|Chains of Air and Glass
Author: Maiafay PM
Bartrand betrayed them, but 'both' doors are sealed. Fenris seeks another route alone. Deep below the Primeval Thaig lies a forgotten city, a deadly guardian, and the true price of elvhen immortality. Fenris/Anders, Fenris/JusticeRated: Fiction M - English - Horror/Fantasy - Fenris & Anders - Chapters: 3 - Words: 13,074 - Reviews: 32 - Favs: 21 - Follows: 46 - Updated: 02-11-12 - Published: 05-07-11 - id: 6971933
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Be advised. This is where I take some liberties with lore.
After the lyrium path expanded into a masonry road guarded by stone effigies - eyes crumbling out of their sockets and skulls split - and the eroding remains of regal, but clunky palaces, he and the dragonfly passed the big toe of a massive golem.
Up and up his head craned, but the gloom swallowed the golem's face. It guarded nothing except the rock wall behind it and vacant ruins. What need would the dwarves have for a gigantic creature as this? Voices in the dark answered, restless spirits of red lyrium. Glittering madness, it sought to consume everything in reach. It bled from every crevice, oozed across rock. Thick veins of it draped over the remnants of homes and walls. Words drifted into his ears, but faded before they made sense, scraps of phrases, teasing promises.
They tried coaxing him to his death: a cliff he almost tumbled over, a cracked stone archway about to collapse, a pit he avoided at the last moment.
His lifeline, a hazy globe of scarlet weaving around jutting edifices and strewn statues. How many had died here? How many had taken the eyes of their children?
Furtive movement behind a crumbling wall, a flutter of motion at the edge of his vision. He stayed close behind his alated beacon, fearing the dragonfly might vanish and leave him at the mercy of these tortured souls.
Strange rock creatures roamed the next sprawling set of rooms and narrow passageways. Bulky limbs strung together with invisible wire, bare skulls aflame, glowing spines. They spat lightening at one another, squabbling over lyrium as starving men would over discarded chicken bones.
They have named themselves Profane. No god will have them. Only lyrium gives solace now. Keep your distance, da'fen, lest they wish to taste those lovely markings you wear.
A river of halls flowing in many directions, crests of dwarven houses long forgotten on the walls – most little more than bits of pigment and grooved outlines. The central hall, grand in size, but plain, spilled itself into a wide cavern.
Towering fungi, twisted by red lyrium, spores smoldering in the air like cinders. He breathed through his fingers. No telling what things would sprout in his chest if those spores took root. Great fanning heads spanned the ceiling, eager to conquer territory. Graceful tendrils swayed in a nonexistent breeze. The dragonfly avoided the mushrooms and their elegant arms. He soon saw why.
Faces and mummified bodies of once men and women formed the mushroom stalks, entombed within the pink flesh, caught in the throes of death, mutilated. Some had fused together, teeth and noses in the wrong places, on the wrong side.
Scuttling sounds, then brassy chirping. A hand twitched as something moved beneath it.
The Maker may not hear his prayers, but he gave thanks anyway for the dragonfly's swift flight.
Grey Wardens. Only they would be suicidal enough to venture so deep. Their cries came through a narrow fissure midway through a series of labyrinthine tunnels. Through an opening no wider than his forefinger and thumb, struggling human bodies clashed with pale withered forms. Shadows and light, flashes of blade meeting blade. A mage set a darkspawn on fire. It shrieked, writhed on the ground before arching its back and vomiting black bile on the wall. The mage worked another spell, hurried words of desperation while her companions fell around her. How could she manage to do magic, yet the mage had trouble summoning his?
The line is thin between my world and theirs.
Before he could question, a darkspawn emissary levitated into view. Pallor the color of dirty sea foam, sightless eyes, ear tips skewered by decorative barbs, and lips stretched into a manic leer. The remains of the Grey Wardens scattered, leaving their mage defenseless. He averted his eyes when they fell upon her. Mage or not, he took no pleasure in her death, in her screams, the guttural cries of victory from the darkspawn – but he did not mourn her. All roads led here after the taint. Such was the curse of the Grey Wardens.
