The Assassin’s Dream


 
CONTENT:
Rating: Teen
Flavor: Action/Adventure/Drama
Language: some
Violence: yes
Nudity: partial
Sex: no
Other: torture
 
Author’s Notes:

I don’t think I can top Alistair’s dream. But hopefully this works as the key pivot point it is supposed to be.
 


The Assassin’s Dream

 

 

The Fade grew darker; the road narrowed, hemmed in by tall hills thick with black trees. Flagstones emerged from the dust of the road, and just like that, Bannon and Niall found themselves in a dank stone corridor. With another hasty wish of good luck, the mouse bailed out to hide in a chink in the wall. Bannon was overcome by the irrational feeling that the toy horse might be trampled and smashed if he left it in the middle of the corridor, so he parked it against the wall.

Bannon checked his weapons, loosening the blades in their scabbards. He had to wonder what kind of alluring fantasy this was– the grim basement, or dungeon?– was a far cry from Alistair’s sunny farmstead. Muffled sounds became audible: the groan and creak of strained timbers, distant cries, the crack of a whip. Yeah, definitely a dungeon.

Torchlight spilled from a doorway up ahead. A deep rumbling, like a heavy cart rolling down the street, emanated from there as well.

Bannon rounded the doorway and froze at the strange tableau he encountered within. Zevran was stretched taut on the rack, wearing only a breechclout. His bronze skin glistened with sweat. Two of the ugliest elves Bannon had ever seen stood on either side of the rack. Their teeth were too big for their mouths, and their tiny eyes glinted like river stones. Dalish facial tattoos covered their brows and cheeks.

The one on the closer side of the rack was turning the crank. Wood thunked against wood as it tightened its victim another notch. “Oh, I think I saw him flinch that time,” the elf sneered. It wasn’t in the Antivan accent, but rather the gutter-drawl usually heard down on the docks. “He won’t last two more turns.”

“We are going to break you, easy,” the other one replied. He raised a flogger and brought it cracking down across Zevran’s chest. The assassin remained silent, his teeth clenched, but his muscles tightened ever so slightly. “Hah!” his torturer cried. “That was definitely a flinch!”

“Time for another turn,” his companion gloated. He rolled the wheel, and the ropes creaked. Zevran’s arms drew tighter, the corded muscle standing out in sharp relief. Sweat poured from his brow, but he uttered not a sound.

Bannon drew his weapons. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he yelled. He stalked forward, blades at the ready.

Zevran lifted his head, his eyes opening. They lit with a glimmer of hope, but then widened in… fear?

The two Dalish turned, smirking without concern. “What’s this?” the near one asked. “You have a friend?” He twisted the word like a vile insult.

“No,” Zevran grated out.

“Looks like he wants to escape,” the elf with the flogger taunted. “You want to be rescued?”

“No!” Zevran glared at Bannon. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to get you out.” Bannon came to the side of the rack. The Dalish there merely stepped back to let him move closer to Zevran’s side.

“He’ll never go with you,” the demon sneered.

“Leave me!” Zevran snapped.

“Why?”

“You are no ‘friend’ to me,” he snarled, clearly using the twisted definition of the word. “I will become a Crow.”

“Zevran, what the hell? What do you mean you don’t want to escape?” Bannon said with a frown. “I thought you wanted to be free of the Crows.”

Zevran slitted his eyes. “No, I….” He squeezed them shut again as another wave of pain tremored his stretched body. “This is the initiation to the Crows. If I survive, I become one of them.” He took a shuddering breath.

The elf with the flogger rested his free hand on Zevran’s chest. He pinched the nipple between his finger and thumb and began twisting it in idle cruelty. “I think he wants to take you away, little fledgling.”

“No!” Zevran’s eyes popped open. “Leave! I cannot fail this test!”

Bannon’s heart sank. This was how the demons would keep him trapped here? Not with visions of riches and fame, or happiness and love? “This is your greatest desire?” he asked, his mouth dry. To be a Crow assassin, not to escape them! After all this time, Bannon had started to fall for all the bullshit of wanting to be free of them. The bastard was just biding his time, waiting for a choice moment to stab them in the back! “You want to be a Crow this badly?”

“I want to live!” Zevran whimpered quietly in the back of his throat. “I… must. Must endure. Failure is death.” He closed his eyes, lost once more to the pain.

Bannon looked around at the dungeon. This was hardly the pampered treatment Zevran had alluded to. Could it be a fake dream construct? But no. The details were too real: the foetid mold that clung to the damp mortar cracks, the iron tang of blood, the acrid stench of piss. The demons had taken this scene directly from Zevran’s mind, from his memories, not imagination.

When Zevran had spoken offhandedly about his enslavement, Bannon had imagined cells where they were locked at night, shackles, a whipping if one were disobedient. Not this, this forge where spirits were hammered down into bare, blackened souls, twisted into whatever shape the masters desired.

The pieces began to fall into place. Zevran didn’t want to become a Crow, it was simply the only choice he’d had if he wanted to survive. He was caught in this cycle of obedience or death.

Suddenly all of Zevran’s flippant jokes about being a slave didn’t seem so funny. Bannon literally hurt, a pang in his chest, to see his fellow elf treated with such callous and calculated cruelty. No more. Bannon would set him free. “I’ll get you out of this,” he said.

