nagia: (dao; sens; s-shock! she's not a bear)
YOUR CHILDREN DESERVE LEXCORP JETPACKS ([personal profile] nagia) wrote in [community profile] terzarima2011-01-12 12:33 am

Dragon Age: Origins; Rated M; "Bereskarn Skein" [3/???]

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: The longest Bereskarn chapter yet -- this one's 10k words. Somebody shoot me...
WARNING: Descriptions of torture, MANY deaths, and massive amounts of physical pain. Also an eye scream. The torture is the very first scene.

Bereskarn Skein
three: my lord who hums

What is pain to a Crow?

The ropes chafed his skin at first. Probably they're still chafing, but he's lost them in the mass of fire that his shoulders have become. Each arm socket burns, sends sparks spiraling down his arms. His legs are just as bad.

But the pain is so broad, so ever-present, that he closes his eyes for a second. Just long enough to draw in a breath and count. In and one, two, three; now out. In and one --

One of them turns the crank. The rack creaks.

Rhythm. Focus. Breathe past the pain. What is pain to a Crow? Breathe in, hold one, two, three. Breathe out.

"I think I saw him flinch that time," one remarks.

The crank turns again, not much, but it's enough to put even more strain on him.

Breathe. In, hold, out. Breathe. In, hold, out. He can do this. He won't break. In, hold, out.

"Maybe," the other allows. This one seems bent on the idea of breaking Zevran completely, or perhaps of proving his weakness. "We'll make you scream yet, apprentice."

The first chuckles. "We're not going to go easy on you, trust me."

He opens his mouth to reply, and one of them turns the crank again, and the rhythm doesn't stop the groan.

"No," he says, trying to remember his breathing rhythm again. He takes a quick breath, thinks maybe he's found it. "I wouldn't –" his breath hitches, "want you to. I'd be disappointed if you did."

Both of the journeymen laugh. One says, still chuckling, "This one has spirit. It's a shame we have to break him."

Zevran doesn't bother to reply. He closes his eyes again, then opens them and focuses on his breathing.

A woman's voice cuts into the conversation: "I'll not have you threaten him."

He knows that voice from somewhere. Knows the woman, but he's not sure how. His distraction as he tries to place her makes him lose what rhythm he'd picked back up, and his breath hisses through his teeth.

Zevran looks up, turns his head despite the ache in his shoulders. The woman he sees is vaguely familiar: dark-skinned, dark-haired, a faded clan tattoo drummed around her eyes and along her cheeks.

Could it be–?

"What? What are you doing here? You're not – you're not supposed to be here."

"Zevran," she says. Her tone is hard, and that sparks the beginnings of memories. But his recollection cuts off, sharply, preventing him from making any definite connection. "Snap out of it. This is a dream."

"Snap... out?" He stops to take a breath, shakes his head. "This is my test. I need to show them I can tolerate – pain. I'm going to be a Crow."

That last he says with more certainty than he actually feels. He tries to draw strength from his own tone, but the rest of him is too busy trying not to break.

The woman frowns. "You're already a Crow."

"What? That can't be."

He needs time. He needs air. He needs to be able to think. So he breathes, and counts, and frees a corner of his mind to deal with this woman. Her expression has not changed at all, but she grips a stave so hard her knuckles have whitened.

That is not the face or bearing of a liar. And, less tangibly, the words already a Crow feel true.

"You're telling the truth? So what is this, a bad dream? A bad memory?"

One of the journeymen tenses. "Oh, I think he's questioning us. That's a very, very bad thing to do, isn't it?"

"Yes," the other replies. "Yes, it is. We'll have to punish him for that." A pause, in which one of them chuckles nastily, and then he adds, "Severely."

Their faces are changing. He thinks he must be dreaming, for a moment, because those are not faces he remembers ever seeing. The masks only shift a little, enough for teeth to elongate and eyes to take a slightly different shape, but it's enough.

They're not elves. They're not human, either. In fact, they're not alive.

This is a dream.

The ropes that ensnared his wrists disappear. The horrible sensation of stretching, of joints and limbs being pulled past the breaking point, vanishes in an instant.

He curls himself upright, sits on the edge of the rack, and then stands. As he rises, recent events tumble back into his recollection. It's like taking a step, only to realize he's stepped off a roof and should have prepared for a ten-foot leap.

He's an ex-Crow, she's a Grey Warden, he was hired to kill her –

And even as he processes all of this, she raises her staff. After a moment of silence, she murmurs words that mean little to him. Ice encases one of the journeymen. She whirls, raising her staff again. A fire bursts into life and the other journeyman flails backwards.

Zevran draws his dagger. He darts toward the closest, stepping in behind the journeyman. It's too busy being on fire to notice the rogue sneaking up behind him.

Perhaps he shouldn't – as if shouldn't or should have any meaning at all – but he takes great satisfaction at sliding the dagger in between the demon-journeyman-thing's third and fourth ribs. Its flesh makes a wet sound, a sound he's heard all too often, but being on fire and being knifed in the ribs doesn't seem to slow it down much.

It turns halfway, trying to ram a shoulder into him to drive him back.

Zevran closes his eyes, braces for the burn, and takes a minuet-step both into range and into the right position. He grabs the demon by the scalp, pulls backward, and cuts a curve from just under one ear to just under the other.

Turns out certain Antivan superstitions are wrong: demons do bleed. Copiously, in fact. Zevran makes a mental note to point this out to Claudia should he ever see her again, and then turns to handle the other one.

He and Sens really need to discuss her habit of stealing his kills, he decides as he watches the frozen demon topple backwards and shatter. Frozen chunks of flesh skitter along the ground in a landscape that is very distinctly not the testing dungeon where he surpassed the rack, years ago.

Sens resumes her two-legged form. She's breathing a little heavily as she steps away from the now dismembered demon.

"Well! That was bracing! There's nothing like a good racking, is there?"

She opens her mouth to reply, but then she turns hazy, like a heat shimmer.

And then she's gone. He falls through warm, sticky darkness. It covers him, almost smothers him. It's velvet bedsheets and a pyre shroud at once.

The darkness recedes to reveal a barren, desert landscape much like the one he just left. But this time the Sloth demon stands before them, rather than figures from his memory.

It's even uglier than he remembers it being. Zevran feels his mouth twist. "What? What happened to those luscious wood nymphs?"

Wynne gives him an imperious look with her lips drawn tight, as if she's just tasted something sour, and he half shrugs. "They were much better company than this ugly imbecile. Then again, what wouldn't be better company than our friend here?"

