Warning: Moderate to high spoilers. Epic, epic angst.
Rewrite warning: Grammatical and spelling errors corrected. I think.
What Price, Victory
Twenty-seven years post game.
Female city elf origin.
A distorted roar split the stagnant air as a hurlock charged forward, swinging its twisted, distorted axe. The proud form of a rampant griffon smashed into its chest, the broad shield it was painted across arresting the hurlock's forward momentum. As the darkspawn attempted to right itself, an enchanted blade sliced through the air and cleaved its head from its shoulders. Another Hurlock attempted to take advantage of the situation, but its own weapon just glanced off of the same shield, leaving it exposed to the impaling blow.
Without an archdemon, they got really stupid.
Nearby, two blades sang through the air as an armoured form darted with more agility than should be allowed by all the shining plate. Metal-clad feet slid across the stone floor, sliding through the dirt. Intestines, heads and limbs were left behind. The edges of wounds were brittle with ice or charred from fire or shrivelled from lightening. Darkspawn fell on the figure in a knot. She twirled and danced.
A troll bellowed and burst through the chaotic ranks.
Two pairs of plate-clad feet charged.
The rest broke and ran.
Swords were dropped and a bow drawn forth, fire-enchanted arrows soaring through the air to bury in backs and necks, felling as many as possible before the darkness of the Deep Roads swallowed the fleeing monstrosities.
Finally, it was silent, except for the sound of heavy breathing, the grind of armour and the drip of blood. The bow was slung across a slender, plate-covered back, resting beside the quiver, and the enchanted blades were picked up again.
"This is hardly fair."
Blue eyes dull with fever and delirium glanced up, a flushed face examining the haggard appearance of the taller, much older-looking male.
"You. Look at you."
A slender brow arched.
"Don't give me that look. This is ridiculous. You don't look any different. Aside from, you know, partial insanity. But then again you've never been really that hinged. You did, after all, jump on two dragons. Two. One of which was a transformed witch, granted, but the other being possessed by a twisted Old God. But that's beside the point. You look exactly as you did back then, covered in blood. Minus the scary grin, though. You're sick and still as spry as ever. Me? I'm haggard and old. Very old. I have a beard that my wife would faint at and I think I just threw my damn hip out."
A ghost of a smile caressed cracked and dry lips and she licked them, uncaring of the darkspawn blood. They could not be corrupted from it, anyway.
"Don't give me that. You know it's unfair."
She sheathed the swords and turned, gesturing behind them, at the way they had come.
"Oh like hell," he snapped. "You drag me all the way here, and now you want to say I can go? Worthless knife-ears. Maybe I should just hang you juuuust out of reach. Oh, that's a good idea. And then they could jump up and down trying to get you, whilst I hobble my way out." He paused, as if he were seriously considering this. "I'm too old and brittle to make it to Orzammar anyway, so I don't suppose it would work. Well, I guess you're stuck with me, then."
The ghost of a smile was back. It was so painfully fake and empty. Purely for his benefit. But considering, it was as good as hysterical laughter.
"Come, then," he gestured. "Let's go get my pretty royal armour even more dirty."
Her eyes smiled at him, and she reached up to touch his face.
"Thank you for not changing."
He stared at her for a moment, before unexpected tears touched his eyes.
"If only that wasn't all I could do for you."
But her talk was over and she tilted her head, indicating opposite to the way she had gestured before.
As one, the two Grey Wardens moved into the Deep Roads.
"… I wonder if Ruck is still down here? Not saying we should stop and chat. It's just that he might eat us. I know my fair buttocks might be a change from darkspawn meat, but I don't really want to be eaten."
A metal fist clanged off a mailed shoulder and deep male laughter sounded.
They were not there for any sort of heroic moment. They had only one direction to go, for as long as they could go. The only retirement a Grey Warden could know.
They had come to the Deep Roads to die.
One of them was bleeding.
The corruption was so deep within their blood that it was almost indistinguishable from darkspawn, but long after the darkspawn blood would have dried on their armour, at least enough to no longer leave a trail, blood continued to drip from one of them. At a rate that was not immediately life-threatening, but enough for it to be a significant wound.
Especially for the Deep Roads.
Fingers touched a thick droplet and lifted. Some of it clung to the dark tips. In the cold air of the Deep Roads, however, that could mean anything. They could be a few hours ahead, or they could be days.
Hope lingered that it was the former. If it was the latter, then it might already be too late.
No. Do not think on it. The thought were chased away like scolded dogs into the back of the mind. They were not welcome. Not wanted.
Not there. Not at that time.
Leather boots shoved off the floor and charged forward, heading into the darkness, a cloak fluttering behind the silent spectre. Long before it reached the darkness, however, it simply seemed to disappear.
The desire was not for fighting. It was not for slaughter.
It was hunting, and it did not have the time for darkspawn looking for a squabble.
No time at all.
The blade parted dragonbone plate as easily as the flesh beneath it. A tired lung deflated and blood splashed past lips and he collapsed in a boneless heap, his own weight pulling him off the blade.
With a scream of rage, his companion surged forward with renewed vigour, a rally cry that had not passed her lips in an age. He got to see the warrior she had once been, for a moment, as his old eyes clouded over with pain and exhaustion. She moved with a grace and finesse that belied her journey and her trials. Like she had not aged a day.
So unfair, he lamented.
When they were dead, she dragged him out of the open and into a natural niche that the formation of the rock had carved in itself.
"Hgck… gentle! Be gentle, dammit. I'm… I'm old and frail!"
She had knelt beside him, taking off her helm and setting it to one side. Then she had stared helplessly at his chest, petting the edges of the broken metal like a child would a dead pet, not yet understanding the concept of death, lost to her own frail sanity.
"Oh-h-h. D… don't look like that. It was not like these old… ghn… tainted bones had anything left in them… anyway. Be-besides… If I had… outstripped you… imagine how embarrassing that… would have been. Not… that I would have… been incapable of it, of course. Count… yourself lucky."
"You sound like Whynn." Even thinking of the passed mage, now, so long after her death, made it hurt still.
"I'm prettier than she was. Although… granted… my chest is not… as perky." He stopped. "Not that I was… looking or anything…"
A smile flashed and was gone just as fast, but the desperation that had tinged it remained. She looked at him and he saw tears. Instantly tears sprang into his own and he let out a gasp of pain that had nothing to do with his chest.
"I… I am going to have to break my promise…" Maker, the one thing he didn't want to do…
"I release you from it." He always had marvelled how gentle her voice had gotten through the years. Where once it had been waspish and spiteful, it was not tempered with resignation and loneliness.
Sometimes it hurt him to listen to her speak, her voice alone reminding him of how much she had lost.
Of how much he had not.
He gave her a bland expression, regardless of his train of thoughts, "Oh of… of course… you do. Because that… stops the guilt." He just concentrated on breathing, for a moment, trying to draw on his final reserves of strength.
She just rested her hand over the wound, like covering it could make it go away, trying to ignore the blood that was pooling under him, trickling from his mouth. It wasn't his only wound. There was a deep one in his thigh and one of his arms had been clutched to the dint in his side for hours now and he had been breathing flecks of blood for a while. It was not like neither of them hadn't known what was coming.
It was just that… seeing it in front of her, now…
"You seem calm." Her head tilted slightly, as if she was commenting on the colour of a garment that looked interesting but not quite flattering.
"I'm… I am calm. Isn't that… weird? You always hear… of it. You know. 'Calm'. But… but now I am… and I'm telling you, but I'm sure you don't believe me…"
"I hope… I can be calm."
Silence spanned between them. She never had been good at comfort. It was not her thing. Whenever pain had struck her, she had picked up a blade and hacked at the source. Be it a darkspawn, an arl's son, or the freaking regent of Denerim. They had all died equally under her blades.
Her brows arched suddenly and she loosened her breastplate, reaching beneath it.
"Oh my!" he chuckled, and then coughed. "I should… have… been mortally wo-wounded years ago."
She smiled faintly at him, and he was stunned to realize this was a real smile.
And then she pulled out a rose. Not a stem. Just the bloom itself. Petrified like it was carved from crystal.
His heart stopped. Not literally, but it definitely kicked something fierce.
"I had Whynn magic it before… before…" She scowled. Before she had died. Of old age, in a nice bed, smiling. Before everything had gone so horribly wrong for the hero of Ferelden.
"You kept it."
"I broke your heart," she returned. "The least I could do was keep a memento of… of my cruelty."
Silence reigned again, before his mailed fist came out, a finger touching a petal.
"You're… not giving it to me now, are you? B-because I would be crushed. Very…" he coughed again and blood splashed his breastplate, making her eyes sadden. She was not alarmed, nor was he. "Very crushed…"
"No." She tucked it back under her breastplate and locked it in place, cinching the straps tight. It had been attached to a chain, and from what he saw, there was enough of a bump in the plate to let it rest between her breasts comfortably. He had been wondering what that weirdness was when he had first seen it. Not that he would ever mention it, because it would mean he had been looking at her breasts.
"I… I just… wanted to show you." She put her hand on his. "Show you… how much you mean to me."
