A/N:Thanks so much to Suilven for once more excellent beta work *hugs*


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Chapter 103: Fallout

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It had been so long. Too long.

Alistair looked down at his feet, at the path he had been already pacing up and down for what felt like hours. He had tried to sit still earlier and learn more about politics and nobles, to occupy his mind with other things aside from his concern for her. Naturally, these intentions had been feeble and he had been unable to concentrate on anything but her absence. And, with each minute that passed, he felt it more keenly inside; an ache slowly burning with the remembrance of her disappearance in Redcliffe. It had been a different situation then, his mind tried to reason with him, after the loss of Tamlen. This was nothing like that; she wasn't torn by grief, nor alone. Lenya was more than capable of standing her ground, he knew; a force of nature on the battlefield beside him. But, beside him was the whole point, for he was not. Like it so often did, his heart overruled the facts, the fear of the impossible much stronger than the knowledge at hand. For all her prowess, she had gone directly into the lion's den, to rescue that traitor's daughter, of all people. He still feared it was a trap, his thoughts whirling round in a vicious circle of doubt and anxiety in his head. It was maddening.

"Ah, I do wonder, my dear Alistair," he heard Zevran speak up from his bed, irritatingly chipper. "Is there already a path worn into the ground, or are you still trying to create one?"

He wasn't even sure why he had sought the company of the elf after giving up on his lectures. Maybe it had been because Zevran had been the only one still awake and offering some much needed diversion, even if the elf's form of distraction had contained painstaking descriptions of sex techniques with the goal of 'inspiring him for later', like he had claimed. In reality, Alistair knew, he had just wanted to see him squirm uncomfortably and blush like the innocent boy he had long since ceased to be. Of course, the elf had managed to conjure the heat in his cheeks nonetheless, if only for the vivid imagery it had given him. He breathed out, his hands balling into fists at his sides. While it had managed to steer his thoughts in another direction, this was not the time and place to think about that. Then again, he couldn't wait to wrap his arms around her, to feel her safely secure in his embrace; to bury his nose in the crook of her neck and feel her warmth and her pulse underneath his lips, alive. Being one of the last Grey Wardens was hard, so damn hard som–

His thought died in an instant when he stared at the dagger impaled in a wooden pole right next to his head, shell-shocked.

"Ah, I missed. Pity." Zevran chuckled in jest. Or, at least Alistair hoped that it was, so he wouldn't have to strangle one of Lenya's best friends as result of his actions just now.

"Dagger..." Alistair finally managed in a panicked guffaw and whirled round to face the elf, glaring. "Yooou! You nearly killed me! Are you insane?"

"No," Zevran answered pointedly in his usual calm manner. "But, you are slowly driving me so with your endless pacing. And I can assure you, my dear Alistair, if I had honestly wanted to hit you, I would have." He shook his hand and rolled his shoulder. "Or, not. My arms are still feeling a bit tingly from the poison. Although, Wynne's treatment is counteracting it quicker than I thought."

"What an utter relief," Alistair deadpanned, still glowering.

"Ah, don't look at me like that." Zevran tsked, belittling his anger, which only made him more angry. As expected, the elf ignored it and patted the empty stool beside him. "Have a seat instead, and we will talk some more. I have some more tips to share with you."

"No thanks." His eyes narrowed further at the elf. "I like my head attached to my shoulders."

"Still so distrusting, tsk." He cocked his head, observing him. "What is this nervous pacing all about? You really should have a little faith in your dear lady, no?"

"I do." Alistair sighed, his temper slowly mellowing. "What is wrong with being worried though? Aren't you worried about... Leliana?"

"Yes, yes." He waved him off, looking sideways into the flickering flames of the fireplace. "But, I do know that she is very capable of taking care of herself. For that matter, she even has the spare time to take care of me."

Zevran may have avoided looking at him, but he didn't miss the tiny smile that looked so strange on the elf's face. "You... love her."

He grimaced briefly before settling back into his mask of nonchalance. "Yes, I do."

"I see..." Alistair blinked away the surprise of him confessing it outright, and stepped closer to his bed. "Then you should know that I like Leliana. She is like the sister I never had. So, if you ever break her heart... I will do the same to your neck."

"Likewise," the elf replied, amused. "Although, I doubt I would have to assist Lenya with that."

