“I just feel so dumb, Leliana,” Skye Lavellan exhaled, dropping her head in her palms. “I feel so stupid. Has he ever even loved me?”
Leliana was sitting across from Skye, her gaze following Inquisitor’s shifting body. Her eyes narrowed at Skye’s sudden move.
“I… did not realize that your feelings were involved,” she said quietly. Her face was unreadable, yet Skye could sense Leliana’s disapproval.
“So you suspected that we were together. You just assumed it was a dalliance,” Skye confirmed rather than asked.
“Precisely,” Lady Nightingale agreed. She kept scrutinizing Skye, and there was no way out of her questioning gaze. The glass of Antivan red remained full in Leliana’s hand.
“We…” Skye hesitated and slowly lifted her head to meet Leliana’s stare. “Solas and I got involved after Redcliffe. I haven’t told you everything about that hell of a trip.”
“Right,” Leliana affirmed. “Understandably, you sought some comfort after witnessing Alexius’ time magic and seeing red lyrium grow out of people’s bodies. We were trapped in a future that never came to be. You and Dorian are the only ones who know what happened.
“Yes, but it was more than that. Leliana, you were all poisoned with the consequences of that horrendous timeline! You looked like a skeleton! Cassandra’s spirit was truly broken. You can’t even imagine what that was like! And Solas sounded so powerless, so out of control. Like the world had already been lost, and there was absolutely nothing he could have done. And then he realized that we could go back in time and prevent all that horror from happening. He gave his life to make it so!..”
Skye’s eyes were full of tears, so noticing a bizarre expression on Leliana’s face took a while.
“We all did that,” Leliana said in a low, quiet voice.
Skye shook her head in frustration that Leliana wasn’t getting it. “I know that, I really do. But you don’t understand. It may sound harsh, but both you and Cassandra would have always done that in the line of duty. Doesn’t make it easy. It just proves that you are the right people for the job.”
“But he didn’t have to be in that damned castle. He was just an apostate mage who decided to help. And there he was, choosing to die for Dorian and me on an off chance that we might succeed. He didn’t have any duty or obligation back then. He could’ve easily walked away – and no one would blame him. Or find him ever again,” she chuckled through tears.
“Yet he didn’t walk away, at least not back then. But he did it now that we have killed Corypheus, and the real danger has passed. We could rebuild this world to be a better place together. We could finally… not keep on surviving and just be. So why would he not want to celebrate our success here with me? I do not understand!”
“About that,” Leliana cleared her throat and shifted in her chair ever so slightly. “I’m not going to claim that I know his true motives, but something was off about the way he conducted himself. My agents kept an eye on him, and they noticed some suspicious behavior that we chose to overlook back then. More specifically, we saw him talking to servants, elven servants, a few ti – Oh please, do not look at me like that! I was searching for anything worth investigating, and that certainly was unusual. Solas is… particular; you do know that. He never does more than what he absolutely needs to. And he doesn’t chat. Maybe he did so with you, but he is not in the habit of conversing with servants and staff… Unless they have anything to offer to him.”
“Food was delivered to his rotunda since he was working there most evenings. You have got to agree that lurking in the dark kitchen corners at night was hardly necessary.”
Leliana paused for a brief second to meet Skye’s eyes. “And now, two of those servants are gone. They disappeared the night when we returned to Skyhold, and Solas, too, went missing. It all happened three nights ago.”
Skye felt her cheeks getting hot.
“What exactly are you implying? Are you saying that Inquisition servants conspired against us? That they spied on us and delivered our secrets to Solas, of all people? Instead of selling it to Corypheus, or the Qunari, or anybody else in Thedas? We have acquired many enemies within the past year.”
Leliana smirked and sipped out of her glass for the first time. “So you don’t deny the possibility of elven spies. Well, that’s a start.”
Skye stayed absolutely still in her chair. Her eyes were wide open, and she had an expression of complete bewilderment on her face. A minute of silence has passed by, and Skye eventually moved. She sat upright and set her empty wine glass on the table. “Spit it out then,” she whispered.
