pariswriter: (Default)
Title:  The Ferelden Chronicles - Chapter Thirteen
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, Duncan
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 undergoes her Joining, and it is far from what she had been expecting...

Chapter Thirteen: The Joining

By the time the four of them passed through the gates leading back into the King's Camp, the sky had become enveloped in complete darkness. Varia noticed, as she looked up up into the dark night, that very few stars were shining in spite of the brightness of the moon. Perhaps a storm was growing near, and there were clouds covering the small, twinkling lights she'd loved to gaze at ever since she was a small child. Whatever the case, it seemed to be almost an ominous sign of things to come. She and the others were about to go through their Joining – which Alistair was still being tight-lipped on the details about – and the tension in the air was thicker than the fog which rolled in off Lake Calenhad from time to time.

“Ah, so you've returned,” Duncan called to them as they approached the bonfire where they had left him earlier. “Have you been successful?”

“Not that it was easy,” Varia replied, casting a meaningful glance in Daveth's direction, “but yes.”

“Good.” Duncan nodded, looking the three recruits over before turning to Alistair. “The Circle mages have finished the preparations while you were gone. Now that we have the blood, the Joining can begin immediately.”

“Wait!” Daveth piped up. ”What about them witches? Shouldn't we tell him about how they had the treaties?”

“There was a woman at the tower,” Alistair explained at Duncan's confused look, “and her mother had the scrolls. They were both very... odd.”

“Were they wilder folk?” Duncan asked.

“I'm tellin' you, they was real, live, Witches of the Wilds!” Daveth spouted, though Duncan hadn't been addressing him.

“Calm down,” Jory told him gruffly through his teeth, jabbing an elbow sharply into the rogue's side.

“They might be apostates,” Alistair informed Duncan, not wanting to spur Daveth on but knowing he was probably at least partly right in his assumption.

“I know you were once a templar, Alistair, but Chantry business is not our own,” Duncan reminded him. “Now that we have the scrolls, we should turn our focus to the Joining.”

“Right,” Alistair agreed. “To the old temple, then?”

“If you don't mind, I'd like to get that flower we found to the houndmaster as soon as possible,” Varia said, taking it from the pouch on her hip.

“Very well,” Duncan acquiesced, “but please be quick about it.”

Varia nodded and made her way to the kennels while the others went off to prepare for the Joining. Despite Duncan's request that she hurry along, she walked slowly toward the sound of the dogs barking. She was utterly exhausted, drained physically and mentally, and the fact that she was still able to walk was a marvel to her. By the time she reached the kennels, she felt like she could just curl up on the ground and sleep for the next two days.

“Yes?” the houndmaster said when he saw her approaching. “Is there something I can do for you, Warden?”

Varia smiled a little at the title, but didn't bother correcting him by letting him know she wasn't a Warden just yet. Instead, she held out the delicate white-and-red flower to him.

“I was told you needed one of these in order to help a sick animal,” she informed him. He stepped toward her to get a closer look at the flower in her hands, and the frown on his face quickly turned into a bright smile.

“Yeah, that's it! Wonderful!” he exclaimed, carefully taking the flower from her. “Here, let me give you a little something for your kindness.”

“It's not necessary,” Varia insisted, reaching out to stop him from digging through his pockets for whatever amount of coin he had to spare. “I'm just happy knowing I could help save your hound. What's wrong with him, by the way?”

The houndmaster sighed. “He ain't mine, actually. His owner died in the last battle, and the poor thing swallowed some of the darkspawn blood. Mabari might be a hearty breed, but none of them can survive that. This herb will greatly increase his chances.”

“Good luck, then,” she told him and turned to leave, but he reached out and grasped her by the arm to halt her.

“Could you maybe help me with one more thing?” he asked. “He needs to be muzzled to give him the medicine properly, and I don't think he has much time. I need to make the medicine, so if you could put the muzzle on him I would be even more in your debt.”

