Actions

Work Header

High Female

Chapter Text

  1. Prologue

  Valo-Kas mercenary camp near the city of Kirkwall on the eastern edge of the Planasene Forest.  

Cassian had never had to run so hard for so long.  The sweat was pouring from his body and he had a bunch of small cuts and abrasions as a result of running through the forest with an almost reckless desperation.  He was being followed or more accurately he was being hunted.  As his breaths began to come to him in gasps, he knew deep inside that he could not outrun his pursuer so he abruptly decided to make an attempt at hiding.  The forest was thick with vegetation and there were plenty of places to hide his big body and attempt to become invisible.  His breathes were coming in labored gulps and he could hear his own heart about to pump out of his chest.

Maker, this is no place for me.  I need a comfortable bed and a good book.  Andraste's tits do I hate the jungle!  He looked around quickly and found a dead tree with a huge part of it's base hollowed out.  He quickly climbed inside and sat down facing out so that he could see.  He started to pull leaves, dirt, twigs and anything else he could find to make his little hole look as inconspicuous as possible.  He finally settled down and leaned back into the trunk and waited.  He was actually quite proud of his little camouflaged shelter.

He doesn’t have to wait long.  His eyes caught some slight movement in the distance and noticed two distinct halla-like horns rising over a bush.  He noticed that he held his breath as he watched an enormous and powerfully built Qunari female step out into a small clearing.  She was the biggest Qunari he had ever seen, and he had seen many.  Golden skin and the largest horns he had ever seen on a female.  He watched her intently as she scanned the area with a set of stunning silver colored eyes.  She scanned back and forth multiple times, but gave no indication that she had seen him.  These Maker forsaken creatures have to pick now to use me as a meal?  He grimaced as he could feel a small swarm of insects climbing and dining on his body.

She just stood there searching the area with her eyes.  Then she seemed to pause and it looked like she started to sniff the air.  She stopped and looked in his general direction with a furrowed brow.  She then took what looked like a deep breath through her nose and a huge toothy grin appeared on her face.  Damn that nose!  He thought to himself as he watched her and just when he thought that she might pass him over, her eyes met his.  Fuck!  He took off again at a sprint away from her.  He was actually thankful that he got out of that hole as the bugs were eating him alive.  Again he was running blindly through the thick brush at a dead sprint when all of sudden he was falling through the air head over heels.  As he made his acquaintance with several branches, vines and leaves on his rapid trip down he couldn’t help but think that the seconds seemed to turn more slowly.  I hope this doesn’t hurt too much.  He thought to himself.

He’d resigned himself to the inevitable impact and the resulting pain when suddenly he felt a swoosh of cold air go by him and he knew that it was over.  Cassian relaxed his body and when he came to a sudden yet not too painful stop, he stared into the stunningly silver eyes of his hunter.  She had the biggest shit eating grin he had ever seen, like she had just caught a bag full of sovereigns, “Hi beautiful, what’s your hurry?”  She was so smug, but the comment also put a smile on his face.

“I hate you.”  He answered with as much seriousness as he could muster, which wasn’t much.  It would have been evident to anyone watching that this odd pair not only knew each other, but were friends.

She looked at him and feigned an expression of sadness.  “You hate me?” 

She set him down as easy as if he were a feather.  He was amazed as his eyes took the golden skin giant in as whole.  She had to be all of eight feet in height with those massive spiral horns.  She showed no signs of fatigue or anything to indicate that she had just run him into the ground and probably saved his ass from that fall.  Cassian was not a small man.  He was easily taller than most men and very heavily muscled.  He was fast and very strong and no one would ever take him for a mage.  He looked the part of a powerful human warrior but this Qunari girl made him look like he was a small child as she absolutely towered over him.

He turned to walk away from her and suddenly felt her hand totally envelope his bicep as she pulled him back to her.  “I don’t think so.  You’re my prisoner now and I didn’t say you could go anywhere.”  If he resisted her pull it wasn’t noticeable as her strength dwarfed his.  There was no denying that she could break him in two with just her hands.  Now he was face to breast which made him blush as he looked up at her.

Cassian got right in her face as she leaned over and he felt her hot breath as he inhaled her essence in.  “If you weren’t so pretty I would cut that nose right off your face.”  This made giant girl giggle and she embraced him fiercely.  She released him a short time later and they began to walk together through the jungle.

 It was a strange thing to witness the big Qunari girl and the Tevinter Mage acting like the closest of friends.  “You’re too big, too loud and smell too good to hide from me.”  Asala said to him as she playfully patted him on his rear. 

“How is it that a Tal……”  Asala glared at him and he paused.  “Sorry, I mean Vashoth mage learn how to track and move so quietly and quickly?” 

She raised an eyebrow as she pondered the very legitimate question.  “My ma was a Ben-Hassrath hunter when she served the Qun, don't you remember?”  It was almost as if to say really? 

“I wish I could have known her.  She sounds like a remarkable woman.”  Cassian couldn't help but convey the admiration in his voice.

“She really was.  She told me the day that she became Tal-Vashoth was a day that had affected her more than any other except for my birth.”  Asala was now reminiscing about the story that her mother had told her.  “She had hunted many Tal-Vashoth and for the most part she agreed with the Qun as many of our kind acquire the blood lust that makes them deadly bandits ready to kill anything and anyone in the path of their desires.”  She took a deep breath and continued her story with her friend.  “Up until that day she’d ended the lives of bandits and murderers.  Her last mission orders puzzled her.  She’d been given the location of a Tal-Vashoth base of operation and was told to eliminate the adults and take the children back to Seheron.”

“Is this common practice among the Qunari?”  Cassian asked.

Asala looked at her friend with an understanding look.  “It is, but she always seemed to question everything in her mind.  Let’s just say that when she came upon a little hut in the middle of the forest and saw what in essence was a small and beautiful family living out their lives and not bothering anyone else, she couldn’t find a reason to kill.”  Asala's eyes started to well up.  “They were happy and they were definitely not bandits.”  She smiled at the thought of her mother.  “They had something that she suddenly realized she wanted more than killing her own kind.  They had a purpose in raising their children.  These were decent people, this was a good family.  Why did they have to die?  She asked herself.”  Asala turned to look at her friend.  “Is it the Qun’s purpose to destroy happiness too?  Just following the Qun was no longer enough for her.  She couldn’t find a reason to destroy a family and decided to spare them.  She approached the house and ended up having to knock out the father who was well aware of the hunters.  Ma warned them that their location was known to the Qunari and that they should move.”  Asala had a little smile on her face as she continued to think of her mother.

Cassian grabbed a hold of her hand.  “My mother had to kill the two hunters with her."  Asala continued to explain.  "She spared the family because she knew that the Qun was wrong and that not everyone that left the Qun deserved death.  That was the day she decided that the Qun was not worthy of her service.”

Cassian then asked her.  “So what happened to your mother?” 

Asala smiled and continued.  “She traveled all over the free marches hiring herself out to anyone that needed a body guard or an escort.  She did this until she actually went to a small village just outside of Kirkwall.”  Asala chuckled.  “She said that she smelled the bakery and told herself that she would mate with whoever was the baker.  Turns out that the baker in that small village was a jolly Vashoth named Rasaan."  Her expression turned slightly amused.  "I think that it was destiny.  For her to find another Vashoth and a baker at that!"  Cassian could tell she had fond memories of her parents.  "I've never met another Vashoth like him... a funny, gentle, and caring soul.  How his parents managed to sneak out of Seheron is beyond me and he never told anyone but my mother.  They shared an uneasy meal and afterwards she asked him if she could take shelter in a shed outside the main house.”  Asala chuckled.  “Of course he would not have it and invited her in.  He never even suspected her of being a former assassin for the Qun.  She never left after that.  He won her over with his kindness, sense of humor, not to mention his cooking.”  Cassian smiled at his friend’s blissful expression.  “I can remember growing up how the smell of his freshly baked bread and cookies just permeated everything in the village.  Most of the humans there actually treated us like regular people and I actually had a pretty good childhood up until the night they decided my family had to be eliminated.”

“You mean the Qunari?”  Cassian added curiously.

Asala nodded and Cassian could feel the slight tinge of anger in her voice.  “I was fifteen and fast asleep when they struck.  They killed my da and ma before they even had a chance to defend themselves.   I was woken up by the murderers downstairs and ran down there.  I ended up killing all three of the Qunari murderers." She paused and her expression changed to one of cold and calculating fury.  "When I walk into my parent’s bedroom I see my da laying there with half his body on the bed and the other on the floor.  My ma is laying there with a crushed skull.  Blood is everywhere.  They were Qunari agents.  There were three Qunari warriors sent from the compound in Kirkwall.  I guess the Arishok had enough time to send them out to us.  This must have been before the Champion killed most of those Qunari that were there.”  Asala looked at Cassian and sighed.  “Ma taught me everything she knew in regards to fighting with daggers and stealth and even though I was touched by magic when I was 10 she told me that it is best to know how to fight close in.  She taught me how to defeat the Qunari agents and hunters.  She taught me how to hide from the Templars and Arvaraads.”  She paused and stared at the sky.  “They’re never ready for me.  They see a Saarebas and think they need to get close and that's when I tear them apart.  My da never did anything to deserve dying.  My Ma’s method of leaving the Qun is probably what got her on the list to die.  I hate them Cassian.  Why can’t they just leave us alone?” 

As tears started to slide down Asala’s cheeks, Cassian held her hand.  “You’ve got one hell of a crew here to protect you.  We will never let them get that close to you.” 

She wiped the tears and smiled at the human with the concerned look on his face.  “I’m okay my little savior.   Thanks to your magic training, I’m much more ready for them than they are for me.” 

Cassian looked at her in awe.  “You’re an amazingly quick learner.  I’ve never seen anyone pick up the lightning and fire spells as quickly as you did and even some ice as well.  You are by far the most perfect Battlemage that I have ever seen.  Your skills are way above even the best Tevinter and Circle Mages.” 

Asala smirked and nonchalantly asked him in her most proper common.  “Are you flirting with me Ser Cassian?”  

He smiled at her, “Is it working?”  

They walked back to the camp where Shokrakar was waiting for them.  “How long was it this time?  I think you’re losing your skills girl.”  Shokrakar was smiling when she said it. 

“Who says I didn’t find him earlier?”  Asala gave a wink to Cassian. 

“That nose of hers gives her too much of an advantage.  Who needs a Mabari when we have a Tal-Vashoth named Asala in this company.”  He felt a smack to the back of his head.

“I told you I am Vashoth not Tal-Vashoth.” Asala yelled at him playfully. 

Cassian laughed as he rubbed the back of his head.  “Okay, okay you’re Vashoth.”  Shokrakar and the rest of the company broke out in laughter at the human mage.  It was so strange to see a Tevinter Mage so well accepted by the horned giants.  He’d been with them for just over a year and helping the younger mages of the company come to terms with their abilities.   The company unwittingly saved him from a Qunari raid into the Tevinter Empire near the Arlathan Forest.

They intended to sell him back to Tevinter thinking he was someone important.  They did not know that he was a slave and that his owner was killed during that raid.  It was Asala and Katoh who asked Shokrakar to spare him and take him on. (actually Asala forced her under the threat of icing up her whole tent.  Asala always did have a soft spot for humans.)  Cassian actually made the pitch to train the company mages in return for a safe place to stay.  Kaaris even wrote a poem pleading with Shokrakar to keep him. Shokrakar agreed on the condition that Kaaris stop writing poems.  Kaaris agreed but has never been able to keep his end of the bargain. 

 Kaaris is your typical looking Qunari.  He is all of seven feet in height as wide as druffalo.  His horns make him look like a giant Ram as they swirl back on themselves ending by his ears.  He is a walking mountain of muscle.  It’s surprising that he uses a sword and shield as his preferred weapons because he looks like he could use a giant’s club instead.  His shield is the size of a small table and trying to breach his defenses is like laying siege to a fortress.  His demeanor was such a contrast to his fearsome appearance.  He's as gentle as a stuffed animal unless you hurt someone he cares about.  He is something to watch when his fury overtakes him.  Even Shokrakar stays clear of him. 

Katoh is the company healer with very good ice capabilities.  Shle is the runt of the group as far as size is concerned, but she is still as tall as Cassian.   She bears the scars of a Saarebas and yet is so stunning that she could pass for royalty in any other life.  Her horns had been cut and one could see the small scars where her lips were sewn shut.  Lately, Asala has taken it upon herself to make her over.  Asala made horn sheaths for her of gold with steel bands to put over her broken horns.  They were more of a spiral design much like Asala’s and Shokrakar’s horns.  The first time she made an appearance out of her tent with those horn sheaths, the company could not contain itself.  She looked stunning.  Her light grey skin, obsidian hair and golden eyes made her look like a goddess of the Valo-Kas.  She was so shy seeing the attention she got from everyone, but some could see a glimpse of that cute little smile as she turned so no one else could see.

 Shokrakar is a giant of a woman.  She is easily a half a head taller than Kaaris who is easily a head taller than Cassian.  Shokrakar’s body ripples with muscles and the scars on her body tell of a violent and savage life.  Her silver hair, dark grey skin and deep red eyes make her look intimidating as hell.  She is more than the leader of the company.  She is the mother of this group of misfits.  She leads from the front and wields her two handed hammer with incredible ease.  She says that the hammer is more effective than swords and axes against the Qunari hunters.  The Vitaar they use hardens their skin into an almost stone like consistency.  She lifts that giant hammer like it was a feather and uses it to shatter her opponents with a brutally viscous and direct style. 

  Asala is Shokrakar’s second in command.  She is only nineteen and already has seen more than anyone her age should have.  She is a stunning creature in every way.  Her skin is a golden hue, with silver colored eyes that provide a stunning complement to her wavy obsidian hair.  She is easily the tallest Kossith in the group and is built like muscular predator.  Her golden colored horns are enormously large for a female and spiral up and back.  She really likes jewelry and has adorned them in these beautifully intricate silver sheaths.  The Qun frowns on extravagance and Asala relishes it.  She has the speed and agility of a rogue, the strength of a warrior and the magic ability of a powerful mage.  Her intelligence and strength are only matched by her sense of humor and outright contempt of everything that is the Qun.  She’s easily the most approachable Kossith that Cassian has ever come across. 

   Shokrakar had become Cassian’s best friend among the Valo-Kas.  They would sit for hours and speak about strategy, tactics and personnel.  Asala Adaar's name came up quite often in their conversations.  It was obvious to Cassian that Shokrakar was grooming Asala for the leadership of the company.  “She needs to be more merciless.  Her hesitancy and softness in certain situations will cause unnecessary loss.”  Shokrakar would tell him. 

“I understand what you’re saying, but her personality is not going to change.  She will never lead the way that you do even though she cares intensely about everyone here.”   He would tell her as he then took a swig of the Tevinter wine that he took out of his saddle bag.  “Still as young and hard headed as she is, you two are more similar than you know.  She likes to be out front when the fighting starts and she would die or kill for anyone of us just like you would.” 

Shokrakra smiled at her human friend and mentioned to him.  “You really think I would die or kill for you?” 

Cassian smiled and responded with a chuckle.  “Okay everyone except the pain in the ass human from Tevinter.” 

Shokrakar spat out her ale and started coughing and laughing hard while Cassian smiled.  “If you would have told me one year ago that I would feel safer among you horned giants than my own people I would have said you were crazy, but that is the case.  My real family sold me into slavery and the people who are considered devils by them adopted me.  I consider you the family I never had.  Thank you for letting me be a part of your group.”

Shokrakar put her giant hand on his shoulder and with a sympathetic look addressed him.  “You’ve made us stronger.  You’ve shown us things that have helped us in every battle since you’ve gotten here.  I’m glad Asala and Katoh lobbied for you because I could only see a human making us weaker.  I was wrong Cassian and I am very glad I was wrong.  You’ve helped make Asala into a force of nature.  I have never seen anything like her in all of my years.  She is the largest female I have ever seen and is stronger than even Kaaris.  You should see her when she wrestles with the boys.  Young Antaam cannot believe that a female could best him so soundly in an unarmed contest.” 

“She is a wonder.”  Cassian added.  “Did you know that she killed the three Qunari hunters by herself?”  Cassian asked her. 

Shokrakar nodded.  “If Asala doesn’t want to lead, maybe I will give the mantle over to you.” 

Now it was Cassian’s turn to spit out his drink.  “Are you crazy Shok?  A Tevinter mage leading a Tal Vashoth mercenary company is the most un-Qunari thing I can think of.”  Cassian pondered what he just said.  “I think I like it.” 

They both smiled.  “It is their worst nightmare.” Shokrakar told him with a devilish look to her smile.  They both broke out in laughter.

Asala approached the fire where Shokrakar and Cassian were sitting.  They were laughing a little too much for her liking.  “Nice of you to start without me.”  Asala said with a smirk. 

“We were just talking about you girl.”  Shokrakar added. 

“Only good things I hope.”  Asala commented while taking a seat next to Shok. 

“Asala, you’ve been here for just over four years right?”  Shokrakar tells her.

Asala nodded. “What of it?” 

Shokrakar looked at her second with pride and love in her eyes.  “I have to tell you that your skills are unparalleled.  I have never seen anyone who can crush someone with her bare hands and either fry them or electrocute them to death.”  Shok commented while smiling at Cassian. 

“What brought this on?  Praise from the mighty Shokrakar, think of the scandal it will cause.”  Asala smirked while taking a drink from her human friend’s skin. 

“What she’s really trying to say is that she wants you to take the reins of the Valo-Kas company.  You’ve proven yourself both on the battlefield and in social events to be perfect for the job.”  Cassian added.

“This is a joke right?  Me?  Riiight…where’s Kaaris and the rest of them?  You’re messing with me right?”  Asala looked around for her other comrades.

Shokrakar looked directly into Asala’s silver eyes and addressed her.  “We are not joking with you my girl.  You’re better at dealing with the elves and humans than I am and no one here would ever question your skills on the battlefield.  Everyone here has owed their life to you at one point or another.  The males here are in awe of you and would follow you to Qunanadar if you led them there.  It is no secret that the success of this company is a direct result of you joining it.” 

Asala looked stunned.  “Shok I’m honored I…I have to think about this.” 

Shokrakar looked at her second and smiled.  “Take your time girl.  I’m not going anywhere anyway.  I’ll relinquish my command when you are ready and I will always be around to help you.” 

Chapter Text

Talania and Rasaan looked at their daughter. “I’ve never seen a girl or boy her size before.” Rasaan said in wide eyed wonder.

“Her horns are twice the size of mine already.” Talania mentioned with a hint of concern.

“I remember the rumors always told about our race being mixed with dragons. I can smell that she is different from others of our race. Her scent is so much stronger.”

Rasaan looked lovingly at his wife as he spoke at Talania.  “She’s also mage touched, we need to protect her from the Templars here as well.”  Rasaan chuckled as he spoke to his  Kadan. “You know, she is actually stronger than me.”  

Talania beamed at him with her golden eyes. “She really is special. Maybe we should try for another.”  Her mischievous expression caught his eye.

A low growl came from Rasaan's throat as he pulled his mate to him and kisseed her deeply.  “It certainly is fun making them.” He softly whispered to her.

Asala is fifteen and she already towered over all of her human friends. Her best friend is a boy named Markus and he is a full two heads shorter than her now.

“Don’t say it Markus! I’m warning you.”  There was playfulness to her demeanor even though she was trying to be serious.

Markus looked at his friend and ventured to say what he knew would get Asala to respond to him.

“How’s the weather up there?”

Asala grabbed him forcefully by the shoulders and pulled  him to the ground.

“Hey! I’m only joking! Please have mercy!” He protested with a faux expression of indignation while laughing.

Asala smiled as she mounted him on the ground and easily held him there. “That’s the last time you tell that joke. I’m going to make sure of it.”

Markus really struggled and couldn't believe how strong this girl was.  Having her on top of him though was not an unpleasant sensation. He stared at Asala’s horns as he pondered what to say to her. She looked and noticed that he was staring at her horns. She was always a little self-conscious about them and started to move to get up. It was then when Markus surprised her totally out of the blue.

“I love your horns. They’re so beautiful.” Markus blurted out.

Asala beamed at him with a smile that melted him. “Really? I thought I was the scariest looking thing in the village.” She sadly mentioned to him.

“Not to me you’re not. I think you’re the prettiest girl in the village.”  He looked at her with eyes that comforted her.

Asala smiled shyly as her cheeks and ears turned as red as tomatoes.

“You think I’m pretty?” Asala asked him.

“You most certainly are. I would even say that you’re beautiful. Let me up I have to show you something.”

Asala pulled him up and he took off running toward the tree line by her house. She followed him as she could feel the heat on her cheeks. He reached behind a tree and came back towards her with both of his hands behind his back. Asala could smell that it was a type of flower, but it is one that she had never smelled before.

“Well what is it?” She impatiently asked him.

When he pulled them out, her suspicions were confirmed. She had never seen these beautiful white flowers before.

“They’re beautiful…thank you.” She looked into his hazel eyes with a wanton look and asked him.  “I’ve never seen these before. What are they?”

Markus cheeks startedto blush a bright shade of pink. “Well I figured that you are like a rare beautiful flower. What better flower to give you than Andraste’s Grace. They don’t grow this far north and it is rare enough that no one here will have one.   It’s as unique and almost as beautiful as its new owner.”

Asala’s silver eyes started to water. She reached out her hand to him and he pulled her forcefully to him and embraced her. She was a little taken aback. As he started to pull away, she held him close and kissed him on the lips. It was a slow and tender peck.

“I…I’m sorry Markus. I didn’t mean to…” Feelung his oats, Markus grabbed the back of her head and pulled her down to him and continued the kiss with an aggressive passion he had never shown her. They both hesitantly pulled away and stared into each other’s eyes.

Asala smiled a toothy and predatory smile. “Are you okay?” You’ve never been so aggressive.”

Markus smiled an equally predatory smile and told her, “Shut up and kiss me.” With that Asala pulled him towards her and slowly set him down on the ground while never letting her lips leave his.

She was back on top of him when she let out a low growl that surprised Markus. “Asala? What was…”

 

“Asala! What are you doing? Get off that boy this instant!”

Asala instinctively jumped off Markus at the sound of her mother’s voice.

“It’s okay Sera Adaar. Please don’t be mad at her. She was only teaching me some of her combat moves.” A smiling Markus jumped to Asala’s defense.

Talania curiously watched the young human boy and smiled inside. Even with all of the prejudice, fear and racial animosity there were always some persons that defied all the norms and were just wonderful.

“Markus you need to get home before it gets dark.” She said to him.

“Yes, Sera Adaar.”

She watched the young boy run towards his house and then she finally turned to Asala.

“You like him don’t you?”

Asala blushed a hot shade of pink at the statement and showed her mother what Markus gave her. Talania looked at the flower quizzically and finally asked Asala.

“Where did he get that? I have never seen a flower like that one.”

Asala beamed at her mother. “It’s called Andraste’s Grace. Markus says that they do not grow this far north and are actually rare in the south where they do grow. He really likes me and I like him.”

Talania smiled a sorrowful smile at her daughter. “He’s a fine young boy, but I don’t think his parents would approve.”

Asala glared at her mom. “Why?, Because I am Vashoth? I’ve actually talked to his mother and she was very nice to me.”

“Most humans lump us in with everything that is Qunari even though we are not. They think we are savages who are only worthy of tolerance.”

“Markus doesn’t.” She angrily told her mother.

“I know, but I do know that his parents look at us in the usual fearful way. They only see us as something to be tolerated.”

“You don’t know that!” Asala defiantly yelled.  “Most of the people here have been good to us and I have a lot of friends.”

“Ok, I will concede that I don’t know and that I shouldn’t make those judgements about everyone, but my beliefs have been proven correct more often than not. I do hope that I’m wrong about this.”

“On another note, Asala my dear, you do need to be very careful when rough housing with the humans and elves. They are very fragile compared to us. You should be especially careful because for some reason you are even stronger than most of us already. You hurt one of them and the rest of them will think we are no better than the Qunari and probably become aggressive against us. Remember that when you and Markus mess around like that.”

“Ma? Why am I so much stronger? My horns are so much bigger than yours and I’m almost as tall as da. Is that normal?”

“No my dear it is not. You are special. I have never seen anyone as strong, fast and large as you are. Your horns have to be the largest any girl has ever had. Even in Par Vollen and Seheron there were no Qunari who even come close to your size, speed and strength. Do your horns make you uncomfortable?”

“A little, but Markus says he loves them.” Asala smiled as she said it.

“He’s a very special boy to be able to see you for the person you are. I like him as well. Like I said, be very careful when you rough house with him or any other person. You can hurt them very badly if you’re not careful. Also, how are you able to control your magic? Did that hedge mage teach you anything?”

“She did help me quite a bit. I feel pretty confident in being able to not only control it, but to project it as well.”

“Good. You’re lucky that it manifested in that pond and not in the house.” Talania exclaimed.

“Well if I remember correctly you did get a hot bath out of it.” Asala smirked with pride.

“That I did and it was very nice, but we don’t need the Templars in Kirkwall coming out here. Now you should get ready for dinner.”

The whole family gone to sleep for the night with Asala going to her room on the second level. She couldn't stop thinking of Markus’ gift and how much she really liked him. She held the flower tightly to her chest as she fell asleep with the scent of Andraste’s Grace and a touch of Markus’ scent as well.

It was the middle of the night when she heard a loud thud coming from down stairs. As she got up to investigate what was going on she heard her mother let out a blood curdling scream.

“Asala! Get out of the house!” She heard another thud and could now make out heavy footsteps in the movement down stairs.

As Asala reached the bottom of the stairs she came face to face with a fearsome looking Qunari male in full armor holding some sort of rod. “Come here girl. You will serve the Qun. If not you will die.”

He glared into her eyes and his mouth pulls into an evil looking grin. “Please resist you filthy Saarebas.”

“MA!!! DA!!!” Asala screamed with no response coming from her parent’s room.

The Qunari with the rod is now joined by two other fully armored Qunari males who are covered in blood.

Asala let out a roar that stuns them all as she charged into them. She grabbed the one with the rod by the throat and squeezed her hand shut, with a crunching and crackling sound, she crushed his wind pipe.

The other two instinctively charged her with their weapons, but the closed in space made it difficult for them to make a proper attack. Asala, without missing a beat closed the distance to where their weapons were useless and unleashed a blast of lightning that consumed them both. They were both paralyzed as she grabbed a hold of one of their swords and commenced to finish them both off with more swings than were necessary.

She was consumed by a blood fury that blinded her as she continued to chop the bodies into a mass of mangled flesh, bone and blood. She finally realized that everything was quiet and the assailants are all dead or dying. She ruman into her parent’s bedroom and saw something no child should ever have to see.

Both her parents had been brutally murdered by these Qunari men. She stood  in the doorway in shock and disbelief. Why? She thought to herself as the tears srarted flowing from her swollen eyes.

“They are a filthy Tal-Vashoth. They turned their back on the Qun and they deserve to die.” She could hear the weezing coming from the Qunari whose throat she'd crushed.

“They never hurt anyone and you just killed them because they left the Qun?” Her silver eyes swollen with tears bored  a hole into the mortally wounded Arvaraad.

“There will be others. We will never rest until you are one of us or dead. You cannot fight the tide.”

With that she approached the Arvaraad and kneeled down to his face. With the last bit of strength he grabbed her throat.

She snatched his hand off of her throat and whispered to him. “I will not let you die quickly; I will destroy your weapons so they never see Par Vollen again.”

You fucking bastards! I will never honor your traditions. I will die before serving the Qun. Fuck you Koslun! She couldn't stop crying.

Asala was frightened, confused and exhausted. She didn't know what to do. It had been a few hours and she was still in a state of shock, fear and anger. The tears flowed more infrequently now and all she wanted was to wake up from this nightmare. She looked at the mangled corpses in such a small area and decided for some unknown reason to arrange her parent’s bodies in a more peaceful looking position on the bed. So much blood. They were so still.

She lifted her father’s corpse and placed it on the bed with his hands folded on his chest.   She arranged her mother’s corpse in a similar position making sure that their bodies were touching at the shoulders. She grabbed a clean blanket and coverd their bodies with it. She kissed them as she started to gather some things that would be useful when she left.  There was a little money from the bakery sales as well as food. She took the leather armor her mother wore when she went on jobs for her mercenary group. It actually did not fit, but maybe she could sell it on the road for something bigger. She also grabbed the two imitation dragon teeth pendants they had. “Kadan”, they would say to each other. No matter how far apart they were, they would always be together.

Asala’s mother had many discussions with her about what to do in case something like this happened. She took her mother’s daggers and equipment and enough supplies to last her a couple of days. She also took much of the equipment the Qunari assassins had brought with them.   She grabbed everything except their armor. Asala knew through her mother’s and father’s teachings that the Qunari held their weapons in an almost sacred manner. She knew that someone would come by and ask for them or what happened to them so as to take them back to Par Vollen. Asala would not allow this. They took everything dear to her. Now, she would take a small victory knowing that these souls would never be at peace. She would make sure that these weapons were destroyed and never saw the Qun again.

Once she finished gathering everything she needed for her trip, she gathered the corpses of the assassins and threw them out behind the house piling them unceremoniously on top of each other far behind the tree line. Let them rot. I hope the wolves eat well. She thought to herself.

She went back toward the house and just stood in front of it and stared sadly at it. Her eyes started to water again, but she remained somewhat composed. She held the two dragon tooth pendants and put them on. She kissed the pendants and thought  to herself I love you. Maker please take care of them. They are the best of what I am. I hope I am worthy of the chance they have given me. Asala then raised her hands and concentrated.  Flames appeared on her hands and she directed themsh into the house. After a few seconds the house was engulfed in flames.

Most in the village is still asleep. She didn't know how many of the villagers would be glad that the “Qunari” were gone, but there was at least one person whom she wanted to see before she left.  As the fire burned, she made her way to Markus’ house. Hiding in the shadows and moving across the rooftops. She knew that the whole town would come out to watch the fire. It was pretty typical of people, including her.

“You’re staying here and that’s final!”

She heard Markus’ parents yelling at him. It sounded so familiar to her ears from when her parents would scold her. As she waited on the roof of the house, she saw his parents leave with buckets. Were they going to help put the fire out? I knew that his family was different. Asala made her way to the nearest window and called out Markus’ name.

“Markus! Markus!” He ran to the window.

“You’re okay! I was so scared you were dead! Thank the Maker.” He embraced her with all his might and tears just started to flow again from her.

“They’re dead…They killed them.”

“What! What do you mean they’re dead? Your parents?!”

She nodded as she started to sob uncontrollably again.

He was in shock. “How? Who?”

Her eyes were still swollen red from the tears when she explained to him. “The Qunari killed them and wanted to take me. I was too late to save them. Markus, I have to leave, but I wanted you to know that you’re my best friend and I will always remember you as such.”

She paused and looked into his eyes. “I’m going with you.”   He said to her.

She wanted to smile and say yes to him, but she knew that his gentle soul was not made for the road she must travel. “Markus you can’t. Your parents would be destroyed if you left.”

He didn't miss a beat. “Then stay with us. My parents wanted to meet you properly anyway.”

She put her hand over her mouth as tears continued to stream down her face. She wanted to say yes and stay, but she knew that the Qun was merciless and would send more. She could not in good conscience put them in that kind of danger.

“Markus, they will send more to kill me. I cannot put you or your family in that kind of position.”

Now Markus’ eyes started to water. He nodded sadly knowing that he was losing his best friend. He embraced her through the window opening and asked her.

“Will you write to me?”

She nodded to him and surprised him with a tender kiss. “I will. I’ll never forget you.”

He’s a little taken aback. “I won’t forget you either. Please come back sometime. I’ll always be here for you. I’ll wait forever for you.”

With tears in her eyes she nodded to her friend, caressed the side of his face while kissing him for what she thought might be the last time. She hesitantly turned and leaped back down to the side of the house disappeared into the shadows.

She was to take the coastal route west along the base of the Vinmark Mountains towards Cumberland. Somewhere along the coast in the Planasene Forest was the Tal-Vashoth mercenary company known as the Valo-Kas. She was to explain to them what happened and they would take her in. That sounded a lot easier to do than it really was.  As she traveled west, people gave her a wide berth. By the looks that were given by the people in her old village she knew she was a frightening looking creature. She towered over all and even sometimes could look the people on horseback in the eye. Her powerful looking body and the daggers on her back which were the size of small swords, told anyone who looked at her to stay clear.

For the most part her trek west went on with people steering clear of her although it seemed that a few would look to almost challenge her. She paid them no mind so long as they stayed a good distance from her.

One foolish man thought that he would draw his bow, but she heard it and immediately drew her daggers and with a glare that froze the idiot in his tracks he put his bow away.

She expected the trek to go like that for the entire time until she met up with a traveling dwarven merchant and his strange son. Bodahn and Sandal were their names and asked her if they could join her on her way west.

“Our escort left us after we paid them half of their retainer. You look like you can take care of yourself and we will pay you the rest of the retainer if you allow us to travel with you.”

They’re going to pay me just to walk with them? “How much?” Asala asked curiously.

“Is ten sovereigns acceptable?” Bodahn answered her in an almost pleading manner.

Asala’s eyes widened in disbelief. TEN SOVEREIGNS! That’s more than pa would make in a year! “You have a deal ser.”  

They traveled in silence for a ways.  “Are you Tal-Vashoth?” Bodahn tried to start as they traveled together.

“How do you know that word?” Asala asked surprised.

“We have been trading with them for a couple of years now. We are actually going to trade with one of their mercenary companies right now. Have you ever heard of the Valo-Kas?” Bodahn curiously asked her.

Asala shrugged her shoulders as if she didn't know. Her mother’s words coming to mind. Don’t trust anyone!

“Might I say that you’re an impressive sight.” Bodahn stated while looking up at her.

“PRETTY!!” Sandal surprised everyone with his word as he looked  right into Asala’s eyes.

Asala was immediately taken aback by the compliment. “Th…Thank you Sandal.” Asala stuttered all the while thinking that Sandal was only the second person to compliment her on her looks other than her parents. It brought a small smile to her face and a tear to her eye as she thought of Markus.

As they continued on their journey westward they came upon the remains of a caravan. There were bodies everywhere. All of the wagons had been ransacked and emptied of anything valuable. As she examined the remains of the caravan she noticed that some of the bodies had staffs.

Mages? She noticed the pointy helmets on some of the warriors.

“Tevinter Slavers.” Bodahn stated. 

Asala told Bodahn to wait where he is as she wanted to investigate the area. She took a wiff of the air and caught the scent of sweat, blood and human musk off to the right towards the rocks and cliffs.

She stealthily moved up the cliff side until she could look over.   What she saw was a bunch of human men and women drinking, talking boisterously and celebrating their winnings from that apparent raid on the caravan.   She continued to survey the camp and noticed that most of them were already drunk. The only sober ones were the two guards at the far side of the camp. Fortunately she did not see anything that looked like slaves.

She quickly retired back down the cliff and rejoined Bodahn and Sandal.

“Is everything okay?” Bodahn asked.

Asala ignored him while surveying the destroyed caravan. She noticed that there were another set of footprints leading towards the Planasene Forest. Those must be the slaves. Good for them.

“I’m sorry Bodahn. Everything is fine. We should get moving before those bandits sober up and come back.”

The rest of the journey was uneventful. She’d never felt so alone. She missed her da as he would wake her with his wonderful baking. The smells of the fresh bread was like heaven. She even missed Ma’s martial training. Her trek into the Planasene Forest made her understand that Markus was one in a million. She promised herself that she would see him again one day.

“HOLD!” She smelled him before she heard him. She immediately drew her daggers and sent a deep aggressive growl in the direction of the voice.  

“Wait! My dear hold on! We’re here!” Bodahn yelled and tugged on her leather belt.

“Whoa! Whoa! Put down the daggers girl. Don’t force me to take you out.” The voice ordered as her eyes finally made out the powerfully built Qunari male coming out of the shadows.

“Bodahn! Tell your friend she has three seconds to put those daggers away or my boys are going to fill her full of arrows.”

Bodahn gave Asala a worried look and began to plead with her. “Sera…”  

Asala interrupted.   “He’s bluffing and soon he’ll be joining the rest of those Ben-Hassrath assholes that killed my parents. The Qun will never have me.”

The Qunari male put his hands up to show her that he was unarmed. “Listen carefully girl. We are the Valo-Kas mercenary company. We are Tal-Vashoth and we spit on the Qun.”

Bodahn interrupted. “He’s telling the truth. I’ve traded with them before. Please, put your weapons away.”

Asala's expression was that of total confusion. “I’m Ashaad and you are?” He asked her with an understanding look. “I’m Asala Adaar.”

“You are Talania’s daughter?”

At the sound of her mother's name Asala broke down and fell to her knees. “They killed them and tried to take me.”

Ashaad approached her carefully and put his hand gently on her shoulder. “Come sister. You are one of us now.”

Asala looked up at Ashaad who was now giving her a consoling look.  Asala stood and nodded to him.

“Wait Sera, here is the coin I promised. You were worth every penny. That was the least eventful trip I have ever had through this area.”

Asala smiled at the dwarf who actually made the trip a lot easier. I should pay you Bodahn. You and your son were great company. She thought to herself.

As Asala and Ashaad walked back to what she assumed would be the center of the camp she noticed the overwhelming scent of Qunari. No humans, elves, dwarves or any other race seemed to be present in the camp. She noticed the tents are all camouflaged and there were no clearings.   The eyes of everyone were on her as she made her way through the camp. Asala was starting to feel a little uncomfortable.

“Shok! We got a new sister. Talania’s girl is here.” Ashaad yelled.

“What!” Asala heard coming from inside the tent.

Out of the largest tent in the center of the camp came out the biggest and most intimidating woman Asala had ever seen. Asala was used to being the largest anything around. She was as tall as her father already and now this woman towered over her by at least a head. Not only was she tall, but she was a hard looking and as well muscled as any warrior she had ever seen.

She stopped in front of Asala and put both hands on her shoulders. “Asala?”

Asala nodded and tears started to flow once more.  Shokrakar pulled her into a hard embrace and comforted her. “It’s okay girl. Let it all out. You are home now.”

Chapter Text

“Don’t get mad Antaam. Why don’t you get Kaaris to help you?” Asala smiles as she taunts the young Tal-Vashoth.

“It wouldn’t be honorable to try and beat you with another person.” He answers her quietly while circling her in the sparring ring.

“Oh. A shining knight? A cute one too.” She continues to taunt him to no avail. As they continue to circle each other she can’t help but admire the utter godliness of Antaam. He’s only twenty years old and his golden skin makes him look like he’s related to her. His long and dreadlocked golden hair swaying back and forth over his shoulders is a perfect complement to his stark yellow eyes. He is one of those Qunari without horns. Because of this it is rumored that he is the offspring of the new Arishok. His medium and extremely well muscled build is deceptively strong and lightning quick. He’s all of seven feet tall and still a head short of her. Everything considered he is an exceptionally stunning specimen.

In an instant Antaam feints a charge and almost gets Asala to jump. The result is that Asala charges him with such speed as to be a blur. To his credit Antaam sidesteps just in time to watch Asala land on her face. He quickly jumps on her back and applies a rear naked choke hold on her. He squeezes with all his considerable Qunari might; hoping that she would tap out and he would be known as the first one to beat Asala in ring. Now on anyone else this maneuver would end the match, but Asala doesn’t seem fazed. Antaam has a perfect lock with his legs and arms. Asala grabs Antaam’s wrist and begins to squeeze. Antaam can feel the pressure building. Her grip is like being caught in the maw of a dragon, still he will not relinquish his hold. Asala doesn’t want to hurt her friend so she stops squeezing and stands up with Antaam on her back. With her left arm she grabs a hold of the arm that is holding the back of her head and forcefully pulls off. With a quick shift in weight she spins inside his grip and is now face to face with Antaam.

Antaam looks distraught. “How? It’s not possible. So strong.” He’s still desperately holding on to her.

Asala pulls him in tight with her arms underneath his arms now. “You’re mine now.” She whispers in his ear.

Antaam instinctively pulls his arm over Asala’s head and locks in another choke hold. This one is even more secure than the last. Again he begins to squeeze as hard as he can.

“Nice move.” Asala tells him. “You’re better than me, buuuut…”

With her arms fully locked around his upper torso, she begins to squeeze just hard enough to deny him his breath. Little by little she can feel his grip loosen.

“I know it’s not fair.” She tells him. “Anyone else would have lost to you today.”

Before Antaam loses consciousness, he taps Asala on her back and falls in a heap when she lets him go. He tries to stand up quickly, but immediately falls to the ground again. Asala picks him up and carefully sits him up on a chair near the ring.

Asala grabs him by the shoulders and whispers in his ear. “You’re a great warrior. You’re the only one that can actually make me break a sweat. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone here.” With a kiss to his forehead she takes her leave and leaves him with a smile on his face.

The men and women in the camp react to the kiss. Antaam! Antaam! Antaam! The chant goes up. She stands, faces the crowd and bows with a flair. As she leaves the ring she approaches Cassian who was observing the match. Cassian is clapping. “Nice show. You should go to Val Royeux and try out for their grand tourney. I hear good warriors are in short supply there.”

“You are a menace.” Asala says with a smile.

As they walk back to the main camp area Cassian seems to want to broach the leadership subject with her. “So have you thought about taking the reins?”

“No. I’m not ready to be responsible for all these people. I want to learn more from Shok before I even dare tell her yes.”

“You know it’s because of you that we have humans, elves and dwarves in the outfit now.” Cassian counters. “Shok would have never allowed that before.”

“You give her too little credit. It was exactly because she is open minded that she allowed us to expand and become a diverse outfit. Plus I think you made one hell of an impression on her.” Asala says with a mischievous smile.

“What do you mean impression?”

“Don’t be such a dope. You know what I mean.”

Cassian looks a little taken aback. “She likes me? I mean really likes me?”

“Oh come on now! You’re going to tell me that you don’t notice it? You’re full of shit.”

Cassian smiles. “No you’re right, but I am a little frightened about how to broach the subject with her. “

“She would eat you alive if you let her.” Asala states.

“She’s a beautiful woman. I would worship every inch of her if she let me.”

“I know you would.”  

As they walk together toward the center of the encampment Shokrakar motions to Asala and Cassian to join her and Tarlok. Asala gives Cassian a bump with her elbow that was a little harder than he was ready for and sends him flying towards Shokrakar, forcing her to catch him as his face lands directly on Shok’s ample breasts. “Consider it broached.” Asala tells him as his face reddens with both anger and embarrassment.  

Shokrakar lifts Cassian up and tells him. “If I didn’t know any better I would say that you did that on purpose.”

Cassian tries to remain composed, but ends up looking more awkward than his usual suave self. “I… Shok I’m sorry. I…”

Shokrakar interrupts him with a hand up. “It’s okay Cassian I know Asala shoved you.”

“Gimme a break already! This is fucking ridiculous. You both look at each other like the choicest meats in a butcher shop. It’s about time you two anted up and enjoyed each other’s company in other ways, rather than talking shop all the fucking time.” Asala demanded.

For the first time since Asala has known her, Shokrakar’s face blushed a beautiful bluish color.

“Yeah that’s right, you think I don’t notice. I can smell it on both of you.” Asala continues.

“And I’m a menace?” Cassian chimes in.

Shokrakar looks at Cassian and lets out the slightest smile, basically acknowledging Asala’s words. “She really is a menace. Girl I appreciate your effort on our behalf but we need to get down to why I called you over. You’re going to have to get Antaam over here for this this job anyway. Why don’t you go call him over.”

Asala goes back toward the sparring ring and see that Antaam is already back in there with Kaaris this time. She pauses and begins to watch them go at it. These are the two baddest boys in the camp. As the minutes go by, she watches in awe at the speed of the two. They are too big to be moving that quickly. Then she remembers what she came there for.

“Antaam!” She yells out.

Antaam stops and turns to look at her, not seeing Kaaris coming and just leveling him to the ground with a vicious left hook.

“Kaaris that was real cheap!” She yells as she watches Kaaris help his brother in arms up.

“Never let your guard down kid.” He tells Antaam.

“Even around my supposed brothers and sisters?” Antaam counters.

“Especially around them.” Kaaris smiles and gets a groggy smile from Antaam.

As Asala and Kaaris help the young Tal-Vashoth to his feet she can hear Tarlok calling her. “Asala! What the fuck girl? What’s taking you so long?”

“Sorry T, I was just enjoying the view.” She answers him with her eyes on Antaam.

“Where’s Shok?” She asks.

“She and Cassian are taking advantage of your matchmaking. She told me to fill you in on you and Antaam’s possible assignment.”

If Asala had been eating or drinking something she would have spit it all out. “What?! Already?” She lets out a chuckle as Antaam stands to his wobbly feet.

“Asala. Do you remember William Tully?”

“Iron Ass Tully?”

Tarlok nods in the affirmative.

“He’s been asking to borrow you and Antaam for a job he’s been hired to do.”

Asala gives a look of quizzical sarcasm. “What wonderful plan does he have for me and dreamy.”

“He wouldn’t tell us, but he said that he would pay you two 50 sovereigns for your services and another 50 for the company.”

“100 sovereigns! It must be one hell of a shit show he is going to put on if that cheap miser is willing to part with that much coin. I wonder if I could squeeze a little more from him?”

“If you can get him to give you more that would be great, but he said he would only tell you the job once you accepted it. His company’s camp is about an hour north of here if you two are interested.”

When Tarlok brings a job to you, it usually means Shokrakar wants you to do it, so she is definitely going to accept it but wants to make sure that Antaam is okay with it as well.

“Antaam? Are you okay with accepting this job from another company? “

“Is this normal? To take jobs from other companies I mean?” Antaam asks.

“Yes and no, but Tully helped Valo-Kas quite a bit when the company first started out so Shok has a pretty good friendship going with him and his company. Shok feels like she owes the old man and he’s actually not that bad to work for.”

Antaam nods. “I’ll follow your lead Asala.”

“Go get your gear ready. We’ll leave in a couple of hours.” She tells him.

Antaam nods again and is off to get his gear.

“So you’re taking the job?” Tarlok asks through his spectacles.

“When have I ever said no to William ‘Iron Ass’ Tully?” Asala smirks at the moniker.

Tarlok chuckles and tells her. “When have any of us?”

 

Chapter Text

“Ah, Lady Adaar, May I speak to you for moment?” Josephine asked Asala.

“What did you need?” Asala responded curiously.

Josephine seemed a little uncomfortable. “Well as you are Tal-Vashoth…”

“Just Vashoth, not Tal-Vashoth.” Firmly corrected her.

“My apologies.” Josephine is a little taken aback by Asala’s glare.

“Just a little pet peeve of mine. I was never part of the Qun which makes me Vashoth.” Asala responded with a more consoling tone.

“You grew up outside the Qun, but the people have asked…there is no real easy way to ask your opinion about the Qun.”

Asala looked at the ambassador and tried not to look too upset at the question. “That’s a really sore subject for me ambassador. I despise the Qun. One, they murdered my parents and tried to kidnap me. Two, I am a mage and if you’ve seen the cruelty that the Qun imparts on mages you would understand my feelings toward them.”

Josephine’s look of surprise didn’t stop her from continuing her questions. “Do you believe in any of the Qun’s philosophies?”

Asala smiled at the ambassador.   “How much do you know about the Qun?”

“It is decidedly an empty gap in my knowledge of things.”

“In the Qun you can’t take a breath without someone telling you how long to hold it. To answer your question, No, it’s way too controlling and stomps out any sort of free thinking. That’s not a life for me.”

Josephine looked almost relieved at the answer. “Many won’t accept your word by virtue of your birth. People ask how a Qunari could be the Herald of Andraste. It worries them if they believe it and angers them if they do not. Convincing them of your good intentions will be tasking.”

“I’m sure you will find a way Ambassador.”

“I hope so. It will be interesting. Strangely your mercenary work is not so inflammatory. People are fabricating extravagant tales of your heroics.”

Asala smiles. “There wasn’t a group around that did not want my help. If something needed to get done Adaar was at the top of their list.”

“I noticed. Leliana found a letter from the Captain of your last company. He had nothing but praise for your skill in battle, but he wasn’t very forthcoming on exactly what part you played.”

“Captain Tully praised me? William ‘Iron Ass’ Tully?”

“That’s quite the moniker, but yes your Captain has gone as far as saying he would have lost entire battles without your help.”

“Just like the old man to brag about me.”

“Still, your Captain held your skills in high regard, especially after your last engagement.”

Asala started to fidget a little. “Ambassador, I really don’t want to talk about that if it’s okay.”

Josephine looks at the immense woman with a steely determination, but saw that Asala looked a little disturbed. “I will go by your Captain’s words. No need to expand on information you do not want shared.”

“Thank you Ambassador.”

…….

 

Asala and Antaam traveled on foot together to William “Iron Ass” Tully’s camp. Upon arriving they were greeted by the men of the company like returning heroes. The men gather around her and Antaam and one came up attempted to shoulder bump her. He ended up on his ass laughing. “I always forget what a bad idea that is when it comes to you.” He said to her.

Asala smiled at the group. Tully’s group had changed since the last time she worked a job with them. There were definitely more elves and even some dwarves in his group. Tully preferred humans above all others, but Asala’s skill convinced him to expand his roster, much like Cassian opened up Shok’s mind. All in all they are a good, disciplined and tight group. They are excellent in battle, but most of all they excelled in subterfuge. Tully always loved to work the deception angle on almost every job which is why she loved working with him. Asala knew that there was going to be something different about this job than anything she would take as a Valo-Kas member.

“Asala!!!” Said a familiar voice.

“Captain Tully sir.” Asala answered.

William “Iron Ass” Tully. The old man looked great. He was short for a human and built more like a dwarf. He had massive shoulders and arms for a human. His hazel eyes turned to look at her. She could see that he had a new scar near his left ear and it seemed that half of his ear was missing. He certainly was a tough old bastard.

“How’s my favorite Vashoth ass kicker? You are looking spectacular as always.” Tully told her in a very excited manner.

“100 sovereigns? What mess are you about to get me into?” Asala cut to the chase.

“Oh I don’t have that kind of scratch. The person who is going to hire us does. He wanted to find you, but couldn’t and here we are.   I got a little finder’s fee of 10 silvers to introduce you to him. He wouldn’t even tell me what the job is though.” Tully answered her.

“So who is this mysterious person?”

“Well… he couldn’t be bothered to come to my camp so he sent an envoy with us. Come on I’ll introduce you and you can make up your own mind whether you want to take the job or not.”

It really didn’t take long to pick out which tent was the envoy’s. It was easily the largest tent in the camp and had the deep blue coloring and markings of the Orlesian nobility. The two guards outside the tent made for an imposing sight. They were no doubt Chevaliers and stood at attention when Tully approached them. Asala could hear their hearts begin to race as she approached them. Asala was used to this kind of reaction from humans when they saw her. She smiled at the guards and nodded her head as she came up to them. To her surprise one of the guards returned the nod. Tully announced the group to the guards. “We are here to see the envoy of Comte Pierre of Halamshiral in regards to his problem. “ The two guards nodded and allowed them to pass into the tent. Once inside they were greeted by a stunning elven female.

She was tall for an elf and was actually taller than Tully. Her deep auburn hair fell over her shoulders in thick beautiful waves. Her face was flawless and her green eyes open wide in amazement as they stared at Asala. “Oh my! You weren’t lying Captain.”

“I told you she was exactly what you wanted. Asala, Antaam this is Lacuna, she represents Comte Pierre.”

“A pleasure my lady.” Asala responded while Antaam just nodded.

Lacuna began to blush. “Maker such manners too. Can she sing?”

“What?” Asala and Tully asked at the same time with equally puzzled looks.

“Can you sing Asala? I would like to hear your voice.” Lacuna responded.

“What does my voice have to do with helping the Comte?” Asala asked still with a very puzzled look.

“It is why you are being considered for the job. If you can’t sing then this meeting has been a waste of time.” Lacuna gave Asala a look of frustration and sadness.

Asala gave a glare at Tully who smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “What harm could there be if you sing a little for the envoy . “Come on girl let’s see if those cords are as impressive as the rest of you.” Tully told her with a slight hint of sarcasm.

“You really need me to sing? I’ve only hummed or sang while bathing. I’m no Bard.”

Lacuna had the look of a small child begging for a present from their parents. “Please just a little to see what kind of voice you have.”

“Is the chantry song the dawn will come okay?”

Lacuna nodded

Asala took a deep breath. “Okay, I hope I don’t ruin anyone’s hearing. Here goes…”

Shadows fall

And hope has fled

Steel your heart

The dawn will come

The night is long

And the path is dark

Look to the sky

For one day soon

The dawn will come.

As Asala continued the chantry song she learned when she was very young, the two chevaliers took peek inside the tent to see what was going on. “She sounds like an angel.” One whispered to the other.   Lacuna was absolutely beaming and stopped Asala. Tully was flabbergasted. Asala looked into Tully’s eyes and could see a tear starting to form.

“That bad?” Asala asked him.

“Oh Maker! That was fabulous! You are perfect! Comte Pierre will be ecstatic.”

“Really?” Asala asked while looking at Antaam who nods at her and gives her one of his extremely rare smiles.

“Your voice is very pleasant sister.” Antaam told her with the smile still on his face.

Asala noticed how much she enjoyed putting that smile on Antaam’s face. She had only seen him smile very rarely and it was usually when Kaaris was on the receiving end of one her beatings. For a moment she lost herself in Antaam’s beautiful face. “Thank you Antaam. I’ll have to sing for you more often.”

“I’m sure the rest of our bretheren would like to hear you as well.” Antaam answered her.

“You sure know how to ruin a moment Antaam.” She told him with a smirk.

“You will need to come with me immediately back to Halamshiral.” Lacuna addressed Asala.

“Whoa! Hold on there beautiful. We haven’t even discussed our fees.” Tully told the gorgeous and overly excited elf.

“Didn’t you say me and Antaam would get one hundred sovereigns for this job?” Asala glared at Tully.

“You will absolutely be paid for this. The Comte is very generous.” Lacuna told Asala trying to soothe her fear.

“Are you in a position to make an offer?” Asala glared at Lacuna.

“Yes! Yes! The Comte gave me the authority to offer you fifty sovereigns for your services.” Lacuna answered her.

“It may not be your fault, but I will not take less than the one hundred sovereigns offered me originally. If you cannot offer me that then you are wasting my time.” Asala addressed her in a stern and determined manner.

Lacuna looked at Asala’s silver colored eyes and smiled. “Of course my lady. One hundred it is.”

“So what is this job I am supposed to sing for?”

“All will be explained when we reach Halamshiral.”

“I’ll need half of the payment up front.” Asala demanded.

“Yes my lady of course.” Lacuna reached into a small chest near her very substantial cot, pulled out a small pouch and tossed it to Asala. “Fifty sovereigns up front and fifty more when the job is done.”

“Lacuna, you are quickly becoming my favorite person.” Asala told her with a toothy grin.

“Captain Tully, you will need five of your best men to accompany us back to Halamshiral. We will make a stop in Val Royeaux for needed supplies.” Lacuna addressed Tully.

“My men are not free my lady.”

“Twenty sovereigns for the men and another ten for you. Acceptable?” Lacuna smiled at Tully.

“Why so low? You just offered her one hundred. “

“Lady Asala is indispensable to this operation. Your men are desired, but not as necessary. I’m sure I can find other mercenaries to do it.”

Asala’s shit eating grin at the envoy’s admission that she was indispensable caught the eye of Tully. “You wouldn’t even have known about this job if it wasn’t for me.” He seemed a little upset.

“Okay Captain twentyfive for your men and twenty for you. Is that acceptable?” Lacuna offered him with a look of frustration.

“It’s a deal, although I feel like a sucker.” Tully admitted.

“forty five sovereigns? For such a small force? We’ve never been paid that much.” Asala admitted to him.

Tully gave Asala a look that could melt steel. “Will you be quiet. She doesn’t need to know that.”

Asala let out a laugh that startled everyone within earshot. “You need to come back with me and teach Tarlok a few things about negotiating contracts.”

Tully gives her a wink and they go their separate ways to gather essentials before the trip to Halamshiral.

“Can we meet back here when everyone is ready to travel?” Lacuna asks.

Asala nods and looks over to Tully. “Can I use one of your runners Captain?”

With a loud whistle from Tully a young human boy no more than twelve years old comes running. Tully points to Asala and the boy approaches her. She gives him a big smile and takes a sovereign out of her pouch and puts it in his hand. The boy’s eyes light up. “I need you to head back to my camp and inform Shokrakar that Antaam and I will be taking the job and heading down to Halamshiral. Tell her that all communication will take place through Captain Tully’s company. You got that kid?”

The boy repeated her instructions back to her and was off running towards the Valo-Kas camp.

Asala turned to address Lacuna. “We are ready to leave now. Do you need any assistance with taking down your tent?” Lacuna smiled at her and nodded. “Thank you my lady. That’s very nice of you.”

Asala started by removing her armor to reveal her powerful and sleek body. She was down to just her undergarments and began by pulling on one of the side poles and moving it towards the center supporting pole. Antaam did the same and upon removing his cuirass both Asala and Lacuna just couldn’t stop staring at him. He didn’t seem to notice that both Asala and Lacuna stopped working to gawk at him. Antaam’s dreadlocks draped over his shoulders and he did a hair flip to get it out of his eyes.

“Maker he is beautiful. Is he really your brother?” Lacuna asked her.

“Thank the Maker he is not a blood relative and yes he is beautiful. Too beautiful if you ask me.”

“Is he your mate?” Lacuna asked.

Asala smiled at the thought. “I could only be so lucky. He is a little uncomfortable around me because I can best him in hand to hand combat. You see in the Qun women are not supposed to be warriors. There are a few spies and something that they call an aqun-athlock which is basically a woman living as a man. He is young though and still a little Qunish. I aim to break him of that stereotype by besting him every time we spar.”

“At least you get to be physical with him.” Lacuna smirked with a little jealousy in her eyes.

“Absolutely.” Asala answered enthusiastically. “Although he is trying to beat the shit out of me every time we get in the ring.”

They both laughed and Antaam looked over in their direction and could only shake his head.

“I have to say…may I call you Asala?” Lacuna anxiously asked her and Asala nodded.

“You are not what I expected from a fearsome Qunari.”

“Well I was raised outside the Qun in a small human village just outside Kirkwall. There were some people who were uncomfortable around me, but there were plenty more who treated me like one of their own and I am extremely grateful for them. Antaam there was raised in the Qun and even though he is Tal-Vashoth, some of his beliefs and mannerisms come directly from his upbringing.” Asala explained.

“That would explain his standoffishness.” Lacuna lamented.

“It explains quite a bit, but I’ve broken through a couple of times to get him to smile. Today for instance is one of the few times I’ve seen his pearly whites.”

“I noticed. He has a beautiful smile.” Lacuna looked almost reverent.

“He has a beautiful everything.”   So did Asala.

“You are going to stun the people of Orlais. Your brother is going to get mauled with admirers.”

“Don’t they all wear those silly masks?”

“Yes they do. I don’t get it either.”

In the small time Asala and Lacuna were conversing, Antaam had the tent and poles all neatly piled and ready to be loaded onto the wagon. He was glistening with sweat as he walked over to them. Asala could hear Lacuna’s heart start racing. “Antaam, can you load that tent into the wagon over there.” Asala pointed to the furthest wagon from the pile.

“Yes sister.” He answered her with some annoyance.

“Antaam, are you annoyed at me?” Asala asked him with a little bit of sarcasm.

“I am quite annoyed at you sister.” Antaam’s temperature seemed to be starting to rise.

“Oh I love this part.” Asala whispered to Lacuna.

“Annoyed enough to do something about it?” Asala asked with a challenging tone and a big smile on her face.

The growl that came from Antaam’s innards caught Lacuna by surprise. Asala just looked like she was ready to start a ritual she was all too familiar with.

“Is he mad at you?” Lacuna asked her.

“I probably shouldn’t provoke him. He gets very temperamental when I challenge him.”

“He looks like he is ready to fight you.”

“Oh, he is definitely ready to go at it with me, but this isn’t the time or place.”

Asala walked out towards Antaam who dropped all of the tent equipment and braced himself for a sparring match. As she drew closer to him she put her hands up. “Antaam, I’m sorry I made you upset. Will you accept my apology?”

Antaam looked like a cornered animal. “I don’t trust you sister.”

“This is not the time or place for us to spar. Come, I will help you with the rest of the equipment.”

With that Asala grabbed the heavy tent poles and left the folded tent for Antaam.  Antaam tentatively picked up the folded tent, his eyes never leaving Asala walking away with the poles.

When they finish loading up the gear onto the wagons, Asala asked, “Well all the gear is stowed. What’s the…”

Tully interrupted her, “Asala come here girl. These are my five best men and they will be part of your team. They’ve all been told that you are the boss on this mission.”

“You’re not coming?” Asala looked a little disappointed.

“I was told this job required good looks and that is something my trollish looking ass is sorely lacking.”

“I don’t know, I think that trollish ass of yours is very attractive.”

All of the men minus Antaam broke out in laughter.

As Tully introduced the men, she can’t help but notice that one of them seemed to always avoid her eyes.

“This is Anthony, best archer of the group and sneaky as hell.”

“This is Jason and John, best shield duo this side of Kaaris’ big ass”

“This is Olaf. I don’t know where he is from, but he can swing that big sword with the best of your people.”

“Last but not least, this is Alejandro Trevi. Best healer I’ve ever seen.”

Anthony was your typical looking marcher. Tall and lean with brown hair and eyes to match. His hair was drawn in a ponytail and his skin was sun kissed like everyone from the marches. Jason and John looked like twins, with short black hair and deep dark eyes. Both were of average height and build and were very impressive in the looks department. Olaf was a monster of a human. He was almost as tall as Antaam and built like a Qunari. He was bald and clean shaven with muscles bulging from everywhere.

Alejandro…was…a dream. Asala glimpsed his beautiful deep dark eyes and long black hair that fell over his shoulders in a haphazard way. She could sense his unease when she looked at him. He was a beautiful human with his olive skin and strong features. As she shook their hands she noticed that his were not of a warrior. They were delicate and refined. She looked into his eyes as he tried to turn away and smiled. It took Alejandro by surprise and he let a little smile come to his lips though he still couldn’t look her in the eyes. This human could give Antaam a run for his money.

“It is very nice meeting all of you. I look forward to working with you all.”

She looked over her group and noticed that this had to be the best looking group of mercenaries that was ever assembled. “Alright gentlemen let’s get going.”

As they mounted the wagons for the trip to Val Royeaux, Asala thought to herself, this job is going to be very interesting indeed.

Chapter Text

On the Wagon

There were three wagons in the convoy. The lead wagon had the tent, poles and all of the equipment to set it up if needed Antaam and Olaf were at the reins. The second wagon which was actually a beautiful carriage carried the Envoy, Asala, Alejandro and the two Chevaliers named Louis and Carlo who were at the reins. Anthony, Jason and John brought up the rear with the supplies of food, drink and other necessities.

“My lady I believe I should be in the lead wagon. My senses are much better suited for the front of the convoy.” Asala is worried that they could be ambushed and considering the extravagance of the carriage it doesn’t seem a farfetched thought that some bandit would want to give them a go.

“Asala I want you to relax on this trip. No necessary sword swinging.” Lacuna retorted.

“I think Olaf and Antaam are intimidating enough to give any bandit pause. Not to mention Carlo and Louis.” She added.

“I’m sorry Lacuna. It’s just that I am not used to traveling without being on guard.” Asala explained.

“Smart.” Alejandro let out barely a whisper still not looking either one of them in the eye.

“Did I just hear someone speak?” Asala glaring at Alejandro as if he had challenged her.

Alejandro looked like he was about wet himself. “I did not mean any disrespect. I only thought that anyone who travels these roads without being guarded is an utter fool.” He quietly explained finally looking Asala in the eye.

Asala responded by giving him a big smile. “Can I ask you something Alejandro?”

Again Alejandro turned his head and nodded. “Yes.” Again with the whisper.

“Why do you not look me in the eye when I talk to you? Or even Lady Lacuna?”

“I am not very comfortable speaking to people I do not know. I do not know or trust either of you.”

“I can accept that. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way, but I do trust the captain and if he trusts you, I trust you. Do you not think that his trust in me merits anything from you?” Not taking her eyes off of him Asala posed the question.

“He trusts me because I saved his ass after a spear almost took half of his head off. I do not know him that well.   As a result of me saving him he gave me the job as company healer for the past couple of months. I’m no warrior. I think he doesn’t expect me to come back from this job.”   Alejandro tells her as he is looking down at the floor of the carriage.

“How does a healer survive out here without a little combat training?” Asala asked while starting to feel a little bad for staring him down, but she noticed that the question struck a nerve as his heart rate picked up.

“I have my ways. That is all I will say.” This time the answer was clear and he looked Asala and then Lacuna in the eye.

Asala’s smile couldn’t be wider. Her sharp canines flashed for all to see. “I think I am going to like working with you.”

The first day was uneventful traveling the imperial highway. Asala looked at the stone road and archways with awe. She definitely admired the kind of power that the Tevinter Imperium must have possessed to build such a system of roads. She thought of Cassian and how her friend changed Shokrakar in more ways than one. She thought to herself, he would have loved this job. At dusk they broke down and set up camp. A roaring fire was going outside the tent, Olaf and Antaam seemed to be getting on really well. Anthony, John, Jason, Carlo and Louis were all eating silently, but not uncomfortably silent.   Alejandro was first on watch and he was sitting out in the distance with his meal and eating while diligently keeping an eye out for anything.    

Asala plopped her ass with the group by the fire. She turned to Anthony. “What is the matter with Alejandro?   Is he always so mysterious?”

“Don’t be alarmed my lady, he is like that with everyone he doesn’t know. I don’t really know what the hell his problem is, but I think he is either hiding something or running from something. I don’t know which.”

“Really? What do you think it is?” John asks him.

Anthony can’t help but smile at the question. “Didn’t you just hear me say I don’t know? What do you think I am a fucking fortune teller? I don’t know, but he is as uncomfortable around all of us as he is around my lady here although you and your brother are pretty imposing.”

Asala looked over to Antaam to see that he and Olaf are comparing combat maneuvers and steps. It figures. Asala walked over to both of them and…

“Can I play too?” Asala playfully posed the question to Antaam and Olaf.

Antaam rolled his eyes like he knew what was coming. “Sister can you just not antagonize me today. Please.”

Asala looked at her merc brother and felt a little bit of guilt, but not enough to stop.

“Antaam has been telling me what a raw and powerful fighter you are.” Olaf interrupted.

“Raw?” Asala said confused.

“He said your skills are little bit lacking, but your raw physical power compensates for your lack of technique.” Olaf continued while Antaam started to get ready for the inevitable sparring match.

“He also says that your arrogance prevents you from learning proper technique.” Now Olaf seemed to be trying to instigate something because he was smiling from ear to ear.

“Is that true Antaam?” She looks at him feigning being insulted.

“Olaf just fabricated that tale, although I think he is correct.” Antaam said while stretching and limbering up.

“I’m sorry my lady.” Olaf smiled as he said it.

“I’m going to have to keep an eye on you. You have next if you want.” Asala playfully told him.

“I would be honored.”

Lacuna decided to come out of her tent and join the men by the fire when she looked over and saw Asala and Antaam squaring off. “What is going on?”

Without turning to look at Lacuna she answered her. “Get ready to watch a great show.”

Antaam doesn’t even bother to warn her that the match had started when he charges her. His speed was blinding, but Asala was faster. She side stepped and smacked his behind with a loud crack of her open hand. He stumbled to a stop and Asala could see the rage building inside him. “How’s that for technique?” Asala started to taunt as she usually did. “What’s the matter dreamy? As you getting upset?” Now usually the taunting would not work, but today it seemed that Antaam was in a little bit of a foul mood. He turned to her, “How does it feel to be a man?”

Asala smiled the biggest grin, just realizing that Antaam had insulted her. “Oh that was good. How long did it take you to think of that one?”

Antaam begins to circle her while she just stands in the middle with her arms crossed and her shoulders are shaking up and down from her chuckling. “Well I must be a better man than you because I’ve never been beat by a girl.”

Again Antaam charges her, only this time Asala turns to meet his charge. She is braced and ready when the mass of flesh and bone named Antaam smashed into her. He failed to knock her over and his impressive strength was demonstrated by the length of the ruts left on the ground caused by Asala’s feet sliding. He attempted to grab her legs and again was met with only air as she leaped out of his grasp. He falls on his face and has Asala on his back immediately. She kissed the back of his head and leaped off of him. Antaam stumbled to his feet. He turned and faced her and then looked over to Olaf. Olaf nodded to him and smiled. Asala looked at Olaf and then back to Antaam. The growl that came from Asala surprised everyone. She came at him like a charging Druffalo. This time Antaam doesn’t even bother to avoid the charge. He absorbed the charge using Asala’s energy as he fell back, with one leg planted on her midsection; Antaam launched Asala like an arrow from a bow. After a considerable distance Asala landed on her face with a tremendous thud. Antaam didn’t wait for her to recover and leaped on her back. He took a hold of her horns and slipped his legs around her neck in a reverse triangle. With his legs locked in he begins to pull on her horns to keep her from lowering her chin on his shin and squeezed her neck in his thighs for all he was worth. For the first time in her life Asala started to feel panic. Antaam had enough leverage with her horns to hold her head where he wanted. She grabbed Antaam’s shin and began to pull, but his leg was locked in a way that she could not easily budge it. As she started to pull she could feel herself losing consciousness. She pulled with all her reserves and heard a loud snap as she passed out into dreamland.

She woke a short time later. She looked around and Lacuna was all over her. “Asala! What in the Maker’s name is wrong with you!”  

Asala looked very confused. “Did he beat me?”

“Yes but he paid a painful price.” Lacuna told her.

Asala looked around and noticed Alejandro working frantically over someone. She stood up and noticed that he was holding Antaam’s left leg which was totally broken at the shin. Asala gasped and tears started to flow from her eyes. She heard a pop and noticed that Alejandro’s hands were emanating a brilliant white light not unlike when Katoh used her magic. She looked at the leg again and noticed that it was set and there was a large bruise in the shape of a hand on the center of Antaam’s left shin. Alejandro turned and glared at Asala.

“Is this your idea of entertainment?” Alejandro’s glare bore holes into Asala.

“Sister! I beat you!” Antaam told her with the biggest grin she had ever seen.

“You are a such a hard headed and stubborn Bronto. Damn you Antaam.” Asala was wiping the tears from her eyes as a smile creeped on her face.

“This will not happen again!” Alejandro yelled at Asala, Antaam and Olaf. “I will put you all in chains if I have to!”

Antaam and Olaf could not stop smiling, giggling and looked at each other like they had been best friends forever. Asala looked like a beaten dog with swollen eyes, dirt all over her face and body and a nasal drip that she had to continuously wipe. She looked at Alejandro and slumped her shoulders and head.

“I’m sorry Alejandro.” Asala apologized to him with such a pathetic look that Alejandro had to smile and put a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s okay Asala, Just be more careful.” Alejandro told her with a little flash of a smile.

“Asala?” Lacuna approached her.

“Darling you are going to need to get cleaned up before I present you to the Compte. You looking like a pig just finishing its mud bath will not do.” Lacuna tells her.

“One moment my lady.” Asala counters and walks over to Olaf and Antaam.

“You…” Pointing to Olaf. “…are going to teach me what you taught him.”

“I’ll only teach you if I get the next sparring match with you.” Olaf stood and faced her.

Asala smiled. “You’ve got a deal!”

Asala turned and walked over to Lacuna.

“I have a bath that I had set up for myself, but you are way more in need of it than I.”

Asala looked at the makeshift tub and is amazed by its simple and brilliant design. It was really nothing more than a leather sack with a folding wooden brace and clips to keep its form. The water was a bit cold so Asala put her hand in and let loose a little heat until the water was just right. Asala being so used to undressing and dressing in front of her comrades thinks nothing of taking off all of her clothes in front of Lacuna. As she is taking off her smalls Lacuna enters and sees Asala in all her glory.

“Oh my!” Lacuna stutters.

“Is anything the matter my lady?” Asala asked innocently as she dropped her small clothes next to a chair in the tent.

“I…I’ll come back when you’re done.”

Asala noticed that Lacuna’s heart rate and breathing had increased exponentially when she walked in and saw her. She shrugged her shoulders and got in the tub.

Heaven. Oh Maker this is nice! She thought to herself. I’m going to have to find a way to get one of these back to the Valo-Kas camp. She proceeded to just relax and immersed herself under the water. She came back up and slid all of her hair behind her ears with her hands. She found the sponge laid out next to the tub along with a bar of scented soap. She scrubbed all over but like any person alive she could not reach her back.

“Lacuna?” She called out.

To her surprise Alejandro peeked into the tent. “Do you wish me to get the envoy?”

“No…You’ll do. Can you come here and scrub my back?” Asala asked matter of factly.

“A…Are y…you sure you want me to do that?”

“Of course, why wouldn’t I? You’re just as capable of scrubbing as anyone else aren’t you?”

So Alejandro sat in a chair behind Asala and began to scrub Asala’s back.

“So you’re a mage. I’m guessing you escaped from a circle.” Asala ascertains.

“You got all that from me scrubbing your back?”

Asala giggled. “No you sarcastic ass. I saw what you did to Antaam’s leg. My company’s healer performs in a very similar way to you, although what you did with Antaam’s leg was way more impressive. Don’t worry your secret is safe with me as it would be pretty hypocritical to out a fellow mage.”

Alejandro gasped. “You’re a mage? The way you handle yourself with the wrestling and those short swords you use like daggers I would have thought you a rogue or warrior.”

Asala turned her head to look at him. “You mean that in the Circle you didn't get any martial training?”

Alejandro shook his head. “Why would we? Magic and be able to defend ourselves from the Templars with swords too. It would put them in a decidedly disadvantaged position. It was forbidden.”

“What circle are you from?”

“Ostwick. It was a nice little prison.” He tells her. “I guess they did train me well though. I was the best healer there as well.”

“Is that all you do? Heal or are there other tricks you haven't shown us?” In that instant Asala feels a jolt of electricity that makes her leap out of the tub. She landed like a graceful cat with a glare at Alejandro.

Alejandro couldn’t contain himself and started laughing, not even noticing that Asala is standing there completely naked and dripping water all over the place.

“You Asshole!” She yelled to him while grabbing a towel. She liked watching him laugh and it was contagious as she started to laugh as well. “You know that payback is a bitch right? And I am one big bitch.”

Alejandro had tears in his eyes he was laughing so hard. Asala was laughing right there with him.

“You know me and Antaam could teach you a few pointers on melee combat so that you are not completely useless when a Templar silences you. I think that sneaky bastard Olaf could probably teach us as well.”

“I would like that very much my lady.”

“You just assaulted me and saw me naked and now your mister proper?” Asala wiped the tears from her own eyes.

“I’m glad you’re not looking away when I talk to you now.”

“For some reason I feel I can trust you and now you know my secret anyway.”

“Do I now?” Asala looked him in the eye and he turned away.

“Don’t ask please.” He was almost begging her.

“Ale…can I call you Ale? Alejandro has way too many fucking syllables in it.”

“Yes of course, if only I can call you As.” He retorts.

“Now that’s just rude and no you may not call me As, Alejandro.” She adamantly demands.

“You can call me Ale if you want, plus Asala is too beautiful a name to shorten.” He tells her causing her to blush just a little shade of pink.

“Ale I will never ask or demand anything from you that you are not comfortable in telling me. All I really needed to know was that Tully trusted you. That is really all I needed to know. What you shared with me just now is appreciated and will be kept in the strictest confidence.”

“Thank you Asala. Can I join your merc band when we are done here?” He smiled as he rhetorically asked her.

In that moment Lacuna entered the tent.

“We should turn in. We should be in Val Royeaux by tomorrow night.”

With that Asala picks up her clothes and hoists Alejandro over her shoulder to his surprise.

“Yes my lady. Your wish is my command.” She playfully tells her as she carries a struggling Alejandro out of the tent.

The night was uneventful and Asala could only think of how exciting it was to finally see the famous city she had only heard of in stories and seen in paintings.

Chapter Text

Val Royeaux

 

The fourth day of travel brought them to the gates of the Val Royeaux. Asala and Antaam were asked to sit in the carriage with Lacuna for the travel within the city. Antaam’s leg was fully healed by then with the help of Alejandro’s magic. There was still a scar on that left shin which reminded Asala of how much she needed to watch herself. Even with members of her own kind she could not let loose her full abilities for fear of hurting or even possibly killing someone. Antaam for his part caressed the scar like it was a holy relic.

“Does it still pain you?”   Lacuna asked with a comforting tone.

“It does not. I will always remember with fondness the price I had to pay to defeat my sister.” Antaam answered while looking at Asala and smiling.

“I will always remember how badly I hurt you and if it wasn’t for Ale, you would have been crippled.” Asala responded with a somber note.

“Kaaris will be so envious.” Antaam smiled.

“You haven’t stopped smiling since. If it wasn’t for Olaf there is no way you would have beaten me.”

“He is very skilled and tough for a human.” Antaam acknowledged.

“He seemed to enjoy the ass whooping I gave him yesterday.” Asala smiled.

“I think that every man here would enjoy getting pummeled by you.” Lacuna remarked.

Asala sighed. “Out of all of them. I like practicing with Ale the most. He’s so intent on learning and has no desire or illusion to spar with me competitively. I’ll have him competent by the end of this mission.”

“Doesn’t hurt that he’s a mysteriously beautiful man.” Lacuna smirked

“No it doesn’t.” Asala answered with a mischievous tone.

As they entered Val Royeaux proper, Asala could hear the increasing crescendo of noise caused by so many people living and working in close proximity. The windows in the carriage were shaded so that no one could look inside, but the problem was that they couldn’t look out either. After what seemed an eternity of hoof stepping on cobblestone the carriage came to a stop.

“Wait here.” Lacuna told them while putting on one of those silly Orlesian masks and exiting the carriage.

Asala noticed that it was dark outside. She wondered if this was done on purpose. She couldn’t imagine what kind of reaction the people of the city would have to her and Antaam.

“Come! Quick!” Lacuna ordered with some urgency from outside.

Asala stepped out of the carriage and was stopped in her tracks by what she saw. It was dark outside, but the city was lit up like a million stars. The beautiful white buildings with the golden domes and spires glimmering under the stars.

“Asala come on!” Lacuna barked.

Asala quickly turned to see that Lacuna had already ushered Antaam through the door of a magnificent mansion. Sometimes she envied Antaam’s intense focus. Asala quickly entered the mansion and was met with all of her comrades who were already inside. A young man came and started to pass out what looked like fancy clothing. All of the men got beautiful velvateen shirts with what looked like comfortable black cotton pants and black leather shoes. Asala looked at Antaam and Olaf and smiled at their reactions.

“Please put these on. You cannot meet the Comte in such dismal clothing.” Lacuna told them and turned to Asala.

“Asala please come with me.”

“Where are you taking me?” Asala asked her.

Asala noticed that Lacuna’s heart rate and breathing had increased exponentially. Asala started to feel a little unsure about her situation and began to scan every corner and doorway for danger.   She looked at Lacuna who had turned to see why Asala was taking so long.

“Come Asala. This is so exciting!” Lacuna was beaming behind her mask.

Lacuna led Asala through a bunch of corridors and two stairways when she got to a room filled with mirrors, fabric and elves. “What in the Maker?” Asala said to herself.

The elves all paused and stared at Asala with a look of wonder and amazement. An older male elf ran over to her so fast that he almost face planted into her. “Oh Maker, Maker! Oh my! Is this her? Oh please let it be her!” He said with an over excited tone.

“It is.” Lacuna told him

“Tevye, this is Asala Adaar of the Valo-Kas mercenary company.” Lacuna made the introduction.

“It’s so good to finally meet you! You are more than we could have wished for! You are magnificent!” Tevye’s level of excitement had not come down.

“It’s good to meet you too Tevye.” Asala told him with an obvious air of amusement.

Asala turned to Lacuna with a puzzled look. “What in the Maker’s name are we doing here?”

“You are going to be measured for your dress, shoes, clothes and jewelry. Isn’t that obvious?” Lacuna answered.

“Why?”

“You cannot meet the Comte looking like that and you cannot be seen in Val Royeaux looking like that. It’s quite simple really.” Lacuna answered.

Asala started to become aware of all the beautiful fabrics in the room and started to become excited herself. Asala’s extravagances ended with the jewelry that she made for herself and the horn sheaths which she had a blacksmith make for her. She loved it.

“A dress? Shoes? Jewelry?” Asala asked and Lacuna nodded.

Tevye motioned for Asala to come to him in front of a mirror. “I need you to get into these smalls.”

Tevye handed her what appeared to be a bra with two very large pads and many clips in the front and back. The small breaches were made of a very stretchy material that hugged her figure skin tight.

“These will help us make perfect smalls for you so that you don’t have to wear those dreadful things you have on now. They will also allow me to measure you for everything else.”

Asala put on the smalls and was measured, poked, prodded and basically assaulted by no less than ten elven workers. Asala was a bit worried that these were slaves, but was told that the Comte did not have slaves and that everyone there was paid staff. At the end of the fitting session, Asala was given a dress that was approximated to her size. Of course it was way too small. The dress which should have extended to the floor only made it down to her knees.

Tevye looked angry. “This is unacceptable. She will not meet the Comte looking like a circus jester!”

“But we do not have anything bigger.” One of the other elves told him giving him with a troubled look.

Tevye knew that look and immediately asked with intense irritation. “What else!”

“The male Qunari and the large human do not fit in their clothes either.”

Tevye looked at the elf and suddenly became calm. “Tell Lacuna to show the others to their quarters and send those two here.”

The elf turned and ran back out of the room with an urgent gate.

“Now then Mistress Asala is it?”

Asala nodded.

Tevye smiled at her. “I am going to work on your dress all night so that by tomorrow you will have a dress that will rival the Empress herself.”

At that moment Antaam and Olaf walked into the room. They looked ridiculous. The pants were so tight that it was amazing they hadn’t torn. The jackets were in their hands obviously nowhere near the appropriate size for them.

Asala was giggling like a little girl. “Those pants look really comfy.”

Tevye was not in the mood for light hearted buffoonery. “Hand me the jackets and strip those pants off.” He ordered.

Olaf looked amused and Antaam’s face was pricelessly confused. Lacuna entered the room not to shortly afterwards and demanded. “What is the hold up?”

Tevye glared at Lacuna with a rage that one would usually reserve for an enemy. “You will not sully my reputation Lacuna. The Comte will have to wait until tomorrow.”

Lacuna exploded. “I don’t think you know who you are talking too, but the Comte wants to meet them today. YOU WILL FIX THIS AND THEY WILL BE READY IN NO MORE THAN TWO HOURS!”

Tevye tried to respond, but was cut off. “There is no argument to be had, you will have them ready in two hours. Do you understand?” Lacuna ordered him.

Tevye looked defeated. “Okay, but do not expect miracles.”

“We only need them to be presentable. You will have all the time you need to work on her performance wardrobe.” Lacuna put a hand on Tevye’s shoulder. “I know you can do it. I’ve seen you do much more difficult work.”

Asala was extremely impressed with Tevye. He finished Olaf’s and Antaam’s clothes in less than fifteen minutes. She had to admit that Antaam looked gorgeous. “You two look stunning.” She told them.

Olaf let out a sigh. “I know. It’s hard to look this pretty all the time.”

Antaam looked a little awkward in his new clothes. “These clothes are not very functional.”

“They make you look beautiful Antaam. That is the function of those clothes and they are very functional.” Asala told him and for once he seemed to understand.

Tevye looked at the two oafs and sighed. “I need you two to leave and join the others. Mistress Adaar will be with you when I am done.”

Olaf and Antaam both looked at Asala. She nodded as if to say that it was okay and with that they both made their way out of the door.

“Well my dear it’s miracle time.” Tevye told her with a smile as he kneeled next to her with a tape measure and began to measure, feel and assess her. In a whirlwind of activity, Tevye’s assistants were frantically stitching, sewing, cutting and working on her outfit. Tevye supervised every worker in minute detail.

After about an hour Tevye looks at his work and remarks. “Excellent! Not perfect, but it will do for now.”

“Mistress Adaar if you would be so kind.” Tevye motioned her over and pointed to the dress.

Tevye was truly a miracle worker. The skin tight dress was amazing. It came all the way up from just above her ankle with a slit coming to her mid-thigh. It was a silver sheen color with a plunging back and no straps. The way it accentuated her figure made her blush. The shoes were simple silver colored sandals which laced in a crisscross pattern up to just below the knees. A silver necklace and earrings completed the outfit.

Tevye looked at her as if he was searching for flaws. “Please sit.” He pointed to a stool near a mirror. “Do not look in the mirror!” He ordered.

His assistants furiously began to work on her hair and face. Black glossy lips with dark eye shadow and liner which made her silver eyes look even more stunning. Her hair was combed through and straightened with special oils to look like a waterfall of liquid obsidian ending at the top of her backside.

After about 15 minutes Tevye looks at her and smiles. “You are marvelous!”

Asala turned and looked at the mirror. She wondered if everyone else noticed that she could not close her mouth. She remembered some of the books her ma used to read to her about heroes, dragons and princesses. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

“Mistress Adaar?” Tevye apprehensively nudged her. “Is everything alright? Do you not like it?”

She turned to Tevye, still in shock. “I…I ddon’t know what to say. It’s beautiful.”

Tevye looked excited. “It is also very functional. It is made of a special material called Sea Silk and should hold up well to your powerful body.”

At that exact moment, Lacuna walked into the room which was deathly silent. She surveyed the room and noticed that everyone was just standing there with smiles, grins and some of them actually had tears in their eyes. Lacuna’s eyes caught the reason.

“Asala? Oh Maker! You look like a goddess of beauty. The comte is going to be stunned.”

“Thank you Lacuna. I am speechless myself.” Asala responded and couldn’t help but grin herself.

“Come we’ve taken way too much time already.” Lacuna took Asala’s hand and led her out of the room.

Now Asala was used to everyone seeing her as the fearsome Qunari. She was used to the smell of fear from almost everyone she meets for the first time. She was used to hearing heart rates increase and the anxiousness that came with that. Asala was not used to this. The looks she got as she walked through the corridors were of absolute shock. The heart rates were up, but there was no fear. She caught the occasional under the breath “Oh My.” She smiled at one of the fully armored chevalier as she passed through a large double door and he actually lifted his face shield up to smile back.

As she went into what appeared to be a large and beautiful library she caught the eye of one of her mercenary comrades. Alejandro’s jaw dropped and he instantly caught himself and looked away with his face turning red all the way down his neck.

“Ahem.” Lacuna signaled as she tried to get everyone’s attention.

Olaf was the big mouth. “Holy mother of the Maker’s ass!”

Asala couldn’t help but giggle at the big human’s comment. Antaam just stood there with his eyes on her and his mouth open. She looked him in the eye and what he did next stunned her.

Antaam looked away and said. “Your attire is far more functional than mine sister. You’re so striking that not even the Arishok would be worthy of you.”

As the four mercenaries continued to compliment her, she noticed that Alejandro had drifted away and was looking at a book in the corner of the library. “Is it any good?” She asked him as she approached him.

He turned to look at her and he was absolutely flushed. “I…I wouldn’t know. I w…w…was trying to stay away from you.”

She felt his heat, she heard his heart and breathing. “Do you like it?” She asked him while drawing attention to her attire. She loved how uncomfortable she was making him.

“A…Asal…la please. You are the most beautiful being I have ever seen. If you were a desire demon we would all be doomed.”

“We sure would lad.” An unfamiliar voice startled everyone from the entrance to the library.

Everyone looked in that direction and there stood a diminutive man with a simple silver mask and that trademark Orlesian poof ball type attire.

“Comte Pierre! I…I am so sorry for making you wait so long. We…” The Comte interrupted her.

“There is no need to apologize Lacuna. As usual you and Tevye have performed exceptionally well.”

“May I introduce to you from the mercenary company Tully’s Rangers…” Lacuna introduced Olaf, Anthony, Jason, John and Alejandro who all bowed slightly as they were introduced. Evidently they were all told to by Lacuna as a sign of respect.

The Comte and Lacuna then approached Antaam and Asala. “Antaam, Asala…This is Comte Pierre of Halamshiral.”

“A pleasure your Lordship.” Asala responded with a slight bow as he took her hand and kissed it.

Antaam just nodded like he always does.

“Let us go to the dining room and discuss things over a meal. I’m sure that you haven’t been properly fed.”

As they ate a huge meal of ram stew and a generous amount of Orlesian wine, Asala and the Comte discussed why she was needed to look the way she did and why she would have to be able to sing.

“We are setting a trap for a Tevinter slaver that I have been chasing all over the Marches, Orlais and Ferelden.” The Comte explained.

“The problem with this particular slaver is that he is an elven warrior who has foiled my every attempt to flush him out. It seems that I am always two steps behind him.” The Comte continued.

“What does this slaver have to do with me looking like this and singing?” Asala was still puzzled.

“He has an unhealthy obsession for unique types of entertainment.” The Comte smiled.

“It is how I almost captured him once. Let’s just say that a druffalo, a fennec, a catapult and four very angry dwarves were involved.”

“A beautiful, majestic and captivating Qunari goddess singing at Halamshiral’s annual Winter Palace Ball? You will be irresistible for him. He will show.” The Comte told her.

“Are you sure your lordship? Do you really have that much confidence in me to perform there? I mean I have never so much as danced or sung in a Tavern let alone the Winter Palace!” Asala never really felt nervous about a job, but this was so way out of her realm of expertise that it made her uneasy.

“Asala my dear. I will make sure that you are ready. From what Lacuna has told me, you are fabulous and she guaranteed you would be remembered by the guests for eternity.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of your lordship.”

The Comte laughed into his wine and spilled all over his shirt. “You’ve already made a hugely favorable impression on everyone here in the house. Tevye is already working on your performance attire.” He told her as he tried to wipe his shirt only making it worse.

“You are being way too generous with the attire your lordship. You are spoiling me.” Asala smiled.

“Is it alright if I can hear your voice Asala?” The Comte took off his mask as he asked her.

“You’re the boss. Of course your lordship. It actually is strange to be paid to sing instead of killing. I like it a lot more.”

Asala repeated the chantry song The Dawn Will Come only this time she completed it. As she sang the Comte’s eyes welled up. Asala looked around the room and started to walk around while singing to get a better look at everyone. She could not believe how affected everyone was by her singing. Olaf had his eyes closed and was lip syncing. Jason, John and Anthony were all in tears. Antaam could not stop smiling at her. Alejandro was smiling, but not looking at her. The servants, guards and anyone else within earshot peeked into the dining room to see what was going on.

“Asala that was magnifique! I am going to double your fee. You are easily worth it.” The Comte announced.

“You will need to learn some new songs, but that should be easy enough. We have a few bards on staff and I’m sure they could teach you the songs and give you advice on how to perform.”

Asala learned quite a few songs in the week that she was practicing, but there was one song that stuck in her head and she wanted to play with. It was called Magic.

The dining room had been set up much like the palace would be set up only smaller in scale. The tables were arranged around the floor with a corner set aside for the musicians and her. Her audience was made up of her comrades and a few of the servants.

The band began to play a steady, sensuous and eerie beat and rhythm.  Asala was now very comfortable with her singing and performing and she immediately started to slowly and suggestively strut around the room, her eyes never leaving Alejandro.

Come take my hand
You should know me
I've always been in your mind
You know that I'll be kind
I'll be guiding you

Building your dream
Has to start now
There's no other road to take
You won't make a mistake
I'll be guiding you

You have to believe we are magic
Nothin' can stand in our way
You have to believe we are magic
Don't let your aim ever stray
And if all your hopes survive
Your destiny will arrive
I'll bring all your dreams alive
For you

As she works the room she sits on Antaam’s lap who coincidently was sitting next to Alejandro. She palms Antaam’s chin as he smiles. Alejandro will not look at her, so she slowly and gently takes a hold of his hand and lets out a little jolt of electricity. Startled he looks up at her as she gives him a mischievous smile and winks at him while slowly strutting away from him. He can’t help but smile at her too and chuckled to himself.


From where I stand
You are home free
The planets align so rare
There's promise in the air
And I'm guiding you

Through every turn I'll be near you
I'll come anytime you call
I'll catch you when you fall
I'll be guiding you

You have to believe we are magic
Nothin' can stand in our way
You have to believe we are magic
Don't let your aim ever stray
And if all your hopes survive
Your destiny will arrive
I'll bring all your dreams alive
For you

(Magic, by Olivia Newton John 1980)

 

“You are so ready.” Olaf told her.

“Hey that wasn’t fair. How come they got all the attention?” Anthony protested with a faux frown.

“What did you think Ale?” Asala asked.

“Y…You were w…wonderful.” Alejandro stuttered.

“We leave for the palace tomorrow so everyone get a good night’s sleep.” Lacuna added with an air of excitement that she just could not contain.

Chapter Text

The Plan

 

Asala was always a skeptical person, but she had to admit that the comte’s people were very enthusiastic. A very large mix of people worked the Winter Palace, but for the most part the majorities were elves. They all told her that the comte abhorred slavery and was doing his best to try and free as many people as he could. Asala could never understand how someone could desire own a person like a piece property. She also knew that people worked to their utmost ability when they were well paid and treated. Tevye and Lacuna were unbelievably talented and they sincerely loved Comte Pierre.   It was pretty easy to see why.

 

The comte was very personable and not an uppity type like most nobles that she’s met. He and his servants were more like a family with the comte as the father figure and Lacuna definitely the overbearing mother figure. They reminded Asala of her merc band.

“Asala!” The comte called to her with an enthusiastic tone.

“You own this place?” Asala inquired as she stared at the cavernous ballroom with awe.

“Yes, yes I do. Magnificent isn’t it?” Asala could hear the pride in his voice.

“It most certainly is your lordship.” Asala responded. “Was it always this grand?”

“It’s always been big, but the grandness is because of the hard work and talents of my staff.” He said.

“Walk with me.” He tells her.

“I was thinking of having two celebrations here.”

“Why two?” Asala was curious.

