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Return From Darkness

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Wait, Nightingale knelt there, praying and cowering, as you fought off a bunch of skeletal demons that she had thought were a reverend mother and priestesses,” Varric would have now sold Solas in exchange for a quill and paper.  He’d just have to write down the details of the story later, with a few embellishments.

            “She did,” Elisabeta confirmed.  “At least Wynne and Alistair helped.”

            “Oh, you have to tell me what the King of Ferelden’s dream world was,” Varric insisted.

            They came to another rift.  “After we take care of this!”  Elisabeta unsheathed her swords and struck down the two closest demons.  “Then you can tell me about this friend of yours, Hawke.”

            “You don’t know who Hawke is?”  Varric was both shocked and excited.  He hadn’t gotten to tell Hawke’s story to someone who hadn’t heard of him for many years.  He shot a bolt through a demon.  “We’re talking about Falcon Hawke.”

            “I was dead for ten years,” she lifted her left hand and aimed it at the rift.  Power shot into the rift, then she pulled back sealing it.  “I missed a lot.”

            “Open the gates,” Cassandra ordered.

            They walked in to see a table set in the middle of a makeshift camp.  A man in Chantry robes stood up strait.  “Ah, here they come”

            Leliana walked forward to greet them.  “You made it.”  She turned to the man in robes.  “Chancellor Roderick, this is…”

            “I know who she is,” Roderick insisted.  “As Grand Chancellor of the Chantry, I hereby order you to take this criminal to Val Royeaux to face execution.”

            “Order me,” Cassandra made a disgusted sound.  “You are a glorified clerk, a bureaucrat.”

            “And you are a thug,” Roderick yelled back at her.  “But a thug who is supposedly serves the Chantry.”

            “We serve the Most Holy, chancellor,” Leliana corrected.  “As you well know.”

            “Justinia is dead,” Roderick threw up his hands.  “We must elect a replacement and obey her orders on the matter.”

            “Obviously, you do not know who I am,” Elisabeta interrupted.  “I am not merely some prisoner.”

            “I’m sure you were very popular in whatever Maker forbidden Circle raised you, mage,” Roderick looked down his nose at her.  “But that won’t save you here.”

            “Your accent is Orlesian,” Elisabeta observed.  “You’re an Orlesian aren’t you?”

            “I am from Val Royeaux,” he obviously thought that impressive.

            “Figures,” she lifted her chin.  “I will not lower myself to argue with an Orlesian Chantry puppet.  What are you even doing in Ferelden?  I know what country we are in.”

            “The Divine declared the Conclave meet in the Temple of Sacred Ashes,” Roderick reminded her.  “The Conclave you destroyed.”

            “Oh?  Did Divine Justinia liberate the temple from a bunch of crazy cultists and kill the dragon that guarded it?  Don’t answer that, because what I really want to know is did the Crown do nothing to stop a bunch of Orlesian Chantry Bootlickers from marching into our country?  None of you should have been allowed across the border,”  Elisabeta had a strong desire to march to Denerim and chew out Alistair and this bride of his.  “I’m the highest ranking Ferelden here, the country you’re in.  You aren’t giving me orders.”

            “You shouldn’t even be here,” Roderick sputtered.  “How dare you suggest the Conclave itself was wrong?”  He turned to Cassandra.  “Call a        retreat, Seeker.  Our position here is hopeless.”

            “Great,” Elisabeta threw up her hands.  “We have a Chantry clerk insisting on making military decisions.  No wonder Andraste brought me back.”

            “We can stop this before it’s too late,” Cassandra insisted.

            “How?”  Roderick wondered, not that he had any reason to know.  He was, after all, just a glorified church clerk who had zero military experience or expertise.  “You won’t even survive long enough to reach the Temple, even with all your soldiers.”

            “We must get to the Temple,” Cassandra insisted.  “It’s the quickest route.”

            “But not the safest,” Leliana dissented.  “Our forces can charge as a distraction as we go through the mountains.”

            “We lost contact with an entire squad on that path,” Cassandra reminded her.  “It’s too risky.”

            “Listen,” Roderick insisted.  “Abandon this now, before more lives are lost.” 

The Breach grew again, as if mocking his words.  The mark grew yet again, shooting pain through Elisabeta’s arm.  She noticed that everyone had turned to look at her as light waves ran along her hand. 

            “How do you think we should proceed?”  Cassandra questioned her.

            “Oh, now you’re asking me what I think,” they hadn’t seemed to care before.

            “You have the Mark,” Solas reminded her.

