Before the Storm

Chapter 36 of Daughters of Andraste

He knew storms well. Arguably, Solas 
embodied them: he wielded lightning bolts
as others fired arrows, he held torrents
as his hand-shield, and left all landscapes changed.
He knew all of the tempest's tell-tale signs:
the blood-red sky, the shift of wind currents,
the intangible hum of baited clouds, 
ready to unleash all their pent-up rage.
Most of all, Solas knew the calm before,
and how it brought to some, electric fear,
or else charged focus ready for the strike.

The Herald had such focus, Solas thought.
Just now, Kate stood before the gathered crowd
of rebel mages, archers and soldiers,
while overhead the sickly noon-time sky
was caught in a perpetual whirlwind.
And yet, Trevelyan ignored the cyclone,
instead speaking as though to a classroom:

"This is a plan of the temple," she said
as she held up a paper for the crowd.
The drawing showed what looked like a great box
divided up into smaller boxes.
"And this," she said, now pointing to the map,
"is where the statue of Andraste stood.
As you can see, we mages have placed glyphs
upon the ground in a ritual circle. 
Well, actually, it's called a Cone of Power. 
It's a traditional formation for
summoning or banishing from the Fade.
In this case we'll be banishing the breach -
or something very like that, one could say.
The mages will stand here in this circle
and I will stand at the point near the breach.
The mages will use lyrium for power,
then pour energy through the rune lines here," -
Trevelyan traced her finger up the page -
"and that will power the mark and close the breach.

Solas could not but smile. He liked this plan.
But then, he was the one who thought of it.

"That's it?" a voice now asked. "The mages stand
in a circle around you and it's done?"

This question came from Commander Cullen.
He stood at the back of the gathered crowd,
having arrived late to the debriefing.
Kate's eyes widened somewhat with clear surprise.
for she had missed his quiet arrival.
But she caught herself a moment later,
and offered him a bemused sort of smile.
The mages in the crowd, however, frowned
and began to whisper in low voices.
Solas heard someone say, "templar death squad."
Commander Cullen flinched. Kate's eyes flashed fire.

"Hello Cullen," she said in a crisp tone.
"And you, Cassandra and Morris. And all
the soldiers that you brought up here with you."
(For now the courtyard was swiftly filling
with late arrivals dressed in full armor.)
"Welcome," Kate said to them, as though the hall
in which they stood was not a blasted ruin,
but a grand ballroom, set for a party.
"We're glad you could join us. It will be good
to have your help should we encounter more
demons around the rift." Her speaking look
was aimed at the mages, who looked chagrined.
"Please come and sit closer," Kate urged them all.
"Right there among the mages, there you go.
After all, we are allies, aren't we?"

Here Solas smirked to see how deftly she
had managed these rough soldiers with manners
and these Circle mages with their own pledge.
It was quite neatly done, he must admit.
It brought to mind a consideration:
Though Solas created the ritual,
the Herald convinced everyone to act.

And as she spoke to the crowd once again,
outlining the plan for the latecomers,
it occurred to Solas that no one here
would listen to an apostate like him.
Even the elves would question his intent.
And the mages would doubt his magic skill.
They'd ask instead what right he had to stand
before them all and speak of glyphs and wards
and wonder loudly what the ehlven knew -
or if such knowledge was entirely safe.

And though Trevelyan now took pains to say
that it was Solas who had dreamed the plan,
though she gave credit where credit was due,
she did so in the Circle's clipped accent.
She spoke in ways the mages knew, and held
herself with aristocratic grace.
All the humans here - and all of the elves -
stood taller under her authority.

That thought burned him - burned him like lightning burns.
Yet, Solas thought, he could be practical.
Consider how his suggestions became
orders when Trevelyan agreed with him.
Far wiser then, to advise as he had.
Far more effective for them all to think
that this magic was Kates's and Dorian's.
And if the work got done in either case,
why should he fight the manner of doing?

So Solas said nothing as Kate explained
the plan and asked if there were any questions.

"Say, don't you need to get into the sky,"
young Morris suddenly asked from the back,
"in order to shut the breach all the way?
This only banishes the spinning thing."

Kate's mouth dropped open. So did Cullen's too.
Morris just shrugged. "Don't you? he asked again.

"Well yes," Trevelyan admitted, "That's true.
But until we can fly up to the clouds..."