“The first one would be the one we always have for the nobles and empress, but I was thinking of adding a commoner’s ball for the people who actually keep the empire afloat. I’m thinking that the second event is what that bastard would show up to, especially when the nobles start passing around the word about you.”

“You really think I’m going to make that kind of an impression?”

“My dear, you are as unique as they come. A beautiful Qunari goddess with the voice of an angel, you tell me if you are not unique.” The comte asked rhetorically.

“No, you’re right. Even among my own I am different, but back to this slaver. How do you know he will show to the commoner’s event and not the noble’s?”

“We will do everything we can to promote the event. I already have my people out passing leaflets to everyone and posting the event on the town boards. It will be first come first served.” He explains.

“If I were him, I would try to get into the noble’s event because it is what would be least expected. I say we keep a lookout for him at both events because he has already proven to be an elusive and crafty character.” Asala tells him. “Do you have a description of him?”

“Tevye is one of the few people on Thedas who has seen him and lived. His whole family was captured by him while he hid on the roof of his home in Montfort. No one knows his real name, but Tevye says he will never forget his voice or face.”

“Then Tevye will have to be at the entrance to do the identification. We will also have to make sure that there is only one way in.” She tells him.

“I will have my guards everywhere and at every entrance.”

“Do you have any artists that could sketch a picture of this person from Tevye’s memory?” Asala asked.

“That is a fantastic idea!” The comte exclaimed.

“Then have all of your guards take a look at it so they could at least have an inkling of what this person looks like.”

“You are worth your weight in gold madame. Lacuna is going to get a raise for finding you.”

“I can tell that she is indispensable to you.” Asala smiled.

“So let’s get this plan finalized. I am to sing and perform for the nobles and the commoners while your men and mine screen all of the guests for this scoundrel?”

“Yes.”

“What do we do when we find him?” Asala asked.

“He should be captured with as little fanfare as possible. I do not want to disturb my guests.” The comte explained with a worried look.

“If he is as elusive and crafty as you say, I don’t think he will go down quietly. We need to plan for that as well.”

“We will keep a tail on him the entire event and capture him when he tries to leave.” The comte responded tentatively.

“That is very risky. You are giving him a window to escape by waiting.” Asala protested but then had a brighter look on her face.

“If you can make sure he is positively identified and sitting at one of the tables closest to me, I can guarantee you that no matter where he goes I will be able to track him.” She tells him.

The comte looks puzzled but pleased. “How?”

Asala gets real close to the comte and takes a long whiff of him. She points to her nose with a smile and tells him, “I can find you anywhere now. It’s just another thing that makes me unique.”

“You can track like a dog?” The comte looks at her with a surprised expression.

“Better than a dog.” She tells him. “Just ask my brother.”

“Then we will have to make sure he sits at one of those tables.”

“Also, make sure that only your most trusted staff knows this plan because it could backfire if the wrong person knows what we are up to.” Asala clarified.

“The plan is simple and if he does show we will catch him.”

 

The Nobles

 

Trying to identify anyone during the noble’s event was just impossible. Everyone had a mask on and some of them had full face masks on. Tevye to his credit helped greet every single guest and stated that he did not recognize any of the voices. If the target changed his voice in a slight way maybe Tevye wouldn’t recognize him, but Tevye said that he wasn’t seen when his family was taken so it would make sense that he wouldn’t try to change his voice.

Asala’s attire looked like it was from one of those steamy novels from the author Varrick Tethras. A simple, black sequin dress that again hugged her figure fit her perfectly. A plunging back and a slip that was cut again to mid-thigh on the outside of both legs allowed her to move more freely than she would have thought. Her hair was once again straightened and left to plunge down her back like a black waterfall. The laced black dragonling leather heels made her tower over everyone even more. Asala’s claws were painted silver and her make-up was a simple black lipstick and eye shadow with liner. Her horns were adorned with obsidian rings containing many small crystals that accentuated her silver colored eyes. Her simple black mask did not cover her face at all and just accentuated her make-up and eyes. She wore large obsidian earrings and bracelets.   All of this coupled with her golden skin made everyone in the dressing room gasp.

“The Goddess? Really? Who the hell thought of that name?” Asala remarked

“The comte will take credit, but I think Alejandro muttered it silently to himself during one of the meetings to give you a performer’s name.” Lacuna told her.

“Asala? Are you ready?” The comte entered the room and asked her.

“As ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s get this over with.” She told him as she walked toward him in heels that she had practiced walking in for hours at a time during the past week. “Do we have a target?”

The comte looked at her and frustratingly shook his head. “Unfortunately no. Tevye said that he did not recognize any voice, but he did say there were some whom he did not recognize from past events.”

“There is a Magister from Tevinter by the name of Gereon Alexius and his two guests. One of which is an elven male. They were invited by the Empress herself as a way to ease tensions between Orlais and Tevinter.”

“Who else?” Asala asked.

“Some nobles from the Marches and Antiva, but they were not accompanied by any elves.” He tells her.

“Are they sitting up front?”

“Yes, you will not be able to miss the magister and what I assume are his personal guards.” He expresses to her. “He along with the Marchers and Antivans will not be wearing masks.”

As the Comte and Asala speak about the guests, Antaam and Olaf walk in. Full black masks along with a black hooded cloak made them look very intimidating. Black shirt, pants and shoes completed the outfits. They were obviously intended to look like her body guards.

“Are you ready there Goddess? Or is it The Goddess?” Olaf playfully asked her with the emphasis on the word THE.

Asala shoulder bumped him lightly to express her faux displeasure. “You are too much Olaf.”

“These clothes are much more functional sister.” Antaam said in his usual monotone style.

“Well you guys certainly look the part of don’t fuck with me.” Asala stated with an impressed tone.

“Shall we?” She took both of their arms and walked out of the dressing room and down the corridor toward the ball room with them. She could hear the last performers finishing up their song as she walked.

When the doors opened to the main ballroom, Asala was not ready for what greeted her. There were hundreds of people drinking, dancing, conversing and just having a good time. As she walked toward the main floor the entire room went quiet.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN IT IS MY PLEASURE TO INTRODUCE TONIGHT’S MAIN PERFORMER. PLEASE GIVE A ROUND OF APPLAUSE TO ‘THE GODDESS’.” She was announced with such fanfare and everyone started to clap.

Down on the main floor she could make out Alejandro in a full silver mask with a beautifully gaudy silver and gold outfit sitting at one of the front tables. He was speaking to one of the Marcher nobles. That’s strange she thought to herself. She also noticed that Jason and John were working the upper floor. Anthony was probably stealth-fully working his way around all of the critical places such as the entrances and outside areas.

Then her eyes met Gereon Alexius’ and he visibly gulped. She could hear him as he silently said to himself under his breath “High Female!” What does that mean? She gave him a seductive smirk as she swayed past him and his guards to get to the performer’s area all the while getting a good scent of him and his guards. Do all Tevinters smell good? She thought of her friend Cassian. She turned and the amount of people in the room waiting to hear her sing made her feel a little tense. She looked over to the musicians and nodded to them.

Her voice seemed to do the impossible. It filled the entire ballroom. She of course started with the chantry song “The Dawn will Come” and everyone in the room was tearing with the exception of Alexius. When she was done with the song, the crowd roared its approval and not a single person remained seated while they gave her an ovation worthy of any monarch. Alexius could not stop leering at her. Bless you Tevye.

When the crowd finished their ovation she began her next number which was ‘Magic’ and she was already going to flirt with Alejandro. She got a good look at the noble he was talking to and there seemed to be a semblance to Alejandro. She is definitely related to him. Of course Alejandro was trying to hide while she teased him for a short while before moving on to Alexius. She sat on his table as she sang and could feel the uneasiness of his guards, but he calmed them. He never took his eyes off of her. She finished the song looking straight at Alexius and could almost see him smirk.

She continued to perform now with the confidence of a veteran bard.   She sang four more songs and at the end of the show she bowed and thanked them all. The nobles went berserk giving her a standing ovation that lasted a lot longer than she thought it would. They mobbed her and it seemed that everyone wanted to talk to her. She was polite as she greeted and smiled her way through the crowd while Olaf and Antaam kept everyone at arm’s length.  As she tried to get back to her dressing room the crowd began to part and to Asala’s surprise the Empress herself walked over to her. Asala bowed her head as it was customary.

“Lady Adaar that was wonderful. I never knew that the Qunari could produce such an elegant and graceful beauty as you.” Celine remarked.

Asala bristled at the word Qunari, but she knew that most people were ignorant and that would include the Empress of Orlais. “I’m glad you enjoyed it your Majesty.”

“Please you must come and join me at my table as my guest.” Celine demanded in a soft tone, but there was absolutely no way she would accept a refusal.

“Of course your Majesty.” Asala replied and followed the Empress up to her table with Antaam and Olaf in tow. She turned to them and said. “Go mingle, I will be fine.”

As the night wore on, she must have heard the words Qunari, Oxman, barbarian and all other sorts of colorful words used to describe her. She kept the smile on her face and continued to be pleasant, but her patience was starting to run out. Thankfully the Empress stood up to retire to her room which gave Asala the all clear to get up and gracefully take her leave of them. Pompous arrogant bastards, she was steaming inside. As she walked to her dressing room she heard someone yell for her. “Mistress Adaar! Please may I speak with you?” It was the noble that Alejandro was seen talking with.

“What is it my lady?”

“I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. My name is Lucille Trevelyan and I am Alejandro’s aunt.” She told Asala.

“So another secret comes to light.” Asala remarked.

“So it would seem, but I am not here to take him back and I will not tell anyone that I saw him here. He is my favorite nephew and I want to make sure he is in good hands.” Lucille stated with a lot of concern on her face.

“I won’t let anything happen to him.” Asala smiled at the older woman. “So Alejandro is a noble?”

“Yes, but because he is a mage he was stripped of his nobility and put in the Circle at Ostwick. I do not want him going back to the circle. I see him so happy now and that makes me feel better.” She explained.

“He told you he was happy?” Asala asked with a slight smirk starting to form.

“He could not stop talking about you the whole time I was with him. I watched the way you teased him during your song and the way his neck started to turn red. I just wanted to plead to you not to hurt him. He has been through a lot in the circle. I know he was harmed there in some way he will not tell me. I don’t think that he could handle anymore adversity from someone he considers a friend.” Lucille explains with the look of a concerned mother.

Asala looks into Lucille’s eyes and moves closer to her so that she could embrace the diminutive woman. “I would never hurt him. I liked him from the first moment I met him. So don’t worry, he is safer with me than with anyone else he could possibly be with.”

“If you’ll excuse me my lady I have to get back to my dressing room before they have a fit.” Asala excused herself with a smile. “It was really nice to meet you Lucille.”

Asala followed her nose outside to where she found Magister Alexius and his two guards. They were mounting their horses and it was apparent that they were about to leave. “Magister Alexius! Please, may I have a word with you?”

“Of course my dear girl, what is it that you need?” Alexius’ smile was that of one who knew he had something that was desired.

“Forgive me my lord, but when you first saw me I heard you whisper to yourself ‘high female.’ I’ve never heard someone describe me as such.” She asked him with a look of almost desperation.

“Ah my dear, yes you are. Your race has many secrets they do not wish to let out from their control. I will make a deal with you my girl. I invite you to my estate in Minrathous where I will explain to you your heritage and bloodline.”

“Let me give you a little tid bit of information about your…mmmm….condition. You are rare and I would even say unique my girl. Every high female born under the Qun is killed immediately. You are the only one I have ever seen alive. You are almost fully grown as well.” Alexius explained.

“It’s safe to assume that you are a mage as well?” He asked her and she nodded.

“High females are the most powerful beings short of high dragons and you my girl are the Qun’s biggest fear because once you’re fully developed you will be able to do things with the other members of your species that they will not be able to stop or control. Alas I have said enough. You have an open invitation to my estate and I will explain the rest there, but I will also need a favor in return for this knowledge.” He again looked at her with lustful eyes, but the heart rate was steady and his scent was not of lust.

“What do you need me to do?” She asked

“Think of it like I’m hiring you for a job. I will pay you with the knowledge you seek and you will take care of a thorn in my side.” He told her with an almost despondent expression.

“Please don’t get yourself killed either. If the Qunari knew you existed, you would become their priority to eliminate. So watch yourself and trust no one.” He told her.

“Then I will see you in Minrathous.” She told him with a smile and with that he rode away with his guards.

Asala wanted to follow Alexius back to Minrathous. He seemed to know a lot of details about the Qunari. She was dreading the favor he would ask of her, but she needed to know. She walked back into the palace and was met by Anthony at the entrance.

“That man was Magister Gereon Alexius. He seems to be a good man for a Magister.” He tells her. “I’d still be careful with him Asala.”

“What’s his claim to fame?” She was truly curious.

“He’s a reformer. Supposedly and wants to free the slaves of Tevinter. Don’t think he will succeed, but at least it’s good to know that not all Tevinters as boogeymen.” Anthony sounded like he was holding some reverence for the man.

“Did we find a target? Anything?” She was back to business.

“No unfortunately nothing has turned up. I’ve watched every single person enter and leave this place and no one fit the description from Tevye.” He told her.

“Well we have another week until the commoner’s ball. Maybe he’ll show then.”

Asala returned to the ballroom and the music was winding down and there were a few people still dancing on the floor. She could see Lucille dancing with Alejandro and she smiled. Olaf and Antaam had taken their masks and cloaks off and were chatting it up about what she assumed was combat techniques. Jason and John were sitting at a table talking it up with two very attractive elven servants.

Asala sighed and she slowly made her way to the dressing room. “A..Asala?”

“Yes my lord?” She knew it was Alejandro.

“I…I’m s…sorry I didn’t tell you before.” He said as he took off his mask revealing the blushing red cheeks.

She looked down at him into his deep dark eyes. “Ale you don’t need to be sorry. I know that you didn’t trust me, but I also know that you trust me a little bit now right? I will not tell a soul, but I will torture you for my own amusement.” She gave him a predatory look that he avoided.

“Payback is a bitch.” He whispered to himself.

“Come here Ale.” She motioned to him with her finger. She leaned over to him and kissed his lips with a tender peck. “I like you Ale. I like you a lot.” She stood up to her full height and continued to the dressing room leaving Alejandro dumbfounded and red as a tomato. When she got to the dressing room she was shocked to see flowers everywhere.

“Almost everyone that attended left you flowers and a note. You’ll have reading material for the entire night.” Lacuna told her.

The next day the servants were cleaning the whole palace while Asala had a meeting with the Comte. “You my dear were incredible. They will talk about you for years to come. I just wish we could have caught that bastard.” The Comte was a little distraught.

“On a lighter note, I got ten marriage proposals and many invitations to estates all over Thedas, including the Empress herself.” She couldn’t stop giggling while she told him.

“Oh, Asala I had meant to ask you. I’ve commissioned an artist to paint your portrait. I was thinking that you and Antaam could be rendered in a painting and displayed on my wall in the ballroom.”

“That’s a strange request, but okay.” She looked a little puzzled at the request.

“It will be a magnificent addition to my collection.”

“We should plan for the commoner’s ball. It’s only six days away and we need to have everyone ready.” Asala was really too wound up today.

“Absolutely not my dear. You and your band deserve some downtime and I for one wish to celebrate a successful ball.” He demanded. “There is plenty of time to plan for the commoners tomorrow.”

“Your wish is my command your lordship.” She playfully told him.

The food, the drink and the festive atmosphere was intoxicating. Olaf and Antaam were at it again with the combat instructions. Anthony was telling a story about how he broke into a noble’s estate in Antiva and ended up being seduced by the lord’s wife. Jason and John were both too drunk to do anything other than slobber. Asala was feeling quite good with the copious amount of liquor that she had ingested. She watched Alejandro just sit there and not look at her. Oh she would catch him stealing a quick peek at her, but he never maintained the eye contact.

She went to sit with him and he was visibly shaken. “Ale what’s wrong? You haven’t said a word to me since yesterday.”

“I..I don’t know what to do Asala. I have never been with a girl before. You’re so much more than I could have ever dreamed of. I…am so scared of you.” He explained to her as he trembled.

Asala was stunned. Sure Alejandro was awkward, but he was utterly gorgeous. He was never with a girl? “Please don’t be afraid of me Ale. Everyone I meet is afraid of me.” She started to stand when he put his hand on hers.

“I’m not afraid of you in that sense. Y…You r…really are a goddess and I w…would l…love to be with you. T…to lose you is what I am most afraid of. The others tolerate me, but you went out of your way to befriend me and never asked for anything.” He looked into her eyes and smiled gently at her.

Alejandro moved so quickly that it totally surprised her when he kissed her with an aggressiveness she didn’t know he had. “I..I really like you too.” He admitted to her.

Asala smiled and pulled him to her and forced him to sit on her lap while she kissed aggressively. She was pleased to see that he returned the aggression and actually bit her lip. The room went crazy with the men hooting and hollering. Asala smiled and Ale turned every shade of red under the sun.

Chapter Text

AAAAWWWWWWW SHIT!

 

The Commoner’s Ball was a complete disaster. Antaam, Olaf, the Palace Guards and the rest of the crew were running from fight to fight. Asala only got through her first song when a drunken fool tried to rush the entertainer’s area. Asala knocked him out while not missing a beat, but the ensuing melee caused by her action was enormous. She had to stop performing to assist in calming the masses. In the end they had thrown out nearly half of the crowd. One guard was dead, Antaam had been stabbed and four of the assailants were dead and the plan to capture the Tevinter Slaver went to shit. Tevye didn’t recognize anyone and the party was just a total failure. Asala’s dress was ruined with wine stains, blood stains and not to mention that a close slash of a knife exposed her ample breasts during the melee.

She didn’t notice it until the fight was over and everyone just stared at her. She didn’t mind because she was used to being naked, dressing and undressing in front of everyone at her merc band. Anthony to his credit took his cloak off and gave it to her so that she could cover up. Alejandro was frantically working on another guard who had been stabbed in the back. She had to admit that the brawl had been fun, but the death of the poor guard made her feel guilty.

The Comte kneeled over his dead guard with tears in his eyes. “I’m so sorry Jacque.” He whispered as he put his hands over the dead guard’s face and closed his eyes.

The Comte looked so distraught. “This was a complete failure.”

“The idea was a good one my lord. It’s just that things like this are always unpredictable.” Asala put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

“Did he have a family?” Asala asked.

“He…He…has a young son.” The Comte’s tears were streaming.

Asala’s mind immediately went back in time when she lost her parents to the Qunari. The rage started to build inside her. “Were all the instigators killed?” She asked.

“No we have three of them in custody, but two of them escaped.” The Comte answered when Lacuna walked in looking as magnificent as ever.

She covered her mouth with her hand as she walked closer. “Jacque?” She asked as her eyes welled up.

The Comte nodded as he stood up.

 

“Katara! Tal-Vashoth!” The kneeling and bound elf spit at Asala’s feet.

“Viddathari? Ebasit kata itwa-ost.” Asala smiled as she said it. She felt even more rage fill her at the thought that it was the Qunari who caused this disaster.

“They are Qunari spies your lordship. Probably sent here to kill me and Antaam.” She turned to the Comte.

Asala turned to the Elf whose face was filled with intense defiance. “Why? Is it the Qunari way to kill innocent fathers just to get to me?”

The elf said nothing.

As she was talking, Antaam dropped to his knees and began to convulse on the ground. “Antaam!” Saar-qamek! Asala thought to herself. “ALE! Oh Maker please no! AAALEEEEE!” She screamed.

Alejandro runs in and sees Antaam on the floor. “He’s been poisoned. Please you have to try and save him!”

Alejandro immediately starts to work on him. The blinding white magic over the wound is comforting, but she has never seen anyone survive a poisoning from that stuff. Antaam is incoherent and mumbling something about Kaaris not believing him that he won a sparring match with her.

“I need to get him out of here and in a more comfortable place.” Alejandro ordered.

Asala immediately picked him up and took him out of the dungeon. She laid him on her bed and watched him continue to blabber on while frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog. She watched Alejandro work with a combination of potions and magic as he desperately tried to save him.   After what seem an eternity she watched Alejandro collapse from the effort, she picked him up and set him on the couch in her room. Antaam seemed to be doing a little better and was breathing a little easier. Asala looked at the spot where her dress was cut and smelled the poison on her dress. She also smelled the murderer when it seemed that part of his hand rubbed her ruined dress.

So close. She thought, she smiled knowing that the assailant she smelled on her dress was not one of the ones in the dungeon.

She returned to the dungeon to confront the Viddathari. The two elves and one human were now inside the dungeon cells with the human one being beaten by one of the guards.

“Stop!” She yelled.

The guard and the Comte both turned to look at her. “Your Lordship, If you could tell everyone to leave please. I would greatly appreciate some alone time with these murderers.”

The guard was about to protest when the Comte lifted his hand and motioned for him to leave.

“What are you going to do?” The Comte asked.

“You are more than welcome to stay and watch your lordship, but I will make sure these three will give me the information I need and then I will hunt down the others.” Asala stated while never taking her eyes off of the defiant young elf.

“You see your lordship, these are Viddathari. Converts to the Qun and one of the reasons why slavery needs to be gotten rid of.” Asala slowly walked into the cell with the defiant elf. The elf charged her and she quickly sidestepped his attack. As the elf stood she quickly froze his feet to the floor. As he struggled in vain to try to free his feet, Asala walked in front of him and looked him in the eye.

“What’s your nickname sweetie?” She asked with a friendly tone.

The elf spit in her face.

Asala calmly wiped her face, smiled and grabbed the elf’s pointer finger on his left hand, froze it solid and proceeded to pop it right off. No pain just an uncomfortable numbness, she then quickly cauterized the wound with a searing touch of her finger. That was quite painful, but it seems that this elf was used to worse. “You see Comte, in the Qun no one has a real name. They are nothing but a series of numbers, so they all give each other nicknames. I’m sure this cutie has a nickname.”

“Still no nickname? Hmmmm I’ll bet you are Vashedan Saam.” She said as she giggled although she felt she was losing it. She got closer and grabbed his right hand.

Now the elf was trying to pull the hand away desperately. “Oh? Is this your weapon hand?” Asala smiled an evil grin as she said it and started to squeeze. “Your nickname!” She demanded.

The elf could feel the power in the grip. She would crush his whole hand. “Vatari.”

“As in fire?” She asked and he nodded. “So where did your friends go to?”

Again he spit at her and this time she just backhanded him so hard that she broke his neck with the force. Asala was furious. Again they came for her and didn’t care who they hurt or kill. She takes a long smell of his scent and catches the aroma of the second escapee.

“You can do what you will with these other two your lordship. I have what I need to hunt down the other two.” She told the Comte.

“What do you suggest?” The Comte asked.

“They are animals your lordship. They will not reveal anything important through torture, but I will not tell you what to do in your palace.” She told him. “Personally I would execute them in whatever way is most painful. I will send news to you on my results or you won’t hear from me at all because I will be dead.”

With that she left the room and immediately went up to see how Antaam was doing. As she entered the room she noticed that Alejandro was on the floor next to the bed in an awkward position, collapsed again from his effort. She rushed to him and again laid him carefully on the couch.

Antaam was wheezing…he was dying. “Antaam! Please!”

He opened his eyes and looked at her. “I love you sister. Please tell Katoh I’m sorry.”

“You can tell her yourself when we get back.” Asala’s desperation was starting to show.

“Tell her I will always be with her. Tell her she will always be my Kadan.”

“Antaam…Please don’t give up on me.” The tears were not stopping.”

Antaam smiled at his sister. “You know what to do sister.” He let out a slow and relaxing breath and then was totally still.

Antaam was…dead.

The roar came from her inner most bowels. The windows in the room shattered. Alejandro was startled awake as he jumped from the couch. The sound was so primal and savage and…desperate. As the sound of the roar died down, he looked over to see Asala collapsed on the floor on her knees sobbing her eyes out. He rushed to her and put his arms around her as she buried her face into the base of his neck. “I’m so sorry Asala…I couldn’t…” She stopped him.

“I have to go.” She stood and he protested.

“You’re leaving?” He paused. “Please tell me you’re coming back.”

“If I survive, I’ll meet you and the rest of the crew at the Valo-Kas camp. I want you to give my share of the pay to Jacque’s little boy. Take Antaam’s share of the pay and bring it to Katoh. Tell her I am going to make them pay.” She stood up as Alejandro’s grip tightened around her waist.

“Please don’t go.” He begged her as he looked at her with those dark beautiful eyes.

“I have to. Those that escaped are heading back to report that they failed in killing me. They will send more and as you saw they don’t care who they catch in the crossfire.” She told him as he wiped a tear from her cheek.

“Please don’t die on me.” He said with a sad smile.

“I won’t. They are going to regret this.” With that she grabbed her two short swords and leapt out the window.

 

The Hunt

 

Those fools are traveling together. Horseback, oh they are going to make this easy. Asala smiled to herself. Horses also had unique smells and these two were Ferelden Forders. Powerful, fast and best of all not Orlesian. They seemed to be headed down the Imperial Highway towards Lydes. She would have to run to catch them. This didn’t seem to bother her as she was as fast as any horse and had the endurance reserves of a dragon.

She followed the Imperial Highway at a very fast trot. She was setting a pace she knew that the horses would not be able to match. People going in the opposite direction just stared at her as she passed them. A caravan guard actually fired an arrow from his bow as she passed. She dodged it easily, snatched his bow and broke it in two and then gave it back to him. As she trotted the scent grew stronger and stronger.

She continued through the night and finally caught up to the two. The fire was off the road and in a small clearing. There was no mistaking their and their horse’s scent. These were the two that got away. One was a dark skinned human with a large scar running from his left shoulder in a downward angle across his chest. The other was an elven female. She was one of the servants. She thought to herself. That one is going to be saved for last and the Comte will have the last word.

She kept her distance and decided to follow them. She knew that elves had excellent night vision and hearing. She used her sense of smell to follow them through the wooded areas northwest of Halamshiral. She knew they were probably headed for the coast to meet up with a Qunari vessel. She was surprised when they took refuge in a cave close to the coast, but still well within the tree line. Oh she smelled them. There were Qunari in that cave, how many she did not know, but they were there. In her eagerness to get a closer look she almost set off a trap set up on one of the trees. She smelled the scent of a Qunari on it and saw that it was some sort of crossbow set to fire if she hit the tripwire. Nice try. She thought to herself as she settled in the brush and listened to the conversations echoing in the cave.

They were speaking in Qunlat. Good thing her mother made sure she learned it at the same time she learned common.

“The male should be dead by now and I believe the female should be as well.” She heard the human male.

“Are you sure?” That was the deep voice of a Qunari male.

“Yes Arvaraad. They were both poisoned with saar-qamek.” The human responded.

“Excellent work! That female has been a Qunari menace for years. The Arishok will be very pleased!” The Arvaraad said.

“How many did we lose?” He asked.

“Three were captured sir and four are dead.” That was the female elf. “The three captured are probably as good as dead.”

You fucking bitch! You took mt brother!  You took a father from his son! Asala was starting to rage, but controlled herself. She waited the night and watched as they moved out of the cave and started to head north. An Arvaraad, two enormous Stens and a Saarebas male accompanied the two viddathari. They had no idea they were being followed.

They reached the coast by sundown. She watched them from the tree line. They spoke as if they had won a great victory. I can’t wait to see your faces when you know you failed.

“What did she look like Asalita?” The Arvaraad asked the elf.

“She was the most beautiful of your race I have ever seen. Her skin was golden and her horns were as large as any I have ever seen.” The elf said to him.

“She was taller than all of you as well.” The human chimed in.

“That is not possible. Sten here is as big as we get and there is no female in Par Vollen, let alone Thedas as big as him.” The Arvaraad commented.

“Believe it because it is true. Her voice was beautiful as well. It almost feels like we killed an angel.” The elf looked a little shaken.

The Arvaraad put his hands on her shoulder and squeezed. “She has been directly responsible in the deaths of at least twenty of our own. She’s more akin to a demon than an angel.”

The group set up camp next to the tree line and she watched them set traps and then settle down for the night. She watched the guard rotation as the two Stens took turns while the rest of the group slept. She was tired, but she was used to going days without sleep and she could handle it better than anyone else she knew.

The morning came quickly as she watched the Sten on duty send a signal flare into the air. After a couple of hours she watched as a giant dreadnought came into view over the horizon. It was an impressive sight as it slowly anchored a few hundred feet off the beach. She watched as a small row boat was set into the water with another three Qunari males. This was her chance.

She stayed in the tree line. She could feel the power building inside her. FIRE everlasting FIRE BLASTING BEAUTIFUL DEVASTATING FIRE. She could feel the flames inside as they built up to a level of power that she had never used. She had never had this kind of time and continued until she felt the overwhelming feeling to release.

RELEASE!

The giant fireball that streaked like meteor low and fast over the water was the size of a large Bronto. It hit the dreadnought with a tremendously powerful impact. The resulting explosion ripped the ship in half. The secondary explosion caused by the ammunition basically disintegrated the rest of it. The two viddathari were knocked unconscious by the explosion. The rowboat was swamped and the crew were swimming their way to shore. She watched as the the Arvaraad took his rod from his back and along with the Stens charged her. She laughed at them and waited.

She could feel the rod’s effect as they got closer but did not flinch. She knew that her magic was useless now, but it didn’t matter because she rarely got to let loose with her full physical power. The big Stens got to her first with their enormous swords. They came from opposite directions which was smart, but they didn’t know what they were dealing with. As they got within striking distance one went high and the other low. In a move that looked like more of a blur than anything else, she unsheathed her short swords, leapt backwards as the Stens swung and missed her, leapt forward and impaled both Stens in their ribs with her weapons killing them instantly. She quickly sheathed them and glared at the Arvaraad who stopped in his tracks.

She watched as his saarebas moved in front of him. She didn’t hesitate. With the speed of a Halla she charged into the saarebas before he could cast a spell and struck him with a punch that broke the face mask and knocked him unconscious.

“Now it is you and me you murdering scum!” She hissed at him as she unsheathed her swords and walked calmly towards him.

“You filthy Tal-Vashoth!” He charged her with his rod.

She was well aware of the pain caused by that evil piece of equipment. It was meant to keep the saarebas in line through pain compliance. She sliced it into three pieces as he attempted to strike her with it. She then proceeded to behead the arvaraad with a double reverse cross swing of her blades.

She watched as the three Qunari males from the ship made it to where they were walking in the surf towards her. They were unarmed and still in the water. She let loose a bolt of lightning into the water that stopped them in their tracks. She let out another, and another, and another until they were floating face down in the water. She went into the surf and finished them off with her swords.

Her fury had now subsided when she woke the two viddathari. She had stripped off their clothing and bound them both with the rope in the small row boat.

“Was it worth it Asalita?” Asala asked her and of course there was no response.

“Was it worth Jacque’s life or his now fatherless son?” She continued and this time she got a response as the tears started to flow from the elf’s eyes.

“Did you know that he tried to save my brother and got the knife for it? I know you don’t care that you and the Ben Hassrath are responsible for murdering my family and many of my friends. I am glad that they are also responsible for at least some of your pain.” Asala was visibly shaking as she talked to the elf.

“You….” Asala picked the human up by the throat before he could finish what he was saying.

“FILTHY WHAT!!!” Asala screamed as glared at him and crushed his throat. She was so tired and angry. She looked around the beach and the carnage she had caused made her collapse to her knees. The bodies, the blood, the smell of burning flesh and wood, the smell of death, she so desperately wanted to be anywhere but there.

“I…I’m sorry.” The elf whimpered.

Asala looked at her, but felt nothing for her. Antaam was dead, a small innocent boy was now fatherless, a dreadnought filled with Qunari was destroyed and the beach which once was beautiful white sand was black and red with the blood and powder of the Qunari. She sighed.

Asala picked up the elf and put her on one of the horses. “The Comte is going to want to talk to you.”

Asala proceeded to take the mask, chains, shackles and harness off of the still unconscious saarebas. She quickly slashed the stitching off his mouth as well.

She waited for the saarebas to wake. Wake he did and he ended up being one of those sad beings that could not bear being outside the Qun. He cast his fire spell and was engulfed in flames. Asala shook her head thinking that at least his last act was his own and not the Qun’s.

The trip back to Halamshiral was quick and uneventful. The Comte ran out of the palace to see her.

“Asala! Thank the Maker you are alright.” He seemed genuinely happy to see her.

“This is her.” Asala lifted her off the horse and dropped the elf unceremoniously on the ground.

“Lyla? Why? What have I ever done to deserve your wrath?” The Comte was so distraught at the sight of elven viddathari.

“She goes by the nickname Asalita.” Asala coldly stated.

“Did Alejandro tell you what I wanted done with my share?”

The Comte nodded. “This has been the worst time of my life.” He looked at the elven woman. “Will you at least tell me why?” He begged her.

“You cannot stem the tide.” She told him as she started to sob.

“I want her dead before I leave.” Asala said in a cold and calculating manner.

The Comte was shocked at Asala’s coldness. “Why?”

“I cannot risk her escaping and telling anyone about me.” She explained and he seemed to understand.

The elven viddathari was beheaded behind the palace with little fanfare and Asala sadly took her leave of the Comte and his staff. Lacuna was in tears as she embraced Asala. Tevye could not be consoled either.

“Asala, I know that you gave your share to Jacque’s son, but I wish to give you something. Please take this and the horses are yours.” The Comte told her as he gave her a small leather pouch filled with sovereigns.

“You will always be welcomed here mistress Adaar.” The Comte told her.

“Thank you your lordship. I will always remember you and hopefully be able to come here under more pleasant circumstances.” She told him and bid everyone good bye.

She turned and led the horses out of the palace gate. With that she was back on the road on her way back to her family. The Valo-Kas.

Chapter Text

She was exhausted. She was emotionally and physically drained. She arrived in Jader two days after leaving Halamshiral. Jader was a small port town. She was hoping to pay for a merchant ship to take her across the Waking Sea to Cumberland. It would slash the trip time back to camp in half.

She could feel the stares. She guided the horses to the docks where one large merchant ship was moored. She approached one of the crewman who was cleaning his dagger. As her shadow totally covered the man he looked up.

“Oh Maker!”   He said as he fell backwards off the stool he was sitting on.

“Please don’t hurt me.” The fear was palpable.

She rolled her eyes in obvious frustration. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just need to speak to your Captain about passage to Cumberland.”

The man stood up and composed himself. “Right, he’s over there.” He was pointing further down the dock.

The Captain did not even flinch. “Two sovereigns for you and your cargo.” He yelled to her.

Asala reached into her pouch and tossed the coins to the Captain.

“Welcome aboard. We leave at midday.” He announced to her.

She loved people like the Captain. He must have seen his share of Tal-Vashoth and Qunari and unlike the frightened crewman; he approached her without hesitation or fear. “You’re responsible for loading your own cargo.” He added.

She proceeded to load the two horses and secure them on the aft deck. She gave the Captain an extra two coins knowing that he did not expect horses. He nodded and had a pleasantly surprised look on his face when he got the coins.

“Is there anywhere to get a decent drink around here Captain?” She asked him.

He responded by pointing to a plain looking square shaped building adjacent to the docks. “It’s the only place.”

Asala shrugged. “Thank you Captain.”

As soon as she walked in, the place got quiet. She looked around and saw that there were some seriously ugly individuals in there. She sat at a table at the far end of the entrance with her back to the wall and waited. A barmaid who seemed to enjoy her job a little too much approached her with a contagious smile.

Asala returned her smile with a sadder version of her own. “Your strongest drink please.”

“Of course.” She answered and quickly returned with a mug filled with some ungodly concoction.

As she drank her foul tasting beverage she began to think about Antaam. I’m so sorry. A tear started to trickle down her cheek. This was the first time she had lost someone under her command. Not just anyone though, Antaam was such a childlike and enthusiastic Tal-Vashoth. She could feel that he was shedding the Qun as the time went by. Sparring with him and teasing him was their thing. She missed him. She let out a giggle. How does it feel to be a man? What an insult! She laughed while crying at the same time. His smile the first time he heard her sing came to her thoughts. The pain was just too much and she slammed her fist onto the table, shattering it into splinters.

“Are you okay Sera?” The now fearful barmaid asked her with some concern.

“I…I’m sorry. I’ll pay for the table. Please just let me be.” Asala answered her quietly as she lost herself in happy thoughts of her dead comrade.

She finished her drink, left the tavern and boarded the merchant ship. True to the Captain’s word, the ship released its mooring lines at noon and they sailed towards Cumberland. It was a couple of days sail from Jader and she decided she would try to sleep for most of it.

Her sleep was not deep as she really didn’t trust any of the people on the ship, but it was still nice to look at the sky and relax for a change. It was a smooth trip and she thought to herself how much Antaam would have loved to watch the crew in action. They were a picture of efficiency and teamwork. They were almost Qunlike.

“Did you hear about that Qunari dreadnought that exploded just south of Val Royeaux?” One of the linesman handling the aft sail asked his comrade who was working the same sail with him.

“What in the Maker’s name was a Qunari warship doing so close to the capital?” His friend responded.

“Paul says that they were getting ready to launch an invasion.” The linesman said while quickly glancing over at her as if inviting her to converse with them.

“Usually they operate in these areas to pick up and drop off spies.” She indulged them. Might as well let them in on the truth. The more people knew about the hunters and spies the better.

Not missing a beat and perfectly setting the aft sail he commented. “Spies? No offense my lady but your people are way to noticeable to be spies.”

Asala smiled at the burly human. “Usually their spies are elven or human like you. You do know that there are elves and humans that are Qunari right?”

The man looked shocked. “Really? Why would an elf or human want to serve the Qunari?”

“They are mostly former slaves or they are born in Qunari lands. They believe in the Qun as strongly as any of my race. They are called Viddathari.” She continued.

They were now listening to her totally. “You must be Tal-Vashoth.”

“I’m impressed. Where did you learn that?” She asked.

“We take on many passengers and sometimes your kind needs passage to Jader or West Hill. They all seem to want the same thing.” He answered.

“Oh, what’s that?” Now Asala was the curious one.

“Every one of them would say that they wanted to get as far away from their native land as possible.” He answered.

“That’s because those dreadnoughts also carry hunters who kill Tal-Vashoth because they left the Qun.” She lowered her head and sighed.

“It’s funny really. Those in the Qun say that it is not for everyone. They fail to tell you that if it’s not for you they turn you either into a mindless laborer or kill you.” She leaned back against her bags.

 

Cumberland was a little bit bigger than Jader, but not by much and she did not plan on staying. Immediately after unloading her horses and gear she started her trek toward the Valo-Kas camp. She ignored all the stares, comments and fear.  The road east led directly into the Planasene Forest and her home. The Maker must have felt some mercy for her as it was a very uneventful trek into the forest. Once in the forest she followed the familiar route toward the camp until.

“HOLD!”

“Ashaad!” Asala ran to him almost receiving an arrow until he recognized her.

She didn’t care as she embraced her brother. “Can you take the horses? I want to see Shok.”

“Consider it done sister.” He smiled. “Welcome home.”

As she entered the wooded camp proper she saw Shokrakar talking to Katoh and Cassian. Asala slowly walked toward them, when Shokrakar turned and saw her. Asala’s face couldn’t hide how sad she was and that Katoh was there as well made it worse. Asala broke down as Shok pulled her into a powerful embrace. “Let it out my friend. It is always difficult to lose a friend. Let it all out. We are here and you are safe now.”

They held each other for a good minute when Asala turned to Katoh.

“He said he loves you and that you will always be his Kadan.” She relayed Antaam’s message as Katoh broke down into her arms.

Katoh looked at her with her beautiful golden eyes filled with tears. “Did you avenge him?”

“I…I did…” Asala looked away from Katoh. “So much death.” She whispered to herself.

“How…many crewmen man a dreadnought?” Asala asked with a look of dread.

“There are probably about one hundred with the crew and soldiers. Why did you have something to do with that Qunari dreadnought that exploded near Val Royeaux?” Shokrakar asked her as the news of it traveled very quickly.

Asala gave her a thousand yard stare. “I killed them. I…I killed them all.”

Shokrakar, Cassian and Katoh looked stunned. Katoh rushed to her sister’s side and embraced her with all her might.

“H...How did you…” Shokrakar began to ask and was clearly shaken.

“Cassian…” Asala spoke very unsteadily. “The fireball I launched at that ship…” She continued as her thoughts drifted to the sight of the explosion with the bodies, blood and body parts flying through the air. “It was enormous.” She started to breakdown as she thought of the Arvaraad and the two Stens she killed up close. “Why do they force me to kill? Why can’t they leave me alone?”

Cassian quietly and gently took Asala’s hand. “You are not at fault my dear. Everything that happened is because of them, not you.”

Asala looked at her magical mentor and let out a sad smile. “You are one of the most beautiful people I know, inside and out. You would never do anything to hurt someone unless they were in the process of hurting you or your friends.” He continued.

She looked at Cassian while he spoke and smiled kindly at her friend. “What I did to those people…the oarsmen never harmed me. I…I’m a mass mur…” Cassian interrupted her.

“Asala! You have to understand that they are a part of that powerful killing machine. Ask the ship captains and port cities that were bombarded by them if they felt bad for the oarsmen who were positioning the ship to destroy them. Ask the people killed by the hunters and spies they transported.” Cassian seemed to be getting angry with her.

“I would have never taught you if I thought you were an indiscriminate killer. Shit girl! Me and Shok were arguing that you were too soft to lead.” Cassian colorfully told her.

“He’s right girl. I have never seen someone so adept at killing and yet so hesitant to do so, even when it is absolutely required.” Shok added.

Katoh silently agreed by nodding and gently taking her hand.

The gesture by Katoh who is normally so shy and reserved meant more to Asala than any of the words spoken by Shok and Cas. “I’m so lucky to have you guys.” She felt a little bit better.

“Tonight drinks are on me. I brought quite a few bottles of Orlesian Cabaret for us to celebrate Antaam.” Asala spoke with the conviction of someone who would not take no for answer.

“ASALA! There you are!” Tully peeked into the tent while being his boisterous self.

“Captain please can’t you see that she is not…” Shokrakar started but was stopped by Asala with a wave of her hand.

“Captain it’s nice to see you again. I trust your crew is back with you.” Her thoughts immediately went to Alejandro, beautifully shy and awkward Alejandro. She thought about how he was the first to comfort her when Antaam died, how he worked to save Antaam to the point of collapse.

“Well about that, they all came back save Alejandro.” Asala’s heart dropped.

“What do you mean? Where is he?” Asala desperately asked him.

“Oh, You didn’t know? He works for you now. He’s at the sparring area with the rest of my crew working on Kaaris’ shoulder.” Tully told her.

Asala got up and rushed her way out of the tent and to the sparring area. Kaaris was sitting on a bench where Alejandro was yelling at him. “Are all Tal-Vashoth so stubborn? Stop moving your arm! You are going to reinjure your shoulder if you don’t stop MOVING!”

For that moment Asala forgot about everything else. She watched him working on Kaaris’ shoulder with the same intense look he always had when he was healing someone. She couldn’t hide her grin when he looked over and saw her.

“A…Asala. I…knew you would come. I knew it.” He said as he ran to her and embraced her. She returned the embrace while lowering herself so she could hold his face close to hers.

He pulled away to look at her and looked unsure of what to do next. She decided for him and pulled him into a deep and passionate kiss. As he returned her passion with his own, she felt the moment for what it was and for once forgot all about the awfulness of the recent events.

“I missed you Ale.” She said through the kissing.

“I was so afraid I would never see you again.” He countered.

“Hey! Get a tent already.” Kaaris cheerfully yelled.

Asala smiled at the big poet. “What happened to your shoulder?”

“That big human is sneaky and stronger than I thought.” Kaaris admitted and pointed.

“Olaf actually taught Antaam a few tricks that he used to beat me in a sparring match.” She confessed.

“Antaam made you quit?” Ashaad asked with an astonished look.

“I passed out right after I broke his leg.” She continued. “He couldn’t keep a shit eating grin off of his face for the remainder of the trip and Ale here couldn’t stop yelling at me.”

Ashaad smiled at thought. “I think we would all have that grin if we attained a victory over you.”

To her surprise Olaf snuck up on her with a tear rolling off his bruised cheek. “I…I wanted to say that he was a great student and became my friend during that trip. I will miss him greatly.”

She pulled the big human into a powerful embrace. “Easy Asala, I can feel my ribs are about to pop.”

She pulled away quickly not wanting to hurt him and saw him chuckling. “You’re terrible!” She playfully told him as she lightly punched his arm.

So they spent the rest of the day and a good part of the night celebrating their deceased comrade. The drinks and stories flowed freely. Asala laughed a lot at all of the stories.

“I finally got him to insult me.” She said.

Shokrakar and Kaaris spit their drinks. “What?!” They asked in unison.

“Yup. He asked me how it felt to be a man.” Asala elaborated.

Kaaris and Shokrakar broke out into uncontrollable laughter. “The best insults are always rooted in some truth.” Kaaris teased her.

Asala smirked at the big bruiser. “You shouldn’t talk about manhood with your record.”

Cassian was absolutely trashed. “Shokraaaaaakaaaaarth…the most be…be…beautiful name in the worlth!!!” He slurred excitedly as he sat on Shokrakar’s lap while she turned all shades of blue.

Cassian started to nuzzle Shok’s neck and she smiled. “Cassian! Stop!” She yelled.

That only emboldened the Tevinter to be even more daring as he kissed her neck and then bit her resulting in Shok lifting him up over her shoulder and announcing. “We are retiring.”

“Suure you are boss.” Kaaris joked.

The night wound down quite quickly and within the hour all of the Valo-Kas minus the guards were in their tents. “Ale? Did you get a tent to stay in?” Asala asked him.

“I did.” He said sadly. “I’m staying with Cassian, but I hear he is staying with Shokrakar.”

She let out a snort with her laugh and caught herself just in time to see Ale smile.

“So you have a tent all to yourself. Even I don’t have that. I’m staying with Katoh.”

“You could stay with me if you want?” Ale nervously asked her.

Asala’s insides were sent fluttering as the normally outgoing woman was suddenly speechless.  She gazed into his black obsidian pearls as he slowly cupped her chin and nervously leaned in to brush his lips with hers. It was so light, slow and tender. He then nuzzled her nose with his own and she could get a whiff of his scent. His own perfumed scent of embrium mixed with the cabaret of his breath were taking over her senses. He seemed a lot more confident with his advances now that he had a little alcohol in him. Then he stopped suddenly.

“I…I’m sorry Asala, I’ve never done this before. I’ll…” He started to apologize when she put her index finger on his lips and shushed him.

She took his hand and led him to his tent which was unoccupied and sat him down on the bedrolls. She sat opposite of him cross legged and took hold of both his hands. She could feel his heat and his heartbeat was through the roof. “We’re going to play a little game ok?” She told him softly.

Ale nodded to her nervously.

“Strip to your smalls.” She ordered him as she stripped off her shirt and pants.

“Ok.” She could barely hear him as he took off his shirt, pants and shoes to reveal the body of a human god. He had many scars on his back and chest though and that caught her eye immediately, but she did not say anything. He noticed that she paused and looked away from her. She immediately took a gentle hold of his chin and turned his head so that he was again facing her.

“Don’t be ashamed, we all have scars, but that is not what we’re here for now. Ok?”

He nodded.

“The game we’re going to play is called the Explorer.” She told him. “I will explore you and you will explore me. I…”

He didn’t even wait for her to finish as he leapt at her with an almost vicious abandon and kissed her so aggressively as to force her onto her back. The warmth and suppleness of his human skin slowly kindled the fire within her. He was aggressive, but clumsy as she reversed their positions with ease and pinned him down to the bed roll. “Where only supposed to be exploring.” She hotly said to him almost out of breath as she looked at this beautiful example of humankind.

“I thought you said you never did this before?” She pulled him to her breasts as she put her nose into his jet black hair smelling the embrium and dawn lotus oil he used to keep his hair straight. He was intoxicating.

“Cassian gave me…” She smiled as she aggressively interrupted him with a kiss of her own. Her tongue slowly penetrating his mouth as it explored every inch of his. His tongue softer and wetter than her own danced an almost antagonistic number with hers as if to defend its territory from the longer and stronger, but not unwelcomed intruder. The taste of him was almost too much for her as she let out a growl that made Ale flinch. He looked into her eyes as she smiled a toothy grin at him, which thankfully was returned by him as he attempted to pull himself up to resume the oral wrestling match.

His manhood was fully at attention and she noticed. “Don’t move. Tell me no if you are uncomfortable. Ok?”

She began by nibbling his neck and occasionally making him whimper with a little more than a nibble. As she slowly nibbled and licked her way down, tracing the scars on his chest with her tongue, she could feel his body quivering. She’s starts to slowly slide her hands across his stomach with her claws lightly leaving a pink trail on his unbroken skin. She could sense his pleasure by the way his breaths were coming in a deep and quivering rhythm.

“Asala! Stop…” Ale shakenly yelled as she could feel him convulse in the ecstasy of release. She held him tight and kissed him as he released the contents of his eager anticipation.  

“Well so much for me exploring you.” Asala playfully remarked as she laid next him.

He didn’t miss a beat. “Don’t move.” He ordered her as he mounted her.

She watched him with an eagerness she couldn’t hide as she smiled at him. The first thing he did almost sent her into convulsions immediately. He slowly kissed her forehead and started to gently work the base of her horns with his tongue. She immediately bucked and almost made him fly off of her. She could hear him chuckle as he continued to lick and suck this very sensitive area. She was visibly trembling under him as he moved down to nuzzle with her and plant a tender kiss on her plump and beautiful lips. He continued to her ear and gently nibbled on the point while enjoying the sounds coming from Asala.

Ale licked and nibbled her neck and stopped to pull off her breast strap. He was having a lot of problems with it. “May I?” She asked.

He nodded, but you could see the disappointment in his face that he couldn’t take it off without her help. She quickly unwrapped it and her beautifully large, firm and golden breasts burst into his view as she quickly laid back down. Ale quickly continued as if the breast strap wasn’t an issue. Ale noticed a few things about her as he unrelentingly persisted to pleasure this beautiful specimen of her kind. She was incredibly hard. Every inch of her magnificent body felt like it could take a lot of punishment. Her skin was so smooth and yet he could feel the durability of it. Her muscles were like iron, she was not soft anywhere except her breasts and even they felt substantially more durable than what he imagined human breasts were.

As his thoughts drifted he continued his duty to make sure she was taken care of. His mouth continued to work the amber colored nipples. He nibbled and licked and bit down on it and again Asala almost bucked him off. “You’re not supposed to move.” He teasingly stated. The response was shaky breaths and a hand playing with his hair. “No. Put your hand back.” He immediately ordered.

She complied with a protesting moan and he was down on her stomach. MAKER she is so perfect. He tried to bite into her stomach and only ended up gnawing at her muscles which made Asala laugh. “That tickles…sto…” Of course that was a green light for him to continue, but he didn’t overdo it. He stopped and was now in uncharted territory. Cassian had given him a lot of drunken pointers as he spoke to him about his relations with Shokrakar. He licked the inside of her thigh while persistently taking small bites that seemed to get her moaning. “Don’t stop Ale, pleeeeease…”

She was so moist and her scent was mind-blowing so he made the motion to pull her smalls off and she complied by lifting her hips off the bed roll for him. He slowly slid them off to reveal her beautiful womanhood. It was so moist and swollen as he firmly slid his tongue over her love nub. He was so aroused by her. He licked from side to side and up and down while keeping firm pressure on her lovely essence. “Oooohhhh Ale! Keeep going baby!” His persistent pressure and rhythm was paying off with moaning and writhing from Asala. He finally inserted his pointer and middle finger into her exquisite opening. He hooked his fingers upward to put pressure on a spongey area that Cassian said human females have, and to his delight he discovered that Qunari females have it also. It didn’t take long after that. “OH ALE!! OH MAKER!! ALE BABY I’M…”

She clamped her legs shut, holding his head in place as she released her womanhood all over him. As she came down from her bliss she looked at Ale who was smiling. “Was that ok?” He asked her innocently.

“You are a liar.” She smirked. “You’ve never done this before?” She asked as she pulled him up and turned him over so she was on top again. He was rock hard again as she positioned herself to better guide him in. He slid in effortlessly and the moans they let out were so slow and sensual. “You’re mine now.” She said as she kissed him again.

“Asala!....” It was too late as he convulsed again and she held him tightly as he went over the edge of ecstasy again. She could feel his release and as he finished she collapsed next to him with her arm over his chest. He turned over to her. “I’m going to have to work on that.”

She gave him a playful peck and said in a sultry voice. “We have all night.”

He smiled. “Sounds brutal.”

“You have no idea.” She growled.

Chapter Text

2 years after the Halamshiral Job

When she first got the invitation from Magister Alexius she was very hesitant. It was the Imperium after all. She sent the Magister a letter demanding an official invitation from him and a year later she received her answer.

“Are you fucking crazy!” Cassian told her with a vicious tone.

“Why? You said it yourself. He is a reformer. What danger could I be in.?” Asala asked.

“It doesn’t matter girl. You would be going into the heart of the dragon. The best that could happen is that you get your answer and come back unharmed.” Cassian iterated.

“The worst is that you become an experiment for those sick bastards.”

“I think it is worth the risk.” Asala countered.

“No it’s not!” Alejandro added.

Ever since she met Magister Alexius and he uttered the words “High Female”, she was intrigued. Asala had always been different. In her village she was the only Qunari child. In the Valo-Kas she was the largest and most powerful by far, among a race known for their strength and power. If this magister knew why she was what she was, then she wanted to know.

“Your ideas of Tevinter are really skewed because you’ve never been there.” Cassian continued.

“So what? I have this official invitation from him. Does this not mean anything?” Asala was clearly pissed.

Cassian took the parchment and examined it with a critical eye and was surprised. “It says that you are to be treated as a dignitary.”

Alejandro was also getting upset. “What does that fucking mean Cas?”

Cassian smiled at his friend who only got this animated when it concerned something or someone he cared about. “It means they can’t touch her. It means that Asala and her advisors have the official protection of the Tevinter Imperium and will not only have our protection, but also the protection of the legion.” Cassian looked absolutely stunned.

“Cas are you okay?” Asala asked him.

“The Imperium usually reserves this kind of treatment for heads of state or their representatives. Magister Alexius must really want to speak with you. I think the favor he is going to ask of you is going to be big.” Cassian elaborated.

“Is the parchment legit?” Asala asked.

“From what I can see it is. It has the Magister’s magical seal. That seal is impossible to fake. You see how it continuously changes shape.”

Asala looked at the seal and was amazed. It continuously changed shape from dragon, to nug, to ram, to what appeared to be a man of importance, to a tree, and other shapes. It was so fluid and unceasing. The shapes that were repeated were about twenty in number, but they never seemed to repeat in the same sequence.

“Are they as arrogant as Orlesians?” Asala asked her friend.

“If you thought Orlesians were arrogant, you better get ready for a new level of pompousness. Remember that Tevinter ruled most of the world for a time. Their snobbishness knows no bounds.” Cassian smiled as he said it, as if he was proud.

“So if I took you and Ale, we would be safe according to the invitation?” Asala asked.

“As much as anyone would be safe in the Imperium, which is to say I don’t fucking trust them girl.”

“My love, why do you want to know so badly?” Alejandro added to Cassian’s comment.

Asala looked at her husband, whom she adored. “Love, I need to know. I am so different from everyone, including my own race. I’ve always felt so alone. If I can get answers from the Imperium then so be it.”

“Is your curiosity worth me and our son?”

That hurt her. “Ale, please don’t go there. You wouldn’t…”

“Understand right? You’ve lost so much and you know how it feels. Do you even know what you mean to me and little Antaam? How do you think he and I would feel if we lost you? Alejandro heatedly expressed to her.

Asala’s shoulders slumped and she looked defeated. “I…I just want to know what I am?” She shakenly told Alejandro.

Alejandro closed the distance with his wife and nuzzled her forehead with his lips. “I don’t want to lose you. Don’t you understand that you and little Antaam are everything to me? I would die if anything happened to you or him.”

“I know. I would never forgive myself.” Asala sadly stated.

“Maybe we can get him to tell you and not have to go into the belly of the beast.” Cassian excitedly stated.

“How?” Alejandro frustratingly asked.

“If he really wants to see you and by this formal invitation he does. I think we can get him to tell you what he wants in return for the information you want and then meet him or one of his couriers somewhere near the border for an exchange. Worst thing that could happen is we get nothing, but there is no risk to you girl.” Cassian explained.

“What about the favor? I’m sure it isn’t going to be some cakewalk.” Asala added.

“That could be anything. What would this information be worth to you?” Cassian curiously asked her.

“I just fucking want to know what he meant. He said that I’m a high female and that the Qunari kill my kind at birth. I’m probably the only one in all of Thedas. He also said that I am not fully developed. He said that I would be able to do things to my kind when I was. I’m a little frightened at that last part.”

As the three mages were arguing, Shokrakar walked in with little Antaam and Katoh’s twins trailing her. “What in the creator’s ball sac are you three talking about?”

“Da!!” Little Antaam along with the twins ran to Alejandro as he opened his arms and was basically tackled by the three toddlers.

Asala watched him as he interacted with the children. Alejandro was a natural father. All the awkwardness was gone from the first time she met him. She let a smile out that betrayed her feelings.

“Asala seems to have a death wish. She wants to go to Minrathous to meet with a magister who says he can tell her what she is.” Cassian explained to Shokrakar.

“Whatever you decide I will support you girl.” Shokrakar expressed to Asala.

“You’re not her second Shok. I am.” Cassian iterated to her in a playful tone, but backed off when he received a cold glare from his formidable lover.

“It doesn’t matter. No one supports my decision to go to Minrathous.” Asala said as she scooped up her little one and contemplated the decision she was about to make. She looked at her little boy who was struggling to get out of her grasp so he could play with his two sisters. She pulled him close and nuzzled his neck. She looked into his deep dark eyes and smiled. She put him down and let him play.

“My decision is final and I will meet Magister Alexius in Minrathous. I will not be frightened off by some unfounded fear of a people who are no worse than the Orlesians.” Asala strongly stated.

“So my protests don’t count?” Alejandro said with a disturbingly shaken voice.

Asala was clearly affected by this. “My love, I don’t know why I need to know so badly, but I need to know. The Qunari keep these secrets to control, they kill girls like me just because they are like me. If the knowledge this Magister has can help me better understand my situation, then it is a step in me being more in control of my life and maybe the next girl like me won’t have to go through what I did.”

“They’ve taken everything from me. I will not allow them to take anymore. You and Antaam are my life and if I have to die to protect you two I will.” Asala was adamant.

“I will go by myself so that I don’t risk any of you.” She could see that Alejandro and Cassian were fuming.

“Shok could you please take the children outside?” Asala was beginning to shrink slowly. She knew that she struck a nerve. Shok smiled and started to chuckle as she took the three little tykes out of the tent.

“I am going with you.” Ale said in a disturbingly calm tone. “Cassian can stay here, he’s your second after all.”

“But…” She tried to interject.

“Antaam will be in very good hands and by your logic a lot safer here.” He continued.

“I’m the only one here that knows the city and I’m not going? Ale, you are out of your noble ass mind.” Cassian was also clearly annoyed. “Shok can still run this place better than all of us. If you’re insistent on going through with this craziness, then I need to go with you.”

“Okay, Okay, It will be us three then.” Asala relented. “We should also take a couple of warriors with us.”

“I think Kaaris and Ashaad would be perfect.” Cassian suggested and Alejandro nodded.

“Then it is settled, we leave tomorrow, full battle gear and armor. I want to look as intimidating as possible.” Asala ordered.

 

The Imperial Highway

 

Asala led the troop on a giant of a warhorse while Kaaris and Ashaad were on the flanks and rear of the group on their own massive horses. The Comte was truly a good friend to her and her company. When she sent a letter to him asking about purchasing some of his largest horses, he immediately sent four enormous Frostback Mountain Chargers with a thank you note regarding the capturing of the elven slave trader. Cassian and Alejandro were on more modest Ferelden Forders.

They were an imposing sight on the Imperial Highway. Not a single person or group even commented at their passing. It was a joy. Kaaris even played his own custom made lute to entertain them on the trip while they camped. He even got Asala to sing along with him a couple of times. Not one incident until they came to the Minanter River bridge. Nevarran soldiers guarded the bridge and she could feel their anxiousness.

“Hold there Qunari! What business do you have in Nevarran territory?” The soldier asked.

“We are on a diplomatic mission to the Tevinter Imperium. We are just passing through.” Asala stated very businesslike.

“We have a formal diplomatic decree and invitation signed by Magister Gereon Alexius.” Cassian added.

“That piece of paper means nothing here. You will need to disarm and come with me.” The soldier ordered.

“That’s not going to happen.” Asala glared at the soldier. “I have no time for this foolishness.”

“Kaaris! Ashaad! Dismount!” With those words the two big Tal-Vashoth males got off their horses and drew their weapons.

“WHOAA! WHOAAA!! Asala for fuck’s sake! Stand down!” Cassian yelled as he watched the Nevarrans draw their weapons as well.

Asala wasn’t listening. Her weapons were drawn and she looked like a coiled serpent ready to strike at any sign of aggression by the Nevarrans. “If these fools want to start a war with both the Qun and Tevinter then who am I to stop them?” Asala growled at the soldiers.

That last comment had shaken the soldier in charge of the guards. “Hold! We will sheath our weapons and let you pass. There is no need for bloodshed.” He began to plead.

Asala looked at the handsome guard and winked at him. “Thank you Ser. I know you are just doing what you were ordered, but I do not have time for any delays. I’m sure you understand.”

At the border in the Silent Plains they picked up a Tevinter Escort. The encounter started much like the one with the Nevarrans, but once they saw the official invitation, the soldiers became much more amicable.

It took almost a week to get from the Silent Plains to Minrathous. The stares and comments were coming at a record pace. If Val Royeaux was the glittering jewel of Thedas, then Minrathous was the dark star. The buildings were beautiful in their own dark way. Obsidian seemed to be the stone of choice in the decorative motif of the Tevinter Imperium. Tall and impossibly complex architecture dominated the city. Asala leaned closer to Cassian, “It’s beautiful.”

“I know.” Cassian answered with a hint of sadness.

“You will be announced as visitors to the Magisterium before being escorted to Magister Alexius’ residence.” The lead escort told them.

Asala was in awe. The Magisterium was an unbelievable sight. The silver spire seemed to go on forever. It was a massive structure, circular in shape with many intricate columns supporting four levels and then the spire itself. The images of dragons and Tevin writings were all done in silver which contrasted the obsidian façade.

As they were escorted into the main chamber, a regal looking elf announced them. “Lady Adaar of the Valo-Kas mercenary company for Magister Alexius.”

All eyes were on them. As she scanned the chamber she noticed the glares and one particularly cross looking Magister. “Who allowed these barbarians into our chamber? Seize them!” As the guards surrounded them another voice came from the chamber.

“Stand down! NOW! These are my guests!” Magister Alexius screamed and the guards complied. He turned towards the Magister whom had recently replaced Danarius. “The next time you threaten guests of the Magisterium I will end you!” The cross Magister bowed his head.

“Come my friends, we are going to need a measure of privacy for what I am about to reveal to you.”

Asala and the crew made their way with a very impressive escort to Alexius’ residence. Once they were there Asala cut right to the chase.

“Magister, I would really like to get this business over with. I am not very comfortable being here.” Asala’s uneasiness began to show.

“Nonsense my girl, that show in the Magisterium is as normal as it gets in day here. No one in the city would dare test you now. You are now guests of the Imperium and everyone knows it.” Alexius reassured her as his son Felix walked into the room.

“Oh Maker!” Felix was absolutely startled at the sight of the three enormous Tal-Vashoth.

“FELIX! This is my son Felix and this is my much better half Livia.” Alexius seemed genuinely excited.

“It’s a pleasure Mistress Adaar.” Livia gently took Asala’s hand and kissed it. “It is good you came when you did as we plan to go to Hossberg next week and will be gone for a good portion of the month.”

“Before you got here, Alexius has been like a child waiting for a gift on his birthday.” Livia commented.

“He’s been unbearable. Too bad Dorian isn’t here, he would have loved to have seen this.” Felix added with a chuckle.

“Livia can you make sure the rest of our guests are made comfortable? I need to speak to Mistress Adaar in my private study.” Alexius lovingly asked his wife.

As Asala entered the study she thought of how wonderful it would be to have all these books and the time to read them. “You have a lovely residence Magister.”

“Call me Alexius my dear. I am not one to mince words so let’s get down to business.”

Asala nodded.

“Before I give you what you want, I need an assurance that you will do me a favor.”

“As long as I can reasonably do it then name it.”

“I need you to go to Seheron and retrieve something for me.” Asala’s blood drained from her face as her said the word.

Alexius picked up on Asala’s anxiety. “My dear, you would be in and out in less than a day. You’re skills are more than adequate to complete this simple task and if you do it right, no one will have known you were there.”

“I do not mean to be threatening, but I want the information first and then I will do as you ask. Seheron is about as bad as it gets for me.” Asala iterated.

“I will give you everything you want and add fifty sovereigns on top of it, on one condition.”

“What is that?”

“You will leave for Seheron right after I give you what you want and your companions must stay here until you come back.” Asala was not liking this more and more. Did she really need to know?

“They will be my guests and no harm will come to them, but I need a guarantee that you will do the favor I ask.” Alexius continued.

“If any harm comes to them, my wrath is unquenchable. Just ask the Qunari about the Golden Reaper.”

“I am very aware of your reputation. Please let’s not be hostile as I wish to take a weapon from the Qunari that affects not only Tevinter, but everyone else including you.” Alexius was trying to cool her down.

“Do you know of the Qunari poison…”

“Saar-Qamek.” A shaken Asala interrupted him with a quietly foreboding voice.

“Yes, my network of spies has found a storage warehouse near the town of Alam.”

“You need me to get a sample?” Asala stated.

“Very good my girl. That is all and you are perfect for the job as I know your sense of smell will be able to tell the decoy samples from the real thing.” Asala was stunned that Alexius would know about her acute senses.

“I knew I should have come here alone.” Asala uttered to herself.

“Okay, I agree to this job, but Alexius will you not reconsider keeping my friends as collateral? I would do this job for you regardless of the information you have.” Asala pleaded with Alexius.

“Very well Asala. From what I have seen and heard about you, you are a woman of your word. Your friends will not be kept here, but I have a feeling that they will not leave voluntarily.”

“Leave that to me.” Asala forcefully stated.

“Asala, have you ever heard of the Old Gods?” Alexius approached her with a black leather bound book.

“Only by name. I know nothing of the beliefs.” Asala answered him.

“The old Imperium Religon was based on the worship of the Old Gods like Dumat and Urthemiel. They were dragons of a magnificence and power not seen today. They apparently spoke to the priests and guided them in their endeavors to make the empire into the most powerful force on Thedas.”

Alexius continued. “On a smaller scale, elven and human slaves were unfortunately used to help build the power of the imperium and some mages wished to make these slaves physically stronger so that they could do more work.”

“After much trial and blood, the magisters in charge of this project managed to mix the essence of dragon, human and elf into a new mongrel species. Your race was born my dear, but what these magisters did not understand was that they would not be able to control these beings with just magic alone and some of the bloodiest rebellions in our history occurred because of this.”

“Hundreds if not thousands of these Qunari escaped to the north and some actually made it south into the Arbor Wilds. Little did the Imperium know that they would return with a vengeance.”  Asala was engrossed with Alexius’ words.

“Come look here, see this is a book written about a thousand years ago and this here details the dilemma that the mages were dealing with in controlling the Qunari. Qunari with magical abilities were experimented on and discarded. Then an accident happened that changed everything. In a quest to create the perfect slave and golden female was born. She was much larger than even her brethren. See here, that is the first High Female, she was used as an overseer and see here, she is using her voice in some way to gain compliance from the rest of the slaves. Now it seems they were raised quite differently from the rest as they were all mages. See the Collar here, the chains and this one here is her handler.” Alexius pointed at the illustrations.

“They were treated like Saarebas.” Asala deduced. “So even the mighty Magisters were afraid of them.”

“They were and you are magnificent. Some in the Imperium saw them as the embodiment of the Old Gods. The perfect mix of races worthy of Dumat.” He continued.

“So what happened?” Asala asked.

“Many were killed if not all during the wars and blights that followed. The Imperium lost its hold on Qunari slaves and either killed most of them or they escaped to the north. High Females have not been seen since, until well you.”

“May I touch you here?” Alexius asked her while pointing to her neck.

Asala nodded and Alexius proceeded to prod her neck with his finger and he smiled as he did it. “My dear you are fully developed and have a power I am sure you do not even know about. Your voice is a weapon itself girl. You can use it to control your own.”

“What do you mean control my own?”

“Your voice when used correctly is of a resonance that affects the nervous system of the males of your species. It paralyzes them and there is no counter to it as it penetrates their skin and is not affected by them trying to plug their ears. If you wish we can find out what it is here and now.”

Asala quickly acquiesced. “That would be a very useful tool to have against the Ben Hassrath.”

“Come we will test in my practice chamber.”

“Is it harmful to the person affected by it?” She asked.

“I don’t believe so, but we will not try it on your friends. I’ve requisitioned a prisoner just for this day.” Alexius said with much excitement.

They both walked out of the study and Alejandro quickly approached her. “Well? Was it worth coming here? What did he ask of you?”

Asala gave him a quick nod, but otherwise avoided saying anymore.

“Asala! I’m talking to you, don’t avoid me!” He yelled at her.

She glared at Ale and that stopped him in his tracks, but she softened and said to him. “It is more than worth it. I will explain later ok?” She kissed him tenderly and continued to follow Alexius. “Stay here.”

As they walked to what she assumed was a dungeon Alexius continued his lesson. “Did you also know that you are a breeder?”

“What?”

“Your offspring will be stronger and more robust than even the largest Qunari not born from your loins. You also have the highest chance to produce another of your kind. The first of the Arishoks can trace their line to a High Female, although their blood has been thinned because of their practice of killing your kind as soon as they know.”

Asala thought of her little boy. “What if the father is human or elven?”

“Like I said, you are a breeder and your genes are dominant. The seed is more of a completion for purely cosmetic as the physical traits are dominated by your genes.”

As they enter the dark and damp space below Alexius’ home, the torchlight reveals an emaciated Qunari male shackled to the floor. The fresh scars on his body trouble Asala as some empathy starts to show in her facial expression. He looks up and her empathy leaves her in an instant.

“Katara! Tal-Vashoth!”   He leapt toward her, but was violently stopped by his shackles. She could see his muscles straining against the chains as he struggled to get to her.

She calmly approached him and in her best Qunlat she said to him. “Is there never going to be peace between me and the Qun? Can I not have a peaceful life outside the Qun?”

The Qunari looked like he was about to explode with rage as he continued to struggle against the chains.

“You’re not afraid he’ll get loose?” Alexius looked a little worried.

“Those chains are keeping him alive right now.” Asala was all business. “Let’s get down to the task at hand.”

“Right, what you need to do is to let out a roar. From what I’ve read it sounded like the roar of high dragon. That should really be it.”

She watched the Qunari and all of his rage against the chains. She thought of Antaam, Her ma and da, the dreadnought, she was willing herself into a rage and she could feel it building as she watched this Qunari male who would kill her and all her loved ones just because she was Vashoth. She glared at him with the same evil intent that he glared at her. She then released a sound that reverberated throughout the entire building and even out to the streets.

The roar was deafening. Alexius collapsed onto the floor holding his ears while the Qunari male collapsed into a motionless heap. He was still glaring, but it seemed that he was completely incapacitated. “ASALA! ASALA! Come quick!” She could hear the desperation in Cassian’s and Alejandro’s voices.

She ran up the stairs with Alexius in tow and entered the study only to find Kaaris and Ashaad collapsed on the floor. OH No! She thought with dread in her heart.

Alejandro was already working on them and Felix was helping as well. “They are breathing and seem to be okay.” Ale told her with Felix confirming the same for Ashaad.

“What did you do Father?” Felix looked upset at his father.

“My son. That sound has not been heard for over a thousand years. It is the sound of a High Female. If the writings are correct, the effect should only last a few minutes.” Alexius looked extremely proud of himself.

True to the words of the book, Kaaris and Ashaad began to move and slowly began to compose themselves. “What in the Maker’s Balls happened?” Kaaris asked

Asala smiled as she grabbed her men in an embrace. “I’m sorry. It was my voice.”

Alexius waved her over and back down to the dungeon. “That was incredible! After I do us the favor of getting you the Saar-Qamek, I would like to provide you with an escort up to Hossberg, free of charge.” Asala beamed at the Magister.

“That is not necessary my friend. I’ve already paid for our escorts and we will be fine, but thank you for the offer. It means a lot to me that you would suggest it.”

She walked into the dungeon to find the Qunari male groggy and very unsteady on his feet. He looked into Asala’s eyes and that evil glare came back, but without the physical assault on his shackles. “Your use to us is at an end.” Alexius announced. “End him.” He told his guards.

One cast a spell that surrounded the Qunari in an electric cage that paralyzed him again. A moment later the other ran him through with his long sword. “War is such a dirty business.” Alexius commented sadly.

Asala looked at the remains and felt nothing. She had been through so much personal grief thanks to these people. They got what they deserved.

Asala and Alexius returned to the study. Alejandro approached her. “So? What happened?”

She smiled at her husband. “I am the first High Female to be born and survive in the last thousand years. I won’t go into specifics, but this book explains everything about the Qunari and what I am. Our son is going to be bigger and stronger than even Kaaris according to Alexius. You saw and heard what my roar can do.”

“What does he want from you?” He went right for the jugular.

“Something I would have done for him even if he did not have the information I wanted. He wants me to get a sample of Saar-Qamek from Seheron.” Asala quietly told him.

“Seheron! Are you crazy? You’re playing with fire.” Cassian yelled.

“That poison has killed more of us than their fucking soldiers. If we can get a full sample, we can develop an antidote to it so that we can save more of our own. I know they have the antidote so I know that it can be made.” Asala was secure in what she was saying.

“Antaam would still be alive if we had it. I would be a bad leader if I let this chance go by the wayside.”

“When do we leave?” Ale asked and saw her cringe. “Come on! Alone? Again?”

“You would all only slow me down. This is going to be a quick hit and run operation. I’ll be in and out in less than a day.” She explained.

“You’re impossible! How can you think we would not to help you.” Cassian seemed to be yelling at her the most.

“You can help me by packing up and heading back to the camp.” Asala told him.

“Well we are not going anywhere until you get back.” Alejandro was adamant.

“You know Alexius was going to keep you as collateral, but I convinced him to let you go back. Now you won’t leave?” Asala was pleading to both of them when Kaaris opened his mouth.

“There is no fucking way we are leaving you alone. You’ll need us for the trip back.”

“You can’t ask us to leave you alone Asala.” Ashaad added his two coppers.

“I told you they wouldn’t leave.” Alexius smiled. “Don’t worry they are welcome guests and if they wish to leave they may. I will not hold them no matter the outcome. It says a lot about you that they won’t leave.”

Alejandro rushed her and embraced her. “You’re doing it again.”

“What?” Asala asked him.

“You’re leaving me alone to wonder if I will ever see you again. I can’t deal with this much more.” As the tears started to fall from his eyes he pulled her down and nuzzled her neck.

“I will never forgive you if you die.” As he tenderly brushed his lips on hers.

“I promise you this will be the last time. I’ll be back before you know it.”

“You better.”

Chapter Text

The Raid

That same night Asala accompanied a squad of Tevinter Soldiers along with a couple of Legion Mages to the port of Minrathous. They would leave under the cover of darkness. Alexius’ boys were pretty impressive. They were very well disciplined and marched in step to the docks. The two mages had a much more easy going manner. They talked amongst themselves in hushed whispers thinking Asala couldn’t hear them.

“Why does the Magister trust this Oxwoman? She could easily be working for the Ben Hassrath.”

“He said to follow her orders to the letter. I’ve seen him pissed, so you better watch what you do.”

“I’ve fought her kind for years in Seheron. I’ll not listen to one of the enemy, no matter what the Magister says.”

Asala understood hatred and this was outright hatred. “Then you should fucking love me.” She uttered to the cross mage.

“W…What?”

“I’ve killed more Ben Hassrath than you and the Tevinter Legion combined, so again, you should fucking love me.” Asala was now glaring at him. “You should understand that there is a huge difference between me and the fucking Qunari who would have me collared and shackled just for being a mage.”

The mage was taken aback. “When I bring back that fucking poison that has killed so many of my brothers and sisters as well as your comrades, you should love me even more.” She was smiling at this point and even gave him a wink.

The mage crossed his arms in front of his chest and asked. “What makes you so special?” Not as cross, but still suspicious of her.

“I’ll show you when we get there and if you’re not amazed at what I can do then you can abandon me there and pray that I don’t find you when I get back.” She playfully told him.

The vessel was dark as night. The sails, hull and everything was painted in a dull and dark blue. There were no markings anywhere. This was a scouting vessel. The sail was very large in comparison to the vessel itself. It was sleek and even so it was probably faster than it looked. The crew was already working the mooring lines to leave as they boarded.

This crew made the merchant crew from her trip to Cumberland look like rank amateurs. They worked in absolute silence as they maneuvered and positioned the sail and operated the vessel. Silence is always an important part of being a good scout. These men were used to it and it showed in that the only sound coming from them was the occasional squeak of the winches and the flutter of the sail. They got the sail up in no time and were out to sea in the swiftest way possible. The wind was in their favor and they were moving at a good clip toward Alam. At this rate they would reach it in a couple of days. She watched the lookout climb up to the crow’s nest with an ease and confidence that pointed to years of training and operating. She actually started to feel really confident about this mission.

That good feeling ended the next day when the lookout frantically called down to the Captain. “Qunari vessel off the starboard bow!”

Asala ran to the bow and with her incredibly keen vision spotted the ship. Not a dreadnought, much smaller and she could only assume faster. It was on a heading directly towards them at full sail. She looked closer and could see that it was actually armed with two cannon on either side. “It’s got cannons Captain, two on each side.”

The Captain looked worried as he ordered the crew to turn the ship away from the Qunari Frigate.

Asala was a little perturbed at the situation. “Captain we have mages, we can take them out before they know it.”

“Their range tends to be longer than ours and we only have two battlemages with us. We have to keep out of range of those cannon or this mission will be over.” The captain yelled.

“Let them get closer and I’ll handle it. I’ll need to borrow your staff…” She addressed the captain and the once cross mage.

“Lucius…I guess this is where you show me.” He smiled as he gave her his staff.

Normally Asala didn’t use a staff as there was limited space on her body for weapons and her short swords took primary place as her weapons of choice. Staffs were very useful in focusing the power of her magic. In theory she should be able to launch some of her fireballs a much further distance than usual.

The Captain complied and pulled up some of the sail. The boat slowed considerably. The Qunari vessel started to gain on them quickly. As the Qunari vessel closed the distance it started to turn to give its cannoneers a shot, the Captain let out a desperate call.

“It’s now or never girl.”

Asala raised the staff and concentrated through the crystal. She could feel the power building and her connection through the staff felt focused, tight and intense. She could feel every nerve on fire and the pull of the focus crystal on the staff. When she could no longer hold the flame within she let out a barrage of fire toward the Qunari ship. They hit with incredible accuracy and set the sail and hull on fire. The crew desperately tried to put out the fires, but Asala let out another barrage and the ship was now a flaming and floating wreck with Qunari jumping into the water to escape the heat. A moment later, a huge explosion as the stores of Gaatlok went off and disintegrated the vessel. Asala, who was watching like a hawk could see that a life boat had made it into the water and there seemed to be one soul that escaped the inferno alive. He was rowing away with all his might from what was now nothing but flame and smoke.

Asala’s eyes did not leave the survivor as the entire crew of the Tevinter vessel was jubilantly celebrating the destruction of the Qunari vessel. With one last effort, Asala let loose a fireball that traveled fast, low and true and struck the occupied lifeboat with tremendous force. The explosion was so powerful that the survivor was launched into the air in flames. Asala could see he was limp and hit the water never to be seen again. Asala slowly gave the staff back to Lucius and leaned her butt against the railing while raising her hand to her mouth as a tear started to trickle down her cheek.

“I’ve seen that face before.” Lucius in a consoling tone mentioned to her.

“I’m sure you have Lucius.” She let out a sad chuckle. “You’d think after all these years of fighting it would get easier for me.”

Lucius put his hand on her shoulder. “It never does Sera and I’m sorry.”

“Thank you Lucius. Apology accepted.” She wiped her eyes and cheeks and looked out to where the ocean had swallowed the vessel and its crew and nothing remained save a black cloud floating towards Minrathous.

“When I become a Magister I will make you an honorary citizen of the Imperium.” Lucius playfully told her.

“I guess I’ll have to win over your countrymen one at a time.” Asala let out a hearty chuckle as Lucius smiled at her.

They reached their position northwest of Alam that night and set anchor. Asala was preparing to disembark with two of the soldiers when the Captain and Lucius came to her. “Stick to the treeline, the coast is always patrolled by any number of people including the Qunari. Here are the renderings of the warehouse and its location within the town. Good luck girl and make it back soon.”

With that she boarded the small row boat and headed to shore. Once there she bid the two soldiers farewell and told them to wait for a signal from her. “I will launch three fireballs into the sky as a signal for you to come get me, anything other than that means I’ve failed and you should leave. Stay safe and vigilant.”

“We’re not leaving you Sera.” One soldier said adamantly and that put a smile on her face. Soldiers, no matter where they were from respected action more than anything else. When she first met them, these men were downright hostile towards her. After the sinking of the Qunari Frigate, they loved her as if she were one of their own. “If you don’t go home, neither do we.” He added.

These were the evil Tevinter soldiers. No different than any other. She already like them and she really like the mage Lucius. She was still surprised that these two would give their lives for her...well at least they said they would. She would not let them down.

She traveled quickly through the brush. She was surprised at the amount of traps set all over the place. She continued down the coastline through the brush and did notice a patrol, but it wasn’t Qunari. Tal-Vashoth? She thought. They were definitely of her kind, maybe Ben-Hassrath posing as Tal-Vashoth. It didn’t matter, she had a mission to complete and it was too important to waste time on her curiosity.

She reached the edge of the treeline which was a good distance from Alam. She would have to move very quickly to be able to use the town buildings for stealth, this clearing could definitely be a problem. At least it was dark and she could move as fast as a Halla to minimize her time in this extremely dangerous area. The wind was at her back which made her a little apprehensive because she wouldn’t be able to smell anyone until she was right up on them. She scanned from the tree line and saw that the wall surrounding the town was short enough for her to leap over. There were guard towers on the four corners of the town providing excellent overlapping fields of visibility for whoever was manning them. Darkness was not good enough, as the Qunari had excellent night vision and someone would definitely see her. DAMN IT! I will need to cause some kind of distraction if I’m going over the wall. Asala was mired in a quandary. Then it hit her. From the water! I’ll go in through the harbor. She moved towards the ocean and reached the end of the tree line at the beach. It was only about fifty feet to the water and she could see from her position into the harbor, the wind was telling her that there was no one up on the beach away from the town.   She moved further away from the town until she reached a bend in the coast that completely concealed her from the tower near the harbor, she entered the water.

Asala found that she could hold her breath for a good five minutes at a time. She stayed close to the coast and basically began to crawl the bottom towards the harbor only coming up for a quick breath. She hoped that she would be mistaken for some kind of marine mammal as she made sure to lean her head back so as not to expose her horns. She only had to come up twice and did not hear any alarms as she rested underneath one of the wooden docks. The conversations of sail efficiency and oar rhythm put her at ease in the thought that she had not been discovered. When she was comfortable enough that no one was within a detectable distance she leaped from the water and leaped onto the roof of one of the buildings making sure to stay on the slope facing away from the guard towers. She took out her map of the town and surveyed her position in relation to it. It wasn’t far, but it was right in the center of town. Best place to keep it. Fuck.

When she reached the building, she was again unpleasantly surprised by the situation. There were guards everywhere. The roof was flat and had two guards up there as well. There was an entrance at the far corner of the roof. The slope of the roof she was on was hiding her, but there would be no way for her to get in without being seen. She took her map out and studied it. It wasn’t as detailed as she would have liked and it revealed nothing. A Distraction will definitely be needed here. Asala studied the area and came to the conclusion that all of the buildings surrounding the warehouse were barracks by the sounds coming from inside them.

She started to concentrate again and slowly a magical stream of fire poured over the roof of the building she was on. The fire caught on quickly as the building was made of wood. She quietly and swiftly leaped to the next building and watched as the fire started to spread and one of the roof guards pointed in an urgent manner at the roof of the now burning building.

The alarms started to sound and the smoke was thankfully drifting in the direction of the warehouse. She quietly and swiftly jumped onto the roof of the warehouse as both of the guards looked intently at the fire, she entered the building unseen. There you are! She thought as she smelled the air. In the middle of the lingering smoke and Qunari sweat, there was the strong smell of the Saar-Qamek. She followed her nose quietly down the stairs when she came to a large open room. It was empty, but there was a lingering scent of activity. A door to the left led her down another set of stairs to a basement corridor where the scent of Saar-Qamek was overwhelming. She slowly and quietly moved down the corridor and reached what she would assume was the storage area. “Get Back to your posts! Now!” She heard in Qunlat what was probably a Sten screaming at the Antaams under his charge. I better hurry. She examined the door and noticed that it was trapped. Damn it! She looked at the surrounding area and noticed that the walls were not as thick as maybe they should be. She moved about ten feet to the left and dug her claws deep into the mortar and began to pull out huge chunks of rock. It took her maybe a minute to enter the storage and she could hear the guards coming down. FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! She could easily tell the real poison from the decoys, which were actually much more numerous. She grabbed as much of it as she could fit into her leather bag along with some decoys and one type of potion with a potently different smell to it. She left the room and waited for the guards to reach the door. She still had the element of surprise she thought.

The moment she saw the unsuspecting guard’s profile enter her field of vision, she let loose a wild chain of lightning strikes which not only hit the guard she saw, but struck the one behind him as well. The result was that they both fell face first into the ground and were silent. The sound of the lightning strike echoed throughout the building. She quickly made her way past the two quivering guards and towards the stairs. “The storage room!” She heard ahead of her. She hurried her pace and was moving at a blinding speed when she barreled through the once empty room that was now filled with at least twenty soldiers. The jig was up, but as she made it to the stairs up to the roof, they had just begun drawing their weapons. She was on the roof in a flash with the screams of the Karashoks, Stens and Ashaads frantically trying to catch her from behind.

She reached the roof in one leap and surprised the two Ashaads who turned towards her only to be run through by her short swords as they were drawing their spears. She leaped down to the streets and began running towards the western wall at an impossibly fast rate.   The screams behind her were getting much quieter as she made it to the wall and leaped up to the ramparts. She surprised the poor Karashok in the guard tower and threw him off the ramparts and onto the streets below. He landed with a thud and quickly pulled himself up to see who shoved him. He only saw air, but it was enough for him to set off an alarm as Asala could hear him bark out. “We’re under attack! Sound the Alarm!”

She was on the coast and running as fast as she possibly could so that she would reach her extraction point swiftly. It was dead quiet now as she ran at a speed she was sure her followers did not suspect she was capable of. After running for about ten minutes she was sure that her followers would have to slow their pursuit because of the fire mines she left behind.  She reached the extraction point and fired off the three small fireballs in the direction of what she believed was the scout vessel and waited in the tree line. She decided that she would swim out to them, but she did not want to damage any of her very important acquisitions. As she waited she noticed that the Dawn was coming from the slight shade of blue she could see on the horizon. She suddenly noticed the row boat coming into view, she now also heard several explosions and voices coming from the east. Fuck this. I have to swim out there. So Asala entered the water with the leather bag’s straps draped around her horns so as to keep it on her head and dry. When she got to the boat they were about three hundred feet from shore. Lucius grabbed the bag and she pulled herself in. The spears and arrows were now landing around them, most of them short, but some managed to reach them. None of them hit as the two big Tevinter soldiers turned the boat and rowed with all of their might.

“You really are amazing.” Lucius was beaming at her, even as he was letting loose his barrage of fireballs at the Qunari on the beach. “Thanks.” She said as she was gasping for air from her recent exertions.  "Do love me even more?”

Lucius let out a snorting laugh. “I’ll kiss your feet when we get out of here.”

Asala smiled a very toothy grin. “That fucking Arishok is going to shit when he finds out that they just lost one of their advantages.” She stated between gasps of air.

As they got closer to the scout ship, it had already weighed anchor and the crew was already working the sail. They boarded the vessel and quickly set their heading toward Minrathous.

As they sliced through the ocean at full sail, the Captain approached Asala. “That was the smoothest mission I have ever been on.”

“Not so smooth, I couldn’t do it without being seen and had to take out four men in the process.”

“Whatever you did to get this stuff doesn’t matter. This is going to make Magister Alexius ecstatic. “ Lucius explained.

The trip back to Minrathous was swift if somewhat a little rougher as they went through a small storm on their way. They arrived at nightfall and Asala quickly disembarked along with Lucius, the other mage whose name was Julian and the two big soldiers. They quickly made their way back to the Magister’s residence where Asala got assaulted by Alejandro, Cassian, Kaaris and Ashaad.

Asala scooped up Alejandro into her arms and embraced him hard enough to keep him from breathing. She knew and slowly let up, but did not let go. “I missed you so much.” She told him as she kissed him passionately.

“We did it. Well…she did it.” Lucius addressed Magister Alexius.

Asala separated the contents evenly and gave half of them to Alexius. She identified them so Alexius could label them. “These are the real thing. These are decoys which they seemed to have an abundance of. These…I don’t know what these are, but they were in the same room so I am assuming they are important as well.”

Alexius looked so pleased. “My girl you are a treasure. When I get back from Hossberg, I am going to petition the Magisterium into making you an honorary citizen of the Empire. The whole empire will know of your exploits.”

“Thank you Magister, but I would rather this be kept quiet if you please. I don’t want the Viddatharri around here to know it was me.”

“We don’t have too many of those around here.” Lucius claimed.

“If you have slaves, then you have them in more numbers than you know.” Asala countered.

“Which is why I don’t keep slaves.” Alexius stated.

“Magister Alexius Ser?” Lucius quietly said.

“What is it Lucius?”

“I respectfully request to escort Asala and her troop back to the border.”

“You know I need you for the trip to Hossberg…but…okay. I’ll take young Julius instead.”   Alexius gave in with a smile.

 

The Trip Back

 

They left that night and quietly traveled out of Minrathous making very good time and traveling through the next day. “Asala, we have to stop. We can’t keep up this pace and the horses are going to break down if don’t rest.” Alejandro told her.

“You just want to get me into the tent by yourself.” Asala smiled.

“I don’t think I have the energy.” Alejandro sounded exhausted.

“Ohhh? Asala mischievously expressed. “Really?”

Alejandro glared at her and then totally changed his look and smiled at her. “Maybe.”

She approached him on her giant Frostback Charger, leaned in and kissed his cheek. “I’m going to destroy you tonight.” She whispered in his ear with her trademark smile.

Ale smiled and chuckled to himself. “Cassian is right, you are a menace.”

“Since you have so much energy why don’t we set up some sparring?” Ashaad asked good-humoredly. “I’m tired of kicking Kaariss’ ass all over the place.”

“I was just worried about Asala and couldn’t concentrate. Try me now and see whose ass gets kicked.” Kaariss countered while glaring at Ashaad.

“Ale! There will be no rest for you tonight my love.” She said as she dismounted her giant war horse.

They set up their tents well off the Imperial Highway, set up the guard rotation and chatted most of the time before they all retired…minus the guards off course.

They reached the Valo-Kas camp a couple of days quicker than it took to get to Minrathous. Shokrakar immediately brought little Antaam and handed him off to Asala, who showered him with kiss after kiss while the little one buried his head into her neck. Asala hands him over to Ale, and smiles at Shok.

“It’s good to see you too girl.” Shok tells her as Cassian dismounts looking for some attention. Shok gives him a strong embrace.

“We should move the camp.” Asala stated as she dismounted.

“Why?” Shok countered.

“This is why.” Asala took out the leather bag and showed her the contents.

“Saar-Qamek?” Shokrakar was stunned. “Is this why you went to the Tevinter Magister?”

“No originally I went for this.”   Asala presented a black, leather bound book. “…but the Magister’s payment for the book was a mission to Seheron to collect that.”

“You were seen weren’t you?”

Asala nodded. “We need to get out of here. We should get out of the marches and move south into the Arbor Wilds or even the Kocari Wilds. They’ll eventually come after us and I’d rather not give them an easy find.”

Shokrakar nodded. “What are you going to do with the Saar-Qamek?”

“We need to find a way to make an antidote for it. The Magister is working on the same thing, but I really only have his word that when he finds it, he will share his knowledge with me. We need to find and hire a good alchemist.”

“Good?” Cassian sarcastically commented. “We need the best or as close to the best as we can get.”

“Do you know anyone?” Alejandro asked.

“I do know of someone, but I don’t know if she would even see us.” Cassian was pondering. “Madame De Fer, the First Enchanter of the Circle of Magi in Val Royeux.”

As they were speaking, one the Valo-Kas’ elven scouts entered the tent unannounced. He was drenched in sweat and gasping for breath. “Feyrial! What the fuck man!” A very surprised and disturbed Cassian yelled.

Asala chuckled at her friend. “Feyrial, what happened?”

“The mages are rebelling in Kirkwall. It’s a bloodbath there and I think that they blew up the Chantry there.” The scout replied in between gasps of air.

“This is bad.”  Asala said with an ominous tone.

Chapter Text

The Conclave

Asala looked around and saw nothing but an accident waiting to happen. Templars and Mages looking at each other with a distrust and animosity only enemies have for each other. Kaariss, Ashaad and Ashaad2 looked a little perturbed by the whole situation. A full half of the Valo-Kas mercenary company made its presence felt. Five big Tal-Vashoth along with fifteen humans and elves were spread out in groups of four among both the Templars and Mages. Other than herself and Ale, there were no other Mages in the group. They were an intimidating bunch. They were hired by the Divine herself to keep a semblance of order between the two groups while the leaders talked about resolving the issues between them. She would not have taken the job, but the money was too good to pass up.   She also felt pretty honored that the Valo-Kas had such a reputation that the Divinie would demand that they be there. Asala was on edge around so many Templars. They were basically human Arvaraads and she did not like them one bit. As she walked the road to the temple of Sacred Ashes she felt besieged by the anger and tension on both sides.  

