I Work for the Bureau of Original Characters. Thedas file

Chapter 13- Those who return

Elariel stared at the woman before her. The robes were those of Leliana but the face buried within the dark confines of the hood resembled the beautiful spymistress only in the most superficial details. The once shiny copper hair that often escaped the confines of her hood now looked brittle and straw like. Her once vibrant cornflower blue eyes had been reduced to a pair of dull and glassy orbs. Her skin was a mass of scars and her face was so gaunt it may as well have been a skeleton’s but it was the dead look in her eyes that frightened Elariel the most. Cassandra and Varric looked feverish but still themselves. Leliana looked like she had already died.

“It’s alright, you’re safe,” She tried to sooth the spymistress who stared at her in shock as Elariel undid the shackles that held her up. “Forget safe. If you’ve truly come back from the dead then you need to do better than safe,” She snapped at them before she walked over to a headless corpse that lay in the corner.

She stared down at it for a moment, her lips moving as she whispered something. “Do you have weapons?” She demanded turning back to them, a feverish light now glowing in her previously dead eyes. Elariel nodded and Leliana began to ransack the room before pulling out a bow and a quiver of arrows, she pulled out something else as well, wrapped in darkness and fastened it to her belt. When she turned, they saw it was a familiar curved and embellished sheath. “She said they were there,” The bard murmured before looking at Cassandra who was staring at the sword.

“You look terrible,” She told the seeker bluntly. “That’s Miranda’s,” The seeker replied looking at the blade.

Leliana flinched at the sound of her Lyrium multi-layer voice, it sounded superficially like Miranda’s. “I know,” She responded stonily, her tone clearly marking the topic as closed before looking back at Elariel and Dorian.

“Aren’t you curious as to how we got here?” Dorian asked and she glared at him.

“No,” She spat and Elariel winced.

“Alexius sent us into the future. This, the Elder one, his victory. It was never meant to be,” The mage told her and Elariel looked at the broken spymistress in sorrow. “I’m sorry for everything you’ve suffered,” She told the woman quietly. Leliana nodded to her stiffly. “We need to reverse his spell. If we can get back to our own time we can stop this from happening!” Dorian told her, his voice pleading.

“And mages wonder why people fear them,” She snarled. “No one should have this power,” She said, turning away. They all stared at Leliana in shock and horror. The Leliana they knew had always been a champion of mages now here she was condemning them. What happened in the year they were away? Elariel wondered.

“It’s dangerous and unpredictable, before the breach. Nothing we did…” Dorian tried to reason with her but she rounded on him.

“Enough!” she snapped, her voice like the lash of a whip. “This is all pretend to you. Some future you hope will never exist.” Leliana advance on him, her skull like face pressing towards them with a scowl that could frighten the hardest of warriors. “I suffered, the world suffered. She… she suffered. It was real!” She hissed but her voice broke at the end.

Leliana turned away her face becoming a mask once more only to freeze at Elariel’s voice. “What happened to Miranda? None of the others know except that she managed to escape to warn you all.”

Leliana let out a bitter laugh. “Oh she escaped alright. More than we did,” She replied before pointing to the corpse in the corner. “She has escaped so far that they will never catch her,” She told them and Elariel felt her heart stop.

All of them stared at the body before Casandra asked the question they were all thinking. “Where is her head?” She asked and Leliana gave a shrug. “I don’t know. They took it some time back. It’s probably on a pike somewhere,” She told them coldly. Elariel winced at the arctic temperatures emanating from the bard.

“Let’s go,” Leliana told them and marched for the door. The others took one last look at what had been Miranda before they followed Leliana out into the dark, lyrium encrusted halls. “What can you tell us about what happened?” Elariel asked and Leliana frowned for a moment before answering.

