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 i.

Talian Surana, as a whole, had never considered himself a pious elf. Sure, he went to prayer when it was time, and occasionally blasphemed when it seemed appropriate, but never was one of the sort to think that the Maker had any sort of personal vendetta against him for falling asleep during morning sermons.

He was starting to rethink his stance on that. After all, if the Maker hadn't cursed him, it would just mean he was horrifyingly unlucky of late, and he couldn’t really blame anyone for that. Well, not that he could really blame anyone besides a select few for getting kicked out of the circle. But the Maker was a convenient scapegoat.

His foot sank into a murky puddle, and Talian tried to not heave another sigh. The Kocari wilds were just as unappealing as he’d thought they’d be. Gnats and blackflies bit at anything uncovered, and there was an awful pervasive smell of rot in the air. Alistair assured them that was just the bog, and not the Blight. It hadn’t done much for the dismal mood.

Cursing as the edges of his robes caught on another rotten branch that was half submerged in the brackish water, he tugged at the cloth, and then yelped as the branch snapped with a sharp crack. Talian braced himself for the cold and undoubtedly slimy water, but something caught on his belt. Looking over, he wondered if maybe he'd been saved by a branch.

He wasn’t that lucky.

An armoured hand had caught him, and with little effort tugged him back up. Talian took a moment to check that nothing had dirtied, and then turned to his savior. It was one of his travel companions, a tall woman with her ginger hair in what was possibly the most severe bun he’d ever seen.

“My thanks, I--”

She interrupted him, her voice low and exasperated. “None are needed. Watch your step, next time.”

The small smile that had been forming on his face melted away as the woman continued to walk, either not noticing or caring about the harshness of her tone. Staring after her broad back, Talian tried not to huff. It wasn't personal, after all.

The noblewoman was like that since they had picked her up on the Storm Coast. She and Duncan had all but burst into their tavern room, and the latter had implied that it was for the best that they leave Highever. No one had explained the blood.

Lyra Cousland, as they had later found out, was to join their party of warden recruits.

As they reached a small island, Alistair raised his hand, and called for a quick rest. With a sigh echoed by others, Talian slumped down on a damp log, and took a look at the ragtag band he was slogging through the wilds with. What a group they were. A city elf, a mage, a Dalish hunter, a noble, and a grey warden. It sounded like the start of a bad joke; and it wasn't even all of the recruits.

Talian was one of the first recruits picked up, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Before him, there were two dwarves, one a woman dressed in ill-fitting armour that seemed out of place on her, and the other a quiet girl with an odd looking tattoo under her eye. In Denerim they somehow ended up acquiring an elvhen girl in a bloodied wedding dress, who swore up and down she knew Talian; and through a surprising turn of events, they persuaded a Dalish man to come with them to Ostagar.

Surprising no one, neither of the other elves got along with Cousland.

Cousland had clearly never been around any elves who weren’t servants, and said some spectacularly awful things during their travel to Ostagar. There were several confrontations with Deven, the girl from the alienage, that required someone in the party to intervene.

 

“I don’t understand why you’re so upset.”

“You called elves ‘my people’ as if we’re some singular culture, and then implied we’re better off as servants, just because the rest of the country doesn’t take well to the Dalish.  ‘Hey, at least we’re not those wild savages that shit in the woods!’”

“That’s not what I meant--”

“Then what did you mean?”

 

Lyra fell silent after that. She’d also avoided Talian altogether for the most part, but he figured it was just a mage thing rather than an elf thing at this point. She'd gotten an odd look on her face when he'd introduced himself, the kind of look that meant nothing good in polite company. The Dalish man, Fehlen, seemed to dislike Cousland as well, but as far as Talian could tell, it seemed more of Dalish thing than something personal.

He also seemed… sick. His dark skin was ashen, and on more than one occasion he leaned over with little warning to throw up on the side of the road. Even more alarming was how the edges of his pupils were turning milky, in a way Talian had never seen besides in the oldest of the mages at the Circle.

Duncan mentioned something about the Blight, but at the time, Talian wasn’t listening to a word he’d said; instead choosing to ogle at the first Dalish elf he’d ever seen. The most he’d ever heard was from heavily censored chantry books, and the boogey-man tales the Chantry sisters had told them. They were all clearly garbage, so Talian had resigned himself, until recently, to making up daydreams about them.

The reality was far less romantic than the daydreams he had conjured up in his circle bunk. Fehlen was irritable, cranky, and sometimes refused to speak anything but Elvhen. Talian couldn’t really hold it against him, but it did make it frustrating.

