"At last you open your eyes." a cold voice rang from somewhere in the tortured, blistering hell of consciousness.
Blurred lines danced before my vision, light swirled and danced and my head swam as the painful beating of my heart jarred me further into the awareness that something was terribly wrong.
W…where am I? my thoughts felt like knives against my brain; my entire body burned with the sensation of feeling reawakened in a limb. Breath came harsher and faster, tasting of flames and blood and ash. What…what in hell is happening!?
I turned my head, attempting to see something...anything. I remembered the peaceful fields of paradise, days spent with my father and mother, Oriana and Oren, making up for time lost in the waking world. Then the lightning and flames, the excruciating pain as a taloned hand reached from the sky and pierced my heart…
"Do you not find it the least bit intriguing…the way that men have forgotten their histories?" the voice again, brimming with power. "You mark the days and seasons and decades and ages, but have failed to seek the deeper meaning. We have returned, and there are no questions. Our re-emergence is not studied; for men walk around in delighted blindness, blissful in their ignorance, unwilling to believe that they linger on the precipice of great change."
"What," my voice rasped, hoarse and broken, grating in my throat like shards of glass, "what is…happening?"
"Change on a maudlin, epic scale." I remembered this voice, from a time long, long past, icy and crystal and cryptic. "But you have more inane inquiries, do you not? Why am I here? Where have you brought me? Why am I no longer in paradise?" a glowering chuckle filled the cramped space. "We who crafted mankind also crafted paradise, Salem Cousland. The curses we created, we can also remove. The parts of you damaged, your sundered, pulverized heart…'twas a child's game to repair the damage." the figure moved into my rapidly clearing vision.
A suit of scaled armor caught the glint of the light as it moved beneath a lithe, supple body. White hair had been swept back in shapes resembling a dragon's horns, bound by indigo cloth. A silver crown rested upon her brow and her gold eyes gleamed. It was a new form, but I would always recognize the face of the witch in the Korcari Wilds…
"Flemeth?" I demanded, attempting to rise to my feet, only to find that they were weak and scarcely able to move. "Flemeth, what is the meaning of this!?"
She threw back her head and laughed. It crackled down my spine like lightning. "The dragons returned, and no one whispered. Fear lit the land, but no one spoke. Too afraid, too set upon mortal goals to even realize that the gods had returned."
The gods…what have they to do with the reappearance of the dragons? I do not understand! Why am I alive!?
"We were first, Salem Cousland. The elves knew us first and knew us well, accepting us as their Creators. But," her brow lowered and her golden eyes gleamed with malice, "my brothers and sisters, too enamored of their new creations, gave them gifts beyond their reckoning. Our gifts. Magic. Immortality. Fools, the lot of them. 'Tis no wonder that they were locked away, and Arlathan sacked. Severed from those who created them, the elves lost their secrets and became but mortal nomads, clinging to vanished relics and a dead heritage of when they were loved…and loved so uselessly."
It seemed as though my heart ripped open anew as Flemeth poured into it long forgotten knowledge. I sat there in stunned shock as she smiled.
"Yes, in answer to your myriad foolish questions." she leered like a predator. "You have killed so many of our lesser children; made your wealth from their hordes. Did you not even consider the notion that we built those who toil beneath the earth, solely to gather our gold and gems? We deprived them of magic and made them our servants, severing from them the thought of any god so that they but mindlessly gathered what they thought were their own desires."
I reached for my writhing consciousness. "So…all things…all races…were built by the dragons?" I asked, desperate to know, for Flemeth never spoke at length but with a purpose…a purpose that had demanded she rip my soul from paradise and force it once more into a mortal body.
"Did you never wonder why the old gods took the form of dragons?" Flemeth teased, reaching down for me. "Did you never consider that this mortal flesh and form were but a second-skin for me? Do not try me overmuch, Salem. I had thought you one possessed of an open mind; do not make me regret my decision."
I lifted my scarred hand and fit it between her weathered, powerful palms. She lifted me to my feet, and a wave of strength poured through me. I looked around, recognizing the cool stone beneath me, the formations of rock overhead, the single pinpoint of light as I gazed out of the mouth of a cave and onto landscape of snow-capped mountains.
"You…you brought me back." I shivered as the realization broke me.
"With great resistance." Flemeth smiled and it chilled me to the core. "My sister…oh how she delights in you. With childish glee she crafted her paradise; with infernal idiocy she gave mankind magic, crafting the Veil to keep you precious, precious children from the vagaries of spirits. And as the Great Game began she walked among you and chose one to speak with her voice, to lead humanity and the elves from the dominion of the magic you should never have had. How she cried on the day when the Tevinters attempted to take down her heaven, as we convened and cast a curse upon mankind…the day the darkspawn were born."
Then the dragons, my thoughts tumbled in and over themselves like an avalanche, have re-emerged…gods coming back to earth. It is not the Maker alone who desires to speak to her people. They all have come back…for some reason.
"Why have you returned now?" I asked, feeling an old flame kindle in my spirit as battle-song thrummed through my blood. "What is your purpose, Flemeth? Who are you?"
"I?" her hands curved to claws as she placed them over her breast in a decidedly human gesture of shock and indignation. "You know well, Salem, that I am known by many names. The foolish elves had the right of it, giving me first the title of "Dread Wolf", for I did lock my foolish brothers and sisters away, and have kept them so through the Ages. But mortal minds melt, and now I am but Asha'belannar, the Woman of Many Years…"
"I did not ask for titles." I hissed, letting anger have its way with me. "If you know anything of me, then you know that I have no use for titles and little patience for those who hide beneath them."
