“I would like,” shouted Meryell as she pulled both daggers out of a dead templar’s side, “to have one fucking minute to celebrate what’s supposed to be our sodding victory! This is not a hard request to fulfill!”
“Apparently they didn’t get that particular notice,” drawled Dorian as he came to a stop next to her, nudging a toe at the fallen templar’s helmet. She hadn’t spent much time with the mage since Redcliffe but what she had had been damned entertaining. They’d had an instant connection, hitting it off right off the bat the first time they’d sat down without a crisis in the way. Redcliffe had formed a bond between them and right now she’d rather have his magic at her back over Chuckles’.
Plus Chuckles was at least somewhat of a healer. She’d been thinking about other people too, not just herself when she’d picked people to come with her.
“There was a notice?” yelled Varric from the other side of the trebuchet they were defending, firing Bianca at the steadily approaching templars. Cassandra made a disgusted huff from where she stood flicking blood off her blade ahead of him, making the dwarf grin. “Now you’ve got three of us, Seeker.”
“Do not remind me, Varric.”
“Incoming again!” shouted one of the soldiers at the trebuchet and Meryell nodded in quick recognition. She and Cassandra fell quickly into habit with the other woman standing in the middle of the path they were taking towards them and her ready at her back. Varric climbed to high ground on top of the trebuchet’s base and she heard Dorian muttering what sounded like Tevene curses from behind her as he laid down some sort of glowing glyph on the road, the magic flaring bright before it faded away to a duller glow. Around them were other Inquisition soldiers and scatterings of both the Fangs as well as a few Chargers who also readied themselves for the next line of enemies.
“Holy Maker,” she heard Varric utter then and her stomach dropped, nausea filling her as she saw what he saw coming towards them.
The first set of enemies they’d faced had just been normal looking templars. Silver steel armor (though it looked like it had all seen better days, unlike their own templars) and swords that were supposed to serve the Chantry. The second set that was coming at them now were fucking twisted.
Eyes glowed red from behind the slits of helmets, open-faced helms showed off skin glowing eerily with veins of red, and some had horrendous looking spikes of red lyrium erupting through flesh and steel.
This was what the Templar Order had become. Fucking horrors.
Remembering Fiona half-fucking-eaten in that cell under Redcliffe and finding Varric and Cassandra infected with it made Meryell see red herself. It was red lyrium. These men and women had taken it by choice or by force and now they were at her fucking gate trying to kill her people.
She wasn’t sure when exactly the Inquisition had become something more than just a job but it was.
“Inquisition! Take them out!” she bellowed and it seemed like every throat around her roared in answer. Everything went in a blur from there as her focus narrowed, becoming nothing more than sticking mostly to Cassandra’s back. She danced around the woman’s shield, darting forward through narrow openings to stab her daggers up through gaps in armor or slice the tendons in exposed legs, before sliding back behind cover. A few got lucky and scored glancing blows on her but it wasn’t anything major.
She had been working hard at getting faster to avoid a situation like that demon tearing her arm open happening again.
As soon as the second wave was down, she heard a familiar voice shouting her damned title as they ran down the hill behind them.
Turning she saw the young man who’d been standing post at the tavern door the night she’d taken it over for Diamondback. “Edan! Get the fuck down!” she exclaimed, seeing him on the hill above them, right in sure sight of their enemies. His eyes went wide in response and just as he turned to jump down, an arrow caught him in his unprotected throat. At that point his feet slid out from under him and he slipped down the hill to crumple in a tangle of limbs at the bottom.
Meryell ran to him and knew as soon as she crouched down that he was a goner. The arrow had taken him clean through the throat, probably severing a major vein on its way, and he was already bleeding profusely as he tried to still talk to her.
“He-Herald,” he coughed, flecks of blood spewing from his lips. “Sou-south tre…buchet…needs…”
“Don’t speak,” she urged him and the boy just grinned at her, flashing bloodstained teeth as his eyes started to go hazy.
“Dying…ma’am,” Edan managed. He reached out blindly with a wild flail of one one arm and she caught his hand in a fierce grip, squeezing tight. “S-send…’em…to the…fu-fucking…Void!”
Meryell watched him die then, watched the light leave his eyes, and she nearly screamed out loud. Even with as long as she’d been fighting and watching people die…watching a child (even one old enough to go into battle) die had never gotten any easier.
Standing up, she took her daggers back in hand from where she’d stabbed them into the frozen ground and saw the next wave coming. And all of them – her team, Fangs, Inquisition, and Chargers – were looking at her.
“You heard the lad!” she roared, as loud as any sergeant drilling new recruits. As she took her place back behind Cassandra, Meryell finished viciously, “Let’s send these bastards to the fucking Void!”
Anger at being attacked made a damned good incentive. Anger that came from watching someone you knew, at least in passing, that made it a fucking imperative to see some payback.
