An Apostate's Abominable Guide to Kirkwall
This is the Dragon Age II sequel to All Roads Lead to Denerim. You may want to read ARLD first, otherwise this will get really confusing. Then again, if you're only interested in DA II, go ahead and give it a shot. Just don't say I didn't warn you. :)
This one does have a main character, because there was a certain Warden in dire need of a personal redemption arc who ended ARLD heading for Kirkwall. That is a much fresher story than any simple retelling of DA II, don't you think? (Also, it lets me continue playing with one of the most fun characters from ARLD... so that may be an ulterior motive...)
So, yeah, there will be many Hawke-related shenanigans, but this is about Surana too, so the first part is going to spend some development time outside Kirkwall.
I've been forced to expand my already shaky use of Elvish. I like to think my usage makes sense, but be warned that many of the phrases I use may not be entirely canon.
Extra Note: I will not be updating daily. I've got a buffer, but not enough to update quite that quickly. Oh how I've spoiled you guys in the past. XD
Part 1: Sundermount
1. When Climbing Sundermount, Bring a Guide
His breath misted the air, erupting in clouds that curled and dissipated into the surrounding fog. The atmosphere was thin, hanging wet and cool against his skin. Around him was pale silence, the grey mists revealing and concealing stony outcroppings and twisted foliage on a whim. The only things he could sense with any regularity were the hard crunch of the mountain path underfoot and the sound of his own panting breath against the dead silence.
The red-and-green blur in front of him coalesced, and his single companion emerged from the fog, her tattooed face frowning in concern. Her bright, beaded red hair was the only color that wasn't brown for miles around. "Do you require a rest, da'lethallin?"
Kazar shook his head, even as his traitorous body took advantage of the respite to lean heavily on his staff. Never had he been so glad for the Grand Oak branch's twisted shape, allowing him to grip its spikes and curves despite utter exhaustion.
He had neglected to consider that Meila Mahariel did not take crap from anyone, much less the sixteen-year-old apostate she had essentially designated herself guardian of. What was it about him that made women develop big sister complexes, anyway?
"Come," the archer said, taking his hand to lead him off the path. "We will rest for a few minutes."
Kazar sighed and followed, carefully skirting around what had once been a well of some kind. Meila ducked behind a ruined stone wall, and Kazar trailed after her, his free hand running idly along the cold bricks. He sat down on the end of a tumbled wall, sighing with relief despite his earlier denial. His leg muscles were screaming from the long climb, not to mention the week of constant movement before that. Meila handed him a rejuvenating potion, and he nodded a thanks before downing the awful-tasting concoction. Ugh. Meila's potions were effective, but taste was not something she took into account when making them.
A year ago, Kazar Surana would never have thought he would come to this. Back then, his whole life since age four had been spent locked in a tower, his every move watched by the Templar Order. In a constant, droning loop, he'd been told to hold back, and to behave, and to never, ever give into the demonic voices that promised greater things in his dreams.
He'd never have imagined that Duncan would come and pull him out into the wide world. He could not have predicted the Pride Demon that would attach itself to him like a leech. He could never have guessed that Jowan would turn blood mage. He could never have known that he would fight an archdemon and rip it out of the sky... twice.
He certainly would have never guessed that, a couple weeks shy of turning seventeen, he would be climbing some mountain in the Free Marches, following a Dalish elf who had become the closest thing to family he had ever had.
Kazar handed the potion bottle back to Meila, and she tucked it back in her pouch.
"What do you think these are from?" he asked idly, waiting for the potion to work its magic.
"To what do you refer, da'lethallin?"
He waved a hand around them. "The ruins. Why are they ruined: battle or time? Or was it just the crazy stupid location?"
Meila's usually stony face flickered with a smile. "Occasionally, it is advantageous to dwell off the main path."
"On top of a mountain? Only if you never want any trade ever." His limbs tingled, and the exhaustion seeped out of him. He stood. "Guess that explains why the Dalish would be up here, right?"
"We go wherever the halla lead us," Meila said, turning to head back out of the ruins.
"Yeah, sure. Funny how the halla always pick hidden spots in the middle of nowhere." The path crunched underfoot as they resumed the winding trek up the mountain.
