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The Canticle of Fate

The Canticle of Fate

{Private RP} This is the song of those that would stand against the chaos. The song of the Inquisition.

13343 readers have visited this universe since AugustArria created it. Talisman, Kurokiku, Yonbibuns, and The Valkyrie are listed as curators.
Topics: advanced, bioware, city of chains, collaborative, dragon age, fanfic, fantasy, and inquisition (Add Tags »)

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And so is the Golden City blackened
With each step you take in my Hall.
Marvel at perfection, for it is fleeting.
You have brought Sin to Heaven
And doom upon all the world.
-Threnodies 8:13


The Mage Rebellion has begun. In the years following the violence between mage and Templar in Kirkwall, more Circles across southern Thedas rebelled against the Templars, those they saw as oppressors and jailors more than protectors and allies. Soon, all of the Circles had been disbanded, leaving every mage in Ferelden, Orlais, and the Free Marches labeled as an apostate, an enemy to all civilized peoples. The military arm of the Chantry dedicated themselves to eradicating the threat magic posed. The violence spread.

In an effort to contain the growing chaos, Divine Justinia V used her considerable influence to arrange for a meeting between the leaders of both the Templars and the mages, at a neutral site. There they would try to come to some agreement, some kind of compromise, before the war could do any further harm. Both sides made the pilgrimage in force to the Temple of Sacred Ashes, in the Frostback Mountains. Here, at this most holy site, was the best, and possibly only, chance for peace. But it was not to be. Other forces were at work, and the Conclave ended in disaster. A massive explosion decimated the Temple of Sacred Ashes from within, leaving seemingly no survivors, and opening a great rift in the sky, a massive tear in the Veil that spewed forth demons without end. The mages were scattered to the winds and left to regroup, while the Templars renewed their faith in their war.

From within the wreckage of the Temple, two individuals staggered forth from a rift, wounded and soon fading from consciousness. This would only be the beginning. From the ashes of the hope for peace, a new power would rise. It would be led by individuals willing and able to weather the storm, to stand against the chaos that had consumed Thedas. This is their song, their story, of how Fate plucked them from their lives, and chose them for something greater...


Blessed are they who stand before
The corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.
Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.
-Benedictions 4:10



A Dragon Age AU written by:
AugustArria | The Valkyrie | Talisman | Yonbibuns | Kurokiku

The City of Chains

Set during the events of Dragon Age 2, The City of Chains tells the interwoven stories of nine individuals who come to reside in the city of Kirkwall during the most turbulent eight-year period in its history. They come from all walks of life, but are united in their desire to build a life in the city they come to call home. But that life isn't easy in a city where magic, religion, race, and politics clash on a daily basis. To secure their future, they must navigate a dangerous road, one that leads to events that will shape the very future of Thedas.


The Canticle of Fate

Three years after the events of The City of Chains, the south of Thedas is in chaos. The Mage-Templar war threatens to destroy both factions, and wreaks havoc across Ferelden. Civil war looms in Orlais as Celene's grip falters. In an effort to contain the chaos, a Conclave is called between mages and templars at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. But this only leads to tragedy, as an unseen enemy strikes, and the temple is destroyed, leaving only two mysterious survivors. With the Divine dead, the Inquisition is reborn, and called to restore order where chaos now reigns. This is their story. This is The Canticle of Fate.


Dragon Age: The Undoing

Something of an informal, retconned prequel to the other stories, The Undoing takes place back in the year 1:95 Divine, at the end of the second Blight. It follows a group of elite (and expendable) warriors on a last-ditch, desperate suicide mission: to take out the Archdemon's four most elite darkspawn underlings, and bring the areas of the world these generals occupy back under the control of the Grey Wardens and their allies. The team is made up of oddballs who don't fit anywhere else, the mission is damn near impossible, and everything points to an early failure. Naturally, it gets worse before it gets better.




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Character Portrait: Romulus
Romulus played by AugustArria
"We've come too far to stop now, or ever."
Character Portrait: Estella Avenarius "I've never felt anything so wonderful as the realization that I'm not alone."
Character Portrait: Marceline Benoit "Speak intelligently, act politely, smile, and hide bared fangs beneath a mask."
Character Portrait: Cyrus Avenarius "I'm a different person than I used to be - and I finally understand just how important that is."
Character Portrait: Zahra Tavish "If we're all gonna die here, at least we can give them something to talk about."
Character Portrait: Vesryn Cormyth "It's all a bit much, some days. But I'm not alone in this. Never have been."
Character Portrait: Leonhardt Albrecht "You have to rethink what you mean by 'impossible,' when you have friends like mine."
Character Portrait: Asala Kaaras "Now tell me, where does it hurt?"
Character Portrait: Kharisanna Istimaethoriel "Want to see history happen? Don't take your eyes off the Inquisition."
Character Portrait: Non-Player Characters A full collection of The Canticle of Fate's minor characters.
Character Portrait: The War Table A record of the Inquisition's undertakings.

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Thedas by AugustArria

The Thedosian continent, from the jungles of Par Vollen in the north to the frigid Korcari Wilds in the south.

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Estella Avenarius Character Portrait: Cyrus Avenarius Character Portrait: Vesryn Cormyth Character Portrait: Kharisanna Istimaethoriel
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"Some light, Skygirl? If you wouldn't mind."

They were dire need of it, after the doors were shut behind them, and the giant rained fury on the ground outside. It wasn't moving on either, by the sound of things. Dealing with the last of those spiders, no doubt. Vesryn wasn't sure what the others would do about that. There were other ways out of this place, he knew, so perhaps they'd be able to sneak around it, and not risk anyone getting hurt. The last thing he wanted in dragging them out here on his behalf was to see them hurt. As for his own survival... he wasn't sure he'd make it to see that giant again.

Astraia provided the light, a hovering orb shining silver like a full moon indoors. Vesryn was immediately hit by how much cooler it was down here, chilled almost like winter hadn't quite left the depths of the Brecilian, even if summer's heat had settled over the rest. There was nothing majestic about the entryway they found themselves in, nothing like the Temple of Mythal or even many of the other sites he'd visited in his life.

This was a place of war above all else. A last bastion of an ultimately doomed resistance in the south. No murals were carved onto the walls here, no beautiful mosaics on the ceilings.

In part this place was a prison. It was not meant to be pleasant. Old whispers seemed to bounce off its walls, speaking of its cruelty.

Vesryn had thought it a dark entry into the world of the ancient elves. At first he wasn't even sure it belonged to them, and later he thought that they were not all they were cracked up to be. Now that he was back here... he was glad he hadn't understood it at the time. He might've never dared to venture in otherwise. Never found Saraya.

"Wraith coming," Astraia pointed out. They could see its green glow illuminating a hall split off on their left, just coming around the corner. It met a well-placed spirit bolt from Astraia's staff, the purple-white flash almost blinding in the relative darkness of the ruin.

"You've improved," Vesryn pointed out, giving her should a squeeze.

Her smile was melancholy in return. "Thanks. It feels good, being able to use what I've learned. What you've all taught me."

There were the whispers again, words Vesryn couldn't quite make out. He squinted into the darkness, trying to find if they had a source, but there seemed to be nothing. Furthermore, none of the others seemed to react the way he did. "I'm the only one hearing those, then? Whispers, they sound... afraid."

Harellan shook his head slightly; enough of an indication that he wasn't hearing whatever Vesryn was. Khari just looked grim. Whatever she made of this place, she didn't seem to be inclined to talk about it just now.

Cyrus, on the other hand, took half a step and hissed. Now that there was light, it was obvious that something had happened to one of his legs. With a grimace, he lit his hands with bluish magic, applying them to the wound. His expertise in healing was by his own admission something of a nonentity, but he managed to at least stop himself from bleeding on the ground. Pushing loose hair back away from his face, he glanced around for a moment and expelled a breath. “Charming place, but... no. I'm not hearing anything unexpected." It was a bit of an odd way to phrase the denial, but it answered the question, at least.

Stel and Astraia weren't either, it seemed, so it was just him then. That was... not comforting. They continued on, finding first another way out, as light from above filtered down through a crack in another door. Good to make a note of that. There were signs of others that had been here, though it could've been five days or fifty years ago that they'd come. The armory had been pilfered of nearly everything still usable. They came across a few corpses, one of which was possessed by a demon that had passed through the Veil somewhere. Vesryn wondered if they wouldn't find a rift somewhere here. How long had it been since those were their greatest concern?

Eventually they came to a familiar hallway, as they descended deeper into the ruin. Deeper into the prison. There were shelves all along the wall running on their left, filled with old scrolls still bound up. They were heavily decayed, vulnerable to falling apart just from being touched, as Astraia found out when she tried to grab one.

Her orb of light floated down to the end of the hall, and suddenly Vesryn was hit with a wave of dismay coiling through his chest. "No," he said breathlessly, without even knowing why. It soon became clear, though, as his eyes fell on a pedestal there, in the corner. He remembered a bowl, water he'd drank a long time ago when he ran terrified down here from a similar bunch of spiders. The bowl was still there, but part of it had been shattered, its contents long since released and gone.

"She... she needed me to drink." It was obvious what that meant. "She must've thought there was something we could do down here, but... she'd hoped this would still be here."

Stel stepped further into the room, approaching the bowl and running a finger gently along the edge of it. "And it was the water itself that mattered?" she asked, with the despondent tone of someone who already knew the answer and didn't care for it in the slightest. "Not the vessel?"

"Either way... what we needed was lost." The water he'd drunk from had to have sat in that bowl for hundreds of years, somehow preserved. Whether that magic was in the water itself or the bowl it sat in didn't seem to matter. It was gone now, and without he was very much stuck in this state that was steadily killing him.

"Maybe there's another," Astraia suggested, already leading the way forward. There was only one way, for the moment. "We're not leaving until we know for sure, right?"

She might as well have been walking into an empty abyss, for all the darkness Vesryn felt in that direction. The whispers were growing louder, but he still couldn't make much of anything out. There was only one thing to do, though. Astraia was right; they couldn't give up yet. Leaning on Stel once more, he followed after her.

They went down another left, Saraya taking over as the guide once they had a choice of directions. They passed by the place where he'd originally found her, discarded and forgotten, and went deeper into the prison. The cold chill increased until a fine tremor went through him. He felt weak to it, like it was somehow a magical cold that targeted him specifically. Stel didn't seem to be shivering as he was. Perhaps he was feeling it twice as strongly as anyone else.

They passed by cells that were all too familiar. Cages barely fit for beasts, let alone their brethren, enemies or otherwise. It physically hurt him to be here, this place that personified Saraya's suffering, her shame. They'd locked her here in his mind. At least here there was no blood running along the floor, crawling through the place like vines.

"There's something ahead," Astraia pointed out. Indeed there was. As they left the cells behind they arrived into what had to be a ritual chamber, a claustrophobic cube of a room, with small piles of rubble in the corners. There were eyes carved into the walls, eyes that burned with a fire drawn like the sun itself was the iris.


He fell under their gaze, neither Khari's cane nor Stel's support enough to keep him up when his legs so suddenly failed him. He sank heavily to his knees in the entrance of the room, finding patterns of metal in the floor, like branches and leaves. The whispers grew louder and louder, and then all of a sudden they coalesced into a woman's voice. Unsteady with fear, desperate to reach him, trying to maintain control.

Find the runestones. They must find the runestones.

"Find... the runestones?" Vesryn couldn't quite understand what was happening. "She says... find the runestones."

"Look for elemental signs." Harellan seemed to at least have some idea of what the runestones were supposed to be. "Fire and so on, I'd expect." The room was littered with rubble, which presented their first major obstacle; the older elf started shifting them aside with a combination of muscle power and magic.

“Sure." Khari shrugged and started flinging rocks around herself, next to a different wall. Cyrus took the one behind them, more grinding and clacks as he moved pieces of ruined architecture aside as well.

It was Khari that seemed to find something first. “I think I got one!" Slipping her hands along the sides of the large stone she'd found, she lifted with her knees. The stone seemed to be heavy, worked until of a once-smooth elliptical shape. A glimmer of Astraia's magelight caught on the rune engraved on its face; it looked to resemble a flame. “What do I do with it?"

"There," Stel, who'd crouched next to him, pointed at a shadowy spot on the wall behind Khari's shoulder. "There are insets in the wall that should fit." She returned her attention to him while the others continued the search, tilting her head to meet his eyes. "Ves... are you hearing her voice? You said she says to find the stones."

He was, wasn't he? He felt he'd never really heard it before, but yet... it was so familiar. Perhaps because the only time he'd heard it before... she'd been screaming. She was so urgent now, but he couldn't quite make himself focus.


There's no time, Vesryn. This must happen now. The mages must let the stones taste their magic.

There were tears in his eyes, though he wasn't sure who they belonged to. Shakily, he relayed her instructions. Astraia was the first to follow through; her runestone's engraving appeared to be thorny vines, angry and twisting. It lit with a white light when she let her magic flow into it. The others did the same. The fire, the lightning, the light of the sun... when all were light, the entire room was bathed in the white glow.

The roots must now taste the blood of a supplicant. All four. They must speak these words: may the first among the Gods have his vengeance.

"Saraya, I don't... I have so many things I want to say, to ask..."

Do as I say when I say it and we may still have time for some of that.

Of all the things she could've said to him, somehow that surprised him the least. It was almost enough to make him smile. He supposed he looked rather strange to the others, having a conversation that they could only hear one side of. His eyes settled on his friends. "There needs to be an offering of blood to the tree's roots. The four of you, the mages. Speak the words: may the first among the Gods have his vengeance."

Khari was obviously not one of the mages, so she ceded her spot next to the fire rune, offering a smile to Vesryn and Stel. “I'll stick close for a bit, huh? You go do your thing, Stel." The others were already hastening to act, perhaps picking up on the urgency, even from the one side of the conversation they could hear.

“May the first among the Gods have his vengeance." Cyrus spoke first from beside the lightning rune, echoed only a half-second later from Harellan beside the light one.

Stel hesitated a moment more, perhaps put ill at ease by the words themselves, glancing back over her shoulder at him—and perhaps almost through him, to Saraya as well. They certainly did not sound promising. But she drew the dagger from the small of her back nevertheless, cutting carefully across her forearm and turning it to let her blood trickle down. She exhaled audibly.

"May the first among the Gods have his vengeance."

When Astraia did the same, the roots of the tree lit up alongside the runestones, and there was a grating sound as the floor shifted beneath them. A small circle opened up in the center of the floor, and out of it rose a similar pedestal to the one that had been destroyed outside. The same as her dream. This was where Marellanas Arayani had died.

Oh, good... there's still water.

Indeed there was, crystal clear and waiting to be consumed in the bowl atop the pedestal. Vesryn eyed it warily. "Saraya... what are we doing here? What's your plan?"

They drowned me on this water, as you well know. You just need to drink it.

"And then?"

Drink the water, Vesryn.

He exhaled in frustration, glancing sideways at Khari. "Help me to it." He made it the few steps to the bowl, staring down into it for a moment. He could almost see the younger version of himself there, looking back. But that fool hadn't even thought before dunking himself underneath. He couldn't afford to think about it now.

Vesryn bent over, and scooped a handful of the water into his mouth.

As before, the difference was subtle at first. Like the walls were crying out to him, but softly, a mile away. Like the world around him was only a veil that had just now become visible and almost transparent, waiting to be torn open if he just reached. He backed away a step. "What now?"

Ask Estella if she can feel me, with her magic.

He blinked in surprise, and then turned his eyes to his beloved. "Can you... feel her? Separate from me?"

Stel frowned slightly, taking a step closer. Reaching out with a hand, she laid it gently on his shoulder and concentrated, her eyes going slightly out of focus. It didn't take more than a couple of seconds before she gasped, retracting her hand as though she'd been burned. "Yes. She's—she's there. It's..." Her lips parted again as she searched for a descriptor, but closed again, followed by a headshake. "It's hard to describe, but yes. You're distinct now."

"What is she supposed to do?" Vesryn asked. "Can she fix us somehow?" The response that came was solemn, gone of any trace of humor that was somehow laced into the rest of Saraya's words, even at a time like this.

No, Vesryn. But she can pull us apart. With help from the others.

"Pull us..." His heart sank. "But you'll die. Won't you?"

Yes. I will. But you might live.

Might. She was sacrificing her life so that he might live. After all they'd seen and done together, after all this time, and yet still with so much time left to them if they could only figure this out. Now the fear gripping his chest was more his own than hers.

"She... wants you to pull us apart," he said softly. "To kill her, in order to save me."

The parts of the conversation Stel had been able to follow had clearly alarmed her, but at the final confirmation, her face fell, brows knitting and a frown overtaking her mouth. Dismay, clear as sunshine. "There's nothing else?" She stepped in a little closer, lips pursed, and settled her hand on his elbow. "Nothing else we can do for you?" Clearly she spoke to Saraya there, though it was his face she searched, as though it might give her some glimmer of hope not yet in evidence.

You have already done everything and more that I could have hoped for. All of you.

Reluctantly, Vesryn relayed her words. Some of their conversation didn't even need words on his end. She could feel what he was feeling, after all. He was afraid, not of the pain or even the chance of dying. He was afraid for afterwards, if this worked, if he lived on and Saraya was gone. At this point in his life he'd lived longer with her than he had without her. Everything he was, everything he was able to do, it was because of her.

There was so much more he wanted to do with her. More he wanted her to see and feel and experience. She didn't deserve to die here, in this cold and terrible place where she knew only memories of pain and fear and sorrow.

"You deserve better than this."

What I deserve is not something you or I or anyone who has ever lived can say with certainty. What I want is to give you a chance at life, and this is the only way I know how.

She couldn't lie to him, either. She did want this, he could feel it. It wasn't right to her, it wasn't right to Stel that she had to be the one to do this, or that any of the others had to help her.

"I wish we had more time." At that, she laughed, a bubbling chuckle that echoed around in his head. He couldn't help but smile, even as he wiped away tears.

There will never be enough time. But please... let me give you more.

There was nothing else to be done. If they tried to leave, if they tried to do anything, he may well fall over and never rise, killing them both. He could not leave this place with Saraya. His only choice was to leave without her... if he could survive that much.

"Okay, Saraya. I guess... I guess this is goodbye."

She relayed the instructions to him, and he to Stel. The runestones did most of the work, Elgar'nan's tools used to pry the very essense of the victim from their body. Stel could ensure that it was Saraya's and not Vesryn's that was taken. The elven mages would then do something with that essence, but they had neither the time nor the hope of finding the resources for that. And Vesryn suspected that she wanted this, too. To finally move on to the next stage of her journey... whatever that might be.

He wasn't the only one who wanted to give one, either. “Hey, Saraya." Khari pushed out a hard breath, squinting up at Vesryn. She certainly wasn't as used to differentiating between them as some of the others, but she was clearly trying her best. “Thanks for all the fights. I learned a lot, and—" She paused, swallowed. “You reminded me that our history isn't all dead stuff and people being sad. So... good luck, okay?"

Cyrus was a tad more abashed in his approach, though a small huff of amusement at Khari's escaped him. “I honestly can't remember if I ever apologized for the way we were introduced. I was... unpleasant, I realize now. So I'm sorry for that, and thank you. For all the things you did for us. My friend and my sister especially. And... for me also, at the vir'abelasan. I will strive to be worthy of that trust."

"Ir abelas, Marellanas." Harellan added his farewell quietly. "Irassal ma ghilas, lethallen ma'athlan vhenas; lath araval ena melana ‘nehn enasal ir sa lethalin. Dareth shiral."

"Thank you for everything," Astraia's farewell was softly given from across the room, where she leaned on her staff. "I don't know if you know this, but... you gave me a lot of inspiration. And a lot of strength, when I wasn't sure if I had any. I'm glad Ves wandered into us that day so long ago. I'm glad we were able to help each other."

Stel still looked halfway at war with herself, but in the end she sighed. "I hope you can feel this, or I'm going to be a fool again," she murmured, then closed the gap between herself and Vesryn to wrap her arms around him. She squeezed, standing on her toes to speak quietly near his ear. "Thank you. I will never, ever forget you, and I won't let anyone else forget, either. You've done so much for us that it doesn't feel like enough, but—but I swear it. You, and your family, and your people too."

"It would seem that, even given the chance to speak... Saraya has no words for this."

None that were adequate, or perhaps none that were needed. Part of Vesryn still wanted to fight it, to turn away from this and figure out how they could both live. But he knew it wasn't possible. And even if she was afraid of what might await her in death, Saraya was ready to meet it head on.

The moment passed almost without Vesryn noticing it, when Stel was about to begin. He braced himself, in case this was the last moment for him, too. He wasn't about to give goodbyes, though. Too much of an optimist for that.

"We're ready."

Goodbye, my friends.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Estella Avenarius Character Portrait: Cyrus Avenarius Character Portrait: Vesryn Cormyth Character Portrait: Kharisanna Istimaethoriel
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Estella could tell they were running low on time.

That didn't actually make it any easier to do the thing that was definitely going to kill her friend. Especially not with her own magic. She'd been afraid of just this situation before—that something she might do might have such visceral, personal consequences, and the idea that she was effectively going to destroy Saraya was a difficult one to swallow. Even if she'd volunteered.

Still—at least it wasn't something Vesryn had to do.

"It's probably best if you lie down," she advised, though the benefit would be just as much on her end of things as his. She had no idea what kind of reaction this was going to cause, or how much pain would be involved, but it was a safe bet that it was going to hurt. No other interference with the connection had ever been totally benign, not since Zethlasan started it years ago. Estella could feel a tremor in her hands, but she stilled it, squeezing her fingers into fists and easing them again. Her eyes sought and found Khari's.

"While everyone else works the magic, I need you to be here. This is... delicate, and it might not work so well if he moves." She didn't want to say 'please stay here so you can hold down the person I love most if I hurt him badly enough he thrashes,' but it was the thought, one she hoped Khari would understand without any further explanation.

Once everyone was in position, Estella settled next to Ves's shoulder, reaching out to lay her fingers softly there. Contact made it just a little easier, and considering how complicated this was all going to be, she needed every little advantage she could muster. Truthfully, she wasn't even exactly sure how she was going to go about this, or what it required, but maybe getting a better sense for how things were would point her in the right direction.

It was alien, the feeling of two completely different entities in overlapping space. Saraya had always been enough a part of Vesryn that she'd shared his vital signs, his felt existence. But now it was like... they weren't completely separate, but it was as though two pages in a book that had been stuck together were coming apart, starting at the edges, which curled now in two directions. That was the only way she could describe the feeling it gave her.

Her eyes eased shut, and she focused on that. It took a great deal of careful searching, but eventually she found a starting point: the pain of the connection itself. They were beginning to experience it differently, where before their mutual anchor to Ves's body meant they felt it as basically the same. Shared dreams, shared feelings. Estella pulled in a bracing breath, and began to untangle the weave.

She didn't have untangle for long before the ritual chamber itself seemed to take notice. Likely the mages that had done this originally used the same kind of magic, probably much more confidently... and with much greater cruelty. But the runestones appeared to be part of it, as their symbols flared to life, the magic the other mages were letting flow into them spurring them on. They latched onto the target of Estella's magic, and pulled.

A bolt of panic shot through her—she tried to gentle the pull, but like iron filaments to magnetized stone, the forces at work simply would not be denied, even by her.

Instantly Ves gasped in pain, his back involuntarily arching as his limbs seized up, and fought against Khari's hold. It was a good thing she was there to keep him pinned, or he would've moved far too much already. There were tears already springing to his eyes, and he almost seemed to be choking on his own breath, but he managed to utter a single word.


Estella made a soft sound, not by conscious choice, expressing her distress perhaps more eloquently than she'd have otherwise had time for, but she did her best to follow the direction, too keep unwinding the places where they were still bound, prizing them apart with the magical equivalent of delicate, dexterous fingers.

