A/N: For those of you who read my prequel to Inquisition called Solas the Circle Mage, welcome! For those who have not read Solas the Circle Mage...STOP! THIS STORY CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THAT STORY! So, if you haven't read it and might want to, consider heading over there first. When I say spoilers, I really, really mean SPOILERS. I broke canon in that story, and I aim to do it big time for Inquisition too. I think most people are OK with that, but if you're not, just head's up. Anyway, so yeah, because I break canon, there are legit spoilers in that chapter and going forward in this story. This chapter is relatively spoiler-free for that story, so if you like this and want to know what happened in the prequel explicitly, go read that story! It's done, so honestly, you have nothing to lose.
Little Miss Tall
Rosa eyed a group of mages standing around a brazier in the courtyard with envy. Her current partner, Kaaras, chuckled as he noticed her staring. "Cold, elf?"
She snorted and shot the Tal-Vashoth warrior a withering look. "No. Not at all, Horny."
Kaaras let out a deep, bellowing laugh, fogging the air around his mouth. When he'd finished he said, "You know what your problem is?"
She sighed, flashing a smirk. "What?"
"Not enough meat on your bones." Kaaras used his great-axe to motion at her. It was so huge it stretched halfway across the open doorway they had been stationed at.
"Counseling me to get fat, Horny?" Rosa quipped, arching an eyebrow at him. At least chatting with him was a decent distraction from the constant bite of the cold air around them.
"No," Kaaras said with a grunt. "I was thinking muscle, elf."
Rosa grinned. "But then I'd put you out of a job. Muscle is your thing. Magic is mine."
This was only the first morning of the Conclave and already things were going incredibly poorly on multiple levels. Rosa's ears still rang from the cacophony of raised, angry voices shouting over one another in relatively confined spaces. The talks had barely even begun and the Divine had called for a recess to let tempers cool.
And this blighted courtyard is certainly cold enough, Rosa thought, shoulders hunching as she fought the instinct to curl into herself to preserve warmth.
"Eh," Kaaras said with a shrug of his enormous shoulders. "You got a long ways to go before you put me out of a job."
I'll probably freeze first, Rosa thought sourly. The Temple of Sacred Ashes was colder than a despair demon's breath. Even when Rosa was indoors she spent most of it trying not to shiver uncontrollably. Dressed in thick mercenary garb, she was disappointed in herself for being cold and chided herself for her weakness. Having been born in the Brecilian Forest, Rosa had been accustomed to bitterly cold winters whenever her clan moved outside the range of ancient Elvhen ruins blessed with magic that kept them mild year round. But for the past ten months she'd been living in the Free Marches with her new clan—Lavellan—and had acclimatized to the mildness of life by the sea.
The real problem, however, wasn't what climate she was accustomed to, it was that she couldn't draw magic to warm herself. That would be frowned on by the countless Templars present in the courtyard. Shokrakar, the leader of the mercenary group Rosa had joined, the Valo-Kas, had explained in detail to all of her recruits just what was acceptable at this Conclave and what wasn't. Idle use of magic was one of the things not welcome here.
At least Shokrakar herself seemed to hold little fear or distrust of magic. She had been eager to recruit Rosa and numerous other Dalish elves to help round out her ranks with rogues and mages and proceeded to treat them fairly. On the long journey by boat across the Waking Sea, Shokrakar had ordered Rosa and the other mage with her to instruct her warriors in the best ways to defend against magic. Prior to the mage rebellion the Valo-Kas hadn't dealt much with magic-users, so Shokrakar wanted to address that weak spot. That was what had prompted her to take in Rosa and the smattering of other elves. Rosa had complied with the horned giantess' orders—whenever she wasn't vomiting from seasickness, of course.
"Did Herah tell you about the brawl she had to beak up on the path outside?" Kaaras asked.
"No." Rosa kept her eyes on the courtyard, bouncing from brazier to brazier as she shivered and swayed back and forth from one foot to another. There were about a hundred mages and Templars scattered in the courtyard. These were the most important members of each faction and Rosa's stomach clenched, worrying that one of them might be from the Hasmal Circle. So far, however, she'd seen no one familiar…not even the one mage she'd hoped would be here above all.
"Two mages were fighting over a staff or something," Kaaras said, continuing his story. "It started with fists at first but then they started using fire and ice. Herah was on it like flies on crap, though. So fast the Templars couldn't even get in on the action."
"Shokrakar will be pleased," Rosa murmured, eyes still roving over the men and women, mages and Templars. He won't be here, the pessimistic voice in the back of her head taunted. He doesn't care about the mage rebellion any more than you do.
This plan to spy on the Conclave had been Keeper Deshanna's scheme. Lavellan enjoyed a healthy relationship with the shemlen in the Wycome area that Rosa still didn't trust. But, as First, Rosa was obligated to serve the older woman and Deshanna wanted eyes and ears in the Conclave, to witness it firsthand. So, here Rosa was and here she would stay until this blighted, hopeless sham ended.
"Sodding right she will be," Kaaras said, grinning. The woman he spoke of, Herah, was his sister. The Tal-Vashoth siblings were easygoing and friendly, as most of the Valo-Kas were. Rosa was grateful she'd come across them as her other means of gaining entry to the Conclave—arriving as an ex-member of the Hasmal Circle—was as distasteful as it was dangerous. The Templars mostly ignored her in her mercenary garb even with the stave on her back, because they read her vallaslin and assumed she had never been one of these rebellious mages.
