"What now?" Solona asked. She coughed to hide the quiver in her voice, willing herself to sound brave even as she stood a single terrified mortal in the realm of demons. "What happens now?"
The man - the Old God - who claimed to be her son gave a faint smile. The cold Fade's light washed away any attempt at tenderness. "What would please you?"
"I want to go back," she answered too quickly. When Urthemiel glanced at the shimmering portal that had carried them from the Black City, she clarified, "Back to the Thedas."
He shook his head. "I told you, I've severed ties to the mortal realms. I can't go back."
"I want to go back," she stressed. Her eyes darted to the charred remains of the Rage demon as she suppressed the shiver creeping up her spine. When she pulled her gaze away, it fell instead to the coiling green of the Fade's sky.
Through the silence, Solona felt a change. It was as though the air grew colder, the sky fell dimmer.
"Without me." The spirit's voice turned hard. That expression so close to a smile fell away. "I gave you what you wanted. I took you to the Black City. But you don't want to stay," he accused. His eyes bore through her for long strained moments or hours, until at last he sneered as he understood. "Him. You want him."
The sudden shift from eager child to spiteful spirit had Solona drawing back once more.
"I know the pain he caused you," he said, voice simmered low in anger. "I felt the pain he caused you. He betrayed us. Abandoned us. Why do you long for him still?"
She shook her head, uncertain of what she was denying.
"I could look like him," he promised. In an instant, his hair lightened and eyes darkened to sandy blonde and hazel. The structure of his face shifted ever so slightly, and all too suddenly, Urthemiel looked identical to his mortal father. "I could make you forget," he said, words frantic. Around them, the old Warden's camp took shape once more. Shapes and colours vaguely reminiscent of Solona's companions began to form. "You would never know. You could be happy here - just like you were before."
The timbre of his voice shifted. "Stay with me, my love," he beckoned in Alistair's gentle tones.
It was too much. All of it, too much. "Stop it," Solona begged. Tears of stress and fear and panic welled up beneath her eyes. She cowered away, arms held tight about her chest in terror.
The spirit froze at her tears. His features melted back to his own, no longer Alistair's spectre. His face was sad but kind as he leaned down to meet the level of her eye. Reaching out a gentle hand, he cupped Solona's quivering cheek. "Please, mother, do not cry," he whispered. "Please be happy."
Her lips parted and closed in turn, but she could find no more words. Solona was uncertain how long they sat in silence, she shaking in quiet fear, and he unmoving and cold as a statue, until at last he spoke. "I have come to a decision," he announced.
She stared up at the creature before her, terror still fresh in her blood, too afraid to speak.
"You will go back to the Thedas. For now, you will go back." He straightened, tall and regal before her. " I must ... remember before anything else. I need time to remember and you are not ready to hear," he admitted. "So you will go back."
Sometime later, Solona stepped cautiously out through the Fade-tear and back into the Thedas. As her feet touched back upon the rough stone of the Warden's Compound, she wondered how long she had been absent. Solona had often found that her sense of time was distorted in the Fade, but then again, she had never actually been to the Fade before.
It had taken what felt like hours for Urthemiel to reopen a portal back to the mortal world. As he worked, Solona had found a sheltered outcrop of the jagged earth, tucked herself into it as though to hide from the false green sky, and quietly sobbed to herself until there were no more tears to be had, and she was left with little choice but to accept the absurdity of her situation.
The pair spoke briefly once more before Solona departed back into the mortal realms. Urthemiel had insisted upon teaching her the spell to reopen the tear into the Fade. Without his own blood to anchor the spell, he would be unable to conjure the portal without her help. There was enough left for one more journey, but after that, Solona would have to assist in the spell; she was as of yet uncertain if she would ever use it.
The first thing Solona saw upon her return was her bed and the dark stains upon it. The browning of her blood upon the linens confirmed that at least an hour had passed since she had departed the mortal realms. She frowned as she glanced down at the matching stain upon her shift. The gown she had worn in the Fade was little more than a conjuration of dream dust; it would not have survived the journey back to the Thedas, and so Solona had been redressed in her stained shift before returning. Both it and the bedding would have to be scrubbed out before her companions and questions arrived.
It was only when she reached out to begin stripping the linens that she heard a little choked cough and looked up across the chamber. Alistair and Wynne stared in wide-eyed shock back at her.
