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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.











Chapter Text

v.

It was odd to think that in less than twelve hours, this small town would most likely be completely gone, and if not gone, completely ravaged. It wasn’t as if she was unfamiliar with places disappearing to the Blight, but it was all in the history books for her. Orzammar and Kal Sharok were all that were left. What she was familiar with though, was how much the Darkspawn could take before they broke a place.

 Zetha watched the harried faces of adults shepherding their loved ones into carts, or on horses, or anything that could take them as far as possible from the doomed hamlet. There was an odd feeling of melancholy in her sternum that she couldn't get rid of; it was different to hear about Thaigs being lost, or settlements being destroyed when you weren’t about to witness it yourself. Running past her was someone who had clearly been in the army, the bloodstained regalia of Cailan just barely visible on his back. He was received by an older woman, a mother maybe, before they both hurried away. She had no idea if they’d make it or not.

 There wasn’t much they could do. Most of them, while aided by Flemeth’s healing, were still sore and exhausted, their bodies trying to compensate for the stress they’d been under.

 It was odd though. They’d all noticed that despite the fact they’d all been on death’s door, they were healing faster than they’d ever been. Talian had tripped on an overgrown root and to their collective shock, he’d pulled up his leggings to find that the bruise was already a yellow-green, as if had been healing for a week already.

 Alistair reminded them why.

 It was almost easy to forget that they all had the Blight running through them now, and that one day, inevitably, they would succumb to it. Flexing her hand, Zetha looked at the blue veins running under her pale skin. One day, it wouldn’t belong to her.

 It wasn’t a thought she liked to dwell on.

 Still, they were all healing much better than they were before, despite everything. There were a few obvious scars now though. Lyra’s face had a jagged and messy crag going down the side, from her hairline to her chin. It was raised and angry, and did nothing to help the aggressive aura coming off of her.

 If anything though, Fehlen was doing better than any of them had ever seen. Before the Joining, he’d been surly and angry; while simultaneously looking like he was going to pass out any minute. His dark skin no longer had an odd ashen grey tint to it, and the blackened veins that had started to form at his mouth and eyes were completely gone. The Blight had been consuming him at unthinkable pace. It was a chilling to think that had he undergone the ritual any later, he would have become something unsavable.

 She and Talian were waiting by the door of the inn, for the Chantry sister they had… recruited to gather her things. The others were off on different tasks. A few had gone to the Chantry in town, others had gone to the market.


“How do you think she learned to fight like that?” Talian said in an offhand tone, breaking the easy silence. “I bet she’s got a mysterious past.”

 Zetha frowned.

 “Is it not common for them to fight?” She wasn’t really familiar with Andrastians and their religions, beyond the few studies she’d taken as a child. Frankly, it hadn’t been that interesting, beyond the complete fanatical devotion it seemed to inspire.

 Shifting from foot to foot, Talian shook his head. “No, it isn’t. I don’t think any of them in the Circle could, and you saw the sisters at Ostagar. There are others in the order who can, of course, but the laysisters aren’t exactly devoted to the blade. But I guess the Chantry doesn't discriminate against whatever your past is.” He gave her a long side-eye. “Maybe you’ll get along. Two people with mysterious and untold backgrounds.”

 She ignored him. He was just as nosy with everyone else, so there was no real heat behind his words.

 Besides, there was no reason to explain what had happened in Orzammar. Not yet, anyway. They would come to that when they reached the city, but Zetha had no desire to tell the other wardens that she was known as a kinslayer, however untruthful it was.

 Leliana waved at them from the stairs, her smile bright. She had changed into some kind of leather armour, and a bow of polished wood sat on her back. Hesitantly, Zetha waved back and Leliana’s smile was even more radiant.

 A feeling rose in Zetha’s chest and she couldn’t name it.

 

vi.

 

Fehlen squinted at them. Talian beamed.

 “A Qunari?”

“Yeah.”

“How did--?”

“He was in a cage outside and Zetha looked a little sad for him. Oh, there was something with the Revered mother, and then Leliana said ‘oh I think the wardens could use such an ally ’ or something like that, I wasn’t paying attention; too many templars around. Oh-- then when we got him out, him and Cousland had this warrior standoff, it was very tense and also I don’t think Cousland’s ever been shorter than someone so I think it was a new experience for her.”

“That’s the worst Orlesian accent I’ve ever heard.”

“Thank you!”

 Zetha sighed.

 

vii.

 

They set off, two party members more, and despite what he had said, Zetha could see the merchant tailing behind them. Not that anyone complained. With a party their size, they would need some kind of merchant with them.

 The sun slowly started to set, the sky turning a brilliant orange, and the weather cooled. A gentle breeze begun to whisper, shaking the leaves of the trees around them. Something smelled… off in the wind. Zetha looked over at the other wardens, and made eye contact with Deven. She wrinkled her nose in sympathy.

