Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age: Inquisition.

A team of Inquisition soldiers has been missing since before the destruction of Haven. After nearly a year of searching, Scout Harding has finally located the soldiers, captured and held hostage by a group of Avvar in a swampy wasteland known as The Fallow Mire. Inquisitor Trevelyan prepares to launch a rescue expedition, and at the request of Commander Cullen Rutherford, an Inquisition scout has been assigned to the Inquisitor's party. Now Aravea Mahariel rides with the Inquisitor to rescue the man she loves before it's too late.

Warnings:

Contains mild violence, original character death, and nugs.

This work contains spoilers for The Fallow Mire quest line.

Notes:

Elvhen translations and citation are given below.


A flash of green light knocked me back, and I went skidding along the stony ground. The rock and rubble of the ruined temple tore my skin to shreds, leaving bloody trails down my palms. My barrier spell interrupted, I began to refocus my energy and prepare for another casting. Demons were pouring through the rift, and Aaron was in the thick of the fighting.

One of the other recruits fell, a Greater Shade hovering over her with a grey claw poised to strike. I cast a freezing spell, encasing the monster in an icy shell and stopping it in its tracks. Lyanna looked up at me with a grateful, toothy grin before rolling back onto her feet and finishing the Shade off with a hack from her greatsword.

My magic momentarily drained, I pulled the long daggers from their place at my back and threw myself into the fray. I danced my way toward Aaron, always preferring to fight by his side. He saw me coming, and I caught his smile. I gave him a quick wink before casting another frost spell at a wraith I'd spotted taking cover behind a fir tree.

Aaron bashed a Terror with his shield, then brought his sword arm down, cleaving its head with a powerful swing. The thing twitched on the ground, dark green blood spilling from its neck, and then was still.


I woke with a start long before the sun was due to make its climb over the mountains. Taking deep breaths, I wiped the sweat from my brow, my other hand reaching instinctively for the leather cord around my neck. Rubbing the large iron ring between my thumb and forefinger, I swung my legs over the side of the rough straw bed. I heard Lyanna stir in the bunk above me, and was grateful that I hadn't disturbed her; the barracks were comfortable enough but small, and I'd woken my fellow soldiers more than once with my nightmares. Unwilling to chance another dream, I changed slowly into my uniform.

While I was proud of my position within the Inquisition's ranks, I had always detested the armor. There were more and more mages arriving at Skyhold each day, particularly once news of the Inquisition's alliance with the rebel mages of Redcliff began to spread, but there were so few mages actually enlisted as Inquisition soldiers that the requisition office had been unable to fit the few with proper light armor. The uniform I had been given upon enlisting was cumbersome; the weight of it made me feel like my magic was being suppressed, contained within a sheath of leather and metal.

If it were up to me, I would go to battle in my nightclothes and hope I was fast enough with my blades to avoid being completely eviscerated.

I pulled on my boots and fished a handful brass coins from the ratted coin purse hidden carefully beneath a loose floorboard. Keeping my helmet tucked under one arm, I grabbed fistfuls of my auburn hair and managed to construct a messy plait that fell over my shoulder as I made my way across the quiet courtyard to the Herald's Rest.

After paying for my breakfast, I took a seat at an empty table along the wall of the tavern. I liked being where I could see the doorway, but out of direct view of the other customers. I was safer in Skyhold than I'd been in years, but the old habits were difficult to let go of. Being a mage in Thedas was dangerous; being a clanless, Dalish mage in Thedas was a death wish.

I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up, accompanied by the inexplicable feeling that I was being watched. I scanned the predawn crowd carefully before my gaze locked with that of the Qunari mercenary seated by the far window. The Iron Bull gave me an acknowledging nod but didn't look away.

The sustained eye contact felt too much like an interrogation for my liking. Uncomfortable, I lowered my gaze with a frown. There were rumors circulating through the barracks tying The Iron Bull to the Qunari Ben-Hassrath, and I knew better than to stick around with a spy breathing down my neck. When the barmaid brought me my meal, I thanked her before wrapping the food in my handkerchief and taking my leave.

By now the fortress was waking up, with soldiers and servants crossing back and forth across the courtyard to attend to their various duties. I had been assigned a post guarding up on the battlements; I took my breakfast up the many flights of stairs to my station, and perched cross legged upon the castle wall as I ate.

I heard the heavy footsteps before I saw the billowing black feather collar, and readied myself for a scolding as Commander Cullen approached.

"Andraste's mercy, Mahariel! Do you want to fall to your death?" The Commander wrapped one gloved palm around my upper arm. He helped me down from my perch, his expression still incredulous as I planted my feet and took a bite out of an apple. "I don't assign you to guard the battlements so that Corypheus can drag you down to hell."

"Good morning, Commander," I smiled through a yaw, bringing a gloved fist up to cover my mouth. The Commander looked back at me with tired exasperation, and I noted the dark shadows under his eyes. "Did you sleep?"

"Did you?" he challenged with a smirk. "I'm not sure it's your place to question my sleeping habits, soldier."

"I know you assign me to the battlements so that you can watch over me, Commander," I quipped, swallowing a mouthful of bread. I folded my arms over my chest plate and leaned against the wall, my hip pressing against the cold stone. "It's only fair you let me do the same for you."

"Your cheek is going to get you barred from service," he snorted. He crossed his arms over his chest as he raised an eyebrow. Commander Cullen was under no illusions that I needed the confidence boost, but he gave his rebuttal all the same. "I assign you to the battlements because you have the best eyes I've ever seen; I doubt we would have found Skyhold if not for you. If you weren't such shite with a bow I'd give you to Harding."

"Harding has enough trouble to deal with," I scoffed. I took another bite out of my apple, chewed it and swallowed before continuing with fervor. "She and her lot held off a proverbial army of undead in Crestwood just last month. They were out in the rain for weeks before the Inquisitor cleared the place out."

"You almost sound jealous, Mahariel."

