Chapter 12- those who are left behind
“You can’t be serious!” Cullen roared as he stared at Elariel like she was mad. “We must remove Alexius, Cullen. The mages are trapped and if we leave them there then Alexius will use them against us. I doubt he will let me walk away now.” Elariel told him fiercely. Her eyes were sparkling with anger and she was leaning over the table towards Cullen.
“We have no choice. The mages when they were free approached us willingly and in good faith. Fiona’s only request was that we save her people. Surely you can agree that they would be far more grateful to us if we welcome them as equals and full allies. They rebelled because they were given no choice. I intend to give them that chance. They will have only one but it will still be a chance. They will be equal partners after we free them from the magister’s control. Do you understand?” She demanded her voice had overtones of command and Miranda smiled to see the seeds of the Inquisitor who would lead them into battle.
Cullen met her gaze and held it for a good deal of time before letting go. “Very well Herald,” He allowed.
“Now then how shall we go about cracking this nut?” Miranda wondered as she peered at the dot labelled Redcliffe on the map.
“Not conventionally. It has withstood hundreds of assaults in the past. It’s a well-crafted stronghold,” Cassandra answered.
“We have also received an invitation for the Herald to meet with Alexius,” Josephine told them holding out the formal notary.
“Anything good?” Elariel asked sarcastically and Leliana gave a delicate snort. “He is so complementary towards you that we are certain he wants to kill you,” She told Elariel as she stared down at a pile of reports from her agent in Redcliffe.
“We need a way in,” Miranda muttered frowning. “Impenetrable fortresses are never that. Trust me, I’ve broken into and out of more of them than I care to remember,” She told them and Cassandra rolled her eyes.
“It’s true,” Miranda defended. “No stronghold is air tight. They need to get water in and sewage out. That’s the most common hole in the defenses.”
Leliana’s head snapped up. “I remember a way. We broke into Redcliffe during the Blight but we need a distraction to get through. However, if we can keep the magister occupied, then I’m sure I can get my agents into position,” She told them.
Miranda’s head came up, a feral grin in place. “Elariel takes his invitation and we get him in the back,” She told them triumphantly. “Are we going to ignore the Danger to Elariel!” Cullen demanded and Elariel shook her head.
“It’s a good plan, possibly the only plan that could work. I accept the danger and vote for this option,” She told them.
“I volunteer to lead the agents in the back. With my echolocation, I can get us past guards and traps that others might miss,” Miranda told them.
Cassandra opened her mouth to disagree but then closed it. “You are right. You have experience with this?” She asked and Miranda nodded. “I was among the party that took Troy by hiding inside a hollow wooden horse. I also helped take Dras-Leona, we snuck through the sewers to open the gate. This will be just the same, mad cultists and magic. I can do it,” She answered jauntily before fixing her eye on Elariel. “You are going to keep Cassandra close. That is not up for debate. She knows how to protect a mark and she is an excellent fighter.” Miranda commanded and Elariel nodded.
The war room door swung open and Dorian strutted in. “And, fortunately, I will be there to help with the traps,” He told them and the harried looking scout muttered something about Dorian not waiting before he retreated and closed the door. “Your spies will never get past Alexius’ magic without my help so if you are going, then I’m coming along,” He told them firmly.
“Well then, shall we plan a break in?” Miranda asked with a grin.
Elariel walked through Haven and gave a small smile. The Inquisition was growing, more and more flocked to their banner and their name was spread further each day. They left for the Hinterlands tomorrow and she wanted to talk with some of the colorful characters she had collected.
She stifled a giggle at the thought, here she was thinking about probably the most dangerous people in Thedas as if they were colorful rocks she had picked up while walking. She sat herself down in the tavern opposite Sera who was scowling at a piece of paper as she scribbled furiously on it. “What’s up Sera?” Elariel asked and the elf dismissed her with a wave.
“Trying to figure out a way to prank her royal not-demoness,” She snarled as she crossed out something with a vicious swipe.
“Why are you having trouble?” Elariel asked and Sera gave a frustrated groan and leaned back. “‘Cause I can’t think of anything to do to her. Seriously, that woman is too shiny and nice for her own good. Little people like her. She is nice and empties her own chamber pot, thanks the maids and keeps her cabin clean. She goes out of her way to make it easier on the little people and they like her for it. UUUGGGGHHH!” The elf cried in frustration.
“I think it’s because she has to work harder than us to be seen as a person and not as a demon,” Elariel remarked smoothly and Sera threw her head down to the table where it landed with a thunk.
“Still frustratin’ as hell,” She muttered into the wood grain.
“Carry on Sera,” Elariel told her with a smile, standing and giggling a little at the middle finger Sera waved at her from where she slumped before she walked outside to where Solas stood.