“I... I don't know anything about dogs,” Varia told him, casting an apprehensive glance a the animals in the kennel. They were quite large, and could easily crush her with their weight or rip her throat out before she could even ready a spell to throw them back. She'd heard stories from Eadric about how some nobles kept mabari hounds which had been specifically trained to attack elves on sight. Not that she really thought the animals would try to hurt her... but she figured it would be better to be safe than sorry.

“Why don't I get someone else to come help you?” she offered, still warily eying the beasts.

“Everyone's busy getting ready for the upcoming battle. Please, it will only take a moment.”

Varia sighed and hesitated a bit longer before nodding. The houndmaster shook her hand gratefully, then handed her a muzzle made of strong leather straps.

“Let him sniff you a bit, first,” he instructed her as he opened the gate to let her into the kennel where the sick dog was being kept separate from the rest. “Once he's calm enough, you should be able to just go up to him and put that on.”

The man's words did nothing to calm her nerves. If anything, they only served to make her more afraid of the hound. What if the smell of her was something he found particularly enticing? She could very well walk out of there without her best casting hand. But she had made a commitment to help the animal, and she would see it through.

“Let's see if this works,” the man said hopefully as he ushered her in through the open gate. “I'd hate to have to put him down.”

Varia found herself closed in the pen with a very large mabari. The animal had been asleep, and raised its head when it heard the sound of the gate closing behind her. She tried to smile at the animal, but she knew it was more of a grimace. Very slowly, she edged her way toward the mabari, freezing in place when it sat up and licked its lips.

“That's a good boy,” she told the hound, trying her best to sound kind and comforting despite the shaking of her voice. “I'm not going to hurt you.”

The hound stood fully on all four of his legs and slowly approached her, his head hanging down, and Varia realized just how sick the poor animal was. No longer afraid, she went up to him and knelt before him, setting the muzzle in her lap before reaching up with both hands to scratch him behind his ears.

“You don't feel well, do you, boy?” she asked, and the mabari whined pitifully. “It's okay. The kennel master is going to give you some medicine that will make you feel better. But I have to put this on you first, all right?”

The hound looked down at the object sitting in her lap, then back up at her and whined again.

“I know. I wouldn't want to have to wear something like this, either. But you need to trust me. Please?”

The hound hesitated, its eyes moving to the muzzle once more, then he slowly came forward and rested his head in her lap. Varia carefully placed the muzzle on him, then scratched his ears once more before standing and heading out of the kennel.

“Did it work?”

“Yes,” she told the houndmaster. “He's been muzzled.”

“Good, I can give him his medicine then,” the man said, passing her to see to the mabari.

“Wait,” she called after him, and he turned to look at her. “Please, be kind to him. He seemed scared.”

The houndmaster smiled at her. “I ain't never been anything but nice to the hounds in my charge, miss,” he assured her. “You don't need to worry. He's in good hands.”

Varia nodded and turned to go join the other recruits, but this time the houndmaster called after her.

“Why don't you come back later, once he's better, and we can see about maybe imprinting him on you?”

“Like I said before, I don't know anything about dogs,” Varia informed him, shaking her head.

“You don't need to, really,” he assured her. “Mabari are smart, like we are. They were bred that way. All you need to do is treat him with kindness and respect, provide him with a place to sleep and something to eat and drink, and you'd do fine.”

“We'll see,” she replied, a bit reluctant to take on such a large beast as a companion. “I really must go, now, though.”

She continued on her way to meet the others, stopping one of the guards to ask which direction they had gone off in, and eventually found herself back where she had first met Alistair earlier in the day. And, just like before, she heard the sounds of an argument brewing as she approahced.

“The more I hear about this Joining, the less I like about it,” Jory was complaining, pacing back and forth nervously.

“Are you blubbering again?” Daveth berated him, and Varia couldn't help smiling at the sudden reversal of their roles.

“Why all these damned tests?” Jory asked of no one in particular. “First the tournament in Highever, then that trip into the Wilds, and now this... Have I not earned my place already?”

“Maybe it's tradition,” Daveth offered, shrugging. “Maybe they're just doing it to annoy you.”

“I only know my wife is in Highever with a child on the way,” Jory said, sounding pitifully homesick. “If I had known... If they had warned me... It just doesn't seem fair.”