"Yes, well, how often does one get to combat an army of the unliving? If you hadn't needed me so desperately on the battlements I would have been there." I tossed the apple core over my shoulder, letting it plummet into the snowbanks lining the outer wall of Skyhold. The corners of Commander Cullen's mouth pulled into a disapproving frown.

"That is actually what I wished to discuss with you," he began carefully, his eyes flickering between my face and the trajectory the apple had taken over the battlement wall. I turned my head to peer over the edge of Skyhold, only half paying attention to my Commander. Several little pink nugs were digging through the snowdrift where the apple core had landed, squealing as they tried to nudge each other out of the way.

It was distracting.

"A scouting position has opened in an upcoming mission."

Remembering where I was and who I was speaking to, I turned away from what had evolved into a nug scuffle and addressed my commanding officer. "Am I needed, Commander?"

We could hear the frantic squeaking from below, and now even Cullen was peeking over the edge of the wall "...yes," he conceded. We watched as a particularly small nug dug itself through the snowbank, emerging on the other side of his combatants. It took off with the apple core clasped firmly in its jaws. "It concerns...Lieutenant Warren's squad."

Nugs forgotten, my fingers wrapped themselves around leather, iron ring pressed against my palm. "Aaron's men." I could feel my heart beating in my throat, and the cold sting of fear creeping up my spine.

"They've been captured by a group of Avvar," Commander Cullen explained cautiously, "and it seems Scout Harding has found where they're being held. The Inquisitor is taking a rescue team out to the bogs tomorrow at dawn."

"I...Commander," I paled, horrified. Avvar? The barbarian tribes that ravaged the mountainous edges of the Ferelden wilderness? "They're holding our people alive?" I clarified.

"It would seem so," he confirmed. A gloved hand reached up to rub the back of his neck. "Normally I would not send someone so...personally attached to the mission," he warned, "but considering the circumstances...I doubt Inquisitor Trevelyan relishes the thought of attacking an Avvar stronghold through the front door if it can be avoided. His team is going to need a damn good scout, and anyone else I would have sent is already in the field."

"I can do it," I assured him, my poor heart flying. The feel of his cool hands on my face, the smell of his hair, those intelligent amber eyes, his voice in my ear...Aaron was everywhere.

Commander Cullen nodded, satisfied. "Very well. Report to the Inquisitor immediately with this," he handed me a folded piece of parchment. "I won't leave your post unmanned," he assured me, smiling at my hesitation. "I've already sent a runner to request a replacement."

Excited beyond reason, I wrapped my arms round the Commander's neck, the fur collar of his robe soft on my skin. "Cullen, thank you," I breathed, placing a kiss on his cheek.

"Yes...well," the man blushed furiously as I detached myself. "Trevelyan...the Inquisitor should be, ah, in the training yard. I'll leave you to, ah..." Commander Cullen waved his hands vaguely before hurrying back to the safety of his office.

Unsure whether out of fear or excitement, I let out a strangled laugh as my hand clutched the iron ring around my neck. After nearly a year without a word, Aaron had been found, alive, and I was to accompany his rescue party. I hopped down from my perch on the crumbling stone and took off at a barely controlled jog toward the training yard, where even from here I could see the Inquisitor's sword flashing.

I'd never seen a man handle a greatsword like Inquisitor Trevelyan. He brandished the thing like it was a fencing sword when he taunted his opponent, one hand held on his hip while the other would create intricate designs in the air with the sword tip. This seemed particularly frustrating to the Red Templars; I remembered seeing him perform a similar trick during the attack on Haven when he went so far as to tap a Red Horror on the nose before slicing its head off. The man could go from playful to deadly in a heartbeat, somehow managing to move lightning fast despite the weight both of his sword and his armor.

It didn't help that the man was absolutely enormous. He was the only human I'd ever seen to rival a Qunari in shoulder width. By the Dread Wolf, the man's bicep was twice the thickness of my neck.

Inquisitor Trevelyan was currently circling the same Qunari I'd caught watching me over breakfast. Trevelyan had his giant sword gripped in both hands, his armor gleaming in the early morning sun. From my vantage point just beyond the fighting ring, I could see the man's eyes narrow in concentration. The Iron Bull grinned, seeming to have sensed as I had the coiling in the Inquisitor's muscles as he moved easily to block the man's attack.

What neither of us expected was for the Inquisitor to spin on his heel, using his momentum to twist the Qunari's maul from his grasp and somehow manage to bring his own sword back up to the other man's throat all within a matter of seconds.

"Nice work, boss," Bull approved with a grunt.

"A pleasure as always, Bull," Inquisitor Trevelyan smiled as he panted, patting the Qunari's shoulder with a large, scarred hand.

"It seems we have company," Bull nodded toward where I waited patiently, Commander Cullen's missive clutched tightly.

"Inquisitor," I bowed my head respectfully. "The Iron Bull, Ser," I nodded to the Qunari. "I bring a missive from Commander Cullen." I handed the Inquisitor the parchment and stood with my hands clasped behind my back as he read.

"Mahariel, is it?" Inquisitor Trevelyan asked, looking up at me from the parchment.

"Yes, Ser."

"Cullen says you're a mage, yet you carry no staff?" Inquisitor Trevelyan folded the parchment neatly before tucking it beneath his chest plate, though I wasn't sure why. He was such a sweaty mess after his training session that he may as well have dipped the thing in the water barrel kept outside the training ring.

My head tilted to the side as I watched him, and I felt a slight frown pull at the corners of my mouth. "Casting without a catalyst leaves my hands free for blades, Ser." The Iron Bull let out a chuckle. It was an embarrassing reminder to school my expression. I did so, and waited, expressionless, for my Inquisitor's response.

Inquisitor Trevelyan looked almost impressed. Very few mages trained in weaponry beyond offensive magic, and even fewer did so with any real skill. I, however, was a product of desperate circumstances. "Welcome to the team, Corporal. We leave tomorrow at dawn. Pack light; if all goes well, our journey shouldn't last more than a fortnight."

