"I've survived a lot of things, and I'll probably survive this." – J.D. Salinger


Chapter 3: Well Shit

Whether it's a testament to the woman's tenacity, or Magnolia's own incompetence, Cassandra finds her rather quickly. She's furious as expected, left hand gripped firmly around the hilt of her sword—sneer already in place.

Magnolia thinks briefly on how ridiculous this predicament would look if there were anyone else around to witness it; puffy-eyed, face flushed from the cold and her own sobbing, trousers soaked through with snow and looking rather pathetic—sitting in muck next to a woman seemingly ready to slaughter her. She scoffs and it sounds a little hollow. Forced.

"Back to this, are we?" Magnolia asks.

Something filters across Cassandra's face then. Guilt, or maybe resignation—she can't tell; she doesn't know her well enough to know what certain emotions look to when placed on her face. Whatever it is seems to pacify her, and she lets go of her weapon—hand falling away and back to her side. Cassandra looks uncomfortable suddenly.

"You ran." she says.

"Yeah."

"Why did you run?"

Magnolia's eyes go a little glassy at that.

You see this hand, she wants to say, see this face? Not mine. The words won't form, her throat closes around them and snuffs them out. How well would that go over with everything that's happened—is happening? What would that mean in the light of everything else? What would they do to her?

Instead she says, "Felt sick. Didn't want to ruin my spotless reputation and vomit on your clean floors."

Cassandra's eyes harden at that and she pulls herself up—straighter, taller.

She doesn't believe you.

Suspicion is a whole another monster than proof; Cassandra has no proof and they both know it. She sighs, reaches in her coat pocket, and out come her wands. Magnolia breathes and sends a silent thanks to Merlin for small mercies.

"Oh," she says sounding every bit as surprised she feels, "my wands."

"Yes. Consider this an act of good faith. I trust you will not do anything...brash." She takes a tentative step forward and drops them into Magnolia's awaiting hands. They feel cold—all their warmth gone, but solid, reassuring. Something familiar. She curls her fingers around them, brings them to her chest and holds them against her heart.

Something of home. Something of her. Small mercies.

"Right," she says after a moment a awkward silence, "now what?"

"Now," says Cassandra, "You come with me."

Cassandra leads them back to the chantry, much to Magnolia's dismay.

"Why are we back here?" She all but whines. Wasn't embarrassing herself once a day enough?

"We are back here because you ran off before we were finished." Informs Cassandra.

Magnolia curls into herself slightly, feeling out of her depth, but otherwise doesn't comment.

Everything is as it was when she re-enters besides the chair someone has fetched in her absence placed at the far end of the table where she once stood. Magnolia spars a glance around the room, first at Cullen and then Leliana, who looks at her a little less like prey now and a little more like a person – a promising step, maybe, but she's been wrong before. There's a short, awkward standoff while Magnolia stays idle in the doorframe, unsure of what to do, when Leliana gestures toward the chair – face pensive.

"Sit, please. We have much to discuss."

Magnolia nods, loops to go the long way around, past Leliana instead of Cullen whose looking more and more weary of her presence as time ticks by.

"Sorry...for um, before." She apologizes; less so out of genuine concern and more because it seems like the appropriate things to do. She had been the one to run off without a word, after all, and in doing so caused unwanted attention that she has no doubt she'll pay for later.

For right now she'll sit as casually as possible—pretend she's not as on edge as she is.

"Someone else will be joining us," Leliana addresses her. "A diplomat—to take note of any information you have to give."

Magnolia nods. It's not like her opinion truly matters; if anything she's telling her for the sake of politeness.

"So you believe me, then? That I'm from..." From where? You don't even know where here is yet. "Somewhere else?"

"We believe you are innocent as far as the Conclave goes. Anything else is to be seen." Cullen answers.

"You honestly believe I could be lying? What reason would I have to dig a bigger hole for myself?" She asks, feeling indignant.

Whatever response Cullen's about to give is cut off by a curt knock at the door, followed by a woman; with dark skin, dark hair, and rich but ultimately inconvenient looking dress wear. She's nice looking – pampered in a sort of way no one else she's run across has been. From money, maybe, but not unreadable as she'd expect from someone with the title 'diplomat' associated with their name. Instead she smiles at her—one of the few faces that hasn't looked positively murderous in her presence, which is always nice.

"Andaran atish'an," she says, hair swaying as she bows slightly in greeting.

The woman looks proud, like she's accomplished something worth mentioning, and maybe she has? Magnolia doesn't know; those words translate into a hell of a lot of nothing. She blinks dumbly at her and raises a hand in silent greeting.

