pariswriter: (Default)
Title:  The Ferelden Chronicles - Chapter Twelve
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, Daveth, Jory, Morrigan, Flemeth
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: The Wardens finally track down the location of the treaties they had been sent to find, only to discover that someone else has beaten them to he punch.

Chapter Twelve: The Witches of the Wilds

Varia stumbled backward into the first solid object she could find, her breath coming out in rapid, shallow gasps. Her hands trembled uncontrollably as she struggled to open her pack, her body sliding a bit down the trunk of the tree she was leaning against when she started to lose her footing.

“Here, drink this,” Alistair instructed her, holding out a full vial of lyrium potion toward her. She attempted to take it from him, but the tremors were so bad  she dropped it to the ground at her feet. Alistair picked the vial up and uncapped it himself, then went to her and helped her drink the bright blue liquid within. The moment she swallowed the first bit down, she immediately started to feel better and by the time she had finished it she was no longer weak and struggling to stand – she was furious.

“What in the Maker's bloody name were you thinking?!” she yelled at Daveth, taking all three of her companions by surprise. Obviously, they hadn't expected a small elven woman to be able to shout so loudly. “You almost got me killed!”

“I was just checkin' out the info from this letter I found on the corpse of one of the soldiers back at the darkspawn camp,” Daveth explained, having the decency to at least look remorseful for what he'd done. “I swear, I didn't know that thing was gonna pop out like that.”

“Give me that,” Varia demanded, going to him and snatching the faded parchment from his hand. Her eyes quickly skimmed over the words, and when she had finished reading the short passage she crumpled the page in her hand and shoved it against the rogue's chest.

“You idiot! Don't you know that in any sort of story where a spirit exists in the world of the living, it's more often than not a demon?” She berated him, her jaw clenched in fury. “Demons crave mages, Daveth! They need us in order to keep a foothold in the mortal plane. While you were fighting it, it was trying to possess me! I had to deplete all of my mana just to keep it at bay while also protecting the three of you!”

“But I thought demons could only take possession of a mage in the Fade,” Alistair asked, cautiously approaching her.

“Normally, yes,” she confirmed, glaring at Daveth for a moment longer before turning her head to address him. “It's likely some blood mage called it out of the Fade, though, and it ended up tied to that spot. Who knows how long it was actually there, biding its time? And in that time, it was slowly building up its power, growing stronger with each passing year. When Daveth released it and it felt my magic... It immediately focused upon me. I could feel it, Alistair. I could feel its power like sick fingers trying to claw their way into my very soul.”

“I truly am sorry, Varia,” Daveth apologized, scuffing his feet about like a little boy who was being scolded by his mother. “I honestly didn't know any of what you just said about mages and demons and all that. If I had, I'd never have done it.”

“That's good to hear,” Jory remarked. “Don't need anyone who would intentionally put one of his own in danger. Where I come from, we call people like that 'traitor' and hang them in the square for all to see.”

“What's important is that everyone is safe, right?” Alistair asked, looking warily between the rogue and the mage. “Daveth... do try to be more careful, though. No more wandering off without an adult.”

“Oi! I'm older than you!” Daveth protested amidst the laughter of his fellow recruits. Varia smiled gratefully at Alistair for having broken the tension, and he returned her smile before leading them farther along the path toward their destination.

They ran into a few small groups of darkspawn soldiers along the way, but they were much weaker than the ones they had encountered in the camp. Even so, Varia kept an eye on her companions and used the strongest protection spells she was able to cast in between her usual spells. By the time they encountered the third group of weaker darkspawn in their path, she was starting to easily shift between offensive and defensive magic – thanks in no small part to the way Alistair seemed to always place himself in the way of any of the darkspawn that tried to get to her.

Over an hour passed, and the sun was hanging lower and lower in the sky above them. Varia began to wonder if they really would end up out in the Wilds in he middle of the night, fighting against darkspawn and whatever other creatures made their homes there. She'd been fine traveling through the wooded areas with Duncan the previous night, but they had mostly been on trails that had been well-worn by traders and travelers marching from town to town. Here, they were completely engulfed by nature and anything could come out of anywhere and take them by surprise. True, they had Alistair's ability to sense the darkspawn and her acute elven hearing, but she felt so close to crashing from her lack of sleep and the amount of magical energy she had been expending throughout the day that she doubted she'd be of much help in protecting them from an ambush by wild animals or whatever else might be out there.

“Here we are,” Alistair announced, stopping and pointing to what little was left of a building seated upon the crest of a hill ahead of them. “Those are the ruins where we'll find the treaties.”

“Finally,” Daveth grumbled, continuing on ahead of the rest of them. “I don't know about you, but I sure ain't wastin' time and risking gettin' eaten by wolves or slaughtered by barbarians in the night.”

