nagia: (dao; sens; whispers of the labyrinth)
YOUR CHILDREN DESERVE LEXCORP JETPACKS ([personal profile] nagia) wrote in [community profile] terzarima2010-12-11 03:08 am

Dragon Age: Origins; Rated M; "Bereskarn Skein" [1/??]

Title: Bereskarn Skein
Fandom/Pairings: Dragon Age: Origins; eventual Zevran/f!Surana
Rating: ESRB Rating of M for Mature
Summary: Zevran was pretty sure he saw where this headlong rush to end the Blight was going: very far downhill, very quickly. And that was before the Grey Warden who spared his life turned into a bear. Now the only thing he's sure of is that it's not going to end like all the other fairy stories.
Notes: Chapter title translates to 'you are my blood, you are my sorrow'

Bereskarn Skein
one: ma emma lin, ma emma abelas

The Redcliffe dungeon doesn't impress him. Connected to a secret passage locked by a signet ring? Zevran feels like he's stepped into a piss-poor imitation of a fairy tale. It's worse than Sens's eerie powers of persuasion, worse than the fact that the two remaining Grey Wardens are an ex-templar and a mage, and it even manages to be worse than the fact that Alistair is a secret heir to the throne.

And every time he starts thinking about how like a fairy tale his life has been recently, he starts thinking about the way all the fairy stories end. Or, more specifically, he starts thinking about the way fairy stories end and why those endings aren't going to happen for them.

They've only taken a step into the dungeon proper when a man's shrieks echo off the stone. The voice booms and bounces around them, failing entirely to mask the hisses and gasps of angry undead.

Sens and Alistair share a look. Within instants, Alistair has sword and shield out and Sens has slung her staff across her back. He steps forward, dropping all his weight into a warding stance, while Sens falls back into his shadow.

The tableau lasts barely a minute. When Alistair charges forward, he does so at the side of an angry-looking brown bear.

Zevran follows. He doesn't bother trying to duck between them; when the Wardens fight together, they move as one. It's uncanny, really, how a tiny elf mage and a six foot ex-templar can complement each other so perfectly, even when one is a bear.

Instead, he slips around Sens. It's easier to move around the wider frame, especially since the wider frame isn't the one striking out in every direction with a sword and shield. And after that, he dodges claws and paws and bones and blades to flank the undead.

Amusingly enough, dead people like being backstabbed even less than living people. Less amusingly, Alistair and Sens handle the other corpses before he can get in a good old-fashioned hamgstringing or kidney strike. Although maybe a kidney strike to a corpse isn't such a good idea; cutting into the bowels is rank enough, but cutting into rotting bowels?

It's not until after Alistair has sheathed his sword and slung his shield back over it that the man from before speaks again.

"H-hello? Is there anyone alive out there?"

The Grey Wardens turn in unison. The sight of such different creatures moving to the exact same rhythm unsettles Zevran even more than the walking dead.

He edges closer to get a better look at the prisoner. What he sees impresses him almost as much as the rest of this damnable dungeon: a resigned-looking mage, pale and weary, in bloodied robes. From what he can see, he assumes the mage fled the reach of the walking corpses by retreating to the furthest corner of the cell. The sight of them draws him closer, though reluctantly. He trudges away from the far wall and toward the cell door. Every couple of steps he winces.

Alistair takes a step toward Sens, half-shielding her from the mage's sight, as she resumes her true form.

The mage is a scant pace from the door when he catches sight of them and stops. Zevran has no idea why – perhaps his stay in the dungeon has given him a fear of heavily armed people, perhaps he's unnerved by women who turn into bears and back again – but finds mild amusement in the way his momentum carries the hem of his robes forward.

That amusement sours into irritation at the sudden change in the man's expression. He's seen enough of hate to recognize it, and the pain underneath it, and – something else. Guilt, perhaps? Resignation?

Sens stiffens. Zevran watches her closely, tries to read the way her muscles tense, as if she's preparing for a fight. But body language is only enough of the puzzle to see that one's there: it answers none of the questions that arise.

"You!" The prisoner's voice is ragged, more ragged than it was when he was shouting.

"Me," Sens says. Zevran has heard her speak softly, has heard sadness and loss in her voice, but this tone – this tone is new.

The mage's jaw tightens. He's tense and silent for a long while, but then he swallows, closes his eyes. "Before anything else... what happened to Lily?"

"They took her, Jowan. I don't know where."

The imprisoned mage – Jowan – hangs his head. Zevran sees genuine grief in the man's bearing, perhaps even contrition, but his gaze shifts to focus on the Wardens.

