nagia: (dao; sens; s-shock! she's not a bear)
YOUR CHILDREN DESERVE LEXCORP JETPACKS ([personal profile] nagia) wrote in [community profile] terzarima2011-03-22 03:06 am

Dragon Age: Origins; Rated M; "Bereskarn Skein" [4/???]

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.

Bereskarn Skein
four: dance fair paris ashes now

Zevran watches Wynne touch Sens with glowing hands, then shake her head and start toward him. He opens his mouth to snap at her when she kneels at his side, but he can't talk around the taste of green.

Her mouth tightens into a deep frown.

When he can speak, he demands: "Why are you healing me first? Paralysis is worse than mere cracked ribs."

Wynne says nothing. She simply keeps the healing magic coming, until he's full of blue and white and green, until he tastes her magic under his tongue and in his eyes. Slowly, gradually, it becomes easier to breathe.

"Can you stand?"

He crawls to his feet. He almost has to steady himself against the stone wall, but he locks his knees just in time.

"Then help me with her, please. I'll need a pair of steady hands stabilizing her spine."

It's amazing, how Wynne has turned what she worded as a request into an order. But he only grimaces once and follows.

Sens is no longer a bear, he realizes. She's shrunk back into her elven shape, a tiny twisted body. It seems strange, to see how small she is, how fragile she is. Wrong, even.

"Carefully, now," Wynne reminds him needlessly. She pulls the stopper on a bottle of lyrium and drains it in one swig. No dainty sipping for Wynne, not when a Warden's future mobility is on the line.

He places his hands where she instructs. And Wynne pours healing energy into Sens's barely-conscious body. She pours so much of it he can feel it thrum down his own spine, can taste it.

Sens sighs. Zevran leaves Wynne to continue the rehabilitation. Instead he grabs a simple first-aid kit from Wynne's bag and circles around the room, seeing to the surviving mages.

It's then that he notices a few tiny bodies. Not many, not more than a handful. But enough.

Zevran contemplates how many children could have resisted what he saw Uldred put that first mage through. He doesn't like the number he comes up with.

How many of the Abominations they killed to get here were children? He decides not to consider that too closely, takes refuge in a quick reminder that everyone dies eventually. Some sooner than others and at his hand, is all.

"Maker," Irving sighs through his teeth while Zevran patches him up. "I'm too old for this."

Wynne looks up from her work with Sens. "Irving! Are you--"

"--First Enchanter," Sens cuts in, smoothly, despite the fact that she is currently re-learning to sit up. "Are you all right?"

"I've..." Irving grunts when Zevran dabs an elfroot poultice against a wound on his jaw. "...been better. But I am thankful to be alive. I suppose that is your doing, isn't it, Wynne?"

"I wasn't alone. I had help."

Irving's gaze swivels to Sens, then turns to Zevran. "So I see. The Circle owes both of you a debt we will never be able to repay. Particularly you, stranger, who had no cause I can name to help us."

"I am Zevran," he replies. "And the Warden's goals are my goals."

At that, Irving raises a gray brow. "So you came here seeking aid against the Blight, Sens?"

Sens nods. "Greagoir will accept only your word that the Tower has been brought to order."

"And thus will only free the mages to help you when I give him my word, yes?" Irving gives her the ghost of a smile. "Come, then. We shall let them know that the Tower is once again ours."

"Give me a moment to speak to my companion," Sens murmurs. She waves Wynne away and stands creakily, then moves toward Zevran.

Zevran decides to meet her halfway. His Warden shan't be protecting him from Crows anytime soon if she throws out her back or something. She leans in close to him, a little closer than is necessary, and he quashes the sudden urge to support her.

"Irving knows more about how this started than Wynne does," she says, softly. "But he won't simply tell us. Too much rests on him having no idea."

Zevran doesn't bother to hide the grin that curls along his mouth. It's all teeth, he's sure. "And you wish me to find out, yes?"

She says nothing, but he nods once, lets his smile retreat from predatory to merely confident. "Leave it to me, my Warden. You will have your answers by the time we leave this Tower."

"Thank you," she says.

He wonders just how much she'll be thanking him when she realizes how many of her 'neonates' were likely abominations, and just how many abominations they mowed through.

Regardless, Zevran moves toward Irving.

At the sight of him, Irving nods. "Discussion concluded? Ah, good, I'll need you to guide me down the stairs..."

At that, Sens drops to all fours. Zevran feels his gaze snap to take her in. The leathers sway for a bare instant before her body begins to elongate. Fur sprouts along her face as her nose shapes itself anew.

Within moments, there is no sign of the elven woman who requested more information, of the elven woman who accepted his oath of loyalty in exchange for his life. She lopes forward and noses Irving.

Irving chuckles and pats her head. "Oh, Sens. I cannot regret having you as a student, but the Templars who brought you to us made a grave mistake. You should never have left your forests, nevermind how many trees we've locked away in our library."

