This story is a sequel to, and a direct continuation of, 'The Enemy Within'. If you haven't read it, you may find it helpful to read at least the final chapter to give you some background.
To those of you who have read it, the first couple of chapters of this story are going to be a little less angsty and dramatic; I hope they won't seem like an anti-climax. I ask you to bear with me, and normal service will be resumed shortly ;)
A huge thanks, as always, to Jen for rescuing my mangled sentences, and for staying up so late to do so :)
Nathaniel caught Gabby just as her legs gave way. The arrest warrant fluttered to the ground; the Templars, taken aback by her reaction, stepped away. Varel and Anders, along with some of the Keep staff, ran to Nathaniel's side, taking Gabby from him.
"Get her upstairs!" Varel yelled.
Anders nodded to one of the Keep's soldiers, and the two of them supported Gabby as they took her up to her room. "Keep your mouth shut!" Anders whispered to Nathaniel as they passed him.
"Murder?" Varel said sternly to Ser Ambrose. "That is a serious charge, Ser. What evidence have you of Warden Howe's involvement?"
"There is compelling evidence connecting Howe with the crime," Ser Ambrose replied. "That evidence will be presented upon our return to the Circle Tower."
"You don't intend to take him to Denerim, then?" Varel asked.
"No, Ser," Ambrose replied. "He has Knight-Commander Smyth to thank for that. He insisted that Howe be brought to the Tower, where he will receive fair and equitable treatment while the investigation is carried out."
Nathaniel stepped forward. "I am Nathaniel Howe, Ser," he said quietly. "What happened to Cullen? What is this evidence you speak of?"
"That will be revealed in time," Ser Ambrose said coolly. "Come willingly, Ser, and you will be treated fairly. You have my word."
"I have nothing to hide," Nathaniel declared. "I will go willingly. May I pack some belongings, first?" he requested.
Ambrose grunted and nodded at two of his Knights. "Go with him," he ordered. The Templars gestured for Nathaniel to lead the way, and the three of them disappeared down the corridor.
"Wait," Varel said to Ser Ambrose. "He's not going alone. I want someone to accompany him. Two of our mages have been assigned to the Circle Tower to reside as instructors; they can go with him."
"Out of the question," Ambrose began, shaking his head dismissively. "Howe may have had an accomplice, for all we know."
"The only 'accomplice' he would have had, Ser, was the Warden-Commander!" Varel responded angrily. "Do you really think that she, an elven mage, would be capable of killing a Templar?"
"Of course not!" Ambrose huffed. "But we cannot allow an ally or potential accomplice to accompany Howe."
"Then we have a problem, Ser," Varel said quietly, moving his hand to the hilt of his sword; several other men in the room followed suit, and the two remaining Templars behind Ser Ambrose shifted nervously. "Either the mages go with him, or he stays here," Varel insisted. "The choice is yours."
Oghren appeared at Varel's side and grunted at Ser Ambrose as he wielded his huge axe. "Are we gonna have a problem, tin can?" he taunted as he rapped Ambrose's breastplate with his fist. "I sure hope so," he added with a grim smile as he twirled his weapon in his hands. "My baby ain't seen action for a long time, and I miss cleaning the gore off of her."
Ser Ambrose regarded Oghren for a moment, and, seeing the hungry gleam in his eyes, decided he would rather return to the Circle Tower with his legs attached to his body. "Alright!" he snapped, holding his hands up. "They can come."
"You will have to wait until they are packed," said Varel. "You may sit, if you wish," he offered, gesturing toward the dining table. "Let us be civil."
"We will stand, if it is all the same to you," Ser Ambrose sniffed.
"Siddown!" Oghren growled. "Where we can keep an eye on you!"
"I would advise the mage-killers to obey its command," a dispassionate voice boomed from a corner of the room. "It has an unhealthy obsession with dismemberment."
The Templars nearly fell over each other as they set eyes on Shale, and dutifully sat down at the far end of the table.