They'd be wrong, of course.
Far across the courtyard Rosa saw two figures dressed in the same green mercenary armor approaching. She almost groaned with relief and gave in to the desire to wrap her arms about herself for warmth. Her teeth chattered when she said, "Looks like we're about to be relieved."
Kaaras grunted. "Yep. Looks like Edric and Sataa."
Rosa nodded, teeth still chattering, as she too recognized the other mercenaries. Sataa was a grizzled Tal-Vashoth man with horns that curled sideways like a ram. Kaaras, meanwhile, was younger and had horns that went backwards. Edric was one of the two dwarves within the Valo-Kas, both recruits from the Carta—and cousins apparently. Rosa was almost positive the dwarven cousins were only here to sell lyrium on the sly. The woman, Malika, had already surreptitiously asked Rosa if her clan wanted to do business and score some cheap lyrium. Rosa had let her irritable glare do all the talking until Malika got the hint and left.
The mages and Templars in the courtyard parted easily for the dwarf and the Tal-Vashoth as they made their way to where Rosa and Kaaras stood at the entrance to the grand hall where negotiations took place. Sataa appeared grumpy, as always, but Edric wore a knowing smirk as he moved to Rosa's side.
"Took your sweet time, Child of the Stone," Rosa said, crossing her arms over her chest and using the gesture to tuck her hands under her armpits for warmth. "What's that look for? Find someone in need of some affordable lyrium?"
"Well," Edric said, grinning through his red-brown beard. "Yeah. Of course. But that's not why."
"Don't torment her," Sataa growled as he moved to take a spot beside Kaaras and barked out, "Anything to report?"
"Nothing of note," Kaaras replied with a shrug of his huge shoulders. "Just freezing my horns off out here with Little Miss Tall."
Rosa snorted but didn't dignify his comment with a retort. Kaaras had learned early on after she and the other Dalish had joined that her name in elven meant to stand tall. So, when he didn't simply call her elf, he dubbed her "Little Miss Tall." Because to him and most of the other Qunari, she was short. Her name was actually a reference to bravery, not her height, but the Tal-Vashoth didn't care about that.
"Head back to Haven then," Sataa ordered them. "And check in with Shokrakar."
"Wait," Edric said, stretching out his arm high to grasp Rosa's bicep. "Before you go, I thought you'd want to know your kinsman is about to wind up gutted on Herah's horns."
Both Rosa and Kaaras froze at the dwarf's words, but for different reasons. "Which kinsman?" Rosa asked before Kaaras could question the dwarf. Edric called all of the Dalish her kinsman, so Rosa didn't know who he meant…though she had a few guesses.
Edric let out a laugh. "Mahanon, of course. The one who's desperately in love with you."
Some of Rosa's tension eased. She wasn't as concerned about Mahanon as she was about her little brother, Tal. Both men were a challenge in their own way, but at least with Mahanon she knew she stood a chance of controlling him. Tal sometimes enjoyed disobeying her simply because he could.
Kaaras grunted. "What are they fighting about this time?"
Edric snorted. "What do you think?"
Rosa rolled her eyes. "Don't say it," she growled, but the dwarf ignored her as he launched into a higher-pitched, mocking tone to imitate Mahanon.
"'Why did Shokrakar pair me with you? I should be with Rosa! Shokrakar does this on purpose and I won't stand for it!" Edric broke off, snickering.
"Enough," Sataa snapped. He waved a hand at Rosa and Kaaras. "Off with you both. Deal with your kinsman and then report to Shokrakar."
"Yes, sir," Kaaras said with a dip of his head. Rosa did the same and then quickly whipped about on her heel to keep pace with her Tal-Vashoth partner. They walked through the ankle-deep snow in the courtyard, crusted and pockmarked with countless footprints. The braziers they passed had patches of snow melted around them and Rosa eyed them longingly, still shaking.
"I could drape my arm over you," Kaaras suggested with a lascivious look. "That'll really drive Lover Boy crazy."
Rosa huffed irritably, even as she was tempted to let Kaaras do as he suggested simply for the warmth. She was cold down into her bones without the comfort of magic. Spoiled, she chided herself. Spoiled and soft.
"Is that a no?" Kaaras asked, smirking. "I thought you were cold and you didn't like Lover Boy." They'd crossed the courtyard and entered the archways exiting it. The open air corridor had Valo-Kas mercenaries stationed at either end, monitoring the courtyard just as she and Kaaras had been.
"Another word out of you," Rosa grumbled, teeth chattering and voice quivering. "And I will roast you with a fireball so that you're my personal Qunari brazier."
Kaaras laughed before clucking his tongue. "You're no fun, Little Miss Tall."
They passed by Hissra and Meraad, the horned men looking simultaneously alert and bored. They nodded to Rosa and Kaaras as they passed inside the temple foyer, though it was a foyer only in name. The massive, cavernous space echoed underfoot. Stained glass windows depicted Andraste, her disciples, and her family. The tiles in the floor were a repeated motif of the Chantry sunburst. The symbol twisted something inside Rosa, making her remember the long weeks she'd spent in the Hasmal Circle, the beatings she'd endured when she refused to sing the Chant of Light, and…him.
