Moment of Fear
Winds whipped debris around the cracked base where a demon nearly broke through to destroy the world. Thunder rumbled the night sky as people, my people, swarmed amongst the now surrendered Grey Warden forces. Most were already quarantined and contained as far from ours as they could get. Forgiveness could only stretch so far and tension still bit in the air.
The others, the ones who walked with me where no one dared tread, moved on. Cole still bore the worst of it, a shake in his paper hands as he whispered to himself, but it was Bull of all people who kept him distracted. It was also the first time I ever found Vivienne speechless, her face mottled with mud from the fade and terror haunting her eyes. She stood beside me for a time, silent as the grave, marking where we jumped free of the demons and I zipped it shut. But now I stood alone. My eyes stung from focusing intently on the empty air, watching to make certain it worked, and wishing it had all been just a nightmare.
"Inquisitor," a hand dropped onto my shoulder and I turned away from my vigil. A boy stood behind me, his flaxen hair matted with demon blood. He looked so young, specks of fuzz pocked above his lip unable to meet in the middle. I tipped my head, waiting for a response, but his eyes travailed the massive pride demon corpse still strewn in pieces across the ground.
"Have you ever seen one before?" I asked the boy. His massive brown eyes widened at my speaking to him. Slowly, he twisted his head in the negative.
"Pray you never do again," I said, patting him on the shoulder. "Now, you needed something from me?"
"Yes, the commander is looking for you. He said it was important stuff."
I bowed my head and twisted back to the still silent veil. Blessed creators, I wish my brother were here. Even if all of his talk about feeling the veil's power was just him showing off in front of the female hunters it'd still make me feel better. A twinge shuddered off my palm and I released my fingers to find the anchor flaring awake. Closing my fist, I turned to the boy, "Right, where is he?"
Cullen was not that difficult to find. In the time we were trapped in the fade, the commander got most of the wounded marked and tended to. The Wardens not gravely injured and bundled off the battlefield huddled against the wall, blankness in their eyes. Whether it was from losing that calling or from watching their leader nearly sacrifice everyone to a demon was hard to say.
Remnants of our siege weapons lay mixed atop the Wardens, as if everyone dropped what they carried and ran. I spotted the commander walking between two of his lieutenants. One was a tight lipped Tal Vashoth who Cullen had to stand on his tiptoes to meet the eye of. But she followed orders to the letter, to the point she seemed more qunari than our ben hassrath qunari. "What's the word?" He paced to peer over the wall, then back to crouch over a soldier laying upon the ground with a sack wadded over her eye.
"Negative, Ser," Vitan said. She held her hands behind her back, as still as a sullen statue.
"Nothing?" Cullen exasperated, throwing an exhausted hand up. "What about..."
"We have to wait for reinforcements," she interrupted. But Cullen was used to it, and sneered at the promised backup and not his lieutenant.
"Commander," I called, stepping closer. "You asked for me?"
He nodded his head at Vitan, dismissing her. She saluted and turned, commanding two soldiers to assist with her orders. But I swore I caught a micro-smirk from her aimed my way as Cullen fell beside me.
"What's the situation?" I began.
"Adamant is ours, for now. I'm not sure for how long," Cullen said.
"Are Wardens trying to regroup?" I asked, the jolt of battle waking me up.
"No, but this place is falling apart. Our sappers did a number on the east wall. We should pay them well. And our people poked around in the lower sections and discovered a secret entrance. Which would have been useful to know before we began this siege."
He reached a hand out and directed me down a staircase. A massive boulder shattered the wall and collapsed half the stairs. I slid my fingers around it as I followed his suggestion downward. "What are the casualties?" I asked behind myself.
Waiting until we got safely to the bottom, he answered, "Could be worse."
"A few dead, more injured. We've got wardens to deal with as well." He wiped a hand across his face, "There won't be any definite numbers until morning. Make it through the night..."
"And you stand a fighting chance," I finished. After Haven we all knew that one well.
Cullen's grim face twisted to the side. "There's also the food issue."
"Food issue?" I twisted down the final staircase and walked into the courtyard where this all began. A fire still burned in the sand begun before we ever breached the wall. Occasionally, a soldier would throw more sand upon it, but the flames didn't dampen. Cullen glanced to it and sighed at another problem to solve.
He gestured to the door where the battering ram once stood. "Seems the wardens didn't expect to need much what with a demon army presence and something about the calling taint I don't know. So we're short all around. I'm hoping we can get enough of our forces on their feet and back to Skyhold before it's an issue."
I nodded, out of ideas. I'd never marched an army before, never weighed the tables on what was needed to keep bellies of soldiers full. Never tested how far a soldier could march on a broken leg to keep three others from starving. And they put it all on me, the knife-ear that stumbled into this on accident. Twisting out of the battering ram hole, I stepped out of Adamant fortress to find a city of tents sprung up from the wasteland sands. Fires blazed in between the landmarks, each a different color to mark what service they provided in the camp. Blue swarmed with people rushing to heal the wounded and the wounded staggering for healing. Another tongue of thunder rolled above our heads. We both looked up at the black sky, thick with clouds.
"That would just add to this mess," Cullen muttered. He turned away from another problem to catch my eye and bowed his head, "There's a tent set up this way. We can discuss things there away from panicking eyes."
I tipped my head and trailed behind. Soldiers dashed about the sands raising tents and securing our temporary city built upon the sand. One shoved me aside so he could catch a falling pole when he turned and blanched. I smiled and said, "It's all right. We have to pull our weight tonight. You're doing a good job."
"Thh...thank you?" he stuttered before yanking up his hammer and running away.
