Back to Feasting on Dreams: Contents
Morrigan rejoined us a little before first light, slinking in like a bedraggled cat. She looked rough and torn at the edges, as if she hadn’t slept at all, and I saw Alistair glowering fiercely at her.
The preparations were underway to get Deygan moved back to the Dalish camp, though I wasn’t sure whether he truly was fit enough for it. Wynne had been working on him for some time, while the hunters were arguing about who would go and who would stay to press on with the rest of us. I was tired of hearing them snipe over it, but it wasn’t my place to make the decision for them. I doubted they’d have listened to me if I’d tried to weigh in, anyway.
Alistair and I were near the blackened, doused scar of the fire, readying to get going, and still caught in the same stiff, unyielding awkwardness that had plagued us the night before. I could tell how heavily his misgivings about this whole endeavour sat on him, and his attempts to back away from arguing about it had been so transparent and clunky—so stained with what tasted to me like disapproval and maybe even jealousy—that I barely wanted to talk to him at all.
He, however, had other ideas.
“I don’t trust her,” Alistair muttered, still scowling at Morrigan as he tightened his boots.
“You’ve never trusted her,” I reminded him, but he just snorted.
“I don’t mean that. I mean… well, where did she go last night? She wasn’t in camp, and when I went looking for her—”
So that’s where he’d been. I didn’t much care for the thought of him following Morrigan through the woods, and it probably showed on my face.
“What?” he asked, frowning petulantly as I wrinkled my nose. “Well, she was doing that again. You know. Wilder magic.”
“Shapechanging?” I folded my arms across my chest, affecting a nonchalant shrug. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know what she could do, after all, and he’d suspected it since the beginning.
“Mm.” He nodded. “I lost track of her after a while, but she damn well wasn’t wearing feathers. That’s my point.”
I wanted to ask what he meant by that—and I wanted to ask what in the Maker’s name he’d thought he was doing, wandering off when we knew how dangerous the forest was—but light Dalish feet stirred the dried leaves behind me and, with a pang of resignation, I heard Rhyn’s bitter tones.
“You think you have a tame witch,” he muttered, as I turned to find him scowling at the pair of us. “A foolish belief.”
There hadn’t been much to have in the way of breakfast, but Leliana had worked her own wonders with a seasoned oatmeal gruel, the lingering aroma of which still hung on the crisp air. It grew stronger as Sten drew closer, carrying the newly rinsed cooking pot back from the creek. He’d evidently overheard, for his eyes narrowed as he inclined his head slightly in the hunter’s direction.
“Something I have said on many occasions,” he observed dryly.
The modicum of respect Sten seemed to accord Rhyn had not escaped me, and I had to admit I was a little jealous. I wasn’t sure I completely accepted the beliefs he held about the terrible dangers of magic—especially given the number of times it had saved my life—but I did appreciate the sentiment. Even I wasn’t naïve enough to trust Morrigan completely. Nevertheless, she’d given me no real cause to doubt her loyalty and, as she sat, hunkered down at the edge of the camp while the others busied themselves with the preparations for moving on, she looked so exhausted that I couldn’t help feeling a little protective of her.
“Morrigan’s been of great help to us,” I said, as Taen came to join us, moving to Rhyn’s side like a silent acolyte, his eyes wide and his mouth a thin, small scar across his face. He watched me intently, and I supposed the Dalish must have made their choice over who was going and who was staying. I nodded to him, then turned my attention back to Rhyn. “Besides, your keepers use magic. There’s no Circle of Magi out here, so what makes Dalish mages so different to someone like her?”
“Well, she is an evil bi—” Alistair began, breaking off as I shot him a reproachful look.
He shrugged churlishly, and I was aware of Taen muttering something in a blend of Common and Elvish that I found very hard to follow. I only caught one word: Asha’bellannar.
“What’s that?” I wanted to know, but he just shook his head and, turning slightly, spat into the dead leaves at his feet… just like the old folks used to do, back in the alienage.
“She took wolf form,” Rhyn said shortly. “Your creature. Last night: she became the wolf. Perhaps she brought Witherfang’s messengers here, did you consider that?”
“What?” I stared. “Morrigan wouldn’t—”
Alistair sighed tersely. “That’s what I was trying to tell you. She was… furry. With teeth. I didn’t see where she went, but it’s not—”
I held up my hands. “Enough. Everybody. Just… I’ll speak with her. I will speak with her, all right?” I added, with a sharp look at Alistair. “I’m sure, whatever she was doing, she had her reasons. And… honestly? If Morrigan meant us harm, we’d have been dead a long time ago.”
Rhyn curled his lip, showing a hint of small, pale teeth as his eyes hardened. I didn’t look at Alistair, but I heard his bitter huff of breath. He would probably be sulking for hours.
“If I were you, Grey Warden,” Rhyn said darkly, the air misting a little before his mouth, curling around the disdain with which he injected his words, “I would be wary. Does that not mean she merely has a purpose for you?”
“Perhaps. But it’s my concern, not yours.”
He glared at me, his eyes widening almost imperceptibly at the slight: probably just as surprised as me by my rudeness. The strength of my words—the lingering venom in them, even—thickened the air between us, and Rhyn’s mouth grew tighter, the way a dog tenses before it snaps.
“Then maybe it is well we part now,” he said curtly. “No wise man treads in the steps of a fool.”
I was starting to see why he and Sten appeared to get on so well. All the same, I couldn’t just let it go. He’d riled me too much for that.
“Oh? And I thought I’d been following you, hunter.”
Taen looked back and forth between the two of us, his face etched with the pained desperation of a small child that either needs to relieve itself, or wants to intervene in an older boys’ argument, and doesn’t know how.
“Lethallin,” he said, raising a hand to his brother’s elbow as Rhyn looked fit to either punch me or curse me. “Hamin, lethallin. Come… if we start early, there will be less ground to make up.”
They were going, then. I was relieved, though I knew how stupid that was. Rhyn was easily the most capable fighter, the strongest leader… I shouldn’t have been so pleased to see the back of him. Of course, I shouldn’t have been butting heads and picking fights, either, but such wisdom seemed so remote to me then.
He snorted, his breath coiling on the cold air. “All right. You understand this, Warden? Taen and I will take Deygan back to the camp. We can manage with just the two of us.”
“If you’re sure,” I said uncertainly, which earned me a dirty look.
“Yes. The others have elected to remain,” Rhyn added scornfully, his mouth bowed into a sneer. “Taen and I will speak to Zathrian of what we have seen. He must know. Here, Revasir will leave signs along your path. When Deygan is returned to the clan, my brother and I will re-enter the forest, and we will try to catch you up… if you remain to be caught.”
