pariswriter: (Default)
Title:  The Ferelden Chronicles - Chapter Ten
Author:  ParisWriter
Game:  Dragon Age: Origins
Summary:  Varia Surana thought her life had already been mapped out for her. She would be a mage of the Circle of Ferelden, studying and perfecting her craft. However, an unforseen series of events sends her headlong into a world thrown into chaos by the King's death and an impending Blight.
Rating:  T/PG-13
Pairings:  Cullen/Surana; eventual Alistair/Surana
Characters (This Chapter):  Varia Surana, Alistair, Duncan, Daveth, Jory
Disclaimer:  Dragon Age characters, settings, and any dialogue taken from the game ©BioWare. Varia belongs to me.  
Content Warning:  Mage Origin Spoilers; Overall game spoilers; Adult language; Mild violence; mature content in later chapters

In this chapter: Varia and the other recruits receive their first orders from Duncan, but not before a seemingly crazed soldier delivers a dire warning to her.


Chapter Ten: Omens and Orders

Varia followed Alistair away from the ruined temple, her steps falling heavily as tiredness started to finally settle upon her. She hadn't slept since she passed out from exhaustion back at the tower, and she and Duncan had been traveling non-stop all night and half the day just to reach Ostagar before night fell once more. She'd been running on adrenaline the entire time thanks to the combination of the threat upon her life from Greagoir and the argument she'd had with the senior Grey Warden at The Spoiled Princess, and now she was finally crashing. Her foot slipped off the bottom step leading back down to the upper courtyard, causing her to lose her balance, and she tumbled forward into Alistair. He brought his arms up to catch her, chuckling a bit, and she blushed as she pushed him away and stood up straight once more.

"You okay?" he asked, still smiling.

"I'm fine," she insisted, smoothing out her robes. "I was simply distracted, that's all."

"Distracted about what?" Alistair wondered, allowing her to walk a bit ahead of him.

"I keep wondering what that argument I saw was about," she told him, turning to look at him with her head cocked slightly to one side. She hoped that by steering the conversation in a specific direction he would forget about her nearly falling onto her face in front of him.

"With the mage?" He waited for her nod to continue. "Well, the Circle is here at the king's request and the Chantry doesn't like that one bit, as you can probably imagine. They just love letting the mages know how unwelcome they are."

"Of course they do," Varia muttered bitterly, walking away from him with a shake of her head, and Alistair fell into step at her side. "I actually saw a group of  mages performing some sort of ritual when I arrived and then when I attempted to see if you had been there, the templars simply brushed me off and provided me with absolutely no help at all."

"But you found me," Alistair told her with a wink. "That's what's important. Anyway, the entire situation with that mage put me in a bit of an awkward position. I was once a templar, after all."

"That would be awkward," Varia remarked with a smirk, knowing just how much the majority of her fellow mages absolutely despised their Chantry-appointed keepers.

"I'm sure the Revered Mother meant it as an insult – sending me as her messenger – and the mage picked right up on that. I never would have agreed to deliver it in the first place, but Duncan says we're all to cooperate and get along. Apparently, they didn't get the same speech I did."

"Wait." Varia turned and stopped him with a hand upon his chest. "Before, you said you weren't really a templar. Now you're telling me that you are one. So which is it?"

"I never actually became a full templar, but I was trained as one," he explained. "Duncan recruited me before I took my vows. That was about... six months ago."

"Did you enjoy being a templar?" she wondered, crossing her arms defensively over her chest. He didn't seem to be the sort who would gain pleasure out of hunting down mages, but perhaps it was just a facade.

Alistair let out a bark of laughter in response to the question. "I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not exactly the Chantry type. Don't get me wrong: I believe in the Maker as much as the next man, but I'm not the sort of person who wants to give up their entire life to serve His name."

"What does that have to do with whether or not you enjoyed being a templar?"

"Oh! You're asking if I enjoyed the whole 'oppress all mages' bit? The answer is no. Look, I know you're a mage and being around me probably makes you uncomfortable... but it wasn't my idea. I was raised in the Chantry, and they decided my fate a long time ago."