“Hello Solas,” She greeted and he bowed his head in acknowledgement. “Anderan atishan,” He greeted and she smiled. It was good hear Elvehn spoken every now and then. “What do you think of everything so far?” She asked him, leaning against the wall nearby.
Solas shrugged. “Everything is working, I equate that with success,” He replied and Elariel had to fight the desire to roll her eyes. Creators but sometimes Solas reminded her of Hahren Nelathen. Always diverting questions with non-committal answers and always finding something to criticize. She didn’t like Solas. He watched everything too closely and not in the way Miranda or Leliana did.
Sometimes he way he looked at her mark reminded her of a wolf, hungry and feral. Like he wanted to consume it for himself. As a result, she kept him away from her and usually with Miranda as a buffer. That and his take on the Dalish made her want to punch him in the nose.
“Very well then Solas, I hope you are ready for whatever comes next,” She told him and he inclined his head.
“Of course, Lavellan,” He replied. She walked up past the chantry and caught a glimpse of Miranda and Leliana both leaning over the table in her tent.
“They do that a lot now,” Elariel jumped and she turned to see Mother Giselle standing to the door of the Chantry. “It is good to see Sister Nightingale relax a little. When Miranda is not there she becomes darker. I think that they are good for each other,” Giselle remarked and Elariel blinked at her.
“You think that they are…” She began but mother Giselle shook her head.
“No, no. Only that I see them on the way to becoming good friends,” She replied and Elariel looked back at the two who were now engaged in some kind of debate. Leliana had her arms crossed as Miranda gestured wildly before the Spymaster gave a laugh.
Elariel could just imagine Miranda’s triumphant grin that she wore whenever she made someone laugh. “I guess I’ll leave them to it,” She mumbled to Giselle before she wandered away to see a few more people.
Elariel smoothed down her new armour and robes. Black leather boots and gloves with dark green wool and silverite armour, greaves, bracers and pauldrons. “Feels a little heavier than I’m used to,” she remarked and Cassandra sniffed. “You are still wearing it. I will not have you brought down by a bolt to the chest,” She informed Elariel archly.
“Don’t worry Sparks, we’ll keep an eye on you,” Varric told her and she took down at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Sparks?” She asked and Varric held up his hand. “If you insist on using lightning for everything I’m going to call you Sparks,” He told her.
Elariel thought about it and nodded. “Ok,” She told him. They were riding towards Redcliffe and, truth be told, Elariel felt a little naked without Miranda at her other shoulder. “Right, let’s do this,” She told them and nudged her gelding towards the castle gates.
“Ok go,” Miranda commanded sliding down the stone walls to the mouth of the water course. A grill was wedged into the stone but Miranda tore it out quietly, letting herself and Dorian into the dark with the agents following behind them. It was slow going. Miranda halted them every now and again to let guards pass them by or to disable mechanical traps. More than once she and the others had to stop and wait while Dorian disabled magical barriers and runic traps.
They arrived into the throne room at the same time as Elariel. Miranda and the other agents crept into position. Miranda sliding quickly into the shadows of the ceiling rafters and drew her bow. Her black and purple assassin robes hid her among the wavering bands of dark as she aimed her bow for the guard she had marked as hers when they were marking their positions. Dorian made his move and Miranda’s fingers tightened on the string for a moment. Waiting for the signal.
One of the agents nodded and the throat cutters go to work. Miranda loosed her arrow, the soft whistle hidden under Alexius’ ranting. She knocked and fired again, killing another before stowing her bow and waiting. “The Elder one demands this woman’s life!” Alexius cried and she leapt, hidden blade extending as she landed on her final guard’s back, the blade severing his spinal cord in one swift move.
To the rest of the room her entrance was like that of the angel of death. With her hood up and her stalks hiding her face she straightened from her crouch and advanced to stand near Elariel.
“Your men are dead Alexius,” Elariel told him with an ice calm façade.
“You are nothing but a mistake!” Alexius snarled and held up an amulet that began to glow green. “NO!” Dorian bellowed and swung his staff like a baseball bat. Miranda could only watch in horror as Elariel and Dorian vanished.
“NO!” Cassandra bellowed and drew her sword. Varric had Bianca up and firing in a blink. More Venatori poured in to the room and Miranda drew her sword but they were surrounded.
“MIRANDA!” Cassandra bellowed and the Zerg woman looked to the warrior. “Get out of here, warn the Inquisition!” She bellowed. Miranda’s eyes grew moist before they grew hard. She nodded and sheathed her blade. With one shove the guards were blasted away from the door. She ran, agents, Cassandra and Varric in her wake.
She knew her duty now. She had to hold out till Elariel returned. The gates had no chance before her, one shove blasted them from their hinges and away into the darkness. Behind her she could hear Cassandra rallying the agents to fight, to give Miranda a chance to escape. She was on the road now, sprinting with all her strength. Aitheria whistled nearby and galloped towards her, slowing a little and matching Miranda’s pace. Without breaking stride, Miranda swung up and Aitheria took off, pouring on the speed to get Miranda to Haven.
