The slithering, echoing voice hissed in Robert’s mind.
“Tell me about Kate. Tell me what she’s like, how she…“
“Look,” Robert said, in a bored tone. “You don’t get to call her ‘Kate’. You’re no friend of hers - or mine.”
He pulled the bowstring back to his cheek, took aim, and let the arrow fly. It went directly into the target before him. The arrow hit dead center, splitting open the arrow that was already in the center of the target. There were a dozen arrows like that, each split open by the one that followed after in a most improbable fashion. Robert had never known arrows to do that in real life. But the rules seemed to work a bit differently in…wherever this place was: his mind, a dream world - Robert wasn’t quite sure. And he had never realized how fond he was of the real world’s rules until now. The rules of dream-space were incredibly tedious.
“I want to see…”
“Kate,” Robert interrupted, picking up another arrow from his ever-filled quiver. “Yes, I heard you the first hundred times. Or first thousand, rather. You’re a persistent bastard, I’ll give you that.”
Robert pulled the arrow back and let it fly. Another direct hit and another arrow split. So long as he was trapped, Robert figured he might as well get in some archery practice. He hoped the focus would translate to the real world, even if his muscles were probably atrophying out there in that cell. Or…in here, in this cell. He was still in the cell, right? Maker, but this was confusing.
If only he knew for certain what he was dealing with, Robert thought, he might have a better time breaking free of these visions. He suspected that magic was involved. After all, this didn’t feel anything like being drunk, and Robert’s few experiments with elfroot had been significantly more pleasant than this. So, magic it was then. That meant he was being questioned by a demon or a blood mage. For his own sake, Robert dearly hoped for the latter. Mages were human, and humans had motivations that were understandable. Demons were less comprehensible.
Whatever the thing was, Robert was tired of its games. He had walked endless halls, run through misty forests, and all the while, he’d been haunted by this same hissing voice, the one that reminded him of oil on water. Robert had tried to resist, he really had, but the voice kept asking him to think of things. And it was damn difficult to avoid thinking. If the voice said ‘think of Kate,’ Robert inevitably thought of his cousin. That was only natural, really. If somebody said, ‘think of pudding’ or ‘think of nugs,’ any normal person would do so. It was just how words and thoughts worked, after all.
In Robert’s experience, only two things could hold his focus for any length of time. And since he had no desire to show the demon/mage his naughty thoughts about women, he instead had resolved to put his mind to the task of archery practice. Sadly, even archery could only hold his attention so long.
But fortunately, he was boring the mage/demon, too.
“You are trying my patience,” the voice hissed.
“Funny,” Robert replied. “I was about to say the same of you.”
“I can outlast you, though,” the voice hissed, the sound seeming to come from everywhere and yet nowhere all at once. “You are frail, mortal - your life a mere breath. I will endure long after your bones have rotted into the stones.”
Ah, Robert thought. So it was a demon he was dealing with. He couldn’t imagine that any person - even a mage - would refer to someone else as ‘mortal’. Too bad for Robert, then.
“You obviously know nothing about the physical world,” Robert said, reaching for another arrow. “Bones don’t rot into stones. That’s just not how it works.”
Robert felt a rather childish spark of amusement when the demon snarled at him.
“I can survive anything,” the demon told Robert. “But can you? How long do you think you can resist me, fool?”
Robert didn’t want to answer that question. He would like to say he could resist forever, but, well, he probably couldn’t. Robert didn’t want to consider how long he had been trapped down here either. He wasn’t exactly in agony, but he was seriously beginning to doubt his sanity. And the issue of sustenance was worrisome. Typically, there was food and drink waiting when Robert returned back to his cell - or, well, woke to his cell, rather. But that wasn’t always the case.
One morning, Robert had found himself in his cell - in ‘the real dungeon’ as he’d begun thinking of it. But he had been entirely alone. There had been no voices, no dreams, and no food. Robert had grown ever more panicky as the days dragged on. He could reach some rainwater than trickled down the wall. It was nasty stuff, but it kept him from dying of thirst. But the lack of food had nearly done him in. Then, as he was growing faint with hunger, food had suddenly appeared again. He’d eaten it eagerly. At the same time, he heard strange sounds overhead: a gate clanging open, boots marching on cobblestones.
And then, suddenly, fog had fallen over his vision. Robert had been stuck in this dream-space ever since.
“Show me Kate,” the demon prodded. “Show me…“
Kate, Robert mused, before he could stop himself. Kate would know how to deal with this demon. Even before she’d gone off to the Circle, she’d always been better at listening to lessons than he had. She would have remembered…Oh, blast.
The demon laughed hysterically as the scene shifted. Robert’s bow disappeared and he shrank - down to the height of an eight year old boy. He found himself seated at a desk in the Trevelyan House schoolroom. Before him was a great chalkboard, and behind it, a shelf of dusty books. To his right was a wide window. The heavy damask curtains were drawn back to display a sunny spring day. Robert felt a sudden longing to go out into the woods he spied beyond the rambling lawn.