He smiled at her quietly. "I know… how much I mean to you." He paused for dramatic effect, before muttering sourly, "You… always… made me go first."
"Yes, but you were ever so good at weathering the damage." She squeezed his hand, tears falling down her cheeks. "But… but no. No you didn't. What I said was true… I could… could never have loved you. And that was not your fault. It was… my circumstance. The creature that my life shaped me into. It was no fault of your own that I couldn't... love you." She looked at him, whispering, "Maker, though, I wanted to."
Tears fell into his own hair as he murmured, "I understand… now, at least. I'm… sorry I c-couldn't have… sooner. But you were… always good at… seeing the big picture…"
"I was an elf," she confirmed quietly. "And you were a prince. You… you were a human." She closed her eyes. "I could never be happy with a human, because… because of my own prejudices. And, really, you… wouldn't have been happy with me, either. I would have made you miserable."
"I did… I did mention… I… did not like the circumstances of my birth, right?" He smiled at her, but it was getting dark, and it was hard not to cough. "But I… seem to recall… being put on the throne anyway."
She laughed then. A startled sound. A sound much like the startled laugh that came from her when they first met. He smiled then. Happy. Happy that, in his last moments… he could make her laugh.
The first laugh she had had in years.
"Better than that backstabbing bitch Anora. I still say we should have pushed her out of that tower."
"You… you would…" He winced, one eye closing. "Getting… getting kind of… dark… here. Do… do turn up the light, dear."
She moved to lean over him, her hair, loose from its normal tie, falling over her face. Her tattoo seemed to glow in the light of his enchanted sword, which lay in his limp hand to the side. Her eyes darted back and forth as she looked into each of his.
Then she smiled. Sadly.
A smile of farewell.
"You are my dearest and closest friend," she whispered. "You were… are… the only reason…" She stopped. Tried again. "Many times…" Again she stopped, unable to form the words to adequately express what she wanted to say. "I trusted you. You… were… the only human I really did trust with… with everything." She stopped, before she closed her eyes. "I do love you. In… in my own way… As much as I… as much as I could."
He smiled at her and reached up to touch her cheek, catching a tear before it fell. His bloody palm cupped her face, smearing the tear and the vitae of darkspawn across her tattooed skin, "I… never s-stopped… loving you… You… you stole my heart… when you stared at me… so… haughtily. And told me that… I was being a girl. There… in the Korcari wilds… And… and when you found out I was a prince… you… you never treated me differently and…" He closed his eyes, sucking in a breath. "You… never… stopped protecting me…" He breathed out slowly. He didn't breathe back in.
Her head dipped down, her lips pressing to his bloody ones. He returned the kiss as best he could. The barest whisper of pressure.
When she sat back, he was gone, but he was smiling. A small, shy little smile. The bashful little templar he had once been showing through the blood and the age.
"Old bastard," she spat, her old venom coming out for a moment. But it was all for show. For the friendship they had had. "You broke your promise."
For a moment longer she knelt there. Then her face slowly crumpled. Her shoulders slumped. She draped her slender frame over his chest, so broad and strong even in his advanced age. The tears had come hot and fast and she screamed in pain.
He found the King.
He knew it was the king. She had piled stones on him to keep the deepstalkers away. His sword was his headstone. Only a king would have a sword that nice. Pompous braggart. The thing was far more flashy than it was useful, with folded lyrium and runes until the rocks that propped it up hummed. The man had to be compensating for something.
Funny. He had known she was not alone. But he didn't think it would be him. Maybe because he was king. Maybe because she was an elf.
Maybe because in the dancing firelight she had confessed that she could not love him, had hurt him, to be with another. Another who they all knew was undeserving. A love between the two had been impossible, but the love that had blossomed was simply cruel.
And maybe… maybe it was because he just didn't want it to be him.
But now he realized that there was no other possible person it would be. Because of who they were, because of what they shared, more than adventure, but as Grey Wardens. There was no one else that it would have been.
He knelt beside the pile of stones and touched one of them, staring at it in silence. He stroked his fingers over the rough surface and imagined the man lying beneath.
He had not seen the face of King Alistair in twenty three years. He tried to imagine the youthful man-child as an old man with a beared and crow's feet. For some reason, he simply got a terrifyingly masculine Whynne. Or Whynne-Oghren babies. Oh, that had been a conversation that he could have lived without.
Something told him that Alistair would have had deeper laugh lines than Whynne.
Or maybe… maybe he would have fewer.
The words seemed hollow as he spoke to the grave. As he touched specks of blood on the stones.
But he couldn't leave without saying more.
"Thank you for… for…" His throat closed and he closed his eyes. "For…" He gasped and bowed his head, clenching his fist. He punched it into the bloody stones at his sides. "She should have chosen you. Even… even if she was an elf. Even if you were to be king. You… you… would have been better."
His head came up as he stared at the grave again, chasing away his tears angrily.
"Thank you, my friend, for not failing her as I did. For… for not… leaving her alone."
But she was alone now.
And he was going to fix that.
With that, he got to his feet and hurried off. He wanted to stay and talk to the fallen king. To tell him everything he should have told him long ago. But he did not have time. He had no time.
Because he now knew, the blood spatters he had found the day before had been from her.
Please don't let me be too late.
Her back arched as a rusted dwarven long sword sprouted from her abdomen like a macabre flower. Adrenaline had replaced her blood long ago and she staggered away from the ancient hurlock. It gurgled wetly at her, lifting a hand. Angrily, she slashed its fingers off, before dropping to one knee. Her armour was scorched and twisted and the body beneath it had long since been ready to give in.
A sodding emissary. Of all the things to find in the Deep Roads. With her bow broken and her arrows spent, the emissary had hurled magic at her from behind a line of genlocks and hurlocks, laughing maliciously as she faltered under every blow. She screamed obscenities at the creature that taunted her so as she cut down everything in her path before finally claiming its grinning head. Exhaustion had taken her then, and when the boot of the hurlock alpha hit her, she had just laughed.
Desperately she had fought him. A lucky shot had cost him his kneecap. Another lucky one had slit his throat. But he had enough strength to plant his stolen blade beneath her right breast, the tip bursting from her back.
She leant her whole weight on her sword, lacking the strength for a true blow, driving it into the alpha's chest.
As it was, he would just have to bleed to death.
And so would she. After fighting to a standstill against the darkspawn. After killing as many as she could.
A Grey Warden's death.
Resentment burned her throat like bile.
Everyone talked about how great the Grey Wardens were. About how marvellous and resplendent and wonderful. But they didn't know the truth. They only saw what they wanted to see. They only saw heroes.
She felt like anything but a hero.
No one would build a grave for her. She would be devoured by the deepstalkers. She would be chewed on by hungry scavengers.
Oh, Maker, if Ruck found her…
She had cuffed Alistair for the comment, but now it was a true fear. She didn't want to be eaten.
Worse, she did not want to be a broodmother.
She looked down at herself. No risk of that now.
Her knees buckled and she crumpled down, clutching the sword still planted in her. There was an arrow in her side that had somehow found its way between the plates of her armour. The shaft had broken and she had no hope of pulling it free. Another had grazed her collarbone and, for some reason, that tiny wound hurt the most.
Metal scraped over stone as she crawled, backwards, pathetically, to rest her back against a stone. One knee drew up and she rested her arm on her thigh, staring at the sword that had struck the killing blow, at her blood flowing down her armour, leaking out beneath it.
All she could do now… was wait to die.
"Glorious," she murmured bitterly. "Glorious."
Something scraped. A grunt. A gasp.
Without thinking, she drew the sword from her own flesh. One of her blades was buried in the chest of the Hurlock alpha. The other was lying out of her reach. All she could do was draw the blade that had killed her. Pain seared her and gave her new life, new purpose, even as blood spilled over her chin. Lifting it in one hand, with strength she did not know she had, she pointed it in the direction of the sound.
"Come, then." Her voice rang strong with determination. "Come and take me. But know I shall not submit. Even if I cannot slay you, I will struggle enough that I bleed to death before you can turn me, just for spite."
The one who stepped into the watery light of the darkspawn fires and torches was, quite literally, the last person she expected to see.
Oghren, at least, would have had a reason to be in the Deep Roads, more than any other. Leliana, the hopeless sap of an infatuated romantic that she was, come to save her friend if she thought she could. Whynne emerged from the Fade to take her, perhaps, was far more likely. With Alistair at her side. And Titan, that irascible hound. Maker, even Morrigan, the cold-hearted bitch, and that god-forsaken, or perhaps not so much, child that she had demanded of Alistair.
Truthfully, she had no resentment towards Morrigan. The witch was a product of her upbringing as much as she, herself, was and she could find no hate in her heart for the woman. She simply somewhat resented the 'hole in the loop' she had presented, because it had given her hope, and she now knew that hope was the cruellest of all things.
Yes, Morrigan she would expect.
The sword had dipped with shock when she saw him, her eyes wide with shock. With horror. When he took a hurried step forward, the sword came up again and her eyes darted around, suspicious.
