There was no fanfare.
The Chant of Light did not echo from the four corners of Thedas, nor did the Black City suddenly sparkle with gold again.
Sometimes things ended with an explosion of light and the cheers of armies…sometimes they finished peacefully, quietly, with only a few knowing or appreciating that even though the fate of the world had not hung in the balance, hearts had still been weighed and sacrifices made.
Fate had no care for what people deserved. If she did, then good men would not become wandering vagabonds, and murderers would not become heroes.
Asleena lay in the curve of Alistair's body, wakeful but not restless as the light which preceded dawn touched the windows and walls of Highever. She toyed idly with one of her lover's large callused hands while her mind continued to wander the myriad paths of the future.
They had already identified difficulties to overcome. It would take time before he felt comfortable calling himself a Grey Warden again, or even Ferelden, for he was understandably worried he'd be scorned after leaving on the brink of war and pressing for the execution of a man who was now, no matter what he might have deserved, a legend. Asleena had influence, but she couldn't stop people from whispering. She had agreed to Alistair's point, if reluctantly, that one day it might mean leaving Ferelden. Even if he did show he could bear up against slurs and derision, would it be fair to expect him to just so she could stay in her homeland?
Loghain would be remembered for his final sacrifice, his heroic deeds eclipsing the evil he'd done, but Alistair bore the brand of a pariah even though he'd been with Asleena since Ostagar and done nothing much worse than speak in anger and walk away…
His hand closed around hers suddenly, fingers lacing together. She'd thought he was still asleep.
"Something on your mind?" he asked quietly, his breath warm against her neck.
"Just wondering what would happen if we all got the futures we deserved." She chuckled. "Silly though…none of us would be here if that sort of thing happened. My parents would still be alive, you'd have been raised by your father as a prince. Zev never would have lost his mother or grown up where he did…"
Alistair's other arm was already wrapped around her, but his embrace drew her a reassuring fraction closer. "You're worried about him."
She sighed, grateful he hadn't taken exception to her mentioning the Antivan while they were in bed together, and nodded. "Yes. I'm worried this…" her fingers curled more tightly with his, "…means he'll leave. I'd understand. I would. But…" She swallowed against the hitch in her voice and turned her head, trying and see Alistair's face in the gloom. "Did he say anything? About his intentions?"
"Not for the future. I got the feeling he meant to leave that up to you."
"I just wish I could give him…something."
"Should I be worried?" he asked teasingly, smiling, and she couldn't resist the sudden impulse to squirm around and take those curving lips with her own.
"No," she whispered at length, running her fingers down his neck and across one muscled shoulder. She paused when her eyes found the slender chain of his necklace, regarding it thoughtfully for a second before following it to the leather pouch. "What's this?"
"My…mother's amulet. There was a little…accident."
"I sort of broke it." Alistair cleared his throat and mumbled: "Metaphorically."
She gave him a very long look. "You've been doing a few things 'metaphorically' recently."
"Well, you know, I've been away for a while…I've probably picked up all sorts of bad habits. Not changing my socks regularly. Eating my breakfast straight out of the bowl without using a spoon. Walking around camp without pants on."
"Really?" She raised a brow and he grinned.
"Maayyyyybe. There wasn't anyone else around to tell me not to…"
"I never would have told you not to."
"That's because you, my love, are biased," he said, claiming another kiss.
She rolled the pouch in one hand. "Do you want my help putting it together again?"
He nodded and said, more seriously than she'd expected: "Yes. If you don't mind, that is."
There was a short silence as he gathered her closer and she nestled her head against his chest, enjoying the simple warmth of being held and listening to the steady beat of his heart.
"Can I ask you something?" she said. "If Zevran did happen to stay in Highever…would you mind? Would it make you uncomfortable?"
"You're asking me?" he replied with a little surprise.
"I think it's…fair to ask you." She tried to burrow closer. "I should get used to it, seeking your opinion first before I just decide things that might affect you."
He was quiet for a moment, smoothing her dark hair with one hand. "Thank you," he said at last. "And no, I wouldn't mind. I know he's your friend, and I think we sort of bonded on the way back to Ferelden. You know, as men do."
