Prologue

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Etcetera

The crowds roared, Denerim was alight. People cheered, threw flowers in the air, waved ribbons of the Theiren colours. The buildings still in ruins around them, they had covered the rubble in daisy chains and coloured lamps, tavern owners dispersing drinks freely, all mugs raised to the hero of the day. The Alienage had been opened and the elves cheered with the humans. The city was overcome by generosity and fraternity in its relief.

She stood above them on the palace steps, armour gleaming, hands raised in triumph. Their hero. The only person to sink her blade into the Archdemon and live to tell the tale. The face of Ferelden forever changed by her hand, as much a ruler as any king she had installed. She was a virtuous as Andraste, as glorious as Cormac, as fierce as the army of a dozen nations. At least for today.

Teyrna Cousland backed toward the palace doors, still facing the crowds, and they gave one final roar of approval as the guards pulled back the doors to allow her inside. Her smile was radiant, her face flushed in exaltation. Her armour weighed nothing, she was weightless, floating, carried along on the waves of glory.

Inside she bore no less admiration, the throne room was full of beaming faces. Her friends and comrades, the nobles and the guards, all united in one moment of perfect brotherhood in defence of their home. Alistair, glowing in his golden armour, caught her eye and gave her a boyish grin. A shot of lightning ran through her belly, jolting her back into pure, untainted love for just an instant.

With an unrestrained laugh she turned toward her room. There was a skip in her step all the way, until she managed to get the door open and slipped inside, giving one final wave to a guard wandering down the hall.

The door clicked shut behind her.

It had taken three months. Three months in which she felt she hadn't slept once. But it was done, the Blight defeated, Ferelden united again. There was no further quest or immediately apparent destination for her. She could do whatever she liked and no one had any monopoly on her time or her loyalty.

She was free.

All the air left her body in a rush. Her knees buckled. The ground came up to meet her and she was aware of stone striking her face, the pain in her cheekbone, the metallic taste of blood. She couldn't see, her hair had fallen over her eyes, her arms wouldn't respond to her commands.

A nation at her mercy. Decisions that could never be reversed. Zathrian, Bhelen, Logain, Gregoir. Men whose hearts she knew, who she had judged as a god. Orzammar's free will, the Teyrn's right to rule, Andraste's eternal rest. Her family, her love, precious things, all lost. Her own soul, surely damned.

The crowd outside hailing her as a hero.

A sword hilt was sticking painfully into her side, she had cracked her temple, she needed to stand. She couldn't breathe. The angle her shoulder sat at was wrong, it compressed her ribcage, she shouldn't hold it like that.

The door opened. She couldn't see, but she heard a yell, a call for help. Arms, small and lithe, picked her up. The voices came as waves in familiar notes, but her mind wouldn't process the words, or who spoke them. Concern, maybe a note of panic, that she could make out. A massive form in her peripheral vision. Blond hair, red, swayed and blurred together.

"Get me out of here." The words were forced out on a waning breath, the last of her strength.

There was no hesitation. She was moving, floating above the ground in a strong grip. A sudden warmth, a cloak obscuring her face and armour. There was a note of urgency in her rescuers as they raced her out the servants entrance, through the kitchen, hasty apologies and blatant lies to any bystanders.

Precious things, all lost.

She couldn't breathe.

The crowd outside parted for the giant, all still laughing and singing. Still praising their hollow hero. Her saviour was jostled, the hold around her turning possessive and protective. Her entourage ploughed a path forward, muttering urgently between each other, a hand adjusting the cloak over her face until she couldn't see at all. Their progress was slow. She couldn't feel her fingers or toes. A hand slipped into hers, squeezing her numb extremity.

Armour slammed against her ribs with every halting step, her rerebrace cut off the circulation to her left arm. She needed to move, to fix it, to speak, to breathe, to scream at the crowd to stop.

She felt it when they broke through the last of the crowd. They were running, then.

Sophia Dryden had turned to blood magic to depose a tyrant, it had seemed so important at the time. He was a monster, ruling with fear. Now the empire had moved on. But her house, and the Grey Wardens, stood disgraced by her. Sophia Dryden, who she herself had condemned not a month ago. Sophia Dryden, whose armour was now worn by the Hero of Ferelden. Different judges. Different verdicts. Different results. The same crime.

A maleficar carried the results of her foolishness, in nine months it would be a child. In twenty years, who knew? A benefactor or a tyrant. An abandoned bastard child to an abandoned bastard father.

All lost.

Bile rose in her throat, her stomach churned, but her chest had no strength to heave. The cloak fell from her face, she saw the dusty, crumbling streets of Denerim fly past.

The last thing she remembered was being bundled onto a horse, the flash of green trees in her vision, before the black claimed her.

All lost.