EH 17 - Hold the Sky, hold the Stars
Wrapped up in a foil blanket that Peanut had found, Milliara navigated as Rythlen flew the shuttle towards the promised safety of Skyhold. The Qunari medic had wiped most of the blood off of the blanket that was left from the soldier that had been using it earlier. He… he didn’t need it anymore. Milliara wondered, breaths getting a little more shallow with every half hour, how long it would be before no one in the shuttle needed a blanket.
“Wait-” she said, leaning forward and squinting into the asteroid field ahead of them.
“What is it?” Ry asked, glancing over. “I don’t see anything.”
“Let me take over, it’ll be faster,” Milliara said, shedding the foil and standing, bracing herself between the control panel and the navigator’s chair. Her muscles groaned in protest, and the still-knitting flesh on her leg and ribs pulled as the Herald waited for the Queen to concede her seat.
“Alright,” Rythlen said quietly, still squinting out into the astroids and stars. “Zev could always see more clearly than I could in the void. I wish-”
“No you don’t,” Milliara said softly, easing into the pilot’s seat, and taking over the controls. “It comes with too much. You don’t want it.” The abilitity to see an extra few kilometers wasn’t worth the beatings, being called rabbit or worse.
Milliara engaged active flight, and throttled the shuttle forward, unwilling to wait longer. The air was already thin, and the shuttle was rank with the smell of sweat, blood and shit. They all smelled like death, and the sooner she could get them to this station, friendly or not, the sooner that they could be free.
“No, I don’t,” Ry agreed softly, a hand resting on Milliara’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t have been able to be with- …I’m sorry.”
Milliara swallowed and nodded once before she pointed out towards a particular asteroid. An oddly formed one that held inorganic shapes, sharp edges and clear surfaces. An asteroid that was no a station, a massive one, two to three times the size of Haven at first glance.
“Do you see it?” the Herald asked quietly.
After a moment, the Queen made a soft affirmation sound in her throat.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, the architechture is… it’s ancient.”
“I hope that the life support systems are still functional,”
Milliara said. “We’ve got another hour at most before the oxygen scrubbers fail, and then after that… fifteen, maybe twenty minutes.” She offered a fleeting smile up at Rythlen that didn’t reach her eyes.
“We’ll get it working, even if we have to get our mages to force it,” Rythlen said with a small nod.
“And we will, gladly,” Solas said, stepping up by them. His eyes were focused on the station ahead of them, and as Milliara glanced at him, she was struck by the expression on his face. Was it disbelief? or Nostalgia?
“Skyhold,” he murmured. “The Spirits call it Skyhold.”
She didn’t have time to study it, they were coming in, and she throttled back, slowing their approach vector to circle around the station, looking for a docking bay. Something. Anything.
“There,” Solas said, pointing at a small opening. It shimmered with magic, similar to the barrier at Haven that had held in the oxygen at the docks, and Milliara let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding.
“There’s magic here, there’s… air?” she asked, glancing up at Solas before guiding in the shuttle gingerly. The battered craft shuddered as it passed through the magic barrier, and all of a sudden the sound of thrusters in air could be heard. Silent in the void, they were near deafening after such a long trip.
“The magics here are ancient, layered over each other. The Spirits… they were right. We’ll be safe here, it’s been waiting for someone like you Herald. I am eager to see how you make it your own,” Solas said with a curl of his lips up into a near-smile. He stepped back, away from the bridge, as the rest of the Inquisition realised that they had arrived at a safe port, against all odds.
As Milliara set the shuttle down onto the deck, she tensed and waited for something to go wrong. The ship to explode, the residents of this fortress to appear with rifles in hand… even demons. Instead she turned to look behind her at the Inquisition who were staring at her with those wide eyes. Those devoted, adoring, reverent eyes of the troops that they’d somehow saved.
Someone, Milliara couldn’t see who, got the shuttle’s hatch open and the pressure difference made her ears pop. Light streamed into the dim shuttle, and slowly, very slowly, the smell of fresh air followed. The survivors of Haven slowly shuffled out into the dock of Skyhold, leaving the wounded who were unable to walk… and those who were by the bridge.
“Congratulations, Herald,” Solas said quietly, before stepping away to assist Haylan and Peanut carry out the injured from the shuttle.
