He felt respite unlike any he'd experienced in years.
The heat that once pulsed beneath the thick layer of armor now ebbed, leaving sweat slicked skin in its wake. It was the adrenaline moving through his veins alone that kept him from shivering. As the fires around them sizzled into nothing, the large room was overcome with a draft. A more cynical man would have taken this into account.
Still clutched in his grasp was his sword; the silverite blade cooled once more, having no fire-forged limbs to slice into any longer.
From the moment the last Fade demon was slain, something within him shifted; something changed, and he could feel the air rushing into his lungs. A small eternity had passed since he found his way to the Alienage in search for blood mages. He hadn't expected to find anything else, much less a stronger threat than he imagined. He should have felt it. He should have known.
But instead, the Maker sent him the gift of sight in the form of the slight, breathless mage standing before him.
He could hear each breath she took, the creaking of the boards beneath her party's feet. He could smell sweat and blood, the bitingly sweet scent of lyrium potion. He could feel a sense of relief within her that was mirrored by his own.
"We have done it again."
In their wake was a trail of scorched walls and old bones. He wasn't sure how long they'd been fighting, but this was a battle he was eager to finish. The elves in the Alienage were set upon with such worries on a daily basis. It wasn't just his moral obligation to aid them; it was his calling, the thing his heart begged and yearned for. Now the dark presence was abating, leaving behind an air of misery that also rang of hope. The elves could rebuild, and he would stay to help them.
Ser Otto allowed himself a sigh, and it was quickly followed by the smallest of smiles as his eyes fell shut. "I can feel the darkness receding."
Years stood between him and the last time he'd felt such a rush of warmth and accomplishment. While he was still a templar, constantly searching for apostates and maleficar, these missions rarely ended on such a note. The mages were bound and brought to the Tower. He moved on to his next responsibility. Nothing changed. There were always more.
But this - this was something different entirely.
In a large way, he'd helped the elves here. With the demons gone, they would once again be free to live in this space. He'd often heard the jarring hack of a coughing passerby or the quiet snoring of those that slept on the streets. Perhaps once the orphanage was returned to how it was, they would no longer be forced to remain outside. They could find warmth. They could find somewhere to make their home.
His eyes fell upon the young woman standing before him. While he could not see the details of her face, the intricate stitching of her robes, or the expression of pride she wore, he could sense that she was just as pleased as he.
"I have seen the work of demons before," Otto continued, "Some maleficarum consort with them."
She was a mage; he knew she was aware of the connection, but he couldn't keep himself from speaking, his tone surprisingly light now that the threat was gone. For weeks he'd found his way around the Alienage, befriending the elves, hoping that one of them would grow to trust him. Eventually, a few had, but the information he needed was not there.
And now an elf stood before him - a female mage called Arella.
Ever since the maleficar stole away his sight, he'd been able to sense things. Evil prickled at his skin. Impurity ran chills along his spine. Avarice, conceit, betrayal - he felt it all. Still, through it all, there were small glimmers of truth, of honesty and selflessness and justice.
These qualities fell off of Arella in waves. While she was hardly taller than his chest, her strength of spirit was both undeniable and impressive. It'd been so long since he'd experienced being in the company of such a personality. Time often bred immorality, as did coin and idle hours, and as he grew older, he saw the entirety of Ferelden degenerate before his very eyes. His fears of growing weary of only being met with hostility and suspicion were all but halted when this young woman came to stand before him.
"But the Maker must have guided -"
No sooner had the words left his lips did he feel a rush of ice down his back. His speech was torn into silence as the chill was broken, overwhelmed by the licking of flames at his neck. A sticky, hauntingly familiar heat ran over the skin of his shoulders, and the first thing he smelled was his own flesh. Burning. The shirt he wore beneath his armor sizzled and hissed against the plate, but he was too shocked, too overwhelmed to cry out.
The Fade demon lashed out with a blow strong enough to knock him to the floor. Shock kept him silent, his tongue tied around the thoughts that raced through him. No. Not again. Not this. Not yet. I'm not done.
Above him, the young mage scrambled to find her voice. The warrior by her side drew his sword. The elf drew his blades. The healer's hands went to her staff.
The battle began without him. His nails dug into the splintering wooden planks beneath him as he tried to pull himself up. He had to help. Without him, their chances of survival were low. A scream caught in his throat as he collapsed again, his armor jarring around him, scraping against the burns that ran across his shoulders.
It was too much. The pain was too much.
He could see movement; grayed out, blurred shapes moved just before his eyes. But she was too late, wasn't she? She didn't have enough time to heal him and assist her party. He was only a casualty, something she'd no doubt dealt with on her travels.
He groaned. He could feel her tiny hands on his skin, could feel the hum through her palms. She should've gotten up. She should've taken her staff and killed the damned demon while she had the chance. Why wasn't she moving?
Sounds became blurry, as if his head was underwater, and the shapes before his eyes blinked out of existence. Once, twice; he tried to keep his breaths steady, but his racing heart wouldn't allow it.
His eyes rolled back into his head as he slumped forward.
The last thing he heard was a strident cry for help.
A/N: So I decided to ditch the pitchfork and go for something else entirely. What sort of Fade demon would use a freakin' pitchfork? Seriously? He's magical. Plus, do most orphanages have pitchforks lying around willy nilly? Dangerous.
I'd also like to thank SerNature for her support! This really wouldn't have existed if not for you. :)