Thanks to that, the third wave went down almost as soon as they’d clashed and then Meryell was swinging around to face Astrid at a tug on her arm. The big blonde had blood streaming down half of her face from a head wound but there was enough blood painting the head of her axe to say that she’d won most of the fights so far.
“Get your ass over to that trebuchet,” she growled. “We’ll hold the fort here.”
In the middle of pitched battle was no time for questions and she certainly had no regard for rank and file other than the Captain. None of the company did. So she just bared her teeth in a smile, slapped Astrid’s armored shoulder, and growled, “Fuck them bloody.”
“Only way I know how, girlie!” Astrid spun away then, shouting, “Fangs! We hold here! You with us Chargers, Inquisition?” As they answered her with wordless shouts of confirmation, Meryell motioned to the others before she started sprinting up the hill towards the south trebuchet.
The fact that Cassandra managed to match pace with her in much heavier armor and bearing a shield just confirmed the formidable force of the woman.
As soon as they reached the trebuchet, Meryell launched herself at the back of the closest templar archer who’d helped kill their men who’d been posted up there while Cassandra roared at the other templars standing over the bodies. She stabbed her dagger into the archer’s exposed neck that wasn’t covered by his leather helmet and jerked back from the blood that sprayed out of the wound, turning her head away and closing her eyes. Fuck only knew what red lyrium might do to the blood of those it infected and she in no way wanted to test the theory by swallowing some of it.
Spinning away from his falling body, she fell back into place behind Cassandra and they quickly wiped the floor with the rest of the templars. Meryell jerked her head up at the trebuchet, attempting to calculate its proposed trajectory, and quickly realized they’d been turning it to aim at the snowy mountain sides that surrounded Haven. Bury the bulk of the enemy and they might just have a chance to walk away from this shit show.
“Cover me!” she snapped out, stabbing her daggers into the edge of the trebuchet as she climbed up onto it. Sheathing them covered in blood would have been a bad idea and she needed them ready.
Grabbing the wheel that she knew turned the big machine, Meryell growled as she threw all of her weight into moving it. Once she got the wheel turning it became easier and, thankfully, her body was too keyed up on battle to feel the inevitable burn in her muscles. She vaguely heard the others fighting and resisted looking, focusing fully on buying them some time.
Feeling the wheel lock into place, she kicked out at where she knew the other wheel to fire the trebuchet was, refusing to take her eyes off of the snowy sides of the mountain and the torches of the force that was arrayed against them. The big machine shuddered underneath her as the mechanics of it sent whatever had been loaded into it whipping through the air and she bit her lip as it hit high on the mountainside with little more than a nearly invisible puff of yellow fire. For a brief moment she didn’t think that it had done anything at all then the whole side of the mountain started sliding downward in a great rumbling cascade of snow and ice and stone, gaining momentum until it plowed into the templar army in a thunderous crash that nearly deafened her.
Meryell just blinked before she punched a fist in the air and howled victoriously to the heavens, “Suck it, you fucking shitebags!” For a moment it felt like cheers came from everywhere in response…and then the shadow fell over her accompanied by a roar that split the air like thunder. Bile rose in her throat immediately, nausea and gibbering fear warring for dominance in her belly, and she took one step to grab her daggers before leaping off the edge of the trebuchet without even looking to see if anything or anyone was in her way.
Only one fucking creature in the whole of Thedas made that profile in shadow.
Only one made that terrible shrieking noise.
She’d hoped to never see another in person ever a-fucking-gain.
The fireball hit what seemed like seconds after she’d cleared the trebuchet and, instead of hitting the ground running, Meryell tucked her legs so she fell immediately into a roll. Heat blossomed across her back and the heavy main beams of the machine went skyward as she felt smaller shards and splinters pepper her armored shoulders and arms as well as the unprotected back of her head since she’d left her helmet in her cabin.
Using her continuing forward momentum, she went from her forward roll directly onto her feet and got as much distance from the trebuchet as quickly as she could to avoid getting hurt by it. Only then did she turn to look for the rest of her team and relief rushed through her before the fear came back.
“A dragon?” exploded Dorian as he walked backwards towards her, looking none the worse for wear except for the splinters he was trying to shake out of his robes and the mussed lines of his normally carefully coiffed hair.
“Good eye, Sparkler!” Varric was bleeding from a shallow cut to his forehead but Meryell could see that it was only superficial and nothing that needed particular worry. Other than that, he seemed fine.
Cassandra was at her side then, saying quickly, “We are not prepared to face such a foe, Herald. Retreat is the only option,” and she remembered abruptly the conversation with her about the Pentaghasts being dragon hunters. If the woman from the family that had prided themselves for years on hunting the very thing that had just turned back the tide of the battle against them an instant after they’d won it said to fucking run, Meryell wasn’t going to argue.
