Her Story – Chapters 4 & 5

Chapter 4

The good news about the mountain pass was ladders. The bad news was that they were tall, rickety ladders. I came to the conclusion as I approached the first that this day was going to be a lesson in fear. One right after the other apparently.

Cassandra sensed my hesitation. “Have you changed your mind regarding our approach?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I’m afraid of heights.”

Cassandra arched a brow at me. “And still you choose this way? We could have protected you during the cha-”

“We can save your soldiers if we hurry, Cassandra. I know we can.” And before she could ask me how I knew that, I swallowed back my fear and started climbing. I hoped I was right, that we weren’t too late. They weren’t just NPCs to be discarded anymore, they were people and they mattered. I had a lot of shortcomings, but if I could guide Cassandra and the others to saving the lives I couldn’t, that would be a small victory.

I refused to look down on the climb up and Varric ribbed a little at Cassandra, which made me laugh. I wondered if he did it because he liked annoying her or he was trying to help take my mind off the fact my legs were shaking as I climbed those ladders. Probably both.

At one point we reached a platform and I paused to catch my breath and peeked up at the sky. It felt like I was closer to the breech here and as I stared up at it, I got the feeling that it was this horrible malevolent thing tearing the world apart. I hated it, passionately in that moment, for the pain it would cause, the lives it would take. I forced myself not to look at Solas, lest he see my sudden anger. The mark on my hand began pulsing, the hot achy feeling intensifying. I clenched my hand into a fist and continued on.

“Does it hurt?” Varric asked.

I shrugged. “It’s manageable. I don’t notice it when I’m busy being terrified.”

“We all are these days,” Varric said.

I appreciated his words, but I knew his story and what he had been through. He and Cassandra were about a billion times braver than I could ever be.

Once at the top we reached an old mining tunnel. It was dark inside save for the faint glow of a few scattered torches on the walls that cast more shadows than light. Somewhere, deeper inside, a demon shrieked, it’s sound echoing creepily through the stone walls. I just stared into the darkness an incredulous look on my face. “Fuck. Really? It wasn’t that sc-” I was going to say that this area hadn’t been that scary in the game. The reality was something out of a horror movie. I shut myself up and just sighed. “I hate the dark.”

“Afraid of the dark too? I’m going to start calling you Scaredy Cat,” Varric grinned at me.

I gave Varric a playful punch in the shoulder but it was an apropo nickname.

Solas waved a hand over his staff and the gem at the top glowed a fairly bright blue. He smiled at me and took the lead, Cassandra at his back.

“Stay together and keep as quiet as possible,” Cassandra said in a low tone.

I sandwiched myself between Cassandra and Varric, no way I was going to be able to bring up the rear. I suppose given the atmosphere of the cave, it was inevitable that I saw my first dead body. Two of them. Solas was leading the way around the corner and there they were, the light from his staff illuminated them. I clapped my hands over my mouth to keep back the scream and struggled to contain the nausea that welled up inside of me.

Death at the hands of demons was a lot more grotesque than the game had allowed. One half of the male soldiers face was indistinguishable, his flesh having been torn to pieces by the demon’s claw, his eye hanging out of the socket. A female solider was near him, slumped against the wall, the contents of her stomach spilled out onto the floor and the smell of it all was nauseating.

I finally had to look away or I was going to throw up. I stumbled past them, past Solas to a torch lit wall, struggling to catch my breath. I was never going to forget that. It was going to haunt my dreams. My nightmares. I didn’t just feel ill, I was incredibly sadden by the sight of the dead bodies. Did they have family? Friends? What had they left unfinished? I began to think about the family I had left behind and I couldn’t stop the tears that started falling silently down my face. Had they noticed I was gone? What did they think happened to me? I couldn’t imagine how worried they were going to be.

“Your soldiers, Seeker?” Varric asked.

“Not all of them,” Cassandra sounded grim. “But whatever has done this is likely still here. We should keep moving.”

Solas took the lead again, passing by me. Cassandra paused at my side. “Are you all right?”

I inhaled a watery breath, dashed at my eyes again nodded. “Never seen a dead body before,” I said quietly. “Didn’t think it would suck that much.” I looked up at Cassandra. “I’m really sorry they died.”

Cassandra studied me like she was surprised by my answer. She put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “It is not your fault, but a consequence of the threat we now face. We will overcome it. They did not die in vain. Come.”

I nodded, took another deep breath and followed behind her.

We didn’t run into what had killed the pair of soldiers until we were back out in the cold. They had been drawn back to the rift that had formed just a few feet from the tunnel, and as we exited we could hear the sounds of fighting. I took in a deep breath of that crisp cold air, it was a thousand times better than the stale, dead smell inside of the tunnel. Relief passed through me too because we’d reached the soldiers in time.

I found that I didn’t have to wait until everything was dead to close the rifts here. While Cassandra, Varric and Solas joined the fray to help the soldiers and pulled all the attention of the demons and wisps towards them I got as close to the rift as I could and closed it. The reverberation of it snapping shut actually knocked a few of the creatures on their asses, which pleased me greatly. Closing these rifts though was exhausting though, and I wondered after we stopped the breech from growing if it would get an easier. I hoped so. I had a long way to go to figure out how to get back home.

“Thank the maker you arrived Lady Cassandra. I don’t think we could have held out,” the Lieutenant said the familiar line as Cassandra helped her to her feet.

I gave the woman a smile and noticed the other soldiers looking at me strangely. I thought I understood; they weren’t sure what to make of my ability to close the rifts yet. I understood, I didn’t know what the hell to make of my situation either and still wasn’t completely convinced I wasn’t having the biggest hallucination.

