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Ellana was grateful to the old Pellar who’d lived in the forest alone. His hut had lain empty since his death. The villagers of Blackbough – thinking it cursed – gave it a wide berth. Ellana was glad of their superstitiousness. She was able to hide among them in-secret, even if the local vampires were harder to fool.

She remembered the birds that had seen her emerge from the sea west of Blackbough. The flock had perched in the branches of a tree. They’d watched her with their beady black eyes, taking wing as soon as she’d come ashore. She didn’t doubt the bruxae’s spies had sent word of her passage to every vampire from Velen to Novigrad. All her grandfather’s brethren would know she was alive, despite the rumours to the contrary.

Ellana had avoided contact with the human residents of Velen on principle. Too many knew her face and her name, this far north of Thedas. Word of Andraste’s Herald, the messenger of the Maker, being alive and well would reach the wrong ears. She could dispatch bandits, pirates, and Tevinter slavers with ease. A pursuer capable of sneaking through a window or slithering under a door like a snake was a more cunning foe.

Ellana wanted to avoid a massacre. The Bloody Baron’s soldiers from the Crow’s Perch could handle bandits not a higher vampire. A creature like Dettlaff van der Eretein was difficult prey even for a seasoned Witcher. Ellana hated his herding instinct, his tribal propensity. Dettlaff had an irritating talent for finding those of his kind that preferred to stay lost.

“Even if the people of Velen, never know I’m here”, muttered Ellana. “The bruxae have spies everywhere. And ravens can never keep a secret. What the humans don’t know the vampires do. Dettlaff will find me long before they do”.

Ellana gazed into the fire, watching tongues of red-flame devour a log of wood. The bark blackened and burned as droplets of sap hissed and spat in the heat. Another log joined the first as Ellana cast it into the hearth. It was set ablaze as she raised her hands to the heat. The night was chilly despite the advent of spring.

The last of the winter-snows were melting, but this kind of cold wasn’t from thawing ice. Ellana shivered, exhaling a mouthful of mist. She recognised that familiar tingle of unease. The cold seeping through the floorboards wasn’t from the winter-melt. The fire died down, the flames guttering like a candle in a gust of wind. The fire was close to extinguishing though the ash smoked and the embers glowed red-hot.

Ellana tensed when a hand reached into the hearth to stir the dying embers. She watched five pale fingers comb through the hot ash as if it were sand. The skin was neither scorched nor blistered despite the intensity of the heat. That simple inhuman act set Ellana’s teeth on edge.

She backed away from the hearth, fingers curling around the hilt of the dagger hanging from her belt. She drew comfort from the gesture, even if it was pointless. Her uninvited guest wasn’t human or an elf, nor could he die if pierced by a silver or steel blade. He was a monster in the skin of a man. Ellana was anxious when he glanced over his shoulder.

He regarded her with a pair of blue eyes that shone like cold-steel in the firelight.

“Why are you nervous?” he asked in a voice tinged with surprise. “You know, I would never hurt you. We are bound by blood. You belong to Regis, and he belongs to me. We are family”.

Ellana shook her head, grimacing. “We’re not. I know what I am. So do you. True-born vampires think me unnatural. I know the only reason, I’m still alive is because of your kind’s highest law”.

“Our kind”, he corrected. “You’ve spent centuries denying your heritage, but you cannot change what you are”.

She was perturbed by his logic. The wrongness of it sent a chill down her spine. Only Dettlaff would think nothing of her past. Her grandmother’s ignorance, her mother’s torment, and her father’s death were branded into her memory. Ellana hadn’t forgotten how her clan had been hunted down and burned outside the walls of Novigrad.

The Church of the Eternal Fire had left her the sole survivor of Clan Lavellan.

“I’d prefer to be the simple Dalish elf, I’ve always been”, she replied with a sense of trepidation. “I get cursed and spat at for being non-human. But at least a Witcher hasn’t come to claim my head for gold. Better to be an elf than a leech the size of a man. It’s safer in a world full of monsters and madmen”.

“You are not a parasite!” hissed Dettlaff. “You are a higher vampire!”

“Not by choice”, said Ellana. She was unsurprised by his ire, Dettlaff had never understood her aversion to her true nature. “If Regis hadn’t courted my grandmother, I wouldn’t exist. And we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Charming as you are, Dettlaff. I’m sure there’s a pack of lesser vampires that need your undivided attention somewhere else”.

“No!” reproved Dettlaff. “You will not drive me away as if I were an unwanted guest!”