They think death is peace, but the suffering never ends, the song never ends.
How far is it to this dwelling of yours? He dared not speak. The emissary's blue white orb bobbed as its owner swept the room for survivors.
Through the next cavern, past the lake and the Night's den. Don't stop, da'fen. The forest sees you.
A dead opal peered through the space between rock. The emissary babbled at him in its black tongue, talons scraping, pushing through. Its magic gave a sickening pulse of delight.
The silent lake, not frosted over with ice, but with fine white sand – the dust coating the elven feet in his dream. Under the sand, a sheet of clear crystal. He knelt in the middle of the lake, overcome with curiosity and numbed by the brilliance around him.
If twilight skies instead of stone spread above, this could be a winter's evening, fresh fallen snow reflecting the moonlight.
He pushed the sand aside and recoiled. He had just fled the same creature no more than an hour ago. This emissary stared through him, lips peeled back in a grinning snarl. He swept the sand away with his foot. More darkspawn lurked beneath. Hurlocks, Genlocks, and the side profile of a gasping Shriek. Bodies clumped together as if they had tumbled into the lake at the same time. Flies in amber, forever captured and preserved. Maybe this group had tried crossing the lake when it had been water – if it had ever been water.
A sharp buzz near his ear. Damn overgrown mosquito. He swiped at it and huffed: "Yes, yes, do not tarry. The forest is watching, I know. But these dead watch no one. The Void is all their eyes see."
At the shore pan, sand hardened into rock again. And the pass ahead started wide, but the further he ventured into it, the more it shrank into itself until the walls seemed intent on squeezing the very soul from his body. Sweat in his eyes, pooling on his upper lip, soaking his tunic. Each breath a laborious draw. Lightheaded, he inched toward the only illumination in the murk, a lantern held aloft by a steady but uncaring hand.
Halfway, the angle slanted. His breastplate screeched in protest and refused to go no further. Bending back and forth did nothing. Side to side did likewise. No leeway up or down, the skin of his toes bloody and raw from scraping them against the stone. His arms flapped, his hands groped, found edges that cut and pits that crumbled. Dirt showered his face, blinded him. He shook his head, spat it out in a violent rush, and cursed it all in his native tongue. He cursed the dirt, the stone, his breastplate for being a hairsbreadth too thick. He cursed the deep roads, the red lyrium, Bartrand for being a weak-minded fool and not resisting its call. The mage he cursed out of spite, that haughty spirit of his so-called Justice, his plaintive whining of persecution, his ceaseless diatribes of the Chantry's unfairness to poor, defenseless mages.
Then he cursed this god back to whatever plane of the Void had spawned it. He cursed its minions, the golden lyrium, the whispering lies, the false promises, its stupid nickname for him, and its golem pet he wished to stomp into pieces, feel its delicate crystal legs shatter beneath his feet.
The lantern went out.
Encased within a tomb, the slabs of rock already in place. Pride kept him from screaming, but his eyes and limbs flew everywhere. The wall in front of his face had vanished into blackness. His breathing increased in tempo, but lessened in depth. He pushed, then shoved, then punched the stone. His leggings tore. Blood trickled over his toes. Grunts of exertion over the blood rush in his ears. No lantern. No voice. Nothing but the smothering dark. It was alive and would devour him – and if it did not, what lurked within surely would.
"Malum!" It came as a sob. He sagged, a captive pinched between a rock ogre's fingers. "I'm sorry! Please, I'm sorry. I lost my temper and I'm sorry. I didn't mean any of what I said...really. Don't leave me here, like this. Creator? Please?" Reduced to begging, the last three years of acquired dignity peddled away on an oversensitive god. Let it be enough. He had nothing else to offer.
Lean away when my sycophant approaches. Pleased with him again, smoothing his raised fur, massaging behind his ears. He sighed, complacent in his relief. So easy to slip that glove back on, comforting and safe. Let another decide his fate. He was no good at it.
