“I’m sorry Trevelyan, there is nothing I can do.” Dorian muttered, he was kneeling beside me, hypnotized in horror by the transformation as much as me. His eyes were dull with worry. His humour was futile in this moment.
“There must be something, Dorian! The Inquisitor can’t become a statue. Not now! How will I explain this to Leliana or Cassandra? Shit, how will we explain this to the Exalted Council?...if we get back.” Iron Bull was in a foul temper. His voice booming across the empty and silent valleys of ancient Elvhen ruins. Not even a bird was spooked from the trees or bushes. There was only us and a courtyard full of Qunari statues – the only evidence of Solas’s new power and strength. He stomped through the shards of glass from the now broken Eluvian that Solas had left through.
“If I could I would, Kadan, but this magic, it is beyond anything any Tevinter mage has seen before. I wouldn’t know where to begin to dispel it.” He looked away from me then, shame, fear and frustration causing his hands to shake.
“He thought it was a mercy. Rather than let the Anchor consume me. You all saw how bad it was getting…I was becoming a liability. I nearly killed you all.” I whispered, my eyes blurry with tears, wiping my nose with my one free, untainted hand. Despite my words I couldn’t decide whether to call my former friend, ally and companion by his old or his new name. That wound was still raw, angry and festered with the unanswered questions of this sorry situation.
“I will have his ears, eyes and nose for this, Bryn. I’d swear it on the Qun if I wasn’t Tal-Vashoth already.” Iron Bull promised in a growl before kneeling beside me and wrapping one arm affectionately around me. Dorian gazed up at him fondly but even he couldn’t bring himself to smile.
“The magic jangles and clinks like metal chains. It is binding and connecting you. Constructing a cage within the cage of your body.” Cole spoke, his voice always light like a snow fall, as he perched on a rock opposite, balancing on the tips of his toes. His eyes fixed on my own. “The magic moves like an ancient glacier, slow and steady but unstoppable, capturing all within its dark cold form.” He approached and took hold of my hand gently. “The pain is where it bites, yes?” I nodded. “I can numb it but that is all.” He reached to his tonics belt and released the cap on a small blue potion. It glittered different to liquid Lyrium which was what Mage’s carried to sustain their abilities. Cole’s tonic was thicker than a liquid, like yoghurt, and he poured a blob onto my hand and began to massage it into my skin, both front and back.
I sucked in a deep breath as the cold of his tonic felt like it was burning my skin but as he continued to rub, the burning sensation changed to a deep ache and within a further minute, I felt nothing where his fingers caressed.
I tipped the rim of his wide familiarly odd hat up to see his face. “Thank you Cole, the pain has stopped.”
“For now, he doesn’t have enough to cover all of you so the pain will return and this curse will still consume you, Bryn.” Dorian pointed out bitterly.
“Cole was always one to show kindness, no matter the size. I appreciate it regardless.” I defended our spirit companion, the only one of us who didn’t seem to be upset, offended or event angry at how far Solas’ betrayal went towards us and the rest of the Inquisition, or in fact the entire world of Thedas. I shook my head briskly, the numb hand giving me some respite from the pain allowing me to collect my thoughts. “You all must return to Halamshiral. You need to inform the others about what Solas has done to the Qunari but also about what he plans to do next…Leliana needs to send her agents out after him as soon as possible. Cassandra as Divine can call upon Chantry forces and maybe even push Orlais and Fereldan to march with us. You need to find him and stop him. Before… before…” At the wrong moment I had glanced down, in that same moment all my fingers on my left hand were fixed in black and bound together like stone. The weight of it surprised me, and I gulped. I turned to Dorian whose own eyes were now glistening. “Dorian, tell the Commander…tell Cullen that I’m sorry…I knew and accepted the risks…this was something that couldn’t be seen or prevented…there is…was nothing he can do.” Dorian grasped my right hand and was holding it in his own trembling fingers, laying light kisses upon each knuckle. “Tell Cullen that…although Solas took my life, it was he who always had my heart.”
Dorian gave his first genuine smile, despite the tears, since they reached me on the plateaux. “My dear that is so cheesy I feel Varric may take it and use it in his next novel.”