Sens makes no attempt to reply one way or another. She simply adjusts her position, the better to support Irving.

The First Enchanter leans heavily against her. He gasps at their first step away from the wall, and then shakes his head. "I've four floors of this to look forward to. Curse whoever insisted the Circle be housed in a tower."

Sens makes a startled barking noise, like a 'gwark!' and that catches Zevran's and Wynne's attention. Wynne shakes her head and returns her attention to Dog. It doesn't take long for her to restore Dog to some semblance of health.

Dog bounces up to his master immediately, barking exictedly. The bear merely watches him with a flat expression, so Dog bounces up to Zevran and barks even more. Zevran regards him, wondering just what the mabari's heard or smelled to make him bark his damn fool head off like this, but he reaches down and pets Dog anyway.

He's still mulling over Sens's strange bear bark as he curls his fingers against Dog's scar tissue.

Two floors down, Zevran takes advantage of the other mages's focus on Sens, Wynne and Irving to slip into Irving's office. He rummages around the man's desk, picking up fragments of notes but nothing that adds to anything significant.

Nothing on his desk, except a painted box he recalls a few of his mercenaries mentioning in hushed conversations and some books about blood magic. Zevran cocks his head, suspicious -- particularly when he finds an ornate key in one of those books. But books aren't evidence of much, so he continues to prowl the room.

He untucks his lock picks from his right gauntlet at the sight of a chest tucked into a corner, but the ornate scrollwork on the lock looks like the key he's just picked up. He tries the key and startles himself when it actually works.

The first thing he lifts out is a strange black book, embossed with a dead tree on the front cover. He opens it, flips through a few pages, and feels his brow knit. This writing is neither Tevinter nor any other language he recognizes. Fascinating. The grimoire goes into his bag; with all the blood mages about, suspicion will likely fall on them before on Sens and her companions.

Next he pulls out a few journals. They're all clearly Irving's. He leafs through, then neatly tears out a few pages with the aid of a dagger. He inspects his handiwork and then nods. There's no sign those pages ever existed.

With any luck, Irving will never recall that he even made those entries.

He takes the time to finish the blood mages's jobs of ransacking the office, and then rejoins the group. Wynne has kept Irving busy with a lively debate about just where Uldred got his idea. He catches the tail end of it when he closes in on the mages.

Wynne and Irving quickly begin to bicker about the odds of Niall's survival.

"We'll defuse the Glyph," Irving assures her. "And make sure. I'm sure, with more of us about... if he lives, even barely, we'll be able to aid him."

Wynne bows her head. "Thank you, First Enchanter."

She shoots Zevran a look, imperious and haughty, and Zevran realises that no-one has batted an eye at his sudden reappearance. He grits his teeth. Hard to believe the judgmental mage has been covering for him, but she has.

She, too, must want to know how such a thing could happen. It's the only explanation he can come up with that makes any sense.

Her gaze flicks away from him in a beautiful display of subterfuge. It's hard to believe she could even know how to engage in subterfuge, but she looks away quickly enough that nobody else looks over to him. Zevran follows them silently, saying nothing, not even allowing his movements to make a sound.

They never notice that he's there.

They never notice that he wasn't there.

Unfortunately, after that they enter the Great Hall. A hall full of twitchy, stressed, possibly even terrified Templars. Zevran would lay odds that no few of them are strung out on lyrium, for lack of anything else to do in the waiting.

Plate gauntlets creak around the grips of maces. Men with blades already drawn bristle, put their backs to the walls and corners.

Perhaps he should have cautioned against this, Zevran thinks. But Irving stands hale and tall, and takes inching steps away from Sens, who sits on her hind legs with a whump.

Greagoir's face turns away from the thirty-stone bear and toward Irving. For a man so clearly haggard and worn, he does a good impression of overjoyed. "Irving? Maker's breath, I did not expect to see you alive."

Irving takes a step back toward her, fists his hands in Sens's fur. She shakes slightly, as if to itch his hands along her back, but otherwise bears it with good will. "It is over, Greagoir. Uldred," and here Irving sighs, "is dead."

Greagoir nods. "Then we have won back the tower. I will accept Irving's assurance that all is well."

That's when another Templar strides forward, into the hall. He carries his helm under his elbow and has slung his broadsword over one shoulder. Now that he's no longer on his knees, no longer alone, Zevran realizes that Cullen is actually one of the shorter Templars.

He's just barely tall enough for the sword he carries.

"It's not over!" Cullen insists.

Greagoir looks to him and raises an eyebrow. Irving coughs, then chuckles. "You must have been on edge, but we may now rest easy, child. The Tower is safe."

"How can you say that? No, Uldred tortured these mages, hoping to break their wills and turn them into abominations. We don't know how many of them have turned!"

Zevran watches Greagoir's brows hook down. "Irving says the Tower is back under our control. I, for one, believe him."