Leliana looked at the Inquisitor without any pretense or hesitation. “I believe he was the spies’ leader, and they left to follow him. I do not know of their plans and activities as of yet.”
Skye gasped and slammed her back into the chair. She crossed her arms defensively and pursed her lips, preparing for a rebuttal. But before she could say anything spiteful, Leliana continued.
Her tone was measured, and she enunciated every word with painful precision.
“You are not objective, Inquisitor. I knew that you were involved, and I suspected that you might not see it they I did. Moreover, I didn’t want to let him know that we were watching. This is why I never previously included this information in my reports. But it was important, and I did what any spymaster worth a damn would’ve done.”
Skye grabbed the edges of the chair handles with so much strength that her knuckles whitened. She wasn’t taken aback anymore; she was feeling the hot flashes of rage, and she wanted to yell at Leliana. Not only was Lady Nightingale implying that a member of her Inner Circle had been disloyal, but she was also saying that she couldn’t be trusted because of their involvement. So after many months of battles, after all the loss and suffering that she had experienced, that was her reward? Accusations of treachery for her lover and no happy end in sight?
So, her lover was a spy. And Leliana, her closest friend and confidant, was nothing but a pragmatic overseer that had always been one step ahead. Their friendly relationship was a lie, a facade to get closer to her and keep an eye for any sign of weakness and vulnerability that could harm the Inquisition. Before today, she never considered a thought that her spymaster’s agents could have been watching her. And apparently, Lady Nightingale believed the threat to be important enough to have followed the Inquisitor and her lover.
And Solas… He was the real traitor here. Skye felt the room spinning around and had to resort to counting breaths as Josephine had taught her. She knew that a panic attack was just around the corner, but Skye couldn’t afford a mental breakdown in front of this intimidating woman.
She felt small and stupid. “So what are my charges?” she asked once she was able to get a grip of her emotions.
“Charges?” Leliana stared back at her in surprise. “Skye, you are blindly in love, and you refuse to acknowledge how bad this situation is. I want you to see what this really looks like!”
“What do you…”
Leliana almost hissed. Skye had never seen her pissed off like that, and fury didn’t look pretty on the spymaster’s face. “Your closest companion left, carrying as many secrets about the Inquisition as it was possible to acquire. He has intimate knowledge of you, and all you care about is if he ever loved you. You can’t stand to hear that he could’ve done something wrong; you still want him back.”
She continued, “Wherever he is, he has betrayed you. He is dangerous. But you are a fool in love, and you can’t see any of it.”
“Leliana,” Skye started, but Lady Nightingale had already gotten up from her chair. “Sleep on it,” she said with her usual composure almost back in place. “I’m not accusing him of using any information against us just yet, and neither do I know what he was planning to do. But you simply cannot deny the facts. I beg you to see the reason.” And as she said these words, she turned on her heels and left the room.
Skye flopped back into the chair, only now realizing that she was standing as well. It was one hell of a week, and she felt tired and sick to her stomach. In all honesty, she felt like shit, and she wanted to blame Leliana for making her feel even worse than before.
She grabbed Leliana’s almost full glass of wine and gulped it. And as the wine poured down her throat, a gross feeling settled in even deeper. Then, the puzzle pieces shifted and aligned themselves into the picture that Leliana was urging her to see.
Skye didn’t know how much time passed while she was deep in her thoughts; it was already dark when she finally finished Leliana’s wine and got out of the chair. She stood up, still feeling a little dizzy, and shivered as if shaking off the weight of this conversation.
She needed to go to sleep. There was a lot to consider and plenty to grieve about, but today was not the day. Today, she simply needed sleep. She hoped that tomorrow would be a fresh start, and she could begin the day with a new perspective. Then, she would properly process everything that happened in the past year. She would go over their secret encounters with Solas and evaluate the harm caused by her foolishness. And for the first time, she would have to recall their meetings not to soothe her broken heart but to give a grim damage report to Leliana.
