Chapter 14- Reforging a future takes paperwork… And Booze
Elariel was quiet as they rode back toward Haven. Dorian rode next to Miranda on a long limbed dapple grey gelding. He was plying her with questions about her home or, as she was currently describing, the world where her current physical form had been born, Char. He was fascinated to hear about a place that made hell look like a vacation. “And the only water there is underground or rain?” He asked incredulously. Miranda nodded. “Yup pretty much!” She answered.
Elariel watched Miranda laugh and joke with Dorian, while Cassandra made her usual dry comments and felt the icy fingers that had wrapped around her heart loosen. She knew in her head that they were fine and that future would never happen but the bag of documents she had brought back felt like they weighed as much as Aitheria around her shoulder. They rode into Haven and Elariel had a feeling of disassociation as she looked over the happy and bustling village. She remembered Leliana’s words and the report describing the deaths of so many. Cullen, Leliana, and Josephine were waiting for them at the gate and Elariel couldn’t help but stare at Leliana.
Her skin was smooth and her eyes had a sparkle to them. A few wisps of her cooper hair were blowing outside of her hood and she smiled as she strode towards them. “Welcome back, I hear that the entire mission was a success,” She greeted them, her voice was once again light and smooth not the raven’s croak it had been. She was speaking, not screaming in grief and pain. “Indeed,” Cassandra told them and looked over her shoulder at the still mounted Herald who was staring at Leliana with tears in her eyes. Neither Elariel or Dorian would tell them what had happened when they had disappeared, only saying that they wanted to tell the story once.
Elariel had taken to clutching a tattered and stained leather satchel that was roughly packed full of what looked and sounded like papers. The satchel was spattered with what looked like blood across most of its surface. “Herald it’s good to see you,” Leliana greeted. Elariel seemed to wake up, carefully sliding down from her horse and walking over to them. She stared at Leliana hard for a moment before lunging forward and wrapping the Spymistress in a crushing hug.
Leliana instinctively hugged her back but looked up in confusion at Miranda and Cassandra. “Yeah she’s been doing that a lot,” Miranda told her with a shrug.
“And for good reason,” Dorian remarked from behind them. They looked at him but he shook his head. “Not here,” He told them.
“Sorry about that,” Elariel told Leliana letting go and backing away. “It’s just good to see you alive and well,” She told the bard thickly.
Leliana smiled at the she-elf. “It’s alright, would you like to rest or give us your report now?” She asked and Elariel looked over to Dorian.
The mage nodded his head and she turned to look at her council. “Dorian and I have some urgent news to tell you all,” She informed them, her hand going to the satchel at her side.
“Very well, let us go to the war room,” Josephine directed. “Varric too, he deserves to hear this,” She told them, a hard edge creeping into her voice. The dwarf gave her a worried look but followed them into the Chantry. The door closed behind them and Elariel took a moment to revel in the warm light of the candles.
She closed her eyes and took a few deep cleansing breaths, trying to center herself for this report. When she was as calm as she was going to get, she placed the satchel full of papers on the table and began her story, though she cut out the detail of Leliana and Miranda’s love. When she reached the part where they had found Leliana, she brought out the journal she had found. “This hold the records of everything they did to Leliana and Miranda as well as everything they said,” She told them, setting the book on the desk and continuing the story.
When she and Dorian were finished, everyone was looking at her with a horrified expression. “You mean to say I became a Force ghost after turning to the Darkside?” Miranda asked her curiously and Elariel shrugged.
“I don’t know, all I can say is that you called yourself the ghost of Redcliffe’s future and you led us to these documents.” She replied, waving a hand to the bag that now had papers and journals spilling out of its open mouth.
“This is most disturbing,” Leliana muttered and Josephine nodded. “To think, the assassination of Empress Celene would throw the Empire into chaos,” The ambassador told them and Leliana gave a short laugh. “Chaos would be an understatement compared to the actual reaction,” She answered.
“Elariel, why don’t you and Dorian get some rest? We’ll look over these documents and let you know what we find,” Miranda told her.
“That’s my cue,” Varric told them. “I need to go and find a strong drink to erase what I just heard.” He added, heading for the door. Elariel gave them an uncertain look before bowing her head and leading Dorian from the room.
Josephine leaned out and ordered on of the nearby servants to bring them food and drink before they all pulled up chairs around the table and reached for a paper or book. Both Miranda and Leliana reached for the torturer’s journal, each driven by a morbid curiosity to learn how they had faired under the knife. They stopped when they saw the other reaching for it. “How do you want to do this Leliana?” Miranda asked and the Spymistress stared down at the book, a frown marring her face.
She had pulled off her hood and her copper hair was shining in the candle light. “One reads it first, then the other?” She offered and Miranda nodded before pulling a coin out of her pocket.
“Heads you read first, tail, I do?” She asked and Leliana nodded. Miranda flipped the coin high and it spun into the air with a sweet chiming sound. The pair watched as it spun to earth only to be intercepted by Miranda who caught it and slapped it onto the back of her hand. She pulled back her covering palm and looked at the coin. “Heads,” She reported and Leliana took the book while Miranda busied herself with a sheaf of pages torn from a ledger.