They sprinted across the Hinterlands, turning the usually five-day trek to two. It was dawn of the third day when they bounded into Haven, sweat pouring down Aitheria’s heaving flanks, froth decorating her muzzle. Miranda was grey with exhaustion but didn’t dare let herself rest. Aitheria bolted past the gates and lunged up the stone steps. People jumped out of the way and looked after her in curiosity and fear. They slid to a stop in front of the Chantry and Miranda collapsed from Aitheria’s back, staggering towards where a shocked Cullen stood. “Failed…Elariel…dead…Cass…Varric…behind…War,” she gasped heaving deep breaths, her hands on her knees.
Leliana rushed forward. “What do you mean Elariel is dead?” She demanded and Miranda told them what had happened. Josephine came out and when she heard Miranda’s news she gasped. They ushered Miranda into the war room and set to work planning.
When she tried to warn them of what was to come her jaw snapped shut. Her tongue glued itself to the roof of her mouth and her lungs refused to draw breath as a tight constriction similar to a force choke wrapped around her throat.
“Play along hunter. You cannot change this,” The voice of her handler in the Bureau whispered in her head and she nearly cried out in frustration. The pressure around her throat grew tighter and she closed her eyes in acknowledgement of her orders, the grip subsided and she took a deep shuddering breath.
“What do we do now?” She asked Leliana and Cullen. Both of them looked at each other and shook their heads. “We continue,” Leliana told them. “We may not be able to close rifts but we can still try to maintain order. You will lead the efforts on that front,” Leliana continued staring hard at the writ of the Inquisition.
Josephine and Cullen nodded. “Without Cassandra or Elariel we lack a figure in the field. You know how Elariel usually acted, you have to fill the gap,” The Commander told Miranda and Josephine bowed her head over a letter she was drafting.
Miranda nodded and felt her eyes closing. “Sleep first,” she murmured.
Miranda rode into Haven three months later with a new scar on her face and an insensate Sera tied to her saddle. Bull sat astride a massive warhorse they had found that could support his weight. His bare chest had several new, healing cuts on it and Vivienne who rode next to her had a bruise developing along her cheek. “It’s getting worse out there,” The mage told her and Miranda nodded.
“There is little we can do unfortunately,” She remarked. Bull gave a grunt. “Damn right. I like a good fight but it’s getting ridiculous. It’s no use having so many fights that you can’t rest enough to win them,” He remarked.
Miranda looked at them and felt a small surge of pride. It had taken a month of constant fighting to get this lot to get along. She and Vivienne had developed a mutual respect for each other’s talents whilst Sera and she had developed a pranking relationship. She and Bull saw eye to eye, but it had taken her literally throwing him around on the training field to get him to respect her properly. “Drinks after I hand in our reports?” Miranda asked and the two conscious ones nodded. They handed their mounts off to the stable and while Bull slung Sera over his shoulder to take to the Healers, Miranda jogged through the village to Leliana’s tent.
“You’re here. Thank the Maker. Come we must gather the Council,” The Bard told her, face a mask that dropped the ambient temperature by ten degrees.
Miranda hurried to the war room, dread curling in her belly as she thought of what the news could contain. Once they were behind closed doors Leliana face them. “Empress Celine has just been assassinated at the Winter Ball,” she informed them. Josephine gasped, Cullen swore and Miranda closed her eyes. It had begun.
“I imagine there is chaos,” She said quietly and Leliana snorted. “Chaos would be a wish come true compared to what’s happening in Orlais right now,” She told them waspishly.
Miranda reached over and put a hand on the Bard’s shoulder. “We can survive this,” She told the Bard but her words rang hollow. Nonetheless, Leliana gave a little smile and covered Miranda’s hand with her own for a moment before turning back to the table. “There will be war.” Cullen said quietly and Josephine nodded.
“The succession of the Empire was shaky at best before the Winter Ball, it was supposed to clear up the issues and lead to political stability,” The ambassador told them. “Now it’s a civil war,” Leliana finished solemnly.
“We are nowhere near ready to field an army yet,” Miranda told them and they nodded.
“In times like this we need to present a united front. We need an Inquisitor,” Leliana remarked quietly. Cullen looked at the Bard and then to Josephine who nodded. Miranda was staring at the map trying to think of a way for them to hold out and didn’t notice the looks.
“Miranda. We are appointing you Inquisitor,” Leliana told her calmly. The trick to get Miranda to agree to things was to make it sound completely normal so she didn’t automatically flag it as important.
“Mmhm ok,” Miranda answered and Josephine nodded and left, ready to make the announcement. Cullen followed behind her to do the same for the troops. Miranda’s head jerked up when the door closed and she looked at Leliana who was watching her with an expectant expression. “Wait, what?” She demanded.