 Looking back, Lyra paled and then held out a hand.The group slowly stopped and they all looked over at her. She’d turned around, and soon they could see why her freckled face had gone white. A thick black plume of smoke was behind them, almost lazily drifting into what she now realized was an almost unnaturally orange sunset.

 Lothering was burning.

 A grim silence fell onto the party. It was one thing for Ostagar to be taken over by the Darkspawn. It was an old relic of the past and seemed doomed to fall to some kind of force, whether it was time or an invading army. But Lothering, despite how panicked it had been, was still a bustling town when they’d been in it. She thought of the indistinct faces of the templars there, the refugees, and the chantry members. The one soldier boy and the woman with him. Zetha wondered if anyone had made it out. They all stood there for a moment, watching the smoke spiral into the sky.

 The clank of Lyra’s armour as she shifted brought her into focus again, away from the almost morbidly fascinating sight.

 Shaking her head, Zetha cleared her throat.

 “We need to keep moving. Camp has to be set up while there’s at least some light.”

 Almost like a trance, the others broke out of it, glancing back once or twice before moving on. Zetha looked back once, tried to not let the odd mourning feeling overwhelm her, and then continued to walk.

 

viii.

 

She’s filled with hunger [consuming]. The waking world calls to her, untouched by the Song [unending, perfect, beautiful], and she knows, she must devour it. In her, a thousand minds echo in perfect harmony. She calls to them [children, soldiers] and they all respond [joy, so much joy] .The call goes and she feels [hundreds thousands] them respond, years of waiting over now [finally].

 Urthemiel [Zetha] awakens.


Zetha woke up, and immediately retched. The taste of blood was in her mouth, and her tongue was stinging. Tears pricked the corners of her eyes, and she rolled over, onto her knees, feet, looking around wildly.

 The sun hadn’t rose yet, but in the watery early morning light, she could see the other wardens were awake, and looked how she felt. The exceptions to that seemed to be Talian and Fehlen. Both looked unhappy, but not shaken like the others, or panicked like she and Myrin were.

From the bedroll beside her came a voice.

 “Dreams, huh. What a crock of shit.” Myrin’s face was wrinkled into a frown, but her voice was low and unsettled. “You’d think the one thing surfacers lord over us would be better than that.” She was fiddling with a woven bracelet on her wrist, nervously. In this moment, she looked her age. Young. No more than sixteen. So did Deven, from where she was sitting silently. They all did, and it was moments like this that painfully reminded Zetha that most of them wouldn’t even be fit to run a household, let alone help defeat the Blight.

 Talian laughed bitterly from across the fire, already back into his blankets. His voice was muffled, buried deep into the bedroll.

 “You think that’s bad? Every time I go to sleep there’s a chance I won’t wake up as myself. I’ll take an uncontrollable hivemind dream over that.”

 Making a face, Zetha sat back down, her knees shaking. “Then I don’t know how you are still yourself, Ser Surana, because that was the worst dream I have ever had.” Her voice was curt. After a pause, she amended. “Well, the only dream.”

 Talian poked out from the nest, sitting up. His long black hair was a knotted mess around his head. “I’d forgotten about that. Dwarves don’t dream, do they?” Zetha shook her head. Talian grimaced. “Apologies, then. I forget that not all of us have-- well, that we have the luxury to dream and be comfortable with that.” He sounded slightly ashamed, and Zetha offered him a consoling smile.

 “It’s always going to be like this, then? We’ll always have these nightmares?” Lyra’s voice was low, and she was staring into the embers of the fire. “Until we die, we’ll be dreaming of these monsters, along with whatever else.”

 Alistair looked slightly miserable, and paused before answering. Zetha almost felt bad for him. He’d clearly expected them to be unhappy, but to move on with this. She couldn’t blame him. From what she’d gathered, he was a junior warden. This shouldn’t have been his job to explain.

 “Yes-- and because you joined by what’s now very obviously a Blight, you’ll have more vivid dreams than other wardens. They’ll settle down if the Archdemon is killed, but they’ll never really go away. I've managed to block them out. Maybe some of you will be able to block them out too, but it’s different for wardens who join during a real blight.” He looked at them, uncomfortable sorrow on his face. “You’re just, well, you’re more connected to them. The darkspawn, I mean.”

 A pensive look creased Lyra’s face, and she tapped the ground in thought. “Does it work the other way around then? Could the darkspawn tell where we are?”

 He shook his head. “No. They aren't sentient, so they shouldn't be able to--”

 “But the Archdemon is.” Lyra interrupted, no longer looking at the fire. “That's one of the reasons it's so special, isn't it? It's a god, or at least, thinks it is. And it controls the horde, so what's to say it can't find us now?”

