Lily squirmed in the dress she had been “encouraged” into.
The rich maroon satin creased under her palms as the thick golden earrings
clinked against golden caps that crimped the ends of each thick braid that ran
over her head. She had been dressed to match them all. Cullen was trapped
between her and his wife, Grace’s hand firmly holding him in place, his
youngest, Adelaide, wide-eyed and blinking at all the colors that swarmed the
ballroom. Only one word summed up his collective ire:
Josephine had let them know in her way that it would be very
detrimental to not attend this ball. Grace had nearly had a panic attack when
she had learned, causing all manners of worry for the baby she currently was
carrying. Halamshiral was not a place of pleasant memories for any of them.
One of the attendants ushered them forwards, his hawk like
mask garish in the light. The doors peeled open and a loud imperialistic voice
“Bann Rutherford, and his wife, the Lady Grace Rutherford,
Hero of Thedas. Accompanied by their two children, Lily and Adelaide
They walked forwards, Grace’s face flinching imperceptibly
as they entered the ballroom. Cullen squeezed her hand tightly, leading her
through the tiled hall and up the stairs, where he bowed low to the Empress.
Grace curtsied carefully, and Lily followed in kind, her head bending low.
Celene smiled gently, nodding at Grace and Cullen, and then addressing Lily
“It has been a long time since we have seen you, mon
petite,” she said quietly. Lily’s back stiffened. The Game had begun.
“Halamshiral is as though I never left, your Majesty. Truly
it is as eternal as the stars in the sky, and just as beautiful.”
Another small, scheming smile.
“Your mother has taught you well. If I may be so bold, I
would like to introduce you to my nephew, Alphonse,” Celene said, gesturing
languidly to the side. A young man took three large steps to her side, bowing
low towards Lily. Celene beckoned her closer.
“Papa?” Lily whispered, frozen in place. Cullen frowned.
Grace smiled pleasantly and started to guide Lily up the stairs towards the
Empress and her nephew. Cullen frowned more.
There were pleasantries exchanged, and Lily’s tinkling but
forced laugh rang over the ballroom. As the pair walked off, she looked
backwards, her face a mask of disbelief and a silent plea: get me out of here.
Song after song played and he was unable to get to her.
Lords and Ladies demanded his attention, and just as Lily seemed like she was
about to slip away, her paramour would swing her into the dance once again, his
faltering steps a far cry from her fast-paced, sweeping ones. She was far more
at home at court than he was, and she was hating every moment of it.
Grace had settled into a seat, and patted his arm gently, a
silent act of permission to leave her side. A duchess settled next to her and
started drilling her with questions, which she smiled and answered effortlessly,
a sly wink in his direction letting him know her approval.
They had timed it well, the dignified rescue of their
daughter. As the music wound down into a slow waltz, Cullen tapped the youth on
the shoulder. Lily smiled widely at him.
“May I cut in?”
Alphonse stiffened. “And who might you be, Serah?”
Cullen chuckled low, shaking his head. “I would be her
father. Now, may I cut in, Serah?”
Alphonse paled, his hand shaking as he stepped away with a
quick bow. Cullen moved into the space, spinning his daughter over the floor
effortlessly, the Lady Dowager Trevelyan’s lessons not going to waste as they
moved through the gentle, consistent steps of the waltz.
“Thank the Maker. I thought I would have to lead him into a
corner and kill him,” Lily whispered, making a face in Alphonse’s direction.
“Please don’t murder the nephew of the Empress, Lily. We
want to stay on good terms with the court,” he said, fighting the laughter that
threatened to bubble up. She shrugged
and spun around silently, catching the swinging skirt with her hand and tugging
it out of his way at the last second.
“He would be asking for it.”
“Still,” Cullen whispered, lifting her into the air and
turning around once, setting her down delicately, “best not open that can of
Lily bowed low and smiled as the song ended. “Uncle Dorian
would call the night a bore.”
Cullen laughed out loud this time, leading Lily off the ballroom
floor towards her mother and little sister. “Boring would be perfectly fine
“In death, sacrifice.” Clarel’s
lightning is not enough to kill the beast. It is enough to make it howl, to force
it to run, confused and in pain. It skitters along the broken bridge, falls
with wings outstretched. The weight of the beast is the last such old stones
can take. They begin to crumble from underneath Lavellan’s feet. She struggles
to hold onto the ledge, fingertips scrapping at stone. The last thing she sees before
she falls is Cullen’s horror, the fear in his eyes, his hand outstretched as he
races towards her. He doesn’t make it in time.
