If this part is worse than the others, it’s because my Brain went on holiday and I had to write it mostly by myself. Oh, but there’s flashy special effects! So maybe no one will notice…!
The Mage’s Dream
Bannon wasn’t sure if this patch of the Wilds was starting to look familiar to him or if one place just looked the same as any other. Don’t think about that. Just find Morrigan. What if she wasn’t here? She could be dreaming of some palace, or… whatever it was that she might want. An bevy of slave men? Children roasting on a spit? He had to admit that as skilled as he was at manipulating her, he didn’t know what she really wanted. He’d have to work on that. He didn’t imagine her plans involved destroying the Grey Wardens, but she could be planning to use them to her own ends along the way.
The path was slick mud underfoot; it made for slow going. The little toy horse got bogged down. It’s front wheels dug into the mud and refused to turn. The back end tipped upward as Bannon tugged on the string. Niall dropped his staff and held on for dear life with an irate squeak. Bannon cursed and crouched down. He handed the indignant rodent back his miniature staff, then picked the horse up and tried to wipe the mud off of its wheels. The wet earth just ground into the woodgrain, staining it with dirt.
“This would be a lot easier if I could just carry you and the horse,” Bannon griped.
“I told you–”
“I thought you were in a hurry!”
Bannon’s ears perked up; he thought he heard voices. Niall dove to the side of the path and scurried to a hiding place behind a rock. His scurry was a little crooked as he kept hold of the staff in one paw as he tried to run on all fours. His little green spark hovered above the stone, marking his position. Bannon sighed in frustration. “I thought you were going to help.”
“I am helping, by staying far out of the way!”
“You can cast magic.”
“Oh, fat load of good that was.”
“It was,” Bannon insisted. “It was perfect; Sloth fell right on his nose.” A tiny strangled noise came from behind the rock. Bannon couldn’t tell if the rodent were laughing or choking in fear. “Come on! Are you a man or a mouse?”
“Oh, gee, let’s see… fur, tail, whiskers…. Yes, it is clear. I’m a mouse!”
“Fine.” Bannon stood up and, still trying to clean up the abused wooden horse, headed towards the voices. He climbed a short rise and then pushed through a curtain of hanging moss.
There was the ramshackle house he recognized as the witches’. There was a bench by the front wall, and a fire with a tripod and a small cauldron. Morrigan was standing nearby, facing away from Bannon, arguing with her mother. “I don’t know why you persist in these foolish games.”
“I gave you life. I gave you everything,” Flemeth insisted in a dry voice. This dream version of Flemeth was quite different than the elf remembered. She was still old, that was clear, but she was bigger, stronger, more straight of shoulder. Her white hair swept back in a thick mane, and blood red ribbons wound around it. It was tied up in a very strange style that made it look almost like horns. Great. So Flemeth was a demon. Big surprise, there. “You owe me the same in return!”
“You are not my mother!” Morrigan snapped. “And I owe you nothing, you weak charlatan.”
“How dare you?” Flemeth’s yellow eyes flashed, and she slapped Morrigan, the sound rang throughout the clearing.
Morrigan twisted with the blow, her hand coming automatically to cup her cheek. An unidentifiable expression crossed her face. “Well, that’s a bit more like it.” Then she caught sight of Bannon, and her face reddened, her eyes glowered. She straightened up and stepped towards him. “‘Tis about time you showed up! Rid me of this fool demon.” She flung her hand out towards Flemeth.
That ‘fool demon’ turned her cat-eyed gaze on Bannon. “What have we here? Another Templar?” Her expression darkened, and Bannon suddenly felt like a mouse himself.
“Milady Flemeth!” he cried exuberantly. He gave her a sweeping bow. “Your humble servant, the Grey Warden.” He straightened and gave Morrigan a cheeky grin. “Morrigan! Behave. How could you be so disrespectful to your venerable and wise mother?”
Morrigan tilted her head, her brow creasing. “Grand. Are you having another head injury relapse?”
Bannon strode directly to Flemeth and pressed the toy horse into her hands. Reflexively, she took it. The elf didn’t give her time to question it. “You must excuse Morrigan,” he said. “After all, you raised her to be strong and independent, didn’t you?”
“Of course,” demon-Flemeth agreed.
