Author's Notes: Dear Readers, this fic is a sequel to 'Dragon Age: The Hunt'. While that tale is not necessary reading in order to enjoy this one, The Kill will have some references to events and characters from its predecessor, and certain companions from the game will remain affected by what happened in the first story.
The Kill will also be making references to the City Elf Origin, which in this setting Duncan was not present for, so if anything in that game scenario disturbed you then be warned there will eventually be mention of it here.
I recommend 'Atlantis' by Two Steps From Hell as 'trailer music' for The Kill. You can find it on Youtube. ;)
Finally, to those who came along on The Hunt...welcome back.
Zevran dashed between the night-darkened trees towards the noises of clashing steel and raised voices.
A short distance away on his right there was an elven shadow with a bow keeping easy pace, and on his left a human with twin swords. The three of them had been coming in from the east to attempt an unseen flank against a band of darkspawn, an attack that should have coincided with a more direct assault planned by the Warden Commander, but by the sounds of things something had gone wrong.
Boots pounded against damp soil and fallen leaves, all colour muted in the darkness until, from up ahead, there was a ghastly roar followed by a brilliant golden light. Zevran cleared the last tree just in time to see one of two hurlock emissaries with its arms outstretched towards the Commander, flames jetting from its fingertips. Asleena had one arm upraised and her helmeted head turned away, but was still moving towards the monster as the fire danced around her dragonbone armour. Two other darkspawn that had been caught in the blaze were writhing on the leaf-strewn ground behind her.
The colder, starker flash of lightning illuminated the clearing as the second emissary finished a spell of its own, sending crackling energy lancing between bodies to the sound of pained shouts, but then it flew backwards as Alistair leapt and slammed Duncan's shield into its body. He was forced away from a killing blow as four darkspawn archers targeted him with their bows.
"Shield the civilians!" Asleena shouted, still surrounded by flames, and it was only then that Zevran noticed the cowering trio of peasants crouched to one side, currently being protected by a sword-wielding elven woman who was aglow with magic. Sindel's face was a mask of fury as she employed her Arcane Warrior training to hold two genlocks at bay with spell and blade, and Alistair was quickly beside her as he used shield and body to block the huddled people from wayward arrows.
Zevran glanced quickly at his two companions. The elf, Galahan, was already nocking an arrow to his bowstring and taking aim at the emissary Alistair had knocked down. The human, Xai, sped straight for the cluster of archers and impaled two from behind before they even knew he was there.
Zevran darted around the edge of the clearing, angling for the emissary attacking Asleena and avoiding notice until he could come up behind it. His sword slid from its scabbard across his back, then smoothly between the hurlock's ribs and out its chest. The beast arched backwards with a gurgle at the blow, and Zevran, feeling the long-familiar death-quiver travelling from his blade to tremble up his arm, indulged himself with a satisfied grin.
That is how it is done.
A second later there was a swish of heavy metal and the emissary's head parted company with its shoulders. Foul-smelling blood fountained from the stump, a good potion of it splattering straight into Zevran's hair.
The assassin let his victim slide to the ground with a sigh and gave Asleena a reproachful look. "Thank you ever so much," he said dryly, running a couple of fingers over his sullied blond locks.
"Oh, I've given you an excuse to tumble another servant in the bathtub, have I?" she riposted with a slight smirk and arched brow visible behind the nose guard of her helm. "Is this where I'm meant to apologise?"
Zevran laughed. "There are still a fair few darkspawn as yet unslain," he pointed out. "Be sure to properly dirty me up, my Grey Warden."
Without the support of their spellcasters, the remaining darkspawn did not take long to dispatch between the combined force of five Grey Wardens and a former Antivan Crow. The clearing and its occupants were liberally soaked in blood by the time it was all over, but the fight had Zevran in high spirits. He'd escaped without a wound too, which was always a nice boost to his pride.
Wiping his blades clean, he ambled over to where Asleena was talking quietly to Galahan.
"…didn't have much choice but to follow her when she ran ahead," the Warden Commander was saying, keeping her voice low as she nodded to where Sindel, with Alistair's aid, was tending to the civilians the darkspawn had captured. "There was no harm this time, but if you, Zevran and Xai hadn't been coming in to back us up things would have turned nasty very quickly."
"Do you want me to talk to her about it?" the Dalish hunter replied.
Asleena sighed and leaned on her sword Yusaris. "Her reaction is perfectly understandable. Had the darkspawn actually been doing anything to them I'm positive I'd have charged just as quickly…but they weren't. Just seeing them tied up provoked her. Talk to her about it if you like, she is your bonded, but I'll have to bring it up to her too once we get back to Highever." Asleena grimaced. "I'm her commander."
