A/N: Firstly, I would like to thank Captain Ceranna for allowing me the absolute privilege of playing with her characters and her own story of Ostwick's Circle. Laneda is a wonderfully done character, and I wish I could have put more of her in this, but that will come at a much later time. Please go check her and her amazing OCs out. Her Trevelyan will be making grand appearances throughout parts of this fic as well.
Also, THANK YOU to those that have stuck with me throughout this fic! I don't say it enough, but it means so much to me. I don't think this would still be going without all of your kind and encouraging words.
Here's to updating sooner rather than later! :)
It is hard for him to sleep at night.
One would think he'd sleep like a babe, traveling along the edge of Waking Sea, but the beach's sand is coarse and irritating and gets everywhere, and he is most definitely too Ferelden for the rising bloody heat.
What he finds to be the worst of it all, however, is there is nothing to hide the stars. Their brightness mocks him in the quiet of the night, dancing through his closed eyes and imprinting every constellation into him so that even in his dreams he finds no peace. They taunt him, never letting him go a moment without remembering he is alone.
He doesn't need their constant reminder, though. All he needs to do is look at his barren wrist to know that.
It's been two days since he's seen one of Amell's ravens.
He worries that he might have strayed too deep into the Frostback Mountains, but does his best to trek the way he planned. He'll have to check which direction Solium is facing when the sun sets, just to be sure.
He spots a great bear feeding on the carcass of a ram. His stomach pangs are pushing him over the edge, but he stays calm, cautious. Fighting one of those on his own is damn near suicide, he reminds himself. He just needs to work around it, maybe find the ram's herd and get himself something to eat.
An itch creeps up the side of his wrist. He nearly stumbles at the feeling, but does his best to shake it off and keep quiet. There is too much happening to wonder what may or may be lingering under his sleeve.
"I can't come to Ferelden."
The words sit on his skin like a burn, or perhaps the phantom of a burn. The night's fire flickers over the message, scrawled in a fast and unkempt hand that he is not used to seeing from his other.
When he pulls the quill and ink from his sack, he hesitates. He is so unsure of what to even say to her. Yet, he aches to have her talk to him, to know why she waited until now to speak.
With a scratch to his brow, he dips his quill and scribbles a reply:
"You can't, or won't?"
Her quill is quick to his skin, it is almost shocking how intense it feels.
"They already know about Ferelden's Circle. Won't let us transfer, even though they need Enchanters. Said it's a Heretic's Circle now. 'Mages aren't meant to be free'."
Alistair is stunned. His hand hovers over his arm, but he doesn't know what to say.
"I don't care about what you did," she writes. "It hurt, but it doesn't matter. When I came to Ferelden, we could let it go. Be different people. But now…"
She pauses to wipe her wrist clean. "It's getting bad, Al."
At this, he dips his quill in ink and writes, "What's happening?"
"After Ferelden, the Templars got mean. Coming down on us harder for stupid things. Can't even bathe without one keeping watch. We got sick of it. Tried to speak out. They said we were inciting a rebellion and they—"
She wipes her arm clean once more. "They turned an elvhen girl Tranquil. She was harrowed, Al."
Alistair stares down at his wrist in horror. The very same sinking feeling that ate at him in Kinloch takes hold, and he can almost smell the rotting corpses that littered the halls.
"Called her Maleficar," she continues. "All Laneda did was give herself a Vallaslin. "
Dead green eyes flash violently in his mind, and he nearly gets sick.
He can't let her stay there. Not anymore.
"I'm going to get you out."
He'll use the treaties, conscript her if he has to, but there is no way he's letting her live in that. Amell might kill him, but he'll make her understand.
He moves to dip his quill in ink, to explain to her that he's a Grey Warden, but she responds before he can put ink to skin.
He shakes his head in shock. "What do you mean, no?"
"I can't leave, not yet," she begins. "I know it sounds crazy, but I need to stay."
"What in the Andraste's name makes you think that?" His quill writes sharply, the letters bold and loud. "Please, enlighten me!"
"I can't leave these people, Al." She writes with equal force, her words thickly lining his wrist. "My name helps, I have some lenience. I could do something. I'd hate myself if I didn't try. Laneda can't die for nothing."
Alistair feels panic boiling deep within his belly. "Lissie, this is a terrible idea. There's no way—"
Her quill comes to his skin fast, interrupting him. "Can't argue. They're making rounds. I need you to trust me."
