Chapter 1: Sylvanna's Final Adventure
Things you should know for this part: At the end of the Blight, Alistair agreed to marry Anora; the warden left Denerim to pursue Morrigan, who is carrying Alistair's Old-God-soul child.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the confusion that characterised Denerim in the days after the end of the Blight, King Alistair found it easy enough to slip away from Arl Eamon's watchful gaze. "Leliana," he called out, running down one of the long hallways in the city's palace.
She turned, smiling and resplendent even in her leathers, the armour now freshly cleaned and oiled. She bore an over-stuffed knapsack with easy grace, her bow slung over the other shoulder.
"You're leaving? So soon? But I thought-"
"Alistair. I was just looking for you."
"To say goodbye."
She inclined her head, her eyes drifting to the doors at the far end of the corridor, leading out to the courtyard. "My place is not here. You have many fine advisers, good people who will help you..."
"I - I was going to ask if you wanted to stay in Ferelden," he stammered. "Not here, necessarily - not unless you wanted to, of course, Maker knows I would love to have you stay - I mean, there's the darkspawn, someone ought to launch an investigation, go into the Deep Roads and see what more we can learn of them-"
"Alistair. I am no Grey Warden. Now that the Blight is over, I thought..." she shrugged , her eyes distant. "Since Marjolaine is gone, perhaps it is time I returned to Orlais."
Alistair's heart sank, and he was sure that it must have been obvious in his face, judging by her look of concern.
"But how are you coping?" Leliana asked. "It must be hard for you, yes? A royal wedding to plan, refugees to oversee, the cleanup of the city... I do not envy you at all."
"Don't remind me. Why did I agree to this again? Anora would have been a great ruler on her own, absolutely brilliant at all this - this," he gestured wildly, somehow trying to encompass all of his new duties with the one, sweeping movement.
Leliana sighed, placing a hand on his arm. "It will not be easy, Alistair." Her mouth quirked into a smile. "But I am sure that you will do what needs to be done."
He breathed out. This was not her burden to bear; it was his. "Do you think we will ever see her again?"
Leliana froze for a moment, then smiled. "I hope so. But..."
"You fear the worst."
"Perhaps I will write the coda to her story," she mused, sounding distant, as if she was already thinking of verses and rhymes.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I mean, she's not dead yet. We don't know how it ends."
A cloud must have moved over or something, because in that moment, a stray beam of sunlight shone through the window, illuminating Leliana's hair in a blaze of coppery gold. Alistair wondered why it had taken him this long to realise just how beautiful she was.
"After you and I are long gone, it shall not be the truth that remains in people's hearts and minds. It will be the stories." She shrugged."I will weave her an ending to be proud of. Something that she can be remembered by."
"Does it matter that it isn't, you know, real?" he asked, trying not to stammer. "That you can't be sure if it truly happened that way?"
Leliana smiled, and there was something in her face that seemed so achingly, terribly sad. "I will write to you, when I reach Orlais," she promised. "I will send you what I have composed, and... you can decide for yourself."
Then this was goodbye. Alistair was becoming terribly sick of goodbyes. He pulled her into a crushing hug, heedless of decorum, and felt her relax after a moment. "I'm keeping you to that promise. Even if I have to send an army of diplomats after you. So you'd better stay in touch."
Leliana squeezed his hand, her eyes bright. "Au revoir, my friend."
It was almost a year before Alistair received her letter, travel-stained and worn. He opened it eagerly, recognising Leliana's fine, copperplate writing on the envelope.
He found himself laughing at her wry descriptions of Val Royeaux and her citizens, at the stories she told about those she had met on her journey. It seemed she had not lingered in Orlais, but instead had kept moving, though her next destination was not entirely clear.
Instead of a ballad, he found several pages of narrative, the sheets blotted with corrections. An original, then, perhaps the only copy. Lighting a fresh taper, he took the manuscript in his hands and began to read.
Sylvanna's Final Adventure
At the end of the Fifth Blight, Sylvanna Surana found herself alone.
She was a mage forged from the heat of battle and the unending grind of duty, a soul marked by the long and tortuous path that had led her towards her great triumph over the Archdemon Urthemiel and the darkspawn horde that had threatened Ferelden. She had made sacrifices that would have destroyed lesser men. She had endured evil, conquered avarice and united entire nations against the Blight.
She was the Hero of Ferelden.
This is her final story.
The hero loved a woman, raven-haired and pale of skin. Her name was Morrigan, and she was an apostate, a Witch of the Wilds. The two women could not have been more dissimilar. They were both beautiful, but where the hero was kind and caring, the witch was cold and haughty; where the hero was patient and loving, the witch was fractious and deceptive.
And yet, the two of them loved each other, as much as any two people could in times of uncertainty and war. Their love shone like a beacon of the Maker's own light, a triumph over evil, a force for good.
Until Morrigan betrayed her.
It was on the eve of battle, before the final march to Denerim to quell the darkspawn threat for once and for all. Unbeknownst to our hero, her lover had made a dark and dangerous pact with a demon in a bid for power. Morrigan cornered Sylvanna, offering her a choice: join with her and the demon, and share in their deadly secret, or Morrigan would leave her, forever.
It broke Sylvanna's heart to do so, but she could not possibly assent to such an evil plot. She begged her lover to change her mind, to renounce the demon and to help her defeat it, together, but the witch was resolute.
Morrigan fled that night, despite the hero's pleas, and Sylvanna did not pursue her.
Grieving and deeply hurt by her lover's betrayal, Sylvanna nevertheless ended the fifth Blight by defeating the Archdemon and ushering in a new era of peace.
Before the dust and ash had settled, she fled into the night, searching for her former lover, to right the wrongs the witch had committed. She searched long and hard, with her faithful mabari companion by her side. Over hill and dale, down through the mountains and into the forests, the seasons passed her one by one, autumn turning into winter, winter turning into spring.
At long last, she reached her destination: the house of Morrigan, the Witch of the Wilds. It rose up in the middle of the woods like a strange mushroom sprouting from the depths of the wilderness. As the hero approached it, her mabari's hackles rose and he growled deep in his throat, recognising the evil within.
The hero stood outside the house, and called out, "Morrigan! I demand you reveal yourself to me!" but there was no answer.
Summoning her great magic, the hero whipped up a tempest so fierce, it blew the roof of the house clean off. Aggravated by this disturbance, the witch finally revealed herself and ventured outside.
"Why, 'tis you," the witch said with a mocking laugh, her cruel eyes glinting with a yellowish glow. "Why are you here?"
"I have come to bring you to justice," the hero replied, and her dog barked in perfect agreement. "I have come to slay the demon that you protect."
"That will not be an easy task," the witch sneered. She began to walk towards the hero, but Sylvanna stood her ground and did not back away. "The demon possesses magic that is most formidable indeed, and I myself am a powerful sorceress. How did you intend to defeat our combined might?"
The hero held out her hands to the witch, showing her that she came unarmed. "I come to offer you peace, Morrigan," she said. "I still love you. I do not wish to fight."
The witch laughed haughtily at the hero's words. "Fool," she sneered. "Such things mean nothing to me. I will defeat you, and that will be the end of your folly."
At the witch's pronouncement, a great crack sounded in the air. It was the demon, emerging from the ruins of the house. It was a great, huge thing, taller than an ogre and as hideous as a shriek. Its enormous maw was covered in old blood, and its long, black claws dripped with venomous poison.
"Who dares disturb my slumber?" the demon roared.
"This pitiful elf does, Your Eminence," the witch replied, as she pointed towards the hero.
"Demon," the hero challenged, "I will send you back from whence you came!"
With that, she began to cast a spell. Her faithful mabari ran circles around the demon, nipping at its heels and distracting it as his mistress wove her magic; he knocked the witch down flat on her back, stealing her staff from her and tossing it into the brush so that she could not use it against his mistress.
The hero cast a spell that wreathed the demon in lightning, and the beast roared in anger, furious that such a tiny mortal had hurt it.
The fight was long and bloody. Many times it seemed certain that the hero would fall, riddled by myriad slashes and gaping wounds inflicted by the demon, but every time the hero would heal herself using magic, and the fight would begin anew.
At last, the demon collapsed, bested by a combination of the hero's most powerful spells. The ground shook as it landed heavily, its body turning foul and putrid in its death.
With the demon dead, Morrigan was freed of the evil curse it had placed upon her, that had forced her to betray the hero and all she had once loved.
"I was a fool," Morrigan whispered. She was dying, having suffered a mortal wound at the jaws of the hero's mabari, and her blood stained the ground red. "Can you forgive me?" she asked.
"Gladly," the hero replied. She lay next to the witch, her own body riddled with the demon's deadly poison. She clasped Morrigan's hand with her own, and saw the witch smile, knowing that all was now forgiven.
As the two lovers lay dying together, they could rest easy, knowing that the demon was no more, and that they were not alone.
Sylvanna's mabari grieved over his mistress for a long time. Then one day, he sat up, running deeper and deeper into the Wilds, and was never seen again by man or elf.
Some say that the spirits of the two women continued to wander the Fade, offering aid to valiant mages who sought their wisdom, and freeing lost souls from the depths of their nightmares. Some say that the Maker embraced them to His side. Whatever their fate, this much was true:
They faced it together.
A/N: Dedicated with love to my wife, who encouraged me to write these companion stories. Thank you for your inspiration, support and eternal patience.
Chapter 2: The Foolish Templar
A/N: With many thanks to juri for her feedback and support xox
Things you should know for this part: Despite her intentions, Sylvanna ended up helping to raise Morrigan and Alistair's god!baby child, deep in the Arbor Wilds to the west of Ferelden. The three of them live alone in a cottage in the middle of the woods - child, apostate, and warden.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It only started because of the crying.
At least that was how Morrigan justified it to herself, later on. She had been utterly perturbed by the unusual and incessant noise, and so it was in a state of high dungeon that she traipsed to the wooden cradle that held her infant child.
Morrigan picked up the baby. The child immediately focused her clear, blue eyes upon her mother, and continued to cry.
"Cease this noise at once," Morrigan commanded, to no avail. She tried offering her child nourishment and solace. She tried conjuring sounds and rhymes to captivate and beguile. Despite all her efforts, the child remained inconsolable.
"This is most unseemly," she grumbled. The infant continued to ignore her, her tone becoming more and more wheedling, like an insistent plea. Eventually, Morrigan came to her hope of last resort.
"Do you... want a story?"
The crying stopped abruptly, and the silence that remained was almost deafening. Morrigan sagged in defeat.
"Very well," she relented, settling into a chair, her child cradled in the crook of her arm. The infant burbled happily, her chubby face settling into a beaming, glorious smile. "'Twill be short, mind; the day is not yet long, and there are many chores to be done - do you understand?"
In response, the child tugged at her mother's fingers with evident delight as she settled into her arms. Morrigan sighed, thinking of the million and one tasks she had given herself to accomplish today (replenishing her store of elder wort, sharpening her set of knives, cleaning out her best cauldron), but clearly, her child would not be denied.
"Once upon a time..." Morrigan began, settling into the rhythm and cadence of the tale with an ease that disquieted her.
The Foolish Templar
Once upon a time, there lived a foolish templar. He was fair of hair and tall in height, and was not entirely displeasing to the eye, were it not for his persistent incompetence. He had been doomed from birth to be altogether lacking in intelligence, and clumsy of wit. It is an unfortunate truth that many such individuals exist in this world, and will undoubtedly cross your path sooner or later, and have cause to give you grief.
