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Stepping Into Fate

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Melody spent the entire ride to Ostagar staring off into space. The horses plodded on, her own beast being willingly led forward by Duncan's, the thing’s head as vacant as her eyes as she stared listlessly at the unfamiliar Ferelden terrain. She knew she was in a state of shock, but she didn't want to bother snapping out of it. What was the point? Nearly her entire family had been wiped away before her very eyes, and now she was off to become a Grey Warden in the hopes she could...do what, exactly, she wondered? Was she looking for revenge? For some kind of purpose to fill the gaping hole where her loved ones used to be? She was no hero. She was a cheeky noble who would rather spend her days sneaking off to play cards in the tavern than running off to save the world from the blight. At least darkspawn were less likely to take all her father’s money, she thought sardonically, although the humor didn't register on her bleak face and did little to actually cheer her.

Duncan, for the most part, had left her to her silence. He had been there, had seen her father's blood covering the floor as her mother vowed to stay and fight. He was a wise man for realizing she needed space right now and not endless coddling. She could tell he sympathized with her, could tell he felt for her plight by the way the corners of his mouth dipped downward just a bit every time he happened to glance her way, but in the end she had been willing to come join the order, and that was all he really cared about. Duncan was a recruiter, through and through, and as long as she was still following he would bear her silence and answer it with his own.

Were all Grey Wardens so gruff? He had the eyes of a man that had once lived a bright life, but the lines on his face were those of a man who had seen too much to hold on to that light. Maybe it was something in the oath, or something in the burden of their duties, that drove him to such a dour mood. Or perhaps he was as affected by the slaughter of her old life as she, although she doubted anyone could truly understand such an abrupt loss.

Would it trouble her to join an order full of men such as this? Would she welcome the shadows as they enveloped her, or grow tired of them as the sting of her loss faded? And more importantly, would that pain ever recede? As they approached the great ruins of the city, Melody pondered the answers to those questions, chewing on the inside of her cheek and wishing her eyes would stop stinging. She blinked away the moisture, turning her head from the wind and pretending she was stronger than the willowy branches swaying above their heads. If she focused hard enough, she could almost believe she hadn't snapped miles ago and been trampled by the inevitable march of time.

Ostagar was a mess when they finally arrived. Armored men shuffled about the old ruin everywhere she looked, and a general sense of panic filtered off of everyone, creating a dark pall over the area. Clattering metal and brusque voices filled the air, a cacophony that assaulted her ears after the long silence of the ride. The din gave her a headache in a matter of minutes, but she refrained from speaking as they dismounted their horses and approached the long bridge. They crossed in continued silence and she began to wonder if the Wardens were under some sort of compulsion to speak as little as possible. Perhaps it was just another facet of this order she had been promised to. If so, she would possibly fit in better than she had thought, assuming that she would continue in this state of shock forever, a prospect that did not seem entirely unlikely.

“Take some time to get acquainted with the area,” Duncan's voice startled her into meeting his eyes. “Find Alistair when you are ready, he will bring you to me.” and with that he stalked off towards the center of the camp, leaving her standing there feeling utterly abandoned.

She glanced around, not having the foggiest idea of what direction to start in. Get acquainted with the area, he had suggested. Right. And what should she be ready for before locating this Alistair? Sacred Warden rituals? Dancing in the moonlight to praise whatever surly god of order they served?

She forced herself to put one foot in front of the other and began meandering around the camp, trying to remember what she was passing in case she needed the information later. She vaguely registered the locations for an armory, mabari kennels, tents of various sizes, but it was all filed straight to the back of her head. The noise and colors were a decent distraction, keeping her mind from focusing too sharply on what she had been through, but the memories of the attack on her family's estate were ever present, gnawing away at her ability to live in the present. She would likely forget every step she had taken through the mass of people gathering for the coming storm, but perhaps getting lost was not the worst of fates. She could lose herself in the crowd, walking until her legs gave way and she sank into the boot churned mud, and just let the world pass her over as she succumbed to the elements and the darkness.