"Malificar?" she coughed blood onto her thigh. "Demons? Are you tempting me? Is this the Fade? You have poor tastes to come for the soul of one such as I." She clenched her fist tighter and stared at him. "Do not come closer. I have life in me yet, even for you, and I have slain many of your kin in my time."
He seemed at a loss, before he swallowed hard. His mouth opened.
Before he could speak, the sword lowered and she lowered her lashes, "I suppose… though. If you are willing to give me a dream… this dream. Before the end." She closed her eyes. "I do not wish to fight it. Perhaps, once. But not now… I have nothing left… no reason." She smiled bitterly. "How the mighty have fallen, to be grateful for a delusion. But in these moments… I shall take what comfort I can."
Her head lifted at his hoarse tones as he came closer, sinking to his knees out of arm's reach, but within sword's reach.
"Tears, demon?" She smiled. "You are kind. To give me such a gift. His tears. For me. I appreciate it. I once told a demon I would find my own happiness. I found it, and it went away. So… so I shall take this happiness." She closed her eyes, then opened them again, smiling once more. "Are you crying for me, my love? Do not cry. Because you are here. Even if you are not real. You are here and I… I can go happily now. With this dream."
"I am not… not a dream, Caedra. I am real. I am here."
She shook her head and dropped her blade, leaning her head back, "You are not real. You may sound and feel and smell real. But I know well the tricks of demons."
His hand touched her face, drawing her to him. His eyes stared into hers. Imploring her to believe.
"A demon would not try to convince you this was real, if you had submitted," he whispered. "I am no demon. No conjuring of a blood mage. I am here, mi amore. I am here and I am with you, now."
For a moment she didn't comprehend. And then her face crumpled. Tears flowed freely down her face and, for the first time in a long time, life flooded her eyes. Life and joy.
She was dying.
She was dying and there was nothing he could do.
Worse still, she did not want him to do anything. He had tried to apply a healing poultice, but she had refused it. All she had allowed was for him to strip her armour away and wrap her in his cloak. He had only passed a glance at the rose, before his eyes strayed to her earring.
He could not begrudge her the token from… from him. Not after the king had been more worthy of her than he ever would.
But she had kept his. Kept his token. In public. For all to see.
Even the king.
Especially the king.
"Zevran." She kept saying his name. She just said it. Over and over. She had once said she liked the way it was pronounced. She had said it was the only name starting that that sound that she knew. He had taught her how to write it out, because she had been illiterate when they had first met. "Zev-rahn." She had then pronounced it the way the Fereldans would, and he had bemoaned it like it was some sort of insult.
She had, however, always pronounced it with the proper emphasis in public.
No one else ever had.
"Zev…" She stroked his cheek, stroked his tattoos. One of her fingers traced his ear. Her favourite thing to do. Then she fingered one of his braids.
"Still taking… too much time… with your hair."
They were tucked away in a niche, much as she had tucked the king away. She was in her underclothes, which were soaked in her blood. He cradled her close, one leg thrown over her, trying to keep her warm.
She would not stop shivering, though she said she was not cold.
"Here. I found them. They're here." He moved one with his boot so she knew where they were. At her side.
"This…" Her hand sought one. Touched it. "This one. Is to… is to stay in the Deep Roads. Do not… take it with me." She closed her eyes. "A Grey Warden lost it here, in his last moments. So… so… let another find it, and let it serve them as well."
"I will leave it here."
Promises. All he could do was promise to fulfil her last wishes, because he had fulfilled none of those she made earlier in life.
Not that she had asked any of him.
She had never asked anything of him.
She lifted her head, startled. "What? Did I fall asleep?"
"Can I fall asleep?"
Panic set in, "Do you want to?"
She paused, before she nodded, resting her head against his shoulder. "I'm so tired, Zevran… I'm so, so tired. And I think… I think this time, there will be no nightmares. Not anymore. I'd like to sleep."
Hating himself, cursing himself, he whispered, "Can you not stay awake? For a little longer?"
She paused, before she smiled. Warmly. Happily. "Alright."
Anything for him. He hated himself for taking advantage of that. But he wanted more time with her. Just a little more.
Where was this all those years ago?
However, he found that he had nothing to say. Even though he had so much to say, there was nothing to say it with.
"How… how have you fared?"
"No. Not well. Not well at all. But…" Suddenly she tensed and more blood flowed from her wound. He pressed his hand to it tighter, but knew the one on her back was bleeding just as badly. His thigh was already soaked. "But… but I feel better now."
She was dying and she felt better?
"You… you feel… better?"
"Yes…" She nuzzled his chest, over his heart. "You're… you're here. Nothing can go wrong… if you're here…"
A part of him died a little when she said that.
"A-are you sure… you're not a demon?"
"I am sure." He laughed softly. But it was forced. He tried to be her Zevran. For her.
"Pity," she whispered. "I would… not m…mind… giving up my soul to stay like… like this."
Yet another part shrivelled and ceased to be with a painful scream of denial. His Caedra. No. Not his. Just Caedra. Caedra the powerful, strong-willed, pig-headed, mulish, stubborn, violent, angry, resentful, bitter, emotional Caedra.
For a dream of him.
"What have I done to you?"
The words were out before he could think on it, and she answered like she thought he expected her to.
"You destroyed me."
He buried his face in her hair, shoulders shaking at that. He did not want to cry. He did not want to cry and let these last moments of hers be filled with misery. But there was nothing else there but misery.
"And you saved me."
His head lifted as he stared down at her, sucking in a pained breath. Her eyes were mostly closed, only a sliver of light reflecting between her lashes indicated they were open at all. She was smiling, and it was that smile that made him breathe so.
She was happy.
"Destiny. Destiny…" She kissed his neck and left a smear of blood behind. "Came for me. Knocking on my door and whisked me away. And then you crashed… crashed into my life." She tightened the hand that gripped the harness of his twin swords. "Crashed into my life. You know what I felt when you came to kill me, Zevran?"
"Relief." She closed her eyes. "It was over. It was over and I didn't… have to do anything…" She gave a bitter laugh. "And then you failed… you… you… worthless cutpurse."
He made an indignant sound, more for show than for anything, "I am many things, dear woman, but I was never a simple cutpurse."
"No… no… you were never simple. All… knife-sharp smiles and… watchful eyes. Seeing… through everyone. The… the only way… you were ever able to rile anyone so… was… was because you saw through them." She patted his chest, gently, with shaking fingers. "And there… was so much under her. Under the armour. To see. And… And… you… let me… see it." She smiled. "You… are not simple… at all…"
Her eyes drooped closed and when her chest stopped rising, he shook her, alarmed.
Her eyes popped back open and she sucked in a harsh breath, her hands scrabbling at his chest, "Zevran!"
Caught by the desperation in her eyes, he went still as she stared up at him, tears flowing down her cheeks.
"I know why… the Grey Wardens… die when… they kill the archdemon." She had told him of the necessary sacrifice a year after the end of the Blight. Had whispered it to him quietly. He had been angry that she had not told him sooner, of course. Angry that she would go willingly to her death. Resentful because she would have done it to ensure Alistair was king.
A part of him had been infinitely grateful to Morrigan for letting him have more time with Caedra. Even if his own foolishness had made that be but five years.
But they were not thoughts fit for such a moment.
"I know why," she rasped hoarsely. "I know, Zevran. I know… I know why we die when we slay the Archdemon... It is not sacrifice. It is mercy… Because… because no mind and heart… can endure what comes after…" She turned her face away and gasped, spitting out more blood. "No one… can endure…" She put her hands to her face, and then looked back at him.
"Duncan is coming."
He scowled, his confusion pushing through his grief.
"Duncan is coming." She closed her eyes. "He will find… will find the king. And the king will… take the king… so he won't be eaten… by… by the darkspawn. Or by the deep… stalkers. Or by… Ruck." She swallowed. "The king is coming… Duncan is coming."
She was delusional. Seeing the fallen Grey Warden that had rescued her. Or cursed her. Or both. He was coming for her? Well… well he would just have to wait until… until Zevran was ready to let her go.
Strange, now that he had no choice in the matter, now that it had been decided for him, it was that moment that he truly did not want her to leave.
Suddenly her eyes flashed open and she looked up at him. Clarity was there. Clarity and strength and he knew that these would be her last moments. Zevran found himself helpless, for the first time in a long time. Truly helpless in the face of her anguish.
In the face of her mortality.
She was so young. A child by elven standards. Especially since she had never wed.
"You're… you're really… here… aren't you?"
"Yes…" He forced the words out through a tight throat. Why could he find no words of comfort for her? Why was there nothing but pain for her? Why couldn't he be what she needed? Why couldn't he ever be what she needed?
Why, now, was it that he wanted to be? Where was this desire twenty years ago?
"It's… it's not fair!" She clutched at him, eyes closing tightly. "Why? Why are you here? Why… why do I have to go now? Why… couldn't… why?"
His chest tightened like a troll was stepping on him and he held her closer, tears in his eyes. He rocked her, trying to calm her. Trying to stop her struggles. So she would live longer. So she would stay with him just a little longer.
"Why!" she screamed louder, with more strength than she should have. Thwarting his efforts. "Why are you here now? I was ready! I was ready to go! It was my time and I was glad to go! It was… it was over. It was over and I… I could rest. Why are you here now? Why are you with me now?"
