Kate’s eyes opened slowly. She lingered in the hazy state between sleep and waking, too groggy to move, too comfortable to care. Her eyes roamed up the wooden wall beside her bed, noting the knots in the planks, the rough spliters that some carpenter had failed to smooth away. Several pelts hung on the wall, giving the whole place a rustic, Ferelden sort of look.
Wait. Ferelden? Kate blinked. She was in Ferelden, wasn’t she? At the thought, streams of memory came trickling back into Kate’s mind. She recalled the breach, the fight with a demon, the ensuing blast. She remembered that she was supposed to remember more. But she remembered nothing of the Conclave itself - and that had gotten her into trouble with a Seeker, hadn’t it?
Oh dear, yes it had.
A movement caught Kate’s attention. Kate turned her head to see a pair of large eyes staring at her. Kate sat up in surprise. Likewise, the elf attached to those eyes cried “Oh!” There as a crash then, as an entire crate of elfroot potions went smashing to the floor. The elf jumped back in alarm, looking rather like a grasshopper as she did so.
“Oi!” Kate hear someone call from the other side of the room. “That’d better not be another batch of elfroot potions broken.”
“I’m sorry!” the elf cried, nearly a wail, really. “I didn’t know she was awake, I swear!”
“It’s alright,” Kate said, reaching out a hand. “I didn’t…”
“Kate?” a familiar voice cried.
A flurry of black braids and tattoos came flying across the room. Coll launched herself at Kate and threw her arms around Kate’s neck. The skinny elf stared at them with wide eyes.
“T-that’s wrong, isn’t it?” the skinny elf murmured to herself, looking utterly distraught. “It’s wrong to touch the Herald.”
Coll ignored that. She squeezed Kate fiercely, making Kate’s ribs hurt for a moment. Then, with a great sniff, Coll drew back, tears in her eyes.
“Oh, Coll,” Kate said, with sympathy. “What’s wrong?”
Coll responded by punching Kate in the shoulder - hard.
“Ow!” Kate exclaimed, rubbing her arm. “What was that for?”
“Yeh bleedin’ tick!” Coll cried, waving a hand in Kate’s face. “Emma enfanim ma dar din’an! So help me, Kate, next you go muckin’ about with the Fade, gettin’ dragged to me conked out and half-dead, you’re gonna wake with a bottle of elfroot shoved up your arse!”
Kate laughed at this threat, but the skinny elf gasped.
“Y-you shouldn’t speak that way, Mistress Coll,” the elf protested. To Kate, she bowed and said, “We must beg your forgiveness, and your blessing, my lady. We are but humble servants…”
That made Coll’s tears dry up rather quickly, Kate noticed.
“Oi!” the Dalish snapped, “Speak for yerself. I’m no servant.”
“B-but she saved us,” the skinny elf went on. “We owe her our very lives. The breach stopped glowing, just like the mark on her hand.”
“It did?” Kate asked, her head snapping up.
Out of curiousity, Kate looked down at her palm. It was true, she saw. The mark was no longer spitting and sparking, though she did have a grisly-looking scar there. And, Kate realized, if she concentrated, she almost thought she could see the mark glowing through her skin - as if she could control it a little?
No, she thought, turning her hand over. It must just be a trick of the light. She couldn’t manage this thing at all.
“What is it?” she murmured to herself. When she looked up, she found Coll had a strange expression on her face.
“What?” Kate asked. Coll jerked her head at the skinny elf, as if to say ‘I’ll tell you about it later.’
“I’m certain Lady Cassandra would want to know she’s wakened,” the skinny elf said, pointing at the door. “She said, ‘at once.’”
”‘At once,’ is it?” Coll asked. “Well, get on with you then. Go tell the Seeker at once.”
“B-but,” the elf said, backing away with jerky movements, “Lady Cassandra is waiting in the ch-Chantry. ‘At once,’ she said.”
“Kate’ll go when she’s good and ready,” Coll snapped. “Besides. She needs her healer to check her hand, make sure she’s alright.”
The strange elf stared at them both, evidently unable to comprehend how anyone - least of all a Dalish - would dare to keep a Seeker waiting.
“I’ll be along shortly,” Kate assured her.
The elf backed away one more step, then turned and fled. The moment the door shut, Coll rolled her eyes.
“Ach,” she groaned, “that little chancer creeps me out. Always droppin’ potions on the floor, eyes everywhere but on your face.”
