The Ambush


 
Content:
Rating: Teen
Flavor: Drama, Action/Adventure, Humor
Language: some
Violence: yes
Nudity: no
Sex: no
Other: no
 
Author’s Notes:

Finally! The event you’ve all been waiting for! Bannon vs Zevran! Ah… well, one of the two events you’ve been waiting for. ;P As for the other, that’s going to take some time, so be prepared for a long, crazy ride.
 


The Ambush

 

 

Two days later, they were on the road again, rested up and reprovisioned. Bannon was sorry to leave the comfortable bed of his guest room, but quite glad to be missing the effort to clean up Redcliffe castle.

Morrigan had been successful in defeating the demon. She would not give them any details, which put the wind up Alistair’s back. Connor was fine, though he seemed to have lost his memory of the time he had been possessed. As for his father, Eamon, he had not died when the demon was removed, but neither had he awakened from his coma.

Teagan clung to the belief that the Urn of Sacred Ashes was the only possible cure. Since the knights of Redcliffe had been decimated, the onus of this quest had been pressed onto the Grey Wardens. The notes Ser Bryant had passed on gave them a few leads, either in Laketown by the Circle Tower, or in Denerim itself.

The Blood Mage, Jowan, had been granted a stay of execution. He’d been returned to the dungeon to await Eamon’s judgement, should the arl ever awakened. If he died, so would Jowan.

The blacksmith’s daughter, along with all the other servants of the castle, had been killed. Owen went on a bender and nearly tore down the forge. The town was currently looking for a new blacksmith.

Bannon avoided the boy, Connor. He still had a knee-jerk reaction of wanting to kill him on sight. The fact that there weren’t any elven women in the castle chafed him; he could certainly have used the comfort of an elven lass in his big guest bed. It would have been mutually comforting! As it was, he volunteered to let Sten sleep on the floor in his room, leaving Alistair free to look up any of his old girlfriends. Or hell, a new one, if what he’d said about the dogs were true…. That would be awkward. Bannon hoped Alistair had some luck there, but the former Templar was so moody and morose, the elf doubted anything had actually happened.

At least Teagan never mentioned the royal bastard bit. Alistair seemed almost relieved to be leaving his home town. Bannon didn’t get a chance to talk to him. Alistair strode eagerly forward, taking the vanguard with Sten. So the elf hung back with Morrigan. The witch seemed more introspective after her battle with the demon. Bannon wanted to make sure she was all right, still dedicated to the Grey Wardens’ cause.

Leliana trailed behind, also uncharacteristically quiet. Something had been bothering her since Redcliffe as well. Bannon made note to put Alistair onto that. They were both Chantry-trained, they ought to get along well.

 

 

Four crows sat in the old dead tree overlooking the mercenary camp. Zevran enticed a few closer to the wagons with scraps of spoiled food. Hannah wrinkled her nose. “What’s with the birds?”

“Pretensiousness.”

One of Zevran’s partners, Taleisen, had always liked to lure crows to an ambush site. He claimed it gave the target a feeling of dread forboding, a mark of doom that guaranteed their failure to defend themselves. Zevran thought it was ridiculous — weren’t ambushes supposed to be a complete surprise? Besides, crows were so common, he doubted the marks ever noticed their presence, let alone realized the dread they were supposed to feel before their last moments of life. Taliesin was like that, though; full of drama and poetics. Zevran did it on a whim, since Taliesin wasn’t here. He’d offered to come, but Zevran had turned down the help. The last job they had done together… had gone badly. It wasn’t Taliesin’s fault, of course, but Zevran wanted to face this challenge alone. He had some things to work out for himself. Some bad luck to shake off his boots, as it were.

Quinn, the scout, came pounding up the road, scattering the crows. “A qunari, a knight, an elf, a barbarian woman, and a Chantry Sister–” he reported in one quick breath. It sounded like the start of a convoluted joke.

“The Wardens?” Hannah asked Zevran.

“Either that, or a very unlucky circus troupe,” he quipped with a grin. “Get ready!” He ordered. “Man the tree — do not drop it until we can separate the Wardens from their allies,” he told Quinn. The mercenaries scrambled into position, drawing the oxcarts across the road and felling the beasts in their traces.

“Go get them,” Zevran told Hannah with a wink.

 

 

“Help! Please, come quickly!” A farmwife ran down the road and nearly ran into Alistair. She caught him by the hands. “There’s been an attack!”

“Wh–?” was all he had time for before she ran back the other way.

Sten growled, “Another delay?” But the human Warden was already chasing the woman.

Bannon and Morrigan caught up with the qunari. “Brilliant,” Morrigan sneered. “It’s as though they wait for us to show up before having their disasters.”

“Come on, before Alistair gets himself into too much trouble.” The elf led his troops in a ragged charge down the road. It couldn’t be darkspawn; he didn’t sense any nearby.

They came around a bend to behold a sight of slaughter and chaos. But no attackers. Bannon skidded to a halt, Morrigan beside him. Sten continued until he drew abreast of Alistair, who had stopped near the first wagon.

The only person who might be an attacker was an elf in leather armor, armed with swords and bow. The distraught farm woman ran right up to him, then stopped and gave him a nod. Completely unlike enemies.

The elf gave a sharp whistle and raised one fist. Bannon saw several armed men step out from behind the wagons. Even more broke cover on the hills on either side of the road, bringing crossbows to bear. Shit! A trap! Retreat would be really smart right about now!

He opened his mouth to yell at Alistair to run, but a loud groan drowned him out. An old dead tree heeled over and was falling on him. He dove forward, Morrigan leaping ahead of him. Leliana cried out as the tree crashed to the ground, sealing off this end of the trap. Fortunately, she sounded more fearful than hurt.

Bannon scrambled to his feet, drawing his weapons. Morrigan started a spell. That blond elf pulled a large bow from his back. “Resist if it makes you feel better!” he sneered. “The Grey Wardens die here!” Silver-blue light flared from the woman’s hands — she was a mage! The battle was swiftly joined.

Alistair cried out as blue mage-light encircled his feet, pinning him in place. He managed to get his shield up in time to catch a yard-long arrow on it. He pulled out his sword and waited, head ducked down.

Sten charged forward with a roar. Crossbow bolts chewed into the ground behind him as the archers concentrated most of their fire on him. He met the mercenaries with a clash of metal and human cries.

A smaller volley of bolts bounced off the air around Morrigan. “Stay behind me if you wish to remain safe,” she suggested to Bannon. She raised one hand and called down lightning to her fist. She then aimed it at the nearest row of crossbowmen.

Bannon didn’t heed her advice. Ducking low, he raced to help the beleaguered qunari and trapped Warden. One of the mercenaries was angling for Alistair’s blind side, behind his guard. Bannon plowed into the man and threw him to the dirt, then thrust a sword through his ribs.

“Morrigan,” Alistair yelled. “The mage!”

Bolts of magic and lightning flashed through the melee as the two apostates fought.

Behind the hulk of the felled tree, Leliana cursed in a most un-Chantry-like manner and bent to rip her new robe up the sides. Vowing never to wear her robes on the road again, she clambered up the tree trunk and perched by a shielding root. She drew her crossbow and began sniping the enemies on the ridges.

Bannon ducked instinctively, and something sheared through his hair, making him flinch aside. Where were those damned arrows coming from? He blocked a mace with his sword and drove his short blade through the bicep of the arm holding it. He cast a glance across the battlefield, towards the mercenary elf and his mage. That elf had the bow; he was drawing another arrow.

Their eyes met.

 

 

Their eyes met across the battlefield, deep brown and honey-amber. Zevran saw the flash of anger, the instinct of a killer. He knew in an instant that the other elf was coming for him, figuring to cut off the head of this mercenary snake, to remove the biggest threat.

Zevran released the arrow, but the Warden was gone before it landed. He disappeared behind the mercenaries as he circled to get to Zevran. He didn’t waste any opportunity as he passed. He hamstrung one of the fighters. He ran past another, completely ignoring the man’s challenging stance, then turned and swiped a blade through his neck, almost as an afterthought.