Her insides turn as she falls,
hand outstretched as though the unspoken plea might save her. The mark sparks,
sputters, feels the rift before she does. She pulls at it, tears at the veil,
falls into the sky. Her fingers touch ground and the illusion shatters. She
lands against dirt and dust, pushes herself up on all fours. The air is
thicker, fouler feeling, vulgar tasting. It squeezes in from all sides, a
crushing weight. She takes a shuddering breath as she rises to her feet. This
is… the Fade.
She’s saved not only herself.
Amongst the rock and ruin of the bridge, the others emerge. Solas, face filled
with wonder. Bull, full of a fear she’s never seen before. Varric, shaking his
head as though he’s done this all before. Hawke, taking her place beside the
dwarf, her hand on his shoulder. Stroud, staring at the breach in an unfamiliar
sky. Lavellan counts them all, looks for every scrape and cut and finds none.
There is someone else she does not expect, someone she hoped made it off the bridge.
Lavellan pushes through the
others to get to him. He’s on his knees, staring at green, his hand gripped
around the hilt of his sword. “Cullen,” she says, her hands on his face, “you’re
alright.” His eyes quickly turn to her, wide and half mad, his free hand gripping
“I saw you fall. I – I didn’t
make it in time,” he tells her. “Is this - ? The Fade.”
“Yes,” she says as she helps
him to his feet. He’s still holding her arm. She places her hand over his. She
can feel the way he shakes, the subtle tremor in his grip. In the distance, she
can hear the all-too familiar cry of a fear demon. The rage. The greed. The
desire. Cullen is pale but does not waver, guards her back as they look for a
“Perhaps I should be afraid, facing the most powerful members of the
Inquisition,” the voice of the demon booms around them, echoes in their skulls.
It laughs with mockery, with malice. It
speaks to all of them in turn. “Warden Stroud. How must it feel to devote your
whole life to the Wardens, only to watch them fall? Or, worse, to know that you
were responsible for their destruction. When the next Blight comes, will they
curse your name?”
“Did you think you mattered,
Hawke? Did you think anything you ever did mattered? You couldn’t even save
your city. How could you expect to strike down a God? Fenris is going to die,
just like your family, and everyone you ever cared about.”
“Knight-Captain Cullen. You
failed your charges just as you failed your Order. Under your watch, Kinloch
Hold was lost to blood mages. Under your watch, Kirkwall burned. Have you told
her yet? How you still hear the song? How you hear her magic – how much it
frightens you? Did you tell her how you considered retaking the lyrium when you
found out the precious Herald was a mage? Smite her down, just like all the
other mages you murdered.”
Lavellan’s steps falter. She
turns, looks over her shoulder. Her staff seems heavier, the air colder. Cullen’s
sword has fallen to the ground, his hands pressed over his ears and his eyes
squeezed shut. “No, I – I would never. She is – no, no, no. Though all before
me is shadow, yet shall the Maker be my guide. I shall not be left to wander
the drifting roads of –”
“Cullen.” She is gentle as she
pulls down his hands. “We have to keep moving.”
“I would never hurt you,” he tells her. She smiles, although the smile does
not quite reach her eyes. Her thumb brushes against his cheekbones, the barest
and lightest of touches. Her staff in her other hand, she turns, continues to
lead on. Her back straight, her shoulders stiff, trying not to betray the
unsteady beat of her heart.
Prompt: Mine: Sunlight withdrawing into its darkest shell of green / coils ring by ring like a yellow snake in a tight burrow. (The Art of Sideways, Claire Potter)
It pushes up from the ground: a single sun-furled trillium jerking side to side. The rain patters the green leaves and the fleshy white triad. It’s grown close enough to the edge; Pangara could reach over and pluck it. The sun slants through the rain and she decides it’s too precious to kill. The frantic down-callings of songbirds in the trees flitter through the canopy.
“Any sign?” He asks from below.
She feels him shift and her balance wobbles for a just a second - a moment of suspended breath and blood before he shifts his grasp on her legs and she can kneel. For extra purchase, she walks her hands down the craggy silt of the exhaust shaft, red caking her hands and knees. But when she is sitting on his shoulders, instead of lowering her further, Solas walks with her away from the hole in the ceiling.
The apostate is lanky, but a broad and tall man. The dark wood beams abandoned to weather in this mine pass close to her head. Pangara snatches down to hold onto his tunic and her toes curl as she laughs. “You gonna let me down?”
She sees him press his lips on the side of her knee. She can feel his chuckle through her feet.
“I thought to take you back to your bedroll. There may be old nails.”
Pangara leans forward and directs a meaningful look straight down.