"Oh," she managed, eyes glancing between the pair. She swallowed down the sudden dryness in her throat. "Um, hello," she said.
Alistair spoke first. "Thank the Maker," he breathed. Before Solona could stop him, he closed the gap between them in three long strides and crushed her against his chest.
Solona coughed as her breath was squeezed from her. A brief stupor held her before she pushed him back. They weren't doing this. Not now. She shoved at him again. "Let go. I'm fine. Really."
"Burning Andraste, look at you. You're covered in ..." He stared at the stains upon her shift for a moment as through perplexed. It took a moment, but the pieces began to fall together. "The child," Alistair rasped as he remembered. "Wynne, you need to - "
Enough was enough. Solona dug in her heels as he ushered her towards the bed. A hard shove at his shoulders finally managed to gain his attention. "There's no need," she said. "It's gone." The words tumbled thoughtlessly out as she grabbed an old robe and pulled it on.
As the words passed her lips, Solona realized she had not truly grasped the situation until now. There would be no child. She had no idea how she felt about that. As she glanced to Alistair, her chest drew tight; he looked devastated.
It was Wynne who eventually took charge of the chaos. She pulled a chair from the adjacent desk and set it in the middle of the room. "Sit," she commanded Solona. "Explain. Where you went. What happened. Who took you. All of it."
But what was there to say? That the Old Gods were real and Solona had briefly been mother to one? That she had walked the Fade as the magisters of Old Tevinter and stood upon the obsidian cobblestones of the Black City? It sounded like lunacy. They would commit her back into the Fade-lock before she even finished her tale. They weren't ready to hear what had really happened, and Solona wasn't certain enough about any of it to attempt to tell it. Given time, perhaps. But not now.
Maybe it was the absurdity of her day that dazed Solona, but before she could even consider trying to slip away from the interrogation, she found herself seated in the chair, the cold of it seeping through her clothes. With her aged mentor towering over her left side, and her former lover sagging to her right, Solona tried to remember Leliana's stories of spying in grand courts. The trick to lying was supposedly to tell the truth - or at least, as much truth as possible - to hide the small deception within the shocking truth.
"It was a spirit," she said, hands clenched in her lap. "A powerful spirit," she added, reassuring herself that was not a lie. "He felt my ... distress, and opened a ... portal to come to my aid."
Carefully, she wove a tale of half-truths about a benevolent spirit that whisked her away into a pocket realm to heal her. As she spoke, she chanced glancing between the pair, uncertain if it was working at all. She swallowed down her doubts. "He saved my life," she concluded, uncertain of the truth of it.
The corners of Wynne's mouth drew into a hard line. "And that was it?"
Solona shrugged, feigning ease at it. "More or less," she answered. "He healed me. We spoke of the pocket while I recovered, and then he returned me."
"Where is it now?"
She shrugged again. "Back in the pocket or perhaps back to the Fade - I don't really understand how it all worked."
"And you didn't think to ask?"
"I was ... it had ... you see...," she stammered as she pushed through the rapidly tangling thicket of lies. "I was in shock," was where she landed. "I was mid-trauma ," she bit back at them, gesturing downwards. Through the side of her eyes, she caught Alistair's cringe. She charged on. "I'm sorry that I didn't have the foresight to take notes . Next time I'll have a proper list of questions ready."
The silence that answered was made thick of skepticism.
"Why is this so unbelievable to you all?" Solona demanded. As before, she balanced her lies with the truth: her indignation was feign, but her exhaustion was real. She turned to her mentor. "Wynne, you of all people should understand. Maker, your spirit is just as unlikely as my own."
The creases upon Wynne's forehead deepened. "My spirit never kidnapped me from the moral realms."
"Yes, but you're not a Warden. You've never been shot through the stomach and then carried off a tower by a witch-cum-dragon. You've never killed an Archdemon and never been killed by an Archdemon. We're no strangers to unimaginable events and being whisked off by a spirit isn't even among the top five strangest we've seen in the last year."
Although she may not like it, Wynne appeared to relent. "Very well, to the Infirmary then."
Grand show of confidence expended, it was then that Solona began to flounder. "Oh, no, I'm fine, really. It looks much worse -"
"Listen here, young lady," Wynne demanded. "I spent a month nursing you back from Death's door and then another weaning you off lyrium. I did not do all that just so you can die of infection and foolishness now. Do you understand?"