“Back!” she shouted as she started moving back down the hill. There probably weren’t any Inquisition soldiers near enough to hear her but she still made it as loud as she could just in case. “Get inside the gates!”
Haven was on fucking fire when they came down the hill from the trebuchet.
Meryell took it all in with one glance. What tents had been left down where the Fangs, Chargers, and soldiers had made camp after the first quick initial takedown to save what they could had been made were either ablaze or trampled. She could see the last of a line of wagons heading further down the hill towards the gate down that way, its back protected by a line of hard-eyed archers who kept their foes at bay with a hail of arrows until they reached the safety the heavy gate would provide. Members of the Fangs were clearing the burning stables as quickly as they could, simply opening gates and driving the occupants within out with poles or just freeing panicked mounts from the halters that were securing them. If they were lucky, they’d be able to eventually retrieve them – providing that they and the mounts survived.
Then she realized that Harritt was beating on the door of the house that was connected to the forge, kicking and punching it furiously, and bolted towards him. “What the fuck!” she exploded as she grabbed his elbow in a tight grip.
“I just need inside, Herald!” replied the man.
“Is it worth your life, Harritt?” she bellowed in response, resisting the strong urge to just shake the man. Haven was coming down around their fucking ears and he was trying to get into a burning building instead of away from it.
He just tilted his chin up as he answered, “It’s worth a lot of things.”
Meryell drew back her lip in a sneer before snapping, “Cassandra! Door!” Thankfully the warrior didn’t even question the statement, just strode up to the door with the same determined expression that she wore when facing down their enemies, and kicked it hard enough to rattle teeth. The door flew open and she slapped Harritt’s shoulder before snarling, “Don’t fucking die. That’s an order!”
“Aye, Herald!” he said with a sharp nod before he dove into the building.
Jerking her head at the others, they plowed through the chaos in front of the stables and she saw Cullen standing in front of the one open wing of the main gate, his voice bellowing out over the immediate area.
“Move it, move it! Gustav, move your fucking ass! Morgan, Alex, that means the same damned thing for you!”
Any other time but right then she’d have at least smiled at him cursing.
Sliding into place opposite him at the gate, Meryell waved her team onward before shouting herself at the others she could see, “Move! Move for your lives, you sons of bitches!” Several more, including Harritt, ran between them and then she felt Cullen’s fingers grip her shoulder as he grabbed the inner handle of the gate with his other hand. Normally it would have been too heavy for him to move on his own but the wild energy of a life-or-death situation was a bitch of a thing.
She swung around the other wing of the gate right before he pulled it shut and helped him and two soldiers haul the bar down over them both, for what use it would end up being in the face of a dragon or what was left of the army. He was already moving the moment it was secure, shouting, “Everyone back to the Chantry! It’s the only place that might hold against that…that beast!”
Halfway up the stairs, he turned to look at her and she saw despair in his eyes.
“At this point,” he said, still in that commanding tone, “just made them work for it.”
Reaching for his arm as she stepped forward, Meryell gripped his bracer hard and hissed, “Cullen.” She couldn’t have him giving up now. He was as much of an important figure in the Inquisition as she was, he was the face that soldiers looked up to, and he couldn’t show them how despairingly bad everything was.
His eyes locked with hers for a moment, jaw tight and lines around his eyes set into tense crinkles, before he growled, “Clear the town. Make sure everyone gets to the Chantry.”
All Meryell could do was nod and let him go and hope that he got what she had been trying to say without words.
“Clear the buildings!” she snapped to her team as she took the steps up to the first main level of the town in three big leaps. “Clear the streets! Get everyone up to the Chantry! Now, now, now!” Her first target was a building that was clearly occupied by someone judging by the cries for help. She kicked twice at the handle of the door and managed to smash it inwards, diving inside before it even had a chance to slam against the wall.
“Herald!” cried Seggrit from the floor, the man choking on smoke. She rushed to him, kicking a burning bit of wood out of the way, and got down to put her shoulder underneath his. His hand scrabbled at her opposite shoulder before it held and he thankfully was able to stumble alongside her (because Maker knew she wasn’t strong enough to tote a fully grown human man on her own). As soon as they were out the door, two Inquisition soldiers took him from her, and she sprinted full on towards the fight she could see going on just beyond the gate that led to the last trebuchet.
She cut the hamstrings of the archer trying to fire into the melee and saw Cassandra fighting back-to-back with Lysette, one of the templars who’d already been with the Inquisition before Cullen’s trip to Therinfal. The two warriors swiftly cut down the rest of their foes and then they were off, pounding up the stairs with the rest of the stragglers.
Turning her head to the right, she saw Varric and a Fang helping a limping Flissa around the corner of the tavern. Dead templars were splayed out on the ground in front of the Singing Maiden as it burned, tainting memories of so many nights spent there.