"Does it see?" Shale said to Oghren, "all that is needed is a little friendly persuasion."
"Alright, I'll see to her now," Anders said to the Keep soldier after they had helped Gabby to her room. "Thanks, mate," he said with a grim smile. The soldier nodded and departed, leaving the door slightly ajar.
Gabby sat slumped on her bed; her head was hung low and her hands lay limply in her lap. Anders, at a loss as to what to say, sat next to her and took one of her hands in his. He watched her carefully. Occasionally, her body twitched, as though she was hiccupping; her mouth opened a few times as though she intended to speak, but no sound came out.
Varel appeared outside the door and stood a respectful distance away. Anders looked up at him, and then stared down at the floor. "Anders…" Gabby croaked.
"Yes, sweetheart?" he asked gently.
Gabby took a deep, shaky breath, as though she would need every ounce of her strength to speak. "Put me to sleep," she mumbled.
"Alright," Anders replied, nodding in understanding. He stood up and placed one arm across her shoulders; the other under her knees, and swivelled her into a lying position, so she lay facing the wall. Her face crumpled and turned red as she desperately fought back tears. "Anders," she cried, grabbing his arm. "Don't let them take Nate before I wake up!"
"I won't, I promise," he whispered, stroking her hair. "Ready?"
Gabby nodded and closed her eyes. Thin tendrils of white light appeared around her, floated upwards and dissipated, and her body was momentarily bathed in a white glow. Her head lolled back and her mouth fell open as she lost consciousness.
"Come in, Varel," Anders said quietly.
Varel entered and sighed heavily as he closed the door. "Why have you put her to sleep?" he whispered.
"I think she may try to look for him in the Fade," Anders replied, then shrugged his shoulders.
"You mean Knight-Commander Cullen?" Varel asked, to which Anders nodded. "Were they well-acquainted, then?"
Anders looked at Varel sadly. "They were…" he sighed, "…close."
"Oh," Varel said in surprise. "I had no idea," he said quietly. "Could he be…?"
"It's not his," Anders replied, shaking his head. "It's definitely the King's."
Varel looked at Gabby with pity in his eyes. "Do you think she will be able to find Cullen?" he asked.
Anders groaned. "I don't fancy her chances, to be honest," he said glumly. "The Fade is infinite, and is always shifting…changing," he explained. "If the Templars suspect Nate, then Cullen must have died, well…a week ago. He may be out of her reach, by now."
"Do you think she wants to ask him what happened? How he died?" Varel asked.
"I doubt it," Anders replied. "When someone passes over into the Fade – permanently, I mean – supposedly they retain very little knowledge of their former life," he explained. "With each day that passes, their memory fades," he continued. "Even if Gabby did find him, which is unlikely, I doubt he'd even remember her. I think she just wants to know he's alright, you know?"
Varel clasped his chin and watched as Gabby twitched and mumbled in her sleep. "Is there nothing you can do to help her, Anders?" he asked.
Anders shook his head. "The only way Gabby would have any chance of finding him would be if he left a marker of some kind," he replied. "Now, a mage would know how to do that, but…a Templar?" he shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know, Varel," he said, looking up at the older man. "I don't know everything about the Fade, and there may be things that one only learns upon actually dying."
Gabby walked along the featureless, barren landscape she found herself in, studying her surroundings. Several routes were available to her; each of them with an infinite number of ways branching off of them. "Hello?" she called, her voice falling flat against the penetrating silence. There was no breeze to carry her voice; no features or structures for the sound to bounce off.
She sighed and turned up the nearest available path, walking steadily uphill until she reached a dead end. She was just about to turn back, when a bright light appeared before her, emanating from the ground. She shielded her eyes until it subsided; in front of her stood a white pedestal, covered in silver runes.