“Oh, good. Yes,” Alistair agreed dryly, his voice just a little louder than necessary, as if to remind us elves of his presence. “If not, maybe you could just bury as many bits as you can find? That’d be great. We’d appreciate it.”
I ignored him, much as the Dalish did—though Taen’s look of discomforted worry flickered slightly into incomprehension—and nodded my approval.
“Fine. We’ll leave as much as we can open for you, and I doubt we’ll move much quicker than we have been doing, even if the beasts know we’re here. It’s not as if there’s anywhere we can run,” I admitted, my bravado sinking a little as, for the first time, I realised just how disadvantaged and trapped we were going to be, especially with two fewer bodies on our side.
Still, if Witherfang—whatever it was—knew we were here, and his white wolves had found us once already, just why hadn’t we been wiped out? Maybe, as Rhyn had said of Morrigan, it just meant that someone had a plan for us. However, when that someone was potentially an ancient and probably demonic werewolf, the thought hardly filled me with glee.
I tried not to think about it, and concentrated on holding Rhyn’s gaze as he continued to glare at me. I used to see boys posture and strut at each other like this all the time back home. Part of me was faintly, ridiculously amused at being a participant this time, but that sense of mirth was soon diminished.
“Ma dirth,” Rhyn said, his shoulders relaxing slightly. He glanced over to where Wynne and Leliana were wrapping Deygan in blankets, preparing him for as comfortable a journey out of the forest as possible. “We will leave soon. Creators guide you,” he added, giving me one last—and surprisingly unchallenging—look, before hitching up his belt and striding off across the remnants of the camp.
Taen still lingered uncertainly, wincing a little as he looked at me.
“Abelas. It is Rhyn’s way to… to—”
Be an arsehole?
“I understand,” I said instead. “And I swear I will do everything I can to end this right. You have my word.”
He inclined his head. “Dareth,” he said, looking sadly at me and then, to my surprise, at Alistair. “Be safe, Grey Wardens. Our clan’s hearts go with you.”
He loped off after Rhyn, who was already conversing with—or possibly just barking orders at—Revasir.
Alistair cleared his throat. “Well, that was… bracing. Have you got a knife on you?”
I glanced at him, frowning in confusion, my mind still elsewhere. “Why d’you need a—”
“Oh, I’d just like to try cutting this atmosphere, that’s all.”
The words dripped with his customary sarcasm, but there was a note of disapproval in his voice, and a hardness in his face that I found difficult to bear. The hazel eyes I’d seen filled with such warmth were narrowed against the weak, low sun that lanced through the trees, and Alistair seemed distant somehow, like he was making a conscious effort not to say what he was thinking.
I marshalled a weak smile, and mumbled something about checking my pack, all too eager to turn away.
I stood by the thick trunk of an old, weathered oak, watching them go. Rhyn and Taen had Deygan slung behind them on a makeshift stretcher cobbled together from a couple of blankets and a few branches, and I watched the hunter’s prone body loll gently as they carried him… we all watched. We watched until they were out of sight, and we could no longer see Rhyn’s hunched shoulders, or that sullen scowl still fixed to his face.
Whether Deygan lived or died, the rest of us were now two blades worse off than we had been, and with the forest pressing in on us from all sides… not that there was time to dwell on it.
“This way,” Revasir said, pointing between the trees. He was remarkably prosaic about the whole thing, I thought.
He took the lead, with Zevran and Farriel skirting close behind him. Morrigan stalked behind on the right, stabbing at the ground with her staff, while Maethor made his usual sweeping patterns, weaving in and out of the brush and investigating as many smells as he could. Leliana and I were in the middle of the group, with Daeon and Aegan, and Wynne walked a little to one side, being shepherded solicitously by Alistair. Sten seemed to drop behind slightly, and more than once I caught him staring up at the trees, his face drawn even tighter and darker than usual. I wondered what he was thinking about, but I didn’t ask. I knew I needed to find a moment to talk to Morrigan, too, and I wasn’t looking forward to that. In fact, no one seemed to feel like conversation. We walked in near silence. After a while, soft rain began to rattle the canopy again, although it wasn’t as if the mood could have been dampened much further.
The land seemed to change around us again, and I had yet to get used to that sensation. It reminded me of the ride from Denerim with Duncan: the first time I’d ever left the city in my life. Then, I’d felt the trees were almost creeping up on me, the landscape shifting like a live thing instead of remaining still as we careened across it. I also remembered Hahren Sarel’s words about the forest being its own creature, and the two impressions sat uneasily beside each other in my mind. Still, as we pushed on, the ground grew less uneven, and the trees seemed to thin.
That surprised me. I had expected that, the deeper we pressed into the forest, the thicker everything would become. Instead, there were mossy cuts and gullies, and we briefly passed whole clearings where you could see the sky. I felt less threatened by the trees, and went so far as to remark that, even with the rain, this part of the forest seemed beautiful.
Aegan shot me a disdainful look, his thick blond knot of hair fuzzy and beaded with moisture. “You know why there are fewer trees here?” he asked, his words clipped and his eyes hard.
I sighed inwardly, gathering that I’d got it wrong yet again. “No. Why?”
He jutted out his chin in an expression of righteous pride—getting another one over on the shem-witted flat-ear, I surmised—and he nodded at the ground we walked on, so thickly carpeted with the softness of moss and leaf litter.
“All this? Many years ago, when the shemlen brought their war… all burned. All destroyed. The west of the forest used to extend much farther. Where we walk now, thousands died. This was all battlefields. All bones. All corpses. Now, it is setheneran. We tread on the edges of the Beyond.”
His words nudged at the discomfort hanging in the air, and I saw recognition on the faces of Wynne and Morrigan: the silent admissions of mages who felt the darkness in this place, no matter how quaintly dappled its light. I pursed my lips.
“Yes, well… bloodshed makes the Veil thin. We saw it at the Circle Tower, too, and Redcliffe. Demons,” I added, emphasising the word. “There was an abomination in Redcliffe, and dozens of them in the Tower. We killed all the demons, destroyed the corruption. It can be done.”
Aegan said nothing, and just kept looking straight ahead. Daeon, however, slipped me an admiring glance.
“Really? Dozens of demons?”
I shrugged, starting to regret my bragging. “Well… there were a lot.”
“Scores,” Zevran chimed in shamelessly. “So I hear, although this was before I joined the Warden’s party. There had been a terrible rebellion among the mages. Our good friend Wynne here was one of the few to withstand it—blood magic, you know, and the most unspeakable horrors, of course—but the Warden slew the perpetrators heroically. Stood upon a pile of corpses, her blade smoking with the corrupted blood of the fallen… you know how it is. I, naturally, was not remotely surprised to learn of the details. I have, after all, seen her in action.”