"True." Alistair chuckled, his anger forgotten. "You know, we haven't always seen eye to eye, but I want to thank you for being there for Lenya. Especially when I couldn't."

Zevran's eyes widened in surprise, if only briefly. "Good. Then I hope you choose wisely during the Landsmeet, oh my king. To avoid the neck-breaking and such."

"I'm not sure that there is any choice, if I can be honest." He breathed out, in disbelief of the fact that the elf was the first to hear about the doubts he had been harboring within for days now. Perhaps Eamon had also been feeding into them, igniting them; it was hard to differentiate between Eamon's and his own, beyond acknowledging their existence. "Not with Loghain's daughter being the only alternative. It feels like a jump out of the frying pan into the fire."

"But, Anora has turned against her father, no?"

"Maybe. Maybe not." He shrugged, frustrated. "I'm still not convinced that her rescue isn't a trap laid out to get rid of—" Alistair lapsed into silence, not only because the words were too painful to give them voice, but also due to a distinctive buzzing in the back of his skull. It was weak, yet definitely there.

Zevran caught up on his sudden distraction. "What is it?"

"Either there are darkspawn running rampant here, or..." His face brightened and his heart skipped a beat before settling into a hasty pace in his chest. "Gotta go. Thanks for... well, thanks."

With that, he ran out of the door, heedless of everything but the thought of her.

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~V~

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"You are not Lenya..."

Alistair frowned at the grizzled man who was trying to catch his breath. How stupid of him; he should have known better. The buzzing had become too strong and discordant the closer he'd come toward the entrance hall. It was not like her, at all. And yet, he couldn't help hoping to be wrong.

The man in the ill-fitting, worn underarmor gasped, gripping his knees. Finally, he looked up, recognition spreading across his grimy, bruised face. "No, my name is—Alistair? Is that you?"

"Who...? Wait. I do know you. You were at my Joining. You are a Warden from Orlais. Jader, I think. Or, was it Montsimmard? I'm afraid I don't remember your name. "

"Yes." He nodded. "I'm Riordan, senior Warden of Jader."

Then again, Alistair had no mind to care about the sudden appearance of a senior Warden here in Eamon's estate right now. He turned to the Qunari, his huge form soaked with half-dried blood. "Sten... you were with Lenya. What is going on? Where is she?"

"I went with them, as she commanded me to. She remained there. Obviously," the Qunari said dryly. He pointed at the other scrawny and filthy human man resting his weight on him. Whoever he was, he was in danger of falling unconscious. "And, if you prefer this human alive, you'd better get Bas Saarebas. I'm weary of taking care of these stinking humans."

"Yeah." Alistair blinked, needing a moment to process the events. "Who..."

"Parshaara." The Qunari sighed, speaking slowly as if to a child. "The. Mage."

"No, I got that." He pointed at the fainting man who looked like a stray picked up off the streets. "But, who is he?"

Sten let out a grunt, peeved. "Perhaps you can ask him, when he isn't about to die?"

"That is Fergus Cousland," Riordan piped up, frowning at the man. "Imprisoned by Howe for... too long. Our sister freed him."

"Oh." With a bewildered look toward his newly arrived fellow Warden, Alistair waved the guards closer. It didn't escape his notice that a handful of the men were observing the situation with agitation, unsure how to react to the newly arrived... guests. They appeared grateful at his gesture, at him issuing a clear command. "Wake the servants and the Arl, let him know what has happened. We will need a room to tend to his—their—wounds. Instruct them to boil water so that the injuries can be cleaned and for everyone to wash. Clean linens and poultices, from the medical supplies the Arl certainly has, will be needed..." He trailed off. "I will take care of waking Wynne and getting her assistance." The guards nodded and immediately scattered in all directions. Alistair turned a final time to face the Qunari before hurrying toward the mage's quarters. "For now, get them both into... Lenya's room."

He suppressed the urge to flinch at the thought of it still being empty, that she still wasn't back. He hated to rip Wynne from her well-deserved sleep after the strenuous treatment required by Zevran, but at least it gave him something else to focus on.

Please, his mind pleaded as he ran around the corner, be safe, love.

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The first rays of light cracked through a thick tapestry of clouds overhead, heralding the break of dawn.

