Author: SnowHelm PM
This is the follow on story to Blight & Bliss. Set around the new Warden base in Amaranthine. The Blight is over, but danger is ever present. As Grace strives to keep her family safe and help rid Ferelden of the continuing Darkspawn threat, she must embrace all of who she is and walk the fine line between the darkness and the light. (AU)Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Hurt/Comfort - Alistair & Anders - Chapters: 87 - Words: 324,794 - Reviews: 127 - Favs: 11 - Follows: 23 - Updated: 03-10-13 - Published: 05-07-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8095461
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age Origins / Awakenings / DA2 or any of its characters.
Author Note: I have made quite a few changes and additions to this chapter. It flows much better now and I believe the ending is more appropriate - I hope. I would love to get your thoughts. Enjoy!
Grace looked up at Soldier's Peak and steeled herself for what was to come. Despite the many surprises Ferelden had thrown at her; she knew the place was infested with demons, she could feel their slime like energy and shuddered in revulsion.
Her thoughts took her back to the Coronation, watching her father talking to a man she later discovered to be Levi Dryden.
Grace watched her father, her heart swelling with joy. He looked so relaxed and a rare smile lit his features as he clapped the man next to him on the back. He had been badly hurt after their battle with the Archdemon and for several days they had been terrified that he wouldn't pull through. Grace had been sapped of all energy, unable even to raise a fireball and her stomach had been twisted in knots as she had watched her father deteriorate. Anders had done all he could; but he too had been exhausted and with no lyrium, their mana was slow to recover. Grace had gone through such a tumult of emotions and was close to breaking point. She had racked her brain trying to figure out who Flemeth had been intimate with with. No one was letting on and she was too distressed to find out.
Three days later Fergus Cousland finally managed to get his hands on some lyrium. "Are you sure about this Grace?"
She had taken the vial a determined look on her face. "I'm not losing him." Her voice even, barely betraying the emotions that were threatening to tear her apart. "Now go and distract the others."
Fergus raised his eyebrow. "You know I'm King right?" Grace stamped her foot in frustration and Fergus realised this really was no time for levity and nodded squeezing her shoulder gently.
Grace closed the door and stared at the still form of her father. So many of the Warden's had died. She still heard Stephano's screams as he had been caught in the flames. Dear; sweet Liam had also perished, his body almost too crushed and broken to identify. Tears slipped down her cheeks. Farin, Cameron and Treymour had also met their deaths on the top of that tower. Loghain; Garrett; Michael, Lynais and Loren had been so gravely injured Grace feared they too would die, but they were slowly recovering. Gavarth had lost an eye, but he jokingly said this added to the effect of the scar and made him more dashing. Danforth was lying as still as her father; his injuries so severe they wondered how he was still alive, yet he clung on.
She knelt down beside the men praying that this would work, that it would be enough. As the lyrium passed her lips, Grace was pleasantly surprised, instead of the bitter taste she was used to it was like the sweetest nectar coating her mouth and throat in its delicious taste. It flowed through her body, expanding out, it became almost impossible to focus. The lyrium sang, smoothly flowing through her body like sweet ecstasy. Grace had never felt so alive, so powerful. She took her fathers hand; the magic flowing so easily, sweeping through his body, holding him, comforting him. Duncan stirred, his eyelids flickering and then she was gazing into those rich brown eyes. Duncan blinked, overwhelmed by the golden light before him. It swelled around him; soothing his pain, healing his wounds and filling him with strength. He heard a soft voice, but couldn't make out the words. He tried to speak; but sank instead into the warmth, as the magic lulled him to sleep.
Grace turned to Danforth; reaching into him, repairing the damage, encouraging his body to heal. He groaned; twisting his head back and forth in pain, finally relaxing as her soothing magic rolled over him. His face lost all of it's tension and he lay in peaceful sleep. Grace stood back, astonished at the power still at her disposal, pulsing steadily through her body.
