Chapter 16- And your heart shall freeze.
It was evening now and Miranda was quietly panicking. She had already packed up all of her belongings and briefed Aitheria on what was about to happen, pleading with the hind to take care of the Inquisition’s horses at the first sight of trouble. She was now dressed in her white furs that she had worn during her stint in winter locked Narnia. Her cloak and goggles were in her bag but the face mask sat around her neck. The silver wool and fur held her warm against the cold of the evening. A pair of silver thermal gloves that would later be clad in mittens covered her hands and her staff leaned against the stone wall behind her.
The others watched as Miranda paced the upper tier in front of the Chantry while the people had begun celebrating the closing of the breach. “Oh come on Ice, nothing is going to happen!” Varric told her in frustration throwing up his hands in resignation.
Leliana had explained what had happened and they were all confused.
“You don’t understand Varric. If I of all people am spouting prophesies, then we are royally screwed. Prophesies were always Satele’s thing. Hell Nirana is the seer not me!” She told them all, referencing a friend at the bureau whose entire shtick was posing as a seer in her assignments. Miranda was steadily working herself up into a frenzy.
The others though it was because of the prophecy but it was nerves. Choosing the moment to break from plot was always nerve wracking, like when she had saved Zoe Nightshade. It tended to lead to a great deal of frustration in the fate department and often could knock them into uncharted territory. That and she was planning to break canon rather thoroughly. Go big or go home style. She had even dipped into her emergency stash of gems, sucking an emerald dry of energy to overcharge herself.
Maybe that was overdoing it. It led to her being hyper and jittery now. The others sighed and left her, shaking their heads as they walked away from the pacing Zerg. Darkness began to fall as deep blue shadows were born at the foot of the mountains. The last rays of the sun glinted off the scar in the sky that hung like a stationary aurora high above the mountains. Miranda’s eyes glowed like a pair of stars as she continued to pace like a caged tigress.
Leliana came by to check on her regularly, trying to get her to relax but to no avail. Miranda’s ears were filled with the sound of people laughing and music. The stomp of dancing feet and the voices of those sitting around the many campfires that had spread out. A handful of soldiers remained in armour and on watch and Leliana had placed away some supplies in the chantry.
Then she heard it. The tramp of heavily armoured forces echoing through the mountains. The clank of metal on metal and the grunts of exertion as they scaled the back of the pass. All this was overlaid with the dark and grating hum of red lyrium. “LELIANA! CULLEN! ELARIEL!” She bellowed, her voice loud and filled with jangling dis-harmonies.
She pelted through the streets to where everyone sat, laughing with each other. “Miranda?” Elariel asked looking up. “Forces marching through the mountains!” Miranda told her, her glowing eyes wide.
“WHAT?” Leliana demanded standing up.
“I’m hearing the sound of a lot of red lyrium and clanking metal from beyond the pass from Ferelden. It’s an army,” Miranda told them and the others looked at each other uncertainly. They had learned to trust Miranda’s hearing in the field, but what she was describing was outlandish.
“We need to evacuate everyone to the Chantry, bring supplies and winter clothes. Haven cannot be defended,” Miranda barked at them and Cullen’s spine straightened at the tone. Elariel’s mind raced. She knew to trust Miranda about coming enemies. Leliana was remembering the dark words Miranda had spoken earlier.
“The red tide,” She murmured looking up, her eyes starting to glint with fear.
“Evacuate the village, pull down the tents, gather our resources. NOW!” Elariel commanded standing and swaying a little, still tired from closing the breach. The others stood as well and hurried away. Cullen barking orders at his soldiers who looked up uncertainly before leaping into action, none daring to disobey their commanding officer.
Leliana looked at Miranda who was staring at the trebuchets. “Those are not ready,” The Zerg muttered to herself before she strode to the top of the gate as people began to rush around. She turned her attention to the pile of stone ammunition and using some of her excess strength she pulled the ammo into a large pile near the gate for her to use.
