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Return From Darkness

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“He told you that you are the light of his left and he will always love you?”  Dorian rode beside Elisabeta on their way to the Fallow Mire.

            “He did,” she confirmed.

            “I’ve never had a nation’s ruler send me trinkets, much less sworn their undying love to me,” Dorian sighed melodramatically.  “I don’t know what to tell you.  He did still marry that harpy he promised not to.   That does put his word into question.”

            “That circlet was an awfully nice bauble for someone who doesn’t still love you,” Varric dissented.  “I have friends who have made some pretty bad mistakes.  That doesn’t mean they’re not trustworthy or unlovable.  It just means they occasionally do stupid things.”

            She laughed bitterly.  “That does sound like Alistair.”

            “You seem awfully quiet, Seeker,” Varric turned to Cassandra.  “Do you have anything to say about Tempest’s little conundrum?”

            “He is a married man and there are others who hold… affection for you,” Cassandra revealed.  “However, he thought you were lost to him and if… well, never mind that.  The letter was so full of passion and…  I’m not one to give advice on matters of the heart.”

            “What matters of the heart?”  Scout Harding was grinning at the group as they rode up to her.  “Is this about the circlet that King Alistair sent to you, Lady Elisabeta?”

            “How did you know about that?”  Elisabeta wondered if everyone knew.

            “I’m not the head of the Inquisition’s scouts because I’m their best archer,” she smirked.  “Welcome to the Fallow Mires, I hope you like rain.  It hasn’t stopped since I’ve arrived.  Now we have more of a mess that I hope you can fix. Our missing patrols are being held hostage by Avvar.  The barbarians have come down from the mountains.”

            “How did they end up in a bog?”  Elisabeta wondered. “Did they want a change of scenery this badly?  Is this their spring vacationing spot?”

            “That’s the thing…”  Harding hesitated.  “Their leader… he wants to fight you, because you’re the Herald of Andraste.”

            “Because I’m the Herald?”  Elisabeta snorted.  “Why doesn’t he just ask for my autograph?”

            “He thinks reading is for wusses,” Harding explained.  “I doubt he can sign his own name.  The leader calls himself the Hand of Korth and believes he is the chosen of their mountain god… who is called Korth.  I hope you don’t mind the undead.  You fought them when you saved Redcliffe during the Blight.”

            “They have never been my favorite,” she admitted.  She turned to Dorian.  “It’s a good thing I brought you.”

            “You expect my necromancy to fight those creatures?” He shrugged.  “I’ve never tried to take control of the walking dead, but I probably could if I tried.”

            “I actually meant your fire magic, but the other part sounds good,” she thought about it.  “Morrigan used to set them on fire. They’d run into each other and spread the flames. You could have them wobbling about, holding swords and combating the other skeletons.  Either works”

            “We could even make bets on who would win,” Varric suggested.  “We could somehow mark them to who is who.”

            Cassandra made a disgusted noise.  “Let’s go find our men.”

            The first thing they found were plague victims, though.  They were lying on makeshift pallets with the remnants of worn blankets over them. 

“The South’s healers are obviously a thing to be envied,” Dorian snarked.

“How have this many dead been left just to rot?”  Elisabeta wondered after they found more bodies left in a cabin, which she looted.  “The bog seems to be full of them.  How long ago did the plague take place?  This area should have fallen under the Teyrn of Gwaren.  I admit that I let Alistair kill the last teyrn, but he should have replaced him… unless he let Anora inherit the title.  She is a pretty incompetent leader.  That’s what happened, isn’t it?”

“I don’t keep up on Ferelden politics,” Dorian admitted.

“I’ll find out for you, Tempest,” Varric swore.  “What about the Chantry, though, Seeker?”  He addressed Cassandra.  “Shouldn’t they have been here, giving last rites and seeing to the funeral pyres?”

“There doesn’t seem to have been any local Chantry presence,” she observed.