“Miranda returned with the news of your death. We upheld the Inquisition for three months. We couldn’t close rifts but we could maintain some order. Miranda took over in that area. She led Vivienne, Bull and Sera on several missions. Three months after your death, Empress Celine was murdered at the Winter ball. At this we realized we needed a leader so Miranda was elected as the Inquisitor.” She told them as they climbed the stairs.

“Miranda as inquisitor, I shudder to think of the chaos she caused,” Cassandra attempted to joke but Leliana turned on her with a growl.

“She was the only thing holding Thedas together by the end!” She snarled and Cassandra backed off, looking shocked. The others regarded her warily and she continued. “When we learned of the demon army we called in as many forces from all over Thedas and tried to stop them. We fought three major engagements. Miranda was the only thing keeping us from defeat after our first victory. After three major battles and uncounted skirmishes The Elder one sent a strike team to destroy Haven. Josephine and the others died. Cullen was felled in the third battle and the rest killed along the way. It was when we were retreating that we were caught in an ambush that saw the rest, save me and Miranda, slaughtered. Miranda fought the Elder one to try and buy me time to escape but they caught me anyway and tortured the pair of us for information,” She finished and the others swallowed hard at the thought of the unmentioned horrors that Leliana didn’t speak of.

Elariel watched Leliana as they fought. It was clear that the bard was suffering, as were the others. A year of torture or imprisonment was not the best way to keep in shape. Cassandra had developed a wet, hacking cough that led to her spitting blood as it drained from her lungs. Varric had taken to humming randomly to himself and muttering fragments of stories under his breath. Leliana stalked forward with a stone face, rage practically pouring from her emaciated frame as she slaughtered the demons and Venatori before her with a single-minded intensity. Dorian tried to fill the silence with conversation but Leliana swiftly shut him down, her harsh words cutting him off every time he tried. They snuck through the hallways until the emerged out in the open air.

The very air was green hued and above them swirled the Breach, only now it was the entire sky. Thunder shook the world as the sky roared in pain. “Creators save us… the Breach,” Elariel whispered in horror as she stared at the emerald and black sky.

“It’s everywhere,” Dorian murmured in horrified fascination.

“Yeah, it used to be only dwarves feared the sky. Now it’s just common sense,” Varric told them grimly.

Leliana was looking up into the swirling clouds, a deep bone crushing grief weighing on her. “Was it like this when you fought Leliana?” Elariel asked.

“No, it was getting bigger but nothing like this. This is the first time I’ve been out of the torture chambers since we were brought here,” She told them and they all stared at her in shock.

“They never took you to a cell or anything?” Dorian asked aghast.

Leliana gave a hollow laugh. “That was my cell. I haven’t used my legs since I ran from the demons during the ambush or to strangle the occasional torturer,” She informed them. They stared at her for a moment before they formed up and continued to battle their way through the demons, rifts and Venatori. As they ran through the winding halls Elariel caught a flash of something pale blue and transparent out of the corner of her eye. She turned to look after it. It looked like a person in long hooded robes moving along the corridor, through the piles of rubble like a ghost. When she slid to a stop it turned back beckoning her to follow before gesturing down the hall. “Are any of you seeing this?” She asked, a tremor of fear in her voice.

“I am,” Dorian told her but the others looked at the pair in confusion.

“Seeing what?” Leliana demanded and Elariel pointed at the figure who was still waving them forward.

“That,” She replied pointing at it. “It looks like a ghost,” Dorian mused and she nodded. The others looked at each other and shrugged.

“Must be a mage thing,” Varric told them.

“Either way it looks like it wants to help,” Dorian informed them and they started to move forward again. The ghost stopped beckoning and led them into small rooms, pointing at papers and journals, urging Elariel to pick them up. It then pointed at a battered and stained satchel. Elariel understood and began to scavenge everything she could find. These papers might be able to help the inquisition.

