This is something I’ve been losing myself in. The overall story is still a work in progress, but this chapter is complete (at 6,500 words – whew). I was inspired by a Writing Prompt of Dragon Age concept art I posted, and have decided to write more by breaking it into chapters according to the game’s timeline. Some references will be more clear if you’ve played the game, but I’ve tried to explain a few things without hindering the story. It is currently PG, but I intend to write a few racy scenes as relationships develop. Enjoy!
Chapter One: The Brecilian Forest
We’d been on the road for just over a month when we finally made our way into The Brecilian Forest; a forest rumored to be haunted and worse. With the Grey Warden treaties in hand, we had decided it would be best to start in the forest located in the south east of Ferelden before heading west towards Castle Redcliffe to meet with the Arl, who we learned had fallen ill. We would then head north to Orzammar to meet with the dwarves, then southeast around the northern edge of Lake Calenhad to gain the assistance of the mages in the Circle Tower, my home.
The forest was beautiful and vast and I could feel the magic of it coursing through every branch and stone. The first couple of nights were fairly sleepless as the sounds of the various occupants made their presence known. Although somewhat unsettling, I still found some solace in its majesty, maybe in part because I felt a freedom I was unaccustomed to, and maybe because of the magic here. It was primal and natural, untouched and limitless.
On the third day, we found the nomadic Dalish elves who were currently encamped within its borders. We needed the Dalish to honor their treaty with the Wardens, but they, themselves, had fallen on hard times. A werewolf plague was ravaging their clan. Their Keeper, or leader, Zathrian, asked for our assistance, and who were we to deny them aid? If the clan were extinguished, there would be no one to honor the pact.
The Dalish were at first timid of our presence, but soon warmed when they learned we were there, in part, to help. The first night around the campfire was unlike anything I had experienced before. There was a feeling of family and of unity, they shared stories and what little food they had. Their hunters had been limited in their excursions into the forest while under threat of the werewolves, so their food supplies were running low.
I can’t imagine what they thought upon seeing Sten, our hulking Qunari companion, in regards to what and how much he might eat. Sten was thankful for whatever they were willing to share, making a side comment to Alistair that they might need to kill one of the halla, the Dalish’s stag like creatures used for pulling their landships. Alistair shook his head vehemently, explaining in hushed tones that the halla were not just beasts to the Dalish but their companions. Sten half shrugged, but I could tell he was still hungry from his internment in Lothering.
Hunger was a pressing issue, especially with Sten, and would take immediate precedence upon our journey into the forest. I would take care of all my companions while they were in my care. It was strange to feel so protective of virtual strangers, but our journey was such that trust was given quickly, even if not completely earned as yet. It had to be, as most situations we encountered were life or death. We had already endured blighted creatures, Loghain’s men, thieves, and angry mobs, and so far we had each other’s backs.
As I sat around that fire the first night, more at peace than I had felt since before leaving the tower, I was inclined to wish that the circumstances were different. As if the impending Blight was not enough of a threat, there was also Loghain’s treachery inciting civil war, in addition to this current small matter of the werewolves. It was surprising how far away all those things seemed while snuggled around a fire in a forest surrounded by newfound friends and the lilting songs of the Dalish. I looked up to the night sky, so dark and clear, speckled with the sparkling dust of starlight, and found myself thinking that if the situation hadn’t been so dire, I could almost revel in the moment.
The Dalish retreated to their landships for rest and cover, while my companions and I remained around the fire. Keiko, my faithful mabari, had found a young elven girl to draw his attention and he padded after her as she entered her home. His absence left me chilled as the fire died, since he had been my constant bedfellow since leaving Ostagar. I’m not sure when it happened, but I remember shivering in the night, and soon thereafter finding that Alistair had drawn near. His back was to mine, and his added body heat helped relieve the chill. I had been so tired, felt so comfortable, and the fire had been so warm, that I had quickly fallen into a heavy sleep. Something I could not afford to do.
