Disclaimer:I do not own Dragon Age Origins / Awakenings / DA2 or any of its characters.
Grace looked up at Soldier's Peak and steeled herself for what was to come. Despite the many surprises Ferelden had thrown at her; she knew the place was infested with demons, she could feel their dense, cold energy clinging to the building like a giant web. Her thoughts took her back to the days after the battle of Denerim leading up to the Coronation of Fergus Cousland and the reason they were here.
So many of the Warden's had died, she still heard Stephano's screams as he had been caught in the flames. Dear; sweet Liam had also perished, his body almost too crushed and broken to identify. Farin, Cameron and Treymour had also met their deaths on the top of Fort Drakon. Of those who survived Loghain; Garrett; Michael, Lynais and Loren had been so gravely injured it was feared they too would die, but they were slowly recovering. Gavarth had lost an eye, but he jokingly said this added to the effect of the scar and made him more dashing. Danforth remained unconscious; his injuries so severe it seemed impossible that he was still alive, yet he clung on.
Duncan had also been badly hurt after their battle with the Archdemon and for several days they had all been terrified that he wouldn't pull through. Grace had been desperate to find Sunshine her father's lover, sure if anyone could bring him back from the brink it would be her, but there was no trace of her and Grace was left with the cold realisation that either she had been killed during the battle, or she had left. Sapped of all energy; unable even to raise a fireball, her stomach had been twisted in knots as she had watched her father deteriorate. Anders had done all he could; but he too had been exhausted and with no lyrium, their mana was slow to recover. The Warden's cache in Denerim had been destroyed along with all of their stored lyrium and healing supplies.
As Grace had sat vigil with her father she had racked her brain trying to figure out who Flemeth had been intimate with; Alistair's survival could have no other explanation. No one was letting on and she was too exhausted and distracted to find out.
Fergus Cousland went to the Chantry directly and using his leverage as King; although still to be coroneted, he was given a single vial of lyrium. He had hurried through the Palace knowing Grace would be with her father. "Are you sure about this? You still look exhausted yourself."
Grace had taken the vial a determined look on her face. "He's my father Fergus and Danforth is a dear friend, I have to try."
Fergus nodded, the old ache of his own loss throbbing painfully. He gently squeezed her shoulder. "Be careful."
Kneeling down beside the men Grace prayed that this would work, that it would be enough. As the lyrium passed her lips Grace was pleasantly surprised; instead of the bitter taste she was used to it was like the sweetest nectar coating her mouth and throat in its delicious taste. As it flowed through her body it became almost impossible to focus. She felt something stir beneath it; something coaxed out of dormancy as her arcane magic flowed to her fingertips, the magic she had felt during her fight with Flemeth, the magic her mother had eluded too but had refused to clarify. She took her father's hand; the healing energy flowing so easily, sweeping through his body, holding him, comforting him. Duncan stirred, his eyelids flickering and then she was gazing into those rich brown eyes.
Duncan blinked, overwhelmed by the golden light before him. It swelled around him; soothing his pain, healing his wounds and filling him with strength. He heard a soft voice, but couldn't make out the words. He tried to speak; but sank instead into the warmth, as the magic lulled him to sleep.
Grace gently kissed her father's cheek and turned to Danforth; reaching into him, repairing the damage as Anders had taught her, encouraging his body to heal. He groaned; twisting his head back and forth in pain. Grace held his hand whispering softly he was safe until he finally relaxed, the tension easing from his face until he lay in peaceful sleep.
Grace sank back against the wall feeling a weariness move over her. For a moment she allowed herself to drift; astonished to feel the power of the old Gods, their ache of the Makers departure and his betrayal. She felt the presence of the two remaining in slumber and the shifting vibrations of her mother. She felt Alistair; Anders and Zevran aching at their strength, resilience and beautiful souls. They were her heart and as she pulled the magic back to herself, she felt their love wrap around her like a shield.
Duncan and Danforth were up by the following day, still tired, but healed.