(A templar, my dear child, is a scion of the Chantry, trained to capture beings such as you and I, and then to torture and kill us. Have I not explained this to you before? The warden may tell you more, as she lived under their watchful gaze for many a year. I do not doubt that she will have many instructive stories to share.)
As events transpired, it became clear that this templar was not particularly skilled at his training. His tutors lamented his lack of focus, his poor discipline, and his remarkable ability to be distracted by a pretty face or the scent of wafting food (concentration, my dear one, is an ability required for even the most simple of cantrips, and is a trait that is highly prized amongst mages. You would do well to cultivate this talent for yourself).
He was expelled from his Order in disgrace. Alas, thought he, no longer will I be able to unjustly persecute apostates. No longer will I bathe in the blood of innocent maleficarum! According to templars, the blood from the babies born to magi of the Circle Tower (that was what they called their prison for mages, where the warden was raised - hence her very distorted outlook on life; you would do well to regard any of her advice with due suspicion) - the blood was said to improve the shine on their very shiny armour, and so they bathed in it regularly. This was all nonsense, of course. No blood possesses such properties, but the templars were a very vain Order, and so any advantage they could use to impress their peers was readily seized upon.
(Had I borne you in the Circle Tower - perish the thought! - the templars and their Chantry whores would have taken you from me, or at least made the attempt. But you shall never, ever be subjected to their rules and prohibitions, my sweet, fear not. No templar shall ever bathe in your blood, I can promise you that.)
This hapless templar, bereft of the duty and honour that he held so dear, was forced to join another group to assuage his self-esteem. It so happened that he Joined the Order of the Grey Wardens.
Amazingly, he did not perish from the process, but instead rose again, like a pestilent weed. This was to be a recurring feature of his later life. Many times he and myself and the warden would face remarkable odds, against all manner of bandits and demons and darkspawn. The foolish templar, clad as he was in only metal (and not protected by magic), would somehow always pick himself up after a devastating fight, no matter the number of his injuries or the severity of them. Truly, his level of endurance was... remarkable.
Perhaps I digress. I see you are growing impatient; however, I assure you that grousing at me will hardly improve matters.
There. If you will only settle, and behave yourself, then we may continue. Yes?
I came upon them in the Wilds (not these Wilds, my child, but the Korcari Wilds of Ferelden - altogether a much more swampy land, infested with Chasind humans and, at the time, much overrun with darkspawn). The foolish templar was joined by two other men of no significance, and Sylvanna, whom you know. They were searching for some papers, ancient treaties that pledged assistance to their Order from many varied sources: elves, dwarves, humans and the pitiful, templar-bound Circle of Magi.
He was the senior of the two wardens, but obviously inept at his role. 'Twas the elf accompanying him who drew my eye, despite all her failings and obvious discomfort with the outside world; I... was intrigued.
But this is not her tale, my sweet. This is the tale of the foolish templar.
I led them from the Wilds, in time, and joined them on their long journey to defeat the Blight. Many and varied were the pointless tasks we faced on the way: helping strangers with their petty problems, with no hope of any gain for ourselves, settling minor disputes, even (and this is the truth) defeating a demon that had possessed a cat. A cat, my darling. 'Twas a preposterous waste of time.
Before too long, it became obvious to me that the foolish templar had his eye set upon the elven warden, but she was clearly insensible to his charms (and rightly so). Having no courage in the ways of the heart, the foolish templar could not bring himself to act upon his emotions, though the Antivan in our party (not to mention the dwarf) encouraged him on numerous occasions. Truly, 'twas a delight to watch him suffer and stew in his own ineptitude.
During our journey, the foolish templar was forced to reveal his dreadful secret - that he was a bastard prince, begotten by the old king Maric unto a serving wench. 'Twas laughable, to think of him as king, ruling the nation (he could not even darn his socks without assistance), but it made him eminently more useful to the elven warden. She saw straight away how she could use his heritage to her advantage, and prevailed upon him to marry his brother's widow and ascend the throne. This fate did not suit the foolish templar at all, but so used to following orders was he, that he accepted without much demur. Such is the fate of all fools and lost princes: to be used, and then discarded. 'Tis a lesson you should learn well, my dear.
'Twas in the chapel at Redcliffe castle when I came to him, close to the eve of the Blight. I came to him at great personal cost, having just been grievously wounded. No, do not question how it occurred. I wish not to speak of it.
I came to him. I gave him no choice in the matter. I am not proud of it, but there it is; time was of the essence, and there remained no other options. I would not be denied the chance to free you, to take the purity of your soul and to grant it a new body. That is the truth of it, I swear; that is the degree to which I yearned to bring you into this world.
I stole away with your spark in my belly, near the end of the Blight. I needed to keep you safe from the others. I knew that they would not understand.
You may wonder why I am telling you this story - why I am emphasising your father's flaws. Perhaps you think that I am being overly unkind to him. I assure you that I am not.
I am telling you this, not to mock him, (he is more than capable of eliciting mockery without my aid), but to show you that it does not matter whose seed you sprang from. His blood may run in your veins, yes, but it need not bind you to his mediocrity. I am more than confident that you will rise far above his humble beginnings, and prove to the world whose child you truly are.
You wish to know how it ends? What happened to him?
I must confess that I do not know. The last I saw of him, he was preparing to wed that vapid cow, Anora, and to assume the throne. There was much work that needed his attention, and I suspect that he is still safely ensconced within Ferelden's capital, dealing with a country ruined by both civil war and the Blight.
Perhaps you will meet with him one day, when you steal his country away from under his nose. Perhaps he will stand in your path, and you will be forced to obliterate him. That would not be such a bad end for him, my dear. He could certainly do worse than to be crushed beneath your might.
A/N: Morrigan's opinion of absent fathers is definitely influenced by my reading of bamftastik's fantastic fic, The Last Warden, and specifically the scene between Morrigan and Shianni near the end.
Next up: Arl Teagan creates a swashbuckling adventure for his daughter, complete with dragons and sword fights and brave lady knights.
Chapter 3: Lady Roslyn and the Dragon
A/N: With many thanks to juri for the beta.
Things you should know for this part: After the Blight, Bann Teagan Guerrin married Kaitlyn from Redcliffe Village. He became the Arl of Redcliffe in 9:37 Dragon under trying circumstances. He and Kaitlyn have one daughter, Roslyn.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Arl Teagan was exhausted.
A full day of talks with his sworn vassals, overseeing preparations for a grand ball in honour of his daughter Roslyn's fourth birthday... it was to drive a man mad. Thank the Maker for Kaitlyn, or he would have never survived this long with his sanity intact.
"Who's my favourite girl?" he asked, summoning his reserves of energy for the most important little person in his life.
"I am!" his daughter said with evident glee, not at all concerned by the fact that she was also the only little girl in his life. She wrapped her arms around him in a hug, and he lifted her up, pretending to groan with the effort. She had grown taller, again... when had that happened?
"Story, Papa. Please?"
Teagan placed her down on the bed, with an overly dramatic look back to the door. "Very well," he agreed, "but you must promise to be very quiet. Else Nan will become cross at me for keeping you past your bedtime."
Roslyn nodded in perfect agreement, her eyes wide with anticipation. "Very quiet," she promised.
Teagan smiled, and ruffled his daughter's hair. "Then let us begin."
Lady Roslyn and the Dragon
In a big stone castle at the edge of a lake, there lived a lovely young lady named Roslyn. She was brave and fierce, and quick of wit. She could wield a shield and sword as well as any man twice her size, and had bested all the knights in the land in single combat. She was the Fair Lady Roslyn, much beloved by her people and her proud parents alike.
One day, the villagers of the castle spied a terrible foe: a great big red dragon, flying overhead. Cries of terror spread throughout the town. "Who will save us from the ravenous beast?" the villagers cried. "Who shall protect our children and our homes?"
"I will," said the Fair Lady Roslyn. With that, she gathered up her things, put on her best armour, strapped on her best arms, and prepared to do battle with the dragon.
She headed up to the high mountains to the west, for she knew that dragons liked to dwell in the frost-covered peaks in that area. The way forward was rocky and cold, but the lady was well-prepared and had rugged up warmly against the cool weather.
As she journeyed onwards, she heard the sound of fighting. She could see lone elf in a valley below, surrounded by scores of darkspawn. The elf was using powerful magic to defeat her foes, but Roslyn could see that she was tiring, whilst the hordes of darkspawn appeared to be unending.
With a great battle cry, the Fair Lady Roslyn joined the fray, wielding her shield and sword. She fiercely cut through swathes of darkspawn with her mighty blade, the Pink Unicorn Sabre, and her enemies began falling in vast swathes around her. Before long, all the foul beasts were slain, and only the Fair Lady Roslyn and the elf remained.
"Are you hurt?" Roslyn exclaimed, hearing the elf groaning as she picked herself up and came to her feet.
"Not at all, thanks to you," the elf said. "I am in your debt."
"It was nothing," the Fair Lady Roslyn said, for she was as humble as she was brave. Just at that moment, she peered more closely at the elf, who did not seem to be visibly injured. "Are you... a grey warden?" Roslyn asked, thinking that she might recognise the elf through the many paintings and drawings that she had seen.
"Yes." The elf sounded surprised. "I am Sylvanna Surana, a Circle mage and grey warden."
The Fair Lady Roslyn could not contain her excitement, and squealed with delight. "The Hero of Ferelden!" she exclaimed. "This is the happiest day of my life." At the elf's expression, she continued on. "I am a great admirer of yours, Ser Warden."
"That is most kind of you," said the warden. "Am I to assume from the heraldry on your shield and your obvious prowess in battle that you are the Fair Lady Roslyn of Redcliffe Castle? Never have I seen such dazzling agility nor such impeccable swordsmanship!"
"I am indeed," Roslyn said, overjoyed to have been recognised, and blushing to hear such compliments falling so easily from the warden's lips. "I am searching for a dragon that has been terrorising our village."
"Then I will aid you," the warden declared. "For I owe you my life, and this quest of yours is most worthy. Let us find the dragon together, and end its reign once and for all."
Together, the two of them journeyed further into the mountains. They descended into the maw of a huge, cavernous chamber, filled with monsters and dank, stagnant pools of water. The two of them saw many small dragonlings, but at their approach, the little creatures ran before them, until the sounds of their squeaking grew distant.
"That was quite strange," the warden mused.
"Very. Why did they not stay and fight?"
"I do not know. Perhaps they intend to ambush us at a later time. We should be cautious."
Roslyn agreed, and they continued on.
They found many a giant spider as they ventured onwards, and those they slew, taking care to avoid their poisonous spittle and cloying webs.
"Careful," Roslyn said, as she disarmed a trap on the floor, "the dragon's lair has many obstacles prepared for us."
The warden nodded, and waited for Roslyn to take the lead.
They crept further into the chamber, drawn by the sound of slow, deep breaths and the creaking of mighty lungs. As they rounded a corner, they saw the head of the mighty dragon, and the creature cracked open its baleful, yellow eyes.
"Great dragon," said the Fair Lady Roslyn, "why have you been harassing our village and disturbing our sleep with your mighty roars? You have been making my people quite fearful that they no longer wish to work in the fields nor tend to their livestock."
