Valorien Updates


 

Okay, over on the Winds forum, Valorien’s story is about finished. Um, I didn’t finish it this week, because it was the end and it was very sad. Not good to be trying to write at my job. :X

On this side of the technological divide, I’ve just slapped over THREE posts from Winds to the blog, here. It would have helped if I had noted down how to do a Bloodsong Points Hidden Answer tag… By the way, the Bloodsong Points answers are in the comments, which may or may not be visible at the bottom of each post, unless you click the Comments link.

 


Part Ten: The Mage Tower


 

The trail of the man who might know about Andraste’s ashes leads to the mage tower. The mages and the templars have their own problems, though. (of course!) There’s been an outbreak of demon possession, and the templars have locked the mages in the tower and are awaiting orders to eradicate them. Valorien, Alistair, Morrigan, and Tarroth agree to be locked in as well, to see what they can salvage. they soon meet Wynne, an older woman and determined fighter. She has collected the apprentices and younger mages downstairs and warded the doorways against the demons. Valorien has Tarroth stay and guard the children; Wynne they take with them, up to the top of the tower.

There, mages are being converted to abominations by a powerful pride demon. Before they can attack, the demon puts them under a thrall, and traps their minds and spirits in the Fade — a dreamworld beyond the veil of the living.

 

Valorien found himself walking down a wide stone corridor. The archdemon was slain! The Blight was ended. Relief flooded him — happiness, even. The Grey Wardens had once again saved the lands from desolation and corruption. He was proud to have been a part of it. He could see the forests again, rejoin his people.

He mounted the steps to the raised courtyard; there he saw Duncan. A flash of hatred shot through his body, but only momentarily. Duncan had freed him from the Taint, and together they had triumphed over the Blight.

“There you are,” Duncan said. “The danger has passed for now, but we must be ever vigilant. It will not do for the Wardens to grow weak again.”

“Yes, Chief Grey Warden.”

“There is much for you to learn, yet. The library here has a great deal of knowledge, and we will spend many years studying.”

Valorien frowned. “But you promised me I could return to my people aft–” No, that wasn’t right. Duncan hadn’t made that promise. “You were dead,” Valorien said to himself. He unslung his bow and drew an arrow. “What have you done with Alistair, demon?”

“What are you doing?” Duncan cried. “I’m your leader!”

“You’re a lying hrelhekhen!” He loosed the arrow into the man’s leg as two Grey Warden guards drew their swords and leapt forward. Valorien drew and shot them as well. The creatures shed their human guises and revealed slithering inky shapes, desire demons.

“You could have been happy here,” their leader growled. “It is everything you wanted!”

“You have seriously mis-read my mind,” Valorien snarled back.

 

Valorien dispatches those demons, then goes on a surreal oddysey to gather up the spirits of his companions and defeat the demon at the center of this matrix. Along the way, he acquires some unusual dream shapes, such as a mouse and a golem, among other things.

After this harrowing journey and battle, the team returns to their own bodies only moments after having been sent into the fade. They battle the pride demon and its minions, trying to prevent other mages from succumbing to possession. At last the demon is destroyed and the tower secured. Wynne asks to join the wardens party as they travel on their mission. as for their part, they are glad to have a healer among them at last.

 

 

Interlude: At Camp: Bath


 

Wynne came over to Valorien where he was petting Tarroth. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that dog,” she said.

“Has he been disturbing you?”

“Well…. his smell certainly has,” the mage said. “Look at his fur, it’s filthy!”

“That’s war-paint,” Alistair corrected, not looking up from a shirt he was trying to patch up.

Wynne continued. “Why don’t you let me give him a bath? I have some lovely shampoo in my pack.”

Tarroth cringed. He looked up at Valorien and whined. The elf said, “That is all right. I will do it.” The mabari sighed and dropped his head. “Come on,” said Valorien. He took the distraught canine to the lake shore. “Stop complaining, it will be fun.”

He slipped out of his boots and clothes, and took Tarroth’s collar off him. He found a hefty stick and waggled it before the dog’s face. “Get the stick!” He pretended to throw it out over the lake, but Tarroth just rolled his eyes and groaned at the lame trick. “Too smart for that, are you?” Valorien waved the stick over the dog’s head. Tarroth leapt for it, but the elf snatched it away from his jaws. With a growl and a bark, Tarroth leapt again. This time, Valorien turned and danced away from him. Concentrating on the elusive branch, Tarroth didn’t notice as they moved and dodged closer to the water. Within moments the dog and elf were splashing around making quite a ruckus.

Attracted by the noise (and staying for the spectacle…), Liliana and Morrigan stood on the shore. “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day,” Morrigan commented.

Liliana nodded. She stared at Valorien, gasping slightly when she saw his scar. A wide, ragged line of scar tissue crossed his back from the mid point of his right shoulderblade to the top of his left hip. “Alistair…?”