“I possess enchantments,” his tone is lofty, just a hint of smugness, and in response she digs her thumb to the sensitive point where his ear meets his jaw.
His yelp is anything but dignified.
“Put me down, or I won’t tell you what I did see.”
She is able to pick up the way his sigh is an exaggeration of mournfulness, able now to catch the subtle rise of his brow and the way his lips suggest their mirth as he kneels and she walks off of him. He straightens, she turns. He easily links his fingers into hers when she presses their hands together, and he steps closer when she tugs on him just lightly. He ducks his head near to hers and if it weren’t for the way his eyes look like he’ll die without a taste of her, she might almost think he’s happy. Then his eyes close and he kisses her. As always, it is quicker than she can think; his arms slip around her waist, he palms her ass, he nudges her up around his thigh and when she rocks he makes a noise into her mouth like a man begging.
“Solas,” she says, her bottom lip pulled between his teeth - because he’s acting drunk.
“Vhenan,” he murmurs, and he wants her. She can feel.
She breaks the kiss but holds him close, and he rests his forehead against hers. His lips twitch again. Rueful, this time.
He steps away from her and his arms drop to his sides. His head ducks lazily, watching her. The way he regards her is so loose. She knows he’s hurt himself in their escape, in their desperate retreat from the troll; neither of them had noticed the drop-off in the middle of the clearing. They’d tumbled down into the mine. The way the stone had shaken around them had buzzed her teeth in her skull.
A night of fitful half-rest, interrupted by the occasional stomping and roar of the troll above. Sounds mistaken for the calls of Inquisition scouts, or Cassandra’s shouts. But no one had come. Solas had said the Dreams were too quiet here for him to walk in sleep for reinforcements. He’d rolled root and smoked in the quiet dark.
And this morning, rain mixed with the sun. “Halla’s Breakfast,” she’d said, peering up at the sky and the wrinkled red rock carved up to the surface. The mine isn’t all that deep.
He’s been siphoning mana into his wound to heal it. A subtle set of charms, but she’s felt him draining the ambient magic out of the stone-swallowed air. Some internal break, she is able to guess. But he’d insisted that she save her strength. Refused to let her examine him. Smoked. Insisted this morning that he could lift her to the crest of the shaft to see if the troll slumbered nearby.
She puts her fingers against his chest, trying to make the touch like a seduction - but he senses her intent, and gently guides her hands away.
“And what did you see in the rain above us, then?”
He makes her grin by lifting his hand and twirling her under his arm. His breath does not hitch. He does not flinch.
“Red-winged soldernut, chased off by a pickersjay.” She pulls away and settles onto her bedroll. He leans up against the rock next to her. She pulls his backpack near and opens it as he closes his eyes, and she pretends she does not notice the wavering of the Veil as he weaves a weak spell into his body.
The bag is worn leather, soft to touch and smelling of woods and sharp grasses. Pangara gently pushes aside a soft bundled fur and a small canvas sack that holds his bar of soap. She can smell it like crisp comfort, peppery and herbal. The coarse scrape of a ball of jute meets her touch. She finds the jerky and apples in a tight bundle and unwraps the package, portioning it out evenly between them. He resists his portion of the jerky, though, looking into her eyes and saying softly, “I have no appetite for it, vhenan; but one of us should eat it.”
Why he’s being so damn stoic, when she could help. It’s baffling to her.
They eat in comfortable silence. The sun shifts slowly over the ragged opening to the world above. He nibbles the small, lumpy apples - eats them cores and all - and above them rises the chorus of birds in flight, and their songs at nest. The rain has made a small rivulet that dribbles down the shaft and into the mine.
“We could probably risk it,” she murmurs between bites of jerky.
“Mm,” he agrees, but neither of them stirs.
It’s a peculiar feeling: sitting under, looking up. The ground around her feels oppressive as ever - but the opening up into the world, beyond the unexpected cloister of this dark and hidden den, feels suddenly like a rift into a world where she will spiral. Where she will be called on and needed. The varied songs of birds wanting to nest, to mate, to warn, to build, to share, to summon, and to greet whisk a cloud of sound beyond that portal.
He has taken her hand in his hand and he rubs across her knuckles with his thumb. The red silt on her hands comes off on his fingers.
“Lovely pigment,” he says when he notices.
A soldernut alights on the edge of the opening and calls out. Pangara whistles a sharp, short whoop then three high notes in return. Solas laughs.
“That’s very good!”