“You should all be put to the sword!” A young Templar screamed from one side of the road.

“Shut your mouth whelp!” An older looking woman in an ornately decorated bright red robe answered him. It only served to anger the youth more.

He stood with his hand on his weapon as if to draw it from its scabbard. Asala looked in the direction of the young Templar and quickly moved to the youngster and glared at him while drawing her short swords. “Don’t do it kid. Don’t make this situation worse by succumbing to your anger. The divine called this meeting to try and make peace, you should honor her wishes.” The sheer size of her and the fact that those curved swords looked like daggers in her giant hands was intimidating enough to make the youngster back off.

“I thought so.” The woman yelled from across the road.

Asala glared at her and quickly moved to her. “If you don’t shut it, I will shove that staff so far up your ass you’re going to be spitting lightning from your mouth!”

She towered over the older human and did not flinch as she said it. The older woman scoffed and turned around to talk to her comrades.

“Ale, Kaariss, Ashaads! Can you handle the situation out here? I’m going to see how it’s going inside and check on Tala and Rasa.” Asala stated while surveying the scene outside.

“No problem Asala. We’ll take care of any malcontents out here.” Ashaad answered.

“Don’t take any shit from any of them. Try not to run them through unless absolutely necessary.” Asala ordered.

What in the Maker’s balls? She woke to a scene that was out of a nightmare. A greenish haze hung over the air as she stood up. Where am I? She scanned the immediate area and noticed that nothing made sense. Islands of solid rock seemingly floating in the air defying all of the physical laws she taught herself. Magic? She was sure it was. There was no other explanation other than maybe she was dreaming. She examined herself and determined she was not dreaming, but she could not remember anything after entering the Temple of Sacred Ashes. She searched the distance and noticed that there was a steep and imposing tower in the middle of this whole confusing scene. She set out for it and reached it quickly enough. Once at the base she began to slowly climb. As she climbed she noticed a bunch of clicking sounds, something akin to the sounds crickets made came from behind her. She turned to see and was in shock at what she saw. A mass of giant, deformed spiders was climbing after her! She turned on the speed, but those things were faster and were gaining. As she desperately climbed she noticed a bright white glow coming from the top of the tower. She kicked down and smashed the first spider to reach her. The result was that it went down the steep incline and took down a few of its comrades on the way. As she reached the top she noticed a being, no a woman made of pure light reaching out to her. She felt another of those things reach for her as she leaped up and grabbed the woman’s hand.

Ugh, my ribs, what the fuck happened? Asala opened her eyes to a haze. It was dark and wet wherever she was.   As her vision cleared she noticed that there were four men with swords pointed menacingly at her. She could hear their breathing and heart rates began to increase when they noticed she was awake and staring at them. She felt the cold hard steel of the shackles on her wrists and ankles. She was chained to the stone floor. She wondered to herself if she could free herself before they ran her through. Those swords looked really large and really sharp. She thought the better of it and decided to wait for a better opportunity to escape. At that moment Asala noticed something strange on the palm of her left hand. She looked at it closer. It appeared to be a green and glowing mark along the width of her palm. She started to feel her hand get tingly and then as if her hand were being stabbed by thousands of daggers, the scar explodes in bolts of greenish lightning. “Argh!” She lets out a shriek that was a little too loud. As quickly as the pain was there, it was gone. The soldiers were very fidgety and their expressions said that they would kill her if she tried anything remotely threatening. All Asala knew now was that she needed to find out what happened to put her in this situation. She looked at a door which definitely led outside by the looks of the light coming underneath the door. As she ruminated how she was going to escape, the door opened.

Two human females entered the room. One in full armor, with short black hair and an intensely impatient look on her face. The other one hung out in the background, but she could make out the form fitting chainmail she wore. As the dark haired one approached her with much malice on her face, the soldiers sheathed their swords. What the fuck happened? Asala thought to herself. The dark haired walked around her and asked her menacingly. “Tell me why we shouldn’t kill you now? The Conclave is destroyed, everyone who attended is dead, except for you.”

The thoughts of Alejandro, her comrades, the Divine, all those people, dead? It hit her like a trebuchet as her shoulders slumped and she looked visibly defeated. She remained silent as the warrior grabbed her left wrist. “Explain this!”

The warrior was talking about the mark on her hand. “I…I can’t.”

“What do you mean you can’t!” The warrior was losing any semblance of patience she may have had.

“I don’t know what that is or how it got there.” Asala really didn’t care if she believed her or not. All she could think of was Ale and her comrades.

“You’re lying!” The woman losing what little composure she had, pulled a dagger from her belt as she grabbed Asala’s throat. Asala tensed as her muscles struggled against the shackles and stone. She would not die in this fucking dungeon not knowing what happened. The shackle’s chain was ripped from the ground as she stood with a low and threatening growl. All she could hear was their swords being unsheathed as she broke open her manacles. “You’ll be dead before you take a step.”

The hooded woman had her bow with a full draw as well as the door guard with his crossbow and not to mention Cassandra and the four guards with their swords. “Stand down now!” The warrior woman commanded.

“I will not! First one of you that approaches me is dead!” Asala glared at the armored woman.

“So be it.” Cassandra said as she took a step towards the giant qunari woman.

At that instant the hooded female in the chainmail intervened by pulling the warrior woman back. “Wait! We need her Cassandra!”

At the moment Asala was about to lash out at the closest warrior, a thunderclap could be heard outside and that mark on her hand flared brighter than before. It completely incapacitated her and she was on her knees with a whimper holding her hand. “What’s happening to me!” She looked up to see Cassandra sheath her sword and kneel in front of her.

“My husband, my comrades, all those people, dead…I don’t understand.” She looked at Cassandra begging for an answer.

“Do you remember what happened? How this began?” The hooded female asked her in a more gentle tone than the warrior.

“I remember running. These things were chasing me and then…a woman?” Even she wasn’t sure of what she was saying. It felt like it was a dream, but Asala for some reason knew it was not.

“A woman?” Leliana asked with a puzzled expression.

“She reached out to me, but then…” Asala’s memory was fading from that point. She could only remember waking up in the cell.

“Go to the forward camp Leliana. I will take her to the rift.” Cassandra interrupted them with a little more understanding tone than when she almost ran her through.

Cassandra kneeled before Asala and began to undo what was left of her shackles and tying her wrists with a rope. Asala began to protest, but Cassandra interrupted. “The people see you walk out of here without restraints and they will probably mob and kill you.” It was a little more comfortable, but Asala needed questions answered if she was going to avenge her comrades. It seemed that these people were also looking for the same answers. As long as they didn’t try to kill her, she would comply.

“What did happen?” Asala asked Cassandra as she stood to her full height and watched Cassandra’s expression change from a compassionate one to an almost awestruck one.

“It will be easier to show you.” Cassandra told her.

She followed Cassandra out of the door. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the light which for some reason now had a green tint to it. She scanned the area and looked in the direction she knew the Temple of Sacred Ashes was…or used to be. The swirling green vortex dominated the sky. It’s center seemed to be a pure absence of anything with a swirling green tentacle of light reaching down to where the temple used to be.

“We call it the breach. It is a massive rift into the world of demons that grows larger with each passing hour. It’s not the only such rift, just the largest. All were caused by the explosion at the conclave.” Asala couldn’t take her eyes off the Breach.

“An explosion can do that?” Asala asked.

“This one did. Unless we act, the Breach may grow until it swallows the world.”

Before Asala could say anything else, the Breach exploded and flared with its sickly green light, crackling and thundering like so many lightning bolts. The pain that shot up her arm was getting worse every time this mark flared. It forced her to her knees as she let out an agonizing shriek. The pain was gone as quickly as it came, but Asala could only hold on to the affected hand.

“Each time the Breach expands, your mark spreads and it is killing you. It may be the key to stopping this, but there isn’t much time.” Cassandra sounded desperate.

However she got this mark, it was definitely connected to that monstrous hole in the sky. She needed answers and if her feelings were any guide, Cassandra and the rest of these people were looking for the same answers.

“I understand.” Asala looked at the intense woman with a determination that bled through to the surface.

“You mean…” Cassandra looked shocked.

“I’ll do whatever I can. Whatever it takes, no matter what.” Asala’s comment seemed to stun Cassandra.

Cassandra assisted Asala to her feet and they began to walk through the village of Haven. Asala could feel the outright anger and fury in the stares of the townsfolk. There were some guards holding some of them back from attacking her. “They have decided your guilt. They need it. The people of Haven are mourning their most holy Divine Justinia, head of the Chantry. The Conclave was her’s. It was a chance for peace between Mages and Templars. She brought their leaders together. Now they are dead. We lash out like the sky, but we must think beyond ourselves as she did until the Breach is sealed. ”

The path they were on was familiar. Asala knew that it led to the temple. “We were hired by the Divine to keep a semblance of order between the Apostates and the Templars.” She mentioned to Cassandra who in turn nodded in affirmation. They stopped when they reached the first bridge which looked like it had been turned into a makeshift military camp. Cassandra pulled a dagger from her belt which made Asala uneasy for just a second. There was no malice in the woman’s eyes and it was confirmed when she cut the rope binding her wrists.

“There will be a trial. I can promise no more.” She told her.

“Are we heading back to the temple?” Asala asked her.

Cassandra nodded and led the way. “Your mark must be tested on something smaller than the breach.”

“Open the gate. We are headed into the valley.” Cassandra yelled out to the two armed guards.

As they followed the familiar path up to the temple, Asala couldn’t help but notice the utter destruction that must have been caused by the explosion. Some of her comrades were out in this area when she went inside the temple. She continued to scan the area for any signs of them. As they continued up the trail, a group of soldiers were running in the opposite direction yelling something about the end of the world. She ignored them and continued behind Cassandra.  

As they approached another bridge she saw the breach flare, crackle and just explode with energy and tendrils of greenish lightning. The effect on her was immediate and paralyzing. The bolts of energy ran up her left arm and into her like a thousand ice cold daggers penetrating into her soul. She fell to her knees holding her left arm, but she managed to hold in the scream that wanted to come out of her mouth so badly.

Cassandra kneeled down in front of her and helped her to her feet. “The pulses are coming faster now. The larger the Breach gets, the more rifts that appear, the more demons we face.”

“How did I survive the blast?” Asala felt incredibly guilty at being the only one who survived.

“They said that you stepped out of a rift, then fell unconscious. They say a woman was in the rift behind you. No one knows who she was. Everything farther in the valley was laid waste including the temple of sacred ashes. I suppose you’ll see soon enough.” Cassandra was much calmer than before.

As they made their way across another bridge on the path, it exploded beneath their feet. Asala managed to land on her feet as she watched in horror as a green blob of energy shot down from the breach and exploded in front of them leaving a puddle of glowing black tar that bubbled maliciously. She continued to watch as the tar began to reshape itself and form into a nightmarish looking shade. Cassandra did not hesitate as she rushed forward to combat the thing Asala could only assume was a demon. “Stay behind me!” She yelled.

Asala could only admire Cassandra’s courage for a second as she noticed a similar bubbling pool right in front of her. She searched around for anything that could be used as a weapon and found nothing but the stones of the bridge. She quickly got into a fighting stance as the pool formed into a Demon. It lashed out at her, but she was just too fast for it. She raked her claws across the demon’s face and heard it shriek in what she assumed was pain. The black tarlike liquid streaming from its wounds covered her hands as she prepped a flame spell to finish it off. It came at her again as she leaped away from it and let loose a fireball that struck true causing the creature to explode all over her.

She watched as Cassandra finished her target off and began to approach her. “It’s over.”

“Stand down!” Cassandra yelled at her.

“I was attacked. What the fuck did you expect me to do, let them kill me?” Asala yelled back.

“You don’t need to fight!” Cassandra reiterated.

“Really? Cause that demon would have had me for lunch if I didn’t fight back.” Asala wouldn’t budge, but she could see that Cassandra had some doubts.

“Wait. You’re right. We should try to find you a weapon. I cannot protect you…I should remember that you agreed to come willingly.” Cassandra admitted.

They continued to follow the path to the temple and fought a few more demons along the way. She managed to grab a pair of short swords for herself and utterly confusing Cassandra in the process. “Are you not a mage? Wouldn’t a staff be more appropriate?”

“My mother trained me to fight in close. I’ve been using magic without a staff for most of my life.”

“Your mother must be a very smart woman.” Cassandra told her.

“Was a very smart woman.” Asala corrected her.

Cassandra flinched a little at being corrected. “We’re getting closer. You can hear the fighting.”

“Whose fighting?”

“You’ll see soon.”

The beautiful, green crystalline structure hovering in the middle of the air was drawing her left hand like a magnet. She felt her hand energize as she got closer. There was no pain, but a sensation one gets as their limbs start to fall asleep. Once her fascination subsided she noticed that there was a fight going on.

Asala jumped into the fray immediately whirling her swords in a deadly dance. Her blinding speed and powerful strikes made short work of the shades that were fighting a curious group of people. As she pulled her swords from the last demon she felt a hand grab her left wrist. She almost skewered the elf.

“Quickly before more come through!” A bald elf yelled before thrusting her hand toward the greenish crystal. Even before she reacted, her mark flared to life and a stream lightning tinged with a bright green color shot out towards the crystal. Asala felt like her soul was pulling at the crystal and she could feel the crystal start to weaken and with a sudden thunderclap, the crystal imploded and disappeared.

“What did you do?” Asala asked the smug looking elf with a very curious tone.

“I did nothing. You credit is yours.” The elf answered her in a pleasant with a hint of condescension in his tone.

“You mean this.” Asala looked at the mark on her left hand.

“Whatever opened the Breach in the sky also put that mark on your hand. I theorized that the mark might be able to close the rifts that have opened in the Breach’s wake and it seems I was correct.”

“Meaning it could also close the Breach itself.” Cassandra added.

“Possibly, it seems that you hold the key to our salvation.” The elf countered and Asala let out a short huff.

“Good to know. Here I thought we’d be ass deep in demons forever…Varric Tethras, rogue, story teller, and on occasion unwelcome tag along.” The dwarf was very confident and rather dashing in his own dwarvish way.

“I’m glad to meet you Varric.” Asala greeted him.

“You may reconsider that stance in time.” The elf chimed in a joking manner?

“Awww. I’m sure we’ll become great friends in the valley, chuckles.” The dwarf replied with a hint of sarcasm.

To that Cassandra responded quickly if not harshly. “Absolutely not! Your help is appreciated but…”

“Have you been in the valley lately seeker? Your soldiers are no longer in control. You need me.” Varric stated with a sly smile as Cassandra just turned away and made a disgusted sound.

“My name is Solas if there are to be introductions. I am pleased to see you still live.” Solas introduced himself and Asala thought to herself that he is much more knowledgeable about the mark on her hand then he is letting on.

“What he means is. That I kept that mark from killing you while you slept.” Varric tells her.

“Then I owe you my thanks.” Or my curses. She thinks to herself as she thanks him.

“You can thank me when you close the Breach.” Solas responded.

“Cassandra, you should know. The magic involved here is unlike any I’ve seen. Your prisoner is a mage, but I find it difficult to imagine any mage having such power.” Solas continued.

“Understood. We must get to the forward camp quickly.” Cassandra responded.

“Well Bianca’s excited.” Varric commented.

They continued through the path to the temple, closed another rift and battled a half dozen demons. It was a lot easier than Asala thought it would be. She was very impressed with everyone’s battle skills. After closing the last rift they approached the forward camp which was set up on another bridge. Asala thought of the wisdom of setting up on a bridge when the last one she was on was destroyed by a Breach flare up. As they walked across together, Asala could hear an argument ahead where the hooded woman she recognized from the interrogation was having a heated discussion with some male member of the Chantry.

“You made it!” The hooded woman seemed very pleased. “Chancellor Rodrick this is…”

“I know who she is.” The man answered in a very displeased way. “As Grand Chancellor of the Chantry I hereby order you to take this criminal to Val Royeaux to face execution.” He was very adamant as he directed Cassandra. I will kill everyone here before that happens! Asala thought to herself.

“You order me?” Cassandra sounded offended. “You are a glorified clerk, a bureaucrat.”

“And you are a thug, but a thug who supposedly serves the Chantry.” He countered.

“We serve the most holy chancellor. As you well know.” Leliana interjected.

“Justinia is dead. We must elect a replacement and obey her orders on the matter.” The chancellor forcefully made himself sound more important than he actually was.

“This is fucking ridiculous. None of you are actually in charge here.” Asala’s anger was starting to mount as they wasted time on this idiot who did not matter.

“You killed everyone that was in charge!” The chancellor accused her and it struck her with self doubt.

Could this be my fault? Did I cause this somehow? The question ran through her head as she desperately tried to remember what happened. Was there something that I did inside the Temple that caused this whole thing? She didn’t notice that the chancellor and Cassandra continued their banter.

“Abandon this now, before more lives are lost.” The chancellor pleaded.

The Breach began to flare and Asala felt the sting run up her arm as her mark began to flare as well. The pain was familiar and she was able to suppress it while all eyes were on her. She looked up to Cassandra.

“The safest route is through the mountain pass, but it will take longer to get to the temple. We have also lost an entire squad of scouts on that path. The other is to join the troops in a frontal assault on the temple. It is the quickest, but also much more heavily defended.” Cassandra explained to her.

“What do you think we should do?” Cassandra asked her.

Asala knew that a frontal assault was always the last resort of a foolish person. It failed almost all of the time. If she had learned anything as a mercenary it was that flanking and deception almost always won the day.

“Now you’re asking me what I think?”

“You have the mark.” Solas commented.

“And you are the one we must keep alive.” Cassandra added. “Since we cannot agree on our own.”

It made sense to her now. Despite her status as a suspect/prisoner, she was the most valuable person there. “We’ll use the frontal assault as a distraction, while we take the mountain path to the temple.”

The path through the mountain was quick and she imagined much easier than fighting with the frontline troops. They rescued what was left of the scouts that were sent through here to the gratitude of the lead scout. Solas also seemed to be pretty impressed with her growing competence in closing rifts.

“The Temple of Sacred Ashes.” Solas stated.

“What’s left of it.” Varric added solemnly.

“That is where you walked out of the fade and our soldiers found you.” Cassandra addressed Asala.

“They say a woman was in the rift behind you. No one knows who she was.” Cassandra continued.

As they explored the remains of the temple they saw the charred remains of the persons caught in the blast. All them frozen in a moment in time, as she scanned the horrible scene she noticed something that caught her eye. As she closed in on the object of her curiosity she couldn’t keep her composure and dropped to her knees. The horned skull told her that her comrades, no, they were family and they were killed in this explosion. She started to wail and the tears began to flow from her eyes. Seeing Rasaa’s skull and the lack of anything resembling Tala was too much for her. “I’m so sorry. I failed you.” Somebody is going to pay for this! She thought as she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned and saw it was Varric who was visibly concerned for her. She steeled herself and nodded at Cassandra. They continued down through the remains of the temple until they reached their objective.

“You made it!” Leliana looked pleased to see them.

The largest rift she has ever seen hangs in the middle of the devastated area which was once the temple. “Let’s get this over with.” Asala’s anger is palpable as she started down the path towards the rift.

“You know this is Red Lyrium seeker?” Varric stated in a fearful way and pointing to the large and unnaturally red rock formations that seemed to sprout all over the immediate area.

“I see it Varric.”   Cassandra responded.

“But what’s it doing here? Whatever you do don’t touch it. It’s evil!” Varric continued.

Now is the hour of our victory. Bring forth the sacrifice.” A deep and foreboding voice blared from seemingly out of nowhere.

“What are we hearing?” Cassandra was obviously disturbed.

“At a guess the person who created the breach.” Solas answered.

Someone help me!” “That was Divine Justina’s voice!” Cassandra again commented.

“Keep the sacrifice still.”

She leaped down to get closer to the rift and felt the pull from the mark on her hand.

“Someone help me!”

“What’s going on here?” That voice nearly bowled her over. That was her!

“That was your voice. Most Holy called out to you. But…” Before Cassandra could continue the rift flared in an unfamiliar way and images began to appear in their minds.

A tall and imposing figure stands over the Divine who is magically bound.

What’s going on here?” Asala appeared running into the picture.

“Run while you can. Warn them!” The Divine shouted desperately at Asala.

“We have an intruder. Slay the Qunari.” The deep and menacing figure ordered.

“You were there! Who attacked and the Divine is she? Was this vision true? What are we seeing?” Cassandra’s anger and confusion were very evident.

“I don’t remember!” Asala yelled at her.

“Echos of what happened here. The fade bleeds into this place.” Solas told them.

“This rift is not sealed but it is closed. It must be opened before you can use the mark to close it properly. Just know that opening the rift will attract attention from the other side so we should be ready.” Solas instructed.

Opening the rift was strange in that it felt as more of a push than the pull of closing one. When it finally opened, it didn’t take long for the “attention” that Solas was talking about to show up. It was a monstrous beast, with armored scales and towering over everything. Leliana’s men were peppering it with arrows that just seemed to bounce off of it. Cassandra charged with a few soldiers and began to hack at its knees to a similar result. No one was doing any damage to it. She watched as it spawned a lightning whip of enormous proportions and began swinging it at its little tormentors. Solas cast a barrier that saved Cassandra and one of the soldiers, but one of the other soldiers was not so lucky as he was split in two by the thing.

Asala looked at the rift and began to feel the pulling sensation as she opened her hand and the mark flared a stream of green energy into the rift. It burst, but did not close fully. Asala could hear the demon wail as if it was hit by a bolt from a ballista. She watched as Cassandra’s and the remaining soldiers blades bit deep into the demon’s legs with the black sludge began streaming from its wounds. The arrows were also penetrating as she saw a bolt from Bianca strike true into one of its eyes. The demon grabbed its face in obvious pain.

She quickly went into action as she saw that two of the slug like shades appeared beneath the rift. They didn’t stand a chance as she took out her anger and angst against them. Lightning bolts were crackling through the air and devastating the smaller disgusting demons, burning and charring them into dust. She again turned her attention to the rift and began to feel the pulling sensation once more. It was more intense than before and threatened to make her pass into the unconsciousness. She could hear Cassandra yell. “Now close the rift!”

Asala’s mind went blank as she felt the explosion of the rift as it closed and she felt herself leave the conscious realm hoping she was successful.

Chapter Text

Cullen paced back and forth in the war room. He was recounting the events of the day when the rift at the Breach was closed. He was in the front fighting with his men. There seemed to be no end to the demons and he was losing men by the dozen to the fiends. Cullen had thought to himself. Maker preserve us, we have failed you. Then in an instant, the rifts in the area imploded with a large thundering sound and the demons in the immediate vicinity disintegrated. The tables had turned and Cullen and his men mopped up the rest of the demons. It seemed that the prisoner had succeeded in closing the massive rift at the temple.

“Rylen! Can you handle the rest of this?” He asked his lieutenant.

“We’ll take care of this ser. You have my word.” Rylen replied confidently.

Cullen began to make his way back to Haven when he noticed on his path Cassandra along with her band who went to the temple were moving at a feverish pace to get back to the village. It took four of the biggest soldiers to carry that…that oxwoman. She looked limp and unresponsive as she dangled in between the four soldiers, who also looked as desperate as Cassandra.

“What happened up there?” Cullen asked her.

“She saved us. Saved us all, but she may have killed herself with her effort. We have to get her back quickly!” Cassandra sounded panicked.

He set up the men on the flanks of the column heading back to Haven and joined them. She saved us. An oxwoman saved us? He began to feel guilty about thinking she was just some evil Qunari. He remembered them from Kirkwall and would have never thought in a thousand years that one of those barbaric savages could possibly save him and his men. His thoughts were now conflicted by this Qunari girl that might have given her life for them. As they walked through the gate he could see that she was still breathing. She looked so peaceful and dare he think it…beautiful. Maybe the Maker is telling them something. Maybe the Maker wants them to convert to the Qun. Why would he send her? The questions ran through his mind until he finally snapped out of it.

“Get out of my way!” Someone yelled at him. He turned to see who would be so insubordinate and saw that it was Adan, the village apothecarist. As soon as Adan saw whom he was yelling at, he back tracked quickly.

“Sorry ser, but I need you to move.” Adan said with a little more respect, just a little.

Cullen watched the man and his two elven assistants as they began to treat the horned giant. Adan was writing notes and giving instructions to his assistants. “Could everyone please leave the room?” Adan said.

As Cullen turned to leave Adan grabbed his shoulder. “Ser, could you please leave a couple of armed men? I’ve heard some of the villagers say they would kill her if they got the chance.”

“Of course.” Cullen replied. “You’ll have a rotation of my best men standing guard outside the cabin.”

“Thank you ser.” Adan seemed really appreciative.

She was out for three days.

The news spread about her actions at the Breach and how she stopped the demons coming from its maw. The soldiers at the Breach spoke of her bravery and how they would have died if not for her. More rumors began to spread about the mysterious woman seen “delivering” her to them. Cullen watched as most of the villagers went from believing she was a devil responsible for the death of their Divine to the…the…Herald of Andraste. Cullen was still not convinced as a cornered animal would do its utmost to survive. What troubled him most was that Cassandra seemed to believe in her very strongly. Leliana was also not totally convinced, but she seemed much affected by the situation.

On the second day he visited her in what was now her cabin. She was sleeping quietly when she began to thrash and speak in her dreams. “Too many eyes…what are they doing? The Grey…” She muttered while he stood there watching. “ALE!! Where are you…” She trailed off and was still again. Cullen stepped closer and watched to make sure that she was still breathing. Cullen continued stare at her as her mark began to thrum on her hand and he watched her face frown as if in some pain, but she did not wake. Maker was she big! The bed had to have its headboard removed and it also had to be moved some distance from the back wall to accommodate those enormous horns. She didn’t look like any of the Qunari he had seen. They were almost to a man a greyish color with white hair and smaller horns than her. Only the Arishok had horns that compared to hers. She was also a golden color with jet black hair. Of course he told himself he had never seen a female Qunari and she was obviously a girl. In any case he would remain vigilant. This Qunari woman had not fully proven herself to him, he would make sure she didn’t cause any problems even he had to kill her.

She awoke on the morning of the forth day. He watched her cabin from a distance as the little elven girl ran from the cabin straight to the Chantry. She was no doubt on her way to tell Cassandra that the Ox…the woman had woken. He continued to watch and was rewarded as he saw her appear from the cabin. She projected uncertainty, but also pride and power. She stood up straight as she walked through a crowd that had gathered there. She gave uncomfortable smiles and nods, undoubtedly she was being greeted as the Herald and she looked very uneasy. He followed her up the path to the Chantry and watched her disappear into the makeshift war room they had made.

Cullen wasn’t shocked to see Chancellor Roderick come out of the war room with a scowl on his face. Cassandra had a way of putting people in their place and he would hate to be on her bad side. After a few moments he watched as the three women emerged and separate. Cassandra came directly for him. “I’ve declared the Inquisition reborn.” She tells him.

“…” He cannot hide the surprise on his face. “…” The words just don’t come out of his mouth.

“Commander? Is there a problem?” Cassandra was a little annoyed at the silene.

“No Seeker, it’s just that…The Inquisition? Reborn? Are you sure we are doing the right thing?” Cullen was visibly disturbed by the turn of events.

“The Chantry will not support us, but we need to restore order and seal the Breach. The Divine gave me authority to act and that is the end of it. We will do this on our own if we need to. We are going to need you especially Commander. The troops will have to be ready for anything that comes our way and that will be your job.” Cassandra addressed him.

“They will be ready. I will make sure of it.” Cullen sounded a little unsure.

“What about the prisoner? Is it wise for her to be let loose with no supervision?” Cullen continued.

“She is not a prisoner! She is now an agent of the Inquisition just like all of us and will be treated as such.” Cassandra’s tone was very agitated and defensive. “If anyone has a problem with that then they can come see me for their dismissal. We do not need dissention in the ranks while we are trying to restore order and close that Breach. Is that understood Commander?”

“Yes Seeker. Crystal clear.” Cullen didn’t like it, but he had learned to trust the Seeker and if Leliana was also on board then he should stop thinking of the Qunari woman as an enemy and more of a…comrade. Maker he was going to need some time to think of her as such. Cassandra was right though, dissention would kill the movement quicker than any enemy soldier could so he would do his damnedest to make sure that didn’t happen.

Later that day she was introduced to the inner circle. Cassandra introduced all of them to the Herald. She looked so sad. An argument ensued about how the Inquisition should proceed. Whether the apostate mages or Templars would be best to approach for help. Cullen began to wonder to himself as they argued. Do all Qunari like show so much skin? It wasn’t unbearably cold outside, but he would not have been very comfortable without some sort of warm clothing. He noticed that in Kirkwall, the Qunari all wore some type of body paint, but no armor other than their helmets. He wasn’t about to complain as she was very pleasant on the eyes… “Commander are you not listening? I asked you a question.”

“I believe that the Templars could suppress the Breach and weaken it.” Cullen responded to Cassandra.

“Pure speculation.” Leliana dismissed him, which pissed him off royally.

“I was a Templar! I know what they are capable of!” He shot back.

“It doesn’t matter as neither group will speak to us!” Josephine interjected. “The Chantry has denounced the Inquisition and you specifically.” She pointed to the Herald.

“They still think I’m guilty.” The Herald responded.

“That is not the entirety of it any longer. Some are calling you, a Qunari, the Herald of Andraste. That frightens the Chantry. The remaining clerics have declared it blasphemy and we heretics for harboring you.” Josephine explained.

“Chancellor Roderick’s doing, no doubt.” Cassandra added.

“It limits our options. Approaching the Templars or Mages for help is currently out of the question.” Josephine stated with certainty.

“Just how am I the Herald of Andraste!” The Herald asked forcefully.

“People saw what you did at the Temple. How you stopped the Breach from growing. They have also heard about the woman seen in the rift when we first found you. They believe that was Andraste.” Cassandra explained this disturbing belief about the Herald.

“Even if we tried to stop that view from spreading…” Leliana continued.

“Which we have not.” Cassandra finished Leliana’s sentence.

“The point is everyone is talking about you.” Leliana finished. The Herald looked positively defiant.

“That’s quite the title isn’t it. How do you feel about that?” Cullen saw her flinch; her ears were turning a shade of pink.

“I’m no Herald of anything!” She defiantly responded.

“Well at least you and the Chantry agree on that.” Cullen smirked as he said it and he saw a little upturn on one side of the Herald’s mouth turning her defiant scowl into an almost crooked smile.

“People are desperate for a sign of hope. For some you are that sign.” Leliana explained.

“And to others a symbol of everything that’s gone wrong.” Josephine continued.

The slightly crooked smile he saw amazed Cullen. He thought Qunari were unable to express joy. The ones in Kirkwall were all a miserable bunch. He had never seen one of them smile and all they did was express how their way of life was so superior to the savages in the south. The carnage that group caused in the city was atrocious. If not for the Champion, Kirkwall would have fallen. Watching the Champion and her crew destroy the Arishok and his elite guard was incredibly satisfying. Watching Hawke grab the Arishok by the throat and freezing him from the inside out was disturbing, but very appropriate for such a cold, calculating son of a bitch.

The meeting ended with the Herald being directed to meet with Mother Giselle in the Hinterlands. “Look for other opportunities to expand the Inquisition’s influence while you’re there.” Cullen added.

“I will make preparations and leave before the week is over.” The Herald nodded.

“Leliana? Can I speak to you for a moment about that letter from my comrades?” The Herald approached the spymaster as the rest of them filed out of the War Room.

A few minutes later, Leliana approached him. “Commander may I speak with you?”

“It’s been brought to my attention that some of the Herald’s comrades who survived the explosion at the Conclave are missing. I would appreciate your help with locating them.” Leliana asked, more like asked knowing that his answer was going to be yes.

“Of course. I’ll send our scouts at once. Maybe your agents should accompany them to make sure we do a thorough job.” Cullen answered. “Do you have any idea where we should start?”

“Yes the path out of Haven would be a good start, a lot of my information comes from the villages on that path.” Leliana told him.

A week had passed and Cullen was amazed at the amount of work the Herald…the Herald? Yes he had thought of her as the Herald. She helped everyone in the village. She found a reliable supply of iron for the smiths to continue to supply the Inquisition soldiers with weapons. Adan also sang her praises as she provided recipes of useful potions for him to create. She even helped the construction crews locate a reliable source of lumber. She was a force of nature and it came as no surprise to him when she approached him while he was training the recruits. “You there, there’s a shield in your hands. If this man were your enemy you’d be dead! Lieutenant, don’t hold back. The recruits must be ready for a real fight not a practice one.” This one particular recruit would be the death of him.

“We’ve received a number of recruits. Locals from Haven and some Pilgrims. None made quite the entrance you did.” Cullen addressed the Herald.

“Not by my choice I assure you.” She looked down on him, I mean literally. Maker she was tall.

“I’d be worried if it was.” Cullen smiled.

“I’m ready to depart to meet this Mother Giselle and wondered if there was anything I could do for you before I left.” She told him.

“No Herald. You’ve done quite a bit already. It’s not necessary.” Cullen responded.

“Oh, Herald I’ve been meaning to tell you. We have located and rescued most of your comrades that were with you. Here is the letter from your comrade.” The Herald took the letter enthusiastically, but her look turned more saddened as she read it. She looked up at Cullen with a tear in her eye.

“Is everything okay?” Cullen asked her.

“Yes Commander…it’s just that…I lost a few very good friends, but at least my husband and the rest survived. You don’t know how much this has meant to me Commander. I am forever in your debt. Thank you.” She told him as she started to walk away.

“Herald? I’m here if you wish to talk.” Cullen offered while thinking to himself about the emotions she had shown him. She’d seen her smile a crooked smile and now she was in tears about her friends. She was definitely not like the Qunari he had met in Kirkwall.

“Thank you Commander. Please call me Asala, my name is Asala.” She continued on her way.

He watched her as she offered everyone the same thing she had him. Asala…He thought. He would have to get used to saying it. An hour later the Herald, Cassandra, Varric and Solas left for the Hinterlands.

Cullen continued his training with the recruits for another good hour after they left and headed to the Singing Maiden for a meal before retiring to his tent so he could finish his reports. As he ate, Leliana sat next to him. “She was very happy that we found her friends.” He told her.

“I know. She approached me too.” Leliana responded.

“She is unlike any Qunari I have ever met.” Cullen commented.

“That’s because she’s not Qunari. She’s Vashoth.” Leliana corrected him.

“Vashoth?”

“It means she was raised outside of the Qun. She’s as much Qunari as you or I.” Leliana continued.

“She has a very troubled history with the Qunari, if my reports are accurate and I know they are.”

“What do you mean?” Cullen asked.

“Her mother and father were killed by Qunari assassins while she was a teenager. All three assassins were found dead near her burned out home. She was nowhere to be found.” Leliana looked awestruck.

“You think that she killed all three? But she was just a child.” Cullen was surprised.

“I believe that she is the one the Qunari call ‘The Golden Reaper’ and if I’m right she’s as fearsome as any being this world has ever seen.” Leliana commented.

“How did you come by this information?” Cullen was intrigued. “Nevermind, don’t answer that.”

“The Golden Reaper?” Cullen asked.

“Let me just tell you that the name is well deserved.” Leliana told him.

Cullen was shocked once again. She’s not Qunari? He hadn’t seen her in combat, but if that nickname was given to her by the Qunari then she must be something on the battlefield. Asala…It is a beautiful name. He thought to himself. The most beautiful are usually the most dangerous. That was true of Hawke and…Amalia. What is it with him and dangerously powerful women? It seemed that he couldn’t avoid them. He chuckled to himself as he bid farewell to Leliana to finish his reports at his tent.

A whole month went by and they had not yet returned from the Hinterlands. Oh he got reports from Leliana that they had spoken to Mother Giselle and that they should expect her any day now. Leliana also reported that Master Dennet had requested a few favors in return for his magnificent stable of horses. All done easily enough. He continued to read the reports for another hour when he finally decided to get up go train with the recruits.

“Commander! Commander!” One his messengers yelled as he rushed into the tent.

“What is it man? Calm down.” Cullen tried to quiet the youth.

“There are three Qunari and two humans approaching Haven! They are heading this way from the northern approach.” He told the Commander excitedly.

“I’ll go and meet them. Tell Lieutenant Rylen to bring a squad of his best men with him and meet me outside.”

“Yes Ser!”

He headed out with Rylen and twelve of his best men to meet this interesting group. The Inquisition Soldiers looked every part like trained killers. 4 elven archers and 8 heavily armored swordsmen. They met them on the northern pass just before getting to into Haven proper.

“Hold! State your business.” Cullen exclaimed.

One of the humans, he looked like a like a large mage approached him.

“That’s far enough friend.” Cullen addressed him.

“We are here to join the Inquisition.” The man said. “We are the vanguard of the Valo-Kas mercenary company. My name is Cassian and these are my comrades Sata, Kaariss, Ashaad and Alejandro.”

“Valo-Kas, as in the Herald’s company?” Cullen gulped.

“Yes. I’m her second in command.” The larger human answered with a very Tevene accent and he motioned to the other human to step forward.

“This is Alejandro Trevelyen, Asala’s husband.” He continued with a smile.

“Where is she?” Ale immediately asked him.

“She’s on a mission. I expect she will return soon. You’ll forgive me if don’t divulge any information as I don’t really trust you yet.” Cullen answered.

“Understood Commander. I wouldn’t have expected anything less.” Cassian answered him with a comfortable tone.

“The remainder of the company is camped in Orlesian territory, but will join us as soon as they finish an escort job.” Cassian continued.

“You will need to surrender your weapons to me before we take you into the village. You will get them back once we confirm who you are.” Rylen added.

“I’ll be damned if I give up my weapons!” Sata angrily barked.

“Now, now my dear. Don’t be so rude to our new hosts. These are Asala’s friends and they did rescue our brethren, you’ll do as they say and smile those pearly white while you do it.” Cassian ordered.

“You’re lucky…” Sata began to talk back as she gave up her beautifully runed two handed sword.

“Sata will you please be nice. I’m sorry Commander it’s just that Sata doesn’t trust anyone. She’s been betrayed by some people she used to call friends.” Cassian interjected.

“Come with me then.” Cullen ordered as his soldiers collected the weapons.

“Are you THE Commander Cullen?” The large Tal-Vashoth male named Kaariss asked.

“I am.”

“Then we all owe you and the one named Leliana our thanks for our lives.” He stated. “Well us three. Cas and Sata were back with Shokrakar.”

The five fit right in although the three Tal-Vashoth did get a lot of double takes. It turned out that the Herald and Alejandro had a child together. Cullen actually smiled at the thought of Asala coming back and seeing her friends again. It felt nice to try and do something good for her sake.

Chapter Text

Cullen was in the training area when his scout came running. “They’re back! They’re back!” The scout could barely contain his enthusiasm.

The trip to the Hinterlands was only supposed to take a few weeks. It had been four months. The reports he received were glowing with praise for Asala and her party. They secured the crossroads and it was now firmly controlled by the Inquisition’s forces. The reports also stated that she had closed four rifts while she was there, but that there were more to close. He waited for them at the front gate to Haven and saw them as they approached. They were on unfamiliar horses, master Dennet no doubt. The favors performed for Master Dennet resulted in them having his full stable and actually stabilizing the Hinterlands quite a bit.

Asala looked…absolutely drained and she still managed a tired smile at Cullen as he grabbed the reins to her giant Charger. “Commander.” She addressed him while still having that smile on her face. He noticed a couple of fresh scars on her left shoulder, like claw marks? Cullen returned the smile.

“Bears?” He asked as he pointed to her shoulder.

She chuckled. “Yeah, couple of big ones almost got the best of me.” She said as she rubbed the shoulder with a wince.

As she finished her sentence her eyes lit up. “Excuse me Commander.” She excused herself as she made her way past him. He watched her as she kneeled in front of her husband and embraced him so forcefully that his breath was squeezed out of him. She buried her face into the base of his neck.

“Asala! Too tight baby!” Alejandro protested, but it was for naught as it looked like he would be as happy to die in her arms as much as she would.

“I thought I lost you.” Asala quietly expressed to him with tears in her eyes. If her expression could have been more joyful, Cullen didn’t see it until she saw the rest of her comrades.

“Welcome back.” He whispered to his wife as she looked up and saw the rest of her friends.

She ran to her comrades and embraced them all. “Cassian, they didn’t give you any trouble did they?”

“Well if by trouble you mean that Kaariss wrote more sonnets and poems about your heroism and Sata constantly complaining about everything. Then yes they gave me a lot of trouble.” Cassian joked.

As Cassian joked, Sata appeared from the tavern to Asala’s surprise.

“SATA! You came!” She lifted the other giant female Qunari like she was feather.

“Asala!” Sata protested, but it was a faux protest because of the smile that was clearly on her face.

“Shokrakar kicked me out of the camp because she said she was going to kill me and Kaariss if we didn’t shut up.” Sata added with a joyfully sarcastic expression.

Cullen watched as Solas continued to his cabin in a quiet and unassuming way. Varric seemed pleased to see the Herald with her friends and actually began to converse with them. When Kaariss found out that Varric was a writer, there was no shutting them up.

“Hey, Shortie! Meet you in the Tavern?” He was looking at Asala when he said it.

“Shortie?” Asala turned to him with a frown. “You’re going to have to do better than that.”

Varric smiled as he turned and walked away. “Shortie it is.”

Cassandra rolled her eyes in utter annoyance of the dwarf. “I’ll meet you at the Chantry for a debriefing.” She told Cullen. Cullen nodded his acknowledgment.

“I’ll meet you there. Just let me savor this moment for a little longer.” Asala addressed Cassandra.

Cassandra began to dismount when Kaariss basically tripped over himself as he rushed to assist her. “My lady let me!” He grabbed the reins to her surprise.

“That is not necessary. I can handle my horse myself.” Cassandra looked a little annoyed at the giant Tal-Vashoth.

“No doubt you can my lady, but a lady is a lady and should be treated as such, especially when one is as beautiful as you are.” Kaariss’ lines were delivered as smoothly as the finest mirror.

Cassandra dismounted while taking Kaariss’ hand. “Thank you…”

“Kaariss, my lady.” He answered.

“Thank you Kaariss.” Cassandra sounded as uncomfortable as she looked.

Did Cassandra just blush? He had never seen anything like that from the Seeker.

Cullen smiled as he watched Asala with her comrades. There was pure joy and relief as they caught up with each other. He decided to let them have their moment and made his way to the Chantry.  

There was a large crowd in front of the chantry entrance, a large and disturbingly angry crowd.

“Your kind killed the most Holy!” A Templar yelled as he accused a group of mages gathered there as well.

“Lies! Your kind let her die!” The mage retorted angrily.

“Shut your mouth mage!” The Templar was about to draw his sword when Cullen cut him off with a shove.

“Knight Captain!”

“That is not my title anymore! We are not Templars any longer! We are all part of the Inquisition.” Cullen forcefully addressed the two groups.

“And what does that mean exactly?” Chancellor Roderick condescendingly asked.

“Back already chancellor, haven’t you done enough?” Cullen let out a huff as he said it.

“I’m curious commander how your Inquisition, these oxmen and its so called ox of a Herald, will restore order as you promised.” Roderick was a smug bastard as he addressed Cullen.

“You insult her like that again and you’ll start wondering how you lost your head instead!” Cullen’s anger was barely veiled when the Herald approached.

“Back to your duties all of you!” Cullen ordered the groups to disperse.

“Cullen, is everything okay?” Asala asked him.

“Mages and Templars were already at war. Now they’re blaming each other for the Divine’s death.” He explained.

“Which is why we require a proper authority to guide them back to order. Not this so called heathen ox and its heretical movement.” The Chancellor emphasized the word ox as he nonchalantly waved his hand towards Asala as if dismissing her.

“That’s it Chancellor!” Cullen drew his sword as the Chancellor stepped back. Asala stepped in front of the Chancellor, effectively blocking Cullen from the man.

“Cullen no. It’s okay. I’m used to the insults and I don’t think it would be a good idea to turn him into a martyr.” Asala smiled a smile that instantly put him at ease.

“So you would have us believe that you and random clerics who weren’t important enough to be at the Conclave are the answer? That would be hilarious if the situation weren’t so dire.” Cullen smirked.

“The rebel Inquisition and it’s so called Herald of Andraste, I think not.” The Chancellor countered with an equally smug expression.

Asala turned around so she was facing the Chancellor and only a foot or so from him. “We will do what your precious Chantry refuses to do! We will close the breach and restore order with or without the Chantry.” She slowly moved closer to him as she looked down on him with her teeth showing their predatory qualities. The Chancellor slowly backed away.

“And if I find that you are trying to sow dissention in the ranks of the Inquisition, so help me I’ll flay you myself. Cullen, remind me again why he has been allowed to stay.” She continued.

The Chancellor was about to open his mouth when Asala turned and growled in his face effectively shutting him up.

“He’s toothless, but he is a good indicator of what to expect in Val Royeaux.” Cullen explained.

“I’ve been to Val Royeaux in my travels. I’m sure they’ll see reason.” Asala said while turning to Cullen.

“I pray you’re right.” Cullen acknowledged as Roderick turned and stormed away from them.

“Cullen?” Asala sounded almost meek.

“Yes Herald?” He gently addressed her.

“Follow me, and I thought I asked you to call me Asala.” Asala turned and pouted at him.

Cullen smiled an uncomfortable smile. “I’m sorry Heral…I mean Asala. I’m not used to being so informal.” He actually had trouble keeping up with those long strides.

“Where are you taking me?” Cullen asked.

“You’ll see when we get there. Actually close your eyes. I wanted to show you before we debriefed.” She grabbed a hold of his hand as she led him down toward what he assumed was the main gate. Her hand was so warm. Maybe that’s the reason these Qunari are always walking around half naked. Maker everything about her is huge. He could feel that her hand was totally enveloping his hand.

“Open your eyes.”

Cullen complied and was greeted with the sight of a magnificently barded warhorse. “He’s yours.”

Cullen couldn’t believe it. “Herald…Asala…I can’t accept such a gift.”

Asala smiled. “We can’t have the Commander of the Inquisition riding any old steed. What would that say about our movement? Sometimes we have to look the part Cullen. So just think of it as another tool for your duties.” She stroked the big stallion’s head as she said it.

“He’s quite impressive. An Amaranthine Charger if I’m not mistaken.” Cullen took the reins and mounted the horse.

“He fits you perfectly Cullen.” Asala’s grin was contagious as Cullen grinned himself.

“Thank you Her…I mean Asala.” Cullen was almost overtaken by emotion.

He’d never been given a gift like this, at least not by someone who wasn’t family. Everything he expected from a Qunari mercenary was not what she was, nor were her comrades. He learned that her second was a former slave from Tevinter. Cassian explained it to him how his real family sold him into slavery and that his former owner was killed in a Qunari raid. He explained how Asala and Shokrakar’s band rescued him and accepted him as one of their own. Cassian was also not typical of anyone he had ever met from the Imperium. Most of them were smug bastards who were oozing an air of arrogance and superiority. Cassian seemed humble and very well grounded. He was also very good at chess which was a plus as he lacked anyone really skilled at the game to test his mettle with.

Ashaad and Kaariss were pleasant enough. Kaariss spent most of his time in the Tavern with the bards, writing poems, sonnets and songs.   Ashaad spent most of his time helping out with the recruits. Watching Ashaad throw those giant spears was awe inspiring. He was also very good with a sword and shield. Sata kept to herself and the practice dummies. She kept Harrit and his crew busy repairing them. She seemed to be the angriest of the bunch, but he had seen her soften when Ashaad spoke to her and she outright smiled when Asala returned. Cullen could only imagine what caused her to be this way.

Alejandro was of noble birth, a Trevelyan from the Free Marches. He told Cullen that he is not on good terms with most of his family except his aunt. He asked Cullen and Leliana not to communicate with them or let them know that he was here.   This was the husband of the Herald of Andraste. He was a healer and though he knew some offensive magic, he was no battlemage. He was very quiet and unassuming, but immediately upon his arrival he started to assist the healers of the Inquisition and quickly became loved by the people of Haven. He worked himself to exhaustion sometimes as he mended bones, lacerations, and concussions and comforted the worse of the injured in their final moments. If he wasn’t healing others, he spent most of his time with the recruits learning how to defend himself. He was pretty competent and it was no surprise when he later found out that Asala and her deceased friend Antaam had been training him.

All in all they were an excellent addition to the Inquisition. Excellent indeed.

“Take this with all due respect, but are you out of your mind Ambassador?” Cullen asked

“Having the Herald address the clerics is not a terrible idea.” She continued.

“You’re serious aren’t you?” Cullen was quite disturbed by the ambassador’s suggestion.

“Mother Giselle isn’t wrong. At the moment, the Chantry’s only strength is that they are united in opinion.” Josephine explained.

“And we should ignore the danger to the Herald?” Leliana calmly added.

“It would be you taking the risk. What do you think?” Josephine asked Asala.

“You want me to walk into a pit of vipers and you ask me that?” Asala was actually smiling sarcastically while she answered.

“At least offer me a drink and a meal before you screw me.” Asala continued.

Cullen and Leliana let out a muffled laugh while Josephine looked absolutely flabbergasted.

“They’re not vipers just because they like to hiss.” Josephine said with a huff.

“I will go with her. Mother Giselle said she could provide us with names. Use them.” Cassandra addressed Leliana.

“But why? This is nothing but a…” Leliana tried to make her case but was cut short.

“What choice do we have Leliana? Right now we can’t approach anyone for help with the Breach. Use what influence we have to call the clerics together. Once they are ready we will see this through.” Cassandra was sounding desperate.

“I will make them see Cassandra. Don’t worry.” Asala put her giant hand on the Seeker’s shoulder.

“It will probably take about a week or two to get everything ready. I will keep you updated until it is time for you to leave.” Leliana stated.

“Thank you Leliana.” Cassandra still had a sad and desperate look.

They all walked out of the war room.

Cullen headed for the training grounds. When he arrived he watched as Ashaad was showing a young recruit how to hold the shield. “If it feels like a part of you, then you are doing it right.” He said to the youngster. “Here let me show you.”

Ashaad grabbed the boy’s shield and yelled. “Sata! Get your pretty ass over here!”

Sata turned from one of the training dummies that she had just finished destroying. She looked a little annoyed at him and rolled her eyes as she set up another dummy.

“It’s okay if you’re too scared to spar with me. I’ll just spar with the Commander and teach this youngster the right way.” Ashaad teased.

Cullen watched Sata as she stopped setting up the dummy and made her way toward Ashaad. Before anyone could even imagine, Sata attacked Ashaad with her sword like a whirling vortex. Ashaad avoided the attack as it looked like he was expecting it.

“The key to fighting this type of opponent is knowing their range. If you can get in close…” Ashaad leaped in between swings and shield bashed Sata to the ground while drawing his own sword and putting it to Sata’s throat. Ashaad smiled as he sheathed his sword and put his hand out to help his comrade up. Cullen noticed that every single person's eyes on the practice grounds was glued to and watching Ashaad and Sata’s lesson. “The large weapon used by my comrade here necessitates a lot of room. Get in close and their advantage is gone. Of course the risk of being split in two is always there if you misjudge your approach. Also, remember that your shield is as much a weapon as your sword. Now pair up and don’t hold back with those practice weapons.”

Cullen was extremely impressed. Sata looked like she was holding back, but none of the recruits would be able to spot it. They looked like they’ve been training together for years.

“Commander!” Ashaad yelled enthusiastically. “They’re really coming along well. You’ve done an amazing job considering how wet behind the ears they are.”

“Thank you Ashaad. Yours and Sata’s assistance is greatly appreciated.”

“Don’t get used to it.” Sata responded.

“Oh stop it love! Admit that you were wrong about the people here so you can finally show the side of you that I fell in love with.” Ashaad teased.

Sata smiled a blushing smile. “Maybe.”

“There’s my beautiful girl.” Ashaad continued to tease.

“I swear if you don’t stop it I’ll…” Ashaad quickly grabbed her from behind before she could finish and embraced her. “You’ll what? Slay me with your beauty?”

“Maker you are annoying!” Sata squirmed and protested, although her pleasant expression betrayed her feelings.

As Cullen began to enter his tent, Asala approached him. “Cullen? Will you join us in the tavern for a meal and drinks?”

“I have a lot of reports to finish and I wouldn’t want to intrude on you and your friends.”

“Oh stop it! Leliana, Cassandra, Josephine and Rylen are coming. Varric is already there. So there is no excuse. Now put down that quill and come on.”

Cullen relented and they headed together to the Tavern. It was packed in there. Recruits, Soldiers, Templars, Mages, and Valo-Kas all in one room having a loud and raucous time. He watched as Asala and Cassandra seemed to start bonding. He did not know what they were talking about but could see Cassandra put her hand on Asala’s shoulder as she visibly slouched in emotional distress. Kaariss was singing with the bard and his voice was an incredibly deep and pleasant baritone. Kaariss was definitely looking and singing to Cassandra, but she was too caught up in her conversation with Asala to notice.

Cullen smirked wondering how that was going to go over. The Breach was still a threat and he felt a little guilty at his enjoyment of the current company. Cassian told stories about Asala’s exploits against the Qunari that made Cullen gasp. After finishing his second ale, Cullen excused himself and quietly left the Tavern. He happily entered his tent and began to tackle the mountain of paperwork he was forced to leave till now.

A week had passed and the Herald left with her usual crew of Cassandra, Varric and Solas. Alejandro protested but was persuaded to stay in Haven with Cassian and the rest of the crew from the Valo-Kas. Leliana informed the Herald that the rest of the Valo-Kas was making another escort run from Montsimaard to Jader and would join them in Haven immediately afterward. So now it was another waiting game of hoping that the Herald wasn’t sent into a trap.  He rubbed his temple forcefully as he felt the onset of a headache begin to throb.

The headaches were getting worse. It had only been a week that he decided to stop taking Lyrium. He had Cassandra’s full blessing and assurance that she would watch him to make sure that he could still perform as the Commander of the Inquisition forces. The headaches, body pain and sweats were still manageable and he hoped that it wouldn’t get much worse. He could handle it if it got a bit worse, but he dreaded to think that it would get a lot worse.

Chapter Text

The Clerics – Cassandra’s POV

 

They walked through the gates of Val Royeaux and as they walked the long concourse towards the center of the city Cassandra watched the Herald walk with an ease and confidence that put her own tension at ease. They would have to see reason, the Breach was still a looming apocalypse in the sky, reminding everyone of just how foolish beings they are.   A well to do couple approached from the opposite direction and the woman all but peed her pants.   “The Goddess?! Oh Maker it is you!” She shouted like an excited school girl.

Cassandra looked over to Asala who had the biggest shit eating grin she had ever seen her have. “The Goddess? Is she talking about you?”

Asala gently took a hold of the lady’s hand and nodded. “It is me. Please can you not say you saw me? I am trying to purchase a few things and am not trying to attract attention. Can you do that for me my lady?”

“Oh Maker yes! I mean I can my lady. I mean I will tell no one.” The girl was absolutely beaming. “I can’t believe she held my hand.” She whispered as she slowly took her hand from Asala’s.

“Thank you my lady.” Asala said with a smile and they parted ways.

“Hey shortie.   That is a story that I most definitely want to hear.” Varric was in actual awe.  "...and I don't know how an eight foot Qunari is not going to attract attention."

“Indeed. That was most interesting.” Solas added.

“A girl must have some secrets.” Asala chuckled. “I just hope that she’s the only one who recognizes me.”

As they continued to walk the concourse, an Inquisition scout approached quickly and out of breath. “My lady Herald.”

“You’re one of Leliana’s people. What have you found?” Cassandra asked.

“The Chantry Mothers await you, but so do a great many Templars.”

“There are Templars here?” Cassandra looked puzzled.

“That’s just great. Maybe we can approach them here and see if they will help us?” Asala added.

“People seem to think the Templars will protect them from…from the Inquisition.” The scout clarified with disturbed tone in her voice. “They’re gathering on the other side of the market. I think that’s where the Templars intend to meet you.”

Cassandra was thinking this through. The Templars here to protect them from us? Cassandra knew that a reaction was expected from the Chantry, but to have the Templars here is a complicating factor. Were they going to have to fight for their lives? Would the Templars honor the fact that they came here to parlay and not fight? She turned to the scout. “Return to Haven. Someone will need to inform them if we are delayed.”

“As you say my lady.” The scout answered, turned and quickly left.

They quickly made their way into the market and had some people recoil in fear, and some obviously recognized Asala like the girl before. “Oh Maker it’s the Goddess! Is she with the Inquisition?” There was confusion and a lot of fear as well. They approached the area where a number of cleric had set up a makeshift stand to speak from. As they approached they could hear the cleric start to address the crowd. A young and very troubled looking Templar stood on the stand with them.

“Good people of Val Royeaux, hear me!” The Cleric began to pontificate in common, but with a terribly thick Orlesian accent.

The cleric made eye contact with Asala and continued with even more fervor. “Together we mourn our Divine. Her naïve and beautiful heart silenced by treachery!”

The glare she gave Asala made Cassandra worried because when she looked at Asala she saw those silver eyes boring a hole through the mother. “You wonder what will become of her murderer. Well, wonder no more! Behold the so-called Herald of Andraste! Claiming to rise where our beloved fell! We say this is a false prophet! A wicked succubus of a Qunari sent to subvert the Maker’s word!”

“I never claimed to being the Herald! Can we not talk like civilized people? The Breach is the real enemy not I. We need to unite to stop it.” Asala calmly responded to the astonished respect of Cassandra.

“It’s true! The Inquisition seeks only to end this madness before it is too late!” Cassandra added.

The mother smiled a wicked smile as she responded while pointing with her hand. “It is already too late.”

Cassandra’s attention was drawn in the direction of the mother’s hand. A large group of Templars approached the stand. At least twenty of them led by…by Lord Seeker Lucius!

“The Templars have returned to the Chantry! They will face this ‘Inquisition,’ and the people will be safe once more!” The mother looked positively giddy at the prospect of the fight that was about to begin.

What happened next was surprising to say the least. As the Templars took to the stand, one of them blindsided the mother with a vicious strike to the back of the head. The young Templar looked extremely disturbed by the attack.

“Attacking elderly women? The Templar order has sure sunk to a new low. Is dealing with the Inquisition a little too daunting for you?” Asala sarcastically said as she approached the stand.

Cassandra grabbed Asala by her arm and stopped her advance toward the Templars. “As if there were any reason to.” The Lord Seeker smugly responded.

“Lord Seeker Lucius, it is imperative that we speak with….” Cassandra attempted to address the Lord Seeker.

The Lord Seeker continued walking as if she didn’t exist. “You will not address me.”

“Lord Seeker?” Cassandra looked absolutely confused by the whole scene unfolding in front of her. This was a man she admired. A man who was not acting the way she remembered. It’s almost as if he were someone else entirely.

“Creating a heretical movement, raising a puppet as Andraste’s prophet. You should be ashamed.” He continued. “You should all be ashamed! The Templars failed no one when they left the Chantry to purge the mages!”

He pointed his hand and swept a wide area in an accusatory manner. “You are the ones who have failed! You who’d leash our righteous swords with doubt and fear! If you came to appeal to the Chantry, you are too late. The only destiny here that demands respect is mine!”

Cassandra heard Asala chuckle in the background. “So you came here just to beat up old ladies and make a pompous ass of yourself?” Asala said with Cassandra holding in a gasp at the total disrespect of the Lord Seeker.

One of the Templars drew his sword, but was immediately stopped by the Lord Seeker. “I came here to see what frightens women so, and to laugh.”

“But Lord Seeker… What if she was sent by the Maker? What if…?” The young Templar from before asked him.

“You are called to a higher purpose! Do not question!” The brave elderly abuser interrupted him, obviously a lieutenant of some sort.

“I will make the Templar order a power that stands alone against the Void. We deserve recognition. Independence! You have shown me nothing, and the Inquisition… Less than nothing.” The Lord Seeker sure liked to hear himself talk.

“Templars! Val Royeaux is unworthy of our protection! We march!” The Lord Seeker exclaimed as he turned and was followed by the rest of the Templars.

“The was one charming fellow.” Varric chimed in with his amazing power of sarcasm.

“Has the Lord Seeker gone mad?” Cassandra was extremely disturbed by the Lord Seeker’s actions here.

“You know him well don’t you?” Asala asked her.

“He took over the Seekers of Truth two years ago, after Lord Seeker Lambert’s death. He was always a decent man, never given to ambition and grandstanding. This is very bizarre.”

“Well so much for the Templars helping us out. He is definitely not a fan of ours.” Asala added.

“Do not be too quick to decide that. There may be others in the order who do not feel the way he does.” Cassandra pleaded. “We should probably return to Haven and inform the others of what happened here.”

“Not yet. I wish to speak with the mothers.”

They approached the stand where they saw the clerics tending to Revered Mother Hevara.

“This victory must please you greatly, Seeker Cassandra.” The revered mother defiantly told her.

“Revered Mother we are not your enemy. All we wish to do is close the Breach and restore order. No more, no less.” Asala kneeled to not seem so imposing.

“We just came here to talk to you. This was your doing not ours.”   Cassandra added.

“And you had no part in forcing our hand? Do not delude yourself. Now we have been shown up and abandoned by our own Templars in front of everyone…my fellow clerics are scattered to the winds along with their convictions.” The Revered mother sounded defeated as she turned with a pleading look at Asala.

“Just tell me one thing: Are you the Maker’s chosen, as so many claim?”

“I don’t know honestly. Much of what happened that day I cannot remember.” Asala answered her.

“That is…more comforting than you might imagine.” The Revered Mother let out a sigh of relief.

Asala put out her hand to help her up and she took it. “With the way things seem to be going, the Chantry will be needed more than ever to comfort the people. You’ll need to be stronger than before.”

“I suppose it is out of our hands now. We shall see what the Maker plans in the coming days.”

“You are needed now more than ever. The mages and Templars fighting, the breach in the sky, the death of the Divine have the people terrified. You are one of the few that can at least provide some aid to those that need it. Do not shirk that duty because it will haunt you for the rest of your days if you do.” Asala continued.

“Did all the Templars rebel Revered Mother?” Cassandra asked.

“All across Thedas, a few remained loyal, but not enough to call them The Order.” The revered mother chuckled a sad tone.

“Our White Spire now stands empty. It was the largest garrison of Templars in Thedas.” She continued.

“With the rebellion here, I believe that many more will now flock to the Lord Seeker’s banner. He will probably renew his war against the Mages and chaos will reign once more.”

“You expected him to try and kill me didn’t you?” Asala calmly stated.

“I expected him to put aside his war against the mages and find common purpose against something much more dire.” The Revered Mother answered.

“Will you continue to denounce us?” Asala asked softly.

“What good did that do? We will now concentrate our efforts on electing a new Divine, and pray for an end to this madness.”

“We will stop this chaos somehow. We will…we must.” Asala’s gaze into the Revered Mother’s eyes was soft and understanding.

“I’d like to believe that. I really would.” The Revered Mother told her.

“It’s not too late for the Chantry to help us.”

“If only that were true.” The Revered Mother answered.

“What’s to stop you from trying?” Cassandra added.

“We are not looking for a winning horse. We are simply trying to do the right thing.”

“So are we, Revered Mother, so are we.” Asala answered as she turned to face her comrades.

Cassandra couldn’t help but admire the confident restraint that Asala had shown with the clerics. She thought to herself that she would not have been able to confront them in such a civil and almost pleasant way. This Qunari woman was almost as good as Josephine when speaking with people. As they walked away they were approached by what appeared to be a Circle Mage.

“You are the Herald of Andraste, are you not? I have an invitation for you.” He gave Asala a sealed envelope.

Asala opened the envelope and read the invitation from First Enchanter Vivienne De Fer. “Well this is interesting. Maybe the trip here wasn’t a complete waste of time if we can get her as an ally. I’ve actually tried to contact her before to help me with a problem. I guess now I’m big enough to be seen.”

“Oh you’re big alright.” Varric joked. “Real big.”

“Don’t make me step on you!” Asala playfully told him. “You want to come?”

“It doesn’t specify that you can bring a guest.”   Cassandra added.

“What do you think Cassandra? Do you know her?”

“She would make a fine addition as an ally. I do not believe that this is any kind of a trap. Madame De Fer is very meticulous in the safeguarding of her reputation and if this is from her, then it is a legitimate invitation.” Cassandra added.

“You go to the event. We will escort you to the door and then maybe head to the tavern for a meal. When you are done, come find us there.”

Cassandra watched as the Herald entered the estate.

“Well, let’s go get some grub. I’m starving.” Varric stated.

“Indeed, she will probably be there for some time.” Solas stated.

….

Four hours later Varric looked like he was ready to kill himself. “You two have got to be the most anti social and boring people alive. I should have found a way to sneak into that estate rather than hang out with you two duds for this long.”

Asala approached them with a big grin. Varric jumped from his seat. “My savior!” He yelled.

“What’s wrong Varric?” Asala asked him with a giggle.

“If you ever leave me with the Personality twins again, I will make sure to save a bolt for myself.”

“Ugh…Varric is so needy of attention that he doesn’t know what to do if he doesn’t get it.” Cassandra was downplaying Varric’s antics.

“Master Tethras cannot contemplate things in silent meditation and be content like myself and the Seeker.” Solas added.

“I’m sorry Varric. I won’t do this to you again. Next time I’ll leave you with Cullen.” Asala laughed.

“Yeah that’s nice, make fun of the Dwarf. It’s so easy to pick on the little guy.” Varric was truly happy to see her.

“Well the First Enchanter is on board and will be heading to Haven in the morning.” Asala briefed them.

“That is excellent news.” Cassandra said. “Let’s pay for the meal and go to our rooms. We will need to leave in the morning as well. Maybe we can leave with the First Enchanter.”

As Cassandra reached into her pocket for her coin, she noticed that there was some parchment in there that was definitely not there before. She pulled it out and it was a note written in very bad common.

So yeah, I hear that you like taken out baddies. I can bring all my friends to help yeah? Someone in Val Royo wants to hurt you. Meet me at the marked location and we hurt him first yeah?

Friend of Red Jenny

Ps. Bring swords, probably should have said that before huh, but it’s all good inn it?

“This is interesting. Another ally?” Cassandra said.

“I’ll go check it out…” Asala started to say.

“Oh no you don’t. There is no way your leaving me behind with these two. I would rather you stick me on a rack and try to stretch me out to human height.” Varric interrupted.

“Okay, we’ll all go.”

They found the area on the map easy enough, but they also found a few bandits that didn’t appreciate them being there. The fights were easy enough and Asala actually spared a few that surrendered.   They made their way through some back alleys and were confronted with a dead end and door. Asala opened the door and had to dodge a couple of fire balls cast at her from some ridiculously dressed little Orlesian man.

They watched him as he puffed out his little chicken chest and started to talk. “Herald of Andraste! How much did you expend to discover me? It must have weakened the Inquisition immeasurably!”

Cassandra watched Asala as she was ready to wring the little man’s neck, but she stopped herself and actually answered him. “Pfft…who are you again?”

The little pompous man continued on his tirade, to what seemed the amusement of Asala. Maybe it was his accent coupled with his diminutive size that entertained Asala. “You don’t fool me! I’m too important for this to be an accident! My efforts will survive with victories against you elsewhere!”

Asala’s attention was drawn to the guttural sound of someone getting shot. As she looked in the direction of the sound, she saw one of the little man’s guards go down with an arrow in his back and an elf girl aiming another shot at the pompous ass.

“Just say what.” She yelled at him.

“What is the…” The arrow went into his mouth midsentence, dropping him instantly.

“Ewww. Squishy one, but you heard me, right? Just say “what.” Rich tits always try for more than they deserve.” The elf sounded like the note.

“Blah, blah, blah! Obey me! Arrow in my face!”   She continued while basically confusing everyone there.

“Glad to see you’re...” She beamed at Asala. “You’re well fit. Heard about your kind. Seeing’s different.”

“I mean it’s all good, innit? The important thing is: You glow? You’re the Herald thingy?”

The smile on Asala’s face seemed to put everyone at ease. “Some say that, but who are you and what’s this about?”

“No idea, I don’t know this idiot from manners. My people just said that the Inquisition should look at him.”

“Your people? Elves?”

The elf let out a short chuckle. “No. People, people. Name’s Sera, this is cover get around it.” She was pointing at all of the crates in this small courtyard.

“For the reinforcements. Don’t worry. Someone tipped me their equipment shed. They’ve got no breeches.” Sera continued to Asala’s now annoyed expression.

As the elf girl finished, approximately 6 armed men entered the courtyard with their junk hanging out. Asala attempted to keep her laugh inside, but it was a no win situation and laughed out loud for a second, only to be hit with an arrow in the shoulder. “FUCK!” She yelled as she dodged another arrow and drew her swords, turning her into a whirling and powerful force of death. The fight was over very quickly and she noticed one of the men that she spared was in the group, but the other was not. Solas was already looking at her wound. “I’ll be okay Solas. It’s not that deep thanks to my thick skin…ha!” Solas smiled at Asala’s levity.

“Hey girl, you could have taken their swords instead of their breeches you know.”

“How much fun would that have been?” She answered.

“Friends really came through on that tip. No Breeches!” She was laughing to herself.

“So Herald of Andraste. You’re a strange one. I’d like to join.”

“How about we get to know each other first. You know, names and such.” Asala answered.

“The Friends of Red Jenny? That’s me!” She started babble.

“One name, no wait…two…It’s like this. You followed the note from the friends of Red Jenny. That’s me well I’m only one. So is a fence in Montford, a woman in Kirkwall. There were three in Starkhaven. Brothers or something. It’s just a name, yeah? It lets little people, “Friends,” be part of something while they stick it to nobles they hate.”

“So here, in your face. I’m Sera. “The Friends of Red Jenny” are sort of out there. I used them to help you, plus arrows.” Sera continued.

Cassandra was having trouble following the Sera’s explanation and by the look on Asala’s face, she was as well.

“I need soldiers, spies, healers, you know…people. Can your friends help with that?” Asala asked

“Here’s how it goes. You “important” people are up here.” Sera was making hand gestures with her hands as she talked. “Shoving your cods around. Blah, blah, blah, I’ll crush you. I’ll crush you!”

She continued while puckering her face and making ridiculous kissing sounds. “Oh, I’ll crush you!”

“Then you’ve got Generals and Oathbelchers, and sure, you’ve got soldiers. Like the dead guys protecting that other dead guy. All those helmets, and what gave them up? Some drunk gets a key lifted because someone else is pissed off about bills.”

Asala smiled at the girl while Cassandra was still trying to understand what was going on.

“So no, I’m not a swordface, secretspyface sneakin and marchin all over yeah, but if you don’t listen down here, you risk your breeches. Ha! Like those guards. I stole…Look, do you need people or not? I want to get things back to normal. Like you!”

“Alright Sera, welcome aboard!” Asala grinned as she said it.

“Yes! Get in good before you’re too big to like. That’ll keep your breeches where they should be.”

“Plus extra breeches because I have all these…you have merchants who buy that pish, yeah? Got to be worth something, yeah?”

“Come on Sera, we’ll head out in the morning. You can stay with Cassandra and I.”

Cassandra was trying to sleep, but was being kept awake by something going on the Herald’s bedroom. It was agreed that since the Herald was using the larger bed, Sera would stay with her. It turns out that was a mistake.

“Sera, will you stop!” Asala’s yell broke through the silence and darkness of the room.

“Oh please, please, please let me see!”

“Stop it! Or….SERA!” Asala sounded almost angry.

“Wooow…you’re…you’re…amazing…” Sera said in a quietly awed voice. “It’s all good innit?”

“Sera, I’m going to kill you!” Asala’s yell was followed by the sound of footsteps skittering about and things shattering. “Wait, wait, I’ll leave, yeah!”

“Too fucking late for that girl.” It became eerily silent in the room for a moment and then the door opened.

The scene that Cassandra was a witness to shocked her to her core. Asala with a truly annoyed look on her face had the young elf by the back of her shirt lifted in the air with her legs dangling. Now this was not the shocking part, the fact that Asala was completely naked in a display of magnificent physical perfection was. “Now you can sleep on the fucking floor!” Asala dropped her unceremoniously on the floor with a thump.

“Wait! Herald I’m sorry, yeah?” Sera said as she tried to get another look at her.

“Fuck you Sera! Cassandra, you deal with this pain in the ass.”

“Oh no! You said she could join us. She’s your proble…” Cassandra yelled complaint as Asala slammed the door shut, totally ignoring her.

“She’s so beautiful!” Sera quietly said, she sounded completely enamored with Asala.

“You’re lucky you still have your arms. I’ve seen her tear them clean off of people…” Cassandra said.

“…and she’s married you know.”

She watched as Sera’s shoulders slumped. “Married? Ugh the good ones are always taken, yeah.”

“What about you?” Sera playfully asked.

“Sera I swear if you try anything with me you will end up on the pavement outside.”

“Alright, alright…I’ll go to sleep, right?” Sera resigned herself to ending the night.

The morning came and both Asala and Cassandra looked like they didn’t sleep a wink. Sera looked fresh as a daisy. Varric looked very amused at the scene before him. His night was quiet and restful for a change as Solas was in bed immediately and asleep in an instant.

“You two look like shit.” Varric said.

The glares from Asala and Cassandra could have bored a hole through the walls of Minrathous. “Varric, not now.” Cassandra asked.

“Bad night?” Varric asked

“Varric I swear I will gag and carry you in my equipment bag all the way back to Haven if you don’t stop asking.” Asala tried to look angry, but started to giggle at the thought.

“Ha! I’d love to see that, yeah?”

“You look chipper. Maybe I’ll just talk to you since these two have a little too much venom in their veins.” Varric gestured at the two pissed off women.

Solas looked positively amused at the scene. “Herald, may I ask you something?”

“Solas, please don’t join those two in their incessant snickering. You will shatter my view of this world.” Asala smiled as she said it.

“Was it worth it Sera?” Solas asked.

“Totally!”

Asala looked at Cassandra. “And so it begins to crumble. Thanks Sera.”

“I can’t wait till she meets Madame De Fer.” Varric added.

“Ugh…don’t remind me.” Cassandra added.

As they gathered their things and made sure that they had everything they were approached by an elf in beautiful royal blue robes. Cassandra recognized her immediately.

“If I may have a moment of your time?”   The elf quietly asked.

“Grand Enchanter Fiona?” Cassandra was a little surprised at seeing her.

“Leader of the Mage Rebellion? Is it not dangerous for you to be here?” Solas looked equally surprised.

“Well with the Templars gone, I guess it’s safer here than before.” Asala stated.

“I heard about this gathering. I wanted to see the fabled Herald of Andraste with my own eyes. If it’s help with the Breach you seek, perhaps you should look among the mages.”

“This is strange. You weren’t at the Conclave?” Asala looked a little skittish.

“Yes, you were supposed to be there and yet somehow you avoided death.” Cassandra added.

“As did the Lord Seeker you will note. Both of us sent negotiators in our stead in case it was a trap. I won’t pretend I’m not glad to live. I lost many dear friends that day. It disgusts me to think that the Templars will get away with it. I’m hoping you won’t let them.”

“You really think that the Templars are responsible?” Asala asked.

“Why wouldn’t she?” Cassandra added.

“Lucius seems hardly broken up over his losses, if he’s concerned about them at all. You heard him. You think he wouldn’t happily kill the Divine, to turn people against us. So yes, I think he did it. More than I think you did it, at any rate.” Fiona explained.

“Does this mean that the mages will help us close the Breach?” Asala asked.

“It means that we are willing to discuss it. Consider this an invitation to Redcliff. An alliance could help us both after all. I hope to see you there. Au Revoir my Lady Herald.”

With that the Grand Enchanter took her leave of them.

“Well, what do you guys think?” Asala asked.

“Another Elfy mage, ugh.” Sera announced. “No thank you.”

“At least now we can approach the mages without getting immolated.” Varrica added.

“Indeed their help would be invaluable.” Solas also added.

“Come let us return to Haven.” Cassandra said. “We will discuss all of our options there.”

 

Chapter Text

Asala and Sata were taunting each other mercilessly as they sparred in the practice area. “You know Sata, I believe that the Maker does love you, but everyone else thinks you’re an asshole.” Asala smirked as she said it. Ashaad and Kaariss started to laugh along with some of the Inquisition soldiers that were watching on.

Asala was in rare form and everyone could see Sata starting to boil over. “Fuck you Asala!” Sata came in high with her practice sword and Asala dodged it easily enough, but she didn’t notice that Sata was also throwing a kick which struck her in the mid-section. Asala barely felt it as she leaped over her and leg swept Sata, putting her on her ass.

Asala, from behind, wrapped her legs and arms around Sata as she began to struggle to try and get free. She planted a kiss on her cheek. “You know I love you right?” Asala said to her in an almost apologetic tone.

Sata just continued to struggle harder. “Asala! We’re supposed to be practicing, not fucking around!”

“I think the fucking around part would require Ashaad in your specific case.” Asala teased, but did not let go.

“Hey don’t bring me into the middle of that…on second thought I’d love to be in the middle of that.” Ashaad teased.

“Oh…what?” Asala let out a good laugh as she began to blush. Sata’s glare at Ashaad could have leveled a mountain with its intensity.

“I fucking hate you Lala, let me go!” Sata yelled as she started to blush a very dark crimson.

“Asala will you stop joking around with her, you know how she gets.” Shokrakar pleaded.

“Oh come on, it’s all an act. Sata is about as pissed off as I am right now.” Asala said as she let go of the fiery Sata, resulting in a brutally vicious elbow to the face.

Asala reeled back as if she were really hurt and looked like she passed out while holding her mouth. “You don’t fool me LaLa girl! I know that trick.” Asala did not move and lay there completely still.

“That was such a cheap shot Sata! I thought you were better than that!” Alejandro ran past Sata and kneeled over his wife. Before he could react, Asala pulled his head down to hers and fiercely kissed him. The mercs and soldiers all began to laugh.

Alejandro pulled back and looked into his wife’s beautiful silver colored orbs. “I love that trick.” He whispered to her as a curl of his lips began to form into a grin. Asala stood up and yelled over to Sata as she rubbed her jaw with a faux painful expression. “It was a really good cheap shot. Thanks.”

“I told you she was full of shit!” Sata yelled as she walked away with a grin.

“Ugh…I don’t know why I let you take the reins of the group.” Shokrakar sighed.

“Cas!, You’re supposed to be her second and rein her in when she is acting like an idiot!” Shok yelled.

“Sorry my love, but she doesn’t listen to me or anyone else. You know how she is. She kind of reminds me of some other large Qunari girl…I can’t remember her name.” Cassian cast an accusatory stare at Shok.

Shokrakar grinned ever so slightly at the comment. “Watch it pretty boy. You might end up alone tonight.”

Cullen absolutely loved the banter of this group. Every now and then one of his own men would join in to the absolute delight of the Herald. The morale in the camp had been steadily rising and everyone felt as if they had a fighting chance to actually get the Breach sealed. The Valo-Kas mercenaries were very well disciplined and professional even if their sparring sessions did turn into a bunch of veritable and foul language trash talking matches. They were a mixed group of humans, elves, vashoth and tal-vashoth.   As he watched them interact, he could tell that Asala was the leader and Cassian was her master tactician of a second. Shokrakar may have relinquished her leadership, but it was obvious that Asala and Cassian both looked to her many times when a major decision had to be made. Cullen was also in awe at how the Valo-Kas humans and elves seamlessly mixed with the Inquisition soldiers. They acted like bridges that seemed to pierce the veil of mystery and fear most of them had of the Qunari. The result was that the Inquisition soldiers were slowly accepting and even loving their Tal-Vashoth and Vashoth comrades. It was a testament to the Herald’s powers of leadership that her people made the Inquisition soldiers feel as if they had been made a part of her family.

As Cullen began to bark out orders to the recruits, he noticed a man in full plate walking toward the Chantry. Another mercenary? … He asked himself. “Herald!” He called to get her attention and she turned to see what he wanted. Cullen pointed at the stranger. “Is he one of yours?”

Asala looked over in the direction of the unknown soldier. “He’s definitely not one of mine.   I’ll go talk to him.”

Asala approached the soldier cautiously and immediately gets his attention. As the soldier begins to approach her, Asala halts her progress and puts out her hand up to signal to him to stop where he is. “That’s close enough stranger.”

“Excuse me. I’ve got a message for the Inquisition, but I’m having a hard time getting anyone to talk to me.” The stranger said

“Well you have my undivided attention. Who are you soldier?”

“Cremisius Aclasi, with the Bull’s Chargers mercenary company. We work mostly out of Orlais and Nevarra.”

“The Bull’s Chargers…you mean THE Bull’s Chargers? You guys are pretty well known.   I know your boss is of my kind. I’m guessing that’s why the name.”

“Yes he’s Qunari like you and yeah the name is pretty self-explanatory. We’ve actually got word of some Tevinter Mercenaries out on the Storm Coast. My company commander, Iron Bull, offers the information free of charge.”  

Asala lets out a louder than she would have liked chuckle. “Iron Bull? Your company commander’s name is Iron Bull? Ha! Well my name is Asala and it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Asala could feel that Cremisius’ heart rate was steady along with his breathing. Asala also noticed that Cremesius was definitely a female human. The scent was unmistakable, but Asala didn’t begrudge anyone for the life that they were chosen for. Asala liked him instantly.

“So Cremisius, tell me a little about your commander.”

“He calls himself Iron Bull as you know. He leads from the front and is a lot smarter than the last guy I worked for. He doesn’t usually go out of his way to get a job, but he hears nothing but good things about the Inquisition and wants to join up.”

“Are you from Tevinter Cremisius?”

“Yes, did the name give it away?” Cremisius was starting to look a little uncomfortable.

“The name was my first clue, but your accent confirmed it. Don’t worry, I’m not that kind of Qunari…So what does the Iron Bull and his Chargers want from the Inquisition?”

“Bull just wants a chance to show the Inquisition that we are worth a look. If you don’t think we can help, you don’t have to hire us. Come to the Storm Coast and watch us work.”

“Okay Lieutenant, we’ll head out there and see what you got.”

 

DAAAAA BULLS!

“Crem watch behind you!” Iron Bull yelled at his second, just before Crem turned and split his attacker in two with his long sword.

“Thanks chief.” Crem yelled as he continued to fight the Venatori mercs.

Bull felt a blast of heat behind him as he turned to see another Venatori slain, this time Dalish fried it with a fireball.

“Nice shot.” Bull told her as he brought his giant axe to bear on an unlucky spellbinder. The crunching sound of the axe going through flesh and bone echoed through the air.

The two battlemages on the edge of the fight were giving his boys a really hard time. Their continuous barrage of spells had already wounded a few of his men and it would get much worse if he didn’t take care of them. “Crem those battlemages have to go!” He screamed as he dodged a fireball that exploded behind him knocking Grim on his ass and singeing Bull’s chin hairs.

Crem began to charge towards them when he was hit by a small fireball. Crem’s shield took the brunt of it, but it definitely put him on his ass. Bull watched helplessly as the mages began a follow up attack.

“Crem!” He yelled as he saw a gleam in his peripheral vision coming from the cliffs above. He looked up and saw a giant, golden Qunari female leap from the cliffs and land directly on top of one of the mages, killing him instantly. He watched as she grabbed the other mage in a blur of movement and threw him against the cliff face with bone crushing force. “Chief! What the fuck are you staring at!” Skinner yelled as she saved his ass from another blind side strike.

Bull snapped out of it and with the help of this new ally, mopped up the rest of the Venatori mercs.

“Crem! How’d we do?” Bull asked his second.

“Five or six wounded chief, no dead.” Crem answered.

“That’s what I like to hear. Let the throat cutters finish up then break out the casks.” Bull ordered.

Bull watched her approach. By Koslun’s ass she was big! He’d never seen anything like her. None of the females back in Seheron or Par Vollen looked like her. She towered over him and no one towered over him.

“Holy Koslun’s gray and wrinkled ball sac! It’s True! Oh the Chantry must love you. A Qunari mercenary is the famed Herald of Andraste!”

Asala couldn’t help but smile at the colorful language. “Shenedan Sten.”

“Whoa….let’s keep that shit to a minimum. Makes the boys nervous.”

“What’s the matter qalaba?” She grinned as she said it.

Bull grinned back…”You’re trouble aren’t you?”

“Some would say that, I think I could say the same about you.”

“Throat cutters are done Chief.” Crem interrupted.

“Already? Have them check again. I don’t want any of those Tevinter bastards getting away. No offense Crem.” Bull ordered.

“At least a bastard knows who his mother was. Puts us one up on you Qunari right?”

Asala smiled at Cremisius. “It’s nice to see you again Cremisius.”

“You too your worship.” Crem turned as he walked away.

“So you’ve seen what we can do. We’re expensive, but we’re worth it. I’m sure the Inquisition can afford us.” Bull started as he sat on a big boulder.

“I sort of saved your ass a little. Those two battlemages were in a perfect spot to cause massive damage to your crew. If it wasn’t for me and your excellent battlemage, you would have lost a few people in this clash.” Asala looked at Dalish who began to blush and yelled back. “I’m not a mage!”

“Oh come on now! We had this totally under control and besides my archers were getting ready to take those two out before you decided to butt in. Not that I don’t appreciate it.”

“How much is this going to cost me exactly?”

“It wouldn’t cost you anything personally. Unless, you wanna buy drinks later. Your ambassador…what’s her name…Josephine? We’d go through her and get the payments set up. The gold will take care of itself. So don’t worry about that. All that matters is we’re worth it.”

“The Chargers seem like an excellent company.”

“They really are, but you’re not just getting them…you’re getting me as well. You need a front line body guard? I’m your man. Whatever it is…Demons, Dragons? The bigger the better.” Bull stands up and begins to walk towards the water’s edge. He turns toward Asala with an unsure look on his face.

Asala walks with him and he knows that she noticed his uneasiness. “What is it?”

“There’s one other thing, might be useful, might piss you off.”

“Ever hear of the Ben Hassrath?”

Asala’s face told Bull everything he needed to know. She was intimately aware of who and what the Ben Hassrath were.

“The Qunari spies and assassins? Yeah, I am on very good terms with them, being they’ve been trying to kill me for my entire life.” Asala’s expression was one of anger mixed with restraint. Bull didn’t know if he should just admit that he was one or wait until he knew she wouldn’t just start a bloody fight. In the end he decided to admit it and face the consequences.

“That’s them…I mean us.”

He watched Asala’s expression turn to pure rage, but she did not strike. She turned on her heels and started walking away. “Herald! Wait, I know that…” Bull yelled at her trying to get her to walk back.

She turned with an uncomfortably calm look on her face. “You’re one of those murdering fucking bastards and you actually think I would let you get close to me? Close to my friends and family? You must be out of your fucking mind!”

He stood up and attempted to approach her, in a flash of movement she unsheathed these magnificent short swords and warned him. “Don’t you fucking dare come near me!”

Bull put his hands up. “Whoa! Whoa! I’m not here to start a war with the Inquisition. I’m here because the Qunari are really worried about this Breach and are thinking about launching an invasion. I just want to cool their heads so that we all get what we want.”

“Why the hell would you admit to me that you are a Ben Hassrath spy?” She was still angry and nervous. She was now surveying everything and looked at his boys like they were…Viddathari.

“I swear to you that I’m not here for anything that’s happened in the past. I’m only here because the out of control magic that is involved will harm everyone if it is not handled. It seems that your group is the only one doing anything about it. I’ve been ordered to join the Inquisition, get close to the people in charge and send reports on what’s happening.” Bull could see that her face was a little more relaxed…a little. So he continued.

“But, I also get reports from Ben Hassrath agents all over Orlais. You sign me on and I’ll share them with your people.”

“So, do you admit that you’re a spy to everyone you’re supposed to spy on?” Asala asked while surveying her immediate area. Man, she was as alert as a momma bear. He had to admire that.

“Whatever happened at that Conclave thing was bad. Someone needs to get that breach closed. So whatever I am, I’m on your side.”

“You still could have attempted to hide what you are.” She watched him and examined him the same way he does to everyone. Asala seemed to have many of his skills.

“From something called the Inquisition? I’d been outed sooner or later. Better you hear it right up front from me.”

The look on Asala’s face was priceless. It was shock. “An honest spy? I would have never guessed that one existed and yet I believe you.”

“What would you send home in these reports of yours?”

“Enough to keep my superiors happy. Nothing that will compromise your operations. Like I said before, the Qunari want to know if they need to launch an invasion to stop the whole damn world from falling apart. You let me send word about what you’re doing and it will put some minds at ease. That’s good for everyone.”

“What’s in these Ben Hassrath reports that you’re offering to share?”

“Enemy movements, suspicious activities, intriguing gossip, a bit of everything. Alone they’re not much, but if your spymaster is worth a damn she’ll put them to good use.”

“She?” There was no more shock in her expression. Asala was now in full interrogation mode and she seemed to read him like a book. He wondered how she changed her tune about him so quickly.

“I did a little research. Plus, I’ve always had a weakness for redheads.”

“Alright, you’re in. Don’t make me regret this. Every report you send will go through Leliana and if I find out you do anything that puts our operations in jeopardy, you will face me and you won’t like it.” Asala body language was stern and uncompromising. He could see that she wasn’t lying about facing her.

“That’s just the way I like it.” Bull stated while looking her straight in the eye so that she wouldn’t miss the fact that he wasn’t intimidated by her or lying to her.

“Crem! Tell the boys to finish drinking on the road! We’ve just been hired!”

“Aww Come on Chief! We just opened the casks with axes!” Crem protested.

“Well seal em up. You’re from Tevinter right? Try Blood magic.” Bull answered him.

“We’ll see you in Haven.” Bull addressed Asala.

“No, I think you’re going to come with us to handle a situation out here on the Storm Coast. You send your boys back with Crem. We’ve already sent a raven so they will be expected.” Asala told him. “Plus I would like a chance to talk to you before sending you back to where my brethren are now a fixture in the Inquisition.”

“Your merc band is a part of the Inquisition?” Bull asked as they began to make their way down the coast toward the last known area the scouts were seen.

“Yeah, and they are well liked by everyone that counts. Eight Tal-Vashoth that are going to just love me for allowing you into our midst.” Asala joked.

Asala kneeled and picked up some of the sand. She took a smell of it and began walking toward a sheer face cliff. Bull noticed a shack on the top that was overlooking the whole beach. If there were any hostiles up there, they would see their merry little band approaching.

“Sata will probably want to kill you. Ashaad will probably want to kill you. Shokrakar will probably want to kill me. Kaariss will probably want to write a poem about killing you. Oh it’s going to be soooo much fun.” Asala’s smile made Bull grin.

“That’s a pretty violent bunch, huh?” Bull smirked. “Well everyone except this Kaariss.”

“And Katoh, although I think she will want to kill you more than anyone else.”

They continued to walk towards the cliff as Asala continued to speak.

“You have to understand that I have been fighting your kin since I was fifteen years old. This is the longest conversation I’ve ever had with one of you. Remember that the Qun is not for everyone right?”

Bull watched her like a hawk. He listened to every word and came to the very obvious conclusion that Asala and her band were going to be very hostile to him. “No it’s not.” He chuckled as he said it.

“So why the hate? Why can’t a person make the decision to leave the Qun without you hunting them like an animal for doing so? Oh, that’s right we must be nothing but animals to leave such an idealistic way of life right? Thinking for oneself is barbaric right? Even though the south of Thedas has been doing it for a millennia.”

Bull knew some of the Ben Hassrath that were the hunters. The things that they did to Tal-Vashoth brought a chill up his spine. They would kill Tal-Vashoth, Vashoth, Saarebas and others deemed a danger by Par Vollen. It was one of the more distasteful things that was done under the Qun. He didn’t agree with that aspect of the Qun. “I am not that type of Ben Hassrath.”

They were at the base of the cliff now and Asala looked like she was getting ready to start climbing. She stopped abruptly and turned to face him.

“Oh? You mean you don’t kidnap the children of the dead Tal-Vashoth you just killed?”

“Hey listen it goes both ways! Seheron is an absolute mess because of the fucking Tal-Vashoth, Tevenes, Fog Warriors and others. Have you ever walked into a school where all of the teachers, administrators and children were slaughtered by the Tal-Vashoth? If the Ben-Hassrath are bad, you’re people are just as bad!”

“So explain to me why when we leave Qunari lands your people still come after us.” Asala was starting to get angry. “Are they afraid that other Qunari will see that it is possible to live and thrive outside of the Qun? Are they afraid more will leave? You don’t see Orlais or Ferelden having all of the problems with us like in Seheron.”

“Riight.” Bull said with a heavy dose of sarcasm. “Like those Tal-Vashoth outside of Kirkwall you mean. That band that raided traders, travelers and the like. Not sparing even the children from their swords, you mean those Tal-Vashoth. You’re forgetting that the Champion of Kirkwall wiped them out too. I wonder why, being that they were such a good group of people.”

“You motherfucker! Bandits are bandits. It doesn’t matter what race they are. That’s just a convenient excuse for you Koslun Fucking assholes to come and ply your murderous trade!”

“Herald! Iron Bull! You will stop this arguing this instant! It will get neither of you anywhere except to an early grave!” Cassandra screamed. “You will need to get along for at least the time being, preferably until we close the Breach. Then you can kill each other for all I care.”

“You’re right Cassandra…I’m sorry Bull. I will try to get along.” Asala looked a little ashamed of she was acting.

“Listen, you don’t have to like me, shit you can hate my guts if you want. I’m not here to do any of the things you are afraid of me doing. I will help you in any way that I can.” Bull actually felt sorry for her.

“Bull, I’ve never had good dealings with the Ben Hassrath and maybe you haven’t with any Tal-Vashoth, but I will give you a chance. Know that I and my comrades will try our best to be fair towards you and your men. Maybe you will come to understand that the Tal-Vashoth are not the animals that you think they are.”

“And maybe you won’t think of all of us as murderers.” Bull countered.