Blast, Robert thought again. He was stuck inside, and on such a lovely day, too. Their tutor, a perpetually frazzled young man named Master Frederic, stood by the chalkboard. In his hand, he held a heavy tome: a leather-bound copy of all the canonical canticles. Robert hated that old book more than any other in the library. The tutor droned on and on, stopping only long enough to stifle a yawn. That yawn was echoed by someone to Robert’s left. When Robert turned his head, he found a familiar person sitting next to him at the large desk.
There was Kate, looking as she had when she was nine years old. She wore a fussy-looking dress, and kicked her feet impatiently as she stared out of the window. Her red hair was piled up on her head in a heavy style, and Robert recalled how she was forever threatening to cut the whole mess of it off as soon as mother allowed her to. Robert had encouraged Kate cut it without permission, but Kate was forever following rules. Robert thought that very stupid. She really ought to do what she wanted. She’d be a lot happier if she did.
“Yes…yes… Tell me more.” the voice in his mind whispered.
The sound of the demon’s voice called Robert back to himself. This wasn’t real. This was just another vision. But damn it if he didn’t get lost in these memories every time. The room looked as it always had. Kate looked the same. Even the musty smell of the books was the same. It was little wonder Robert had such trouble separating reality from memory.
“Tell me more…” the voice whispered again.
“Maker’s balls, demon,” Robert snapped. “Shut up.”
If Robert had really said such a thing aloud at the age of eight, Tutor Frederic would have sent Robert to his father’s office for certain. But as it was, the memory played out as if Robert hadn’t spoken. Tutor Frederic continued to drone on about demons and spirits and the Maker and the Fade, and then, out of the blue, Kate cocked her head to one side. She looked like a dog who’d heard a sharp whistle. She frowned, then stuck her hand straight up in the air.
Tutor Frederic continued on without stopping. Kate waved her hand around, as if it were a fish flopping on a line. Still, Frederic did not see her. Then, at last, Kate opened her mouth and said, primly:
“Tutor Frederic, if you please….”
Robert stifled a laugh. Even at the age of nine, Kate sounded like she was in training to become the Empress of Orlais. Or rather, Robert amended, she was in training to become a Trevelyan. That required an even greater degree of stuffiness. Tutor Frederic looked at her over the top of his book, then sighed.
“Yes, Mistress Kate?” he asked, wearily.
“You just said that there are spirits of wisdom,” Kate said, folding her hands in front of her on the desk.
“Ah, yes,” the tutor nodded.
“But just a moment ago, you read the passage that says all spirits are reflections of human emotions. Wisdom isn’t an emotion though. It’s just….thinking. And how can a spirit reflect thinking if it hasn’t got thoughts or a will of its own? That makes no sense.”
There were a lot of things in the Chant of Light that made no sense, Robert thought to himself. But at the moment, he was rather astonished at the complexity of Kate’s question. Tutor Frederic looked a bit astonished as well.
“I…um. Well now,” the young man said. “Spirits reflect emotions, but also ideas. Yes, I think that’s right. I’m sure that’s what it says…later in here…” He began to flip through the book - headed for the commentary at the back, no doubt.
“Are you certain?” Kate asked, loftily, “Because that just raises another question.”
“I hesitate to ask what that question is,” Frederic muttered.
“I overheard one of the sisters the last time we were at the Chantry. She asked one of the mothers if there were spirits of spirits. Because if there are spirits for every idea, then shouldn’t there be a spirit for the idea of spirit? So there would be a spirit of, um, spirit-ness.”
Tutor Frederic cocked his head and stared at her. Robert did the same.
“The mother told the sister that such questions are impious,” Kate went on. “But I think she said that because she didn’t know the answer. It is a good question, don’t you think? If there are spirits of everything, then there should be spirits of spirit. And then, I suppose,” she added, her brows furrowing, “there would be spirits of the spirit of spirits. And then, well…that would go back a long way, wouldn’t it?”
“Uh….” Frederic said. “I don’t think it… In the commentary…”
“It’s not in the commentary,” Kate said imperiously. “I looked.”
Of course she had, Robert thought. He knew most children were curious, but how many of them cared about the Fade or spirits or what the chant said? He certainly hadn’t. Kate’s curiosity bordered on the fiendish, really.
“Yes, yes,” the the demon hissed at the back of Robert’s mind. “She was more clever than the teacher, more clever than you. You must have despised her for it.“
“Despised her?” Robert said aloud. He looked up in confusion. Naturally, he saw nothing above his head but the plaster ceiling and the unlit chandelier. Beside him, Kate regarded Tutor Frederic with impatience.
“I know mother says that I shouldn’t question the Chant of Light,” Kate went on, “but it just doesn’t make much sense. I mean…”
“Much of this is allegorical speculation,” Tutor Frederic said, waving a hand dismissively at the tome. He then froze, as if realizing what he’d said - and wondering if the children would catch his mistake.
“Allegorical?” Kate repeated in wonder. “Really?”
Yes, Robert thought. At least one of them had known what ‘allegorical’ meant.
“I… No,” the poor tutor said. “I mean, we should return to our studies.” He flushed and began flipping through the book again.
Robert snorted. Now that he thought about it, Tutor Frederic’s influence was probably the reason that he and Kate had grown into such indifferent Andrastians.
