Chapter 22- At Long Last
Elariel stalked into the hall, her eyes blazing and her face that of one of a divine being about to render judgment upon the guilty. Behind her stormed Cassandra, radiating the fury of a warrior queen in her hand sat a blade that glittered crimson from the blood still decorating it, making the blade match her dress. Dorian swaggered in behind them, looking as cool as a cucumber, idly whistling as he twirled a three foot long baton that could be used to channel magic in a pinch. At the rear of the part slinked Sera, she looked thunderous, but somehow managed to keep silent, her eyes glaring at the assembled nobles and fingering her bow string.
The courtiers gasped, torn from the near kiss on the dance floor to the wrathful inquisitor striding forward. “You owe the court one more show, your grace,” Elariel informed the duchess Florien in frosty steel clad tones. Josephine internally swore, so close. So damn close! She took a deep calming breath through her nose before she turned her attention to the drama playing out before her, signaling their hidden agents to be ready. Elariel climbed the stairs to stand before the Duchess who tried to deflect the she-elf’s verbal accusations. The Inquisitor would have none of it, clearly unraveling each and every one of Florien’s machinations, stalking around her like a cat with a mouse.
Cassandra took up a post near the panicking conspirator, staring at the Duchess with fiery amber eyes daring the noble woman to make a move. Miranda and Leliana shook themselves out of their daze and swiftly left the floor, climbing the stairs to flank their companions and cut of the Duchess’ escape. A long dagger had appeared in Leliana’s hand, the razor sharp edge glinting with deadly promise while her eyes had turned to hardened steel with a small smirk playing around her lips. Miranda had her fan open, revealing the needle sharp points on the ribs that poked out beyond the silk and the deadly edge on the leading rib. She was openly smirking as she fell into a ready pose, fully prepared to move in on her prey.
The duchess trembled under the three women’s gazes, eyes flicking desperately to the left and right as she struggled to think of an escape from the imminent danger she was in. She retreated towards the marble wall as she made an impassioned plea to her brother and cousin, only for the pair to turn away, removing themselves from the tightening noose of danger. Guards in full armor approached to fill the gaps left by Cassandra, Leliana and Miranda, closing off all hope of escape. The duchess began to hyperventilate and her eyes grew desperate.
“NON!” she screeched, eyes wild and her voice cracking in fear. She focused on Elariel who had advanced up the steps, passing the soldiers to join the triangle made by three of the most terrifying women in Thedas. In a surge of fear driven speed and strength Florien hurled a small dagger that had emerged from her dress towards Elariel, aiming for her heart. Before the dagger had even left her hand, Miranda, Leliana and Cassandra surged forward, the Seeker interposing herself between the blade and Elariel. It struck her in the chest, driving the air from the seeker’s lungs and forcing her back a step. Miranda was leaping forward, fan sweeping in a blinding arc of silver and white. There was a sharp slicing sound and blood from the Florien’s throat sprayed into the air like a fan of rubies.
Somehow the crimson droplets missed the glowing white of Miranda’s dress and left her fan unmarred. Leliana was right behind her, dagger piercing the duchess’s heart a fraction of a second later. The blood struck her but pearled off of her dress and face, falling to the floor and leaving her similarly unstained. The two women stood over the now dead traitor eyes blazing, in Miranda’s case literally.
“Anyone else?” the Zerg hissed, her voice layered with three others and filled with fierce promise as she turned to sweep the crowd of Courtiers who trembled in fear at the glare. Everyone shook their heads and backed away from the pair, fear evident in their eyes. Miranda ignored them and turned to Cassandra who had stumbled back from the impact of the dagger. It had been stopped by her corset and she now stood protectively in front of Elariel, sword up and teeth bared in a snarl.
“Perhaps we should discuss the rest in private your Grace,” Elariel directed at the empress as if she were discussing the weather as opposed to considering the fate of a nation while surrounded by snarling bodyguards. Celene stared down in shocked at the bloody corpse of her cousin that now lay cooling in a pool of blood below her feet.
“Yes, that would… that would be best,” She replied shakily, looking a little pale behind her silver mask. Elariel strode up the steps, Josephine and Bull on her heels and led the Empress out onto a balcony, leaving the others to busy themselves for the rest of the evening. Leliana turned to look at Miranda, who still held her fan open, but in a more reposed fashion than before. The bard smiled sultrily at the Zerg.
