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Tell it from the mountain

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The augur said the gods he had consulted had deemed what was happening in the lowlands issue enough to send her - which was fine. She was the oldest of those with magic-blood in the Hold. None of the others had yet been weaned from their gods, and if there was to be a journey to such a place, for reasons even the augur was not completely certain of, then it was best that one who could hear and heed the gods go.

She couldn’t imagine one of the warriors going and getting any useful information, and it was stupid to send an archer - they had too great a need for hunters.

The augur had tasked it to her; it was the will of the gods, and the thane had agreed. “Lowlander business, but it always comes back to Avvar. Find out what you will. The gods’ve spoken of their piece, and the augur says they will it, then so must it be. Take supplies and there’s a hart for you. Travel quickly. Don’t let the god-forsaken warriors take you to their Tower.”

So she rode, and rode, and rode for days. She hadn’t been able to read the signs the lowlanders posted, pointing every which way down well-smoothed roads. But she knew what direction she was going; the Lady of the Skies in her night-veil showed her the way through the pictures cast in starlight. Aslaug followed the acrid scent of smoke and saw that this was no raid, not what the augur or the thane described, just fires and bodies piled atop bodies - no one came to collect their dead? - and rich woodlands burned for the sake of being burned.

Wasted. It had left a wide path to follow at least.

The augur had spoken of a vision sent to him of lines of the magic-blooded, and the forsaken ones, marching to a rising stone temple. She saw it, the lines of people and felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. The lowlands felt wrong, they always did, but moreso now - she could not feel her gods near this place. A tremor of fear wormed its way into her heart, even as she dismounted and bade the creature to seek a safe place to wait.

Her gods would not abandon their own so easily. Something was wrong here, so very, very wrong.

Her axe, a gift given from a dwarven merchant who she had traveled with a year past, buried itself in the side of the temple and she climbed. She worried for a moment that the lowlander god may take offense, but judging from the state of the place of his domain, he had more pressing issues than an Avvar woman.

She climbed through an open window, and slunk down as carefully as possible.

Women in white robes and strange hoods - the priestesses of the lowlander god - spoke amongst themselves quietly.

Aslaug followed a side corridor, slinking down, down, further in the depths of the temple. She needed to be close enough to listen, to wait - wait for what? The augur had had no answers for her, the thane was uncertain as to what was even happening in the lowlands, and her gods had left this place. Were they driven off by the lowlander god?

She doubted it for the most part, the gods of Lurkerhold were made of stronger, sterner cloth than the softer ones down below the Frostback. But yet, she could not feel her gods anywhere near her. They had left this place, and in doing so, left her uncertain as to what her task was.

She continued along silently, easily maneuvering in the shadows to hide away from the peering eyes. There was fear here, fear and uncertainty, and while it kept the gods away - it did not keep the corrupted gods from encroaching.

What happened next, Aslaug couldn’t recall exactly. She would remember only the world of dreams and the pieces of fear, pieces of a corrupted god, shaped to look like spiders, that pursued her and another woman. The woman’s hand stretched out - woman, or one of her gods finally come at her plea for help? -

And the world was swallowed by a bright light, Aslaug was engulfed, and she called out to her gods for aid, but no help came and there was no answer.

 

...

 

The one known as Cassandra was a fierce one, protective of her god and his followers, but she was in pain that even Aslaug could see, shackled and kneeling as she was in a dungeon. But the woman was as good as her word and led her out until a terrible pain forced her to her knees with a scream.

When it was was over, Aslaug saw it and couldn’t contain her horror when she saw the woman’s meaning in truth.

The sky was rended right in two like a sacrificial goat to an altar but it bled a sickly green and even from across such a distance, Aslaug could feel the onslaught of corrupted gods forcing or being forced into the mortal realm. The Lady of the Skies was bleeding corrupted gods.

“What - what did you lowlanders do ?” she asked the warrior with a horrified disbelief, but still unable to keep her eyes off the wound in the sky.

Cassandra cleared her throat. “We did nothing," she said with gritted teeth. “It was your doing - somehow.”