“Failure is death,” the demon with the whip intoned. He opened his mouth, revealing his large, sharpened yellow teeth. He bent to lick at Zevran’s nipple with a slimy purple tongue; drew his lips back to bite…. Bannon stuck his dagger against the demon’s throat until he backed off. “Your friend doesn’t want you to succeed,” the demon elf simpered.

“I must!”

“You’ll never win,” the other demon sneered. He leaned on the wheel, rolling it another notch.

Bannon could hear the dull crunch of bone pulling out of joint in Zevran’s shoulders, the popping in his spine. He pointed his sword at the demon. “Leave it!” The bastard only smirked.

“Let them.” Zevran’s voice grew tight as he strangled down the screams inside him. “I… cannot… fail!”

“Zevran, listen to me,” Bannon said, leaning over him, keeping one blade pointed at each demon. “You already passed this test. You became a Crow years ago, remember?”

Zevran’s panicked eyes opened in momentary confusion. Bannon figured now was the perfect time for some self-aggrandizing bullshit. “You’re the greatest assassin in Antiva! In fact, you had to go all the way to Ferelden and hunt Grey Wardens to find a challenge for your skills.”

“Warden?” Zevran struggled to remember through the haze of pain.

“Yes. These are demons of the Fade,” Bannon told him quickly. “They’re trying to keep you trapped. Come with me; I can free you!”

Zevran’s eyes flew wide, and hope flooded back into them. “Bannon!”

“Failure is death!” the demons hissed in warning.

“Not to a free man!” Bannon shouted as he brought his sword down, severing the ropes that held Zevran’s wrists.

“You failed your Test!” the demons shrieked. “Now you will die!”

The elf next to Bannon produced a pair of swords from somewhere and began battering at him in a flurry of blows. Bannon staggered under the onslaught. He hadn’t finished freeing Zevran! “Niall! Help!”

He didn’t know if the rodent heard him or not, or just ignored him, but no help came from that quarter. He deflected blades left and right and figured this guy had to get tired soon! But he forgot he was fighting a demon.

It began to get past his guard, slicing at his bracers, slashing across his chest. Bannon jumped back, and it came on, snarling like a dog, strings of saliva hanging from its big teeth. Bannon slammed into the wall. Now there was nowhere else to retreat.

 

 

Zevran found his hands free as the Warden cut the ropes. His spine, hips, and shoulders screamed in pain as they snapped back into place. He ignored it. After all, it was only pain.

The Crow at his side lashed out with the flogger as he tried to sit up. Hooked barbs cut into Zevran’s skin, ripping him open with dozens of tiny little bites. He ignored this too, and reached for the whip. He let it coil tightly around his arm, digging in its spurs, then he yanked the demon closer.

“You will never escape your fate,” the creature hissed.

“I don’t need to escape it,” Zevran fired back arrogantly. “I make my own.” With his free hand, he snatched a knife from the Crow’s belt, flipped it, and threw it across the room. It nailed the Warden’s opponent in the neck.

That maneuver caused him to twist, to leave his back exposed to the demon elf beside him. It snarled and released the flogger, then drew a sword and swung it full force. Zevran grunted in pain, nearly doubling over, but he forced out a callous laugh. “I can tell you’re not a real Crow,” he sneered. A true Crow would have stabbed, punched straight up under the ribs and into the heart. The stupid demon’s blow was hard and gouged a deep cut in Zevran’s back, but most of the force was absorbed by his spine and shoulder blades.

He gripped the handle of the flogger that was still entwined with his arm and lashed out as he straightened. The hard wood caught the demon in the temple with a loud CRACK, and the thing was momentarily stunned. Zevran relieved it of another belt knife, then grabbed the belt and hauled the demon towards himself. It stumbled forward, and he buried the knife in its throat.

 

 

Bannon was sure the demon was about to simultaneously decapitate and gut him, when a knife appeared in its neck in a spray of dark red blood. Not one to let an opportunity pass, Bannon thrust with his own blades as the demon reared back with a gurgling shriek. He rode it to the floor, planted a knee across its hips, and stabbed it repeatedly, punching through the leather armor as hard as he could. It thrashed and shrieked and died. Messily.

Bannon staggered up, yanking his blades free, and crossed back to the rack. Zevran was covered in more blood than he was. The assassin had managed to free himself from the ankle cuffs. He turned and hopped lightly off the bed of the rack, but Bannon saw the stiffness in the movement, the hurriedly-masked wince in Zevran’s face.

“Are you all right?”

“Of course!” Zevran grinned, his tone and demeanor as nonchalant as always. “Nothing like a good racking to get one limbered up, hm? Oh, this is handy,” he said in bemused surprise to find his armor and weapons once more on him. They were still bloody, though.

Well, his penchant for bullshit wasn’t damaged. Bannon actually felt relieved. “At least it was only two demons,” he said. “I was expecting to have to fight through a bevy of wenches in an Antivan whorehouse.” He reached out and gripped Zevran’s arm, turning serious. He had to make sure. “And how is it I find you here, dreaming of being a Crow instead of being free of them?”

“Being free is my greatest desire,” Zevran insisted. His expression weakened a moment and he hung his head. “It… is also my greatest fear. All my life I have been taught– trained– to fear the Crow Masters. That those who fled, those who escaped, were to be hunted down mercilessly.” His amber eyes canted up towards Bannon. “Not killed, but brought back, alive. The killing of them….” He looked away. “That takes longer.” He paused a moment, lost in thought. He swallowed, coming to a decision to say one more thing. “I… I have been a slave all my life. I don’t know how to be free.”