"You really had no contact with mages through your entire training?" she wondered, narrowing her eyes at him in suspicion.

"I was only present during one Harrowing," Alistair said, steering her away from the group of mages she had seen earlier as they walked toward them. "That was all I needed, too. I don't know how anyone could get through that."

"I admit, it's not an easy feat. I only just took my own Harrowing two days ago," she told him, not seeing any harm in giving away the fact that it was a difficult test. It wasn't like she was telling him every detail of exactly what went on during the Harrowing, after all.

"Really?" Alistair asked her, his tone full of surprise. "Well, I must say you don't look like someone who just went through that ordeal. Anyway, the girl whose Harrowing I witnessed failed. She had a demon put inside her, to see if she could resist. And she couldn't. We had to... end it quickly." A shudder ran through his body at the memory of what he'd witnessed that day, the way the girl's body had started to change and how quickly the Knight-Commander had reacted, easily stepping forward and beheading the girl like he was simply splitting a log for firewood.

Varia stopped walking and remained silent for a moment, thinking about everything he had told her about his time as a templar. He'd become a Grey Warden six months ago, which meant that he would have to have witnessed this Harrowing sometime before then. Since he sounded Fereldan, she assumed he must have also been at Kinloch Hold for this Harrowing. Which meant...

"Do you remember the name of the girl?" she asked him quietly, looking him straight in the eye.

"I'm....not sure," Alistair said, breaking the eye contact to look up at the sky thoughtfully. "It was something like... Jasmine... Josephine..."

"Jocelyn?" Varia suggested, her breath catching in her throat.

"That's it!" Alistair smiled at her, but his smile fell when he saw the look of profound sadness on her face. "You knew her?"

"She was a friend," Varia told him, her voice almost too quiet for him to hear. "One of the few I had. Please tell me you weren't the one who--"

"No!" Alistair interrupted her, holding up his hands in front of him and shaking his head. "No, no, no... I couldn't have done it, even if they told me to. The Knight-Commander did it."

"Greagoir. Of course." Varia groaned. He would take pleasure in cutting down the apprentices who failed their Harrowing. In fact, if Cullen hadn't been the one tasked with killing her in the event of her failure, she was willing to bet he would have been the first in line to do the deed if for no other reason than to spite Irving.

"I have to say I didn't have much interest in becoming a templar after that incident," Alistair continued. "Not that I really had much of an interest, to begin with. The Grand Cleric didn't want to let me go, though. Duncan was forced to conscript me into the Wardens, and was she ever furious when he did. I thought she was going to have us both arrested on the spot."

Varia laughed. "I could see that happening, to be honest. The Chantry doesn't exactly take kindly to those who go against their wishes, after all. Duncan actually had to conscript me, as well, or else I might have been facing a death penalty."

"What in Andraste's name did you do?" Alistair asked her, a surprised laugh escaping him.

"I'd really rather not talk about it, if you don't mind," she answered, her tone sharp, and he nodded solemnly.

"I understand," he remarked, averting his eyes from her face. "We all have some secrets from our past lives before the Wardens that we'd rather not share."

Varia once more found herself regarding him with a fair amount of suspicion. It wasn't so much what he said that had hit a nerve with her, but the fact that he hadn't been able to look at her when he said it. It seemed that he might also be hiding something about himself from the rest of the Wardens. And while she was quite curious as to what that something was, she decided to not push him for an answer. After all, he had respected her privacy and it was only courteous for her to grant him the same consideration.

"Why was the Grand Cleric so eager to keep you?" she asked, instead. "After all, you said you weren't exactly the type who's suited for a life of service to the Chantry."

"You know, I've wondered that myself on many occasions. It's not as if she valued me highly. On the contrary, she would more often than not be lecturing me on how I wasn't applying myself or how I was setting a bad example for the younger recruits with my flippant attitude. Honestly, I think she just didn't want to give anything to the Grey Wardens." He shrugged. "The Chantry didn't lose much, and I think I can do more good out here fighting the darkspawn  than I ever would have sitting in a temple somewhere or standing around at the Circle giving mages the evil eye."