I could feel Alistair’s steady breathing, and feel when he shivered as well. If he was chilled, even being close to me, then the rest of our party must be that much colder. Half dazed, I had to remind myself that I was capable of reigniting the fire. Leaning up on one elbow, I focused, albeit not well, on the task at hand. I imagined the fire, felt the warmth of the idea spread until it was living flame at my fingertips. I sent the spark into the fire where it grew and administered its warmth. The amber glow was a welcome sight, and I settled back snuggly against Alistair. That’s when I heard his sigh.
I didn’t understand it. It was almost as if his breath had caught, then he released it unevenly. He didn’t move, didn’t let on that he might be awake, but I knew he was. I turned and leaned on him gently to ask if he was all right. His body tensed and he muttered he was fine. “Are you certain? Is there anything I can do?” Was my response, to which he chuckled lightly and reassured me that he was well and that I should get back to sleep. Utterly confused, I did as he bid. I turned over, snuggled against him again, and relaxed even further when I felt him do the same.
I couldn’t explain what had just happened, but something had changed. The next day, it was almost as if he were trying to avoid me. It seemed a foolish notion, but I barely saw him, and since our near death experience at Ostagar, he had barely left my side. He and Sten saw to having everyone’s weapons and armor tended to, as well as speaking with members of the clan to find out what they could about the werewolf threat. The girls and I used our healing abilities to aid those suffering. Even Morrigan had been persuaded to use her talents. Later in the day, Morrigan and I used our alchemy skills to make poultices, not only for ourselves, but for the elves as well. It felt good to be able to offer something back in light of their hospitality. Leliana spent the rest of her day with The Keeper’s assistant in her continuing effort to expand her knowledge base of the world.
Keiko, on the other hand, had found himself to be quite popular among the Dalish children. He was relishing all the attention. I had to remind him that he wouldn’t be able keep any of them as he was my war dog and not a nursemaid. He didn’t take kindly to the comparison. When I found him later that evening with colorful bows tied about his neck and tail, and a look of sheer embarrassment upon his face, I reminded him of our earlier conversation. I received a bark of admission, a gentle nuzzle, and I was persuaded to remove his adornments.
That evening, Alistair delayed at joining us around the fire and kept his distance until we finally settled in for our rest. Leliana, with her inquisitive eyes, questioned, “What has happened?” to which I could only respond with a half-truth, because I was still unsure myself. He was careful to not make eye contact with me, and when we all finally laid down, he did not resume his place beside me. I rested my back upon one of the tree logs around the fire, a makeshift bench, with Keiko’s head in my lap while I stared into the fire trying to assess our current situation, Alistair, and what the coming days might bring.
I unraveled the numerous small braids weaved throughout my long hair, smiling at the thought of the elven girls who had been so excited to have such a challenge. I hadn’t noticed initially, but many of the elven women kept their hair short, while mine hung to my waist. I was finally able to give it a good washing in the nearby river, and then allowed the girls to have their fun. As I sat there, my mind wandering, and my hands working of their own accord, I didn’t notice right away that I an audience. It was Keiko who brought that to my attention when he grunted at the culprit.
Alistair, too, was sitting up, but there was a look upon his face as he watched me that I couldn’t describe. He was slow to respond to Keiko’s notice of him, and when he finally did, he looked embarrassed. He quickly averted his eyes, but after a moment, looked back and whispered, “I apologize for my behavior today.” I raised an eyebrow and countered, “Have I done something to offend you?” His features softened and the smile that touched not only his lips but his eyes as well was sweet as he replied, “Never.” With a final good night, he turned away from me to finally sleep.
My stomach flipped at that smile. It’s not that I was naïve to what was happening, there was the Templar Cullen who had long been an admirer of mine, but he had always been so guarded. I had never once seen the look I had just received from Alistair upon Cullen’s face. Maybe, in part, because Cullen had always known that at the time of my Harrowing, if I had failed to pass my test, he would have had to strike me down. Cullen had barely ever spoken a word to me, most likely trying to keep his distance from those he was sworn to guard and protect, but the rumors had persisted. I had tried to talk to him on occasion, but he grew flustered and usually made some comment about having to return to his duties. On one of the High Holidays, he had taken my hand in his, a welcoming gesture of a greeting, but just as quickly he had dropped it and scurried away. Cullen was an attractive man, he seemed honorable, but I truly knew nothing about him because he would not allow it. This was different, and I was quickly becoming aware of that fact, and for me, this was a first.