“I’ll show you,” Bannon said, just as quietly, with a firm squeeze to Zevran’s arm. “Just stick by me.”

The Antivan looked at him, his eyes soft for a moment, before he recovered his hard, impervious mien. “Well, of course. I did pledge my oath, no?”

“Not that; I mean now.” Bannon kept his tone light to match Zevran’s. “When I rescued Alistair, he vanished. So don’t wake up.”

“But we are awake, no?”

Bannon tipped his head and led the assassin towards the hall. “No, this is the Fade. Our bodies are asleep somewhere in the real world. Niall! Where are you?”

The two went out the door and found the mouse sitting on the little toy horse. “I’m right here, waiting.”

“What waiting? Didn’t you hear me call for help?”

“I don’t know what you expect me to do.”

Zevran started laughing. “Now I know I am dreaming! You’re arguing with a mouse!”

Bannon shot him a look, and noticed with shock that the assassin was fading. “No, Zevran! Stay here, I need you!”

“But I am here?” The pale translucent ghost of Zevran looked around in confusion. “Where have you…?” His voice faded out as he disappeared.

Bannon yelled, “The Litany of Adaia is in the back of the mage’s belt!” He could only hope the assassin heard him, wherever he was.

“It’s the ‘Litany of Adralla,'” Niall said.

“What?”

“Not ‘Adaia.'”

“He knows what I meant. If he heard me. Damn, I hope they’re all right.” The Fade around him began to fade from a hallway back to a road. Slowly, around the edges, as if trying to fool him.

“If we hurry, they’ll be fine,” the mouse assured him.

“If you’d help, this would go faster,” Bannon argued back. He bent to pick up the string, but didn’t start off yet.

“What do you want me to do? I’m a mouse!”

“You’re a mage! Or so you keep telling me.”

“I can’t do magic while I’m a mouse,” Niall growled. “Have you ever seen a mouse do magic?”

“Mice don’t talk either. Mages talk.”

Bannon thought he had the mouse-mage, there. Niall dry-washed his paws in agitated thought. “I… well… I don’t have a staff. I can’t do magic without a staff, now, can I?”

That was ridiculous, but the rodent wasn’t going to get away with it. Bannon fished around in his pouches and came up with his dad’s skeleton key. “Here, here’s your staff.”

“But-but– it’s metal!” The mouse waved his paws in negation. “Metal is not good when casting lightning. Or especially when having lighting cast on one. No, no; it must be wood. A proper blackthorne staff, that’s it.”

Bannon stood up and started going through his pouches for some sort of wooden stick. Blasted stubborn rodent mages. He didn’t find a stick, but he did find the carving knife Leliana had given him. So he went to the edge of the sandy clearing, which is where they were now standing, and snapped off a twig from one of the black trees. He whittled it into shape as he walked back to the mouse. “Here.”

Niall took the twig in his paws and stared at it, his whiskery little nose twitching rapidly. He turned it over and over in his paws. “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“It’s… It’s a three-headed dragon staff. How did you just carve all that tiny detail with a few swipes of your knife?”

Bannon rolled his eyes. “It’s a talent. Well?”

“Well what?”

“Cast a spell, come on!” Great Andraste, he thought this guy wanted to hurry.

“I suppose… I can try.” Niall raised the staff in one paw and gestured with the other. A tiny glint of green light appeared and circled slowly over the mouse’s head. It looked like the light globe Morrigan had conjured, only appropriately-sized for a mouse. “Oh,” Niall said jadedly, “that’s real helpful.”

“At least your magic works,” Bannon said. “I told you. Now if that stupid Sloth demon or anyone shows up, just blast the hell out of him. Ha! Can you imagine the look on his face? Blasted by a little mouse?” He started laughing. Big, ugly Sloth-pig; itty-bitty mouse– BAM! He laughed harder, then stopped when he noticed Niall’s little beady eyes were wide and the mouse was frantically gesturing for him to stop. “What?”

The rodent gestured more emphatically, incapable of more than a strangled squeak.

“Don’t tell me. He’s right behind me.” Bannon sighed. He turned around and sure enough, there was a big bear-like lump of demonic flesh with Sloth’s droopy-jowled face.

“Why… must… you… fight?” The demon drawled slowly, its long jaw opening in a fearsomely large yawn. “Resssst….”

Bannon forced his eyes to stay wide open. He cracked his own jaw in a convincing yawn. “Yessss…,” he intoned.

“That’s… right…,” the demon said with a sleepy smile. “Just….”

Bannon didn’t feel like waiting around for the damned demon to finish a long, drawn-out sentence. He just lashed out and poked Sloth in the eye!

“OW!” The demon rolled back on its big, round butt.

“Eeek!” squealed Niall.

“Blast him!” Bannon yelled, snatching up the string.

The mouse waved his paws frantically and pointed the twig staff. A puff of cold white air shot out of the end and made a little ice patch on the ground in front of the demon. “Run!” the mouse squeaked.

Sloth got ponderously to its feet and took one step towards them. Its front paw hit the patch of ice and shot out from under its body. With a bellow, it crashed face-first to the ground.