"Well, I'm glad you were lucky enough to get away from that life," Varia told him with a smile. "It seems you made it out just in time, too."

"That's for sure," Alistair agreed, returning her smile, and Varia felt herself starting to blush. She was sure he hadn't meant it to be a flirtatious gesture, but the way in which he'd said those words had caused her to feel a bit giddy inside. The tone of his voice had been a slightly lower than normal, and it hit a spot inside her just right to send her heart racing.

"We should probably get back to Duncan," she suggested, turning away from him and continuing on her way to the Grey Warden camp. She didn't get very far before a man in full armor with disheveled red hair lunged at her and grasped her tightly by her upper arms.

"You... You need to convince them!" he pleaded with her, and Varia winced as his fingers dug mercilessly into her arms. "We've got to run! The darkspawn are coming!"

"There are Grey Wardens here, you know," Alistair assured the man, grasping him firmly by his wrists and forcing him to let go of her.

"The Grey Wardens will die!" the soldier insisted, turning wild eyes to Alistair and lunging at him, instead. He clawed futilely at his armor, trying to grasp onto it, and sunk to the ground on his knees when he failed. "The king will die! We'll all die!"

"What's wrong with him?" Varia quietly asked Alistair as the man curled up into at ball at their feet and began moaning and sobbing uncontrollably.

"There you are!" called a woman with dark hair wearing lighter armor in the same colors. She rushed to the man's side and knelt next to him, whispering comforting words, but the man didn't seem to hear her.

"I apologize, Warden," she addressed Alistair, looking up at him. "He's been like this ever since they found him in the Wilds."

"Where are the rest of the men of his scouting party?" Alistair asked the woman, who was now attempting to apply a healing poultice to the man. He wouldn't stay still, however, and more of it ended up on the ground than on his wounds.

"All dead, I fear. We couldn't get a straight answer out of him, though. Just this rambling nonsense. Aside from his wounds, however, there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with him. There's no sign of the taint. He's just... terrified."

"If I may?" Varia offered, kneeling on the other side of the man and holding out her hands over him. The dark-haired woman nodded, and she used a mild sleeping spell to help calm him before casting the one healing spell she knew upon his injured body. It was only a minor spell, and she knew it wouldn't be enough to heal him completely, but perhaps it would assist the other woman – who she assumed to be some sort of nurse – to properly treat his injuries.

"You!" the man exclaimed, his hand shooting out and grasping Varia by the collar of her robes. He pulled her closer toward him, his eyes boring into hers, and she quickly began struggling against his hold. She hadn't been able to see it before, but now that she was close to him she noticed that the parts of his eyes which should have been white were starting to turn a sickly black color. The nurse had said he was untainted, but Blight sickness or not the man was very ill.

"You can feel it, can't you?" he asked, his low whisper still carrying to her sensitive elven ears even over the shouting of Alistair and the nurse, who were both trying to pry him away from her. "They taint the land, turn it black and sick. You can feel it inside! They'll come out of that forest and spread! Like caterpillars covering a tree, they'll come out and they'll swallow us whole! They were everywhere... I saw them!"

He suddenly let her go, sending her sprawling backwards onto the ground next to him, and once more began to sob helplessly. Varia continued to stare at him even as Alistair helped her to her feet, her breath coming out in shallow gasps. She knew he was likely mad, but there had been something in his eyes... something that told her he was speaking the truth, no matter how crazy it seemed. Alistair had a point, though. The Grey Wardens were there, ready to take on the darkspawn with the help of the King's Army and the forces of every noble family in Ferelden. The darkspawn stood little chance of surviving a fight with that many soldiers against them. Shaking off the man's warning, she assured Alistair that she was fine and brushed away the hands of both him and the nurse which were checking her over for injuries.