“Yes,” the voice in Robert’s mind hissed. “Kate questioned the Chant even then. Even then, she was a rebel.“
“Questioning and rebellion are hardly the same thing,” Robert said, looking up at the ceiling once again.
“It can’t all be allegorical,” Kate said after a moment’s thought. “The Fade is real enough.”
Frederic just snorted. “The best evidence of ‘The Fade’ - in quotes, mind you - is the dreams of mages. That’s hardly reproducible science, and ought not be convincing to the rest of us. The Fade can’t be seen or touched or tested. So far as I’m concerned, it’s like speculating on the existence of the soul.”
“But you can touch the Fade,” Kate had said, eagerly. “Well, sort of. It’s not here, like this desk.” She laid her hand on the table. “But it you sit still enough, you can almost feel the Veil. Well, not feel it, feel it. It’s more like… I don’t know. A faint song, but with no music.”
“A song with no music,” Frederic said, pressing his fingers to his eyes. Robert didn’t quite hear the next words, but it might have been something like, “If only I’d gotten that fellowship…”
But Robert wasn’t really paying attention to Frederic. Instead, he stared at his cousin in astonishment. Kate had sensed the Veil, even then. None of them had realized it at the time, but she’d been part of another world - a world of magic. And no one had known about it but her.
“Yes, yes,” the demon hissed at Robert’s mind. “She was strong with Fade-magic, even as a child. Was that why they chose her? Was that why they sent her? Who planned the counter-attack? Who did she work for?“
“What the Void are you talking about, demon?” Robert snapped. But the demon did not answer. Instead, Tutor Frederic set down the heavy tome of the Chant with a sigh.
“Perhaps,” he said, wearily, “We should study something else.”
“She must have known,” the demon chattered on in that oily voice. “She must have foreseen his plans. But how? He requires an answer. He’s sent me to find the answer…“
“You could tell us about dragons, Tutor Frederic,” Kate said, hesitantly, as if she was offering him an apology.
At that, the young man smiled, and his eyes sparked with sudden interest.
“I’d like to,” Frederic said. “But we’re supposed to study the Chant today.”
At this, Robert chimed in with the line he remembered as belonging to him:
“The Chant is boring,” he said, just as he had back when he was a child. “Let’s study dragons.”
This argument had always won out with Tutor Frederic. The young man glanced at the window, then nodded with relief:
“Alright. But let’s go on a walk while we talk. It’s too nice a day to be stuck inside.”
“Hooray!” Kate cried, nearly toppling her chair over in her excitement to get away from the desk.
And this was why he’d had such an scattered sort of education, Robert thought. He’d learned his maths, of course - mostly in relation to calculating a dragon’s wing span or how much food a dragon would need to eat daily to survive - but beyond that, he’d done little as a child except read fanciful stories and play outside. When Kate had been around, that had been a great deal of fun. But when she left…
Robert turned and looked at Kate as she smiled at him - nine years old, but still with those impossibly changeable eyes. She could be perfectly serious one moment - asking questions about spirits of spirit, of all things - and then she’d be all jokes the next. Robert hadn’t quite thought about that before. Honestly, for all the time he spent with Kate, he realized that he had never really stopped to get to know her.
Well, he knew her, Robert supposed. He knew his cousin as one knew the streets and shops of one’s hometown. But somehow, he hadn’t seen her clearly until a demon had landed in his mind and forced him to take a second look.
“Robert?” The nine-year-old Kate looked at him, smiling, and Robert suddenly decided he was done with this.
“No,” he said, shutting his eyes firmly.
He wasn’t going to think about Kate. He wasn’t going to get lost in these memories. It was just too painful.
“It pains you, does it?” the demon-voice hissed gleefully. “Thinking on all the things she had that you never did - that you never could have.“
“What?” Robert said, opening his eyes. When he looked around, he didn’t see the schoolroom or the desk or the shelves lined with books and dragon bones. Instead, Robert saw a murky darkness all around.
“You were jealous of your cousin, weren’t you?” the voice hissed in his mind. “You wished to be as clever as she. You wanted the education of a Circle mage, you wanted the power she had…“
“Uh…no,” Robert said, now feeling rather confused.
“You wished you could be like her…“
“Be like Kate? Are you mad? I never wanted to be a mage.”
“You wanted her mind, wanted her magic.“
“I’ve wanted a number of things in my life,” Robert admitted, “But being like my cousin is not one of them.”
“When you remember Kate, you feel pain,” the demon hissed. “You feel sick in your gut.“
Robert couldn’t deny it, but the demon clearly didn’t understand.
“That’s not jealousy,” he said, feeling a bit stupid even as he spoke the words aloud. “It’s guilt.”
The demon made a strange sort of ‘harumph’ sound, out there in the darkness.
“Yes, demon,” Robert said, in exasperation. “I feel guilty. Alright? I feel guilty that I couldn’t keep Kate out of the Circle. I feel badly that I never wrote to her. But Maker’s arse, what was I supposed to say? I was always in trouble with her father or I was off with my friends or some woman… Well, anyhow, I was never doing anything worth writing about. And her letters were always so damn long. I never knew what to say back.”