Cassandra scoffs, eyes practically rolling into her skull.

"Do not bother, Josephine." which manages to sound more like: "she's hopeless, Josephine. You're wasting your time."

Josephine looks a little crestfallen but otherwise doesn't comment while she makes herself comfortable, placing down parchment, ink, and quill that she had been cradling in her arms. Hands free, she offers one to Magnolia.

"Josephine Montilyet. It's a pleasure to meet you."

Magnolia rises out of her seat slightly to shake her hand. "Hi. Magnolia Potter."

"Very well." Josephine gives a polite nod in understanding while she takes her place at the table. Behind her Cassandra, Cullen, and Leliana turn their gazes to her anew. "Shall we begin?"

She gives a tense nod, hands folded in her lap, and makes herself comfortable. This will be a long and stressful process, she knows.

Cassandra falls back a little, as does Cullen, placing themselves at the far wall while Josephine and Leliana take center—looking professional and slightly detached.

"Ive brought a map with me." Josephine says, sounding pleasant. "There are several things I'm hoping to cover in our meeting today, though I thought we could start with this." She leans forward a plucks a thickly rolled parchment from the pile. It's yellowed and torn around the edges, giving off the smell of must when she unfurls it and places four heavy looking chess pieces at its corners to keep it in position.

"I would like you to point out on this map where you are from. Simple, no?"

Magnolia nods, agreeing. "Seems all right."

World maps cover, well, the world. Any moron with even the slightest amount of geographical knowledge can point out their home country on a map. That is—one thing at least—that she has confidence in; there isn't an Auror is existence without a sense of direction.

She leans forward slightly with Josephine and Leliana at her sides, Cassandra and Cullen looking on in interest—feeling reassured. And then...

She places a hand over the map. It's so...

"Where...is everything else?" she asks.

She can all but feel the exchange of glances over her head and when she looks up, eyes wide, they're all staring at her. Magnolia looks down again—lifts a chess piece and looks at the underside. It's blank.

"This can't be right," she informs, tracing her finger around the outermost landmarks, running her hand over the single, solitary sea. "Is this a world map?"

Cullen scoffs—so does Cassandra. Leliana gives them both a steady, hard stare.

"Of course it is." she tells her.

Of course it is. Like it should be obvious.

"But—this. It's so small. What's beyond the sea?"

"We don't know." Says Josephine.

Something stirs then—like panic, confusion, and she frowns.

"You don't know? How don't you know what's beyond the sea? Where—what..." Magnolia looks to Leliana then, only to be met with that same contemplative look she received before she had run off.

"Read this." She demands, pointing to the large, black script in the middle of southern most landmark.

"You know I can't-"

"Which is fine." Josephine interjects quickly. "There are plenty who cannot-"

"I can! But this," she stops and jabs one finger to the text on the map, "Is not English. In fact, I don't believe this is a true, established language at all!"

There a pause where no one moves or makes a sound, and then Leliana reaches across the table, bringing with her a quill and ink. She flips the map over, underside right-side up.

"Write your name." She says.

"I—what?"

"Write it." She says again, not unkind, and places the quill in her hand.

Perplexed, she does as she's told—curling letters around each other and into her signature.

Magnolia Potter, says the script. Cullen and Cassandra move closer to stare, along with Leliana and Josephine. The silence that ensues is long and telling. Magnolia's brow dots with sweat. The faces around her fill with various forms of disbelief.

Josephine is the first to find her voice. "In my upbringing I have been trained in a great number of languages and I—I have...not seen this language before."

Magnolia's head swims a bit. She's glad there's nothing left in her stomach.

"It's English," she says hopelessly, "From England. Part of the United Kingdom? Europe? Haven't you, I mean, haven't you heard of it?"

What more have these people never heard of? Was there no Ministries anywhere? Where did witches and wizards train here if not Hogwarts? If this wasn't England, of even Europe for that matter (so far from it that they didn't even know where it was located), then where was it exactly.

She swallows the bile raising up her throat, wands clutched in her hands.

Something of home. Something of her. Small mercies.

"Where am I?" She asks.

"- can't possibly believe-"

"- the Fade can-"

"cannot make separate realities-"

"-otter...Ms Potter?"

Magnolia blinks—head like cotton. "Sorry did you say something?"

Josephine looks concerned. Magnolia can't find it in herself to care much.

"I asked if you had anything else to add? Anything that might be of value."

She shakes her head, no. She's given everything: name, age, county of origin, her parents name, the school she studied at and the street she grew up on. In front of her sits a crudely drawn map of Britain, labeled with its counties and the North sea.