“Mistress Coll, is it?” Kate asked, her lips twitching.
”‘High priestess of flesh wounds’ was taken,” Coll said. Though she waved a hand dismissively, Kate heard the pride in Coll’s tone.
“Speakin’ of which,” Coll went on, “I wasn’t jokin’ about checkin’ you over. Gimme your hand.”
Kate held her hand out, allowing Coll to poke at her palm.
“Raw job, surely,” Coll muttered. “All that scar tissue won’t never go away.”
“At the moment, I’m simply grateful that I still have a hand,” Kate pointed out. “There was a moment I thought I might lose it.”
“You almost did,” Coll said, all grim seriousness.
“Oh,” Kate said, cringing at the thought. She paused, then added, ““I’m glad you’re safe, Coll.”
Coll just shrugged. “I’m too pretty to die.”
Kate smiled at that, but then she frowned.
“Speaking of dying…”
Wait, that sounded rather morbid. Kate tried again:
“Where is Robert?” Kate asked, both wanting and dreading an answer. “Did the Seeker ever find him?”
“Ah, so she was lookin’ fer him?” Coll smirked, still examining Kate’s hand. “Well, good on Robbie-boy then.”
“What?” Kate asked, confused.
“Last I saw Robbie,” Coll went on, “He went running up the mountain. Lookin’ for you.”
Kate’s felt her insides go cold. “So where is he now?”
“Dunno,” Coll said. She let go of Kate’s hand, reached for the box of dropped potions, and drew out a small bottle. She pulled the stopper and the strong, leafy smell of elfroot filled the room.
“Maker’s breath,” Kate murmured, looking to the door. “I hope he’s alright.”
“Eh,” Coll said, daubing the murky-looking poultice on Kate’s hand. “Don’t you worry, Kate. Crazy shem like your cousin should be fine. His kind always have more luck than sense. Anyhow, I was watchin’ all the bodies and no one brought in a corpse that height. You’d have to trim that boy at the knees to get him to fit into one of those pyre-bags.”
Kate’s stomach churned. “That’s not reassuring, Coll,” she said.
“Sure it is,” Coll shrugged, sticking the stopper back in the bottle. “Robbie’s probably flirtin’ with some soldier just now. You should worry about yerself, Kate. You’ve got bigger problems before ye.”
“Why?” Kate asked. “I thought the breach was shut.”
“It’s shut,” Coll agreed. “Sort of. It’s not gone. It’s not shut tight. But it’ll hold for now.”
“Well there’s some good news,” Kate sighed.
”‘Tis,” Coll agreed. “Not that you’d know it was shut from the way that Seeker keeps stormin’ about.”
“Is Cassandra still angry with me?” Kate asked, cringing.
“More angry with me, I expect,” Coll snorted.
“Why?” Kate asked. “What did you do? She seemed upset when I mentioned your name.”
“Stompin’ like a saddled halla, she was,” Coll said, rolling her eyes at Kate. “I lied ‘bout knowin’ ye so I could stay near and keep an eye on you.‘”
“Oh…” Kate blinked. “Well. Thank you, Coll.”
“Don’t mention it,” Coll said, “and next time you go chattin’ up a Seeker, feel free not to mention me at all, will yeh?”
“Sorry,” Kate said.
”‘Tis alright,” Coll replied. “Just tell me, Kate. What happened up there?”
“Up there?” Kate repeated. “When we closed the breach? Or before?”
“Before, of course,” Coll said. She glanced over her shoulder, as if checking to make sure the room was still empty.
“I don’t remember,” Kate said with a sigh.
“What really?” Coll said, frowning. “I know you said you didn’t remember anythin’, but I thought for sure that was you tellin’ tales.”
“I wasn’t lying,” Kate said, scowling. “Maker’s breath, I know Cassandra and the others don’t believe me, but I hoped you would.”
Coll’s dark brows furrowed. “You really don’t remember?”
“I don’t, truly,” Kate said, sighing. “It’s like part of my memory got blasted away with the temple explosion. Actually,” she added, softly, “I don’t know if it was the explosion that tore up my memory. It could have happened before - or after? It’s all a blank somewhere beyond that first bridge. I’m sorry.”
Coll snorted, shaking her head. “What in feck are you apologizin’ for? You say you didn’t do it, I believe ye. You were always shite at lyin’, anyway. Maybe I should tell ‘em that.”