“Meryell!” came Dorian’s voice from just above them, from the raised ground where Threnn and the spymaster had their territory. “Quartermaster is clear!”
“Healers?” she snapped back, already moving towards the tavern to climb the hill to where Chuckles usually stood and where Adan had finally been able to take back his actual job after they’d recruited more healers.
“I’ll meet you there!” shouted the mage as he disappeared from sight.
Meryell gritted her teeth as she saw flames rising from Adan’s hut, knowing that there were explosive pots – pots she’d fucking taught him how to make – sitting right in the center of the open area between the cabins. She practically leapt up the stairs, flinging out an arm at Cassandra as she saw a crumpled form to the left of the pots. Lysette dove past her towards Adan’s crumpled form just as Dorian appeared from around the corner of a cabin to do the same and she spun towards Solas, who was holding a barely visible barrier around the pots to keep the flames from setting them off.
Sweat was beaded on his forehead, though whether it was from heat or effort was a mystery, but he smiled grimly at the sight of her.
“Da’len,” he greeted, voice low as his eyes did not stray from the pots.
She didn’t even think. There was no smarmy response for this, no snark, no cold words worth saying as Haven burned around them. He was saving people – saving her people, though fuck knew when she’d encompassed them all in that bubble – and that was enough.
“Hold, hahren,” she said in a tone that brooked no argument as she sheathed her daggers with no mind for the consequences. His eyebrows twitched before he nodded, his fingers stretching out even further as the barrier turned a darker shade of blue that made it more visible. Swinging around beside him, she gripped his elbow and watched the others as they got away, slowly walking him around the pots. As soon as they were clear, she growled, “Drop it and run.”
She’d give credit to the proud fucker; even though they disliked each other, he listened. The barrier fell and she heard the pained shriek of several of those horrors as they got caught in the conflagration. It made her bare her teeth in a smile and think, Serves you right for fucking with us.
Meryell still had her hand on his elbow as they ran into the Chantry moments before two soldiers slammed the door shut, closing off the sounds of battle to a muffle. And yet, somehow, it was worse inside.
Armor scraped against stone as soldiers and scouts and mercenaries paced, civilians huddled in frightened knots back towards the war room or in the wings of the main hall, children sniffled in confusion as their cries were muffled by their parent or guardian. Tension was high and as she leaned over, bracing her hands against her thighs to catch her breath, she could feel it thrumming. Like a mandolin with its strings drawn too tight or someone singing an off key pitch.
She straightened to meet Folke and found him looking at her in horror. Remembering the blood that had spattered her, she reached out to close her fingers around his hands as they rose with faint green light dancing around them. “It’s not mine, baba,” Meryell insisted. “Save your magic for someone who needs it.” As he grimaced in response, she bounced up onto her toes to kiss his cheek, breathing, “Eth, baba. Din telsilen.“
“I always worry about you, ara vherain,” he replied, grabbing her head just long enough to plant a kiss on her forehead. Folke then turned and clapped Solas on the shoulder, causing the elf to look at him askance as he said, “Come on, Chuckles. There’s wounded in the ambassador’s office and we didn’t get a lot of mages skilled at healing in here during the chaos.”
She watched them go for a moment then turned as a wheezing noise pierced her ears, surprised at the sight of that asshole of a cleric Roderick sitting a chair with one hand clasped over the very obvious hole in his side. As Meryell took a step towards him, she became aware of the boy who stood up from a crouch next to him, all patchwork clothes and a ridiculous hat that covered straw-colored hair and from under which blinked the largest blue eyes she’d ever seen in a human.
“He tried to stop a templar,” the boy stated matter-of-factly, his voice so calm and even in the chaos of the Chantry that it set alarm bells off in her head. He turned his head to look down at the cleric as he finished, “The blade went deep. No healer can help now. He’s going to die.”
“Ch-charming boy,” coughed Roderick, blinking his eyes several times before he even seemed to see her. “Herald, I…”
She jerked her head around at the sound of Cullen’s voice then looked back down at Roderick, saying quickly, “Hold that thought.” Then she turned to the boy, taking in the shoulder sheaths that rode on his back with two wicked looking dagger hilts extending from them, and ordered, “You keep an eye on him.” Honestly she didn’t know where he’d come from, had never seen him before…except she had. He’d been the one at the gate, the one who’d announced that the Elder One was coming for her and had pointed him out as he rose up on one of the hills overlooking Haven with that man that Cullen had known the name of. Cole.
As she shook her head in confusion, the boy said, “I will watch. He has something important to say.” Before she could ask what the fuck he was talking about, a hand gripped her elbow and Meryell turned to look up at Cullen.
His eyes – the amber usually as warm and inviting for her as the rest of him now starkly cold – caught hers as he pulled her away from Roderick and Cole into the center of the room, his voice low so as to not be overheard. “Our position is not good,” he said quickly. “That damned dragon stole back whatever we earned with that landslide. And we’ve barely got a quarter of our forces here in the Chantry, not enough to even pretend to hold resistance against what’s outside.”
