The army took losses from the sudden attack, but they're still holding for the moment. Several more waves of darkspawn arrive throughout the day as the horde marches on. Speculation is rampant as to how they were able to get so close without anyone noticing them, but I keep my mouth shut on the matter.

I call an emergency meeting of the various faction leaders to let them know what's going on.

"The archdemon is finally moving, and the horde has started pounding at our fortress seriously," Loghain says.

"How's the army holding up?" I ask.

"We're starting to take heavy losses from this assault," Loghain says.

"Caridin's makeshift Shaping hall is churning out creations as fast as he can make them," Rispy says. "The firestalkers are dying just as quickly as they're being replaced."

"The noble sacrifice of these poor creatures should be honored," Keeper Marethari says.

"At least the creatures are taking losses that would otherwise be people dying, and taking out some darkspawn in the process," Scregor says.

I can see quite clearly how the attitudes of the Shapers of Terrestia got started. When there's a war going on and you're fighting for survival, you don't care to wonder about the rights of creatures you don't think are sentient anyway. And if that means throwing countless newly made creations at the enemy, then so be it. You can always make more, right?

"If Caridin were willing to share some information about them," First Enchanter Irving says, "then the Circle of Magi may be able to help with-"

"No," Rispy says firmly. "Absolutely not."

"Do you not trust mages?" Irving says.

"Wise if he does not," Sten says quietly.

"That has nothing to do with it," Rispy says. "Caridin's not going to allow knowledge of lifecrafting to spread out of control."

"Surely he can't expect to keep a tight reign on it forever," Irving says.

"The knowledge might be lost again, like the secret to making golems was," Scregor says. "But I'll trust Caridin to know what he's doing."

"Better that the knowledge be lost than for it to fall into the wrong hands," Rispy says.

"You can discuss possibilities with Caridin later," I say. "Maybe he'd be willing to take some mages as apprentices. But that's a matter for another time. Right now, all we need to do is hold the line, and wait for the archdemon to come."

"Our defenses are strong," Loghain says. "We can hold."

"What do we do when the archdemon gets here?" asks Knight-Commander Greagoir.

"Kill her," I say. "The Grey Wardens will finish her off."

After the meeting, Duncan pulls me aside privately. "Have you found a way to get around the problem we encountered before?"

I give a nod. "Hopefully. Kirlin and I will be performing the ritual tonight."

"And if this doesn't work," Rispy says. "I will kill the archdemon myself."

"It isn't necessary for you to sacrifice yourself," Duncan says. "There are many other older Wardens present..."

Rispy shakes his head. "That's not what it's about. The fact that I'm also bound to Lexen may make a difference."

Duncan nods. "I see. What is important is ending the threat of the darkspawn by any means necessary. And that does mean any means. You have my full authorization to use anything at your disposal to get the job done, even if it may seem questionable."

"Understood," I say.

I gather up all of my bondmates and prepare for the ritual as the hour of midnight approaches. Not that there's much real preparation to be made. No circles of runes or lit candles, no silver bowls of water or burning incense.

I'm terrified. Terrified of something going horribly wrong. Of the thought of losing those I care about. Of losing not only Cassie, but Tom and Rispy also. It's paranoia, I know. Completely unfounded paranoia. But I am not reassured.

And I can't get Urthemiel's face out of my mind. She's watching me, bearing down upon me. She's coming. And there will be hell to pay.

"Relax, Lexen," Kirlin says to me gently. "It'll be alright."

"I just can't shake the feeling that something is going to go horribly wrong," I say. "Something always goes horribly wrong."

"I think we've fulfilled our quota of things going horribly wrong by this point," Gellert says with a smirk.

"I should certainly hope so," Rispy says.

"Midnight's almost upon us," Kirlin says. "Let's do this."

The sky rumbles, and the darkspawn move in. It's dawn, and the sun should be rising, but there is no dawn at Ostagar this morning. At the head of the storm flies the archdemon Urthemiel, deep violet wings stretched out against the blackened sky.

Mage spells and Dalish arrows fly at the tainted dragon, but I know there's a better way to bring her to the ground.

I focus my magic and shapeshift, changing into my true form. I spread my wings and take to the air with a push of my strong haunches. At least I'm more comfortable with this body than I was the last time I met her like this, but that still doesn't change the fact that she's larger, stronger and more powerful than me.

