freedom_is_grey: (talking over shoulder)
Liranan keeps himself warm running in circle and occasionally providing a shadow opponent for some of Ysalwen's sword-work. Usually when she is practicing counters.

But right now she's got a book propped open on a rock in front of her, frowning and biting her lip as she moves her wrist like that, keeps her feet set like that, and with her weight on her feet like this --

"Mmmph. No, that wasn't right. Not stable enough. Liranan, bark if my weight is too far over my knee again, thank you."

And back to it she goes.
freedom_is_grey: (laughing head thrown back)
Another long day of training, of looking over volunteers, of sending out Nathaniel and Sigrun to recruit -- Velanna is terrible except among passing Dalish clans, and most of those are so small that taking one of their people seems unnecessarily cruel. Anders might have done, but the messenger she sent has yet to return with any replies.

There will be a Joining later this week, once the latest recruits come back with their vials of darkspawn blood. Ysalwen is not looking forward to it. Too many die, each and every time. (Even one feels like too many. But so it goes.)

And tonight, of course, she's lit candles at the desk in her bedroom, poring over the books and papers liberated by Leliana, Zevran, and at least one of Leliana's friends. It's a lot of material, and some of it is written in languages she doesn't speak, or dialects that are far older than what is currently spoken. It's a job to translate it, and then a second job to sift the translations for answers, for facts, for corroborations and not wild tales, for --

The air in the room feels different, suddenly. She drops her quill, gathering magic to herself for a sudden icy blast and --

Then she leaps out of her chair, turning around and flinging herself at the blond man clad in leather armor. "Zev! You're back! I thought you'd be evading Crows until I could meet you in Antiva!"

Zevran smiles, looking more worn than when they last met, but still so incredibly beautiful to her eyes. (And his own. On good days.)

"Ah, my sweet, I found it impossible to leave you alone for so long! And since you were here and the latest Master I wrote you about is dead, I thought, what better place to rest my weary bones than here! Among Wardens! You will protect me, will you not, amora? You and all of your terribly brave followers. Especially that dwarf, yes? I like her. She has spirit!"

Liranan, meanwhile, has heaved himself off the hearth, licked Zevran's hand in greeting, and taken himself out of the bedroom to go look about in the kitchens for food. He will be there all night. It's honestly safer down there. Some things a mabari does not need to know.

Ysalwen remains silent through all of this, looking up at Zevran's face and running her fingers across the new lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth. There's a new scar near his hairline, and she tugs his head down so she can kiss it, quick and light.

"I'll call for a bath, I think, seeing as you're a mess, and my shoulders ache. It should be big enough to share."

And a good, solid bath will give her plenty of time to start sating her skin hunger. Even if more adventurous doings will wait until afterwards. In what she hopes will be their bed until it's time and past time for them to leave again.

"I'm so tired of being alone."

"Ah, my sweet," Zevran murmurs, tracing her face with his own fingertips now, as if to make sure all of her is still there. "The things you say to me."

*******

It's the first time either of them has slept well, truly well, in months.

No one in the room -- nor Liranan, either, begging for treats down in the kitchen into the wee hours of the morning -- is at all surprised.
freedom_is_grey: (Brightly burning)
Weisshaupt is a mess. Not hell, no, she's already lived that time again, sometimes twice over in her dreams.

But it is a mess. Every Warden there looks at her as if she's an abomination, and at the same time as if she's nothing and less than nothing. It's maddening.

And the questions.

"What did you think you were doing?"

"Where is Warden Riordan?"

"What promises did you give to the Fereldans about what we'll do?"

"How dare you let them appoint you Warden-Commander?"

"What do you mean 'abolished the Circle'?"

And most of all the question she dreads most --

"How in the Maker's name are you still alive?"

The rest she can handle easily, responding with the truth so far as she knows it, deep breaths to keep calm, imagining Sten and Leliana and Morrigan's reactions to each man and woman in this room.

It -- helps.

And then that last one, which isn't the last, and they all know it.

"Luck and circumstance. A ritual was done to try to harness the power of the Old God as divorced from the Archdemon it became. It -- did not work, by the Maker's grace, as we found the perpetrators in time. Rendon Howe was -- a particularly unique specimen of a person, I have to say. We burned the book and all his copied notes, smashed the bottle and sent all its attendant spirits screaming into the Fade. Urthemiel will not be a problem for us again. But it's not -- something that should be replicated. Or that can be, now."

