Game: Dragon Age Origins
Characters/Pairings: Jowan, Leliana, f!Cousland, Alistair, little bit Jowan/Leliana
Disclaimer: Dragon Age universe and characters belong to BioWare, all I'm getting out of this is enjoyment
They were two days out from Orzammar, nothing but rock and darkspawn far as the eye could see, when Jowan had an important--belated--realization. Somewhere between leaving the Circle and now, he had developed an intense
dislike of small spaces. Not quite claustrophobia, just close enough to it to be a problem. But he kept his mouth shut. None of them were particularly comfortable down here, if the Wardens' unease and Leliana's moodiness were any indication. Of course, there was another potential reason for the latter, but he would rather dwell on the miles' worth of rock over their heads than remember that night in Denerim.
"How much further is it?" Marta asked their newest companion, and the dwarf shrugged.
"Few more hours, give or take, but there ain't anywhere better'n here to camp, and it's gettin' to be night in civilized places. We might wanna set camp sooner rather than later," Oghren advised, pulling out his flask to take a swig.
"Sounds good. We're probably all ready for a break anyway..." Three murmurs of assent answered her, and Marta unslung her pack. "Alright then. We'll camp here and press on tomorrow."
Not needing the tents meant setting camp took much less time than usual. Which meant it didn't serve as a distraction for nearly as long as he'd been hoping. He pulled out his sketchbook and tried to concentrate on the details of his most recent sketch, the figure dominating a whole precious page near the end of the book. But focusing on the minutia of his work didn't even do it, the closeness of the tunnel and the rock ceiling a constant niggling at the back of his mind. Afraid he was going to ruin a nearly-finished project in his agitated state, Jowan flipped the sketchbook closed and glanced around to see what the others were doing.
Oghren was sharpening his axe, Marta and Alistair were deep in a friendly debate about dinner, and Leliana was apparently suffering from the same antsy creative block he was; her lute was in her lap, but her hand rested still against the strings as she stared at one of the half-blocked tunnels barely visible in the gloom. Jowan tucked his sketchbook away in his pack and crossed the campsite to sit next to her.
"For what it's worth, I hate it down here, too," he said sympathetically.
Leliana half-smiled briefly. "We can be miserable together, no?" She was quiet for a moment. "Marta said something once about Wardens being able to hear the darkspawn. Imagine how much worse this must be for her and Alistair..."
"No, thanks," he muttered, running one hand through his hair. "It's bad enough as it is."
She exhaled a short laugh. "I suppose it is."
They were both quiet for a stretch, Jowan shifting to sit with his knees drawn up, arms resting atop his knees, as the two of them stared out into the tunnels.
"I miss the stars," Leliana said abruptly. "If you count the time spent in Orzammar, it's been almost a week since we last saw them."
Jowan nodded. "It has been awhile. And it feels even longer down here."
"So what do you miss the most?" She set aside the lute, bracing her elbow against her knee to support her chin.
He raised an eyebrow. "D'you really think this is a good conversation to be having right now? When we're probably going to be down here at least another week
Leliana just shrugged. "Unless there's something else you wanted to talk about?" Her tone suggested the question was nowhere near as innocuous as it sounded.
Jowan pulled his knees in a little closer to his chest. "Cool breezes. I miss cool breezes. It's all stuffy down here; hardly any moving air. Reminds me of the Circle."
She raised an eyebrow. "An ancient tunnel full of darkspawn reminds you of the Circle?"
"Just the lack of moving air part." He paused. "Though some of my teachers were scary enough to pass for darkspawn."
Leliana giggled. "Sounds like there are some stories there, no?"
"Nothing exciting," Jowan said, attention suddenly consumed by tracing one of the patch seams on the knee of his pants. "Mostly just instructors putting the fear of the Maker into young children so we would understand about not trusting demons. But there were a few later on who always seemed to know which students hadn't
studied, and always
called on them."
"Must've been magic," she teased, fingers toying with the one small braid that decorated her hair.
He made a face at her for the joke, but couldn't help a small chuckle. "Must've been."