The massive double doors at the entrance to the temple stood open, allowing the bitter cold wind to sweep in—along with the continuing retinue of important visitors. Rosa's shoulders hunched and her eyes, having swiftly adjusted to the relative darkness of the foyer, blurred with moisture. Silhouetted in the brightness from outside, Rosa saw dark shapes approaching.
Something heavy lay at the edges of her consciousness, tugging at the Veil and drawing spirits to clamor with excitement. Rosa felt her skin prickle, gooseflesh spreading over her whole body. She shivered now from more than just the cold as memory stirred within her all over again.
And, suddenly, she froze. Her heart leapt into her throat and her stomach tried to follow it. Emotions warred within her: the ache of loss and loneliness, the sharp, bitter stab of betrayal from abandonment, and that damned stubborn fluttering of affection inside her chest. Elgar'nan's fiery farts! He is here!
Kaaras stopped at her side, frowning with bafflement before he stepped aside, clearing the way for the approaching figures. Rosa, however, stayed where she was, glaring as the shapes came clear despite the brightness streaming in from the door. The press of emotion behind her eyes fizzled abruptly as she realized he wasn't here. The figures resolved into Grey Wardens, both mages and warriors, fully armored. None of them were elven and, other than glancing at her blankly or with mild irritation, they paid her no mind as they walked around her.
And as one of them passed, Rosa felt the Veil warping, that heavy sensation inside her head jerking at her mana core. She bit her tongue to keep from gasping, her head spinning. Through the Veil, already thin here, she sensed Rogathe, her spirit friend, pressing close with interest. She could almost feel it asking her: What will you do, da'len?
"Hey," Kaaras said, snapping his fingers at her ear. The sharp sound made her flinch and glare at him. "Thedas to elfling. Anyone home?"
She rolled her eyes at him even as her cheeks flushed with heat. "Sorry," she muttered. "I thought I knew one of them."
"C'mon," Kaaras encouraged her. "We need to rescue Lover Boy before my sister guts him."
"Sure…" Rosa said and then quickly trotted for the entrance. Kaaras followed her, loping to keep up.
They exited the temple and, sure enough, found Herah and Mahanon glowering dangerously at one another. They were still on duty, maintaining their watch of the temple entrance, but responsibility was the only thing keeping them from dissolving into blows. "Hey, Sis," Kaaras greeted his sister with a lighthearted smile. "You look as mad as the time I broke your favorite shield with my axe."
Herah transferred her glare to her brother, letting out a grunt of disgust. "You still owe me coin to replace it."
"No I don't," Kaaras said, hands raised in a defensive gesture. "That was a fair fight and that shield was older than the hills. No way I owe you."
As Herah and Kaaras began bickering in their easygoing way about past fights, Rosa stalked close to Mahanon, who wore a dour expression as he stared straight ahead at the path leading up to the temple. She sighed, gazing down at her booted feet. They still seemed to pinch her and she thought she'd never get used to them, but at least her feet were warm. They were the only part of her body that was.
"Edric said you were about to become a horn ornament for Herah," she murmured, keeping her voice low to make sure the Tal-Vashoth siblings didn't overhear. "What's going on?"
Mahanon frowned, still refusing to look at her. "We shouldn't be here."
"You mean I shouldn't be here," she corrected him, sighing unhappily. Mahanon had resisted Keeper Deshanna's plan to spy on the Conclave, but the clan overruled him. Yet, when Deshanna had insisted Rosa would be best suited to go—for a variety of reasons—Mahanon had insisted on coming with her. He was supposed to be a friend and ally on this mission, but they both knew he considered himself more of a chaperone and bodyguard.
"No," Mahanon said, shaking his head. "I mean all of us. You, me, Tal, and Arvin. We should be with our clans, not wasting our time spying on the shemlen." He finally turned to meet her gaze, lips pinched tightly in his blocky face. "But it's more than that, Creators help me. I can't shake the feeling something awful is going to happen."
"I'm the pessimist," Rosa reminded him, smiling dryly. "Remember?"
His expression softened. He had a squarish face, handsome and rugged in an almost shemlen way. His eyes were green-brown, hazel. He had pale blond hair the color of dried out summer grasses or hay that he wore tied back in a neat ponytail. He wore Andruil's vallaslin, which was fitting as he was a rogue and specialized in archery.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, a tad sheepish now. "I…I just feel…"
"The Veil is really thin here," Rosa told him, reaching out to grasp his shoulder and squeeze. "That's got to be some of it." She frowned. "It has me on edge too." Ever since arriving in Haven and in the temple now, Rosa had felt tense and faintly queasy. She hated that feeling, that low-grade fear and tension. It had to be a reaction from the Fade and the spirits there to the anxious energy in the mages and Templars.
