What ARE You Looking For?


 

So I like to look at my stats on the WordPress dashboard… makes me feel admired or something. About the funniest part of the dashboard is the Top Search Results that bring me hits. I have to admit being embarassed by some, because I didn’t mean to be hit with them. This week’s list…

hawk tattoo tribal (maybe i shouldn’t have written that’s how i found one for zevran)
high cheekbones blonde woman (close, but no woman! sorry ’bout that.)
dragon age cutscene capture tutorial
uhm for the dragon age toolset (because apparently, the previous one wasn’t specific enough. lol! i finished it! look here.)
gumball rally on netflix (now who on earth searches for this???)

 

In actual news… that little part in the game where you fastfoward from Flemeth’s hut to Lothering? That’s… now taking up four segments of the story. Apologies to Zevran fans (and Zevran) for delaying his appearance in the writing. But SOON! Um… but he’s going to be after RedCliffe. Not Zevran ASAP. Sorry. It will make more sense that way, really.

The good news is, those writing ideas are flowing, and there won’t be any delays waiting for them. I wonder if I can get so lucky with Lothering.

 


Poser Zevran Work


 

So… not content with doing screencaps out of the toolset (with the ‘real’ Zevran); I have decided to take the plunge and try to put together a Poser Zevran. Naturally, this won’t be easy, what with the Universe’s Cosmic Rule that Bloodsong’s Life just Can Not Work Right.

I started with Michael 2 from DAZ, and the Capsces Boris head morphs. YES, I’m just that old, and I KNOW Michael is up to version 4. But 2 is the only one with the Boris head morphs, you see. I’m talking a huge portfolio of morphs that morph and sculpt every part of the head. Plus I have a bronze variation of the Shades of Michael project. That’d be the skin. Texture. Ya know?

I wasn’t realy happy with the end results. So then I thought, “Hey… Zhao looks a lot like Zevran. Kinda.” (Well, my beardless bishonen one does :X ) Zhao is a Michael 3 character. Yes, I have #3. See above about the Boris morphs, though.

Then I thought, “A lot of fan-art folks do cartoons and sketches of Zevran, and they do stylized looks. Not exact, photographically-matching drawings. I can do, say, a Bishonen Zevran.” I have Bishonen for M2 AND M3. Hah! So I picked an “evil” Bishonen and started messing with the look. Annnnnnd failed. You’d think Bishonen look elven, but he just looked oriental. :/ And my golden version of Zhao’s skin didn’t work right, either.

So THEN I started looking for my M3 head morphs. For some reason… they ain’t there! Fortunately, I found the M3 Morph Pack original file on my backup CDs. Poser Backup CD #7, btw. NOW we are talking. We’re not talking Boris for M2, but we’re talking.

After getting it pretty close with the M3 morphs, I cleverly thought I would sculpt it further with Sculptris. Sculptris is Godly, but OMG I so wish it were a full-fledged 3D app. It won’t keep obj uvmapping, it keeps trying to triangulate everymotherlovinthing, and it exported my blasted morph WRONG.

Look familiar? Ish? Maybe? I have yet to rake back his ears, slope his forehead, and change his eye depth, but those can better be done in Poser. Oh, and I have to fix his upper lip. But his nose, mouth, lower lip, and cheeks are looking very close, I think.

 
This lovely morph totally explodes when applied in Poser. And you can’t re-order the vertices properly with UVMapper Pro, because — ha-ha — the triangulation has caused the facet structure to be ‘incompatible.’ After a nice nap though, I thought, “HEY! Maybe this is like Amorphium, where it reverses the vertex order when it exports. All I have to do is import the exported OBJ and re-export it to re-reverse them!” Hah!

This results in an OBJ with “wrong number of vertices”!!!!!!! WTF!?!?!? ::bangs head on desk::

SCULPTRIS, WHY MUST YOU TORMENT ME!?!??!?!?!?!?!?

And NO, don’t tell me to buy Z-brush, cuz it’s the same but full-featured! It AIN’T the same. I’ve had Z-brush for YEARS. I could never get that sucker to work for me. So I figure, okay, maybe by now, it’s more like Sculptris, so I tried the demo. HELL NO. That sucker is NOT the same, it does NOT WORK FOR ME. Sculptris… Sculptris is the sculpting app I would create if I were a programmer. It is THAT intuitive and perfect for me. For sculpting. It just falls down on the rest of the job. :/

And NO, modo doesn’t do the same thing in its sculpting mode. Not EVEN close. ::sigh::

 

In good news, however… I followed this tutorial to export an OBJ file from Gmax. It’s a partial kludge, but — miracle of miracles — I got Zevran’s armor out of the DA Toolset with UVmapping and textures intact! It needs some massaging in modo, but I will be able to turn it into conforming clothing for Poser Zevran. If he ever gets finished. ::sigh::

 

Will I be able to package and distribute a Poser Zevran file? …Probably not. Definitely not the skin, because that is proprietary Zhao, and I had to erase Zhao’s eyebrows (and stubble, euw). Of course, I could always release the tattoo layer(s) for an M3 skin, and folks could cobble from that whatever they have. Or I could see about using a merchant resource base skin…. nah.

 


The Wilderness (part 1)


(Warnings: foul language)

 

Alistair slogged along the dirt path through the Wilds. He followed the witch’s heels, not having the will to raise his head further. His pack was a solid weight on his back, along with his sword. His shield was a familiar weight on his upper arm, where he carried it. These were nothing compared to the burden on his heart. He had finally, finally, found his place in the world. He was bonded to the men and women of the Grey Wardens. He belonged. He was one of them, and their purpose was clear; their calling noble. Alistair was proud to be a Grey Warden. He’d been a part of something important.

Now…. He stumbled on a half-buried rock. He had to keep going. His whole family of Grey Wardens had been wiped out. He couldn’t just give up everything they’d striven for. But how could he prevail where the entire order had failed?