“You read those letters and then tossed them aside,” the demon said. “You envied Kate’s life, Kate’s friends…“
“Not at all,” Robert snorted. “A bunch of fusty old mages in a tower? What’s to envy about…that…?” He trailed off, now feeling enormously stupid.
Maker’s breath, Robert thought. Of course.
“You’re an envy demon,” he said aloud. “Aren’t you?”
There was a snarling sound in the darkness, and suddenly, snow started falling all around Robert. He now found himself standing in a mountain village. The air was cold, his breaths frosted, and the sky was crisp and blue overhead. It took Robert a moment to recognize it as Haven. The village looked just as it had that afternoon before he’d been captured. Even the smell of boiled cabbage and hot steel from the forge was the same.
“You must want someone’s life,” the demon’s voice said, slithering in around Robert as if trying to settle down with the snow. “You must want what someone else has.“
“And then what?” Robert snorted, turning around and around, trying to spot the source of the voice. “You’ll offer me that person’s life? All of me for the chance to be someone else?”
“I can do that, you know,” the demon whispered, the voice in his ear now. Robert shivered from the near, low promise.
“That’s really not necessary, thanks,” he said hastily. “I’m fine as myself.”
“But you must envy someone,” the voice whispered. “And I know who…“
“You envied her.”
Robert spun around, for this last statement was said with utter confidence. More than that, though, it was said with an accent that caught his ear and set his heart racing. Robert spun around to find a woman standing behind him. He let out a breath, and in spite of the cold, he felt like all his blood had caught fire.
“Cassandra,” he murmured.
And so it was. Or rather, Robert told himself with a swift inward shake, this was the demon masquerading as Cassandra. And for that reason, Robert wasn’t sure if this was an accurate picture of Cassandra, or just Cassandra as the demon saw her in Robert’s imagination. He couldn’t recall if her pants really had been that tight, or if he had simply wished they had been so. Nor could he recall if her eyes were really that piercing, or her skin that smooth and deeply tanned.
She was stunning, Robert thought. Even re-created by a demon, she was stunning.
“You want this,” the demon-Cassandra said. And for a moment, Robert opened his mouth to answer that yes, yes he wanted that - wanted her far more than he’d realized. He’d wanted Cassandra that day, but after weeks of being alone and left in the dark, he’d do just about anything for a taste of her.
“Yes,” the demon said, stalking toward him. “You want this.”
And then, quite suddenly, Robert…didn’t. The demon-Cassandra walked like it had sticks of wood in its legs, not at all with Cassandra’s muscular, yet sensual stride. The demon-Cassandra’s voice was harder than Robert recalled, too. It had none of Cassandra’s strength or her grace. And suddenly, Robert found himself in the very strange position of looking at a very beautiful body - and yet not wanting it at all. After all, Cassandra wasn’t inside of that body, and that somehow…mattered.
“You want this,” the demon-Cassandra said, stalking around Robert, behind him, and whispering in his ear. “You wanted her life, wanted what she had. She had a position of rank that you craved…”
“Wait, what?” Robert turned to blink at the demon wearing Cassandra’s face. “You think I…that I envy Cassandra?”
Well of course it would think that, Robert realized. It was an envy demon. Jealousy was all it knew.
“You wanted her to teach you to become a Seeker,” the demon-Cassandra went on, in Cassandra’s borrowed accent. “You wanted her skills, her powers…”
Robert couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing. And suddenly, the demon-Cassandra looked a bit confused.
“You… You wanted her life,” the demon-Cassandra insisted.
“I wanted to get out of becoming a templar,” Robert said, still half-laughing. “If I could have done that without becoming a Seeker, I would have.”
“But…” the demon-Cassandra said, and now, in this moment of uncertainty, it actually did sound a little like Cassandra. “She is the Right Hand of the Divine. She is respected, feared. She is a princess. Royalty.”
“She’s a princess?” Robert choked out. “Well. I always knew I had expensive taste, but damn…”
“She is more than you will ever be, more untouchable,” the demon-Cassandra’s tone grew hard once again. “Admit it. You envy her.”
“I do,” Robert said, and the demon responded by grinning.
“I envy the fact,” Robert said solemnly, “that Cassandra gets daily access to that body. Anytime she likes, she can pull off that tunic and peel off those impossibly-tight trousers.” He wandered over to the demon-Cassandra and began to circle her. The demon stared back at him blankly. “I envy how she can tease those nipples any times she likes. That she can slide those hands down into…” Robert swallowed hard. “Demon, if I were Cassandra, I can tell you one thing. I would never have gotten around to becoming a Seeker. I don’t think I would bother to get that perfect ass out of the bedroll two days out of ten.”
The demon-Cassandra continued to stare at him. It didn’t protest in fury or blush, as the real Cassandra might have done. As Robert expected, it didn’t do anything at all but gape in confusion. Robert bit his lips to keep from laughing.
“But…you…” The demon said, slowly.
Now Robert really did start laughing.
“Well,” he said. “The Chant was right about at least one thing, I suppose. You demons really don’t understand anything but the idea you embody.”
“You must envy someone,” the demon protested.
