A/N: Spoiler Alert Inspiration for this came after the scene in which the player learns that only a Grey Warden can kill the archdemon...and in doing so, dies in the process. I had expected some kind of deep and meaningful scene between the PC and romantic interest after that, but all I got was Morrigan's ritual. So here I go with my own attempt, and my take on the Landsmeet.
Riordan's words left Kalli in a state of shock-induced numbness. If anybody other than a Grey Warden struck the archdemon a killing blow, the taint would simply pass from the demon to the nearest darkspawn and the Blight would continue.
"The archdemon is effectively immortal," Riordan noted calmly. To truly end the Blight, that final blow had to be struck by a Warden, someone who had mastered the taint of the darkspawn. In doing so, the taint would pass from the archdemon to the Warden...killing them both.
Kalli turned her eyes, green and bloodshot from the hardships of recent times to the newly-inducted Warden, Loghain Mac Tir. The young elven woman felt bile rise in her throat and swallowed it back with a grimace. To his credit, Loghain seemed to take well the news that at least one of their number would have to die in order to break the Blight. More likely, they would all die.
Briefly, Kalli wondered how Alistair might have reacted to these revelations were he still here. Alistair, however was not here. Unbidden, sharp, painful memories of the Landsmeet came to the forefront of the elven Warden's mind, shifting her focus from the current proceedings.
Events at the Landsmeet had spiralled well out of everybody's control and Kalli had found herself unwilling to allow Loghain to be executed even after besting him in single combat. Despite the Teyrn's treachery, he obviously harboured a great love for the nation of Ferelden and had impressed the Warden with the passion of his oratory.
Anora, Loghain's daughter and Queen to the late King Cailan had offered a compromise, hoping to avoid having her father's head separated from his shoulders: Loghain would submit himself to the taint and undergo the Joining. Either the ritual would kill him in which case Kalli and Alistair would have had their vengeance or Loghain would live and would fight the archdemon alongside the others.
To say that Alistair had not taken this turn of events well was an understatement on a par with saying "Fireballs are hot."
An outraged and impassioned Alistair had railed at Kalli, Anora, the gathered nobles, "Becoming a Grey Warden is meant to be an honour, not a punishment!"
Kalli had felt strangely unmoved at his shouted declarations. Yes, Loghain had abandoned the King's forces and the Grey Wardens at Ostagar, handing the darkspawn a major victory as well as killing the King and hundreds of loyal troops but Kalli also realised that the men and women of Ferelden would be far more likely to follow Loghain into battle than herself and had attempted to explain as much to Alistair.
"Alistair, please hear me. I understand how you feel-"
Alistair cut her off, "No! You don't understand how I feel! Duncan was like...a father to me, and he," Alistair jabbed a trembling finger at Loghain who stood tall amidst the chaos, "Murdered him!"
The human Grey Warden trembled with a rage held barely in check, voice wracked with anguish, "How can you stand by and allow this to happen? After all we've been through?"
Kalli lost patience with him then. Did he truly believe that he was the only one among them to have suffered loss and known grief? "You say I do not know how you feel?" Kalli retorted, face heating with anger, "I've witnessed friends I grew up with, slaughtered by men simply because they were bored and looking for some sport! My own arranged marriage was beset by men who raped and murdered members of my wedding party! Do not presume to tell me that I do not understand how you feel! I do!"
The smaller elf strode up to Alistair and stood on her toes so they were face to face, eyes separated by mere inches, "Listen to me!" Kalli hissed, feeling her own anger rise, "This is bigger than you or I or any of us!" Holding Alistair's gaze she swept her right arm in an arc, indicating the assembled nobles, who had fallen silent to observe this exchange.
"Even if we kill Loghain, what will that accomplish? Do you really think his armies will fall into line and follow me or you just because we are Grey Wardens?"
Alistair opened his mouth to speak and Kalli saw his throat quivering, saw the sheen in his eyes and almost relented. Almost. "We need Loghain. Ferelden needs Loghain and I need you to accept that!"
Voice low, Alistair ground out, "I will not. I will not stand for this!"
Kalli swallowed hard, hating herself for what she was about to say next but knowing it had to be said. By some minor miracle, Kalli and her companions had united the forces of Ferelden and she needed her own party united as well, or all was lost.
The elven Warden closed her eyes, breathed deeply through her nostrils and hissed the breath out through her teeth. Opening her eyes, she looked up at Alistair and said in as cold a voice as she could muster, "Then go. Either we stand united against the archdemon or we shall all perish. Either stay and back me up or go. At this point, I care not which."
Kalli's words may as well have been a dagger to Alistair's heart. He gasped, expression registering physical pain at her words. Alistair's lips trembled for a space of several heartbeats and, like a distant rumble of thunder in the background, the assembled arls and bannorn muttered to each other.
