Part One

A/N: This story was a bit of an experiment in writing in second person, and in taking on Alistair's perspective. In the interest of saving your time and mine, the story focuses more on Alistair's thoughts and feelings than on describing the events that you experience during the game. This takes prior to my one-shot "A Fate Worse than Darkspawn." I hope you enjoy it!

Unnecessary disclaimer: None of the characters, storylines, or dialogue appearing in the video game, Dragon Age: Origins, belong to me.

Abstract: You knew as soon as you saw her that she was going to be trouble. Alistair/Cousland

Maker, though the darkness comes upon me,

I shall embrace the light. I shall weather the storm.

I shall endure.

What you have created, no one can tear asunder.

-Trials 1:10

When you turn and see her, you immediately make a fool of yourself. It's not surprising—you've always had trouble talking to women, and she is the most beautiful woman you've met at Ostagar. Or anywhere, really.

You blush as you take in her golden hair and serious gray eyes, but she hardly seems to notice your embarrassment. She asks you for your name, and that's when it dawns on you.

"You're Duncan's new recruit, aren't you?"

As she nods your heart sinks. "Ella Cousland," she says, and sticks out a hand to shake.

You are certain you've heard the name Cousland somewhere before, but that isn't the foremost thing on your mind.

You tell her to meet you back at the fire with Duncan, and watch her as she walks away. You can't stop the feelings of anger rising up in you, and have to fight the urge to pull Duncan aside and ask him what the hell he was thinking. Not because she's a woman—you have met female Wardens before and all of them were absolutely fearsome.

Partly it's that you are certain this Ella must be younger than you are, and surely too small to be a warrior. You can see the sword and shield on her back, but you can't possibly picture her using them.

But the reason you are angriest is one you try not to think about, because you know that it's wrong for you to feel this way. In spite of all your own objections, you can't stop the question that rises in your mind. How could Duncan bear to taint something so pure and beautiful?

When you reach Duncan an unexpected sight greets you. At his feet lay an enormous Mabari warhound, and the beast eyes you as you approach. When Duncan notices your apprehensive look, he sighs. "Ella's hound will be accompanying us, it seems."

You look over to her, and she stares back intensely, as if she is daring you to question her ownership of the creature. And in your head you do; she doesn't seem like the type. She must be strong-willed, fiercer than she looks, or else the Mabari wouldn't have chosen her. You're intrigued—how could you not be? You look her over with new interest. What other surprises hide behind those grey eyes?

As you watch her, Duncan begins to speak about the task ahead to the three new recruits. You are only half-listening—you've done this before. But when Duncan turns to you with a second set of instructions, you pay close attention.

And when you realize how important this second task is, you are as scared as the recruits are. Vague directions to a ruin long-deserted and deeply hidden in the wilds are hardly enough to help you. But you have no choice. If you don't find the Grey Wardens' treaties, how will you possibly get the help you need for this blight?

You examine the recruits closely as you head towards the Korcari wilds. Ser Jory looks terrified, and it doesn't surprise you. He isn't the most intelligent, but you suppose something must be said for brute force. Daveth seems scared but excited, the same way you felt when you started out as a Warden. Then you turn to Ella, your anomaly. When you try to interpret her expression, the only way you can describe it is blank, as if she sees and hears nothing. And you don't know what to think of that.

As you move into the wilds, the men begin to wonder things, certain that you will all be overwhelmed and killed by darkspawn as soon as you get far enough from camp. Getting sick of their talk, you finally blurt it out—you tell them that you can sense darkspawn, and this finally seems to shut them up.

However, the first thing you are attacked by isn't darkspawn, but a small pack of wolves. You hang back to watch the recruits fight, wanting to evaluate their abilities for yourself. You are not surprised by Ser Jory's strength or Daveth's skills, so you find yourself watching the girl. You raise an eyebrow at the unexpected strength that lies under her almost-fragile exterior. You had questioned to yourself whether she could really use that sword and shield, but now you can see that she might give even you a run for your money.

You have to shake your head at yourself. You shouldn't be surprised—Duncan would never recruit someone who wasn't ready for what was to come. You continue to observe her, unable to help being entranced by her fluid movements and singular focus. And then a thought hits you. This girl is the perfect secret weapon and has no idea.

It sickens you a bit when you realize Duncan must have thought so too.

You complete the first task quickly, the vials of darkspawn blood safely wrapped in linen in your pack. The second task proves to be more difficult, and it weighs heavily on you—it's one you feel to be your own responsibility.

As you search for the ruins, Ser Jory and Daveth's excessive chatter returns, and it grates on your nerves until you can't take it any longer. When Ella shuts them up for you, you shoot her a grateful smile which she briefly returns, solidarity in shared annoyance. It's the first time you see a hint of a smile on her face, and you desperately want to see it again.

After wandering for a while, you find the ruins of the Warden tower, but you are accosted by a witch of the wilds as you approach the chest that ought to contain the treaties. When you hesitate, Ella suddenly takes the lead. All three of you watch in surprise as she speaks with the witch, and you can't help but wonder if she has any idea just how much danger she could be in.