For a moment she allowed herself to drift; feeling the power of the old Gods, their ache of the Makers departure and his betrayal. She felt the presence of the two remaining in slumber and the shifting vibrations of her mother. She felt Alistair; Anders and Zevran aching at their strength, resilience and beautiful souls. They were her heart and as she pulled the magic back to herself, she felt their love wrap around her like a shield.
Slipping out of the room Grace made her way into the courtyard still buzzing from the energy. Fergus glanced up and stared. She looked more beautiful then she ever had. The colours of her hair more vibrant; rich blazing reds, so many strands of colour it was impossible to count. Her eyes, beautiful golden orbs shining with love and compassion. Her soft skin luminescent. She ran across the courtyard and flung herself into Fergus's arms, much to his surprise and those with him.
"It worked." She whispered breathlessly, her eyes shining with joy. Fergus grinned and hugged her his heart pounding. He became aware that he needed to step back from her because all he wanted was to kiss her stunning red lips, caress her flushed cheeks and feel her body against his. However it was Grace who pulled back, running to Alistair excitedly telling him of what had transpired and kissing him in delight. Fergus felt bereft as her arms left his neck, but he smiled and took his leave. Duncan and Danforth were up by the afternoon, with an excited and relieved Grace barely able to keep still.
Grace smiled to herself, that had been a good day. Her mind drifted again, this time to her stepdaughter Aurora.
Grace glanced down at the softly cooing child in her arms. Travelling was dangerous, but obviously Alistair would not be parted from his daughter. Merrin, the wet nurse employed in Denerim was to travel with them. She had family in Amaranthine, so once her services were no longer required it would be convenient for her to get to them.
Alistair smiled seeing the conflict on her face. "Don't worry Grace, Aurora will be perfectly safe."
"Don't you think that it's a little dangerous for her to be travelling with us?"
Alistair smiled. "With a demi goddess for a mum, how much danger could she be in!" Grace shook her head, frowning slightly.
"Have you travelled with us?" Gavarth interrupted with a grin. "She's the biggest trouble magnet there is." Grace kicked him gently, watching as he walked over to Duncan chuckling to himself.
Later that night Duncan had announced that he had agreed to help an old friend of his and they were going to make a slight detour to Soldiers Peak before they were to travel on to Amaranthine.
So here they were, having navigated through what seemed to be miles of tunnel to arrive at the Peak. It was freezing, snow covered the ground in a thick blanket and for once Grace was not fascinated by it.
"You'd think there would have been an easier way to get here." She murmured as they climbed up the snow covered steps to the main gate.
"It's very defensible." Duncan countered.
"Or a good place to get trapped in." She muttered back.
He stared in surprise at her fast darkening mood. "Grace?" She didn't answer at first trying to sense all that she could, so they would be as prepared as possible. "Grace?"
"Demons." She said softly. "Lots of demons."
Duncan unsheathed his sword, feeling the comforting weight in his hand. "Prepare yourselves." He commanded the rest of the group.
Half had remained with the wagon to protect Aurora. Alistair had stayed with his daughter and Grace missed his presence. She glanced to her companions and their now worried faces. Leliana had moved closer to Aedan and Gavarth was glaring grimly from his one eye. Anders and Zevran were casting each other worried glances. Garrett and Michael had also accompanied them and were shifting uncomfortably.
They climbed the remaining steps gasping as the air rippled around them; the empty courtyard suddenly full of soldiers, speaking of imprisoning the Wardens within the Peak itself. As the images faded they glanced at each other in concern.
"The veil is so thin here." Anders murmured, his anxiety obvious.
They had barely walked into the courtyard when the first attack was launched. Skeletons that littered the stone reanimated and lunged after them, seeming to carry all of the skill they had when alive. Grace quickly paralysed and stunned giving the Wardens a chance to attack them. However the skeleton's were relentless. Having no life of their own they simply kept attacking.
