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Literature
OWaP ch29--Nightmares and Daydreams pt 2
They were stranded on an island.
In hindsight, Harvey wasn't sure why it surprised him, considering the archipelagos splattered across the green sky. He was led along the path between petrified trees, and when the ledge refused to disappear from view after a few minutes his perspective just shifted, like patterns in the grass become a coiled snake when you know what to look for. He realized the view wouldn't differ much no matter where he ended up.
"A flying boat would've been great," he muttered. 
"Excuse me?"
"Nothing, I was just talking to myself."
This place was alien, and yet pretended to be familiar. It troubled him. Like the aforementioned trees--which Harvey called the giant appendages sprouting from the ground purely for familiarity's sake--they were more akin to monstrous mushrooms, their forms too crude to pass for regular plants. He scratched one in passing, the surface crumbling into small chunks beneath his fingernail, more clay than bark. A brief glance up the leath
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Literature
OWaP ch28--Nightmares and Daydreams part 1
Warm light poured through the crack in the door to give the room a cozy yellow tint, and the echo of a minstrel's song dammed only by the occasional eruption of laughter and familiar voices imposed a happy rhythm onto his fingers. His family and the guests were having fun, and the atmosphere felt quite contagious. As little as Harvey cared for parties, his mother took pride in her preparations, and if it mattered to her, that was a good enough reason for it to matter to him.
A particularly loud gale of laughter followed by a few shouts caused him to cock a curious ear -- it sounded like Fergus had had enough ale at this point, and should probably slow down soon. Harvey smirked slightly at the thought. Oriana would see to it that he did. There was something genuinely scary in how an otherwise delicate woman could be when she put her foot down. Or was it simply Fergus not wanting to deal with a seething wife in the aftermath? The rogue shook his head and turned back to fixing up his shir
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Literature
Of Wardens and Pariahs ch27--Hopefully
She was getting really tired of fighting abominations. Honestly, she was getting tired of fighting, period, but fighting monsters that had once been people she'd known added a layer of emotional exhaustion to a physically exhausting circumstance.
"Alright, we need a break," Trinne said as their group reached the top of another flight of stairs. They were now one level below the Harrowing chamber, and it had been a hard fight to get this far. Just the room at the bottom had held four or five abomination and several shades. She had an awful headache from how far she'd drained her mana reserves fighting them off. And if the white-knuckle grasp Wynne had on her staff was any indication, she wasn't doing much better. This room looked safe as any for them to take a few minutes to gather themselves. "Alistair, why don't you and Cousland scout ahead a bit? See... see if you can find any survivors."
"But you just said we need a break," Alistair protested.
"I was thinkin' more Wynne
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Literature
Of Instincts
In hindsight, Trinne had to admit there were probably much better--smarter--ways she could have reacted. But in the heat of the moment, without the luxury of time to rank her options from smartest to dumbest, she had fallen back on instinct. The same instinct she been following since she was eight years old: protect Jowan. A sizzling, angry lightning spell was a tad different than older, mocking apprentices, but her solution to both was to put herself between the threat and him. The enchantment on her new armor absorbed enough of the lightning to render it non-lethal, but not enough to keep her from crying out in pain as she dropped to her knees.
It was all sort of a blur after that. She was pretty sure she heard Jowan swear--a rarity in and of itself--as the sound of spells and combat filled her ears, but was more focused on breathing, trying to summon enough energy to heal herself, even a little. It hurt too much, she couldn't concentrate. And then Alistair was scooping h
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Literature
A Friendly Arrangement
The disappearance of Alistair Theirin, king of Ferelden, was discovered shortly after lunch, and promptly threw the palace staff into a panic. Every room was searched, to no avail. The grounds and gardens, as well, with an equal lack of success. The simple fact of the matter was they had no idea where to look.
Luckily, Marta did. Dodging frantic servants and deliberately avoiding an increasingly irate Arl Eamon, she meandered toward a far-flung corner of the grounds. It was desolate and empty this time of year, nothing growing save one huge, old tree.
"You know, this makes a better hiding place in the summer," she laughed as she approached, breath clouding the air. "When there are actual leaves."
"You're still the only one who's found me." Alistair grinned at her, perched on a sturdy branch fifteen feet up.
Marta put her hands on her hips and gave him a mock-reproving look. "That's another thing, Your Majesty; you can't go running off and hide from problems."
His grin wid
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Literature
Damn Good View
Title: Damn Good View
Author: queen-scribbles
Game: SWtOR(specifically post-KotFE)
Characters/Pairings: Theron Shan/f!Imperial Agent
Disclaimer: World and characters don't belong to me, and all I get out of this is the fun of playing with BioWare's toys
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Theron was not a stupid man. Reckless and impulsive at times, sure. Prone to follow his conscience over official orders, usually. Liable to be sarcastic when he should keep his mouth shut, definitely. But he wasn't stupid. Or blind, or deaf. And he would have to be all three to miss the fact Jaaide needed and wanted a break. The slight slump to her shoulders and barely perceptible shift in her voice when Lana confirmed there would be no time for a vacation told him all he needed to know.
She was burning out. From what little she'd shared of her past with Imperial Intelligence, he'd gotten the sense she'd been under fairly constant physical and mental strain for a few years even before the Revanite mess, a
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Literature
Good Enough
As they exited the chantry and made their way down the steps, Astrid was profoundly grateful that Sebastian didn't try to break the silence. Her mind was a muddle of white lilies and Gamlen's face as he tried not to show how scared he was, and she didn't think she could have held a conversation if she tried. The few extra minutes of silence as they walked gave her time to collect her thoughts before they reached Fenris' mansion.
Neither of them were surprised when it was Isabela who opened the door. "Hawke? Is something wrong?"
"Mother's missing." Astrid hesitated, picking at a splinter peeling off her staff. Maybe if she didn't say the words, she could keep them from being true. "She... she received a bouquet of white lilies today."
Isabela's jaw tightened. "Shit. Fenris!"
"I'm right here." He was already in his armor, hefting his greatsword to its place on his back as he descended the stairs.
"Showoff," Isabela sighed. "Give me a second, Hawke." She dashed into a side room to retriev
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Literature
Little Brother
She's two and doesn't know what the words little brother mean when Mama lets her crawl up on the bed to see the noisy, red-faced baby. He looks almost like a doll, with hair to match hers, and she says as much. "No, Jayele," Mama corrects with a smile. "This is Telcontar, and you're his big sister."
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She's four and has decided little brother means thing that likes to pull hair. "Ow!" she screeches as chubby fists snarl in her dark red ponytail yet again, and smacks him away. "Jayele, don't hit him," Mama says. "He doesn't know any better," Mama says. "You get to help teach him and protect him," Mama says, and that's all well and good, but who's gonna protect her from him?
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She's seven and has changed her mind. Little brother must be code for The brat who won't stop borrowing my toys and leaving them all over the ship. Tel always takes responsibility so Mama doesn't yell at <i>
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Literature
Nice to Know
Title: Nice to Know 
Author: queen-scribbles
Game: SWtOR(KotFE)
Characters/Pairings: f!Agent/Theron Shan, brief mentions of Lana Beniko and Koth Vortena
Disclaimer: World and characters not mine
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Jaaide was no stranger to failure. She was also rather experienced with narrow escapes, “inevitable casualties”, making hard calls, and the equally inevitable ghosts that came with them. As an agent and a leader both, she’d grown accustomed to taking responsibility for allies lost on her missions.
So it really shouldn’t have surprised her that Theron did the same thing. And on one level, it didn’t. The Republic put far more emphasis on saving everyone they could, and minimizing casualties, and all those other idealistic views that had earned her lectures all through her training. Even all his years as a spy couldn’t have completely dulled the hope that just once everyone would live.
“I tried. C
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Literature
Comfort
"I need to talk to you."
Sebastian glanced up, and one look at the storm clouds brewing in Astrid's eyes had him setting aside the candles he'd been trimming and brushing his hands off as he got to his feet. "What's wrong?"
"Mother. I love her, but I really don't understand her priorities sometimes." Astrid raked her hands through her hair in frustration, completing the destruction of her already-loose ponytail, and paused for a moment to tie it back up.
"I'm sensing a story there..." Sebastian murmured, one hand resting on her elbow to guide her away from the suddenly definitely-not-eavesdropping Chantry sisters nearby. "And that that's what you want tae talk about?"
She nodded. "I need to vent. And you're the best choice for listening ear, far as I'm concerned. But if you're busy I can go bother Fenris or 'Bela instead-"
"You're not a bother, Hawke," he assured her. Never, ever a bother.
Reproachful green eyes slanted toward him. "How many times...?"
He
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Literature
At Long Last
Title: At Long Last
Author: queen-scribbles
Game: Dragon Age Origins
Characters/Pairings: Leliana, Jowan, f!Cousland, Alistair; Leliana/Jowan
Disclaimer: Dragon Age world and characters belong to BioWare. I get nothing out of this other than enjoyment. And feels.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
"You need a haircut."
Jowan grinned at the gently scolding tone of the comment. "What if I'm aiming for a ponytail?"
Leliana's hands smoothed over his shoulders, silent as she considered. "I think that would look dashing."
"Dashing?" he parroted, turning to face her with one eyebrow raised.
She giggled at his skepticism. "Like a hero from the legends, no? Unless... are you just teasing me?"
"Now, why would I do something like that?" He wrapped his good arm around her waist and pulled her closer, kissing the tip of her nose.
"I feel like I should be asking you that," she retorted, arms settling around his neck as she leaned in to steal a
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Literature
Long Overdue
Title: Long Overdue
Author: queen-scribbles
Game: Dragon Age Origins
Characters/Pairings: Leliana, Jowan, f!Cousland, Alistair; Leliana/Jowan
Disclaimer: Dragon Age world and characters belong to BioWare. I get nothing out of this other than enjoyment. And feels.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Despite her fervent desire to sit down and have a long heart to heart with a certain mage, Leliana didn't get a chance the whole journey to Denerim. Between the grim atmosphere, the speed with which they travel, and various untimely interruptions, they'd made it all the way back to the Fereldan capital before she got a chance to say two words to Jowan.
"We need to talk." Nothing had ever felt more like a blatant statement of the obvious.
Jowan sighed. "I know." He raked one hand through his hair. "Just... after." He nodded toward the burning city. "Let's make sure we both survive, and then we can have as long a conversation as you want."
Leliana took a
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Literature
According to Plan
Title: According to Plan
Author: queen-scribbles
Game: Dragon Age Origins
Characters/Pairings: Leliana, Jowan, f!Cousland, Alistair; Leliana/Jowan
Disclaimer: Dragon Age world and characters belong to BioWare. I get nothing out of this other than enjoyment. And feels.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Things moved swiftly after they reached Redcliffe. Or swiftly as they were able given the number of steps they had to complete to make things happen; meet with Arl Eamon, determine a plan, feel out the nobles to see who agreed with them(or could be swayed thus).
The list was daunting even before Queen Anora's handmaiden showed up with the news Arl Howe was holding the queen prisoner on his Denerim estate. Leliana wanted to groan at yet another step on the list, but Marta seemed more than willing to play the hero. Which was to be expected, especially given the fact it increased her odds of facing the man who killed her family. Leliana couldn't fault her fo
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Literature
Follow-Up
Title: Follow-Up
Author: queen-scribbles
Game: SWtOR/KotFE
Characters/Pairings: m!Trooper/Elara Dorne
Disclaimer: World and characters don't belong to me, I'm just playing with them
----------------------------------------------------------------------------
"Hey, Els?" Tel cleared his throat and tried not to laugh at the absurdity of what he was about to ask. "Where's my leg?"
Elara glanced up from the datapad she'd been studying, gaze flicking briefly to where his right leg should have been but wasn't before she met his eye with an amused half-smile of her own. "It was rather badly damaged in your... altercation on E-32. Even the Republic's best tech has limits on what it can endure. We waited until we were sure you knew you were among friends, and now it's being repaired."
He mulled that information over for a minute, fingers toying idly with the IV line as he processed her answer. "Alright, then. Follow-up questions. First of all, who's we? Havoc Squad?"
The briefest flash of... so
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Literature
Deeper
Title: Deeper
Author: queen-scribbles
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
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Literature
Nature of the Business
Title: Nature of the Business
Author: queen-scribbles
Game: SWtOR/KotFE(ch 9 ending spoilers)
Characters/Pairings: f!Imperial Agent/Theron Shan
Disclaimer: SWtOR and all associated characters belong to BioWare, I'm just having fun
--------------------------------------------------------- 
"You need sleep."
Theron didn't look away from the datapad in his hand, but a small smile curved his lips as he countered, "I could say the same to you."
"You could, but we both know it would be less true," Jaaide said lightly, nudging his hand down until he was forced to look away from screen and met her gaze, "I have that lovely extra week's worth of rest, remember?"
"Yeah," he said dryly, trying not to dwell on it (too much) as he set down the datapad. "I also remember the reason you got all that extra rest. Something along the lines of Arcann ramming his lightsaber through your gut."
The thought of it still turned his stomach, if he was honest, and he was almost glad L
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queen-scribbles
Meat and Sarcasm Gal XD
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Current Residence: US of A
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For my followers here who aren't on tumblr: I have seven fics ranging in length from 1500 to 4000 words from the Dragon Age AltPair week back in June. I did Jowan/Leliana. (Trust me, it does work. Though I am just a tad biased xD)

Anybody want me to post 'em here? They're all saved in sta.sh, so it won't be hard to do, I just don't want to flood my gallery with rarepair fic that no one's gonna care about.
  • Reading: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn
  • Drinking: coffee

Activity


They were stranded on an island.