“Maybe you should,” Kate agreed.
“Nah,” Coll said, “Doesn’t matter what you say anymore, Kate. These shems have made up their own story. And it’s a doozy. You’re gonna hate it, knowin’ you.”
“Oh no,” Kate cringed. “What is it?”
Coll just raised a brow in a ‘do you really want to hear this?’ sort of look. Kate felt even more sick.
“What?” she said, shuddering. “I thought closing the breach would change their minds.”
“Oh, they changed their minds, they did,” Coll laughed “You shut that breach tight as a Chantry sister’s arse on a stone cold pew. And they’re dead grateful, they are.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Kate wanted to know.
“Yeh fell out of the Fade, Kate,” Coll exclaimed. “The place where your Maker lives, yeah? And there was a woman in the rift behind you. And now somethin’ about a vision with the Divine callin’ for help…”
“A vision,” Kate repeated, remembering it now. Yes, there had been a vision of an old woman crying for help, but Kate hadn’t placed much stock in it. That had been some kind of echo flowing from the Fade. But everyone knew the Fade was a notoriously inaccurate place.
Then again, Kate realized, maybe they didn’t know that. Only mages spent any time studying the Fade. The average person might take that vision as the Chant-sung truth.
”…and then some glowin’ lass shoves you out of a rift with that mark on your hand,” Coll continued. “So now, they all assume…”
Coll trailed off meaningfully.
“They assume what?” Kate asked. Coll paused for dramatic effect.
“Oh, for Andraste’s sake, Coll, spit it out,” Kate said, nervously.
“For Andraste’s sake, is it?” Coll said, arching a brow as a wry smile spread across her face. “Funny you should say that…”
“The Inquisition reborn,” Lieutenant Keran said, softly. He looked up at Cullen with his brows drawn. “I know we trained for this day, ser, but I never thought it would happen.”
“Not like this, anyhow,” Cullen agreed.
They stood at the edge of the training field and stared out at the lake before them. The wind picked up, smelling of snow and pine. It was a rather breezy place to train the troops, Cullen supposed, but it would have to do. It was, after all, the only spot of level ground in the whole of Haven.
The entire village was ill-suited to their needs, truthfully. The smithy was too small, the roads nearly impassible. But it was a beginning, Cullen told himself. The Inquisition had returned, and it would require a small army to fight back against the growing chaos around them. It was Cullen’s job to see that army assembled and equipped, to command them into whatever mission presented itself.
Yes, Cullen would be leading the troops, but he wasn’t sure who would be leading the Inquisition itself.
That was the uncertainty, Cullen reflected. The Divine had been the heart of the Inquisition. But now their center was gone. As soon as possible, they needed to find someone to fill the role of Inquisitor.
In the meantime, Cullen thought, they had a million questions in need of answers and a world on fire. Answers and buckets of water were both in short supply. In fact, the only thing that had gone right lately was that a strange mage with a mark had stumbled out of the Fade and shut the breach.
Of course, that brought more complications than solutions.
“Have we secured the survivor’s support?” Cullen asked Keran.
“Um, not yet,” Keran replied.
Cullen grimaced. Well, he hoped the woman saw reason. It wasn’t as if they could let her go. With rifts opening all over the nearby valleys, they needed her mark. Besides, Cullen thought, a lone mage wouldn’t get very far
“Cassandra and Leliana are speaking to the Herald right now, ser,” Keran went on.
Cullen glanced over at him. “The Herald, is it?” he asked, arching a brow.
“Well,” Keran blushed. “That is what they’re calling her.”
It was astonishing how quickly everyone had gone from assuming the mage was guilty to assuming she was a messenger of Andraste. Cullen suspected that Leliana had a hand in this sudden shift in popular opinion. For his part, Cullen was not fond of rumors, especially ones which preyed upon faith. But this was a rather desperate case, he supposed. And the rumor might be true, in a sense. Their ‘herald’ had shown up exactly when they needed her.
Or a few days late, judging by the casualty reports, Cullen thought darkly.
“Are they done briefing the survivor?” Cullen asked.
“No, ser,” Keran replied.
“Any indication of how long the meeting will last?”
“None ser. They insisted on meeting privately. Even Chancellor Rodrick was asked to leave to leave the Chantry.”
“I’m sure he bore that slight with great fortitude,” Cullen said, his lips twitching. Keran blinked in confusion.