Milliara swallowed, looking around at Rythlen, the wounded, and then Theseus who was kneeling by a soldier who’d lost a leg. For a moment, she caught and held his gaze. His words were ringing in her ears.
What if you are.
What if they chose you.
Standing, she broke eye contact first. She felt faint, starbursts crowding the edge of her vision.
“I need to get air,” she mumbled to Ry, and staggered a few steps before she sucked in a deep breath and knelt to help up a fellow elf who had half their face covered in bandages. Guiding them, Milliara made it out of the hellish shuttle and into the dock.
Old, covered with cobwebs and dust, the Inquisition was sprawling out onto the concrete. Cullen was ordering soldiers around, trying to organize everyone while Josie was talking to Haylan and scribbling on her clipboard.
Leliana and Maeve had disappeared, but Milliara was too exhausted to worry about where they’d gone off to. She got the elf over to Peanut, and controlled their collapse onto the dusty floor with a soft groan.
“I’m going to lie here a bit,” she mumbled, draping an arm over her eyes and sucking in the dusty air into her lungs. She hadn’t realised how close they were to running out of oxygen until she could breathe deeply again.
“Sure thing Sunshine, you’ve earned it,” Pea said, and Milliara felt a warm hand squeeze her knee. Instead of moving the arm over her face, Milliara lifted her free one and offered a weak thumbs-up.
Maker’s Mercy was real. There had been moments in his time with the Inquisition that doubt had slipped it’s tendrils into the cracks of Theseus’s faith. But now, as he stood on the dock and stared at the shimmering barrier that held in Skyhold’s oxygen, Theseus could feel the very hum of the Chant in his soul.
A week ago, Andraste had guided them here safely through the Herald and Solas. It was… it was beyond calculation how slim of a chance they’d had, drifting in the void, to find somewhere safe. To find a fortress empty and waiting to suit their needs? Theseus turned to look the towers that rose behind him, reaching up towards the stars.
“It’s weird, right?” A gravelly voice asked. Varric was ambling up the steps to the ramparts where Theseus stood. “We should be dead, not… here. Wherever ‘here’ is.”
The Templar nodded, out of his armor for once. There wasn’t a need to be, here. He felt naked without it, but also freer without the thick carbide plates weighing him down with every step. Of course, he was still in his flightsuit, there wasn’t any real supply routes yet and the few clothes that they had found in caches within skyhold were built for people who were less… built.
“I don’t know if you believe in them but, it does feel a bit like a Miracle,” Theseus said, leaning his forearms against the parapet.
“Don’t let Sunshine hear you say that,” he said. He crossed his forearms over his chest and sighed. “She’s as unbelieving as they get. Me though? I’m… I’m not sure any more. The Seeker would choke if she heard me say this, but I’m Andrastian. In a way. I guess in the way that matters. Watching all this weird shit happen, I’m not left with much choice, am I?”
The dwarf looked over at Theseus and the templar lifted his eyebrows.
“You snorted,” Varric said with a sly grin. Had he? Theseus hadn’t noticed if he had, but the dwarf was far more perceptive than most people expected.
“I’m going to guess you two have already had that conversation,” Varric continued, and looked back out towards the fortress. “Bards are so damn good at lying, It’s no surprise she’s convinced herself that this is all just chance. But, enough about me, I’m curious about you, Boyscout.”
Theseus shrugged. “What she chooses to believe is up to her, but I think she’ll come around,” he said. “And what do you mean you’re curious about me?” Theseus thought about asking the dwarf not to call him 'Boyscout’, but that would only encourage Varric.
“You just fought against your order. I’ve seen what red lyrium does to people, but what I saw at Haven? No one’s going to be alright after seeing a walking hunk of that shit. Let alone someone who narrowly missed becoming one of those…things.”
Varric was looking at him again, Theseus could feel it. He could feel the dwarf’s thoughts ticking away. After a moment Theseus sighed and looked back over at Varric.
“There’s something else,” he said. Not a question. The dwarf nodded, scratching the stubble on his chin.
“Look, I’m only gonna say this once. And I’m saying it to you, because she’ll talk herself out of it, but,” Varric sighed. “You got under her skin. Whether you meant to or not, you’re past the queen Ice Bitch layer. Go talk to her. She needs someone right now, whether she’ll admit to it or not.”
