"But that's not... possible. She can't be Flemeth." Jessimyn could practically feel the tremble in Alistair's voice. She wished she could see him. "We... we killed you," Alistair whispered. "We saw you die."
Morrigan laughed. No. Flemeth laughed. "You destroyed that body, it's true. And that was unfortunate, because I was not quite ready to give it up. But I am not killed quite so easily as that. All you did was inconvenience me. My foolish daughter knew that, knew that I would return eventually. But she underestimated how powerful I am. She did not expect me to return so soon, and that was her downfall."
"How?" Jessimyn asked, holding tightly to Alistair's hands. He couldn't see what was going on, and she didn't want him to make his move just yet. They needed to distract Flemeth if they wanted to escape... if that was even a possibility. With Morrigan it might have been, but Flemeth was something entirely different.
Flemeth seemed more than willing to talk, though. "You know why Morrigan was sent with you. She knew why she was sent, with the express task of seducing your man there. But she got above herself, thought that she could steal what was mine." Flemeth's face contorted into a snarl. "I didn't want Morrigan's body. I would have let her live because the body I wanted..." She gestured with a hand to Themie, who was still lying comatose on the ground. "But Morrigan wanted her for herself." Her expression softened a little. "I might almost admire her ambition, had it been someone other than me she tried to trick."
"But you were dead," Alistair said. "I remember, quite distinctly..."
"A minor setback," she said with a wave of her hand. "I knew there was a possibility that Morrigan would betray me, when I sent her with you, so I made preparations. I prepared charms and spells that could be worked without a body that could manage magic. When you... killed me, I had to find another body. I found a lovely little Chasind girl, whispered pretty words into her ear, and lured her back to my home. Stupid child that she was, I even managed to get her to perform some of the ceremony herself that would allow me to take her body. Once I had that, it was only a matter of finding Morrigan again."
Jessimyn blinked, another memory coming to her. "Lylimet," she whispered. "That was you. That's why it seemed like she knew me, why she... you... were out there on your own."
Flemeth cackled. "That's right. How clever you are. I found the lot of you Wardens wandering about, and you practically led me straight to her. Those maps of yours were very helpful. I had to be careful, though. Lylimet's body was weak, powerless. She was no mage, no witch, so I was limited by what I could do with her. But she was beautiful, and many fools are slow to believe that a pretty face is capable of anything other than sweetness."
"Like Joffey?" Jessimyn asked.
"Who is that?" Flemeth asked.
"The Grey Warden you killed, when you stole our maps," Jessimyn said, a new wave of guilt passing through. How had she not known? How had they just let Flemeth into their midst, into their camp? Why hadn't she seen her for what she was?
Flemeth smiled. "Yes, he was indeed a fool, so eager to believe a pretty woman wanted his attention that he didn't flinch, even when I held the blade up in front of his face." She laughed. "He didn't even cry out when I cut his throat. Even Morrigan didn't realize who I was until it was too late. But by then, I'd already set my charms and incapacitated her. Then it was just a matter of blood." She smiled. "Just as now." She stood up. "I think I've sated your curiosity enough. Let's begin."
Flemeth picked up a knife. It was long, and curved at the end with a wicked looking forked tip. She moved to the fire, holding her hands out. Jessimyn didn't hear her speak, but the fire flared up. Flemeth moved over to Themie and grabbed the girl's hand. With a flick of her wrist, Flemeth brought the blade across her daughter's... granddaughter's... hand, drawing blood. Themie didn't make so much as a sound, and Flemeth grabbed a large bowl to catch the blood.
"When she comes back," Jessimyn whispered. "I'll squeeze your hand. She's holding a knife. Just grab her, and I'll use my blades."
"My feet are still tied," Alistair whispered back.
Jessimyn cursed under her breath. There was no way either of them could cut through the ropes at their feet without drawing Flemeth's attention, and if she saw that their hands were free too soon, they would lose their advantage. Had she been just a normal woman, they would have tried it anyway, knowing they could overwhelm her, but they knew better than to underestimate Flemeth. She couldn't be sure if the woman still had the ability to change into a dragon, being in Morrigan's body, but they stood no chance if she could. But then Flemeth was moving back to them.