Asleena's Zevran-influenced imagination presented her with several possible scenarios. "Bonded?" she managed, weakly.
"Sure. We were completely alone for all that time, after all, no company but each other. Only natural."
"Only natural…that you'd bond?"
"I know we couldn't exactly go fishing, or go cheer a backstreet game of foot-and-ball out in the middle of nowhere, but he did teach me how to ride." He paused. "Why are you giggling?"
"No reason." She grinned to herself. "So…what else did the two men get up to while bonding?"
"He gave me a tattoo." Alistair smirked when she pulled back to gape at him. "On my back. Of a nug wearing a bow."
Asleena gave him a dangerous smile. "You, ser, are lying to me."
"Only about the nug part."
"Roll over!" she ordered, determined to see exactly how much damage Zevran had inked into Alistair's skin, but when he did as she bade it was to pin her beneath him. "Alistair!"
"Ye-esss?" he teased, brushing his lips against her neck, then lower as she squirmed ineffectually.
"You'll have to show me eventually!"
His face returned into view, eyes watching her miniscule reactions as he released one of her wrists to glide knowing fingers up her arm to the shoulder, down her side and back up over her body, leaving a shiver of longing in its wake.
"Eventually?" he queried in a husky voice.
"Eventually," she repeated, her voice also going softer beneath his familiar gaze and warm weight. Her freed hand reached for him. "But not…just…yet…"
A brisk walk southeast from Highever's gates landed one on the edge of the Bannorn. There was a tree there. It wasn't a particularly significant tree, nor that interesting to look at, but it provided a nice spot of shade from the noon sun for the blond Antivan lounging amidst its roots.
Zevran cut a wedge of apple with his dagger and glanced up at an overhanging bough, lifting the morsel towards the dark-feathered hawk perched there.
"Hungry? No?" He grinned and slipped the piece of fruit into his mouth, savouring the tart juice and the crunch as his teeth bit down. "It occurs to me," he said after swallowing, "I have never seen your other form. Did you know there is a delightfully naughty song about men who hunt black hares?"
The hawk's head tilted to one side. Birds couldn't do facial expressions very well, but some gestures were universal. Her wings spread and she flapped down to earth, then changed when she touched ground. The hare that took the hawk's place was similarly coloured, not quite black but with shadings of deep, luxuriant brown on her fur. She stood up on her hind legs, nose twitching in Zevran's direction.
He cut another slice of apple and held it out, mindful of the blade. "I seem to recall complimenting your ears once before and being told not to look at them," he remarked as she took the piece of fruit in her mouth and munched at it. "Alas, it is a bit hard to ignore such finely furred appendages when they are displayed so proudly. Do forgive me."
Sindel ignored him.
Zevran watched her idly. There was something about fuzzy animals that made most people do strange things, like speak two octaves higher than normal and devolve their vocabularies to nonsensical syllables. Zevran had never thought himself one of 'them', but admitted he was a little tempted to reach out and stroke those long ears. He restrained himself on the basis that he wasn't really looking at an animal, and it—she was married to a man with very good aim.
He'd never admit it to anyone, and it was shocking enough that he could admit it to himself, but he envied them.
He envied all of them, to be both free and willingly bound, vulnerable to the other yet strengthened by them. Once he had not understood these concepts properly…they had frightened him. Now…
"Zevran?" a familiar female voice called from some distance off.
Coming back to himself, he tossed the half-eaten apple atop the small pile by the tree and got up, dusting off the backside of his armour and running a careful hand over his hair. A quick glance for Sindel revealed nothing—she had taken Asleena's voice as her cue to fetch his gift from where Galahan waited.
Zevran stepped out from behind the tree, catching Asleena's attention from across the field. "Here I am!"
"You gave him a tattoo!" Asleena shouted back in mock indignation, starting towards him.
Zevran cupped his hands to his mouth, grinning. "It was his idea! Are you telling me you didn't like it?"
"Frankly, I'm impressed it wasn't a little more risqué with you holding the needle."
"Believe me, my dear, I suggested a few designs that would have been sure to bring a blush to your cheeks, but Alistair was quite adamant about what he wanted. Did all my hard work not meet with your approval? I may cry."