"Of course he'll say that! He might be a blood mage! Don't you know what they did? I won't let this happen again!"

That makes Zevran snort. 'Of course he'll say that! He's one of them!' Ah, if that isn't a classic, he isn't sure what is.

It certainly earns Cullen no favors with Greagoir. Greagoir's eyebrows hook even more, and he opens his mouth wide, practically shouting, "I am the knight-commander here, not you."

At that, Cullen subsides.

Greagoir looks to Sens. He does a double-take, as if truly realizing for the first time that Irving is leaning on a bear. This almost sends Zevran into peals of laughter. Nobody ever knows how to handle the bear.

As if to make things easier on him, Sens returns to her woman-shape. Wynne catches Irving before he can wobble, and Sens gently re-positions herself so she can support him once she's fully two-legged again.

Greagoir's eyebrows unhook, but lift until it's a wonder he doesn't lose them in his hair. "I know I promised you aid, but with the Circle restored, my duty is to watch the mages. They are free to help you, however. Speak to them."

Sens nods once.

"For now, I will have to oversee a sweep of the tower. There may be some survivors and we should do our best to tend to them. Please, excuse me. And Irving... it is good to have you back."

Irving chuckles again. It's a dry, rasping sound, and Zevran finds himself wondering if that's his natural voice, or if it's his shock and exhaustion. "Ah, I'm sure we'll be at each other's throats again in no time."

Greagoir gives him just the hint of a smile before striding away.

"Survivors," Sens murmurs, watching him leave. But then her gaze returns to Irving, clear and piercing. "First Enchanter, I have a treaty obl—"

And Irving chuckles again. "That is not necessary, Sens. The Circle will fulfil its obligation."

Sens is silent for a beat, then she gives Irving a curt nod. "There is one other matter."

That startles Irving into ruefully shaking his head. "Of course there is. Nothing was ever simple with you. Jowan either, I suppose. But those are thoughts for another time."

Sens's face shutters closed, even as she stiffens. She tries to hide it by relaxing, probably as soon as she realizes she's gone still, but Zevran catches it nonetheless. And if he can see it, despite having known her a little over a month, he's sure Irving sees it.

But if does, he gives no sign. Perhaps the recent events in the Tower, not to mention his injuries, distract him. Perhaps he's simply unwilling to futher discuss a blood mage with so many armed and anxious Templars about.

Sens covers her reaction to the mention of Jowan a little better when she makes the request that brought them here. She states it baldly, driving the words in without noticeable emotion; just like nearly everything else, it's a mere statement of fact. "The Arl of Redcliffe's son has been possessed."

Irving's eyebrows rise.

"A mage who'd only just started showing signs," she says, stitching facts together. Zevran smooths away the smirk her lie of omission brings to his face. "When his father grew ill, he was approached in the Fade."

"And how do you know all this?"

Sens makes a face that Zevran hesitates to call a smile. It's all teeth and no humor. In fact, it reminds him of a creature he once saw, a 'monkey' tied to the wrist of a mercenary from Par Vollen. Some poor fool had tried to withdraw an offered coin from its grasp; it had bared its teeth in exactly Sens's current fashion before bloodying the the man's face with its sharp little claws.

"Many impertinent questions."

Irving nods as if asking impertinent questions is something Sens frequently does. Given the bluntness with which she's handled most of the people around her, Zevran rather suspects it is.

"You would need mages and lyrium to separate the boy from the demon where they join in the Fade... Yes. We should leave immediately." He pauses. There's a canny gleam in his eye. "And while we're on the way, you can tell me what you know of the Arl's illness."

Zevran looks at the sky when they leave, listens to the grass and the lake. Carroll and another Templar — Bran, he believes he hears Greagoir call him — row them across. It turns out the Templars keep a boat as well, so he, Dog, and Sens sit in a boat with Bran, while Wynne, Irving, and two other mages ride with Carroll.

He notes Caroll secreting away a pair of small vials into his gauntlets once they're all ashore. He files that information away, should he ever need to bribe or blackmail the Templar -- which, considering Sens and considering his luck, seems likely.

It's very nearly the only thing of note during the day-long walk back to Redcliffe Castle. Irving and Sens discuss -- his volume hushed and her tone blank — Eamon's condition, but the conversation soon switches to Tevinter. Zevran's ears practically perk: finally, a chance to begin to make sense of the Warden.

Irving speaks with the highly-trained academic accent that makes all the words sound like nasal droning. Sens is more natural, but the words seem to simply flow out of her, too quickly for him to follow by finding words shared between Antivan and Tevinter.

She seems more animated speaking this language. Is she more comfortable in it? More comfortable with Irving?

Wynne adds something, slowly and beautifully eununciated, and Zevran manages to pick out the words "forest" and "return."

Sens stares hard at Wynne. Her face and voice shutter away all emotion from her reply in rapid syllables of Tevinter.