Kazar could not guess what signs Meila was following, exactly. He couldn't see a thing in the mountain fog. But whatever Meila was following, they must have been close. (They better be, after tracking the damned clan across a fricking sea.) She was silently thrumming with excitement, though anyone who knew the stoic elf less than Kazar did wouldn't have noticed.
Yeah, going through several personal revelations and then saving the world tended to bond people together. Even Alistair was tolerable, after that.
It was good to see her smiling in her own Meila way. She'd been morose since leaving Denerim behind, and that amount of feelings made Kazar feel all twitchy and snippy. Yeah, she was missing her bard. Huzzah for her coming out of her shell enough to fall in love with a human—and Kazar was honestly still flabbergasted that Meila had given that up for him—but for a while there, he'd thought he'd have to open up and talk about things, and that was just crossing the line.
No way was he going to be passing out the hugs and condolences. Just... no.
Meila's form blurred with the fog as she pulled ahead again, too excited to wait for her less-physically-oriented counterpart. Not that Meila was big or anything, but her slender form was pure, stubborn muscle. Kazar was small and delicate, even for an elf, and most of his form was made of something a great deal squishier than whatever Meila was.
It was what was inside Kazar's small form that made him dangerous. That was why they were here.
Suddenly, the cold silence that had been their constant companion was broken by a shrill birdcall. Kazar jumped as the sound echoed through the fog around him and was promptly picked up by another on their other side. A third call answered behind them.
Kazar's grip tightened on his staff, and he stopped walking. His heart was racing, and he was a bad scare away from unleashing a fireball into the fog. Those weren't birds... he knew they weren't birds.
For a moment, Kazar missed having Fang around... but no, Meila's stupid wolf had been too dumb to get on the boat back in Ferelden, so it was just the two of them.
Meila stopped walking, and when she cupped her hands to her mouth and released a birdcall of her own, Kazar jumped again. It echoed off the mountain around them and faded back into eerie silence.
Then, shadows moved in the mist, coalescing into three figures. They emerged from the fog from different directions, bows raised warily before them. But as soon as the two groups could see one another clearly, their bows were lowered in shock.
The sandy-haired elf in front of them nearly dropped his jaw to the ground. "Elgar Mythal... Meila?"
And Meila smiled, very near a smirk. "Aneth ara, Fenarel."
Kazar cast a look at the other two. One, a woman with brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, studied him with her head tilted to one side. She had a pair of wicked-looking daggers strapped to her back. The other, a man with black hair long enough to spill into his face, wore a scowl, but he, too, had at least lowered his bow. Kazar was a little annoyed to note that even the woman was just a little bit taller than he was.
"What are you doing here?" Fenarel said. "Not that it isn't good to see you, lethallan."
"I think the question you're searching for," the new female said in a sharp, amused voice, "is what are you doing here, with a flat-ear? You're not usually the type to lead strangers straight to our camp."
Kazar bit back an acidic response. He had to be on his best behavior here, because if they turned him out, he had literally nowhere else to go.
"He is the reason I am here, Ineria," Meila said in a calm, steady voice. "I seek an audience with Marethari."
Fenarel exchanged a look with the third elf, and a brief, silent communication passed between them. The darker elf nodded and ran off, disappearing into the fog.
"Well," Ineria said, stowing her bow, "you might as well come the rest of the way with us. You're like to find the camp whether we lead you or not, and we should at least pretend to escort you."
Fenarel nodded, a subtle smirk similar to Meila's teasing his lips. "It is good to have you back, lethallan."
The two Dalish turned and started up the mountain path, and Meila tossed Kazar a look that was probably supposed to be encouraging. He wrinkled his nose to show her how much that helped, but nonetheless fell in step behind the other elves.
He found himself nervously dusting his robes off as they walked, and stilled his hands. Sure, he probably looked like a mess after the long journey (and stank a mess, too), but he doubted elves that spent their entire lives eschewing civilization would care. Who knew; maybe they saw road dust as a badge of honor or something?
More to the point, he could not show just how scared he was. They were his only chance to fix himself, and he refused to look like a nervous ninny during their first meeting.
As they walked, the first thing he noticed was the sound up ahead: the crackling of a fire, animal noises, and voices raised in conversation and, in the cases of children, bubbling laughter.
Then, they rounded a fall of rocks and the mist lifted enough to see the camp spread before them. The landships were tucked against the rock faces on either side. A bonfire roared bright in the center of the camp, its light occasionally interrupted by a figure moving in front of it. The smell—the fire, and herbs, and the ever-present scent of halla—kicked an old memory out of hiding. Not just of Zathrian's clan a few months ago, but something far older and far more precious.