She lowered her head as she shook it, not quite hiding her smile as she closed the remaining distance between them so she wouldn't have to yell her answer. "It looked great, Zev. I had no idea you were such an artist."
Alistair had requested a rose in bloom across one shoulder blade, complete with stem and thorns. Despite the ex-Templar's recalcitrance to give a serious explanation for his choice, Zevran had easily guessed the reasons behind the slightly gushy sentiment.
The only thing he couldn't figure out was which of the two of them was the more hopeless man—Alistair for permanently marking himself for a woman who might not have taken him back, or Zevran for taking such pains perfecting the details of the design in case she would.
"That? A trifle," he said airily, downplaying his pleasure at the praise. "Maybe next time it will be something larger, more striking. Or perhaps something for yourself? You mentioned a desire for ink of your own, no?"
"Does this mean you're staying in Highever?" she asked, a little carefully, as though scared of putting a foot wrong all of a sudden.
Zevran had thought about this a great deal the previous night, even spoken of it a little with Galahan and Sindel, weighing up both what he wanted from the situation and what would be wise. He had come to the conclusion that he did not wish to leave…not immediately, at least. The number of people he truly trusted in life, and who trusted him, were few…and currently they all lived right here. The thought of leaving brought him no pleasure, and knowing a sudden departure would wound the woman standing before him made the very concept undesirable.
He had no illusions that seeing her with Alistair again might be difficult, but he could endure it for a time. He was not ready to go just yet, he did not even know where he wanted to fly, but he was confident he would figure it out and much preferred to remain in good company while doing so.
"If I would be welcomed, I would be pleased to stay," he said aloud. Deciding to voice practical reasons rather than personal, he added, "The Crows will eventually come after me, however. I may put people at risk by remaining."
"You're not the only one the Crows are after, Zev," she reminded him. "We could look out for each other, just like before. And yes…" She smiled. "You would be very welcome."
Seeing the elven form of Sindel appear in the distance behind Asleena with his gift, Zevran smiled and said, "Close your eyes. I want this to be a surprise."
The Warden lifted a brow but did as requested. "You don't have to give me anything, you know. You already have."
"We had this discussion once before, no? I wish to give you something—a token of friendship. Indulge me."
"So…how long do I keep my eyes shut?"
"Patience! Let us talk a bit first." He allowed himself a broad smirk, projecting it into his voice as he asked, "Did Alistair happen to use any of the highly pleasurable techniques I told him of when he was making up with you?"
Her eyes flashed wide open. "You—"
"Closed!" he admonished cheerfully.
They shut tight. "—talked about sex with Alistair?"
"My dear, I talk about sex with everyone."
"You talked about sex with me with Alistair?"
"Is this a bad thing? You deserve all the fun he can give you, no?"
She blushed a fascinating shade of pink. "He does very well without advice, thank you!"
"But he could do better," Zevran pointed out slyly. "If you think your time with him is enjoyable now, just imagine…"
"Maker's breath…Wait." Even with her eyes closed, her expression became dangerous. "Did he talk about it?"
The Antivan laughed. "Fear not, Asleena. I took pity on him after my first few attempts to discuss such topics, as he kept falling off his horse. Something to do with his fingers being in his ears and singing at the top of his lungs, I imagine."
"Well, good. I mean…not that he fell off his horse." She sighed then and looked regretful. "I had to leave ours in Ostwick, you know. The captain of our ship wouldn't transport them."
"They were serviceable enough animals, I suppose," Zevran said in a deliberately offhand tone. He gestured at the approaching Sindel to stop a short distance away, then he picked up two apples.
"Well, yes," Asleena was agreeing, "but I don't care how good the horses themselves were. Just riding. Of all the time we spent in the Free Marches together, that was the most fun." Now she was smiling, still with her eyes closed. "I'll miss that."
Zevran was glad she couldn't see his grin. "Turn around, my Grey Warden," he instructed, "then hold out your hand, palm up."
She did so, and he placed an apple in her grasp. "Is this it?" she asked as her gloved fingers closed around the fruit.
"Remain as you are," he said, backing away to where Sindel waited. The Dalish elf smiled at him when she passed her charges over and moved swiftly away before disappearing into the grass.
"Now," Zevran said to Asleena, "you may look."