And pieces start falling into place. He puts together that she speaks Elvish, that Irving regrets her being "taken" from a forest, that Wynne thinks she'll go back. And when he has a shape of an understanding from those facts, the stoicism and focus on duty begin to make sense.

The only piece that doesn't fit is the lightning-fast conversational Tevinter.

He mulls over that while they walk. Irving and Sens abandon their conversation so Wynne can cast minor healing spells on him whenever they stop to allow the mages rest. They stop far more often than he'd like — but they've spent how many years stuck in that Tower? Sens's endurance seems the exception that proves the rule, and he suspects that's hard-won.

The keep of Redcliffe Castle appears a few hours before sunset. Sens slows her pace; Zevran drifts toward her.

"Morrigan," she explains too quietly for the exhausted mages to hear.

It takes him a moment to find any significance, simply because of the absence of preamble. But Morrigan was never in the Circle, was she? Alistair certainly seems to think not, though Morrigan herself has never said anything definitive on the matter.

"Do you wish her warned to stay out of sight? I could move on ahead."

Sens considers this. Actual expressions flit across her face for several moments, each one gone sooner than the last.

But then she shakes her head. "No. She knows to hide it."

Sens picks up her pace after that, causing one of the mages to groan. Zevran falls back to the rear, the better to visually encourage stragglers to hurry. It's amazing what a pair of blades can do, even sheathed.

The day's shadows have just begun to lengthen into late evening when they finally pass under Redcliffe Castle's porticullis. Zevran looks around to take the measure of the courtyard.

But nothing seems any more wrong than it did when they left.

Zevran and Dog take point nonetheless as they all mount the stairs. The heavy oak doors swing open almost as easily as his hand finds his hidden dagger.

They find no new corpses, no new bloodstains. He watches a little tension drain from the line of Sens's shoulders.

Leliana is the first to greet them. If ducking from around a corner, arrow nocked and bowstring drawn back counts as a greeting.

She eases her hold on the string slowly before she lowers the bow. The sign of a professional: none of the too-quick, sloppy movements he's seen from too many hired archers to count.

"Sens! Thank the Maker that you're safe," Leliana says as she sinks the arrow back into her quiver. "You should make a bit more noise, Zevran; I'd hate to shoot the man guarding our other Warden and the mages."

Before Zevran can make a comment on how very expendable and unloved he suddenly feels and how sad it makes him, she brightens and adds, "Oh, at last we can save that poor boy! Alistair will be so happy. We should begin right away, don't you think?"

Perhaps he underestimates the mages. Perhaps he's just a deeply cynical man. Regardless, Zevran doubts they'll be up the task just yet.

Irving proves him wrong by stepping forward. The old mage's solemn tone gives no sign of the exhaustion he'd expected. "Yes. The sooner the ritual is begun, the better for us all."

Leliana's expression turns grave to match his. "You are most certainly right." To Sens, she says, "We've had no sign of Connor since you left."

"None?" Sens moves forward, to and past Leliana. She slings her staff off her shoulder as she goes.

Zevran draws his second dagger.

"Not even his corpse armies. And Alistair has been staring at the door to the Arl's quarters almost since you left."

Sens tenses. Her grip on the staff tightens, and then she relaxes. "His negation?"

"He has yet to say just what the matter is. Perhaps it's his Templar training, but I cannot say for certain."

Two of the mages shuffle awkardly, as if they're simultaneously trying to follow Irving's lead and back away from the mere mention of a Templar. Zevran widens his stance to block the exit and smiles at the mage who looks his way.

Sens swipes her hand down and away from her body. "Sten and Morrigan?"

"Sten is standing watch on one of the body larders, in case they begin to rise." Leliana's tone has turned brisk, as if dragging corpses into closets is normal. "Morrigan was brewing elfroot draughts and making poultices, the last I saw of her."

"Good." Sens pauses. She adjusts her grip on her staff needlessly for a moment before adding, "I was wrong."

"I'm not the one who needs to hear that," Leliana replies. Despite the correction, there's no note of reproof in her voice, and her tone turns gentle when she adds, "You know we must sometimes make our decisions for the many, rather than the few. I'm glad it is not necessary, but I can see how easily it might have been."

Dog whines. Zevran reaches out, but the mabari ignores him and butts his head against Sens's hand. She scratches him without looking away from Leliana.

Leliana leads them through blood-spattered hallways. He catches the faint sound of murmuring from the chapel. A woman's voice — Isolde's, perhaps?

Ser Perth and the other knights line the Great Hall. Ser Perth gives Sens a startled but relieved look. He opens his mouth to say something, but stops when she sweeps past him without bothering to akcnowledge his presence.

The relative sanity of the courtyard and Great Hall make the horror that is the staircase and upper floor seem grotesque. Broken bodies litter a floor rancid and sticky with congealed blood. Flies buzz in thick knots, and the stench — almost as bad as the Circle Tower — is nearly enough to knock him down.

