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FF Part II: After The Emmissary

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Here is the second part of the fanfic I've been writing. Please share your thoughts on it and let me know what should be improved upon! Please click the following link if you wish to see the first part: [1]


El'Anreth. A name with little meaning to those unfamiliar with the elvish tongue. A name of blatant irony to those who can translate it. For what irony cannot be found in a town whose name translates to "Our Place of Safety" that originated following a simultaneous blight and civil war, and that is located in one of the harsher regions of the world? True indeed there is irony in the name.

It is night. The pale blue moon reposes blissfully in her black blue and midnight purple sky. Stars dance around her, and all is still except for earthly winds stirring tall stalks of wheat upon the earthly ground. And should one stand amidst these noble stalks, what would they see? Might they see the wooden walls in the distance, intricately carved with depictions of animals and elvish characters? Or perhaps the black silhouettes of houses beyond? Would they see the love and compassion that allowed the town to grow from nothing? Would they see the treetops of the Korcari Wilds just barely protruding their black bald heads out into the blue-black night sky in the horizon? Or might they see nothing at all? Some would most certainly see nothing at all. Still others would say that there is nothing to see in such a scene. All of these men will see nothing, but not all who see nothing will be these men.

One of them was, in fact, a woman. Mahariel did not see anything in that landscape because she was not looking. Her dog Elt did not see anything because his nose was buried in the dirt smelling whatever pleasant or pungent odors a nose might smell there. Mahariel was not looking at anything around her, but was instead watching images dance before her own eyes, superimposing themselves above all else. How then did she stride so casually through the field towards El"Anreth without paying the least bit of mind to her path? It would seem she had paced the route so many times before that her feet could guide her along it by instinct alone. Yet in truth she had navigated it before but once. This says something of either her memory or her luck, and it doesn't much matter which.

In her eyes light comes down through the high windows of the landsmeet chamber, casting the half of her nose on the side of the eye that had been focused in shadow. Before her stood Loghain, a man like and unlike herself in so many ways. He was fallen, yet still demanded some manner of respect from her. A wide cast of well known nobles stood faceless, as they were obscured by the poor lighting. Her eyes flitted down to the greatsword held in her hand, noticing how strange it looked clasped in her drakeskin glove. How strange how... unbelonging. The eyes refocused on Loghain and the rage welled within her again. That this man had allowed so many atrocities fired the anger not often dormant within her soul. It was the rage that lifted the blade, not her hand. It was the rage that made her second hand grasp the blade, her own arm casting a shadow across her eyes as she lifted it to deal the man the blow he deserved. But it was not the rage that saw the motion through to the end. As the blade neared the peak of the arc to come crashing down and sever his head she saw something in that man's face, she didn't even know what it was. It made her stop, and then the rage fell out of her and the blade thundered to the ground, it's keening echoes reverberating long and somber throughout the full empty hall. She turned her head from the man and the assembly and stared at the floor. The words echoed around her mind as she remembered them. I can't... I won't do this. Then came Alistair, for once in his life the more steadfast of the two, and lifted the blade himself. Loghain's eyes never left her, she felt them on her back. She felt them on her back right up until the moment Alistair's powerful blow sent the man's head flying to the nobles' feet. It occurred to her that she may have been that man's last mystery... what exactly happened then was still a mystery to her.

She ceased in her progress as she had reached the exterior wall of the town. She was invisible in the shadow, for the moon and wall had aligned themselves to cast her into it. Silence was all around, save for the dog's soft breathing. She looked up the wall. It was tall, and imposing. But it was made of wood, and that meant she could climb it without aid. She crouched low next to the mabari and whispered in his ear, her onyx black hair mingling momentarily with the rich mangy golden brown of the hounds. The mabari lay down and gave her a look of concern, to which she offered an empty smile and patted his head.