She took a step back and frowned. The last time she had seen anything like this was in the Sloth Demon's domain. She crouched down and examined the runes; they were unfamiliar and meant nothing to her. Hesitating for a moment, she turned back the way she had come, and headed up the next available path. A light appeared in front of her once again, and another pedestal materialised; seemingly identical to the first.
She tried a third path, and a fourth; both yielding the same result. She sat on a rocky ledge and pondered her situation for a moment. She was hesitant to touch the pedestals, but on the other hand, they appeared to be her only way out, unless she waited until she woke up. Anders had put her into a deep sleep, and she would be there for at least a few hours. Rising to her feet, she cautiously approached the pedestal. She held her breath as she reached out toward it, and closed her eyes again as she was temporarily blinded by white light.
She blinked several times and shielded her eyes; it was not the white light that blinded her, however, but the sun. As her eyes adjusted, she looked around and found herself in a field of knee-high golden barley that seemed to stretch infinitely away in all directions. As the sun disappeared behind a cloud, she looked upward and gasped in awe, having never before seen a blue sky in the Fade.
Her eyes moved downwards and surveyed the landscape. A small cottage stood a few hundred feet away from her; plumes of smoke billowed from its chimney, and an axe stood next to a pile of freshly-chopped wood just outside. Apple and cherry trees were dotted around, and tufts of pink and white cherry blossom danced in the air, carried on the breeze.
A soft snorting sound caught her attention, and, looking to her left, she was delighted to see wild horses frolicking and playing in the distance. She heard the sound of dogs barking, and of soft laughter, just on the periphery of hearing. She closed her eyes and let the breeze caress her face, taking a deep, cleansing breath. As she opened her eyes, she realised she was smiling. Unlike so many other parts of the Fade she had traversed before, there was nothing sinister or unsettling about this place; it was wholesome, pure, and full of joy.
"I knew you'd come," a familiar voice spoke from behind her.
Gabby closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, then slowly turned around.
In front of a huge oak tree stood Cullen, dressed in a simple white tunic and wheat-coloured breeches. They walked cautiously towards one another, taking each other in. He seemed younger than the last time she'd seen him. His skin, though pale as it always was, glowed with a healthy pink tint; the deep frown lines on his forehead and between his eyes were gone, and his warm amber eyes gently glowed like the embers of a dying fire. His hair was a little longer, and a halo of soft auburn curls framed his face. Everything about him was softened, less severe.
"Do-do you remember me?" she asked hesitantly.
His eyes crinkled slightly as he studied her face carefully. "Sunny…?" he guessed incorrectly, and shook his head. "No, that's not right…wait…Samsara?"
"Surana," Gabby replied with a smile.
"Surana…" Cullen repeated to himself. "Yes…yes, Surana!" he said triumphantly, and then studied her again. "That's not your first name, though, is it?" he asked. Gabby shook her head. Cullen thought for several moments, a small crease forming between his eyes. He finally looked at her, a proud smile on his face. "Gabby," he said confidently.
"You do remember me!" she exclaimed.
"No," he replied uncertainly. "I-I'm not sure…it's like trying to remember a dream. But you do seem very familiar to me," he said softly. "I'm just not sure how, that's all."
"We're friends, Cullen," she replied, choosing her words cautiously. There were certain things she didn't want him to remember, and resolved to be careful what she told him.
"Yes, you do seem the friendly sort," he said with a shy grin. Gabby's stomach fluttered. This was the old Cullen; the man she had fallen in love with so long ago. She ventured a glance at his arms; they were covered in fine, golden hair and freckles. There was not a single scar to be seen.
"Cullen," she asked hesitantly, "do you remember how you came to be here?"
He shook his head. "That is one thing I cannot remember, no matter how hard I try. The first thing I remember is finding myself here, by this tree," he recalled. "Then I realised that someone may come looking for me, and that I needed to leave something for them to find me by," he said with a shrug of his shoulders. "Somehow, I knew what to do."
"Did you leave the pedestals for me?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied. "I knew that someone would be coming, but couldn't remember who," he said sheepishly. "Now that I've seen you, I know you were the one."