“Thank the Prisoner, Lieutenant,” Cassandra looked over at me. “She insisted we could save you.”

“Just had a hunch,” I said. “Glad it paid off and you guys are all right.”

“You have my sincere gratitude,” the Lieutenant made a fist and touched her chest. It was a small thing, I remember thinking it was cool in game, but to watch someone go through the motion in person and towards me was powerful. I hoped the Lieutenant lived through this story. I hope they all did.

“The path behind you is clear,” Cassandra told her.

“And the path before us appears to be clear as well,” Solas said.

“Then let us hurry before that changes,” Cassandra led the way and we all followed her.

I wasn’t prepared for what had happened at the conclave. It was yet another instance of how underwhelming it had been in the game versus how truly horrific the sight was to experience in reality.

“The Temple of Sacred Ashes,” Cassandra said and I could hear the note of sadness in her tone. “This is where you walked out of the rift and our soldiers found you. They say, they saw a woman in the rift behind you.”

“Divine Justinia,” I whispered. I couldn’t move as I looked over the destruction. The smell was terrible and made me nauseous again but the sight of it all was the most heart wrenching thing. I clasped my hands together and pressed them against my mouth, my heart breaking as I looked over it all. The final moments of some of the attendees had been caught in a macabre fashion, and even in the burnt remains of faces I could see the silent screams, feel their terror. Some were even still burning. “There’s so many,” I still whispered, I could barely find my voice just then. The Temple must have been nearly full at the time of the explosion, the dead bodies littered the ground so clustered together we would have to walk over top of them to get through. It felt like a terrible loss of life for a story. Had this been created in my world and manifested here some how or did this world that I thought was fiction always exist? And even more importantly had my choices in previous games affected this one?

I couldn’t control it, I just broke down. This whole day was making me overly emotional and the sight of the conclave was just another last straw. I covered my face with my hands and my shoulders shook.

I didn’t know Leliana had joined us until I felt her gloved hand touch my shoulder. I don’t know how I knew it was her, I just did and without thinking about it I turned around and her arms encircled me and held me tightly against her. It’s a stupid very romcom thing to say that she felt familiar but she really did. Even in my grief there was this feeling of coming alive. I pressed my face against her shoulder and her hand came up to cradle the back of my head.

“Did you loose someone in the Conclave?” she asked me quietly.

“No,” I whispered back through my crying I was trying desperately to get under control. “I’ve just… never seen anything like this. They were people. So many. Too many. They mattered to someone.”

Leliana was silent after my words. I don’t know how long she let me cry but finally she said, “There will be time to morn what we have lost. But right now we must stop this, before it and your mark get worse.”

She was right, I needed to pull myself together. I couldn’t imagine what they must have thought of me. I couldn’t fight, I was afraid of heights, the dark, demons, and apparently I was prone to bursting into tears at the sight of a dead body or several. They must have felt real secure about the future with the mark on my hand. Yeah, right.

I pulled back from her, and probably imagined that she was reluctant to let me leave the circle of her arms. It was Varric who handed me a handkerchief. “Here blubber face scaredy cat,” but there was a gentleness in his voice and a solemn look in his eyes like he too was effected by the sight of the destruction.

Varric was a class act at his core, he really was. I offered him a tremulous smile but gratefully took the handkerchief to dry my tears and deal with my runny nose.

“Seeker! You must hear this!” Solas shouted at us. He had gone ahead. I knew what he was hearing. Well, I thought I knew what he was hearing. This would be a moment of truth – but it had to be different than it had played out in game, I realized. I hadn’t been at the conclave. So who or what then, had interrupted Corypheus’ ritual?

Cassandra passed her gloved hand over the top of my head in what felt like a very camaraderie gesture and jogged ahead. I pocketed the handkerchief, thanking Varric and shot a meaningful look up at Leliana before we all followed.

As we moved into the canyon, we were surrounded on all sides by black charred rock, jutting up in between the pieces of stone that had been the parts of the temple. In certain sections, the rock glowed, no pulsed would be a better word, red. Red lryium I realized. It was menacing, and if you stared at it long enough it felt like it was watching. We moved down a rocky, uneven path, and Leliana began giving orders to the soldiers to take up positions around the temple.

As we moved through a booming voice echoed out around us. I knew that voice. Fucking Corypheus.

“Now is the hour of victory. Bring forth the sacrifice.”

“What are we hearing?” Cassandra asked, her tone unsettled.

“At a guess? The person who created the breech,” Solas said.

Because of your bullshit, I thought but I kept that to myself.

“Keep the sacrifice still.”

“Someone, help me!”

When we reached the bottom of the hill, it happened just as it had in game. A ghostly image appeared in front of the rift but the scene playing out in front of me was different from the one I had experienced in game. My brow furrowed as I watched.

Corypheus stood in front of Justina, his visage all black and inky, like he was some kind of demon himself. We couldn’t make out any details of his form or face, his eyes glittering red. We could see Justina clearly, her arms outstretched, red lines of magic wrapping around her arms keeping her immobile.

Corypheus extended his arm, the orb in his palm. It started sparking, glowing green. What happened next had definitely not been part of the game play. The sound of lightening cracking, loud and sharp. It felt familiar to me, like it was the same lightening I’d heard in my office before I’d come here.

“What is happening?” Corypheus’ voice, his head turning this way and that. Another snap of lightening, and the deep boom of thunder followed. The abrupt storm sounds must have distracted the Wardens keeping her prisoner because Divine Justina got one arm free and smacked the orb out of Corypheus’ hand.

