Determination drove her towards the archdemon, her hands barely able to hold the massive sword within its grasp. A scream errupted from her mouth as she plunged the sword deep in the fallen demon and sliced it's neck top to tip. Light radiated from the wound. The ground trembled. Electricity filled the air. And then the world exploded, a mushroom cloud of the demon's spirit freed and purged from this plane.

She lay there unconscious. The demon's final strike hit gold. He ran to her side, clutching her limp body within his arms.

"She is alive," Wynne voiced, her tone barely a whisper and filled with happy disbelief.

His lips brushed against her forehead, beckoning her to return and awake. "I need you in this world," he murmured.

"Dear Alistair," an Antivan accent invaded Alistair's personal space, "You should leave her be before she wakes up, lest you hurt her further."

The meaning was clear. It was over. The death of the demon meant a return to the reality of living. What was permissible during times of war, no longer could be allowed during times of peace and rebirth.

He had wanted to hold her into his arms and profess his love right then and there. Tell her what an idiot he had been. It surely wouldn't be the first time he had to admit such a thing. He was always doing idiotic things after all. He was nothing if not consistent in that regard.

Only with Wynne and Zevran's persistence did he relent and release his hold upon Elishka and let her go.

The walk down the stairs from the Fort's roof was a long one. Like habit, his hand reached for hers. She did not object. Her own fingers laced around the cool metal of his glove covered digits. This was their goodbye. He knew that. As soon as they reached the bottom of the stairs and the main entrance, duty would come knocking. He was to become King and marry the previous Queen. Elishka had arranged it all.

He stalled just shy of the door. Would it be so horrible to run away and shirk his responsibility? He knew the answer before he even asked himself the question. It was something he could not do.

"Elishka," he said quietly before she could open the door. "I…"

Her hand jerked back, leaving Alistair's abandoned. "Alistair, we need to let people know it's over." The double meaning in her words not completely lost to him. There was an obvious sadness in her eyes. She felt something still. And as always, she proved to be the stronger of the pair.

He stood upon the dais – a majestic portrait of a hero swathed in golden armor. At his side stood his betrothed – an image of traditional beauty dressed in rich silks and velvets. They cut the image of the perfect storybook couple, the knight in shining armor and the delicate flower of a woman standing with him. To all but a few, it seemed the match of all matches.

"What beautiful children they will make," a noble woman whispered to her daughter. All the nobles were fawning over the pairing. Their impending nuptials brought with them a new hope for peace, prosperity and a Ferelden free of the Blight. It was a time for celebration and revelry. Ale and wine flowed freely. Huzzahs filled the air. Normally chaste women bestowed small pecks of affection upon the glorious saviors of the country. It was a time of jubilation.

For one, unfortunately, it was the stuff of nightmares come to life. Elishka had faced the archdemon. She had slaughtered hundreds of thousands of darkspawn (or so the battle weariness in her bones told her). But here, standing in the midst of all this happiness, she felt little a little ray of doomshine -- her own light of doom shining down upon her dim. The man upon the dais had been her first love. She had sacrificed for him. She had fought for and with him. And there he stood, next to another woman he would soon make his bride. Her expression etched taut, contorting the normally soft and youthful lines of her face. Did she really have to watch this? Was it really necessary for her to be here? Every single laugh that met her ears felt like a mocking blow.

Maybe she could run and hide behind one of the overly decorative tapestries lining the hall's walls. Surely no one would notice. So many around her were wrapped up in their own giddiness. The archdemon had been defeated after all. Hurray! No one had to be turned into a broodmother. Little kids wouldn't serve as some kind of demonic dessert buffet. It was a time of celebration and all she wanted to do was scream and run away. The only prize she got at the end was a big serving of bitter duty pie right in the face. It wasn't exactly conducive to the being in the party spirit.

"But..being King, being engaged to Anora... that raises some questions about us. About you and me.."

No amount of ale or wine consumed could wipe away the bitter taint of his words. It didn't matter how blessed the alcohol may have been by the Revered Mother. It still filled with the stomach with the promise of vomit later in the evening.