But with her eyes so determined, she makes you feel cowardly, and the three of you follow to retrieve your treaties.

On the journey back, Jory and Daveth finally quiet down, and it's a relief not to listen to their chatter. But as soon as you start to enjoy the quiet, Ella falls in step beside you and looks up at you with those big gray eyes.

"What can you tell me about this Joining?" she inquires. You've been expecting this question, but when she asks, you have difficulty with the answer.

"It's supposed to be a secret," you find yourself saying, and you're sure the girl can sense your discomfort.

She sighs and looks up at you plaintively. "Is it dangerous?"

"Yes," is all you can manage. You toy with the clasps on your metal bracers, unable to look her in the eye and tell her that she might die.

"Just how much danger am I in?" she asks, clearly unnerved by your demeanor. You can't meet her eyes or you'll blurt out anything, so you look away, ignoring the question. You just can't do it.

"If I don't…" she trails off and you finally glance over. Those deep gray eyes are pleading, and you sense a profound sadness within them. "If anything happens, please see that my hound is well cared-for."

You can't deny her that.

You had hoped you wouldn't have to attend the Joining, but deep down you knew all along that you wouldn't be so lucky. Most everyone is too busy on the eve of battle to take part, so Duncan's eyes are on you. You are the only one to go, and you steel yourself against what you know is coming. You pray to the Maker that she doesn't die, then you reprimand yourself and amend that prayer.

No one should have to die like this.

Duncan asks you to say the ceremonial words, the words that were once spoken to you, the words passed down from Warden to Warden. They are a reminder of your sacred duty, and of the solemn sacrifices of those who have gone before. A shiver goes down your spine as you speak.

"Join us, brothers and sisters.

Join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant.

Join us as we carry the duty that cannot be forsworn.

And should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten.

And that one day we shall join you."

You watch Duncan administer the rite to Daveth first. As he crumbles forward, you hold your breath, unable to tell if he will die. When Duncan speaks, you have your answer. "I'm sorry, Daveth."

You swallow your revulsion and try not to grimace as the man writhes on the ground. You force yourself to look away, studying the other recruits' reactions. Jory looks terrified, and you can't blame him. Ella, once again, looks completely blank, as if she isn't here at all. You are beginning to wonder if she's right in the head.

When Duncan turns to Jory, Jory pulls out a sword and you immediately know what will happen. You look away before Duncan runs him through, your stomach lurching at the sound.

When he turns to Ella you want to tell her to run. But you know that it's far too late, so you watch in silence, heart in your throat, as she takes the cup and drinks.

When she falls to the ground, Duncan says nothing. And that's when the relief flows through you.

She's going to be all right.

When she wakes up, you can't stifle a sigh of relief. You offer a hand to help her up, and when you do she's so close that you can feel her breath on your neck.

You try not to think about that as Duncan speaks. "You are a Grey Warden now," he tells her formally.

She seems rattled by the experience, so you pipe up. "Did you dream?"

When she looks at you oddly, you try to explain. "After my joining I had terrible dreams." You wonder what she dreamed of, and find yourself hoping that she didn't at all.

"Such things come as you begin to sense the darkspawn," Duncan tells her. "Take some time, and meet me at King Cailan's camp," he instructs. You find it odd that this new recruit would be invited to the war council, but Cailan is a bit strange, so you've heard. You've never met your half-brother yourself, and you usually try not to feel bitter about it.

You realize Ella is holding her head with both hands, and the question flies out of your mouth of it's own volition. "Are you all right?" You immediately berate yourself for the question—you know what the Joining is like. If her experience is anything like yours, she's got a splitting headache.

When she tells you she's fine, you have to stop yourself from rolling your eyes. "The headache will be gone by morning," you promise her, and a grateful look crosses her face before she wipes it away.

You follow her to lean on a low wall looking out across the wilds. She hasn't asked you to stay with her, but you feel as if she shouldn't have to be alone.

"What is that?" she asks, and you aren't sure at first what she means. "It feels… dark," she adds in response to your puzzled expression.

Again you feel a flash of anger at Duncan for doing this to her, and you make an effort to push those feelings away. "You're beginning to sense the darkspawn," you explain, hating that you have to do this. "The taint in you seeks out the taint in them. It will take a bit of time before you will really be able to understand and use it."

She nods and winces, and you fleetingly wish you could do something to ease that headache. "Can they sense us too?" she asks, her grey eyes on yours for just a moment before she turns to look back out onto the wilds.

You sigh. "Unfortunately." You watch her, lost in thought, thinking she looks even more beautiful in the moonlight. This is getting out of hand far too fast.

Even though it's the last thing you want to do, you have to leave her before you do something you'll regret. "I need to get back to the Warden camp and prepare, and you should go meet Duncan if you're ready."

For the second time, she almost smiles at you. "Goodnight, Alistair."

Yes, you are definitely in trouble.