And Alistair has been up here since shortly after they left? The boy's either very dedicated or a masochist.

Or, he realizes when Teagan and Alistair come into sight, downright obsessive. Teagan has hung a longsword from a baldric; that seems to be his first concession to the imminent danger.

Alistair stands next to his uncle with his shoulders taut. His fists curl and uncurl, sometimes so forcefully that his gauntlets creak. Every time he flexes his fist, a muscle in his neck jumps.

No wonder Leliana said he was staring. This isn't standing watch. He's aiming himself at the Arl's quarters and whatever might come from them.


He doesn't even look up at the sound of Leliana's voice. His eyes flick briefly toward them, but then he resumes focus on the door.

It's Dog and Sens who grab his attention: Dog noses Alistair's hip and lets out an irritated-sounding whuff. When Alistair half jumps, Sens says, "We're back."

He turns fully toward them. Relief eases the tight line of his shoulders, the way he clenches his jaw.

"Sens! You've... you've brought them! I half thought..."

"So she has. Rest, lad, " Irving says. His tone speaks of pity, or perhaps something a bit softer than that. Sorrow? Sympathy? Zervran can't quite identify it. "We'll begin the ritual as soon as we've decided who will enter the Fade."

Sens looks away from Alistair. She watches the doorway for a silent moment, but then she moves back toward the rest of them. "I'll go."

That settles it. The afternoon and evening race away from there; events seem to flow by so quickly he can't reach for them, much less follow them.

Sens and the other mages discuss exactly what they'll need. From what he can glean amidst the jargon, Sens wants to perform the ritual immediately. Irving looks around them, clearly dissatisfied with the available space, and overrules her. Zevran almost wants to ask how it could be so difficult to work with a little blood around, but he's actually glad enough to follow them back down the stairs.

Sens, Irving, and Wynne bicker all the way down the stairs. The Great Hall settles their argument somehow, perhaps simply by being at the bottom of the stairs and not stinking of corpses.

The mages waste no time lighting candles and pouring lyrium, much to thge alarm of Ser Perth and his knights. Sens watches them a moment, then pulls Alistair and Leliana aside. He almost joins them, but the pinched look on Leliana's face makes him keep his distance. He overhears just enough to recognize a more full report of what happened while they were away, but he's satisfied with the facts as they stand.

The mages and the increasingly twitchy knights bear far more watching than the past.

When they begin a chant that makes the hair on the back of Zevran's neck stand up, Ser Perth sidles up to him.

"Is it... safe, you think, to be in here?"

He stares at the knight for a moment. That's a rather astounding lack of perspective regarding relative dangers from a man-at-arms who spent a night fighting off the walking dead.

Perth shifts his weight. "Ah, yes. I susppose if it were dangerous to be in the same room, they'd have sent us all away."

The thought doesn't seem to calm him.

"If you're disappointed, I'm sure there's always the possibility that another could be possessed."

"Dear Maker, no!" Perth's gasp draws Sens's gaze, but she returns to her discussion with Alistair and Leliana. "I just -- I mean, it's magic. How can you be so calm?"

"We've both seen much worse than a few people singing." Zevran considers this. "I admit the glow isn't very becoming, but week-old corpses are worse."

He watches that thought trickle into the knight's brain. The knight nods, but the fingers of one hand rise reflexively to a Chantry amulet. He suspects it's one of the amulets Sens convinced the Revered Mother to offer the knights, over Leliana's protests.

"Regardless, I rather doubt we're needed." And with that, Perth strides from the room. His knights follow him.

Zevran watches them go, wondering if moving that quickly and jerkily in plate mail might cause it to pinch, and whether Alistair could answer that question without turning five new shades of red and passing out.

Morrigan enters the Great Hall in their midst. Her pace is calm, sedate, as if she's not an illegal mage about to come face-to-face with a party from the Circle.

She joins Sens, Alistair, and Leliana in their conversation. He can't quite repress his smirk when Alistair makes a disgusted noise and pulls away. Leliana follows after a moment, looking little happier.

Two of the mages fall silent, leaving only Irving's baritone and a nameless mage's soprano as a duet. Perhaps it's wrong to think of spell casting as singing, but the two voices weave Ancient Tevinter into an intricate melody in unsettling dissonance.

Then Irving goes quiet, leaving the soprano to a sustained note. She chants one more incomprehensible line and then she, too, ceases. The staffs never stop glowing.

Sens steps toward them.

Alistair reaches out to grab her arm. When she looks back at him, he tells her, "Before you go... I just want to say I'm glad you chose this route. It's... it's the best of the options, even if it didn't always look it."

There's raw, genuine gratitude in his voice, and his face is open, earnest. This is not the effusive, insincere thanks offered to them by rote. Sens stares at him a moment, as if she has no idea how to form a reply.