“I believe we were interrupted,” Leliana purred, determined to get the kiss she had been denied and was rewarded by a light blush on Miranda’s cheeks. “Actually I believe I would like a chance to dance with the foreign beauty,” A familiarly seductive voice purred. Leliana spun so quickly that her skirts flared out like the wings of a threatened raptor. Standing before her, resplendent in purple velvet with gold embroidery, just as she had once described stood “Morrigan” she almost gasped, surprised to see the woman whom she had once deemed a close friend before she had vanished.
“Leliana,” The dark woman replied, a smirk pulling at her crimson lips and her golden eyes filled with the familiar cat like arrogance. Under that, though, was a hint of something else, something almost… dare she even think it, softer. “As lovely as this reunion is, if you will excuse me I really must speak with your charming partner,” The witch told her with a smirk.
Breaking the spell as she swept forward, past the startled Bard and with sure movements, took Miranda’s arm, all but dragging the Zerg out onto the dance floor. Leliana growled as she watched Miranda. HER MIRANDA! Being led to the floor. Those blue eyes looking back at her in longing even as she took her place opposite the wildborn witch.
With a chord, the music began, a spirited dance that required much hand holding between partners. A haze of red had draped itself across Leliana’s gaze and her hands had clenched around the handle of her dagger when she saw Morrigan place her hand palm to palm with Miranda with a flirtatious smirk.
She took a step toward the dance floor with a snarl on her lips before she was stopped by a quartet of hands on her shoulders. She looked up to see Varric and Vivienne standing near her with Cassandra and Cullen holding her back from the murder she had been planning. “Let me go,” She hissed, straining to break free but their grips remained tight “Easy there Nightingale,” Varric told her, laying a hand on her dagger wielding arm, pushing it back into its sheath while Vivienne smirked. “As much as I would love for that woman’s life to end I must agree with Master Tethras,” The mage told her, her voice as bored sounding as ever.
“You can’t kill the empress’s arcane advisor because she is dancing with Miranda,” Cassandra pleaded though she didn’t look very convinced and Cullen nodded enthusiastically. “I’m not going to kill her,” Leliana snarled, still straining to go for the witch. “I just want to talk to my old friend Morrigan, repeatedly… with my knife,” She added, her eyes now fixed on the gracefully spinning pair on the floor. It was like the Maker had decided to heap insult upon injury. She would have been soothed if Morrigan had been made to look as much a fool as everyone else that had tried to match the Zerg Queen’s grace.
But no, there she prowled like a dark lioness, smooth and elegant. Miranda and she moved like two predators, smooth and deadly. Where her own dance with Miranda had been like watching stars dance through the heavens, these two were like circling lionesses. There was a darkness that came forth in Miranda in the presence of the witch, not evil, but more an acknowledgement of danger that both seemed aware of. “Ok Nightingale, let’s get you cooled off,” Varric told her and with Cassandra and Cullen’s help, she was dragged out onto a balcony and into the cool night air.
Miranda met Morrigan’s golden eyes and matched the witch smirk for smirk. “You did that on, purpose didn’t you?” She told the witch whose smirk grew. “Oh I’m sure I have no idea what you mean,” She purred as they paced circles around each other, arms up and crossed, changing directions and arms as the music dictated.
“Of course you don’t,” Miranda replied, breaking away and weaving through other partners before returning. “But forgive me if I do not believe it my good lady. I know that look far too well. Many friends and sisters of mine have worn it before.” She finished, watching as Morrigan’s eyes glitter with amusement.
“Not as dim as the rest then I see” she purred, leaning in a little closer than was necessary. Miranda smiled secretively, allowing her eyes to glow a little in response to the statement.
“Hardly,” She murmured, spinning away as the music increased in tempo, driving them into faster whirls as the lively dance drove them on.
“I believe that your friends had to remove your bard lest she do something she regret,” Morrigan noted as she reappeared in a swirl of skirts. “Oh you don’t know how close you were to having a conversation with her dagger,” Miranda replied skipping to the left, her stalks clicking pleasantly in time to her movement, mirth making her bright eyes even brighter. “She need not worry, I have no designs upon you beyond conversation,” Morrigan assured her as they met again, feet flicking rapidly now as the climax of the song drew near.