Marta hollered the food was ready then, cutting off their conversation. For not being able to cook--she hadn't wanted to risk a fire--she and Alistair had done a good job preparing dinner. After a satisfying meal and a planning conversation in regards to the following day, they settled in for the night, all hoping that keeping watch would prove an unnecessary precaution.
The night passed uneventfully, much to their collective relief. As did the next several. It reached the point of almost seeming normal
; fighting darkspawn, traveling deeper and deeper in search of this Paragon who could somehow get them the help they needed, and the further they went, the more Jowan decided he hate close spaces.
The Dead Trenches were the worst yet. Even with the cavern's relatively high ceiling and open feel, they were miles
underground. And that fact was almost
as nerve-wracking as the fact the archdemon was there--briefly, thank the Maker, but just a glimpse of the monstrous dragon was enough to insure none of them slept well that night. And the Trenches were thick with darkspawn, so the sleep would have been helpful. Even Alistair's perpetually optimistic outlook started to wear away as they fought their way through, and Jowan started praying they found who they were looking for soon.
An already-awful circumstance tipped over to nightmarish when they found Hespith. The story of what Branka had done to her House, the hints of what happened to the Laryn woman Hespith mentioned, turned Leliana's stomach. That this level of depravity was possible... It was abhorrent. The dwarven woman cracked under even Marta's gentle questioning and ran off deeper into the tunnels.No. No deeper. I miss the sun and the stars and the sky. Please don't make this take any longer to get back to the surface.
But she kept her complaints to herself, even as a glance showed Jowan, at least, shared them. And they went deeper, fighting past a pair of raging ogres and the Stone-Memories(ghosts, really) of dead dwarven warriors. Bit by bit, Hespith's voice, coming from who-knew-where, shared details of watching her friends die, of seeing Laryn begin to transform into something horrible. The rising sense of dread was palpable. All five of them had weapons drawn and ready as they advanced down the tunnel, Marta and Alistair both with jaws tight, fighting the darkspawn presence.
And then the narrow passage opened into a larger cavern, which would have been a relief were it not for what awaited them--an angry, screeching broodmother. Every single one of them swore, even Marta. But the noble's lost composure returned quickly, and she issued orders with a level of calm and poise more suited to a diplomatic tea that fighting something out of a nightmare in the bowels of the earth. Leliana had never been so grateful she was a ranged fighter before in her life.
She and Jowan hung toward the far end of the cave, sending arrows and hexes and spells toward the shrieking monstrosity as Alistair and Oghren attacked it head-on and Marta skulked in the shadows looking for opening. It was going pretty well, too--apparently the Maker could
hear her down here--until one of the broodmother's tentacles got lucky and caught Marta. Their leader let out a surprised yelp as the tentacle curled around her leg and yanked her off-balance. That, of course, distracted Alistair from his combination attack/guard duty, and as he wheeled to check on her, several darkspawn charged past, summoned by the broodmother. With Alistair's attention divided, the assorted darkspawn made it far enough Leliana and Jowan had to break off from attacking the broodmother to defend themselves. Fortunately, whatever awkwardness lingered between them regarding the Denerim Incident did not
extend to combat. They still worked like they'd been fighting side by side for years
instead of just a few months. Three genlocks and a hurlock fell in a flurry of arrows and magic, and the shriek only got away because it vanished into the murk just as she drew a bead on it. Instinctively, the two of them backed up until their shoulders touched and started scanning for the elusive darkspawn.
"I don't see it," Jowan hissed, grip tightening on his staff.
"I know," she retorted, gaze traveling over where Marta was getting to her feet, skimming the rock walls, probing the visible nooks and crannies.
"Leliana, we need to find it
," she snapped, fear sharpening the words.
Alert as they were, neither was expecting it to come charging from the tunnel instead of the cavern. The shriek hit them hard enough to send them both flying. Leliana's head banged against the rock wall, sending spots and lights flashing behind her eyelids, but she managed to keep hold of her bow and
the arrow she was about to nock.
It didn't do her much good. By the time she'd spun to locate the shriek, it was close enough she rushed her shot and missed. And then the darkspawn was too close and she wasn't ready and where was her quiver-
" She didn't know why she'd said that. He was probably in trouble, too; she had no idea if he was in a position to help, but his name slipped past her lips like it was instinct.