She then turned to the wall. All was still above, as there were no sentries. A fool's mistake, but she would not fault the townspeople for it. She drew both of her swords into her hands; Starfang faintly pulsating in the darkness and Topsider's Honor somehow finding nonexistent light to reflect. She gave them an experimental twirl then thrust Starfang into the wall. It sank in deep and she pulled herself up experimentally. The blade held and made no attempt to slide from the wall. She then thrust in Topsider's Honor above Starfang and pulled herself, experimentally placing all her weight upon both blades. Neither blade showed any inclination of bending, and in truth she had not believed that they would. She then began meticulously scaling the wall, sinking one blade into the wall above the other and pulling herself up, much as one would do with ice picks. It was not long before she stood atop the battlements, such as they were, in the fullest blue silver light of the moon. She was dark skinned for an elf, though a few shades too light to be mistaken for a Rivaini.

There was not a soul about in the dark streets flanked by dark buildings, though an occasional light would flicker in a window. As with the exterior walls, animal carvings and other such dalish imagery could be seen regularly throughout the town. It brought a smile to Mahariel's heart, knowing that her people had a home they could call their own. And yet, this warming knowledge made her soul sad, to know she would never be a part of it. The result of the conflicting emotions was that her face remained stoic. A breeze ruffled her hair and she tucked it over her shoulder. She stood there another moment, perhaps longer, then leaped from the top of the wall straight to the bottom, the better part of a ten foot drop. The landing was noisy, and painful, but no one came to investigate and she began to steal quickly between the somewhat clustered houses, at one point even passing a windmill. When she passed a lit window she ducked low and moved a little quicker so as not to draw notice.

She got lost exactly once when she found herself at the tiny town's far wall, then realized her folly and turned back towards its heart. She was not bound for the center, but rather a house near it. Standing in front of the door she found it to be just like any other, except for the warmer air it had wrapped around itself like a blanket. She looked around herself quickly, and then knocked, ever so lightly upon the door. No one answered but she heard a rustling within, so she knocked again. That was a footstep... and another. She waited a few moments before knocking a third and final time. Ah! That was a coherent walk. Mahariel waited. A light went on within the house and moments later the door opened. Mahariel found herself face to face with the closest thing she had ever had to a mother. Ashalle, of clan Sabrae, now elder of El'Anreth. Nothing was said for a time, then she spoke, in a voice almost too soft for words. Solaryn?

Solaryn nodded and Ashalle instantly drew her into a tight embrace, a little to her discomfort. It's good to see you again. Ashalle whispered in her ear. Then she let go and showed Mahariel into the house. The light was coming from a new kindled fire and danced casually across the walls, over some chairs, scant few books and a table. All said, it was more or less a bare room. There was a door on the wall to the left of the entrance, but it was shut and no visions of the room beyond were yielded through the opaque wood. Ashalle gestured for Solaryn to have a seat, which she did. Ashalle however remained standing and stood with her back to the firelight. She looked very old in that light, perhaps even older than she actually was, which was easily three times Mahariel's age. She had worn age well for a time, but during the intermittent years between the end of the blight and this meeting it had obviously caught up with her.

On account of the fire, the room was mostly instead of completely silent. Ashalle looked at Solaryn with a look of sorrow upon her face. I had wondered if you were ever coming back... it's been so long.

Solaryn looked at her and looked away. Did Ariane bring you the book?

Ashalle nodded, and this brought some comfort to Solaryn. It was good to know that the book was in good hands. She looked back at Ashalle and felt the sadness in her eyes, knowing that she was part of the thing that brought it there. A flash of light caught her eye and she turned to see a mirror resting next to the door, which she had somehow missed earlier. The light as it turned out had been caught from the fire by the mirror and cast into her eye. She shuddered and looked away, a thing that did not go unnoticed by Ashalle. If Ashalle had been even mildly capable of bitterness before, she ceased at that moment. You still think about it, don't you?

Solaryn looked at the mirror and nodded. Every day. Some more than others. Sometimes I look back and wonder if it would have been better if... if it would have been better...

Ashalle looked at her kindly. Still, after all these years?

Solaryn fixed her eyes directly into Ashalle's, both saw the sadness of the other, and both were moved by it. Always.