The following morning, fully rested and re-supplied, we headed deeper into the forest in search of Witherfang, the source of and the solution to the outbreak, according to The Keeper. The veil was thin here, and demons took advantage of the unsuspecting. The magic I wielded flowed even greater here, and I tossed fireballs and ice spears with ease, but there was a wildness in it, and the loss of self-control worried me as we continued on, but I took care not to mention it to my companions. Only once did Alistair take note of my appearance as I single-handedly brought an ogre to its knees. After pulling his sword from its neck, he hopped off of it with an unexpected grace, and then gave me a long lingering look.
He didn’t have to say anything. Alistair had no false pretenses; all his emotions and concerns were in his eyes. I felt my skin betray me; a warmth that started around my midsection worked its way up into my cheeks, which I initially regarded as embarrassment or shame, but turned to something else, and I had to turn away. Foolish girl.
We happened upon a few darkspawn, clearly part of a roving scout party, which we dealt with easily enough, but seeing their twisted corpses reminded us of why we were here in the first place. They were the plague. We hastened our pace, dealing with adversaries, of which there were many, quickly, knowing we still had quite the journey ahead of us. It seemed every thing in the forest was hostile, even the trees attacked us. It was no wonder the rumors abounded. There were probably only a handful of people who had ever survived such a place. It was a wonder the Dalish had chosen such an environment to settle in, even for a short while.
We took shifts during the dark hours, watching over each other as we slept. At one point I caught myself staring at Alistair longer than I should have. The feelings were new, and I was hesitant in exploring them, mainly because I didn’t know…anything. I let my eyes take their time upon his frame. I gave myself permission, and let down my guard. He was sleeping soundly, or so I believed, until his eyes opened and a small smile crossed his face. I intended to turn away immediately, but I didn’t. I returned the smile hesitantly, and it was then he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Alistair, the ex-Templar, now senior Grey Warden, was more than just those titles, although I didn’t know that much more. I knew he was somewhat of an orphan, raised in the Chantry, but he had spoken little of himself as yet. He had cared for Duncan a great deal, and I knew he was still struggling to overcome the loss, in part because he felt that he had been left all alone. He had a strange sense of humor, but he had a certain levity, and there was a genuine likability about him. Although he and Morrigan were constantly at each other’s throats, I didn’t think him possible of harming her, even if he feared what she was capable of. She was still such an unknown. His hair was always tousled just so, he was the first to rush in, and the first to laugh at himself, or so I was learning. He was also kind, generous, and sensitive. I happened to notice one day that he was still carrying a rose he had found outside of Lothering. What I knew of him so far, I liked, a great deal.
But then again, there are those moments two people share that bond them, and maybe it was just that. He had been with me during my joining ceremony. We had cleared the Tower of Ishal together. We had escaped death, together. We were the last of the Wardens in Ferelden, trying to unite the country, branded traitors. I shouldn’t read more into it, besides, who ever heard of a tale of a mage and a Templar, even an ex-Templar, relationship ending well? Relationship? I shook my head to dismiss the thoughts that were clearly running wild and turned my attention back to the forest.
The forest was ancient, and various races had once called this place home, as evidenced by the ruins scattered about. Trees and vines now grew about the remnants, and because of its hostile nature, there were still treasures to be found. We found a large cave that had been crafted into a useable space with steps cut out of the earth to make passage to the lower level more accessible. Alistair and Sten entered first, weapons drawn, with Keiko trailing shortly after. Morrigan, the apostate, and Leliana, the mysterious former sister of the Chantry trailed in after, leaving me to take up the rear.
The moss that had grown over the stairs made the descent difficult. As a Circle mage, my leather boots were not crafted for such action. I held my staff high, with the tip illuminated for better visibility in one hand, while the other gripped the wall for stability. Sometimes as my hand continued down the wall and touched things unseen, I was thankful for the dark.