“No!” he shouted, a blinding flash of light punctuating his words. But what made me gasp was that inside of that light a faint image could be made out; of me, sitting at my desk, coffee cup in hand, staring out the window as a green taint began closing in. The image lasted for a few seconds before it faded.

“That was you!” Cassandra turned to look at me, coming towards me. “How did you get there? How did the mark get on your hand? How did you and Most Holy wind up in the fade?”

Her questions came at me rapid fire and while some part of me understood she was unnerved by what she’d seen, another part of me was just as unnerved as she was. Was it the orbs magic that had brought me here? Not only pierced the veil but somehow pierced dimensions? And if that was the case, now that that kind of power had been spent how the fuck was I going to pierce it again to get home? “I don’t know!” I snapped back at Cassandra, more harshly than I had intended, but my mind was still spinning. What if I found Morrigan and she couldn’t help me? What if only someone like Solas could?

“Echoes of what happened here,” Solas said. “The fade bleeds into this place. This rift is not sealed but it is closed.” He looked up at the rift that had positioned itself directly underneath the breech in the sky.

The bright green light coming down from the breech seemed to circle around the closed rift and it hummed with power. My brain finally caught up with what was going on with my body and I realized that my hand was aching a lot worse than before and I don’t think I’d ever felt as exhausted. I couldn’t rightly say what was keeping me up right.

“Open it up, then close it the right way,” I said. I looked over at Cassandra. “That means Demons.”

Cassandra pulled out her sword and gripped her shield, calling out to the men positioned around the canyon, “Stand ready!”

I took a deep breath and looked up at the rift. It was the biggest one I had to close so far.

“You sure you’re up for this scaredy cat?” Varric asked me.

“No choice. This thing is gonna kill me if I don’t close it right and that hole in the sky is gonna kill of you. I’m not really cool with either of those things happening,” I gave him a wry smile.

Varric smiled at me and held Bianca at the ready, giving me an encouraging nod.

“You can do this,” Leliana said and already her bow was in hand. “Open it, get back, let the wave come out. We will draw their attention while you seal it.” She instructed me.

I’m pretty sure I was imaging the concerned looked in her eye. Leliana was a hardened badass who had known me all of ten seconds really. If she was concerned it was that I might die failing. I wasn’t going to fail though. At least I hoped I wasn’t. I didn’t want to die of course, I really didn’t, but I realized I didn’t want to let them down even more. I liked Cassandra, Varric and of course Leliana in the game. Now that I had truly met them, I liked them even more. If I could make a difference here, could actually keep them safe and get the next part of the story, I was going to take a full ten minutes to feel like a badass.

I held my hand up at the rift and instead of pushing, I pulled. I figured the reverse would work in getting a rift open and it did. It also hurt like hell. I cried out at the blinding pain, tears forming in my eyes again because I just wasn’t use to the severity of how much it hurt. But the rift opened. I stumbled backwards and just like it had happened in game, the worlds biggest fucking demon came out. Seriously it was massive and my fear reached brand new levels as I stared up at it in sheer, abject terror.

“Simone move!” Leliana shouted at me.

Her words pulled me out of my fear stare and I quickly scrambled backwards, just as the Demon let loose an energy whip where I had been standing. I refused to think about how close that had been. I was back in the midst of battle now, and that was starting to become familiar. I trusted that my companions would be able to handle the giant demon and I focused on the rift. I raised my arm again, at least I tried but it felt like lead. I’d never felt so weak, like the very life force was being drained out of me. I used my opposite hand to help me hold my arm up, muscles straining, and pushed.

At first nothing happened and I was panicked for a moment that I was too weak and wouldn’t be able to do it. “C’mon you stupid fucking thing… c’mon!” I shouted and grunted and just when I thought I was going to pass out, I felt the give. “Yeah, that’s right, c’mon… fucking close!” The bright green stream pushed out from my palm, crashing into the rift. The pain of closing this rift was terrible. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to take it. I’d never had a high tolerance for pain and this was pushing me beyond my limit. I couldn’t stop though, I knew I couldn’t stop. I could hear the soldiers cries, the shouts of battle, the howls of the Demon. Their lives, and mine, depended on me being able to do this.

So, I kept pushing, falling to my knees underneath the strain of it, my head bowed, tears of agony streaming down my face. My hand felt like it was on fire, a sensation that traveled down my arm and kept going. The horrible sensations were as if someone was running a lit match over my nerve endings and it kept spreading, across my shoulder, up and down my neck, until it felt like my whole body was on fire, being stitched together and ripped apart and it just kept going. I was going to die, I thought. This was it. This was the reality of the situation. The game storyline had been bullshit and I was going to die.

“Simone!”

I heard Leliana’s shout but I didn’t know why she was shouting my name. I couldn’t see, everything was blurry, and I knew without question I was going to pass out now, or it was simply death. I felt a bit of panic at this prospect but I couldn’t stop it.

In the next breath there was this small moment of silence. Of what felt like nothing. Just the most peaceful pause, a gentle inhale and it lasted a heartbeat. The exhale was an explosion. It brought me right up from my knee’s and sent me flying backwards. I don’t know what I hit or what I landed on. I don’t know if they killed the demon or if that explosion was the rift and breech closing. As I went flying backwards, the world went dark.

Yeah, Dragon Age sucked.