It doesn't bother to respond to him directly. Instead, it paces on its end of the clearing, and he could swear he sees a glint of... something in it dull eyes.

"You should go back. I promise you'll be much happier this time," it says, its voice still slow like the endless drone of flies around a corpse.

Zevran's lip curls in disgust. Happier? It trapped him in one of his most physically painful memories, and it's offering to make him < i>happier?

He chances a glance at his companions, certain that neither woman could be stupid enough to fall for that, but needing to make sure nonetheless. But he was right: Sens's expression has not changed from the usual stoic mask. Wynne looks at the Sloth demon with pursed lips and a wrinkled nose, as if it's some filthy-smelling prank a teenaged boy has pulled, and she's the one who's going to have to clean it up.

Perhaps that's not such an inaccurate description.

Dog growls low in his throat.

Honestly speaking, Zevran concurs. Sometimes, there's just no expressing the depth of one's loathing and fury for an idea except by narrowing one's eyes and making a throat noise.

"Selfish," the Sloth demon says, and Zevran tunes out the rest of that too-slow voice.

Instead, he focuses on the line of the demon's body. On the tense and flicker of its muscles, on the way it holds up a hand to cast a spell. He's killed mages before. He refuses to let this demon be any different.

But the demon is different. For one, its changes are far faster than Sens's. Just as Zevran has dodged around behind it, the demon throws up its hands. He falls backwards, strikes his back hard against the desert landscape of the Fade, and curls.

When he can move, he stands and sees that the demon is now a very, very large... thing. Grey-skinned and horned, with massive hands.

"Ogre," he hears Sens breathe, just before she blasts him with ice.

Zevran darts away from the spray of cold, skirting around ground that freezes solid, and is quite happy to push the point of his sword into the demon's armpit.

The demon roars and turns. It swipes at him. He drifts back, just barely out of its grasp.

Something stomps on the ground. He staggers at the shockwave, watches the demon and Dog stumble. He scans the battleground, feels his eyes widen at the sight of a ten-foot golem.

Light flashes, and the golem is Sens. Flashes again, and Sens is on fire. This fact doesn't seem to worry her.

The demon howls pain when it, too, begins to flame. Unlike Sens, its skin smokes and chars and peels. The scent of burnt flesh boils so strong that Zevran can taste it, tastes pork and his own blood, and hears his skin burning again –

Zevran sees lightning. Purple spots dance before his eyes and he stumbles back. When he can balance, when he can see five feet in front of his face, a burbling, hissing Rage Demon stands in the ogre's place.

But if Sens can become a golem and this demon can become an ogre, then he has just the weapon for this. He casts aside his sword, focuses on memory, and draws a dagger he hasn't carried since before he left Antiva from the sheath on his back, then pulls the hidden dagger from his glove.

The remembered dagger shines like ice, and well it should. The hilt frosts over and even feels cold to the touch.

The Rage Demon does not like the taste of it. He can tell because of the way it shrieks when the blade bites into its back. He takes a certain pleasure in plunging it in deep, in watching the demon's too-hot, sinister looking flesh part for metal so cold it must be unbearable.

The demon's movements gradually slow. Zevran keeps cutting with the ice-enchanted dagger. The demon screams at each cut. Its screams satisfy something in him, ease the tension of a knot he didn't even know he'd tied himself in.

He stabs viciously. "Payback's a harsh mistress, no?"

The demon makes no reply, but the sky burns in one giant sunburst of light, of heat. When he can move again, he stands, gingerly, and casts aside the good dagger. Frost no longer forms along the sharpest parts; the blade's edge looks cracked and worn.

He recognizes all too well the demon's latest form: an Abomination. He knows that shape, knows its weaknesses, knows how it moves.

There has to be a catch, he thinks as he kicks away his smoking, cracked dagger and darts for the longsword.

But whatever the catch, Zevran blitzes forward. Dog rushes, too, and he snaps the longsword's edge along one of the demon's deformities even as Dog sinks his teeth into its leg. The demon cries out its pain in one long, burbling, ear-splitting whine.

The ground beneath them shakes again. Zevran barely maintains a semblance of balance and looks around, trying to find the source of the –

Ah, Wynne, if the look of concentration and the rigor mortis grip on her staff is any indication.

Somewhere, a spider hisses. He doesn't want to turn back to the demon; the trip through this damnable Tower has given him fodder enough for a lifetime of fresh nightmares.

But he turns anyway. Just as he suspected: an overlarge spider tangles with a deformed Abomination. It's like some demented child decided to put the two ugliest things in Thedas in the same room. The Abomination bleeds and viscera trail from a gash in its stomach, which of course only adds loveliness to the portrait that is even now burning itself into his brain.

He wants to be violently ill in three different colors. He also wants never to have seen it. He also wants to wake up.

He pushes away the extraneous thoughts, the extraneous desires. He forces his mouth into a smile to keep from gagging and narrows his focus to the Abomination's back.

He hears the spider hiss again as it spits something, but he crouches low and creeps his way across the distance from his target. The demon turns to deal with the spider, so Zevran sheathes the Dweomer dagger and moves a little faster.

It never has a chance to notice him – Dog and the spider keep it too busy. They tag team wonderfully: the spider spits, or rakes along the demon's chest with one long claw, and then Dog lunges forward and knocks it down when it tries to attack the spider.

For an instant, he wishes he had a curved sword. But as it is, the demon's distraction makes it easy. He closes his eyes when it howls, savors the moment as the longsword sinks into the demon's knee. He pushes down and twists his wrist. It's not a proper hamstringing if you don't get both tendons, after all.

Blood slickens the hilt of his blade, pours down the demon's leg. He watches as it falls to one knee, no longer able to stand on the other. It reaches wrinkled, burnt-looking hands to its leg, but the bleeding won't stop.

Ah, the advantage of using a longsword instead of something more precise, like a stiletto. It's much harder to miss arteries with a swordblade.

Lightning flashes once more. It sends him reeling, leaves his head spinning and horrible colors flashing in his vision, but he just barely makes out the demon standing with a healed leg. Zevran forces himself to ignore the dizziness, the spots, the headache, and bears down on the demon.

Sens joins him. Fire blossoms into a red-orange wreath around his sword and dagger, but then vanishes as she slides to a stop. He stops as well, watches cold turn the very air into a glitter of frost. Ice sparkles as it traps the demon.

