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FF: Heart of the Blight

I've taken my first stab at writing fan-fiction, and thought this a good place to share it. Please read it and tell me what you think. (Be honest and tell me what you really think, I'm hard to offend.)

The red-golden brown eyes flared open to meet the cold light of the early morning sun. The air may have been warm, except a thick mist effectively sucked the better part of the heat out of it. A fire had helped fight this through the night, but it had long since perished and not but ashes were left where it had once burned. A lone mabari stood watch over the campsite, the occasional fleck of drool rolling over its lip and splashing ever so softly upon the almost wet ground.

Mahariel sat up straight, her face betraying nothing of the nightmare that she had just awoken from. The mabari trotted over and set its head in her lap and she began to stroke its almost mangy half-gold-half-brown fur. Sometimes she forgot the taint wasn't merely a part of her, but then the nightmares would come, and she would invariably remember. It was a poison that didn't belong in her, and at times like this she cursed the day she and Tamlen found the Eluvian. She would also curse the day that darkspawn came into the world, and she would especially curse the day that she had met Duncan. Even now, so many years after that thrice damned event, she felt that she could have just as easily died that day without reservations. She was at this point more than she had ever been, but oh what she would give to be how she was before!

She dwelled on these things for perhaps a moment, maybe two, then stood erect. The mabari gave her an offended stare to which she responded with a grim smile. They both knew that her lap was not a cushion. She took a few steps to where the fire had gone out and looked at it thoughtfully. She then turned her head to the chasind sleeping scarce more than five paces away. She looked at the mabari again and gave a quick nod of the head. The hound trotted over to the chasind and began licking his face, waking him in a manner that was much to his displeasure. He gruffly shoved the dog away and got to his feet. That's not funny warden.

She shrugged. It wasn't meant to be. We need to be moving on.

Tearing down the camp was a quick and uneventful affair, but quiet. Oh, so very quiet! For the noise, the little noise they made in the deconstruction was neither echoed nor answered far or near within the depths of the Korcari Wilds. They were close, so very very close. Mahariel could sense it. She could sense it in the still air around her, she could sense it in the dirt and plants that had still not yet begun to recover from the corruption that had been mercilessly forced down upon them. It was so very close, the epicenter, the point of exposition, the place where it all started, the place from which it welled up like a wave to crush the land beneath it. "It" being synonymous with exactly one thing and exactly one thing alone: The Blight.

Camp was broken and they trudged through the soft mud and the vast misted over swamps. Mahariel was leading them south, always south, to no fixed point. She followed her internal compass where it led her, even if she knew not why it was leading her there. The mabari stayed close by, constantly sniffing the air for any sign of danger. The chasind stayed a little back and to the right, but Mahariel would still occasionally catch him staring at her through the corner of her eye. She let it pass for a time, then stopped and stared at him directly. Is there something you wanted, Tornas?

Tornas, for that was indeed his name, was calm in his reply. I want nothing. It's just that... you are a very strange woman.

Mahariel shook her head and led them on. She continued to speak with Tornas as they walked. You've not met an elf before, I'm sure that's part of it.

Tornas nodded even though she wasn't looking at him. Part of it, yes, but not all. Some of it is that you are a warden that has left the order, part of it is that you are a hero that shows little interest in the country that you have saved, part of it is that you were forced to leave your tribe and haven't once tried to find them again. Why is that?

Joining the order was never my choice, neither was leaving my clan. I would have stayed, but I knew the choice had already been made for me, and I wasn't going to force the issue. I volunteered so that I would not be drafted, as it were. As for Fereldan... she can see to her own devices now. She doesn't need me to intervene.

You never said why you didn't seek out your tribe.

Does it matter? She snapped. They forced me out, and it would never be the same if I tried to return there.

But do you want to return?

She shook her head and kept walking. I never know what I want anymore.

And true enough she did not. Here she was, leading a complete stranger and a mabari through the Korcari wilds to who knew exactly where and without even being able to justify a purpose for it. It had occurred to her to turn back, at least once if not more, but she had already affixed herself to her path, and was the sort of stubborn person that would follow such a path to any end it might lead to. A dangerous attitude, and one that had seen her into danger many times before. Some people thought her foolish for this, and in her mind they were free to think as they would. Such was the nature of her character.

