“Your ‘friend’ is a Pride demon!” exploded Cassandra but Meryell ignored the comment, waving the older woman to back off. She heard the pain in Solas’ voice and stepped towards him. His eyes were on the sight before them: the obvious containment circle for summoning, the three frantically milling about mages in battered robes, and the Pride demon towering above it all, massive and wrong in a way that set the teeth on edge.
“Hahren,” she said flatly, trying to draw his attention away. When it didn’t work, Meryell snapped, “Solas!”
His name invoked by her did the trick and he managed to tear his gaze away from the horrorshow before them. “Da’len.”
“What can we do?” she asked, beckoning towards her father as well. Folke came to join them quietly, his gray eyes focused and intent as he looked at the situation. “Hahren, tell me. What can we do to help your friend?”
Solas drew in a deep breath – shockingly sound without a single waver in it – and replied in a steady voice, “We must break the circle. It is binding it, twisting it from its true purpose.”
Folke frowned at that, saying, “Not disagreeing with you because you know far more than I do about spirits, Chuckles, but wouldn’t that release the demon?”
“It is only a demon because it has been bound. They have…” Something harsh and furious passed over Solas’ face and Meryell abruptly never wanted to be on the other side of the elf. Not if he was wearing that particular expression.
That was the sort of look that accompanied a kill out of anger.
“They have bound it to a purpose not its own,” continued the other elf. “Breaking that binding should release to to return to its natural state.”
Solas’ head whipped around towards her, mouth curled into the beginning of a snarl, and Meryell scowled, not about to let him get away with that shit with her. “You’re the expert here, Chuckles,” she snapped, not letting him get the first word in. “Spirits are your thing and I’ll follow your lead on this. So long as you’re fucking damned certain that we aren’t about to be potentially releasing a fucking Pride demon on a region that’s seen enough shit.”
He stared at her for a long moment before he softly said, “I am certain, da’len.”
Nodding, Meryell made a gesture to Olyver, who stepped forward with a brief salute of his fist against his shoulder blade. “Where shall I have my men, Inquisitor?” he asked.
“Half of your men came with you from the ramparts, right?”
“Aye, ma’am. Edine’s holding that down since she’s Orlesian and can bully the stubborn lot into doing what she needs. We split the company even when we came to meet you and I’ve got Dairin with me.” Olyver then scratched at the stubble on his chin before adding, “That’s about thirty or so men.”
Nodding, Meryell ordered, “Split them in half, one side with you and the other with Dairin, and surround them on both sides. Until we’re sure what these mages were about, I don’t want to take chances.” She then waved over at Dragos, who’d come with her father while Rebecca had stayed behind to help Edine terrify the Orlesian forces.
“Where do you need me?” asked the former templar, his accent more like Krem’s than Dorian’s more well bred one.
“Circle around with Olyver’s men and hold the shore,” she replied. “We’ll have three sets of magic knowing eyes with us approaching from the front, so I’d like one on the other side of this thing. Plus you can watch the demon’s backside and give us warning if it looks like it’s about to charge.”
Dragos frowned, his expression serious and a little haunted (the way he always looked when demons were involved), then nodded. He grinned faintly as he clasped a fist over his heart and murmured, “As you will, Inquisitor.”
Meryell huffed in annoyance at him for using her title before growling fondly, “Get the fuck out.” He chuckled mildly before tilting his head at Olyver and the two men walked off together, talking quietly as they made their way over to where Dairin was ordering their half of the squad into neat lines. She looked at Folke and Solas then and said, “Both of you on either side of me and Cass and Blackwall behind us with a pace to the side so they don’t have to go through us for a charge.”
“You really think these mages are going to put up a fight?” asked Blackwall gruffly, his arms crossed as he regarded the still frantically milling figures in the distance.
“Best to be ready if they do.” Meryell then turned towards Olyver and called, “Sergeant!” As soon as he turned to look, she added, “Move out!”
“You heard the Inquisitor, lads!” he barked immediately. “Half of you with Dairin for the north and half of you with me for south. We hold the line once we make it, you got that?”
There was the sharp sound of thirty or so voices calling back, “Yes, ser!” and then the squad split up. Meryell watched them for a moment before she spoke again.