“He’s mine!” Zevran snapped to Hannah as he threw down the bow. He pulled out his swords and sprang forward, right into the charge of the Warden. The two elves impacted heavily, blade to blade, body to body. They staggered back a half step, caught their balance, then moved into a swift dance, exchanging fast and vicious blows.

Zevran bared his teeth in a grin; he felt the excitement of bloodlust straight down to his groin. The dark-haired elf merely snarled, intent on killing him. Zevran had the advantage of two long blades, whereas his opponent had one long and one short. A glimmer of disappointment cut through the thrill of the fight. This elf was clearly nowhere near as well-trained as a Crow assassin. Zevran was going to beat him.

Oh, but it wasn’t going to be easy. The elf was quick — Zevran trapped his short blade between his swords and circled to wrench it out of his hand. But the Warden somehow snaked his blade straight back, twisting with the maneuver instead of fighting it. Then he struck forward, slicing Zevran’s forearm between the bracer and elbow guard.

And he was strong — fearlessly, the Warden followed up with an attack. It had no finesse, no technique, but raw as it was, Zevran couldn’t predict it, and he found himself giving ground, trying to find an opportunity to turn the tables. Bursts of magelight flared around them as the main battle raged on. The quartet of blades burned crescent streaks into the air, yet neither elf dared to blink.

And — Zevran barely turned his hip in time to deflect a vicious kick — he fought dirty. The force of it knocked Zevran sprawling, and he twisted like an eel to avoid the Warden’s stabbing blade. He cut upward, more a desperate delaying tactic than an actual attack. The Warden avoided his swords and cut at his legs. Zevran scrambled backwards, the relentless elf following, determined to slice him open anywhere he could reach.

Zevran feinted and rolled, got his feet under him, and flung a handful of loose grit at the Warden’s face. The Warden threw up his left arm and turned his head away, squinching his eyes shut. Zevran followed up with an hard downward cut that laid the Warden’s bicep open. He cried out in pain and rage, and attacked. Zevran hadn’t managed to blind him with the dirt; he’d been too quick to react.

Zevran exploited an opening in the elf’s guard, left by his wounded arm. The assassin cut hard across the Warden’s chest. Somehow, he managed to catch the blade on his long dagger and deflect it upwards. He flinched because the sword nearly went into his neck, instead. The Warden threw his head back and the blade only skidded against his jawbone.

Zevran’s grin widened, his bloodlust enflamed as he struck his opponent. He pressed the attack, aiming at the extremities, to hurt, to cripple, not to kill. To draw the duel out. The Warden stumbled back clumsily, drawing the killer on. Incensed, Zevran lunged, overextended. The Warden dropped entirely under his guard and thrust his sword into Zevran’s thigh. “Ah!

The assassin struck down instinctively, but the Warden spun aside in a move that left his back completely open and unprotected. He’d actually disengaged and was aiming a strike at the mage’s neck. Did he think the pain lancing Zevran’s thigh would incapacitate him? With an angry snarl, Zevran turned and lunged to drive both blades into the elf’s back.

But at that moment, there was a world-shattering CRACK! Pain flashed red across Zevran’s eyes, then there was only blackness. It was the last thing Zevran knew. He didn’t even feel his body hit the ground.

 

 

The mage’s eyes flew wide as Bannon turned and thrust his sword into her neck. Just behind him, Alistair finished off the elf who was the apparent leader of these people. Both bodies collapsed lifelessly at nearly the same time. Bannon shot Alistair a grateful look, but they didn’t have time for more. Something, somewhere, was exploding, and one very angry qunari was screaming imprecations in his foreign tongue.

Ignoring the few scattered crossbow bolts that peppered the ground, the Wardens charged up the hill after Sten.

“Not that way!” the witch started. “It’s full of–! Oh well.”

Alistair tripped on a wire and went sprawling, which was lucky, as the explosion belched fire and debris over his back.

“Traps!” Bannon yelled.

“You think?”

Bannon turned back to the witch. “Get those bastards on the other ridge!” They couldn’t let any of them escape!

 

 

Once the heart of the assault had been cut down, it was just a matter of cleaning up the remaining skirmishers and crossbowmen. It was one hell of a mess. Bannon was covered in blood, at least half of it his own. Whoever that elf was, he had been damned good. The others, save for Leliana, were in worse shape. She and Alistair knelt over the qunari, trying to pull bolts out of his neck without killing him.

Bannon passed Morrigan a healing potion, then set about binding up his arm.

“Well, these didn’t last long,” the witch quipped as she downed the potion with a grimace. Despite having restocked at Redcliffe’s Chantry, they were left with barely a handful after this fight. “I would dearly love to thank whoever set these mercenaries on us,” she continued scathingly. “Too bad we killed them all, or we might have gotten some satisfaction extracting the information.”

“Does it matter? It was probably Loghain.” Bannon got up and moved stiffly down the hill to check the corpses. The thief from Denerim started pocketing little prizes he found.

“Hey,” he called back to the witch a few minutes later. “Bring some rope, I think you just got your wish.”

 

 

Some pitiful fool was moaning in pain. From a distant shore, an angelic voice said, “I think he’s waking up.” And then Zevran realized the pitiful fool was in fact himself. How embarrassing.

He blinked his eyes a few times. When they were open, he saw a bleary mass of brown and red. When they were closed, he could see a bright red crack on a black field. It must be the crack in his skull, he reasoned.

He blinked some more and tried to rub his eyes, which is when he discovered his hands were bound behind his back. Further investigation revealed he was lying on the ground, a bandage around his leg. Pain throbbing through his body helped him recall that vicious fight with the elven Warden.

“Here,” the angelic voice said softly, and something cool and soothing touched Zevran’s eyes. Then he could see that red-headed Chantry Sister crouched over him, wiping his bloody face with a damp cloth.

“That’s enough,” someone else said. The red-haired angel stood and moved back. The others were there, gathered around him — the barbarian and the two Wardens.

Zevran rolled halfway towards them so he could lift his head to look at them. He groaned again. “I’m not dead?” he said stupidly. Head injuries were no fun.

“A condition that can soon be remedied,” the cold-voiced barbarian told him pointedly.

“First,” the dark-haired elf said, “we want to ask you a few questions.”

“Aha,” Zevran said. “An interrogation, then? Very well, let me save you some time and effort. I am Zevran Arainai of the Antivan Crows. Zev to my friends.” He frowned to himself. “Not that I have any friends.” Where had that come from? “Sorry. Head injury, you know.”

“Why are you trying to kill us?” the elf asked.

“Is my job.” Zevran shrugged, or tried to. It wasn’t so easy while lying down on one side with your hands tied behind your back. “I am with the Antivan Crows, as I believe I mentioned.” The Fereldens looked more blank than impressed.

“An assassin?” the human man asked.

The Sister clarified. “The Antivan Crows are a powerful guild of assassins. They are reputed to be the most deadly and most efficient killers. They never fail to kill their mark, once they accept a contract.” Ah, at last, an enlightened person!

“Well, they can’t say that any more,” the barbarian sniffed.

“Who hired you?” the knight asked.

“Eh, a rat-faced fellow in the capitol. Howe, his name is. On behalf of that taciturn Regent, General of the blah blah blah.”

“Loghain!” the knight spit with vehemence.

“Oh, there’s a big surprise!” the elf said in sarcastic shock. “That’s an incredible– I think I’m gonna have a heart attack and die from that surprise!” The Wardens shared a flat look.

Zevran snorted, and instantly wished he hadn’t, as that red lightning fork flashed before his eyes again.

The elven Warden looked down on him. “Why are you just giving us all this information?” He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Zevran was beginning to like him; so smart, so ruthless, so handsome. And such gorgeous eyes!

“Oh,” Zevran said, remembering the question. “Why not? I was not paid for my silence, after all. Not that I offered it.”