"We need to find the damn demon powering them!" Duncan roared above the clash of steel.
Grace backed away to the gate to give herself some space, Leliana moving just across from her to provide cover fire. Grace extended her magic, looking for the source of the energy that stuck to their attackers like a web. She gave a sharp intake of breath and span around as the demon shifted into view behind her. It was like smoke and ash and she screamed as it washed over her. Struggling to breath, Grace fought against the thick substance that was sliding over her trying to suffocate her. Lights danced before her eyes and her attempts to struggle were weakening. Despite the confusion of her brain that was starting to be starved of oxygen, Grace realised the demon was trying to sink into her. She felt herself land on the stone; the cold wetness of the snow sinking into her robe, it's icy touch freezing her skin. Closing her eyes Grace dropped into the chasm, no longer afraid. The light burst out of her shattering the demon along with its skeleton puppets. Duncan slid to the floor beside her gripping her shoulders as she coughed violently.
He hugged her tightly and pulled her to her feet. "You okay?" Duncan's voice trembled slightly.
Grace coughed again and took some gasping breaths, but nodded. "Lets go."
Loghain ran both hands through his thick black hair and gave a deep sigh. Before leaving Denerim he had noticed the signs of grey, with what weighed on his soul he was not surprised. Sitting slightly apart from the group he allowed his mind to wander, having done little else during their journey from Denerim. He cast cautious glances to Alistair who was keeping Aurora entertained, exchanging small talk with Merrin.
Loghain had few regrets, his life had been brutal and he had adapted to being a warrior and a General from his humble beginnings of a farmers son. He had been loyal to Maric and then to Cailan, but he wished he had remained loyal to Alistair. He glanced up and realised Alistair was watching him; before turning away, conflict clear on his face.
Loren began preparing a meal, Lynais making no attempt to hide the fact he was watching Loghain with great suspicion. The former Teyrn couldn't blame them, his part in poisoning Alistair had them all on edge. He was allowed no where near the food and drink supplies and was kept under watch at all times. Trust had to be earned and he knew that would be a long time in coming, if ever. Duncan had made it very clear if they even suspected him of attempting to harm any Warden; but especially Alistair, he would be executed. His eyes drew like a magnet to his granddaughter, the child he had not been allowed near. She looked like Anora had at her age. He wondered at the similarities of their names and was curious if Alistair had chosen the name out of affection or respect for his dead lover. He shuddered; his daughter was dead, his only link to her the child in Alistair's arms.
Alistair glanced at Loghain struggling with the grief and anger he carried. Grace had held him as he had wept over the death of his brother and the betrayal of his childhood mentor. In time he knew the pain would lessen; his anger would dim, but for now it was raw and Loghain in their group prodded at the wound ceaselessly. He kissed his daughter, handing her to Merrin and rose to his feet.
Loghain was startled by Alistair's approach and both men eyed each other uncertainly. "She's beautiful." Loghain said at last. Alistair nodded, his mouth too dry to offer comment. He scuffed his boots against the soil. "I had no idea you and Anora were...involved."
Alistair glared at Loghain, hatred darkening his eyes. "We were not involved." He ground out.
"The child was not immaculately conceived." Loghain persisted.
"No." Alistair slowly unclenched his fists, forcing himself to look at Loghain. "Your daughter was a scheming bitch, seems she took after you."
"Do not speak of her that way!" Loghain roared, leaping to his feet.
The Wardens rose; swords unsheathing, halted only by Alistair raising his hand. He moved closer to Loghain the tension thick between them. "Your daughter drugged me to enable her to conceive. The act was not one I consented to, nor wanted. I must live the rest of my life knowing my daughter was merely a way to enable Anora to maintain her status. One day I will have to tell Aurora about her mother; but I swear Loghain, if I ever catch you speaking of Anora to my daughter before I do, I will kill you with my bare hands."
Loghain nodded thoughtfully. "You have grown stronger."