Aslaug flinched back. “I would never aim to wound the Lady of the Skies. And that is - I don’t know how that was done.” She turned to look at the warrior. “I was there. Listening. Watching. That was all I was tasked to do. Not - not. Gods. The Lady is bleeding everywhere.”

The warrior spoke after a time. “Come. We make for the forward camp. You will need to, possibly, have to use that mark on your hand for something. It is only a theory. But that is more than we had before.” She led the way.

Aslaug looked down at her left hand. Green crackled and spat angrily.

Magic that wasn’t hers, forced or given, it was still angry at being in her. She could feel that much. Like pouring too much water into too little a vessel. It wanted to leak out. And she couldn’t feel any of the gods around to ask for guidance.

Cassandra the warrior killed corrupted gods, demons, quickly and with an ease that testified to her training against them.

When Aslaug used a spell to banish one of them, Cassandra pointed her sword tip under her chin. “Not another move, Avvar.” She looked down at Aslaug open, empty hands. “You carry no staff.”

Aslaug was a little confused and her question was an honest one. “Do all yours with magic-blood carry staffs?”

Cassandra gave a put-upon sigh and removed the sword before sheathing it. “Mostly. I forget - the Avvar are different.” She looked down at the pile of weapons at their feet. “Take what weapons you can. We will need them and I cannot protect you on my own,” she conceded.

Aslaug took a silver spear. It was weighty in the front, a little imbalanced and not the finest make, but it would do better than her climbing axe or simply her two hands if magic wasn’t enough. She kicked the rubble away and unearthed a simple wooden shield. The Avvar woman hesitated, looked back at the winding path and thought for a moment to flee and leave this warrior and her lowland people to their fate - they had torn at the Lady of the Skies and perhaps angered their god - or maybe their god was angry at the Lady?

Whatever Cassandra’s reason for bringing Aslaug along, Aslaug was duty, honor and Hold bound to search for answers. The lowlander god could be angry with his own all he liked, her concern was for the Lady.

She sighed in frustration and followed the warrior.

 

...

 

The battlefield was a patchwork of bodies and ice and snow and demons. Cassandra shuddered now and then from the cold, hissing. Aslaug laughed. “This is not cold lowlander. Cold is meant to chew the fat from your bones and turn your hair to ice.” She thought of the Frostbacks and Lurkerhold and fought off the overwhelming suspicion that she would never see either again alive.

The forward camp, if it could be called a camp, was overrun with the corrupted gods. They were mad, driven insane and would not acknowledge Aslaug beyond a murderous drive. She nearly bit her tongue in two. There were so many.

An elf knocked one of the demons back with a graceful sweep of his staff and froze it with a curl of his fingers. A dwarf - the first possible friendly face she’d seen - was using a bow, but it was sideways and fired bolts like an Fereldan trebuchet. She had never seen its like before.

Cassandra drove one of the demons back with her shield, hacking at it with her mace. The four fighters and the other soldiers in the immediate area killed the demons, black blood splattered across armor and the ground. She stabbed the spear in the ground and settled the buckles of the shield at her forearm more securely, preparing herself for another battle. But it was not to be.

“Now, before more come through!” The elf ordered, face twisted in a grimace of desperation. He was suddenly at her side, gripping her wrist and flinging her arm out palm open and the magic in her palm, still so angry, but now it was focused - focused on the wound before it and a stream of magic connected it to the wound and she ripped away out of surprise and instinct when she felt something crawl in her palm.

The wound closed.

The mark fell silent.

She turned wide eyes upon the elf who she had dismissed - the Avvar never had friends among the Dalish - but she could see now that he was not Dalish. He bore no face-markings.

“What did you do?” She asked. “You healed the Lady’s wound.”

He paused and cocked his head, lips pursing slightly.

“So. That was useful.” A voice behind her stated. Aslaug turned to look at the dwarf, putting away the fascinating bow-machine behind his back. “Varric Tethras. Dwarf, merchant and occasionally, unwelcome tagalong.” He winked at the warrior. Cassandra made a noise of disgust. He looked her up and down. “I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’re not a city-girl.”