“You are an unwanted guest”, goaded Ellana. “Even if I had the strength to drive you off. I know you'd come back. I’d have to flee to escape you again, though I doubt that’s possible now. I bet you've got sentries watching the house”.

She frowned when Dettlaff’s eyes narrowed.

“Ah, so you’ve gotten cannier over the years. Good. You’re not taking chances this time. You’re not trusting me either. Wise, considering I’ve duped you before”.

He made her nervous, but his naivety was disarming. She wondered how so dangerous a creature in the likeness of a man could be so guileless. Dettlaff reminded her of a child rather than a vampire, centuries her elder in age and experience. Ellana snorted when his lip curled, the corner of his mouth turning down to expose the tip of an ivory fang. It was a warning that would have made a lesser vampire whine like a dog.

She was too proud to show her belly, or tuck her tail between her legs.

“I suspected it was you who told the bruxae to watch for me in Val Royeaux. Their spies followed me for weeks, blackening the Orlesian skies with their wings. Ravens tend to stand out against Val Royeaux’s white and gold with their dark plumage. I don’t think, I’ve ever seen Empress Celene so peeved. She wasn’t fond of them shitting on her brass lions”.

Ellana tutted when Dettlaff neither acknowledged nor denied the accusation. She knew it was true when a muscle in his cheek twitched each time she clucked her tongue. She saw the line of his jaw tense as he clenched his fangs too. He was still a grumpy old tomcat, seconds from clawing her if she yanked too hard on his tail.

“Did you think, I wouldn’t notice the influx of wild ravens into the capital city of Orlais?” she taunted. “They were hard to miss, Dettlaff. As were the mysterious disappearances of several elven servants from the royal palace. My chambermaid for example, an elven immigrant from Nevarra was said to have run away like the others. Perhaps into a vampire's belly?”

Dettlaff didn’t answer the accusation, though Ellana knew he’d played a part in it. She remembered the blood on the floor in the servant’s quarters of the Winter Palace in Halamshiral. She’d not seen footprints, or found bodies but she’d smelt the iron-rich stink of their spilt blood. It’d been easy to track the scent to the gardens, where she’d found the murdered emissary for the Council of Heralds. Dettlaff’s bruxae hadn’t slain the emissary even if they had been tracking her movements in Orlais.

“I suspect you sent the bruxae into the palace to guard my back. I’ve no doubt they slew the elven servants that were spying on me. Much as I appreciate your concern for my well-being. I wish you hadn’t interfered. Because of you, Solas got away from me”.

Ellana sighed when saw his brows furrowed. He felt the sting of her words, even if the truth irked him. If Ellana didn’t know better, she might have thought him a human in his mid-thirties. A man with a dusting of grey at his temples, and the first lines of age on his brow and cheeks. The lie was convincing, except for his eyes.

It was the way the firelight reflected there, a hint of red on blue that set his irises aflame. Ellana couldn’t help the involuntary shiver down her spine. The dread made her guts churn, when he stared at her with those molten-sapphire eyes. No human had ever made her feel as if she were being drawn and quartered on the spot. She was breathing hard, chest heaving when he finally looked away.

“You are more like Regis than you know”, grumbled Dettlaff. “Impertinent, stubborn, and ungrateful for the aid rendered by those who care for you. I regenerated his body from nothing in my own blood. He meddled in my affairs in Toussaint, even enlisting the help of a Witcher to claim the bounty on my head. Like Regis, there you stand – passing judgement on me”.

Ellana rubbed her arms more out of guilt than the cold. She felt the icy bite of his contempt through the layers of her clothing. The suede, wool, and cotton was fast cooling. A sign of the fire’s fading warmth, and Dettlaff’s mounting fury. Ellana refused to give credence to his accusations, though she knew he was right. The fire had gone out, though the embers were still smoking.

“I wouldn’t need too!” she snapped. “If you’d kept your nose out of my business!”

Ellana’s eyes rolled in exasperation when Dettlaff rounded on her. He glared, blue eyes smouldering like hot-coals. His lips peeled back to reveal two sets of jagged fangs. He bared his teeth like a dog, snarling. In her youth, he’d been unable to understand her desire for independence.

Two centuries on, he still hadn’t accepted her decision to leave his pack.

“You were being hunted!”

“I know”, confirmed Ellana. “I used myself as bait on purpose”.

Dettlaff swallowed the news, grimacing as if it were bile. “Why?”

“I needed to catch, Solas. And I would have succeeded if you hadn’t interfered”.

Ellana braced herself for the inevitable backlash of his temper. Dettlaff was territorial when it came to the members of his pack, past or present. A female vampire never left the protection of her family. Ellana knew she was an exception to the rule. She had her grandmother’s mulishness, and her mother’s fierce drive for independence.