With quick steps, Anora trailed after the strange, disparate group of the Warden's and tried to ignore the noises of the city awakening around her. She would have never expected to be glad to see the estate of the Arl who was challenging her father, but she did indeed feel a surge of relief at the sight of the building.

So much had changed in so little time, and none had been given to her to process any of it.

Contrary to her habit of walking tall and proud, Anora ducked her head, afraid of being recognized during the last few steps that lay between danger and refuge. The remainder of the escape from Howe's estate had been more cumbersome for them than they had thought it would be. While Cauthrien had paid them no further heed after capturing the Warden, there had still been palace soldiers patrolling the streets at each corner. Either her father was already searching for her, or it was only due to the general need for additional reinforcement, with the influx of refugees from all of the Bannorn. Whichever was true, she couldn't say, nor did she currently have a mind to care, beyond the fact that it had made their way back far more intricate and longer than normally needed.

She let out a sigh of relief as they finally passed the gate, patches of red-golden light sprinkled on the cobbled ground. The heavy plate of her ill-fitting armor was biting into her flesh and pressing down on her with every movement, although it was nothing in comparison to the leaden silence, the shocked stillness, of the Warden's companions, which weighted her down more than any steel in Ferelden ever could. She could feel their disapproval, the blame they had put on her for losing their leader; for her allowing it happen. Loyal to the end, they had hesitated long after the elf had told them to leave. Anora remembered the gaze of the Warden's green eyes and, for a shameful moment, she had thought the elf would give her away to save her own hide. The Warden did not, and had kept the promise she had given to her, in spite of the perilous danger ahead. Anora didn't know any of them, and putting her trust in them in order to free herself from remaining as Howe's hostage had been a risk she had needed to take. It was one that had been repaid by the Warden, though, by the high price of her imprisonment. Another judging glance accompanied her as she threaded through the estate's doors, weighing as much as the armor itself. She tried to brush it off with practiced coolness and poise and yet, it lingered, as did the truth. No matter who was to blame, she had been powerless to change anything about the situation.

With the door closing behind them, Anora removed her helmet, glad to be freed from this heaviness at least. Sweat ran down her forehead, dripping down her brow. Her cheeks burned, almost as much as the drops of sweat did when they met her eyes. She did not even flinch. "My queen?" Erlina had always been quick and apt at catching her mood, often to her own dismay.

"I'm fine, Erlina." She set her expression of cool composure back in place; one borne of many years in court where emotions had no place within. Silently, she followed them, although she was used to leading otherwise. Anora disliked this state of abeyance, of not being able to know what would come next. Even now, the tension lay palpable in the air, like a cloud of mist over their heads. She surmised they would have certain expectations of her after the Warden's sacrifice for her rescue.

And, while a queen did not owe anyone anything, perhaps she could still somehow counteract her father's actions and prevent the Warden's unnecessary death. Her unexpected integrity upon meeting Cauthrien deserved it.

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~V~

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Arl Eamon's guards led them into a vast hall that was meant to receive guests, if the intricate tapestry of Redcliffe's banner on the wall was any indication. Within the room, a handful of servants were trying to start a fire in the stone hearth on the side. One of them, a lank elf, motioned for her to sit down on the few upholstered chairs and offered her refreshment. Anora waved him off and remained standing with the Warden's companions, or what was left of them. One of them, the injured mage... the apostate—had been led into another room by Lady Cousland, even against her most furious protests. She had no time to muse about the reappearance of one of Highever's highest ranked, and presumed dead, family members, for the Arl had entered the room.

"Thank the Maker you are safe, your Highness."

Anora endured his display of respect toward her, his bow as fake as his relief. Her expression still, she gave him no indication of having noticed. There were far more important matters left to discuss. "I appreciate your concern, Arl—"

Her words were interrupted by a young man storming through the door, looking so much like Cailan for a moment that it hurt. Alistair was his name, if she remembered her father's exasperated mumbling about him correctly. He was undeniably Maric's bastard by his appearance, even in his state of disarray. "Where is she?" His voice cracked, showing great distress and anxiety within. Deep shadows lay under his hazel-colored eyes, both his short cropped hair and his clothes rumpled. "Tell me the damn witch was wrong—" He trailed off, his eyes sweeping over the various figures in the room, searching. Still caught up in their grief and the emotional aftermath of the events, none of them dared to look back at him, except for Anora. It was a mistake perhaps, for he steered directly toward her. "You!" Alistair pointed at her; his tone had shifted from fear to anger. His vast physical presence loomed over her, near threatening. Anora held his stare, didn't back down; a queen never did.