“Oh, come on now,” Varric taunted.  “The Chantry is everywhere, even harassing poor dwarves while their crazed Seekers stab innocent books.”

As they continued on they found beacons that drew the undead and terror demons out of the moors, making them easier to find.  When they camped for the night, they found two notes.  One was from one of the patrols, expressing concern that Elisabeta was in danger.  The other was from an apostate mage who was hiding out in the bog.

I tried to help, but I was too late.  By the time I came to the Fallow Mire, the plague had spread like wildfire.  There were few survivors left and they were delirious, burning with fever.  There was a woman here who was trying to harvest demons and spirits when I came.  She, too, succumbed to the fever, but not before her notes gave me great insights.  Another mage had followed her, to find her secrets, but they were crazed and attacked.  I had to defend myself and now I have the blood of my fellow mage on my hands, along with the blood of so many others.  Now, I hope to find solace.  I hope to find the quiet from the songs and the voice.  Thedas will do better if I stay here, but there is no one left to help.

Varric shook his head.  “That handwriting looks like… someone who desperately wanted some alone time.”

“I miss my lap harp,” Elisabeta murmured as she rinsed out her little wooden bowl.  Cassandra had cooked lamb and carrot stew.  It reminded her of Alistair’s lamb and pea soup, a uniform mushy grey thing. 

“Those horrid whiny bags you insist on playing seem more apropos to this environment, anyway,” Dorian sniffed. 

Elisabeta did indeed pull out her bagpipes and began playing.  As she did so, Varric and Dorian put their heads together over a ledger.  She overheard some of what they were saying.

“No,” Dorian insisted.  “She may not realize he is courting her, but he thinks he is.  Watch him when they are together, he’s smitten.  She just doesn’t seem to realize it.  I would give him really long odds, though.”

“I don’t even know if she realizes he’s a man,” Varric replied.  “She’s too busy being courted by Curly and a King.”

“What about the Bull,” Dorian muttered.  “I think he has a soft spot for her.”

“I think he has a hard spot for you and everyone else in Haven,” Varric countered.

Elisabeta stopped playing and looked over at the pair.  “What are you two doing?”

“Nothing!”  They chimed together.

That attracted Cassandra’s attention.  As Elisabeta began playing another haunting tune, the seeker looked down at the ledger between the two men.  “How many pools are there and what are these odds?  Why are all of the leaders of the Inquisition, and the king of Ferelden, on there when I am not?  There is even Iron Bull and Blackwall.  What is this?”

“It is a simple business ledger,” Varric assured her.  “You aren’t in it, because… you’re… business doesn’t go that way.”

“What?” Cassandra was confused.

Elisabeta continued to play, wondering what the men were up to.

 

The second day in the Fallow Mire brought more beacons and undead.  It also brought a couple of strange standing stones.  “I wonder what these are from,” Elisabeta mused, looking around.  “You know what the Inquisition needs, Cassandra?”

“A stronger military and more infrastructures around Haven?”  Cassandra suggested.

“Well, yes,” Elisabeta agreed.  “We also need an archeological team.  Who put these stones up and why?  Now that the Temple of Sacred Ashes has been destroyed, we should find out what was under there before the cultists came.  We need to know more about who the cultists were.  Why doesn’t Ferelden have a university to rival that in Orlais?  They have historians and archeologists, but we seem to be lacking.”

“Yes, well… you can talk to your king about… never mind,” Cassandra flinched, remembering the state of affairs between Andraste’s Herald and Ferelden’s rulers.

They continued to explore the area around the stones and found a crack in a circular rock formation that led to more marsh, but there was dry land beyond.  There was a camp on that dry land and an apostate mage in robes facing them, staff at ready.  Elisabeta let her magic loose to form a ring of frost on Kindness, but didn’t attack.

Cassandra moved forward, sword drawn and the apostate moved his staff, ready for an arcane bolt.  “Wait,” Elisabeta commanded.  “Are you the healer whose notes I’ve read?  The one who came to help?”