“Congratulations Inquisitor Starsinger,” Leliana told her, a slight smile tugging at her lips. Miranda blinked, then blinked again.
“No, no, no that can’t be right… I’m just the Inquisition’s tame demon remember,” She argued, her voice growing higher in worry.
“No, you have become the face of the Inquisition. People know your name. They tell stories of your good deeds. Whether you like it or not, you are the Inquisitor now.” Leliana told her gently and placed an arm around Miranda’s hunched shoulders.
“You can do it,” She told Miranda gently. In the last three months Miranda and Leliana’s friendship had deepened. They often went for drinks together and when, Miranda wasn’t on assignment or Leliana busy, they would sit and talk or sing for hours into the dark. “Thanks for being here Leli,” Miranda said, letting out a long sigh. “Of course Miri.” Leliana answered.
A month later the reports came in. “Demons in the south,” Leliana told them at another meeting.
“Rifts?” Miranda asked and Leliana shook her head. “An army of demons and humans is pouring out of the Western Approach. They are tearing their way through Southern Thedas.” She told them. “And with Orlais in chaos there is nothing we can do to stop it.” She finished, looking grim.
“Fuck,” Miranda cursed before straightening. “Very well. Cullen, summon the troops. Josephine, call in the favors. Leliana blackmail everyone you can get your hands on. We need to build a resistance and we needed it built yesterday. Move,” She commanded before turning and leaving the room.
Leliana watched her go, worry at the sheer weight that had settled on Miranda’s shoulders settling in her heart. Miranda was almost constantly working. Her sleep habits had become worse than Leliana’s. Her scouts replied that Miranda had taken to prowling the streets of Haven in the dark like a caged tiger. Miranda was no stranger to command, Leliana knew that but Miranda was clearly worried about something, and that in turn made Leliana worry for her friend. With a look at her fellows who nodded, they followed her outside. They found Miranda standing in front of the Chantry, an ivory hunting horn in her hand. She looked down at it and closed her eyes before bringing it to her lips and blowing.
The sound was loud and harsh, clearly not one of theirs. The sound echoed over the village and silence fell in its wake. Another blast rolled over the mountains and another. Soon the people began to investigate and gather at the base of the Chantry. When everyone was there, Miranda looked down at them. In that moment, she looked like a queen of old, beautiful and terrible at the same time. “People of the Inquisition,” She called and silence fell. “The worst has happened. A month past we heard of the assassination of the Empress. Now in the chaos left behind, demons have emerged. They are part of an army that now burns its way through Thedas. We are the only ones organized enough to even think of putting up a resistance. So it is as your Inquisitor I declare that our mission is to defend the innocents and drive back this menace.” Her voice was calm but filled with strength and conviction, the people shuffled and whispered.
“It will be bloody. It will be hard. We will lose many in the coming months but we must fight! Who else will stand before this demon army. The Templars? The Chantry? The Empire? No. We will. We cannot afford to do anything else,” She told them. She bowed her head and then knelt, drawing her sword. The people muttered to themselves in awe. Miranda had become famous for never kneeling to anyone, in fact people joked that her motto was, ‘I do not kneel.’ Now here she was, kneeling before her subordinates.
“I command none of you to follow me. Instead I ask that those willing to sacrifice themselves for others join me. We will be staring into the jaws of death and we will have little to no support. I will not command you to your deaths but I ask for those willing to fight with me,” She told them, her voice still ringing over the now silent crowd.
Cullen took a step forward and knelt. “I will fight,” He replied and unsheathed his sword. Leliana stalked forward and several people flinched at her sudden appearance. “I will fight,” she said and bowed her head before kneeling as well. “I will serve,” Josephine called and knelt in the snow with them. The inner circle joined them, then the soldiers and the towns people. Some left, packing their bags to flee but everyone else joined.
A week later they rode out of Haven. The soldiers making for the locations of the demon army. Leliana rode with them, taking her network on the road with them, fielding hundreds of reports of the carnage they marched towards. As they went other soldiers joined them, knights and chevaliers rode side by side. Mercenaries and men-at-arms. Thousands came at their combined call. At the head of the column, rode Miranda.
She had emerged from her cabin one day wearing an intricate suit of armour embossed with twining nature motifs and the stylized symbol of a star on her chest. Hundreds of articulated plates that allowed her almost completely unimpeded movement. Her helmet was close to the head with a high metal crest that arched over her head and, on her arm, was a leaf shaped shield with two notched at shoulder height. The same star was embossed on the shield with portions of the silver metal coloured midnight blue. When asked where she had got it she simply said. “With the last alliance,” before she refused to say anything else.
A dark blue cloak sat over her shoulders and bright silver mail covered what little her armour didn’t. Aitheria had received the same treatment. Armour, procured from nowhere, encased the hind, turning her into a living tank. Together they looked like something from a legend. High above them the Breach heaved and split, growing a little larger under the tensions that pulled at it.