Grace watched her father during the coronation, feeling a rush of relief and joy. He looked so relaxed and a rare smile lit his features as he clapped the man next to him on the back, the man later to be introduced as Levi Dryden. Levi had a proposal her father had been unable to pass up. Duncan announced they were going to make a slight detour to Soldiers Peak before travelling on to Amaranthine.
Grace smiled to herself the coronation had been a good day, though Alistair had been less than impressed with his new title. The Wardens teased him of course and Zevran made Alistair blush to his toes in his own unique style, but Grace was simply happy that her husband was alive. He had risked everything and despite his dismissive attitude Grace believed he needed to be recognised. In part she knew it was a selfish need to have those nobles who had dismissed him and called him bastard having to acknowledge that he had saved their lives. Her mind drifted again, this time to her stepdaughter Aurora.
Grace glanced down at the softly cooing child in her arms. Travelling was dangerous, but Alistair had no intention of being parted from his daughter. They had hired a delightful young woman by the name of Merrin as a wet nurse in Denerim and she had been happy to travel with them. She had family in Amaranthine, so once her services were no longer required it would be convenient for her to get to them.
Alistair smiled seeing the conflict on her face. "Grace there is no need to worry, Aurora will be perfectly safe."
"Don't you think that it's a little dangerous for her to be travelling with us?"
Alistair smiled. "With a demi goddess for a mum, how much danger could she be in?"
Grace shook her head, frowning slightly.
"Have you travelled with us?" Gavarth interrupted with a grin. "She's the biggest trouble magnet there is."
Grace kicked him gently, watching as he walked over to Duncan chuckling to himself.
So here they were, having navigated through what seemed to be miles of tunnel to arrive at the Peak. It was freezing; snow covered the ground in a thick blanket, their breath forming columns as it left their lips.
"You'd think there would have been an easier way to get here." Anders murmured as they climbed up the snow covered steps to the main gate.
"It's very defensible." Duncan countered.
"Or a good place to get trapped in." Grace muttered.
He stared in surprise at her fast darkening mood. "Grace?"
She didn't answer at first trying to sense all that she could, so they would be as prepared as possible.
"Demons." She said softly. "Lots of demons."
Duncan unsheathed his sword, feeling the comforting weight in his hand. "Prepare yourselves." He commanded the rest of the group.
Half had remained with the wagon. Alistair had stayed with his daughter and Grace missed him, though was grateful for Hunters presence at her side. She glanced to her companions and their now worried faces. Leliana had moved closer to Aedan, whose hand had moved to rest on Shadow's neck. Gavarth was glaring grimly from his one eye. Anders and Zevran were casting each other worried glances. Garrett and Michael had also accompanied them and were shifting uncomfortably. Levi gave them an anxious glance.
They climbed the remaining steps gasping as the air rippled around them; the empty courtyard suddenly full of soldiers, speaking of imprisoning the Wardens within the Peak itself. As the images faded they glanced at each other in concern.
"The veil is so thin here." Anders murmured his anxiety obvious.
They had barely walked into the courtyard when the first attack was launched. Skeletons that littered the stone reanimated and lunged after them, seeming to carry all of the skill they had when alive. Anders and Grace quickly paralysed and stunned giving the others a chance to attack them. However the skeletons were relentless. Having no life of their own they simply kept attacking.
"We need to find the damn demon powering them!" Duncan roared above the clash of steel.
Giving a nod to Anders who switched to healing the group; Grace backed away to the gate to give herself some space, Leliana moving just across from her to provide covering fire. Grace extended her magic, looking for the source of the energy that slithered through the bones of their attackers. She gave a sharp intake of breath and span around as the demon shifted into view behind her. It was like smoke and ash and she screamed as it washed over her. Struggling to breathe, Grace fought against the thick substance that was sliding over her trying to suffocate her. Lights danced before her eyes and her attempts to struggle were weakening. Despite the confusion of her brain that was starting to be starved of oxygen, Grace realised the demon was trying to sink into her. She felt herself land on the stone; the cold wetness of the snow sinking into her robe, its icy touch freezing her skin.
Anders gave a cry of alarm immediately forming glyphs to protect Grace and try and drain the demon of its power. Hunter was howling fiercely, snapping at the demon that slithered around her.