“How much did they pay you? And where’s the money now?”

“The contract on your lives went for an exorbitant sum. As for the money, it is on its way to Antiva, to my Crow Masters. I, myself, will only see a paltry share of the take, should I be successful.” He blinked. Things worked a little more slowly in his rattled brain. “Which I clearly have not been. Therefore, death shall be my only payment.” For some reason, this saddened him. After a lifetime spent clinging to life like a drowning man on a small plank in the ocean after a shipwreck, he found he couldn’t truly let go. Since he had first clashed with the elven Warden, he’d been fighting to live. It was ironic. “If you are done questioning me, I would like to offer you a proposal.”

The small group looked at each other. The barbarian spoke. “His exceedingly limited usefulness is at an end. Finish him off and be done with it.” She turned and stalked off, clearly dismissing him.

Zevran’s heart pounded. The others didn’t appear inclined to hear him out. He didn’t wait for an invitation. “Listen, since I have failed to kill you, the Crows will now seek my death. That puts us in the same boat, no? It occurs to me that the only way to be safe from the Crows is to join with someone stronger than they are — which you have quite adequately proved to be.”

“You want us to protect you,” the elf stated; “from your current — soon to be former — employers.”

Si! I can be of great use,” Zevran added quickly. What did he have to offer them? “I am well-versed in poisons, stealth, and lock-picking, traps, spying…. I can warn you should the Crows try other, more sophisticated means of killing you, now that my efforts have failed.” Pitiful fool! He’d just admitted failure, three times in as many minutes. It should have stung more, but the pain in his head seemed to drown that out. Zevran squirmed a bit, wishing he could use his hands, or at least stand upright and talk. “I know twelve massage techniques, six different card games, and a great many jokes — most of them dirty. I would be great fun at parties, no?”

“You’ve got to be joking,” the human said.

“You see how amusing I can be!” Zevran stressed. “I am an expert swordsman, as you can attest.” He nodded to the elf. “I am sure you can use such skills, to fight darkspawn and other unsavory creatures.”

“How do we know you won’t just stab us in the back as soon as we untie you?” the elven Warden asked.

“Uh….” Zevran’s mouth went dry. “You don’t, really,” he admitted. “I can only pledge my loyalty to you.”

“The same loyalty you gave to these Crows?”

“Well, it’s not like I had a choice with them. They bought me on the slave market when I was young.”

“You’re a slave?”

Ah, of course! Fereldens had a notorious distaste for slavery. “Yes,” Zevran said. “A well-paid and pampered slave; a very deadly and dangerous one to be sure, but a slave nonetheless.” Was that just desperate, wishful thinking, or did the elf’s demeanor soften? “My pledge to you would be that of a free man, not the forced loyalty of a slave.” Zevran blinked. Blood was running into his left eye again.

“You must think we’re royally stupid,” the human scoffed.

“I think you’re royally tough to kill,” Zevran corrected. “I’m only hoping for the stupid part.” He blinked again. Oh shit, what did he just say? “Uh, did I say that out loud? Sorry, head injury….” He started to shake his head to clear it, then realized what a horribly bad idea that would be. “What I meant to say was….” He tried to salvage his chances, looking up into the dark-haired elf’s gorgeous eyes. “I think you are the sort of person who does not fear to take risks, when the reward can be so great.”

He hoped that sounded tempting enough. His only other resorts were offering sexual favors and plain outright begging. Not that he’d ever stoop to the latter! He looked imploringly up at the elf. The Sister and the knight looked to him as well. He seemed to be the one holding Zevran’s life in his hands. He stroked his chin in thought.

 

 

He stroked his chin in thought, and his fingers brushed the ridge along his jaw where the healing potions had gone to work on the cut. He almost took my head off, Bannon mused. For some reason, this elf tugged at him. He surely wouldn’t mind his own personal assassin! But that was nonsense. The man was paid to kill them, contracted to kill them. This was no doubt a ploy to finish the job and collect the reward.

Still…. If it were true about him being a slave…. Fereldens despised slavery. Bannon despised elves being relegated to servants and slaves even more. And hell, truth be told, he was getting tired of being the only elf among these shems. It would be a relief to be able to talk to one of his own kind.

In the end, the captive’s last argument decided it for him. “Give him a healing potion,” Bannon said. Leliana nodded and took one from her pack.

“What?!” Alistair yelped. “We’re taking the assassin with us now?”

“Mercy is a virtue in the eyes of the Maker,” Leliana said. “So long as one is careful, yes?” This last remark was aimed sharply at Bannon.

He looked at Alistair. “Look, you want to kill him? Here.” He pulled out his new belt knife, flipped it hilt-out, and offered it to the Templar.

“Uh….” Alistair backed up a bit. “Well, no. Just….” He slumped in defeat, then looked heavenward. “If there were a big sign saying ‘We Are Desperate,’ I think it just knocked on our door.”

Morrigan tromped back over. “Tell me I am not hearing this! You cannot be serious!”

Bannon re-sheathed his knife, not about to tempt the witch with it. “I’ll handle it. Don’t worry.”

She flung up her hands. “No sense of self preservation whatsoever!” She stalked off once more. “Don’t expect me to help you! But I do suggest you thoroughly inspect everything you eat or drink from now on.”

“Sound advice for anyone,” the assassin — Zevran — quipped cheerfully. He seemed in much better spirits now that he’d had a healing draught. And wasn’t in imminent danger of being executed. Bannon recalled feeling much the same when Duncan had plucked him from the clutches of the Denerim city guard. Except for losing Soris to them at the same time, and being forced into the Grey Wardens, that is.

“Leave it,” he told Leliana, as she leaned to untie the prisoner.

She looked to him and nodded. “I must check on Sten.” She rose and returned to where the qunari lay.

Bannon settled down next to the prone assassin and started rifling his belt pouches. He pulled out something that looked like metal tongs with stone tips. “What’s this?”

“My fire-striker.”

Bannon squeezed the metal arms rapidly, making the flint and steel strike sparks. “Nice!” He put it in his own belt.

“That is mine.”

“Not any more.”

“Aren’t you going to untie me?”

“Not just yet.”

Vials of — these must be poison, throwing knives, a wire garrote, a set of simple lockpicks, and other miscellaneous mundane items were in the belt and its pouches. And a lovely, razor-honed belt knife.

“Those are mine,” the assassin insisted.

“Not any more.” Bannon tried not to smirk, and the assassin bit his tongue. The thief unbuckled the weapon harness, and retrieved the two swords. He wiped them with a rag before sheathing them. “These are really nice.”

“Those are mine.”

This time, Bannon did smirk. “Not any more.”

Zevran growled. “What are you, just going to tie me up and rob me?”

“Is my job,” Bannon shot back, imitating the Antivan’s accent.

Zevran only growled again. “I will need those back, if you intend me to fight for you.”

“First, we need to make sure you’re sincere about not killing us.” Bannon leaned down and untied the ropes. “After that, we can get to the ‘you helping us’ part.”

The assassin grumbled as he loosed the rope from his arms. Bannon gave him a hand up, noticing what a strong grip he had. He didn’t let go of the Denerim elf’s arm right away. “You have spared my life,” he said, looking Bannon in the eye. “I hereby pledge my oath of loyalty to you, until I am killed or you choose to release me from it. From now on, I am your man, without reservation. This, I swear.” With that, he released Bannon’s arm and bowed, his fist over his heart.

Bannon just stared. This guy had to be joking. “All right,” he agreed hesitantly.

Zevran grinned. “What is your name, my noble patrone?”

“Bannon. That’s Alistair,” the elf said, nodding in the human’s direction.

“Oh, that’s brilliant,” Morrigan griped. “Be sure to point out his targets to him.”

Bannon rolled his eyes after the witch turned away. “That’s Morrigan,” he said. “Don’t mess with her, she’s an evil witch.”

“Seriously?”