Still not looking up, he said, “Nope. Sorry, I had my bath already this month.”

She huffed in exasperation, but didn’t turn from watching.

Morrigan sidled closer. “You sure you like him? He’s rather scrawny.”

“He is very handsome,” the bard asserted. “Lean and lithe, like a dancer. Very graceful.”

From behind them Alistair raised his voice. “I’m sitting right here. I can hear you quite clearly!”

“Oh yes, I see what you mean,” Morrigan said to Liliana. “Unlike a large, ungaingly, hulking brute.”

“Hey!” This from Alistair.

Morrigan snickered, and even Liliana was hard-pressed to stifle a laugh. They quit, though, and straightend up as Valorien waded to shore and came over to them.

“Is there a problem?” he said.

Liliana only reddened, but Morrigan was swift to say, “No! No, no; not at all. Do you need someone to wring that out for you?” She indicated his wet breechcloth.

Just then, Tarroth trotted out of the lake and shook out his fur. Water sprayed over all three of them. The women gasped and shrieked. Valorien only blinked mildly. Then he said, “No, thank you.” He turned and retrieved his pile of clothing. Liliana and Morrigan moved towards the fire, wiping their faces, and the latter cursing wet dog smell. Tarroth brought the stick to Alistair.

“Oh,” the warrior told him, “you killed that stick real good. Good boy!” The dog flopped down and began chewing on it with a vengeance. Alistair bent back to his stitching. “Ow! Wynne! I did it again!”

Wynne ducked out of her tent, carrying her satchel of spices for the soup. “Honestly, Alistair. Don’t you have a thimble in your sewing kit?”

“No,” he whined, putting on his hurt puppy look. “I have a manly sewing kit. Men are supposed to be tough and rugged. Can’t I borrow your thimble?”

The mage sighed heavily. “You wear a shield into battle; one would think you’d be smart enough to have a thimble in your kit.”

“Oh all right, I confess I had one, but I lost it.”

“If you weren’t so careless about misplacing your things…!”

“No, I didn’t misplace it. I lost it in a bet. We were playing poker one night…. It was late. We were uhm… rather drunk. At the time.”

Wynne put her face in her hand and shook her head. “All right, I’ll get it after I fix the soup. But you’d better give it right back as soon as you’re done with it!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Meanwhile, Valorien came up to the fire, draped in a blanket from his bedroll. “Alistair can do that,” he told Wynne, nodding at the spice kit. Liliana and Morrigan groaned loudly. “He needs to practice,” the elf insisted. This time Alistair groaned.

Wynne handed over her satchel, giving Valorien an ‘I hope you know what you’re doing’ look before turning to fetch her sewing kit. Alistair opened the pack and looked at the array of herbs and spices. “Salt!” he ventured enthusiastically.

“Alistair, *taste* it first,” Valorien scolded him.

With a put-upon sigh, he stirred the pot with the spoon then brought it to his lips. “I don’t know,” he complained. “I think it tastes bland. I’m not sure, because I burned my tongue.”

The elf bent and took the spoon from him. Careful not to let his blanket fall in the fire, he gave the soup a taste. “You are right.”

“I am? I mean… I am!”

“Yes, it has not been seasoned at all yet.” Valorien nodded encouragingly to him. “Try something you like.”

“Salt!” Alistair affirmed. “And pepper. Maybe some pepper-flavored salt!” (β)

“What?”

“Ah, nothing. I don’t know where *that* came from.” He started adding some salt and pepper to the soup.

Morrigan said, “At least remember to stir it this time.”

“I am!”

“Last time, it was deathly bland, and then you’d suddenly bite into clumps of spice hot enough to bring tears to your eyes.”

“I know!”

Liliana interrupted the two’s repartee. “Valorien,” she asked, “if you don’t mind me asking, how did you get that scar?”

The elf glanced over his shoulder as though he could see it. “I recieved this in the battle of Ostagar. I am not sure exactly what happened.” He glanced at Alistair, who only frowned at the soup and remained silent. “We were overrun.”

“That must have been a terrible wound,” Liliana said sympathetically. “How did you survive?”

“We were rescued.” Valorien nodded across the fire. “Morrigan nursed me back to health.”

“Well, at least someone remembers to whom he owes a debt of gratitude.” The witch smirked and eyed his bare legs. “Maybe you can thank me properly later.”

“I have given you my thanks, Morrigan,” he said.

“I meant *properly*,” she said slyly. He just stared at her without expression. “*Later*,” she tried to clarify with an obviously seductive inflection.

Alistair snorted. “Boy are you barking up the wrong tree.”

She glared at him. “I suppose he fancies you, then,” she said venomously.

“Stop it!” snapped Liliana. “Morrigan, you should be ashamed.”

“What? For teasing the elf with a little flirting? But it’s so funny when it goes completely over his head.”

