The rhythmic sound of oars as they splashed and moved through the water from the sloop toward the tower did nothing to slow the racing of Solona’s heart. Although her shoulders were squared and her face set in stone, internally she was a bundle of nerves. Because of the treaties, she knew she would be forced to return to the tower before the Blight was ended, but she had hoped the trip could be delayed just a little while longer. With Connor Guerrin’s possession, however, she had no choice but to secure the alliance with the mages first.
Solona absentmindedly reached up to clutch the amulet that lay against her chest and began to thumb the tiny sword and flames etched into its surface. She was not only about to come face to face with her past and the life she left behind, but she was planning to take a part of it back with her. It had been more than a year since she laid eyes on Anders, and his hold on her had begun to fade. Would that still be true when his warm amber eyes once again stared into hers? Or would all those old feelings come back to overtake her heart and her senses just the way they always had?
In an effort to keep her mind off the destiny that lay ahead of her, the mage began to survey her surroundings. She turned her head to the right toward the narrow channel of Calenhad River and caught sight of an approaching ship. It was still far enough away that she couldn’t quite make out the colors it flew, but the black mainsail fluttering at half-mast made it clear the craft was no mere merchant’s vessel. It was a pirate ship, not unlike the one which Solona traveled to Kinloch on when she first arrived at the Circle as a girl.
“Are you alright?” Alistair inquired. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
The mage’s lids narrowed as she continued to observe the ship in the distance. “I’m not entirely sure I haven’t,” she mumbled.
“What?” her fellow Warden asked.
Solona shook her head. “Nothing.”
The front entryway of the tower was in chaos. Injured templars lined the walls, tended by others who didn’t look to be in much better shape than their patients. The guard at the door told the Wardens there was trouble, but wouldn’t elaborate on its nature. If the sheer terror in the eyes of most of those templars was any indication, whatever was going on was beyond bad.
While Alistair fought the temptation to help give aid to the wounded, Solona marched toward a group of templars standing in the center of the room beyond the great pillars. Her countenance was cool and her back straight when she approached the Knight Commander who was busy poring over reports attached to the clipboard clutched in his hand. He peered up from the papers just long enough to take note of the woman standing before him, then went back to perusing the documents.
The mage folded her arms across her chest and arched a brow with a resonant sigh as she awaited proper acknowledgement from the templar commander. After several more minutes of being ignored, Solona finally retrieved one of the scrolls tucked in the pouch at her belt and slapped it down upon Greagoir’s clipboard.
“As Warden Commander, I am here on behalf of the Grey Wardens,” she informed him, her voice unwavering. “That treaty compels the mages to aid us in our endeavors against the Blight.”
The Knight Commander’s eyes skimmed over the document. When he was finished, he dropped the parchment on the ground then regarded the mage with a sneer.
“If you haven’t noticed, Warden,” he growled. “We have enough troubles of our own without dealing with your ilk at the moment. I’m afraid you’ve arrived at both the wrong time and place to retrieve aid from mages.”
“What do you mean?” she questioned. “What’s going on?”
“There has been…an incident,” he explained. “It seems we have a bit of a rebellion on our hands.”
“Well,” Solona drawled with a bored expression. “What do you expect when you oppress a group of people as long as the Circle has? I would say rebellion was inevitable.”
Greagoir’s lids narrowed as he stared daggers at the mage. The hatred in his eyes was matched only by that in Solona’s. The mutual abhorrence between the two couldn’t have been more obvious, leaving Alistair to seriously begin to question which of them was going to strike at the other first.
A sly smile played at the corner of the Knight Commander’s lips. “At least the one who started it is dead. When the Right of Annulment arrives, we templars can finish the job and purge the tower of the rest of the ingrates.”
Alistair felt his stomach drop. The Right of Annulment. Surely not every mage in the Circle of Ferelden was involved. There were children there, some barely old enough to leave their mother’s skirts if Solona’s own history was any indication. What of them?
“Not that I can blame the mage,” Solona quipped. “But who was it that started this revolution?”
“Why, your boyfriend,” Greagoir replied with a malicious grin. “He was apparently a blood mage. He and his followers called demons down upon the Circle and the templars. Fortunately, one of his own ripped him to shreds.”
Alistair stared blankly at his fellow Warden. She told him that Jowan had used blood magic to escape the tower, but she never once mentioned Anders was a maleficar. In fact, other than the way the healer treated her and other women, he didn’t seem the type from her descriptions. At the same time, neither did Jowan until the point he used the forbidden magic the day he fled Kinloch.