"So she pays for my crime. She shouldn't. She shouldn't have to."

Alistair's posture is perfect. Whatever his youth, it hasn't cowed him into a slouch, and not even his splintmail seems to weigh him down. But the shield slung over his back hangs awkwardly; the line of his shoulder even looks taut. Despite his open stance, he's coiled tight and ready to spring.

Sens, too, bears herself tall and proud, one hand on her hip to give the impression of strong, but not openly hostile. Yet. But she's stepped back, away from the bars – and into the sphere of space that two heavily armed men occupy. There's a message, there. A pity the sorrow and guilt in her voice garbles it beyond interpretation.

Silence follows.

Zevran slides his hand to the dagger hidden in his glove. The Dweomer Rune makes it feel strange to his touch; Dwarven steel hums beneath flesh, but the knife is silent.

Alistair shifts his weight, apparently uncomfortable with the awkward moment. Maybe he's bothered by the way Sens watches Jowan. Maybe he's just impatient. Either way, his mail chimes quietly as he moves.

"I'm sorry," Sens says.

That snaps Jowan out of his grief stupor. His head jerks up. "You're why she was even –"

"No. She's why. She broke every vow she ever took. She chose to help you break into the repository." A pause, short but sharp, and then Sens adds, whisper-soft, "If it was a choice. And if it wasn't –"

"No! I never – I would never – I couldn't have –"

Sens sweeps a hand through the air as if to cut the topic away, then shakes her head. "You're the apostate Lady Isolde hired as a tutor?"

"Yes." Jowan lifts his gaze as he says it, most likely to make eye contact.

Sens laughs. Sort of. It's a short, choked sound that bounces once off the stone around them. "Poor boy probably thinks the Battle Of River Dane was in Blessed."

The imprisoned mage paces away for a bare second, then returns to the bars. He places his palm against one and says, "You know better than that. She wanted me to tutor Connor in magic."

That brings Alistair out of his reverie, or his meditations on why he doesn't knife imprisoned apostates, or whatever he was thinking about. "Connor? A mage? I can't believe it!"

Sens looks up and around, then. She stares at the corpses they've just re-killed for a second before asking, "So is it possible Connor started this? How much did you teach him?"

"There's no way he did it intentionally. He still struggles with the most basic of spells." Jowan heaves a sigh, shaking his head. "But it's possible he tore the Veil unintentionally. A powerful demon very well could have done all of this."

Sens looks away for a long moment. Zevran catches a glimpse of her face as she turns, but her expression is tight. Shuttered. She's locked away whatever she's thinking, leaving no emotional tells. The effort to do so is telling in itself.

She lays a hand on Alistair's shoulder, then squares herself in front of the cell. "I have your word that you did not cause this?"

"I was already down here when the walking dead and the Shades started appearing." He shakes his head. "I didn't even know any of it was happening until the arlessa had me – questioned."

A fine tremor runs through him at the last word. Zevran decides not to wonder just what the arlessa's methods were. He'll only end up wondering what might seem like torture to a mage who's so clearly been coddled.

Jowan's story continues in a stream of words Sens makes no attempt to stop. Whether she listens actively or the sounds just flow over and past her, he can't even begin to guess. How unfair, that she should be such a mystery! No wonder she and the qunari seem to get along so well.

"Nothing I could do or say appeased her. So they left me to rot."

"But why are you down here?"

"I poisoned the arl."

Alistair exhales, furious, and then draws in a breath to speak. He gets as far as "What?!" before Sens turns around.

Both Alistair and Leliana have claimed that the Warden has a temper to rival a half-dead dragon. Until the instant she turns to quiet Alistair, Zevran never quite believed them. For all he's seen of her, the Warden has never even seemed impatient.

He should have known better than to expect her temper to run hot. It doesn't. And his expectations only worsen the tense hook of her eyebrows, the stern, unyielding line she's locked her mouth into.

Alistair stops mid-word. His teeth click together audibly.

Zevran receives a momentary impression of staring down a blizzard – or an avalanche – before she turns back to Jowan.

"Why?"

"I was instructed to by Teyrn Loghain! He said Arl Eamon was a threat to Ferelden. That if I poisoned the arl, he'd make things right with the Circle."

The mage's words echo back to them. Sens makes no reply. Alistair shifts uncomfortably, making the shield sway. His eyebrows wince, but his mouth twists, puckered, as if he's simultaneously chewing his tongue to keep quiet and biting down on a lemon.

"All I wanted," Jowan says, softly, "was to be able to return. And now all I want is to make it right. To undo everything I've wrought."