She grasped his hair in her hand, fisting it tightly, painfully. He willed her to rip his hair out. To hurt him and make him bleed as she sobbed, aggravating a wound that had already killed her. And all the while, he detested himself. Loathed himself. Because he did not wish he had not come. He did not wish he was not there. Even though all it did was cause her more pain. More anguish.
It was all he was good for.
The one weakness of the hero of Ferelden.
"Why, Zevran? I never asked you to stay with me! I never said you had to! And then… and then you were gone and I… and you were gone. They said… they knew. I didn't… listen…" She trailed off like a broken child, sagging weakly in his arms. "Why…? Why now…"
"Caedra… Caedra…" He could do no more than speak her name. The words he wanted to say… would be too cruel. Too cruel…
But was it cruelty to her? Or to him?
Selfishness. He was so selfish…
"I'm sorry…" For everything.
"Why…" She was whimpering now, staring at him, tears in her eyes. Flowing along her temples. Into her hair. "Why?" She lifted her hand and touched his face. Her nails scraped over his skin, not to hurt him, but like she was trying to hold on.
"Why… didn't you stay?"
The words tore at him, plunging deeper than any blade ever could, scoring wounds where no weapon could ever reach. "I…"
"All I wanted… all I ever wanted… the only thing… was… was you…" Her eyes scrunched, her face twisting into a painful mask of suffering. "You. Just… just you… I… I" She closed her eyes, then opened them again, like she was afraid he would disappear if she did so for too long. "And then… you were gone…"
She leant back, her energy spent, but still she wept.
"And now you're here… and I… have… to go… Why… why can't… why can't I stay?" She sobbed openly, shaking hard in his arms with each, heart-rending gasp. "Why can't I stay, Zevran? You're… you're here now… You're here with… w-with… me again…"
She buried her face against his chest and cried as the last of her strength fled her. "You're here now… why… isn't… everything going… to be okay? Won't it be alright? Maker! Andraste! Please… I… I want… I want to stay with you! Don't leave me, Zevran!" She wrapped her arms around him, screaming.
All he could do was hold her. Hold her and cry. Sob like a worthless wretch as she wailed at the injustice of it all.
"Don't leave me! Maker be damned. Blight and darkspawn and Ferelden. To hell with all of them. Just…" Her nails scraped over his armour. "I love you… I love you, Zevran… Please… please stay with me… please stay… please… I… I want… I want to stay with… I w… want… Why… why can't… I have… what… I want…? Just… just once?" Her breathing hitched. "Please. Stay… stay with…"
Her arms fell limp to her sides and, just like that, she was gone.
Mailed feet trod over the far reaches of the Deep Roads. Though the dwarves had made some effort in reclaiming lost territory, their kingdom had been vast and they had not yet reached such distances from Orzammar.
Perhaps they never would. They were far from the surface.
Six men bore a pallet with a covered body. Their heads were down and they were silent, sombre, as they carried their burden. Ahead of them, in plain armour, was their leader. His attire was practical and not at all ostentatious, nothing to place him as different to his companions. It was how he had been taught. A king might be a king, but in the end he was just a man, and gold armour just made him a nicer target.
Better to be modest and alive, than resplendent and dead.
That was what she had taught him.
But then again, she had taught him many things.
"Sire… we… we have travelled far. Surely… Surely..."
The king glanced over his shoulder, eyes narrowed. He gestured silently at the corpses of the darkspawn that littered the way like breadcrumbs from a Tevinter fairytale.
"She is this way. If you want to go back, go back. I shall not abandon her. Not now, with her final request. She doesn't want to be eaten or abandoned to the Deep Roads, Cedric. Can you begrudge her that? After all she has done. After all she has suffered."
"No, my lord," murmured the commander of his guard. "My apologies."
"You have to agree with him, though," murmured a mage off to one side, tapping his staff on the ground. "We are very deep, now. We are just worried about your safety, my liege."
"Considering who my trainers were," he muttered, "I am the safest of the lot of you."
The hero of Ferelden. The king of Ferelden. A bard spy and assassin. A dwarf berserker. He had, indeed, had influential teachers.
All thanks to her.
"I shan't leave her. Go, if you want. But I shall not."
"Oh, yes, that is indeed an option," quipped the mage. "Your mother would hang us by our viscera and laugh as she poked at us with a long stick, making us sway in the breeze."
The man was far too much like his father for his comfort, but he was a good friend, and he was a loyal protector.
She had always said that you should never squander real, genuine help and friendship. Though many had been horrified that the king would trust a mage so well, and an apostate at that, he had silenced them all thoroughly.
He might not be the great king Maric was, or his own father, but he was a good king, and well they all knew it.
Because of her.
He rounded a corner to see a scout returning, his face drawn and ashen.
"I found her," he said softly. "And she is not alone."
The bodies were thick and deep. Carved by an artist's hand. Poisoned blades. Enchanted blades. Genlocks and hurlocks and a shriek or twelve. Two trolls lay in pieces.
They had come for her and he had not let them take her. Or perhaps they had come for him. Either way, he had a vow to fulfil, and this one he would not fail at. One by one they had fallen. Or sometimes by twos and threes. He had killed them all. There had been no joy to it. No familiar rush and exhilaration. It was necessity. Desperation. He had not fared well through it all, but he had promised her. Promised her that he would not leave her alone. Not this time. She did not want to be dragged away. Did not want them to take her.
He would not let them.
He would not leave her side.
Too late could he fulfil that vow, but truly, it was better late than never.
Or was he simply reassuring himself thusly, to alleviate his own guilt?
Not that it mattered, his guilt alone was killing him surer than any wound he bore.
One of his legs was not responding properly, probably crushed beyond use. He was bleeding.
He was dying.
But he… wanted to fulfil her final request.
It was, pathetically, the only thing he could do now.
Zevran's expression was one of pain and anguish as he stared at the unknown faces before him. They were indistinguishable shapes, backed by fire, and one of them moved to the fore. He stared down at him, and then turned his head, the wings of his helm casting shadows over Zevran.
"Begone…" he brandished one of his blades, unable to see them clearly. He knew how Caedra must have felt, facing the darkness, waiting for him and thinking it some other creature. "Leave… leave us…"
The man at the fore turned back to the elf, "You are Zevran." It was a statement, not a question.
"Who…?" he asked, unable to speak any more.
"My name is Duncan. I…" He paused, before whispering, "I am the king of Ferelden."
Duncan. King. The threads slowly connected in Zevran's weakened and exhausted mind. Alistair's son.
Duncan was coming for her. Of course. The new king was coming for the old king. And for her.
For their bodies.
For some reason, however, the identity of the man before him and his intent did not comfort the gold-skinned elf. His hand, instead, tightened on the body he clutched to his side. Like he was afraid they would remove her. Or him.
The king approached quietly, kneeling down. Light bathed him, now, from the enchanted blades crossed over Caedra's chest. He had Alistair's eyes. He had Alistair's hair, too. He didn't recognize any other features. Must belong to the unknown queen. Maker he was young. Perhaps Alistair had trouble conceiving. No, he had trouble conceiving. He remembered him discussing it with Caedra one night. Zevran had joked. Alistair had taken offence. Caedra had laughed.
Laughter. How he missed her laughter. The startled laughter. When he surprised it out of her. The best laughter.
He missed that laughter.
But this boy couldn't have been older than…
Older than Caedra when she saved their land and gave up everything.
Oh, well, a little older, perhaps.
Absurdity. Zevran's mind had gone to absurdity.
"Please what, dear friend?"
Please… no… leave me with her laughter a little longer.
Confusion must have shown on Zevran's face because Duncan explained, "My Godmother spoke so fondly of you. Told me of everything. Father said how you saved her and let her save us. She… she told me how she loved you. Any friend of hers is more than a friend of mine."
Agony seared Zevran and tears spilled down his cheeks anew. His eyes burned and he relished the pain. "I… I left her." His words were desperate. Desperate for Duncan to understand.
Desperate for him to hate him for it.
"I know, dear friend. But we all have our reasons, and if she could not bring herself to hate you, then nor can I."
Zevran didn't want to hear those words. He did not want to hear of how he was undeserving of her. Of how he had totally destroyed her. So he tried, again, to fulfil her final desire.
"Do… do not take me… from her. Please…"
The king's eyes were full of anguish as he whispered hoarsely, "We will not."
"Tell… tell me of her… Spare… spare me nothing. Tell me everything I… I would have known, had I been there."
Duncan let his eyes rove over Zevran, before he turned and looked over his shoulder, "Set up camp here." His men moved without delay to obey his order and he slowly sat down beside Zevran, his eyes sad.
"I do not know more than she let me see, my friend, but I shall tell you everything." He stopped. "But first I must say… if you had been there, it would have been very different, I am sure."
Duncan talked for hours. Hours and hours, broken only when he ate and drank at the insistence of his men. Zevran refused all food and only sipped some water.
He also refused healing. He just sat with Caedra cradled to him, stroking her hair and her still, dry cheek. He was wrong. She had aged, physically. There were lines between her brows. At the corner of her eyes. Not laugh lines.