Bannon ran like hell, trying not to laugh. He had to save his breath. He pounded down the Fade path, dark trees whizzing by. He took a sharp left, imagining walls and streets and tenements…. They ended up in a maze of alleys between dilapidated wood buildings. Bannon took a few more sharp turns, then slowed to a halt.

“Don’t stop!” Niall said frantically. “Oh, Maker, he’s going to kill us!”

Bannon laughed. “Are you kidding? That thing is too fat and lazy to get off his ass and chase us.”

“Where are we?” the mouse asked.

“The Alienage.” Bannon looked around at the eerily empty buildings and streets.

“We shouldn’t stay where there are lots of people. Demons might fill it up.”

The mouse had a point. Bannon tried to stop thinking of all the people he knew in Denerim, and his family. No! No one! He walked quickly out of the maze and turned down a larger street. “All right, the Wilds are here through this back gate,” he said, hoping it were true. They arrived at the small wooden gate that separated the Alienage from the patch of road that led to the Arl of Denerim’s estate.

No–! Bannon shook his head. It was the palisade gate that led out of the pass at Ostagar, and into the Wilds. He squeezed his eyes shut and moved forward, his arm out to push the gate open.

 

 

 


The Templar’s Dream


 
CONTENT:
Rating: Teen
Flavor: Action/Adventure/Drama
Language: some
Violence: yes
Nudity: no
Sex: no
Other: none
 
Author’s Notes:

We learn a little about how the Fade works. And there is lots of talking in this one, less action.


The Templar’s Dream

 

 

Outside Weisshaupt Fortress, Bannon found himself on a flat, dusty road. He looked back, shading his eyes. The fortress was so tall, he couldn’t see the top of it, nor the sides for that matter. It was a huge edifice, stretching out of sight in all directions.

He started down the road. The land was hilly on either side, carpeted with long yellow grass. Spiny black trees grew along the edge of the road. They looked like wrought iron fences, the kind with unfriendly spikes and barbs on them.

Soon the road curved left, and Bannon left the fortress behind, out of sight. The road meandered between the small, steep hills, but kept turning predominantly leftward.

After a few short minutes, he expected to come upon the side of the fortress. He was sure he’d traveled almost a full circle. The further he went, the more sure the feeling. He could swear he was near to where he had started. Something must be messing up his sense of direction. He squinted into the sky, but it was so overcast, he couldn’t find the sun.

“You’ll only go around in circles, you know.”

Bannon startled. He pointed his sword at the mouse, who was now sitting atop a large rock at the side of the road. “You again? Well, I’m still dreaming.” He sheathed his sword.

“Yes!” the mouse said excitedly. “Well, actually, no. You’re in the Fade, but you’re not dreaming. You’re actually– wait! Come back!”

Bannon continued down the road.

 

 

The road curved around, always left. It couldn’t be covering ground any larger than the Denerim Arl’s estate, by Bannon’s reckoning. He looked for any fork or branch or crossroad, but there were none.

So he came back around to where the mouse was waiting for him.

“Would you please listen!”

“Why would I listen to a mouse?”

The mouse heaved a sigh. “I told you. I’m a mage. You clearly are not, or you wouldn’t be so lost.”

“And this is the Fade?” Bannon looked at him skeptically.

“Yes! You see that?” The mouse pointed past Bannon.

Wary of a trick, he glanced back. “What?”

“No, up in the sky.”

“What, that big black cloud?”

“It’s not a cloud,” the mouse said.

“It’s a cloud shaped like a city.” Bannon looked back at the rodent. Of course it was a cloud. What else would be up in the sky?

“Shaped like a what?”

“A city.”

“What kind of city?”

“A bl–” Bannon whirled back around. “Holy shit! It’s the Blackened City! Maker! Am I dead?” He checked himself over. He didn’t seem to be injured. Could a spirit be injured? Even if he were dead?

The mouse muttered something. “No, not yet. You’re just really here.”

“My body is in the Fade?”

“Ah, well, no,” the mouse said, scratching behind his ear again. “Your body is still in the real world, asleep. Your spirit is really here. That is, not just viewing the Fade through the Veil like you do in a dream. You were sent here by a mage, or trapped by a demon.”

“Well, I have to get back!” Bannon tore his eyes away from the impossible floating city. “I’m doing something….” He struggled to remember what, exactly. “Something important.”

“It can’t be as important as what I’m doing,” the mouse argued. “You have to help me find the demon who stole my form. Then I have to get back into my body.”

“What are you doing that’s so important?” Bannon asked, sensing a ruse.

“Look, I’m a mage in the Circle Tower of Ferelden. There’s a Blood Mage there; he’s trying to take over!” The mouse wrung its paws. “If I don’t stop him, he could spawn a new Tevinter Empire!”

Bannon blinked. “That’s what I’m doing!”

“You? What?” The mouse cocked its head. “You’re not a mage. Certainly not a Templar.”

“No, I’m a Grey Warden.” Hurriedly, Bannon explained how and why the Wardens were in the Circle Tower. “Help me find my friends, and we can help you, and then we can stop Uldred!” Suddenly, he had a horrid thought. “Oh, wait… If our bodies are asleep– we’re helpless! Uldred can just kill us!”

