December 30, 2023


What interesting company I've come to keep.

It was one thing for an Elven hedge mage to be invited to the occasional imperial ball at the Winter Palace. It was another to actually attend an audience with the Orlesian Empress herself.

Across from Solas was Celene Valmont I, a frosty blond whose face he'd never seen, courtesy of her ever present silver mask. Seated upon her silk-covered chaise, she was a tall, regal woman for whom he had no love; like so many of her ilk, Solas found her to be a weak, lying hypocrite deeply reliant on the talents of others.

In this case, the "others" were Solas and a senior templar knight by the name of Cullen Rutherford. Cullen was a deep, serious man with dark blond hair. He wore heavy armor and a fur-rimmed cloak. He was from Fereldan, which explained both his fashion sense and his hygiene.

In light of recent events, he was also the new liaison to the royal court from the Chantry. And while Solas was technically the senior magical advisor, in this particular scenario, he knew was merely to be seen and not heard.

"Monsieur Rutherford," the Empress was saying in that lispy Orlesian accent, "the reports from Val Royeaux are deeply disturbing. What exactly has happened and why are we the last to hear of it?"

"Indeed," a new voice entered the conversation, as Vivienne de Fer strolled into the Empress's sitting room.. Solas turned his head, amusement quickly turning to surprise. His stifled laughter froze in his lungs as the elf suddenly found it very difficult to breathe.

She was even more beautiful than he remembered. The First Enchanter strode into the room without her mask, cheekbones blazing, dark eyes firing sparks. Her shoulders were back, head held high.

"Madame de Fer," the Empress greeted cheerily, as though relieved.

"Your Majesty," Vivienne briefly curtsied. "What's this I hear about a mage rebellion?"

"Vivienne, Monsieur Rutherford is here from the Chantry to apprise us of the situation," the Empress explained.

"Yes, Madame de Fer," Cullen said, with slight bow. "I was just explaining that--"

"Solas," Vivienne blinked, looking every bit as caught off guard as the elf.

Solas gave a prim bow, even as his heart threatened to explode out of his chest. "Madame de Fer," he greeted as calmly as he could muster.

She seemed to finally remember herself, quickly regaining her indignant composure. "What's happened?"

"A mage from the Ostwick Circle has killed her teachers and led her classmates deep into the heart of Fereldan," Cullen finally continued.

Vivienne was surprised all over again. "Her?"

"Her name is Amethyne Flint," Solas proffered. "According to Circle records, she's a very gifted young mage who only just became fully fledged."

"And what was her reason for breaking her own Circle?" Vivienne demanded.

"Unknown," Cullen replied. "But the Chantry suspects it has something to do with them as well, seeing as she slaughtered all their clerics in the tower."

"Which brings us to the question of how a newly fledged mage bested her elders," Vivienne stated, her tone clipped. "Was it blood magic, or some other abomination?"

"Also unknown," Solas answered. "The initial theory was that she might have been possessed, but preliminary reports confirm that she is very much herself."

"Where exactly in Fereldan are these rebel mages?"

Solas and Cullen exchanged a quick look.

Vivienne scowled. "Let me guess. That information is also unknown."


" remember me."

Solas escorted Vivienne out, walking with her towards the front gardens of the Winter Palace.

"Does that surprise you?" she asked, walking briskly.

"It does," he admitted with a nod. "You know, we have attended some of the same balls since our first meeting."

She flashed him a look. "I never saw you."

"I'm good at being invisible," he shrugged slightly. There were no fancy robes this time; he was dressed like a proper scholar in thick, plain wools and cottons, with no fancy circlet upon his bald head. But he still smelled of wind, river, and dale.

Vivienne looked away. She'd forgotten the sound of his voice, the quiet power, the deep thrumming. His words, no matter how simple, were so hypnotic. It was precisely why she had forced every memory of him from her mind.

After a brief pause, he said, "My condolences...for your loss."

"Hm?" she blinked, then remembered. "Of course, you mean Bastien. Thank you." Pause. "I'm just...everything is so jarring. One moment I'm burying the Duke, the next a young mage revolts. What could have possibly caused this?"

Solas raised an eyebrow, lowering his voice. "You know why."

They were outside now, in the cold drizzle, a sea of gray above them, a chilly wind blowing through their clothes.

"What?" Vivienne snapped. "Because she was disgruntled with Circle?"

"Or scarred by the Harrowing," he muttered. "Say what you want about the necessity of the Circles, Madame de Fer. It doesn't change the fact that something like this was a long time coming. The vaunted Circle of Magi should have seen it."

"You don't slightest bit disturbed. That girl has endangered all of us, Solas, all of us. If we do not neutralize this threat at once and bring the rebels to justice, our heads are next."

Solas could only shrug. "What do you have in mind?"


"Is that Madame de Fer...with an elf? And a templar?"

Josephine Montilyet came to join Vellena Awbry by one of the mammoth windows of the Ghislain estate. She was visibly shocked at the sight of Vivienne returning with an elf on one side of her and a towering templar on the other.

"Indeed," she confirmed, perturbed. "I suppose he's some sort of Dalish advisor on the crisis."

"Oh, that's right," Vellena mused. "Vivienne is a mage." She turned away from the window and resumed sipping her tea. "This rebellion is perhaps the worst thing to ever happen to her. I wonder how long before she's ousted from the Winter Palace." She shook her head. "Tsk, tsk. We should've chosen a better ally, Lady Montilyet, someone more...appropriate." Her eyes twinkled.

"Unlikely," Josephine shook her head, worry clouding her eyes. "This type of crisis is precisely the reason a First Enchanter is chosen. The Empress will not dismiss her now; she needs her counsel."

"Please," Vellena snorted. "Madame de Fer is neither a noble nor an Orlesian, and when a situation like this arises, it creates the perfect opportunity for magical detractors to finally get rid of the mages."

"No one's getting rid of mages," Josephine turned to her. "Mages are essential. This rebellion will be over in a month."

"I highly doubt that," Vellena snickered. "Those rebel mages are likely cutting a bloody swath through Fereldan as we speak, opening wounds and reigniting old fires. I can only imagine the chaos." There was dark flicker in her eyes, and she uttered that last word with relish.

"Our host has guests," Josephine abruptly changed the subject. "Let's go down and greet them."

Vivienne had already forgotten there were two new people in her house now and while she genuinely liked Josephine, she wasn't really in the mood to deal with either of them just now. Before the women finished crossing the foyer, Vivienne politely tried to shoo them away.

"Gentlemen, may I introduce Lady Josephine of House Montilyet and Miss Vellena Awbry of Redcliffe," she said quickly. "Ladies, our guests and I have some urgent business to discuss."

"My lords," Vellena curtsied primly.

Cullen responded with a prim bow while Solas laughed aloud. "I assure you, Miss Awbry, we are no lords."

"But I am a lady, and if this is about the crisis, I can be of assistance," Josephine insisted urgently. "My family has many trade connections throughout Fereldan."

Vivienne turned to Vellena, who promptly assured her, "I can find diversion, Madame."

Vivienne nodded curtly. "To business then."

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