“Agreed,” Jory said, following him. Alistair stayed behind with Varia, falling into step next to her.

“You feeling okay?” he wondered, and she couldn't help chuckling at the question. He'd been asking her the same thing after every single fight they'd found themselves in. It had been sweet, at first, but after the first couple of times it began to become a bit annoying.

“You don't have to constantly ask me if I'm okay, you know. I'm still standing, so that's usually a good sign.”

“Sorry,” he apologized, blushing. “It's just that... After what happened with that demon, I got a bit, um... scared. I don't want anything bad to happen to you.”

She stopped walking and looked up at him, and he turned to her with a confused look on his face. For a moment, her breath caught in her throat when their eyes met and she saw the true sincerity behind his words. She was going to accuse him of only being concerned about how it would look for him if something happened to her, but that was obviously far from the truth.

"If anything happens to you, Varia..."

“You remind me so much of him,” she said, recalling one of the last things Cullen had said to her, a sad smile forming upon her lips.

“Of who?” Alistair asked, his brow furrowing even more in his growing confusion.

“The man I love.”

Alistair's blush returned and he averted his gaze from hers for a moment before looking at her once more with a shy smile.

“Is that a good thing?”

Varia felt an excited shiver course through her and her heart sped up several beats. The combination of his smile, the look in his eyes, and the way his voice sounded when he asked the question seemed to hit some sort of emotional trigger inside her. It was completely unnerving.

“Yes,” she replied, the word coming out in a quiet whisper. She quickly cleared her throat and answered him once more, her voice coming out sounding more normal but still not quite like her usual self.

“He's a good man, so it's not a bad comparison.”

“Well, for what it's worth, I'm happy that you feel that way.”

“Come on!” Daveth called to them from the top of the hill. “It's getting' cold out here!”

Alistair waved her ahead and followed her as she ascended to the the ruins, where Daveth and Jory were waiting for them. The four of them then split up and began searching for the treaties Duncan had sent them to find. Varia wasn't sure what, exactly, they would look like, but she was sure they weren't likely to be made of stone. Unfortunately, all she could see was crumbling stone all around them upon the ground. She was about to ask Alistair if he was sure they had the right place when the dying sunlight reflected off something and caught her eye. She turned to see what it was and found the remains of a chest hiding within a pile of broken stone. It appeared to have been smashed, and though its contest were probably long gone she decided it was best to check it out, anyway, just in case.

“Well, well... What have we here?”

Varia's hand hadn't even yet come into contact with what remained of the chest when she heard a voice calling out to her. Fearing that Daveth had inadvertently released another demon, she quickly turned around with her staff in hand. To her surprise, there was no demon. Instead, a woman was approaching her. She had dark hair and eerie golden eyes, and Varia felt rather overdressed compared to her attire, which consisted of some strategically-placed rags covering her breasts and some sort of leather pants with an overskirt made from what appeared to be strips of animal skin which had been sewn together.

“Are you a vulture, I wonder?” the woman asked, her eyes never leaving Varia's. “A scavenger poking amidst a corpse whose bones have long since been cleaned? Or merely an intruder, come into these darkspawn filled Wilds of mine in search of easy prey?”

Your Wilds?” Daveth echoed, his voice trembling. Varia turned her head to find that all three of them had come up behind her. Alistair and Jory both had their swords in their hands, but the rogue was cowering behind the two warriors, looking as though he was about to make a run for it all the way to Denerim.

“What say you, hmm?” the woman addressed her, and Varia turned to look at her once more. “Scavenger or intruder?”

“I would first know who you are and where you came from,” she warned, calling embers to her fingers. While the woman before her appeared to be human, she knew all too well that a demon could easily be lurking beneath her skin.

The woman laughed. “You are the intruder, here. I believe the first question is rightfully mine.”

Alistair moved to stand next to Varia, though she noticed that he was also putting himself in front of her slightly, and the woman raised an eyebrow and began to approach them as she continued to speak.

“I have watched your progress for some time. 'Where do they go,' I wondered, 'Why are they here?'” She paused for a moment before them, and Varia tensed up as she simply stared at them with her strange yellow eyes. After a moment, she simply turned and walked past.

“And now you disturb ashes none have touched for so long,” she remarked, climbing up onto a ridge overlooking the woods they had just traveled through. “Why is that?”

“Don't answer her,” Alistair warned, keeping his voice low so that only Varia could hear him.

“What if she knows where the treaties are, though?” she whispered back.

“We'll find them,” he assured her. “We just need to get rid of her before she... does something.”

“Something? Like what?”

“I don't know... Shrink our heads?”

