Chapter 1: 9:31 Dragon Age, Seheron
A dwarven woman stands on Seheron’s docks, her long, thick braid unravelling in the chill wind, cheeks ruddy under her casteless brand. On her back are two blades: a longsword and a greatsword, its blade longer than she is tall and its haft jutting far above her head.
This doesn’t escape notice.
A great horned Qunari stalks up to her, eyes alight with fury. She bows calmly in greeting, speaking clear, quick Qunlat and Common Tongue.
“Kithshokost. Maraas shokra. Anaan esaam Qun. I am a Grey Warden. I bring the Arishok the Asala of Sten of the Beresaad.”
Chapter 2: 9:31 Dragon Age, Denerim
The Grey Warden stands on Fereldan docks, her short braids buffeted by the breeze, eyes on the crowd. Oddly, Sten is nowhere to be seen. She frowns; he has never broken his word to her.
It’s not hard to track down the sole Qunari in Denerim. She knocks on his room door. No answer.
Natia just knocks again. And again and again, long after the ship to Seheron has sailed. Finally, she hears heavy footfalls. Sten opens the door, wordless and shirtless, with every wound he sustained against the Archdemon the dead grey of the Taint.
Chapter 3: 9:31 Dragon Age, Seheron
She’s lucky. The kithshok speaks Common Tongue, though not as fluently as he’d like.
“Where comes this sword, bas?” he asks Natia, eyeing her suspiciously. “It is not yours.”
“It belonged to my kadan,” she replies with a challenging glare. She’s become quite good at it over the past year. “I came to return Asala to his people. And submit his report to the Arishok.”
“No.” Somehow, she’d expected that. “He will not see you.”
“Then I will wait for him,” Natia says politely, toes digging down within her boots, “for as long as it takes.”
Chapter 4: 9:31 Dragon Age, Denerim
They sit on his too-small bed, her face ashen, his impassive. She breaks the silence first. “H — how? When?”
“The night of the celebration. The final battle must have triggered it.”
“I’ll call a healer—”
“Kadan.” His voice is gruff. “I have tried. Few would see me.”
Her eyes narrow with rage at their ingratitude, and fear of what comes. “And those who would?”
“Can do nothing. I cannot go home like this. I would be a threat to my people.”
“But Sten, your report to the Arishok—”
“—Will die with me.”
“…No,” she says deliberately. “No, it won’t.”
Chapter 5: 9:31 Dragon Age, Seheron
The Warden keeps her word. By day, she guards and shifts crates; by night, she gazes across the ocean. Eventually, the winds change and the last traders leave. She remains.
“Do not test our patience, Warden. The Arishok will not see you.”
“Why not?” Silence. “Well, tomorrow, then.”
Many tomorrows later a Qunari woman approaches her, soft lines and dusky eyes and no less imposing for that. Natia doesn't know enough Qunari tongue to understand her, or what she calls her ('Vashtaam'? 'Vashvaarad'?), but bas and Ben-Hassrath and Ariqun are recognisable enough—as is her tone of Follow, now.
Chapter 6: 9:31 Dragon Age, Denerim
Natia has a plan. In the mornings she visits Sten with food, water and fresh dressings. Sometimes she brings cookies.
When she arrives, he is usually already up writing his report: the one she will deliver for him. He is no scribe, but his script is surprisingly neat and small, for all that the quill looks tiny in his hand.
She cleans and re-bandages his wounds daily, though they refuse to heal. It is a losing battle, but they fight it anyway. Such is hope.
Every night, she writes urgent missives to the Orlesian Wardens, begging assistance. They never reply.
Chapter 7: 9:31 Dragon Age, Seheron
The Ben-Hassrath delivers Natia to the Ariqun: a tall, graceful woman with a steel-hard gaze. She reminds her of a bereskarn, somehow. But any Warden knows bereskarn cannot be faced in fear.
“You are far from your lands, Grey Warden,” she says, her voice like distant thunder. “And far from your duty.”
“My word is also my duty, Ariqun. I swore such an oath to my kadan."
The woman raises one pale eyebrow. "You have been mentioned. You say Sten of the Beresaad fought beside you. Where is he now?"
Natia swallows thickly. "He died fighting." It's not completely untrue.