“No. I don’t,” Robert shrugged. “Not my vice, really. I’m a man of surprisingly little ambition.”
“You are still weak!” the demon growled at him, making Cassandra’s face look nearly inhuman with the motion. Robert drew back with a grimace.
“Well, yes,” he admitted. “If you were a desire demon, you’d have broken me a hundred times over by now. But the funny thing is - you’re not.”
Robert smirked, then cast the demon a cocky grin.
“How’s that for jealousy, demon? If you were a desire demon, you’d have what you want already. But you’re not. Do you envy your fellow spirits now?”
Robert grinned at the demon, mirth dancing in this eyes. The demon-Cassandra stared back at him in astonished fury. Then, with a snarl, the demon-Cassandra launched itself at Robert. Robert threw his hands up before his face instinctively, to block the charge…
But nothing happened. When Robert dropped his hands, he found that Haven had disappeared. He was lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling of his cell again. His real-world cell. The demon was gone.
Maker’s breath, Robert thought. By now, he should have gotten used to these transitions, and yet, they always jarred him.
Still, Robert thought, a smile curling his lips, he’d gotten the demon for once. It was a short lived victory, and he might pay for it later, but it felt good to annoy the creature after all these weeks of fright. And even better? There was food waiting in his cell. It was a greasy stew - stone cold, but Robert couldn’t be picky. He needed to keep up his strength in case the chance for escape presented itself. And right now, on the heels of his small victory, that seemed like it might actually be a possibility.
But he would have to be careful, Robert told himself. For he’d survived today, but surely that demon would be back. And if the demon had found out about his interest in Cassandra…
No, Robert thought, shaking his head. There was no need to worry. The envy demon wasn’t a desire demon, so he was safe there. And beside, Robert assured himself, now that he was out of the confusing fog of the vision, he could see how foolish he’d been. He didn’t want Cassandra that much. He had only met the woman once. So Cassandra couldn’t possibly be a weakness to him, Robert assured himself. After all, he barely knew her.
Cassandra stood beyond the light of the campfire, staring out into the rain. And instead of doing something useful - something like planning for the return to the Hinterlands or checking on the rescued soldiers, she was standing here just…
Brooding, Cassandra thought, with a curl of her lip. She was actually brooding. This had to be a new low. And yet, she couldn’t bring herself to go back into that joyful mass of people at the camp.
This afternoon, there had been a victory. A blood mage was dead, the missing soldiers had been rescued, and the troops had returned to Fisher’s End without further incident. Now the small camp had swelled to half again its original size. Soldiers were packed side-to-side on felled logs around the campfire, sharing their rations. Laughter rang out above the general chatter and a few minutes ago, someone had started playing a fiddle. Maker only knew which optimistic person had packed such a thing into a swamp. But as the skies grew dark and the heavy rain settled into a light mist, the strains of a Ferelden jig trailed out into the mire.
And Cassandra felt as though each cheerful note fell flat in the mud at her feet.
She was glad to be alive, she reminded herself. Of course she was glad. And yet…
And yet, she thought, it was hard to celebrate such a small victory in the face of so much failure.
“Hey,” a voice said, softly. Cassandra turned to find the Herald approaching through the soggy grass. She had changed into clean, warm layers once again, though her reddish hair was still wet with rain.
“Your worship,” Cassandra said, stiffening.
“Kate,” the woman corrected. “Please, Cassandra.”
“Kate, then,” Cassandra said. “Did you need something?”
“I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” Kate replied. “You seemed a bit…tense. Well, more so than usual. I mean… Are you well?”
Cassandra flinched as if the question burned.
“I’m fine,” she said, sharply. “Are you ready to leave?”
“I, uh,” Kate blinked. “Now?”
She waved a hand at the sky as if to draw attention to the darkness and the rising moon, and Cassandra sighed with impatience.
“I suppose we can wait until morning,” Cassandra muttered.
“I think that would be best,” Kate replied. “Cullen plans to leave most of the soldiers here to follow after at their own pace. He offered to escort you and me and Vivienne back to Redcliffe.”
Kate glanced away at that, looking over her shoulder at the campfire. She then shook herself and added:
“Most of the captives were in worse shape than they want to admit. So it’s probably best that they travel slowly. Vivienne and I did what we could, but there’s only so much that magic can heal.”
“The rescued soldiers didn’t seem injured to me,” Cassandra said, frowning in concern.
“They weren’t,” Kate replied. “Not exactly. They were just exposed to the elements and fed nothing but coarse bread and moldy vegetables for weeks. I think indigestion is their worst ailment, honestly. Anyhow, what they need now is good food and bright music and for Harding to retell the tale of how we saved them.”
“How we saved them?” Cassandra asked, her temper flaring once again. She spun away, scowling into the mire. “You saved them, not I. I just…”
She broke off there, frowning. Beside her, she heard Kate take a squelching step forward in the grass.
“Is that why you left the campfire?” she asked. “Because you don’t think you helped? But you did help, Cassandra.”
“I did almost nothing,” Cassandra said, nearly spitting out the words in her frustration. “I had no plan, I fought poorly. I tried to threaten that blood mage into surrendering, and you saw how that went. Thrown across the keep…”
Cassandra sputtered to a stop, embarrassed by the very memory.
