"Kitty Kiiiitttttyyyy Kkkkiiiiiiittttttttyyyyy"
"Alistair, I swear to the Maker I will set you on fire," I snapped.
"Aw, come on," he laughed, waving his fork at me. "You're telling me you don't think that whole thing was funny?" It hadn't been an easy day. We found the survivors, and any excitement I might have felt over meeting the great mage Wilhelm's son and seeing his home was soon shattered. Wilhelm, it seems had moved on since his time fighting at Maric's side… moved on to demonology.
Of course, no one keeps bound demons in their own home. That would be simply insane. So many things could go wrong. They could escape. They could possess someone. They could linger for years after your death since no one else had the skill to return them to the Fade. They could nearly enthrall your young granddaughter when she stumbles into your laboratory.
It seems Wilhelm hadn't been given the 'why one does not keep demons around the house' lecture in his years at the Circle.
We were able to save his granddaughter, and in gratitude Wilhelm's son, who seemed disturbingly familiar for reasons I couldn't quite pinpoint, gave us the proper word for the golem control rod. Despite this, I didn't have high hopes for the girl's future.
"No," Wynne and I snapped in unison. It seems I wasn't the only one feeling pessimistic.
"Ow," he said, glancing from me to the older mage. "Both of you? Since when does that happen." He shook his head. "I'm sure I'm missing something. I mean, from where I stood we saved the day. And the demon was pretending to be a cat. Funny!"
"For that child to come so close to possession," Wynne said quietly, "and at this young an age… I hate to think what her future holds."
"Insanity?" I guessed. "Or another demon encounter that won't end with her dad giving her a hug. Circle ever gets her she'll get the brand since she's already proven herself to be highly susceptible to temptation." Wynne made a face at me but didn't argue.
"That… doesn't sound like a very nice future," Alistair said. "She was a kid, I mean—"
"Alistair, how old were you when you realized cats couldn't talk? Since I can't remember ever actually thinking they could. I think if one of the mousers in the tower had come over and said hello I would have jumped out of my skin, and froze half the room solid in the process. She had to be nearly ten and accepted the demon without even questioning the existence of a talking cat?"
He sighed. "And here I thought today was a good day."
I couldn't help but offer a mirthless laugh. "By our standards it was."
"I would hope," came a booming voice from across camp, "that It would consider this a good day. You did find me."
"And how could I forget," I shouted back at the golem that had been lurking on the periphery of our camp since we arrived. "Half the world thinks of me as an it, but only you've had the nerve to say it to my face."
Although I wasn't sure, it sounded like the golem muttered "hag" under his breath.
"Fantastic," I sighed. It figured. After killing the darkspawn, killing the demon, saving the helpless villagers… we managed to find the one sarcastic golem in Thedas. The aptly named Shale was sarcastic and, to my great joy, full of dislike for mages.
"I'm going to bed," I finally said. "Wake me when it's my turn for watch."
Zevran followed me into the tent. "North again, I assume," he said, sitting cross-legged on our blankets.
"North again," I agreed. "Don't get too excited, though." He looked at me, waiting for an explanation. "Alistair said this place was pretty high in the mountains. Might be colder there than here."
He sighed. "You know, in Antiva I slept in the nude."
"Really?" I asked. "You mean intentionally?" I tried to imagine that. I found that I couldn't. Every time I had, it was only because I fell asleep before I could pull on my nightdress.
"Yes, it was intentionally," he laughed. "I could even leave the window open to catch the evening breeze."
"Well," I said, "up until recently, I shared a room with about sixty other girls."
"Oh?" Zevran smirked.
"No naked sleeping there."
"Aw. How easily you crush my dreams." He sighed, changing from his armor into nightclothes. "If I slept nude here I fear for what might happen. Some areas do not need frostbite." Stretching out, Zevran sighed. "Well, more frostbite than I already experience by regularly making love to a woman with an affinity for ice spells. That is more than enough exposure to ice for this elf."
"Hey," I said. "I never froze you… there."
"And every time those icy hands find their way into my hair I thank the Maker for that," he said, chuckling as we curled up under the blankets.
I woke out of breath, heart pounding in terror. As the darkspawn from my nightmares receded I could feel a warm hand on my forehead, brushing my hair back. Zevran was whispering something in Antivan.