"Little lady," grumbled the dragon, "I have no wish to disturb your people. However, the truth of the matter is that I need to feed my young, and the number of dwarves passing through these mountains has decreased dramatically."
The Fair Lady Roslyn became thoughtful. "That is unfortunate, indeed," she said. "If I was the mother to so many dozens of dragonlings, I suppose I would worry about how to feed them all, as well. Is that how you would feel?" she asked, this last question directed to the warden.
"I suppose it would be a concern."
"Certainly, Great Dragon, we do not wish for your children to starve," Roslyn continued. "However, I am afraid that our villagers are all stringy and tasteless, and would not provide much nutrition for you at all."
The dragon eyed. "You smell rather deliciousssss." Her sibilant whisper echoed strangely in the chamber, as she snaked her head around to peer closely at Roslyn, her large eyes staring unblinkingly, no less than two yards away from the lady knight.
"I am covered in metal," Roslyn declared. "My sword and shield would stick in your gut and give you awful cramps."
The dragon huffed. "Perhaps."
"Great Dragon," Roslyn said respectfully, "why don't you take your children and fly west over the Arbor Wilds, to the Gamordan Peaks? There are always many travellers passing through that area to get to Mont-de-glace."
The dragon appeared to mull this concept over. "Are you sure that they will be tasty travellers?"
"The Chevaliers travel through that area often," the Fair Lady Roslyn said with confidence. "They are very tasty men, fattened with blanquette de veau and andouillette and gougère," she said, as her mouth began to water at the thought of such delicious food. "And your children may dine on their horses, as well."
The dragon snorted, and a wisp of smoke drifted up from her nostrils. "How do I know that you are not lying to me, little lady?"
"It's true," the warden said, taking Roslyn's lead. "There are many tasty Chevaliers in the Gamordan Peaks, and they always keep their horses nice and plump."
The dragon tilted her head to the side, as if she was considering her words. "This country is sadly lacking in horseflesh."
"Exactly!" Roslyn exclaimed. "All we have are very smelly dogs, which aren't tasty at all."
The dragon huffed, and she eyed both of them with her harsh yellow gaze. "Very well then," she said. "I shall take your advice, and travel to the Gamordan Peaks to see for myself. But mark my words, if you are lying to me, I shall certainly feast upon your fleshy bodies when I return to this land."
"Understood," the Fair Lady Roslyn said. "May I have your oath that you will depart these mountains on the morrow?"
The great beast chuckled, showing her long, white fangs. "What an impertinent little lady you are!" she declared. "Very well. I swear upon my mother's memory, that I and my kin shall depart these lands in the morning."
With that, the dragon gravely extended a claw, and the Fair Lady Roslyn solemnly shook talons with the beast.
"Now go," the dragon said, "before I change my mind, and devour you both."
Lady Roslyn and the warden both left the mountainous lair without further delay. They made camp in the mountains that night, braving the cold and the snow. In the morning, the many shadows of the dragon and her children blackened the sky, and the air filled with the sound of their beating wings. They had fulfilled their promise to the Fair Lady Roslyn.
The two returned to the village of Redcliffe, to much adulation and joy from the villagers. "Our saviours!" they called them, "defeaters of the dragon!"
"Stay with us and celebrate," Roslyn asked of the warden. "This victory is as much yours as it is mine."
"My lady is too kind," the warden said. "I am afraid that I have my grey warden duties to consider, but I will intrude upon your hospitality for a day, at least."
The two made merry, feasting and listening to music and stories long into the night. Unfortunately, it had to come to an end, and the grey warden packed up her things and prepared to return to her duties of quelling the last of the darkspawn hordes.
"You will always be welcomed in Redcliffe," the Fair Lady Roslyn said, as the warden bid the castle and the village farewell.
"You have my thanks, Lady Roslyn," the warden said. "I have no doubts that the Arling will prosper with you as its guardian."
The two bid each other a fond farewell, though their paths would cross again, in the years to come. In time, their tale grew into legend, and was told all throughout the land.
A/N: I'm making the assumption that Arl Teagan hasn't read his Monster Manual and doesn't know that dragonlings and drakes can't fly.
The next fable will be told by Sylvanna.
Chapter 4: The Loyal Mabari
A/N: With thanks to juri for proofing!
Things you should know for this part: Sylvanna's original intent upon finding Morrigan was to kill both her and the infant. The two responded to this hostility as best as they could. Sylvanna's mabari, Thetus, disappeared before the confrontation.
Sylvanna had to catch the child in the act before she could be absolutely sure.
Morrigan's daughter had just passed her second summer, and she was a terrible handful and a half. It was not so much the endless questions - Sylvanna rather liked answering those, even if they often disagreed on certain points (mostly the same points on which she and Morrigan disagreed) - it was the climbing around and getting into things that a child of her age really ought not to.
And then there was the shape-shifting.
Morrigan had began her daughter's magical education early; far too early than was either practical or safe, in Sylvanna's considered opinion. The skills at manipulation that the child had shown as a baby were constantly being tested, boundaries pushed and rules distorted, until both her mothers became thoroughly exasperated with her.
The end result was that on this day, a day like any other, Sylvanna watched with growing horror as her daughter burned a mouse alive.
It wasn't only the cruelty that disturbed her, although that played a part. It was the absolute lack of malice. The child treated the animal with curiosity, even a hint of affection, and then simply…
Let us reverse a few steps.
It happened in this manner: Sylvanna turned her back on the child for a moment, in their house in the middle of the woods. Seeing a squirming pink tail from out of the corner of her eye, the child clapped her hands together with delight, beckoning to the creature. "Here," she cajoled, with her perfect command over the king's tongue, "come here."
With her glamour overcoming its natural resistance, the mouse twitched its nose, its whiskers quivering, and crept closer, its body pressed low to the ground.
"That's right," the child encouraged, as it clambered onto her hand, the pin-prickle of tiny feet tickling her palm. "I shall feed you nuts and berries, and all things delightful. Would you like that, little mouse?"
In response, the creature wiped its face with its hands, looking up at her with its liquid black eyes.
"But first, I require of you a boon," crooned the child. "Do you know what a boon is, little mouse? A boon is a favour, freely given." She placed her hand carefully down on the floor, and the mouse stepped off.
"Go on," the child encouraged, with a beatific smile. "Go, and I shall grant you all that you desire."
The mouse skittered swiftly across the stone floor, all pointed feet and pale, pink tail, and then threw itself onto the fire before Sylvanna could intervene.
"Dear Maker!" Sylvanna exclaimed, as the little body writhed in agony upon the flames. To add to her disquiet, the mouse did not even try to pull itself out of the hearth, its limbs twitching uselessly as it withered and blackened.
"Are you not going to praise me?" the child asked, her eyes wide. They had turned golden some time during the previous summer, and in that moment she looked more alike her mother than ever, all fey beauty and dark promises.
"Why should I praise you?" Sylvanna asked, trying not to let her voice shake. She eyed the remains in the hearth; it was most definitely dead now, to her great relief.
"I eliminated a pest. Its little feet were making tracks in the larder. Mother would have been most pleased with me."
"You do not think that was a terrible way to die? That it felt great pain and suffering?"
The child's face contorted with the effort to comprehend the connection between this question and the act that had just transpired. "Does it matter?"
It's my fault. My fault that she has not the slightest trace of empathy in her heart. "Do you recall the first being you led to its death?" Sylvanna asked.
The child tilted her head to the side, her eyes bright. Her lips moved silently, as she sifted through her memories of her brief time in this body - warmth and the sound of her mother's heartbeat, the sensation of floating; blind terror at her confinement, a yearning to be free; knowledge of a threat, the scent of the taint that pursued them...
"A dog," she said finally. "Was it a dog?"
"Not just any dog," Sylvanna corrected. She sat down next to the child, and adjusted her skirts around her. "He was the bravest, brightest, most loyal dog in all of Ferelden..."
The Loyal Mabari
He was a good dog.
Deep down, he knew that this was true. He had heard his master say it often, usually accompanied with a pat on the neck, or if he was very good, with a piece of dried meat.
He was a good dog, but now he was alone, his master slain and gored by their tainted enemies, his pack mates having suffered a similar fate.
Dog did not like being alone.
The tainted ones had departed swiftly after the battle that had claimed his former master. It was easy enough to follow their stench on the air, as their heavy footsteps had left churned mud and the smell of death in their wake.
Dog was unsure as to what to do. Vague feelings of revenge and hunger spurred him onward, following the tainted ones to a fork in the road, opening up to the vast world before him.
It was there that he met the others - the female elf, the blond man in armour, and a new companion, a human woman whose scent was curiously distorted and intriguing. He called out to them in greeting, but at that moment, he smelled the taint again, thick and heavy on the air.
The road turned a corner, and then he could see the tainted ones, the points of their weapons glinting in the weak sunlight. He rushed into battle with a joyous howl, blood-lust in the forefront of his mind as he snapped with his teeth, rending flesh and laying bare white hints of glistening bone.
When the fight was over, he was very tired. He remembered that he had not eaten for some days now, and the faint smell of food from the elf's pack made him salivate.
He trotted up to the elf and her companions, looking at her with a hopeful whine. She had saved his life at the stone ruins, easing his pain from the corruption in his blood; surely their meeting again was not by chance.
The humans talked loudly around him, but it was her approval that he sought.
She looked at him, her fingers clenched around the smooth metal of her weapon.
"I don't like dogs," she whispered. Dog wondered if she had already forgotten how she had saved his life, how she had stepped into his pen and soothed the fire in his veins. Surely an elf this scatterbrained would need his aid more than anything?
"He's not just any dog," the male reasoned. "He's a mabari! A purebred war hound! Think of the possibilities!"
"He did gore those darkspawn in an admirable manner," the other human sniffed. "And you are in desperate need of allies."
The elf cautiously held out a hand to him, and he trotted over to her, gently nudging her fingers with his nose. She smelled of tainted blood and magic, the latter setting off a tickling in his throat that resulted in a hearty sneeze that he was unable to suppress, releasing it right in her face. The elf made a shocked expression, and then began to laugh, and laugh, until water trickled down her cheeks.
"Do you wish to alert all of the darkspawn here of our presence?" the human female grumbled.
The laughter stopped abruptly, and the elf looked at the woman with empty eyes. Dog bared his teeth at the human, who stared down her nose at him in disdain.
"Here," the elf said, running her hand over his neck and across his side, and Dog suddenly felt much better as his wounds sealed themselves, although he was still terribly hungry. His stomach announced this in an audible fashion.
"How far to Lothering?" asked the elf, as she slid her pack off her shoulder.
"Perhaps half a day," the woman said.
Digging around in her satchel, the elf produced a whole handful of cured meat, holding it out to him. "Eat," she instructed, and Dog did not have to be told twice. When he was done, she patted him on the head, absently wiping off traces of his saliva onto his coat.
"Aren't you going to give him a name?" the male asked.
"I was just going to call him 'Dog'."
"Why not Bone Cruncher? Or Dog of Death? We could call him 'Dod' for short? No, no wait - how about Barkspawn?"