“We have soldernuts up north, too,” she grins. And then she mouths through a series of songs and calls, sometimes bringing her hands to cup her chin, or putting her fingers to her lips. He watches her sideways and tries to hide a smile when he recognizes a call - and she’s not a little proud of how she can pull the phrases from memory, recalling long-ago mornings spent competing against her uncle to match the squeaks and rolls, the throaty whoops.
And then, after Solas takes another apple from the backpack and bites it, swallows, and clears his throat, she realizes he’s decided that it’s his turn.
Chatter, curlews, and impossible trills and krees, smoothly folding into soft and uncanny tu-whus and back up into the high registers. His mouth barely opens, though his cheeks pinch back, and each song is reproduced rapidly, precisely, and loud.
Pangara feels herself recoil. She seizes up, cusses, and pulls back. Because how is he that loud? It rings off the damp rock walls, buzzes and trills and the soldernut above replies in alarm before winging frantically away.
“How are you doing that?” She presses over the wall of song, and he only grins and shifts away as she pulls at his sleeve. He is done now with all the calls she knew and is moving on, whistles yipping and chirruping in songs more elegant than she’s ever heard, songs that say greetings in deep forests and territorial warnings on the banks of long-forgotten rivers filled with snowmelt. The songs he weaves - they are beautiful.
But this man is never loud, and this? Solas may be a woodsman, and she knows this about him, and he may have developed skill in birdsong and calls… but this volume? She covers her ears, begging him with her eyes to stop. And his eyes have gone sly. And they’re still a little unfocused as he smirks at her. Unless he is using the very thin magic remaining in this shallow hollow in the earth…
Pangara narrows her gaze and he shifts away from her again, pure mischief in his eyes.
“What have you got?” She says loud over the cacophony, and when he scoots another handswidth away from her, still whistling, she lunges at him, catches his side and pulls herself close, scrambling over him, then his songs falter around his laughter as she wrestles with him and tries to get him to open his mouth. “What have you got!” She repeats, pressing against his chest, knowing there’s a trick, and he refuses to part his lips and only grins at her, taking the chance to nuzzle at her neck and then when she pries her fingers into his mouth he suckles on them, dirt and all. She shakes her head, trying hard not to be infected with the dopey, ridiculous grin he’s got twisting his lips around her fingers, and she roots around in his mouth until her fingertips touch the device.
They come to a brief stalemate in which she glares at him and he tries to look both unaffected and dignified with her hand stuffed in his mouth.
Flat on his back, he releases her fingers with a chuckled snort and she pulls out a remarkably simple little instrument covered in his saliva. A flat of apple bitten into a bean-shape, with a small sheet of apple skin adhered to the surface by a very simple spell.
She holds it up. “You could have just swallowed this?”
His grin drops a little and he seems a little stunned as he considers that. “I… suppose.” And then she notices his hands cupped on her backside, shifting her forward a little on his lap, and his eyes crinkle at the corners as he traces his touch up her back; her chest is pressed against his, and his gaze flicks down from her eyes.
Pangara feels herself redden when Cole says, “Found you.”
“He’s got a broken rib, and he’s been keeping the pain down,” she says as she staggers off and away from Solas, who sobers at once and nods pleasantly to Cole, lifting himself on one elbow.
“Cole, thank you for locating us. Has the danger been cleared above?”
“Yes, the trees shook and shook and all the woods hurt but where were you? Everyone asked but there is so little… ” Cole’s hands spread, and Solas nods.
“Spirits would have difficulty navigating to us here, you did well. We’re grateful.”
Pangara links the belts on the bedrolls and Cole snaps out of existence - and the refinement drops out of Solas’ eyes the instant they are alone… leaving the heat.
She says, warning, “Whatever your game, it let me find what you were hiding.”
“A worthwhile sacrifice,” he admits, and he manages, when the rope ladder drops to them some time later, to pull himself out of the ground.
“Yo, Izz, distributor is here, I let him in the back,” Abner says as she barrels into Izzy’s office, slamming her purse in her locker and throwing her hair up into a hectic top-knot.
Izzy groans and leans back in her chair, peering through the doorway into the back hallway. She can’t stand her liquor distributor, it’s one of the more taxing encounters of her week. But as she peers, she sees that man standing there looking at a clipboard and next hand-cart stacked with alcohol crates, is not who she was expecting.
Her distributor is Jack. She sees him every week. He’s rude, and gross, and smells like a locker room. That man there, he… he is gorgeous and blonde, and probably naturally smells like some kind of manly cologne.
“That’s not Jack… Jack is our distributor,” she says with a pensive furrow in her brow as she taps her pen on her lips.