Small cracks in the ground above allowed for the faintest light to shine down. The long undisturbed earth put dust into the air that danced in the streaks. It would catch the eye, and then I would see other shapes in the darkness. I knew it was only my imagination, but I was left uneasy by those imperceptible things.
Repeatedly I heard foot slips and subsequent swears in multiple tongues as we continued our way down, the path growing ever more steep and treacherous. The path curved slightly and it was then I could see the light expanding and feel the shift in temperature. A few more steps and we were all standing at the base of the stairs and at the same time the ledge to something greater. We found ourselves in awe.
The cave was merely an entrance to a lost world. Majestic trees with roots twice the size of Sten snaked their way upwards to the divide in the earth above. My eyes followed their path to the Brecilian Forest overhead trying to invade this space as well. The trees and the thick underbrush made the light that did find its way down work hard to do so. As our eyes adjusted to our new surroundings, we were all surprised to find that this had once been a people’s home. Perfect ruins remained intact throughout the space. Leliana was the first to whisper how remarkable the people must have to create something so beautiful, and so remote.
Leliana was a bit of a mystery. Having found us in the tavern in Lothering, she had aided us against Loghain’s men then insisted that the Maker had told her to help us. Alistair had made an off-handed remark about being “all stocked up on crazy”, but there was something about her that I was immediately drawn to. There was an innocence about her, but also a strength she was trying to hide. She had her faith, was quick with her bow, and could pick any lock. She was a wealth of information, knowing a great deal about many of the regions we were to visit upon this journey, in addition to wonderful stories she shared while we sat around the fire in camp. She was also stealthy and able to obtain information otherwise unavailable. She had quickly made her presence invaluable, and Alistair was quick to recant his earlier statement. The innocence about her also made her eyes wide whenever she encountered something of great interest or beauty, like now.
The stone columns were each detailed with artwork or text. There were clear indications that this had once been a center of activity; remnants that maybe they had left in haste. We remained in a state of awe as we took in the scene before us, but remained in silence to listen for the rusting of its inhabitants, of which there must be some. I grappled with the idea of a mage light, a floating orb of illumination; for fear that it might draw attention to us. Although, the space was large enough that if we did end up in a fight we could easily spread out and defend ourselves, or retreat if necessary.
I conjured the image of the light in my mind. I felt its warmth spread through me towards my hands. I clenched my left fist tight, allowing the magic and my will to bind my desire and then released the light into the air. It hovered a few feet above me, like a halo, lighting the area around me as I moved. Alistair’s voice cracked when he tried to break the silence. We all shared a small laugh as he cleared his throat and tried again. “Shall we continue?” We all murmured our agreement.
It was Sten who took the lead then; making his way down the hazardous makeshift steps that would lead us all to the cavern floor. He cleared the first step easily with his long stride, the same step that would require the rest of us to jump, so Alistair helped each of us proceed while Sten made sure we reached the bottom unharmed.
Sten, the stoic and unlikeliest of companions, a Qunari warrior imprisoned for a crime he had admitted to, was quickly becoming a valuable asset to our cause. He had been caged for weeks without a sentence because there was no one willing to exact one upon him. He was twice the size of any man, with a face and a brusque temper that any sane person should fear, but the day we found him, we all knew what a pity it would be to see him lost to the Blight. He was proud, and from a land we, none of us, understood. He had lost his sword, and in turn, lost his identity and lashed out. Talking to him was to talk in circles most of the time, but I was slowly starting to understand him. He appreciated fine things, and saw most situations as black and white, a useful tactic, most of the time. I liked him, and I knew he was warming to me, despite his best efforts. It was my intention to kill him with kindness, and my know-how, because I knew that was what he would respect.