The others kept sneaking glances at Leliana as she read and her face became steadily whiter and whiter before she looked up. “Don’t ask me anything, wait till I read it please,” Miranda begged as Leliana opened her mouth. Leliana looked shaken but nodded returning her attention to the book. Miranda continued to busy herself with piles and piles of papers that were everything from frenzied prayers scribbled on scrapes of paper to details of their campaign against the Elder one.
“Seems we did quite well against the demon army at first,” Miranda remarked and Cullen nodded looking up. “I have reports here of you on the battle field, they call you the Inquisitor and say that you took down a dragon single handed,” He reported and Cassandra looked up. “Really?” She asked curious and Cullen held out the report.
Cassandra took it and read out loud. “Orders for the butchering of Elder one’s dragon, slain by Inquisitor Starsinger during her capture. The Elder one was severely injured in that battle as well. It also has a list of injuries you needed to be healed from so they could begin to question you,” Cassandra’s eyes widened. “How did you survive having every bone on your right side being broken?” She demanded and Miranda leaned over to read the list.
She gave a low whistle. “That’s a lot, I know that I heal faster than humans but that’s just ridiculous,” She informed them before thinking. “Maybe I jammed myself into a healing trance as a last resort or by instinct and they used that to heal me,” She told them and they nodded.
“Anything of note Leliana?” Cassandra asked the bard who was white as a sheet by now. “I’m reading through a transcript of Miranda’s last torture session before she was terminated,” She answered in a voice of forced calm. “It’s…. enlightening,” She responded and Miranda flinched. “Do I break and tell them everything?” She asked and Leliana shook her head.
“No you are currently describing a form of torture perfected by someone you call Darth Angral. It’s… very vivid, and speaks of personal experience.” Leliana told them and Miranda grew pale.
“Force have mercy, was I suggesting that they improve their technique?” She asked uncertainly and Leliana nodded. “It says here that the habit of criticizing their methods began when your eyes turned yellow,” She reported and Miranda sagged back into her chair.
“So I succumbed,” She muttered. The others looked at her and Miranda sighed scrubbing a hand over her face. “The Zerg were created to be rage incarnate, Beasts with no true will or desire but to destroy. It took a lot of effort for Sarah and I to change them into something with more… purpose. Meanwhile Jedi have their own counterparts, the Sith. Whilst Jedi embrace peace, harmony and cooperation, the Sith embrace the usage of hate, fear and anger as conduits. As a force wielding Zerg I have to keep my emotions under strict control less I succumb to my specie’s natural darkness. If I fell to the Darkside and embraced my rage then it was likely that this red lyrium collar was responsible,” She sighed, frowning.
“Red lyrium is known to drive people to madness, you are not alone in this,” Cassandra told her and Miranda nodded. “Well let’s just keep everyone away from the stuff then,” She quipped before looking back at the bard. “So if I was stark raving mad and hopped up on the Darkside what did I say other then tell them they were sloppy?” She asked and Leliana gingerly placed down the book.
“You also throw about liberal death threats and laugh manically when you tell them the rebel base was on Dantooine,” Miranda’s lips twitched and Leliana continued. “And that the swarm would devour their biomass. You also sometimes tell them that you will flay them alive with your mind for hurting someone you call Tinuviel,” She added and Miranda frowned.
“Tinuviel?” She asked and Leliana nodded. “You mention Tinuviel a lot, but they never could figure out who this person was.” She reported.
“Hmm, Tinuviel…” Miranda looked up at Leliana and a thoughtful look came over her face. “Huh, that’s hardly imaginative,” She muttered before shaking her head. “Anything else?” she asked and Leliana shrugged.
“There was some recitation of poetry and occasionally chanting the words: Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg…” She read them out and Miranda flinched. “Don’t read those words out loud. Don’t even think them.” She interrupted Leliana sharply.
“Why?” Josephine asked and Miranda shuddered.
“That is the black speech. If I was chanting that all the time, then I was truly gone. The very words are practically darkness given phonetic form. I only know that phrase and for me to repeat that means I was drawing strength from the inherent evil from those words.” She told them in a low voice before continuing. “The language was created by a true dark lord, it should never be uttered in a place where the light dwells,” Miranda shivered again and scrubbed her arms. “Nasty stuff. What about you Leliana, what happened to you?” She asked and Leliana looked at the book with a blank expression that was betrayed by the hate in her eyes that she know had for the book.
“Standard Bard evasion tactics, I simply refused to tell them anything, simply stating that I would die before I broke,” She leaned back a little. “Apparently I would also regularly kill my captors, not often enough for them to figure out how I was doing it,” She told them and reached for a glass of wine that was sitting on the table next to her. Miranda reached out and picked up the book. “My turn I guess,” She told them and opened the first page.