            “And you are the one we must keep alive,” Cassandra added.  “Since we can not agree on our own…”

            Elisabeta was about to make a comment about being able to keep herself alive and then remembered that she’d died.  “Use the mountain path.  Work together, you all know what’s at stake.”

            Cassandra turned towards the Left Hand of the Divine.  “Leliana, bring everyone left in the valley, everyone.”

            “Don’t worry,” Leliana flashed a soft, sad smile at Elisabeta.  “I’ve already stood helplessly by and watched you die, despite my best efforts.  I will not have that happen again.  I’ll protect you this time.”  She hurried away.

            Cassandra began leading her group past the chancellor, but he insisted on speaking.  “On your head be the consequences, Seeker.”

            Cassandra made a disgusted noise.  “It always is.”

            As she passed him, Elisabeta’s right hand struck out.  He reeled and landed on his butt.  “Heathen!”

            “Orlesian,” she insulted him right back.

 

 

            Elisabeta found herself in the lead as they headed to the mines.

            “Did you have to punch the Chancellor?”  Solas shook his head.  “It was rather brutish.”

            “Yes, I had to,” Elisabeta insisted.  “I may die again, but I refuse to be executed by Orlesian Cheese Crumb Munchers.  Especially, Chantry ones.  The only thing his kind will do to divert a disaster like this is send their thoughts and prayers.”   They made it to ladders leading up to the mines.  “I didn’t notice these mines the last time I was in Haven.”

            “They were left here long ago,” Solas assured her.

            “Really?  Were you in Haven a long time ago?”  She wondered if he were somehow connected to the cultists who once held the town.

            “I have spent much time in the Fade, exploring Thedas,” he explained.  “The Fade remembers.”

            “Yes, I’ve seen memories come to life in places where the veil was thin,” she recalled. 

            “You’ve been in the Fade, as well,” Varric reminded her.  “So what was the king’s little Fade world like?”

            “He has this sister who is just awful,” Elisabeta revealed.  “He thought he was living with her and her four children.  He grew up alone and always wanted a family he could call his own.”  She wondered if he had that now.  She knew he’d married and wondered if he’d been able to produce an heir, perhaps a few more children as well.  Did they have his sense of humor and sweetness?  Did their mother sing them to sleep or did he? 

            “Wow, living with my brother would have been a nightmare world I’d have hoped to avoid,” Varric commented.

            They stopped as a group of demons slowly approached them.  Solas shot arcane energy at one, while Varric hit another with a bolt.  Then Cassandra and Elisabeta moved in with swords flashing.  As she implemented the move she liked to call Punisher, quickly slashing at her opponent with both swords, Elisabeta didn’t move fast enough to avoid a second demon.  It unleashed ice into her shoulder.  She finished disposing of its companion and turned, favoring her now injured right shoulder.  “I could use a little healing here,” she called to Solas.

            “You have healing bottles on you,” he reminded her as he hit the same demon he’d been fighting the entire time with yet another energy bolt.

            “What?”  She impaled the wraith with her left sword and beheaded it, slower than she would have liked, with her right one.  She then marched towards Solas, easily dispatching the shade he fought.  The grabbed his tunic front.  “Are you telling me that you possess no healing magic?  You have just napped your life away and played in the Fade, learning no useful skills?”

            “My magic is very useful,” he protested.

            “Hah,” she let him go and swallowed the small bottle.  Then she looked at it in discuss and threw it against a nearby wall.  “It tastes like strait elfroot.  Who made it?”

            “I… Addon,” Cassandra admitted.  “He’s the only healer the Inquisition has left.”

            “It’s a simple healing potion, good only for simple injuries like mine!”  Elisabeta declared stalking further up the path.  “Andraste’s Bloodied Knickers, it won’t do us much good for a serious injury!”  She stopped, her legs giving out from under her and tears undamming from her eyes.  “I want Wynne!  Where is she?  Did she go to Tevinter with Shale like they’d planned?  If she did, she should still be back.  How am I supposed to fight demon after demon without a real healer and with a warrior who seems to be the Anti-Alistair when it comes to personality?”  She sniffed.  “At least she’s as good with a sword as he is.”

            “Great, Chuckles, you broke her,” Varric pulled Elisabeta into his arms.

            “We don’t have time for this,” Cassandra grabbed her arm, planning to pull her up.

            “Don’t,” Varric’s voice held warning.  “Don’t make me involve Bianca in this, Seeker.  You are going to leave her be for a moment.  She hasn’t told us what happened to her, but I gather it’s worse than returning from the Maker’s Side or even the Fade.”