“We’re trying to free the spirit if we can, remember that. If you have to defend yourself or an ally, do so.” Solas’ lips pursed into a thin line as she turned to look that him then. She just narrowed her eyes as she finished, “If not, take out the components of the summoning circle. They’re first fucking priority.”
“This does not seem like the wisest course of action,” Cassandra noted sternly. “It would be easier to simply destroy the demon.”
Folke shook his head at that and said before Meryell could, “Easier doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right path, Seeker.”
The older woman frowned at him for a long moment before she inclined her head, murmuring, “Well said.”
She waited a moment for anything else that might be said, then when there was only silence Meryell lifted her hand with fingers flat and flashed it forward twice at the wrist in the gesture that meant move in. Even without them ever working together in sequence, Olyver and his men moved forward to surround the area, closing in at the same time they approached as if they had done it dozens of times. Meryell smiled briefly at their well-oiled work then focused her attention on the mage approaching them warily.
“Hold!” barked Cassandra, stepping around from the left side with her shield in position to cover Meryell. The mage stopped, his throat bobbing nervously, before he called out to them. She could see his eyes flick over Solas’ staff and Folke’s battered enchanter’s coat before he did so.
“Mages?” he asked. “And you’re not with the bandits?” His eyes darted frantically, taking in Cassandra’s stony features and Solas’ quietly burning rage, before asking, “Do you have any lyrium? We’ve been fighting that demon and we’re exhausted.”
“You summoned that demon!” exploded Solas suddenly. “Except it was a spirit of Wisdom at the time! You corrupted it. You made it kill.”
The mage, obviously half delirious from magical exhaustion, didn’t quite seem to grasp the exact level of danger he was in. Instead of getting the fuck out of the way, he stammered, “I…I…can see how this might be confusing for someone who hasn’t dealt with demons but…” Folke interrupted whatever else he was going to say with a great barking laugh before he flung out a hand at Solas.
“Don’t talk about knowing demons and spirits, boy,” he spat viciously. “He’s probably forgotten more about them than you ever deigned to learn.”
That brought the mage’s hackles up and he straightened up, exclaiming, “I was one of the foremost experts in the Kirkwall Circle…”
“Shut. Up,” Meryell and Solas growled together. She didn’t know his reasoning (beyond being pissed) but she knew that there probably hadn’t been anyone in Kirkwall who’d publicly been an expert on spirits. Not from what Cullen had shared with her about the inner workings of that Circle.
Stepping forward, she jabbed a finger at the mage as she spat, “If you and your friends want to keep a sliver of your miserable asses intact, I recommend you keep that mouth of yours shut. We got an understanding?”
The mage started to open his mouth then froze when she arched an eyebrow. He swallowed hard, the knot in his throat bobbing, then nodded several times.
“Good. Now get the fuck out of the way. And don’t run.” She paused dramatically before adding, “If you or your friends run, the Inquisition will chase you. And our ravens tend to find what they seek.”
As the man’s face went ashen, Meryell turned away from him and shouted, “Move in! Close up ranks and hold, Sergeant!”
“Aye, ma’am!” came Olyver’s shout from somewhere as his men closed up, forming a line of shields on either side of the demon. The other two mages raced towards them, eyes wide and panicked as they fled from a possible new threat. These two though apparently had enough wits left rattling around in their skulls to look at the stony countenances and think I maybe shouldn’t say anything. They just joined their counterpart and the three of them stood in a shivering huddle as Meryell and the rest approached the demon.
“Summoning stones instead of a circle?” asked Folke as they approached. “That’s…that’s Chasind work. I remember there was an old witch who visited my mother sometimes who told me about them. Tried to teach me how to make one but the mana required to pull them together was always too much for me. Where’d they find this?”
“The spellwork of the Chasind has perhaps worked its way into that of the Circles,” suggested Solas. “I imagine there are several crossovers.”
Meryell turned her head to watch her father shrug idly while he drew his sword from somewhere underneath his coat. “True,” he admitted. “At least I know how to break these. If this was a Circle taught summoning, I’d be useless for breaking it. These are far easier. Shall we get to work then?”
Nodding, she drew her daggers and replied, “Let’s. Cass, Blackwall, you’re on keeping that thing distracted. If need be, we can have Dragos step in to hassle it on the backside. Chuckles, baba, and I will take out the stones.”
Cassandra frowned but gripped her shield tighter and Blackwall drew his heavy greatsword with a sigh. He then hefted the weapon up into a defensive stance and said, “After you, Seeker.”
