“I can’t sense Seranni.” Alim’s voice sounded confused.
Rolan was shaking his head, clearly in agreement with the inability to sense the elf. I restrained myself from making the same movement; Rolan and Alim weren’t supposed to know I could sense the taint at all. I was guessing by the slightly ill-looking expressions on my husband’s and brother’s faces that they couldn’t feel her either.
The blond elf continued to flop around, her seizure ongoing. A loud thump from her booted foot hitting the floor brought us all back, leaping into action.
“Alim, do what you can to heal Seranni. Rolan, take Sigrun up to an empty room to rest. Do not speak to anyone – not one person, you hear? – and stay with Sigrun until we send for you.” My brother started barking orders, and we all leapt to obey. “Sierra, can you get Anders? Quietly. And send a servant to Sigrun’s room with some food – she’ll need it when she wakes.”
I nodded and bolted out of the room, Rolan right behind me with the unconscious dwarf in his arms. I peeled off to the right to get Anders from the dining room while the former templar headed up the nearest stairs.
I found one of the Vigil’s servants laying out food in the dining room, and asked her to arrange to send up two Warden-sized meals, a pint of ale, and a skin of fresh water to Sigrun’s room, before weaving my way through the mass of Wardens and Legionnaires looking for Anders. Trevian caught my eye as I passed; I gave him a nod, and he smiled, confirming what I’d guessed – he knew not everyone survived becoming a Warden, and he had been worried. Given the mutual respect between Wardens and the Legion, it made sense he’d know, but still I was surprised.
I managed to avoid Velanna, who I spotted only for a moment, standing awkwardly in a corner brooding; I had no idea what to tell her, so I was glad to be able to put it off. I ran into Zevran, who’d been flirting outrageously with one of the Legionnaires, enjoying his blushing embarrassment; with a quick promise to tell him everything later, I asked the Antivan to go watch over Rolan and make sure no one else spoke to the former templar.
Finally I found Anders. He was in the middle of some story about a cat – probably the one possessed by a demon back at Kinloch, if the appreciative giggles were anything to go by – and I interrupted him, telling him I needed his help for something personal. Solona and Leli, standing nearby, giggled and raised their eyebrows at me; I returned their smiles automatically, but knew there was no chance I’d fooled Leliana, at least. Not explaining this later is going to be just a thrill.
The mage followed me out of the dining room, bemused smile on his face, until he got to the room where Alim was pouring magic into Seranni, while Aedan and Alistair watched helplessly. Her flopping had stopped while I was gone, and now she just looked pale – pale as death, her breaths shallow and rasping.
Anders dropped to his knees beside Alim without a word and began one of his glowy diagnostic scans.
Alim gasped and let his healing stop, panting. “I’ve no idea if anything I did helped.” He and the healer held a brief, whispered conversation I couldn’t follow, something to do with life force and energy, and then Anders was the one healing the elf.
“So this is what I looked like?” I whispered, tucking myself between Alistair and Aedan.
My husband wrapped his arm around my shoulder while Aedan gripped my hand hard, eyes wide. “Worse,” Alistair replied; I felt Aedan shudder. “You seized for longer, and when you were done, you were barely breathing at all.”
“So she should just wake up, and everything will be fine.”
“Except she’s not a Warden – not really. How do we even begin to explain this to the others? To her sister? What if you were just lucky, and she doesn’t wake up? A death we could explain to Velanna. She knew the risk. But this…is something else.” Aedan looked beyond freaked out. I squeezed his hand.
“I don’t understand. It made sense – sort of – for you, with the whole magic resistance, being from somewhere else thing. But this…” Alistair rubbed the bridge of his nose with his free hand.
I thought about it. What made Seranni different from anyone else? I couldn’t remember much about her from the game, other than that, as a ghoul, she actually kept her mind; I recalled thinking that was unusual for a ghoul, and blaming the Architect – after all, hadn’t he done something similar to Genevieve and her brother Bregan in ‘The Calling’?
The germ of an idea formed.
“What if…” I hesitated, thinking frantically. “I mean, the darkspawn don’t normally kidnap people, right? Unless they’re looking to make a new broodmother, which supposedly the Architect isn’t. It seemed strange he would keep her with him. Utha, it made sense – he could use her blood for research. Seranni wasn’t a Grey Warden – what would he need a random ghoul for? But, what if…what if there was something about her that was different? Maybe…the Architect targeted her for some reason? We know he can manipulate the taint…Perhaps she has some trait that makes her resist the taint? Maybe we both do? Maybe that’s why he wanted her, and that’s why no one can sense me. Maybe that’s why he sent me away.”