"Yes, Ser."

Inquisitor Trevelyan looked me over once, frowning. "Corporal?"

"Yes, Ser?"

"Head to the requisition office before we leave and ask for a proper set of light armor. I've never met a mage who could cast efficiently encased in metal."

Unable to hold back an excited grin, I gave the Inquisitor an appreciative nod. "Of course, Ser. Right away."

"Eager little thing, isn't she?" I heard Inquisitor Trevelyan comment to his companion as I jogged toward the requisition office. My hand wrapped again around Aaron's ring.

They had no idea.

I couldn't help but feel out of place among my traveling companions. Besides myself and the Inquisitor, we were joined only by the Iron Bull, the merchant prince, and the Fade expert. It wasn't exactly the team I would have taken to launch a rescue mission, but many of the Inquisitor's usual companions seemed to have been otherwise occupied. The small group would be able to travel quickly; I wasn't about to complain.

Servants were waiting with mounts near the front gate, carrying saddlebags packed with herbs and military rations. I was offered the reins of a beautiful grey Hart, who nudged my fingers with her nose until I placed my hand on her neck. A young elven girl took my personal rucksack and tied it to the back of a sixth horse.

"I've been told that you prefer to ride without a saddle, haren," the girl bowed, her task completed.

I loved speaking with the Dalish children of the Inquisition. Their excitement and curiosity and unmarked faces made me feel like a child again, back before I was given my vallaslin, and before I had discovered my magic. "Ma serannas, da'len. The Hart is beautiful."

"Her name is Doshiel," the young girl tucked a dark curl behind a pointed ear, looking anywhere but at me. She laid a hand next to mine on the hart's neck, her tiny fingers buried deep in its fur.

I smiled, moving my hand to rest on the girl's shoulder. "I will take very good care of Doshiel, and bring her home safely after a grand adventure."

"Dareth shiral, panelan." The girl stole a look, meeting my gaze for a half a moment before running off toward the stables.

Doshiel looked at me with wide, nervous eyes as she stamped the ground with an anxious hoof. I hushed her, rested a hand on her mane, and whispered. "Ar las mah ar'an elanir him falonen." The hart relaxed, closed her eyes and breathed deeply as I ran my fingers along her neck.

"Likewise."

I froze, my fingers still twined in silver fur. I hadn't heard anyone approach, and I hadn't anticipated being observed too carefully by anyone in the Inquisitor's party. However, surprised as I was, I held my composure for the sake of Doshiel's nerves, if nothing else.

"I did not mean to startle you. I only wished to introduce myself."

I turned slowly, unused to being caught off guard. I had been assigned a scouting position for a reason, although perhaps Cullen's faith in me was misplaced after all. We hadn't crossed the castle threshold before I'd let the Inquisition Fade apostate shock me into silence.

Embarrassed, I inclined my head both out of respect and to hide the redness I could feel burning my cheeks. "Corporal Mahariel, Ser. I've been assigned as the scouting officer on this mission."

"And I am Solas."

I had seen Solas, from a distance, on several occasions since joining the Inquisition. We had never spoken. He directed the initial scouting efforts after our forced evacuation of Haven, and while I had taken up the lead on most of the scouting expeditions during the search for Skyhold, I had been little more than a recruit with senses made sharp from years of hunting and hiding from Templars. At the time I had been far enough down the chain of command that I was never required to interact with Solas myself.

He was taller than I'd expected, especially for an elf. It was rare to see one of the El'vhan standing over five and a half feet, but Solas was taller than many human men. He kept his head shaven, and his long, pointed ears went unobstructed. For a moment I wondered how he kept his head from getting cold up in the mountains.

"I had heard Cullen had provided our excursion with additional resources, but I was unaware he was sending one of the El'vhen," Solas continued. "I apologize if my interruption has offended, but I so rarely hear the language of my people spoken with such elegance."

"Ara dirthan vi'dirth'ma'vhen'an."

"And mine as well."

"Solas! Corporal! We're leaving now, if you'd like to join us!" The Inquisitor called to us from the back of a huge russet brown charger. For the briefest moment, I thought I'd insulted our leader before we even left the castle, but then I saw the laughter in his expression as he circled his horse around the party. I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched the man position himself at the front of our entourage.

I gave Doshiel another calming stroke before I leapt gracefully onto her back. Nodding once to Solas, I left him at the back of the small caravan and urged Doshiel into a light gallop.

"Inquisitor," I nodded to our leader as I pulled Doshiel up alongside his charger.

"Corporal Mahariel!" the Inquisitor boomed. His expression was bright, and he seemed to sit forward in his saddle, as if his horse would be able to trot down the mountain faster if he distributed his weight just so. Was he always this energetic or was the nature of our mission the source of his excitement? "Good to see you've found some armor more suited to you."

"The requisition office was very generous," I acknowledged. Honestly, I was nervous, and unsure how to conduct myself around Inquisitor Trevelyan. Inquisition soldiers rarely traveled with the Inquisitor himself; he generally preferred to take small parties of three or four, made up of various arrangements of dedicated companions. What was appropriate? The followers he travelled with were casual enough, but they weren't soldiers.

I had never wanted to be a soldier, and even amongst my clan had been chided for my lack of respect for authority. Inquisitor Trevelyan was different; he led by deeds, not just his title. I didn't know how best to convey that respect.

I settled on doing my job.

After a brief silence, I relayed the instructions Commander Cullen had left me with that morning. "Ser, I'll be reporting to you regularly every hour. I will make additional reports if I encounter anything out of the ordinary, although the roads to the Fallow Mire were cleared by Scout Harding's team when they passed through last week. Commander Cullen does not expect any trouble before we reach the Mire itself."

"You're going to be riding ahead, on your own?" The inquisitor's grip on the charger's reigns tightened, and his thick eyebrows lifting in surprise. I was reminded suddenly of caterpillars.