The sadness, the sincerity of that one word, brought tears to Ashalle's eyes. Feelings like that put the better part of the beauty into this world.

Solaryn nodded slowly. And such beauty comes at the expense of those that have it. She looked to the mirror again with no small degree of distrust. Were it not Ashalle’s, and were Ashalle not there, she would have likely smashed it to put her mind at ease. But it was Ashalle's, and Ashalle was there, so she decided she could tolerate the discomfort, at least for a time. A short time.

Ashalle looked at the fire. There’s a spare bed in the room you can sleep in. And maybe in-

I’m not staying. Soft words with the power to put a knife through Ashalle's heart. Words can be funny like that. Ashalle shook her head and seemed somehow older than she had been just moments before. May I ask why not?

Solaryn stood up and stood before the fire next to Ashalle. The deep orange flames echoing off her eyes, just a little fainter than they were in reality. When Duncan came I was so angry at being cast out, so furious at being given the illusion of choice, I was willing to hate the ones I loved and convince myself I didn't want to go back. It wasn't even hot anger, I was too numb for that. It was calculated, and I knew little else. Nothing pardons that kind of sentiment.

You were younger then.

And Tamlen I believed dead, but are these to count in my favor? She shook her head. I need to make peace with them... knowing I have not it... it vexes me.

Will you not stay through the night, at least?

Solaryn shook her head again. The night is the better part spent, and I do not wish to take risks. If I stop here, I run the risk of never leaving. It will be hard enough to leave as it is. Silence, then a loud crackle of the fire, then more silence.

Promise me one thing, please?

Solaryn looked Ashalle in the eye. Anything.

Just promise me that when you see them, you'll remember they didn't want to send you away.

A brief pause, then Solaryn gave answer. If I didn't realize that, I wouldn't be going to see them. But I will promise you this. She brushed a lock of hair back over her shoulder. And in return, I will make you a promise you have not asked of me. She raised a hand to place on Ashalle's shoulder, but then lowered it to her side again. I promise you that, when I have done this. I will come back and stay here, at least for a time.

I'll hold you to that.

Solaryn nodded gravely. I would have it no other way.

Ashalle placed her hands over the fire to warm them. Solaryn looked over her shoulder at the mirror with distrust then looked back to the fire. Ashalle shook her head. Will you be going then?

Solaryn looked at her and then back at the fire. Yes... I suppose I should. She reached to the back of her neck and unclasped a pendant, the surface of which was smooth as glass and reflected the world around it. Ashalle thought she saw Solaryn's father in it for a moment, but decided it was an illusion. She heard the beads of another necklace clinking as Solaryn carefully coaxed it off of her neck. She took Ashalle's hand and carefully pressed the amulet into it. Keep this safe. She pulled away after that.

Ashalle nodded. She looked at Solaryn's neck and saw her mother's heirloom still fastened there. It put a warmth in her heart to know that she had kept it through all the intervening years. They landed in Kirkwall and intended to head to Antiva from there. I wish I could tell you more.

Solaryn nodded in thanks and made for the door. Ashalle followed her. When it was opened a cold gust of air rushed in, for it was nearing winter and the days were soon to grow bitterly cold. Solaryn turned to Ashalle one final time and deposited an obese coin purse into her hand. You had best take this. I won't be needing it.

Ashalle shook her head and offered it back but Solaryn refused. Trust me, I'll be fine without it, and I'm sure the people here have more need of it than I.

Ashalle walked through the shut door and Solaryn stood there puzzled. When she came back out she held a hooded travelling cloak in her hand. Against the cold. She said.

Solaryn gave a simple nod of thanks and Ashalle embraced her a final time. Solaryn tensed but did not withdraw. Then she turned and stole off into the night. Ashalle walked over to a chair and collapsed into it. The door swung shut slowly, circulating a brief current of air through the room as it did so. The fire flickered and dimmed and then flared again. Ashalle remarked to herself that Solaryn had been wearing the same armor as the day she left, only whatever it was was certainly harder than deerskin. The armor called to her mind how much harder Mahariel herself had become. She was not now the person she had been before. She was tougher more scarred more... world weary. This made Asahlle sad, though she realized Mahariel was in many ways better off than she had been before. She thought about that. She thought about that long and hard through the night, and come the dawn she was sleeping in the chair, the fire having sputtered and died away to nothing during the night.