Two things that had always infuriated Dettlaff.

“He hurt you! He took your arm! Did you think, I would stand aside and do nothing?”

“I’d hoped you’d weigh the needs of the many against the life of one person”, countered Ellana. “I never thought you’d massacre the Viddasala and her henchmen. And then attack Solas – who escaped after you chased him through an Eluvian. I wish you’d never followed me to Orlais. You ruined everything”.

“I was protecting you!” argued Dettlaff.

“Your protectiveness left the world’s craziest hobo alive. A hobo who’s bent on destroying the world. A world he believes is corrupted because of the Conjunction of the Spheres. A cataclysm he wants to repeat, because he feels guilty for causing the first one. And his reasoning for the whole thing was to commit regicide, because he hates the ruling classes”.

“Is he insane?”

“Most definitely”, agreed Ellana. “I never said Solas had all his kittens in one basket. The man either needs to get laid or a punch in the face. I thought he was batshit crazy when he told me he was responsible for the world’s worst disaster. Which is why I wanted to kill him – his insanity might be catching”.

“You believe him?” asked Dettlaff.

“It’s hard not too, when he can turn people to stone by looking at them”.

Dettlaff scowled, mouth thinning. “Which is why you should never have involved yourself in human affairs! This elf is dangerous!”

“Maker’s balls. Is this an interrogation or a lecture?”

“Enough!”

Ellana faced him in his fury, heart hammering in her chest. She was afraid as his face shifted from human to monster. His mouth was an open maw, exposing fangs that grew larger, longer, and sharper than a blade. The nose shortened, becoming more ridged and beak-like as if he were about to turn into a bat. His ears once rounded – human – tapered to a sharp point.

His eyes were wild, shining like twin lamps in his skull – more predatory than human.

“You involved yourself in human affairs!” roared Dettlaff. “Worse! You became the unwitting herald of their god! The leader of his army! If your true nature had been exposed, it would have endangered us all!”

Ellana inhaled a shaky breath, her skin goosepimpling. She’d heard the croaking of the ravens in the skies of Orlais. One night, well into the witching hour, on the balcony of her suite in the Winter Palace. A raven had brought her news from Toussaint. Ellana knew of the Elder’s edict, though she’d wondered why he hadn’t summoned her himself.

All vampires of Toussaint owed him fealty, even the Herald of Andraste.

Ellana took a good long look at Dettlaff, transformed and fuming. He returned her scrutiny with a blue-eyed glower. The snap of his fangs and the guttural hiss of warning made her jump. Ellana trembled at the sound of his ire, the instinct to appease him inborn. She lowered her eyes, head bowing too, though it grated on her nerves to submit.

“I see through the lie of your obeisance”, growled Dettlaff as he strode across the floor. “You are still headstrong, still impudent. You might bow your head to me, even lower your eyes. But the respect is as feigned as your submissiveness. Your pride has always been your greatest flaw”.

Ellana stiffened when his shadow fell across her face. She turned her head aside, avoiding his touch when Dettlaff tried to slip a finger beneath her chin. He rumbled like a peeved tom, incensed by her defiance. His claws clicked as he grasped her chin between his thumb and forefinger. He felt the tension in her neck, in her shoulders as she readied herself to fight him.

Dettlaff extended the rest of his fingers till his claws pressed against her jugular.

“Submit”, he commanded. “Or I will cleave your head from your shoulders”.

Ellana took a fortifying breath, brows furrowing as she raised her eyes. She met his gaze, unflinching. She had faced worse adversaries than an enraged vampire. Ellana remembered Corypheus, the Viddasala, the demons, and the dragons she’d slain. Dettlaff paled in comparison to the least of her foes. All were dead except Solas.

“Never”, she told him. “If you’ve come to kill me. Do it”.

Ellana refused to look away when his fingers closed around her throat. She expected him to crush her larynx till she choked on her own blood. She was startled by the absence of crushing pressure. Her heart beat once, twice, and thrice more till she was staring at Dettlaff. His monstrous features receded in a manner of seconds until his face was human again.

His claws had shortened too, no longer the length of knives digging into her skin. Ellana was surprised when Dettlaff shoved her aside with a growl. Ellana stumbled, near tripping over her own feet when the fingers of his right hand curled into a first. She jumped when Dettlaff brought that fist down hard on the hearth’s mantle. The stone cracked as if struck by thunder, splitting in two.

