The stench filled the air.
Burning, rotting, dying- blood splattered the formerly crescent-white snow, and all she could wonder is if the snow could feel it. Could it feel the blood seeping through the flakes? Did blood kill snow, melting it into water? Did the snow want to be water, and thus thankful for that which melts it, and pours it back into the ground? Could blood ever be good?
No. She supposed not.
They had wanted blood. Their bodies lay strewn across the ground, littering the pathway to the village. In the distance, she could see black clouds rolling up to the sky. Smoke from the fire of a Qunari’s anger, and a village’s defiance. Saarebas’s doing. The village would be on fire, then. If anyone remained alive in the village, they had been burned to death in his final act of life. An act she should have committed, but she had been left behind. Arvaarad had assured her she wouldn’t be needed this time.
His face wasn’t among the others- those that lay dead in the snow. He would be at the village, fighting the best warriors they had to offer. He would be dead when she got there, or she would kill him when she found him. No one was walking away from this. Not when the snow wants to be water, and it needs to be melted.
She came across a dying elf. He did not seem to be a part of the village. His attire spoke of nature, and a life well-lived in it. She did not know what he was. Just an elf. An outsider. Likely, a creature simply walking his path among the forest, and the Qunari could not tell him from their foes. An unnecessary death.
He was not dead, however. He gazed at her, though he would not be able to see much. The mask kept her very well hidden from peering glances. Even her eyes were near impossible to see through the small holes left open, which made it very hard to walk most days. Her horns, however, extended far beyond. The Qunari had often commented on them, laughing at their size. She had never known what it was about that. Were they too big? Or too small? They would laugh about a Saarebas having such horns, and it seemed the opinion varied. Some thought it funny, because she was no warrior. Some thought it funny, because it meant she was dumb. She did not understand. She couldn’t speak for herself, so she had always stood silently, unable to ask her questions. This elf saw her horns, too, and she wondered briefly, what he thought?
‘Come back to finish it, eh?’ The words were spoken, but she did not understand them. They were just sounds to her- someone who had only ever speaked Qunlat her entire life, and few had even taught her much of that- considering she wouldn’t be using it much.
This elf is aggressive. She should kill him. She does not answer the elf, but instead she kneels by his side.
He is an interesting creature. She had never been told much about elves, though she knew that some of those under the Qun had once been such things. She had seen them, then, but they were not elves at that point. This was a real elf- someone who spat at the Qun, who was angered by it, someone who would see it crumble. It was interesting. Her eyes glanced to where the elf was clutching his side- a stab wound, then?
She had healed those before. It was simple, like breathing.
Would it work on an elf?
She wanted to try, but the Qun told her not to. Her arsvaraad told her not to- though she felt his chain had been lifted. He was dead, then. She could heal this elf, if she wanted. There is no helping the villagers now. No helping her kin. The Qunari would kill themselves before sitting upon a broken battlefield, useless, weak to enemies, and bleeding out. Her kin would already be dead. Anyone able to walk would have met her here now. The villagers might yet live, but in what state?
Who else could she help in her final moments, then some strange creature, who had likely not been involved in the fight at all? An unwilling victim of the Qun clashing with human savagery?
Yes. She thought. It’s the last I can do now.
When she begins to move her hand towards him, the elf’s eyes flash with a strange emotion. He immediately becomes agitated, barking more words at her that she can’t understand, trying to get away from her. She sees something familiar, though, in his face. Defiance. He thought she was killing him, and he would not go quietly. She admires it.
She rests her hand above his wound, and she begins to cast. Her hand glows hot-white light, and she knows it hurts the elf- but he does not respond in fear anymore. She chooses to watch her work, curious if her magic will sustain such a thing. Interestingly, it seems to almost work better than it ever did on a Qunari. Perhaps the size difference, and the matter of wound?
It was likely that wound had not even been fatal- just an inconvenience that may have led to death without proper care. Yes, that might explain the ease of fixing. The Qunari don’t come for healing for brief annoyances that a doctor can’t patch. Hmm. So it was unnecessary to help him. A pity.