Mahanon nodded, jaw clenching. "Yes," he agreed. He'd leaned closer to her, enough that Rosa could feel the soft, warm flutter of his breath over her cheeks. She tried to appreciate Mahanon's presence, tried to prod her inner self to feel out her emotions, as if she could stoke the fires of her own passion. Sadly, she felt nothing. No spark of interest, no racing pulse or dry mouth, or flush of warmth. Mahanon was attractive, but he wasn't a quick wit. He was a hunter and rogue of decent talent and he was Fade-sensitive enough that he could cast sparks if he concentrated, but he wasn't a mage. He just wasn't the man she'd given her heart to, though they both knew Deshanna intended to see them bonded for the purpose of making more magic-gifted children. That knowledge made Mahanon overprotective and possessive of her while Rosa in turn bristled at his perceived ownership when she had agreed to nothing.
Well, nothing except a few exploratory kisses when she'd been drunk off Antivan wine celebrating with the rest of the clan a few months back. Then Mahanon had been clumsy, slobbering on her and pinching at her breasts in a way that reminded her of a Templar who'd abused her in the Hasmal Circle. Since then she'd kept him at a distance and couldn't stop fantasizing about her far better lover of just less than a year ago. And yet…he had abandoned her and Mahanon never would.
Pulling back from him and releasing his shoulder, Rosa tucked her hand back under her armpit to keep it warm. "Don't fight with Herah," she told him firmly, adopting her leader voice. The one that never seemed to work on Tal, other than it always made him roll his eyes.
It worked perfectly on Mahanon, though. He squared his shoulders and nodded somberly. "Of course."
The sound of boots clapping over the tiled floor of the foyer made all four mercenaries stiffen as Malika, the female dwarf in the Valo-Kas appeared, breathing hard. "Yo," Kaaras said to her. "What's the rush, short-stuff?"
"Need to…" she broke off, panting a moment and bending over double. "…go to the Chantry. In Haven. Lyrium."
"For the Templars?" Herah asked, frowning.
Malika nodded when she finally straightened up once more. "Yeah."
Kaaras eyed Rosa and Mahanon, lips quirking. "Why don't you two go? Just don't get lost on the way." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
"Kaaras," Rosa snarled, shaking her head. "Han is on duty."
"I'll take his place," Kaaras said, indicating Mahanon with a jerk of his chin.
"I'd be glad to go," Mahanon said, offering the Tal-Vashoth a cold smile. He turned to look at Rosa and extended his hand. "Come along, falon."
The word Mahanon really wanted to use was vhenan, but Rosa had repeatedly asked him not to—the term of endearment still left her raw with memories of her last lover and his abandonment. It was bad enough that Mahanon's sloppy kisses and aggressive groping had made her remember painfully how great he had been in comparison.
And his assumption now that she would walk with him, as if they were already betrothed and bonded, made her bristle with irritation. Recalling the Grey Wardens and that perturbing, familiar sensation on one of them, Rosa shook her head. "No, I'll make my way back shortly. There's something I need to check on."
Mahanon frowned. "Like what?"
"Yeah," Kaaras said, arching an eyebrow. "I thought you were freezing your tits off out here and couldn't wait to leave."
"I saw Grey Wardens," she said. "I want to ask them about the Fifth Blight," she lied and then grinned, breath fogging around her mouth as she spoke. "You know, the Hero of Ferelden stopped by my homeland when I was a little girl, looking for Dalish support."
"You're Dalish," Herah retorted, unimpressed. "You don't have a homeland by your very definition."
"Fenedhis," Mahanon snarled, rising at once to Rosa's defense. "Dread Wolf take your foul tongue."
"Han," Rosa admonished. "Just go. The Templars need their precious lyrium."
"Yeah," Herah sneered at him, enjoying Mahanon's discomfort. "That lyrium won't fetch itself, elf."
Red faced with rage, Mahanon spun about and jogged away, his gear rustling and clinking. Rosa scrubbed at her face with irritation as he vanished down the path. "Thank you all so much," she muttered sarcastically.
"He's an ass," Malika said. "You're welcome."
"Sarcasm," Rosa snapped at the dwarf and then, letting her hands slap against her thighs in defeat, she stormed off past Malika and into the foyer.
"See you later, Little Miss Tall," Kaaras called to her playfully. "
"Stay warm," Herah added, chuckling. "And if you need help, I'm sure my brother's willing to chase Lover Boy off."
Rosa blocked them out, trying to calm herself as she rushed through the foyer and toward the courtyard once more, searching for the Grey Wardens. She could feel that heaviness in her mind, prickling her skin from afar and tugging on the Veil and the Fade through it. Her first suspicion must have been correct, but how in the great Beyond could Solas' orb be here? And where was he? Her heart raced, a drumbeat in her ears as a new concern leapt into her mind, as piercing and painful as an arrow.
What if Solas hadn't abandoned her after they'd escaped the Hasmal Circle after all? What if he truly was dead?
If he's dead I will find out who killed him and I will end them, she promised herself and felt Rogathe through the Veil, pressing close to be at her beck and call.
Soon, falon, she thought. If I must. If there is no other way…
Haven was a small town—too small to host the hundreds of mages and Templars that'd poured into it like an avalanche or a tidal wave. Posing as one of those visitors, Solas arrived in the wee hours of the morning on the first day of negotiations. He ate at the tavern immediately after arriving, enjoying a sparse meal for a few coins to fill his belly for what might be the very last time.