"Can I use them again?" she asked, "if I wanted to return? If…you wanted me to return, that is," she added shyly.
"Yes, they will always be there for you," he answered, his face brightening. "And I would very much like for you to return."
"I will return later, if that's alright, when I go to sleep," she ventured. "I have to go for the time being."
"Yes," he replied. "Return later, and I will show you around my domain."
"I look forward to it," she said with a hitch in her voice. "Farewell, for now."
"Farewell…Gabby," he answered with a warm smile. "Until later."
Anders remained with Gabby after Varel had left to stall the Templars' departure. He became aware that she had stilled, and was no longer twitching or murmuring to herself; signifying that she had left the Fade. He laid a hand on her shoulder and reversed the sleep spell; she groaned softly and stirred.
"Gabby," he whispered, gently shaking her by the shoulder.
Her eyes opened and she slowly sat up, with a little help from Anders. "Any luck?" he asked.
"I found him, Anders," she said softly, as her eyes brimmed with tears.
"Really?" Anders gasped in awe. "But, how?"
"He left a marker for me," she replied, wiping her eyes.
"What a clever little biscuit he is!" Anders said with a grin, and planted a firm kiss on her temple. "Did he remember you?" he asked.
Gabby shook her head softly. "He remembered my name, with a little help," she replied, "and said I seemed familiar to him, but…"
"But what?" Anders prompted.
"He…he doesn't remember anything else, Anders," she said as her voice wavered. "He doesn't remember…" her voice failed and her body shook with silent sobs.
"Oh, Gabby…" Anders said sadly, pulling her close. "I'm so sorry."
"No, you don't understand," Gabby said unsteadily. "He doesn't remember Uldred, or the demon, or any of that…he doesn't even remember being a Templar," she explained. "He's free of it, Anders. He can start over. I'm happy for him," she said as she dissolved into tears, and laid her head on Anders' shoulder.
"That's wonderful, Gabs," Anders said genuinely, and they sat together on the bed for a little while, until Gabby had gathered herself.
"Nate…is he alright?" Gabby asked suddenly.
Anders nodded his head. "He's still here," he reassured her. "Varel won't let the Templars leave until everyone is ready, and that is taking a long time. Listen," Anders said quietly. "The Templars are going to take him back to the Tower, to help with their investigation."
"No!" she cried, standing up. "They think he killed Cullen! They'll take him to Denerim!"
"No," Anders replied, shaking his head. "Varel told me that the new Knight-Commander wanted him to go back to the Tower. Apparently Nate was satisfied with that."
"The new Knight-Commander?" she asked. "Do you mean Smyth?"
"Varel didn't mention his name," Anders replied, "but he said Nate trusts him."
"It must be Smyth," Gabby surmised. "He's a good man. I think Nate will be treated fairly."
Anders looked at her dubiously, and then shrugged his shoulders. "Varel insisted that Chauncey and Padraig go back with him, so he won't be alone," he told her. "He obviously doesn't trust those bastards any more than I do."
"Some of those bastards are your fellow Wardens, now, Anders," she chided.
"Not yet, they're not," he said sourly.
"Anders, do you really think I would have recruited arsehole Templars?" she asked, sitting back down on the bed. "They're all decent men."
Anders looked at her doubtfully. "If you say so," he mumbled. "It'll just take a bit of getting used to, that's all."
"You get on with everyone, Anders," Gabby said with a soft smile. "You didn't like Nate at first, remember?"
"I don't like him now," he countered.
"You don't fool me," Gabby replied. "You're like brothers, and you argue just as brothers do." Anders glanced at her and grinned wryly.
The two of them sat quietly for a few moments. "Gabs," Anders said after a while, "do you have any idea who would have…you know…Cullen?"
She shook her head sadly. "It could have been anyone," she said quietly. "He made a lot of enemies when he…wasn't himself," she added. "It wasn't Nate, though," she said firmly, "that much I do know. He didn't particularly like Cullen, but he wouldn't do that."
