tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 031-032

There and Back Again Ch. 031-032

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter Thirty-One: Necessity Rules

Before lunch the next day, a very anxious-looking Swiftrunner was back. He was told to bring us to see the Lady, as I knew he would. He added his own stipulation though – we had to have our weapons bound or leave them behind. I knew it wouldn't be a huge hindrance – they'd never find all of Zevran's daggers, Shale didn't use a weapon anyway, and the two mages were hardly helpless while empty-handed, but Sten, Alistair, and Leliana were all less than thrilled with the prospect. But Zathrian pointed out the hypocrisy – we were asking him to go literally into the wolves' den, because we supposedly trusted the werewolves; was it really that strange that we be asked to show a sign of that faith? I was vaguely concerned about Zathrian turning on us, but allowing that thought to show would only end us up in worse trouble. I tied my daggers into their sheaths as directed, with some sort of thin twine Swiftrunner presented.

Once ready, we followed Swiftrunner deeper into the forest. When we finally came to the ruin, we were brought through a side tunnel directly into the Lady's domain, bypassing the undead, spiders, and the dragon in the ruins altogether, to my relief. Though I wondered if we should go in to the rest of the ruin later, since I knew that dragon had quite a hoard, and somewhere down there was a way for Wynne or Morrigan to learn to become an arcane warrior. The number of werewolves had increased as we got closer and closer to the Lady, and they all flanked us, low-pitched growls echoing through the hallways. None of them spoke, they just watched us, and I couldn't tell if the stares were hostile, hopeful, or just curious.

Finally we were led to a large, open room that had been breached by nature in multiple places. Roots projected through the ceiling, and a few trees even grew in drifts of dirt that had collected in the rubble. Sylvans, I remembered, though I hoped we wouldn't have to learn that the hard way. We were ushered into the centre of the room, surrounded by huge, furred, growling werewolves. Suddenly they parted to allow a beautiful, naked woman to approach us. Her skin was an odd, pale, almost grey colour, and was crisscrossed with vines, so dark a green they appeared black, which barely covered her nipples and obscured her sex. Alistair blushed a deep crimson and turned away; Sten looked uncomfortable and also averted his eyes. By contrast, Aedan met her eyes with equanimity and Zevran didn't even try to hide his appreciative look.

The werewolves all slightly bowed as she walked between them, and the growling quieted; even I was a little bit awed at the aura of authority that surrounded the Lady of the Forest. Her voice was sweet and melodic but undeniably alien. She spoke briefly with Aedan, and then approached Zathrian. His face was guarded, and the growling began again as she got close to him, but to everyone's amazement, she walked right up to him, reached out and pulled him into her arms. A gasp echoed around the room, the werewolves who'd spent so long hating Zathrian all apparently gob-smacked. I saw Zathrian's face falter and then he began sobbing before I averted my eyes. Everyone moved subtly away to allow them some privacy, which was also something I didn't expect. Amazing – when you don't slaughter half of them to reach her, they're a little more understanding!

We huddled together, all of us still somewhat uneasy, eyeing the werewolves and Zathrian with the Lady. The latter two were deep in discussion, to my continued surprise. The werewolves were also uncertain, milling around and talking in deep gravelly voices amongst themselves. I strolled over to a toppled marble column and sat down, Prince at my heels. A werewolf watched me do it and strode in my direction. I wasn't sure whether I'd violated some unknown rule about sitting in the Lady's presence, and debated whether to spring back up or remain where I was. Before he could reach me, Alistair was in front of me, sheltering me from whatever the wolf was going to do. He held his hands out, palms forward.

"Easy, friend." He nodded towards the Lady of the Forest. "That is your lady; this is ours. Leave her alone." As he spoke, Aedan, Zevran, Leliana, and even Sten and Morrigan came over to join him, shielding me with their bodies but keeping their postures non-threatening. Prince growled, low and threatening. I guess he didn't get the memo about not picking fights! I was horribly embarrassed, and extremely pleased all at the same time. The werewolf growled, but backed off when Swiftrunner barked at him. I couldn't understand the language, but the meaning was clear in any language. He tucked his tail behind him and turned, slinking away.