"Shhh, all is well," he said quietly as I started to wake up.
"Darkspawn," was all I could mutter.
"They are not here," he said. "Only us."
Reality began to sharpen around me. "Maker," I mumbled, rolling over to face him. "That was a bad one."
His arms wrapped around me, Zevran sighed. "It was starting to seem you had managed to escape your nightmares."
"I'm sorry," I replied.
He propped himself up on one elbow, neck at an angle. "Why do you apologize?"
"For waking you," I said. "It can't be easy sleeping next to me."
"On the contrary," he said, "it is very easy sleeping next to you." I smiled at him and he grinned back. "You may be the only thing keeping me from freezing to death in this beastly climate. It is waking next to you that is difficult… mostly since it involves someone screaming in my ear and kicking me." Zevran sat up, stretching. "Ah, the things I do for a pretty face."
I sighed. "Still, I feel bad."
He shook his head. "You spent far too long under control of the Chantry. Only they are so insistent that we all apologize for that which is outside our control."
I found that I couldn't really argue.
"Tell me something," I whispered as we sat on watch that night. It was warm, almost blissfully warm, as we moved north. We were by the fire, on a blanket, only light cloaks over our shoulders.
"The Queen of Antiva has surprisingly large hands," Zevran said.
He chuckled. "You said to tell you something. You did not specify what."
"Come on, be serious," I said. He waited for me to go on, no longer laughing. "These ashes… do you think we'll actually find them?"
Zevran was silent for a long time, pondering that. "Perhaps," he said eventually. "Andraste… well, she was real. It is historical record. As to anything else," he shrugged. "I am religious, but in Antiva I don't think it means quite what it does here. We go to Chantry. We sing the songs and chant with the priests. We celebrate holidays. Actual belief, though… that is not so simple."
"You don't believe in the Maker?"
"No, I do," he said. "As to if he took a human as his bride, and that her very ashes could save a man from the grave… well, that belief does not come so easily." We sat in silence. Eventually Zevran spoke again. "If Andraste was really Bride of the Maker… well, I do not think she would be a very happy one right now." I looked over at him with curiosity. "I have seen priests step over children starving in the gutters. They wear cloth-of-gold while their flock wears rags." He sneered. "I myself have stood on a slave block while they passed, utterly indifferent. Indifferent." I found myself too horrified by that to reply. "Of course," Zevran went on after a moment, "having since learned a good deal more about their treatment of mages, I am more understanding."
"Understanding?" I asked.
"Indeed," he replies. "The Chantry keeps so many slaves themselves, I cannot be shocked the priests did nothing to save the son of an elven whore."
I could only sigh, resting my head on his shoulder. As bad as I thought my life had been… as bad as it actually was, I couldn't imagine it compared to the tortures he had lived through.
"Enough, though," he finally said. "Let us talk of happier things."
"Such as?" I asked.
"Such as… you will not believe me when I tell you what I caught Alistair doing this morning."
My eyes widened. "Oh, this I have to hear. What was it?" I leaned closer. "It wasn't anything dirt-nah, this is Alistair. Who am I kidding?"
Zevran laughed. "I found him by the river. With his shield propped up. Singing and fixing his hair. He was checking his reflection in his shield and…" he started laughing again, unable to finish.
"And?" I said.
"And I know where some of those missing elfroot balms have gone," he said. "I always wondered how his hair stood up so straight… now I know."
"You're kidding me," I said.
"Not at all."
"We need that stuff! For injuries!"
"And our friend Alistair apparently needs it for his hair."
I shook my head and made a mental note to hide the rest away so he couldn't get to it.
"Maggie," Alistair asked the next day as we hiked up a mountain, "have you seen that elfroot balm?"
"The kind for burns?" I asked, playing dumb. "I gave it to Wynne, to keep safe with the rest of our medical supplies."
"Half of it was gone! And we get burned a lot. We can't keep losing that sort of thing, it's important."
He looked ready to argue. I think the look on my face convinced him otherwise.
After a few days of increasingly uncomfortable camping on the mountainside we started to see torches lining the road. "Must be getting close," I mused.
"Looks like there's a guard," Alistair agreed.
A very unfriendly guard, as it turns out. After some tense conversation, we were given permission to purchase supplies in the village shop, and get out.