“What if I am?” The voice was male and Ferelden.  “I’m a dangerous mage, you should attack.”

I’m a dangerous mage,” Dorian countered from behind Elisabeta.  “You don’t want me to attack.”

“Men!  Are we going to play a game of who has the bigger staff?”  Elisabeta rolled her eyes.  “Look, I worked with Morrigan during the Fifth Blight, you can’t be worse than her.”

“You don’t know how…”  The mage was cut off.

Anders!”  Varric holstered Bianca and strolled forward.  “Is that you under those robes?”

“Varric?  What are you doing here?”  Anders wanted to know.

“A group of Avvar abducted an Inquisition patrol, we’re going to rescue them,” Varric explained.

“Anders?”  Cassandra repeated the name.  “The mage who blew up the Kirkwall Chantry?”

Elisabeta sheathed her swords.  “Are you, him!”  She strolled forward, quicker than the mage could follow and gripped his robes.  “You are a healer aren’t you?”  She spoke quickly, her voice rising in excitement.

“Yes, well, I was,” he blinked at her. 

She tightened her grip and pulled him forward a little.  “You helped Hawke in her battle against the crazy Kirkwall Templars, right?  You can fight and heal in the combat field?”

“I… yes, I…”  He tried to step away, but then stopped and searched her eyes.  “Has the plague addled you?  I’m a dangerous mage who blew up a church building.  People are scared of me.”

“Pfsh,” she let out a ladylike snort.  “I’ve killed an archdemon, you don’t frighten me.”

“I have a Fade spirit in me who seeks Justice and encourages me to make rash decisions,” he further protested. 

“Okay, so I won’t let you decide on who should become the ruler of Orzammar or Ferelden then,” was her answer.  “Orlais is still up in the air.  The rash decision could be funny and good for Ferelden.  I doubt they would want either of us picking their ruler, though.”

“Let me decide…”  Anders took a step back.  “So you aren’t just saying that you aren’t going to kill me?”

“Kill you?”  Desperation burned in her eyes.  “Of course I’m not going to kill you.”

“What about all of the people he killed in the Kirkwall Chantry?” Cassandra protested.  “He must be brought to justice.”

“Justice is in the eye of the beholder,” Elisabeta shrugged.  “I’ll just pull a chapter out of the Grey Warden’s book of rules and conscript him to the Inquisition.”

“I was conscripted to the Grey Wardens,” Anders admitted.  “I ran from Amaranthine.”

“If there were still Howes there, I don’t blame you,” Elisabeta confided.  “Wait, you’re a Grey Warden?  See, Cassandra, we can’t judge him.  The Wardens are the only ones who can and they have disappeared.”  She turned back to Anders.  “Do you know where they are?”  He just shook his head.  “Dang, first they all get themselves killed in Ferelden and then when I return from the dead, they all disappear except the one who likes to blow up church buildings.  Actually, your pyrotechnic abilities may come in handy, but I really need a healer on my team.”

“Return from the dead?  Killed an archdemon?”  Anders' eyes widened.  “Are you…”

“Elisabeta Cousland, at your service,” she curtsied.  “Now I need your service.  You are joining the Inquisition.  I’m a former Grey Warden, so is Fiona.  As we are the only people around who have gone through the Joining, besides the King of Ferelden, you must join us.”

“Do we get matching robes?”  Anders wondered.  “Wouldn’t that be special, the ex-Grey Warden Society?”

“We should,” she agreed.

“What about Blackwall?”  Cassandra wondered.  “He is still a Grey Warden.”

“So he claims,” Elisabeta looked sideways at Anders and lowered her voice.  “He doesn’t seem to know what the Joining entails and became confused when I talked about the Taint.  I still plan to hit him with more questions to see if he knows anything.  Perhaps you can see if he feels like a Warden to you.”

“Varric?”  Anders looked at his friend. 

“It’s good to see you again, Blondie,” Varric grinned.  “Welcome to the team.  I got nicked by an arrow earlier.  Could you see to it?”