The winter was just beginning to lose its iron grip on Thedas, when they began their march. When they finally reached their foe, it was well into spring. They pitched camp in the Exalted Plains five miles from where they would have their first battle and everyone prepared for the next day’s engagement. Miranda had been in the forefront of everything. She had pitched her own tent and cared for Aitheria herself, even taking out a group of hunters to supplement their rations.
Now it was night. Their camp was a city of lights, torches burned and sentries patrolled. From her perch atop a spire of rock, Leliana could see the torches that marked their enemy’s camp. Miranda was no fool. She had sent scouts and spies to harry the enemy. Though the army was mostly demons, there were men and women among their ranks and it was these that the scouts attacked. Arrows, traps, random explosion. The works.
They had been at it for weeks since the army had set out and now they finally joined up with the main retinue. Lace Harding was among them, a trio of scratches adorned her face, blinding her right eye and she was missing her left pinkie but she was still as dangerous as ever, if not more so. She and her whittled down crew of scouts were invaluable in helping make the plans for the next day. Now it was silent. There was little they could do now but wait for dawn.
“All’s quiet on the western front,” Miranda’s voice broke the silence as she climbed up to sit next to Leliana on the pinnacle. She had ditched her armour and was currently in breeches and a shirt overlaid by a heavy wool cloak.
“Indeed, far too quiet for an army,” Leliana observed and Miranda nodded, her stalks clicking softly in the silence.
They were silent for a time before Miranda shifted and spoke. “Leliana, whatever happens tomorrow, know that I am glad to have known you,” The Jedi told her. Leliana looked over at the Zerg woman sharply but Miranda wasn’t looking at her.
The Zerg’s crystalline eyes watched the stars high above them with something akin to peace, even this far south they could see the Breach. Its green light staining the star field with a dull emerald gleam to the northeast.
“And it has been a pleasure to know you,” Leliana responded, her throat feeling a little thick. They sat there in silence for a little while longer before Miranda bean to sing quietly to herself. The melody was gentle and haunting but soared up to the sky
“Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars”
Leliana could feel the subtle hope woven through each word and she found herself looking at Miranda as she sang. Miranda’s eyes were closed and her face was subtly lit with starlight. Her stalks gleamed softly in the dim light and she briefly remember what they felt like when she had helped Cassandra clean them.
Smooth and hard, yet warm and fundamentally alive. She watched Miranda and felt something coiling in her chest, like a cat preparing to leap. She recognized the feeling and shivered a little at the recognition that she cared for Miranda, maybe more than she should. Miranda made her happy, for the first time in years Leliana wanted to sing. Music sang in her ears and songs wrote themselves with her fingers. Miranda was like a dancer beckoning Leliana to join her and Leliana was tired of saying no. Now she wanted to dance and only with Miranda.
As she looked at Miranda she felt her hand reach up and touch the Zerg’s cheek. For a moment, she mentally cursed her leather gloves before she found herself staring into a pair of eyes the color of blue diamonds. They almost seemed to glow in the dark and Leliana was struck by how otherworldly Miranda was, and how beautiful. She felt her body leaning closer and she had a moment of panic. She was Leliana, Spymaster of the Inquisition, the Nightingale. The most feared woman in Thedas. She was supposed to be untouchable and for ten years she had been.
Sure she had taken lovers since Majorlaine but this felt different, more important. She stopped, their faces mere centimeters away from each other. “Leliana?” Miranda breathed uncertainly and Leliana swallowed heavily at the sound of her name. They hung there for a brief moment before Leliana threw herself off the cliff she had been standing on and pressed her lips to Miranda’s. Miranda was still for a moment for she returned the kiss, her arm snaking around Leliana’s waist while Leliana’s curled around Miranda’s shoulders.
The Zerg’s lips were soft and slightly chapped from the cold wind but in that moment Leliana felt right for the first time in years. Miranda broke the kiss, pulling away slightly, her pale eyes searching Leliana’s for something. Whatever she was looking for she seemed to find it because she leaned in and captured Leliana’s lips once more.
The kiss lasted a little longer before they both pulled apart. “Me?” Miranda whispered and Leliana nodded. “Of course you,” Leliana answered. Miranda smiled and fell into a passionate kiss once more. When the need or air became pressing, they broke apart but stayed close, foreheads pressing together. Leliana stared into Miranda’s eyes, drowning in their pale depths.
“We should go to bed. We have a battle to win tomorrow,” Miranda murmured softly. Leliana nodded but they didn’t move, their arms still locked around each other. They sat there a little while longer before Miranda stirred, an apologetic look on her face but Leliana understood. She leaned in and pressed another kiss to Miranda’s lips before letting go and following Miranda down the rough rock that allowed for the climb to their perch.