“What the hell are you doing?” Cullen demanded up at her. “I’m a walking siege engine, I will handle this. Focus your men on defending the villagers!” She commanded from her post. The Commander looked up at her before nodding and rushing away, marshaling his troops as he went. Miranda took a deep breath and focused her attention to the pass where the army was approaching. The baleful light from the army’s torches stained the night sky orange, the taint spreading as they drew closer. Scouts yelled and directed peoples’ attention to the glow.
By now those with keener ears could hear the faint roar of the forces and the tramp of their boots. Villagers looked panicked where moments before they had been smiling. Soldiers rushed into their armour and strapped on weapons. Josephine was commanding an army of servants and volunteers to gather resources. Mother Giselle had joined the effort, rallying the clergy to contribute and speed the process.
Chancellor Roderick stood to the side with a collection of dissenters, loudly complaining that they were listening to the advice of a Demon. Few paid attention, heeding the words of their Herald who urged them to prepare for the army. A horn echoed throughout the valley and everyone paused for a moment before hurrying even more. Leliana looked up from where she had finished gathering her papers and shoving them into a locked satchel.
The glow stained the now dark sky and from where she stood she could see Miranda standing on the battlements. The faint star light lit her silver clothing and her right hand gripped her staff tightly. She looked like a sentinel. Still and unmoved by the panic around her. A tall stack of flammable trebuchet ammo sat on the ground behind the wall nearly as high as the battlements, moved from the unmanned trebuchets that would have been little help in the confusion.
They could see the army now, pouring like a mass of glowing ants over the bulk of the mountain and down the hill towards Haven. The last of the Villagers ran into the Chantry and there was a loud whistle as Aitheria led the horses away up into the mountains to the north. It had taken some convincing but Dennet had agreed to saddle each horse with full tack and allow Aitheria to lead them to safety. Saving them from having to worry about the beasts.
Elariel, Cassandra, Cullen and Josephine ran towards the wall and Leliana joined them, needing to get more information. They arrived and stared out at the arriving forces. “What banner do they march under?” Josephine demanded, squinting into the dark, trying to see any heraldry.
“None. They march in the name of the Elder one,” Miranda told them, her glowing eyes focusing on the threat.
“The Elder one?” Leliana demanded, remembering the reports. “Is his dragon nearby?” She asked, turning her eyes to the sky, looking for a dark shape. As if to answer her a high screaming roar echoed down from the sky and a large black shape blotted out the stars. The baleful light of red lyrium glinted along the shadow.
“Ask and you shall receive,” Miranda answered grimly. Leliana shuddered, the sound far too familiar to her from her time with the warden.
“Is everyone out of the way?” Miranda demanded and Josephine nodded. “We managed to secure everyone into the Chantry thanks to your warning.” She answered and Miranda nodded.
“Aitheria told me she was going to take the horses to the north, she knows of some safe valleys to hide them in,” The Zerg told them her eyes looking out over the now empty field where the snow was trampled down from the tent city that had occupied it. A pale grey shadow darted out across the open expanse and Miranda turned her attention to the shape.
“Look,” She pointed and the others followed her finger.
A head lifted from the shape, a floppy grey hat tilted to allow pale grey eyes to look up at them. “I came to warn you,” He mumbled but they all heard him.
“Cullen let him in,” Elariel told the Commander who looked at her as if she were insane. “He truly does want to help,” Miranda told him. “People are coming to hurt you but you know already,” The pale boy agreed and Cassandra stared at him with narrowed eyes.
Leliana frowned and the line from Miranda’s fit came to her. “Are you the lost one?” She asked and the others turned to stare at him.
“I… I don’t know,” The boy answered. “I’m Cole… I think I was lost once,” he answered and Leliana turned to the Commander who growled but finally nodded, climbing down the stairs and pushing the heavy beam that locked the door out of the way and heaving one of the leaves open a crack. The boy slid in and looked at the Commander with his uncanny eyes.