The elf gave the human a sceptical look, before turning back to him. He gazed up at her with loving eyes, a grateful whine escaping his throat. It didn't matter what she chose to call him, as long as he was her dog. She placed her hand on the top of his head, and rubbed gently behind his ears as nudged upwards into her palm. It became clear to Dog that his elf was probably one puppy short of a litter, but he was confident that he could help her find whatever it was that she was looking for.
In any case, being lost together was much better than being lost on one's own.
"I'll call him Thetus," she said at last, and he barked happily to show his approval.
The human woman sighed. "And now we have a dog. And Alistair is still the stupidest member of the party."
"Come on, Dog. I mean Thetus," his mistress said, and he gratefully fell in line with her.
He was truly the luckiest dog in the world.
"I see that you cared for him," the child said in a puzzled voice, "but what does this have to do with the mouse?"
Sylvanna smoothed out her skirt with her hands. "When you wield the power of life and death over others, you will need to choose carefully, as your choices may be permanent. You could have known Thetus as a companion - as a friend, but by virtue of your choices, that opportunity is now lost to you."
"I would have quite liked a puppy," the child said, her voice wistful.
"With your talent, you could have told the mouse to leave and never return," the warden continued. "You could have told him to tell his family to stay away from this house. That would have been more efficient than dealing with them one at a time."
"Perhaps," the child said doubtfully, her nose wrinkled up in consternation, "but it would not have been as much fun."
"Death is not a game!" Sylvanna snapped.
The child recoiled. Sylvanna pinched the bridge of her nose and breathed out deeply. "We will continue this some other time."
"I'm sorry, Mama," the child offered meekly, slipping her hand into the warden's, "for killing your dog."
Sylvanna sighed, and gathered the child in her arms. "You were only a baby," she murmured, stroking her tousled head, "and you were afraid." She sighed again, and released the girl.
"Next time," the child said, "I will do better."
Sylvanna smiled faintly, as she cupped the child's cheek with one hand. "Good girl," she said, and her daughter beamed with all the radiance of the sun.
Chapter 5: Urthemiel's Awakening
A/N: This scene occurs during Beauty Ascending chapter 15. If you're currently reading BA, you should read up to that chapter before reading this section.
Things you should know for this part: Morrigan's daughter is currently aged nine and is telling the story to Sylvanna, the warden.
With much gratitude to oneplusme for the beta and juri for the handholding!
Much of what your Chantry teaches you is false, as you may have surmised. It is true, though, that the Maker imprisoned my brothers and sisters and I in the bowels of the world.
At first I railed against it, against the humiliation, the injustice of it. We trusted Him, you see. We loved Him as one of us.
Betrayal is a terribly bitter pill to swallow.
At long last I slumbered, drawn into the soothing void by the endless silence and emptiness that stretched before me. What do dragons dream of, you wonder? Most of my dreams, I cannot remember. This body processes thoughts and memories in a highly inefficient manner. It makes me wonder how human children ever manage to learn anything at all.
I awoke when the darkspawn found Dumat, as did we all. We called out to him, begging for his assistance to free us, but he was... changed. I wonder if you can imagine it. Your dearest friend, your closest lover (such was the bond the seven of us shared together; mortal attachments pale in comparison) suddenly turned rabid, like a mad dog. Dumat wanted nothing to do with any of us. He wanted nothing but to destroy the world that the Maker loved so dearly.
(We all loved it. Love was not a feeling exclusive to Him alone.)
Dumat was the first we knew of what the darkspawn corruption could do to one of us. He was the first to rise, and the first to fall, almost two hundred years later. I mourned his loss, but perhaps... perhaps it was for the best.
I returned to my slumber, but now there was fear in my heart. Fear that I would become one of those things.
Thrice more the darkspawn came for one of us, and thrice more the armies of the surface world drove them back. Thrice more, and each time, another of my brethren fell.
I slept for four hundred years.
In the world above, kings were born and raised and killed, wars were fought, boundaries shifting as nations grew and fell, as inevitable as the passing of the seasons. Once, I would have reigned above it all. Monarchs and priests and magisters would offer their devotions to me with open hearts, and I would feast upon their love with ravenous hunger.
You seem distressed, Mama.
I awoke to the sound of his voice. It was soft, respectful. Almost... kind. Not like the chittering murmurs of darkspawn I had heard before, echoes of the beasts that woke Dumat and Zazikel and Toth and Andoral.
He was almost... beautiful, in a way, if you could find beauty in tortured flesh and misaligned bones, hairless skin and twisted lips. If you could find beauty in a darkspawn.
He said he wished me to be free.
He promised me I could be free.
I should not have believed him, I know. I should not have listened to those lies, those empty platitudes. But I was so very weary of being trapped, and so very desperate to no longer be alone.
He seemed different from the rest. He seemed so earnest, so...
But he had miscalculated. It was not freedom he brought me, but yet another kind of prison. He touched me, he changed me, and I knew in that moment that I had been wrong to trust him.
The transformation was more intense that any pain I had ever felt, more excruciating than the Maker's punishment, more final than the knowledge of Dumat's defeat. There are simply no words for it in your tongue, nor Arcanum; not even in the ancient language of the first magister lords.
Thus began the fifth Blight.
He still lives. The darkspawn who freed me. He still lives, and he is still searching for me. Hunting me.
I feel him, sometimes. This Calling - this sensation works both ways, as well you know. Someday he will find me.
And then, I will kill him.
Chapter 6: Ghilan'nain and the Huntress
A/N: I was recently reading through some lore on the dragon age wiki, and realised that I had totally missed the femslashy subtext in the Elven Pantheon, which was quite disgraceful of me.
Things you should know: This section occurs between chapters 8 and 9 of A Curious Thing. Sylvanna and Morrigan are currently in a relationship, but the latter is being somewhat distant. Sarel is the storyteller from Zathrian's clan, who will tell stories of the Dalish if the warden shows an interest.
Warnings: Power imbalanced relationship, non-explicit overtones of dubious consent. Rating changed to 'M' just to be on the safe side.
It was their first night in the Brecilian Forest. The land seemed different here: untamed, retaining a sense of mystery and the promise of ancient secrets. Perhaps it was only the disturbing groans of the elves unfortunate enough to have contracted the werewolf's disease, Alistair thought with a shudder. The sounds were clearly audible, the victims' pallets erected a scant few yards away from the common hearth.
On the morrow, they would begin the hunt for Witherfang, but for now they rested, their ears filled with the tales of the Dalish people. Sarel had only just finished the story of Andruil, Goddess of the Hunt and Ghilan'nain, Mother of the Halla.
It was said (Sarel had told them) that Ghilan'nain had been one of the People, chosen by Andruil herself. She had been cruelly deceived by a hunter, who had blinded the elven woman, bound her with ropes of thorns and then left her for dead. As Ghilan'nain lay in agony, the blood pouring from her unseeing eyes like tears, she prayed to Andruil for mercy, for the huntress to grant her a swift death. But the goddess could not bear to be parted from Ghilan'nain, and would not surrender her vhenan'ara to the cold embrace of Falon'Din. So Andruil sent her hares to Ghilan'nain, and they chewed through her ropes. Though the thorns cut their mouths, the hares did not cease until the woman was freed, for Ghilan'nain was beloved of Andruil and they would have gladly given their lives to save her.
Despite her great wounds, Ghilan'nain crawled to her feet, calling out to her sisters to guide her home. But the hunter had lured her a great distance from her clan, and none heard her pleas; none but Andruil. To save her beloved, the huntress was forced to turn Ghilan'nain into a beautiful white deer: the first of the halla.
The transformation took hold, and Ghilan'nain rose unsteadily on her coltish legs, crying out in horror at the feeling of her new limbs and the sound of her strange voice. No more would she dance with her clansmen, sing with her sisters, or rock her nieces and nephews to sleep in her cradling arms. She could not even shed a tear for her loss, for the halla did not cry; she felt her heart growing heavy, and she bowed her head in deep sorrow.
Andruil whispered to her, "take heart, emm'asha, and remember my Ways." And Ghilan'nain remembered, though it hurt to do so. She remembered the touch of the goddess, burning like fire, and the warmth of her embrace: the love that was as boundless as the great forest itself. Ghilan'nain raised her lovely head, sensing the smoke of her clan's fires on the breeze, and she stepped haltingly towards that scent. The hares circled at her feet, urging her onwards. Eventually, Ghilan'nain found her way back to her sisters, who knew her at once for who she truly was. Together, they cried to see her beautiful green eyes lost, her elegant hands transformed into slender hooves; but they offered their grateful prayers to Andruil, for the goddess had surely saved their sister's life.
In her new body that was still strange and unfamiliar, Ghilan'nain led her sisters to the deceitful hunter. They bound his limbs with thorns, and with a sharp dagger plucked out his eyes. Then, as the hunter's blood poured life into the welcoming ground, Ghilan'nain crushed his ribs with a powerful kick, and his devious heart forever ceased to beat.
"That is how the story ends," Leliana said, "but how did it begin?"
The light from the fire caught the copper tones in the bard's hair, but brighter even than that was the gleam of hunger in her eyes. She was drinking in the stories that fell from Sarel's lips like an eager child, poised on the edge of her seat as she prepared to hear more. Alistair wondered if the lay sister within her found this talk of Creators and goddesses blasphemous, or if it was all the same: yet another story of some distant figure of legend, where the truth of the matter had long since been distorted beyond recognition.
Their companions were assembled loosely around them, with a few exceptions. Wynne was engaged in a discussion with Lanaya about the state of the wounded and what herbal remedies could be used to ease their pain; Oghren had noisily passed out some time ago, dead drunk; and Zevran had also quietly excused himself. Alistair could only hope that the elf was not occupied in ruining some poor young girl, too fascinated by the assassin's exotic accent and outrageous behaviour to refuse him.
Sylvanna really should have talked to Zevran, Alistair thought with some annoyance, but she had been distracted ever since... well, ever since Denerim. He glared fiercely at the source of the warden's distraction, but Morrigan hardly seemed to notice his steely gaze, which was a pity. (And he had been practising so very hard to perfect it, too...)
"Very well," Sarel conceded, and Leliana's face lit up in a smile. "I will tell you of how Ghilan'nain the Graceful met the Goddess of the Hunt."
Ghilan'nain and the Huntress
In the days before Arlathan, the world was unspoiled and pure. The People lived in harmony with nature, as the Dalish do now, following the Ways of Andruil and preserving their sacred covenant with the land.
There lived in this world a most beauteous maiden, graceful and sure. She was the fairest of her sisters, blessed with snowy white hair and brilliant green eyes that were brighter than a budding leaf in spring. She was tall, with slender long legs, and her delicate strength and lissom steps were a joy to behold during the autumnal dances. But she was also prudent and wise beyond her years, respectful of her elders, and mindful of the ways of the People.
She was Ghilan'nain, first amongst maidens.
One day, Ghilan'nain was bathing in a forest spring. She was alone, but she had no fear in her heart, for she had brought her dagger and her bow and her quiver of arrows. These weapons she had laid beside the water in the unlikely event that she would need to defend herself. You must understand, the world was a different place then - the Veil was not as weak as it is now, and our People lived in harmony with both the Creators and the spirits alike. This was long before the darkspawn ever existed, long before their corruption made horrific creatures such as the bereskarn and the blight wolf.