“Did Widris hurt you?” Kate asked.
“Only my pride,” Cassandra bit out.
“That’s a wound I can’t heal then,” Kate said, smiling slightly.
To Cassandra’s annoyance - or perhaps it was her relief - the other woman sat down on a nearby boulder and placed her elbows on her knees. She clasped her hands before her and stared down at them. In the darkening light, the Herald’s mark glowed a faint green. Cassandra stared at the strange squiggle - somehow both physical and yet, entirely of another world.
“Pride is a strange muscle,” Kate murmured. “It gets torn so easily.”
“This is not about my pride,” Cassandra said. “This is about…about…” She waved a hand angrily.
“Why?” Cassandra snapped. “Why you?”
“Why me?” Kate asked, looking up at her. “What do you mean?”
“Why did you survive when no one else did?” Cassandra asked, the words tumbling from her mouth before she could stop them. “Why did you live, and not the Divine?”
“Oh,” Kate said, looking back at her mark. “That.” She sighed and shrugged one shoulder. “I have no idea.”
“Why did any of us survive?” Cassandra went on. “Why you? Why me? Why those soldiers, but not any of the others?”
She waved a hand at the distant campfire. “Yes, we saved these captives. We saved six people today. And yet, how many did we risk in the process?”
“This was about protecting our own,” Kate reminded her. “About standing by the people who are fighting for us.”
“And what about the ones we failed to take care of? How many did we lose at Haven when the Conclave was destroyed?”
Kate sucked in a breath, then answered: “Two hundred and fifty-four dead. One hundred and sixty-eight unaccounted for.”
Cassandra turned to her in surprise.
Kate looked up at her with a sad sort of smile. “I read the casualty reports. I couldn’t remember all those names, so I decided to remember the numbers. It felt like a tribute somehow…”
She trailed off and shook her head.
“Yet you lost your cousin,” Cassandra said, frowning. “That’s one name you remember, I’m sure.”
On one level, Cassandra knew she shouldn’t remind Kate about that, but she couldn’t help it. She had to say it aloud. For Cassandra had mourned Robert Trevelyan. In a way, she was still mourning him. That was part of why she was out here, on the edge of the mire. She couldn’t stand to look at those cheerful survivors when such a fine young man was dead.
It was foolish of her, but she would not lie to herself: Cassandra had fancied Robert. For just a few minutes, before the entire world had fallen apart, he had made her feel beautiful. It had been decades since a man had made her feel so wanted. When the Conclave had fallen, Robert had fought by her side. He had been like - well, not like her knight, exactly. He fought more like a brigand, but he was effective. And Cassandra had lost him on that mountain.
Yes, she had lost him - lost him like a dropped coin purse or a misplaced quill. Cassandra was supposed to be a bodyguard, and yet on that night, she hadn’t saved a single person from harm. Instead, she’d led Robert to his death.
She should have done more, Cassandra thought. She should have known there would be an attack. She ought to have set an escape route or placed more guards. Of course, Cassandra had proposed such measures and the Divine and the Divine had refused every one of them. Still, Cassandra should have pushed harder.
“Cassandra?” Kate asked.
“I don’t usually feel this way,” Cassandra said, a bit flustered. “But it has been in my mind - wondering where it went wrong, wondering if I might have prevented it. I am convinced I could have stopped it, even as I also know there is no way I could have known what was coming.”
“I can understand that,” Kate said, nodding. “It’s easier to blame yourself. If you can blame yourself, then you don’t have to admit that the entire thing was out of your control from the start. Like when Ostwick fell and Lydia…”
She broke off there. Cassandra had no idea who this ‘Lydia’ was, but she nodded in agreement.
“Yes,” Cassandra said, “That is it. Blame is an easier action than patience. Guilt is easier to bear than helplessness.”
“Yes,” Kate said, softly. “If it makes you feel any better, I’ll admit that I’ve felt the same - and I’ve borne it a lot less gracefully than you have. Truth be told, for a while there, I cried myself to sleep each night.”
“Yes, I know,” Cassandra replied. “I heard you.”
“Oh, right,” Kate said. She blushed, then muttered, “Damn tents.”
For some reason, this made Cassandra chuckle. She shook her head and waved a hand.
“I am no good at this,” Cassandra admitted. “I am no good at sorrow and guilt and waiting for answers. I see what must be done, and I do it. That is who I am. But here? With this hole in the sky and the Chantry at war with itself? I do not see a clear path, and so I cannot move. I do not know how to close the breach. I do not know who attacked the Conclave. I couldn’t save the people there - people like your cousin…” She trailed off and shook her head. “I couldn’t even reason with the Lord Seeker in Val Royeaux. I just feel…” She waved a hand. “I cannot think of a word for it…”
“Overwhelmed?” Kate suggested.
“Yes, overwhelmed. That is it,” Cassandra agreed.
“Me too,” Kate admitted. She let out a breath, then added, “Maker, it feels good to say that aloud. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, I suppose,” Cassandra said, glancing sideways at her. “But you… Look at you.”
“Look at me?” Kate asked, glancing down at herself.