“Ha, a gentleman,” commented the female warrior before she started moving forward.
That just made the man snort and reply, “Practical. I don’t want to be the man who gets in your way.”
Cassandra barked a brief huff of laughter at that, firmly stating, “You would not be,” before she shouted wordlessly to attract the attention of the demon. It roared, spittle and blood flying everywhere, and charged at the warrior as she readied her shield. Blackwall threw his weight against Cassandra’s armored back to help brace her from the blow and then Meryell noticed nothing else of their distraction as she focused on the stones.
Solas had his attention on one of the farthest from them, his staff a whirling dervish of magical capability as he cast fire and ice over the stones. Freezing and burning again and again in turn until the stones began to crumble and fall.
Folke had turned his attention on the closest stone, his sword striking it in small strikes that didn’t look like they were doing much of anything. She knew, however, that he could cast magic with the blade (specifically forged for that purpose) and was probably channeling some kind of spell into it judging by the harsh look of concentration on his face.
That left her to pick one of the other four stones and she chose the one to the right mostly opposite the one Chuckles was after. The circle the mages had crafted with the stones was more than a little lopsided but apparently still accurate enough to pull a summons off. Though maybe with whatever this method was it didn’t require a perfect circle.
Meryell shook her head then slashed out, bringing both daggers down in a ‘x’ shaped strike that cut a deep groove into the rocks. She then kicked out at it, the jarring force of the blow rattling up her leg. It made smaller bits fall off of the gathered stones but didn’t bring it down. She set her mouth in a snarl and repeated the motion until she kicked the whole thing down. At the same time there was a brief rumble from the ground beneath them and she heard Folke shout. When she turned her head to glance at him, he was in a defensive stance and breathing hard over his stone, which was now in several pieces. Even from where she was, Meryell could see sweat on his brow and the slightly ashen pallor to his cheeks. He had exerted himself with whatever magic he’d used to turn it into a bit of rubble.
“Baba, step back!” she shouted, idly taking in Blackwall barely dodging a swipe of the demon’s massive arm. “Dragos, take the last stone!”
The former templar barked a wordless shout in response and darted forward, already swinging the pair of spiked maces that he’d been using since he’d joined the company.
Within a few swings, his stone was pummeled into dust and the others that Solas and she had focused on followed soon after. There was a ground shaking roar as the Pride demon threw back its head before the grotesque, unnatural body faded away. The slim, humanoid form that replaced it was oddly airy yet solid as it crumpled to the ground and Solas was there to catch it. Meryell watched for a moment as he gently bore the spirit to the ground and, given the grieving look on his face, she decided to give them a moment.
Especially since Solas’ first words were I’m sorry and the spirit’s were I’m not.
Sheathing her daggers, she quickly moved over to her father. Tucking herself against his side with her shoulder under his, she gently removed the sword from his slightly shaking hand and sheathed it for him. As she got that close, she was overwhelmed by the abrupt smell of freshly turned earth and scowled.
“Earth magic?” questioned Meryell, glaring up at him. “Are you crazy or fucking stupid?”
Folke laughed and hugged her with his arm, turning his head to lean his forehead against her cheek. “Both,” he replied, “as you well know.”
Scoffing, she reached up to wrap the fingers of her other hand around his wrist. She scowled before scolding under her breath, “You know the toll it takes on you. The cost it demands.”
“I’m aware, Poppet.”
“And you remember Gil’s warning?” she snapped, anger and fear warring for dominance in her tone. Gray eyes lifted to met hers squarely and her father nodded before he spoke again.
“I remember the fucking risks I take with it, girlie,” he intoned firmly. “One little bit of earth magic isn’t going to kill me, no matter what Gil says about it. I know my limits far better than that worry wart does.”
Folke just snorted then leaned forward to kiss her cheek. “I’m not intending on going anywhere anytime soon, ara vherain. So stop looking at me like I’m going to disappear on you.”
Meryell stiffened for a moment and felt his arm curl tightly around her shoulders. Had she been looking at him like that? It made a kind of sense given her dream the night before but she hadn’t even realized she was doing it. Hadn’t realized she had even been thinking of it.
Yet…there it was.
And it was so easy to replace babae’s dead body with Folke’s.
Huffing out a breath, she gruffly stated, “I worry when you do stupid shit.” She wasn’t about to give voice to anything else, not right then.