Aslaug looked down at herself; oiled leather and furs to keep warm, heavy boots to travel painlessly and gloves to climb, a hood to keep the wind and rain from her face. “I’m Avvar," she settled.

The dwarf laughed and whistled. “Well damn.”

“Are you with the lowlander god? The Chantry?” She remembered the augur’s tale of history, and of the name Cassandra had mentioned. A place of worship. A place for their god.

The elf laughed. “Is that a serious question?”

Aslaug felt embarrassment creep upon her.

“I’m Solas, if there are to be introductions. And I am pleased you yet live.” He smiled pleasantly.

“He means, 'I kept that mark from killing you while you slept'.” The dwarf mentioned, adjusting his gloves.

Aslaug turned to the one called Solas. “You know of this god-mark?” She raised her hand, palm open.

His face was carefully blank. “God-mark?”

“Is it not?” She asked hesitantly. “I’ve no knowledge of any mortal hand that could craft this. And what little I do know of lowlander magic, not even legends mention this.” She clenched her hand.  

“It is magic, yes, and none that I have seen before.” He turned to Cassandra. “The prisoner is a mage, but I have my doubts that any mage could create this.”

Cassandra nodded to him. “Understood. We should move quickly, and find Leliana. There is a rift we must deal with before the situation worsens.”

Aslaug hefted her spear again and watched Varric charm his way into their group to push through the valley. “Does it pain you?” Solas asked, his eyes on the mark.

She looked down. “Can you make it stop?”

He looked somewhat regretful. “No more than what I’ve already done.”

Aslaug shook her head. “Then no. And - thank you. For caring for me on the sickbed. I’m in your debt," she promised.

“Close the Breach,and I will consider the debt paid back," he said grimly.

Aslaug sniffed. “Saved from a bear, asked to kill a dragon.”

The not-Dalish elf Solas laughed. The moment was brief before they were on the move again.

The Breach, as Solas and Cassandra called it, was not just a rift from which gave birth to all the other smaller rifts that birthed demons - it was the first, and to Aslaug was the worst offence made to the Lady. Whoever, whatever made this, would die. As an Avvar, Aslaug would be lifebound by such a deed to avenge the Lady of the Skies.

There was a memory here, hers or whatever else there was - a voice that bespoke of ancient superiority, and it demanded the sacrifice be brought forth. A priestess pled for her life and Aslaug saw herself slide into the room - “ What are you doing ?” the memory of her demanded -

Kill the savage.” The shadow creature pointed a long claw at the memory of Aslaug -

And the memory ended.

To reopen the wound, Solas said, was necessary so that they could close it.

Burn a wound to seal it, to prevent poisoned blood. Hate it as she might, the Lady was badly injured.

She opened the wound and a towering creature of scales and horns came through, cackling and forming lightning that tasted metallic in the air in its hands. Aslaug, despite the situation, felt excitement run through her. This would be a good battle, a good fight. As corrupt as this god was, and though it needed to die so it could be reborn as something better, it would bring battle-honor and worthiness to her.

Worthiness that may convince the gods who were so silent to come back.

The god fought well and it was a very, very good fight, but more and more corrupt gods kept pouring from the Lady’s wound, birthed from malice and anger and madness that hurt Aslaug to even consider.

Without needing further instruction, when the giant corrupt god fell heavily to one knee and bent its horned head, Aslaug thrust her palm at the wound. ‘Please let this heal you Lady, my life for your healing, I swear it, Avvar daughter to mother of all, please heal’ -

The wound snapped, answering the call of the mark and Aslaug felt it drain all of her, the Lady’s wound eating her mortal form to heal. Aslaug’s eyes rolled back and she fell to the side, not hearing the gasp of the warrior or the muttered curse of the dwarf or the surprised grunt of the man who barely caught her and supported her dead weight.

Her eyes roamed beneath her lids sightlessly.

“Is she…?” Cassandra asked.

Solas nodded. “She lives.”

The Breach was silent above them.