The others continued to search through the pages, putting aside the frantic nonsense of the insane in one pile and the reports in a collection of spies as to what they referred to. The ledgers were gathered and sorted through, the names of suppliers and spies were divided to be looked over by bother Josephine and Leliana. Miranda’s grip on the book grew tighter and her face had long ago emptied itself of emotion. Leliana looked at Miranda’s chalk white knuckles is concern but the Zerg woman simply turned the next page before her hands resumed their death grip on the book. When she finished she put it down, closed her eyes and leaned back with a sigh.
“So I reverted. I always knew she was in there somewhere,” Miranda breathed, it was so quiet that Leliana only heard it because she was sitting next to Miranda and focusing on her.
“Who?” She asked quietly. Miranda’s eyes snapped open and she looked at Leliana. “I was very angry in my younger years. I and my sister took monikers for our enemies to fear us. She was the Queen of Blades and I was the Queen of Storms. Together we sowed fear into the hearts of all within the Koprulu sector. Then we were removed from power, I took it up again and we joined forces with our enemies to defeat our own version of your elder one. After that I joined the Jedi and she married a nice guy.” Miranda told her in a quiet voice.
Leliana looked at her in uncertainty. “You were a queen?” she whispered and Miranda shrugged.
“Yup, leader of the Zerg swarm until I abdicated, leaving the swarm to Sarah after her husband’s death. We live a lot longer than humans so she had a long full life with him before returning to the swarm,” She answered and Leliana blinked.
“Just how old are you?” She asked a little louder and everyone at the table turned to look at them, all with curious and expectant expressions.
Miranda looked around the table and sighed. “By my last count, I am twenty-eight cycles,” She told them. Everyone blinked. “You mean years?” Josephine asked and Miranda shook her head. “No, the standard year is 365 days but where I live we have a different calendar. We tend to measure in cycles. I don’t have an accurate measurement for you. Let’s just say I’m at the level of physical maturity of a twenty-nine-year-old human,” Miranda told them and they all blinked.
“I can work with that,” Josephine told her and the others gave a nod. Miranda let out a sigh and turned her attention to the papers in front of her. If the others knew that a cycle among the bureau was ten thousand years she would be screwed. The bureau itself was approximately eighty cycles old and time didn’t really exist between universes.
Nor did anyone in the bureau really age, they just continued until they either retired to the underworld of their choice, their contract was terminated, or their soul was destroyed on a level that couldn’t be regenerated. Miranda shook her head and focus on sorting the papers her ghost had directed Elariel to.
Later that night Miranda sat in her cabin, a tall blue glass bottle of vodka that she had requested and received from the Bureau. She was staring at the hand-written label with a look of indecision. Viskar’s Distillery it read and the picture of a kraken wrapping itself around a man-o-war sat beneath the label. It was brewed by an old member of the bureau who had chosen to make spirits between missions. Viskar’s alcohols had a slogan that had become synonymous to the spirits he sold.
To remember or forget. was the distillery’s motto and they certainly delivered. It was her preferred distillery out of all the others. She had toasted the birth of nieces and nephews, weddings of siblings, deaths of old friends and victories long past. But she had also attempted to drown herself in the bottles, trying to erase the memories she sometimes could no fight. Tonight was a night to drown the memories. Reading that journal had thrown up a lot of things that should stay buried in her head. She was no saint. She had seen and done terrible things, and reading about the things her future-self had rambled about had brought a few specters into the fore of her mind again.
She was reaching for the bottle when there was a knock at the door. She stood with a sigh and walked over to it. Opening it to reveal Leliana with a bottle of something tucked under her arm. “I didn’t want to drink alone,” She offered holding up the bottle. Miranda looked at her and gave a small smile. “Come in, I was just trying to decide whether I was going to do the same,” She offered stepping aside. Leliana walked into the warmly lit cabin and saw the bottle waiting on Miranda’s table/desk. She placed her bottle next to Miranda’s and took a seat on the stool Miranda had secured in her room along with her rough chair. Miranda fished into her bag and pulled out a pair of pewter shot glasses with the scene of Jedi battling Sith pressed into the side. “These are beautiful,” Leliana remarked softly, taking one and running her fingers over the delicate scene before handing them back to Miranda
Miranda nodded. “They were a gift from a smuggler friend of mine after the end of the Hyperspace war.” She responded before she picked up the unlabelled bottle from Leliana and looked at the clear contents. “What did you bring?” Miranda asked looking at Leliana’s bottle and the woman shrugged. “A spirit I picked up three years ago. It doesn’t have a name and I’ve been meaning to drink it.” She told Miranda and the woman nodded.
“Mine or yours?” She asked and Leliana cocked her head to the side. “Let’s try yours first,” She offered and Miranda reached for the sapphire colored bottle. The cork popped out with a sweet sound and Miranda poured a generous helping into the glasses before handing one to Leliana and taking the other.
What is it?” the Bard wondered, looking at the clear spirit and blinking a little at the strong scent of alcohol that drifted from the glass. “It’s vodka, a strong one meant to help forget,” She told Leliana. The Bard nodded and took the glass. They met each other’s eyes and nodded before tossing back the contents. Miranda closed her eyes and savored the burn as it raced down her throat and settled in her stomach like a roiling serpent made of fiendfyre. Leliana gave a small gasp at the strong liquor burned her mouth and throat. She wordlessly held out her glass for more and Miranda obliged, filling their glasses again as they drank in relative silence.