She's not sorry.

And if her half-truths and outright lies can be peace and freedom for a select few -- in addition to enough of a distraction for a particular bard-and-Crow combination to infiltrate Weisshaupt's libraries and 'liberate' a few old texts (or many old texts, and notes on same) -- well.

That's just an unfortunate side effect for everyone, isn't it?

But once she's sure her friend and beloved are away --

*****

"Enough. You've had my story thrice over, there's no more details to milk, no forgotten anecdotes to deliver, and no real way to deny that it was, indeed, a Blight that afflicted Ferelden. We were lucky beyond imagining, I know it well, and sorry though you are to have lost the opportunity to let darkspawn grow their ranks in Ferelden enough to provide a compelling force against the rest of Thedas -- one you could sweep in to save them from and thus bolster your reputation and grasp for another few Ages -- that did not happen, and I am not sorry."

Ysalwen refrains from a smile, chin tilted up just the tiniest bit.

"Grant me the same respect you give to other Warden-Commanders in other nations, and let me get back to doing the work we are all made for. You'd be fools to keep me from it, if you expect to maintain our numbers during the next gulf between Archdemons. I'll ask Orzammar to send you word, too, of what darkspawn patterns they're seeing. Just so you'll be up to date, of course. Now, if I may? I'd like to get some sleep before any strategy sessions on the morrow."

She's on her way back to Ferelden within a week.
freedom_is_grey: (limned in light)
It's possible to be so tired of travel that you're tired of being tired.

And it is important to reach Weisshaupt at her best. Otherwise -- who knows what might result, otherwise?

Which is why Ysalwen has chosen to spend the night in Milliways, in a very comfortable bed, with very good food -- fresh food -- with which to sate herself in the evening, and to break her fast with in the morning.

But now, freshly scrubbed and with a small fire burning in the grate, she lets Liranan rest on her feet and falls asleep.

Dreams are --

Bad dreams are expected, even here. Though these, at least, are not touched by darkspawn. It's a blessing.

Right?
freedom_is_grey: (sitting alone)
A note written in a spiky hand, in cypher, left with a sister in the Chantry in Denerim.

Lel,

Dearest, dearest Lel. I can't tell yet whether I've fucked it up completely, or actually done something that will give great benefit to current and future generations. I think I've done right, I'm almost certain of it, and that also gives me pause, because pride and overconfidence go hand in hand, and the world can afford me to have neither.

The mess in Amaranthine was caused by two separate factions of darkspawn. I know, it surprised me too, because how can mindless creatures of such great appetite have any opinions over which to divide themselves? It turns out that some darkspawn -- well, one -- are sentient. The Architect was the first, so far as we can tell, a very old darkspawn with little memory of his past, but with great capacity for speech and an intense desire to free his fellow darkspawn, as well as himself, from their bondage to the Archdemon and its call.

He -- she -- it -- I'm not sure what to call this Architect, but said creature/person discovered that Warden blood will wake darkspawn to sentience. Some took this well and joined him, others -- particularly a Broodmother called The Mother, were driven mad by this freedom and the absence of the song of the Archdemon from which they apparently derive great beauty and comfort. I -- cannot say that I am surprised a Broodmother would be driven mad by awareness, because certainly they are driven mad already in becoming what they are. If I could end one thing about darkspawn, and one thing only, it would be this dependence on Broodmothers -- their existence entire, even.

Of course I'm avoiding telling you what needs saying, and you're probably looking at this letter impatiently, waiting for my better nature to overwhelm my fear of your judgement and disdain. So here you are. I have allied us with said Architect, in an effort to free both Wardens and darkspawn from the Calling, and to perhaps further find a way for darkspawn to be people as they ought to have been, both above and below the surface. It would be nice to think an end to all future Blights is possible, isn't it? And for some kind of redemption to be possible for everyone.

So I think I have this under control, and I am quite prepared to take final action if the situation calls for it. But I can't be the only person sitting on this knowledge, so that if I do fail, or miss the signs of too great a danger, someone on the outside will know, and be able to take care of it if I am not.

And our dear A, as much as he is my brother, is not currently as ruthless as one might need to be to take care of this. Maybe that day will come -- I'm not sure if I want it to.