A few moments longer and the color of his skin started to seem unnatural. He was turning blue, almost glowing with it, the light coming from within him rather than any source in the room. It grew brighter and brighter, and she could feel that the pain was increasing alongside it. He should've passed out by now, but the spell itself seemed to be keeping him from it.

Estella's vision blurred; she blinked away the forming tears, setting her jaw and clenching her teeth. She couldn't stop, and she definitely couldn't let this be for nothing.

And then the light erupted from within him, not from his throat or his eyes or any specific orifice, but from every pore in his skin. He screamed in pain, drowning out the sound of the magic pulling him apart from Saraya. The light seemed to solidify, floating embers in blue that lifted into the air past her and Khari, collecting and gathering on the ceiling. That had to be Saraya, forced to leave the host that had housed her for so long.

Eventually Ves's screams faded to nothing, and the last of the light left him, until all of it remained hovering above them, illuminating the entire ritual chamber in blue. Beneath Stel's hand, Ves lay perfectly still, his head lolled to the side, his eyes shut as though he were sleeping.

The tense muscles in her body went slack, slumping her shoulders without her consent. She hadn't felt this drained in a long time, perhaps because of the particular combination of emotional and physical tolls. Swallowing, she shifted her eyes to the ceiling, but only for a moment. Her hands were shaking now, and no amount of discipline was going to stop them. Just—she just had to be sure. Estella's fingers sought the pulse point on his neck.


At first she thought she'd just somehow missed the right spot, or that her shaking was making it impossible to feel what was there. But a second, more deliberate attempt sucked the air right from her lungs.


A hard lurch nearly brought up the contents of her stomach. "No." Had she not been careful enough? Had she done something wrong? Had the attempt been doomed from the start? More of them lurked, but Estella shoved them all away, rising to her knees and leaning over Ves. "No, no, no."

“Stel?" Khari's eyes had been drawn by the coalescing light, but the brokenness of Estella's tone must have returned her attention to her immediate left. She shifted, reaching as if to put a hand on her shoulder, but something brought her up short. Ves's state, perhaps. “Stel, is he—"

"Start his heart." That was Harellan, having caught onto the situation perhaps more quickly than most would have. His tone was sharp, urgent. "Quickly, there isn't much time."

Start his...?

Estella shook herself. Start his heart. If Harellan was telling her to do it, it had to be possible. Her magic had to be capable of it. Placing one hand back on his shoulder, she gently moved Khari away with the other to clear herself space to work. Her breaths were short and shallow, panic she didn't even properly notice overtaking her. It was hard to focus on anything but the vast nothing where they were connected, the feeling of the absence of a life where moments ago there had been not one, but two under her fingertips. Start his heart. Start his heart.

Instinct took over; Estella pushed the magic, less concerned with the subtleties and more with the sheer overwhelming need to feel something again. To know that life was in his limbs and behind his eyelids. It washed over him like a wave over the shore, purplish light dissipating like mist. Nothing. Again. Still nothing.

"How?" she demanded, voice cracking beneath the strain. Her vision was darkening, but she couldn't tell why. Her fingers curled tightly into Ves's shirt, and she swayed where she sat, unstable and not sure what was causing it. Everything seemed further away than a moment ago, even her own thoughts. "How do I do it? Help me—please."

A steady arm wrapped around her middle, bracing her against a larger body—Cyrus. He knelt beside her, pressed knee-to-knee and hip-to-hip. “Breathe, Stellulam. Deep breaths, with me." She could indeed feel his chest rise and fall, steady, even. “Focus here for a moment. My magic—you feel it?"

She could only muster the wherewithal to nod. She'd felt it the moment he was beside her: power, vigor, life. A sharp and painful contrast with Vesryn under her hands. Still, it was Cyrus, and if there was anyone in the world she trusted to know what to do, it was her brother. He could help—Cyrus could help. The iron solidity of the thought was enough to slow her breathing, even if she couldn't quite match his.

“Good. Now channel it. From me to you, and you to him. Go on; you won't hurt me." And indeed she could almost feel it being pushed at her, formless unlike the kind released as spells. He was offering it up for her to shape as she desired, to bolster her flagging reserves.

Almost unthinking in her desperation, she seized what was offered. It was an odd feeling, taking in magic from outside, but it wasn't so different from that minimal brush with the fade that all mages shared. Except there was nothing minimal about Cyrus's magic and there never had been. Even just what was passed between them felt like so much more than she'd ever handled at once; so much more than she alone was capable of. She could feel it all over, under her skin, tingling like the aftershocks of a chain lightning spell. No wonder they were so natural to his hands.

Controlling it was a gargantuan task; she could almost feel it fighting her, like it was a conscious thing with desires and needs, one that needed out. Estella shuddered once, but wrested it into the shape she wanted, pulling in a hard, fast breath and releasing the magic on the exhale, willing the life back into her beloved.

Her fingertips actually sparked when they lit this time, the color of the magic changed until it was as much blue as purple, and left her in an abrupt jolt, one that would have pitched her backwards if not for Cy's steady hold on her. The palm she'd laid flat against Ves's chest felt hot; wisps of smoke rose from the fabric of his tunic underneath her skin.

But the superficial burn she'd no doubt left in the same shape on his skin was nothing to her—because she felt it. A flutter first, and then an erratic jump. And then—and then.

A heartbeat.

She collapsed back into Cy's hold, unable to keep herself upright any longer on her own.

Ves suddenly gasped and moved, gulping in the air like it was water and he was dying of thirst. His head lifted and then fell back down to rest on the stone and metal floor beneath them. He blinked rapidly, clearly disoriented and still in a fair amount of pain, but he was alive. Very much alive.

Behind Estella, Astraia released a breath she'd probably been holding the whole time, coming forward and setting down her staff. "Hold still, Ves." She lit a healing spell in her hands, starting to tend to the burn on his chest. The magic was soothing enough that he stopped fighting to move, and the signs of pain etched on his face began to relax.

Soon it was quiet again, the only sounds being the soft trickle of Astraia's magic at work, and the barely audible hum coming from above, where whatever was left of Saraya remained. Ves's eyes were fixed on the light. "What happened? Was... was I..."

“Dead? For a little while." Cyrus's reply was void of all humor; he carefully eased Estella back into a more comfortable sitting position, but he didn't move away, perhaps anticipating that she still required support. The arm he'd been bracing her with shifted to rub gently at her back. “Stellulam restarted your heart."

Estella scrubbed her hands up and down her face a few times. She didn't want to interfere with Astraia's work, and she probably couldn't move much just now even if she wanted to, but she smiled a little. "Cy helped." The words came out slurred and indistinct, fatigue weighing down her tongue and the sheer panic and uncertainty of the minuted prior rendering her unable to find the wherewithal to say anything more illuminating just yet.

"That's..." Whatever word Ves was looking for, he couldn't find it. Unbelievable. Remarkable. Alarming, perhaps. After that he said nothing, and for a moment all of them could simply focus on getting their breath back, and simply being in this moment. Ves was alive, but...

"She's gone." The words were a heavy admittance, like a new weight of some kind had just settled upon his chest. And as if on cue, the light hanging over their heads began to dim. One blue ember at a time faded and vanished into darkness, until every last one flickered out, and only Astraia's magelight remained. "She's gone," he repeated.

With a soft groan as she tried to shift, Estella managed to get close enough to take his hand, watching the last pieces of Saraya fade away. Her breath shuddered; she squeezed Ves's fingers.

"I know," she murmured. "I'm sorry."


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Character Portrait: Estella Avenarius Character Portrait: Cyrus Avenarius Character Portrait: Vesryn Cormyth
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The silence was deafening.

It was one of those things that one couldn't really appreciate the full weight of it until it was gone. And Vesryn had done plenty of appreciating before this. He wondered if this wasn't similar to how Cyrus felt, when his magic had been taken from him. Perhaps the two weren't so different. He reached inside, for that part of himself that had been there for so long it had become essential to him, part of who he was, and he found... nothing. Silence and emptiness.

Was this how everyone else felt, all the time? He must have forgotten what it was like, back when he lived in Denerim. He'd come to regard that person as someone separate from who he was today. But now he was that boy again, feeling clueless and lost and unsure of his every motion. Like the great stone bridge into Skyhold had been replaced with a rickety one made of wood planks.

They rode back west at a slow pace, with no need to rush anymore. Any pain left in Vesryn was simply that of soreness from the journey. Physically he actually felt wonderful, but perhaps that was just a relative thing. He would have to look forward to training again. He expected he'd never be Khari's superior in skill again. Somehow that didn't bother him as much as he thought it would.

The giant they'd felled and disposed of as best they could. Powerful as it was, it had been nearing the end of its days, lacking any exposure to the red lyrium it needed to survive. The remaining lyrium that had grown on it posed a threat still, but with luck its power would fade and diminish without doing any further harm. Stel would report it to Leon, and he'd send a team back to investigate and properly deal with it if needed. They'd done their job, and put the poor beast to rest.

Astraia had handled herself well. She'd taken to riding in the front, her impressive halla effortlessly carrying her forward. The confidence she'd gained here was warming to see, not to mention the physical and magical strides she'd made with the help of her teachers. She'd fought admirably against the giant, though it had been Harellan and Khari together that struck the killing blow. All of them were in need of a good rest by now, but if they kept their pace they could reach Skyhold by the day's end.

Vesryn was content to sit in the saddle, and observe the silence. He had only his own thoughts to interact with now, and it was aggravating to find how quickly they turned on one another.

Cyrus, riding considerably further back, had looked distracted for much of the trek so far, as though his attention were pulled elsewhere. By this point, it wasn't too difficult to tell that something had happened to him after he'd taken in the Well, though its exact nature remained unspoken. It seemed to take him some effort to focus on his more immediate surroundings, but he adjusted the trajectory of his horse slightly to move her up alongside Vesryn's.

“Are you...?" He trailed off, perhaps deciding that the question wasn't quite right. “Stop me if this is insensitive, but can I ask you a question? About what just happened?"

The first question indeed wasn't right, and not one he knew how to begin answering. The second one... "I would think you had a better view of everything that happened than I did." His tone didn't come out the right way. It was a little harsh, even. It was... strange. The feeling of loss, being on the other side of it. What had he ever really lost before this? His parents were alive and well, his friends had managed to survive one horror after another. He had no practice at dealing with any of this. And Saraya had been so, so distant from her loss... the pain she felt towards was never this sharp, this biting. It was a deep ache, like an old wound that hadn't begun to heal properly.

"I'm sorry," he said. "What would you like to ask?"

Cyrus didn't seem to take the waspishness personally, though he did look to be reconsidering his question. “Not all of it, actually. I—you were dead, Vesryn. I realize that is probably far from the most important part of all this as far as you're concerned, but... was there... anything?" He frowned, looking dissatisfied by something. “I've been close more than once myself, and I suppose I—" he shook his head. “Never mind. My thoughts have been strange lately, I'm sorry."

He wasn't used to filtering his thoughts quite like this. Not sifting through Saraya's feelings alongside his own, but instead stopping himself from saying a hundred things that would feel better in an instant, and then lead to regret. "It's easy to forget that I'm not the only one going through something right now. I've... admittedly sort of blocked out the rest for a while now, seeing as I didn't think I'd still be alive right now." He liked to think he was good at setting aside his own pain to put others first, but the past few weeks had been more than even he could handle.

"I'm afraid I can't tell you what you want to hear. I don't remember dying, or being dead. There was just... nothing." He glanced sideways at him, the first time he'd turned his gaze from the path for a while. "Unless that was what you wanted to hear."

Cyrus let out a soft huff at the last part, shaking his head slightly. “Not especially. But—the people who've thought about this sort of thing, they tend to think that when someone dies, they... return to the fade. The ancients did, in uthenera. Returned from whence they came." He furrowed his brows; clearly he was working around to something in particular, but it was as if his thoughts meandered as well, always something else on the tip of his tongue and half of them bitten back. “What I mean to say is... you might meet her again someday. In a dream. And it might be that the her you see is every bit as real as the one you felt."

He paused, dropping his eyes to his hands. “I hope that's true. In general, but also just... for you."

"I..." He wasn't immediately sure how to respond. Apparently he'd been just as surprised to hear that sort of thing from Cyrus as Cyrus was to give it. "Thank you. I hope you're right." He hoped he would see her. Though of all the dreams he'd had... how would he ever know she was real? That what he was seeing wasn't just the creation of his own mind, or spirits in the Fade playing to his expectations, conjuring what he wanted to see? He didn't even know what she looked like.

"And I hope that if she's with her people again, that they forgive her, and accept her." His eyes fell as well, but only for a moment. "Listen, I don't think I ever thanked you, for being here. It meant a lot. To both of us. If there's ever anything I can do to help with what you're going through... I'm here. For the foreseeable future, it would seem."

“I'm glad to hear it." Cyrus's tone warmed slightly and he nodded, though for some reason he also winced. “And thank you. I'll be... all right. The Well is just—the information's going to take some time to settle, is all." With a slightly strained smile, he dropped back a bit, perhaps to deal with whatever part of it was bothering him at the moment.

It was about another half-hour before he found himself within quiet speaking distance of Stel. Nox was not a halla, but the warhorse seemed to require little to no direction from his rider even so. She was slumped a little forward against his thick neck, her cheek pressed to the roots of his sleek mane. She'd been somewhat out of it for most of the ride, dozing on and off in the saddle, but she was awake when he drifted nearer and offered him a smile, pushing back into a more normal seated position.

"Hey, you," she said softly, pushing a few loose hairs away from her face where they'd come loose. "How are you feeling?"

"About half as much as I was when we came out here." There was little humor in the way he said it. "But considering that most of what I felt was pain... perhaps that's for the best. And Saraya, I hope, is no longer in any pain at all." He knew she was more than capable of weathering it, and had done so well before he had ever come along into her life, but still... the idea of not being able to share in that, the bad as well as the good. It still seemed so foreign to him. So strange.

"I'm sorry I put you through that." It had taken him some time to really understand what they'd told him, that he'd been dead for a moment, and that Stel had restarted his heart. He hadn't even known that sort of thing was possible. Even spirit healers couldn't bring people back from the dead, not without letting a spirit into the body, and that sort of possession had a way of turning out far, far worse in the long run, if it didn't happen immediately. And as far as he knew, he had no new entity in his body, replacing the familiar one. "Saraya told me the separation would give me a chance at living. I guess... I should've been more clear about the danger. I didn't mean for any of it to happen this way."

That seemed to surprise her, but the expression was no more than a flicker over her face before it disappeared again. "No," she said immediately. "It's all right. I panicked, as I'm sure you can imagine. But if I'd been thinking about that possibility the whole time... I don't know how well the rest would have gone." She expelled a breath, more a sigh than anything. "I tried for a really long time to... accept what was probably going to happen. I honestly don't think I ever succeeded. Much better to go through this than the alternative."

She paused, clearly considering what she'd just said, then backtracked. "Ah—for me, that is. Not to suggest that..." She sighed again, more obviously. "You know what I mean."

He thought she'd have been able to do it, but that was really an irrelevant discussion at this point, anyway. It happened the way it did, and he'd survived by her skill and her ability to push through. As for everything that came before it, what she said... he felt like she'd had the more difficult job of the two of them. Watching him die, rather than being the one dying. To know that she was going to have to go on, and face all of the problems that remained for her, and do it without him. While for him there simply weren't going to be anymore problems once it was done. Even the briefest moment of thought about how that would feel if their positions were reversed was more than he was willing to contemplate.

"I'd like to think I don't scare easily, but..." he expelled an uneasy breath, shifting in his saddle. "I can't help but be afraid for the future. I'm not sure what I am without her, or what I'm capable of. If I'll still be the same person. In fact I already know that I'm not." He felt lesser, weaker, smaller. He wouldn't forget all the things she'd taught him, at least he thought he wouldn't forget, but how could be certain that who he'd become wouldn't just fade away? Who could say, with a situation as unique as his, what the effects would be now that she was gone?

"I just... hope I can be enough to help, somewhere, somehow."

Estella leaned to the side, far enough to reach forward and pick up his hand, tangling her fingers through his and then sitting back, drawing their joined hands into the space between where their horses walked. A habit of hers, to turn to touch by way of expressing the important things, or even the mundane ones. Not a general tendency, but one she had with those closest to her.

"Now you listen to me, Vesryn Cormyth," she said, voice dropped low enough that no one would hear but him. "Things are going to change, that's true. And I don't doubt that it's going to be hard, to learn how to live by yourself again. Some things will be more difficult, and take more work, and come more slowly. But you have always, always been enough to help, all by yourself." She paused a moment, brows knitting, then a smile bloomed over her face, slow and sweet.

"How did it go? You were when I first met you, you are in this very moment, and the person you're becoming will be too. Extraordinary as she was, it has nothing to do with Saraya, or the things she lent you. These are things that have happened to you, but they're not what defines you. And they're not the reason we need you." The smile slipped away, until only earnestness remained. "Not the reason I need you."

He ran his thumb along the side of her hand, releasing a breath. It was calmer already, eased out by her words. Even if some of them were his, thrown back in his face when he needed them most. It was so tempting to allow himself to see this like Cyrus's loss: a part of who he was taken away from him, making him no longer the whole person he once was. Cyrus had regained that part of himself, but Vesryn never could. His better half, he'd often called her when he was younger. That was before he'd met Estella Avenarius, of course.

"It's a good thing I'm not going anywhere, then. I've got plenty of work to do, to be where I want to be." And he'd never truly get there, he knew. In pursuit of it though, with the people he cared for at his side, he could end up somewhere he was satisfied with. "And she gave me the chance. To say nothing of your efforts. I suppose it would be remiss of me to let the opportunity pass by."

"Mountain path's just ahead!" Astraia called back. "What do you say we pick up the pace?"

Vesryn exhaled again, recentering himself, and offering Stel a tentative grin. "Home sounds wonderful right about now, doesn't it?"

"Like the very best of ideas." Estella released his hand, urging Nox forward with her knees. "Think you can beat me there?"

He spurred his horse on after her. "I look forward to finding out."


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Romulus Character Portrait: Cyrus Avenarius Character Portrait: Leonhardt Albrecht
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Cyrus breathed in great, heaving gasps, fingers curling into the grass beneath his hands, knees pulled in to his chest. This—coming out of it—was the worst part of the whole thing. The magic was not familiar to him, not the kind of thing he'd ever tried to do before. His entire body ached, deep and throbbing in a way different from all the other stupid things he'd done or had done to him. The red lyrium had burned, savaged his insides. The blow to his chest from Faraji had lanced, flared too bright before mercifully allowing him to black out.

He choked in another gasp, rolling to his knees and retching. The taste of bile filled his mouth, but the heaves were dry—not eating before this was a lesson he'd learned the first time. The voices in his head were loud, all sure they knew what he needed to do, and all of them probably wrong. With a groan, he shifted, falling back down onto his shoulder and sprawling out onto his back. He felt like someone had jammed his entire body into a mold too small for it and left him there for ages, until the press of it was just intolerable.

Like he'd found out his soul was a whole lot bigger than the vessel it used to rest comfortably in.

Lifting one shaking arm to wipe the back of his hand over his mouth, he stared for some interminable time at the circle of sky above. Better to practice this here, he'd thought, where no one would see the result and panic. Or see what became of him after, when he trembled and ached like this. Weakness, some old vestige thought, and whether it was one of them or just a fragment of himself hardly mattered.

He blocked out the still-foreign thoughts—he was getting a little better at that now. For a while, he was blessedly alone, and he used the time to stare at the clouds drifting by, waiting for the ache to subside to some more manageable level. Today's pain had brought with it something he'd been seeking; some good news. It wasn't often he was responsible for that. Cyrus tried not to read into it—more often than not he was still telling people things they didn't want to hear, but... maybe if he could do this, he'd finally have that feeling he'd been seeking for so long. Like he'd really done good here. Like all the risks taken on his behalf, all the trust placed in him that he'd never thought to ask for, all of it was justified.

People believed in him now.

He wanted so badly for them to be right.

The summer sun filtered down into the little cavern, warming him where he lay. The pain was translating into exhaustion now, adrenaline no longer keeping him alert, and for a moment he thought of how sweet it would be, to let himself drift for a while. Dream for a while, as he had so often here. There wouldn't even been many other people dreaming, at this time of day; he could wander the places they'd made without interruption, explore the ever-changing contours of the fade around Skyhold.

But this was surely a sign that he was recovered enough to move, and so instead he pushed himself up, standing on slightly wobbly feet and stretching himself out a bit before he tried to walk forward. The ache was still there, but it was fading now, and he could ignore it the same way he was learning to ignore the whispers. Sometimes he wondered if Vesryn had ever felt like this, when Saraya had first entered his head and pushed him past his physical limitations. It seemed like an inappropriate question to ask, though. Perhaps in a year or so, when Corypheus was dead and the pain had passed, or at least settled, and grief would be lesser than the softer kinds of nostalgia.

Somehow he doubted it, though. Saraya had sounded a lot more distinct and... close, than the things that whispered at him. Not to mention she'd been nonverbal over the connection. Cyrus could barely feel anything from his passengers, but he could certainly hear them.

The trek back to Skyhold he passed in their company, untangling the unhelpful rebukes from the possibly-useful advice, and those from expressions of sympathy and those few particularly-strident voices that were still expressing their affront at being forced into the head of a human-blooded shemlen whelp. He had the sense that when and if he finally mastered the information he'd been given, the whispers themselves would go away. Frankly, he had plenty of motivation to try.

The climb to Leon's tower was spent organizing his thoughts somewhat more explicitly, a more difficult task against this background than it had previously been. But fortunately, the information he had to impart, while certainly arcane and esoteric, was relatively straightforward in terms of practical use. Cyrus knocked, waiting until the Commander bid him enter before opening the door and stepping in.

Only then did he consider what he might look like: hair askew, clothes rumpled, and probably vaguely like he'd just recently had a fever, pallid and a bit gaunt. Oh well.

Fortunately, Romulus was also present, which saved him from needing to impart this information a second time. “Ah, excellent. You're both here. I have information. About Corypheus."

"Hello, Cyrus," Romulus greeted him. "You're looking, ah... worse than usual. No offense." They looked to have been going over either scouting reports or the state of Skyhold's defenses themselves, judging by the maps laid out on the table between them. That would make sense; Cassius had recently finished work implementing magical siege defenses that would need placement on the walls somewhere. If they were going to be firing ballista bolts of arcane energy at their enemies, they needed to be able to hit them first.

But Romulus stepped away from the maps for a moment. "What's this about Corypheus?"

Cyrus laughed softly, almost under his breath, reaching up to push some of his hair back in something like order. “Ah. Yes. About that. I believe I've figured out—or rather, the vir'abelasan has provided—the secret to his immortality. That thing he does through the bodies of Grey Wardens? It's the lyrium dragon. It makes the transfer possible, somehow. The details are... less clear, as of right now, but the important thing is that killing the dragon first should make Corypheus vulnerable, too."

He'd have to figure out exactly how that connection worked at some point. No doubt the taint had something to do with it: Archdemons resurrected through the bodies of other darkspawn unless a Warden killed them. The mechanism had to be based in the same thing even if not identical. But for once the intellectual puzzle this presented was less important than the practical implications.

Leon leaned back in his chair, gesturing to another in invitation before folding his hands together under his chin. "That's... good to know. But if Corypheus behaves according to pattern, he won't risk the dragon dying. It'll fly overhead a few times, burn a great deal of our people and equipment, and then retreat again. I don't see us being able to force it out of the sky so we might have a chance with it." His eyes narrowed. "At least not until the battle is already well underway. By then it's hard to know how capable we'd be of killing it." No doubt he was thinking of the battle at the Arbor Wilds—as Cyrus had heard it told, they'd had to work almost past the breaking point to kill Corypheus once, and even if the dragon hadn't been as useful with all the trees in the way, it had also never been in any real danger. A disheartening truth, considered in this new light.