There were no laugh lines on her face.
Duncan spared him no details, as he had wanted. His own masochistic desire for self-flagellation. Repentance for his sins. He told him of how Alistair described the woman she had been before Zevran had left.
How she had been angry. Very angry. But she had also been kind. Alistair, of course, had embellished the story with his own artistic flair. Duncan knew his father had been infatuated with the elf. Alistair had also come to understand why Caedra had refused him. Their friendship had been strong.
But Alistair said that, in the two years between Zevran's departure and Duncan's birth, Caedra had changed.
At first she had smiled and shrugged as Zevran's absence was noted. Then she took to staring out of windows. Then she stopped smiling altogether. She turned to her duties as king's champion. Whenever a particularly significant cluster of darkspawn were seen, she would ride out alone to deal with them and come back a few days or weeks later, leaving a little more of herself behind each time.
She stopped seeing her friends. She stopped talking. She stopped going to social functions. She sat in her room and trained with the soldiers. She fulfilled her role as the arlessa of the Alienage, but it was a perfunctory act. Eventually she gave the role to Shianna and lost another part of herself.
Then Duncan described the woman he knew growing up. The woman Caedra had become.
She had been cold. Not cruel, just… cold. Steel encased in ice. Like her favourite blade, enchanted with frost and cold iron. Unforgiving. Not to others, but to herself. She never allowed herself to make a mistake. The king had said that it was because she did not want to become Loghain. Because she did not want to repeat what he had done. But the unspoken truth hung in the air between the assassin and the young king.
She was that way because she did not know how to survive any other.
She had never allowed herself to show any sort of strong emotion. Not hate, not joy. Not love. Even Duncan had gotten quiet reservation from her as she picked him up and held him close. She did all the things she should have done with him, the things expected of her. She played, and trained, and watched over him. As she did with her cousin's children and the children of others. But there was never any true emotion behind it.
She was never really there.
It was like she was watching them all from a distant cliff, separated forever by some great chasm. He had said she was content with that. Content because she did not have the motivation to change it. And they were content to let her be.
Duncan said his father feared that making her change would fracture her.
Apparently Caedra had had numerous offers for marriage. Most were ambitious men who wanted the renown of being wed to the hero of Ferelden. Even if she was an elf. Some were elves. One was a Dalish Keeper. Some, like Bann Teaghan, had wanted to heal her. To help her laugh again.
Duncan had said he had never seen her do more than smile or give a single, short sound of amusement, and they were never genuine emotions. More like indulgent ones, so she wouldn't hurt the feelings of another.
She had turned them all down, of course. Teaghan she did so gently and they remained friends. One she had slain because he had gotten too forward. A fit of rage, of madness from the taint, Duncan had said. That was, at least, the popular rumour.
Caedra had admitted to him and Alistair, later, that he had slandered Zevran to her face and she hadn't been able to control herself. The next thing she had known, he was dead, and she couldn't care less.
She never told them what, exactly, he had said. They had never asked.
As it was, no one had the heart to slander her at all for her action. If anything, there was simply more sympathy for her. For a mind they thought had been lost defeating the Blight.
A week after that, she had packed up and left Denerim and for five years they had heard nothing of her. Not rumour or whisper, and not for lack of trying. Their Mistress of Spies, the bard Leliana, had turned all of her skill into searching. King and countrymen alike scoured the land for her. But she was simply gone. The Dalish, too, were at a loss, and Alistair believed them when they professed to not having seen her.
Then she had simply turned up at the castle, looking older and more tired than ever. It was on the twentieth anniversary of the end of the Blight, when Duncan had been thirteen, when the doors to the great hall opened and she walked in. A crowd gathered behind her, no doubt having followed her from the moment she appeared in the city. Silence descended as she approached Alistair, his queen and young son.
Then, the middle of court, covered in blood and dirt and filth and staring up at the royal family, she broke down crying. For the first time in years, in the twenty years since the end of the Blight, in the fifteen years since her lover had vanished into the dark, she had simply shattered. For many, it was the first time they had seen any emotion in the hero of Ferelden, and it was like all those years without it came out at once.
The ice had fractured and she didn't know how to hold herself up after it fell away. She had grown weak under it. Fragile. The steel of her soul simply came apart.
Alistair had carried her out of the great hall and not a one spoke in his wake. No one dared.
She had been bedridden for three months after it, seeing only Alistair and the other companions she had had during the fight against the Blight, but aside from Alistair, they numbered only Leliana and Oghren. Whynne and Titan, their loyal mabari, had both passed years before. Morrigan was gone to the wilds. Sten had returned to his homeland.
Whenever they went into her room, her companions always came out like they had aged a thousand years in a single day. Many times, Leliana would go in with a smile and come out to break down in the hall and weep, unable to move. Oghren was muted and quiet whenever he emerged and then he would go and sit somewhere. Not drink. Not talk. Just sit.
Caedra had emerged, eventually, but she was dead. She was gone. If Duncan had thought she was absent previously, it was nothing compared to what came after. He recalled, to Zevran, that she was like a ghost. A spirit. An empty suit of armour. People couldn't meet her eyes. Couldn't bear to speak to her. So eventually she stopped talking altogether. Whereas before she had words of wisdom and advice, she simply had nothing left.
Caedra Tabris had died in that bed during those months, and only her instinctive will not to diminish entirely remained.
Much to the anguish of her friends.
Eventually Leliana stopped visiting her. She went to Orlais and did not come back. She sent letters, of course, but they were formal letters. She wanted to forget. She wanted to forget everything that had happened. Most of all, she wanted to forget her guilt. Alistair had indulged her desire. Cruelly, perhaps, because he gave no word of Caedra, despite how she asked. But she had opted to forget, and so she would.
Oghren had retired to Lake Calenhad and named his first daughter after Caedra. But he, too, had stopped visiting. He, at least, had the grace to acknowledge what he was doing. After the announcement of his child, Denerim had heard nothing from him except passing word from those who travelled to the Tower. Of him ferrying people across Lake Calenhad to the tower after the old ferryman had passed.
Duncan said his father was by far the worst of all those effected by Caedra's deteriorating mental and emotional health. Oh, Alistair was always the good, kind king that Caedra made him promise to be, but when it came to Caedra herself, he was an archdemon in his own right. He would brook no cruel word about her, nor whispered rumour. Perhaps that only increased them, but Alistair hadn't cared.
Caedra had wanted for nothing. Nothing except Zevran, though she had never said that. But he knew. Duncan knew. They all knew.
Duncan said his father had felt guilty. Had felt like it was his fault for heaping the burden of leadership on her slender, untried sholders. Alistair had gotten drunk one night and said to his young son that he thought he had a burden being king. But he felt lucky. Lucky that he had people around him to help him. That he had had someone like Caedra to help him.
She had no one.
He did not even feel the effect of the taint as strongly as she. He had not been the one to strike the killing blow. He had not been the one to lose himself wholly to the Blight in more ways than any other.
Ferelden thought she was a hero for what she had done.
But the true cost of what she had given that night was more than any could ever appreciate.
He told his son that being a king meant that people had expectations, and that you had responsibilities. But he was, in the end, a king. And she was a hero, and because of that, she suffered more than he ever would. A king could disappoint his people. A hero never, ever could.
And she knew that.
The only thing she had chosen for herself. The only thing she had wanted, had walked out on her. The only thing she had reached out and grasped with both hands, she could not hold on to. The only thing she had truly needed had slipped through her fingers.
Strange, that of all the things she hated, she could not hate Zevran.
When Alistair had felt the taint creeping on him, hot on the heels of his age, he had abdicated to his young son, who had barely any hair on his chin. Everyone was horrified by the decision, but none more so than Duncan. Terrified, he had run to Caedra's room the day before the coronation, begging her to save him. To help him be king.
She had told him she hated him. Stared at him and said, openly, that she hated him.
She confessed everything. She confessed that she hated Ferelden. She hated all humans. She even hated Alistair. She hated them all for heaping responsibility on her fragile shoulders. She hated them all for lording her as a hero when they knew nothing of what she had to endure. She hated them all for her life as an elf, and then her life as a legend. She had wanted neither. She had had no choice in either.
She hated herself for being what she was. She hated herself for being an elf. She hated herself for being strong. She hated herself for being courageous. She hated herself for not dying during the Joining.
She hated Ferelden for needing to be saved and she hated herself for saving it.
Horrified, Duncan had asked her how she could hate him, when he had done nothing wrong. She explained that they had all done nothing wrong. Not a single person had done anything wrong. Even Loghain, traitor and hated enemy of Ferelden, hadn't done anything wrong. But the fact remained that she suffered. She suffered and she resented them all for that.
And then she had told Duncan to go away with a quiet, parting message.
It was the last time she spoke to him.
Caedra was broken. Beyond broken. She was simply sifting her hand through the shattered glass shards of who she had once been. She had never truly recovered from the nightmare of her wedding night. She had never truly gotten over the incident. She had been cracked from it and the Blight had been like a hammer on a fault line. It was not immediate, but the weight of her own self had weighed until she had ruptured wide open.