Finally, Alistair's features hardened into an expressionless mask. He turned on his heel and strode out, booted footfalls echoing from the flagstones. Nobles and men-at-arms alike hastily parted to let him pass. He left and didn't look back.
Kalli's shoulders slumped and, as the enormity of what she had just done hit her, her chest hitched with silent sobs. Leliana fought her way through the crowd, to be by her companion's side. At Leliana's urging, Kalli allowed herself to be led from the Landsmeet chambers, fighting to regain control of herself.
The elf feared she would lose herself amid the swirling maelstrom of feelings - anger at herself and Alistair, a deep sadness for her treatment of him, fear that even after all they had accomplished, it may still be all for nought. And finally, a weariness so deep she felt she could no longer put one foot in front of the other.
In the stone-throated hallway outside the Landsmeet chamber, Kalli slumped back against a wall, illuminated by the guttering torch above her head and slid to the floor, legs no longer able to support her.
Wordlessly, Leliana lowered herself to the floor beside the over-wrought Warden, not feeling the coolness of the stones as she folded her legs beneath herself. Leliana pulled Kalli into an embrace, much as a mother would soothe a child. At first, Kalli resisted, then allowed herself to take what comfort she could from the bard's presence.
Time passed, though neither woman was fully aware of it. A roar of approval from the nobles could be heard as Anora was declared Queen of Ferelden. Kalli flinched at the sound and, eyes squeezed shut, nestled her head against Leliana's neck..
Eventually, the elven Warden pulled away from Leliana and managed a small smile, though her face was streaked with tears. "I think that's the longest you've ever gone without saying a word," she said jokingly.
Leliana laughed softly and helped Kalli to her feet.
Now, she stood in Riordan's temporary chambers within Redcliffe Castle along with Loghain and looked steadily at the Teyrn's face, searching his expression. A small tic twitched beneath Loghain's right eye. That was all.
Kalli looked back to Riordan. Now I suppose we draw straws to see which of us gets to perform the deed, a voice in her mind whispered sardonically.
The elven Warden's thoughts flashed momentarily to Leliana and Wynne's warning to not allow herself to become close to her. For precisely this reason, Kalli now realised. The elder mage must have known or at least suspected that this situation would come to pass.
She knew...and didn't tell me. Kalli thought, a wave of bitterness welling up within her. Of course, Wynne had attempted to warn off Kalli and prevent her from further pursuing a relationship with Leliana but her words had come too late. By that point, Grey Warden and bard alike had developed an extremely deep connection that went well past a mere physical bond. No, Kalli's heart belonged to Leliana. And Leliana's belonged to her.
If asked before now whether she would lay down her life for Leliana, Kalli would have answered yes immediately and with utter conviction. Now? If she was completely and brutally honest with herself, Kalli had to admit that she didn't want to die to save the land, not if it meant abandoning Leliana.
Why should such things be placed soley on her shoulders? Yes, such thoughts were selfish and yes, being a Grey Warden meant placing her own wants and desires last in the pursuit of a greater good but did she have to deny herself love and affection and the simple joys of life? This was the true reason the Joining was kept a secret from the population: who would willingly sign their own death warrant, knowing what she knew now?
Kalli swallowed hard, felt her heart beating harder than normal, and said in a surprisingly level voice, "Then it is up to all of us to stop the archdemon."
And may the old gods forgive me but I hope it is Loghain who strikes that final blow. Let him have the honour and glory and 'noble death' such a thing would grant him, she would be content as long as she was by Leliana's side.
When Riordan spoke next, he offered a lifeline of sorts to both herself and Loghain, "In times past, the oldest Grey Warden would decide who amongst them was to strike the killing blow. I am the oldest and the taint will not spare me very much longer." Riordan looked both Kalli and Loghain in the eyes, "I will attempt to strike the final blow but it will be up to you both to carry on should I fall."
He speaks as though commenting on the weather, Kalli marvelled and felt shamed by her earlier thoughts. Truly, this was a man for other Wardens to aspire to.
"I understand, Brother," Kalli replied and Loghain too nodded in acceptance.
Riordan nodded to them both. "If you will both excuse me, tomorrow will be a busy day," he smiled at his own understatement, "And it would be best if we all got some rest."
As she and Loghain filed out the door, the human turned to her. "I will see you on the field of battle," he said simply and left for his chambers. Kalli nodded silently at his retreating back. Then the shakes set in.
You need to speak to Leliana, Kalli told herself. Tell her the truth. She deserves as much. Muscles still twitching, the Warden closed her hands into fists to quell the trembling and strode down the hall to where she had last seen Leliana.
The flame-haired bard stood in the bustling main hall of Redcliffe Castle, mentally composing a ballad to celebrate the unifying of Ferelden's peoples to combat the darkspawn. Leliana watched as the various knights and servants loyal to Arl Eamon made final preparations for the morrow's march to Denerim. All these people, she marvelled, putting aside their differences. It is wonderful!