She stood, looking down at Jessimyn, a pensive look on her face, before she knelt at her feet. "You're going to behave, aren't you," she said, making it a statement rather than a question. "You won't like me if you don't," she added before drawing the blade through the binding at Jessimyn's feet. Then she stood and kicked her legs apart. As hot as it had been, Jessimyn hadn't put on leggings under her armored skirt, and she cried out when Flemeth flipped it up, exposing her smalls.
"Oh, don't get so excited," Flemeth said with a grin as she brought the blade up to Jessimyn's groin. She shoved the bowl up between her legs before drawing the knife over her inner thigh.
Jessimyn gasped as the blade bit into her skin, and she began to panic as she watched the blood gushing from her leg, coming out in spurts in time with her heartbeat. The cut was deep, and she had hit a major blood vessel. She began to feel lightheaded, and the bowl filled up quickly. It was too much blood... But then Flemeth pulled the bowl away, and with a wave of her hand, Jessimyn felt the warm, pulling feeling of a healing spell as the blood slowed. With the bowl full, Flemeth turned from her prisoners back to Themie.
Jessimyn fought the dizziness that tried to claim her as she watched Flemeth set the bowl down. She didn't hear her speak, but Themie stood up quickly as if she'd been commanded to do so. The girl's eyes were still vacant, and she didn't blink as Flemeth dipped her fingers into the bowl, drawing a line of blood down her forehead and nose. She drew symbols on Themies cheeks and arms, and then she picked up the bowl in both hands and began to chant. The words she spoke were not in a language Jessimyn recognized, but she could feel the power swirl around them all as the fire flared again.
"What's she doing?" Alistair whispered.
"Her back is to us," Jessimyn whispered back.
Alistair's hands disappeared from hers, and Jessimyn felt a moment's panic, but then she felt his feet. He must have turned himself around, and he used the blade at her wrist to cut through the ropes around his ankles. Jessimyn kept her attention on Flemeth, looking for any indication that the woman was going to turn around again, but her focus was on the girl. In a sudden move, Flemeth tipped the bowl up over Themie's head, covering her with blood, and there was a flash of power. It was almost as if a strong wind had come through, and Jessimyn felt it push her back, away from the women by the fire. She felt Alistair slide the blade at her wrist back into place before he turned around, grabbing her hands again.
Despite the heat, Jessimyn shivered, watching the display before her. Alistair was whispering something to her, but she couldn't hear it over the strange ringing in her ears that continued to grow. It was an odd sound, almost like singing or humming, and it intensified to an almost uncomfortable level.
"Jess," Alistair hissed. "Did you hear me?"
But she didn't get a chance to respond because Flemeth let out a shriek. Themie fell to the ground and began convulsing, her eyes rolling up into the back of her head, and when Flemeth turned to focus her enraged eyes on Jessimyn, she couldn't help but flinch.
"What have you done?" The witch demanded. "The blood, it's corrupting her!"
Jessimyn pulled her feet up as Flemeth strode forward. The witch stopped, then dropped to a knee, pushing Jessimyn's armored skirt aside once again to examine a small purple patch on the back of her thigh. Jessimyn had noticed it a few days earlier, assuming it was just a bruise, but apparently Flemeth found greater significance in it, as seeing it made her let out a slew of curses. Jessimyn gripped Alistair's hands tightly, and his hands on hers were the only things that kept her upright when Flemeth drew her hand back and hit Jessimyn savagely across the face.
"You've tainted her!" Flemeth shouted, hitting her again with the back of her hand.
Jessimyn could feel the blood running from her nose. She could feel Alistair's hands twitch, and she held tightly to him to keep him from throwing himself at the witch. "We're Grey Wardens," Jessimyn said, blinking away the stars that invaded her vision. "Our blood has always been..."
Flemeth hit her again. "You think I don't know that?" She demanded. "You think I'm a fool? But it's too soon... your blood should have still been clean enough..." She let out a low growl and lunged forward, pressing the tip of her knife to Jessimyn's throat. "I'm afraid my promise of a clean death may have been premature," she said in a low voice as Themie continued to thrash on the ground behind her.