“You see, Morrigan? You should be showing your gratitude.” He moved around to Flemeth’s side, facing the younger witch as a united front. “If I had a mother like this paragon of virtue, I would be down on my knees thanking the Maker!”
“Selfish child!” Flemeth scolded.
Morrigan pinched the bridge of her nose. “What are you–?” She flinched back as Bannon’s dagger plunged into Flemeth’s back. He didn’t think that would do much against a tough old demon, so he ripped it out and stabbed again, clutching Flemeth’s bicep to hold her steady.
The demon-witch coughed a spray of blood with a cry that was partly pain and partly bewilderment. She looked down at the toy in her hands, unable to work a spell with it in the way. Bannon stabbed her again and again. Morrigan raised her hands and shouted a spell. A cone of fire blasted over the old witch and her attacker.
The false Flemeth screamed and writhed. Bannon screamed and threw himself to the dirt. “Dammit, Morrigan!” He rolled away as the brittle old mage went up in flames. He batted at his arms and wondered if he had any hair left– and if he did, if it were still burning.
“Must you do that?” Morrigan complained. “You couldn’t just attack and save us the minstrel show?”
Bannon got to his knees, coughing from the smoke pouring off him. “Mages are very dangerous when provoked.” He reached out and snatched the toy horse from the flames where Flemeth had fallen. He smothered out the sparks and tried to wipe the soot, mud, and blood from the toy. “On the other hand, if you catch them unawares… you can kill them easily.” The little horse only got dirtier and more distressed-looking. Bannon glanced up at Morrigan. She was giving him one of those predatory looks. “Um….”
He was saved by the mouse. Niall scurried into the yard and sat up on his haunches. “And who is this enchanting beauty?” He stretched up and wiggled his nose at Morrigan. Bannon just palmed his face.
“And who is this… rodent?”
“Morrigan, may I present Enchanter Niall, mage of the Ferelden Circle.”
“How do you do?” the mouse said, combing his whiskers with his free paw. He puffed up his chest and held his miniscule staff at a rakish angle.
Bannon levered himself to his feet. “And this is Morrigan. Witch of the Wilds.”
“Witch?” The mouse blinked. “An Ap… Ap-ap-ap-ap-ap-ap-ap-ap–?”
“And Apostate, yes,” Morrigan said, one hand on a cocked hip. “So educated, these Circle mages.”
“You can’t trust her,” Niall squeaked. “Without training and protection from the Circle…. She could be a demon!”
“No, she’s definitely not a demon,” Bannon said tiredly.
“How could you know?”
“A demon would be much nicer.”
“Hey!” the witch snapped. She glared at him, but Bannon just gave her a look until that dark V between her brows vanished. She smiled slowly. “I see you’re fully trained.”
Bannon rubbed his face. “Morrigan, please try not to wake up. We need your help here in the Fade. We already lost Alistair and Zevran.”
“Oh please. I’m a mage.” She snorted. “How did those two fools escape the demon’s spell?”
“I don’t know. I snapped them out of their dreams, and then they just… faded away. Niall thinks they woke up.”
“I doubt that. ‘Twould take more than that to free them from this trap.”
“In any case, we have to find the others, and Niall’s body.”
“And what would we need that for?” Morrigan asked, looking down her nose at the rodent.
“He’s the one with that Litany of– what was it?” Bannon looked at the mouse.
“Ah Drah La,” Niall said with emphasis.
“Litany of Ah-Drah-La,” Bannon repeated. “He’s fighting Uldred, too. We need his help.”
The witch narrowed her eyes, studying the mouse. “You mean you’re stuck in that form? Do you know nothing of shape-shifting?”
“No!” the mouse squeaked in shock. “That’s heathen barbarian magic!”
“And they call us heathen barbarians uneducated.” She sniffed and shrugged one shoulder. “I suppose you’ll have to stay in that form, then.”
The mouse’s whiskers drooped.
“Right,” said Bannon. “Let’s find Leliana and Wynne. The sooner the better.”
“Senior Enchanter Wynne is with you?” Niall squeaked. “Why didn’t you say so? We must find her at once!”
“Must we?” Morrigan asked with dry reluctance.
“The more mages we have, the easier this will be,” Bannon told her.