"Then why do they suspect him?" Anders asked.
"One of Nate's daggers went missing before we left," she replied. "I can't help thinking it's something to do with that."
"You think someone tried to frame him?" Anders asked incredulously.
Gabby stood up again and started pacing the room. "Ambrose…" she mumbled. "I think I bumped into him while I was at the Tower. Seems very 'by the book', but I don't know him, or any of the other Templars he brought with him," she said to herself, and then glanced at Anders. "I want someone else to go with them," she said.
"Do you think Ambrose may have had something to do with it?" Anders asked.
"I'm not saying that," she replied, "but I'm not taking any chances. I want a non-magi going with them. I know Nate can handle himself, but I think even he would struggle against five Templars if they tried any funny business, and Chauncey and Padraig would be no help to him in that case."
"That's good thinking, boss," Anders replied. "Who were you thinking of?"
"Varel," she replied. "I can't think of anyone I'd rather have in my corner, and he can handle himself in a fight, as well."
"But don't the two of you have tons of work to do?" Anders asked.
"Nate comes first," she replied. "Besides, you're soon to become the Arl of Amaranthine. What better way for you to learn than to be thrown in at the deep end?"
Anders blanched. "Arl…of Amaranthine?" he gasped. "I…hadn't thought of that…"
"Oh, how sweet," she said with a soft smile. "You're not marrying me for the power, then."
"Oh, Maker," Anders groaned.
"Anders," she said, taking a seat next to him, "are you sure about this? About us getting married, I mean? I know what you're like for making rash decisions then regretting them later."
"Of course I'm sure," he reassured her.
"But this is not you deciding to drink an extra bottle of wine, then regretting it the following day," Gabby said earnestly. "This is…big, Anders. Maybe the biggest decision you'll ever make in your life. I just don't want to think you can't back out, because you can."
"I'm not going to back out, Gabs," he replied. "This is me doing a favour for a friend. Maker knows, you've done enough for me."
"I know, Anders, and I can't tell you how grateful I am," she said sincerely, "but I want you to know, if you change your mind, that's fine."
Anders eyes narrowed a little and he smiled lopsidedly. "Is this your way of telling me you want to back out?" he asked.
"No! Absolutely not," Gabby insisted. "I…well, I have to get married, don't I?" she said softly, "and who better to marry than one of my best friends?"
"But are you alright with this?" Anders asked carefully. "With you and Cullen, I mean…now that you've found him, the two of you may pick up from where you left off."
"I really can't say what will happen with Cullen," she murmured quietly. "He doesn't really know me anymore, does he? And besides, you and I are not marrying for romantic reasons, are we?"
"No, definitely not," Anders replied emphatically. "This is just a friend doing another friend a favour. So you don't need to feel guilty about anything." He paused for a moment, and then shook his head. "No," he repeated. "Definitely not for romantic reasons."
Gabby smiled softly at him, and then rose from the bed. "Come on," she said to Anders, holding out her hand. "I'm going to need my finest powers of persuasion to convince Varel to go with Nate and leave the two of us in charge. I'll need my charming friend Anders for this."
The easily-flattered mage took her hand and grinned widely as he stood up. "Well, if I'm going to be Arl," he said slyly, "I can just order Varel to go, can't I?"
"You're not Arl yet, you know," she said with a smile, "and I've never ordered Varel to do anything. He's the one who truly runs this Arling, not me; never be in any doubt about that."
"How are you planning to persuade him, then?" Anders asked as they exited the room.
"Oh, I don't know," she said with a shrug. "Just put on my puppy-dog eyes and hope for the best, I suppose. That won't be too hard with the way I feel at the moment," she added shakily.
Anders wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "And have the puppy-dog eyes ever worked on Varel before?" he asked.
"Never," she said firmly. "Wish me luck."
"Good luck," he whispered as they headed downstairs.