In hindsight, Harvey wasn't sure why it surprised him, considering the archipelagos splattered across the green sky. He was led along the path between petrified trees, and when the ledge refused to disappear from view after a few minutes his perspective just shifted, like patterns in the grass become a coiled snake when you know what to look for. He realized the view wouldn't differ much no matter where he ended up.

"A flying boat would've been great," he muttered. 

"Excuse me?"

"Nothing, I was just talking to myself."

This place was alien, and yet pretended to be familiar. It troubled him. Like the aforementioned trees--which Harvey called the giant appendages sprouting from the ground purely for familiarity's sake--they were more akin to monstrous mushrooms, their forms too crude to pass for regular plants. He scratched one in passing, the surface crumbling into small chunks beneath his fingernail, more clay than bark. A brief glance up the leathery canopies revealed they were unrefined, like his room. Maybe some beginner sculptor thought they were good enough, or maybe he was wrong entirely, and they were simply a reflection of something he didn't recognize.

The noble quickened his pace to catch up to his new acquaintance. Beneath his feet, small tumbles of seaweed, these quite lifelike, swayed lightly in a breeze Harvey for the life of him couldn't pick up. He had a childish thought the shrubs thought they were underwater--the Tower was, no matter how you look at it, standing in the middle of a lake. And considering the ever-present green glow, the underwater analogy wasn't the most off the mark comparison he could've come up with. Things always became a little distorted and unreal when you dove under the surface with your eyes open. It felt like that.

He would've been ecstatic, under different circumstances, to explore this place. 

Harvey missed a step, feeling a sudden brush against the top of his head. He swatted like a maniac, on reflex, turning around at least two times, before the small globe of light came into view. The rogue stopped abruptly and stared--out of every possible pest with a stinger attached, this wasn't even on the list. The entity was floating a few feet above his head, just beyond his reach, as if enjoying his stumbling. Before he could do anything else, it flew down merrily--perhaps encouraged by the lack of frantic waving, performed a few circles inches away from his dumbfounded face, and then darted towards the space between the trees, waiting for him to follow.

"What was that?" Harvey rasped. He'd just been spooked by a glorified lighting bug.

"Pay it no mind. If you don't give them attention, they won't bother you.” The mage halted in his way and was watching the whole ordeal quite passively. 

"Oh." The rogue straightened his cloak, scraping for the last bits of his dignity. "A demon, then?" It lingered in the clearing, waiting. Not a huge thing made out of flames or shadows like in the Circle... still, appearances could be deceiving. 

"A wisp. Some would call them spirits. These simple ones can be ambiguous, and it's hard to say what they want. They could lead you on a fruitless goose-chase. Or burn your robes.” If the two examples were a part of his personal experience, the mage's expression didn't show.

I see. Harvey looked at the mage, then at the wisp, then at his weapons, sighed, and sheathed the daggers he'd been holding the whole time. If the man wished him harm, pushing the rogue off the edge would have been ridiculously easy on more than one occasion.

"Harvey Cousland.” He introduced himself, hoping it would make up for those few steps in etiquette he let himself skip earlier. He could bear to trust one person.  

"My name is Niall.”

"Niall.” The rogue perked up, memory stirring. "You're the mage Owain was talking about!”

There was a moment of pause when the mage considered the familiar name. "I suppose he would mention me. He did us a favor with the Litany, " His eyes unfocused, angling downward. "I'm afraid he'd have been disappointed if he knew our attempt ended like this. But I'm glad he found a way to survive still."

He didn't sound uplifted, Harvey noticed... But maybe not in an uncaring way. More like it didn't seem to break through the tiredness in his voice. As the mage turned around to carry on with their way, the rogue gave him a proper look-over.

Harvey described the man as pale before. Only now he noticed the paleness went beyond the man's complexion, sipping into his robes. As if he spent too much time soaking inside a basin, the hot water bleaching out the brightest colors. It made the rogue drop the attention from his surroundings and eye himself for a change. Do I also look like that? Like I'm not real? But quick inspection revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Hesitantly, Harvey again took out one of his daggers and pricked his forearm. A few droplets of blood made their way through the cut.  

Ouch. Well, with that out of the way, there was one more thing bothering him. He caught up to the man, this time walking side by side, as much as narrow paths let him.

"This demon, Sloth Demon as you called it...if our, uh, bodies--" he tried to wrap his head around the concept -- "are still in the tower, why hasn't it killed us yet?” Harvey had the faintest recollection of the creature his guide has mentioned. Grotesque, hungry. Why keep them alive for so long?  

"The Fade is the place of the mind,” Niall explained, not taking his eyes off the path. "Time holds less sway here than it does in the real world. I know it couldn't have been more than a few days, maybe hours even, and yet I've been wandering this dreamscape for ages.” This time tiredness rolled off of him in waves. If he just stopped and laid down this very moment, Harvey wouldn't have been surprised. But Niall kept walking. " And it will take some time until it feeds."

The rogue shuddered.

"Come, the place I've told you about isn't far, just beyond the portal.” And he was telling the truth. Not another minute had passed before they made a turn, revealing a shimmering door of purple fog. Niall beckoned in Harvey's direction and then went into it, disappearing. A few seconds later the rogue saw the mage standing on the smaller--in comparison--island, the rock floating twenty or thirty feet away from the edge.

Alright then. He approached the fog, first putting his hand in to see what it would do. No effect... it seemed it was all or nothing. He shook his head - this place was too bizarre. He swallowed hard, stopping himself from closing his eyes, and marched right forward.

A rush of movement came over him, just like before. But it was swifter this time, and before he knew it he was walking out of the twin door, right next to Niall. "I need to... sit down." His stomach was doing flip-flops.

"Help yourself. It can be a bit disorienting at first."

Harvey took the time to force his stomach to settle. In the meantime the mage started puttering around in a manner not unlike a host trying to manage the clutter in front of an unexpected guest. Fumbling with various scrolls and books scattered aimlessly on the ground was the most human thing Harvey has seen the mage do so far. More at ease--and when the world was again completely still--the rogue focused his attention on the place itself.

The space was small, smaller than he anticipated. But it made for a decent hideout, in a sense. Four giant tree-mushrooms sprouted near the edge, obscuring the view from the outside. A comfortable chair stood beneath one of them, accompanied by a few candles burning with a dim light. Cozy. There wasn't much space to move around, even though Niall was creating more by the second. Pieces of alien architecture mashed together with more organic pieces of scenery, the most notable of them being a tall pillar standing more or less at the center of it all. It had three sides, each adorned with a window starting at the height of Harvey's waist. There was nothing particularly impressive about those windows, overlooking the fact that sculpting window frames on a piece of rock didn't give much of a thrilling view. 

What Harvey cared more about was the fact that other than him and the mage, there was no other soul in sight.

"I'm sorry, when you mentioned other dreamers, I thought... Never mind." He made a needless assumption. Hope was always the sharpest of tools to faceplant into.

Niall's shoulders slumped visibly, but he continued gathering books and putting them neatly on two piles, sorted by whatever criteria the mage deemed appropriate. "Here? No. I can only offer you a place to talk in peace."

"I didn't mean to..."

"No, your question is valid. I'm afraid I could never get quite in contact with other dreamers, at least not with those who didn't lose their mind. A certain number of blood mages was trapped here, by chance perhaps. I can't imagine the demon would discriminate. They didn't take it too well."

I can imagine. Harvey made himself more comfortable. "You make it sound as if there were a lot of people on this island, and I'm yet to see any. Are they hiding? If my companions are here somewhere, I should find them."

"Not here," Niall shook his head. "We're on the outskirts of the raw Fade, the border of the demon's domain. No particular dreamer influences this place."

The rogue again couldn't quite keep up. "I don't understand. You're implying there's much more to it."

"Not implying, I've been there." The mage pointed a finger towards the sky above. Harvey's eyes followed, unwillingly, knowing what Niall was about to show him. Islands, so many islands.

"So there is a boat." 

"A...boat?"

Harvey shook his head in apology and also gestured upward. "Nothing...I'm just trying to wrap my head around...all of this." Being stuck in an endless loop of fixing your clothing sounded almost appealing compared to the overwhelming endeavor presented in front of him. "I'm unsure where to even start."

"You came here because you wanted answers, didn't you?"

Harvey brushed his hand against his cheek, the coarse stubble a reminder that he needed a shave if he ever got out of here, then made a wide gesture encompassing everything around him. "Let's assume that I have no idea about any of this." Niall gave him a straightforward nod which stung more than Harvey was willing to admit. No sugarcoating it. "How does one escape being trapped in the Fade?" 

"By killing the demon that trapped you there." The last books joined the pile with a loud thud.

"So simple?"

"So depressingly infeasible."

The rogue waited for Niall to elaborate, but after a few moments it became clear it wasn't going to happen. He scratched his head. "Surely between the two of us we could at least reach my friends, and then we would be five strong, not two," he prodded, the outline of a plan already forming in his head. He'd killed demons before, they weren't invincible, even if this particular one proved tougher than average. "I don't know how useful my own talents will be here, but they're quite capable." Even Amell...if you remembered to keep out of her aim. 

A lone finger directed towards the sky somehow managed to compress enough bitterness the rogue fell silent. "It's not the question of killing Sloth, it's a question of getting to it."

He continued, voice hollow. "I promised you answers, and I'll do what I can. But don't ask me to go out there again. I did my part and I failed miserably. I've had...enough." There was a pause where the mage again started to fumble about, even though there wasn't any way of making the place more tidy than it already was. He returned to the books, one of the piles he constructed earlier....and started deconstructing it, setting another pile a few feet to the left of the first one. He spent at least two minutes pacing back and forth, seemingly arguing with himself, words too quiet for Harvey to pick up. 

The rogue briefly estimated the time it would take him to get back to the shimmering door, if necessary. Always know your exits. But he understood he'd somehow upset the man, so he gave Niall the time to arrange everything in order again, be it here or in his own head.

He still needed answers, and when it finally seemed the mage forgot he was even there, Harvey delicately cleared his throat, enough for Niall to hear, but hopefully not loud enough to startle the mage. The man didn't look in his direction, but the next few words mumbled under breath were loud and clear. "Boat. Boats." With a short stroke of lucidity, Niall nodded towards the windowed pillar in the center of the island. "If you wish to travel between the islands, you should look for panels like this one."

"Panel?" The rogue shot a questioning look towards the pillar, then again towards his new troubling acquaintance for confirmation. But the man was again paying attention elsewhere.

