Title: Snow and Ice
Warnings: Sexual content, minor language, violence, blood, use of alcohol
Summary: Once upon a time, a maleficar had stopped the blight. Afterwards, she'd left for the colder North, leaving love for a life of loneliness and wandering. No one was to look for her. So why was Alistair calling her back? Zev/Surana
AN: Thank you for reading. Review, please.
Elda slowly got to her feet, checking her balance. There was a dull ache in her throat where the torn flesh had knitted back together, but it didn't hurt too badly. She put a hand to her stomach. The baby's heart still beat with the same ferocity it always had. She could feel it and hear it like lyrium singing in her veins. That was the difference of her magic. With it, she could sense so much more. The gentle fluttering of the breeze outside beckoned and she realized she was sticky with sweat in such a warm environment. The weight of the baby didn't help as she made her way tentatively outside the large ritual cavern.
Outside, it was brilliant. Everything was alight with color and feeling and life. Holding up her hand, she summoned her mana as though she'd never lost her power. Fire licked eagerly at her fingers, smoke curling upward in coalescing forms that reached toward the heavens before disappearing. She felt a laugh bubble up out of her throat, and she was startled for a moment. The happiness she felt was almost too much. She was a mage again. The very thing that all the world scorned her for was what made her complete. With shaking hands she pressed her palms together and felt the heat there between her palms. She held it up to her face, and the glow of a small, blue flame flickered across her pale features. Taking a breath, she blew it out and gave an exhilarated laugh.
The buzz of pleasure didn't last long, though. There was so much to do, and she worried for the baby. Chorise said that she would be changed but changed how? It was something she would have to tell Zevran the second she found him again. Her eyes roved over the forest canopy. How was she to find him in all of this? He could be anywhere, and she worried for Arcelle also. The cut had been deep, the tendons torn. She was maimed if not dead, and Zevran didn't mind cutting losses when he had to. She hoped that he would be merciful with the dwarven woman.
Then the obvious came to her, and she nearly smacked herself in the forehead. She had her magic back. If she could track Alaeze from the castle to the Pearl, then she could find Zevran in a mass of foliage just a couple hundred yards in one direction. She was sinking her pointed teeth down onto her uninjured hand in a second, using the rock face to sink to her knees and press her palm to the ground. A red cloud of pure energy bubbled from the ground. From this spot, she could hear all the animals scurrying across the ground. Birds deafened her, a roar in their numbers. Trees creaked, branches broke, and streams tumbled down sheer cliffs and tiny waterfalls.
"Zevran," she whispered into the wind and opened her eyes. A reflective pool appeared before her face like a mirror to a distant world. A dark-skinned elf was kneeling next to a dwarf, wrapping tight bandages around the woman's leg. She was swearing, a bottle of some sort of alcohol in her hand. Elda recognized it as ale from the tavern that he'd packed away before they left. Zevran worked diligently, and there was a suture lying in a cup of bloodied water. He must have carried her back to civilization because there were others walking around behind them. With deft hands, he tied the bandages and made sure they were tight, but he seemed distracted. He kept lifting his head, the wind blowing softly at his hair.
She whispered his name to the mirror and smiled when he froze and glanced around sharply. He couldn't see her no matter how hard he tried. At least she knew where he was. Getting there without food or water and being pregnant wouldn't be easy, though. She disconnected the link and wiped her bloodied palm on her robes. The sun was still high in the sky. If she started the trek, she would get there by nightfall. The only problem was that she didn't know where she was going. She could see the dilapidated shack in the middle of the forest, smoke curling up in tendrils toward the sky. The dogs were no doubt still pacing in front of it. She wanted to avoid that place.
Elda began the descent down the mountain, a much easier walk than climbing up. Rocks slid out from under her small feel and threatened to topple her a few times, but she stuck closely to the wall and soon felt earth beneath her toes rather than slate rock. She glanced back at the cavern for a moment before heading on. The sun was hot on her back, and sweat trickled down to sting her eyes. The heat baked her skin a light pink. She tried to stay beneath the trees if only to save her pale complexion.
