I've been working on this story for about a year, and now that I've nearly finished it (and saved it to separate devices... stupid dying laptop wiping out all my other stories...), I feel like I can actually start posting it!
This is an 'all origins are true' story, and it is epic in length, but hopefully the characters will be compelling enough to capture your interest, curiosity, and perhaps even hearts. There is no main character, making it an ensemble tale of clashing personalities and difficult decisions. Like some other writers in this fandom, I will have two members of the mage origin instead of one: one human and one elf. Thus, instead of one lone Grey Warden with the world sitting on his shoulders, we have seven. Not as dramatic, but a heck of a lot more entertaining.
Even if you balk at the sheer amount of OCs, I, at least, have had a lot of fun with it.
There are a lot of chapters, so I suspect updates will be coming hard and fast!
Warnings: some mild swearing, adult themes, and some relationships that are not particularly heterosexual… the game has Leliana and Zevran in canon, after all.
1. The Thief
"Maker's Oily Pig Breath," the red-headed elf cursed as she swept through the door. She swiftly crossed to the kitchen table and let the soft bundle in her arms drop onto it. "I want new cousins. Those two dunderheads are obviously defective."
Uncle Cyrion chuckled, glancing up from his cooking. "Need I remind you, Shianni, that one of those 'dunderheads' is my son?"
"Exactly." She crossed her arms, but the smirk on her lips assured her uncle of how serious she wasn't. "I blame you."
Cyrion's smile was gentle yet amused as he returned to dicing. "And what is it, pray tell, that I am taking the blame for this time?"
"Apparently, they didn't show up to their fittings this afternoon, which of course meant that Caria came at me with those nasty needles of hers." Shianni raised her voice in an unflattering imitation of the elven community's tailor. "'If that layabout doesn't care enough about his own wedding to show up for his fitting, then I don't care about it enough either!' And then she thrust a pile of cloth into my arms and stalked off." She gestured toward the bundle on the table. "What am I supposed to do with cloth, I asked myself? Really expensive cloth, I might add? And then it hit me… I can strangle them with it! Seems only fair, right?"
The elder elf was barely holding back laughter. "Shianni, you are not strangling my son."
"Well, fine. But I'm not sewing any wedding outfits, either. Let Soris and Finian say their vows plumb naked, for all I care." She paused thoughtfully, then let out an amused snort. "Actually, that certainly would liven things up around here."
"Oh, don't even pretend to be scandalized, Uncle. I can see right through you."
The elder finally tilted his head back and laughed. Then, he turned his smile to her and shook his head in exasperation. "Be that as it may… perhaps you should go fetch the boys. To warn them of Caria's wrath, at the least."
Shianni let out the most put-upon sigh she could muster. "Fine, fine. I'll go find them and sic them on Caria. But only because I want to watch Fin try to talk his way out of this one." She snagged a piece of carrot that Cyrion was currently trying to prepare for dinner, and bounded out the door to the sound of his gentle scolding.
The Alienage was alive in the late afternoon. The buildings may have been sparse and sagging, but the people were as warm and familiar as ever, greeting one another by name and exchanging pleasantries as they went about their business. Old Mariel was under the great tree, telling her grandchildren about its history again. The Gerel twins were just returning from work at the Howe estate, looking as haggard as ever, poor guys (Some nobles were easier on their servants than others… Arl Howe was, by all rumors, not). And there went Valendrian, no doubt rushing past to quell some dispute in the Alienage.
Alienage life wasn't the easiest, but it was home, and it was the people in it that made it so.
Though there were two particular people who Shianni was feeling less than homey toward at the moment. If only she could find them to tell them so on no uncertain terms. She spotted Ma Terrin as the older elf puttered in her scraggly patch of scrub brush that counted as a garden in the Alienage. "Hey, Ms. Terrin!"
"Yes, yes, child. No need to yell." The elderly elf squinted up at her. "You mar those pretty features of yours every time you open that mouth, you know."