Cyrus, meanwhile, had settled into one of the chairs, draping his arms over the rests and trying not to wince at the residual jabs of his earlier pain. “If someone could bring it down, though, early in the fight maybe. Do you think that would be enough?"

Leon gave the question due consideration; though no doubt he was curious about the proposed method for achieving this aim, he'd been asked whether it would make a difference. A very different matter to ponder. He smoothed a thumb over one of the pages in front of him. Some kind of diagram of one of Cassius's machines, no doubt. The notes looked to be in different handwriting, though—perhaps additional modifications from either Rilien or the little dwarven engineer they employed.

"I'd say it would give us a real chance," he replied at last. "Which is more than we'd probably have without."

"How are we to do that, though?" Romulus asked, posing the question Leon had undoubtedly been thinking of. "No matter where the battle takes place, we can't afford to be shooting at the sky with our siege engines. Same with our mages. For the army to have any chance to hold, they'll need those groups targeting the ground troops. The dragon simply takes too many resources to deal with. The army would cut us to ribbons by the time we brought it down."

The funny thing was, a few years ago he'd have reveled in this, the ability to do something that would otherwise take siege engines or multiple mages to achieve. Now, though, Cyrus almost didn't want to mention it, because there was a very real chance he'd fail and then whatever disaster followed could be laid squarely at his feet. Not something he really wanted to risk, but there was hardly much choice this time.

“Well, the method is still... in progress, but I think I could do it. Perhaps I and one or two other people, for good measure. Mages, ideally, or at least someone with a ranged weapon. You'd just have to make sure not to shoot at me, as the magic would involve shapeshifting. Getting into the air with the dragon."

"I should probably be surprised, but at this point I think I've lost the ability," Leon said wryly, shrugging his broad shoulders. "I think I'll let you choose your associates for this; it's important enough that you can have anyone who isn't me or one of the Inquisitors, and it doesn't sound like we'd be ideal choices anyway." He arched an eyebrow. "Did you have someone in mind already?"

“I need a mage of considerable power who isn't afraid of heights or dragons. My options are limited." That said, he hadn't come here without giving it a bit of thought already. He'd briefly considered both Aurora and Asala, but neither had magic well-suited for this: Asala would be much more useful on the ground, and Aurora's best magic was within melee range. Besides, he didn't honestly feel comfortable enough with either of them for it. He didn't know that they were capable, psychologically in the one case and magically in the other, of doing what would be required.

Harellan he didn't trust enough. Stellulam would obviously be needed elsewhere. It left him with one real option, and while he was still a bit... concerned about the violence involved, he could at least ask. “I was planning to ask Astraia. If she's unwilling, I suppose it will have to be Harellan."

Romulus seemed to be having quite a bit of trouble following all of this, judging by the perplexed expression on his face. "So... you're going to be shapeshifting into something that can keep up with Corypheus's dragon, and somehow carrying one of our least-experienced mages to help you fight it." He fell silent for a moment, taking a seat on the edge of Leon's desk. "That sounds crazy enough to be one of our plans, sure. What, uh... what was in that water you drank again?"

Cyrus cackled, the laughter bubbling up and spilling out of him before he'd really had a chance to stop it. It wasn't that funny even, but so spot-on that he couldn't help himself. Incisive, even. “I promise I'm not any crazier than I've ever been." He paused, still smiling, then amended. “Ah, wait—not comforting. Let me try again: I'm fully aware of how insane this sounds. I wouldn't even be suggesting it if we had anything else that could do the job without leaving us too weakly-defended. And you don't have to worry about her, at least. Inexperienced she may be, but hitting large targets with powerful spells is something she does very well."

That much, at least, he was quite serious about. The choice was actually quite a rational one, from a strategic perspective.

"Considering our track record with your crazy plans in particular, I'm willing to take the chance." Leon was grinning as well, shaking his head faintly at the same time. "You know, some of what we've done is entirely textbook strategy. Other times... I feel like everything I ever learned about winning battles was entirely useless. Just add dragons."

Add dragons, indeed.

“Good." Cyrus expelled a sigh, his smile fading. “If anyone comes up with anything more sane in the meantime, please let me know. I'd be happy to cede the floor, so to speak."


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Character Portrait: Estella Avenarius
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Estella's fingers moved lightly over the lute's neck, pressing just enough on the strings to shorten the length and change the sound accordingly. The placements felt natural now; she could shift around on instinct rather than with slow, deliberate thought for each chord change, even on more complicated pieces like this one—a rich lullaby Rilien had referred to as a nocturne. She liked that; night music. It invoked a feeling of peace, of something being drawn to a sweet, slow conclusion, the notes themselves best held out just a tiny bit longer than the sheet music demanded, given that sleepy lassitude.

It wasn't quite time for Skyhold to go to sleep yet, though; the light coming in through the tower windows into the rookery was still mellow violet, darkening to indigo as the dusk faded into evening. The ravens and occasional pigeon had started to roost, the cawing and clacking of midafternoon traded for the rustling of feathers and the quiet coos brought on by full bellies and warm summer nights. She tried to let it lull her as well, but that was never so easy.

She couldn't deny that she felt lighter lately. It would be impossible not to, with Ves's recovery going so well, at least physically. He seemed to be doing all right from an emotional perspective as well, though she endeavored not to pry too much, and let things happen in the time and at the pace they needed to. Saraya's absence was still a palpable thing, even for her, but in time it would become easier not to notice constantly.

Time, however, was just the issue. Changing chords, Estella frowned when one of the notes sounded off, pausing and striking it again. Ah. Slightly out of tune, then. Stilling the strings with her palm, she shifted her other hand up the neck and turned the tuning peg a little, then tried again.

As much as she wanted to believe all of them had all the time in the world, she knew that the reality was they'd no doubt be facing Corypheus very soon, perhaps within a matter of weeks. Those weeks would definitely be all that some of the Inquisition had left to live. This was an indisputable fact, of the kind Rilien no doubt dealt with every day. She did, too, almost. At least lately. The final offers of support were coming in, and now they included ground troop estimates, people that would be coming to Skyhold or joining the march further down the mountains. Julien's household forces, as well as Julien himself, were already here; they'd had a nice time catching up yesterday. Unfortunately, preparations were ever more urgent. Only the late hour and her guilt for having so little time to spare for Rilien lately had torn her away from her own work to be here.

The note she wanted sounded, clear and pure, and she resumed the song, shifting her eyes to where her teacher worked at his desk. Many people had taught Estella things, but it was him that she would always consider her teacher. Just like Lucien would always be her Commander, perhaps, even if not literally anymore.

Rilien changed little, even as the years in his life increased. At nearly forty, he still looked almost exactly the same as he had at thirty-one, when first they met. Or perhaps he'd simply changed so gradually that he seemed the same. For surely there were signs there, a few thin lines appearing around his eyes that had once been elsewhere. Perhaps his tranquility, and the evenness of keel that came with it, had prevented anything more than that for now. His hair had always been white, and so it wouldn't grey out over time, either, leaving him a bit timeless, in a certain way.

He likely sensed her eyes on him, for he concluded his writing a few moments after she put them there, lifting his to meet them. “Your playing has become beautiful." His tone was almost warm, in that particular way that he had for her and perhaps her alone. His warmth for his other friends was different, and for Sparrow different again. A short pause, and then he amended his statement. “You have become beautiful." It was the most matter-of-fact statement, from him; he dropped his eyes momentarily to sort the paper away into a stack of them as though it warranted no special mention.

She'd been expecting some commentary on her playing, perhaps a mild reminder that she ought really have tuned the lute before she began to play, but certainly not an outright compliment. And not that. Rilien was sparing with his praise, and when he gave it, it was usually specific to a strike, or a song, or at most to a skill. Not to... not like this.

He didn't mean it as a comment about her appearance, of course. For all that his almost dandyish appearance might suggest otherwise, there wasn't a single thing about Rilien that was vain, or cared about other people's appearances. It could only be a remark about her character, and that was infinitely more flattering. Especially coming from someone who had never once in their entire eight-year acquaintance lied to her. "I... thank you." It seemed far too little to say in response to something so momentous, but it was all she could come up with in her surprise. Her fingers had stopped moving entirely, and she hadn't even noticed until now.

He nodded, an easy acceptance of the thanks, moving a few more papers around in deliberate fashion before he angled his chair to be facing her instead, drawing his legs up beneath him so that they were crossed. “I believe that you could succeed at most anything you should decide you wish to do. And I believe you will survive what comes for us. Have you given thought to what these things might mean for the future?" The way he angled his head slightly to the side suggested that he knew the answer already, but as was typical, he did not attempt to speak for her.

Also as was typical, his question cut right to the heart of something important. As precise with words as with knives. Estella sighed and set the lute aside, leaning it up against the side of the chair. "I've tried not to, so far," she admitted. That didn't means she'd been able to avoid it, though, and the topic had already come up once or twice, only to be deferred. "I'm not sure how smart it would be, to think about those things while Corypheus is still alive."

Defeating him was the purpose that united every single person here, and no small number elsewhere, too. And it was far from a guaranteed victory, either, so it seemed best just to... put all the energy she had for thinking about anything important into thinking about it.

"What about you?" This, at least, was something she'd kind of wondered about. "Will you be going back to Orlais after all this? To work for Com—er. Lucien?" It was very hard to think of him as "Emperor Lucien" still, and she had a feeling he'd prefer she use his name anyhow.

“I believe I will do so, eventually." It was hardly a surprising answer. Though he'd dedicated himself to the Inquisition's work with the same deliberate care he gave everything, Rilien had always been Lucien's intelligence man before he was anything—and it was only because Lucien had asked him to be here that he was. No doubt he would have helped anyway; he certainly understood the value of the cause, and had no few friends in the Inquisition, too. But that wasn't the same as what he did now. “There will come a time when he needs what I can do more than you do. The agents here know their tasks, and with enough time to select and prepare a replacement for myself, I do not anticipate many difficulties."

He settled his hands on his knees, regarding her evenly. “I can understand why it is difficult to think about the future now, but you must. As one of the leaders of this organization, you need to anticipate the challenges you will face in the times to come, and prepare for them as well as you are able. You have enemies. For now, we remain ahead of them, but that will get harder to do, when the task for which you came together is done, and the necessity of the Inquisition is no longer as obvious or politically convenient."

He was right, of course. But thinking about the future had just become a much more daunting task. Even if she'd been expecting him to go back to Orlais eventually, it was sort of another thing to hear him confirm it. She knew that a lot of this future-thinking, and protecting the Inquisition against the political maneuvers of its enemies, was something Rilien did now, in the shadows and with information as the weapon. She'd learned a lot of things from him, but Estella had no illusions that she was capable of that kind of subtlety. Knowing when to bluff, when to lie, and when to fold were things she could do perfectly well in Wicked Grace, but when it came to things with more complexity like this—she'd be hopeless.

"Do you think... I mean what if they're right?" She pursed her lips, mirroring his posture and trying to pick out exactly what she meant. "I know that from here it looks like the work will never be over. The Venatori won't disappear just because Corypheus does. I know we haven't gotten all the red lyrium yet either. But aren't those the kinds of things that other people can do? What's really left for us after Corypheus is gone?"

“Important questions." Rilien conceded this with a slight dip of his head. “But consider something. Was the Inquisition founded to hunt Venatori or red lyrium? Does it exist for the sole purpose of eliminating Corypheus? Is that what you would do no matter what it cost?"

No matter what it cost? That was a broad question, though not an especially hard one to answer. "No," she replied, shaking her head emphatically. "I mean, we'd do it at a lot of cost, but not absolutely anything."

It was clearly the answer Rilien had been expecting, because the follow-up was immediate. “What would you be unwilling to sacrifice?"

Out of absolutely anything? Estella pursed her lips. "Well, I mean... the obvious things, I guess. I wouldn't be willing to hurt innocent people to do it. Ones that hadn't volunteered for the fight, I mean. I wouldn't purge an Alienage." She didn't quite manage to avoid venom in the last words; thinking about that night still rankled her, made her itch underneath her skin. "Justice. I wouldn't give up justice. I wouldn't torture. There's always a better way than that. Always." She blinked, a little surprised by how certain she sounded. She'd always thought these things, but... maybe not in a form she was so willing to express so stridently.

One of those faint smiles appeared on Rilien's face, then, softening his sharp contours and making him look for once a little more like an elf of his age. “And does the death of Corypheus ensure that there will always be justice?"

"Of course not." Estella exhaled. It seemed she had her answer about that much, at least. But still: it was hardly complete. "But I don't think other countries would really appreciate us fixing their injustices, if that was even something we could do. We can't just... get a party of the Irregulars together and go... I don't know. Overturn bad laws or force people to listen to the voiceless." If they even tried that, they'd be exactly the malignant foreign influence many in Orlais and Ferelden already accused them of being.

A soft gust of air left Rilien, almost amusement. “No. That you could not do. But power and influence are not so simple as weapons and the bodies to wield them. You will be heroes to Thedas. There are many who will bend ear to you for that alone. And your work has made you friends as well as enemies, friends who might be able to act more directly than you can. You will always be armed with information, even when I am no longer responsible for its provision. This I promise you. What you need to decide is how best to make use of what you will have, and to what aims the Inquisition will apply itself."

The way he talked about it, she could almost see it happening. It would be so very different from what they did now, but also... a natural progression in a way. What did an engine of war do when there was no more war to fight? Surely the thing to do was find a way to repurpose the parts, to do the best they could to advance their ideals and their causes without drawing steel. No doubt it would be a long, slow process to learn, but—but she could see herself doing it. Doing this. Maybe for the rest of her life.

She certainly couldn't imagine being anywhere else anymore. As wonderful as her time with the Lions had been, Estella knew she just wasn't a mercenary anymore. She couldn't go back to it; it wouldn't feel like it fit. Part of her was afraid of that. "I just barely feel like I have this part under control," she admitted. "And now it looks like I have to be something different again. I don't know if I have another big change like that in me."

“Then it is fortunate for you that it would not be a big change." Rilien blinked at her, one eyebrow quirking almost too subtly to notice. Behind him one of the crows adjusted herself, burying her head under a wing. “I have known you since you were barely more than a girl, Estella. And I consider it a good thing for us all that you are in essence the same person you were then."

She scoffed softly, letting her legs fall back down so her feet were solid on the ground. "You can't be serious. I think about that girl and I barely recognize her as me. I'm not saying I'm suddenly amazing or anything, but I was so—" She sighed harshly. "Lost. Afraid. Helpless. And honestly pretty useless." Even thinking back on it almost made her cringe. She'd hated the person she was then. Hated herself, in a deep, terrible way that had required a lot of work to even begin to repair. And while she could probably still stand to be a little more confident and brave and any number of other things... she liked to think she'd come a long way.

“And willing to listen. And empathetic. And curious. And fundamentally good-hearted. The last is a trait I recognize, even if I understand it poorly." He paused, studying her face. “I did not say you had not changed at all. Only that your essence is the same. It will weather what comes. You will see."

His confidence warmed her, even if she didn't quite share it. That at least was nothing new. "Are you going to tell me that all I have to do is keep trying?" It was a profound oversimplification of the advice he'd offered on a day what seemed like a lifetime ago, the same day he'd given her the sword she still wore almost all the time at her hip. It felt like part of her now, honestly.

“You are beyond the need for such advice. Nothing you could do would disappoint me, Estella." He stood, offering a hand so that she could do the same, holding his other just far enough apart from his body that she could recognize the invitation in it.

It was one she gladly accepted, stepping into his embrace and winding her arms around him in turn. Her sigh was soft, contented. "I'll miss you, when you go."

Rilien stroked one hand down her hair. “I will never be far."


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In spite of everything, Astraia was focused today.

Block, turn the blade, kick back, retreat, loose a spirit bolt, sidestep and slash. Her training with Harellan looked more like a dance when she was excelling, the bladed staff's comfortable weight in her hands as easy to manipulate as the arcane energy she could summon in such great amounts. She was getting stronger too, able to practice longer, able to string together more and more without wilting and needing rest. The Arbor Wilds had shown her how much committment she needed if she wanted to follow this path. She'd seen up close the price of failure.

Harellan never missed a beat. Every slash she threw he turned aside, every thrust he deflected. Every spell she worked into her defense he blocked or dispelled out of the air. She wasn't really fighting him, she knew, but it still felt good to keep it up as long as she could. She remembered when she'd barely been able to block a single swing, when she could barely hit a target sitting still at close range. She almost had disdain for that version of herself. Tiny and weak, utterly lacking in confidence.

That girl would not have even considered what Cyrus had offered her. Let alone accepted it.

She still didn't know if she believed him, but Cyrus had never lied to her before. She trusted him as much as anyone here, but it was still difficult to wrap her head around. That he could turn himself into such a creature and combat the dragon Corypheus commanded. And that he wanted her of all people to go with him, and fight the dragon. Not any of the other powerful mages the Inquisition could speak of. Her. It felt like an honor, but it also sort of felt like suicide.

How could she say no?

"Damn it," she drew up short when she finally made a mistake, sidestepping when she should have blocked, or dashed back. Harellan's magic blade hovered a moment near her throat, and the round ended the way it always did. Another practice death. She backed off a few steps, expelling and taking in a few breaths to try and get her wind back. "That was good, though. We should go again." Anything to keep her mind focused, and not thinking about the insanity she was willingly giving herself to.

Harellan smiled slightly, then shook his head, stepping back a pace and letting the blade fade away. "Your drive is admirable, but it is equally important to conserve your strength. We don't know when the battle will be upon us." He glanced towards the entrance, brow knit almost as though he expected some piece of it to intrude upon their sanctuary at any moment. It remained quiet, of course, and he exhaled a soft breath. She never did seem to wind him.

"You've been asked to do something quite tremendous." His eyes, bright leaf-green, shifted back to hers. "Is there anything you wish to discuss about it? Or perhaps about what is to come, in general?"

"Tremendous, that's... one word for it." Astraia found that she had to keep moving, even if she reduced herself to very slow steps, pacing side to side, almost unconciously shifting the position of her staff around into various guards. She knew she didn't feel settled on this, like there was something she wanted Harellan to say that would solidify her certainty. He was so good at that, dragging out that confidence from wherever it was buried in the depths of her being.

"I've been asked to—" she cut herself off, taking a step closer and lowering her voice, the only way she could make herself put it to words. "I've been asked to help fight a dragon that no one has been able to even hurt very much, and I'm going to be doing that by riding another dragon. That's..." She struggled for a more eloquent way to describe it than insane. "That's even crazier than anything Khari has done."

And that was saying something.

"Has this sort of thing ever been done before?" she asked. "Killing dragons, sure, for whatever reason people seem to make a hobby of that, but riding them? Are there any records of anything like that?"

Harellan laughed softly, a gentle sound free of ridicule. "It's been known to happen." With a slight shrug, he settled in the grass, apparently unconcerned with her continued movement. "It wasn't commonplace among the ancients, but not vanishingly-rare, either. For perhaps a more readily-analogous example, there are records of such a thing as late as the Second Blight. A lady Grey Warden and a shapeshifting friend of hers, as I understand it. They slew an Archdemon." Where he'd heard such a tale was impossible to say without asking him, but he did seem to have a lot of information that just wasn't readily available to anyone else.

"Perhaps also worth noting is something rather important. While most dragons are very intelligent animals, Cyrus is rather something different. The fact that no one has yet raised an alarm saying they've sighted such a creature around Skyhold is, I think, rather useful testament to his ability to override any instincts that might plague him." Something about saying that must have amused him, because he maintained a crooked half-smile throughout, even though the words themselves were perfectly serious.

She wasn't sure if that was reassuring or not. She also wasn't sure she really believed any of this was happening. Maybe she wouldn't until she was actually in the air, holding on to Cyrus's... what would she be hanging on to? And with what? She was supposed to be casting spells while this was going on, so at least one hand would be kept on her staff. Maybe he'd have spines of some sort that she could grab, and preferably not accidentally impale herself with. Then maybe she could just squeeze with her legs around his—

No, that thought was getting a little too strange to be allowed in her head. She sighed, suddenly ceasing her movement and putting both hands on her staff so she could plant it in the ground and lean on it a little more. This was just something she was going to have to deal with when it came. And she would find a way to do that. It was too important to everyone here, to all the people she'd come to call her friends. Cyrus asked her, when he could have asked someone else. She wasn't sure what to do with that trust, and it terrified her more than a little, but if that fear was the only thing that could break that trust, she would find a way around it.

"Okay." She released another breath. In through the nose, out through her lips. "I'm okay." A single nervous laugh escaped her with the next breath. "Every time I think my life with the Inquisition can't get any stranger, something else happens. I thought everything with Saraya was going to be as unbelievable as it got." Fighting a giant, traveling to the very same spot where Saraya had "died," seeing her fade away like that when they pulled her from Ves. Seeing Stel bring him back to life.

The thought of Ves made a realization hit her. Something about Skygirl taking on new meaning. She forced it aside.

"I don't think I've asked you what you thought about all that. About Saraya." Everyone had mostly been left to their own thoughts on the way back, and afterwards. It wasn't an easy topic for any of them to talk about, for their own separate reasons. "What did you say to her, before she died? I didn't quite catch it."

"Her loss is a great shame." Harellan said this with obvious sincerity, pressing his palm down against the grass and leaning back slightly. The other rubbed absently at the shorn side of his head. "I told her I hoped she found her kin again, and that she would be happy among them. It was a... benediction, more or less. The kind of thing you might say to a friend who was setting out on a very long journey. Or to someone about to slip into Uthenera. It seemed appropriate, for the end of a life so long and full of trials."

He hummed slightly, something more clearly near the tip of his tongue. After a moment, he continued. "What happened after... I suspected it was possible, but I'd never seen anyone actually achieve that. Bringing the dead back to life." Harellan considered that, then amended. "Well, not in that way, at least. Necromancy is usually rather less... kind. I suppose the Inquisition really does get up to quite extraordinary things."

"I was glad to hear Abelas forgive her." She stood straight again, bringing her staff in to rest against her chest. "I forgave her, for what it was worth, but I didn't feel like it was much. Abelas, though... he lived through what she did, and they were even close before. I can't imagine what that must've been like." She didn't say it, but she hoped her brother could have the same someday, from Ves. He'd done terrible things, and looking back what he did had in large part been one of the crucial events that led to Saraya's death, but despite all that... he hadn't set out to hurt her, or Ves. He'd been desperate to help their people, and it led him to do things she knew he regretted with all his heart. She doubted there was much of anything Zeth wanted now more than Ves's forgiveness.

"Everything I've seen and learned since... well, since going to Arlathan I guess, has gotten me thinking." Without thinking she reached a hand up, almost touching her cheek, before she lowered it again. "As Dalish, we marked our faces with the vallaslin to signify our devotion to the gods, as well as passage into adulthood. I don't think very many Dalish at all know what they first meant to the People. I don't know what they'd think of the practice if they did." At first Astraia had understood them as marks of slavery, brands used to identify which of the Evanuris a particular elf belonged to. But in time she'd come to see more, and understand that for many their service was a source of pride. Those that served Mythal in particular, like Abelas, clearly had great reverance for her.

"I think the vallaslin mean more to some of us than others, if they were gained in some special way, or if they remind them of something they want to hold on to. But mine have never done that for me." She got them when she was still too young to understand anything of the world, at a time in her life when she'd been ashamed of her shortcomings and intimidated by each new step. "I don't know who Ghilan'nain was enough to say one way or another if I'd be comfortable devoting myself to her, so..." She hesitated a moment. "You know so much about magic, I was wondering if... if there was a way to be rid of these. The vallaslin."