Galahan nodded, shouldered his bow and crossed the clearing to his wife. Zevran glanced at Asleena, who was counting darkspawn corpses under her breath. Xai was making a circuit of the bodies, double-checking to ensure they were all dead.
"I thought the Blight ended a year ago," Zevran remarked once Asleena had finished her tally and shaken her head.
"It did," she muttered, pulling off her helmet. She ran a hand through her dark, sweaty hair. "This makes no sense, Zev. They should be retreating to the Deep Roads, not pushing towards the coast, but every month their presence just increases. It's too organised."
"Another archdemon?" he suggested.
She shook her head again, firmly this time. "No…of that we're sure of."
"No dreams," Alistair put in, coming up to join them as he slung his shield across his back.
"I might have to go to Denerim or Amaranthine to get some answers," Asleena said, with noticeable reluctance. Alistair, too, looked unhappy at the suggestion. "We can discuss it when we return to the castle, but we all knew I'd have to go eventually."
Zevran was well aware that Alistair had no desire to visit Denerim, and some of his reasons were actually good ones. Grinning, the assassin threw a companionable arm around the former Templar's armoured shoulder and said, "Take heart, my friend! I can accompany your fair lady to Ferelden's capital, and I swear to you right here that I will allow no trouble to befall her."
"Zevran," Alistair said with marked patience, "you are trouble."
"But I will not befall her." Zevran winked at Asleena, who rolled her eyes, folded her arms and regarded both men with commingled irritation and amusement.
"I could order you to stay here," she told him.
"Truly?" the Antivan murmured, still smiling. "I do so adore a woman who gives orders. What say you, my good friend Alistair? Do you not love it when she gives you orders?"
"Er. Sometimes? I guess?"
"Only sometimes? Why, just the other evening I happened to be passing by the room you two share, and I heard her ordering you to press your—"
"Woah!" Alistair blushed to the roots of his hair, hastily disentangling himself from the assassin's half-embrace while Asleena made a sound that was halfway between choking and laughter. "That stuff's personal!"
"You did seem to be quite enjoying it as I recall, yes, but next time might I suggest flexing your—"
"That is so it," Alistair interrupted, rounding on Asleena. "I'm going to talk to your brother when we get back to the castle. We're getting a thicker door. A much thicker door."
He stalked off towards Galahan and Sindel, muttering to himself and leaving Asleena to fix the grinning Zevran with a reproving look that didn't quite hide her smile.
"He's right, you know," she said. "You're trouble."
"One of my many fine qualities," he agreed with a florid bow. "So, shall I be accompanying you to Denerim? I must admit I am interested to see the big city again after so many months."
"The Crows might have re-established a cell there since the siege."
"And if they try anything, we will kill them quite messily, no? Besides, perhaps a change of scenery is in order. I have rather missed the excitement of travelling and getting tangled up in villainous plots."
She smiled at that. "We'll talk it over at the castle. We should get these people to safety and healing first."
If any healing will help them.
The Warden Commander left those words unspoken, but Zevran knew she thought them every time they came across a situation such as this. He watched her go over to Sindel and Alistair before he himself went to help Galahan drag the corpses into a pile for burning.
Sometimes the darkspawn captives hadn't been taken or tainted. Sometimes they were broken beyond saving. Frequently, all that could be done for them was to kill them. It was an act of mercy in Zevran's eyes, a release from a slow and painful descent into inevitable madness, but Asleena, Alistair and Sindel took every such case hard. Galahan didn't seem to mind it so much, or perhaps he merely hid it well. And as for Xai Merras…
Zevran glanced to where the former master Crow was standing watch, blades still unsheathed and dripping blood.
The first time they had encountered darkspawn with prisoners, several months ago, they had found a young elven man who was showing all the signs of becoming a ghoul. Xai had offered to do the deed when Asleena's sword had wavered, but as soon as the words had left his lips the Warden Commander had acted, swift and fatal, the first of many tainted innocents to die by her blade because she was incapable of ordering another to do such a thing on her behalf.
Xai still knew how to make the kill without wielding a weapon.
Later that night, a fire was blazing in the gigantic hearth of Castle Cousland's entrance hall and the companions stood or sat at varying definitions of 'at ease' in the comfortable glow of warmth. For Zevran, this amounted to lounging back in a velvet-upholstered chair with one leg hooked casually over a carved wooden arm, a posture that showed off a decent portion of tanned, lithely-muscled calf and thigh to anyone who cared look his way.