 From the other side of the fire, Fehlen spoke. “It would have found us already if it could.” He was right. If the tales were anything to go by. Grey Wardens were the only thing that could kill it. There was no reason for it to leave them alive if it had the chance otherwise.

 Sighing, Alistair stood. “Then we'll just have to assume that for now, we're safe from at least that.”

 There was silence after his words, uneasy and fragile.

 

ix.

 

Despite the somber start to their journey, Zetha couldn’t help but marvel.

 On their journey to Ostagar, they had all been worried and scared, others mourning or sick. She hadn’t had the mental capacity to take in the surface either. The first time she’d seen the sky when it was clear, she had felt nauseous, with the blue unending above her head. The ever expansive sky was still just as terrifying as it had always been, but now she could focus around her.  On the plains and the forests, on the colours. Zetha would always love her home, and there was a beauty to be found in the caverns of the underground, but this was something else entirely. The way the flowers bloomed, and how there was always something green around; softly waving fields of grass, or trees stretching up into the sky. How the gentle birdsong drifted around them, soft warbling and whistling.

 Not everyone appreciated it. Talian had made several bitter comments about the mud on his robes, and oh maker is that a slug get it off get it off--

 She looked over at Myrin, who’d taken up walking with Deven, and was softly talking with her. The other dwarven girl had seemed just as wary as Zetha about most things on the surface, but was taking it in stride. She at least, had seemed less perturbed about storms than Zetha was.

 The road curved beside the lake, and the water was calm and clear, almost like a sheet of glass, reflecting the bright blue of the sky. It was serene, and she stopped for a moment, just to look at the lilies splashing by the shore.

 From behind her, Deven’s voice piped up. “Hey, Redcliffe is a fishing town, yeah?”

 Talian looked over from where he was walking, seemingly trying to badger Fehlen into something. The other elf looked relieved at the distraction. “It is-- from the Circle tower we could see the boats.” There was a note of confusion in his voice, and a question tacked onto the end of his sentence.

 “Why’s there no boats on the water, then?”

 The group stopped, and looking at the lake, Zetha could see that the elvhen girl was right. From ahead of her, Lyra had stopped, and a frown was evident in her voice. “That’s… odd. Even in times of war, they’d have as many people on the water as possible to stock up on food, and we’d be seeing boats sail across the lake to get the Southern roads to Denerim. There’s no reason that absolutely no one would be out there.”

 A quiet undercurrent of dread filled Zetha, and as they continued to walk, a little faster than before, she wondered if Redcliffe would only have more horrors in store for them.



--




Now with art of Lyra and Talian!

Chapter Text

x.

The Chantry in Redcliffe was miserable.

It was harsh, but she was right. Fear was tangible in the building. The weak and the elderly, the sick and the children, sheltered in a building that would eventually fall to the the walking corpses. They shied away from the group as they walked out of the battered wooden doors. Outside, Lyra took in the sight of the militia training in front of them, and the few villagers hurrying about while the sun was still shining. They had so much to do in such a short time. But they were the only hope of the village and so it had to be done.

“Right,” she said as they stood in the late afternoon sun, after they had spoken to Murdock. “We need to do as much as we can here tonight, and we need to do it fast. I think the best plan would be to split up. Aeducan and Brosca can help the militia, Surana and Tabris, you go see if you can talk to the blacksmith, and Mahariel and I are going to go find Dwyn. Take who you need from the rest of the party.”

Deven rolled her eyes. “I have a name, you know. So does everyone else. Maybe you could use them? If that’s not lowering yourself to our level too much.”

Lyra pointedly ignored her, and nodded at Fehlen. The group parted with Deven muttering something under her breath, and Lyra tried to not sigh. Fehlen was quiet beside her as they walked down the docks.

 “No complaints?” She said after a moment, her tone aggravated. “I suppose you’d rather I call you--”

Interrupting her, Fehlen snorted. “If you call me by my name, I’ll have to call you by yours, and I don’t think we like each other enough for that.” He continued to walk ahead of her, and Lyra exhaled in relief.

At least someone understood.

 

xi.

 

She brought her sword down on its skull, and a grin more akin to a snarl spread across her face. Lyra pivoted, and with a speed unbelievable to her size, jammed her pommel into the torso of the next. It crumpled and an unearthly rattle came from its lungs. She moved with a practiced focus, years of drills making every move automatic. One went down, and then another. They scrabbled at her armour but she paid no mind to it, too busy with an almost singular goal. She turned again, and then-

Myrin was there, her axes flashing, and Lyra pulled back, her sword barely missing the dwarven girl.

“Shit--” Her sword was pulled out of her hands by a hissing corpse, and she drove a fist into it, a screech echoing as the metal on her gloves scraped the rusted armour on it. It fell, but two more took its place.