"We could use dragons," Iron Bull put in.

"Dragons?" Commander Cullen frowned at him.

"Sure thing," the giant said. "Let's find dragons
and train 'em so we can ride 'em around."

"Train and ride dragons?" Dorian sputtered.
"You must be mad! You'd burn your fool head off."

"You got any better ideas, Vint?"
Iron Bull glared at him, petulantly.

"Surely not dragons," Cassandra put in.

"We could ride on griffons," Morris offered.
Silence met this unhelpful suggestion.

"We could," he insisted. Someone snickered.

"I think Cullen might object," Kate told him.
"Keeping griffons would double his work-load."

"At the very least," Cullen said, dryly.

"Oh, right," Morris said, frowning to himself.

"Until we find a way to fly," Kate said,
"let's settle for closing the lower breach. 
That will make us all much safer at night.
And if we get that task checked off the list
we'll celebrate tonight down in Haven."

The mages and soldiers brightened at this,
for today was a Chantry holiday.
Solas knew this feast day by other names,
not 'Satinalia,' as they called it.
The humans rechristened so many things,
Solas could hardly recognize them now.

"One question more," Cullen called from the back
"Must you use lyrium? That seems unsafe."

"I am afraid we must," Dorian said. 
"The difficulty was we had to place
complex wards against the red lyrium -
that was our dear Kate's idea, you know.
Don't know how the guards stationed at the breach
weren't going mad from being so near it."

"Stay on point, Vint," the Bull rumbled at him.

"If you won't interrupt me, then I will," 
Dorian replied, testily. "Ahem.
So anyhow, we put wards 'round the place,
but they block access to the natural Veil.
Of course, the Veil in the inner temple
is torn, and so we cannot safely draw
power from the raw Fade itself. It's like
we must bring our own water to the well."

"Not my first choice, I must say," Cullen said.
"Still," he conceded, looking up at Kate,
"We'll do what must be done to make this work."

Kate nodded in acknowledgment of this
show of support, though she said nothing else.
Solas himself found it quite curious
how easily Cullen acquiesced to
Kate's leadership. But then, Solas supposed,
perhaps Cullen had reservations still.
He and the Herald did not quite meet eyes.
Was this a tension born of Circle towers,
Solas wondered? Or was it something else?
He could not tell. But so long as Cullen
supported their plan, it did not matter.

"Alright then," Kate said. "Any more questions?"

"Won't all that energy make you explode?"
This question also came from Ser Morris.

"It might if she tried to hold onto it 
like some mad, dominating magister," 
Dorian laughed. "But our Herald is such
a clever, humble thing that I'm quite sure
she'll let the power flow just like water."

So long as she was not swept down the stream,
Solas now thought. Kate seemed to think this, too,
for she gave all the crowd a brittle smile.

"Any other questions?" she asked, tightly.

"I think we got it, boss," Iron Bull said.

"Wonderful," Kate nodded. "I'm sure you do.
We mages have been studying our parts,
and our soldiers are brave men and women.
I've every confidence we will succeed
if we keep focused and work together."

"Hear, hear," Cullen agreed, and all the crowd
joined in with solemn and stilted applause.

It struck Solas again how these people
were ready to place their lives in Kate's hands.
But then, he thought, why shouldn't they do so?
They gave her trust because she risked the most.

Speaking of risk, Solas now felt a shift,
as though another storm was gathering. 
He felt it in the east: a growing charge
below the hills - as though within the earth
a tempest ran toward them through tunnels deep.
Solas suspected he knew this storm, too,
but he could not stop it from rolling in.
Fear gripped his heart; he strove for outward calm.

"Forgive me, Herald," Solas called aloud.
"But note the sun is nearly overhead.
Our magic is best cast at its zenith,
as we discussed. Should we not then begin?"

"Of course, Solas, thank you," Kate said.
At her urging, everyone turned to go,
reaching for bows and staves and lyrium vials.
Cullen tried to wave to Kate but she turned
and he was left frowning after her back.
Cassandra walked with Bull, her sword in hand,
and Dorian followed Bull quite closely.

Solas, for his part, trailed right after Kate,
walking through the hall to the temple door.
The walls inside that space all glowed with runes
that Solas cast himself, in symbols that
these mages had not known and could not know.