Chapter 5

When I woke up for a moment I thought I was back home. I was warm, and comfortable and consciousness returned slowly, in a lazy sort of way, like after a really good sleep. I stretched, blinked open my eyes and stared up at a wooden ceiling. I startled at the unfamiliar architecture before the memory of everything that had happened returned. I lifted my hand, and there it was on my palm – that mark. It didn’t hurt the way it had before, thank the goddess. I flexed my fingers, opened and closed my fist. In the absence of pain the mark tingled almost, but very faintly. It was the kind of sensation that could drive you crazy if you focused on it for too long, or you could end up forgetting about if you were busy doing something else.

So this was real. I was still in Dragon Age, and looking around the small cabin, I recognized it. I was in Haven. There were minor differences to the interior, namely the fireplace that someone had kept going. I also wasn’t in the ugliest outfit ever created. I was in a long bed shirt. Draped over a chair near the hearth were other clothes more fitting the era and weather situation. They looked nice. Harritt’s doing, probably. I wanted my sweatshirt back though, it was my favorite. Hopefully it had survived the battle at the conclave.

I sat up, tousling my unruly curls that likely looked a mess. I couldn’t remember what had happened after I passed out. I hoped the fact that my mark didn’t hurt and I didn’t feel like the life was being sucked out of me meant that I had succeeded in stopping the breech from growing. If I had, hopefully that meant they trusted me now. Which brought on another thought…

“Oh, shit. Am I the herald?” I asked out-loud as I remembered the scene that occurred in game. Would I open the door to the people of Haven standing there staring all cult like creepy at me, expecting me to save the world? “Fuck,” I muttered and pressed my hand against my forehead. I didn’t want to just wing this, but I didn’t know how to plan it out either. I couldn’t tell my companions about the things that were going to happen until we got to Skyhold. Then I could expose Solas for the lying bastard he was, and hopefully we could stop him before his power grew too great. In the game though, getting to Skyhold had been delegated by a progression system. I had no fucking clue how that was going to work here.

I took my bottom lip between my teeth thinking. There were also a few tragedies I didn’t want to let happen. These people were real, and I had knowledge that could save lives. It felt wrong to just sit on it. What I needed was to find a way to confide in Leliana. At least somewhat until I could tell her the full truth. If I did things right just maybe I could take the Mages and the Templars away from Corypheus. Maybe Haven didn’t have to burn.

The only way to get any kind of answers to all the questions swimming around in my head was to get up, get dressed and find out what was waiting for me on the other side of that door. I pulled back the blankets, put my feet on the chilly floor –

– and the door to my room burst open.

It was not the cute little eleven boy, instead it was a pair of soldiers and Chancellor Roderick was behind them. They moved fast, and my shock made me immobile. This was not what happened in game. This was completely fucking new. Fear shot up my spine as Roderick stood in the doorway like a watch dog. “Arrest her. Do it quickly. She will be taken to Val Royeaux, where she will stand trial.”

“What? Are you fucking kidding me? After what I just did?” I shouted at him.

The soldiers came at me, one with a pair of shackles in his hand, and my fear mounted.

“You fixed a problem you caused!” Roderick snapped.

“I did not cause the explosion at the conclave!”

“I will hear no more of your lies! Take her! Quickly.”

I had every intention of trying to fend them off, or scream, or run but none of that happened. What did happen was my painful cry when one of the soldiers sent the back of his hand across my face. I’d never in my life been struck before. I fell to the ground as pain exploded across my face with blinding intensity, making my vision blur.

It gave them enough time to shove the shackles on me, and shove me inside a burlap bag. I was hauled over someone’s armored shoulder which dug uncomfortably into my gut. When I felt my brain working again after that smack I tried to struggle but all it did was cause pain and it didn’t work much either. I was being kidnapped and I had no idea if I was going to be rescued.

Fuck.

I heard them muttering, but I couldn’t make out full sentences. Something about a ladder. That was confirmed when I felt upward movement and lot more jostling. I was literally tossed over the wall. Thankfully I was caught, though barely. I was going to struggle again, and I did a little but I stopped myself. One, I was in a fucking bag. So struggling was really just a lot of wiggling. Not very effective. Two, if I started screaming they’d just hit me, or worse knock me out and I needed to hear what information I could, try and see where they were taking me and search for any opportunity I had to escape. I couldn’t do that if I was KO’d.

I was tossed in the back of a wagon, none to gently, that smelled like horse ass. Not that I knew what horse ass smelled like, but I’m pretty sure this would be it. I heard more voices, I counted four. A cloak that smelled worse than the back of the wagon was tossed over me, and then we started moving. I was freezing in nothing but a nightshirt and no frigging shoes so screw it, I curled up as best I could being in a frigging bag, to keep every part of me underneath that cloak.

“Two miles, then ditch the wagon. We’ll take the horses,” I heard one of the men say. “It’ll snow tonight I can smell it. That’ll cover the wagon tracks. Once we hit the main road they won’t be able to track our horses. Once we get to the docks, they’ll be no rescuing her.”

“If they even come looking for her,” the wagon driver said. “You hear that murderer – Roderick’s tellin ‘em you ran away. I bet they believe it.”

I clenched my eyes shut, my fear rising to another level. What if my companions did believe that I ran away? I’d like to think that in the few short hours we’d spent together I’d at the very least given them the impression I wanted to help, no matter how bad I was at it. But what if I hadn’t? What if they decided I wasn’t worth it, or believed that I had run, or found a way to continue on without me and the mark? It could happen. The story was different, what was happening to me right now made that clear.