Harellan studied the marks on her face, but his attention seemed almost abstract in some way, like he was looking at them rather than her. "I could do that, if you would like. The vallaslin are not always permanent, among those who use them for their original ends." Pushing off his hand, he flowed smoothly into a stand again, pausing before drawing any closer. "I'll have to touch your face, just so you're aware." He raised one hand; his fingers and palms were uncovered; though he wore bracers, they only covered the backs of his hands.

"Okay." She took a step closer, and let her staff fall away to the ground so it wouldn't be in his way. Reaching up, she made sure to push away the stray hair from her face, in case that was important. Her vallaslin design was not overly elaborate, as Ghilan'nain's rarely were; just a twisting pattern representative of the halla's antlers above her brow and a smaller design upon her chin. She didn't know why, but she closed her eyes, feeling that it was appropriate.

She heard the grass rustle as Harellan approached. "This won't hurt." A moment later, there were fingtertips on her temples, followed by an odd tingling sensation. He drew both hands in towards her nose, then lifted them away for a moment to move them down to her chin. He was clearly careful to keep his motions minimal and deliberate, not entirely unlike the process of healing something, in that way.

"There." He stepped away, conjuring an ice dagger in one hand and then reshaping it so that it was a smooth, flat disc and holding it up and out. "Would you like to see?"

Her eyes fluttered open slowly, taking a moment to focus in the right way so she could see herself in the ice that Harellan had conjured. For such a small change, it really did make her look different, the way her skin was so clear now, the way there was nothing to distract her from the hazel green of her eyes. The moment she'd earned her vallaslin was supposed to signify her passage into adulthood, the exact point in which she stopped being just a small girl scared of her own magic. But she found that it was only now, when they were gone again, that she felt like a new person.

"Thank you, Harellan. For everything."

He seemed to have a sense for the importance of the moment, letting the ice melt back away and folding his arms behind his back. "Of course, Astraia. It was my honor." Harellan paused for a heartbeat, then continued. "When I came here, I expected I was doing so only for the sake of my brother's children. I had encountered some of the People outside of Arlathan before, and so often found myself..." he searched for the word, melancholy settling over his face. "Not disappointed, exactly. Just... resigned. It seemed that there was so little potential for change. You've convinced me that's not always true. Perhaps it is I who should be thanking you."

She'd never really thought about it, but she'd always felt similarly in her youth. Resigned to the idea of living in a state of mourning, carrying on until the bitter end and shedding tears for that which could never be reclaimed. Maybe that was why she'd come alive in this place. Here, more than anywhere in the world she felt, there was hope. Fitting, perhaps, that this site had originally been an ancient elven fortress. Revived, rather than remembered and mourned.

She opened her mouth to say something, but the words were drowned out by a sudden and horrible screech. Her hands instinctively went to her ears and she ducked down, just as the unmistakable sounds of a dragon's wings beating against the air passed overhead. She couldn't forget that sound, not after having it come right at her in the Arbor Wilds. For a moment she thought she would die, that the dragon's corrupted fire would incinerate them both, but it simply raced on by them, heading towards...

"Oh no," she whispered, picking up her staff again and sprinting back towards the path out of their little ravine. She could see the dragon flying away from them, making straight for Skyhold. They couldn't possibly be prepared for it in time. It smashed into one of the towers, destroying most of its upper levels. It was... the Commander's tower. That wasn't good. Astraia hoped he wasn't inside.

The dragon didn't linger there long, instead hovering along the walls, ripping them apart where it could, wrecking their battlements at several points. Those immediately able to fight started loosing arrows or spells back at it, but they caught completely by surprise, and couldn't muster enough fire to even bother it much.

"I need to find Cyrus. Now." Better not to think about it too much. If the dragon was here, Corypheus couldn't be far behind.

They had to finish this now.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrus Avenarius Character Portrait: Zahra Tavish Character Portrait: Leonhardt Albrecht Character Portrait: Asala Kaaras Character Portrait: Kharisanna Istimaethoriel
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And So is the Golden City blackened
With each step you take in my Hall.
Marvel at perfection, for it is fleeting.
You have brought Sin to Heaven
And doom upon all the world.
-Canticle of Threnodies 8.13


Apparently Corypheus wasn’t above retribution if the bugling dragon outside their doors was anything to go by.

Most likely, he’d been stewing since their little dalliance in the Mythal’s halls. That scream Zahra remembered so clearly hounding their steps as they disappeared through the eluvian came to mind; pure, unadulterated rage. A fury that she’d thought funny at the time. Appropriate, given all the heartache he’d caused them. But now, it made sense. He wouldn’t roll over. He wouldn’t cease his assault. If anything, his efforts seemed desperate. Frenzied. A man who’d lost what he seemed to think he deserved. A God’s ire, raining down on them. He’d try to tear the entire world down if it meant their destruction—of that, she was sure.

Didn’t mean they’d just roll over and just let him has his way, either. It wasn’t their style. This sure as hell wasn’t Haven. They’d grown since then; they were made of tougher stuff now, and she knew well enough that they would all rather die then see him smug with victory. Fuck that. She could hear the sound of running outside; people crying out to each other, assembling in a clatter of steel and grit. Accompanied by that damned dragon’s shrieks crackling through the sky like thunder. From what she could hear, it was causing a ruckus. Slamming into the walls of Skyhold and sending brickwork raining down. There’d be fire, too.

What she wouldn’t give to see that thing plummeting to the ground.

Zahra swung her bow over her shoulder and filled her quiver with arrows. More like than not she’d end up running out. Who knew what Corypheus had up his sleeves this time. She set several vials into the slots on her belt and readjusted herself, making sure that everything was stoppered properly. It wouldn’t do her any good if she rolled out of the way and emptied acid on herself. An embarrassing way to go. She patted her hip and headed for the door, cracking it open a little so that she could see out into the yard. Chaos was an understatement. The beast looked as if it had smashed itself bodily into Leon’s tower, the remnants baring itself to the open sky. She swore she could see books from where she was, midst the rubble. She hoped…

Taking a deep breath in through her nose, Zahra steadied herself, tightening her hands into fists. She looked over her shoulder at Asala, who’d been prepping as well. “There’s just no rest for us, is there?” she tried to smooth the pinched expression to her face, but only managed a curt smile. Strained. “Let’s find the others.”

They didn't have to look long before one of the others found them. Khari, already fully armored, looked to be missing only her helmet, but there probably wasn't any time to find it, when they were being actively bombarded like this. “Zee, Asala!" She was audible from almost halfway across the bailey, despite the chaos around them. Oddly, Khari seemed cooler than most of the frantic people running about around her, trying to find cover or armor or shelter in the case of the non-soldiers among them.

“Come on! We've got to get up to the wall and turn the catapult on the dragon!" She pointed to a spot on the battlements, where one of the siege engines was half-covered in rubble from Leon's tower. From a distance, it was hard to tell if it would even work, but Khari seemed to think it would.

Zahra snapped her head to the side. Khari was easy to spot even if she hadn’t acquired a military voice as of late, capable of cutting through the ruckus just as surely as the dragon. Her fiery hair, a banner. She wasn’t ready to argue with her. It was something at least. More of an idea than she had. Though, she wasn’t sure if she’d ever seen those things operational. This would be as good a time as any to find out. Cannons and catapults were two very different beasts—and besides, this one looked like it was little more than rubble. She hustled across the yard and passed soldiers in varying stages of dress; roaring to each other to ready themselves.

Another shriek cracked through the sky. She couldn’t be sure where it was coming from until cries were heard in the distance. A moment later and the flapping of wings sounded overhead, the beasts’ shadow slipping over the ground and disappearing past the wall once more. She made sure that Asala was still dogging her heels before crossing towards the wall Khari had been pointing towards. It didn’t take them long to clamber up the stairs and find themselves hustling towards the lone catapult. She hadn’t expected to find Leon heaving great slabs of stone off the wooden slats, face ashen with dust and debris. So, he had been in the tower, after all. A mercy he hadn’t been crushed. It was hard to tell if he was injured at all, with the amount of stone-grime stuck to his skin.

He was alive, that’s all that mattered.

“Leon!” she closed the distance between them and set herself to removing a chunk of rock from its neck, tossing them to the side. If she were being honest… the mechanism didn’t look promising. Hitting a dragon in mid-flight? An impressive, if not staggeringly difficult feat. One she didn’t have much faith in. But they had to try. Her eyes lit up, mouth tightening into a line. “We’re here to help. How do we get this thing working?” As if it’d known what they were up to, the dragon’s roar boomed closer, raising the hair on her arms. It’s outline shifted behind the clouds; soaring in a wide arc.


Leon looked momentarily relieved to see them, though it didn't last long when the shadow of the dragon passed over them. Too high above to attack for now, but it was clearly wheeling back for another pass, and they probably needed to have the catapult operational before that happened. "Help me get the rest of these rocks off. Khari, you know how to work one—find something to load it with and get it set." He paused to heave another large stone over the wall. "We need to keep it from destroying too much until Cyrus and Astraia are ready—and then we need to get back down to the bailey to meet up with the others."

"Right," Asala answered with a determined nod. Her barriers sprung to her hands, and then began insert themselves into the gaps in the rocks, leveraging and wrenching the stone off of them with quick upward swipes.

While the other three worked to clear away the stone, Khari was picking through them for one to load the catapult with. It took her a few tries to get something of about the right size for the bucket. She set it on the crenelations and checked the ropes, springs, and frame, re-securing the restraints just to be sure. By the time the last of the debris came away, she was hefting the payload in. “Wanna eyeball the aim for me here, Zee? You're the archer."

“My arrows are a wee bit smaller than this,” Even so, she rolled out her shoulders and took her place at Khari’s side, hands planted on the base of the catapult so that she could see straight ahead of her. The trajectory of the catapult. Zahra’s eyes were her strength. Her timing was precise, even if the intended target was a huge, fire-breathing dragon bearing down on them like a boulder being thrown through the open skies. Would it try to blast them with fire? Or would it come down with its claws and weight, hoping to crush them?

It only mattered what direction it came in and whether or not it tried to veer off in another direction. From what she’d seen of dragons so far, as strong as they were, they couldn’t just deviate once it began its descent towards them. Not a dragon as large and heavy as this one. They were smart creatures; but she wasn’t sure it’d expect them to try to anchor it to the ground by pelting it with a catapult. That, at least, worked in their favor. Surprise, dragon. Unfortunately… this also meant they didn’t have many chances; if it noticed them, it would most likely try to disable the threat immediately.

“It’s coming back around.” The flap of wings. It’s bugle, shrieking down at them. A terror with wings. She’d be impressed if she hadn’t seen what it could do. If it wasn’t so damned ugly. Pock-marked and rippled with ridges. Far different than the one’s spotted on the Storm Coast. “It sees us.” Whatever had been distracting it before no longer did. It was baring towards them now. Intentionally so. Striking through the clouds like a sword and descending lower, passing over the opposing wall. “It’s gonna pass over us—we’ll get a shot. I’ll tell you when.”

She fucking hoped so. The timing was imperative, and if it decided to do anything different… she wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.

The tension held for several seconds, Khari ready to release the catapult on Zahra's mark. They had to wait for it to get right over them if this was going to stand a chance, but not so close that it could cook all of them and the catapult where they stood. Slowly, it resolved into view, and when its underbelly was in just the right spot, Zahra called it.

Khari released, and the projectile flew in a ponderous arc. The trajectory was just a little off, but despite aiming for the dragon's wing and missing, they still managed to strike it in the chest, heavy stone breaking apart against its red lyrium scales with a crack and raining back down over the bailey.

The dragon screeched, changing direction to pull out of its descent. “If we're buying time, this is what we got; let's go!" Khari was the first to abandon the catapult and sprint back along the wall for the stairs.

The rest of them followed, no longer needing to push so much through crows of running people. The time they'd spent on the wall was apparently enough for just about everyone to get geared up, and though several more chunks of Skyhold were missing, the dragon had not managed to drop anymore towers, at least.

As they headed towards the main gate, Zahra could spot Rom, Stel, and several of the others massing nearby. Lia had just come in with a couple scouts, and the iron portcullis shut abruptly behind them. Leon looked to her first. "Captain. You've a report?" He wiped only somewhat effectively at the stone grit and dust on his face, but his only aim seemed to be clearing it away from his eyes, which worked well enough. He had donned no armor—quite possibly his set was in the rubble of his quarters, and no ordinary spare plate could possibly fit his dimensions, meaning he'd have to go without.

Lia was out of breath, having clearly just ran at full sprint from wherever she'd been posted in the mountains back to Skyhold. She also looked a little in shock at the state of their fortress, but she pulled herself together quickly. "Corypheus is coming. Bringing... everything. Couldn't get a sense of their numbers, but it has to be everything." A last ditch attack, it seemed. No more games, no more maneuvering in the shadows. Corypheus was forcing the issue. "Shit, I should've had something set up to warn against the dragon, I didn't think he'd—"

Leon shook his head. "It's fine. We've got measures in place to deal with it, but we're going to need to prepare for what happens when it comes down." Scanning the assembled faces, he found Cyrus's first. "If you can, try to bring it down near the lake. That should keep things far enough away from the fight at the gates that you won't have to deal with any interference." He took a deep breath, then nodded, almost to himself. "Asala, Captain Pavell, Rilien—the four of us will head down to the lake now and prepare to face it. The rest of you will have to hold the gates and find a way to reach Corypheus."

Bringing down the dragon was a stretch, in her mind. An impossibility given its stature; its lyrium-embued hide. But the Inquisition was all about facing the impossible, so she supposed this wouldn’t be any different. Besides, it wasn’t like they had much of a choice. The dragon was too much of a threat to allow it to cause anymore damage. Zahra wasn’t sure how they’d manage to ground it permanently, but Leon seemed to have some idea—or else, Cyrus did. She didn’t doubt that they had something up their sleeves. Something that’d make sure they could pit themselves on fairer terms. Or else, keep it anchored on the ground. She crossed her arms over her chest and scanned their faces once more, mouth easing into a smile.

She was glad to see them here, alive. A small relief for what they were about to face, but still. It was enough. A small allowance before they’d have another helluva fight on their hands. One that she hoped would end all of this once and for all. A pirate could hope, couldn’t she? If this was Corypheus’ last ditch effort to tear the world down around them… then they’d make sure to give him all they had. Make him remember who the Inquisition was, and how he’d made a mistake facing them in the first place.

Slapping a hand onto Cyrus’ shoulder, she rounded towards them and grinned wide. Sweat had already stuck her wild curls to her face, whether from the exertion of trying to get the catapult in order, or the sheer suspense of having the dragon bear down on them and coming out unscathed, was anyone’s guess. A mix of the two, probably. “I’m not gonna say any mushy stuff,” she knuckled at her nose, and arched an eyebrow, “but I bloody well better see all of you at the end of this.” A cough, clearing her throat of any lump that might threaten to choke her up. “Let’s kick Corypheus’ arse this time. Make sure he doesn’t get up again.”


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Romulus Character Portrait: Estella Avenarius Character Portrait: Zahra Tavish Character Portrait: Vesryn Cormyth Character Portrait: Kharisanna Istimaethoriel
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This was going to be an exercise in pain if there ever was one. Thankfully, Vesryn was pretty experienced with pain at this point.

The Champion of the Inquisition stood at the front of the army once more, fully clad in polished armor, tower shield reflecting the afternoon light, spear ready to meet the enemy. The weight of it didn't feel right in his hand, nor did the shield. No amount of training had prepared him for this, to fight the most important battle of all without his guiding light watching over his every move. The timing could hardly have been worse. He wondered if the others would despair if he were to be cut down in the early waves. For the Champion to have recovered seemingly so well, only to be slain the moment the ultimate battle began.

At least he would make for a fashionable corpse.

He pushed the thought elsewhere in his head. Plenty of room for that now. Better to focus on the situation and reduce the likelihood of getting killed. The Commander had already detached from the army, to lead the others in killing that dragon. That left Khari in charge here. Normally the Inquisitors would lead them, but today they had one responsibility only: to kill Corypheus. As many times as it took. They'd yet to have the chance to fight him together. The ugly bastard was in for a surprise, Vesryn figured.

First they had to hold the line, until the dragon was dealt with. Vesryn stood at Khari's side on the front line, where they'd gathered on the far end of the bridge. The position gave them plenty of ground to give if they needed, and an excellent bottleneck to reduce any numbers advantage, and delay the real fighting between armies as long as they could. Vesryn didn't doubt Corypheus had other plans in mind, other ways of attacking the fortress and getting around the defenses, but they had forces ready in reserve for that. The bulk of the Venatori would have to get right through them if they wanted in.

"Nothing like the wait before the battle. In our tower, awaiting the storm. I'm looking forward to it, little bear." He was glad Leon had left her here. She'd already earned the dragonslayer title, after all. And there was no company like hers in a fight.

Though it wasn't her usual one, she'd managed to find a helmet somewhere, an open-faced one with a nose guard that descended a little too far. She cracked a grin at him beneath it, flashing teeth for a split second before she spoke. “After all this, it better be one hell of a storm, or I'd almost be disappointed." Rolling her shoulders, she reached back to touch the hilt of the sword over her shoulder, needlessly confirming that it was there. Her itch to draw it was almost palpable, but for Khari this was rather a lot of restraint. No doubt the weight of command settled on her shoulders at Leon's absence was more ponderous than she'd ever let on. But she'd been preparing for it, in a way. Learning from the Commander himself for years now. It was a far cry from her first uncertain moment in charge—that had been more his than hers, really, as he'd naturally fallen into the role she wasn't sure she was suited for.

Her attention diverted briefly to Romulus and Stel, right at the front with them. “You guys ready for this?"

Romulus wasn't feigning excitement, that much was obvious. Never the most charismatic of leaders, that one. "Pace yourself," he said. "We've got a long fight ahead of us, and there's no way of knowing what Corypheus has kept in reserve."

"We'll take this in shifts as much as we can," Vesryn agreed. "I know plenty of you have been hoping to get a stab at the last of the Venatori, no?" An aggressive cheer went up from the soldiers all around them. "You'll all get your chance." He looked to his Lady Inquisitor, lowering his voice. "Ready for yours?"

Stel flexed her marked hand, green light spilling from between her fingers, and nodded slightly, breaking from her forward stare to meet his eyes. She hadn't faced Corypheus in battle since the day she stumbled out of that rift, not the way some of the others had. No doubt this fact wasn't very reassuring. But her eyes were clear, her face set; if she felt doubts, and surely she did, she was pushing them down and locking them away. "I'm ready," she confirmed, offering a little smile. "It's long past time for this."

Shouts of warning echoed down from the remaining Skyhold towers behind them and on the bridge. Imminent attack, enemy approaching. That was easy enough to see from the dust cloud they were kicking up on the road ahead. The ground shook, in that way it did when massed armies moved at speed. Vesryn closed his mind to all other concerns, focusing on only what he could see through the narrowed slit of his visor.

He saw fire. "Incoming, shields up!" Venatori mages thew it over the top of the rise to rain down on their tight formation. Arrows came along with it, claiming the first casualties of the battle on the Inquisition side. The wounded had to be pulled back out of the ranks quickly, else they'd be suffocated in the crush of infantry soon to come. Their own archers and mages returned the hail of fire, sending precisely aimed arrows and powerful spells back down at the enemy, still out of sight. They hadn't even met and already the air was filled with periodic screams.

A bruiser of a red templar was the first over the rise, carrying a warhammer and already shrugging off a pair of arrows. His eyes were mad with pain and fury, no doubt the song Corypheus had him hear ringing in his ears. A lightning spell bounced right off him, the magic ineffective against his power. He charged right for the center of the line where Vesryn was, and swung.

The warhammer slammed against his shield, and instantly Vesryn knew he'd blocked it poorly. He stumbled backwards into Stel and a cluster of other soldiers, the knight's charge disrupting their line, and the Venatori poured onto them immediately after, trying to capitalize on the temporary disorder. Inquisition regulars were quick to fill the gaps, throwing themselves at the Venatori behind their shields to keep them back. Another swing of the knight's warhammer crushed a soldier's chest in. She dropped like a stone.

Grimacing, Vesryn got his feet under him and speared the knight, driving him back a step as the weapon slid through his midsection. The knight growled and smashed the shaft of the weapon, splitting it in two and leaving Vesryn with nothing but a splintered stick to wield. The warhammer's pommel came up next, right for Vesryn's helm, and he barely got his shield in the way, saving himself a concussion at the least.

A fierce shout cut over the din; even though his view was partly blocked by his shield, Vesryn didn't need to see to identify Khari, nor the heavy clang of a sword slamming into red lyrium. He was given a reprieve from the assault when the knight turned to face his new attacker. Khari's teeth were bared, and she swung again before her foe had fully adjusted to the strange new reality that was such a tiny woman striking at him with the kind of strength usually reserved for much larger people. Her thrust forced him back on the diagonal, two large steps away from the line.

She swung again, this time just barely fended off by the hammer itself. Her sword flared bright green, tendrils of emerald light snaking from the blade to wreath the haft of the hammer and the red templar's arm. It didn't seem to do anything immediately, but then several of the small spikes poking through his gauntlets shattered too, and he took another step backwards.

The hammer came down faster in retaliation this time, but not fast enough to have a shot at hitting her. Quickly, it became obvious to Vesryn what she was doing—each maneuver forced the templar closer to the side of the bridge, where only a lip of thigh-height blocked him from a deadly fall. He seemed to be conscious of this also, taking up a much more defensive posture towards Khari when he ran out of room to swing as hard as he'd obviously like.

But that—the closing in of his body—seemed to be exactly what she wanted. “Stel!"

With a crack and a flash of darker green, Stel appeared on the far side of the knight, her saber stabbing into the back of their foe's knee. She wrenched quickly, getting herself clear, then checked his body with her shoulder.

It wasn't enough force to do too much, but it wasn't the force that mattered. The slight tilt forced too much pressure onto the knight's bad knee, and he staggered to keep his balance, bringing his good leg hard into contact with the edge of the bridge. That did it, and he toppled over the side, snatching for Stel on the way down. But she was already gone with another crack, reappearing just in front of the main line.

Just in time, honestly; there were many more now appearing just within the Inquisition's line of sight. Arrows continued to rain from above in both directions, though Corypheus's army would soon have to stop firing, lest they risk hitting their own. The archers on Skyhold's walls had a bit more leeway, since they could aim for the back of the oncoming force.

Now came a solid line of Venatori, wielding long pikes and spiked shields. Their pace was slower, but they marched in lockstep—even in his madness it would seem their leader has instilled some vaguely-Qunari sense of discipline into them. A round of magical fire came in from overhead, only for every second person in the line to lift their shields, shifting half a step forward and bearing the brunt of the assault while their counterparts leveled the pikes over their shoulders.

The front ranks of Inquisition soldiers backed off a few paces, catching their breath. Vesryn had to discard his destroyed spear and scavenge up a sword from one of the dead. Romulus discarded a dead body over the side of the bridge, one of the last Venatori of the first wave. He fell back in line with the others.

The row of advancing spears and heavy armor presented a serious problem. They would be hell to attack and break through, and if they did they'd just get further from Skyhold, and into a more vulnerable position. Of course, they only had so much ground they could give. Vesryn waited until the spears were just about in range to stab at his shield before he voiced his concern. "What's the plan here, Khari?"

“Back it up! Slowly!" Khari fended off another stabbing spear before taking a measured, careful step back, then another. The control in the motion, and the way she kept herself faced out to defend in the process, gave those closest to her an idea of what she meant, and the Inquisition's front line formed back up, solid but in motion, keeping the advancing pikes from finding the less-protected fighters behind.

“Gotta get 'em under those magic ballistae." That was less loud, but certainly clear enough to Vesryn and the others around her. The siege weapons Cyrus's former teacher had designed no doubt packed a much stronger punch than any ordinary single spell; maybe they could break this line in a way that the ordinary projectiles weren't quite managing.