In an instant, he drops his quill and covers his face with his hands.
Maker's breath, what is he going to do?
When he arrives in Jader, he is stunned to find Amell waiting for him.
Her Mabari blindsides him, knocking them both to the ground and coats his face with slobbery kisses.
"Alright, alright! Enough, you!" Amell laughs, weakly attempting to pull the dog away. "Let me get a hug before you lick him to death!"
Maker, it is great to hear her voice again. She barely gets a chance to reach out her hand before Alistair jumps to his feet and pulls her into the tightest of hugs.
"You're evil for making me come here," he mumbles. "If I wasn't half-starved I'd be throwing the biggest of fits."
"You say that as if I want to be here," she whispers back, squeezing him tightly before breaking away. "Come, there's a room at the inn for us. We've still got a ways to go before Montsimmard."
Alistair makes a face as they begin to move into the city. "Right, but can I ask you one thing?"
She makes a quick glance his way before turning a corner. "Yes?"
Sucking in a breath, he tries is hardest not to whine, but fails. "WHY?!"
"How is Lissie?"
He nearly drops his bedroll at the sound of her name, but Amell doesn't seem to notice. She is too busy rummaging through her things, patting the top of her Mabari's head as it hangs off the side of the room's small bed.
"It's been so long since we've seen each other," she continues. "How's she doing? Is she close to coming to Ferelden?"
His jaw tightens at the question. Slipping under the cover, he adjusts his head against his pillow.
"No." Is all he says.
The Mabari's panting goes silent. He can feel her eyes on him, but she says nothing.
"She… She can't come."
The sound of shuffling echoes from beside him, and suddenly, her hand is on his shoulder.
"Tell me everything," she says.
The light of the candle nestled between them begins to dim as he reaches his story's end. Amell listens with a quiet intensity, he'd nearly forgotten how easy it is to talk to her.
"She wants…" A sigh escapes him, and he scratches the side of his face. "She wants to stay. She thinks she can help them somehow, but…"
He tries not to think of Kinloch Hold, the smell of death lingering at every corner. "What can she really do? The Chantry's not going to change just because she wants it to try really, really bad."
He doesn't expect her to stare at him like he's a complete idiot.
"You know," she begins, cupping her cheek with the palm of her hand. "For someone who just stopped a Blight with only one other Warden and a patch-work army, you sound a little hypocritical."
Alistair openly scowls at her. "Ha-ha, you're hilarious. Listen to me, laughing."
Her free hand slaps him lazily on the shoulder. "Shush it."
"But really," he replies. "What would you do? How would you handle this?"
Amell is quiet, but only for a moment. "I would do exactly what she is doing."
Alistair rolls on his mat towards her. He says nothing, only waits for some kind of explanation.
"Despite how much the Circle is a prison," she begins. "It's always going to be a Mage's home in some way, whether they like it or not. If I were in Kinloch when the uprising happened… I wouldn't want to run. I'd want to fight."
With a sigh, she lowers her head to her pillow. "She wants to leave behind something better for those who have to stay, and I understand that. Why do you think I chose to save Kinloch? To rebuild it?"
Alistair rests his chin on the tops of his arm, his brow furrowed in thought.
"I never thought of it that way," he says.
"Obviously," she jokes, and he swats at her head. "Let's go to bed, we can talk about this more in the morning."
"Alright," he replies, though he does not believe he'll be able to fall asleep so quickly.
Amell blows out the candle between them, and everything goes to black. All that can be heard is the mabari's soft snoring from above.
"Hey Amell," Alistair whispers.
"Why did we let the dog have the bed?"
The Grey Wardens are a secretive bunch. He knows this well, but there is something about Clarel's lot that is beyond that. When they arrive in Montsimmard, they are not greeted with the kindness he'd hope his brothers and sisters of the Order would offer. Truthfully, there is no true greeting at all.
"Think it's cause we smell bad?" Alistair asks Amell, and eyes her Mabari. "When is the last time you washed him?"
The Mabari grumbles as Amell quickly nudges him. "Shush it, or I'll make you sit through an entire performance of The Sword of Drakon."
Alistair openly gapes at her. "You wouldn't."
"It starts at dusk tonight," she states. "Shall we fit you in some nice Orlesian doublets?"
Flinching, he turns his attention forward. "You win this time."