He watched her as she smiled and he could see that she slowly relaxed. “We shall see.”

………………..

As they climbed the rock face Bull noticed how easily Asala traversed this Maker Forsaken terrain. She easily leaped distances that no one should be able to. She continued to climb up the sheer face as he, Cassandra and Varric ran around and up a path that led to the same place. He watched her disappear over the cliff face and immediately started hearing metal on metal, metal on flesh and bone, screams of agony silenced suddenly and with disturbing regularity. Damn that woman! He thought.

“Damn it Shorty, why the hell did you bring us if you’re going to do things alone!” Varric yelled even though he couldn’t see her, but he could hear the results of her being up there.

By the time they got up there, all they could see was the carnage. At least ten bodies, some missing limbs, some missing heads and one that was split completely in two starting from the head and ending in the groin area. “I swear I’m going to tear that fuck apart!” Asala was screaming while she walked out of the shack.  “They murdered the whole scouting party!”

Bull, Cassandra and Varric stepped into the shack and noticed the bodies of the Inquisition scouts. “Murdered, damn.” Varric mumbled.

“Check to see if there is anything useful.” Bull suggested.

They searched the cabin and found some gold, weapons and other useful materials.

“The Blades of Hessarian? Do you anything about these people Cassandra?” Varric asked her.

“They supposedly serve Andraste to bring judgement to the weak and corrupt. Other than that I am not too familiar with them.” Cassandra answered.

“Look at this. It seems that with this amulet we can challenge their leader and take over their group.” Bull was reading a parchment while holding a golden medallion. He was also looking at a map that appeared to show the location of the Blade’s main camp.

“Let’s go.” Asala commanded as she took the amulet and put it around her neck.

“Maybe we should rest a bit before heading down there.” Varric suggested.

“I agree. We should recover and plan our actions somewhat before we go and face this group.” Solas made a rare comment.

“We need to give these men a proper burial.” Cassandra spoke with a sad tone.

They spent the next hour digging graves for the Inquisition scouts and also the Blades to the protests of Asala. “We should leave them to rot.”

“You need to look beyond this battle shorty. Maybe if that amulet lets you become their leader, this show of meaningful thought will go a long way in their eyes.” Varric added while digging the last hole.

“You’re pretty good at digging there Varric. Must be a dwarf thing.” Asala teased in the middle of the disturbing scene.

……….

True to the parchment, Asala went into the camp with her comrades and challenged the leader of the blades.

It wasn’t even close. Asala didn’t even draw her weapons as she methodically went about breaking every bone in that poor sod’s body. “How does it feel you murderous fuck! Beg me and I might spare you.”

He just spit in her face and she proceeded in a flash of metal to decapitate him in front of his former group.

Bull looked around and saw the disturbed look on his new comrades’ faces. He was in awe of what he just saw. She didn’t have a scratch on her. The man was just not fast enough to land anything. She moved and struck, moved and struck and each strike was culminated with a loud crunching sound. It was awesome.

“We serve you now your worship. The Blades of Hessarian are yours to command.” One of the men addressed her.

“Good. My first command to you is to cooperate with the Inquisition forces. I will make sure that you are issued messenger crows to report anything that you deem necessary. While I am gone you are tasked with carrying out my orders. Is that clear?” Asala stated.

The man nodded. “As you wish your worship.”

“You should be aware that there are Darkspawn prowling the area. So do be careful you worship.”

“We will be. Thank you.”

On their way back to camp they closed two rifts. The demons coming from the rifts were a disturbing detail that his comrades had failed to mention. He didn’t show how uncomfortable they made him, but somehow he knew that Asala knew.

She was an amazing creature. She threw herself into fights with an abandon that he could say was reckless except that her fighting ability was far and away fit to the task.   She moved with a speed and agility that he had never seen.   She was at least as strong as he was and he suspected that she was stronger. Her horns, oh Koslun, her horns were the most magnificent horns he had ever seen on a female or male for that matter. He watched her as she spoke with her comrades, he watched as she laughed with Varric and Solas as their banter was diametrically opposed with Varric being a brilliant bullshit artist and Solas just being a smug know it all elf. Asala seemed to be enjoying the show as he approached them and sat with them.

“You’re a great warrior Bull, best I’ve seen other than myself.” She smiled as she spoke to him and it hit him like a hammer that she was trying to be nice.

“You’re not too shabby, I’ll give you that.”

“The boys are all going to want a shot at you in the sparring ring. I hope you’re ready for it.”

“Bring them on Boss, bring them on.”

“Shok is going to kill me.” She whispered and started to giggle.

 

 

Chapter Text

Cullen watched once again as The Herald and her companions approached Haven.  Asala was in the lead with Cassandra and Solas behind her.  Varric was in the rear talking to a massively built Qunari male that he could only assume was Iron Bull.  He hadn’t seen this many of the horned people in one place since Kirkwall and that was not a pleasant experience.  These Qunari were a lot different from the ones in Kirkwall though.  They laughed, joked and made every attempt to mingle with his men and women. 

“So that’s the infamous Iron Bull.”  Cullen was startled to see that Shokrakar had snuck up behind him and now stood next to him.  “He’s Ben Hassrath you know.”  Shok stated to Cullen.

“Are they not the spies of the Qunari?”  Cullen stated.

“They are that and a lot worse.  Many of these scars (She gestured to her body.) come from them and their re-educators.”

Cullen was stunned at the amount of scars on her body.  This woman was a frightening sight and he had no doubt that she was a demon in battle.  She looked so calm and composed while watching him.  Like a predator studying her prey.  When he looked back at the group, Cullen could see that the Iron Bull was staring right back at her.  Cullen could also see that Asala was sporting a very uncomfortable look on her face.

As the Inquisition soldiers took hold of the horses’ reins and assisted the party in dismounting, Shokrakar approached Asala and without hesitation asked for an audience with her.  She reluctantly agreed as she dismounted.

Asala noticed from her peripheral vision as Katoh determinedly approached from a distance with a look of murder on her face.  “Commander!  Silence her!   Quickly!” 

In a quick and fluid movement, Cullen turned and watched as the small Qunari mage was preparing to launch some kind of spell and immediately cast silence on her with the help of his second Rylen.  Katoh roared as she pulled a dagger from her belt and charged at Iron Bull who did not (to the surprise of both Shokrakar and Asala) pull his weapon.  Asala intercepted her and held her in a bear hug.  “Katoh!  I’m sorry, please stop.  I can explain if you give me a chance.” 

It was no use as every muscle in Katoh’s body struggled in vain to free itself from Asala’s grip.  “MURDERER! (She spit in his direction.)” She yelled with every ounce of power in her voice.

Katoh was the quiet one, the pleasant one.  She was a mage and almost as great a healer as the Herald’s husband.  All of the children loved her in Haven, to the chagrin of some of the more traditional parents.  He had never seen her get violent or angry, until now.  She continued to struggle until she was physically unable to.

Bull to his credit stayed calm and watched the scene from a distance.  He did have a slightly disturbed expression like he knew what Katoh was talking about.  Cremisius was there helping his Captain with his horse and he looked puzzled.  “Chief what’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you…”  Katoh interrupted him mid-sentence.

“You mean you don’t know that you’re working for a murdering scum!”  Katoh continued lashing out.  “You’re probably being used for some Qunari scheme Crem!  He’s a fucking Ben Hassrath sneaky murdering fuck that’s what he is!”

Bull and Crem walked away toward where the Chargers were set up.  Katoh then turned her fury on Asala.  Striking her with her fists and hurting herself more than she hurt Asala, but the look on Asala’s face told a story of betrayal. 

“How could you Asala?  After what they have done to us, how could you let the monster into our home?”  Katoh collapsed onto her knees in front of Asala.

“Please Katoh, let me explain…”  Asala couldn’t finish speaking as Shokrakar interrupted her.

“Not here.  In your cabin now!”  Shokrakar looked livid.

Asala looked beaten down.  Cullen approached her and put his hand on her shoulder and smiled.  “I do not envy you with that group, but you will make them see.  I am confident of that.”  Asala nodded her head at the comment, but smiled on the inside at his vote of confidence.  Ugh boy here we go.  She thought.

The sight inside her small cabin was to be expected.  They were all there with looks that demanded an explanation.   “Where are the children?”   Asala asked. 

“Thessalia and your husband are watching them in the Chantry with Mother Giselle.”  Shokrakar answered coldly.

“Now you were about to explain the Ben Hassrath?”  Shok said with a sarcastic tone knowing that they all had run ins with them and none of them were pleasant.

Asala began to explain the whole situation and how badly they needed to build their forces.  She explained the deal that she made with Iron Bull and how everything he sent out would flow through her and Leliana.

“What about his Vidatharri?”  Sata angrily asked.

“I will address that with him and Leliana.  I will also insist that all new recruits pass through me and Shokrakar so as to minimize their presence here.”

Katoh and Sata looked disgusted.  “Do you trust him?”  Sata’s question was directed at her like a sword being thrusted through her heart.

“You know I don’t.  Why would you ask me that?”  Asala was truly hurt by that.

“You feel strong enough about this that you brought him here into the midst of our family, knowing what his kind do to ours on a routine basis.  You must trust him on some level.”  Sata continued.

“I can tell you that he has not lied to me yet.  He has watched my back in several encounters with demons and bandits.  I don’t trust him fully, but I trust that he will not do anything to jeopardize his standing with the Inquisition.  How long that will last, I don’t know, but as of right now he is doing exactly as he said he would.  When that is no longer the case, I will take care of him and anyone else who wants to go with him.”

Shokrakar looked at her protégé with a smile.  “We will all take care of him.  You will not be alone if he turns out to be the demon we all believe him to be.”

Kaariss and Ashaad both spoke up at the same time.  “I trust you Asala.”  Asala almost beamed at her two brothers.

Ashaad continued.  “We will be cordial, but we will be vigilant as well.”

Taarlok and Hissra also agreed with Ashaad.

“I will also make sure that our human, dwarven and elven brothers and sisters keep a heightened sense of awareness around Bull and his men.”  Taarlok added.

Sata looked angry, but her rage had subsided.  “I will stay away from him.  I’m afraid of what I will do if he says anything to me or is anywhere near me.”

“If he even so much as breathes in the children’s direction, I will end him.”  Katoh’s fury was still there.  She did not like that her comrades were all acquiescing and allowing that butcher to stay.

“Then I will stay with you sister.  I would rather not pollute my spirit being in the vicinity of that murderer.”  Sata added.

“Cassian do you have anything to add?”  Asala asked her second who sat quietly in the corner.

“Did you ever think about what would happen when he finds out you are the ‘Golden Reaper?’”

Asala’s spine stiffened at the question as the chills traveled down it.  “I will kill him and his whole band.”  The answer was as cold, cruel and heartless as they had ever heard from her.   

“So you’re just going to kill all of them just like that?  The majority of his merc band is as innocent as ours.  Why would you condemn them all?”  Cassian was a little perturbed with her answer.

“Because from what I’ve seen, he commands the full and undying loyalty of his men, they would die to the man to defend him.  That’s one reason, the other is I don’t know who among his band is Vidatharri and I will not let any of them get away and tell the fucks in Par Vollen where we are!”

Shokrakar could see that this had struck a nerve with her.  She’d gotten enough information from several sources to know that Asala was a priority one target for the Ben Hassrath.  She also knew from these sources that anyone associated with her would be captured and tortured into giving them further information about her.  She scanned all of the faces in the room and she knew immediately that despite all of the arguing, crying, fighting and screaming, everyone in that room would die to protect Asala.  Shok was proud of her.  Difficult decisions are always unpopular, but in the end they tend to pay off more than not.

“Whatever happens…we’re with you girl.”  Shokrakar pulled her into a strong embrace.

“I’ll inform Leliana to keep her best scouts on duty watching him and his band.  We should do the same.”  Asala stated as she pulled away from the embrace.

“I’m going to have a little one on one with Bull to let him know where he stands with us.”  She addressed the whole room.

 

*

“So chief, what was all that about?” Crem asked.

“You remember when I told you that I was Ben Hassrath?”  Crem nodded.

“What I never told you is that the Ben Hassrath has a wing of Tal-Vashoth hunters that go out and kill all those that have turned their back on the Qun.  I have never had a problem with Tal Vashoth that make a legitimate living for themselves outside of the Qun, but the majority of them become savages and bandits that kill anything in their path.”

“I’m guessing that the hunters don’t differentiate between the two.”  Crem added.

“No they don’t and what’s worse is that many times these decent Tal Vashoth would have families with children.  The hunters would just kill the parents and take the children to be raised under the Qun.”

“Now I understand why they were so hostile towards you.  Maybe we can make them see that you’re not like the hunters.”

“I don’t know Crem, I can only hope.  I’ll make sure that her merc band does not make into my reports, I never worked with the Hunters and I don’t intend to now, plus all that would do is compromise my position here.”

“I think that’s for the best chief.”

“There’s another thing, I also have a suspicion that the Herald is the one we call “The Golden Reaper.””  Bull looked despondent.  “If she knew that I suspected, I imagine we would be in deep shit.”

“The Golden Reaper?”  Crem was puzzled, but he was very curious.

“She might be the one the old Arishok thought it would be a good idea to try and take as a child.  His men left Kirkwall to kill her parents and bring her back.”

“The one with the big rack?”

“Yeah that’s him.  Fucking idiot.  Let’s just say that she killed three experienced warriors and she was only a teenager.  If it’s her, she’s responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Qunari warriors and hunters.   You can imagine what kind of fighter she must be.”

“You think she could take you?”  Crem asked with fascination.

“You’ve seen her in action on the Storm Coast.  What do you think?”

Crem didn’t answer, but the look on his face told Bull he thought that she would wipe the floor with him.

They watched her approach.  She was alone, but she walked with a confidence that told everyone not to fuck with her.  It had to be her.  She fit every description of her.  Even what he used to think was an exaggeration of her size.  She was magnificent, if all the females were like her, they would be the warriors and the males would be the Tamassrans.   She observed everyone and everything in his camp.  It’s a good thing that he didn’t have any Vidatharri in his group because she would find him and all hell would probably break loose.

“Your worship!”  Crem yelled happily as he approached her.  She smiled at Crem, although this time it looked a little forced. 

“Cremisius.”  She acknowledged.

“What brings you to our neck of the woods?”

“I have to speak to Iron Bull.”

Crem pointed to Bull and followed the Herald with his hand on his sword.  Bull smiled at his second and felt a bit of pride at having such a friend.

“Hey Boss.”

“Bull, I need to talk to you about the Ben Hassrath.”

“What do you want to know?”

“First and foremost, were you ever a hunter?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because if you were, then you’re going to have to leave, I will not tolerate having one so near my family.  You’re already a threat to everyone I hold dear, the only reason you’re here is because of that big hole in the sky.  So please answer the question.”

Bull looked at the stern expression on Asala’s face.  He knew she was studying him, just like he was studying her.  It’s like she’s had Ben Hassrath training herself.  Then it hit him…her mother was a hunter gone Tal Vashoth!  It’s her!  The reports were very specific and the way she watches and studies everything can only mean that her mother trained her in the Ben Hassrath methods.

“Bull!  Are you going to answer or am I going to have kick you and the Chargers out of here!”

“No.  I was an enforcer in Seheron.  I tried to keep the peace there, but that was a mission that I could not complete successfully.  Before you ask, yes I’ve killed my fair share of Tal Vashoth in the fighting on Seheron.”

“What about Vidatharri?”

“What about them?”

“Don’t be so fucking daft.  How many do you have with you and who are they?”

“I don’t have any.  I work alone…well without any other Ben Hassrath.”

“I won’t tell them.”  Bull added.

Asala’s face froze in an expression that could only be described as terrified.  “What?”

“I know you’re the Reaper, but I won’t tell them.” 

Cremesius grip on his sword tightened and his eyes told everyone that saw him to be ready for a fight.

“Bull…I…why did you tell me?”  Asala’s face was a mixture of bewilderment, anxiety and fury. “You’re the worst fucking spy in history!  Crem!  Calm the fuck down or I swear this is going to end really badly!”

“Like I told you on the Storm Coast, I will not hide anything from you.  I was ordered to help close the breach, not start another war with the south.  I know what you’ve done and don’t blame you as you are fighting for your life and family.  The fact that you’ve only killed soldiers and agents has made you somewhat of a legend in Par Vollen.  If I was in your shoes I would do the same, hell I would probably kill me if I were you.”  There was an air of admiration in Bull’s tone.

Asala looked confused and saddened.  “Does anyone else know?”

“Crem might, but I didn’t confirm it with him.”

“Crem!  Come here.”  Asala barked.

“Yes your worship?”  Crem quickly appeared and was as tense as could be.

“The Reaper thing stays between us, got it?  No one else okay.”  Her glare bore a hole into Bull’s and Crem’s souls. 

“Chief, what’s she talking about?”

“Crem don’t you dare fuck with me right now.  You know what I’m talking about.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about your worship.”  Crem smiled like only he could and Asala got the gist of what Crem was doing and let out a huff with her chuckle.

“Damn it Crem, don’t do that!”  She smiled at Bull’s second.

“I’m sorry Boss; I’ll beat it out of him.”  Bull laughed.

“You two are impossible!”  Bull watched her let a little of her guard down.  “Bull…Twice you’ve told me something that could have cost you your life and the lives of your men.  Why do you trust me after all I have done against your people?”

“I’m a pretty good judge of character.”  He joked and Asala turned to leave.

“Hey Boss?” 

Asala turned back to meet his gaze.  “What is it Bull?”

“Why haven’t you tried to kill me yet?”

“Your men love you Bull.  That kind of loyalty is hard to find in a merc band.  They would all die to the man for you.  I think that deep down inside you are a good and caring person Bull, it’s the only explanation for that kind of loyalty and love.”  She explained.

“That’s it?  I’m a spy.  I’m supposed to be easy to love.”

Asala chuckled and answered.  “You can tell yourself that, but I know the truth.  Don’t ask me how I know, I just know.”

“So that’s it huh.”

“That…and I haven’t had a good opportunity to run you through yet.”  She winked at him as she turned and left.

Crem and Bull watched her walk away, a giant of a woman toward the main gate.  “Whew!”  Crem and Bull made the sound at the same time and turned to look at each other.

“That was pretty stupid of you Chief.”

“If I didn’t tell her, she would have found out on her own and we would be in dire straits Crem de la Crem.”

“How can someone so frighteningly intimidating be so approachable?”  Crem stated.  “She reminds me of you Chief.”

 

*

 

The decision to go and meet with the mages at Redcliff was a hotly contested one.  Cullen felt that the Templars would have been a better choice to ask for help.  He argued his point with a ferocious determination that almost convinced her, but to have that many human Arvaraads in close proximity to her, Ale, Cassian and the rest was something she couldn’t stomach.  They also showed themselves to be extremely hostile in Val Royeaux. 

“My dear are you okay?”  Vivienne asked.

“I’m sorry my lady, I just was thinking about the choices we have to make and hope I am doing the right thing.”

“Is the Commander really that angry with you?” Vivienne asked.

“How did you know Cullen was angry with me?” 

“My dear, even though I also do not agree with your decision, I understand it.  Cullen is aware of the Templar’s power much the same way as you are with the mages.  He cannot help but conclude that his people would be better suited for the task of closing the Breach.  That and Seeker Cassandra filled me in on the situation with the Mages and Templars.”

Asala quietly let out and amused huff.  “She wasn’t too happy with me either.”

“Listen my dear, the reason you are such a valued member of this group is because you can make decisions that they seem to not be able to.  It is the reason your comrade Shokrakar put you in command of your mercenary company.  Your comrades can make suggestions well enough, but they look to you for leadership.  The burden of command is always heavy and you will never make everyone happy with the decisions you make.”

Vivienne had a way with explaining things so well and so completely that it made Asala actually feel better.  “Thank you Madame, I am glad to have you with us.”

“Of course you are darling.  You can ruminate on your choices later.  I am trying to teach you something that will assist you immensely.  So please pay attention.”

“Yes my lady, I’m sorry.”

“I need to see what kind of power you have mastery of.  I need you to launch the most powerful offensive spell that you know at that mountain side.”

Asala walked away from Vivienne and she looked a little worried.  “I’ve only done this once my lady and it was terrible.”

“It’s alright my dear.  I’ll have a barrier up just in case.”  Vivienne looked so confident and sure of herself.

“Please my lady, I would feel better if you stood a little further away.”

“Nonsense my dear, I’ll be fine.  Now please let me see what kind of battlemage you are.”

Asala was not comfortable, but the warning was given and she was pretty confident that she could direct the magic where she wanted.  She began to concentrate and within a fraction of a second, a giant fireball was sent on its way to the mountainside.  She watched the bright trail of fire as it traveled to the mountain.  Her memories went back to that horrific day.  The bodies, the blood, and….Antaam.  She didn’t notice the incredible explosion on the mountainside had disintegrated a large chunk of the mountainside with a shower of pebbles and small rocks hitting the barrier that Vivienne had put around both of them.  The tears were flowing freely as she knelt in the middle of this rain of rocks.

“Herald!  Are you okay my dear?”  Vivienne was visibly concerned for her.  “What’s wrong?”

“I am so sorry Madame, it was terrible.  I cannot speak of it now, but it was horrific.”

“My dear there is no need to explain.”  Vivienne thought to herself that Asala probably had a very bad experience with her magic when she was younger.  She had seen many come into their magic in very tragic ways and with the unprecedented amount of power she just showed, she could only imagine what might have happened.  “We can continue another time my dear.”

“No Madame, I’m fine I do not wish to waste your time and am ready to be taught.”

“Are you sure, because I will need your undivided attention and effort for this to work?”

“I won’t let you down Madame De Fer.”  Asala smiled while wiping the tears from her face.

“Very well my dear, it seems that your power is immeasurably greater than any I have seen.”  Asala watched as Vivienne walked away from her and turned to face her.  “I want you to launch a fireball at me my dear.”

“Wait, what?”  Asala was more than a little confused.

“Madame Vivienne, I don’t think you realize what you’re asking.  Did you not just witness what I can do?”

“My darling, did I stutter?  Of course I know what I am asking.  Now please do as I ask.”

Asala was a little frightened.  Her fireballs have been the bane of the Qunari navy, why Vivienne would want to test one against her barrier was beyond her.  She resolved to humor the First Enchantress, but with one of less than full power.  In a flash of movement, Asala deftly let go of a small fireball from her hands.  She watched in horror as Vivienne had not put up a barrier.  “VIVIENNE!”

No sooner did she say the First Enchanter’s name did Vivienne produce a blade of…of…magic?  Vivienne elegantly swung down with the blade and struck the fireball which deflected off the blade and came directly back at her!  Asala dropped to the ground as the fireball struck a boulder she was standing in front of. 

“Madame…That was amazing!  How did you…Where did you….”  Asala was truly astounded by what she just saw.  “It’s a good thing I didn’t launch a full powered fireball right?”

Vivienne looked very pleased with herself.  “For your sake it was good.”  Vivienne was such a showoff.

Asala laughed at the comment.  “What was that?”

Vivienne came over to Asala and showed her what appeared to be the hilt and handle of a sword, but without the blade.  “It is the discipline of the Knight Enchanter my dear.  It allows you to use your magic for close in combat.  I’ve seen you sparring and I believe that this would be a discipline that would fit you perfectly.”

“It is the perfect balance of defensive and offensive magic.  Here I want you to try by concentrating through the hilt like it was a staff.”  Vivienne handed her the empty sword hilt and grip, as she stepped back.  “Focus through the hilt, see the blade in your mind, and remember to focus slowly and steadily.”

Asala began to focus her magic into the hilt and the hilt erupted with power spilling in a bright white stream towards the sky.  She immediately dropped the hilt and as soon as she let it go, the stream was gone.  Asala’s puzzled expression was also mixed with disappointment.

Vivienne looked amazed.  It was unusual for Vivienne to be so mesmerized by someone’s ability.  “My dear, believe it or not that was an excellent first step.  Most pupils would not have been able to manage as much as a spark, let alone that fountain of magic that just poured from your will.  Your Mana reserves seem to be massive, but you need to be able to control it for this to work.  Use your mind to shape the blade, to feel the blade, to be the blade.   You must control that flow into the hilt and shape it to your will.  It takes some practice, but I believe you are more than capable.”

Asala picked up the hilt again.  She began to concentrate and slowly fill the hilt with her will and magic power.  The blade slowly appeared; white hot, looking just like one of her short swords.  She did not break concentration as she viciously struck the boulder with the blade, resulting in a large chunk of the boulder being sliced off as if it were a piece of paper.

She retracted her will and the blade disappeared from the hilt.  Asala turned to Vivienne who now had a stunned expression.  Asala handed the hilt back to the First Enchanter.

“My dear…that should not have been possible…you are much more adept than I could have ever imagined.  It usually takes many months to teach someone to do what you just did.  Some of the best circle mages can never accomplish it no matter how long they are taught.  Are all Tal-Vashoth mages as adept as you?”

Asala smiled at the First Enchanter and began to explain.  “No Madame, I am unique in many ways and magic is one of them.  Perhaps we should discuss my research about my peculiar situation in the future.  It is actually fascinating.”

With that they both began to walk back towards Haven only to run into Bull, Cullen, Varric and Cassandra.  “We saw the explosion!  Is everything okay?”  Cassandra asked totally out of breath.

“My Dear Seeker, everything is fine.  I am helping the Herald discover her true potential as a mage and warrior.  By the time I am finished I believe she will not even need an army to help her close the Breach.”  Vivienne stated with a confidence that put a smile on Asala’s face.

“We should start packing and getting ready to leave for Redcliff.”  Asala stated.  “Thank you Madame Vivienne, I look forward to our next training session.”

“As do I my dear.  If you wish I could call upon the foremost expert in this field and see if she will come here to help train you.”

“I would be honored Madame.”

“Asala, a word.”  Cullen asked and Asala could feel her nerves start to fray a little.  How many times was she going to have to defend her decision to him?

“What is it Commander.”  Asala answered him in a most annoyed tone.  She could tell that her tone disturbed him a little.

“I…I am sorry for getting angry in the war room.  That was…”  He began to scratch the back of his neck and looked a little uncomfortable.  Asala began to regret the tone she took with him.

“Cullen, it’s okay, I understand.  You don’t have to apologize as I would have probably done the same in your shoes.”  Asala put a hand on his shoulder and it seemed to put him more at ease.  “I would much rather have spirited arguments with someone I trust than to have them tell me yes all the time.”

“It would make deciding things easier though.”  Cullen smiled.  Asala let out a snort of laughter.

“Did Commander prim and proper just make a joke?”  Varric said in disbelief.

“Don’t listen to that idiot Commander; he is just trying to get under your skin.”  Asala stated to the extremely faux reaction of hurt on Varric’s face.

“That is why I told you what I told you.”  Iron Bull added while chuckling.

Asala chuckled at that and walked back to Haven with her now sizable escort.

Chapter Text

What did the scout mean they weren’t expected?  Magister Alexius?  Her friend from Tevinter?  What would he be doing here?  Why did that young mage make it seem like he was in charge?  Very confusing, but from what she did know of the Magister, he was a good man and probably had a very good reason to be there.  All would probably be answered when they talked.

They entered the tavern and unlike many places on Thedas, the patrons just continued with their lives and for a split second payed no mind to the giant Qunari pair that took up a substantial part of the entrance’s real estate.  It didn’t last long.  “Is that her?”  She could hear in hushed tones.  She could feel the eyes of the masses in there start to turn to her and Bull as Cassandra and Varric were almost an afterthought when they entered. 

“It’s probably cause you two are half naked.”  Varric whispered causing Asala to turn to the dwarf who was looking as amused as ever.  Cassandra looked disgusted and Bull consciously made an effort to flex his pecs.

“Ugh.”  Asala and Cassandra found themselves muttering at the same time.  “Now I understand Cassandra.”  Asala shot a sympathetic look at Cassandra.

Asala scanned the bar scene and in the middle of the room stood the reason for her being there.  Grand Enchanter Fiona had made eye contact and approached her.   “Welcome agents of the Inquisition.”

“Thank you Grand Enchanter.”  Asala acknowledged her with a nod.

“What has brought you to Redcliff?  If I may ask?”  Fiona asked her and she looked very puzzled.

Asala could feel that there was no deception in her voice and her breathing and heart rate were steady.  Her scent was the same and there was no doubt in her mind that this was the same person she met in Val Royeaux.  “Did you not invite us here when we talked in Val Royeaux?”

“You must be mistaken.  I haven’t been to Val Royeaux since before the Conclave.”

“Sooooo Yeah…I’m pretty sure the person I met in Val Royeaux was you and you invited us here.”  Asala continued.

“Are you sure?  I suppose it could be magic at work, but why would anyone…”  Fiona appeared to be disturbed by the news.

“Whoever…or whatever brought you here, the situation has changed.”  Asala could almost physically feel Fiona’s discomfort as she spoke.

“The Free Mages have already…pledged themselves to the service of the Tevinter Imperium.”

It was like a shot across the bow.  Varric and Bull could not keep their mouths shut.

“Andraste’s tits woman!  I’m trying to think of how you could have made this situation worse and I can’t.”  Varric blurted out as Asala squirmed at the accusation.

“THIS IS WHY YOU CAN’T TRUST MAGES!”  Bull said a little too loudly.

Cassandra’s voice was quiet and thoughtful.  “They’re afraid.  Desperate people do desperate things.”

“As one indentured to a Magister, I no longer have the authority to negotiate with you.”

Asala’s anger was starting to rise when she looked at the Grand Enchanter.  All she could see was someone who was desperate enough to do anything, even if it brought down the entire south of Thedas in the process. 

“Why did you do such a thing?  This fortress could have held out…”  Asala started to ask but was interrupted by Fiona.

“All hope of peace died with Justinia.  This…bargain with Tevinter would not have been my first choice, but we had no choice.  We are losing this war.  I needed to save as many of my people as I could.”

A door slammed shut and Asala turned instinctively to see that a very familiar and not unwelcome face appear in the door way.

“Magister Alexius!  It is you!  I was hoping it was you when they mentioned your name!”  Asala said with some obvious excitement.  The joyous expression on Asala’s face took her comrades by surprise.  Varric, Bull and Cassandra all looked at each other with expressions of confusion and Bull definitely did not hide his disgust.

“Asala!  Welcome my friend!  I apologize I couldn’t greet you earlier.”  There was legitimate shock in his voice as he addressed her and he also hid his expression of disappointment well.

“The southern mages are under my command.  Asala…you know I’m not a surprised that it would be you that survived that mess, and you’re the one from the Fade too, this is most interesting.”  Asala could observe his obvious discomfort.

“You remember Felix right?”  Asala turned as Felix approached.  Felix’s scent was different.  Decay and diseased…dying?  “Felix…I’m so glad to see you again.”  She pulled him into a strong embrace and to her surprise he embraced her as well.  “Are you okay Felix?  What’s wrong?”

“I…I really missed you Asala.  I wish you could have escorted us to Hossberg.”

“The trip you and your family took after I left?”

“It was on the way back from Val Royeaux.”  Felix nodded.

Asala’s concern for the Magister’s son grew.  “What happened?”

“Felix now is not the time for this.  We will have time for this later.”  Alexius interrupted them and Felix looked so disappointed in his father.  Something was definitely wrong here.

Gereon was not the same person she remembered.  The magister was one of her favorite persons on Thedas.  It was because if his confidence in her and his knowledge of her abilities that she was able to neutralize one of the most feared weapons of the Qunari spies.  Granted she did not know whether he developed a cure for it or not but it was because of him that she and her group of geniuses discovered that one of the potions she stole from that warehouse was actually the antidote for Sar-Qamek.  Thanks to Katoh’s obsessive purpose to discover the ingredients, the Valo-Kas had developed their own antidote which had saved Hissra’s life.  Gereon was the reason it was possible and she would always be grateful to him.  He was also the reason why she knew some of the details describing why she was so different from other Qunari. 

“How’s Livia doing?”  Asala asked and she watched Alexius’ shoulders slump.

“Please…Asala let’s just talk business first.  We’ll have time for catching up later.”

The small time she knew Alexius, he was never evasive and always courteous.  It made her wonder what happened to him and his family when she left Minrathous.  All these things were very curious, but she needed to secure the mages for the Inquisition, so she returned to the business at hand.

“What did the Grand Enchanter mean by being indentured?”  Asala got back to the task at hand.

“Our southern brethren have no legal status in the Imperium.  Since they weren’t born citizens, they have to work a period of ten years before gaining full rights.  As their protector, I shall oversee their work for the Imperium.”

“When did you negotiate this agreement with them?”  Asala was clearly confused and the vibe that Alexius was throwing out was careful and as evasive as could be.  He must know that she knew.  He knew more about her abilities than even she did.

“When the Conclave was destroyed, these poor souls face the brutality of the Templars, who rushed to attack them.  It couldn’t only be through Divine Providence that I arrived when I did.”

“It was certainly….very timely.”  Fiona responded.

“A few hundred mages to add to the legion huh?”  Asala understood the power of having good battlemages.  One or two could control a battlefield, let alone a few hundred.

“That’s correct, right now they are a considerable expense, but they will all be properly trained and pay off their debt.”  Alexius responded.

“You said not all my people would be military!  There are children.  Those not suited…”  Fiona desperately protested to no avail.

“And one day I’m sure they will all be productive citizens of the Imperium.  When their debts are paid.”  Alexius cut her off.

In this whole conversation it occurred to Asala that the Arl was not around and neither were his men.  How in the world did he accomplish that feat?  Asala knew that Redcliff was a fortress of great renown.  How did Alexius take it over so easily?

“I noticed that the Arl and his men are nowhere to be seen.”  Asala stated.

“The Arl has left the village.” 

Asala’s intuition coupled with her senses knew that this was a lie.  “Bull, Varric, Cassandra…OUT!”

Bull started to protest.  “Boss you really want to be alone with this…”

“Bull…trust me, I know what I’m doing.  I appreciate your concern, but please wait outside for me.”

Alexius motioned for the rest of the people minus Felix to leave as well.

Asala waited for them to leave and then she started in on Alexius.  “Why the lies Alexius?  You are one of the few people outside of my band that I would consider my friend.  Tell me what’s wrong.”

Alexius knew that he could not get anything passed her.  “I had to send the Arl away by threat of force.  He wasn’t too happy I was here.”

“I cannot go into detail about what I had to do to get here, but let’s just say that I know you’re going to need the help of my mages in closing that Breach.”  It sounded almost rehearsed.

“What happened Alexius?  You’re acting so strange.  Is it Livia?  Felix?”  For all her faults, Asala’s desire to help those she considered dear was probably her biggest one.

Alexius’ expression was all she needed to know that he was in a terrible state.  She turned to Felix who smiled at her weakly.  Whatever Felix had, she had never seen or experienced.  She again turned to Alexius.

Alexius bottom lip began to quiver as a tear started to run down his cheek.  “I cannot discuss…it’s too….”

At that moment Felix looked like he was going to pass out onto the floor.  Asala immediately stood up and caught him.  “Felix!”  Alexius whispered with a tone of desperation.

“I’m so sorry.  I can be so clumsy sometimes.”  Felix said as he covertly passed along a piece of parchment to Asala.  Felix’s disease made it quite difficult for her senses to see that he was obviously acting, but Alexius jumped to his son’s side.

“Are you alright?”  Alexius doted on his son.  He was as desperate as she had ever seen him.

“I’m fine father.”  Felix said.

“Come with me, I’ll get your powders.  Asala, please excuse me.  We will have to continue this at a later date.”  Alexius helped his son walk.

“Alexius do you need any help?”  She continued to try to get to him, but to no avail.  He waved her off.

“I’ll send word to the Inquisition.  We will conclude this business at a later date.”  Alexius stated as he left the tavern while assisting his son.

Asala took a look at the parchment.  Come to the Chantry.  You are in danger.

When Asala walked out of the Tavern, Bull was on her immediately.  “How in the fuck do you know a Tevinter Magister and worse how are you so friendly with him?”  Bull’s tone was of obvious anger.

“The Jobs that my band has taken involved traveling everywhere!  I did a job for the Magister and it was quite profitable for the both of us.  He’s no different from any other Comte, Arl or noble from any other nation!  Just because you have a boogey man view of Tevinter doesn’t make it so.  He was actually a very decent and giving man when I met him.  Shit, you’re a fucking prime example that not all Qunari are assholes and I even let your ass spy on us, fuck your second is from Tevinter and so is mine!”

“He’s a full blown Magister!  His orders directly affect the war with my people!  If anything, I bet he’s had his spies killing people in Seheron just to destabilize it!”

“Like your fucking Ben Hassrath?  Like your fucking Vidatharri?  It’s really hard for the kettle to call the pot black Bull, I suggest you drop this shit right now.”

“I agree.  You two need to get a room and work things out the old fashioned way.”  Varric added with a confident smile.

Bull and Asala both glared at the dwarf.  Asala took a deep breath and forced herself to calm down. 

“Bull, you better than anyone else know that people are different from person to person.  He is a good man and I believe he’s being forced to do something he really doesn’t want to.”

Bull didn’t look convinced, but he nodded and they began to walk towards the chantry.

*

The searing feeling that she got when she closed the rifts was now tolerable if not pleasurable.  The rift closed with a loud crack and the beautiful mage approached them. 

“Fascinating, how does that work exactly?”  The scrumptious human asked with genuine curiosity.

“Hehe, you don’t even know, do you?  You just wiggle your fingers and boom!  Rift closes.”  The thoroughly amused mage stated.  Asala smirked as he wasn’t wrong.

“Who are you?”  Asala asked.

“Ah, getting ahead of myself again, I see.”  Maker he was smug, but pleasantly so.  “Dorian of House Pavus, most recently of Minrathous.  How do you do?”

“Watch yourself.  The pretty ones are always the worst.”  Bull growled.

“Suspicious friends you have here.”  Dorian looked very pleased with himself and didn’t let Bull’s comment deter him one bit.

“Magister Alexius was once my mentor, so my assistance should be valuable------as I’m sure you can imagine.”

“I was expecting Felix to be here.”

“I’m sure he’s on his way.  He was to give you the note, then meet us here after ditching his father.”

“Felix looked very ill.  What’s wrong with him?”  Asala was very concerned and it showed on her face.

“He’s had some lingering illness for months.  Felix is an only child.  Alexius is being a mother hen, most likely.”

“So you’re the one who sent that note?”

“I am.  Someone had to warn you after all.”  Dorian’s mood suddenly changed to a darker tone.  “Look, you must know there’s danger.  That should be obvious, even without the note.”

“Let’s start with Alexius claiming the allegiance of the mage rebels out from under you.  As if by magic, yes?  Which is exactly right.  To reach Redcliff before the Inquisition, Alexius had to distort time itself.”

“What!  You mean that he distorted time and came here to explicitly keep the mages from allying with us?  Isn’t messing around with time magic dangerous?”

“It’s more dangerous than you can know.  That rift you closed here?  You saw how it twisted time around itself, sped somethings up and slowed others down.”

“Soon there will be more like it, and they’ll appear further and further away from Redcliff.  The magic Alexius is using is wildly unstable, and it’s unraveling the world.”

“Crazy Tevinter Magisters distorting time?  Check.”  Bull stated with an I told you so attitude.  Asala rolled her eyes and continued to converse with Dorian.

“That’s a lot you expect me to swallow on faith alone.”

“I know what I’m talking about.  I helped develop this magic.”  Dorian countered with a scowl.  “When I was still his apprentice, it was pure theory.  Alexius could never get it to work.  What I don’t understand is why he’s doing it?  Ripping time to shreds just to gain a few hundred lackeys?”

“He didn’t do it for them.”  Felix appeared out of nowhere. 

“Oh Felix…”  Asala pulled him into another embrace.  “Will you tell me what is going on now?  What’s wrong with your father?”

Bull watched her get really chummy with the Tevinter mage.  He could tell that the young man was legitimately sick and Asala was genuinely concerned for him.  She really did know them and it made him feel uneasy.

“Asala I’m so sorry that it’s you that is caught up in this mess.  Ever since…Hossberg…he’s not the person you remember.  He’s darker and everything he does is more secretive.”

“What happened at Hossberg?”

“Our caravan was ambushed by darkspawn.  Mother was killed and I’ve been sick ever since.  He’s done everything to try and cure me, but I don’t believe there’s a cure for what I have.  I think…I have blight disease.”

“Livia’s gone?  Felix…I don’t know…I’m so sorry.”  Asala was fumbling her words as she tried to comfort Felix.  Felix smiled at her and waved his hand to stop her.

“I’ve accepted what happened.  Father has not…he’s obsessed with saving me even if he has to destroy the world to do it.”

“Anyway, Father’s joined a cult.  Tevinter supremacists.  They call themselves Venatori… and I can tell you one thing:  Whatever he’s done for them, he’s done it to get to you.”

“Why would he rearrange time and indenture the mage rebellion just to get to me?”

“They’re obsessed with you, but I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s because you survived the Temple of Sacred Ashes?”

“You can close the rifts.  Maybe there’s a connection?  Or they see you as a threat?”  Dorian added.

“If the Venatori are behind those rifts, or the Breach in the sky, they’re even worse than I thought.”   Felix added.  Asala could see the conflict inside him, the disease made his vitals more faint, but she could hear his heartrate go up a notch.  She knew that working against his father was killing him, but he also seemed to know that it was the right thing to do.  “I love my father, and I love my country.  But this?  Cults? Time magic?  What he’s doing now is madness.  For his own sake, you have to stop him!”

“It would also be nice if he didn’t rip a hole in time.  There’s already a hole in the sky.”  Dorian was once again almost jovial.

Asala turned to Felix.  “I will get to the bottom of this and if I can save your father, I will.  I owe him and your house more than you could know.  Before we leave, is there anything we can do for you?”

“You could just get him a fruit basket.  Everybody loves those.”  Dorian joked, but the glare that met him from Asala stopped him in his tacks.

“Point taken.”  Dorian quietly muttered as Varric chuckled under his breath.

“Just make him see.  That’s all I want.”  Felix said sadly.

“Cassandra, what do you know of the Blight disease?”  Asala asked.

“I know that there is no cure. (She paused and her expression looked uncomfortable.)  I wish I knew more.”

“It’s okay, I’ve accepted my fate.  I should get back before my father gets suspicious and comes looking for me.”  Felix added.

“Try not to get yourself killed will you?”  Dorian joked.

“There are worse things than dying Dorian.”  Felix countered.   Dorian’s expression was one of care and affection for his Tevinter comrade.  Behind all of that bravado was a regular person who cared a lot for his friend.

“You know you’re his target.  Expecting the trap is the first step in turning it to your advantage.  I can’t stay in Redcliff.  Alexius doesn’t know I’m here, and I want to keep it that way.  But whenever you’re ready to deal with him, I want to be there.  I’ll be in touch.”

*

REDCLIFF CASTLE

Bull watched as Asala and Dorian disappeared into a rift and a second later reappeared with a very distressed look on her face. 

“You’ll have to do better than that.”  Dorian commented.

Alexius dropped to his knees in a totally defeated posture. 

Asala appeared as angry as he’d ever seen her.  She looked as if she was ready to actually…kill him?  “You don’t know what you’re doing Alexius!  You don’t know what you are condemning the world and your son to!  You need to step down now!”

Alexius looked up at his former friend and saw in her welled up silver eyes that she had seen something terrible.  She was towering over him and her short swords were menacingly close.  “You won.  There is no point in extending this charade.  (Alexius turned and looked at his son.)  Felix…”

“It’s going to be alright father.” 

The grief on Alexius face was obvious.  “You’ll die.”

“Everyone dies.”  Felix consoled his father.

With that, the Inquisition soldiers along with a few Templars escorted Alexius outside. 

Asala turned to Bull and to his shock pulled him into a crushing embrace.  “Boss!  Too tight!”  He protested as he heard his back pop a couple of times.  She pulled away and stared into Bull’s eye.  Asala leaned in with the tears in her eyes and planted a soft and tender kiss on his cheek and whispered.

“I’ll never doubt you again.”  The smile on her face was one of relieved anxiety.  She repeated the same ritual with Cassandra and Varric.  “What I saw was terrible and we have to stop this Elder One’s plan.”

“Now that everything’s over we can talk about….”  Dorian started but stopped when they all noticed a highly disciplined group of men enter the castle with no other than King Alistair of Ferelden.

“Oh shit…”  Asala muttered to herself.

“Grand Enchanter Fiona, Imagine how surprised I was to learn you’d given Redcliff Castle away to a Tevinter Magister.”  The King started in immediately on Fiona.

“King Alistair!”  Fiona said in a desperate tone.

“Especially since I’m fairly sure Redcliff belongs to Arl Teagan.” 

“I assure you, we never intended…”

“I wanted to help you, but you’ve made it impossible.  You and your followers are no longer welcome in Ferelden.”  King Alistair stated.

“But…We have hundreds who need protection.  Where will we go?”  Fiona sounded so hopeless.

“The Inquisition might be willing to take in the mages.”  Asala interrupted.

“And what are the terms of this arrangement?”  Fiona suddenly became almost bold.

“Hopefully better than what Alexius gave you.  The Inquisition is better than that, yes?”  Dorian had to put his two cents in and Asala looked at him like she wanted to slap the pretty off of his face.

“They should be conscripted!  Look at how they acted.  Even being a mage yourself, you must see this is the only viable option.  They shouldn’t be coddled.”  Cassandra added her two cents and now Asala was about to scream.

“I’ve known a lot of mages.  They can be loyal friends if you let them.  Friends who make bad decisions, but still loyal.”  Varric added.

“It seems that we have little choice than to accept whatever you offer.”

“Can I talk now?  Thanks.  Being a mage and knowing my fair share of mages, I will be honored to have you fight by our side as equals.”  Asala put her hand on the elf’s shoulder.

“We will discuss this when we return to Haven.”  The seeker said in a very annoyed tone.

Asala could hear Bull’s disgusted groan at the thought that there was to be a few hundred unchained mages mingling with them at Haven.

“Fiona!  I want twenty of your finest to make their way to Haven as soon as possible.  We will close that damn hole as soon as we get back.”  Asala ordered.

“Your Majesty…If I may ask”  Asala turned to King Alistair.

“My…Aren’t you a little too heathen to be the Herald of Andraste?”  The King teased her.

“It would seem not.”  She shot back and Alistair let out a hearty chuckle.

“What can I do for you Herald?”

“It is going to take us a few days to set up for the arrival of so many.  Would it be okay for them to stay in the village by the crossroads until we are ready for them?”

“You have a week.”  Alistair told her.

“Thank you your majesty.”

Asala and her crew made a slight detour to meet the Grey Warden named Blackwall before leaving for Haven.  They ended up with a new comrade and two companies of mages.  Not a bad day’s work.

Chapter Text

Asala was sitting on the edge of her bed in her small cabin, Ale sprawled face down across her lap purring like a kitten while she ran her fingers through his beautifully luxurious black mane.  Both of their pair of eyes glued to the three small figures sleeping together at the head of the bed.

“They’re as beautiful as their fathers.”  Asala whispered as she continued the slow massage of fingers and claws on Ale’s scalp.

“Don’t sell Katoh and yourself short…hah!  Varric would love that one.”  Ale’s mouth moved, but the rest of him was extremely content in receiving the gifts given by Asala’s hands at the moment. 

She sighed and stopped the petting to the obvious displeasure of her husband.  “The Breach is closed and I think maybe it might be best that we leave here.  I don’t know how long we will be welcomed here.”

Ale sits up and turns to face his impossibly powerful and beautiful wife.  “I don’t think that’s a good idea love.  With all of those mages that just joined us, I don’t think it’s right of us to abandon them to an Ex Knight Captain and Seeker.”

“Those mages are heroes.  They risked their lives to help close the Breach.  Cassandra and Cullen are of the honorable sort.  They wouldn’t let anything happen to them.”

“Oh no?  Didn’t the Commander give you a tongue lashing for letting the mages ‘run amok’ and without Templar supervision?  I don’t know love, I think we should stay and most of our band is kind of liking it here.”   Ale tells her in his gentle and quiet tone.  “Are you going to be the one to tell Kaariss that he can’t continue to harass Cassandra?”

She lets out a pleasant chuckle at the thought.  She looks at her husband with loving eye.  “Ale?  Can you just hold me?”  The pleading is tender and desperate, as she gazes at him through those silver colored eyes.  He immediately straddles her lap and pushes her to lay her back across the bed.  He digs his arms underneath her armpits and buries his face into the base of her neck.

“Maker you smell good!”  She breathes out heavily as she sniffs his black locks.

“Easy now my goddess, we are not alone here.”  Ale whispers into her neck.

They spend the next few minutes in silence, just enjoying each other’s warmth.  Ale is purring again and as Asala wraps her arms around him and squeezes just hard enough to keep him there while she herself lets out a groan of deep satisfaction.  “I could stay here forever my love.”  Ale whispers. 

“I love you Ale.”

“Mmmmm…I love you too.”  Ale responds as he attempts to bury himself like a tick into her body.

She starts to laugh softly and settles in the position that she is in.  “How long do you think they are going to celebrate this victory?”  He asks her.

 

“Well, you did just save the world.  I’m guessing there is going to be a lot of drinks and debauchery going on for a few days.  I’m pretty sure you’re going to get dragged into the celebrations, probably sooner rather than later.”  Ale’s tone is jovial and pleasant; not at all like the brooding and quiet person he was when she first met him.

Asala quickly reverses their positions and like a predatory animal is on top with a toothy grin that tells him she has succeeded in taking down her prey.  “You’re lucky you have these three little guardians or I would have started celebrating all over you.”  Her breath to his ear causes him to involuntarily buck underneath her and let out a whine that’s music to her ears.

“Asala…No!”  He quietly, but forcefully tells her.  He doesn’t really mean it and she knows it by the look on his face.

“We gotta save DA!”  Comes an exuberant exclamation from little Antaam who is now wide awake.  In an instant, the three little ones are climbing all over Asala in a futile attempt to pull her off of Ale. 

She begins to wrestle with the little ones while still keeping Ale underneath her.  She pulls them off of her one by one and gently tosses them on the pillows of the bed.  They are relentless and continue their assault on her as she smiles when she bends to Ale’s ear.  “Your loss.”  She nips his ear resulting in an over exaggerated whimper and smile from him. 

“Help me!  She’s too strong!  She’s gonna get me!”  The acting is second rate and totally not believable, but the effect is instant as the three little Vashoth children intensify their assault on Asala.

“Rooooaaaar!”  Asala playfully bellowed as she continued to kiss Ale all over his face.  “Death by kisses!”

“Ma NO!”  Little Antaam yelled as he pulled on her horns while Talania and Rasaana climbed all over her back.  “Lala NO!” They yelled at her.  “Leave uncle Ale alone!”

“If you won’t let me have Ale, then I will have all of you!”  She turned and with a sweeping motion of her arms she grabbed all three little tykes and began kissing them.  “Death by kisses!  Hahaha!!”

“Noooooooo!  Ma  stop!”  Antaam yelled as she began to tickle him and his cousins.

“Oh no!  You got me.  I can’t fight you three.  Help me Ale!”  Asala’s playful tone is all Ale needs to join in the fray and soon all five are exploding with a hard and wonderful sound of laughter. 

As they continued their own private celebration a knock on the door interrupted their party.  “Shorty?  Is it okay if I come in?”

“Of course Varric.  Come in.  The more the merrier.”  Ale answered.

Varric opened the door and is assaulted with pure and unfiltered joy.  “UNCLE VARRIC!”  The three Vashoth children charge the dwarf and jump into his arms like Asala and Alejandro don’t even exist.  “Can you tell us a story with dragons and knights and magic and…”  Rasaana starts to rattle off in a chain reaction that would seem to have no end until Asala put a stop to it, with a halfhearted attempt at discipline.

“Antaam, Talania and Rasaana enough…”

“No Shorty it’s okay.  I just came by to see my favorite nieces and nephew.  They’re serving cake at the chantry and thought they might like some.”

Just the mention of something sweet has the three turn to look at Asala.  Three pairs of golden eyes pleading like so many mabari pups.

“Oh I can’t stand it!”  Ale turns his head away from the three stares with a big grin on his face.

“No power to resist that.  Okay, but if Uncle Varric comes back and says any of you misbehaved, I will tell Katoh.”  She can’t help but grin as she said it, ruining any type of seriousness that she might have meant by her statement.

“They’ll be fine and you’re welcome.”  Varric added as the kids, pajamas and all are led out to a night of too much sugar and not enough sleep.

“Katoh is going to kill me if those three don’t sleep.”

“Maybe I should…”  Ale is quicker than she is in accepting Varric’s gift as he again straddles his wife and begins to massage the base of her horns.  The resulting moan and smile makes him bolder as he starts to kiss her while she gently leaned back into the mattress.

“Thank you Varric…”  She breathed hotly into his kisses.

….

Asala was basking in the warm afterglow of making love to her husband.  Their bodies were intertwined with one another, his arm wrapped around her mid-section and tucked under her arms, while her legs were coiled around his legs.  They looked like one big beautiful mess of body parts jumbled all over each other.

“I gotta agree with you.”  Ale said

“What’s that?”

“Thank you Varric.”  Their smiles were simultaneous as she began to hold him tighter and move to straddle him.

The sound of the chantry bell broke her out of her bliss.  “What the?”

There was a building crescendo of sound outside as her incredibly acute senses started to process what was going on.  There was no doubt that panic was ruling the day outside.

“Ale we gotta go!  Get up and get dressed!”

They armored up like two very familiar with the drill and proceeded toward the door.

She opened the door to her cabin and watched a very disturbing scene as the Inquisition soldiers ran towards the gates while the majority of the townsfolk ran towards the Chantry.

“Come on.”  She said to Ale.

Asala is at the gate faster than anything her size has any right to be and Ale joins her a few seconds later.  Sata is there along with one of the Inquisition scouts and they seem to be debriefing the Commander.  There is also a young boy with them, his scent is different.  Human…yet not completely.

“What’s going on Commander?”  She asked, but as she looked out over the ramparts she got her answer.  A massive army was making its way towards them.  The chills that went down her spine froze her in place.

“He wants to hurt you.  I came here to help.”  Asala looked at the boy and could not sense any vitals.

“He was fighting his way through those monsters when we found him.  He said he had to warn us.”  Sata added.  “So we brought him here.”

“The Templars have come to kill you.”  The boy calmly tells Asala.

“The Templars!  Is this the order’s response to our talks with the mages, attacking blindly?”  Cullen is shocked and disappointed beyond measure.

“The Red Templars went to the Elder One.  You know him and he knows you.  You took his mages….there!”  Cole pointed to a high point of the battle formation.

“I know that man, but this Elder One?”  Cullen quietly stated as Asala’s eyes glued on the massive figure next to the man that Cullen recognized.

Her eyes could make out the monstrous figure which looked to be as tall if not taller than her, with a broad yet emaciated form.  It was a red, gray and black abomination of colors.  A corrupt being through and through.  It was not a creature she recognized, but she recognized immediately that this creature was the leader of this force and probably the cause of the Breach and the Divine’s murder.  Their eyes met and Asala could vaguely make out a grin on the creature’s face.  The grin sent a river of rage into her spine.

“He’s very angry that you took his mages.”  Cole continued.

She turned to Cullen.  “Cullen give me a plan, Anything!”

“Haven is no fortress.  If we are to withstand this monster, we must control the battle.  Get out there and hit that force with everything you can.  Use everything you can.”

“Mages!  You have sanction to engage them.  That is Sampson, he will not make it easy.  Inquisition!  With the Herald!  For your lives!  For all of us!”  Cullen’s little pep talk got the whole of the Inquisition forces riled up and ready to fight.

“Ale you need to get back to the Chantry to make sure children are okay. I’m certain that you, Solas and Katoh are going to be sorely needed if we survive this.   Sata, Cassandra, Bull, you’re with me!”  Asala barked out orders like an old pro.

“Cassian!  I want you, Shok, Ashaad and Hissra on the battlements.  Do what you can from up there.”

“Cullen I want the best archers and battlemages on the battlements.” 

Cullen nodded and continued to bark out orders as she and her crew went out towards one of the trebuchets as it launched projectile after projectile at the massive formation headed their way.

The first formation square of Red Templars hit the defenses set up in front of the trebuchet like a sledgehammer.  Many of them impaling themselves on the defensive barriers set up.  The rest swarmed over their dead comrades and continued until they crashed into the line of Inquisition soldiers.  “Bull, Sata, Cassandra!  Back the line, make sure they don’t get through to the trebuchet.”  She barked as she drew her newly forged hilts from her back.

“I’m going to tear that formation apart!” 

“Are you cra….”  Sata said, but it was to no avail as Asala leaped into the center of that red mass and bodies just began to fly.  The sudden appearance of such a power behind them rattled the frontline Templars as Asala was absolutely performing a massacre in the rear of the formation.  The Inquistion Soldiers surged forward toward her with Bull leading the way and the first wave of Templars was destroyed in minutes in front of the Trebuchet.  The soldiers all yelled their approval of the Herald as they held their swords up high.

“The other Trebuchet isn’t firing!  We’ll keep firing, go see what’s wrong up there.”  An Inquisition officer yelled at a couple of soldiers.

“We got it Lieutenant.”  Asala yelled as she returned to the lines with Red Templar and Venatori blood all over her.  Her spirit blades still hissing in the air like angry snakes offended that they have nothing else to kill.

The other Trebuchet was in much the same predicament, but it was already overrun with Red Templars and  Venatori mages.  The small group was like a scythe in a wheat field as they cut down Templar after Templar and Mage after Mage.  After bringing half of a mountain down on the army with a Trebuchet shot, it almost looked like the Inquisition had a chance for victory.  Until…

She saw it from a distance.  Black and Grey and massive, flying towards them with an ungodly grace and speed, Dragon! 

“Move!  Now!”  She yelled as the dragon swooped in and let out a breath of corrupted fire that disintegrated the trebuchet along with a couple of Inquisition soldiers who were attempting to man it.

“Back to the Chantry!”  She continued as she brought up the rear and gathered as many survivors as she could. 

She wasn’t prepared for the sight at the Chantry.  “Move, keep going the Chantry is your shelter.” 

Roderick was dying.  “He tried to stop a Templar.  The blade went deep.  He’s going to die.”  Cole said as he assisted the Chancellor.

“What a charming boy.”  The chancellor said weakly at an attempt of levity.

“Herald, that dragon stole back any time you might have bought us.” 

“I’ve seen an Archdemon.  I was in the fade, but it looked like that.”  Cole added.

“I don’t care what it looks like.  It’s cut a path for that army.  They’ll kill everyone in Haven.”  Cullen continued.

“The Elder One doesn’t care about the village.  He only wants the Herald.”  Cole ominously declared.

“If it will save everyone then I will gladly give him what he wants.”  Asala started as Ale approached her with a look of horror in his eyes.

“It’s not mine Ale.”  Referring to the caked on blood all over her body.

“It won’t save them.  He wants to kill you.  No one else matters, but he’ll crush them, kill them anyway.  I don’t like him.”  She could sense nothing in Cole.  His heartbeat was nonexistent; his breathing was only to speak.  This was not a human in any sense.  He looked human, but Cole was definitely not human.

“There are no tactics to make this survivable.  The only thing that slowed them was the avalanche.  We could turn the remaining trebuchets and cause one last slide.”  Cullen counseled.

“We’re overrun, to hit the enemy we’d bury Haven.”  Asala countered.

“We’re dying, but we can decide how.  Many don’t get that choice.”  Cullen continued.

“There is a path.  You wouldn’t know it unless you made the summer pilgrimage as I have.”  Chancellor Roderick’s weak voice called their attention.

“The people can escape.  She must have shown me, Andraste must have shown me so I could tell you.”

“What do you mean Chancellor?”  Asala gently said.

“It was whim that I walked the path.  I did not mean to start…it was overgrown.  Now with so many in the Conclave dead, to be the only one who remembers…  I don’t know Herald.  If this simple memory can save us, this could be more than mere accident.  You could be more.”  Roderick continued with a reverence that Asala felt uncomfortable with.

“If that thing is here for me.  I’ll make him fight for it.”  Asala added angrily.

“And when the mountain falls?  What about you?”  Cullen was very troubled by the prospect of her sacrificing herself.

“Perhaps you will surprise it.  Find a way.”  Cullen is disturbed and yet in awe of the task Asala has to undertake.  “Inquisition!  Follow Chancellor Roderick through the Chantry.”

“Herald if you are meant for this, if the Inquisition is meant for this…I pray for you.”  The chancellor weakly yet with a strength not measurable by any instrument he addressed her in a kindly manner that should have been expected in the beginning.

“No!  Asala No!  You’re not leaving me by myself to watch the love of my life kill herself!”  Ale angrily shouted.

Asala had her head down and cupped his chin. “I have to.  For you, the children, everyone…I will not let that thing kill us all.  Please my love…I don’t want to…”

“Shok, Cas take the rest of our band and assist Commander Cullen in anyway he needs.”  Asala barked out to her best friends.  “Make sure you protect the children at all cost.”

The thunderous roar outside broke any semblence of peace occuring between her and rest of the people there.  “I’m going with you.”

“You’ll probably need a healer if you face that thing and win, I’m going with you no matter what you say.”

Asala was not happy bet there was no time to argue.  “Cullen I’ll wait for your signal and bury these bastards when you are safe.”

“Bull, Blackwall, Cassandra, you’re with me!”  She yelled.

They leave the Chantry together and are immediately pounced upon by the Red Templars.  “Ale stay close to me!”

The fight to the trebuchet is long and brutal.  Ale is earning his keep healing his companions as they advance through a sea of Red Templars.  Bull is particularly happy with his role of brutalizing tank.  Asala can’t help but smile a little as he cuts a swath through the Red Templars almost as quickly as she does. 

They reach the trebuchet after wiping out all of the Red Templars in their path…or so they thought.  Asala senses it and is too late to warn Bull as a Templar appeared almost out of thin air with twin blades behind the Bull.  Asala watched in horror as Ale jumped in front of the blades with a very weak barrier and got impaled through the chest by those corrupted blades. 

Time slowed for her at this moment as Ale’s lifeless body slowly slid off of the Templar’s blades onto the ground, gushing blood from the two fatal wounds.  She watched as the Templar stood over Ale’s body and a moment later Bull’s weapon cut him in two.

She rushed to him…she held him…she…failed him.  She could not see beyond her own grief, her own rage…she…

“ROOOOOAAAAAAAAARAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!”  It was a high female roar and Bull collapsed in a heap his body would not respond to his thoughts.

“Cassandra, Blackwall!  Take Bull and….Ale back.   This ends here!”  The glare in her eyes would not suffer any protests so they did as they were told just before she sensed the dragon.

She turned and saw it headed straight for her.  She stood straight as it let out it’s corrupt fire which she deflected with her barrier.  It landed with a thunderous boom as she stared it down.  It roared at her with a sound that could only be called monstrous, expecting her to cower. 

“You die first!”  Asala’s spirit blades lit up the air around them as she confidently approached the giant beast.

“Enough!”  She heard behind her as a wave of unfamiliar magic swept across her and the beast.  The beast backed away as she turned and watched the real monster approach.

It was easily a foot taller than her, red lyrium growing out every crevice.  Crackling with blood magic.

“Pretender!  You toy with forces beyond your ken no more.”  It’s voice is penatrating and the embodiment of evil.

“You saved me the trouble of hunting you down.  I am going to destroy you and your pet.”

“Brave souls that always lie to themselves when they flail out at the darkness.  I am Corypheus.  Know me.  Know what you pretended to be…”  He didn’t have a chance continue as Asala lept at him with a fury he did not expect.  Moving at the last second only cost him his arm as blood gushed from the wound.  Asala was coiled and ready to attack again, but the monster was casting a spell with a strange object in his hands.  The fire burned at her mark and he began to talk again.  It was debilitating as the mark flared and the pain went up her arm and into the rest of her.

“The process of removing what is rightfully mine begins now.  It is your fault Herald.  You interrupted a ritual years in the planning and instead of dying you stole its purpose.  I do not know how you survived, but what marks you as touched, what you flail with at rifts, I crafted to assault the very heavens…and you use the anchor to undo my work.”  His face was angry and outraged.  The pain in the mark was intense but it was becoming less with every second he continued this attempt to remove the mark from her.  Her face was defiance, rage…vengeance. 

“The gall…that mark is meant to bring certainty where there is none.  For  you the certainty that I would always come for it.  I once breached the fade in the name of another to serve the Old Gods of the empire in person.  I found only chaos and corruption, dead whispers.  For a thousand years I was confused…no more.  I have gather the will to return under no name but my own.  To champion the Tevinter and correct this blighted world.  Beg that I succeed, for I have seen the throne of the Gods and it was empty.”  The monster could not stop talking as the fire burned on her marked hand, but now she was dealing with it and on her feet ready to strike him again.

“The Anchor…”  She lept at him again only this time he expected her and sidestepped accordingly while pulling her towards him with his good arm.   He felt strong,  stronger than any of her comrades, but she still felt that she was stronger as her head smashed into his face causing pieces of red lyrium to flake off of it.  It was apparent that she had broken his jaw.  He reeled back as her blades came to life again.  His face was one of shocked indignation, his jaw hanging on wide open and shattered. 

She felt the dragon was snapping to her left and she lept just in time to avoid its jaws.  “I am going to kill you and your pet.”  The maniacal smile on her face actually caused him to pause.  This was a being of such power as to truly rival his.  He would not have it!

The dragon had no such pause as it launched its red flames into her barrier.  The flames surrounded her and impacted the trebuchet behind her actually making it fire by burning the retaining rope.  They all stopped and watched as the projectile hit the top of the mountain and the cataclysm began to roar down the mountain towards them.  The dragon grabbed Corypheus in its claws and took off.  Asala tried to leap at it and managed to take off a small piece from the tip of its tail with her spirit blades.  She heard it roar in pain as it flew with its injured master to safety.  

As she expected to land, she found herself falling through an undiscovered shaft.  She landed with a hard thud on the rocks and she heard a crack as her ribs suddenly felt on fire.  She let the darkness take her.  She woke to the pain of her right side stabbing her as if she were being held in the dragon’s maw.  She walked as best as she could towards the wind coming through the cave.  Apparently the encounter with that monster made the mark feel different.  It felt as if she could project some kind of power from it.  A couple of wisps had the unfortunate distinction of being the first ones to be swallowed by a rift that she opened with the mark.

Her pain was making her think.  Her pain was keeping her focused on one thing she did not think about when fighting that beast and its master.  I didn’t see the signal.  Did I just kill everyone?  Oh Maker please no.  Please no…not that.

The pain and that thought kept her going until she made it to the mouth of the cave.  She would have to head out into the fearsome blizzard in order to know if she did the unthinkable.  She made her way through the white out conditions in the direction she thought was north.  They would have gone into the mountains.  She thought to herself.

Five days had passed and she was nearing her end.  She seemed to have survived the Blizzard, but the ribs must have damaged something inside of her as she could feel herself getting weaker by the hour.  This would be her last day on Thedas if she did not find help.  The breathing was so much harder now.  Asala had never been this injured before. 

Then she finally got a scent of the Inquisition forces.  It brought her inner peace knowing that they survived along with her son, nieces and friends.  We did it Ale.  They made it.  She tracked them for several hours, but it seemed to no avail.  Then she noticed some warm embers near a rock formation.  They had to be close, but unless she found them by day’s end, she would not last the night.  I have to live damn it!  I will not abandon them!  She continued through the knee high snow with a renewed purpose to live for them.

She limped slowly over a rise and the view in the valley made her heart warm.  They lived!  By the Maker they lived!  She collapsed in the snow as she heard Cullen yell to his men.  “It’s her!”  She could smell the familiar scent of Bull and Shok lifting her and hearing their astonished voices comfort her as the world went dark again with the thought of her Ale.  I made it love.  I will make that monster rue the day he took you from me and our family…

Chapter Text

“Momma?...”  It’s a whisper she hears in her mind that immediately conjures up the image of Alejandro and that…that Red Templar standing over her beautiful husband.  The blood dripping from those unnatural blades as the abomination slowly turns its profane gaze upon her.  “Momma?...”

“Come here child.  She will wake soon don’t worry.”  Another voice.  Familiar and comforting.

“Let your mother rest.  I will call you when she wakes.”

The images are gone and she slowly opened her eyes.  She could hear Cullen arguing with the rest of Inquisition leaders.  She turned her head to see that Mother Giselle was watching her.  Asala pulls herself up and leans back on her elbows as she watched them argue angrily over the future of the Inquisition.  “You need rest.  You shouldn’t exert yourself so soon.”  Mother Giselle quietly told her.

“They’ve been at it for hours.”  Asala winced at the pain in her ribs.

“They have that luxury thanks to you.  The enemy could not follow.  With time to doubt, we turn to blame…Lay back child.”  Mother Giselle’s tone was soft yet comfortingly strong.

“Infighting may threaten as much as this Corypheus.”  She continued.

“Do we know where he is?”  Her thoughts again turned to vengeance as she thought of the monstrosity that was causing this.

“We’re not sure where we are.  Which may be why, despite the numbers he still commands, there is no sign of him.”  Mother Giselle answered.

“That, or you are believed dead, or without Haven, we are thought helpless.  Or he girds for another attack.”  She continued.

“My health will not stop me from killing that monster and if they’re arguing about what to do next then I need to get up.”  Asala winced, but began to stand.

“Another heated voice won’t help.  Even yours, perhaps especially yours.  They struggle because of what we all witnessed.  We saw our defender stand…and fall.”  Mother Giselle paused and looked her in the eye in an awestruck manner.  “…and now you return.”

Asala was now standing and listening to intently to Mother Giselle.  “The more the enemy is beyond us, the more miraculous your actions appear.  The more our trials seem ordained.”

“That is hard to accept, no?  What ‘we’ have been called to endure?  What ‘we,’ perhaps, must come to believe?”  She was starting to sound too much like a religious fanatic who wanted Asala as the center of a new movement.

“What is there to believe?  I escaped the avalanche, barely, but I didn’t die.”  She countered.  “I saw the fear in its eyes when he saw that I was his better.  He will not want to face me directly again, but I will take care of him and his beast.” 

She paused and looked at Mother Giselle with a glare that said I don’t give a shit what you believe.  “Whatever we believe right now doesn’t matter.  We need soldiers, weapons.  That monster doesn’t care what we believe.”

With that she started to limp towards her advisors only to be intercepted. “Momma!”  Antaam rushed her along with his cousins Talania and Rasaana and crashed into her and made her wince.  She overcame the burning sensation in her ribs as she grabbed all three of the children in one fell swoop of her arms.  The tears began to flow from her eyes as she wanted to hold them forever.

“I’m so sorry…”  She whispered to herself as her thoughts drifted to her husband.

“Momma…?  Where did pa go?”  The question she did not want to answer.  The question that pointed to her incompetence.  How could she tell him that he died to help save them…her?

“Your father has gone to a place where he is needed to help fix the sky.”  Mother Giselle answered.

“Really?  Can we go see him?” 

“Not until you are called to go there.  He is helping perform a very important job and unfortunately he cannot return, but don’t worry he will be waiting for you there.”  She continued and Asala watched Antaam receive the news with open curiosity instead of the sadness and grief that Asala felt.

“Thank you Mother…I’m sorry…”  Asala started to apologize, but Mother Giselle put up her hand to stop her.

“Don’t Herald please, we all have our burdens and I will try to alleviate as many as I can for you.”  Mother Giselle interrupted.  For all her self-righteousness Mother Giselle was a welcomed presence.

Soon her whole Merc Band, Bull’s Chargers and the inner circle came to welcome her back to the land of the living.  Katoh pulled her into a fierce and painful embrace as the tears rolled from both of them.  “I tried to save him, but…there was nothing I…”

“Shhh my friend.  I know you did.  You don’t have to tell me.  Did you take care of his body?” She looked into Katoh’s eyes as the smaller female nodded.  Katoh pointed to a small evergreen near the camp.

 “Thank you.” 

She continued her rounds of making sure that everyone was aware that she was awake and ready to move out when Cullen made a suggestion.

“Maybe you shouldn’t strain yourself too much Herald.  You’re ribs are not properly healed yet and to tell you the truth we really don’t know where to go as of yet.”  There was a look of concern in his eyes that was not there before.  Cullen had always been a kind and caring person whom she always seemed to butt heads with, but he always gave her his honest opinion no matter how much she didn’t want to hear it.  The way he called her Herald sounded different, awe struck?  Something definitely changed in the way he looked at her, but she did not have time to dwell on this new nuance.

As she turned to head towards the small evergreen she saw that Bull was at the tree standing silently there with his head down as if praying.  “Shok ebasit hissra. Meraad astaarit, meraad itwasit, aban aqun. Maraas shokra. Anaan esaam Qun.”

“The prayer for the dead, thank you Bull.”  She thanked him even though the prayer only really applied to the Qun and those living under the Qun, she appreciated the sentiment.

“He sacrificed himself for me.  I am sorry Asala…I wish I could trade…”  Bull seemed a little taken aback.  He never believed that anyone other than his men would ever do what Alejandro did.  “Why did he do that?  Why?”  He asked her.

“He’s always been like that.  He was a healer and protector…(she paused as she started to sob and covered her mouth as she fell to her knees in front of the tree.)…he was the most wonderful being I have ever met.”

She felt Bull’s giant hand on her shoulder.  “I will honor his memory and hope that I earn his sacrifice.”

“Thanks Bull, he’d probably say that you don’t owe him anything and he would probably be yelling at me for moving around with my broken ribs.”  She mixed a painful chuckle in with her sobs.  “I’m so going to miss you my love.”  She embraced the tree for what seemed an eternity and then finally stood up.

“Okay, back to work.”  She wiped her face and eyes, not fully stopping her sobs, trying in vain to put on a neutral expression as she approached the Inquisition advisors.  That was when she heard Mother Giselle begin to sing The Dawn Will Come.

She stood there listening to a beautiful rendition of a song she really loved as a child.  She started to notice that the entire mass of people that was now the Inquisition began to sing along.  It sounded so powerful, so moving, so filled with hope.  The people slowly began to approach her as they sang and many dropped to their knees as they sang…to her.  Her hairs stood on end as they finished…were they worshipping her?  Was she now being followed mindlessly by these people?  She felt incredibly uneasy about it when Mother Giselle approached her.

“An army needs more than an enemy.  It needs a cause.”  She tells her and before she can even say anything Solas interrupts her.

“A word.”  Is all he said as he motioned for her to follow him.

She followed him to an area away from the main camp and the ears of everyone.  “A wise woman, worth heeding.  Her kind understands the moments that unify a cause, or fracture it.”  Solas commented.

“The orb Corypheus carried, the power he used against you.  It is Elven.”  Asala looked at him as she listened, sensing his discomfort of the subject. 

“Corypheus used the orb to open the breach.  Unlocking it must have caused the explosion that destroyed the conclave.  I do not yet know how Corypheus survived…nor am I certain how people will react when they learn of the orb’s origin.”  Solas continued as Asala examined every word and every expression.  Solas was deceitful, but his obvious discomfort could also come from the fact that this whole mess was the fault of an elven created artifact.

“Alright, how do you know about it?”  Asala asked.

“They were foci, used to channel ancient magicks.  I have seen such things in the fade, old memories of older magic.  Corypheus may think it Tevinter.  His empire’s magic was built on the bones of my people.”  Solas explained.

“Knowing or not he risks our alliance.  I cannot allow it.”  He seemed very adamant, but there was something he wasn’t telling her.

“If you have something for me than tell me now.”  Asala cut to the chase.

“By attacking the Inquisition, Corypheus has changed it, changed you.  Scout to the north.  Be their guide.  There is a place that waits for a force to hold it.  There is a place where the Inquisition can build…grow…”

Despite the pain, Asala took the lead as the head scout and led the Inquisition to the north as Solas had mentioned.  The weather had cooperated for what turned out to be a two day trek.  Leading the mass of the Inquisition was a spearhead of mages melting the snow as they traveled, making it that much of an easier going.  What Asala saw on the middle of the second day astonished her and left her silent in awe of the magnificent fortress.

“SKYHOLD!”  Solas told her.

“How…what…when…did you know this was here?”  Asala asked while still marveling at the site.

“The fade has many secrets waiting to be discovered.  This was one I discovered a long time ago.  I didn’t know it was here, but I suspected that it was.”  Solas answered smugly.

Whatever his faults, Solas had just given the Inquisition a formidable fortress.  She pulled the elf into a powerful embrace and let go seeing his discomfort.  She smiled as she turned to her advisors.  “Our new home.”  She pointed in a sweeping motion.

 

****************

Asala insisted on personally scouting every inch of this new home.  To her surprise there was not a soul living there.  How could such an impressive structure be abandoned?  There was no scent save for the odd fennec or bird.  It was perfect…too perfect she thought, but her scouting of the fortress revealed nothing to disqualify it from becoming the Inquisition’s new home.

Asala leaned on a wall near the main gate, her breath labored because of her still unhealed ribs, she watched the Inquisition forces and more civilians than she could remember enter and exit the fort and bringing in supplies, inspecting the fort itself and just generally prepare the fortress for their new habitants.  She watched as the blacksmiths claimed their mostly intact foundry.  She looked at Bull and Sera on the top of a set of stairs pointing at another surprisingly intact structure and heard Sera say.  “Shit yea, a pub would really liven this place up, yea?”  She watched as Varric and Katoh took all of the children and sit them near what could have once been a barn.  It was obvious to Asala that they were going to get story time.  She watched as the kids were captivated by Varric.  Asala’s eyes met Katoh’s and she instantly knew by her facial expression that a lot of the children in that group had lost a parent, if not both.  It made her blood boil. 

She continued to scan the lower when her eyes settled on the Inquisition’s prime movers.  They all turned in unison to look at her.  Cassandra smiled and waved her over.

She slowly walked over to them as every one of them spread out except for Cassandra.  “They arrive daily from every settlement in the region.  Skyhold is becoming a pilgrimage.”  Cassandra motioned for Asala to follow her.

As they walked up the stairs to the main courtyard and hall she continued.  “If word has reached these people, it will have reached the Elder one.  We have the walls and numbers to put up a fight here, but this threat is far beyond the war we anticipated.   We now know what allowed you to stand against Corypheus, what drew him to you.”

“Probably because my efforts killed any chance he had to get what he wants.”  Asala answered.

“Perhaps in more ways than you’ve considered.”  Cassandra countered.

“Your decisions let us heal the sky.  Your determination brought us out of Haven.”  Cassandra continued.  “You are that monster’s rival because of what you did, and we know it, all of us.” 

They continued up the steps until they reached a landing in front of the main hall.  Leliana was standing there with her head bowed and cradling a very intricate looking sword.  What the?  What are they thinking?

“The Inquisition requires a leader.  The one who’s already been leading it.”  Cassandra iterated.

Asala stopped and looked at Cassandra and then turned her eyes toward Leliana as she offered the sword to her.  Asala then turned to look in the lower courtyard where a large group of people had gathered.  She could see Shok and Ashaad looking at her with…pride?  Are these people out of their mind? 

“You.”

The word hit her like a sledgehammer.  How could they think that she should lead.  She wasn’t human, hell she was a mage as well. 

“Cassandra…Are you crazy?  I’m a Vashoth and a mage to boot.  Would you really trust the Inquisition in my hands?”

“Not a Mage or a Vashoth…YOU.”   Cassandra answered with a determination that made Asala pause.

“But…I happen to be both.”

“I will not pretend no one will object, but times are changing and maybe this is what the Maker intended.”  Cassandra answered confidently and put her hand on Asala’s shoulder.

“There would be no Inquisition without you.  How it will serve, how you lead:  That will be yours to decide.”  Cassandra squeezed her shoulder as Leliana offered the sword to her.

Asala took the sword in her giant hand and immediately noticed that it was a ceremonial blade.  “With fear running rampant, they will see a Vashoth Mage standing against this evil and doing what is right.  I’ll destroy that monster standing with them, not over them.” 

“Wherever you lead us.”  Cassandra added.

“HAVE OUR PEOPLE BEEN TOLD?”  Cassandra addressed the crowd.

“They have, and soon the world.”  Josephine answered.

“COMMANDER, WILL THEY FOLLOW?”  Cassandra asked Cullen.

Asala watched as Cullen turned to the crowd and addressed them.  “INQUISITION!  WILL YOU FOLLOW?”

A thunderous yes was the response from the crowd.  “WILL YOU FIGHT?”  Again a resounding yes as all of the Inquisition soldiers drew their swords and held them high.

“WILL WE TRIUMPH?”  Cullen continued as the crowd broke into an almost frenzied response.

“YOUR LEADER!  YOUR HERALD!  YOUR INQUISITOR!”  Cullen drew his sword and pointed at Asala.

Asala was awed by the spectacle as she raised the sword in a show of solidarity with the crowd, and they exploded with a thunderous ovation that carried throughout the region.  Her eyes scanned the crowd and saw Bull, Shokrakar, Sata, Katoh and Ashaad beaming at her.  Her eyes met Cullen’s and the intensity of his stare actually made her blink.  He would follow me to oblivion.  She thought to herself. 

As the crowd quieted she found her chance to address them.  “You all know what we are up against.  The first steps to our inevitable triumph starts here.  Let’s make this fortress the envy of Thedas, let’s make sure that if the monster stupidly decides to come here, he will break his teeth on our walls while we skewer him with our swords and arrows.”  The crowd responded with a thunderous approval. 

“You all know what is needed, I only ask that you give your best.  Report to Captain Rylen for your assignments.”

 

******************

Well this was a turn in events that she did not expect.  She thought to herself as she walked into the main hall with Cullen, Leliana, and Josephine.  She examined the main hall as she walked in.  It was massive and

“So this is where it begins.”  Cullen was also examining the hall.

“It began in the courtyard.  This is where we turn that promise into action.”  Leliana was very stoical in her observation.

“What are we going to do?  We really know nothing of Corypheus except that he wanted the mark on your hand.”  Josephine seemed to be a little overwhelmed by the new situation.

Asala turned to her advisors.  “He said he wanted to enter the Black City, that this would make him a God.”

“He’s willing to tear this world apart to reach the next.  It won’t matter if he’s wrong.”  Leliana said with a lot of vitriol.

“What if he’s not wrong?  If he finds some other way into the fade…”  Cullen sounded concerned, but determined to stop the creature.

“Then he gains the power he seeks or unleashes catastrophe on us all.”  Leliana countered as she too was animated.

“I will not let him.  After the explosion he had hunted for me, now he will know that he is prey and I will hunt him to the ends of the fade to destroy him and his pet.  Speaking of which, if that thing really is an Archdemon, what would that mean?”  Asala was as determined as ever with a steely expression.

“It would mean the beginning of another Blight.”  Leliana answered.

“We’ve seen no Darkspawn other than Corypheus himself.  Perhaps it’s not an Archdemon at all, but something different?”  Josephine added quizzically as she took notes.

“Whatever it is, it’s dangerous.  Commanding such a creature gives Corypheus an advantage that we can’t ignore.”  Always thinking of the military consequences, Cullen added his voice to the subject.

“He said that he wanted to restore Tevinter.  Do you think that a war with the Imperium is what he wants?”  Asala asked.

“I get the feeling that we’re dealing with extremists, not the vanguard of a true invasion.”  Cullen continued.

“Tevinter is not even close to what it once was.  What he yearns to ‘restore’ no longer exists.”  Josephine also continued as she walked around looking at the brick work of the hall.  “Though they would shed no tears if the south fell to chaos, I’m certain.”

“If Corypheus is one of the Tevinter Magisters that originally entered the Black City, then his story maybe even his family line continues and can be found at the archives in Tevinter.  I’ll talk to Dorian and see what he can pull from there.”  Asala commented.  “Whatever anyone can find on that beast would be most helpful.  Leliana, you too.  Find me anything on him.”  Asala was starting to think about how she was going to get to Corypheus, everything else was a bother to her as of right now.

“Unless they saw him on the field, most will not believe he even exists.”  Cullen’s devil’s advocate was getting annoying.

“I don’t give a shit if they don’t believe.  I want him found so that I can finish him.”  The need for vengeance was still raw and seething inside her.

“We do have one advantage:  We know what Corypheus intends to do next.”  Leliana gracefully added.  “In that strange future you experienced, Empress Celene had been assassinated.”

“Imagine the chaos her death would cause.  With his army…”  Josephine had a look of dread as she spoke.

“An army he’ll bolster with a massive force of demons, or so the future tells us.”  Cullen added.

“He could conquer the entire south of Thedas, God or no God.”  Josephine was truly frightened at the prospect.

“I’d feel better if we knew more about what we were dealing with.”  Leliana let out a huff of frustration.

“We all would.”  Asala sighed.

“I know someone who can help with that.”  They all turned around to see that Varric walk into the hall.  He looked a little nervous and Asala immediately felt his uneasiness.

“Everyone acting all inspirational jogged my memory, so I sent a message to an old friend.”  Varric hid his discomfort well, but Asala saw through him.  His heart rate was elevated and she could smell his scent of nervousness.  There was also a new scent on his body that she did not recognize.

“She’s crossed path with Corypheus before, and may know more about what he’s doing.  She can help.”  He started to look around as if he was trying not to be heard by anyone other than the people in the room.

“If she knows about Corypheus then I’d like to meet her.  Introduce me to her.”  It wasn’t so much a request as it was an order.  Asala was not in the mood to be toyed with.

Varric shifted uncomfortably to the obvious amusement of Leliana.  “Parading around might cause a fuss.  It’s better for you to meet privately, on the battlements.”  Varric looked so distraught that she would have to confront him on this later in private.  “Trust me.  It’s complicated.”  With that he turned and began to walk outside.

“Varric,  tell your friend that I want to meet within the hour.  I’ll see you on the ramparts.”  Asala called out.  Varric nodded to her and continued his way out.

“Well, we stand ready to move on both of these concerns.”  Josephine opined.

“I know one thing:  If Varric brought who I think he has, Cassandra is going to kill him.”  Leliana was clearly amused.

“Why?  Who do you think he brought?”  Asala asked.

“I think it’s the Champion of Kirkwall, Marian Hawke.”  Leliana answered, again with an amused tone that she tried to hide but failed.

“I think I’ll go meet this mysterious person Varric brought.” Asala commented.

 

****************

 

Asala went back out to the courtyard and immediately was set upon by Vivienne.  “Oh my dear you look dreadful.  Come, let me take a look at you.”  There was a softness in Vivienne’s eyes she had not seen before.

“Please Madame, I’m fine.”  Asala tried to deflect, but as Vivienne gazed into her eyes there was a look of understanding in her expression.

Vivienne turned around quickly and Asala sensed her discomfort.  “Madame?  What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry for what happened…to your love.”  Vivienne was visibly shaking which was something she had never seen of the Iron lady.

“Thank you Madame…”  Asala’s expression turned to one of slight sorrow once more, she put a hand on Vivienne’s shoulder and squeezed lightly. 

The gesture seemed to calm Vivienne somewhat.  “It was a mistake to use Haven as a base of operations.  It was completely indefensible.”  That was the Lady Asala respected so much.

“I know, I wish I could have thought that through and made a change sooner…”  Her shoulders slumped at the thought.  “…For everyone that I saved, two more were cut down by that monster, I…failed them.”

Vivienne gently took both of Asala’s hands and with a stern determination told her.  “Don’t you do that my dear!  You haven’t failed them.  The men and women who fight for you gave their lives for a great cause and they fought to the end.  The rest still fight and you will fail them if you give up now.  Our enemy advances Inquisitor, you must not sit idly by.  Act first and teach them to fear us.  I think you know what needs to be done my dear.”  There was a fire in Vivienne’s eyes and she felt her bond to the Iron lady become a little bit stronger.

“Thank you Madame…I will make that monster regret he ever came into existence.”

“I know you will my dear, I have no doubts.”

 

***********************

 

She continued around the courtyard making sure that everyone was okay and most of them were in a better place emotionally than she was.  Cole was a mystery, but he had helped them at Haven and even told her that the late Chancellor Roderick regretted treating her the way he did.  He seemed to be able to read other’s thoughts and emotions, which was both disturbing and fascinating at the same time.  Solas convinced her that he would be an asset and so far he had been, so she agreed.  She would keep an eye on him.

She was on her way up to the Ramparts when Shokrakar stopped her.  “Lala are you okay?”

The combination of Shok’s caring voice and the question itself gave her a pause.  She turned to look at her close friend who was with Katoh and the children.  “I’m…better, not great, but better.” 

Antaam jumped into his mother’s arms and made her wince a little, her ribs still a little sore.  “I miss pa.” 

“I know honey…me too.”  Asala reflected as she kissed her boy on the cheek and put him down and he immediately began to play with his cousins.

Asala turned to Shok.  “How’s Bull been?”  The question was short, but Asala knew the answer because she now felt that Bull would not jeopardize his position in the Inquisition.

“He’s been fine.  He’s stayed away from us and his men were warned to keep away from our people.  Kaariss was actually stupid enough to go and have a talk with him.”  Shok explained with a smirk on her face.

Asala wasn’t stunned.  Kaariss was a trusting soul who hated the tension that existed between Bull and the Valo-Kas.  She was absolutely positive that he would befriend the Bull in time, which wasn’t a bad idea considering Bull’s view of Tal-Vashoth.  Kaariss would absolutely shatter that view.  It was hard for her to not trust Bull now.  In the future she saw, he gave up his life for her fighting the thing he feared most.  The back of her mind kept telling her that he was a Ben Hassrath spy and not to trust, but he had shown her nothing by loyalty and compassion.  She sensed that Ale’s sacrifice deeply affected him and his control of his emotions was lost when he apologized to her by Ale’s tree.

“I’m still getting used to having him around, but he’s done everything you said he would.  I still don’t trust him, but I can tolerate that bombastic ass now.”  Katoh commented as she gave a look of annoyance when she heard the Bull laughing with his men near the new to be tavern.

“Where’s Cassian?”  Asala asked.

“I don’t know.  He’s either talking magical theory with Dorian or he’s with Fiona and the mages.  He’s probably scoping out a place for them to set up a class room or something.”   Shok told her as she put her hands on her hips and huffed.  “You did good girl.”  Shok beamed at her and Katoh did as well nodding her head.

Asala turned to her and smiled weakly.  Her thirst for revenge had subsided for the moment as she looked at her sisters.  “Good huh, first the Qun, now some crazy corrupted Magister and his Templar army, maybe I can graduate and make all of Thedas our enemy.  That wouldn’t be just good, that would be great.”  She said sarcastically with that same sad smile as Shok and Katoh chuckled lightly.

“What’s so funny?”  Sata approached looking just as angry as usual.

Asala thought to herself that this must be some sight.  These were half of the females of her kind she had ever known, the other being her mother and her comrades Tala and Rasa who died at the conclave.  She felt that they really were her sisters in every way.  All of the other Vashoth and Tal-Vashoth she had met were males.  It almost brought a tear to her eyes as she spread out her arms silently demanding a group hug.

Shok and Katoh immediately complied, but Sata started to back away until she saw the look of comfort on Asala’s face as she seemed take in the moment with her sisters.  Sata then joined in and Asala smiled a much more joyful smile as she gathered Sata into the embrace.  “Thank you sisters.  I don’t know what I would do without you.”

They all pull away from the embrace and Katoh looked like she wanted to ask something.  “What is Katoh?”

“I’m going to need a place to teach the children that is away from prying eyes.”  Katoh answered.  Asala knew that she would need a private place because Asala was adamant on everyone in the company learning Qunlat in addition to Common.  Bull might not take this well and he did not need to know anyway. 

“We’ll find a place for you.”  Asala answered.

Katoh smiled as she turned and called the children over.  They followed her around like little ducklings with Sata bringing up the rear.  “Well since Cas is busy doing who the hell knows, you want to come with me to meet Varric’s ‘mystery’ friend?”  Asala asked Shok.

“Mystery?”  Shok answered with a puzzled look.

“It seems that Varric has a friend that has faced Corypheus before…Leliana thinks its Marian Hawke.”

“The Champion of Kirkwall?  The slayer of the last Arishok?”  Shok was for lack of a better word shocked.  “Absolutely, I would love to meet one of my favorite persons of all time.”

 Asala snorted and chuckled.  “Me too Shok, although she did take the pleasure away from me, I wanted to kill that fuck myself.”

“I know girl…I know.”

 

 

Chapter Text

As they walked along the upper battlements Shokrakar took a look at the army camp down in the valley.  “We should make sure they are well supplied down there.”

Asala paused and stood by Shok’s side and nodded.  “It looks really cold down there…”  Asala stared at the remnants of ‘her’ army and couldn’t help but feel thankful for them.  For all of her power and ability, it was those men and women down there that did the brunt of the fighting against Corypheus’s troops.  “They’ll have the best if I have any say.”

“Most of our band is staying down there as are most of the Chargers.”  Shok added.

“Neither of our bands have much experience in the cold.  I’ll commission Cullen to round up as many natives to train the rest of the troops in cold weather survival.  In the mean time I’ll assign some of the mages to create heat runes for the tents.”  Asala continued to watch the valley and was amazed at how quickly the army made camp.  She would have to find a way to praise Cullen for their incredible transformation.

“That’s going to be a hell of a core to train new recruits around.”  Shok answered and Asala nodded as they both turned and continued towards one of the corner towers near the landing where Varric was. 

“So Varric…where is your mysterious friend?”  Shokrakar asked.

“Asala, I asked you to meet in private…”  Varric started to protest.

“Anything your guest tells me, they can tell Shok, no one else will know.”  Asala stopped him with a raised hand.

Varric let out a frustrated grunt and waved towards the closest tower. 

Asala watched as a proud looking human woman walked down the stairs.  Her jet black hair was braided into a long pony tail.  Her olive skin and dark eyes marked her as a beautiful looking marcher.  Her impressive looking staff also marked her as a fellow mage.  When their eyes met, Asala noticed that Hawke paused for a second.  She was probably startled at the sight of two enormous Kossith women that absolutely towered over her.

“Inquisitor, this is Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall.”  Varric proudly introduced her.

“I’ve always wanted to meet you.”  Asala looked at her with an awed stare that Hawke was not expecting.  “You’re one of the reasons that I am probably still alive.”