“As long as he dedicates the book to me I will allow it.” I tried to smile in kind, struggling to ignore the fine black spots, like splattered ink, that were now appearing on the tops of my hand. I sniffed hard and looked up at Iron Bull, my faithful mountain of muscle and mayhem. In the position he stood he was merely a silhouette but for the sunlight glinting off his horns and in his one good eye. “Bull, you need to lead Dorian and Cole back through the Elvhen ruins to the original gateway. I am trusting you to see that this warning is heard. If Orlais and Fereldan don’t offer help willingly make Cullen lead our forces back to Skyhold and prepare there.” Thinking of him hurt more than the spell. “Cullen will blame you all for leaving me but I’m ordering it. There is no point in all of us remaining here any longer and I doubt Solas will leave the Eluvian’s open for much longer. If we get cut off and word doesn’t get back…”
“That’s it!” Iron Bull broke out into loud laughter and even began stamping on the spot in delight. “Forget all of what you just told us Boss, because you can tell the Council yourself. I got an idea.”
Dorian was gaping and Cole was simply listening, head tilted with curiosity. “He wants to stop feeding the spell. Cut and cast it away like the burnt crust on a meat pie. Leaving you with what is left.”
“Now what did you have to spoil the surprise for, Cole? I’ve told you a hundred times to stop reading my mind, damn you!” Yet Iron Bull was grinning, with hope not rage.
“You can’t be serious! Kadan, if it doesn’t work you are only going to put Bryn in more pain than she already is.” Dorian reacted now, disbelief written all over his face.
“It is going to work, Dorian. My luck may still come through. After all, I’ve survived the Temple explosion, the Fade, time-travel magic and Corypheus. Losing a limb shouldn’t be too hard for me to bear.”
Dorian paled even further at my mock boldness and Iron Bull laughed harder. “That’s the spirit Boss! Speaking of, Cole how many of those Ice Tonics do you have left?”
“Two.” He answered simply.
“Good. One will need to be applied to the cutting point and the other will be needed to stop the bleeding and seal the wound. Next question, would you like to make the cut or shall I?”
“Let Bryn decide.” He responded after a small pause, perhaps he was surprised to be called upon for more than his numbing tonics.
“Which is it to be then, Boss? My axe blade or Cole’s sleek dagger?”
“Stop toying with her, Kadan. Your axe is clearly the best choice as it could and should hopefully cut off her arm with a single swing whereas Cole may have to saw a bit to get through the bone.” Dorian had clearly had enough of Bull’s clear joy in the idea of saving me through amputation. His tone was solid and serious. “Wouldn’t you agree Bryn?”
“Yes, I guess.” I struggled not to smirk, the reality of what was being planned not really hitting home just yet. To be honest the whole day wasn’t. We’d fought against a Qunari invasion force in so many fascinating forgotten Elvhen ruins yet at the end they were not our real enemy. A former ally was. An ally who openly confessed to being one of the original Elvhen Gods. Fen’Harel no less. Solas had ever so calmly explained how he had positioned himself to be of use to the Inquisition. To guide us against Corypheus as his own plans had backfired on him, and the world. But now that he had abandoned his post to reclaim his identity and position of power, his next move was something so severe that it truly showed the selfish streak he had hidden so well before.
“That settles it. Cole, help Bryn get that armour off and roll up her tunic sleeve as far as it can go. I want to burn Bull’s blade first before it cuts. The only thing I can do to help at this point.”
So the boys, as I thought of them, got to work. Cole managed to undo the various straps and buttons that held my chest piece and shoulder guards in place, leaving me half-armoured up to the waist but just in a simple long-sleeve tunic on top half. He was very gentle when moving my arm to slip the armour off and regularly asked if he was hurting me. I was not much help to him to be honest, I just remained still and let him manipulate my body as required. I was busy watching Iron Bull hold his two-handed axe at arm’s length and Dorian casting fire spell after fire spell upon the blade. It would ignite in full flames for a few seconds before dying down but he cast enough magic upon it that the blade edge began to glow with the heat it retained.
“You are ready, and yet you are not ready.” Cole spoke, sitting opposite me, his legs crossed and his two Tonics sat on a rock nearby.
I swallowed, hoping it wasn’t that obvious to the others. “Cole, can you, could you make me forget the pain when Bull makes the strike?”
He observed me for a heartbeat before replying. “The pain would be too new, and although it is a big injury it doesn’t hurt you on the inside. I can’t make you forget but I can, make you remember something, to distract you.”
“If a distraction is the best you can do I will take it. Just don’t get too nosey with my memories. And what you see you never speak of, understand?” As much as I wanted anything to help me get through the pain I was in no doubt I would experience, I wasn’t entirely happy to allow Cole to see my secret thoughts and cherished memories. But unfortunately elf root potions don’t come with any pain relief, just healing qualities.
