Moments of Ned Cousland's relationship with Morrigan, focusing on its development. Morrigan's PoV.
Chapter 10: Raven's Flight
"We must expect that the Archdemon will call its mightiest minions to its aid."
"It will? Then we must make sure that there is no-one left to answer the call."
And so they lead their small troup of Redcliffe soldiers through the ruined streets of Denerim, under a reddened sky; cut and burn their way through the hosts of the corrupted beasts. Morrigan has lost count of time: her world has shrunk into the pulsing energy of her casting; the slashing swords and singing arrows.
And into a single thought, hovering somewhere at the edge of her mind, where she has pushed it: this is the end. Coming closer with every step. By every step, their time together is coming to an end.
And, as if in response, though she is sure that Ned cannot read her mind through their link, there comes but one thought that persists in his mind, even as he is focused on the fight: I won't let her go.
I won't let her go, he avoids a blow that would have crushed him, and beheads the ogre before it can straighten again, I won't let her go.
As if I was giving you a choice. The lesser darkspawn are sent flying by the blast of her fireball, and she does not even pause her steps as she imbibes yet another dose of lyrium. I know you wouldn't, and I won't be taking any chances.
Chances that you would talk me into staying. My love.
For some reason, thinking about him in this way comes much easier than before. The proximity of the end does not allow for pretense.
Their progress is slowed twice as they encounter the hurlock generals, and then they storm along the broad paved road towards Fort Drakon, hitting the darkspawn concentrated there with the force of a hammer.
The Archdemon may have lost its mightiest minions, but it still has those less powerful aplenty. They have been gathering from all of Denerim, to protect their Lord as it has retreated to the shelter of Fort Drakon's tower, inaccessible but for those able to fight their way through the fortress overridden by darkspawn.
Morrigan bares her teeth as she glances to the top of the tower. Afraid, are you? If a single man could hurt you so, what might happen if some more reached you?
Pity that Riordan was only partly successful.
"Hold back!" she hears Ned command; the soldiers, already familiar with what is to follow, obey immediately. She waits until Wynne strikes into the earth with her staff, the impulse spreading and knocking the darkspawn off their feet, and then she releases her own spell.
When the fiery blaze finally subsides, the way into Fort Drakon is cleared.
They meet only scarce resistance in its corridors, and then there are the winding stairs.
Up, up they go; the stairs seem endless. Through the blood throbbing in their ears, unmuffled by their loud breath, there comes the roar. Closer and closer. Loud thuds, clinking of metal, screams.
Ned pauses and bids them to stop: catch breath.
Then, as they are about to reach the half-open door, he stops again, briefly looking at each of them. My love, Morrigan returns the look. There is no need for words.
And then they dash out, into the roar.
The twin platform of Fort Drakon is strewn with bodies: it seems that as the fortress was taken, the remnants of the garrison retreated here, only to find an enemy they never expected.
The Archdemon, its left wing sliced by Riordan's blade dragging along, rampages across the men and darkspawn alike. Its eyes glow; its teeth, unnaturally sharp, sink into the mail and flesh of a soldier who hoped to crawl into a dubious safety of a broken turret. The maw tosses the corpse in the air like a cat toying with its prey.
At Ned's sign they spread to circle the monster. Morrigan feels her heart throbbing: so close, the Archdemon is even more hideous that it seemed during the encounter in the Deep Roads. Its scales are uneven and twisted; the preposterous thorns protruding from the joints a mockery to the elegant smooth shapes of the High Dragons. The eyes are the worst: pearly white, yet glaring red with madness.
For an instant, Morrigan wonders what it must have looked like before.
And then the beast is on them, teeth and claws, buffetting wing and slashing tail, and they fight back, dodge and cast and evade.
The blood dripping on the stone seems black in the red light.
It is Leliana who alerts them to new danger as a wave of darkspawn pours onto the platform through the left entrance.
Surrounded by enemies, their attack on the Archdemon falters. It is at this moment that Morrigan notices the monster's nostrils widen and with her mage senses, she sees the outlines of objects blur.
And then it exhales. Morrigan blinks: the world swirls in a dark veil, the surges of energy mercilessly drag along anything that stands in the way. A hapless soldier turns into a bloody mass within seconds; the streams tug at her clothes and hair, draining her force as well as the energy of the protective wards. She staggers, short of breath; her casting fails.
Almost passing out, she feels strong arms grab her by the waist and drag her away; when her eyes focus again, she sees a cloud of dark energy slowly evaporating over the central part of the tower.
"Parshaara!" Sten tosses her aside and charges the group of shrieks, appearing out of nowhere; Morrigan, with her arms still numb, gropes for the lyrium vials. Further on her right, she sees a flare of energy, meaning Wynne is still alive and casting, but the left platform is still obscured by the cloud, and the Archdemon balances on the ruins of the central turret there like a monstrous bat.