"I have nothing left to tell you." she says.

Cullen's armor clambers as he shifts in his place. "You can't honestly believe this nonsense?" he says. He might have said it before. She doesn't remember.

"Do you have a better explanation?"

"Unexplainable doesn't make the improbable true." His voice is rising slightly, frustrated. "What you're suggesting—what she's suggesting is far out of the realm of anything we've heard of! It isn't possible."

"A few days ago Commander, we would have said walking out of the Fade and living to tell would have been impossible. Yet here we are." Leliana says.

Josephine pauses half way through furious writing and says, "The Fade is a strange place, is it not? It is not completely implausible."

Cullen scowls. "And what of the Mark? It's connected to the Breach; she did not arrive here with it! Which means she was here before it opened."

Leliana gives a nod. "I'm not claiming expertise, Commander, but offering ideas where we otherwise might have none. If your teachings make you better equipped, then by all means, take over."

Cullen bristles. "I'm no expert in this!"

Josephine holds up her hands in an attempt at pacification. "Please, fighting won't help. We are all at a lose."

The room fills with a tense silence only broken by Cullen's tired sigh. He runs his hands over his face and brings them to his temples.

"Ask the mage," he says. "What's his name, Solas?"

Cassandra fixes him with an unbelieving look. "You think he can help?"

"He mentioned his study of the Fade upon his arrival, which is one of the reasons you allowed him to stay. See what he knows; it's certainly more than we do, at any rate."

"I agree." Leliana says.

"It's decided then: I will approach master Solas on the matter at hand and make the proper arrangements."

Josephine casts a pointed glance at Magnolia, hunched and quiet in her seat that does not go unnoticed. "Perhaps…another time?"

She sits up, back a little straighter. "I'm fine. Let's just get this over with."

"No," Leliana protests, "There are more pressing, concrete matters at hand unfortunately. The fact remains, despite out current predicament, that you are the only person with the ability to close the rifts, meaning you are only chance at sealing the Breach."

Magnolia frowns, sagging a little in her seat. "I thought that thing in the sky was dealt with."

"It's stable for now but that doesn't mean it's dealt with. What we need now is for it to be closed. I suspect only you can do that."

"I don't know how much help I am, honestly." She says sadly. "Isn't there someone more…qualified that can help you?"

"More qualified that also comes with the ability to seal tears in the Fade?" Leliana chuckles, "Not likely, no."

"We need you," Cullen says. "This cannot work without your Mark."

Already her pulse is quickening; hands a clammy mess in her lap. Magnolia needs help, answers, and so far it seems the people in front of her might be the only ones willing to at least hear her out. How many other people could she tell the truth to? She's not in chains or dead, which feels like an almost impossible mercy, but she's been here; fought and bled and gave more than her fair share of fair shares.

"I feel a bit ill." Magnolia says truthfully. Beside her, Cassandra frowns.

Leliana nods, contemplating and says, "This is not a decision to be made lightly, I'm aware, it's grave and I cannot lie and say our plan doesn't depend on you. It will cost us all dearly if we cannot come to an understanding."

"Think on it," Josephine adds. "Please, and we will do everything in our power to aid you in whatever comes your way, I assure you."

"Right." Magnolia says.

"A meal will do you good I believe. We can continue this tomorrow."

There's a sudden, collective movement in the room. Meeting adjourned; Josephine collects her things and hurries after Cullen with a polite goodbye and a promise to speak later, followed by Leliana who isn't nearly as kind but no longer completely hostile.

Alone Magnolia and Cassandra stand, neither making an attempt at pleasantries—there's nothing more to say, really.

"I will show you to your quarters." Cassandra says stiffly.

Magnolia now too mentally drained for protests, stands and allows her to lead the way back out into the cold mountain air. The sun has long since disappeared over the horizon and with it what little warmth it provided. The bite sets in almost before she's entirely out of the doors. It doesn't help her mood.

She shivers. "It's dreadful out here."

"It always is."

"Wonderful." They pass the campsite and head down toward the training grounds where they make a right onto a dirt path leading into the trees.

"The cabin is in the other direction."

"Now that you are well we thought it best to give you a more substantial living space."

Ahead she spots another cabin, its windows an orange glow, not so unlike the one she awoke in. It's secluded—tucked into a multitude of pines with no other building close by. Cassandra opens the door for them, and inside is slightly smaller than the other one but not unpleasant. There's a hearth that's been lit, a small writing desk, wardrobe, and a single bed pushed into the farthest corner that's been piled high with furs. It's cozy; warm and welcoming in a way that feels familiar.

