A/N: As of Feb 2017, the most up-to-date version of this fic is on Archive of our own (same username, 'Aziethe'.) I've only made small copyediting changes, but I would still recommend reading that version instead of this one.
For everyone who only found out half-way through the game that Morrigan wasn't romanceable on a female character, despite her apparent disdain for men. Main pairing: Morrigan/f!Surana.
With much love to my wife, for her patience, understanding and feedback. Also with many thanks to ilumiari for betaing the first version of this chapter :-)
Disclaimer: Dragon Age belongs to BioWare.
Story Warnings: Major spoilers to the end of Dragon Age: Origins. Rated for mature themes, sexual scenes, angst, horror and violence, rape references in chapters 10 to 14. A fairly dark take on DA:O and Morrigan's characterisation.
Update: If you just want to skim this story or find out what happens at the end, there's a very brief recap included in the first chapter of 'Beauty Ascending'.
It could have been worse. The thought repeated itself, like a mantra at the back of Morrigan's mind. It could have been worse. She could have been trudging through the darkness of the Deep Roads, nothing but stone and horrid fleshy growths overhead, or suffering through another meaningless bout of do-gooding, wasting her talents helping every single orphan and demon-possessed child in Ferelden.
It could have been worse, but then again, it could have been better. Traipsing around a forest looking for spiders was certainly not amongst the list of her favourite activities.
It was her own fault. She should have given the warden an emphatic 'no'. Teach shapeshifting to a Circle-raised ingenue? What had she been thinking?
"This is a foolish idea, Sylvanna," Morrigan said, for what felt like the twentieth time.
"You agreed to it."
Morrigan scowled. Ahead of her, the warden fumbled along, twigs snapping audibly beneath her weight, her dog bounding beside her and snapping at each passing insect and falling leaf. Morrigan had heard many stories of the Dalish and their superior woodcraft; Sylvanna clearly had not a drop of Dalish blood within her, from the way she tramped around. Quite possibly the entire forest knew of their presence; Morrigan could hear birds quieting at their approach, animals disappearing underground at the intrusion. At this rate, they would never find what they were seeking.
"Did you have to bring that slobbering mutt along?" Morrigan asked, looking at said mutt with barely concealed distaste.
"He might be useful," Sylvanna said. "And I think you just hurt his feelings. Again." The warden knelt down, fawning over the animal with an inordinate degree of affection. At least the dog was incapable of prattling on and on about nothing of consequence, unlike some of their other companions. The warden had sent away the templar, the bard and the old healer, chasing rumours of a long-forgotten religious relic. Surely they would fail. Morrigan only hoped that the fool of a templar would stay alive long enough to return to them. She had plans for him, and they would be all for naught, were he dead.
The dog cocked his head to one side, issuing an excited bark.
"Did you find something, Thetus?" the warden asked. No sooner had the words escaped her lips and the dog was off, bouncing excitedly into the distance like a four-week-old pup. Morrigan rolled her eyes.
Thetus reached the crest of a hill and barked impatiently, tongue lolling.
"We're coming," Sylvanna called, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Morrigan was still following.
Morrigan huffed. "More the fool we."
On top of the hill, Thetus waited amidst a pile of ruins. Broken columns littered the ground, drawing the eye to a half-collapsed archway guarding a flight of stone steps. The cavern entrance seemed mostly intact, although overgrown with vines and weeds.
"Good boy," Sylvanna said, passing the dog a treat.
Morrigan eyed the dog, who was smugly licking his lips. The warden bribed her in much the same manner, with Morrigan's jewellery collection growing substantially in the past few months. It was so utterly transparent, so blatantly disingenuous as to be laughable. Still, there was no point in seeming ungrateful; gold and jewels could always be traded for practical goods. Morrigan fingered the pendant at her neck, her scowl deepening.
"Are you sure of this?" she asked. "'Tis most unusual, for a mage of the Circle to be practising such magic, is it not?"
"I'm a grey warden now, Morrigan. If this will help us against the darkspawn, then I need to try."
Morrigan suppressed a laugh. Another army was what they needed, but if Sylvanna had to fool herself into thinking that this was for the greater good, and not her own selfish curiosity, then Morrigan would not dissuade her. "Let us do it then, and quickly. I have no desire to be here when night falls."
The cavern was damp and smelled of mould and dank earth. Sylvanna hesitated a moment and then spoke, a blue wisp of light illuminating the remains of the corridor. There were carvings on the wall, but their meanings had been long worn down by dirt and rain into obscurity. They walked in silence, the three of them; mabari hound, witch and warden, down into the cool darkness of the earth.
It seemed as if they had been walking for hours, one dark corridor merging into the next. Sylvanna sighed, rubbing a hand across her eyes.
"I think we've been going around in circles–"
"Hush," Morrigan said. They stopped, listening to the distant sound of dripping water. A low growl rumbled from Thetus' throat, and Sylvanna's fingers brushed his neck for reassurance. A moment later, she heard what the others had already noticed - a soft hissing, echoing throughout the cavernous hallways.