Abner shrugs and straightens her black tank top in the mirror, giving herself a once over before going out to the floor. “I don’t know man, he’s got a truck and cases of booze.”
“But.. he’s… he’s gorgeous…” she whispers, a rock is sticks in her throat as she gawks at the muscular arms bulging from the man’s tan short-sleeve work shirt.
Abner snorts and winks at her boss. “I guess… If you like them built like a fucking brick house.” The bartender leaves to room, heading to start her shift.
Izzy pushes her chair back further to try to get a better look, wondering how she is going to talk to that guy. She immediately regrets the fact that she skipped a shower that morning and simply threw a baseball cap over her kind of greasy ponytail. Her absent mind allows her to tip so far back, however, that her chair decides to betray her, swinging violently to the ground.
“SHIT!” she screeches as her body flops with the chair to the hard, concrete floor with a loud and painful crash.
The man at the end of the hall snaps his eyes in the direction of the office and starts running toward her.
“Mother fucker…” Izzy groans as he reaches her. The man lends a hand and helps her to her feet. His grip is strong. He is strong.
“Are you alright?” he asks. She rubs her elbow that had smashed into the concrete and blinks her eyes at him. His voice is deep and smooth and his eyes look like glowing amber.
“I… uh… yeah… Thanks.” Real smooth response, jackass. “You aren’t Jack.” Even better, let’s just point out the obvious. Now she’s not only dirty, but clumsy, rude, and stupid to boot.
The man smiles, it’s beautiful. Her eyes are immediately drawn to the way a scar stretches from his upper lip, and suddenly, her mouth feels dry. He brings his right hand to scratch the back of his neck, she then stares big-eyed at the flexing, huge muscles right in front of her face. “Yeah, he quit last week. I was given part of his route until they find a replacement.”
She’s lost her words. He’s so ridiculously good-looking. But she’s not used to being so affected by some handsome rando in a… tight… uniform. She swallows hard. Someone should give him a bigger uniform.
Wait, what is she thinking. Whoever gave him this one should be given a fucking medal.
When all she does is stare at him like a complete fool, he smirks again and holds out his hand. “My name is Cullen.”
She takes his hand, making sure to grip it firmly, but shakes it far too vigorously for a sane person. “Izzalea… Or Izzy… Or Izz… or ha-ha ‘Hey You’ works fine too.” Shut up, shut up, shut up!
He laughs and says, “Nice to meet you, Hey-You.” She grins at him with way too big of a toothy smile. She continues to shake his hand too fast for too long until he clears his throat awkwardly. She finds herself and snaps her hand away.
“So… I have your order back there for you…” he says, pointing his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the hand-cart waiting at the end of the hall.
“Oh! Shit, right. Yep. Let’s go check it out.” She follows him, watching the way his backside moves in his tight work shorts.
She approves the shipment and manages to sign his forms without incident. But when he carries the crates into the storeroom she can’t help but fan her copies of the paperwork while shaking her head slowly and allowing her eyes travel his entire body. His physique is amazing, not an ounce of fat on him, just muscles and a light sheen of sweat from hard work on a warm summer’s day.
“Maker’s breath… so fucking hot…” she whispers under her breath.
“What’s that?” he asks over his shoulder.
“Huh? Oh nothing! Just… hot… I mean… Hot day today!!” she says far to loud and an octave higher than her normal voice. The sound makes her immediately cringe.
He chuckles and tilts his hand-cart in preparation to leave. “You’re telling me. Well, Hey-You,” he says, smirking at her and Izzy’s heart springs into her throat. “Stay cool! See you next week.”
Izzy stands in the back doorway of her bar, gaping at Cullen and fanning herself.
Abner strides up beside her, looking back and forth between her boss and the blonde Adonis hopping into his delivery truck.
“Did you see that guy? Did you see that scar? I wanna lick it.”
“Ew,” Abner says with a snort. She chuckles and pats Izzy on the back. “Someone’s a goner. Better take a shower next Wednesday.”
Prompt: Writing wants, must have, must know, / is flesh, blood, and bone, / proof we are not made to be alone. (The Thing Written, Stanley Moss)
title: writing wants flesh
“How can they not expect my animosity?” She spat, rolling away from him and clutching her arms around her like a feral creature priming for the pounce.
Solas tried to keep from looking as stunned as he felt. Her change in demeanor had been abrupt - he had spoken the suggestion gently, meaning only to help prepare her for the meeting with the Northern Orlesian countrymen the following morning.
He frowned, opened his mouth to speak, and then reconsidered. Instead, he got his legs under him and stood to go.
