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Awake and Alive

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Vellariel stared at the box that the serving girl had dropped in her haste to get to the door without really seeing it. The elf, maybe a year or two younger than herself, had been all but crawling, apologies falling from her lips as if she expected to be beaten for whatever offense she thought she had committed. It made Ariel feel uneasy. Usually, she was the one groveling in hopes of avoiding the lash. Fereldens were supposed to treat their servants better. At least, that was what the slaves in Tevinter believed. Maybe they had been wrong all along. Perhaps elves were simply mistreated everywhere.

Pushing the thick blanket aside, Ariel forced herself to stand, and had to bite down on the inside of her cheek to keep from moaning. Whatever Fereldens thought of her people, the ogre certainly hadn’t been discriminating in its violence. Elf, human, dwarf, it hadn’t cared. Every one of them might as well have been ragdolls, the way it had tossed them around. She supposed she could count herself lucky to have survived long enough to seal the Breech. It was hard, though, to feel gratitude when she felt as though every inch of her was one big bruise.

She knelt and lifted the lid of the little box, and felt her eyebrows lift. Apparently, someone had anticipated her pain, if the sprig of Elfroot that she found was any indication. Pulling one of the soft green leaves from the stem, she put it between her teeth and chewed. She didn’t realize until she opened the chest on one side of the room that someone had relieved her of the filthy, tattered mercenary garb that she had been wearing for what felt like days. Ariel was only too grateful to pull on the clean garments. The stitching indicated that someone had made quick work of altering them to fit her, but the material was of good quality and helped to keep the unforgiving cold of the Frostbacks at bay.

The sun, when she first stepped out of the tiny, one-room cabin, was blinding as it reflected off the snow, drowning her vision in white light for a moment before her eyes adjusted. Instantly, she found herself wishing that they hadn’t. In spite of the cold, her palms felt sweaty. She had never had so many eyes on her in all her life. A murmur swept through the crowd and soon, the scant few people who hadn’t looked up when she’d stepped out into the light were turning in her direction. She didn’t recognize any of them, but they certainly seemed to know her. She heard her name being murmured from more than a couple mouths as she lifted her chin and forced herself to walk the path to the chantry, her cheeks hot.

Raised voices greeted her upon her entry, and she wondered if it might have been wiser to remain asleep in that little cabin. The serving girl had said that the Breech was no longer spreading, that people were grateful for her involvement. Those heated tones were far from pleased, however. They were angry. Her heart clenched with fear. Would they chain her up again? Throw her in some windowless dungeon in this cold, harsh place, never to be seen again? Perhaps they would ship her back to Tevinter, to be sold and traded like chattel. I’ll die first, she thought fiercely. Ten years, she’d been a slave, beaten, abused, without any reason to hope for her freedom. Still, she could recognize a blessing when it stared her in the face. If she had to run for the rest of her life to keep from finding herself crushed under the oppressive boots of the Imperium, then that was what she would do.

It took everything she had not to lash out at the Grand Chancellor when he demanded that she be chained. She could feel the magic crackling at her fingertips, ready to be hurled if he took so much as a step in her direction. Only Cassandra’s unrelenting presence kept the peace from being shattered. Her expression was as cold as the icy breeze outside when she slammed that thick book down on the table. The cleric’s eyes bulged and he went red in the face. Ariel found herself looking at his ears, wondering when the steam would begin to rise from them. He turned to storm out of the room and she had to scramble to get out of his way lest he walk right over her. She wished she could follow him. She had never heard of ‘The Inquisition of Old,’ but she was perceptive enough to realize that this new Inquisition would likely turn her world upside down. She wondered if she would ever be able to right it again.

At least they weren’t still accusing her of mass murder anymore. Thank the Maker for small blessings.