Her thoughts were finally breached by a voice carrying across the clearing. She walked towards the sound, drawn to the man's amused drawl as he responded to his rather angry conversation partner. As she approached she could see a tall man in warden armor leaning against a crumbling pillar, arms crossed over his chest, smirking at a mage who was gesticulating theatrically as he spoke. Short cropped blonde hair clung to his head, and his rounded cheekbones rose as he smiled broadly, unperturbed by the robed figure's anger. Perhaps this was the man she was supposed to be looking for. Melody froze for a second, realizing that in her aimless wandering she had completely forgotten what his name was supposed to be. She swallowed thickly as she took a tentative path over to them, taking her time and straining to listen to the conversation, hoping the mage might call the smiling warden by name and she would be saved from a potentially awkward conversation.

“Awe, and I was going to name one of my children after you...the grumpy one.” the warden said, and the mage huffed dramatically in response before storming off. The blonde turned to face her and let out a gusty sigh, rolling his eyes before he said “That's what I love about a Blight. Brings everybody together.”

Melody laughed, much to her surprise. She couldn't help it. His disaffected look, his sarcastic comment, the sparkle of utter mischief in his wonderfully brown eyes, it was all a combination that created a perfect storm that blew away all her melancholy and brought just a little light back into her chest. It was inexplicable, but it was good to know she still had some mirth left in her, good to know that it hadn't all been lost in the halls she had left behind, broken and burning and echoing with the screams of her family.

She shook her head and dispelled the dark memories from her mind, letting the sound of her own laughter rattle around in her chest for a moment. It gave her a bit of hope. Hope that she could still navigate the future when her past lay in ruin, hope that the world had not been truly overtaken by shadow, hope that perhaps she wouldn't hate being a warden quite so much as she feared. It was good to be reminded what that kind of hope felt like, and she flashed the mysterious man the brightest smile she could muster as thanks, wishing she could remember his name.

 

***

 

Alistair heard her laugh and immediately felt like the ground had shifted underneath him. He had half a mind to kneel down and touch the stone underfoot, just to make sure it was still there and everything was solid. The woman before him flashed him a smile that felt too bright, too stunning to be allowed to exist, and it was difficult not to avert his eyes to hide from it. For what felt like a million years he stood there without breathing, watching her watch him without a thought in his head other than how much he desperately wanted to hear that laugh again.

She was short, a good foot shorter than him, but she felt imposing to him anyways. She had mid length, wavy red hair which was currently tied back in a ponytail that bounced behind her with every movement, rippling down her back between her shoulder blades like a burgundy waterfall. Green eyes like the forest in the early dawn light peered out through long, curled lashes, and dark rose lips stretched into a smile like velvet dusk. A smattering of freckles graced her cheekbones and the bridge of her elegant nose, moving upwards as her face split into a grin. And Maker, the sound of her laugh was like music, notes dancing on the wind as though sent directly from the heavens. He was about seventy percent convinced the mage had in fact used blood magic to summon some kind of desire demon in retaliation for his sarcastic comments. It wouldn't be the first time his mouth had gotten him into more trouble than he could handle.

She seemed to consider him intensely for a moment before her eyes grew wide, and with a little gasp she nearly cried out before biting down on her lip to control whatever outburst she had been about to make.

She cleared her throat, carefully composing her expression to one of polite interest. “I really hope you're Alistair.” she said, much to his surprise still standing before him and refusing to disappear even after he shook his head and blinked at her like a fool.

“I'm sorry, have we met?” he asked her, confused that she seemed to know him and positive that if they had met before he would have recalled it.

“No, sorry, I'm Melody.” she replied amicably.

“Yes, that makes sense.” he mumbled, thinking of her laugh, and she tilted her head at him in confusion. Internally he kicked himself for being an idiot, but out loud he said, “I mean, yes, Melody, pleasure to meet you, how can I help you?” it all came out in a rush and he had to fight the urge to flop on the ground and start playing dead in the hopes she would leave and he could die of embarrassment in peace.

“Duncan told me to find you.” her smile wavered and something shadowy passed over her features. The light in her eyes dimmed and the warmth seemed to fall from her face. Alistair found himself greatly resisting the urge to pull her into a hug, which would undoubtedly have been awkward for everyone involved. She had him resisting a great many impulses, in fact, which was incredibly disconcerting.