At any moment he knew Corypheus would make his move and unlock his orb. Solas had only to wait and then, in the chaos following the explosion, he would volunteer to help and find his unlocked orb in the ruins of the temple. Before these people could understand what was happening, it would be all over for them. Solas would probably die shortly afterward as well, while killing the Evanuris, but as the Fade realigned with the waking world again the People would awaken in a way they hadn't been able to since the fall of Elvhenan. Despite the carnage, the People would be immortal and they would have magic again.
It would be a fresh start, a new beginning. He had dozens of Elvhen survivors, poised and ready to lead the modern elves as they tasted their true potential once again. And he had sent his arcane warriors, Lyris and Mathrel, to secure two clans in the Free Marches, ensuring a particular pair of Dalish siblings—Rosa and her brother Tal—survived the coming chaos. It was the least he could do to honor one of his oldest friends.
He kept to himself as he sipped on a bit of wine from the barkeeper and allowed himself to enjoy a sweet, sticky bun. It made him think of Rosa, but he embraced that pain. He'd been numb for weeks, anticipating this moment and yet also just wanting it to be over. The pain was a pleasant reminder that he wasn't dead yet and that, as Rosa had told him, he was stubborn. There was a chance, however tiny, that he might survive what was coming. But he tried not to think about it. Hope wasn't something he could afford, and he certainly didn't deserve it.
After indulging himself with food and a bit of wine, Solas left the tavern and settled into a sheltered place between buildings where the snow had been swept clear by the wind. He used his pack as a pillow and drew thick bear pelts over himself to stay warm. Before dawn touched Haven with its golden light, Solas was deep asleep.
He woke with a gasp when someone nudged his head with a cold boot. Blinking blearily, he saw a Qunari woman staring down at him, a small scowl on her face. She wore green mercenary armor and had black hair, graying at the temples. One horn had been broken off while the other twisted straight backward in a graceful spiral. "Get up," she ordered him tersely.
Solas did as she asked, restraining a shiver as he flung aside the pelts keeping him warm. His rough spun clothing was humble and nondescript. He left his simple wooden stave sitting with his pack as he dipped his head in greeting to the Qunari. "What do you need?" he asked, voice clipped but polite.
The Qunari grunted as if surprised. "You're not drunk. My mistake." She motioned at the alley. "What are you doing out here? No money for a cabin or a room?"
"As if there would be one available," Solas quipped. At her sour look Solas decided to stay polite. "In answer to your question, no. I do not have enough coin to rent a space indoors, but I came equipped to remain outdoors." He gestured to his pack.
"You're a mage," the Qunari said. It wasn't a question. She could see his staff.
"I am, yes," Solas told her, bringing his hands up to fidget slightly as he wondered if he should tell her he'd once been a fully fledged member of the Hasmal Circle. He suspected there would be people here who knew him by the alias he'd used with the Templars there and so he used that name to introduce himself now. "I am Revas."
"Yeah?" the woman replied, shooting him a dry look. "I'm Shokrakar, head of the Valo-Kas. We look after the Conclave and Haven, keep it safe from riffraff. You looked like a drunk to me, but can't say I haven't seen more than a few mage hobos hanging round here with no money for a room." She huffed, frowning. "I'd rather you not freeze, so I might be able to let you stay in the cells beneath the Chantry, but I need to check with the Seeker first."
The Seeker…He opened his mouth to ask if she meant Seeker Pentaghast and then snapped it shut again, reconsidering. Instead he plastered a smile over his face as he said, "I thank you for your offer, madam, but—"
And then, suddenly, Solas' entire world collapsed with horror as he saw a familiar young elf running toward them. The young elf was tall and lean, with a long face that was distinctly Elvhen, reminding Solas immediately of Mythal's sons and grandsons. He had shaggy black hair, slightly curly, and brown eyes. It was Tal. Talassan.
No, Solas thought, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. No, no, no…
"Ma'am!" Tal called as he approached. "Ma'am!"
Shokrakar turned to look at the elf running toward them, dressed just as she was in green mercenary gear. "What is it, Tal?"
"Mahanon came down from the temple saying—" Tal broke off as his eyes swept over Solas and recognized him. He skidded to a stop, sliding slightly in the snow. "Revas!" He grinned, beaming with real affection. "Fenedhis! I thought I'd never see you again!"
Solas was sweating despite the biting cold. His throat felt full, as though he might vomit. "You're not supposed to be here…"
"What?" Tal asked, cocking his head and still grinning. "Of course I'm supposed to be here! I work for her." He pointed at the Qunari woman, jerking his thumb.
"Speaking of that," Shokrakar growled, "I'd like to hear what you were saying before you went off on a tangent with this one." She used her chin to indicate Solas. "Report," she ordered.
"Oh," Tal said, his smile turning sheepish. "Sorry, ma'am. Yeah. Mahanon was just here and said the Templars need a few boxes of lyrium sent up. You know." He shrugged. "Ease the tempers and whatnot."
"Is Rosa here?" Solas blurted, hands fisting at his sides as horror gnawed on his stomach. His blood had turned to ice even as his throat felt hot and achy.
"Of course," Tal said, still smiling with pleasure at the unexpected meeting. "She's up at the Temple with…"
Whatever else Tal said, Solas didn't hear it as the world spun and he swallowed forcefully to keep the bile down. No, no, no…
"Revas?" Tal asked, the note of concern drawing Solas' gaze to the youth. "Are you okay?"
