In movies back in my world when someone is training it’s usually shown as this epic montages of scenes that flash by in about a minute and shows how badass the character you’re watching is becoming.
This was nothing like that. Training sucked.
My expectation that it would suck, was an understatement of the reality of the situation. I spent the seven days before our trip to the Hinterlands getting my ass kicked, literally and figuratively. For someone not use to this kind of physical effort, it was more than a little trying, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t fall into bed most nights thinking there was no way I would be able to do this, or crying myself to sleep like a big frigging baby because everything was hard in a way I had never experienced before. It didn’t help that I also had nightmares. Bad ones. I had never been assaulted before, not the way Roderick’s men had done, and sometimes being alone at night was hard, even with my screaming muscles and exercise fatigue. It helped, seeing the shadow of my bodyguard outside my door, but the nightmares were terrible. I didn’t tell anyone about them though, I felt useless enough.
Cassandra woke up me daily at the crack of dawn. I am not a morning person. I have a particular deep seated hatred for mornings, but I had to deal with it. The saving grace was that there was coffee. Delicious, fresh, the best shit I’ve ever tasted in my life. I did not spend a lot of time enjoying it though. I’d take a few sips, shove some food in my mouth, get properly outfitted, and Cassandra would usher me out the door to where all the other troops were preparing for the day. She put me with a group of ten and they looked very much the part of young fresh recruits.
I’m guessing they were like me; never seen combat a day in their lives. Cassandra instructed us that we wouldn’t survive long if we didn’t improve our stamina. I refrained from making a joke about not having to put points into stamina as Dragon Age Inquisition wasn’t that kind of game. Not like they would have gotten it anyway. She put a full set of armor on us, gave us swords and shields, (I had no idea how frigging heavy either of these things were) and told us to run.
I was embarrassingly terrible at this. Clearly I had negative points in my stamina meter, because I barely made it five minutes before I had to stop to catch my breath and I could almost feel the disapproving look Cassandra was giving me. She didn’t have to remind me, I knew. I was the Herald and I could barely run five meters forward with the weight of the armor and weapons I felt like my heart was going to give out.
I was the last one to finish this little course. I would have liked to tell you that by the weeks end I was the first, but that would be a hilarious lie. The only thing I accomplished by the end of the first week as far as stamina improvement was maybe getting out of the negative, and leveling it up one point. Basically I was able to keep up with the rest of the group, somewhat, but I was still last in that line.
Stamina leveling could go suck on a Dragon’s tail.
Every day after stamina leveling, I reported to Leliana. This was a particular highlight for me for what are probably obvious reasons by now. The drawback was by the time I reached her, I felt like every muscle in my body was screaming and she gave me no quarter. My first instruction was with a bow. My arms felt like jelly after running with the weight of the sword and the shield (a very strong word for the pitiful thing I was doing) so holding that bow was really fucking difficult. It also didn’t help that she kept standing behind me, touching my arms and hand, her lovely accented voice entirely too close to my ear, instructing me on the finer points of how to use this particular weapon.
Occasionally Varric looked on, and laughed at how bad I was. I may or may not have literally thrown arrows at him.
Poisons and how to coat a pair of daggers with them came next. That was pretty fascinating and I’m extremely proud I did not poison myself, not even once.
I expected Leliana would show me how to use the daggers next, but she didn’t. Instead I was taken into an enclosed ring where Cassandra waited. I was given no weapons, my task was simply to make sure Cassandra didn’t hit me with the wooden sword in her hand.
Cassandra is a lot faster then you might think she is. The first few days I got hit a lot, all with Leliana instructing me firmly in the background. She’d get into the ring at times, show me how to move, how to watch my opponent’s body, the flick of their glance to determine their direction so I could counter. Leliana did not get hit by Cassandra once, something that irked Cassandra and would have made me laugh had I not been so damn sore (I also didn’t want to antagonize Cassandra).
