"Alim!" Alistair cried out a warning as the tunnel began to collapse.
The mage knew he couldn't make it to Alistair, so he jumped backwards to avoid being crushed by the falling debris. He stumbled as he landed, and would have fallen, but someone caught and steadied him. Alim glanced back and saw Zevran, who nodded and turned to regard the blocked passage.
"This does not look good," he muttered, "Do you know any spells that could move this?"
Alim shook his head, "And even if I did, there is no guarantee that it wouldn't cause an even greater portion of the tunnel to break."
Zevran clicked his tongue, "I do not like the idea of being trapped in the deep roads, Warden."
Alim ignored him and approached the wall of boulders, "Alistair? Can you hear me?" He yelled.
A faint 'yes' found it's way through the mess.
"Stay there for as long as you can. Zevran and I are going to try and find a way back to you."
"Be careful," Alistair's warning was almost too quiet to understand.
"Oh, don't worry. I can sense darkspawn, we'll find a way past them."
"It's not the darkspawn I'm worried about," Alistair sounded grumpy.
The mage ignored him and turned his back to the blockage, "Quickly, Zevran. I do not cherish the thought of being alone with the darkspawn."
He walked quickly, keeping his hand against the left side of the tunnel - except when grime and unknown substances were present. The antivan elf walked in the shadows behind him, never straying far from the Warden. Alim occasionally glanced back at the assassin, but never for long. Zevran grew curious, but knew better than to distract the Warden with his questions. Before long they reached a fork in the tunnel, and Alim stopped. Zevran moved toward the left branch, but Alim held out an arm to stop him. The mage shook his head and nodded towards the other tunnel.
Zevran whispered a protest, "This one seems more likely to take us back to Alistair and Oghren."
Alim glared, "It's also going to lead us into a few dozen darkspawn. We'll find another way."
He turned and started down the right fork. Zevran followed, and noted with relief that the Warden was growing calmer with every step. He was bored, and felt relatively safe, so he allowed his curiosity to get the better of him.
"I've a question, if I may."
Alim kept walking, "You may."
"Why exactly am I down here? Not that I don't have my uses, but surely Sten or Morrigan would have skills more suited to dealing with large numbers of enemies."
Alim turned and eyed Zevran from head to toe before returning his focus to the path ahead. The male elf smirked as he answered, "You're here for the same reason I let you live after you failed to assassinate me."
"And what reason is that, exactly?"
Alim pondered his answer, "May I ask you a question, before I explain?"
"Well ... maybe I shouldn't bring it up, in case you actually haven't thought of it yet."
"Did you ever think to kill me now? After the wall collapsed? It would have been easy, and you could have convinced Alistair that the darkspawn had done it. How do the crows know that you have failed, and that gaining my trust and betraying me wasn't your plan to begin with?"
Zevran looked insulted, "Of course I thought about it, but what manner of idiot do you take me for?"
"What do you mean?"
Zevran scoffed, "Trapped alone in darkspawn infested caverns? What better way to ensure my death than to kill the Gray Warden who can sense them coming?"
Alim nodded, "Point taken."
"Besides, as cold and harsh as Ferelden is, this is my first taste of true freedom. I'm not about to give that up for the sake of rejoining the crows."
"This isn't true freedom, Zev. You're bound to me, remember?"
"Ah yes, our bargain," Zevran flashed half a smile, "I don't suppose you would let me out of it."
"Let you go? Never," Alim smirked, "I'm never letting you out of my sight again."
"Damn," Zevran pretended to be angry.
"Though I suppose ..." Alim grew serious for a moment, "I wouldn't kill you over it, so if your desire to leave was so great."
"Worry not, my friend," Zevran consoled, "I intend to remain at your side, and annoy Alistair, for the rest of your quest. Now, since I answered your question ..." Zevran waited.
Alim sighed, "I didn't choose to be here, Zevran." he sighed, "The wardens were my only choice to escape the punishment for helping a blood mage - death, the rite of tranquility, solitary confinement for the rest of my life. Going to Ostager seemed a better option than any of those three." He pressed forward, pushing through a dense spider web and peering cautiously around a corner.