Shianni rolled her eyes, but smiled, because she knew the elder meant the words fondly. Probably. "I'm looking for my cousins. Have you seen them today?"
"Ah, that little rascal was skiving off again, was he?" Ma Terrin tutted, smoothing the soil in her garden. "That certainly explains the grin on his face when he left."
Shianni leaned on the fence, relieved. Leave it to one of the community busybodies to keep an eye on the troublemakers. "Left? So he's out in the city?"
"And dragged poor dumb Soris with him. Getting into trouble in the market, no doubt." Ma Terrin rolled her eyes, turning her attention back to her garden. "Better go rescue him, girl. Now shoo."
Shianni nodded her thanks and turned to head toward the wrought iron gate that separated their world from the one outside.
Shianni had been out in Denerim proper plenty of times—usually to visit the taverns down by the docks, and that was beside the point—but she still didn't like it all that much. The shems... expected certain things. They wanted their elves acting a certain way, all quiet and demure and subservient: all things that Shianni was very much not. And she preferred it that way, thank-you-very-much.
But still, a city elf that didn't lower their eyes got noticed, and getting noticed by shems was a bad thing.
Shianni scoped the market crowd, wandering through the stalls idly in hopes of spotting her wayward cousins. When she finally did find the two slender forms of a pair of elf men, she sighed, because they were currently proving that very point.
"...think I didn't see your fingers wander a bit too close to that woman's pocket, elf," the stern-faced guardsman was saying as Shianni approached. No weapons had been drawn yet, but the guard's hand was on the pommel of his sword in clear threat.
Soris was, of course, in full by-the-Maker-we're-gonna-die mode, his eyes frantically darting around as if searching for an escape. He spotted Shianni, his eyes both relieved and pleading.
Finian, though, was too occupied with the guardsman to notice Shianni's approach. He had stepped in front of Soris, as if to act as a shield, but his posture was artfully nonconfrontational, down to the hands stuffed shyly in his pockets. He stared down at his shoes, his brown bangs falling over his lowered eyes in a move that Shianni had seen far too many times to be fooled by. "My... my apologies, sir... I... I swear I wasn't stealing. But the leather of her belt... it was.. I was simply overcome."
The guard blinked, obviously taken off guard. "What?"
Finian raised his eyes, all big and brown and entirely too disarming for his own good. "The etchings on the belt were like my mother's. She..." his head lowered again, his voice shaking. "She died some time ago."
The guard's hostility faded. He looked around uncertainly, as if looking for backup or confirmation, then turned back to Finian. Roughly, he growled, "Be that as it may, don't let it happen again, knife-ears." With that, the guard whirled on his heels and stalked off.
As soon as the guard was out of sight among the market stalls, Finian straightened up and grinned back at Soris. "I don't want to say I told you so... no, actually I do. I wish we had put a bet on it."
Shianni stepped up next to the pair, crossing her arms. "And how did that guard not recognize you, Cousin?"
He turned his mischievous grin to her. "He's new."
Soris sagged against the nearest stall in relief. "Him and most of the other guards, since all the real fighters are apparently headed south. Fin's been testing out the newbies all day."
Finian shrugged. "So far, I'm not particularly impressed. A few look suspiciously inbred."
"All day, huh?" Shianni asked pointedly, struggling to stifle her grin. Dammit, she was supposed to be mad at him! "Forget something else you were supposed to do today?"
Finian's brown eyes went wide and innocent, but Shianni knew him far too well to be fooled. "Oh, right! The fitting! It completely slipped my mind that Caria wanted to poke and prod me in intimate places!"
Soris snorted. "That isn't usually the sort of thing most people forget, Cousin."
Finian's mask broke as he burst out laughing. "You have a point." Some sincerity finally slipped into his visage as he gave Shianni a wry look. "I suppose you were the one she came after?"
