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The Light of Seere

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This wasn't happening. It just couldn't be.

And yet it was.

The final moments after Meredith had called for the Right of Annulment had been an inferno of violence and sick confusion. Still trying to speak words that might calm the insanity of the moment, Orsino had attempted a subtle healing spell, hoping to gain some calm for the soldiers around them.

It didn’t work. The templars moved in. He only had seconds to register Cullen’s voice raised against the Knight-Commander’s, and for those few seconds, he allowed himself to hope… but no. Meredith’s presence and iron will still held sway, despite her insanity. They managed the retreat, hopelessly, into the Gallows Prison courtyard even as a deceptive silence fell. The silence before what they all knew would be the final, desperate battle.

“So here we are,” said Varric pensively. “Not how I thought it would end.”

“It won’t,” said Hawke, shoving an auburn curl restlessly behind her ear. “It won’t.”

“It doesn’t matter what we do,” said Anders. He alone of all of them was curiously calm. Orsino couldn’t figure out if it was shock at the fact that he was still alive, or if he was simply at peace now that he had committed his shocking act of violence against the city. When he shut his eyes, Orsino could still see, pale and glowing, the afterimage of the Chantry and its destruction, an explosion that had been both terrible and beautiful, as if the humans’ Maker had reached down out of the sky only to pull it to himself.

But now here they were again, waiting for death.

“It’s funny isn’t it?” asked Merrill, wide-eyed and still trembling. Isabela glanced sharply at her, then her face softened. “What’s funny, Kitten?” she asked.

“Oh, just, you know, I keep thinking and wondering,” said Merrill. “Wondering what’ll happen to my eluvian if I die here, and even more silly, somehow I can’t stop wishing I’d brushed my hair.”

“I don’t want to die,” said one of the young Circle mages, a sharp-faced boy Orsino recognized as Halden. Behind him, one of the young female human mages, Tyssa, scowled, while the boy next to her whimpered.

 “It is not the time for cowardice,” said Fenris, his keen eyes blazing against his dark skin, the lyrium lines pulsing slightly with adrenalin or anger. Orsino sighed as Halden regarded Fenris narrowly, raising his staff almost in spite of himself.

“Stop that,” said Orsino. “No one else is dying. Yet. And no one’s fighting among ourselves here either.”

“What he said,” said Hawke. “We make our stand here.”

“I just wish I could stop thinking about my hair,” said Merrill. “It’s so stupid. I’m not afraid of fighting, I’m just…”

“I know,” said Anders, surprising them all.

“I keep worrying about the cat in the Gallows,” admitted Orsino to Merrill, meeting her eyes gently. “And wondering who will feed it if the battle goes wrong. I forgot to let it out, you see.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” said Merrill, visibly happy to have something else to worry about.

“A Kitten for Kitten,” said Isabela. Then she pushed back a wisp of dark hair from Merrill’s face. “And see? Nothing to worry about. It’s perfect.”

Varric gave a slight grim, grin. “Don’t fret, Daisy, she’s right.”

“Well if I do die,” said Merrill, “somebody please make sure to feed that cat.” Orsino smiled in spite of himself, and he saw Hawke and even Anders doing the same.

“We’ll take care of the cat together,” said Anders. “We’ll have to be quick,” he said, with a shade of his old humor, “since I’ll probably be headed for the ax or the cell afterward, whichever is closest.”

“A cell, if I had my way,” said Aveline, her lips still compressed in a tight line. “You have justice to answer to. And not the one inside your head.”

Anders looked surprised. “I know,” he said. “And I am content to do so.” He flashed a grin at Merrill. “But we have to save that cat… and then I’ll answer to all the charges you care to set.”

There was a clatter outside, and the heavy clang of armor. Orsino saw Hawke, Varric, Isabela and the others ready themselves seamlessly, almost in tandem. He admired the fluidity of it, the grace of a small fighting force in full accord. He himself prepared himself for the calm he’d need for his connection to the Fade, then grimaced inwardly as he saw some of the mages crowding to the shadows again. He stepped forward.

“Mages of the Gallows!” he cried. “Do not let this be your end! Stand with me and let us show them what battle magic truly is!”

The encouragement seemed to work, as the mages aligned themselves with Hawke’s group, and alongside Orsino. Outside, the noises were growing louder.

Seconds passed, hearts beat. There were only a few moments with the others, in the dimness and darkness – just seconds to say goodbye, in which to profess liking or love, or to make peace with the gods. The girl Tyssa was shaking so badly Orsino realized she was about to drop her staff.