Small steps. Harvey got to his feet and almost reverently circled the tall structure, not sure what he was even trying to accomplish. It was a piece of the Circle Tower lost amidst the amorphous surroundings... or maybe something much older than that. The stonework wasn't what he'd particularly paid attention to while trying to make his way through the demon infested Circle, so he wasn't the best person to compare. But if it was supposed to work as a gateway, like the portals he encountered so far, he took a wild guess he'd have to go through the window frame. Still, the lack of a purple fog or any other magical shine inside them indicated it was perhaps inactive. Or closed? His hand touched the solid stone behind one, making it clear the only thing he'd acquire by trying to pass through was a concussion. He gave the stone a light tap for a good measure. Nothing. With a sigh, he inspected the frames instead. There were symbols carved into the stone, but every time he tried to focus on one, it escaped his field of vision, and forcing his eyes only resulted in a mild pain behind his temples. 

Fine, I give up. "How do you make it work?"

"You can't. You won't. It used to, but it doesn't work anymore." Niall cast the pillar an offended glance. "But believe me, it's for the better."

Harvey took a deep breath and leaned against the pillar, forehead touching the cold surface. "How so?" He started to notice a recurring pattern with Niall's answers, each and every one of them being more or less roundabout version of a 'no'.

"You''ll see that this part of the Fade is welcoming in comparison to the rest. It's not so bad here. You don't have to worry about sleeping or eating, and the demons don't chase you beyond the portals. But you won't accomplish anything from this side. You don't want to go there. Maybe someone on the other island will find a way, but from here...it's impossible."

The rogue was suddenly getting tired of this conversation. Friend, the blood mages aren't the only ones who went bad in the head. "So you won't help me?"

Harvey felt, rather than saw Niall shaking his head. "I told you it wouldn't make any difference."

It was the tone that did it. Next thing he knew Harvey was holding the mage by the robes--not because he felt like the man was lying, it seemed like he believed every word that he spoke. But the young noble wholeheartedly wished to shake some semblance of will back into the mage, snap him out of singing the never-changing tune. But he just held for now. No shaking.

"This panel, it worked before," he said, calmly. "Do you know what you'd have to do to fix it?"

"No, and I don't want to." Niall avoided his gaze. "I'm so tired of trying."

Was he serious?! Harvey tightened his grip on the mage's robes, expecting resistance--if not a stream of fire to melt his face off--but Niall went limp and sunk to his knees. The rogue let go, startled, afraid he unwittingly managed to hurt him after all--that and the man's full weight was too much for his arms to handle. He tried to wrap his head around this person. "So you sit here and wait...for the end?"

"The promise this door brings, it's all a lie," Niall hissed through clenched teeth. "You don't know what it's like out there, inside the demon's maze... endless corridors, holes too small to crawl through, doors like iron slabs, walls of fire. It's impossible. I've tried so many times. Something always blocking my way, mocking my effort, I couldn't move forward." He was babbling now, sentences merging into one illegible mess when he described hurdles too terrible to not be a simple exaggeration or misunderstanding. And yet with every word the man became smaller and more pathetic, colors bleaching out of his being, until he was reduced to a hopeless husk shaking on the ground.

"What can you do in the face of such adversity? Nothing,” he whispered finally, heavy head disappearing in his hands.

Harvey took a step back in... fear. Maybe disgust. But the mage appeared like he could crumble, and Harvey, as angry as he was, didn't wish to be the cause of it. He was wrong, he read the man wrong. He thought the mage felt relief at finding a kindred soul, but that was only some sort of unnatural apathy, a strange sickness, most likely brought on by this place. It's not fair, it should've been me. I should be the one on the floor crying how terrible all of this is. The worst thing was he could imagine joining Niall if he stayed here for much longer. It's going to be me, if I don't get out of here. Despair was crawling down his spine, inviting him to give in. 

He shook it off. "Look, alright, I won't make you do anything. You don't have to go anywhere, are you listening?” 

The shaking became more subdued.

"I'm going to go now, look for my companions. We were captured together, they can't be too far away," he declared with more confidence than he actually felt, seeing as he was basing that assumption on absolutely nothing. He didn't care. Maybe it was silly, running as deep as a childish defiance against someone who decided something just couldn't be done. But no giving up yet. "Two more questions and I won't bother you. A pillar like this one, a working one, is there another one on this island somewhere?"

An initial shake of the head, pause, then a small shrug.

Eh, good enough. "You mentioned other dreamers. The people I traveled with, there is a chance you saw them... have you seen a tall man, about my age, short hair the color of wheat? His name is Alistair.” Niall shook his head. Harvey then described Amell and Wynne in similar fashion, and got the same reaction, more or less. The mage shrunk even more--if that was possible--at the mention of the senior enchanter. Before he could stop himself, the rogue went on. "Have you seen an older man, gray hair, but still holding up like he was twenty years younger. He was wearing plate armor, with laurel patterns on it…. and …"

Niall shook his head.

Harvey combed fingers through his hair, unable to hide disappointment. Well, it's not like I was expecting any different.

Niall was still on the ground, when he left.


OWaP ch29--Nightmares and Daydreams pt 2
Wheee, we kept to schedule! :woohoo: Have another chapter Alex wrote and that I adore beyond words, continuing Harvey's adventures in the Fade. (Ngl, I love the way she wrote Niall)

Chapter 1

Chapter 28
----------------------------------------------------
Niall, the Fade, and Dragon Age in general belong to BioWare

Harvey Cousland belongs to freethegoats
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Warm light poured through the crack in the door to give the room a cozy yellow tint, and the echo of a minstrel's song dammed only by the occasional eruption of laughter and familiar voices imposed a happy rhythm onto his fingers. His family and the guests were having fun, and the atmosphere felt quite contagious. As little as Harvey cared for parties, his mother took pride in her preparations, and if it mattered to her, that was a good enough reason for it to matter to him.

A particularly loud gale of laughter followed by a few shouts caused him to cock a curious ear -- it sounded like Fergus had had enough ale at this point, and should probably slow down soon. Harvey smirked slightly at the thought. Oriana would see to it that he did. There was something genuinely scary in how an otherwise delicate woman could be when she put her foot down. Or was it simply Fergus not wanting to deal with a seething wife in the aftermath? The rogue shook his head and turned back to fixing up his shirt. The joys of marriage, I suppose. The short pause was distracting enough for the two ribbons adorning the upper part of the garment to fall away untied, yet again.

"You've got to be kidding me." Harvey cursed halfheartedly, his hand reaching to comb through his hair, before he remembered he shouldn't make a mess of it. How annoying. But there might be a silver lining to this embarrassment - the story of how he got held up by a shirt would earn him a few laughs if nothing else. There was no rush. He wasn't a guest of honor or anything, just showing his face would be enough for the celebration. What he liked the most were the quiet moments of getting ready, a deep breath before plunging into a crowd of people. Prolonging it felt nice.

Over, under, pull it tight,
Make a bow, Pull it through to do it right.


The rhyme danced in his head as well as silky strings at his fingertips, and the cloth twisted and turned, starting to make sense only to present him with another knot or two. The huge silver mirror in front of him proved to be of no help, surprisingly -- watching the reflection's hands move swiftly only confused Harvey even further. Like a game he used to play as a child, he remembered suddenly -- all children played it at one point or another -- the goal of it was to catch your reflection red-handed, spot it doing something it wasn't supposed to do. He never did... Oh, he lied about it for sure, other children liked to boast, and he couldn't have had been worse.

That was the one time Nan got so worked up when she found out, she didn't even bother with the willow rod. In a child's memory, the old bony hand smacking against his sore backside stung even worse than a wooden branch. Strange happenings and tales of shadows in the mirror were the mages' curse, and a noble boy should know better than to spout such nonsense, Andraste bless us all, there is no magic in this family and there never will be. 

Over, under, pull it tight,
Make a bow, Pull it through to do it right.

The strings untangled...

"Do you need any help with that?”  

The rogue flinched, surprise stiffening his shoulders, and let go of the fabric. But the voice was a familiar one, and even before he could give it a name, the only reminder of the sudden spook left was the downright displeased expression of his reflection. Harvey turned it into a polite smile as best he could.

"I didn't hear you come in." The tone was supposed to carry the slightest note of accusation, what came out instead could make a herd of spooked critters proud. Crimson warmed the young noble's cheeks. Really, even after all these years.

"I thought you might need assistance,” his father responded. 

The crimson became even more intense as Harvey's hands grabbed the dangling strings in defiance. Was he really taking so long, that the man of the castle in person had to come and get him? A guard with a word to make haste would have sufficed in this situation. You don't have to herd me like a Druffalo, you know I will go.

"I-I'm finishing up.” He hated himself for the stutter. Really, all he wanted was a few more moments of peace and quiet, was that so much to ask? "With all the guests, I'm sure you have other things to attend to.” As he said it, the candles in the room flickered in the draft, in agreement. Just leave.

"Not at the moment.” It was the way he said it. It tugged on the tiniest part of his soul, where all children knew they should listen to their parents. Harvey took a breath.

He'd glanced in the older man's direction before, in passing -- as not to be rude-- but now Harvey took the time to turn away from the mirror. Bryce Cousland was standing in the middle of the room, left hand at his side, the right one slightly extended in an encouraging gesture. The festive armor might have been overdoing it, but there was a crooked smile on his face, the kind that brought out the crow's feet around the eyes, and not a shadow of the expected scorn was found in his features. His father's presence was eclipsing, even in the dim candlelight. Like he was the only thing of importance in the whole room. Harvey couldn't look away, the most peculiar bump in his throat. 

Your father is trying. It's what Mother said, over and over.

"Ah...alright," the rogue hesitated. It was confusing, his father's...smile was confusing. What am I doing? As much as he'd love to prove he could take care of himself, there was no use in being stubborn. Didn't he bury the brat a long time ago? I was...over this. Just months...years ago. The passage of time suddenly became too slippery to grasp. 

"Sorry, I just don't feel like myself today," he admitted slowly, trying to shake away the cobwebs in his head. He was certain just a moment ago, now not so much. Maybe he really could use some help after all... Harvey nodded awkwardly and accepted the invitation. The first two steps were the hardest, but it got easier the closer he got to his father, finally meeting the older Cousland in the middle of the room. 

He straightened his back while the older man's hands tugged on the shirt, letting his mind wander. Not knowing where to put his eyes, they lingered on his father's armor and the greenish-purple reflections dancing on the well polished surface. Then he glanced towards the door, the crack just about as wide as it was before. The music was still there, but it seemed muted.

"You are doing well, all things considered," his father broke the silence. 

That put him right back on alert. Harvey's eyes darted right up, matching his father's. To achieve this feat he had to look a few inches above the eye level. Up, always up. He took more after his mother and bitterly gave up on that final growth spurt. 

Bryce Cousland was being sincere, as far as he could tell. He held the gaze for the few seconds needed for confirmation before again wandering away into safety. Harvey tugged on one of the sleeves. This was getting weird. "I reckon you don't mean the shirt?"

"I do not." There was warmth in his father's tone.

The young noble wracked his brain in search of anything he might have done lately to make his father proud. Nothing came to mind. On the other hand, there was nothing that would leave him overly disappointed, a fine balance that brought Harvey the least amount of attention. The way he preferred it.

"But,” Bryce Cousland changed the subject, "it's a fine shirt. I don't remember you wearing it before.”

"This?" Harvey gestured towards his clothes. "It's Antivan...it was a gift from Oriana.” It came out more like an excuse, not an emphasis on the shirt's quality. He couldn't help it, his sister in law presented him with this particular garment a few years ago, and he had a sneaking suspicion the original owner was supposed to be Fergus. But as his brother grew more barrel-chested in that period, the measurements the seamstress received no longer applied after a few months. As for Harvey, it proved mostly loose, but he could pull it off as a tunic with a help of a belt. It wouldn't be his first choice. Or second for that matter. The thing had...frills. Laced with golden thread.

Harvey's mouth babbled, eased by the more trivial subject. "I put it on the bottom of a chest and forgot about it. Or pretended to forget about it," he admitted, not feeling particularly apologetic. There will be no judgment on this particular issue. A complete lack of appreciation for frivolities ran deep in the blood of Fereldan men, and the Cousland family was no exception.

"The next time I took it out," the words came out in a rush now, like a dirty secret shared by a ten year old. "It turned out the moths ate it. Not much left of it."

The world held its breath as the memory surfaced, not quite sure how to fit together with the rest of the pieces. For Harvey, he vividly remembered the strange mixture of shame and relief as he recalled flames licking the ornate fabric. He burned what was left of the shirt on one of his hikes around the Coastlands, just a stupid kid disposing of evidence. Oriana asked him once about the gift, and he told her he couldn't find it. Lying should have not have been that easy.