Shianni waved off the implied apology with a smirk. "Never upset a woman who's good with needles, dummy, or you might find one in your eye. Better yet, never upset a woman, period."
"Sound advice all around."
The trio turned and started back in the direction of the Alienage.
"I suppose it's advice we should both take to heart," Soris said. "Since we're both going to be married soon."
Finian waved dismissively. "I don't know why everyone keeps saying that. It's all blatant lies."
"What, that you're betrothed?" Shianni laughed. "Soris, I think he's onto us. He knows it's all a conspiracy to get him to reform his roguish ways. What will we do now that he's caught on?"
Soris didn't seem to want to play along, instead eying their cousin with his brow furrowed. "Cousin, this is getting a little... worrying. My wedding is less than a month off, and yours won't be long after that, depending on when your betrothed can come down from Highever. Maybe it's time to drop the game?"
"It's not a game."
"Guys…" Shianni started warningly, not wanting to see this particular argument now. It had been brewing for weeks, really, but did it really need to happen in front of a bunch of shems?
Soris ignored her. He stopped walking, right in the middle of the road, just to stare at the other man. "Not a... Finian, we're getting married. This is supposed to be exciting... it's a rite of passage."
"Into what?" Finian whirled, face darker than Shianni had seen since Aunt Adaia died. "A life shackled to some woman I don't know? And what for? Tradition? Tradition is what keeps us in that miserable cage! Always spat on by the humans, stooping and bowing for the so-called privilege of working in some spoiled noble's household, because tradition dictates we can't do any better. What kind of life is that?"
People were staring, most narrow-eyed at the sight of an elf ranting in a public square. Ranting about them even, which Shianni would have found amusing if she couldn't see a pair of armed guards making a swift approach.
"Guys, let's go," Shianni urged.
"We have to make do with what we have," Soris implored.
"I'm not getting married. I'm going to find some way out of it, and then I'm going to get out of that place and give you, and Shianni, and my father, and everyone a better life. We all deserve to be free, completely and truly, for once."
"If you ask me," a harsh voice drawled, "you knife-ears got enough freedom already." The guards had reached them. "You enjoy making your scene, elf? Because it's time for you to leave the stage or be dragged off it." The guard then chortled at his own bad joke.
"Sorry, sir," Shianni swooped in, because Finian appeared too riled up to work his usual magic. "We were just going."
"Nah, I think you wanna stay a bit longer." The other guard cracked his knuckles. "Maybe see how loud you can really shout, huh?"
"That will be enough, boys," a third voice chimed in, and the two guards snapped to attention as a third armored figure stepped up to them.
"Sergeant Kylon, these elves..."
"Were just on their way, as they said." The sergeant eyed all three elves sternly, but without the casual contempt that most shems showed. "The two of you may go."
The pair of guards stalked off, muttering.
"Tabris, turn out your pockets."
Shianni barked a laugh, then slapped a hand over her mouth.
Finian cracked a wry smile and did as ordered. Shianni was honestly surprised when nothing fell out of them but a couple silvers and a feather… though she did catch a glimpse of something shiny disappearing up her cousin's sleeve.
The sergeant stared flatly at Finian for a moment, obviously not for a second believing that Finian was innocent. Her cousin wasn't even trying to act it—grinning cheekily up at the guard.
Finally, Sergeant Kylon sighed. "One of these days, elf. Now go. I don't want to see you here for the rest of the day."
Finian dipped an elegantly mocking bow and scooped up his dropped silvers. "A pleasure as always, Sergeant."
Finian was practically skipping with triumph as they headed back home, his previous argument obviously forgotten. They were nearly at the wrought iron gate when Shianni finally burst out, "I don't believe for a second that your pockets were empty."
With a smirk, her wily cousin produced a golden sovereign from his sleeve. "A little sleight-of-hand goes a long way, dear cousin."