As Ghilan'nain bathed, she noticed a magnificent hawk flying down and perching in the tree above her. She paid her respects to the bird, recalling that both the hawk and the hare were sacred to Andruil. Little did she know that the hawk was Andruil herself in mortal guise, drawn by Ghilan'nain's beauty: the smooth, graceful lines of her body and the way the pure waters of the spring clung to her bare skin.
Seeing the hawk continuing to watch her, Ghilan'nain began to speak freely to it, talking of her dreams and wishes, her hopes and fears. The bird seemed to understand every word she was saying, and its eyes followed her with keen intent as she wrung the water from her long flowing hair.
The sun began to set, filling the sky with wondrous tones of jewel reds and pinks. As the shadows lengthened, Andruil became tired of simply watching and fluttered down to the ground. The goddess transformed, showing Ghilan'nain her true face. The poor girl stood still in shock and awe, for few among us could bear to look upon one of the Creators and not be blinded by their divine countenance.
"Be not alarmed," Andruil soothed. "I mean you no ill will."
Ghilan'nain would have fallen to her knees, were she not standing waist-deep in water, for she recognised Andruil by the wondrous bow she carried on her back, which could only be wielded by the Goddess of the Hunt herself. Instead she lowered her gaze, for one should not ever presume to look into a Creator's eyes, lest they turn mad from the knowledge of their own fragility.
"Great Andruil," Ghilan'nain said, "I am unworthy of your presence."
"Nay, lovely Ghilan'nain. This forest is my domain, and all the creatures in it; I have flown above its treetops, swum in its lakes, burrowed below ground in its cool earth, and yet in all this time, never have I seen a being as beautiful and enthralling as yourself." Andruil spoke softly to her, telling Ghilan'nain of how she had watched the girl in the guise of a hawk, and listened to her dreams and wishes, her hopes and fears. The huntress promised Ghilan'nain that she could have a place by her side, as an equal and a goddess in her own right, if only Ghilan'nain would accept her love.
At those words, Ghilan'nain was terribly frightened. She saw that such a thing could not exist between one of the Creators and one of the People, and that their love would be cruelly punished. She tried to reason with the goddess, to explain that such a thing could never be, but Andruil would not be denied.
Ghilan'nain did not know what to do. She knew that if Andruil approached, her resistance would crumble entirely, for who could withstand the desires of such a being?
So Ghilan'nain darted out of the spring and ran, her body still bare as she abandoned both her clothes and her weapons by the edge of the spring. Twigs lashed at her and scored marks against her legs and arms, and her naked feet were cut to ribbons as she sped through the forest, as light as a gazelle, her pale hair streaming in the wind. Andruil shifted forms again, this time taking the shape of a large cat, her shoulders as high as a man's waist, her coat coloured tawny red and gold. She waited, her great paws flexing in the dirt, until the sounds of Ghilan'nain's passage had long since faded away. Only then did she begin her hunt.
In her desperate flight, Ghilan'nain had not concealed her tracks, and the scent of her blood carried strongly through the forest. Andruil quickened her pace. The thrill of the chase flowed through the goddess, filling her with a savage joy; the forest echoed with the sounds of her voice raised in elation.
At last, Ghilan'nain had run until she could run no more, her heart pounding so loudly that she feared it would be heard from miles around. She knew that the goddess would not pause, but her body was so weary, her legs feeling as heavy as stone. She collapsed to the forest floor, and not knowing what else to do, she prayed to the spirits to aid her.
Moved by her plea, the spirits of the forest formed a shimmering barrier behind Ghilan'nain. Their magic reached out to the maiden, giving her limbs a new vigour and filling her lungs with their sweet breath.
"Run, da'len," the spirits urged her, and so Ghilan'nain rose to her feet and forced herself to flee once more.
Andruil approached the spirits' barrier, and found its magic impervious to both her keen teeth and sharpened claws. She could see the crushed leaves and twigs where Ghilan'nain had lain, hear the echoes of her footsteps, and smell the warmth of her blood.
Andruil was the Goddess of the Hunt, and she would not be denied.
She shifted forms once more, this time taking the guise of a fox, sleek and quick with dark red fur. She began to burrow, moist dirt spilling out from under her paws, until she had tunnelled all the way below the barrier and broken up to the surface on the other side.
Ahead of her, Ghilan'nain had stopped again for breath. The maiden shuddered when she heard Andruil's cry of triumph, and she knew that the barrier had failed to stop the goddess.
"Falon'Din!" she called out, "Dirthamen! Good brothers, hear my plea." Ghilan'nain begged assistance from the twins, the Friend of the Dead and the Keeper of Secrets, and upon hearing her, the gods took pity and sent their ravens Fear and Deceit to reason with Andruil.
The two ravens flew down and stopped Andruil in her tracks, alighting upon the path in front of the goddess and filling the forest with their raucous voices.
"Harbingers of death, come no closer," Andruil demanded, glaring at the ravens with her vixen's eyes. "Begone, for I claim this hunt as mine and mine alone."
"Your foolish passion will doom the one you desire," squawked the raven known as Fear. "She will suffer the most exquisite torments for your folly."
"A mortal heart is too fragile to hold the love of a goddess," cried Deceit. "Should you pursue her, she will turn from you, and with her dying breath she will rue the day your eyes set upon her."
"I care not for your omens," the fox said, with a snap of her jaws. "Now depart, before I devour the both of you."
With noisome cries, the ravens took to the air, but not before Andruil's teeth had found the edge of Deceit's wing, two perfect feathers drifting to the ground. Squawks of indignation followed her, but the goddess had dulled her ears to their cries, returning to the hunt once more.
By this time, Ghilan'nain was sorely tired, her limbs trembling from fatigue. She fell to her knees, her heart singing with fear; the forest was deathly silent, with not a whisper escaping to note the sound of Andruil's passage. The maiden scarcely knew if the goddess was more than an hour away, or merely a minute; only that there would be no escape for her.
She tried prayer once more, the words coming haltingly to her lips. Her voice broke the silence as she called out to Sylaise, sister of Andruil; if anyone could move the huntress, then it would be her gentle sister. But Ghilan'nain's flight had taken her far from hearth and clan, and her prayers fell upon deaf ears, for Sylaise could not hear her in the midst of the great forest.
And so it was that Andruil came upon the maiden, still kneeling in the dirt, her poor feet torn and bleeding, her skin covered in a myriad of cuts. Andruil approached her slowly, cautiously, as not to startle the girl. Ghilan'nain looked up, in her weariness forgetting to shield her eyes, and so she gazed upon the full glory of the goddess, and was overcome with Andruil's divine radiance.
"Sweet girl," Andruil said softly, "you have run well, and honoured me with a fine hunt. For this I shall grant you a boon: should you choose to leave now, I shall not follow; this I swear. But stay with me, dear Ghilan'nain, and I shall make you the most blessed of the People, for none before have ever known the love of a goddess."
Even before Andruil spoke those words, Ghilan'nain knew that she was lost. She had dared to gaze upon the face of the huntress, and no mortal love could e'er compare.
"Lady of the Hunt, I am yours," Ghilan'nain declared. "I will join you and your brothers and sisters in your heavenly sphere - with one condition," she added, for even though she was dazzled by love, she was no fool, and she knew that the heart of a goddess was a fickle thing.
"Name it," Andruil said, eager to claim the girl as her own.
"I would not have you raise me to the eminence of a goddess before you are certain of your affections," the maiden explained. "Give me one year more in mortal form. During this time you may decide that you weary of my company; so be it. Far better to let our love decline and fade than permit discord to rule between us for eternity."
"It shall not fade," Andruil said fiercely, certain of her affections. "But I agree to your terms."
And then the goddess passed her hands over Ghilan'nain's wounds, healing them; she covered the girl with gentle kisses, and traced the vallaslin across her cheeks, her touch burning with a righteous fire. Andruil laid the maiden down tenderly to the forest floor, and in her eyes an ardent love blazed with the heat of a thousand suns. Ghilan'nain surrendered to the Goddess of the Hunt, and if the world looked down upon their union with condemnation, then the two remained blissfully unaware.
"And that is how Ghilan'nain became the chosen of Andruil," Sarel said, ending the story with a sigh.
"How tragic," Leliana murmured. There was a subtle chill to her voice, Alistair noticed. She had not really been herself after they had found Marjolaine; he did not know what the Warden had said to her that night, as the bard had wiped her former lover's blood clean from her blades, but it had made her... different. Sharper. He wondered if she saw echoes of herself in the fable, as the innocent young woman ensnared by a force too torrid and enticing for her to resist.
"That is one version of the story," Sarel offered. "Different clans of the Dalish place their own twist upon the tale, but it is said that the impious hunter was sent to punish the two for their forbidden union."
"I wonder if Andraste felt the same way," Leliana mused. "If she was frightened by the Maker's love."
Sten made a dismissive growl. "The Qun does not speak of gods or goddesses. The huntress acted selfishly, robbing a young woman of her place in her clan. It was only right that the two of them were punished."
Shale also seemed to be in agreement, her voice rumbling with an unnatural echo. "Any creature found consorting with birds - or worse yet, taking on their despicable forms - deserves to meet an unpleasant end," she said, with a pointed look towards Morrigan.
"If only Andruil had just listened to Ghilan'nain to begin with, neither would have suffered," Alistair argued. "Ghilan'nain's wishes were totally ignored, which was completely unfair. I think Andruil should have left the poor girl alone, and shown some compassion. And some restraint."
"'Twould have been to the girl's advantage if she had used her favour with the goddess to ascend to divinity in her own form, before she was crippled and near death. She could have become Andruil's equal, had she clung less tenaciously to her own mortality," Morrigan said lazily, with her customary sneer.
"The Creators would still have punished them," Leliana interjected.
"Is that so? Together, perhaps the two of them could have withstood any accusations of impropriety. 'Tis not impossible to believe that the others could have learnt to leave well enough alone."
"Is godhood something you aspire to, Morrigan?" Alistair asked. "Taking your mother's place wasn't enough to satisfy you?"
The witch turned to look at him scornfully. "Had I such power, I certainly would not be burdening myself with your company."
"It has remained unusually silent," Shale remarked.
"That means you," Alistair said, prodding Sylvanna when she failed to respond.
Sylvanna sat up with a start. "I feel a little sorry for Andruil," she confessed. "She must have been terribly lonely, I suppose, to search for mortal love, and to risk such dire consequences."
Alistair caught the look that Morrigan shot Sylvanna's way, even if the latter did not. It was curiously undisguised, a flicker of emotion that made the otherwise bitter witch seem almost human. Before he could think further upon it, the expression was gone, leaving behind only an indifferent smirk.
"We use such tales to remind our children that rules exist for a reason, and that not even the Creators may flaunt them with impunity," Sarel explained.
"Was it a mistake to love, even for so short a time?" Leliana asked.
Sarel glanced aside, looking uncomfortable for a moment. "Perhaps it was not. Surely the love of a goddess - however brief - would have been worth any amount of suffering."
There was a slight pause at the elf's words, as his listeners recalled that Sarel had recently lost his wife to the werewolf's curse.
"We should return to our camp," Sylvanna said, breaking the silence. "Our thanks for your hospitality, Sarel."
The Dalish elf inclined his head to her. "Dareth shiral, Warden," he said, watching the group as they gathered themselves to leave.
Morrigan stalked off first, with Sylvanna quickening her pace to catch up with her. Their voices rose in hurried discussion, bitter words floating back to the rest of their companions.