“It appears your companions are afraid of me,” the woman called to Varia, gesturing with one hand toward the men with her. “But women do not fear easily like little boys. Tell me your name and I shall tell you mine.”

“You may call me Varia,” she replied, despite Alistair's protests.

“And you may call me Morrigan. Now, shall I guess your purpose? You sought something in that chest, something that is here no longer?”

“Here no longer?” Alistair repeated before Varia had a chance to reply, taking an angry step toward Morrigan and pointing at her. “You stole them, didn't you? You're... some kind of... sneaky... witch-thief!”

“How very eloquent,” Morrigan remarked dryly. “Tell me, how does one steal from dead men?”

“Quite easily, it would seem.”

“Alistair, calm down,” Varia pleaded, moving to stand in front of him and placing a hand on his arm.

“Those documents are property of the Grey Wardens,” he called over her head to Morrigan, “and I suggest you return them.”

“I will not, for 'twas not I who removed them,” Morrigan stated, crossing her arms over her chest in a defiant manner as she narrowed her eyes at Alistair. “Invoke a name which means nothing here any longer, if you wish. I do not feel threatened by the likes of you.”

“Then who removed them?” Varia asked her before Alistair could say something to further anger the strange woman.

“'Twas my mother, in fact.”

“Could you please take us to her?” she requested, hoping that perhaps some politeness might get them all back in her good graces – if they had ever actually been in them, to start with.

“Now there is a sensible request,” Morrigan agreed, a small smile appearing upon her lips. “I like you. Follow me, then, if it pleases you.”

Varia let out a relieved sigh and released Alistair's arm, but he didn't stray far from her side as the four of them began following Morrigan through the woods to wherever her mother was with the treaties they needed.

“I'd be careful,” he whispered to her. “First it's, 'I like you...' but then, 'Zap!' Frog time.”

“Alistair, she's not going to turn me into a frog,” Varia told him with a small laugh. “We don't even know for sure that she's a mage.”

“She is,” Daveth said, keeping close to the two of them so he could speak quietly enough to not be overheard. “She's a Witch of the Wilds, she is. I can tell. She'll put us all in the pot, she will. Just you watch.”

“If the pot's warmer than this forest, it'll be a nice change,” Jory muttered, blowing into his hands in a vain attempt to remove the chill from his fingers.

“Even if she's not a Witch of the Wilds, just look at her,” Alistair added. “She looks Chasind, and that means others may be nearby.”

“Ooh!” Morrigan exclaimed, suddenly turning around and waving her arms above her head in an exaggerated gesture. “You fear barbarians will swoop down upon you?”

“Yes,” Alistair told her with a sneer. “Swooping is bad.”

“As for you,” she continued, turning her attention to Daveth. “You believe me to be a Witch of the Wilds, hm? Such idle fancies, those legends. Have you no minds of your own?”

The question was posed to both men, and she continued to look back and forth between them for a full minute before turning on her heel and putting her back to them once more.

“Come. Daylight is fading fast, and if you wish to return to your camp before the real monsters come out to play I suggest we continue at a greater pace.”

“Apparently she has good hearing, too,” Jory commented, and the other men glared at him before following Morrigan once more.

It only took a few minutes of walking to reach their destination, but those minutes were full of tension for Varia. Morrigan led them through the most densely-wooded parts of the forest, and at times she lost complete sight of the sky above them and the branches of the trees surrounding them threw them into near-complete darkness a times. She was beginning to think Alistair and Daveth were right and that Morrigan was leading them into some sort of trap when then finally emerged from the woods and found themselves standing in the middle of a marsh. Situated in the marsh was a small hut with a patchy herb garden out front.

“What a lovely little house!” Alistair said with mock enthusiasm.

“You had best keep your thoughts to yourself if you wish to get your precious treaties back,” Morrigan warned him, and Alistair grumbled but remained silent while they crossed the marsh and approached the hut.

“Greetings, mother,” Morrigan called to a haggard, elderly woman who was tending to the herb patch. “I bring before you four Grey Wardens who--”

“I see them, girl,” the woman interrupted as she stood, wiping her hands on the dirty apron she wore. She gave the four of them a cursory glance, her gaze lingering on Alistair a bit longer than the others, then made a disapproving sound. “Much as I expected.”

“Are we supposed to believe you were expecting us?” Alistair asked with a nervous laugh, crossing his arms over his chest.

“You are required to do nothing, least of all believe,” Morrigan's mother told him. “Shut one's eyes tight or open one's arms wide... either way, one's a fool!”

Alistair and Varia exchanged a look. He shook his head, silently dismissing her words as the rambling of a crazy old woman, but in the back of her mind Varia was wondering if perhaps the old woman wasn't as crazy as she might seem.