From the corner of his eye, he sees Dog come barreling toward them. He pulls Sens out of Dog's way, takes the opportunity to swipe at the demon with his off-hand. The dagger's edge rings strangely against the ice.

The ice begins to thaw.

Two things happen at the same time: Dog connects with the demon, and Wynne projects some sort of statue mockup of her fist. The fist strikes the demon in the face just as Dog's unburned shoulder slams into the demon's chest.

The demon topples backward. The leg that he crippled becomes a bloody shred of meat.

This time, it doesn't get up.

Zevran hefts the longsword. But it's Wynne who steps forward. She holds her hands out, expression grim and eyes glittering with something he recognizes all too well.

"Let me," she says. "Please."

Sens, her other companions, and kill-stealing, he sighs to himself as Wynne drives the sword into the demon's throat once, twice, again. She only stops when she's completely severed the neck.

The demon's body hasn't even cooled before something else goes weird. The air shimmers and a tired-looking mage appears out of nowhere. Zevran notes an expression of surprise on the mage's face.

But then the mage draws closer, and it's not surprise at all. His eyes look glassy, almost glazed over, and his slack jaw is the horrible absence of a man not in his own mind, rather than a startled man's gape.

Maybe he just noticed Wynne, who looks quite stunning with blood caked up to her elbows and spattered on her face. She's still holding his longsword; it complements her red robes better than he'd have thought. She's held up surprisingly well for a woman her age.

Yes, right. And maybe Zevran has gauntlets with Andraste's knucklebones sewn on.

"You defeated the demon. I never thought... I never expected you to free yourself, to free us both."

"It's done," Sens says. She sounds every bit as tired as the mage looks.

Wynne drops his longsword. "Niall."

Zevran misses the mage's response: he's too busy diving for his sword without sacrificing dignity by actually looking like he's diving for it. In other circumstances, that would be a simple matter, but Dog complicates the process by wanting to lick the flat of the blade.

He attempts to slide the hilt of his sword from under Dog's massive paw. Dog lets out a low growl and moves it away from him.

He decides against arguing with an intelligent nine-stone mass of dog muscle with jaws that can remove a man's carotid and jugular in one snap. Even if there's a strong possibility that licking demon blood isn't exactly a good idea. Fine. Let the dog lick the sword. Let the sword sit in the dirt.

It's not even like the dog, the sword, or the dirt are real. Although if he wakes and finds his actual longsword's edge as badly chipped as this one's – but is that even possible? If one dies in the Fade, does one's body die as well? More importantly, is he going to wake to a body still aching from the rack?

Enough thinking about that. The realities and non-realities of the Fade are confusing; best to leave them to mages and philosophers. He'll wake to whatever he wakes to.

He turns his attention back to the trio of mages. Wynne's expression has gone from shell-shocked to sorrowful. Even the lines around her eyes and mouth have deepened; she actually looks her age. Sens looks grim, but Sens always looks grim.

"For you it will have been an afternoon's nap," Niall is saying. "Your body won't have wasted away in the real world while your spirit lay in the hands of a demon."

An afternoon's nap. Yes, of course. Zevran feels very well-rested.

"Every minute I was here, the sloth demon was feeding off of me." Niall's voice takes on an edge when he says feeding. It's almost a bitter tone, and that makes Zevran realize that Niall speaks with only a shade more involvement than that Tranquil did. "He used my life to fuel the nightmares of this realm."

Wynne shakes her head. "Niall, there must be a way. You would be such a boon to the Circle; we can't afford to simply lose you to your own hopelessness."

She looks to Sens for help, but Sens says nothing. She only watches. Closely, actually: she's watching Niall the way she watched Jowan in the dungeon.

So Zevran watches too.

"It's all right, Wynne. I do not fear what may come. They say we return to the Maker. That isn't so terrible, is it?"

Even as Niall speaks, his face and voice take on more life. His eyes begin to clear. His jaw tenses again.

"Terrible?" Wynne lets out a sound that might have been a chuckle, if such obvious sadness hadn't fueled it. "No, not a terrible fate, but it's not the right one."

"Life isn't fair, Wynne," Niall says. "I was never meant to save the Circle, or... survive its troubles. I am dying. It is as simple as that."

"And am I meant to watch a mage I mentored throw his life away?" Wynne's voice turns sharp. "Have you even attempted to waken, Niall?"

Niall's silence is answer enough.

"I thought as much." Wynne sighs. "You may be right, Niall, but –"

"He's not," Sens says. She speaks briskly, matter-of-factly, as if she's discussing some sort of academic question and not whether or not a fellow mage is actually dying. "Niall had a spine once. Perhaps the Sloth Demon might have told us what became of that man."

That statement makes little enough sense to Zevran, but Wynne smiles, and Niall wakes a little more.

"That's right," Niall says. "Sloth demons feed on... Have I been playing into his hands?"

"So they eat apathy? But did this demon not use his very life to fuel this place?"

Wynne shakes her head. "Both, after a fashion. All demons drain mortals of their lives, their very selves, but they do so in the process of devouring one emotion or another – and, naturally, they must first induce that emotion before they can drain it."

Zevran pieces this together. "So Sens means the Sloth demon was causing Niall's apathy and hopelessness, and was using that to... what, eat away at his body?"

"It eats everything you are," Niall says, softly. "More than just what you feel, more than just your memories. It eats at the very force that makes your heart beat."

"I thought lungs did that."

Niall either doesn't follow his logic, or has decided to ignore the lowly non-mage. He puts his head in his hands, mumbling something about playing into a demon's very hands. "Before I was taken to the Circle, my mother said I was meant for greatness, that I would be more than my ancestors could have ever dreamed. What would she say now, I wonder?"

"I think you know," Wynne says.

"Then it is time for us all to be on our way." Niall pauses. "If I don't join you, don't forget the Litany."

He's stiff when he wakes, so he stretches. He tries to move slowly, but the life returns to his limbs with near-excruciating pins and needles. He stretches more and forces himself to stand.

He can raise his arms over his head without the broad agony of dislocation. He can touch his toes, can crouch.

A dream. It was all a dream – no, it was all just a dream.

Zevran takes a deep breath in. Then he draws his sword, inspects the edge. He sees a few nicks, but they're the normal product of battle.

Sens wakes up next. He watches her fingers tighten into a fist, then relax. After that, she curls herself into a ball.

"My Warden, if I might offer a piece of advice?"

