The Antiva docks were full of merchants, fishmongers, and whores as Rasha led the small group of Fereldens off the ship. Dressed in simple worn leather armor, the elf glanced over her shoulder to check that the others were keeping up. Eleanor, the princess had surprised her, not that Rasha would ever admit that aloud. Thespoiled and pampered shem was the man who followed.
He smelled like flowers and he seemed unable to do anything other than gawp at her or stumble through useless chatter.
Bringing the shems through the Eluvians was a risk to the entire rebellion, but the entire rebellion was about saving their people. The Elvhen. Fenlin was one of those people, one of the ones worth saving. Rasha would risk two shems walking through the Crossroads to save her sister. She’d risk two hundred, if it meant Fenlin was found safe.
“Don’t expect this to remain here after we use it,” she warned the Princess and the fool. “My contacts moved it to a more accessible location for today only. We’ll need to wait for the ship to arrive in Quarius to return.
“Moved what?” Oran asked, hurrying to try to walk next to Rasha. She put her arm out and blocked his manouever. With an elbow to his chest, she pushed him back behind her. “Ow,” he muttered, giving Rasha a small bit of satisfaction in an otherwise unsatisfactory situation.
“Shut up, we’re almost there.”
Leading the way to a brothel, Rasha paid the Madame for an hour with a slender androgynous elf with strawberry blond hair. The elf smiled, taking Rasha’s hand and led the three up to the rented room.
“Are you sure you want me to service all three of you?” He asked Rasha, an eyebrow lifting.
“I wouldn’t pay that much if it was anything less than an emergency,” she said, leaning against the door frame and waving the shems inside. “Besides the male shem has his hand down his pants so often you’d think he’s worried it’ll fall off.” At the accusation, Oran turned a rather amusing shade of red, and opened his mouth to say something. Rasha shoved him into the room instead, and closed the door behind her.
The inside of the room was… well it was a whore’s room. There was a large bed with mostly clean sheets, perfumed candles to mask the smell of sex, and a giant mirror leaned against the side of the room opposite the bed. It’s glass was warped and bubbled, dusky and barely able to reflect the people who now stood in front of it.
“I’m all for adventures,” Oran was saying, looking at the bed. “But El’s my cousin and so I’m going to have to excuse myself from this particular part and hope that no one decides to write a best selling book about it.”
Rasha rolled her eyes, and pushed past him to place a hand on the mirror. She whispered the passphrase, too quiet for the shems to properly hear, and the glass rippled.
“What did you do?” El asked, stepping up to stand next to Rasha. Their reflections were gone, and Rasha’s hand had pressed through, up to her wrist.
“Come find out,” Rasha said with a smile over her shoulder, and stepped through the Eluvian. This part of the crossroads was beautiful, floating stone pathways that twisted and defied gravity. Trees heavy with fragrant pink blossoms grew down from an arbor overhead, and Rasha closed her eyes to breathe in the heady scent.
Behind her, she heard a gasp, and then a sudden yelp as the shems stepped through.
“Where is THE GROUND?” Oran asked, and Rasha looked over to see him with his back pressed against the now-solid Eluvian. He looked up and went pale. “Why is the ground over our heads?” he asked. Eleanor was, predictably, faring much better. She walked up to where Rasha stood and looked around with a small frown.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” the princess said quietly. “Where are we?”
“The shortcut from Antiva to Tevinter,” Rasha said. The shems didn’t seem to be able to appreciate how beautiful the crossroads were, but what could you expect from humans?
Stepping out onto one of the floating paths, Rasha started forward, steps confident and sure. Halfway up the path, she turned to see the two shems hesitantly climbing up after her. El looked a little pale and had her eyes firmly focused ahead, while Oran kept his eyes glued to his cousin, and looked like he might faint.
Rasha blinked, surprised. She’d expected she would need to drag him over the emptiness to their destination, but here he was, managing on his own. Grudgingly, she adjusted her assessment of him.
“Don’t stop, please, can we just keep going until we’re on the other side?” Oran protested as El and he caught up to Rasha.
Without speaking, Rasha turned and continued, leading them to a platform of shattered ruin. It was once a temple, with frescoes of the evanuris painted in brilliant colours. Mythal, Falon’din and others who must be the ‘forgotten ones’ only alluded to, never named.
“Don’t stray, the spirits here won’t appreciate the presence of humans,” Rasha said.
A stairwell led them up to the second floor of the ruined temple, and Rasha froze on the top step as she saw the Eluvian. The shems caught up to her, slowing as they saw her tense. Ahead, across what might have been a library, a man and woman stood by the mirror, speaking in quiet voices. The man, tall and bald, wore armor similar to what Rasha had arrived at Highever in. The woman, simple leathers, her silver hair trimmed into a mohawk. They were standing close to each other, her hand on his arm. The look on her face made Rasha feel sick.
“Who are they?” Oran asked in a whisper. Rasha winced, watching as her mother’s ears twitched and the two turned to look at them. It took Rasha a moment to realise what was so different about her mother. The purple vallaslin, gotten for a mis-gotten brother, was gone.
“My mother,” Rasha said through grit teeth, taking a deep breath and rolling her shoulders back. “And a friend of hers.”
Walking forward, nearly a full head taller than her mother, the redheaded elf stopped just beyond arm’s reach from the two elves, who blocked the way to the Eluvian.