It was Cullen in the ring with me on the second day, and that was just as distracting as Leliana teaching me how to use a bow. I have never been so embarrassed in my life, because the sight of him coming towards me the way he was, with that strand of hair over his forehead, and the determined eyes of a hunter tracking my motions made me want to do literally anything but dodge him. At one point I even fell into him and I’m not entirely certain if my traitorous body didn’t do it on purpose.
It was later on in the week that Leliana began to instruct me on the basics of how to use a pair of daggers, and despite how exhausted, and sore I was by the time these lessons rolled around, I really liked it.
By weeks end I had made minimal progress, but I suppose it was good enough for seven days. I didn’t feel like a badass, but I did feel a tiny bit more capable that perhaps I wouldn’t die immediately in a fight if Cassandra or Varric didn’t come to my rescue. And my training was pretty much ongoing, we just needed to get to the Hinterlands. In-between training, I was constantly invited to the war room to listen to the updates on what was happening. Nothing was getting better of course and I still had no idea what kind of a time table I was actually on.
The night before I was scheduled to head to the Hinterlands I asked Leliana to come to my cabin, telling her we needed to talk privately. She agreed and I spent the time in between pacing the small, comfortable space waiting for her. I had to do this right. I’d played this conversation in my head, over and over again, but once the words left my mouth – I just hoped it all sounded as coherent.
When the soft knock came I nearly jumped. I took a deep breath, smoothed my hands over my unruly hair and walked over to the door, pulling it open.
I’m not sure how long I stood there, smiling like an idiot at the closed door, but eventually just how tired I was reminded me what kind of a day I had ahead of me, and I got some sleep.
“Herald.” Leliana greeted in a quiet tone, and immediately slipped inside. I closed the door behind her, and the nervousness I felt was two fold, no longer just about what I needed to tell her. I was suddenly aware of how small this cabin was with two people inside of it. I gave a little shake of my head and turned around to focus on her, wringing my hands in front of me.
“I need to tell you things,” I said. “But, I think I have too, rather I should, give you the information you need for now and the rest… later.” The rest was hard. The rest included me telling her that the reason the man she loved was dead was my fault and I wasn’t ready for her to hate me yet.
Leliana studied me in silence with her piercing unreadable stare, her hands folded behind her back. Finally she said in a quiet tone, “I am listening.”
I took a deep breath and plunged ahead. “I know things. Things that are going to happen. I can’t… explain to you how I know, yet. It’s not magic. At least not the way you’re thinking,” I paced in a small line as I spoke. “It has to do with how different I am, the way… Solas hinted at.”
“He is very curious about you,” Leliana said, and her gaze had not left mine. I wish I could have read her the way I knew she was reading me.
“I’m sure he is,” I didn’t bother to hide the distaste in my tone. “He can’t be trusted Leliana, not completely. He wants to help us right now but… he’s going to be a problem, later on. I can’t tell you more yet. But, he’s not a problem now. At least he won’t be so long as he doesn’t know what I can do. That I know things about him.”
Leliana’s expression didn’t change, she just kept looking at me. “There is a more pressing problem now?”
“Yes,” I said. “Corephyus. The one we’re fighting, that’s his name. And soon we’re going to need Solas to take us out of here. Haven.”
Leliana took a step closer to me now, her head slightly canted. “Why would we need to leave Haven?”
“Because if we don’t get both the Mages and the Templars to fight with us, Corephyus is going to take the one that we don’t get on our side and use them to attack Haven. He’s got an Archdemon. Haven isn’t defensible. We won’t win. And the more we prepare for what I’m telling you, the more it will tip off Solas and if he finds out that I know who he is, before he takes us to where we need to go, I don’t know how the Inquisition survives.” I sighed and stopped pacing. “It’s complicated.”
Leliana was silent at first, digesting the information I’d just thrown at her no doubt. “If we get them both and there is no attack on Haven, what happens to the Inquisition?”