They were sipping on their eighth shot when Leliana spoke. “Miranda, who is Tinuviel?” She asked and Miranda looked up from where she had been tracing the battle on her glass. “Why do you want to know?” She asked curiously. Leliana blushed a little but forged on ahead.
“You mention her a lot in your ramblings, interspersed with the term beloved, was there someone waiting for you?” She asked and Miranda gave a bitter laugh.
“Ha, no there was no one waiting for me, or if there is then I don’t know where they are. Tinuviel is the name of a historical figure from Eldar antiquity. She was a princess of the Eldar and she fell in love with an Eldain. Beren was his name. Tinuviel’s real name was Luthien, but when she was out singing and dancing, Beren stumbled across her and gave her the name Tinuviel. It stuck and she became known afterwards as Luthien Tinuviel.” She mumbled and shaking her head. “I must not have been very imaginative to call someone that,” She told Leliana and shook her head.
“No I think this Tinuviel was someone I grew close to during the war. It’s the only explanation,” She told Leliana, who watched her with calculating eyes. She could see that Miranda knew who this Tinuviel might be but was reluctant to say so. For what reason, Leliana couldn’t figure out. In truth Miranda was rather appalled with herself for coming up with that nickname but, in a way, she could see her alternate self’s reasoning. It did point a flaming arrow to the one who held her heart. It sparked a tiny flame of hope that she didn’t dare speak aloud for fear of the despair that would follow if she was wrong.
Miranda gave a small smile and shook her head. She took a short glance at the red head next to her from the corner of her eye before reaching for the bottle Leliana had brought. “Wanna open this?” She asked and Leliana nodded, throwing back her current shot and holding out the glass for more. Leliana’s spirit tasted like gin and a rather botanical version that reminded Miranda idly that she should set up a still to make more of the stuff. She rather enjoyed the spirit.
The night passed in such a manner, one asking the other low questions. There were tears, both silent and loud. They ended up sitting on Miranda’s bed with their backs against the wall as Leliana clung to Miranda and sobbing, letting herself cry for everything she had lost recently. Miranda herself had silent tears on her face as she mourned her alternate self, when she meditated she could feel the echo of that future, held in remembrance beyond the touch of time. It felt chaotic, and in paint. Memories raging unchecked and emotional control in tatters. This in turn led to her mourning and remembering the people she had murdered in her darker moments. But among the darkness was a tiny spark that timidly joined the minute flame of hope she held tightly in her heart.
She silently raised a glass for the millions that had died under her rule as the Queen of Storms and her brief fall to the Darkside. Leliana fell asleep leaning against Miranda as the Zerg continued drinking, cradling the vodka bottle in her hand, the cup sitting next to Leliana’s on the table, finally empty. Towards dawn, Miranda levitated the empty bottle back to the table before summoning a flask of stuff that was designed to knock someone with a rapid metabolism on their ass. With the number of mutated people employed in the bureau there was a market for alcohol that normal people simply couldn’t drink. Miranda’s flask was filled with a variety of Ryncol. As she was steadily working through it she felt thought slipping, not quickly enough for her taste. She began muttering expletives as she drank, listing through the thousands of swearwords in the many different languages she knew. Eventually the flask slipped from her fingers and her head drooped until it came to rest on top of Leliana’s as Miranda finally slept.
Dawn crept through the shadows and Miranda blearily opened an eye at the sounds of the waking town that pounded in her head, now sensitive from the alcohol. She lifted her head and looked down at Leliana who still had a tight grip on the slumped Zerg, her face still stained with tears. She reached her free arm out and gently poked the slumbering spymaster. Leliana cracked a bloodshot blue eye frown where she was slumped and rolled it up to look at her in a faint question.
“Dawn,” Miranda told her hoarsely. Leliana turned her eye over to the bottles that still stood on the table. The vodka had run dry around three in the morning and the bottle of spirits Leliana had brought stood with four fingers left in the bottom. It then roamed down to the empty flask that sat on the bed next to Miranda’s leg and then to where her arms were locked around Miranda’s right arm and midsection. She gave a groan and let go, heaving her body upright and then falling forward to clutch her head. Miranda eased away and knelt next to the hearth, poking a fire back to life from the bed of embers that remained and filling the hearth with wood that caught easily.
She went outside and filled the kettle from the well and returned, hanging the cast iron too over the now crackling flames before she began digging around in her back of holding for some of the herbs she kept in there. Leliana watched from where she was slumped against the wall as Miranda threw pinched of various powders and dried leaves into the kettle, stirring it occasionally with a long twig. The room was soon filled with a minty, spice infused scent that tickled the inside of her nose. After a few minutes the fire heated the cabin and the water till it was steaming. Miranda poured the dark amber tea into a pair of clay mugs that she had and walked over to Leliana.