And then there it was, the simplest of gestures, the helping hand. Alistair’s hand reached out to mine, and my eyes became fixated on the movement. He had kind hands. His Templar training and his short years with the Wardens had not yet embittered him. The palms were lightly calloused from his weapon’s training, and the fingers were long and nimble. How odd to find myself drawn to them. I had never noticed anyone else’s hands before. Even while in training at the Circle did I only watch the magic spread throughout a fellow mage’s limbs, not the physical details of them. I felt that strange warmth again, felt it burning in my cheeks. This would be the first contact; unlike the brushing against one another as we had in battle, my assisting him with his armor, or the binding of each other’s wounds, this would be, I don’t know, personal?
Anyone outside the Circle would never dare touch a mage. We were something to be feared, or so the rumors and the Templars would have you believe. And so most mages lived in isolation and fear, a fear of our own design at the ever-present threat we endured from those afraid of us. A cycle of fear; we all feared the unknown. In the Circle, we did not even greet one another with hugs or even handshakes, so we lived solitary existences with very little contact. The thought that an ex-Templar would now take my hand willingly was not only laughable, but a strange and almost unheard of occurrence. But when I looked into Alistair’s eyes, my trepidation fell away. It was Alistair.
I looked directly into his eyes as I let my hand slide into his. I felt each of us respond. My blush consumed me, and I somehow passed it to him as well. I saw the rosy glow touch his cheeks. I was reminded of the other night around the fire, and his response to my touch. We shared an impish smile, while his grip tightened, and drew me closer. I felt my feet move forward of their own volition. I felt my body relax. I had to wonder if it was his Templar training? Templars had the ability to negate magic, so perhaps this is what it felt like to be neutralized. But I didn’t truly believe that. Could it just be…
I didn’t have a chance to finish that thought as I saw the glimmer of magic rush toward me. Standing on the ledge, with my mage light above me, I was a beacon, and I had been noticed. With one hand on my staff that I was also using as a walking stick, so one end was stuck in the earth, and my other hand in Alistair’s, I could not defend myself. I was struck, and struck hard. Cold hard magic consumed me and I was flung backward. I felt Alistair’s hand slip away as spasms racked my body. The crushing prison. I would have used that spell first myself, had I not been distracted.
I could barely think clearly as pain shot through every inch of my being. The prison had this side effect of lifting its victim mid-air while it inflicted its pain, my feet dangled pathetically just above the ground. I would remain helpless for a short time, unable to offer support to my companions, defend myself, or even be released unless the casting mage was incapacitated mid-spell. The pain was too intense to do anything beyond riding the waves as they ebbed and flowed. I could barely see beyond the glimmer of the surrounding bubble of magic, so I could not tell how many enemies were present or how my companions were faring. Surprisingly, I could make out the form of Morrigan standing just in front of me as my guardian.
Morrigan, considered an apostate, was a powerful shape-shifting mage, hardened and mistrustful from years of the solitary existence she shared with only her mother as her confidante, had become an unlikely ally. She was honest, brutally so, and had lived a life so different from my own, that she sometimes pitied me, and I her, but we shared a common bond, magic, and a respect for one another’s gifts, and thus the beginnings of a friendship had been born. She was quick to react, both physically and verbally, and she was powerful, a useful instrument in a fight.
I truly believed that her only real problem with Alistair was the fact that he had once been trained as a Templar, an apostate hunter, in addition to their other duties. And maybe that he was too nice, something she felt was a falsehood. Their banter made for entertainment, especially under such dark times, but they had seemed to come to some unspoken agreement, and the bitter edge in their tones had alleviated over the course of our journey together. She was, after all, the first person to join our cause. I felt her reach into the prison, trying to diffuse it, but pulling back quickly from the searing pain. I heard a muffled expletive, maybe from the pain or her lack in ability of freeing me, or both. I appreciated her effort nonetheless.
The dull sounds of metal striking objects were distorted, as was Keiko’s low warning growl, and the commanding shouts of Sten and Alistair as they ordered everyone into position for defense. There were strange sounds filling the cavern, multiple strange sounds. I felt the prison’s effect waning, the spell was nearly at an end. I would have to react the moment it released me, having been weakened dramatically from the spell and its subsequent pain, and thus opening myself up for further attack.