“You were accused,” Cassandra said. “Yet you agreed to help. You were told you might die if you tried to close the breach, and yet you fought your way to the temple. You were told you would be attacked if you went to Val Royeaux - and yet you sailed there anyway.”
“After whining about it first and throwing ice all over the war table,” Kate said, wryly. “Sorry about that, by the way.”
“But you have done things,” Cassandra insisted. “You choose a direction and you marched. I did not. I have done nothing but…stand about feeling very confused.”
“You’ve been fighting like a whirlwind,” Kate replied.
“It is kind of you to say so,” Cassandra said, flatly.
“I think you’re being too hard on yourself,” Kate told her. “You started this Inquisition, didn’t you? You declared it, you got everyone in place.”
Cassandra shook her head. “It has taken far too long. The Divine showed me the writ nearly twenty years ago. And yet, it has taken all this time to see the Inquisition come to life.”
“Wait, what?” Kate said, blinking at her. “What do you mean by ‘twenty years ago’?”
“The day I was named Divine Beatrix’s right hand, she showed me a writ. It was the draft that would become the declaration of the Inquisition.”
Kate gaped at Cassandra in astonishment. “But I thought the Inquisition was a backup plan. In response to Kirkwall. In response to the mage rebellion.”
Cassandra shook her head. “No. Nineteen years ago, Divine Beatrix was almost killed by a plot involving both blood mages and rogue templars. I aided in stopping them, but it revealed that there were dangerous factions in the Circles. She feared it would eventually boil over into open war.”
“She was right about that,” Kate said, absently.
“The Inquisition was to be her answer,” Cassandra went on.
“Her answer took twenty years to see the light of day?”
Cassandra drew back with a frown. It was hard to say this, but she supposed the Herald of Andraste ought to know the truth of the matter.
“Yes,” Cassandra said, tightly. “The Inquisition was supposed to be just as it’s name implies: a inquiry - a questioning of the Order, of the Circles. Beatrix hoped to ferret out the root cause of the unrest between templars and mages.”
“The root cause?” Kate asked, incredulous. “Isn’t it obvious? You have prisoners on one side, and jailers on the other. It’s not really all that complicated.”
Cassandra shook her head. A mage would see it that simply, Cassandra thought. And in some ways, the mage would be right. Yet it seemed to Cassandra that Kate could not fully understand the factions that had hidden within the Circles, nor could she know the scope of the Divine’s plans.
“An Inquisition would have dug out the very heart of the Chantry,” Cassandra said. “It may have found the source of unrest, but it would also have razed the Chantry to the ground.”
“I suspect Beatrix was not ready to tear down the institution that empowered her,” Kate said, dryly.
“It was not that,” Cassandra said, shaking her head. “I believe she truly did wish to set things right, but…”
“But?” Kate prompted.
Cassandra hesitated. She regretting saying this much, and yet, she somehow wished to go on. She realized that she wanted to speak of this with someone. Even Leliana, who knew more than anyone else, did not fully understand what had happened back then.
“It feels disloyal to say it,” Cassandra said, frowning at the memory. “But Beatrix failed. She took the writ, drafted it into the book that now rests on the war table at Haven, and then… Then she did nothing.”
“But why?” Kate asked.
“I wondered that myself,” Cassandra said. “For years, it seemed that we - that I was doing something. Gaylan…that is, the First Enchanter of the Montsimmard Circle, and I traveled Thedas together. We visited the Circles, investigating them and looking for signs of sedition.”
“Really?” Kate said, cocking her head. “A Seeker traveling with a mage to root out rebellion? That’s…unusual.”
“Er, yes,” Cassandra said. “I was busy with, um, that. When I returned to Beatrix’s side, her zeal for the Inquisition had waned. She said that she had turned the reigns over to Lord Seeker Lambert. He was taking care of things, she told me, and she had other tasks for me to complete. I did not think to question this.”
“But the Seekers did nothing,” Kate said, watching Cassandra closely.
“Worse than nothing, I suspect,” Cassandra said, softly. “I… No, I should not say such things. It is rumor and hearsay.”
“What rumors?” Kate asked.
Cassandra looked at her hesitantly, and the Herald held up her hands and shook her head.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Always asking questions. It’s a terrible habit. I’m just very curious. You see, from where I stand, the Chantry always seemed so - I don’t know - monolithic. It’s this huge entity, templars and Seekers, all deciding the fates of mages. I guess I never really thought about the people at the top, and how they’re just…people.”
“Good people,” Cassandra said. “But flawed, as we all are. We did try our best. But we made mistakes and then…” She sighed and shook her head. “How many are still paying for it, I wonder?”
“Too many.” Kate replied, her tone cold.
“You disapprove of what we did,” Cassandra observed.
“I disapprove of a lot of things,” Kate murmured, staring out into the mist. “But I had that luxury. Honestly? It wasn’t like I did anything to help the mages either.” She sighed, then turned back to Cassandra.
“So,” Kate said. “What you’re saying is, the Inquisition might have been formed a long time ago, except for the interference of the Seekers?”
“Not only them,” Cassandra said, shaking her head. “Divine Beatrix…” She trailed off with a heavy sigh.