I curled in tighter on myself, swallowed back the lump in my throat, refused to cry and stayed silent. I had to have faith, but I needed to find every opportunity I could to help myself. I had no idea what I was doing, that was true but screw it. Desperate times and all that. First step, get some frigging shoes so my feet didn’t fall off from the cold. Second step, find a way to find out where they were taking me. Third step, find a way to leave a message on the trail that one of Leliana’s people could find if they were looking for me. Fourth step do not under any circumstances get on that boat. I wasn’t going to be taken to Val Royeaux and left to rot in a jail cell. I had no idea how exactly I was going to prevent that, but I was damn sure going to try.

The soldiers that were complicit in my kidnapping were mostly silent. I knew we’d hit the two mile marker when the wagon stopped. There were the sounds of movement and then the cloak was pulled off me, and the bag I was in was grabbed. They dragged me to the edge of the wagon then cut if off. A pair of old, worn boots and trousers that looked patched together were shoved at me. “Put on those and the cloak if you don’t want to freeze to death before your hung for your crimes,” the solider standing in front of me was a big guy, with a thick beard and wild hair. There was something… off about him. I couldn’t say what, just some people give bad vibes and this guy was radiating with it.

I put the boots on, they kind of fit, and they were somewhat warm at least. The trousers were the same. Itchy though, but again another layer of protection against the stupid cold weather. I shook my wrists at him. “Just so I can put the coat on,” I said, shivering.

He stared at me for a short moment then pointed a dirty finger at me. “You try anything, I’ll mark that pretty face. My orders are only to deliver you alive. You’ve got plenty bones to break.”

I believed him, and swallowed back my fear, lowering my gaze. I didn’t want to antagonize him. I had a plan, I just needed to stick with it. I held up my wrists so he could take the shackles off, and quickly put on the smelly cloak. I’d barely gotten it on before Bad Vibes (that’s what I was going to call the burly one until I found out his name) grabbed my arm so he could snap the shackles back around my wrists. He pulled me out of the wagon with a tight painful grip on my upper arm, not even giving me the chance to walk myself to where ever I was being dragged.

He stopped in front of a horse, shoving me at it. “Get on.”

I’d never ridden a horse before either. I thought I’d seen enough moves, read enough stories that I could figure this out. I grabbed the saddle for purchase, stuck my foot in the stirrups and climb up with some difficulty but I managed.

“Andraste’s tits, have you never ridden a horse before?”

“Never,” I said to him, and grabbed hold of the saddle.

“At your age? Impossible. The murder keeps on lyin,” he snorted at me, then grabbed hold of the horses lead, mounting his own with a lot more ease than I had displayed.

They left the wagon on the side of the road and we galloped off.

We rode for the rest of the day, with very short breaks in between and the men didn’t talk to each other. They glared at me, but otherwise stayed focused on their task of getting to where ever it was we were going to go. It was late into the night before we finally stopped and I was thankful for it. I was sore as hell from my first horseback ride. I clambered off and no sooner had my feet touched the ground then Bad Vibe was coming at me and sent his hand across my face in a harsh slap.

I cried out at the unexpected violence, my head whipping to the side, tears of pain blurring my vision that I struggled to push back, but by the goddess did it hurt. The entire side of my face throbbed and for a second I thought my eye was going to explode.

“Lucian!” one of the soldiers, a tall skinny guy whose armor seemed to hang off him then really fit him, moved over to us.

“You don’t do shit until I tell you. We clear?” Lucian grabbed my shackled wrists and dragged me over to one of the trees, ignoring the solider that had shouted at him. He shoved me hard and I fell right on my ass. He knelt down with a thick rope in his hand and tied my ankles together. It was tight, and uncomfortable but at least it wasn’t cutting off my circulation. Small miracles.

I didn’t say anything, I just glared up at him. Fear and anger were starting to mingle now. I was furious at my situation, furious at this guy for thinking it was all right to just smack me around whenever I broke a rule he’d never made clear in the first place. But, I wasn’t going to antagonize him. I had a plan, I had to stick to the plan, I kept reminding myself.

Lucian walked over to skinny solider who had been watching us, patted him on the shoulder in a placating gesture and begun to help the others make camp. The wagon driver, a man whose beard could rival that of any dwarfs came over to me and gave me a flask of water. I was allowed a few sips from it, and then he tossed a crust of bread at me too. It was hard, and gross but I was starving and I swallowed it all down. Unfortunately my captors didn’t talk much. They went about the business of feeding themselves, taking care of the horses and making their bedrolls in mostly silence.

Lucian kept glancing my way through all of it, and I didn’t like the looks he was giving me. It felt like he was controlling himself from coming over to slap me again for whatever reason he’d made up in his head and it felt like that control of his was a fragile thing. I didn’t look back at him, I kept my gaze down turned and settled in against the tree at my back, curling into the smelly cloak as best I could. I wasn’t going to sleep much. I was tired sure, but I was also really fucking cold and my situation had me on edge. I did close my eyes though, giving off the pretense of sleep in hope that would inspire them to make conversation.

It didn’t and eventually I heard snoring. I sighed and peeked open my eyes, looking around. It was a little creepy being out in the wilderness at night. Pretty but also creepy. I wasn’t use to all the sounds I could hear around me. I hunched down into the cloak more, letting my thoughts wander. When playing Dragon Age Inquisition you didn’t get a strong sense of the Inquisition’s enemies. I mean, besides the big obvious ones, you didn’t come across many individuals, npcs, that hated the Herald or the Inquisitor. The game thrust you right into the hero role with minor challenges to that narrative. It was startling here and I suppose, pretty realistic to be shown the other side of it. These men, really did believe I was responsible for what happened at the conclave and nothing I said was going to convince them otherwise. That was frightening and terrifying. I wonder if they had lost people. Friends, family, loved ones. If grief was spurring their hatred of me. My brow pinched. It made me sad, in between all the other things I was feeling. I was sad for their loss and sadder still that they were directing their anger at the wrong place. If they’d just help the Inquisition they could get the revenge, vengeance, justice whatever they were looking for. I spent most of the night trying to think of a way I could convince them.