“I promise, Bryn. Your secrets will remain secrets.” He smiled then and stood up in one fluid movement. “The Inquisitor is ready Iron Bull.”
“Coming Cole, Dorian’s made my blade as hot as a furnace. Any hotter and it might melt back into lumps of metal.”
“Shush complaining, Kadan. A hot blade will make a cleaner cut and will help staunch the wound.”
“How and where do you want me?”
Iron Bull looked around briefly before pointing to a small group of tall pencil straight trees bearing the leaves of an eternal autumn. “Let’s make you comfy over there, Boss.”
Doran and Cole lifted my arms across their shoulders and helped shuffle me over. I think Doran was secretly relieved that Cole had to bear my tainted hand so close to his face but Cole was stoic and calm. They lowered me down gently and have me lay on my back with my soon to be removed arm outstretched. Cole then joined me on the ground of warm soil and soft grass.
“I’m going to keep the Inquisitor’s attention on me whilst you make the cut.” He explained as both Dorian and Bull were giving me puzzled looks.
“Oh, good idea Cole. I will make the cut on the count of three and then Dorian can apply your ice tonics with a healthy dose of elfroot potion.”
“Work’s fine for me – just try not to splatter blood all over my robes Bryn, this is the finest silk I could find in the Orlesian Empire and blood never washes out of silk.” He grasped my shoulder and gave me a smile and a wink but even I could feel his fingers were trembling. All I could do was swallow and nod. My whole body had started to shake and my stomach was tying itself in knots.
“I will make it my best swing Boss, try not to worry. We got you.”
“If I survive this remind to buy you all a drink at the Herald’s Rest when we get back to Skyhold.” I turned to face Cole who had one arm wrapped around my waist, tucking me in close to his body, his other hand was holding my soon to be remaining right hand. “Do what you need to do Cole before I throw myself off that cliff.”
He smiled at me, his blue eyes shining bright. “Just listen to my voice and nothing else. Close your eyes.” I did as he asked and I felt him lean over to me, felt his breath next to my ear and he whispered, “Remember the lake.”
His voice faded as a new noise replaced it. The sound of lapping water, of birds singing and the occasional frog. But the most noticeable difference was the hand holding my right. It wasn’t small, cool and lean like Cole’s. It was big, warm and had the occasional roughness of a scar. A hand I had kissed many times over.
“What are you dreaming about?” It was Cullen’s gentle voice and I couldn’t keep my eyes closed any longer.
We were both laid out on a picnic blanket, the basket of food and drink by our feet and as I looked around I saw the sky was sunset pink, and the waters of Lake Calenhad were calm and still creating a natural mirror. I looked at him then, my Commander, confidante and the man I had fallen so very deeply in love with. He continued to smile at me and shuffled closer before sneaking his arm under my neck and hugging my shoulders. I felt warm tingles where he touched.
“Can’t you remember?” He asked.
“Remember your dream? You were murmuring but I couldn’t make any sense out of it.”
“Oh… did I fall asleep on you again?” I looked away blushing with embarrassment. Cullen had brought me to the lake for some recuperation after I had finished leading the Inquisition forces in the Hinterlands region. It was quite rude of me to use this time alone to sleep. It must have happened quickly as I didn’t recall falling asleep.
“Hey, relax Bryn, that’s what I wanted you to do. If you relax that much you take a nap that’s fine with me. You probably don’t realise how much effort you spend leading everyone until you stop.” He cupped my face and gave me a gentle kiss on the forehead. “If you just want to sleep do so, I’d rather you rest then worry about manners and etiquette around me. I’m not Vivien.”
I had to chuckle, recalling how often our High Enchanter friend would correct anyone of anything for the sake of appearance, etiquette and manners – even at an informal social event.
“I hope I wasn’t asleep too long. Was I?”
“No, not at all. I quite like watching you sleep to be honest.” It was his turn to show nerves and reveal his hidden timid nature.
“Why? You know I snore like a Mabari War Hound.”
“Because…watching you reminds me what real, peaceful sleep was like before…”
“Before you started taking Lyrium, before you joined the Templars.” I finished for him, grasping his hand with my right and squeezing it tight. Cullen’s eyes had gone distant again, as he always did at the mention of his fraught past. He nodded in confirmation. “Your sleep is full of your past. You call out their names in your dreams.”