Farriel was gazing at him raptly, his mouth curved into a look of intent, hungry interest, like a child ready to devour tales of dragons and princes.
I groaned. “It… it really wasn’t quite like that. We—well, we were all—”
“It was a painful ordeal,” Wynne said shortly. “I lost many friends. But, it is true, without the help you gave us, we would all have perished.”
She was looking at Alistair when she spoke, and I felt both insensitive for bringing the subject up at all, and also firmly put in my place. Aegan made a small noise in the back of his throat.
“At least you’ve wet your feet in blood, outsider. I hope it prepares you.”
I frowned grumpily to myself, taking thorough offence at his off-handedness. As far as I had pieced together, the Dalish hunters chased game no bigger than wolves or boar. I had faced demons, walking corpses, darkspawn… even a Void-taken ogre. He had no right to belittle me—to belittle any of us. And yet, for all I’d done and all I’d seen, I knew I couldn’t draw an arrow as quickly as the Dalish could, or move as quietly through the trees, or scythe my blade with such speed and accuracy. Everything I’d done up until that point felt like luck, not honed skill, and it was that which kept my lips sealed and my gaze downcast.
We walked for an age… and at least that felt normal. There was almost a kind of peace in it; rhythms that were beginning to seem natural. Revasir led us through the trees, and I watched the light dapple the soft ground. Whatever Aegan said, I still thought it was beautiful. Everyone seemed to have relaxed slightly, too: we spread out a bit, and it was as if the less dense tree coverage gave us room to breathe. The Dalish seemed very at home, anyway. Once, a low call broke through the air, drifting distantly from what I thought was the west. Revasir looked up like a dog scenting the air, then grinned broadly and said something in Elvish to Aegan. I picked out the word ‘halla’, and the name of Hahren Elora, their herdmistress, so I guessed there must be some of the white deer-things living wild nearby.
No one said anything else, though Farriel gave a loud, bored sigh, and kicked half-heartedly at a tree root. We walked on, the rhythm only broken every time Revasir paused to leave one of the trail signs Rhyn had mentioned, cut into the bark of a tree. I didn’t bother trying to read them. They just looked like scuff marks to me.
“So,” Daeon said, at length, falling into stride beside me.
I blinked, the sound of his voice cutting through my thoughts, and tried my best to seem nonchalant. I raised an eyebrow. “So?”
He glanced back over his shoulder, as if to assure himself no one was eavesdropping. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that most of my companions had ears that would put a bat to shame, no matter how many paces there were between us. Picking up on gossip, banter, arguments, and lively debates had become important skills in passing the long, dreary hours of travel.
“Well…. I’m curious, that’s all.”
“About what?” I asked, picking my way over the tussocks and tree roots.
Daeon rolled his eyes. “You, you ass! And this Grey Warden business.”
“Oh.” I had to admit, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t seen that one coming. I shrugged as lackadaisically as I could. “I told you the story.”
“No, you told us what happened.” He slipped me a sly sidelong glance. “You never said much about the Wardens. What, this human just recruited you? Swooped down off a magic carpet? And what in the Creators’ name happened at that battle in the south?”
I winced a little to hear him speak of Dalish gods. It felt strange; like a malformed echo in an empty room. I welcomed it, I supposed. I didn’t want either of us to remind me too much of home.
“I told you,” I repeated stubbornly. “There really wasn’t anything more to it. Duncan had been to a lot of places, recruiting for the Wardens. I wasn’t the only one from Denerim.”
A momentary vision of Daveth passed behind my eyes: the man who’d reminded me so much of the boys at home, with dirty knees and perfectly combed hair. Even looking back then—Maker, even looking back now—it felt strange to think someone so irrepressible should have died so easily, and it was hard to keep from wondering how we’d have fared if he’d survived the Joining. Maybe Alistair would have been forced to step up to command, if only to keep the rogue in line, or maybe Daveth himself would have taken charge. For all I knew, he’d have done no worse a job than me… or what if both he and Jory had lived? What if I’d died, or if all of us had? The possibilities I’d tried so hard not to cram my head with clamoured for attention, and I pushed them all away. There was no sense in wondering, anyway.
Above us, the tree branches creaked gently in a light breeze, and a few russet leaves filtered down to the soft forest floor. Somehow, it didn’t feel as cold as it had done, and I supposed that was something to be thankful for.
“Army recruiters don’t go to alienages,” Daeon said pointedly. “What’d be the point? Elves can’t join up. We have no place in an army, except as servants or wh—”
“The Grey Wardens don’t make a distinction,” I said, breaking in before I could hear that damn word again. “You know, some of their greatest warriors have been elven. Like Garahel, who ended the Fourth Blight.”
Daeon smirked. “Right. Children’s stories and legends.”
“They’re not just stories.”
“No?” He snorted, glancing across at Alistair, who appeared to be having trouble with the undergrowth, and had just stumbled over a briar. “Hm.”
“What?” I didn’t much care for his tone, or the hardness in his face when he looked at my friend.
“Makes no difference what you call it. Still, it’s a good life for a woman, is it?” Daeon drawled, shifting his gaze slyly back to me. “Good way of keeping yourself?”
Once, shame might have pricked at me with those words. It was clear enough what he meant—what he thought. I bridled slightly, if only because I believed I’d been so subtle. I knew my keeping Alistair at arm’s length since we’d entered the camp had been cruel, and probably a horrible mistake, but I truly thought I’d guarded my secret. I had, hadn’t I? I hadn’t seen the looks of accusation I was so afraid of on the faces of Dalish women… or maybe they did all think it was true, and simply didn’t care, because I wasn’t one of them to start with.
That thought stuck with me, coarse as brambles and bitter as pitch. Still, I had too much anger in me to waste on being embarrassed. I shrugged crisply.
“Huh. S’all right. Except for the Blight, the darkspawn, the civil war… the fact our entire order got massacred at Ostagar. Up until then, it was just fine.”
Daeon pursed his lips. “Civil war?”
He listened as I gave him a brief account of Ostagar, Loghain’s betrayal, and everything we knew of that had followed. I might not have been as objective as I could, or made clear quite how much of our information relied on conjecture, but it was a succinct summary.
“So, that’s what you’re going to do, is it?” Daeon looked doubtful. “Try to hammer a few allies together, throw yourselves at the darkspawn, and hope you’ll win?”
“Well, we don’t have much choice.”
He snorted. “You don’t have much chance, either. You need numbers, woman! What about sending word to the Free Marches?”
I shook my head. “Unlikely. There’s not enough time… and we’d still have to get a message there. There were supposed to be reinforcements coming from Orlais, but it looks like Loghain pushed them back. Or something.”