The first bolt released almost a little too early, streaking down into the Venatori line with a high-pitched whine, and then a heavy crash. It just looked like light at first, several colors swirling around inside indicative of the unformed magic poured into the lyrium molds by the mages on the wall. It crashed into the ground just barely behind the second row of Venatori, into the heart of their formation, splitting one man's shield outright and impaling him without losing much speed, staking his drooping body to the ground almost as he'd been standing.

It didn't last long though, just barely registering in their sight before it erupted, a massive swath of ice splitting out from all directions and bursting upwards into further sharp spikes from the ground, spearing more of the Venatori and encasing others in ice up to their knees, waists, or near the blast zone, up and over the whole of their bodies.

Whoever had launched it had clearly not expected its power, however; several of the Inquisition fighters at the front were pelted with heavy debris or found the ice snatching at their feet. Stel had to actually physically pull one of her legs free—it had been slathered in quickly-freezing magic about halfway up her calf. A few of those even less lucky were sporting new wounds from sharp shards not quite blocked by the front two rows of Venatori bodies.

The victory, important though it was, proved rather pyrrhic in the long run. Though the ice meant it would take Corypheus's forces more time to break through, there was one member of his army that suffered no such limitations.

A dark shadow passed overhead, blotting out the light of the sun for a few seconds. A shriek, grating and almost metallic, rang out over the battlefield, and almost as a single unit, the Inquisition's army looked up. The dull pink belly of the red lyrium dragon bore what looked to be several scratches, not to mention the large scrape from the catapult shot earlier, but it didn't look anywhere near to being downed yet, and it swept down over the wall, releasing a torrent of fire. The red-orange conflagration engulfed the entire left side, reducing two of the magic siege weapons and several of the mundane ones to useless piles of blackened wood.

The screams from the mages and soldiers who'd been operating them were almost as loud, but they did not last long before dying out, and the dragon ascended with a hard pair of wingbeats, opening its maw to exhale more fire on the troops in front of the gate. But even as the embers at the back of its throat flared brightly, it rolled, sensing an incoming attack that materialized only a moment later: a cloud like a smoky thunderhead, streaks of lightning lancing through its depths, just barely clipped the corrupted beast's outside wing. The source passed overhead at much greater height, identifiable only as blue and also dragon-shaped, before both turned and wheeled away from the gate, climbing back into the sky.

Vesryn looked up to see a person clinging to the blue dragon's back, someone very small that the distance did no favors for in that regard. As much as he didn't believe it, that seemed to be Skygirl. It was all a little too much to take in with a single moment.

That was all he was given, too, before a pain erupted in his side. He turned to see the end of one of the pikes protruding from a gap in the plate. The Venatori were embolded by the dragon's attack, and pushed forward much more aggressively, sacrificing some of the cohesion in their line for speed. It was only a moment before Romulus grabbed the pike with his marked hand, obliterating it with a burst of magic and freeing Vesryn to move again. He fell back a few steps, wrenching it out of his side. Blood ran freely over his plate armor.

Saraya wouldn't have been so stunned by the sight. Wouldn't have been taken off guard. But Saraya wasn't with him anymore.

They had no choice but to give more ground, but they had to do so now in a full melee, as the pike wall broke down and Venatori elites charged through instead, skilled and well trained battle mages that were more than a match for Inquisition soldiers. Their line looked near to breaking before a loud crackle erupted from the Lord Inquisitor's palm, and a rift exploded into existence over the front lines of the Venatori forces. At least a dozen of them were pulled into the void and vanished into nothingness, but more importantly it gave them time to back up and reform their line.

"That won't keep them for long," Romulus warned them. He turned, looking back up towards the wall, which was within shouting distance now. "What's the situation up there?"

It was Zahra who’d leaned over the wall, catching Rom’s eye from above. She was crooked between broken bits of stone and fragments of splintered wood. A hole that had been most likely torn open by the dragon who’d just flown overhead. One of many. Grime and dust streaked her dusky features—Vesryn didn’t need to see her to know that they weren’t doing very well up there. The screams, the fire. The general chaos pressing in on their sides. Her voice cut through the clamor of swords slamming against the icy wall. “Things are tight here, Rom,” a pause, as she reached over her shoulder and grabbed another arrow, “fucking dragon poked a hole in the wall, and now the bastards are climbing up.”

There was no time to respond. Several shouts echoed from above, signaling that perhaps, they had less time than they’d thought. Her face disappeared back behind the wall.

The bad news wasn't limited to the walls, however. The main body of the army had finally cut or burned their way through the rest of the ice, and these were some of the Venatori's shock troops: the mages strong enough to stand at or near the front lines, interspersed with more lightly-armed skirmishers and a few out-and-out warriors. They advanced much more quickly than those before, almost reckless in their haste to engage the Inquisition, who were forced to adjust accordingly.

Stel caught a stonefist to the abdomen, powerful enough to double her over, breathless; she only just avoided the axe that flashed for her afterwards. It cut into her shoulder instead of her head, the man behind it bearing down with his weight on the wound and shifting his grip, clearly intending to wrench it out at an angle for maximum damage.

But she set her jaw and shoved, the faint purple glint to the air around her suggesting an application of her magic, one that sent her foe backwards several meters, until he stumbled into one of the mages, taking them both temporarily to the ground. With a grimace and a pained grunt, Stel pulled the axe out of where it had lodged in her leathers, red flowing visibly from the wound and down her chestplate. Clenching her teeth, she changed stances and threw the bloody weapon with a shout, embedding it in a mage halfway through casting some spell. It fizzled away when the woman dropped, not dead but probably not far from it.

On the opposite side of him, Khari was fending off a few of the overeager warriors. Other than a split lip, she looked mostly fine so far, but with magic in the mix now, it was hard to tell how long that would last. With the damage to their defenders on the wall and the heavy loss to the Inquisition mages in particular, the Venatori ones were emboldened, and they didn't care quite so much about friendly fire as Skyhold's troops did.

And there, in the distance, was Corypheus. His soldiers flowed aside for him like water, none of them eager to impede his progress. They weren't going to be able to hold him here, not in their current shape. Vesryn put an arm in front of Stel, keeping her from getting back into the fight for a moment. "Estella," he said, urgently. "Get back inside the gates, try to find a healer for that." Fighting Corypheus would be a great challenge even at full strength. Attempting it after taking an axe to the shoulder was just foolish. "We'll buy a few moments and then retreat back inside. They won't hold long, but it'll be something." This wasn't going to be like Haven, with people throwing their lives away to give her time to escape. Vesryn had no plans to die here, only to help buy her enough precious seconds to be ready for the fight to come. "I will be there."

He could hear her intake of breath, read the expression on her face, even if it was too subtle for anyone who knew her less well. Concern. Reluctance.

But she nodded tightly after a moment, reaching out to squeeze his elbow with enough pressure that he could feel it through the mail there. "You'd better be," she replied, softly, just for him. But then her grip on him was gone, and she'd disappeared into the ranks, hastening back through the gate in search of treatment.

Taking a moment to make sure the wound in his side wasn't also going to need immediate healing, Vesryn adjusted his grip on the sword in his hand. It wasn't his preferred weapon, but then none of this was to his preference anymore. It didn't change the fact that people were still counting on him.

Vesryn took a breath, and advanced back to Khari's side. There was work to be done yet.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrus Avenarius
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Cyrus watched the others depart through the gate, knowing that one of the groups went to the lakeside and the other, much larger one to battle with the bulk of Corypheus's army. Rolling his tongue over his bottom lip, he tasted salt. At least it wasn't bile, though he didn't think for a moment that wouldn't come later. If he made it to later. He'd do his best, of course, but there was a chance that this, here, was what he'd been put on Thedas to do. He'd never really believed in destiny, but damn if the Inquisition didn't make it a little easier to do. It hardly helped that the voices were quiet, as if the collected wisdom of ages held its breath in anticipation of what was about to happen.

He pulled in a quiet breath, trying for a moment to channel Leon's understated, quiet confidence. He certainly couldn't hope to match Khari's swagger or Vesryn's Champion-of-the-Inquisition ease. His hands flexed, and he released the breath when he spotted Astraia and Harellan, easy to do considering they were among the few slipping in through the gate rather than out of it. Cyrus didn't quite have the wherewithal to make himself obvious to them, but the need was spared when Harellan spotted him anyway, tapping Astraia on the shoulder and nodding towards him.

He tried to wipe any trace of nervous energy from his appearance as they got closer—the last thing he needed to be doing was making his partner in this madness even more uneasy than she'd already been. He thought he managed decently well, but the tightness in his guts did not ease. The dragon was still out of sight for now, but it wouldn't be long before it returned. Not long before the Inquisition's hope to kill Corypheus for good rested in a very real way on his and Astraia's shoulders.

“You can still tell me this is far too insane." It probably was. She'd called him madman once before, but it had been a joke then. He'd never quite expected to make a prophesy of it. Damn if he was going to make anyone else feel obligated to go along with that. Especially Astraia; she'd hardly signed up for this of all things, and trusting him not to kill her wasn't exactly risk-free even before the other dragon came into the picture.

"It's insane, you're right." Astraia was out of breath; she'd been near the tail end of a training session with Harellan, he knew, and she'd just ran back here besides. The upside to that was that she was already geared up. She didn't wear much armor, just some Dalish-styled leathers over her clothes, but it was better than nothing, and there was nothing on her end to delay them. "But... if I've learned one thing since coming here, it's that insane is what you people do regularly. We can do this, too."

He huffed, but nodded slightly. His thoughts were scattered, and at this moment he couldn't blame it on his internal squatters, either. He just... hadn't been expecting to have to do this so soon. Stupid of him, really.

"Somehow I doubt I need to say this, but be careful, please." Harellan glanced between them. "You both know what you need to know; of this I am quite certain." He reached towards Cyrus's shoulder and laid one hand on it, squeezing gently. "Mala suledin nadas, lethallin. Safe flying to both of you."

To Cyrus's own surprise, he did not stiffen under the touch, nor chafe at the words. Instead he nodded tightly, and Harellan departed. “I won't be able to speak, when it happens." He shifted his attention left and considerably down, to Astraia's face. “But I'll still be... me, I suppose. I'll be able to understand you, though you might need to shout. It's—I know it's a lot to ask, but try to trust me. I promise I won't let you fall."

That, he meant, even if his tongue felt like a lead weight when he said it, weighed down with the uncertainty of the circumstances. It took something more extraordinary than most people would ever be to volunteer for something like this, and he wouldn't have expected it even of his closest friends, or his sister. No doubt some of them would have been willing, but that only spoke to the number of extraordinary people he knew. The least he could do was make sure to prioritize her wellbeing.

"I do trust you." She said it earnestly, quietly, as though the admission was a rather important one for her to make. She almost seemed like she was going to elaborate on it, but she held her tongue. More pressing things to focus on, perhaps. "I'm ready when you are."

And more pressing things there were, or he might have asked about it himself. Not the time, not the place. “Try to focus your aim for the wings. We don't have to kill it ourselves—just bring it down so that everyone else can. If you don't mind standing back a little, I'm about to take up a lot more space." He tried for a wry smile, not sure he quite got there, and took several long strides away himself, picking an empty spot in the middle of the bailey.

It was time.

The itching tingle beneath his skin, that reminder that he could take up more space, could have power in his bones and muscles and heart unlike anything he'd ever experienced any other way, roared back to life as soon as he even contemplated the form he wanted. Shapeshifting was not natural to him. He'd never seen the need to assume a form other than his own before, finding other types of magic adequate to his needs and desires, but now he wished he'd thought to make study of it before. Perhaps it would have helped.

Clenching his jaw so he wouldn't bite his tongue during the shift, Cyrus reached deep, touching the wellspring of mana right at the heart of him and pulling it around himself like a shroud. It sank back into him like water into parched earth, infusing his body and cloaking him in blue. The change itself was a shock, a too-fast metamorphosis that set him reeling: all at once his skin rippled, turning a deep indigo and hardening, separating into scales as everything grew, lengthening and reorienting with a bone-grinding sound pitched higher by the sheer speed of it.

And then he blinked, and the scope of his vision had widened, and he found himself looking down at the bailey from a towering height. He looked most like one of the Vinsomer dragons, scales gradated in varying shades and depths of blue, his underbelly almost teal. Spikes ran the length of his spine; he could feel them only as weight, as they were insensate except where flesh parted around them. Talons curled into the earth, tearing up the hard-packed dirt and leaving deep furrows behind where he kneaded them. The end of his tail was heavy with more spikes, but the hardest part to wrap his head around was and always had been the extra limbs. The wings, leathery and enormous enough to lift this rather ponderous body off the ground. He stretched them carefully, reminding himself just how they worked before he blinked, eyelids clicking audibly. Slit pupils contracted as he focused on the ground, tilting his head until he could see Astraia.

Carefully, Cyrus picked one of his forelimbs off the ground and stretched it over towards her, creating an easier angle for her to climb up at.

She proceeded onto it carefully, climbing slowly as she had one hand always holding her staff. She wouldn't have been all that much trouble to pick up and carry in his human form, and as a dragon her weight was trivial. At least it was enough that he would notice if she slipped from him somehow, but judging by the white-knuckle grip she was employing even now, it seemed likely that wouldn't be a problem she made of her own accord.

She settled atop him in front of where the wings protruded from his back, near the base of his now elongated neck. He could feel the grip of her free hand settle over his spines. She shifted her weight until she was as comfortable as she could manage, her legs squeezing to hold her in place. "Okay." Her voice sounded different, like her throat was constricted. Nervousness bordering on terror, no doubt. "Let's go."

He craned his head back to check her exact positioning with one eye, still not used to the way they could take in completely different things. As soon as he'd sighted her though, he nodded, something that no doubt looked more than a little strange for a dragon to be doing. Slowly at first, but still aware that their time was limited, he turned, giving her some time to get used to the way such creatures moved, though he tried to jostle her as little as possible, even when he shifted back onto his hind legs to place his forelimbs on one of the side walls and pull them up.

Some of the crenelations crunched and cracked under his weight, but for the most part everything held, and then they were looking out over the massive drop over the wall and the cliffside it was built upon. Pulling in a deep breath that expanded his sides like a bellows, Cyrus gathered his feet underneath him, stretching both wings out to the side, and driving them down at the same time as he pushed with all four legs off the wall.

At first, there was a weightless feeling, and then a lurch as they began to fall. But this much, he knew how to do, the barest trace of draconic instinct telling him when to beat the wings and when to glide. It was almost like swimming, really, and he tucked his forelegs underneath him, using the tail like a rudder and coasting through the air in search of the red lyrium monstrosity.

If it had been any situation but this one, at any other time, he'd have exulted in the feeling of flight. Why he'd never pursued it until now was beyond him—maybe it was just the form edging in on his thoughts, but it felt like flying was something he was born to do.

"High and on our right!" Astraia called, needing to yell for her voice to be able to cut through to him. "It's gone above the clouds!" The cloud cover wasn't complete, the sun able to poke through in many places, but there was definitely enough that it could be used for concealment for a fight such as this. There was little to do but gain altitude and seek it out; here and there Cyrus could spot hints of it as it soared through and above the clouds. Already he could feel Astraia gathering a spell, the magic gathering at his back in the form of dense rock, hovering around Astraia's staff.

The dragon had either sighted them, or was simply ready ahead of time, as it burst out of the clouds heading directly for them right as they got close. Its mouth opened to breathe fire, but Astraia's preparation paid off. She was able to launch the stonefist directly ahead on reaction, the spell smashing into the dragon's neck and throwing off its aim. It was still hurtling straight for them on collision course.

Cyrus shifted, rippling the line of his body to reorient his trajectory and come at it from an angle. He hoped Astraia was holding on tightly, but there was no time or way to be sure, so he trusted her to see this coming.

His body collided with the red lyrium dragon's in midair, a heavy thud nearly knocking the wind from his lungs. His angle was better, but it had the extra weight of gravity, and it dragged at him, pulling both of them into freefall as he reached forward with his claws, trying to find some kind of purchase on the stone-studded scales. His talons screeched over it, audible even over the sound of the rushing air.

Astraia switched to spirit magic, launching bolts rapidly and aiming for the dragon's face. About half of them missed, sailing on through the air until they would eventually impact a mountainside somewhere far below. Half of them hit, however, and while they didn't do too much damage outright, it kept the dragon from clamping its teeth down anywhere, and even cracked apart a tooth or two.

Unfortunately, it didn't do anything to stop the claws, and one of them found his side, just where his neck became his shoulders, leaving a heavy trio of tear-gouges in his scales. He curled his digits in the same way he'd felt it do, lips pulling back from his teeth when he felt them sink in near where the catapult had already wounded it.

The dragon screeched, rearing back. He caught the glint of molten embers in its throat. He had no idea what that would do to him, but it would certainly reach far enough back to damage Astraia. Cyrus did the only thing he could think to do—he pushed off the other dragon, releasing the grip of his claws, and rolled over in the air, shielding his back side with his front at the same time as he tried to escape the inevitable breath attack.

The fire hurt about as much as he thought it would, heating his belly uncomfortably at first, until the pain was blistering and he swore he could smell himself charring.

That pain was enough to distract him momentarily from the fact that he could no longer feel Astraia's legs around his neck, or her hand gripping his scales. And a scream cutting through the air was all the confirmation he needed to know that she'd somehow lost her grip and was now falling.

There was definitely enough human inside the dragon to feel the cold grip of panic. Cyrus pulled his wings in towards his body and let himself fall, pointing his nose down towards the ground. He could feel the sting of the wind against his burnt underside, and the way speed tore the dripping blood away from his wound, but he was too busy trying to find her to give much of a damn. Probably the dragon again—he'd never had the world's most excellent pain tolerance.

The other dragon didn't follow: either it thought them finished or was prioritizing something else. That thought ought to worry him, but just now he had a promise to keep.

There. He spotted her plummeting some distance below him, gritting his teeth when he realized he wasn't getting any closer. He might have been aerodynamic, but he also had a lot more mass for the wind to drag against, and he wasn't going to make it at this rate. Spreading his wings, he drove them down, accelerating to breakneck speed in the descent. Closer, closer... there!

He reached out with his foreleg and wrapped the talons around her midsection as delicately as he was capable. Lashing his tail, he reoriented until he was not completely vertical, than forced his wings open with a snap.

The pain was excruciating; it felt like they were being torn from his body, which lurched sharply with the inelegant motion. For a moment, he couldn't muster the strength to do more, and he was left gliding, slowing their fall without really stopping it, and the ground continued to rush up towards them, dizzying in the speed of its approach. Cyrus strained against the limitations of this body, instinct forcing the same thing he always did when he hit his physical limit: magic.

He drove his wings back down, pulled them through the fade as much as the air, and the fall became a swoop, close enough to the ground that his feet almost skimmed the surface of the lake, and then they were flying again, each flap straining his injuries. Only then was he able to check on Astraia, still held gingerly between his claws.

Of all the things for her to be doing, she was casting a spell. Healing magic, it looked like. She was spattered with blood, but considering the lack of obvious claw wounds in her from when he'd grabbed her or otherwise, the blood had to be his, sprayed on her in the course of his reorienting and his efforts to keep them from crashing into the ground. The magic, too, was aimed at him, trying to at least stop the blood loss from what the corrupted dragon had done to him. She looked to be in shock, to some extent, her face almost blank of emotion. Perhaps it was all just a bit too much to process. Her lips moved, words lost to the wind as she forgot to shout this time, but Cyrus could read them well enough. I'm okay.

If he'd had the capacity to express his relief, he would have. As it was, he doubted a dragon's face was any better at conveying that kind of thing than a shocked one, and so he could only lift her back towards his shoulder, letting her get closer to the wound she was trying to heal and attempting not to let himself sag with relief at the cool touch of the magic. The burn he could deal with: painful as it was, he wasn't in serious danger from it. But if he didn't stop bleeding, he might pass out, and that was the last thing he could afford to do in midair.

While she healed, he ascended, flying back towards Skyhold because if the lyrium dragon was going to be anywhere, there would be it. He tried to stay above cloud cover, in hopes of getting the drop on it this time, but he couldn't climb too high. The air was already thin here, and he was the only one with a flying creature's lungs.

He spotted it just as it descended on Skyhold's front wall, waiting just long enough for Astraia to climb back into position properly before diving after it. He'd never tried to use a breath weapon before, but he could feel it there, in his guts, not entirely different from the way magic always felt. Crackling, like a thing alive. At this distance, he might need it.

Breaking through the clouds, Cyrus exhaled, a cloud of thick grey smoke erupting from his lungs, bolts of lightning snapping through it. It neared the the lyrium dragon's hide just as the creature pulled away from the wall to attack the Inquisition troops marshaled on the ground. As if it had sensed the attack coming, it rolled, much more expertly than he had, leaving the lightning to only graze the outer edge of its left wing. But it wheeled away from the Inquisition and back into the air far above. Cyrus gave chase.

Astraia peppered it with magic attacks, switching to her own lightning spells and loosing them with little hesitation at the dragon. She was able to hit it more often than not, leaving fierce scorch marks along its hide and wings. It turned its head and bellowed fire back at them, but Cyrus was more easily able to dodge it this time, and did so without shaking Astraia from his back. They were driving it where they wanted now, over the lake, but that still left the matter of bringing it down. Cyrus could feel Astraia sag against him slightly, the effort required to almost constantly cast powerful spells wearing on her, but her grip didn't waver.

Apparently she still had reserves left, too, as the momentary pause in the casting was simply to prepare something all the more powerful. She thrust her staff forward, primal magic leaping from it and wrapping around the corrupted dragon's back. Solid rock encased its wings around the base, a strong petrify spell disrupting its flight. There was no way she'd be able to petrify the entire beast, but just that small critical part of it was more than enough to slow it down. It struggled as it began to lose altitude, the rock encasing it already beginning to crack, but the delay was all Cyrus needed to close the gap, and try again to bring it down.

This time, the positioning advantage was entirely his, and he took it, slamming into the dragon feet first and pinning one of its wings against its body, sinking his claws in and wrenching, tearing rents in the thinner, purplish membranes. Almost belatedly, he remembered he had a mouth full of sharp teeth as well, and angled his neck down, careful to pick a spot on the wing muscle without the red lyrium protrusions. He hooked his teeth over the smaller scales there and squeezed until he felt them give way.

With his head out of her direct line of fire, Astraia was free to aim for the other wing, now the only thing keeping the dragon even slightly steady in the air.

She unleashed a much less directed constant blast of lightning, no longer needing to aim at much of anything. It crackled like a miniaturized version of Cyrus's dragon breath, hissing and burning at the membranes of the wing until holes were burnt through them, spreading and tearing wider with the unrelenting magic.

Cyrus pushed off, certain that the damage they'd done was enough. They'd wound up close enough to the ground that the fall alone probably wasn't going to do much, and they were coming down on the far side of the lake, but if they were lucky, the dragon would at least break a leg or something.

It spread its bloody wings, crimson trailing in ribbons from its descent. Cyrus could still taste it on his tongue, the thrill of a foe injured not entirely a product of his extra instincts. But he too was fading fast, and the nearness of the ground was more blessing than curse as he brought himself and Astraia down after it.

Landing was not a skill he'd mastered, and though the lyrium dragon was the more injured, his was the harder impact; it jarred up his legs enough to shoot bolts of pain through his entire body, and he just barely had the wherewithal to crouch and put himself as close to the ground as he could before he lost hold of the form, blacking out for several seconds of insensate numbness and reawakening back in his own body, wracked with pain. He curled in on himself, breaths fast and shallow, shudders traveling up and down the length of his spine. He knew he needed to get up, needed to stand and help Astraia hold out until the rest of the group arrived, but his muscles refused to obey his commands. He choked softly, the sound a shortened version of the raw yell tearing at his throat, without the air needed to escape.