Cullen paused before a tent the same size as the others, but someone took the time to stick a massive banner with the Inquisition eye outside it. Red flames burned from the brazier beside the entrance, hissing and popping with the herbs tossed inside. He gestured towards it and picked up the flap of the door. I nodded my head, and dipped below his hand. A table was prepared, a small map of the area already scuffed up with dagger marks. Beside it flickered a lone oil lamp. We had access to magic fire, but after the night and the tear in the veil, no one wanted to use it.
I turned around and looked up at the commander as he lowered the tent flap to join me. "Wood is a priority." I began, "Too many demon bodies can attract --"
He wrapped his arms around my body pulling me tight to his chest. At first I froze, surprise slacking my muscles, but slowly I reached around him. We stood entangled for a minute, breathing each other in and not saying a word.
"Maker," Cullen whispered. He buried his face into the top of my head, his breath parting the hair, "I thought, when the dragon and you fell...into the fade." His arms tightened around me and I squeezed back in return, clinging to something real. But it was all real in the fade, too. That was the problem. For the second time I walked there and came out alive. His grip slackened and he looked down into my eyes, "Are you okay?"
I nodded, and with a flat voice said, "I'm fine."
Cullen ran the back of his hand along my cheek. "I'm not asking the Inquisitor, I'm asking you."
A sob broke. Tears burrowed deep in my heart burst free. He wiped at them with his thumb. "It was horrific. The fade and a demon who I...I can't --"
Wrapping me back into a hug his breath shuddered, "It's all right, you don't have to tell me."
The nightmare's voice cracks above the others. In
the distance, the Divine's spirit or demon floats, her eyes watching me
as the fear taunts me. "We all know what happens to little knife-ears
who grow uppity and forget their place. Snip snip snip. They make for
quite a pretty necklace, don't they? When you fail, Corypheus' army will
take the ears off every member of your clan, your people, then chain
them all back to slavery. The last of the free people will no longer
"It's all a mistake," I whispered, digging deeper into him. "I'm not Andraste's chosen. I'm an accident." I snorted at the absurdity. Everyone wanted me to be divine, maker sent, needed it to be a miracle and it was just a case of ill conceived timing. If I'd been lost down the wrong corridor or opened a different door...
Cullen ran his hand through my hair, "I don't believe that."
I leaned away from him and spoke plainly, "It wasn't Andraste who sent me through the fade, it was the Divine."
"That doesn't mean anything."
Shaking my head, I broke away from him, "I'm not what you think I am. What they all think I am. I'm a fraud."
Anger swirled through Cullen's eyes, a dangerous one that more than a few wardens saw this night. "You are no such thing."
"They joined up because I was Andraste's Herald. They followed me because of it. Why would anyone follow an elf with some ancient magic embedded in her hand? An elf that can crack open the fade?"
"Every person out there followed you here to this point because of who you are. There are people who don't believe in Andraste that would still follow you to the ends of the world if you asked. The things you've done against the insurmountable..." Cullen waved his arm out towards the army tents, "You just saved them from a nightmare demon army and a high dragon."
The others saw spiders, but I didn't. I wish I did.
Shemlan slavers reached for me, tried to bind my wrists and feet. And
when that didn't work, when that only drove me to rage, the demon found
something else to torment me with. As the combat faded, and the others
slackened their stances, all I saw across the ground was my brother's
lifeless body. I killed him, because I took his place.
Energy burst from my hand, flaring around the tent. Cullen stepped back in surprise. Tears rolled down my cheeks, sizzling as they plopped into the anchor. I sank to my knees unable to take my eyes off the magic I never wanted, the gift that I stole. A power so incredible it could rip open the veil. Mages and the terrors they inflicted were nothing compared to what that mark on my hand could do. Cullen dropped in front of me and curled his fingers below mine.
"How can anyone want me," I said, watching my hand, "knowing the truth?" I broke from the greens of the fade to watch enlightenment dawn upon his face. He scooted closer to me and reached an arm around my shoulder.
"I believe in Andraste and the Maker," he said. "I believed that she sent you to help save us in our darkest hour." Cullen ran his fingers across my forehead, pulling my eyes into his, "And I still do."
My fist closed, cutting off the anchor, and I fell into him. He caught me, both of us leaning onto the floor as we clung tighter to each other. "We're in this together, all of us. Cassandra, and Varric, and Leliana," he said.
"And Sera," I said, smirking from his grumble.
"For good or ill, yes, even Sera."
"Andraste's Herald, that's what they call you," my
brother's corpse rose from the ground, taunting me. "Pathetic. They'll
turn on you the second you're no longer useful to them, just as they
turned on their own prophet. Shems can't be trusted, you told me that.
But I didn't listen, and look at me. Dead because of them. You opened
the fade, you could walk into the black city just like Corypheus. What
do you think they'll do to one of our kind with that much power? Let you
walk after you save them? Or has your infatuation clouded your
judgment? Seduce all the shems you want, sister; you cannot change their
My fingers trailed across Cullen's cheek, rubbing against that foreign scruff he never seemed to tame. His tormented eyes met mine, the same pain shrouding them as when he found me in the snows of Skyhold. He could have flexed the might of the Inquisition's muscle upon me, brought me to heel, but he didn't. He gave me a chance.
"Vhenan," I murmured, stroking his jaw.
"I, uh, don't know what that means," he stammered.
Smiling, I cupped my fingers behind his head and pulled him closer. "My heart," I whispered before falling into a kiss. The demon didn't lie, but twisted the truth, keeping me from seeing the possibilities. As long as Corypheus breathed, Thedas needed me and the Inquisition. And after...what was to come of me, of this, would be broached then.
Leaning back, I wiped at my cheeks still stained in tears and nodded, "All right, we still need to solve the food problem and find wood to build pyres."
Cullen smiled as his cloak of duty slipped in place, laying out his ideas, but he kept a tight hold on my hand while we planned our next move, never letting go.