Massacred them, more like, but I didn’t say so. Perhaps part of me was still holding onto the improbable hope that other Wardens would come from somewhere and fix everything… or at least tell us what in the Maker’s name we were meant to be doing.
Daeon had fallen strangely silent. I squinted at him, and saw his lips moving soundlessly while he frowned.
“Thirteen,” he said eventually. “I think. Thirteen clans that travel Ferelden, the Marches, and pretty much up to the Orlesian borders. If Zathrian sent runners and caught them all before they’ve crossed the sea, that’s… what? I know some clans are bigger’n others, but… seven, eight hundred Dalish, easy. Maybe more. That’s an army right there, Tabris.”
I nodded glumly. “Maybe.”
“What?” Daeon’s mouth moved in a sharp slice of a smile, curled at one corner. “You don’t think you can do what the Keeper asked? This Witherfang is one demon. You’ve fought dozens.”
To the right of us, I heard Zevran’s stifled snigger, and I grimaced.
“Anyway,” Daeon said brightly, “if Redcliffe’s on your side, you have those troops, plus whatever of the Bannorn is loyal to this Eamon. That’s how it works, isn’t it?”
“Near enough,” I said, though frankly I had no idea. I still possessed an elf’s view of politics—that smaller holdings did what bigger holdings said, regardless of personal or historical alliances, simply because it was common sense—and any kind of nuance to the system passed me clean by. Besides, being born and bred in Denerim, I had very little understanding of what did lay out there. The dozens of arls and banns were unknown names to me, their lands nothing more than lines on a map I still couldn’t really read.
I cleared my throat, aware somehow of Alistair’s gaze on my back, his scrutiny like the uncomfortable warmth of midday sun.
“That’s, uh, that’s assuming Arl Eamon can be cured, of course,” I mumbled. “We… we need to, er, work… on that.”
Daeon grinned cheerfully, scuffing up the dried leaves with the toe of his Dalish boot. “Hah… after this? Come on… you finish off a demon wolf and cure a cursed plague, one shem’s fever’ll be a breeze!”
I smiled uncomfortably, and wished he’d shut up.
Ahead of us, Revasir suddenly held up a hand, dropping into a warrior’s stance with his blade half-drawn. Maethor growled softly and, as the rest of us stilled, I saw something move in the trees. It was a white shape and, for a brief, hopeful moment, I thought maybe it was a halla, but there was no mistaking the predatory, slinking gait.
It was one of the white wolves. It moved like silvered light through the trees, a good forty yards ahead of us, though it wasn’t coming any closer. Aegan had an arrow nocked and sighted, quick as a breath, but Revasir motioned him to hold.
“They have been following us for a while now,” Zevran remarked quietly. “See? On the top of the ridge.”
He nodded his head very gently towards the cut bank that curved away from us to the right, a scar running across the gentle swell of the land, perhaps about five or six feet high. The great masses of tree roots—ancient monoliths overturned years ago by long-forgotten storms—had formed an earthen embankment, upon which new growth had thrived, the old roots curling through it and poking out like coiled ropes. I caught my breath as I saw another pale shadow shimmer between the straight trunks of young firs and birches.
We were being watched, and stalked like prey.
“How many?” I murmured.
Revasir glanced back at me and held up four fingers.
“We took them before,” Farriel said, drawing his dagger. “What are more of these dogs? Let them come!”
“Brasca!” Zevran snapped, with a sharpness that surprised me. “Don’t be a fool. Sheath your knife and shut your mouth, da’assan. They are waiting. Watching, and waiting. They do not mean to attack this time… but they will not be alone.”
Maethor took that opportunity to throw back his head and howl: a real, squealing, echoing peal of sound that seemed to twist and shake from his jaws. It was horrible. He backed up as the rest of us drew together in a circle, assuming that defensive stance we’d begun to get so well honed—and which made the divisions between us and the Dalish woefully apparent—and the hound’s paws scrabbled on the leaf litter. His tail and ears were clamped down flat, and strings of drool dribbled from his mouth as he puffed out small, high-pitched whines. I heard the soft, metallic hiss of Sten’s sword leaving its sheath, and he said something to Maethor in his own tongue.
It didn’t seem to calm the dog. We were all straining our eyes to see what was out there: was that movement in between the tree trunks? I could hear no sound of footsteps… or paws. The air shivered as Morrigan allowed power to bloom between her palms, and Wynne muttered something about holding steady.
“You may if you wish, old woman,” Morrigan replied tartly, “but I, for one, do not intend to be torn apart by a pack of savage beasts.”
I heard Alistair snort softly. “You’ve probably got bigger teeth than them, anyway.”
She made a disparaging growl, and, to my immediate left, Aegan spat on the ground and muttered a couple of Elvish words under his breath. I wished I knew what they meant.
There had been no other sign of the white wolves. No more pale shimmers in the dappled trees. Maybe, I thought, Farriel had a point, and the fact we’d killed the others meant these would hesitate to attack… but we were not in an easily defensible position. The bank left us vulnerable from above, and while the ground was more open in this part of the forest, and easier to fight on, there was also more room for any enemy to get up speed as they charged us. Not to mention, for all his trail craft and sure footsteps through the trees, I doubted that Revasir—or any of the Dalish—knew these woods as well as whatever beasts were stalking us.
Something moved in the undergrowth. A shape seemed to dart between the tall, straight trunks… or was that just a trick of the light? I stiffened. The hackles had risen all along Maethor’s spine, his crinkled ears pressed flat to his head as he growled.
Leliana lifted her bow, and we all tensed, waiting for whatever was lurking there to burst forth, like the white wolves had done the night before.
Nothing happened. Farriel was whispering under his breath, just on the edge of hearing. It took me a moment to realise he was praying.
The greasy crackle of magical energy washed over me as Morrigan allowed the spell she’d been holding in readiness to subside, a curse dangling on her lips, and Sten let out a long, uneasy breath, like the creak of a strained rope.
A howl split the air then. It didn’t sound like Maethor’s: something sharper, like a feral cry. The mabari whined and growled, but did not loose another bay in reply.
“Get ready,” Alistair warned, sword already half-drawn as we pulled tighter together, both Dalish and non-Dalish bunching close now, back-to-back as we scanned the trees.
It was impossible to see where they came from. They burst out on us with the suddenness of summer rain: one moment, just that insufferable tension, and then the next, a torrent of the beasts, pouring from the trees.
If I had never faced darkspawn—if I had not already believed in monsters—I wouldn’t have imagined they could be real.