Duncan would know what to do. Alistair tried to imagine what his mentor would tell him. But bringing up Duncan’s image, recalling his strong voice, only made his vision blur with tears. He swallowed them and tried to push those thoughts aside. That only left him empty. Grey and desolate like the lowering sky. Soon the trees would be bowed under the weight of the heavy clouds. Alistair felt the same.

Then he felt a hand on his arm. He looked over. Bannon had moved up beside him as they traversed an open spot along the path. “You know in the stories,” the elf said, “when the characters say ‘It couldn’t possibly get worse’?”

“And then it does?”

“Exactly. But I’m starting to feel just like that.”

Alistair sighed and ducked a wayward branch as the path narrowed again. “I think I know what you mean. I mean, I’m not going to tempt fate by saying it, but I don’t see how things could get any worse.”

Bannon nodded, but then he said. “Ah, Alistair… I have bad news for you?”

“What?” Alistair asked suspiciously.

“I’m not going to be able to pay back that money I owe you anytime soon.”

To his own surprise, Alistair laughed. “Okay, now you’ve ruined my day. This has to be the lowest of the low.”

Bannon grinned back at him, but then a stiff breeze ruffled his hair, and the two Grey Wardens heard a rushing sound behind them. They stopped and turned. “You had to say that, didn’t you?” Bannon griped, his grin vanishing. A thick curtain of rain was sweeping towards them.

Alistair saw a brief flash of what he thought was lightning when he turned back to ask Morrigan about shelter. When he blinked, the witch was gone, and a silver fox was running through the brush. “Did you see tha–?”

“Did she just turn into–?” the elf said simultaneously. He darted ahead. “Morrigan!”

Alistair ran after him. They got about five paces before they were drenched in rain. The fox led them on a merry chase through the bushes. Then she leapt up a steep incline and disappeared inside a large hollow tree.

The two Wardens panted up and bent to look inside. The fox was curled up cozily in the dark cavity. “That’s fine for you,” Bannon said, “but what about us?” The only answer he got was a flick of a fluffy tail as the fox tucked her nose under it and closed her eyes. “Fine.” The elf straightened and looked at Alistair. “We’ll just go on without you.”

“We will? I mean… but we’ll get soaked!”

“Alistair,” the elf said, blowing a puff of air up over his face to try to dislodge a wet hank of hair that had escaped from his helmet. “We’re already soaked.” Bannon turned and descended the short hillside, giving the Templar a beckoning wave.

With one more dubious look towards the hollow tree, Alistair followed, skidding carefully down the slope. “Won’t we get lost, then?”

“Not a chance!” Bannon said loudly. “I’m an elf! And you’re a Templar — or near enough. We have an excellent sense of direction.”

“We do?” Alistair glanced over his shoulder.

“Is she coming yet?” the elf whispered out of the side of his mouth.

“Uh…, no.”

Bannon grumbled underbreath. Then he said, again loud with confidence, “That’s right, I’m sure it’s this way!”

“Of course,” Alistair agreed loudly. “We don’t need any sneaky witch-thieves!”

 

 

Half an hour later, they were thoroughly lost. But at least they’d found a fallen tree that had a hollow under it. They squeezed into the little space and sat in the squelching mud, looking out at the grey and green world.

“So we’re lost then,” Alistair said.

“We’re not lost.”

“You know where we are?”

“I know exactly where we are!” The elf’s voice shook a little. He was prone to shivering in the cold and wet.

“Oh good,” said Alistair, unconvinced. “Where are we?”

“We’re in the Wilds.”

There was silence. A good bit of it. Then Alistair asked, “Do you think the witch can find us?”

“Oh yes.” Bannon nodded confidently. “In the Wilds, Witch of the Wilds. No problem.”

“Hmm,” Alistair said noncommittally. “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way — you being my last and only friend in the world and all. But… I hate you.”

“Aw, come on,” the elf cajoled. “Didn’t I find us shelter?”

“This? Oh, this. This lovely mud hole under a cramped little log? Oh, no; this is smashing, really.”

“You wanted to be out of the rain.”

“I’m beginning to think your first idea was better. We were already soaked, so staying in the rain couldn’t do much more to us. Here, though….” Alistair shifted uncomfortably. “I think muddy water is seeping through the chinks in my armor. Not to mention chinks I have elsewhere, if you know what I mean.”

Bannon had no reply. A few moments later, he screamed. “Ahh! Spider!” He jumped back and tried to draw his sword, which was impossible in the tight space.

“What, this?” Alistair reached a cupped hand out in front of Bannon’s face and gently captured the small spider that was dangling from a thin line. “It’s just a little spider. I didn’t know you were afraid of spiders.”

“I’m not!” Bannon insisted. “But just… didn’t Flemeth say something about being eaten by spiders? Maybe it’s a flesh-eating spider.”

Alistair twisted to set the spider down, but then reconsidered. He didn’t want to sit on it, or have it crawling up into his armor. So he flicked his hand and tossed it into a nearby bush. The spider waved its spindly legs in indignation, then righted itself and scurried off, raindrops pelting leaves to the left and right of it like miniature catapult shots. “She meant giant spiders.” Alistair looked back. The elf just stared at him. “What?”

“You’re serious?”

“Yes. They live in deep forests or caves and such.”

“Whoa, giant spiders? Like how big?” Bannon asked.

“I don’t know; I’ve never seen one. But big. You know. Giant.”

“Giant like the size of a house? They step on people like bugs? They eat twelve oxen in a single gulp?”

Alistair snorted. “No, of course not that big. Just… like, big. You know. Huge.”

“Big as your hand? Big as a rat? Big as a dog?”

“Well, big. You know… BIG.”

“You’re a real fount of knowledge,” the elf said dryly.

“Well, you can ask me about Andraste and the Chant of Light. That was the center of my teachings with the Chantry.”