He heard her groan softly somewhere nearby, from the ground. No doubt she'd been thrown when he'd been forced suddenly out of the dragon form. She at least was able to regain her feet, using her staff and a nearby tree to support herself. The dragon was far from dead, and still dangerously close, smashing trees aside as it angrily tried to get its bearings. The two of them were the first thing its eyes settled on, and Astraia had no choice but to meet it, or otherwise let Cyrus die.

She pushed away from the tree, actually moving towards the dragon, perhaps to put more distance between where they'd fight and where Cyrus lay. A stonefist flew from her staff, but it was half as big as the one she'd mustered to start the fight, and it bounced off the dragon's chest in an explosion of rock. It leaped and dove at her, forcing her to dive out of the way. For a moment she disappeared in a cloud of kicked up dirt where the monster came down, but when it cleared Cyrus could see her on the other side of it, struggling back to her feet. She threw a spell at its back, lightning that found one of its open wounds and clearly caused it significant pain.

The dragon's tail swept sideways, and Astraia never saw it coming. It smashed into her torso with a heavy thud, tossing her swiftly aside through the air, her bladed staff flipping away to the edge of the lake. She collided with a tree at speed, her velocity brought to a sudden halt, and from there she collapsed to the ground face down, and moved no more.

Somehow, Cyrus found the wherewithal to reach his hands and knees. His stomach lurched, threatening to show him his lunch a second time, but he breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth, trying to slow them down even if each of them shook like he was the site of his own local earthquake. Astraia wasn't moving. He had no idea if she was unconscious or—better not to think about it. Better still to make sure the dragon didn't either.

His hand found its way to the one steel sword he still wore, tugging it awkwardly free of the sheath and stabbing it into the ground so he could pull himself to his feet. He doubted he had what it would take to conjure one from the fade right now. In fact, he was pretty sure he had exactly one spell left in him, and he had to make it count.

Lightning, raw and crackling, wreathed his entire left arm; without the energy to focus it, he let it fly like that, just the basic spell, no clever tricks or skilled focus to it.

It slammed into the dragon's side, hitting one of the mangled wings, and its head snapped towards him. Spitting blood—his or its, he didn't know—to the side, Cyrus pulled his falcata from the ground, opening his free arm away from his body. “Pick on someone your own size."

It probably couldn't understand him, but the words were for himself, the only trace of his bravado he could summon.

He really hoped the others got here soon, or he wouldn't live to regret it.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyrus Avenarius Character Portrait: Leonhardt Albrecht Character Portrait: Asala Kaaras
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There was so much for her to be worried about, but if Asala gave it a moment to register in her mind, she'd be stricken with inaction. Instead, she shoved it all the way to the back until it was a simple itch in her head. The others would be okay, Zee would be okay, and Cyrus and Astraia would be okay. The last part, she would see to herself. But first they would have to get around the lake.

Leon had led Rilien, Cor, and herself to the lakeside, however when it became clear that Cyrus and the dragon would land on the other side, they'd quickly tried to make it around as fast as they could. Still, that left precious moments where Cyrus was alone with the dragon. "Hurry," she murmured to herself, though she was loud enough for the others to hear as well. The moment they stepped into range, Asala had already pulled her magic into her hands, and without breaking stride she reared back and tossed a barrier, a completely spherical pink bubble, toward the dragon. It struck with enough force to echo off of its scales, and then shatter, the shards hopefully cutting into what exposed flesh they could find.

Asala slowed after that, she'd seen Astraia get thrown into a tree nearby, and that was on her mind at the moment. She spared one last glare at the dragon before she slowed. "I am sorry, I will be back. Help him," she said, though unnecessarily. With that, she peeled off from the others and went to Astraia, where she quickly dropped and began to check the girl's pulse.

"She's alive!" Asala called for anyone still listening. She then went to work quickly, to make sure she stayed that way.

The noise of battle faded behind her while she concentrated on her task, but a few of the pieces of what must have been going on were too loud to disappear completely. A sword rang free from a sheath close by—probably Captain Pavell's, since Rilien carried knives and Leon used no weapons at all. The rush of heavy footsteps thudding over the ground, Leon's booming "get down!" and the unmistakable sizzle of the dragon's fire breath after.

Something or someone singed, the smell thick in her nose as the wind shifted, but there were no too-loud cries of pain at least. The dragon at one point jumped, audible only as the hard impact when it landed, the earth trembling beneath her knees, but it seemed to have landed further away rather than closer, the others no doubt trying to give her room enough to work.

The din settled almost into a rhythm, occasional shakes in the ground indicating a violent reposition by the dragon, clangs of metal weapons and gauntlets against its lyrium-encased scales, and the familiar nausea that the red kind brought with it. Some indeterminate time later, she heard quick footsteps approaching, and Rilien appeared at her side, Cyrus supported beside him, one arm flung over the tranquil's shoulder.

Rilien helped him lower himself down next to the tree, then nodded once at her and took off again, presumably back to the fight. Cyrus held a hand to a spot just beneath and to the right of his heart, but it wasn't large enough to cover the seeping tear the dragon's claws had rent new in his skin. He shifted just long enough to tear his own sleeve off and press it to the wound, hissing when it made contact but applying pressure enough to pale the skin of his hands nonetheless.

His eyes fell to Astraia, but he did not dare interrupt the healing process, the only sound from his presence the irregular heft and push of his breathing. His head tipped back to hit the bark of the tree behind him, and he squeezed his eyes shut.

Asala hissed to herself but focused on Astraia's healing first. The pinkish light in her hand intensified for a moment before she tapered it off. Once more, Asala pressed a finger against Astraia's neck and registered the regular heartbeat, before pressing her ear lightly against her chest. It was soft, but unlabored. "I'll be back, I promise," Asala whispered to her, squeezing her shoulder before shuffling on her knees to face Cyrus.

"Let's stop the bleeding first," she told Cyrus, the spell already in her hand.

He shook his head immediately, though he blinked afterwards, looking vaguely disoriented. “Her first. Finish that—I'll keep." As if to prove it, Cyrus knitted his brow, clenching his teeth and trying to shift where he sat. Blue light lit his fingertips, then guttered out. With a sound halfway between frustration and pain, he did it again, pulling away his mangled sleeve and making a clear attempt to stop his own bleeding. To still be capable of even so little after all of that was a sign of deep reserves of magic, but the spell was weak, and healing had never been his strong suit, besides.

She glanced at Astraia and winced. She felt stretched thin, she needed to stabilize them both, but at the same time... She started to look toward the others, but stopped herself and shook her head. Later. She had to focus now. Asala pulled the satchel off of herself and tossed it nearby where Cyrus sat. "Take a few potions now, do what you can. I'll be there in moment," she said, healing spells back in her hands before she could even finish her sentence.

His free hand shoved the flap of the satchel aside, then tipped it upside down, several vials and other bottles spilling out onto the grass. He picked up a red one, taking the cork out with his teeth, and swallowed it in three gulps. It was one of the pearlescent ones—Rilien's. A few of those tended to make it into any of the healers' emergency kits. The relief was immediate. He picked up another, mostly ignoring the light blue lyrium potions in the mix, though he did nudge one closer to him. She'd never known him to use them, but this wasn't exactly a normal situation.

“This will be enough." He turned his eyes out towards the field, wincing at something she could not see.

She didn't turn to see what he was looking at, not immediately. Instead she focused on finishing Astraia's healing. She put all of the mana she could afford into it, and quickly. She had to get to the fight as soon as she could. Eventually, Asala judged her stable, at least for long enough for them to deal with the dragon. With that, she jerked her head toward Cyrus, and the vial rolling around on the ground beside him. She leaned over and took a couple of potions, a red and a blue. With her potions, she looked at Cyrus and gave him an empty smile. "Wish us luck," she stated, tossing a healing spell at his chest.

She stood and turned toward the battle at hand. The dragon was injured, but far from out of the fight. There was still enough life in its limbs to give the other considerable trouble. Leon had lost his armor at some point during it, and one arm was bleeding heavily. Rilien's arm wasn't bleeding, but it looked no better, his sleeve having been burned off and the skin beneath fiery red and blistering. He was missing a knife, but a look at the dragon revealed where he lost it, as it remained embedded in the claw marks on its side. Captain Pavell seemed to have escaped the worst of it, suffering only a missing helmet and a gash across his temple.

She frowned and downed the mana potion, but didn't hesitate after that, crossing the field quickly to get into the fight herself. "Leon!" she called, tossing the healing potion in his direction. "Where do you need me!?"

Fortunately, the dragon was at that moment distracted by the young captain, who fended off one of its claws with the large claymore he carried. Irritated, it lashed its tail, but Leon grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back with him fast enough that it just missed, air rushing by them with a heavy whistle.

"Keep back," he said, pausing a second to quaff the potion. "I don't think a barrier will hold up against it, but if you can use them to slow it down when it looks like it's trying to hit something, that will make it easier for us to keep clear." He released his hold, flexing his gauntlets, the only pieces of armor he'd been able to grab before his tower collapsed.

Stepping several paces away, he charged for the dragon's flank. The three of them seemed to have adopted a strategy of staying spread out, drawing the creature's attention in turns to let their allies get in at its sides and rear, though the tail obviously made the last a gamble at best. All of them were close range fighters, but they were staying mobile. The dragon, on the other hand, seemed unable to decide on a target, switching to whomever had most recently caused it the most pain like the wounded animal it was.

Leon jumped when he reached it, thrusting his entire arm into one of the wounds in its right wing—lightning burns, by the look of it. A spray of blood doused him when he physically rent the more delicate skin there, gripping the scaly edge tightly in one hand and pulling with a heave.

It was much too large for him to fell, but the move did ease the pressure on Captain Pavell, and the dragon turned to face Leon, rearing up on its haunches and attempting to pounce on him.

Asala could just barely see Rilien on the other side, using the opportunity to bury his second dagger beside the first in one of the open wounds. It left a spreading swath of frost behind, not enough to seriously hamper the dragon's movement, but no doubt enough to cause it even more pain. When Leon didn't end up under its claws, it shrieked and jumped away—dragging Rilien along for the ride. His daggers slid out about halfway there, still gripped in his hands, and though he fell more softly than most people would have in that situation, the ground he hit was hard and rocky, and he did not immediately stir.

The dragon whirled when it landed, holding its injured and bleeding wings high and away from its body.

It gave Asala an easier target. A spear-shaped barrier materialized near one of its injuries, and jammed harshly into one of the dragon's open wouds. The spear sunk in deep, but that wasn't her main focus. The dragon killed her brother-- she had not forgotten. The anger had been welling up inside her as they'd fought it, but she kept it in check, careful not to let it consume her. She'd be better focused without rage or vengeance clouding her mind. Better to make sure that the dragon wouldn't kill any more of her friends.

The spear began to grow as she pumped more mana into it, until it was less a spear and more of a thick column, spreading and rending the wound even more until blood poured from the wound. Pops could even be heard as muscle and sinew began to separate from bone. It did not come without consequence however, the dragon turning its pained attention on her. When it reared its head back, Asala immediately let go of the spear and tossed up a quick shield before she turned tail and ran.

There was no foliage to hide behind, none that would stand against the breath of the dragon, but there was the lake. She just had to be fast enough to reach it. She could here the dragon inhale behind her, and she reached the edge of the water just as she reached the lake shore. The flames must have shattered the barrier immediately, the flames licked at her back, and it was almost too intense to bear as she dove into the water. There was a splash and instant relief as the cool water comforted what had to be burns on her back. Even the icy water of the lake couldn't stand against the dragon's flame, and the water around her heated up. Fortunately, the dragon ran out of breath before it could boil her and she quickly stood, pushing her head out of the water and wiping it from her eyes.

Captain Pavell stepped in front of it, perhaps to prevent it from coming after her, as it now bled heavily from the wound in its side, in addition to the other myriad cuts, slashes and burns on its body, both old and new, and in contrast to all those fighting it, more worn down by the second, its anger seemed only to be increasing. And it lashed out with its neck, closing its jaws around him, sword and all, and lifting him from the ground, a fate likely to have befallen Asala had he not interceded.

Leon, trying to pick Rilien up off the ground, set the Tranquil quickly back down on his feet and sprinted to the spot, but the air was already filled with the grinding sound of its teeth against the Captain's plate armor, where it had him by the sword-arm and shoulder.

Clearly not one to give up, he was using his free hand to punch at it, trying to reach for something vulnerable, but it had taken few hits to the face, and would not be dissuaded, not even when Leon slammed bodily into its chest, pummeling the injury left by the catapult what seemed like hours ago. The captain yelped, the sound cutting off when something—probably his arm—snapped.

What happened next didn't exactly make sense. The dragon shook its head, worrying the elf's body like a dog would a rag-toy. But then there was a bright burst of blue light; it looked like nothing quite so much as what Séverine's templars could do, but... raw somehow. There was a crack, and the Captain flew from the dragon's maw, crashing into the lake next to her, where he began to sink.

The dragon, for its part, was now missing several more teeth, a nasty burn having torn away most of its upper lip on the left side, and when it shrieked, the noise was roughened, like perhaps the throat and tongue had burned as well.

She didn't wait to see if he would reemerge on his own. Asala dove back into the water and swam toward where she saw him drop. The burns on her back screamed in protest, though by the grace of the cool water she was able to push through it to reach him. She hooked both arms underneath his and lift, pulling both their heads out of the water, where she began the arduous process of dragging them both out of the water. Against the fresh air, it felt like the burns on her back were on fire again, but she pushed through it, and began to work on the captain, careful to keep tossing cautious gazes back toward the dragon, in case she needed to take them both and roll back into the water.

But the dragon was reeling; it didn't take more than a few more heavy body-blows from Leon to bring it down. It crashed to the ground, thrashing, but characteristic cold efficiency, Rilien picked one of his knives up off the ground and stalked to its head, reaching up and burying the blade up to the hilt in its right eye.

The dragon stilled.

Asala finally exhaled several moments later, letting the air she wasn't aware she'd pent up escape. Finally, she thought, leaning forward until her forehead touched the captain's chest. Finally. It felt like some weight was lifted off of her soul, and she found herself hoping that Meraad was finally at peace. However, there wasn't any time to truly savor the victory. She pushed herself back up carefully to avoid agitating the burns on her back, and continued stabilizing the captain. There was work still to be done.

She had injured to care for.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Romulus Character Portrait: Estella Avenarius Character Portrait: Zahra Tavish Character Portrait: Vesryn Cormyth Character Portrait: Kharisanna Istimaethoriel
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The gates weren't going to hold for long.

Rom was busy just trying to catch his breath. Their forces were holding on the walls now that the dragon wasn't actively harassing them. He didn't know what had become of it, only that it was no longer in the sky raining hell upon them. Those they'd sent out after it, Asala, Leon, Captain Pavell, Rilien, Cyrus, Astraia... if they were successful, they'd have an army to cut through if they wanted to get back inside. They couldn't expect their help here, too.

Bang, bang. Corypheus had something big bashing on their door. Inquisition regulars were bracing it, but it wouldn't be long until it gave way, and the enemy poured inside. Their only choice was to meet them in battle, and hope that killing Corypheus caused him to stay dead, and broke the spirit of his army.

"So called Heralds of Andraste! Emissaries of a false god! Your deaths are at hand."

Corypheus could project his voice with remarkable effectiveness, booming over the battlements and washing over the beleaguered defenders. He was just outside, Rom knew. Probably pacing back and forth, waiting to march inside with his corrupted and brainwashed legion.

"The time for surrender has long passed. I will spill your blood, break your bones, rend your flesh, and over your corpses I will cut another hole in the sky, to claim the godhood that you are unworthy of."

"Good for morale, this guy," Vesryn remarked with a wince, as he passed Rom. He went to help brace the door. Rom didn't stop, moving further into the fortress grounds, searching for Estella. He'd overheard she was seeking out healing. Rom had only a few nicks and scratches so far himself, but that was likely to change once Corypheus was inside.

He found her grimacing her way through a red potion on the infirmary stairs, an empty vial with a few drops of pearlescent blue inside signaling that she'd started with a mana restorative. Rom knew better than most just how hard alchemy could be on the body, especially when the body in question wasn't really accustomed to its effects. The wound she'd taken earlier, the one on her shoulder, looked better, though not like it had seen the attentions of a proper healer.

"I tried to find Donovan," she explained, pausing to take another swallow and making a face. "It's only Milly in there right now, though. He... might have been on the wall." She didn't specify beyond that. Throwing back the last of the potion, she set the bottle down on the stairs next to the other and pushed herself into a standing position, dusting off her trousers. "Doesn't sound like we have much longer. To the front?"

"To the front," he echoed. Her condition wasn't ideal, but none of this was. They'd have to make do. He led the way back towards the gate, passing through massing Inquisition troops and their allies, all gathering their strength before the final storm. "We have to attack him together," he said, glancing back. "Corypheus will want to fixate on one of us, but if we keep his attention pulled multiple directions, we can kill him. We've done it before."

He heard murmured wishes of good luck as they passed. Soldiers that he didn't know the names of, people that had devoted their lives to the cause. To the two of them, and what they'd come to stand for, by their choice or otherwise. Perhaps they'd been just the Heralds of Andraste in the beginning, but by now the Inquisition had seen both of them for the very human people they were. Flawed, in need of help at times, of guidance, but ultimately always willing to bear the responsibility that came with the marks upon their palms. Whether it was his destiny or not, Rom wanted to be here at this moment. He was no blood of Andraste.

He was the son of smugglers and thieves, and he aimed to kill a god.

He stopped, perhaps thirty yards from the gate. Bang, bang. The doors groaned with the effort of staying closed and intact. "If his eyes are on you and the elven orb is in his hand," he added, "don't try to use your mark. He has a power over them, somehow, and he'll leave you immobile with pain." He knew that one well enough from experience.

"Your tricks cease here, Inquisition! Your futile resistance meets its bloody end! Tremble before Corypheus!"

Rom's upper lip curled up halfway to a snarl. He'd never been much of a leader in battle, he thought, but he couldn't help but lift his voice to a shout. "Are we trembling, Inquisition?"

“Fuck, no!" not surprisingly, Khari was the first to reply, taking the spot she'd claimed for herself on the opposite side of him from Estella. Grinning at him, she cupped one of her hands at the side of her mouth and shouted the next part through the gate. “Ugly son of a bitch has nothing on the likes of us!"

From behind Khari's shoulder, wild curls flew as Zahra drew herself up on the balls of her feet. "We'll show you where to shove your bloody end!" She screamed it at the door, eyes wide and mouth set into a determined grin. She looked exhausted. Her little tussel on the Skyhold's wall had rendered most of her quiver empty, save for a handful of arrows. Even so, she seemed to swell with all of the energy at her sides, as they yelled and beat their chests.

At the line just behind them, Harellan chuckled softly, placing a hand on Estella's uninjured shoulder and squeezing. When he drew away, it was with the soft hum of a conjured weapon, flourishing both and pointing the blades at the ground. The two other Lions in the group, Donnelly and Hissrad, weren't far from their friend, either, the characteristic bravery of their ilk probably not allowing them to take safer spots at the back.

Lord D'Artignon and his detachment of household troops, certainly not expecting to fight so soon, had nevertheless prepared quickly once the attack started, and now made up the left flank of the formation, ready to fall on Corypheus's forces in the event they pushed too far into Skyhold.

Even some of those who did not typically fight had taken the field to defend their hope. Further back, their mechanist was loading a crossbow almost as big as she was. Lia's scouts had remained afield, arranged behind the main body, bows at the ready. Signy's entire clan of Avvar, few as they were, threaded themselves among the regulars as well, their black-and-white warpaint a sharp contrast to the silver and russet of most of the regulars' uniforms. Reed stood among those, having survived the collapse of Leon's tower, now commanding Captain Pavell's usual detachment in his absence.

Aurora and what mages survived the dragon's attack on the wall appeared, looking worse for the wear. The woman herself had her clothes singed with ash dusting the armor on her arms, and blood leaked from cuts she'd sustained but otherwise looked to be relatively intact. The same could not be said about her unit. The grim look on her face, edged with a calm fury told them all that they needed to know. Wordlessly, they filtered throughout the main body of the regulars, while Aurora herself chose a spot near the front. It appeared as if Sparrow had made it alive. Her ridiculously large mace bobbed between the remnants of soot-faced mages as they made their way to the door. The front of her dragonhide leathers was smeared with blood and where she walked, a spackled mess of red dropped in her wake, though it wasn't readily apparent where her wound was, if it was hers at all. She grit her teeth, which appeared stained, as well. Her eyebrows were drawn together, murky eyes hard as stone. She glanced over at Aurora once, and took her place at her side.

Bang, bang. The doors wouldn't hold much longer. Already the regulars holding them were showing clear signs of losing the struggle, their feet sliding back against the flagstones. Estella pulled in a deep breath, glancing once at Rom and offering a subtle nod. Gripping her saber, she pulled it from the sheath and turned to face the assembled.

"Years ago," she said, her voice clear even over the collisions. "I made you a promise. Today—today that promise is fulfilled. Today, we will fell this false god, and we will be victorious." She set her jaw, swallowed, and continued. "I don't know if Corypheus is trembling... but he damn well ought to be. Let's show him why."

"Death's all that waits for him here!" Vesryn shouted, straining with the effort of holding the gate. "Let him come and get it!" As one they pulled away, giving up their attempts brace the gate and sprinting back to rejoin the formation. It lasted only a few more seconds after that before they burst open, and a pride demon charged through.

A quickly charged ball of lightning flew from its hands, burning shocks lashing over a swath of the Inquisition soldiers. Corypheus lifted his elven orb and a rift opened at the gate. Screeching horrors spewed forth, falling upon them and hacking into their lines. The sheer force of the attack took them a moment to recover from, but they did recover, and before long they were pushing back.

Corypheus was among the first through the gates after the wave of demons, friend and foe falling away from him where he walked. All save for Rom and Estella, the two he wanted to see dead most. It wasn't that simple on their end, though; that rift needed to be closed, or else the army would have endless demons to deal with in addition to Corypheus's forces.

But even that would be no simple matter: demons on top of Venatori and red templars were a tall order, even for a force as practiced as the Inquisition. Estella sprang forward, clearly intent on at least getting closer to the darkspawn, but her path was swiftly blocked by a despair demon, shooting a beam of ice into the thick of the Inquisition forces. Estella rolled, coming up on its side and slashing, nearly parting its head from its shoulders and winning herself a few more steps forward. The rift still roiled, crystals shifting and rearranging themselves—not weak enough yet, even though the demons it spawned were falling around it, the Inquisition's press forward dropping them one by one. The Pride demon still fought at the right side of the line, but the smaller ones were spawning more slowly now.

By the time she was close enough to hit it with her Anchor, it had collapsed in on itself, dormant for the moment. But they recovered if left too long, and she chose to try and close it now rather than wait for another chance, lifting her right arm towards it. With a crackle and a low hum, the familiar green light streaked towards the rift like it was magnetized; Estella grimaced and strafed sideways to avoid an incoming spear, the connection faltering for a moment.

Vesryn covered her, shield-smashing the Venatori aside and dealing with him with little of the grace all of them had come to expect from the elf. Corypheus turned to attack Estella from behind, intent on stopping her from sealing the rift, but Rom had made a beeline for him, ignoring any other enemies that sought to strike him, trusting that his friends would keep them off his back. He did that now for Estella by stabbing his blade into Corypheus, finding a place to bury it in his lower back and stopping the magister in his tracks. He growled, spinning and swinging, but Rom was already gone, ducking and rolling away.

A loud crack rent the air as the rift shattered into nothingness, Estella's mark having closed it for good. Corypheus bellowed wordless frustration at them, unleashing a blast of raw magic from the elven orb he carried. It threw everyone to the ground around him, both his allies and enemies, and in the space that provided Corypheus used a spell to hurl himself into the air, flying deeper into Skyhold, and higher still, striving for the main keep.