The spymistress took the mug and cautiously sipped it. It was spicy but not in a way the burned the tongue. It lingered with taste of licorice and mint as well. The taste was not entirely pleasant but it settled her roiling stomach and calmed her head ache. Miranda was sipping it too as she sat on the chair next to the bed. “Thanks,” Leliana rasped once she was feeling a little more human.
Miranda nodded to her and focused her eyes on the fire, still sipping her tea. “Don’t mention it, we both were shaken by that book,” She told Leliana who nodded. “At least now we know what to do so it will never happen,” Leliana reassured her and Miranda smiled.
“After we finish this, want to go find breakfast?” She asked and Leliana shrugged before nodding. “If this works and makes me functional again sure,” She told the Zerg who gave a small and began to drink deeply from her cup. In the end, it took three mugs of tea to get Leliana moving again. She undid her hood and shook out the purple fabric, trying to remove the wrinkles from the fabric from where she had crushed it in her sleep.
Miranda simple tugged on a new travel dress over her skin tight black corset and leggings. She bound her hair into a high pony tail and strapped on her sword before she and Leliana walked out into the early morning and wandered over to the Tavern. When they entered, Flissa hurried over to them and gestured to a seat in the corner before delivering tea and food to the pair. Miranda’s consisted of a large druffalo steak that had had a passing acquaintance with fire but was still quite raw.
Leliana contented herself with a bowl of porridge filled with dried fruits and a dollop of honey. They ate in relative silence but were quickly joined by Cassandra who sat at their table and gave them each a firm nod before digging into her meal. Vivienne swept in and took a look over at the trio eating before striding over to a table in the opposite corner from them and settling herself imperiously. A few minor nobles who had joined recently attempted to join her and she held court. Miranda looked up and caught the eyes of her companions and rolled her eyes. Josephine wandered in and sat herself next to Leliana and yawned into the tea that Flissa provided her with. Elariel wandered in and Vivienne called out to her, from her throne. “Ahh my dear Herald, come join us,” Elariel looked at the rather bustling Enchanters table before she looked over to where most of her inner council sat silently.
Miranda gave her a small smile and nodded. Elariel, with an uncertain look, glanced between the two tables before Dorian who was behind her simply grabbed her arm. “So sorry First Enchanter but the Herald has already promised to introduce me to her council properly,” He told the woman before leading Elariel over to Miranda’s table. Vivienne glared at Dorian’s back and Miranda was surprised the mage didn’t spontaneously combust under the heat in her gaze.
“What a charming lady,” He told them as he settled at the table and Miranda nodded. “Quite. She has decided that she should replace me in Elariel’s main loadout of team members. What she doesn’t realize is that Elariel can’t leave me behind,” She told the mage who raised an eyebrow. “Really?” He asked and Miranda nodded.
“I’m keeping the mark from parasitically attaching itself to Elariel’s soul,” She told him and Dorian frowned before understanding dawned on his face. “Ahh is that the silver light around the mark?” He asked and Miranda nodded. “I can’t remove it. It’s too deeply entrenched and we need it.” She told the mage who now looked utterly fascinated.
“And how did you develop this technique?” He asked and Miranda smiled before describing the epic groveling session she had underwent to get the young Barsen’thor Idalia Darksky to give her the people at the table laughed at how she had been forced to propose a one night stand to the stiffest master in the entire order before kissing the Grandmaster in the middle of the dining hall, with tongue as payment to get the ritual.
“There was dead silence before Satele just blinked before she said. “your technique needs work”” Miranda told them, laughing loudly. “Then she strode out, cool as you please. Idalia came up and congratulated me and the entirety of the order began to applaud. To this day I think she set it up with Satele, the woman’s smirk was downright smug for days afterwards” she finished, grinning widely. The rest of her table was laughing hard and everyone was smiling. Miranda felt a moment of pride at being able to banish the slightly haunted look that swam in Elariel’s expressive eyes. Even if it was only temporary.
“How long do you think it will take for the mages to arrive?” Miranda asked Leliana from her spot at the war table. The spymistress shrugged. “Another five days at the very least. We received the caravans containing their elderly and the children yesterday,” She reported and Cullen sighed. “We need to increase the Templar training,” He said simply and Leliana glared at him. “We are not going to lock them up,” she declared angrily.
Elariel shook her head before massaging her temples. “If we don’t then soon we will have abominations running around,” the ex-templar declared and Josephine glared at him. “We cannot go back on our word,” she told him fiercely. “It would make the Inquisition appear incompetent at best and tyrannical at worst,” She told him waving her pen at him in emphases. “Not to mention that this is their first true chance to attempt to be self-sufficient,” Miranda added from where she stood. Elariel sighed and briefly wondered if it would be considered rude to tell them all to go sit in a corner like the children they were behaving like. For a moment, she had a vision of all her advisors scaled down to child size and giggled.