“What’s the prayer for Andraste to come save us from the wilderness?”

“Hmm, let me think…. ‘For forty days and forty nights, the Armies of the Righteous travelled the barren deserts and the dark forests. Blessed Andraste called to her followers with songs of freedom. The Maker heard the Chant and blessed her followers with sweet rainwater. The plants of the forest and plains fruited for them, and the game was plentiful. And so the Exalted March passed through the Wilderness and came upon the seat of power of the Magisters.'”

“So we just need to call an Exalted March to get out of here?”

“Yep.”

 

 

It began to grow dark, though the rain eased up. It was too damp for firewood. They Grey Wardens couldn’t think of any way to improve their meager shelter, though they did pull the oilcloth out to lay down over the mud. Then they got their muddy boots on it, but at least it seemed drier. They dug out the smoked rabbit legs and gnawed on them. By the time they finished, it was too dark to see a hand in front of their faces.

Hunkered down, Bannon said, “I suppose one of us should keep watch? And the other try to sleep, at least.”

“I can’t sleep,” Alistair said.

“All right.” Bannon shoved his pack up where the hollow met the tree trunk, his bow wedged beside it. He lay on his side, pillowing his head on the end of the pack.

“Oh, before you do,” Alistair said, “I should warn you about the nightmares.”

“Nightmares?”

“Grey Wardens… especially those fresh from the Joining, have nightmares. It’s from the Taint.”

Bannon groaned. “Great. I don’t have nightmares enough?”

“Do you?” He heard Alistair’s voice shift as the Templar turned his head towards him in the dark. “What about?”

“Nothing. Personal stuff.”

“You want to talk about it?” Alistair asked gently.

“No.”

“All right, then. I’d wish you good night, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Bannon just grunted in agreement. He doubted it, too.

 

 

The night was hell. Bannon drifted between chilly, wet mud and burning blood. People screamed at him, monsters shrieked. He tossed and jerked awake every time he almost drifted off. In the darkness, everything blended together until he suffered waking dreams and hallucinations he couldn’t escape.

He twitched and jerked. His eyes snapped open. He couldn’t see a thing. Then he heard a noise and held still, listening. There it was again, a low, keening sound. And sobbing.

“Alistair?”

The noise cut off abruptly, as if the human had held his breath to stifle it. Bannon pushed himself upright, rubbing his sore neck. “It’s all right,” the elf said into the silent darkness, his own voice hoarse. “Do you want to talk about it?”

The human sniffled. “I…,” he said in a tiny voice. “I-it’s… it’s just….” His voice dissolved into a whimper. Bannon reached out and gripped the human’s shoulder. The small contact seemed to break through the dam.

“The Wardens were my family. My whole family. I never… when my mother died, I… I just never fit in, anywhere. Duncan….” His voice strained thin. “Duncan was like a father to me. The only real father I ever had.” He put his hands to his face, changing the timber of his voice. Bannon squeezed his shoulder. “Now they’re… they’re gone. Forever. I can’t….” His body shook with sobs. “I can’t believe it. It’s so unreal. But here we are. I can’t wake up from this. And I don’t know how I can go on.” He hiccoughed and sniffled again.

“It’s all right,” Bannon whispered. “We’ll make it, somehow. Try to get some rest.”

Alistair slumped onto his side and curled up tighter. He hiccoughed brokenly a few times, then seemed to settle.

Bannon stared into the darkness, wondering just how they were going to accomplish anything at all. He felt very small. A tiny speck in the vast wilderness.

 

 

It dawned, if such a weak grey light could be called that, wet and dreary. Bannon crawled out from under the fallen tree and slowly unbent his limbs and spine. His whole body ached, and he was more tired than he’d been before the night had started. “Alistair, come on.” Creaking and groaning like an old man, Bannon knelt and fished out his pack and his bow.

Alistair hadn’t moved. “Alistair?” Great Maker, was the human dead? Bannon prodded the inert body with his bowstave. He called the man’s name again, panic creeping into his voice. “Alistair? Alistair! You stupid shem! Don’t you dare die and leave me all alone out here!” Bannon jabbed him hard in the ribs, eliciting a groan. “Oh, get up!”

Prodding, poking, pulling, he got the shem dragged out from under the tree. The ragged human sat in the mud. Bannon found some more dried animal meat and stuck a piece in his hand. “Eat!”

Alistair’s voice was a dried husk. “How?”

“Stick it in your mouth and chew.” Bannon tried to follow his own advice. All right, it was going to take quite a bit of chewing to make a dent in the hardened meat. He hoped he hadn’t accidentally pulled out the leather patches. He gave it a closer look. No, it seemed red and striated enough to be dried meat.

The paltry humor seemed to bring Alistair around a bit. He stared morosely at his share. “I mean….” He cleared his throat. “How are we supposed to defeat the Blight? There are only two of us.”

“Duncan once told me that being a Grey Warden….” Bannon gnawed thoughtfully on the jerky a moment, editing what Duncan had said. “You’re going up against an enemy who is bigger than you, stronger than you, outnumbers you, and even enjoys killing you. But you do it anyway, because it’s the right thing to do.”

“I understand that. But the odds are a million to one against us. Literally!”

“It’s still the right thing to do.” Bannon surprised himself when those words came out of his mouth. “We can’t just sit here and die. If we die trying… at least we tried.”

Alistair nodded. “You’re right.” His voice was still brittle, his eyes still haunted. He gnawed absently on his meager breakfast.

“Besides,” Bannon said with practicality, “there’s two of us. How often have you ever heard people describe an impossible situation as a two-in-a-million chance?”

This caused Alistair to cough a slight laugh. “Ah, never, actually. I suppose that really doubles our chances, doesn’t it?”

“There, see? It’s practically a guarantee of success.” Bannon clapped the human on the arm and was rewarded with a faint smile. It would take some time to bring back his glib, irreverent self.