“A quarter,” she repeated softly. Because a good portion of the Fangs, Chargers, and soldiers had started on immediate damage control as soon as the alarm bells had started ringing. Most of them had gone then in the initial takedown, protection for the civilians that they’d practically tossed into the wagons alongside random gear and foodstuffs. It had been the first order that they’d given out and she’d ordered Arnald herself to make sure that everyone in that caravan stayed safe. He’d taken the bulk of the Fangs with him to see it done since they’d never intended on holding Haven.
The original plan had been to distract long enough for them them to get away. That damned dragon, which no one could have suspected would appear, had completely massacred that plan.
Shaking herself, Meryell looked up at him and asked, “What options do we have left?”
“So far as I’m aware,” he replied, “there’s still the last trebuchet. Another landslide would bury them.”
“And fucking Haven,” she stated sharply. Closing her eyes, she muttered, “What the fuck does this Elder One want?”
She and Cullen both jerked away from the soft voice and Meryell stared at Cole, who stepped up so he stood between them now. His eyes, however, were on her as he said, “He doesn’t care about the village or the people. But he will kill them to reach the Herald.”
“Me?” snarled Meryell. “Maker’s fucking balls, I’m just a damned mercenary.”
“No,” said Cole firmly. “You are the Herald. You ruined his grand plan and now he is angry.” His youthful face them twisted, one side curling up into a sneer that was disturbingly like the distant expression she’d seen on that thing outside. “Break the elf they have risen up and they will fall. Break her and they have nothing. Break the Herald. Break the pretender.” Then he shook himself, eyes wider than ever, and softly finished, “I don’t like him.”
“You don’t like him?” exploded Cullen for a moment then he calmed himself, his jaw clenched so tightly she could see the muscles in his neck and cheeks straining. Then he looked at her and his eyes softened a fraction. “There are no tactics that make this survivable. Causing one last slide…”
“Burying Haven,” she interjected with a calm she didn’t feel at all.
He just nodded before responding with, “We’re dying, but we can decide how. There are many already tonight who haven’t gotten that choice.”
Denial of that statement wanted to spill from Meryell’s lips but she knew the score as well as he did. The Chantry was a dead end and the only thing they could do from this point was to make the bastards work for it.
“Not the only thing,” came Cole’s voice, light and oddly ethereal. She turned to look at the boy and he was standing behind Roderick, holding the man upright in the chair with a gentle grip on his shoulders. As his eyes caught hers, he smiled and said, “I told you he has something to say.”
“Chancellor?” questioned Cullen as Meryell took a tentative step forward. The man’s head lolled on his shoulders in response and he coughed before nodding several times.
“There…there is a path,” he managed to say, the pain obvious in his voice. “You wouldn’t know it unless you’d made the summer pilgrimage as I have. The people…” Roderick shifted in his seat, pressing his hand more firmly down on the wound in his gut, before he slowly rose to his feet with the aid of Cole. His eyes were feverish as he sought Meryell’s and she flinched a little at his next words. “The people can escape. She must have shown me. An-Andraste must have shown me so I could…tell you. If this simple memory can save us, this could be more than mere accident. You could be more.”
Ignoring the last words about a being she didn’t even believe in and the title she’d never fucking wanted, she caught onto what he was talking about. There was a secret passage that could be used to enable everyone else to escape. Everyone but her.
Someone had to stay back as a distraction and to fire the trebuchet. And whatever that thing out there was, it wanted her.
Abruptly her jaw clenched involuntarily, teeth grinding, and Meryell felt fear start to rise up inside her as she tasted bile on the back of her throat. This was no simple mission for the company, not one to take flippantly and handle with ease. It wasn’t even one of the ones that was rife with danger, that were treated with utmost seriousness until they were done and over and could be safely joked about.
She was going to fucking walk out there and face that thing.
To save them.
Fighting the fear rising up, she growled between bared teeth, “Cullen, get them out.” She caught his jerk of surprise out of the corner of her eye and Andraste’s dripping cunt she hated it. He’d stayed the Commander from the start of the attack until now and she needed him to keep that mantle on. He couldn’t be the Cullen who sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the tavern with her or the one who brought alcohol to her cabin for late night talks or the one who made her feel like a good man could love a knife-eared alienage brat. She needed him to be the Commander.
“Cullen,” she began but then he was dragging her away from Roderick and Cole, his hands on her shoulders as he hauled her over to one empty corner of the Chantry. Meryell tried to resist, to dig in her heels, but found that she didn’t really want to.