"Yes, Ser. That's what scouts are for, Ser," I nodded seriously, trying not to come off as mocking but also unable to help myself. Had he never ridden out with scouts before? How did his party avoid pockets of Red Templars or know where at a river to cross? Had he just been pointing himself in the general direction of Fade rifts and hoping for the best?

"I don't like the idea of sending one woman out alone," the Inquisitor contested, his knuckles whitening around the reigns.

"Then perhaps you should have requested Commander Cullen find you a pair of scouts, Ser," I responded dryly. The dwarf, Varric, let out a surprised laugh from his place on the Inquisitor's other side. One betrayed look from Inquisitor Trevelyan saw him quieted, but I doubted anything could wipe the smirk from Varric's face.

"It's best to let the Corporal do her job, Boss," the Iron Bull suggested carefully, clearly not wanting to overstep. "Cullen wouldn't have sent her with us if she wasn't capable."

"I will be back within the hour, Ser," I nodded quickly to the Inquisitor and hurried off with Doshiel before he could argue. The faster we could get to the Fallow Mire, the more likely Aaron was to come home to me unharmed. Cullen wasn't stroking my ego—I was a damned good scout. If I did my job well, I could cut down our travel time by at least a day.

The journey was, as I had anticipated, largely uneventful. My hourly reports to Inquisitor Trevelyan were accepted graciously once he realized I was steering the group away from things like entire families of Great Bears. Disappointed as both the Inquisitor and The Iron Bull were to be running away from a fight, we were on a rescue mission and simply didn't have the time or the healing potions to spare.

We stopped to set up camp as the sun was beginning to sink toward the horizon, settling ourselves in a small clearing on the foothills of the Frostbacks. Once our tents were set up and our mounts tied to the trunks of sturdy fir trees for some much needed rest, we sat together around a blessedly warm campfire.

"We made it out of the mountains in good time," Varric commented. He poured a healthy amount of ale into one of several wooden tankards he apparently took everywhere before handing it off to me with a smile. "Nice work today, Mahariel."

I nodded, grateful for something to drink. "Tomorrow evening should see us in the Mire."

"I think I'm beginning to see the benefits of bringing a scout along on our expeditions," Inquisitor Trevelyan laughed. "We've made excellent time, although your mount looks exhausted."

"Doshiel will be fine come morning," I assured him, my thumb absentmindedly brushing against the intricate carvings on my tankard. The wood was smooth; it felt expensive. I'd never felt expensive wood before. "She just needs some rest."

"And you?" the Inquisitor inquired as the Iron Bull handed me a well-cooked rabbit leg.

"Your Inquisition breeds hearty soldiers," I responded dryly. I took a long drink from my ale, trying not to grimace at the burning sensation it left trailing down my throat. I hoped I would be able to convince Inquisitor Trevelyan of my competence before we returned to Skyhold.

I ate in relative silence, preferring instead to listen as the other four members of our party exchanged easy banter. The men were good company, and I appreciated being included in their party; however, the longer I sat staring into the flames the more anxious I became.

Aaron and his men had been missing for eleven months. Everyone had written them off as dead, myself included. How Scout Harding had managed to track the squad at all was beyond me, but now that I knew where he was, I wanted nothing more than to go. Every word spoken around this blasted campfire was another breath Aaron took without me.

A large hand landed softly on my shoulder, bringing me back. "I'll take first watch tonight," the Iron Bull helped me up from my seat before the fire. "Get some rest."

I nodded my thanks, downing the rest of my ale before I stumbled into my tent and fell asleep.

"This is not what I imagined when I was told I'd be assisting in a rescue attempt," I panted, wiping sweat off my brow as I yanked a dagger from the neck of the twitching corpse at my feet.

"You mean you didn't know we'd be clearing the whole damned Mire of these fucking demons?" The Iron Bull grunted. "I hate demons."

"We can't very well leave these Fade rifts open," Inquisitor Trevelyan asserted. "Once the rifts are closed, the dead will stop rising. We have to stabilize the area." He wiped his greatsword clean in the grass before sheathing it once again in its place on his broad back. Without checking to see if we would follow, he continued down the dim path toward the next Veilfire sconce.

"Is this how every operation goes with you people?" I asked with a tired laugh. "Closing Fade rifts, battling corpses and demons alike, slaying blood mages—it's all in a day's work, isn't it?"

"You'll get used it," Varric clapped a hand on my shoulder as he strode past.

"I'm not sure I know what that means." I sheathed my daggers, pausing first to wipe them clean on the wet grass. Varric did realize I was an Inquisition soldier and not another tagalong companion, didn't he?

"It means you're useful," the Iron Bull explained, "and he likes you."

"Well, I'd be more useful if the Inquisitor would let me do my job and scout before he went running off into another fight," I sighed as I watched Inquisitor Trevelyan stride right through the cursed water toward another Fade rift, corpses rising in his wake.

I cast yet another barrier spell with an impatient flick of my wrist, reaching into my coat pocket with the other hand to pull out a long, coiled chain. I flicked it around the neck of a Rage demon that had appeared at the Inquisitor's flank and pulled myself across the water, hitting it with a frost spell as I flew.

"You know what, Mahariel?" Varric shouted across the battlefield as he watched me land on the frozen Rage demon's shoulders. "I'm going to call you Lovely."

I dug both daggers into the demon's face, and leaped to the ground as it shattered beneath me. "Why?" I shouted back to my new friend as I cast another barrier spell over the Inquisitor and the Iron Bull. The pair were hacking at a Revenant, and didn't seem to notice the two corpses sneaking up on their left. I used my chain to pull myself over, kicking one corpse in the chest and slicing the head off the other.

The Revenant went down, and I watched with fascination as the Inquisitor raised his hand to the rift and closed it with a steady beam of green energy.