Michael brought his blade down against the demon; but it was insubstantial, the blade sinking through its vapour like form. He backed off realising he was more likely to harm Grace than the demon attacking her.
Grace called to the magic deep within herself, pulled it through her body shielding herself from the demon trying to invade her. The energy throbbed almost painfully until golden energy burst out of her shattering her attacker along with its skeleton puppets.
Duncan slid to the floor beside her gripping her shoulders as she coughed violently, Hunter whining and nudging her. He hugged her tightly and pulled her to her feet, his voice trembling slightly. "You okay?"
Grace coughed again and took some gasping breaths, but nodded. "Let's go."
Loghain ran both hands through his thick black hair and gave a deep sigh. Before leaving Denerim he had noticed the signs of grey, with what weighed on his soul he was not surprised. Sitting slightly apart from the group he allowed his mind to wander, having done little else during their journey from Denerim. He cast cautious glances to Alistair who was keeping Aurora entertained, exchanging small talk with Merrin.
Loghain had few regrets, his life had been brutal and he had adapted to being a warrior and a General from his humble beginnings of a farmer's son. He had been loyal to Maric and then to Cailan, but he wished he had remained loyal to Alistair. He glanced up and realised Alistair was watching him before turning away, conflict clear on his face.
Loren began preparing a meal, Lynais making no attempt to hide the fact he was watching Loghain with great suspicion. The former Teyrn couldn't blame them; his part in poisoning Alistair had them all on edge. He was allowed nowhere near the food and drink supplies and was kept under watch at all times. Trust had to be earned and he knew that would be a long time in coming, if ever. Duncan had made it very clear if they even suspected him of attempting to harm any Warden; but especially Alistair, he would be executed. His eyes drew like a magnet to his granddaughter, the child he had not been allowed near. She looked like Anora had at her age. He wondered at the similarities of their names and was curious if Alistair had chosen the name out of affection or respect for his dead lover. He shuddered; his daughter was dead, his only link to her the child in Alistair's arms.
Alistair glanced at Loghain struggling with the grief and anger he carried. Grace had held him as he had wept over the death of his brother and the betrayal of his childhood mentor. In time he knew the pain would lessen; his anger would dim, but for now it was raw and Loghain in their group prodded at the wound ceaselessly. He kissed his daughter, handing her to Merrin and rose to his feet.
Loghain was startled by Alistair's approach and both men eyed each other with apprehension. "She's beautiful." Loghain said at last. Alistair nodded his mouth too dry to offer comment. He scuffed his boots against the soil. "I had no idea you and Anora were...involved."
Alistair glared at Loghain, hatred darkening his eyes. "We were not involved." He ground out.
"The child was not immaculately conceived." Loghain persisted.
"No." Alistair slowly unclenched his fists, forcing himself to look at Loghain. "Your daughter was a scheming bitch, seems she took after you."
"Do not speak of her that way!" Loghain roared, leaping to his feet.
The Wardens rose; swords unsheathing, halted only by Alistair raising his hand. He moved closer to Loghain the tension thick between them. "Your daughter drugged me to enable her to conceive. The act was not one I consented to, nor wanted. I must live the rest of my life knowing my daughter was merely a way to enable Anora to maintain her status. One day I will have to tell Aurora about her mother; but I swear Loghain, if I ever catch you speaking of Anora to my daughter before I do, I will kill you with my bare hands."
Loghain let out a low breath. "You have grown stronger."
"You gave me no choice." Alistair lowered his head, closing his eyes trying to order his thoughts. "Why did you do it? Why did you help my brother poison me? I trusted you. Maker I trusted you both."
"At the time you were a threat to the throne."
Alistair stared at him in disbelief. "I was a threat!"
"Your affair with the mage was undesirable and your sympathy for Eamon was...unfortunate."
Alistair felt rage and injustice well through him, his fist impacting with Loghain's jaw before he could stop himself. Loghain hit the ground with a clank of armour, staring at Alistair with a mixture of pride and annoyance.
"Stay down Loghain." Danforth hissed his sword at his throat. "Alistair, I believe Aurora requires your attention." Alistair backed away, shaking with the chaos of emotions pounding through him. Danforth turned back to Loghain. "Stay away from him Loghain, or face me."