So he couldn't be standing here wearing it, because it got ruined, and...it was ruined. I avoided that mountain pass for two seasons after that. As if someone were to jump out of the bushes to call me a little lying shit.

As if someone removed blinds form his eyes, it hit him. All of this, all of it was wrong.

Harvey was standing alone in the dark chamber, the crack in the door suddenly a gateway to darkness. The voices and music had gone away, as had his father. Where was his father?  

"He died." Harvey swallowed bile that suddenly rose in his throat, he had to say it out loud or else he'd go mad. The rogue's hand reached out for the empty space where the older Cousland was standing only a few moments ago, catching air. This is insane... 

Memories returned like links in a chain: Highever, The Grey Wardens, Lothering, and then ...the Circle Tower, one tragedy after the next. They were supposed to recruit mages to their cause and found out the place needed their help instead. Or was that also a figment of his imagination... it sounded like a tale passed around in a tavern, one that granted you more drinks, and not necessarily much credit. 

But he was already pacing around the room, soaking up the details. Trying to remember. Yes, there were other people with him, they reached Kinloch Hold and were making their way through the tower. They encountered a monster on the third floor–a demon? Harvey remembered the strongest compulsion to fall asleep. There was a thud of several bodies hitting the stone pavement. This he was sure of. 

What the hell was wrong with this place --the room looked like his, but in the barest sense of the word. The layout was spot on, but like they say, devil lies in the details. Like walls for example, he could count all the stones making up the walls if he tried, right up until the point they reached the corners, where they melded into one grey mass -- as if the architect wasn't sure how they connected in reality. On a hunch, Harvey covered the short distance between him and the bed and pulled on the sheets -- they were stuck in place, for show only. 

"How are you supposed to sleep, then?” he asked no one in particular.  

Hysterical laughter--which barely registered as his own--filled the room, but he was already inspecting the bookcase, the piece of furniture that shouldn't be here in the first place. All books in the castle belonged in the library, and old Aldous would rather go completely bald than let them out of his sight, where he could take care of them properly. Harvey didn't recognize any of the titles, but he guessed Arcane Theory vol. I and Basics of Entropy belonged in the Circle Tower, where in some weird sense he still resided.  And also–-the rogue crouched down to confirm his suspicion–-the bookcase itself was crooked, floating a few inches above ground. 

"You messed it up!” he shouted, livid. If that... thing was going to try and mess with his mind, it could at least do it right.

He pulled at the old tomes, wanting to see them scatter on the floor, deny this mockery. They gave him no such satisfaction. Stuck in place like the sheets on the bed, they could very well have been carved from the shelves themselves.

This was too much, the room was spinning and Harvey couldn't breathe. Fake, it was all fake. Panicking, he reached for the doorknob and swung open the door leading towards the hall. And halted.

He was standing at the edge of darkness, one step forward and he'd fall into nothing. A few heartbeats passed. Harvey slowly, gingerly closed the door, it obliged with a quiet creak. He leaned his forehead against the wooden surface, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Enough. He had to get out of here.  

But maybe not through the door.

This was a prison cell...designed not to look like a prison cell, it dawned on him. Who needs bars and locks if the prisoner didn't want to leave. Or if they didn't realize they even should leave. He could've been fumbling with that damn shirt for Maker knows how long and it never occurred to him to question it. How long have I been here? And if this was a prison, where was his jailer? Father's serene smile flashed through his mind, and the rogue clenched his teeth, trying not to think about it.

Scratch. Scratch.

The rogue tensed. No more, please. I've had enough.

The sound was coming from behind him. Harvey swallowed hard and spun around, dreading the noise that could have been in other circumstances made by a rodent. Knowing that it won't be. Illuminated in the grey glow of a window–-another inconsistency-–was the free standing mirror, as tall as he was, bound in a dark wooden frame. The same one he'd been standing in front of enthralled just a couple of minutes ago. The rogue couldn't quite make all of it from this angle, so he took a step toward it. And then another.

His reflection greeted him. And one could say it was to be expected, he was gazing at the surface, and his reflection should be doing the same. Only it wasn't doing so at all, it was standing as he was when he was first trying to fix up the shirt. His look-alike was scratching at the surface, his face contorted by hatred, he looked more like a creature than a man. Like a thin spider trying to get out of a glass jar, and succeeding. One of its hands found a foothold, fingers reaching beyond the surface, right into the room where the rogue was. It caught his eyes and it sent him a bloodthirsty, inhuman grin.

Harvey was yelling as he grabbed at the mirror, he kept yelling as he dragged it towards the door and pushed it into the gaping darkness. He was still yelling as he ran the other direction, towards the window, and hauled himself through it, the thought of checking where it led dismissed. Anything was better than this room.  

>>|<<

He felt his body fall, movement accompanied by a deafening whoosh of wind in his ears. He didn't bother counting after he reached ten. It's too long, I've been falling for too long. I'm dead. Eyes closed, he braced for impact, long forgotten snippets of the Chant racing through his mind, "when hope has abandoned me, I still see the stars...I cannot see the path, perhaps there is only the abyss...". It will hurt, but hopefully not for too long. If this is how my life ends, it's... disappointing. I never did anything. I never wanted to do anything. But somehow, in this moment, he regretted. 

The awaited impact never came. One moment Harvey was falling, the next one ground was pushing uncomfortably against his shoulder blades. The rogue waited for what seemed like ages before he carefully flexed his hands, then feet, certain the agony was just around the corner. Nothing, no pain. Only then did he dare to open his eyes. A little blurry, they focused on a lone figure in robes leaning over him.

A split second and Harvey was back on his feet, familiar daggers in hands, heart racing. He was wearing armor again. He backed away until he reached a ten foot distance between himself and the newcomer. The other man made no move, friendly or otherwise.

"Who are you....” the rogue trailed off. He world spun.

Islands cruised lazily on the sickly green sky. Some were the size of rocks sprinkling the Coastland shore, a few the size of mountains, they filled the vast space right to the horizon, unconcerned by gravity. Some of them were close enough the rogue could make out the outline of structures of some sort, others were too far to discern any details. The landscape was jagged and barren... And in the middle of it all, there was an Island. There was a City. And he knew what it was, he'd read about it. He mindlessly parroted verses about it in the family chapel in the Cousland Castle. Skin me alive, there is actually some truth in the Chant. 

Harvey gaped at the spectacle, daggers in hands hanging loosely on both of his sides, forgotten.

"I really should've taken the door.”

A few painfully long moments passed before the newcomer brought him back to reality.

"You're not, you're not one of the demons inhabiting this place...”

Harvey was shaking his head before the man finished the sentence. He turned towards the stranger, daggers still at the ready. "Are you?” The view in the distance, he didn't want to think about it. The man before him... was at least comprehensible. He looked human, as much as it was worth here.

The stranger shook his head as well, thoughtful. "You're the same as me, I suppose. Locked away in this place.” He was a mage, or at least he looked like one, with dark hair and a plain face Harvey wouldn't remember if he saw it in a crowd. The man relaxed a bit as he spoke, a survivor finding his kin.  

Harvey mirrored the gesture as a small concession, his shoulders slumping slightly, but he wasn't sheathing his weapons-- and visibly let it show he wasn't planning to yet. Fool me once...  

"Are we dead, then?" He asked, only half-stalling. He felt the ground beneath his feet, he was talking... and yet... with the Black City hovering in the distance, Harvey couldn't be certain of anything at the moment.

"Dead?" The noble wasn't expecting the mage to look him up and down with scrutiny, but the man did exactly that, searching for whatever signs there were to find. He even took a step towards the rogue, as if to get a better look, to which Harvey held up one of his daggers.

"Forgive me if I want you to stay over there, for now." He apologized. "No hard feelings."

"No hard feelings." The mage echoed softly. "I don't know you, either... And no,” he replied finally. "This place hasn't left its mark on you yet, you haven't been here for too long. I don't think you're dead.” 

"Well, good." Was the only reply Harvey could come up with. What do you even say to that.

Then came a longer pause while the man moved on to studying Harvey's features. "I don't recognize you. It means the worst has already happened, doesn't it?" His voice grew progressively more quiet as he spoke. "The demons were freed from the Circle to prey on the people? I thought the templars for sure would...” The rest was unintelligible.

Harvey tilted his head, unsure what the man was talking about. No, that's wrong. He bit his lip... revealing what he knew wouldn't change anything. "The last I remember, we were still in the Tower. I'm a... Grey Warden.” The title rolled off his tongue with difficulty, and Harvey realized it had to be the first time he used it to describe himself. It felt like it belonged to someone else. "I...we came to the Circle to enlist the mages' help, originally. Because of the Blight. My companion, a mage from this Circle, she was Conscripted at the same time that I was. She thought this would be the best place to start gathering allies.”  

The mage's eyes narrowed, but he finally nodded, thoughtful. "There were rumors the Wardens conscripted one of the freshly Harrowed mages." He admitted. "But the Tower had seen better days."

"Yes, we were trying to make our way through to the source of it all. And then I ended up here, I don't completely remember how.” The world will go on without you. The words were like honey to Harvey's ears.  

"I see." The mage looked deep in thought. "Then we share a lot in common.” The good news didn't seem to lighten his spirits, as if the worst case scenario was only a matter of time. "Welcome to the Fade," he said finally. "Congratulations on escaping your personal Nightmare. As much as it's worth." The tone wasn't mocking, just strangely defeated.

Harvey once again took in great mountains of rock high up in the sky. They said the dwarves living underground were afraid of the sky falling on their heads. Now he could relate. "I don't really feel like congratulations are in order. This is the Fade, then? How is this even...?” Everybody knew about the Fade...it's just not something you thought about everyday. For the place of dreams, being here felt no different from being awake.  

"You're not here, not really. Your mind was trapped here by the Sloth Demon.” The stranger looked around, wary. "Like the rest of us. At least the part of it that dreams, I believe."  

The rogue nodded, pretending he had more than a vague idea of what the mage was talking about. Yet, strangely, he took it as a good sign. Everything made sense in his fake room before he came to his senses, even meaningless tasks that would get you nowhere. This was not the same. Confusion meant he was thinking properly. 

Whatever the mage saw lurking in the shadows, it spooked him. "I...It's too dangerous to stay here in the open. We should go. Come with me... Or don't." He hesitated. "I'll tell you what I know, but it won't make any difference."

Then he turned around and left, too hastily to spare a second glance.  

Wait. Are my companions here? Wait. Harvey wanted to call after him, but common sense told him to keep it down. He looked around, spotting a bit of movement somewhere beyond the tall stone formations. Goddammit, I swear, if this is a trap... But a pale mage who was happy to keep his distance was a serious step down from his previous experience. And he was the only one who could help Harvey to make sense of this place. 

The rogue cursed under breath and followed, taking long and possibly quiet strides to catch up.  

OWaP ch28--Nightmares and Daydreams part 1
And now the fun begins. AKA both our kids are getting original Fade nightmares rather than the generic Duncan/Weisshaupt one in the game, and we're.... playing with things a bit. Ngl, I've been looking forward to this since pretty much when we started. Alex did all the writing for this chapter, I just beta-ed and made a couple teensy little tweaks. 

Chapter 1

Chapter 27

Chapter 29
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Bryce Cousland, Niall, and Dragon Age in general belong to BioWare

Harvey belongs to freethegoats
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She was getting really tired of fighting abominations. Honestly, she was getting tired of fighting, period, but fighting monsters that had once been people she'd known added a layer of emotional exhaustion to a physically exhausting circumstance.

"Alright, we need a break," Trinne said as their group reached the top of another flight of stairs. They were now one level below the Harrowing chamber, and it had been a hard fight to get this far. Just the room at the bottom had held four or five abomination and several shades. She had an awful headache from how far she'd drained her mana reserves fighting them off. And if the white-knuckle grasp Wynne had on her staff was any indication, she wasn't doing much better. This room looked safe as any for them to take a few minutes to gather themselves. "Alistair, why don't you and Cousland scout ahead a bit? See... see if you can find any survivors."

"But you just said we need a break," Alistair protested.