“So,” said Alistair, his voice a little stronger; “have you figured out where we are?”

“Still somewhere in the Wilds,” Bannon said confidently.

“Oh, that’s good.” The human at least made a stab at humor. “At least that’s one constant we can count on.”

Morrigan’s cold razor voice cut in. “Lost, are you?” The Wardens whirled around. The witch was standing on the trunk of the fallen tree. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have run off.”

“Run off?” Alistair growled. “You abandoned us!”

“Truly? As I recall, ’twas two stubborn males that I saw disappearing into the trees.”

“What did you expect us to do?” Alistair snapped. “Stand there in the rain while you sat there with dry… uh, fur and… and… stuff!”

Bannon didn’t stop Alistair from railing at the witch. Truth be told, he wanted to rip into Morrigan just as badly, but he had a better sense of self preservation. Let Alistair piss her off. At least it was bringing some colour back to his face. He let them snap and snarl at one another until they degraded into name-calling.

“You… sneaky, evil witch-fox!”

“All right, calm down!” Bannon interjected. He took a breath to rein in his own temper. “Morrigan, you know we are ‘helpless babes in the woods.’ You knew that when you took this job. In fact, that’s the whole reason your mother sent you, isn’t it? To help us?” The witch looked as if she were biting something. Something unpleasant. “Look, if you wan’t to go back and tell Flemeth that you lost us and we perished in the wilderness, fine. Just kill us quickly before you go!”

“Very well then,” she said. Both he and Alistair scrambled to their feet and backed up. She didn’t blast them with mage-fire, however. She folded her arms and said, “If you want me to teach you to survive, you will do what I say, as I say, when I say it. Is that clear?”

The Wardens glanced at each other. Alistair seemed about to protest, so Bannon cut him off. “We will.” He shot a look at Alistair. The former Templar didn’t like it, but he kept his mouth shut.

Morrigan jumped lightly to the ground before them. “Very well. The first order of business–.” She caught herself, stopped. Her nose twitched and a peculiar look came over her face. “The first order of business is to find some clear water.” She turned and marched off. “Get your gear,” she told them, stopping some bit away to wait.

Again, the two Wardens shared a look. Alistair tentatively took a sniff or two. Bannon shrugged at him.

 

 

They did feel better after a refreshing (all right, cold) wash-up in a clear pool. Alistair noticed Bannon giving him an odd look. “What?” the human asked. “Do I have something on my face?”

“Yeah….” The elf sounded almost disturbed.

Alistair bent and tried to see his reflection in the water. He turned his head this way and that, but he didn’t see anything in the ripples. He raised a cupped handful of water and scrubbed his face again, just to be sure. “Is it gone now?”

Bannon shook his head mutely.

“This isn’t some joke to get back at me for making you get blood on your nose, is it?”

“No.”

“Well, where is it?” Alistair rubbed his face. The bristles on his chin made a rough scratchy noise. “Is it in my beard?”

“Your b–!” Bannon goggled. “How fast does that thing grow?”

Alistair chuckled. “Well, I have to shave it every day.”

Every day?” The elf was truly flabbergasted.

“Yeah. It’s too bad the witches didn’t have any razors.” He rubbed the bristles again. They were going to itch, he just knew it. The elf was lucky that his folk didn’t grow beards. Bannon just stared at him in horror. “What? What’s wrong?”

“We could be weeks in this wilderness,” Bannon cried. “It’ll grow and strangle us all in our sleep or something!”

Alistair had to laugh. “No it won’t. Honestly.”

Bannon just shook his head.

 

 


Decisiveness!


 

I have come to a Decision! No, not that. Concerning the plot outline of the Bannon & Zevran story. I can’t remember how the original game went, in what order. Plus, some DLC’s hadn’t come out (or I hadn’t gotten them yet) while I was playing, so some of those got stuck in wherever. And when I tried to piece together the plot points on the map… some of them didn’t fit. Like Shale is written in when Bannon pays a little visit back to Flemeth. But Honnleath ain’t on the way down by Ostagar/the Wilds. And why would they go out of their way to track down some crazy merchant’s rumor?

Plus there’s the timing on the segments. Partners in Crime is supposed to last about 3 months, and end after the Sacred Ashes arc is complete. Of course, most of the heart of the story happens after that, but can it compress into a visit to Orzammar and then the endgame? That’s pretty short. Unless they spend a LONG time on the road up there!

Anyway, I managed to sort every plot point where I wanted it, and in a logical route through the map (you know, no zigzagging from Orzammar to the Brecillian Forest and Soldier’s Peak to Ostagar). Except one little thing. So. I have decided to MOVE Honnleath to south of RedCliffe. Or maybe just change the name and location of wherever Shale is. If I do that one little thing, everything else will fall into place. Trust me.

 

In addition to this decision, I have come to a Conclusion! While examining the balance between Camp Time and Quest Time and Major Plot Point Time… I have concluded that this story is “character-driven.” Um, okay, maybe that was obvious, but what I mean is…. There are going to be parts between the action parts, where really nothing important happens. Just everybody talks together. Interacts. No action-packed “Die Hard” stuff. I mean, in those parts. Of course there’ll be action-adventure sequences. In other parts.

I really figured this out today, working on the Wilderness part. You know when you leave Flemeth’s hut after Ostagar and sorta fast-forward to Lothering? Yeahhh…. I’m going on 11 pages of writing for stuff in there. And not done yet. ::hears an ARGH from somewhere in the vicinity of Australia:: Actually, there now look to be two segments between the hut and Lothering. And I still think the Wilderness will be divided into sub-sections.

 

In non-writing news, I’m working again on making a Zevran Poser figure. I have started thinking… a lot of fan-art drawings, cartoons, caricatures and such, aren’t 100% spot-on identical to how Zevran looks. So I will suppress my natural urge to be perfect and just get a ‘reasonable facsimile’ that’s nice to look at. It didn’t go well last week.