It’s shattered halves collapsed onto the fire beneath. The flames, ash, and embers were buried by a shower of dust and broken stone. The night crept in, though the dark was held at bay by the few candles still burning. The dim, flickering light cast shadows across the floor. Ellana gasped when pain flared in the palm of her left hand.

“Fenedhis lasa!” she cursed. “Nae! Nae! Nae!”

She wobbled on her feet, as magic burned through the leather of her glove. Dettlaff turned, nostrils flaring. He smelt the scorched leather and saw the rays of emerald light pouring from her skin like water. Ellana backed away from him, eyes wide with fear. She hadn’t anticipated this outcome when Dettlaff had shown himself in.

“You need to leave! Now!”

He gaped at her, frowning. “What is happening to you?”

Ellana shook her head, frantic. “Dettlaff! Go!”

He was adamant in his refusal. “I will not leave you!”

Ellana sank to the floor, knees knocking as a shadow pooled beneath her feet. The light danced about her, crackling and sparking as if she were casting a spell. Her tongue didn’t move, nor did her lips form the words of an incantation. She was silent, her dark eyes reflecting shards of emerald as she tore off the remnants of her glove. She whimpered, teeth gritting when the agony intensified.

“Ellana!” cried Dettlaff. “Tell me what is wrong!”

He turned on his heel, starting across the room. He took two steps, heel to the floor when Ellana barked.

“Stay there! You’ve already laid a hand on me once! If you try again, he’ll attack you!” Ellana shook her head again, chest heaving. “I have to calm him, to reason with him, but if you persist! I’ll not have the strength to stop him!”

“Who?” demanded Dettlaff. “Speak his name!”

The light spilling from her left hand brightened. And from the darkness at her feet tendrils sprouted like weeds. Delicate vines with thorny leaves looped first about her ankles before climbing higher. Her calves, knees, and thighs were soon covered in winding black shoots. Ellana shuddered when the vines wound thickest around her waist, squeezing tight.

Dettlaff gawked at the sight of her entangled in darkness. He was frozen on the spot, more bewildered than angry when Ellana yelled.

“Ma falon! You’re hurting me!”

Dettlaff saw the sweat beading on her brow. He saw her fear too, as her eyes rolled till the whites showed. The acrid stink of her dread left him in turmoil. The rage returned, in the wake of her distress. His face shifted from human to vampire, his fangs elongating. His blunt fingernails turning into foot-long scythe-like claws.

“Dettlaff! No!”

He sniffed and snarled, baring his fangs. The stench of magic suffused the air, drowning all other scents in fire and ozone. Dettlaff’s skin crawled with apprehension. He snorted like a bloodhound, nostrils flaring, though he couldn't identify Ellana's assailant. Whatever was hurting her had neither corporeal shape nor form.

Although he saw vine-like shadows creeping over her from toe to chest. Dettlaff knew not where to strike to set her free without wounding. The blow would be mortal, for the vines wound about her torso like lacing of a corset. He would fillet her like a fish in a shower of blood and gore. The realisation stayed his hand, though he shifted in agitation from foot to foot.

“Thank the Maker for small miracles!” praised Ellana.

She stayed still, knowing that a struggle would make the vines pull taut. She was uncomfortable, but not at risk of injury. The fire in the palm of her left hand hurt worse. The angrier he was, the hotter the magic that bound them together burned. It blazed like a hot poker driven into her bones.

“Ellana!” called Dettlaff. “Who hurts you?”

She gazed across the room, wincing when the vines constrained her movement. More black tendrils climbed her back and shoulders, though her left arm was bare to the elbow. The light continued to flare from the palm of her hand, as if she held a star between her fingers. The brightness made Dettlaff wary, the stink of the magic clinging to her an outrage. It was as if she’d been branded like cattle, like property though he knew not by whom.

It was frightening to think someone might be powerful enough to bring a higher vampire to her knees.

“He’s angry, Dettlaff. You threatened to kill me. Higher vampires can obliterate the existence of another of their kind. A blow from you would end my life. Permanently”.

She stared at him with those dark sombre eyes that were so like Regis. Her features more feminine than masculine, but shades of her grandfather remained. Dettlaff saw more of her mother in her bearing, the sharp angle of her cheeks, and the pointedness of her chin. She had none of the rounded softness of a human woman, her face as elfin as the sharp points of her ears. She did have Regis’ widows peak, and soft curls though her hair was several shades lighter.

Her skin was darker too, an inheritance from her father – an elf from Antiva. Dettlaff found her beautiful except for her hair. It was pale as snow, and reminded him of a certain Witcher – a friend of her grandfather. Ellana shared neither blood nor kinship with the White Wolf, but in this small way she resembled him. Her silver-white hair was a rarity among elves, and rarer still amidst humans and vampires.