Soris groaned. "You're lucky your sleight-of-hand hasn't gotten the hand cut clean off. And mine too!" They crossed the bridge into the Alienage.
"Now now," the other man said smoothly, "we all know that cutting off hands is really only a punishment for thievery. For abetting a criminal... well, you'd probably just hang."
"Not funny. So very not funny."
Finian led them to Caria's shop; Shianni followed because she couldn't not watch this exchange. Donning his most disarming smile (and he had a broad selection of those to choose from), Finian knocked and poked his head through the banged up wooden door of the tailor's shop.
Immediately, Caria's voice screeched out. "Oh, and there he is now, come to try to wheedle more work out of the old tailor! Because she has nothing else to do but wait on his whims all day!"
Finian slid into the shop, mien oozing regret and apology. Soris followed after, his contrite posture much more sincere. Shianni came in last, closing the door behind them.
The tailor was at her worktable, graying blond hair pinned up while she worked on what appeared to be someone's servants' garb. She glared flatly at Finian, no doubt in her mind who was responsible for the pair's earlier absence.
And she was right, of course. Shianni loved Soris, really… but Andraste's Ass was the man easily led.
"Caria," Finian began smoothly, "I cannot express just how sorry I am that we missed our appointment."
"This should be good," the older woman said snidely, crossing her arms. Shianni agreed wholeheartedly.
"It's just... while I was out in the market this morning, I saw the most amazing hairpin—lined with silver and carved so beautifully. I just had to get it for you, in return for working so hard on the wedding outfits for Soris and me."
A hairpin? Why would Caria want a hairpin? Shianni cast a puzzled look at Soris, who shrugged nervously.
Caria, however, looked stunned, her hand going up to touch her hair.
After a beat of silence, Finian stepped forward, reaching into his shirt to pull out a small, flat box. "I spent most of the day running messages in the marketplace, but I still wouldn't have been able to afford it if Soris hadn't helped. I fear I caused us to miss our appointment... I'm such an idiot, I know."
He presented the box, and Caria took it with wide eyes. When she opened it, Shianni swore she saw the tailor get a little misty-eyed. "It is... quite exquisite. And thoughtful." She glanced at Soris, then gave Finian a wry look. "Who knew you had it in you?"
Finian cast his eyes down. "I understand if you don't want to work on our garb anymore, of course."
"Nonsense," Caria sniffed, setting the pin aside. "We can't very well have the two of you taking your vows in your smallclothes."
"Though it certainly would liven things up," Shianni put in, only to receive a scolding look from the elder.
"Tomorrow morning, both of you. Not a moment past noon... I mean it." She looked at them sternly. "Now out with you; I've much to do!"
Obediently, the trio left.
"Maker's Balls, Cousin," Shianni said with a low whistle as they crossed the Alienage. "You planned that! You have got to be the most manipulative little scoundrel I've ever seen."
He smirked. "But I've got a heart of gold... somewhere."
"And a tongue so silver it could pay for an arling."
"Your hurtful words wound me, cousin!" Fin's hand went to his heart dramatically. "So much so, that I fear I can not muster the strength to present you with your purloined gift!"
"You pickpocketed me a gift? How noble and sweet!"
Finian reached into his vest and pulled out a slender bottle. "Again, with the wounding words! I fear I will need this instead, to drown my sorrows!" He smiled teasingly, waving the bottle around.
"By the Maker, you can be over-dramatic, can't you?"
Finian winked. "It's an Orlesian vintage… I think."
Shianni laughed and took the bottle when it was presented to her, knowing that this was probably a wine none of them would ever have been able to afford. Still, it was hard to be horrified of Finian's blatant lawbreaking, because it wasn't like he stole from people who couldn't afford it.
If him pickpocketing a few uppity shem nobles meant they got a couple nice things... she wasn't going to be the one to call him out on it. He just wanted everyone to be happy.
And free, too... but that wasn't something any amount of charm or nimble fingers could provide.