"You are the most graceful fighter I have ever seen," Varric responded as he made his way over from his place at the edges of the battle. "You make killing look like a dance."

"I...thank you," I blushed. Aaron had often said the same thing. When we used to spar outside the gates of Haven, he would get so caught up in tracking my movements that I'd have him pinned before he knew it.

A quick conversation with an Avvar who had been studying the rift, a shaman calling himself a Sky Watcher, and we knew what I had already suspected: the Inquisition soldiers were being held at an Avvar fortress at the end of the main road. I managed to rein in my nervous excitement as the Sky Watcher confirmed that none of the Inquisition had been harmed.

Hopeful and eager to see Aaron again, I insisted Inquisitor Trevelyan let me run ahead to scout our path to the Avvar fortress. To my surprise, he conceded, insisting only that I take Varric with me. The dwarf could move almost as quietly as I could, and a shot from his crossbow was admittedly a much quieter ranged attack than one of my lightening spells. Accepting his compromise, I lead Varric down the damp path, always careful to avoid stepping in the water.

"So far the road seems to be more of the same," Varric commented as we reached a fourth and apparently final Veilfire beacon. He and I had been moving quickly along the Mire's main road, and we hadn't come across anything particularly dangerous. One or two corpses had found their way onto the path, but they were dispatched easily before they had even noticed our presence.

"No, wait," I frowned, seeing movement far down the road. "There's something. Lots of somethings. Corpses? I need a better view." I climbed to the top of the beacon. From my new vantage point, I could see dozens of shuffling corpses blocking the road to a small fortress. "I can see the entrance to an Avvar holding," I called down to Varric. "There are nearly fifty of the undead blocking the entrance, but it doesn't look like they can get past the gate."

"What do you think, Lovely?" Varric called back up to me.

"I could run ahead and climb the wall," I suggested, "and open the gate from the inside and let the rest of you rush the fortress. There might be Avvar waiting inside, though. This isn't the main fortress, just an outpost, but I don't like my chances alone if they have more than one or two warriors guarding against the undead." I leapt down from the beacon, landing gracefully next to Varric. "We should report back to the Inquisitor."

"I don't think that will be necessary," Varric chuckled, watching the road behind us.

I couldn't hold back my exasperated sigh as Inquisitor Trevelyan came jogging down the road, Veilfire in hand and a trail of corpses and lesser demons following in his wake. Solas and The Iron Bull were following closely, taking out the demons with flashes of metal and frost.

"Creators have mercy," I groaned, casting a barrier spell and pulling out my chains.

"Glad we finally caught up to you!" Inquisitor Trevelyan flashed me a boyish smile as I flew past him. Frustrated beyond belief, I flicked a barrier spell in his direction before landing at the feet of a Terror demon.

It screamed, and the noise reverberated in my head, making it difficult to keep my balance. Just as the creature's talons were about to rake the length of my face, Solas cast a barrier spell of his own. The long claws bounced harmlessly against the magical energy. I shot Solas a grateful smile before I sent a lightening spell down the length of my blades and thrust both of them into the Terror's neck.

The creature fell to the ground, sparking and burning. I took its head off with a powerful swing of my dagger for good measure before turning on the Inquisitor.

"Fenedhis, Inquisitor!" I growled, knuckles clutched tightly around each dagger. "Are you always this reckless?"

Inquisitor Trevelyan wiped his greatsword on the grass before responding. "I appreciate your concern, Corporal, but we can't leave these marshes crawling with demons. The beacons had to be lit. I had to draw the demons out."

"Yes, but you should have waited until Varric and I returned with our report. Instead you took on who knows how many demons with only Bull and Solas for backup, and managed to alert the Avvar of our presence in the meanwhile," I gestured toward the outpost down the road. I didn't know if the Inquisitor could see, but the dark shapes of Avvar warriors had appeared on the battlements. They would no doubt be calling for reinforcements once they realized the Inquisition had arrived.

"You have no idea what's waiting on the other end of this road, Inquisitor," I sighed. I cleaned off my own weapons and shoved them back into the sheaths at my back. "You should have waited for my report before you went charging through the Mire. This mission is important, Inquisitor, to a lot of people. The soldiers we're rescuing have families and loved ones waiting for them." My fingers wrapped around leather and iron as I took a deep breath, struggling to maintain composure.

"Do you think I don't know that?" The Inquisitor frowned. "These are my people, Corporal. They trust me to protect them. They've been waiting for me to come for them for almost a year."

"With all due respect, the Avvar are the ones waiting for you, Inquisitor," I rebutted. "Those soldiers aren't expecting shit. We do our jobs knowing full well that we may never come home. They can wait another hour while I make sure we don't die trying to save them."

"I hate to break up the party here," Varric started hesitantly, "but it looks like we didn't just catch the attention of the Avvar." The dwarf gestured down the road, where a huge wave of the undead were shuffling slowly away from the fortress and toward our party.

"Okay," I breathed. "This is fine."

"You don't sound convinced," Varric chuckled nervously, pulling out his crossbow.

"This can work to our advantage," the Inquisitor commented thoughtfully as he slowly unsheathed his greatsword.

"It will be easier to rush the castle," I agreed, readying my own weapons. "We can move faster than they can. If we can clear a path down the center...but we don't want to be caught between the hoard and a gate that won't open," I frowned.

"And we don't want to be fighting Avvar and the undead on two fronts," Inquisitor Trevelyan nodded.

"Boss..." Iron Bull's maul was out, and his fingers were tapping anxiously against the grip. "I'm all for tactical strategy but we're running out of time."

"Inquisitor," I turned toward Trevelyan, my eyes bright. I wasn't going to let anything keep me from Aaron, not when I was this close. "Let me run to the fortress first. If you engage the undead out here, the Avvar will be watching to see if you fall. They won't be watching their own walls."

"You want to use us as a distraction?" Inquisitor Trevelyan raised his eyebrows.