Dettlaff didn’t doubt it had caused her trouble. Men often desired things that were rare and unusual. Ellana was indeed rare, unusual, and unique enough to draw the most discerning eye. Dettlaff wondered if whatever clung to her had sensed what lay beneath her skin. Higher vampires could pass for human, but not elves – though Ellana was an exception. Her blood was thinner, her appearance elven, but the stamp of Regis’ lineage remained.

Ellana was his granddaughter, though she’d spent her life denying it.

“I know”, affirmed Dettlaff, though it stung to admit it aloud.

He’d once threatened Regis too, and his Witcher by extension. He hadn’t thought he’d do the same with Regis’ granddaughter – years later. The irony wasn’t lost on him. Regis was strong-willed too, and had an irritating penchant for meddling. Ellana had inherited those selfsame qualities, much to Dettlaff’s annoyance.

He was furious when she demanded assurance.

“The stay away!” she cried. “You must not attack, no matter what you see!”

“Ellana!” hissed Dettlaff. “You are not in a position to make demands!”

He wanted to deny her request. The Elder of Toussaint had been frank. Dettlaff could no more deny his command than rebel against it. He had to enforce the Elder’s will or risk punishment worse than death. Ellana’s transgression had near resulted in a death sentence.

And still when faced with the leader of her pack, she challenged him at every step.

“Promise me!” she insisted.

Dettlaff thought her warning – arrogance – until she did something unexpected.

“Please!” she implored. “I don’t want him to hurt you!”

He gaped at her, the surprise morphing his features from vampire to human again. He rocked on his heels, as if he’d been struck across the face by a plank of wood. The Ellana he knew was too proud to beg for help, yet here she was doing just that. It was then that Dettlaff smelt the brine of her tears. He gazed across the hut, eyes widening at the sight of her glistening cheeks.

“Please!” she pleaded. “I know, I abandoned our pack! I know, I left you alone in Toussaint! I know, I’ve pissed off the Elder too! But I did it all for a good reason!”

Dettlaff snorted at her admission. He thought her panic feigned until Ellana offered him a morsel of information. She’d never confided in him, preferring instead to keep her secrets – even in her youth. It was strange, even bewildering for her to lose her composure. She wasn’t just frantic, he realised – she was terrified for him.

“Why?” demanded Dettlaff.

“I didn’t want to leave!” revealed Ellana. “I had too!”

“That is a poor excuse”.

“It’s the truth”.

“A truth you’re failing to define”.

“Andraste’s tits”, swore Ellana. “Give me a chance to explain. You owe me that much”.

“You owe me more”, countered Dettlaff. He gave her a long hard look. He disapproved of her blasphemy, though he cared little for human deities and their wives. “You shouldn’t curse in Andraste’s name. You are her Herald”.

“Not willingly”, stated Ellana. “Why do you care? You’ve never understood human religion, or been interested in their customs. As for cursing in her name, I’ve the right – being her Herald almost got me killed more often than I’d like to admit”.

“Your sense of loyalty is exemplary”.

“Maker’s balls. Are you ever going to forgive me for leaving you?”

Dettlaff’s reply was grudging. “Not easily”.

“Fine, you stubborn arse. Be angry with me for an eternity. See if I care”.

“You didn’t then. Why would you care now?”

Ellana sighed, eyes closing in defeat. She was upset by Dettlaff’s lack of faith, though she understood why. She had left him without an explanation for her departure from Toussaint. Two centuries lay between them, their history more bitter than sweet. Ellana offered him what consolation she could.

“Fine, Dettlaff. I’ll tell you something not even Regis knows about me. It’ll explain why I left Toussaint – in part anyway. I’ll tell you the rest if you’ve the patience to listen. It’s not an apology, exactly – but it will clarify things for you”.

“Speak”.

She didn’t like his tone, but she held her tongue. He deserved this much.

“I inherited a rare gift from my grandmother. A quirk of her bloodline. It frightened my mother. She was a half-breed, but she was more a vampire than an elf. More like you, like Regis – though she was born of two worlds. And all elves have some ability to wield magic, a fact that worried my mother as much as it terrified her”.

Ellana continued with a resignation that troubled Dettlaff.

“My grandmother was an ordinary city-elf with Dalish ancestry. Her ancestors were from the deep south beyond the Boeric sea. They hailed from Fereldan, and the Free Marches. So that’s where I went after my mother cast me out. She ordered me to leave Toussaint when my gift first manifested. I was fifteen, not more than a fledgling, when she took a swipe at me – claws unsheathed”.