"I knew it! I knew it was a trap from the beginning to get her into Loghain's filthy claws. And now she—" He swallowed thickly, his intake of air quivering. Like Cailan, he also seemed to wear his heart on his sleeve, yet his temper was more that of a warrior than of a contender for the throne; too emotional, by far. Such demeanor and rawness within him spoke of more than mere worry for a comrade in arms. "It is all your fault!"

"Alistair! Contain yourself!" Eamon reprimanded him from behind, with little success. He stayed in front of her, silently judging, his nostrils flared in unchecked anger.

"Quite the contrary, Warden!" Anora answered coolly, feeling more comfortable using his title than his name. "It was her decision to surrender. I didn't hand her over to Cauthrien to save myself—nor did her companions. "

Alistair leaned in, glaring. "Maybe not. But you did nothing to hinder it."

Anora opened her mouth to refute the blame he'd put on her, but decided against it. No matter what her words were, they would be moot. He was too caught up in his blind rage to recognize how unrealistic he sounded.

"And you!" he thundered, side-stepping to the remaining companions. The red head flinched under the force of his voice, biting her lip. "How could you stand by and let her—" Frowning, he fell silent, as if it was too painful for him to spell it out. "You call yourselves her friends?"

"Sodding well, I do," the dwarf grumbled under his filthy, bloodstained beard. "And, for the record, boy, I wanted to fight. But Missy was having none of it. Said she couldn't let us die there and surrendered herself. Bloody, stubborn nug of a Dalish."

The door opened, and more of the Warden's odd group filled the room, uninvited as they were. Even a golem was among them, its steps resounding heavily upon the flagstone as it approached closer. "Which head shall I crush for this idiocy?"

"D-do not come any closer to the queen!" one particularly brave—or stupid—guard stepped in the creature's way.

"Cute!" the golem chuckled, unimpressed. "And you want to hinder me how?"

Anora waved the guard aside, if only to spare the fool from getting squashed beneath the golem's stony fists. "The golem is permitted to pass. It won't harm me."

It glowered down at her with its gleaming eyes of white light. "That remains to be seen, traitor-daughter."

Anora's mouth snapped open at the creature's audacity, but the red head was quicker as she addressed her. "W-where will they bring her, your Highness?"

'Her' being the Warden, and Anora was grateful for this sensible question in the increasing chaos around her. The Qunari alternated between hostile glaring and stealing the refreshments in the form of baked sweets from the plate nearby. Lady Cousland was having a vociferous discussion with the apostate, literally holding her back from storming forward.

"Tis ridiculous. How dare you restrain me? Let go of me!"

"You want your wound to reopen?" Cousland sneered at her, her grip vice-like. "Then, go on like this for all I care, but you don't get through to the queen!"

"Silence!" Anora raised her voice, not caring about any of their sentiments or dislike directed toward her. Maker knew how the Warden had managed to actually keep them from killing each other all this time. To Anora, it felt like herding cats, and she had just spent mere minutes in the presence of all her companions. "The Warden has been brought to Fort Drakon and you are wasting time here with bickering like petty children!"

Stillness descended upon them after her words, one of the embarrassed kind. Perhaps, part of it was shock, too, for those that knew the purpose of the place.

"Maker's breath, Fort Drakon?" the Arl gasped into the tranquility, tearing it apart."Then, all hope of saving her is lost!"

"No. No, no!" Alistair's expression grew pained, distant, as if a piece had been ripped away from him, and he was no longer whole. Maybe it was. It would explain his overly emotional reaction to his fellow Warden's imprisonment. His shoulders slumped in defeat, and he was mumbling more to himself than anyone else. "But, but she...promised! I should have never..."

"Wait!" A bare-chested, bandaged elf with swirling tattoos on his body turned to her, his accent exotic; Antivan, most likely. At this point, Anora had ceased to wonder about the curious make up of this group. "How can you possibly know this, when you claim to have had nothing to do with Loghain's plans?"

Because I'm the queen, she thought. "Fort Drakon is the place that presumed criminals are brought to," she said instead, and hesitated a moment with her next words, knowing their impact. "And, this is what my father would order Ser Cauthrien to do. The Warden will be there. For... questioning."