The metallic taste of lyrium is followed by a wave of light-headedness: she will have to avoid taking the substance for months, not to risk consequences. She raises her hands and sends a chain of lightning through the shrieks flanking Sten; their bug-like bodies twitch as they fall to the ground.
Morrigan produces a new bolt; holding it between her hands, she concentrates the force before she hurls it upwards. "Down with you," she hisses as the bluish energy hits the monstrous dragon. Down with you, where they can reach you. For though she cannot see him, she knows that Ned is still there somewhere, alive and fighting.
Then she grabs the staff which she has dropped. "Get out!" she yells and sprints to the ramp leading to the ballistas, splits of a second before the place where she had stood is hit by another cloud of energy. She laughs wildly, pushing back her loosened hair, and looks back at the turret.
The Archdemon is not there.
A gust of wind: Morrigan instinctively somersaults and rolls away. Not wasting her time getting up, she casts a cone of cold air, gaining precious seconds to increase the distance between her and the talons, needle sharp and each longer than her forearm.
Another wave of cold, from the opposite direction. Caught between the two mages, the Archdemon pauses in its attack, only to roar in fury as Sten's blade slashes deep at its hind leg.
The world blurs again but what the Archdemon issues is not a cloud of energy but another roar. The shaft of the ballista missile disappears with one snap of the maw and the monstrous head jerks in the direction of…
"Run, Leliana!" Wynne yells at the top of her lungs as the dark cloud envelops the opposite ramp, obscuring the bard's fate.
Morrigan wastes neither time nor energy and does her best to make use of the damage Leliana has inflicted with her timely shot. Both wings. Good. The flames she summons cause the Archdemon to beat frantically with its injured wings, managing only an uncoordinated leap before landing again. The talons leave deep marks in the stone but Morrigan is no longer where she had been; running, she casts alternately ice and fire, at the beast.
A flash of silver armour, reddish in the unnatural light: Alistair and Ned have finally dealt with the oncoming tide of darkspawn. They charge together, splitting and attacking from flanks just before the gaping maw can strike.
Infuriated by the Wardens' attack, the Archdemon decides to deal with them one by one, aiming its attention at Ned: a fatal mistake. Alistair's blade, glowing with enchanted runes, drives deep into its belly. As the beast tosses its head back in pain, roaring deafeningly, there comes a concentrated charge.
The roar subdues to pained shrieks: the anxiety in the dragon's voice is almost human as it convulses helplessly under the slashing and chopping blades.
"Back off!" Morrigan hears Ned shout hoarsely. The top of the tower falls silent but for the laborious breaths of the men and the beast.
"Don't; let me!" Alistair pleads, grabbing Ned by the arm.
Ned only shakes his head; urged by his violent gesture, Alistair finally retreats.
With cautious steps, his sword ready, Ned approaches the Archdemon's head, which slowly rolls in agony on the broken stones.
It will not work. The idea strikes Morrigan like a lightning. Don't! she wants to scream but her throat is so tightened that she cannot even breathe.
I have condemned him to death.
Unable to move, to act, she can only watch as Ned grips the hilt in both hands.
His thought reaches her as he drives the blade into the dragon's neck, right below the skull, with all his strength.
There is a clunk and sudden pressure in her ears; unable to close her eyes, she sees a blast of energy issuing from the wound, blindingly bright, tinged red as it passes through Ned's body. She sees him throw himself on the hilt, using his body's weight to drive the point even deeper, into the skull cavity, struggling against the contrary force pushing him away.
And then the power is released in an explosion, and the world disappears in a flash of white.
Even as she flies through the air and crashes hard on the stone, Morrigan feels the energy piercing her, entering her with the might which leaves her wet and twitching in both pleasure and agony alike.
It is accomplished.
As her overwhelmed senses slowly return to the normal, Morrigan raises her head. No-one has remained standing but she is not the first to move. With a scream of raw pain, Alistair crawls to the unmoving heap which is Ned: still alive, as the ring tells her, but barely so.
The impulse to do the same, to go, to crawl to him as fast as her battered body can, is almost overwhelming.
Around her, others slowly start to move. Morrigan crouches and casts a healing spell over herself: she is sore but relatively unharmed, and the child in her womb is sound and safe.
"He is alive…" she hears Alistair stutter in disbelief. "Wynne, quickly, he is alive!"
Morrigan shakingly rises to her feet. Her vision is blurred again; with a sob, she makes a step back. Then another.
The hardest steps she's ever made.
With everyone's attention aimed at the Archdemonslayer, she remains unnoticed; unobserved, she retreats to the edge of the platform. Unwatched, she shapechanges; lingering only so long as to make sure that Wynne's healing magic works.
No-one sees the raven fly into the sky where the vapours of the Blight slowly recede.