Sens replies with a groan. The noise hits a sweet spot – he wants to hear her make it again, under different circumstances – and it takes an effort of will not to tease her about it.

"I'll take that as acceptance," he says instead. "Warden, you need to move. It'll get better if you do, see?"

Sens rolls over to look at him. Her expression doesn't change from the usual grim mask, but he doesn't need it to.

"Yes. That was intentional."

"Shouldn't even have to ask," Sens says, but she pushes herself to her feet regardless.

The straps of her studded armor swish and click again, but this time, there's no panicking Templar. Zevran takes a moment to appreciate the mostly unobstructed view of dusk-gold thighs, only a few shades lighter than the deep, golden brown of her arms and calves.

While Sens works the blood back into her limbs, Zevran turns and begins to pat Niall down for valuables. Mages travel with full pockets, apparently; he has to discard several scraps of paper that are neither a Litany nor related to that 'Adralla.'

That's a very nice sum of silver coins, though, and Zevran pockets them while deliberately not wondering where a mage might earn money. A few more coins, a scrap of cloth, and finally he pulls out a thick sheaf of vellum documents.

They're heavy, yellowing, and written in a blend of modern Tevinter's spider-script and ancient Tevinter's runes.

Zevran leafs through them, then displays them to Sens and the still-waking Wynne with a flourish.

"The Litany," Wynne confirms as she stands. Her movements are shaky.

Wynne only looks even more her age as she takes a step toward Niall, and coincidentally toward Zevran. He can see the beginnings of a blue-white glow surround her hand, catches the scent of green, but Sens intercepts her.

"Whether he lives or not, there's nothing more we can do for him," she says.

"There must be something more," the older mage replies, and Zevran hears echoes of I will not lose the Circle to one man's stupidity.

"A demon fed on him. What can you do for that?" There's a short pause, and then Sens adds with a touch of bitterness underneath her usual stoic tone, "Save use blood magic and hope you can replenish what the demon took?"

Wynne shakes her head, but turns away. "We both know that's not an option."

"Not least because neither of you knows any." He thinks about that, because he's not really so sure of Wynne, and finishes, brightly: "At least, I hope neither of you knows any. Now, let's away, yes? Before some other demon sees us and decides to trap us in an illusion of its own?"

He didn't expect the ploy to work, but it does: Wynne allows herself to be led away while explaining to him at length that the Fade trap wasn't an illusion, per se. Zevran listens with half an ear, allowing the philosophical angles to wash over him while trying to sift out the useful information.

They close the door behind them. Sens draws a white stub of chalk from her pack and holds it out to Wynne.

"And what do you expect me to do with this?"

"Protect him."

Wynne's eyes widen. After a moment, she takes the chalk, turns to the door and begins to draw on it. He watches, fascinated, as a pattern emerges: circles within circles within circles, sharpened by four spikes. Just looking at it makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up. The silver-white glow all but screams I'm a trap, don't touch me.

But that only convinces him that there has to be a way around such a trap. Maybe if he very carefully smudged one of those spikes? Ah, well, there will be plenty of time to practice later, he's sure.

They leave the closed, warded door behind them. Zevran and Dog take point again, while Sens drifts to the rear. When he looks back, he sees Sens leafing through the Litany. Every now and again, she mumbles a word in Tevinter, but for the most part, she reads silently.

They pass another closed door. Dog stops, muscles tensing and hackles rising. He doesn't growl; instead, he merely peels one lip back to reveal his teeth.

Zevran takes that silence for a cue and waves to Sens and Wynne to stay back. He steps in close and presses an ear to the door.

He doesn't have to listen intently to hear the people inside. The argument start out quiet, a soft but insistent drone of words. He picks out the voices of two distinct people, a man and a woman. Just beneath them he hears an undertone that could be as few as two or as many as four others.

Then the argument picks up volume. The woman hisses, "He's gone mad! He's killing us as well as the others and this was all supposed to be bloodless!"

"We don't have any choice but to move the plan forward." The man sounds as bleakly hopeless as Niall had.

The woman's voice rises into a choked shout: "How can the Circle be independent if there is no Circle?"

"Well, we can't simply kill him," a different man snaps. "Even if we managed it, the plan would fall apart."

The first man joins in again: "Unless you know how Loghain and Uldred sent messages?"

"All we need," a third man says in a tone that is either tiredness or exasperation, "is to wrest the Circle away from Irving. If he's not in control, then Loghain will know we've won. Uldred is expendable."

Zevran's heard enough. He grips the door handle and shifts his weight, eases the heavy wood away from the doorjam as quietly as he can. Dog slips in through the narrow opening and Zevran follows. He turns to control the way the door closes, to make sure it does so soundlessly, and then circles around his targets.

This is the problem with mages: there's no way to tell the greatest threat at a glance. With melee and ranged fighters he can prioritize, but any of these mages could be the most lethal of them all.

"Wait!" One of the men holds up a hand, peering around suspiciously. Zevran flattens himself against the far side of a bookcase and doesn't move. "Did you hear that?"

Another of the men confirms, in a distant tone, "We're not alone."

And that settles which one he's going to kill first. Zevran steps away from the bookcase, circles around behind the one with the slack expression, and watches in satisfaction when Dog rams into the suspicious one.

He sinks his dagger in the lower back of the half-dreamy one. Just as he's pulling the knife out and reaching for his longsword, the door shatters.

Wynne shakes crumbling gray dust from her hand and purses her lips.

There's a faint pause as the blood mages not busy disentangling themselves from a growling mountain of muscle take in the arrival of an old woman who can bust down heavy oak doors with magic-encircled fists. The pause lengthens when a bear lumbers through the gaping doorway.

Zevran takes the opportunity to finish the sword-draw and simultaneously stab his original target again. The man lets out a soft gasp and slumps forward. One of the other men catches him at the same time that Zevran moves away, whirling out with his sword arm to glance a distraction blow on the nearest.

The woman cottons onto her imminent demise and draws a knife, while the third and last man brings a red-smeared hand away from the cut on his leg. The second man digs his fingers into the bloody hole in the first's kidneys.

Oh. Maybe that was a bad idea.

That's all the time he has to spare for conscious thought. A red mist explodes from the dying maleficar and half the room catches fire. The scent of burning fur fills his nose, as Dog yelps, and he hears sizzling meat and then Sens's roar.

For an instant, he sees everything -- which is nothing but the gobbets of blood still falling, the fire that engulfs Dog and Wynne, while Sens shoulders past the line of flame. Lightning flashes once, twice; thunder booms; his focus snaps and the world narrows to the throat of the nearest blood mage.