"Questioning," the elf echoed, his agonized tone revealing that he knew too well of its veiled meaning. Torture. No execution though, not until the Warden had confessed to whatever madness her father wanted to hear from her. That he would go so far to hear his ideas of 'Orlesian plots for invasion' seconded, was a circumstance that pained her deeply. Even more so, did her late recognition of his descent into paranoia, with Howe as the treacherous snake whispering into his ear. She loved her father dearly, always would, and thus still hoped for a chance of redemption for him, somehow.

"Lenya..." The Warden's name rolled from Alistair's lips in a harrowed whisper, so raw that it became impossible for Anora to deny his... personal entanglement with her. A discovery that was not unexpected after gauging his impassioned behavior in contrast with the other companions, nor unwelcome, considering what lay ahead. It was a bit surprising, perhaps. "She is... no criminal! She is innocent," he lamented toward her before remembering with whom he spoke, and his face grew harder again. Every line within his expression revealed the blame he put on her; twisted, furious. Glaring, he whipped away toward Eamon, his broad back straightening. "Then, I have to save her. Now!"

"Alistair, please. Be reasonable, for once!" the Arl pleaded. "You can't just walk right into Fort Drakon and up to the Warden! They would capture you, too. Don't throw your life away like this!"

Something in him snapped at the Arl's words, making him lose what little restraint he still possessed. "But, we can easily throw her life away? Is it of less worth than mine because she is an elf and not some noble daughter you can marry me off to?" His voice raised to a shouting level, redness now mixed into the tanned complexion of his skin. "Must be convenient for you that she is out of the picture now. All this time you were giving a rat's ass about her, after all."

Eamon's gaze flitted to Anora. However brief it was, she noticed. He leaned in to him, lowering his voice. "I don't think this is the right time to discuss this, boy. But, you must think of your duty to Ferelden, of the things at hand, first and foremost. So yes, throwing away your life like this won't solve anything!"

"Why do you even care, Eamon? For ten years, you never gave a rat's ass about me, either. But now you suddenly do?" His voice broke, burning with the heat within. Each emotion seemed to battle for control, only to give way to the next. "I killed your son! And yet you act as if I have never been away, as if none of this had ever happened. What for? Why?" The words were bitter, tinged with something other than the bare fury spilling out of him. He threw his hands up as the Arl remained silent, impassive. "You know what? I don't care! I'm sick of being your precious pawn in your game while the woman I love is imprisoned and... No!"

"Alistair!" Eamon cried out, desperate about the loss of the situation. "You can't—"

He leaned in and loomed threateningly over the Arl, his tone a calm sea of rage. "Try and stop me!" With that, he spun on his heel and stormed out of the room, shoving aside everyone in his way. The wooden door banged and nearly shattered on its hinges as he threw it shut behind him.

For a long moment, a stunned silence followed his actions, everyone too perplexed to speak. Anora simply observed, her gaze flitting from one face to the other to figure out which of them would take up the much needed command now. As it turned out, none of them did. The Warden seemed to be, indeed, the most important focal point in their group dynamic. Without her, they either didn't know what to do, or had depended too much on her in the past. It was another, not insignificant discovery for her.

Eamon eventually harrumphed, attempting to clear the awkwardness and bewilderment of the situation. "Well, that was bracing. You must excuse Alistair, your Highness. He hasn't slept the whole night and is certainly... worried about his fellow Warden."

Why he felt the gratuitous need to point out the most obvious things at that moment, Anora had no idea, nor the reason why he had explained Alistair's behavior to her. And, quite frankly, she had no mind or care for it; not with far more important manners at hand than someone throwing a temper tantrum. She folded her hands together, and gave the Arl a steely look. "Which brings us to the needed topic, Eamon. I can provide what I think is the necessary plan to free the Warden from Fort Drakon."

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She woke with a start, her head pounding painfully.

For one, short moment Lenya thought it had all been nothing more than a dreadful nightmare. Then, her eyes cleared from her unconsciousness, revealing dimly flickering torches in the distance and her own near nakedness. Every bone in her body ached, bruises and cuts marred her skin, making it burn. Instinctively, her gaze roamed around, searching for something to use as a weapon or that hse could use to clothe herself. In her cell were neither; just rough, cold stone underneath and a pile of filthy hay on the side.