Tornas was undecided about this. He could respect a person that would see their enterprises through to whatever end but at the same time he did not believe many enterprises were worth pursuing in such a way. Was this an exception? He knew not. The shaman of his home village used to say: "Never raise a fist unless you're sure it's your fight," a piece of advice he would have to ignore in order to be where he was now. He wasn't sure if it was his fight, and he wasn't even sure if this was an endeavor worthy of his time. He had not yet admitted it to himself yet, but he would more than likely need to feel attached to this complete stranger on a personal level in order to be where he was now. Such was the way such things often happened. He stole a quick glance at her and then looked away.

Mahariel came to an abrupt stop near a fallen tree and the mabari began to growl. She reached for both swords hung on her back and pulled them swiftly, silently, into a ready position. Tornas still wasn't sure what was wrong and asked her. She looked back. Quiet. She whispered. Both Mahariel and the dog seemed to be listening intently for something. Exactly what that was was beyond his grasp. Suddenly she dived behind the fallen tree and waved for Tornas to do the same. The dog was already next to her, ears standing on end, nose sniffing constantly. A breeze stirred the mist and ruffled Tornas' hair some. He looked at her and whispered in the softest voice he could manage: What is this about?

She looked over the tree and ducked back down. Something we can't fight.

Tornas looked over the tree himself. I don't see anything.

She pulled his head down and whispered harshly in his ear: That's because they're not here yet. Now stay down.

Tornas did as he was told and kept his head low. He couldn't help but notice the faint blue pulse coming from the sword in her right hand. He had never seen its like before, and was doubtful that he ever would again. She told him that it had been forged from metal fallen from the sky, a story he was hesitant to believe. His own greatsword was a simple thing. Plain steel with carvings of animals along the pommel, for he was a superstitious man and feared retribution should he kill a creature beloved by the gods. The logic was that carving animals into the sword could trick the gods into thinking the depicted animal did the killing. Such blades were not uncommon amongst the chasind.

Then he felt the chill in the air as all the heat was suddenly pulled out. He shivered and looked to Mahariel, who showed no reaction at all but was listening intently. He still couldn't hear anything but now he too knew that there was something out there, in the forest. He felt something brush his arm and looked. The mist was sliding along it like a snake, and rolling over the log and off to whatever unknown force approached. In fact, all the mist had developed a current and had affixed itself on an unerring trajectory to meet with what was coming. The air grew clearer as the mist left, but this was not to his comfort, as he thought he heard a rhythmic pounding, somewhere distant, in the boundless forest. He at that point reached a sweating hand for the moistened cold sword on his back and quietly lifted it to a position in which he could strike quickly if needed.

And that distant pounding did swell in volume. From not even a faint echo it grew, and grew, then it was as if the rhythmic beating of the drum in the distance. And from that it grew on a predetermined tract without erring to such an immense height that all else was silent for it stole all the sounds there were to be heard. He longed to cover his ears in protest, but that would mean dropping his sword, a thing he dared not do. He looked at Mahariel and saw her still calm while he felt on the point of screaming. How could her ears endure this kind of torment?

And then the sound grew still further and he felt that he must scream or die. How could any creature hear that and neither scream nor die? Then the mist returned and grew exponentially more opaque as the sound increased in volume still farther. And then it occurred to Tornas that the sound had not merely been growing louder, it had been growing closer. It sounded as if the fists of all the gods were pounding the earth to the sound's beat, and yet the earth never once did shake. He looked to see either Mahariel or the dog, but all had faded to white in the density of the mist. He slammed shut his eyes and prayed for that ten fold damned noise to silence itself and be gone. Incredibly, it shut itself up instantly. He opened his eyes to a silence so corporeal it felt to be crushing down upon him. He couldn't see his own nose in the fog, and he dared not utter a noise because all the world had gone silent. One could say that he was struck deaf dumb and blind, in all senses but the literal. And ah was the air not cold? It froze him in place it was so severe. He felt to be made of ice while he crouched there. He felt to have never felt heat at all. True indeed that the air was cold, if cold can consider itself a strong enough word to describe it.

And in that death chill a voice rang out, boisterous loud and clear, a stark contrast to the ambiguity of the world at that time. Men! We are not cowards! We roam these woods to put an end to the evil that has plagued our land for these many months! Be swift! Be true! Do not falter! We shall cast each and every werewolf, demon body and soul, back into the Fade from whence it came! We are hindered by this fog, tis true! But lose not your hope, for we do the maker's work!

Tornas looked to where he thought the warden was with a confused look on his face. Another voice rang out in the fog. You are a fool, Arl Mort! We are as lost as we ever were, and this is all your fault for leading us into this maker cursed forest!

