“You know her?” the taller of the two human women asked, turning to Leliana with a scowl. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted to be sure,” Leliana said. “I see you have changed your accent. It is quite good.”
Milliara winced, looking from the women down to where her hands were each cuffed to railings of a medical gurney. Lavender skin was bruised down her left arm, and she could see her fingers hand wrist was swollen. Frowning, she turned her hand up to look at her palm.
“You are always sure,” the tall woman hissed. “Who is this? Is she the one who killed-”
Swallowing hard, Milliara shifted on the gurney, and sat up. The magcuffs gave way with a small click, she cradled the swollen hand, staring down at the glowing tear along her heartline. The sickly green light pulsed slowly, in time with the heart monitor that was stuck to her other arm.
When she looked up, Milliara found herself staring down the barrel of the taller woman’s side arm. She ignored it and lifted her glowing palm up. The glow pulsed a little more quickly now, reflecting the agitation Milliara started to feel.
“What,” the elf said, “the fuck,” jabbing at the mark on her palm with her good hand, “is this?”
The taller woman’s frown deepened.
“We were hoping you would tell us,” Leliana said. “That is not yours?”
“How did you get out of those cuffs?” the taller one asked. “I was watching you the whole time.”
“No, it’s not fucking mine,” Milliara hissed. She pushed the barrel of the sidearm away, only for it to return and point at her forehead. The elf glared at the humans, and started to pull the monitoring patches from her arms and chest.
“You know as much as I do. One moment I’m sneaking onto the A-S-S Dauntless-”
“C-S-S, Templar ships use C-” the tall woman corrected. The redhead sighed and looked up at her companion.
“She is aware, I’m sure. Milliara DuLion, meet Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast. Milliara and I met during the Blight, many years ago.” But the optimistic woman who used to sing while cooking in the dilapidated ship’s mess ten years ago was gone. Instead, the hardened bard was all that was left behind.
The years had not been kind to Leliana, it seemed.
“I’d say it’s a pleasure but you still have a gun in my face,” Millie said, looking up at the Seeker. “And that’s not my name.”
“You changed it?” Leliana asked, arching a single eyebrow. “You are no longer ‘Milliara’?”
“DuLion,” Millie said, rubbing her swollen palm. She flexed her left hand, working out some of the stiffness in her joints. “It was never my name.” The thought of the green light, the things… that were after her…
“What happened?” she asked quietly, looking back to her hand.
“An explosion,” the Seeker said. “We had thought you would know who did it.”
“Or committed the crime yourself,” Leliana added. “Given your distaste for religion.”
Silver eyes flicked up to stare at the two women. Milliara was tired, and she was sore, and still felt feverish. Swallowing her frustration, the elf straightened her shoulders and swung her legs off the gurney. They didn’t reach the floor.
“I don’t remember,” she said honestly. “But I *do* remember that I didn’t plan to kill thousands of people today, or I would have brought something to celebrate after.”
Addled and feverish, Millie wasn’t fast enough to dodge the Seeker’s fist that came up in a damn good left hook. The woman was strong, and catching Millie on the jaw, knocked the elf over. Falling to the gurney, head where her feet had been moments before, Millie ran her good hand over her mouth, wiping away a smear of blood. The punch had split the corner of her lip, though the pain was a welcome distraction from the sickening heat in her hand.
“Ah, yes,” Leliana said with a sigh. “I had forgotten about your manners.”
The tall woman grabbed Milliara by the upper arm and hauled her off the gurney. Half carrying, half dragging the elf, the Seeker marched them out into a crowded hall. Injured soldiers wearing Ferelden armor lined either wall while medical staff hurried back and forth.
“Come,” the Seeker said, as though Milliara had any choice. “Demons are pouring out of the hole you made in the sky. And we are going to close it. Or you are going to die trying.”
Yes. This was all getting uncomfortably familiar, Milliara thought.
“Fine,” she said, finally getting her feet under her. “But I’m going to need a new helmet, mine cracked.” She pulled a rifle from the side of a soldier than no longer needed it, hooking the strap with her foot and kicking it up into her hand. “And don’t fucking pray over me if I die.”