And the shriek froze inches from her face. Leliana stared at the paralyzed darkspawn, breathing hard, her hands braced against the tunnel floor. That was too close
Lel!" Jowan barked, and she came to her senses. She rolled away from the darkspawn, grabbing her quiver and bow as she went.
"Thank y-" The words caught in her throat as she turned.
The shriek wasn't paralyzed. At least, not by a conventional paralysis spell. Blood dripped from Jowan's fingers as he leaned against the tunnel wall with his hand outstretched toward the darkspawn. When he saw she was safely out of the way, he curled his hand into a fist. The shriek hunched in on itself with a yowl before crumpling to the ground and laying still.Oh, merde,
was all Leliana could think as she met his eyes, swimming with so much raw emotion and self-loathing it almost hurt to see. "You..."
The thought trailed off as Oghren let out a yell of triumph, his axe buried so deep in the broodmother's skull he had to lever it out.
"Are you alright?" Jowan demanded. "It... It didn't get you, did it?!"
Leliana focused on calming her breathing as he pushed away from the wall and approached her. "No, no, I'm fine, I promise." He... that was...
," he pointed out, and she raised a hand to her forehead.
"So are you," she retorted even as her fingers came away red. "I just hit my head. It looks worse than it is. What about you?"
Almost reluctantly, he held out his arm so she could see the fresh slash across the edge of his wrist. "It's nothing."
"Nothing, he says," Leliana huffed, pulling out bandages. "Hold still."
"Only if you let me take care of this," Jowan said, running his fingers lightly over the cut on her forehead.
"How?" Raising an eyebrow hurt, but she did it anyway.
"Wynne gave me some more lessons," he replied. "After... After the Proving."
Leliana nodded. "Alright, then. I suppose if you have to practice on someone, I'm the best choice, no?" They found a relatively clean rock big enough for both of them and sat. "So..." she began hesitantly, after a pregnant and awkward silence as Jowan healed her forehead. "Was that...?"
"Yes." It came out in a whisper, barely loud enough to be heard, as he stared at his hands. "But I used my blood, I swear. I would never-"
"I thought you hated blood magic," Leliana sniped, not liking the hurt, accusatory note in her voice, as she brusquely bandaged his arm.
!" Jowan protested. "I hate it, and I hate what I did to myself and other people because of it, and I desperately hoped I would never use it again."
"Then why did you?!" she demanded, raking her hair back in exasperation.
"Because I hate the thought of losing you more!" he burst out, face flaming red as soon as the words were said. "I mean... You- You're a good person, Leliana, and you're trying to help people, and I would hate to see that end because of a damned darkspawn
. Especially with what they do to women."
Leliana shuddered, silently concurring with the last part. "Well... thank you. But this is our life for now, Jowan; fighting. And fighting darkspawn
. I don't want you doing something that's makes you hate yourself just because I'm in danger."
"I know." His eyes were remorseful as he met her gaze. "I was... I panicked."
She smiled at him, ignoring the little voice nagging about That Night in Denerim. She wasn't going to bring that up, not here. "Just promise you won't lose yourself trying to save me."
Jowan nodded. "I promise." For the briefest flicker of a moment, there was something
in his eyes, but then he stood abruptly. "Looks like they're waiting for us."
"Right. Let's go." Leliana stood as well, chastising herself for entertaining thoughts Like That again. They rejoined the others, Alistair's knowing look ensuring archer and mage kept their hands conspicuously to themselves as they pressed on.
All told, it took another two weeks of smotheringly close tunnels, several close calls, one dead Paragon, and one equally dead would-be king before they emerged from Orzammar. But Marta held Harrowmont's written promise of troops, and the stars were showing, and they were out
"I suppose the next stop is letting Arl Eamon know we're finally ready, no?" Leliana murmured as she looked up at the stars.
"I suppose," Jowan shrugged, not wanting to dwell on going back there, facing those demons.
"Stop worrying about that," she admonished. "Cross the bridges as they come and don't borrow trouble."
"Easier said then done," he smiled wryly. "But I'll try." And he meant it. He owed her that much.