"Ready?" Dorian asked. Kate closed her eyes,
then let out one slow breath and said, "Ready."

And Solas could not help but feel sorry
for this human who bravely bore the mark.
He wondered how he'd thought that this frail girl
could stand inside the oncoming tempest
and not be crushed by it's zealous fury.
Perhaps she could, this mage who favored ice,
but better still if she could burn with fire,
if she could learn to channel pure lightning.
Storm was her best chance of survival now.

For after all, Solas thought to himself:
The only thing that survived every squall,
was in the end, the raging gale itself.

“You know, I don’t recall the sky over Haven looking so…”

Robert paused, staring out across the lake. A line of mountains rose up from the opposite bank, like a jagged, white wall at the end of a silver-floored room. Robert cocked his head, then he gave up on any hope of delicacy and shrugged.

“Well, it looks like a vulva, doesn’t it? A green vulva,” he added. “Do the qunari women ever come in green? Because if they did, that’s exactly what their parts would look like, I’m sure of it. Probably that big, too. They are a race of giants, after all.”

Robert’s perusal of the sky’s delicate bits was cut short by a grunt and a thump. Robert turned around just in time to see Barris slump against the bottom of the boat. Robert rolled his eyes.

“Really, Barris,” he grumbled. “If you’re going to be sick, do it over the side of the boat. I still don’t know where Cole found this thing, but I’d like to return it in the condition we found it.”

“The fisherman went looking for hope in the Hinterlands,” Cole said, looking down at Robert from his perch on top of the mast. His feet dangled against the fluffing sails. “He found a handsome mage and chose to stay.”

“Lovely for him,” Robert said. “Meanwhile, we’ve got his boat and hardly any breeze at all. Getting bloody sick of this lake. Getting bloody sick of Barris lurching around like a drunk, too.”

“He’s not drunk,” the Cole said. “Drunk is full, happy, careless. He’s empty, sad…”

“It was an expression, Cole,” Robert said curtly. “Barris is just…” Robert frowned at the sight of Barris’ face. “Well, he’s a mess, isn’t he?”

“He wishes you’d be kinder,” Cole told Robert. That just made Robert feel even more irritable.

“I usually am very kind,” Robert replied in a voice that was anything but. “When I’ve been fed. When I’m not tired of tramping across the country, carrying a stumbling templar on my shoulders. When I’m not sleeping in grimy cottages and managing boats all by myself.”

“He wishes now he hadn’t taken the lyrium,” Cole said, looking down at Barris sadly. “But he only wanted to serve.”

“Well, he can serve now by saving his strength for the hike,” Robert said.

Barris simply groaned and leaned over the boat, retching. And just like that, Robert felt badly for having harassed the man a moment ago. One of the more annoying things about traveling with a spirit of compassion, Robert supposed, was how that spirit seemed to be catching.

“Oi, Barris,” Robert called to the templar. “I’m sorry for sniping at you. Look,” he added, as Barris laid his head against the railing wearily, “Stay with me. We’re nearly across the lake.”

“Lake?” Barris breathed.

“That’s right. Lake, um…Lake Haven,” Robert lied, not at all sure what the place was called. “Remember how we set out at dawn? It’s nearly noon now. I can see the bank from here, and the path. But no one on duty there - that’s odd.”

“The guard snuck off to the party,” Cole informed him. “He wanted the masks and the cakes more than the cold.”

“Hard to blame him,” Robert conceded. “So there you are, Barris. We’re almost to Haven.”

“He still has to climb the path,” Cole pointed out.

Meaning Robert would have to haul him up the path. That would take them, what? An hour? Two hours?

“Closer to four,” Cole said.

Suddenly, Robert felt his bad mood returning.

“Haven,” Barris whispered, his lips mashed against the railing. “Lyrium,” he added dreamily.

“Now that you’ve gotten this far into withdrawals,” Robert said, “you might as well come clean.”

“Can’t do that,” Barris shook his head, and this suggestion seemed to alarm him and make him quite coherent all at once. “That’ll kill you. Chantry always said…”

Robert snorted. “The Chantry says a lot of things that turn out to be bunk. Don’t know why you’d trust them on that one.”

Barris looked up at Robert for a moment, his eyes only half-focused, then he gazed past Robert to the sky.

“That’s… That’s…” he stared at the breach in horror.