 

“Don’t give me that look. Your clan’s healer did a fantastic job, but magic can’t fix everything, and I’m the only one here with any sort of medicinal knowledge. Now let me see your arm, or you’ll lose it before we even reach Ostagar. And what kind of archer only has one arm? Honestly.

“There. It took two minutes, and wasn’t as half as bad as you were clearly expecting.”

“... Ma serannas.”

“I don’t know-- you’re welcome?”

 

Alistair called for the march again, and Talian groaned. They had hiked through the bog for the better part of the day, and they had yet to come across anything. Their band was split into parts for their ‘exciting’ expedition to gather some ingredients that Duncan wouldn’t give any clarification for. Talian was in the first group, and he wished he was in the other one; at least he could have conversed with one of the dwarven women. They had traveled together for quite a bit, and seemed just as lost in the outside world as he did. Alistair was friendly enough, but from what Talian could divine, was awkward with everyone who wasn’t Duncan.

He’d actually enjoyed talking with one of the dwarves, Zetha. She was well-read and liked comparing the differences between their cultures and learning about day-to-day life in the circle. She seemed horribly out of place though, and he couldn’t put his finger on why. It was almost similar to Lyra in a way, how she almost expected the world to run differently around her.

As he pushed himself up with his staff, he contemplated that it could be worse. He could be in prison right now; a prison specifically made to make mages into abominations. So, maybe it wasn’t all bad.

 

ii.

 

He was wrong.

It was bad, it was terrible, Talian was going to die at the ripe age of nineteen to something that looked like it was from the murky depths of the fade.

Magic coalesced around his body to form a barrier as a hurlock bounded towards him and swung its blade, a noxious liquid dripping from it. It slammed the blade again and again on the shimmering blue, and Talian could feel the reverbs through his staff. The storm raged around them, and even through the crack-boom of the thunder and lightning, the sounds of battle echoed.

It had all been so quick.

They found all of their mystery ingredients, fought some darkspawn, and he’d even gotten to see a witch of the wilds, from what he considered an appropriately safe distance. While they had waited for the other group to go out, Talian had wandered around the camp while occasionally looking wistfully at the area where the mages were. He’d made some awkward eye contact with a few of them, but none really acknowledged him. Which was fair, he’d supposed. Getting cast out of the circle for aiding and abetting blood magic did leave a bit of a stain on one’s reputation.

He’d tried to strike up conversation with Deven, but it had been very awkwardly one-sided. She was thrilled to see him again, unharmed by the circle, but Talian found it… hard to reminisce with her. His life before was fuzzy and indistinct, mostly memories of feelings. There was an almost intense feeling of culture shock; it had never really occurred to him just how different his upbringing had been.

The other group had eventually returned in the dim light of twilight, and by then, Talian found the medical tent and spent hours with the healers, getting crash courses on the intricacies of healing completely shattered bone. It was fascinating in a way he hadn't imagined; the sheer delicacy needed to piece nerves and muscles back together in the right way and not causing further complications in the process. He could heal, but something on this level had always been reserved for mages who had been in bigger, more metropolitan circles.

Eventually Duncan spoke with them, his voice tight and drawn. They were herded towards a quiet corner, and there was a tension he hadn't understood in the air. Alistair hadn't made eye contact with anyone, and they learned why.

Talian's hands shook as the cold goblet was handed to him.


His musings were cut short when an ominous hum radiated from his staff. The hurlock was joined by another one, and the blue barrier had cracks radiating out from several points, like broken glass.

Fear seized his guts, and as the cracks widened, Talian’s mind went blank. He hadn’t ever battled much besides the Circle’s horrendous library organizational system and the occasional spider. Even in the wilds he mostly stayed back and let Lyra’s greatsword or Fehlen’s bow do the heavy lifting. He hadn’t even gotten close to the darkspawn when they were cut down. Terror locked him in place, and he could only watch as the slavering monsters continued to hack at his failing barrier.

An axe drove itself into the back of the first hurlock.

Like a summoned spirit, a dwarven girl seemed to appear from nowhere in the dark night, her axes blurs in the air. The second hurlock hissed and swung its serrated blade at her, but she took no notice. Slamming one axe into its knees, she whirled the other one around down onto its neck. Gurgling, it fell.

The barrier dropped, and Talian lowered his staff. The girl in front of him was the dwarf with the tattoo under her eye. In the dark with the bonfires guttering from the wind, the scars radiating from the corners of her mouth in a rictus of a smile seemed more pronounced than ever.