Aedan and Alistair were both staring at me, fear and horror written clearly across their faces as I talked my way through the random pieces of information that were slotting themselves into place in my mind. As I waited for a response, I suddenly realised it was much too quiet, and I could no longer feel Anders’ healing magic. I looked up to see the two mages staring at me, mouths agape. And of course, they heard that. Nicely done, Sierra. I could feel my face flushing under their scrutiny.
“You…you’re a Warden?” Anders was the first to recover, expression curious but guarded.
I sighed. “Yes. Sort of. I’m like her – I took the Joining, but no one can sense me.”
He stood, glancing critically between me and the elf, who now appeared to be resting easily. “But you have Warden abilities?” I hesitated, and he continued. “Of course you do. That’s why you can stand watch. It’s why you were on the list of those who could slay the Archdemon. And why you eat like the rest of us. I never put it all together, but it’s obvious, in retrospect. When did you Join? Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I’ll explain everything later, I promise. But first – is she okay?” I gestured at the elf laying at his feet.
“I’ve no idea,” he replied, shrugging. “I’ll assume it’s a good thing the seizures stopped. I can’t find anything wrong to explain what’s happening, and healing made no difference. I think we’re just going to have to wait and see.”
Aedan sighed, tugging at his usually impeccable brown hair, which was becoming wilder by the minute. “What do we do next? The last thing we need is Weisshaupt learning we have Wardens who aren’t normal Wardens. Honestly, after our last meeting, they’ll say they have all the justification they need for kidnapping one of you. Both of you! And then they get two things they want – people to experiment on, and something to use as leverage to bring us back into the fold.”
Alim joined the conversation. “That’s why you didn’t tell anyone. You were afraid Weisshaupt would want you, to experiment on you.”
I nodded, glancing back and forth between Alim and Anders, suddenly afraid for my new, tenuous friendships. “You have to understand, it wasn’t that we didn’t trust you. We didn’t know we’d be separating from Weisshaupt. We had Riordan, Loghain, and Dougal to think about. We couldn’t know who would accidentally let things slip, and we didn’t want other people to have to lie for me.
“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life as a lab rat in Weisshaupt like Fiona.” At their puzzled glances, I huffed in frustration. “Never mind. I just…”
Alistair interrupted me. “Fiona! Andraste’s flaming butt cheeks!” He slapped himself in the forehead dramatically.
“I was just thinking…if there were two people who aren’t ‘normal’ Wardens, why aren’t there more? And then you said Fiona…”
I gasped. “Fiona’s taint is ‘gone’. What if it’s not? What if we’ve got it backward – he didn’t target us, he did something to us? We know he did something to Fiona that strangely accelerated her taint, leaving it ‘gone’ when it was over, and he did something to me too. It was his darkspawn that attacked Seranni.”
Aedan cleared his throat, looking at me and then pointedly at Alim. “We can speculate later – or better, catch the bastard and question him – but none of this helps us. What do we do with her? And there are a few too many people in on this secret for comfort now, not to mention too many who saw Seranni and know she was tainted.”
“I won’t tell anyone.” Anders smirked. “Who’d believe me anyway? And I have no desire to be ‘questioned’ by Weisshaupt. It’s Rolan you’ve got to worry about.”
“Fake her death?” Alim suggested. “Rolan isn’t here, and we can keep quiet – though I admit I have some questions.” He raised his eyebrow at me expectantly, and I sighed and nodded. “Send her off with her sister. I don’t know where; she can’t go back to her clan. But send her somewhere, and tell Rolan she didn’t make it.”
I looked at the elf anew in appreciation. “You’re crafty.” I looked back at Aedan. “We’d need to make a pyre, find a body to burn, and maybe fake Velanna having a fit and leaving. We could send her to Soldier’s Peak for now – I’m sure Avernus would be more than happy to meet someone else like me – and then send her on from there.”
“To where, though? She can’t stay at the Keep; we’re all going to relocate there eventually.” Alistair rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. “Too many people might recognise her. Maybe Lanaya? She owes us a favour.”
“I may have another idea for you,” came a voice I wasn’t expecting to hear. When I glanced down, Seranni’s eyes were open, and she had raised a shaky arm over her head to block out the light. “Oh, ugh. That was awful.”
I dropped to my knees beside the elf, taking her hand and leaning over to cast a shadow over her no-doubt-tender eyes. “How are you feeling?”
