If there is one thing I have learned in my seasons of prowling the Wilds, in nights spent gliding through pine glades on the wings of an owl and mornings spent lumbering along rivers, bundled in the shaggy cloak of a bear, it is this: nothing ever ends.
Oh, you may kill things, certainly. Wanton slaughter is accomplished easily enough. Why, just witness that simpleton Alistair and his aptitude for killing darkspawn. Even a child may show a talent for destruction; as a young girl, I was fond of crushing anthills beneath my heels. Death is no great wonder, merely a cessation of the heart, an emptying of the lungs. What comes after is the mystery. For the end of one life is usually just the start of something else, regardless of whether one has slain the corrupt vestiges of an Old God or simply murdered a meddling mother.
I toss more kindling into the fire and stir the stew to keep it from bubbling over. From my camp on the mountainside, I have a fine view of the village. This is useful, for I like to monitor my worshippers. They are busy little people, ceaselessly scurrying, and it would not do to have them plotting against me or my sacred charge. After all, the villagers didn't take well to the sacrifices at first, although they showed admirable pragmatism in the days thereafter. They have learned to embrace necessity but I must always remain vigilant, ready to respond to the faintest whiff of rebellion. It – the child, I suppose you could call it – must feed, and it will not settle for the simple meals that I have become accustomed to.
The villagers believe I am a second Andraste, if you can imagine it, one who tempted the Maker to carnal delights and bore his divine child. It's a pleasant heresy, I suppose. When religion weaves such a tapestry of gorgeous lies, the truth always becomes something of a disappointment. After all, who wants to admit that her child was sired by a ginger-haired bumbler who is incapable of darning his own socks? 'Twas not a night to remember, I promise you, but I came away with what I needed.
"One, two, Maric's run through..."
The girl has been wandering around my camp, picking clover and lilting out one of those moronic nursery rhymes all the village children seem to know by heart.
"Three, four, the kingdom's at war..."
I have tried to forbear and ignore the shrill, piping voice, but I cannot endure it a moment longer. It's as annoying as a mosquito whizzing around one's ears.
"Silence yourself, child, or I shall find a spell to knot your tongue."
The girl gapes at me, red hair falling over a pale, impudent face. A garter snake winds itself up the child's arm and then wraps itself around that reedy little throat, but it is no doing of mine. I am no charmer of serpents.
Tossing back her head, the girl gives a throaty chuckle. "Sweet Morrigan! Is that any way to greet your mother?"
There is a knife at the side of my campfire, the one I use to skin hares. I crouch down and grasp it. My other hand goes to my staff.
"So young, you look, Mother. And so helpless. I didn't think you would come so soon."
"Ungrateful child! I gave you everything and you betrayed me. Ha. Just as I taught you. I suppose I should congratulate you on a job well done."
Dippy old bat. She talks in riddles and ends up confusing or contradicting herself. There were days when I used to wonder if she was talking to me at all or if she was just quarrelling with her demon.
"You've certainly fallen in the world," I reply. "The first time around, you must have been difficult to kill. I doubt the second occasion will prove such a challenge. Are you even capable of magic?"
Flemeth removes the snake from her neck, giving its head an affectionate pat as she lays it on the ground. The creature is wise enough to wriggle away on its belly, as fast as it can manage.
"Oh, a little here and there. Parlour tricks, mostly," she says. "I had to slither around in that wee little snake for a while, until I found a girl with potential. Of course, my new body isn't as useful as yours would have been, my dear."
"How unfortunate for you, Mother. Perhaps one day I will remember to shed a tear."
"Those weapons aren't needed, girl. I'm not here to claim what's mine. Even if I were able to take it. You're beyond my reach now. It's maidens I need. And, from the change in your figure, it's obvious that you are a mother."
I scowl at her, bristling with hatred. Perhaps I have grown a tad wider about the hips and my breasts are much fuller now, it is true, but I can still fit into my old robes, even if they are snug at the chest and bunch a bit at thighs. Yes, there may have been some slight alterations in my appearance after the misery of child-bearing, but I am not a matron and only a fool would mistake me for one. I could still possess any man I pleased, if I felt the slightest inclination to indulge in coy games and useless seductions.