Hawke was taken aback.  This was the mighty Inquisitor that Varric was talking about?  “Really?  I’ve been responsible for a lot of Qunari and Tal-Vashoth deaths…I don’t understand.”

“That Arishok was responsible for killing my parents.  I would’ve hunted him until either he was dead or I was.  You probably saved my life by killing him.”  Asala beamed at the human mage whom she almost felt an instant kinship to.  Asala could tell that she was a little nervous, but there was absolutely no fear in her scent.

“EHMMM!”  Shokrakar growled.

“Oh, I’m sorry Shok.  This is Shokrakar, my most trusted advisor and fellow Hawke worshipper.”  Shokrakar put out her hand and Hawke took it with a warm smile.

“A pleasure.”  Hawke said as she gave a slight nod to them.

“So I hear Corypheus is back.”  Hawke tries to get down to business.

“Varric said you fought him before.”  Asala stated.

“Fought and killed.  By the time we were done with him, he was nothing more than a puddle of goo.  You dropped a mountain on top of him, I really don’t know how much more I could add.”

“I don’t know, I’ve heard things about you Hawke.  You did save Kirkwall from a horde of rampaging Qunari.”  Shokrakar added with a playful chuckle.

“I don’t see how that applies here.  Unless…you have a horde of rampaging Qunari that needs my attention?”  She turned her head and smiled.

Shok and Asala looked at each other.  Asala put her hand over her mouth trying in vain not to laugh while her shoulders betrayed her amusement at the comment.  Shok effortlessly delivered the punch line.  “We are a horde of rampaging Qunari…”  With the delivery Asala broke down and actually laughed for the first time in a long time, both Hawke and Shok were also laughing.  Asala turned and watched as Varric let out a hearty chuckle as well.

After a few seconds of pleasantness, Asala got down to business.  “So Marian, what exactly do you know about Corypheus?”

“I know that the Wardens were holding him, but for reasons I only now seem to understand, they didn’t kill him.  I think that he used the Warden’s connection to the darkspawn to influence them.”  Hawke turned to look at Asala and began to explain what she knew.

“Corypheus got into their heads, messed with their minds and turned them against each other.”  Varric added nonchalantly.   This seemed to bother both Asala and Shokrakar, Asala quickly jumped on him.

“What?  You knew and didn’t tell me…us?”  She was starting to feel an anger build toward someone she considered a friend, someone she trusted with her children.  Asala started to shake as she glared at Varric who turned away in as if to hide his shame.

“I…I wasn’t sure it was him until you were fighting him and then it was too late to warn you.  I’m…sorry.”  His head was low and his voice was one of a defeated soul.  “I couldn’t believe it was him because we killed him.  There was no doubt in my mind that we killed him.”

“No there wasn’t any doubt.”  Hawke came to the aid of her friend and put herself between Asala and Varric.

Asala felt her anger subside as Varric spoke, she started to feel somewhat ashamed of herself and there was some empathy for her friend.  “It’s alright Varric; I should know better, you would have told me if you knew.”  She walked over to him and put her hand on his meaty shoulder.  He turned to look at her and she gave him a soft smile.

Hawke approached Asala and folded her arms across her chest.  “If the wardens have disappeared, maybe Corypheus is controlling them.” 

“If that’s what happened to the Wardens, do you think we could free them?”  Asala turned and faced her.

“Possibly, but we need to know more.  I’ve got a friend in the Wardens, his name is Stroud.  He was investigating something unrelated for me.  The last time we spoke he was worried about corruption within the Warden ranks.  Since then, nothing.”  Hawke responded as she leaned on her hands on the battlement overlooking the courtyard.

“Corypheus would certainly qualify as corruption in the Warden ranks.  Did your friend disappear with them?”  Varric continued the line of thought going through all of their minds.

“No, He told me that he’d be hiding in an old smuggler’s cave near Crestwood.” 

Asala was puzzled again.  She sat down on the battlement next to Hawke’s leaning frame.  “If you didn’t know about Corypheus, what were you doing with the Wardens.”

“The Templars in Kirkwall were using a strange form of Lyrium, it was red.  I was hoping the Wardens could tell me more about it.”

Asala made the connection in her head.  The Red Templars, red lyrium, it all started to come together.  “Corypheus had Templars with him at Haven.  They looked like they were exposed to the Lyrium you describe.”

“Hopefully my friend in the Wardens will know more.”  Hawke nodded.

“I appreciate you coming here to help us.”  Asala smiled meekly as she thanked her.

“I am doing this as much for myself as I am for you.  Corypheus is my responsibility.  I thought I killed him before.  This time I’ll make sure of it.”  There was a determination in her voice that left no doubt what she would do if she got the chance.

“Well this is just fucking peachy, Templars, Demons and now possibly the Wardens too?”  Asala darkened the mood and Hawke smiled softly as she answered back.

“Don’t forget about an Archdemon too.”

Asala’s mood darkened a bit more as her thoughts went back to that dark day.  “I’m going to kill him, but he will suffer greatly before that.”  The words made everyone there pause.  The feral and ominous way she said them removed any sort of doubt in any of their minds that Asala would follow through on her threat. 

They continued to speak for what amounted to a couple of hours.  Hawke gave a detailed account of what happened when she encountered Corypheus and left no doubt that she had killed him.  Hawke also filled her in on what happened at the origin of the Mage rebellion and why she sent her brother away when she heard that the Wardens were disappearing.  She even clarified her dealings with the Arishok and what the sadistic bastard did to the city and the viscount.

Asala and Shokrakar hung on every word.  Hawke could not be more amused at the two big Kossith women.  “You two are definitely not what I would have expected of Qunari women.”

“Well I was raised in a human village just outside of Kirkwall.  My life was pretty happy there.  I even had a human boyfriend.  I was fifteen when my idyllic lifestyle ended and Shok here…well you should tell her not me.”  Asala deferred to Shok.

“I was re-educated a few times before I escaped the Qun.  I guess I was too stubborn for the Qun and they let me know it.”  She pointed to several of her numerous scars which actually brought a tear to Hawke’s eyes.  “The Qun doesn’t like it when it is questioned as you can see.”  Shok continued as she saw how it affected Hawke.  “This is nothing compared to what they do to mages.”

“I know.”  Hawke answered with a look of deep reflection.

Hawke snapped out it and looked at the two horned admirers.  She chuckled.  “I’m going to leave now and meet you at the cave outside of Crestwood.  Here’s a rough map of where it is…(She began to walk down the ramparts and paused to look over her shoulder at Varric and Asala.)…Tell Cassandra I said hi.”  The smile she gave Varric was one of mischief mixed with caring.

 Varric just snorted and shook his head.  “She would absolutely kill me.”

 

******************

 

Over the next few weeks Skyhold became a beehive of activity.  Asala had left with Solas, Varric and Blackwall for Crestwood to find the mysterious Warden. Cassandra, Sera, Sata, and Ashaad went back to the Hinterlands to assist the refugees with some difficulties and to take care of the mercenaries giving the inquisition trouble. They returned after about a week and Cassandra could not stop mumbling something about "that fucking sneak."

Cullen busied himself with report after report.  Nothing was too mundane or unimportant when it came to the rebuilding of this fortress.  The dwarven masons were making great progress in repairing the walls.  Master Dennet’s horses were very well taken care of to his surprise.  Everything seemed to be running smoothly, Captain Rylen was indispensable in lightening the load on Cullen’s shoulders, by making rounds and basically doing Cullen’s job when he wasn’t able to.  Rylen was an excellent candidate to replace him if he were to go down due to his lyrium withdrawals which seemed to be getting worse.

Cullen liked to walk the ramparts.   The cold breeze was a blessing as it made his now more frequent headaches more tolerable.  He would really need to discuss this with Cassandra as he was starting to feel overwhelmed.  Today though was a good day and he was smiling as he watched Bull training with some his men in the sparring area.  He scanned the area and noticed that Shokrakar was leaning on the wall near the dungeon entrance watching Bull intently like a bird of prey.  Cullen decided to take the stairs down and approach Shokrakar.  Her eyes met his as he approached her and she smiled.  “Don’t worry Commander.  I’m not going to start anything.”

Cullen felt relieved as he nodded to her.  “I’m just thinking about challenging him to a sparring match.”  She told him as the feeling of relief left him.

“Are you sure that’s wise?”  He scratched the back of his head nervously, not knowing how she would respond.

“Ha!” She laughed heartily.  “You sound like Cassian a few minutes ago.”

“As Asala’s second, don’t you think you should listen to him?”  Cullen was a bit nervous until Shok looked at him softly and grinned.  “He’s said it before, I don’t usually listen to advice.”

“It’ll be alright Commander.  He’ll enjoy it and so will I.”  She answered.  “I kind of want to do it before Kaariss or Ashaad does it.”  Shokrakar started to walk towards the area where Bull was and Cullen accompanied her with a feeling of nervous tension.

He watched as she entered into their midst and stood in the middle of the sparring area and folded her arms in front of her and smiled a toothy if not maniacal grin.  Bull turned and saw her.  The understanding on Bull’s face was immediate.  “Crem!”

“Yeah Chief?”  Crem asked totally out of breath from the training.

“Clear the area, me and the lady are going to dance.”  He looked over to Shok who was already limbering up with a practice hammer.

Crem turned to see whom the Bull was going to trounce and when he saw the massively powerful looking Shokrakar he turned pale.  “Chief I don’t think this is a good idea.”  He approached Bull and motioned him to come closer.  “If you hurt her…well I don’t need to paint a picture of what’ll happen when the Inquisitor comes back.”

“Crem you worry too much.”  Bull grabbed his own practice sword and started to swing it around to also loosen up.

“OH NOT FAIR!”  Kaariss yelled as he left the tavern with his giant lute and observed what was going on. 

“Oh for fuck’s sake!”  Cassian commented as he walked out of the tavern behind Kaariss and motioned to Crem to come over.

“Crem, if this gets out of hand we’re going to have to separate them immediately.”

“It’s going to take all of us to handle Bull, you think I can borrow Kaariss to help us?  He seems the most friendly and Bull has actually taken a liking to him.”  Crem quietly requested.

Cassian nodded and motioned to Ashaad and Hissra who were up near the entrance to the main hall.  Ashaad waved back with an over exuberant and childlike enthusiasm.  “Will you two get down here!”  Cassian forcefully ordered.

Hissra and Ashaad walked down with smiles on their faces.  “Don’t worry Cas, Shok isn’t as crazy in the ring as Asala.  She’ll be fine and we sort of need new competition to test ourselves against.”  Hissra spoke confidently as he patted Cassian on the shoulder.

The crowd that gathered was a very rowdy one.  Cullen could see that the majority of it consisted of Valo-Kas and Chargers.  Tarlok looked like he was taking bets from both groups.  He scanned the area and noticed that his men were watching from the ramparts.  The ones off duty were in the middle of the two mercenary companies cheering on the soon to be sparring match.

“Let’s do this.”  Shokrakar had a predatory grin on her face as she squared off with Bull who also matched her grin.

The sparring match lasted over fifteen minutes.  They traded blow for blow, parry for parry, and bruise for glorious bruise.  It was a very evenly matched contest, but Bull was just too cagey and in the final moments it ended with Bull leg sweeping Shokrakar, she landed on her back in a cloud of dust.  He then landed the ending blow with his practice sword, adding another blackened bruise on Shok’s ribs.  It was the toughest match Bull had ever been in, period. 

The silence of the crowd betrayed the tension in the air.  Bull stood off to the side and offered Shok his hand with a smile on his face.  She took it with a smile on her own face and stood up.  “That was a lucky shot.”  Shokrakar told him.  The whole keep roared their approval as Bull and Shok, bloodied messes that they were walked off the sparring area together.  “Too bad you’re a Qunari Qalaba, we could really use another warrior in our band.”  Shok playfully mentioned to Bull who chuckled in response. 

“You know…your band isn’t bad for a bunch of Tal-Vashoth barbarians.”  Bull retorted as he held open the door to the tavern for Shok.  “After you my lady.”

Shok laughed as she entered and was followed by everyone else. 

Cullen turned with a very relieved expression and continued his rounds of checking on his men.  He reflected on how wrong he had been about these horned people.  They were helpful, knowledgeable and in Katoh’s case very motherly.  As he walked the ramparts over the gardens he observed Katoh along with Flissa teaching a group of twenty or so children.  It was a mixed group of humans, elves, Qunari and even a dwarf.  He watched how she interacted with all of them.  She gently corrected, she firmly disciplined and lovingly rewarded them. 

Most of the children in her group were orphaned with the exception of her twins and the Inquisitor’s child Antaam.  Cullen also saw that Sata was also helping another group of children in a sparring class.  The normally fiery Tal-Vashoth was the picture of patience with the ungainly kids.  Sata looked like a professional instructor and it showed as the children seemed to understand and perform very capably for being the beginners that they were.

He observed the children during their recesses and was amazed at the interaction between them.  They played and laughed amongst themselves with no thought as to each other’s origins or race.  He could hear one of the elven girls talking to Talania about her little buds that would one day sprout into horns.  It was…wonderful.  Humans, elves, dwarves and Qunari children playing the games that all children play, Cullen sighed and thought that the world should be like that.

As he finished his rounds he could feel the onset of a headache coming on and went to his office.  On his way there he asked one of the servants to bring him a pitcher of water and a cup of lemon tea.  Cullen started go over some of his reports that he hadn’t gotten to when he noticed one from the Hinterlands pointing to Asala’s retrieval of a wedding ring for a poor elven woman whose husband was murdered by Templars because they believed he was an apostate. 

It made his blood boil to think that the Templars had sunk to such lows.  He was sure that the apostates had done some terrible things, but that did not excuse the Templar’s actions.  Templars are supposed to protect the innocent.  This was…an abomination.  It also painted a small picture of the type of woman Asala was.  It seemed that she had a powerful sense of justice and would always seem to help those in need as much as she could. 

She was an amazing woman.  How he could ever have thought of her as an ox woman made him angry at himself.  Her husband sacrificed himself for what some would say was a blood enemy.  The love she has for that man was something he didn’t think was possible for her species.  He was completely wrong about this group…no not a group, they acted more like a family than a mercenary company.  He was completely wrong about her and he felt the shame inside him build. 

It was short lived as his head exploded with a migraine and he basically collapsed on the floor behind his desk.  It only lasted a few minutes, but it was completely incapacitating.  He pulled himself up back on the chair and poured himself some water.  He drank it like someone who hadn’t drank in a week and was about to die of dehydration.  The pain slowly passed and when he felt more at ease he continued with his reports.  He thanked the Maker that no one had seen him in such a sad state.  Another report came up and it showed Asala going out of her way to make sure there was enough food and shelter for the refugees in the Hinterlands.  He sighed and thought to himself that he needed to apologize to her.

 As night fell Cullen decided that he was going to make his final rounds around the grounds.  The sounds coming from the tavern were of joy and relief.  He could make out Maryden’s and Kaariss’ voices as they sang a duet of some sort.  He looked into the window and observed that many of the Valo-Kas were now mingled with the Chargers and enjoying each other’s company.  Bull had two barmaids sitting on his lap, Shokrakar was sitting with an expression of obvious amusement as Cassian and Dorian, both of them looking completely plastered, obnoxious and loud, tried to have a conversation about the Tevinter Empire.  Sata was sitting in a corner table with Ashaad as he just laid his head on her lap and closed his eyes.  As much as Cullen tried, he could not find Katoh anywhere in the tavern.

Cullen made the rounds around the battlements and turned into the main hall.  The restoration of the main hall was amazing.  In the three weeks that the workers feverishly repaired, replaced and restored, the hall had turned into a magnificent and cavernous room fit to host the most noble and refined of guests.  Josephine must be pleased with the progress.  He thought to himself. 

He noticed the faint sound of laughter coming from the huge storage chamber downstairs as it carried through the hallways.  He decided to investigate and to his surprise he found Katoh and Flissa putting all of the children to bed in what looked like a barracks.  He had forgotten that Asala wanted the children to have their own space and there was plenty of room down here.  Katoh stayed in this room to the dismay of Asala.  Asala had offered Katoh a spot in her room which could also fit their children, but Katoh refused.  She adamantly argued that the orphans would need someone to be there for them always.  Nightmares, questions, and in general just someone whom they knew cared for them.

“Do you need anything?”  Cullen announced himself quietly.

Katoh turned and smiled at him.  “No Commander, but thank you for offering.”

Cullen nodded and turned to leave.  He continued through Solas’ chamber and back out to the rampart connecting his office to the main building.  He returned to his office, satisfied that Skyhold was secure for the night.  He climbed the ladder to his room slowly as his exhaustion started to overcome him.  He quickly unbuckled his armor like the veteran that he was and unceremoniously plopped himself on his bed and let the exhaustion take him.

 

Chapter Text

 

Katoh had watched the Commander leave and she could sense that he was exhausted.  She felt a sort of sadness emanating from the beautiful and rugged looking human.  She could see that he was in pain and did his utmost not to show it.  Katoh was still a little wary of the Templar, but she did feel some pity for his apparent plight.  “Flissa will you be okay for a little while?”

Flissa nodded and waved her on.  She liked Flissa a lot.  Flissa never asked for anything and just helped her with the children without hesitation.  “I’m going to the tavern to get something to eat.  Do you want anything?”

“If you could bring me a bowl of that Druffalo stew, that would be wonderful.”  Flissa answered with her own tired voice.

Katoh smiled and nodded.  “Of course Flissa.  I’ll be back.”  She responded and promptly left as she did not like to leave the kids alone too long.  She made her way up to the main hall and loitered a little inside before slowly making her way toward the main courtyard.  There were signs of construction everywhere.  She couldn’t help but admire the restoration and cleaning of the stonework.  It was starting to look fabulous.  There was still quite a way to go but the progress was very swift. 

As she turned to look up to the large wooden throne, she noticed that the Ambassador’s room was still lit.  She went into the room and noticed that Josephine was still working on some missives or reports.  “Ambassador, do you never stop?”

Josephine looked up with tired eyes and grinned.  “I could ask the same of you my Lady.”

Katoh chortled.  “I am going to the tavern to get some food for me and Flissa.  Do you wish me to bring you anything?”

“Thank you Katoh, but no.  I have already eaten.”  Josephine grinned and got back to her work.

“Coffee?  Tea?”  Katoh continued causing Josephine to point to the still hot pot sitting next to a cup on her desk.

“I’ll take that as a no then.  Good night Ambassador.”

“Good night Katoh.”    

Katoh left Josephine’s office and started out the main doors to the courtyard.  She stepped out and noticed the wonderful mountain air.  It was chilled and pure.  She took a deep and satisfying breath as she walked to the most completely restored building in the keep.  She felt really good that a full half of her orphaned children had found new homes.  Of course it was mostly the human children, but there was one elven child that was taken by one of the elven healers.  The rest of them including her own were all practically being raised by Varric when he was around.

As she walked down the entrance steps she noticed immediately that the Tavern was filled with people.  She could hear Kaariss singing along with Maryden.  They had such a pleasant tone that she told herself she would ask them to sing to the children one day in the garden.  She continued to make her way to the Tavern and when she put her hand on the knob to enter, the door opened swiftly.  It surprised and chilled her to the core to see that the doorway was filled with the silhouette of that giant Ben Hassrath, Iron Bull.

She immediately leapt back and let out a growl that made him chuckle.  “Easy girl, I’m not here to cause you any harm I’m just trying to get to my room without going through that crowd.”  He told her as she continued to slowly retreat from him, never taking her beautiful golden eyes off of him.

He felt himself staring at her.  He examined her face, it was beautiful.  He took note of the scars of a Saarebas on this young Tal-Vashoth girl.  The suture marks on her mouth, the sheathed horns were probably sawn off in the most haphazard way, she looked extremely frightened of him and he had to be careful.  He was always weary of any mage, but this one made him feel different.  She was not a battlemage like Asala or the pretty boy Dorian.  She was a healer and he couldn’t never remember there being healer mages in the Antaam or in all of the Qun for that matter.  He watched her with the children and couldn’t help but think of his Tama when he was a young boy.  She was kind, hard and understanding with them.  She nurtured all of them as if they were her own.  He knew that she was teaching Qunlat to the children which might have brought the fury from most of his brothers and sisters in the Ben Hassrath, but he was of the mind that the more different cultures understood each other, the more likely there would be less misunderstandings. 

As their staring contest continued, Katoh’s emotions got the better of her as the thoughts of her beautiful Antaam started to enter her head.  The tears started to slowly slide down her cheek when she looked at Bull and she asked him a question so softly he almost didn’t hear it.  “Why Bull?  Why do we have to die?”

The question was so simple and yet so devastating.  No Tal-Vashoth had ever had the opportunity to ask him.  He was at a loss, this was no warrior whom was uttering his last words in defiance.  She looked like a lost child asking for directions from a town guard.  He truly did not know how to answer her.  The Valo-Kas were unlike any Tal-Vashoth he had ever met.  They were a wonderful collection of personalities that got along with almost everyone.  His Chargers took to them almost immediately as did most of the Valo-Kas to the Chargers and although there was a miniscule air of distrust between them, it did not surface even after a night of heavy drinking.  Katoh and Sata being the two major exceptions, both had their reasons, he was sure of it.  He could feel Sata’s anger seething through every time their eyes met.  Katoh was different.  She wasn’t angry…she was protective and her anger was because of what the Vidatharri did to her Kadan.  He gazed into Katoh’s eyes and struggled to form a response.

“I…don’t agree with everything my people do Katoh.  I don’t know why Qunari are not allowed to leave the Qun.  I don’t understand the need to hunt down and kill all Tal-Vashoth.”  He stammered hesitantly.

He felt so unsure, this was not one of the barbarians he fought against in Seheron.  He so wanted to reach out to her and tell her that he would never hurt her or her children.  Their first meeting disturbed him, this one broke his heart.  How could she think he would harm her and take her children?  It actually made him angry at his people. 

“Please…Katoh…I want you to know I would never hurt any of you...I would never allow it either...The hunters will…never get near you.”  What in Koslun’s ass was he thinking?  He wanted what he was thinking to be true, but could he truly go against the Qun and side with the Tal-Vashoth.

“Please Hissra, I know Asala trusts you, but you do not have to lie to me.  I would just ask you one favor when the time comes for you to serve the Qun and do your duty for them.”  She was defiant again with the tears still flowing from those golden eyes.

He listened intently and wondered what could she possibly ask of him.  “Please spare our children.  Let them live free of the Qun.  I beg of you.  They were born free please let them have a choice.  Please don’t take it away from them.”  She tearfully beseeched him as she noticed how uncomfortable this was making him.

His face contorted as he looked down on the ground not able to look her in the eyes.  “I…”  How could he answer her?  Would he go against his people to protect these Tal-Vashoth?  It was eating at his insides and he couldn’t look at her, afraid that she would see the shame in his eye.  

“I don’t want to hear your answer right now Hissra.  If Asala is right about you, then I already know what you will do.”  She interrupted, she stood up straight and walked up to him, his head still down she looked at him straight into his eye only inches away.  Her beautiful golden eyes were still moist and swollen from her tears, but they had a very different look to them.  They weren’t angry anymore.  She smiled with a soft and consoling expression as she gazed into his eye and then quickly walked into the tavern. 

“KATOH!”  He heard everyone yell from inside.  Her question, her tears, her pleading and in the very end of their encounter…that little smile of…hope made his mind race with thoughts that shouldn’t be there.  Could it be that Seheron brought out the worst in everyone including the Qun and Tal-Vashoth?  The Qun is not for everyone, but Asala is right.  Those worthy should be allowed to leave and not suffer the fate of those who choose to live the lives of bandits and murderers.  Maybe those that live peacefully outside the Qun could be examples of how Tal-Vashoth should live.  The Valo-Kas are all Basalit-an in his eyes and are as honorable as any group he has ever met.  I will not let them be treated as bandits by my people and they will know it.  The most important person in the Inquisitor’s life gave his life for me and he barely knew me.  THEY WILL BE TREATED WITH RESPECT AND HONOR!  He thought to himself.

He stood there for a good while contemplating Katoh’s outburst and pleading.  He didn’t see Crem until he came up behind him on his eye side.  “Bull, you okay?”

“I’m fine Crem, thanks for asking.”  He was lying and it looked like Crem could tell by the way he rolled his eyes.

“I was worried chief.  Katoh walking in wiping tears from her face was a little nerve racking.  Did anything happen between you two?  I asked her but she told me nothing.”

“Just a pleasant conversation, let’s just say that she made me see her side of things.” Bull smiled at his second, knowing that his concern was real. 

“I have to admit that the Valo-Kas has opened my eyes on a few things and let’s just leave it at that.” 

“You like them don’t you.”  Crem added with a knowing grin on his face.  “You’ve always had excellent instincts when it comes to people.”

 

*****************************

 

Sata flew from her chair as if Ashaad wasn’t there to his utter displeasure.  She approached Katoh at the bar.  “Katoh!  What’s wrong?  Did that Qalaba do something he’s going to regret?”  Now her comrades had gathered around her.

Katoh looked at her sister and to the shock of everyone, especially Sata said.  “I think Asala is right about him.”

“I agree.”  Shokrakar added looking into her sister’s eyes.

Katoh shook her head and looked at Sata as a tear stubbornly produced itself again.  “There are things that Bull will not do for the Qun.  I believe he is too good a person and his heart will lead him away from that wretched philosophy.”

Sata was shocked.  Katoh wanted Bull dead when he first arrived, but now it was almost as if she had seen something or that Ben-Hassrath training won her over.  “How do you know he is not being the excellent spy that he probably is and manipulating you?”

“I don’t know sister…I was in his face and…I just know.”  The little smile returned to her face.

Katoh got her stew and one for Flissa and began to walk away.  Sata looked so confused and she called out to her.  Katoh turned around and looked at her sister.  “Asala is right about him…I’m sure of it.”

With that last admission, Katoh left the tavern to make her way back to the makeshift orphanage in the storage room of the keep.

“Maybe you should give him some leeway.”  Shokrakar addressed Sata who looked defeated.

“I will not.  If I’m the only one with any sense to see that he is an actor and a snake, then so be it.”  Sata was getting angry.

Shokrakar turned to see that both Cassian and Dorian were passed out at the table from their drunken stupor.  She turned to Sata and she started to get angry now.  “Asala’s husband, our brother, gave his life to save him!  If anyone has a right to hate him it is Asala and she trusts him!”

“You might not like him.  Me, Asala and the Nightingale have had every one of his men followed and vetted.  They are a good group of honorable men and women who would follow Bull into the fade if he asked them.  Despite working for the Qun, he has put the Inquisition first and you will not treat him as an enemy!” 

Shokrakar stood to her full and impressive height as she towered over Sata.  “Do I make myself clear fiery one?”

“I will play the same game he is playing with you.  I don’t trust him and never will.  Maker help him if he fucks up.”  Sata defiantly glared into Shok’s eyes.

Shokrakar had to admit she loved Sata.  It didn’t matter how big, strong or skilled the opponent, she would fight like a feral wolf.  Shok smiled at her.  “Well I guess that will have to do.  Come…help me with the Tevinter Royalty over there.”

“They sure are pretty aren’t they?”  Shok asserted to Sata. 

“Cassian has better hair, but I like the fancy one’s lines better.”  Sata commented to the amusement of Shokrakar.  “Where is this one staying?” She asked as she hoisted Dorian onto her shoulder.

“He’s up above the garden.”  Shok answered.

“Hey Kadan!”  Sata yelled to Ashaad.  “Are you going to let me take another man home with me?”

“That particular one yes.”  He looked like he was trying to hold in his laughter.  “I don’t think you’re his type.  You would do well to worry if I were taking him home with me.”

“Well get your ass up and walk with me.”  Sata ordered.

“As you wish my Lady.”  Ashaad stood and gave an exaggerated bow to her complete with the arm flair.

They exited the tavern together and made their way to Dorian’s room above the garden.

“Shok’s right you know.”  Ashaad told her as he took Dorian from Sata and put him over his shoulder.

“Don’t start, you know what his kind did to me and my...”  Her eyes started to well up as she lost herself in memory.  “How can you ask me to trust him?”

“He’s lost Kadan.  Bull is more like us than he could ever be like the Qunari.  He just doesn’t know it yet.”  Ashaad started to put Dorian in his plush and supremely comfortable looking Marcher bed.

“You saw his face when Katoh confronted him in Haven, when he apologized to Asala for what happened to Ale, he may want to believe that he is still Qunari, but deep inside I think he is more like us.”  Ashaad continued.

“How do you know he isn’t acting?  How do you know it’s not a Ben-Hassrath ploy?”  Sata was far from convinced.

“I don’t, but that amount of acting would eventually show with his Chargers.  Did you know he carries the Saar-Qamek antidote?”  Ashaad quietly told her.  “Why would he carry the antidote and not one person in the Keep has the poison?”

“How do you know this?”  Sata asked before experiencing a revelation.  “Lala?”

Ashaad smiled at his love and nodded.  “You know that nose of hers doesn’t lie about anything and ever since Antaam’s death she has been ridiculously aware and wary of that poison.  She made it a point to meet all new recruits just so she could work that nose of hers.”

“We all started there love.  We were all Qunari before we became Tal-Vashoth…well all of us that aren’t Vashoth anyway.”  He continued and saw what could almost be called a break in her stubbornness.

As they walked toward the main gate Ashaad pulled her close as he put his right arm around her waist.  “If he was who you think he is…Asala would have destroyed him already.”

She leaned her head onto his shoulder as they walked back to camp and smiled as she softly whispered.  “I still don’t trust that big Qalaba.”  Ashaad knew that is was a playful admission that she would try.

 

******************

 

The next day Bull watched as Cassian and Dorian sparred in the circle.  It was fascinating.  “Hey Crem!  You should join in.  You guys could start a Tevinter invasion.  Let’s see a Magister in the Dungeon, an Altus, an ex-slave and an ex-army.  I should be worried.”  Bull was joking as he swung a massively oversized practice hammer.

“Three mages and only one grunt?”  Crem had his hand cupping and rubbing his own chin.  “Way too many chiefs and only one poor sod?  I think I’ll pass.”

Cassian turned to Dorian and whispered in his ear as he pointed at Iron Bull.  They both broke down and started laughing to the chagrin of Bull.  Dorian then seemed to whisper something back and they both turned and looked at Bull for a moment, looked back at each other and they started to laugh so hard that Cassian was on the ground with tears in his eyes.

Bull chuckled and was legitimately curious as to what was so funny.  “What are you two girls giggling about?”

“Crem you were right.”  Cassian addressed him while still trying to catch his breath and lost the battle to hold back his laughter again.

Bull looked at his second with suspicion and addressed him a little harshly.  “Right about what?”

Crem shrugged his shoulders which started to begin to shake and his face started to contort to one of obvious amusement just before he broke out laughing.

Bull was at the end of his rope.  “What the fuck is so funny!”

“Please Crem!  Tell him before he kills us all.”  Dorian was still laughing.

Crem was now on the ground with Cassian in the middle of a violently convulsive laugh.  “I can’t breathe.”  At that moment Shokrakar approached with a very large piece of black velveteen fabric.

“Oh for Fuck’s sake it’s not that funny!”  She yelled at the three doubled over examples of Tevinter’s best. “Kaariss has to use one too.”

“Bull, Crem told me you were looking for something to keep your…(Shok actually caught herself before she let out an amused chuckle.)…man…uh(now even Dorian was on the ground in convulsions.)…your chest from bouncing all over the place when you exercise.”

Bull stood there feeling absolutely dumbfounded, ambushed…oh they’re going to pay for this.  He watched as all three were in tears of amusement at his expense.  He couldn’t help but chuckle at himself.  “Good one Crem de la Crem.  You got me.  I hope you’re ready for the repercussions.”

Bull motioned to Shok to wrap the fabric around his chest the way she and the other Qunari women did.  The result was spectacular and the three Tevinter pranksters could only watch as a tightly wrapped Iron Bull went through his morning routine.

Shok laughed.  “Bull?”  She called to him.

Bull turned to her.  “Yes?”

“You look fabulous!”  With that Shok giggled and grabbed a still shocked Cassian on her way back to the camp in the valley.  “Come on Cas, according to Nightingale, Asala should be back tomorrow and we should consult the list of new recruits so that Asala can meet them.”

“Chief that’s disturbing…I don’t think it’s really…”  Crem’s mouth was wide open in total astonishment.

“Nonsense Crem!  Thanks for pointing out something I really needed.  It’s what seconds are for right.”  Bull clasped his shoulder and pulled him into a friendly one armed hug.

“Bull!”  Dorian yelled with a gleam in his eye.

“What is it pretty boy?”

“Shok is right.  You certainly look delicious!”  Dorian exclaimed and turned to head back into the main hall.

As they walked back into the sparring ring Bull smiled at his second.  “You three shouldn’t be allowed within a hundred miles of each other.”

Crem chuckled as he smacked Bull’s behind with an open hand and began running from him.  “You’re probably right about that chief, you’re probably right.”

Chapter Text

A Revelation

 

Varric and Solas carried on a curious conversation pertaining to the inability of dwarves to harness magic like the other races.  Asala found it curious, but she was busily interrogating Blackwall about the Grey Wardens.  To her surprise and utter displeasure it seemed that Blackwall knew as much about the inner workings of the Grey Wardens as she did.  “You recruited and conscripted Wardens and yet you know so little.” 

“None of the Grey Wardens I know have any extensive knowledge of the Grey Wardens.  You’d have to go to our headquarters at Weisshaupt to get any real knowledge of our order.”  Blackwall looked really uncomfortable with the talk, but he did a good job at hiding it from everyone except Asala.

Asala felt a little guilty at making him uncomfortable, but if the Wardens were possibly involved in Corypheus’s plot, then he would have to deal with sharing some of their secrets.  “Do you have any idea how Corypheus got free of the Grey Warden prison he was in?”

“Inquisitor please, I am not privy to any of that.  I’ve been on my own over the past couple of years recruiting for the Grey Wardens.  I don’t know anymore about Corypheus than you do.”  Blackwall was telling the truth about that and Asala let him off the hook by riding ahead with an annoyed growl that surprised them all.

How can he be so clueless about the order that he belongs to?  He can’t even clearly answer why a Grey Warden is needed to kill an archdemon.  She rode some distance ahead of them along the Imperial Highway on the Coast of Lake Calenhad.  She dismounted her giant black charger who seemed to be breathing a little hard.  “Easy Ebony, I know I’m a load.”  She stroked his head and led him on a slow walk without her weight on his back.  She stared across the lake and saw the Circle Tower.  Kinloch Hold, the Hero of Ferelden, Warden Commander Amalia Surana is from there along with Cullen.  I wonder if he knew her.

She waited for the rest of the group to catch up and then continued to walk alongside her horse.  “Solas?”

“Yes Inquisitor?”  Solas responded.

“What do you feel traversing this place?”  Asala was noticeably curious.

“Ah, Kinloch Hold you mean.  There are many spirits here wanting to tell their stories.”  Solas smiled as he looked at Asala’s curious expression.

“I’ve been here before and could tell you about the Hero of Ferelden being conscripted by the Grey Wardens.  Her blood magic wielding friend Jowan’s doomed romance with a chantry sister and his subsequent escape.  Our Commander also has a story here.”  Solas turned to look at Asala who was totally immersed in what he was saying.

“Well don’t stop now chuckles.  I would love to hear more, especially about Curly.”  Varric chimed in.

“I suspect that our Commander wouldn’t appreciate me telling you some of the things the spirits have revealed to me about him and I will not do him that disservice.”  Solas countered as Varric huffed and put away his pen.

“Do your spirit friends talk to just you or could you teach me to speak with them?”  Asala curiously asked.

“Why?”

“Maybe they know something about me and my unique condition.  Alexius’ book was a good start, but it did not contain anything on why my magic is so powerful or what happened to the ones that did get away from the Imperium.  The book said why we were created, but not how.  I just want to know as much as I can so that I can keep my family safe and destroy Corypheus.”  She looked at Solas with a pleading he had not seen in her before.

“Did you know that the Qunari kill all those like me immediately after birth?”

“How do you know this?”  Solas wouldn’t admit it, but he was also very intrigued.

“Alexius told me once and he also showed me that it was the Tevinter Empire that originally bounded my kind in the way that Sarebaas are bound by the Qun.”

“It’s not hard to see why.  You’re kind are the rightful rulers of the Qunari.  Like the High Dragon is the lord of all Dragons, you are to all Qunari.  You have only just begun your journey as an Exalted Drakoness.”  Solas answered her so nonchalantly that he didn’t notice her astonished expression until he caught himself.

“H…how d…do you know this?”  She was shaking as she asked him.  Asala couldn’t believe how much Solas knew.

“The Imperium has built their empire on the magic of my people.  Let’s make camp and rest for the night.  I will explain some things over our evening meal.”

 

****************

 

She looked around at her surroundings and didn’t recognize anything.  She could see mountains in the distance of the grassy plains where she was standing. 

“Asala.  Welcome.”  Solas appeared out of nowhere and was actually quite surprised to see her.

“Solas…where are we?”  She continued to scan the area.

“These are the Valarian Fields just outside Minrathous.”  He watched her as she most definitely looked uncomfortable.

“Did you know that you are the first Qunari that I have ever encountered in the Fade?”

“The Fade?  This is…incredible!”  Asala’s eyes opened so wide as to make Solas chuckle a little.

“How…”  She just looked at Solas in astonished anticipation.

“I’ve seen many things in my considerable time on Thedas.  You’re people’s treatment of mages has made it so none of their people ever walked the fade in their dreams and those that may have, I’ve never encountered.”  Solas explained to her.

“I have seen through the eyes of one spirit here something that should explain a lot of your situation.  Look there…”  Solas pointed toward the mountains as Asala eyes followed his index finger.

As her eyes focused on the object, she made out the remains of a titanic battlefield at the base of the mountains.  There were bodies laying everywhere, she slowly approached the gory scene.  Human, Qunari and Elven bodies littered the landscape, many in broken and agonizing poses.  Giant scorch marks scarred the ground over the entire battlefield.  “What happened here?”  She asked knowing that Solas was right behind her.

“My friend is a spirit of justice and he told me that a great injustice was done here.  I didn’t understand until I met you and…”  He paused as he pointed.

The massive pile of broken bodies Solas was indicating to, had something laying behind it.  “What is it Solas?”

“There you will find another answer.”  He continued.

She climbed the pile to reveal the scene behind the thousands of bodies.  A High Dragon with golden scales shimmering in the sun, dead.  The killing blow appeared to be a sword strike through its maw and into its brain.  Nothing unexpected she thought.  High Dragons are incredibly powerful creatures that are very capable of wiping out whole villages.  She continued to scan the area and noticed this was no village, this was an army.  Tevinter Mages, Swordsmen, their slaves…this was a Tevinter Legion of the old Empire complete with actual Golems.  Asala continued toward the dragon and saw her answer.  Multiple sword wounds, burn marks, her hand on the crushed throat of her conqueror.  Golden skin, a pair of enormous horns one of which was broken off very close to the base.  Oh spirits…she could be me…

“She is you…and you are her…I didn’t understand my friend until he came to me the night I met you, when I sensed your power.  She died here as the only one of her kind until you…thousands of years later.” Solas walked to her side and explained.

“But Alexius said that there were many that were bred to control the slaves.  I don’t understand.   How can she and I be the only ones?” 

“The Magister does not know anything beyond what is written in that book.  You are different from those he calls High Females.  My friend did not specify how, but you are unique and he is joyful that you live.  She died here because of their fear, their lack of control; all she wanted was to live free and away from their cruelty.  They would not allow it.”

Asala turned and took a better look at her.  Something about the High Dragon caught her eye…it was trying to protect her!  “Solas?  Is this real?  Did this really happen?”

“You tell me.  I can only show you what was shown me.  My friend may approach you in time; spirits are very fickle and not easily trusting.  He may be able to answer more of your questions.”

Asala slowly approached the broken image of her sister and knelt down beside her.  She was astonished by what she saw, she could have been her twin!  “Solas, how is this possible?”

“Maybe it’s not.  Maybe you’re just dreaming and it is time to wake up!”

Asala woke in a cold chill.  She watched Varric as he slept soundly in her tent on his own cot.  She peeked her head out of the tent to find Blackwall diligently keeping watch near a tree.  “Blackwall.”  She whispered his name trying to get his attention.

To his credit, the sharp eared Human looked in her direction with a puzzled expression.  “Yes your worship?”

“Have you seen Solas?” 

The Warden pointed to the tent he and Solas were sharing and made a gesture of laying his head on his hands to show that Solas was asleep.  She nodded and returned to her cot only to find that Varric was now awake and staring at her with his mouth agape.  She’d forgotten how these people felt about nakedness.  “If I knew my naked body could shut you up, I would walk around like this more often.”

“Not to be a rude shorty, but DAMN!  It’s no wonder so many talk about you as an object of lustful thoughts.”  Varric was wide awake and now had a smile so big it made Asala chuckle.

She crawled back into her custom made sleeping bag.  “The body lures them in and horns chase them away.  All except two…”  She whispered the last part as she quietly hoped he didn’t hear.

“Good night shorty.”  Varric chuckled.

“Good night Varric.”

 

*****************************************

 

“Crestwood should be around that bend.”  Asala pointed ahead and suddenly took off at gallop.

“What the?”  Varric announced as he urged his pony forward with the rest of the group.

Asala dismounted when she saw that an Inquisition camp had already been established on the outskirts of the town.  “Scout, Harding what do we have here?”

Harding went on to describe the situation in Crestwood.  She filled Asala in on the details of a flood during the blight, and the fact that one of the rifts in the area was under water, not to mention that walking corpses were coming out of the lake and they were everywhere.  There was also a nonstop rain reminiscent of the Storm Coast to help cheer everyone up.

Asala thanked her lead scout and motioned to her crew to restock their supplies and move out.  They made their way on foot toward the town.  “Thank the Maker for paved roads.  Can you imagine the mud in this place if these roads weren’t paved?”

She slowed her step and walked alongside Solas.  “That was incredible!”

“You are incredible Inquisitor.  I’ve never met anyone who could fade walk so effortlessly without any training.  There is far more to you than meets the eye.”

“So did all that happen?”  Asala watched Solas as he thought about what he was going to say.

“According to my friend it did.  He’s an old spirit and has seen many things and yet when he noticed you he came to me.  He is not one to approach me and it was the rarest of things when he met me in the fade.”  Solas walked slowly and looked puzzled.  “He was anxious that what happened in the past could possibly happen again.”

“Why is he so worried?  What am I to him?”  Asala was a little frightened by this revelation.

“He’s a spirit of Justice and he worries that the injustice that happened to your fade twin will happen to you.”  Solas continued with a smug look.

“It’s a good thing that you received that mark.  I suspect anyone else would have died.”

“Why is that?” Again Asala was not sure where Solas was going.  “Corypheus must have thought he would survive the transfer.”

“Indeed, but those foci are magically tuned to elves so how you survived its power is something of a mystery to me.”  Solas explained.

Their incredible conversation was interrupted by the sounds of battle coming from ahead of them.

Asala and her comrades quickly made their way over a rise only to see what she could only assume were a half dozen walking corpses attacking two heavily armored humans in beautiful armor defending a frightened elven girl. 

“Wardens.”  She heard Varric exclaim.

She didn’t even wait for a request to aid them when she leapt into action and began to launch a barrage of fire on the corpses.  They lit up like they were kindling.  One which was not hit by her barrage charged her and she grabbed it in a blur of movement by the face, lifted it off the ground and slammed its skull with a sickening crack onto the cobblestone road, its head exploding like a glass of wine shattering on a marble floor.

The armored humans gave a great account of themselves and took out three of the corpses themselves with very little effort.  “Thank you Inquisitor.”

Their scent was different from Blackwall, yes they were human, but there was something else, something familiar, something she recognized and quickly realized.  FELIX!  Their scent is like Felix!

“You’re quite welcome.  What if I may, are you doing in Crestwood?”  She took a deep breath through her nose and confirmed that she was not imagining the tainted scent on them.

“A Warden named Stroud is wanted for questioning.  We heard he passed through here, but the villagers knew nothing.  They have troubles enough.”  The Warden answered calmly.

“What do you know about this rogue Warden?”  Asala looked at the Warden and then turned to look at Blackwall whose heartbeat betrayed his outer shell of calm.

“Warden Commander Clarel ordered his capture.  I can say no more than that.”  Asala could hear the uncertainty in his voice.  “I hope Sir Stroud comes with us peacefully.  I trained under him for a time.  He’s a good man, I’m sure of that.”

Asala motioned to one of the men to walk with her as she waved everyone else off.  Blackwall looked like he was going to piss himself.  “Warden, I have a question.”

“I am sorry Inquisitor.  We must continue our search.  I you could please help these villagers…we must be on our way.  Good day Inquisitor.”

“Is this all the aid we can offer these people?”  The other Warden sounded upset.

“We have a job to do and cannot divert from it.  If the Inquisition can help these people, I beg you to do what you can.” 

“We have to fight a monster your order let loose on the world and yet you cannot divert from your mission?  My opinion of the Wardens just went down a notch.”  Asala was starting to get a little perturbed.  “Fine, go, but do not expect my people to help you.  Good day.”

Asala waved to her party and she began to walk towards Crestwood.  The ended the immediate threat to Crestwood by wiping out the undead forces lay siege to it.  Three weeks later she and her group had drained the lake, put down hordes of undead and demons and she closed numerous rifts including the largest one in the middle of the now drained lake.  She saw a High Dragon flying to the south and thought of her experience with Solas in the fade.  Her forces had taken the Crestwood Fortress of Caer Bronach from a group of particularly viscous bandits.  When she found out that the Red Templars were operating nearby and had killed one of her scouts, Asala wiped them out to the man with a viciousness that astonished her comrades.  When she finally reached the cave, Hawke was waiting for her.

“I’m glad you made it.  I just got here myself, had to take care of a bunch of bandits in the area.”  She was so smug, Asala loved her.  “My contacts with the Wardens should be at the back of the cave.”

Asala immediately thought of the two Wardens she met when she first got into the area.  “I met a couple of Wardens who were protecting a villager just outside of Crestwood.”

“They were likely hunting my friend.  I’m glad they didn’t come looking for people to help them around here.  They might well be good men, but they were given bad orders.”  Hawke had a look of a determined protector.

Hawke waved them to follow her into the cave.  Asala was the first through the door and she immediately recognized the tainted scent within.  She could feel the Warden trying to sneak behind her and she heard him start to unsheathe his blade.  She was much quicker and turned to hold her own spirit blade inches from his throat before he could fully draw his own out.  He dropped his sword and put his hands up in a position of surrender.

“WHOA!!! WHOAA!!! Asala! Stand down!”  Hawke ran into the room as Asala withdrew her spirit blade and placed the hilt on her belt.  “Holy shit Asala!  I’ve never seen someone move so fast.”

“Neither have I.”  The Warden sounded impressed.  “My name is Stroud and I am at your service Inquisitor.”

“I’ll take all the help I can get.  I know the Wardens have troubles of their own.  I wonder though, might those troubles have something to do with Corypheus?”  Asala quietly asked.

“I fear it is so.  When my friend Hawke slew Corypheus, Weisshaupt was happy to put the matter to rest, but an Archdemon can defy wounds that seem fatal and I fear Corypheus might possess the same power.”  Stroud continued with an air of gloom.

“My investigation uncovered clues, but no proof.  Then not long after every Warden in Orlais began to hear the Calling.”

“Maker!  Why didn’t you tell me?”  Hawke sounded extremely concerned.

“It was a Grey Warden matter.  I was bound by an oath of secrecy.”  Stroud paced about the cave.

Asala was confused.  “Is the Calling some sort of Grey Warden ritual?”

“The Calling tells a Warden that the Blight will soon claim him.”  Stroud looked like he was staring through them.  “It starts with dreams, then come whispers in his head, the Warden says his farewells and goes to the Deep Roads to meet his end in combat.”

“And every Warden in Orlais is hearing it?  Right now?”  Hawke looked the most concerned of all.  “They think they’re dying?”

“Yes.  Likely because of Corypheus.”  You could see the deflated posture of Warden Stroud, but he stood up defiantly and continued to speak.  “If the Wardens fall, who will stand against the next Blight? It is our greatest fear.” 

“So Corypheus isn’t controlling them.  He’s bluffing them with this Calling and they’re falling for it?”  Hawke was sounding angrier and angrier as she talked.

“Is the Calling they’re hearing real or is Corypheus mimicking it somehow?”  Asala was astounded that an order as powerful and renown as the Grey Wardens was so vulnerable to Corypheus’s power.

“I know not.  Even as a senior Warden, I had only hear the vaguest whispers of Corypheus.  The Wardens believe that this Calling is real and they will act accordingly.  That is all I know for certain.”

“Is the Calling affecting you as well?”  Asala looked at Stroud and turned to look at her comrade whom she now knew was not of the order.  “Also you Blackwall?”

“Sadly yes.  It lurks like a wolf in the shadows around a campfire.  The creature that makes this music has never known the love of the Maker but…  At times, I almost understand it.”  Stroud stared into the distance for a time, but stood up straight and tall and continued.  “We must uncover what Corypheus has done and end it.  This cannot stand.”

“I do not fear the Calling, and worrying about it only gives it power.  Anything Corypheus does will only strengthen my resolve.”  Blackwall was determined in his own mind, but Asala knew why he didn’t fear it.  His scent did contain the taint that all of the three Wardens she met had.  She would find out why he lied to her later.  His noble actions were in direct contrast to his lies, she of all people knew that everyone had their secrets and as long as he continued to act nobly she would tolerate it.

Did Corypheus really possess such power?  How is it possible?  “How can Corypheus make all these Wardens hear the Calling?”

“I cannot say.  We know little about him save that he is dangerous.”  Stroud answered.  “He is a magister as well as a Darkspawn---and he speaks with the voice of the Blight.  That lets him affect the minds of Wardens, since we are tied to the Blight ourselves.  It must be how he created the false calling.”

“Wow.  So he’s using your powers and weaknesses against you.  So now the Wardens think they’re dying and have stopped thinking clearly.  That’s not going to go well.”  Asala just couldn’t believe that things were just getting worse.

“We are the only ones that can slay archdemons.  Without us the next blight will consume the world.”  Stroud was as desperate as he sounded.  “Warden Commander Clarel spoke of a blood ritual to prevent future Blights before we all perish.”

Stroud paced the room as he continued.  “When I protested the plan as madness, my own comrades turned on me.  Grey Wardens are gathering here, on the Western Approach.  It is an ancient Tevinter Tower.  Meet me there and we will find some answers.”

“Warden Stroud if I might trouble you before you leave.”  Asala quickly caught up to him to walk with him.  She waved off her comrades to their chagrin.

“I noticed that your tainted scent is eerily similar to the Blight disease scent.  Are they related?”  Asala was hopeful.

“I can smell the taint in you…how are you still…uh…how are the Wardens not…how are you immune to the disease?”  She could feel his amusement.

“I will not go into details, but all Wardens carry the Darkspawn Taint, it is the secret of our power.  I will not reveal anymore.”  He mentioned.  “Just know that the taint is killing us, but it is a slow process and takes a few decades to do so.”  Stroud looked at Asala puzzled at the question.  “Why do you ask Inquisitor?”

“I have a dear friend from Minrathous who is dying from the Blight disease.  He is a powerful mage and between him and his father haven't been able to cure it…is there anything that can be done for him?”  Stroud fiddled with his mustache and had the expression of a thinking man.

“I can make no promises, but if you tell me his name and location I can go take a look at him before I head to the Approach.” 

“He is at my fortress Skyhold.  It is on the way to the Western Approach.  If there is anything you can do I would be eternally grateful.”  Asala looked at the veteran warrior who nodded to her. 

“Then we should travel together.”  Asala nodded and waved for her comrades to join them.

They traveled together for an uneventful five days, making their way back to Skyhold along the Imperial Highway.  She learned much from Solas about Fade walking to the Elf’s astonishment.  She was incredibly comfortable in the fade in this both surprised and worried the elf.  Solas could feel that her power was immense.  Solas had gone into the Fade several times afterward to speak to the spirit of Justice in regards to his knowledge of her, but try as he might, he could no longer find him.  The Valerian fields were now empty with no sign of what his missing friend had shown him. 

As they approached the Inquisition Army’s camp in the valley of Skyhold, they were met by Captain Rylen and a cadre of Inquisition Soldiers.  “It’s good to have you back Inquisitor.”

“It’s good to be back.”  Asala returned the greeting as she embraced the handsome second to Commander Cullen.  “Thank you.  We’ve had a long journey, can you please take our mounts and inform the Commander we are here.”

“Already done your Worship, your advisors are waiting for you in the War room.”

“Can you have someone take Warden Stroud and Hawke to Felix’s quarters?”  Asala asked Rylen.

“Of course your worship.”

Chapter Text

Skyhold Dungeon

 

Alexius wakes in his small cell with an ache in his lower back.  He’s been a prisoner of the Inquisition for almost three months now.  His son Felix has come to see him almost every day since the day he was taken.  Sometimes he would come down with Dorian or the Inquisitor Asala whom he had grown to love as she and her people had taken as good a care of Felix as he had himself.  It tortured him to think that his son would not outlive him.

Gereon Alexius was defeated, crushed and without hope.  He had failed to save his son.  He had failed his master and was now at the mercy of this hopeless movement.  “Father?”  The voice sounded familiar…too familiar and with too much vitality to be who it sounded like.

Gereon went to the door of his cage to look upon the face of the one who would mock him so.  He struggled to peer into the shadows of the dungeon near the entrance.  He could make out Asala as she was incredibly hard to miss, but could not see anyone else behind her.  Damn her for being so big!  He thought.  As she got closer she noticed two men in…Warden Armor? 

Alexius looked at Asala and she had a stoic expression.  “I don’t think you deserve it, but I did it for you anyway.”  She sounded almost happy.  She looked back over her shoulder toward the two men and as they got closer he…no it was not possible!  This person walked with a vitality his son had not had in many months.  This person had a healthy color in his cheeks, he couldn’t bring himself to take his eyes off him. 

“Felix?”  The desperation in his voice betrayed him.  The doppelganger just smiled and looked him in the eye and nodded.

“It’s me father.  Thanks to Asala and Warden Stroud here I am cured.”  Felix told him as his father collapsed onto his knees in tears, reaching out from behind the cage to caress his son’s hand.  “I am now a Grey Warden and am heading back home.  Warden Stroud says that the Wardens are possibly being controlled by Corypheus and has told me to do all I can from Minrathous and to get word out to Weisshaupt.”

“Guard, open the door.”  Asala ordered and the Templar guard nodded as he went about unlocking the jail cell door.  “Do you want time alone with him Felix?”

“If you don’t mind, thank you.”  He gently replied.

Asala smiled as she guided the Templar guard and Stroud out of the room to wait near the stairs back to the courtyard.

Approximately fifteen minutes later Felix comes to the stairs with Alexius in tow.  “I am ready Asala.”  Felix mentioned.

“There are two horses waiting for both of you in the courtyard, along with two donkeys and all the supplies you’ll need to get where you’re going.  I’ve also detailed two soldiers to escort both of you.”  Felix surprised Asala with a ferocious embrace.

“You saved him.”  Felix was more concerned about his father than himself, but that is the nature of a family that is as close as his.  “Thank you.”  Maker he smelled good.

Asala returned the embrace silently while her eyes began to well up as she enjoyed the moment.  She released him and motioned for him and Stroud to leave.  As Stroud passed her, she put her hand on his shoulder.  “I’ll meet you in the Western Approach.  I’ll be a couple of days behind you so please don’t do anything without me.”

Alexius stood there defeated once again, but this was a happy defeat.  This…this…Vashoth woman had done more for him and his family than anyone in his life.  “How did…”  He began to ask only to be waved off by Asala.

“Stroud wouldn’t tell me and neither did Felix.”  She raised her hands in mock quotes.  “Warden Secrets.” 

“Whatever am I going to do with you Alexius?”  Asala glared at her former friend who looked so ashamed of himself.

“My life is yours.  I am your willing slave for the rest of my years and will abide by anything you ask.”  Gereon prostrated himself in front of her and the uncomfortable feeling inside her forced her to pull him up by his arm to a standing position.

“Gereon there’s no need for that nonsense.  I know why you did what you did, but I cannot overlook the fact that we’re in this mess partly because of you and the Venatori.”  Her silver eyes bore holes into him and he could not look away.  “You are partly responsible for Ale’s death and that is… of all the things that happened, the one thing I can’t gloss over.  He meant everything to me and because of Corypheus and his followers…(she was starting to get angry as she glared at him.)…I lost the most beautiful person I have ever known and my son has lost his father.”

Gereon shoulders slumped as he his eyes looked to the cold hard floor.  “Asala…I am so sorry…I don’t expect any mercy nor do I deserve it.  You have been nothing short of my savior in all the ways a savior can be.  What I did to you…to those mages…to this world was selfish and unforgivable.”

He raised his head to look at her.  “Please I humbly offer you all of my knowledge to help you defeat him.  Once that is done, I will accept any punishment you deem fit.”

She no longer felt the need to tear him apart.  She saw her former friend back how he should be even if it would never be the same as before.  She did not want him to know that she would sit in judgement of him or what she would do with him.  He did not deserve any comfort beyond knowing that his son was alive and well.  She continued to silently look at him and then turned to the guard.  “Guard, put the Magister back in his cell.”

The Templar motioned for Alexius to return to his cell and he complied, although now his posture was more relaxed than it had ever been since he was captured.

With that she took her leave and headed out to the courtyard.  She started to make her way down to the entrance courtyard when she looked over to see her men and the Chargers standing together in the sparring circle facing Cassandra’s usual training area and they were chanting.  “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!...”

She looked closer to see that Cassandra had Varric in a mounted position and was raining blow after blow on him.  Asala quickly ran to the altercation. 

“YOU KNEW WHERE SHE WAS ALL ALONG!”  Cassandra reared back to strike him again but was stopped by Asala’s enormous hand. 

Varric quickly rolled away and stood up.  “YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I DID!”

Cassandra forcibly pulled her hand free of Asala’s grasp to her utter surprise.  “You conniving little shit!”  She leaped at him only to fall on her face as he sidestepped her attack.

“You kidnapped me!  You interrogated me!  What did you expect?”  He countered angrily.

“ENOUGH!”  Asala’s voice was like a thunderbolt as it shocked them both.

“You’re taking his side?”  Cassandra’s posture was one of a crouching panther held only by the leash that was Asala’s voice.

“I SAID ENOUGH!”  Asala was in no mood for back talk and Cassandra visibly backed off, but her anger was still palpable.

“We needed someone to lead this Inquisition.  First, Leliana and I searched for the Hero of Ferelden, but she had vanished.  Then we looked for Hawke, but she was gone too.  We thought it all connected, but…  (she turned to glare at Varric)…it was just you!  You kept her from us.”  Cassandra’s voice was desperate and she was visibly shaking from her fury.

Asala looked at Varric who had the beginning of a nice shiner on his eye.  “The Inquisition already has a leader!”  He motioned to Asala.

“Hawke would have been at the Conclave…If anyone could have saved Most Holy?”  Cassandra countered.

Asala stepped in between them and looked at Cassandra with a softness that came from knowing about loss.  “You can’t change the past Cassandra.”

“So I must accept what…that the Maker wanted all this to happen.  That he…(The desperation in Cassandra’s face was heartbreaking as she lowered her gaze to the wooden floor.)…that he…”  She paused for a second and approached Asala.  “Varric is a liar Inquisitor, a snake.  Even after the Conclave when we needed Hawke most, he kept her a secret.”

Varric looked a little beaten, but still defiant.  “She’s with us now!  We’re on the same side!”

Cassandra backed away from Varric looking like she wanted to strike him again.  “We all know what side you’re on Varric.  It will never be the Inquistion’s.”

Asala approached her friend and put both hands on her shoulders as she looked her in the eye.  “Attacking him now won’t help us Cassandra.”

“Ha! Exactly!”  Asala almost jumped at the surprising remark from her dwarven friend.

Asala turned her gaze to Varric and now it was more of a glare.  “You better not be keeping anything else from us!”

This seemed to shut him down immediately.  “I understand.”

“I must not think of what could have been.  We have so much at stake.”   Cassandra had finally calmed and was resigned to the fact that she could not change what had happened.  “Go Varric…just go.”

Varric slowly walked past both of them on his way to the main hall when he paused.  “You know what I think?  If Hawke had been at the temple, she’d be dead too.  You people have done enough to her.”

Asala watched him walk away and she felt a little guilty for blowing up on him about Corypheus.  She turned to Cassandra who was once again viciously attacking her training dummies.

“I believed him…ugh…He spun his story…ugh…and I swallowed it…rrraghr!...if I had just explained…(she paused and put the tip of her blade on the ground)…what was at stake.  I just made him understand…(Cassandra started to pace back and forth in front of Asala.)…but I didn’t did I?  I didn’t explain why we needed Hawke.”   She moved to her little stool she used to read and rest between bouts with the helpless dummies.  She sat with her head held down almost as if she felt disgraced.  “I’m such a fool.”

Asala squatted in front of her and gently took a hold of her hand.  “Have you looked at our little group Cassandra?  We’re all fools here.”

Cassandra let out a snort and there was a slight smile on her face.  “Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Not really, just more at home.”  Asala had a big grin on her face as Cassandra let out a full blown chuckle.

Cassandra stood up to her full height and still could only barely look over Asala’s horns while she squatted in front of her.  “I don’t know what’s to come, but you’re more than I could have hoped for.”

Asala had a perplexed expression as she saw that Cassandra nodded while she watched something happening behind her and then smile.  Asala turned just in time to be tackled by a horde of children, well three of them anyway.  Antaam, Talania and Rasaana were trying to pull her down, but none of the other children joined in the fray.  Katoh looked like she was going to intervene when Asala waved her off.

“You’re going to need more help if you think you’re going to pull me down!”  Asala exaggerated her voice. 

Talania started to yell to the other kids to help them.  “Come on!  We can take her if we work together!”  Katoh could be seen smiling in the background as one little human boy charged in with the vigor of a Chevalier.

Asala was loving it as she continued to slowly kneel down.  “Not enough, you’re going to need everybody!”

The little human boy yelled.  “Come on we gotta help Tala!”   Once the little human yelled, it truly became a horde as the rest of the group of fifteen little ones joined in the fray as the older children just stood there and laughed.

“Ahhhh, ok!  Ok!  You win!  I surrender, please have mercy!”  Asala pleaded with them as every single one of them was on a body part and pulled her down to the ground.

“Alright that’s enough.  Let the Inquisitor go, she has a lot to do.”  Katoh came to the rescue along with Flissa and Sera.

As the kids all peeled themselves off of Asala, she propped herself up on her elbows with a big smile on her face.  She watched as the little human boy was given a piggy back ride back by Talania while Rasaana and Antaam jostled with each other on the way back to Katoh.  Asala turned her head to see a little blonde elven girl just staring at her.  Her big blue eyes were just begging to ask a question.  “Hello little one.  Is everything okay?”

The little girl shyly nodded her head.  “Do you need something?  You know you can ask me anything sweetie.”

Her little cheeks started to redden as she Shyly kicked around the dirt at her feet.  “Hi I’m Shiandra Lavellen.”  Her little voice was like a gentle barely felt breeze. 

Asala was surprised and introduced herself as well.  Well aren’t you the cutest thing in the world.  “I’m Asala and it is really nice to meet you Shiandra.  What can I do for you?”

Shiandra turned around and looked behind her at…Antaam who looked like he was egging her on. 

Shiandra approached Asala slowly and cupped her hands over Asala’s ears and whispered.  “Antaam said that I had to introduce myself to you before I can get married to him.  So now that I introduced myself, Can I marry Antaam?”

The little seven year old pulled away and those big blue eyes pleaded with her, along with Antaam’s big dark ones just a few feet away.  For a wonderful little moment she was no longer the leader of this vast militaristic movement, she was just a mom witnessing another beautiful example of the innocence of children.  “When you are old enough of course Shiandra, I would welcome you into our family with open arms.”  The little girl gave her a look of enthusiastic bliss and turned to run toward Antaam.   She watched them skip together towards the rest of the group holding hands.  It was just another reason for her to focus on stopping and destroying Corypheus.

Katoh helped her sister to her feet.  Asala couldn’t help but notice the four older children who must have been in their teens were all helping her.  “How are they?”  Asala asked knowing the pain they must be going through.

“They are much better.  They still cry sometimes for their parents, but it is less frequent.”

Asala’s compassionate side towards what she considered kindred spirits spilled out as she remembered what happened to her parents.  She walked over to them and attempted to address them, but they were busily gathering all of the little ones to go to the garden.  She turned to Katoh instead.  “You tell them that if there is anything I can do for them, they have an open invitation to talk to me no matter the time.”

“I’ve already told them.  I knew you would make time for them.”  Katoh quietly answered.  “Oh and Asala?”

“What is it?”

“Commander Cullen has been running himself ragged and in the middle of his extremely busy day, he makes time to teach the older children to ride.  He refuses to let me look at him, but he looks terrible.  Please keep an eye on him, the way he’s going, he’s going to break soon.”  Katoh hoped that the Commander would listen to Asala. 

Asala understood why a Templar would not want a mage to examine him, but the going out of his way to help with the orphans was something he did not have to do.  “I’ll go see him right now…”

Oh shit Varric!  “I gotta go see Varric first!  Make sure he’s okay.”  Asala ran off toward the main hall and to the amazement of everyone watching she completely leaped over the first landing and landed in front of the main hall doors.

She walked into the main hall to be accosted by Josephine, who was absolutely livid with the way she was dressed.  “You look like a dirty and smelly street walker instead of the Inquisitor!”  Josephine’s and Vivienne’s emphasis on appearances annoyed Asala, but she had to admit she liked to look good.

“Whatever you put me in better be comfortable or I will not wear it.”  Asala kissed Josephine’s forehead and continued on towards Varric leaving Josephine with a little smile on her face.

She found him in front of the enormous fireplace sitting with his head down in a thinking man’s pose.  “Hey there Champ.  You okay?”

“Yeah, she got in a couple of good ones after she ambushed me, but I’ll be fine.”

She sat down next to her friend and put her very considerable arm around his shoulder.  “Cassandra’s calmed down now.  I don’t think you’ll need to sleep with your crossbow.”

“Define ‘calmed down’ for me in terms of who or what she’s punching now.”  Varric was visibly troubled by his encounter with the Seeker.

“I know you weren’t trying to keep secrets and you told me everything you knew once you found out, but I should have told Cassandra before we left.”  Asala squeezed her friend in a little tighter.  “I’ll bet anything that Cassandra regrets how she handled herself.  You should talk to her.” 

Varric chuckled.  “I appreciate that you’re trying to keep the peace, but things between me and Seeker are as good as they’ll get.”

“No more wrestling matches unless I sanction them okay?”  Asala’s toothy grin made Varric laugh.

“Agreed, your inquisitorialness.”   He smugly answered as she turned and left.  “Oh and did you know that Kaariss asked me to finish a book to give our resident maniacal Seeker as a gift?”

“What?”  Asala was thoroughly intrigued, but she had promised to look into the Commander’s health.  “You’ll have to tell me later, I have something I must do first.”

“Oh I will.”  Varric responded with a smug smile.

She made her way through Solas’ room and thankfully he was not there.  She stealth fully moved through the room and exited out to the ramparts leading to Cullen’s office.  She quietly opened the door to his office and found Cullen leaning over his desk examining a small object.

He looked up and their eyes met.  There was such struggle and conflict in his eyes.  “As leader of the Inquisition, you… (he sighs) there’s something I must tell you.”

His heart was racing and his breathes were ragged.  “Cullen, you can tell me anything.  I am always willing to listen.” 

He pulled back from his desk and folded his arms in front of him, the resignation in his expression was still there.  “Right.  Thank you.  As you are probably aware, Lyrium grants Templars their abilities, but it controls us as well.  Those cut off suffer---some go mad.  Others die.  We have secured a reliable source of lyrium for the Templars here.  But I… no longer take it.”  He was leaning over his desk again and he could not maintain eye contact with her.

That’s why his scent was so different from the other Templars!  “You’ve stopped?”

“When I joined the Inquisition.  It’s been months now.”  His voice barely a whisper, he still would not look at her. 

“Cullen if this can kill you…”  Asala was unsure of what to say as she closed the space between them so that she was standing right in front of the desk.

“It hasn’t yet.  After what happened in Kirkwall, I couldn’t… I will not be bound to the order---or that life---any longer.  Whatever the suffering, I accept it.  (Cullen pushed off the desk to look at her) But I would not put the Inquisition at risk.  I’ve asked Cassandra to…watch me.  If my ability to lead is compromised, I will be relieved of duty.”  He stood there proud once again, but there was a hint of uncertainty, fear and worry.  She could feel that he would succeed and she would help him if he allowed it.

“I respect what you’re doing Cullen.  Thank you for telling me…if you…need anything from me please don’t be ashamed to ask me.  Despite our disagreements, I consider you a close friend.”

“Thank you Inquisitor.”  He smiled weakly.

“Asala…no titles among us friends, that’s an order Cullen.  Besides, Inquisitor sounds so unapproachable.”  She gave his shoulder a light squeeze as she stood right in front of him now.  “You’re full of surprises there Cullen.” 

His face became serious again as he attempted to look into Asala’s eyes and suddenly turned away from her.  His cheeks were a little pink and he began to scratch the back of his neck.  “The Inquisition’s army must always take priority.  Should anything happen… I will defer to Cassandra’s judgement.”  By the end of the pronouncement, Cullen still looked tired but he also presented a confident and ready to take on the world attitude.  “Again, thank you Inqui… Asala.”

“Remember my offer.  Anything you need okay?”  She looked at him expectantly and he nodded to her.  “Tell me what ails you, maybe I can help you.  I can tell you are in pain and you’re very good at hiding it from everyone except me.”

Cullen’s eyes were tired and bloodshot.  It looked like he had not slept in days.  “Nightmares and headaches.”   He admitted.  “I’ve done many things in my past that have haunted my dreams, but ever since I stopped taking lyrium they’ve gotten worse along with the headaches which I have been able to handle with some difficulty.”

“Is the headache bad now?”   His tired eyes pleaded for her not to ask, but he knew that she was not just looking out for him.  She was looking out for the Inquisition and he could not show weakness.

Asala understood that he did not want to admit his weakness, but dealing with weaknesses is what makes someone stronger and she would not let him bear this alone.  “I have a trick that Ale taught me concerning headaches that may be able to relieve some of your pain, but only if you allow me to.”

“Is it magic?”  His voice trembled at the word. 

She gave him a nod.  “Which is why I ask your permission.  I know how you feel about magic and I would never for…”

“Please I trust you.”  His interruption was abrupt and surprising.  Asala did not expect him to agree so quickly.  She was almost resigned not to do it.

“Okay…This requires you to lay down…let’s do this on your bed as you need to be comfortable.”  Her cheeks were getting a little crimson as she caught herself staring at his wonderfully firm behind while climbing that ridiculous ladder to his room.

Asala climbed onto his bed and sat on her ankles at the head of his bed.  “Take your armor off.”  She ordered.  He looked at her with the eyes of a lost child.  She understood his hesitation.  “Cullen I am not here to take advantage of you.  I want to help you and I don’t see how in the Maker’s name you can relax in that armor.” 

He looked nervous and his cheeks couldn’t be any redder.  He scratched the back of his neck like he always did when he got this nervous.  “You’re the first woman I’ve had in my bed in over a decade.”

Now it was her turn to blush a little as she let out a quiet smirk.  “Cullen please stop being such a gentleman and take your armor off before I rip it off.”

He chuckled as he dutifully took off his armor like someone who had done it a thousand times.  She watched intently as he took his armor off with practiced ease and couldn’t help but notice that Commander Cullen was an extremely attractive man.  He was rugged and hard with a body made for war.  The scars on his body told a story of a hard and violent life.  He turned to the bed in his smalls and she patted the bed in front of her to show him where to lie.  He unquestioningly followed her lead and laid his head on her lap as she looked down at him.  She stared into those honey colored puppy eyes and was astounded at the trust he had of her.  “Now close your eyes Cullen and try to relax.”

This former Knight Captain and boogeyman of all mages now trusted his life to an apostate, Vashoth mage.  Could I ever trust an Arvaraad or Templar like this?  The thought almost overwhelmed her as she began her work. 

His last image before he closed his eyes was of those exotically beautiful eyes.  There was a touch of gold in those silver colored eyes that he never noticed; then again he had never been this close to her.  By the Maker they were stunning!  Again he could feel the heat in his cheeks.

It wasn’t a particularly hard spell, but it was all about control.  The slightest loss of control and she would burn him to cinders.  Cassian and Ale had worked endlessly with her on controlling her magic at the lower power end and to no one’s surprise, she mastered it pretty easily.  Ale had done this spell to her a dozen times as well as everyone else in the Valo-Kas.  If it worked on all of them, it would surely work on Cullen.

The spell was a nothing more than a low power heat spell.  Her fingertips would heat up to just below the point of ignition and she would slowly massage key areas of the head to ease the blood flow into the brain.  The effect was one of incredible relaxation.

He felt her fingers press against the side of his head.  He started to tense up with the anticipation of magic.  “Cullen you have to relax for this to work, please take a couple of deep breathes and let everything unwind.”

He did so and let all of his tension loose.  He started to feel the warmth in Asala’s fingers as she slowly massaged his entire head.  Her fingers would switch from position to position in a practiced pattern as he felt the tension start to leave his skull.  He could feel the incredible power in her fingers.  As she continued this remarkably satisfying and very intimate action, he felt himself slipping from consciousness and into the realm of dreams.

Not five minutes into it, she observed the change in Cullen’s breathing and heartrate.  They had become much more relaxed and he fell asleep.  She continued until she was satisfied that the spell had the desired effect.  Cullen let out a sigh of contentment that surprised her.  Asala smiled as she slowly moved to get out of the bed so as not to disturb him.  You’re an incredible person Cullen.  She thought to herself.  She leaped stealth fully from his room to his office and was out on the battlements chasing down one of the guards. 

She caught one and waved over another two.  “Commander Cullen is not to be disturbed for any reason whatsoever.  Anything important will be sent to me or Captain Rylen, understood?”

They all nodded in the affirmative and left their rampart posts to guard the doors of Cullen’s office.  She found Captain Rylen and as she explained the situation she could see the relief on his face.  “It’s about time.  The man is a menace to himself.  Thank you Inquisitor, I will assign replacements for the ramparts.”

“Thank you Captain.”  She nodded and took the stairs down to the courtyard where she was met by Bull, Dorian and Cassian.

“Bravo my girl!  I didn’t think anyone would get him to finally rest.”  Dorian was obviously happy with the turn of events when he looked mischievously at her.  “How did you do it?

Asala turned her head to look at the trio and batted her eyelashes.  “I have my ways.”

They all chuckled and Dorian motioned for her to join him as they walked toward the Tavern.  “You two go in, we’ll join you in a second.”  Dorian directed Cassian and Bull.

The moment Bull and Cassian went inside, Dorian embraced her fiercely.  “I don’t know how you did it and it doesn’t matter.  If I didn’t believe before that you were sent by the Maker, I do now.  You saved Felix and Gereon in one fell swoop.  You’ve performed the impossible too many times already for me to doubt it.”  He wouldn’t let her go and she could feel the tears on her breasts.

She held him and basked in his luxurious scent.  “The first time I met them they mentioned you.  If I’d known that meeting them meant that you would be face deep into my breasts, I might have done it sooner.”  Dorian laughed as the tears rolled down his cheek.

He pulled away and tried to portray someone with at least a semblance of dignity.  He failed miserably and chuckled.  “You are a menace my girl.”

“So I’ve been told.”

Chapter Text

Once again she managed to piss off Cassandra and Cullen while also alienating Bull and Vivienne.  She had chosen to let Alexius work with the free mages of the Inquisition to help defeat Corypheus.  Even Cassian didn’t like the idea.  Damn them all to hell!  I know Gereon and Felix and they will be invaluable to our efforts.  At least Dorian, Fiona and Katoh liked the idea.  If Fiona, who had more right to hate Gereon than anyone forgave him than so could she.

“I think you should reconsider this decision Inquisitor.”  Cullen’s opinion sounded a little conflicted to Asala, almost as if he didn’t want to say his real feelings on the matter.  She watched him curiously and had to get his honest opinion on the matter.

“Cullen, will you please tell me exactly how you feel about this?”  She knew that he cared about her feelings and that he did not want to bump heads any more than necessary.  She needed his unfiltered Commander opinion and she would get it.  “…and why.”

“I don’t like it.  This man tried to kill you and erase you from history.  I think he’s too dangerous to be let loose without supervision.”  There it was.  She didn’t totally disagree with him and he didn’t use the fact that Gereon was a mage as part of his argument.  It was because he was concerned about her safety.

“I agree.  The former Magister proved himself to be an enemy of the Inquisition and now he is rewarded with not only his life, but a place in our ranks?  He did try to kill you did he not?  I think this is an awful decision.”  Cassandra added with her own barely contained fury.

Josephine and Leliana kept unusually quiet as two of the Inquisitor’s most trusted advisors laced into her.  Leliana looked slightly amused while Josephine looked positively horrified.  Asala’s rage was boiling, but she had made it a point to listen to her advisors and not berate them for their opinions.  She watched Cullen’s eyes and immediately addressed him.  “So Commander, what would you have me do with him?”

“I think that you’re right in allowing him to work for us, but he should be under Templar and Mage guard at all times.  He’s extremely dangerous and we should not let him be like nothing ever happened.  He needs to earn our trust as much as he needs to get it back from you.”  Cassandra looked like she was going to faint from the response Cullen gave.  She expected a tirade and got an incredibly logical and thought out argument.

“Cassandra, what do you think?”  Asala asked, but Cassandra was still in shock at Cullen’s response.

“Cassandra?”  She asked again.

“I agree with our Commander, he should at least be supervised.”  Cassandra finally answered.

“Leliana? Josephine?”  Asala continued.

“I will defer on this matter although, releasing the Magister without any type of punishment might look bad to our cause.”  Josephine hesitantly stated.  “I will try my best to mitigate the damage.”

“I agree with Cullen and Cassandra your worship.  Having a Grey Warden Magister and his father in our camp could help us immensely.”  Leliana was straight and to the point with no room for interpretation.

“Then it’s settled.  Commander please assign your best Templar to watch over him, but I don’t want anyone who is remotely a bigot against mages.  I will have Fiona assign one of her mages to watch over him as well.  I’m sure the Grand Enchanter will be intimately involved with Gereon’s work.”  She scanned the room and saw that everyone seemed satisfied with her decision.  “Anything else?...No?...Good.”

“Myself, Blackwall, Bull and Varric will be heading out to the Western Approach to meet up with Stroud and Hawke.  We need to find out what the Wardens have to do with Corypheus.  I don’t know what we’re going to find so I will send word via raven as much as I can.”  Asala sounded a little more upbeat considering where she was going.

“Inquisitor?  I almost forgot, there may be a dragon problem in the Hinterlands.  No one has been attacked yet, but the beast is getting uncomfortably close to our settlements there.”  Cullen’s tone was serious, but nowhere near as dire as it was with Gereon subject matter.

“I’ll take Bull and whoever wants to come after we find out what is going on in the Western Approach.  In the meantime I want that area cordoned off and our troops made aware.  If that is all, I need to make my preparations to leave.  Thank you all.”  She gave Cullen such a sweet smile that it took him aback as he watched her take her leave of them and was out of the war room before anyone could say anything.  He followed her out and she did something he had never ever seen her do.  She turned her head to look over her shoulder at him with that sweet smile still on her face.  It stopped him in his tracks.

I will never tire of those eyes.  He thought to himself as he made his was to his office and the mountain of paper that was probably waiting for him there.

 

Two Months Later:  Skyhold

 Lord Livius Erimond of Vyrantium, that scum would not get away again.  Asala was so angry that the Wardens were so rooted and voluntarily involved with Corypheus that she exploded with anger toward Stroud and Blackwall.  They both seemed ashamed, but Stroud made the commitment and suggestion that his comrades had to be stopped and Adamant was the place to do it.  Now she had sent Captain Rylen and a very sizable force to lay siege to the fortress of Adamant.  She and Cullen would lead the assault and she would extract her pound of flesh from these misguided fools.  She was so exhausted that she didn’t notice falling asleep on her couch while she read the report on the Western Approach.  The Hinterlands Dragon would have to wait.

“ASALA NO!!!  PLEASE!!!!!”  It startled her awake.  I had come from the Commander’s room and she was probably the only one who heard it.  It was the desperation in his voice that probably woke her.  The fear in Cullen’s voice inspired her into motion as she leaped from her room down to the first landing and out the door into the main hall.  She was in full speed mode as she ignored the guards, made her way through Solas’ room and out to the bridge connecting the keep to Cullen’s office…

He continued to pray that he would wake from this nightmare or that hopefully it wouldn’t start to begin with, but his prayers always go unanswered.  This is not real, this is not real…

“Cullen?  Is that you?”  The voice is as sweet as any honey that he has ever had.

He turned to see and confirmed that it was her.  Once again they were using her as a temptation he could never have.  “Amalia?”  The words leave his mind, but not his mouth.  “Again you use my one good thing against me!  I will not break!  You will never have me!”

She steps through the barrier like it wasn’t there and palms his cheek.  “Cullen it’s me.  It’s over, Uldred and the rest are dealt with.  We can be together now.”  It was always the same.  You would think these demons would change it up a bit, but they knew he would always respond to her.

She’s not real, she’s not real, she’s not real… She was the only thing he ever coveted.  She was the only thing he ever regretted.  She was the only one he ever loved and he scorned her that day.  He knows why the demons torment him so and it is so much worse now.  She seems so real, so alive.

He studied her beautifully delicate face in his mind.  She was dark for an elf and her reddish eyes and hair made her look like a fiery and stunning flower.  She was also very tall for an elf, with some thinking she may have been a half breed.  Amalia was easily one of the most beautiful women he ever knew and during his time at Kinloch she would risk being made tranquil to be with him and he gladly risked everything for her.  He never told anyone of his relationship with the Hero of Ferelden.  They were so young and naïve thinking that they could be together at that time.  When he was chosen as the Templar to strike her down if she failed her Harrowing his feelings for her collided with his duty to the Templar order.  Of course she passed the Harrowing in record time.  To this day he thought to himself and admitted that he might not have been able to do it.

The demon continued to caress him the way he remembered her doing.  She would hover her lips over his, just barely brushing them with his.  “You can have this any time you want Cullen.  You just have to give yourself to me.”  The demon would say.  It never stopped being a challenge to say no.  He would turn his face, but the demon would continue.  Running her hand down his pants.  “Say it my love and we’ll be together for eternity.”

He grabbed the demon by the throat and shoved her away.  “You are not her!  Leave me be!” 

The demon would laugh.  “What’s the matter my love?  This doesn’t interest you anymore?” 

He watched as the demon shape shifted into another form…another woman from his past.  This time it was Hawke.  Another beautiful mage, but if the demon thought it would get a reaction from him it was sorely mistaken.  Hawke had been someone whom he actually liked, but never to the point of lusting childishly after her like he did Amalia.

“Or maybe…”  The demon shifted into its true form of desire and then seamlessly shifted into…

“Asala?”  His voice was like a ghost when he saw her.  The demon form of the Inquisitor stood before him in all her glory.  She was so beautiful and he knew that he had given the demon another tool.  “Please stop…”  He struggled to breathe the words out.  She walked in front of him and laughed.

“Do you think you’ll not make the same mistake with this one?  She will never accept a disgraced Templar.  The only chance you have is with me.”  She started to laugh again and ran her hand gently down his cheek. 

“You can have us both.”  Now there were two voices.  He turned to the other voice and there was Amalia.  It was too much for him as he tried to push the demons away to no avail.  They just laughed at his torment.

“NO!!NEVER!!!”  They moved closer to him and started to caress him again and all the while the Asala demon pulled the Amalia demon up to her and kissed her passionately.  They both turned their heads to him and smiled an evil grin.  They grabbed a hold of him and began to kiss him passionately in all of the places he was vulnerable.  They giggled, bit, licked and teased him to the point where he felt he was losing himself.  He was frozen and no matter how hard he tried to move away, he could not.  “You’re ours, my dear sweet commander.”

“AMALIA…ASALA NO!!!  PLEASE!!!!  STOP!!  STOOOOOOP!!!!!!”

He awoke in a cold sweat and gasping for breath.  He got up from his bed and poured himself a glass of water.  The cold air in his room was a welcome respite from the headache he felt coming on.  He was in his smalls with no shirt as he sat down on the side of the bed and slowly sipped the cold water.  He looked through the hole in his ceiling and noticed that the moon was shining perfectly through it.  It would be several hours before day break, but he would not be able to fall asleep.  The vivid images of Amalia and Asala were imbedded in his mind.  In the past he would have never thought of a Qunari woman as beautiful, probably because he never saw one until Asala, but those demons knew.  They knew everything.  He knew he could not lie to himself, they saw through it.  They knew he…coveted her…he did not deserve her and she showed no inkling that she felt the same for him.  He now understood that his nightmares would now include her as well. 

He winced as he felt a headache start to flare and the excruciating pain at his temples completely took over his body.  He slid off the bed and onto his hands and knees onto the cold, bare floor.  He pressed the side of his head into the cold stone trying to get relief.  After a few seconds, the wave of pain subsided and he pulled himself back up and sat on the side of the bed.  He began to think of the events in his life that had made him who he was.

The day that Grey Warden came for her, Jowan’s blood magic and the fact that Amalia helped him ultimately started his descent into darkness.   The day she left the circle to become a Grey Warden was nothing compared to the day she returned.  The blood in the halls, his comrades torn limb from limb by those abominations.  The blood mages were running through the halls killing Templars and Mages alike.  It was all happening again.   He couldn’t stop seeing his friends dying or how his heart had darkened.  How after that day he no longer considered mages people.  They were dangerous animals that had to be feared and either controlled or destroyed.  The things he did to those poor people under his charge.  Kirkwall was the birthplace of the mage rebellion and although Meredith and that fuck Anders had been the catalysts, he felt that he played a huge part in starting the carnage as well.  Meredith was the main reason he had stopped taking lyrium and question the order’s purpose.  She was willing to do anything and everything to control mages.  In the end, her corruption was the reason he made the decision to break the tether.  Hawke had also shown him that mages were people and like all people they had their flaws.  Meredith had proved that the Templars, for all their imagery of perfection were just as flawed and could do as much evil in the world as any mage or groups of mages.

He refused to tether himself any longer and would be free of the lyrium, even if it killed him to do it.  His core beliefs about the Maker and mages in general were destroyed.  Everything he accepted as fact was not so.  He was taught that all mages were these frightful beings with malicious thoughts and intents.  What he had seen contradicted everything he was made to believe.  He saw a mage stop the blight and slay and archdemon, a mage stamp out a Qunari invasion and a sociopathic Knight Commander and now he witnessed a Vashoth mage close that giant breach and trying valiantly to save the world from a thousand year old darkspawn all the while each one them having to deal with the prejudices against them.  Add to that, both Amalia and Asala had to deal with the racists among those they wished to save. 

The feelings of guilt surfaced as he thought of all those apprentices made Tranquil for nothing more than studying their craft after hours and sometimes even the harrowed mages were made tranquil on nothing more than suspicion.  I let it happen with not a thought of the consequences.  This war is also my fault.

“Cullen are you okay?” It startled him when he heard her entering the office beneath his room.  Why he didn’t answer immediately he did not know…well maybe he did as he watched her appear when she landed from her incredible leap in front of the ladder with a grace someone of her size should not have.  “I heard you from my room.”

She would have…her hearing was so acute she could listen to things that even the mabari hounds could not hear.   There she was…the object of his desire and most profound fear and she was even more magnificent in reality than in any of his dreams.  He noticed as his eyes shifted to himself that he was trembling from the cold, but it didn’t bother him because the cold was a relief and it kept the headache under control.  He gazed at her as her figure filled his field of vision, but still did not answer.  How pathetic I must look to her.  How could she have so much confidence in me?  She noticed his trembling and she quickly grabbed the blanket on his bed and started to wrap it around him.  When her bare thigh brushed his, he could feel her warmth.  It made him fidget as he tried to move away from her.  “Please Asala, I…don’t think I can continue like this…”

“Cullen please, you don’t have to this alone you stubborn ass.”  She interrupted him in the most un-ladylike way which actually brought a soft smile to his face.  “We are all in this together, or do you think I can do this without your help?”

“I am not sure that you need me.  Captain Rylen is more than qualified to…”  He started.

“Oh shut it.  The good Captain is now committed to securing the Western Approach.  Tell me who should I replace him with?”  Checkmate, he did not have an answer because there really wasn’t one.  He felt her arm wrap around his bundled form.  “Cullen, I only trust you and I will drag you kicking and screaming to help me if I have to.”  It felt so right as he relaxed into her grip, he wished she would never let him go.

“Katoh tells me that you haven’t once asked her for help.”  Asala sounded a little upset.  “You promised me that you would seek her out.  I need you Cullen.  Adamant is going to be an enormous challenge.  I can’t do it without you and I know our soldiers can’t.”  She pulled him tighter and then turned his face towards her with her free hand.

“I won’t let you down Asala…”  His voice was tired and his posture was one of a shamed man.  He felt her hand slide to the top of his back.  She’s being true to her word.  She’s more worried about the success of the Inquisition and how my struggle is affecting it.

“Let me help you Cullen, I want to…not just because you’re the Commander, but you are more importantly my friend.”  The word hit him like a sledgehammer to the shins.   She really does considers me a friend?  How could she?  He turned to look at her sad yet concerned expression and he knew that she truly wanted to help him.

“I don’t deserve your help Asala.  The things I’ve done…I’m sorry…It’s who I was, what I’ve done, what I let happen that should disgust you.  I’m everything that you should hate, I’ve done things that are unforgivable.”  He turned to gaze into those eyes that seem to just capture him and keep him in an almost paralyzed state.  “What I did and allowed to happen at the Kirkwall Circle…Kinloch…”  His eyes left hers and he slumped forward and whispered.  “I am a monster.” 

She watched him curiously as she found herself caressing the back of his neck and head.  He did not pull away, if anything he leaned into her touch.  She would have never expected this level of intimacy with Cullen.  The former Knight Captain was nothing like what she expected.  Sure he was a great warrior, but he was a walking conflict of thoughts and emotions.  He feared and did not trust mages and yet felt guilty of what was done to them.  He also seemed to trust her with his weaknesses wholeheartedly and she felt incredibly honored that he did so.  “You’re not!”  It came out so passionately that it startled Cullen and he immediately was about to retort.  She didn’t let him.  “We all have things in our past…I’ve…”  She wanted to tell him and decided that she trusted him too.  “…been broken too.”  She lost herself in the memory.  “The…bodies in the water…the broken ship…the color red…”  Her voice was barely a whisper.  “…the survivors I murdered as they waded in from the explosion…I killed them all.” 

“Why?”  Cullen breathed quietly.  He was astonished at the revelation of a person he would not have recognized as Asala.

“Because of me…They…wanted me dead.”  Her head was down and then she turned to look at him again with those stunningly beautiful eyes.  “They were sent to kill me and ended up killing my brother Antaam who was also Katoh’s Kadan and Talania’s and Rasaana’s father.”

“The Qunari?”  He asked the question quietly as he listened intently to what she said.

She nodded to him.  “Vidathari and Ben Hassrath operatives,  I saw nothing but murderers, I remembered what they did to my parents, I remembered my favorite comrade and I fell into a blinding rage where I would spare no one, nothing would live through my murderous intentions and actions…they didn’t deserve to live after what they did to me and mine.  I hated them all and to a certain extent, I still do.  What they turned me into just because of what I am.”  She turned with her eyes welling up.  “Cullen, you’re not alone…I know a little about what you’re going through…”  She cupped his cheek noticing how he would lean into her touch.  She felt her cheeks flush with heat as she pulled her hand away to Cullen’s obvious protest.

He recovered quickly and started to sound like Cassian and Shok.  “Asala, you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met.  To endure what you endure isn’t fair.  We ask so much of you and you give and give and give and all I do is wallow in doubt.”  He stood up strong and proud and gazed at her with those honey eyes.  “Thank you my friend…I will succeed and I will make you proud.”

“It seems that we both are asked to do a lot for others.”  She smiled weakly at the Commander.  Noticing that his heart rate was steady, not like the other times she had talked to him.  She knew he was attracted to her, most of the men, elves, dwarves and a certain Bull there were in one way or another.  She could feel their eyes on her, hear the hearts beat a little faster.  She knew that despite being a giant Vashoth woman, she attracted sensual attention from most of the males and some of the females in the hold.  Cullen though, would never act on his desires.  He was too filled with the shame of his past and it seemed to eat at his very soul.  She knew he was also afraid of her which ate at her spirit.  Why was she not afraid of him?  For the same reason she did not fear Bull.  Like Bull and herself, Cullen was a tortured soul, but deep down inside she believed he was a good man. 

She admitted to herself that she was also tortured and filled with shame, but her shame was different.  She felt no shame in what she did to the Qunari.  The shame she felt was for how she let the Qun transform her into a killer.  How they shaped her view of the world and made her merciless.  She tried to think of her happier days as a youth and how she would have been happy just to take over her father’s bakery.  The Qun had taken so much from her and made her into a killing machine unmatched in all of Thedas.  That scum Corypheus had also done much harm to her and her family.  An ancient being whose greed and hunger for power had caused an incredible amount of grief in such a short time.  She would hold his skull in her hand and hang it at the top of the front gate of Skyhold.  These monsters had changed her into a person that she would not have recognized when she was growing up.

She had always had a disdain and disgust of all Arvaraads and Templars.  She was raised to fear them, to hide from them or to kill them if necessary.  She never thought she would have to deal with them as her mother just seemed to have a sixth sense and always kept her safe until that horrible night.  She never questioned her fear, disdain and outright hatred of all of them until now.  Here was this broken Templar whom she found herself comforting in his time of weakness.  This Templar who trusted her with every fiber of his being despite being the thing he fears most.  He was an extraordinary man.  He changed her in a way she never thought possible.

“How’s your headache?”  She asked with genuine concern.