They were several of them. I couldn’t count: they moved too fast. Wolves… and yet not wolves. Their whole bodies were bent and attenuated, bowed and unnaturally proportioned, hunched at the shoulders like a dog trying to walk on two legs, but with terrible grace, speed, and power.
I saw one loping straight towards me, bursting from the trees like a firecracker, its mouth a gaping red wound… and it straightened up as it ran, moving from four legs to two and then leaping, flinging itself through the air with an ear-splitting roar. I braced my stance, my sword drawn—sod daggers, I thought: I wanted as much distance between me and these things as possible—ready to impale the bastard as it came down, but magic split the air above me, as Wynne let loose with a blast of something that seemed to turn the world to shimmering white.
We broke formation quickly when one leapt from the top of the bank, landing almost directly on Sten’s shoulders. He roared, and shucked it off like it was nothing more than an irritation, the sheer weight of his momentum throwing the beast clear. I saw it flex and turn in the air, its hips rotating and distinctly canine legs paddling, and yet it righted itself, landing in a neat crouch on the fallen leaves, with what I could only think of as its arms spread wide to balance itself.
I had never seen anything like it. Not even in books. In the stories of werebeasts that permeated Fereldan myth, they were more metaphor than physical description—the savage within the man, the untamed wild to which civilisation had to be brought—and there was never any hint about them of the horror I saw in these creatures.
The beast in front of me was not a wolf. Not a wolf, and not a man, but a midpoint somewhere between the two… and it was not a happy compromise. It was a twisted, deformed thing, standing on two legs in a body that seemed not built for it. The knees faced backwards, like a dog’s, and the thighs and hips were curved the same, but bent and shaped wrongly. The spine had an odd slant to it, the shoulders hunched and jagged, set far lower than a man’s would have been, and the arms—or, I wasn’t sure, maybe front legs—were too long, too loosely coupled. The whole chest and ribcage jutted forwards from a long, hollowed-out stomach, leading the creature to that bent-over, top-heavy kind of movement, and yet giving it extraordinary depth of breath and muscle. A thick, long neck rose from its curved shoulders, and ended in a broad, elongated head: a heavy skull with rough-furred ears set further down than a dog’s would be—Maker, they were more like an elf’s, I thought with distaste—and something between a muzzle and a face. A wrinkled, snarling nose, shorter than a wolf’s, and malformed, yet packed with vicious, yellow teeth, seemed to sit oddly against its half-squared jaw.
The creature’s entire body was covered with a ragged, matted coat, but there was no denying the muscles that rippled beneath… or the power in that distorted form.
The sounds of battle filled my ears—the thuds of flesh and weapons—and another of them barrelled past, just in time for me to kick out at its dog-like legs. My boot cracked against its knee and it spun, snapping and slavering as it started to fall… only to right itself and lunge at me. I pushed it back, propelling the flat of my blade straight across its chest. Its rank breath fell hotly on my face, and yet what frightened me most was its eyes. I suppose I’d expected to see darkspawn’s eyes, full of bloodlust and death. Instead, something terrifyingly familiar greeted me. There was anger, and fear, and everything that I felt in myself… and they were eyes that could have belonged to anyone I knew.
I shoved hard, and as the beast broke away I brought my sword around, ready to strike and stab. One of Morrigan’s ice spells lanced the air, and I heard a werewolf yelp. A shout followed—one of the Dalish hunters—and I looked up towards the bank. Another of the beasts had broken away and scaled the bank, and at first I thought it meant to leap down on us like the other, but it clung to the slim trunk of a young tree that grew there, snarling down, its whole face split around a terrible, rippling growl.
The other weres fell back around us, snapping and baring their teeth, but they weren’t lunging anymore. A tense, difficult sort of truce seemed to be in place but, as my companions and I stood ready, holding our positions, it was eerily clear that it was not we who had brokered it.
The werewolf on the bank—their leader, it seemed, who glared down with such ferocity and yet held itself like a creature with intelligence—clawed one rangy arm through the air, like a demand for silence.
And then it spoke.
It was a guttural, twisted sound, a voice born of a throat, jaw, and tongue not made for speech, and the words seemed torn from the air, tortuously sculpted and overlaid with violent snarls.
I lurched in surprise, almost falling into the dead leaves. The creature raised its long shaggy arm again, its brindled coat—not unlike a longer version of Maethor’s, I thought, even as I noted the incongruity of the observation—matted with mud and blood.
It pointed at Revasir, peeling its lips back into a snarling grimace. A low growl curled through the air and, with some difficulty, words fell again from the beast’s panting maw.
“Hrrrr… Enough, Dalish. You… come from your clan to put us… in our place?” It spread its lips wider, baring its teeth and its red, shining gums, and a low growl slid from it, menacing and as heavy as tar. “Make us pay for the attack?”
I stared. No one had imagined they would talk—that they would reason like this. Zathrian had said they were incapable of it, hadn’t he? I looked to Revasir, wanting to say that—wanting to say something through the thrum of panic in my head—but he looked just as wild as the wolves.
His hair hung riotously about his shoulders, his features contorted with rage and hate beneath his vallaslin, the ink like dark, whipping vines. He glanced at me with his lips pulled back in a sneer, his eyes wide voids of distrustful darkness. He frightened me then. Oh, the Dalish had unnerved me in so many ways since the beginning… but I’d never been truly afraid of him before.
I tightened my hold on my weapon, digging my heels into the muddy leaf litter. “No one said they could talk,” I warned. “Let’s just—”
“They lie!” Revasir shouted, fury staining his face. “They are beasts! Nothing but savage things!”
The werewolf let out a roaring growl, and a couple of the others started to fidget, snapping their jaws impatiently.
“We are beasts,” it snarled, “but we are no longer simple and mindless. Let that thought chill your spine, Dalish.”
The air almost crackled with tension. I glanced back at the rest of my group, worried by how ready the hunters were for this to end in a bloodbath. We might have outnumbered them, but I wasn’t at all sure we could take the beasts. Alistair caught my eye warily, his face tight and alert, and looked at Wynne. She shook her head almost imperceptibly, and I could see the same current run through all my companions: this was not going as it ought.
I took a deep breath and pushed forwards, stepping close to the foot of the bank, craning my neck to look up at the beast… and placing myself in front of Revasir and the other hunters.
The creature glared down at me, its wrinkled snout twitching as it took in my scent. I could see saliva glisten on its teeth.
“Please… I-I’m not Dalish. I… don’t understand.”
“Hrrr… another elf,” it grumbled, the word almost swallowed in the abrupt closing of its jaws.