If this…if this was going to be the last moment she spent with the man…
Closing her eyes in a furious attempt to hold back the tears suddenly threatening to fall, she reached out for something to hold on to. Her hands found his armored forearms, the metal icy against the fingers exposed by her half-gloves, and she felt the edge of the flames that framed the Sword of Mercy stamped into their surface.
“Meryell,” he breathed, his voice low and broken. “You cannot…”
“Everyone dies if I don’t,” she hissed back, shuddering helplessly. In the back of her mind she knew that this was the last thing they should be doing right now – they should be strategizing the escape, should be figuring out who would help her with the trebuchet – and not…this.
She didn’t honestly know if she could bear the goodbye.
“I…” His voice cracked then. Cracked like he was a youth on the cusp of manhood, and that was when she opened her eyes. Cullen was half bent over in front of her, his hands on her shoulders the only thing that seemed to be holding him up as he bowed his head and shook. The tears welled at the sight and she blinked furiously against them before finally surrendering to the inevitable as he lifted his head to look at her, his own eyes half-blinded by moisture. “The Maker cannot bring you to me and then take you away,” he breathed. “He cannot be so cruel twice in one lifetime.”
Meryell realized distantly that he was talking about Kath Surana, the mage he’d cared for in the Tower. She was one of the few things he’d shared from that time. One of the only good memories, he constantly said. Then she jumped, startled, as he was pushing her backwards into the closest wall. His hands moved from her shoulders to her hips and abruptly she was in the air, her toes no longer able to even touch the ground as he lifted her up before he used his whole body to press her against the wall. Instinctively, she wrapped her legs around him and dug her fingers into his mantle now that his arms had moved from underneath her grasp.
“Cullen…” she gasped but he shook his head, both hands coming up to frame her face as he no longer needed them to hold her.
“You will come back,” he said insistently. She started to shake her head but his grip stilled the motion, forcing it to die stillborn. “No. Do not give up, Meryell. I…I should not have given up at the gate. You tried to tell me that. Do not give up now. Please. Please.“
He leaned forward so his forehead rested against hers and let out an unsteady breath as he murmured, “I need you, Meryell. Please.“
She could not leave him like this. The Inquisition needed its Commander. And if…if it required her to lie…then so be it.
Taking a deep breath, Meryell untangled her fingers from his mantle and brought her hands up to his face. She ran her fingertips along the stubble of his jaw, heart jumping with his surprised intake of breath, and then cupped his cheeks in her hands. After that, with their foreheads already pressed together, all it took was a simple tilt of her neck to bring her lips in line with his.
His lips were chapped from the cold air outside but they radiated as much warmth as the rest of him. On the outside they tasted like cold, like smoke, like steel, and she felt the impulsive urge to taste his mouth if only for a moment. If this was to be the last, then she would know what she could never have again.
Meryell opened her mouth testingly, kissing his lips once, twice, in that way before his opened in turn. She dipped her tongue within and tasted the tavern’s stew and her favorite whiskey and the warm cinnamon of Demut’s apple bread that they’d been sharing in a quiet corner before this night had gone to absolute shit. And there was a flavor and a smell there that was all Cullen, warm and masculine.
It was a slow kiss, an exploratory first as well as a cementing of the other into memory. And all it made her want was more.
When they finally pulled away from each other, Meryell felt her surety waver as he breathed, “Come back to me, dear thief.“
Her thumb found the scar on his lip – the scar whose story she still hadn’t yet heard – and his amber eyes seemed to reach down into her for an answer that she was powerless to resist despite everything within her screaming that she absolutely should not give it.
“I will, vhen’an’ara,” she whispered brokenly.
Was it a lie to make him feel better, to make him retake the mantle of Commander and lead?
Or was it a truth that she almost found herself fucking believing in?
Meryell didn’t have another moment to decide as the Chantry shook from an impact that could only be the dragon and suddenly her feet were back on the floor. Not bothering to wipe her tears away as she bolted back into the center of the room, she shouted, “I need volunteers to help me with the last trebuchet!”
Dorian was abruptly at her side, still disheveled but grinning down at her as he said, “A last ditch effort to save us, darling?”
“Last ditch is probably the best way to describe this fucking plan, yeah. You don’t have…”
“Ah-ah! It is not our first seemingly impossible mission, now is it? Come now, we’ll go over there and be back in moments. Don’t worry so much, dear.”
Meryell couldn’t help but smile despite the fact that she could taste the lie in his words and touched his arm gently. “Thank you, Dorian,” she breathed.
“I’m with you too, sweetheart.” Varric wrapped a steadying arm around her waist and she leaned gratefully against the dwarf’s sturdy frame. “I’ve got your back, Swears.”
“As do I,” proclaimed Cassandra as she strode up with the same fierce determination she showed on the field. Meryell then watched as the warrior turned to Cullen and said, “Commander, you will see everyone to safety?” Her eyes flicked immediately to his face and found him watching her without even bothering to look at the other woman.