Not that living in luxury for the past several months had made him complacent. He kept an eye on the doors leading into the hall as well as glancing to the high ceilings every so often. The Crows had never attempted anything while he'd been here (he suspected the guild did not dare any sort of attack on Asleena's home after what had happened with Rendon Howe), and he had made no small efforts of his own to identify weak points in the keep, blind areas where the household guard didn't look, and generally assist in the security of the castle. This had earned him the gratitude of Teyrn Fergus, an actual income, and a certain level of self-satisfaction that any assassins who came looking to fulfil a contract at Castle Cousland would be in for all sorts of unpleasant surprises.
Otherwise, when he wasn't relaxing or enjoying the pleasures Highever had to offer, Zevran had made himself useful training both the household guard and the Grey Warden recruits—although the latter had been limited to Galahan and Sindel. Xai Merras tended to smirk at the notion that Zevran could teach him a single useful move he didn't already know, and deigned to spar only at Asleena's request.
Thought of the master assassin again caused Zevran to cast his eyes in the man's direction. Xai was standing in half-shadow by the fireplace and listening intently to something Asleena was saying to him. She was the only person the man took orders from without question and, as far as Zevran was aware, the only person he openly spoke with. Oh, he would talk to anyone, but personal questions were deflected or answered vaguely unless one happened to be the Warden Commander. Even Galahan, who had a talent for drawing people out and learning what drove them, admitted he remained in the dark where Xai was concerned. The master assassin knew how to hide, and whatever confidences he shared with Asleena were kept private. All she had revealed was that Xai considered it risky to allow Zevran's presence in Highever, believing it would sooner or later attract Crows and possibly result in collateral damage.
Asleena had accepted her recruit's position, told him in no uncertain terms that Zevran would only be leaving when he chose to, then ordered that if Zevran was ever in significant danger then Xai was to defend his life with as much zeal as he would Asleena's.
Personally, Zevran hoped he would never have to thank Xai for saving his life.
One of the doors opened and Teyrn Fergus stepped into the hall, flanked by two guards. Those who were sitting made to rise, but the young lord waved them all back into their seats.
"It's too late to bother with formalities, my friends," he said with a tired smile, then glanced to his sister. "What's this all about?"
"The darkspawn threat isn't easing, Fergus," she replied bluntly. "If anything, it's getting worse. I want to ride for Denerim and then Amaranthine to work out what's going on. Some of the more senior Grey Wardens have to know something."
Fergus instantly looked concerned. "You're not taking everyone with you, are you?"
"And leave Highever unprotected?" Asleena grinned. "You know me better than that. No, that's what I wanted to talk about. I suggest that Alistair remains here with Galahan and Sindel to assist."
"I still think leaving me in charge is a bad idea," Alistair pointed out. "But…I guess I have two good friends to back me up, or kick me if I do something stupid." The ex-Templar looked to the Dalish couple with a wry smile. "You will let me know if I forget to put my pants on the right way around, won't you?"
"You're not going with Asleena?" Fergus asked, looking surprised.
"We talked about it," Alistair admitted. "The thing is…when someone attempts a coup on the throne in your name, it makes things really awkward when you want to pay a friendly visit to court. I'm even less popular in Ferelden now than I was a year ago."
Only ten days past the palace at Denerim had been infiltrated and armed men and women had made a bold attempt to seize the crown from Anora in the name of 'King Alistair Theirin'. There had been no proof of Alistair's involvement, but enough people had died in the bloodbath to stir ill will.
"I'm going to talk to Anora about that," Asleena promised. "I'll get your name cleared. If both Fergus and I can vouch for you, that should prevent official repercussions."
Fergus nodded. "Everyone in Highever is behind you in this, Alistair," he said. "You're out there almost every day helping to fight the darkspawn. I'll vouch for you, if necessary."
Asleena said, "As for me going to Denerim, I'll take Ferrix if he's healed by tomorrow morning."
Ferrix, Asleena's mabari warhound, had finally fallen afoul of the blight sickness…naturally several months after the end of the Blight. Remedies existed for the magically-bred hounds, however, and he was slowly recovering. Zevran had heard that surviving the infection would even grant the dog an immunity from becoming ill a second time.
"Zevran has also offered to come along," Asleena continued, "and Xai will be riding with us."
The two former Crows exchanged a look, the human with a faint smile, the elf with a resigned shake of his head.
"Marvellous," Zevran said sourly.