"And?" Zevran pushed for him to continue.
Alim frowned, "After Ostagar, being forced on this insane epic quest to save the world from an ancient evil ... I never wanted this. And ... there are so many eyesores to be found ... darkspawn, walking corpses, demons and abominations, dragons, werewolves, giant spiders ... dwarves," a grimace crossed his face as he mentioned the last one, prompting an amused snort from Zevran, "when I saw you, I couldn't kill you. I brought you along because I wanted candy."
Zevran grinned smugly, though he was surprised, "You mean, I'm here because I'm pretty?"
Alim blushed, "Indeed. You don't mind, do you? You've certainly commented ..."
Zevran waved his arm across in denial, "No, of course I don't mind. I am rather flattered, in fact. I am just surprised. Not many in Ferelden are so open-minded."
Alim smiled grimly, "I'm a mage, Zev. Every moment of every day of my life has been dictated to me, or near enough. If I broke a rule, regardless of its triviality, I could have been killed or worse. The way I dealt with it was to find ways of pissing off the templars without actually giving them cause to punish me. Nothing made them squirm more than hearing tales of my ... conquests."
"You would have done well in the Crows, with that attitude."
"It can't be any worse than the circle. At least you get to use your talents."
"From what I saw of Ferelden's circle, I am glad not to be a mage. The crows might be deadlier, but at least we had some perks."
"Sadly, what you saw ... Ferelden's circle is the most lenient I know of, or at least it was. Me and this friend of mine ... Anders ... we used to escape all the time. The templars would hunt us down, yell at us, and put us in solitary confinement for a while. In the circles in the Free Marches or in Orlais, we - Anders especially - would have been killed or made tranquil by now."
"Anders? I've heard you mention that name before, when you were talking with Alistair. Was he in the tower when we were?"
"I doubt it. If he had been, he would have been helping us," Alim smiled as he thought of the oft-fugitive mage, "No, I'm sure he was out giving another templar hunter a chance to prove his worth."
"You seem fond of him."
Alim gauged the interest on the Antivan's face and decided that Zevran was truly interested in getting to know him, "He is my best friend. He was pretty - gorgeous really - and the only human in the tower who didn't treat me differently for being an elf. And ... you know how well I get along with Alistair, right?"
"Well, Alistair reminds me a lot Anders. I mean, he's far more honorable and heroic, and maybe a tad better at sarcasm, but they are very similar. They both really hate blood mages, too. I swear those two could be related."
"Anders hates blood mages?"
"Oh yes, more than anyone else I know."
"I would have thought, given his numerous escape attempts, that he would gladly see the circle destroyed."
"He would, that's exactly why he hates blood magic, as do I. He says that blood mages make it less likely that we will ever be free. Blood magic causes the people to fear us even more, and gives the Chantry greater cause to keep us locked up. He made me promise, when we were both young, that I would never turn to blood magic, for any reason."
"And have you kept that promise?"
"Of course I have," Alim was offended by the question, "It is the only promise to Anders that I haven't broken, and the only one I never will."
"What other promises?"
"The first promise was that after my harrowing I would escape with him, and we would try to find and destroy our phylacteries in Denerim. The second was that if I ever found a way to permanently escape the circle - which I have - I would take him with me. The blight made me break these promises, but it will not make me turn to blood magic. Anders would never forgive me."
"He seems like an intelligent man, to recognize the need to be wary of blood magic."
"Intelligent, sexy ... and he had this way of making everything seem ok, even when he was angry about something. He had this ... catch phrase, he came up with it the first time I asked him why he kept running away. 'All I want is a pretty girl, a decent meal, and the right to shoot lightning at fools.'"
Zevran chuckled, "I think I'd like him. Girls, though, huh?"
The mage scowled, "Yes. He was never interested in me."
"Too closed minded?"
Alim shook his head, "Not particularly, he wasn't interested in anyone. He flirted with a few girls here or there, but as far as I'm aware he never went any further than that. I asked him once, he said he was afraid he might get too close to someone, and that would give the templars even more power over him."
