Everything about this felt uncomfortably familiar and yet the difference of circumstance were jarring. Standing in the airlock of an Aravel shuttle, Milliara braced a hand against the wall and watched darkness through the scuffed porthole. Beyond the door, past the hiss of decompression, lay a moon she had thought she’d never see again.
Despite everything, despite her best efforts, here she was getting ready to break in to the Temple of Sacred Ashes. Again. Goosebumps prickled up her arms, hidden by salvaged pieces of elven exosuit and Kirkwallian armor. Hastily painted black, the orange and brown of the damn city had started to show where the newer paint scraped and chipped.
“Airlock doors opening in three-” the pilot warned, their voice crackling with static.
She shouldn’t be here. Not again. But she was.
“May the Dread wolf never catch your scent,” the Pilot said, and the airlock door opened soundlessly.
Alone with the sound of her breath and the static of her earpiece, Milliara snorted. If the gods were real, she’d been walking next to the dread wolf for years. How else could she find herself back at the border of Orlais?
“Fly home safe, lethallin,” she replied over the commlink. “I’ll contact you when I’m done.”
Bracing her hands against the edges of the door, she launched herself from the safety of the shuttle and out into the void. Vertigo struck her, but only for a moment. Ahead of her waited the brilliant gold and red of the Templar Honour Guard. Beyond them waited the moon of Sacred Ashes.
Squinting against the eye-watering gleam of the sun’s rays reflected off the nearest Templar vessel, Millie burned some of the fuel in her suit to adjust her trajectory. Get onto the ship, bum a ride to the temple in time for the peace talks. Then get out. In theory it was a simple plan, benefitting from her experience with shems, but even in high orbit, she could see the changes of the moon’s surface.
The temple had become a mecca for the faithful and those who pretended they were. There would be actual security now, radar and flight control… which is why she needed to hitch a ride with someone who had clearance.
That was why, coming to herself in the middle of a desolate field of rock and ruin, Milliara didn’t understand how things had gone so wrong so quickly. Clutching her left arm to her chest, breathing hard against her cracked helmet… Milliara struggled to understand what had happened. How had she gotten… wherever this was?
She took a slow, even, breath and looked around her. Panic could wait until she was safe.
Chunks of rock spun slowly on their own axes around her. Some where the size of a large shuttle… some as small as her head. In the distance, she could see that there were even larger asteroids, half hidden by dust that was lit a sickly green from… what was that?
Twisting, Milliara burned some of the jets in her suit to stabilize herself and face the pulsing green light ahead of her. It looked like someone had cut a hole in the void right in the centre of the debris field, and dark shapes flickered in and out of sight, flowing toward it.
“…Hurry!” An Orlesian voice cut through the white static in Milliara’s earpiece.
“Where am I?” Milliara asked, trying to keep her voice calm. “What happened?” Had she been captured? This didn’t look like Orlesian space. This didn’t look like any kind of space she’d seen.
“…must wait, hurry!” the voice managed through heavy static. “…behind you!”
Milliara flexed her injured hand and kicked her suit’s jets into full blast. Darting forward, she felt something catch at her heel, the impact hard enough to send her spinning. Shutting off the jets immediately, Milliara twisted to get a glimpse of what had struck her. A seared boy with fingers that were too long, eyes too blank, and the mark of Andraste burnt into his forehead peeled lips back from white teeth that were too sharp.
There were many things that had frightened Milliara in the past, but the monster that reached out to her now was the only thing that had ever frozen her in place. A boy, whose face and freckles were intimately familiar from the many nights she had spent cradling him and counting them as he slept. A boy…
“Hurry! Through the tear!” the voice cut through the static once more.
This wasn’t him.
Milliara kicked off a nearby rock, launching herself away from the monster. Away from it’s freckles, it’s blue eyes. Away from those horrid fingers. Free from it’s spell, Millie could see that behind him swarmed a legion of the things. Some were diseased, infected with Blight. Others were long-dead. None of them were real.
Dodging grasping hands, Milliara grabbed onto another chunk of rock with both hands, and pulled herself as hard as she could, throwing her momentum toward the light. Toward the tear, and wherever that led. There was no time to second guess the voice in her ear. Thrusters at full burn, Milliara prayed she would reach the green light before the things behind caught up to her.
The green glow flashed blindingly bright as she approached, and something detonated in the void behind her, the force of it sending her tumbling head over heels, the jets on her suit sputtering as their fuel ran out. Ears ringing, Milliara blinked, trying to fight the oncoming darkness.
But it was no use.
Space was quiet. No sound travelled in the vacuum as the world flashed brilliant green and a wave of force expanded out from the moon ahead. Sitting next to her brother, Peanut grabbed onto the control panel and braced herself as the green wave raced towards them.
The Adaar’s ship bucked, steel and carbon fibre groaning under the force of the explosion. For breathless seconds, Pea was sure the hull would give way. Next to her, the other Qunari frantically tried to steady the ship.
Something fizzled and popped in the console, and Pea felt herself start to lift out of her seat as the artificial gravity slowly ebbed away.
“What was that?” she asked, brushing back white curls from her face. Without gravity to hold it down, her hair was lifting up tighter to her cheeks and horns. Wedging one foot against the floor and the other leg against the underside of her seat, Pea pulled her hair back, braiding it to keep it out of the way.