Chapter 8: 9:31 Dragon Age, Denerim
The last word is written. Sten, already pale and losing weight, seals the scroll with wax. “It's done. Now draw your sword.”
Natia’s heart freezes. “What?!”
“Either the Taint will destroy me, or you will. I prefer the latter.”
“Kadan, no. Don’t ask this of me. I love you,” she blurts out. The instant she says it—even before he fixes her with a look that cuts like his sword—she regrets it. “...I should go.” she finally stammers.
“You should.” He refuses to meet her eye.
She doesn’t return the next day. Or the next.
Chapter 9: 9:31 Dragon Age, Seheron
“The Arishok isn’t here.”
Natia’s ears fill with the whine of silence. “He’s...not?”
“No. He pursues a greater duty elsewhere.” The Ariqun’s brow furrows when she says this. The Warden can’t understand why.
“So what now?” she asks thinly. “When do the traders return? I will honour this promise if it takes everything I have left."
“There will be no need for that,” the Ariqun says decisively. “The Sten was born here; our tamassrans will reclaim his blade. And as for this report, I will see that it is delivered. Where is it, Warden?”
Chapter 10: 9:31 Dragon Age, Denerim
“You look like crap, Sten.”
“So do you.”
Natia’s eyes and nose are red, and Sten looks drained of blood. Her only weapons are food, water and clean bandages. He refuses to eat, so they simply talk.
“Sten, how do qunari mourn the dead?” she asks, hands full of poultices.
"We do not mourn empty shells. A person's service is remembered by the Qun, and their tools returned to the tamassran.”
“But that's like you’ll just…disappear.” She balls her fists. “You shouldn’t have to face this alone.”
“I do not,” he says simply. “You are here.”
Chapter 11: 9:31 Dragon Age, Seheron
Even after all these months, Natia has kept the scroll sealed, intact and uncrumpled. The Ben-Hassrath plucks it from Natia’s hand and presents it to the Ariqun—who sets it aside.
“You—you’re not even going to read it?” Natia says, struggling to keep her voice level.
“No. It is for the Arishok, and he shall receive it. But you stand here now, Warden. What happened after the Blight?”
Natia’s heart pounds so hard, she feels the Stone must take her there and then. But her hesitation fades as she begins to tell Sten's story. Their story.
Chapter 12: 9:31 Dragon Age, Denerim
Natia starts staying nights in Sten's room the day she finds him collapsed on the floor. She tends to him, then sends one last letter to the Orlesian Grey Wardens, mustering every drop of rhetoric, every fragment of emotion.
The next day a messenger arrives with a letter for her.
Within the hour it is ashes. If the Wardens want Vigil’s Keep, they’re welcome to it. She has no charity left for them. Not now.
When Sten wakes, she asks him to teach her about preparing a body for death. He refuses. She does not push the subject.
“Kithshokost. Maraas shokra.”
“Anaan esaam Qun,” Natia finishes. “Then?”
Sten carefully imparts to her the words she’ll need on Seheron—to greet, to explain, to gain audience with the Arishok. One is already familiar.
“Take her with you.” He motions to the sword at the foot of his bed. His nights are spent maintaining it; the blade gleams like new.
“But that’s your soul.”
“And she will return to my people.”
Just the thought of it chills Natia, but she hides her fear. “Sten…how do Qunari prepare for death?”
“Always we accept its coming. Listen well.”
The Taint reaches a tipping point sometime during the night, and Sten suffers during those dark hours. It is his final battle.
“Time runs short,” he says faintly. “Help me up, kadan.”
She’s ready. Natia redresses her comrade’s wounds, then undoes his braids. It is a delicate job; his hair is longer than she’d thought, falling light and fine across his scarred shoulders, and she takes the time to comb it out with her fingers. He sits still beneath her touch, legs folded under him, his breathing slow and calm.
Just before she looses his final braid, she hesitates. “Could I…kiss you? Before you go?” she asks him, almost shyly. He nods. She aims for his forehead, but his eyes flicker open to meet hers. Sten reaches round and, with the gentlest touch imaginable, guides Natia’s mouth to his.
He tastes of salt and shadows, but no man has ever touched her like that before. As if she were attractive. As if she were wanted. Natia kisses back, hard, hungry, and heartsick, as though her breath could sustain him. When they finally break away, each can feel the other’s pulse racing under bare skin. Her cheek is damp below his palm. Natia undoes Sten’s last braid with great care, cushioning his head with her hand as he lies back down.