“Tyssa,” he reminded her. “Calm and centered. A still wind within the Fade.”

“Cheer up,” said kindhearted Varric. “It won’t be so bad. And once we all get through it, I’ll write a story about it.”

“I like stories,” said Merrill, and Orsino  caught Hawke grinning in spite of herself.

“So do I,” said Varric. “So let’s make it a good one.”

Then the doors burst open and the attack began. Orsino, the mages, and Hawke’s little band of adventurers found themselves trapped and battling templars shouting for their blood in a struggle that was fierce and bloody and worst of all, utterly senseless.

The first wave fell, the men falling broken and bloodied among the very mages they had slaughtered. Then, even as the next wave of Templars approached,

Orsino saw Halden, the sharp-faced young mage, dodge a heavy blow from a templar sword, gasping as he fell among the bodies of mages and templars before them. The boy had always been strange, and had been close to Quentin, the strange mage Hawke and her friends had defeated in his madness in the deep places below Kirkwall. He had always been one of the most talented of the Circle, but also wild and emotional. Orsino remembered that his Harrowing had seemed an awfully close call.

Then he realized what the boy was doing, even as he emerged, bloody among the bodies, chanting slowly as pale fire encircled him. “Halden!” cried Orsino, horrified at what he was witnessing. “Don’t!”

But it was too late, and it seemed that even the templars paused in their battles (a few more falling before Fenris’s sword and Isabela’s knives in the lull), as the Harvester arose from where the boy had been, the creature now clothed in the bodies of the dead. At the sight of the creature, Tyssa blanched, held out her staff to enspell it… and no spell came. Untried, terrified, and completely unable to control her connection to the Fade, the spell roared out not with the fine control of a thread from the Fade, but with all the fury of the Void behind it. Even as spell swept the circle, the girl erupted horribly into an abomination before their eyes. Merrill cried out, and faster than anyone else had reacted, she enveloped the creature in a raging whirlwind. The creature roared, and the demon swiped at it, caught momentarily in Merrill’s spell.

Orsino felt slow and sluggish. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“Well, they’re not our friends anymore,” sighed Varric, readying Bianca. “Take them out!”

 “No!” cried Orsino. “They were in my charge, you don’t understand, my care…”

 “Your grief is useless,” said Fenris. “All we can do now is set them free.”

The next few moments passed in a blur, with templars still attempting to fell the mages, the mages still fighting the templars, and the Harvester and the demon fighting anything in their path. Orsino could hear the strange and distinctive thwock of Varric’s crossbow, the clang of the weapons, and the soft whoosh of magic even as he himself threw spell after spell. When he glanced to his right, he saw Anders standing casually and easily, his staff a blur as he threw his healing spells, and Orsino was astonished to realize the mage was laughing. Orsino kept his spellwork as constant as he could, then edged up to the Harvester, thinking that a well-placed fire spell to the back of its neck might take it down, but even as he raised his staff, the creature’s hideous arm (littered with fingers and blended body parts) swept back, and Orsino found himself on the ground, the world silent but for the terrible high-pitched ringing in his head. Varric hauled him up, and even as he did so, the creature reared again, roaring, reaching for the dwarf’s head. Hardly aware of what he was doing, Orsino shoved Varric out of the way, even as Hawke twirled her staff and in a sizzle of blazing light, the creature fell dead.

And then it was over—until they swept out into the Gallows Courtyard, and in a haze of nightmare, the battle began again. At least this time, Cullen and some of the men had joined Hawke, Orsino, and the others, but still dazed from the Harvester’s blow, Orsino felt himself both curiously slow and yet calm, as if nothing mattered anymore or it was all a dream. He saw Meredith’s monstrous form rise up, stricken, then rallied his wits, fighting her alongside the others, even in that curious slow silence, then was heartened to see Cullen’s sword flash down on the Knight-Commander even as the last spell immobilized her for good.

They had survived, but so few out of so many. Merrill gave a shaky laugh, and for the first time, Orsino saw the blood running down the girl’s arm and realized the source of her power. He’d also seen the surety of her magic, and he began to laugh. Somehow, the fact that Meredith had been brought down, in part, by a blood mage, seemed like nothing so much as divine justice.

But he still couldn’t hear. Varric came over to him, his face grave, but even as Orsino was trying to explain that everything was all right, the world went dim.