She walks ahead as they reach Clarel's chambers and smiles at him like the cat that ate the canary.
What a brat, he thinks, and follows suite.
There is something about Clarel he doesn't trust.
The Orlesian Commander's office feels far too small for her and Amell's personalities. He notices how her brow furrows as his friend recalls the events in Amaranthine and Vigil's Keep. It's desperate, he thinks. Desperate and calculating.
She begins to pace, bringing her hands to her mouth to hide the muttering under her breath. When she finally stops at her desk, Clarel grips the frame of her chair and looks to Amell.
"Must we have him here?" she questions; the way she says it reminds him of Lady Isolde, speaking about him as though he is not right there, pretending he doesn't exist. "This… it is very sensitive information."
"He is my second," Amell replies, crossing her arms to silently warn the Orlesian of her offense. "He needs to hear everything before I leave."
This catches Alistair's attention: second—leaving?! Is she leaving him again? For how long? A panic begins to rise in him, but he reminds himself he must remain calm. He hopes there is time after this to have a proper melt down.
Clarel gives a curt nod. "And what is it that you wished to discuss?"
Unfolding her arms, Amell walks toward the desk.
"The Architect's plan to cause a wide spread Joining was well-crafted," she begins, pulling out a thick, folded pile of parchment from her robe. "I got me thinking. I've done some research, and… I believe I may be able to find a cure to the taint."
The room becomes deathly quiet, and Alistair is certain that melt down may happen faster than anticipated.
Amell is traveling to the North.
Her first stop will be Weissupt, then after he does not know. There are still many secrets she must keep, but she promises Alistair he will be the first to hear them all.
"I need you to keep close contact with Clarel," she tells him in the confines of her room. "She's good intel, but I don't trust her."
Alistair wants to groan, but nods in response.
"I won't be leaving for another day," she adds. "There's more I need to look into while I'm here. But you…"
She pulls from her satchel a small bottle of ink and a quill. "You have someone you need to talk to."
A nervousness grows, prickling the back of his neck and the tips of his fingers as he stares at the items in her hands. She can sense it, he knows she can.
"Remember what we talked about," Amell says, placing each object into one of his open palms. "Now go."
He smiles. It is small, a little weak, but it is a smile non the less.
It takes him nearly an hour to write her name. His anxiousness over whether or not it'd be safe to mark her, on top of his worry that she may not even reply if he did left him unable to lift that damned quill from the ink. There's so much he needs to say, wants to say. Maker, he hopes she'll listen.
"I'm not really sure how to say this, but I think I get it now, why you want to stay. It's your choice, and I'll be here in any way you need me."
His quill pauses, almost stops completely, but he forces himself to write what is weighing on his heart. "I've seen what happens to a Circle when it gets bad. If anyone, and I mean ANYONE starts to whisper about blood magic, please don't stay. Tell me and I'll get you out."
He takes a deep breath, trying not to remember what it felt like to hold the wrists of those dead bodies, praying he wouldn't find her amongst them. Keep going, he tells himself. Stop holding it in and tell her.
"I can't lose you to that. Not now, not ever."
His entire body is in a fit of spiking nerves as he tries to calm his breathing. There is still so much more he wants to say, but Maker, he doesn't know if he can. He keeps his lips tucked tightly against his teeth, fearful that if he left them lax, they'd begin to quiver, and nothing good can come from that.
Just breathe, he thinks to himself. In and out now, just keep breathing.
He almost doesn't notice the chill that touches the fingers on his right hand. It starts at the tips, trickling over the grooves of each digit and down to the edge of his palm, and with a sniff and a heavy set of blinks, he is stunned to find it painted black. A soft rubbing fills in the creases as he stares, and his heart feels as though it is in his throat.
It is then that he feels a gentle touch upon his other hand. It is warm and calming, coloring his palm as it wraps around the top of his hand, and it squeezes. His eyes widen as he watches the ink swirl softly against the outer edge of his thumb, caressing the skin in a soothing circular movement, and he grins.
Her hand is small, he realizes, turning his own to view the imprint of her fingers. Small and slender, but Maker, her touch is powerful. He closes his eyes and tries to wrap his hand around the ink's shape, letting himself pretend that she is there in that room with him.
It is the first time in months that his soul feels at peace, and in that beautiful and quiet moment, he realizes he would do anything to truly hold her hand.