Zevran thought about his recent past, "I guess I can understand that."
"I do not wish to talk about it."
"Fair enough. If you ever change your mind I'm glad to lend an ear."
Zevran changed the subject, "So, do you love this Anders?"
Alim shrugged, "As much as I love anyone."
"And you compared Alistair to him," Zevran poked.
Alim grew quiet, "I did."
"So ...?" Zevran prodded.
The mage blushed, "So what?"
"Ah, I see."
"You like Alistair."
"He's a good friend."
Zevran raised an eyebrow, "You like to deny the obvious, don't you?"
"It's not that obvious."
Zevran brushed a hand across the blush in Alim's cheeks, "Tell that to your face."
Alim squirmed, "Is it really that obvious?"
"Right now, yes," Zevran answered, "Though it wasn't prior to this conversation. I knew you were close, but I assumed it was friendship and comradery. Until now, I would never have guess that you wanted to jump him."
Alim closed his eyes, swallowing and trying to ignore the image the elf's words had conjured, "Please don't say anything."
"Your secret is safe with me, I swear it," Zevran whispered, closing in to kiss the man.
It almost happened, too, but Alim gasped in fear, and pulled away, "Oh maker damn you, Zevran."
He began to cast a spell. Zevran heard thundering footsteps from the tunnel ahead of them, and a ball of fire flew past his head and exploded in the tunnel just as an Ogre turned the corner. It was knocked to the ground, and Zevran took the opportunity to circle around behind it. As it stood up, he climbed onto its back and thrust his daggers down between its bones, severing the Ogre's bronchial tubes and slicing into the Aorta. Blood gushed and the ogre fumed in pain as Zevran removed his blades and sheathed them in the Ogre's eyes, penetrating its brain. The ogre fell to the ground, and Zevran started to wipe his daggers clean. Alim caught up to him and the terror on the warden's face made the assassin worry. They were at a 3 way fork, and Alim was nervously looking between their options. His head twitched and he turned to the left most tunnel, casting another fireball. It exploded, taking out the half dozen genlocks that had just made it to the spot. Alim whimpered, turning around and staring down the opposite passage.
"Run!" He told Zevran, pushing him down the passage he had just cleared.
The two sprinted down the corridor, Alim gathered up his robes as he ran, "Zevran, your dagger." Zevran tossed it, and the Warden caught it expertly, cutting a slit in the right side of his robes from his hip all the way to the bottom of the fabric before tossing the dagger back. With improved mobility, Alim ran faster, urging Zevran to keep up. They could hear the darkspawn now, the pounding of Ogres and the clatter of genlocks and Hurlocks chasing them down. They didn't dare look back.
Alim saw the door ahead of them, and turned around as soon as he passed it, "Zevran! Help me close it!"
The door hadn't been used in centuries, and it fought to stay open. Alim growled and cursed as they managed to move it an inch at a time. Zevran's breath caught in his throat when he looked past the door. Four ogres and a few dozen smaller darkspawn were charging towards them. He pulled with all of his strength, and the two elves managed to close it just as one of the ogres rammed head first into it. Alim struggled with the latch, but pulled it down, and collapsed, panting and listening to the enraged darkspawn try to break through. Zevran finished wiping off his daggers and sheathed them, trying to bring his nerves under control.
He offered a hand for Alim to stand up, "We shouldn't stay here. That door won't hold them for long."
Alim accepted the hand, and stood, his voice cracking, "Remind me to gut you if we get out of this alive."
"What did I do?"
"You distracted me, Zevran! I should have been feeling for approaching darkspawn, not thinking about how much I'd like to ride Alistair."
Zevran smirked, "I am sorry. I'll keep quiet until we're safe."
Alim nodded, "Good," and started walking. After a while they came to another door, which they closed behind them for good measure, and a large, cavernous room. There was a door on the left side, and on the far side of a gaping chasm. Alim quickly dismissed that option and turned to the door that they could actually hope to reach. It was stuck. Alim cursed, casting spell after spell, trying to unlock or break down the door.
Zevran inspected it as well, "I see no lock. It is stuck."