He puts a blade through it, then jerks away. Another blood mage creates a horrific red fog, even while Wynne makes soft gasps of pain before she falls silent. Zevran hears blue-white but tastes green. Dog's whimpers stop.

Ice hisses. Thunder crashes again, rolling off the stone to mask the crackle of electricity. Steam billows around them all.

And then, at last, it ends as quickly as it began.

"Please," the last living blood mage begs. "Please don't kill me."

Sens places her foot on the woman's wrist. "Tell my why I should spare your life."

"I know I have no right to ask for mercy, but I didn't mean for this death and destruction. We were just trying to free ourselves."

Sens looks away from the mage, pointedly turning her gaze to the dead blood mages who surround them, then jerks her head toward the hall. Her expression remains the same grim mask throughout. Despite that, her question is clear: Do you think it's worth this?

"To free yourselves," Wynne echoes. "How could you accomplish that with blood magic?"

"Uldred had plans. He told us that the Circle would support Loghain and Loghain would help us be free of the Chantry."

"Ah, Loghain again," Zevran sighs. The blood mage shoots him a confused look, while Sens merely turns to face him for a moment, expressionless as usual. He decides to let the mages handle mage business, with no commentary from lowly non-mages.

"You understand, don't you?" The blood mage looks to Sens, her expression even more pleading and desperate. "You remember what it was like. The Templars always watching, just waiting for any excuse to kill us all."

Sens's only reply is silence. It's Wynne who asks, "So you turned to forbidden magic, giving them a pretext to destroy the entire Circle?"

The woman on the ground twists to look at Wynne. "The magic was a means to an end. It gave us... it gave me the power to fight for what I believed."

Sens looks away. Her face softens, but into absence rather than than tenderness. "Power."

"Fighting for what you believe is commendable, but the ends do not always justify the means."

"You don't really believe that, do you, Wynne?" The blood mage's tone is pitying, and for all that he dislikes Wynne's insistence on philosophizing, the maleficar's tone irritates him. "Did Andraste fight the Imperium with sternly-worded letters? She reshaped civilization and gave us the Chantry, but people died for it. And we thought we had to take the first step, to force a change, no matter the cost."

"So the end justifies the means." Sens words it neither as a question nor as a judgment. It's a place-holder, an invitation for the maleficar to say more.

"Do not," Wynne says, voice taut, "even begin to agree with that logic, Sens Surana. Nothing is worth what they've done to this place."

"Our dreams might have been. We had hoped..." The blood mage chuckles bitterly. "But now Uldred's gone mad, and we are scattered, doomed to die at the hands of those who seek to right our wrongs. Our hopes are ended, before they'd even begun."

Self-pity. He supposes he should have expected it; he heard plenty and more of it when those targets who had the chance begged for their lives.

Despite this woman's pale skin, the rounded ears, the red-gold hair, the scene echoes another woman's plea. But no. She did not speak of pity, of dying hopes and past pains; she merely denied guilt. Denied it honestly and earnestly – and it yielded her nothing.

Sens steps back just far enough to free the blood mage's wrist and then kneels. She removes the knife from the blood mage's grasp; the mage tenses like a frightened animal, despite the gentleness of Sens's movements.

"Before I decide," she says, quietly, "answer three questions."

"Please. I just want my life."

"If I let you live, what will you do?"

The mage says nothing for a moment. At length, she says, "I would like a chance to atone for what I've done. If you spare me, I could escape and seek penance at the Chantry."

"How would you leave this tower?"

"I'll find a way. Please... I swear I'll do something good with my life."

Not a very satisfactory answer. Not at all an answer that inspires confidence, even if 'something good' wasn't such a nebulous, abstract concept.

Sens apparently agrees with him, for she repeats the question in a flat tone.

"They wouldn't know that I'm a blood mage. I'd go downstairs and join the apprentices, and then in the confusion after everything was sorted... I'd slip out the doors when the guard was lax."

That has to be the worst plan he's heard since he told himself Knock over a few carts, put some archers on those two hills, grab an expendable mage, and rush the Wardens yourself. Then again, his plan had served well enough for his true purposes, barring unexpectedly merciful bear-women.

This woman's plan is an out-and-out laughingstock. He snickers.

Sens's frown deepens, but she nods. She moves a little closer to the blood mage, brushes the back of her hand against the other mage's cheek. "Final question."

"Please," the blood mage says.

"Was Jowan involved in this?"

The blood mage trembles, looking sickened, and then shakes her head. "I don't know. He wasn't in my cell, and only Uldred knew all of us. I never even knew for certain that he was a blood mage until..."

"I see," Sens says.

"So you'll let me go?"

"There are half a dozen dead neonates in the apprentice quarters. Seeking penance in the Chantry won't bring them back."

The blood mage's eyes widen in shock and she jerks away, begins to rise as if to run.

Sens is too fast for her. Perhaps her speed comes from a plan, or perhaps it comes from greater experience in direct combat. But she doesn't falter as she reaches out to grab the other woman by the hair.

The blood mage's knife rises once and again.

"My warden, forgive me if this advice is unwanted, but try to go from ear to ear in just one cut next time," he tells her when it's done. "More than that just makes a bigger mess."

Wynne turns to stare at him. She looks in shock, as if she can't quite grasp the flow of events that led to this. Or perhaps she can't grasp their reactions.

"I should hope there won't be a next time," she says at last. "Sens, that she needed to die... I won't question your judgment, but in that fashion? With false hope?"

"I intended to spare her," Sens replies.

"I take it you changed your mind when she couldn't answer your question about Jowan." Wynne's voice is hard, the tone brittle.

Sens shakes her head exactly once. "She didn't know how she would escape. With a plan that frail, she'd have resorted to blood magic."

"How can you be so sure of that?"

"The law of the instrument."

Wynne opens her mouth to answer, but then she goes quiet and looks away from them. The way her lips curve when she frowns makes the lines around her eyes more prominent. Once again, she looks her age.

Zevran continues to share point with the dog as they make their way through the rest of the fourth floor. Every so often, he reaches down to scratch Dog behind the ears. He runs the pads of his fingers over the silvery scar tissue that remains from his burns.

"You and fire, no, cucciolo?"

Dog whines. Zevran pats him idly on the top of his head. But then Dog sits, stubbornly refusing to move. He cocks his head to look behind them, so Zevran turns.

