Alternative Origins Chapter Thirty-Five

by artrald

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*

The archdemon flails. I’ve laid its throat open in a ragged gash a good three feet long, fountaining blood. The wound is mortal, we can both of us feel that, but it’s taking the dragon a hell of a long time to die. It’s fighting the air, fighting the holes in it, fighting itself, fighting its own death, trying to lash out at us – Alistair dives away from the thing by instinct, I duck instead, because like hell am I letting him closer to it than I am.

It lashes blindly out and its claw catches the top of the wall; stone shatters. Still terribly powerful, it is – dying it might be, but it’s still quite capable of killing. Or it might just throw itself off the tower; if it does, I’ve got to go with it.

It lashes out again at where it thinks I might be and I step quickly aside – the blow has overbalanced it and it falls forward. Again Alistair dodges back, and again I keep just a little closer to the dying dragon than he is. The dragon’s head slams down onto the floor hard enough to splinter stone – the wings give a last desperate little flutter, the tail lashes fruitlessly one last time – and both of us can feel the archdemon’s mind clawing desperately at consciousness as it slips backward, as it falls into nothingness, and I step forward and stretch out my hand towards it and open my mind to it. Come here. Let’s make of this an end.

Nothing. I feel – nothing. My heart’s hammering fit to burst and I feel a little bit like I’m floating but nothing is happening.

The dragon’s chest fell and hasn’t risen. It’s still bleeding, sluggishly. Its wild staring glazed eye isn’t moving. It’s dead. It’s dead. Right?

After another moment I turn to look at Alistair and he’s staring at me hardly daring to blink, one shaking hand half-raised toward me.

“Uh.” I break the silence. Everyone’s holding their breath. “Aren’t I supposed to – be -?”

“I don’t understand. We’d have felt it. We’d have felt it if it came back.” Alistair’s eyes are on mine. “Don’t tell me there’s a darkspawn closer to it than we are. Didn’t – stop me if I’m sounding crazy. Didn’t we just feel it die?”

“That’s what I thought,” I breathe. “I – I should be dead.”

Sudden dreadful thought – I glance at Morrigan and I can see white all the way around her eyes and she shakes her head at me terrified. Then her eyebrows shoot all the way up. She blinks hard and opens cat-eyes, piercing stare at the thing. Back up at me. Her mouth forms words but she doesn’t dare make a sound.

It lives.

It’s pretending. The bastard is playing dead. All it needs to do is hang on long enough for us to go away –

I nod. Grasp my sword’s hilt tight and make to turn back to the dragon. And Alistair steps forward in that moment, takes my shoulder in his left hand and turns me toward him and his eyes catch me and hold me. “Goodbye,” he whispers, and his voice is rough

as I reach up and put my nails on the back of his neck, pull his head down and put my lips against his and kiss him hard enough to hurt

as he kisses me back and I press my whole body against him standing on the tiptoe of my right foot and putting my left heel against the back of his knee as

the world moves

It’s like someone swung the whole world right around and hit me with it as I fall to the floor, it takes a moment to process, he’s hurt me, he’s thrown me to the ground, he’s –

I’m not fast enough back onto my feet. His sword is a blur. It pierces the dragon’s skull top to bottom.

Light explodes behind my eyes. It’s like a veil over the whole world has torn and for an instant I can see something that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to describe. And the dragon’s body convulses, madly, desperately, once, and goes still, and the sound that I will take to my grave is the single loud raw cry torn from Alistair’s throat and it curdles and chokes and the world is swallowed by silence.

*

He’s dead.

Even by the time I’ve got to him the curse has spread to consume him entire and there isn’t even a body just fine grey ash and Alistair is dead.

He’s dead and dimly I hear the humans realising this, hear someone cheering our names and saying the Blight is over and don’t they understand, he’s dead.

He’s dead and Morrigan says she’ll find Wynne and Oghren says he’ll tell the queen and he orders the soldiers back and I’m kneeling there on the roof alone next to the dead dragon with the twisted remains of a black sword through its head and nobody will come near me because he’s dead.

He’s dead and the body of the dragon is coming apart in my hands, scale and bone and horn and sinew into fine grey ash just like the ash that is all that is left of the body of the idiot who died for me when I told him, I specifically fucking told him not to and the rain is making the ash into fine grey mud and he’s dead and I cry out wordless and violent and throw away my sword and it clatters across the cracked bloodsoaked ash-smeared stones of the roof of the keep and the sky is weeping for him so you can’t tell if I am.