In those final years, they slowly watched her die.
More terrifying than watching her die, was watching her wait to die. Eagerly. Anticipating it.
Alistair had tried to find Zevran. Had even gone to Antiva and to the Crows themselves, in person, looking for him. Zevran's heart broke as he realized how desperate the Ferelden king was to save his friend, and the only person that could had long since abandoned her.
Then, a few months past, the taint had truly started to take hold. Alistair had told his son that he felt 'his time' was coming. Soon after, the screams began. Caedra. Screaming. In anguish. In terror. As the taint began to eat her from the inside out. Nightmares and horrors that taunted her both awake and asleep.
Her screams had been unendurable.
The nights she had screamed for Zevran, however, were the worst. The nights she had screamed for Zevran to save her.
And then… then one day, she was completely lucid. She emerged dressed finely and clean, stunning the servants. Stunning Duncan. Stunning Alistair. Stunning all of Ferelden. She poured gold into the hands of the finest smiths from Orzammar. She had demanded resplendent but practical armour. The best they could make. Mages and dwarves worked together for three months to forge for her armour made out of pure dragon bone, a mail skirt made of dragon scales, folded with lyrium and runes and covered in silver.
She had taken up a sword. A sword that looked so old but not brittle at all. It had shed snow like winter clouds and crackled with electricity. The other blade was slightly curved, with a hook before the pommel. A Dalish blade, that had shimmered with fires and filled her with strength.
Then she had travelled to Orzammar, and Alistair had gone with her. Alone.
Denerim wept as they left, taking the final journey a Grey Warden ever would.
They had gone together to die in the Deep Roads, fighting as many darkspawn as possible.
And the reason, Duncan said, that Alistair had gone with her, was because she had begged him to. Though she said she had no right to. Though she said she owed him more than she could repay. She had begged him not to let her die alone. On her knees, in the middle of the throne room. She had been saying goodbye, when those cracks appeared again and she had knelt in desperate supplication to her once-king and friend. Alistair had gone to her immediately, sinking to his knees with her and embracing her. He had apologized. He had apologized for everything. For her wedding night. For her duty as a Grey Warden. For her fate.
He had apologized for helping her survive slaying the Archdemon.
He wept with her, as did all those who witnessed that moment.
'I know, Zevran. I know… I know why we die when we slay the Archdemon... It is not sacrifice. It is mercy… Because… because no mind and heart… can endure what comes after…"
Duncan had moved off, then, when Zevran begged him to let him be alone with her. They had all turned their backs to let the elf have his moment with the fallen Warden. They had all pretended not to hear his anguished sobs as he lay beside her and held her close. Many of them wept with him, some of them knowing something of the story, some of them oblivious.
But the emotion that Zevran was showing struck chords that echoed with an agony they all could not deny.
Zevran just cried as he held Caedra's cold body, uncaring for who might hear him. Just cried as he felt his own life leaking onto the stones beneath him. The bleeding had slowed, but he had refused healing.
Life was pointless now. Pride was pointless now. Maker, if only it had been pointless long ago. When it would have mattered.
"I will not leave you. I will never leave you. Never again."
She had offered him freedom, with guileless eyes, with a small smile. He had refused it. He had refused it because he had wanted to partake in her glorious body. Then, when she saved him from the Crows, she had offered him freedom again, and he had stayed, because though he had partaken, he wanted more.
He had confessed his love for her, without saying the words themselves, with his child-like confusion at the emotion, and she had returned it with everything she had. He had said she had caught him.
He had been lying.
Eventually he had felt the cage around him. The eyes. He did not like staying still. Did not like the protocol. He had left. In cowardice, he had slipped away in the middle of the night. It was the way of things. It was the way of him.
He did not think that this would happen.
She had always been so strong. She had always been so brave and courageous. He figured that their dalliance was all well and good, but she would survive.
Maker's breath, how wrong he had been.
After he had left, he had missed her. Missed her more than he would ever admit. But he was proud, and he could not go back to her. He thought it would be crawling. Crawling for her mercy after abandoning her, and Zevran did not crawl. He twisted others to his ends. He turned their arguments on themselves. He won out with wit and charm that he wielded with as much lethal efficiency as his blades.
Blades that she had chosen carefully. Each one tested and examined. He always got the best blades. Even before herself.
She had always given him the best…
Her mother's dagger. Her beloved mother's dagger. She had given it to him. She had shrugged, told him to use it, or simply keep it. He had given her an earring, why couldn't she give him a gift? Not gloves that reminded him of his mother, or boots that reminded him of Antiva. Things mentioned offhand that she had recalled for months afterwards. Something of her, from her.
He had taken it with him.
He had not the heart to sell it.
Zevran's bloody fingers touched the ring in her ear. An ear she had pierced especially for it. Pierced with it. Had she ever taken it out?
A hiss of a blade sounded and he drew out Fang. The enchanted weapon shimmered with the flame of a rune stolen from the corpse of an Elder Dragon. A dragon he himself had slain, as she had weathered blow after blow so he could get in the crippling attacks. Distracting the beast so he could strike the final blow.
She had chosen him. He was always first. Before Ferelden. Before herself. Before the king. Him. She had chosen him.
And he had left her.
Maker, he wished she hated him. She wished she had loathed and detested him. Resented his every breath. But she did not. She never would. Not that it was not in her nature. She could hate better than any. He had seen it. He had seen the full force of the grudges she could bear when she had turned her rage on the Tevinter mages that were exploiting her people. The bloodletting she had unleashed in a rage that would have given Oghren pause.
But she would never hate him.
Because she loved him.
Because she chose him for herself.
Maker, he owed her everything. His freedom, his life. And then… then when she had needed him most, he had abandoned her.
Why hadn't he seen it? Why hadn't he seen how much she needed him?
Of course. Because she had never shown it.
She would never cage him. She would never confine him. She had offered him his freedom constantly. She had let him have what she never would. What she had known she never would. He was free, and she would not strip it from him.
Even if it cost her life. Her sanity.
And the worst part of it was… he had gotten Alistair's letters. They had found their way to him. Eventually.
A small bundle of them, tied together, delivered to him by some wide-eyed boy. When he had read them, he had not believed what was written. Caedra? Breaking? Absurd. The king just wanted him back.
And then, at the bottom… was her letter.
And he knew. He knew before he read it.
She had intercepted the letters. She had paid a courier boy to take all the letters that were to be sent to Antiva and bring them to her. She had hoarded them all. Kept them all.
So he would not feel obligated to return.
So he would not feel trapped.
It was a small note from her. A quiet one of explanation. Muted, even. There had been no tears on it when it was delivered, but it was all but indecipherable now, in his pocket, the edges tattered from where he had held it and read it over and over, the creases worn from where it had been unfolded and refolded.
I apologize for doing this. But I feel that, perhaps, you might want to know. These letters were sent from Alistair. I do not know what they say, but they are yours, and I have no right to keep them now. Now that they can do no more harm to you.
I hope you are well and happy, and perhaps with a little Zevran showing you what an absolute nightmare you are to handle. If so, I hope she makes you happy. Or, perhaps, he.
Regardless, I just wanted to thank you for everything you have done. I know it is long overdue, but you gave me more than you ever realize on those cold nights full of despair and loneliness. I thank you. You were a welcome relief from destiny.
You were my hero.
It was a letter of goodbye. It was between the lines. It was subtle. But it was a letter of goodbye. Of absolute goodbye. Zevran had wondered why. Until he counted the months and the years since the Blight had been routed. Twenty seven years.
She had told him. Told him that a Grey Warden had only thirty or so years after the Joining before the taint took them. She had laughed when she said she knew all about taking what pleasures she could when the time was good.
She was going to die as a forty-nine year old elf, if she was lucky.
Zevran's feet had grown wings as he had fled from Antiva, spending what coin he could on horses, running each into the ground, buying a new one and riding even harder. Until he got to Orzammar. He cared nothing for politeness. He had simply burst through the doors and raced to the Deep Roads.
None of the dwarves had stopped him.
Always too late.
Zevran bowed his head over her chest and sobbed, clutching her dagger tightly.
"I love you, Caedra." He had never said it. Never. He had heard her whisper it at night when she thought he slept. Had heard others say it of her when she was absent. But he had never said it to her, and apart from the initial confession, she had never asked it of him.
She would never ask anything from him.
Except to stay.
"I love you." He clutched her tighter. "I love you. I love you. I love you."
Lifting his head, his teeth locked in pain, he whispered, "I am never going to leave you again. I swear it… I… I will never…" His words choked off and, suddenly, he tasted copper in his mouth. Tears flowed faster as he leant over her, some of them dropping on her face, sliding along her gaunt cheeks. "I will never leave you… again… We… We will be together. I swear it. We will be together forever. Just like you wanted." He lowered his head and pressed his forehead against hers, weeping openly.
"I'm so, so sorry…"
The next morning, or at least by the estimate of his body, Duncan stood in silence, staring at the two elves with a heart full of pain.