When her magic seems to have done all it can, she retracts her hand. She moves her head in the direction of the elf’s face, curious as to how he would react. Did elves have magic? Did they know what it did?
The elf, however, seems only to watch her with the same sort of curiosity- though he is more guarded, and slightly scared. She doesn’t wish to scare him. She rocks back onto her feet, pushing herself up to a stand. She inclines her head, just slightly, as a way of respect. This creature deserved it, she thinks.
“Why did you do that? Are- Are you the start of more? Are more coming?”
He does not realize his words fall on deaf ears. She shakes her head, hoping that the movement will convey her ignorance as to his language. The gesture seems to relax the agitated elf a bit. She thinks that if he were one of those foxes, that the hair on his shoulders would have gone from spikey and straight up to lying flat and calm. She wonders if foxes live here. Would she ever see one, before her time was up?
Probably not. This elf could count, though. A jumpy fox, lying in his own blood, cold in the snow.
Cold. He was likely cold.
She could not afford to make him a fire. Her time was running short as it was. But she could offer him…something? Like what? Could she heat a stone, and give it to him? Would that make him warm? Not a Qunari, so maybe less is needed?
She looks around, and finds a relatively large stone. She rests beside it, picks it up and presses it together beneath her palms. Sparks fly, and soon the stone is almost hot to the touch. She turns, and she extends the offering to the elf. She had nothing else to give.
The creature stares at her, as if it was an odd thing to do. She hesitates. Perhaps elves do not heat themselves with small rocks? Still too big, then? Hm.
Just as she is beginning to rescind her offering, and glancing for anything else to offer him, the elf brushes against her fingers with his own. She meets his gaze- though he likely can’t tell, through her heavy mask. The creature picks up the stone from her hand, tips his head, and says more gibberish.
She nods. Time to move on, then. She begins to leave- but the elf begins his gibberish. She turns halfway, enough to face him but still making her intention clear. She will not stay. She must go to the village.
She blinks though, as she sees the elf is struggling to his feet. His gibberish- is he saying he wants to come? Perhaps….perhaps this had been his village.
The thought should have angered her. A good Qunari would be angry, and kill him. His people attacked hers. Hers are dead, but now so are his. She finds herself only sad, for both. Deaths that should not have happened.
The creature has made it to his knees, but pain seems to still make him pause. He is huffing loudly, grumbling something through his teeth. His eyes are on the snow in front of him. It is covered in Qunari blood.
She traces her steps back to the elf. She extends her hand. He looks up, as if he’s surprised. He glances at her hand- and oh, he’s looking for a rock. She shakes her head. She jerks her head towards the village, and gestures at him with her extended hand. Help, she wants to say. I will help you get there.
The elf seems to think it over, and finally, his hand grabs hers. Elves are small, so his hand is smaller. He is also…pale. Some of the Qunari were pale, but she doubted that there had ever been one born that could match his skintone. Why were they so light? Her hand was dark, rusty auburn grey- and he was some sort of light, peachy rose. His skin was soft, too. Why?
She sighs. So many questions, and she couldn’t ever ask them. Pity.
She holds the elf’s weight as he drags himself up to his feet. Once so, she does not hesitate to take his arm and wrap it across her shoulders- though she has to bend down quite a bit, to make it able for the elf to walk comfortably. She is used to bad posture, so she doesn’t mind. The elf is talking, but she pays him no mind. Finally, she is proceeding to the village. She needs to get there.
She finds herself watching, turning her head to every body they cross, hoping for a breath. None of them breathe. The villagers and the Qunari alike are all dead when they come across their corpses. It makes her sad. She still does not find Arsvaraad in the snow. She knows he is not out here, but she still looks. She hopes that perhaps, he had not gone in. Perhaps he had gone scouting, even though that was not his job. She hopes.
It is a strange sensation.
The elf does not seem as concerned with the fallen. So, perhaps these weren’t his people after all. Yet, if not, why did he wish to see the village? A strange creature, indeed.