She most likely doesn't. Zevran knows what he would do, but Sens isn't one to laugh things away.

Awkward silence stretches between them, until at last Sens lays her hand on top of his. She stays like that, half-turned toward him with her smaller hand on top of his, for just a few moments. Long enough for it to be a message, but not over-long.

And then she lets go. She traces a cautious path past the candles, toward the lyrium. Morrigan draws in a hissing breath when she reaches out -- and then lyrium glows silver white on dark skin. Zevran has to look away; he hears Dog whine.

He looks back and doesn't bother to bite back a curse. She's falling, curling in on herself as she sinks. He's fast, but he wasn't prepared for it; the pull of the earth is faster.

Alistair reaches her in time, manages to catch her just before her torso hits the ground. The other Warden swings her up and into his arms as easily as if she were a child.

Once he has her, the Templar stands there a moment. He shifts his hold on her, practically fidgeting. Zevran doesn't bother to hide his smirk at the sight of that. There's the dim possibility that Alistair isn't sure how to carry someone wearing less protective gear than his splintmail. There's the very great possibility that this is the first time Alistair has ever had a woman in his arms. That's the explanation he would bet on, were anybody laying odds.

But after the initial awkwardness, Alistair settles into a position. The stance looks remarkably like he's cradling a child. The sight only emphasizes the differences in their sizes, and that only serves to make her look fragile. Stranger even that that, her face has slackened from its usual mask. She looks young now that she's not freezing her face into grim stoicism.

This frail-looking woman turned into a bear and nearly broke his ribs, defeating him soundly, while Alistair and Leliana made short work of his hired team?

He turns his gaze on the other people in the room. The mages are all still concentrating. Leliana looks startled, while Morrigan --

Morrigan tenses, relaxes, and then crosses to a bare spot on the floor. She kneels to push and tug at the carpet, finally succeeding in creating a lump.

"Lay her here," Morrigan says.

"Close to the lyrium." Alistair nods. "Right."

He carries across the room, then her sets her down gently. Perhaps surprisingly, given how well they seem to know each other, he doesn't linger and find excuses to continue touching her.

"I guess... now we wait," he says as he stands. "And hope."

Minutes scratch by. They claw their way into an hour, and then another hour. Alistair leans against a wall, looking at nothing. Leliana produces her lock picks and examines them closely, looking for flaws. Morrigan prowls the room, though 'prowling' is perhaps not the right word for a woman whose grace belongs more to a spider than a mountain cat.

Sens makes a sound. The noise is soft. Barely more than a gasp, really. She sucks in a breath and releases it in a groan. It's the same sound she made waking from the Sloth demon's nightmare, hits the same sweet spot in him now that it did then.

Morrigan, Wynne, and Dog all move toward her at the same time. Wynne drops to one knee to inspect the Warden, while Morrigan stands behind her. Dog simply nuzzles Sens, sniffing her face. Wynne tryes to shoo him away with a fluttered hand. He growls in response, but then licks the side of Sens's head and retreats.

Sens makes a face, but curls in on herself for a moment before she wipes the dog drool from her hair. It takes her a few moments of rest to rise, unsteadily, to her feet. Once she's standing, the leather armor and her usual mask combine to make her seem larger than she is. She stretches and then tries to stifle a yawn. It escapes regardless, huge as the yawn of a bear emerging from hibernation. She looks startled for a moment before she resumes the grim look.

Alistair crosses toward her. When he draws near, he reaches a hand out, as if to steady her. "Welcome back."

"It's done," she says.

The glow that suffuses the room finally dims. Irving and his trio of nameless mages begin to stir.

"Then let's go tell the lucky mother, huh?" There's a smile in Alistair's voice, but he's not fool enough to miss the note of tension that hides beneath it. And there's certainly no way not to see the taut line of Alistair's shoulders.

Sens shakes her head. "Connor comes first."

That draws a chuckle from Wynne. "Checking your work?"

Morrigan makes a derisive noise.

"Alistair, Bann Teagan, he'll need to be handled carefully." Sens speaks as if Wynne hadn't addressed her. "Familiar people would be better. Calm is key."

"Familiar, but not his mother?" Teagan crosses his arms.

"Indeed. Sens has a point." Wynne shakes her head. "Mother and child renuions are often fraught with emotion. Too much too soon could overwhelm him, and may make the process painful for them both."

"So, what, keep him from her?" Alistair shakes his head. "That's cruel. Not an option."

Sens turns to Alistair. She says nothing for a long moment, waits until he looks away from her before she says, "Hardly. You or Bann Teagan should greet him, then offer to take him to his mother."

"The one thing he doesn't need is to wake alone."

There's a pause as the room absorbs Wynne's meaning. Alistair and Teagan look to each other, and then start a mad dash for the stairs. Sens waits a moment, and then says, "Dog. Follow them."