“Definitely!” Bannon lowered his voice and looked around to make sure no one else was within earshot. “Leliana is our lunatic nun, and Sten is the giant.”

The assassin had a bemused, crook-browed look on his face. Bannon chuckled. “Yeah, you’ll fit right in.”

 

 

Leliana told Bannon he needed to speak to Sten, so he left her and Morrigan with the assassin for a while. He instructed them to plunder their attackers for food, money, and any healing potions. Zevran should know where those were, and if he tried anything, Morrigan would surely set his head on fire.

The qunari was lying on his back where Leliana and Alistair had left him. The dirt around his head was damp and sticky with blood. Bannon crouched next to him. There was more blood drying on his neck, jaw, and chest. As Bannon understood it, Alistair had had to pull quarrels from the giant’s neck, and then Leliana had to pour potions down his throat before he bled out. Even if they’d done it perfectly, he would need more rest to fully recover his strength.

“How are you feeling, Sten?”

“I should have died.”

“You know we’ll take care of you. Le–”

“No. They should have let me die. I was meant to die in battle, do you not recall?”

Bannon sat back on his heels. Just what he needed, a suicidally depressed qunari. “I thought we agreed that you should die fighting darkspawn. Not a bunch of hired assassins.”

“What difference does it make?”

“Come on, you’ve fought a few darkspawn. But not many. We’ve had our hands full with bandits and phantoms, humans and skeletons. All right, today you just saved the last Grey Wardens from being assassinated. But how many darkspawn can Alistair and I kill on our own?” The elf let him mull that over a bit. “Not as many as we can with you helping us.”

Sten only sighed with a grumble.

Bannon stood up. “All right. But if you stay there, you won’t die in any battle. Just from starvation.” He turned and walked away. “Or maybe it will rain, and you’ll drown, like a goose.”

There was a deep, rumbling growl behind him, and he actually felt the vibrations through the ground as the qunari shifted his great bulk upright. He didn’t dare turn around. If he looked weak or afraid, he feared the qunari would crush him on the spot. Instead, he looked at Alistair, a few feet away. The Templar was frozen in place, his eyes wide and staring behind Bannon. But his expression didn’t change into a wince, or perhaps a bit of rage at this giant attacking his best friend. Hopefully he wasn’t just slow.

As calmly as he could, Bannon walked over to the other Warden. “We just about ready to go?” he asked in the most off-hand manner he could muster. He didn’t feel his skull being crushed, so he figured Sten was back to his usual cheerful self.

“Uh… sure.”

 

 

Did the Warden just call the towering qunari a goose? Zevran looked over. Elves weren’t all that tall to begin with, and compared to a qunari standing on a hill above him? Bannon looked like a child. The qunari hefted his maul, the weapon shaft nearly as tall as the elf and the head weighing probably as much. Bannon didn’t turn or bat an eyelash. Sweet Andraste, he had some stones! Zevran shivered in admiration. The giant only shouldered the weapon.

“Are you all right?” the sweet Chantry Sister asked him.

Zevran smiled at her. “Yes, my dear. Though your illustrious leader gave me quite a vigorous workout….” His eyes wandered in that direction again, but he quickly brought them back to focus. “But the potion you gave me has done wonders for my head. And such a thorough job you did bandaging my leg.” He stepped a bit closer, his seductive smile widening. “‘Twas you who ministered to me so lovingly, yes?”

“Um, yes.” She looked so much prettier with a little colour in her cheeks.

“You are truly an angel of mercy!” He bowed, sweeping her hand to his lips before she could escape. “Your hair is like a fiery sunset. Your eyes are like the sea after a storm. Your lips are like a red, red rose. Your breasts–”

Thank you, Zevran.” She pulled her fingers from his grasp. “I get the idea.”

Undaunted, he grinned toothily. “Should there be anything I can do for you, to repay your kind services,” he waggled his brow suggestively; “do let me know.”

“Actually,” she said, making his ears perk; “there is.”

“Name it, my angel of mercy!”

“Since you don’t have your own pack, you can carry mine.” She unslung her pack and dumped it into his arms. It was compact, but decidedly heavy.

Zevran bolstered his wavering smile. “Of course! It is my honor.” He shouldered into the straps.

The evil witch, having been a silent observer of the entire exchange said, “You can carry mine as well.” Before Zevran could even form a protest, she slung it at him.

“Ah. Well. Of course.” He juggled the burden. “When we stop for the night, perhaps you ladies would care for an Antivan massage, no?”

“No,” was the unanimous reply.

Zevran sighed and turned his wandering eye back to the elf, qunari, and human. “Perhaps one of our handsome Wardens would like to indulge in such pleasures that I can offer.”

The two women shared a brow-raised look. Narrowing her eyes shrewdly, Morrigan said, “Handsome in that way?” She shot another glance to Leliana, as if to confirm what she was hearing.

“Mmm, just so.” Zevran blinked and took hold of himself. “Oh, but of course, I do not wish to step on any toes…. If you ladies have staked your claim–”

“No,” said Leliana quickly.

“Not a chance,” the witch agreed, with a slight sneer of distaste.

Interesting. Zevran wondered what they had been doing in that cozy little inn, then. Actually sleeping? What a waste of a perfectly good nap.

They rejoined the rest of the group. Bannon was checking if everyone were ready to move out. He spared and extra glance at the packs Zevran was laden with. “Where did you get all that?”

“I am being eminently useful to your little troupe! Since I am unable to fight by your side, I have instead become your beast of burden. Though if I am attacked, I’m sure I can sling this effectively at an enemy.” He let loose his hold of the witch’s pack, catching it by the straps and preparing to fling it around in demonstration. Ah, something decidedly glass-like clinked within.

“Give me that!” Morrigan snatched it from his hands.

“Ah well,” Zevran said in mock dejection. “Defenseless again. But do not fear! I am still dedicated to serving your every desire.” He leered at the handsome elf.

“Oh.” Bannon looked around, a bit confused. Zevran sighed inwardly as the leer went right over his head. “All right. Let’s get going.”

 

 

“So, Alistair,” Zevran asked a while later, to lighten the boredom of hiking. “How is it you became a Grey Warden?”

“Oh. Well, I was in training to be a Templar,” the human said affably enough. His earlier mistrust seemed to have nearly evaporated. “I wasn’t exactly cut out to be a Templar….”

“Ah, handy with the ladies, were you? Rambunctious? A wild, tavern-haunting–”

“No! No, no, not at all,” Alistair stuttered. “I mean… I had a sense of humor.” Zevran chuckled. “Right, not exactly the ‘sterner stuff’ of which Templars are supposed to be made.” The human stared down the path a while. “Anyway, a man named Duncan recruited me.” His face turned melancholy. “The Grey Wardens just sounded… I don’t know. Fighting a Blight seemed more worthwhile than herding mages, I guess.”

“Interesting,” Zevran said. Then he turned his head to the elf beside him. “How about you?”

“Duncan recruited me, too,” Bannon said. “From the alienage in Denerim.”

“Oh, really? How did he find you there?”

“Eh… I’ll tell you later,” the elf hedged.

Oh ho! Very interesting, that. Zevran skipped ahead a few steps and raised his voice slightly to the women in front of them. “So, Morrigan. How did you come to be in the Wardens’ esteemed company?”

“I’m sure that is none of your business, assassin.” Bannon wasn’t kidding; she sure did her best to live up to the ‘evil witch’ role.

“There is no need to be like that,” he said lightly. “It wasn’t like I asked your every weakness, or what favorite drinks you might like to indulge in, that I might poison.”

“Zevran,” Bannon said warningly. “Remember what I said about annoying Morrigan.”

He signed and gave up. For the moment. “What about you, my fiery angel of mercy? Do you fear to reveal yourself to my dastardly wiles? Will you not tell me a simple story of how you came to join this merry band?”

“The Maker told me to.”

Zevran shot Bannon a look. The dark-haired elf rolled his eyes and shrugged. What had he called Leliana? Ah right, the ‘lunatic nun.’