Alistair lowered his head, closing his eyes trying to order his thoughts. "Why did you do it? Why did you help my brother poison me? I trusted you."
"At the time you were a threat to the throne."
Alistair stared at him in disbelief. "I was a threat!"
"Your affair with the mage was undesirable and your sympathy for Eamon was...unfortunate."
Alistair felt rage and injustice well through him, his fist impacting with Loghain's jaw before he could stop himself. Loghain hit the ground with a clank of armour, staring at Alistair with a mixture of pride and annoyance.
"Stay down Loghain." Danforth hissed, his sword at his throat. "Alistair, perhaps you would like to have some time with your daughter." Alistair backed away, shaking with the chaos of emotions pounding through him. Danforth turned back to Loghain. "Stay away from him Loghain, or face me."
Loghain nodded, rising and taking a seat at the edge of camp.
The Peak was haunted, that was clear. The veil so thin Anders skin was crawling. Again and again they were assaulted by animated corpses.
"Don't these damn things stay dead." Gavarth grumbled decapitating a skeleton. It would have been comical to watch it's hand reach for the head, if the other hand was not still holding a sword. They hacked it to pieces and hurried to the next floor, hoping they wouldn't have to fight it again on the way out.
They entered a small office; having searched every room so far, in the hopes of finding some information on the events that had occurred at the Peak and froze. A woman in the old style Warden Commanders armour stood with her back to them facing the fire. She turned and all but Grace took an involuntary step back. Her flesh had been frozen after it had started to decompose. The skin was dark, mottled and hanging off the bones. The hair a web of brittle strands. She regarded them with dead eyes. Levi gave a low moan of recognition, backing away.
"Sophia Dryden I presume." Grace broke the silence.
The possessed corpse leered at Grace. "My, my, what do we have here?" Grace was pale, still coughing and was in no mood for more demons. "Now you would be a fine body for any demon to wear." Grace shuddered at the image that decided to flit across her brain, sparks flickering at her fingertips. The corpse held up her hands placating. "I ask that you hear me out. This one would see the world; would taste it's pleasures, would explore it's hidden places." Grace watched her cautiously. "The veil is thin here, many of my kin would pour through the tear. This one would fix it, but in return you let this one go."
"We don't bargain with demons." Duncan stated firmly, regarding the demon with suspicion.
"The choice is yours. One of me, or many of my kind."
Grace slipped back to stand next to Anders. "Could we fix the veil ourselves?"
He shrugged. "Maybe and you would stand a better chance than most." She looked to her father who nodded.
"No deal." He boomed.
The battle was violent, the demon inhabiting Sophia was deceptively strong. Grace and Anders caught her in a paralysis glyph; while Duncan drove his blades into the flesh at her neck, Gavarth driving his axe across her back, the armour cleaved open. With it's dying breath; the demon inhabiting Sophia Dryden's corpse lurched towards Grace, gripping her arms and pinning her to the wall, hissing in her ear. "Urthemiel will rise again." Before falling to the floor, decomposing at her feet.
Grace stared at her in horror; her throat constricting, her heart pounding. Convinced more than ever that Flemeth had succeeded in conceiving.
Grace was so absorbed in her disturbing thoughts she barely registered the corpses they ploughed through to reach the tower. They finally reached a small room lined with books. Unlike the rest of the Keep this room was clean and ordered. A table nestled between two doorways, littered with books and untouched parchment. Grace wandered over, her fingertips resting on a dark green vial.
Anders glanced up from flicking through what appeared to be a diary of sorts. "Don't touch that!" He gasped pulling the vial from Grace's startled grasp. "Read this."
Grace winced at the passages of Avernus's torture and experimentation on his fellow Wardens. The diary was horrifically detailed, the language cold and detached. Grace shuddered, imagining the screams of those subjected to the various procedures. She handed the book to her father who read a few passages; slamming it onto the table, his face dark with anger. Gripping his sword Duncan opened the nearest door, leading them to the upper chamber.