She did so—first at the apple in her hand, and her perplexed expression almost made him laugh. But then her eyes turned to him for an explanation and widened when she saw the horses.
"This magnificent creature," Zevran said, indicating the larger dappled grey stallion, "is an Orlesian charger with bloodlines as grand as any purebred mabari—or so his previous owner claimed. He is a warhorse, Asleena, and if you wish I can teach you some of the commands he responds to so you may ride into battle, churning darkspawn to pulp beneath his hooves and your sword both." He grinned and held the reins to her. "Or we can simply begin by riding, if you miss it so."
"Blessed Andraste," she whispered, fixating on the animal as he arched his proud head to eat the apple from her hand. "Zev, he's gorgeous. Thank you." She glanced over at him with a wide smile. "So this is why you asked me to wear leather?"
"In part," Zevran admitted. He climbed into the saddle of his own horse, one of the animals he'd picked up in Starkhaven. "Shall we?"
"Wait, I had something for you too." She put a hand to the back of her neck and undid the clasp of her necklace, the one she'd picked up in the Gauntlet that protected Andraste's Ashes. Zevran had seen her toy with it on several occasions, or simply gazing at it. He'd never been able to fathom why. Whenever he'd gotten a good look at it he'd only seen an amulet with a curiously archaic religious symbol upon the face.
"A Chantry amulet?" he said when she reached up to pass it to him. "How…nice."
"It's more than that," she said. "I'm not giving it to you, though…it's more what I hope it will show you.
"I got it from the…the ghost of my father, I suppose. At the beginning of the Gauntlet there was a Guardian who asked each of us, me, Alistair, Leliana and Wynne, personal questions about ourselves. For Alistair it was if he regretted not being on the field at Ostagar to take the blow that killed Duncan. For me it was if I believed I'd failed my parents for leaving them to the mercy of Howe's soldiers. I told him yes."
Zevran shook his head impatiently, very glad all of a sudden that he had been left in camp for that part of the adventure. "It is pointless to—"
"I know," she interrupted. "Now. Back then I was still beating myself up about it. Anyway, later in the Gauntlet, an apparition of Father appeared and gave me that amulet. He said he loved me and he forgave me and I had to move on past my regrets."
"Good advice, Asleena. Self-flagellation is a waste of energy."
She nodded. "So I was thinking. Do you remember one of the nights in the Wildervale we spoke of seeking forgiveness? And you said you would never be able to?"
"I…yes. I do."
"I know the past can't be changed," she said. "And I know you want to move forward. I'm hoping the reflection in the amulet's reverse might help."
"You have already done much to help, my friend," he said, meaning it, but he glanced down at the amulet anyway. He could humour her. How bad could it be? A magic trick that'd show him something motivational or encouraging, no doubt.
He flipped it over with his thumb, and speech deserted him.
Asleena was busying herself settling into the saddle of her new horse, keeping a tactful silence as Zevran recovered. He turned the amulet over again, twice, blinked until the landscape around him was no longer so blurred, and breathed deeply.
"Is it real?" he asked finally, edging his horse nearer to hers and returning the necklace.
She fastened it around her neck again, tucking it into her vest, shrugging a little as she met his eyes. "I believe it's real."
"Then that is enough…for me to believe the same."
Following her as she turned her charger's head to face the Bannorn, he pondered how luck had favoured him. Free of the Crows, the chance of a new life spread out before him, a guest in the home of one of the Wardens he had been sent to assassinate, a woman who might not love him as he wished but cared for him all the same…more than he deserved, and more than anyone else ever had.
"What are you thinking?" she asked.
"I am thinking…" Zevran pointed directly ahead of them. "I fancy riding that way. Fast and hard. I always did approve of going fast. And the harder the better, as they say."
"As who says?" she countered, and he countered her smirk with a salacious grin.
"Everybody, in my experience." He patted the neck of his steed and added, "I should warn you, Asleena…if you don't manage to keep up I may have to roam further afield to find someone who can."
"That's fair…but you can't give them my horse."
"I am hoping they might accept something more personal," Zevran said. "But…they will have a hard act to follow in order to impress me, I think."
She smiled at him. "Well I don't think you'll have any trouble impressing them. Scoff all you like, but you're a good man, Zev, and a true friend. You'll find happiness and love, I hope."