I thought I would start with Bishonen for Michael 3. Those are pretty elven-looking. I picked a nice ‘evil’ one, and started tinkering. And I created a modification of the Zhao skin with Zevran’s tattoo. Annnnd… it totally didn’t work. It just didn’t say ‘Zevran.’ Ya know? It looked very oriental. ::sigh::

In GOOD news (prepare to faint!)…. I followed these instructions for extracting an OBJ file from Gmax, and I got Zevran’s armor out, with UV-mapping intact! Okay, with my luck the past year and a half, it would have turned into a lump of slag with no UV-mapping whatsoever. All it needs is a trip to modo to smooth it down, and remove the skin parts. And then to fit it to the Poser figure, make it conforming, etc etc etc. Shouldn’t be too hard. :X

::hears my destiny going BWAAAAAHAHAHHAHAHAH!!::

 


Holiday Wishes


 

A funny thing happened on the way to… um, actually, I was trying to see what Zevran’s bracers looked like. So I loaded up “It Takes a Thief” on yootoob. I was fast-forwarding and pausing through it. Then I noticed this little snowflake icon on the bottom. Hmm. You know, WordPress has holiday snow. (Yes, it will be gone Jan 1, for those of whom it annoys.)

Yootoob’s snow is much better. :X Anyway, it started snowing and piling up, and I thought I’d take a screen cap of poor Zevran getting snowed on. Mr. I’m-from-a-desert-country. It happened to be freeze(npi)-framed on the shot of Bannon trying to open the second chest.

Then it hit me! I could…. SERIOUSLY decorate up the sucker over in MSN’s Tech The Halls. (Yeah, well, I’m supposed to get lots of horsie points for going to that site.) After crashing the blasted thing three times (and Photoshop once!)…. well, it crashed again before I could preview/save it, but I DID finally get the blasted screencap!

The boys wish you all a happy holiday! Though I think Zevran got coal again. Um… and Zevran wishes you to hang lots of mistletoe… and Bannon hopes you get lots of really COOL expensive presents!

 

 

….wait… Bannon, you are opening YOUR present aren’t you?? Whose is that!?!

 


The Death of the Grey Wardens


 
(Warnings: mild language, adult situations)

Bannon heard voices. He couldn’t make them out; they seemed to be in some distant underwater cavern. He heard a broken sobbing that gradually faded away.

Some indeterminate time later, he awakened. This time there was a woman’s voice, cold and clear as a mountain stream. “So, you’ve decided to rejoin the living?” A pressure lifted from his eyes and he blinked them open with a groan. He was in a humble firelit room. And standing over him, it was that woman from the Wilds. “M-Morrigan?” He pushed himself up on his elbows. The witch moved to help him, supporting him and propping a few pillows behind his shoulders. “Is this your house?” he rasped.

“‘Tis Mother’s house, yes,” she said. “How do you feel?” She moved away, crossing to the hearth.

“I- I’m alive?” Surely, this was the last thing he expected.

“Quite,” the witch assured him. “Though ’twas a near thing.” She ladled some stew from a pot over the fire into a bowl, then returned to the bedside. “We healed you. Well, Mother did most of the work; I know little of the healing arts.”

Bannon took quick stock of himself. He felt tired, weak, and a bit stiff. He ran a hand over his bandaged chest, wincing as he recalled black, barbed arrows thudding into him. But it didn’t hurt now. He took the bowl from Morrigan gratefully. “How did I get here?”

“Mother turned into a giant bird and plucked you from atop the tower. She flew down and brought you here.”

“You’re jo–. No, I guess you’re not.” Bannon put a spoonful of stew into his mouth, suddenly ravenous.

Morrigan shook her head. Then she said, “I hope you like that. The newt eyes are quite tasty this time of year.”

Bannon froze with the food halfway down his throat. He looked up at her, but she only returned his gaze mildly. He was going to choke to death, so he forced the food down with an audible gulp.

Morrigan chuckled. “You’ve done much better than your friend. When I played that trick on him, he spit stew halfway across the room.” She smiled. “Mother made him clean it all up before letting him have his clothes back.”(*)

Friend? “Alistair? He’s here?” Bannon devoured more of the stew. He was pretty sure those were just peas. But what the hell, he was starving, and city elves couldn’t afford to be picky eaters. “What happened at the battle?”

“The man who was supposed to respond to your signal quit the field.”

“What?” Bannon stopped, his mouth half open. “General Loghain? He…? He didn’t attack? Why? What happened? What about the king? And the Grey Wardens? We have to go back and find out.”

“There is no need for that. I had a rather good vantage point. ‘Tis too dangerous to return there, now.”

“If you were watching, unnoticed, we could use the same spot.”

“Not unless you can turn into a bird.”

Bannon frowned and shook his head. He ate mechanically in silence as she described the battle. The soldiers in the pass had perished. They had held off the darkspawn bravely, but the horde kept coming, unchecked. No army descended from the hills to reinforce them. They were slaughtered!

“The darkspawn overran the camp?” Bannon asked. Morrigan nodded. “What about… what about north of the camp? Where the elves were?” Did Loghain abandon them to die, defenseless? Or had they left with the army?

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” said Morrigan.

“Well, we have to find out!”

“Why?” she asked. He looked up at her. Her face was open and clearly unconcerned. “What could you possibly accomplish?”

“There could be survivors. Some who got away.”

“Aye, there are stragglers. But as I said, ’tis too dangerous–”

“What is dangerous? The battle is over. Did the darkspawn start living in our tents?”

“No, but…. Are you sure you want to hear?” Morrigan’s cat-eyes narrowed calculatingly. “Your friend became most upset when I told him.”

“No. I mean… I have to know.”

She crossed her arms over her stomach. “The darkspawn comb the gorge for bodies. Feeding, I think. Should they find any survivors however, they drag them away. I do not know where, or why.”