Dog barks once and trots toward Sens before he goes, sits patiently in front of her until she buries her fingers in his fur. She gives him a few dutiful scratches. But Zevran sees her knees tremble. She has to lean into Dog to keep her balance.

The mabari doesn't step away from her until she can carry her own weight again. He whines softly before he leaves, following Alistair and Teagan.

"Someone should tell Sten that it's over." Sens turns to regard the rest of them. Morrigan opens her mouth, but Sens cuts a hand through the air. "No, Morrigan."

Leliana gives a swift nod. "I will return shortly." She sweeps from the room, adding with a smile. "Perhaps Sten will even come with me!"

Morrigan makes a disgusted noise and follows after. Just before Sens can speak, Morrigan waves a hand. "Never fear. I'll avoid Sten for now. But you know my opinion on children."

Sens makes no reply. Morrigan apparently takes the lack of objection for acceptance. She's out of the room within instants, off and away in the opposite direction of Leliana, to judge by sound.

It's only then that the other mages finally rouse themselves from whatever trance they were in. Irving takes the measure of the room and smiles. "I take it you were successful, Sens?"

"It's over."

He chuckles. "And now all that remains is the renuion, I suppose. That is where the others have gone?"

But she doesn't need to answer. Alistair and Teagan return with the boy in tow. His eyes are deeply shadowed and his mouth has drawn into a thin line. He stops in the doorway, trembling for a moment when he sees all of them. He fists one hand in the ruff of fur on Dog's neck.

Sens turns to them. Without moving from her spot, she softens her face and asks, gentler than Zevran has ever heard her, "Connor? I'm Sens, your cousin Alistair's friend. Now that you're awake, would you like to see your mother?"

The boy's eyes widen. His trembling turns to outright shaking.

Teagan clasps a hand on Connor's shoulder. "It's all right, lad. Sens and Alistair have helped us very much."

"M-mother might not want to see me. I've..."

"What happened wasn't your fault." Sens's tone brooks no argument, though her expression never hardens. "You didn't have anyone to warn you."

"What about Jowan?"

Oh, that's not good. That's very, very not good. Especially not good is the way Irving gives Sens a tight, pointed look.

Sens ignores the look. Instead, she asks Connor, bluntly, "Did Jowan warn you about the Beyond?"

"The what?"

"The Fade, child, the Fade. Did this... Jowan... ever mention it to you?" Wynne says Jowan's name delicately, as if the word might bite.

Connor shakes his head.

"Then how could you ever have known?"

Some of the fear leaves Connor's face at Wynne's gentle question.

"Connor," Sens says, equally gently. "Your mother will be happy to see you awake, no matter what. That's how mothers are."

Connor pauses, opens his mouth, but then he goes silent and looks to Alistair. He never says the words, but Zevran can hear them regardless: Not mine.

Alistair gives him a crooked grin and leans down. "Tell you what. I'll be right behind you. You know she can't get angry at you with me around."

Connor nods at that.

They find Isolde in the chapel with her forehead touched to a bare spot on the altar. Her eyes are closed so tightly that she doesn't notice them.

Zevran stops, waiting for Sens to speak. But she rests a hand on Alistair's upper arm again, and Alistair pats Connor on the shoulder.


Isolde jerks away from the altar. She nearly trips as she stands and whirls to face them. Her eyes light up, her lips curving in glee.

"C-Connor? My boy!" She reaches out, and there's only an instant of hesitation before Connor runs to her.

Mother and child reunions, Zevran thinks distantly as the noblewoman enfolds her son in an embrace. It's strange to watch them and their simple, obvious joy. When was the last time he'd played any part in making someone this happy?

He can remember the last time he knifed a man in the liver. He can remember the last time he had to improvise a garrotte. He remembers all too well the last time he spent the night with someone.

But he doesn't remember making anyone happy like this. Except Rinna.

They leave the Chapel and adjourn to the Great Hall for a meal, or something like one. There's no one to cook -- if indeed cooking could be done given the kitchen's state -- and none of the sitting rooms have been cleaned yet. Isolde explains as much in a heavily-accented apology.

Poor nobles, he thinks. Fools, idealists, and all but useless. At least Antivan nobility have an actual trade, even if that trade is organizing cells of assassins.

Sens and Alistair both eat with gusto. It's typical for them, but it's still strange to see a woman shorter than he is eat just as much as the six-foot ex-Templar -- and Alistair easily eats enough for three. Connor, too, eats heartily, while Isolde picks at a slice of bread. She eats almost none of it.

Perhaps more important than appetite is placement: Isolde sits adjacent to the group, perhaps where the head of a table might be, were they not eating on the floor. Sens sits between Alistair and Isolde, with Teagan across from her, and Connor on Alistair's far side.

Zevran watches with interest as Teagan and Sens share the duty of drawing Isolde's attention from Alistair. They seem to manage it with ease. When they don't, Zevran almost winces. He and Alistair have their share of issus, but Isolde seems have dug the claws in and can't draw them out again.