The forest was much cooler in the dense parts if a little rocky and vine-infested. She hopped over obstacles and send out the pulsating feel of her magic to ward off animals as she approached. The sound or brushing warning wouldn't work on dangerous cats or whatever else might be lurking in the forest. She was partially just doing it to experience and remember the slight exertion of her will, the old bodiless gestures that she learned as a child. It was bliss to stretch her mind, to feel a drain or tug on her mana. She had missed using her magic. Being without it left her rather helpless and rather ordinary.
As the sweat poured from her temple and the sun slowly shifted across the sky, she made good headway. Once she stopped to cut her palm again, breaking through the old scab that was already healing, and took a look at Zevran. He was pacing in some sort of hospital where the flies gathered around putrescent wounds and people moaned in agony. Arcelle was lying prostrate on a small cot as an elven woman dabbed lightly at her forehead. There must have been infection. Who knew how long that trap had been there or what kind of poison it might be covered in?
Eventually the forest grew cold, the shadows less friendly. Birds gave hearty whoops and animals hunkered in low bushes growled as she passed by. She put a hand on her belly and erected a bubbling shield of mana around herself to ward off predators. It wouldn't hold much under melee combat, but it could deflect arrows so she could get to cover. Not that she was expecting to get hit by an arrow in the middle of a forest. She laughed softly to herself at the realization that she just put it up to make herself feel better. Being with Zevran had made her soft again. In the wilderness, she would have been prepared to beat a pack of wolves' heads in with a rock.
When the last bit of red bled from the horizon and she was cast in violet and blue shadows, she broke through the woods. Fires were lit out in front of the inn, various groups of armed individuals huddling around them. An elf on a bench glanced up at her from under his bushy hair and snorted, elbowing his counterpart. She let her shield dissipate—Zevran never explained the mage situation in Antiva, but she expected they weren't any more welcome than in Ferelden.
She'd lost her pack when Chorise had kidnapped her in a flurry of spells and fallen leaves. She had no Antivan money anyway, and it didn't hit her until just then how dependent she would be on Zevran in the coming months. She spoke only a few broken Antivan sentences. How would she communicate? How would she pay for food and shelter if he wasn't at her side? Going to a foreign country to make things easier, she decided, was a poor plan in the first place. She hurried past the mob in front of the inn and walked inside.
The crooked building stank of ale and vomit, a common smell in any tavern in the world. Whatever part of Thedas she was in, at least that never changed. She walked up to the bar and set her head down on the wood, tucking a bit of hair behind her pointed ear. The earliest parts of pregnancy were beginning to set in. She felt fatigued and slightly nauseated despite the dwarf's revolting medicine that seemed to have worked for a few days at least. She also worried for the baby. What had that old witch's magic done to Rinna? Would it harm her irreparably? Would she even be the same little girl that Elda knew?
No, that was silly. This time she would grow up with a kind father in a healthy home. She wouldn't have to worry about going to bed with an empty stomach while curled up to her bloodmage mother that cried and thrashed in her sleep. Elda wouldn't have to scramble to her feet in the morning worrying about animals dragging Rinna off in the night. There would be no more cold, because Zevran would be there to keep her warm. It sounded too perfect, all of it. Yet she believed that Zevran could make it possible. After all, she underestimated him almost every time.
A hand nudged her. She glanced up to see the human bartender glancing down at her with concern. "You all right, love?" she asked in a thickly accented voice. It was the same inn that they'd stayed in the night before, so naturally the woman knew she was from Ferelden. "You look a little, um, sick? That is the word, yes?"
"I'm fine," she smiled tightly at the woman and put her head back down.
"Should watch out for yourself," the young bartender clicked her tongue, swiping an oiled rag over the fine wooden bar. "Are you hungry?"
"I haven't any coin to pay you," Elda said, sitting up completely. The woman's hair was a bright blonde, and it fell thin and wavy around her face. Her eyes were too close together and too large, giving her an almost startled look. Her lips were thin, mouth small.
The woman narrowed her eyes and glanced around. "But where is your husband?" she asked in a low voice, finger touching the ring on Elda's hand.
"We were separated," she explained.
"You should find him," the human answered, shaking her head pityingly. "Not safe for a woman in your condition to be out here alone. Not with what is going on outside."
Elda's ears pricked up. She leaned forward. "What is going on outside?"
A delicate eyebrow curled upward. "You did not see?" she muttered something in Antivan, bracing her palm against the bar. "You are Ferelden, but you must know of the Antivan Crows, yes?" Her voice was low.
