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Lesser Evil

Ygrain January 2, 2012 User blog:Ygrain

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Apparently, I had too much free time on my hands, so here comes a short triplet, dealing with the climax of the events at Redcliffe and what must have followed in some way, though it is not reflected in-game. Ned Cousland and Alistair again, but be warned: though it's Alistair's PoV, no fun this time.

User blog:Ygrain/Lesser Evil Part II

User blog:Ygrain/Lesser Evil Part III


I

A nightmare.

Maker, let me finally wake up. Please.

His blade cuts through the bloated flesh of the thing that keeps clawing at him even as its arm is being hacked off, and despite the effect of time and decay, he knows that this used to be Alysanne, who would curse with a booming voice like a soldier but never forget to add an apple or a biscuit to the leftovers he was served for supper.

Most of the monsters they encounter bear the faces of strangers, but there are still some which he can recognize, and every such encounter plunges him deeper into a nightmare.

Everything after Ostagar seems like a nightmare, and this one is even worse than the others.

A homecoming. Welcome, Alistair.

In those first years in the Chantry, he used to daydream of a triumphant return to Redcliffe; his night dreams were plagued with returns when no-one saw or recognized him.

Even such a welcome would be preferable to the one he is actually getting – cutting their way through the walking corpses of those who not so long ago laughed and breathed and strode the halls attending to their duties.

Another hall, another undead to be disposed of: their little group is already becoming well coordinated. He and Ned in the front, covering each other; Sten behind them to kill anything that gets past; Morrigan and Leliana… and Jowan… wreaking havoc from the distance. – Whereas Wolf, of course, wreaks havoc everywhere.

“Which way now?” Ned asks, somewhat out of breath. Alistair has to think for a moment: the main floor is not the one he would roam very often.

Making their way through the halls and chambers, they are soon navigated by the sound of laughter: a boy’s laughter, with unnatural deep undertones.

The demon.

Alistair would very much welcome the presence of mere undead now; the fight in which he only has to rely on his reflexes, strike and evade, relentlessly. He wouldn’t have to think of the bloodmage’s pale face and shaking voice; wouldn’t meet the deranged look in Teagan’s eyes; wouldn’t see Isolde’s puffed face, so different from the haughty composure she always radiated; wouldn’t hear the child’s voice uttering atrocities…

And so he keeps his sword raising and falling, or he would have to think about it all, and he cannot bear that… until, finally, there is no target for his sword, and Teagan sits on the floor, holding his head but his eyes lucid again, and the demon lies there, unconscious, while Isolde, weeping, is cradling her son’s body. Morrigan, her hair disheveled from the fight, unceremoniously pushes the Arlessa aside as she checks the pulse on the boy’s throat. “Alive,” she announces. “What now? Finish him off before he wakes?”

“No!” Isolde wails. “He’s but a child… Connor’s not responsible for what he’s done!”

“He’s possessed by a powerful demon. When he wakes up, there’s no telling what he might summon against us next.”

“No… please… there must be another way…” Nothing, nothing about Isolde now looks like the cold Arlessa who hated every breath he took. The woman here is pitiable… and pity it is that Alistair feels, and horror.

“Is there no other way?” Ned asks Morrigan. “Can’t the demon be evicted somehow?”

“You would have to enter the Fade and defeat the demon there,” the witch replies impatiently. “Even if I or this poor excuse of a mage managed to perform the ritual on our own, it has to be empowered by lyrium. A lot of it. Which, correct me if I am wrong, we’re rather short of.”

“Lyrium is not the only option.”

Everyone turns as Jowan unexpectedly steps out. Alistair shivers with disgust of the man as the realization what is being implied dawns on him. “Blood magic? You can’t be seriously suggesting this! Maker, the Circle Tower is not so far from here, we can obtain the lyrium there!”

“A day’s journey across the lake,” Teagan confirms, “but…”

No-one needs to look out of the window to see that the gale has not abated, quite the contrary: sailing may not be possible for days.

