Happily Ever After
All right, instead of taking five years to finish this blasted Blight-fic, and then another five years for the other four or five books, I've decided to just skip right ahead to the end of Origins, so we can get to the good parts.
No, seriously. What, you don't believe me? Where's your suspension of disbelief?
Happily Ever After
Wakefulness slowly flowed over Bannon, like the light of dawn infusing the eastern sky. He came to that blissful state where he was awake just enough to enjoy being asleep. His bed was soft and warm and clean, with ample blankets. His pillow was as fluffy as a cloud; he snuggled down into it with a smile.
Maker, he could stay like this all day.
Except something niggled at the back of his mind, like a pesky little mouse chewing on the baseboards. He was sure he was supposed to be... doing something. When that feeling wouldn't go away or submit to being ignored, he sat up with a long, drawn-out groan and set his feet on the floor. He stretched his arms, his back, his neck, his jaw with a joint-cracking yawn; and scratched his head, tousling his hair.
He glanced around his room. It felt familiar, but it didn't look at all like what he was used to. Dressed stone walls were covered with tapestries, a grand painting, war and hunting trophies. The floor was warm, polished wood, softened with thick rugs. He wiggled his bare toes in the nap. Oh, this was luxury. It was always in the small things. The tall crimson drapes were drawn just enough to let a few golden rays of light cast themselves across his bed.
Bannon stood up, scratching himself pleasantly on his ribs and chest, his back where he could reach it. He ambled over to the weapon rack and armor stand by the door. A Grey Warden uniform hung on the stand. He reached out and touched the embossed white griffon on blue roundel. The uniform was made of charcoal and dust grey leather, gleaming with polished steel studs. His uniform. He was a Grey Warden. He was Somebody.
Once he'd gotten cleaned up and dressed, finished with his morning ablutions, and his hair was neatly combed, there came a knock on the door. A moment later, Alistair poked his head in. "Are you awake? Oh, good." The young Warden pushed the door further open. "You ready for some breakfast, then?"
Bannon looked at Alistair. He was very glad to see his friend, though he still felt a bit off. Alistair's uniform was comprised of chainmail and light, almost decorative, plate. Those long, fluted pauldrons... definitely decorative. They looked rather silly, Bannon thought.
He followed Alistair down the hall. "Where are we?" he asked.
"Uh, we're in the hall," Alistair replied, his brow creased in bafflement.
"I can see that," Bannon said impatiently. "I mean... where are we? What is this place?" He looked around at the impossibly-tall hallway. "How'd we get here? Weren't we... I don't know. Doing something?"
"Oh!" Alistair stopped and faced him with concern. "It's happened again, hasn't it?"
"What has?" Bannon didn't like that look on his friend's face.
"You were injured. In the battle. Um, head injury- don't worry!" Alistair put his hands out as if fearing Bannon would flee or panic or something. "I-I-It's perfectly fine. You're fine. I mean, you'll be fine! As soon as you recover. Which you will!"
"Alistair!" Bannon cut him off. "What are you talking about? What injury? What battle?"
"You don't remember that, either? The battle with the Archdemon?"
Bannon's jaw dropped.
"Oh," said Alistair. "This is a bad one. Let me take you to the First Warden. He can explain better than I."
The hall led out onto a cavernous room, with a rectangular raised platform. The far end overlooked a darkened library. Wide stairs led down on the left to a grand entry hall. There were some other doorways or something to the right, beyond a desk and chairs that served as the First Warden's office.
Duncan was standing there, looking much as Bannon had first seen him, but his chestplate and skirting were much cleaner, and the Grey Warden emblem proudly displayed. The First Warden was Duncan? Well, that made sense. He'd been the leader of the triumphant Grey Wardens. Or so Bannon gathered. Something still gnawed at his mind, though. Something he'd forgotten.
"Good morning," Duncan greeted them. "How are you feeling today?"
"He's gone and lost his memory again," Alistair said with cheerful helpfulness.
"Oh, dear." Duncan's face creased in concern. He smoothed it after a moment, though. "There's no cause for alarm," he told Bannon firmly. "This has happened before. Your memory will return in time, if you just relax and don't try to force it."
"All right," Bannon said. He supposed it was natural to feel uneasy and confused when you'd lost your memory. "So... where are we?"
Duncan said, "This is Weisshaupt, the ancient stronghold of the Grey Wardens."
"Where... where's Weisshaupt?"
"In the Anderfels," Alistair said.
"How'd we get here?" Bannon couldn't believe he wasn't even in Ferelden any more. Another country? It was worlds away!
"By ship," Alistair supplied. Helpful as always. All right, perhaps it was a dumb question.