Opening his mouth, either to thank her or cry, Talian was interrupted as she threw her axe at something behind him, and he could hear the noise of skin being pierced behind him. He didn’t turn around.

“Myrin, I would thank you, but I don’t think this is the last time we’ll be in this situation tonight.” he said, after swallowing down a scream.

Myrin snorted, and walked around him. The squelch and crunch of her axe being pulled out of whatever she had killed was audible, and she walked past him again, stopping to wipe the dwarvish blade on a dead hurlock. Rivulets of blood dripped off the handle, and even in the dark, the stains on her bracers and chestplate were visible. A queasiness spread through his stomach. There was no difference in the dark; if it was the ichor maroon of the darkspawn, or the crimson red of the army soldiers.

She spoke again, and Talian snapped his eyes up to her face. “No, this won’t be the last time. Try not to freeze up though, you’re the only one here who can heal.” Her voice was raspy, unused, and barely carried over the howling wind. “And without that tonight, I don’t think we’ll be fighting for long.”

Laughing somewhat shakily, Talian started to walk with her, his hair whipping around in the wind. It had fallen out of the tail it was tied in hours ago.

“Well-- I mean you’re right, but surely they’ll be able to send some others with us? After all none of us, well maybe you, and Zetha do-- but none of us have very much experience fighting darkspawn. We can’t possibly take the tower by ourselves.”

Turning to answer, Myrin suddenly tensed, her eyes focused elsewhere. “We won’t have a choice, not with the fighting we’ve been seeing. Now, we need to go . They’re getting overwhelmed at the doors.”

She took off at a run, and Talian followed, trying to not look at the many corpses scattered around them already, both darkspawn and the army. Myrin took off into the fray, disappearing into the night. Ahead of him, the clash of forces was well underway.

Letting magic swirl around him, he took a deep breath, and raised his staff.

 

iii.

 

The tower boomed and echoed with combat both in and out. He could faintly hear it, but found himself more pulled to healing the wound on Deven’s arm, the ripped and torn flesh slowly knitting back together. After what seemed like eons, he could feel the last of the muscle reattaching, and he let the magic leave his palms.

Exhaustion tugged on his eyes. Talian could honestly say he’d never done this much magic at any point in his life. A headache was forming, leaving his skull overwhelmed and almost scraped out, every noise and sharp movement almost too much stimuli for him to process. His hands ached from wielding the old wooden staff, and he could feel the start of blisters forming in the creases of his fingers. Slumping down, he pressed up against the corner of a wall while a few of the others tried to find a way through the blockaded tunnels. Something touched his head, and he cracked open his eyes.

Talian wasn’t even aware he’d closed them. His head protested as he turned it, and looked over.

Fehlen was pressing a waterskin to his forehead.

Reaching up, he grabbed the skin and drank deeply, and as he did, he could taste the almost citrus tang of lyrium in the water. Looking to the other elf, he held up the waterskin as a question.

“I meant to give it to you before….” Fehlen explained while giving a short gesture, and then held a hand out. After a hesitant pause, Talian grabbed it, and he was pulled upwards, the other man’s grip stronger than expected. “It’s not a vial of lyrium, but some of the mages in our clan used to drink it to help after using too much magic.”

The lyrium, however faint it was, settled in his body; it didn’t do much for his magic, but Talian felt more grounded. The ache in his head lessened, and when he stood back up, he felt like he could go longer than a minute without wanting to completely collapse. Reaching back, he tied his hair back into a tail, grimacing at the feeling of partially dried viscera in it. He took a last sip of the water, and handed the waterskin back to the Dalish man.

There was a triumphant yell, and the two looked over to see Lyra prying off the last of the boards over the door with her hands, the wood splintering. The gibbering of the darkspawn started to echo down the hall as the broken wood clattered on the floor.

Fehlen quietly re-strung his bow.

 

iv.

 

Lyra was the first to fall.

The ogre picked her up, and seemingly without effort, slammed her down onto the ground. She didn’t move after that.

Then Deven, and Myrin.

Almost thoughtlessly, the ogre swept a hand and their bodies, already tangled with exhaustion and fear, crumpled with the hit.

Alistair was thrown against the wall, his armour folding like wet paper. He didn’t move.

Talian fell next.

His hands were over Lyra’s face, magic streaming out, and while he was desperately trying to not think of how her teeth were visible through her cheek, something connected with his back.

As the fade’s inky black took him, all he could feel was relief.