“Ser Perth and his knights still have their horses. We could send a messenger…”

“I dispatched one as soon as I arrived and saw what was happening… neither the man nor any word came back. If we do now… can we hope to keep the demon contained until – and if – the help arrives?”

Alistair doesn’t like the resignation he hears in Teagan’s voice; doesn’t like Ned’s silence and expressionless face; doesn’t like the way Isolde, wild-eyed, looks from one man to the other.

Finally, Ned addresses the two mages. “Can this be done? Can we be sure to keep the demon under control?”

Morrigan only shrugs; Jowan’s eyes swerve. “It… should be possible. I suppose I should be able to…”

“’Should’,” Ned repeats. “I’m afraid that ‘should’ is not enough. Tell me more about that ritual you mentioned.”

Alistair feels as if choking, as the mage says: “The ritual can be empowered by blood instead of lyrium, and I do possess sufficient knowledge to perform it. It requires another mage to enter the Fade…” he shyly nods towards Morrigan, who scowls but says nothing, “but… the problem is… the life-force it requires…”

“Oh, say it, you bumbling idiot.” Morrigan twists her lips in scorn. “To enable a ritual of this force, it takes all the blood there is in the veins, right?” The twist turns into a smile, no less derisive. “So? Shall we start looking for volunteers?”

“That is not necessary. Here I am.”

Isolde.

Teagan looks horrified. “Are you mad, Isolde? Eamon would never allow this!”

“Teagan. I am Connor’s mother. The choice is simple for me.”

Closing his eyes, Teagan lowers his head.

Ned’s face sags into an indiscernible expression. “Are you sure of this?” he asks very softly. “Your son will have to live knowing that you died for him.” Isolde keeps her head high, and though very pale, she does not flinch. “But live he will."

They look into each other’s eye a little longer, and then Ned nods. “Very well, then.” He bows to Isolde, and unlike previously at the windmill, this time he shows deference. Then he turns to Jowan. “Let’s do it now, then. Start with your preparations and say when you are ready.” With these words he turns on his heel and heads for the farther end of the hall.

Alistair still cannot find his voice but his legs move on their own accord. So does his hand, which grabs Ned’s shoulder.

Paradoxically, the irritated look he receives finally lets his tongue loose. “How can you be even contemplating this? A sacrifice? Don’t tell me that you would really carry this out!”

Ned regards him with cold fury. “Should I rather be contemplating the death of a young boy for his mother’s mistake? Who would deliver the blow, you?”

Alistair feels his cheeks flush with heat. “We could still at least try to contact the Circle. I could take a good horse and make it in two days.”

“Alistair. Even if we try, we may still receive no help at all. The boy is technically an abomination. You know what is done with these. Besides, we really cannot afford to wait so long. Can you imagine the consequences if the demon breaks free in the meantime? We cannot risk that.”

The sudden weariness in Ned’s voice only fuels Alistair’s resolution. “We cannot use blood magic!”

The look of fury is back again. “You don’t want to use blood magic, yet you would rely on the word of a blood mage to keep the demon under control? What if he fails? What would you have me do? Isolde’s is not the only life on our hands, should we sacrifice the rest of the townsfolk instead?”

“We have to come up with something else!” Alistair yells desperately.

“Like what?” Ned hisses. Then his expression changes again. “Are you dissatisfied with my leading? Take over, then, as you ought to! Take the lead, take the responsibility! Bear the consequences! Make the nasty decision yourself!”

His face burning, Alistair involuntarily lowers his head but cannot miss the ugly twist of Ned’s lips. If he could somehow dig himself ten feet under the stone floor to hide from the cold stare, he would.

Ned slowly nods, as if he anticipated the outcome. “You won’t. Then shut up and do as I command.”

The lack of emotion in his voice is worse than a slap in the face.

Alistair stands there and raises his head only as he hears Jowan say: “We’re starting. If you would please kneel here, milady – it won’t hurt.”

Alistair closes his eyes a moment too late.

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