They spread out, Thetus padding towards the sound. Sylvanna passed her hand over her staff, its glow dimming. Her vision adjusted slowly as they inched forward, her eyes focused on the ground just beyond her dog's silhouette. She sensed Morrigan's presence behind her, an aura of magic tangible even in the low light.
Thetus stopped in his tracks and sniffed the air. The hissing stopped, leaving them only with the sound of their breathing. Sylvanna felt a sense of foreboding, her eyes turning to the ceiling.
She was rewarded by the first glimpse of the spider, its hairy legs dangling in mid-air, followed by its bulbous head and mottled body. She shouted a warning to Thetus, too late as a sticky mass of webs engulfed the mabari. Morrigan was already moving, flames flaring from her hands. The spider reared in anger, the stench of burning flesh filling the air. A blue streak of energy shot from Sylvanna's staff, scorching the ground between the spider and her dog, his whine sounding faintly from beneath the masses of stringy silk.
The spider turned to consider the two mages. Sylvanna frantically scratched a sigil into the ground with the point of her staff, trusting Morrigan to watch her back. Of course she could trust Morrigan. Couldn't she?
The spider clicked its mandibles together before spitting out a virulent stream of poison. Sylvanna shrieked, rolling to the side to avoid the blast. She glanced up to see the spider scuttling forwards; Maker, that thing could move, all eight legs in concert. The sight was enough to give any seasoned warrior pause. Dear Andraste, please let it hold.
The patter of feet stopped abruptly, as if the spider had hit an invisible wall. Hovering in mid-air, the creature dangled like a child's toy. Bright lines of magic flared in a circle beneath it, marking the boundaries of the glyph. Sylvanna breathed a sigh of relief.
Morrigan stepped forward, sheathing her staff. "I was under the impression we were here to study, not to be eaten."
Sylvanna climbed to her feet, picking at her robe to determine the extent of the venomous spray. Most of it had soaked harmlessly into the dirt beside her, but she could feel a trickle burning her hand. She placed her other hand over the wound, the soft glow of healing energies purging the toxin.
"I don't intend to be on anyone's menu," she said, before casting a look towards Thetus. "My brave boy! Did you get bitten?" she asked, using a dagger to tear away at the silken web of the cocoon. He whined softly and licked her face, nudging her cheek with a nose still sticky from the web. She wiped at the residue, the web clinging unpleasantly to her hands.
"You will not hold her for long," Morrigan cautioned, watching the spider. "'Tis not safe to tarry – others are sure to follow."
"What do I need to do?" Sylvanna could feel the creature's many eyes upon her, hatred reflected in each dark orb. Her spell would hold, though. It had to.
"Hold out your hand."
As she obeyed, Morrigan drew her dagger, slicing down the outstretched palm. Sylvanna yelped, clutching at her wrist.
"You could have warned me!"
"We must act quickly." Morrigan ignored her, cutting deep into the spider's exposed abdomen. The glyph darkened, but held, the creature still unmoving except for the oozing fluid dripping from its wound.
"In Andraste's name, what are you planning to do?"
"You requested my aid," Morrigan reminded her. "You need to make a connection."
"I said," Morrigan began slowly, as if speaking to a particularly stupid child, "you need-"
"This is blood magic, isn't it?"
Thetus whined unhappily, nudging her side.
Morrigan narrowed her eyes. "Everything has a price, Warden, and knowledge must be paid for." She sniffed. "You, of all people, should be aware of this."
Sylvanna remained silent. Shame burned in her cheeks - stupid, not to know this was how it would be all along; stupid not to expect that something so simple as asking Morrigan, I wish to learn shapeshifting, would come without a fee.
"The spell is already begun. You must go through with it, or it will go badly for us; this, I can promise you."
Sylvanna hesitated, gazing at the dark blood welling up in her palm, but reached out to touch the spider's seeping wound.
"Open your mind," Morrigan instructed. "Seek out her memories, her ancestral knowledge."
Sylvanna closed her eyes, trying to clear her thoughts. The spider's blood felt warm and sticky beneath her hand, and she almost thought she could feel it tensing, even though that was impossible through the paralysis. Thetus whined unhappily, but the sound seemed very far away. She heard the pounding of her heart, the corruption in her veins singing, as Morrigan's magic bound their two essences together.
Images came to her in the darkness, disjointed.
Clambering over her egg mates, turning on her weaker brothers and sisters; how they writhed as she devoured them. Silence. The joy of the hunt. Dark, comforting shadows of her nest.
Delicate limbs touching each other in the darkness. Savage joy, fangs sinking into the helpless body of her mate. Sealing the last egg into her nest, wrapped in thin filament strands. Pride.
Gathering her children, their myriad feet pinpricks against her back. The trembling vibrations of intruders, daring to venture into her lair.
Agony. Wordless pain, flesh burning, sight dimming.
Somewhere, someone was calling for her.
They continued to shout, meaningless words that sounded more distant with each passing moment. She turned away from them, cocooned in the soft web of her memories, the shouts drowned out by the rising tide of her blood.