“Terrible, I’m not going to lie. But given I couldn’t be sure I’d survive – and you all weren’t sure I’d ever wake – I’ll take it.”
I laughed. It was a sheer relief to see her awake and believe she would eventually recover. Holding her hand still, I pulled her to a sitting position; someone handed me a water skin, and she took it from me gratefully, chugging half the contents in one go.
“So you heard all that, then?” Aedan asked.
She nodded, still swishing the water through her mouth – trying to rinse out the taste, I guessed. I remember that foul flavour. “Think so. You guys can’t sense me, though you should be able to. She,” the elf gestured at me, “is the same, there might be a third, and something called the Architect is to blame? Weisshaupt will have a fit if they find out. Also, something something about another world, though I’ve no idea what that means.”
I laughed and pushed myself to my feet, and Aedan helped me pull Seranni to hers, allowing her to settle on the nearby couch.
“Don’t worry about it.” I sighed and ran my hand through my tangled, curly hair. “And the Architect is the first talking darkspawn – he created the others by perverting the Joining ritual and making darkspawn drink Grey Warden blood. So you said you had an idea?”
She nodded. “The problem, as I see it, is that Weisshaupt will want to examine anyone who’s ‘different’. Right?” She waited for all of us to nod our confirmation. “So let them. I can’t go home, I can’t stay here – why shouldn’t I go to Weisshaupt?”
Aedan, Alistair, Alim, and Anders all reacted to that loudly, taking over each other, declaring reasons why she shouldn’t go; I just watched her, eyes wide with shock.
Seranni held up her hand. “I don’t have to tell them I’m not the only one. I won’t even mention this Fiona. I don’t think they’ll kill me, will they?”
Everyone looked at me. I shrugged helplessly. “They didn’t kill Fiona. She’s an elf, a Warden who the Architect did something to and somehow, her taint went away. That’s not to say they couldn’t – but I don’t know why they would. They learn more if you’re alive. But you don’t have to do this. Not for me.”
She smiled at me shyly. “You all saved me – from the darkspawn, then from the taint. I am a Grey Warden now, right? So I might as well be of use. Here, I’m a danger to you. I can’t go home. So I might as well go and see if I can help in some other way. You just have to promise to look after my sister.”
A lot more discussion on the subject ensued, but nothing anyone said could dissuade the elf from her self-appointed path. I couldn’t decide whether to be frightened for her, impressed by her, or worried about the implications for myself and the Grey Wardens in general. What if they tried to keep her against her will? What if they decided that vivisection would provide more information than a live body? What if they went after Fiona, or she accidentally revealed my existence? I finally had to excuse myself, stepping outside and hyperventilating in the hallway.
Only to look up and see Velanna standing in the hallway, scowling; her face paled when she noted a few stray tears streaking down mine.
“No, Velanna – she’s fine. She survived,” I gasped.
The elf’s stiff posture relaxed the slightest bit, and her frown eased. “What is wrong, then?”
I hesitated, finally deciding we might as well get it over with. I wiped the tears away and gestured to Velanna to follow me. I could hear the group inside still talking before I opened the door, and banged loudly as I did to ensure they got the hint.
“Guys? Velanna is here.”
I stepped aside, and Velanna entered, immediately pulling Seranni into an embrace. They whispered to each other in elven for a few moments, before Velanna turned to face us.
“You have saved my sister. I know I have been less than pleasant, but despite that, you helped her. I thank you.” Aedan grimaced and Alistair looked down, avoiding eye contact; Seranni shifted at her side, and Velanna turned to me. “What are you not telling me?”
“May I have a moment with my sister? Please?” Seranni interrupted any response I could have given. We all agreed, reluctantly, nodding respectfully to our new sister as we left.
Out in the hall, Aedan pulled Alim and Anders aside. “Not a word about Sierra, either of you. Understand?”
Both mages nodded. “I promise.” Anders squeezed my hand. “I’m quite pleased to have another sister, and I wouldn’t jeopardise that.”
Alim smiled at me. “I’ve kept bigger secrets for you when I was still living at the Circle.”
I chuckled. Alim and Anders took their leave, heading back to the main hall for food. Alistair pulled me into a tight hug.
I sniffed, pressing my nose into the crease of his neck, enjoying the comfort he offered. “Too many ‘what if’s’ for my liking.”
Aedan grunted in agreement. “Can’t do anything about it now. Seranni going to Weisshaupt will hopefully keep them occupied for a while. I had better go deal with Rolan, and then we need to explain to the rest of our Wardens what is happening. If she’s going to Weisshaupt, then at least everyone else can find out what happened.”