“Don’t worry,” Alistair told Liliana, “he knows just how to handle Morrigan when she tries to be funny.”

“Speaking of which,” Morrigan said testily, “I don’t believe you ever thanked me *at all.*”

“I am very grateful,” Alistair said, “that Flemeth rescued us.”

The witch growled. “Just finish the damned soup, and don’t ruin it this time.”

“Hey, I offered to let you cook. But nooooo….”

“Shut up.”

Wynne returned. She traded Alistair a thimble for the soup spoon. “Here you go. Finish up your sewing, because I want it right back.”

“Thank you,” he said, and sat back down with his mending. Morrigan snorted contemptuously.

“Are you two fighting *again*?” Wynne asked.

Liliana said, “‘Again’? Do they ever stop?”

“Alistair is being an ungrateful brat.”

Wynne looked to Alistair, but he remained silent, bent to his task. She looked back to Morrigan. “You could try to be nicer once in a while,” Wynne said gently.

“Me!? And why, pray tell, should I do *that*? Let me count the reasons. Hmm….” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “Oh yes, that’s right: zero!”

“It wouldn’t hurt to try it, would it?” Wynne said. “You might be surprised.”

Without looking up, Alistair said quietly, “You just make it *so* difficult.”

“Oh, I do,” Morrigan answered blandly. “You’re just the Prince of Charm, yourself.”

“Stop it, both of you!” Wynne scolded. “You’re worse than children.”

Morrigan got to her feet and snatched up a bowl. “The soup is hot enough,” she said, ladling out a serving. “I’ll just go eat where it’s quiet.” She turned and stalked off to her niche where her supplies were laid out.

“Make sure you don’t drop some poison in it,” Alistair muttered at her back.

“Alistair!” scolded Wynne.

“What? I said ‘don’t.’ I’m pretty sure I used the word ‘don’t’ in there.”

Wynne sighed in exasperation.

 

They sorted out utensils and served up the soup. Wynne got her thimble back safe and sound. Valorien took Tarroth off to the side to feed him, after getting dressed again. He then took his bowl and went to see Morrigan.

“May I sit with you?” he asked.

She gave him a wary look. “Are you here to talk to me about Alistair?”

“No.”

“No? Lecture me about my behavior? Tell me I should be nicer?”

“No.”

“Oh.” She knitted her brows in surprise and dropped her defensive tone. “What did you want to talk about then?”

“Nothing in particular. Did you wish me to leave?”

“No, that’s fine. Have a seat.”

Valorien sat down and began eating his soup. “What did you want to talk about?” he asked her.

“Well, now that you’ve seen the Mage Circle in action, what do you think?”

“I think they are right about Blood Mages. They should be destroyed.”

“What!?” Morrigan stared at him, aghast. “How can you say that?”

“I saw what they became; twisted and evil.”

“That’s not true of all Blood Mages, only those who are not strong enough to resist demon possession,” she began.

“Against their will, Morrigan,” Valorien said, stopping her cold. “The Blood Magic ritual transformed them into abominations.”

“You didn’t think so badly of if when you allowed the Blood Mage to open a gateway into the Fade, so I could go rescue that child.”

“I did used to think that if a mage chose to use his own blood, then that was his right. Or, like the Arlessa, for one to volunteer blood and life in a ritual — that was her choice. But to take it from another, without their consent,” He shook his head.

“So now you think every Blood Mage should be hunted down and killed, no matter what they are doing, or how they do it? Even those who only cut themselves?” She added, “Usually one has to wait until after a person has committed a murder to execute him.”

Valorien frowned. “It is a dangerous path they trod. It only leads to abomination.”

“Oh, yes, hmm; preventive measures. Well by that reasoning, anyone trained to use a weapon should be slain, because that path leads to killing people.”

He mulled this thought over for a while. “Yes,” he ventured slowly, “it is up to the individual to use his training responsibly.”

“There, you see,” Morrigan said. “Blood Magic isn’t evil, just as a sword is not evil. It all depends on how it is used. Burning someone to a crisp, turning them to ice or stone and shattering them, or draining them of blood; it’s all the same.”

“No, it’s not the same.”

“Dead is dead,” she insisted.

Valorien shook his head. “The circumstances are not the same. A knight trained in weapons, or a mage armed with fire… they have a responsibility not to use their power to harm others needlessly. If they are attacked by an enemy, or if they must defend their charges, then they know they must use their power, and even kill. A Blood Mage does not kill his enemy in confrontation. He kills another, even an innocent, to gain power for his own use.”

“Or,” she pointed out, “to help others. If the need is dire, as it was at Redcliff, and there is a volunteer, then it is clearly a righteous use of that power. Just like using a sword to defend the weak.”

“Yes,” he said, “I concede your point.”

“You do not sound happy about it.”

“I find the concept of taking someone’s life to further one’s own power… disturbing.”