Bannon’s mouth went dry. He let the spoon plop into the dregs of the stew in the bowl. His appetite seemed to have deserted him.

Morrigan took it from his hands and set it on the bedside table. She perched on the edge of the bed and gently tugged the end of the bandages loose. “Let’s see how you’re doing,” she said. “Mother says the Grey Wardens have incredible healing capacity.”

“Does she know a lot about Grey Wardens?” Flemeth seemed to have a lot of interest in them, at any rate. Bannon wondered why.

“Perhaps she knew some Grey Wardens in the last Blight.”

Bannon frowned at her glib tone. Surely this was just another ‘old mother’ joke. No one could be that old. Morrigan didn’t look up from her work. She bent closely over him, her slender neck and smooth jawline filling his vision. He could distinctly catch her scent, a mixture of loam and moss and woman. Her fingertips were cool and gentle against his skin. Despite the turmoil of grim thoughts spinning through his mind, there was something about a woman slowly uncovering him that caused… stirrings. –Of a purely physical nature. He suddenly realized those bandages were all he was wearing.

“Does that hurt?” she asked softly as he tensed.

“Uh, no.”

She slid the blankets lower, down into his lap, so she could reach the tail end of the bandages wrapped around his stomach. A bead of sweat prickled at his temple. Morrigan looked down on him. “‘Tis quite remarkable,” she said. He hoped she was talking about his chest! She touched his skin, running her hand lightly over the faded red marks that had previously been mortal wounds. She seemed oblivious to the effect her touch had on him. “I’ll tell Mother you’re fully recovered, then?” She turned her head and looked into his face.

“Um– yes.”

Her brows creased slightly. “Though you seem to have a touch of fever, yet.”

Bannon licked his lips. “Wh-where are my clothes?”

“There, in the chest.” She tilted her head towards the corner by the chimney. Slowly, graceful as a cat, she stood up and looked down on him. Rather like a cat sizing up a rodent. “Did you want them now?” she asked. “Do feel free. ‘Tisn’t anything I haven’t already seen.” Er–! He didn’t think she’d seen it quite this way. “‘Twas I who undressed you and bathed you, after all.” All right, maybe she had!

“I…,” he gulped. “I’m very grateful, Morrigan. But,” he was very quick to add, “I think you’re right. I do feel a little… flushed. Perhaps I should rest a bit more.” Maker’s Mercy, how to get rid of this woman? “Can you let Alistair know that I’m all right? Please?”

“Of course.” She smiled faintly (mockingly?) and turned and walked out.

Bannon let out a breath. Then he flung the coverlet off and sprang for the chest. He dug out his breechcloth and pants. “Will you stop that,” he hissed. “What are you trying to do, get us killed?” He had no idea how angry the witch might be at him and his state — which was entirely not his fault! But he knew how shem women could get riled if an elf even looked at them sideways. Witches must be ten times worse. Or, hell, maybe she was desperate! Out here, all alone; her and her dotty mother. That thought put a damper on things! “You’ll get warts!” he hissed in final warning to his wayward anatomy as he pulled his clothes on.

 

 

A few minutes later, he ran into Morrigan and Alistair, just outside the door. “I told you,” the witch said imperiously, “he’s resting.” She turned around and scowled at Bannon. “That was a rather short rest,” she said, narrowing her eyes.

Bannon shrugged helplessly. “Well, I tried. I was just… too restless, I guess.” The witch rolled her eyes, tossed her hands in defeat, and stalked off.

“You… you’re alive.” Bannon didn’t recognize Alistair’s voice, it was so hoarse. Nor his face, which was haggard, his eyes red-rimmed. “I thought I’d lost you, too.”

Flemeth came over to them. “I told you, he’d be fine.” Her voice creaked like a great tree branch, making her sound stronger instead of weaker.

“It was a near thing,” Alistair said, still looking Bannon over as if afraid he might be a ghost.

“I’m all right,” the elf assured him. “Thanks to Flemeth.” He gave her a polite bow of his head. “And Morrigan.” He didn’t know where the young witch had gotten off to, but he didn’t want to bet she wasn’t listening.

“Duncan’s dead,” Alistair said suddenly. The light that had crept into his face at seeing his brother Warden died out. “Everyone… they’re all dead; all of them. The king…. Loghain left us to die.” His shaky voice gained strength at the last, the strength of hatred and betrayal. Alistair put his hands on his face.

“Easy,” Bannon said gently. “I know. Morrigan told me.”

“What are we going to do?” Alistair cried into his hands.

Bannon didn’t have an answer. But Flemeth did. “You’re Grey Wardens,” she said. “You’re going to stop this Blight.”

The elf stared at her. Alistair coughed a harsh, bitter laugh. “We are? Just the two of us?”

“It’s what Grey Wardens do. It’s what you are sworn to do.” Flemeth crossed her arms and fixed the former Templar with her grey-gold gaze. “It is the duty that cannot be forsworn. Isn’t that right?”

Bannon had to wonder again exactly how much the old woman knew about the order — and how she knew it. Alistair gaped at her, his face creased with worry. “But… we can’t do it alone! Two against the horde? Even for a Grey Warden, that’s impossible odds. No Grey Warden ever defeated a blight without an army at their back.”

There was an army, beating a hasty retreat northward as Bannon understood it. But he doubted catching up with them was a good idea at this point. He tapped a thumbnail against his teeth. “Isn’t there a Grey Warden headquarters? Somewhere?”

“There’s Weisshaupt, the home of the order,” Alistair said. “But that’s hundreds of leagues away, in the Anderfels.”

“There are no outposts that are closer?”

Alistair grimaced. “You have to understand, the Wardens were banned from Ferelden until recently. After they took part in a revolt against the king or something. Every Warden in Ferelden was here, at Ostagar. So the next closest would be the Wardens in Orlais. Duncan came from Orlais, when this nonsense started, as did most of the other Wardens.” The man sighed heavily, and rubbed his face. “King Cailen was going to request more Wardens, but there were… complications.”