“It is so good to see you again,” Leliana muttered as she trailed along behind them.
Peanut squinted at the screen in front of her, braid floating behind her as she leaned forward, zooming in on the small blips of red that had caught her attention. Huh. Those didn’t look good. At first there was only a few, but as Pea scrolled over the radar screen, she saw more… and more…
“Tin-tam?” she shouted over her shoulder so he could hear her from where he was working on resetting the gravity-whatsit. She could hear his clanking and grumbling from down in the belly of their little cutter of a ship.
“Could you maybe focus on the engines and let the gravity drop?” she asked, looking out the window of the cockpit, squinting to see glowing ….things flying towards them. Sort of like the things she sometimes saw when dreaming. Then she blinked, and giggled.
“Heh… drop. Like… gravity…” she murmured, unbuckling herself from her seat and reaching for her space suit.
“Why?” Tanim asked, his fluffy head poking up from the trapdoor he’d crawled through. He blinked, spotting the specks heading their way. “Uh, Pea, what’d you do?” he asked, looking from the window to Peanut who was already half into her suit.
“Nothing!” she said, tucking her hair under her collar and reaching for the mask that would let her keep breathing. Helmets and horns didn’t play nice, but there were benefits to being Qunari… not exploding in vacuum was one of them.
“Kay, gonna go shoo them away. Let me know soon as you fix the ship,” she said with a smile, sliding the mask over her face and grabbing her staff from where it hung on the wall.
“On your own?” Tanim asked, frowning as he watched her ‘swim’ her way down the hall toward the airlock.
“Well, yeah, for now. But work fast please!” she said over her shoulder before she closed the airlock doors behind her. She took a deep breath, checking that her mask was working before she pressed the ‘release airlock’ button and shook out some of her nerves.
It’s okay, she could do this. She’d been trained at the Circle Academy and stuff. Sure she’d specialised as a healer and she’d only ever used fire spells for cooking and making yummy flambés, but it was the same idea, right?
Same idea, just… bigger.
The hatch opened, and Peanut pulled herself out, twisting to plant her boots against the ship’s hull. With a clunk, the magnetic soles activated, holding her steady before she climbed up towards the nose of SS Cookie, and looked out at the demons that were swarming towards her.
“Oh,” she said quietly. They looked a lot bigger out here. She took another deep breath and planted her feet against the Cookie’s hull. Twisting her staff in the vaccuum, she closed her eyes, muttering each step to herself as she went. “Gather the energy, focus…. Focus,” she could feel her staff start to thrum as she exerted her will on the weave of space.
Stepping forward, she swept the staff up and around, before thunking its butt into the Cookie’s hull. She could feel the plasma arc out from her, and Peanut opened an eye, cringing a bit as she watched the flares engulf the nearest wave of demons. They twisted and clawed at themselves, trying to stop from burning up.
Okay, that wasn’t so bad.
Rolling her shoulders back Peanut launched a wave of pressure forward. Debris and dust that had started collecting by the Cookie slammed into the burning demons, sending some careening away while a couple of the smaller ones exploded into dust and wisps of green themselves. As she watched, the surviving demons circled around and started coming at her again.
“Tim-tam?” she said into the speaker of her helmet. She wasn’t sure if the communications were working yet. “Hurry the butts up.”
More information was trickling in by the minute, but it wasn’t enough. Reports were patchy, first suggesting that it was the Divine who had survived, then it was the leaders of the Night Templar and Magi, then it was two unknowns. Leliana had sent that last report herself, along with a cryptic message to ‘Be Ready’.
Nathyara ran a hand over her face, watching the video loop for the hundredth time. Recovered from one of the less damaged orbital ships, the clip was an aerial view of the Temple of Sacred ashes. Templars and Magi arrived and milled around before entering the temple. Nothing happened for a couple of minutes before the video slowed to a near frame-by-frame crawl.
The explosion started in the back of the temple, green light flaring out through the temple’s windows and arches before it burst apart. The force of the explosion was beyond anything Nathy had seen before, sending deep cracks into the moon’s surface, and then the video turned to static… and began again.