Solona hung her head. After a Blight, an Archdemon, a civil war and even the recent shocking revelations, somehow Wynne could still make her feel like a Junior Apprentice in the Circle again. "Yes, Enchanter," she mumbled.
As she stood, Alistair stumbled to join them. "I'm coming with you," he insisted.
"That won't be necessary." Solona's reply was short and perhaps colder than she expected.
"You're in shock," he insisted. "Sol, our child ... you ... " he reached for her. "You shouldn't be alone."
She brushed away his hand. It had already been an exhausting day for the young warden. She had walked in the Fade - met a spirit that claimed to be both her son and an Old God. All Solona wanted was a moment of peace to unpack it all. Having Alistair trail along while Wynne completed her examination would only draw out the already uncomfortable process. "It's nothing. It happens all the time. It's simpler this way," she tried to explain. The coldness in her own voice came as a surprise. Why did she sound so suddenly callous?
Alistair looked horrified. "'Simpler this way'?! Maker, Solona," he exclaimed. "It's our child you're talking about."
"It wasn't though. Not yet. And now it won't be." She dug in. "It's simpler this way."
Alistair's jaw opened and closed a few times, too stunned at her heartlessness to answer. Yet, instead of shouting or crying, he did something far worse: he stayed silent, turned on heel, and marched out of the room, his fists tight at his sides.
Solona too made to leave, only to have Wynne grab her shoulder and steer her in the opposite direction.
"Infirmary. Now," she demanded.
Solona bit her tongue at any complaints; there was no arguing with the old woman when she was in a fury. And so she followed Wynne to her commandeered infirmary and into a back room in silence; the senior enchanter barred the door behind them. She submitted to Wynne's examination without further protest, lying silent upon thin bed. The process was ... uncomfortable.
When she was done, the enchanter confirmed that the child was lost, but that Solona should make a full recovery.
Solona nodded, smoothed down her robes and rose from the bed. As she made her way to the door, Wynne's words stopped her.
"You are lying to me."
Solona turned back to find the woman's stare hard and unforgiving.
"I don't know what exactly, or why, but you are lying," Wynne accused.
"I - " Solona began, only to be hushed by the other woman's gesture.
"No," Wynne warned. "Do not speak yet. You're a Warden; you have secrets that you must keep. But you will not lie to me." She stepped forward to look Solona hard in her eyes. "So, it's your choice. You can either tell me the truth, or hold your tongue and swallow those lies." She crossed her arms before her. "Now, do you have anything to say?"
Solona could only shake her head in reply.
"Very well. But there is one more thing," Wynne cautioned. "I have followed you across the Thedas, tended your wounds, and nursed you back to life more times than I count," she began.
Solona nodded. There was no denying it, she owed Wynne her life.
"And for this, I have asked for nothing in return. As I said, I will let you keep your secrets - your lies - and I will ask for nothing but this," Wynne warned. Her eyes were hard as she made her demand, "You will let him mourn this."
"What?" The request caught Solona off guard.
"You will let Alistair mourn the loss of his child. You may not have wanted it, but Alistair did. So will you let him mourn."
After having parted ways with Wynne and a few more harsh words of warning, Solona sat alone in her room at the Warden's Compound, her only companions the broken shards of the door and the damn bloodied sheets. She had spent the last hour craving peace and solitude, yet now that she had it, she found it hollow. What was she supposed to do now?
Well, there really was nothing to do but get on with life, she supposed.
And so, with little ceremony, Solona tossed the soiled sheets and shift into an empty linens basket and carried them from her rooms. The ridiculousness of the situation was not lost to her: she was the first mortal to walk the Fade since the days of Ancient Tevinter, and how would she spend the glorious hours after? With laundry, of course.
Nonetheless, scrubbing the russet stains gave Solona time to think, to consider the enormity of her day. The feeling of soapy fabric running over the washboard and the soft splash of the water was a grounding comfort. Solona had no doubts that she was still in some state of shock, but as with all things since leaving the suffocating safety of the Tower, there was no time to process it. And so, it felt as though barely a breath passed before she left the quiet of the laundry and somehow found herself at the Royal Apartments.
A pair of guards watched her cautiously as she approached the heavy doors to Alistair's chambers. She paused just before the threshold and looked to each.
"The King is not to be disturbed." The guardsman's voice was stern but not unkind.
" I'm sorry," Solona answered. "I just need to speak with him for a moment. Please."
"Apologies madam, but the King is not to be disturbed by anyone, for any reason," the guard repeated.