“Concern, worry. Determination. Not again, I won’t let it happen again,” He mumbled looking at Cullen who reared back, reaching for his sword. “Here to help, won’t hurt your people. I want them to live too,” He assured the commander who growled and gripped his sword tighter before turning away sharply and slamming the gate shut and locking it.
Cole hurried up the steps with Cullen behind him. “The Elder one is angry you took his mages,” He told them, rushing up to Elariel, wringing his hands before pointing to a knoll that the army was flowing around.
A man in heavy, glowing red armour stood next to a tall, skeletal form. “So that’s the Elder one,” Miranda mumbled whilst the others stared on in shock.
“He’s very angry,” Cole repeated and Miranda growled. Her stalks rattling violently. “Well I hope he likes my present,” Miranda snarled before she cocked her right arm back as if she was preparing to throw something.
A large clay projectile filled with a flammable substance lifted from the top of the pile. “I know that man…That’s Samson from Kirkwall,” Cullen realized but Miranda let out a snarl and whipped her arm up and over.
The projectile followed her movement and was flung at the approaching Templars. “Correction. It was Samson,” Miranda told him as the projectile struck the knoll. The man screamed in pain as he caught fire and fell, writhing in pain while the shield that had protected the Elder one flickered out of existence.
The others stared at Miranda who had already thrown another projectile. It whistled through the air and struck a clump of enemies. It burst and lit them up like roman candles, they screamed in pain and vainly tried to beat the fire out, while those who had been hit dead on lay still. The Elder one turned his baleful glare towards the group on the wall and Miranda held up her middle finger before letting loose a War scream. The Templars faltered for a moment and she took advantage of it. Throwing four projectiles into the mountainside above them. There was an earth shuddering roar as the mountain slid down to bury a great many of the Red Templars.
“Miranda?” Elariel asked looking at the Zerg who’s teeth were bared in a snarl.
“Set up the soldiers to cover the escape. I won’t be able to hit them all,” Miranda told them. They looked up at her but their protests died in the face of her glare. They left and Miranda began to hurl stones at the remaining Templars at a faster rate. But even with over half their army buried there were too many. Leliana ran back to the Chantry with the others but glanced over her shoulder at Miranda who was hurling the stones like she had in the fight below the breach. Every now and then she would let loose another scream, the challenge and fury in the sound echoing throughout the valley.
They pushed open a door of the Chantry and saw the frightened faces of the people within. “We need to evacuate Haven!” Cassandra commanded them, hauling the door closed behind them. “Miranda is buying us time,” she added and Cole looked over the faces.
“The Elder one has come for you,” He pressed turning to Elariel. The she-elf’s face grew grim. “If letting him have me will protect the others…” She began but Cole shook his head.
“It won’t. He doesn’t care about them. He will burn everything to the ground for defying him,” The boy informed them unhappily. As if to agree with him they all heard a roar as the dragon swept overhead. Its challenge was answered by Miranda. Her loud shriek echoed over the village and shook the people within as terror gripped them. The ground shook as the Dragon deployed its breath weapon.
“Why are we just standing here?” Elariel demanded pacing aggressively.
“Because there is little to no way we can stand against that beast!” Cullen snapped.
“She doesn’t want to lose you,” Cole mumbled nearby and Elariel rounded on him. “What?” She demanded fiercely.
The boy shrank back. “Defend, defend them all. My friends, my pack, my Swarm. Protect. That is the Queen’s job. It is the Jedi’s purpose. I will defend them. No one will die tonight,” He whispered, his eyes a thousand miles away. “She is angry. Angry at them, angry at herself. She won’t let any of you near when she is angry,” He told her fearfully. “The Elder one is scary. His anger burns hot, like fire. She scares me more. Anger like molten stone. Burn all before me. Let them taste my wrath,” He whimpered, his mist colored eyes wide with fear.
The others turned their attention to the door as loud crashes and thunderous sounds continued to emanate. Then it went quiet and a hand knocked on the door. Elariel hurried to it and pulled the smaller portal open. Miranda shuffled in holding her ribs. “I drove it off for the moment and killed a lot of Templars but I can’t hold the tide. Even now more are marching over the mountain.” She told them fervently.