Elariel looked down at the book in her hands and fought the urge to vomit at what she read. It was a journal of one of the torturers. A record more accurately of what they had done and how the prisoners had reacted to it. She flipped through each page and saw Miranda’s plunge into madness written out in a clinical hand. She looked back up at Leliana who was staring blankly into space as they waited for Elariel to finish gathering documents and journals. The satchel was already bulging with everything she had found. She slowly slid the torturer’s journal into the bag, knowing that the information in there may be important.

They continued to follow the ghost, past the bodies rotting in corners and chunks of red lyrium that jutted from the walls and added their baleful light to the glow already given off by Casandra and Varric. “How are you two still alive?” Leliana asked as they jogged looking at Cassandra and Varric.

The seeker gave a sigh of resignation. “We held off their soldiers long enough to give Miranda a running start. Once Aitheria picked her up we were overwhelmed. They dragged us back in chains. Only us and a handful of your agents survive the initial battle. After that they shoved us into cells and pretty much forgot about us. We got meals every now and again but we didn’t know they were laced with red lyrium. By the time we found out, the scouts started dying.”

Cassandra shuddered. “It’s a horrible thing, to watch as the crystal breaks the skin and grows out of the body. I’m glad that I can die with a sword in my hand rather than suffer that.” She told them and Varric gave a nod.

“Seeker’s right. If we fail here and they try to put us back. I’m killing myself before they do,” He told them bleakly. Elariel felt a shiver of dread run down her back at the dwarf’s statement. It was all on them. They had to get back, they had to stop this from ever happening.

The figure was at the end of the corridor. Its hand up and flashing through the hand signals they had developed for the field. “Warning, rift ahead. Take the upper walkways to rain death on them from above?” She read haltingly. The others stared at her and Elariel shook her head. “The ghost is using our hand signals,” She told them.

Cassandra frowned. “Maybe it’s one of our scouts?” She asked and Elariel shook her head. “I don’t know, they have a hood up. I can’t see their face,” She answered.

Varric gave a shrug. “If the vision is giving advice, may as well listen to it. Stranger things have happened.” He told them and they nodded in agreement.

Elariel crept forward, as she neared the figure it dissolved into blue mist and drifted high into the air, floating through the passageways. The ghost turned out to be right. When they were fighting beneath the rift Elariel hear a sound, almost like Miranda’s war cry. It was faint and echoed in her head as if coming for a long way off. Leliana’s head jerked up and she snarled before she returned to the fight with renewed vigor. When they closed it, the mist resolved into its indistinct hooded form. Pointing at the door and the lock that sat in the centre.

When it became clear they needed to look through the castle to find the shards to open it, the ghost led them through the winding passageways. As they walked, Cassandra dropped to the back with Leliana. Watching her with sad eyes. “You loved her, Miranda,” She whispered to the bard quietly. Leliana’s only response was to tighten her grip on her bow.

“I remember thinking that she was good for you,” Cassandra continued and Leliana bowed her head. “She was. She made me want to sing again Cassandra. She fought to keep the torturers from noticing me, goading them to make them mad at her so they would leave me alone. She went mad in the end from the red lyrium collar the put on her. She was someone completely different when they killed her. She had been dead for a long time before they took her head,” She told the seeker who stared at her in sorrow.

“Found it,” Elariel told them, holding up the final shard and the two women forged ahead. The figure was waiting for them at the door. As they drew closer Elariel tried to peak under the hood but the figure turned away. “I think it wants us to go through the door,” Dorian remarked and the others stayed silent.

They placed the shards into the recesses and the doors swung open when the hooded apparition gave them a kick.

They entered the throne room with a bang, the figure dissipating into mist again as they passed. When they drew closer, they all froze at the scene before them. Alexius stood with his back to them, facing the roaring fire place. To the right of the dais crouched a wretched looking creature in yellow robes and on the right, on a pike driven into the stone sat Miranda’s head. It had been preserved with magic so the ice blue eyes continued to stare vacantly into the distance. The stalks had lost their sheen and were now a dull charcoal grey. They hung from the head in a brittle curtain that rattled faintly in the various air currents and the tarnished silver headpiece still attached to her skin glinted dully in the firelight in a mockery of its former gleam.