Grasping hands grabbed hold of her armour and she tried to move, only to find another pulling on her from the other side. Rage filled her and Lyra screamed back into the face of the corpse, trying to not get overwhelmed as more of them turned to her, sensing weakness. She slammed her head forward into the one ahead of her, and there was crunch as her nose broke against the cold metal of her helmet. Blood dripped into her mouth, and the world went red.

Lyra wasn’t sure when she came back. She was no longer by the bridge, instead next to the Chantry, and she looked around. The fight was clearly done, and the sun had started to rise, the early morning light dawning on a bloody scene. The dead were scattered around her.

Fehlen walked over to her, an eyebrow raised.

“Nice to see you back with us, Cousland.” His voice was dry and slightly amused. There was a long cut running down his neck, and she could see that the locs on one side of his head were slightly shorter. She couldn’t remember when that had happened.

Lyra licked her lips, and when she spoke, her voice was raspy. “We won?” Taking a step forward, her body made its aches aware. Her arms and shoulders stung, overexerted, and her legs were sore.

Fehlen shrugged. “We won. Turns out the dead are flammable, and don’t stand up well to a shem who’s apparently dedicated to ripping apart every single one.” He sat down on a barricade,  exhaustion written into his body. “Speaking of, that was almost impressive. Losing your sword and then beating something to death with its own arm seemed like overkill.”

Moving over to sit on a bloodied post, Lyra reached to take off her helmet, but came in contact with her hair instead of metal.

It was gone.

Her hair was falling out of the bun it was usually in, curly ginger strands leaping out. Frowning, she ran an armoured hand over her head, and winced as she touched a cut on her scalp.

Looking at Fehlen, she gestured at her head. “When did I lose my helmet?” When he gave her a confused look, she elaborated. “I don’t… remember that much of last night.”

Disbelief was evident in his tone. “You lost it after one of those monsters grabbed it. You called it a ‘buggering cunt’, and then completely butchered it.” He started to unstring his his bow, and as Lyra watched, started to clean the ashen wood of the grime on it. “I couldn’t see much from where I was, but I wish you’d fought like that with the ogre. We might have actually had a chance.” Ignoring the reproach in his words, she took a moment to let her aching feet rest, and then stood. Fehlen watched from where he sat, but made no move to get up.  

“Where are the others?”

Fehlen shrugged again, and focused back on his bow. “I saw Talian healing the militia.” He was silent after that, and Lyra figured it was the most she’d get out of him.

Wandering the town, she found the others, all in various stages of exhaustion. Talian was curled up on a cot in the Chantry, fast asleep, and Deven was sitting beside him, her neck bending in a way that spoke of soreness when she woke. Myrin was by the bonfires of the dead, talking softly with Morrigan, and nodded at Lyra when she passed. Eventually she found Zetha by the docks, watching the boats burn in the distance on the lake. There was silence, and then Zetha spoke, her voice soft.

“A cousin of mine is a berserker. In the battlefield, and out, he’s known as a man of anger.” Still looking at the water, she sighed. “Be careful, Lyra. Berserkers are powerful fighters, but carrying that anger is dangerous.” Tucking a strand of pale blonde hair behind her ear, she looked over. “And remember who’s who on the field, next time. You almost took Myrin out at one point.” There was something unsaid, a warning that was more than her soft words.

Shame burned high in Lyra’s cheeks, and she didn’t look at the dwarf. “I don’t remember anything at all. Nothing. It was like being possessed. One moment I was fighting, and the next, I was surrounded by bodies.”

Zetha nodded thoughtfully. “That’s something I heard often. It’s only ever the experienced fighters who can control the battle rage, and even then, it's not easily done.”

There was silence for a moment. And then Lyra spoke.

“Did I really call one a cunt?”  

Zetha’s laugh echoed over the lake.

 

xii.

 

If someone had told her being a warden would have meant shuffling through slimy tunnels that were much too small for someone her size, she might have been less awed about them when she was younger.

Lyra grimaced as they moved down the servants tunnel, water dripping from the damp ceiling onto her armour. Someone bumped into her, and she all but whirled around, ready to snap at the person in question. Alistair held his hands up in a gesture of supplication, and Lyra sighed. Walking alongside her, he was quiet.

After a few minutes, he spoke. “So… Teagan seemed to know you.”

Lyra kept looking ahead. “Yes. My father was the Teyrn of Highever, and we frequently visited Redcliffe.” Maker, why couldn’t he talk with anyone besides her? She’d chosen the front of the party to avoid talking to her companions, and they all seemed to have gotten the hint.

Alistair made a noise of surprise beside her. He was quiet for long enough that Lyra looked over. His eyes were wide.