The lantern rekindled and scaled the opposite wall, coming slow and cautious. Blues and greens sputtered inside the scarlet flame, then other colors his eyes did not recognize, and mind could not process. Pressure built inside him, his lyrium markings suddenly alive and intent on freeing themselves from his skin. Mist in sunlight, droplets of magical energy hung over the golem, a dark rainbow both radiant and sickening to behold. Nausea rolled through, rattled his bones, and scattered his senses. Music from the rainbow, hissing songs he felt rather than heard. The words made no sense, but the sensations he understood. Lust, anguish, hunger, and misery. One flowed into the other, confused his body into reaction and tears. A low moan of desire escaped him. He needed to touch it. Just once. He had no concept what he wanted, but he knew the golem could give it.
Touch it, and you will die.
He flinched from its tone. Fingers no longer petting, but digging into his neck, forcing him to heel. Tink, tink of the dragonfly's tiny legs. In front of him now. His head pressed into the wall, eyes watering. The fingers around his neck squeezed harder. Vibrant with poisonous magic, one needle-like leg raised - and with all the elegance its god had endowed it - tapped once on the rim of his breastplate.
The metal disintegrated.
Enough room to move, and move he did, a sloppy, frantic shuffle away from the dragonfly and the smoldering remains of his armor. Bile in his throat and out of his mouth by the time he hit the ground on the other side. And there he stayed on all fours, heaving the remains of dried meat and water until he could purge no more.
"What, in the Maker's name, are you?" he managed to choke out when his stomach had stopped seizing.
I am impatient, and there are miles yet between us. Compose yourself, then continue on the path.
He said no more, not trusting himself to stay the humble servant. Under his palms, the rock shivered. He snatched his hand back, certain the stone would open or attempt to eat him. From the way this journey was going, he expected no less.
The Night slumbers. Tread with care, da'fen.
The Night? He brushed himself off and stood. His toes complained in time with his pulse. His knees exposed and bloody, his gauntlets missing their plating, and his belt lay somewhere in the middle of the passageway. Looks like Rivaini had her way with you, elf. Varric chuckled in his head. A half-hearted smile in return only the golem could see. It bobbed red again and hovered at the exit of this dank little cave. He gave it a wider berth than normal. Rainbows and music that corroded armor. What other surprises did this Creator have for him?
In the tunnel beyond, shivers grew into tremors, then into rhythmic quaking that had him hugging the wall for balance. What could produce snores that monstrous?
The Night. Slumbering.
He remembered the giant book in Danarius's study, worn from use, spine cracked and pages the color of aged wax. He remembered this book not for its words – for written words were meaningless to a slave – but for its pictures. The Old Gods, what the magisters imagined they looked like before the taint had corrupted them. Each god had other names listed, secret names the Chantry-raised Hadriana had to memorize before Danarius would teach her rune magic.
Dumet, god of silence with his golden scales and fiery spines. Urthemiel, god of beauty, with his opalescent sheen and horns the color of dusk. Toth, god of fire, ironically black instead of red, but blazing eyes, forked tongue of pure flame. The others: Andoral, Razikale, Zazikel, all shown at the peak of their glory.
And Lusacan, with moonlight for eyes, and twilight for form.
The god of night.
He charged ahead of the dragonfly, reckless with excitement. To see this creature before the taint, gods the magisters still revered in their hearts as Chantry prayers fell from their lips. Beings the darkspawn pursued relentlessly, lured by the magic of their song.
Looming mouth of a cave. Shuddering ground. He clutched the tip of a stalagmite until the dragonfly zipped past and began a hasty egress. From its light, purple shining scales, a sinuous hulking shoulder, the tapered edge of a sleek but enormous wing. He had hunted high dragons with Danarius when his master had needed their blood or horns, and he had seen that Flemeth witch transform into one at Sundermount.
Both could be this creature's hatchlings.
"Lusacan." He said the name not in reverence, but with profound awareness that what slept in front of him was something the mages of Tevinter would pray to see in their lifetime, even if it meant their death. Danarius himself would kill for the opportunity.
And here he was, a former slave, beholding a god of the magisters.