“Panahedan, kadan,” he murmurs, his eyes closing. “It has been an honour.”
“Goodbye, love,” Natia whispers, laying her head against his chest. Kadan, close to the heart. “I’ll get you home, I promise. And I’ll never forget you.”
Sten does not protest, or rebuke; this time, he simply rests his hand in her hair, and there it stays as Denerim blazes gold in the evening sun. He does not wake again.
Chapter 13: 9:31 Dragon Age, Seheron
For weeks, Natia had thought the loss would crush her—that it had crushed her. But standing here now before the Ariqun and a handful of Ben-Hassrath, with her eyes red but dry, it is more privilege than burden to speak of her kadan and his unwavering dedication to the Qun.
“He has done well, if your words are true,” the Ariqun says. She looks upon the dwarf standing before her, chin high, her face fiercely proud. “Why has a bas woman gone so far for him?”
Natia dares a tiny smile. “Where I come from, we have salroka. You have kadan. To me he was both, and more.” She can almost feel his presence beside her as she speaks; her lips burn hot as magma, cold as Ostagar ice. Her hand clenches around another unseen. “I don't know how you will judge him. But to me, he was a good man, worth bringing home to his people.” Natia unbuckles Asala from her shoulder and reverently proffers it haft-first. A Ben-Hassrath steps forward; the Ariqun makes a small gesture, and receives the sword herself.
“And now your duty has been discharged. You have returned with both the Sten’s soul and his final words. What will you do now?”
She shrugs. “The winds will not bring ships to your shores for months—that much I know. If there is a place for me, then I wish to come to the Qun.”
“There is a place for all. But you are a Warden. Your duty lies elsewhere.”
“Has there never been a Qunari Warden? Let there be one now. Darkspawn know little of maps and much about destruction and chaos. I might prove useful.” A trader could leave with the changing winds. But Natia knows what awaits her across the sea: Wardens who will not help their comrade’s comrade, a title that brings a measure of happiness to all but herself, a city never really her own to begin with.
“Perhaps so. It is a pity you were not born to the Qun, Warden. Your kind are rare indeed.”
“Those who find. Those who retrieve. And those who return to the Qun what it is due.”
Natia bends knee to the Ariqun with as much grace as her armour allows. “Then I am yours to wield. Do what you will with me.”
Oddly, it feels like she's coming home.
Chapter 14: 9:31 Dragon Age, Ventosus Straits
They will not mourn him. But she will. She buries Sten at sea, as close to Seheron’s shores as she can. The captain doesn’t know the Hero of Ferelden from a hieroglyph, and lets her sink a chest overboard in exchange for coin.
She quietly recites the Prayers for the Dead, eyes locked on the rapidly disappearing trail of bubbles. The breeze is redolent with exotic leaves, fragrant woodsmoke, and salt.
And seagull crap.
Skunks don’t mind the smell of other skunks, she remembers him once saying, and starts to quietly laugh even as the tears flow.
Chapter 15: 9:37 Dragon Age, Kirkwall
“Y'know, you’re a little short for a Qunari,” muses Garrett Hawke.
“And you’re a little hairy for a mage,” is Taarbas’ uninflected reply.
“What does one have to with the—”
“Indeed.” She grins.
Taarbas is the only Qunari Garrett has ever caught smiling. The brand of a dwarven casteless still stands out against her suntanned cheek. She bears two blades: a longsword etched with blue runes, and a greatsword with a blade longer than she is tall. Too large to even imagine her wielding.
("My soul," she'd explained when questioned. "And that of one close to my heart.")
“My task is complete,” she says, her brothers' ten swords reclaimed. "If you were Qunari, they'd call you Ben-Hassrath. I give you this weapon worthy of the role." She hands him a mage’s staff, with a blade patterned like a wind-blown sea.
Hawke curls his hand around it, and Taarbas' calm crystallises into steel. “Guard it or lose all honor,” she commands, amber eyes bright. There is a leader's air about her, and he cannot help feeling something familiar in that gaze. It reminds him of Carver, or Stroud. It is the look of someone bound to a purpose.