And after a lot of rain has fallen, eventually I come to realise there’s someone else out here. Leaning on a stick. Matted red hair. Still caked in mud under the heavy cloak someone must have thrown on her against the rain. Shivering every now and then. Waiting for me to notice her.

And there’s a moment when I’m kneeling and a moment when I see her face and she was supposed to be dead and all. And I go to her and put my head on her shoulder and she puts the cloak round me and Leliana will understand that this is rain making tracks on my face, it’s rain, and I’m shivering not crying. I feel her sag slightly under my weight as I lean on her and I tell her she’s an idiot, don’t she have the sense to come in out the rain, and I slip my arm round her so she can lean on me instead, and I help her inside.

*

This is where they say that the rest is history, and it really is. I keep talking about tales, and that’s because if you live south of the Sea you’ve heard half this story before. And most of ’em get everything wrong, and all of of ’em who mention it at all make a towering romance out of one single kiss, and I’ve never heard a one say that the last thing my love did in this world was deck me.

The kingdom will be all right under Anora. Because the story you’ll have heard is that Alistair died for her somehow, and not for me. Princess, meet dragon; dragon, meet prince. The shems lap it up, or seem to, what with Eamon standing at the queen’s side looking meaningful – no trouble out of them, or not more than the usual.

Leliana’s made herself scarce almost the moment her injuries are healed. The expression on her face when Anora threatens on her sick-bed to create her a bann is priceless – then they both of ’em laugh and most likely she’s off to bring the queen’s good wishes to the White Divine. Our leavetaking is not without emotion, but it’s short enough.

Enchanter Wynne, too, has a place to go back to. The alliance of my Wardens and the Circle, it’s something to be proud of, and I’m not about to apologise for making it as strong as I can. One mage Warden at Ostagar and the whole bloody thing would have been different. And it don’t take a genius to look out of an elf’s eyes at a mage’s and see that a cage is a cage no matter what your bars are made of. And it ain’t just because I grew up in one that I don’t like seeing another, but there you have it. The mages will have Enchanter Wynne to lead ’em for the rest of her life – and it’s the Maker’s mercy she doesn’t live to see what the rest of us have, but that’s not my story to tell.

Oghren stays on, of course. Ambassador’s a fine job for a noble without a house. Gives him power and money he’d never have had at home. Never forgets what he owes us. There’s never been anything said, nothing as crass as an accounting, but the Wardens of Ferelden from that day to this have been armed and accoutred every bit as well as the dwarves, and to us the gates of Orzammar have never been closed, and somehow I’ve always paid the price of cheap human-made crap for stuff that I know damn well was made to my measure by one of Oghren’s clients.

The queen, well, there’s the usual ask-whatever-boon speech, and what I ask is for the People. If the kingdom wants to remember what it owes to me, well, I don’t want or need anything that I don’t have already. But this whole thing started because the humans couldn’t be trusted to defend my people. I ask that she find a way that that won’t happen again. And she nods very serious and she says something will be done – and her court don’t know what she means when she rubs her jaw and says that she hasn’t forgotten that she was once taught a lesson in honour by an elf, but they don’t need to. And that’s where the law came from, that the hahren of the alienage runs the place like it’s our own town. The humans laugh at the idea when they first hear it. They ain’t laughing so hard when my people start openly taking thieves, your kind as much as ours. A weasel’s half the size of a rat, but it’ll still have it for breakfast.

And me?

First I went south. With Morrigan. There was a little matter of my word gone from me. And that really isn’t my story to tell. Let’s say that I am one of the few people in the world who can joke that slaying body-snatching fiends is habit-forming. Let’s leave it at that. I came back. Morrigan travelled a different road. Let’s just leave it there.

What do you want me to say? That I came back, put on the tabard, caught responsibility, moved on? Perhaps. That my story ends here? Rubbish. Still alive. That Anora made me an arlessa, that the shems laughed behind their hands, that in a decade in that chair I’ve shut their idiot mouths? Perhaps. That I once caught a drunken shem in a tavern loudly proclaiming that the Warden of Ferelden was the best knight on life, and that if the giants had come here rather than Tevinter that she’d have shown those bastards what for? Yes, I’m afraid I did.

That I never touched another man? Pah. Never you mind. That I got over that day, on Denerim castle? No. No, I can’t really say that I ever did. That I forgave Alistair?

No. That’s… not true either.

I never forgave him. I can’t, see. I’ll do it to his face, when I see him again. Right after I give him back that sucker-punch he gave me, and make him give me back that kiss he traded it for.

And that’s it. We’re done. The rest is lies.