“Would you have come if they warned you?” Daveth asked him, crossing his arms over his chest. “I'm guessing no. Maybe that's why they don't warn us. The Wardens do what they must, right?”

“Including sacrificing us?”

Varia was suddenly quite alert, wondering if she'd heard him right. They were to be sacrificed? No... That couldn't be right. What could would killing them do to help quell the Blight? Besides, Duncan had stated how much they needed warriors to fight against the darkspawn. Whatever Jory had heard about this Joining ritual, he must have misunderstood it.

“I'd sacrifice a lot more if I knew it would end the Blight,” Daveth said with great conviction, taking Varia by surprise. It was the most serious she had seen him in the brief time she'd known him, and she suddenly found herself respecting him much more than she previously had.

“You saw those darkspawn, ser knight,” he continued, going up to Jory and putting a hand on his shoulder as he looked him square in the eye. Jory shuddered at the memory of the creatures they had fought, nodding his head, and Daveth continued. “Wouldn't you gladly die to protect your pretty wife and child from them?”

“I... suppose.”

“Maybe you'll die. Maybe we'll all die,” Daveth said, pausing to cast a glance in her direction. “But if nobody stops the darkspawn, then we'll die for sure.”

“I've just never faced a foe that I could not engage with my blade. But you're right.”

“At last we come to the Joining,” Duncan stated as he came up behind her, holding an ancient-looking goblet in his hands. He walked over to a stone altar – the only real structure remaining in what had apparently once been a temple of some sort – and set the goblet down. Varia and the others went to stand around the front of the altar, while Alistair joined Duncan behind it.

“The Grey Wardens were founded during the first Blight, when humanity stood on the verge of annihilation. So it was that the first Grey Wardens drank of darkspawn blood and mastered their taint.”

“We're... going to drink the blood of those... those creatures?” Jory asked, the fear returning to his voice.

“As the first Grey Wardens did before us,” Duncan answered with a nod, “as we did before you. This is the source of our power and victory.”

“Those who survive the Joining become immune to the taint,” Alistair added. “We can sense it in the darkspawn and use it to slay the archdemon.”

“Those who survive?” Varia echoed, looking at him accusingly. She'd known there was something he was hiding about this entire ordeal, something he was refusing to tell her, but she hadn't expected it to be something quite that dire. It seemed that Jory had been partly right about them being sacrificed, after all.

“Not all who drink the blood will survive and those who do are forever changed,” Duncan explained. “This is why the Joining is a secret. It is the price we must pay.

“We speak only a few words prior to the Joining, but these words have been said since the first. Alistair, if you would?”

Alistair nodded and bowed his head, his eyes falling closed as if in prayer. “Join us, brothers and sisters. Join us in the shadows where we stand, vigilant. Join us as we carry the duty that cannot be forsworn. And should you perish,” he concluded, opening his eyes and looking directly at Varia, “know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten and that, one day, we shall join you.”

“Daveth,” Duncan called the rogue's name, picking up the goblet and holding it out toward him. “Step forward.”

Varia watched as Daveth drank from the goblet, slowly backing away from him out of fear of what sort of change might come over him. He winced at the taste of the liquid in the goblet, but otherwise it didn't seem to affect him. Then, suddenly, he gripped his stomach with both hands and doubled over, screaming in pain. He fell to his knees, and Varia watched as some sort of thick, dark substance traveled through the veins in his neck and face. His blue eyes turned a startling white as his entire body  began to convulse violently, and then he pitched forward and laid on the ground, motionless. She didn't need to ask if he was going to be all right. She knew he was dead.

“Maker's breath,” Jory gasped, backing away from the scene.

“I am sorry, Daveth,” Duncan whispered, kneeling next to the rogue's body and closing his eyelids. He then turned his attention to the warrior.

“Step forward, Jory.”

“But... I have a wife,” Jory protested. “A child! Had I known...”

“There is no turning back,” Duncan told him, firmly, and the determined look in his dark eyes scared Varia. She held her breath as she watched Jory unsheathe his sword, wondering what he was going to do.