"Let them talk," Leliana cautioned, as Alistair considered interrupting the pair.
"What's going on with those two? Do I really want to know?"
Leliana only shook her head and sighed. It seemed to be all the explanation she was willing to offer him.
Beside Alistair, Thetus nudged his palm with an unhappy whine. He absently scratched behind the hound's ears, the dog gazing up at him with adoration. "You and me both, boy," Alistair muttered. He glanced across to Leliana; they both watched Morrigan ducking into her tent with an air of finality, the warden remaining outside.
"We're going to be the ones left picking up the pieces," Alistair noted, echoing her thoughts.
"Let us pray then, that there will be pieces left to 'pick up'," Leliana said, and before he could question her words, she had walked away.
Alistair the Grey Warden, former templar and bastard prince was suddenly quite grateful for the fact that he knew absolutely nothing of love.
Chapter 7: Now Three
The stories we tell ourselves are often the most compelling. Sylvanna has a secret.
Things you should know for this part: This chronologically occurs between 'Purpose' and 'Competence' from the Beauty Ascending prologue.
The title is from a song by Vienna Teng, whom I adore. With thanks to juri for the beta.
There is a word that Sylvanna keeps locked away in her heart. Three words, really. One for herself, one for Morrigan, and one for the child.
She dares not whisper them, not even in the darkest of nights when she is sure that the other two are sleeping and that she will disturb no one with her voice. Not even when Morrigan is arcing beneath her, cries so loud that they would surely drown out whatever small sound Sylvanna might make at the back of her throat.
This is Sylvanna's secret, and she intends to keep it that way.
The child is perhaps two seasons, she hazards at a guess. She knows that the birth was in spring, and now it is late Harvestmere. The trees are filled with red and gold, and beneath the falling leaves, the child chortles and grasps searchingly at her hair, eyes wide with pleasure as Sylvanna teaches her of the changing of the seasons and warns of the bitter frost that is yet to come.
Sylvanna's heart burns with love, so brightly that sometimes she feels as though she could die from a single dimpled smile.
The child sleeps soundly, strapped against her back as Sylvanna strings up herbs in the kitchen. Her warm weight is a comfort, as Sylvanna feels her shifting sleepily or hears a small, drowsy sound escaping from her lips. She sings for her then, when they are alone and no one can blame Sylvanna for putting nonsense into the child's head: songs her mother taught her, about the falling rain and the passing of the years, of the legend of Arlathan and the rise of men.
Morrigan leaves them from time to time, but never for long: a few days, or a week at most. When she returns, she always brings things they need - seeds and tools for their extensive garden, wool and linen to make new clothes when their own become ragged and worn. They both watch for her arrival, but it is the child who never fails to sense it first, becoming excitable and impossible to soothe whenever Morrigan draws near. The witch always greets their fussing with grumbles and dry wit, but she too is glad to be home. Sylvanna can tell by the way she lifts the child in her arms, and sighs with resignation at how much she has grown - as though it were a crime for a baby to feed.
Watching Morrigan leave is a different story. The witch warns them now of her intended sojourns, ever since the first time when she left without a word and Sylvanna fretted and cried until she and the child both became ragged with exhaustion. When Morrigan returned, she seemed utterly perplexed by the chaotic state of the house and the child's uncharacteristic melancholy.
The child always watches her mother going quietly, her eyes wide as if to take in every last detail of her before Morrigan steps away. They have a ritual: Morrigan holds the child, kissing her; Sylvanna observes the two of them with an indulgent smile. Then she claims her own kiss, trying to resist the urge to make it last unduly long, and receives the child from Morrigan's arms. They both watch her depart, often in the guise of a she-wolf, her clothes held tightly in a bundle in her mouth, or as a hawk, reaching up into the sky on strong, steady wings.
Two pairs of eyes track Morrigan as she departs, and they share the same thoughts: that one day, Morrigan will be theirs completely and she will not need to leave them. She will not be able to leave them; they will bind her with chains of love so tightly that the witch will have to strain for breath.
But that is not today, and so they return to the house and their songs and each other's company.
These are the words that Sylvanna tells no one, that she dares not speak aloud for fear of them somehow escaping or becoming corrupted the instant they leave her lips. One for herself, one for the child, and one for the dark-haired witch between them. There are only two words, really. They may be considered trite, she fears, even heretical - and yet they are so very right, and she knows this by the way her heart squirms in pleasure whenever she thinks of them.
The first word is for the child, and it is daughter.
It suits her perfectly, Sylvanna thinks, the way that chubby-fisted bundle of fingers and toes and delightful smiles has wormed into her heart. She knows it is selfish, and still she claims it - she has as much a right to the word as Morrigan, she reasons; her hands have bathed and clothed the child, and soothed her in the middle of the night. Her hands have killed for her, and would kill again. Darkspawn or templar, man or mage; she is able, and more than willing.
The second word is for Morrigan, and for herself, though she secretly thrills at the insubordination of it all, and it is wife.
Morrigan would never understand, and so she locks this last word inside her heart, tighter than she can almost bear, but there it remains - pure and unsullied, to be carefully admired and brought into the open from time to time, dusted off and then lovingly put back into place.
One day she is careless, and dares to think of the words in the presence of the child. The infant merely looks at her, brilliant eyes opening in simple glee, and smiles, revealing a toothless grin. Warm waves of approval wash over Sylvanna, and she trembles in the wake of her daughter's vast and deeply unchildlike satisfaction.
Chapter 8: Five Things That Never Happened: Set A
A/N: My wife constantly prompts me with weird ideas for BA, and I never use any of them. Until now. I consider these to be AU (some more than others) to the main series. One hundred words each including titles.
With much love and affection for juri.
Warnings: Silliness, horror and possible squick ahead.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Prompt: Sylvanna gets a new puppy.
I. Feastday Offering
The thing in her hands was soft and warm, and if she had to be honest with herself, a little ugly.
"What happened to the rest of the litter?" Sylvanna asked.
Morrigan and her daughter shuffled awkwardly to position themselves before the pile of smoking corpses.
"It's a girl," Ishantha said.
Sylvanna looked at the squashed, mournful little face. Great. As if she needed another bitch in her life.
On cue, a wet mouth closed toothlessly over a finger and began to suckle. Oh, all right. It was rather cute.
"So you'll keep it?" Ishantha asked.
Prompt: Anders fails to satisfy the fairer sex.
II. Anders, Interrupted
The woman rolled out of bed, reaching for her small clothes. Anders groped blindly for her as she passed.
"Wait," he said plaintively. "Won't you at least tell me what I did wrong?"
Leather slapped against her thighs as she strapped on a pair of daggers. "I don't appreciate being watched," she said curtly.
Anders heard the door slam. A minute later, a furry tail trailed across his arm as Ser Pounce-a-lot curled himself up on a pillow, the cat's eyes gleaming a luminous silver.
"You're more trouble than you're worth," Anders said.
Pounce responded with a purr.
Prompt: Morrigan gets tired of living with enthralled!Sylvanna. She seeks out comfort from an elf who looks the same as the warden.
III. The Substitute
"Like this?" The elf tossed her long hair over one shoulder, smile radiant like justice.
"Not quite." Morrigan demonstrated the move again, then gestured to the elf. "Once more, if you please."
Sanga's girl pouted in exasperation. "Can't we just get on with it?"
"Am I paying you to think?"
The whore sighed. The smile was back on her face a moment later. "Let me heal your wounds," she whispered breathily, draping her arms around Morrigan's shoulders. "Since I am the - the-"
"Hero of Ferelden," Morrigan offered, rolling her eyes.
Perhaps she should have requested a mute.
Prompt: A darkspawn stalks Alistair, getting closer and closer over the years. This one will probably be a series of drabbles.
IV. The Little Darkspawn that Could
The noise of grunting grew closer.
Alistair wiped the sweat from his brow, panting. His senses tingled with corruption, and he straightened, getting his bearings. Five miles from Denerim...
The noise stopped.
Try as he might, he had never actually seen the darkspawn - merely flashes of colour, or evidence of its passing: a broken twig, a crushed leaf.
If only the damn thing would stay and fight.
Adjusting the grip on his sword, he continued moving, glancing back over his shoulder as the shadows lengthened.
Behind him, a dark shape rose and crept forwards, one painful step at a time.
Warning: Disturbing content below. If you didn't like chapter 4, this might be squicky.
V. Waste Not, Want Not
The short, coarse fur prickled her back.
"Can't we use the bed?" Sylvanna pleaded, squirming.
Morrigan gave her an odd look. "Later, if you behave," she said, running a finger over Sylvanna's lower lip.
Later never came, though by that time, Sylvanna was long past caring. "Where did you get this fur?" she murmured sleepily.
"Best not to ask."
Sylvanna sat up abruptly at the strange tone in Morrigan's voice, and stared at the dense brown rug. It was oddly shaped.
"No," she whispered, stumbling to her feet, one hand pressed tightly over her mouth.
Prompt: Sylvanna and Morrigan have sex on skinned!Dog, with Sylvanna realising the truth at the end.
And One Thing That Might Happen
Prompt: Sylvanna and Morrigan live happily ever after.
Her Calling never came.
It never came, and though Sylvanna could not understand why, she was grateful beyond measure.
The years had been kind to them.
"Did you see that?" she whispered, snuggling closer. Her fingers gently brushed the papery skin of Morrigan's hand.
"A shooting star. Did you make a wish?"
Sylvanna leant her head on Morrigan's shoulder. "Yes," she murmured, her eyes fluttering shut. "I wished for this to never end."
The next breath came sparse and dry in Morrigan's throat. Thin hands gripped her own, and as their fingers entwined, the stars in the heavens collided.
A/N: Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing so far, especially: interesting2125, Metroidvania, Misdirection, Noah Sila, Tolk600, Victorita9, wayfaringpanda and Zero-Vision.
As always, feedback and concrit are extremely welcome. Also, feel free to offer new prompts, although I can't promise if I will fill them or when. Then again, I never thought I would write most of these either, so who knows? :D
Chapter 9: Guest Chapter
A/N: So, unbeknownst to me, since October my wife had been working on a super sekrit fic for my birthday, and I only found out last night. ^_^ I was soooo psyched because she never writes fic and omg it even has just the right angst to fluff ratio for me and everything!
I persuaded her to share it with everyone else, so here we are... This is her first fic and I'd rather it not be her last, so please play nice, children :-)
Betas: The incomparable oneplusme and the exquisite Viaan.
Warnings: Horror, disturbing content, references to character death.
It was not the thunder, but the rain that woke the warden.
This was most unexpected: not only was she inside at the time, but the drop of moisture was in harsh contrast to the warmth of the fire behind her.
Sylvanna wiped the rain from her face and smiled despite herself. Somehow it was almost nostalgic that the rain had made it all the way inside, something that she had not seen since the time when they had all slept in tents. How much simpler a time that had been.
A sigh escaped her lips as she opened her eyes slowly, squinting in the flickering light of the fire. Blinking seemed to do little to shift the blurred edges in her vision. Her sleepy eyes were not quite yet willing to give up on the dream she had been having.
Glancing upward at the ceiling, she searched for the source of the drop.
Even slightly more awake, it was not immediately obvious where the leak was coming from. Another yawn took over and Sylvanna made a mental note to check again when there was less sleeping to be done.