"Only until I can get the gates open," I nodded. "Once you see them raise, run like hell and I'll shut them behind you."

"What about the Avvar?"

"They can only kill me if they can catch me," I shrugged. "I won't be alone for long."

"I'm not sure we have time to come up with another option," Varric loosed a volley of arrows at the oncoming hoard.

"Off I go, then," I grinned, pulling my daggers from their sheaths. I cast a barrier spell at my feet, relishing in the electric thrum of magic as it surrounded me. I took off toward the road, keeping close to the edge of the water where the crowd was thinnest. I didn't focus on bringing down the corpses, just getting through them. I spun, sliced, rolled, and dodged my way through the undead; I caught a couple of nicks here and there where my armor left exposed skin, but I was moving too quickly for any of the corpses' blades to stick.

Soon enough, I reached the stone wall. Not daring to cast a barrier spell, I crawled carefully up the wall, daggers held between my teeth as I made my way from foothold to handhold up the uneven stone. When I finally pulled myself up over the wall, I crouched down in its shadow and counted the Avvar keeping guard.

There were three guarding the wall—archers. They looked smaller than I was expecting, and if I could be quiet I figured I could take them out one at a time with a dagger to the neck. I didn't relish the idea—I was a scout, not an assassin—but I needed to get to the gate controls quickly if the Inquisitor and the others were going to get through unharmed.

I traced a path along the wall to the opposite side of the fortress where I guessed the gate controls would be protected. I saw one Avvar warrior pacing, and could just make out a wooden lever peeking over the wall. Taking a deep breath, I crept toward the first archer, stopping at her back before quickly bringing my daggers to her neck.

Hot blood trailed down my arms, leaking into my armor and sticking to my skin. There had been more warriors guarding the gate controls than I had expected. Three warriors lay dead at my feet—at least that was a fair fight. I left the three archers dead on the walls, throats slit, and their blood soaked through everything until it felt like it was mingling with my own. The surprised gasps, the gurgling mess as the blood drained...I pulled on the lever and listened as the gate rose.

The others found me on my knees, covered in blood, my knuckles white on the wooden lever. I'd closed the gate behind them, cutting the outpost off from the corpses shuffling on the main road, but I hadn't been able to make myself move. The metallic scent of blood washed away all my other senses, and the effect was dizzying.

I was a soldier—a proud, Inquisition soldier. I killed demons, Red Templars, Venatori. I neutralized the bad guys so that the innocents could feel safe. I protected those who weren't strong enough to protect themselves.

I slaughtered six Avvar in cold blood to save a man who hadn't been harmed in the months since his capture.

"Rosa, falon," Solas pried my hands from the lever, pulling me gently to my feet.

"Ar ame son, ma serannas." I wiped my hands on the deerskin leggings of my armor, cringing at the trails of dark blood and the sting of the splinters peppering my palms. "We should go."

Between the five of us, we managed to fight our way to the main fortress without too much trouble. The Avvar seemed to be expecting us, and I suspected those we encountered were instructed to stall the Inquisitor's party rather than to prevent us from reaching the stronghold. It was a pity, killing so many warriors just so that the Avvar could host a deranged ego match with the Inquisitor. Regardless, my focus was on reaching Aaron and his team before the Avvar changed their mind about keeping hostages.

Unbelievably, the fortress was in worse condition than the outpost protecting it from invasion by the undead. The structure was a crumbling mess, with moss and vines creeping up along the walls. The bulk of its area was taken up by a large main hall, boasting a set of stairs decorated with badly fraying carpet that had once been lovely, and the large piles of rubble scattering the several hundred feet leading to the decrepit castle had left the entire interior of the structure exposed after the collapse of its southernmost wall.

Where the outer walls were meant to tuck securely into the landscape, sealing off access to the land beyond except through the building itself, the stones looked lose and many had fallen away. It wouldn't be difficult to creep along the outside of the fortress and search for our missing soldiers.

"Inquisitor," I addressed Inquisitor Trevelyan as we approached the building, the last of the Avvar guard dead at our feet. "See how the outer walls crumble?" I pointed. "I can fit between those cracks, Your Grace, and make my way around the outer wall. I can find and release our soldiers while you speak with the Avvar leader."

"This confrontation is bound to become...physical," Inquisitor Trevelyan frowned, wiping blood off his greatsword. "We can't risk the Avvar slaughtering their hostages when they see we won't cooperate." Trevelyan sighed, absentmindedly running a bloodied hand through his dark hair. "Get our soldiers to safety, Corporal," he decided, his eyes catching mine. "Bull, Solas, Varric, and I can handle the leader and his lackeys on our own. I want you leading our men back to the outpost. Wait for us there. I don't want you facing the undead hoard before I can join the fun." He gave me half a smile as he returned his monstrous sword to his back.

"Yes, Your Grace," I crossed my arms over my chest and bowed.

"Be safe out there, Lovely," Varric ordered, giving my shoulder a nudge.

"The same to all of you," I smiled.

"See you on the other side," Bull all but laughed. If there was one thing I'd learned about the Iron Bull, he loved a good fight with a worthy opponent. The Avvar had yet to disappoint.

I returned Solas's solemn nod and ran off into the night.

Rock crumbled around me as I squeezed through the rubble of the fortress's outer wall. The protective armor I'd cast was cool and electrifying, and managed to keep the sharper rocks from tearing my skin where it was left exposed by the light leathers I wore. However, the magical barrier took more energy to keep in place than I'd anticipated, and by the time I'd managed to crawl along the side of the fortress to its northern wall I was feeling drained. I took a vial of cold, blue lyrium from the pouch at my waist, and allowed myself a sip.

I felt the magical energy humming in my veins as it spread through my body. Focus renewed, I began creeping along the back wall of the castle, searching for windows. I didn't see any evidence of an underground dungeon upon my examination of the fortress's foundation—the Avvar must have been keeping their hostages in a guarded room while their leader dealt with the Inquisitor.