After a few seconds, Lyra could feel frustration overwhelming her confusion.  “What?” She demanded, her brow furrowing. A gentle flush crept up his pointed ears when she spoke.

Clearing his throat, Alistair looked away. “Well, I think we might have met before. Do you remember knocking over some supposedly important vase in the castle and being caught by a lovely old cook?” Lyra squinted at him, not understanding his question and then oh--

He grinned at her, gap-toothed and freckled, and then they both ran, giggling furiously as the shriek of the cook reached their ears, the broken pot badly hidden behind a table discovered.

Unwillingly, the corners of her mouth started to turn up.

“I can’t believe that you remember that.”

“Well, it’s hard to forget when the girl with the reddest hair you’ve ever seen pushes you into a puddle, then tells you that you’re playing with her and that she’s going to be the knight.”

Lyra rolled her eyes but the smile lingered on her face.

It was a long forgotten question answered though. She could remember asking her father where the boy had gone, and he’d just smiled sadly at her. It made sense now. If Alistair had been considered Eamon’s bastard, despite the truth, it was almost surprising he hadn’t been sent sooner.

The tunnels eventually climbed upwards, and after pushing open a rusty hatch, they found themselves in an unused hall. More of the dead awaited, and it wasn’t long before they heard a voice calling for help.

The dead there were no match for all of them, and were easily dispersed. She took a moment to look around, and Lyra realized that they were in the holding cells of Redcliffe castle. And they weren’t alone. A mage was one of the cages, and beside her, Surana went rigid. He stormed over, and then Lyra found herself being dragged away into a corner by the elbow. She glared at Zetha, but the dwarf shook her head and subtly gestured over to them. An argument had started up between Talian and the man in the cage, and everyone was looking away, trying to grant the illusion of privacy to the hissed argument.   

 

“...and what’s going to stop you from running off? Can we trust you, can I trust you?”

 

“Talian, that’s not---”

 

“Not what? Not fair? I was going to be sent to my death for you. For something I didn’t do. I want to give you a chance Jowan, I really do--”

 

Lyra focused back on the wall on front of her. Soon her impatience got the better of her, and she stomped over, where the mage and Talian were still locked in an argument.

“Enough.” Her voice cracked like a whip and they both looked over at her, startled. “Surana, what’s going on?” Talian hurriedly explained, and Lyra crossed her arms over her chest. “So, he’s a blood mage, and he poisoned Arl Eamon. I don’t see why there’s any other option than the obvious of what to do with him.”

Talian planted his hands on his hips and moved in between her and the cell. “It’s more complicated than that, and we both know it. I don’t think you have the--” There was a sharp whistle, and they both turned to the source, brewing argument paused. Deven looked irritated from where she was leaning.

She pushed herself off the wall, and gestured to the others “We exist too, you know. Have either one of you asked us? No? Maybe you should.” Walking over, she briefly glanced at the mage. “Fehlen is happy to leave the decision to us, and after that whole story, Myrin and I think we should give him a chance.” From where she stood, Myrin shrugged.

Lyra started to protest, and Deven turned to her. “No, listen. He fucked up, but he got used by Loghain. He’s trying to live as much as any of us, and from what he’s said, it might not even be him responsible for the whole… corpse thing. Talian?” She looked over to him, where he stood with his hands still on his hips. “Do you think he’s responsible for this?”

Shaking his head, Talian dropped his hands. “I don’t think-- and some offense intended, but Jowan was never strong enough to do something like this. It’s raw magic, the magic of someone who’s either incredibly skilled, or doesn’t have the ability to cast actual magic yet, like a child. To do something like this with purpose would have a bigger cost, and honestly, if Jowan could do that, he wouldn’t be in this cell, or he wouldn’t be Jowan anymore” Jowan didn’t look upset at Talian’s comment, and looked more relieved than anything that Talian was temporarily defending him.

“So?” Deven said after a moment.

Talian sighed. “It-- yeah. He’s not that dangerous. He cast blood magic, but any mage can do that if pressed.” He looked over at Jowan. “When--no, if we let you out, you’ll go?” The other man nodded furiously. Talian rubbed his forehead and started to walk away. “Then let him out. We can deal if he suddenly turns into an evil maleficar bent on murdering us all.” They all looked at each other, and Lyra relented when Deven refused to look away. It was an argument she wasn't going to win.

Most of all though, Surana was right. Lyra had heard that he was a blood mage, and had been responsible for Arl Eamon’s poisoning, and had immediately assumed the worst, but as Myrin fiddled with the lock, she could see that in the end, Jowan was just another scared mage. He was scared in the same way the villagers were, and while Lyra was disgusted by his weakness to turn to a magic so clearly a path to something worse, a quieter part of her understood. He was just trying to survive in a world that didn’t want him to, and Loghain’s deal had seemed like a better way out than any other option.