“She's a witch, I tell you!” Daveth warned, pointing at Morrigan and her mother and taking a large step back from the two women. “They both are. We shouldn't be talking to them!”

“Quiet, Daveth!” Jory ordered him. “If she really is a witch, do you want to make her mad?”

“There is a smart lad,” Morrigan's mother regarded Jory with a small smile. “Sadly irrelevant to the larger scheme of things, but it is not I who decides. Believe what you will, for it is of no consequence to me.

“And you,” she addressed Varia, taking a step closer to her and looking her over with a critical gaze. “So much about you is uncertain... and yet I believe. Do I? Why, yes! It seems I do!” She began to laugh and Morrigan sighed deeply, closing her eyes and shaking her head in exasperation.

“So... this is a dreaded Witch of the Wilds?” Alistair quietly asked Varia, sounding less than impressed, and she held her tongue. She couldn't rightly say whether or not she believed in the legends, and even if she did she was unsure what to make of the strange women who made their home in the middle of the marsh. It was obvious they were apostates, but she couldn't sense the sinister energies that were said to usually mark the dwelling of a blood mage. Then again, she hadn't sensed anything wrong with Jowan, either, so perhaps the things she had read at the tower about detecting blood magic had been inaccurate.

“They did not come to listen to your wild tales, Mother,” Morrigan complained.

“True,” the old woman said, turning to nod to her daughter, and Morrigan went into the small hut. “They came for their treaties, yes? And before you go barking, your precious seals wore off long ago. I have protected these.”

Morrigan, having returned from retrieving the documents in question, held treaties out to them. Alistair took them and looked them over, frowning at the broken seals and disheveled pages.

“You,” he began angrily, but then what the old woman had just said suddenly registered in his mind. “Oh. You protected them?”

“And why not?” Morrigan's mother asked, sounding a bit offended at his surprise over her actions. “Take them to your Grey Wardens and tell them this Blight's threat is greater than they realize!”

“What do you mean?” Varia asked, eyeing her warily. First the crazed soldier had spouted an oddly dark omen to her, and now a strange woman was telling her the Blight was worse than everyone thought. One bad omen she could overlook, but two seemed a bit too coincidental. If this woman knew something the Wardens didn't, it was her duty as a future member of their ranks to find out what it was and warn them.

“Either the threat is more or they realize less. Or perhaps the threat is nothing. Or perhaps they realize nothing!”

She began to laugh, and Varia realized that the only thing they were get out of her were more riddles and phrases than made sense only to her. She turned to Alistair for help, but he merely shrugged and held up the treaties as if to say they had what they came for and should be getting back.

“Well,” she finally said, turning back to Morrigan and her mother, “thank you for taking care of the treaties, and thank you for giving them back.”

“Such manners!” Morrigan's mother fawned over her. “Always in the last place you look. Like stockings!”

Alistair and Varia exchanged another nervous glance as the woman began cackling at her own joke, and after a moment he cleared his throat and began to steer her away from Morrigan and her mother.

“It looks like we have what we came for, so we'll just be going on our way right now,” he told them.

“Yes, time for you to go,” Morrigan agreed.

“Do not be ridiculous, girl,” her mother scolded her. “There are your guests! The decent thing to do would be to show them the way out of these woods and back to their camp.”

“Oh, very well,” Morrigan grumbled, reluctantly going to the head of the group to lead them back the way they had come. “Follow me.”

Varia stayed close to Alistair the entire way back to camp, neither of them speaking. Thankfully, Daveth was all too happy to keep his mouth shut around Morrigan, and Jory wasn't a man of many words, anyway. Usually, the lack of conversation would bother Varia... but in the current situation, she found the silence of her companions comforting. It gave her the opportunity to observe Morrigan without distraction. While she had been helpful enough in assisting them with the retrieval of the treaties, there was still something off about her. Whether or not that something had to do with Morrigan being an obvious apostate, she wasn't sure, but her instincts were telling her to get far away from the woman as soon as she possibly could.

“You can find your way from here, yes?” Morrigan asked, suddenly stopping. Varia looked around, trying to figured out exactly where they were, but the Wilds were a completely foreign area to her and it was nearly full dark, so she couldn't be sure of their location.

“Yes, we'll be fine,” Alistair assured the woman, his tone dismissive. Morrigan didn't seem at all bothered by his rudeness, though, and simply wanders back into the woods they had just emerged from.

“She might have a nice body, but that woman gave me the bloody creeps,” Daveth muttered once he believed her to be out of earshot.

“I'm with you on that,” Jory remarked with a chuckle.

“Let's just get back to camp,” Alistair insisted, taking the lead. “It's time for you three to undergo your Joining so you can learn what it truly means to be a Grey Warden.”
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