“Bullshit,” Solona seethed, her chest rising and falling with righteous indignation. “Anders may be many things, but he isn’t a blood mage and he certainly is no murderer. He could have killed your templars a dozen times over, but he never did any more harm than putting them to sleep with a potion in their food.”
“Yes, because there is no way a mage who escaped the Circle six times and spent a year in the lower dungeons would ever become mad or desperate enough to resort to dark magic in order to escape again,” the Knight Commander countered calmly. “It has been proven time and again, mages will always turn to blood magic and demons if their backs are pushed too far against the wall.”
The space between Solona’s eyebrows disappeared as she contemplated Greagoir’s words. She glanced at Alistair, who greeted her with a sympathetic frown. All at once, her face took on an expression of calm as she donned the mask of indifference she wore all too well, then returned her attention to the templar commander.
“It doesn’t matter how this began or who started it,” she told him. “I require the aid of the mages. Without the Chantry’s sanction to perform the Right, you have no recourse but to stand around and wait while innocent people continue to be slaughtered, including your templars trapped inside, I might add. I, on the other hand, am not bound by your rules.
“Allow my companion and I entrance, and we will resolve this problem for you, on the condition that if there are any who can be saved, they will be committed to aiding the Grey Wardens. If it is a lost cause and there are none left but the possessed and the guilty, we will do your job for you and put them down ourselves. If we die in the process, it will simply be one less headache you will be forced to contend with.”
Greagoir’s scowl deepened as he studied the mage’s face, gauging the truth and benefit of her proposal. Alistair held his breath as the already thick tension in the air grew to stifling proportions. After an overly long silence between the two commanders, the templar exhaled a resonant sigh.
“Fine,” he huffed. “But I will only accept that the situation is resolved if Irving informs me of it himself. If he lives, I will abide by your demands. If he is dead, the bargain is made invalid.
“I agree to those terms,” Solona conceded. “I will escort the First Enchanter to you personally. However, if I am successful in my endeavors, you will not only supply mages to the cause, but templars as well. At least two dozen.”
“Very well, Commander,” Greagoir concurred, obviously unconcerned of her ability to achieve such a lofty goal. He turned to the two templars guarding the inner entrance to the tower and bellowed, “Open the doors and allow them through.”
Without another word to Solona or any acknowledgement to Alistair, the Knight Commander spun on his heel and made his way to the side of the room opposite the door to speak to one of his men. There was no emotion, no hint of Solona’s thoughts in her expression as she turned and began marching toward the inner entryway. When the heavy doors were pulled wider apart, Alistair gagged against the smell of copper and rot wafting out from the corridor.
A faint scream echoing from somewhere in the distance chilled him to the bone as the doors were shut behind them, prompting Solona to stop in her tracks. When she turned her face toward him, her blue eyes shimmered in the light of the lyrium lamp on the wall at his back. He held her gaze as he awaited the breakdown he knew was inevitable.
“He didn’t do this,” she whispered.
Alistair nodded. “Alright.”
She took a step toward him, then hesitated before drawing a ragged breath. Her jaw tightened against the clenching of her teeth, announcing her renewed determination. She was committed, fully prepared to face the grim task that lay ahead, and resolute she would succeed in both gaining the allies they required and clearing her former lover’s name.
Miriana sensed great turmoil in both the Veil and the Fade before the immense doors leading into Kinloch Hold were ever opened to reveal the chaos inside. She attempted to voice her concerns to Garrett when they traversed the path toward the tower, but she wasn’t sure he understood the implication of her words. He simply squeezed her hand and told her everything would be alright. The gesture did make her feel a bit better, but by the time they reached the doors, the alarms sounding within her were too loud to ignore.
Beware. There are demons here, Miriana. Uncontained and hungry. Angry and unsatisfied. Feasting on blood and fear. Forever ravenous, forever thirsting for more.
Faith’s voice in the mage’s head had grown so loud, Miriana’s knees buckled from the pain. She grabbed hold of Garrett’s arm just inside the entrance to brace herself, praying to the Maker she wouldn’t faint. The pirate gathered her in his arms and peered down at her with concern.
“Are you alright, love?”
She managed a nod and a weak smile. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“Is it that disturbance you were talking about on the way up here?” he questioned.
“Yes,” she told him with a troubled frown. “Something’s happened. Something horrible.”
Garrett surveyed their surroundings for several moments before lowering his mouth to her ear. “Whatever it is,” he whispered. “It’s got the templars buggered enough I don’t think they’ve even noticed us. What say we get back to the ship and leave them to deal with it?”