"I said I'm fine," she repeated, looking from the nurse to her escort. "He didn't hurt me."

Alistair visibly relaxed when she said that, and she thought it was both sweet and infuriating that he would be so concerned with her well-being after merely being grabbed by some insane soldier. He'd only had her by her robes, after all. It would have been entirely different if his hands had been around her neck, choking the life out of her. Though, in that case, she guessed her survival instincts would have kicked in and he most likely would have ended up electrocuted like that bandit she had killed as a child.

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and shook her head slightly to push back the memory before it rose to the surface and caused her to break down again like she had when Duncan first told her it wasn't just a rumor.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Alistair asked her, resting his hand on her shoulder.

"Yes," she assured him, placing her hand on top of his and looking up into his worried hazel eyes with a small smile.

"Good," he said, letting out a relieved sigh. "I'd hate to have you getting hurt right after we've just met."

"I'm not completely helpless, Alistair," she reminded him with a laugh.

"Right. You're a mage." Alistair nodded, scratching the back of his head a bit sheepishly. "Sorry, it's just that I'm not used to being around women of your... caliber. I grew up around Chantry sisters and was taught to protect them and--"

"You don't need to explain, Alistair," she cut him off, sensing he was about to begin rambling about how he'd been brought up to think all women were pure and innocent and defenseless. "I understand."

"Right," Alistair said, then blushed when he realized he was repeating himself. He quickly turned on his heel and started walking away from her, and Varia followed him past a large group of soldiers who had gathered for a prayer session being led by the Revered Mother. She paused for a moment to listen, recalling the times she had heard parts of the Chant recited in the small chapel at the Circle tower. She'd never attended any of the sermons, personally – the only mage she knew who did so was that strange girl, Keili, who saw her own magic as a curse – but she had waited outside the chapel many times for Cullen.

"Varia?"

She looked toward Alistair and found him standing halfway between the prayer group and the Grey Wardens' camp. The volume of his voice had carried over the sound of the Revered Mother's recitation of the Chant of Light, causing her to stop her preaching and glare at the mage who dared to cause the disruption. Varia bowed apologetically and scurried off after Alistair, placing him between herself and the soldiers the rest of the way to the camp where Duncan was waiting with Jory and Daveth.

"I see you found Alistair," Duncan remarked when they approached, crossing his arms over his chest. "I gather that means you're ready to begin preparations. Assuming, of course, that you're quite finished riling up the mages, Alistair."

Alistair let out a nervous laugh under the older man's critical gaze. "What can I say? The Revered Mother ambushed me. The way she wields guilt, they should stick her in the army."

"She told you to sass the mage, did she?" Duncan asked, one of his dark eyebrows raising incredulously before he let out a deep sigh and shook his head. "We cannot afford to antagonize anyone, Alistair. We don't need to give anyone more ammunition against us."

"You're right, Duncan. I apologize."

Varia was getting quite miffed. Everywhere she turned, there was one big Grey Wardens secret after another. First the joining ritual, and now it seemed like the Wardens as a whole had done something to anger one or more parties within the military camp. She knew that asking for answers would get her nowhere at this point, though. She would wait until she was officially a Warden, then demand some answers. Hopefully, once she was a part of the order they would be willing to fill her in on what was going on.

"Now then," Duncan continued, turning to address her and the other two recruits, "since you are all here, we can begin. You three will head into the Wilds to perform two tasks, with Alistair as your guide."

"Great. So we're here to act as a bunch of lackeys," Daveth complained. "Here I thought we were going to be seeing some action."

"Shut it, Daveth," Jory scolded the younger man. "I'm sure this is an important part of our training."

"Your first task is to collect three vials of darkspawn blood, one for each of you," Duncan announced, causing both men to fall silent and grow pale. Varia bit her tongue to keep from laughing at both of them, especially the large knight. She was nervous about the prospect of facing darkspawn, as well, but she also knew Alistair would be with them and as a Grey Warden he was trained to fight them even if they didn't know the first thing about the horrid creatures.