“Your anger is reasonable,” he admitted, if with just a hint of reprobation.
And it was his surrender that prevailed upon her.
“Only… No, only… they’d be fools to expect anything else, wouldn’t they?” Pangara’s tone turned, now strangely pleading - an unusual desperation in it. “Josie has said we’re hardly more than myth to them. She told me some of them even speak as though we’re some long-dead people - a people they obliterated on the plains of Halamshiral.”
He should leave her with her righteous anger and with her convictions.
But had he ever been a man with that discretion?
“Think of what you represent, lethallin. Think of your position.” He needn’t remind her - nothing but her position had been consuming her for weeks, and he saw how the edges of it had already started to eat away at the parts of her that she called ‘herself.’ He had seen her disappearing. He’d fretted over what he had done to her, to her spirit, by giving her this burden.
She sneered and looked away from him. Taking up the poker - an iron rod topped with the roaring head of a griffon, some artifact of a long-gone age - she tended the fire with ferocious energy. The doors to the balcony were open. The fire complained; it sparked to be mussed and adjusted, the thick scent of pine burning off the bark. He paced to the desk and the bookshelves fat and dusty with their tomes, thinking of how young she was.
He thought of himself, and of the fireplace in this chamber roaring under a blast of his magic - furious, grieving - in an age the dust of which had long been consumed by blood-hungry stars.
Skyhold had survived worse tempers, he thought, wryly, as she flung the iron against the side of the fireplace. It was an unusual performance of pique. The iron clanged and clattered to the stone floor.
He heard her release a slow, intentional breath.
“I’m sorry if that startled you,” she said. And then she groaned, crouching back on her heels.
He picked a volume from the top shelf. “Better to get it out of your system now, undoubtedly.” He smiled softly when she shook her head, and he flipped through the pages. This volume had been added at some point in his centuries of sleep. He did not recognize it. “I know you are skilled at withholding your emotions. I had only mentioned it as a matter of good counsel. That you feel comfortable showing your frustration…” He shrugged. “As long as the poker does not come flying over here to crack me open.”
She gave a pained laugh. “It was childish.” And then she looked at the book in his hand, and looked away.
He brought it back over to where she held her knees against her chest, rolling her weight back and forth from her toes to her heels. He sat in the chair behind her, perched on the edge of the goatskin seat, leaning forward and pressing his toes into the warm fur of the rug.
“Are you familiar with the work?” He asked.
She shook her head, shrugged.
“Ah. This appears to be poetry. Exalted Age, if my conversations with Varric lend me any expertise on the subject. The obsession with shape verse serves as some clue. Although, the form’s popularity continued into the Steel Age. Remarkable condition. See, here, this one is shaped as a tower.”
She shifted closer to him, eyes scanning the whole of the page before she nodded.
“And this,” he continued, turning the page, “I believe is meant to make the shape of a bonfire. This tome is quite curious.”
“They aren’t good pictures,” she noted, and by her tone he knew her nervousness at being confronted in this way.
“This work is by one that the regime at the time would have called, “maleficarum.” In the Fade, I have watched the monstrous burning times: an empress wild with her rule, whose pining brought her brother to her bedroom. I’ve seen the spirits reenact the horrors of those smoke-fogged nights, when mage-mothers would sheath their mouths with cotton. That this work survived? And that it lives here? It is most remarkable.”
She smiled at him oddly. “I’ve told Dorian he can take all these to the rotunda if he wants.”
Their eyes met. He held the book and everything he’d denied her - tried to tell himself it was the Dalish, it was the Orlesians, it was the years of slavery under Tevinter that had taken this from her. And in the cities of Elvhenan, in those places of learning, had not reading been considered tedious when an easy lock of memories could be imbued within the flattened timber just as well?
But he had taken this from her. For all her learning, for all she carried fierce within her - she did not have this. Or, what she had of it was piecemeal and insufficient, and he had heard her crying - the sounds ugly and panicked - in private after the Commander had first asked for her reports. He had written them for her. It had been a silent agreement under the pretense, at first, of knowing how little time she had to bother with such trifles. He had slipped them beneath her door to pass on. He’d adopted a rougher hand to mimic her; he had hoped that the choice would not offend.
They’d never spoken of it.
And now there was so little pretense left between them.
A danger in itself.
The light of the fire was golden; the wintry night broken by this memory of summer, fluttering a heat into the chamber that was part fire, part her closeness at his knee.
“Why don’t you just read it to me,” she sighed, finally.
“If I might speak the words with you,” he said, carefully, “would you be opposed?”