As much as she wanted to agree to his request, as frightened as she was, Miriana couldn’t just walk away. They were only in the corridor, and already faced with more death and destruction than she had ever been witness to. She was a mage of the Circle. If there was any way to help the people in the tower, she was determined to try.
She waggled her head against his scruffy jaw. “No,” she said. “I have to find out what’s going on. To help if I can.”
A rush of warm breath caressed her cheek before her companion returned to his full height. He presented her with a tilt of his head, his left brow arched with concern.
“As you wish, love,” he told her. “I am at your disposal.”
Before Miriana could express her gratitude for his understanding, they were approached by an older templar whose armor bore the markings that announced his position as Knight Commander. He glowered at Miriana with such animosity, it prompted a gasp.
“I thought I already sent you through, Commander,” he sneered before eyeing Garrett with a disgusted frown. “I suppose you needed more backup than you thought, eh?”
“Excuse me, mate,” the pirate interrupted. “I believe you must have the lady confused with someone else. We’ve only just arrived.” He took a quick glance around the room. “Love what you’ve done with the place, by the way. Very homey. The wounded templars and the blood are a particularly nice touch.”
The templar’s face turned crimson with anger. “There is nothing funny about the suffering of templars, churl. It would behoove you to hold your tongue.”
Garrett took a step toward the Knight Commander, his lips curled in an unconcerned smirk. “Trust me, mate. Many a men have tried to shut me up over the years. I doubt you’d fare any better than they.”
“Are you threating me, lout?” the templar questioned through narrowed lids.
“Not a threat, mate,” the pirate countered. “Just a warning. But where are my manners?” He took a step back and flourished a bow. “Captain Hawke of Yavana’s Call.” He gestured to the mage at his side with a wave of his hand. “And this bonny lass is Miriana. She lost her escorts during a most unfortunate incident in Highever involving a very nasty group of Tevinters and asked me to bring her to Kinloch. Though, I can’t imagine why. It seems you’ve run into a bit of trouble here.”
“Yes,” the other man said. “But it is no concern of yours.”
“Perhaps I can be of service,” Garrett offered. “I’m quite handy in a fight, if I do say so myself.”
“We’ve already had enough interference,” the Knight Commander refused. “We don’t need some thug pirate involved.”
“Your loss, mate,” Garrett told him with a shrug. “But judging by the state of the place, I’d wager a pirate is exactly what you need. And what would it cost you if we fail? A couple of more bodies to add to the pyre when it’s over? But I guarantee you, mate.” He gave the templar a wink. “I won’t fail.”
The Knight Commander’s nostrils flared. “Maybe you’re right. If nothing else, letting you through to get killed would shut you up.” He called to the templars at the inner doors. “Let them through!”
The pirate clicked his teeth with another wink. “That’s the spirit, mate. I knew you had to be smarter than you look.” The templar didn’t have time to counter the insult before Garrett grabbed Miriana’s hand and began leading her to the doors. “Come along, love. There are mages to rescue and templar asses to pull from the fire.”
Miriana had never heard anyone speak to a templar in that manner before, let alone a Knight Commander. Garrett seemed so nonchalant, so cavalier about the entire situation, but something in the way he squeezed her hand revealed an unease the templars would never detect from his outer bravado. He was worried, even a bit frightened perhaps.
Once the doors were shut behind them, the full weight of what lay ahead finally hit Miriana with the foul odor of blood and rotting flesh in the air. The pull of demons and dark magic were stronger on the other side of that entryway, but there was something else as well. Something light and familiar. A kindred spirit in the abyss.
There is another here. A twin soul to my own. A mirror to you.
Though still overly loud and echoing, Faith’s voice was quieter, contemplating in that moment. Almost as if she were whispering in her own ethereal way. It was an odd sensation, a mix of longing and anticipation for whatever lay ahead.
Garrett and Miriana followed the corridor around until they reached a large chamber with another hallway on the other side which had been blocked by a magical barrier. Between them and the wide arch stood a group of people. Four women and two children in robes and another woman and man in blue and silver armor with their backs turned to the pirate and the newly arrived mage. Garrett took a step forward, placing his body between Miriana’s and the crowd.
“Is this a private soiree?” he asked. “Or can anyone join the party?”
The woman in the uniform turned to confront the owner of the voice. Miriana felt her heart begin beating in her throat. After fourteen years, she was confronted by a face she thought she would never again see outside of a looking glass.
The woman in uniform took two steps forward, then stopped in her tracks. Her lapis eyes went wide for only a second when they locked onto those of the woman standing behind the pirate. A moment later, her expression turned to one of indifference.
“No need to hide, Miri,” she said. “I ceased biting years ago.”