“I’m told he was quite annoyed, ser,” the officer said.
“Yes,” Cullen agreed. “That’s what I… Never mind. Was there anything else?”
“Yes, ser. Lady Cassandra plans to formally announce the Inquisition as the sun sets. She requests that you be there for a quick meeting beforehand. And she said something about wanting you to post the Divine’s writ on the Chantry door?”
Cullen snorted. “So the others make announcements and write letters and I’m reduced to putting nails through paper?”
Keran looked a bit bewildered.
“Fine,” Cullen shrugged. “I’m not as well-practiced with blunt weapons, but I think I can manage to wield a hammer.”
“Er, right,” Keran said, still little looking a bit confused.
“Anything else?” Cullen asked him.
“Leliana said our first task will be to secure the Hinterlands”
“Of course,” Cullen agreed. “You and Ruvena should go with Leliana’s scouts. Prepare whatever soldiers we have left.”
“That’s not many soldiers, ser,” Keran observed, quietly.
It wasn’t, Cullen thought. They would have to recruit more people and train them - and they would have to do it quickly, too. It was terrible, really, thinking of lives in this way, as if his soldiers were stones that must be replaced with other stones. But when one was building a wall to keep the tides of chaos at bay, then one did what one must. Cullen only hoped the stones held in the days to come.
“Alright then,” he said, turning back to his lists. “Let’s see who we have left.”
“I am glad you are joining us,” Cassandra said, nodding crisply as she led Kate to the door.
“You are?” Kate asked, before she could think better of it. “I mean, thank you,” she said, catching herself a moment later.
Leliana gave a little chuckle as they left the forward room of the Chantry. Cassandra, however, slanted a dark glance at Kate. It was looks like those that had made Kate question whether the Seeker truly was glad that Kate had joined them.
“I am glad,” Cassandra said, her tone as hard as ever. Really, Kate thought, the woman had a voice like the sound of hot steel being hammered at a forge.
“What Cassandra means to say,” Leliana put in, “Is that we very much need your help. We are pleased to find you are our ally, and not our enemy. Clearly, we have enemies enough.”
Kate gave the spymaster a thin smile. Between the right and left hands of the Divine, Kate was feeling a bit squeezed. She also wondered if they were having second thoughts about asking her to join them.
Kate was having second thoughts. She had studied the first Inquisition in her Chantry history classes. The precursors to the Chantry had been a pretty ruthless lot, as she recalled. Kate had no intention of allowing that part of history to repeat itself. But these two - Cassandra and Leliana - they seemed reasonable. Not nice, exactly - they didn’t seem remotely nice - but they seemed reasonable. At least they no longer were threatening to kill her, Kate thought. That was an improvement over their first meeting.
“In here,” the Seeker said.
Kate shivered as she came to join Cassandra. The Chantry was cool and clammy - like a crypt, really. The many candles did not make the place cheerier. Quite the opposite, in fact. But at the moment, Kate was grateful for the respite from the crowds.
Coll had warned her, but Kate hadn’t believed it until she saw it with her own eyes. The people of Haven had lined the streets to stare at Kate. It had completely terrified her. She kept expecting one of them - or all of them - to attack her at any moment. Just a few days ago, they’d hated her, thinking she’d killed the Divine. But now, they were in awe of her. Public opinion was a fickle as ever, Kate thought wryly.
Kate nearly stumbled on the uneven stones as she came to a halt beside Cassandra. The Seeker stood in a doorway.
“This is where you will stay,” Cassandra said. Kate entered the room and looked around, taking in three beds, a few chairs, books, and a wardrobe.
“This is my cell?” Kate asked.
“You are a prisoner no longer,” Leliana said, walking up beside Kate. “Let us make this perfectly clear: from this moment on, you are our partner in this endeavor.”
Kate was about to say that she had meant ‘cell’ as in a monk’s cell. It was a Chantry, after all, and so she’d tried to use the correct term for such a room. But Kate decided not to explain all this. She remained silent and Leliana went on:
“If people are to think you are the Herald,” the spymaster said, “then we must treat you as the Maker’s chosen. You will be shown respect, and you must command it from others, no?”
“No,” Kate said. “I mean, yes. I mean, of course.”
If she was going to command respect, Kate reflected, she was going to have to watch her step. And to that end, she should probably keep her mouth shut and think carefully about every word she said. It would be business as usual, Kate assured herself. Just like being back at home with the nobility.