Carefully, I made my way along the back wall, listening quietly under each window. While my magic and position gave me the advantage if it came to fighting an Avvar warrior through a castle window, I preferred not to draw attention to myself, particularly while Inquisitor Trevelyan was attempting negotiations with the Avvar leader. I didn't imagine he would take well to a sneak thief breaking out his hostages while the Inquisitor held up the pretense of cooperation. It was fairly underhanded.

But then so was taking our soldiers hostage.

After what seemed like ages, I heard voices through one of the open windows. My heart beat faster as I recognized the baritone cadence, and my breath caught at this undeniable proof that he was alive. He spoke in a commanding whisper, and I couldn't quite make out what he was saying to his company, but a quick peek over the window's edge confirmed that the Inquisition soldiers were alone in the room.

There were five of them—three men, two women, and all of them looked like hell. There were colorful bruises sprinkled over arms and faces, poorly bandaged cuts, and one woman had her arm in a sling. The soldiers looked thin, their eyes sunken into their skulls and their hair dull and thin. Poor nutrition, multiple injuries, exhaustion...the Avvar had been keeping our soldiers alive, but barely. It was infuriating, but I needed to put my anger aside until my fellows were safe.

For now, I needed to get Aaron's attention and break down a wall.

I folded my arms on the ledge and watched him—but fenedis he was still so beautiful—and whistled the simple three-toned signal we used on our scouting missions. Aaron whipped his head around, his eyes wide and his mouth open, and when his gaze caught mine I couldn't help but grin.

He looked like shit, that was for certain. While he looked marginally stronger than the others, he sported a horrible russet beard, and his eyes were tight and lined with dark circles. There were scars I didn't recognize all along his face, his arms, his hands; I wondered if the Avvar had been making him fight. But as he crossed the room in two strides and pulled my face to his through the window, I couldn't help but think he was the most beautiful man alive.

I smiled through the kiss, loving the touch of his hands on my face. His forehead pressed to mine, he held my gaze as he traced my vallaslin with callused fingers. "Aravae," he whispered. The sound of my name on his lips sent shivers down my spine and up to the tips of my pointed ears.

"Ma venahn," I smiled, closing my eyes for just a moment.

Then the moment passed. I pulled away, and we were both soldiers again. "The Inquisitor is here," I informed him.

"The Inquisitor?" Aaron frowned, and it struck me just how much he had missed since his capture.

"The Herald," I corrected.

"Trevelyan?" Aaron raised an eyebrow.

"Yes," I nodded. "You've been gone a while, you know," I smiled ruefully. "There's no time now, I need to get you and your men to safety before the Avvar realize something's amiss."

"Is Trevelyan negotiating with the Avvar?" Aaron frowned.

"He's distracting your guards. Back away from the window, love," I instructed, resting my hands against the crumbling stone. He did as I asked, pulling his soldiers back along with him. Once I saw they were out of the way, I spread my palms against the wall and sent a shiver of energy through the stone. The modified earthquake spell sent the stones rippling, destabilizing the wall. Cracks began to form, and I sent another burst of energy down the center of the largest. A section of wall large enough for a man to squeeze through crumbled away.

Aaron began handing his men through the opening, and soon enough the last soldier was free and Aaron was in my arms again.

"You look well," he grinned down at me, wiping dirt from my chin with his thumb.

"You look like hell."

"Flattery will get you everywhere," he laughed. His hands went to my waist, pulling me much closer than was appropriate under the circumstances.

"We should go," I shook my head, smiling. "Inquisitor Trevelyan was quite adamant that I lead you and your men to safety before the negotiations fall to shit."

Then, in the darkness, I heard shouting—and the door to the holding room flew open. An enraged Avvar warrior stepped into the moonlit room, and shouted to his fellows as he drew a giant axe and began to charge toward our escape route.

"Fenedhis! I shouldn't have said anything," I growled. I erected a barrier over the wall opening, hoping that the warrior would at least have to hack at it a couple of times before he could follow.

"We have to go!" Aaron shouted to his men. A man with a patchy yellow beard hurried to the woman in the sling and wrapped her good arm around his shoulders, helping her hurry along the crumbling wall. "Mahariel! Now!" Aaron shouted, grabbing my arm and pushing me ahead of him.

"Aaron, take these," I shoved my daggers into his palms, and shoved my helmet over his head. It was a little small, but it was better than nothing. "I need to lead your men through," I explained urgently, even as he was nodding in agreement, tugging the helmet into position. "Take up the rear."

I showered Aaron in protective magic and sprinted toward the front of the group. I took a generous gulp of a lyrium potion and splayed my hands along the outer wall of the fortress. "This wall is coming down, so stay close to me!" I warned the group. I waited for an anxious nod from Aaron before I brought the whole thing down with a few well-placed bolts of energy. The wall came crashing down around us in a flurry of dust and a cascade of crumbling stone. Another barrier cast high over our heads held the rocks away as we ran through the avalanche, leaving our pursuers cut off from our escape route or crushed.

Exhausted, I downed another lyrium potion once we had cleared the collapse. We were in clear view of the Avvar in the fortress now, and it seemed their leader now understood what had occurred while Trevelyan "negotiated". The Inquisitor and his three companions were engaged in a heated battle with the Avvar, swords flashing and blood spraying the ancient stone floor.

I caught the eye of the Avvar leader, and watched with fascination as he let out a furious scream. I couldn't hear what he said, but I saw Trevelyan's grip on his greatsword tighten as he swung at the warrior with renewed enthusiasm. A heartbeat later a group of warriors broke off from the main fight to pursue my broken band of soldiers. There was no way my charges could outrun them.

I took a deep breath and turned to the injured men and women behind me, keeping my voice to a low whisper. "Down the path, there is an outpost. It has been cleared of Avvar, and you should be safe as long as you don't open the main gates. Undead." They nodded in understanding. "I will hold them off. Go as fast as you can and hide when you get there. Aaron will lead you from here."