Jessimyn could feel a trickle of blood run down her neck, and she knew they only had a little time left if they wanted to stop Flemeth from doing... whatever it was that she was trying to do. Obviously she had hoped that Jessimyn's blood would aid in whatever spell she had planned. Was it because of the Calling that things had gone wrong? Was she too close to the end, so that the taint was too strong in her blood? And if Flemeth claimed that Themie was corrupted... did that mean she would turn into an Archdemon? That was how the Archdemons were made, after all, when the old gods were corrupted. A cold feeling passed through her body. Would she and Alistair be responsible for starting another Blight because their selfish choice had kept them from actually destroying the soul of the Archdemon?
"Oh, Maker..." Jessimyn moaned softly as she released Alistair's hands. "The darkspawn," she lied. "I can feel them, they're coming..."
"What?" Flemeth turned her head, eyes going wide. "Where..."
Alistair leapt, practically jumping over Jessimyn's head as he dove at Flemeth. Jessimyn felt the blade cut into the skin at her throat as the witch's hand was knocked away. Alistair had obviously caught her by surprise, but she recovered quickly, and Jessimyn saw a flash of light as the two of them grappled. Alistair was thrown backwards, and she heard a loud thud as he hit the ground. Jessimyn lunged at Flemeth as the woman tried to right herself, bringing them both back to the ground. The sudden movement, along with the blood loss and the blows to the head, made Jessimyn's vision dim for a moment, and she grabbed Flemeth tightly around the neck, hoping that she would not lose consciousness. The skin under her hands seemed to ripple and change, and suddenly there was fur where smooth skin once was, a muzzle in place of a face. Flemeth had changed into a wolf as Jessimyn held onto her.
At least she's not a dragon, Jessimyn thought before the teeth bit into her shoulder, and she let out a scream.
The wolf's claws were not terribly sharp, but they slashed at her with enough force to break the skin. Flemeth's wolf body was strong enough to wrestle Jessimyn onto her back, and she brought her hands up, grabbing onto the fur at the wolf's neck, only just managing to keep its powerful jaws from closing over her throat. The tight grip she had on the wolf's neck was such that Jessimyn was unable to reach the hidden button on her gauntlets that would cause the blade to come out from its hiding place. From the corner of her eye, she could see Alistair lying on the ground, alive but clearly stunned. There was only one thing she could do. Releasing her hold on the wolf with one hand, her thumb found the button as she moved her wrist up to the wolf's eye. She felt its teeth close over her throat as the blade sprang forth. Pain seared through her, white and hot, and then everything went black.
Everything was a blur, but the world slowly came back into focus. Alistair heard snarls, then yelping, then a scream, and as he finally managed to sit up, his eyes found Jessimyn, lying beneath an enormous wolf that could only be Morrigan... or Flemeth, he supposed. The disorientation he felt was pushed away as he rushed to them. There was so much blood. The wolf's legs twitched as Alistair grabbed the knife that Flemeth had been holding, but it didn't do much more than twitch as he stabbed into its body. Grabbing at it with both hands, he savagely threw it off of Jessimyn, but when he saw her, he almost wished he hadn't.
Her face, neck, and shoulders were covered in blood. It was obvious she'd been bitten at her throat, and while the wolf hadn't managed to crush her windpipe, the blood pouring from the bite wound was coming out too quickly. There was too much of it. "No," he whispered as he grabbed her around the body to lift her up. He saw her eyelids flutter, but Jessimyn's head just rolled back against his chest as he leaned her against him. Alistair closed his hands over the wound at her neck, as if he could somehow stem the tide of blood that poured from it. "No," he said again, hot tears spilling from his eyes.
Jessimyn's breathing was shallow and raspy. "Is... she..." She managed.
"Don't speak," Alistair told her. "She's dead. She... oh, Maker, Jess..." He could feel her growing weaker in his arms. "You can't... you've just got to hold on..." But for what? There was nothing he could do for her. He felt a hot rage building inside of him. It wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't supposed to hold her in his arms and watch her die. His tears blurred his vision, and a sob shook his body as he held her to him.
"Themie..." she gasped out. "...corrupted... Arch... can't..."