"I…" He could not stop what was coming. He could not reveal himself. If luck was with him, he might be able to get her and Tal to stay here in the village so that they'd miss the explosion, but if not… "I must see her," he said, his voice breathless and tiny, strained as if with physical pain. "When will she return?"
"She's off duty now," Tal said and then shook his head, wrinkling his nose in a smirk. "She's going to be angrier than Elgar'nan was at the sun though." He glanced to Shokrakar and explained, "He and my sister were an item, but he—"
"Tal," Shokrakar interrupted, her expression irritable. "Now is not the time for your gossip. And I really don't care."
She is off duty, Solas thought, heart racing. There was a chance. There was hope she would miss the explosion. He checked the sun's position, squinting at the sky, guessing it was midmorning. "She is on her way back to Haven now?" Solas asked, breathless. His throat threatened to close against the words.
"Probably," Tal replied with a shrug and then narrowed his eyes with the first sign of censure since they'd started talking. "If you're still hot for her, why in the great Beyond didn't you come find her?"
Solas' mouth was dry, his heart pounding. "I was—"
And then, from the direction of the temple, a loud crack rent the air. All three of them gasped with shock at it. Shokrakar and Tal ran for the end of the alley to get a better look at the mountains and the path leading to the temple. Solas swayed on his feet, fighting the twist of agony inside him as the awful certainty rose in him that Rosa wouldn't have made it in time. His luck was too poor for there to be any other outcome. As the chill of numbness settled over him, Solas hurried to join the Qunari and Tal.
An explosion of fire and magic tore apart the temple and much of the hillside. The shockwave rolled down the mountain and toward Haven, rippling the air like a heat mirage. The two elves and the Qunari woman braced for it as it hit but it still knocked them flat. Tal yelped while Shokrakar simply grunted. Solas was silent, his throat closed and burning with emotion that locked away any hope of words. He was the last to recover, his body heavy and slow as he lifted his eyes back to the temple and saw only smoke and ash—and the green-yellow beam of twisting spirit magic pointed at the sky. It flickered, cracking and roaring, piercing the Veil and splitting it wide. A mixture of Fade-ether and clouds swirled about the fissure and the magic still pointed into it like a sword.
Haven was full of shouting and horror as the faithful panicked and beseeched the heavens, falling to their knees to beg forgiveness of the Maker. Countless others reacted by racing toward the still burning ruins, fearless in the face of the carnage. Tal was one of these, already charging out of Haven.
"Shit," Shokrakar cursed and shouted after him, "Tal! Tal! Stop, wait!" But the elf showed no sign of obeying and she swore again and ran after him.
Stunned and witless with this awful turn of events, Solas was slow to act himself even as the cold, practical voice of Fen'Harel ordered him to continue his plan as though nothing was wrong. Hundreds, perhaps thousands had died just now and still more would have to die for Solas to correct his past mistakes. After so much sacrifice and suffering by the People at his hands…Solas and Fen'Harel owed them this, no matter the personal cost.
He rushed back into the alley and snatched up his pack and staff, leaving the bear pelts. He would have no need of them now. Only moments later he was among dozens of others charging out of Haven for the ruins.
By the time he reached the path to the temple, shoulders heaving and throat raw from the biting cold of the mountain air, spirits torn and twisted by the breach were falling like meteors from the sky. Mages and Templars who'd been in Haven at the time of the explosion now launched their combined efforts on the demons falling from the sky, but Solas knew they'd never get ahead of the problem and pressed on, determined to reach the ruins and find his orb.
May death take you quickly, harellan, he cursed himself.
Soldiers working for the Divine had been some of the first to respond to the explosion, and many of them had been stationed along the path to the temple itself. So it was no surprise that when Solas reached the smoking, charred ruins, grimacing at the stink of burned hair and the ragged, sharp rasp of the shattered Veil, he saw these same men and women already hard at work. They had knelt among the ashes, their faces streaked with tears and dirt as they dug, seeking survivors and clues. Corpses lay strewn just outside the temple: mage, Templar, and the Divine's people alike.
Solas ignored this initial chaos and pressed deeper, knowing that what he sought lay at the center of the blast. Ahead, through the twisted, blackened rubble, he saw the twining green beam of energy leftover by his orb where it had torn the Veil asunder. Green spirit energy pulsed through the blackened stone and Solas halted, gasping with shock as he saw Blight-tainted lyrium—something he hadn't seen since before the fall of Elvhenan.
"Fenedhis," he cursed. Others hurried by him, but a few stopped to stare at the jagged red crystals, horror and awe in their faces. Solas considered warning them against touching it but decided not to. None of these men and women would live long enough to be infected.
And then, with a shrieking roar, a green blur smashed down into the rubble just behind them. The men and women nearby cried out with alarm as a shade materialized out of the Fade stone and ether. A few wraiths appeared as well and began flinging damaging spirit energy in their confusion and pain. A woman caught in the spirit energy screamed and flailed as it afflicted her with agony.