The elf is not heavy, but the armor is. The chains. The mask. The chains rattle with every step, every turn of her head, hanging loosely from the clinks in her armor. Her collar makes her unable to properly look down, and scrapes against the metal of her mask every time she turns it to look at something. The snow crunches beneath her heavy footfalls, but is softer when the elf walks. She has a feeling he is not even usually that heavy-footed, yet he is already so much quieter.
He is a strange creature, and does not cease to talk- even though it is clear he knows she cannot understand him. Briefly, she muses that might be the point. He can say what he pleases, and she knows not what he’s saying. She would laugh at that, if she knew how.
The stench grows stronger with every step- and finally, they can see the archway that marks the front of the village clearly. It is just a minute’s walk away. Just a minute.
That was all she had left, then, really.
She didn’t have the right to feel sad. This was her duty, and she had already betrayed the Qun by healing the elf. She had no right. She had not served her kin. She had not saved them. She had not even died in battle for them. She did not deserve to feel sad.
When they reach the front arch, both Qunari and Elf still.
She was no stranger to battlefields.
She was not so used to battlefields littered with the bodies of children, however.
Her kin had stopped at nothing. They…they had showed no mercy. No respect. They slaughtered women and their babies- the fathers protecting their families. The blood of the innocent still sat, fresh and bright against the white powder upon the ground. The bodies lay where they fell- some, obviously slain from the back as they ran. Some died in valor, and some still even had their murder weapons embedded in their skulls or their chests. Many…many farther back, further in, were charred, and the buildings exploded into piles of wood and fire. She could see something back there, far away and lying charred and black in the center. She thought she saw horns, too.
Neither had moved. The elf…He sounded horrified. She could not hear his words, but she was certain it was terror. Sadness. It was harder to tell the tone of another language- but she could mistake that tone. Tragedy.
Gently, she removed the elf from around her shoulder, leading him over to somewhere….not touched by the carnage. She could not read his expression as she left him there, sitting in the snow. She knew the creature likely did not care for her, now, as she held the same horns as the corpses that littered this ruin.
Even so, she bowed her head to him- long, and silent, before she turned her back on him and began to search among the dead.
The elf was silent as she did so. She checked both Qunari and Human, and found that there were a few elves, as well. None lived.
She ventured farther in, exploring into homes that still had their walls and doors. No one.
She moved even farther, and finally reached the black mound she had seen even from the entrance.
He was unrecognizable. It was surprising he was even in one piece, considering the damage he had done in his final act. She saw that some had not been so lucky. Silently, she knelt beside him.
She could not speak out loud, but she did what she could for him from where her words did count. Her head. Her mind. Her spirit.
You died well. Rest easy, and be born again as a dragon.
It was not an actual parting. But, she knew he had so loved the fierce ones. He had hoped to see one in person, someday. He had wanted to die by one. He did not get his wish.
“How come none of the others have that armor? Why only you and…him?”
She glanced up at the noise- only to find the elf, narrowly limping towards her.
What could he not understand? She cannot speak!
Annoyed, she turned her head back to Saarebas. Her anger faded, and she remembered. She could not be much longer. She had not yet found Arsvaraad.
She stood. She did not meet the creature’s eyes. She did not look at him, and continued her search.
She saw only one place where he could yet be- the large building at the very back, the one that looked like the base of power. She went.
A body lay outside, on the steps. It was an elven child. She knelt, looking for life.
Her heart bolted as she felt something within the child, and turned excitedly towards the elf who had been following her. She glanced at the child, and back at him. He seemed to understand, as he too became very energetic, hurriedly limping over to the babe.
Gingerly, he began to roll the child onto its back. It seemed to be a little girl, with her hair parted on two sides of her head. Blood splattered all the way down her cheek, down her dress, and to meet the stairs behind her.
It did not seem to be her blood.
The child- the child might live. She could survive. She could be the one breath of life that escapes.