Alim cursed, "Then we're trapped here! There's nowhere else to go except the tunnel we just came through, and that'll get us killed."
Zevran put a hand on his shoulder, "Calm down. We're not dead yet. Let's look around, there might be something we can use."
They heard a crash against the door they had come through, and Alim quipped, "I think it's a little late for that."
Zevran, who met death stoically as all Antivan's did, looked over to the Warden, "I guess this is where we die, then."
Alim nodded, regret clear on his face, "I'm sorry, Zevran. This is my fault. I should never have brought you down here."
Zevran stopped him, "I do not regret being here. By all rights I should have died in that clearing. You have nothing to apologize for."
"At least if I had brought Morrigan, I could die with joy knowing I had taken her down with me," Alim joked.
Zevran laughed, "And even when you're about to die, you still have a sense of humor. I am quite glad I failed to kill you, Warden."
Alim closed the distance between them and pulled Zevran into a passionate kiss, pressing his body against the Antivan's lithe form. Zevran chuckled through the embrace, putting his hand through the slit in the mage's robes and resting his hand on his leg to spur the mage on. They were quickly brought back to reality by another crash, and a giant fist breaking through the door.
Alim pulled away, "I didn't want to die without doing that."
Zevran shot him one last seductive grin, "Too bad we don't have more time," he pouted.
Alim took a deep breath, "Too bad, indeed. Well, we can't help that. Let's go down fighting."
Zevran pulled his daggers out, "As you wish, my friend."
They positioned themselves with their backs to the wall, refusing to give the ogres the chance to bull rush them off the edge of the chasm. Zevran took two vials of poison from his bags, and began coating his weapons with it. Alim took out a few lyrium potions, and attached them to the front of his belt, within easy reach. As soon as the door came crashing down, he began casting a fireball, followed by protective wards that he cast on Zevran and himself. By the time the first hurlock made it into range of Zevran's blades, almost a dozen darkspawn lay dead. This did not give Alim hope though, because as he began to cast an arcane missile, he watched as the 4 ogres lumbered into the room, followed by three score of lesser creatures that swarmed in behind them. He ignored his fear, and kept casting, waiting for another chance to fell a group of the beasts. He lost track of the assassin, who was more focused on dodging blows than actually attacking. Still, he landed a few strikes, here or there, and his poisons managed to bring down those directly surrounding him. They fought, inching backwards, slowly losing their momentum against the throng. Zevran, hit by an ogre, flew through the air, hitting the wall. Alim heard a crack, and the elf crumpled when he hit the ground.
Alim's heart froze, time seemed to stand still as he realized he was alone against almost 100 darkspawn, with who knows how many more on their way. He felt the horde rush towards him, their evil taint and endless rage coursing through his veins. He heard the call of the Archdemon in his head. He screamed silently as his brain made a decision that his heart had refused to consider. He ran to Zevran, taking an unpoisoned knife from the assassin's boot. He checked on Zevran, relieved to find he still lived, though barely, and turned as an ogre bared down on him. A hot white pain flashed through his hand as he brought the knife across his skin. Blood poured from the wound, and swirled through the air, surrounding the giant beast before him. You are mine, Alim projected his thoughts, using the power in his blood to dominate the creature's mind. The ogre turned on its allies, bowling them over, standing protectively over its new master. Alim turned, having a moment to spare now that he had such a mighty pet, and cast a spell to revive his comrade. Zevran opened his eyes, rather surprised that he had the chance, and watched in shock as the mage turned back to their enemies. Again the dagger cut, this time stabbing deep into his upper arm. The blood that flowed from the wound was a devastating force, killing every darkspawn in the room, except a few that were still by the door. They kept coming, and Alim sent his minion into the fight, letting the darkspawn finish each other off as he healed his self inflicted wounds.
The danger now passed, Alim helped Zevran to his feet, "Hurry. There are more darkspawn nearby. We MUST get back to Alistair before they find us." He turned and walked through the door that had been broken down.
Zevran followed warily after him, "Alim ..."
"I know, Zevran."
"But you ..."