“Complications?”

“Politics,” Alistair spat. “Loghain and some of the older banns didn’t want Orlesians back on Ferelden soil.”

Flemeth said, “There are plenty of allies close to hand.”

Bannon got the idea she was trying to lead them to something, but he didn’t know what. Or why she just couldn’t spit it out. He stared at her, brow creased in puzzlement. She just rolled her eyes. “And I thought you were the smart one.” Bannon opened his mouth to protest, but had nothing to say to that.

Alistair was rubbing his head, making his short hair stand out in messy spikes. “We can go to Redcliffe,” he said, piecing together his thoughts as they took shape. “Arl Eamon is a good man. I know him. If we explain what happened here, how Loghain betrayed us, he could fight against him.” Alistair seemed charged by the idea. His head came up, his eyes alight. “He wasn’t here at Ostagar; he still has all his men!”

Bannon frowned in thought. “He has an army big enough to fight the horde?”

“No, but big enough to fight Loghain’s men. Arl Eamon can unite the banns; they’ll rally to him! He can call for a Landsmeet, and we can settle this score with Loghain.”

Bannon chewed the inside of his lip. He wasn’t sure what good it would do to have two armies fighting each other while the darkspawn horde still threatened the country, but the idea of it seemed to rejuvinate Alistair. The man had almost been a walking corpse. Now his voice was stronger, his cheeks had regained some colour. And one army fighting another to unite them was better than no armies fighting the Blight. He hoped. The elf glanced at Flemeth. She looked exasperated.

“It’s the Grey Warden’s job,” she said pointedly, “to call upon the forces of their allies in times of Blight.” Alistair stopped and looked at her, dumbfounded. The old witch slapped a hand to her face. She muttered something that might have been Chasind, or might have been magic. Bannon tensed to leap away as soon as she made any hostile moves. Instead she just groaned, “Why did I give you those treaties?”

“The treaties!” Alistair said. “They’re still there, in my scrip! I forgot all about them.”

“Obviously,” Flemeth growled.

Undaunted, Alistair contined, his excitement rising further. “The treaties give us the right to call upon aid from the dwarves, the Dalish, even the Circle of Magi. They have to help us!”

“Even though there’s only two of us?” Bannon asked skeptically.

Especially since there’s only two of us!”

Flemeth huffed in irritation. “Don’t bother thanking me for keeping them safe for you.”

“Thank you, Flemeth; you’re an angel,” Alistair said with genuine gratitude.

“Ooh, flattery will get you everywhere, big boy.” She waggled her brows at him, then burst into cackling laughter as his expression turned to one of pure horror. “Now, down to business.”

 

 

Flemeth was determined to see them off within the hour. Alistair worried that Bannon was still too weak, but the elf assured him he felt fine. Well, he had been ‘resting’ for two days. The elf was a bit shocked to hear that.

They scoured the tiny home for supplies. There were spare winter blankets for bedrolls, but no tents to speak of. They commandeered an old oilcloth used for covering the woodpile and folded it into an awkward bundle. Flemeth gave them a hand axe and said something about a lean-to. Bannon looked just as blank as the human felt. Candle stubs, dried rabbit jerky, leather cord, a tinderbox, a battered pot, two pewter mugs… Flemeth didn’t seem concerned about stripping her home of anything. It finally dawned on Alistair — the old witch didn’t expect to be here come winter. That’s when reality hit him. They’d lost. They’d failed to stop the Blight, and it was going to eat up this land like a black rot festering on an infected limb. It wasn’t going to heal. It was going to keep spreading.

Alistair rubbed his eyes. They felt as if they had sand in them again, fierce pinpricks that made them water. He wished again for the hundredth time that Duncan were here. Duncan would know what to do. And the loss of the Grey Wardens ached like a missing limb. He’d really felt as if he’d belonged, for once in his life. Surrounded by Wardens, he felt like part of a family. Times had been rough, the future had been bleak. Maker knows, they faced death in every battle. But for several weeks, Alistair had been a part of something greater than himself. And now, he was reduced to nothing.

“Hey.” He felt a light tought on his arm. Alistair looked up; Bannon was giving him a concerned look. “Come on,” the elf said gently. “We need you.”

“‘We’?” Alistair joked darkly. “Like the whole country? The whole world?”

“Well, I need you.” Bannon dropped his mask of bravado. His dark eyes looked haunted, almost desperate. “I can’t do this alone.”

Alistair took firm hold of himself. The little g– the elf needed him. He nodded. “I guess–” He had to clear his throat, as his voice was still hoarse. “I guess we can’t just do nothing. Even if it is hopeless.”

 

 

Flemeth produced a pile of shirts from the depths of one closet. Men’s shirts, of all kinds and styles.

“What are you doing with so many men’s clothes?” Alistair asked.

“For all my male visitors, of course,” the old witch replied.

Alistair looked at Bannon, but clearly, neither one of them wanted to go there. Carefully, Alistair asked, “What are you giving them to use for?”

The old woman straightened up, a hand pressing her lower spine. “For you to wear when yours get dirty,” she said simply. “And then to tear into bandages when you get yourself beat up.”

“You mean, we should tear them up and roll them into bandages?”

Flemeth put a hand over her eyes. “Of course not! Then how will you wear them?”

Alistair was confused. He was used to carrying neatly rolled bandages in his pack. But Bannon said, “It makes sense.” So they rolled up the shirts to pack away.

Flemeth pointedly gave the elf a satchel of poultices and healing draughts. Because he, as she kept hinting, was ‘the smart one.’ Alistair didn’t argue. He was just glad he wasn’t the smart one, or they’d all be in trouble.