“No, no, no.” The mouse waved its paws in negation. “Uldred made a deal with the Sloth Demon. It’s Sloth who’s trapped us here. If Uldred kills our bodies, our spirits will be free to pass on beyond the Fade, and go to judgement before the Maker. The demon wouldn’t stand for that.”

“Oh,” said Bannon, clutching his chest while his heart recovered from its panicked gallop.

“Time passes differently here in the Fade, but we should get a move on,” the mouse said. “My name is Niall, by the way. What’s yours?”

“Bannon. Hey! You’re the guy with that ‘Litany of Andraste’ thing.”

“Litany of Adralla,” Niall corrected. “Yes.”

“Where is it?”

“With my body, why?”

“Look, when we get back to our bodies, who knows what will happen?” Bannon explained. “If you get killed, we will be kinda too busy to search your body for it.”

“I don’t like how you think,” the mouse grumbled. “But it does sound prudent. I had the scroll tucked in the back of my belt, so Uldred wouldn’t know I had it. Sloth stopped me before I could use it. And hopefully, Uldred hasn’t noticed it.”

Bannon nodded. “All right. Let’s find my friends, and then we can help you find your body. Uh, spirit, form, whatever. And then we can get out of here. You do know how to get out of here, don’t you?”

“Yes. First, we need to figure out how I can travel with you.”

“Well, here. I have a cozy belt pouch we can put you in.” Bannon grabbed the one he figured would be easiest to empty.

“No!” Niall squeaked.

“Why not?”

“What if you get attacked by demons? I’ll be stuck; I could get hit. You could fall and squash me!”

“Well, all right.” He was a high-strung little fellow, wasn’t he? “You can ride on my shoulder, and just jump off if–”

“No!” he squeaked again, scuttling back from Bannon’s reaching hand. “Do you know how high that is?”

Bannon sighed. He’d never had anyone complain that he was too tall before. “Have you got a better idea?”

The mouse scratched his ear.

Bannon frowned. “Do you have fleas or something?”

“Of course not!”

“Why do you keep scratching? I’m not carrying you if you have fleas.”

“Scratching helps me think,” Niall said indignantly. “Don’t you ever do that?”

Bannon unconsciously scratched his head while he thought about it. “Not that I recall.”

The mouse just gave him a patronizing look.

“What?”

“Never mind. I have an idea, but you need to listen to me and do exactly as I tell you. And stop thinking of me as a mouse! I’m Enchanter Niall, a respected and powerful Circle mage.”

“Right, okay.”

“Look at me very closely.”

Carefully, Bannon bent over the mouse– mage— until he could see his fuzzy little lips moving as he spoke.

“The stuff of the Fade is malleable, ever-changing. Demons and dreamers can shape it,” Niall said solemnly. “Now, do you see that hut, there?”

Bannon straightened and looked down the road. Not a stone’s throw away was a little wooden shack. He startled. That hadn’t been there before.

Niall hopped down off the rock and scurried towards the shack. “Go inside and reach under the bed and pull out the toy horse you’ll find there.”

Bannon followed slowly as not to step on the mouse. He stared in disbelief at the hut. “This looks just like where we lived when I was a kid. Before we moved in with Aunt Bella. Except it was in an alienage, not out in a forest.”

“It’s charming,” the mouse griped.

Bannon opened the rickety door. Yes, there was a triangular chunk missing out of the bottom, like a gap in an old beggar’s teeth. “We were poor, what do you want?” He stepped inside. It seemed so much smaller than he remembered.

He knelt on the dirt floor and fished a little wooden horse out from under the bed. He turned it over in his hands. It was a simple, flat horse shape, rounded down and sanded smooth. Four little wheels were attached to its feet, wide rollers to keep it steady. “My dad made me this,” Bannon said quietly. The mouse crept up beside him. “We didn’t have anything, but he took some scraps and some time at night to work on this.”

A lopsided grin played over his lips at the memory, faded after so many years. “He cut the horse out of the baseboard under the bed. I used to sleep under there; that was my room. He said the hole was a magic window. It looked out on this– well, it was a scraggly bunch of weeds and a puddle, but when I looked out, I saw a forest and a lake….” He chuckled. “You know, when my mom found this hole– it was really drafty in winter, of course; we had to plug it with mud and rags. When she found it, he told her that a mouse had chewed it out in just that shape. He looked so serious, it was funny. And she– OW!”

The mouse sank its incisors into his finger, and he shook it off. It landed splay-pawed on the floor. “What the hell?” Bannon looked at the drop of blood welling up from the tiny bite. “What did you do that for?”

“You were getting emotional,” Niall complained.

“I was not!”

“Look, that hurt me more than it hurt you,” the rodent complained, getting up with a groan. “It’s for your own good. Strong emotions attract the demons. You keep going on like you were, and a couple would have shown up, taken on the forms of your parents, and the next thing you know, you’d be blissfully living in a dream world.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Bannon snarled. He got up and went out of the hut.

“Don’t lose your temper, either,” Niall said, following. “Here, this is good. Put it down.”

Bannon placed the wooden horse on the road. The mouse clambered on. “You expect me to pull you? I’m not a kid; the string isn’t long enough.”

Niall humphed and took the string in his paws. He looped it over a couple of times, and when he unlooped it, it was much longer. “There. It’s all in the perception. Now you can pull me, and when we run into any danger, I can jump off and hide under a nice, sturdy rock. You can drop the string, fight, and then when you’re done, we’ll carry on.”