The morning brought trouble and the break I was looking for.

The soldiers roused themselves at the break of dawn. I had dozed a little but not much. Still, as I heard them coming to I kept my eyes closed still feigning sleep evening though it had begun to snow and I started shivering.

“Think we can make it to Edgehall today?” It was the wagon drivers voice.

“Idiot.” Lucian snapped. I could almost feel his eyes on me. “Keep your trap shut. We’ll get there when were there.”

Bingo, I thought. Okay. Now I knew where they were going to take me. The first major stop at least. I just had to figure out how to leave a clue for Leliana’s people if they were searching for me.

I heard approaching footsteps and then felt him kicking my feet. “Wake up, murderer. Time to go.”

I opened up my eyes, watching as he pulled a knife from his belt and cut the rope around my feet. I slowly stood up as the snow fell around us.

“Do you think I could squat some where and -”

The mark on my hand suddenly sparked. The sensation was unexpected and really uncomfortable, a lancing heat and prickly sort of pressure spreading across my palm and fingers that made me wince. Simultaneously right over the camp a rift appeared. It was the craziest thing to witness, the space above the fire that had long since gone out glowed, green geometric like shapes began twisting around and from behind them we could all hear whispering and growling.

“Fuck me it’s a rift!”

“Is she doing that? Tell her to stop!”

Lucian snapped his eyes to me, grabbing my arm in a pinching grip. “Make it go away!”

“I can’t! I’m not doing this!” I shouted at him and as I did, the rift burst open, four green balls of light splattering onto the ground and out of them emerged demons. Fuck.

Lucian’s attention snapped right back to the rift. He let go of my arm, drawing his sword. “Kill them!” He roared and rushed right into battle.

I just stood there. This was my shot, I realized. I could run. I turned towards the woods, but the sounds of the battle gave me pause. They would die. That rift would just keep spewing out demon after demon and worse if I didn’t close it. I had no idea who or what else was in this area. The demons wouldn’t just stay here, this wasn’t the game. And if other innocent people came by… shit.

I turned around, watching the soldiers fight and pointed my hand up to the rift. I knew how to do this at least. I pushed. The sensation was familiar and the green light shot out of my palm, crashing into the rift. It took me a few seconds before the rift exploded again, snapping closed.

The soldiers were still fighting the demons that had come out of it though. That was my queue. I took off, running into the woods as fast I could run. I thought about just continuing to run, but I had to be realistic here. I had no idea which direction to go, I had no idea how to make a fire when it got dark, and I had no idea what manner of wild animals were in these woods and if I used the road, my captors would just chase me down on horseback. I needed to give Leliana a way to find me.

This was banking of course, on the idea that they were in fact trying to find me. Fuck it. I had to try. I halted, grabbed the edge of the night shirt and tugged. So, people ripping their shit in movies with ease? Fuck movies. Nothing happened. I cursed, looking around on the ground. Lucky me, I found a stick. I dropped to my knees, stretching out the night shirt as much as I could without taking the cloak off and started poking holes. It started to rip, and I was ecstatic. I got two good pieces. “Okay, great Simone. Now what?” Yes, I was talking to myself. I needed to work this out and quickly. I didn’t have a lot of time, and I didn’t have a fucking pen either.

I looked around and a plan formed. Maybe a bad one, but it was all I had. I ran towards the road, and threw the first tear into a bush. It was snowing, so I didn’t know how well it was going to stand out. I shook the previous layer of snow off the bush, trying to make the piece of fabric as visible as I could. I grabbed three more sticks and assembled them into a sort of arrow that I put underneath the bush, pointing further into the woods off the road. I backed tracked, at least I think I was, moving as deep into the forest as I dared to go, which wasn’t too far. I grabbed more sticks, and arranged them into the name of the the docks. Taking in a deep breath at my really dumb plan, I shrugged off the cloak, immediately shivering. But, I used it cover up what I had written so the falling snow wouldn’t hide it.

I was banking on a lot of things going right but I didn’t have a choice. That Leliana’s people would find the tear, follow the trail, and not kick the cloak and my stick message underneath it before they could read it.

I paused for just a moment, then shivered. I really hopped they had another cloak for me to wear or something, so I didn’t freeze to death before I got rescued. If I got rescued I reminded myself grimly. I sighed and ran out of the forest back towards the road. I sprinted down it, running as hard and as fast as I could. I was terrible with directions. I was pretty sure I was running back towards where my captors were. I knew I was right when I heard the pound of horses and saw two of them. Of course, it would be Lucian and the skinny guy whose name I still didn’t know.

I heard Lucian shout, “There she is! Get her! Stop right there!”

The fear on my face was probably real. He looked furious. There was blood on his hands, and his armor was dirty with what I think was demon blood. Even with the snow falling on him, he looked terrifying. I skidded to a halt, did an about face and took off. I knew I was going to get caught, but I wanted it to look convincing and hope they didn’t figure out what I’d been up to out here. I heard the sound of the horses rearing back, then the pounding of boots behind me. I was out of shape. Terribly. My sprint ability needed a serious level up. I was running out of juice, I could feel it. The next thing I felt was the crash of a solid body into mine. He slammed into me like linebacker, and I hit the ground with a painful cry.