Morrigan shrugged. “People do that all the time, not just Blood Mages. Murders, assassinations, wars….”

“Yes, you are correct.”

“It is refreshing to have a discussion with someone who can be reasonable,” she said. “But aside from Blood Mages, I was wondering how you felt about the Circle itself. Mages, controlled by the Chantry and their Templars.”

“As opposed to apostates such as yourself.”

“Yes, that’s right. I’d really like to know if you’re about to turn me in to the Chantry authorities.”

“If I were going to do that, shouldn’t I have done so by now?” Valorien asked her mildly.

“Mm. Well, unless you were just waiting until you had no more use for me.”

He shook his head. “You are a free witch, just as you always have been.”

“Oh, good. So you don’t believe they should be allowed to hold control over the mages.”

“Yes, they should.”

Morrigan coughed, almost dropping her spoon. “You can’t be serious. You don’t even believe in their religion! You saw those mages in the Tower! Penned in like sheep, and their guard dogs waiting for orders to slaughter them all because they’d become too dangerous!” Colour rose in her cheeks. “They have no right to dictate people’s lives like that — how could you agree to such a thing? You know perfectly well there are mages who are quite capable of policing themselves, of not abusing their power, and not dealing with demons.”

“Yes, I am aware of that.”

“Well?” she demanded.

“By the same token, you must admit there are those who are *not* capable of handling their power responsibly. Do you want to trust in mankind’s good will?”

“Er…” She grimaced.

“I do agree with you that it is not the best solution: a religious order with power to dictate people’s lives. And a military order installed to control or destroy them.” He shook his head. “It is almost barbaric. But I like even less the idea of leaving it to chance that a mage will properly control his power and not become demon-possessed — or that the mage will have enough compassion for others to even care about that.”

Morrigan stared moodily into her bowl. Valorien finished his soup in silence. “I am sorry if that disturbs you,” he told her as he stood.

“No, you make your case quite clear. It does not really instill me with confidence that you aren’t still going to turn me in, though.”

“I see no reason that those who have proven they can handle their magic on their own cannot be trusted to continue to do so. There is no point in trying to re-train them in the Chantry’s methods.”

She looked up at him with her golden eyes. “I see.”

“If you are finished, I will take that back for you,” he said, indicating her bowl.

She handed it to him with a murmured thanks, then watched him go back to the main campfire.

 


Part Nine: Ser Landry


 
Our intrepid group tiptoes into Denerim, Loghain’s seat of power. Actually, Loghain is thinking about them; he hires an assassin — an “Antivan Crow” — to hunt down the Grey Wardens. But he has no clue they’re in town.

They find out the scholar of the Ashes was headed west to do some investigation of the legend. Before they can sneak back out of town on the trail, one of Loghain’s knights spots them.

 

“You there, stop!” The knight planted himself in front of them, an armored wall. “I recognize you — you were at Ostagar.” His eyes widened, then narrowed in a scowl. “You’re the Grey Wardens!”

“Actually, we’re travelling minstrels,” Alistair interjected.

“You betrayed us,” the knight growled. “King Cailen is dead because of you! I demand satisfaction, if you will face me honorably.”

“You were at Ostagar?” Valorien asked.

“Yes.”

The elf stood up to the knight, his tone colder, but no less accusatory. “Then judging by the fact you are still alive, you were not fighting beside your king, but standing on the slopes with Loghain.”

“That’s right.” He folded his arms.

“You did not fight while your brethren were dying. You did not return to look for survivors while the darkspawn were carrying off the bodies, dead or alive.”

“We followed Loghain’s orders!”

“Did you see the battle from where you stood? Did you see the signal fire?”

“We couldn’t see the fighting through the trees. But we did see the tower fire.”

“Did you not know that was the signal to start your attack?”

The knight shifted his weight. “We weren’t told the exact signal, no. But it makes sense. What are you saying?”

“We did not betray the King at Ostagar,” Valorien told him levelly. “We gave our lives to light that signal fire.”

“That’s obviously an exaggeration,” he replied, glancing between Valorien and Alistair, “seeing as you are still alive. How do you explain that, when all your brethren are dead?”

“When we got to the tower, it had already been invaded by Darkspawn. We fought our way to the top. We lit the signal, but the tower was overrun. We only survived because we were rescued by a shape-shifter whom we had aided.”

The knight snorted. “A likely story.”

Alistair said, “Really too stupid a story to be a lie, though.” The knight shrugged.

Valorien asked him, “Why did Loghain not attack at the signal?”

“Ostagar was already lost. The Darkspawn forces were too strong for us to overcome. The army with Cailen was defeated — we had to pull back or risk annihilation.”

The elf’s brows raised in surprise. “Does Loghain truly believe this?”

“Of course,” the knight growled. “It’s true!”

“I wish you to take a message to Loghain.”