Pangara put her hands over his hands and looked down at the book. A twist of sore rage he caught in her eyes and then… a thing he had not wanted to, had not meant to, elicit. Defeat.
“If this is what will make you stay tonight,” she lowered her lips to the insides of his wrists. She pressed a kiss to right and left - and his whole body plummeted into chills and shuddering yearning. As he quelled these palpitations, she eased herself up and onto his lap, taking the book from his loose grip and raising it to her gaze. She frowned at the first stanza. “Protect the flame…”
“Incendiary, which remembers my fair Lad and Son. A…”
“A pyre. The spelling is archaic - ”
“Pyre of the souls. A pyre of the souls crown-reaching…”
The night ended with them both laid out on the pelt in front of the fireplace. She practiced the shapes of letters on his back and he guessed at each. Her touch flickered against him again, and again - and she spelled his name, and her name, and her clan’s name, and the names of everyone they knew and everywhere they’d been on his body. And sometimes he pretended to not know: “S-E-R…. The title of a noble, perhaps?” And she snorted and then spelled names he’d never heard before. And that was how she introduced him to her family, really - letters traced against his back, her loved ones pressing on his shoulders.
She was reading quietly the corner of his office, back up
against the wall. She hadn’t moved all morning, and Cullen needed to go work
with the new batch of recruits.
“Hmm?” She looked up at him worried.
“Would you be okay staying with someone else for a little
bit while I take care of some work?”
“Oh.” Lily blinked at him, her little brow furrowing. “Um…
“Sure. He should be down in the tavern, right?” Cullen
asked, smiling. Lily nodded at him, marking her place with a tiny bit of
parchment, and shutting the book with a snap. Then she reached up towards him,
her little lower lip sticking out in a pout. “You want me to carry you?”
“Please Papa? I don’t want to get lost,” Lily whispered.
He picked her up and lifted her up onto his shoulders,
letting her settle into a spot comfortably. With his hands on her ankles, they
carefully made their way through the door and out onto the battlements.
A few of their friends were hanging out around the door, hands
resting on nearby weapons. Lily’s kidnapping had put the entire fortress on
edge. Varric was dealing cards out to Cassandra, Sera, and the Iron Bull, who
looked up and smiled at them.
“Hey there Beans. Cullen.”
“Hi Nuncle Bull,” Lily whispered, smiling.
“Bull, do you know where Krem is?” Cullen asked.
“Actually I don’t. Why?”
Lily fidgeted on Cullens shoulders. “Pancakes.”
“You could try the kitchens,” Varric said. “I thought I saw
him hanging around there earlier.”
They made their way down the stairs, past the training ground
and into the main hall. Vivienne, Dorian, and Grace were sitting around a
table, pouring over a manuscript. Grace was nursing a cup of water laced with
an array of herbs, while Dorian lectured her.
“You see darling, the cinquefoil in correct doses actually
helps augment the mana stores of exhausted mages.”
“Dorian, it’s incredibly poisonous.”
“Only in concentrations of more than three medium buds per
gallon of water. Oh. Lily!” Dorian shouted, waving his hand. Lily waved back.
“Hi Uncle Dorian. Hi Mama!”
Grace smiled widely. “Hello Lily. Cullen, do you need me to
Cullen sighed. “No, she asked to find Krem. We heard he was
in the kitchens.”
“I believe I saw Cremicius go out to the garden,” Vivienne
said, tracing one of her fingers over the manuscript. “Lily, dear, how are you
“I’m okay Ma’am,” Lily replied, nodding gently. “Thank you
Vivienne smiled kindly. “Any time, dear. Now, Inquisitor? Do
you have any knowledge about the archaic uses for felandris?”
Grace rolled her eyes and smiled, turning back to the
manuscript and looking at the passage Vivienne had tapped on.
They left the hall and walked out to the garden, Lily
kicking her feet gently as they looked for Krem.
“It doesn’t look like he’s out here either, Lily,” Cullen
sighed. “Do you want to go back to your Mama?”
Sophie turns to glare at Cullen, her gaze cutting through the arguments about who should be called in to seal the Breach.
The Anchor is on her hand, the future of Thedas is resting on her shoulders again, and now Cullen is standing right in front of her arguing about whether or not mages can be trusted to help.
“Okay–” she starts, but she’s ignored completely as Leliana and Cullen continue to argue.
She takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and searches for her Warden-Commander voice that she hasn’t had to use in so long.