“It’s gone.  I don’t feel anything right now.  A few minutes ago I was on my knees, but right now I’m okay.” He looked exhausted and determined.

“Let me help you…”  She began to offer, but was interrupted by him.

“You can’t Asala, the reason why I could not ask Katoh is because it seems that now the lyrium that is still in my system is reacting to magic in a very debilitating way.  I felt it with our battlemages in the sparring circle.  She didn’t even cast a snowball when everything in my body began to burn.  It was like my blood was on fire.”  She looked at him now in the most helpless way possible.  She wanted to help him, but now her magic would be a problem.  “It’s okay…I can manage it.  It just took me by surprise the first time it happened.”

Her concern grew more obvious in her expression.  “First time?  How many more times and when?”

“Dorian a couple of days ago while he cast a simple light spell to read, an elven apprentice with Fiona learning a simple barrier spell in the mage’s tower a week ago.”  He answered.  “Please Asala don’t worry, I don’t need that on my mind too.”  She didn’t look too reassured.  “On a good note, my headaches are more infrequent and I might have slept a couple of hours before the nightmare hit.”  He tried to lighten the mood a little.

The smile she gave him was small and tired, but it made him feel a little better.  “Let’s go raid the kitchen.  The Cinna buns are being made right now and should be to die for.”  She knew he wouldn’t be going back to sleep and neither would she.

“Not that I’m complaining but, you’re going like that?”  She only had her breast strap and her small undergarment.  “How are you not freezing?  Why do you not wear a shirt at least?”

She flashed a genuine smile at him and shrugged innocently.  “For the same reason Bull, Kaaris and the rest our kind go around without a shirt.”

He began to climb down the ladder with the blanket draped over him.  “What reason would that be?”  To his surprise she did not leap down and started to climb down after him.  He could feel his heart flutter as he looked up to see the most beautifully shaped back side he had ever seen.  He felt himself heat up everywhere and forced himself to look down while he made it to the bottom. 

“To enjoy the stares and jaw dropping by your kind.”  She playfully answered.  When she made it to the bottom she watched as Cullen tried to compose himself as he was as red as she had ever seen him.  Maker he is so beautiful…I don’t think…he already sees me as more than just a savage…so strong yet so vulnerable…  She smiled at the thought and stood at her full height in front of him.

His hand reflexively went to scratch the back of his head and neck.  It always happened when he was nervous.  He was so much like her late husband Ale and yet he was not.  Cullen’s scars were deeper, both physically and emotionally.  Not just that he was a former Templar, but his shyness and almost innocent discomfort at her flirtations made her think of her late beloved.  She couldn’t deny how selfless he was and how alike they truly were.  Through all of his torturous ordeals he always found  the time to help everyone from the orphans to the kitchen staff.  He even went out of his way to spar with Sata as she taught Antamm, Talania and Rasaana in the art of the Shield and Sword.  He also allowed Katoh to borrow some of his books so that she could read to the children.

They made it to the kitchen which was busy now and they would only get in the way if they tried to get away with taking something.  So she told him to wait outside as she quickly entered the kitchen and seconds later came out with two steaming and heavenly smelling cinna buns.  It still amazed him that she was not cold.  She reached out to him with her offering and he gladly took it.

As they sat down on the stairs leading from the kitchen she took a bite of the steaming bun and Cullen enjoyed Asala’s expression of almost complete bliss.  He let out a chuckle as Asala looked up at him with the bun still in her mouth.  “I think that maybe our baker is the most indispensable person in Skyhold.”  He smiled softly as he commented.

She nodded as she took another bite of her bun.  He imagined that this was what Asala was like as a child in her father’s bakery.  She had completely let her guard down and he was seeing her as she truly wanted to be.  He took a bite of the bun and it was like a piece of the Maker’s heaven exploded in his mouth.  It never tasted so good.  The Lyrium must have numbed his taste buds and now that it was almost all out of his system, they had awakened and he could taste everything.  “Oh Maker!”  He let out without meaning to.

“I know.  I agree.”  Asala giggled as she put the last piece in her mouth leaving her empty handed.  Cullen immediately pulled his apart into two roughly equal pieces and offered the bigger piece to her.

This simple act floored her.  There was only one person that had ever done that for her and he was gone.  Her comrades were barbarians when it came to food and everyone ate what they got.  Even she was one not to share unless out of necessity.  It wasn’t until her late husband shared his plate of mutton and potatoes with her that someone had done it as innocently and as casually as if it were a natural thing for them.  Now Cullen out of nowhere and unexpectedly shared his with her.  Cullen had never ever made an overture that turned her on as much as this one.  She took it as a sign from the beyond when she took the piece and everything that everyone warned her about Templars disappeared as she reached out and pulled him close into a ferocious kiss as their lips literally crashed into each other.

It caught Cullen completely by surprise, but it was everything he dreamed it would be.  His hands placed on the front of her waist and he placed his hands on her rock hard abs.  She pushed him back into the stairs as her lips continued their assault on him.  This wasn’t a nightmare…no it wasn’t.  As she started to pull away he found himself reaching up to keep his mouth on hers, the taste of cinnamon still lingering in her mouth making the kiss even more passionate.  Maker he could feel the power in her body.  She could crush him like a bug and yet he felt completely at ease in her powerful arms.  His eyes were closed and as the kiss reached its crescendo he slowly opened his eyes only to be immersed in her beautiful silver gaze.  He was smitten by her beauty…

His regained his senses and started to pull away.  “Asala…I…didn’t mean…” 

“SHUT UP!”  Was her feral response and again she pulled him toward her and her mouth crashed into his.  This time her tongue parted his willing lips to explore his mouth.  He could not match her strength, but he did start to push into her using leverage and forcing her butt to sit and lay back on the stairs.

“Oh Cullen, I’m so sorry.  If I’d known your pain, I would have never been such an ass to you.”  She held him to her as the blanket slipped off of his body, but it didn’t seem to bother him. 

He felt the cold on his back, but the fiery woman in front of him kept him on fire.  He felt something he hadn’t felt in years.  His lower region had responded so quickly that it made him blush.  It made it hard for him to think of anything other than taking her.  “I could have been friendlier myself.”

“Come.”  They both stood up and Asala bundled him up again with the blanket and led him back to the main courtyard.  He was about to turn toward his office when Asala gently grabbed his hand and tugged.  “No…unless…you don’t want…” 

He started to stutter like a young school boy asking his first crush out.  “What?  Yes…I…I mean…”  He stopped and caught his breath.  “I mean, are you sure this is wise?  I’ve admired you from afar for a long time…but you are the Inquisitor and I’m just a soldier in your army…”

“I know you have and you know you mean more to me than just being one of my soldiers.”  She smiled that toothy smile.  “Come…I won’t bite…much.”

He pulled his hand away and looked at her with a more serious expression.  “No…I mean that…I don’t want you to think…it’s just that I respect you…I…don’t want you as just one night of amusement…I want to know if you just think of me as…”  He paused awkwardly and struggled to maintain his gaze.  “…just a…just an amusing distraction.” 

She moved closer to him and pulled both of his hands to her.  “I would never insult you in that way.  I should fear you, I should hate you...”  She looked into his eyes and could see that he was uncomfortable with what she was saying.  “…but I don’t.  I don’t see the monster you described to me…that man is no longer in you.  I see a man who struggles with his tortured soul and who fights against all he was taught to be true.  I see a man of such will as to defy his very nature and not only face his greatest fear, but accept them as people.  I see a man who asks so little of others and yet demands all of himself.”  He couldn’t look at her and she cupped his chin to force him to look at her.  “If I didn’t think you were more than a night’s worth of pleasure, I would have never asked you to come.”

His eyes were moist as she described how she saw him.  He gazed into her silver eyes as that sweet smile welcomed his stare.  “Why me?”  He asked.

His heart was beating so hard, she could distinguish every single one of the powerful pumps in Cullen’s chest.  She could also feel that her own heart betrayed her feelings toward him.  “Because…I…I love you Cullen.  I don’t exactly know when it happened but I’ve fallen for you and am not afraid to admit it.”  As the words left her mouth she felt she was trembling slightly.

Cullen just stood there.  Her hands were in his as she waited for him to respond.  She had bared herself to him and although he did not know how it would end, he wanted so much to be with her.  He lifted his gaze from her hands to her eyes.  “I wanted to love you for a long time…I was afraid that you…that I wasn’t the right…I didn’t want to jeopardize our friendship, but if I am honest with myself, when I thought I lost you…I knew it.  I’ve lost people before, but you dying in order to save all of us was something that affected me more deeply than anything.  Your anguish at the loss of Ale destroyed me, I will always wish that I could take his place…”  He reached up with his free hand and cupped her cheek.  “…but it also lit a fire in me to make sure that monster never harms you again.”  Cullen took a deep breath and sighed.  “Seeing you that day we found you after the explosion…something inside me knew you weren’t the cause.  I guess what I want to say is that I think I’ve loved you from the first day I met you and I never dreamed that you would ever return my love because of who I am…who Ale was.”

He was scared, but she had to admit that she was also afraid.  Ale meant everything to her, the months had passed and made the wound in her heart heal somewhat.  It was as if the Maker had sent Cullen to her.  Another kindly and selfless soul, yet so broken and vulnerable as to fit perfectly with her own tortured state.  “Ale was a prince in every way imaginable.  I miss him and he will always be here.”  She raised her open hand over her heart.  “I will never forget my Marcher Angel, but I must move on.  I have fallen for you Cullen, please believe that.  You’re diametrically different in a lot of ways from anyone I would have ever considered a close friend.  Yet you are everything that I want in a man.”  She tugged on the hand she was still holding and this time he followed.  They made their way to his tower where she kissed him good night.  He tried to hold her in his arms, but she pulled away and pointed to the hole in his ceiling.  The dawn was coming as evidenced by the bluish tint in the sky.

He smiled sweetly at HIS beautiful Asala.  He nodded and turned to put on his uniform just before she jumped back down to go back to her own quarters to dress herself.

Chapter Text

Adamant Fortress

Asala stood there on a rise watching her trebuchets pound the walls of the ancient fortress.  As they launched projectile after projectile, she could see the Warden defenders on the wall take what cover they could only to see those in the path of the projectile crushed and turned into pink mist as the fireball exploded with a tremendous shockwave.  She almost felt sorry for them.  “CONCENTRATE YOUR FIRE ON THE MAIN GATE!”  She ordered as she knew that would be the weakest point in the wall and she would hope to draw as many of the defenders as possible into that area so that her forces could assault the battlements.

She was going to make them pay.  They would feel how she felt at Haven.  They would die to the last man, woman and demon.  Cullen looked at her in awe.  She wore a silver vitaar all over her body in the pattern of dragon scales and her face was painted with a silver skull mask.  The silver dyed sea silk Antaam-Saar did not cover nearly enough for Cullen’s liking.  It accentuated her height and obviously powerful frame it made her stand out amongst all of them.  She wanted them to see her; she wanted them to be frightened of her as she was in Haven.  It took Shokrakar and Bull a full three hours to apply the vitaar and Shokrakar confided in Cullen that Asala had never prepared so well for battle.

“MOVE THE BATTERING RAM INTO POSITION!”  Cullen ordered and Asala walked behind the ram with a determination that he saw the day she went to face Corypheus. 

“Asala!  Wait!”  Cullen yelled at her.  She turned to him and the look she gave him was one of complete and determined fury.  “They’re going to expect you at the gate.  Maybe you should hit the walls with the main force.”

Her expression changed to one of compassion as she cupped his cheek.  “No my love.  I want them to know that they have no hope.  I want them to see their end coming in through the front door and know there is nothing they can do to stop me.”  As frightening as she looked with her vitaar, he could see her beautiful features and lost his mind for a second.  He squeezed her shoulder only to feel the effects of the vitaar.  It had turned her skin into an almost stone like quality. 

Cullen pulled on her shoulder so that she would look at him.  “Don’t take any unnecessary risks.”  She smiled at him, turned and followed the ram into position.

The Wardens were putting up a ferocious defense of the gate and many from the ramparts were running to help defend the gate.  She turned to the Inquisition signal officer and gave him the nod.  “Now.”  She ordered him and he sounded the signal through his horn.

On that signal the Inquisition soldiers surged forward toward the walls with their assault ladders already loaded with troops.  Now she would make her move.  Her spirit blades sprung from those specially made hilts and she took off toward the gate at an impossible rate of speed.

As the first ladder hit the walls, Asala leaped up on the head of the battering ram and again leaped up landing on the battlements above the gate.  The Inquisition troops hurried to move the battering ram into position as the Inquisitor began her fury filled extermination of the Grey Wardens.  She cleared the area in seconds and then to the horror of everyone there she leaped down into the entrance courtyard.  No one could see what she was doing.  Was she alive?  Did she overestimate herself?  Cullen was in a panic.  “OPEN THAT FUCKING GATE!!!NOW!!!!” 

The ram took three swings before the gate splintered and was knocked off of its hinges.  What greeted Cullen and the rest of the troops was Asala standing in the midst of dozens of bodies and puddles of black ichor.  She was covered in Warden and demon blood.  She calmly walked towards Cullen. 

“They’ve broken through!  Fall Back!”  They heard a Warden on the inner battlements yell in desperation.

Cullen collected himself.  “You have your way in.  Best make use of it.  We’ll keep the main host of demons occupied for as long as we can.  Warden Stroud will guard your back…and…good luck Inquisitor.”  He couldn’t shake the fear that he would not see her again, but she was the tip of this spear and she was needed to be.  “Hawke is assisting our troops on the battlements.  She’ll be with them until you arrive.  They had more demons on the wall and our men on the ladders can’t seem to get a foothold.”

“I’ll take care of it.”  Asala coldly answered him.  “Bull, take Blackwall and Varric and take care of the battlements on the left side.  Me and Stroud will take the right side.”  Bull nodded and they were off climbing the stairs leading to the battlements on the left.  By the end of her short trek on the battlements Asala had secured them and Stroud actually convinced her to spare some of the Warden warriors who did not agree with Warden Commander Clarel. 

She made her way to the main courtyard killing demons and hostile Wardens with as much effort as it took to mow down a blade of grass.  She met with Bull, Blackwall, Varric and Hawke outside the gate of the main courtyard and when they entered they were greeted with a scene that made Asala’s blood boil.  There were sacrificed Wardens everywhere in their place a freshly bound demon of different types.  It looked like they were in the middle of performing another ritual, only this one involved many Wardens.  She didn’t waste any time and unleashed an enormous fireball that incinerated all of the Wardens in the circle, effectively ending the ritual.

“NO!  YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!”  Asala assumed that was the Warden Commander and…lookie what we have here…  Asala thought when she saw that little fucking pipsqueak Erimond.  She could see the fear on his face as he began to tap his staff on the ground.

Her ears heard it before anyone saw it.  The remaining Wardens began to advance on her and then they looked up.  Clarel also looked up and was in disbelief as what looked like an Archdemon swooped down and attacked indiscriminately with its corrupted fire burning a path through the courtyard, destroying everything in it including her Wardens.  Clarel turned and saw Erimond smiling at the creature…her rage started to build as she let loose a lightning bolt that struck Erimond by surprise.

Stroud had enough.  “WARDENS STOP!!!  WE ARE NOT THE ENEMY!!  I’VE TRAINED MANY OF YOU!  JUST LOOK AT WHAT YOU ARE FOLLOWING!  CORYPHEUS IS USING YOU TO FURTHER THE BLIGHT!  THAT DEMON IS CONTROLLED BY HIM AND ERIMOND!  YOU HAVE BEEN MISLED!!”

The Wardens were all braced for the next pass of the creature, but it did not happen as it landed on one of the towers and observed from that perch.  Suddenly a lightning bolt struck it with such force as to startle it.  Clarel had struck it and the creature retaliated with its fire and took to it wings.  Erimond had disappeared and after a few seconds so did Clarel.

Cullen watched from his vantage point outside the walls.  Dread filled his soul as he watched that monster swoop into the battle.  He continued to watch as the dragon rained its death from a distance, and then an enormous ball of lightning struck it with an enormous thunder clap and sent it crashing to a bridge between the two main towers.  The bridge seemed to buckle and collapse under its weight, an instant later there was a bright greenish explosion of light.  He watched as the monster took to flight again and retreated to the south, a large burn mark was plainly visible on its underbelly.  Then it was quiet…too quiet.  There should have been cheers as it looked like Adamant fortress was secured and they had won.  He mounted his warhorse and rode quickly into the fortress, making his way to the main courtyard. 

Rylen met him there with a look of gloom in his welled up eyes.  No!  It’s not possible!  He looked at his most trusted Captain who couldn’t look him in the eye any longer.

“What happened!”  Cullen demanded, but feared he already knew.

“She was on that bridge when the monster crashed into it.”  The chill that went down his spine buckled his knees and Cullen could not keep his composure as his eyes also began to well with tears.

His voice was horse and pitchy with emotion, but he would not give up on his Asala.  If anyone could live through that it was her.  “Secure all of the prisoners and I want every single stone and pebble turned and searched.”  He was dying inside…he lost Amalia to the Wardens and his own stubbornness…now he lost Asala to the Wardens because he failed to protect her.

“Captain!  I want every one of these Wardens chained and readied to march back to Skyhold!”  The darkness he thought Asala had removed from his soul had returned and they would pay for the death of his love.

“Sir, but these Wardens fought alongside us to try and defeat that monster.”  Rylen responded.

“DO NOT QUESTION ME!  IT IS BECAUSE OF THESE FOOLS THAT OUR INQUISITOR IS PROBABLY DEAD!  NOW CHAIN THEM!”  Cullen was in a fury when suddenly that familiar greenish light flashed brightly with a deafening crackling sound.  A rift opened up in the middle of the courtyard and he watched, Bull, Varric, Blackwall and Hawke tumble out of it and landing with multiple thuds on the stone floor.  A second later Asala appeared and landed with a grace only she could pull off.  Her mark glowing brightly as she squeezed her hand shut and closed the rift with a booming clap.

Cullen noticed that Stroud was not with her.  She watched as her men were beginning to put the Wardens in restraints.  “Stop!  Free them.  They will not be our prisoners.”  She ordered as Cullen came to her side almost not believing it was her.

“Where is Stroud?”  A warden in full armor approached her and asked.

She looked at the young Warden with a sympathetic eye.  “Warden Stroud died striking a blow against the blight and its agents.  He sacrificed himself so we could continue the fight.” 

“Inquisitor, all of our high ranking Wardens are gone.  What are we going to do?”  One of the confused looking Wardens asked as they still couldn’t believe what they were suckered into doing.

“Without Stroud to guide you I’m afraid you will all have to return to Weisshaupt.  Corypheus has the ability to corrupt anyone of you and I cannot allow that to continue.  You will not endanger anymore people while Corypheus still runs free.”  She did it for their own good.  Hawke had told him how Corypheus influenced the Wardens at his prison and made them do his bidding.  All she could remember was those Warden mages holding the Divine while Corypheus was about to sacrifice her for some unknown fucking reason.  “Warn your leaders because if we don’t defeat him, you will all be susceptible to his power.”

“Inquisitor, I wish to stay with you and continue the fight.”  Blackwall sounded sad and he knew why she was doing what she was doing. 

“Of course Blackwall, I never doubted your loyalty.”  She knew that he wasn’t a warden, but he was one hell of a warrior and even though she didn’t know why he pretended to be a warden, she trusted him.

“Hawke will you take care of getting them back to Weisshaupt?”  Hawke nodded sadly.

“It’s been an honor Asala…oh and please take care of Varric for me.”  Hawke looked a little depressed.

“I’m right here Mariane, and this isn’t for good.”  Varric protested.  “When you get back to Kirkwall, I’ll probably be there waiting for you.”

“Thank you my friend.  You’ll have a company of my best to go with you.”  Asala said to her friend Hawke.

At that moment a couple of Inquisition soldiers approached with the unconscious Erimond.  “We found him squirming among the rubble.”

Asala smiled a dark and frightening grin.  “Restrain him and take him back to Skyhold.  Me and the ‘Lord’ are going to get better acquainted.”

 

**********************************

 

Skyhold

Asala was in the war room studying the map of southern Thedas.  She smiled at the thought of what Corypheus could be thinking now.  There would be no demon army for that scum, no more Wardens to corrupt not to mention that she also took the mages away from him as well.  It was a huge blow to Corypheus as now he would have to rely on his Venatori and Red Templars to serve him without Demon support.  Adamant was theirs now and some of her advisors suggested in destroying the ancient fortress.  Again she would disagree and ordered her dwarven masons to fortify the old walls to modern standards and also leave soldiers to garrison it.  She would not give up something that gave her a significant advantage in the area.  Griffon Wing Keep and Adamant gave the Inquisition complete control of the area and she would not give up such hard fought gains.  In a matter of weeks the Venatori and Red Templars were routed out of the area with great loss to their numbers.  The Western Approach operations were a resounding success with Cullen and Rylen really showing their individual brilliance in strategy and tactics.

She switched her attention to the Hinterlands section of the map and the valley the High Dragon was seen.  A High Dragon…that would be something that should be taken care of.  Bull was basically having an orgasm with the just the idea of taking it on.  It brought a smile on her face how Bull kept harping on her to take him with her.  He bothered her so much that she agreed.  They would leave the next day to take care of the dragon.  She could hear the footsteps nearing the war room as she knew Josephine would be there in a few seconds.  She was going to tell her that the Mayor of Crestwood had been caught and that the judgements of the mayor and Erimond awaited her.

The door opened and there was Josephine in all her poofy splendor.  “I know, I know…I hate doing this.”  Asala told her as she approached the door and headed for the throne room.

The mayor was an easy one.  She banished him from Ferelden, never to return with the threat of death if he did come back.  She felt sorry for the mayor, he really did do his best to save the town during the blight and she could see that it ate at his core being.  The decision to flood the town must have been very difficult.  Don’t flood it and the darkspawn probably kill everyone, flood it and the survivors crucify you for it as well.  The poor mayor probably continued to agonize over the decision for the rest of his time.  Asala believed that the mayor probably made the right decision, she felt guilty about banishing him, but there would not have been any way to protect him from the wrath of the townsfolk from Crestwood.  In the end he graciously accepted the banishment and left with no fuss.

Then there was that arrogant prick Erimond.  Oh the pleasure of seeing him in chains as he was led to the floor in front of her throne.  The smile on her face was not one of joy or pleasantness.  It was of pure vengeance and rage her sharp canines were almost accentuated and she looked like a carnivorous animal waiting for her prey.  “My dear Lord Erimond, what ever shall I do with you?”

“I don’t recognize your authority.  You have no right to judge me, I am a lord in the Tevinter court.”  Erimond stood straight and was as defiant as ever.

Asala stood to her full height as she calmly walked toward the lord.  She looked magnificent in her golden chainmail that had been made for her to wear during the proceedings.  Golden earrings and horn caps completed the look of almost god like royalty.  As she moved towards him he fearfully began to take a step back only to be shoved forward by one of the guards.  “Show some spine you scum!”  The guard growled and Asala loved it as she moved closer and put a hand on the guard’s shoulder. 

“Now, now Caska, we must be gracious hosts to such a powerful and regal representative of the Tevinter Empire.”  She paused and made pretend like she was thinking about something.  “…oh that’s right they’ve sent me a writ giving me permission to do as I wish with you.  They basically said that you are now my property in return for favorable treatment in future endeavors with the empire.”

“Do your worst.  Everything you do is for naught.  My master will rule Thedas and bring the Imperium back along with him.  There is nothing that you can do to stop him.”  Erimond was an arrogant prick and so sure that he was right about everything.

“Why does he run from me?  Why does his pet flee when I appear?  I will destroy your master and you will be sitting in a cell watching his end and when I see the look in your eyes after he is no more, I will laugh at your misery.  You will never see the light of day.”  She was in his face and he just looked up at her and spit.

“YOU DARE!”  Caska and Louis (the two guards) yelled as they picked Erimond by the scruff of his neck and slammed him forward to the floor.  “YOU WILL SHOW RESPECT!!!”

“Easy boys, no need for the violence.”  She slowly wiped the spit from her face and thanked the Maker that Cullen wasn’t present for this because she knew he would have run Erimond through.

Erimond stood again with a smug look on his face.  “I can’t wait to see your inevitable defeat.  I will only be your prisoner for as long as it takes for my master to free me.  I will be dancing on your grave.”

Asala moved closer and put her mouth close to his ear and whispered.  “I promised my band and all of my close advisors that I would never do what I am about to do.”  She pulled away from him, leaving him with that smug grin.

“Oh what?  You’re going to execute me?  Ha!  It doesn’t change the fact that my master is going to come here and destroy all of you and usher in a new age of Tevinter Supremacy.”  He expressed the know it all smile that all of those vermin of his ilk do, but he would not be prepared for what she said next.

“Knight Captain Barris, what would you make of this Lord?  What would the Templar order do with this Mage.”  Ser Barris was one of the few Templars that escaped the Lord Seeker and distinguished himself with the Inquisition so much so that both Rylen and Cullen recommended him for the promotion.

“Your worship, we serve you and whatever you deem as punishment will be carried out to the letter.”  Barris was a sweetheart and truly believed in her.  She hated what she was about to do, but Erimond probably only feared one thing.  The one thing they did in the south that Tevinter would never even dream of doing to their own.

“Well then Erimond…”  She looked at him with all the seriousness in the world.  “…kneel.”

Erimond hesitated, but Caska kicked the back of his knees and knocked him to his knees.  “You heard her scum!”

Asala calmly walked to Captain Barris and took hold of what looked like a branding iron, only it glowed with an aura of magic.  She turned to look at Erimond who looked puzzled by the device.  It made Asala chuckle.  “Of course you wouldn’t know what this is.  There aren’t any of these in Tevinter are there?”

The unknown scared Erimond, but then he finally figured it out.  He looked at the brand then turned and looked at one of the Tranquil in attendance.  The brand on her forehead was identical.  He tried to stand, but was held down by the two guards.  He tried to cast mind blast, but was silenced by the Knight Captain.  Finally he started to beg.  “No!  Please!  I’ll do anything you ask.  I’m sorry…please anything but that!!  Please!!” 

The fear was so palpable that she almost felt sorry for him.  Almost, “Lord Livius Erimond of Vyrantium you are here bye sentenced to…”  She moved forward and placed the brand close to his forehead as Caska and Louis held his head in place.  The good lord relieved himself in his pants of both types of bowel movements and the tears were flowing from his tightly closed eyes and nothing happened. “…life in the dungeon.  You will never see the light of day you bastard.  I will make sure that your life is as miserable as I can make it and when this is over I will turn you over to Weisshaupt as they were the party most wounded by you.  Also know that Tranquility was never on the table, even for a lowlife mass murdering scum like you.  My comrades would never forgive me if I did.  Take him away!”

Caska and Louis picked Erimond up roughly and dragged him out of the throne room.  She could hear him sob as they took him out.  She gave the branding rod to Barris who smiled at her.  “You know this one is inert right?”

“Thank you Delrin.  I really wanted to and no one is more deserving than that prick.”  She turned her head and started to head out to the courtyard. 

She sat down on the main stairs from the main hall.  She watched as they took Erimond into the dungeon.  She took a deep breath as she felt Antaam put his little arms around her neck and buried his face in her neck.  Katoh sat down next to her.  “That must have been tough my friend.”

“Every fiber of my being wanted to brand him, but I couldn’t do it.  The terror on his face when he found out was heart wrenching.  Don’t get me wrong, if anyone deserved it, it was him.”  Asala talked softly to her friend.  As Rasaana and Talania sat on Katoh’s lap while Shiandra sat on Asala’s lap and wrapped her little arms around her waist.  Talania’s little human tail squeezed himself in between Talania and Rasaana to sit with them on Katoh’s lap.  Asala took in the scene and looked around for the other children.  “Where are the others?”

Katoh smiled and with an expression of relief responded.  “My angel Flissa is with them.  We split our duties.  I took these five and she along with the teens took the other ten.”

“They look tired.  What did they do?”  Asala was loving the feeling of the children so close to her.

“Cullen and Bull had them running around playing with the mabari hounds.  They’re ready for bed.”   Katoh smiled as she turned to Asala.

“You let Bull?  I mean…”  Asala was stunned. 

“Yes I let Bull play with the kids, but only with Cullen and Crem being there.  I think you were right about him.”  Katoh admitted.

“Bull is a good person.  He will come around…I know he will.”  Asala sounded so confident.

“How can you be so sure?”  Katoh asked curiously even though she herself felt the same.

“He’s a tortured soul.  I can see it, feel it and smell it.  He has a lot of problems with the Qun and when the time comes he will make the right decision.  I know he will.”  Asala talked so matter of factly about the subject.  Almost as if it was predestined to happen the way she said.

Katoh nodded and sat there enjoying the moment when Asala changed the subject.

“I have to care of a dragon in the Hinterlands.”  Asala spoke quietly as every one of the kids was now out.

“Dragons are extremely dangerous.  Is there a reason you have to go after it?”  Katoh was concerned, but after the stories of her fight with Corypheus and his Archdemon pet, she was pretty confident that Asala could handle anything thrown at her.

“It’s getting too close to the villagers and I don’t need the death of more innocents on my conscience if I fail to act.”  Asala said softly.  “We should take this group back to their sleeping area.  Come I’ll help you.”

Asala picked up Antaam, Shiandra and managed to also wrap up the little human boy whose name happened to be Michael in her arms and carry them back down to their now very substantial dorm.  Katoh took her twin daughters and followed Asala down.  Not one of them stirred from their slumber as they were laid down on their respective beds.  “Thank you Lala.”  Katoh acknowledged her and actually put her head down next to her daughters.  “I think I’ll take advantage of this moment and nap with them.”

Asala had a big grin on her face.  “Maker I’m so jealous.  I have to go choose the rest of the team for this dragon hunt.  I’ll see you later sister.”  She looked at the scene of the children all sleeping and Katoh taking a moment for herself.  It was almost therapeutic for her to see such calmness.  She turned and made her way out toward the tavern.

Chapter Text

The new camp was just outside the Valley where the High Dragon had been spotted.  Her forces had annihilated a large group of bandits and mercenaries that had gathered just outside the entrance to Lady Shayna’s Valley.  They had taken quite a few prisoners and she would deal with them at the appropriate time.  They had also recovered a set of orders from some of the dead which pointed to a fortress in the Hinterlands that was the base for these so called bandits. 

All of that would have to wait because Asala was on a mission to protect her people from the powerful High Dragon in the valley.  She spoke with one of her scouts in the camp near the valley and he told her that the valley was totally infested with dragonlings and that it was impossible to probe any further without mounting a dangerous operation to kill them all.  Asala looked at her scout with pride.  “Good job, we’ll take it from here.”  She turned to look at her team of so called dragon hunters.

Bull was absolutely giddy, Cassandra looked downright determined and Varric just looked as nonchalant as always.  “If it has dragonlings, you can bet that it has Drakes as well.  High Dragons with offspring will have at least a half dozen males hunting and protecting her young.”  Cassandra informed her.  “Drakes are deadly when they attack together.  We need to formulate a plan of action.”

Asala motioned for the scout to lay out a map of the area to better ascertain how they would approach the task.  “Cassandra what do you think we should do?”

“Normally we would bait the area, but in this case it isn’t necessary.  Once we slay one of the little ones, the Drakes and High Dragon will respond.  We should wait and bring in more men.”  Cassandra explained.

Asala actually cringed at the thought of killing the dragonlings to lure out the grown-ups.  “Do we really need to kill the little ones?”  Asala asked and it caused Bull and Varric to start laughing.

“Those ‘little ones’ are the size of a small horse, have a breath weapon and claws that could cut through a Qunari warrior’s armor like a hot knife through butter.”  Cassandra continued to explain to her.  “They are very dangerous Inquisitor and see everything and everyone as prey.”

“Okay let me see.”  Asala looked intently at the map.  “Well the nice thing is that there’s only one entrance to this valley from land.”  She stood up and rubbed her chin in thought.  “Maybe we could close off the valley from this side so that no one enters it?”

“I think that would be the wisest course of action except that if the food supply for the dragonlings dwindles in the valley, the mother will leave the area and probably raid our farms and roads outside the valley.”  Cassandra countered.  “If that happens we will be forced to come back here and take care of the problem with the deaths of several innocents on our heads.”

“So what are we waiting for?  Let’s go kill us some dragons!”  Bull exclaimed.

“BULL!  Will you stop!  This is serious.”  Asala tried to rein him in, but it was obvious that Bull was like a child in a candy store being told ‘no’ by his annoyed mother.

“With the way you can move around the elevated areas, maybe you should scout the area and see exactly what we’re up against.”  Varric suggested.

“That’s not an option Varric.  We’re not going to risk the Inquisitor for this!”  Cassandra huffed.

“No Cas, I think he’s right.  I’ll sneak around the rocky cliffs here and see what exactly is going on in the valley.  If I get in trouble I’ll send up a fireball and you can come save me.”  Asala pointed to the edges of the valley represented on the map.

“Oh that’s Druffalo Shit!”  Bull exclaimed in obvious annoyance, but Asala held up her hand to stop him.

“Bull, we can’t run into this thing blind.  I’m best qualified to scout the area and that’s what I’m going to do.  Don’t worry; I won’t kill anything without you.”  She retorted.

“Just so you know for the record, I’m totally against this.”  Cassandra mentioned.

“Cas, You would rather we risk attacking something almost as powerful as Corypheus’ pet without any prior intelligence?  Or would you rather we just risk letting it loose on the populace?”  Asala glared.  “I’m going to end this threat one way or another and I will scout the area first!”  Cassandra almost winced at the tongue lashing she was receiving.  “We will protect the people and that’s final!”  Cassandra lowered her head in shame knowing that Asala was right, but she still didn’t like the possibility of losing her before they could stop Corypheus and his legion.

“Please be careful Inquisitor.  You are more important to us than you know.”  It was a heartfelt admission that Cassandra gave her which caused Asala to smile gently and put her hand on Cassandra’s shoulder.

“I’ll be fine and once we’re done here, we can get back to the task of killing Corypheus.”  Asala adjusted her Antaam-Sar and quickly leaped onto a ledge above the camp.  “I’ll be back faster than Varric can crack a joke about Bull’s harness.”

Varric and Bull chuckled as they watched her disappear toward the valley.  “She’s an amazing person.”  Bull commented with a definite tone of admiration.

 

***************************************

 

Asala perched herself high above the valley on top of a sheer cliff overlooking most of it.  She could see dragonlings scurrying everywhere.  Wow, it really is infested with the buggers.  She continued to observe and noticed a much larger creature moving behind a clump of trees and as it exposed itself she came to the conclusion that it had to be a Drake.  It was enormous and fearsome looking.  If the High Dragon was the queen of the valley then the Drake was the king.  She watched as it sniffed the air and scanned the area like an apex predator.  She didn’t worry because the wind was blowing from the sea toward her, so there would be no danger of being detected by scent. 

The Drake continued to move away from the trees.  Cas said there would be more of them.  Come on where are you.  She thought to herself in frustration.  She also began to sniff the air and caught the scent of the Drake and dragonlings.  At least now I know what they smell like. 

She stealth fully moved from ledge to outcropping to ledge and saw that the valley was actually two separate valleys.  She continued to observe and noticed something that looked like a trade caravan lay in a heap of fire ruined destruction; she could just make out the form of a person charred beyond recognition.  The sight started to build a bubbling fury inside her.  They didn’t stand a chance. 

She moved over toward the other valley which was closer to the sea and that’s where she finally saw her prey.  She lay in the middle of the valley with three of her Drakes around her like an elite guard unit and she appeared to be nuzzling one of her dragonlings.  As beautiful as the scene was in front of her, she knew she would have to either drive them out or kill them because they had already proven themselves too dangerous to be left alone.

Asala continued to scan the valley and noticed that to the east was a dock that appeared to be in flames.  She made her way toward the dock and jumped down to an actual moored boat that appeared to be loaded with metals, herbs and other useful things.  A note written in dwarven accompanied all of the loot.  She took it so that Varric could have a look at it later.  As she started to climb back she became horrified as the wind shifted and began to blow from her direction into the valley.  She moved like a blur as she climbed back up to a place she thought was unreachable.  She turned to look into the valley and saw that they were now all looking at her.  Three Drakes were now between her and the High Dragon while the dragonlings just seemed to disappear from sight.  Oh shit!

The High Dragon let out a roar that could probably be heard for miles, only Asala thought that she understood it!  The undertones were there and they were unmistakable.  There were vibrations that she seemed to be able to make out and by the Maker she could understand the beast.  “LEAVE NOW!”  Again the mighty Frostback roared. 

Asala stood on the ledge in shock as she watched the Drakes move closer.  She wondered if the dragon would understand her if she tried to speak.  Asala roared and attempted to control her sub-harmonics to the point where her roar could mimic the Frostback’s.   “YOU KILLED MY PEOPLE?!  I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO SLAUGHTER ANYONE ELSE!”  She surprised herself that it actually worked.  It seemed that her thoughts were transmitted through the sub vibrations of her roar.  If she thought it, she could say it.  It was incredible, she could actually speak dragon!

The Frostback became quiet and stood straight up.  The three Drakes stopped in their tracks as they watched her curiously.  “They killed three of my children!  I have no regrets in killing those skinners!”  The images of the three dead dragonlings that appeared in her mind confirmed the Frostback’s defense.  Asala knew what she would do if someone killed her little ones and could not find fault in the Frostback’s reaction.

Asala felt a little unsure of what to say next.  She had prepared to fight, not to negotiate with a High Dragon.  She was actually negotiating with a High Dragon!  “So what happened at the structure next to the water?” 

“We did not attack until they began to attack my children!  We let them live, the stout people are no longer here.”  Asala could see the images in her mind as the Frostback spoke to her.  The three dwarves were in the middle of attacking a pair of her young ones when her Drakes appeared and ran them off into the shadows.  They looked like Carta, but she would still try to confirm the thought with Varric.  Anyhow it seemed that the Frostback was minding her own business and not harming anyone unless they harmed her or her little ones.  She watched as a couple of the dragonlings appeared from behind their mother with curious expressions.  If dragonlings could look cute this was it.  The Drakes just stood guard in front of her. 

“I believe you.”  Asala’s roar cracked a little as she was not used to communicating like this.  As she thought of how to broach the subject of coexistence, an image floated into her mind.  The scene from her fade walk with Solas entered her mind.  A beautiful golden dragon defending what could have been Asala’s twin sister from a Tevinter Army appeared in her thoughts.  She conveyed the thought into a roar and the Frostback appeared to take a step back in shock.  The three Drakes turned to look at their matriarch in what appeared to be concern.

“Exalted Drakoness?!  How is this possible?  My mother told stories of you!”  The image of her giant mother nuzzling a little dragonling popped into Asala’s mind.  The images became jumbled and meshed together as the Frostback continued to roar.  The images in her mind showed that her twin was a friend of the dragons and that many died in their attempt to defend her from the Imperium.  It all ended with the death of both the Golden Dragon that appeared to be an enormous Frostback and Asala’s apparent twin in that battle.

Asala was also taken aback by the images of her fade twin befriending a giant Frostback.  Asala kept thinking of how different she was from everyone, Alexius couldn’t explain everything and he never mentioned the battle with her dragon befriending twin, it was the spirit of Justice which showed her the battle that ended their lives.  It was as if both Asala and the Frostback’s thoughts melded as they shared their images of what they knew.  “Mistress please come closer, We will not harm you.”  Asala noticed that the Drakes had walked away to continue their patrol of the area while a swarm of dragonlings came out of their hiding spots and began to approach her.

Asala was a little apprehensive, but the Frostback had done nothing overtly aggressive in the entire time she was aware that Asala was there.  She also seemed to trust her enough to let her young ones approach her now and that was enough for Asala to leap down and be swarmed by a bunch of donkey sized baby dragons.  A few moments later she stood in front of the immensely impressive Frostback where they both began to assess each other.  With the distance closed it seemed that their thoughts could intermingle without the aid of their roars.  “If you promise not to hurt my people, I will promise that we will keep your valley and your little ones safe.”  The image of the Inquisition Eye and of the villages in the Hinterlands flashed through her thoughts.  The Frostback nodded in understanding, but seemed troubled.  “What’s wrong?”  The images of Red Lyrium and sick or dying dragonlings flooded her mind as the Frostback’s troubled mind seemed to plead with her to do something if she could.

“I will need my comrades to help me destroy the deposit.  Will you allow me to bring them here?”  The Frostback reared back and huffed its acknowledgment.  “Good, we will take care of red stones…maybe your mates can help us?”  Again she huffed in agreement.  “Good.”

“I’m Gentle first daughter of Fierce.”  The Frostback projected images of when she was a dragonling and how she never harmed any of her siblings growing up despite her being by far the largest and strongest.  Her other siblings would fight each other for food and sometimes kill each other.  She refused to take part and actually shared many of her prey with them.  Her mother named her so, more out of concern than anything else.

“I’m Asala Adaar.”  Asala projected the images of herself as a little girl and her parents.  She couldn’t stop the images and it resulted in her showing Gentle everything that made Asala who she was.  Asala’s eyes started to well up at the thought of her parents, the Qun, Corypheus, Alejandro, and Antaam.

So much pain my child…”  Gentle closed the distance and nuzzled her.  “You will always be welcomed in my valley.”

Asala rubbed the giant dragon’s head and thanked her.  She then began to make her way to the entrance of the valley where she knew her three companions would have a ton of concern.

 

*********************

 

“It’s too quiet.  We should go in and see what’s going on.”  Bull stated.  “I mean something must have happened, where the hell are all those dragonlings?”

“She said she would signal us if she was in trouble.”  Cassandra retorted.  “We wait.”

Varric didn’t do it often, but he agreed with Bull.  “What if she can’t signal us?  What if she’s on the verge of death and we’re just sitting here doing nothing?”  Varric sighed.  “I think we should go in and…”

His train of thought was interrupted when in the distance, near a small pool of water near the entrance to the valley, he saw her.  Varric started to laugh.  “It figures.”  They all watched in disbelief as Asala walked amidst a swarm of dragonlings that were acting like playful mabari pups around her.  Bull sighed and shook his head.  Cassandra had a shocked expression and was frozen in place watching Asala pet and play with the dragonlings as if they were her pets.

They watched as Asala waved them over with a big grin on her face.  “Come on they won’t hurt you.”  She yelled out.

The three of them made a beeline to Asala and cautiously approached her.  The dragonlings seemed to pay them no mind and Bull seemed to be the most upset by the change in the situation.  “I don’t even want to know how you managed this.”  He mentioned.

“Gentle has agreed to stay out of our territory and promised not to attack anyone as long as her children are allowed grow up in the valley without our interference.”  All three of them looked at Asala like she had three heads.  “Another gift I seem to possess.  I spoke to her…err the High Dragon.  She’s as intelligent as you or I and has actually asked to us to help her get rid of a large Red Lyrium deposit that seems to be harming her young.”

“Shorty, this is even weirder than your standard mage shit.”  He paused as if he were in deep thought.  “Holy shit, you can actually talk to dragons?”  Varric was excited at the proposition of getting some new material to write about.  Asala nodded with a smile, but Bull didn’t look convinced.

“How do you know she’s telling you the truth?  How do you know she won’t go back on her word as soon as we leave her be?”  Bull asked with a tone of frustration.

“She’s a mother Bull, she would die for her little ones.  I totally understand that.  I know that she senses how much damage I could do to them and I sensed her fear for her offspring.  She will keep her word, I just know it.”  She explained, but Bull still didn’t seem to want to listen.  “Maker’s balls Bull!  You really want to kill her for doing nothing?  Just so you can say you massacred her and her whole family, maybe mount her skull on your wall somewhere in Par Vollen?”

“DRAGONS ARE TOO DANGEROUS TO LET LIVE!”  He screamed at her in a surprising show of defiance from him.  It only set her off.

“JUST LIKE MAGES RIGHT?!  WHAT ABOUT TAL VASHOTH?!”  She shot back with a bitter tone that surprised Bull too.  It did result in Bull’s face becoming a little more reflective as a result.  “She’s no danger to us Bull, if anything she might become an ally that could maybe even the odds a little with Corypheus’ monster.”  She explained as she wanted Bull to understand and not make a snap judgement on Gentle. 

“This is ridiculous.”  Bull sighed with a chuckle.  “You’re absolutely insane.”  He motioned toward Asala.

“Are you sure we can trust the creature?”  Cassandra was a little more optimistic than Bull, but not by much.

“I believe her Cassandra.  It seems that in my discovery of the dragon tongue, I’m able to see their memories and thoughts.  She’s never hurt another unless she was defending herself or her young.”  Asala explained.  “Oh, I almost forgot.”  Asala pulled out the dwarven note she found.  “Varric, what do you make of this?”

Varric took the note and regarded it with studiousness.  “This is Carta, no doubt.  You found this in the valley?”

Asala nodded.  “There’s a dock filled with all sorts of ingots, herbs and other supplies.  It looks like maybe they were trying to establish a trading port on the south eastern end of the valley.”  Asala turned and began to go back into the valley.  “Come on, I’ll introduce you to her.”  The dragonlings again swarmed her playfully.

Cassandra and Bull didn’t hesitate and followed her while the dragonlings regarded them suspiciously.  “They’re my friends, be nice.”  The growl that left Asala’s mouth surprised everyone, especially Varric who was cautiously bringing up the rear.

The growl’s result was immediate as the dragonlings now swarmed them all to Cassandra’s and Varric’s surprised amusement.  Bull pretended to not be impressed and forcefully pushed away any dragonling that came too close to him.  That only made them more determined to play with him and it annoyed him to no end as they lost interest in Asala, Varric and Cassandra and began to swarm all around him.  Varric was thoroughly entertained at the sight.  “Looks like they like the grumpy giant.”  He joked.

“Great.”  Bull sounded defeated as the dragonlings gave him gentle bumps and nuzzles so that he would continue shoving them.  Asala turned and smiled at Bull whom she sensed was softening a little bit.

They continued through the valley and finally arrived at Gentle’s location.  She stood there proud and strong.  She was huge and Asala could feel Bull’s heart start to race.  Asala counted seven enormous Drakes flanking her.  “These are my friends.”  Asala growled again and Saphira responded with a deep and reverberating one of her own.

“Welcome back Drakoness.”  Asala noticed that Gentle’s stare did not leave Bull’s person and she let out another deep and bellowing growl.  “He’s the most beautiful of your kind I have ever seen.”  Asala turned to look at Bull who seemed to be in awe of the sight he was witnessing.  Asala let out a hearty giggle and put her hand on her own mouth to contain it.

“What did she say?”  Varric’s initial discomfort was now replaced with unquenchable curiosity. 

“She said that Bull is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.”  Of course she would embellish a little just to make him a somewhat uncomfortable.

Bull was floored.  “What?!”  Bull couldn’t believe what he just heard.  “You’re shitting me.”

“I’m not Bull.  That’s exactly what she just growled.”  Asala was now as amused as Varric.  Cassandra on the other hand was all business.

“We have business to attend to Inquisitor.  We should take care of it as soon as possible.”  Cassandra mentioned with a gentle seriousness.

Asala nodded with a big grin on her face.  “Where is this red stone?”  Cassandra watched in awe as Asala and the Regal Frostback communicated back and forth with a series of growls, hums and wails.  She could feel the undertone of vibrations from both the Dragon and Asala.  It was incredible.  She watched as two of the enormous Drakes began to slowly make their way northward.  “They will show us and help us if needed.”

Bull could also feel the substantial vibrations of the communication between Asala and her giant friend.  It was as if he could distinguish each individual vibration, but they still weren’t understandable in any way.  “Are those vibrations how you talk to them?”  He asked her as they followed the Drakes with the dragonlings now noticeably absent.

“You feel them too?”  Asala was surprised, but maybe she shouldn’t be.  According to Alexius and the book she saw in Minrathous, the Qunari were actually imbued with dragon essence, along with human and elven.  If it was true that he could make out the vibrations, then maybe it could be possible to teach Bull and other Qunari to speak at least enough to understand.

“I do and it’s as if I can discern them like individual words, but I don’t understand them.”  Bull was now in full Ben-Hassrath mode.  He was gathering intelligence, but she wondered if it was more for himself or was it something that he would report to the Qun?  Asala didn’t really care anymore as she trusted Bull with everything and she had begun to care for him as a close friend.

“I see her thoughts through those vibrations.  I don’t know how exactly, but my thoughts actually control the vibrations and she understands me.”   She answered him.  “Maybe there’s a way I could teach you so you could talk to your giant girlfriend.”  She joked.

“She has great taste.  What can I say?”  Bull flexed his chest to the dismay of Cassandra and the supreme amusement of Varric.

Asala giggled as she almost bumped into the rear of one of the Drakes.  She then walked around it and observed a huge Red Lyrium deposit jutting out from the side of the sheer cliff.  There were approximately ten or so dead dragonlings in the vicinity.  They all had the beginning of Red Lyrium growth on their bodies.  A deep sadness overcame her at the sight and then a rage as she hit the deposit with an enormous fireball that disintegrated the outcropping.  Varric searched the area and pointed out the remnants that would grow back if not destroyed and with the help of the Drakes they eliminated every vestige of Red Lyrium from the area.  Asala then explained to the Drakes that the bodies of the dead dragonlings would have to be burned to ashes to get rid of the last of it.  The Drakes performed the deed quickly and efficiently.  Asala could sense their sadness at the carnage, but she reassured them that it was the right thing to do to protect the rest of their offspring. 

Gentle roared with a power she had not displayed before, it was a roar of rage and mourning.  Varric and Cassandra had to cover their ears at the painfully loud and desperate sound.  Asala totally understood her and tried to comfort her by moving closer and embracing her enormous head.  Even Bull could feel the grief in it.  “She mourns her children?”  Cassandra asked.

Asala turned to her with a tear tracing down her cheek and nodded.  An image of Corypheus and all he had done kept replaying in Asala’s head as she growled her answer to Gentle’s question of how the Red Lyrium killed her children.  An image of the Archdemon, Red Templars and Venatori also came to mind so she would understand who was allied with the monster.  “Take her remains and use them as you will.”   Gentle growled and Asala saw the image of a dead dragon in a cave to the north of the Valley.

“Who was she?”  Asala asked her. 

“One who thought she could take my valley from me.”   She responded sadly.  “She was far too young and far too violent.”  Asala could feel her sadness and anger as she saw the titanic fight she had with the younger and now dead High Dragon in the cave.  “My wings are yours if you ever need them my friend.  That creature must be destroyed.”  She was referring to Corypheus and his Archdemon.

Asala acknowledged her giant friend.  “I might have to take you up on your offer.” 

“I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t believe it was necessary.”  She sounded a little annoyed at the insinuation that it was only a symbolic offering.  Asala apologized to her and told her she only said it because she needed to protect her brood and didn’t want her to feel forced to respond to a call for aid.  “Try to convince others of my kind.  I don’t know how they will respond, but be careful because we can be as different from each other as the night is to the day.”

“Thank you.  I will make sure your valley is off limits to our hunters and personnel.”  Asala rubbed Gentle’s giant head and she moaned a pleasurable response.

“Why don’t leave your beautiful comrade here with me?”  She joked?  Asala took it as a joke and almost choked as she let out a loud chuckle.

“I’ll have to ask him, but I need his skill to fight.  Maybe once we defeat Corypheus?”  Asala answered.  “I’ll be sending my people to retrieve the supplies at the port and to take the remains out of the cave.  Please make sure that your children and Drakes give them a wide berth to avoid any misunderstanding.” 

“I will make sure of it.  Again, thank you my friend.”  She acknowledged as she took flight and perched herself at the top of an enormous rock formation.

“She’s incredible.”  Bull couldn’t stop looking at the beautiful creature.  “If we can get a couple of more like her to side with us, Corypoo and his darkspawn lizard don’t stand a chance.”

“We could’ve saved Haven.”  Asala whispered to herself, but not quietly enough to not be heard.  Cassandra put her hand on Asala’s shoulder in a show of understanding.

“There’s no way you could’ve known this unless you dealt with dragons before.”  Varric mentioned to her.

“She did say that not all dragons would be receptive to me.”  Asala commented as they all slowly made their way toward the entrance of the valley with an escort of two of Gentle’s gigantic mates.

 

******************************

 

The nightmares got worse when she left.  The headaches brought him to his knees more times than he would’ve liked.  Katoh and Stitches tried their best to provide him with potions, teas, soups and poultices to at least relieve the debilitating pain and to help him sleep.  They were moderately successful and to that he was eternally grateful.  He couldn’t imagine what he’d do if these wonderfully adept healers weren’t here to help him.  Coupled with the fact that Asala had gone to take on a High Dragon in the Hinterlands put him at even more unease.  His sensitivity to magic had subsided somewhat, but not to the point that he could allow Katoh to help with his headaches.  To make a long story short, he was still a mess.

But there was one thing about Cullen that defied the pain and lack of sleep.  His incredible stubbornness to continue to work helped keep his mind keen.  Knight Captain Barris had made things a lot easier for him since Rylen left to command the Inquisition forces in the Western Approach.  It was almost as if Rylen had never left.  Again, Asala’s sound judgment in making Barris the Knight Captain of the Inquisition’s Templars showed fruit in his excellent organizational and administrative skills.

For all of the hardships he had to endure, Cullen’s anxiety at Asala’s extremely dangerous High Dragon hunt was the worst of them.  There were no potions or enough Ales in the bar to take that away.  She had been gone for over a month and the last word he got from her was that they were outside the valley where the dragon had made its home.  Maker he shouldn’t worry so.  He’d seen her almost kill Corypheus’ enormous Archdemonlike creature.  Surely she could handle a regular High Dragon?  Right?

He took the next report on his desk and started to read the incredibly dull description of how many tons of stone were needed to complete the repairs of Skyhold’s ramparts and how much it would cost.  He signed the report to acknowledge it and called for his runner.  Less than ten seconds had passed when a young teenage girl appeared before him.  She was one of Katoh’s orphans and she wanted to help.  Katoh had suggested the role to him and he agreed.  The girl’s name was Lucia and she did a very good job as his runner.  “Lucia, take this to the masons and tell them that they have been approved to buy the needed supplies.”  Lucia took the parchment and nodded.  “Oh and Lucia?”  She stopped and looked at him, waiting for his next command.  “You’re doing a great job, thank you for your effort.”  Lucia smiled and was out the door.

He pulled another report from the pile when there was a knock on his office door.  “Commander?  May I come in?”  It was Shokrakar.

“Oh course, please come in.”  He answered and watched as the immensely intimidating Tal Vashoth woman entered his office.  “Is everything okay?”

Shokrakar sat down in the chair opposite his desk and let out an exhausted sigh.  “Everything is good Commander.  I just needed to get away from the rest of my band and hopefully they won’t come looking for me here.”  Cullen chuckled, but he knew very well of the need to get away.  “Is it alright if I stay here?”

“Of course Shokrakar.  My office is your office.”  He responded jovially.  “Are you worried too?”

She was incredibly intimidating, but there was a heart of gold under all of that ferocious façade.  “I am, but she’s always had a way of doing the impossible and making it look easy.  She’ll be fine Commander, I just know she will.”  Shokrakar’s bravado was not fake and it made Cullen feel more at ease.

“Please call me Cullen, we don’t need to be so formal with one another.”  Shokrakar smiled with a warmth that made Cullen grin as well.

“You’re certainly not her type.”  Shokrakar mentioned to him. 

Of course she would know.  Asala probably discussed everything with what he believed was her closest friend.  “Why not?”  Cullen actually sounded mildly offended.

“She’s always had a thing for the mysteriously quiet brooders.”  She chuckled.  “You’ve got the mysterious part down, but you’re definitely not quiet.”  She then became extremely serious and glared at him.  “Just remember that if you hurt her, you’ll have me to answer to.  She is my most precious friend and…”  Cullen put his hand up to stop her.

“I understand Shokrakar and you have nothing to worry about from me.”  He met her glare with his own as he did not tolerate threats.  “I would never hurt her and I still don’t understand what she sees in me.”

“You don’t?”  Shok sounded surprised and smiled gently.

“I have so little to give her in comparison to her late husband…”  Cullen felt so inadequate compared to Alejandro Trevelyan.  He was a man willing to die for someone who at the time could’ve easily run Asala through for being a Sarebaas, while Cullen himself was complicit in the atrocities conducted against mages under the fictitious banner of keeping the people safe.  He was one of the reasons for the Templar/Mage war.  “I…I don’t deserve her love and I think she would be better off with someone more deserving of her affection.” 

Shok was floored at the admission.  She thought of the Commander as a strong and powerful human warrior.  Being so easy on the eyes caused her to misjudge this broken soul.  Now she saw why Asala loved him.  He battled with inner demons that threatened to break him.  “Cullen, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to sound so cold.  You’ve more than earned your happiness and hopefully you both will be able to heal each other.”  Shok stood up and leaned over the desk supporting herself with her hands.  She squinted her eyes in a mock glare.  “You hurt her and…”

“I know, I know…you’ll flay me alive with Cassian’s hair.”  Shok tried to keep from laughing, but the image in her mind made it impossible.  Cullen laughed along with her as she straightened up and began to take her leave of him.

“Don’t work too hard Cullen.”  She turned back to him and approached him again.  “Why don’t you come to the ‘Rest’ for a bit and relax with the troops.”  Shok offered her hand.  Cullen looked a little conflicted and pointed to the stack of papers on his desk.  “They will still be there when you get back.”  Shok stated.

Cullen chuckled lightly and relented.  “Touché.”  He took her hand and began to follow her out when Lucia appeared suddenly and out of breath. 

“Commander!”  Lucia gasped.  “Leliana wanted you to know that a raven has brought a message from our Inquisitor.”  Lucia paused to catch her breath.  “She should be back by the end of the week and wants a war council ready to go when she gets here.”

Lucia watched as both Shokrakar and Cullen let go of the anxiety they both had been holding inside.  Asala was coming home.  “Anything else Lucia?”

“Yes, Leliana requests your presence at her roost.”  She answered with a little more composure as she continued to catch her breath.  Cullen looked at Shokrakar and shrugged innocently.

“I expect to see you at the ‘Rest’ when you are done with the night bird.”  Shok sounded adamant, but in a jovial way.

“Of course my lady.”  Cullen smiled as he began to make his way toward the main hall.  “Thank you Lucia, you’re dismissed.”

He made his way up to the roost and as he passed the library he noticed what appeared to be a very drunk and passed out Dorian on one of the couches there.  He quietly made his way through the library and finally made it up to the roost.  “Leliana?  You wanted to see me?”  He saw that she was writing on a small parchment meant to be carried by her ravens.

She looked up from her writing to meet his gaze.  “Cullen, we need to organize an armed caravan of our people to help retrieve the bones and skin of a High Dragon.”

“She did it.”  Cullen whispered to himself in awe.

“Not exactly.”  Leliana motioned for him to sit opposite him at the table filled with half written parchments and letters strewn all over the table’s surface ready to be delivered by raven.

Cullen gave her a quizzical look and didn’t ask anything, but he was clearly waiting for an explanation.

“She made an agreement with the dragon that calls that valley home now.”  Leliana started to rub her temples in a familiar gesture of exhaustion.  “Asala calls her Gentle and considers her a friend and possible ally.”

“Wait a minute.  You’re telling me that she befriended a High Dragon?  How is that possible?”

“She wrote that she would explain once she got back, but in the meantime she wants to send a recovery party for the supplies that have been gifted to us by the giant dragon.”  Leliana sounded tired, but there was an excitement in her voice.  If true, this was a remarkable turn of events.  A High Dragon ally could even the odds substantially against Corypheus and his archdemon.  “They are to have no contact with the dragon’s young and mates for the sake of everyone’s safety.”

“Dragon skin, plates, bones and blood are incredibly valuable and useful.”  Cullen thought out loud. “I’ll ask Shokrakar and Cassian about the Valo Kas supervising the operation.”

“I thought the same.  I think Asala would agree and we should send some of our own to help them.”

“Agreed.”  Cullen answered and watched as Leliana once again put quill to paper.  “Why don’t you come down to the ‘Rest’ and we can kill two birds with one stone.”  Leliana looked up in total surprise.  Cullen was asking her to take a break?  Cullen the workaholic was also taking some down time?  It was an offer way too good to pass up.  “I’m being forced to go before you ask.  Shokrakar seems to think I need a break and made an interesting argument.”

Leliana giggled and looped her arm with Cullen’s as they left for the Herald’s Rest.  “It figures.”

 

******************

 

With the Valo Kas and Chargers gone it was noticeably much quieter in the keep.  Barris and Blackwall were out on the training grounds instructing the newest recruits, sometimes putting them on their asses for training purposes.  Katoh was in the gardens with Flissa and all of the children.  She appeared to be giving them lessons in Qunlat.  Sometimes he would just sit and listen in.  There was something in Katoh’s regimented style of teaching that gave him some comfort. 

Cullen loved this part of the morning, when the cold wind would help him forget about his headaches and lack of sleep.  He looked at the army camp in the valley and sighed at the sight.  It was an impressive sight, but it also meant that he would be sending many fine young people to their deaths in combat.  He was in total awe of those people who were willing to die for the future of Thedas.  The uneasy pride he felt at their confidence in his leadership made his lips upturn slightly.

 “Commander, you look like you slept well last night.”  Barris was also walking the ramparts with a cup of coffee in his hand.  Cullen thought that having both Rylen and Barris was a godsend.  Having one supremely capable Commander was strange enough, but to have two was unheard of.  It almost made him feel sorry for Corypheus’ army.

“I actually did Captain.  Is there any coffee left?”  He asked and Barris nodded.

“I’ve sent a squad of my scouts out to meet the Inquisitor at the outskirts.  They’ll send up a red flare when they rendezvous with her.”  Cullen nodded his acknowledgment.  “Oh and Commander, Lady Josephine said it was imperative that you stop by her office.”

“Ugh, that woman is relentless.  I wonder which Orlesian noble is complaining now.”  Barris chuckled and they quietly continued their rounds with Barris heading for Cullen’s office and Cullen heading for the Herald’s Rest.

He entered the ‘Rest’ from the upstairs entrance and was immediately assaulted by an over exuberant Cole.  “She’s back!  She helped her!” 

“Cole calm down, what are you talking about?”  Cullen had a sneaky suspicion that the demon boy knew about the dragon.

“She told you too.  Her friend will help us!”  It was really obvious now.  “She’s so wonderful, I’m going to rip her armor off and…”

Cullen’s cheeks started to flare with color.  “Cole, I told you to stop that!”  The boy just had a way of upsetting him.  “You’re not allowed to do that to me, do you understand?”

“But, I want to help you…Oh Cullen my beautiful…”  Cullen again stopped him, but it was a revelation. 

“No! Cole, those are her private thoughts.  You will not share them with anyone other than her and only if she allows you to!”  Cole’s expression saddened a bit.  He couldn’t get passed the thought that she thought he was beautiful?

“But I can…”

“I know Cole, but sometimes it is better to do certain things without help.  Sometimes people need to do things on their own and it makes them stronger.”  Cullen was not in the mood to explain, but he wouldn’t be Commander of the Inquisition if he didn’t have an almost unlimited supply of patience.

“But you want her to help.”  The demon boy was something else, his mind saw it all.  Could it be that Cullen’s joy this morning had everything to do with his knowledge that he would see her again on this very day?

“Cole, please stop.  I don’t want you prying into my mind.  You’re not helping me by doing that.”  Cullen looked at the boy who now bowed his head in a show of sadness.  It infuriated Cullen that Cole didn’t understand how invasive his type of ‘help’ was.  It might be good for others, but he had to understand that it was not good for him.

“I just want…”

“Cole I know, there are other ways you can help me.  Maybe have a conversation with me without reading my thoughts would be a start.”  The mere mention of Cullen acknowledging that there were ways for Cole to approach him made the demon boy smile and changed his expression to a hopeful one.  “Now let me go, I have a lot of work to do.”

“She misses you.”  Cole softly mentioned as he disappeared into the rafters.

Cullen smiled at the thought and continued downstairs where a large pot of coffee was brewing on the fire and another already done on the mantle.  He poured himself a steaming mug and instructed one of the servants to bring a full pot and mugs to the war room as it was probably going to be a long meeting.  He exited toward the main hall and his pre-meeting with both Leliana and Josephine.

“RED FLARE ON THE WESTERN APPROACH!”  One of the guards on the ramparts announced.  She’s back!  He thought as he felt a wave of warm feelings throughout his body.  It was probably the hot coffee, but he let himself believe it was something else.  Damn that boy!  He thought with a smile.

As he was about to enter the war room he could hear both Leliana and Josephine cackling like two hens about the ball at the Winter Palace of Halamshiral.  It made him pause as he hated the pomp involved with the subject and the two women inside the war room would probably love to drag him into the conversation about dresses and shoes.  He opened the door and was surprised to see that Lady Vivienne was in the room as well.  The trifecta of pomp was in the room and he knew he would be verbally assaulted until the Inquisitor showed.

Cullen did realize that through Asala’s and Dorian’s time travel trick at Redcliff, they would have to find a way to approach the Empress of Orlais.  Did Leliana, Josephine or Vivienne want to talk about the dangers and strategies they would need to apply in order to accomplish said task?  Of course not.  The three continued to talk incessantly about what shoes went with what dress, what colors would the Inquisition representatives wear if they did happen to go.  They continually asked his opinion to which he tried his best to steer the conversation back to the more important aspects of actually being able to warn the Empress.  It was to no avail and when Asala walked into the war room like a conquering hero of old, his mind went blank at her appearance.  He took her all in with his eyes.  Her Antaam-Saar was dirty and ragged; the faded lines of her Vitaar were barely visible on her gloriously exposed flesh.  As his eyes traveled up they met her always stunningly beautiful silver eyes.  His body let out a visible sigh of complete bliss.  When he finally caught himself he noticed that all four women were smiling as they watched him.  The red that traveled from his soul colored his face so overtly that all the women except Asala started to giggle.  Asala just gave him a smile and a wink. 

“I’m glad to see you all, now will you all please update me on our current status around Thedas.”  Asala started the meeting with pure professionalism.  “The Hinterlands will need a pair of battalions to clear out a nest of bandits hiding out in a fortress on the southwestern end.”   She continued.  “I want their leader alive if possible.  They seem to be working with the Carta and I want to know what their motives are.”

Josephine began writing on her parchment pad as Cullen studied the map.  “What about the rifts spotted in that area?”

“We’ve closed all of the known rifts in the area and gathered some extra allies located at Winterwatch Tower in the south.  I’ve already sent our agents to coordinate their assistance to the refugees.”  Asala was in total control of the meeting.  Cullen continued to think of questions, but the obvious one did not present itself until Leliana asked it.

“A High Dragon?”  She mentioned.

Asala’s grin was fom ear to ear.  “Gentle will help us if I ask her, but I will not until we absolutely need her.  She has a very large brood of offspring and Drakes that she has to care for.  I don’t want to risk her for anything short of killing that fucking monster’s pet.”

“Gentle?”  Vivienne sounded almost amused. 

“Gentle, first daughter of Fierce.”  Asala added with a grin.  “Her worried mother gave her that name.”  Everyone in the room except Cassandra had their mouths open in amazement. 

“It seems that our Inquisitor can speak to Dragons.”  Cassandra added.  “The beast took a liking to her and Iron Bull almost immediately.”

“Oh she loves Bull!”  Asala added excitedly.  “It has to be that his huge rack is very similar to hers.”

“What kind of magic did you use to speak to her?”  Vivienne asked with a suspicious tone.

“No magic, I feel and hear her roars, grunts and growls as a language I can understand.  I don’t how, but I can just understand her and she can understand me.”  Asala explained with a shrug.  “Bull said that he felt the distinct vibrations so I think it may be possible to teach my people how to interpret dragon sounds as well.”

“Do you think it’s possible for others to understand?”  Vivienne asked.

“I don’t know but it seems that my people can actually distinguish the uniqueness of their sounds.  So I think it could be possible, but I wouldn’t even know how to begin.”  Asala answered as she turned to Josephine to move on to other subjects.  “What about the situation with Empress Celene?”

The sound of utter despair leaving Cullen’s mouth caused everyone to turn and look at him.  “Cullen?”  Asala looked amused.

“If we’re going to talk about how we plan to save the empress than I’m all in, but I swear if the words shoe, dress and hair come up, I will jump off the highest rampart in the keep.”  He was deadly serious.

Vivienne chuckled at Cullen’s annoyance.  “I’ll leave you to your meeting Inquisitor.”  Vivienne regally made her way out of the room.   Asala acknowledged her by nodding.

Asala then turned to her advisors and Cullen began the meeting.  “It should be understood that we have to reach Empress Celene before Corypheus, the only question is how.” 

“We know how.  I have our way in.  The real question is, where is our enemy hiding?”  It always surprised Cullen how quickly they all seemed to go from silly to serious.  “At the urging of Grand Duchess Florianne, the empress is holding a ball.  Absolutely everyone will be there.  During the festivities Celene will be meeting for peace talks with the usurper Duke Gaspard and Ambassador Brialla.” 

“The assassin must be hiding within one of these factions.”  Leliana was in full spymaster mode.

Asala soon joined in the discussion.  “What do we know about Celene, Gaspard, and Brialla?”

Cullen was the first to answer.  “Gaspard is the man who would’ve been emperor.  He’s Celene’s cousin and was first in line to inherit the throne when Emperor Florian died.  Celene outmaneuvered him.  She won over the Council of Heralds who hold authority over title disputes.  She became Empress and he a general in the Imperial Army.  He’s well loved by the troops.”  Asala could see and feel that Cullen actually admired the man.  “He’s also a Chevalier.  Most of their numbers sided with him when he turned on the Empress.”

“I thought the Chevaliers were part of the Imperial Army.  Why would they follow the Duke?”  Asala was actually disgusted at how undisciplined that sounded. 

“Most Chevaliers are sworn to serve the crown, but that does not give them faith in the person wearing it.  The Empress has tried to improve relations with Ferelden and Nevarra.  The Chevaliers see her as anti-military.  They believe Gaspard could lead the empire back to the glory of Drakon’s expansion years.”  Cullen explained.

“It’s a wonder Orlais has been around for so long with this type of rampant treachery.”  Asala commented.  “What about this Ambassador Brialla?”

“An ambassador in name only, she has organized the elves of Halamshiral into an underground army.  The Empress invited her to the peace talks in a bid to gain the elves’ alliance in the war.”  Leliana answered.  “That would be scandal enough without the rumor that Brialla is a jilted lover of Celene’s.”  She paused and contemplated her words.   “A personal grudge and a network of saboteurs at her command, a promising lead.”

Asala chuckled as she wondered about the Empress whom she met awhile back.  Then she became deadly serious as the thought of Antaam and those Vidaatharis that killed him started to flood her mind.  “I hate that place.”  She blurted and they all looked at her with a puzzled expression.  She noticed their unease and quickly switched back to the subject at hand.  “So Celene has a naughty side that has come home to roost at her doorstep.  Very fitting.”

“That’s not why we know.  Just a rumor whispered among the palace servants a few years back.  If it’s true and were to get out…the Empress and an Elf…The scandal could destroy Celene’s court.”  Leliana seemed to really enjoy her work.  “Even if a lie, Brialla could use it to blackmail the Empress.  She has some connection to the throne.”

“So what do we know about Celene?”  Asala turned to Leliana and was surprised when Josephine began to answer her. 

“Empress Celene is a renowned diplomat and reformer.  She works tirelessly to secure peace for the Empire.  Unfortunately many Orlesians view peace as complacency.  She has yet to name and heir leaving the future of the empire in doubt if anything happens to her.”  There was a little bit too much admiration in the room for these incompetent people who would help Corypheus in his plans by destabilizing the whole continent with their stupid civil war Asala thought as she watched and listened to all of her advisors speak.  “Especially when the next in line is her cousin Gaspard, who’s made few friends on the Council of Heralds.”

“Celene is surrounded at all times by countless palace guards, courtiers, servants and vassals.  What better place for an assassin to hide than the Empress’ own household.”  Leliana was actually the only one in the room other than Asala with nothing but a cold and calculating demeanor at the moment.

“Okay so everyone in this ball has a reason to put a shiv in the Empress’ side.  How are we going to stop it?  Do we want to stop it?  We can’t just march our army into Orlais.”  Asala was asking for her advisors to start brainstorming.

“My agents can make sure your soldiers get inside, but it will have to be a few at a time to avoid detection.”  Leliana mentioned to Cullen.

“Okay so it’s settled, we’ll attend the ball and assess the situation as it turns out.”  Asala sounded down.  “I’ll leave the logistics to you all, inform me when we are ready to move.”  Asala turned to leave and was out the door in such a hurry that no one had a chance to stop her.  Josephine turned to Leliana who always seemed to know what was going on.

“What was that all about?”  Josephine asked.

“She lost a good friend at the palace.”  Leliana answered.  “She also reaped vengeance on all of those responsible for her friend’s death.  More than that I will not share.”  She looked at all of them.  “You’ll have to ask her if you want to know.”

“Let’s adjourn until after lunch.”  Cullen responded and quickly made his way out of the war room before anyone one of them could object and also because he knew all about what she went through there.

He made it out to the main hall where Asala was nowhere in sight.  He asked one of the guards and he pointed to her quarters. 

Cullen knocked on the door, but there was no answer.  He cracked open the door and could hear her sobbing upstairs.  He began to run up the flight of stairs until he was at the top.  The sight that greeted him was not one he would’ve expected.  “Asala are you okay?”

She was on her knees, just staring at a painting over the mantel of both her and what her late friend.  She then turned to look at him with tears still tracing her cheeks.  “Comte Pierre of Halamshiral had commissioned the painting of me and Antaam.  He sent it to me as a gift for all I did for him.”  She continued her sobbing with no intention of stopping. 

Cullen stepped closer to her and put his hand on her shoulder.  Before he could even react she pulled him down beside her and motioned for him to look at the painting. 

It was so beautiful.  Antaam was sitting in a chair with her straddling him and holding his head to her breast.  Her lips gently resting on the top of his head as if to comfort him.  “He called it ‘The Beautiful Barbarian.’”  She let out a sigh and a slight smile.  “You should’ve seen at how jealous it made Alejandro when he first saw it at the palace.”  Her eyes were swollen in an all too familiar scene for her.  She had lost her home, family and friend to the Qun.  She had lost her soulmate to that fucking monstrosity that was Corypheus.  She wondered to herself if she would ever by worthy of anything that made her remotely happy until she turned to her Cullen and saw that his own eyes were beginning to tear. He quickly wiped them.

“You two certainly look like more than just brother and sister in the painting.”  Cullen mentioned to her as he remembered their conversation in his room.  She then turned to look at him.  It was as if her eyes could stop his heart if they wanted to and her smile only made his face flush with the color of amusing uncomfortableness.

“I loved him like one.  Maker I miss them.”  She countered as her head began to lean in Cullen’s direction and finally made contact with his.  The warmth that he felt inside as a result of such a trusting gesture caused to him to let out a sigh.  “I wanted him for more at first, but he wasn’t interested in me.  I didn’t find out he was with Katoh until he was dying with Ale desperately trying to save him.”  She took Cullen’s hand and squeezed lightly.

“You seem to surround yourself with wonderful people.”  He sounded so unsure of himself as he made the statement.  He didn’t feel like he was in the same league with anyone of the people that she had mentioned.  He was a broken ex Templar with a horribly dark past.  She had been forced to do horrible things while he had done them voluntarily.  How could she not see that he wasn’t worthy of her?  Deep inside he thought that one day she would come to her senses and find someone more worthy of her attention, but he also dreaded that day and hoped it would never come to pass.

She watched him as she wiped the last vestiges of tears from her face and smiled gently as she cupped his chin and turned his head toward her.  She could sense his discomfort and it made her feel better when her touch caused his heart rate to increase.  “We’re all unworthy Cullen, but even the unworthy deserve some happiness, no?”  She planted a tender kiss on his lips and watched as he stared at her totally unable to speak.  She then stood up and walked toward her enormous bathing tub filled with water.

She dipped her hand in the cold water and it started to steam up as she heated it.  She turned to look over her shoulder at him still kneeling where she left him.  She smiled and started to strip down out of her Antaam-Saar.  She could hear his heart start to race was he couldn’t stop staring at her.  “Cullen?  Can you help me with this?”  She pointed to the clasp holding her top in place.

Cullen got to his feet quickly if a little clumsily.  Beautiful women always seemed to turn him into an inept buffoon.  He pulled the hooks loose and her top just dropped to the floor.  He couldn’t believe that this was what she used for armor.  She quickly pulled off her bottoms and entered the tub with an audible sigh of contentment.  With his mind finally back in control he turned to leave her room.

“Cullen?  Please don’t leave me.”  He could tell it was a heartfelt plea for him to stay.  He turned back to see that she was watching him.  “Join me?”  It was as if his mind and body gave out at once.  His awkward grin couple with his colored cheeks made Asala smile as she reached out her hand in a gesture to approach her.  He approached her slowly and deliberately.  “You won’t regret it, now strip down.”  He did as he was asked.  She watched him strip down out of his armor and undergarments.  She felt her own heart start to race as she admired his god like physique.  So many scars, so much pain, so beautiful…  She thought to herself.  Once he was finally in his smalls he attempted to enter the tub but was stopped by her.  “Uh, uh…  Take off your unders.”  She ordered.  Maker, how she loved how his cheeks changed color as he clumsily did as he was told.  Then he quickly entered the tub on the opposite end facing her.

He stared into her eyes as the water had its effect on him.  “Ohh Maker this is wonderful!”  He sighed as he slid completely under the water.  The water loosened every muscle and every inch of his body was in total relaxation. 

“I told you.”  She giggled as she watched his reaction. 

“Asala?”  He sounded like an uncertain little boy and he had her undivided attention.  Her eyes were locked on his beautiful amber colored ones.  “What happens after?”

“After?”

“You know.  After Corypheus, after you defeat him.”  He stared with a determined intensity.  “What will you do?  We do?”  The word ‘we’ coming out of his mouth sounded as if he was begging for confirmation.

She smiled as she moved over to within inches of his face.  “We will figure it out.”  She then crashed her mouth onto his.  She moaned so loudly as the water in the tub began to spill out as his mouth devoured hers with a ravenous hunger.  Her hand slowly took hold of his supremely hard member.  He let out an uncontrolled yelp at the sensation causing Asala to chuckle into his mouth as they continued to kiss ferociously. 

He then slid his hand in between her legs and now it was her turn to moan.  He then bit her lip with a little more force than she was expecting causing her to yelp and pull away to look at him and his now comfortably grinning face.  She let out a growl as she began to trace his stubbled chin and jaw with her mouth and teeth.

There was a loud knock on the door.  Asala paid it no mind and continued her oral assault on Cullen’s beautiful body.  Her teeth tracing a path from his neck to his shoulder as he gently bit down on her ear lobe.

The knock got louder and this time Josephine decided to make herself know.  “Inquisitor?  It is imperative that I speak to you.” 

Asala pulled back and looked into Cullen’s understanding and equally frustrated expression.  “Oh for fuck’s sake Josie!  This better be important!”  Asala yelled as she stood up in front of Cullen who could only watch in total admiration of the Goddess that was before him. 

“May I come in?”  Josephine asked innocently. 

“Give me a minute Josie.  I’ll meet you in your office.”  Asala began to dry herself as she looked helplessly at Cullen still in the tub.  “Stay as long as you like Cullen, hopefully I’ll be back quickly to rejoin you and finish what we started.” 

“I won’t hold my breath.  By the time Josephine lets you go, I’ll be a frozen ornament in your room.”  Asala chuckled easily.

“Stay with me tonight?”  There was an audible gulp that came from Cullen’s throat.  “I’ll take that as a yes?”  Cullen nodded and then just sat back to relax in the tub as he watched Asala dress in her smalls and leave the room.

Chapter Text

It was nightfall by the time she made it back to her quarters.  The scent of little Antaam and Cullen was in the room.  It put a soft smile on her face as she had seen how good Cullen could be with the children.  She climbed the stairs quietly so as not to disturb them. 

There they were, passed out on the couch with the not so small Antaam sprawled across Cullen’s chest and on the bed Talania, Rasaana, Michael and Shiandra all passed out as well.  Katoh must’ve had a bad day.  She chuckled quietly.  She gently picked up Antaam and set him down with the other kids on her enormous bed.  She threw the covers over them and then admired the scene of all five kids in her bed lying next to each other.  Cullen had quietly begun to stir and stood up to stretch and crack his neck.  Asala came back to the couch and sat.  She patted the spot next to her as a signal for him to sit with her.  He didn’t hesitate a second and sat.  She leaned in to him and sighed blissfully.  “They weren’t too much trouble were they?”

“Absolutely, they were hellions and I think you and Katoh owe me for this.”  He kissed her cheek as he could hear her chuckle at his corny attempt of a joke.  She cupped his chin and turned his head towards her and saw the sly little smile on his face.  “What?  They were absolutely terrible.”  As if she would ever believe him in this.

“How in the Maker’s name did you get them to sleep?”  She asked him.

“A lot of unarmed combat training and drilling.”  He chuckled.  “Believe it or not, Talania is an absolute natural.  She was whipping all of them except Michael.”

“Her little boyfriend?”  Asala tried not to laugh too loud as she covered her mouth. 

“She put on an absolute show against Antaam and Rasaana…  She scared me a bit with Shiandra, but the little elf did a really good job at avoiding her.”  Cullen couldn’t stop smiling.

“She ran all over the room didn’t she.”  Asala deduced and it finally made Cullen have to hold his mouth as he silently laughed.

“How can you tell?”  Asala scanned the room and saw that there were papers, books, chalices and all sorts of debris in the room.  She could follow an identifiable path of destruction that ended at the couch. 

“You certainly look like you enjoyed yourself.”  She could feel him snuggle closer. 

“Watching them interact with each other like there are no differences is something I would’ve never imagined before.”  She felt him press into her even more and sigh.  “If we could only learn from them, we would live in a much better world.”

“I would’ve never pegged you as an idealist.”  She quietly commented.  “Do you think we could ever realistically get to that point?”

“Thanks to you, I have hope.”  She started to twirl his hair as he commented.

“Me?”

“Don’t be so daft…  What you’ve done here is remarkable.  Those children playing together are your doing.  Our merry band of misfits working together is also your doing.”  He pulled away from her and they looked at each other.  “You’re an amazing woman and none of this would’ve been possible if not for you.”

Her face began to glow for the first time in a long time.  “Flattery will get you nowhere Ser.”  She said with a shyness that he had never seen on her before.

“Oh no?”  He planted a tender kiss on her lips.  “How about now?”

“Maybe?”  She smiled and again his lips met hers in a gentle collision.  This time she didn’t let him pull back and the ferociousness of her embrace caused him to return it in kind as their mouths battled sensually for supremacy.  “Wait…we can’t.”  Asala pulled back and Cullen didn’t protest.  They both looked at the bed filled with the little ones totally out in peaceful slumber. 

“It looks like we’d have a very inappropriate audience.”  Asala stood up and went to her closet where she pulled out two or three large bear skin blankets.  “There are a lot of bears always trying to kill me out there it seems.”  She joked as he looked on. 

She walked toward the fireplace and set them down in front of it.  He watched her and could not help admiring her incredible body.  She moved with the grace of a panther and her muscles rippled as she walked.  His worshipping of her physique was interrupted by her voice.  “Come.”  She motioned for him to join her on the floor.  “Bring the pillows.”  She quickly corrected and he turned back to grab them.  He set them down on the makeshift bed and lied down at her feet.  Seeing that he was already in his smalls she chuckled.  “Eager are we?”  She joked causing him to chuckle as well.

She stripped down to her smalls and laid down facing him.  He pulled himself closer and she draped her leg over his.  She pulled him into her chest and held him there as she could feel and hear his body’s tension leave it.  Her body also seemed to relax into his touch.  “Maker you’re warm.”  She made out a content comment whispered into her breasts.  She buried her nose into his hair and took a long whiff that was followed by a very satisfied sounding sigh.

She began to lose consciousness as she felt him also fall asleep.  His heart had slowed and his breathing was relaxed.  “Good night my beautiful Knight.”  She whispered to him as she fell into her own slumber. 

 

******************************

 

She watched from a distance as she stood guard over his dream.  He was a little boy and it looked like he was home with his sisters playing some sort of game.  Cullen was the knight and one of his sisters was the damsel in distress.  She could feel the demons wanting to enter, but they feared her.  They knew the price they would pay if they dared disturbed HER Cullen.  Her fade walking skills had improved immeasurably.  Solas was amazed at how quickly she took to dream walking and wasn’t surprised when she called him out trying to sneak up on her there.  “I didn’t expect to see you here Solas.”

“This is not an appropriate way to use your gift Inquisitor.”  Solas as always talked with a cocky know it all tone.

“I need my Commander at his peak and I’ll be damned if I let the slime of the fade take that from him.”  She scanned the fringes of Cullen’s dream and lashed out with a massive lightning bolt at one of the desire demons closest to Cullen’s dream.  It disintegrated into a black pool of sludge as all the other demons backed away unseen.  “I WILL DESTROY YOU ALL!”  She warned them with a soundless blast of her thoughts.

Solas could feel her power and it was substantially greater now than when he first took her on her first walk.  He was impressed at how the demons did not even attempt to confront her.  “They fear you.”  He watched as the spirits also stayed away from her.  “Not even the spirits will approach you.”

“What?”  Asala knew the difference.  Why would they be afraid of her?  “Why?”

“Your anger right now is seen by the benevolent spirits.  It makes you seem like you are a demon of rage.  They’re afraid you will attack them too.”  Solas commented confidently.  “You must control your emotions here which I would think is impossible considering who you are.”

The zing hit her pretty hard as she tried to control herself and keep from telling Solas to fuck off.  “Why?  Because I’m a Vashoth?”  Solas chuckled at her defensive posture.

“No, it is because you are a protector.  Protecting requires you be fully vested in what you are protecting.  It seems that Cullen has a fully vested dreamer protecting him.”  He explained to her as his thoughts drifted to the damage caused by others who once had the gift.  “You need to be careful how you use your gift Inquisitor.”

“Afraid I’ll become like the dreamers of Tevinter?   Maybe try and control everyone for my own selfish ambitions?”  She sarcastically shot back.

“The lines between a benevolent protector and ambitious tyrant are sometimes hard to define.  Be sure that you know the difference.”  Maker did she hate how he talked down to her.  “In any case I need your help Inquisitor.”

“Do you really?  Because it seems to me that you have all the answers.”  She again shot back.

“Fine I will not ask you.  Have a good night.”  Before she could call out to him he was gone.  Damn it he was so frustrating. 

She awoke with Cullen still sleeping peaceably in her arms.  The slight snore coming from his mouth put a smile on her face as she knew that he was sleeping deep and would wake fully rested.  She started to wiggle out of his embrace as he groaned and opened his eyes.  “No Cullen, please sleep.  Dawn is not for another hour.”

“Where are you going?”  He asked groggily.

“I have to see Solas about helping him with some cryptic thing.  You know how he is.”  She answered as she stood and put her black antaam-saar on.  “Can you stay and watch the children until I can get a hold of Katoh?”  He nodded as he yawned and watched her with intent eyes as the light from the fire outlined her every curve.  Her hair was let down in a cascade of beautiful ebony locks that reached her bottom.  Her spiral and hala-like horns had a graceful beauty all their own.

“You’re so beautiful.”  He whispered softly and caught himself knowing that he couldn’t whisper soft enough for her not hear him.  The result was that she got down on all fours and kissed him gently on his lips.

“So are you.”  She whispered in his ear and quickly stood up and exited the room.

She made her way down quickly to the main hall and entered Solas’ claimed abode to find him sitting in his chair grimacing at the tea he was drinking.  He looked up at her almost as if he were expecting her.  “Inquisitor, what brings you here so early in the morning?”

Asala put her hands on her hips at the playfully sarcastic tone he had.  “Solas, will you tell me what you need of me?”  Her eyes were locked on his and would not waver.

Solas finally got serious and explained that he had been aware of certain artifacts that could be used to measure the strength of the veil and prevent tears in it.  He explained that these artifacts were ancient and that he could sense them if he was in close proximity to them.  “I would like to activate any that we come across if at all possible.” 

“When did you become aware of these artifacts?”  Asala was curious, but also cautious.  The more she interacted with him, the more she became suspicious of his motives.

“I’ve sensed them, but until now I did not know what they were.  I think they will help in stabilizing the Veil and keep the demons out.”  He answered but it did not completely satisfying her.

“If we have time we will examine said artifacts.”  Asala answered him.   “Are you sure they will help stabilize the Veil?”

“I can’t be completely certain, but they do emit an energy that strengthens the Veil even in their inactive state.  I can only deduce that by activating them, they will become much more effective and affect a much larger area.” 

“Okay, I’ll make sure we search for those artifacts when we are in the field.”  She didn’t fully trust Solas, but he was very helpful and his magic had saved countless including herself.  She bid him farewell and was out the door to the main hall.  By the time she left Solas abode to go back to her quarters it was already dawn.  She saw Cullen making his way to his office with a piece of bread and a large mug of coffee.  He looked outright beaming walking with a bounce in his step.  She smiled at him as he walked by.   

She then watched as Katoh had taken over the kid sitting duties along with Flissa as they sat all the children down at one of the large tables in the main hall.  Antaam broke away to give his momma a big hug.  She took him in her arms and lifted him into a big hug of her own.  “How’s my little man?”  He didn’t even answer as he buried his face into her neck.  Asala then felt her legs being hugged and looked down to find little Shiandra clamped onto her left leg.  She quickly scooped her up and had them both in a one armed hug.  Maker did she love this.

“Antaam, Shiandra come on.  The Inquisitor has a lot of work to do so get down here and get ready for breakfast.”  Flissa instructed them and she put them down.  She watched both of them sit next to each other at the table as Flissa passed out buttered rolls with hot milk for all of them.

“Thank you Lala, and please thank the Commander for last night.”  Katoh addressed her.  “Flissa had personal matters to take care of and I was busy with some of the wounded that arrived yesterday.”  Katoh looked exhausted.

“Did you sleep at all?”  Asala asked her with marked concern in her tone.

“I’ll be fine.  I’ll nap when I can.”  Katoh answered like the trooper that she was, but it didn’t satisfy Asala.

“No, that’s not fine…”  Asala was about to scold her when Katoh raised her hand to stop her.

“Flissa is well rested and my teenagers have more than picked up the slack.”  Katoh looked at the concern in her sister’s face and smiled.  “We’ll be fine Asala, thank you.”

Out of the corner of her eye she caught Josephine making a beeline for her.  “Inquisitor!  That’s not how we agreed you should be seen here at the keep!”  Oh fuck here we go.  Asala rolled her eyes and kicked herself in her mind for not remembering to don the ceremonial apparel that Josephine had gotten her.

“It’s too constraining Josie!  I need to be able to move at all times.”  She shot back with an amused expression.

“You agreed!”  Josephine was supremely frustrated.  “You are not only the leader of the Inquisition, you are its symbol and appearances matter whether you like it or not!”

“Okay, okay you win.”  Asala sighed a defeated sigh.  “You need to find something more appropriate for ME Josie.  I’ll do as you say for now and wear that dreadfully confining piece of metal until you find me something better.”  Josie looked content with her answer.  “I’m serious Josie, there’s a reason my kind don’t wear armor.”

“Yes I’ve noticed.”  She answered.  “I’ll do my best your worship…”

Asala quickly interrupted her with a dead serious expression.  “You will find something or I swear I’ll tromp around in my smalls if need be.”

“Yes your worship.”  Josephine may have sounded placating, but she was actually excited at the prospect of trying to find something that she would feel comfortable in and inspire those under the Inquisition banner as well.

“Thank you Josie.”  She nodded and started to make her way back to her quarters to change.

Asala stripped down to her smalls and began to pullout the golden chainmail that Josie had wanted her to wear.  As she donned it she became aware at how impressive the craftsmanship was.  The links were so fine they could have been mistaken for fabric.  She stood in front of her mirror and admired how well it fit her.  It really didn’t restrict her movement like she had said to Josie, but it did get unbearably hot with all of the underlying layers that needed to be put on before the actual armor.  She then carefully put on her golden horn caps, boots and gloves to complete the ensemble.  She chuckled at how absolutely fabulous she looked in it.  Josie you’re a stylistic genius.  She thought.  It actually made her excited to think of what Josephine would think of to replace it.

She sighed and exited her quarters and made her way to Josie’s office.  Josie looked up as she entered and smiled at the sight of her.  “I know you don’t like wearing it, but you look every bit the leader of this movement.”

“I know I know, I’ll admit that it looks fabulous, but it’s still very uncomfortable.”  Asala commented.

 “Just so you know, the Chargers and Valo Kas should return sometime today or tomorrow.”  Leliana entered the office as quietly as a church mouse.  “The message from Cassian was that the haul is substantial enough to equip a platoon with dragon armor and weapons.”

“The new arcanist will be pleased.”  Josie mentioned.

“She’s here?  Already?”  Asala sounded surprised.

“She’s already set up her equipment in the forge.”  Leliana seemed very pleased.  “Dagna is a wonder, you should go meet her.”

Asala smiled and nodded.  “We need to plan our Orlesian excursion.” 

“We already have.”  Josie answered as she pulled out the invitations and handed them over to Asala.

“Gaspard?  He wants us there?” 

“Don’t be so surprised.  You’ve made the Inquisition a force to be reckoned with.”  Leliana answered.  “Remember that Orlais is all about appearances and he is basically using you as a show of his apparent influence and power.”

“We should discuss wardrobe and etiquette.”  Josephine added.

“I’m well aware of the decorum required in Orlais.  I’ve performed there before remember?”  Asala wasn’t annoyed, but it sounded like it.  “We should bring in Vivienne into these discussions and leave Cullen out of it.  He would only get annoyed and uncomfortable.”

“Agreed.”  Leliana answered as she walked out to go fetch Madam De Fer.

After a good six hours of deliberations, sketching, writing and almost breaking out into fighting the women had come up with the apparel that the high ranking members of the Inquisition would be wearing to the gala at Halamshiral. 

“I’ll have my seamstress work with Dagna to create this look.”  Vivienne paused and looked at Asala.  “They will talk about you for ages when they see you.”