Morrigan led the way, as she was the most conversant in navigating the Fade. Bannon followed along, keeping his head down. He glanced aside at the mouse on horseback. “So what do you looke like? Your body, I mean. If we come across this demon that has your form, how will we recognize it?”
“Ah, well… I have brown eyes, short brown hair, uh… not very tall. I have a somewhat distinctive nose….”
Bannon frowned in thought. “You mean, you still look somewhat like a mouse, even when you’re not?” Niall didn’t answer. Bannon glanced back; the mouse was sulking indignantly. “There’s worse things to look like,” the elf offered apologetically.
“Quiet,” Morrigan said. “We’re here.”
Bannon stopped next to her and looked up. There was a white picket fence enclosing a generous yard. At the center stood an odd little building that looked somewhat like a miniature Chantry. It was made of wood and whitewashed. A small, boxy belfry stood atop one end of the roof. Children of various ages played in the yard.
“Great,” Bannon muttered; “More demon children.” He spied Niall’s boulders near the gate, so he went over there and parked the toy horse.
“What are you doing?” Morrigan asked them.
Niall said, “It’s called hiding. I’m not fighting any demons!”
“What are you, a mage or a mouse?” the witch asked scathingly.
“Oh can’t you come up with any more original mouse insults?” the rodent griped. “What do I look like?”
“Hmm.” Morrigan folded her arms and rested a forefinger against her chin. “You have a steed, a staff, and a wisp. You look like a mouse trying to be a mage.”
Bannon thought he could hear the tiny rodent teeth grinding. He wondered if he should rescue the mouse by suggesting a cozy spot he could tuck into to ride on Morrigan. One that was well-cushioned should they fall. But wisely, he decided to stay out of it. “Come on, Niall. Why would a demon attack you, anyway?”
The little mouse fumed a moment. “All right, fine! I’m sure there are plenty of convenient hiding places all over the place.”
The bell tolled, and the children ran for the open double doors at the end of the building. Bannon, Morrigan, and Niall followed at a more sedate pace.
A sandy-haired boy turned to look at them. His eyes narrowed hatefully. He sprinted inside. “Auntie Wynne! Auntie Wynne! The Templars are coming!”
The Warden’s group came through the door. Inside, children of all ages milled about in fear– both human and elven children. Some of the teens grabbed simple wooden staves.
“Stop this at once!” Wynne’s iron grey voice cut through the undercurrent of fear. The children parted as she strode forward, dragon-carved staff in hand. Azure power wreathed the tip, ready to be unleashed.
She took a battle stance before them, her wards flanking her. “This is an ordained school for mages, sanctioned by the Grand Cleric herself. No Templar may interfere with the mage-gifted under my care!” She leveled the staff menacingly.
“Whoa!” Bannon said, dropping the toy horse’s string and putting his hands up. “Wynne, it’s us!”
She didn’t seem to recognize them. “We will not allow Chantry fools to destroy what we have made here!”
“Well,” Morrigan drawled, unamused; “For once, I agree. The Circle Mage shows her true colours.”
“Wynne,” Bannon cut in quickly; “you’re talking to a witch, an elf, and a mouse. I don’t think Templars recruit any of those.” He pointed at Morrigan’s cleavage. “Morrigan is definitely not wearing a regulation Templar breastplate.” What? Shit, did he just say that out loud? Forget the senior mage and her demon cohorts! He gave Morrigan a weak, apologetic grin.
She quirked a brow. “Your subconscious can be rather feisty.”
“Sorry,” he said meekly. He noticed his finger was still pointing, so he put it away.
“Senior Enchanter Wynne,” the mouse said. “It’s me– Enchanter Niall.”
“Niall?” Her brow creased. “But what’s happened to you?”
“I had a little run-in with a demon,” he said abashedly. “You have to believe us, Wynne. This is the Fade. These people….” His beady little eyes took in the array of magic staves pointed at them, and he finished with a simple, “Ulp!”
“These people–” Morrigan began, her disdain clear.
Bannon cut her off. “Are fine mages! Are you going to introduce us?” He smiled cheekily at the demons. “Hey, what’s with the threatening sticks, huh? We’re all friends here. You’re Wynne’s friends; we’re Wynne’s friends. How do you do?”
Oh yeah, the demons were about to blast them.