“Very well,” Anders sighed.  “I am sick of this swamp, I’ll go with you.  It seems that Varric needs me.”

“Elisabeta,” Cassandra was exasperated.  “You can’t just recruit the mage who blew up Kirkwall’s Chantry and helped start the Mage-Templar war.”

“Josephine recruited Vivienne,” Elisabeta pointed out.  “I don’t see a difference.  Wait, yes I do.  Anders is actually helpful.”

“They say you have a Spirit of Justice in you,” Dorian sidled up to Anders as he packed up his camp.

“He was more like Vengeance there for a bit,” Anders admitted.  “The… the apostate who was here before’s notes really did help in teaching me to wrestle full control back from him.”

“I’d like to help you more with… control,” Dorian wiggled his eyebrows.  “I find this all so fascinating.”

“Dorian is an Altus from Tevinter,” Elisabeta explained.

“I hope you don’t run into Fenris,” Anders murmured to Varric. 

“Wouldn’t that be interesting,” Varric agreed. 

“So how did you become a Grey Warden?” Elisabeta wanted to know as they continued towards the castle. 

“I was conscripted,” Ander’s voice was terse.

“So was I,” Elisabeta confided.  “I told Duncan I had no interest in becoming a Warden.  Then he tried to pressure me into becoming one in exchange for his help getting me out of my family’s castle when Howe’s forces besieged it.  I still told him no, that’s when he conscripted me.”

“I had been captured by Templars near Amaranthine,” Anders confided.  “When the castle was taken by darkspawn, I managed to survive and escape; but my guards were all killed.”

“I haven’t found that Templars do particularly well against darkspawn myself,” Elisabeta confided.  She turned to Varric.  “Didn’t you say that your friend Aveline was married to a Templar who was killed near Lothering during the Blight?”

“Yes, Ser Wesley,” Varric confirmed.

“As I fried the last trio of darkspawn who had killed my Templar guards, Elyon Andras burst into the room.  He was an elven Orlesian Warden who had been sent by Weisshaupt.  He was impressed that I still lived.”

“They sent an Orlesian?” Elisabeta’s eyes narrowed.  “Does Weisshaupt have no shame… or sense?  The Orlesian Wardens couldn’t seem to show up in Ferelden when there was a Blight going on, but the moment the Blight is over, they’re traipsing in; the stinky cheese crumpet masked invasion monkeys.”

“King Alistair came out to meet him,” Anders explained.  “He had met up with the rest of the Templars who were hunting me.  The Templar Commander tried to arrest me.  The king strongly suggested that Elyon conscript me, which he did.”

“It was Alistair’s idea?”  She could just see him protecting the apostate mage who’d fought off a horde of darkspawn.  He would always champion someone seeking freedom.  The thought of seeing him outmaneuver the Templars brought a small smile to her face.  Damn him.

“It was,” Anders confirmed.  “Boy the Templar Commander was angry about that.  It made me kind of like him.”

 

 

Twilight had fallen when they made it to the castle.  The undead milled about, aimlessly in front of it.  Elisabeta unsheathed Excalibur and Kindness, unleashing her magic to coat Kindness in flames.  She slashed at the undead, easily blending into the plentiful shadows.

Cassandra batted one walking dead back with her shield, as she beheaded another.  “There are too many to fight all of them.  We must get to the castle.”

Varric shot bolt after bolt at the oncoming undead.  “That’s easier said than done.  Why did we leave the horses at camp again?”

“We didn’t want them getting hurt by these creatures,” Dorian reminded him.  “Lissa is very fond of Rowan.”  He took control of one of the dead and redirected it against its former comrades.  Then he threw a firewall up in front of a new group that was trying to join the fray.

Elisabeta cut a swath through the creatures and rushed through the gates, spying a small group of Avvar who were standing in front of a fire, bows ready.  She dive-rolled and came up behind them.  She beheaded the one who thought themselves safely in the back.  Bianca sent one of her bolts between the eyes of another, while Dorian and Anders sent arcane bolts into the Avvar warriors.