"Is it ... are you ok? Are you safe?"
"I'm in control, you needn't worry about it."
Zevran could barely keep up with the mage's frenzied pace, "Alim, slow down. I am injured."
Alim didn't slow, "I'm sorry, but we have to keep moving."
Zevran hobbled onward, grateful to be alive but worried about the consequences of his friend's actions, "Alim, you..."
Alim pivoted on the spot, "I KNOW, ZEVRAN. I did what I had to do. I'm not proud of it. In fact, I hate myself right now, but it was necessary. Now, keep moving."
Zevran had never heard the mage raise his voice in anger before, "Are you sure you're ..."
"I'm in control, Zevran. If I wasn't I'd have used your blood instead of my own," Alim countered his protests and turned away from him, tracing their steps backwards to the first fork they had encountered.
"I thought you said this passage was too dangerous."
"It was," Alim didn't pause, "It isn't anymore. Come, I can feel another Warden nearby. Alistair must not have been content to wait for us."
Alim began to run again, casting a spell on Zevran to help the injured elf keep up with him. They passed a side tunnel and heard another Ogre. Alim grinned maniacally and kept moving. Zevran hissed nervously but kept quiet otherwise. He was more afraid of his friend than of anything the deep roads could throw at him. Before long they heard fighting up ahead and the Warden growled. He ran past a set of doors, into another room with a chasm carved through the middle. He saw Alistair, and their dwarf guide Oghren, fighting a handful of darkspawn. Confidant they could handle themselves, he cast a single fireball into the fray before turning to regard their own trouble. Alim smiled when he realized that it was a lone ogre, and drew the dagger he had stolen from Zevran. Again his hand flashed with pain, and again his blood magic overwhelmed the poor, simple minded beast. Take us across the chasm, Alim ordered. The ogre turned his head, looking at the gap, and nodded his consent. Alim ran, jumping up onto the creature and hold a hand down to assist Zevran.
Zevran shook his head, "What are you doing?"
Alim looked Zevran in the eye, "Trust me."
Zevran nodded, taking his hand and swinging up onto the beast, who began to charge. At the last minute, the Ogre jumped, not realizing that it couldn't quite make the other ledge. As the beast began to fall, close to the other side but not close enough to grab itself, Alim commanded Zevran to jump. The two managed to jump from the Ogre's head, spanning the remainder of the gap, and landing on the other side. Zevran gracefully rolled through his landing, ending up crouching but on his feet a dozen feet from the ledge. Alim was far less dexterous, and had barely made the jump, landing and stumbling forward. Alistair finished off the last genlock and stopped, his muscles numb and his jaw ajar.
"How did you?" He noticed Alim trying to secretly heal the wound on his hand and was outraged, "You ... you're a blood mage? How could you ... YOU of all people. How long have you been hiding this?"
Alim shrunk away from Alistair, "I had to do it, Alistair. I swear. I'm sorry."
Alistair fumed, "You HAD to? No one HAS to become a blood mage, Alim. I can't believe you ..."
Alim snapped, "I am a gray warden, Alistair! As are you. It is our DUTY to slay the archdemon and end the blight, whatever the cost. I did what was necessary to survive the deep roads and do what Duncan expected of me. If you think you can end the blight without me, then go ahead and cut me down."
Alistair hissed at the mention of Duncan, and lost the strength behind his outrage, "I … um … I'm sorry, you are right, I guess. Just … be careful, okay? I don't want you to end up like those … things … we saw in the Tower."
Alim leaned his head to one side, studying Alistair from the strange angle, "You're not okay with this," he realized and said aloud, "You're just afraid to fight me."
Alistair took a step back and waved his hands in protest, "No, no, no. I, well … I am wary. Blood mages have a reputation for a reason, but if you're in control and still intend to fight the Archdemon then I'll accept it for now."
The Warden nodded, "Ok. Let's set up a short term campsite. We're close to the location indicated by Branka's journal entry, and we'll need our strength to face what's likely to be there."
"Why don't you just …"
Alim's glare left Alistair in a cold sweat, "Let it go, Alistair."