The size of the explosion and sheer violence of it sent a chill through Nathyara. No stranger to war, she had seen the strangest of things during the Blight and Ferelden’s slow recovery afterwards. Archdemons, the Fade, brood-ugh-mothers… but she had never seen a moon tear itself apart. At least until yesterday.
“Please strap in if you haven’t, Milady,” the pilot said. “We’re on approach to Haven now.”
Nathy absently buckled herself into her seat, and craned her neck to look out of the transport’s portholes. The Station of Haven was a hive of activity, swarmed with ships of all allegiances that were docking and leaving and even being towed toward a makeshift flotilla being assembled between the station and the green tear in reality. Even this far away, Nathy could see the flash of explosions and artillery from those brave few that were fighting the tear’s demons.
Demons. In the waking world.
That was frightening in a way Nathy hadn’t experienced since the Blight.
Leliana was waiting for her in the docking gate, hands folded together and with a grim expression that lifted slightly at the sight of an old friend.
“I’ve brought what I could,” Nathyara said, striding over to hug the spymaster. “I’m so sorry about Justinia. I know you were close.”
“That must wait,” Leliana said, returning the hug fiercely. “For now, we need to talk in private. There has been a survivor.”
Nathyara stared at Leliana, then looked over at the gate next to hers where injured Templars were staggering off a shuttle. They looked battered and beaten, many with the vacant stare of shellshock.
“Other than them?” Nathy asked in a low whisper, hooking her arm through Leliana’s.
“Other than them. They were fortunate to have been on the Dauntless, still in high orbit when the explosion occurred. That is the work of the demons, not of the explosion itself.” Leliana had a secret. One she would share in private, but the time it took to reach somewhere that wasn’t filled with injured soldiers gnawed at her. Nathy needed to know. Now.
Only when they were in a cramped operations office, the door closed behind them, did Leliana turn to look at Nathy.
“One survivor, from the blast.”
“How did anyone survive that?” Nathy asked in a hushed voice. “I’ve been watching the footage you sent me-”
“It is an old friend of ours,” Leliana said, watching Nathy’s face closely. “Perhaps ‘friend’ is too loose a term.”
Heart in her throat, Nathy clutched her tablet to her chest. She could hardly breathe. He was here? He was in the explosion?! Was he-
“Milliara,” Leliana said, putting out both hope and horror with a single word.
Nathy blinked, then shook her head.
Leliana shrugged. She didn’t elaborate, leaving Nathy to run through the different scenarios on her own. Someone had paid for the elf to kill all the Outer Thedan leaders in a single explosion. No. Someone had blackmailed– but who could possibly have had access to ordinance that powerful? Would would have that and then trust it to the sourest elf in the system?
“…you’re sure?” Nathy asked, squinting at Leliana.
“She is currently returning to the Breach –the tear in reality– in an attempt to close it,” Leliana said. “Her parting words were ‘Don’t pray over my body’.”
Nathy backed toward a chair and sat, unsure how to process the information. A friend, a rival, a foil to the growth and sacrifice during the Blight. A ghost, the moment the Archdemon had fallen. Gone for ten years without so much as a word…
“I’m going to slap her when I catch up to her,” Nathy said, and got to her feet. “I need to get there, she’ll get herself killed on her own.” She added as she opened the door.
“Not on your own, you aren’t,” a stern voice replied. With one hand on the door jamb to block Nathyara’s escape, Rythlen stared down her shorter, sharper cousin. “Who is going to get killed?” Good Maker, Ry was using her Queen Voice. Nathy looked around, before backing up to let Ry into the room. She shot a glare at Leliana who shrugged.
“She arrived moments after you did. We are not in a position to turn away aid,” the spymaster said. She greeted the Queen with a tight hug.
“Ry, please listen-” Nathyara started. “The babies-”
“I’m your Queen, Arlessa Nathyara,” Rythlen said. “This is one of those times I’m pulling Rank. Now. Tell me, who is going to get herself killed without you?”
Nathyara took a deep breath, and rolled her shoulders.
“Milliara,” she said. “Milliara survived the blast. She had to be the one who did it.”