“I kind of missed this,” Anders admitted.

“Of course you have, no mage should be sulking in a swamp no matter how radical he got,” Dorian insisted.  “Believe me, I’ve seen worse than blowing up a Grand Cleric.”

“Dorian,” Cassandra hissed.

“So have I,” Elisabeta confirmed as she dispatched another Avvar.  “I’ve seen abominations running through the halls of Kinloch Keep, I’ve seen the dwarves of Orzammar bury axes into each other over political disagreements, and I’ve heard of a Dalish Keeper summoning a curse on not just a clan of humans but also their decedents because they had raped and murdered his children.  If the Denerim Palace had been blown up, would the Chantry have even blinked?  I know they did nothing when the inhabitants of Castle Cousland were massacred by the Howes.”

“The Grand Cleric was killed,” Cassandra countered.

“She was part of my target,” Anders revealed.

“Was she any more important than Sister Maerie?  Did she deserve to die any less?  It sounds like she earned her fate, unlike the priestess who served in my family’s chapel,” Elisabeta snapped out.  “I saw Sister Maerie’s body, she’d been impaled by a dagger and her legs were… I suspect some of Howe’s men had violated her.  The Chantry never said boo to Howe.  What did this grand cleric do when the Qunari attacked?  Did she help defend the city or was she hiding in the chantry’s basement?  She supposedly had a holy army at her disposal, where were they?”

“Knight Commander Meredith led the Templars against the qunari,” Varric informed her.

“Boy she was mad when Hawke stole her glory and defeated the Arishok,” Anders added as he brought his staff across the head of the last Avvar, and then followed up the blow with a jab from the bottom of his stave.  “Later we realized she had indeed gone mad.”

“Did the grand cleric send her thoughts and prayers then?”  Elisabeta snarked.  “What did she do about the crazy Knight Commander?”

“She refused to get involved in the disputes between Meredith and Orsino,” Varric explained.

“Mages were being abused in the Gallows and she refused to lift a finger to help them,” Ander’s teeth were gritted.

“That is no reason to kill her!”  Cassandra insisted.

“Are you sure?”  Elisabeta began exploring the castle instead of heading to where Korth was waiting.  She found a locked door that she easily opened.  She began exploring the room and was surprised at what she found.  Her finds included a book that had belonged to the Grey Wardens and several pieces of weapons and armor.  “I think this used to be a Grey Warden outpost.  I’d never heard of one here, but there used to be a fort in the Korcari wilds, so it’s possible.  If we ever find the Ferelden Wardens perhaps we can return it to them.”

“Blackwall would have liked to be here for this,” Cassandra commented.  “He has mentioned that he would like to find the history of the Wardens.”

“Oh?  When we return to Haven ask him why he didn’t learn their history in the Grey Warden University?” Elisabeta’s voice was sweet.

“Univ…”  Anders began, but caught the look Elisabeta shot him.  “Indeed.”

 

 

Elisabeta eventually led her team further into the ruins where a rather large and smelly Avvar Warrior waited for her.

“Fight me So-Called Herald of Andraste!”  He yelled.

“My parents named me Elisabeta!”  She shouted back.  “You might have known that if you picked up a book, you half-witted druffalo dropping!”

“I am the Hand of Korth!”  He attacked her.

She easily dodged the attack, moving to trip his balance.  “OK Hand of Korth, that’s the Mountain Father, isn’t it?” she feinted and struck him with Excalibur.  “I’ll send your hand to a mountain after I kill you.  Which one would you like me to send it to?”  She performed a whirlwind move, followed by a cripple.  He lurched.

Cassandra charged into his opening and buried her sword into his back.  Excalibur and Kindness flashed across his neck, Kindness searing what used to be his throat as Elisabeta finished him off.  “Let’s get our men and get out of here.