Rom got back to his feet, remaining low in a wary crouch. The others were making good on their progress, and had fiercely fought the remaining demons, Venatori, and other enemies to a standstill, giving their Inquisitors the opportunity to engage Corypheus on their own. He saw the magister blast aside the doors to the keep, and disappear inside.

"Estella! Get us up there." He was already making his way to her. Whatever Corypheus planned to do up there, they needed to stop it.

"Got it." She was already concentrating on the mark again, this time to wash them both in green light. She stepped in close, as the transport necessitated, gripping his armor by the far shoulder, near the neck. There was a feeling like being dipped in water, but it faded quickly. "Step with me."

He did, and all of a sudden the keep stairs loomed in front of them. Estella released him, already taking the first two at once.

Rom moved to follow her, but they both had to stop when the ground suddenly shook with unexpected force, as though a powerful earthquake had just hit Skyhold. He could hear stonework collapsing, distant sections of the fortress falling apart under the strain.

A blast of magic energy erupted out of the keep's roof and streaked into the sky, colored the same green as the marks on their hands. It reached cloud level, and there began another rift, well out of their reach. Rom could see it growing, though, threatening to expand. He knew that sight well enough, from the first time he'd stepped out of the Haven chantry and looked into the sky. Corypheus was trying to remake the Breach.

They didn't delay any longer, sprinting up the stairs when they got their feet under them again and passing through the open doors. Corypheus had forcefully blasted aside the tables and benches, clearing an empty space before the pair of thrones at the end of the hall. The orb crackled with magic in his hand, the energy drifting away and floating up into the sky.

"The blood shed here will pave my way into the Fade," he said, stalking towards them. "I will take great pleasure extracting the life from both of you."

He went for Estella first, firing a heavy blast of force magic that she just barely managed to spin away from. But she hadn't taken more than two steps towards him before she faltered, picked up by the second spell and hurled back into one of the heavy wooden tables. It shuddered under the impact, one of the legs snapping off with the angle at which she struck it.

Rom pulled up instead of charging, waiting for Estella to recover so they could attack together. Corypheus wasn't content to wait, launching a wave of ice magic at him, stabbing spikes that erupted out of the floor in his direction. He timed their approach and leaped over them, nearrowly avoiding being skewered and rolling back to his feet. Corypheus had fade-stepped closer to him in the time that took, blasting Rom's shield away with spirit magic, then hitting him fully with the followup attack, an unnaturally strong swipe of his hand to Rom's upper body. He was tossed away and landed flat on his back, and Corypheus advanced again, charging up some kind of spell with the orb.

A crack followed, one that might have been the release of the spell, except that Estella appeared right beside him in the heartbeat after, resolutely not looking at Corypheus as she'd been warned. She paused only long enough to grab his arm, and then there was another splitting sound, and they were looking at Corypheus's back. Where Estella still held him, he felt more magic, different from the kind in the Anchors. This must be the kind that had kept Vesryn barely on the right side of functioning for a few months—it wasn't completely unlike what the tonics had used to feel like, before he stopped taking them.

"Quick," she urged, "there's not much time." Before Corypheus turned to face them and aimed the spell, or before whatever it was took effect, maybe. Which one she meant hardly mattered.

The magic flowing the from the orb had turned a bright red, not unlike the hazy glow given off by red lyrium. Instantly traveling around the room like this was disorienting, but Rom got his bearings quickly enough to charge Corypheus from behind, throwing himself into a leap that would leave him near the magister's head. Unfortunately the spell did not need to be aimed, as Corypheus lifted it and out pulsed a powerful wave of magic in all direction with speed he could not react to. It washed over him with a heat like fire that did not burn, and left his chest feeling like it was on fire, his organs all suddenly screaming for relief.

He crashed to the ground at Corypheus's feet instead of grappling onto his head, and when the darkspawn turned he brought down a heavy claw like hand with brutal speed. It carved gashes into Rom's shield first, before carrying on to his torso and his legs, leaving bloody rends down the length of him. A blast of force magic tossed him aside, and Corypheus advanced on Estella next.

Alarm was scrawled across her features; frantically she cast about for something to use, something to do to stave off the approaching darkspawn. Her free hand closed over her throne; with surprising strength, she lifted the ornate chair from the ground and hurled it.

Corypheus broke it apart in midair, but Rom's matching seat followed quickly, and that one broke apart over Corypheus's body, clattering to the floor. When he hurled a fireball in retaliation, Estella just barely got clear, ducking behind the stone dais.

"Pathetic. Your desperation is amusing. Flee and hide, it will not save you."

As the fire from his spell cleared, Corypheus followed it with a swift blast a pure arcane force, shattering the dais that was Estella's cover. Momentarily she was gone in a cloud of dust and falling rubble, but then Corypheus had stepped with startling speed to her and snatched her up by a forearm, holding her several feet off the ground and pausing to examine her marked hand. She kicked and twisted, the mark on her hand pulsing wildly, but there was no getting leverage over him, and she was left to hang uncomfortably.

"You are as unworthy as the other. Join him."

He hurled her through the air towards where Rom still lay, trying to rise and battling his wounds. She came down hard on her injured shoulder with a cry, not loud enough to mask the crunch of it breaking, and rolled onto her back, wheezing thinly.

Finally, Corypheus seemed to have no more words, nothing more to spew at them. Rom took this as a sign that he was intent on killing them here and now. He'd stalked halfway down the hall, orb pulsating angrily, when suddenly he gasped as if in shock. Rom looked to find him on one knee, clutching his chest and in obviously pain. A wave of something, like a cool wind, washed over the hall and settled upon Corypheus, and he seemed well and truly stunned by it.

"It cannot be," he said. "I have walked the halls of the Golden City, crossed the ages... Dumat! Ancient ones, I beseech you. If you exist—if you truly ever existed—aid me now!"

Rom had managed to get to his knees, grabbing his blade where it had fallen on the floor. He looked to where Estella was at his side. "The dragon, it has to be... he must be vulnerable." They had to get up, they had to end him now.

Estella rolled to her hands and knees, wheezes becoming gasps. Something was wrong with her mark—it was still pulsing fast, probably in time with her heartbeat, but from the twist of her mouth and the tears at the corner of her eyes, it was also causing her tremendous pain. She bent forward over her unbroken arm, cradling the hand close to her chest, groaning through gritted teeth.

This seemed to produce some kind of reaction. The orb itself changed, light flickering from red to green, brightening and fading in time with her half of the Anchor. "Go," she choked. "I can stun him, I can—you have to kill him."

With a raw shout, she thrust her hand towards Corypheus, almost as if she were trying to close a rift. But the orb in his hand shook, shuddered, and then tore free, flying over the space between them until her fingers closed over it, digging into the whorls and ridges on its surface. A spear of green light shot from the device, streaking across the room and slamming into Corypheus's chest, throwing him all the way back into the crumbled remains of the dais.

Rom had gotten to his feet, and then he was moving, the weight of every moment he'd lived through carrying him towards Corypheus. First a walk, then a stumbling jog, and then a full sprint, snarling and dropping his blade as he ran. Corypheus was trying to rise when he reached him, but Rom put an end to that with a blast from his mark, delivered with a punch that when combined sent Corypheus flat on his back. He had no power over their marks, not when he was without the orb.

Rom descended on him, planting his hand atop his corrupted, darkspawn forehead, and he let the mark do the rest. The same way it had done for Adan Borja, who had tried to kill someone he loved. Corypheus would kill everything he loved, if given the chance.

"You'll never walk the Fade again," he growled down at him. Corypheus was already groaning in pain. "You'll never be a god. You're nothing at all." His mark placed a larger rift than he meant inside the darkspawn magister. Half of him was already gone, torn away into nothingness, when he forced it to collapse on itself. It exploded outwards, throwing him off of where Corypheus had been, while bits and pieces of their enemy were scattered all over the hall. Rom landed with a thud, and lay still on his back. Above him, through the blasted hole in the ceiling, he could still see the Breach hovering in the clouds, a growing maelstrom.

The irregular sound of footsteps heralded Estella's approach, though they were more a shuffle than anything. The both of them weren't in good shape, but they were alive, and Corypheus was not. "I think..." she said, voice almost swallowed by the open air and strange, eerie stillness. "I think we can use this to close it, if we work together." Her eyes were fixed on the focus itself, head cocked like she was hearing something that wasn't actually audible, but she shook it off and looked down at him instead.

"I'd offer you a hand, but my other one's broken. Let's be done with it, shall we?"

"Gladly." Groaning, he rolled over first and pushed off the ground, getting back to his feet that way. He could tell right away that she was on to something about the orb. He touched his marked hand to it, as she was already doing. Something not unlike the way they'd both been marked to begin with, the way they survived the blast that destroyed the Conclave.

Lifting to orb towards the heavens, it suddenly erupted with a pillar green light, one that reached up into the sky with a thunderous roar. His legs shook; he didn't doubt Estella was having trouble staying upright too, but they fought through it, held it there until it was done. When at last the energy was expended, the elven orb shattered in their hands, the pieces raining down around them as charred hunks of metallic stone.

But the Breach was gone once more, the clouds in the sky already stilling and calming. Outside, Rom could hear the cheers of victory rising from the Inquisition forces.

It was over. It was done. And the Inquisitors were still standing, triumphant together.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Romulus Character Portrait: Estella Avenarius Character Portrait: Cyrus Avenarius Character Portrait: Zahra Tavish Character Portrait: Vesryn Cormyth Character Portrait: Asala Kaaras Character Portrait: Kharisanna Istimaethoriel
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The day after Corypheus's death, Estella still wasn't sure it had sunk in.

The Anchors remained on hers and Rom's hands, much as they'd ever been, even though the artifact that had created them had been shattered when they'd used it to close the reopened Breach in the sky above the keep. The hole in the ceiling and the rest of the structural damage remained, of course; for the moment Leon was working out of Cyrus's atelier, perhaps because Cyrus himself was still here, in the infirmary.

There were enough casualties to overflow into the mages' tower, beds and cots pressed close enough that the healers could only just barely fit between them, never mind chairs for visitors. So she'd sat herself at the end of Cy's mattress, pulling her legs up underneath her and setting his feet on her lap rather than taking up any extra space. Harellan was nearby, she knew; he assisted with some of the healing, but his main concern seemed to be watching over Cyrus, and Astraia who was in the next bed over, though still unconscious.

"You still could have told me what the plan was," she said to her brother, reaching forward a bit to bring her fist down on his knee. There was no force to the 'blow;' it wasn't like she was actually upset with him, though admittedly his risk-taking scared her more than a little. Maybe that was why he'd kept it from her. Much as she didn't like to admit it, that might have been for the best. And they succeeded and survived in the end, so she just didn't have it in her to be mad. "My crazy, reckless brother the hero, huh?"

Cyrus had borne her teasing and gentle assault with the smallest of smiles, until she got to the hero part, where he shook his head immediately. “Crazy and reckless I can agree with, but don't go making me a hero." He glanced over at the sleeping elf across the narrow aisle, then down at his hands. “Astraia saved me, you know. At least twice, by my accounting. I want her to know that." There was something strange in the way he said it, like he was asking Estella to tell her, almost. But of course that didn't make any sense.

Harellan cleared his throat. "Many heroes were made yesterday. Yourself included, lethallan. I can say with great confidence that your parents would be incredibly proud to have the two of you as children. I am certainly proud to be your kin."

She might have asked Cy what he meant with a statement like that, but it just about slipped her mind with what her uncle said after. Coming from someone like Harellan, who knew what he knew and was who he was, having pride to be related to them, to her, was far from a platitude. Not when she considered just who else he could count among his kin.

The familiar urge to downplay things as Cyrus seemed to be doing rose in Estella like old instinct, but for once she pushed it down. Conquered it, and let herself feel just a little pride in herself as well. "Thank you." She hadn't done it alone, of course, but neither she nor he was claiming that, and so she let the words sit without the caveats and qualifications. "I'm proud of all of us."

Turning her eyes back to her brother for a moment, she tilted her head and rested a hand on his leg under the blanket. "Will you keep for a bit? There's a party—I thought I should probably put in an appearance. I'll bring you back some baklava?"

Cyrus was quiet a beat too long for the question, but smiled thinly. “I've survived worse, I think. Though your absence will wound me dearly. I expect dessert when next we meet." His tone was light, and he waved her off with a gesture.

Estella laughed, mindful enough of his condition not to shove him as she might normally have done. "I think that can be arranged. Until then, get some rest. I hear heroics are tiring." She'd argue with him over semantics until he accepted it, but perhaps that would be a discussion for later.

Shifting out from beneath his feet, she set them back down carefully and leaned down to give him a hug. He readily wrapped his arms around her, turning his face in towards her neck and curling his fingers into her shirt. “I love you, Stellulam." His words were just a whisper, a harsh one; his fingers trembled where they clenched.

"Love you, too, Cy." She rubbed his back gently, unable to keep things completely light. The victorious mood was infectious, but at the same time... she hadn't known until late yesterday evening that he'd even survived. The relief was overwhelming in its own way, something she was sure was getting to him as well. Once she'd hugged Harellan, she stepped back. "Let me know if Astraia wakes up, okay? I can bring her something, too." With a little wave, she made her way out of the infirmary and across the bailey, still churned up and darkly-stained from the battle the day before. The Venatori bodies had been burned that morning; she could still smell the last of the ashes.

Mounting the stairs to the keep, she pushed open the door and made her way into the main hall, noise and music already filtering out. She was just entering the long hallway in front of what had once been the dais when she bumped into someone. Instinctively reaching out, Estella steadied the person, only to find herself looking down at Zahra.

"Hello, you," she said, unable to keep herself from grinning. Clearly, the captain had already been at the business of having fun for a while. "Enjoying our victory, I take it?"

Zahra leaned against Stel for a moment before properly righting herself. She took a step backwards and swept her hands out wide, encompassing the hallway. Her eyes were lidded at half-mast but feverishly bright. She’d obviously pulled out all the stops for this particular occasion. Her dusky skin was already splotched with rouge, most noticeably along her exposed collarbone; where her shirt crept dangerously low, though she didn’t seem to notice. Or mind, given her proclivities.

“Hello to you too, lady-of-the-hour.” Her voice lowered into a taciturn whisper. As if she were telling a joke with no punchline. She set her mouth into a wide, toothy grin and straightened her shoulders, planting one of her hands on her hips. It seemed to anchor her in place, or else keep her from falling over. A thick eyebrow rose into her hairline. “Of course, this is the perfect time to empty the stores—the stores of booze. The special stuff. Y’know, the world-saving stuff.” She took a swaggering step to Stel’s side, and slung an arm around her shoulder, pulling her into a rougher hug than the one she’d given Cyrus.

“I’m gonna miss you guys… you know that?”

Estella laughed, happy to be pulled into the captain's strong grip. "Well, you won't have to miss all of us, right?" Spotting Asala a little ways away, Estella gestured her over. "Word in the infirmary is the two of you will be sailing off into the sunset. Where do you think you'll be headed first?"

A blush was already seeping into her cheeks while she spoke, but Asala didn't seem affected by her own embarrassment. She probably learned how to deal with it by now. "I was hoping we could visit home again, for a little while at least," she said. "After that?" she said, pulling the inebriated Zahra off of Stel and closer to herself, dropping her arms over her shoulders and locking them above her chest in an embrace. "It's up to the Captain," she said with a beaming smile.

Estella huffed softly, tilting her head. That was a bit of a new development, as far as she knew, but apparently it had been a rather long time coming. Or so said the people who knew them especially well. It was certainly nice to see the confidence in Asala and the tenderness in the often-rougher Zee. Probably best not to encroach on their time, though. "No need to be strangers," she said. "You're always welcome to visit us anytime you like." With a small dip of her head, she took her leave, passing further into the hall.

Here the tables had been righted and repaired to the extent possible, several of them sporting rough blocks of wood for replacement legs. If she looked, she'd probably be able to spot the one she'd broken a rib on, when Corypheus had thrown her into it. But she wasn't particularly keen to know, and much preferred the use to which they were currently being put—holding food and drinks for the people who had worked hard and deserved them.

It was bittersweet, to think of how many would eventually be leaving. The advisors, who'd worked perhaps longest and hardest of all, each intended to leave: Marceline to retire to her lakefront property, Rilien to resume his work with Lucien, and Leon to take his place once more among the Seekers of Truth, though those goodbyes would be months out in Marcy's case and possibly as long as years for the other two. Less far away were Aurora and Sparrow's pending departures, to Val Royeaux and Kirkwall respectively, and she knew many of the other mages would scatter without their Captain to promise them safety and with the end of the Breach, which had once been blamed on them. Aurora and Sparrow were at one of the tables, but Aurora looked despondently into her cup, and Estella wasn't sure company would be welcome.

Sparrow seemed a little more sober; Estella waved to her a little when her feet carried her past.

"Stel!" A familiar voice drew her attention to the right. Cor raised a hand to wave at her, inviting her over to another table section, where he sat with Lia, Hissrad, and Donnelly. They seemed to have been there for a while as well, though none of them was in the habit of drinking quite as much as Zahra or Aurora seemed to have already.

Estella readily joined them, sighing a bit as she slid into an empty part of the bench. "Hey guys." She grabbed the freestanding bottle of something at the middle of the table, though there was a lack of empty cups. Hissrad noticed her dilemma and slid his over the table to her, untouched side forward. "Thanks." She poured herself a bit of the wine and took a swallow before turning her attention to the table itself. It looked like there'd been a card game in progress, one that had finished recently.

"Guess this'll be the last time we're all together for a while, won't it?"

Donnelly reached up to rub at the back of his neck. "Yeah. It's been great here, but... we're Lions, you know? I just feel like that's what I'm always gonna be, and right now, Val Royeaux's where I have to go."

She smiled a little sadly, and nodded once. Once, they'd all been the same in that: Argent Lions before anything else, bound by that bond of camaraderie and shared purpose. Part of her always would be—it was only because she'd been a Lion first that she was ever able to rise to the challenge of being an Inquisitor. But she'd taken so many steps toward that new thing that she couldn't retrace them anymore. The Inquisition was her home, in the way that the barracks had been before it.

"I'm gonna stay a little while longer." Lia set down her cup. Her cheeks were a little red, a sure indication that she'd be stopping soon. Estella was already with the Lions when she'd had her first drink, and in all that time she'd never gone overboard with it. "Much as I'd like to go back, I might still be needed here. With Leta escaping..." It was an unfortunate side effect of the damage done to the fortress during the battle. They'd simply found her gone when someone finally thought to look.

"I just want to make sure there's no trouble on your hands before I abandon you, you know?" She grinned.

Estella smiled. "I appreciate that, really." Leta's escape was a little more personal for Lia than the others, probably, given the woman's connection to Marcus and Marcus's to Amalia and Ithilian in turn. No doubt Lia understood better than most just how important it was that someone so closely associated with a man like that not be allowed to go wherever she wanted.

"I'm sticking around for a bit, too," Cor said. "I think I've still got more use here than I do in Val Royeaux, so..." He shrugged, one hand coming up to almost-absently rub at his chest, or rather the maroon tunic over it.

She wondered if that was really all there was to it, but Estella chose not to press. Wiser not to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, and it was reassuring to know that at least the two of them would be sticking around. So much was sure to change, and with the group feeling like its bonds were starting to loosen and let some of them free, well. She'd hold onto whoever let her.

"Speaking of Orlesians, though, I think Julien was looking for you earlier. Not to chase you away, but you can see us anytime." He smiled faintly and nodded to where the man in question was standing against the wall just under the hole in the ceiling, speaking quite seriously about something to Rilien, it seemed.

"Guess I'd best see what that's about." Draining the last of her wine, she handed the cup back to Hissrad with her thanks and stood.

Rilien noticed her approach first; not unusual of him. He gave a small nod, the direction of his attention no doubt informing Julien of her presence as well. “You have recovered satisfactorily?" His own arm was still bandaged where it had been burned by the lyrium dragon's fire; she could see the edges of the gauze just peeking out from beneath the hem of his belled sleeve.

"I'm fine," she said honestly. She'd broken her shoulder and cracked three ribs, but of all that only a little tenderness remained. The Lord and Lady Inquisitors didn't really have to worry about lacking for care in terms of healing, and though the mages and alchemists had done their best to prioritize the severe wounds, she had Harellan, who wasn't exactly concerned with the same rules.

Julien gave her a warm smile, then looked pointedly up at the gap in the ceiling. "You know, I saw a Breach form here, and then close. With my own eyes. But it still seems like some dream I had, and not anything real." He took a quick swallow from the tankard in his hand. "Give me an incorrigible idiot or a diplomatic mess to handle or some assassin in need of skewering and I'm right as rain. This, though... this is very much your sort of thing." He tilted the mug in a gesture of toast. "In case you don't hear it often enough—and I daresay you won't—thank you for making everyone else's petty problems possible by saving us all."

Estella couldn't hold back the half-laugh that followed, shaking her head. "You're welcome. I think. Cor said you wanted to see me about something, though?"

He nodded slightly. "I heard about your escaped prisoner. Rilien supposes, and I agree, that she's more likely to flee west than east, which would put her in Orlais. The Crown would appreciate it if you could pass along any worthwhile information you have about her, in case she ends up our problem."

That made complete sense, of course. "Absolutely." A pause, and then: "Speak for The Crown now, do you? I always thought you were a bit too radical for that."

He bit back a grin and shrugged. "I'm not much for crowns in general, but I've a brain in my head. I can do a lot more good standing next to a man like him than I could ever accomplish trying to stand against him. We'll see how much of my agenda I can push, hm?"

"Best of luck, then." Estella had always found it to be a compelling agenda, after all.

"Thank you. If you happen to catch the Lord Inquisitor before I do, please extend Orlais's gratitude to him as well."

“I will see you tomorrow morning for training." Rilien, of course, could hardly be prevailed upon to give her two days off in a row, when she was in perfectly good shape to practice.

She was going to miss it when he wasn't there to keep her in line that way anymore, but by this point, daily work was a habit she'd have trouble breaking. No one could ever accuse him of being an ineffective teacher.

"I look forward to it."

Her tour of the room took her to the very front next, near where the thrones had once sat. There was another table there now, one that must have been moved from somewhere else. The Heralds' Rest, probably. Khari and Rom looked to be sharing the same spot on the bench, the former sitting in front of the Lord Inquisitor, back against his chest, gesturing expansively, probably in the middle of some story about either the last battle or some of those immediately before it. They both looked to be enjoying themselves, Rom possibly moreso than she'd ever seen him enjoy anything.

Estella took an empty stool near them, curious as to what Khari was talking about.

“—and of course you remember this next part. We're all standing there behind the gates, and Corypheus is all 'tremble before me' blah blah blah, and then this one—" She knocked her elbow back into Rom's arm with no force at all. “This one decides he's feeling like a smart-mouth heroic leader, and so he goes 'are we trembling, Inquisition?'"

She laughed. “And of course the answer is no, because who're we, right? Not afraid of any smelly son of a broodmother, obviously!" There was a chorus of agreement from the others at the table, and most everyone followed her example when she paused to quaff a bit more alcohol, already red in the face and grinning, the expression a tad less edged than her usual bloodthirsty one.

Thrusting one hand out at Estella, Khari lifted an eyebrow as if in challenge. “And then this one gives the Stel-est speech there ever was. Stellar? Has anyone ever made that pun in front of you?"

Estella rolled her eyes. "Maybe once or twice, but it's been a while, so thanks for that." Crossing one leg over the other, she waved a hand. "Anyway, don't mind me. What happened next?"