“And where are we going? This road just leads in circles, in case you forgot.”

“Ah, there’s a trick to moving around in the Fade,” the mouse lectured. “You need to concentrate on the destination, not the journey.”

Bannon started walking, playing the string out behind him. This whole thing was crazier than any dream he’d ever had before! “What’s that mean, exactly?”

“Think of one of your friends. Which one do you want to rescue first?”

“Alistair. He’s a Grey Warden, too.”

“All right,” Niall said. “Keep walking, but look at the ground in front of your feet. Not where you’re going. Concentrate on finding Alistair.”

“How am I going to find him if I’m not looking for him?”

“No, no. You’re not going to look for him. You’re just going to find him. Concentrate on that part, or we’ll be here all decade.”

Bannon grumbled and stared at the dusty road. Alistair. He thought about Alistair. Alistair’s humor. Alistair’s tenacity. Alistair’s unsurety.

He recalled meeting Alistair, mistaking him for a snobby noble brat. And finding out he was royalty– or not. He and Alistair alone in the Wilds. He and Alistair fighting through the Tower of Ishal, side by side. Of nearly dying together. Alistair sharing his cheese. Alistair arguing morals. Alistair arguing with Morrigan. Constantly.

Bannon chuckled dryly. He kept putting one foot in front of the other. Was the road rising? Don’t think about that. Think about Alistair, with his beard– scary! Alistair battling the Paisley Monstrosity. The sun finally came out. It warmed Bannon’s left shoulder. He recalled Alistair defending him to the Ostagar quartermaster. He and Alistair running for their lives away from Loghain’s soldiers. Alistair picnicking with ham and pie. Alistair clasping his arm after his Joining. He could sense another Grey Warden ahead.

The road petered out in a gentle hill of verdant grass. Ahead, children shrieked and laughed, joined by a deeper voice. Alistair’s laughter pealed out.

“We’re here,” Niall said darkly. “Good luck.” Bannon turned back just in time to see the mouse dive into a tiny crevasse between two boulders he was sure he didn’t just pass. He dropped the string to the toy horse and went on.

 

 

The day was bright and golden. A gentle breeze caressed the rolling fields, running through the lush grass like fingers stroking a cat’s fur. Alistair and a handful of children romped and rolled in the grass, their laughter carefree. Bannon shaded his eyes and saw a whitewashed farmhouse beyond them, and caught a glimpse of a line of washing swaying in the breeze. Apple trees lined the edge of the property. It was a scene of idyllic bliss. Bannon’s boots felt heavy as he walked towards his comrade.

Alistair rolled a couple of children off. “All right, you pack of monsters,” he told them; “let me up so I can give a dignified greeting….” He pushed himself up and dusted off his leggings. He wore simple peasant garb: a dark green tunic and brown pants. They were worn and stained, but looked comfortably lived-in. Alistair rubbed his head, but failed to dislodge a stray wisp of grass from his hedgehog bristles. “It’s you!” Alistair’s face lit up with a smile. “Bannon! It’s so good to see you! Maker, it’s been ages!”

“Hey, Alistair!” Bannon greeted him happily. He swallowed the thought that the last time he’d seen Alistair, he’d stabbed him in the heart. That wasn’t real.

Alistair opened his arms and came at him. For a moment, the elf thought he was going to hug him. But he drew up short and settled for gripping Bannon’s hand and clapping him firmly on the shoulder. “You look great! Being a hero treating you well, eh?” He turned without pausing for breath. “Hey, Goldana! It’s my friend Bannon– you remember? The one I told you about?” A blonde woman in a linen farmdress walked towards them. Alistair turned back to Bannon. “This is my sister, Goldana.”

“You really do have a sister named Goldana?” Bannon recalled the sister who was a Sister. He’d thought Alistair had made that up.

“Yep! And these are her kids. There’s Frank and Jeffrey, Rose, Eric– oh, there’s a bunch more around here somewhere.”

Bannon gaped at him. “Your fondest dream is to marry your sister and have a bunch of kids?”

“What!?” Alistair frowned. “Of course not! These are her kids, not mine! I’m their uncle.” His frown vanished. “I get to spoil them rotten.”

“It’s just like having another child,” Goldana said. She looked Bannon over as if sizing up a rival. While Alistair wasn’t looking her way, she shot Bannon a murderous glare.

He grinned as goofily as possible. “Goldana! So nice to meet you!”

The disguised demon put on a dimpled smile. “It’s good to finally get to meet such a good friend of Alistair’s. To what do we owe the pleasure of this visit?” She leaned on Alistair’s arm, a little possessively, Bannon thought, and some of the children gathered around her skirts. They shot him evil glares as well.

Bannon pretended to ignore them. Blissfully ignorant, that was him! “I was just traveling by. Always on the move, you know. Hero of the Blight and all, everybody wants you to visit their town.” That seemed to settle the demons somewhat. “Hey, Alistair, can I have a few minutes?”

He glanced at his sister. “What for?”

“Just some private Grey Warden business.” Bannon fawned at Goldana. “Won’t take but a moment.”

Alistair frowned. “I don’t want to fight darkspawn any more! Haven’t we had enough of that? That’s why I retired out here, away from it all.”