"What do we need this darkspawn blood for?" she asked, though she was almost certain she knew what the answer would be.

"For the Joining, itself," Duncan replied, confirming her suspicion. "I'll explain more once you've all returned. Your second task will be to retrieve some documents from a former Grey Warden archive in the Wilds which was abandoned long ago when we could no longer could afford to maintain such remote outposts."

"What sort of documents are we looking for?" Jory asked.

"They are magically-sealed scrolls, old treaties made by the peoples of Ferelden in promise of support to the Wardens a long time ago," Duncan explained. "They were once considered a mere formality, but things have changed so much over the years that many have forgotten the commitments they made to us. I believe it would be a good idea to have something with which to remind them of their commitments."

"A sound plan," Jory agreed, and Daveth rolled his eyes.

"It is possible, however, that the scrolls may have been destroyed," Duncan continued, "though the seal's magic should have protected them. Only a Grey Warden can break such a seal."

"If these documents are so important, why were they left behind?" Varia wondered.

"It was assumed we would return one day," Duncan answered with a weary sigh. "A great many things were assumed that have not held true, I'm afraid."

"If that's the case, then what's to say those who created the treaties with the Wardens won't simply refuse to acknowledge them?"

"They can't do that, can they?" Alistair asked, his voice full of concern.

"They can try, but those treaties are iron-clad in the time of a Blight," Duncan assured them. "Besides, I think they're well aware that they are far better off aligning with us rather than trying to defeat the darkspawn on their own."

"Not to be even more negative, here," Daveth interjected, "but if it's been so long since anyone has been to these archives or ruins or what have you... then how in the Maker's name are we supposed to bloody find them?"

"Alistair knows where to look."

"Great. We're going to be wandering around those woods for days," Daveth complained under his breath, casting a glare at Alistair. Varia sighed heavily and Jory simply shook his head, while Duncan and Alistair remanded oblivious to the rogue's snide comment.

"Watch over your charges, Alisatir," Duncan instructed the younger Warden. "Return quickly, and safely."

"We will," Alistair promised with a nod of his head before turning his attention to the three recruits. "Right then, we best be off before we lose any more daylight."

"May the Maker watch over your path," Duncan addressed them with a respectful bow. "I will see you when you return."

"Are we actually expected to get all this done before nightfall?" Daveth asked as they followed Alistair through the camp, past a group of intimidating-looking warriors with painted faces and mabari hounds. "Honestly... How are we expected to find enough darkspawn blood for the three of us and some lost ruins when it's already this late?"

"Do you always complain this much?" Varia asked him.

"Yes," Jory and Alistair answered at the same time.

"I'm just sayin'... the Wilds ain't safe at night."

"Then shut your trap and get moving," Jory scolded the younger man, giving him a small push in the shoulder which sent him stumbling forward several feet.

Varia and Alistar both laughed at the exchange between the two men, and their eyes briefly met. He smiled at her and she cursed herself when she felt her stomach flutter as she returned the smile. He was having the same sort of effect upon her that Cullen had, and it frightened her a bit. She'd already given her heart to her beloved templar, and here she was feeling the same flutter of excitement he caused within her being brought out by another man.

"Ah... Wardens," a guard addressed them when they approached a large wooden gate on the far side of the camp, distracting her from her dilemma. "I'm told you all have business in the Wilds. The gate's open for you... just be careful out there. Especially you, little lady," he added, giving Varia a wink. "Even a Grey Warden won't be safe in the forest tonight."

"See? I told you!" Daveth exclaimed, punching Jory in the arm and then wincing as he shook his hand in an attempt to relieve the stinging in his fingers from having hit the thick steel of the warrior's armor.

"And I told you to get moving," Jory repeated, shoving Daveth ahead of him through the open gates. Alistar hung back and gestured for Varia to precede him, and she nodded politely to him before following the other recruits out into the Wilds for what she hoped would be their final task before finally undergoing the Joining.
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