“Hey, asshole.” Her tone is biting, cool, and it cuts through the argument until they all fall silent. Cullen meets her glare with one of his own, bright spots of red blooming across his cheeks. “Just… pipe the fuck down, okay? I know what mages are capable of. I’ve seen it. And I don’t think hypotheticals about templars suppressing the Breach are a good enough reason to leave hundreds of my brothers and sisters enslaved to a Tevinter magister.”
Cullen holds her gaze for a long, long moment. No one in the little room seems to breathe as the moment tightens between them. These two, once so close, now fighting each other for every step on the way to sealing the Breach. It’s enough to make Varric take interest, certainly, but the reality of it is nothing like what the author will write in his tales.
Finally, Cullen sighs and lowers his eyes. Sophie has won, and he can admit it easily enough. She doesn’t smile, though; the tense line of her mouth stays the same as she glares down at the little pin marking Redcliffe castle.
Prompt: Sea: “Standing next to my old friend I sense that his soldiers have retreated” (Government, Marie Howe, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time), and a SFW walk in the Fade
title: the retreat
“Do you want yellow or do you want blue?”
“Tell me which you planned to use,” he said.
“Then I will have yellow.”
Solas raised his arm exactly as she showed him.
She stood on her toes and held one end of the thin strip of fabric to the inside of his armpit. She let the other end dangle to the ground; when it did not touch his hip, her face scrunched into an expression of exaggerated rage.
“You’re too long,” she complained, and he laughed.
“My mother used to tell me that.”
He was sitting. The rocks on the beach were peculiar: black and red, neither too heavy to hold nor throw. He dropped the arm she was not measuring and lifted a red rock. He smoothed his fingers over its puckered, cratered shell. He made a fist and squeezed - for all it felt like it might crumble, the stone was solid in his palm.
“Is this pumice?” He asked himself, but she looked over and lunged to grab it from him. Solas snatched his grasp up, just out of her reach, and his other hand closed to point one cautioning finger in front of her nose. “Ah.” He said.
She rocked back and at first her eyes narrowed and she looked as though she might snarl. But, as he slowly raised a brow and tilted his head, she moderated. Something that might, if she were older, look like shame flashed across her face. Then she broke into a wide and half-toothy smile.
He could never help but smile back.
“What do we say?” He prompted.
“May I please have what you have?”
He chuckled and dropped the rock into her two hands, cupped tight together.
“What interests you about that rock in particular, da’len?”
She did not answer and it was as good as her failing to hear him, although he imagined the question merely bored her.
He looked away from her and around at the endless beach. Black and red rocks as far as he could see down the left shore, and again - a flat expanse to the right. And in front of them, the sea.
He lifted and opened his arms wider side-to-side. He entreated, softly, “May I be measured for my new coat tomorrow, ma da’vhenan?”
She turned the rock over and then held it in one hand. She had no interest in curling into his hold, of allowing him to cradle her and tuck loose strands back in her braids; she had a singular interest. She crouched, picked up the tailor’s cloth again, and went back to draping the length beside his torso, clumsy now with the the treasure she would not relinquish. It seemed to him that her small fingers should not be able to hold anything - seemed to him that she should fumble everything she tried to grasp - her hands should be too little to keep the things she carries.
“You were absent all day,” called a voice behind him.
He looked around with something like guilt and heard the rock clatter as it rejoined the mosaic of the shore. The sky was dark as ever and he saw her outline, stepping towards him through the ever-present roil of smoke. He dropped his arms.
The pup scampered from his side, a streak of gray fur kicking up rocks as it bolted towards the sea. It entered the spray and disappeared. When Pangara stepped close to him, he wondered if she’d seen. Tucking her knees to one side and her hair grimy with wind and ash and dust, she sat beside him and leaned against his shoulder.
“I didn’t know where I might find you. But I walked as you showed me. And my ‘pure intent’ brought me here.” She smirked up at him, and his heart clenched, and he wanted, badly, to kiss her.
A spray raked up from the sea and shuffled the beach, rocks shivering and turning over like the ground could breathe.
“Did you meet with any spirits, on the paths?”
“Only one.” She looked at him sideways and then did not say more, and he did not press, leaning forward stooped and timid, clasping his hands tight together.
They lapsed into silence.
They listened to the sea.
“I call her Viratisha. It’s too much name, I know. I… I call her Attie,” she admitted, softly. He pressed his eyes tightly shut. He cried in silence while she held him.
And behind him the mountains burst with another cough of fire; the Fade’s green light flashed on the horizon. She held him amidst all he had wrought, her bare knees bitten by the rocks - scoria that would one day grind to fine, red sand and wash out with the tide - and they listened to the sea and the distant songs of spirits touching down upon the earth, and they grieved.