The revelation shocked Dettlaff. “She broke our highest law?”

“She was frightened. I don’t blame her for what she did. Neither should you”, declared Ellana. “She cut me across the face, though it was a glancing blow. Enough to frighten me, but never to kill. Mother sought to drive me away not to maim me”.

Dettlaff raised a finger to his face, and brought it down in a diagonal line from brow to cheek.

“That scar is deeper than the others. Was it your mother’s doing?”

“It was”.

“She could have blinded you”.

“She didn’t”, reasoned Ellana. “I’m fine”.

“You forgive too easily”.

“She’s my mother. I’ve made my peace with what she did”.

“That does not excuse her actions”, lamented Dettlaff. “She drove you away from your home. Away from your pack. All because of some misguided fear. She lashed out at you – her own daughter – for being something she was afraid to be”.

He was unsurprised when she affirmed his suspicions. “You’re a mage. A magic user”.

“Of a kind. I’m a somniari to be exact. The closest translation in the common-tongue means – Dreamer. It’s a rare form of magic inherited through my grandmother’s Thedosian blood-lines. Most somniari are elven, though there have been human somniari too”.

“I don’t understand”.

“I know you don’t”, acknowledged Ellana. “Vampires usually can’t wield magic, nor can dwarves – though they’re among the world’s best rune-wrights. To be honest, I’m not much of a spell-caster. I’ve not the patience for rudimentary enchantments or simple incantations. I find the more complex rituals boring, even if I have an aptitude for brewing potions”.

“Like Regis”, concluded Dettlaff.

Ellana groaned. “Balls. Only you would think so”. She curbed her tongue when Dettlaff scowled. “Ir abelas”, she apologised. She rolled her eyes at his confusion, his furrowed brows telling her exactly what he thought.

“It means – I’m sorry in ancient elvhenas. It’s a different language to the Elder Speech spoken by the Aen Seidhe”. Ellana paused when Dettlaff stared at her, dumbfounded. “Andraste’s arse. Stop looking at me like that”.

“You know of such things?”

“Of course I do. I’ve done more than sit on my arse for the past two hundred years”.

Dettlaff nodded to the vines entrapping her. “That doesn’t explain your hand, or the stink of the magic clinging to you”.

Ellana rolled her shoulders, and the vines undulated like waves on water. She wiggled the fingers of her left hand, sighing in relief when that selfsame magic cooled. The pain lessened, the emerald light dimming, though the vines remained. She was entangled by an intricate web of magic, trapped like a rabbit in a snare. The comparison upset Dettlaff.

“I’ll get to that”, said Ellana. “Provided you make me a promise. You’ve made my companion angry. I can feel him seething through the bond we share. If I summon him. You must not attack, no matter what you see”.

Dettlaff’s lip curled. He didn’t like her ultimatum, though an alternate solution existed. It would cost Ellana’s life, a price he was unwilling to pay. He relented with reluctance, giving her a broody silent nod. He would have preferred to tear the vines from her person. He especially hated the tendrils spiralling around her throat like a necklace.

It was possessive, as if the magic were staking a claim.

Ellana exhaled a shaky breath, relieved. “Thank the Maker. Now, remember. You must keep your distance.

Dettlaff was uneasy when Ellana chanted in elvish. The language was foreign to him. The words strange, but it was the magic that alarmed him. The stink of it intensified, saturating the air with the scent of fire and ozone. He watched the vines crawling over Ellana thicken and solidify with each word she spoke.

“Ar lasa mala revas”.

Dettlaff tensed, coiling like a spring when an unholy noise filled the night. It was like a scream, but long and louder like a wolf’s howl. The walls of the Pellar’s hut shook, the roof rattling hard enough to send down a shower of dust and cobwebs. The light, spilling from the palm of Ellana’s left hand went out. The hut was plunged into a darkness so thick, Dettlaff found it difficult to breathe.

And in one beat of his immortal heart, he saw two points of light in the distance. He gaped, eyes adjusting to the dim, when that light split into two, than four, than six. One above the other the lights blinked from white to blue, green, and finally to a lurid blood-red. The lights became several pairs of eyes with slitted black pupils. Dettlaff saw a flash of white too, a series of enormous jagged teeth in a maw blacker than a raven’s wing.

A tongue the size of his torso flicked out across those teeth.

A voice filled the night.

“Garas quenathra?”