That had been happening from time to time, ever since Felicity Amell had taken her little tour through his psyche: a strain of music or a scent would summon a sensation of familiarity, or a faded image of a home he'd never had. It was never clear, and always brief, but he couldn't stop himself from straining after the old memories. They reminded him that he'd had a life before the Circle Tower, and a home, and a family that had loved him.
Not that he'd ever mention any of that aloud. Not even to Meila.
Still, as they walked into camp, Kazar had to control the hitch in his breathing as the familiarity struck that same basic chord in him. What had seemed strange and alien back in Zathrian's camp only felt normal now. As if his brain was saying, yep, this is a Dalish camp. Ho hum.
That thought made him instinctively reach to find out what the other half of his mind was saying, only to flail into that gaping emptiness that throbbed even now. He cursed under his breath. How had he not trained himself out of doing that by now?
There were elves everywhere. Wide-eyed, smiling faces stopped their tasks to watch them pass, and excited chatter followed them, mostly in Trade but occasionally interspersed with Elvish exclamations.
A figure near the fire stepped forward to greet them, and they were met with a smiling, elderly elven woman wearing Keeper robes. "Da'len, n'arla atisha." Welcome home, child.
"Halam aravel, Keeper." I've returned.
Both women smiled broadly, and the elder's eyes watered. The elder stepped forward to grasp the younger's arms in obvious welcome.
Kazar noticed that his grip on his staff was turning his knuckles white, and forced his hand to relax. He looked away, turning his attention to studying the crowd of elves gathered around them.
Curious faces surrounded them, swirling facial tattoos sorted into rows while a scattering of clean-faced children shamelessly stared at Kazar. The clan was whispering amongst themselves, positing questions about why Meila was back, and who the small blond elf behind her was. Kazar tuned them out and ended up staring down at his feet.
"I had not expected you to return to us so soon, da'len. Are your duties to the Grey Wardens finished?"
"Not finished, Keeper, merely changed." He glanced up to see that both women had turned to look at him. "We have come here seeking your aid."
Keeper Marethari's gaze was unhurried but sharp, taking in all of him with a careful sweep of her eyes. He froze under her scrutiny, unsure whether he should be all humble and pleading (psh, yeah right) or pull out his game face and show her that, yeah, he could out-arrogant the best of the Dalish elves.
Showing a bunch of armed elves his Prideful side? Yeah, that wouldn't end well for anyone.
Too late anyway. Her first impression of him was as a tattered traveler, curled around his staff and frozen like an apprentice caught sneaking around afterhours.
"Welcome," the Keeper said at last, in Trade. She stepped around Meila to address him, her eyes hooded and considering. "I am Keeper Marethari of the Sabrae Clan."
This was the part where he had to make nice. Very aware of the eyes peering at him curiously from all sides, he cleared his throat and pulled some courage from the roiling doubts that filled him. "I'm Kazar. Surana."
"And what brings you to us, child?"
He tamped down a flash of annoyance at being called a 'child'... if she was calling Meila a child, then, yeah, it may not have had much to do with Kazar's age. Still, though. He was nearly seventeen. "I need your help with a... delicate matter. Meila says you know some ancient magic that could help me."
"That would depend upon the nature of the problem," Marethari said carefully. "Tell me, what is it that ails you?"
He felt the tips of his ears warm, now very aware of the entire clan's attention. "I think we should probably talk about it in private."
"I see." The Keeper nodded. "Come, then." She beckoned with one graceful hand, and both Wardens followed as she led them away from the fire, evincing an uproar of excited babble from the crowd around them.
They were led to a tent... except that "tent" was not really an accurate description. As they drew closer, Kazar realized that it was actually a large wagon, with a dozen hides connected on top and around it to create canopies, separations, and a walled-off shelter in the back. The combination of wood and hide created a confusing vision of a heavy abode at the same time that the presence of wheels at the bottom of the cart hinted at mobility.
Kazar stopped himself from gawking as the two women ducked under the canopy into the private tent-area at the back of the aravel. He followed, and Marethari tugged the hide closed behind him.