"I was thinkin' more Wynne an' me, y'know, to get our mana back, but if you guys are tired you can rest for a few minutes, too," she conceded grumpily. Delaying could mean death for some poor trapped mage. She and Wynne had to take a break if they wanted to be any good in the next fight, but all of them stopping was probably a bad idea.

"No, no, that's okay. I was just confused..." Alistair sighed and shook his head "C'mon, Harvey."

Part of her wanted to apologize, explain she was worried--scared sick, really--by the state of her home and rationality wasn't a strong suit right now. But that part lost to the one insisting she didn't owe him anything; he was practically a templar, and instead watched the men as they started quietly down the hall.

"You're too hard on him," Wynne said quietly.

"How was that too hard on him?" Trinne protested. You shoulda heard me at Ostagar... or in the Wilds... 

"Warriors need rest as well; there are limits to what the human body can do. You didn't need to bite his head off over a simple misunderstanding."

"I didn't-" Trinne stopped herself, growled in frustration and raked one hand through her hair. "Never mind."

Wynne looked like she wanted to say more, but kept whatever opinion was bubbling up to herself.

The two of them sat in silence for a long moment before Trinne couldn't stand the waiting tension any longer. "So, what exactly happened to make things... like this?"

>>X<<

There was a... wrongness in the air that Alistair hadn't noticed until he and Harvey moved away from the mages. And this was a different sense of wrong than the lower levels, and different from the usual slight warping magic caused for mage and templar senses. Something was off about this floor, something was very, very wrong. He just couldn't put his finger on it. It obviously wasn't coming from the open spaces; he could see clearly that there was nothing but refuse and stone there. Which meant it had to be coming from one of the rooms currently hidden behind closed doors.

"Something doesn't feel right, I think we should be extra careful," he whispered to Harvey. "My templar sense are tingling, I guess Trinne would say."

They both flicked an instinctive glance back at the mages, who were deep in animated conversation as they rested.

>>X<<

Wynne sighed, her gaze drifting slowly over the blood stained floor and viscera-smeared walls. "I stayed to help the few survivors of Ostagar. Just a day or two at the camp made to shelter the wounded, patch them up enough they could keep moving." Her expression hardened. "It wasn't much of a delay, but it was enough for Uldred to get back here before me.
By the time I made it back here, he had all but convinced the Circle to support Loghain."

"What??" Trinne had never liked Uldred; he always seem to hold himself apart, like he thought he was better than the rest of them. But supporting a murdering usurper was a stretch even for him. "How the bloody Void did he talk them into that?"

"How do you think?" Wynne said, tone just shy of scornful. "He praised Loghain's status as a war hero and now regent, said if we supported him he would tell the Chantry to give mages more freedoms... He dangled a tantalizing hope of autonomy in front of them and conveniently left off what Loghain had done at Ostagar. I can't really blame the Circle for listening; he had a persuasive argument-"

"But Ostagar!" Trinne protested.

"They had no way of knowing about that," Wynne reminded her. "News seldom reaches us here before it's already months old, so if Uldred didn't tell them, they couldn't have known."

She had to concede that point. "Okay, then what happened next?"

"I went to Irving," Wynne said, voice brimming over with righteous anger. "I told him exactly what that traitorous bastard did at Ostagar. He was... perturbed. He promised to make things right." Her tone softened. "The next day, he called a meeting to confront Uldred."

>>X<<

Harvey nodded in response to Alistair's warning, and the two of them were extra quiet approaching the first door. The rogue stepped closer cautiously, running one hand over the heavy, carven wood of the door, zeroing in on the keyhole. Probably planning to listen before opening it, Alistair guessed. Which is why he was flabbergasted when Harvey listened for a moment, pulled back to stare at the door, then pushed it open and walked into the room bold as brass.

"No, Harvey, what-" Alistair scrambled after him. Maker, let the room be-  

"Well, well," a soft, feminine voice purred. "What have we here?"

-empty.

>>X<<

Trinne glanced at their surroundings. "I take it that didn't go well?"

Wynne shook her head. "I can't say, exactly. I wasn't in the meeting. I had just come out of my rooms when I heard the screams."

>>X<<

For a moment, he couldn't really do anything but stare at the purple-skinned figure in the center of the room. Naked. She's... practically naked. Unbidden, the teaching of various Chantry sisters came flooding back. That's a desire demon, he surmised, blushing to the roots of his hair as his brain fully registered to nearly nude form; perfect figure, dazzling eyes, horns, tail... She was every bit as beautiful and formidable as the Sister had made her kind sound.

Alistair's salvation came by way of the other individual in the room--a templar, craggy features suggesting he was just entering middle age. "What is the matter, my darling?" he asked, voice thick, as if half-asleep.

"It's nothing, pet," the demon purred. "Just visitors. Why don't you go read to the children while I see what they want?"

"Of course, dear," the templar nodded, and fell silent. 

"Now..." the demon turned to glare at Alistair. "What do you want, templar?"

>>X<<

Wynne's eyes filled with pain as she remembered. "They... the screams were coming from the meeting room. It was on my way there I saw the first abomination."

>>X<<

"Oh, me?" Alistair squared his shoulders, glancing over at Harvey. The rogue was just standing there, looking very interested in what the demon had to say. Alistair bit back a groan as he realized whatever charm the demon was using had somehow affected the other man. So, no back-up if this go south. Maker, help me. "Well, we were just looking around when we stumbled into your lovely nes- er, home. How's your, um, how's he?" He motioned at the templar.

The demon smiled. "He has everything he ever wanted, as do I. We're both doing wonderfully." There was a threatening undertone to the words that made him even more uncomfortable with the fact he was conversing with a demon

"And what benefit do you get out of giving him everything he ever wanted?" Alistair asked, cautiously. He didn't want to provoke her, not yet, not with his odds.

"Sustenance, of course," she chuckled, running her fingers almost affectionately through the templar's hair. "With everything I'm giving him, it seems only fair I get something in return. But I assure you, he's quite happy."

"Oh, well, if he's happy, I completely understand," Alistair muttered sarcastically.

>>X<<

"I don't know what Uldred did," Wynne sighed, gesturing around them. "But this, the state of things now, is his doing."

>>X<<

He needed to get the mages in here. But he didn't want to risk her getting away or attacking while he was without help. Let this work, he begged mentally before plastering on a smile and tugging on Harvey's arm. "Well, we should really be going..."

"But we just got here," Harvey protested, voice thick with dreaming as he shook free. "It'd be rude to leave so early..."

"Well, then," Alistair glanced between the rogue, the demon, and the doorway. This was a complication. But he really didn't like his chances without the mages. "You keep visiting. I have some other friends who would love to meet our... host."  He moved toward the door, well aware of the huge gamble he was making. He could only pray it paid off. Hopefully, not arguing or trying to get his friend back would make her think he didn't want a fight and she'd let him leave. Hopefully, she wouldn't get her claws, charm, whatever, even deeper into Harvey. Hopefully, she wouldn't leave with her prizes as he was talking to the mages. It was a lot of hopefullys, but he couldn't fight her by himself.

He let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding as he made it out the door with no resistance and walked quickly as he dared toward where the mages were resting.

>>X<<

"That's all you know?" Trinne couldn't help the disappointed note in her voice. It was remarkably little information.

"If we find Niall, he might be able to sate your curiosity," Wynne said dryly. "He was in the meeting, so he would have seen-" She broke off abruptly at the rapid approach of footsteps. "Alistair? Is something wrong dear?"

"And where's Cousland?" Trinne frowned.

"We have a problem," Alistair sighed. "There's a desire demon in the one room we were scouting. She'd ensorcelled a templar, and sorta... snagged Harvey, too. Obviously we have to do something about it, but I know how powerful her kind is, so I figured it was better to have help."

"What, no confidence in your skills as a templar, Pretty Boy?" Trinne needled, pushing to her feet.

"Oh, plenty, just not as much as you have in yours as a mage," he shot back, and despite the grimness of their situation she couldn't help but smirk. "I prefer to err on the side of not getting myself killed."

"Point," she grinned, before sobering somewhat. "Let's go save Cousland and this templar from the big scary desire demon." Hopefully her tone was light enough to hide her trepidation at fighting something as powerful as a desire demon when they were down a person.

"Trinne, you really should be taking this more seriously," Wynne murmured disapprovingly.

Apparently it was.

>>X<<

Nothing had changed when they re-entered the room. The demon, the templar, and Harvey were all standing exactly where he had left them.  Alistair wasn't sure if that was good or bad. Maybe both.

Before he could figure out what to say, Trinne gasped and stepped past him, thunderclouds in her eyes, and glared at the demon. "Let him... let them go."

The demon just laughed at her demand. "When they're both so happy? What kind of monster to you think I am?" She gave a taunting smile, running a caressing hand down the templar's face. "He finally has the family he always wanted, the family the templars denied him. Why would you take that from him?"

He couldn't see her face with where she was standing, but the way Trinne's shoulders were shaking couldn't be a good sign. "Let. Him. Go," she repeated, and Alistair would've sworn he saw lightning spark in her hair.

"Our bond is too strong," the demon informed her with sickly sweet tones. "He's mine now, by choice."

Alistair noticed too late the spell building in Trinne's hand. "Trinne, wait-"

But she'd already summoned a handful of lightning, and even as he formed the protest, she sent it flying toward the demon with a wordless cry of rage.

The templar gave a cry of his own and lunged forward to block the lightning bolt. The demon shrieked angrily, summoning the corpses that littered the room to fight for her as she swept forward.

"Would've been nice to get Harvey back first," Alistair couldn't resist snarking as he drew his sword.

"Well, then, kill the sodding demon!" Trinne snapped back, clocking an encroaching corpse with her staff. "Isn't that what templars do?"

"Watch out!" Wynne cried in warning as she unleashed a torrent of cold magic toward their enemies.

Alistair and Trinne dodged to opposite sides--Trinne almost bumping into Harvey--until the spell finished. He decided to take the mage's advice and go after the demon. Maybe if he killed her quickly enough, she would be the only thing they had to kill. The corpses wouldn't be walking, and her charm wouldn't be holding the templar and Harvey any more.

Without a word of planning, the mages shifted to handling crowd control and protecting the still-charmed rogue. As he closed in on the demon, Alistair heard them calling strategy back and forth, the shattering of a frozen corpse, and what sounded like Trinne begging, "Don't make me do this." But he didn't let his attention waver from the shrieking, dodging demon as she threw every trick in her book at him. Everything from hexes and charms to a burst of cold similar to what Wynne had done moments earlier. He barely got his shield in time to block the latter; feeling the agonizing cold as it sank through the metal and into his arm.

Behind him, Alistair heard Trinne swear--she sounded almost like she was crying--and the clatter of metal against stone that he guiltily hoped signified the templar's end. When the demon screamed in rage, he figured he was right. She lashed out at him, her claws raking across his face when he couldn't get his shield up in time.

"That's alright, I can get another," she snarled as she dodged around him, heading for where Trinne and Wynne were fighting off the remnants of the undead, standing in a loose guard position between the corpses and Harvey.

By the time Alistair recovered from the blow, she had a decent head start. "Trinne!"

The mage's head snapped around, and her features hardened at the sight of the demon. With an obviously concentrated effort, she created a head-sized lump of rock and flung it at the demon. It was rushed enough her aim was off, and the rock smacked into the demon's shoulder rather than anywhere more important. But it did the job.

As the demon reeled, Alistair caught up, rammed her with his shield to further stun her, and ran her through. She gave a choked grunt, sagged against the blade, and collapsed as Alistair pulled it back out. Satisfied she was truly dead, he moved to helped with finishing off the remaining few undead.  He was scraping the last one off his sword when Harvey shook his head and blinked, like a man waking from a nap.

"What..." he blinked again, looking around the room. "...happened?"

"You completely missed a good fight, that's what happened," Trinne retorted, but her tone was far less biting than Alistair would have expected. When he turned to look, she was staring at the dead templar, jaw set and eyes bright, like she was trying not cry, oblivious to the blood running down her arm.

"You alright?" he asked, resting a hand on her uninjured shoulder.