Freedom. The moment my feet touched the ground, I sent out a shock wave to stun the surrounding enemies; just long enough for me to get my bearings and for us all to regroup. Alistair and Sten were both below on the cavern floor, with Leliana on the makeshift stairway, her bow at the ready. Morrigan and I were still on the ledge above, and she was swelling with power. My spell took what energy I had left, and I fell to the ground exhausted, but I was able to see what had decided to infiltrate our group. Spiders. Enormous, horrifying spiders.
At the rear of the cavern, where it led beyond, stood a being distorted by the forest itself, a mage, perhaps once, but now a vessel for the magic of the forest. Vines and branches entwined its legs and torso. The skin had turned green, mostly, with hair that stood on end, twisted into a bizarre mass caked with mud and flora. It held no staff, but called forth energy from all the life forms surrounding it. This is what might lie in store for me here, if I dared to give into the wild, unharnessed side of my nature. I involuntarily shivered at the prospect.
In the few short moments of quiet while my spell kept our enemies still, I called out to my companions as they drew nearer to the creature to not strike at it. Although it had commanded the spiders and every other facet of this environment, I had the innate understanding that it was only protecting its home. There was no reason to strike it down, if anything, it may be helpful to our cause.
I couldn’t tell if the being was a man or woman from this vantage, only that it had sacrificed itself at some point to become the creature of flesh and forest before me. The spiders sprung into action again, and they were too dangerous a threat not to fight. I returned my attention to the being and ensnared it in a force field. I did not wish to inflict harm, but I had to keep it distracted and immobile.
Once the spiders were vanquished and we had the opportunity to regroup, I moved closer to the being to get a better look, despite the protests of my friends. My spell had worn off, and it seethed with anger and vibrated with powerful energy, but I was compelled to try to speak to it, something about the idea of it having once been a mage.
Along our journey, Alistair had created a holster for my staff. It was a leather strap that I could easily wear across one shoulder so that when I was not using magic, I could be free of the added burden of carrying my weapon. I tucked my staff into its new place upon my back, and gingerly pushed Alistair’s pleading hands aside. I looked into his eyes, his concern for me so visible, that I had to bite back the smile that threatened to break free.
“It will be all right, “ I reassured him resting one hand upon his unshaven cheek. I probably shouldn’t have done that. The heated moment elevated, now fueled further with a desire neither of us was prepared for. We gazed into one another’s eyes for a moment as we both wrestled with our newfound feelings. An interrupting cough from Sten was all that was needed to break the spell. With a heavy, submissive groan, Alistair finally acquiesced and stepped aside. My fingers twitched at the loss of contact, and internally I winced. This was not the time.
I took my first few pensive steps with my hands before me in a conciliatory gesture, all the while my companions still at the ready. Both Leliana and Morrigan voiced a final word of caution, to which I nodded silently. As I drew nearer, I was able to make out that the being had in fact been a woman at one time. The body was thin and lithe, with soft curves at the hips and breasts; the remnants of which lay hidden beneath the vines that meandered upwards. The face was shielded in a mask of mud and greenery, but what remained visible were radiant blue eyes, a long, thin nose, and full lips. Beneath it all, there was still a lovely woman.
I called out softly, in a reassuring tone, that we were not there to harm her. We had happened upon this cave and we were not there to destroy it, her, or her companions, although it had been necessary to defend ourselves. I saw as she worked every word over in her mind in an effort to understand something long forgotten. Her tension alleviated with every word. I stopped a few feet short, not wanting to scare her away, or scare her into greater action. She was powerful, and I wasn’t certain I would be able to resist another direct assault. Her eyes were full of emotion; confusion, fear, and relief. When she reached a hand out to me, I heard from behind me the collective voices of dissent.
This mage, whoever she had once been, was a lost soul. However she had come to become this twisted abomination, she had once been human. Everything about her called out to me to comfort her, to offer her solace. Maybe it was because I was a mage as well. Maybe it was because life has many paths, and choices made can forever alter those paths. I had been relegated to the Circle, a mage, branded a threat, but now I was free of those chains. I had been given a chance to do so much more, not only for myself, but my fellow mages, my country, and my new friends; a ragtag band of warriors. Perhaps there was something I could do for her.