“I hate to speak ill of her,” Cassandra said. “She was my mentor and my friend.”
Cassandra straightened and decided to tell Kate the truth. It wasn’t as if it couldn’t be found in the history books anyhow.
“Divine Beatrix succumbed to dementia. By the time she died, she had failed to be lucid for a long time.”
“Oh,” Kate said, her face falling. “Oh, I see. How awful.”
“It was awful,” Cassandra agreed, harshly. “To watch a woman you admire lose her own mind. To realize that the absent stares and seeming forgetfulness were a sickness that I never saw coming. Now that I look back, I see she was ill for a long, long time. On the one hand, I admire that she fought her sessions of forgetfulness. But on the other hand, her pride may have doomed us. She did not tell us - tell me - until the symptoms were obvious. Even then, she would not abdicate. She would not let me act for her. She would not do anything. It was infuriating.”
“No wonder you don’t like feeling stuck,” Kate murmured.
Cassandra turned away from that comment. It hit just a little too close to the truth for her comfort.
“It was a great relief when Divine Justinia took charge,” Cassandra went on. “I met her and thought ‘Finally! Here is a woman who will act.”
“But she didn’t,” Kate said, frowning. “Not for a long while, anyhow.”
Cassandra chuckled and shook her head. “Oh, she acted. In the timeline of the Chantry, Justina was hasty to a reckless degree. She resurrected the plans for the Inquisition, and began to argue with the Seekers. She pushed and prodded and had Leliana and I instigate all sorts of intrigues. Well, the intrigues were mostly Leliana’s doing, but we were busy in those years. Justinia was hated at every turn, and Leliana and I admired her greatly for it. Justinia pushed just hard enough to get people moving, but not to knock them over. And then, when the world fell into chaos - as it was bound to - she stepped up and took responsibility for it. Justinia made mistakes. But she also tried to set things right. She set a course for Haven and… Well,” Cassandra shrugged. “You know the rest.”
“Some of the rest,” Kate said. “I don’t remember the Conclave. I wish I did.” She paused, then added, “I wish I could have met her. Justinia, I mean.”
“She would have liked you, I think,” Cassandra said.
“Because I’m sent by Andraste?” Kate asked, her nose wrinkling.
“Because you’re trying to set things right.”
“Oh,” Kate blinked. The woman said nothing more to that, and Cassandra studied her a long moment before asking:
“You do not believe you were chosen by Andraste, do you?”
“Not really,” Kate replied, apologetically.
“Does that mean you do not believe in the Maker?” Cassandra wanted to know.
“That would be the ultimate blow, wouldn’t it?” Kate said, her eyes glinting with humor. “An unbelieving Herald?”
“So you don’t believe,” Cassandra frowned. How disappointing.
“No, I believe in the Maker,” Kate said. “I don’t quite believe all of the Chantry accounts of His wrath and hate. But I believe in a Creator behind the worlds of Thedas and the Fade. I believe we’re His children and ought to treat one another as such. And I believe Andraste understood the Maker better than anyone else. I’m not sure if I believe she became his bride, though,” Kate added, wrinkling her nose, “Not literally, since that just raises a bunch of weird questions about spiritual copulation, but yes,” she went on, as Cassandra’s brows raised high, “To answer your question, I believe in the Maker and that he guides us and takes an interest in us.”
Kate paused and looked at her hand. “Not sure if this is proof of that, though.”
“But in a sense,” Cassandra said, “That mark fell to you. You might be chosen after all.”
“Maybe,” Kate said, frowning. “But I’d rather earn my place in your Inquisition than be handed it because of the mark.”
“Ah,” Cassandra said. “And that is why I find that I am willing to follow you - even if you do plan your attacks based off of Portia Plume novels.”
“Oh, Maker,” Kate laughed, burying her face in her hands. “That’s right.”
“You’d forgotten already?”
“I’ve been trying to ignore the fact that we marched on a plan that I plagiarized from a bad romance novel.”
“It wasn’t a bad novel,” Cassandra protested.
“But it wasn’t exactly classic literature, either,” Kate returned.
“Does it need to be?” Cassandra asked.
“Well, no,” Kate admitted. “I guess a good read is a good read no matter what the subject matter is. Just, don’t tell Cullen - or anyone else, alright? I think it might tarnish my ‘sent by the Maker’ image if they knew what kind of books I’ve been reading in my spare time. And we wouldn’t want that.”
“Of course not,” Cassandra said, chuckling.
Kate smiled back at her, and then said, slyly, “So… You’ve read Portia Plume, too?”
“Um…” Cassandra blushed. “On occasion.”
“Got any other authors to recommend?” Kate asked, hopefully.
Cassandra opened her mouth to protest that no, no she most certainly did not. But then, she caught herself. For once, she didn’t have to pretend that she didn’t read books like that. After all, Kate would tell no one. The Herald of Andraste and the Seeker of Truth could share this little secret. So instead, Cassandra nodded and smiled.
“As a matter of fact,” she said, “I do…”
Regarding Cassandra’s claims about Divine Beatrix III, this is based on canon, with my speculations added in. This is my (admittedly long) tumblr post on the lore involved here.