Miranda walked her to her tent and gave paused outside the entrance. “Don’t you dare die tomorrow,” She told Leliana as she wrapped her arms around the bard’s waist.
“As long as you don’t either,” Leliana informed her seriously before she leaned up and kissed Miranda once more.
“Deal,” Miranda whispered to her when they pulled apart. “Sweet dreams Leliana,” She whispered and Leliana smiled. “You as well,” She replied before sliding into her tent. Miranda watched her go with a smile before she wove through the tents to her own.
Battle was joined by eleven that morning. Miranda rode at the front, shining like the star that was on her shield in the morning light. From where she stood among the archers Leliana could see Miranda as she tore through the demons. Some fell to her blade, others to the sharpened point of her shield, more to Aitheria’s hooves and antlers as well as Miranda’s use of the Force.
She was practically a one-woman army and her shrieking roars became a familiar sound. To their men, it started as a sound of fear but slowly became a rallying cry. They would pick themselves up from the ground and push themselves to reach Miranda who was often surrounded on all sides by enemies.
When she saw Miranda come off Aitheria’s back Leliana felt her heart slam painfully into her throat. For a moment, she felt like when Marjolaine had thrust the dagger into her all those years ago, but then Aitheria reared and smashed down a demon long enough for Leliana to see Miranda dancing through her enemies like a dervish and she relaxed.
They prevailed that day, though the cost was dear. The pyres for the dead burned high and bright for days afterwards. Miranda and Aitheria stumbled back to camp drenched in blood and ichor so thoroughly that their silver armour was crimson. Within her helmet, Miranda’s face was liberally coated with blood that had sprayed in from her fallen opponents. Leliana held in the urge to check on her as she busied herself around the camp making sure that her archers were taken care of by the healers but she knew that she had a responsibility to her people first.
She was a little stunned when a hand placed itself on her shoulder. She turned to see the blood drenched Miranda smiling at her, helmet tucked under one arm and her shield slung over her back. “Good to see you Leliana,” She told the bard who gave a small smile.
“Good to see you as well,” She responded. Miranda looked around quickly and seeing they were alone, leaned in and delivered a soul searing kiss. Leliana returned it enthusiastically before they broke apart, chests heaving. “Stay with me tonight?” Leliana asked, knowing that she wanted Miranda next to her tonight. She didn’t think anything would happen but she needed to know for certain that Miranda was nearby.
When she had seen Miranda go down, she had feared the worst and now she was desperate to reassure herself that the woman she had just begun to love hadn’t been taken from her like all the others.
“Of course Leli,” Miranda told her, pressing a chaste kiss to Leliana’s lips before pulling away. “But first I’m going to get cleaned up,” She informed the spymistress before striding away now whistling a jaunty tune.
Later that night as they lay curled around each other Miranda sighed in contentment. “I think I now know how Beren felt,” She murmured pressing her lips to Leliana’s copper hair.
“Who is Beren?” Leliana asked turning to look up at Miranda’s face. “A man from long ago, he was of the race of men and he fell in love with the Eldar maid Luthien. When he first saw her she was singing and he called her Tinuviel, or Nightingale. She vanished and he searched for her until she returned in spring. It was said that she was among the most beautiful Eldar maids to ever live.” Miranda replied softly before kissing Leliana as the bard smiled.
“Well, I may not have an ancient tale to compare you too but to me you are ma belle chasseresse. My beautiful huntress,” She whispered, snuggling deeper into Miranda’s embrace. She heard Miranda let out a deep purr and wrap her arms around Leliana a little tighter.
They engaged the demon army three more times in major battle and over a dozen in small skirmishes in the space of three months. After the first victory the major battles were draws at best, defeat held off by Miranda and the inner circle. Cullen fell in the third engagement, torn to pieces with a squad when a pride demon had waded into his area of the field, he had slain the demon with his last breath but the blow was a harsh one.
Leliana and Miranda held each other as they stood before the commander’s pyre, each praying for the commander’s soul in their own way. Most nights were filled with the lights of pyres now, though fewer and fewer were left to tend them. In the dark Leliana and Miranda would cling to each other, their grips sometimes enough to leave bruises but the comfort they gave each other was all that held them together. Miranda’s smiles became forced and her laughter hollow while Leliana retreated into herself, once more becoming the cold untouchable Sister Nightingale.
They lost Vivienne and Sera in a skirmish as the main army attempted to retreat toward Orlais. Solas fell protecting an evacuating village and Bull lost his other eye to a Venatori mage who did not survive to gloat. The Bull committed suicide after that, unable to deal with the loss of his sight.
The forth major engagement with the demons was in truth an ambush. The Inquisition army was passing through a series of hills when the far more manoeuvrable demons crashed into them from either side in a classic pincer. Blackwall, Leliana and Miranda had been at the head of the column, trying to decide what to do. A raven had just reached Leliana telling them of the enemy’s attack on Haven and how it and its people including Josephine had been burned alive within the Chantry.