Leliana stared into the dead face of her love and felt her heart shatter to dust. Everyone she loved either betrayed her or was taken from her. She felt a sneer growing on her face as she slipped into the shadows, drawing Miranda’s sword as silently as a whisper.

“I was worried I’d have to search the whole castle for you Alexius,” Elariel growled at him, her attempt at banter coming out as a threat.

“There is no longer anywhere to run,” The mage told them without turning around. “I knew that you would appear again. Not that it would be now but I knew that I hadn’t destroyed you. My final failure,” He said wearily.

“Was it worth it? Everything you did to the world? To yourself?” Dorian demanded harshly, looking at Miranda’s head. “Why would you do all this?” He demanded gesturing at the morbid display.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Alexius told them. “All we can do is wait for the end,” The blue spectre appeared again next to the fire and Miranda’s head, arms crossed over their long robes. Alexius looked up to the figure and sighed. “Even you wait for the end,” He told the ghost, drawing confused looks from Varric and Cassandra.

“What’s ending?” Elariel demanded. “And who is that?” She continued but Alexius shook his head, a weak chuckle leaving him.

“The irony that you should appear now. Of all the possibilities.” He turned to look at the specter. “All that I fought for, all that I betrayed and what have I wrought?” He bowed his head.

“Misery and death Alexius. You dwell too long in your misery. Fix this, give them the amulet so they may reverse this. It is not too late for you,” The spectre’s voice was echoing, like someone speaking from the bottom of a well. At the sound they all jumped, even the non-mages.

“Is my red lyrium acting up of did I just hear a voice that doesn’t belong to anyone in this room?” Varric asked. The spectre chuckled and grew visible, still shrouded in their long robes and hood. Their hands tucked into their wide sleeves.

“No, you heard correctly,” It told them.

“Shit,” Varric muttered and the ghost nodded.

“I am… the ghost of Redcliffe’s future. I have been waiting for you to arrive Elariel. I know that you will end this,” It told them.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Alexius cut the spectre off. “The Elder one comes for you, for me… for us all,” He told them all and leaned his forehead against the mantle.

“There is still time,” The spectre told him firmly and Elariel frowned, the stance of the spectre was familiar.

Before she could say anything Leliana lunged from the shadows. She grabbed the yellow robes of the creature and pulled it up, holding the single edge of Miranda’s blade to its throat. Alexius turned sharply. “Felix!” He gasped and Dorian’s face became thunderous.

“That’s Felix? Makers breath Alexius what have you done?” He demanded taking a step forward.

“Sold his soul to the devil,” The spectre told them, unmoved. “The Elder one keeps him from becoming true Darkspawn as a way of ensuring Alexius’s loyalty.” They all stared at Alexius who held out a pleading hand to Leliana.

“Please, don’t hurt my son. I’ll do anything you ask,” He pleaded.

“Give them the amulet,” The spectre told him and Elariel nodded. “The amulet,” She agreed.

“Let him go and I swear I will give you anything you ask,” Alexius vowed.

Leliana looked at him, her eyes cold and hard. “I want my world back,” She growled at him before she applied pressure and slit Felix’s throat.

“NO!” Alexius bellowed slamming his staff down and knocking Leliana back. He lunged for the downed Spymistress only to be blasted aside by a piece of stone. It was no bigger than a fist but it still gave Leliana a chance to roll away. The Spectre had a hand outstretched and it was clear they had manipulated the stone. Leliana let out a scream of rage and launched herself at Alexius. Miranda’s blade lashed out, biting deep into his staff as he brought it up to stop the blow.