Only the stakes were a little higher now, Kate reflected.
“You will stay with us,” Cassandra told Kate, nodding at the space before them.
Kate’s mouth dropped open a fraction. The right and left hands of the Divine were to be her roommates?
I guess that makes me the little spoon, Kate thought.
She bit the inside of her lip to keep from laughing aloud. Clearly, fear was making her a bit hysterical. Instead, Kate folded her hands before her and said:
“How nice. I’m sure we’ll be very cozy.”
Amazingly, Kate managed to keep her voice steady - mostly. A note of amusement might have crept in there at the end.
“I do not sleep here,” Leliana said. “I have a tent just outside the Chantry. With my duties being what they are, I keep odd hours.”
“And Leliana is nocturnal,” Cassandra said. Kate smiled at the joke, then realized the Seeker was completely serious.
“That is Josephine’s space,” Cassandra said, waving a hand at one of the beds. “You will meet her soon enough. That bed is mine. And this space has been cleaned and…” She took a breath, then let it out very slowly.
“And now it shall be yours.”
“Oh,” Kate said, confused by the Seeker’s odd behavior. “I don’t mean to take someone else’s bed.”
Kate had to wonder who she was displacing, exactly. Another Seeker? That bear-soldier, perhaps? But no, Kate thought, the bear-soldier wouldn’t room with two other women, would he?
“It belongs to no one now,” Cassandra said, softly. “But before…” She sighed, then said, “It was where the Divine slept.”
“W-what?” Kate blanched. “I couldn’t…”
“She no longer requires it,” Cassandra interrupted. Kate sensed there was grief beneath those words.
“Yes, but…” Kate stared from one woman to the other, “Shouldn’t we turn it into a shrine or something?”
“The people of Haven have already tried to do so,” Cassandra said. Again, Kate thought the woman was jesting, then realized she was completely serious.
“Justinia wouldn’t have wanted that,” Leliana put in. “She would have wanted us to be practical and move on. And we can’t have you sleeping out in the cold.”
“I don’t see why not,” Kate replied. “Half the people of Haven are.”
“You shall sleep here. It is expected,” Cassandra said, curtly, as if that should end the argument.
Kate pursed her lips. Apparently, the people of Haven got whatever they wanted. If they wanted her to sleep where the Divine slept, she would rest in a dead woman’s bed. If they wanted a Herald from Andraste, then Kate would be trotted out and made to look like one.
Kate frowned at the thought. Coll had been absolutely right: the shems had made up a doozy of a story.
“And now that you have a place to rest,” Leliana went on, her voice becoming suddenly cheerful and bright, “we must get you cleaned up a bit. You’ll soon be presented to the people of Haven, and you must look the part.”
Kate looked down at her torn clothing with a frown.
“We have new clothes for you and a wash basin,” Leliana went on, waving a hand at these items. “I have set out some of my makeup as well. Orlesian cosmetics, of course. We would not want our Herald to wear coarse Ferelden rouge.”
“I don’t wear rouge,” Kate said, distantly. She didn’t wear make-up in general, unless her mother insisted.
“You may want to today,” Leliana said, her eyes narrowing in consideration. “You look a touch pale. And perhaps your eyes…”
The spymaster cocked her head this way and that while studying Kate’s face, like a little bird looking at a shiny object. Kate just stared straight ahead, not really listening as Leliana went on about how Kate could best bring out her cheekbones. This entire ordeal now felt as though she was being trussed up for a family ball. Except instead of dressing up in a gown, Kate was being given something akin to light armor. Instead of being asked to charm a group of aristocrats, Kate was being asked to close rifts and give hope to traumatized soldiers and frightened farmers.
Maker, Kate thought. This was insane. It was like she was being handed a test that she had never studied for, asked to teach a class for which she didn’t know the subject matter. She was completely unprepared for any of this, Kate thought wildly. Until this week, she’d never traveled more than twenty miles from home. There was no way she could do this and not fail.
One step at a time, Kate she told herself, trying to remember to breathe. They just want you to close rifts. And before that, they want you to wash your face. You can manage that much.
She could, Kate thought, taking a breath. She could manage that much. One step at a time.
Kate calmed down enough to realize that Leliana was still going on about possible cosmetic scenarios. Cassandra, however, was growing increasingly impatient.