“You bitch! You did that!” Lucian roared at me and then I felt a fist slamming into the back of my head.

I’m guessing he meant that rift. Which I had not opened and I felt momentarily annoyed that he still thought I was that person. It was a strange delay of sensation because in the next breath came the pain, the blurring of my vision and a horrible woozy sensation. For a second I thought I was going to throw up, then I felt his weight lifted from me. He flipped me over, and I was powerless to stop him, or the fist that crashed into my face. That was horrible. Not just the pain, but the sheer violence I could feel radiating off him. I could taste blood, I started choking on it as it filled my mouth. I tried to get my hands up to fend off him, but it wasn’t working. He hit me again and I think I cried out.

The third time, the world went black.

I don’t know how long I was out of it. I had horrible dreams. Nightmares colliding. What had happened to Divine Justina mixed in with the laughing faces of my captors and other weird shit. I regained consciousness in small bursts. I felt movement underneath my stomach. I tried opening my eyes but could only get one to cooperate. I could see the ground. I was upside down. Over a horse? Maybe. I passed out again.

The next time I came too I was being lifted. Carried a few steps. I heard the crackle of a fire. I was dropped onto the ground, slightly padded by snow and something underneath me. A blanket? Sleeping roll? I wasn’t sure. There were voices around me I recognized. My captors. My face hurt. My eye hurt. Everything hurt really. This sucked. I wondered how long I had been out. Were we at Edgehall already? That thought brought panic. I slowly opened up the eye I could get open, as a blanket was thrown carelessly over me. I shivered. No, not at Edgehall but I didn’t know where we were. Back in a forest area, and night had fallen.

“We should keep going. If they’re looking for us-” I recognized the voice, it was the skinny one.

“They’re not,” Lucian snapped. “The Chancellor is handling things at Haven. I know it. We’re half days a way, and I’m not chancing this at night with demons running amok. You want to loose someone else? We rest. We go again at day light. Tomorrow she’ll be on her way to her hanging.”

Silence befell the men. Loose someone… I struggled to focus. The rift before, had one of them died? I looked around. There were three, not four. Oh no, the wagon driver. Despite the fact I really didn’t like these men, I couldn’t shake the sense of sadness I felt. In the game, closing rifts had felt like no big deal. Just another task to complete. Here, they were deadly and could literally kill people. I think I passed out again on that sad thought.

When I came too again, it was because of a bad feeling. I can’t rightly describe it, just that kind of gut instinct that something is wrong. I blinked the one I could blink, and licked my chapped lips. It hurt when I did that, my tongue running over the cut on my lip. I winced, then tried to focus on my surroundings again to see what was going on. The thin guy and the other soldier who had been quiet and pretty non descript this whole time were sitting around the fire on their bedrolls, staring into the flames, silent and moody. But Lucian had a flask in his hand and was staring at me. He wasn’t hard to read, his face was like an open book and I saw a wealth of things there, but at the fore front was this anger. No, rage really and it was all directed at me.

“Yah know, I lost my sister in that conclave. Only family I had left,” he said and rose, walking towards me. When he got closer, I could smell the liquor. Shit.

But with his words, I understood where all that anger came from now. Why he felt so unstable. He was grieving, in pain and not doing a very good job dealing with it. I looked up at him and said quietly and sincerely, “I’m sorry for your loss,” my voice was hoarse. I cleared my throat and continued. “But, I wasn’t responsible for what happened. I swear to you, I wasn’t.”

“Lying bitch!” He snarled at me, so viciously spit came out of his mouth and into his beard. He surged at me, and I felt a flood of panic tightening my muscles. He bent down, pulling the blanket off me just so he could grab my arm in a painful grip, shaking it, the one that bore the mark. “How the fuck can you explain this if you didn’t have naught to do with it? Hmm?”

“I can’t explain it!” I stared up at him,though I did not expect him to see reason. The other two soldiers ignoring us, or pretending too. Faces down turned, still staring into the fire. “I didn’t want this thing,” I said to Lucian. “Trust me. This thing is a curse.”

“You know what I think? I think something went wrong with your plan, maybe you got this mark on your hand by accident. I think you killed my sister.” He was growling the words.

My brow pinched. I shook my head. “I did. Not. Do it.”

Apparently he didn’t like me disagreeing with him because I was flat out punched and I was deeply tired of being punched by this guy. And just being punched in general. I cried out as pain exploded through my face again and I’m shocked nothing broke or I didn’t loose a tooth or something truth be told. I could feel the skin on my face splitting open which is a horrible sensation. The force of it knocked me to the side.

He dropped his flask, reaching down and grabbed me by the front of the night shirt, fisting the fabric and hauled me to my feet so my face was in line with his. “Murderer. Fuckin’ murderer!” He flung me backwards as if he couldn’t tolerate me in his space any longer. I stumbled, couldn’t catch myself and fell, sliding a bit with the momentum across the cold wet snow. He advanced on me and when I could see his face an utterly frightening realization shot through me: I wasn’t going to make it. This man was going to kill me in a drunken rage for something I didn’t do, in a place that wasn’t suppose to exist. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

I had no fighting skills. This guy was about three times my size. Aside from running there was nothing I could do to stop this and I didn’t have much faith in my ability to run. The feeling of helplessness bore a feeling of anger inside of me I’ve never felt before. It was so intense. I rolled over in the snow, trying to crawl forward away from him, because I wasn’t just going to lie there and take it. It was hard moving, and I know I wasn’t fast, my shackled wrists making everything harder than it had to be. Through the biting snow I felt a rock. Thick and heavy. I knew it was a bad idea, but there were no good ideas at this point. I grabbed it, heard him muttering above me. He dropped to his knee in the snow next to me, and grabbed my shoulder, yanking on it to flip me over to probably more of his fists. I didn’t resist, I went with the motion but sat up and slammed the rock into his knee as hard I could. I was rewarded with his unexpected shout and then I threw the rock right in his face. It smacked him in the nose, and he shouted again, letting go of me and cupping his hands around his face.