Then the others joined in, raining blows down on him from all sides. He fade stepped away and hurled a green spell into the air. A rift tore open and demons poured out of it. They fought, Leliana moving in a blur as rage fuelled her strokes. Elariel sealed it and the Bard threw a blade at Alexius. It caught him in the shoulder and his barrier crumbled.

“No” he growled, yanking out the blade. Another fist sized piece of rubble smashed into the back of his head and suddenly Leliana was there. The sword piercing his abdomen and emerging from his back. She looked up at the spectre and saw a flash of the face within the hood.

“Miri?” she asked hoarsely, yanking the blade from Alexius’ corpse and stumbling toward the spectre.

Miranda nodded and lifted ethereal hands up to her hood, pulling it down. “Hello Leli” she said with a sad smile. Leliana stared in shock, tears were beginning to crawl down her sunken cheeks. Behind her, Dorian was speaking and Miranda pointed to them. “You should listen. This will be over soon my love,” She told Leliana and the Bard obliged.

“Give me an hour to work out the spell he used and I should be able to open the rift.”

“An hour?” Leliana demanded stalking forward. “That’s impossible. You must go NOW!” She raged at them and the specter of Miranda stalked forward.

“It’s true. You must prevent this, no matter the cost,” Miranda told them, her voice growing deeper as she frowned. Elariel looked at her in shock and horror. “Miranda?” she asked tearfully.

“In the flesh… well, the force at any rate” Miranda answered with a small smile. The walls shook and a high roar echoed through the halls. Miranda’s translucent face grew grim.

“The Elder one,” Leliana gasped in horror.

“You have to hurry. This…is bad,” Varric told Elariel before he looked at Cassandra who met his eyes with a nod, resolution in her face. “We’ll hold them off as long as we can. After that it’s on you Nightingale,” he told Leliana who looked at the shade of Miranda before giving a nod.

“NO! I can’t let you all commit suicide!” Elariel cried looking at them all desperately.

“Riel, we’re already dead,” Miranda told her gently.

“The only way we all live is if this day never comes,” Leliana added, looking at Miranda. “What can you do?” She asked and Miranda grinned.

“I’ve been saving up energy since I passed Leli. I can toss some stuff around, distract and injure,” she told Leliana who nodded.

“Cast your spell. You have as much time as I have arrows,” She told Elariel before she and Miranda moved closer to the doors. Cassandra and Varric walked through the door, closing it behind them with a thud. Dorian set himself to work, Elariel standing close by so they could go the moment the portal opened. Leliana knelt, praying and Miranda’s ghost hovered a few feet above the floor in a meditative position.

Outside came the sounds of fighting and Leliana stood. Miranda stepped down to the ground and reached out to brush Leliana’s cheek with one insubstantial hand. “I will see you in the dawn Beloved,” She whispered and Leliana nodded tears in her eyes. Her hand raising to touch Miranda’s face but her hand passed through as if the spectre wasn’t there. “I love you, ma belle Chasseresse,” she whispered to Miranda who nodded, the ghosts of tears filling her eyes.

“And I you my fair Tinuviel,” She replied before stepping away and taking a low, grounded stance. She held her hands out a ball of energy appearing between her palms, beside her Leliana drew her bow.

“Though Darkness closes in, I am shielded by flame,” The bard began to recite. “There is no emotion, there is peace,” Miranda chanted next to her.

There was a crashing sound and a roar before the doors were reduced to splinters. The demons advanced through and tossed the battered forms of Cassandra and Varric as if they were rag-dolls. Leliana barely noticed the slivers of stone cutting into her body as she began loosing arrows, reciting the chant as she went. Beside her Miranda let loose a bolt of energy still reciting her code as she went. It struck a terror demon and blew out its chest. Her form flickered but she did it again and again, each time she became a little fainter, she hurled rubble and tile at the demons, distracting or knocking them out before she fell to her knees.