“No!” he said, shaking his head as he continued to back away from Duncan, who paused in advancing upon him to set the goblet back upon the altar. “You ask too much! There is no glory in this!”

Varia's eyes went wide when Duncan removed one of  his daggers from his belt and continued advancing upon Jory. Surely, he didn't mean to use physical force to make Jory submit to the Joining? In the end, however, it was worse than she imagined. Jory attempted to fight his way past Duncan, probably thinking he could best the older man and run away back to his family, but Duncan easily deflected the knight's blade and sunk his own through a gap in Jory's armor, all the way to the hilt.

“I am sorry,” he told the warrior, pulling his blood-stained dagger from him and watching his lifeless body fall to the ground at his feet. A brief look of remorse crossed his face, but in a moment it was gone and once more replaced with the hard, determined expression from before. Varia gasped in horror at the scene, taking several steps back as the blood continued to run out and pool on the ground around Jory's body.

“But the Joining is not yet complete,” she heard Duncan say, watching him set the bloody dagger down on the altar before he picked up the goblet and turned toward her.

“You are called upon to submit yourself to the taint for the greater good,” he told her, holding the goblet out to her expectantly.

Varia hesitantly took it from him, staring silently at its contents. She didn't want to die. She wanted to see her mother again and have a chance to tell Cullen she loved him one last time. She wanted to go to all the places she had only read about in books and experience life outside the tower in a way most other mages were only able to dream of. She knew now, though, that if she refused Duncan would not hesitate to cut her down. Her eyes fell to Daveth's body and she wondered if she would experience the same pain and suffering he had in his final moments.

“You can do this.”

She looked up at Alistair and found him watching her nervously. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and brought the goblet to her lips and drank from the dark liquid within. The taste was horrible, and she began coughing uncontrollably as she passed the goblet back to Duncan, but she felt otherwise unaffected. Next to her, she heard Alistair breathe a sigh of relief.

“From this moment forth,” Duncan told her, “you are a Grey Warden.”

Varia whimpered and grabbed her head as she was suddenly hit with a wave of intense pain and dizziness, and she wondered if maybe she still wasn't out of the woods. She willed herself to fight against it, reminding herself of all the things she had to live for, but she couldn't stop it. It felt like her brain was on fire, and it was all she could do to remember to breathe. Everything around her went bright, and then it was suddenly all dark.

She thought she was dead... but something wasn't right. You were supposed to travel through the Fade to the Maker's side when you died. But there was nothing. No warmth, no comforting light, no sign of her father waiting for her. It was as if the world had simply ceased to exist.

Then the nightmare began.

Suddenly, where there had been darkness there was fire. Everywhere. The entire world was burning, and she was surrounded by flames and the sounds of voices pleading and screaming. Within the flames, she could just barely make out the shapes of some sort of twisted, dark creatures... perhaps they were darkspawn, but she couldn't be sure. Above her, dragons flew around and swooped down out of the sky, renewing the fires with their breath and grasping up those who tried to flee in their giant, sharp claws. Broken bodies fell all around her, landing at her feet, their lifeless eyes staring up at her. She wanted to run, but she couldn't get herself to move... wanted to scream, but her mouth wouldn't open. Then out of the flames came the largest, most horrific-looking dragon she had ever seen. It walked toward her, its evil, glowing eyes fixated upon her, then suddenly broke out into a run and charged at her with a great roar. At the same time, the rest of the dragons and the other creatures within the flames began to rapidly descend upon her, and the sound of their triumphant cries filling her ears was deafening.

Varia suddenly opened her eyes, gasping for breath, and threw herself into Alistair's arms. She was back in the real world – but that dream had seemed so real, too. She shook in fear at the memory of it, clinging to him, and Alistair held her close and gently stroked her hair as he whispered comforting words to her.

“It's all right,” he told her, closing his eyes and resting his chin on top of her head. “We all experience the nightmares during our Joining. You're okay, now. We're here for you.”