Loghain nodded, sinking once more into dark thoughts.
The Peak was haunted, that was clear. The veil so thin Anders skin was crawling. Again and again they were assaulted by animated corpses.
"Don't these damn things stay dead?" Gavarth grumbled decapitating a skeleton. It would have been comical to watch its hand reach for the head, if the other hand was not still holding a sword. They hacked it to pieces and hurried to the next floor, hoping they wouldn't have to fight it again on the way out.
They entered a small office; having searched every room so far, in the hopes of finding some information on the events that had occurred at the Peak and froze. A woman in the old style Warden Commander's armour stood with her back to them facing the fire. She turned and all took an involuntary step back. Her flesh had been frozen after it had started to decompose. The skin was dark; mottled and hanging off the bones, the hair a web of brittle strands. She regarded them with dead eyes.
Levi gave a low moan of recognition, backing away.
"Sophia Dryden I presume." Grace broke the silence when it became clear no one else was going to speak.
The possessed corpse leered at Grace. "My, my, what do we have here? Now you would be a fine body for any demon to wear."
Grace shuddered at the image that decided to flit across her brain, Hunter pressing against her leg letting out a low growl.
The corpse held up her hands placating as the Wardens prepared to strike her down. "I ask that you hear me out. This one would see the world; would taste its pleasures, would explore its hidden places. The veil is thin here; many of my kin would pour through the tear. This one would fix it, but in return you let this one go."
"We don't bargain with demons." Duncan stated firmly, regarding her with suspicion.
"The choice is yours; one of me, or many of my kind."
Grace slipped back to stand next to Anders. "Could we fix the veil ourselves?"
He ran his fingers through his hair. "It's possible, but it won't be easy."
The battle was violent; the demon inhabiting Sophia was deceptively strong and again skeletons reanimated to join the fight. Grace and Anders caught her in a paralysis glyph; while Duncan drove his blades into the flesh at her neck, Gavarth driving his axe across her back, the armour cleaved open. The others hacked her skeleton protectors to pieces.
With its dying breath; the demon inhabiting Sophia Dryden's corpse lurched towards Grace, gripping her arms and pinning her to the wall, hissing in her ear. "Urthemiel will rise again." Before the corpse fell to the floor, decomposing at Grace's feet.
Grace stared in horror; her throat constricting, her heart pounding. If she had needed more proof that Flemeth had succeeded in conceiving, that was it.
Grace was so absorbed in her disturbing thoughts she barely registered the corpses they ploughed through to reach the tower. Luckily the others destroyed them before she was in any danger.
Anders nudged her arm. "Grace we can't afford to be distracted here."
Grace nodded, forcing herself to focus on the present. They finally reached a small room lined with books. Unlike the rest of the Keep this room was clean and ordered. A table nestled between two doorways, littered with books and untouched parchment. Grace wandered over, her fingertips resting on a dark green vial.
Anders glanced up from flicking through what appeared to be a diary of sorts. "Don't touch that!" He snapped pulling the vial from Grace's startled grasp. "Read this."
Grace winced at the passages of Avernus's torture and experimentation on his fellow Wardens. The diary was horrifically detailed, the language cold and detached. Grace shuddered, imagining the screams of those subjected to the various procedures. She handed the book to her father who read a few passages; slamming it onto the table, his face dark with anger. Gripping his sword Duncan opened the nearest door, leading them to the upper chamber, startled by the ancient mage who walked towards them.
Avernus had felt an unknown magic move through the Peak; it was tantalising, intoxicating, his mind already running through the possibilities. His eyes were drawn to the young woman who was the source of the power. He cocked his head to one side stunned by the sheer complexity of the energy within and around her. It pulled him, called to him and only years of self-discipline and blood magic kept him from answering her unconscious call. "Such power." He muttered. "The things I could do."
Grace looked at him in alarm; Zevran and Anders moving to flank her, glaring at the ancient mage.
Avernus's eyes narrowed. "Why are you here?"