_____

"I've been thinking... about the world. We have my kind, bound by their nature to destroy yours. Then there is yours, which in turn destroys us. Not only that, but destroys itself. Your kind has a will of it's own, and uses it to destroy itself. -Where does such a compulsion come from? Is it in the mind? Is it in the body? In the soul?" Such was how Mahariel remembered the emmissary's words as she leaped to the ground next to the mabari. Though that emmissary was dead and gone, and the past lost in the forest, these words held tremendous power over her. She even had an answer to the emmissary's question. The desire for self immolation was in the heart. She had known it forever, but it took the emmissary to make her understand. And what right had she to wound her people and herself by distancing herself from them? The emmissary had prodded her to dwell on this, and it vexed her continuously. In her heart she knew she had wronged her clan, and had to at least apologize for it, even if she could not make it right. That was why she was seeking them out. She needed to make peace with them, as much for her sake as for theirs, and she knew she would have no peace until she did. Of course, it is entirely possible that the need of such a thing existed not beyond the depths of her mind. It falls to others to consider that possibility.

She knelt down low to the mabari and whispered praise in its ear for doing as it was told and stood erect. The moon was coming low in the western sky, and there were scant few hours of night left. She donned the cloak and flung the hood over her head, concealing her ears and her hair and, from certain angles, her face. She wanted to reach Gwaren as soon as she was able, and being recognized as the Hero of Ferelden would make that very difficult. It was at least as much a burden as a gift, and she saw it as more of the former then the latter.

"All I ask is that you make it quick warden. I can face the Maker knowing that Ferelden is in your hands." She shook her head as she walked with the mabari trotting beside her. There had been no way to make Loghain's destruction quick, because it had begun long before she had ever known his name. Destroying a man was not a feat that could be done spontaneously, but could only be achieved over the course of a lifetime. She thought about that, then thought about herself. Was she on the same path? No.. She was not on the same path, whatever resemblances her life bore to that man's, they were not the same. Ah but they were similar. So very similar. Was it not that lack of disparity that forced her hand to stillness that day? She had no answer.

She took one look back at El'Anreth when she reached the Imperial Highway. It was nothing more than a faint black lump sitting on a black opaque horizon beneath a progressively bluer sky. She wished Ashalle the best then turned and marched on.

To preserve her ambiguity she traveled by night, and always with the hood up. She left the highway when she sensed someone coming and would only reenter once they were long past. This confused the mabari, but that was okay. She didn't expect it to understand. She understood that she needed to leave Ferelden to find the clan, and she also understood that every delay bore the risk of her never fulfilling her goal. So in this manner she stole along the highway like a fugitive. Day to night to day to night to day, over a procession of weeks, she traveled, sleeping little. Sometimes the days were gentle, setting her often troubled heart into an aesthetic ease. Other times the nights were harsh, reminding her of exactly why she was embarking on this journey and amplifying the speed and power of her stride.

Many called her hero, but was that indeed a proper word? As she marched towards Gwaren she found herself wondering this from time to time. Did a hero doubt their heroism? Did they have such trouble as hers finding a purpose once one was fulfilled? Did they baulk at the circumstances that led to their title? She looked at the sky when these questions crossed her mind, and wondered if the creators had indeed ever existed. Or the Maker, or any form of true deity at all. Night passed to day to night to day again in such a manner, until she eventually found herself near the end of the beginning of the first part of her journey.