She blinks at her own sentiment, but decides not to pursue it. She nods at the elf. He is of her kind. He would be able to care for her now. She had saved the elf so that he could care for the child. All was not wasted.
He, himself, was beyond happy it seemed. He grinned widely at hearing the child murmur in their sleep, glancing at her excitedly. Tears were rolling down his cheeks, but she did not judge him. In face of such tragedy, one child who escaped the horror is worth tears and smiles.
She stands, and leaves him on the steps. He is trying to talk to her, but the child is still traumatized, sleeping, unable to do more than murmur back. She needs to find Arvaarad. He was here.
She recognizes this building once she is inside. Church. Chantry. And- at the front of it, beyond all the benches and the aisle full of bodies, rests Arvaarad.
She is surprised to see him sitting upright, against the preacher’s post, staring at the door with living eyes. He is more red than gray, though, and she knows she can not heal him. He will die.
She hears him call out, and finally, she hears words she knows.
Yes. It’s me. She thinks. She ascends the steps onto the platform, and she kneels before her friend.
Arvaarad is Qunari. He is one of the light ones- the white grey that the Qunari are most known for. His horns extend backwards, straight and up. He is large, heavy, and a great warrior. A man who chose to become her Arvaarad, by pretending he had no choice, so he could watch over her.
Once, he had been her playmate. Once, he had begged her not to tell anyone she was a mage. She had, because those were the rules. He had promised he would protect her. They were children, and promises to the Saarebas mean little. Yet, that was why he had ordered her to stay behind. He had known. He had known this would not end well. He was a bastard to his dying day, then.
“Saarebas.” It’s a plea, a cry, broken on the pain of his death. Saarebas cannot answer him. He wants her to. He wants her to speak, to answer him, to condemn herself even further.
He has always asked the world of her, knowing she could not grant it.
Instead, she reaches forward, and touches his face with her hand. It is rough, armored with gauntlets, but it is the most gentle she could be in his final moments.
Do you want to go slowly? Or do you wish it quick, honorable? She wants to ask.
She came there, insisting her job was to ensure he died quickly. Yet now- now she feared it. Not for her sake. For his.
“Will you do it?” He asks, and she is unsure which question it is following.
She rests her forehead against his, quietly, as her answer. Perhaps it would be enough.
“I know what is expected. But I ask you, do not do it.” He begs, thick and gurgled from the blood in his mouth.
Ah. Again. He asked the world.
She shakes her head, and Arvaarad suddenly becomes afraid, grabbing her arms with his own hands, though his grip is weak and barely effective.
“I beg you, my friend. Do not.” He whispers it, in fear and frustration. He knows she will. He knows that her heart could not do any more than follow what the Qun asks. A guilty part of her knows how much it hurts him, that she would follow the Qun before she would follow him.
His heart had never loved the Qun. He had stayed, when he easily could have deserted, for her sake. It was a love she could never have asked for, yet one he graciously granted her. She wished she could give him her life.
His life was already over, however. And when he died, she had a duty. She could not shun her duty.
So, instead, she offered blasphemy as her condolences.
She opened her mouth, and through the muted effects of the mask, she whispered to him, “Kadan.”
Arvaarad whispers it back, and within a few more moments, she feels his hands drop away from her arms, and his eyes lose their life.
She does not immediately let go. She sits, motionless, staring into a dead friend’s face. This is the Qun, she thinks. This is the Qun. This is what they ask of us, for nothing in return. Friends all die, for meaningless wars. But what say the other world is any better?
She finally let’s go. She closes his eyes, as it pains her to see him stare endlessly at nothing. She turns- and finds two elves watching her.
The elf, and the little elf. He is holding the little girl’s hand, and she is frightened and hiding behind his leg. The little girl sees a monster. Saarebas cannot disagree.
“So you can talk, and you’ve just been giving me the silent treatment?” says the big elf, though the irony on that statement is not lost on her. He doesn’t wait for a reply for his words, and asks further, “So…what will you do now, then?”