Sens has stopped moving. She widens her stance, inclining her head. A gesture of pride, or steeling herself for something? She's certainly never seemed to change her posture to give orders before.


Wynne raises an eyebrow. "Is there something you wished to discuss? Time is of the essence."

He can't help but notice that though her tone is pleasant, it's a cold sort of pleasant. Still upset about the blood mage, then.

"Take the Litany," Sens replies.

Wynne's eyebrow arches even higher. "I understand that the Litany and healing magic may seem related, but I assure you, they are not. The Litany may be recited by any competent mage."

"I know." Sens holds the Litany out anyway.

Wynne doesn't reach for it. "You do understand that healing requires almost all of a mage's concentration? I can attempt to heal along with reciting the Litany if you feel it's necessary, but I must warn you..."

"It's you or Zevran, and I doubt Zevran had nine years of training in elocution of ancient Tevinter."

"You are a mage, and a well-trained one at that. Why not you?"

Sens moves forward, toward him. She stops just a pace away, rests the palm of her hand on the top of Dog's head. He lets out a low whine in response. She scratches behind his ears and draws in a breath before she turns to look back at Wynne.

"We need someone who can recite the Litany if I can't."

"I see," Wynne says, tone startled.

Zevran chuckles. If Wynne were any more transparent, they could use her to fix some of the Tower's broken windows. He keeps the observation to himself, of course. He doesn't want to have to listen to some sort of moralizing lecture -- perhaps a draft of the lecture she's surely been writing in her head since Sens changed her mind about sparing the blood mage's life? -- and he doesn't want to have to deal with Sens giving him a flat non-expression that means Stop that. Try to get along, will you?

Sens pats Dog and then stalks back toward Wynne. She holds the vellum pages out again, and says again, "Take the Litany."

Wynne takes it.

They continue on, moving a little slower because Wynne has to walk and read at once, and Sens seems unwilling to simply leave her behind. He chances a few glances back and notes that Wynne seems to be concentrating intently on it. He lets Dog take point alone and slows so he can half-watch Wynne over his shoulder.

Her gaze speeds over a page, moving so quickly that it's a wonder her eyes don't cross. But once she hits the bottom, she goes over it again, a little slower, and when she starts a third read-through, she goes much slower, and this time, her lips move as she reads. She never quite says anything aloud.

Sens's process, what few glimpses of it he saw, didn't seem nearly so involved. She drifts further and further back, eventually walking beside Wynne. Thgey read over each other's shoulders and every now and then one mutters a word in Tevinter, which the other repeats a few times. As if they're correcting each other's pronunciation or something.

Zevran loses interest. It's odd, but it's not an exciting odd, like somebody trying to kill them all.

They're almost all the way at the very end of the fourth floor, have almost come full-circle around the central part of the Tower, when Dog and Wynne both stop moving. Dog cocks his head and then growls. Wynne, too, seems on edge, when he turns to look at her.

"Sens, do you...?"

Sens nods once. "It's buzzing in the air."

"You should be on your guard, Zevran. Powerful magic is at work ahead of us," Wynne says.

"You'll be safe enough in our company, Wynne. Of that I can assure you," he says, because snapping that he hasn't once dropped his guard while retaining consciousness will gain him nothing, and mentioning that he's a Crow will gain him even less than nothing.

He's lived long enough to know when he's being judged. And Wynne is judging him, his Warden, and probably even the damned dog, and has apparently found them wanting.

He turns away from the pair of mages, baring his teeth at the invisible weight of Wynne's judgment and whatever lies ahead.

He's more than a little surprised to discover that what lay ahead is a cage. If he were a philosophical man, he might find some sort of irony or message in the fact that it's a golden prison that cannot be removed -- imprisoning a Templar.

Somebody was being vindictive, he thinks.

Sens moves past him and Dog. She presses her palms against the cage. Rings ripple out from her hands, and the rest of it flutters like a sheet being ruffled by the wind. But he hears a crackle of electricity and she staggers back.

"I've never seen anything like this before," Wynne says. "That poor boy."

The Templar finally seems to notice them. He looks up, and the shadows that had fallen over his face recede. And, just like everyone else who's ever lived in this damnable Tower, his expression changes when he catches sight of Sens.

Sens changes, too. Zevran watches her go ramdrod straight. Her hands clench into fists at her sides -- and then they relax as she darts forward again.

Zevran watches lightning gather at her fingertips. It crackles in her right hand, while ice glitters in her left.

She strikes the barrier with the ice first. It ripples, and the ice spreads along it, spitting and popping, but then he hears something crack and the ice melts away.

The lightning doesn't help, either.

She sinks to one knee and looks back toward them. She's completely expressionless -- even worse than usual. She looks hollowed out and it unnerves him more than the thunrder of her paws against his chest during his failed attempt to kill her.

"Wynne," she says.

Wynne steps forward and places her hands against the prison. But then she shakes her head. "I can see no way to bring it down."

Dog follows Wynne and sniffs at the cage. He whines and digs at the stone floor before turning away, his head drooping in a dejected posture.

The Templar never loses his look of abject horror. He groans from deep in his chest, his breath whistling through his gritted teeth. "Please," he says. "If there's anything human in you at all, just kill me. Stop this game. I'm not going to break like the others."

Zevran thinks: You've already broken.

"Cullen, I'm not going to kill you."

The Templar shakes his head and closes his eyes. "No, no, no, no! Not this again. Anything but this again. Any of the other filthy lies..."

"Cullen!" Sens's voice goes harsh, sharp like a whipcrack, and Cullen jerks like a fly-stung horse. "Do you know who I am? It's Sens. The apprentice who worked in the creche with the neonates."

'Creche' and 'neonates' sounds like children, to him. It's hard to imagine cold, stoic Sens working with children. Defining herself by it. He raises an eyebrow, looks to Wynne.

Wynne only nods.

Cullen gasps for breath. He looks up and then quickly closes his eyes, turning his face away. "Yes, only too well. How far they must have delved into my thoughts, to tempt me with the one thing I always wanted but could never have."

This time, Wynne joins him in the startled lift of eyebrows. They look at each other.

"Cullen." Sens's tone has shifted from sharp to the warning she uses when she's trying to get Alistair to stop rambling and listen.

As if to back his mistress, Dog growls. It's a ferocious sound, the kind that would give Zevran pause to think about the widsom of hisa actions, should he hear it in the midsdt of dispatching a target.

