"Who are you?" I asked, unable to see who stood before me. I could only ascertain that it spoke with my voice.
"Salem Cousland, daughter of Bryce and Eleanor, sister to Fergus, Teyrna of Highever, and Grey Warden." she answered. "I am you, Salem. Your truths and doubts and fears. Do not doubt my existence. All you need know is that I am here to stop you."
I clenched my hands around my swords. "I will not be stopped." I told her. "I am here for the Urn of Sacred Ashes and I will not be dissuaded."
"Won't you?" she asked. "You wept at the story of Andraste, lost your sanity in the face of our father, and now you stand before yourself. I know how close you are to the line between despair and resolve. You have nothing to keep you breathing. You crave death. What better way than to perish by your own hand?"
There is but one way to end this. I struck, one sword in an overhead strike, the other a slash to the side. My opponent blocked them both, deflected and returned. I dodged out of the range of her swords.
"Who have you become!?" she shouted. "Never have you struck the first blow! How can you even hope to retain your identity if you insist on tearing it to shreds!?"
"I am what I must be!" I defended myself with words and blades.
"What?" she asked, venom in her voice. "Stoic? Emotionless? Erecting a pretense of care and concern when all you want to do is set your blades against my throat!"
"I am not permitted to grieve!" I parried her blade and countered with mine, feeling satisfaction as she growled behind her teeth. First blood. "I do not," I hammered at her, driving her back, attempting to break her guard, "have the luxury," another of my strikes connected, "of time!"
She fell and I took a moment to rest, trying to calm my hectic breathing. A chorus of snarls and barks met my ears. Apparently Burrow faced his own demons as well.
Want to trade, boy? I smiled. I would be grateful for an enemy who could not speak.
"And yet," she stood and lashed out at me with a strength I could never have possessed. "You find the time to wallow in your indignation and self-pity! Leliana left me!" she taunted, keeping me on a barely maintained defensive. "I have to kill the archdemon! I have thirty fucking years left!"
"Stop!" I begged as she flung my own thoughts into my face.
"You want me to stop?" she brought her blade down and slashed deep across my thigh. I fell and she stood over me. "You want to go on believing that destiny has forced this cruelty upon you? We are not that ignorant. You would be dead if it were not for Duncan's presence in Highever the night Rendon Howe betrayed us. Instead of moldering in the earth you have thirty years left to live. Saving lives is a small price to pay for the continuation of your own."
Blood soaked through my clothes as I struggled to my feet. My left leg would not hold my weight.
"You see the taint as a gift?" I asked, incredulous. Never before had I thought...but I am talking to myself. Somewhere, within my mind, I must feel this way.
"It is a blessing." my Self replied. "Were it not for our tainted blood, we would never have met Leliana. We would never have known love."
No. No. You, with your twisted thoughts and skewed perspective, you do not get to say her name.
"Do not speak of her." I warned, lashing out.
She anticipated the blow, worked her sword around mine in an artful move, and flung my blade away.
"We love her." she did not heed my warning. "We lost our sight to keep her safe. And you forced her from our side."
My leg gave out and I splashed to my knees. The other Salem stood over me, pressing her sword againt my neck.
"So selflessly, you let Leliana slip away." she hissed. "So gallant, you gave her an escape from a road that leads to certain death. Out of love, you ruined us. I despise all that you are."
"Then you despise yourself." I claimed as my chest tightened and my heart burned.
"We are one and the same." she answered. "Your thoughts are mine, your emotions are mine, your pain is mine. That is why I have come here, Salem. Not to dissuade you from your mission but to give us the peace we both desire." she knelt down and placed a knife into my hand. "Do it, please. Take my life. End this misery. For both of us."
I rested the knife against her heart, feeling my mirror image do the same. To not feel anymore, I thought. A simple pressure, a simple action, and peace. It could very well be this easy. Yes. Peace. Write a legend for me, Leliana. Tell the world that I existed, that I fought for them as hard as I could, for as long as I was able. But do me one mercy. Omit this moment, this one moment...where I at last allow myself...to be selfish.
I pressed deeper on the blade, embracing the mirroring pressure, the knowledge that my other's knife lay against the scar left by Leliana. When she thought I was worth saving, I remembered. When she thought we were worth saving.
A pleasant pain iced through me as I felt the tip of the blade press through my shirt and against my skin.
I will not ask forgiveness.
I gripped the knife's hilt and reached back, ready for the mirroring blow that would end my life, as I ended her. I struck...felt the wind knocked from my lungs. I fell back against the floor, listening to the sickening crunch of Burrow's jaws around my other's neck.
The mabari howled a song of sorrow and it spun through the room, careening off the stone, crashing into my ears again and again and again. He rushed to me, licking my face, leaving bloody streaks of care and devotion.
"Damn you!" I shrieked, striking the dog across his muzzle.
Burrow withdrew, whimpering. I pushed myself off of the ground.
"Why?" I screamed the question that none could answer. "Why can you not let me die!? Why will no one lest me rest!?"
What have I done wrong, I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. It would have been so easy. It still could be.
I clutched the knife that Burrow had knocked from my hands and held it to my throat.
All my suffering. All my pain. It ends now. Damn the Maker. Damn the world. Damn me.
Burrow's jaw clamped around my wrist, threatening me. My hand trembled, though it was not from the pressure of his teeth. I hung my head, ashamed. I flung the knife away and embraced the mabari, clinging to him with what little strength I had left.
"I'm sorry." I whispered, thankful that he alone had witnessed this moment. "Forgive me, please. Forgive me. I...I cannot believe...thank you, Burrow. Thank you."
He whuffed into my ear, my cruelty towards him already forgotten. I rose to my feet, leaning heavily on my right leg.
I will not be able to walk much farther, I realized. I have to reach the Ashes. I must...I must prove the Guardian and myself wrong. My resolve is not yet gone. My life is not yet gone. I will press forward.
Write a legend for me, Leliana. Tell the world that I existed. Tell them that I fought for them, as hard as I could.