Bannon waved placatingly at him. “No, nothing like that, but…. Well, you remember that memorial for Duncan?”

The stubborn mule look vanished from Alistair’s face. “Right. Goldana, could you excuse us for a bit?”

“Of course, dear brother. Don’t stray too far, of I’ll have to send the horde out after you,” she threatened sweetly with a smile. The look she gave Alistair was charming. Not so much, the look she gave Bannon.

The elf and former Templar started walking a bit. “So what’s this Grey Warden business? Is there a problem?”

“No, not… exactly.” Bannon wondered how to approach this.

“So that was just an excuse to talk to me alone,” Alistair surmised. “There’s no need to look at me like that. I’m not all stupid. I remember you used to use that line when you wanted to get away from the others. How are they, by the way?”

“I haven’t seen them yet,” Bannon admitted. “Look, do you remember when we went to the Circle Tower?”

“Oh, yes. What a mess that was.”

“Yeah, Blood Mages, demons, Abominations…. Hey, you remember that Templar? The one bewitched by the demon?”

Alistair stopped dead. Bannon turned to look at him. The man’s face was creased in sorrow. “Why did you bring that up?”

“I’m sorry,” Bannon told him. “But you told the demon that the man’s happiness was only a lie.”

“I… Well, it doesn’t mater now, does it? I got that man killed, and I never even learned his name.” Alistair put a hand to his face and shook himself. “It was so long ago. What difference does it make?”

Bannon tiptoed around the delicate subject. “Do you remember fighting Uldred? The leader of the Blood Mages?”

“Yes, and we beat him.” Alistair’s mood settled somewhat. “Grand strategy that, you and me distract him, while Morrigan blasts him and Zevran stabs him in the back.”

“Danced the Rhemigold, didn’t we?”

Alistair laughed. “In full drag, too! I’ll never forget the look on Uldred’s face at that.”

Bannon laughed along and hoped he hadn’t just engendered that as truth in the Templar’s mind. “But before that, there was this demon. A Sloth Demon, you remember that?”

“Yeah… we defeated him, too.”

“Not yet.”

There was a momentary silence, broken only by the susurus of the wind through the grass.

“What do you mean?”

Bannon took a deep breath. “This. Alistair, all this; this is the Fade. That demon trapped us here. Your sister– she’s not real.” He plunged ahead before Alistair could argue. “She’s a Desire Demon who read this dream of yours from your mind.”

“My sister! A Desire Demon?” Alistair threw his hands in the air. “She’s not! She’s not a… booby… purple….” He struggled for words. “Thing with purple boobies!” Well, he’d gotten the pertinent points down. “And I’m not interested in her like that! She’s my sister!”

“Desire doesn’t have to be like that,” Bannon said. “Look, when I woke up, I was in Weisshaupt, with you and Duncan, and even Daveth and Jory. The Blight was over. I was a hero.”

“Well, that’s obviously impossible,” Alistair said. Quickly, he clarified, “I mean– about Duncan and the others. This is not the Fade. This is real.” He paced a few steps back and forth, running a hand through his hair. “The horse, the kids, the orchard…. Look, I’ve even got grass in my hair.” He plucked a stalk out. “When does that happen in a dream?”

“It is the Fade; you have to believe me.” Bannon didn’t know how to make him see. “You’re trapped just like that Templar.”

“No, that was just an illusion. How do I even know you’re not a demon.”

Bannon gripped his arm. “You know I’m not. You can feel the bond.”

Alistair looked at him, really looked at him. He pulled away. The breeze ruffled the front of his hair as he walked along the crest of the hill. Bannon followed slowly.

“This is everything I ever wanted,” Alistair said, not looking back. “Not riches, or power, or fame. A family.” He stopped and looked down at the farmhouse. “Goldana is about ten years older than me. She moved away to Denerim when I was still little. Our mother was always good to me– not spoiling me, but very loving. But… something was missing. I wanted a father, like all the other children had.”

He continued walking, his eyes on the grass at his feet, Bannon a silent shadow beside him. “Arl Eamon was always so kind to us, I figured he should be my father. One day, I was in the castle… I was hiding from Cook, actually, because I’d filched some apple tarts from the kitchen. Arl Eamon found me outside his study. He must have been bored of tallying harvest reports and figuring out taxes, or so I imagine. He said he wouldn’t tell Cook where I was in exchange for a tart.”

Alistair looked across the rolling field where cloud shadows chased the wind’s fingers over the swaying grass. “He sat me on his desk, and he pulled out some carved wooden soldiers. We played with them all afternoon. I was so happy, you know?” A cloud crossed in front of the sun. “Then I called him ‘daddy.’ And the look that came over his face….” He turned and paced swiftly so Bannon couldn’t see his expression. “I was only four years old! I didn’t understand. I didn’t know anything about cuckolding your wife, and banging your housemaid, and getting a bastard! He tried to tell me how I mustn’t ever say that or call him that, how it wasn’t true. All I heard was that he hated me. The man who I looked up to; the man who was the kindest, most honorable man to me and my mum. And he hated me! I couldn’t fathom why else he didn’t want to be my daddy. I ran off and sulked for three days.”