There were murmurs of consent and the arl replied with more strong words shining with confidence. Tis but a test of our faith! Werewolves are in wait deeper within the forest, and we shall make an end of them! Then we shall be free of this curse, once and for all! Now onward!

There were murmurs of dissent but they were quashed by other cries of ONWARD! Tornas clenched his teeth as the army moved on in a thundering sonic symphony of dread. The Arl spoke with words of nobility, but the sound of his march gave away his heart. The three waited behind the tree for the army's passing, and in time the mist receded into its normal thick but not impermeable state of existence. Mahariel stood up and replaced both swords. Tornas replaced his and looked at her, dumbfounded. What was that?

Mahariel leaped over the fallen tree and led the trio onward as she spoke. Back when werewolves plagued fereldan, a great arl mustered an army and came into the wilds to stamp them out. He killed every wolf, werewolf, man, woman and child that he could find. One of the survivors, a woman, stabbed her heart and cursed the arl as she did so. From the spot where her blood touched the ground the mist originated, and spread through the entire wilds until the arl and his men were lost forever. Those were the arl's men, if you believe in legends.

Do you?

I do.

The mabari gave an affirmative bark and Tornas looked at it. You never told me the name of your dog.

Mahariel looked at the dog then looked away. His name's Elt, and it's his choice to be with me. He is no more my property than you are.

You are a very strange woman.

You've said it before.

Tornas studied the blades upon her back and once more noticed the faint blue pulse from her main hand blade. What nature of metal pulsed like that? He cast the question from his mind, as it had been asked and answered before. He instead asked Mahariel where she had found the second of the two blades. I found it fractured, deep underground. I had to gather the pieces and then reassemble it. It was around the time I found Branka.

Tornas could not place the name, and asked her of it.

An obsessed dwarf that cast aside everything that should have mattered to her in the pursuit of a lyrium infused anvil. She met a bad end. That's about all there is to say.

All falsehoods aside, as there was more to say, Mahariel was growing weary of Tornas' prodding. She had met few others that were so prone to ask menial questions. Still, in a strange way it was flattering to know someone ignorant of her many accomplishments, and she bid him no ill will for it. Though she did wonder why he asked them. She asked him why he asked them and he replied that he didn't know. She had expected as much, and was the more flustered for it. He was like Alistair in that way, unwilling to answer a straight question. Still, she gave him credit for not deflecting with half thought humor. She was in no way attracted to Tornas physically, but she liked him for being different from the others who had heard of her.

She became aware of something on the horizon, a point where the ground simply seemed to fall into nothing, a point where the trees abruptly stopped. The blackness that had taken hold in the earth seemed to actually be sucking the light out of the air. She looked down and saw no such thing at her feet. She drew out both her swords and looked at Tornas. It's not far, best to be wary.

She led Tornas and Elt quietly then, making no noise as she crept carefully up to the phenomenon. The air grew still even for it already being still and the mist seemed to turn black. The tainted earth was indeed sucking the light from the air it seemed. She drew even closer to the spot and then suddenly found herself standing before a giant hole in the earth. Like a colossal festering wound it looked. She was silent then for a long time as she stared at it. It was a fitting place for a parasitic cancer to well up and swallow the world, where the earthen flesh gave way to the dark and ailing body beneath. Mahariel knew she dared not go down there, she had a deep detest for the deep roads, and never went if it could be avoided. It made her angry, that evil could exist in the world distilled to this degree of potency. She had been told once that men's hearts held shadows darker than any tainted creature, but she did not believe that. Even the most cruel of human hearts had some inkling of decency, could the same be said of the darkspawn? To her, the answer was clearly in the negative.

Tornas tapped her on the shoulder and she whirled around as if prepared to strike him down. She then remembered who she was with and lowered her weapons. What is it? Spite was in her voice, unchecked but not overly potent. Tornas gestured at a corpse dangling from a tree not far away. How did that get here?

A hell toned voice rang out as Mahariel turned to look at the corpse. I can answer that for you. A fireball flew by and blasted both tree and corpse into nothing. Mahariel and Tornas both whirled around to see a darkspawn emmissary standing before them. A head taller than the tallest of men, and of a powerful build, it was a formidable creature. It pulled back its scabbed and peeling lips and uttered a single syllable. Me.

Tornas drew his blade to the ready and moved to strike but the fiend spoke first and he found himself immobilized. So quick you are to judge so harshly, but it is understandable, if nothing else. Who would not fail to hesitate to strike a thing such as me down? A thing whose very nature alters the land around it? Yes, true indeed that your impulse is understandable. But whyfore strikes the other human not?