"What about my family?"
"Easy, now." Duncan motioned for him to stay calm. "We can answer a few questions, but remember to take it slowly."
"I need to know if my family is all right," Bannon insisted.
"Yes, they're fine," Alistair said.
"My cousin, Soris? They didn't execute him?"
"No no no. King Cailen pardoned him. They wouldn't execute the cousin of the Hero of Ferelden now, would they?"
"The- who? What?"
"He doesn't even remember the best bit?" said a new voice behind them. Bannon turned to see more Grey Wardens. There was Daveth and Ser Jory. Daveth winked at him.
Jory said, "You killed the Archdemon. You're a true hero to all the land. To everyone!" His eyes gleamed in admiration.
"Me?" Bannon couldn't believe it. He didn't feel as if he'd done anything like that. He felt... ordinary. "But I-I..."
"Don't remember, yeah," Alistair said sympathetically. "Maybe you should read the chronicle. That will help."
"Wait a minute, wait..." Bannon rubbed his forehead. "King Cailen? He's alive?"
"Yes," said Duncan.
Bannon shook his head. "What about Loghain?"
"Yes, he's fine, too."
"No, hold it!" Bannon looked at Alistair. Alistair looked back expectantly. The elf looked at Duncan, Daveth, Ser Jory. They glanced at each other. "Alistair, Loghain deserted us at Ostagar- you have to remember that! Cailen died. Duncan died- all the Grey Wardens died!" He waved at Jory and Daveth. "Those two, they died at the Joining. None of them can be here!"
"No we didn't," Daveth insisted.
Alistair gripped Bannon's arm. "Now just calm down. That was all a nightmare put into your head by the Archdemon."
"Yes," Duncan said calmly. "The Wardens and King Cailen fought side by side at Ostagar. We decimated the horde, and the Archdemon appeared. We fought it- you killed it."
Bannon's head was spinning. "We won at Ostagar?"
"Yes," Duncan said.
"And... Lothering? The Blight didn't-? The darkspawn horde didn't go north?"
"Nope," said Alistair.
"But I remember... We went to the mage tower. There were demons and Blood Mages..." The ache behind his eyes grew sharper. He rubbed his forehead again. "We had to... stop this mage named Uldred."
"Yes, we did that," Alistair said. "We defeated Uldred."
"All right, wait. If we won at Ostagar, why did we need to go to the mage tower?"
Duncan and Alistair looked at each other. Alistair said, "Well, we found those treaties, right?"
"So we had to take them to gather our allies. To Ostagar. Right?"
"Yeah... I guess?"
"Right, so we brought the mages there, and the dwarves and the Dalish."
"I don't remember those."
"Well, those weren't anywhere near as hard, were they?" Alistair said cheerily. "Just pop on by, wave the treaty, and they came right away."
"And Arl Eamon? We went to Redcliffe for troops, too?"
"He was sick?"
"No, he's fine."
"And our friends?" Bannon said. His thoughts flitted around wildly, trying to piece together the puzzle around the holes in his memory. "What happened to them?"
"They went home," Alistair said.
"All of them?"
"Yep. After the final battle, and the celebrations and parades..."
"Sten? And Zevran?"
"Yes, all of them. That's why they helped us. They wanted to stop the Blight so it was safe to go home."
Bannon tried to digest it all. It seemed reasonable? He was here now, wasn't he? Something was still missing. He wished he could figure out what.
"Here, come with me," Duncan said. He led Bannon aside to a scribe's desk, filled with a huge tome. "This is the chronicle," Duncan told him. "You've been working on it, when your memory has been intact. I think it will help everything become clear."
Bannon frowned at the book, but Duncan rather insistently had him sit down and start reading.
The dwarves held the flanking pass, he read; shields locked together, the line bristling with spears. No matter how many times the darkspawn hurled themselves upon it, the line would not break. Massive ballistae rolled up behind them, preparing for the appearance of the Archdemon.
The elves lined the hills, raining withering fire down on the enemy. When the ground became too broken and littered for the king's horses to sustain a charge, the Dalish halla riders flooded out from the trees like a white-water river. The light-footed deer flew over the ground, leaping any obstacles.
The darkspawn brought up their catapults, hurled boulders into the fray, crushing platoons of soldiers. The halla charged, scattering just as the boulders hit. They regrouped, leapt the stake barriers the darkspawn had erected, and plowed into the horde. Several brave Dalish hunters broke through. They cut the catapult ropes; they doused the machines with oil, and flaming arrows set them alight.
The King's troops advanced once more.