The others turned to look at her and Miranda raised an eyebrow. “We being ridiculous again?” She asked and Elariel nodded, still giggling. Cullen let loose and gusty sigh and Leliana smiled a little at the Herald’s mirth. She reminded them to smile, her naiveté gave Leliana a small bout of hope for the world. Even Miranda who acted far too childish for her age was still a bit of a cynic. Elariel brought sheer, raw hope to the Inquisition. Something her grimmer advisors lacked. Miranda shook her head in fond exasperation before she turned to the table and placed her hands down in a firm gesture. “Ok, let’s think this through and compromise,” She offered.
Cullen turned back and Leliana watched with a raised eyebrow. “We let the mages do their own thing but this is their one chance. They get out of control and we bust out the Templars. Does this work for you Cullen?” She demanded and the commander gave a sour grunt. Elariel looked the all over and gave a nod. “I agree,” She told them and Leliana let out a half smile. “Very well, we shall allow it,” Cassandra told them but she looked a little uncomfortable.
Miranda slung an arm over her shoulder. “Cheer up Cass, we’re now pros at slaying demons and abominations. We can handle one if one appears,” She told the Seeker who glared at her.
“Don’t call me Cass,” She informed Miranda in a dangerous voice. Miranda merely laughed and patted the Seeker’s shoulder before letting go and returning to her spot at the table, leaving the fuming Seeker behind. Elariel smiled a little and turned her attention to the next order of business.
Vivienne was displeased. If she were anyone else then she would have been angry, but Vivienne was above such petty emotions. No, the iron enchanter was simply miffed. She had been attempting to cultivate the young Herald, take the naïve little elf mage under her wing and guide her on the proper path. But no, the Zerg woman was constantly blocking her. Worst of all she never appeared to be doing it on purpose. It was almost as if she was not even trying to best Vivienne but the enchanter was on to her. She would not allow some unknown entity to beat her in the Game after Miranda’s first tirade had stumped her.
She laid traps for Miranda in their conversations but the infuriating woman simply laughed and skipped nimbly through the mine field that Vivienne so carefully prepared. The main problem was that Miranda was unpredictable and likeable. Two traits that made Vivienne grind her teeth as she smiled at the woman. When she had found out about Miranda’s shielding of Elariel’s Mark the Zerg had simply explained it in a way that lured Vivienne into a deeply esoteric discussion on the origin of energy. It had lasted for hours and drawn a crowd of senior mages who had managed to draw out the debate for nearly two days, during which Miranda would slip away.
She allowed a small frown to mar her face before she smoothed over features and stalked to where Miranda laughed whilst surrounded by a bevy of the local children. Miranda held her hands in a mockery of claws and gave a comedic roar before exaggeratedly stalking after the giggling hoards that fled her.
“Rawwwr! Puny little mortals to think you can escape me?” She demanded in an utterly ridiculous voice “I am Tevos the terrible! I will eat you all for supper!” She cried as she chased after the children. She managed to grab a young boy and hoisted him up by his ankles in a surprising show of force. “I have caught you!” She crowed. “Now you shall be punished for defying the rule of the Council!” She informed her hostage before tickling him. The little boy squirmed in her grip and shrieked with laughter.
Meanwhile a group of older children circled behind her and lunged for her back with a cry of, “GET HER!” Miranda let the boy go as she let them take her to the ground, gently setting the boy down with the force as she was dogpiled by over twelve children. She emerged from the giggling hoard and one of the children let loose a blast of ice the struck Miranda in the chest. The entire scene froze and Vivienne was striding toward the group. Templars were looking up and reaching for their swords. The young Elvehn child looked barely older than four and had an expression of absolute terror on her face. Miranda’s expression was one of shock as she stared down at the ice that was slowly encircling her heart.
She closed her eyes and the children called out in fear but the ice melted and Miranda’s eyes snapped open and she let out a rasping laugh. “Wow you pack quite a punch little one!” She gasped, reaching a hand up to massage her chest. The child backed away looking at her hands in horror but Miranda reached out her arms and enfolded the little child in her arms. The other children began to back away but Miranda shook her head at them.
“Did you all see how good Senna’s aim was?” She asked them all in a stronger voice and the child in her arms ceased her struggling. All of them including Vivienne and the Templars stared at Miranda. “That was a little excessive in terms of force but Senna did a good thing,” She told them all.
“But mages are evil. They hurt people and become demons,” A tall boy said pointing at Senna who shrank into Miranda’s arms.
“No” Miranda told him shaking her head, and rubbing small circles on little Senna’s back. “Senna is gifted. Magic is special. When the dark closes in, Senna can make light, just as when the monster draw near and you can hit them James,” She told him.
“But mother Hermia said that,” He began and Miranda shook her head.
“Mages are just like you and me. When a mage cuts their finger they bleed red just like you do. Senna is exactly the same as she has always been. Does she look like a monster?” She asked and the children shook their heads. “When you treat someone badly they try to fight back. Sometimes they are not strong enough to win and so the scared ones turn to those who they think will help them win. If mages aren’t scared, then they don’t need to look to demons,” She told them and the children looked uncertain but Miranda looked all of them in the eye with a serious expression.