Sens lays a hand against Alistair's arm again, perhaps in apology for the terrifying glare, and then paces away. She says nothing as she goes, and says nothing as she comes to rest before another cell. "And how do you fix this?"

Jowan looks up again. "I don't know. But I have to try. Please... help me fix this."

How quickly 'let me fix this' becomes 'help me fix this,' but Zevran holds his tongue, for now. He'll gain nothing pointing that out just yet. Especially since Alistair's temper frays by the instant; whether the Warden's mounting wrath stems from his templar training, the damage this mage has done to his family, or a mix of the two, Zevran cannot begin to guess. Nor would he: it's enough to see the way Alistair shifts his shoulders repeatedly, the way one hand clenches into a fist, the twitch along the bridge of his nose as his brows lower into a scowl and then smooth back out again.

Sens chooses that instant to turn back to them. She returns to them in a quick, purposeful stride. Her movements look almost crisp. "What would you have me do Jowan? For that matter, even if I freed you, what would you do?"

Jowan has no answer for that.

"Am I to hand you a knife and hope for the best?"

That startles Zevran. It startles Alistair, too; they both share a look of shock. Is she talking about killing him?

"No! I'm never using it again. I've learned that much at least."

Zevran's still not precisely sure what's going on, but when he looks to Alistair, he sees Alistair begin to relax. Not by much, but even a miniscule improvement is an improvement.

Whatever answer Sens was looking for, Jowan must have given it, because rather than unsheath her belt knife, she nods. "You are certain that this is Connor's doing?"

"I'm sure it is. And I'm sure he never intended any of this. I've learned a little about unintended consequences."

Sens flinches. It's no mere facial tic. After all, he can't see her face. But he doesn't need to see her face to see the way she takes a quick, reflexive step backward. And he certainly doesn't need to see her face to watch the shudder roll along her spine.

She steps forward again immediately. This time she leaves no space between herself and the door. Instead, she presses in close to it. Before she speaks, she angles her head so that she's talking to Jowan just scant inches away from him, through a gap in the door's bars.

"You betrayed everything we were taught. You poisoned an innocent man." Despite the passion of her stance, her words are a rote, nearly emotionless litany; her voice is no better. It's cold enough to cut someone. "You schooled a child toward just enough power that he tore the Veil. And if we're very, very lucky, we might not have to kill him."

Jowan only looks down.

Sens watches him. At last, she heaves a sigh, and says, quietly, "And yet I can't hate you for any of it. I've even tried."

"So you'll let me help you?"

She shakes her head once: a firm no. "I'll not take you into this castle and let you cast a spell. Any spell. And without your magic..."

"Then what? Are you going to leave me here?"

Like the arlessa, Jowan doesn't say, but Zevran hears it anyway. Sens must hear it too, because she shakes her head again. "I failed you once, Jowan."

She steps forward, then. She touches two fingers to the lock and mumbles a word. Lightning jolts from her hand, flares blue and white and leaves violet afterimages. When it finally fades away, she grips the door and swings it open.

"There's a secret passage out of the dungeons. Today only, if they ask where you've gone, I didn't see you on my way in."

He steps toward the door, hesitating. "You're telling me to run?"

"You're good at it," she says. "I'd find some other clothes as soon as I could, if I were you."

He takes another step forward, crosses the threshold. He stops in front of her, looks down at her for a long, silent moment.

"I guess this is goodbye, then."

"Goodbye, lethallin," she says. "May your Maker watch over you."

More silence. And then he turns and stumbles away.

Sens turns to watch him go. She doesn't look away until he's vanished into the tunnel. He never looks back at her. If that hurts her, she doesn't show it. She's shuttered away all emotion again.

Zevran wants to know why.

***
"You let him go!" Alistair delivers the accusation in a whisper as they climb the stairs from the dungeon.

Zevran decides not to take sides. How could he, a beneficiary of her mercy, complain that she shows it to someone else? Even if this Jowan did rather fail to impress.

"I betrayed him once already, even if I didn't mean to," she replies. She touches a hand to her throat, where a mirror-bright silver pendant hangs. "I couldn't do it again."

"He's a maleficar!"

"He's my little brother."

That makes Alistair stop abruptly. The sudden cessation of upward motion means the weight of his splintmail tries to drag him back down the steep stairs. Zevran reaches out to grab him by the shoulder until Alistair remembers his balance.

Loud, stealth-breaking calamity averted, he casts his memory back, scrutinizes both mages, scouring his recollections for evidence of relation. It's possible, though just barely, that Jowan is her half-brother. Half-elves always look human, after all. It's even possible that Sens is older than Jowan: city elves are a little longer-lived than humans and retain youthful appearances a little longer.