Thunder rumbled in the south, where the darkness gathered. And the embodiment of that darkness rose up on wings of evil. The Archdemon swooped over the battlefield, scattering the faint of heart under its shadow of fear.
The Grey Wardens stood fast.
The mages' light encircled the small group of men and women who were the hope of the world. They gripped their weapons and prepared for the final battle.
The Archdemon landed amidst its troops, squashing some of its lesser brethren in its single-minded rage. It roared a challenge that shook the heavens.
King Cailen wheeled his charger, regrouping his personal guard. "Make way for the Grey Wardens!" He aimed his sword across the battlefield. "For Ferelden!" He spurred forward and led a wedge into the horde, his white charger and golden armor gleaming despite the dark blood that painted them both.
Bannon found himself running after the King, his fellow Grey Wardens beside him. They were on foot, but hell, they were Grey Wardens, after all. They kept up with the horses, and Bannon didn't even feel winded. He glided lightly over the rough terrain, nimbly avoiding any obstacles. He chuckled to himself at the lumbering shems all around him. Served them right for cutting off his view.
He moved up to the front line, with Duncan on his left and Alistair on his right. There was a bone-rending crunch, and the horses in front of them faltered in their strides as they ran over a line of darkspawn. They didn't stop, however. Bannon leapt a thrashing hurlock.
Someone yelled something about ballistae. Huge bolts arced in from the left, and struck. Some must have hit the Archdemon, judging by the screaming.
Then the wedge broke to either side, and the Grey Wardens came out on the field before the beast. It roared, stretched out its neck, and spewed black vitriol at them. The Wardens cut and ducked, and yelled challenge back.
"Go for the wings!" Duncan's deep voice boomed.
Daveth and Bannon shot arrows at the flailing beast, ripping its wings.
"Cut it's legs!" Duncan yelled. "Cripple it!"
Ser Jory waded in and swung his great two-hander deep to the bone on the Archdemon's hind leg. Its tail whipped around and knocked the rotund knight back. He tumbled ass over teakettle.
The Archdemon hissed and clawed and bit as the Grey Wardens harried it. Bannon darted in with his swords, figuring it was better there in close than out where it could hit him with that black fire.
He leapt up on the Archdemon's neck. Why not? It was pretty much the size of a horse. Not that Bannon had ever been on one, but how hard could it be? Now all he had to do was get to the skinny end of the neck, and he could kill this thing.
Well, he couldn't scoot up the neck, what with all those spines in the way... but they sure made great handholds! He gripped the spines, stood up, and started climbing. If he focused on the scaly skin right under his feet, and not the landscape whirring back and forth, it wasn't any harder than crossing a narrow rope bridge in a high wind. Not that he had any experience doing that, either. He just kept his knees bent, his eyes down, and his hands on the spines.
The spines at the top were too small to reach, even while crouching down. Fortunately, the Archdemon helped by whipping its head up and down. Bannon's feet left its neck, and he flew towards its skull. He pulled his swords and drove them both between the beast's eyes as he landed.
There was a bone-shaking scream. The world tipped crazily, and then the earth and sky started spinning madly. Bannon must have blacked out for a minute or two, because the next thing he knew, he was riding on Alistair and Jory's shoulders as they paraded around the Archdemon's corpse. Then he was atop the king's white horse, and the army was shouting his name.
"BAN-NON! BAN-NON! BAN-NON!"
It rang out to the hills and rolled back as the elves and dwarves took up the chant. It echoed across the Wilds, rose into the heavens until the Maker Himself heard it.
Bannon blinked and looked down at the book.
"Bring anything back?" Alistair asked him solicitously.
"Yeah, but... isn't it a little over the top?"
Alistair chuckled. "Aren't heroic tales always? Besides, you wrote it! And you were there, so you ought to know."
"Well, you were there. Did I really climb up the Archdemon's neck and stab it in the head?"
"Oh, yeah!" Alistair's eyes lit up like candles. "And it was thrashing and whipping around, like, whish, whish!-" he mimed with his hands- "and you were like, whah whah!, and then Fwish!" He made more Archdemon and Bannon hand-puppet gestures and sound effects, grinning like a little kid. "And then- WHOP! 'Yaaagh!'- and it threw you right off! That's when you hit your head."
Bannon rubbed his skull. "I remember that part."
"We thought you'd been killed, but oh no! You're a Grey Warden!" Alistair reached out and rubbed his hand over Bannon's head, messing up his hair. "You're too tough!"
Daveth said, "You didn't pass out until after all the cheering and parades and feasts and comely wenches!"
Bannon flinched, because he'd forgotten the other Wardens were there. "That part's still a little hazy," he said.