But Cullen keeps talking: "To use my greatest shame against me. My ill-advised infatuation with her, a mage, of all things!"

A Templar, attracted to a mage? Attracted to this mage? For all that the situation is amusing, it seems a bit too perfect. A Templar attracted to the only mage Warden, left imprisoned in a golden cage -- an obvious metaphor for the Tower if he's ever seen one -- he finds himself deeply suspicious.

There are messages, and then there are improbable coincidences. Regardless, there's no keeping in his chuckle.

"Someone was quite the little heart-breaker when they were an apprentice. My, my."

"And this time she arrives with companions to mock me," Cullen sighs. "I am so tired of these cruel jokes, these tricks, these--"

"-- I'm neither illusory nor joking," the Warden says. She rises and retreats from the barrier. Her hands clench into fists once more.

"I close my eyes, but you are still here when I open them." Zevran almost thanks the boy for stating the obvious, but he continues, adding, "But that's always worked before. Are you... real?"

"I am. Tell me what happened."

Cullen laughs bleakly. "They trapped us here, caged us like animals, looked for ways to break us. There were too many. The others broke, but not me. No, not me, even with them reaching into my very mind with their awful hands. And now Uldred's locked the mages in the Harrowing Chamber, is turning them into monsters."

"And the neonates?"

"The children are long dead," he says, and laughs again, just as hopelessly as before, but with a mad edge. "Dead or worse. Oh, Sens, I wish I'd just done it myself. Made their ends quick. They're all gone, the only good ones."

"At least two survived. They're on the first floor, in the great hall."

But Cullen shakes his head. "No. The only survivors are the maleficarum strong enough to outmatch what they summoned."

"You're calling a pair of nine-year-olds maleficarum?" Wynne makes a pitying sound. "You poor boy. The things you've seen have harmed you, and you speak from that, not from reality."

Sens ignores it all. She sweeps her hand out in a "cutting" motion. "Does Irving live?"

"I saw the blood mages drag him up the stairs, but the sounds coming out from there... oh, Maker!"

"Then we've no time to waste. They are in grave danger, I am sure of it." Wynne starts toward the stairs.

Cullen's harsh, reeling, mad laugh stops her. "You can't save them. They're Becoming, or they've Become already. Would that I'd spared the children this. I thought we were too hard on the Circle, but I see now. Would I had spared the neonates this long ago."

Sens's tone hardens. "What exactly are you saying?"

"It's a pity they grow to become mages. Such a horrible, horrible pity. I should have given them peace long ago." He pauses, looks up at Sens, and says, "You'll have to kill everyone in that Chamber. No telling who's turned and who hasn't. The Tower has to be wiped clean."

Sens steps back again, retreating from the madman. The madman who has cracked completely, has shattered so wholly that he thinks he's sane. Zevran would pity him, if there were anything in that shell left to bother with.

Dog growls, low in his throat. But the growl turns into a harsh snarl. Saliva flecks along his fangs, drips to the stone floor. And Zevran has no doubt what Dog would do, if the mabari could only breach that golden barrier.

"Surely some of them can be saved," Sens says, softly. "We are not all so weak, Cullen."

"You haven't been up there. You haven't been under their influence. You have to end it, now, before it's too late."

"I would rather spare a maleficar than kill an innocent mage."

Wynne smiles. "Thank you. I knew you would make a rational decision."

"Rational? How is this rational? Do you understand the danger?"

"I know full well the dangers of magic," Wynne places particular emphasis on the words full well, "but killing innocents because they might be maleficarum is not justice. I know you are angry--"

"You know nothing! I am thinking about the future of the Circle. Of Ferelden."

"You are thinking of what has been done to you. You speak from neither wisdom nor justice, but from pain."

"All this talk of innocence and justice," Zevran sighs. "Somebody's got tomatoes in his olive bowl. Don't side with crazy people: very simple."

"Mad, elf, you think I'm mad? What would you know of the necessities of the Circle, of the righteous and vital duties of a Templar?"

"I know that I doubt they apply to nine-year-olds," he says. "And I know that Sens has made her decision. Sens is the one not in the magical cage, in case you hadn't noticed."

Wynne shoots him a 'don't taunt the poor boy' look, which Zevran ignores. He turns to face Sens. She looks sober, a little sad, but the downard-curve of her lips is more grim than anything else. So difficult to read, she is, he thinks once more. It's really quite unfair.

"I assume we are done here, my Warden?"

"I have made my decision," she agrees. She turns away from Cullen in a soft sweep of leather and metal. She unslings her staff from its place on her shoulder and starts up the stairs to the Harrowing Chamber.

Dog races toward her, still snarling, and barrels up the stairs to go ahead of her. Zevran, too, follows closely. He and the dog will enter ahead of the mages.

The door swings open and then shut behind them, and Zevran begins to understand what Cullen meant when he spoke of sounds.

A mage whimpers. The sound comes from his chest, but his throat and mouth gurgle. Blood drips from his lips.

And above him stands a bald mage. Zevran isn't sure what strange magic the bald man is using, but the tormented man nods, and the bald one lets him fall to the floor.

The change begins immediately. For reasons he doesn't understand, the mage's body twists, and curls, and the mage cries out through clenched teeth and closed eyes. His back swells, his fingers gnarl into unnatural shapes, his face gains wrinkles.

Understanding hits and hurts like a knife to the kidney: this is the creation of an Abomination.

And then the bald mage turns to face them. His expression is slack, unfeeling, and sends a frisson of horror down Zevran's spine. This man is none of the three races, is not even alive anymore.

"Ah... look what we have here," the mage purrs. "I remember you. Irving's star pupil. Uldred didn't think much of you then, and I certainly don't see your appeal now."

"I'm not here to appeal to anyone," Sens says, flatly. "I'm here to stop you."

Uldred's face twitches into irritation for an instant, but then he soothes himself. "Stop me? But whatever for? I'm freeing these people, too long shackled by the Circle. I'm giving them what they truly wanted all along."

"I doubt anyone wants that," Sens replies, gesturing at the nascent Abomination.

"Oh, but they do. Even Irving. And I do have Irving on my side, don't I, First Enchanter?"

An aged-looking mage gasps to speak; every breath wheezss in his chest. "Stop him. He... is building an army. He will," the First Enchanter sucks in a breath and whistles with the effort, "destroy the Templars and--"

Irving's mouth snaps shut so suddently that his teeth click. And Uldred looks irritated. "That's enough out of you, Irving. You'll serve me, eventually."