"Leliana thought you'd like something a little more…out of the way."

"Because of the villagers?"

Cassandra nods, Magnolia hums.

"She's not wrong."

"They mean no harm. You can hardly blame them with what you've managed."

"That doesn't mean it's not bothersome," Magnolia quips and steps past Cassandra and farther into the room, where she plops herself onto the bed. "One minute they want me dead and the next they're groveling in the dirt? Seems a little shallow."

There a moment where Magnolia thinks Cassandra might leave with how quiet and tense she's become, hovering near the door like an intruder.

"Is it true what they say, that you were spent by Andraste?"

"How should I know? I don't even know who Andraste is. What is she some sort of god?"

"No, not a god," says Cassandra, and then adds, "It's not a short tale,"

"Anyway to paraphrase it?"

Cassandra stops, thinking, and say, "Perhaps another time."

Which is fine in Magnolia's eyes; she's never been big on drawn out history lessons, besides it'll do little for her current predicaments; she tired, and confused, and so very hungry.

"I need food."

Cassandra scoffs. "How eloquent," she shakes her head, like she might be amused but doesn't wish to show it. "…there is a tavern, near the Chantry. Josephine's already requested one of the servants to bring you your supper. It should be here shortly."

"Meal, singular, as in one? I could eat quite a lot more than that right now," admits Magnolia.

"I find pacing oneself helpful in most situations," Cassandra replies not without humor and heads toward the door, signaling her departure.

"Do you believe me about what I said?" Magnolia asks before she can step fully into the night.

Cassandra pauses, door slightly ajar and turns toward her as if contemplating and says, "I believe that you believe. I believe that you aren't the danger I had originally thought you were, and that you have the power to help."

Which is a long, tactful way of saying no, she does not. Magnolia frowns, solemn but not angered. She doesn't know her well enough to be angry about it, so she says nothing and lets the other woman leave without further conversation.

Without conversation or the sounds of daily activity the night is a silence she's never experienced before; the wind has died down, the village and forest has quieted as the night grows deeper and has left little in its wake. It's unnerving, Magnolia thinks. Her childhood had hardly been a silent one living with three people who enjoyed making her life hell, and after that had been Hogwarts, or the Burrow, and the Black's old residence. Even when she was on the run, with Ron and Hermione—it hadn't been so silent.

She sighs once and stands, determined to busy herself and not think—about anything—and takes to picking about her surroundings. She starts and the wardrobe and throws it open. Inside are a handful of clothes that look too wide and long to fit her frame, along with a collection on fur hats and shawls that could come in handy. The desk holds nothing save for parchment, an inkwell and pens for writing. She opens up drawers, rearranges the beds contents, and when that's done crawls onto the floor to peer under it where she finds a small wooden chest that she drags out into the open.

Inside is crammed with papers; ink slightly faded but otherwise a decent condition. Magnolia thumbs through them in attempts to occupy her time and find it all written in that same looping text as before.

Useless.

She shoves them back into the chest and pushes it back where she found it just as there's a knock at the door. Magnolia sits for an embarrassingly long amount of time before she registers that whoever has knocked is waiting for her to answer.

"M'lady," calls a voice from the other wide of the door. Magnolia stands and strides over to the door, opening it slightly.

Outside stands a meek looking elf girl – lanky with a shock of red hair that glows in her illuminated doorframe.

"P—pardon me, M'lady. Your supper?"

She holds up a tray stocked with dried fruits, meats, some sort of indistinguishable stew, and a small loaf of bread. Beside her in the snow is a pitcher of water.

Magnolia opens the door farther, eager.

"Thank Merlin," she breathes, "Come in."

The girl hesitates. "I shouldn't."

Magnolia smiles in a way she hopes in comforting and beckons her in with a small gesture. The girl doesn't look any more at ease but doesn't argue as she shuts the door behind her.

"You have my thanks, Herald." She keeps her head down even as she hands over the tray of food and pours her a glass of water. Her hands shake and shake, all the way through the small process and back into the nighttime air.

Magnolia sits at her desk, casts a final glance around, and not for the first time—eats her meal alone.


AN: Sometime I get so nervous that I can't post a thing. Then I remember that I'm a human being with flaws, that things won't always be perfect, and that I write for fun. Remember fun? Sometime I do, too. On that note, hey, kid, you like music? Because The Witcher 3 soundtrack is a lifesaver. Also, have fun with dialogue, because I sure didn't.

AN #2: Excuse any mistakes I'm truly sorry I haven't been asleep in over 24 hours what is sleep even.

Until next time,

Maleficarumm