Alistair swiped angrily at his face. Bannon remained silent, letting him get ahold of himself. Alistair took a breath and paced back. “Then Mum and I were called to Eamon’s study. I thought that was it, he’s going to toss us out on our arses. But they sat me down and explained to me who my father really was.” He tipped his head to look Bannon in the eye, a pained grimace on his face. “And stupid little Alistair… I was so happy! I thought, ‘My father is the King!’ And I thought he was coming to take us away to Denerim, to live in the castle, and my mum would be queen, and I’d be the prince, and I’d finally have everything I ever wanted.” He laughed bitterly. “What an idiot.”

“You were just a kid,” Bannon said gently.

“Yeah, two seconds later they told me that I must never tell a soul Maric was my father, and that I’d never be prince, or attain the throne or the crown, or any of that. My mother was a servant and I was just a nobody.” He looked away, squinting as the breeze picked up again.

Bannon moved to reassure his friend, but the demon disguised as Goldana interrupted. “Alistair!” she called. She waded through the grass, the wind whipping her apron. “A storm is coming. We must get the children inside.” The sky darkened ominously.

Alistair seemed torn.

“They’re not real,” Bannon told him.

“But I– I was happy here.”

What had the demon Duncan said to Bannon? Kill me, and you’ll go back to a life of hardship and suffering. Yeah, it was a bum deal. “You’re not a nobody, Alistair. You’re a Grey Warden.”

Goldana drew near. “Alistair, please! You can’t leave us. Simon and Peter took Mirri down by the river. You have to go fetch them before the water rises!” She shot Bannon a dark look, then pleaded to Alistair with her large blue eyes. “Help us! You promised! Nothing could be more important than your family.”

“She’s right,” Bannon said suddenly, earning him a shocked glance from the demon. He moved to face Alistair, tugged his arm so he turned away from the demon. “Listen to me,” he said, shaking his hair out of his face. “The real Goldana is out there, in the real world. If we don’t stop this Blight, she and countless other innocent people are going to suffer horribly.”

The demon shrieked and threw off its illusion, knowing it couldn’t top that argument. It leapt at Bannon, fangs and claws bared. He backpedaled, drawing his weapons. He let it close and drive itself onto his blades. It screamed and ripped at his face and chest. He planted a boot in its belly and shoved it back.

“Where’s my armor?” Alistair was saying in a panic. “Where’s my sword?”

“Alistiar, you’re a Grey Warden!” Bannon yelled, hoping that would break the demon’s spell. “Use your sword and shield. Now!

The demon jumped him again, but it was intercepted by a charging Templar. Alistair slammed it to the ground with his shield. The two Wardens started hacking at the demon.

The wind died out, and the colours of the farmstead around them faded to a brownish yellow wash. The house vanished, but a pack of smaller wraiths scampered towards them from where it used to be.

“They’re all demons?” Alistair said incredulously.

“Aren’t all kids?” Bannon quipped. “They must have been awful brats.”

The two Wardens waded into the fray. “I was never,” Alistair insisted. “I was a perfect angel.”

“Sure you were, Ser Tart-Stealer.”

“Oh, one time. You’re going to hold that against me?”

They made short work of the wraiths and paused a moment to catch their breath. “All right,” said Bannon, “we need to get moving and find the others.” He looked around and spied the boulders the mouse had dreamed up. It’s a good thing they were still there, since the other landmarks of Alistair’s dream had faded away. “Come and meet Niall.”

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“To find the mouse.” Bannon turned back around. Alistair was still standing there, but he was fading away, like a ghost or a dream. “Alistair!”

“Come back,” Alistair’s voice echoed as he vanished.

“Shit! Niall!” Bannon ran to the boulders. The mouse clambered atop them. “Alistair’s vanished. What’s that mean?”

“Oh dear,” said the rodent mage, scratching his ear again. “I’m not sure. Perhaps he woke up.”

“He woke up? In the real world?” Bannon asked. The mouse nodded. “Where he’ll be by himself against Uldred? Shit!”

“We can still catch up to him.” Niall scampered down off the rock. “There’s no time to lose!”

Bannon picked up the string to the toy horse. “Saddle up then, and let’s go.” He turned back the way they’d come, figuring to get back on the road, rather than trying to cross the acres of rolling fields. In the strange mechanics of the Fade, it probably didn’t matter, but in his mind, it did. He put his head down and began trudging, trying not to hurry along heedlessly or worry about Alistair. Fighting alongside his fellow Grey Warden reminded him of how he and Zevran fought together, so he focused on the assassin next.

 

 

 


Work Last Week


 

Am I publishing this week…? See, I lost track, already. Last due-date, I had two chapters written. I was still working on Zevran’s Fade scene. Annnnd, I’m still working on it. I wasn’t happy with how it turned out. I’m now on draft 2.2. I think I have it organized so it makes more sense. I can’t help but think it isn’t as great as Alistair’s Fade scene. I will have to work on that.

 

Did I finish the Airam and Zevran Shower pic last week? It seems so long ago… :X I’m still holding that one hostage til Venti finishes that story. … Still waiting.

This weekend, I monkeyed around with Bannon’s new ‘do. And makeup. Don’t look at me like that, it’s not what you think. It’s looking good. Though I need to rip off the top of the ‘do and get a new front. Or morph the thing better. I don’t know.

Oh, I also started modelling my tygerian. That’s a felinoid alien creature in one of my Dr Who/Torchwood stories. I’ve been wanting to do some illustrations with her, so there’s only one thing for it…. I have to try to build her.