"Don't worry about it," Alistair said, clapping him on the shoulder. "It'll all come back."
Bannon smoothed his hair down, then turned to Duncan. "I don't understand... we stopped the Blight in Ferelden. Why are we here now, in this place?"
"It's the headquarters of the Grey Wardens," Duncan replied. "It's where the Wardens stay between Blights."
"But I want to see my family again."
"Maybe when you're fully recovered, you can travel."
I already traveled here, didn't I? Bannon growled to himself. He knew it would be useless trying to argue with Duncan. He turned to Ser Jory. "What about you?" he asked. "What about your wife and baby?"
"I fought the Blight to save them," the knight said proudly.
"Yeah, but... Then you didn't go to live with them?"
"I'm a Grey Warden now. The Wardens belong here."
"Well, why?" Bannon looked between them. "What use was all that fighting if we can't enjoy the results?"
Duncan stepped forward. "Bannon, I'll be retiring soon. Then you will be the First Warden, in charge of our entire order."
Well, the elf knew the first change he'd make! "We don't need to be here," he insisted. "The Blight is over!"
"You'll need to make plans to keep the order alive until the next Blight," Duncan told him patiently. "At first, it will be easy. You're a recognized hero the world over. Kings and empresses will give you anything you want. People will flock to you, just to be near you, to try to be like you. But as the years go by, people will start to believe the Grey Wardens are no longer needed."
Bannon's mind wandered when Duncan mentioned the kings and empresses doing his bidding. Damn, it was so good to be a Warden! "Well, yes, all right. I see what you mean."
"You'll need to stay here and go through the archives with me. Adding, of course," Duncan said with a grin, "our own accounts to the histories."
Bannon had already started formulating plans for dealing with various countries, nobles, and politicians, and for collecting a nice nest egg for himself in the process. For his own early retirement. He deserved it, after all, the Hero of Ferelden. The Hero of Thedas! "Sounds good," Bannon said with his own grin.
Duncan smiled. "Excellent. This is where you truly belong, surrounded by your Grey Warden brothers."
A biting voice rang out behind them. "You're not keeping this knife-ears!"
Everyone turned. Bannon felt the familiar flash of white hot rage as Vaughn marched up the steps and crossed the floor as if he owned the fortress. He'd brought his guards with him this time. "He belongs to me." He fixed a predatory gaze on Bannon.
"You don't belong here," Duncan said in a low voice.
"You're dead!" Bannon spat at the nobleman. "Why must you keep haunting me?"
Vaughn raked them all with a glittering crystal gaze. "You have no right to my property."
"Elves are not your property, you son of a bitch!"
"You see? Have I not proven my point?" He sneered at Bannon. "Come on, then. Come at me, knife-ear, so I can teach you another lesson."
Bannon drew his swords. But instead of rushing in, he shouted, "Grey Wardens, attack!" He signaled his comrades forward. Daveth and Ser Jory charged Vaughn's guards, Alistair right behind them. Vaughn leapt at Duncan, and the two began dueling.
Bannon circled Vaughn's guards, hamstringing a couple of them while they were occupied with the other Wardens. Then he faded back to the side and watched.
This was insane. How in the Blackened City was Vaughn here? How was he alive? The answer was obvious- he couldn't be.
And neither could Duncan, Daveth, and Jory.
When Duncan said this was where he belonged, surrounded by Grey Wardens, Bannon had recalled the night of his Joining. When the Grey Wardens had come, and he'd stood in their midst, he could feel it- the Grey Warden bond.
That's what was missing: Bannon couldn't sense any of these supposed Grey Wardens. When they'd gone into the fray, he was sure of it.
He drew his bow and nocked an arrow. With calm precision, he shot Jory in the neck just as the knight felled his opponent. He shot Daveth a moment later.
Alistair finished off the last two guards and turned to Bannon. "What are you doing?" he cried.
"Alistair, they're not real. They're not Grey Wardens. It's some kind of trick!"
"No it isn't!" Alistair came at him, sword and shield raised, betrayal and anger on his face. "You've killed your own brothers!"
From behind him, Bannon heard Duncan yell, "Don't kill him!" That didn't stop Alistair from closing with Bannon. The elf backpedaled.
"Think, Alistair! I couldn't sense them. Could you?"
"Yes!" The former Templar stopped and shook his head. "Of course you couldn't sense them, you killed an Archdemon," he said angrily. "You became, like, a super Grey Warden. Ordinary Wardens are so far below you, the bond is really faint!"
What the hell? Bannon's eyes widened, and doubt coursed through him. He dropped his swords, which he hadn't even realized he'd drawn again. They clattered to the stone floor, and he put his face in his hands. "Maker! What have I done?" he cried.