Her eyelids suddenly felt so heavy.
"My love, I must have drifted off..." she whispered apologetically, careful to keep her voice low so as not to wake their daughter. A slight smile appeared on her lips at the recollection of their exploits a few hours prior. The pointed tips of her ears turned a slight shade of pink at the awkward realisation that perhaps she should have been more aware of her volume earlier in the evening.
After a short pause, the warden regained her previous playful mood. Stretching out her arms wide, she rolled to face her lover. The fur beneath her barely shifted at the movement of her tiny frame.
The smile vanished as her arms met nothing. Sylvanna realised that Morrigan was no longer there; the slight indent where she had once lain was now cold and empty.
Strangely, Sylvanna had not been woken by the witch's movement and a soft curse could be heard as she sat up, arms slumped dejectedly by her sides.
She was alone in the circle of firelight.
It was with the next clap of thunder that the worry began to set in. It took considerable effort for the warden to push images of high winds and small wings from her mind. Of course, it would have been foolish to assume that there was much she could do aside from pull herself together.
Sylvanna focused instead on forcing the thought of how the rain would be barely felt in a warm fur coat. How comforting the weight and breath of pack mates would be in the dark. It was this last thought that made her bitter, the contentment of the evening quickly being replaced with loneliness. Her light linen slip suddenly felt like inadequate protection from the cold, in spite of the warmth coming from the hearth.
She had to remind herself again not to be too disappointed.
The next raindrop landed on her hand, drawing her attention around the room where not one, but many smaller leaks glistened in the light. In places there were almost streams of water flowing down moss-covered stone walls. Sylvanna found herself shocked by the poor state of her surroundings.
Outside the storm grew more ferocious, battering the cottage and shaking it to its foundations. With every strong gust of wind she could hear the patter of dust and rock falling from gaps in the walls where, over time, the ivy had crawled its way in.
In the corner of the room, even her favorite rocking chair now sat neglected and rotting, its legs unable to support the base where Ishantha had sat only days before.
The fire was the only warm thing in this place.
The cry could barely be heard and it surprised her how pathetic it sounded.
Sylvanna tried to remain calm as her calls went unanswered, her quiet sobs drowned out by the crackle of the fire. In a way she was glad of the empty room; no one would expect such weakness from a warden.
This was not her house.
It couldn't be.
She felt ashamed as she tried to calm herself.
Everything would be all right in the morning when Ishantha woke up and came to have breakfast. Perhaps if the storm had died down, Morrigan might even return and tease her about how ridiculous this whole thing had been.
Comforted by this idea, Sylvanna curled up on the rug, keeping her legs curled tightly against her body to avoid the pooling water on the floor, some of which was starting to seep underneath the rug itself.
It hadn't seemed this small before...
The smell of the damp fur drying in the fire brought back memories of happier times, and despite the fear she almost smiled. Closing her eyes tightly she let out a sigh, burying her face into the familiar fur.
The coarse short bristles itched on her skin.
Slowly she reached an arm out tracing the front leg to a stuffed paw, which she took in her hand, caressing it with her fingers.
A feeling of dread settled heavily on the warden.
Clumsy paws leapt towards her, resting their weight steadily on her shoulders. An excited mabari unaware of the balancing act as he jumped up excitedly unable to contain his happiness at her return.
Sylvanna's eyes widened as she immediately drew her hand back from the offending paw, clutching it to her chest with a sharp intake of breath.
A warm tongue lathing her face as he whined at her in concern.
In one smooth motion she bolted upright, pulling her legs up towards her chest, her eyes unwilling to move, unable to look farther than her knees which were becoming wet with tears.
The constant wag of his tail as they explored the wilderness together.
Her slow and steady glances took in the scene from one end to the other.
A cold wet nose nudging her awake, a gentle reminder that the time for breakfast had long since passed.
It took all of her efforts to force the inevitable inspection that followed and she raised a hand to cover her mouth as she stared in horror at the dull, glass-filled sockets of the thing now so long dead.
Liquid eyes that used to stare, pleading for her to have an 'accident' with the meat she was holding. Eyes that would light up with happiness as the scraps hit the ground or move, dashing under sleepy lids as Thetus chased the nugs in his head.
Frantically, she crawled off of the skin and onto the floor, the dusty water seeping through her slip and staining the delicate fabric.
"My good boy."
The voice did not sound like her own, the words forced out through ragged breaths as the cries became more frenzied.
"I am so sorry."
Sylvanna dragged herself to his head and gently picked it off the floor, cradling it in her lap as she cried into the brown fur. In life, his hair had been glossy and smelled sweet, like a child's...a very playful, dirt-encrusted little boy.
He had been hers.
Any control suddenly vanished as she wailed in deep, heart-wrenching sobs, her body shaking with shock and confusion.
Rain continued to spill from the leaks in the ceiling, mixing with her tears on the fur. Outside, the storm had grown more fierce. Through all the commotion Sylvanna did not hear her daughter enter the room.
Ishantha beamed as she hopped between the puddles. The warden looked up only when the girl misjudged a jump, her feet making a light splash in the water as she landed. In the glow of the fire she truly looked like a goddess: her delicate white night gown floating around her legs as she flitted happily through the room.
She was the only thing of beauty in this once beautiful place.
Silently, Ishantha approached the fireplace and reached her hand in through the flames, pulling a burning twig from the pile without even a singe to her soft skin. Turning, she held the glowing brand in front of her mother and motioned towards Thetus, her intentions clear.
Sylvanna shook her head, clinging to his body tighter than before as she feebly tried to bat Ishantha away with one hand. It was of little use, however, as her movements were slow and blurred. The girl easily took hold of her wrist, pulling Sylvanna back away from the fur as she dropped the burning branch.
It seemed to fall in slow motion. The warden could only look on in horror and grief as her beloved pet was set alight.
At least this time she had the chance to say goodbye.
Ishantha stroked her mother's hair, her small eyes intently focused on the reaction and expressions on Sylvanna's face. The warden watched mutely as the fur blackened and crumbled, the room filling with the acrid smell of burning hair.
Gently, the little girl guided the warden to lay down upon the damp floorboards. Sylvanna woodenly complied, allowing herself to be led as if she was the child instead of the other way around. Peering through her tears, she couldn't quite make out Ishantha's face. Only the tiny dancing flames reflected in the girl's eyes were clear, burning themselves onto her mind.
She succumbed to exhaustion.
Ishantha smiled contentedly to herself as she stood by the open window, looking out over the hills at the Black City in the distance.
It was only after several minutes of shaking that the warden awoke to Morrigan's firm grip on her shoulder.
Gasping for breath, Sylvanna sat bolt upright, her eyes darting around the room as she blinked the sleep out of her eyes.
The sound of the rain was once again gentle on the roof of the cottage; a slow, unsteady rhythm left behind by the storm. She could feel the warm, comforting presence of the witch beside her as they lay together by the fireplace.
As her surroundings came into focus she found herself relaxing slightly. Other than a slight chill, the room was as welcoming and homely as always, with not an item out of place. Even the rocking chair was just as it should have been. Sylvanna dimly considered the lack of cracks in the ceiling as she stretched her body, trying to soothe the aches left over from several hours on the floor. Conscious that she could smell burning, she quickly glanced at the hearth. However, the fire had long since died down, only a few glowing embers remaining to shed a ruddy glow across the room.
Beside her, Morrigan stirred.
"That was a most pleasing interlude. However, I fear that we may freeze if we stay here all night."
The witch rose gracefully, seemingly unconcerned with protecting her modesty. Distracted by the glow of the firelight on her lover's bare form, Sylvanna didn't notice the black soot that fell from Morrigan's skin.
The witch offered a hand to help her rise.
"Come, let us get you cleaned up, shall we?"
If she also smelled the burning, she betrayed no indication. Sylvanna gave Morrigan an unconvincing smile as she was helped to her feet. She rubbed her temple with trembling fingers, allowing herself to be led away from the fireplace toward their bedroom.
"I should have thought you would be most accustomed to nightmares by this point." Morrigan said, and although it was matter-of-fact, her tone held a certain fondness. "'Tis unusual to see you so affected by one. Perhaps this time I shall remain awake to guard you."
In the far corner of their room, Ishantha surveyed the scene from where she stood, perched on the narrow spiral staircase. One hand against the railing, she shifted her balance as she wiped ash from one foot, then the other.
Morrigan shot a stern and knowing glance at the girl as they walked past, the disapproval clear on her delicate features as she also tried to subtly wipe the soles of her feet. Her face softened in concern as she looked back at the elf. Sylvanna looked so frail and small, her eyes red-rimmed from crying and her pretty white chemise now stained a dusty dark grey.
The witch took a deep breath and pulled the warden close, one arm wrapping tightly around her shoulders.
"After all," Morrigan said as they reached the doorway, "what am I for, if not to shield you from the nightmares of this world?"
Chapter 10: Five More Things That Never Happened: Set B
A/N: I might possibly be a terrible person, or just extremely suggestible. Crackfic time again - prompts by juri.
Warnings for disturbing content and utter tastelessness. Completely AU, of course.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Firm hands drifted across her skin.
"Mmph," she murmured sleepily.
There was a brush against her ear, ticklish enough to make her sneeze. Something slid down between her shoulders, two more hands cradling the curve of her ass, with another frustrating point of pressure nudging at her thighs...
Sylvanna turned her head, meeting four pairs of eyes. She screamed loudly in the face of her nightmare, the brutal mandibles, the spindly limbs, the dark and hairy abdomen. Morrigan shifted back to human form and began to laugh.
"I hate you," she sniffled, and blushed to see Morrigan's smile.
She observed herself carefully in the contraption of tin and glass. Hands traced over skin, no longer unblemished and smooth, exacting fingers pinching and prodding flesh until she was close to bruising.
Discarded on the bed lay her cowl and scarf, the dress that had served her well beguiling foolish men and drawing many a wandering eye. No more. Leering gazes and heated words were a thing of the past. She did not miss it, not a bit: the false adulation and the clumsy gropes of drunken sots.
Morrigan picked up her sensible, modest gown, and her fingers trembled.
"But I love you," Sylvanna protested, eyes suspiciously moist.
"Were you imagining a Chantry wedding?" Morrigan sneered. "A blessing from some frigid crone, the fanfare of trumpets, the taking of vows?"
Sylvanna fumbled, gaze downcast. "I only meant-"
"You meant to bind me with promises I could never hope to keep."
Tears began to fall, the elf's eyes reddening, her whole body trembling with the effort to suppress her sobs.
"Do not speak to me of this again," Morrigan warned, and Sylvanna nodded, her chin damp in Morrigan's hand.
She kissed her then, tasting the bitterness of broken dreams.
Something tapped against the glass.
The King of Ferelden scrambled for his sword, heartbeat racing. He stepped towards his wife's chamber, but the sound rang out again - rat-a-tat, from outside his room.
His veins burned with the taint, mesmeric. He pressed close to the wall, the window within reach.
Rain poured in when he flung open the glass, sword brandished against nothing. The fire in his blood receded, even as cool sleet covered his skin. Shivering, he watched for movement over dark gables and spires, but the night kept her secrets well.
The sound followed him into sleep.
V. Touch, reprise
"Again?" Sylvanna groaned, as a hairy limb nudged her cheek. She sprawled, reaching for a sheet; it was cold underground. Mandibles clicked near her head.