"I am the ranking officer here, Corporal," Aaron argued, shooting me a frown before he turned back to what was left of his squad. "Mahariel and I will cover your retreat. Stick to the path but keep to the shadows. Go."

His men saluted, and hurried down the path. No time to argue, I cast a barrier spell over the two of us as we watched the Avvar rush closer.

"We will discuss this later," I assured Aaron with a frown. He held out a dagger, a peace offering, and I took it.

"I've dreamt of seeing you again every night for nearly a year," Aaron growled, dagger spinning in his left hand. "There is no way in hell I am leaving you behind now."

I opened my mouth to point out that it didn't take two soldiers to create a distraction, but quickly snapped it shut. There were three warriors charging with axes and two more archers taking position within shooting rage; now was not the time for noble sacrifices or heartfelt declarations.

Later.

There would be time for that later, but only if we lived through this , we drew up a battle plan.

"You'll have to be quick," I instructed, my eyes flashing as I tried to take in as much of the battlefield as I could. Aaron typically fought with sword and shield, though he could use a dagger in a pinch. If this wasn't a pinch, I didn't know what was, but I worried he might be out of practice. "Get in close and they can't hit you. I'll take out the archers, keep the warriors off me."

"Go," he urged, dagger held loosely in his left hand.

The warriors were almost upon us now—I could make out the blue patterns painted on white armor—and I whipped out my length of chain. I went flying gracefully through the group of charging Avvar, wincing a little as an arrow sliced along the exposed skin of my arm, and landed with my feet on the shoulders of the first archer. In a smooth motion, I dragged the dagger across his throat. I leapt forward as he fell, pushing down with my feet to propel myself through the air.

I brought my knees and elbows in, close to my chest, and made sure to lean onto my shoulder as I hit the ground. Coming smoothly out of my combat roll, I took aim with my dagger and watched with grim satisfaction as it landed in the neck of the second archer.

"Aravea!"

I turned toward Aaron with a palm out, and cloaked him in a barrier spell before yanking my dagger out of the archer's throat. He had taken one warrior down, but there were still two more. I frantically wiped the blood from the dagger grip, especially the bound leather protecting the several small runes at the base of the blade. Aaron needed me, but I was no good to him if I couldn't hold onto my blade.

Aaron had a better chance against them alone than I would have—he was made sturdier than I, and was still wearing his Inquisition standard heavy armor made to protect more than my leathers could have. He was doing his best with the borrowed dagger but he was no rogue, and these Avvar were monstrous.

The sound of metal ripping through metal sent a chill down my spine. I spun around, reaching out with my chain again to pull myself toward the warrior whose axe had nearly cleaved Aaron in half. Furious, I let my power flow through the dagger in my hand. Cackling purple lightening brightened the dark battlefield as I flew through the air, drawing the attention of the other Avvar still standing. I brought the electrified dagger down into the man's shoulder as I landed.

The third and final warrior tried to run. I froze him with an enraged flick of my weapon, and threw the knife with all my strength. The warrior shattered in an explosion of red ice.

"Aravae..."

Aaron's voice was weak behind me; I hurried to his side, kneeling down to assess the damage. There was hot blood pouring from his abdomen where the Avvar had wrenched a tear in his armor. The cut hadn't penetrated the protective layers of muscle and fat, but if he didn't get healing soon Aaron could easily bleed to death. "You need healing," I insisted, reaching for a healing potion.

"I'll say," he chuckled darkly. "That blighter nearly ripped me in half, you should have seen it. If he hadn't been trying to kill me, I would have been impressed."

"Sometimes I forget how Ferelden you are," I hushed him, half a smile pulling at my lips. I brought the potion to his mouth and tilted his head forward so that he could swallow. I watched with satisfaction as the flow of blood slowed. I didn't know much healing magic, but in my experience it was always better to let a well-made potion do as much of the work as you could allow. I waited as long as I dared before summoning the strongest healing spell I knew.

"This should keep you for now," I sighed, wiping beads of sweat from my brow.

"How lucky am I," he smiled weakly, "to have you near me now."

I took his head in my hands, and leaned forward to plant a kiss on his forehead. "Ma venahn," I murmured, wiping flecks of blood from his face. "You fought bravely."

"You are a goddess," he sighed, smiling again as he reached for my cheek. I leaned forward to let him touch me. "You come flying from the heavens to bring earthly men to justice," he coughed out a laugh.

"We need to move," I reminded him. "You'll live, but you're in no shape to fight."

Aaron agreed, and I helped sit him up. I wrapped my arms around his chest, kissing his cheek as I hooked my elbows around his armpits. I was about to pull him to his feet when I heard Inquisitor Trevelyan shouting my name. I turned, the distress in his tone setting me on alert, but before I could grasp the situation Aaron was tossing me aside.

I flew like a rag doll, flailing, and landed hard on my back. My head snapped back against the stone, and my vision blurred. I blinked, shaking my head. What had happened? I heard more shouting, the dull thud of a blade hitting the ground.

Everything happened too fast, and I came to my senses too late. Before I'd realized what had happened—what Aaron had saved me from—the Avvar warrior had already taken off his head. He hadn't even had time to scream.

I sat on the cold stone in shock, watching in disbelief as the Inquisitor quickly dispatched the warrior. Disbelief kept me quiet; I couldn't scream, I couldn't cry. I couldn't even move, but to reach for the iron ring I still wore on a cord around my neck.


Dareth shiral, panelan – Goodbye, warrior

Ar las mah ar'an elanir him falonen – I hope that we can become friends

Ara dirthan vi'dirth'ma'vhen'an – I speak the language of my heart

Fenedhis – Elven curse

Rosa, falon – Rise, friend

Ar ame son, ma serannas – I am well, thank you

Ma venahn – My heart

Translations taken from Project Elvhen: An Elvhen Lexicon by FenxShiral, posted on Ao3.