Asala smile was tired, but sincere.  “Thank you Madame.”  There was also a sense of dread as the last time she was at Halamshiral she lost a loved one.  She would be damned if that was going to happen this time.

Asala took her leave and was about to make a beeline for the Tavern for some well-deserved food and drink.  She stopped short when out of the corner of her eye she saw Shiandra and Antaam being scolded by someone she did not recognize near the door to her quarters.  “Zis iz unacceptable!  A knife ear and Oxboy who zink zey can zpeak to me vhen not zpoken too?  You veel learn zat iz not how you addrezz  your betterz!”  She watched the obviously Orlesian Noble as her blood began to boil.  She was about to jump on the pompous ass when the door to her quarters opened and Cullen stormed out, grabbing the sizable man by his throat.  She could see the fury in his eyes as he forced him against the wall and addressed him.  He then motioned for Shiandra and Antaam to go inside, which they quickly did.

“You will learn your place!  The Inquisitor’s children are the most important people in this keep!”  Asala stood back and watched with admiration as he held him against the wall.  “They are not to be disrespected, by you or anyone!  Are we clear on this?”

“Zis iz an outrage!”  The noble struggled to say as he grabbed Cullen’s arm to try and make him let go.  Cullen’s powerful grip though would not be denied by some pampered ass from Orlais.  It only made Cullen tighten his grip on the man’s throat.  The man now had both hands on Cullen’s arm and desperately tried to make him release as he could no longer breathe.

“Do you understand?”  Cullen reiterated with an expression of fury that had not left him as the noble started to turn purple.

“Commander!  What are you doing?  STOP!”  Josephine ran toward Cullen who did not even acknowledge her and continued to basically strangle the stubborn bastard.

“Cullen! Stop!”  At the sound of Asala’s voice he dropped the man in a heap. 

The noble was on his knees coughing and trying to catch his breath.  “I vant zis man executed!”

Asala for once was glad that she had her ceremonial armor on.  Although the man did not shrink as she approached and stood next to Cullen.  She turned to Josephine with a cold and calculating glare.  “Who is this ass Josie?”

“I veel not be spoken…”  Asala did not wait for him to finish when she grabbed the man in her golden gloved hand and lifted him off the ground with her face inches from his masked one.

“You insult my son and daughter and you have the nerve to ask for my COMMANDER’S execution?”  Asala turned again to Josephine.  “WHO IS THIS?!”

Josie looked just horrified at the treatment of the noble.  “He’s Lord Jean-Phillip of Val Firmin your worship.”  The noble’s legs flailed as he tried to get himself free to no avail.

Asala put him down.  “You’re no longer welcome in MY Keep.  You will leave immediately or face me in a duel, NO CHAMPIONS.”

“Inquisitor please…” 

“SHUT IT JOSIE!  He berated my son and daughter for saying hello!  Not only that, he called them knife ear and oxboy!”  Cullen watched in awe.  He heard the pompous ass berating Antaam and Shiandra, but he did not hear what caused it.  Now he knew he was in the right.  “I’ll not have a racist abuse our hospitality while flaunting his perceived superiority, not here or anywhere I have any influence!”

They all watched as Lord Jean composed himself and adjusted his now crooked mask.  “I aczept your challenge Inqueezitor.”  For all his pompousness, the man was no coward which instantly caught all of their attention.

Cullen immediately came forward feeling even more fury at the apparent lack of respect from the Lord.  “You dare…”

Asala stopped him and with a gentle gaze.  “Don’t worry Commander.”  She looked at him with loving eyes.  “I’m going to teach this arrogant fuck a lesson in humility.”  Cullen chuckled at Asala’s language.  As hard as Josephine and Vivienne tried, they could not take the foul mouthed mercenary out of Asala.

Josephine looked flummoxed at the scene; she didn’t know the lord personally but had heard that he was a wonderful person and not this pompous person in front of her.  She sighed, at least the problem would be settled in a way that all Orlesians understood and accepted. 

They all began to make their way outside when Asala stopped Cullen.  “Watch the children.  This shouldn’t take long.”

“Be careful, he’s more than he seems.”  Cullen thought that maybe this man’s little outburst was exactly planned and that this was his desired outcome.

“I know.”  She looked at him seriously and pointed to her nose.  Cullen looked at her and understood.  Whether it was poison or something else, Asala had discovered a rat.

As they all made their way to the sparring area, Asala watched the man pull a rapier and flourish it with skill.  The smell of the poison on the blade was now very noticeable.  This was an assassin that she wasn’t going to kill.  She was going to find out who sent him and why. 

As they entered the sparring area, she pulled an enormous two handed sword from the rack of weapons, in her hands it looked like a rapier.  Inexplicably the man then fell to his knees and seemed to be wracked with pain as he let out a chillingly sounding scream.  “I WILL NOT!”  He screamed with an agony that stopped Asala in her tracks.  She watched him curiously.  Then her senses smelled something else and she looked up at the ramparts just above.  A person she did not recognize with blood dripping from her hands was watching the scene and became visibly horrified at the sight of the Inquisitor’s eyes meeting hers.

“GUARDS!  SEIZE HER!”  Asala ordered as she leaped up the landings toward the stranger.  The girl hurled a large fireball at her which was blocked by Asala’s powerful barrier.  Asala then unleashed a frost spell that seemed to have no effect other than to recharge the mage’s mana.  Cassandra soon joined her along with Barris and some of his Templars.  They had the girl surrounded with nowhere to go except over the rampart and to her certain death.

“Surrender girl, you’re done.”  Barris demanded as Asala could feel the Templars emitting their spell purge around the area.  The blood dripping from the girl’s hands was her own and she began to cast a spell causing the blood to swirl in between her hands and shoot out towards her. To everyone’s horror it went through her weakened barrier and hit her with such an enormous concussive force that it knocked her back and off the ramparts.  Asala landed in the sparring area with a loud thud and audible crack.  Her arm was tucked underneath her unconscious body at an unnatural angle and probably broken.  She lay there motionless. 

Barris wasted no time before he struck the girl’s head from behind with the pommel of his sword.  She too fell unconscious.  “Blood magic.”  He whispered to himself.  “Take her to the dungeons.  I want a two Templars and a mage guarding her at all times until we figure out what we’re going to do with her.”

“Knight Captain, I want you to watch this woman as well.  If she’s as powerful as she looked they may need you to stop her.”  Cassandra addressed Barris.

Katoh, who had been watching from the makeshift infirmary on the lower level dropped everything to go to her fallen sister.  She had never moved with such urgency as she had never seen her sister fall like that.  She pushed her way through the people surrounding her and quickly kneeled down next to her once she finally reached her.  She leaned over and gently put her hand on Asala’s back.  “Asala?”  To her dismay Asala didn’t answer and didn’t move.  Katoh leaned closer and let out a sigh of relief to hear her friend and sister breath.  It was strong and it looked like whatever damage was done, it wouldn’t be permanent.  Katoh continued her examination and didn’t notice any damage other than her left arm.  Katoh chuckled lightly at her sister’s incredible resilience.  Cassandra soon joined her.  “Help me roll her over Seeker.”

Even between the two of them it was difficult.  “Maker she weighs more than a Druffalo!” 

They both almost jumped when Asala responded weakly.  “Flattery will get you nowhere Seeker.”  She winced when she tried to move her left arm.  “Ugh, I should’ve taken her out without the Templars.  They weakened my barrier.”  Asala sat up and then attempted to stand only to be stopped by Katoh.

“Damn it sister!  You’re as stubborn as that Qalaba Bull.  STOP MOVING!”  Katoh’s tone was very serious and it stopped Asala in her tracks.

“Inqueezitor?  I…  am zo…”  Lord Jean Phillip approached with his head down and it looked like he wanted to say something, but Asala put her good arm to stop him as she could feel Katoh’s magic working on her arm.

“Please your Lordship, there is no reason for you to apologize as your actions were not your own.  I will take care of the perpetrator and please disregard my request for you to leave.”  She looked at the man whose mask had come off and revealed that there was a very handsome man under it.  She heard an audible pop as her arm was set and healed by Katoh.  “Please meet me for dinner tonight, we can discuss how that blood mage took control of you.”

“Yez your worship.  It would be an honor and I can apologize to zee children.”  Asala heard his steady yet nervous heart rate.  There was no deception or malice in the man’s mannerisms or breathing.  He was just a tool that was being used to accomplish the task of killing her.   

Katoh continued to examine her arm and was amazed at how well and quickly it set and it seemed that Asala had full range of motion immediately.  “How is this possible?”  She thought out loud.  Asala gave her a quizzical look.  “Your muscles and tendons adjusted immediately.  It takes at least a couple of days for us normal Qunari, a week for humans and elves.  The only ones that heal like this are the few dwarves I’ve treated.”  Katoh kept squeezing the area where the break had been and looked to see if she could get a reaction from Asala, but there was none.  “I’d say take it easy, but I know you’re as stubborn as Antaam was so why bother.”

Asala smiled at her sister and took her into an embrace that caught her by surprise.  “You’re just too good at your job.”  She let Katoh go and her sister gave her a relieved grin.

“I’ve never seen anyone take you out like that.  It was… frightening.”  Katoh admitted.

“It was the Templar’s spell purge that weakened my barrier spell.  It won’t happen again.”  The determined look on Asala’s face reassured Katoh.  “That witch is going to wish she was never born.”

“I wonder how her spell was able to overcome the purge?”  Katoh asked.

“It must have something to do with the fact that blood magic uses the life force of the wielder to connect to the fade and not the lyrium… it’s as good a guess as any I think.”  Asala paused.  “I WILL find out.”  It sounded as sinister as it was intended to sound.

 

******************

 

Skyhold Dungeon

 

The Templars threw her in a cell next to Erimond’s.  The unconscious woman lay on the cold floor as the Templars took their posts opposite the cell with their other two comrades who were already there for Erimond.  Barris inspected Erimond who sat in the corner of his cell and gave an arrogant huff at the Knight Captain.  “Open it up!”  Barris ordered.

One of the Templars opened Erimond’s cell and Barris entered.  Barris grabbed a hold of Erimond’s collar and not only lifted him with one arm, he threw him out of the cell unceremoniously.  The smug Erimond wanted to lash out, but the spell purge kept him from doing so.  Barris grabbed and shoved his face into the bars of his new neighbor’s cell.  “WHO IS SHE?!”

Erimond started to laugh.  “One of many.”  His voice as arrogant as ever.  Barris slammed Erimond’s face into the bars causing a gash to open up on his forehead.  The blood started to flow freely from Erimond’s head and some sprayed into the cell.  None of them noticed as a result the girl in the cage stirred slightly.

Linnea turned slowly and looked at the Templars treatment of Erimond.  She had to get out of this and they had just provided the means.  She could feel Erimond’s blood, she could smell its sweet essence on her face.  It began to rejuvenate her as she started to slowly debilitate that fool Erimond by using his blood to revitalize her.  “Linnea, what are you doing?!”  Erimond could feel himself being sucked of his life as he started to collapse to his knees.  She felt his life essence fill her with power and as the Templars realized what she was doing, she lashed out again.

Her cell door exploded outward and struck one of the Templar guards, knocking him out instantly.  Barris and the other three were thrown against the far wall.  The surprise of the attack had caused them to drop their purge and silence.  She could feel that her full magical powers were now accessible to her.  She pulled on the essence of the now dead Erimond and raised him to fight for her.  Barris and one knight recovered quickly enough but two of his comrades were too slow.  One was run through by their unconscious comrade’s sword now in the hands of the undead Erimond and the other was set alight by the witch herself. 

Barris used his holy smite and spell purge which caused Linnea’s undead companion to collapse and disintegrate.  “Now you’re ours bitch!”  Barris exclaimed with both sword and shield at the ready.

They began to advance on her as she let loose a bolt of lightning that was deflected by his shield.  She smiled and caste a fireball that hit the ceiling and brought down a substantial amount of stone on top of the knight captain and his comrade, trapping them.  Barris was unconscious and bleeding from several places as was his comrade. 

She began to slowly take their life force.  “You will bow to Corypheus, you will bow to Tevinter…”  She announced with a mocking laughter.  The power of their blood was substantial and it was quickly making her stronger.

In her preoccupation of draining the two Templars of their life-force she didn’t notice the huge figure enter the dungeon.  She was knocked off her feet and slammed against the wall with such force that it broke her spine.  A large ice spear protruding from her chest was the only indication of what had hit her.

Her vision was hazy as she saw the horned giant approach.  Instead of finishing her off the giant leaned over the fallen Templar.  “Barris!”  She heard her yell and Linnea smiled as the life force of the Templar began to rejuvenate her once more. 

Asala pleaded with Barris to get up and looked at the stranger who was smiling.  Her heart rate was getting stronger, as was her breathing while Barris was getting weaker.  It didn’t take long for Asala to figure out what was going on.  She stood and leaped in front of Linnea with blinding speed.  Linnea’s smile vanished from her face when Asala picked her up by her head and smashed her skull into the wall, effectively exploding the blood mage’s skull in a spray of brains, bone and blood.  The body dropped to the floor in a lifeless and bloody mess.

Asala turned back to the room and was horrified at the carnage caused by that blood mage.  Two dead  Templars, one dead Erimond, and a severely injured Templar and Knight Captain.  She began to remove the debris around Barris and the Templar when Blackwall, Katoh and Cassandra stormed into the room ready for battle.

“Maker have mercy.”  It was all Cassandra could say at the incredibly bloody scene before her.

Katoh just began to work on Barris as he seemed to be injured much worse than the other two Templars, one of which was coming to.  Cassandra assisted the now conscious Templar out of the dungeon as Katoh directed everyone be taken back to the infirmary. 

 

************************

 

Barris woke in his room to see Asala looking over him.  “My men…”  He began to sit up and was greeted with a searing pain in his stomach that immediately sent him back into his former position. 

“Please Barris… Revan and Michael are going to be fine, but Jeremy and Sandoval, are… I… I’m so sorry Barris.”  He knew by her demeanor that two of his best men, two of his best friends and comrades, Jeremy and Sandoval were gone. 

“It’s my fault…”  He grimaced as he spoke and she tried to interrupt, but he put his hand up to stop her.  “It was because of Erimond that she was able to break out.  She used his blood as her power.  If I hadn’t injured him…”  His face was contorted in the pain and shame of believing he was the main cause of the carnage in the dungeon.

“Barris, you couldn’t have known.  None of us knew.”  She put her hand on his shoulder as Cullen walked into the room.  “Please Barris, it was not your fault.  The blame falls solely on Corypheus and his followers.”  Asala knew that only time and reflection would cure the disease of self-condemnation which afflicted her Knight Captain. 

“We need you Barris.  I need my Captain… my friend and comrade.”  Cullen added.  “They sacrificed for the Inquisition, for all of us.”  Cullen said it with a heavy heart as Sandoval was the most undisciplined and likable of all the Templars he had ever known.  The man was as quick with a joke as Varric and could lighten the mood of any somber situation with a quick quip.  “They will be missed.”

Barris understood that the Commander was right.  It was just that men dying under his command was something he couldn’t get used to.  “Her name is Linnea.  Erimond said it just before he died.”  Barris was hurt, but he did realize the cruelty of this war early on as many of his superiors and comrades were dead or now served that beast.  They would pay and he would be there when Samson and Corypheus fell.  “I won’t let you down again Inquisitor, Commander.”

“You never have Barris.”  Asala tried her best to comfort the young Knight Captain.  “I have the utmost faith in you and your men.”

Barris smiled as he squeezed Asala’s hand.  “Thank you Inquisitor.”  An elven nurse walked in and began to bark orders at both Asala and Cullen to get out.

Asala looked at the feisty elven boy with surprise and some amusement.  She enjoyed it when she was treated like everyone else and she actually had to put her hand on Cullen’s mouth to stop him from angrily scolding the petulant boy.  “Well go on then.  Once I’m done changing his bandages you can come back.”  The young elf ordered without any clue or care of who they were.  Asala appreciated it because this rebellious spirit was healer and when doing their craft she made it a point for all to forgive some of their bad manners.

Asala and Cullen left the room and were approached by Dorian.  “I’ve talked to Gereon and he filled me in on who this Linnea was.”

“She was one of the mages at Redcliff, she was quite hostile towards us if I remember correctly.”  Asala heard Varric as he approached with Cassian. 

The sight of Cassian put a little smile on her face as it announced to her that the Valo Kas and Chargers had returned.  “Looks like we missed one hell of a show.”

“She killed Erimond and two senior Templars before she was ended.”  Asala told him.  “Why would she serve Corypheus?”

“Maybe Lord Jean-Phillip may know something.  It could also just be the Corypheus is now sending assassins as a desperate act to get you out of the way.”  Varric answered. 

“Either way, he’s not going to be pleased that he failed again and lost a very powerful mage in the process.”  Cullen continued.  “We need to step up our security efforts to stop these types of attacks.  I’ll make some changes and ask Cole to help.”

“Cole?”  Asala slowly started to realize what Cullen was thinking.  “That’s a great idea, except I don’t like the idea of him poking around people’s private thoughts.”

“He already does it without thinking.”  Cullen admitted.  “He can just inform us on who is here with less than honest intentions, that’s all.”

“Okay do it, but tell Cole he is not to share his findings with anyone except you and me.  That’s it.”  Asala responded.

“I will!  I will help.”  Cole, his uncanny and unnerving habit of just appearing anywhere made everyone except Asala jump.  Asala just smiled at the spirit boy.

“Yes Cole, you can help, but remember what I told you about sharing other people’s thoughts.”  Cullen added.

“Yes!  I promise.  I’ll help everyone!”  Cole really was a child, but there was something more to this spirit child.  There was pain there, there was history there.  Asala needed to have a one on one with him, maybe Solas and Varric could join her as they had both taken a liking to the boy.

“Cole, …” Asala called to him and he looked at her with those innocent yet tortured eyes.  She had as much trouble reading him as she had reading Solas.  Maybe there was a connection?  She kneeled in front of him so as to look him in the eye.  “If you do find someone that wants to hurt me or anyone here, come to me or Cullen first and tell us.”  The boy looked at her with an intense and determined expression.  “I don’t want you to confront them okay?”  Cole nodded his head indicating that he did understand.

Asala felt good about being able to use Cole’s unique gifts and hopefully be able to ferret out any who would sabotage their mission to kill the renegade Darkspawn Magister.  She walked back toward the main hall with Cullen and Cassian.  “Katoh mentioned that the mage almost killed you.”  Cassian mentioned to Cullen’s surprise.

Cullen was about to say something when Asala beat him to the punch.  “I think that we need to train all the mages, including myself with fighting alongside the Templars.”  She looked at Cullen and smiled.  “They kind of turned off my barrier and that’s how I got in trouble with that blood mage.”

“I sure looked like that mage knew what she was doing.”  Varric commented.

“She did, but I’m certain it wasn’t her main plan.  She wanted the lord to kill me with that poison blade.  Not expecting him to have the willpower that he had.”  She thought about Lord Jean-Phillip and came to the conclusion that if he was not able to resist, Linnea would’ve had another shot at her.  She would make sure that his heroic act would be recognized by her. “That’s never going to happen again.  I want you and Fiona to come up with a training program to combine the power of Templars and Mages into a cohesive fighting style.”

They continued into the main hall where the dinner tables were being set.  Katoh and Flissa had all of their kids helping the servants set up.  It put a grin on Asala’s face to see it.  She made sure to tell the staff to send food over to the ‘Herald’s Rest’ so that the Chargers and Valo Kas could enjoy a hot meal after being in the field so long.  Cullen took his leave of her and headed to his office.  “Cullen?”  She called out quietly and he turned to look at her.  “The children are going with Katoh tonight… do you want…”  Her cheeks started to redden.  He nodded so eagerly that it made her chuckle.  “I think that Cassian and Shok want me to join them after dinner.  Why don’t you come?”

“I’d love to, but I’d like to start on the Templar slash Mage combined arms tactics with Fiona, Dorian and Vivienne.”  Cullen answered with a slightly sad expression.  “At least Revan and Michael will be there as well.” 

Asala looked a little annoyed and leaned in close to his ear.  “Don’t make me come get you.”  She breathed hotly into his ear, causing his skin to break out in goose bumps.

Leaving him redder than a tomato, she continued toward the tables and joined ‘her children’ in setting the places, causing some of the visiting nobles to huff in disapproval.  One notable Lord Jean-Phillip though, decided to join them.

Chapter Text

Dagna seemed to enjoy the redundant, repetitive and almost never ending task of weaving the the tiny and precisely cut pieces of dragon scale into an almost sheer and metallic-like consistency.  She was ordered by Leliana to begin work on Asala’s Winter Ball Dress with the explicit instructions to make it as warrior functional as possible.  She had been given all of the measurements, style designs, and color patterns that were desired.  It was her most painstaking assignment ever.  She looked at the dimensions of the dress and it just took her breath away.  Dagna had not yet met the Inquisitor, but by the incredible scope of the dress, she deduced that the Inquisitor was a giant.  She actually was jumping out of her skin with excitement to meet her and wondered why she had not come by yet.

Harrit was busy working on the intricate spiral horn sheaths made of pure Silverite.  She liked Harrit, but he was only good for bulk work she thought.  The hammering and shaping of the sheaths was about all he could do, but it saved her time she did not have to work on the intricate details of the outfit.  There would be runes on those sheaths and the clasps of the dress.  Runes designed to make the already deadly Inquisitor much more lethal.  Dagna wanted to make sure that when the time came the Inquisitor would be able function in her combatant role and not only not be hindered, but assisted by her impeccably designed attire.  She was so into her work that she didn’t hear the door to the undercroft open and close.  “The Arcanist has arrived?”  The new voice broke her concentration and she turned curiously to see who it was.  She had to do a double take and look up… way up.

“You should see for yourself, Inquisitor.”  Harrit countered as Dagna watched the Inquisitor inspect her equipment with a curiosity that could only come from someone who also dabbled in the art of production.

The Inquisitor then turned to Harrit.  “How is our new tenant?”

“You sure she doesn’t own the place, acts like it.”  Harrit’s voice sounded a little bitter and she wasn’t about to let that go.

“No offense, it needed work.”  She answered as the Inquisitor just seemed to size her up.  Ancestors she’s so big!  She came to the obvious conclusion.

“And fine work she’s done to it, and for you.”  Harrit corrected himself.  “Don’t mind me.  Been a lot of change lately.  She has an edge though.  Mind it.”

“Nice to finally meet you Dagna.”  Asala turned her full attention to Dagna.  “So why is it that my spymaster gave you cart blanche to do as you wish, if I may ask.”

Dagna could barely contain her own enthusiasm at the sight of the giant Inquisitor.  “Y..You’re her!”  She exclaimed and when she saw the glowing mark on Asala’s hand it was as if the Inquisitor hadn’t asked her anything.  “Is that it?  It’s… pretty.  The breach was pretty, too.  In a… ‘Destroy everything’ sort of way.”  She let out an uncomfortable chuckle.

“How in the fade did a dwarf become an arcanist?” Asala was amused by the enthusiastic dwarf and began her interview.

“I’m the only one!  When you learn things everyone says you can’t, you get to be first!  I don’t need to tell YOU.”  Asala analyzed everything in Dagna’s answer and could tell that by the quick breathing and heart rate, Dagna was really excited.  “I’ve looked at Harrit’s devices.  The precision is fantastic, but typical.  Mundane.  Old thinking!”

“Is what now?”  Of course Harrit would hear that. 

“No disrespect meant to the classical trades!  But YOU need a new perspective!”  She continued while not completely appeasing Harrit.  “I’ve made adjustments.  As long as I can KEEP making them, you can craft just about anything.  Almost safely!”  It was a non-stop barrage of comments that wouldn’t pause as Asala started to rub her temples.

“Welcome to the Inquisition Dagna, I look forward to working with you…”  Asala noticed the beautiful piece Dagna was working on and her eyes almost popped out of her head.  “Is that my dress?”

Dagna practically squealed with delight.  “It is!  Here look!”  She pulled up the half-finished dress.  “See here?  The only fabric that would take the weaving in of the dragon scales is sea silk.  Tough, but if you have the right tools, is totally doable.”  Dagna pointed to the dragon scales bits which resembled tiny sequence scales and were polished to a brilliant and reflective white.  Asala took a hold of it and noticed a series of empty spaces along the neck line.  Dagna noticed her curiosity.  “That’s where I’m going to place my own personally designed runes of augmentation.  They should allow you to renew your mana pool almost instantly and increase the power of your barrier spells.”

Asala was speechless.  She used to think that Tevye from Halamshiral was a genius and now she had this amazing dwarf come out of nowhere and stun her like this.  “Dagna… this is… amazing!”  She examined the dress and felt the scales, they were substantial in their durability.  She could feel their resilience and the dress seemed to weigh a lot more than any normal dress.  “How did you manage to combine the scales with the sea silk?”

“It’s a magical process I invented here!”  Dagna exclaimed.  “It’s a seamless bond that combines the sea silk and dragon scales.  It’s a little heavy, but that piece of finished dress can stop a bolt from a ballista, granted the concussion from the hit would probably kill you anyway.”  Asala continued to examine the finished part of the dress.  “Here, look.”  Dagna took the dress and guided Asala to her workstation.

Dagna took a hold of one of the tiny scales and precisely aligned next another already bonded scale on the dress.  She put on a pair of goggles and took out a tool that looked like a quill, only it was a metallic quill. A brilliant flash of light and voila, the scale was solidly on the sea silk.  Asala took the dress and examined the new scale.  I was completely fused to the sea silk.  “Dagna, I believe that you are worth more than your weight in gold.  This is incredible!”  Asala exclaimed as she looked at the half finished yet beautiful sequenced dress.  “Can you make it red?”

Dagna returned Asala’s inquiring stare with one of smug and confident affirmation.  “Any color you want.”  She answered.

Asala could barely contain her enthusiasm, but when she saw Harrit banging away at what she knew could be nothing other than new caps for her horns, any semblance of decorum disappeared.  “Harrit?  Those are for me too?”  The tears started to flow in her eyes as she remembered the gifts she received from her friends and family in the past.  Her late parents had accepted the holidays of the humans and celebrated Satinalia in kind and in time they had enjoyed them and looked forward to them every year.  She tried to keep up the tradition with her merc band, but it didn’t take, with the exception of her beautiful Alejandro, Cassian and the rest of the humans in the band.  Harrit looked a little uncomfortable as he watched Asala gently lift one of the sheaths and examine it.

“Are you alright your worship?”  Harrit had stopped working on the other sheath and was fully attentive to her now.  She turned to him and gave a sad smile as she nodded.

She put a hand on his shoulder.  “This… is beautiful… I don’t…”

Harrit stopped her with a gentle admonishment that surprised her.  “Your worship please, this is the least we can do considering what you’re doing for us… what you’ve already done.”   

“Thank you Harrit…”  She then turned to Dagna.  “… you too Dagna.”

“You’re welcome your worship.”  Dagna’s unbridled enthusiasm put a happier smile on Asala’s face.  Asala gave Harrit a pat on the back and made her way out of the undercroft.  “Don’t be a stranger Inquisitor.” 

***************

As they rode in an impressive column, the Inquisition’s soldiers looked every bit the part of a dangerous and powerful military.  The pride on their faces showed as they held their heads high, Denet’s magnificent horses carrying them with an apparently effortless gate despite the impressive amount of barding covering much of their bodies.  Cullen rode alongside some of them, making small talk and just not being able to hide the awe in his expression at what Asala was able to build.  This was her war machine, these were her men and women, this truly was her Inquisition.  The honor he felt inside as a result of being the commander of this impressive force, of being trusted to lead this force was almost overwhelming.  She’s incredible.  He thought as he watched the thoroughly impressive force march by.  Gaspard had sent word that all of the accommodations had been taken and that they would have to make camp outside of Halamshiral.

Josephine exploded with a fury that he had never seen and sent the messenger back to Gaspard with the explicit demand of quarters befitting the Inquisition’s standing.  “The Inquisitor will not be camping out like some common soldier!  Tell the Grand Duke that if he wishes us to be present, then he will have to accommodate us accordingly.”  It was an idle threat as they had to attend for the sake of the future, but Gaspard didn’t know that and Josephine knew how desperate the Grand Duke was for allies.

In the end, the Inquisitor and her inner circle were allowed to stay within one Gaspard’s own Winter hunting cabins to the ire of several of the Grand Duke’s other guests.  Though smaller than most other mansions, it was still a grand wooden structure befitting Gaspard’s station as an heir to the throne of Orlais.  Asala didn’t like that there were many elven slaves catering to her every need.  Josephine could see her discomfort and anger as she continuously made sure that they weren’t mistreated and to top it off, she actually invited them to escape to Skyhold at the end of the ball.

Bull, Leliana, Vivienne and Josephine tried to rein her in, but she would have nothing of it.  “The reason the Qun has so many Vidathari is because of slavery.”  She turned to Bull.  “I know for a fact that there are at least six of them in the ranks of Gaspard’s slaves.”  Bull looked stunned as she told him and Solas did too.  “You tell them Bull, if they come near me or any of my people I will kill every one of them.”

“How…”  Josephine started to ask, but Asala stopped her.

“I just know Josie.  I’ve had enough experience with those vermin to know who and what they are.”  Asala looked frightened which Josie had never seen.  To think that these were such people that could illicit this kind of emotional response from their Inquisitor was disturbing.  Asala then turned to Bull again.  “I know they’re your people Bull so I’m giving them this one chance.  Talk to them and warn them that I will expose every one of their agents in Orlais if they involve themselves in this.”

“I’ll make sure they know not to interfere.”  Bull answered with an awe that could not be hidden.

She gave Bull a warm smile knowing that he would do just that.  “Thanks Bull.”  Bull turned and went to do what he said he would.

“Cullen?”  Asala called him hesitantly and he reacted immediately to the utter enjoyment of the two other women there.  Asala rolled her eyes at the two in slight exasperation.  “We’ll need to scout the building before we situate ourselves inside.”

“At once Asala… ah Inquisitor.”  Cullen answered as he waved over two of his best scouts.

“I’m going in with them.”  Asala continued with a smile on her face that was direct result of Cullen’s inability to stay comfortable around her.  Cullen nodded knowing that it was useless to argue with her when it came to scouting.  Her nose and ears could ferret out things that none of his elven, human and dwarven scouts could ever find.  Even Leliana’s spies were no match for Asala’s natural ability.  That nose of hers was an incredible asset situated atop the most beautifully plump lips he had ever had the pleasure to kiss.

Not twenty minutes later she reappeared with the scouts and gave the all clear.  They all entered the large two story cabin.  The accommodations were limited as there were really only two large rooms where they could really stay.  Asala, Josie, Leliana, Cassandra, Dorian and Vivienne took possession of one while Cullen, Bull, Blackwall, and Sera took the other.  Solas, Varric and Cole decided to stay outside in the camp with the rest of the Inquisition’s procession.

“Well, we have a couple of days here.  What should we do?”  Asala asked Josie, Vivienne and Leliana as they were the ones with the most experience and knowledge of Orlais.

“I am going to visit a friend in the city.”  Vivienne responded with a slightly excited tone.

“I have a lot of work to do to prepare for the Ball.”  Josie commented and Leliana was nodding in agreement. 

“At least Vivienne has what I would guess is a booty call…”  Vivienne started to blush angrily, but Asala waved her off and pointed at both Josie and Leliana.  “You two really are pathetic.  We’re in Halamshiral and you’re not going to enjoy at least one day here.  Not acceptable.  As Inquisitor, I order the both of you to suspend your work activities for the day and enjoy yourselves.  We’ll have plenty of time to work tomorrow.”  Asala’s determined tone would not suffer any sort of dissent.  Dorian couldn’t help but laugh at the playful nature of their mighty and powerful leader.

Asala turned to Cassandra who was busily reading some sort of parchment she had pulled from her satchel.  She had a puzzled look as if the parchment being in her satchel was a complete surprise to her, but as she read it her puzzled look gave way to a joyful smile and even a blush on her face.  She embraced the parchment like it was a precious relative.

“Good read?”  Asala asked in an obvious amused tone.

Startled, Cassandra turned beat red and frowned at her.  “None of your business Inquisitor.”  Cassandra was definitely hiding something and judging from the response it was something juicy.  Asala chuckled and let it go… for now. 

 

**********************

 

Going out on the town turned out to be a mistake, both Bull and Asala had to restrain Cullen and Cassandra from almost killing a few people who had the nerve of calling her and Bull ‘Ox.’  Asala tried to calm them, saying that it’s just the way it was and that she would’ve wiped out half the continent if she responded to insults all the time.  Sera ended up with more money and trinkets than she started the night with.

“No harm yeah?  They won’t be needin these, yeah?”  Sera explained as she displayed her haul from those same arrogant assholes that insulted Bull and Asala.

Asala smiled affectionately at the rogue.  “No.  No harm done, not nice either, but the sentiment is nice.  Thanks Sera.”  It was early in the night when Asala decided she would go to bed early.  She took a hold of Cullen’s hand and pulled him along.  “You’re coming with me, I want to snuggle.”  The red that suddenly creeped up Cullen’s neck and onto his cheeks showed the commander’s nervousness at the blatant comment and action that Asala was undertaking.

Leliana chortled at the statement and ended up spitting out some of the wine she was drinking.  Josie gasped as did Cassandra.  “He can’t stay in our room.”  Josie commented.

“You’re welcome to switch rooms Josie, but the Commander is staying with me.”  Asala calmly responded as she walked up the stairs with a very embarrassed Cullen in tow and was out of sight.

The bed ended up being too small for them so she picked it up and leaned upright against the wall.  She ended up on the floor with a pair of her bearskins as a mattress.  Josephine actually began to set up a partition of her area using curtains, hooks and nails.  The idea was so good that they all decided to follow her lead. At the conclusion of the room improvement project it was almost as if they all had their own rooms.  The only one who didn’t get any curtains was Vivienne, who was obviously staying at her secret lover’s abode for the night.

Asala took off her Ceremonial Armor which looked a lot like her Antaam-Saar, but it covered more of her midsection and seemed to be made of a gold plated material lined with silverite.  Cullen couldn’t stop staring at her as she took off the armor piece by piece leaving her with just a breast band and smalls.  He quickly took off his armor and was in his smalls so quickly that Asala chuckled.  The amusement ended when Cullen stood up and pulled her down and completely surprised her as he ferociously began to kiss her.  She lay back onto the bearskin as he continued his oral assault on her lips, teeth and tongue.  His hot breath and rapid heart rate causing her to moan into his mouth.

As he began to trace her neck with his teeth, she took the opportunity to bite deeply into his shoulder.  He yelped into her neck and returned her action as he also bit down forcefully onto the nape of her neck.  She growled menacingly as Cullen released her and pulled away to look at his golden skinned goddess.  Her silver eyes were always so piercing, so revealing.  It was like they could look into his soul as she smiled at him and cupped the side of his face.  She observed the heavily bruised and slightly bleeding mark she left on his shoulder.  “Are you okay?”  She asked gently and he nodded.  “This…”  She ran her index finger over the mark.  “… Means you’re mine now.”

“I was always yours.  I just didn’t know it.”  He countered at her with an amused grin.  She pulled him tight and ripped off his smalls with her feet.  She then raised her hips and let him loose so that he could remove her smalls with his teeth.  He was so hard that it hurt, his member’s firmness would make the stone walls of Skyhold proud.  Once he finished removing her smalls he returned to kissing those beautifully plump lips.  She let him do whatever he wanted as she returned his affection with the same ferocity that he exerted.  “You know they’ll hear us.”  He whispered hotly in her ear.

“I don’t care.”  She hissed as he slowly and gently sucked at the base of her horns.  “Cullen!  Stop teasing me!  Please!”  She was a little louder than she intended to be, but the base of her horns was her weak spot and somehow she knew that she either had Bull or Cassian to thank for this.  She pulled him tight again and tried to force him inside her.  He gasped at the feeling of his member slowly being surrounded by her hot, wet womanhood.

“Asala!  Oh Maker!”  He blurted out way louder than he intended.  He then heard what he could only imagine was Leliana and Dorian giggling behind their curtains.  He smiled as the feeling of being inside her was overwhelming.  To see her beautiful face as she licked her lips, to hear her moan as he began to rhythmically thrust into her, to watch her goddess-like body slither and writhe underneath him was way too much for him.  She dug her claws into his back as she forcefully pulled him tighter to her and hotly repeated his name.  "Cullen..."

He felt the searing pain of her claws piercing his skin and all it did was ignite a fire inside him as his thrusts suddenly became more violent.  Asala’s moaning and sensual expressions began to affect him in such a way that he had trouble holding out. 

“Asala… I… mmm… not.”  He could feel her tighten around him as he spilled over into her.  He collapsed into her tight embrace and felt like he was in the most perfect place in the universe.  He tightened his hold on her and hoped for all eternity to be able to stay in her embrace.  She started to loosen her embrace.  “Please no… not yet.”  He begged her as he continued to spasm and jerk silently.  She responded by pulling him tighter once more.

When they finally both loosened and backed away from one another, they gazed into each other’s eyes.  She smiled and pecked his lips, he smiled back and noticed that he was once again throbbing.  His mischievous smile caused her face to flush pink. The fact that the Lyrium was no longer in his system seemed to have had very pleasant side effects.  He felt like an eighteen year old with how much sexual energy he seemed to have.

He began at her neck and traced a path down her body with his tongue, stopping only to worship her beautiful breasts with his teeth.  She let out that growl that he come to expect from her.  That menacingly beautiful and animalistic growl that once frightened him, now filled him with an animalistic lust for her.  

"Some of us would like to get some sleep."  Asala could tell it was Cassandra.  Asala muffled her own giggle and Cullen couldn't contain himself as he found himself trying not to laugh.

Then Dorian had to add his commentary and basically ruin the moment.  "Oh please Seeker, some of us are thoroughly enjoying the show.  Please don't ruin it for me."

The thought of what Dorian could be doing behind those curtains made Cullen stop.  "Cullen, what's wrong?"

"Too late.  Thanks Seeker."  The sound of disappointment from Dorian was quite palpable.

There wasn't a single person who wasn't laughing at that point.

 

************

 

Her procession was beyond impressive.  The sight of her well-disciplined infantry marching in step was as an intimidating sight as there was anywhere.  Asala sat in the carriage with a totally exasperated look on her face.  Josephine picked up on her annoyance.  “Inquisitor, what’s wrong?”

“I hate carriages.”  She answered anxiously.  “I don’t like being sheltered from my people and letting them take risks for me.”

“Get used to it.”  Josephine’s response was so cold and full of annoyance that it totally surprised Asala.  “You are the reason we are still a movement, YOU are the reason we matter, YOU are the reason that every single one of them out there would fight and die willingly.  Don’t insult them by pretending you don’t know that.”  Josephine was extremely annoyed and it didn’t help that Vivienne agreed whole heartily with her.

“Look outside my dear.”  Vivienne lifted the drape from the window in the carriage.  Asala did as she was asked and sight floored her.  She had to choose three hundred of her best to accompany her on the trip to Halamshiral.  The sight of her warriors and knights in Silverite armor and barding was breath taking.  She had never seen such an imposing procession… ever.  “THAT is your doing.  None of this happens without you.  You may not appreciate or even know your worth, but everyone else does.”

Asala sighed heavily.  “Maker help me.”  She whispered to herself as she realized that they were right.  She took a deep breath and let it out forcefully as she composed herself.  “The first thing I want to do is coordinate with our spies already there.  I want Cole doing his thing so that maybe we can find this assassin quickly.”

This is what Leliana really liked about Asala.  When it came time to work, there was no one more intense or thorough than Asala, well except maybe herself.  “Our men are already in place and one will meet with us at the Comte Pierre’s mansion.  We should have everything in place by the time the ball begins.”

 “How many of our men can we bring into the ball?”  Asala asked.

“Only those invited can enter.  Security is the sole responsibility of the Empress and her men.  Don’t worry though, we have a good twenty of our people already infiltrated into their ranks.”  Leliana countered very nonchalantly.

“You really do a great job nightingale.”  Asala commented.

“I hear that Comte Pierre is ecstatic to see you again, his servant Lacuna as well.”  Leliana was digging and Asala was amused enough to play along.

“He’s a kind soul.  There aren’t enough like him.”  Asala answered.  “Lacuna is going to have all of our men eating out of her hand.”

“I’ve never met her.  I’ve heard she’s a stunningly beautiful woman.” 

“There aren’t words to describe how beautiful she is.”  Asala continued as she lifted the drapes and looked out toward the front and saw Cullen leading the procession atop his magnificent warhorse.  He looked so much better now that the Lyrium had completely exited his system.  The scent was no longer there and it also seemed that his nightmares had also subsided.  His face was full of color and life that wasn’t there before.  He still tortured himself about the things he did in his past, but he was not as severe with himself anymore.  “She’s also very capable.”

“I can’t wait to see their faces when they see you darling.”  Vivienne commented.

Asala smiled uncomfortably at both women.  Her red dragon scale dress was stunning.  It was strapless with numerous blood red runes shaped like the Inquisition eye stitched into the black embroidery that started near her underarms and wrapped around her neckline.  The shape of her substantial breasts as they were encased in the dress left little to the imagination.  She wore a pair of intricately laced black sandals that made her feel lighter than air.   Her horn caps were as red as her dress with a line of obsidian stones running the length of her spiral horns.  Her hair fell in a luxurious cascade of straightened black  locks down her backless dress ending at her beautifully shaped and muscular bottom.  A pair of matching dragon scale gloves finished the ensemble.  She looked every bit as Royal as any empress or duke.  No one except Vivienne, Leliana and Josephine had seen her, well Dagna too, but she was back at the keep and couldn’t tell anyone except those left back there.  One thing that Asala noticed about the beautiful outfit was how incredibly free she felt in it.  It wasn’t constraining in the least and the best part were that her spirit blade hilts were hidden high on her inner thighs ready for action immediately.  Dagna, you’re a fucking genius. 

Asala kept lifting the drapes and looking out.  The clippity clopping of the hooves had signaled that they were now on a proper road and she could see that it was the approach to Halamshiral.  She heard Cullen call the procession to a halt.  She could feel her nerves as she felt the carriage move forward to the spot where she would exit and everyone would see her.   Vivienne was as calm and steel faced as her “Iron Lady” nickname as was Leliana, Josie’s heart sounded like it would beat right out of her chest.  Her advisors were wearing their own ensembles with Vivienne looking incredible in a white, tight fitting dress that contrasted starkly with her ebony skin.  Josie wore a beautiful gold and silver dress that wasn’t quite as daring as either Asala’s or Vivienne’s.   Leliana wore beautiful form fitting dress that was black in color and she also sported a pair beautiful black pumps.  They all stood once the carriage had come to a halt.  The door opened and Josie, followed by Leliana and Vivienne stepped out.  Asala then stood, minding her horns and finally stepped out.  She was greeted by Caska who was totally encased in full Silverite Plate.  He gave her his hand as she took a step down.  “Wow… wow…”  She heard Caska whisper and it put a smile on her face.  Soon she could hear everyone gasp at her.  She followed Leliana, Vivienne and Josie toward whom she could only assume was Gaspard.  As she walked past Cullen she saw him gulp uncomfortably until she gave him a wink that caused him to smile softly.  Caska and Louis along with four other magnificent looking Inquisition soldiers were flanking her as she walked toward Gaspard.

Once her eyes met Gaspard’s, the stare down began.  She could feel his glare and she was sure that her own glare was obvious.  Asala made it a point that there would be no one who would use her here, if this arrogant prick thought that he could use her, he was sorely mistaken.

As Asala unflinchingly kept her eyes on the Grand Duke, Josephine began to brief her.  “The political situation in Halamshiral hangs by a thread.  The Empress fears that our presence could sever it.”  The Grand Duke is only too happy to have us at the ball as his guests.”  Josie continued her briefing as they approached the Grand Duke.  “So our invitation as you already know, comes from him.  Whether we act as his allies or upset the balance of power, he gains an opportunity, if not a clear advantage.”

Her soldiers in unison, came to a halt, faced inward toward her and saluted her.  She saluted back as she came face to mask with the Grand Duke Gaspard.  “Inquisitor Adaar, It is my great pleasure to meet you at last.  Bringing the rebel mages into the ranks of your army was a brilliant move.”  He paused his approach as he looked up at her, cleary taken aback at her towering presence.   He cleared his throat as her eyes continued their hold on his.  “Imagine what the Inquisition could accomplish with the full support of the rightful Emperor of Orlais!”  Even while he talked alliances, Asala could feel the man sizing her up as a rival.  He had every right to continue as her forces had struck such a blow in the Western Approach as to get the attention of all of Thedas.   The feeling of being sized up would probably continue with every one of these pompous asses.

“Which one was that?  I’m always confusing them you know.”  She let out a polite smile at the Grand Duke.

“The handsome, charming one of course, my lady.”  Asala sensed his calmness as he bowed with a flare.  He wasn’t nervous around her at all.  She had to admit that these Orlesians did not lack for courage.  “I’m not a man who forgets his friends, Inquisitor.  You help me, I’ll help you.”  He turned to lead her toward the front entrance.  Asala followed behind him listening to some of the nobles mumble Ox, heathen, and all other sorts of insults.  The best one being someone who called her somebody’s pet, it actually made her chuckle silently.  She smiled inwardly thinking how much pleasure she would take in physically ripping their arms off and beating them with the bloody things.  “My lady, are you ready to shock the court by walking into the Grand Ball with a hateful usurper?”  He stopped and looked up at her again.  “They will be telling stories of this into the next age.”

“These people haven’t seen anything better than us in their entire lives.”  She said with a tinge of spite toward those said people.

She could feel Gaspard smile under that mask.  “You’re a woman after my own heart, my lady.”  She could also feel his heart rate go up a tick.  “As a friend, perhaps there is a matter you could undertake this evening.”  It figures he would want something.  They always do.  “This elven woman Briala… I suspect that she intends to disrupt the negotiations.  My people have found these ‘Ambassadors’ all over the fortifications.  Sabotage seems the least of their crimes.”  As sales pitches go, it was pretty bad, but at least she got a little bit of information on one of the main players in the ball without even asking.

So even if she didn’t intend to do it for the Grand Duke, she would look into it for the Inquisition.  “That sounds like something I should look into.”

“Be as discreet as possible.”  Gaspard sighed quietly.  “I detest the Game, but if we do not play it well, our enemies will make us look like villains.”  Gaspard was definitely being sincere, but she also noticed a hint of a smile.  He was probably thinking that he just got another tool to use for his ambitions.  “We’re keeping the court waiting Inquisitor, shall we?”  He motioned for them to walk into the palace.

As they entered the palace, gasps of surprise, horror and some excitement continued to reverberate the high ceilings of the entrance.  “Asala!  Oh my you look like the Goddess that you are!”  She recognized the voice of Tevye as he approached her with drinks in his hand.  He was also followed by Lacuna who looked like an Elven Goddess herself.

Gaspard paused to look at the two elves and then looked at Asala.  Asala was smiling at the two as she continued to follow Gaspard.  “I’ll talk to you after the introduction.  It’s good to see you again.”  Asala took a glass from Tevye’s tray and was about to down it until she thought about where she was and how she was being judged on everything she did.  She took a small sip and placed the unfinished glass on another servant’s tray.  She then continued behind Gaspard toward the main ballroom.

 

 

Chapter Text

Halamshiral Winter Ball

 

The introductions went smoothly if not flawlessly.  Gaspard’s smirk shined so brightly as to make him look like a thief who got away with stealing Celene’s crown jewels.  Asala’s acute sense of hearing was as much a curse as it was a blessing.  She could listen to every word that was said about her.  With the exception of her people, she heard many if not all of the insults thrown her way by the pompous asses who thought she couldn’t hear them.  As much as she cringed and fumed at what she heard, she did catch persons of noble and high standing talking about things they shouldn’t be.  Mistresses, embarrassing secrets, and all other sorts of juicy gossip that she decided to pass on to Leliana.  She made a note of everyone who had spoken with a prejudicial tone towards her and her people.  She identified them all using Josephine and Leliana and made sure that they would be confronted with their secrets at a later time.  Asala wanted to watch these racist scums squirm personally and offer themselves like the fattened whores that they were. 

It was even worse when Josephine would introduce her to these same people who were initially insulting towards her and then suddenly when faced by the object of their disdain, began fawning all over her in such a faux manner as to almost make Asala vomit.  Gaspard might be an asshole, but she had at least one thing in common with him.  She detested this ridiculous sham called “the Game” as much if not more than he did.  There were some like Comte Pierre and his associates whom she absolutely adored and Lord Jean-Phillip of Val Firmin whom she’d also grown to adore was there.  If not for Jean-Phillip’s strength of will, Corypheus’ assassination attempt with that blood mage might’ve succeeded in killing her.

For all her frustration and angst, Asala worked the room as if she owned it.  She informed Leliana that Gaspard was pointing the finger at the Elven Ambassador Brialla as a possible suspect for assassinating Celene.  Leliana disagreed and noted that Celene was most vulnerable to the people closest to her.  Leliana mentioned an apostate named Morrigan who advised Celene on all things magic and mysticism.  Through Cole and Varric’s roguish talents, Asala discovered that Brialla had an army of Elven spies in the palace and that the palace wings seemed to be crawling with Venatori assassins bent on murdering the servants.  Add to all of this ridiculous intrigue, a murdered Council of Heralds Emissary with a bloody dagger bearing the seal of Gaspard’s house in his back, this made Asala want to destroy the entire palace as it seemed that every one of the big players was nothing but a big and devious snake.  How could she ever be expected to trust anyone of these people?

There were so many fingers pointing in all sorts of directions that Asala and her associates had trouble figuring out what the hell was going on.  Brialla pointed at Gaspard, Gaspard pointed at Brialla, Celene wanted Gaspard out of the way, Morrigan was a mystery and the Grand Duchess was definitely hiding something.  Everyone had a motive to kill Celene, but thanks to her ace in the hole named Cole, Celene’s own cousin the Grand Duchess was the obvious would be assassin.    She called to him from a secluded spot within the palace’s enormous library.  “Soon master, soon.  I will make sure your way will be clear.  She wants to hurt you.” 

Cole’s innocent and wanting to please expression always got to her.  She pulled him into a fierce embrace and kissed his forehead.  “You did really well Cole.”  He returned the embrace with a childlike desperation.  He raised his head and the gaze from those innocent blues practically destroyed her.  “Stay alert and out of sight okay?”  She gently told him.  Cole nodded and just like he always did, he disappeared into the rafters.

She really had no hard proof, but Cole had never been wrong.  They would have to figure out a way to out the Duchess because killing her without proof would probably result in a blood bath in which the Inquisition would end up making an enemy of Orlais.

She briefed Leliana on her discovery and while updating her on the current situation she noticed Cullen’s frustrated expression as he was trapped by a throng of suitors.  It made her grin at how deliciously uncomfortable he looked.  He seemed to be making small talk with them and was in utter misery as he tried to gently tell these suitors to go away.  She approached him slowly.  “Commander, a word.”  Cullen looked at her and if he could scream thank you, he would’ve.  She took his hand and pulled him closer as she leaned down to give him an ample view at her shapely if otherwise confined breasts while she whispered seductively into his ear.  “Looks like you have a fan club.”  Cullen began to blush terribly which only egged her on.  “Can I be in your fan club?”

He pulled away with an expression that broadcasted embarrassment and arousal at the same time.  Her smile was one of mischief and absolute adoration.  “Not the place Inquisitor…”  He whispered.  He turned back toward his admirers and actually welcomed the frustrating adoration of the Orlesians thinking that they would take his mind off Asala’s blatant attempt at making him look like a love struck schoolboy.  “I’ll talk to you afterwards… in private.”  She watched him walk away and her smile turned into a giggle until she felt the approach of a known threat.  She turned to see Florianne approach her.  Asala’s expression became all business at this point.  The Grand Duchess demanded a dance with her and she acquiesced.

Her dance with Grand Duchess Florianne was the talk of the ball.  During her dance she was pointed once again towards Gaspard.  The devious bitch even pointed her to a mercenary that would reveal all of his secrets.  Asala knew she was lying and even though she knew that this was probably a trap, she might be able to get some information to make it easier to impale Florianne to the wall.  She bowed graciously and took her leave of Florianne while promising her to investigate her accusations.

She walked off the floor to an ovation and it was at this point that she was approached by an unknown beauty.  Raven hair and ruby lips masked a devious yet non-threatening posture.  “Well, Well.  What have we here?”  Asala watched her as she walked down the stairs in an elegant and regal manner.  “The leader of the new Inquisition, fabled herald of the faith, delivered from the grasp of the fade by the hand of blessed Andraste herself.”  Morrigan stopped before her and was forced to look up at her.  Her smug and supremely sarcastic diatribe continued.  “What could bring such an exalted creature here to the imperial court, I wonder?  Do even you know?”

“You must be Morrigan.”  The slight skip of a beat her heart made betrayed the cool and calm exterior of the woman.  “Heh, okay I’ll play along.”  Asala paused and put on her most courtly air.  “We may never know, courtly intrigues and all that.”

The devilish smile on Morrigan’s face and the steady breaths made Asala feel a little uneasy.  “Such intrigues obscure much, but not all.”  Asala watched as Morrigan led her on a leisurely stroll around the foyer of the palace.  “Your people have been very busy this evening and in every dark corner of the palace.  Perhaps we hunt the same prey?”

“I hope so.  I could use another ally here.”  The towering Qunari goddess flashed her smile at the mysterious and beautiful Morrigan. 

“A sentiment I share, considering recent events.”

“Recent events?”  Asala queried with faux surprise.

“Recently, I found and killed an unwelcomed guest within these very halls.  An agent of Tevinter.  So I offer you this Inquisitor.”  Morrigan reached out to her and offered her something small and shiny.  “A key found on the Tevinter’s body.  Where it leads, I cannot say.  Yet if Celene’s life’s in danger, I cannot leave her side long enough to search.  You’re people can.”  Asala took the key as if she hadn’t known that there were Venatori agents all over the palace.  Cole had already made short work of quite of few of them.

Leliana had told her of this woman, warned her of this woman.  Yet, Asala found herself very comfortable in her presence.  Morrigan’s easy and relaxed manner had made her uneasy, but it also showed Asala that she seemed to have Celene’s best interest at heart.  They discussed Brialla and her elven spies, she also brought up Gaspard’s ambitions.  In the end Asala already knew that it was Florianne that would make the attempt, but she decided not to share that information with Morrigan for fear that maybe Morrigan was in league with Florianne.  Asala bowed and took her leave of her as she walked back to the main hall. 

Asala found Leliana and shared all of the information that Morrigan had given her.  Leliana seemed to think that Morrigan would not have anything to do with a plot to kill Celene.  “I want Cole to investigate this with Varric and Solas.”  Giving an order for something that she wanted to do herself killed her.  She knew that everyone was watching her like a hawk and there was no way she would be able to get away without being seen.  Her absence would also cause some kind of fuss as well, no she had to make sure she had everything on Florianne before acting and Cole was the best choice for this particular job.  She gave Varric the key Morrigan had given her and sent them on their mission.

 

*************

 

She felt it open.  The mark on her hand began to flare as she closed her fist tighter trying to keep it from showing.  She had to quickly excuse herself as she walked with impossibly long strides towards the lavatory.  She grabbed Cullen along the way and pulled him along.  He looked disturbed and puzzled, but followed her like the loyal and rabidly obedient soul he was to her.  “A rift has opened!”  She whispered as forcefully as she could without raising her voice.

“What?”  Cullen sounded as surprised as he looked.

“I feel it.  Come on.”  They finally made it to the Lavatory in the lower part of the entrance and quickly locked the door.  Asala studied the walls of the bathroom and determined that they were not load bearing.  She seamlessly reached down her inner thighs and pulled her two hilts which erupted in blinding fountains of light.  It caught Cullen by surprise as he also pulled his long sword.  Cullen then watched in awe and amazement as Asala cut a doorway into one of the walls with her spirit blades.  “This way.”

He followed her through hallway after dark hallway until she crashed through a thick and wooden double door like it was paper to reveal the horror of a rift in the middle of a small courtyard.  Asala looked to see Florianne laugh at her.  “Perfect.”  She mentioned as she made her way out of the area, leaving Asala, Cullen, Solas, an unconscious Varric with an arrow through his chest and a terrified looking plus paralyzed Cole in the company of several horrors and Venatori assassins.  Asala’s fury was something to behold.  Her spirit blades made short work of the demons as pieces of demon and black ichor flew through the air and stained the walls.  Solas and Cullen took care of the Assassins.  The rift was closed with a loud thunderclap as Asala reached out with the mark and closed her fist with a purpose.  She then rushed to Varric’s side almost immediately.  The arrow had gone in through his upper right chest.  It didn’t appear to have hit anything vital, but Asala’s sense of smell detected a Deathroot based poison which would kill him in a few hours.

She turned to Solas.  “Deathroot?”  She whispered to him in a much panicked tone.  “Can you…”

Solas put his hand up to stop her.  “I’ll take care of him Inquisitor.”  His smirk actually put her at ease until she looked at Cole who was now unconscious as well. 

“COLE!”   She ran to him and kneeled by his head.  She looked him over and saw that there were no injuries or anything that could’ve caused his condition.  Needless to say, he did not respond and remained still.  “Cole please…”  She picked him up and cradled him tightly like a child, all of the old feelings of losing someone coming back in a flood.  She couldn’t hear his heart or breathing, but Cole had always been incredibly difficult to read.  He was more spirit than boy, but he was still like a child and she felt most responsible for him.  “Please not again…”  The tears began to trickle down her cheek. 

“It’s not your fault.”  Cole gently whispered and cupped her face.  The sad and beautiful blue eyed gaze from her spirit friend resulted in pure joy on Asala’s face.  She squeezed the spirit boy to the point where Cole actually had to ask her to stop. 

“Thank the Maker, you are amazing Cole.”  Asala loosened her grip as she kissed his forehead and glared at the now empty balcony.  “Florianne is done.”

“Oohhhh shit.”  Varric was coming to and Solas made sure that he didn’t move too suddenly for fear of the arrow cutting into something vital.  “Shortie… what happened?”

“Still yourself master Tethras.  Here, drink this quickly.”  Solas admonished as Varric downed the entire contents of the small vial.  “He should be fine Inquisitor…”  He turned and saw Cole clinging on to Asala’s leg and smiled at the scene.  She seemed so comfortable and it wouldn’t take a genius to think that Asala was a mother bear to her little and deadly cub Cole.  

Cullen was busy untying some Fereldan mercenary who had been hired and abandoned by Gaspard.  He was there as part of Gaspard’s secret army in the palace.  Asala couldn’t fault the Grand Duke as she had done the same thing.  That bitch was dying tonight.

She leaped up to the balcony where Florianne had stood and left for the Grand Ballroom at a sprint all the while tucking the spirit hilts back onto her thighs.  She made it to the ballroom without so much as a blemish on her dress.  Her hair was a bit unkempt, but she was still the bell of the ball.  She followed Florianne’s scent through the air and was quick to notice her walking behind Celene as if everything was normal.  Celene for her part met Asala’s eyes and gave a quick nod of acknowledgement.  She then turned to the crowd and raised her hand to silence them.  She leaned onto the bannister with both hands and was about to address the crowd.

Asala smiled at the scene knowing that Florianne probably thought she was dead.  Florianne moved to a position just behind Celene with a smirk that could only come from someone who believed they had succeeded in their machinations.   She was lightning quick as her daggers flashed towards the back of the empress.  Asala was quicker still and froze her in place with an ice spell taught to her by Vivienne, Florianne’s daggers some mere millimeters away from their target.  The gasps from the crowd were replaced by screams as two more Tevinter Assassins made a foolish attempt to get to the empress only to be cut down by her Chevalier guards.  Asala slowly made her way like a panther on the prowl, her toothy smile betrayed her feeling of conquest.

“We owe the court one more show, your grace.”  She tried to muster as much pomposity as she could.  Florianne could speak if she so desired, but her compromising position kept her from answering.  “The eyes of every noble in the empire are upon us, your grace.  Remember to smile.”  The whole room was quiet, Josephine and Leliana were watching with their mouths agape.  Cullen had just entered the room and just shook his head.  “This is your party.  You wouldn’t want them to think you had lost control.”  Celene had backed away quickly from her cousin, as did Gaspard and Brialla.  Her tongue was frozen, but not because of any spell.  Frozen as if nothing it could unleash would help her in the slightest.  She was caught, helpless and beaten, just like Erimond.  Her eyes followed Asala as she closed the distance and was now only inches from her face.  She grabbed Florianne’s daggers and crushed them with her hands like they were brittle cake.  The pieces hit the floor with slightest pinging sounds.  “You’re such a fool.”  Asala whispered in one ear.  “You chose the wrong side girl.”  She whispered in the other, turned and slowly walked away from her.

“Gaspard, please.  I was only doing this for us!”  She finally managed to utter.

Asala laughed and turned back to look at Florianne.  “Oh really?  Like murdering a council emissary and framing your own brother for it?”  Asala retorted.  “How would that have helped the Grand Duke?”  It was like the air was let out of the room.  “It was a great plan I’ll admit.  Celene, Gaspard, and the Council of Heralds, all your enemies under one roof.”

Gaspard looked at his cousin with total disgust.  Celene didn’t look surprised and Brialla had a look of awe on her face.  “Take her away.”  Celene ordered as two of her Chevalier picked up her frozen form to take to the dungeons. 

“She will thaw out in about twenty minutes.”  Asala yelled at the guards as she walked over to a table and grabbed a bottle of wine and downed it in one swift motion.  The burning sensation going down her throat was a welcome relief to the volatile situation she had just barely averted.  There was an audible gasp from the crowd again as if the assassination attempt was already forgotten, and this transgression against Orlesian Etiquette was actually a worse offense.  Asala looked around and saw Josephine with her face in her hands.  It made her smile as she lifted the bottle high into the air.  “LONG LIVE THE EMPIRE!”  She yelled with as much gusto as she could muster.

“LONG LIVE THE EMPIRE!”  The crowd responded enthusiastically.  Even in the roar of the crowd she could hear more than a few of them whisper.  “I wish she was our empress.”

During the course of the evening, Asala and her agents had discovered many secrets harmful to Celene, Gaspard and Brialla.  She didn’t wish to use these so she proposed that they all work together to keep Orlais strong.  An ever thankful Celene would continue to rule as Empress.  Gaspard was placed in Celene’s cabinet and Brialla would continue to work behind the scenes for the elves of Orlais.  If she had her way, Asala would’ve killed all three and placed her friend Lord Jean-Phillip at the head of the Empire.  These three were about as reliable as a nug was ferocious, but it was a solution and it denied Corypheus another victory and made her wish to see the expression on his face when this newest failure was revealed to him.

Varric was recovering in one of the private rooms while Cole had become almost attached to her at the hip.  She looked at him with nothing but love in her eyes.  “I felt the pull… I wanted to go to it.”

“Cole?  You mean the rift?” 

“They called to me.  They told me I didn’t belong here, that no one wanted me here.”  He looked up at her.  “But they lied.  They’re envious.  They know I can help.  They know I feel love here, they know I feel wanted here.  They’ll never have that.”

Asala kneeled in front of him.  “I…”

“I won’t.  I love you too.”  He finished her sentence and she gave him a crooked smile before embracing him fiercely, pulling him off his feet

“I always will Cole.”  She stated firmly.

“I know.”  She stood up and turned to look at her mess of a rogue Varric.  “I wish she would hug me like that.  My face in those beauti…”

“COLE!”  Both Asala and Varric screamed at the same time.

The laughter coming from Solas was so strange and contagious.  They had never heard Solas laugh and it caused them all to start laughing.  Varric was in tears as every breath of laughter caused him excruciating pain.  “Chuckles, it… figures…”  He grimaced in between laughs.  “That my pain would be so amusing to you.” 

As quickly as it came, it was gone.  Solas once again was examining his wound and replacing the bandage while making him drink a healing potion.  “You’ll be up and yourself in no time master Tethras.”

Varric looked at his Elven comrade and chuckled again with some pain.  “You know what Chuckles?  I’m glad you stuck around.”

“I’m glad too.”  Cole added.

Solas let out the slightest smile and turned to and started to check on Cole’s condition.  “It’s good to see you’re feeling better Cole.”

“They tried to bind me…”  Cole sounded almost panicked.  “They… they almost did… I couldn’t move.”

“Cole, you’re free will cannot be bound as long as it’s in that body.  You shouldn’t fret about so much, you’re strong enough to resist any binding.”  Solas comforted him, but it was a cold and calculating type of aid.  Solas never seemed to stay warm for long.

“We’d never allow that to happen Cole.”  Asala gently took his hand and kneeled in front of him.

“But what if they do succeed?  What if they make me hurt people?  What if they make me hurt y…”

“Cole.”  She gently interrupted him.  “I will never allow it.  Do you understand?”  Again those puppy blue eyes looked at her with total adoration.  “Never.”  He smiled and nodded.

“Okay.”  He meekly responded.

 

***********************

 

After taking her leave of the injured, Asala reluctantly walked back to the ballroom to rejoin the faux adoration of the Orlesians she’d just saved.  She joined Cullen, Josie and Leliana at the royal table along with the Empress, Gaspard, Brialla and other important nobles from the Empire.  “We’ll be leaving in the morning.”  She said to the absolute relief of Cullen and the dismay of both Josie and Leliana.

“But why?  We’ve just averted disaster and the festivities have just begun.”  Josephine pleaded with her.  The empress and her court just kept quiet as they observed her exchange with her advisors.

“Josie’s right, we should stay and maybe take advantage of our most gracious host’s hospitality.”  The look that Leliana gave Asala said it all.  Asala could read Leliana’s ‘take advantage’ as a means to take care of some unfinished business with some of the nobles who deserved a little lesson in humility. 

“I have urgent business to attend to at Skyhold.  I need to be there.”  Asala had enough with the faux attitudes, posturing and incredible treachery that made up the elements of the ‘game.’  There was nothing that they could say to her that would change her mind.

“Iz one day zo much to azk inqueezitor?”  Celene asked trying to hide her relief that this powerful and unknown new player to the ‘game’ was leaving so soon.

“It is.  Corypheus is the priority and I will destroy him.  I will not wait a single second to address his threat to the entirety of Thedas.”  Asala turned and locked eyes with Celene.  “The Inquisition doesn’t have the luxury of playing the ‘game.’”

Josie and Leliana gasped at the comment.  “What the Inquisitor means…”  Josephine tried to salvage the situation, but Gaspard saved her.

“Orlais doesn’t have time for it either Inquisitor.  Hopefully your actions tonight have convinced some of my brethren as to the madness of it.”  Gaspard might be a racist prick, but at least he was as direct as any Ferelden dock worker.  Asala nodded and raised her glass to Gaspard.

“Here’s to the death of ‘the game.”  She made a toast that was almost too much, but Gaspard immediately raised his glass with her.  Celene and the others were more hesitant, but toasted anyway.

As the night wore on and the drinks flowed, Bull was busy flirting with some of the servants, including one that Asala knew was Vidathaari.  She locked eyes with the attractive man.  She could see the disgust in his eyes, but he quickly averted his gaze and continued to talk to Bull.  Maker did she hate them. 

Asala excused herself from the table and walked with a purpose to an outside balcony.  She looked up at the beautifully clear and star filled sky and sighed as a single tear slowly made its way down her cheek.  Asala wasn’t surprised and quickly wiped her cheek as Morrigan approached her.  “The Orlesian nobility make drunken toasts to your victory and yet you are not present to hear them.  Do you tire so quickly of their congratulations, Inquisitor?  Tis most fickle, after all your efforts on their behalf.”

Asala smirked at the beautiful woman.  “It was overly stuffy in there.  I needed some fresh air.”

“I had no wish to interrupt your breathing, only to bring news.”  The comment brought a smile to Asala’s face.  “By Imperial Decree, I have been named liaison to the Inquisition.  Celene wishes to offer you any and all aid – including mine.  Congratulations.”

She wasn’t lying and Morrigan seemed very calm.  “This is news to me.  I usually get a say on who joins us or not.”

“I am not joining you.  I am a liaison, advising on the throne’s behalf and helping when called upon to do so.”  Morrigan almost looked like she took offense that her offer was being scrutinized.  “If you find that objectionable, you may indeed spurn your new ally’s offer.  Yet consider this:  you battle a foe you scarcely understand, with all Thedas hanging in the balance.”  She locked eyes with Asala and with as serious a tone as she could muster made her case.  “You need all the help you can get, Inquisitor.”

“Alright Morrigan, you’ve convinced me.”  Asala also became deathly serious.  “Know this Morrigan, I do not tolerate the bullshit and double talk of the Empire.  If you’re not straight with me…”  Asala stood to her full and impressive height.  “I will launch you over the ramparts back to this cesspit and your Empress.”

Morrigan actually chuckled at the statement and Asala detected not one inkling of fear from the woman.  “I will meet you at Skyhold Inquisitor.”

Asala chuckled as Morrigan took her leave.  She then turned back to look at the beautiful sky and took a deep breath.  “Asala?”  She could hear the worry and uncertainty in Cullen’s voice.  “Are you okay?”

He leaned on the bannister next to her and saw the tears trickling down her cheeks.  She felt his hand over hers and how he squeezed it gently.  “I hate this place.” 

He pulled her hand to make her face him.  “I know… but many of the people in there are now firmly on our side.  In no small part because of you… you’re the most incredible woman in all of Thedas.  There’s no one in Thedas who could’ve done what you did here.”  He locked his gaze with her silver eyes and they sent chills down his spine at how beautiful they were.  “I know in my heart we’re going to win this… because of you.”  She smiled at him.  “The band is still playing…”  His cheeks turned so red as he paused.  “May I have this dance?”

Asala pulled his face toward her and gave him a ferocious kiss.  “I thought you were never going to ask me.”  She pulled him along to the ballroom and danced with the former Knight Captain to the delight of all who saw.  Forgetting for a moment where she was and concentrating on how wonderful it felt to dance with her awkward and beautiful Cullen.

Chapter Text

The Imperial Highway just north of Kinloch hold

 

Asala had decided to leave the ball early while her inner circle stayed to coordinate the Empire’s forces with the Inquisition’s so as to better battle Corypheus and his ilk.  She took her personal guard along with Cole, Solas and an injured Varric on her trek back to Skyhold.  Her attachment to Cole had become extremely evident to both Varric and Solas and that attachment became a source of comfort to both of them.  Solas never would’ve thought that this prime example of Qunari genetics would ever feel anything more than contempt for those beings from the fade.  Asala had asked him so many questions and the answers he gave her were received with an open and curious mind.  She was an infuriating source of his internal dilemma.  She was not a believer of the Qun.  That much was certain.  She showed her disdain for it on a daily basis, whether helping Katoh in her teaching of Qunlat or playfully insulting Iron Bull about his blind ignorance and loyalty to the Qun.  She was everything that he would not have expected of her.  Solas’ stare was fixated toward the front of the armed column and he watched her as she rode her giant charger behind the main group of her guards.  He spurred his mount and quickly pulled along beside her and was greeted with that sad smile she seemed to always have.  “You are not what I expected Inquisitor.”

“Oh?”  Her eyebrows raised as she turned to look at him.  He had her complete attention. 

“What were you like… before the anchor?”  She was a mystery to him, but one that he had grown to admire.  He knew there was so much more to her.  He knew she was different from the first time he met her in the fade, how easily she took to dream walking, how she accepted the spirits as equals and how the spirits who knew her gravitated towards her like moths to a fire.  There were many things about this horned giant that intrigued him and also caused him pause.  “Has it affected you?  Changed you in any way?  Your mind?  Your morals?  Your spirit?”

Asala turned her silver colored eyes on the one elf who she could not read.  Elven hearts actually beat a bit faster than human, dwarven and Qunari hearts.  Their breaths were more steady and their scents more faint, but other than the slight differences, the physical reactions to certain situations were very similar.  Solas’ breath and heart rates never wavered, his body language and facial expressions betrayed nothing.  Either he was a master at controlling all of his physical traits or there was something more.  She smiled at him knowing that he was probing, but she also liked him.  He had never done anything other than be an enormous help to her and the Inquisition.  “I don’t think so.  I feel like I’m still me.  Why do you ask?”

“You’re not what I expected Inquisitor.”  His eyes were piercing as if trying to look into her soul.  “The Qunari are nothing but savages.  Their primal urges held in check by the rigid and barbaric discipline of the Qun.”

“We are not!”  Her eyes now returned a glare of contempt for the know it all elf.  “Most of my people are prisoners of that despicable philosophy.  How many Vashoth and Tal Vashoth do you know?”  She hated defending herself.  She was always judged by her race, always judged by preconceived prejudices.  She looked at him in such a disappointed way.  Solas knew so many things and yet he knew as much about her people as most of the ignorant masses that judged them.  “I’m surprised at you Solas.  I would’ve thought that someone as learned as you would know that one cannot know everything and yet you already have a preconceived notion of what all of my people are like.”  She turned to look away from him and accelerated the pace of her mount to get some space from him.

“Inquisitor please!  I did not mean…”  Solas tried to save the situation, but the damage had been done.

She turned to look at him with an expression that conveyed a sad disappointment.  “Please Solas, I am glad I do not judge all elves, humans and dwarves in the same way you judge my people.”  Solas had never been called a racist, but that is exactly what she was saying about him.  Granted, deep inside herself she understood his abhorrence of the Qunari.  She hated them and their beliefs more than anyone she knew, but she also knew the difference between the beliefs of the Qun and those people who were trapped by the Qun’s suffocating discipline and order.  Strong people decide to make their own minds up and either die at the hands of the weaker minds or escape and become Tal Vashoth.

“You shame me Inquisitor.  You’re right… you’ve been nothing but exemplary.  You’re an example of the type of person all should strive to be.”  He paused as he watched her pace slow.  “I just want you to know that I deeply respect you and did not wish to offend you.”

She turned to him and gave him a sad and gentle smile.  “Thank you Solas, but maybe now you’ll not judge my people as a single monolithic group and judge us as the individuals we all are.”  Solas returned her smile and nodded in acknowledgement.  The pace of his own mount slowed as she returned to the head of the column of troops.  Cole pulled up next to him.

“She still likes you.”  Cole mentioned softly to him.  Solas looked at the spirit boy with great affection and curiosity.  Most feared what Cole was, most looked at him and saw a demon, an abomination.  Asala did not, she saw the spirit, she saw the innocence and benevolence of the being known as Cole.  She had become very protective of him as had Varric.

“I’m glad Cole, she’s a remarkable being.”  Solas answered him as he turned his gaze back to her.  “She truly is remarkable.”  He whispered to himself as they all continued riding.

“So you finally figured that out Chuckles?  Welcome aboard.”  Varric was physically injured, too bad his mouth was still able to produce sentences.  He looked over to the cart carrying the dwarf and saw that Cole had taken a seat next to him.  “And here I thought you were smarter than all of us, guess I’ll have to think again.”

Asala laughed up front as she had heard everything.  “Leave him alone Varric.”  She playfully responded to Varric.  “Don’t make me come back there.”  It was meant to sound threatening, but it came out with way too much affection to have the desired reaction from Varric.

“That’s really nice Inquisitor, real nice.”  Varric’s comment was dripping with sarcasm.  “Chuckles just basically called you a barbarian, but you decide to threaten the bed ridden and crippled dwarf with more bodily harm.”

Both Solas and Asala started to laugh at the expense of Varric.  “I’m confused.”  Cole stated with childlike innocence.  “You say that you think that she’s threatening you, but all you feel is happy and not scared.  She’s also really happy…”  Cole looked really puzzled.  “I don’t understand.”

Now they were all smiling at Cole.  “It’s playful sarcasm Cole.  We don’t mean what we say, it’s just…”  Cole looked really confused as Varric tried to explain the concept of comedic sarcasm. 

“It’s like when you help people with their problems and then I say you didn’t help at all.”  Asala tried to help, but ended up confusing herself as much as Cole.

“Humor is a concept that is different with every race Cole.  Sometimes it is different for every person.  Sarcasm is found to be humorous to some and insulting to others.”  Cole now looked at Solas as he explained.  “It doesn’t matter what the person says, it is the intent.  Both Varric and the Inquisitor are friends and so their sarcasm is meant only to spur a humorous response.”  Now both Asala and Varric were also listening intently to Solas.  “Depending on the person, sarcasm can be either humorous or hurtful.”

“So if I said that Varric was as tall as the Inquisitor, would that be helpful sarcasm?”  All three looked at Cole and then looked at each other.  They began to laugh, even Solas had a huge grin on his face. 

Asala pulled Cole off the cart and embraced him fiercely and kissed his cheek.  “I love you Cole, and yes that is very helpful sarcasm.”  Cole squirmed his way free of her and nimbly jumped back onto Varric’s cart.

“After that crack you still want hang out with me kid?”  Varric feigned being insulted.

Cole smiled an uncertain smile, causing them all to smile as well.

Truly remarkable…  Solas thought to himself.

 

***********************

 

“Amalia we can’t!”  Cullen protested as she pulled him along the corridor to the 1st Enchanter’s office. 

“Shhh… they’ll hear us!”  Amalia turned to him as she fiddled with the keys.  “He’s teaching a class on barriers.  He’ll be gone for at least an hour.”

Cullen was really nervous, but there was something about Amalia that made him feel like everything was going to be okay.  As an apprentice, she was the most capable mage he had ever seen.  She made the Knight Captain nervous with the amount of primal power she wielded and with the ease with which she wielded it.  He watched as she opened the door and pulled him inside.  She closed the door and turned to him.

He just stood there nervously gazing at her.   She launched herself at him and began to ferociously attack his mouth with a ravenous barrage of lips and tongue.  He tried to separate himself, at least he told himself that.  Her legs were wrapped around his waist and her hands pulled his lips to hers with a hunger that caused him to gasp for air when their mouths separated.

She gazed at him and ordered him to strip.  He hesitated and it resulted in Amalia’s immediate and dominant command.  “Strip… NOW!”  She pulled her smalls off from underneath her robe as he pulled off his own.  She pointed to the 1st Enchanter’s chair.  “SIT.”  She ordered.

Cullen obeyed thinking to himself.  How in the fade did he get himself in this position?  This was forbidden, this was punishable by a severe lashing and banishment.  As bad as the punishment could be for him, she would probably be made tranquil if anyone ever found out.  It was then that his attention was back on her as he watched her pull her robe over her head to reveal the goddess that was Amalia Surana.  Many of his more unscrupulous colleagues had tried to tame her, but she was the 1st Enchanter’s apprentice.  Gregoir even looked out for her out of respect for his friendship with 1st Enchanter Irving.  If she was going to be taken, it would be of her own accord and she had chosen him.

His member was supremely rigid, it was ready for her.  He was lost, he had never been with a woman before and to be with someone like her was a fantasy come true.  “Amalia…”  He struggled to say as she straddled him on the chair, a crooked and mischievous grin on her lips.  “I’ve never…”  He gasped as she ran her tongue along the side of his neck ending in a nibble of his ear.  “been…”  Again, she kissed him savagely, interrupting his speech.

“Shhhh my beautiful knight.”  She whispered.  “I wanted this since the moment I laid eyes on you.”  He looked into her beautiful ruby colored eyes and felt a rush of emotions come through him.  “I’ll be gentle.”  She then calmly guided him into her and began to ride him.

It was euphoria, it was the Golden City, it was wonderful.  It wasn’t long before he felt the pangs of an orgasm begin.  “Amalia… oh Maker… what’s goi… oooaaaha!”  He came quickly and with the force only one who had never come before.  She held onto him, pulled her body tightly to his as she again kept her lips on his while he convulsed and spilled into her.  As quickly as it had come, it was over.

He wanted to hold her and she obliged for a minute, but they both knew they had to get out of the 1st Enchanter’s office.  More quickly than he would’ve desired they were both back in their clothes and out of the office.  Amalia would later come back to clean up at her normal hour which was fifteen minutes before Irving came back from his class.

“So she was Cullen’s first.”  Asala stated with admiration.  “The Hero of Ferelden, wow.”  Asala’s fade walking ability was mind boggling to Solas.  How could she be so adept, so quickly?

“There is a lot of things here to see Inquisitor.  This is Kinloch hold, it was Cullen’s first assignment as a Templar, it was also the home of Amalia Surana, The Hero of Ferelden.”  Solas explained.

“I gathered as much…  She was so beautiful.”  Asala commented to which Solas reacted with a nod. 

“And extremely powerful.  Somehow she killed the Archdemon without dying.  All of the prior Wardens who killed an archdemon died as a result.  She is the first to survive.”  It was as if Asala was something that she couldn’t be.  The dreamers of Tevinter had enormous power and they rivaled his own people as much as he showed disdain for those humans.  He’d never seen anything like this with a Qunari mage, then again he had never met one until her.  Perhaps their mages had the potential of both humans and elves.  It was also likely that they were chained because of this potential power.  Asala was an unchained Qunari mage with power that he had not seen in anyone… save his own kin.  Her spirit would’ve given her away though and he did not recognize it as any of his old brethren.  Could she be kin?  Newly born to this world?  He took the thought and stored it away as a possibility because he had no other explanation for her.  He was glad that he asked to make this detour toward the now famous landmark.  The spirits there wanted to tell their stories, they wanted someone to know what happened.  There would be books that told the story, but books were subject to the writer’s prejudices and fears.  The fade held no such constraints.  The story was raw and unfiltered, be it beautiful or repugnant as Asala was about to find out.

Asala walked around the fade’s version of Kinloch Hold and watched as the apprentices, mages and Templars interacted.  They all seemed to get along for the most part.  Cullen and Amalia’s relationship was just in its infancy when Amalia became a Harrowed Mage and soon afterwards left the hall with a Grey Warden named Duncan.  A troubled and incompetent blood mage named Jowan had forced Amalia out of the hold and into the Grey Wardens.  Poor Cullen was devastated as Asala watched the young and beautiful knight crying in his quarters.  He had contemplated leaving the order so as to follow Amalia and join the Wardens with her.  He quickly dismissed the thought and decided to stay in Kinloch.  The conflict of keeping his vows and running with his love interest tore into his soul.

With time, his life returned to normal as he watched the mages and their apprentices go about their routines.  He was one of the lucky Templars who did not have to put down a mage that failed their Harrowing.  The times he was assigned the kill stroke, the apprentice always passed it.  Amalia passed it in a blink of an eye.  Both the Templars and the Mages watching couldn’t believe it.  Amalia smiled like it wasn’t a big deal, like she knew it would be the easiest thing in the world.  Cullen could be seen releasing his held breath as he was the one assigned to kill her if she failed.  It became somewhat of an inside belief that Cullen was good luck and every apprentice wanted him at their Harrowing.

To their disappointment he wouldn’t be there for all of them.  Asala watched in horror as some of the frightened mages changed into abominations and were viciously put down by the Templars overseeing the ritual.  It was horrible.   As bad as that was, the ritual of the Tranquil was worse.  To watch the struggling apprentices wetting themselves as the branding iron is placed on their forehead, watch them lose their connection to the fade, watch them become living automatons, no emotions, no empathy, no soul… it had Asala in tears of fury.  She watched Cullen being forced to place the brand on several apprentices and then as time continued to pass… he did it with no hesitation, no emotion, no empathy.  To watch Gregoir use Cullen’s addiction to Lyrium to punish him and make him suffer when he ordered others to not give him his allotted dose, watching him become a trained keeper of mages, Amalia wouldn’t have recognized this… this… monster.  If Asala was honest with herself, she would’ve killed this Cullen with no remorse or hesitation and that thought caused her no end of agony as she looked away from the scene. 

Then came Uldred, when he took the tower with his abominations and blood mages was another horror filled episode Asala wished she could unsee.  The blood and carnage was devastating and yet all she could do was watch as the abominations tortured a young Templar with images of the one mage whom he had loved.  Time after time trying to coax him to submit to his desires to be with her.  Cullen was forced to watch as the image of his beautiful Amalia slit the throat of one of his comrades and laughed while he screamed. 

Solas watched Asala as she cried for Cullen.  “If there is a Maker, he is a cruel and uncaring God.”  Solas put his hand on her shoulder.

“We should leave Inquisitor.  This is something that the Commander should tell you, not the spirits.”  Solas tried to pull her to turn to him, but she would not budge.

The anger in her continued to build as she watched Amalia’s triumphant return become a bittersweet reunion as Cullen furiously rejected her.  His rage filled eyes no longer seeing the woman in front of him.  Both Irving and Gregoir consoled her and tried to explain what Cullen had been put through.  Amalia, the most beautiful elf Asala had ever seen, finally took her leave of Irving and Gregoir.  As she left she turned her saddened gaze to a boy turned Templar hoping to see the shy and innocent man she had known and fell in love with.  He wasn’t there anymore, she would never see that Cullen again.  “She loved him… and he couldn’t see it.  All he saw was a monster… mages were monsters to him.”   Asala’s voice broke as she stated what she saw before her.

“Inquisitor please… this isn’t healthy.  The commander is no longer this person.”  Solas eyes looked into hers and for a moment he thought he saw something that felt familiar.  In an instant they both awoke.  Asala in her tent screamed in horror of what she saw in the fade.  The Harrowing, the Tranquil and the Abominations all revealed to her in one horrible fade walk.  She sat up and pulled her knees up and hugged her legs as the tears trickled down her cheeks.  Her favorite guardsman Louis, ran into the tent to see her in a state he would’ve never expected from his mighty leader.  He ran to her side and knelt in front of her.

“Inquisitor?  What’s wrong?”  Her sad and tear filled eyes connected with her most loyal of guards, this one would die for her in an instant.  He would also kill for her in an instant as well.  His warm hand was on hers and his disturbed and pleading expression wanted her to be okay. 

She wiped her face of the tears and stood up.  “I’m okay Louis, I’m…”  Her face contorted into a painful expression as the tears began to flow once more.  She reached out to him and he took hold of her hand and embraced her.  “I’m sorry Louis…”  Her breath hitched in between sobs.  “We need to get away from this place.”  She held on to him tightly as Cole appeared and began to embrace her as well.  The feeling of love she got from both Louis and Cole actually made her feel better, but she did not want to stay around any longer.  She saw that it was still night, but it didn’t matter as she ordered Louis to tell the column to pull up the tents immediately and prepare to march through the night.

“As bad as this was Inquisitor, Kirkwall is far worse.”  Solas calmly entered the tent and saw her in a state that he expected of someone who suffers for others, someone with supreme empathy. 

“I should’ve listened to you Solas.  I should’ve listened.”  Her head was down in recognition that Solas did know a lot more about the fade than she did.

“There is no doubt Inquisitor, you are a dreamer.  Just know that this magical gift is more powerful than you can imagine.  You’ll need to ease into it and train yourself before you do what you just did again or you could be overwhelmed and possibly go mad.”  Solas gently mentioned to her and she nodded meekly in acknowledgment.  “You should also know that dreamers are feared and hated like no other being on Thedas.  If you are found out, you will become more of a target than you already are.”

“Nothing ever gets better for me… it always gets worse.”  Asala whispered sadly to herself, but she was now composed and dressed in her full armor.  “I’m afraid Solas.”

Solas looked at her with an understanding expression.  “You should be Inquisitor.  You wield power that I haven’t seen on Thedas, probably since the days the elves ruled this world.”  He was glad she was afraid, some of his people would have been ecstatic to wield such power, to be able to control through dreams, kill through dreams.  He lowered his head in saddened contemplation knowing how arrogant his kin were, knowing how they abused their station.  She did not know it, but she had much in common with him and his feelings for her were growing by the day.  Her hesitance in using her immense power was a refreshing revelation.  Despite all of his attempts to be distant, uninterested and rude, this Vashoth woman, this horned aberration, was one whom he could actually call… friend.

“I would like to learn Solas… would you… teach me?”  Asala asked the expected question of him.  He nodded politely and made his way toward his tent to pull it up.  Asala smiled as Varric limped into her tent with the aid of a dwarf sized crutch.

“You look like shit Inquisitor.”  Varric mentioned.

“Thanks Varric.  You’re looking quite spectacularly fecal yourself.”  She responded causing him to let out a very painful series of chuckles.  The tears coming from the pain his laughter was causing actually made her feel bad.  “Oh Varric, I’m so sorry.”  This only caused him to start laughing so hard that he doubled over and ended up kneeling down from the excruciating pain the laughter was causing him.

“You… AHH… you’re evil Inquisitor!”  He took out his flask of Dragon’s Piss and took a deep swig of the burning liquid.  “Damn, that was funny.”

“I aim…”  She caught herself before saying something that might make him start laughing again.  “Come on Varric, let’s get you on your ride so you can write how incredibly witty and intelligent Asala Adaar is.”

“You really are something else Shortie.”  She shrugged at his comment as she started packing her gear.

 

**************************

Skyhold

 

It took about two days to get to Skyhold from Kinloch.  The sight of the main Inquisition camp outside the fortress was a sight for sore eyes.  As she approached she could see Sata, Ashaad and a host of Inquisition soldiers waiting for them put her more at ease.  Louis dismounted and immediately took the reins of Atlas, her giant black charger.  Asala was quick to dismount and stroked her mount’s head just before embracing Sata with the love and affection reserved for family.  Sata could feel her tension as did Ashaad.  “Are you okay Lala?”  Ashaad asked in the midst of their embrace.

“I’ll tell you over dinner.”  Her expression was so gentle and there was a sadness to it.  “Right now, it’s good to be home.”

“Did everything go as planned at the ball?”  Ashaad asked with a hint of jealousy as he wasn’t allowed to go.

Asala chuckled lightly.  “Planned wouldn’t be the word I would use.  Controlled chaos is more appropriate.”  She paused and sighed.  “We now have the gratitude and full backing of the Orlesian Empire.”

“She was magnificent.”  Everyone had to do a double take to see who would make such a statement.  Varric almost fell out of his cart when he saw that it was Solas.  “Despite her obvious disdain and discomfort, the Inquisitor played the Orlesian Game like a master of ceremony.”

His words actually caused her to blush and give an uncertain smile to her two comrades.  “Thank you Solas.  I couldn’t have done it without the help of all of you… and especially you.”  She took a hold of Cole’s hand as she began to walk back toward the fortress.  Both Ashaad and Sata watched with caution as they were both a little leery of the spirit boy.  “You were very brave Cole.”  She pulled him tighter to her as she walked past her comrades and began her trek up the path to the fortress.

Cole loved the feelings that flowed from Asala towards him.  She made him feel so at ease now.  Not like when they first met.  She was friendly, but there was a distrusting caution that he also felt from her.  Now, there was none of that and it was as if he were now part of her family.  The warmth of her skin as she held him close mirrored the warm feelings he felt emanating from her.  He felt closer to her now than he ever did and it made him all the more determined to help her beat Corypheus.  It all also caused him to stop in his tracks.  “What if they try to bind me?”  She stopped with him and their eyes met.

“It’s not possible my friend.”  Solas added from behind them.

“I will kill them.”  Asala added with such a cold determination that Cole was taken aback a little.  “They will never have the chance.”  Solas smiled at Asala’s comment.  He knew that she recognized Cole’s innocence and total dedication to her.

“And your guardian is quite formidable Cole.”  Solas added with a chuckle.  And she is a dream walker of immense power.  He thought.

As they entered the main gate and made their way through the lower courtyard, Asala smiled as Katoh approached her with the children whom all charged her like a herd of stampeding Druffalo.  “Mamaa!!”  She heard as she knelt down and was swarmed by her children, they were all hers.  Antaam, Rasaana, Talania, Michael and Shiandra jumped on her and latched on like holding on to her was the only thing keeping them alive.  “Oh Maker I’ve missed you all so much.”  She wrapped her arms around them all and held them to her.

Cole actually smiled at the scene and could feel the flood of warmth that came from all of them.  They didn’t need his help here and it made him happy.  Solas walked by and stared at Shiandra as he did so.  The little elf had clung on to Asala long after the others had let go of her.  Asala didn’t miss a beat as she stood while holding Shiandra in her arm.  Solas continued to his abode inside the fortress and couldn’t help but feel a sudden sadness inside.  Asala was an aberration of goodness and he had misjudged her terribly.  She was right to call him a racist as he had thought of the Qunari as nothing more than barbaric savages held in check by the brutal discipline of the Qun.  He had never dealt with Tal Vashoth or Vashoth for that matter and she had proved to him that they were as complex and civilized as any elf, dwarf or human.  If all were like her, there would be no need for what I have to do.

“Cullen and the rest of the inner circle are due here in about a week.”  Katoh mentioned.  “Oh and the Knight Captain wishes to speak with you as soon as you are free.”

“Barris?”  Asala asked.

“Is there any other Knight Captain that I should be aware of?”  Katoh smirked at her friend.  “Yes, he said it was urgent.” 

Asala looked at Katoh quizzically.  “Did the ever stoic and reserved Katoh just mock her exalted leader?”  Asala asked with a smile on her face.

“Let’s just say that Shokrakar and Cassian are very influential.”  She responded as she picked up her daughter Talania.

“Hmph… it figures that you would take on their more annoying habits.  I hope you’re not picking up on this Antaam or you Shiandra.”  She looked at Shiandra on her arm with faux menace and she stared at her with an expression so innocent that it caused her to tighten her grip on the little elf.  “I have a feeling that it’s too late.”  She put Shiandra down and the children promptly ran off towards the stables to undoubtedly annoy a certain stable master.  “Where are my two most invaluable comrades by the way?”

“Cassian is in the tower playing chess with Alexius, Shokrakar is in the tavern helping Cabot with some new shelving that he acquired.”  Katoh replied.

“Did Barris say what he wanted?”

“I’ll let him tell you as he has all the information, but it has something to do with some of our troops being taken prisoner down in the Fallow Mire.”  Katoh seemed somewhat hesitant to tell her.  She knew that Asala would want to leave immediately to mount a rescue mission even though she had just gotten there.

“I’ll go see him right away.”  Asala’s mood totally changed as she quickly made her way to Cullen’s office knowing that Barris would probably be there working.  She looked frustrated and angry as she leaped up to the ramparts in an incredible display of power and agility.

 

*************************************

 

Cullen’s Office

“He asked for you personally and threatened to start killing the prisoners one by one until you show up.”  The bruises had healed somewhat but the battered scout continued to explain.  “He let me leave to tell you.” 