“We don’t need to paint her like some Orlesian courtier,” the Seeker cut in.
Kate thought this was rather strange statement, coming from someone who wore as much kohl around her eyes as she did armor upon her body.
“Josie went to great lengths to get something in her size,” Leliana said, frowning. “We must present her as an ally, not a prisoner. So really,” she added, turning back to the Kate, “the most important thing is that you look more…”
“Not dead,” Cassandra put in, flatly.
“Tactful as always, Cassandra,” Leliana said, wryly. “I was going to say ‘polished.’”
“Make up or no,” Cassandra went on, “we need you to show strength and confidence to the people of Haven. In one hour, I shall gather the crowds together. You will join us outside for the announcement of the Inquisition. Be prepared.”
“Prepared,” Kate repeated with a nod of her head. “Right.”
One step at a time, Kate.
“I take my leave,” Leliana said, bowing slightly. “Herald.”
Kate didn’t know if she should call Leliana by her name, by the title ‘spymaster’ or ‘Nightingale’ or what. So she settled on, “um, bye” - and immediately felt like an idiot.
Kate was still inwardly cringing at her awkwardness when Cassandra moved to leave as well. But Kate held out a hand to stay the Seeker.
“Wait,” she said. Cassandra stopped and turned. Kate still felt as though her head was spinning, but one very important issue remained in her mind:
“Did you ever find out what happened to Robert?” Kate asked the Seeker. Maybe it was her imagination, but Kate thought she saw the Seeker flinch.
“I looked for him in the crowds outside,” Kate went on, her voice rising, “but he wasn’t there. You said you were going to ask around, and I wondered…”
Kate broke off as a regretful look fell over Cassandra’s face.
“Maker,” Kate muttered, guessing at once what that meant. “Is he…?”
Kate couldn’t finish that thought. Her stomach felt as though it had fallen through the floor.
“He is unaccounted for,” Cassandra said.
“Unaccounted for?” Kate repeated.
“We have not found definite remains,” Cassandra said, softly. “But many of the corpses were…” She swallowed and shook her head.
“We are recovering the bodies as best we can,” she said all in a rush. “When we have all the…parts…we will have a proper pyre and lay the ashes to rest. In Andraste’s name.”
Each word seemed to strike a nail into Kate’s heart:
Remains. Corpses. Ashes. Parts.
“I see.” The words came out very small. “Thank you for telling me.”
“He may yet be found,” Cassandra said. She didn’t sound like she believed it. Kate wasn’t sure she believed it either. She knew Robert. The moment he heard she’d survived, he would have rushed to her side - just as she would do for him. That, more than anything else, convinced Kate that her cousin was gone.
Kate stared into the room, not really seeing it. Beside her, Cassandra opened her mouth as if to speak, but said nothing. The Seeker turned and left, shutting the door firmly. Kate stood in the room, feeling suddenly and utterly alone.
The enormity of it hit Kate square in the chest: the war, the Conclave, the mark, Robert gone - the fact that these people wanted her to be the Herald of Andraste.
Before they’d come here, Robert had asked Kate what she wanted. At the time, Kate had said she didn’t know. That was still true, Kate reflected. She still didn’t know. But she didn’t want this.
She didn’t want this.
One step at a time, she thought, desperately.
But for now, Kate could take no more steps. Her legs swayed under her and Kate let herself slump against the wall. She slid down the cold stones until she landed on the floor in a heap, tears tracking down her cheeks. Then, with the door closed and with thick walls about to muffle her sobs, Kate placed her head in her hands and began to weep.
There is nothing so jarring as dreaming in one manner, and waking to something else entirely.
Robert’s dream was lovely - a bit blurry around the edges, but it involved a great deal of smooth, olive-toned skin, and two smoldering, dark eyes. In the dream, Robert had been kissing his way up a well-muscled shoulder and toward a slender neck framed by short, dark hair. Though Robert couldn’t see her face, the dream-woman’s voice whispered to him, her accent driving him wild.
But then the woman’s words grew softer, fainter. Instead, Robert heard the sound of shouts and clanging. The woman’s skin grew cold, and as Robert reached for her, he instead woke suddenly. He found himself nuzzling his face against a damp, stone floor. Robert recoiled, only to find that his hands were tied behind his back. The only thing remaining from the dream was the sounds of battle. Robert heard a grunt, too, then a scream, and then, most terrifying of all - silence.