 

 

Morrigan reappeared. She seemed a bit ruffled by all the commotion going on in the house, but struggled not to show it. She suggested the Wardens best hope was to make for a small town just north of the Wilds, called Lothering. All they had to do was get to the Imperial Highway and go west. Of course, the witches didn’t have anything so handy as a compass. Morrigan rolled her eyes. “When you get to the hightway, you turn left.” At least these were instructions Bannon could follow!

“The Imperial Highway has branch that ends near Ostagar,” he said. “I don’t see why we can’t go back to the camp, raid some decent supplies — no offense, Flemeth — climb the norhern ravine, and slip past the darkspawn by going through the elven camp. There’s a forest up there at the edge, it would be easy enough to use for cover.” Not to mention, he could find out what happened to his people. If the army had abandoned them, he’d go straight after Loghain and rip the bastard’s throat out.

Flemeth said, “If you and your friend go anywherenear that horde, you’ll be killed.”

Alistair explained. “You know that trick we Grey Wardens can do, sensing darkspawn nearby? Well, they can sense us, too.” Bannon threw up his hands in exasperation. “If it’s a few stragglers, or even small groups, it could work. But a whole army? They’d swarm us like ants on a drop of honey.”

“So you want us to head into this wilderness until we hit the Imperial Highway, and just turn left?” Bannon asked Flemeth. “Without a map or a compass?”

The old witch stroked her chin thoughtfully. “There is one more thing I can give you, that will help you on your way.”

“We’d be most grateful,” Bannon said sincerely.

“I’ll give you my daughter.”

“What?” Alistair yelped. Morrigan sputtered.

“She is very precious to me, so be sure you keep her in one piece. Morrigan,” Flemeth turned to her gaping daughter; “guide these fellows and aid them on their quest.”

“I– but– Mother!” Morrigan bit down hard, gaining control of her voice and her words. “This isn’t how– this isn’t what I wanted.”

“You’ve seen them bumbling around the swamp. It would take them three months to find their way out, and that’s only if they don’t fall into quicksand, eat poison berries, get bitten by snakes, or eaten by spiders.”

Both Alistair and Bannon opened their mouths to defend themselves. But… what could they say? It was true. And eaten by spiders? Was she joking? Bears would be more likely, or so Bannon thought.

“But a Templar, Mother!”

“Former Templar,” Alistair put in.

Flemeth said, “All the more reason he needs help.”

“Hey!”

“I….” Morrigan deflated under her mother’s imperial gaze. “Yes, Mother.” She took a breath and came to grips with her new job.

“We would be most grateful for your help, Morrigan,” Bannon assured her.

“Are you sure about this?” Alistair asked. He lowered his voice, even though the two women were right there within hearng anyway. “They’re… you know. Apostates.”

Bannon just stared at him. He had to be joking. They needed the help of these witches — mages, apostates, whatever you wanted to call them — and Alistair didn’t want their help because… what? They didn’t have a license to practice magic? “Do you know the way out of here?” he asked the human.

“Um, no.” Alistair mulled it over. “All right, then.” To Morrigan he said, “You can cook, right?”

She narrowed her eyes and said slowly, “Yes….”

Bannon nearly kicked the Templar — former Templar — in the ankle. This must be why Templars and mages didn’t get along. “You don’t have to cook,” he said appeasingly.

“Well, you missed your chance there,” Alistair said. “It’s charred rabbit from here on out. I’m a horrible cook.”

Bannon slapped his forehead. “You just put it in a pan and fry it on the stove until it’s done.” Honestly, how hard could it be? But Alistair and Morrigan stared at him. All right, so they didn’t have a pan, and there wouldn’t be any stoves in the Wilds.

Morrigan sighed in exasperation. “I’ll cook, if only out of self preservation. Speaking of which….” She turned to Flemeth. “Now, Mother, be sure not to scorch the porrige.(β) Again. Mind the fire. I wouldn’t want to return to find our home a smouldering pile of ash.”

“Bah!” Flemeth waved that off. “‘Tis more likely you’ll return to find this place overrun by darkspawn, devastated by the Blight.”

Morrigan’s face went white. Her voice trembled with actual emotion. “I… I didn’t mean….”

Flemeth awkwardly patted her arm. “No worries, child. I have plenty of tricks in me yet to avoid those stinking monsters.” The old witch squinted one eye and tilted her head up at her daughter. “Mind what I told you. Now be off. A storm is brewing.”

Morrigan nodded as if not sure of her voice. Bannon thanked the old woman once again. Without much ado, no fanfares of heroic speeches, they started off down the muddy path on their grand quest to save the country from obliteration.

 


*: Flemeth has clearly been watching too much of this video.

 

β: 500 Bloodsong Points if you know a story containing a warning about scorching the porrige. (Hover your mouse to see the answer.)

 


Brain Kidnaps Author


 

This week has been entirely weird. I have been depressed and agitated at the same time. I have also been unable to control my brain. My brain has been working on a Zevran-based fan-fic crossover with the Saw movies, and some more Torchwood scenes. The latter because I have been re-watching the Torchwood episodes on Monday nights, and after episode three, Zevran was begging me to write the scene where Jack teaches him about gunz.

::thunks head on desk::

This Friday’s post is ready to go. Next week’s post is…. ugh. It covers a time between the end of Ostagar and arriving at Lothering. You know, the part the game fast-forwards through. Yeah, starting to look like a good idea, that. No, actually… there’s some bits of business to attend to. Alistair’s depression. Bannon’s nightmares. And Morrigan whipping them into shape. And the beard that ate Lothering.

I hammered some writing out on that last week. And junked most of it. Then re-wrote some bits. And it’s only halfway done, by now. I’m not happy with it.

And then… I have to deal with Lothering. No, I haven’t written anything for it, nor figured anything out for it (oops, no, there’s the outline for the conversation with Sten). So I need to work on all that. After I get out of the Wilds. Remember I mentioned the possibility of my write-ahead queue dwindling? Yeah, well, it is. :/