“What?” said the knight.

“What??” said Alistair.

“The Grey Wardens were not the betrayers at Ostagar,” Valorien said. “By all accounts, Loghain is sincere in his desire to combat the Blight. This is our goal as well. We are not his enemies, except that he makes us so.”

“You can bring your ‘message’ to the front of the warehouse behind the Gnawed Noble Tavern in half an hour. We will settle this honorably — if you have honor enough to show up.”

Valorien nodded.

 

“What are you thinking?” Alistair snapped as soon as they were out of earshot. “Loghain betrayed us — he killed the king!”

“You do not know this.”

“I know it,” Alistair growled.

“You do not *know* it,” Valorien explained patiently. “You believe it. We saw little of the battle, and that was only at the start.”

“I know Loghain failed in his sworn duty to protect the king!”

“If he saw the field was lost, it was his duty to preserve his forces for war. Not to let them be destroyed in a futile battle. Here, hold your shield so I can write.” He pulled a parchment and quill from his pack.

“Or,” Alistair countered, unslinging his shield, “he planned the king’s death and blamed us for it. The man put a price on our heads for Andraste’s sake!”

“It is not an unreasonable assumption.”

“As the guy with the death warrant out on him — I can argue that point!”

“Peace, Alistair.” Valorien began writing on the parchment while the former Templar held his shield steady. “We will see how sincere Loghain truly is.”

“How do you propose to do that?” Alistair craned his neck, trying to read the missive as the elf wrote it out.

“These are the terms whereby Loghain will prove to us his sincerity in his quest to end the Blight. First, he shall recind the price on our heads. Secondly, he shall settle the unrest with the Bannorns peaceably, without bloodshed. And lastly, he will negotiate a tready with Orlais for aid against the Darkspawn.”

Alistair snorted at point number two, but nearly choked on the third. “Well, *that* will never happen.”

“Then you need have no fear of allying with a traitor.” Making sure the ink was dry, Valorien rolled and tied the parchment.

“Oh yeah, that’s comforting. You’re not seriously going to duel this guy, are you?”

“I’m afraid we have no choice. If he will not listen to reason, we can’t let him alert Loghain of our presence here.”

“He could bring more of Loghain’s men and capture us.”

“We could lay in wait and ambush him, if you prefer.”

Alistair sighed with a grimace. “That’s not very honorable, even if it is smart. He didn’t seem malicious, just… angry. But you know, he’s wearing full plate, with a really large sword, and all you have are little pokey sticks.”

“Your confidence in my ability is truly inspiring,” the elf told him mildly.

“I’m just saying — your fighting style is not particularly suited to duelling.”

Valorien nodded. “I know.” He held the parchment out to Alistair.

“You’re giving this to me?”

“If I am killed, I will not be able to give it to the knight.”

“So you expect ME to do it?”

“You will do what you feel is best.”

“I hate when people say things like that. This means I have to make a decision, you know.”

“There are no bad decisions, Alistair.”

“Right, only bad outcomes.”

“Whatever the outcome,” Valorien told him steadily, “you will deal with it. You *must* trust in this.”

“Haven’t you ever — not once in your entire life — made a decision you really regretted? Where someone you cared about got hurt?”

The elf’s eyes darkened, and he lowered his head, thinking of his friend Tamlen. “Yes,” he said softly.

Alistair bit his lip in sympathy. “How… how do you come back from that?”

Valorien took a breath and raised his head again. “As I told you, we cannot put aside our other burdens of duty and honor to carry only our grief. They may be heavy, but it is how we shall keep going.” Again he held out the parchment. “You will know what to do when the time comes.”

Reluctantly, Alistair took it. “Even though I don’t agree with you?”

“Yes.”

“I can tear it into tiny bits, burn it to ashes?”

“If you feel that is best, yes.”

Alistair frowned at the paper, then tucked it into his belt.

 

Valorien said, “Let’s go check out this alley; make sure it is not an ambush.” He called for Tarroth, who bounded up to them followed by a scruffy little boy. “What is this?”

Tarroth barked, bouncing on his forelegs in emphasis.

“Oh, he just followed you, I suppose?” The elf sighed at the dog’s enthusiastic affirmative bark. “Alistair, can you go on ahead? I will deal with this.”

“Right.” Alistair nodded and walked off.

Valorien frowned down at Tarroth. “No, you cannot keep him,” he said, unmoved by the dog’s wagging tail. Nor Tarroth’s disappointed whine. “We have important things to do now.”

“Awww man,” said the kid.

“Go back where you came from,” Valorien told him.

“Hey, you can’t tell me what to do! You’re an elf!”

Valorien glowered at him. “Do you know what we do to humans, out in the Dale lands?”

“Uhhh….” He glanced nervously at Valorien’s bow, and the longknives on his belt. “I, uh, think I hear my mom calling!” He turned and ran off.