A bead of sweat rolls down Irving's forehead, but his mouth opens, and he manages to breathe, "Never."

His mouth shuts again.

Zevran almost pities him.

"You must have seen, Mage Surana. You are but the larval form of something greater. The Chantry vilifies us, calls us abominations, when we have truly reached our full potential!"

"Potential?" Wynne scoffs. "This is not what mages want. Sens, we must kill him now, before he spews even more poison."

Uldred heaves a sigh. "That it must come to this... ah, well. Your struggles will make my victory all the sweeter."

The Abomination takes a step back. It twists and shrivels, too, but at the same time, it grows. What's left, at the end, is an ugly mass of muscle.

Lightning crackles, fire roars, and Zevran adds 'magical power' to his list of the Abomination's weapons.

"Pride," Sens murmurs, before she encases the Abomination in ice.

Zevran circles around behind Uldred, unsheathing his longsword even as he moves. Most of Uldred's attention focuses on Wynne and Sens, but then Dog lunges forward. Nine stone of furious mabari slam into the Abomination and send it stumbling back.

Sens casts a lightning spell that catches not only Uldred but also Dog and Zevran in its grasp. It's strange, though; despite the blue-white-violet lines that jolt up and down his hands and arms, he feels no pain, and they do him no damage.

Uldred, though, howls. He casts a spell of fire that forces Sens back. The elf mage stumbles and catches herself against a stone wall.

Wynne casts that spell that makes the earth shake again.

Zevran staggers, trying to keep his balance. He lunges forward, manages to keep his leading and trailing feet straight despite the quaking floor, and sinks his longsword into Uldred's back.

Uldred's response is a blur. He thinks no, move, move, move and even as he's dodging back something slams into his chest. He feels the impact in his ribs, feels it when his back strikes stone, when his head strikes stone.

When he's not bleeding from the ears, when he he can move again, he rises, slowly, to his feet. Every muscle hurts.

Zevran spits blood.

Both Wynne and Sens stand before Uldred's captive mages. The floor beneath them glows gold. Both women speak in Tevinter -- but it is not quite speaking, no. Their voices slide up and down scales, every word spoken clear like a rung bell. Are they singing? Are they chanting?

The golden glow hisses and finally cracks.

Wynne wipes her brow.

Sens takes in a deep breath, lets it out, takes in another. She drops her staff, raises her hands in the air. Zevran watches, fascinated, as she begins to gesture, mumbling in ancient Tevinter even as she watches the ceiling.

Wynne strikes Uldred with a stone copy of her fist. It draws his attention away from the casting mage. Zevran draws his daggers, both the one on his back and his hidden one, and races toward Uldred.

The elder mage raises her staff. The staff glows blue, but Zevran hears and tastes green. He can feel the giant bruise from where Uldred kicked him beginning to ease.

And then Sens finishes her incantation. Wind shrieks loud enough to make him long to cover his ears. He sees one of the mages and a smaller abomination both clap their hands to their haads, trying to drown out the sound. Harsh, bitter fog gathers, and soon cold and ice and snow pelt down on them all.

To avoid the consequences of her spell, Sens puts her back to the far wall and leaves her woman-shape behind.

Zevran goes after Uldred from an angle, this time. Dog and Sens both slam into him from the front, drawing his attention, and the Crow sinks first one blade, then another into Uldred's leg.

Uldred howls.

But rather than realize that he's been struck from behind, he sweeps Dog away. The mabari staggers and Zevran hears claws click against the stone as the poor animal tries desperately to maintain balance.

So Uldred hits him again.

Sens roars in fury when Dog's back hits the wall.

Dog lets out a whimper, and her roar turns into a screech that makes Zevran want to cover his ears. He doesn't spare the time for it; instead he yanks his blades out of Uldred's leg and stabs again. Uldred will kick him again he's sure, but he can take it --

Sens goes flying. He watches the bear crash into another wall and buries his daggers up to the hilt in putrid Abomination flesh.

Uldred finally realizes what's been stabbing him.

Golden weight crushes him. Zevran tastes lemons and sunlight and his own blood. He can't move to protect himself as Uldred lifts him in one hand.

More gold magic encircles the living mages. Zevran watches as Wynne turns away from him, away from the dog, away from Sens who is still conscious and is trying to stand -- Wynne turns away from them all to help the mages.

Zevran boils inside.

He hears bone make an awful crack. Sens lets out a strangled whine and falls back to the ground. She cannot stand, despite her attempt.

The golden glow surrounding the mages dissipates. Zevran begins to feel the Abomination's fingers around his ribs. He takes in a light breath, tastes green again.

His grip on one of his daggers is loose. Uldred squeezes him and Zevran loses track of which arm is which; he's in too much pain to tell. He tightens one hand on the hilt of a dagger and raises it.

Uldred's fist tightens around him. Zevran hears a rib crack and tastes his own blood again. His eyes nearly roll up in his head.

It hurts, ah, Maker, it hurts. But he's used to hurting. He's hurt so much more than this.

Uldred's mouth is smiling. That burns at him. To die in the hand of something that's neither man nor demon, and have it smile at him in his final moments.

Zevran boils inside again, but the Abomination's hand tightens and he cannot breathe, cannot think, cannot burn. He has no room for anything but the un-breathing red mist in front of his eyes.

If this is dying, it's not nearly as terrible as it could be.

It's not nearly as terrible as it could be, he thinks -- until he hears steel clatter against the stone floor. He cannot feel his hands; he has to look to see that he has dropped one of his daggers.

Oh, Maker.

It's the left-hand dagger, the plain one. He can survive this, he tells himself. Then he wonders if surviving is worth it -- except he doesn't want to die, even if it seems inevitable.

Uldred laughs at him. And that's the final straw: Zevran finds the room to boil. He has to look at his right hand but he sees the Dweomer dagger glinting within it.

It takes such effort to lift his right arm. His lungs burn, his arm sends jolts of pain down his spine and everywhere through him. But what's a little pain, when his alternative is to die?

Uldred's expression begins to change just as Zevran forces his hand forward. He manages to sink the dagger into Uldred's eye, the softest part of the mage's face.

He feels the metal bite in and keeps pushing, despite the pain, despite everything. Shockwaves travel up his arm, but he can see from the jet of blood, can hear from the soft squishing noises, that he's touched the brain.

Then he falls, because Uldred falls, and his bruised, cracked ribs hit the floor. He'll be fine, he thinks, distantly.

What is pain to a Crow?

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