Elariel watched in horror as Miranda struggled to and managed to lose on final bolt that struck a demon about to claw Leliana, Saving the bard before she dissolved into blue mist with a sigh that vanished into the darkness. Leliana screamed in grief and redoubled her efforts. An arrow struck her left shoulder and she bashed in the face of a demon with her bow before casting the weapon aside. She drew Miranda’s sword and attacking with frenzied movements. Elariel took a step towards the now encircled Leliana only to have Dorian grab her hand and yank her back.

“You move and we all die!” He bellowed at her. She retreated but watched in horror as Leliana was overwhelmed, the sword knocked from her hand and a demon wrapping its arm around her throat. She struggled, kicking a nearby mage in the knee. Then a terror demon drew back it’s claws and slashed them across Leliana’s throat. Elariel’s last view of that terrible world was Leliana’s severed head rolling away as her body was thrown aside. Then the world went green and they were standing in front of a roaring fire.

Miranda stood tall and unshakeable on the floor in front of the dais, clad in her black and purple robes, sword drawn and Cassandra had shield out and sword ready. Varric was behind them Bianca up and aiming. They were alive. “You’ll have to do better that,” Dorian remarked jauntily. Elariel advanced towards Alexius, rage in her eyes. He saw her expression and fell to his knees.

“Put aside all claim to Redcliffe and we let you live,” Elariel told him, steel in her eyes.

“You’ve won. There is no point in extending this charade,” He sighed simply.

“Cuff him,” Miranda instructed a pair of agents who came forward with manacles engraved to make them magic resistant.

“Felix,” The aging magister whispered as he looked up at his son who crouched down next to him. “It’s going to be ok father,” He reassured by Alexius continued to stare at him, tears in his eyes. “But you’ll die,” He whispered. Felix looked at his broken father with a solemn expression. “Everyone dies,” He responded sadly.

The agents fastened the manacles and escorted him away. Elariel looked around the room, feeling disoriented and slightly sick at the things she had seen. “Well I’m glad that’s over with,” Dorian told her with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. The sound of heavy boots sounded and Elariel looked towards the doors. Ranks of soldiers marched in and Elariel quickly found herself surrounded by a bristling Miranda and Cassandra as they watched the advancing soldiers with wary eyes.

She held in the desire to touch them to see if they were real and waited. A man dressed in fine furs and leathers strode down the path that was now bracketed by his troops. “Grand Enchanter Fiona. Imagine how surprised I was to find out that you had given Redcliffe castle away to a Tevinter magister,” He announced, his hand on the hilt of his sword. “King Alistair,” Fiona greeted the man, bowing.

“To be fair it wasn’t exactly her fault,” Miranda said from where she was standing next to Elariel.

“Oh?” The man inquired raising an eyebrow. “And how exactly does that work?” He asked skeptically.

“Well it involves someone spilling a lot of blood and impressing their will onto the unwilling victim,” Miranda replied, breezily ignoring the glare she was getting from Cassandra.

“Huh.” The king grunted before shaking his head. “Be that as it may, this needs to be dealt with. I want to help the mages but I cannot do it at the expense of my people.” He turned to Fiona. “The mages are no longer welcome in Ferelden,” He told her firmly, an air of finality in his voice.

Fiona’s eyes grew wide before her shoulders slumped. “I understand, but we have hundreds who need protection. We have nowhere to go,” She told the king in resignation.

Elariel pushed out from between her overzealous body guards and walked forward. “The Inquisition is willing to take the mages in,” She answered and Fiona narrowed her eyes at the Herald. “That may be so but what would the terms of this arrangement be?” She asked.

“Hopefully better than what Alexius gave you,” Dorian remarked as he walked forward, coming to a halt next to Elariel. “The Inquisition is better than that yes?” He asked and Elariel bowed her head. They had decided to offer the mages an equal alliance, did she still want to give them that after everything she had experienced?

She lifted her head and made eye contact with Fiona. “We would be honored to have you fight as allies at the Inquisition’s side,” She told the enchanter gently.