Lusacan's thunderous breathing ceased. The absence of sound yawed deep, unnatural, as if he had somehow disturbed the order of things, or had toppled some obscure mechanism that had been working fine forever – until he opened his big mouth. He had whispered its name. Hardly breathed it. Surely it would not wake by his voice alone.
You spoke louder than its dreams. The Creator sounded exasperated, as if made to attend some undesired event. The dragonfly evinced its master's displeasure further with a shrill buzz and a brighter hue of red.
The entire cavern moved at once. Hulking body uncoiling, joints cracking, a massive haunch stretching. Its serpentine neck swept from floor to ceiling. Scales the color of sky and the deepest blue of the ocean shone violet under the dragonfly's glow. Horns curved and twisted, ivory in the book, but rose in the cavern.
Its forearms crashed on either side of him, teetering his balance, trapping him, and he gaped at it, stupefied. Even with his weapon and tattoos, what damage could he do to this creature? It opened its mouth in a yawn, rows of teeth that could rent an alpha wyvern to pieces. He fell into its eyes, water under moonlight, the sky at dusk, the first stars seen at twilight. And unlike the high dragons, keen intelligence there, vast knowledge of all ages.
It cocked its head at him, trying to make sense of him, and why a thing like him – dirty, bloody, and smelling of sweat and stone and lyrium – would invade its den without cause or invitation.
"I apologize for the intrusion, uh...Lord Lusacan. And forgive my ignorance of your proper address. Waking you had not been my intention...and of course, I would humbly request that you forgive me for that...too."
It chuffed at him, blue smoke pluming from its nostrils. Unsure if that was good or bad, he continued: "I would leave you to your slumber, but I seek a way through your den, and again, humbly request that you allow me safe passage."
A throaty grumble and it reared back. He crouched, certain he would become a tasty bedtime treat.
The Night lifted one wing, stretched it wide so the tips brushed the far wall of the cavern. Endless blackness inside, numerous stars the color of pearls. Some hung in shimmering clouds, diamonds in smoke. Others formed bands of ice around enormous swathed spheres of blue. Smaller spheres hung over the larger, some pale, some dark, some so bright they hurt his eyes. Its wing folded. The universe closed. One eye blinked, a gentle rumble and lazy toss of its head.
He swallowed, overwhelmed by the majesty of the creature. The Night lumbered forward, snout coming to rest at his feet. Eyes the size of his head, and so close he could see every bright thread of its iris. All shades of blue imaginable. It considered him for a long breath, and he held his. Another languid blink, a thoughtful flare of its nostrils.
"Will you let me pass?"
The purring sound it made, boulders rolling downhill. Was it laughing at him? The wing opened again, stars spilling their luminescence into the cavern. Worlds beckoned. More boulders down the hill, encouraging.
"Oh, I see now, I'm sorry. You thought I meant – you think I wish to enter this...portal of yours. Go to these places. Leave Thedas? You...would grant me this? Me? But I'm a –" He paused and berated himself in silence. Stammering his words, practically gibbering at it. Maker, he was worse than Merrill.
What he offers you cannot accept. You are mine. Mine. And I will make certain your Hawke suffers if you do not honor our agreement.
The Night snapped at the dragonfly, sending it wheeling into an high alcove. Words of warning, of what terrible magic it could do tumbled from his lips. The Night gazed back at him, serene, unafraid. It shifted to the side, a tall opening to the right of its long, flicking tail. From its hiding place, the dragonfly poked its head out, beat its wings once and flew toward the exposed exit.
He dared a hand upon the Night's radiant scales. Smooth and resilient – like a well-made shield. Heavy regret in his words, his mind full of stars and far off lands he would never see."You honor me, Lusacan, but I cannot accept. There is an obligation I must fulfill...whether I want to or not."
Resigned acknowledgment with an incline of its head, and what sounded like a human sigh.
The first and last time Lusacan would speak to him. Perhaps to anyone – save for the darkspawn whenever they found it and twisted its beauty into horror.