He could be asking about Arvaarad. Maybe he was asking if he lived. Maybe he was asking what the Qunari would do, now, that the Qunari were dead. Probably not, but that was the question she was asking herself.
What would the Qunari do now?
She asked as if she didn’t know. She did know. She felt there was a difference, though. What would the Qunari do, and what did she want to do?
She could have laughed again, if she knew how. As if there was any difference among the Qun between those two questions. The former would always win.
She does not answer the elf. She could speak now, if she wished. Yet, what would she bother to say to a creature that could not hear her? She was not the elf. She got no pleasure from asking questions that would receive no answers.
Yet, in her final moments, she smiled and decided to repeat her own question.
“What does the elf do now, that he found another elf?”
The elf blinks at her. She would laugh, if she knew how. She only makes a sound similar to a sigh of amusement, and then strides past the two tiny things. She would go back to Saarebas. It seemed fitting, either way.
She finds, annoyingly, that the elf follows her still. She could not help him anymore. She had a duty. She strides quickly, putting an efficient amount of space between her and the limping creature.
She stands beside Saarebas’ body, and does not turn to see the elf.
Instead, she clutches Arvaarad’s specially crafted dagger in her hand. In a quick motion, she brings it to her neck, slicing clean and thorough. She hears a scream behind her- likely the little girl, who she had forgotten was there.
She dropped the dagger to the ground, and instead brought her hands up to neck- and unclasped her thick stone collar. She let it fall behind her. The chain was still connected to her armor, but that was fine for now. Now, she reaches for her mask. She unclasps the back of it, feeling a sudden moment of freedom and clarity.
Her mask falls to the ground.
She is standing in her armor, with no collar, and no mask. This is freedom.
She glances over her shoulder, able to see the elf protecting the little girl in her peripheral vision. She smiles.
She turns, and she meets the elf’s eyes for the first time without the Saarebas armor.
The elf seems….taken aback. She wonders what he sees. She hasn’t seen herself for quite some time. Likely, her face was a layer of grime and dirt, mixed with useless warpaint, but she found she did not care. She smiled- for she was free.
“You’re...quite pretty, you know.” The elf said, blinking. “For a…horned qunari thing, anyway.”
The child seemed scandalized by whatever the elf spoke. She smiled.
“Saarebas cannot be free like this. We are not supposed to speak. I am…breaking the most rules of the Qun that I have in my entire life.” She answers him, with her own words that he cannot speak.
It is a strange sort of freedom.
This is what Arvaarad always wanted.
Yet, she feels Qun digging at her back. She feels the eyes upon her, and she knows that she cannot live like this much longer.
Still, her time seemed to be fine now. Perhaps she had more than she thought. She smiles at the elf. She wonders where he’ll go. She walks with him to the entrance of the village. He keeps walking, talking, with the little girl in tow.
She stops at the arch.
He does not realize until he is halfway down the hill. He barks up at her, like a dog trying to lead its person.
She smiles again, and shakes her head. She says, “I will stay here for now. You go.”
The elf seems to hesitate. The girl tugs. He relents. He nods at her, and goes to leave- but then turns back, and grins as he holds something up in his palm.
She blinks in surprise, having forgotten, but then smiles equally at the strange elf as he says his farewells and turns back to the forest.
She watches them from the arch, until she can not see a spec of them on the horizon.
Then, she retreats back into the village. The damage of her people. The horror they bring. The savages of the other world.
She walks among the corpses and spirits of the dead, and once again stands beside her fallen brother.
She had almost gone with them. She had almost made Arvaarad happy.
She kneels, and grips the cool silver of the blade in her palm.
She was out of time.
“I am…sorry.” She whispers, to a world she nearly belonged to, and brings the blade to her throat.
END CHAPTER ONE
So….my Adaar is really, really old by the time of Inquisition, and she has some crazy shit happen in her life. This is the beginning of that crazy shit. This likely won’t be an extensive, continuing story- but snippets of her life before the Inqusition, and snippets after.
Thank you so much for reading!! Cannot believe I finally got around to writing something. :D