“I have had my life saved by mages and the Herald of Andraste is a mage. Doesn’t that tell you that they are not bad people?” She asked them all firmly. There was some muttering and Miranda stood. “I think lunch will be served soon, why don’t you all go and get in line before anyone else does?” She told them. They grudgingly left but Senna remained in Miranda’s arms. Miranda settled the young girl on her hip and stood, seeing the Templars and Vivienne looking at her. “An overly simplistic view,” The Grand Enchanter told blandly.
Little Senna buried her face in Miranda’s shoulder but the Zerg simply smiled and rub the girls back. “Absolutely, but no less true. Do you not bleed red Vivienne? Or have you evolved beyond such mortal failings?” She asked politely.
Vivienne raised an eyebrow at her. “Hardly my dear, I merely mean to say that your views on magic are incorrect and overly simplified,” She told the Zerg woman haughtily.
Miranda raised an eyebrow back at the enchanter, her hand never stopping its soothing motions on Senna’s back. “Was it not the desperation and fear of the mages in Kirkwall that led to their turning to blood magic?” She asked curiously and Vivienne gave a slight glare.
“It was the actions of the weak and foolish,” she answered harshly and Miranda gave a small smile, much to Vivienne’s confusion.
“The weak who dared to dream that they could live a life differently? Certainly their methodology was foolish and their lack of self-assurance damming but is the caged bird to fault for dreaming that it could fly beyond the bars of its cage as its fellows do?” Miranda asked with a wistful expression.
“Birds do not have the ability to burn down a village in a fit of pique,” Vivienne told her in a dark voice. The girl in Miranda’s arm gave a small whimper and clutched Miranda tighter. “She nearly killed you,” The Enchanter continued, hammering the blow home, infuriated by Miranda’s continued calm.
“So could Cassandra, all it would take is for a handful of slit throats and a few dozen well placed torches for her to do the same.” The Zerg woman pointed out before she looked down at the child in her arms and gave a small smile before looking up. “She will need training. I do not dispute that but if she is given a safe space to learn with people she can trust. Those who truly want to help her rather than a place where she will be derided and abused regularly, don’t we as adults have an undeniable duty to ensure that she is raised to be the healthiest individual she can be, mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well as physically?” Miranda asked before she turned to walk away.
“Can you truly claim that your childhood in the Circle was healthy for you emotionally? Or do you assume that your frigid demeanour is a natural state?” She asked over her shoulder before she disappeared towards where the mages were now camped.
Vivienne stared, memories of her time in the circle resurfacing, the several punishments she had endured for insubordinate behaviour. “It was necessary, I was too wild and reckless,” She reminded herself. “I was a danger to myself and my fellow mages,” She muttered before nodding to herself in conviction and striding back to her place in the Chantry and fuming at how Miranda had escaped her again.
A shadow watched them from the shadows of the spymistress’ tent. Leliana smiled a little as she watched Miranda stalk away with the little girl balanced on her hip. “She is very good with children,” Mother Giselle noted and Leliana refrained from jumping at the mother’s sudden arrival. “She is,” The bard noted quietly.
Miranda and Cassandra finished their morning spar with Cassandra on the ground and Miranda with an already fading black eye. “That was a dirty trick” Cassandra informed her as the Zerg hauled her to her feet.
“Use what you have” Miranda told her with a grin. “Besides, no one ever expects snow in the eyes. dirt, sand or even rocks but for some reason snow is always ignored” she elaborated and Cassandra gave a disgusted snort, furious that she had fallen for such a common trick.
“It also doesn’t hurt that you were expecting fancy and complicated moves” came a deep rumbling voice and they both turned to see the massive form of The Iron Bull looming over them. Cassandra nodded in agreement with the assessment.
“That’s why I did it” Miranda told the Seeker with a rather smug grin. Cassandra slugged Miranda in the shoulder and the Zerg gave a rather undignified yelp, rubbing the point of contact. Bull laughed at the pair but his grin turned a little feral.
“So, you’re the inquisitions tame not demon huh” he remarked and Miranda raised an eyebrow at him while Cassandra’s brow furrowed. “She’s not a tame anything” the Seeker snapped and Miranda felt a flash of happiness at the Seekers protective gesture.
Bull held up his hands in a placating gesture. “Hey, its all cool, didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just I’ve been noticing that you’re actually a lot stronger than you let on” he told Miranda who cocked her head, point. “So here’s what I’m thinking” he told her. “You, me and a spar, no weapons” he told her and a small smile curled on her lips.
“So what you mean is I put down my sword, you put down your hammer and we try to kill each other like civilised people… Sportsman like?” she asked and Bull blinked… or winked, the eye patch made it hard to tell. “Sure why not” he rumbled and Miranda shrugged. “OK” she answered.
Cassandra gripped her arm “you can’t be serious!” she chastised the woman and Miranda grinned. “why not, it’ll be fun!” she answered cheekily. “One punch from him could kill you!” The seeker persisted and Miranda’s grin grew by a few molars. “So could he” she replied before stalking over to the clear ground where Bull and now a group of his chargers.