Leliana continued her tale, oblivious to the byplay. “I had a dream, a vision sent by the Maker, of a vast darkness devouring the land. Then the Maker told me I could help prevent this terrible fate, if I went to Lothering and joined the cause of the Grey Wardens.”

“I see…. Do you have these conversations with the Maker often?”

She shot him a look over her shoulder. “I had a vision, not a conversation. Are you trying to imply that I’m crazy?”

“Me? No! Why would I do such a thing?” he asked. “I am sure that not everyone who hears the Maker speaking to them is insane.”

“I am not–!” Leliana nearly bit her tongue cutting herself off so abruptly. “We are not speaking of this.” She lengthened her stride.

Zevran dropped back with Alistair and Bannon again. “Should I go ask your qunari how he joined?”

“No,” the two Wardens answered together in the same deadpan voice. Then they started cracking up. Zevran just watched, bemused.

Then Alistair said, “Why don’t you tell us how you joined the Crows?”

Zevran smiled, himself being his favorite subject. “Well, as I mentioned, they bought me when I was a child. They paid an exorbitant sum for me, so I am told. Of course, I became the best assassin the Crows ever had — quite a return on their investment.”

“You sound rather proud of it,” Alistair said hesitantly.

“Should I not be?”

“You, like… murdered people for a living!”

Zevran shrugged. “If one is going to do something, one should do one’s best at it, no? It’s not like I was given a choice on the matter of how I was employed.”

The Wardens shared a look.

“Yes,” Zevran said. “Now that I am employed by you, you shall have the benefit of my utmost talents.”

“And you don’t want to kill us?” Alistair asked dubiously.

“Why should I?”

Bannon said, “Guild loyalty? Revenge for nearly killing you? Being bound by a contract?”

“Pfeh.” Zevran waved a hand carelessly. “The Crows will deal with their contract — I am well rid of them. As for loyalty? They now wish me to die for my failure. I can be a very loyal person, but I do draw the line there! If you are expecting to execute me for failing any task you set to me, then you can also expect for me to escape from you as well.”

“What about revenge?” Alistair asked.

Zevran shrugged. “It would be stupid, no? Why would I harm the very royally tough to kill bastards who are now my allies? Powerful ones at that. No, it would be foolish to go against you, as I have learned.”

“You really have absolutely no personal interest in killing us?” the former Templar insisted. “Even after we killed all your friends back there?”

“Oh, them?” The assassin waved that off. “Those were just a bunch of mercenaries.”

“They weren’t Antivan Crows?” Bannon asked.

“No, I am the only Crow who took this job. Actually, I think I am the only one who even bid on it. Even in Antiva, there is an age-old respect for Grey Wardens.”

“Why did you take this job?” asked Bannon.

“Oh, well….” Zevran shrugged. “It is difficult being the best assassin there ever was. I already have so many princes and princesses to my name, where could I go for a challenge, hm? Only if a contract came in for the very King of Antiva himself. So, I thought to myself, a contract for some Grey Wardens, in some foreign country, that would be a challenge worthy of my skills, no?”

Alistair said, “Yeah, but we beat you.”

“Just so,” the elf replied, undaunted. “A challenge more than worthy of my skills. And now, I join your distinguished company.”

Morrigan put in, “If you’re the only Crow who took this job, it seems to me that killing you will remove the one and only threat.”

“No, they will still send others, eventually,” he pointed out pragmatically. “After all, the Crow Masters would not want to return all that money! We have a reputation to maintain. Once a contract is signed, the mark always dies. No exceptions.”

“Then when can we expect your Crow friends to show up?” Alistair asked.

“Oh, assassins don’t really have friends,” Zevran replied matter-of-factly. “We are always competing, pitted against each other since we were young. It weeds out the weaker ones.”

Alistair slowed and turned his head back to look at the elf. “You’ve never had any friends?” His foot hit an exposed root and he had to turn back around to pick his way up a slight rise.

Zevran shrugged. “Not really, no. There have been a few I have associated with — worked with, did a few jobs together. But such attachments are discouraged.” His mouth turned down in a bitter frown.

Leliana had apparently not moved out of conversation range. She said, “That sounds horrid. What a terrible thing to do to a child. To anyone.”

“Oh, to be sure, it is ruthless and cruel,” he replied cheerfully. “But that is how the Crows hone their skills. Competition keeps us on our toes– WAUGH!” Suddenly, the Antivan pitched forward on the path, his cry startling and scattering his companions. Zevran caught himself, barely, on his hands and one knee, then instantly pushed off to spring back to his feet. He whirled on Bannon. “What is the meaning of this, ser?” He demanded angrily. “Did you trip me?”

The Denerim elf only burst out laughing, nearly doubling over in mirth. The assassin’s amber eyes flashed in anger, and he sprang at the other elf. Bannon could hardly defend himself, because he was still laughing. Zevran began pummeling him.

“Hey, hey!” Alistair moved forward, but he hesitated to try to grab the assassin. Sten had no such compunction and drew his great maul as he strode towards the two combatants. Alistair turned to the qunari. “Whoa!” He held out his hands placatingly.

Leliana watched in partial amusement and partial ire. Morrigan just rolled her eyes and continued down the path.

Zevran backed off, sensing a large no-nonsense warrior threateningly close.

“I’m sorry,” Bannon said, still trying to control his laughter. He held up his hands. “I’m sorry,” he chuckled. “But I couldn’t resist. ‘It keeps us on our toes’– whoop!” With one hand, he pantomimed Zevran’s faceplant. Leliana covered her mouth, but her eyes danced with mirth.

The assassin growled, then lashed out one last time, punching Bannon hard on the arm.

“Ow!” That cut off his laugh right there! Then he thrust a finger at the Antivan’s face. “Admit it,” he said while Alistair coaxed Sten to put away his weapon. “That was funny!”

The qunari muttered something under his breath and turned to follow the witch. Zevran bit hard on the inside of his cheek, not sure himself if it were in anger or just to keep from laughing. Then he huffed a breath.

“Great,” he said, his ire intensifying his accent, making the vowels more breathy and the consonants softer. “Just what I always wanted: a patron with a sense of humor!”

 

 


End Notes:

Morrigan: “Brilliant! It’s as though they wait for us to show up before having their disasters.”
–she hit the nail on the head, there! :X

 

Zevran/Bannon: “Is my job.”
–this is barely recognizable, but go ahead and give yourself 5,000 Bloodsoing Points if you recognize this as something don karnage says in TaleSpin, after baloo accuses him of taking every opportunity to lie, cheat, steal, etc. (no clue what ep! maybe the glue one.)

 

Bannon: Oh, there’s a big surprise! That’s an incredible– I think I’m gonna have a heart attack and die from that surprise!”
–this quote is worth 1,000 Bloodsoing Points if you know where it comes from. my favorite character from Aladdin, iago! the only smart one in the bunch :X

 

Zevran: “Yes, my dear. Though your illustrious leader gave me quite a vigorous workout….”
–yes, just like in The Mark of Zorro. um, no wait. nothing like that at all :X oh, no… yeah, it was a duel. close enough! no, no points for that, that one was obvious :P

 


Work This Week


 

Everything else is sucking, but writing is going apace. The long-awaited Ambush section of the story is coming out next Friday. I hadn’t actually written anything for it beforehand. All the writing I’ve done on B&Z has been after that (sometimes waaaaaaaaaaaaaay after). But it is shaping up quite nicely!

I did sort of shoe-horn everyone out of Redcliffe, after the end of last chapter. But honestly, nothing interesting went on at all. And yes, I skipped the battle between Morrigan and the demon. ::gasp!:: Well, we’ll just have to take her word for it that everything went well. ::cough::

I’ve also had some time to work on some Torchwood stuff, including the TW/DA crossover. Yeah, Episode One might… maybe come out this summer? I dunno. I do think I’ve finally figured the outline out. :X You can’t imagine how nuts that’s been driving me. Goofing around with a scene here and there with extra characters is nothing. Making the goofy scenes string together logically is something else altogether.

