Other: some gory blood magic
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?”
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.”
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?”
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.