Theseus frowned. He- maybe before Redcliffe. But the way she looked at him after that, there was no way that she would listen to anything he said. Not anymore.
“I’m sure Solas might be better suited-” he started.
“Don't get jealous,” Varric said, wagging a finger at Theseus. “It’s not a good look on anybody. Chuckles has his merits, but you know Sunshine better than anyone here save the Nightingale. And the two of them together, well, they scare me.”
Varric stepped back, smirking a bit at Theseus’s frown.
“She’s in the dusty library, by the way,” the dwarf said.
“I’m not jealous,” Theseus said. Why would he be jealous of Solas? The apostate was the best authority they had on the subject. It made sense that the Herald -or was it Inquisitor now?- needed to spend so much time talking to him.
“Just go talk to her, Boyscout.”
Theseus rolled his eyes, and pushed off the parapet. Jogging lightly down the steps of the ramparts, he headed for the main building. He wasn’t sure where the 'dusty library’ was, but… if Milliara needed to talk about what she – what they’d ALL been through, he wasn’t about to ignore a friend in need.
Maker knew that Theseus was struggling with the horror of what happened at Haven on his own. Maybe he wasn’t the only one who saw the dark shape of the dragon every time he closed his eyes, and heard the death rattles of the troops who didn’t survive the shuttle trip to Skyhold. And he wasn’t the one who’d leapt through a warp jump without the saftey of a ship.
Damnit. Varric had guilt-tripped him on purpose, Theseus realised. The frown was back, and he rubbed his shoulder as he descended into the depths of the fortress.
There were plants everywhere, growing in the cracks of flagstones and pavement and reaching up towards the glowing panels that lined the ceiling of the fortress. Theseus wasn’t sure whether it was magic or tech that powered them, but they may as well have been sunlight for how they warmed the stone corridors and fed the plants. Whoever had built this place had built it to last through anything.
Theseus had learned the panels dimmed if no one had passed by lately, which made following the Her- the Inquisitor’s trail easier. Skyhold was one of the few places where she would have any sort of trail at all. Fitting it was a trail of light, really. Team Nova, Sunshine, Herald of Andraste.
Theseus reached the doorway where the trail ended. His eyes widened as he stepped into the library. It was dusty, yes. More importantly it was full of books. Physical, ancient, hardcover books. A desk sat in the centre of the hexagonal room, crowded with books and an Inquisitor who was sitting cross-legged on it’s surface in a pool of light. A large leatherbound book was carefully spread open on her lap and her silver eyes were flicking along the page.
Dressed in some of the clothing they’d found within Skyhold, Milliara looked comfortable for once. A cream scarf around her neck, and wearing a coat of some sort of leather over a soft knit jumpsuit, she practically shone in the white and golden clothing.
Theseus cleared his throat, feeling a bit uncomfortable, especially in his battered jumpsuit.
Millie’s head snapped up and she reached for something at her side reflexively. Whatever it was supposed to be, knife, gun, it wasn’t there judging by the way she grabbed her leg, patting along her thigh before making a face and looking around her for what she had misplaced in the piles of books.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Theseus said walking in slowly now that she knew he was there. “Varric said you might want to talk about… well, everything that happened.” He didn’t realise he was bracing himself for the narrowed eyes and sharp tongue until neither happened.
Instead, Milliara’s shoulders drooped and she let out a long breath. She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose with the Marked hand.
“I don’t know,” she admitted, letting her hand drop and opening her eyes again. “I feel like I’m not at the point where I’m even ready to talk about it, to be honest.”
She bit her lip, glancing up at them then down at the book again. Curious, Theseus walked over to perch on the edge of the desk, and peer at what she was reading. It seemed to be star maps, but the language wasn’t one he was familiar with.
“It’s elven. Written elven. I can’t make out more than every tenth word. Because every tenth word is 'star’,” she muttered. “Are you managing with- I mean, it must have been extra hard for you, if you knew any-”
Milliara stopped herself and sighed, rubbing the mark on her palm with her other hand.
“Are you babbling?” he asked, a faint smirk touching his face, and the Inquisitor squinted her eyes at him in a mild glare.