Also, Weisshaupt has recalled me in order to discuss this latest incursion, and probably as well what exactly happened to end the Fifth Blight, and how I still live and breathe. If you wish speak in person, or to berate me, or to make sure I'm still me and not some unholy creature of taint and Fade and malice, you remember well which story of yours I liked best. I'll be there in three weeks.

With love, and affection, and great trust in your judgment,

-- Ysa



*****

This letter is tucked into a drawer at the Warden's desk, tucked in-between sheets of notes on ancient Elvhen magic, Arlathan, and Tevinter depredations.

Morrigan, my friend,

I miss you. Your caustic nature, your clear observations on other people's weaknesses and motivations, your push to make me second-guess my good opinion of all around me, your knowledge of magic that I don't quite understand --

I think you'd love speaking to my latest ally. Such history, such strange magics, such a chance of connection to ancient mysteries, including the source of the Blight and what it all means. I'd have a better hope of puzzling it all out if I could speak with you, and challenge my own opinions with yours.

I hope you and the baby are well. I want to try to find you, but I also fear that it would draw attention when you least need it. The birth should be soon, should it not? Please don't die. I won't have a hope of ever seeing you or the child if you do. And I'd like to.

Maybe I'll just keep an eye out for word of you, without sending searchers myself. The world is full of gossips. And maybe luck will bring us back together at least once more.

-- Y.



*****

This letter is written in a fine, elaborate hand, and sealed in blue wax with the seal of the Warden-Commander of Ferelden.

My King and my Queen,

The darkspawn uprising at Amaranthine has been put down, and the surrounding countryside is more at peace than it was when you sent me here. Trade is fluorishing, and our tax burden next season will well be able to be returned to the same level it was pre-Howe's demise. The Warden ranks are growing, and I expect more new recruits soon. The repairs to the Vigil proceed apace, and we should be well-defended against raiders and bandits soon enough. Our troop levies will also be increased after this next season, so should our aid be required, we will be in position to give it.

Your loyal Arl,

Ysalwen Surana, Commander of the Grey in Ferelden and Arl of Amaranthine, first of her name


A second, less elaborate letter, written in a less ornate and much spikier hand, tucked into the courier's saddlebags unofficially --

Alistair,

I've made allies for us that will help keep darkspawn down, both here and in the rest of Ferelden. They'll assist Orzammar, too, but from the shadows. It's a bit of a mess, but I think it will be good in the long run. Lel will bring you more details, because much as I respect Anora -- hello, Anora's spies! Nice to chat with you! -- some things are for Warden eyes only, and perhaps one or two close associates. Weisshaupt is calling, and I'm going to go. I'll leave Nathaniel in charge while I'm away. Though he bears the Howe name, he's trustworthy, and will guard your people and your borders well.

I'll visit on my return, so you can yell at me to my face.

With affection,
Your sister-in-arms,

-- Ysa



*****

Attached to a box of cookies, sent to Par Vollen along with a posy of flowers and a breastplate made by Wade and Herren:

Sten, my honorable warrior friend and kadan,

I'm well. I have defeated my enemies and the enemies of my people, with your friend Liranan at my side. I'd like to visit, if there is a convenient time for such things. I trust I would be safe enough, were I to do so. It may be some months, however, as there is a great deal of business that will keep me occupied, both welcome and not. Look to Antiva if you'd like. Weisshaupt is doubtless too far for your Ben-Hassrath to want to deal with, unless it isn't.

Sataareth kadan hass-toh issala ebasit.

-- Ysalwen



*****

Sent along with an elaborate parasol and harness contraption, sized for a smaller-than-usual stone golem.

Wynne,

If you could pass this along to Shale, I would appreciate it. I've included a note for her, too, but given this courier looked like she'd have a heart attack if I sent her directly to our friend, this seemed like a far more sensible prospect. Next time someone with more fortitude, I promise.

How are you? The trouble in Amaranthine has mostly been settled, though some of my nobles did think to be rid of me through conspiracy. I miss your cool head and wise counsel, I'll tell you that, though Varel and my Mistress of the Exchequer, as they say in Orlais, are no slouches in the having an opinion department. I like them, and like better that they do not fear me, or fear disagreeing with me. It's more than I could have hoped for a year ago.

