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!”
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)
“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.”
“Last time, it was deathly bland, and then you’d suddenly bite into clumps of spice hot enough to bring tears to your eyes.”
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….”
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? Lecture me about my behavior? Tell me I should be nicer?”
“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.