“Ah, so you must be the new recruit.” he said, clasping his hands firmly together behind his back. “I'm sorry, I should have recognized you sooner. I didn't expect you to be so...” attractive, alluring, enchanting, beautiful, a thousand words flew through his head and he only just stopped himself from finishing that damned sentence with any of them. She tilted her head at him again, a delicate eyebrow rising up as she regarded him. Maker damn his stupid mouth, now he had to find a way to finish that sentence without looking like a fool. Where were the damned words in his head...

“Expect me to be so what?” she finally prompted him, her face a mask of patient curiosity.

“...short.” he said out of desperation, wincing at his own ineptitude.

Her posture stiffened and she crossed her arms in front of her chest, curiosity being replaced with offense. Perfect, he thought, not five minutes into knowing the newest inductee and he had already ensured that at the very least she thought he was a moron and at most given her cause to hate him.

He felt as though he blinked and suddenly a dagger was being held to his throat. In truth he did see her move, saw her reach behind her back and draw the blade, swinging it up to poke just slightly against the skin of his neck. She was on her tip toes to do it, but the danger was there and real enough. She had him in such a way if he even dared to breath too deeply she could end his life. He swallowed the whimper that tried to rise out of his throat. Oh good, he thought, even better, she was going to kill him outright and then he would miss the whole blight.

She flashed him a wicked smile as she brought her free hand up to the collar of his armor, gripping it and tugging him down so that their faces were of even height, the tips of their noses nearly touching.

“Will my height be an issue, Ser Alistair?” her breath tickled his face with each word. He could feel himself blushing furiously while his brain seemed to melt, all of his thoughts scattering as he was swallowed up in those eyes and their sudden proximity to his own. He could feel his breathing speeding up and Maker he could smell her, like leather and honey, which only served to increase the intoxicating effect she had on him. “Well?” she prompted him after a moment, and he realized he had failed to reply to her previous question.

“N-no, my lady, no trouble at all, no issues, you are a very accomplished and incredible warrior, magnificent really, I am not worthy to be skewered by your majesty, clearly you are very tall on the inside...” he began rambling, only vaguely aware of what he was saying. He finally trailed off when she started laughing, doubling over and dropping the dagger on the ground as she held her sides and laughed hysterically at him. He straightened himself and cleared his throat, watching her dissolve into a pile of giggles completely at odds with the dangerous woman she had been a moment ago.

“Oh, the look on your face...” she wheezed. She took several deep, bracing breaths to pull herself back together. “Alistair, I am so sorry, I couldn't resist.” she told him finally, hands outstretched in a placating gesture.

“Well, I can't say I didn't deserve it.” he managed, not sure if he was more embarrassed at being put in his place or at just how much he didn’t mind after seeing her reaction.

“Whew, I need to thank you for that. I don't think I have actually cracked a smile, let alone laughed, since...” and her smile melted away, being replaced with an icy frown. “Since being recruited.” she finished, trying to pass off the sorrow like it wasn't really there, like the walls of shadow and ice that had suddenly leapt around her heart were a figment of his imagination.

He wanted to ask, wanted to pry and find out where all that sadness was coming from, what could possibly weigh on her heart so heavily that it would smash that laugh before it could bubble out of her lips anymore. He did have the good sense to know now was not the time, however. Whatever it was she was holding in was too fresh to discuss, and he was not cruel enough to pursue the truth when it would cost her so dearly to tell it.

“Anytime. I'm always willing to gloriously humiliate myself for other’s amusement.” he smiled at her as widely as he could, feeling as though he was trying to pierce her gloom with only his face. She smiled in return, although it didn't reach her eyes.

“So, Duncan told me to find you and we can get this whole joining business underway.”

“Splendid!” he clapped his hands together as he spoke, “Let’s go gather the others and Duncan can explain what happens next.” He unclasped his hands and made a sweeping gesture with his arm in the direction they were about to walk. She smiled at him again and moved forward, her movements determined and sure.

He let out a silent prayer in his head that her first day as a warden would not be her last.