“But not Dalish,” I protested, my voice growing a little higher, and a little wobblier. “I’m a Grey Warden. My friends and I—”
It was part word, part bark, and it jolted me into silence. The werewolf lurched forwards, falling to a crouch on the edge of the bank as it leaned down towards us, its jaws slightly open. I could smell the rankness of its coat—they all had a strong musk about them, far worse than Maethor—and I fought the urge to lean back, though there were still several feet between us.
The were dug its claws into the soft earth and leaned further down, its long neck stretched out in one strong, corded line. The powerful swells of its shoulders and back heaved as it huffed deeply and, all the while, it watched me with bright, intelligent eyes.
“You… hrrr… go back to Dalish masters, elf. Tell them you failed. Hrrr… tell them Swiftrunner—” It slapped one clawed hand against its chest, and the thought that they named themselves, that they had words and names and minds pounded in my head like a terrible drum. “—says we shall gladly watch them suffer the same curse we have suffered… for too long! Hrrr….” It lifted its head, snarling as it took in the hunters. “We will see you pay.”
I thought Revasir was going to throw himself at the bank and climb up to put the creature’s eyes out with his thumbs. Neither he nor Aegan seemed able to hold back much longer, though at least Daeon looked rooted with fear, which meant he probably wouldn’t do anything stupid.
“Why?” I blurted, playing for time, playing for any way of keeping things from deteriorating further. “Why do you hate them so much?”
The beast’s shaggy head swung towards me, its eyes narrowed to gleaming slits. Its breath puffed in damp coils on the air, and a low growl leaked from between the bars of its teeth.
“Hrrr… You do not know? Was it not Zathrian who sent you, hrrr?”
“Filth!” Revasir burst out. “How dare you even speak his name?”
He started to move, his stance threatening but—in a fraction of an instant—the werewolves were snarling and circling again, and I had put out my arm, barring him from the bank and the beast that called itself Swiftrunner.
I looked at Revasir, and at my own arm and my leather-gloved hand, stretched out about six inches in front of his chest, like I had a right to command him. He looked at the limb too, and then at my face, and a complicated moment passed—one of those long stretches of time condensed somehow into a fleeting blink—during which I felt quite sure he would have liked to slap me across the face and send me back to the human gutter I’d come from.
Perhaps, if that moment had stretched a little further, he would have relented.
Instead, Alistair spoke up, his tone arch and his words unhelpful. “Er… shouldn’t we be rather more concerned about how they know his name? Your keeper told us we were chasing savage animals. No one said anything about them talking… or having plans. Or names, come to that….”
He was right. I didn’t want him to be right, or to voice the precise things I’d thought, but that made no difference.
Revasir looked positively blind with anger as he turned, his cheeks flushed beneath his vallaslin, and I could feel what solidity our group might have had beginning to crack and bend beneath my feet.
“Let’s all try and stay calm,” I said, stupidly, for there was no calm to be had.
The creature snarled at me from the bank—a real, honest expression of the desire to bite and rend. Its ears were flattened to its head, its eyes less than slits in a face already monstrous and deformed by anger. I tried hard to resist the urge to draw my weapon, though I could hear the tensing of bodies behind me: to a one, we were ready to fight, and I felt sure it would come to it, whatever bloodshed I wanted to avert.
“You know nothing, do you?” the beast growled, its words as gnarled and bent as tree roots. “Nothing! Nothing of us…hrrr… and even less of those you serve. Hrrr…you are a fool!”
I bridled at that, almost ready to throw my anger in with Revasir’s… could this animal not see what I was trying to do? The werewolf straightened up then—less an act of standing, more an unfolding of its misshapen body—and threw its head back, letting a panting, snuffling growl slip through those wet, ragged jaws. Leaves shuffled underfoot, scuffed up as the other beasts jostled eagerly around us, penning us in… readying for the kill.
Swiftrunner jerked its head irritably, snapping those ugly jaws at me with dismissive violence. “Hrrr…enough. We speak no more. Run from the forest while you can! Run back to Dalish masters…hrrr… tell them they are doomed.”
I could have sworn I felt the air break around us, like the crack of lightning and the roll of sudden thunder across a darkened summer sky, or the shatter of a clay jug on rough stones. Perhaps things would have gone differently if we hadn’t had the hunters with us. Perhaps, if I’d been stronger, braver, then I’d have managed to talk the beasts round… but then I’d been castigating myself for failing ever since Soris and I didn’t make it to Vaughan’s chambers in time to save Shianni, and maybe even long before that.
All I knew was that no force in the world could have held Revasir and Aegan back then. The latter pulled out his belt-knife and roared, lunging at the nearest of the werebeasts, at exactly the same moment as everything turned to splinters, and they leapt at us. I saw Swiftrunner jump from the bank in a horrible ballet of outstretched limbs and bared teeth—they were less like wolves than nightmarish creatures of the canopy, so nimbly they leapt, like foul birds in flight—and I fumbled for a weapon, yelling a warning that I didn’t need to voice.
It was a messy, brutal fight. I knew the steps my companions made—used as we were to each other, or near enough—but the Dalish were new to our mix and, despite their expertise, they brought chaos along with skill.
The creature called Swiftrunner had cleared me in its bound, aiming straight for Revasir as the group split outwards, and he anticipated it, deflecting the beast and swiping one of those cruel, curved Dalish blades at its knees. It dodged, feinted, and then Sten was between me and them, bringing one arm—still clad in the hodgepodge armour that didn’t fit him—down heavily across the snout of another werewolf before bringing his sword around in a wide arc that sent the beasts momentarily scattering. I heard Maethor yelp, then snarl, and saw a blur of movement as he darted after one of the white wolves, paws scrabbling to bring his solid, stocky body in line with its lithe form. I saw his jaws close on the ruff of its neck, heard the bays and growls of beasts that walked on four and two legs alike… and then had my own problems to face.
A werewolf leapt at me, its lips pulled back in a horrific grin that exposed long, yellow teeth. I brought my sword arm up fast, swiping a hilt-first blow that cracked across its cheek and sent it pitching sideways, just enough for me to dive out of the way before it got up. The dull ache from the blow’s connection reverberated all the way up my arm, but I levelled my blade in preparation for a strike… a strike I didn’t want to make. The thing looked at me balefully as it scrambled back to its feet, snarling and lashing out with its clawed, twisted hands. They definitely were more hands than paws, I thought, as we circled each other in the maelstrom of slashing, scrapping bodies. How many of these creatures had been elves once? How many of them shems? Was there a difference anymore?