Urthemiel's jaws snap at me and catch me around the neck, crushing my throat and snapping my spine.

I wake and head out for the battle again, unfazed by my failure back there. I think I've gotten entirely too used to dying repeatedly. I shift form and fly up toward the archdemon again.

Urthemiel fixes her attention upon me. She crashes into my mind as though my Occlumency barriers simply aren't there.

I fall out of the air, crashing through a group of genlocks. In my distraction, I'm not fighting back very effectively. Their blades slice at me, and one of them plunges into my eye.

I wake and return to the battle just as before, and shift form. I look up into the sky, at the black dragon silhouetted against a shadowed sky. Still feeling her clearly in my mind...

Urthemiel is beautiful. What am I fighting for? Why am I doing this?

My blood burns for her. My soul sings for her.

I can't do this. I can't fight her. Why should I fight her?

I fight... I fight for salvation. For life. For hope.

Tom's words trickle back to me as though from a million miles away, jumbled together with little semantic sense, but the meaning is clear. Not only can I not save everyone, but why should I destroy myself trying to? Why should I agonize over changing everything that I can?

No. No, damn it. I can't think like this. I can't live like this.

I take to the air again, struggling, staggering, flying unsteadily. An arrow strikes me in the wing, and I hiss and swerve in pain.

"No, the smaller dragon is on our side!" says one of the human archers below.

"Are you sure?" asks a Dalish elf standing near him.

"I think so, at least!"

"You better be right about that, shem."

I shake my head and try to clear my mind. I'm not fighting Urthemiel. I'm saving her. She's been driven mad by the taint. I'm trying to help her.

I dart into the air and swoop down upon the archdemon from above, coming down upon her back. She shakes for a moment, but she's so much bigger than me that she could probably just carry me. I need to bring her down, however. We struggle in the air, and I claw at her wings in hopes of dropping her from the air. I manage to get in a good strike, but she snaps around with her jaws and almost rips off my right wing completely.

I shriek in pain, and cling to the back of the dragon as we both plummet from the sky. We hit the ground hard, and I go tumbling away, nearly bowling over a line of Dalish archers.

Bleeding and in pain, I lay still on the ground. I don't dare change back like this. I don't know what might be missing, if I even survived the shock of the shapeshifting. And I don't want to die now. Not when I've actually succeeded in bringing the archdemon to the ground.

"Lexen!" cries Kirlin, footsteps running toward me.

"That's Lexen?" says another voice.

"Come on! Help me heal him!"

Soothing energy of healing magic slowly begins to wash over me, stemming the blood running out of my wing-stump.

"There, I think we can stop the bleeding at least," Kirlin says. "Here, drink these down."

She prods at my mouth, and I open up to let her pour healing and lyrium potions down my throat. I swallow them down, and then lift my head to look over toward where Urthemiel fell. The Grey Wardens are doing their duty now, fighting with all they've got, although it looks like there have been some casualties. Even on the ground, a dragon is a force to be reckoned with.

"I know you want to go over and help them," Kirlin says. "But you've done enough. They can handle it from here. You just stay put and try not to move too much. I don't know if we can save that wing... or what that might mean when you change back."

I see Lariole fighting, and Theryn, and Rispy, and Duncan. Each of them gets thrown aside, the dragon's tail whipping around and knocking them off their feet, claws raking at them, jaws snapping, torn wings flailing.

The two elves lay on the ground, bloody and motionless. Duncan stirs weakly, trying to climb to his feet. Rispy, however, stands up firmly, seeming unharmed. His dragonscale armor must have protected him from being too badly injured.

Rispy grabs his sword and charges at the archdemon, plunging it into the dragon's throat. Blood gushes out, and I can hear Urthemiel's shrieks in my mind even as she writhes in pain.

The dwarf pulls out the sword, and lifts it again, as if bearing the weight of the world upon his stout shoulders. He climbs on top of the archdemon's head, and thrusts the sword into the skull.

A pillar of light splits the air, piercing the black clouds overhead.

A wave of peace and calm washes through my mind, and then there is silence.

The darkspawn break in confusion, and as the army starts hacking them apart with renewed vigor, many of the creatures start to turn and flee.