"Oh. I see," she replied, her voice sounding uncharacteristically meek to her own ears. With a stilted nod of thanks, she turned to slink away. The feeling of guilt that welled up from her stomach was an unwelcome confusion.
The guard cleared his throat. "Madam, you may recall, your chambers are that way." He nodded down the opposite direction. The look in his eye tried to say something more.
Solona frowned for a moment before making sense of it: the Consort's Chambers. The guard may have been ordered to stop any visitors from entering Alistair's rooms, but he would not prevent Solona from entering her own and then slipping through the connecting doors. She nodded slowly back at the armored man, understanding. "Thank you," she whispered.
The guard gave a slight nod, returning to stand at attention.
A few quick steps down the hall and around a bend led Solona back to the Consort's Chambers. Another set of guards opened the doors for her with only a "Madam," of acknowledgement, and then closed them once more behind her.
She had spent only the single afternoon there, but the room with its wide balcony overlooking the courtyard was familiar enough. It was early evening now, the room filled with shadows as the sun settled below the city's skyline. The candles and hearth were unlit; she was not expected. With a flick of the wrist, they burst to flame and guided her onwards to the heavy doors across the room.
Her soft shoes carried her silently through a broad dressing room, and then into the King's bedchamber. She came to a short stop there; before her, Alistair sat slouched on the window bench, a red flush painting his cheeks. Solona stood in silence, her planned speech crumbling in her throat.
"What?" he slurred, frowning as he spotted her. "What are you doing here?" He took a long draw from the bottle clutched at his side. "I told them no visitors," he mumbled to himself.
"I'm allowed to be."
His scowl deepened as she approached. "You shouldn't be here," he warned, but did not stop her as she pulled the bottle from his grip and set it back upon the table.
Solona wanted nothing more than to flee back out through the other chambers and into the night, but her promise to Wynne held her fast. Ignoring the mixture of anger and fatigue that rose up into her throat, she turned to sit upon his bed. Once she had toed off her shoes and tossed her outer robes over the back of a chair, Solona settled herself against the pillows, feeling more than a little foolish as she invited herself into a bed she had no desire to occupy. She tried not to cringe under the weight of her old lover's glare. "Alistair," she sighed. "Come here."
He hesitated. Even in the moon's pale light, she could see his throat clutch, his mouth open and close at words he could not find. Finally, after drawing another pull from the bottle, he stood and silently made his way to the bed. Seeing all the confused emotions pass over his face, Solona found she might yet have some sympathy for the man who broke her heart.
She forced her breaths to come low and shallow when he joined her on the covers. There were a few moments of clumsy shuffling until Alistair managed to settle his bulk against her. She swallowed her objections when he slowly curled his large frame around her. She did not pull away when his hand spread out low over her abdomen.
Neither uttered a word. Solona did not trust herself to speak. She was still angry - still hurt and confused and consumed by the unending gale of emotions that coiled about in her stomach. But for Wynne, and for the memory of what they once shared, she would give him this. Placing a hand over his own, she stroked small circles upon it. She even let him kiss her, a single heartbroken press against her temple, his breath still thick with ale.
"I wanted this," he mumbled. "More than anything, I wanted this."
"I know," was the only answer Solona could offer.
Within a few quiet breaths, his eyes flickered close. It did not take long for the alcohol in his blood to pull Alistair under sleep's veil.
Tired though she was, through the dark hours of the night Solona remained awake. She watched as the silent moon traversed the window pane, as stars grew bright and then faded. When the first cracks of blue light pierced the sky, she came to a decision she had not even realized she was searching for.
Though Alistair's hold upon her was heavy, she managed to wriggle free with little effort and - more importantly - without waking him. Slipping onto the floor, she stood for a few silent moments at the bedside remembering what it was like to love and be loved by the man before her. How happy she had been. How alive she had been.
But that was a different life, before betrayal and heartbreak and spirits of Old Gods.
She dressed in silence, pulling the heavy robes over her shift, and running her fingers through the tangles in her hair. Carrying her shoes, she slipped out the side door, strode through the Consort's Chambers, and did not stop until she reached the palace's main entrance. She did not look back.
Solona stepped out into the streets of Denerim, the dawn's light soaking her through, a woman reborn.
A/N: This was Part II of the chapter that took me two years to write ... Enjoy the biannual update! At least it's not a cliff-hanger this time?