Somewhere out there, the chantry sister that had taught her the evils of man and magic was rolling in her grave.

 

xiii.

 

The rage returned.

They were in the courtyard of the castle, and were surrounded by the undead. A tall figure in armour hacked at them, too graceful and too powerful to be human. The knights of Redcliffe were fighting alongside them, but none of them had ever faced something like this before.

Lyra could feel it clawing at her brain; anger and hate screaming at her. To let go and to simply float. The temptation was overwhelming.

Her mouth tasted of copper.

Something caught the corner of her eye; she could see Deven, pressed down by the demon in the courtyard, the revenant. The rage choked her, and Lyra almost stumbled forward, her sword gripped in her hands.

One day she would try to control the anger, but not today. Not when she needed it. Swinging the massive blade, she let the inescapable heat fill her body, and the revenant’s head rolled, stopping neatly at the base of the stairs of the courtyard.

 

Chapter Text

xiv.

He lowered his staff and the corpse of Duncan vanished in front of him; the fade starting to collapse back into a more neutral state. Talian wasn't surprised that it was a figment created in the fade, but the sheer strength of it was worrisome. As was the fact that none of his travel partners were with him. It made sense that the sloth demon had separated them, but that didn’t make his rising anxiety any less easier to deal with.

The encroaching feeling of dread as they walked up to the gates of the Circle only continued to get stronger, and Talian knew that something was very, very wrong. Tainted magic coated the back of his throat, and he swallowed uselessly. The circle always felt of old magic, layered and well worn. But this was something new, pervasive and sickening.

Walking through the fade, Talian skirted around the ever-changing surreal dreamscape, agitated spirits jostling around him. A green-grey storm was brewing; the sky, if it could be called that, was turbulent, vibrant green lightning crackling and pulsing through the clouds. There was a calm patch in the middle of the storm, something he suspected to be less the eye of it, and more where the sloth demon was, siphoning off the power that the weakened veil was letting leak through. It was much more powerful than it should have been.

He walked through a scorched wooden arch, hot coals glowing in the charred wood, and he was in the circle, empty and quiet; his footsteps loud on the cold stone floor. The library was no longer in disarray, instead cleaner than he had ever seen it.

The bookshelves were toppled, and he tried to not look at the cold corpse laying propped against them, templar steel punctured by the claws of the inhuman. Beside the armoured figure lay a robed man, chest split by four upward claw lines. His eyes were glassy, and blood was congealed around him in a brown puddle. They had both been dead for at least half a day, if not longer. There were no drag marks, no suggestions that anyone made the attempt to help them, or at least to move the bodies away from the hall.

A pale blue-grey spirit of sorrow drifted close to him, and with a detached regard, he looked at it as it leaned against him. Another joined it, white as snow.

Mourning.

Their soft whispers wrapped around him, and for that moment, in the haziness of the fade, Talian felt the exhaustion and grief overtake him. Their voices were gentle, their touch even more so. For a few beats, he let them embrace him, their warm touch comforting, albeit an indistinct feeling, a memory of touch.  He allowed himself only a moment, soon disentangling himself from their clutching arms, but they continued to follow, soft cries echoing in his ears.

xv.

Highever was golden in the late sun, and Lyra absentmindedly watched as Fergus spoke softly with Oriana, Oren standing beside them. He reached over and ruffled Oren’s hair, the boy protesting at it. Eventually her mother walked up, and she sighed softly.

“He’s getting so big, isn’t he?” she said, looking over at Oren, “My little grandbaby. My only one too, seeing as you’ll be quite busy in the Wardens.” Her voice was full of pride as she spoke, and she turned to look at Lyra. “I know you’ve probably heard it from everyone in the castle, but you’ve done so well, my dear.” A warm chuckle was heard, and her father was behind them, a fond smile on his face.

“Oh Eleanor, stop smothering her. She’s important now, serving with royalty. ” Bryce’s voice was light, and he laughed. Together, they all watched as Fergus teased his son, the small face indignant. Contentment filled her, and she was sure she could stand for hours with her family.

Beside her, someone cleared their throat. Lyra looked over, and--

Talian awkwardly stood there.

He looked out of place in Highever, with the sun warming the soft grey stone around them, giving the air a hazy, relaxed feel. In his stark warden robes, the harsh grey and too vibrant blue, he seemed to dispel the lazy afternoon simply by standing .

“Surana, there you are. I hope nothing’s wrong with your lodgings?”

Talian looked even more uncomfortable when she said that, and glanced away. After a pause, he spoke. “Lyra, I hate to break this up, but we have to go.”

Blinking, she looked down at him. “What do you mean? We’ve just gotten to Highever. We have to stay for the feast, and the celebrations. They are for us, after all.”