Leliana looked up and smiled as the woman who had helped to make it all possible entered the hall. Though dark circles marked her eyes and her face was more drawn and paler than usual, to Leliana, the elf was still the loveliest person she had ever met.
"I thought you'd be asleep by now," Leliana said as Kalli came to a halt before her. Upon seeing the expression on her face, Leliana's tone became worried, "What is wrong? Has something happened?"
Uncaring of the glances from the men coming and going, Kalli took Leliana's hands in hers and spoke in urgent tones, "I must speak with you, before the..." Kalli paused, taking in a deep breath. She released it slowly, "Before the battle. I...have to tell you something."
"Of course," Leliana replied. For several moments they stood quietly, still gripping each other's hands as Kalli marshalled her thoughts.
Kalli looked up at Leliana's face and spoke carefully, "Leliana, I want you to know that I cherish the time we've had together...and I," Kalli trailed off, an exasperated expression on her face, "Damn it! Why can't I say what I feel?"
Leliana gently pulled the elven woman towards her, stroking a hand across her face, "You do not need to say it. I know how you feel, Kalli and I feel it too. I have never felt as happy or as safe as I do when you are by my side."
Kalli closed her eyes, unable to look upon Leliana, "I love you," she finally managed to say. She opened her eyes, saw the happiness and joy in Leliana's face and thought her heart would burst, "I love you but I have to ask you...ask you to leave."
"What? No! I will not leave you!" Leliana spoke quietly but fiercely.
Kalli shook her head, feeling more tears well up and roughly wiped them aside, "Only a Grey Warden can fell the archdemon," she explained, "Riordan will attempt to slay the beast but in doing so, the taint will pass from it to him...and he will die." Kalli looked into Leliana's eyes and watched as the awful truth of the matter dawned on her. "If Riordan falls during the battle, Loghain and I will have to finish things."
"Then let Loghain kill the archdemon!" Leliana all but spat, "Maker forgive me but after everything that man has done..."
"Leliana, if there was some other way, I would take it with both hands but I feel I must be honest about this. I cannot lie to you. If I fall-"
The bard cut off her words as she gently grasped the sides of Kalli's face in both hands and kissed her. The kiss lasted for many moments and, when they parted, both human and elf were breathless.
"No more words," Leliana said.
Kalli shook her head, determined to see this through, though she yearned to feel Leliana's lips on hers again. "Please, listen to me. If things go badly on the morrow, do not spend the rest of your life mourning my loss. I'm asking, begging you, live your life and be happy. If I have to die, then I want to die having known someone as wonderful and beautiful as you."
In answer, Leliana took Kalli's right hand in her left and gently pulled her in the direction of the chamber set aside for the elven Warden's use.
"Well, isn't this a suitably cliched moment?" Morrigan said idly as she turned away from the fireplace in Kalli's chamber. The mage smirked at the expressions of shock on the faces of the Chantry-girl and Grey Warden, "Make love tonight for tomorrow we may die, hmm?"
"Morrigan-" Kalli began.
"Why are you here?" Leliana finished.
"Certainly not to witness you two fawning all over each other," Morrigan replied coolly. Before either woman could respond, she continued, "What if, Kalli of the Grey Wardens, I were to offer you the chance to cheat death on the morrow? Would you take it?"
"What are you talking about?" Kalli asked harshly.
Morrigan smiled, amber eyes seeming to glow in the firelight, "I know that, in order to slay the archdemon, a Warden must be sacrificed, and that it may well be you."
"How could you possibly know that?" Leliana demanded.
Smiling mockingly, Morrigan folded her arms over her chest, "I know a great many things that you do not, blinded as you are in your devotion to your Maker."
Leliana stepped forward a pace, voice rising, "The Maker-" she began but subsided as Kalli laid a hand on her arm.
"Perhaps it would be best if I spoke with Morrigan alone," the elf suggested in gentle tones, hoping to prevent a brawl fueled with religious fervour.
"Yes, 'twould be for the best," Morrigan nodded, "Besides, this shall not take long and I have no wish to stand in the way of what will no doubt be a night of passion fueled by desperation as you both cling to what little time is left to you."
Leliana's mouth fell open as Kalli walked with her to the door, whispering, "Everything will by fine, Lel." The bard left and Kalli swung shut the heavy metal-banded door.
With the door shut, Kalli spun to face Morrigan, face contorted with anger, "Speak your piece and get out!" the elf all but snarled.
"My, such hostility," Morrigan spoke mockingly, "And I was just beginning to think that we were becoming friends." The witch raised a hand palm outward as the elf's face hardened. "I offer you a way to slay the archdemon on the morrow...and survive."
Kalli knew there had to be any number of hidden traps behind this offer but, all she could say in reply was, "Tell me more..."
Yes, I said at the end of the last chapter that I'd probably leave the fic as it was but...
Special thanks to vshard for her input on this.