Tarroth looked reprovingly up at the elf. Valorien sighed, releasing the murderous tension in his frame. He crouched and gave Tarroth an apologetic pat. “Listen to me,” he said, “this is very important. If anything should happen to me….” Tarroth cocked his head and whined questioningly. “I know your will is your own, but… Alistair is very fond of mabari — you in particular. If I should be killed; please, will you take care of him?”

Tarroth whined again, sadly but with a little tail twitch of agreement. He put is right forepaw on Valorien’s knee. The elf smiled and patted him on the shoulder. Tarroth licked his nose.

“Well,” Valorien said with a grimace, “I’m glad that’s settled. Go find him and make sure he’s not in any trouble.” He stood and wiped his face after Tarroth bounded off, then followed.

 

Tarroth growled as they rounded the corner into the alley. The knight was already there with four of his cohorts.

“Oh great,” said Alistair, “he brought friends. Is this where we run?”

The knight didn’t give them a chance; he approached them right away. “Well, you did show up — and early, too. Now we can be done with this.” The knights ushered them towards the dead end at the warehouse entrance.

“I do not wish to fight you,” Valorien said.

“We could take your heads to Loghain right now if you prefer.”

“No. Since a duel is what you wish, you shall have it.”

The knights fanned out behind their leader, watching suspicously. Alistair moved aside near a side wall of the tavern, glancing anxiously down the street as if fearing an ambush… or hoping for a miracle. Tarroth remained at Valorien’s right. He lowered his head and growled.

“What are you doing with a mabari?”

Valorien said, “He is my companion. Another survivor of Ostagar.”

The knights muttered something about elves and mabari, and one mentioned the Ash Knights who were at Ostagar. “Didn’t I see you arguing with them?” the knight asked Valorien.

“Tarroth’s former companion was killed before I arrived, if that is what you are implying,” he said levelly. “He was wounded, and I helped the kennelmaster tend to him. He will not interfere.” He looked down at the mabari who looked back to him attentively. “Guard,” he said, indicating Alistair. With a threatening glare at the knights, Tarroth moved to stand in front of Alistair. “Stay.”

The knights shifted uneasily under the dog’s scrutiny. Their leader squared his shoulders. “I am Ser Landry,” he said. “You should know my name before you die.”

“I am Valorien. And should you die, will your companions take my message to Loghain?”

“Ser Sedgewin is my second.” He indicated a ginger-haired man behind him. “If it is indeed an honorable fight, he will take your message.” The man nodded, though it was clear neither one of them expected a fair or honorable fight. “And who is your friend here?” Ser Landry asked.

Valorien didn’t even glance over. “No one of consequence.”

The knight gave a slight shrug. He narrowed his eyes and regarded the elf standing before him, relaxed, poised — not even breaking a sweat. The knives and longbow were completely unimpressive to a grown and battle-hardened man. The leather armor would be as effective as Orlesian silks against a greatsword. This was either a setup, or the elf was suicidal. “You sure you’re ready?” Ser Landry asked him.

The elf shrugged one shoulder, then suddenly the bow was in his hand and there was an arrow pointing at Ser Landry’s face. The knight stepped back reflexively. Behind him, he heard swords being drawn. “Hold!” he snapped, before they could clear the scabbards. The knights froze.

Valorien watched them down the length of the shaft. “Whenever you are ready.”

Careful not to make any sudden moves, Ser Landry leaned slightly left to unhook his helmet from his belt. The point of the arrow tracked the motion smoothly. He pulled the helmet on, still waiting for the elf to blink, or move, or… something. But he couldn’t stand there all day, waiting for the elf’s arm to get tired. He pulled his greatsword from the scabbard on his back and sprang forward.

Before he brought the sword down, Valorien loosed his arrow into the gap between the arm and chestplate. The knight’s swing faltered and only struck a glancing blow to the shoulder. He swung again, laterally, but overreached. Valorien stepped closer, inside his guard and fired downward, burying an arrow in the knight’s knee. He leapt away before the knight could recover, putting distance between them.

Ser Landry went after him, limping. He ducked and an arrow skidded off his helmet and clattered to the street somewhere behind him. He interrupted another shot with a swing of his sword. The elf jumped aside and the knight turned doggedly after him. The sword cut through leather and flesh, leaving a deep wound in the elf’s thigh. Blood ran freely down over his boot as he backed up, now limping worse than his adversary.

The knight moved in for the kill, but a point blank shot rocked his head back. The arrow shattered against the edge of his helm, driving splinters into his face. He moved back, shaking his head, blinking his eyes clear. He attacked again, keeping the elf off balance, unable to get in a shot. Valorien’s wound slowed him, the knight’s blade cut across his ribs. Still, he did not cry out. Ser Landry stepped in and brought the sword across in a vicious backhand arc, but Valorien dropped under it. He knelt and drew back his bow, waiting for the knight to raise his sword one last time.