Aedan sat himself beside me, Leliana on the opposite side, and Alistair crouched in front of me. The rest stood around in seeming random positions, but the tension was still quite obvious. My companions were a little over-protective, and I was mortified to discover how safe and warm inside that made me feel. Even when I'd just shot down Alistair's advance...

Finally Zathrian and the Lady rejoined the group. We all stood to meet them. All traces of Zathrian's arrogance were gone, and he stood, slightly stooped, face drawn. He looked...old.

"The Lady has convinced me that she wishes only to be allowed to die. My hate blinded me, for so long...I knew nothing else. It is time to let that go." He turned to us. "Thank you, Grey Wardens, and you, Seer. I will prepare the ritual to end my curse. Please...please tell Lanaya that I have great faith in her, and that I know she will be a better Keeper than I have been these past centuries?"

We nodded, solemnly, and he stepped to the centre of the room, sitting down and closing his eyes. The Lady did a quick circuit among the werewolves, not talking, but touching each one as she passed. When she reached Swiftrunner, she took his shoulders in her hands, and he bent so his forehead touched hers. They stayed like that for a few moments, and we all averted our eyes, wishing we were elsewhere. She finally separated from the huge beast, and approached Zathrian. She shimmered, and her skin seemed to suddenly change, and where there had been a beautiful, if unearthly woman, now there was a large, white wolf. It padded over to Zathrian, then settled onto its belly, head resting on Zathrian's knee. He opened his eyes one last time to lock eyes with the creature, then raised a small, wickedly sharp dagger and dragged it across the palm of his opposite hand.

The usual tingly crawly sensation went up my spine before he did it, and Alistair and I traded looks. There was a flash of light, and when our eyes cleared, all that remained of Zathrian and the Lady were bones. The next thing we noticed was that all the werewolves had changed back into human form. They were naked, more men than women, and a variety of ages from teens to elderly. They talked amongst themselves for a bit, as we silently watched. Some knew they had family to go back to, while others could be sure their families were either dead or had moved on; those with nowhere to go got sorted out into small groups accompanying those who had homes and agreed to take them; soon, all of the former werewolves had grouped up and made their way out of the ruins. Several pledged to go to Redcliffe and join the forces we hoped to gather there to combat the Blight, and I was impressed.

We were finally alone in the crumbling ruins. We sat to chat about our options, including confronting the undead and the dragon in the ruins, or just leaving. Aedan was reluctant to leave the dangerous creatures lurking down there in case some innocent stumbled on the place in the future, and so with a sigh we all agreed to clear the ruin out. I climbed to my feet, stopping Alistair before he could walk away from me.

"I'm your Lady?"

He flushed slightly, face defensive. "Yeah, well, you are, whether you like it or not. You let Aedan lead, you even make a good show out of it, but we all know we'd follow you in a heartbeat if you contradicted him. And you...remind all of us what we're fighting for. It's easy to lose sight of that when you're in a dark place, surrounded by darkspawn and dragons and abominations."

His shoulders squared as he turned to walk away, and it was my turn to be left, standing with my mouth hanging open, looking ridiculous.

The group gathered around the doors to the rest of the ancient ruin, and I finally joined them, at the back, daggers out. Going backwards through the ruin felt weird, and of course, the first thing we encountered was a room full of undead and an arcane horror. I could feel that horrible, itchy, magic aura from the room next to it, so we were prepared; Alistair drained most of its mana, Morrigan drained a bit more, and then Aedan, Zevran, Sten, and Alistair hacked it to pieces. Once it was dead, the rest of the corpses were pretty easy to defeat.

A few more rooms of corpses followed, and, clumsy as they were, I was even able to help out a little bit. I got yelled at by Wynne, but ignored her. Alistair was harder to ignore – he took me by the arm and shouted at me angrily. I agreed to stay back with a sigh. We found the room with the odd phylactery containing the spirit that taught the Arcane Warrior abilities. Wynne stepped up and held the phylactery. It was creepy, actually, to watch – her eyes rolled back in her head, her body lifted up slightly as though she hung from a thread on the ceiling, and she convulsed for about a minute. When it was done she slumped down, and Aedan caught her, easing her to the ground. She regained consciousness after a minute, and claimed to feel fine. With no one else who could heal to check her out, we were forced to believe her. She claimed to know all about Arcane Warrior magic now, and we watched her destroy the phylactery on the nearby altar.

