CHAPTER 1 – Rosewater and Violets
The woman reached behind her head, pulling the pins from the bun that confined her long dark hair, letting it cascade down behind her like a shimmering dark rope while she stared at him, lips wet and parted as if half aroused already. She used her slender hands to loosen it from the tightly wound coil, her fingers combing half of it forward to cloak her past the waist in dark silk, never taking her pale blue-grey eyes from him. "Cullen, no one will think to look for either of us for hours, and I have a key to the store rooms under the tower from doing inventory. We may never get another chance if Irving sends me to help the army at Ostagar." She stepped closer to him, a scent of roses and violets drifting up from her hair, and a soft, delicate hand gently stroked his cheek, her eyes appealing. "I thought you cared for me."
For all the hours Cullen had spent watching the young mage as an apprentice, he had never really noticed just how red and full her lips were, or noticed how intoxicating her fragrance was, and felt his body responding to her proximity, despite his best efforts. The young woman stepped a little closer, and he could have sworn he felt her full breasts brushing his chest through his armor.
"No!" He shoved her away, drawing his sword. "I don't know who or what you are, but you are not her and I will not fall for your temptations!"
"Cullen!" The woman stared at him in shock and fear, cringing back. "What is wrong with you, why are you threatening me? I thought you loved me?"
"You are nothing like her; she would never tempt me like this! Now begone!"
Suddenly he was gazing down at the young woman, lying on the floor, his sword still quivering in her chest where it was clearly thrust through her heart, her lifeless grey-blue eyes staring up at him in accusation, blood pooled on the floor around her and soaking her robes. Greagoir stood a few feet away, his own sword drawn. "Well done! That blood mage almost had you under her control when I walked in. I'm glad to see your Templar training held over your…unwise infatuation."
Greagoir walked around at a distance, surveying the scene silently as Cullen stared in shock. Had he really struck the killing blow? Why didn't he remember it? He struggled to hold his expression calm despite the way his gut twisted as he stared down at her lifeless body. As Greagoir passed behind him out of sight, he reached into his sash and turned, throwing a knife that quivered in the wall as Greagoir ducked, laughing, and a husky woman's voice issued uncannily from his mouth.
"Fascinating. You've fantasized about this woman, but you also know the woman of your fantasies isn't the woman you fantasize about. So it's the fantasy you desire, not the woman. I can make that fantasy real for you, though, if you'd just stop fighting me." The woman's body blurred, and one of his dead Templar brothers lay there in its place, and when he looked back up, Greagoir had vanished to be replaced by a desire demon. "My fantasy would be more real than the woman, you know."
The glowing pink walls of his cage reappeared, though he suspected they had just been hidden from him before because he was never able to move more than a few steps. Refusing to engage the demon in conversation, he knelt and began to say the chant.
"These truths the Maker has revealed to me:
"As there is but one world,
"One life, one death, there is
"But one god, and He is our Maker…"
Cullen sat up abruptly, tangled in his sheets from thrashing in the grips of his nightmare. Maker's breath, that one again. At least he was sleeping a little better some nights as the lyrium seemed to be losing its grip slowly. He might never be entirely free of the craving, but the pain and illness from the physical symptoms was definitely lessening. The ex-Templar drew his knees up to rest his forehead on them, waiting for the shaking to pass as he inhaled the crisp cold air blowing in through the hole in his ceiling. The others had urged him repeatedly to allow them to have it repaired, but he found it helped in the middle of the night to be able to see the stars.
Strange that that particular nightmare from his torture at Kinloch was the most persistent. In a bizarre twist, the desire demon had shown him the truth about his infatuation, that he'd had a fantasy and he had given it the face of a lovely young woman who'd been kind to him. Unfortunately, he hadn't worked that out until months later when he began to recover at least a little, and when he first saw her while he was still imprisoned, well, he was never certain later just what he'd said, but he could remember the hurt on her face, quickly covered. He'd only seen her at a distance twice after that, and they'd never spoken again.
Cullen still felt a twinge of guilt that he'd never had a chance to apologize, though sometimes late at night when they shared a few drinks around the fire in the main hall, others had coaxed Leliana into telling stories about the blight or sharing what she knew about the Warden Commander's life in the years since the blight. The woman who emerged in her stories was no-nonsense and unyielding, single-mindedly driven to rebuild the Wardens into a respected, viable group within Ferelden, a far cry from the mage he'd once thought too kind-hearted to be sent to fight or even heal at Ostagar, much less to the Grey Wardens.
The shaking stopped as his thoughts wandered back to the Inquisition. Since the defeat of Corypheus a few weeks ago, some people had returned to their old lives, including several senior members of the Inquisition. Despite her undeniable skill, few people missed the ambitious Madame Vivienne. Blackwall, or Ranier, had left mixed feelings behind him when he had set out to really Join the Grey Wardens, but most seemed glad that he'd survived his Joining. Solas, of course, had turned out to be an illusion, and now they had no idea who the mage had really been. Varric had made noises about returning to Kirkwall, but he lingered on, as had Sera, to Cullen's annoyance.
Hearing one of his aides enter his office downstairs, he stood and quickly washed in the icy water in the basin, dressed and armored with the speed of long practice. "Commander!" The guard saluted as Cullen climbed down the ladder into his office in the early morning light. "I have a message for you. Sister Leliana said to tell you that a Grey Warden arrived this morning. She said to tell you it wasn't urgent, but to let you know that they are all in the war room when you woke. They had breakfast served there."
"Thank you. Did Sister Leliana mention the name of the Warden or what his business was with the Inquisition?" He adjusted the collar of his coat and reflexively checked his sword to make certain it was securely in its sheath.
"No sir, though apparently someone vouched for her because she was taken directly to Sister Leliana."
Cullen nodded and moved purposefully toward the War Room where Leliana and the Inquisitor leaned over a table, studying a document. Between Cadash and Leliana, a slender woman still wearing a loose hooded coat faced away from the door, an unadorned business-like staff topped with a pale blue crystal strapped on her back. A mage, then, he thought, a little surprised that the Wardens would send a mage as a messenger. Pausing for a moment, hand habitually on the hilt of his sword, he could hear Leliana pointing out the locations of several groups of refugees near the border of Orlais while the Warden spoke to the Inquisitor in a voice too soft for him to hear. Finally, he cleared his throat.
"Inquisitor, I'm told we have visitors."
Cadash turned to give him her normal good-humored smile, but while Leliana continued to peruse the document, the Warden mage turned, head down enough that her hood concealed her face as she turned. Slender, scarred hands reached up to gracefully push the hood back, revealing dark, tightly braided hair that framed a warm, light brown, angular face and familiar eyes of the lightest pale blue-grey he'd ever seen which now regarded him calmly but warily.
"You! What, I mean…" Cullen's voice trailed off in confused recognition as Leliana glanced over her shoulder at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Commander, is that any way to greet an old friend?"
I expect the game writers will probably return to the Warden's search for a cure at some point (the hint that there might be a cure has been around since Avernus and Witch Hunt at least, which means it's very likely they've been building to something.) So, I am leaving the result of the search in the west intentionally vague. Surana has a specific purpose in returning at this time unrelated to the cure, and by leaving it vague, the story can eventually be adapted to whatever they finally reveal.