 


The Demon of Redcliffe


 
Content:
Rating: Teen
Flavor: Drama
Language: some
Violence: yes
Nudity: no
Sex: no
Other: some gory blood magic
 
Author’s Notes:

this was meant to be part of the previous section. but that didn’t happen in a timely manner. that’s why it starts rather abruptly.

note to the zevran fan club: he does have an appearance at the end!


The Demon of Redcliffe

 

 

They didn’t meet any other persons, alive or dead. The castle was quiet as a tomb. Bannon scouted the grand reception hall. He saw rows of guards standing stiffly at attention along the walls. Lady Isolde, a boy of about ten, and Bann Teagan were gathered at the arl’s seat of power at the far end of the hall. Teagan was distracting them, apparently by dancing a jig.

The hairs on the back of Bannon’s neck prickled. He figured there was no point remaining hidden. The child there must be it — the demon. He led his troops into the hall.

The guards did not so much as twitch as they passed. Some had their eyes half-closed as if in a stupor. One was clearly dead, yet still standing at his post. Many of them had soiled themselves; the hall was starting to smell like a dungeon sewer.

As they neared the dais at the end of the reception hall, Bannon turned his eyes forward. Teagan was capering about like a fool, a wooden smile plastered across his face. The boy watched with avidly gleaming eyes, while his mother stood at his shoulder, her face turned away in shame. The bann dove into a handstand and then tried to flip to his feet. His wounded leg buckled and he fell with a pained grunt. The rictus of his grin didn’t falter.

“No, no, no!” the boy growled, his voice at once petulant as a child’s and deep as an ancient being’s. “Do it right, uncle!” The bann twitched and jerked himself upright, his limbs stiff as a badly-wrought puppet’s. Blood flowed down his leg, under his boot, causing him to slip. “Why can he not do it right, Mother?” the demon-child growled.

“Please, Connor,” Isolde said in a small voice. “He- he is injured. He was wounded in the battle.”

“The battle is over,” the boy scoffed. “He is broken!” He flipped one hand in a casual gesture, and Teagan was thrown to the steps of the dais, discarded like a rag. “What is this that approaches now?” The boy’s pale eyes narrowed at the Wardens.

Bannon forced himself to keep walking steadily. The wrongness emanating from this child was almost overpowering, even stronger than the Taint. Don’t show fear, he told himself; and it will be fine. He fervently hoped. He had no wish to be turned into a helpless marionette.

The demon-child glared at them. “Is this the one, Mother?” His lips curled into a snarl. “You! You broke my toys!” He jumped down the steps and circled Bannon. The elf’s companions moved back instinctively. “You cheated! You broke my toy soldiers!” Was that all these people were to this thing? Little wooden toys?

Bannon clenched his teeth. “Your ‘toys’ were trying to kill your own people!” It was an illogical argument; the people of Redcliffe didn’t belong to the demon. But if it thought Isolde was its mother and Teagan its uncle, clearly it had delusions of being the heir to the arling.

“Silence! Those villagers are mine to play with as I please. I wanted glorious battle, not trickery!” The boy-demon raked him with a scathing glare. “You cheated!” Then he turned away.

Bannon shot a glance at his companions. Even Sten seemed aghast at this macabre spectacle. Alistair’s face was wrinkled in a mixture of compassion and disgust.

“What is this thing, Mother?” the demon-child asked as he returned to Isolde’s side. “It does not look like the others. It is not a girl, is it?”

“He’s… an elf, Connor,” Lady Isolde said, a tear leaking from her eye. “We have elves here in the castle; you’ve seen them before.”

The child tilted his head. “Those elves? Elves cannot fight; they are useless!” He grinned in bloodthirsty glee. “I had their ears chopped off and fed to the dogs. They chewed for hours and hours and hours.”

Bannon’s vision went red. “You little son of a–!” He reached for his sword, intending murder, but Alistair grabbed his arm.

“Don’t! He’s just a child.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Bannon screamed. He wrenched his arm free.

“Kill them!” the demon roared. The guards around the hall staggered, now driven to move, to attack.

“Connor, no!” Isolde wailed.

Teagan jerked to his feet and drew his sword. He flew at Bannon.

“Don’t kill him!” Alistair yelled.

Bannon ducked under Teagan’s blade, then let his legs collapse as the bann smashed into him. The shem landed on him heavily, the breath knocked out of him as the elf planted a knee in his gut. Bannon swung across with his left fist at the poor bastard’s face. Teagan sprawled, dazed. Bannon shoved him off.

The guards were stiff and slow from standing locked in position for so long. “Don’t kill them!” Alistair was yelling, clobbering one with the pommel of his sword. Leliana probably listened. Sten laid about with his maul as usual, and Morrigan aimed her staff at anyone who came near her, lancing them with bolts of magic.

Bannon scrambled to his feet, finally able to draw his weapons. He looked around, but the demon-child was nowhere in sight. He angrilly clubbed a guard reaching for him, using the flat of his blade.

Within moments, the guards lay sprawled everywhere, insensate or dead. Leliana and Alistair crouched over Bann Teagan, trying to revive him. Bannon rounded on Lady Isolde. “Where is the little bastard?” he growled.

Lady Isolde blanched. “He is only a little boy! He’s the arl’s son. You have no right to speak of him like that!”

No right? Of course, he was only a lowly elf. Good only for dogfood. Gripping his sword, he advanced on the arlessa. “He’s slaughtered everyone — while you sat there and watched!”

“No!” She backed away from him, shaking in fear. “Teagan!”

Alistair and Leliana had brought the bann around and helped him to his feet. Leliana left the bann to fall against Alistair’s shoulder while she hurried to keep Bannon from the arlessa. She gripped his arm. “Bannon, stop this! He is her son. Control your temper. Elves are not the only ones who have died.”

Certainly not the ones who would be important to any Orlesians. Their only concern would be the mess on their rich carpets. Bannon shrugged the bard off.

Bann Teagan limped up, rubbing his head. “Warden, she’s right. This is not helping matters.” He softened towards Isolde. “Do you know where he’s gone?”

The Lady dabbed at her face with a kerchief, trying to compose herself. “He- he ran off. Violence scares him.”

“Too bad it didn’t scare him when he started treating people like toy soldiers,” Bannon spat. Leliana shot him a vicious glare.

“Ease up,” Alistair muttered to the elven Warden. Bannon shoved his sword back into its scabbard.

Lady Isolde said, “Sometimes, he comes back to himself. He is not a monster, but there is something inside him, that makes him do these things.” She twisted her kerchief into a knot. “Please, you must help him!”

“She’s right,” Teagan said. “When I first arrived, Connor was himself. He was so happy to see me.” He looked at Alistair. “You’ve trained with the Templars,” he said. “You must know something we can do.”

Alistair looked down and said nothing.

“The Templars only know one single, heartless method of dealing with possessed mages.” Morrigan’s voice had lost its smooth edge. She leaned heavily on her staff again.

“Are you calling me heartless?”

“You are a Templar, are you not?”

“Former–!”

Bannon cut them off. “Morrigan, do you know of another way?”

She nodded. “The demon can be defeated without harming its host. But it must be fought in the Fade. Thus, only a mage is capable of doing so.”

“Are you volunteering?”

“Alas, I do not know any magic that will allow one to travel freely into the Fade.” Bannon gave her a sour look. Why had she even brought it up? Morrigan lifted her chin. “But there is another mage you might ask.”

The companions and bann and arlessa looked at each other a moment. “Wait,” Alistair said finally. “You can’t mean the Blood Mage!”

“Jowan,” Lady Isolde said quickly. “He is the one I told you about,” she explained to Bann Teagan. “The one who started all this. But… does he yet live?”

“No thanks to Alistair,” the witch said pointedly.

“We must fetch him at once,” said Teagan.