"Did you hear him?" Leliana asked as we walked into the town, ostensibly to look for this shop. "He mentioned a Revered Father. I've never heard of such a thing."
"Neither have I," I said. "Well, they have them in Tevinter. But something tells me we haven't stumbled on a pocket of Tevinter Chantry followers in the Ferelden mountains."
"They are hiding something," Morrigan said.
"I love these small towns," Zevran mused. "Always something nasty going on behind closed doors."
Wynne signed. "You think that about all doors, no matter where they are."
"If I keep hoping, perhaps some day it will come true!"
I walked ahead, not wanting to involve myself in their bickering. A small house stood not far from us, door hanging open.
Impulsively, I ducked my head inside. "Hello?" I called, hoping someone who wasn't the guard might know where we could find Brother Genitivi. Or not be such a stone-faced liar about it. "No one's home," I said, turning around.
"What," Wynne said, stepping behind me, "is that?"
"Maker's breath!" I said, glancing where she had pointed.
Walking in, I looked at the bloodstained alter hoping to think of a reasonable explanation. I tried to ignore the pull in my veins. It felt like I was standing next to a pool of lyrium. I could almost feel the magic potential crackling around me, and fought to suppress any reaction.
"Food preparation, maybe?" Alistair asked. We all turned to look at him. "Yeah… I didn't think so, either."
"This is not the 'something nasty' I had been hoping for," Zevran said. "I recall, years ago, there were Crows who made blood sacrifices. They claimed it gave them uncanny abilities."
"Well, blood magic will do that," I said. "Ugh, stop!" I said, looking at Dane who had been licking the blood. "Gross." He looked abashed, and stepped away. "So, was someone killed here?" I asked the dog impulsively. His growl was a surprisingly clear answer.
"I can not believe I am about to say this," Morrigan began, "but I find I am in agreement with your dog. That is human blood."
"I agree," I admitted.
"I also know," she went on, "that no one can lose so much blood and live."
"Well fantastic," I sighed.
"Come on," Alistair urged us. "Let's get out of here before whoever made that puddle gets home to find us."
We managed to slip out without bumping into anyone, something I was very relieved about. I didn't even try to steal anything.
"That must be the shop," I said, pointing to a larger building.
We walked in and I sighed.
"I know that smell," Alistair said. "This again?"
"I guess so," I agreed.
Zevran signed. "Do none of these fools know how to dispose of a body? Really, it is quite simple! Burn it, bury it, toss it in a river... anything but stick it in another room and hope the smell goes away!"
We made awkward small talk with the shopkeeper, who felt the need to point out that none of us were from Haven. I would imagine if we were we would have known. "Go, boy," I finally whispered, nudging Dane along. He didn't need any more encouragement to run into the back room. "Blast," I said theatrically. "Come back here, Dane!" Chasing after him, I ignored the shopkeeper's protests. Unsurprisingly, there was a body in the back room.
Not long after I returned to the others, there was a body in the front room as well.
"This one's a Redcliffe knight," I said. Alistair looked sad. "We must be getting close to something."
"But what?" Leliana asked.
"No idea," I admitted. "Probably something pretty good, though, with the way they're going nuts trying to keep people away." I was already sifting through everything I could, shoving valuables into my pack. "Maker above," I gasped as I poked around behind the counter. "Look at all this gold!"
That alone would have been enough to put a spring in my step for the rest of the day. Moments later, though, I found something even better. "What's that?" Alistair asked, looking over my shoulder. "Boots?"
"Yep," I said, turning them over. The maker's mark on the bottom was in an unfamiliar language. I could only make out one word, 'Rialto.'
"Why are you so happy to find men's boots?" Alistair asked. He reached out to touch them and gasped. "All right, now I wish my feet were smaller," he admitted. "That is the softest leather I have ever felt."
"They're pretty nice," I agreed.
"They're too big for you," he said. "I've seen your feet."
I looked at him and laughed. My feet were, in fact, the first part of me Alistair had ever seen. "They're not for me," I said, glancing over my shoulder.
"Aw," he said, chuckling. "You looted him a present. How romantic!"
"Quiet you," I said, laughing despite myself as I hid the boots at the bottom of my pack before Zevran could notice them.
Pockets bulging, we left the shop, in search of the mysterious 'Revered Father.'