“Yes, shut up. Look, I wanted to say I’m sorry for overreacting after Redcliffe,” she said, glare fading into something softer. Skyhold was a place for miracles, Milliara was actually apologizing to him, Theseus realised. Earnestly.
She put a finger to his lips, a silver brow twitching down in slight annoyance. Theseus blinked, caught off guard by the gesture, and by how warm her finger felt against his lips. He swallowed. Focus.
“Let me finish, I hate apologizing and it’s hard enough right now,” she said, leaving her finger there for the moment to prevent further interruptions. “I was scared and I took it out on you and I’m not proud about that. Not just because of Nils but because of who Alexius turned you into. And, I felt like if I made you stop taking lyrium, I wouldn’t be able to fail you, like I had there.” She frowned. “Then. It’s confusing. I’m sorry. I don’t want you to rely on it, or become an addict, but taking or quitting lyrium is your choice. Not mine.”
She pulled her finger back, curling it into her palm gingerly.
“So, you were right, I should have trusted you and I’m sorry I didn’t.”
Theseus caught her hand gently, looking at her for a long moment. She hadn’t needed to tell him how hard it had been for her to say that. By now he had a fair idea of how stubborn the Herald was.
“Thank you,” he said quietly. “I’ll consider it, but, I can’t promise anything beyond that.”
The vallaslin on her skin was glowing brightly, flickering more quickly than he’d ever seen it, and her cheeks had turned a bit… pink.
“Are you blushing?” He asked, lips pulling into a small smile, one that grew into a grin as her eyes widened and she yanked her hand back.
“No!” she said, holding her hand away from him and shaking it like it had pins and needles. “I’m just…warm.”
“From reading,” Theseus said, lifting an eyebrow.
“From reading,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “It’s very active reading, trying to figure out the words.”
“Mhm,” Theseus said, crossing one arm over his chest and rubbing the his chin as he pretended to study the book’s contents. “So which one is 'star’?”
“Can’t tell you,” Millie said with a small sniff. “Non elf. It’s a secret.”
“Is it this one?” he asked, pointing to the most common symbol.
“Tricky human,” she muttered, twisting to try to hide the book’s contents from him. “Trying to steal my elven language.”
“Which you don’t know,” Theseus said with a grin, leaning over her shoulder to keep looking at the book. He was careful not to bump into her ear, and he wasn’t sure what to make of Milliara’s slight intake of breath. Too close? Back up? …not close enough?
But she was looking at the band on her wrist, which was blinking blue.
“Ship,” she said, and launched herself off the desk in a flurry of toppling books and cloud of dust. “There’s a ship! I didn’t think they’d get here so fast!” and she was gone, leaving Theseus blinking in a cloud of literal dust. He sniffed and sneezed on reflex as the dust tickled his nose. Picking up the book she’d been reading, he followed at a light jog.
The ship with her son? it had to be, unless there were diplomats that were willing to risk the trip out to Skyhold.The asteroid field would keep the less adventurous pilots at bay.
The docks weren’t far from the library, and Theseus walked out onto the flight deck as the ship came into view. It wasn’t Dalish, though.
Milliara took a step back, arms wrapped tightly around herself. Theseus walked towards her, spotting the tension in her posture. She was coiling, ready to strike or run, and it was the first time since their arrival at Skyhold that he’d seen her like that.
The small orlesian shuttle settled on the deck, the blue and gold lion emblazoned on it’s side.
“Diplomats?” Theseus said once the roar of the shuttle’s thrusters had died.
Milliara shifted her weight foot to foot, chewing on her lip instead of answering.
“Not diplomats,” he muttered, looking back at the shuttle as it the hatch opened and a tall Chevalier stepped out in nearly full armor. The medals bolted to his armor told of a successful career, and Orlesian diplomats hurried after him, one nearly tripping and falling over his robes in an attempt to intercept the soldier.
The chevalier hid his face but he pulled his masked helmet off to reveal a bare face: Dark blond hair, grey eyes. The man from the video.
Theseus stepped forward immediately, placing himself between the Orlesian and the Inquisitor.
“Où est-il?” the Chevalier asked through grit teeth. “Where is my son?!”