But no, she could not leave. Duty, the ever cruel and mean taskmaster, required that she remain. She had to make her appearance at this celebration ball. What would it have been without the Hero of Ferelden for all to see and gaze upon like the prized performer at a traveling faire? She was a necessary accessory to the event much like a platter of food or a jug of wine. Everyone wanted to say they were privileged to be in the presence of such a great figure and drink in her essence. The shortest conversation created bragging rights. Everyone wanted their fifteen minutes and being near her, talking to her, it provided such.

"Oh yes, we talked. Lovely woman. We are the best of friends now."

There were few in the room she happily would have shared her time with. The one she craved the most, however, found his cup quite full, runneth over with the sublime and liquid velvet vintage of a Ferelden noble woman, Anora.

While alcohol may not have cured her woes or filled the empty feeling residing in her gut, it most definitely could make things slightly more tolerable. Maybe she would get lucky and get sick all over Anora's fancy slippers. Dark humor poked its head out brief in sarcastic laughter.

Ever the mind reader, Zevran, holding two goblets, sashayed to Elishka's side.

"My dear, you look very much like a woman in need of a tasty treat," Zevran said, a goblet offered. One person's letch was another person's Zevran. At first, Elishka had found his openly outward vulgarity and flowery worded innuendos to be annoying and bothersome. They left her uncomfortable. Over time, however, she had found a level of comfort in his brazen eloquence. It helped that he was rather dashing in his own way. He was not ruggedly handsome in the traditional way like Alistair. Rather, Zevran was more exotic. The tan of his skin, his feline like features, the spicy yet indefinable scent that cloyed to him, all helped portray an image of intoxicating danger. He was the type of man a mother might warn her daughter about -- nothing but the illest of intentions could drive such a man. Guard thy chastity! But as she never quite knew her mother, any such warnings never met her ears. Her defenses weakened and she grew to genuinely like the man.

A bit of mischief sprouted at the corners of his mouth, "Of course, if you had a different treat in mind..." A lothario to the last. If he sensed the undercurrent of torment she was currently swimming in, Zevran let on no signs of it and chose to quite purposefully evade their swell with a graceful sidestep of innuendo.

She lifted her free hand to stroke the strong slope of Zevran's jaw line, tracing the perimeter of his facial tattoo. "You are a true friend even if you DID try to kill me." Light, she brushed her lips against his in a kiss more platonic than passionate.

Cherries and musk.

Her tongue slid across her lips, savoring the aftertaste of his kiss before a smile, albeit small, cracked her embittered visage. A minute bit of life shone through in her eyes. "Let's go have some real fun away from all this..courtly formality." She hooked an arm around one of Zevran's, tugging him closer to her side. He was coming whether he wanted to or not. And as if he needed further inspiration to follow the Warden in whatever pursuits she wished to engage away from the ball, she laid another kiss gentle upon his cheek. "Let's go find Oghren and drink Demerim dry." If anyone could help them with such a daunting task, it would be the dwarf with the hallow leg.

"And here I was hoping for something that didn't involve tossing a dwarf," Zevran mused as he began to lead Elishka through the crowd toward the bawdy and already drunken dwarf. "Please tell me it doesn't involve tossing the dwarf unless that is a euphemism I am not quite aware of. You Ferelden's and your crazy traditions and talk…" His mouth begged while his eyes played.

A truly riotous laugh escaped her mouth, the first of the evening. "No, it definitely does not involve such circus antics and it most certainly is not a euphemism. Though, I might enjoy seeing the dwarven dance of death. I can only imagine what Oghren would look like doing such a jig."

The crowds of nobles easily parted ways for the pair as they cut through the masses of festive gatherers to find their way toward their favorite ginger dwarf. From the looks of things as they neared him, Oghren was one comment away from being ejected. Their timing could not have been more perfect or not, depending on which part you played in the scene already in progress.