Without thinking about it, Solas snatched up his staff and began fighting alongside the demons. The woman's piteous screams continued until she collapsed, unconscious or dead. The sound of it echoed in Solas' mind, reminding him that all of this was his fault. He wondered what in the Void he was doing as he flung fireballs and cast winter's grasp at the wraiths and the shade demon. He intended to kill all of these men and women as soon as he found his orb. Why bother saving them now?
Yet he didn't stop until the shade had collapsed and the wraiths had dematerialized. A man wielding a sword slapped Solas on the back, thanking him and then asking, "Do you know any healing spells?"
"I do," Solas replied, fighting the desire to frown. He racked his brain, trying to find a way to resist what he knew the man would suggest next—but then shouting made him and the man who'd addressed him both turn to look deeper into the ruins. There were about six figures walking through the charred rubble, carrying the limp body of another between them.
Solas' heart seemed to seize up in his chest as his eyes slowly made sense of what he saw. Four of the figures were the Divine's personal soldiers, rumored to be part of an as-yet undeclared Inquisition. The two other men flanking them, their body language anxious and angry, were elven. One of them was Tal and the other was unfamiliar and walked with a limp, but both clamored to reach the figure that the Divine's men held aloft.
The figure's left arm flopped, the palm glowing green and crackling with the Anchor and Solas' felt as though there was suddenly no air around him. The woman in their arms was elven and, as they drew nearer, Solas saw her lifeless, pale face, and choked on the emotions crawling up his throat like bile.
It was Rosa.
"Andraste save us," the man beside Solas whispered. "A survivor? What is that on her hand?"
"Please," Tal was shouting alongside the humans carrying Rosa. "Please—let her go! She's my sister! She didn't do this…!"
How could Rosa bear the Anchor? His mind raced, his blood pulsating inside him with every heartbeat. He needed the Anchor to open the Fade properly. Only with the Anchor and the foci together could he accomplish his task. Corypheus should've been the one to try and take it, but Solas had bet on the fact that the magister would wind up dead in the explosion and the power of the Anchor wouldn't bestow itself on him. It was meant for Fen'Harel to wield and should simply kill anyone else quite quickly.
Priorities changing, Solas turned and moved after the Divine's soldiers in a daze as he tried to think and simultaneously to remain numb so that he wouldn't feel the horror of what he'd done. To reclaim the Anchor would likely require Rosa to die and if Solas wasn't on hand to take it from her it would be lost.
The orb would have to wait until he'd secured the Anchor.
Seeker Pentaghast took control of Haven and Solas soon found himself volunteering his expertise to her people, desperate to ensure they didn't kill Rosa. He endured an interrogation with Sister Nightingale, or Lady Leliana, Left Hand of the now deceased Divine almost immediately after he came forward. He explained to her that he had spent most of his life as an apostate and was an expert on the Fade, even knowing that such forbidden knowledge would draw any good Andrastian's suspicions. He also explained, briefly, that he had been a member of the Hasmal Circle before it fell in violent rebellion.
"The prisoner was also a member of that Circle," Leliana said, one red eyebrow arched. "Was she not?" Her eyes were red-rimmed and her skin pale, sure signs of just how hard she had taken the cataclysm, though she revealed no sign of grief as she spoke with him.
She was well-informed already. Solas had come to them swiftly after realizing Rosa bore the Anchor, but apparently Leliana had been busy. How much did she know, exactly? Solas felt sweat prickle his skin, knowing that it was all-too likely that this dangerous woman would see a conspiracy in what was happening as she connected the three mages—Rosa, Tal, and Solas' alias "Revas"—from Hasmal with the destruction of the Conclave. She'd be right, after a fashion, but Solas' sins would inadvertently damn innocents like Rosa and Tal.
Lying was inadvisable, however, so Solas merely nodded. "Yes," he answered. "She and I were friends but I have not seen her since the Circle fell." He paused a moment before adding, "Almost a year ago now."
"And is there anyone who can substantiate that claim?" Leliana asked.
Solas smiled tightly as he considered her question. Finally, he said, "I don't suppose you have already spoken to a young elven man by the name of Tal, have you?"
He could tell by the slight quirk in Leliana's lip that the answer to that question was likely yes. But she neglected to answer as she shifted her weight from one foot to another, apparently coming to a decision. "Come with me."
Solas rose to follow her orders, ignoring the fact that several guards flanked him to ensure he did as she commanded as well. Leliana led him from the small enclosed room at the head of the Haven Chantry and through the dark, gloomy sanctuary toward a side door. Guards stood in place, dressed in the heraldry of the Divine's fledgling Inquisition. They glared at Solas as he passed, bare feet brushing over the hard stone.
Down a dingy flight of stairs and into the Chantry's sublevel where small cells with iron-wrought bars lined the walls. A brazier hung from the ceiling, the flame crackling. In its dim light Solas saw that the cells were full of people dressed in the green mercenary garb Tal had been wearing. Most of the men and women in these cells were Qunari and Solas saw Shokrakar staring at him, her expression creased with tension. He saw no sign of Tal or any other elves.
At the far end of the dark, dreary hall, Leliana paused before a sturdy looking wooden door with a barred window set high in it. A solitary confinement cell, Solas suspected. He could feel the familiar sense of the Anchor on the other side when he concentrated.