"Yeah, um... yeah," she nodded and sniffled, shying away from the sympathetic touch. "I just... I knew him. He was the templar who-who brought Jowan to the tower. He was always nice to us, let us sneak sweets from dinner, didn't rat us out when we hid to avoid the more boring lectures. He seemed to enjoy our mischief, at least the really harmless stuff. I think..." Her voice caught, and she took a breath to steady herself before she continued. "I think we were like the children he couldn't have. He was good with the other apprentices, too; comforting the younger ones when they were scared and all, but I-I always felt like we were special, somehow."  

"I'm sorry." It sounded trite and hollow. "What was his name?"

"Um," Trinne cleared her throat, blinking back tears. "Drass." She looked ready to say more, but instead just shook her head. "We... we should keep moving. An' we should probably stick together now, in case anyone-" her gaze flicked to Harvey- "gets in trouble again."

"It's not his fault," Alistair said in an undertone. "He didn't know there was a demon in here, and besides, it's not like it's easy to resist a demon's charms."

"Harrowed mages do it all the time!" Trinne hissed back. "I can do it, you managed to do it."

"I have templar training, as you're so fond of reminding me. And I knew what I was walking into-" 

"You don't have to do that," Harvey cut him off. "I don't need you defending me." 

"Really?" Trinne interjected sarcastically. "'Cause that wasn't true a minute ago."

Alistair watched a muscle twitch in Harvey's jaw and vainly wished he was somewhere less dangerous. Fighting an ogre maybe.

"I'm terribly sorry for inconveniencing you by falling prey to a demon's wiles," the rogue drawled, tone all false politeness that was almost as cutting as Trinne's blunt sarcasm. "I'll be sure not to let it happen again, now that I know what to watch out for."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Trinne bristled.

"Just that a warning when you sent us off to scout might've been nice."

"Yeah, sure, 'cause I knew she was in here," the mage muttered sarcastically. "Whaddya think I am, all-knowing?"

"You're smart, right?" Harvey shot back, and Alistair started mentally calculating the odds they'd try to kill each other in the next few seconds. "Mages know more about demons and all this than us boring normal people. A word of caution would have been appreciated, 's all I'm saying."

Trinne's eyes narrowed and she looked ready to fire back something absolutely scathing, but she huffed out an angry breath through her nose and spun on one heel to face Alistair instead. "Hold still." She reached up and pressed a hand against the gashes trickling blood down his cheek to heal them.

Her touch was far from gentle, but Alistair still felt his face heating. "Um, thanks."

"You're welcome." Very deliberately not looking down at Drass' body, she turned toward the door. "Since we're done here, let's keep moving."

Wynne murmured agreement, Harvey grunted assent as well--even if his eyes said the mage maybe deserved whatever happened to her for charging ahead blindly--and the three of them trailed after their fearless leader.

>>X<<

The other side room proved to be a disappointed, once they got inside. The door was locked and trapped both, which Cousland took care of faster than she'd expected. So you are good for something. She had to bite her tongue to keep from saying it. It was too far, and not true and wouldn't help things in the slightest. So instead she pushed open the door, bracing to be attacked by someone; something. But all they found were a few dead mages, a few dead templars, and the gutted corpse of an abomination.

As she relaxed, Alistair tugged Cousland's arm, pulling the rogue back into the hallway and muttering something about wanting to talk to him.

Trinne absently nodded, not really caring, and transfixed by the sight spread before her--all of the mages and two of the templars she'd known by name. "This has to end..."

"What, dear?" Wynne swung toward her, having only half-heard the whispered comment.

"Nothing." She shook her head. "We should see if there's anything worth taking and then keep moving. I wanna be done with this..."

They checked over the corpses, poked around in the storage chests, and came up with a few things. A couple more lyrium potions, which Trinne and Wynne split between them, and a set of mage robes, which got packed away for later. They were sized more for a man than a woman, and would require some careful tailoring if they were going to be useful. There were a few more knick knacks, but nothing important. With their examination of the room complete, the mages rejoined Alistair and Cousland in the hallway. Nowhere to go now but up. To find Irving and Uldred and finish this.

"Trinne?" Alistair stopped her with a hesitant hand on her shoulder. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"As I can be," she replied, since his tone made it clear he knew yes was a lie. "Like I said earlier; this was my home. Seeing... this-" she gestured vaguely at the surrounding destruction and carnage- "is awful. Imagine if monsters attacked your home. Would you be okay?"

"No," he admitted--far more easily than she'd expected, rubbing the back of his neck. "I wouldn't."

"I just wanna keep things from getting worse," she muttered, kicking a piece of wood that had broken off from a crate. "If Greagoir actually uses the Right of Annulment..." she let out a shaking breath and pinched the bridge of her nose. "No. I... I don't wanna think about that. Let's just keep going. I'll be much more okay once we've finished."

"Sure." Alistair nodded. "At least there isn't too much further to go, right?" 

"Right," Trinne nodded, managing a smile as she reached for the handle of the door leading to the central chamber and stairs. Not too much further...
 
Of Wardens and Pariahs ch27--Hopefully
Ah, finally. :faint: Sorry guys. This chapter needed a lot more editing than most of them have so far. BUT it's a thousand times better than the original version was(Thanks, Alex), so the delay was totally worth it. And we finally get to do the Fade. I'm so excited; I've been looking forward to the Fade for so. long. (Also, gotta love Harvey failing his wisdom saving throw followed shortly by Trinne failing her charisma check xD They dun like each other very much right now. The Fade's gonna be fun) 

Accompanying scrapcomic from Alex

Chapter 1

Chapter 26

Chapter 28 
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Alistair, Wynne, and Dragon Age in general belong to BioWare

Harvey belongs to freethegoats

Trinne is mine
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In hindsight, Trinne had to admit there were probably much better--smarter--ways she could have reacted. But in the heat of the moment, without the luxury of time to rank her options from smartest to dumbest, she had fallen back on instinct. The same instinct she been following since she was eight years old: protect Jowan. A sizzling, angry lightning spell was a tad different than older, mocking apprentices, but her solution to both was to put herself between the threat and him. The enchantment on her new armor absorbed enough of the lightning to render it non-lethal, but not enough to keep her from crying out in pain as she dropped to her knees.

It was all sort of a blur after that. She was pretty sure she heard Jowan swear--a rarity in and of itself--as the sound of spells and combat filled her ears, but was more focused on breathing, trying to summon enough energy to heal herself, even a little. It hurt too much, she couldn't concentrate. And then Alistair was scooping her up to carry her back to camp, and she didn't even protest because if she opened her mouth she was going to whimper, she just knew it. They traveled in silence, the group of them, though Trinne could tell Jowan was biting his tongue--hard--to stay that way. When they reached the campsite, Alistair made a beeline for Wynne's tent, Jowan close behind them.

The white-haired mage looked up from the book she was studying, briefly puzzled and annoyed at the interruption before she absorbed the sight before her. "What happened?"

"Lightning spell," Alistair explained as he set Trinne down on the stool Wynne indicated. "Caught her in the chest."

Wynne tsked sympathetically and shook her head. "I'll see to her." She made a shooing motion. "You boys wait outside. I need room to work."

Alistair obeyed. Jowan didn't. "I need to talk to her."

Trinne watched the older mage purse her lips unhappily, noticed the thunderclouds in her best friend's eyes, and braced herself. "H-He can stay."

"Oh, very well," Wynne sighed. "Make yourself useful, at least, and help me get her armor off so I can see the extent of what I'm dealing with here."

Jowan nodded and turned his attention to the buckles on Trinne's armor, working so silently it was kind of unnerving, if she was honest. Quiet she was used to. Completely silent usually meant something was bothering him.

"What's got you all bent outta shape?" she mumbled teasingly as the breastplate came away and breathing got easier.

"Bent out-" Jowan's mouth pressed briefly into an angry line as he pointed at the scorched hole in her armor. "That, Trinne. That is what has me bent out of shape! You very nearly got yourself killed!"

"But I didn't! And it was protecting you!" she fired back, irritation trumping the pain momentarily as she pulled up her shirt for Wynne's examination. "You're welcome, by the way."

"That's not- I'm..." Jowan sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "I am grateful for that, don't get me wrong. But I don't need you playing chicken with death to protect me-"

"Contrary to all appearances," Trinne muttered, wincing as Wynne felt along the sprawling injury. The healer motioned for Jowan to turn around as she gently pulled Trinne's shirt off to see the extent of the damage.

"I was summoning a barrier," he snapped, spinning to face away from the women. "I would have been fine!"

"Well, I didn't know that!" she groused, biting back a curse as healing magic surged into the nasty electrical burn.

"You would have, if you'd waited another half a second before jumping in front of a lightning bolt wearing metal!" 

"It's enchanted metal, thank you very much!" Trinne protested, sighing slightly in relief as the pain in her chest eased. Her arm was getting tired, and she let it rest against the top of her head as she continued, "It has lightning resistance-"

"That you've never tested before!" Jowan pointed out heatedly. "How did you know it would be good enough?"

"I didn't, I just figured it was better I get hit than you..."

"Why?!" He started to turn around as he asked, caught himself, and settled for crossing his arms as he aimed the glare meant for her at the canvas of Wynne's tent. "Why is it better for you to get hurt or killed than me?"

"Because I don't know what I would do without you!" Trinne snapped.

"And, what, you think I'd somehow manage better if something happened to you?!" Jowan gave an almost bitter laugh. "I think you have that backwards, Trinne."

"No, I-" she growled in frustration, glaring at his back. "It's instinct. I've been lookin' out for you so long, it's just pure instinct at this point to put myself between you and danger."

His posture relaxed a little. "You don't have to do that anymore, though. I appreciate it, and Maker knows I needed it when we were kids, but I don't now."

"Oh, yeah, sure, just give up a behavior I've developed and reinforced over the course of almost a decade an' a half," Trinne deadpanned. "I'm sure that'll be easy as pie." A teasing smile quirked her lips. "'Sides, it's probably better this way; you and I both know I'm less of a baby about pain."

"That's completely untrue!" Jowan protested, and she would lay money he was rolling his eyes.

"Sure, sure," she drawled, pulling her shirt back on after a nod from Wynne. "That's why Sweeney rappin' our knuckles for passin' notes in class made you cry twice as long as I did."

"Trinne, I was eight. And he hit harder for me 'cause he's old-fashioned girls are delicate or something." Jowan turned, having deduced from the rustle of fabric that it was safe to look. "So, how bad did it scar?"

Trinne pulled up her shirt enough he could see the pinkish starburst scar poised at the lower edge of her ribcage. "Could be worse, even if it does spread far enough Alistair's gonna be the only one to see the whole thing."

Jowan made a face. "Aw, thank you very much for that mental image."

"You're very welcome," she replied sweetly, moving with only a little stiffness as she collected her armor. "And you're also welcome for the saving your life thing."

He half-smiled. "Thank you, really, but never do that again. I'm not worth it." He pulled her into a hug so abruptly she almost dropped her armor.

"Bullshit. You are to me!" Trinne protested. "But I'll work on it," she promised, voice muffled against his shoulder. "We've both done some growing since the last time I had to save your ass. So I will try to trust your instincts rather than just act on mine. But I can make no promises beyond that; I'll try."

"That's all I ask," he assured her, ruffling her hair as he let go.

"Brat," Trinne muttered in exasperation, shifting her grip as the pieces of her armor tried again to escape her grasp.

"And there's not a thing you can do about it," Jowan grinned, ducking out of the tent.

She huffed out a sigh, thanked Wynne for her help, and beelined after her best friend. We'll see about that.  
Of Instincts
This was written for two reasons. A) I need practice writing arguments. Always. They're a weak point for me, and y'know, practice makes perfect and all that. B) Trinne and Jowan's friendship is one of my favorite things ever and the more love I can give that the better. But they don't argue over much, so I went with one of the few things that would do it; namely, one doing something stupid and reckless to try and protect the other. Trinne is the Protective Older SiblingTM in this arrangement(also the more reckless), so she got to do the honors.  That also brought up the issue with her learning/remembering Jowan can take care of himself now(mostly), and how much they'd hate to lose each other. (Which is, honestly, the driving point of their fight--Trinne was terrified of losing Jowan, so does something that makes Jowan afraid he was gonna lose her... Ugh, this brotp)  And yes, if you're wondering, this is canon for Of Wardens and Pariahs
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Jowan, Wynne, and Dragon Age in general belong to BioWare

Trinne Amell is mine 
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The disappearance of Alistair Theirin, king of Ferelden, was discovered shortly after lunch, and promptly threw the palace staff into a panic. Every room was searched, to no avail. The grounds and gardens, as well, with an equal lack of success. The simple fact of the matter was they had no idea where to look.