“Rasha,” her mother said softly. There were more wrinkles around her eyes now. “I’m glad to see you so well.” Lilac eyes looked past Rasha’s shoulder and she saw momentary surprise on her mother’s face before a small smile of… pride? Throat tight, she turned to Solas.
He looked tired. More than usual.
“Is she bothering you?” Rasha asked, voice rough to hide the emotion that was threatening her composure. It was with a grim, fatalistic, satisfaction that Nils wasn’t here. That fucker could rot in Orlais when the veil fell.
“No, Rasha,” Solas said with a sad smile. “She came to help. To get my help, but I see you have this well in hand already.” He nodded to the two shems who stood behind her. “But something has happened that we were not expecting. Some ritual or blood magic from where they are keeping your sister.” He frowned.
“I must ask you to bring them here, so I can try to unravel the spell that was cast. For me to walk in Tevinter is too dangerous right now.”
“I came here to bring my brother home,” Eleanor said, stepping forward. “And I plan to do that, even if it means going through you.”
Solas smiled sadly again and looked to Milliara.
“The ritual infused your brother with some sort of old magic,” she said quietly. Then looked to Rasha. “Fenlin too. But without speaking to them, I can’t know what happened. We can’t know what happened. Then I promise, your brother-” she looked to Oran “And your cousin, will be able to go home.”
Rasha nodded and made to step around her mother to get to the mirror. Milliara intercepted, and lay a hand on her daughter’s cheek. Still strong, still callused despite the woman’s advancing age.
“Come back safe, Rasha,” she whispered. “I can’t lose you again.” Hesitantly, Rasha placed her hand over her mother’s and nodded once.
“Whatever happened robbed Solas of some of his power,” Milliara murmured. “Be careful, please, da’len. We’ll be waiting here for your safe return.”
Passing through the Eluvian was like walking into an oven. Even in the dark cellar where the Eluvian and fellow agent of Fen’harel waited, the heat of Tevinter was stifling. Immediately, Rasha pulled off her cloak and pushed her hair back from her face with a trembling hand.
“Maker’s breath,” gasped Oran as he stepped out of the Eluvian behind her. He looked at Rasha, an expression of sympathy on his face. She wanted to punch it off. No Shem should ever look at her like that. She didn’t need his pity.
Oran’s face was saved by Eleanor who bumped into him as she passed through the Eluvian. Nudging him aside, she looked at Rasha, then pointed back to the dark surface of the mirror, now solid again.
“What,” she said. “In Maker’s good earth, was that place? And how did your mother know to find us there? Who was that man? Your father?”
“The crossroads, where roads between places meet. And my mother knows everything, apparently,” Rasha said with more venom than she felt. “And no, not my father, but maybe in a different world, one where he loved her back, maybe.” But he didn’t. And Rasha could only give her mother credit for knowing that he didn’t and that he never would. That hadn’t stop her from running to his side though, had it?
“Come on, we need to find where they are. The friend in Tevinter I mentioned will be meeting us at a small Inn not far from here.”
The gates of the courtyard that led to the Villa swung open, and Fenlin grabbed the fallen cloak of Rahlen’s wrapping it around herself. They’d scrubbed off some of the paint in the fountain, but mostly slept since the morning. Now it was nearly noon, the heat sweltering under the cloak, but it was better than being naked in front of whoever was walking in. Aside from some golden chains, not much of Fenlin’s ‘Mythal’ dress had survived the night.
“Ah, and how is the happy couple?” Polonius asked, walking in with Favus and a handful of other guards. “Now, now, no need to by shy little huntress,” he said with a wink to Fenlin.“After all, you weren’t last night.”
Rahlen, a sheet wrapped around his hips, stepped forward, in front of her.
“You promised she would be freed,” he said, and Fenlin rested a hand against the small of his back. There were scratches there, left from her, but scars too. Some from before, but others new.
“I did, come huntress, let’s get you washed and sent on your way, hm? Unless,” Polonius said, peering around Rahlen’s broad shoulder to look at her. “Unless you would like to stay as my guest, in the Villa of course. We could study magic together, would you like that?”
He didn’t know the blood magic spell had broken, Fenlin was sure. He wouldn’t intone the words like that, he wouldn’t have been sure to make eye contact if he knew. Fenlin nodded, eyes wide.
How did someone look when they were bound by a blood spell? Vacant, worried? She let her fingers trail over Rahlen’s skin in a silent ‘it’s okay’ before she stepped out and walked to Polonius.
“You said you’d let her go,” Rahlen growled. Fenlin looked at him, feeling his heartbeat in her own chest. She took a deep breath, trying to calm his, and the rabbit-like thump of her own.
They would figure this out. But right now-
“I said I would free her, and if she chose to leave, she would be free to go. However, she choses to stay, Ferelden.” Polonius rested a hand on her shoulder, and Fenlin struggled to not throw it off. She hid the twitch by pulling the cloak around her more tightly and stared at the ground.
“Return him to the barracks and have Vela see to his aches. He fights tonight,” Polonius said, steering Fenlin towards the Villa. She looked over her shoulder at Rahlen but everything went cold as Polonius leaned in and whispered in her ear.
“Now that the ritual’s complete, we don’t need him anymore,” and placed a hand against her belly. “Dumat will rise again.”