He gave her a long look that said he saw right through her and softly said, “You worry about me a lot more than that, Poppet, and you and I both know it. Same as I worry about you. Now…let’s go see if we can do anything for that spirit.”
She just nodded and helped him walk over to where Solas was now crouched on the ground, his hand hovering near the shoulder of the spirit of Wisdom. There were whispered words in Elven that she couldn’t make out and a few that she didn’t even know a translation for. They sounded…old. Like they didn’t belong with the rest and the language that she knew.
Just as she started to open her mouth to say something, the spirit smiled and melted away as Solas closed his eyes. “Dar’eth shiral,” she heard him say and the sorrow deep inside his voice made her eyes sting.
Meryell knew the pain of loss far too well to not recognize that hurt in someone else.
“Dar’atisha,” she breathed and Folke echoed it a moment later, his arm tight around her shoulders. The bald elf let out a breath before he rose to his feet, head bowed slightly.
“Thank you, da’len,” Solas murmured.
She just nodded then began, “Is it…?”
“It is rare for a spirit to truly die,” he replied, his eyes focused beyond them, seemingly on the shoreline and the lake. Meryell knew his gaze wasn’t truly looking at that though. She’d stared enough days at cracked wooden doors and her own hands, seeing her father’s face in both, to know that one didn’t always see what was in front of them. “The spirit it was, that I knew, will be gone. Yet something new may grow in its place in the Fade someday.”
His expression then abruptly hardened and he said sharply, “All that remains now is them.”
As the other elf started to turn away, she released her grip on Folke’s wrist and reached for his. Solas turned, eyes narrowed and harsh, and he hissed, “They tortured it. They killed my friend. Would you defend them, da’len?”
Narrowing her eyes back at him, she spat, “I know enough about spirits to know that they’re living things worthy of care, Chuckles. And, believe me, I don’t blame you one inch for your rage.” She then leaned forward as much as she could with Folke leaning on her, hissing, “But tell me, hahren, what will killing them bring you except fucking blood on your hands? What will more death accomplish?”
His head snapped back and he snarled, “You would free them?”
“Did I fucking say that?” she snapped back, eyes narrowed. He glared back at her, a bit of that fury in his eyes that she hadn’t wanted to see turned towards her, and she growled, “You tell me right now what I’ve ever done while we’ve known each other that would give you the impression that I’d let people off when they deserve punishment?”
When Solas’ eyes shifted immediately to her father, Meryell scowled and released his wrist to snap her fingers at his face. “When they don’t want to admit they did wrong or make what amends they can in life.” How fucking dare he act like the company or her father were the same? They weren’t saints by any means but they weren’t like these assholes either.
He acknowledged her comment with a brief nod and a murmured, “I concede that point, da’len. My apologies, Folke.”
Folke just chuckled and commented, “No offense taken, Chuckles. I know full well what I’ve done in life and all I should owe for it. I fucking know I’ve gotten off rather easy.” He then cocked his head in the direction of the three mages before he continued on, his tone darkening. “This lot aren’t like any of ours. And you’re damned lucky I didn’t take offense to the idea that myself and the company are the same as them.”
“It was a low blow, I will admit that. Ir abelas.”
“Din telselin,” replied her father with as much of a casual shrug as he could manage. He then asked, “So what do we do with them instead, Poppet?”
Meryell frowned before she answered with a question. “How does one charge three mages with the willful murder of a being that most would claim doesn’t deserve to be considered the same way a human or elf would?” Solas’ expression instantly went stormy again and she stared hard at him. “Tell me, hahren, how do I do that?”
The other elf’s jaw was tight, all of the muscles in his neck drawn up in tense lines, as he hissed, “Nothing would be enough, da’len.”
She shook her head at that and sadly noted, “It’s never enough when someone you care about dies, Chuckles. Not. Once.”
He stared at her for a long moment before he breathed, “No. No, it is not.”
“Find out who they are,” suggested Folke, his voice abruptly startling them both a little. When they both looked at him, he continued, “The one said he was from Kirkwall. If he wasn’t lying, Cullen should know of him or one of the other templars he brought with him will. Confirm who they are first.”
“And then?” asked Meryell.
Folke shrugged as much as he could with his arm still across her shoulders. “If you want them to be judged proper, then you need people that know the victim properly. Which means gathering mages that know how spirits work and understand exactly how they work.”
