They spotted the approaching army at dusk.
"Vashaden," Iron Bull hissed, mighty arms crossing his chest. "They are moving too quickly."
Leona lifted her robes and stepped up on the crate beside her, following his gaze across the plain, lit with the fading orange and rose of the sun's last light. It gleamed on silver armor, casting painful spots across her eyes. She frowned. "We were supposed to have more time. What of the abominations?"
The qunari craned his neck, pacing to the east. "Just as quickly. An hour, two at most—they have spotted us, no question."
"Shit." Leona's fingers tightened around her staff. "Have them finish up here, then meet Blackwall, Cassandra, and I at the tavern."
He nodded and set to bellowing orders as the mage leapt off her crate and edged through the narrowed streets, around barriers, skirting runes, until she found the Seeker instructing three men in shield-work.
She caught sight of Leona's approach immediately. "How soon?"
"An hour, maybe more."
"Maker preserve us." She returned a stern gaze to the group, wooden, iron-ribbed shields half-raised. "Take positions."
They scurried off to the perimeter.
"Blackwall is inside—we can confer with him until Iron Bull arrives."
Leona moved to follow, but Cassandra's eyes were fixed on a point just over her shoulder. She swung her head about, brow arched, to find Rina following, a guilty flush to her cheeks.
"I wanted to make sure you didn't need help."
She smiled. "Have you ever seen a horse up close?"
"No, ma'am." The girl straightened, shifting grip on her staff. "Leona."
"My horse is stabled in the barn—the last stall. There's a boy hanging about there; tell him you're to help ready my steed."
The mage's smile was almost as bright as it had been while etching her first rune. "Thank you!" Rina raced over the dusty street, nearly catching the hem of her robes on her feet at least three times before disappearing around the corner, mouse-brown braid trailing along behind.
Cassandra's frown brought unyielding lines to her cheeks. "If you're quite finished?"
But Leona smiled. "After you." She used her free hands as she entered to pull the front of her robes up to discreet buttons on her belt, freeing her legs for wider movement, trousers and boots showing through the new window as the robe's hem fluttered just below her waist. She rested her staff on the nearest table and drew her sleeves up under Cassandra's steely gaze.
"Suppose she dies."
Leona arched an eyebrow. "Suppose she doesn't."
Blackwall stretched the map over the table, carefully marking the changes they had made to fortify the town's center, pointedly pretending not to hear even as the Seeker's amber eyes flicked to him, then back to the woman in question who was calmly finishing her first sleeve.
Cassandra was suddenly so close Leona could smell steel and dust; she met the unrelenting gaze evenly. "Inquisitor, if she and the others fall, it will be your reckless plan that condemns them."
The mage tied off the silver cord at her elbow. "And if they died following your plans, it would be my approval that condemned them. We have a chance, Cassandra, whether you believe it or not." She stripped the leather from her blade, secured the sheath to the back of her belt, and hefted the staff carefully.
The Seeker shook her head, but said no more.
Leona took the reins from the stable boy—Trevor. His face was weathered and tan, grey eyes even; the only worry she could see was etched into the lines around his mouth.
Rina's showed in the shadow of her brow, but her hands were steady, wrapped around worn wood and leather. "Ready?" she asked them.
The pair nodded. "Thank you, my lady." Trevor's jaw was set, proud.
"Thank you." Any stranger who could keep a warhorse calm deserved that pride, indeed. "Call me Leona, and once this is done, if you wish, you may accompany me to the keep." She smiled, and gave a wink. "Both of you."
She mounted the bay and nudged him to a trot, but not without reveling in the slow, ecstatic grins that resulted, wiping the lines from Trevor's cheeks, and clearing the shadow that had fallen over Rina's eyes.
The Inquisitor braced the bardiche-like staff beneath her arm, settled carefully in the saddle, boots snug in stirrups, heart thrumming against her chest. Mounted combat was not her first choice, but it gave a distinct advantage against foot-soldiers and made her visible to the villagers. It would do.
She and her companions stood abreast, heading their own small infantry just before the first set of traps. The last report guessed the small horde of abominations would arrive several minutes after the Templars—too late to do anything except pray the plan laid would be enough to hold against the full attention of the division.
Their commander rode a mighty, armored stallion, a flash of white and silver and crimson as he positioned himself parallel, just beyond the village outskirts. "Surrender the Inquisitor and the apostates and we will leave peacefully!" His voice rang across the fields, dark and empty as the midnight sky.
Leona drew herself taller in the saddle, tucked the next cool breath of damp, night air deep into her lungs. "I will surrender not a single mage! The villagers stand with us; return to your masters, Templars!"
Even at such a distance under only the light of the moon and flickering shadows of torches on both sides, she could see his shoulders shift, see as he nudged his horse in a tight, frustrated circle. "We will not be banished!"
She bared her teeth. "Leave this place, or you incur the wrath of the Inquisition!"
"So be it! We will raze this village and every enemy of the Chantry found within!"
"WE WILL NOT FALL!"
She could hear the creak of leather behind and beside her, the rasp of steel as it echoed across the fields.
"You make your own grave!" A gauntleted hand stretches to the starlit sky, but the commander did not turn to face his Templars. "SPARE NONE. SLAUGHTER EVERY APOSTATE AND TRAITOR COWERING BEHIND THOSE WALLS. BRING ME THE INQUISITOR!"