Aedan headed up to Sigrun’s room, and Alistair and I found an unoccupied nook inside a random nearby room to sit and cuddle for a bit until my emotions settled. Finally we joined the rest in the dining room; once everyone had eaten, Aedan ushered the Legion out, and brought in Seranni and Sigrun.
The Wardens cheered, welcoming the two new members; I watched faces to see who noticed the lack of taint palpable in Seranni. At first, no one seemed to, but then I noticed Conrad wrinkling his brow in confusion. Then I saw Wulf looking around, scratching one long, pointed ear absentmindedly. Before too many others caught on, Aedan cleared his throat and asked for everyone’s attention.
He explained to the baffled crowd that, for some reason we couldn’t explain – but were blaming on the Architect – something strange had happened at Seranni’s Joining, and that while we believed she was still a Grey Warden, we wouldn’t be able to feel her taint.
Then he told them she’d be leaving to head to Weisshaupt. The entire group started buzzing, talking amongst themselves in shock, until Aedan silenced them again. To my surprise, he announced she wouldn’t be leaving immediately, or alone.
“Until her sister has negotiated a deal to allow the Dalish safe ground and has Joined as well, she will remain and train with us. I want any of you with combat training in different techniques to work with Seranni and evaluate what style works best. I’ll not send someone on a journey that far unless they can protect themselves. Also, anyone who wishes to accompany Seranni and Velanna to Weisshaupt, please come talk to me.”
I gaped. It hadn’t occurred to me, but sending a single female elf across multiple countries probably wasn’t the safest thing. I wondered who, of our companions, might be leaving as well. I wonder if Weisshaupt will ever let them go, once they arrive.
After a brief celebration, involving yet more food and some ale, I headed to bed early. Alistair followed me, a concerned look on his handsome face.
“Sierra?” He sat on the sofa in front of the hearth, pulling me into his lap. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
I sighed. “Ripples. Ripples I can’t predict. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s driving me crazy. Will Seranni be alright? If some of our Wardens go with her, will they release them? Will they figure out why you and Aedan were hiding me? Will they ever let Fiona go if they think there’s more to learn? She supposed to go back to the Circle and lead a vote to separate from the Chantry, like seven years from now. Not that I think it was a really smart plan, but what happens if she doesn’t? I’ve changed so much, and I don’t regret it, but…I know enough of what’s coming to be afraid, and yet I can’t predict it anymore.”
“Now you know how the rest of us feel.” He smiled at me to soften the comment.
“Yeah, but you haven’t seen what I have. The Chantry in Kirkwall blown up, the Grand Cleric dead and Meredith becoming Lyrium in the Gallows…The Templars ending the Nevarran Accord, the mages fighting for their lives at Andoral’s Reach. The next ten years are going to be terrifying, and now I know I’ve changed some of it, just enough to make it even scarier.” I shuddered.
He held me tighter and kissed the crown of my head. “Come. Let me make you forget, at least for a while.”
He carried me to bed and proceeded to make good on his promise.
In the morning, nothing was resolved, but unsurprisingly, I still felt better. Aedan and Alistair left to go for a ride out around the Vigil, and I was back to my training. I sparred with Seranni – guiltily pleased that she was as bad with daggers as I had been when I started – and then managed to get on my horse without getting more than a couple new bruises. Riding was another matter, and I bumped along, feeling my ass turn blue as Samuel urged the beast to do something horrible called trotting; by the end of the lesson, I’d at least learned that I was supposed to push up on the stirrups to keep from jarring myself, and though I didn’t have the rhythm down, I understood the concept.
Varel was too busy for protocol lessons, but I ran into Leliana at lunch, and wheedled her into eating with me, correcting my formal table manners – something she was more than capable of, and mistakes were punished by sharp pokes with her fork, to my dismay – but it also gave me the opportunity to corner her about a few matters.
“So…how’re things with you and Nate?”
She smiled brilliantly, and then her face fell and she avoided eye contact, studiously staring at her soup.
“You love him, don’t you?”
The agony on her face when she finally looked up and nodded was heart wrenching. “I do. I never planned this, but I do. And yet…I cannot stay here.”
“Why not, Leli?”
“You know why. I have responsibilities. And what would I even do if I stayed? I’m Orlesian, Sierra, or close enough for the Fereldan nobility to hate me regardless. Nathaniel’s got enough of a battle on his hands to recover his family name after his father…But with an Orlesian lover? Or worse, wife?”
I raised an eyebrow at her, fighting an ironic smile. “Do you remember what you said to me when I told you Alistair deserved more?”