“We need to abandon Haven. I can bury the village, kill more Templars while you guys escape.” She continued, taking a deep breath and wincing at her cracked ribs as they healed themselves.
Elariel opened her mouth to protest but Miranda silenced her with a look. “No Elariel, you are too important. You saw what happens if we lose you. There is no way in Hades I’m going to let you try something this dangerous in your state” The Jedi told her harshly, her voice like the crack of a whip.
“How will we get out when there’s an army blocking the only way in?” Cassandra snapped, her dark eyes angry as she tried to think of a way out.
“There is a path through the mountains. It’s taken by the Pilgrims in summer. I found it whilst scouting the area. It’s narrow and treacherous but it will lead you deeper into the mountains.” Miranda told them hurriedly. “Find someone who has taken it. They can lead you out,” Miranda added, turning for the door.
“What about you?” Elariel asked and Miranda turned back to her.
“Someone has to keep Ugly’s attention. I can be pretty annoying when I want to be,” She answered and Elariel had a horrid flashback to Redcliffe.
The words tore themselves from her like they had then too. “NO! I can’t let you sacrifice yourself again!” She cried grabbing Miranda’s arm.
The Zerg looked at her solemnly. “If anyone here can survive an avalanche then it will be me. For anyone else this is suicide. For me it just high risk,” She told the elf gently, prying Elariel’s fingers from her arm. Leliana stared at her hard and saw the slight uncertainty in Miranda’s confident gaze. In that moment, she knew that Miranda was not a sure as she claimed.
The Zerg looked up and met Leliana’s eyes, understanding flashed through their pale depths and her mouth set itself in a grim line. “Go. I’ll cover you, send up a flare when you’re out of the avalanche range,” She told them before handing Elariel her staff. “Look after this for me, will you?” She said before she turned and stalked out the door, slamming it behind her. There was silence in her wake before Cassandra bowed her head for a moment. When she lifted her gaze again she turned to the assembled people.
“Who here knows the summer pilgrimage path?” She demanded. From the crowd, Roderick raised his hand. “Right then, let’s get out. We will use the back entrance to the tunnels,” Leliana commanded. The people and soldiers looked at each other in uncertainty before hurrying to gather up the supplies they had managed to save and followed Roderick and Cassandra through the lower tunnels and out into the snow.
Leliana looked back toward Haven as she marched and felt a stab of fear. Fire graced the houses from the dragon, casting the Village in a hellish light. “Oy! Come here you big scaly Bastard!” Miranda roared from the gate which now burned bright as even stone burnt from the Dragon’s breath. The dragon roared and dove down towards the dark figure of Miranda who hurled a chunk of flaming masonry at the descending demon. Leliana turned away again and hurried forward, urging the slower ones to follow the foot path that was being pack rapidly into the snow.
Miranda stood in front of the gate and called out her challenge. She knew Corypheus’ pride would require him to face her and she intended to give him hell. She held her sword in her right hand and took pot shots at the dragon with the burning stone it had been so kind to light for her. It dove with a scream and landed with a crash, roaring out a column of fire. She crouched and projected a force barrier around herself, letting the fire swirl around her. When it stopped, the dragon was stalking toward her and she threw a quick force blast at it, knocking its head up.
She turned and saw the skeletal form of Corypheus stalking towards her from between bonfires. She could smell him beneath the scent of smoke. The smell of rotting flesh and harsh chemicals surrounded him in a cloud. The migraine inducing hum of red lyrium emanated from the painful looking crystals that jutted from his abused and putrid hide. A black and green orb was clutched in his left claw and occasionally sparks would drop from its carved surface. “‘Bout fucking time,” Miranda sneered at him, standing tall and proud opposite him.
“Silence mortal,” He sneered at her. She smirked at him. “You challenge forces beyond your ken no more. Where is the pretender?” He demanded in a sonorous voice.
“Go fuck yourself idiot,” Miranda responded bending her knees into a fighting stance.