A cheer rises up among the army even as they are quick to finish off any stragglers. It's over. It's really over.

"I'm afraid the wing's going to have to come off," Tom says.

"I wasn't sure if it would be possible to heal it or not," I hiss in Parseltongue. Dragons don't normally speak Parseltongue, but their mouth structure is actually capable of forming it at least. I can't manage comprehensible English in this form.

"We might have been able to, but the damage is too extensive," Tom says. "It's only hanging on by a flap of skin at the moment as it is. Furthermore, it's badly tainted. What's more? None of us know how to heal a dragon. We're just throwing basic anatomy and raw light magic at you here."

"It's alright," I hiss. "It's over. We won. The ritual worked. That's all that matters."

"Yes," Tom says. "And we're going to clean up what's left of the taint as best as we can. However, this is very important. You should never return to this period of time. Because if you do, you could very well get tainted again and wind up soulbound to an insane, corrupted dragon."

"She's still bound to me," I reply.

"Yes, and she's a pure and untainted being now," Tom says. "Coming back to the intervening time span could very well taint her again to."

I give a slight nod of my reptilian head. "After everything that's happened, I don't know that I would want to go back to that span of time anyway."

As they work on my injuries as best as they can, and see about removing that wing, grateful people come through our makeshift infirmary that was set up where I landed. Some of them just bow to me and murmur words of thanks. Others leave gifts of food or treasure. I'm hungry enough to gobble up the food right away, and I certainly don't have the heart to turn away the loot.

Sten comes in, and says, "I have heard rumors in the camp. Is this a man who is pretending to be a dragon? Or a dragon pretending to be a man?"

I hiss, "The latter, technically."

Tom translates for me, "Lexen is a dragon that can take on human form."

"Lexen..." Sten says. "That is the one you bas call Ashkaari, is it not? But he is not Saarebas, but Ataashi...?"

"I'm afraid I don't speak your tongue," Tom says.

"I believed him a mere mage," Sten says. "But he is a dragon. Surprising."

Tom nods to him, and then looks over toward me. "We've done what we can. You want to try changing form now?"

He can't easily stun me when I'm in this form, so hopefully this won't kill me. I close my eyes and focus on shifting my form. It's painful, and takes quite a bit of effort, but after a couple minutes of concentration, I'm in a small and frail human body once again.

I open my eyes and examine my body. My right arm is missing from below the elbow. It's not bleeding or anything anymore, but it still feels very strange.

"Would you do it over again?" Tom says. "If it meant you could try it again to do it without injury?"

"No," I reply. "Not to risk anyone else dying, or worse, failure."

I know what he's really asking, and couching it in terms of hypotheticals for the benefit of those who are present who aren't in the know. I don't really know what I feel about taking an injury that will stay with me for the remainder of my time in this world, however long that might be. But I can't help but feel that my hand was a small price to pay to stop the Blight.

"Ataashi Ashkaari," Sten says to me in Qunlat, "The Beresaad will be leaving Ferelden, now that the Blight has ended. I believe we will have a satisfactory answer for the Arishok now. Will you be coming with us?"

I had intended to go with Tom to Kirkwall. But I still find myself thinking on it and actually considering it for a few moments before shaking my head. "There are other things that I must do before I can even think about going back. And I am still seeking."

"I see," Sten says.

I turn and look off at the blighted lands stretching to the south of Ostagar. The black clouds are breaking apart, and shafts of sunlight shine down upon the blemished wilds. Somewhere in the distance, a single bird lets out a lonely song.

"Still," I say. "I think we have done well here. For all that has been lost this day, this has been a great victory. The tide rises, the tide falls, but the sea is changeless."

"Victory is in the Qun," Sten says quietly.

We part ways, and I head back toward my tent. Along the way, people nod to me, and smile at me. It seems like everyone recognizes me today. There are many dead, but right now, people are tending to the wounded.

Rispy and Duncan are inside the tent, and Rispy beams from ear to ear at me when I enter, although it fades when his eyes fall upon my missing hand. "Good to see you're alright, for the most part."

"It's fine," I say, shrugging. "It's a good thing I'm left-handed?" I chuckle. "I'm glad to see you're both alright, too. I hate to ask, but what's the death toll like? Did Theryn and Lariole make it?"