The sun was crawling into the sky, the dawn. Mahariel could just distinguish Gwaren, barely perceptible through the trees and over a shallow rise. The air was cool but not cold, and dew hung on the branches. the mabari sniffed the air furtively, and gave a happy bark. Mahariel rubbed its head affectionately and stared at the semidistant town. She thought about Loghain for a time, and then thought about Alistair. He had been serving well as a king for the past years, and Ferelden was the better for his leadership. She thought back to the day he won the crown, which was perhaps the most surprising day of her life in relation to him. She had previously agreed to support the Teyrn's Daughter Anora in her bid for the throne, under the assumption that Alistair would baulk at the idea of taking it and gladly let her have it. The look on Anora's face was memorable when Alistair proclaimed that he intended to take the throne, and Mahariel had been struck all but dumb. She supposed that was what she deserved for making such an assumption. She wondered how the would be Queen fared as she looked back to Gwaren, suddenly aware that her eyes had drifted away. She pulled her blades off of her back and concealed them beneath the cloak. Come on Elt. She muttered under her breath as she started walking towards the port.

A guard stared at her as she passed into the town and she felt his eyes after she passed him. She turned and looked him in the eye. Do you want something?

You look familiar for some reason... The guard tilted his head to one side and his eyes narrowed. You're that whore from the brothel in the docks, aren't you?

What had at first been trepidation quickly replaced itself with a thinly veiled rage. Her hand curled into a fist and started shaking. I should hope not.

The guard shrugged and went back to watching the road. Pity.

She resisted the temptation to walk up and hit him in such a way so that he would never have children. She turned and followed her nose to the smell of the sea. She didn't pay much attention to the town itself, she was not there to sightsee. When she caught sight of the docks she stopped and stared out at the ocean for a moment in awe. Somewhere on the other side of that vast expanse was mainland Thedas, a place she had never been, the place she needed to go to. She was somemewhat apprehensive at the thought, but not in the usual way.

She focused on the piers and quickly marked a ship that looked suitable with a man standing next to it. She walked the long way over to him and looked at him passively. Do you know if she is bound for Kirkwall? The man looked at the ship and then looked at her. What business is that of yours?

I need to get to Kirkwall, I have money for it.

Mayhap she is, mayhap she isn't, I would- He stopped. Something in his face told him this was not a person to be toyed with. Aye, she's heading there, but we're not taking any more passengers.

Like I said, I have money for it. She reached into the cloak and withdrew a coinpurse. She had not given Ashalle everything, but rather just that which she thought she would not need to reach the Free Marches. She pulled ten sovereigns out and held them for the man to take. In exchange for passage. She explained.

The man grabbed the money and tucked it away. Fine, you're on, but no dogs.

She looked at the panting Mabari. He'll be staying behind. The hound looked at her pitifully but she ignored it for the time being.

The man nodded. Good. We leave tomorrow at noon, don't be late Miss...?

Call me Laryn.

Laryn, then. He surveyed her briefly. You look a little different then most women around here.

I'm not from around here.

The man nodded. Fair enough. He smiled at her in a manner that was unpleasantly pleasant and bid her a good day.

Mahariel went back into the town, where she would wait for the time of departure. She eventually came to a small garden and knelt down and whispered in the Mabari's ear. Go off and find Alistair. Keep him company for me will you? I'll be back in a while.

The mabari whined loudly and looked at her pleadingly. She shook her head with a smile on her face. The open sea is no place for a dog, but I'll be back soon, I promise. Just go to Denerim and stay with Alistair, I'll be there in a while.

It whined again and batted at her with its paw. She took in her hand and looked it straight in the eye. You'll be fine, now get going.

The mabari reluctantly trotted off and Mahariel stood up. There was the better part of a day to wait for the ship, and there was nothing within Gwaren that had caught her interest. Knowing not what else to do she paced the streets for hours, until she felt she knew them like the back of her hand, a knowledge impossible to ascertain in one day. When night came she slept in a cheap inn that smelled worse then the drunkards that stayed there. But it was nothing, a minor discomfort was a small price for this chance. She would be leaving for the Free Marches the next day, and she could find no wrong in the idea. She would be with her friends soon, and she took comfort in the thought.

Those more omniscient than she might have been more pessimistic.

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