“Eh... the gates opened and there were a buncha demons and shit. Same as it always goes, on our end." She shrugged. “What everyone really wants to know is what happened after you guys disappeared." She widened her eyes dramatically at Estella, but then tilted her head back to look at Rom. “You gonna take over the story? I did a damn good found—foundy—start. I started it well. So you can finish it."

Rom chuckled at her drunkenness. He'd obviously had quite a bit himself, but drink didn't seem to make him much more talkative than usual. He was at least willing to finish her story, though. "We had a good fight, like we always did, me and Corypheus. Only this time I had Estella with me. She'd never had the pleasure of putting up with the ugly bastard's nonsense blabbering while he's trying to kill you." It was a disturbing habit, to be sure, a sign that he took far too much pleasure in the violence he caused, in the superiority it made him feel.

"He got us pretty good at first. At one point I was down and Estella," he shifted his eyes to her. "You broke our chairs. I was just starting to get used to that one, too."

"Technically Corypheus broke them," she replied with a broad smile. "With his face." Slightly inaccurate, but in the right spirit, at least.

He waved a hand dismissively. "It was a big target. We'd have ended up broken too, I'm sure, but then his dragon died, thanks to our friends down at the lake, and that stopped him cold. And then." He laughed a bit at himself, maybe for the attempt at being dramatic. "Estella reaches out with her mark, and rips that damn orb out of his hands, and blasts him with magic from it. Sent him clear across the room." He gestured with his hand to indicate the travel distance, start point to finish, and then his tone became more subdued.

"After that I just ran across the room, jumped on him, and..." He reached out with his marked hand, grasping at empty air, and made a soft noise imitating the explosion. A very clean way to describe something that had been extremely gruesome. He withdrew his hand, wrapping it around Khari's midsection instead while he took another drink from his cup.

"And then we picked ourselves up off the ground and closed the Breach," she finished with a short nod. "Destroyed the orb in the process, so that green scar in the sky's all that's left of it for good, now." She pointed upwards, drawing most of the eyes to the skyscar in question. It was right over their heads at this angle, after all.

She wondered how Harellan felt about the focus being lost. They weren't exactly common objects, after all. Perhaps something she'd have to ask him when they trained next.

“The Lord and Lady Inquisitor, everyone. How does Zee say it? Big damn heroes." Khari slid her arm over Rom's where he held her, humming in a way that sounded both contented and slightly sleepy. Given how late it was getting, that was hardly surprising.

Estella tapped the table and stood. "I'll see you all later. Maybe tell them the Tourney story again. I know I never get tired of that one." But Rom and Khari's obvious enjoyment of each other's company had reminded her of someone she had not yet seen tonight, and very much wanted to, so she spent the next few minutes searching for Ves.

It was a bit of a slow process; several people stopped her to offer thanks or congratulations, which she returned with as much warmth and appreciation as she could, even as she felt fatigue beginning to wear her down as well. Only after some number of these encounters that she honestly lost track of did she find him, standing rather quietly on the edges of the celebration, his back to one of the hall walls. If she had to take a guess, she'd say he was observing more than participating, something which was hardly like him.

When Estella reached his side, she tilted her head, letting a little of her confusion show through. "Hey," she said gently, "I kind of expected to find you holding court over half the room by now. Is everything all right?" She knew it wasn't, of course, not with recent events so fresh. But she meant to ask whether it was something other than the obvious, and she figured he'd understand.

"I thought I wouldn't hover over you for the night," he said, wrapping an arm around her as she drew close. "I just can't seem to make myself enjoy this. I know I should, but... I wish I could've held on to her a little longer. I wish she could've seen this." In terms of the timing, it was entirely possible Ves wouldn't have been able to make it through the battle, with Saraya causing him as much pain as she had. But the point still stood, and Saraya had passed on without being able to see them defeat Corypheus once and for all.

"Better not to linger on that, I suppose." He cleared his throat, possibly fighting the feeling of it choking up on him. "I've been thinking. You know I'm not leaving you, or the Inquisition, but I really ought to return home sometime. To Denerim. Thought I'd deliver my next update on my deeds to my parents in person." And they were remarkable deeds, for a city elf from the Alienage. "Think you can spare a few days, once everything is cleaned up here?"

Estella leaned easily into him, looping her near arm around his waist in turn. "Of course I can. Anytime you want, you know that." She turned her head to rest her brow at his shoulder. "There's a lot of stories to tell them, I expect." She looked forward to meeting them, too—getting to know the people who'd brought him into the world, even if just for a short visit. Part of her ached to know she'd never be able to do the same in reverse; never know what either of her parents would have made of what she'd become. But she'd take Harellan's word for it, and Ves already knew her family anyway.

"For what it's worth... I think she can see this. I really do." Estella couldn't claim to know what happened to people after they died, but... she believed she'd really talked to her father once. Surely it wasn't so outlandish to suppose that even now, their missing friend was watching over them, and knew what they'd just achieved.

"I think so too. I'm sure she's proud of the fact that, one more time, the Inquisition did the impossible."

The Canticle of Fate: Out Of Character (OOC)

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Re: The Canticle of Fate

For several days before they are formally introduced, he watches her.

Marcus knows that these matters have to be handled most delicately. His scheme is ambitious, and will require finding and shaping several pieces to his needs. He’s ensured that he’ll be assigned to the priesthood, cultivating a set of skills entirely unlike those he’d learned for his master. The Ben-Hassrath handle valuable information consistently; it is vital that he be placed among them rather than with the unthinking body of the army, and clerical positions are unavailable to him. It is this or nothing.

But that is not all that must go well. He observes her train, this human girl. Shaana, he has been informed. The Qunari word for the color of honey stands in for a name, perhaps because it is also the color of her hair. It isn't a sentimental thing, only a practical one. They need something to call her, something that will serve long enough for her to earn something else.

He decides she must have been born with a name. He can tell because of the way she watches some of the other humans in the settlement. Two in particular are always followed with curious eyes. And they are curious, the way one of them is red like that, and the other the same blue as Par Vollen’s sky. She knows who her parents are. And some part of her cares.

Marcus can use that. She’s susceptible to sentiment, still, and the Qunari have none. Not really. Not compared to what he can feign. He will light a fire inside her, and burn away everything she thinks she knows.

She’s almost pretty, he thinks. Perhaps when she is older, she will be, when the coltishness has faded and she has grown into her fledgling strength. It won't be hard to pretend.


"Do you know what your name was, before this?" He tilts his head at her, black eyes studying her face with uncanny keenness. The sun streams in from the window at an angle, giving the inky fall of his hair a shine and warming her unsleeved, unscarred arms. She isn't sure anyone has ever looked at her that way before. Somehow it feels... different, from being one among many. It feels like he is looking, not at Shaana, not at Imekari-who-will-be-Ben-Hassrath, but at her. A person who no longer has a name. A person who no longer exists.

She swallows. That look is dangerous. She can feel it, next to her bones, in the hollow of her chest. "That doesn't matter."

"Marcus," he says, almost as though he hadn't heard her. "Was mine. Marcus Alesius. No one knows that, here. No one but you." His body shifts, something about the change making her aware of how much taller than her he is, how much older and more powerful. How strange the moment is. How fragile. Her mouth feels dry, like she's swallowed sand.

His expectation weighs heavily on her. His eyes do, too; she isn't sure what to make of the weight. No one has ever asked her about before—she barely knows herself. Her words are true. It doesn't matter, but...

"Natalia." She says the word softly, finding its taste strange in her mouth. She's only ever said it once before. To herself, in the dark and quiet, just after she'd learned it in the first place. "Natalia Aiza."

His mouth curls; her breath catches in her throat. At fifteen years old, she finds herself with a sudden concrete understanding of something that has only been abstract to her before. It hits her like a wall, skittering up her spine and settling low in her belly, alive and uncomfortably hot, like an ember. She resists the urge to take a half-step backwards, to flee. He is new, the Besrathari had said. It will be her responsibility to help him learn what it means to follow the Qun. But even several months later, she knows that isn't what is happening. He knows everything he needs to know. He knows this isn't a conversation they should be having.

And it seems deliberate. No accident, no mistake.

Perhaps he senses her unease; his focus seems to sharpen even further. She feels like she is standing on the edge of a knife, and with so much as one wrong breath, she'll be cut. But all he does is smile a little more. "Natalia." It rolls off his tongue much more smoothly than hers. "How lovely. A secret between us, perhaps? I won't tell if you don't."

Her breath leaves her unsteadily. Already she wonders if it hadn't somehow been a mistake to say. A secret, between them. Just them. She's never had something like that before. Against her instincts, against every piece of her training and education, she finds herself nodding, a tentative smile turning her lips just barely, at the edges where it's hard to see.



They train together, outside of the ordinary practices.

He’s arranged for it to be so, and it was not difficult to convince her. She is driven by a need to prove that her smaller human body will not hinder her against even Qunari opponents, and a Ben-Hassrath must be capable of handling Qunari opponents. He gently floats the suggestion that they might be able to help one another, and she agrees readily. Once a day, under the cover of darkness, they train. So it has been for three years.

Shaana has grown tall and strong and swift. She has also bypassed pretty for an unusual kind of beautiful, skipping over it as though she knows instinctively that it is something she does not need. Such delicacy is not hers, will never be hers. This, too, is an advantage for Marcus; it is surpassingly unlikely that he will face competition for her attention. Even the Qunari acknowledge need and desire. Her humanity keeps her from most of it. His designs will keep her from the rest. She must depend on only him.

Her knife clashes against his; he deflects. Her agility nearly surprises him; she flips backward, kicking out to catch him off guard. But he knows what no one else seems to understand. Knows she is exceptional. And so in the end, it isn't especially surprising at all. His hand lashes forward, catches her leg at the ankle, and when she twists to bring them both to the ground, he goes willingly.

Marcus, too, is exceptional. Though the grapple is contentious, he maneuvers her into a pin first, planting his arm at her sternum and holding her in place with his legs thrown over either side of her body. They still, breathing rapid from the energy of the exchange. His blood runs hot with adrenaline; she is tense beneath him. Her breaths are short, soft against his cheek where they land. In the scant light afforded by the night sky, he watches her pupils dilate until they are blown wide, her irises just thin rims of color around the black.


It's only calculation. All part of the plan.

He kisses her.


The ember in her becomes a flame—a warm, flickering candle in the dark and the cold.

It’s just bodies, she tells herself. Just animal instinct. The Qun does not outlaw that. And if normally such matters are taken care of in a much more regular, appointed way, well… she decides it’s probably the most convenient like this regardless. She’ll spend long periods of time away from Par Vollen, away from any Qun-controlled settlement. And he’ll surely be her partner, so—it’s just convenient. Logical. Sensible.

If it also burns like a thing alive… who’s to know but her?


It’s just bodies—until it isn’t.

His aims require that he ensnare her mind as well as her senses. That is why, when first they succeed in a difficult mission for the Ariqun, he calls her kadan.

It’s why he’s angry when she does not use the word in return, a low, simmering seethe in his guts, and a twinge somewhere a little higher.

Never mind. She’ll come around.

He has time.


Kadan is a strange word.

Most of those in Qunlat have rigidly-defined uses; a small subclass are a little looser for the necessity of social conversation. But kadan is a word that has many meanings, something that is otherwise anathema to Qunari mentality. To some, it is an indication of close camaraderie. Partnership. If that were all it meant, she could have called him so without a moment’s hesitation.

When Shaana learned the trade tongue, she came to understand that people classified their relationships in many ways. Some the Qun would allow, and many more that it would not. She suspects that some of her people use the word like the word friend is used elsewhere. Perhaps this explains her hesitance. Friend does not seem like the appropriate characterization of what they are to each other.

But it is there anyway, on the tip of her tongue or caught in the back of her throat. It seems close sometimes when it is his skin on hers, his breath in her lungs, the heat of his body surrounding her. But it seems closer still after, when his fingers are sifting through her hair, easing the knots from it, or when they rise early in the morning, still bleary from sleep, and their eyes meet across their campsite. When he asks her to tease the harp-strings for him, and lays back to close his eyes and listen.

She will say it when this is over, she thinks. When the viddathari are safely ensconced in Qunari territory, and the Imperium is far behind them. When they do not have to tread so carefully, lest they be caught by Tevinter agents. When they are home.

So caught up is she in these thoughts that she does not notice the ambush until it is far too late.


His lips purse, thinning into a line.

Kadan, please. All it will take is the list. I know she gave it to you.”

She is silent. He thinks distantly that she has seldom been more herself than she is in this moment, trapped under someone else’s power and still so very proud. Her eyes are hard like gemstones, a ruby and a sapphire, set into a stubborn face that wears its hostility well. A wounded tigress, she is, aware of her own peril but refusing to submit to it.

Marcus is almost moved by it. Perhaps he is, but not enough. There are things he must do, things he was born into this world to do, and right now, she is making herself an obstacle.

He runs the flat of his knife along the line of her jaw. Just a slight tilt, the barest angling, and it will bite into the skin of her face. He’s already carved marks upon her body, regular and precise, calculated for pain but not permanent damage. She anticipates another; he knows she does. Perhaps she anticipates that he’ll take her eyes, too. He has intimated more than once that he is fond of them.

It tempts him, the thought that he could be the last thing she was ever allowed to see. But though this exercise has become as much pleasure as utility, he cannot turn the knife. Her eyes would hold no appeal without her spirit burning behind them. Though the rest of her will forever bear his marks, he finds that he prefers her face just as it is.

The knife falls away, and he reaches up with his free hand, instead, pressing his fingertips gently to her cheek. “This would be so much easier if you would cooperate, Natalia.”

Her lip curls. She turns her face away, shifting as far from his hand as she is able. His methods of persuasion have proven ineffective. She is not as much his as he believed, and this is proving to be his fatal error.

Clenching his teeth, Marcus shifts his hand, gripping her jaw and wrenching her head back towards him. He closes the distance until they are breathing the same air, finding that it ignites him just the same as it always has. He tilts forward the last few inches; when their mouths meet, it is neither tender nor soft. He bites her lip until it bleeds, pulling back with a shuddering recoil. Perhaps if—

He stops short, the taste of copper on his tongue.

Her eyes are cold. Distant. As though she is no longer present in the room at all. He sought to pull her, and has pushed instead. He does not want her like this.

Marcus releases her, and storms from the room.


Methodically, he strips everything from her.




Something like what other languages call love.

In the end, all that is left is the Qun. The breath in her lungs, the words in her mind.

The flame is extinguished.

She endures.


She dies beneath his hands.

Her breath is still. Her warmth is gone. And for a moment, his world whites out to nothing.

He commands his men to bury her.

They do not find the courage to tell him that the grave is empty for weeks after. When they do, he does not know what he feels. Only that a fire still burns in him, and that when he dreams, it is of the fire in her.


Her name, says the Ariqun, is Amalia.

The ashes are cold, now.


Over time, she takes back the things he stole.

Her music is first. She decides that she likes playing it for the children in this place. They are not, perhaps, quite as good at listening, but she finds that this does not bother her. They are innocent, and have no designs in their attention, and she needs that perhaps more than she realized.

Her smile returns eventually as well. Infrequently, but that has always been so. She is not a lighthearted person, and the burden of her history will always weigh her down. She tries not to feel imprisoned by it, and occasionally, she succeeds. Hope returns on the heels of this revelation, and it gathers the ashes close at her feet again. They are not so desolate as she supposed.


Faith is a slower, harder battle.

She finds it, of course, in the place she least expects.

“Perhaps, when we are done, we will have more to show for it than our scars.”



Trust is an unbearable lightness.

It’s weightless, like she might float into the sky, unmoored from all her burdens. Though that proves to be temporary, and eventually her feet find the ground once more, what remains is solid under her, a foundation she can stand on. It shifts the landscape of her entire life, when she finally understands what kadan means, sweeping away everything she stood on before.

It is terrifying, and sublime.


She has not reclaimed everything that he took. Amalia knows that well, because she feels what is still missing like an emptiness, a hollow place and an ache that does not abate.

Sometimes it feels literal. It does this night, when she and kadan are camped beneath an overhang. Rain pours from above, but their shelter is just enough to keep them dry. Kadan sleeps, and Amalia watches. It is always thus—Marcus cannot be trusted not to find and destroy them in their sleep. She believes he would want them to know their demise was at his hands, but she has believed many things about him that turned out to be false. She refuses to take the risk.

Her eyes fall to Ithilian; it’s technically his turn to watch now, but she elects to let him sleep a while longer. The constant travel has been hard on them both, but this is for her, and she is conscious of all he has given up to help. It humbles her, that someone cares for her so much, because Amalia knows with iron certainty that no one else ever has.

It is for him most of all that she wishes to be free.

Something tightens in her throat, and she turns her eyes out towards the rain again, watching it fall from the stone shelf over their heads to the forest floor. It smells like new things, like spring and fresh greenery.

It occurs to her that some of the most beautiful things in the world only grow in soil that has been enriched by ashes.

One day. One day there will be something new in the empty places. As soon as she is brave enough to allow it to bloom.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

And around 6 months later, making another celebratory post, as the roleplay is now over 1 million words. The milestone happened to arrive on my birthday of all days, which is pretty sweet. We've had a lot of amazing stuff happen already in this RP, and we've got nothing but amazing stuff planned for the rest of it.

A sincere thanks to Kiku, Val, Tally, and Yonni for everything. This stuff we do really does mean the world to me.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Character Playlists
Just so everyone knows where I'm hoarding them.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Just making a bit of a celebratory post, to mark the roleplay just crossing the 500,000 word mark. Not even close to done, either.

Go team.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Hey Morpheus, thanks for stopping by.

It's always super encouraging to hear that people sometimes end up reading the stuff we write. Even more when we hear that they enjoy it. We're really happy the perspective thing is working out well, it's something we'd wanted to try since midway through CoC, but we didn't want to mess with the style format halfway through that. The semi-novel like effect is really what we've been going for, while still maintaining that roleplay aspect where we all still restrict ourselves to our own characters. It's sometimes difficult to decide which character is best suited to take perspective for a given post, but it's been a fun challenge, and we're pretty happy with the results.

We're currently at the end of one of our slowed-down periods, as we tend to take a month or so off around the end of the school year due to craziness in our lives. But, I think we'll start chugging along here soon enough again, and have new posts coming out. We're looking forward to getting into more personal plotlines now that they're all situated at Skyhold. Sort of the "Act 2" stage that we had for CoC, which proved to be the most fun part to write, in my opinion.

So thanks again for leaving that awesome note, it's always great to hear from those that read our work. We hope you'll continue to enjoy what's coming up.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

*dusts off a seat in the visitor center*

Hi there!

So I know some of you from previous RPs, and some of you I don’t know at all, but I wanted to take a moment to use my words and say some stuff.

I’m not around the site a lot anymore; mostly because I have too many things to do elsewhere, but at some point before I left, I read all or most of City of Chains, and I checked back on the place a few days ago, only to find that not only did it have a sequel, it had a sequel that might prove to be even better than the first!

I read everything you guys have done here so far, and I just want to congratulate you on how well-done it is. The characters are unique and compelling, and each has a distinct voice and perspective that you really manage to bring out with the way you shift POVs between posts. It’s always clear to me whose post it is, and I really enjoy the variation and the coherence there. They’re good as protagonists; most of them are very obviously flawed or imperfect in at least one way, but their flaws are never so glaring that they become unsympathetic. Some of them have a sort of archetypal flavor to them, but I don’t find them predictable or boring because of this. (I confess to having favorites like anyone does, but I certainly could not say there's a single character here I don't like).

The plot, where you’ve changed it, still makes sense and flows together pretty seamlessly with the original material, and I don’t find myself missing any of the characters or plot elements you’ve replaced. I like the DA:I story, and I like your story, and while they’re obviously similar, they aren’t the same, so I don’t find even the aspects of the plot that remain unchanged to be a slog.

In short, the story’s a pleasure to read, and I’m glad you’re the ones doing it, because I have evidence (and confidence) that you’ll actually finish it, which is a rare accomplishment on its own. Lots of times, RPs are really only for their writers, and don’t get much attention outside of that. I get that; people come here to write more often than they come here to read. But, if anyone happens to come across this little review of mine, I encourage them to give this one a try. It reads more like a novel than what I typically think of as an RP, and the writers are to be commended for pulling that off so well. As someone who has tried to achieve this effect myself, I can say it’s tough to get that flow sometimes.

Anyway, I say this with no ulterior motives; I’m not looking to break into your group here or anything like that. Even if I had the time, I have to say I’d be a little afraid of altering what is clearly an exceptional formula. But I wanted you all to know that I read what’s here, really loved it, and look forward to future posts.

Best of luck.


Re: The Canticle of Fate

AugustArria wrote:I'm sure we'll have side projects spring up eventually (some time after we finish our other endeavor, most likely). Those will probably be a bit more experimental, and probably open to a few more people joining if they're interested. We'll keep you on the list for when that happens. Might be a while, but it'll happen at some point.

I'll hold ye to it, then. Have fun with this one, guys. Hope it's as successful as the last!

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Shu wrote:I'll write with ya'll one day yet, mark my words.

I'm sure we'll have side projects spring up eventually (some time after we finish our other endeavor, most likely). Those will probably be a bit more experimental, and probably open to a few more people joining if they're interested. We'll keep you on the list for when that happens. Might be a while, but it'll happen at some point.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Kurokiku wrote:And hey Shu. Yeah, this one is something we've been planning for just the five of us for a very long time, so we made an early decision not to open it up publicly. It's a project that's really dear to us, and the second part of something already three and a half years running, so we're a bit protective of it haha.

I'll write with ya'll one day yet, mark my words.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Damn so it really is just photoshop, eh? I've dabbled in photoshop and made some things I thought looked good but damn....nothin that nice lol. Now I've a new goal to mind If I shoot you a question now and then?

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Basically hours spent sifting through the underbelly of deviantart for original/similar art, hours more of photoshop, and bunch of random ass practice, trial and error, and a tutorial every now and then warped to my purposes.

Maybe a sacrifice to a Dark Old one every now and then. Maybe.

But no, most of it's just a bunch of image effects in photoshop, time, and creative use of HTML code.

Thanks for the comment though! If my ego gets any bigger we'll have to build a house around it. Compliments makes me all warm and fuzzily inside.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Dangit! Now I have to go and play a dragon age game...I hope your proud of yourselves!

Also, your guy's rp made me totally look up more Dragon Age rps totally thinking there'd be one to join-I cant believe how little I actually found, and I don't even mean active rps. I'm talkin in general, its like an untouched rp topic for the most part....its really wierd, just thought it'd be way more popular I guess? Or maybe I wasn't looking in the right spot/useing the right search.

And that's really cool to hear Kurokiku-Im a huge dragon age fan (like...huge) and I'd never seen anything like what you did Tempest-like it totally matches the style, it just all looked original (and if not, real rare images I'd not seen/cant recall). I dunno if that makes since, but Im seriously giving you mad props man. What do you use to work on that stuff, if you don't mind me asking? If you read this that is, lol.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Hi tuxedo fox! Comments are always welcome in the OOC, and we're glad you like our stuff. Talisman is the primary visuals person in the group, so the lion's share of credit for the intro page layout goes to him.

And hey Shu. Yeah, this one is something we've been planning for just the five of us for a very long time, so we made an early decision not to open it up publicly. It's a project that's really dear to us, and the second part of something already three and a half years running, so we're a bit protective of it haha.

Re: The Canticle of Fate

Hey there, sorry if this is for active rpers only. Just wanted to say you guys have one of the neatest intro pages I've seen, did one of you actually make all that in one way or another? Either way, badass job!

Re: The Canticle of Fate

This is the next one, isn't it?! Was I too late?! Oh well, if I can't join you at least I can read along again.:'(

The Canticle of Fate


Welcome to The Canticle of Fate's OOC page. We likely won't use this very much, as a majority of our chat is done on the titanpad. Think of it more as a visitor center.