I wanted to ask you, too, what your thoughts are about the local schools we've started to establish for training young mages and Templars, as the Circle in Ferelden remains disbanded at my request. It is my hope that by growing and learning together, this next generation will fear each other less and respect each other more, at least as much as regular village children do by the time they are adults. If you have any other ideas, or if you run into anyone that you think would make a good teacher, please send them to Calenhad, me, or to Denerim. We need all that we can get. Greagoir is going to have kittens soon, I swear, and I definitely do not want him stepping down. He has too much trust from the remaining mages from Kinloch, despite everything. Someone new, sent by the Chantry in Orlais, might just inflame tensions rather than putting them to rest.

Here's hoping for continued peace and goodwill,

-- Ysa


And tucked in with this note,

Shale,

Several of my engineers have devised this unusual-looking contraption to keep both pigeon shit and pigeons themselves off of you. If you wear your lightning crystals, you can send a shock across the parasol structure to make them uncomfortable and hopefully train them to leave you alone entirely. And even if they prove too stupid for that, at least this way you'll have to wash the parasol rather than yourself. I know that gets tiresome.

Your flesh creature friend,

-- Ysa



*****

Given to a pirate captain with a prior association, along with a significant helping of gold, and taken to a dead drop on the border of Antiva and Rivain,

My heart,

I'll be with you soon. Make sure to leave me some mice to play with. I find myself very hungry, of late.

Yours,

-- Y.
freedom_is_grey: (talking over shoulder)
A high dragon. The Mother's lair was effectively guarded by a high dragon -- not that the dragon probably knew that is what it was there for. But as dragons do what they do --

It's a bruised, battered, and scorched party that makes its way down the long, long stairway into the Nest.

And it is that same party that is met by the Architect, and Utha, halfway down those stairs.

"Grey Warden," the Architect says, deep resonant voice so very, very calm. "I have a proposition for you."

Sigrun hisses out a curse, Anders makes a terrible joke, and Nathaniel stands rigid and ready, knocked arrow pointing straight at Utha, dwarf and former Grey Warden.

"I'm listening," Ysalwen says, chin tilted up. "Is this a 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' approach? Because I'm familiar with those, and it rarely lasts."

That seems to give the Architect pause. "It's a lasting alliance you want, then? Interesting."

"Isn't it just. But I can't condemn you for protecting your people, not when I would have done the same, and perhaps much worse, to wake them to themselves and grant them freedom. Even knowing the cost."

It is no lie, disquieting as it may also be to think. Because darkspawn.

"But together, in addition to defeating the Mother -- perhaps we can find ways to let your people be people, someday, above as well as below, instead of the monsters in the dark that are to be feared. And slaughtered."

And if they could put an end to the need for Broodmothers, if no woman would ever be taken again and turned into an unholy breeding machine --

Even that, without everything else, would be enough.

The Mother doesn't stand a chance.

And history --

Well. History will be the one to figure out what to make of this alliance. If history ever even learns of it.

Some secrets are better off kept.
freedom_is_grey: (brave speech)
There are times when Ysalwen would almost be glad to have a council with the nobles of Amaranthine interrupted by a messenger. That day, however, is not this day, largely due to the news said messenger brings.

The Mother and her forces are attacking Amaranthine, a city with limited fortifications and a comparatively large population, and containing far more merchants and traders than soldiers of any stripe.

"Velanna," she snaps. "Justice. Oghren. I need you to stay here, muster the Vigil's defenses. Oghren is in command while I'm gone, and I expect you both to obey him."

Oghren smirks, just for a second, which prompts Velanna to make a noise of disgust. But that smirk fades quickly into a sharp, calm expression, which Ysalwen finds both comforting and familiar.

"Of course, Warden-Commander," Oghren says, casting away his flask of ale as he does so. (That, too, is comforting for Commander Surana). Ysalwen smiles faintly, her attention already focused outward, making plans as they walk toward the portcullis and the path down to the city.

"Velanna, you'll muster the mages and the healers. Posting yourself on the battlements will likely be the wisest use of your skills, but if the situation changes -- "

That, of course, is why Oghren is in charge. Ysalwen can trust him to keep the fate of the people -- all the people -- in mind, moreso than salving his pride.

"And Justice. Stay near the front gate, and help any of the surrounding farmers inside -- you'll be the last line of defense for a retreat, if one is called for. Now -- Sigrun, Nathaniel, Anders, you're with me. We're going into the city. Far too many of them are going to be slaughtered if we don't make the darkspawn come for us. No backtalk, no questions, we have to go. Now."