Dettlaff gawked in bewilderment. The tone suggested it was a question, though the language was foreign. When he hesitated to answer, the question was repeated. His continued silence seemed to enrage the speaker. Their voice dropped from a pleasant baritone into a rumbling bass.

“Garas quenathra!”

Dettlaff’s hackles rose at the challenge in their voice. He remained silent, standing his ground as Ellana had asked – though it irked him too. He heard the unspoken threat, and felt it when that multitude of red eyes focused on him. One pair blinked, while another glared, and a third pair looked away. He found out why when light returned to the hut in a burst of emerald flame.

He was unnerved when he spied Ellana, her left hand raised high. She illuminated the hut with the magic flowing from the palm of her hand. She returned his gaze, dark eyes glinting. The magic clinging to her bathed another in radiant emerald. The creature was huge, its head and shoulders brushing the rafters as if it were a giant inside a doll's house.

though much of its bulk was a seething, shifting cloud of darkness.

Dettlaff saw an enormous head at Ellana’s shoulder, a pair of triangular black ears, and a multitude of red eyes. The maw was huge, filled with those selfsame jagged white teeth. A colossal tongue lolled out the corner of its mouth, dripping with saliva. It was only then that Dettlaff saw the creature’s paws, and Ellana sitting between them. Each was the size of a boulder, with large scythe-like black claws.

“A wolf?” asked Dettlaff. “No. A demon”.

“He’s a spirit”, corrected Ellana. “An old one with roots in ancient elven lore”.

Dettlaff was perturbed by how she ran her fingers through the creature’s fur. The touch was as casual as if she were petting a dog. It spoke of a fondness that made his guts churn. The beast responded in kind, whining like a puppy. It rubbed a furry cheek against her shoulder, the jostling gentle enough to make Ellana smile.

“This is wrong”, lamented Dettlaff, his instincts running amok. He wanted to flee, to steal her away, and take her with him. But he’d made a promise. Dettlaff valued honour. He stayed his ground, keeping his distance, though he kept a wary eye on Ellana.

“What have you done?” he asked with trepidation.

The wolf’s long black snout wrinkled as its lips peeled back. It bared its fangs at him, as it exhaled a lungful of white mist. The foulness reached Dettlaff’s nose, making him gag as he inhaled. He doubled over, coughing as bile crawled up in his throat. He turned, puking into the ashes of the destroyed hearth, the taste of death thick on his tongue.

“Careful, Dettlaff”, warned Ellana. “Only his respect for me is stopping him from tearing you apart. And that little trick is but one of many. My hahren knows a great many things that could make life difficult for a vampire. That spell for example can make anything you consume taste like shit for eternity”.

Dettlaff turned, grimacing as he swiped the back of a hand across his mouth. He saw the colour of his own saliva was a revolting iron-grey. He recoiled at the smell. It reeked of rotting flesh, stale blood, and a variety of unsavoury things. This was why he loathed magic – it was more than trickery, it was unnatural.

“Clever if disgusting. Am I supposed to be intimidated?”

Ellana shrugged her shoulders. “Not really. He’s testing you”. She quietened when the wolf growled. It’s voice was a guttural rumble of displeasure – it’s question the same.

“Garas quenathra?”

“It speaks?” asked Dettlaff.

“In elvhenas”, replied Ellana. She rolled her eyes when the wolf bumped her shoulder. “All right. I’ll translate. Have some patience, hahren”.

“What does it say?”

She looked into a glowing red eye, frowning. “He’s asking why you’ve come to Blackbough. He knows you’re not here for the scenery. Velen’s a shithole – thanks to Nilfgaard. I’ve been wondering that myself too, though I have my suspicions”.

Ellana swore when Dettlaff refused to answer. His silence spoke volumes. She came to one conclusion when he gazed at her with those icy blue eyes, never blinking. His scrutiny made her uncomfortable. She looked away first, breath catching in her throat.

“Da’len?” inquired her wolf.

Ellana was ashen-faced when she answered. She gestured to Dettlaff than to herself. “Mir di’nan”. She threw her arms around his lupine snout when he lunged, snarling. “Nae! Hahren!”

Floorboards snapped like twigs beneath gargantuan black paws. Dettlaff leapt aside, crashing into a wall to avoid the wild slash of four scythe-like claws. Ellana screamed a warning. He pivoted on his heel, avoiding a second blow. The beast punched a hole through the wall in a shower of splinters.

Dettlaff felt it’s hot breath on the back of his neck when Ellana cried.

“Go! Now!”

“I will not leave you!”

“Fenedhis!” cursed Ellana. “You stupid stubborn, bastard!”