“Yes,” he replied, back under control. Back to being the Commander. “We’ll fire a signal once we’re clear.”
As with her, no one made a comment about the redness of his eyes or the obvious tear tracks on his face that he didn’t bother to wipe away.
The Chantry shook again, harder this time, and she abruptly stepped forward towards him to take his hands in her own. As he blinked down at her, she said firmly, “Take care of Folke. He…he will fight you. He will try to come after me.”
Cullen’s confusion cleared then and determination settled over his face. She’d given him two tasks now: get their people to safety and make sure her father stayed alive. She knew he wouldn’t let her down in either if he could help it.
“Remind him,” she added, her voice breaking abruptly as her emotions skittered out of her control. “Remind him of my charm. Remind him to look.” She’d told him long ago about the variety of charms that the company had used for as long as she recalled to identify their members and keep track of them. Folke was the genius behind the things and the architect of every single coin or fang or belt buckle or whatever that each Fang chose to use as their token. Her original had been lost or broken during her time in the Fade that she couldn’t recall (at least that was her assumption as that was what had made everyone think she was dead) and one of her father’s first orders of business had been crafting a new one out of an ancient Ferelden coin that he had in his possession.
“I will,” he promised. Then he blinked, his calm exterior nearly disintegrating entirely before he dragged it back up, as he said, “Be safe.”
Unable to reply past the sudden lump in her throat, Meryell just nodded and turned towards the Chantry doors. Two of the soldiers lifted the bar that secured it closed and she drew her daggers with only a slight tug as Cassandra stepped in front of her with her shield at the ready. At the same time from behind them, she heard Folke’s voice call out unsurely, “Ara vherain?“
Resisting the urge to reply, Meryell clenched her jaw and crouched, ready to move forward as soon as Cassandra did.
Folke’s voice was breaking and with it her heart. He had already thought her dead once and now…now she was willingly going to what was probably actually going to be it.
The Chantry doors were open then and Cassandra bolted out with a shout meant to distract whatever was waiting for them on the other side. As Meryell followed, she dared a glance back and met her father’s eyes around Cullen’s shoulder as the younger man held him back from reaching her.
“Ir abelas, baba,” she breathed before she jerked her gaze away.
And then she ran, feet pounding into the snow as she followed Cassandra through the enemies that had invaded Haven as the Seeker made a determined path. She could barely hear their inhuman growls or the still raging fires or her own harsh breathing in her ears.
Folke’s bellow, his attempt to negate what he was seeing, rang through her ears in a terrible echo.
She was a fucking terrible daughter.
“Get the trebuchet ready!” commanded the older woman when they finally reached it, her shield catching one of the soldiers who guarded it in the teeth with a shattering crunch. Meryell moved automatically, sheathing her daggers in one smooth motion without a second thought to the fact that she probably wouldn’t be able to draw them again before she threw her weight against the wheel.
It seemed like the trebuchet moved in slow motion, as if it were taunting them in their last ditch effort to make sure someone survived this fucking shit storm. She screamed at it, throwing out every curse she knew in one endless stream while she listened to her companions, her friends, fight for their lives and those who were working even now to escape Haven. When the wheel finally clicked into place where it needed to be, Meryell jerked her head skyward at that now familiar screech.
“Move!” she shouted as she leapt from the platform, waving her arms frantically at the others. If they weren’t near it, maybe they could save the trebuchet, could still get a chance to fire. If they didn’t, they were all fucked. “Go, go!”
They raced ahead of her, none of them looking back, and she watched them keep going as an explosion from behind her – more damned fire pots going off – blew her off of her feet. She hit the ground hard and rolled before coming to a stop braced on her forearms with her face nearly buried in muddy snow-water.
Pushing herself to her feet, Meryell had enough time to turn and see the monstrosity from the hill coming at her out of the flames from the pots and the dragon before her arm was wrenched upward into the air along with her body. She barely registered the dragon landing hard behind her, cutting off that route of escape or rescue, as she focused on the thing’s hideous face.
It was – had been – a man once. Spikes of red lyrium burst out of his face, mostly on the side that wasn’t covered by the remnant of a dark hood except where one curved out from the line of his jaw on that other side. He had armor on his body but it was less like he wore it and more like it was part of him. And he was tall, almost insanely fucking tall, far taller than even the Iron Bull but it was like he’d been stretched more than being that way naturally.
“Pretender,” he growled in a booming voice as she dangled by one arm. “You toy with forces beyond your ken. No more.”
Meryell grimaced as she felt the weight of her body already wrenching her left shoulder out of socket, the muscles straining to stay where they were supposed to be. Too long in this position and it might never recover its full mobility.
“What the fucking fuck are you?” she spat in response.
“I am the will that is Corypheus,” replied the thing. He then lifted his other skeletal arm into her vision, revealing a metallic orb with intricate carvings across every surface in his other grotesque hand. “I am here for the Anchor. The process of removing it begins now.”