Bannon ducked and threw up his hands as a white light flooded the schoolroom. He braced for the spell’s impact, but there was no pain, only a thrumming noise that slowly rose in pitch. He lowered his arms and blinked, but he could see nothing and hear nothing except the magic. Then a deep, melodic voice spoke clearly: “This is a beautiful dream. But now it is time to wake.”
Bannon squinted, then blinked tears from his eyes. He thought he saw a Templar, but he blended into the light, his armor was so white and glowing. The figure stepped to Wynne, and… it looked as if he kissed her brow. But wasn’t he wearing a helmet? Bannon couldn’t see through the searing light.
The thrum jumped in pitch and the light exploded with a shockwave like a thunderclap. Everyone staggered. The Templar, or whatever he had been, was gone. The apprentice mages were rendered back into their demonic wraith forms, and they all lay about as if struck senseless.
“Get them!” Bannon yelled, his ears still ringing. He drew his blades and stood over Niall. Morrigan laid about with the frosty spray of ice from her staff. The wraiths struggled to rise, but were caught frozen in mid-motion. Wynne conjured a large stone fist and smashed them where they stood.
“Look out behind us!” Niall squeaked a mousey shriek and leveled his tiny staff. A puff of cold air shot out as he cast the ice spell right where the demon was about to step. Bannon turned just as the creature fell on its face at his feet. He stabbed down with both blades.
“Good job,” Bannon said.
“Well, of course. I am a highly-trained Circle mage.” Niall tried to twirl his staff, but his little mousey toes couldn’t handle the maneuver, and the stick went flying.
Bannon bit down on his lip and went to fetch it. Around him, frozen chunks of wraith lay scattered, slowly thawing. Morrigan and Wynne were standing, staring at each other in the center of the carnage. “What the hell was that?” Bannon asked them.
“A spirit,” Wynne said.
“What’s a spirit?”
“‘Tis a denizen of the Fade,” Morrigan replied. “Like a demon, but spirits do not hunger for the embodiment of flesh. Generally.” Her eyes narrowed.
Bannon looked over at Wynne. The older mage shook herself and brushed down her sleeves. “Spirits may sometimes aid dreamers in the Fade. But now is not the time for talk and speculation. We must stop Uldred.”
“We have to find Leliana, and Niall’s body.” Bannon handed the mage his stick.
Wynne looked down at the mouse. “Your body? Isn’t it in the real world?”
“He means my form. I… sorta traded forms with a demon.” Niall scratched behind his ear. “I was trapped in this maze, and–”
“Right, we don’t have time for that,” Bannon cut him off. “Morrigan, can you lead us to Leliana, now?” He looked around at the remains of the schoolhouse. It was melting into the vague landscape of the Fade, just as the chunks of ice within it were melting away.
“You know her better than I do,” the witch said. “You should lead the way. We shall follow.”
“All right.” He picked up the string and Niall mounted his steed. Bannon set out in a likely direction, trying to remember how to find someone in the Fade.
Bannon and Niall went on ahead. The young elf should be able to find his friend. Wynne followed quietly. She’d deflected their questionings. Perhaps when they awoke, all this would fade away, like a dream.
She contemplated her dream, her mind drawn back to the schoolhouse. It could have worked, so beautifully. Wynne remembered the little one-room schoolhouse she’d attended as a child. It had always been a place of wonder and joy for her. She enjoyed learning; unlocking the coded symbols that allowed words to ring inside her mind even though no one spoke them aloud. Words upon words, and they flowed into a picture. Pictures of far off places, of heroes conquering enemies, facing danger and triumphing.
The school had always been her sanctuary, away from the farm and its constant drudgery. There had been other children her age, girls she could play with in the sunny yard.
Her musings were interrupted by the apostate. “‘Tis a dangerous game you play, old woman.”
Wynne frowned. “‘Tizz’ none of your concern, child.” She shot Morrigan a matronly warning look. “I do not wish to speak of it.”
Morrigan’s lip twitched in recognition of the look, as if all too familiar with it. And perhaps immune to it. “And who am I going to tell? Your Circle masters? I owe them no allegiance.”
“No, I can’t imagine you’d like to have an involved conversation with any Templars.”
Morrigan’s smug look turned sour at the veiled threat. Good, that settled that, then. Now if only Wynne could settle her own mind.