I scrambled backwards, using my feet to propel my butt over the snow and clambered to my feet. Lucian’s shouting had caused the other two soldiers to stop pretending to ignore us and look over but they didn’t move. The thin one sat up, but the other one just stared at me, then at Lucian then looked back into the fire. Whatever happened here, he was washing his hands of it and it his ambivalence pissed me off too. “You’re just going to let him do this?!” I screamed at them and their silence spoke volumes.

Fuck it. I was ready to take my chance with the wilderness at this point so I tried to start running. But Mr. Ambivalent decided that was worth his time. He darted up, faster than I would have thought he could move, blocking my path and grabbing me by the arms.

I made a furious frustrated sound and stared up at him. “You’re going to regret this. When you see who the real enemy is and what he wants to do, you’re going to remember this moment,” I hissed at him.

He frowned down at me, but simply gave me a push backwards, right into the fist that connected with the back of my head. My vision swam as pain exploded and I dropped right back down to the ground. I moved in and out of consciousness then, bursts of pain exploded through my body pulling me back into it, that same pain taking me out of it. It was another really weird and utterly terrifying sensation as Lucian’s foot crashed into me, again and again, punishing my torso and back.

When he finally stopped, tears were streaming down my face and I’d never been in so much pain in my life. But I was still furious. I was. I was terrified, felt helpless and I was mad as hell. I didn’t want to just stay curled in a ball on the dirty snow covered ground while this jerk took his anger out on me. I uncoiled, and trying to swallow back my whimpers, managed to crawl up to my hands and knees. My arms were shaking badly, but I looked up at him, standing there over me. “Fuck you,” I spat with all the venom I could muster.

Lucian didn’t like my little retort either, because he dropped to one knee next to me and back handed me viciously. I cried out, and for a moment nearly blacked out. I didn’t even realize he’d let go of my hair I just fell over again, and not even how furious I was could make my limbs move.

Through the haze of pain though, new sounds cut through –

“Shit they found us!”

“Get to the horses!”

“What about the-”

“Just leave – argh!”

“She’s here! We’ve found her! We found the Herald!”

The voice referring to someone as the Herald made me find the strength to lift my head. Wait, wasn’t I the Herald? I looked to my right and saw that Lucian had an arrow in his neck and was bleeding out into the snow. I felt a mixture of things staring into his dying eyes; sadness for what he’d lost that had turned him into a monster, scorn for that monster and relief that he couldn’t hurt me anymore. I pulled my eyes from him and looked up. Around the small camp, men who were dressed like Leliana’s men had taken up positions and my captors lay dead in the snow around them.

I was being rescued. I cannot explain what that kind of relief feels like. I whimpered with it and tried pushing myself upright. They’d come for me. They’d found me. I almost couldn’t believe it. It was confirmed though, as Leliana came out of the brush and over to me quickly. Her eyes took in my appearance with a quick glance and I could have sworn I saw a mixture of things in her gaze; relief, concern, and anger. As the anger hit, her eyes went to the man next to me. Her glance was brief and then her attention returned to me.

“Bring a blanket and the carriage,” she ordered. She reached over to Lucian, pulling the keys from his belt and released my shackled wrists.

“I couldn’t… I couldn’t fight back. I tried though. I…” I needed to shut up. I wish I could have just shut up, but I kept blubbering on as she freed me. “…he was going to kill me.” I whispered and then I dropped my head, looking away from her, trying to control the little break down I was having.

“Shh. You’re safe for now, Simone.” She came closer to me and a wrapped the blanket snuggly around me. Without another word I was lifted into her arms, and I couldn’t help but burrow into her and the sudden warmth. I was safe here, protected in this small bubble with Leliana’s arms around me, but I couldn’t stay in her arms anymore than I could stay in Dragon Age. I need to learn to survive a lot better and I needed to find my way out.

Later though. I was so tired and everything hurt. A lot.

She carried me over to a carriage, placed me gently inside of it and then climbed in with me. One of her men closed the door behind her.

“This will make you sleep, it will make it easier so I can tend to your wounds without causing you more pain.” Leliana offered me a small vial.

“You must think I’m the most helpless person you’ve ever met,” I said quietly. With trembling fingers, I reached out and took the vial downing the contents. It tasted horrible, but whatever.

Leliana looked surprised. “No. That is not what I think of you. Scout Harding found the bread crumbs you left us. Had you not, we may not have reached you in time. It was smart. And brave.” Her eyes moved over my face, and I couldn’t quite read the expression on hers. I know I must have looked horrible, but it couldn’t have been anything she hadn’t seen before. “It must have cost you.”

I exhaled a shaky breath at hers words and closed my eyes, least she see me start crying again. “Thank you,” I whispered. “For not believing I ran away. For coming to get me.”

Leliana had taken off her gloves. She very carefully pushed a curly strand of hair away from my face. “You’re welcome,” she said quietly.

The last thing I remembered before I passed out was the gentle feeling of her hand on my face.

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