vathran was the Keeper's son. He did not inherit magic, but the role of Keeper had been in that family for several generations. Thus, to the Keeper, the logical choice was for me to simply become Vathran's wife." Quiyala shook her head. "Strange how despite not liking Vathran, from time to time I find myself missing him just a little. I keep expecting him to step out from somewhere and start admonishing me for using my magic or talking to strange people."
"Is it not the role of Keeper to use magic and learn new wisdom?" Solas arched an eyebrow.
"He never saw the contradiction." She smiled. "Sulana came with us, but she wasn't going to be returning. I'm not sure anyone expected her too." Her smile became sad. "Sulana wanted the larger world. Sometimes I think she was the wise one."
Upon their return to Haven, she made a point to see how Sera, Blackwall, Vivienne, and Iron Bull had settled in. It took her approximately three seconds to figure out that she and Vivienne were never going to be best friends, though they were able to get along well enough. Sera had some problems with her fellow elves and was on the insane side, but likable enough. Iron Bull was very Qunari and yet somehow managed to remind her a lot of Sulana. Blackwall she liked. His armor might not be shining but he was definitely a knight. And he was very apologetic when he inadvertently insulted her elven heritage.
Once in the war room, things got more complicated. Cullen was currently shaking his head. "We don't have the manpower to take the castle. Either we find another way in, or give up this nonsense and go get the templars."
It was Cassandra, interestingly enough, that took the other stance. "Redcliffe is in the hands of a magister. This cannot be allowed to stand."
"The letter from Alexius asked for the Herald of Andraste by name. It's an obvious trap." Josephine shook her head.
"And the fact that we know it's a trap is something we can turn to our advantage. If we stop arguing among ourselves and come up with a plan." Quiyala looked at each of them in turn.
"Redcliffe Castle is one of the most defensible fortresses in Ferelden. It has repelled thousands of assaults. If you go in there, you'll die." Cullen met her eyes. "And we'll lose the only means we have of closing these rifts. I won't allow it."
"While I appreciate your feelings on the matter, Commander..." Quiyala squared her shoulders. "That is not wholly your decision to make. Now, while stories to have a way of growing, there is a way into the castle." Quiyala turned toward Leliana. "I believe you were with the Wardens that managed to retake it during the Blight, yes?"
"Even if we could assault the keep, it would be for naught." Josephine shook her head. "An 'Orlesian' Inquisition's army marching into Ferelden would provoke a war. Our hands are tied."
Quiyala took a look around the table. "Okay, everybody in this room that is Orlesian please raise your hand." One of the templars guarding the door hesitatingly raised his hand. She smiled at him. "Alright, you'll be part of the forces staying to keep an eye on Haven. The rest of us -"
"Herald..." Cullen gritted his teeth.
"The Magister's son, Felix, told me Alexius is in a cult that's obsessed with me." Quiyala stared at him. "The question you need to consider is do we deal with them now when they are a known element, or later when they may take us by surprise?"
Leliana nodded her agreement. "They will remain a threat, and a powerful one, unless we act."
"Alright, Leliana, how do we get in?" Quiyala raised an eyebrow.
"There is a secret passage into the castle, an escape route for the family." Leliana frowned. "It's too narrow for our troops, but we could send agents through."
"Too risky." Cullen shook his head. "Those agents will be discovered well before they reach the magister."
"Which is why I'll be meeting with the magister, making a nice big distraction of myself." Quiyala twitched a shoulder. "Maybe I'll juggle." When Cullen glanced at her, she smiled. "I actually can. A qunari I met at the conclave taught me."
"Herald." He sighed. Then he nodded. "And while they are focused on you, we break the magister's defenses. It could work, but it's a huge risk."
"Fortunately, you'll have help." Dorian picked that moment to walk in the door, followed by a beleaguered and apologetic runner. "Your spies will never get past Alexius's magic without my help. So if you're going after him, I'm coming along."
Cullen nodded, then turned back to her. "The plan puts you in the most danger. We can't, in good conscience, order you to do this."
"You didn't." She smiled, then picked up her staff. "I volunteered."
From near the chantry doors, she could see Leliana briefing her agents. A moment later, she saw Cullen start heading down toward the soldiers and moved to intercept him. "Commander."
"Herald, I..." He turned toward her, a little startled.
"Walk with me?" She raised an eyebrow. "Down to where the soldiers are practicing?" When he fell into step next to her, she turned her eyes toward the practice. "The Dalish drill, but our fighting style is very different. Our shields are lighter, so we don't use them as weapons as often."
"I have seen elves fight, though rarely the Dalish." Cullen nodded. "Some of the finest warriors I've ever met were elven."
"You're trying to protect me." She glanced up at him. "As much as it is appreciated, I should tell you that I am trained as a Keeper. Protecting people is my duty."
"I am trained as a templar, Herald. I could say the same." He nodded to her.
"And mages in particular." She smiled. "However, this isn't entirely about recent events." She folded her arms. "You've circles beneath your eyes, Commander. Are you sleeping?"
"I..." Cullen blinked. "Excuse me?"
She narrowed her eyes. "You're not." She gave a small shake of her head, then reached into her belt pouch and pulled out a small clay jar. "Drink a cup of this every evening. It's actual sedative properties are fairly mild, so if you have to wake for an emergency you can. It simply ensures a deeper sleep for what rest you do get." She offered the jar to him.
"I appreciate the -"
"Commander." She smiled. "Cullen." Then she narrowed his eyes. "You'll drink the tea, or..." She glanced back at the Chantry. "See all those nice old chantry ladies up there?" She smiled. "I will go to them and tell them you yelled at their Herald of Andraste. I will even cry, quiver my lip, and call you a big meanie-head."
He took the jar from her. "Is that what they teach Keepers?"
"To take care of our people even when they won't take care of themselves?" She nodded. "Absolutely. One cup. Every evening before bed. Don't make me get Leliana involved."
"Now there is a threat." Cullen smiled.