"They're wounded, but they should recover in time," Duncan says. "We lost several others in the fight, however. As for me, I'm surprised to have survived the Blight, but I will be returning with the dwarves to Orzammar."

"You're going to your Calling?" I say, raising an eyebrow. "There's no need for that. I'm sure we can find-"

Duncan raises a hand to stop me. "It's alright, Lexen. You have done enough. More than enough. I have no regrets."

"Oh, come on," I say. "You're not even half as old as Caridin and Zathrian, and I managed to convince both of them not to needlessly go commit suicide. The whole world is before you. You can't tell me that you have nothing left to live for, that there's nothing more that you could possibly want to do."

Duncan sighs. "I suppose you're right. But what would you suggest?"

I give a broad, wild grin, and say, "We take a trip to the Urn of Sacred Ashes on Summerday."

"Yes," Tom nods in agreement. "We can get Rispy then as well, and make sure that there's no residual taint in you, just in case. We can bring the full circle of seven, just to make sure."

"This is strange magic that you have discovered," Duncan says. "But I suppose, with the Blight over, I can hold off until then."

Gellert comes into the tent, and he can't seem to stop snickering. "And so you said to her, 'No, I am your father!' and then she like, cut off your hand, and you were all, 'No, no, you've got it backwards, you bitch!'"

"That's totally not how it happened," I say with a smirk.

Back in Denerim, King Cailan holds a celebration for us. He's still sniffling a bit, but his mysterious illness has just as mysteriously gone away now that the Blight is over. He puts medals over the necks of each of the Grey Wardens who survived the battle. We don't bother telling him that Tom, Kirlin, and Gellert aren't technically Grey Wardens.

"All we need now is a Wookiee," Gellert says.

"We totally don't need a Wookiee," I say.

"Whatever," Gellert says. He waves a hand, and suddenly music starts playing. A triumphant fanfare of trumpets sounding out of nowhere.

"That's not the Star Wars theme, is it?" I say.

"Oh, come on," Gellert says. "You're Anakin Skywalker's son, and you don't even recognize the main theme?"

"You are all insane," Rispy says.

"Anyway, I'll be heading back to Redcliffe after the party," Gellert says.

"Going to keep your teaching job?" I say.

"Yeah," Gellert says. "I've grown somewhat fond of the kid. He's got a lot of potential, and I'd hate to see it wasted by stuffing him away for life."

"And I'm going back to Orzammar for a bit," Rispy says. "Rica showed up at the party, did you see?"

He gestures over toward a redheaded dwarven woman, standing beside a man who seems vaguely familiar.

"Who's that she's with?" I ask.

"Gorim," Rispy says. "Apparently they're getting married. And there's talk of making me a Paragon." He snorts softly. "All I had to do was kill an archdemon to do it."

"Just remember," Tom says. "Summerday in Haven."

"Won't miss it," Rispy says.

"So, what do you think we should call her?" Kirlin says, rubbing her belly absently, although it's far too early for her to be showing yet.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"I mean, we can't hardly call her Urthemiel," Kirlin says with a smirk.

I chuckle. "We call her Raven, of course."

"You know," Gellert says. "I didn't mention this before, since you seemed so set on the name, but do you have any idea how horribly cliche that name is?"

I smirk at him. "But I like ravens."

"No, seriously," Gellert says. "What are you going to call her. Raven Midnight Skywalker Dragonblood? That's horrible."

"Besides, I thought your family had a plant theme going on for the women," Tom says.

I glare at both of them. "Damn it, you guys. I like the name!"

"It's a horrible name, Lexen," Gellert says.

"Argh," Kirlin says, rolling her eyes. "If Lexen wants her to be named Raven, then she'll be named Raven, alright?"

"Alright, alright," Gellert says, throwing up his hands. "I totally won't mention it again, then."

I head out into the streets of Denerim with Tom and Kirlin at either side. It's a beautiful day, an overcast sky breaking apart into streaks of blue, the scent of rain still hanging in the air. A bright rainbow arches through the sky over the city. A symbol of hope, signifying the end of the storm.

Every storm has an ending. All strife will pass. All troubles are fleeting. The tide rises, the tide falls. And life goes on.

A/N: The Blight is over, but Lexen's story continues in "Stormseeker: Flight of Dragons". Thanks for reading!