Robert stared into the darkness, trying to figure out where in the Void he was and how in the Void he had landed here. He grunted and tried to push himself up to a sitting position, only to find his legs were bound as well. He tugged at the rope, but someone definitely knew how to tie knots. At least he wasn’t gagged, Robert thought. It felt like he had sand in his mouth, however, and he wasn’t sure if screaming for help was going to improve his situation.
Alright, Robert thought, looking about. He’d gone from one of the best dreams ever to one of the worst mornings ever. And that was saying something. He’d had his share of shite mornings.
Then, all in a rush, Robert remembered: Freddy, Kate, Cassandra - all of it.
Freddy, Robert thought angrily. Robert would never, in a million years, have though Freddy Stanhope could become involved in… well, whatever it was he and his friends were up to. Freddy was now a glowing, kidnapping freak. How in Thedas had that happened, Robert wondered?
No sooner had Robert thought this than footsteps echoed from somewhere straight ahead. Robert saw red lights glowing in the distance, as if from down a hallway. A moment later, voices echoed into the darkness.
“We need to move. They’ll send more scouts eventually, to see what happened to these ones.”
The glowing and the shadows were now solidifying into actual shapes. Robert saw a man-like shape kick something on the ground. Robert then realized it was a dead body. Robert’s eyes went wide and he made a small gasp. The man-shape turned to Robert, as did another man-shape. Robert recognized the second shape at once:
“Freddy?” he rasped.
“Trevelyan,” Freddy sneered. “You’re up.” He turned to the other glowing fellow and said, “Get them ready to move. We need to get out of here soon.”
“What’s going on?” Robert demanded, pulling at his wrists. “Where are we, Freddy?”
“In some mines not far from the breach,” Freddy replied easily, walking up to Robert and looking down at him with a nasty smile. “Why? Accommodations not quite to your lofty standards?”
Robert had no idea what Freddy’s game was, but he’d be damned if he let the man rattle him.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Robert shrugged. “Not exactly the wet caved I’d hoped to wake in.” He grinned cheekily. That wiped the smug expression from Freddy’s face.
“You always did have the morals of an alley cat,” Freddy said, prudishly. “But you never knew discipline, did you, Trevelyan? Never knew true fortitude.”
“Actually, I’ve tried discipline,” Robert said, cocking his head and squinting at the ceiling. “And I dunno, that’s just too many props for me to keep track of. I prefer losing clothing and accessories to strapping them on.”
Freddy sucked in a breath, his nostrils flaring. “Always so confident,” he growled. “Always making fun of everything and everyone, weren’t you? Well, not for much longer, Trevelyan. Not much longer.”
“Not much longer, Freddy?” Robert asked, mostly to keep the fellow talking. “You plan on killing me, then?”
Robert suspected that here were two possibilities here: either Freddy and his friends were going to kill Robert now, or they were going to torture him and then kill him. Both scenarios seemed very unpleasant, so Robert decided to add in a third option: escape. To that end, he needed information. Perhaps, if he got Freddy angry enough, the fellow would reveal something useful.
“We planned to have you join us,” Freddy said, staring out at the door.
“As if I would,” Robert snorted.
“But with the breach closed,” Freddy went on, “with Kate alive, we had to change our plans.”
Robert’s jaw dropped open, his eyes widening.
“Kate’s alive?” he cried.
And the breach was closed. That meant Cassandra was alright. And Kate was alright. If he needed more of an incentive to escape Freddy and his creepy friends, Robert now had it.
“Yes, Kate’s alive,” Freddy sneered. “He wants to know why.”
“He?” Robert asked. “Your crazy templar boss is upset he didn’t get all the mages dead?”
“You will tell us why,” Freddy went on, glaring at Robert.
“Me?” Robert snorted. “I don’t even know what’s going on out there. I’ve been a bit, uh, tied up, so to speak.”
Robert smiled at his own joke, rather pleased that he could still jest under such circumstances. Freddy seemed less than impressed. His glowing eyes remained blank and humorless.
“Tied up?” Robert asked, raising a brow. “Anything?” When Freddy remained immovable, Robert sighed. “Tell you what, Freddy, why don’t you let me go? Then I’ll walk out there, go find Kate, and ask her how she survived the blast.”
“As if you’d come back,” Freddy scoffed.