He focused on the courtyard behind her, something that seemed incredibly fascinating judging by how he refused to look at them. “Apropos of nothing, but how did we get out of the Circle when they had… problems with the demons?”

“That was months ago, Surana. I’m not sure what this has to do with anything.”

“Just humour me, will you?”

From beside her, father spoke, cutting Talian off from saying anything more. “I’m not sure why it’s important to talk about this now. Surely you can talk about this over the feast, pup? You can tell us all the gory tales then.” An undercurrent of steel threaded through his voice, one that seemed out of place with the indulgent afternoon mood.

Mother frowned, but didn’t disagree with him. “I think he’s right, Lyra. This is no time to bring up your past adventures, is it? Not with little Oren so close.”

Her mother's eyes were sharp, and for the briefest moment, Lyra couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. She turned to Talian. Lyra opened her mouth, and then paused. Her memory was foggy, a vague recollection. She remembered Redcliffe, going into the tower and then--

It was small, smaller than the rest. The abomination lurched towards them before an arrow embedded itself in its skull. It slumped, life leaving the milky red eyes. Talian walked over, and looked at the body, his movements stiff. He picked up a small charm hanging off the tattered robes, and slowly fell to his knees, keening softly. He looked over at them, and his eyes were wet, tear tracks trailing through the blood spatter on his face. “She was thirteen .”

Horror tore through Lyra, and suddenly it wasn’t a little mage girl, but sweet Oren, lying on the stone of Highever.

Turning, she saw her mother, eyes turning into viscous black, her teeth sharp and uncontained in her mouth.

“Fool of a mage, you will regret this.” Rasping and hissed, it was not the Eleanor Cousland she remembered.

xvi.

Talian thumbed through one of the books as the fire of the fade burned around him. The words shifted on the page before deciding what they were, and he watched as someone with a thin looping writing jotted their thoughts down, the letters in slanting Tevene. He watched the letters write themselves for a moment, and then he closed the book, running his palm over the worn spine. He’d always wanted to learn another language.

Maybe if they survived this whole thing, he’d take up Orlesian, or possibly Elvhen if Fehlen was amenable to it. He looked back at the book, a bloodstain dripping out from the pages.

"They always made Tevinter seem like some kind of beacon of hope, like it was a paradise.” His voice sounded dull, even to his own ears, and Talian could feel Deven’s hand on his shoulder; a comforting weight. “That if we got out, that we could escape to somewhere where our wildest dreams could be achieved.”

He looked at the corpse of a mage, her body ripped in two. “But how can somewhere be a paradise if they let this kind of magic happen? How can anyone justify the cost of it?” Deven shrugged beside him.

“Dunno, I think that’s something you’d have to ask the magisters themselves.”

Maybe he’d learn Tevene.

xvii.

Trian was laughing from his belly, large guffaws. Bhelen was beside him, wheezing softly, and Zetha could feel giggles escaping her. She couldn’t quite remember what they were laughing about, but joy filled her at the sight of her brothers not fighting. Their father sat at the end of the table, his eyes kind, dancing with laughter. The dark circles that were ever so present under his eyes were gone, and he was in rarely seen good spirits.

Edrin turned to Zetha as Trian and Bhelen started to jab at each other good naturedly, and his smile was soft. “How are you doing, my girl? I know the assembly hasn’t been easy on you these past few months. You’ve been doing a fine job, but being a new commander always comes with unexpected troubles.”

She responded with a smile. “I’m doing fine. They’ve backed off after the warrior caste representative voiced support for me. Not to mention, having the extremely vocal support of Bhelen and Trian has helped.”

The latter of the mentioned brothers snorted, disdain clear in his tone. “We may not agree on everything, but you’re the most competent of the military leaders there. The old farts don’t like that.”

They all chuckled, but it was cut short as the door opened. An elvhen man stood there, his armour bearing the stylized griffon of the wardens. Standing, Zetha walked over to him. “Pardon me, Ser Warden, but is there something wrong?” It was puzzling as to how he’d gotten around the guards without being announced by any of them, but a Warden in a hurry wasn’t something usually trifled with.

The man’s face went through a myriad of emotions, and he took a moment to respond. “Yes. But I would speak to you only.”

From the other side of the room, Trian protested. “Anything you need to tell our sister, you need to tell us.”

“I don’t really think this is something I can--”

“Ser. Either you tell us all, or you don’t tell anyone at all, and we escort you out.”

The frown on the warden’s face deepened, and he sighed. “Alright. Zetha, this isn’t your family. You’re dreaming, and those are demons.”

Shock rippled through her, and she gaped at him. “ Excuse me?” she managed, after a beat of silence. “I don’t know who you are, but those are outrageous claims to make, and I--” The man held up a hand.