Ser Landry stepped back. “Hold,” he said, breathing heavily. He dropped his swordpoint to the ground. After a moment, Valorien also lowered his weapon. The other knights, as well as Alistair and Tarroth, moved closer to the combatants. Ser Landry looked around, then pulled off his helmet. “The duel has moved too close to the street. We will not endanger the citizens of Denerim.” He narrowed his eyes at Valorien.

The elf pushed himself to his feet, not leaning on his bow, but favoring his left leg. His face paled, but his voice retained its strength. “As you wish.”

“This is not over,” Ser Landry said. “I will have my satisfaction. But not today. Give me your message, and I suggest you leave town.”

Valorien nodded at Alistair, who stepped forward and handed over the roll of parchment. Valorien passed it to the knight.

“This is not sealed,” he said.

“I have nothing to hide,” Valorien told him.

Ser Landry shrugged. “Let’s go,” he told his men. He sheathed his sword and limped off.

Alistair wasted no time tying up Valorien’s leg. “I’m surprised he didn’t kill you. We better get out of here, and fast.”

“Agreed.”

“Lean on me.” Alistair reached for his hand, but Valorien pulled away. The elf stared at him. “What?”

“I can walk.”

“You just said you agreed we need to get out of here fast. As in, quickly.”

“I can walk,” Valorien insisted. He started limping towards the market. “I can walk… as far as the city gate.” Tarroth followed, hovring close to him.

“Great Maker, you’re a damned stubborn elf!” Alistair followed him. Slowly. “Oh, yeah, you’re doing a fabulous job at that.”

Valorien muttered something decidedly elven.

“What was that?”

“Stop attracting attention,” Valorien gritted out through his teeth.

“Oh, is *that* what this is all about. You’ve got too much elven pride to let all the humans see you needing help.”

“No, better idea,” Valorien said, “Attract *more* attention, but do it somewhere over there, far away from us.”

Alistair threw up his hands. “Oh, you know what? I hope you fall down, so I have to *carry* you out.” Tarroth whined and gave him a reproving yip. Alistair just made a stubborn face at him, and he snorted.

Valorien stopped and stood up straight. Alistair stopped slightly behind him, not sure if the elf was going to turn around and deck him or what. Or maybe he deserved to be the one being decked. But after a minute, the elf only held his arm out. Alistair glanced at Tarroth, as if the dog could explain to him what’s going on. The mabari turned his head slightly, then looked straight again, jaws open in a goofy dog smile. Alistair shrugged and moved up beside Valorien. He took his elbow, and helped him hobble out of town.

 

 

Aftermath: Ser Landry and Loghain


 

“Am I to understand,” Teyrn Loghain said, “that you saw the Grey Wardens, *here*, in MY city, and you didn’t apprehend them?” He shook the paper in his hand. “And you only brought me this? Like some messenger boy!?”

“That is correct, sir.” Ser Landry stood at attention before his commander’s desk, staring at the back wall in the attitude of a soldier being chewed out by his commander.

“Did you at least find out which Grey Wardens they were?”

“He said his name was Valorien, sir.”

“And the other one? Was he even a Warden?”

“He did not give his name, sir. He looked familiar, though.” Ser Landry gave him Alistair’s description.

Loghain frowned to himself, then unrolled the parchment to read it over. “Seems to be signed by this Valorien person. I don’t think I recall him.”

“The elf, sir. He has a distinctive facial tattoo.”

“Oh, *him*!” The teyrn bared his teeth in a ferocious grin. “Yes, I remember him all too well.” He reread the message, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. Then he looked up. “Did you read this?”

“No, sir,” replied Ser Landry, eyes fixed on the back wall.

“Do you know what this is?”

“He claimed the Grey Wardens were innocent of betrayal at Ostagar, and he apparently wishes to ally with you against the Blight.”

“It’s a list of demands, is what it is,” Loghain snarled, crumpling the parchment in one fist. “It’s ridiculous!”

“He seemed sincere, sir.”

“He’s a damned wild elf, and he came to me in Ostagar and told me he had no loyalty to the king whatsoever. He called King Cailen a fool and said he would never serve under him.” Loghain stood. “That lying bastard is the traitor! If you see him again, kill him — and his allies!”

Ser Landry’s jaw clenched. “Yes, sir!”

“Dismissed! And send in Ser Cauthein.”

The knight saluted and left. In a few minutes, Cauthein, Loghains lieutenant, entered.

“Send a rider with a message after that assassin. The Grey Wardens are behind him, and somewhere just outside of Denerim.”

“They’re here?” she exclaimed.

“They were,” Loghain growled. “Stirring up trouble. They could be more dangerous than I thought.”

 

Coda: Those Taken


 

“Something else that’s been bothering me,” Alistair said. “You told that knight about the darkspawn taking survivors at Ostagar. What did you mean by that?”