Leli sniffled, shaking her head.
“You told me that what he deserved should be his choice. If Nate wants to fight the nobility for you, shouldn’t that be his choice? He’s hardly unaware of the issue, I’m sure. If Cailan can make a bastard and an off-worlder a prince and princess, Nate can marry an Orlesian. He obviously thinks you’re worth it, if he’s talking marriage.”
“And what sort of wife would I be? I’m a bard, not some pampered noble. What would I even do with myself?”
“You don’t think Amaranthine will need all the help it can get to recover from Nate’s father, Bann Esmerelle, and a darkspawn invasion? You would be an enormous help to him, not to mention you could work with the Chantry, open a school...just be a wife, be loved, maybe even be a mother. Would that be so terrible?”
A few more stray tears trickled down her cheek. “No, not terrible. It would be wonderful, no? But I still have responsibilities.”
“Do you really think Jus…I mean, Dorothea wouldn’t understand?”
“I’ve been told to report to Val Royeaux, and then I’m being sent to Haven with a bunch of Chantry scholars.”
I wracked my brain for a long-forgotten epilogue slide. “And nothing will be there. The temple will be inaccessible, and no one will know why – some sort of ancient magic, an act of the Maker, or something more nefarious? But more to the point – have you told her? Maybe for once you could be happy! If you tell her…I’m sure she’d let you go.”
I wasn’t sure if that was more reassuring, or less; her face crumpled, and scrubbing tears off her face angrily, she fled from the dining room.
The next few days continued along the same lines. Alistair and Aedan rode to Amaranthine for most of one day, returning late; they reported a good start on the walls of the city, and housing for the few elves remaining in Amaranthine – most of them had been sold to slavers, unsurprisingly – had begun construction; Nate arrested Esmerelle and installed Delilah as at least temporary Bann; they confirmed the tunnels under the city were still sealed, the entrances guarded, the smugglers out of business. To my chagrin, both men had no difficulty riding horses, and neither fell off nor bruised their butts from their travels. Show offs.
Voldrik, along with some of the Orzammar stone masons, had begun work on the Vigil’s walls; Cailan had ordered stone shipped from the quarries near Denerim, after the Alienage was finished, so we didn’t have to find a source of local granite after all.
I spent some time reconnecting with my friends – Zevran, Conrad, Anders, Solona, Wulf, Bel…even Oghren. I had barely seen them in Denerim, if at all, and things had been too busy since we’d arrived at the Vigil for much more than brief chats in the hallway. I got to know Sigrun and Seranni a bit better, and started learning some elvish swearwords surreptitiously from listening to Seranni and Velanna talk.
I ordered a set of non-descript leather armour from a grumbling Wade; he reluctantly admitted that the armour given to me in Orzammar was flawless, but I needed something less noticeable for if I was travelling. The whiny armourer cheered up considerably when he learned that he’d probably be making Archdemon hide armour for Aedan and a new set of Archdemon dragon bone plate for Alistair. Herren rolled his eyes, mostly tolerantly, and only sniped at me sarcastically a little bit.
I’d finally gotten to the point where I’d stopped needing healing after riding lessons when the schedule I’d gotten used to was suddenly completely disrupted. I was sitting in the dining room eating breakfast with Aedan, Zevran, and Alistair, half-listening as they discussed sending out patrols to keep an eye on the darkspawn activity along the Pilgrim’s Path and the Knotwood Hills, to check in on Kal’Hirol, and to scout the Dragon Bone Wastes for signs of the Mother’s army, when we were interrupted by a messenger.
It wasn’t Maverlies; the young man was clearly a new recruit in Cailan’s army, and by the shortness of breath, had ridden hard all the way from Denerim and hadn’t stopped running since he’d gotten off his horse. It immediately made me nervous when he was so intent on blurting out his message that he didn’t even stop to stumble over what titles to call Alistair or me, and didn’t awkwardly genuflect like almost every other commoner we’d met since the Landsmeet.
“Commanders, my Lords, my Lady… I have urgent news from His Majesty in Denerim. He wishes you to depart for the capital immediately.” He offered Aedan a thick envelope breathlessly.
Aedan gestured for the man to have a drink and take a moment to collect himself. “Take a breath, man. Now, what in Andraste’s name has happened?”
The messenger opened his mouth, and the next words out of it would send me reeling.
“The ship carrying Her Maj- er, I mean, Lady Anora, to Nevarra was scuttled. There were some survivors, but Lady Anora wasn’t among them.”