Both of them were cold, their faces tucked together. Zevran had arranged himself so that he was clutching her close. Cradling her. Holding her protectively in death as he failed to do in life. One arm cradled her head, his fingers fanned against her cheek, cushioning her from the hard stone floor. The other rested over her heart, clutching a strange, asymmetrical blade and a crumpled letter.
Zevran had placed one of her swords in her grip before he passed. The other was lying to one side, in a pile of rubble. It was to be left there, he knew. The Topsider's Blade was for Grey Wardens only.
Duncan went down on one knee before them and touched Caedra's cheek. Slowly, carefully, he turned her head, so it was facing the assassin. So their lips were almost touching. Tears streamed down his face as he silently thanked his godmother for everything.
Thanked her for everything she had lost. For him. For all of Ferelden.
She looked at peace, finally. At peace, so close to the man she loved. A man she had never held on to, truly. She had merely cupped her fingers and let him rest there, not moving, not daring to breathe. And then when he had flown away, she had merely contented herself with the memories.
Even as they had destroyed her, she would not infringe on his freedom to call him back.
Because she wanted to be free, too, and she would not be right to take it from him.
"It's not fair," whispered Duncan. "It is simply not fair…"
'Nothing is ever fair, Duncan,' he heard her voice in his mind. 'I know this more than most. We simply have to take what joy we can, when we can. Don't think it selfish. Because if you hesitate… if you hesitate, it will be gone, and you will spend the rest of your life wishing you had been selfish. And hating everyone else who is allowed to be.'
'What would you have done if you were selfish, Caedra? What would you have changed?' his innocent, youthful voice asked, and Duncan wondered if this was a delusion or a memory of something lost to his childhood.
'Nothing,' she said softly. 'I would change nothing.'
A memory. A memory of sitting at her feet the night before his coronation. Before she sent him away. The last words she ever spoke to him.
He did not know why he did not tell Zevran those final words. He didn't know why he withheld them. Perhaps he had simply forgotten in the wake of the tragedy he was seeing. Perhaps it was his own, quiet revenge on the man that had made her suffer so greatly.
He didn't really care, either way.
Duncan put one hand to his head and his shoulders shook with quiet sobs, his other hand resting on hers.
His father, Alistair, king of Ferelden, was gone. But his father had died a hero's death. The death of a Grey Warden. The death he had expected, fighting darkspawn in the Deep Roads until he could fight no more. Everyone would remember him thus. Duncan would mourn the loss of his father as any son would. With a broken heart that would one day mend.
Caedra… Caedra had died a broken echo of the woman she should have been. In the arms of the one thing she ever wanted for herself. The one thing she could never have. Because she would never take from him what she herself had been denied.
Just like Loghain. A hero in his youth, a tyrant and a monster in his death. A broken echo of the man he had once been. His legacy still plagued Duncan, had plagued his father.
Alistair had said that Duncan's uncle had wanted to be a hero. Had wanted to ride into battle and vanquish a great foe. Had wanted to live up to the memory of his own father.
When she explained it all, when she told him every single burden on her shoulders, he suddenly realized the truth of his father's drunken words. He had been too young, then, to understand, but he knew.
He knew the price of heroism.
And he knew the price of victory.
Caedra had done what his grandfather had done. She had done what his uncle had wanted to do. She had defeated impossible odds, ridden into battle and vanquished an archdemon. She had saved the land. All of Ferelden. A land that had scorned and hated her. She had taken up a sword and done what no other could.
She was a hero.
And her reward lay before him, now. Cold and lifeless, a bitter taste of despair and broken hopes and dreams and dried tears on sun-kissed cheeks.
Duncan realized, then, in that moment, that he never wanted to be a hero.
It simply was not worth it.
[ ~Here lies Caedra Tabris ~ ]
And forever beside her
[ ~ And never was there a man more loved ~ ]
This is, quite literally, the most depressing thing I have ever, ever written. And I am not looking forward to writing another. I simply couldn't sleep until it was out, and though it took me six hours to do, and I see the light of dawn around my blind, I regret nothing. Nothing, you hear?
I am sure you know where I have been these past few weeks. Dragon Age: Origins is the first new game I've bought in over a year, and I've already clocked somewhere near three hundred hours on it, including the numerous times I've gone back to replay the same conversations over in slightly different ways. Aaand to re-watch Zevran flirt/sex scenes. I'm a menace, I know, but damn. If he wasn't fictional…
Bioware, I simply adore thee. Anyway.
As I was playing through as my City Elf, Caedra, however, a whole story began unfolding before my eyes. Of a character, and her interactions with humans and elves. Most especially with Zevran. Perhaps you will see some one-shots pop up here and there about certain events from the game that I felt could have been… deeper.
But, more specifically, as I played I realized that, as an elf, Caedra will die, and die young. As her character unfolded, and her romance, and her relationships, I realized the supreme tragedy of what faced her.
By the way, I didn't deliberately show Zevran to be an amazing schmuck in this. It goes off the ending I got. She stayed in Denerim to help Alistair, as she promised, and Zevran eventually leaves. Or it is implied that he leaves. He does not, after all, want to stay in one place for long.
I contemplated on how that would affect the character Caedra had shaped herself to be in my mind. I knew she would not hunt Zevran down and drag him back by one pointy ear. (Dammit, elf, if you make me work that hard to get 'I think I feel strangely for you' and then can run off like that, you have another thing coming!) But Caedra is a product of her own fate, and she wants to be free. She would never, ever, hold Zevran down if he wanted the very thing she desired herself. Even if it meant her own destruction.
Amazing that she resents her destiny so much, but accepts the same thing when it comes to the man she loves.
As I said, though, this is the most depressing thing I've ever written, and I've literally written it all in five and a half hours. I intended it to be a drabble to let me sleep, and it just grew. So I thought I might as well post it. (Now polished up a bit.)
Now my eyes are red from crying, because I'm a romantic idiot, and I honestly hope you all bawl like idiots too. Because I'm sadistic that way.
Keep an eye out for another drabble, perhaps, and maybe a happier ending…
Okay, definitely keep an eye out for a happier ending. Once again, because I'm a hopeless romantic that way.
Tl;dnr is at the bottom in bold. For convenience, I have split this into several sections.
My dearest readers and reviewers,
Never let it said that I don't cherish each and every one of you (yes, even you flamers. Here. Have a cookie). However, there has something that has been brought to my attention that I feel I can't ignore. And, yes, I am blatantly exploiting you, right now, but don't worry. This will be put on every single one of my fanfictions, so you're not the only ones.
As some of you may be aware, there have been a mass deletion of fanfictions and account suspensions and even bannings on this site. People are losing their stories and their accounts. Talented writers. Beginner writers. Hobbyists. This is due to their fictions being reported for infractions on this site's rules, all because of an elitist stranglehold and monopoly of membership and participation on this site.
'Critics United'/ 'Literate Union'
Aka, an attempt to validate vicious cyberbullying
Now, let it never be said that I think that the rules should be violated, or that violations should be allowed. They are there for many reasons, most primarily legal. has been careful to ensure that we are all able to post fanfictions on this site, an act in and of itself that can be considered legally questionable. After all, we are appropriating intellectual property that belongs to those that are not ourselves, aren't we (although let me remark on the hilarity of having potentially plagiarised images on our plagiarised stories). Those who run have done incredible work, voluntarily, and are amazing people for doing so. However, whether or not these fictions violate the rules, or the validation of the removal of their works is not what I am bringing to light here. You are able to formulate your own opinion on the matter, and you are responsible for your own works.
As well as your own behaviour.
And it is behaviour that I wish to address here. The horrendous and reprehensible behaviour of members of this site who have joined together in a hateful mission of cyber bullying. Because that is exactly what this is; the most deplorable example of victimisation and antagonism I have ever seen on this site. These people specifically target stories that violate this site, and persistently hover over it like vultures, pecking away at the victim until they get what they want; which is ultimately a deletion of all stories that violate the rules of this site.
These are not people who report stories and move on. They have made it their mission to see deleted each and every single fiction that exhibits an infraction of the rules, however major or minor, and in the process humiliate and persecute the authors who – as I have seen many of them state – are apparently deserving of the ridicule that this group inflicts upon them.
And they have a forum dedicated to this end. On this site. There, they collate fictions that they have seen deleted, either directly or indirectly, in a hall of shame. They also bring forth fictions for judgement by their fellows for the sole purpose of deciding whether or not it violates the rules and, if it can be proven that it does violate the rules, they proceed to head to the fiction en-mass to spam the story's review feed and report the fiction if they don't comply to the site's rules.
They collate deleted fictions in a 'hall of shame' topic that allows them to display all the fictions that have been deleted because of their actions. They congratulate each other on a job well done. They laugh at poor writing, drag people through the dirt, and for what? So that they can feel good about their 'hard work'? So that they can feel as though they have some great power holding life or death over these fictions, passing judgement on these authors?
Now, for their credit, they seem to think they are doing the right thing. They ensure to discuss questionable fics, ensure that they are breaking rules, and then go and report. And some of them are courteous and polite about their warnings. On the forum, one person this:
"1. None of the people on this site are god, but the admins on this sitedodecide what stories get to be on here based on the guidelinesyouagreed to.