            “It was the Abyss,” Elisabeta whispered to him.  “I was in the Abyss all that time.”

            Cassandra took a step back.  “I thought the Hero of Ferelden was a good woman.”

            “Sheesh, Seeker, can you be more insensitive?”  Varric continued to rock the sobbing hero.

            Elisabeta laid her head against Varric’s impressive hirsute chest and then blinked at Cassandra for a moment.  “The Grey Wardens have always kept it secret as to why they are the only ones who can kill an archdemon.”

            “They’re braggarts who think themselves above the law,” Solas growled.  “They are obsessed with the Blight.”

            “You haven’t seen a horde of darkspawn or the destruction they leave behind, have you?” Elisabeta would have plenty of nightmares from the things she’d seen during the Fifth Blight without all of that time in the Void on top of it.  She turned back to Cassandra.  “The Wardens keep it secret, and with good reason.  It’s hard to get recruits when the price they may have to one day pay is their soul.  When an archdemon is killed without a Warden present, it’s spirit just jumps into the nearest tainted soul and it becomes an archdemon.  If a Grey Warden is present, it can’t resist the closest one and jumps into them instead.  Both souls are destroyed, or so I was told.  In truth, a soul is energy that is indestructible.   The archdemon’s soul, and that of the Grey Warden, are sent into the Abyss where they are lost.  Only… I refused to give into the oblivion so easily.”

            “You…”  Cassandra leaned against a nearby wall and crossed her arms.  “How did you get out?”

            “I saw a light and heard screaming,” Elisabeta recalled.  “There were two women there… it’s fuzzy.”

            “Two women?”  Cassandra stood straighter.

            “Plus, the other one,” Elisabeta recalled.  “There were three total.”

            “Maybe the Maker is a polygamist,” Varric suggested.

            “Varric!”  Cassandra was outraged by his Blaspheme, but Elisabeta chuckled.

            “Come on, Tempest,” Varric urged.  “There are missing scouts who might be in danger.”

            “You’re right,” she climbed to her feet.  “Let’s go back to doing the right thing.”

 

            “So Hawke was going into the Fade to save an elf who was a dreamer?”  Elisabeta was riveted by the tale of a man who willingly went into the Fade.  She glanced back at Solas.  “I bet he was still able to do some healing.”

            “I don’t know,” Varric admitted.  “I thought most Circle Mages, at least, were taught the basics.  Hawke was raised as an apostate, though.”

            They stopped as they emerged from the mines to be greeted by the sight of a dozen bodies lying on the steps.

            “Well, it looks like we found those missing scouts,” Varric commented.

            “That can’t be all of them,” Cassandra insisted.

            “Let’s keep going,” Elisabeta surged ahead.  A quarter of a mile down the path, she saw a rift.  She grabbed both swords and ran forward, Varric at her heals.

            Cassandra followed, glancing back at Solas.  “You kept her alive with the Mark, but you really have no healing magic?”

            “My skills… we’ll discuss this later, Seeker,” Solas didn’t want to explain his abilities to her.

            Elisabeta and Varric had cleared out a section of the demons by the time they caught up and Elisabeta was holding her left hand up, so energy was shooting around the hilt of her sword and into the rift.

            Cassandra nodded to the Inquisition lieutenant who had been fighting the demons as she joined the fray, bashing one of the creatures with her shield, as she impaled another with her sword.  She then lunged at a third.  By the fourth, the creatures were all dead.

            “Lady Cassandra!”  The head scout greeted her.

            “Lieutenant, you’re alive,” Cassandra’s relief was palpable.

            “Just barely!”  She looked around wearily for any more demons.

            Solas looked to where the rift had been.  “Sealed, as before,” he looked to Elisabeta.  “You are becoming quite proficient at this.”

            “Let’s hope it works on the big one,” Varric agreed.

            “Thank the Maker you finally arrived, Lady Cassandra,” the lieutenant was favoring her side.  “I don’t think we could have lasted much longer.”

            “Thank our prisoner,” Cassandra insisted.  “She insisted we come this way.”

            “The prisoner?”  The lieutenant was surprised.  “Then you…?”

            “I could abandon you if there was still hope you were alive,” Elisabeta assured her.

            “Then you have my sincere gratitude,” the lieutenant saluted her.

            “The way into the valley behind us is clear for the moment,” Cassandra assured those they’d rescued.  “Go while you still can.”

            “At once,” the lieutenant nodded.  “Quickly, let’s move,” her soldiers followed.

            “The path ahead appears to be clear of demons as well,” Solas observed.

            “Let’s hurry before that changes,” Cassandra insisted.