He began to rock her slightly and looked up to find Duncan smiling at the two of them. A blush rose in his cheeks as he realized how inappropriately he was acting, and he slowly released her and turned his attention to her tear-streaked face.

“I told you that you could do it,” he said, smiling at her. Varia smiled a little and reached up with one hand to brush away her tears.

“Would you like to talk about it?” he asked, referring to her nightmare, and she shook her head emphatically.

“Absolutely not,” she replied. “I don't want to ever think about it again.”

Alistair and Duncan shared a look with one another, but said nothing. They had both experienced the nightmares, both new how much they had been affected by them, but they wouldn't push her. She could talk to them whenever she was ready.

“How do you feel?” Duncan questioned her, thinking she should at least be willing to discuss her physical state.

“That was actually worse than the Harrowing, believe it or not,” she told him, and he chuckled in response.

“You would know about that much better than I,” he said.

“I still can't believe you killed Jory,” she added, and Duncan once more looked remorseful for his actions.

“It brought me no pleasure to end his life,” he admitted. “Jory was warned that there would be no turning back, however, and when he went for his blade, he left me no choice. The Blight demands sacrifices from us all. Thankfully, you remain here as proof that they are not all made in vain.”

“Two more deaths,” Alistair remarked, looking over Varia's head at the bodies of Daveth and Jory lying still upon the ground and shaking his head ruefully. “In my Joining, only one of us died, but it was... horrible. I'm glad at least one of you made it through.”

“I wish I could say you may rest for the remainder of the night, but the king wishes to see us,” Duncan told Varia, sighing a bit.

“He wants to see me?” Varia asked, wondering what King Cailan would want with an elven mage. Then again, she was also a Grey Warden now and she knew of his fascination with the order. Perhaps he wanted an opportunity to congratulate those who had survived the Joining, personally.

“Take a moment to rest and gather yourself, and when you are ready meet me in the area just west of here. You should be able to find it by following the sound of General Loghain bellowing.”

Duncan bowed to her and left to go meet with the king ahead of her, and Alistair sighed as he watched him walk away.

“And once again, I am left out of things,” he muttered bitterly, and Varia raised an eyebrow at his remark. He merely smiled at her and helped her to stand, making sure she was steady on her feet before completely releasing his hold on her.

“Are you sure you're okay?” he asked her, not wanting to leave her alone in a fragile state – either physical or mental. He wasn't expecting the slap which connected with his face in response to the question.

“You knew I could die, and you didn't warn me? No... You almost did tell me, didn't you?” she accused, remembering his near-slip earlier.

“I wanted to warn you, believe me,” Alistair calmly replied, rubbing his stinging cheek. “Maker, I wanted to. It's not fair that you walk into all of this totally blind, I know – I've been there. But Daveth had a good point: If we told everyone exactly what to expect, then how many people do you think would ever actually come forward wanting to be Wardens?”

“Probably not many, if any at all,” she reluctantly admitted, seeing his point. Self-preservation was a need she understood quite well, being a mage. You did what you had to in order to survive, and chancing your own death wasn't exactly the best way to keep yourself safe.

“Here,” he said after a moment, taking one of her hands in his and depositing something into it. Varia looked down and found some sort of small, vial-like object on a chain sitting in her palm.

“We take some of the blood from our Joining and put it in a pendant,” he explained. “Something to remind us... of those who didn't make it this far.”

“Thank you,” Varia told him, closing her fingers around the pendant. Alistair continued to hold her hand in his own, absent-mindedly caressing the side of her thumb with his, and it wasn't until she said his name that he snapped out of whatever reverie he had been lost in.

“Sorry,” he said, quickly releasing her hand and blushing. “Um... You should probably go see what Cailan wants, like Duncan asked.”

“Not looking like this, I'm not.” She made a face and gestured toward the ichor-stained robes she was wearing, shaking her head. “I'm a Warden now, so I should probably at least make myself somewhat presentable before I go to see the king.”

She turned on her heel and left the ruined temple, and Alistair's gaze lingered upon her the entire time. Once she had disappeared from his line of sight, he closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm himself down, shaking the crazy thoughts from his head before following after her.
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