The interior of the aravel was dimly lit, pale gray sunlight peeking in through holes in the top and glowing tan through the hide sides of the tent. The semi-circle of ground inside was covered with mats made from grass and leather, giving the interior a sharp, planty smell. Three sides of the interior were bordered by the tent walls, while the fourth was bordered by the back of the wagon itself.
The bed of the wagon was about chest-height for Kazar and featured an extended living area on the wood, complete with bedroll. Kazar leaned his staff against it.
"Have a seat, child," Marethari said soothingly. He turned to see her pulling a set of ceramic cups from a chest tucked under the cart. A quick application of ice then fire magic filled three of them with hot water, and the Keeper sprinkled a few leaves into them.
Meila was already sitting cross-legged on one of the mats on the ground, and Kazar slowly lowered himself down to sit next to her. Marethari knelt in front of them and handed them each a cup, and Kazar stared down into the murky tea dubiously.
"Tell me, da'len." The Keeper said smoothly, turning to Meila. "How was your journey?"
"It was... interesting. I learned much about the ways of the humans."
Kazar brought the tea to his lips, wrinkling his nose at the bitter taste.
"Humans, not shemlen?" Marethari said, hiding a smile behind the motion of sipping her own tea.
"I no longer consider all humans as such."
"Go on, da'len."
Meila tilted her head thoughtfully. "One cannot hold the entire race responsible for what a few did long ago. It is far better to judge by an individual's actions and intent."
Kazar felt a stab of amusement. Yeah, he'd learned that lesson the hard way, too. Except, instead of hating just humans, Kazar had hated everyone.
That is because no one can match my power and ability. They are unworthy of me.
Kazar growled and shook his head vigorously to clear that thought out. It wasn't his...even though there was no one else in his head anymore.
"Da'lethallin? Are you all right?"
Kazar looked up to find both women looking at him. Meila looked concerned, in that stoic way of hers. Marethari, however, observed him sharply. What had she seen?
He shook his head. "M'fine."
"I think," Marethari said, setting her tea down, "it is time we discuss why you sought me out. Tell me, Kazar Surana... what is this delicate matter you wish for me to help with?"
The mage stared down into his tea, wondering how he could broach this subject without sounding like a menace and a jerk.
Meila, the epitome of emotional unavailability, leaned over and gently put a hand on his shoulder. "Simply begin with the beginning, da'lethallin. The Keeper will not judge."
He huffed a disbelieving breath, but that was as good a place to start as any. "Right. Well... I guess it started when I met this demon named Mouse."
"I see." Marethari leaned back and clasped her hands. "And where did you meet this demon?"
"The Fade, where else?" Kazar fidgeted with the teacup. "I didn't know he was a demon at first. He claimed to be another mage, and helped me kill a Rage Demon to get through my Harrowing. I only realized what he was when, afterwards, he asked to leave the Fade with me. I said no, and he... let me go."
"It is unusual for a demon to give up so easily." The Keeper tilted her head and studied him. "I take it you saw this demon again?"
Kazar bobbed his head in the affirmative and set his teacup down on the mat beside him. "In my dreams. He... courted me, I guess would be the word? It was during the middle of the Blight, and we were under a lot of pressure, and I was just looking for anyone who wasn't angry at me for some reason. Shit, I sound like I'm trying to make excuses." His hands were shaking. He reached up to rub his face. "I'm not. I don't... think there's any justification, except that I was too stupid and weak to see him creeping in as I gave him opening after opening."
"Demons are a difficult temptation, even to the strongest of us," Marethari said lightly. "In fact, it is often the strong who find them most alluring, as they take advantage of our strengths as much as our weaknesses."
Kazar scoffed into his hands.
Marethari raised her eyebrows. "If I might ask, what manner of demon do we speak?"
"Pride." He raised his head and took a breath. "He was a Pride Demon. A strong one."
"I cannot help but notice, child, that you speak of him as if he is already gone."
Kazar winced, because that was the issue, wasn't it? "I'll... get to that." She motioned for him to continue, and he went on. "I made a mistake, and made a deal with a different demon to learn blood magic." He watched her face carefully, but she revealed nothing. "Mouse got louder after that, more insistent. I think we started leaking together a little bit. We started having conversations while I was awake, and I found myself agreeing with him more and more often."
"You joined with this demon." It wasn't a question. Marethari's face was a mask, but she didn't kick him out. That was a good thing, right?