"We have come to reclaim this base for the Warden's." Duncan informed him; putting himself in front of Grace, breaking Avernus's line of sight.
"It's been so long since there have been Warden's here. Dear Sophie no longer counts."
"You're a monster!" Anders hissed angrily.
"Am I now? I did what was necessary. My research opens up whole new possibilities for the Wardens; we have barely tapped our potential." He glanced to Grace, his thumbs rubbing against his fingertips in nervous excitement. "If I had some of her blood I could work wonders." Avernus suddenly found himself pinned to the wall by a furious Duncan.
"You betrayed those you called brothers; you tore a hole in the fade and destroyed this place. You will help us to repair the damage you have done!"
Avernus licked his lips nervously. "I will help you." He straightened his robes as Duncan released him; his eyes drifting once more to Grace, his curiosity getting the better of him.
Avernus found it intoxicating standing next to Grace. The power swept out from her and he basked in it, soaking up what he could without her noticing.
"Avernus." Duncan hissed warningly.
Avernus began to unravel the summoning spells he had cast a life time ago. Demons poured through the tear; the numbers overwhelming, but the majority of the party were used to fighting with each other and each used their skills to the advantage of the others. It soon became unfortunately clear that the demons were attracted to Grace. As annoying as that was she took advantage and lured them away from the others, enabling her companions to attack almost without retaliation.
Avernus was barely giving them time to defeat one set of demons; before he was unravelling another summoning spell. Grace had the suspicion he was testing her abilities so she stuck to basic spells and healing.
When the final demon was despatched he stared at her mournfully. "You barely tapped into your potential, we could learn so much from each other."
Grace shuddered slightly, edging closer to Zevran.
Duncan approached him, his sword remaining unsheathed.
"So, you will choose my fate will you Commander?"
Duncan felt trapped between wanting to kill the mage and realising his potential usefulness.
Grace gently grasped her father's arm. "Perhaps he would be useful." She winced at the less than happy look from Anders. "Avernus, was there any indication in your...your research that suggested the Joining could be made safer?"
He regarded her with calculating eyes. "Perhaps."
Grace turned to Duncan. "If he was allowed to live, Avernus could research ways to make the Joining safer."
Avernus raised an eyebrow. "I would be willing to do that in exchange for my life, whatever may be left of it. I will need test subjects of course."
"No test subjects!" Grace snapped before anyone else could speak.
Avernus spluttered indignantly. "And how am I supposed to test the potion without live subjects?"
Grace remained next to Zevran, but her eyes locked with Avernus until it seemed they were the only two in the room. "You are a formidable mage, inventive and intelligent. You will find a way I have no doubt."
Avernus was well aware the young mage was playing to his ego, and to his surprise it was working. "I suppose it is possible. For such difficult circumstances in which to work on the Joining potion I will require a vial of your blood as … compensation for my dedication and hard work."
Duncan gripped his robes almost throttling him, wiping the mages smug look from his face. "Your compensation is your life."
Avernus found himself on the floor as Duncan pushed him away. He glared at the Warden Commander, then ignored him and turned once more to Grace. "What is one tiny vial of blood?"
Grace gripped her father's arm to stop him from striking down the mage, hunkering down next to him. "You will find a way to make the Joining potion safe to use with minimal loss of life and you will do it quickly. There will be no one to experiment on save yourself. Do this and you can have one vial of blood and one only." She ignored her companion's horrified gasps.
Avernus smirked. "Why is this so important?"
"I have my reasons."
He hesitated smiling somewhat smugly. "We have a deal." Avernus bowed low to the Wardens and returned to his tower.
Duncan gripped Grace's arm, his fingers painfully tight. His whole body seemed invaded with a sense of panic. "Why?" His tone harsher then he meant it to be.
Grace swallowed painfully. "Because we are going to need more Wardens."
Duncan looked at her startled and released his grip, his blood running cold.
Author Note: Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed.
The character Sunshine is a creation of Mistress Vo who is writing a story entitled The Disreputable Cowgirl. This takes the events I created for Grace and is creating a story based on a relationship between Sunshine and Duncan. From this point I will also include my version of Sunshine in this story.