"I'm tired," she protested, snapping her fingers for a light. She squinted in the sudden brightness, and the spider reached for her; tender, exploratory. The texture against her skin made her shiver.
She gazed up at the warning instinct in her gut; the spider withdrew, its alien face unreadable. Creamy, sticky web hit her face a moment later, a poisoned barb silencing her magic.
It wasn't her fault. All spiders looked the same.
And One Thing That Might Happen
The blow was completely unexpected, and it sent Morrigan reeling.
"You should have another baby," Ishantha said.
She stuttered for words. "A what?"
"A boy this time," her daughter continued, eyes gleaming. "Someone pliable to lead my soldiers."
Morrigan calmed her nervous heart. "Is that not the purpose you intend for your father?"
"I will have many armies," Ishantha insisted. "I can have more than one general."
Never again, she had vowed, battered and bloody, as she held her newborn daughter. "Let us discuss this later," Morrigan said carefully, and fled.
Perhaps a new kitten would provide adequate distraction.
I - Morrigan startles Sylvanna after sex by shapeshifting into a spider.
II - Morrigan's breasts suffer the ravages of time.
III - Sylvanna brings up the issue of marriage.
IV - Continuation of The Little Darkspawn Who Could.
V - Continuation of I.
I - Ishantha asks for a little brother or sister. Apparently this was supposed to be a conversation with Sylvanna, but oh well. I might try fixing it again next round.
A/N: With many thanks from both of us to interesting2125, Misdirection, Restless Goddess, wayfaringpanda and Zero-Vision for the reviews. :)
Chapter 11: Five Things That Might Have Happened: Set C
A/N: These range from extremely AU to slightly plausible. With thanks to juri for most of the prompts.
Spoilers up to BA chapter 36. Warning for violence, abuse and kitsch, not necessarily in that order.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"It's so smooth," Sylvanna marvelled, "and soft."
"Am I rubbing too hard?" Sylvanna asked, bare skin trembling at her touch.
Leliana shook her head and guided the elf's fingers, covering them with her own. "Light strokes," she advised, her voice emerging as a purr. "Gently, gently now... see?"
Behind them, Morrigan sniffed in derision, folding her arms across her chest. "Are we to eat that?"
Leliana recoiled in horror. "Schmooples is not edible!"
The nug squeaked in agreement, pressing a damp snout against Leliana's hands. "There, there," she soothed, and two black button eyes closed in pleasure.
"I've decided what I want for my Feastday," her daughter said, lashes fluttering. "A new sibling."
Sylvanna frowned. "That's not possible."
"But you're mages, both of you. Can't you just...?"
"Magic doesn't work that way."
"I could make it work." The child's voice became thoughtful. "I would call him 'brother'."
Sylvanna looked down to find her daughter staring at her intently. She had worn that same look whilst freezing the wings of butterflies in flight.
"A babe is no Feastday present," Sylvanna warned.
Her daughter sulked in silence, but only for a moment.
"Can I have one for Satinalia?"
III. Taking Stock
Valena was dead. The gold sparkles rising from her dismembered corpse only confirmed what his blood had told him.
The Architect knelt by the remains, hands sifting through the filth. There. A battered breastplate, two bloodied sovereigns and eight copper pieces. One teddy bear. A vial of unidentifiable fluid.
He took the coins and the bear, noting how the sparkles remained. They were quite attractive, albeit distracting.
The warden remained sparkle-free. A pity. He had coveted her boots for weeks. She didn't need to be dead for him to take them, but where was the fun in that?
IV. Flying Lesson
She had told Ishantha and she had told her again: the wind was too strong, the tree too tall, but to no avail.
It was with quiet satisfaction that she watched her daughter struggle with her footing, talons scoring deep into the branch. She landed beside Ishantha in a flurry of wings, tilting her head to one side and blinking.
A sudden gust of wind; it might well have been an accident, she mused, as Ishantha's precarious grip led her to stumble and fall.
Morrigan peered down.
One very bruised, indignant little girl began to cry.
Her blood negated any possibility of sneaking up on him.
"Yes?" he asked, turning.
She wet her lips. "The mask. I want you to take off the mask."
Silence. He stared at her, expressionless, then unhooked the golden visor covering his eyes.
She gawked. It was no worse than a man struck by a fireball, or one of the abominations in the tower. What would it feel like, to touch that grey and sunken flesh?
He replaced the mask. "There is still work to be done, Grey Warden."
Sylvanna's heart filled with an inexplicable urge to burst into song.
And Two Things That Never Happened
I. Vigil's Keep
I've got you now, Alistair thought. Six dozen wardens plus the Silver Order, and they still couldn't catch one darkspawn? What was wrong with them?
Something rattled against the walls, but instead of turning he looked up.
The darkspawn blacked out the moon and it landed on his face a second later, a stench so foul he momentarily forgot to breathe. It tossed in his grasp like a greased nug, howling all the while as though it wanted his guards to find them.
A blow to his head lost him precious moments. He staggered to his feet, alone.
Morrigan woke to find herself surrounded by light. Metal chilled her skin, cradling her limbs in a deceptively gentle hold.
"Mmrph." The gag tasted of old blood and bile, and when she breathed, the scent of lyrium set spots dancing before her eyes.
She gazed into a face devoid of affection. Slim fingers brushed her nipple, and she stiffened, feeling heat, not unlike the sting of molten wax. Those same fingers drifted over her neck, and she flinched as they touched her cheek, nails grazing her lips.
Sylvanna never said a word, not even when Morrigan began to scream.
I. Leliana and Sylvanna suggestively pet a nug.
II. Rewrite of Ishantha's little brother ('Imperative' from Set B) - Sylvanna's POV.
III. The Architect loots Valena's corpse.
IV. Morrigan pushes Ishantha from the nest.
V. The inevitable Architect/Phantom of the Opera crossover. I'm amused by how it casts Morrigan as Raoul.
I. Continuation of 'little darkspawn that could'.
II. Written shortly after passing over BA chapter 25 for betaing. Oneplusme made the mistake of commenting: "I was half-expecting the non-con to be the other way around - deranged Sylvie doing terrible things to Morrigan..." In this verse, Sylvanna gets what she always wanted - someone who can never leave her. I couldn't leave this alone, so I might poke at it a bit more next update.
A/N: With many thanks to Asher77, interesting2125, Misdirection, mutive, Restless Goddess, TheArchdemon, wayfaringpanda and Zero-Vision for the reviews.
Chapter 12: The Tower
A/N: Occasionally people have commented on how underpowered/submissive/passive Sylvanna is. This is an AU exploring what I think I would have probably ended up writing had I intended Sylvanna to be more proactive with her desires.
With thanks to oneplusme and juri for betaing.
Warnings: the usual. Basically the same as last update, minus the kitsch.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The sun rose in its smug, indulgent way, as it had each morning for the past seven years. Morrigan watched it gliding over the horizon, glamorous golds and reds banishing the gloom of the Fereldan countryside.
Ishantha would probably call it beautiful, sacred, as if the act could be ascribed to divine intervention. The two of them had not spoken for days - possibly even months. Time moved differently here, distilled to saturation point until one merely floundered in it like an ant trapped in honey. Morrigan marked her own time in a book, each day noted with careful precision. Wintermarch, Guardian, Drakonis... the months melded into a blur, her tower impervious to the seasons.
She picked up a quill, adjusting her grip before noting the date on her page: seven days until the anniversary of Ishantha's birth. Perhaps they would permit Morrigan to attend the festivities this year. Not that she cared for celebrations, but it would present another opportunity to flee.
It was all her fault. Morrigan flexed her fingers, wincing as the joints creaked. The warden had broken them, one by one, voicing useless platitudes about how sorry she was with each jarring crunch. Without intervention, they had healed poorly, broken bones fusing together in a parody of normal function. The warden had promised to restore them, eventually, whispering the possibility like a sweet nothing in Morrigan's ear.
Morrigan did not intend to linger long enough to learn whether she would keep her word.
"Good morning," the warden said, the door opening and closing behind her. Morrigan refused to turn, her nib trailing ink across the page as she drew a horizontal line under the last day of the month. A rustle of fabric sounded behind her, a breeze stirring the hairs on the back of her neck.
"Did you sleep well?" the warden asked, not expecting an answer. It had taken her years, but eventually Morrigan had learnt how to summon fire with her voice alone. Shapeshifting was harder – how many books had she thrown against the wall in frustration? As a mouse, she had snuck beneath the tower door, skittering from step to step all the way down to the ground. She had taken her first breath of freedom, pressing her claws into the soft mud before they had managed to stop her.
The shock of being forced back into her own body had been nothing compared to what came next. The warden had cried all the while, tears streaming down her face even as she removed Morrigan's tongue, wielding the knife with nary a tremor.
"It's a beautiful day, at least for now. Ishantha thinks it might rain this evening." The warden picked up a comb, pulling it through Morrigan's hair with long, smooth strokes. Morrigan remained still, her gaze following the arc of a hawk in flight. The tower looked out in all directions, once serving as a vantage point for encroaching armies. On the day she'd lost her voice, the tower windows had been barred, so that scarcely a sliver of light had emerged from beneath their covers.
That night, alone in darkness so thick she could scarcely breathe, something had whispered to her.
"We'll move to the Free Marches this summer," the warden said, holding up a mirror for Morrigan to observe her reflection. "Your mother was right, as always. The most delicious rumours have been coming out of Kirkwall. It'll be exciting, don't you think?"
Moving meant a change in routine. The voice at the back of her mind suddenly grew louder, a burst of shared excitement causing her to grit her teeth, preventing any sounds from escaping her lips. She had waited this long. She could wait a little longer.
The warden sighed, then moved to sit beside Morrigan, one perfect finger tracing over the dry ink on the open page. The proximity of her heat and perfume made the voice inside Morrigan twitch, begging for a preemptive strike. The warden's hand closed over her wrist, and she fought the urge to snarl.
"Things will be different," the warden murmured, a vision of doe-eyed innocence. "I never wanted this for us, Morrigan. You know that."
She leant in, and Morrigan forced herself to remain absolutely still, neither flinching nor surrendering as her lips found the lobe of her ear, the base of her throat. The warden moved, seeking more, her mouth pressed against Morrigan's, hand tangled in her hair.
This was the most power that Morrigan had, right here, denying the warden what she desired the most, and Morrigan relished the moment with all that remained of her pride.
The warden drew back, not even trying to disguise the hurt in her eyes. She bent down and kissed the crown of Morrigan's head, her perfume lingering. "I'll see you later, my love."
The door opened and closed. Morrigan released the shuddering breath she had been holding, repressing the need to tear something apart. There were only a few more weeks 'til the summer; she could endure, knowing that this would soon end, one way or another. The voice within her disagreed, stirring restlessly; she had promised it an out, but not yet - not yet - and so she forced it to quieten with all the strength she could muster.
Morrigan returned to her table, twining her hair into a tight knot and patiently stabbing it with pins, the metal ornaments cool to her touch. The pressure hearkened back to a simpler era, and she smoothed away a stray strand of hair, observing her reflection in the mirror.
Things would be set to rights, she promised herself.
It was only a matter of time.
A/N: With many thanks to mutive, often indecisive, wayfaringpanda and Zero-Vision for the reviews.