“NO!” Miranda bellowed as a terror demon gutted Blackwall from behind when Leliana heard a sound that she had prayed never to hear again. The roar of an Archdemon. She looked up to see the blighted creature swoop down over their army, gouts of fire pouring from its jaws as the air was filled with the screams of the dying. It deposited a figure it had been holding in its claws near Miranda and Leliana. It emerged from the smoke and Leliana gagged a little at the sight.
It was tall, taller than even Bull. Eight feet of putrid flesh that was rotting off the bones or stretched painfully to the point of tearing over chunks of red crystal that jutted from its body. Long skeletal clawed fingers swung at its side and chunks of chain were pressed into its decaying form. The smell that surrounded it was one she knew well. Darkspawn. “So you are the one who thinks they can stop me,” It sneered and Miranda stared it down, stalks rattling hard and her teeth bared.
“Yes. I assume that you are the Elder one who did all this?” Miranda spat and the Elder one stared at her.
“Such a strange creature, I have not seen your like in or out of the fade but that does not matter. You should kneel before your new god” he informed them in a dead voice.
“Look ass hat, I don’t kneel, even if I did I would never pick you for my deity of choice. There are far better options than you,” Miranda snarled.
His dead eyes roved over her. “There are no gods. I have seen the black city, walked its streets and there was nothing,” He told her.
Miranda let out a harsh barking laugh. “You were looking in the wrong place ass biscuit. Gods dwell beyond the worlds,” She mocked him.
“You will die now. I will not tolerate such irreverence.” He monotone, stalking towards them.
“Run Leli!” Miranda told her before she drew her sword, turning to face the Elder one. “I killed Amon, who was twice the god you are pretending to be and ascended to godhood myself, I left that behind. I fought one on one with Kronos, King of the Titans and was offered Goddesshood for that. I turned it down. I aided in the destruction of the giantes and Gaia and they offered it to me again. AND I TURNED IT DOWN! Apophis himself drew away from me in terror when I hosted the spirit of the Goddess Sekhmet. I held off a madman with the strength of almost a thousand ancient dragons by myself. I know what being a god looks like and YOU ARE NO GOD!” She roared and lunged at him, swiping at his torso.
The Elder one let the blow fall only to look down in shock as the elven steel cut through his blighted carapace. Leliana saw what Miranda was trying to do and bolted, tearing though the underbrush that surrounded the road in a bid to escape. Behind her she could hear Miranda and the Elder one battling. Spells boomed as they exploded and Miranda’s war cry rang through the air behind her. The ground shook as they fought and the trees shivered with the power from the two.
She heard the Archdemon roar and descend towards the fight. “Die you scaly Bastard!” Miranda roared in the distance and the Archdemon screamed in pain. Demons pelted after her and she threw a knife behind her, killing one of her pursuers. An arrow flashed past her and she ducked only for a second one to hit her thigh. She fell with a cry and the demons were upon her.
“No, the Elder one wants her alive. She was their spymaster. She will know where their Herald went. Bring her,” a monotone voice droned nearby. She looked up to see a man in the armour of a Grey Warden looking blankly down at her.
“Why are you doing this? You of all people?” She demanded desperately as she writhed in the demon’s grip.
“Your Divine asked the same thing.” He noted before turning to the demon holding her. “Silence her,” The warden ordered and a spindly arm wrapped around her throat choking the air from her lungs.
She woke to a pain in her arms and the sound of harsh screaming followed by male laughter. She opened her eyes and saw that she was in a torture room. Across from her Miranda hung in a collection of twelve chains holding her suspended from the ceiling and floor. Around her neck a collar made of red lyrium sat. The flesh around the collar was veined with black and her face was a mass of bruises. A man in front of her was holding a red hot iron to the roof of her mouth whilst another man held her jaws open.
On the table nearby Leliana could see a pair of razor sharp and brilliantly white fangs and a nearly melted set of forceps. “That should keep you from biting, you little snake.” The man in front of Miranda said with satisfaction as he set the iron back in the brazier that burned nearby. He moved away and Miranda’s eyes opened. “You may have me now, but I vow to you. Your death will be long and agonizing,” she promised him. Her voices harsh like a group of ravens and her speech distorted by the burns in her mouth.
The man shrugged and left, taking his assistant with him. “Miranda,” Leliana mumbled groggily and Miranda’s eyes snapped to her. “Leli. Thank the Force you’re alive. I thought I’d lost you,” She whispered. “What happened?” Leliana struggled to remember and Miranda looked pained.