Liranan takes point as they leave the Vigil and run down toward the city itself, hoping harder than she's hoped save that last push at Denerim that they will not be too Maker-be-damned late.

*****

What meets their eye as they approach the city gates is chaos and fire and death, death, death. The taint of darkspawn is everywhere, in some spots it's so concentrated that even estimating numbers is beyond their capabilities. But at the gate, too, there is the commander of the city watch and also a --

Well.

Apparently the Architect has sent one of his disciples, a talking darkspawn like so many they have fought before. But this one -- this one does not move against them and, as they approach, seems to be defending the captain from the surrounding darkspawn horde.

It's the work of a short series of moments to further drive the darkspawn back, and that, of course, is when the captain and the Messenger confirm that the attack on Amaranthine is meant as a distraction, to make them leave the Vigil undefended and let the Mother's secondary forces conquer it in an all-out assault even as Amaranthine burns.

"You must go," the disciple says. "Back to the Vigil, to defend it, and your people, and your position. Otherwise there remains no threat that will hold the Mother in check."

There's a moment where Ysalwen can't breathe. If she had more people, if reinforcements had ever come, if the Order in Ferelden was what it was long ago instead of this bare handful of -- no. No, it is no matter.

"We protect the city. The Vigil has been reinforced, and Oghren knows how to keep his head in a siege. We save the innocents that can be saved, we destroy the Mother, and then we see what's left behind us. In peace, vigilance. In war, victory. In death, sacrifice. We all knew what that meant, or we all should have, at the Joining. If not, now is the time to learn. Away we go, my Wardens. And we -- and our people -- shall be the only ones that come back out again."

A pause, as the Messenger fails to depart. "You're with us, if you're as good with that weapon as your brethren have been. This is not only our fight."

Sigrun and Nathaniel do not look pleased, but the Messenger -- that one simply launches itself into the fray, Liranan, strangely enough, at its side.

(Someone needs to keep a watch, and the mabari has apparently volunteered.)

"The rest of you, this way. We'll follow the screams."

They will have a victory here. Ysalwen will see to it.

And in the wake of that --

That will be time enough to start thinking about the best way to approach the Mother. And destroy her and her forces forever.
freedom_is_grey: (Field work!)
After having put on Liranan's spiked collar and carefully painted kaddis on Liranan -- just in case something terrible happens in the Labyrinth, Ysalwen straps her sword and staff to her back, shoulders her pack, and heads downstairs to pick up Quentin.

Presumably he's already waiting.
freedom_is_grey: (Liranan moving)
Some days Milliways is boring. Ysalwen insists on reading in the library, or finding lab space, or sitting in the tavern watching people and not eating anything.

Occasionally on those days she'll let him go outside by himself and run around investigating until he gets tired and wants to come in.

Today is one of those days! He is still sad that demon rabbits do not taste good, and splashing in the lake trying to catch fish only makes the merpeople glare at his splashing.

And he is not a good enough swimmer to play with Sunshine Dust. It is unfair! So now he is on the hunt for playmates. Maybe there is a houndeye around somewhere, or another dog! Another dog would be great!
freedom_is_grey: (Cloak from behind)
Given that the Labyrinth is basically an unknown quantity -- anecdotal stories aside -- Ysalwen comes downstairs geared up for a long and perilous journey.

Which is to say she's got brown and tan mage robes on, her staff and sword strapped crosswise on her back, a pack with provisions and a metric boatload of healing poultices and lyrium potions, a spellbook, a dagger, and her most comfortable traveling boots.

Liranan, at her side, is wearing a spiked collar, and his brown fur is covered in dark paint, making up a thick striped pattern. Ah, kaddis.

She sets the pack on the ground next to her, then takes a moment to look around for Bossuet.
freedom_is_grey: (Thoughtful on the town)
Some days a person just wants to go outside and play with their dog.

Some days a person also realizes that at least one other person exists that would like to play with a dog, possibly outside.

Today is one of those days, which is why Ysalwen has been following Liranan to Tacit Ronin for the past -- long time.

She's really got to ask someone to teach her to drive. This is ridiculous.

But eventually she reaches the base of the Jaeger, rests her hand on Liranan's shoulder, and calls up --

"Chuck? Are you there? It's Ysalwen."

Liranan barks three times, joyfully.

"And Liranan. He want to know if you can come out to play."
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