“The what?” exploded Meryell before her marked hand exploded into absolute agony, her fingers spamming wildly. Yet she had felt this pain before: the pain that made it feel like her hand was splitting open, like fire was in her veins. It had been exactly like this in the future and she bared her teeth in a grimace to fight crying out like she had then when they tumbled into that timeline.
“It is your fault that I am here, ‘Herald’. You interrupted a ritual years in the planning and, instead of dying, you stole its purpose.”
Her hand burned, the green glow becoming even brighter, and she groaned behind her teeth – the only sound she was determined to make.
“I do not know how you survived,” said the thing, “but what you flail so ineffectually at rifts, I constructed to assault the very heavens. And you used the Anchor to undo my work! The gall!”
Meryell was barely listening as red light like that that flickered and pulsed around the orb he held burst from the gash that wasn’t a gash on her palm. She was burning, her whole arm afire thanks to both the position she was hanging in and whatever he was doing to the mark. A howl of pain rose up in her throat and she just barely – barely – fought it down, keeping it contained within her. Her mind was a haze of agony but she managed to snarl, “What the fuck do you want? What is this damned thing?”
He sneered, lip curling in a starkly human gesture, before replying, “It is meant to bring certainty where there is none. For you, the certainty that I would always come for it.” It shook her then and Meryell was unable to stop the scream that tore its way out of her throat as she felt something tear in her shoulder. As her cry faded away into heavy, frantic breathing that was edging towards panicked, the thing lifted her up to where their faces were level. “I once breached the Fade in the name of another, to serve the Old Gods of the Empire in person,” he went on. “I found only chaos and confusion amongst dead whispers. For a thousand years I was confused but no more.”
Despite the fact that she didn’t believe, she knew the stories the Chantry told. Her mother had told them to her, reciting them with the same gravity that she had the Chant every morning and night.
This thing that called itself Corypheus claimed to be one of the Magisters that had broken open the Fade and sundered the Maker’s seat in the Golden City.
One of the first darkspawn was holding her aloft by her arm like she weighed nothing.
“I gathered the will to return under no name but my own,” it continued, “to champion withered Tevinter and correct this blighted world. Beg that I succeed, for I have seen the throne of the gods, and it was empty.”
“Good,” growled Meryell, realizing as she spoke that her lungs were straining, weakened by her position as much as her shoulder. “Never believed in the Maker anyway.” She then spat what liquid was in her dry mouth at the thing’s face and added with a snarl, “And I sure as shit don’t believe in you.”
Her spittle didn’t seem to bother the thing one bit but her words hit some sort of mark. That hideous face twisted into a sneer and then she was flying through the air, all breath leaving her lungs from the further feeling of tearing in her shoulder and down the left side of her back. She didn’t even have enough air left to gasp or cry out in pain as she smacked hard into the supports of the trebuchet before falling to her knees on its platform. Meryell sucked air in in long, shuddering gasps and managed to pull herself upright with one arm because she had to. Before this thing stole the opportunity it had given her.
“The Anchor is permanent,” he announced as he slowly approached, the damned dragon pacing behind him. “You have spoiled it with your stumbling.”
Wheezing for a moment, she spat towards him again weakly before baring her teeth in a smile. “Fuck off, gasbag.”
The thing didn’t even acknowledge her words, seeming like it was speaking aloud to itself more than her now.
“So be it. I will begin again, find another way to give this world the nation – and god – it requires.”
Over his shoulder she saw the flare then, a flaming arrow rising high in an arch from further up the mountain. Her breath caught, her body shook, and she closed her eyes for a bare moment to accept that she might not make it.
Then Meryell opened her eyes as she heard the thing speak about him not allowing a rival to live and snarled, “You arrogant fuck. You think I’m here to stop you?” For once he looked surprised and she continued fiercely, “I’m here to save them, asshole.”
She then turned to kick out at the locked wheel that held the firing mechanism, setting it loose as she shouted, “Dhava ‘ma masa!”
And then she ran.
Meryell ran like she was back in South Reach outrunning the Guard despite there being nowhere to go. She wasn’t going to let that thing have her corpse though. Her body was hers and fuck anyone that thought they could have it even in death.
Leaping from a gap formed in the fence on the raised section of land where the trebuchet stood, she expected to land on snow but instead hit creaking wood and froze. The mine. Cullen had told her about it once, about how they intended to investigate the ancient shafts eventually once they got extra fresh wood to make needed repairs.
The wood underneath her feet gave way and Meryell was unable to help the scream she uttered as she fell, reaching back towards the frozen, fire-licked sky before darkness fell as the landslide hit.
A moment later she hit the ground and the darkness took her as well.
eth – safe
din telsilen – no worries
Dhava ‘ma masa – Kiss my ass