Next we ended up killing a shade in the shape of an elven woman, and managed to complete the elven ritual without the tablet, since I knew the steps from the wiki. The Juggernaut armour was impressive looking, and fit Alistair perfectly. I was relieved that the pieces were actually all together; apparently the hide and seek out in the ruins with tombstones was just for entertainment value.

There were more skeletons, and then eventually a set of stairs leading up towards the surface. We knew the dragon was at the top of the stairs, and Aedan convinced me to wait at the bottom until he called. I have never been known for my patience, and this was no exception. I stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking balefully up, anxiously fidgeting. I'm going to take up nail biting, at this rate!

I heard the clashing of metal, the roaring of a dragon, and knew the fight was on. It lasted for an eternity. Frustrated and afraid, I couldn't wait; I took the stairs two at a time as I raced to the top to check on my friends. Barging through the door, which someone had closed, the scene before me was something out of my worst nightmare.

The air smelled like sulfur and made my eyes water. The source of the smell, an enormous fire-breathing dragon, was in the middle of the room surrounded by my companions. Off to my right, Wynne was down with blood trickling from a wound in her head. Her eyes were closed, and I didn't know if she was unconscious or dead. Sten, Shale, and Alistair faced the dragon, who would alternate snapping and clawing at one then another. Zevran and Aedan were nowhere to be seen. Leliana was back in a corner, firing arrow after arrow, but most of them just bounced off the creature's thick hide. Morrigan stood over Wynne's prone form, alternately shooting frost spells to slow the dragon down and keep the fire from causing too much damage, and trying to rouse the elderly healer at her feet.

As I watched, the dragon spun, its tail arcing through the air, connecting with Shale and tossing her towards Sten. Both went down in a tangled pile of limbs and rocks, and I briefly wondered if Sten could survive being landed upon by Shale. Stopping the turn, Alistair was left alone facing the dragon. And then I realised it was taking a deep breath, which I could only assume foreshadowed a blast of flame; Alistair, being the only nearby target, had nowhere to run. He was going to burn. He raised his shield, but even from across the room I could see that his shoulders had slumped; he knew he couldn't survive.

It was like the world suddenly quit spinning, like time just...stopped. I couldn't move, couldn't breathe, could only stare helplessly at the man I was stupidly in love with and watch him die. Alistair spotted me, and smiled a slow, sad smile, and I felt my heart shatter into thousands of tiny pieces. I suddenly realised that everyone I'd ever cared about was in that room, and at least one of them was going to die. Something inside me snapped. I had not risked my life at Ostagar to save Duncan and Cailan for Alistair, only to watch him burn.

And then suddenly time caught back up, and before I even had time to think, I was running. I pulled my daggers from their sheaths, and shouting at the top of my lungs, pelted towards the dragon, whose profile faced me. I waved my arms like a crazy person, trying to get the beast's attention, and it seemed to work. Suddenly faced with a new adversary, the dragon's head turned towards me. It seemed to be moving in slow motion, but I realised that was just my perception heightened by fear. Realising what I was up to, Alistair shouted something at me, but it was too late.

The dragon's mouth opened and a great gout of flame erupted from its maw. It started before the head was facing me, splashing harmlessly against the stone walls of the ruin, but as it continued to turn the heat grew more and more intense. I opened my mouth to scream in agony, but the air was so hot I couldn't even draw a breath. I felt my skin start to burn, my armour blackening, and mercifully began to lose consciousness. The last thing I saw as I fell was Zevran climbing up the beast's back, and Alistair leaping at the neck, digging his sword in and hanging on. And then everything went black.

********

I dreamt of home. I was quite sure it was a dream – I couldn't look around, couldn't sit up. How I could dream when I should be dead was beyond me, but apparently rumours of my demise must have been exaggerated. My doctor was there, trying to talk to me, but my mouth was full of cotton or something, and I couldn't make any sound. So this is what a lucid dream feels like. I would have pinched myself but I couldn't move. I tried to think of things that should wake me up – the smell of my own roasting human flesh, my fear of what happened after I passed out, the incredible pain I had felt, even tried imagining Alistair kissing me, anything to shock my mind into waking up. It didn't work. My heart was pounding as I worried about my companions in Ferelden. Not a good time to be sleeping, Sierra. Wake up!