“We were ambushed. The Elder one showed up with a mother fucking dragon and killed everyone. We were the only survivors. You were spared because they want to torture some information out of you and I’m alive because I interest the Elder one. I killed his dragon and it took fifty mages to bring me down. Leliana he’s using the Grey Wardens,” She replied and Leliana stared at Miranda blankly before she remembered. “They killed the Divine,” She murmured and Miranda nodded before she bowed her head.
“Why are you still alive? I would think you were too dangerous to be allowed to live?” Leliana asked and Miranda let out a harsh, barking laugh.
“He went looking for Gods but in the wrong place. He now thinks that through me he can find the right place so he can kill them and rule supreme and unchallenged,” Miranda told her. The collar around her neck flared and she hissed in pain. “However I don’t think I’ll last too long,” Miranda continued through gritted teeth.
“What do you mean?” Leliana demanded and Miranda lifted her chin to give Leliana a good look at the collar. “They figured out that this stops me from using the Force but it’s also eating at my self-control. If I survive for long, I won’t do it sane,” She told Leliana sadly. Footsteps sounded outside the door and Miranda looked at her in terror.
“Just promise me that if my eyes ever turn yellow or amber you will hide from me. You will not talk to me or draw my attention.” Her voice faltered and she looked away. “I don’t want to kill you Leliana. You must survive. I don’t matter but you do.” The door started to open. “I love you Leliana. My Tinuviel,” she whispered as their torturer walked in with a sick smile on his face.
“So the little bird is up hmm. Let’s see how prettily she sings,” he said with a cackle. Leliana turned and fixed her eyes on Miranda as the pain began.
Nothing changed in the windowless dungeon. Time was measured, if at all by the frequency of their torture. Though the fact that they had multiple torturers made that measurement almost useless. Healers would come in occasionally and fix them up enough so they could endure another round. It hurt to see the person you loved tortured in front of you and Miranda’s screams tore at Leliana as if they were her own. Day by day Miranda changed and it broke Leliana a little more each day to see the vivacious Miranda she loved be replaced by a gibbering psychopath. Now her eyes were beginning to turn gold and black lines crept over her face as her eyes sank deeper and deeper into the sockets.
She spoke differently now too. Her words were harsh uncaring. Though whenever she looked at Leliana she would soften a little. She called her beloved in her harsher moments, laughing and talking of how she would kill those who harmed Leliana, but she never showed any inclination to their torturers who her ‘beloved’ was. In her clear-eyed moments, Miranda called her Leli or Tinuviel and tried hard to keep their captor’s attention on her so they would leave Leliana alone.
Then one day Miranda opened her eyes and not a trace of blue remained. She became truly frightening then. She laughed at the pain and goaded them to do their worse, critiquing their performance. She began to mumble in her sleep and cackle about things in the day, gloating over deaths she caused and laughing as she described tortures that made their own torturers flinch and turn a little green. She barely acknowledged Leliana after that and began to refer to the name Tinuviel in a third person, ranting about how she would destroy those who dared hurt Tinuviel. She now spent most of her time ranting and laughing, insanity and rage shining in her eyes.
She called herself the Queen of Storms then and glared out at the world. Bellowing in rage at their captors and laughing a high, demented laugh as she chanted rhymes and riddles that made no sense. Then one day a group of soldiers entered and pulled Miranda down from where she was hanging. She struggled and laughed, killing five of them with her bare hands until she was pinned and held still. A block was forced under her neck and her stalks pulled out of the way.
“He wants ’em to be unscathed,” One of the soldiers told Miranda when she laughed at their apparent concern for her appearance. She was still laughing manically as a warrior with a massive axe swung and severed her head with one blow, shattering the collar that had destroyed her in the process. Leliana watched it all dispassionately, her Miranda had died the day the blue left her eyes. The creature who had lived in Miranda’s shell had not been the woman she had grown to love. She watched as they picked up Miranda’s head by the stalks and Leliana was treated to a view of Miranda’s angry yellow eyes fading to their old blue, the colour she had so longed to see now mocking her with its glassy vacancy.
They marched out, leaving her body to rot in a corner where it had been kicked and Leliana let a tear fall. “Au revoir ma belle chasseresse,” She whispered to herself as the tears trailed down her face. As she hung there her tears faded away and a burning hatred settled in her stomach. She would make every one of them pay. All of them.
After that they turn their full attentions to her. She was forcefully injected with the taint of the Darkspawn but her body fought it off. The pain as it held the blight in limbo was excruciating but she learned to live with it.
“You will break,” today’s torturer hissed as he held a blade to her throat.
“I will die first,” She hissed at him. It was all rather routine now but she had an image to keep up after all. The door opened and someone she had never dreamed of seeing again stepped through the door. “Or you will.” She hissed and wrapped her legs around the man’s throat. He struggled but she clamped down tighter and jerked her hips to the left. There was a crunching sound and she let his body fall to the floor, letting her own legs down as well. “You’re alive,” She muttered as she stared uncomprehendingly into the tattooed face of Elariel.
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