"They have been, uh, on the move? Yes, that is it," the bartender scrunched up her rag and left it on the bar. "Politics are heavily influenced by the Crows in this place, and they were upset to learn something. So they will be getting rid of lesser contracts quickly to focus on this new thing they must face. Everyone is crowding outside to stay in the company of others. What they do not understand is that the Crows do not mind killing you in front of your family." Elda shook her head. A coincidence, surely; it couldn't possibly be because they had arrived in Antiva. Zevran was not, as she had proved so long ago, the best assassin around, despite how much he'd improved over the years.
"Does this happen often?" the elf asked.
"No, not often," the Antivan replied. "A strange thing indeed. Something…it must have frightened them. The last time this happened was when that bastard began assassinating his way through the royal family about ten years ago." She shrugged. "Our leaders were dying, and it was an emergency then. Now? We do not know what to think."
Elda didn't know what this meant, but she felt the undeniable urge to share with Zevran immediately. He knew more of Crow politics than she did, having been one of them himself. Her knowledge lay within the Fade, the arcane. This was his country, his area of expertise. The dirty clinic flashed before her mind suddenly, and she curled her fingers on top of the wood, feeling the crusted blood on her palm. "Do you know where the nearest hospital is?"
The woman's eyes widened. "Why? Do you need help?" Her eyes flew to the hard bulge of Elda's stomach.
"No, my…my husband is there," she explained.
"Oh," the human's relief was tangible. "Around the corner a few blocks, there is a small clinic. I do not know if it runs this late. It is a dirty place, filled with injured criminals with hardly any coin. You should not go alone." The warning was clear, but the fear in her eyes told Elda that she would not try to stop her.
Elda smiled and pushed away from the bar. "Thank you," she said and started toward the door. There was hardly anyone inside the inn, and she wondered faintly why that was. All of them seemed to be congregating outside. Did they fear to be caged inside rooms? Certainly the Crows couldn't have contracts out on the common folk of Antiva. What would that achieve?
A beggar accosted Elda outside the door, but she pushed the grubby hands away. She didn't have coin or time to spare. She started toward the direction of the clinic with quick steps, staying to the shadows as best as she could. There only seemed to be a few guards to protect the citizens of the city. That was dangerous. Elda could handle herself. Even slowed by her pregnancy, she was quick with a blade and even quicker with her magic. The poor and untrained would suffer from the guard negligence.
Ducking down several alleys to get there, she soon caught the scent of preservatives and antiseptic. The stench of rot and decay came later as she encountered the ragged lot waiting outside the doors. The bartender hadn't exaggerated. Most of them were covered in a fine layer of dirt that came with living on the street. They reeked of blood and unwashed bodies and burned skin, mostly elderly men, a few lingering children, a few women bundled in greasy rags. Elda stepped gingerly around and away from them, picking up her pace when a woman with a suppurating hole in the side of her neck began to eye her funnily.
Maybe it was growing up sheltered in the tower, but she never did care for the sight of the poor. The clinic was clearly understaffed, some of the patients most definitely dead, the others sallow, yellow, and coughing heartily with sickness. Elda covered her mouth with one hand and headed back toward the room where she had seen Zevran. When she pushed away the curtain, though, only Arcelle was there. The dwarven gangster's eyes started open in surprise, and she tried to sit up. With a hiss and a curse, she fell back to the pillows.
Elda raced to her side. "Arcelle, what happened?"
"What happened?" the dwarf demanded. "What happened to you? Zevran was going insane without you." Arcelle's face was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. She seemed tired and feverish. Her hand was too hot, skin slipping easily in Elda's soft grip. The mage pressed a few fingertips to Arcelle's forehead and grimaced. The fever was high.
"I was…otherwise engaged. How did you get back? How is your leg?" She glanced around for sink but found only a bucket of water beside the bed. At least the clinic was doing something. She grabbed it and began wiping off Arcelle's face in slow, caressing motions.
"After the attack," Arcelle swallowed, "Zevran tried to bandage my wound, but it was too deep. I was going to bleed out. Something kept attacking him, too. He was thrown against the tree a few times. He's got a nasty bruise on the back of his head. Maybe he might have even cracked it. I don't know. He wouldn't let the doctors look at it. We waited for you as long as we could, but I was getting dizzy and fell asleep. When I woke up, I was here. We've been waiting outside most of the day. The wound's festered, and they're talking about…about cutting it off."