Alistair protested. “Bann Teagan, this course of action is dangerous!”

“We are all in danger. If there is a way Connor can be saved, we must take it.” The bann moved to some of the guards who were knocked out in the fight. Those able to stand, he sent to fetch the prisoner.

“Sten, go with them,” Bannon told the qunari. “Make sure the mage doesn’t try anything.” He gave the giant a pointed look. Sten nodded.

The elf turned to the others. “Leliana, Alistair; see if you can find the boy. If he’s… himself, see if you can bring him back here. Or better yet, keep him calm and in control.”

“We will only observe him,” Leliana promised the arlessa. “Please, do you know where he went?”

“Up to his room. Or- or to see his father.” The arlessa straightened her spine. “I can take you. Perhaps I can talk some sense into him.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Bannon told her. “It hasn’t worked so far.” The arlessa bit her lip and looked down at the kerchief she wrung in her hands, but she didn’t argue. Bannon gave Alistair the same look he’d given Sten. The Templar — former Templar — didn’t meet his eyes.

Bannon kept out of the way of Teagan and the rest of the guards sorting out the bodies. “Morrigan,” he said softly, calling the witch as he made his way to a bench along the wall. He collapsed gratefully onto it, letting his legs sprawl. “I feel like I’ve been up all night, fighting,” he griped. “Have a seat?”

The witch’s lips twitched in amusement. She didn’t refuse the offer, though. She leaned her staff against the wall and sat. It was a finely-carved bench with cushions. Clearly for shems to use. Bannon expected he was staining it with blood from his armor.

“Are you all right?” he asked Morrigan quietly.

“I am… tired,” she admitted. “Perhaps it has to do with that battle last night.”

Bannon smiled and nodded. Then he turned serious again. “But you’re talking about fighting a demon. Or do you mean for the Blood Mage to do that?”

“It remains to be seen if he can be of any use in this matter,” she pointed out. “But, the Fade is the land of Dreams. Should I go there, I will not be taking my weary physical form.”

“Then… you are willing to do this.” Morrigan helping someone? That seemed odd.

“Yes. Does that surprise you?”

“Frankly, yes. What happened to fools too stupid to avoid getting themselves killed, or hurt, or eaten by darkspawn, or possessed by a demon?”

She looked away, and blew out a breath between her teeth. “The way your Circle treats mages is despicable,” she said bitterly. “I would not wish that on anyone. This boy is young, and… untrained. If the Chantry and the Templars had their way, he’d be dead.” She waved one hand wearily. “It is a shame that someone of magical talent should be lost to a demon. That is all.”

So, she had a soft spot for mages. “And if the Blood Mage can’t help?”

She gnawed her lip. “Then the Templar way is our only option.”

Bannon nodded. “You said using your magic too often for too long a time would… fatigue you.”

“I have been conserving my energy. I will be strong enough to face a demon, if that concerns you.”

“It does.”

Morrigan stared at him contemplatively. Bannon didn’t feel an explanation was warranted, so he just sat back and tried not to imagine what disasters would befall his companions.

 

 

Alistair and Leliana went upstairs. Alistair led them to the main wing. They found Connor’s room. It had a single bed, and a miniature castle stood under the window. Toy soldiers were scattered on the floor beside it. The boy was not there, though they checked the wardrobe and other likely hiding places.

They went to the end of the hall. The door to the master chambers was open, and the inner door to Eamon’s bedroom was slightly ajar. Through the gap, they could see the boy kneeling beside the bed, arms folded on the coverlet next to his father’s body.

“Connor?” Leliana called hesitantly.

The boy jumped. “Wh- who’s there?” He stood and flung up his arms as they came in. “Don’t hurt me!”

“We’re not going to hurt you,” Leliana assured him.

“Connor,” said Alistair; “can you tell us what happened to you?”

The boy swiped his face with one sleeve. “I… father was ill. No one could cure him. Mother says I… I’m not supposed to tell.”

“It’s all right,” Alistair said. “We know you are a mage.”

“Well… if I’m a mage, I should be able to do magic, shouldn’t I?” He looked down at Eamon’s still form. “I wanted to help. I… I couldn’t do anything. But then she came.”

Alistair and Leliana exchanged worried glances.

Connor paced. “She said she could help. If- if I agreed to let her use me. She says she’s keeping father alive.” He stopped pacing and went to Alistair. “You mustn’t stop her. Father will die!” His blue eyes pleaded tearfully.

Alistiar bit his lip. If the demon was keeping Eamon’s spirit from leaving his body… that might well be the only thing keeping him alive. And if they broke this agreement between boy and demon…. Alistair looked at Eamon’s face. He hadn’t seen the man in nearly a decade, but he was still shocked by what he saw. Eamon looked old. Old and frail. His hair had gone completely silver and was thinning. His eyes and cheeks were sunken.

Regret washed over Alistair in a wave. Eamon had never been close enough to Alistair to be like a father, more like a kindly uncle. When he’d sent Alistair away, Alistair had shunned him, refusing any contact, not even letters. That all seemed so petty, now. Eamon might die, and Alistair would never get to speak to him.

“Father is so desperately ill,” Connor said, in that chilling otherworldly voice. His eyes gleamed violet. “Only I can keep him alive. Oppose me at your own peril.”

Alistair cringed. It was as if the demon had read his mind. Leliana stepped halfway between them, pulling the demon-child’s eyes off him. “You call this living?” the bard said harshly. “If you cannot revive him fully, he is useless to our cause.”

“Fah!” the demon spat. Its sneer fell and gave way to a look of horror. “No!” the boy screamed. “You can’t kill Father!” Connor threw himself over Eamon’s body, as if to shield it from attack — or to keep his spirit from flying out. He sobbed.

“Connor,” Leliana said firmly; “you must stay strong. Keep the demon at bay.” She took the boy’s hand in her own and knelt at the bedside. “I will help you guard your father.” She glanced at Alistair. “We will do what we can to save him.”

Alistair wasn’t so sure, but he kept his thoughts to himself as he returned downstairs. All his hopes rode on Eamon taking the burden of leadership from the Grey Wardens. But he could not deny his Templar training, or his natural affinity for people. The demon had to be stopped.

He prayed he wouldn’t have to slay Connor.

 

 

Someone had dug up a clean robe for the mage, but his face was still haggard, his gait that of a man fifty years his senior. They sat Jowan down on the bench and gathered in a semi-circle around him. Isolde scourged him with her tongue, blaming him for the presence of the demon. The mage quailed, still denying everything.

“Lady Isolde,” Alistair said; “he’s telling the truth. Connor must have been tempted by a demon in the Fade, at night in his dreams.” This was how the demons influenced mankind, when their sleeping minds travelled to the Fade to dream. Ordinary people had little to fear from them, save nightmares. But mages had a special affinity with the Fade, the source of their magic. They could be ‘awake’ inside their dreams and consciously walk the Fade. And interact with its denizens. “Apparently, he made a deal with this demon to try to save Eamon’s life.”

Isolde put her face in her hands. “No,” she moaned. “Connor is a good boy. He would never–.”

“Let us get to the point,” Morrigan said. “You, Jowan. Are you capable of magic that will allow a mage to enter the Fade and do battle with this demon?”

“I….” He blinked. “I know the spell. But it requires a vast amount of energy. No single mage can cast it by himself.”

“How many mages does it take?” Alistair asked.

“A full circle of seven.”

Alistair cursed underbreath. All they had were two, an apostate and a maleficar. Not even Circle mages.

Morrigan calmly asked, “And using your Blood Magic?”

“We’re not even considering that,” Alistair snapped.

“Yes we are,” Bannon told him. “That’s why he’s here.”

Alistair pressed his lips together. He wasnt a Templar any longer — fine — but everyone knew Blood Magic was wrong. Yet Bannon had told him that Wardens do whatever it takes. Whether fighting dirty or… this. He remembered Duncan saying much the same thing. Alistair just bit down on his protests. He knew they’d go unheeded, anyway.