The pity in its eyes stayed with him every reluctant step away from its den. In a fierce, impulsive moment, he wished he owed Hawke nothing. He wished Varric or the mage had not aided him against the hunters. Damn them. And damn his conscience. To leave this chaotic world, to find a place to start over without fear of Danarius finding him, without the stigma of his race shadowing him, without the mages or darkspawn spreading their destruction and hate.
Dreams and fairy tales. There is no such place. Stop your wallowing, you know nothing of true pain.
"Leave me alone, demon. I despise you."
You despise your weakness, the lack of 'choice' you mortals find so precious. It is a farce – as is your so-called freedom.
"You are a god. What do you know of being a slave?"
We are bound by different chains, da'fen.
It left him then, but did not go far. It lingered on the edge of his dark thoughts, a vulture waiting to pick and nibble at his weakening resolve. No one would rescue him this time. No Hawke. No Varric, or the mage. Not even the Old God could save him.
Abandoned by its owner, a dream languished on the edge of the Veil. More Fade than reality, ethereal spires and transparent cupolas seemed carved from breath, spectral buildings held aloft by fragile columns of golden lyrium – the first he had seen of it after the walls had closed and severed him from the others.
He stood at the bridge to the elvhen city the Creator called Uthmelanan, a place where time never ends. A fitting title given the sheen and sparkle of a city more ancient than the oldest dwarven ruin.
At the heart of the city, a most impressive wonder: a sun grasped by the lacing fingertips of a skeletal tree. The sun hummed as it rotated within the tree's palm, the vibrations felt even from this distance. Visible from its upper branches, the tree plunged its trunk and roots deep below an outcropping of white stone. Peeking from the empty space around the tree, the top steps of a stairway.
And that is your destination. The bridge will hold – like you, it is stronger than it appears.
He tested the glossy walkway with his foot, dubious in spite the Creator's reassurance. Over the bridge hung a scrolling framework of lyrium that dipped and swelled. Delicate finials topped with pearls. The railing beneath his hand, amber glass, and spun so thin only the light gave it form.
No sound from Uthmelanan, the sun hummed its menacing tune to no one. This place seemed unnatural - not for its location, but for its lost people, the elvhen. Dwarves loved the dark (save for Varric), they loved their stone. The ancient elvhen had loved their open skies and forests. He had never considered his people's history important. They were great once, yes, but then the humans conquered them, enslaved them, freed them, then enslaved them again.
Dwelling on the past never produced anything but regret, and he had plenty of that already.
But the cold beauty of this place baffled him. Something drove his ancestors underground, compelled them to build this city – and he had a feeling that "something" was why he now walked on a mystical bridge alongside a golem dragonfly, who would land and 'tink' for several feet as if amused by the sound its legs made against lyrium. It almost made him smile, but the city loomed, stark walls and narrow archways. Vibrations stronger now: his bones the strings and the sun, the bow.
The bridge behind him, and vacant streets before him. A mist curled around his legs, greeting with a clammy hand. The dragonfly, vigilant as if suspecting an attack, swooped and hovered, and then darted into a crystal street.
A market of some kind. Tipped over baskets, not stone or lyrium, but straw still preserved, the fruit still fresh. He rolled what appeared to be an apple into an open doorway. Vender stalls, tented with white gauzy material. Trinkets on the tables, embellished shields, curved swords, elegant armor – some pieces strewn on the ground as if thrown or discarded.
Amulets chimed when he bumped into a display lattice, his attention on the body the dragonfly had flown over.
At the corner, where the dead market ended and the road forked toward the revolving sun, a suit of armor lay intact. It resembled what the dalish would wear, but instead of deerskin and leather, a golden metal he did not recognize, white accents. A bare tree embossed on the breastplate, the gauntlets edged with leaves and whorls. Inside, black dust, and the faint odor of rotten fish. He puzzled over it a moment, but the dragonfly ushered him toward the right path. Hurry hurry. Can't keep the god waiting.
Closer to the sun, the lyrium encasing it noticeable over the vaulted domes. Shooting stars of pink and red looped around it in the same pattern, gradually increasing in speed and brightness. Wary, he paused to watch it, his eyes following the swirls and pondering their significance.