“I don’t know,” I shook my head. “I don’t know what happens if we get both, I’ve never seen that scenario. Corephyus might attack anyway. But we have to try Leliana. It’s…” I frowned slightly, remembering what happened in game. The way the Mages and the Templars looked in the digital setting hadn’t been that scary. But now I was thinking about how they would look in this strange reality and it was frankly terrifying. “…it’s fucked up what he does to them, the group he gets his claws in. But the place we need to go, it’s better. A lot better. It’s defensible. We can really build the Inquisition there. It’s called Skyhold and I know it’s in the north in the mountains. I could point out it’s general location on a map.”
“And if we found this Skyhold without Solas help?”
“I don’t know. It’s not a scenario I’ve seen. He cannot know about me, that I know who he really is, not until we get there. Then I’ll tell you all everything I know and you can handle him as you see fit.” I paused. “I don’t think it’s good if we have to fight him and Corephyus at the same time. I think that might be really bad actually.” Or maybe not. Maybe if we got to Solas in time, he would still be in the process of getting his powers back and we could take him. At least I hoped.
Leliana lapsed into silence again. Even though she was still looking at me, I could almost see the wheels in her head turning. Finally she spoke, “Your reaction at the conclave, to see the destruction felt genuine. Did you know that was going to happen?”
I paused and then I nodded, “Yes. But I’d never… seen it, not like that,” I said very quietly. “And I wasn’t… here to stop it. To warn you. I would have, Leliana, but I got here after. I started out this journey in the Fade, after it had all gone down.”
“Where were you? You must know that we’ve been unable to find any traces of your family.”
“You won’t. I’m… not from Thedas.” I sighed. “Look where I’m from, it’s not important right now. I’ll explain more, or at least I’ll try once we get to Skyhold. I swear it Leliana.”
“It is to Josephine,” I swore I could almost detect a slight trace of amusement in her tone. “The ancestry of our Herald is something of importance to diplomatic relations.”
I groaned, lifting my eyes briefly to the ceiling before I looked back at her. “Just… tell her I’m an Orphan or something. I’ve got no family here, no friends, I’m alone. It’s just me.”
“You’re not alone, Simone,” Leliana said quietly and something in her tone, the way she was looking at me sparked an awareness in my body that I can’t explain. It was a fleeting moment, gone in the next breath as she continued in her more usual tone, “Show me where this Skyhold is before you leave in the morning. I will send one of my trusted Agents to seek it out. Solas need not be the wiser. You’ve already suggested we find a way to approach both the Mages and Templars and I agree it is a good idea, even if can’t be achieved. Is there a preference to which group can help us more?”
I paused to consider that and finally shook my head. “No. Either group will be able to help us seal the breech.” At least, that’s how it had worked in game. But, what if here was different? I chewed my lower lip.
Leliana caught my expression. “Simone?”
“I’m just thinking, that what I’ve seen of the situation… things are a little different,” I tried to explain, “Not everything is happening exactly the way I saw it. Like Roderick for example. I knew he was a dick, but I never saw that he would do what he did to me. I’m worried that some parts of what I know might be different too. I just… don’t want to make the wrong call. It’s too important.”
Leliana came closer to me and there came that awareness again. I looked up at her, and my train of thought derailed completely as I was reminded how beautiful she was. I know it sounds stupid, but you try holding onto your train of thought when someone like Leliana is standing so close to you, you could touch her. Kiss her… oh god, was I blushing?
“From what I know of foresight,” she said, hopefully oblivious to the effect she had on me, “The mere knowledge of events can change their outcomes. Make the call you think is right with the information you have.”
My brief silence after her words was to get my thoughts back to where they should be, and consider what she said. This was no small thing, and I was really starting to feel the weight of my decisions. Not only did I genuinely want to help, to actually close this Breech and stop all the bad guys, but I needed to get home. I needed to get to the Winter Palace and find Morrigan. “Okay,” I said finally. “We go after both. But I can’t be in two places at once, and we need do to this kind of simultaneously once we have enough influence to do so. I’ll go after the Mages in Redcliff, someone else will have to go to the Templars. There will probably be a fight, at both places unless maybe we can prevent that, but I don’t know how.”