The elder woman looked into Elariel’s eyes searchingly before nodding, her shoulders relaxing. “A generous offer, will all the inquisition honor it?” Fiona wondered and Elariel gave her a smile. “I make this offer on behalf of the council. We decided what we wanted to do before we came here,” she told the enchanter. “The Breach threatens us all, we cannot afford to be divided now. Any chance of success requires your full support,” She told the room at large fiercely.

“A very generous offer,” The king told them. “One way or another, you cannot stay here,” He told Fiona and she bowed her head.

“Then on behalf of the rebel mages I accept the Inquisition’s offer,” She answered. “It would be madness not to,” She added.

“Lovely, now we all can go find some food please? I’m starving,” Miranda told them all and Cassandra gave a deep sigh. As the others filled out of the room, Elariel remained behind. Curious, Cassandra, Varric, Miranda and Dorian all lingered with her. When the room was empty Elariel threw her arms around both Cassandra and Miranda and began sobbing into their armour.

“Oh thank the Creators, I saw you all die!” She choked. Miranda gave a pointed look to Varric who joined in the hug. The two older women wrapped their arms around the crying Elariel and Miranda rubbed soothing circles on the she-elf’s back.

“What happened Riel?” Miranda asked but Elariel shook her head and began to cry harder.

“Let’s get her to camp,” Cassandra told the others and they nodded. Miranda carefully extracted Cassandra and Varric from the weary elf’s grip and scooped Elariel into her arms. The elf was still far too light, what little weight she had gained in the Inquisition had been burned away. “Let’s take the quiet way. It wouldn’t do for people to see her like this,” She told them in a low voice. Elariel was still crying, mumbling out. “You’re alive, all of you are alive,” Over and over again.

They got to where their horses were stabled and Miranda swung up onto Elariel’s forder, hiding the elf under a cloak and riding out. Aitheria met them outside the castle and gave Miranda a slightly betrayed look but stopped when Miranda shook her head. They trotted to their nearest camp and Miranda transferred the now unconscious Elariel to Cassandra who waited on the ground before she dismounted and handed the gelding to one of the scouts. Miranda took the elf’s hand and examined it with the force and frowned.

“The quarantine is almost gone, whatever happened to her took a while. The decay of the shield hasn’t been affected,” She reported as she reinforced the shield. Elariel woke up as she did this and looked up at Miranda, noticing that a different set of armoured arms held her.

She whimpered and clung to Cassandra. “Please don’t leave me alone,” She begged. Cassandra looked up at Miranda who shrugged. “I can set up the bed rolls so she stays with you,” She offered and Elariel shook her head.

“Don’t leave me too,” She whispered, her eyes filling again.

“You comfortable with that Cassandra?” Miranda asked quietly. Cassandra looked down at the broken girl in her arms. Elariel look so small and fragile, like she was much younger than her already young age. She looked up at Miranda and nodded. Miranda accepted the choice and went ahead of them into the tent, dragging her bed roll next to Cassandra’s and pulling out a few spare blankets. Cassandra followed her in and they worked together to get Elariel out of her armour, leaving her in a thin undershirt and her breeches. They pulled off their own gear and lay down on either side of Elariel.

The she-elf grabbed hold of both their hands and fell into a deeply troubled sleep. Miranda and Cassandra looked at each other in the dark. “We’ll ask tomorrow,” Miranda breathed so as to not wake the whimpering Elariel. Cassandra nodded grimly.

“I don’t like seeing her like this,” She admitted and Miranda nodded. “When she vanished like that I was afraid that I had failed again, just like Justinia,” Cassandra admitted and Miranda reached over and rested her free hand on Cassandra’s shoulder.

“But you didn’t fail. She’s back and now it’s up to us to help her get over what happened to her,” Miranda told her and Cassandra gave a reluctant nod. They lay there listening to Elariel’s whimpers and cries, both drifting in and out of slumber till dawn.

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