My lips twist into scornful smile and I brandish my hunting blade. "Tell me, Mother, have I ever mentioned how I loathe you? I think I shall use the knife this time. Magic is much too quick and clean."
"Don't be silly. I've come to suggest a truce. Even, perhaps, to propose a partnership. We're nearly equals now, you and I. And we're strongest together."
"And why would I be willing to do that?"
"Because I still have secrets, Morrigan. The kind of secrets that you dream about. Without me, you haven't the faintest idea what to do with the child."
"I do, indeed -"
"Run off to the Frostbacks and become high priestess of a quaint little cult? Pah! Uthamiel is worth much more than this and you know it. If you're going to steal the soul of an Old God, at least let me show you what to do with it."
I press the knife to the girl's throat and pray that Mother will feel the pain. "Very well, Flemeth. Why don't you just tell me? Quickly, now."
"No, not yet, I think. Ha! The young are so impatient. You may slit my throat if you like, Morrigan. We're both aware that knowledge is more precious than blood."
I lower the knife, knowing already that I'm going to repent of this. I should not have hesitated. I should have killed her and left the body to the crows. If Mother is wise, she will not mistake my curiosity for mercy. I would not spare her if I could not find a use for her centuries and centuries of experience - she is terribly ancient. One would hope nature would offer some wisdom to compensate for her senile madness and the musty old-lady odour has followed her even in her fresh new body.
"Very well. I will entertain your idea. For a time."
She chuckles, unfazed by the trail of blood dripping from the wound on her neck. "Mother knows best, Morrigan. Mother always knows best."
"We shall see, won't we?"
"Indeed, we shall. Now, where are you hiding my little grandchild, Morrigan? It's locked in the wood hut, I suppose?"
It is not a 'wood hut'. It is a temple, albeit a primitive one, built by the village's simple craftsmen. It is actually much grander than Mother's old shack in the Wilds, but she will go on deriding it anyway, just because it's something that I managed all on my own.
"I don't remember giving you permission to see it, Mother."
"I can't help you unless I'm able to see the child. Seeing is believing, as they say. Or believing is seeing. I always forget which."
"And I suppose you expect me to trust you?"
"I would be disappointed if you did! But it's fun to gamble, isn't it? It's very nice if you win and if you lose, well, at least you did something interesting."
I show her into the temple, past the wooden pews and the rough-hewn altar, to the place where I keep it -the child- tethered. It is gratifying to see Mother overawed, astounded by the transformation in process. Uthamiel's soul is powerful, mortifying the frail human body. Strips of skin are peeling back to reveal golden scales. The spine rises in sharp ridges and iridescent wings cut through the soft flesh of the back. When Uthamiel speaks, Flemeth trembles. I smile, vindicated.
A terrible beauty is born.
- Fin -
And it's done! I'd like to offer a huge "thank you" to everyone who took the time to read and/or review this story. The feedback was great and provided extremely valuable input for the development of my writing - in fact, it lead to the expansion of this series to 17 chapters, from my original idea of writing 5 first-person one-shots detailing a cynical take on one of the more typical "happy endings" for Dragon Age: Origins.
This is an odd sort of story, both in terms of form and focus, one that I actually structured on a pattern for experimental purposes (begin with a death that makes people happy, end with a birth that makes people unhappy - have 5 sets of sequential chapters for Zevran, Elendra and Alistair in the middle). I realized going in that the black humour, skeptical outlook and lack of complete narrative resolution wouldn't necessarily appeal to every reader's taste (as Morrigan says, "Never ever ends..."), but I've definitely had fun playing with DAO and I'm glad to discover that some people have enjoyed my efforts.
Thanks again for reading - and for your input, ideas, support and sometimes, debate! Until my next story, I hope you all live happily ever after... :P