It was difficult to admit, harder still to answer, but he did. "I also…hope this." He cleared his throat, called forth a grin and gestured. "But for now, here we are. Good strong horses beneath us and a very inviting stretch of grassland in front. Remember…fast."
"What happened to hard?"
"Perhaps I should leave that part to Alistair," the Antivan replied with a wicked smirk, and kicked his horse into a run. "But if he ever has trouble in that department," he shouted back, "he can always come to me for more advice!"
Zevran charged ahead over the Bannorn, some part of him imagining he left the past breathing dust as he rode. When he had left Antiva he had not known what he was looking for. Death, he'd thought at the time, but that hadn't been it. Not really. Perhaps he had found it now thanks to Asleena…or perhaps she had just given him the chance to begin a new search, unshackled by his old life.
The promise of a future beckoned, and Zevran Arainai intended to meet it.
Author's Final Notes…
When I started writing The Hunt, I was an unashamed Swooper. I had not romanced Zevran all the way through. He was picked as Asleena's travelling companion (along with Ferrix, real name Phoenix after my RL pooch ;)) because, yes, he is the only party member who offers to stay on with you after the end of the game in the setting I used, and I wanted to run with that because I'm a stickler for consistency. Besides a vague idea for the ending of the tale I did not have much planned at all...I wrote as the inspiration came, and more and more it became a story about Zevran.
During the course of this fan fiction I have been accused by a number of people of converting them to Team Zev, or at least making them see our beloved Antivan Crow in a new light...one that is sometimes hard to notice unless you do romance him, listen to all his dialogue and try to understand his character. The more I studied and tried to write from his point of view, the more I realised I might be converting myself. At times it became pretty hard not to just say 'Screw it', and have the assassin and Warden go off to some private corner for some steamy lovin' (which is when I went to have a nice walk or lie down...), but I always wanted to hold true to the ending I had planned, and hold true to the hearts of the characters. Alistair had Asleena all along, and much as it made me sad not to give Zev the proverbial happy ending everyone (including me) had come to wish for him, this woman was not to be his.
In the end, The Hunt was as much about Asleena's search for Alistair and reconciliation as it was about Zevran's quest for some kind of personal redemption. For him, this story was a stepping stone…and let it not be said that Zev's efforts are without reward. For those who were hoping for a *happy* happy ending for Zev, I have a sequel planned just for him. ;) This is why you will not get any alternate endings for this particular fan fiction. Hope that's ok. ;)
Thank you very much for joining me on this adventure, and I hope you will consider coming along on the next one!
Shadow of Light
aka Laura Campbell
Bioware – for creating the ridiculously awesome game that is Dragon Age: Origins. Please hire me. ;)
Bioware Social Network – for giving me a place to pimp my writing
Fanfiction Net – for giving everyone a place to share their stories…even if formatting does screw up once in a while.
PC Powerplay – for their interest in The Hunt and the interview in issue #181!
The DA:O Wiki – for being a font of knowledge
Various Youtube Contributors – for when I needed to cheat and look up game scenes on the fly
Nescafe – for the estimated 172 cups of instant coffee drunk during the course of this fic. Probably more if I count the days I stared at a blank screen and went '…'
Thins – makers of the world's tastiest potato chips. Original flavour ftw.
The (old) Dragon Press – first place I ever publicly posted fan fiction. I remain hooked.
Bawpie – for being my sole reviewer for the first few chapters. Thank you :) Hope my writing has improved since the days of Ultima.
Tarante11a –for our numerous Zev-based and encouragement-oriented PMs :)
Klarabella – for giving me a cool idea for aforementioned sequel… :)
Lehni – for useful info on the elven language!
Hecthorn – for prompting a return to the mining village. :)
Hekateras – for constructive criticism! ;)
Meghann O'Neill – writer of PC Powerplay's Generation XX column :)
Aimo – Dragon Age artist. Check out my Profile for a link to her DeviantArt site and a piece she drew for this fic!