Leona nudged her mount, and looked over the faces visible, the resolve fleeing from armed limbs. "You see what they are? No better than the brigands you hang in the square! Your arms are strong, your hearts stronger: WE WILL WIN THIS NIGHT! IN THIS TALE, WE BECOME IMMORTAL. FIGHT FOR YOUR HOMES!"
There came a rallying cry, and Leona almost wished she had time to take in Cassandra's no-doubt impressive roll of the eyes.
The first waves were easy to see, to mark, to track, to command. A row of Templars would charge each line of defense, to be beaten back by minor runes, shields, and the Inquisitor's own companions.
Six waves beat them back to the trench, and Leona's bay cleared it easily, her ears filtering out the sound of screams, the clash of steel. She listened to the wind across her cheeks, the Bull's bellowed commands, the rhythm of hooves, the crackle of magic. Her eyes caught Tytus crouched at the ready behind a low wall, and Leona gave a single nod.
Flames split the Templar ranks, red-hot orange tongues springing from the largest runes; ice pierces skin, stretching to the pale moon; lighting sinks into armor, sears flesh, melts bone.
She raised thanks to Andraste, the Maker, and—hell—if the Creators could hear her, praise be to all of them.
But this is where things fall into chaos.
The next wave is less an assault than a breaking of rank, a scramble to escape the treacherous fields and streets. Leona catches her blade at the crook of a half-burned Templar's shoulder, slicing between steel and skin, grinding on bone. Momentum carries her forward and up as her mount strikes another down, crushing his helm beyond repair.
There are still screams, and she does not yet realize their pitch carries beyond a simple battle's carnage.
Flames, out of control, brush the sky as thatch burns and streets swelter. Panicked Templars bring the fire further and further to the village square, even as mages attempt to douse the worst; the sticky, crawling sensation of twenty Cleanse invocations creeps through the alleys, and the flames continue to burn. Leona sweeps her fingers in a neat arc, weaving gentle figures in the air even as she knows the Cleanse is approaching. A barrier shimmers in the air around her and holds—just barely.
It is the strangled cry that alerts her to the presence of the third faction, a gurgle that turns her stomach; her eyes fix themselves upon a corpse.
A boy, no older than eighteen, with grey eyes that stare unseeing at the flame-licked night, a corpse that forces itself standing on twisted legs and a back wrenched and bent at all unnatural angles.
Leona's skin grows cold beneath her robes, blood hot under her skin. She flicks the reins, speeding her blade, and the wind caresses wet cheeks, muffles the sound of flesh and bone.
Its head rolls to the ground, and she wants to vomit.
She closes her fist around a ball of flame, and charges the fractured ranks, desperate, white-hot bolts of Smite lighting the air and chasing shadows even as the oily, oozing scent of demons eeks through the streets.
The world is purple and red and green and silver and grey.
She is a streak of arcane energy carving a path through the square.
And there is the Templar commander, bloody and soot-stained, rising above the tide of soldiers and corpses and smoke. Rina, in the midst of crimson flames, holds her ground as the Templar raises his blade.
But the staff is not strong enough, and he charges through splintered wood and bone even as the Inquisitor launches herself from the saddle, braced on stave and steel.
Cassandra's warning cracks across the battlefield, sharp as thunder.
Her first memory is fingers fumbling at her belt when she finally cracks her eyes open, scent of smoke still coating her nose. There's a lingering taste of bloody copper, and of elfroot, on her lips.
It is morning, grey and pale.
"Leona?" asks Cassandra, and the mage lifts her head just enough to catch a glimpse of the battle-bruised seeker before a massive hand pushes her back down.
"Survivors?" she croaks, finding the Iron Bull's head high above her own. Her throat is raw, half-numb.
The qunari shakes his head. "We do not know."
She struggles into a sitting position, frowning, and this time, Bull lets her. Leona finds Cassandra's amber eyes. "Survivors?" she demands again.
"It is unlikely."
The mage's face does not crumple, but her shoulders sag under robes caked with ash, blood, and dust. She feels a chill under her skin, and reaches for the pouch at her waist.
"What did you give me?"
"A healing potion," replies Blackwall from behind, leaning against a stone, cradling his left arm to his chest, beard yet matted with debris.
Wordless, Leona extends a hand to Iron Bull.
He frowns, but retrieves an overlarge flask from his belt, and presses it into her open hand. She flicks it open, and gazes to the horizon.
They are seated on some distant hill. Only the smoke is visible, the village now a charred smear on the landscape, dead ashen black among rich brown and green. Leona takes a long pull from the flask, fiery liquid prickling some life back into her lips and chest. She returns it to the Bull, and reaches immediately into the satchel at her waist.
"Inquisitor?" says the Seeker.
But Leona unfolds a thin roll of leather to reveal a smattering of herbs. Next, a dark-wood pipe is lifted from another pocket, and she tips the curled, green leaves into the bowl.
Three brows arch, but no one speaks.
The mage presses her finger gently around the smooth, angular edge, fingers dusting over crisp fragments to pack them down. The last spark of magic catches the leaves aflame, and she presses her lips around the stem. Inhales.
The sweet smoke lights her veins like lyrium.
"Leona," Cassandra lays a hand on her arm, "they may have perished in any case."
The mage rolled the smoke over her tongue, and released it to the sky in a single puff of breath. "But it doesn't matter now, does it?"