Elda glanced at the filthy bandage. The pus leaking out was a poisonous green, and it reeked of rotting flesh and decay. The sun was not best for wounds, she knew, and the sun in Antiva was hot. The flesh surrounding the stained bandage was purple and bruised, nearly black. Cutting it off would probably be the only course left. "You should have left sooner," she criticized, placing the rag back into the bucket and shifting her attention to the leg. She gingerly removed the medical bindings and inspected the injury. The arrow had hit deep, meant to maim and mangle rather than kill. The flesh was very dark and dying if not dead. Elda put the bandages back, her heart heavy.
"Can you help?" Arcelle asked hopefully. Elda started mopping her shining face again.
"I'm afraid not," she said sincerely. "My hands were meant for killing not healing. But you can help me. Where is Zevran?"
The dwarf smacked her head on the pillow and curled her fist. "He ran off. He was pacing back and forth, worrying about you. So I sent him away. He's been gone for hours."
"Do you know where he might have gone?" Elda asked.
"He's your husband," the dwarf bit out. "I haven't seen him in years. You'd know better than I would." Elda frowned.
"You've been with him this entire time. He didn't give you any indication whatsoever of his destination?" She found it hard to believe. Besides, a woman that survived in the undercity had to know how to find out what she wanted by body language.
"He was probably going to look for you," Arcelle said simply. "Isn't that what you'd expect him to do?"
"Yes, but where?" she asked more to herself than anyone else. This Zevran she found puzzling. Looking back over the years he didn't remember, hadn't beena part of, was difficult. The mature, older Zevran had become familiar to her. This one was different. This one she could not predict entirely. Impetuous, confident, and arrogant. Hardly sporadic in his decisions but not reliant on strategy from what she could remember.
Arcelle began to cough, and Elda glanced at her pityingly. The more she sat there, the longer the leg would fester and putrefy. Someone needed to clean it and preferably remove the damaged tissue. Elda sighed and frowned at the leg. She recalled very little of her surgical training. She could numb it and cut, but she could do more damage than harm. After a moment, she decided just to leave it. Let the healers help her. After all, she was made to kill.
Elda put her hand on Arcelle's and squeezed. "I'm sorry, my friend, but it seems this is where we part ways."
Arcelle scoffed. "Did you think I expected you to stay? Zevran didn't. You've got a future, the two of you. Bunch of idiots that overestimate what they're capable of, but you've survived this long." She gave a racking cough. "Go, then."
"I'll honor our deal," Elda promised. "I'll strike your name from the Crows. And I'll tell the doctors to hurry."
"Don't do me any favors," the dwarf snapped half-heartedly. There was relief and gratitude in her eyes. Elda felt a sudden kinship with the woman. Turning away, she lifted the curtain and left in a rush. She could easily find Zevran with her locating tool: blood magic. She was wary, however, of using it so much in one day. She'd never done that before, and she wasn't aware of what her limitations would be now.
On the way out, she drew special attention to Arcelle's tent and watched the doctor nod in concern before she left. In a back alley beside the whores plying their trade and the sleeping homeless elves curled near a pile of refuse, she sliced her thumb on a loose pipe and dropped to the ground. The blood dripped over the packed dirt, summoning the mana silently, and she looked into her magical mirror.
He was there, sitting in their room and twirling his knife in a familiar gesture of agitation. He sank his pointed elven teeth into an apple and chewed as he regarded a map spread out on the table. What was he planning? She squinted into the darkness. A fire crackled behind him, burning brightly and lighting the room with a liquid orange glow. His short hair was mussed, sticking up in all directions. He seemed to have been pacing for a long while.
Quickly, she closed the connection. Whatever Antiva's feelings on mages, she didn't want to attract attention. A pregnant woman kneeling in an alley full of the less fortunate was strange enough. She didn't need to be calling up visual portals as well. Elda stood and rushed out of the alley in the direction of the inn. Once she was safe in Zevran's arms again, they could make their move to take out the crows. With that solved, she could work on the problem with Ikilail. Soon, she hoped, everything would be resolved.
The two stories have been combined. The other has been deleted. Thanks for reading. I'll update again.