Also… tevikolady, Tanith Aeyrs, Drax_Lyonsbane, frostajulie, Twerq, Dennis Carpenter, MarcusDeVarro, lala_lover, Kerridan Kaiba, Kulkodar, PetrosS, AdorableAnarchist, TheMadCat, Originsmaster, Rhyanekat, tallon, Sialater, ReubenLiew, Phoenix Swordsinger, Jules, Taiyama, master-fluff, mochen, Freckles, Treason, Sisimka, Miliat, K9miles, moemie, Sandtigress, Minaleth, bloodtallow, Palentor, leeboi, Erynnar, Tausret, Tasmen, senorfuzzylips, Saerwen, Miri, Suemoo, viento, Wicked_Loki, Arassi, Firky, msaligned, Questorion, Hubaba and thepringle for your words of encouragement during the writing of this story, as well as everyone else who was following on BSN!
And on Fanfiction Net…well, you've all been awesome. Ridiculously so. ;) Thanks for all the comments and for reading! It's been fantastic.
~Teaser For The Sequel~
"Hey! Hey, you! Wait!"
Zevran glanced back, keeping a hand near his belt dagger in case this was some kind of distraction. Even though he'd returned to the city as a recognised companion of the Hero of Ferelden, wandering alone in Denerim could present all sorts of wonderful opportunities for those who still wanted him dead.
The woman who'd called and was chasing after him was plainly dressed, not armed in any obvious way, and elven. She was pretty of face and brown of eye, her hair fiery red and cut short above the shoulder. Normally Zevran would have paused to admire more than a woman's face and hair, but he realised he'd seen her before.
"You're one of the ones who was with the Grey Wardens, aren't you?" the woman demanded, slightly breathless after her run. "I remember seeing you in the Alienage. You went against the slavers and fought during the siege."
"Indeed I did," Zevran agreed, examining her more closely. "Zevran Arainai at your service. And you, I believe, are that feisty minx who was shouting at the Tevinter slavers and defending the Alienage against darkspawn. Shianni, unless I am greatly mistaken." He gave her one of his winning smiles. "I never forget a face, especially a beautiful one such as yours."
"People say you were an assassin," Shianni said, completely ignoring the compliment.
"I still am, my dear," Zevran said, cocking his head slightly and raising a brow. "Were you looking to hire one, perchance?"
She hesitated, glancing around the street and the numerous bystanders, then nodded.
"Then perhaps we should retire to more suitable surrounds for discussing business."
"I can't afford to pay much," she muttered quietly. "I was hoping, we both being elves, you'd do it out of a sense of kinship."
Zevran chuckled and took a step back, shaking his head. "My dear, how would I make my way in the world if I did favours for every elf who asked, lovely though they may be?"
"During the Blight he kidnapped several women from the Alienage, who were raped by him and his…friends," Shianni whispered fiercely, almost spitting.
"The man I want you to kill. He's a rapist. The human courts don't care…it's only a knife-ear's word against that of nobles, and I'm the only one left who's willing to speak. The other women are dead since the siege or carted off to Tevinter, like my cousin."
Zevran stared off at a distant building so he wouldn't be forced to look at the angry light in her eyes. Growing up in a whorehouse and then amongst assassins had familiarised him with a great number of unsavoury appetites possessed by the races of Thedas, and experience had taught him very early in life that it was usually wise to look the other way when something was happening he found distasteful. It wasn't an assassin's job to ask why a mark was wanted dead, though admittedly he'd liked to believe in the past that the people he'd killed had mostly deserved their fates.
Sticking one's neck out only led to trouble, and charity was for heroes. He was an assassin, not a crusader for the weak.
Still…the world would not miss one abusive human. And it would not hurt to have a favour to call upon if he ever needed to lay low in Denerim. Yes. A place to stay in case of an emergency would be a fair price, and then no one could say he was working gratis out of anything foolish like pity or a sense of justice.
"Who is this man you want dead?" he asked, expecting it to be some minor lordling who would prove ridiculously easy to cut the throat of and whom nobody would even care had turned up dead, including his relatives.
"The Arl of Denerim," Shianni said, still speaking as quietly as she could, though her voice was thick with hatred. "Arl Vaughan."
You can read the rest of the sequel (such as it currently is) by checking out my profile and navigating to Dragon Age: The Kill.
Take it easy, and may you always be inspired. :)