“I don’t know,” Tanim said, squinting at the controls and tapping at them before grunting in annoyance. “Fitzed us good though, Gravity’s off, so’s our engine control. I’ll go see if I can fix it, keep your eyes peeled for anything weird.”
“Weirder than that?” Pea asked, pulling herself back into her seat and buckling in to keep from floating away. The last thing she wanted to do was crack her horns on the ceiling of the ship. “Guess it’s a good thing we were late…” she said quietly. There was a green light shifting and flickering where the Temple had been.
“..or I’d have been split-pea soup!”
“How bad is it?”
Hands on the table, one of the Heroes of Ferelden shook her head. Her hair was black, tied back into a braid that hung over her shoulder, brushing the surface of the holo table she leaned against. Ice blue eyes stared at the video of the explosion and she could feel a muscle start to twitch in her jaw. One of the many windows held a redheaded woman’s portrait with the ‘connected’ icon in the lower right next to it was the face of her cousin. Dark haired and sharp, the second Hero of Ferelden listened to Leliana’s report with a grim expression. One that Rythlen knew mirrored her own.
“It’s very bad,” Rythlen told her husband, glancing away from the video to look at him with the smallest of smiles. It didn’t reach her eyes. “The Temple of Sacred ashes is gone.”
“What do you mean ‘gone’?” Alistair asked, walking across their office to stand next to her. He peered at the screens, and lifted a hand to greet the two women onscreen.
“Gone,” Nathyara said. “We could see the explosion from here. I don’t-” she frowned. “I don’t know what could have done that. I don’t know what could have been powerful enough to have done that.”
“Hello Alistair,” Leliana’s voice said, crackling with static. The connection, normally clear even from Denerim, was barely useable. The video kept freezing and lagging behind the audio.
“We are still investigating, but unidentified life forms have been emerging from the tear, and causing us difficulty. I cannot talk for long, I am afraid.”
Rythlen felt Alistair rest a hand over hers, and she squeezed it, grateful for the small show of support.
“What can we do to help?” Rythlen asked.
“Send support. Military, medical, and food. I would ask for anything you can spare, but I am aware how delicate the political situation is right now,” Leliana said. “Commander Rutherford and Seeker Pentaghast will do what they can to hold the hostiles back until support arrives.”
“I’ll send what I can immediately,” Nathyara said. “I wish it was more, but the house guests have my hands full.”
“I should be there,” Rythlen said, frowning. “I could help.” Even as she said it, she knew that was impossible. Until Leliana found out who was responsible for the attack, anything more than token aid would imply that Fereldan supported either the Templars or the Magi. It didn’t matter which, both sides would argue that the other was at fault.
“No,” Nathyara said sharply. “Stay where it’s safe.”
“No,” Leliana said, the feed’s lag slowing her own response. “I-” A dull boom interrupted her, and the static almost drowned out her hasty good-bye.
“I will relay more information when I have it.”
One comm window blinked closed, and Rythlen sighed, straightening. The intense gaze of her cousin remained.
“Ry, don’t,” Nathyara said. “Alistair, keep her from leaving. The children-”
“The people that are out there have children too,” Rythlen pointed out. “How can I sit here and watch when so many people get hurt and suffer? It’s been hard enough to watch this horrible war and not be able to do anything.” Alistair pulled her into a side hug, his warm hand rubbing her shoulder.
But Nathy was right. The children needed her to be safe. Still… there had to be something-
“Leliana said she’d never seen anything like it before,” Ry said quietly, leaning her head onto her husband’s shoulder. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. Considering what we’ve been through…”
“Yeah, that’s saying something,” Alistair agreed, wrapping his arms around her. “We’ll figure something out. We’ll find a way to help.”
“Send food, supplies,” Nathyara said. “I’ll see what I can do from here.”
“Nathy-” Rythlen started to say, but the comm window blinked closed. Ry sighed. “She’s going to go to Haven,” she murmured to her husband.
“She sure is,” Alistair said, pulling Ry to his chest. He kissed her forehead and stroked her back. “As your king, I advise you stay here, where it’s safe,” he said. Ry frowned. As her king?
“As your husband, I beg you to stay safe,” he said in a whisper, peppering her forehead with gentle kisses. “And as your friend, I ask you to kick whoever’s ass did this, because I know that frown.” He kissed it, smoothing out the wrinkle there. “I know your cousin, and I know how you two are. Whoever is responsible for this doesn’t understand what they’ve done.”
Heart swelling, Rythlen hugged her husband tight.
“I love you,” she murmured into his shoulder.
“I love you too, Ry. Please be safe,” he whispered again. “The kiddoes need you home at the end of this. So do I.”
Rythlen pulled away from his shoulder to smile up at him, brushing a hand over the grey at her husband’s temples.
“I promise, I will.”
The heat of her arm had run rampant through her body by the time someone pulled Milliara into a shuttle. She felt hot and cold at the same time, an unfortunately familiar feeling. She was going into shock. Someone pulled her helmet off, and Millie tried to hit the woman that did it. She had to remain anonymous. Had to.
Vision blurred, shadows swimming, consciousness was an intermittent thing.
Angry shouting, hands locked in mag cuffs behind her.
A quiet murmuring voice, gentle hands that peeled back the fever and delirium.
And then, the familiar smell of Andraste’s grace and ink.
Opening silver eyes that glowed in the room’s dim light, Milliara looked up at a pair of human women.
Dry lips pulled into a tentative smile.
“Hi Leli, it’s been a while.”