Jowan looked morosely at each of his captors in turn. “The spell requires a great deal of blood. All of it, in fact, from one person.”

“Meaning,” Bann Teagan said, “someone has to die?”

“Yes.”

They couldn’t be considering this. Yet Bannon said, “What if several people give their blood? As much blood as one person would have?”

Jowan shook his head. “It doesn’t work like that. Once the spell starts, it targets one person until it is complete. You can’t just switch around at a whim.”

“I will do it, then,” Isolde said, straightening her spine.

Bann Teagan protested. “My Lady, you can’t! You’re the arlessa.”

“He is my son, Teagan! If this is not done… his life is forfeit. I cannot stand by and do nothing.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “You are Eamon’s brother. You shall rule the arling in his name, until such time as he is well enough to do so. Or… or until Connor is of age.” She wavered. “Tell Eamon I love him.” She turned to the mage. “I wish to say goodbye to my son.”

He nodded. “It will take me some time to prepare the spell. But I beg you, milady, do not tell him what we are about to do. The demon might try to stop us.”

The lady nodded, not trusting her voice. Teagan went with her upstairs. Jowan and Morrigan moved to confer about the spell and prepare a sigil for the workings. Alistair collared Bannon and dragged him to a side hall. “You have to stop this,” the Templar hissed.

“She volunteered, Alistair,” the elf said harshly. “No one is forcing her against her will.”

“Of course she volunteered! She feels guilty for what happened to Connor! For not sending him to the Circle, where he would have been protected!”

“Oh, she feels guilty?” Bannon narrowed his eyes. “Or you feel guilty, because you hate her and want her dead?”

Alistair flinched sharply. “I- I — no!”

“You’d rather kill Connor?” the elf continued mercilessly. “A little boy? How do you think she’d feel about that? After all that effort she put into kicking you out of Redcliffe to protect him from you?”

“Stop it!” Alistair clutched his head.

“I’m sorry, Alistair, but these are our only options.” Bannon sighed and rubbed his head. “This is our best chance to save the boy.”

The former Templar rubbed his face. “I can’t be a party to this.”

Bannon exhaled slowly. “All right. Take Sten and the guards that are able, and secure the area against attack. The demon might throw more of those shambling corpses at us.” The elf looked at him worriedly. “All right?”

“Yes, ser,” he answered dully. It was too much to think about. Guilt gnawed at him, but what could he do? Following orders was easy enough.

 

 

They had rolled back the carpets of the antechamber, shoved the furniture against the walls. Jowan stood at the base of a circular sigil he had drawn on the floor in his own blood. To Bannon’s surprise, the mage hadn’t tried to bargain for his life in exchange for the boy’s. He seemed resigned to whatever fate the rulers of Redcliffe decided for him. Morrigan stood across from him, the arlessa between the two mages. Bannon and Teagan would be the only witnesses.

Morrigan motioned the elf closer. “Stand by me,” she asked, the imperious tone absent from her voice. Bannon nodded and took up a position nearby.

Teagan tried once more to reason with Isolde. “Please reconsider! Eamon’s guard would gladly give their lives–”

“No! They would give their lives in battle. I will not ask any other to risk his immortal soul. Connor is my son. It is my mistakes that have caused all this.” She forced back a sob. “I will make it right. Take care of him, Teagan.” Isolde took a breath and faced the mage. “I am ready. Do it now! Do not stop, no matter what happens.”

“Yes, milady. I am truly sorry.” Jowan bowed his head contritely. He extended a hand towards the blood sigil and began a low incantation.

Lady Isolde dropped to her knees, praying forgiveness from the Maker. Blood ran from her eyes to start. Then her ears and nose. The mage shifted his stance, raised both arms, and cried out an arcane word of command. Isolde opened her mouth to scream, but only blood poured out. Her body went rigid, arched back like a drawn bow.

A crimson glow rose from the sigil. It lifted Isolde’s body from the floor. The spell wrung the blood from her, squeezing her like a wet rag, twisting her body. As blood poured down like spilled water, the red glow snaked forth and encircled Morrigan’s feet. It spiralled up her legs, catching the witch in its power. She, too, went rigid, her body shaking like a tenacious autumn leaf in the wind.

There was a surge of red light, and a sound like a scream. The arlessa’s crimson-soaked body plopped to the floor. Morrigan collapsed backwards. Reflexively, Bannon caught her and lowered her to the floor. He feared she was dead, but he could see the pulse beating strongly in her neck.

He held her hand between his and watched her still body as the battle with the demon raged, somewhere beyond his perception.

 

 

Zevran trudged up the dusty road. Though there was no one to see, he looked more like a cowed elven servant than when he’d arrived in Redcliffe in disguise. Fool. Failure. You had your targets in your sights! He could almost physically feel his Crow Master looming at his back, the man’s mountainous bulk ready to crush him. You stupid, worthless piece of gutter puke! Weakling knife-ears! You failed! Failure within the Crows meant death. Either the mark killed you or… your fellow Crows did. Zevran hunched his shoulders further, but he couldn’t escape the voice inside him.

You had your prey within reach of your blade, yet you–. He pulled his dagger out so suddenly, the voice cut off. He stared down at the honed steel, the sleek instrument of death. He held it forward, point out. He gripped it hard, so hard the muscles of his forearm stood out. His hand shook from the strain, but he couldn’t turn the blade back towards himself.

Come on, he cajoled. What are you afraid of? Just bring the tip upright…. The blade wavered and angled upward. Put it against your neck. This is not difficult, is it? Up, up, just under your chin. He managed a few more degrees. Come, the fool shems do this every day to shave off their beards. Just put the blade to your throat and cut!

With a strangled cry of frustration, Zevran quit fighting himself and let his arm fall to his side. Zevran Arainai, Crow Assassin, dead from cutting himself shaving. He sneered. What a stupid death. He rammed the dagger home into its sheath.

As he looked up, he startled, for a huge wall of thorns stood in the roadway, barely a few armlengths from him. “Hnh,” he grunted. The magical barrier.

He shrugged and turned to the sun-warmed wall of rock at the side of the road. With another grunt, he flopped down to sit with his back against it. He pulled a small wineskin from his belt, popped the cap free, and wet his throat. He’d just have to wait until the Grey Wardens dealt with the damned Curse of Redcliffe. He didn’t doubt they would succeed. The ‘legendary’ Grey Wardens hadn’t disappointed so far.

Before he re-capped the wineskin, Zevran pulled the vial of poison from his inner pocket and emptied it into the container. He closed the cap and gently sloshed the skin around to mix the contents.

After a minute, he flipped the cap off once more and stared at the open spout. Drinking wine is not so hard, he taunted himself. Just like you did a moment ago, only don’t stop until it is drained dry. He imagined the cool liquid going down his throat.

Then the Wardens would find his body on their way by. What’s that? Only some poor, pathetic farm elf, dead on the side of the road. Couldn’t stand to be trapped, couldn’t wait a bit longer for freedom, and offed himself, the stupid blighter.

Zevran sneered in disgust and flung the wineskin away, letting the contents spill out into the road dust. He drew up his knees and braced his elbows against them, rested his forehead on his hands to shade his eyes from the sun. All he had to do was wait for the Grey Wardens. The battle last night had given him some grand new ideas for traps. He grinned mirthlessly a moment.

Then he sighed. He hated waiting.

 

 

 


Next Week’s Post


 

Next up is Connor and the Demon, in Redcliffe. This part has also been difficult to write. I played through it again the other night, and I don’t know why Bannon didn’t run down the little brat and skewer him. I’m also having a devil of a time with Alistair and his opinion and motivations. First, he stops Bannon from skewering the kid, then he’s like ‘well, the Templar way is to kill the kid…’ oh, he’s just so wishy-washy and can’t make up his mind! Then he hates the Blood Mage, of course. But that’s the only way they can do this without killing the kid.

I don’t know, it’s just not coming together right. Morrigan is behaving, at least.