Alistair came closer, no longer threatening.
"I'm so sorry!" Bannon threw himself blindly at his friend, heedless of the blade. "Alistair, please forgive me! I didn't know!"
The Templar caught him awkwardly. "It-it's fine! It's going to be all right. Look, we'll get the healers; we'll revive them. Everything is going to be fi-!"
Bannon cut him off with a knife thrust up under his breastplate. Blood poured from Alistair's mouth instead of words. Bannon jammed the knife harder, scraping the sundered chain mail.
Alistair coughed another bubble of blood, then collapsed. Bannon shuddered at the shocked and bewildered look on the Warden's face.
"Bannon, help me!" Duncan called. He and Vaughn had closed and were locked in a stalemate. Duncan's long dagger was at Vaughn's throat, held back by Vaughn's free hand. Their swords were locked as the bann sought to overpower the old Warden's defenses. Vaughn snarled in fury, his face barely human, his eyes burning with rage.
Bannon retrieved his swords from the floor and slowly approached the two men.
"Kill him!" Vaughn hissed. "You know it's a trick! Only your rage can set you free."
"No!" Duncan pleaded. "If you kill me, you'll destroy your one chance at happiness!"
"You'll go back to a life of hardship and struggle. You'll die!"
"Kill him! I'll show you the way to get free!"
"You'll never be a hero. It's impossible!"
None of this was real. It had to be some kind of nightmare. Bannon felt his anger rising up inside him. He didn't like to be tricked, duped. But what about his fame? Better yet, his fortune!
Bannon looked down at the swords in his hands. Well, he did have two of them. He stepped forward and thrust both blades simultaneously into Duncan's and Vaughn's throats. They shrieked and gurgled and died. Bannon let go of the swords as the two men toppled. "No damned shem is going to run my life," he snarled down at them.
He turned away. Now he had to get out of here. Find his way back to Ferelden. He glanced down at his leathers; they were his old brown ones, not a fancy Grey Warden uniform. He reached up and found the hilts of his sword and long dagger. Ah, and his belt pouches! He'd need money and provisions for the journey.
He darted over to an ornate chest beside Duncan's desk. He tested the lid; it didn't budge. So he got out his trusty picks and... what the hell? He couldn't get them in the keyhole.
He crouched and put an eye to it. There was no hole. The lock was just a piece of metal with a keyhole-shaped hole in it. In disbelief, he tried again, poking into it with the pick. Did someone paint the wood behind the fake lock black? If the lock was fake, how did the chest open?
He stood up and, in frustration, kicked the chest. It tipped over with a clunk. There was no bottom. In fact, the whole thing appeared to be a fake hollow shell of a chest.
"Nothing is real, here."
Bannon whipped around, his blades out in a flash. "Who's there?" The room looked empty. Even the corpses and blood had vanished.
"Away put your weapons; I mean you no harm."
"Yeah, sure you don't. Who or what are you? Show yourself!"
"I can certainly see why that Rage Demon was so attached to you." Bannon scowled and the voice hurried on. "I'm not a demon! I'm a mage! I'm going to come out now. Please don't be startled or make any rash moves. Remain calm."
Bannon looked for this mage to appear, lowering his weapons only slightly. A bit of movement caught his eye, but it was only a mouse scurrying around the desk. He looked around again. "Where are you?" he demanded when the mage didn't appear.
"Down here. Don't step on me!"
Bannon stared down at the mouse. With a lot more grunting and groaning than was usual for a mouse, it climbed up to the seat of the chair. "Boy, this isn't like climbing the Tower." The little rodent crawled to the edge of the seat and then sat up on its hind legs. "Yes, it's me- I'm the mage."
Bannon stared. "You look somewhat like a mouse."
"Uhhh..." The mouse tipped its head and scratched behind one ear. "I am... somewhat like a mouse. But I can explain!" It launched into some tale of being trapped in a maze and some demon switching bodies with him so he could escape through a tiny tunnel, but Bannon wasn't listening.
"Great, I'm talking to a mouse. Now I know I'm dreaming. I'm out of here!" He strode across the room towards the entry hall.
"No, wait!" The mouse squeaked as loud as it could. "This isn't a dream!"
Bannon just waved over his shoulder and picked up his pace. He hit the grand double doors of Weisshaupt Fortress and strode outside.
Give yourself 500 Bloodsong Points apiece if you recognized the Yoda and Stuart Little quotes. Plus 1500 if you noticed the mouse sounded like Rimmer talking to himself in the past (from Red Dwarf).