He looked at me then, an expression of shock and maybe guilt, even though he had done nothing wrong. He opened his mouth to speak, pulling our joined hands closer to his chest between us but I spoke first. “Don’t you dare apologise Cullen. You say sorry for far too much that is beyond your control.”
“Not even for disturbing your sleep with my nightmares?”
“Not even then. I never apologise for my snoring do I? You accept me snores and all as I accept you and your nightmares. Both are part of who we are. Parts we cannot change.”
He leaned over and kissed me. A soft yet simple touch of lips but it always gave me goosebumps and left me feeling like I had one too many dwarven ales. “Your wisdom always astonishes me. It’s one of the many reasons I love you.”
“And why else do you love me? Don’t tell me it’s my snoring because I know how often you complain about it.” We both chuckled and I freed my hand from his to stroke the fine stubble on his chin. He recaptured it and gave it a kiss.
“One. I love you because you are the most selfless woman I have ever met. You helped us and others, even when we all believed you to be responsible for the deaths of so many.”
He gave me a second kiss and I shivered.
“Two. I love you because you are the bravest woman I know, next to Cassandra of course. Not once have you shown fear or let it stop you from doing what is right.”
I received a third kiss and the shivers reached my toes.
“Three. I love you because you love me.” Cullen curled over me, I closed my eyes expecting the kiss I wanted.
At the same time, as if from across the other side of Lake Calenhad, I heard Iron Bull letting out a brief roar of effort. I felt a hot stinging sensation at my elbow, then a cold burn. Both so sudden and one after the other that I twisted with the shock.
“Breathe Bryn, breathe and look at me.” It was Cole, sounding close. I was confused and groaned against the pain that throbbed hard at my left elbow. In a blink Cullen became Cole, who was holding my right hand right with both hands, blue eyes sparkling. “Breathe Bryn, breathe through the pain.”
“Keep her still Cole or this bandage won’t be tight enough.” Dorian’s voice to my left. A large shadow came over me and I felt Iron Bull’s large hands push my shoulders against the ground.
“It’s over Boss, it’s done.” He said with a grin but I honestly didn’t feel like applauding him at that moment. “Let Dorian do his part.”
I tried hard to take deep breaths but the mixture of heat, pain and cold was overwhelming. I managed to twist my head to the left and saw Dorian frantically wrapping cloth around the stump of my arm. Beyond him, lying amongst the sand and stones and ancient ruins was what at first glance could have been mistaken for a burnt branch. As I observed it I soon recognised the grasping pose of my hand and forearm, now forever black stone, as if accidentally knocked off an ancient statue.
“Done. How do you feel Bryn?” Dorian asked with concern.
I attempted to sit up but foolishly tried using both arms when I now have one so ended up lopsided with imbalance. “I can’t hear Elvhen anymore and I can’t feel the pull of the Mark either. Both are gone from me.”
“You are you now. Magic free.” Cole remarked before wandering over to observe my severed arm.
“Do we leave it here or take it with us?” Puzzled Dorian.
“Leave it here. With the other statues. It can be a surprise for Solas if he ever returns believing me to be no more.” I gulped and attempted to stand leaning on my right for support and managed to get to my feet although my legs were trembling.
“Can you walk Boss? It’s a long way back home.”
“I think so, maybe slowly to begin with but I will keep up. We can’t delay.” I looked to my shield and sword. “Cole, help me get my armour on. We need to get going.” He did as I asked and when I was more appropriately dressed I felt a bit more comfortable and a new spark of confidence. I adjusted my sword belt to have my weapon positioned on my left so I could draw it with my right hand. I slung my shield across my back, it was no longer usable due to my left arm being too short to alternate like I had chosen with my sword arm. I would have to speak to Cassandra and seek training in some new form of battle to better defend myself with this new disability. Maybe Dagna could use her arcane technology to enhance my options? But that was all in the future, for now we had to warn and prepare for this new threat.
Iron Bull stepped towards me, holding out my Inquisitors helmet with its unique dragon adornment. Despite a few knocks and scratches, it has served me well in all my campaigns. I managed to cup it with my one true hand and curve it up on to my head. “Bull, you and Dorian take the lead, I doubt we will come across any more Demons, Spirits or Qunari but if so you two can take them out. Me and Cole will be behind, his daggers can defend me instead of my shield.” All three nodded at me, I could sense their eagerness to depart as well as a sense of pride, for me. I swallowed, feeling a stir of emotions and pushed them down. Now was not the time. “Let’s march, the Inquisition is needed.”