Skye felt the panic settling as she wondered if she ever said something to him that would put the Inquisition at serious risk.
She recoiled at the thought almost immediately. Everything was already at risk. Solas knew her mind and body like no one else did. All those long hours spent in expeditions, on the battlements, in the rotunda, and in the underground library… He knew more about her life than there was to know, including her sleep habits and diet preferences. He knew the weak spots in her magic and fighting skills, and if those were used directly against her, or made public to many enemies of Inquisition, then…
Skye inhaled sharply and forced herself to banish the spiraling tornado of thoughts in her mind. Tomorrow, not today. Tomorrow, in the morning. Now, all she could do was fast-forward this ugly day to an end by going to sleep.
She fell down on the bed and flicked her wrist to turn off the candles. Her nose picked up the light smell of smoke as she was drifting away. The room was dark and quiet, and all that Skye could hear was the beating of her anxious heart. She could force her mind to stop thinking, but she couldn’t order her heart to not feel what it felt. Today stang, and there was no escape. The truth was, she could never see Solas the way she did mere hours ago. He was no longer just a lover who got away – he was someone who knew too much and could easily use it against her.
“Not today,” a soothing voice that sounded just like Solas whispered in her head. “Tomorrow, in the morning,” Skye answered in agreement. And with those words in mind, she entered the Fade.
At first, she thought that it was going to be yet another dream when she would search and call for Solas with no answer. This time, however, she was not alone in the dream. She could feel a presence nearby, and it was giving her shivers. She hadn’t felt this way since she and Solas had shared a dream, but this was way more intense.
Her tired mind drifted towards the night when Solas introduced her to the spirits who visited him in the Fade. Wisdom, Valor, and Knowledge were standing next to him, their spectral bodies glistening and changing colors. She remembered seeing the spirit of Purpose lurking in the forest about 20 yards away from them and recalled joking that their own sense of purpose was long forgotten. They were meant to rest, yet they had chosen to substitute hours of precious sleep with self-indulgent Fade dates.
Skye smiled gleefully at the thought, but her happiness didn’t last long. She grew cold as she witnessed her memory materialize, and the faint shadows of spirits joined the pale shadow of Solas. Skye stood in the Fade, unable to move or think; all her energy was diverted to breathing and staring.
Earlier, she felt like she had nothing left. Her clan had been wiped off, so many sacrifices had been made, yet the world was still a mess. The Inquisition was full of spies and traitors, and she clearly couldn’t tell a friend from a foe. But now, at least, she had a shadow of her lover, and that was more than she could have hoped to see when entering the Fade tonight.
The shadow couldn’t talk to her or provide any answers. It was merely a reflection of an old memory, and it was painful to see. Nevertheless, Skye couldn’t look away. The ghostly version of Solas was not corporeal, but she couldn’t help but admire how tall and slender the outline of his figure was. She watched the movements of his head as he was addressing the spirits and couldn’t help but fall to her knees.
Skye wanted to get up, but she couldn’t. Something held her in place, and her legs refused to move. Skye would feel the cold sweat of panic drip down her forehead as she realized that Fade never felt this way before. There was no longer a comfortable push and pull of the air around her. Instead, the surroundings felt darker, damper, heavier. Fade was no longer in alignment with her thoughts, and it refused to shapeshift when she tried commanding it.
Skye realized that her willpower was weakened due to a weeks’ worth of sleepless nights, a recent fight with Corypheus, and a deeply unsettling conversation with Leliana. It was foolish of her to enter the Fade in such a distressed state. She should have known better.
And as she managed to lift her head to look around, that’s when she saw it, creeping up on her from the forest edge.
It was a demon of Despair. Skye’s heart dropped to her stomach, and she could feel her palms starting to shake. She was powerless, stupid, small, and helpless.
“Wake up, wake up!” the soft voice she had heard earlier was much harsher now. It was screaming inside her head, but Skye heard it as if it was coming through a pillow. She felt a heavy pull as someone’s palms gripped her wrists, sensed the touch of a hand on her face, and emerged from her nightmare.