We Could Be Hundreds of Miles Away
Despite their exhaustion, they followed the tunnel quickly, noting with glee that this one seemed to be taking them up and up and up. Though the incline made their legs burn, made their emptying packs feel heavier than when they were freshly filled, they were glad to follow it, and did so at the most rapid pace they could comfortably sustain.
“I just thought,” said Eleanor, leaning up against a wall as they paused for breath, to drink, and to eat some of the dry food they carried along, “we have no idea where this is going to take us. Even if it takes us above ground, even if this path lets us out of here with nothing else in between, we could be hundreds of miles away from the farm.”
Cullen shook his head. “How far could these darkspawn be spreading?”
“Fuck that,” said Eleanor, “ I was thinking, how the hell are we going to get home?”
“Well, we’ve walked this far,” Varric offered.
Dorian only groaned and slid further down the wall.
A few hours after escaping the broodmother, the air began to smell fresh. Not just free of the stench of decay, but clean. Crisp. And cold.
Eleanor hugged her cloak close, flipped her hood up over her head. Even still, she shivered. Cullen was dressed warmly, but there was a pink in his cheeks from the dropping temperature, and Dorian had a cloak too, as well as several layers of cloth and armor, but she couldn’t imagine how Varric was staying warm. Maybe it was the hair on his chest. Maybe it was his sheer obstinace.
Rubbing her bloody gloves together, working warmth into her fingers, Eleanor breathed out, and her breath clouded the air in front of her. She found it ironic that winter was the season she hated the most, so of course it was the thing she had found most easy to control with her new-found powers. Maybe it made sense, taking over and exerting control on the one thing she’d never been able to change. She still hated winter, though.
“Look,” Cullen’s word brought her out of her reverie. Up ahead, the path leveled out, and opened up, and beyond, Eleanor could see a dark sky, blotted over with clouds, and from them came gently falling snow.
She dropped to her knees.
They were free.
They stepped out into the night, into the snow. Eleanor looked around, and saw nothing she could put her finger on. The air made her teeth chatter and she wrapped her arms around herself. There were no roads, no signs, no landmarks she could place. Just a lot of pine trees and rolling hills. They could literally be anywhere within a hundred miles of home.
“Any ideas?” Cullen asked her.
“Not a fucking one,” she said through clacking teeth. “Maybe south. In the mountains. That’s all I’ve got.”
“We either need to get moving or find a place to stay,” Varric said, taking a few steps out in front of them. The snow came up to his calves, came up to everyone else’s ankles. “Even just to make a camp.”
Eleanor nodded quickly.
“Alright,” said Cullen. “We’re all exhausted. Let’s get far enough away from this Maker-forsaken tunnel and find somewhere to spend the night. There’s no point freezing to death trying to find a way home when we don’t even know where we are.” He looked up at the heavy, grey sky, unable to make out even a single star. The clouds threatened worse weather, and maybe soon. There was no way to know.
The tunnel had brought them out on the broad side of a cliff face, and they walked along it, making to circle it, but it only stretched on and on and on. Dorian tried to hide his sniffles, blotting his reddening nose with a handkerchief he carried - of course he did, Eleanor thought with a smile - and Cullen rubbed his arms with his hands, as though it would do anything to warm him through gloves and armor. Eleanor found it harder and harder to trudge on through the slowly depending slow, and just when she thought she was ready to drop, they spotted a huge rocky overhang up ahead. They had to be at least a mile from the tunnel now, plenty far enough to camp, to build a fire, to actually sleep.
The overhang had a recess in the cliff under it, going maybe seven feet inward, and it gave them plenty of shelter from the wind which had picked up and begun to howl like a lonely wolf, whistling through the trees and bringing heavier snow with it. They unrolled their blankets, and Cullen quickly gathered wood for a fire from the bases of the pines, or sometimes reaching up into the trees to snap off lower branches. The air was so cold that the wood was dry despite the snow, and with a little help from Dorian’s magic, they had a fire going in moments. Eleanor dug through her pack for a small metal pot and shoveled snow into it - no point wasting bottled water - and held it carefully over the flame until steam rose. She was too tired to wait for it to boil. Into four small tin cups she dunked tea bags, and splashed the water on top, passing everyone a cup. They huddled together in the back of the crevasse, shoulder to shoulder, and drank down their warm tea, stoking and feeding the fire once last time before they all fell soundly asleep.