The beast lunged, and I parried, the flat of my blade hitting its forearm, but barely pressing through the matted, stinking fur. It bore down on me with its full weight in retaliation, using the height it had over me, its hot breath rolling over my face as it strained to get closer, to bite and rend. I kicked it in the kneecap as hard as I could, and heard it squeal as it went down. And—compassion be damned—I’d have put my sword through its back if another of the bastards hadn’t cannoned into me from the side. I felt the sharp, dense pressure of jaws on my arm, and fear flooded me… but not the high, tight, intensifying fear of battle, where the blood pounds and the air tastes of sweat, because every tiny breath of a moment is the decider between life and death. This was genuine terror; terror at the thought of yellow teeth piercing my second-hand Dalish leathers, of this curse—this monstrous affliction—pouring into my tainted blood.
I think I screamed… the sounds of anger and outrage, the way I’d screamed in the lower levels of Redcliffe Castle, when we fought walking corpses that still wore the vestiges of their guardsmen’s armour. I writhed, punched, elbowed, gouged, and got the thing off me. It was a huge, broad, powerful beast with shaggy, grey-flecked fur, and it would not stay down. It sprung at me, and I tried to duck to the side, but it caught me with one impossibly long, brawny arm—an arm that reached out like a human’s, catching and grabbing, but ended in a beast’s long, terrible claws—and struck me hard, sending me off-balance. Pain bloomed sharply across my left cheek, all fire and acid against the cold air. I staggered back, readying to swing my blade, but it came at me again too quickly. With a face full of fetid, rotten breath, I barely missed a swipe of its claws, and I pushed my blade out, trying to turn the creature from me… but it wasn’t like a human opponent, or even a darkspawn. Something that stands on two legs can usually have its weight used against it—as Mother had taught me, the finest gift a blade can give is the ability to deflect—but the werebeasts stood and balanced differently. Where I lunged and parried, they jumped and pounced, and it was all I could do to deal out a few small scratches.
My companions didn’t seem to be doing any better. Magic lanced the air over and over—Wynne and Morrigan working in that strange concert of theirs, so oddly complementary—but the wolves seemed to know magic as well as mages did, for they dodged at every turn. Even Sten’s two-handed blows rarely struck home, though a squeal from one of the beasts told me Zevran had landed a hit. It knocked me off-centre at first, because I thought the noise came from Maethor and, in the moment I turned my head, another of the creatures cannoned into me, jaws spread and straining for my neck.
I ducked my head, rammed into its chest and threw it back, bringing my blade up in a short swing, aiming for its gut, but it twisted neatly away, still snarling. I saw Revasir then, behind the beast, grappling with another of its kind. The wolf I had just thrown off began to turn, spinning on him like a dog who’s had his tail yanked, and I lunged forwards, driving my sword into its thigh. It screamed, and bore back down on me even as I tucked and threw myself to the ground, trying to avoid the pounce of teeth and claws.
I hit the mud hard, knees first, and tried to strike at the first set of bipedal paws I saw before I came up again. I tasted sweat, metal, and blood—hard to tell whether it was mine or not—but Revasir had avoided being caught between the two beasts. I met his eye briefly as we danced past each other, ducking and parrying, and he seemed as feral a creature as the wolves, with his teeth bared and his knotted hair flying. I heard a growl close to my left—close enough to reverberate against my skin—and saw his blade skim the chest of one of the beasts, narrowly missing its throat as he pushed hard away.
Something heavy hit me then, knocking the wind from me and sending me sprawling to the ground. In the confusion of legs and weaponry, I didn’t see what it was. I saw the dark, matted shape of a werewolf above me as I lay, starry-eyed, in the mud, and I thrust my blade up, catching it with a shallow blow to the stomach. There was a howling yelp, and I heard the one that called itself Swiftrunner growling out a word that seemed a misshapen snarl of agony and frustration.
I had barely scrambled to my feet again before I realised the werewolves were running. The commotion of scattering, fleeing feet and snarling, whining cries faded to a disorientating silence as they receded through the trees, with a couple of icy bursts of magic from Morrigan to light up their tails.
We’d killed one. Daeon was near its corpse, a bloodstained knife in his hand, screaming obscenities at the retreating beasts—pure alienage gutter vowels, flecked with spittle and spite—and his face was a twisted mask of furious hatred.
“…fucking run, you flea-bitten nug-licking bastards!”
Panting, he spat on the ground, then wiped the back of his wrist across his forehead, apparently only just realising that he was bleeding from a gash to the temple.
I bent over, hands on my knees as I tried to clear the fog from my vision and get the air back into my lungs.
“Everyone alive?” I managed, as I straightened up.
They looked it. Sten, Morrigan, and Wynne were all unscathed, and Maethor stood beside them, one ear inside out, his tongue lolling as he panted heavily. He looked surprisingly bright-eyed and pleased with himself, despite the bloody bitemarks on his neck and back, and took a few steps towards me, wagging his tail uncertainly.
“Good boy,” I muttered, casting a glance around the rest of the group.
Zevran was swearing a blue streak in Antivan under his breath as he rubbed at his weak arm, but he seemed unhurt, and Farriel hovered solicitously at his shoulder, looking just as disconcertingly chipper as the mabari. I noticed the gentle protectiveness with which he laid hold of Zev’s wrist, examining the tanned skin for injury… and I saw the way that Aegan regarded his clansman.
The hunter scowled, and then turned that scowl on me, which I took to mean that he was all right. I looked around for Revasir, and saw him climbing stiffly to his feet near the base of the bank, limping but apparently not bleeding. I let out a small breath of relief, though the head count was not complete, and, very slowly, it dawned on me that what had cannoned into me, throwing me to the ground, was Alistair. His shield lay in the mud near the dead werewolf, but he wasn’t with it, and panic began to grip me.
“Here,” he said, emerging from a few feet away, easing himself tentatively to his feet. “Are you all right? It didn’t—?”
His voice sounded thin and shaky. The sudden lurch of fear made me dizzy as I looked at him, and the awkward way he held himself, with his left hand clasped to his right side.
I went to him at once, terrified of what I’d find. He’d obviously fallen hard: mud and leaf-litter streaked his hair, face, and armour, and he looked pale beneath the sheen of sweat. I couldn’t look him in the eyes—I didn’t want to—but I could smell the fear on him. Blood welled between his fingers, thick and richly red. It was at the place his worn splintmail armour joined. The boiled leather was torn, the metal ruptured, the strap broken… the same kit he’d had since Lothering, and which had seen so many repairs there probably wasn’t an original inch left of it. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t found him something better. Something safer.
“Let me see,” I pleaded, reaching out to pull his hand from the wound.
He resisted, even when I tugged harder at his wrist, and shook his head.
“It’s not a bite,” he protested weakly. “Really, it’s—”
It didn’t matter. I was convinced he’d saved my life, pushed me aside with a willingness to take the curse for me, and words could not describe how terrible I felt. Worried hazel eyes met mine from within a muddy, battered face, and I found a blend of incomprehension, regret, and—worst of all—resentment in them that made my chest feel cold, and my throat turn dry.