2. The people here don't report stories because they're bad, we report stories because they break guidelines. (This includes horrific spelling, grammar, and chat-speak.) Given, if it is a bad story, we might tear it to pieces with our criticism, but we don't report it."
This statement is of merit, and would be acceptable, if it were not for the fact that, four posts down, the same person posted this:
"Reviewed and reported. Really, do all stupid fangirls really think they're going to get away with absolute crap like this? Just as well, why must all of them put it in eye-blinding bold and italics?"
The hypocrisy of them trying to claim some noble cause while passing these personal judgements sickens me. After all, I don't know about you, but I am a fangirl of many things, and saying such disparagingly judgemental terms makes me feel like this person puts themselves at a level far above my own. I don't want to seem arrogant or egotistical when I say this, but I would dearly love to see this person use the term 'fangirl' as an insult to my face.
One group of people call themselves 'Critics United', but I can safely say that their self-titling is pathetic. These people are not critics. They are bullies hiding under a guise of justification because they are only targeting those that break the rules of this site. A cause like that does not explain or validate their actions in any way. It is not less bullying, it is not less a ridiculous display of egotism, and it is no less an act of victimisation. This is not critiquing, this isn't even constructive criticism, as they like to claim it. I am a critic. I am a literature student. And I would never, ever equate these people with holding the role of critique, unless they are referring to the meaning of being negative naysayers.
Moreover, you do not justify your actions as constructive criticism when you force it down someone's throat. Not everyone can handle constructive criticism, and you don't get to stamp your words and self-stylise in order to validate such criticism when someone doesn't want it. That is still bullying.
The fact that these people try to veil their victimisation behind courteous and polite words doesn't make it any less bullying. Doesn't make it any less than a vindictive desire to hold some elitist hold over writing over this site, and proclaim themselves judge, jury and executioner of people's fictions. They have been screenshotted in reviews saying things like 'piece of **' 'toxic crap' and directly insulting people's writing skill. I don't know about you, but this kind of juvenile behaviour cannot be considered 'critiquing'. That behaviour is disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. How dare they hold some holier-than-thou attitude over other writers and maintain some sort of integrity because they are 'enforcing the rules'.
As I have said, I do not condone rule breaking in any way, shape or form on this site, and I have been careful to ensure that my own fics do not break the rules. But that does not mean that I feel I have a right to hunt down all the fics that do break the rules. It is the responsibility of each and every member to ensure their works don't break the rules, and to report those that flaunt the rules.
And then move on.
Making a group for the sole purpose of some self-imposed duty of policing disgusts me. The idea that someone has read my fictions, nodded their head and said 'You pass', decreeing that I would be allowed to post not merely because I have followed the rules, but because they gave me permission to disgusts me. These people have taken a power that belongs to everyone, and decided to turn it toward their own means, believing that they are safe and okay because they are merely upholding the rules of the site. When, in actuality, that is not at all merely what they are doing.
And what is worse, is condoning their behaviour. I do not believe that the administrators of this site are reading the stories they have deleted, validating that they violate the rules, and then deleted them based on their own judgement. Instead, they are going after people based on the report count listed by their name, a count that this group, Critics United, is largely responsible for.
For those members of this group who feel that they have some form of duty to patrol this site for this purpose, but are careful and courteous in their reviews and warnings, I'm sorry. But you willingly associate with this ego-trip and I am afraid you are not completely free of blame.
For those of you that use this as an excuse to flaunt your superiority over others, and then claim no responsibility for your actions because you are 'upholding the rules'… There is no excuse, justification, or validation for your behaviour. None.
Nor is there an excuse, justification, or validation for 's condoning of it.
A worse group, however, is the Literate Union, which is almost identical to Critics United except for the fact that they are fully aware of the fact that all they do is flame, degrade and viciously bully those who they believe is worthy. They are everything I have stated above, without an attempt to justify their cruel behaviour. These people are slightly more self-aware, but even less mature in their actions. They have a forum dedicated to asking one another to specifically go and flame people and their stories, and I am at a loss as to the reason why.
Critics United have embarked on a witch hunt because they want to destroy the witches and purge their town.
Literate Union just wants to watch people squeal and burn in the flames.
This is cyber bullying, without any explanation or excuse. 'Upholding the rules' is not something I will accept. It does not require this level of hunt-and-kill execution that these people are exhibiting. It isn't their right to take it upon themselves to tear apart each author, post it on their hateful forum and giggle behind their hands with one another.
I do not want to be associated with a site that condones this blatant display of bullying.
The rating system/the bannings and deletions
AKA I think you missed one
As many readers may be aware, this time of year slows down for me because of my university. I have also been unable to post new chapters on my fanfiction because I am writing a thesis, and it is draining most of my energy. I have to work toward a Ph.D scholarship, which can range anywhere from thirty-five to sixty-five thousand taxpayer dollars, which makes me want to make sure I am deserving of it. However, I was in the process of re-writing several of my fics, and prepared to post them en-mass when I next had time.
However, I would like to draw attention to this section of the front page;
June 4th 2012 - Notices:
Please note we would like to clarify the content policy we have in place since 2002. follows the Fiction Rating system ranging from Fiction K to Fiction M. Although Fiction Ratings goes up to Fiction MA, since 2002 has not allowed Fiction MA rated content which can contain adult/explicit content on the site. only accepts content in the Fiction K through Fiction M range. Fiction M can contain adult language, themes and suggestions. Detailed descriptions of physical interaction of sexual or violent nature is considered Fiction MA and has not been allowed on the site since 2002.
I would state here, briefly, that the idea of not having a mature rating for mature readers has always perplexed me. I feel making them unavailable to unregistered readers, and having a function in a profile that allows for a 'I am over the age of 18' box to be checked would cover the ethical issues in regards to this. Ethical considerations on the internet require only a disclosure of age and consent of content that is about to be read. Once a person checks a 'I am over the age of 18' box, the people who are exposing them to the information are no longer liable for any legal action. They have fulfilled their requirement of responsibility. As such, not having a mature section for this site has never really made sense for me. However, that is not what I wish to address here.
As such, I regret to inform my readers that, though the content of my stories are not exclusively of this nature, many of my fictions feature such violence in their content, from detailed description of sexual interaction (Gestalt, and the intent in Paradise Lost), and violence (pretty much every single one of my fictions). What you would consider 'detailed' and rule violating, however, is subject to opinion, but from what I have addressed, opinion is enough to get your story deleted, or your account suspended or banned. I had thought that if the story had the content, but did not feature it as the main issue – for example a romance that went into sex, but did not have sex in every chapter – would be allowed as a mature example of professional writing.
I was, apparently, wrong.
I am fortunate that all of my stories exist on my laptop and not exclusively on , but it would devastate me to lose the wonderful reviews I have gotten from you, the painstaking time that you have all put in to telling me your thoughts and feelings on my work, helping me improve, giving me invaluable feedback and encouragement. I have been dragged from the depths of writer's block and depression because of the things you have said, and I cannot even imagine how some people feel with their stories deleted, not only losing their work, but the amazing reviews that people have left for them, to show them that their work is appreciated.
And let me say that the idea that is deleting fanfictions that depict graphic sex or violence, but are allowing people like Critics United and
I also do not feel like waiting for the Critics United group to turn their attention to the Mass Effect category and rifle through it, finding my fictions and passing their judgements on my work. It isn't their right.
As such – and I know many of you are going to hate me for this, and I'm sorry –henceforth, in protest of the actions being taken on this site;
I will no longer be updating any of my fanfictions.
I will not be posting the rewrites of Paradise Lost, In the Shadow of Gods and A Cage of Butterflies that I have been working on.
I will not be posting new stories or one-shots on this site, nor any planned sequels.
Whether or not I repost my fictions elsewhere, and whether or not I post new fictions elsewhere has yet to be decided.
This is me being responsible for my own actions, my own opinions, and my own image, in that I will not be associated in any way with these people, nor will I allow their actions to go unaddressed.
This is not a message to . This is a message to you, my readers, my reviewers. Critics United are a group of vicious cyberbullies who defend their actions with the guise of 'upholding the rules'. Literate Union are simply cyberbullies who do not even try to defend their actions, and their actions are blatantly antagonistic and cruel. This does not make it any less bullying. It does not make their actions any less cruel. While I advocate that the rules be upheld, and I know that some fictions are in blatant violation of them, this group should not be allowed to continue conducting themselves as they have. These people purposefully seek out and victimising members of this site, and this is not behaviour I want to endorse, condone, forgive, be associated with, or turn a blind eye to.
I am not sure if I will post my works elsewhere for people to read. If I do, I will let you know.
I have created a tumblr for mass communication in case my account on is deleted. annewhynnfanfiction(youknoetherest) Please add me. I will keep everyone updated.
This needs to stop.
I love you all sincerely and dearly. You are my valued readers and reviewers, and you make me so happy whenever I hear anything from any of you. But this is unacceptable.
I am sorry.
For the forseable future, this is me signing out.
P.S – Feel free to send me reviews filled with rage and hate, condemnations for my actions and… well. Anger. I have marshmellows ready.