Lenya shook herself to clear away the remaining haze, to recollect her thoughts. But, it felt hard, so impossible, especially when her head protested so fiercely against any notion of thinking or moving. The faint brush of air wafting toward her reeked of piss, blood, and sweat, causing her to shiver and retch. Earsplitting screams reverberating in the distance added to the chill; the sort that belonged to agonized, dying men. Death was all around her, waiting for what would soon ensue in this place of horrors; wherever 'this' was, the feeling of bleakness was sufficient for her to gain this bitter assurance. Feeling bare, she embraced her knees, attempting to focus on anything but the hopelessness around and inside of her. At least she was no longer in chains, and Alistair... they didn't get him. Nor her friends... nor the queen; just her. As long as there was someone—no, not someone, he—alive to continue and end the fight they had begun together, it would be all right. Lenya tried to swallow down the lump building in her throat at that thought, without success. It felt rough like sandpaper, the metallic taste of her own blood upon her tongue. She didn't want to die. Perhaps she should try—

"Ah, ya 're awake!"

Startled, her head turned so hastily toward the sound of a male voice that the nauseous dizziness became overwhelming. Lenya coughed again, each heave of air punished with a painful pulsating of her head. It felt as if her brain might leak out of her ears any minute now. She frowned, ignoring the ache even this little motion caused. Focus.

"Got a nice head wound there..." the rough voice spoke again. "Among other things."

Self-consciously, Lenya wrapped her arms around her bare chest, covering herself to keep what little dignity had been left to her. The human man in the neighboring cell was shaggy, and reeked of shit. His long, filthy beard nearly covered everything of his bruised face. A long time inhabitant of this wonderful place then. "Where am I?" Lenya croaked, not caring for anything but answers; not that the knowledge would matter much in the end.

"Fort Drakon." The man bared his rotten teeth in a humorless grin; some of them were missing. "What did a lady like ya do to get her'?"

Freed the queen. "Killed Arl Howe," she said instead. There was no need to give away her identity, nor to form a friendship with this grubby human leering at her. She didn't plan to stay here longer than needed; headache and lack of armor and weapons notwithstanding. She couldn't give up, not just like this. She had to try.

"An' they bring ya her' instead of givin' ya a medal for yer service to Ferelden?" He clucked his tongue. "Wha' has the world come to?"

Her eyes narrowed, in spite of his attempt at good-natured humor. "Listen, I have no time to sit around listening to your stupid jokes. I need to get out of here." She let her gaze roam, trying to think and gather her wits. "Do you, perhaps, know of a way out?"

"Way out?" He chuckled bitterly. "This 's Fort Drakon, lady. More guards than ya will ever see in yer now very shortened lif'. Piled dead on a cart 's one. The only one."

An unsurprising answer, if not the one Lenya had hoped to hear. "But, there has to be som—"

"Shhht... they are coming." The man suddenly grew frantic and sprang up to run to the furthest corner of his cell. There, he cowered, rocking back and forth. "No, no, no! Please, Maker, no!"

There was footfall on the stone, a rhythmic staccato threatening to come closer. Lenya jumped up and closed her eyes to count the number of steps, focusing on the guards. If they were coming for her, then this was her chance to escape, as futile as it seemed. It was now or never. Two, or maybe three, armored guards were advancing closer every second. The precise number was hard to differentiate with her head aching as if Fen'harel had devoured half of it.

Lenya left her arms wrapped around her chest, waiting for their arrival, for the right timing. She felt sick to her stomach for what she was about to do, but there was no other way. Two guards rounded the corner and came toward her cell, laughing. Even if Lenya was far from at her best right now, they were only two men for a slayer of ogres, of Flemeth, and of countless darkspawn. It spoke of their arrogance; their certainty of their victory over her. It was time to prove them wrong. Tensing up, she waited for the proper moment, for that one second of distraction she so desperately needed.

"That's the Warden?" one of them asked, derision in his tone. "The one causing Loghain so much trouble? Hard to believe." He stepped closer to her cell, leering at her. "She ain't more than all the other knife-eared wenches."

"Well, orders are orders." The other man shrugged. "Better to find out quickly what she knows, so we are done with it."

The first guard swayed his hips. "To get to the fun part, right?"