Kazar nodded slowly. "I was... an abomination for about two weeks. Luckily, a f-friend of mine knew a blood magic ritual that let a mage go into a particular demon's Fade realm, and I was... extricated."
This finally drew a reaction from the Keeper. Her brow furrowed, and she leaned forward to peer at him intently. "You say that you were separated after becoming a full abomination? I had not heard of such a thing being possible, save by death."
"Well... that's the problem, actually."
"Go on." She was intent, now.
"The demon's gone. At least, the entity that was the demon is gone... dead or kicked back into the Fade, I'm not sure. But it... left pieces behind."
"Memories." His hands were shaking again, and he found his shame lowering his voice to a whisper. "Impressions. Thoughts, sometimes. I can usually tell when something comes from the demon, but when I'm upset, or angry, or using my magic... it just surges up, and suddenly I feel like the abomination again." His voice cracked, and he cleared his throat to fix it. "I need help. I don't know what I might do if I lose control. I don't want to be an abomination again." He met her eyes earnestly, summoning more honesty than he was really comfortable with. "Please, Keeper, if you know of any way to fix me, I'll do anything to earn it. I swear."
"That is a laudable intent, child," Marethari sighed. "However, I fear there may not be a way to fix your condition."
Kazar slumped, that last light of hope snuffed. He was stuck like this?
"Unfortunately, it seems that a certain portion of your two beings, once joined, are inseparable. I suspect attempting to mend you further would only further fracture you. This demonic presence is part of you, child."
"I don't want it," he hissed in frustration. "And I'm not a child!" He snapped his eyes up to see that Marethari's expression had frozen in shock. "I will not be condescended to!"
The chiding made him bristle, but then he noticed the malevolent red light filling the tent. "Fuck!" He slapped a hand over his own (glowing red) eyes, breathing harshly until his defensive anger settled down.
The two women were silent, so that the only sound in the tent was Kazar's panting breaths and the muffled noises of the camp going about its business outside.
Finally, the Keeper broke the silence. "I see what you mean," her voice said calmly, as if they were discussing the weather. "While it is unfortunately true that I have no means of fixing the broken parts of your soul, perhaps there is another way I might help."
Warily, Kazar lowered his hands, cautiously squinting them open to see that the red glow was gone. Marethari met his gaze with no fear, nor hatred. No, her expression was open and comforting. "How?" he dared.
"You are from a Circle Tower, correct?"
"It is obvious to me that these humans did not properly teach you control. If they had, you would have been better able to defend yourself from the demon's encroachments in the first place."
"Yeah, no arguments there. Their idea of proving you can withstand demons is throwing you at one and killing you if you fail."
The Keeper nodded sagely. "As such, I think I may be able to help you with your control. The demon will never be gone from you, but you may, in time, be able to function without worrying about its emergence."
Kazar dared to feel hope again. "How much time?"
She arched a brow. "This is not a lesson that can be learned overnight, if that is your intention."
He shook his head. He didn't know what his intention was. "However long it takes. I... it's not like I've got anywhere else to go." Meila's hand landed gently on his shoulder.
"Then take your ease with us tonight. We will provide you food, and a bed, and, on the morrow, we will begin."
He swallowed thickly. He hadn't really expected the Keeper to take him. It was like being rescued by Duncan all over again. "Thank you, Keeper."
She reached forward to lay a hand on his arm, and he fought not to twitch at the unfamiliar touch. "This will not be an easy journey, Kazar Surana, but in seeking me out, you have taken the first step of many. In this, I am happy to be your guide."
He nodded, his throat feeling all clogged up. By the Fade, was he tearing up? He dashed those before they could see the light of day, and both women politely looked away, pretending not to see.
Marethari turned to Meila. "It is time, da'len, that I stop keeping you to myself. I suspect the clan is most eager to hear of your journey."
Meila nodded and stood. "Thank you, Keeper." She gave the Keeper a salute and ducked out of the tent. Kazar moved to climb to his feet, but a hand on his arm made him pause.
"I suspect that I should thank you."
He stared at her blankly. "Thank me? Why?"
"Meila Mahariel has always built a shell around herself. It kept her strong and safe, but isolated her as well. It is good to see her emerge from it. And so, thank you.
Kazar nodded slowly, and she let him move away. He picked up his staff and pushed through the hide flap that separated him from the rest of the world.