A guard admitted them and Leliana stepped aside to allow Solas inside first. He strode in a tad slow, almost gingerly, his eyes falling on the coarsely woven matting in the center of the small room where the unconscious elven woman lay. She'd been positioned so that her left arm stretched out perpendicular to her body, a sure sign that Leliana had likely toured others through for them to inspect Rosa's marked hand. The Anchor crackled and hissed, flickering with a pulse that Solas knew would match the much larger breach outside.
A human man sat on a small chair off in one corner at what was obviously a table that'd been dragged here hurriedly. Medical supplies and herbs lay scattered over it. The man shot to his feet as he registered Leliana and Solas. "My lady," he greeted her and then, uncertainly, added, "Ser."
"Is there anything new to report?" Leliana asked.
"No," the man answered, shaking his head. "Unconscious and her vitals are all over the map." He motioned with a shaking hand at the glowing mark. "Can we station a Templar in here? Maker's breath, that thing…"
Solas' fingers twitched at his side, though he restrained the motion. Humbly, he looked to Leliana and asked, "May I examine the mark? I may have better luck as it appears to have some connection with the Fade and the Veil."
Leliana flashed him a small, dry smile. "That is why I brought you here."
Solas nodded and moved to kneel at Rosa's side, reaching gently for her marked left hand. He frowned with concentration, pressing two fingers to the glow that ran along the seam in her palm. The magic prickled his skin, teasing him with how tantalizingly close it was, but as he cautiously drew on it he found it stuck fast to her. The crackling increased, however, flushing warm against his skin. It knew its master and grew in strength at his command.
"Bloody thing," the man grumbled unhappily, spooked with the increase in the Anchor's brightness and strength.
Clenching his jaw with frustration, Solas brushed his fingers over the seam and willed it to calm now. It obeyed. The crackling quieted until it went silent, though the glow continued, pulsating.
"What do you make of it?" Leliana asked.
It is bound to her, Solas thought, scowling. That should not have happened. It was incredibly bad news for his goals. Without possessing the Anchor himself he could not fulfill his plans. Reclaiming it would mean killing her and, despite the weight of all he owed the People and all his past crimes, Solas could not imagine killing Rosa. She may yet die from this catastrophe—that was entirely his fault, as usual—but Solas refused to play any part in it beyond what he already had.
"Revas?" Leliana prodded him.
Solas let out a small sigh as the present swam back to him with all of its challenges. He must strike a balance between usefulness and innocence to gain the Nightingale's trust so that she would allow him to remain close to Rosa and the Anchor.
"It is unknown to me," he lied, making a show of feeling over the seam in her palm once more though this time the mark didn't respond because he willed it to be silent. "I have never seen its like before, but it is similar enough to some Fade-based magic that I believe I can keep it quiet and bring it under control."
"Will she survive?" Leliana asked.
"It is too soon to predict," Solas murmured, keeping his voice cold and aloof to avoid revealing the roiling of his own emotions at Leliana's question.
"Hmmm," Leliana murmured, frowning.
"However," Solas said, licking his lips nervously as the Nightingale's eyes drilled into him. "I believe it is no coincidence that this mark and the breach appeared at the same time, as best we can tell. They must be connected. Perhaps it is because she is at fault for what has happened," Solas said, fighting hard not to cringe at those words, but knowing if he didn't utter them Leliana would find it suspicious. "But it was no simple explosion that destroyed the Temple of Sacred Ashes. There is strange magic at work in creating the breach. My hope is that her mark may be used to close the breach as well as to open it."
His words had the desired effect on Leliana as she nodded, a flash of appreciation brightening her face. "I rather hope you are correct, Revas."
If I am wrong then I will have destroyed this world and accomplished nothing, Solas realized as he forced himself to smile back at her. Without the Anchor and his orb, Solas could not tear down the Veil or reshape reality. He could not kill the Evanuris before they woke. Without action in the near future the breach would begin expanding. The Veil would destabilize and fail eventually, releasing the Evanuris upon this world.
If Rosa died and the Anchor was lost…all of Thedas would die with her.
"Well," Varric said, huffing. "How about you, Chuckles? What have you been up to since getting out of the Circle?"
Plotting to destroy this world by bringing down the Veil, Solas thought and sighed. "I have been traveling," he said. "I visited Orlais for a time." Seeking the passphrase to the eluvians. Piecing together how Felassan spent the last twenty-five years.
"Oh," Rosa said in a singsong voice, glowering at him as she spun about on her heel in her ongoing pacing circuit. "Did you pick Orlais for the food? The culture? Or was it just that that is quite literally the furthest spot away from my new clan in the Free Marches?"
Endnote: If it bothers anyone that Solas has an alias name here, don't worry. At a later date he will be exposed...in that way, at least. I'm currently eleven chapters in the bag on this story and my initial plan is to post updates once a week. For those who have read Solas the Circle Mage, particularly its epilogue...no, I haven't forgotten about the bombshell I dropped there. I'll deliberately be holding that back from anyone who's new to this until later, but because you're in the know you'll see hints. Frequently.
I had other descriptions (I think of them as "pitches" b/c that's what they're called in the literary industry) for this story. If you guys think the current one sucks I'll preview the other one for you and I can change it. Pitches are seriously one of the hardest things to write. Seriously.
Until next Friday, ya'll!