He saw her fingers twitch, as if she was trying to move her hands, and he closed his free hand over hers, his other still trying to hold back the blood at her neck. "Damn it, Jess, you can't leave me. Not like this. Not like... oh, Maker..."
Jessimyn let out a weak cough, and he could see the blood bubbling at her lips. "...love..." she whispered.
"I love you, too," he said, his tears falling down his chin and onto her head.
He held her as he listened to her last wheezing breaths, held her as he felt her body go limp in his arms, held her as the blood at her neck ceased to flow, and he knew she was gone. Alistair tilted his head back and screamed at the sky.
He couldn't say how long he held her like that, but it was the sudden strange realization that everything had gone quiet that brought his awareness back to his surroundings. Themie, who had been thrashing about on the ground, was now lying quietly, eyes open as she lay on her back. Flemeth had somehow changed back into her human form, though she was still lying where he had thrown her. The rage he'd felt earlier seemed to pulse through him, and Alistair gently laid Jessimyn's body on the ground and rose to his feet.
He found their weapons easily enough, stashed far away from where they'd been tied, and he advanced on Flemeth's body... Morrigan's body... the body of the woman who had taken his wife from him. With a snarl, Alistair drew his arms back, sword held in both hands, and in one swift movement he separated her head from her body. It was not nearly as satisfying as he had hoped it might be, instead bringing him to his knees as another wave of tears overtook him.
Alistair's body jerked as a scream ripped through the air, and he jumped to his feet as he turned to see Themie, still lying on the ground, but her back was arched up so unnaturally that it seemed only her head and feet still touched the ground. Her eyes were wide open, and he realized their blood red color was not some trick of the light. He strode towards her, his sword still gripped tightly in his hands.
"No!" Themie screamed. "Mother... no!" He halted, only a few steps from her as her head turned, eyes finding him. She lifted a hand to him. "Don't... let her... no!"
The rage Alistair had felt was replaced by fear as he took the last few steps to close the distance between himself and the girl lying on the ground who was technically his daughter. Was Flemeth trying to take over her body as she had done to Morrigan? Though she looked very little like her, Alistair couldn't help but see Ellynedra as he looked down on Themie. He knew what he had to do, but...
Alistair felt a strange tingling sensation pass over his skin. Darkspawn, and lots of them. They were still a ways off, but they were moving closer. Themie was drawing them like moths to a flame. As another scream tore from her lips, he looked down at her again. Yes, he knew what he had to do, but how was he supposed to kill his own daughter, a girl who was likely innocent of the things that had been done to her? She looked up at him with pleading eyes as her hands flailed about, almost as if she was trying to fend off an invisible attacker. But then the look in her eyes changed. Her body relaxed, and she smiled a sinister-looking smile. With that look, Alistair knew it was no longer his daughter lying on the ground before him.
Her hands stretched up, and he saw a strange, crackling light growing at her fingertips. But if she was trying to cast a spell, Alistair didn't give her a chance. He raised his sword high above his head, then brought it down with all his might, stabbing it directly into her heart. The world seemed to turn white as Alistair was enveloped by heat and pain. And then there was nothing.
Alistair and Jessimyn stood side by side, waiting for the news that could only be bad. Riordan looked at them both gravely. "There is a reason Grey Wardens are required to end the Blight While the Archdemon may be slain as any other darkspawn, if any other than a Grey Warden does the slaying, it will not be enough... its essence will simply travel into the nearest darkspawn, only to be reborn anew. But if a Grey Warden kills the Archdemon, its essence will travel into the Wardens body. It will be destroyed... but so will the Grey Warden."
"Meaning... the Grey Warden who kills the Archdemon... dies."
In the days that followed, there were those who swore they had dreamt of a dragon, an Archdemon rising to bring the world into another Blight, but they were largely ignored. After all, it hadn't even been thirty years since the last one, and the only men who seemed to have such dreams were those who were already close to their Calling. Few were willing to believe that it was possible to have another Blight so soon after the last. No one would ever know just how close it had come to that.
They might have believed that they had won, the day Jessimyn slew the Archdemon without having to sacrifice her own life, but in the end, there was still only one way kill the creature and truly end the Blight. In the end, the death of a Grey Warden was still required. They may have managed to put it off, but in the end, the price still had to be paid.