He awakened to a room filled with sunshine and the patterns of leaves. Nearby, Varric was seated in a chair, scribbling on the parchment at his knee. The dwarf smiled when he saw Orsino awake.

“Good morning,” said Varric.

“Is it?” asked Orsino. His head still felt heavy and dull.

“Well, it is considering that we didn’t think you’d make it,” said Varric.

“What – what’s happening? At the Circle?” Orsino struggled to sit up, and Varric smiled.

“It’s all good,” he said. “The insanity seems to be over. Cullen’s managing things, and I must say, he’s a lot calmer and kinder than Meredith.”

“The mages?” asked Orsino slowly.

“Those who survived,” said Varric, “are being cared for. There will be no Right of Annulment.”

Orsino sank back into the pillow for a moment in relief. “Good,” he said.

“Although, you know…” he said, and he looked sharply at Orsino.

“What?” asked the mage, squinting against the pain in his head.

Varric spoke slowly. “You know they’re going to want to know your part in all this. And there’s probably going to be blame to spare.”

“And?”

“And, well,” said Varric. “You’re a mage. Let’s face it. And not just any mage, the First Enchanter at the Kirkwall Circle. The one where the Chantry went kablooey.”

Orsino looked at him calmly. “I accept whatever is done to me,” he said. He could still see in his mind’s eye the slaughter of the mages in the courtyard… Halden turning into the Harvester… Tyssa becoming an Abomination.

“I failed them,” he said. “My people. I will accept whatever judgment is given.”

“Orsino,” said Varric quietly. “Didn’t you ever have a dream… a wish for something beyond the Circle?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I remember I used to wonder what it might be like in Rivain. My nephew  has a farm there, on the coast. Near Seere, I think. He used to write me letters about the sun on the water there, the people of the village. It was pleasant simply to try to imagine it.” He glanced around as if the walls of the Circle still held him, then looked up in surprise as Isabela entered the room.

“First Enchanter,” said Isabela. “Glad to see you survived.”

“And you as well,” answered Orsino. He looked from one to the other, puzzled.

“Ors,” said Varric. “How’d you feel about taking a little journey? I know a certain captain who can get you where you want to go.”

“I hear Seere is nice this time of year,” smiled Isabela.

“But… but why?” asked Orsino, confused. “Why would you do this?”

“Maybe because you did the best you could,” said Hawke, entering to lay her hand on Isabela’s shoulder. “And you did that for a long time in impossible circumstances.”

“I didn’t do enough,” said Orsino bitterly.

“You did what you could,” said Hawke.

“You’re serious about this?” asked Orsino.

“Oh, absolutely,” said Isabela. “Merrill’s gathered your things and they’re already on my ship. We’ll give you a day or two more to recover, and smuggle you on board with no one the wiser.”

Orsino found himself suddenly unable to speak. “I… I can’t…”

“You can,” said Isabela, her eyes twinkling.

Orsino felt as if something had broken and healed inside himself at the same time. He looked back at Hawke, then Varric.

“Thank you,” he said. Then the thought occurred to him. “But wait…” he said. “Won’t they come looking for me? Won’t people know I escaped?”

“Nah,” said Varric, with a wide smile. “I’ve got just the story in mind.”

“What kind of story?” asked Orsino, puzzled.

“You went crazy,” said Varric. “Your power was terrifying. In one fell sweep you betrayed everything you fought for and turned into a creature of blood magic and death before we defeated you.”

“The Harvester,” said Orsino heavily. “Poor Halden. I had no idea he had become so desperate, or so corrupt.”

“What do you think?” asked Varric.

“It’s not pleasant to think of myself as a villain,” admitted Orsino.

“Well, look at it this way,” said Varric. “Every story needs a few.”

“Most heroes end up villains in the end, love,” added Isabela.

“Unless they find a nice little farm on the coast,” added Hawke.

Orsino looked at each of them, too grateful to speak, then nodded, slowly. He leaned back against the pillow, still smiling, and almost let sleep take him before he startled.

“Wait,” he said. “The cat – did someone go back for it?”

Varric grinned. “She’s living with Merrill. Anders went after her. She’s fine.”

“Good,” said Orsino. He sighed, then allowed the tension of the long years of battle to slide away from him. Somehow, like a gift, the light of Seere was already a vision – welcome and waiting, all sea and air and open spaces after his long captivity – against his mind’s eye.

He slept.