“It may be better for us not to change too many variables, so what you know remains as relevant as possible. The information in your head is as powerful a weapon as the mark on your hand,” Leliana touched the back of my hand that bore the mark. She was wearing her gloves, and I found myself wanting to feel – nope, not going there. Stop it, Simone.
I looked down at the small contact, and back up to her eyes. “Okay. So I go to the Hinterlands tomorrow and I close rifts and start spreading the Inquisitions name. Get our street cred up.”
“Good. There is much I can do with the information you shared, and I will ensure Solas is none the wiser.” She dropped her hand. “Is there anything else?”
I shook my head. “I think I’ve said enough for now.”
“Are you sleeping any better?”
Her question took me by surprise. “What?”
“You cry out some nights, in your sleep. It is in the reports from your personal guard,” Leliana said in a softer tone.
“Oh goddess,” I covered my face with my hands. I didn’t know my nightmares were loud.
“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” Leliana came closer and I felt her hand on the side of my shoulder. “Was it the first time someone has hurt you like that?”
I swallowed hard. Her words took me back to that nightmare and I couldn’t control the little tremble that went through me. Nor could I find my voice. I dropped my hands, and nodded, but I couldn’t look at her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It will get easier, the stronger you get. The more control you take back. And time.”
She’d already seen me at my worst, that might have been why my body decided it was a great idea to come closer and the next thing I knew I had my arms around her, hugging her. Despite what had caused my movement, the best part about that was she hugged me back, her arms folding around me easily. It was possible I was imagining it, but the way she held me felt protective and comforting.
“Sometimes when I close my eyes, it doesn’t matter how exhausted I am, I still see his face,” I admitted barely above a whisper. “How angry he was, the stench of the liquor on his breath. Then it’s his fist and in my nightmare you never come and it just gets worse and-”
“Shh. Shh. It’s all right.” Her hand cradled the back of my head, her opposite arm drawing tighter around me. She held me in silence a short moment before she said, “We made a mistake with you. I watched you nearly give your life to close the breech. We thought we would be safe in Haven to start working and Roderick…” there was a touch of anger in her tone. “We failed you. I failed you. I will not make that mistake again.”
Hearing her say that was doing all kinds of stupid things to my insides. I’m not sure if it was possible to hold her tighter than I currently was, but I was trying. “You didn’t fail me. None of you did. I’ve got this… foresight thing going on and not even I can see everything that’s coming. You came for me, and you didn’t believe his lies. That’s…” I swallowed hard and lifted my head from her shoulder to look at her. “I don’t think I ever really thanked you for that,” I said it quietly.
Have you ever gotten lost looking at someone? There’s no way to describe it, there really isn’t. How charged those moments are when you feel like you’re being pulled into another person. She met my gaze and in that moment it felt like she wanted me too. That knowledge was shattering. I could have kissed her. I wanted to, despite how bad of an idea that was. Her gloved hand touched my cheek and I pressed against it, closing my eyes so I didn’t do something stupid.
“You don’t have to thank me.” There was a huskiness to her tone that was so arousing I couldn’t stop the embarrassing shiver that shot down my spine. “Your bravery is inspiring, and that is not something that can be taught. If you need to talk, I’m here.” She let her hand drop, easing her grip on me.
I understood and drawing in a calming breath (or trying to at least) I let her go, opening my eyes to look at her.
Her smile was faint, but it was there. “I will bid you good night, Herald,”
I mimicked her smile. “Good night, Leliana. And thank you. Really. Thank you.”
She stepped around me, walking over to the door but before she reached it paused. She didn’t look back at me when she said, “I did not kill Butler.”
I swallowed hard, relief crashing into me. “I’m really glad Leliana. It was the right call.”
“We shall see. Try and sleep well, Simone.” She let herself out.