A gift to my disciples, nothing more. I provided for them, cared for them. And they repaid me with betrayal.
The dragonfly at his ear, then in front of his face, so bright red it looked ready to explode.
Come. Now. I have waited for you long enough.
The instinct to run had never been this powerful. By sheer will he clung to his promise, the image of Hawke's dark eyes, and Varric's easy laugh. Whatever he suffered in this life, the Maker would amend – so said the Chantry, their doe-eyed Mothers. But what of his soul in the hands of a false god?
It is mine.
Tears in his eyes, he followed the dragonfly with the obedient shame of a prisoner to the execution block. Roses sprouted from dead gardens. Hanging plants and vines greened. Other flowers unfurled and renewed as he trudged by. Andraste's Grace, tulips, daisies, and wildflowers of every color.
The Creator's way of welcoming him, no doubt. Hello, this is my city. Isn't it lovely? Hurry now, I'm waiting to feed you poisonous fruit until your eyes bleed black - because I'm really not a god, I'm a demented demon.
Your Maker is cruel. He abandoned Thedas, left you mortals to the Blight and the tainted ones. Slavery is rampant, mageborn yield to temptation and demons. What benevolent god does this to his children?
A number of Chantry excuses rose, but he said none of them. He had no answer.
A gate ahead, tall and embroidered with vines and ivy. Already opened, keys on the ground and in the center of another smelling pile of dust. He avoided the pile and key and slid through the gate without touching the sides.
Movements became sluggish. He walked though hardening sap. The walls became water, mouths and eyes in the shallows. The mouths whispered warnings. They told him to go back. He must not enter. But he was already here. Already lost.
Heavy air, hot and stinging. The courtyard in a haze of gold and mist. No flowers. Too white. The sun pulled him forward, forced him to his knees. The wounds there bled again. Smears of red against white. Black soot everywhere. The smell made him gag. A massacre. The dead screamed inside the sun, golden spirits who pounded on their lyrium cage. The dragonfly faltered, almost crashing into the massive trunk before righting itself. It entered the circling stairway in a drunken swoop. He crawled after it, tumbled most of the way down. New bruises. More smears. It didn't matter. He was going to die anyway.
He panted at the bottom, death and magic bearing away his thoughts. His control. The vulture called Creator pecked at his soul, swallowed the torn shreds in greedy gulps. Instinct. All he had left. And some primal need to continue toward death. To behold its divinity before it claimed him.
Roots everywhere, thick and bulging. Wet. Some sort of viscid glaze. White, like the opaque film of a dead eye. Entire wall, covered, writhing. He stood, then fell. Stayed there. Easier to kneel. Always was.
Something out of place. A mirror. Large. Ornate. Framed by vines. Red beneath the white. Lyrium, the bad kind. It told the dwarves to eat themselves. Then it ate the dwarves. It made him stare until the wall opened its mouth and vomited beauty.
Born of root and vine and darkness. Spine arching, flexing. Erotic. The Creator glided toward him, the creature from his dream. Not quite there. Not quite real. Spiraled horns. A tangle of sinuous golden tendrils for hair. No legs. Thick vines below the hips, fusing into a serpents tail. Flat chest, slender neck, gold skin that lightened into silver mask. Androgynous. High cheek bones. Slanted black pupils of magic and loathing.
He crawled backwards, hit a wall that wasn't there. Vines spread from its back, a parody of wings. Then the wings caught on fire. Smoke fanned and curled. Violet cinders. Red ash. Faces there too. Thousands of them. The entire city. Every sacrifice made to it. This he knew because they told him. They showed him. And he held his head and groaned, blood running from his nose to his chin.
It touched him then, its magic scalding his skin with ice. He quailed, but his lyrium rejoiced. It licked his blood slowly from its finger. Shuddered once. Pain and ecstasy twisted its perfect mouth into a hideous grimace.
"Ah, da'fen. At last."
Ma nuvenin'len: As you wish, child
Uthmelanan: A place where time never ends
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