Our eyes locked. I saw a world in those eyes. They had seen much. I let my hand touch hers, and I was filled with a sadness I could barely contain. She wasn’t human, as I had first suspected, but an elf, who had survived from long ago, from the war. Through the touch of our hands, she was able to show me all the events that had led her to today. Flashes really, but the pain and suffering were there, along with the desires and hopes, the love of her people, the sadness at the loss. She had come to the forest in search of answers, for the strength and power to help her people overcome the shackles that would forever strip them of their identity.
I could only cry in response. The story of the enslavement of the elves was well known. Long, hard years had wiped away their language, their customs, their heritage, and their pride until they were just lowly servants in the realm of men. The thought tasted like ash in my mouth. This was a mage who had only sought a solution, but had somehow become one with the forest, an enslavement of her own. After the burst of thoughts, her mind finally quieted, and she became calm. She had been alone with only the creatures of the forest as her companions all these many years. There were flashes of others, but they had all run in fear, and then only one thought remained. Release. My cries grew, as did my understanding.
“What’s happening?” Alistair finally asked.
I shook my head hard, trying to send her thoughts of our journey, and how she could be a part of it as a worthy ally to our cause, if she chose, to be a part of life again. She tried to smile, something she probably hadn’t done in ages, and I felt that she was thankful that someone had finally been willing to spare her a moment. It was almost too much to bear. I couldn’t fathom the existence she had been subject to.
“She wishes me to end her suffering.” I said flatly, to which Sten and Morrigan both agreed would be a kindness. She nodded. I asked her name, and her brow furrowed as she tried to remember. We sat together in silence and her head started to shake sideways as if she was mentally chastising herself for being unable to remember, then she let out a ragged scoff, a sound that startled everyone, including herself. In her mind, she was laughing, laughing for a hundred reasons, with only one that mattered. She would be happy in the end.
Leliana surprised us all when she asked if I would prefer her to take the final action. I shook my head, and responded, “I should be the one.” The being nodded and thanked me.
I mentally asked if she was ready, if there was anything she wished to do before, to which I heard her respond that she had already lived enough lifetimes, and that my kindness was the last thing she needed. She asked if there was anything I desired. The tears started again. After everything she had endured, she was still willing to offer something of herself. I told her not to worry, that our journey was a mere trifle in comparison. I heard her laugh again, and she touched my cheek.
She looked into my eyes with a wisdom that needed no words, but I heard her say, “The path you have been set upon will be rife with challenges and decisions you are unprepared for. Follow your heart.” Then she rested her hand upon my head and transferred to me some of her knowledge of The Fade and a few of the tricks in magic she had learned along the way. I glowed with my newfound power, and I felt stronger.
When her hand fell away, she bowed her head, prepared for the next part of her journey. I stifled my tears, drew my small dagger, and plunged it into the side of her chest into her heart. She made not a sound, but looked into my eyes one last time as life left her, to be with someone who understood her in the end. She was at peace.
I pulled my dagger from her and fell hard upon the ground as I watched her crumple to the floor. A moment later, Alistair’s arms were around me in a consoling embrace, and I clung to him as if he were a lifeline, having never felt the pain of loss so keenly before.
I had been a child when I had been sent to the Tower, I barely remembered my parents. What I did remember was a feeling of betrayal. I had rarely cried since, only a few times when I lost a friend to the Harrowing. I had shed a few tears upon learning of Duncan’s death, and felt a heavy heart because of what it meant for Alistair, but the emotion of betrayal far outweighed any other. Loghain thought us weak, thought us outnumbered, and that would be his downfall; his lack of understanding in what we were capable of.
She had shown me what an individual could do, even if it had ended for her differently than she intended. If I followed my heart, as she suggested, there was no telling what I might do. There was a thrill in that knowledge. I was not only a mage on the brink of great things, but I was a Grey Warden with a country to protect.
I wiped away my tears, took Alistair’s arm for support to stand, and turned determined eyes to my friends. I think they were taken a little aback from the change in my demeanor, but they all agreed when I finally said, “Let’s save the elves.”