The emmissary fixed it's gaze upon Mahariel, which sent a faint shiver through her spine, being called human put heat in it. I don't have an answer yet. Best for you to say what you seem to want to say before I find one.

The emmissary released Tornas from his hold and took a step closer. Very direct... It began pacing back and forth, its hideous body contorting like some form of virus. Mahareil felt surely that her skin was crawling as much as the flesh on the monster before her. I've been thinking... about the world. Why it is like this. We have my kind, largely bound by our nature to seek out and destroy yours. And then there is yours, who in turn destroys mine, but also destroys itself. Your kind has a will of its own, and uses it to destroy itself. Mine does not, and directs its destruction elsewhere. One would infer that free will brings a desire for self immolation, yet here I am, once of the kind without, and I feel no such compulsion. So I am thinking of where such a compulsion comes from. Is it in the mind? I studied the minds of many in this forest and determined that it was not. Is it in the body? Similar studies have proven no different, but have yielded insight to how the body of your kind operates. As you saw on that tree. But if it is in neither the mind nor the body, where then must it dwell? The only answer left to me is the soul, and that is a thing that cannot be studied. What am I to do in that situation? And so I continue to think about the world, but am no closer to my answers. What does this have to do with you, you might wonder? Quite simply nothing, save that you have come here and made yourself a part of it. I consider this place my home, I would ask you why you have come here. Why have you come here?

Tornas looked at Mahariel who was slow to answer. From this point came the horde that almost crushed the only place I knew in this world. I suppose I wanted to look the eye of the storm in the heart and know what it was. It differs little from what I expected it to be. Her disgust was easy for Tornas to see but missed completely by the emmissary.

The emmissary paused and fixed her with a jet black eye. And here is the obsession with the past. Another thing common to your kind. Why is this? There is no past and there is no future, there is only the present. Why devote the mind to things that are not substantial? My kind have no such impulses, but we learn from our mistakes, some of us, and they are not repeated. I learned from the Father. He made me what I am now, and I saw what he made the others. He tried change nature to his will, but this thing is not done. It cannot be done. Nature can only change itself, this much I have learned of the world. And that led me to the question of why some beings try change it. Alas, I may be undying, but I will no doubt never see the answer... it is a pity. Tell me humans, what is it that became of the Father? Does he yet dwell here?

Mahariel felt a flare of rage at being called such but quelled it. She shook her head and the emmissary nodded. And I can sense in your face that you were the one who killed him. Yet you bear our mark within... were you perchance a product of his research? No... I can see in your eyes that you were not. Tell me then, how came you to bear our mark?

I took it in willingly against my will.

The emmissary cocked it's head. You speak in riddles, human.

I am an elf! Previously checked now unchecked anger surged through her at this. The emmissary reacted defiensively to her temper and attempted to restrain her. However, magical restraints are less than effective against one who has been trained as a templar and she easily broke free. At this point the emmissary panicked and prepared to hurl a fireball at her, but in a rage sparked self defense she was already upon him and he had to raise his arms so as not to be killed by her outright. He was lucky to have worn a degree of armor, else the blow would have cost him his arms. But without a weapon there was little he could do against her. He was dead within moments, and Mahariel was left standing over the corpse.

Tornas replaced his greatsword upon his back. You live up to your reputation, warden.

She stood there looking at the emmissary. Then I suppose it's a true one. I think I'm done here. She began to walk off and Tornas called after her.

So that's it then?

She looked over her shoulder. Yes. I've seen it, and now I wish I hadn't. I have no reason to stay here. Come Elt.

The dog trotted to her side and Tornas stared at her dumbfounded. Three weeks of walking to get here, and this is all we came for?

She nodded. And he flew his arms up in exasperation. Well that's just great then. Why did we bother with this then, I wonder?

I don't know. But I've been given something to think about.

And what might that be?

What the emmissary said, about our kinds destroying themselves.

Tornas shrugged. What about it?

He was right. She turned and left and Tornas, with no better idea, followed her. It was some weeks before they reached his home village again and there he parted ways with them. He would never talk about what he thought had been a pointless venture, but the events of it he knew would shape the rest of his forever. Word of the excursion never left the lips of Mahariel or Tornas. The dog might have spoken of it on occasion, but what do men know of such words, even the scholarly ones? --Isolationistmagi (talk) 04:01, November 23, 2011 (UTC)

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