She frowned then said, “Let mages judge mages. That’s what you’re saying. Let those who are knowledgeable examine the crime and judge it upon its merits.”
“There’s an equivalent in the Circles and we do similar amongst ourselves to keep everyone in line, as you know, Poppet. Wouldn’t be hard to adjust that to strangers and make it the way the Inquisition works when mages fuck up.”
Nodding, Meryell agreed, “That sounds pretty damned reasonable, baba.”
Folke hummed under his breath and flicked his fingers lightly against the lowest curve of her ear before commenting, “You say that as if most things I say aren’t reasonable.”
She just scoffed lightly in response then looked at Solas. His attention was focused away from them, back towards where the three mages huddled, and his expression was starkly blank of all emotion. Then he seemed to finally register her attention and as he turned his head towards her, she asked, “What say you, Chuckles?”
His eyebrows twitched slightly then he looked away again as he asked, “Does my opinion matter? You are Inquisitor, da’len, you have no need to answer to my whims.”
Meryell narrowed her eyes at that before growling, “Don’t give me that fucking pissant answer, hahren. You know what I’m asking and you know damned well why I’m asking.” She just stared at him when she was done speaking, waiting to hear his response. The other elf just frowned at her in reply as if he weren’t taking her seriously and she said sternly, “This was your friend. What they did to this spirit would set the precedent for fucking everything. If we could make this something, it could change the viewpoint about spirits entirely for mages.”
He just looked at her evenly for a moment before saying, “I am not responsible for the fool decisions of others.”
Glaring at him, she hissed, “Fine. You want to be a fucking shitheel about this when your friend just died at the hands of idiots, that’s fine. That’s fucking fine. We’ll see that maybe something actually changes.”
“It is a fool’s errand, da’len. I learned long ago that they will not learn.”
“Like trying to teach the Dalish what they got wrong, hahren?” Meryell snapped.
Solas stared at her again for a moment, his gaze abruptly stark, before he said, “Another thing we shall perhaps fail to agree upon.” Then he scowled and asked, “You intend to take them back to Skyhold?”
“Kind of a requirement for them to be judged.”
“Then I will return on my own. I will not travel with those who have done such deeds…and there are things I must think upon.”
Meryell worked her jaw for a long moment, furiously trying to control her temper so she didn’t just take the Maker damned fool’s fucking head off. It was most hypocritical thing she had ever heard, saying that there was no use in punishing the mages who had murdered his ’friend‘ in one breath and then in the next refusing to even travel with them. Did he care or did he not? Or was it only that he was angry that they would avoid the punishment he would have meted out?
She understood the anger. She didn’t understand the stubborn mindset that things couldn’t be changed. That people couldn’t learn.
Even when she insisted that most folks didn’t want to see an elf above them, she knew there were people that were fine with it. That one day humans might no longer look on elves with disdain. She would never see it herself but she held on to the hope that humans would someday change.
“Go then, hahren,” she hissed between clenched teeth. Meryell then shook her head before saying a parting, “Sule tael tasalal.”
Solas’ shoulders stiffened slightly, straightening up into a sharp line before he finally replied, “Sule melan’an.” Then he turned away, striding off without looking back or at any of those that he passed. Especially not the three mages who had so nearly become his victims.
When he was out of earshot, Meryell sighed heavily and breathed, “Fuck.”
“Fuck is a good word for it,” Folke commented as he straightened up from leaning on her. He then frowned after the retreating elf before asking, “You think he’ll go along with it? I’d have thought he would be for it with what just happened to his friend.”
“So did I, baba,” she replied. “Apparently we were both wrong.”
She would worry about dealing with Solas’ shit later.
Meryell then patted him on the back and asked, “You feel like you can walk, old man? And keep up?”
He laughed dryly in response before answering. “The day I can’t keep up with you at a walk or run, Poppet, is the day my rotten ass is in the fucking ground. Now let’s go. We’ve got idiots to get sorted whenever you’re going to put them before we head back and more shit to sort out.”
“No rest for the wicked,” she said with a smile before heading back towards everyone else.
Dar’eth shiral – Safe journey
Dar’atisha – Go in peace
Ir abelas – I’m sorry
Din telselin – No worries
Sule tael tasalal – Until we meet again
Sule melan’an – Until then