I turned at the sound of Wynne’s voice, and the ominous hollowness with which she called my name.
We were still one short, and I realised what had happened as the mage beckoned me to the other side of the bank.
Leliana lay on the ground, propped up slightly on her elbows, her pale skin turned to deathly white. She raised her head and looked apologetically at me, her mouth twisted into a shallow, rueful little smile as she struggled for breath.
“I’m sorry. I… I think I was a little too slow, no?”
The wound was raw-edged and livid, puncture wounds between the torn stretches of skin clearly visible beneath the smears of blood. It stretched from her collarbone to the centre of her chest. Her armour had provided some protection, but not enough, and deep scratches marked her neck and arms.
She had been bitten, and bitten badly.
I knelt beside her, not knowing what to do, what to say… I wanted to weep. For so long, the threat of death had been with us every day, and I hadn’t realised that such a constant thrum of it had so hard-inured me to fear that it had made me believe we were immortal.
I looked at Wynne, full of blind hope and expectation. “You can do something, can’t you? We should… we should get some water, or—”
“I’ll be all right, I’m sure,” Leliana protested. “And we can’t be far from the creatures’ lair. We must press on, and—”
“You’re not going anywhere, my girl,” Wynne said, beginning to roll up her sleeves as I uncorked my water skin.
Behind me, I was aware of Farriel and Aegan lingering, looking worried and fearful, like superstitious old men. Everyone was silent, which made the sound of Leliana’s laboured breathing seem louder. Even Zevran was tight-lipped, and Daeon looked terrified.
“I-Is she going to die?” he asked, probably not as quietly as he thought he had.
“Stupid,” Morrigan remarked, pushing past him to crouch beside Leliana. “This is sheer carelessness.”
“She hardly meant to get bitten, you heartless cow,” Alistair exclaimed sourly. He was leaning against a tree, still holding his side. “If you can’t keep your mouth shut—”
“Oh, shut your own, idiot,” the witch snapped, cupping her hands together, fingers splayed out like the interlaced bars of a cage. “I have no patience for your prattling.”
Wynne put her hand on Leliana’s shoulder, her expression tightening. “Morrigan, if I may… such healing as can be done is probably better—”
Morrigan raised her head, her teeth bared and her eyes twin points of yellow-gold venom. “Shut up, old woman, and let me concentrate. All of you. Quiet.”
She looked down at her hands, her eyelids drooping a little as power began to swell between her palms, and I felt it running through everything like one great, dark wave. Her lips twitched, her dark hair somewhat dishevelled, with strands escaping from its elegant binds, rustling against the pale skin of her cheeks just as the black feathers danced at her shoulders.
“What’s she doing?” Leliana asked weakly, her hands pushing faintly at the earth. “That… that doesn’t look like a healing spell. I don’t want—”
“Shhh, child,” Wynne said, patting her shoulder soothingly. She glanced up at me, and motioned me to move to Leliana’s other side.
I obeyed, placing a comforting—and restraining—hand on her arm as Morrigan began to sway her head gently from side to side.
The Dalish were growing uneasy. I saw Daeon make a warding sign with his left hand—old alienage habits coming back, Creators or no Creators—and Revasir spat into the leaves, watching our little tableau with guarded, uncertain eyes. Farriel moved close to Zevran, standing behind him and threading an arm through his like a frightened child cowers in the folds of its mother’s skirts. Aegan alone turned away and stalked off a few paces, muttering under his breath.
Morrigan separated her palms, revealing a curl of magical energy nestled in her palm: a glow that seemed to shimmer darkly, more a translucent flame that lived and burned than the white, hot light of Wynne’s healing magics.
She reached out her other hand, reached without looking to where the corpse of the werewolf lay, the bloodstains still wet on the leaf litter. Morrigan flexed her fingers, a tiny frown pinching her brow, and I shuddered. It felt like a sudden crawling, slimy movement, as if the whole clearing itself was trying to turn inside out.
Sten loosed a single word in abrupt Qunari, his face a picture of distaste, and turned his head, though he didn’t budge from his position.
Leliana began to protest, and Wynne shushed her, first with words and then—before she had a chance to argue—a soft bloom of healing light, applied to her forehead.
“Hold her,” she murmured.
I did. I gripped Leliana’s shoulder and arm until my knuckles turned white. Maethor whined and licked his nose. Alistair was still leaning against the tree and applying pressure to his side, though I saw the movement of his head as he looked up. I was busy holding Leliana, and holding myself in check as Morrigan guided whatever dark energy she had harnessed towards us.
She began to mutter under her breath—words that didn’t even seem to have shapes, just sequences of fluid sound—and even I could feel the power building. When she laid her hands on Leliana’s wound, the light seemed to intensify, everything tasted salty and bitter, and a whole violent wave of pressure washed up all around us. It knocked the air from me in one sharp cough, but it was over fast, and I was left light-headed as I stared down at the bloody, torn flesh, watching the ragged edges of skin appear to smoke faintly.
Morrigan sat back on her haunches and brushed her hands together.
“There. At least she shall have enough strength to fight it.”
Wynne glowered, those sharp blue eyes full of outrage and, I thought, maybe even fear. I was ready for her to savage Morrigan with a furious tirade, but she merely pursed her lips and, when she spoke, it was a low, modulated reproach.
“One might question whether using the force of the curse itself to feed her healing is not going to do more harm than good. However,” she added, turning her attention sharply back to Leliana, “I suppose it was a good use of entropic fields. We teach students to perform exercises in a very similar manner in the Circle.”
Morrigan narrowed her eyes, then rose and stalked off.
I was confused, and it probably showed.
“The life force of the dead,” Wynne said gently, stroking Leliana’s hair back from her face. “Instead of allowing it to dissipate naturally after the moment of death, the magic of entropy may harness such forces of decay and use them to provide… power. It is a complex principle.”
I grimaced, unable to avoid glancing at the dead werebeast.
“So… that is now—”
My lesson ended sharply, as Leliana let out a low groan, her body beginning to contort violently. Wynne gave quick, calm orders, and I followed, looking up to see Zevran kneeling on the bard’s feet, holding her ankles down. A very nervous Farriel accompanied him, pinning Leliana’s other arm when instructed.
It was rough, ugly doctoring. Wynne healed Leliana as best she could—healed the wound, and the broken collarbone, and most of the damaged tissue around the bite itself—but it was clear to all of us that it wasn’t enough.
She’d told me that the curse was like the taint, and that what the Dalish had suffered was much like the Joining. I couldn’t shake that thought, or the fear that accompanied it… the fear of what lay in store for my friend.