"Ugh, don't ya know? Grey Wardens are tainted by darkspawn. Bet she has teeth down there that'll bite your cock off." They talked as if she didn't exist, as if she wasn't standing a mere distance from them. But, she couldn't allow herself to get distracted by the horrid meaning of their words. Instead, she observed, concentrating on the moment of attack and letting herself float in a calm lagoon of rage. She would kill them, even if this was be her very last action. "Wouldn't touch the knife-ear if I were you."

His colleague scoffed and opened the cell, probably to carry her away like the piece of meat they took her for. Lenya waited another fraction of a moment until they had both stepped into her cell, one of them behind the door. She let go of her chest and, in the second when both of them stared, she grabbed at a dagger that had been belted too loosely, drawing it. Everything happened so fast, dimmed down to a blur of wrath and red, as one guard's blood spilled over her in a warm gush. Paying the dying shem no further heed, Lenya used the moment of shock and her momentum to bash the door into the other man with a sickening crunch. She cut his throat as well and her head whirled, protesting against the quick motions of battle with a new wave of nausea. Swallowing the bile, she started running toward the door in the distance. Blindly flying, the weight of the dagger in her hand was the only thing grounding her.

She abruptly came to a halt at the sight of a flicker of a shadow, shifting the dim light with its movement. Ducking behind a low, filthy wall, Lenya studied the route of the patrolling guard. Using the moment when he had turned away from her, she sneaked up to him and drove the dagger deep into his back. She muffled his panicked cry with her hand before muting him forever with a clean cut to his throat. She was not at all the near-naked, frightened woman she was, but a hunter. With her vision narrowed on her prey, Lenya bathed in the blood of her enemies in glorious vengeance. For the shemlen had dared to lock her up, had dared to rob her of her freedom.

We are the Dalish: keepers of the lost lore, walkers of the lonely path. We are the last of the Elvhenan, and never again shall we submit.

Lenya clawed herself mentally on the oath of her people while each muscle in her body ached and she shivered from the lack of armor and clothes. Like a mantra, she repeated it over and over again, to give herself the strength to endure, to survive. Observing the hallway, she fixed her eyes on the door at the other end of it; the only way out, now in immediate reach. She had no idea where it would lead, but away seemed to be a good start. She could figure out the rest later, hopefully.

Brushing her doubts off, Lenya darted toward the entrance only to see the door opening when she was halfway toward it. In her haste and shock, she had no time to measure her attack accordingly, causing the blade to only graze the human's heavy plate instead of slicing between the cracks in the armor. She attacked anew, but he caught her wrist in the momentum of her swing, careless of the blade she had swung at him. His gauntleted hand pressed into her wrist, tighter and tighter until she heard the crack of her bone, and the clunking of the dagger as it met the ground. Blinding, searing pain shot through her, forcing the Dalish to her knees. Pure instincts and desperation within drove her attempt to reach the dagger with her other, uninjured hand, yet the guard was again quicker. Kicking the blade away, a heavily booted foot slammed down onto her hand, smashing her fingers and all hope of escape. Whimpering in agony with both hands rendered useless, Lenya still tried get up. Away, just away, every fiber of her being screamed, begging for a sudden elusion that did not come.

"What do we have here?" Lenya wanted to scoot away, but his grasp closed around her throat, effortlessly lifting her up. The shemlen was giant and massive in build, closer to a Qunari in stature than a human. His many scars shifted in his face with his grin, amused at her struggle as she dangled in the air, robbed of all air. This was it, the end. "A filthy stray trying to escape?" He tsked and hurled her away from him, like a puppet made of paper.

Darkness, merciful nothingness, awaited her as she crashed against the stone ground.

.

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A/N²: I hope I have succeeded in portraying Anora as a multifaceted character than just "oh look she is scheming, har har"*pins an evil mustache on her*. While she does all that in a more positive sense of the word (ya know, politician and all that, which is why I kept her observing and filing away these things seen in her POV) tis important to me to not reduce her character to the damned tropes this fandom is so obsessed with whenever she appears in a story. Anora is far from being a villain and I side-eye you hard if you ever reduce her to such. She will however use whatever asset she has to to remain queen, since being deposed means her certain death. Only fair, imo. Or how ASoIaF said it: In the game of thrones, you win or you die ;)