“Humour me. What happened in the past few months? What have you been doing?”

It unsettled her, how serious he was. The few dealings she’d had with wardens were similar, the whole order of warriors being quiet and grim, but there was an intensity to his question that gave her pause. There was talk of the madness of wardens close to death, but as far as she knew it manifested similar to something like a blighted individual, not complete delusion. He looked at her, impatience clear in his body. “I ask again, humour me. It will take less than a minute of your time, and if I’m wrong, we can settle it then.”

“Fine, although I don’t see what this will prove,” she said, frowning. Zetha thought for a moment. She was been getting used to her post, the military command shifting over to her. The soldiers were unused to being under her command, and--

No, that didn’t seem right. She was…

What was she doing?

Glittery lyrium spilled out of the hands of a dead templar, the bottle half open and cracked down one side. It mingled with the blood, creating an odd twisting… object. She refused to think it was living. Flesh bubbled out from parts of it, seemingly from the mixture itself. Talian stopped by where Zetha stood, looking down at the dead man.

“They don’t have a name for it. Or at least, no chantry sanctioned books do. It only happens when there’s been death, copious amounts of violently spilled blood, and a ripped or very damaged veil. The fade tries to create something with the blood; to compensate for the lost life. But you can’t really do anything with blood, and it just makes, well. It makes that.” He kicked the glob of flesh, and it gently spurted a yellow liquid.

Zetha shuddered. “It’s called tethna atredum: ancestor’s bane. We occasionally find records of old wardens or the legion that describe it where darkspawn are bred. It’s a sign of misery, and if you see anything like it, you get out of the area as soon as possible.”

It was considered a symbol of despair, of desecration;  found only in the deepest pits of darkspawn, where death coated itself on every wall. To see it meant there was no hope, and the best option would be to leave and pray that one had enough ancestors watching over them to never be sent somewhere like it ever again. Zetha wondered if that was the case in this broken circle, where the very stone was tainted by fallen blood.

Talian gave her a wane smile. “Well, we don’t really have that option, do we?”

She blinked.

“This isn’t happening, is it?” Zetha willed her voice to not shake, and Talian looked downcast.

“No, I’m sorry--” Interrupted by the scrape of a chair on stone, they both glanced over. Trian looked furious, and as he stood, his body warped, twisting and bubbling into a purple-grey mass. Zetha didn't look to the side, but she could hear it from where Edrin sat, his flesh melting.

“Think of a weapon.” Talian said, softly. “Doesn’t matter what.”

A familiar weight on her hip appeared, a sword that was every sword she’d used, but was none she’d ever seen at all. Not-Endrin stalked forward, and Zetha could only think it was a small mercy that it didn’t look like her father anymore.

xviii.

He sat on a beach, somewhere on the storm coast. The water washed up books on the shore, and long lost memories, their glittering essence caught on the smooth pebbles. Jowan sat next to him, his eyes flickering purple and orange. The moons were full, shining in the sky, and Talian watched as the stars rearranged themselves on a whim.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Jowan’s voice was calm.

Talian hummed in agreement, and looked over. Jowan smiled, and it was just a little too wide.

“Are you here to tempt me then? To show me how my life could be so much easier if I just gave up?” Talian said after a moment, a sigh in his voice.

Jowan tutted, and shook his head. “I’m not one of those. Sloth and apathy have no use to me.” His face blurred, and instead he was a horned man, dressed in gold that contrasted with the lilac of his skin. He smiled, and it was devastatingly handsome.

Crying out, the demon slumped over, her body melting into something indistinguishable. A crease formed on Lyra’s forehead, and she poked her sword at the chain jewelry melting away. “Do they all look like that?”

He looked up from where he was helping Wynne heal Zetha. “No. They always look like whatever their victim desires the most. If that were my demon, it would have looked like a man, or something similar, I'd expect.”

“What if someone isn’t attracted to anyone at all?”

Talian pushed himself up, his knees protesting. “Everyone desires something, whether it’s a person, a thing, an idea. A desire demon, or something more powerful will always know what it is, regardless of that what that person may say. Taking a form that we find conventionally attractive just helps with the process.” Walking over to the body of the formerly charmed templar, he closed the dead man’s eyes. “That’s why the circle looks like this. Nothing is safe from something that can see into our innermost thoughts, even the ones we hide from ourselves. You can hide from a demon, but the minute they find you, the minute they know what your deepest wish their aspect best serves, you’re at their mercy.”

Talian stood, and brushed off his robes. “No thank you in advance, although your offer is flattering.” He had played this song and game too many times to count.

The demon laughed as Talian walked away

“It’s not that easy to avoid us.”

“I know.” He said, the gravel crunching under his boots. “But I can pretend.”