Flemeth laughed once more and it echoed through the caves. "Well worth the time, Salem. You are well worth the time it took to painstakingly reconstruct the flesh of your heart and cleanse your blood from taint. Very well then, child. I shall give you some insight." she turned and walked to the opening of the cave and I followed, staring at the map of isolated, desolate creation. "I am the chaos tic, the wayward god, abstaining from mortal creations and living my life as I see fit. I am the god of gods, reminding them who we are…what we must be, even if cruel methods are employed. Children play their games, and all is well and good…until they become too attached to their toys. The Great Game does not change, Salem. Should it ever alter, all life is doomed."
"Then why am I here?" I asked the question that had been scorching me since my eyes opened on this hellscape of life re-allowed.
"Change has come upon all men, and I must mitigate this foolishness before it begins." Flemeth's eyes darkened and the calm wrath I saw in them caused me more fear than the Archdemon's roar. "All sides are choosing their champion. Even now, the merged mage is planning his lunacy. It will shake the foundations of the earth, Salem. Blood on your hands. Even now, the Dalish outcast is playing with mirrors, listening and hearing the voices of her trapped Creators. The horned men march out in religious fervor, serving the god in whose image they were created. Even now, a champion rises in the city of Kirkwall, determined to write her name in the annals of history, for men or mage…we do not yet know. The Chantry sends out their fool, Cassandra Pentaghast, in order to mitigate a conflict they cannot reckon the scale of. The gods are awakening, choosing their avatars, preparing for battle, and I am unafraid."
"You have not answered my question, Flemeth." I snarled.
"Such spirit." she mused, stroking the scar on my cheek with frigid hands. "But a god has kissed you, and shared their blood, so I am not surprised that you would challenge me." she offered an indulgent grin. "I have but one cause for worry in this war so soon to come. My sister has chosen another, not a foolish, mortal idealist as before, but one who has been through the trials of flames, who has found herself torn by cruelty and lifted by…an inhuman example of nobility. 'Tis she who keeps me awake beneath the moon, this bard, this creature of light and life. 'Tis she who will alter this world irrevocably…if not stopped."
Leliana…my heart lurched as it heard my lover's name, and the ring I still wore burned against my hand.
"Thus, I have broken my creed." Flemeth frowned, deepening the lines at the corners of her eyes. "No longer can I watch from the shadows and whisper of unseen futures. I have chosen my own champion…the greatest hero of this age. You, Salem Cousland. You must walk the face of Thedas and fight a war on a scale not before dreamed by the likes of men."
My hands began shaking and I clenched them into fists. "God or not, you are a fool if you dare think that I will ever raise my hand against Leliana!" I thundered, finding my strength, my center, the heart that I had never forsaken, not even in death.
Flemeth raised a single brow skyward. "Oh no, Salem." she smiled, indulgent and practiced. "The most powerful pieces of these games are kept in reserve until needed. If harming the fire-haired bard were my intention, I could so easily see her dispatched. But seeing you alive…knowing that the one she loves so dearly, the Maker of mankind, could have let you live and did not…is that not enough to break the strongest faith? 'Twould break mine, were I mortal, were I in need of something so weak as faith."
"You cruel, conniving..."
"Decry me all you like, child." Flemeth waved away my words. "You live now, free from sickness, free from taint. There is little you can do now but fall upon your own sword, and such a thing, I will not allow."
I straightened my shoulders, shaking, furious, but unable to do anything but stand before the woman who had altered fate and hate her. I could feel the fire in my eyes, the ache in my new heart…and do nothing. All things had used me for their end…now would be no different.
So now I must fight a god…again. Whatever your endgame, Flemeth, I will not let it succeed, even if the cost is my own life. I have died twice now…perhaps a third time will let me at last know peace!
"I have always admired your acceptance of destiny, Salem." Flemeth nodded her approval. "And now, I must set you a task. A foolish young one flits about the earth, seeking its deep secrets and their own heritage. She is cunning, my pride and joy…an ungrateful bitch, my Morrigan. Find her, Salem. Do whatever you must, but make certain that she finds her search of three long years in vain."
I set my lips in a firm line, at my end with the whims of gods and powerful men. I had wanted a life, and found it denied. I had wanted the peace of death, and found myself ripped from paradise and born anew. I had…Flemeth handed my swords to me, kept clean and polished. I ran my fingers over the nightingale inscribed on the hilt, and my heart bled.
To see her again…for the first time since I had opened my eyes, a light entered my soul. I can reconcile myself to this…to see her again.
"Go, Salem, daughter of the chaos-god." Flemeth spoke. "You may begin your search in the hovel I once called home. Return to the Korcari Wilds, Salem. Return to where it all began."
Author's Note: There is so much I have to be thankful for. Thank all of you so much for sharing this journey with me, traveling with my characters, sharing with me your thoughts. A special gratitude to Ellwyndara, Hotcutii3, Violent-Flames, Miranda le Ginger, bojangles25, and artsytechy for all of your encouragement and consistent reviews. Another special thanks to Heather Fries, and the wonderful playlist she left. Many of those songs formed the inspiration behind my work, so thank you for sharing them with me. I am truly blessed to have been brought into contact with such wonderful people. Great thanks to all who followed and favorited and reviewed, it truly means the world for me.
As of now, the saga is at an end. I might be persuaded to continue the tale, following the stories of Hawke and crew with a few glimpses of the characters found within this series, but I might take a short hiatus and spend some time on original work. Tell me your thoughts, either via review or private message. If there is anything you'd like to see, I'll see if I can make it happen. Bright blessings and so much thanks,