“Rather vulgar, isn’t it?” Robert agreed. “And here I thought Kate was supposed to close it.”

“She is closing it,” Cole told him. “Right now.”

Robert looked at the sky doubtfully.

“The power flows,” Cole said, his voice low and rapid-fire. “It hurts her, it burns her arm, snakes around her heart. It tries to tempt her into keeping it. But she remembers the people at her back. She thinks of the silent soldier on the hill, watching. She lets go, and it burns in her bright, flowing through every finger.”

“Huh,” Robert said. “If only I knew what the Void you were talking about…”

Light shot out above the mountains. It snapped up to the sky from the ground like a shard of lightning. For a moment, there was a shimmering, then a shivering, then a rippling effect in the sky, and then, suddenly, the breach itself faded away. The clouds above the mountains still looked green and hole-like, but the rocks that had swirled under the breach began to fall. They fell slowly, as though sinking in water. Then…


The delayed blast shook the air around them. Robert ducked, Barris gave a start, as if unsure of where he was, and Cole just grinned.

“Her hand is covered in blood,” he said, happily. “It hurts worse than anything.”

Robert did not ask why Cole was happy about this. Right now, his ears were ringing so badly he was sure he’d misheard the spirit anyhow.

“But she’s alive,” Cole continued. “She stands out of the ashes and everyone is cheering her. Even the oldest one grins. But the soldier stands silent. He can’t think of anything to say. It’s hard to speak beyond the words he knows.”

Robert continued to ignore Cole. Instead, he tugged at his earlobe, trying to get the ringing to go away.

“Well,” Robert said a moment later, “I guess the breach is… Sealed? Is it sealed? It’s not entirely gone.”

“It’s mostly sealed,” Cole told him. “Mostly.”

“Well, mostly is better than nothing,” Robert said. “Makes Haven a trifle more inviting. Now, as for coming into dock, I could really use some help…”

But Cole was looking back at the lake behind them. And for the first time since Robert had met him, Cole looked truly frightened.

“What?” Robert asked.

“They are coming,” Cole said.

“Who’s coming?” Robert asked.

“Red, raw, cracked, creaking,” Cole murmured. “He hid them under the breach’s roar. They tramp and tunnel and twist inside. Running from the Redoubt…”

“Redoubt?” Robert repeated. “The templars followed us?”

“What?” Barris gasped, looking out over the lake. “That can’t… But we’ve been walking every day with scarcely any rest.” As if to prove his point, Barris looked ready to faint away.

“Not nearly fast enough, if you ask me,” Robert replied.

“We walked, they marched,” Cole answered. “We slept, they marched.”

“An army that big has to sleep,” Robert scoffed.

“They don’t,” Cole said.

Robert didn’t quite believe that, but then, Cole had never been wrong before now.

“At least we got to the lake first,” Robert said. “That ought to slow them down.”

“No,” Cole said. “The water won’t hold them back. They’ll take the old paths the dwarves made.”

“What, the Deep Roads?” Robert gaped. “Do they go underneath the lake?”

Though really, Robert thought a moment later, that was a stupid question. Everyone knew the Deep Roads went everywhere, if only one knew where to look for them.

“They’re here… for me,” Barris murmured. “I should have known… Never could defect…”

Robert shook his head. “No. I think… I think they’re after Kate.”

Cole nodded.

“How much time have we got, Cole?” Robert demanded. “Can we beat them to Haven?”

“Maybe,” Cole replied, as Robert began to arrange the sails to come about. “Barely. But if we hurry…”

“Oh, we’ll hurry,” Robert promised him. “Barris, can you keep up, or will we have to leave you at the docks?”

“I’ll keep up,” Barris said. The templar carefully stood, placing one hand against the mast for support. “I’ll be right behind you every step of the way. Even if this turns out to be my last march.”

“It might,” Cole said, sadly.

“No,” Robert told Cole and Barris both. “No one is dying today. Least of all Katie. We’ve got to get up there and join her…”

But then it occurred to him that if the templars went through the Deep Roads, Kate would have no warning of their approach at all.

“No warning but us,” Cole agreed.

Robert’s mouth hardened as he swung the tiller toward the dock ahead. “Help me with the lines, Cole,” Robert said. “And Barris, you gather your strength and just…pray.”

From his slumped position against the mast, Barris nodded and raised his hand up to the stormy sky.