Miranda began to unlace her travel dress as she walked, Cassandra keeping pace as she attempted to argue. Miranda simply shoved the charcoal grey wool into the seekers arms along with her sword and her more noticeable knives. “Till concession?” Miranda asked as she flexed her hands. Bull gave a grin. “Absolutely, hope you like the taste of snow” he told her as he flexed his bulging muscles.
“What’s going on here?” Elariel asked running up, most of the inner circle, Cullen and Leliana with her. “Friendly bout” Miranda called as she bent her knees and began to prowl towards Bull. “WHAT?” Elariel cried out before turning to Cassandra who still had her arms full of Miranda’s dress and knives. Leliana’s eye snapped to the smirking Miranda who was standing across from the bull.
The Seeker scowled but it was too late. Bull gave a bellow like his namesake and steamrolled towards Miranda. The Zerg woman, for her part shifted into a ready stance, preparing to catch him. Everyone watched in horror as the Bull ploughed into her. She held her arms out in a grappling position and caught the behemoth on his shoulders.
Bull grunted in surprise as he came to sudden stop. Miranda had been pushed back a little, the snow bunching up behind her heels before she made her move, using his still existing momentum. Bull’s eye widened before Miranda shifted her hold and propelled him up and over her shoulder. He slammed into the ground, unable to brace for the impact he had not been expecting.
Everyone stared in shock at the woman who had just thrown the Bull ten feet after withstanding his charge. Miranda wasted no time, lunging after the downed bull who was picking himself up. Her feet slammed down into his shoulders, forcing him back down before she grabbed his arms and twisted them behind him, using the force to enhance her strength a little more. It looked almost comical, the comparatively slender woman perched on top of the mountain of muscle that was Bull holding his arms behind his back.
“Yield?” she asked him with a smile. He couldn’t turn his head to look at her because of the horns and the fact that Miranda had shifted so her left foot pressed his left horn into the snow. Bull twisted and writhed but she simply pushed her foot down harder and pulled his arms up a little tighter. “Yield?” she asked again in a sweet voice when he stopped writing, trying to break the hold.
“Fine, I yield. But you cheated” he informed her and she hopped off him with a sweet smile. “Me? Cheat? oh Bull, I only cheat when I have to” she answered and he stared at her. “How did you do that?” he demanded, scrubbing the snow off his face.
“I haven’t been thrown like that since I was a kid” he informed her and Miranda grinned. “A combination of your own weight and body mass used against you as well as an above average strength than my form would suggest” she told him jauntily and he grunted. “Best two out of three, I wasn’t expecting that” he told her and she shrugged, settling back into a fighting stance.
They went for drinks after that. Miranda had won the competition seeing as she had only won the second bout before Bull changed up his tactics and caught her in a bear hug that she would have needed to use the force or her venom to escape and she wasn’t willing to turn Bull into a corrosive puddle of grey goo so she conceded.
Now the entire ground team sat in the tavern for the first time. The other soldiers and the chargers had left the building and they all now sat around a table that bull, Cassandra and Miranda had dragged into position. Elariel looked at them all and felt an urge to giggle. Bull sat beside Miranda eagerly plying her with questions as she described a group of warriors called the Klingons to the avid attention of Cassandra and Blackwall.
Dorian was in an argument with Solas and Vivienne about how mages were portrayed whilst Sera and Varric snickered at the two mages behind their hands at the mages. She sat herself down at the table and cleared her throat a little nervously. Miranda’s head jerked up and quickly gave Elariel her full attention.
The others took notice of Miranda’s movement and did the same. “So we are going to march on the breach tomorrow” Elariel told them, trying to project an aura of confidence, remembering the lessons her Keeper had instilled in her when it came to leading. In her head now these people needed to become her clan, the people she led and fought for. She took a deep breath before she continued.
“We don’t know if this will work but if it does then I would like to ask you all if you’re staying till the elder one is defeated” she announced. There was silence at the table before Miranda spoke up. “I can’t say anything for the others, but I’m staying. The elder one is still a threat. Just because we seal this breach does not mean he will not be able to open another one.” She said quietly before smiling at the Elariel in encouragement. “I agree” Cassandra said giving her a firm nod.
“Me too, kill the bastard dead” Sera to them with a fierce sneer and slamming her hand down on the table. “Of course I’ll be staying my dear, You’re doing good things here” Vivienne told her, leaning back. Slowly each gave their agreements, all with far more vehemence than Elariel was expecting.
She smiled at them all and took a drink from the pint that a server put in front of her. “To sealing the breach” she said lifting the tankard high. “Here! Here!” Miranda and Bull called, lifting their tankards in agreement.
“Close the giant arse hole in the sky!” Sera bellowed and slammed back her drink. Vivienne had a dainty sneer on her face at the elf’s crude statement but she lifted her wine in an elegant movement and toasted Elariel.
Cassandra and lifted her mug in a far more controlled movement and Blackwall gave a firm nod. Dorian lifted his wine in agreement and Solas watched them all with a curious expression on his face.
Miranda caught his look and met his eyes, her own pale orbs filled with both a question and a challenge. He only raised a brow at her skeptically.
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