She thought him a fatalistic fool. She held on tight when the wolf charged again, dragging her along the floor. Its claws gouged holes in the earth under the shattered floorboards. She clung for dear life, grasping a handful of the fur along its throat. Like an enraged ox, the spirit ploughed onward.

“Fen’Harel!” shrieked Ellana. “Venavis!”

The wolf roared its denial.

Dettlaff turned when it was almost upon him. He rushed through the hole in the wall of the hut and into the night. The wolf followed, growling. Ellana hung on by the skin of her teeth as the hut shook from the rafters down to its humble foundations. Dettlaff’s sentries watched from a safe distance, concealed in the darkness of the trees.

“So Deshanna’s brat made a pact with a demon”, said a bruxa. “She always was a troublemaker, even as a pup. She was worse as a fledgling. No discipline, terrible manners. I’m surprised she survived this long”.

The bruxa hissed when a packmate elbowed her hard in the ribs. She quietened when another bruxa, nodded to their companion. He was tall, reedy, and had the dark eyes, and greying hair of a middle-aged human man. She knew what he was, though he hid his true nature.

Higher vampires blended in better with their prey then the lesser of their kind.

The bruxa bristled when he rebuked her.

“Mind what you say about my family, especially the child born of my daughter’s womb”.

“Or what?”

He stepped forward, dark eyes narrowing. “I will tear the tongue from your mouth”.

“You wouldn’t dare, Regis”, goaded the bruxa. “It’s only by Dettlaff’s invitation that you’re here with us in Velen. You’re not part of our pack, even if you’re bound to him by blood. We all know he only asked you to join us out of pity. That brat of Deshanna’s hates you more than she hates herself”.

Regis flinched at her words. And in the wake of his shock she continued, relentless.

“Your daughter was an abomination of nature. If you had culled Deshanna when she was born, we wouldn’t have had to chase her brat halfway across the world. Remember, Regis. Ellana only exists because of your selfishness. Now as an adult she’s protected by our kind’s highest law”.

Regis regained enough of his composure to yell. “I do not murder children!”

“Your half-breed pup wasn’t a child”, declared the bruxa. “She was a mongrel, just like your granddaughter”.

The strike was sudden – a flash of silver claws in the darkness. Regis watched, impassive, when the bruxa stared at him in shock and disbelief. She brought trembling hands to her mouth. She probed the bloody ruin of her face until her fingers were soaked in red. Regis lifted his nose in the air as he extended a pale hand.

The bruxa stared at his offering, eyes wide. On the bed of his palm, red against his pale skin – lay her tongue and lower jaw. Regis sniffed haughtily. He reminded her about her terrible manners. A glance at her sister, another bruxa – was warning enough.

She backed away when he spoke, giving him a wide berth.

“I told you, I would tear your tongue out if you spoke ill of my family. Be grateful, I didn’t take your head”.


 Glossary:

Witcher 3 and Dragon Age Inquisition Universes


Dragon Age Inquistion

Fenedhis lasa – A phrase used as a curse, meaning something like – Oh crap, or wolf excrement, or you give me crap.

Ma falon – My friend.

Elvhenas – Ancient elven lanaguage – commonly called Elvhen.

Ir abelas – I’m sorry.

Hahren – Elder, a person of respect – usually older in elven society, usually Dalish.

Garas Quenathra? - A question meaning – Why have you come? Why are you here?

Nae – No.

Fen’Harel – The trickster god of ancient elven lore – called the Dread Wolf.

Venavis – Stop or cease.

Thedas – The southern continent in the Dragon Age universe.

Orlais – A country in western Thedas.

Val Royeaux – The capital city of Orlais.

Fereldan – A country in east Thedas.

The Free Marches – A place/province in Fereldan.

The Maker – The creator God of the Dragon Age universe, he is central to their religion pedalled by his church – The Chantry.

Andraste – The wife of the Maker, once a mortal woman she is thought to have died and then been uplifted to being in bride.

 

Witcher 3

Velen – A province in northern Temeria, also a wartorn and ravaged land that was the centre of a inter-country war between Redania and Nilfgaard.

Blackbough – A village in Velen.

The Pellar – A character that Geralt helped on several occasions in the game the Witcher 3.

Higher Vampire – The highest or most powerful type of vampire in the Witcher 3 universe.

Lesser Vampire – Any vampire that is not a Higher vampire – e.g. Bruxa.

Bruxa – A lesser vampire that disguises themselves as an attractive woman, usually human.

Ravens – The familiars of vampires, usually spying for them or carrying messages.

Witcher – A hunter of monsters for hire in the Witcher universe.