Luckily, Marta did. Dodging frantic servants and deliberately avoiding an increasingly irate Arl Eamon, she meandered toward a far-flung corner of the grounds. It was desolate and empty this time of year, nothing growing save one huge, old tree.

"You know, this makes a better hiding place in the summer," she laughed as she approached, breath clouding the air. "When there are actual leaves."

"You're still the only one who's found me." Alistair grinned at her, perched on a sturdy branch fifteen feet up.

Marta put her hands on her hips and gave him a mock-reproving look. "That's another thing, Your Majesty; you can't go running off and hide from problems."

His grin widened. "It's working so far."

"Alistair!"

"Marta."

"Will you come down from there? This angle is murder on my neck."

"I dunno, I kind of like you having to look up to me," he teased. "Besides, this branch is surprisingly comfortable."

Marta stared at him for a second or two, let out an exasperated huff, and started to climb the tree; skirts, cloak, and all. When she reached the branch Alistair was perched on, he looked suitably impressed. She was fairly certain she looked more than a little smug, but that was allowed under the circumstances. "Out with it, what's bothering you?"

"There's some ball that's traditionally held this time of year. Eamon's been badgering me to 'continue the tradition' so people can see both that the darkspawn didn't destroy our heritage and that I'll respect my predecessors, or something like that."

"And you don't want to?" Marta probed, twisting the end of her ponytail.

Alistair sighed, picked at a loose thread on his cuff. "I've only been king a couple months, Marta. I'm afraid I'll mess up and it'll be a disaster. Or Eamon will try to use it as a match-making opportunity, b'cause Maker forbid I stay single awhile..." He stared at the ground. "I wonder, if I jump from here and break my leg, if I can get out of going."

"Or," she chuckled softly. "Alternatively, I could go as your date."

"Really? You'd do that?"

"I'm kind of hurt you even need to ask," Marta teased. "You're king, I'm your chancellor, we're friends, and neither of us has a... currently available significant other."

"I am sorry you haven't found Thomas yet," Alistair said. "But if you're really willing to accompany me, Lady Cousland, I do believe I'll take you up on that." A thought occurred and he frowned. "What if we have to dance? I'll step on your toes or trip or something."

"No, you won't. For starters, there's this wonderful thing called practice," Marta said lightly. "We'll have plenty of time to fit some in before the ball. You'll be dancing like you've been doing it your whole life by the time I'm done with you."

"I notice you're talking like I've decided to have this ball," he teased.

"You sounded like you had a minute ago," she pointed out playfully. "And I really think you should. It's a good tradition, and it's always been fun in the past."

"You've been before?" Alistair couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice.

Marta nodded. "With my family. Teyrns usually get invited to those sorts of things."

"Well, then, you can make sure I do everything right."

"I would do that anyway," she laughed.

"True."

"Now come on, let's head back inside, before people start worrying you were abducted."

It took an odd mix of careful planning and reckless leaps, but both king and chancellor got down out of the tree without any broken bones.

>>|<<

True to her word, Marta made sure Alistair practiced--dancing, etiquette, the traditions associated with the king's role at the ball. More than once he joked that she was a harsher task master than the Chantry sisters, which Marta simply smiled and took as a compliment. But unlike the Chantry sisters, Alistair actually listened to Marta. And so, sure enough, by the day of the Wintersend Ball, he was more than competent at all of the necessary skills to avoid making a fool out of himself. He found himself actually looking forward to this ball--for more reason than Marta offering to be his date.

I'm sure she just meant as friends, he scolded himself mentally, watching as she worked out color schemes with the royal seamstress. She even listed your friendship as one of the reasons it made sense. Still, it would be a challenge, knowing the assumptions people would make, seeing the two of them there as a couple. And knowing how badly he wished those assumptions could be true.

But they weren't and they couldn't be, a fact he just had to accept. It was enough to be friends. A mantra he found himself repeating more and more frequently as the Wintersend Ball drew closer. Most of the time he even meant it.

>>|<<

One of Marta's more fervent wishes for the ball was granted the morning of, as a pair of calloused hands covered her eyes and a familiar voice playfully demanded, "Guess who?"

She dropped her book and jumped up to hug her brother, unable to resist commenting, "You remember it's a bad idea to startle someone with my training, right, Fergus?"

He just laughed and tweaked the end of her braid. "I was trusting your finely honed instincts to know I meant you no harm."

"Well-played," Marta conceded, tightening her hug. "It is good to see you. I wasn't sure you'd come."

"And pass up a chance to see my baby sister?" Fergus said warmly. "Perish the thought. Are you getting enough to eat, Mar? You feel thin."

"Warden appetite," she shrugged. "I'm fine. But come sit down, tell me about your trip, how the rebuilding's going."

He sat in the chair next to hers. "Uneventful, and slowly, respectively. Howe must've let his men run rampant as a herd of cattle while they occupied the castle. There's a lot missing, a lot to be fixed. Oh, but we did find this." He reached into a pocket of his shirt and pulled out a small flat box. "I thought you might want it for tonight."

Marta took the box, but hesitated slightly before opening it. A soft gasp escaped her when she saw what was inside. "This was Mother's."

Fergus nodded, watching her almost reverently brush her thumb over the necklace, a small sapphire set between the Cousland laurels done in silver. "I'm sure she's want you to have it."

Overwhelmed with emotion, all Marta could do was smile and nod gratefully.

"Well, I'm sure you have things you need to accomplish before tonight, m'lady Chancellor, and I would very much like to get some rest before I spend the night dancing. So I will see you later, little sister." Fergus stood to leave. "And at that time, we'll discuss how things have been for you." He gave her a meaningful look, kissed the top of her head, and whisked off before she could form a reply.

"How does he always, always know?" Marta whispered to the necklace as the door clicked shut.

He's your brother. It's his job to notice when things are bothering you. The little voice almost sounded like her mother for a moment, and Marta blinked back tears. It wouldn't do to have red eyes at the ball, not when Alistair was so adamantly insisting he'd need her help.

>>|<<

The process of getting ready for a royal ball was rather more involved when you were hosting instead of merely attending. Marta was interrupted multiple times as her maids did her hair and helped her dress. Finally, however, everything was accomplished and ready, and with one last pat to the reddish-golden brown braid that circled her head--a move more habit than anything--she went to meet Alistair.

She very nearly laughed, and couldn't entirely restrain a giggle, when she saw him. Whether by coincidence or the wiles of the palace seamstress, they matched. Well, sort of. Marta's dress was dark blue, inset with deep red down the front and sleeves, trimmed subtly in silver. Alistair's tunic was the reverse; dark red inset with blue and accented by what looked like woven silver and gold. His crown for the night was a simple thing; more coronet or circlet than anything.

"Wow," he murmured fervently upon laying eyes on her. "People are definitely going to talk. You look beautiful."

Her cheeks warmed and she fought the urge to fiddle with one of the wide, draped sleeves. "Thank you. And let them." Marta cleared her throat and twirled a loose, curling wisp of hair. "You look very handsome yourself, my friend. What do you say we give the nobility a show?"

Alistair grinned boyishly and extended an arm. "Let's." 

Marta linked her arm through his and they headed for the ballroom, in perfect step without even trying.

>>|<<

As expected, the pair of them turned every head in the room when they made their entrance. Marta's hand tightened on his arm ever so briefly as the whispers started and spread, and Alistair wondered if they bothered her. After all, most of them were likely accusations of social climbing, "isn't chancellor enough for her?", "she won't stop until she's queen.", and various other comments that painted her as a gold-digging harpy rather than the gentle diplomat he knew her to be. Then, too, there were the romantics; watching King and Chancellor cross the room arm-in-arm, already writing the love story in their heads.

If only they knew, Alistair thought wryly, maintaining what he hoped was a benevolent smile. If only they knew he'd loved her since before he breathed a word about his heritage. If only they knew her friendship was the thing he cherished most in the world. If only they knew that was as far as it went; friendship. If only they knew how quickly he would leap at the chance to court her, marry her, love her properly and freely. But they didn't. No one did, not even Marta. He valued her friendship too much to push for something he knew would never happen.

They reached their places at the head of the table and sat, Alistair very carefully recalling and following all the etiquette pointers Marta had given him. How to sit, what to do with his hands, the length and manner in which to nod a dismissal to the servant responsible for moving his chair. He still felt like a child trying desperately to mimic the effortless grace of the nearest adult so no one would know how clueless he was. And then Marta offered an encouraging smile, and the knot of tension in his gut loosened, just a little. Meals were relatively easy, so long as you remembered to wait through the blessing, chew slowly, and which fork to use when. Amid copious joking about his 'raised by dogs' quip from ages ago, Marta had made sure Alistair was well-versed in all three.

The chantry sister offered the blessing, Alistair rose and reeled off the short, traditional welcome speech, and the meal began. It was obvious to anyone with eyes that the gossip was flowing as freely as the wine, but there wasn't much to be done about that. Let them talk.

Marta leaned over slightly to whisper, "You're doing wonderfully."

"So far," he returned in an undertone. "This is the easy part. I have another, longer speech later in the evening, and I have to manage to dance without stepping on your toes."

"Leaving aside that you haven't done that the last three times we've practiced, my toes have been through worse," she assured him. "If you should prove me wrong and step on them, I will survive. In fact, I believe you still owe me a bruise or two for the elbow to the temple in the tower of Ishal."

"Oh, you mean when you very nearly knocked me unconscious while we were fighting an ogre?" Alistair ribbed playfully.

Marta gave a small, sheepish chuckle. "Yes, that would be the occasion to which I was referring. I will remind you I was still adjusting to both fighting as part of a team and your fighting style specifically, however. And you still managed to kill the blasted thing."

"Only because Bear proved an adept distraction," he shrugged. "I probably would've wound up paste if he hadn't found such joy in being an anklebiter."

She smiled. "It's not a role mabari get to play often,"

Their conversation shifted through small talk to more meaningful topics the rest of the meal; everything from Bear's recently acquired habit of sleeping sprawled across Marta's pillows to how the rebuilding of Highever was progressing. Several times as she passed on what her brother had told her, Marta shot him keen looks that said she knew he was deliberately keeping the focus of the conversation off him, but Alistair didn't care. So often their talks revolved around his struggles, how his day had gone, what Eamon was trying to talk him into now. Marta was very good at pretending she didn't matter, and for once he wanted to show her that someone believed otherwise. 

>>|<<

As a teyrn's daughter, ignoring gossip was a skill Marta had learned roughly around when she mastered the proper curtsy. That didn't mean she didn't notice, just that she was very good at letting it roll right off her. "Water off a duck's back," Delilah used to laugh as the two of them held their heads high and pretended they hadn't heard women twice their age critiquing their hair, their dresses, their everything. The skill was just as handy now as it had been back then. She could hear the murmurings, hidden behind fans or not at all, guess at their content, but worrying was useless. And thus pointless. She wasn't about to let somethign pointless ruin the fun she was having.

The meal wound down and she and Alistair led the following exodus to the ballroom. The nobles milled about chatting until the palace musicians struck up a lively tune.

Before they were halfway through the first stanza, Fergus had materialized at her elbow, grinning impishly as he extended one hand. "Care to dance, sister?"

Marta raised an eyebrow in mock censure. "Awfully bold of you to cut in on the king, brother."

Alistair raised a hand to forestall Fergus' apology. "Go right ahead. This song's a bit fast for me. I'll reclaim her attention later."

She smirked at the teasing in his tone and the protective look that flickered in Fergus' eye. "Very well. Lead on. Fergus."

The dance was a favorite with both Cousland siblings, and they fell in step with ease. "So what's this about reclaiming your attention later?" Fergus asked, raising his arm so Marta could spin.

Which she did, expertly, before answering. "I believe it's customary at social functions to spend at least the majority of your time with whomever accompanied you to said function." She fixed her brother with a knowing look. "And on that note, where's Alfstanna? I don't recall seeing her thus far tonight."

Fergus shot her a sour look. "Her brother relapsed. How did you know?"