Oghren had a noble woman from Brackenwall cornered. Her countenance made no effort in disguising how repellent she found the man. She seethed of nobility – a haughty air swirling about her and corrupting her every glare and twist of the mouth. "So I was telling the King about polishing his sword," shot out ale soaked lips, a bit of alcohol rich spittle dripping down to soak into the thick mass of his braided beard. No good could come of this story.

As entertaining as it may have been to allow Oghren to carry on and speak of the new King's self love training, the better part of common sense nipped at Elishka's heels and bade her to stop the dwarf. "Oghren," she interrupted, a hand tugging at the back of his head, pulling on his hair. "I think our time at court has come to an end for the night. I'm sure there are many people that would like to buy us drinks." Heroism did have some perks and it was time that they enjoyed them.

Blink blink. Oghren wobbled a moment as he tried to focus on where that voice was coming from. Eventually, beer soaked lenses managed to find Elishka. Wry and all together way too toothy, he smirked. "Aye and who am I to deny them the pleasure! We should go back to the Pearl. I understand they named a new ale after your mighty highness up there." A meaty thumb swept sloppy in motion to the dais. "Called it something like...ugh.." A belch bellowed from deep within his rotted gut. Noxious did not even begin to describe the smell of the beastly burp.

"I do believe something crawled into his mouth and died," Zevran whispered, his mouth finding Elishka's ear with a play nip.

She swatted at the persistent elf. Shoo fly and looked back upon Oghren. "I think we should get him out of here before his dinner decides to retreat." A greenish coloring had overtaken Oghren's features. It was only a matter of time before the purge before the next binge.

Disgust tinged fingertips pushed at the dwarf's head as Zevran tried to guide Oghren to the exit. The look of the pair did garner another smile from Elishka and for just a moment, a little bit of happiness penetrating her gloom.

He stood upon the dais – a pitiful portrait of a cowardly man swathed in the false idolatry of his golden armor. The woman at his side, his betrothed, rejected the quiet advance of his hand with the withdrawal of her own. Any attempt he had made to soften the discomfort of their matching was met with cool detachment. This was no love match contrary to what the masses may believe. Marriages at the highest levels of the aristocracy often were not. Political implications of a match were far more important than if the bride and groom loved or even had a genuine like for the other. With time, one would hope that a love would flourish. It did not appear that storybooks would not be written about the great love affair of Maric's bastard son and his wife, his brother's widow, in the future.

Alistair had never been one for formal affairs. His time at Redcliffe was filled playing mud and sleeping in hay. At the Chantry, he spent more time cleaning up the kitchen and engaging in a the occasional pillow than he did in attending parties or balls. Neither his boyhood nor boy to manhood homes provided him with any training necessary to wade through the treacherous waters of a formal gathering filled with nobles.

Longing filled his eyes as he searched through the crowd of revelers. There was one person in particular he tried to hone in on, to find. And as he found her in the thick of the crowd, he felt a lump grow in his throat and a sick feeling rise in his stomach. She was so close yet so far away. The little duty demon on his right shoulder had bade him to push her away. He must produce an heir lest the country drop into civil war again. His heart, however, yearned for something else.

The all too eager clutch of the Antivan wrapped about her slender waist, guiding Elishka's path. Blue eyes narrowed, a spotlight of jealous attention shone upon the Zevran's hand. The idea of Elishka with someone else…He couldn't complete the thought. He would not complete the thought.

He had not wanted to be King, but she persuaded him. She spoke of her faith in him and how she felt it would make a wonderful King. She had convinced him to marry Anora for the sake of the Kingdom. He had thought they would be together forever and yet, here they were separated by the great chasm of civic burden.

"Fluffy bunnies in petticoats," he whispered to himself in some attempt to change the course of his mind.

"Excuse me," asked Anora, the thin line of her sharp brow peaking upward. She had heard him.


"Nothing," he murmured, trying to disguise his discomfort with a glance to the side.

Ooo look, pretty flowers. Nothing to see here, Anora, move along.

With a dismissive look down the line of her nose, Anora turned away from her soon to be husband and focused her attentions on the doting noble standing in front of her.