“You will answer me mortal. You will kneel and exalt the will that is Corypheus,” he snarled.
Miranda grinned and let her eyes glow before speaking in her full voice, the echoes causing the abomination before her to flinch back in surprise. “I think not little one. For you are the mortal, and You should bow before me. The Queen of Storms. I have crushed better foes than you. You should fear me weakling,” She told him Imperiously.
He growled and stalked closer, towering over her by two feet. “You are nothing, your words are empty. I am a god. I will rule this world. Pray that I succeed for I have seen the throne of the gods. And. IT. WAS. EMPTY!” He roared at her.
Miranda smirked and punched him right in the face. The strength of the blow knocked him back and the dragon roared in fury. She turned and slammed its head down against the earth. She ducked under its infuriated swing and slammed it with the Force again. She only had a fraction of a second’s warning and she ducked.
Corypheus’ claws slashed where her head had been and caught her left shoulder instead. Miranda roared in pain and batted him aside, her blade slashing at his chest and carving a chunk from his carapace. The dragon behind her recovered and lunged at her, teeth snapping inches from where she had been. She flipped high only to be intercepted by its tail. The spiked appendage threw her from the air, gouging several deep wounds onto her torso and piercing the already wounded shoulder from the front.
She screamed in pain and picked herself up, the wounds attempting to seal but struggling. Blood poured from the gashes in an unnatural torrent. In the back of her mind she theorized that the spines were coated in a powerful anticoagulant. Her fangs were bared and she spat a mouthful of acid at the dragon. The golf ball sized glob stuck the beast’s face, sizzling as it melted away scale and flesh, marring its muzzle. It screamed and whipped its head from side to side, attempting to free itself from the burning pain.
The viscous gel stuck to its target and acrid smoke poured from the wound as it ate through the roof of its mouth and began working its way through the bottom jaw. While the acid ate a tunnel through the beast’s maw Miranda turned her attention to Corypheus. They launched at each other and battled like two titans. He blasted her with magic, flames clawing hungrily at the ground where she had stood as she slashed at him and pounded on his shield with the Force. Chunks of his carapace and flesh littered the ground as she carved them from his blighted form.
Acid flew from her mouth at irregular instances, some striking and burning the already corrupted flesh, eating away at the ground where it missed. The dragon recovered from its pain enough to launch another attack, a new hole thorough it’s top and bottom jaw like a cauterized piercing. It slashed at her as she rolled away, right into a telekinetic blast from Corypheus. She felt the bones in her already abused left arm shatter, pulverized from the force of the blow. She grit her teeth to smother the scream and lopped off Corypheus’ right arm in retaliation.
The dragon clawed at her, working in tandem with its master, obviously controlled by his will, each attacking her blind sides. She ducked and wove, acid, force and sword doing immense damage to her foes, but even strong as she was, she took wounds. It was not easy, she made them work for it. Limbs were crushed, gouges torn in flesh and acid dissolved bone. Blood from her foes pooled and froze beneath them though her own remained slick and liquid from the natural antifreeze it produced.
She had just finished removing the dragons left forelimb while Corypheus recovered from the loss of his right eye to a fleck of acid that passed his barrier. When, from the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a flaming arrow launching from the northern ridge.
“I’ve had enough of you,” She snarled at the pair, taking a dagger and hurling it into just below his throat.
It scraped of his armour and lodged itself below his collarbone. The dragon wailed in agony and she spat into its eye before she brought her hands up and with a tremendous burst of will brought the eastern mountain down. The air filled with the roar of tumbling stone and snow as it raced down the mountainside towards Haven.
Trees were swept aside like toothpicks and Miranda ran, her left arm dangling uselessly at her side and blood pouring from her wounds. Corypheus growled his displeasure and grabbed his dragon’s remaining forepaw. It gripped his waist and lumbered into the air. Its flight clumsy from the injuries she had dealt to its right wing, still crying out it’s pain as the acid ate at the tissue of its skull.