Marta shrugged, half smile playing at her lips. "Simple deduction, brother dearest. Of all the nobles who survived the Battle of Denerim, she's the one who's been helping the most with rebuilding, both in Denerim and in Highever. Since I know you wouldn't attend a function such as this alone, lest the noblewomen descend upon the poor, widowed teyrn; and I'm equally sure you've thrown yourself into the reconstruction of our home with enough vigor to ensure you don't have a social life, it follows you would invite the woman who's been helping. The only question that remains is if yours is simply a friendly arrangement, like mine and Alistair's, or perhaps a gateway to something more."

Fergus laughed, shaking his head in bewilderment as he reeled her out and back in, keeping perfect time with the other dancers around them. "Damn, you're good. Although it's definitely the former; I'm not ready yet to even contemplate remarrying, and Alfstanna is focusing on Irminric's recovery. Neither of us is even looking for anything more. I will, however, congratulate you on doing an excellent job deflecting attention. Now that you've interrogated me regarding my date for the evening, I feel it only fair that you answer a question or two as well. I had no idea you wanted to be queen."

"That's not a question, and I don't," Marta retorted. "Alistair and I are just friends. That's all."

"Yes, because I look at my friends the way he looks at you," Fergus said dryly.

"No, that's-" She sighed. "He's worried about me tonight, that's all. I mentioned something about memories of my family attached to the Wintersend Ball, and I think he's concerned I'll break down in tears or something."

"If you say so." He only looked half convinced. "As your brother, it's part of my job to look out for you-"

"And there's nothing that needs looking after there," she assured him. "There's more risk of memories being an issue than Alistair."

"Why?" Fergus frowned.

Light brown eyes dancing with mirth, he held her closer than strictly required by the dance. "I would very much like to kiss you, Lady Cousland."

"I would very much like to let you, Ser Howe."
 

Marta bit down hard on the tears that accompanied the memory. "Just... Just in general. This ball was so important to Mother, and being here without them... and wearing her necklace...." she sighed, brushing her fingers against the pendant. "It hurts a little."

"I understand," Fergus nodded as the dance ended. "Much as I enjoy your company, Marta, I would much rather be dancing with Oriana."

She pressed a comforting hand to his arm as his voice caught on the name. "I know this must be even harder for you. I really appreciate that you came anyway."

He ginned. "I wasn't about to let you endure this bit of pageantry alone. But given our earlier conversation, don't you think you should return to your actual partner for the evening?"

"Probably a good idea," Marta agreed. "One dance with my brother is all well and fine, but much more than that and the gossips will turn it into me avoiding Alistair. And that's the last thing I want; he's still finding his feet as king and worrying about his leadership capabilities as it is, Maker knows I don't need anyone giving him ideas."

Fergus pulled her closer for one last hug. "Wouldn't want that. Have fun, sister."

"You as well, brother. I'll send up a prayer Alfstanna arrives soon to save you from the womanly hordes," Marta smirked, nodding towards a small gaggle of unaccompanied women who were clearly waiting for the first available man to dance with. "Good luck."

She slipped away with his hissed, "Brat," ringing in her ears and a serene smile on her face as she went in search of Alistair.

>>|<<

They found each other on the dance floor, feigning a first meeting.

"I've heard a great many interesting things about you, Ser Howe," she murmured, extending her hand toward him.

"As I have about you, m'lady," he returned, bowing to kiss her hand."Might I suggest we share a dance as we investigate the truth of this hearsay?"

She inclined her head and arched a brow, actually managing to look quite regal for a moment, before nodding. "A wise suggestion." Her hand stayed safely resting in his as they prepared to dance. It wasn't until the music started and granted at least the illusion of privacy that she let a crack form in their charade. "Thomas, you have no idea how much I've missed you."

"Oh, I rather think I do," he contradicted, smiling. "For I've missed you just as much."

"Well, then. We should make the best of our time together," she said, gracefully twirling under his upraised arm as the music swelled.

"Won't it look suspicious if we only dance with each other? I think I saw King Cailan eyeing you as if he wished to request a dance," he joked.

She scoffed quietly. "I'd rather dance with you than with a dozen kings."

He raised an eyebrow. "Then I shall do my best to be worthy of such sentiments, Lady Cousland."
  

>>|<<

The memory faded, leaving Marta with a sad smile tugging her lips. The Maker did have a sense of humor. Now she was here without Thomas, and there was a different king. One she was very much looking forward to having as her dance partner.

It didn't stop her from mssing him, though. Blast it, Thomas, where are you?

If you haven't found him yet, you probably never will, at least alive
.

She shook off the thought, even as it sent icy chills down her spine. Tonight was not the time for such thoughts. Tonight was  for-

"Marta? You okay?"

She spun at the gentle touch on her shoulder, slapping on a  smile. "Alistair. There you are. I'm fine, I was just looking for you, actually."

Alistair looked skeptical, but didn't argue--even as he cupped her face in one hand and brushed away the tear hanging in the corner of her eye. "There. Now people will believe you when you tell them that."

Marta shot him a grateful smile as he let his hand drop. "Thank you. There's just... a lot of memories to work through. But I'll manage." I always do.

I'm so proud of you, pup.
  

Her smile wavered, and Marta cleared her throat. "Shall we dance?"

"If that's what you want," Alistair nodded. "I think I know this one well enough." He took the lead as they made their way to the dance floor. "I had an excellent teacher, after all."

Marta laughed, the vise around her heart loosening slightly. "Thank you for the high praise, Your Majesty."

"I only speak the truth," he said, as his hand came to rest on her waist.

"You are a lady to be held in the highest regard." 

She sucked in a sharp breath, her grip on Alistair's hand tightening briefly. Nothing his look of concern, she tried to smile. "Just another memory."

Alistair frowned as the two of them began moving. "You're having an awful lot of them. Is it because of that?" He shot a meaningful look at her necklace.

Marta shook her head. "If it were, the memories would be of my family, not..."

It only took a second or two for him to catch what she couldn't say. "Thomas?"

She nodded wordlessly and felt is hand flex against her waist. They danced in silence for a few moments, Marta regaining her composure, Alistair focusing on his feet. The sweet and slow tempo made this dance an easier one, but the fact remained he had only just recently learned it. 

"Thank you," Marta whispered, finally breaking the silence, comfortable and natural as it was.

"For what?"

"For knowing the value of not saying a word." She sighed. "Thomas is... a tricky subject right now; knowing he's innocent of his father's schemes, but not knowing if he lives... The fairy tales never made it seem this complicated."

To his credit, Alistair smiled at the weak joke. "The fairy tales glaze over a lot at the end, I find. The hero slays the dragon or evil villain, marries the princess, and they live happily ever after. They don't give a step-by step of how all of that's accomplished."

"Everyone wants to skip to the happily ever after,"Marta murmured. "Without the hard work. At the moment, I understand that painfully well." She paused. "What if... I mean, what if he's not- if he's..."

>>|<<

She was breaking his heart. Alistair pulled her closer and rubbed her back. "Then you'll cry--on my shoulder, if y'like--and keep going. Because that's who you are, Marta; you mourn tragedy and loss as they're due, but you pick yourself up and keep going. They may change you, but you don't let them paralyze you."

"This might," she whispered, leaning her head against his chest.

Alistair took a deep breath, praying  she couldn't feel his racing heart. "It won't. Not for long, anyway. You're a strong woman, with friends who care about you, and a heart to help and protect people. It's one of the things I-" love- "appreciate most about you. Plus, if it tries to keep you down long term, I'll drag you out of it. Or be a listening ear. Whichever you need."

Marta lifted her head and smiled gratefully, though he could see the tears shining in her eyes. "Thank you. Either one will mean more to me than I can put into words." She took advantage of the next step in the dance to rise on the balls of her feet and kiss him on the cheek.

He couldn't stop his eyes from fluttering closed briefly as her lips brushed his skin, or his stomach from twisting in a knot. I was only with a great deal of effort that he retained his composure enough to whisper, "It's no more than you did for me. Fair's fair."

She kissed me, reverberated inside his head, every echo making his heart skip a beat, no matter how many different ways he tried to reign himself in. It was on the cheek. Obviously just a friendly gesture. It was a thank you. She's clearly still in love with Thomas and will never see you as anything other than a friend and brother in arms.

So? I'll take it.
 Despite knowing what this must look like to any observers or gossips witnessing the comfortable familiarity between them, friends was enough.

As Marta smiled once more in gratitude, Alistair could only hope that one day, when he thought that, he would absolutely and entirely mean it. Because he'd never doubted himself like he did at the moment.

>>|<<

Alistair was... quiet for the rest of the evening. Or, at least, quiet for him. He carried out the rest of his kingly duties for the Wintersend Ball, joked a little with her to make her smile, gave the longer speech without a single flub, and was all warmth and sincerity interacting with his people. But there was something, an edge of solemnity, after their dance, and Marta couldn't help but worry she'd overstepped her bounds with the kiss. Yes, it had been on the cheek, yes, she'd simply meant it as a friendly gesture of gratitude.

But it probably hadn't looked like that to other people. She cursed herself for an idiot as she realized that. In the heat of the moment, her heart laid bare and Alistair being his usual wonderful self, it had seemed only natural. It's what she would have done were they on the road. Only, they weren't on the road. They weren't simply Wardens, just Alistair and Marta, anymore. They were King and Chancellor and standing in the middle of perhaps the most public place in Denerim. 

And she'd kissed him. On the cheek or on the lips, both would mean the same to the gossips. "The Cousland girl's not content with chancellor, she wants to be queen" or "oh, how romantic". She rubbed her fingers over the sapphire in her necklace and could practically hear Mother's lectures on propriety and comportment. No wonder Alistair was acting different; he was trying to balance out her over-familiarity. So she took her cue from him and was the picture of propriety the rest of the night.

It wasn't until things had wound down, nobles heading off to their homes or other lodgings and they were free to retreat to the privacy of the royal wing that Marta dared broach the subject. "I'm sorry." 

"For what?" Alistair, bless him, looked as exhausted as he did confused.

"The kiss," she said softly, unpinning her braid and letting it fall down her back. "It was... ill-advised, given our circumstances. I just forgot myself and where we were in the heat of the moment."

"No, Marta, that's not something you need to apologize for," he protested, raking one hand through his hair, which dislodged his coronet. He fumbled to catch it, then spun the thin gold circlet between his hands as they walked. "There was nothing wrong about it. I-I mean, I don't think it was im-improper or ill-advised of whatever. It was just a friendly gesture, right?"

"Yes, but that's not what it looked like to other people, I'm sure," she pointed out, fidgeting with the jewel-studded hairpins.

"Hang what it looked like to other people," Alistair growled. "You're my friend, and I care about you, and I don't want you feeling like you have to worry about that."

"But you're king now," Marta reminded him gently. "We do need to worry about that, because your people's opinion of you matters. And if they think your chancellor is a gold-digging, social-climbing... tart, that reflects poorly on both of us." She sighed and drew off her necklace. "So next time I decide to have a complete breakdown about my missing lover, I'll be sure to do it in private."

"I see your point," Alistair conceded around a yawn. "See, this is why I like having you around. You're smart and think about things likethis."

"Not because I'm the only one who'll put up with you?" she teased.

"...Well, there's that, too," he rejoined, making a face at her. "G'night, Mar."

Marta blinked in momentary surprise when she realized they were outside her room. "G'night, Alistair. Get some sleep, and remember we're meeting with the Orlesian ambassador tomorrow."

"I remember," Alistair promised. "You get sleep, too. I'm gonna need you. I-In the meeting."

"As my king commands," she couldn't resist joking as she darted into her room.

Fortunately, the memories that had plagued her during the ball did not follow her into her dreams, making that a relatively easy promise to keep. 
 
A Friendly Arrangement
Yet another Marta Cousland fic, because I love her and her friendship with Alistair. This fic is brought to you by the trope Unrequited Pining and the song "So Close" from the Enchanted OST.
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Sefikichi Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for your support. Have a llama!
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Hope you have a fantastic birthday! Keep up the great work!
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Thanks, and I shall try my best! 
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I have been offline today, but it should still be the 12th there by you so HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Hope you have a fantastic day! *much huggles and butt touches* <3
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Hee hee thanks!
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Happy birthday!!! :D
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Thank you! :)
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Happy Birthday to You!
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Thanks! :D
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