“Oh, I’d come back,” Robert said, eagerly. His tone hardened and he added: “I’d come back with Kate and let her kick your glowing arse down the mountain.”
As soon as the words left Robert’s mouth, he realized he probably should have played that a bit closer to the chest. But being tied up like this was not improving his tact. Then again, Robert had never had much self-control, even under the best of circumstances.
“You already know how she survived,” Freddy said, looking away, his gaze going unfocused. “Somehow, you know. You must. You came here with her. She must have told you her plans.”
“I know nothing,” Robert said. “All I know is that a former friend of mine has become a great glowing traitor.”
“She survived,” Freddy said, wonderingly. “She came back with…” he held out his hand, one crisscrossed with glowing veins.
Then he looked at Robert, and his gaze hardened into an expression of pure hate.
“What is it about you Trevelyans?” Freddy asked, his voice growing harsher than Robert had ever heard it. There was a sound under it, like stone grinding on stone, giving each consonant a nail-on-glass quality.
“Your whole family has it,” Freddy went on, nearly spitting his words. “The same good looks. The same deep pockets. And that…that confidence. It doesn’t matter which branch of the family you’re talking about. The Trevelyans enter the room and everyone knows it. When they open their mouths, everyone listens. You can see it in their eyes. You all think you’re better than anyone else.”
“Well, we are,” Robert said with a shrug.
“You see!” Freddy snarled. “You’re still doing it! You were terrible, Robert. You had every woman in your pocket - any friend you ever wanted. You made all the rest of us sick with envy. But Kate…” Freddy let his head drop forward, his mottled face twisting with longing. “Kate was the worst.”
“Kate?” Robert asked, truly taken aback. “Kate isn’t like the rest of the family at all.”
“No,” Freddy agreed. “She was more. Far more. She used to look at me and…” He shook his head, frowning. “There was something in her eyes, something you could see, but never understand. Like a joke she was about to tell, but never did.”
“I wanted to hear that joke,” Freddy scowled, as if he was a child denied a sweet. “I wanted her. So many of the lads wanted her. But I wanted her most of all.”
“That’s enough, Freddy,” Robert said, coldly. “That’s my cousin you’re talking about.”
“She smiled at me once,” Freddy said, wistfully. “The last time we danced, she smiled.”
“Shut it, Freddy,” Robert snapped. “Or I’ll vomit in your glowing face.”
“So pretty,” Freddy went on, wonderingly. “But so distant. I could never reach her. Only a few people ever got her smiling. You were one of them, Robert,” Freddy said, bitterly. “You could make her laugh. I used to hate you for that. I used to hate you for that more than anything.”
“You’re vile, Freddy.”
“It doesn’t matter anyhow,” Freddy sighed. “I never got that joke from her. She never let me close. But you were close. You understood her. And that’s what we need now. That’s what he needs.”
“What who needs?” Robert asked, recoiling. Maker help him, if Freddy had an even nastier friend hankering after Kate…
“He needs to know how she survived,” Freddy murmured, more to himself than to Robert. “He needs to know who she is, how she thinks. He needs to know her weaknesses. We have to give him that information. That’s the trade, you see. We sift you, and then we understand her. And we receive the world in return.”
“Sift?” Robert repeated. That didn’t sound good. Probably templar-code for torture, Robert thought. Again, escape seemed the far better option.
“We can begin when we reach Therinfal Redoubt,” Freddy said, softly.
“Therinfal?” Robert asked, eagerly. There! That was a definite piece of information. Unfortunately, that information was bollocks, because while Robert knew that fortress was somewhere in Ferelden, he didn’t know where. He had never felt so foolish for skipping his geography lessons as he did now.
“The redoubt is a long way away, isn’t it?” Robert said, desperate to get more from the glowing templar. “Surely there’s no need to for us to go walking all that way. We can just stay here, enjoy the mountain air…”
“Oh,” Freddy said with a sneer, “Don’t worry. You won’t be walking to Therinfal.”
Before Robert could ask what that meant, Freddy’s hand came at Robert from out of the dark. A foul-smelling cloth smothered Robert’s mouth and nose, and he could not turn away. Freddy’s glowing face began to dim, and Robert heard him whisper:
“Don’t worry, Trevelyan. He only wants sift your mind. If you don’t resist, you’ll never even notice that he’s in there.”
Robert’s last thought was that whatever else happened at the redoubt, he planned on resisting to the bitter end.