Despite the pain, Corypheus’ will drove it forward. Miranda turned her attention to the raging torrent of snow that chased her. She bounded up towards the slope outside of Haven, attempting to reach the outer blast zone, leaping from buildings to gain altitude and distance before she left the village behind her.
She could see the tail end of the column. Leliana, Cassandra and Elariel stood of the top of the ridge. Escape was possible, one more leap and she would be clear, by the skin of her teeth but clear. Then her foot slipped and she fell, screaming in pain as her left arm took her weight, the crushed bones attempting to heal but merely fusing together into a useless mess making her unable to push herself up. She only had a moment to look up and meet Leliana’s eyes as she breathed out a word before she was engulfed in white.
Leliana loosed the string on her bow, propelling the flaming arrow high into the air. Beside her Cassandra and Elariel watched the battle occurring in morbid fascination. They could only see glimpses of the fight and hear the screams of rage and pain. They felt the mountains shake and the watched in fear as the eastern mountain’s Haven facing slope shattered. Snow, stone and trees pouring down the incline, eating all before it. The dragon took flight and Miranda bolted towards them.
She leapt through the village, throwing herself from roof to roof and then tackling the slope. She was bleeding heavily and her left arm swung rigid and useless at her side, but her face was a mask of determination. The churning tide of snow roared ever closer. She was close, they were well outside the blast zone on the ridge crest. All three were praying she would make it in time. There was nothing else they could do. The air was filled with thunder as Miranda drew closer. For a moment, they thought she would make it.
Then her foot slipped on a patch of ice coated in her blood. They saw the horror in her eyes as her hands touched the snow and heard her scream of pain. She looked up and her eyes met Leliana’s. Her lips moved and Leliana read the word clear as day: Go. Then the edge of the avalanche hit her and she was gone. In her place was a churning torrent of snow and ice.
The three of them watched in horror, mouths agape and hearts in denial. “No!” Leliana screamed as she watched. It hit her again. Someone she had begun to care for without even realizing it. Snatched away in a moment of senseless violence. She had almost made it! Why would the Maker do this? Dangle safety and escape so close only to snatch it away at the last moment. Elariel’s eyes were wide and tears were already freezing on her cheeks. Cassandra’s face had gone blank, unaccepting of what had just happened.
“No,” Leliana whimpered again, shaking her head.
The thunder stopped and the snow stilled. Nothing was left of Haven or the valley. The silence was eerie, the snow shining innocently beneath the silent stars as if it had never moved. The rough, churned look settling like stone over all it had consumed. Leliana took a step forward only to be halted by Cassandra’s hand on her shoulder. “What are you doing? She could still be alive!” The Bard demanded, face a mask of pain and grief.
Cassandra shook her head, her face now set in lines of silent grief like a mourning statue. “We must rejoin the others, we cannot waste the lead she gave us,” She said quietly, tugging on Leliana. “No! She might have… she…she could still be,” Leliana protested, trying to shrug her friend’s hand off but Cassandra’s grip was firm.
“We do not have the people or the time to look,” She said simply though it looked like the words were being pried from her soul. “She would want us to take the time she gave us to escape,” The Seeker continued. “We must continue, there is nothing else we can do,” She added, tears now trickling silently from her amber eyes. Elariel was openly sobbing and Leliana’s cheeks felt cold, she opened her mouth and tasted salt as a tear trickled over her lips.
Cassandra let go of the spymistress and wrapped both her arms around the sobbing Elariel. Holding her thin frame as her body shuddered and gasped, clutching at Miranda’s staff. Leliana felt cold. Her heart felt frozen, her mind numb. She stood there, staring out at the snowfield as if waiting for Miranda to punch her way out and laugh.
Silence was the only thing that answered her. Snow crunched underfoot as Cassandra stepped back towards her and took her hand, leading Elariel and Leliana up and away, following the footsteps of their troops. As if to add insult to injury, it began to snow. Thick, fat flakes pouring down from the sky as if the heavens themselves were trying to cover up the site of their shame.
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