Dark hair, yes. But Jowan's face is round, maybe heart-shaped, while Sen's is all hard angles. His cheekbones aren't nearly high enough and his skin is far too pale. Even if they only shared one parent, he'd expect more similarities.

Alistair doesn't seem to have reached the same conclusion. Or perhaps he can't reach a conclusion. Whichever the case, the failed attempts to process the idea show in his expression. Somewhere beneath the gaping confusion, horror dawns.

Zevran decides to take pity on the boy, just this once. "Figuratively, I'm sure."

Sens doesn't back down. "Jowan is as much my little brother as the arl is Alistair's uncle."

"Arl Eamon is my uncle!"

"The arl is Cailan's uncle. Queen Rowan's brother. That doesn't make him your uncle."

"But he raised--! Oh."

Point made and point taken, apparently, because Alistair falls silent. It's not a contented silence. It's certainly not a defeated silence. He just needs time to process, to marshall his argument.

Zevran almost wishes him luck. He'll certainly need it. Whether the debate will end well or no, though, he's sure they haven't heard the last of the topic.

***

It turns out that Zevran was right: Sens freeing the maleficar resurfaces once Connor has fled deeper into the castle.

The arlessa, Teagan, and the Wardens debate their next course of action.

"I don't want to kill him any more than you do, Alistair. But we're low on options and time. If we're to enter the Fade, we'd need at least three magi and enough lyrium to give a dwarf a nosebleed."

"The Circle Tower is less than a day's trip around the lake!"

"That's a day there, a day back, and however long it takes to persuade them to help. Do we have that much time? How do we know that he's not going to raise his little army again come sundown?"

"You're willing to free a maleficar, but you won't try to save a child?"

"I freed a penitent apostate," she says, cold again. "A penitent apostate who doesn't have an army of corpses and hasn't said anything about wanting a town."

"He's just a boy. You can't seriously be thinking about killing him. Aren't you going to try to save something?"

"I am trying to save something: this country."

That shocks Alistair into silence. The brittle coldness of her voice makes Lady Isolde take a startled step backward, while Teagan opens his mouth, closes it, and then tries to speak again.

"And you'll sacrifice an innocent to do it? How does that make you any better than--"

Sens goes still at that. Alistair quiets, too, and they look long and hard at each other. A fascinating and attractive tableau, the broad-shouldered man-at-arms and the petite, unyielding mage make. Zevran drinks in the sight.

At last, Sens looks away. "Very well. I'd hoped to take the kindest route..."

The humans all splutter. They cannot conceive of how simply killing the child might be the kindest choice. Zevran doesn't bother to hide his smirk. Idealists. How marvelously quaint!

"I'll go to the Circle," she says.

Zevran's amusement vanishes, deflating like a lung with a knife in it.

Alistair reaches for her hands, smiling with all the eager, unthinking joy of a puppy.

Sens cuts him off by stepping away. She moves to face the door Connor fled through, holds out a hand for silence. "Alistair, your duty is here. Sten, Morrigan, and Leliana will stay with you."

Alistair starts up an objection, or maybe it'll be just a question, but Sens turns to face him in a deliberate about-face. "You trained as a templar. You're uniquely qualified to handle an abomination. And you will handle it, if the situation requires."

Zevran's amusement returns. She caved, yes, but not without finding a way to make him bleed for forcing her surrender. More and more he understands why she leads and the rest follow.

Sens turns to Sten and Leliana. "I refuse to return to a sacked estate, fresh recruits for the abomination's army, or any other nonsense. Do not fail me in this."

Sten nods, face grave. Leliana nods as well. There's no hiding the revulsion in her eyes as she contemplates what she may be called upon to do.

"Dog," she says, and jerks her head toward the door. The mabari trots out, panting, and then she says, "Zevran. With me."

He follows.

Just before she crosses the threshold, she turns to address Morrigan. "And Morrigan? I'll be very cross with you if I come back and somebody's dead."

Rather than be affronted at what might be seen as a threat, given the coldness of Sens's manner, Morrigan chuckles. "You have my word. I'll make sure the children are properly supervised."

Sens nods. But before she can leave, the arlessa finally speaks up again: "Warden... thank you."

"Thank Alistair. He's the one willing to risk dozens of lives on your son." After a beat, she adds, more gently, "And in the end, I don't think either of you will thank me for this."

With that, she crosses the threshold and sweeps from the room. Zevran casts one look at the group they're leaving behind, takes in Morrigan's amusement, Alistair's dawning disquiet, Sten's stoicism and the horror in Leliana's eyes. What has he landed himself in?