V – Epilogue
Our time in The Brecilian Forest had had this strange side effect of separating us from the rest of the world; sheltered under the imposing canopy, removed from the impending threats, distanced from other people, and fighting trees, werewolves, and every other thing the forest housed had left us disjointed. A few weeks trekking through that unforgiving forest, discovering the source of the curse and its repercussions, had left us reeling in the aftermath. The first sight of the bright red sails of the Dalish’s landships were a welcome sight and the first sense of relief we had felt since we had last seen them.
Since the incident in the cave, I had steeled myself a bit in regards to my emotions, especially those toward Alistair. I had allowed my feelings to become a distraction, and that was something none of us could afford. A mage with a lack of focus was not a companion anyone would wish for; my magic would be stunted and ineffectual, my aim would be off, and I could inflict harm to anyone nearby, even if unintentionally. I could be dangerous all the same, or more so. I had to do my best to reclaim some modicum of my level-headedness if not for anything but the safety of my friends.
It had been difficult to distance myself from Alistair, but our circumstances were such that we had to stay together as a group at almost all times, which left little time for private side conversations. It was only when we were spread out as we made our way carefully through the forest that we sometimes paired off, but even then, I would stay near either Morrigan or Leliana while Alistair and Keiko led and Sten took up the rear.
At times I had heard Alistair talking to Keiko and Keiko barking a response. The mabari were an extremely smart breed, and made for wonderful companions in part because of their understanding. They were also intuitive, resourceful, and lethal. So when I would hear the two of them having a sort of conversation, I had to swallow back the emotions that would inevitably surface at such a show of affection. It was clear they liked one another, and such devotion from a mabari was a testament to a person’s character. Keiko liked everyone in our party, which only led me to believe further in each of them. I had known on some level that I could trust them, and if Keiko did too, then they must be worthy, but he had taken a special liking to Alistair.
One night as we all huddled together around a small fire we had built in the alcove of the remains of a structure, Keiko had stood guard for a short while. Occasionally, he would make a round to make sure we were all well, then return to his post, alert and ready. I didn’t sleep while he was on duty, but I soon discovered none of us had. It was not that we didn’t trust that he would alert us to trouble, or protect us if necessary, but there was something about keeping him company that we all silently agreed to. When he would make a round, he would sort of nudge each of us, and we would all smile in return and give him a pat or an encouraging word. At one point, Alistair finally agreed to keep him company and the two of them bounded off into the darkness.
I felt my heart constrict in that moment. I watched Keiko walk proudly beside Alistair, whose chainmail glistened in the light of the fire, with one hand sitting casually on the hilt of his sword, the other patting Keiko as they discussed their strategy.
“There is no need to fight so hard against it.” Leliana whispered. Her insinuation was coupled with a slight of her head in Alistair’s direction.
“There is every reason.” I countered, barely keeping the edge of my emotions from my voice. I could feel them bubbling to the surface, along with the hundreds of thoughts I had had since that episode in the cave. There were too many unknowns, and we were surrounded by danger and death at every turn. It was unlikely either of us would survive until the end, whatever that actually meant.
I swallowed hard and pushed all those emotions and thoughts down. This was neither the time nor place, if such could even exist. We were duty bound, and every thing else was a foolish notion, a daydream. It didn’t seem a bad idea to have something to hope for, but the threat of loss was too great, and the subsequent pain might be too much to bear, depending on how long things carried on before they came to an abrupt halt.
Morrigan interjected. “When at war, certain…relationships occur, for the sole purpose of their necessity to maintain a sense of stability in a violent world. Perhaps you could look at Alistair in that regard. You need not look beyond the need for comfort, although I would recommend someone, well, less him.” There was the faintest hint of amusement teasing her lips.
We were all taken aback when Sten joined in, “He would most likely take instructions well”, to which we all laughed. Our giggles prompted even the gruff Qunari to break a smile, or what could be considered a smile, as none of us had ever seen one on him before.
To be continued in Redcliffe…