“If he hurts anyone of them, I will kill him slowly and in front of all of his people.”  Asala’s anger oozed out of her with every word.

“Thank you Tilah, you’re dismissed.”  Barris ordered and the lithe human scout saluted crisply and made his way out of the office.  “I think that you should wait for our forces to return.”  Barris was a great Captain and his suggestion made sense.  He was weighing the loss of some of his scouts, to the possible loss of the Inquisitor.  It was obvious that he was looking out for her.  Sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.

“If the Avaar wish to make an enemy of me then so be it, I will not allow my people to be attacked without consequence.”  She glared at the map in the office.  “Tell Cullen and the others where I’ve gone and also tell them I am taking my personal guard along with Kaariss, Shokrakar, Ashaad, Sata and Solas.”  Barris looked a little puzzled at the choice of teammates.   “Maybe they’ll see us and it’ll be enough for them to let our people go.”  She tried to explain.

“Or you could just provoke them by looking like an invading force.”  She had to admit that Barris had a point, but she wanted to look as intimidating as possible and for the Avaar to know they faced a possible enemy that was beyond formidable.

“If their leader wants a fight with the Inquisition, I will make them wish they had chosen a better person to lead them.”  She rolled up the map, put it in her satchel and turned to leave the office.

“Inquisitor!”  Barris shouted, causing her to turn to him.  “I don’t agree with what you’re doing, but please be careful down there.  The Avaar are very unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”  He explained in a worried tone.

“Don’t worry.  They don’t stand a chance.  I want the men ready to depart within the hour.”  Asala smiled at her Captain and walked out of the office to inform the team of their mission.

“Of course your worship.”  Barris would obey, he didn’t like it but he admired her so.  No one was expendable to her.

Asala made her way down the stairs from the ramparts and walked towards the Herald’s Rest.  She noticed that Louis and Caska had what looked like all of the children of the keep sparring in the circle.  They looked very comfortable teaching them and the kids seemed to follow their lessons with an enthusiastic vigor.  She chuckled as she continued past them keenly aware of all the stares she was receiving and made her way inside the Rest.  Once inside she saw both Shok and Kaariss struggling with a huge shelf behind the bar.  Cabot was orchestrating them to the exact spot where he wanted his new liquor shelf.  “A little to the left, no that’s too much, back to the right.”  It must’ve been heavy as the muscles on both Kaariss’ and Shok’s shoulders were quivering under the strain.

“Dwarf I swear I will grab you by your bald head and use you to hammer in the bolts of this shelf!”  Shokrakar threatened as she lifted her end of the shelf.  It made Asala smile as Kaariss looked like he was enjoying Shok’s frustration as well by the obvious rhythmic movement of his shoulders.

“That’s good right there.”  Cabot responded as he skillfully hammered in the three support brackets which held up the enormous shelf.  “Perfect, now I’ll be able to stock a lot more spirits in the front.”

“You better comp us few rounds after this.”  Shok demanded.

“Oh quit your whining.  You barely pay as it is.  You probably owe me more work than you know.”  The rough and undoubtedly tough Cabot responded.  “Not you Kaariss, you more than earn your drinks.”

“You’re telling me that the poet earns his keep, but not your bouncer?”

“Kaariss at least entertains the patrons.  You…”  He glared at her and it caught her by surprise.  “Sometimes I need you to be bounced out of here, but no one has the stones to even try and kick you out!” 

Shok looked like she was getting a little steamed.  “You little shit…”

“Alright that’s enough.  I don’t need to remodel this place again after the last time we almost destroyed it.”  Asala interrupted and everyone’s mood changed to one of elation at the sight of her.

Shok quickly closed the distance and embraced her friend with a fierceness Asala had become accustomed to.  Kaariss was quick to do so as well.  “It’s good to see you girl and from the news, everyone is alive and well?”

“Cole and Varric frightened me a bit, but yes we all seemed to have left that cesspit none the worse for wear.”  Asala responded and smirked at her friend.  “I did learn quite a few things about a lot of the pompous asses there.”

“So we now have the mighty Orlesian Empire on our side?”  Kaariss asked with some excitement in his tone.  “I’ve always wanted to perform in Val Royeaux.” 

Asala and Shok both turned and looked at the giant artist.  “You’d certainly fill the theatre there.”  Asala told him.

“You really think so?”  Kaariss was surprised to hear such an encouraging statement.

“Of course.  You’d be the only one there, but you’d most certainly fill it with that wide ass of yours.”  Shokrakar coughed, choked and spit out the water she had sipped as she tried to suppress her laughter. 

Kaariss looked like he was about to cry, not used to being the butt of Asala’s verbal assaults.  Asala’s expression changed to one of regret when she saw his sad expression.

Asala quickly closed the distance between her and the big Tal-Vashoth.  She cupped his chin and made him look at her.  His sad eyes locked on to hers and she gave him a soft smile.  “You know I love you right?”  His slight nod confirmed that he was okay, but still hurt.  “I’m sorry you big beautiful stud.”  He smiled slightly and was pulled viciously into a powerful embrace.  She pulled away from him and smirked.  “I forgot that I really shouldn’t make fun of your artistic goals.  I promise not to do it again.”

“You really need to harden up Kaariss.”  Shok added.  

“I’m hard enough when it counts.”  Kaariss countered, causing both Asala and Shok to chuckle.  He was obviously back to his joyful self.

“Kaariss, I need you to go find Ashaad and Sata.  I want you to tell them to meet me on the southern approach of the main camp within the hour prepped to travel.”  Asala instructed.  “We’ve got some of our people that need to be rescued.”

“Where’re you going?”  Shok asked.

“The Fallow Mire, the Avaar took some of our scouts hostage.  Their leader wants to test himself against me.”

“Why?”  Kaariss asked.

“Who knows?  I just know he better not have hurt our people or I will make him suffer.”  She usually didn’t mince words and what she said she meant.  “Shok, can you tell Cassian so that I don’t have to argue with him having to stay back.”

“He’s not going to be happy, but okay.”  Shok answered.

“I need to get Solas.”  Asala mentioned quietly.

“The Elf mage?  Why him?”  Shok looked puzzled.

“It’s a long story, but I’ll tell you when I get back.”  Asala turned and walked out of the Rest.

 “Cullen isn’t going to be happy either when he gets home.”  Shokrakar whispered to herself.

Chapter Text

Ruined Fortress Dungeons – Fallow Mire

 

It was so cold and the lights from the torches had gone out hours ago.  Randall was trying his best to clean Jason’s wounds with shaky hands.   The laceration to his bicep was deep and still trickling blood.  The tourniquet made from his belt was holding nicely and it was certain that Jason wouldn’t bleed to death from that wound at least.  They were all bruised and battered, but Jason had taken the worst of it.  The Avvar had ambushed them on their way to reports of rifts in the area.  It was a quick, skillful and viciously executed sneak attack that they never saw coming.  They expected demons and undead, but not these wild men of the south.  Jason had taken down two of the painted nightmare men before being struck from behind with a sword blow that nearly severed his right arm.  Liane had been struck unconscious as she tried to make her way to help Jason who was bleeding profusely from the enormous laceration.  Truth be told, Jason would’ve probably died if not for the Avvar healer who had quickly applied the tourniquet around his stricken arm.  Now they waited in this dirty, dank and unsanitary cell.  Moisture and mold seeped in from all sides and it smelled god awful.  The guards would occasionally come in with some cold porridge-like slop that tasted like it was made from moldy socks.  They would always form a living wall of protection around Jason when the guards did come in.  They had stopped counting the days after the first couple and only hoped that the Inquisition knew of their plight.  They were all shivering, hungry, and in just a terrible state.  Jason’s wounds were starting to fester and he had recently developed a brutally high fever.

“Do you think Tilah made it back?”  Randall asked Liane as he examined Jason who would probably die tonight from what looked like a pretty bad infection.  Liane just looked at Jason and the lithe elf started to fume.  She went to the large wooden door holding them in the maker forsake cell and began to bash at it furiously.

“WE NEED A HEALER DAMN YOU!”  She continued to bash and scream until the door flew open and one of the enormous guards kicked Liane so hard in the stomach that she was launched a good distance into the room.  She landed with a sickening thud on the stone floor and was silent. 

Randall’s reaction was swift as he attacked the guard with a punch that landed on the guard’s jaw with a loud and terrible crack.  The Avvar guard reeled back as Randall followed him out of the cell.  He was quickly set upon by three more of the Avvar and was beaten brutally into unconsciousness.  When Randall awoke he was chained to the floor with both leg and wrist shackles.  Instinctively he tugged to test the restraints which were more than adequate to the task.  He had dried blood all over his arms and hands.  He looked up and could see Liane on the opposite side of the room, also chained to the floor.  He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that she was at least breathing at a somewhat normal rate and was more or less alive.  His feeling of slight elation at the sight of Liane soon became one of dread when he turned his eyes towards Jason.  Still in the same position as before, only this time he was deathly still and the color just seemed to have faded from his face.  Randall knew that Jason’s days on Thedas were done and he swallowed a hard gulp and lowered his head in emotional agony. 

It would be a few hours before Liane woke and when she did, her eyes immediately locked onto the lifeless form that used to be Jason.  She stared in silence for a time at the form that was once her best friend.  “He’s gone.  They let him die.”  Liane’s voice was so quiet that if not for the eerie silence in the room, he wouldn’t have heard her.  She sounded defeated and hopeless.  These Avvar monsters had taken the life of a friend, a father, and a scout who was only out to help cleanse the land of the death and destruction that was Corypheus and his ilk. 

“Just so this fool can try and prove he’s as big and bad as the Herald?”  Randall blurted out.  “If past experience is any indication, these fools have just signed their death warrants.”

In the sadness and rage that she was feeling, in her thirst for vengeance she turned to address Randall.  “You think she’ll come?”

“I know she will.  Have you not seen how she interacts with all of us?  She is the reason we do what we’d…”  He began to cough violently and saw a trickle blood come from his mouth.  He chuckled, knowing that he was now living on borrowed time. 

“Randall?...  Are you…”  Before Liane could finish her sentence she heard the sound of steel on flesh, heard the explosions of fire magic and the screams of agony cut short.  It seemed that someone had come, and by the sounds outside their cell they knew who it was.  Liane was sure that it was their rescuers, she knew the Inquisitor had come for a reckoning.  These Avvar would be wiped out to the man.  As the sounds of slaughter got closer, Liane fell to her knees and chuckled quietly to herself.

The door was ripped from its hinges and the sight of their horned giant savior was of little comfort to them.  She was quickly followed by what looked like two of her Valo Kas comrades and the strange and distant elf named Solas.  Liane’s eyes locked onto Asala’s as she quickly made her way to her.  Solas had kneeled over Jason and began to try and heal him.  The brilliantly white light produced from the familiar healing magic was something that they welcomed, but she knew it was too late for Jason.  It was confirmed when Solas looked at Asala and shook his head.

“Your worship… I did not think you would come.”  Liane weakly mentioned as Asala ripped her manacles open with her bare hands.  She knelt in front of Liane and looked into her eyes with those strikingly beautiful silver eyes.  Liane’s eyes began to well up with tears as she turned her attention towards Solas who was still trying in vain to wake Jason.

Randall, who was being freed by Ashaad with a set of keys he must have taken from a dead guard, smiled a sad yet satisfied smile at the Inquisitor.  “I knew you would.”  Randall sounded much weaker than a few minutes before and collapsed on the floor.  His breaths were coming in wheezing and irregular intervals.

“Randall!  Oh please not you too!”  Liane quickly limped to him and knelt down with Asala watching on and a fury bubbling inside of her.

Solas looked up to Asala and again shook his head in regards to the recently deceased Jason.  “Take care of Randall, I’m going to make restitution.”  Asala’s stern sounding voice was filled with barely contained fury.

Sata watched on and saw the pain in Liane’s face.  The elven woman was in tears over her human comrade and friend.  This was something that she had never expected.  The Inquisition was a small world onto its own.  Elf, Human, Dwarf, Qunari, Vashoth and Tal Vashoth working together, playing together, watching out for each other.  Never in her life did she ever think that she would see something like this and yet here it was.  Asala had done the impossible and now she was about vent her fury on some poor soul who thought it was a good idea to earn her wrath.

Ashaad had knelt down beside Liane and began to examine her as well.  “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine.”  She answered with her attention totally on Solas and Randall.  Solas’ magic was working to heal the internal bleeding and punctured lung that had almost taken Randall as well.

Solas turned to look at the young elven scout.  “He’s going to be fine.  Can you please find something we can lay him on so we can carry him out of here?”  Liane was about to get up when Ashaad and Sata both stopped her.

“No, stay with Randall.  We’ll find something and come right back.”  Sata answered softly and motioned for Ashaad to follow her out of the cell.

 

******************************

 

The wet and musty conditions made her lightning attacks that much more effective.  The Avvar leader’s elite personal guard had been reduced to his two most loyal personal body guards.  The rest had become victims in the methodical slaughter that Asala was in the midst of performing.  The leader stood at the top of the stairs and watched as she entered the battered remains of a throne room that served as the Avvar’s headquarters.   The two bodyguards launched arrow after arrow that harmlessly shattered on her barrier as she calmly approached them.  Louis and Caska fanning out to the left and right of her.  She had given them explicit orders not to interfere with the leader.  They all knew that he was hers and they would have to settle for the scraps that were left over.  The huge Avvar leader, almost as tall as she was, pulled his giant war hammer from his back.  Asala’s ferocious smile was mirrored by the Avvar leader, he thought that he had gotten what he wanted.  He had wanted to test himself against her, he had wanted to spill her blood or die in the attempt.  He would have neither.

In the blink of an eye, her soldiers launched a barrage of arrows that turned his two body guard’s chests into pin cushions, killing them instantly.  The huge Avvar warrior lunged at Asala with surprising speed for such a large man, but he wasn’t even close to fast enough.  Bull was not only bigger, he was faster.  Her late brother Antaam was a blur compared to this oaf.  Asala sidestepped the attack and snatched his weapon from his hands with such brute and unadulterated power that it caused the Avvar to lose his balance and stumble forward and fall on his face.  As he started to stand Asala attacked him with the handle side of the hammer.  She struck the back of his right knee with an audible crack causing him to collapse onto his knees in agonizing pain.

Asala tossed the hammer forcefully into the stone wall and continued to glare with an evil intent.  “So this is the best the Avvar can do?”  She slowly paced around him watching him like a cat would do with a mouse it had caught.  The warrior stood up slowly, it was obvious that his right knee was dislocated and he was forced to put all of his weight on his left leg.  His rage was palpable as he knew he was already beaten… no not beaten, dominated so totally as if he were a mere child just borne of the womb.  He was determined to draw blood and unsheathed his dagger and glared at her defiantly, daring her to attack. 

Asala squared off and faced him, an evil looking smile on her face.  “Pfft… I don’t think so.”  Asala hated this man, hated his self-perceived birthright to do whatever he pleased to whomever he pleased with no thought of the consequence.  How many examples did she have to set?  How many did she have to kill, maim, and torture for them to get the message that the Inquisition was not to be trifled with.  She watched this mountain of a man, already beaten, already crippled and dishonored by her.  “I have only one sincere question for you, why?”  She asked the broken man who now just wanted to die by her hand.  He held his dagger with an unfamiliarity that came from someone who believed himself unbeatable and one that could not comprehend ever being in the position he was in at the moment.  He just glared at her and waited for her to come forward.  She knew that she wouldn’t get an answer so she was determined to make him pay for Jason’s painful death.

She closed the distance so quickly that he didn’t have a chance to even raise the dagger in defense.  She wrapped her enormous hands around both of his and squeezed with a force that crushed every bone in his hands and wrists.  The snap, crackle and pop of every bone in his hands was mixed in with the excruciating wince of the warrior who refused to scream out in pain.  Her face was now only inches from his when he attempted to head butt her.  She dropped her head so that he hit the thickly boned base of her horns, causing a huge gash to open up on the foolish man’s own forehead.  The blood was now flowing freely over his face and eyes causing him to blink uncontrollably.  “I really thought your people would be a challenge, but you turned out to be nothing more than a dragon made of parchment.”  She mocked him and wanted him to feel every word.  She continued to slowly pace around the now kneeling Avvar leader.  “I didn’t think I could bring your people to kneel so easily.”

Again the Avvar stood, his hands dangling loosely, useless and misshapen.  He then spit on the ground in front of her.  “Just finish it you overgrown cow!”  He was angry, beaten, suffering he just wanted it to end.  She wouldn’t give him that end, she would give him pain.  She would give him not what he wanted, she would give him what he deserved. 

The resulting leg kick to his good leg sounded like a battering ram striking its final splintering blow against a powerfully built gate.  This time he fell on his side with a grimace and a loud thud.  Slowly and still glaring defiantly he used his elbows to right himself and managed to painfully get to his knees again and spit at her.  Asala wiped her stomach of the offending saliva and smiled as she slowly closed the distance, grabbed him by his hair and lifted him into the air with one hand.  She pulled his face close to hers while his legs and arms flailed at her uselessly.  “You’re going to feel pain for every single second remaining in your pitiful life.”  She then began to drag him out towards the entrance of the fortress.   He continued to flail as she dragged him facedown towards the entrance of the fort.  “What did the Inquisition do to earn the attention of the mighty hand of Korth?”  She mockingly asked him as his knees had skin hanging and had become bloody from being dragged on the stone.

Ashaad and Sata were making some adjustments to the makeshift litter they had created from blankets and wooden stakes while Randall, who was now awake, laid on it.  Liane was being attended to by Solas as Asala passed them with her helpless captive being dragged behind her.  Ashaad couldn’t watch as he knew what Asala was doing, he had seen that look on her face before.  Sata put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed.  “Sometimes I pity our enemies.”  He looked sadly into Sata’s understanding eyes.

“I don’t.”  She said to him as Asala disappeared down the hall. 

“Her enemies force her to do the things she does.  I pity her.”  Sata commented as Ashaad finished tying off one of the stakes attached to the blanket. 

Sata nodded as she understood.  “Come on, let’s get Randall out of here.” 

Once they had made their way outside, they watched as Asala had dropped the Avvar leader like a sac of spoiled grain at the feet of the Avvar Skywatcher.  The Skywatcher looked like he was about to start healing his comrade when Asala stopped him in his tracks.  “NO!”  She yelled forcefully causing the Skywatcher to look at her with a puzzled expression.  “I am taking him back to his village as is.”  Asala turned to Ashaad, Sata and Solas.  “I’ll be taking fifty guardsmen with me.  Make sure the scouts get taken care of and I want a memorial service for Jason performed when I get back.  I should only be a couple of days.”

“Are you fucking crazy Lala?”  Sata exclaimed. 

Asala stopped her with a wave of her hand.  “This one’s tribe is going to have to make a decision when I get there.  I hope they’re not as stupid as this one.”

Ashaad knew what she was going to do.  She was going to parade this now crippled leader in front of his tribe.  She was going to dare them to come to his rescue.  It was a dark vengeance she was seeking, one that he had to talk her out of.  He slowly walked up to her and as she was about to pick up the still flailing Avvar leader, he put his hands on her shoulder and pulled her towards him.  She resisted, but as soon as she saw it was him she surrendered into his embrace.  “You don’t want to do that sister.”  He could feel her tears start to warm his shoulders.  “His tribe will fight and die to the man, woman and child…  Do you really want that?”

She pulled away from him as he looked into her now tear filled eyes.  She shook her head as the realization of what she was capable of began to dawn in her mind.  Corypheus had done to Haven what she could probably do to this Avvar’s village.  The realization that she could and almost did what Corypheus did hit her like a sledgehammer.  Her expression changed to one of pure anguish.  “I… I don’t.”  She tried to answer as she looked at Liane who was taking in the scene of the carnage.  Bodies of Avvar warriors littered the battlefield with terrible looking wounds.  Asala could feel the young elf’s shock and as Liane turned to make eye contact with her, Asala looked away with a sense that almost amounted to shame.  She then turned to the once again kneeling Avvar who looked about as beaten as anyone could look, he still glared defiantly at her, but it was a glare with no threat.  She felt no pity for the monster.  He had asked for this and she denied him everything.  He would not die, he would not draw her blood, and he would never triumph over her.  Asala turned and looked at Skywatcher.  “Do you think they’ll send someone to rescue him?”

“They will Inquisitor, although his father might not want to start a war over his foolish son.”  Skywatcher explained.  “He probably didn’t even know his son did this.  He is a much more reasonable man Inquisitor.”

“If I take him back to his village, will they attack me or will they parlay?”  Asala’s rage had subsided as the magnitude of what her and her people had done in the Mire was starting to sink in.  They had slaughtered at least fifty Avvar warriors in the rescue operation.  The bodies were strewn everywhere, the stench of rotting flesh combined with the Mire’s heavy and humid air was almost unbearable.

“To be honest, I do not know Inquisitor.  His father is an honorable man and will most likely listen before making a decision to as to whether he will fight or not.”  By all accounts he was telling the truth.  His breaths and heartbeat showed no signs of deception. 

“Then I will not go there.  I will send him back to his father.”  She scanned the area in front of the fort’s gate.  The undead had been wiped out and cleansed from the mire.  She had closed all of the fade rifts in the immediate area and won a new agent in the Avvar Skywatcher.  With a predatory gate that only she could possibly get away with, she walked up to and stood over the broken and kneeling Avvar leader.  “You wished to face my wrath and now you have experienced it.”  She drew her spirit blades and in a flash of blinding she put one of them to his throat.  He didn’t flinch, he continued to glare and there was fury in his eyes.  “You’re lack of honor and compassion is what earned you this.”  She pointed to the pile of his dead Avvar warriors.  He was as tough a human as she had ever seen, but his cruelty had to be punished.  His unprovoked attack demanded an immediate and vicious retaliation.  She watched him closely as her guards and comrades continued to pile the bodies of the dead Avvar warriors, his warriors.  He watched as these were men and women he knew, he watched as they were piled one on top of the other.  They died for his foolish pride.  They died for him.  Time would teach this savage a lesson that his careless and cruel lifestyle had not.  There was a sadness that seeped into his expression at the heap of Avvar bodies.  These used to be his men, his friends, his confidants and now they were all dead. 

“You’ll pay for this demon.  Mark my…”  The slap that stopped him from finishing his sentence knocked him off his knees and back on his side.  The glare she was giving him was one mixed of anguish and fury. 

“Shut up!  Say another word and I will rip out your tongue with my bare hands!”  She continued to hold those white hot spirit blades as it seemed she was contemplating what to do with him.

He then looked at the small group of his people that had been captured.  They were all sitting in a small area, there was about ten of them huddled together.  All of them were bloodied and a couple of them were unconscious.  He let out a sound of disgust and disdain at those of his people who feared death so much that they would surrender. 

Asala wanted so badly to maim this monster, to cripple him until he was as helpless as a newborn, but she wasn’t going to become the monster that this Avvar chieftain already was.  “Ashaad, get me his horse.”  She ordered and Ashaad immediately set forth to retrieve the chieftain’s horse. 

Ashaad quickly returned with one of the horses that could only belong to the Avvar chieftain and led him back to Asala.  Asala picked up what remained of the broken, battered and beaten Avvar warrior.  She draped him unceremoniously over the horse’s back.  She then sat him up and strapped him on to the saddle as securely as she could.  “Tell your King that if I ever see you in the lowlands again, I will only send you back in pieces.”  Before the chieftain could get a word out, she smacked the horse’s hind quarters and it took off at a gallop towards the barbarian’s home.

She watched and listened as he screamed his promised vengeance on her before she turned and sadly looked at the pile of fallen Avvar warriors.  “What a waste of life.”  She commented.  “Is there any special ceremony that we should do to honor their dead?” She asked Skywatcher.

“I’ll take care of it Inquisitor.  You’ll probably see his father sooner than you think.”  He answered with a chuckle.

“What?”  She huffed out in frustration.  “You mean his father will come to Skyhold?  Surely he has to know it will be a death sentence.”  Now Asala was starting to feel remorse at the way she had treated the Avvar chieftain.  “Are your people such fools that they would sacrifice themselves over someone as cruel as that one?”  She pointed at the now fading silhouette of the beaten Avvar on the horse in the distance.

“It is our way Inquisitor.  He will challenge you, and if I know him, he will be alone.”  He smiled.

She shook her head in exasperation.  “Then let him come.  Hopefully I can talk him out of fighting.”  She turned to Ashaad and Sata.  “Let’s get out of this Maker Forsaken land.  Ride ahead and tell the men to take down the tents and prepare to march back.”  She then looked at Solas.  “Solas, Caska, Louis, you’re with me.  We’ll keep these prisoners company.”

“GET UP THE LOT OF YOU!”  Caska barked at the beaten and chained Avvar.

“Easy Caska, they will not be treated the way they treated our people.  We’ll show them that the Inquisition is not barbaric with those who do not deserve it.”  Asala gently put her hand on Caska’s shoulder and he nodded to her.  “Come on, let’s get a move on.”  She pulled one of the more injured Avvar by the scruff of his armor, lifted the large man like he was a feather and put him on the back of her horse.  The look of surprise on the man’s face was priceless.  She returned his stare with a benevolent smile.  “I’m saving my savagery for your leader when he comes to my home.”  She then turned and scanned the carnage once more, the carnage and devastation that was caused by this ridiculous venture.  “Damn all of you…”  She whispered to herself as they began their long trek back to Skyhold.

“May the Lady of the Skies protect you Inquisitor.”  Skywatcher saluted her and turned his attention to the pile of bodies.  “I’ll meet you at Skyhold when I’m done here.”

 

*****************************************

 

Ostagar Ruins

 

Asala and Solas observed the ancient ruins of the great Tevinter Fortress of Ostagar.  They had let the rest of the Inquisition guard and their prisoners go on ahead of them while they themselves peeled off to investigate the magnificent ruins.  “Say what you will about the Tevinter Empire, they sure know how to build things.”  Solas watched her with a curious expression.  “Have you ever been to Minrathous?”

He nodded with a smirk.  “It is magnificent, but I could not walk around freely like you did.  I didn’t have a full blown magister who was as gracious as Alexius to invite me.”

“Even with Alexius’ permission we were received in a very hostile fashion.  Alexius’ job actually made me a little more palatable to them though, at least with some of their soldiers and legion mages.”  Solas was listening to her like he had never before.  She had actually peaked his curiosity and it showed on his face.  “Go ahead and ask me what I did?  I know you want to.”  Her smile was contagious as Solas let his own grin show.

“Am I that obvious Inquisitor?”  He said through his chuckle.

“You are.”  She playfully retorted.  “And there is no way you would be able to fade walk this story unless you went to Seheron.”

He actually laughed at her comment.  “Well?  I’m waiting with bated breath now.”

“Come on Solas, help me set up camp and I’ll tell you all about it.”

They spoke for a good hour about her adventure on the Island of Seheron and her acquisition of the Qunari poison Qamek.  She described in detail some her other confrontations with the Qun and how the Qunari gave her the title “Golden Reaper.”  He learned of her unyielding hatred of the Qun and its followers.  She explained everything to him, her parents’ murder at the hands of Qunari Ben-Hassrath hunters.  She was about as much a Qunari as he himself was.  It was a totally surprising revelation.  “I have to apologize again Inquisitor, you are an extraordinary person and I can’t think of anyone else who could do what you are doing.”

“What am I doing Solas?”  She smiled as she finished setting up and hammering in the final stake for her tent.

“You’ve changed my beliefs about your people.”  He smiled back.  “Thank you.”  It was sincere and it made her feel like she actually touched this deceitfully brilliant yet kind hearted being.

“There’s plenty of room in this tent if you wish to stay.”  She really did want to like him.  As much of an arrogant ass as he could be, she felt that he was, she felt that he was a tortured yet good soul and she wanted him to trust her.  She knew that there was more to Solas, he was unlike any elf she had ever met, but she had met many different types of people.  She wanted to know him better, she wanted to understand who he was, but she didn’t want to push.  She wanted him to reveal himself willingly.  It was her way of making people she knew feel comfortable.  Some of them would open up immediately and some wouldn’t for a very long time.  Her deceased husband was quite a mystery man when she first met him and opened up slowly.

“Thank you Inquisitor, but I prefer the open sky.”  He responded softly.  “I’ll meet you in the usual place tonight?”

“Can’t wait.”  She responded with a sense of excitement.

 

*******************

 

The way the spirits reconstructed the scene was incredible.  Everything from the most insignificant bug to King Cailen himself was present.  It was the largest war camp she’d ever seen.  It looked like the entire Ferelden army was on the field.  “They love to tell their stories.”  Solas broke through the intense activity and noise of the camp.

“They’re wonderful.  This is amazing.”  She watched as the soldiers sparred, cleaned their weapons, slept and everything else soldiers did when they were in camp.  “What is this?”

“This is the day before.”  Solas sounded amused.

“Before what?”  Solas heard Asala’s immense curiosity in her question and it made him chuckle.  He stared at her with an affection he did not have before.  She was an amazing being and she reminded him of himself when he was younger. 

“Do you not recognize it?”  He smiled as he asked.

She scanned the area, the landscape, the architecture and at one point she covered her mouth in shock.  “This is the 1st battle of the fifth blight.”

“It is and if you follow me, I’ll give you the tour of the most important moments.”  It still amazed him at the ease of which she fade walked.  Her calm and curios demeanor was contagious and the spirits gravitated toward her like moth to a flame.  In reality, they could tell her far more about the scene they were watching than he ever could.  Her young mind though needed guidance and it could only come from someone who had the experience that he had. 

“They’re not afraid of me?”  She walked among the whisps and spirits that gathered around her.

“I told you that they feed off your state of mind.  You’re curiosity and calmness will attract them to you.  They’re just as curious of you as you are of them.  Most of them are spirits of learning and wisdom so anything new is almost irresistible to them.”  He continued to explain and watch in awe as the spirits continued to gather around her.

She has the mar…  She couldn’t make out which one said it, but it stopped abruptly and she felt herself ejected from the fade as she awoke in her tent.  She sat up and it was still dark outside.  “What happened?”  She whispered.  She stood up and made her way outside.  Her sense of smell picked up Solas’ scent and she quickly sprinted her way towards him at an ungodly speed. 

He was sitting on a large boulder in front of the entrance to the Ostagar ruins.  “Solas, what happened?”  He looked at her and chuckled.

“They didn’t want me there.  A spirit of learning demanded that I not taint your knowledge with my own.”  His answer actually made her laugh.

“So why didn’t they just kick you out and not me?”  She asked and he just raised his shoulders and shrugged.

“Spirits can be fickle about who they communicate with.  Why they ejected us both is a mystery to me.”  If only she could read him she thought.  Something about his answer made her think he was hiding something.  Well she would do the same.  That same spirit of learning mentioned her mark before she was abruptly yanked out of the fade.

“Is that all?  They’re fickle?  So you’re saying they would allow me to see the battle as long as you’re not there?”  Her questions were fair, but he could not answer them truthfully.  The young spirit almost revealed his identity to her and he had no choice but to act.  He spoke with the spirit after Asala’s ejection and he knew they would not reveal his identity.  They were his friends and even though they loved the idea of having someone new to learn from, they wouldn’t jeopardize their long standing relationship.

“That’s absolutely correct… so long as I’m not there.”  He answered and she pretended to understand as it began to rain.

“You sure you don’t want to join me in my tent?”  She asked as she began to get soaked.

He looked at her with a kind eye and nodded.   “I think I would be a fool not to take a generous offer like that one.”

When she returned to the fade it was without Solas and though the spirits showed her the Battle of Ostagar and all of the horrors that went with it, she couldn’t make them answer her why they mentioned the mark on her hand.  They didn’t even acknowledge it.  So even spirits have their secrets.  She thought.  The other thing that bothered her was that during the battle it seemed that none of the spirits would show her what happened to the Hero of Ferelden.  Amalia was nowhere to be found after the battle and yet it was she who lit the signal fire on the tower and eventually it was she who defeated the archdemon.  Now she knew that even the spirit world wasn’t without deception and motivation.  It wasn’t as pure as Solas tried to make it and now she felt as if they were also keeping things from her, just like Solas.  There was only one spirit that she ever encountered that had told her who she was and that was without Solas knowing.  Solas was much more than he made himself out to be.  She would find out because if his ulterior motives threatened the Inquisition and its mission to kill Corypheus, she would make sure that she would stop him.

When she awoke, Solas had started a fire and was heating water.  “The spirits missed you and told me some interesting things.”  He chuckled at her comment.

“What did my friends say?”  He asked.

“Oh they asked me not to say.”  She said coyly.

The awkwardness was back, she could sense that he was no longer as open as before.  Something in the fade happened to make him more closed off.  The spirits wouldn’t say and he most certainly wouldn’t say.  The only thing she could think of was that it had something to do with the mark.  The mark was put on her hand by that elven orb.  Solas was most adamant about getting it away from Corypheus.  There was a connection between the orb, Solas and the mark on her hand.  Maybe he was using her to get it from Corypheus’ corpse and then hand over the orb to him.  One thing was sure, she wouldn’t give it to him until he gave her full disclosure as to why he wanted possession of it.  If it was elven then why not give back to a Dalish tribe or elven mage.  He most certainly showed quite a bit of disdain for the elves of Thedas so why should she give it back to him?

“Solas I have to admit something to you.”  She could feel herself tighten up as she spoke.  “And also warn you.”

This time he turned to her with all the seriousness he could muster. 

“I know that you’re not telling me everything and I am fine with that, but let’s be clear.”  She didn’t want to but the world was at stake and she had to make sure the he was an ally and not and detriment to her mission.  “I hope your desire to acquire the orb from Corypheus doesn’t compromise my duty to protect the people of the Thedas.  If it does, then I would really appreciate that you leave.”  Her eyes were locked onto his and he didn’t respond.  “If it does not, then I’m truly sorry.”

He smiled at her.  “You don’t need to worry about that.  My quest is to right the wrongs committed by that monster, just like you.”  He became more serious.  “I appreciate that you respect my privacy and know that I will always help in any way I can.”  She nodded and she had to be satisfied with his answer.

That was the closest Solas had come to being outed.  Asala was a sponge when it came to learning.  She would find out eventually and that put a sad expression on his face.  She was an incredible person and he wished that things could be different.  At a different time she could’ve been a close friend, now he could not let her get any closer than she already was.  He owed it to his people.  They finished pulling up the tent and began to make their way back toward Skyhold.

Chapter Text

Home Again

 

Cullen paced back and forth in his office with an exasperated expression.  “What was she thinking?!”  He exclaimed towards the sitting Shokrakar.  “She’s so… so…”  He was fuming at the thought that she left in such a rush. 

“Irresponsible?”  Shok answered him with a chuckle.  She stood up and blocked his pacing.  She looked at him with an understanding smile.  “It’s who she is Cullen.  Knowing her…”  She stopped and her expression changed to a more somber one and she didn’t continue.

“Knowing her what?”  Cullen asked.

Cullen sat down at his desk and fixed his attention on the big Tal-Vashoth, who once again sat in the chair at the front of his desk.  “She’s very big on making examples of those who hurt those she loves or considers helpless.”  Cullen could see a sadness slowly make its way onto Shok’s face.  He understood that her vengeance could be terrible indeed.  Adamant had proven that and her personal tale about the Qunari Dreadnought was something that he knew had to be true. 

“If those Avvar hurt our people…”  He started with a shudder and she nodded.

“It will be terrible.”  She finished his sentence.  “It’s been her lot in life.  Her parents, Antaam and others, she blames herself for their deaths.  She always brings up the fact that in every case they were trying to get her.”  Shokrakar knew that Asala carried that guilt inside her.  She also knew that she had shared much of her history with Cullen, to her extreme surprise.  Now that she spoke to him more often, she could see why Asala would trust him.  He was easily the best listener she had ever spoken to.

“Damn her.”  He quietly commented and was surprised when Shok reached over the desk and gently squeezed his hand. 

“Cullen… don’t.”  She could see that it made him uncomfortable.  How someone as kind, as funny and as wonderful as Asala could become such a savagely brutal agent of death caused him to pause.  “She’s going to need you when she returns.”  Cullen turned to her, surprised at the revelation.  “I know you feel you don’t deserve her attention, but she sees your struggle to be something better than you were.  You’re doing something many thought impossible and maybe she sees that there is hope for herself as well.”

“I… I need her too.”  He felt guilty saying it, feeling it.   He didn’t deserve someone who understood him, someone who had given herself so completely to him even though he had done unspeakably horrible things to her kind.  He turned and found Shok’s strikingly blood red eyes fixed on him, a tender expression on her intimidatingly scarred face.

“I know.”  She responded, now with a toothy grin on her face.

“Am I that obvious?”  He was kidding himself when he thought she wouldn’t see.  Shokrakar was a great leader and he could see her concern for her people.  He was sure that she saw the pain on his face no matter how hard he tried to hide it.

“Yes, you’ve an endearing clumsiness to you Cullen, totally separate from your intimidating Commander persona.”  She continued to smile as she puffed up her chest to exaggerate her comment.  “If I weren’t coupled with Cassian, I’d take you for myself.”

Cullen’s cheeks began to blush as he almost fell out of his chair.  “W… What!?”  His words came out stumbling and unsure, as Shokrakar laughed.

“See, there it is.”  Cullen felt a little humiliated at what was obviously Shokrakar’s successful attempt at eliciting a reaction from him.

“That was really sneaky.”  He chuckled comfortably.  “Is your whole company filled with jokesters?”

“That was pretty much the extent of my comical abilities.  Asala is by far… absolutely by far, much worse depending on who she chooses as her victim.”  Shokrakar warned him with a light expression.  “Maker help you if she ever chooses you to be the target of one of her comedic endeavors.”  Cullen smiled at the thought knowing that it was probably only just a matter of time. 

Shokrakar stood up and took her leave of him. 

 

*******************************

 

It was midday as Bull read the missive with much reservation.  To think that the Qun had offered its assistance to a Saarebas of Asala’s power was unfathomable to him.  Bull reread it again, trying to find some hidden message, some double meaning, something to tell him that this wasn’t what it seemed, but it was such a simple missive that it left no doubt.

“We have received information from our operatives in the Imperium that a large shipment of red lyrium is being moved by the Venatori from the Storm Coast to parts unknown.  This is disturbing news and the Qun would like to cooperate with the Inquisition in destroying said shipment.  A representative has been sent to the Storm Coast with express instructions to procure an Alliance with the Inquisition to facilitate this task.”  It was so simple and yet it was so vague. 

As he continued to contemplate what exactly was meant by the Qunari missive the door to the ‘Rest’ burst open and a young human warrior announced that the Inquisitor was returning.  “She’s back!”

The scouts Asala went to rescue had returned two days before, along with about a dozen Avvar prisoners.  They were a somber group and it looked like the Inquisition Scouts had the worst of it with one of their own losing his life.  Damn did he like her.  When everyone suggested that they were collateral losses and not worth rescuing, Asala damned them all and left with her bodyguards to rescue them.  It was irresponsible, dangerous and out of character for most the people that were in a similar position of power.  She didn’t care and went anyway, daring anyone to try and stop her.  It was why that soldier was so enthusiastic about her return, it was why these Templars followed a tremendously powerful mage without question, not to mention the mages she rescued from servitude to the Venatori.  He got up from his chair and walked with Crem out to the main Courtyard and down towards the gate.  They sat together on the central stairs from the lower courtyard to observe.

“You alright chief?”  Damn, Crem was way too observant sometimes.  “You look like you’re in deep thought.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna have to ask Asala a question that might get me killed.”  He answered somberly.

“It’s got something to do with the Qun doesn’t it?”  Crem asked rhetorically.  “She likes you chief, the worst you’re gonna get is an ass whoopin.” 

Bull chuckled at the statement, but he was probably right.  Asala had softened quite a bit with him and seemed to trust him as well.  It was strange that he could feel such kinship with probably the most powerful Sarrebas ever.  “Getting physically pummeled by that Goddess is something I would never consider punishment.”

“I agree.”  Crem chuckled as he answered.

As they both continued to wait on the stairs, Bull could see Cullen down in the entrance yard.  He exuded an air of excitement no matter how hard he tried to hide it.  As he watched him pace the lower yard, Bull could feel the approach of the most important people in the keep.  The first one leaped onto his back.  “You’re going down Bull!”  Talania exclaimed as she tried to put him in a choke hold, but only ended up hanging on to Bull’s hugely muscled neck.  Antaam then grabbed an arm while Rasaana grabbed the other.  Shiandra and Michael jumped onto his shoulders and began to try and pull him down by the horns.  He didn’t budge as Katoh took a seat next to him and watched him and the kids with amusement in her expression.

“Talania can’t stop talking about how you taught her to fake an injury in order to lull your opponent into thinking they have the advantage.”  Katoh told him as she turned to look toward the gate.

“Did she hurt somebody?”  Amid all of the grunts and huffs being produced by the kids, he asked.

Katoh laughed.  It was a legitimate laugh and it made Bull smile.  “She gave Cullen the small shiner he’s sporting.”

Bull couldn’t hold it in.  His deeply rich laugh echoed throughout the lower courtyard and it was accompanied by Crem’s and Katoh’s as well.  He turned to look at Cullen and seeing that black and blue underneath his left eye made him double over with laughter.  The kids took this as an opportunity to pin him down.  “You win, you win!”  He exclaimed to them in between laughs.

They let him go and quickly rushed to where Cullen was pacing and commenced their assault on him as well.  Cullen went down like a sack of potatoes and surrendered to them almost immediately.  Bull sat back up and watched Katoh as she watched over her charges.  They’d come a long way from their near murderous first meeting.  All of the Valo-Kas had accepted him for the most part with the notable exception of Sata.  He could feel her unease every time he was around, but even Sata was much more calm around him lately.  The Qun would have me kill them all, take these beautiful little ones back to be broken.  He thought as he watched them all.  They didn’t deserve it.  They weren’t Qunari so why did he have to?

“Are you okay Bull?”  This time it was Katoh asking the question and he grimaced. 

“I’m… they want to work with the Inquisition.”  He whispered.

Katoh didn’t even need to know who ‘they’ were to ascertain that ‘they’ was the Qun.  It sent a shiver down her spine.  Was this the moment Bull would betray them?  Would he?  She looked into his troubled expression and saw what Asala saw.  “If Asala thinks it’s a good idea, I’m sure she’d entertain it.”  The surprise on Bull’s face was priceless.  Katoh actually was encouraging him to ask?  “Although you look a little concerned about the matter.”

“I… I don’t want them here.”  Bull was torn, painfully so.  Katoh could see it on his face.  “But… the help they could provide would be substantial.”  Bull felt Katoh’s hand squeeze his shoulder and turned to see that she had stood and met his eye with those beautiful golden orbs.  She smiled and patted him on his shoulder as she made her way down the stairs to the lower courtyard. 

As she walked down the stairs she turned to look at him once more, the tender smile still on her face.  “She’s so beautiful.”  Crem commented to him.  “I could get lost in those eyes forever.”

He ignored Crem and just watched her as she made her way to the kids who were still tormenting Cullen.  The kids climbed off Cullen immediately and made their way back towards him and Crem, they looked quite tame from before.  She’s a natural born Tamassran… her patience, her protectiveness of the little ones… she’s wonderful.  They would kill her… kill that beautiful being… just because she was mage touched.  If they tried to lay a hand on her…  His anger started to show as Crem watched him.

“What’s up chief?”  Crem was just not someone who would give up.  “You look a little conflicted.”

“Nothing Crem, I got a lot of stuff on my mind right now.”  He responded as he watched her pick up the little elf Shiandra who wrapped her arms around Katoh’s neck and buried her face into it.  The little elf was obviously distraught about something and by the guilty look on Talania’s face, she must be the culprit.  …I’d kill them.

His attention quickly turned toward the gate as Asala and Solas walked through.  “LALA!!!”  The kids all yelled in unison as they ran towards her with the exception of Shiandra who was in Katoh’s arms.  Solas made his way around the little mob and headed for the stairs.  Bull saw that Solas noticed little Shiandra in Katoh’s arms and began to approach them.  Shiandra slowly turned her teary eyed face towards Solas.

“What’s wrong little one?”  Solas asked her and she pointed to the hem of her little dress.  It was torn and it brought an almost unperceivable chuckle from him.  Shiandra caught the chuckle though and turned away from him, her little face was back buried in Katoh’s neck.  Katoh gave Solas the evil eye which he took to mean he should make his exit.

Mr. Personality.  Bull thought as he watched Solas make his way around him and Crem.  He was out of sight quickly and Asala now approached the stairs with Cullen next to her and all of the kids minus one hanging all over her.  She looked tired, but the joy on her face was unmistakable.  She stopped in front of Katoh with Shiandra still buried in her friend’s neck.  Bull watched as Asala whispered something into Shiandra’s ear causing her to turn and wipe the tears from her face.  He continued to watch as she put the kids down and took Shiandra from Katoh.  She turned and face Talania’s tiny frame and it looked like she apologized to Shiandra for ripping her hem.  Asala put Shiandra down and the little elf launched herself and put Talania in a ferocious embrace which the little Vashoth returned.  He’d never seen anything like this in Seheron, Qunandar or anywhere ruled by the Qun.  Family was a concept he wasn’t familiar with.  The Qun preached efficiency and duty over love and family, his experience with the Southerners taught him that love and family were just as effective and the bonds formed by them were only breakable by death or betrayal. 

Crem had continuously told him that contrary to what he believed, he was familiar with the concept as the Chargers considered the big Qunari one of their own, if he felt the same way then he did know what family was.

Did he feel the same way about them?  He did, but it went against everything the Qun had taught him.  They were his people too, they depended on him, they looked up to him, they would die for him. 

He continued to watch Asala as she spoke to Katoh.  She quickly looked his way and winked.  He watched as she looked at Cullen and saw the affection in her stare.  Even with all of his history, she saw something in the broken Templar.  She had a couple of words with Cullen and took her leave.  She approached him and Crem on the stairs with a tired smile.  “Need to talk?”  Bull saw it on her face.  He may not have her keen senses, but he was really good at reading people.  She’d been through another ordeal.

“Yeah… yeah.”  She sighed and then paused to take a breath.  “But we can save it for later, Katoh says you’ve got something I might want to hear.”  She stood in front of him completely relaxed with not a shred of the aggression or defensive posture she had shown in their first meeting.

“Whoa boy.”  He sighed as he took a breath.  “There’s really no other way to ask you this.”

“Let me guess, the Qun wants you to get rid of me?”  She playfully mentioned, but the look on her face betrayed a fear that maybe they did.  He chuckled and locked his eye on hers.

“That would be so much easier.”  He shook his head.  “No, they actually want to ally with the Inquisition.”  Bull didn’t sound enthused at all.  On the contrary, he sounded downright depressed.

“Bull, are you okay?”  She saw that he wasn’t.  “What’s wrong, I’d a thought this would be something that made you happy.”  Asala was smiling inside.  She could see the conflict in his expression, he didn’t want them.  He was afraid they would ask him to do the unthinkable.

“I… I’m used to them being over there.”  He mentioned, probably in regards on how they let him operate pretty independently.  He paused and she could see his frustration bubbled over.  “Listen, I know the Qun solves a lot of problems for a lot of people, but…”

“It’s not for everyone.”  She finished his sentence and he nodded.  Of all people Bull knew, Asala was one who understood that to the letter.  “Do you think it’s worth a shot?”  Again he was completely floored and the knot in his stomach tightened even more. 

I can’t believe this.  He thought as he couldn’t hide his surprise.  “You’re actually considering it?”

“If it’s worthwhile yes.  I can’t hide behind my fears when the fate of the world is at stake.”  She answered.  “And it would only be a temporary alliance.”  She smiled at him.  “Bull, I trust you.  If you think it’s good for us, then set it up.”  She began to walk up the stairs past him.

“But you haven’t even heard what it is.”  Bull yelled after her.  Even Crem was shocked at Asala’s trust in the Qunari Spy.

She continued to walk away from him.  “I don’t trust the Qun, but I do trust YOU Bull, remember?”

 

***********************************

 

She made her way up the stairs, past a throng of people who bowed to her, nodded their heads in approval and just generally wanted to be in her presence.  A lot of the Inquisition scouts were gathered at the top of the stairs to the main courtyard.  They smiled and saluted as she made her way past them and just as she was about to begin her climb into the keep proper she turned to them.  “If I can help it, I will never leave anyone behind.  You risk and sometimes give your lives for the Inquisition… for me.  I can’t ask less of myself for you.”  She turned and resumed her climb.

“WE LOVE YOU INQUISITOR!”  Yelled a distinctively female voice from the back of the crowd.  Asala turned around to see who it was and all she could see was the mass of Inquisition scouts now deathly quiet. 

Her smile couldn’t be broader.  “I love you too.”  She answered them and they completely lost their marbles as they began to chant her name.

“ASALA! ASALA! ASALA!”  They chanted while pounding their fists in the air.  She giggled as she turned to continue her journey to a well-deserved hot bath.  As she continued up and into the keep, the chant faded and the scouts were chuckling amongst themselves and finally they scattered to continue on with whatever tasks they were doing.

Katoh had told her she would drop the kids off with her in about an hour.  That should give her enough time to take a supremely decadent bath.  As she made her way through the main hall a feeling of dread filled her when she saw Josephine approach her.  She had the look of a woman on a mission.

“Inquisitor, a word if you please.”  Josephine addressed her with an unusually jovial manner.

“Yes Josie?” 

“Come!”  She was excited and her heart was pattering like the wings of a hummingbird.  She turned to see Asala wasn’t nearly as close as she’d like.  “Come on, I promise this is a good thing.”

“What is it?”  Asala asked with supreme curiosity now as she followed Josephine into her office.  Then she saw Dagna standing there next to the fireplace with her typically exuberant expression.  “What are you two up to?”

“Remember when you told me to get you an appropriate outfit for your station here?”  Asala nodded.  “Well Vivienne, Dorian, Dagna and I think we’ve come up with the perfect attire for you here.”

Asala breathed a sigh of relief as now she knew it wasn’t some noble she needed to schmooze or some disagreement she needed to mediate.  “Where’s Vivienne and Dorian?”

“Here girl.”  Dorian called as he entered the room with Vivienne.  Dorian held a pair of bright white horn caps that looked like they were made from… dragon bones?  Vivienne held a form fitting cuirass of the same color with the Inquisition Eye painted in black right in the center.  The impressive black cape, white plated boots, white bracers and white plated skirt completed the outfit.  White earrings shaped like the Inquisition Eye were also part of the attire. 

“It’s the last of the dragon scales and bones, the cape is sea silk, I think you’ll look not only like our proper leader, but as per your request, it should be very comfortable.”  Josephine looked like she wanted Asala to try it on right then and there.  Asala was actually very excited to see that beautiful outfit.

“Wow… I can’t believe you all went and did the impossible… It looks wonderful.”  She was in awe, but she wasn’t about to waste her time trying it on just yet.  “I need to bathe before I try it on, I’ll return in about an hour with it on… okay?”

“Of course Inquisitor.  We’ll see you then.”  Josephine acknowledged her and the look of pure anticipation did not seem to fade.  “Don’t make me come looking for you.”  That last sentence was a warning to do what she wanted now, because she would find her and ruin her moment of fun later.

Vivienne didn’t even made a sound as she nodded and took her leave.  Asala was right behind her walking with a purpose as she turned from Josephine’s office and made her way to her room entrance.  She looked at Caska guarding the door and smiled.  “Can you fetch the Commander for me Caska?  Tell him it’s extremely important.”

He smiled as he saluted and left to get Cullen.

She entered her room after another lengthy climb up the stairs and finally breathed.  The bath was already filled and just waiting for her to heat it.  She undressed quickly, pulling her breast plate and pants off with practiced ease.  She slid out of her smalls and breast band until she was totally nude.  Her right hand began to glow a fiery orange as she dipped it into the water.  She put her hand into the water and brought its temperature up to almost a boil.   The soaps and lotions were all placed next to the tub on a small table that allowed her to easily reach them. 

She didn’t hesitate and entered the tub.  If there was a heaven, it was a large tub filled with hot water.  She reveled in the feel of the heat as it penetrate her aching muscles, loosening her tendons, relaxing her body and putting her into a state of utter bliss.  As she massaged every part of her body that she could reach as she heard the footsteps of what she knew was Cullen.  “Asala?”  He called hesitantly.

Asala smiled, but didn’t answer.  She wanted him to see her first, she wanted to see his reaction to her.  Then she heard him start going back down the stairs.  “Cullen… where are you going?”

“Oh you’re there?  Why didn’t you answer?”  Asala struck her own forehead with the palm of her hand in amused frustration.

“Will you get up here already!”  She ordered him as she adjusted herself in the tub to look as sexy as she could. 

When he finally cleared the stairs and saw her she could hear his breaths hitch and his heart started to beat in a rapid and ragged pattern.  “May I?”  It sounded so mischievous.  And it came from Cullen!  She gave him her most seductive gaze as she motioned for him with her pointer finger to get in with her.

As clumsy as he could be around her, he looked like an expert as he unclasped his chest plate, sword belt and boots.  He did have a little problem with one of his boots and ended up falling on the couch as he struggled to pull it off.

She enjoyed the sight of him, her beautiful broken Templar, his pale skin full of scars caused her to shiver.  He was so beautiful, so damaged, so perfect in his flaws.  The lyrium was gone from him, she couldn’t smell even an inkling of it from him.  She smiled as he quickly made his way toward her in all of his glory.  He stood for a moment and partook the sight in front of him.  His cheeks had a slight tinge of red as he looked at the magnificence that was this beautiful Vashoth.  He didn’t ask permission, he removed his smalls and entered the water opposite her.  As he sat down in the heavenly water she let out a little huff and gave an exaggerated frown.  “Why are you so far away from me?”  She asked as innocently as she could manage causing him to chuckle.

He took the hint and leaned forward toward her on all fours until his face was an inch from her face.  “Is this better?”  He asked and she shook her head. 

“No.”  She closed the distance and lightly brushed her lips on his.  He couldn’t resist any longer and crashed his lips with hers in a ferocious kiss.  She chuckled through the kiss.  “That’s much better.”  She approved through the increasingly passionate kiss.  “Come, we don’t have much time.”  She arched up toward him giving him full access to her womanhood, she let out a sensual moan that made his breath hitch once again.  As he wrapped his arms around her legs and took a hold of her firm and muscular buttocks in his heavily calloused hands, a knock on the downstairs door destroyed the flow they were in.  “FUUUUUUUUUUCCCCK!!!!!!”  She yelled in supreme frustration.  “WHO IS IT?!”  Cullen sat back and let out a sigh, the moment was totally ruined.

“We have a situation.”  Josephine sounded desperate.

“Can’t it wait?”  Asala sounded almost like she was begging.

“No, um… an Avvar chieftain was caught outside the castle walls right after you got here.”  Josephine answered as she slowly made her way up the stairs.  “He… he’s been captured without incident and is in the main hall.  He said you’d know why he was here and is now waiting for you.”

Asala’s ears perked up at Josephine’s predicament.  She got out of the tub, quickly followed by Cullen and they both began to dress themselves.  Asala figured she would don the new attire her little group of fashionistas had put together for her.  “Already?”

“It seems he rode here non-stop to confront you.”  Josephine finally made it to her room and Cullen was surprisingly already dressed.

“Oh for fuck’s sake, did he really… damn it!”  Asala exclaimed while she finished putting on her horn caps.  Josephine and Cullen stood there and just watched her as she quickly braided her still wet hair into one thick braided pony tail.  She turned to look at them looking like the dragon queen she was.  Their stares told her this attire was worthy of the title they bestowed upon her and when she looked in the mirror she almost fell backwards at how absolutely fabulous she looked.  It was everything she wanted in the comfort department also. 

To come home and only ask for a moment’s respite and be denied actually made her fume.  Damn these people.  She thought as turned back towards Josephine and Cullen.

“He was alone and well... I’ll let him explain himself.”  She responded as she made her way down the stairs of Asala’s quarters.

“So he’s already here to avenge his son?”  Asala asked herself quietly as her mood began to darken.  “If it isn’t the fucking Arvaraad it’s the Red Templars, or demons, or darkspawn, or an ancient Tevinter Magister… now it’s the fucking Avvar…”  She quickly made her way down the stairs.  “I’m so tired of this shit.”  She sounded so frustrated.

“Asala?”  Cullen softly called out as he took a hold of her hand a stopped her.  She turned around to look at her amber eyed lover who returned her gaze softly.  “This isn’t over.”  He whispered in her ear causing her to smile almost sheepishly before turning back around and heading out into the throne room.

When she finally made it to the throne room Asala was quietly seething at the crowded hall.  She stood in front of her Dragon Throne and folded her arms in apparent frustration, glaring at the chained Avvar chief. 

Movran the Under, father of the Hand of Korth stood there in front of her.  He looked every bit as powerful as his son and his calm demeanor made her think that maybe she wouldn’t have to kill him.  “You should’ve killed the fool.”  He mentioned to her surprise, but she just continued to glare. 

“Why are you here?”  Cullen asked, with an exceedingly hostile tone.

“My son wanted to test himself against Tevinter, but your Inquisition made too tempting a target for him.”  Asala listened and her blood began to boil.  “Offspring from a redhead always produces a brat.”

“He hadn’t left the wilds yet and he felt he needed to attack my scouts?  Tevinter is thousands of miles from there and across the fucking waking sea…”  Asala took a breath as she thought of the ridiculousness of the explanation.  She let out a deep growl that took Movran by surprise.  “Is your tribe going to cause any more problems for us?”

“My son and his warriors were beaten handily by you and yours.  I am here to parlay for the men and women you captured.”  He sounded reasonable not to mention that his calm and steady vitals told her that he was telling the truth.

“Four of them do not want to leave and have joined the Inquisition Ranks voluntarily, the others I will release on the condition that you and your people not interfere with our mission to close the rifts and kill Corypheus and his pets.”  Asala answered with a determined aggression, as if challenging him to refuse the terms.

Movran’s eyes didn’t waver and remained locked with hers.  “I see why my son wished to test himself against the mighty Inquisitor.” 

Asala had run out of patience.  “Release him and give him his weapon back.”  She was fully expecting him to challenge her.

One of her guards gave him back his giant sword.  Movran turned and looked her in her eyes.  “You’ll have no problems with us Inquisitor… and… thank you for sparing my idiot son.”  He stowed his sword on his back as he turned and made his way towards the exit.  Her eyes softened a fraction while glaring at the chieftain, as tough and uncaring as he tried to make himself, he still had a soft spot for his son.

“Release the tribesmen and I want an armed escort to accompany them back to their lands.”  Asala addressed the two guards who quickly turned and made their way out of the castle.  Asala then looked over to Josephine.  “While I’m here, anything else?”  The words came out in the most frustrated fashion.

“You might wish to speak to Morrigan… she requested you see her in the garden at your earliest convenience.”  Josphine continued to peruse her notes.  “Everything else can wait till tomorrow.”

“Good… thank you Josie.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*************************************

 

Leliana had warned her about this woman.  She was an apostate living in plain sight.  How she happened to gain the ear of the Empress was a story that she would definitely want to hear.  Leliana had also described her as a very manipulative and deceitful woman, warning Asala to be ever vigilant around her.  Funny, but I would think that Leliana said that with some admiration in her tone.  Leliana had also informed her that Morrigan was a very close confidant of Amalia Surana and helped immeasurably during the fifth Blight.  She said that the Hero of Ferelden trusted her implicitly and considered Morrigan a friend in the truest sense. 

If she was a friend of the Hero of Ferelden then she deserved a chance to prove herself.  Leliana had also explained to Asala that Morrigan was once in league with Flemeth, the dreaded Witch of the Wilds.  Coming from anyone else would’ve cause Asala to smirk in disbelief, but if Leliana believed then Asala would take it seriously as well.

As Asala walked into the garden area and approached the new gazebo in the far corner she felt a unique presence.  Whoever it was, the person had the scent of Morrigan on them and when she turned to see who it was she was surprised to see a small, well dressed human boy staring at her in wide eyed wonder.  Asala couldn’t help but smile at the boy. 

“You’re the Inquisitor.”  There was no fear in the boy which was refreshing.  “You’re very tall, mother didn’t say you were Qunari?”  The boy stated with an air of confidence that actually caught Asala by surprise.  This child…  “My daughter...”  A whisper invaded Asala’s mind, a vision of a beautiful dragon, a beautiful elven man with golden hair and silver eyes.  “Don’t let them take me.”

“Oh?  I’m told it’s the first thing people notice about me.”  Asala felt a presence as she spoke, something was not quite right about this boy.  It was almost like Cole… only different, powerful.

“I noticed your blood.  I doesn’t belong to your people.”  The boy answered and now her vision of Alexius’ book came to mind.  “Don’t let them… daughter… I rightfully belong to you.”  Again the voice whispered as if from beyond the veil.  An image of a small Qunari girl on a table, golden skin, silver eyes…

“Kieran, are you bothering the Inquisitor?”  The ghostly vision and whispers stopped at the sound of Morrigan’s voice.

“Of course not, did you see what’s on her hand mother?”  There was the wide eyed wonder again as Keiran pointed to Asala’s marked hand.

“I did see.  Now return to your studies, little man.”    Morrigan mentioned with an understanding that can only come from a parent.  Kieran sighed and made his way towards a storage room that hadn’t been claimed yet.  “My son, never where you expect him to be, naturally.”  The slight itch in Asala’s mind faded as Kieran walked away.

Whatever the voice and visions were, it seemed that neither, Kieran nor Morrigan were aware that she felt them.  There was something about the boy that made her feel at ease.  Almost as if he were much older than he looked, much, much older, something ancient.  Whatever it was, she didn’t fear it.  It was something that she knew wouldn’t harm her.  How she knew, she didn’t know, she just knew.

“I didn’t know you had a son.”  It didn’t usually happen, but sometimes Asala was surprised.

“Why would you?  I take great pains to not let my own reputation affect him in any way.”  Morrigan sounded almost offended.  “To most in the Imperial Court, he is simply a quiet well-spoken lad.  Perhaps the heir of some distant family.”  She sighed.  “But he goes where I go.  Worry not, Inquisitor.  Kieran is a curious boy, but seldom troublesome.”

“Will his father be joining us as well?”  Asala asked.

“That would be most unlikely… his father and I don’t… No let’s just say that he will not be joining us.  I raised Keiran on my own and so it will be just the two of us Inquisitor.”  Something about her answer caused Morrigan’s breath to hitch ever so slightly.  There was a story there, but like always, Asala wouldn’t pry.  “Your fortress is a large place, you will scarcely notice our presence.”  She was trying to hide.  Asala understood as she was always being hunted throughout her life.  If not the Qun, then the Templars or mercenaries, etc.

“He seems like a fine young man…”  Asala paused as she pondered her next words.  “If you would like, he could join the rest of the children during their lessons.  We’ve a very diverse group of students and teachers.  I’m sure they would welcome another into their group.”

Morrigan looked a little shocked at the proposal.  “That is a generous offer Inquisitor, but you need not worry.  I have his lessons well planned out.”

“It wouldn’t hurt for him to socialize with some of my children.  It’s not healthy for a child to be alone all the time.”  Morrigan still looked unsure at the proposal.  “Tell you what…  you can watch the lessons that Katoh and Flissa administer and then decide.”  Asala sounded confident that Morrigan would agree to at least a few lessons.

“Th… Thank you Inquisitor.”  Asala could feel Morrigan relax.  “I will definitely consider it.”  She smiled.  “To think, until recently this place stood decrepit, occupied only by the desperate, the lost.  Now it is party to events that threaten to shake the world.  I wonder if it is pleased?”

“You’ve heard of Skyhold before?”  Asala asked in a relaxed manner.

“This fortress was built upon the remains of a site holy to the ancient elves.  They called it Tarasyl’an; The place where the sky is kept.”  Asala listened intently as her curiosity got to her a little.  “It is said that from here they reached up to the heavens to bring them down to rest.  They abandoned it, as did the humans who came after them.  Bones laid upon bones, silent until your arrival.”

“We were lucky to find it when we did.”  Asala didn’t feel the need to mention that Solas was the actual one who guided them there. 

The look on Morrigan’s face revealed that she didn’t believe in luck.  She actually scoffed at the very idea of luck.  “Fate is often mistaken for luck, as mother is fond of saying.  The magic in this place has seeped into the stone, protecting it from darkness.  Those who let it fall to ruin did not know what they possessed.  You I think shall do it justice.”  Morrigan gazed at the Inquisitor with a soft gaze.  “You were kind to welcome my aid, Inquisitor.  Even knowing as little of me as you do.  I will do my best to aid your cause with all the knowledge at my disposal.  This I swear to you.”

“I appreciate whatever help you can give us.”  Asala believed her, there seemed to be no deception in her posture or her vitals.

“Some might think Corypheus a madman for seeking Godhood.  Yet one must ask, what were the Old Gods?  What secrets of theirs did the ancient Magisters know?  What I fear – all should fear -- is not that Corypheus believes he can succeed, tis that he actually may.”

“I will destroy him and hunt his followers to the last abomination.  He will not succeed, even if I have to kill him with my bare hands.”  The confidence in Asala’s words actually put a grin on Morrigan’s face.  Morrigan could feel her power, see her power.  She made Sten look like a small child.  She was a really impressive being.  “Please feel free to share your knowledge with our people.  If you or Kieran need anything, please don’t hesitate to talk to me or Josephine.”

Asala turned and took her leave with the images of beautiful elves and dragons on her mind.

Chapter Text

Bull chuckled at the collection of misfits as it approached.  It seemed that Asala had purposely picked the one crew that would most piss off the Qunari contact waiting for them on the Storm Coast.  Dorian was his ever flamboyant self even if he was complaining how the weather there was ruining his beautiful hair.  Solas could be heard preaching to Asala about the barbarity of the Qun and trying to convince her of the folly with even trying to work with them.  Cassandra just stayed quiet the whole time and nodded when she saw him.  Cassandra would do well in the Qun, he thought to himself.

As she approached him, Asala mingled with his Chargers, greeting them with an obvious affection she had acquired for his own group of misfits.  It actually made him smile at how well she got along with his men and women.  When she finally stood in front of him she smiled back at him.  “The Qunari contact should be around here somewhere.”  He was shocked when she suddenly embraced him.

“It’s funny how the Qun is using an elf for this rendezvous.”  Asala mentioned quietly into his ear in the middle of the embrace.  When she pulled back and smiled it was as if time had stopped for a little while.  “He’s trying to conceal himself… he’s right over there watching us, just behind that rise.”  She hinted to the location with her eyes.

It always amazed Bull at just how impossibly formidable Asala was.  Not only was she a monster at magic and melee, she was so incredibly difficult to track down.  Those senses of hers were otherworldly and she could detect anyone long before they could even begin to make an approach on her.  He turned around and began to lead her to the spot she hinted to, she didn’t wait and swooped past him to the top of the rise.  “Boss! What are you doing?”

She didn’t answer as she leaped up the last sixty or so feet and landed right at the top, she could smell the elf.  He was trying to be stealthy and on anyone else it would’ve worked, but not her.  She stood tall out in the open and looked right at him trying to stay hidden in a clump of large tropical ferns.  “You can come out… Viddathari.”  She wanted to call him something derogatory, but held her tongue as Bull quickly took his place beside her.  The elf slowly stood up and began to approach them.

“GATT!  Last I heard you were still in Seheron.”  Bull sounded really excited to see this Viddathari slowly walking out of the vegetation he tried to use as camouflage.  It was pretty obvious to Asala that they knew each other. 

Gatt walked out into the open, he was dumbfounded at how imposing the Inquisitor looked.  She was easily a foot taller than Bull and exuded power from every inch of her body.  “They finally decided that I’d calmed down enough to be let back into the world.”  The glare that she was giving him made it really hard for him to concentrate on what he was saying.  The reports from Bull were dead on when it came to the Inquisitor’s disdain for the Qun.

“Boss, this is Gatt.  We worked together in Seheron.”  Bull sounded enthused, but his heart rate and breathing pointed to a nervousness that Asala had never really felt from him before. 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Inquisitor.  Hissrad’s reports are saying you’re doing good work.”  The little shit just threw Bull underneath the proverbial druffalo.  She could see that it affected Bull.  Bull never used his title around her or his men.  This little shit was basically telling Bull to remember who he worked for and that he was just a tool to be used by the Qun.

“A pleasure? So reminding everyone here that Bull is a spy for your pathetic Qun is a pleasure?”  Asala mentioned with barely hidden disdain dripping from the sentence.  “Are you afraid I might be influencing him a little too much?”  Asala didn’t like that this little shit was basically making sure Bull knew who he was and had succeeded in making him more uncomfortable with the current situation.  “Bull, why don’t you tell all of us what this little slave’s title is.”  She didn’t trust anything when it came to the Qun, but she trusted her Bull.  She could feel that her insult had hit its mark as his mounting anger at her comment caused his heart rate and breathing to spike.  “It’s probably ‘Liar’ as well, no?”

“Boss, we should concentrate on the Venatori.  Trading insults isn’t going to help anyone.”  Bull’s mind was in total turmoil.  He actually considered Gatt a friend, but to use his title of ‘liar’ with Asala was a shot across his bow.  Asala was extremely astute as she caught the verbal jab and returned it to Gatt in spades.  It was crazy to think he had a Vashoth defending him, speaking out for him.

“Really?  Cause your friend here seems to think that maybe there’s something I didn’t know about you?”  Asala considered Bull a very close friend now and didn’t like that this little shit was trying to make him more anxious than he already was.  Bull looked at her with a gentle smile that soothed her anger.  She took a deep breath and again turned towards Gatt.  “Alright… so get on with it.  What do you know and what do you need from us?”  Asala asked Gatt in a very business-like manner.

After taking a breath to clear his mind, Gatt got back to the reason he was there in the first place.  “Okay good, Tevinter is dangerous enough without the influences of this Venatori cult.”

“Yes, the filthy decadent brutes, the lot of them.  I’m certain life would be much better for all of us under the Qun.”  Dorian responded with barely veiled sarcasm that made both Asala and Solas chuckle.

“It was for me, after the Qunari rescued me from slavery in Tevinter.  I was eight.  The Qun isn’t perfect, but it gave me a better life.”  Asala winced as images of an eight year old Gatt began to run through her mind.  She hated hearing stories like his.  She’d argued multiple times with Dorian, Cassian, and Alexius about the issue of slavery and they all agreed that it was an evil practice.  Gatt was a victim of Tevinter’s barbaric policy of not only allowing it, but actually promoting slavery.  Orlais and Tevinter did more to stock the ranks of the Viddathari than any Qunari propaganda ever could.  People like Gatt just traded one form of slavery for another.  He was a totally willing and indoctrinated slave of the Qun, another barbaric ideology that attempted to destroy the free will and thought of everyone.

“Yes, free from all that pointless free will and independent thought, such an improvement.”  Dorian continued.

“Enough!  It’s pointless to argue with him, let’s just get this over with.”  Asala interrupted their little back and forth banter.

“Fair enough.”  Dorian responded in a huff.  Asala had a small grin appear on her face as she sensed Dorian’s frustration.

“I’m not here to convert anyone.”  Gatt being an perceptive Viddathari, could feel the mounting tension in the air.  “All I care about is stopping this red lyrium from reaching Minrathous.”

“With this stuff, the Vints could make their slaves into an army of magical freaks.”  She listened carefully to what he said.  “We could lose Seheron and see a giant Tevinter army come marching back down here.”  Asala actually agreed that the red lyrium could not be allowed to leave the south.  Tevinter, for all its flaws did have many redeeming qualities.  Dorian, Felix, and Cassian were gems and so was Crem.  The Red Templars and Venatori were bad enough, Thedas didn’t need Tevinter fighting for that monster too.

“The Ben Hassrath agree.  That’s why we’re here.  Our dreadnought is safely out of view and out of range of any Venatori mages on shore.  We’ll need to eliminate the Venatori then signal the dreadnought so it can come in and take out the smuggler’s ships.”  Asala listened to him closely and came to the conclusion that Gatt was full of shit.  “We need to secure these two rises to make sure that the dreadnought isn’t destroyed by their mages.”  He pulled out a pretty crude map of the area and began to pitch his plan.

“Why not just wait till the smugglers are out to sea and sink their ship?”  Asala asked with feigned interest, pretty much already knowing what this Viddathari was going to say next.  Something about dreadnoughts being too slow.

“Any decent smuggler captain can outrun a dreadnought.  It would not be able to keep up with that ship in open seas and they’d be out of range too quickly for it to get a clean shot.”  Gatt answered with the expected line.

“So let me get this straight…”  She began with barely veiled contempt.  Bull just put his hand over his face in anticipation of what she was going to say.  “This operation could not happen without the Chargers or my own little group?”  Gatt could see that Asala was extremely annoyed.  “For all that intelligence and supposed superiority, the Qun didn’t have the fucking forethought to use a couple of frigates instead of a fucking slow as snails dreadnought?”  She looked over to Bull.  “What do you think of this Bull?”

“I’m a little puzzled too Boss, but either way we really need to stop that Red Lyrium.”  Bull’s good eye seemed to be boring a hole into Gatt.  There was something going on there. 

“We didn’t have time to muster the proper forces for this operation.  This is exactly why we needed your assistance.”  Gatt was cool as a cucumber, but she could tell that he wasn’t telling them everything.  “If those two rises aren’t secured, we will lose this shipment, period.”

“I hate covering dreadnought runs.”  Bull looked at the map.  “If our scouts underestimate enemy numbers, we’re dead.  If we can’t lock down the enemy mages, the ship is dead.”  Bull turned to look at Asala.  “It’s risky.”

“I don’t like it either, but it seems we don’t have a choice.”  Asala answered with barely contained annoyance.  “Come on let’s go take care of this crap.”

They split up their group into two strike teams.  The Chargers, led by Crem, easily took their rise and Asala’s group mowed down the Venatori like blades of grass.  Both groups had secured their objectives quite easily… too easily for Asala’s peace of mind.  How such a valuable shipment could be so lightly guarded just didn’t make sense to her.  As Asala assessed the situation she watched for signs of any kind of ambush or betrayal.  “There!  The Chargers have already taken their objective.”  She looked over the rise to see the Chargers taking up a defensive position on their rise and they quickly launched a flare to signal the area secure. 

“I knew you’d give them the easier target.”  Gatt answered almost playfully which resulted in Bull smirking slightly.  Gatt for his part fought well and seemed to take enormous pleasure in putting down the Venatori mages.  He quietly acknowledged her when she saved him from being run through by a Venatori warrior.  Her spirit blades made short work of anyone or anything they touched.  Bull was an absolute wrecking machine, while Dorian and Solas provided vital ranged support with their magic.  “I’ll signal the dreadnought that the coast is clear.”  Gatt let off a flare to signal the dreadnought that they were clear to enter the lagoon. 

After their objective was completely secure she began to think that there was no way that Gatt didn’t know who she was.  She could’ve taken the rise by herself with the incredible display of savagery that she put on.  He had to know that she was the scourge of the Qunari, the Golden Reaper.  To her surprise and worry she noticed that there were no other Qunari forces of any kind in the area.  No strike team, no recon team, no scouts, no reserves of any kind, no nothing… Gatt admitted that there were no other forces available and was evasive as hell as to why that was.  Fucking Ben-Hassrath shit… Maker I hate this asshole

“There’s the dreadnought!”  Bull exclaimed as he stared in absolute awe to see the giant ship move slowly into the enclosed lagoon below.  “That brings back memories.”

Asala watched as the dreadnought slowly moved into position and let loose with its cannons.  The powerful and booming salvo shredded the Venatori ship with one volley.  It was a text book attack as the smuggler’s ship settled on the bottom of the lagoon with only a portion of the bow sticking out of the water.  As the wind shifted for just a moment, she caught a whiff of a familiar and disturbing scent.  She scanned the area and her keen vision spotted an enormous column of Venatori marching just inside the tree line below the Charger’s current position.  They were moving in a direct line towards Crem and the Chargers.

“Ha, nice one!”  Bull seemed to be in blinded awe at the power of the dreadnought, so much so that he didn’t notice the enormous force of Venatori appearing out of the cover of the jungle a few moments after the successful dreadnought attack.  “Aw shit.”  The color seemed to just drain from his face when he noticed the dire situation that was developing just below the Chargers’ position.

“There’s no way Crem can hold that rise.”  Asala watched in horror as the impossibly large force started to launch its attack on the rise.  “There’s still time for them to retreat!”  Asala didn’t even try to hide her desperation.

“They have to hold!”  Gatt responded to angrily.  “If they retreat, the dreadnought is dead!”

“If they don’t retreat, they’re dead.”  Bull sounded almost defeated.  Asala could feel Bull’s internal conflict.  He’d wait too long and in the end the Chargers would probably die to the man.  He looked over to her desperately as if he was looking for her to make the decision for him.

“Bull!  Give them the signal to retreat!”  Asala ordered him immediately.

Gatt was shocked at the decision.  “You’d throw away an alliance between the Qun and Inquisition?”  Gatt then turned to look at Bull.  “You’d be declaring yourself Tal-Vashoth, is that what you want?”

“They’re my men!”  Bull’s menacing voice made it clear that he did not like what was going on.  He looked over to Asala who could see how conflicted he was.  He was also painfully slow to act, so Asala quickly brushed Gatt aside and attempted to snatch the horn from Bull’s hand.  Gatt was picking himself off the ground as Bull quickly pulled the horn out of Asala’s reach and sounded the retreat.  She almost lost faith in him, but what Bull just did was incredible.  She put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently in complete solidarity with him.  She then turned her attention to Gatt once more.  “Shut the fuck up Gatt!  It’s perfectly obvious that you and the rest of the Qunari bastards planned this shit.”  Bull just stood there and lowered his head in shame.  He was hurting and it showed in his almost defeated posture.  “Now you can tell your fucking Arishok that I terminated this faux alliance!”  Gatt’s glare at her was almost animalistic.  “Yeah, you didn’t know that a fucking massive force of Venatori was in the woods just beyond the beach.”  The sarcasm dripped heavily from her words.

Gatt turned his attention to the rise and watched as the Chargers began their organized retreat and how almost immediately the Venatori had changed their focus to the dreadnought.  They were now almost close enough for them to start lobbing fireballs at it.

Gatt’s rage bubbled to the surface as he pulled his daggers, but before he could challenge Asala he was once again shoved to the ground, this time by Bull.  “It’s over Gatt, don’t make it worse.”  Gatt’s rage blinded him as he was about to leap at his former friend until Asala did something that took his attention away, something so incredible that he would never forget it.

She let out a roar that seemed to paralyze Iron Bull.  The effect of the deafening sound caused Bull’s body to fail and fall limp, Asala gently caught him in her arms and set him down where he once stood.  Her eyes met Gatt’s and she gave him a deep and dangerous sounding growl.  Gatt stood there confused as to what was happening and continued watch Asala.  He was dumbfounded as she suddenly took a tremendous running leap off the cliff they were on towards the center of the group of Mages about to attack the dreadnought.  Every single one of the mages turned their attention towards the sound of another deafening roar to see this giant Qunari female coming at them from above.  Cassandra, Dorian, and Solas joined Gatt in total shock as they watched the events unfolding before them.

The ground around her shook with a thunderous boom as she landed.  Her spirit blades crackled with energy as she slowly stood tall and looked into their frightened expressions.  “You wish to follow that false god into the fade?  Then follow him!”  Her mark crackled as she raised her hand and opened a rift just above the main body of the large force.  The power of the rift began to pull them towards it so strongly that they could not stay on their feet.  They were ripped violently from the ground and thrown screaming toward it at frightening speed.  The majority of the force was swallowed in its entirety within the rift’s insatiable crystalline maw.  With a clenching of her fist, the rift closed with a loud and deafening crack.  Gatt just stood there open mouthed in silent shock.  Cassandra and Dorian had begun to retrace their steps back towards the beach at a dead sprint and Solas seemed to be busy making sure that Bull was okay.  Gatt just continued to watch her with an intense and calculating expression.  This extremely powerful Saarebas had just saved the dreadnought and its entire crew by herself.  How in Koslun’s balls was he going to explain this to the Ariqun?

The disorganized remnants of the Venatori force that was left was scattered and too few in number to attack her or the now curiously quiet dreadnought.  They began to run along the beach only to be cut down by Crem’s Chargers as they reversed their direction to support Asala.  Some of the Venatori surrendered and were taken prisoner, a few did get away but they would never be able to reunite into a cohesive unit thanks to her.  She smiled when she thought of the stories those fools would pass on to the rest of the Venatori.  To suffer defeat after crushing defeat by her hand, had to have some sort of demoralizing effect on the remaining Venatori, not to mention Corypheus himself.

She turned to look at the deathly still dreadnought.  Bull wasn’t the only one affected by her roar, that whole ship would be useless for the next fifteen to twenty minutes.  She dove into the lagoon and quickly swam out to the slumberous beast now helplessly drifting towards the beach.  She quickly climbed on board.  She made her way to the anchor winch at the bow of the enormous ship.  She quickly lowered the anchor to keep the ship from running aground.  She curiously looked around while inside the giant ship.  She noticed that all of the Qunari crewmen’s eyes were watching her as she took a handful of Gaatlok from one of the cannons and put it in a small pouch.  They couldn’t move a muscle, but she could feel their hateful stares.  “You can thank me for saving you by telling the Arishok that the Inquisition will no longer need the Qun’s services.”  She then quickly made her way to the top deck and dove into the water.  She quickly made it back to shore and was met by Crem, Dalish, and Stitches. 

She smiled as she embraced them all.  “That was one hell of show Inquisitor.”  Crem mentioned as his breath came in labored gasps.  “Thank the Maker Bull signaled us to retreat or that next volley would’ve ended a lot of us.”  Asala turned to look up at rise where Bull was now standing again.  Gatt had climbed down the cliff and approached her with an aggressive gate.

Asala didn’t even bother to address him and began to make her way to the wreckage of the smuggler’s ship.  It was sitting on the bottom and still spewing smoke from the fires at its exposed bow.  She could feel the Red Lyrium on the ship.  It was like a voice quietly whispering in the back of her mind.  At least they didn’t lie about this.  She thought as she started to launch volley after volley of fireballs at the wreckage, it was a display of such power that it stopped Gatt in his tracks.  The thunderous explosions and hissing sound coming from the now boiling water around the wreckage had Gatt mesmerized.  In the end, there was nothing left but a small amount of drift wood and blackened rocks.  

She then made her way back to the main group now on the beach.  Bull was once again standing and talking to Crem.  He looked really troubled as he spoke to his second while Gatt seemed to only have eyes for her.  The dreadnought still hadn’t weighed anchor and its presence actually made her a little nervous.  She could feel the tension in the air.  Bull approached her with an uncharacteristically somber expression.  “So what happens now?”  Asala asked him. 

“We should have access to the whole Qunari intelligence network.”  He remarked.  “This was a resounding success.”  His words did not match his almost defeated posture.

“Bull what’s wrong?”  She knew.  He hesitated and it almost cost the lives of his Chargers.  Bull shook his head at her words.  “Bull, it’s okay.  You passed their damnable loyalty test.”  There was no way that Gatt could blame anyone as the dreadnought was safe and the Red Lyrium was destroyed.

“No Boss… I didn’t.  I failed them.  They trusted me to have their back and I failed them miserably.  If it wasn’t for you… they’d all be…”  Asala could see the pain on his face, she could feel his anguish and guilt.

She took a hold of both his shoulders and gently looked into his eye.  “Bull, you didn’t fail them.  I’m the boss remember?”  As he looked in her eyes he saw the compassion of a friend.  Someone who would defend him to the death, someone who loved him like family.  “I’d never let anyone manipulate you into making such an impossible decision, right Gatt?”  She shifted attention to the elven Viddathari. 

Gatt approached them with an annoyed expression.  “That was an impressive display Inquisitor.”  He clapped his hands in faux admiration.  “It’s obvious that you’re the Golden Reaper, the Triumvirate will hear about you and what you did here.”  It really was the wrong thing to say to her.  He didn’t even have time to take another breath.  Asala’s speed was blinding as she grabbed Gatt by the throat and pinned him against a tree.  Her animalistic growl and rage caught Gatt totally by surprise.  He held on to her arm as his legs dangled in the air.  Before he could even begin to reach for his weapons, she violently tore off his weapon harness with her free hand, leaving him bare chested and exposed.  He kicked out with one of his legs and she caught it in her free hand.  He kicked out with his other foot, but her hand was so big that she just caught that one as well.  Her face was inches from his and he could see the absolute fury in her eyes.  She inhaled deeply through her nose as she looked at him.

“You’re not going anywhere Gatt and you’re not going to tell anyone anything.”  She whispered in his ear as she slowly increased the pressure on his throat.  She could hear him starting to wheeze as he labored mightily to take a breath.  “I’m done playing with you Qunari scum.”

“Asala stop!  Are you out of you mind?”  Cassandra rushed to her and grabbed a hold of her arm. 

“Stay out of this Cassandra!”  Cassandra had never seen this type of rage in her before.  She watched Asala once again pull Gatt’s slowly fading face to within inches of hers.  “As Inquisitor, I order you to take this Viddathari shit prisoner.”  As Gatt fell unconscious she let him go and he fell in a heap at her feet, gasping for air.

“My dear, I think you might be over doing it a bit no?”  She had no time or desire to humor Dorian and the glare she gave him actually shut him down quite quickly.  “Alright then, I’ll be over there just looking fabulous if you need some silent eye candy.”

“Inquisitor, I think this is a bad idea.  The Qunari could be…”  Cassandra was trying to talk her out of it, but Asala’s response stopped her in her tracks.

“Do you have any idea what will happen if we let these Qunari go back and tell their Arishok they found me?”  Asala was furious.  “They will send their hunters in numbers I’ve never seen to kill me and my family.  To kidnap my children and brainwash them into the very scum I’m trying to protect them from.”  She glared at Cassandra with an unmistakable determination. 

“Boss…”  Asala turned to Bull as he approached and kneeled down next to the unconscious Gatt.  “You have to let him go.”  Asala’s disappointment in Bull’s assertion was visible on her face.  “We can’t go to war with both the Qun and Corypheus… you have to let him go.”

“We?”  Asala asked.

“I’d never let them hurt any of you.”  Bull stated with an extremely determined tone.  Asala’s shocked face actually made him chuckle.  “They have no right to hunt you or your people.”

“So you’re really declaring yourself Tal-Vashoth.”  Gatt commented hoarsely.  He rubbed his bruised throat as he slowly stood up and gathered his thoughts.  Asala’s murderous glare met Gatt’s own equally furious one.  “Even after I defended you to the Ariqun?”  He addressed Bull angrily. 

“I’ve done everything the Qun demanded and still you question my loyalty!”  Bull began to angrily retort with that booming voice.  “A good half of the intelligence the Qun gets from the south comes from me and the Qun still questions me.  I would rather hear ‘good work Hissraad,’ ‘thank you Hissraad’ and now I actually don’t give damn about what the Qun or the Triumvirate wants.”  He took a deep breath.  “I’ve given the Qun everything and now it wants me to sacrifice the souls of some of the most remarkable Basalit-an to prove what?  No Gatt, I’ve seen how people make things work down here.  I’ve seen Tal-Vashoth live their lives in peace and harmony with those they live among.  I’ve seen an extraordinary Vashoth woman who was forced to be who she is largely because of the Qun, and yet she still saved that Dreadnought and its entire crew.”  Gatt could see that Hissraad was no longer there and it was disheartening.  "I'm done Gatt, done.”

Asala picked up his tattered weapons belt and threw it at him.  “Your agents are no longer welcome in any land where the Inquisition has influence.”  He caught it angrily.  “If I see you again, I will make it painfully clear.”  She smiled with homicidal intent.  “Signal your ship to pick you up.” 

Gatt was visibly shaken as he slowly stepped into the surf and waved to the dreadnought.  They all watched as a boat was lowered with three large Qunari men on board.  The last time she was this close to a dreadnought, she destroyed it.  Asala waited there with Bull as the boat beached itself and two enormous Stens exited the boat, followed by their Kathaban.  “So you have to be the Golden Reaper.”  He mentioned with an air of surprising admiration. 

“I am the Inquisitor you Qalaba prick, choose your next words very carefully.”  Asala towered over the more mature looking Qunari man.  She didn’t like these people one bit, they were as much her blood enemies as Corypheus was.  “Your very lives depend on them.”

“You insolent Tal-Vashoth!”  The foolish Sten drew his enormous sword, but before he could even move forward, Bull had put his own sword to the Sten’s throat.

“Not a good idea to poke the dragon boy.”  Bull mentioned calmly.  “Back off!”  Bull kicked the young Sten in the chest and sent him flying backwards.  The Sten quickly recovered, but was stopped by the more mature Kathaban, not to mention that every Charger was ready to run them through.

“Well it seems that the stories of your abilities were not just stories made up by awed adversaries.”  The Kathaban stated.  “Come Gatt, let’s go home and celebrate this victory over the Vints.”  He then turned his attention to Bull.  “There’s also the stench of betrayal here that I need to get away from… we’ll be seeing each other again soon.”

Asala’s growl caught his attention as she turned to address Bull.  “Do you really think letting them go will make a difference?”  She was on the brink of killing another dreadnought as her breathing started to get more aggressive.

Bull gently took hold of her shoulder. “I know that killing them will make things worse.”  She turned to face him and his relaxed demeanor began to immediately calm her down.  “You’re doing the right thing Boss.”

“I really want to kill them Bull, they know too much.”  Asala tried to convince herself that it needed to be done, but the protective compassion in Bull’s gaze caught her by surprise.  He was both sad and happy at the same time.  The sad and confused expression reminded her of deceased brother Antaam when he first joined the Valos-Kas.  It resulted in her pulling him into a powerful embrace that took his breath away.  “Thank you Bull.”

Gatt turned and looked at Bull being embraced by Asala with a sadness in his eyes.  As he boarded the boat to head to the dreadnought he thought about how Bull had declared himself Tal-Vashoth.  He did it so easily and willingly, Gatt didn’t agree with the method of testing Bull who had been their best southern agent by far.  Bull had bled for the Qun, killed for the Qun, and everything in between.  The Qun had used him up and now they just threw him away like a piece of garbage.  If they could push someone like Bull away like that, then maybe the Qun needed to be changed somehow.  He didn’t know how, but maybe he could mention it in his after action report.  To lose an asset like Bull with all of his contacts and knowledge was devastating.  He was sure that assassins would be sent, but the Inquisitor was mightier than any being he had ever encountered and Bull was a formidable warrior himself.  Those assassins wouldn’t stand a chance.

“Leliana is going to be upset that we screwed this up.”  Asala smiled at Bull who looked so sad it made her bump her shoulder playfully into him.  He turned to her and gave her a painful grin.  “I know Bull, believe me… but you’re not alone.”  She cupped his chin and forced him to look at her.  “I have a whole crew that knows what you’re going through.  You can talk to me or them when you’re ready.” 

Bull nodded almost meekly with a small smile.  “Thanks Boss, I’ll be okay.  Don’t worry about me.”

“It’s in my job description to worry.”  Asala retorted again.  She looked out to the Lagoon and the dreadnought was turning around to make its way home.  “Good riddance.”  She whispered to herself.

“So they didn’t honor their side of the bargain?”  Cassandra chimed in.

“I really don’t know, I wonder if they ever intended to honor the deal.”  She looked over to Cassandra.  “Bull going Tal-Vashoth probably means they won’t.  Send a raven back to Leliana and tell her what happened.”  Asala ordered Cassandra.  She then turned back to the Chargers.  “Oh and Rocky?”  The big dwarf turned to her with a puzzled expression.  “You can thank me when we get home.”  She tossed him a small pouch.  He opened it carefully and discovered it was filled with a black powdery substance. 

“Is this what I think it is?”  Rocky’s huge grin made everyone look at Asala. 

“It most certainly is.  Make sure you coordinate your efforts with Dagna when we get back.”  Even though the Qunari would probably not hold their end of the bargain, Asala made sure that their extremely temporary alliance was a fruitful one.  The Gaatlok was an excellent prize to obtain from those heartless bastards.

Solas had sat back and watched her.  She was learning how to use the mark more effectively.  Much more effectively than he could’ve ever imagined.  She was both an absolutely remarkable and frightening being.  Her power rivaled his own in every way that should not be possible.  Her youth also meant that she had not mastered her power and it made him think that it was feasible that she could even surpass him and his former brethren.  He had no doubt that Corypheus would be defeated, but now he doubted he’d be able to continue with his own plans afterward.  She would be an immensely formidable opponent when the time came.  He would have to tread very carefully from now on.

 

*************************

 

As they approached the front gate of Skyhold, Bull approached Asala quickly from behind.  “Don’t tell them please.”  He begged her.

She stopped and faced him.  “Bull, you know I won’t.”  She smiled at him.  “If you need me, I’ll be here.”  She leaned down and kissed his forehead then quickly made her way into the hold proper.

“Why doesn’t she ever kiss my forehead like that?”  Crem asked him with his usual comedic tone.

Bull turned his head to look at his second.  He didn’t speak.  His gaze shifted from Charger to Charger and he smiled within… damn it if he didn’t love them.  He knew that love was a powerful force and it’s what saved the Chargers from certain death.  He would’ve sounded the horn even if Asala hadn’t ordered him to.  Asala tried to save him from a decision he had to make by trying to take responsibility for it.  She knew what the Qun meant to him and as much as she despised it, she didn’t want him manipulated into making such a decision by the very people who were supposed to be on his side.

She still saved that dreadnought, granted she almost killed Gatt and had wanted to kill them all in the end, but didn’t because of him.  He couldn’t stop thinking about how selfless she was when she deferred to him on that decision.  She had every reason to kill every single one of them, but the cost to her well-being, to her peace of mind would’ve been too high and there was no way he would allow her to pay that price for him.

“Chief, you alright?”  His ever watchful second asked him. 

“I’m good Crem, I’m good.”  He wasn’t entirely good as the realization that he was no longer Qunari hit him.  “Tell the men to break down and take care of the gear.  I’ll see you all at the Rest in a couple of hours.”  He made his way up the stairs to the upper courtyard and headed to the foundry.  His sword had a large chip on the blade and he hoped it could be repaired.

“How’d it go?”  He turned to see Katoh standing there holding a very exhausted and passed out Talania in her arms.