I briefly wondered if I could be in the Fade again, but figured the answer must be no if I was able to have that coherent a thought. When I'd been in the Fade before, I'd felt very confused, unable to think clearly. This felt different.

I tried concentrating on what my dream doctor was saying, but it was like I was hearing underwater; I caught every third or fifth word, and my lip-reading skills weren't strong enough to fill in the blanks. He started shining a little tiny flashlight into my eyes – ow! – and then proceeded to pinch my hands. I'd have screeched and pulled away if I was capable, but my arms felt like they were cooked spaghetti, which coincidentally had the density of lead. I couldn't even twitch. But my assumption that this was a dream went out the window – I'd never dreamt of pain before, that I could remember.

My eyes drifted closed, and when they opened again, Aedan was there. He looked afraid. He was shaking me, and I couldn't understand him, but knew enough to guess he was calling my name. I still couldn't move, couldn't speak. Wynne came into view, and Aedan was talking to her, arms waving in jerky gestures. Wynne's face was calm, but the confusion was clear. She didn't understand either.

The next time I blinked, I was back on Earth. It was dizzying and confusing, and I wanted to cry. Maybe this was what I'd feared since first realizing I was travelling to Ferelden – I was stuck somehow, between worlds. I'd never wake up again, never see Alistair smile or ruffle Aedan's hair or tease him about Zevran...The one part of my body apparently under voluntary control was my eyes, and tears welled up before I could blink them away. I could feel them trickle down my cheek, but couldn't brush them away. It seemed a major indignity, somehow.

The doctor noticed the tears, and was immediately back in my face. I concentrated, and he finally tried to speak slowly and clearly.

"Sierra, can you hear me?" He face-palmed. "Sorry, that was dumb. Listen, if you can understand me, blink once for yes and twice for no. Okay?"

I slowly, deliberately blinked once.

"Okay I just want to test our system. Lemme think...uh, is the sky purple?"

I blinked twice. He smiled.

"Excellent. Alright listen. I'm not sure exactly what's going on – you started convulsing and your skin blistered, then cleared again a few minutes later. Now you're not moving. Can you feel things?"

I blinked once.

"Huh. So, I guess...some sort of locked-in syndrome. I'll have to try-"

I interrupted with two emphatic blinks.

"No? No to what? Not locked in?"

Blink.

"I...okay, I'm not even sure what to start asking, with such limited response possible. Do you understand what's going on?"

Two blinks.

"But you don't think it's locked in syndrome."

Two blinks.

"I...well I suppose you wouldn't be able to blink if it was. Alright, well I'll do some research. See what I can figure out. Are you in pain?"

Two blinks.

"Okay. Do you need anything? Hungry, thirsty, need to use the bathroom?"

Three blinks.

"Uh...oh. You need something, but none of those things?"

One blink.

"Um...are you cold? Need a blanket?"

Three blinks.

"Not a blanket? Something else?"

One blink. He looked stumped. I wanted to scream. Something flickered behind his eyes. Enlightenment?

"Oh, let me guess. You want your clothes on."

One very relieved blink.

"Alright, I'll see what I can do."

I settled in to wait, and my eyes drifted shut again. How can I be tired? All I've done is sleep. When I woke again, I was in Ferelden. I was being carried, but I couldn't turn my head to see who carried me. I recognised the ruins we walked through, and realised we must be leaving them, since we were heading through the werewolf lair and up the stairs. It made sense – with at least Wynne injured, and me unconscious, staying around as prey for spiders and undead wasn't very appealing. I was desperate for the ability to look around, so I could reassure myself that everyone was safe. Whatever happened to me, I wanted to know. Sadly my prayers went unanswered, and the back of Aedan, in front of me, was all I succeeded in seeing. At least he's safe. I closed my eyes and let the tears come.

The next time I opened my eyes, I was lying on the ground, blue sky shining down on me. Ferelden, still. Maybe I'm stabilising again. I was highly relieved to find myself able to turn my head. I felt weak, but at least capable of moving to some extent. On one side, there was nothing but trees, but the opposite side showed me Aedan's sleeping face. I could feel his large warm hand gripping mine, and squeezed gently. His eyes popped open, and a huge smile broke out when he saw me looking at him.

"Wynne! She's awake!" He hollered across what I assumed was our camp, and then turned back to me. "How are you, sweetheart?"

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