Again all but Grace were startled by the ancient mage who walked towards them. Avernus gave her the same leering look that Sophia had, only by this time Grace's tolerance had ran out. She marched up to him, grabbed his robe and flung him against the wall.
"What?" She snarled, her face practically touching his.
"I have never seen your kind before." He said trying to placate her, nervous beneath the tirade of her anger.
"My dear Grace," Zevran coaxed gently, "Perhaps you can beat him up after we have the information we need." She released him reluctantly, backing away.
"My, my such a temper." Avernus muttered, looking extraordinarily pleased for someone who had just been pinned to the wall. He couldn't take his eyes off her and Grace found her hackles rising. "Such power." He muttered. "The things I could do." He yelped as a fireball scorched his robe.
"Focus." She growled. "The tear in the fade, how do we seal it?"
His eyes narrowed. "Why are you here?"
"We have come to reclaim this base for the Warden's." Duncan informed him; putting himself in front of Grace, breaking Avernus's line of sight.
"It's been so long since there have been Warden's here. Dear Sophie no longer counts."
"You're a monster!" Anders hissed angrily.
"Am I now. I did what was necessary. My research opens up whole new possibilities. If I had some of her blood I could work wonders." Avernus suddenly found himself suspended in the air.
Grace moved towards him as he struggled. "No-one is getting my blood. Least of all you." She let him drop to the floor and hunkered down next to him, feeling a little sick at herself as he cowered away from her. "You betrayed those you called brothers, you tore a hole in the fade and destroyed this place. I'm asking you to help repair at least some of the damage you have done and if you wont do it yourself at least tell us how." She kept her voice low; almost gentle, but her eyes gleamed with the fire of her anger.
"I will help you." Grace nodded and stood, holding out her hand. Avernus grasped it and allowed himself to be pulled his feet.
Avernus found it intoxicating standing next to Grace. The power swept out from her and he basked in it, soaking up what he could without her noticing.
"Avernus." She said warningly. He nodded and began to unravel the summoning spells he had cast a life time ago. Demons poured through the tear; the numbers overwhelming, but the majority of the party were used to fighting with each other and each used their skills to the advantage of the others. It soon became unfortunately clear that the demons were attracted to Grace. As annoying as that was she took advantage and lured them away from the others, enabling her companions to attack almost without retaliation.
Avernus was barely giving them time to defeat one set of demons; before he was unravelling another summoning spell. Grace had the suspicion he was testing her abilities so she stuck to basic spells and healing.
When the final demon was despatched he stared at her mournfully. "I expected so much more from you."
Grace smiled. "I'm happy to disappoint."
Duncan approached him, his sword remaining unsheathed. "So, you will chose my fate will you Commander?" Duncan felt trapped between wanting to kill the mage and realising his potential usefulness.
Grace decided to ease his burden. "Perhaps he would be useful." Anders stared at her sharply. "Avernus, was there any indication in your...your research that suggested the Joining could be made safer?"
He regarded her with calculating eyes. "Perhaps."
"If I might make a suggestion." Duncan nodded. "Avernus could research ways to make the Joining safer, without benefit of subjects of course."
Avernus spluttered indignantly. "And how am I supposed to do that?"
"I'm sure you'd manage."
"Give me one vial of your blood."
Duncan growled and Grace moved closer to him. "You find an ethical way to make the Joining safer and I will give you what you ask for." She ignored her companions horrified gasps.
Avernus looked at her startled. "Why is this so important?"
"I have my reasons."
He hesitated then nodded. "We have a deal."
Avernus returned to his tower and Duncan gripped Grace's arm, his fingers painfully tight. "Why?"
She didn't pull away, despite the bruises she knew his grip was causing. "Because we are going to need more Wardens."
He looked at her startled releasing his grip and watching her walk down the steps, his blood running cold.