Valorien looked up from rebandaging his leg. “Morrigan told me this, after I awakened.”

Alistair chewed his lip thoughtfully. “She didn’t mention it to me. Or,” he admitted a moment later, “I was too caught up in my own grief that I didn’t listen.” He watched the road back towards the city until the elf finished and stood up. “You don’t think…. You don’t think Duncan could have survived? Been taken away?” His face creased with worry.

“Grey Wardens cannot be Tainted.”

“No. No, you’re right.” They started to make their way back to camp. “Duncan would have fought to the last. They wouldn’t be able to take him alive. …I hope.”

“He’s dead, Alistair,” Valorien told him, not ungently.

“But if there’s the slimmest hope,” the former Templar began. “I mean, I can’t wish that he’s dead. It’s like you said, about your friend Tamlen. I don’t know what would be worse, him being dead or…. still being alive.”

Valorien stopped and faced him. “Pray that he is at peace.”

Alistair nodded. “Only, if someday we meet him and he’s not dead….”

“I promise I will help you.”

“And… not just kill him on sight.”

“I would not do that.”

Alistair drew a deep breath and blew it out. “All right. And… thank you.”

The elf nodded solemnly, and they continued on their way.

 

 

The Assassin


 

after breaking camp and getting on the road again, they are ambushed by a pretty hefty group assembled by the assassin. their traps and arrows fail to stop and kill the group. the assassin is wounded but captured alive. he confesses that loghain hired him to kill the grey wardens, but begs asylum with them instead. valorien isn’t convinced that letting a paid assassin into their midst is the smartest of ideas; he cuts the assassin’s throat.

 


Part Eight: Brecillian Forest


 
Next they travel to seek the promised aid of the elves in the Brecilian Forest. Naturally, the elves have their own problems. A band of werewolves is attacking and killing their people. Before anyone goes anywhere to fight a Blight, this must be dealt with.

To make a long story short, the werewolves are the result of a curse the keeper put on a band of humans who killed his son and daughter. Somehow he summoned a not-quite-demon spirit to power the curse, but now after a few centuries the spirit wants to be freed, the humans want to stop being werewolves, and the elves want the werewolves to stop attacking them. So they get the old elf down there and try to talk him into lifting the curse, but since that involves him dying…. well, anyway, he dies, the curse is lifted, the werewolves return to human form, and Valorien tells them to run and be free.

 

So as they’re leaving the forest, Alistair says, “Elves really *do* hold grudges a long time. Imagine, he cursed those people for *centuries.*”

“He could not let go of his hate,” Valorien said half to himself.

“Look, I hate to keep bringing this up all the time, but it really bothers me. Are you ready to forgive Duncan?”

The elf stopped and faced him. “Do not task me with this, Alistair.”

“I am sorry. It’s just that he meant so much to me. And now he’s gone….” He swallowed a sudden resurgance of pain. “And it’s just you and I together, through thick and through thin. This animosity between the two of you, it’s like a stone in my boot. I try to ignore it, but it’s uncomfortable.”

“Your insistance only makes me reluctant to let go of the matter.” Valorien looked at him steadily a moment. “You have to trust this rift will heal by itself over time. Please do not ask me about it again.”

“Okay, just *one* last question, I swear that is all.” When the elf nodded for him to go on, he asked, “Will it be sometime *this* century?”

Valorien sighed wearily and turned to continue along the path.

Alistair thought this reaction over carefully. “I’m going to be optimistic and pretend that’s a ‘yes.'”

 


Also NOT Appearing on a Blog Near You


 

Not to be outdone (or to be a total copycat)… I present LEGO(tm) Bannon & Zevran!

Don’t be the last kid on your blog-block to put your DA characters into Lego form. Play with the Mini-Mizer by Reasonably Clever today!

 


NOT Coming to a Blog Near You


 

Blame Whuffie.

I’m still trying to think of caption word balloons for this. Just sooooooooo many possibilities.

 


Writing Work


 

I have re-adjusted my work/job schedule in an attempt to be more productive. To this end, I now have two days where “writing” is on my agenda in a particular time slot. So far, this has been working well!

I have finished a post on Whispering Winds for Valorien, and have started a new one. I wanted to get finished with the next part this week, but that didn’t happen. Valorien’s story is very close to its finish. Well, it’s first finish, minus a couple of alternate ending scenes.

Which means it is almost time to start posting for Bannon & Zevran. Thanks to a new RP I’m in, I happen to have some writing already started for that (at the beginning, I mean. I do have tons of scenes that happen all throughout the story, but nothing in chronological order.). That, plus my newly-scheduled writing sessions, ought to get things moving nicely. I’m excited to get this started, and I know Bannon is dying for some fan-mail. :X

Meanwhile, I need to port over more of Valorien’s posts!