Doesn't she have better things to do than needle the reason Connor wasn't killed out of hand?

At last, Sens's face shutters closed. That makes him sit up and take notice. And Sens doesn't disappoint; she cuts a hand through the air and says, "I need to speak with the arl." The I am done with you now, though unspoken, comes through quite clearly.

Teagan and Isolde both recoil a bit. Teagan recovers first, though Isolde smoothes her face into serenity in record time.

"The arl is deathly ill. We'd sent out Redcliffe's knights to retrieve Andraste's Sacred Ashes, but none returned with them."

Sens looks to Alistair. She arches an eyebrow for an instant.

Alistair clears his throat, then hems and haws, and finally producses a tiny leather pouch from his pack. "You mean these ashes?"

The reaction from the nobles makes up for the weeks he spent slathering elfroot on his ribcage and trying not to breathe in too deeply. Truly, he's fallen in with amusing companions.

"A-are those...?" But Isolde doesn't finish her question. The answer rings clear through Alistair's earnest expression, the way Leliana turns solem. "You found them! How did you know we needed them?"

"We met Ser Donall in Lothering," Alistair says. "Did he ever return here?"

It's Teagan's turn to look grave. "Just in time for the start of the other troubles. He was killed the second night."

"I see." Alistair looks down, but then his eyes alight on the pouch of ashes. That seems to cheer him. "Well, are we going to see if these can cure him? We might even be lucky enough to start a saving people streak."

Zevran doesn't accompany either of the Wardens into the Arl's room. Between Teagan, Isolde, Alistair, Sens, Connor, a priest fetched from the Redcliffe Chantry, Wynne, and the other mages, the room is full as it is. That wouldn't have stopped him, but the look Wynne sends his way has him stepping back from the threshold.

Apparently, Wynne wants him to stay away from the Arl as payment for her earlier distraction of the other mages. It's probably just as well. He's a notorious bad influence, after all.

Half an hour after they all went in, they file out. Teagan and Alistair support a white-haired man he assumes is the Arl. Wynne follows closely, her brow furrowed in concentration, with Isolde right after. Sens trails the group with a hand on Connor's shoulder.

The boy looks caught between delight and terror, as if he simultaneously wants to jump up and down in glee and bolt. Zevran pushes away from the wall to follow them. He can't help watching the way his Warden steers the boy without ever tightening her grip.

She truly is used to working with children, then.

Sens lets the boy go when they reach the Great Hall, but it's clear that her attention is on the recitation of events that Teagan launches into. Isolde fills in a few details.

It's Alistair who tells the story of Ostagar in full. Zevran listens closely to the tale. He's heard Loghain's version, and snatches of what Alistair, Morrigan, and Sens lived. He's never heard the truth in full.

That's when he catches himself: he believes his targets over his last employer.

How did it come to this?

He snaps back to attention at Sens's sudden sharp question: "You intend to put Alistair forward as king?"

"I would not propose such a thing if we had an alternative. But the unthinkable has occurred." Despite Eamon's heavy-hearted manner, the man doesn't seem particularly broken up about the idea of Alistair on the throne.

Zevran weighs the idea of the senior Warden on the throne. That Eamon doesn't find the idea deeply terrifying makes him instantly suspicious.

Whether Sens finds it suspicious or not, he truly cannot tell. She aims herself at the Arl, stands with her hands folded behind her back, and never once changes position or posture. Perhaps her stare -- if it is a stare -- spurs him on to greater explanation. Perhaps he would have explained regardless.

"Teagan and I have a claim through marriage, but we would seem opportunists, no better than Loghain. Alistair's claim is by blood."

Alistair's mail chimes. "And what about me? Does anyone care what I want?"

"You have a responsibility, Alistair. Without you, Loghain wins. I would have to support him, for the sake of Ferelden. Is that what you want?"

"I... but I... no, I don't. My lord."

A nice double-bind, Zevran can't help but think. Play on Alistair's utter hatred of Loghain, present an either/or situation, and let Alistair's apparent inability to think past grief and anger do all the rest. Quite ingenius, really, except for the part where Sens radiates grim disapproval without ever saying a word.

Eamon stares at her. Maybe he senses that if Alistair is an object to be moved, and his hatred of Loghain is the lever, then Sens is the fulcrum. Maybe he simply finds her silence discomfiting.

"As it is," he says, "I see only one way to proceed. I will call for a Landsmeet, a gathering of all of Ferelden's nobility in the city of Denerim. There, Ferelden can decide who shall rule, one way or another."

Sens finally moves: she looks to Alistair, who seems too busy staring at the floor to notice. Her face shutters closed. Impossible as it seems, she stands even straighter when she turns back to Eamon.

"Call this Landsmeet," she says. Her tone permits no argument, but offers no insight to her thoughts. She's walled herself away again. "While Alistair agrees, you have my aid."