“And perhaps poking at her in fun,” Miranda added, a knowing look in her eyes. “Indeed, never could resist the opportunity,” The witch admitted not even trying to look apologetic, “Luckily for her, my heart belongs to another, and I am not so weak willed as to abandon him at the first opportunity,” She added with a condescending roll of her eyes. The music ended and the pair inclined their heads to each other. As close as both proud women could come to bowing, but acknowledging the other as one worthy of their respect.
“Better go find your little nightingale before she flies,” Morrigan told her with a faint smile before continuing in a more serious tone. “Despite what she may think of me now, I still care for her greatly. She deserves love after what she has lived.” Her eyes flared, glowing like burning coals and a frisson of power ran down Miranda’s spine as Morrigan flared her magic. “So I warn you now: Hurt her and you shall know why the Witches of the Wilds are so feared,” She finished, her voice a low growl. Miranda nodded in acknowledgement and met the golden gaze.
“I will stay with her for as long as she will have me. I take love very seriously. When I give my heart, it is for eternity,” She whispered softly, just enough for Morrigan to hear her. The witch nodded in her understanding before gliding gracefully to a balcony to live in her own thoughts. Miranda, for her part, strode up to where she could hear her companions trying to calm Leliana. She emerged out into the starlight of the terrace, empty of everyone save for Leliana and her companions. The red head was rigid, her arms still being held by Cullen and Cassandra wile Varric held her dagger, preventing her from pulling it on anyone.
“I can take it from here everyone,” She told them, a smile pulling her lips up. Leliana stilled and the others released her, Varric pocketing her dagger despite her fierce glare before the dwarf wisely retreated. Miranda stood still, gazing at Leliana who stood fierce and proud in the starlight and felt a sigh build in her chest. She swallowed the urge and carefully advanced toward the bard, each step smooth, cautious and ever so slightly hopeful. “Leliana,” She whispered into the darkness, watching as those bright blue eyes swept over her.
She stopped a meter from the bard and waited, like she was approaching a grounded hawk, aware that the talons could shed her blood even if she only wished to help. Leliana’s eyes were fixed on her with a laser like intensity, watching every twitch of her stalks, every flutter of her dress. There was something fragile in her gaze, as if the wrong word would shatter something vital and irreplaceable.
Miranda did not have even the slightest clue of what to say, so she waited. Praying to every deity she could think of and imagine that Leliana would tell her what was wrong. “How is Morrigan?” The bard asked in a clipped manner, an edge of frost developing along her words. Miranda swallowed thickly, every fiber of her being, screaming to tread carefully. “She wanted to inform me that if I broke your heart I would learn the true meaning of fear,” she finally told the bard, deciding that in this instance that honesty was truly the best policy.
Leliana stared at her, as if trying to catch Miranda in a lie. Miranda held firm, letting Leliana look into her soul, gladly holding out it to be seen. Something in her gaze must have been what Leliana needed, for her shoulders slumped a little in relief before she took a slow, hesitant step forward.
“I…” She paused and licked her lips a little nervously, “I enjoyed dancing with you,” She finally admitted and Miranda smiled gently, taking matching step and slowly, gently extending her hand, palm up for Leliana to take if she so wished. “Me too,” The Zerg admitted in a lower voice, the fainter tone drawing Leliana closer.
Almost of its own will, Leliana’s hand lifted and settled in Miranda’s outstretched palm. She looked up from their entwining fingers and into Miranda’s softly glowing eyes, gentle and filled with a love so deep that she didn’t know if it was even possible to exist. The faint sound of a slow harpsichord trickled out from the ballroom. Without speaking, they began to dance.
Miranda’s free arm curled around her waist and Leliana gladly stepped closer, resting her free hand on the taller woman’s shoulder. As in the ballroom the music faded from her ears, only to be replaced by a different kind. A music so beautiful she could barely comprehend it, choruses and harmonies beyond what she could even imagine or dream of sang through her very soul, filling it with light and hope.
“What is that music?” Her lips whispered and Miranda’s eyes grew even brighter. “The stars are singing,” She breathed back, gladly drowning in Leliana’s sapphire gaze. Time had no meaning to them as they twirled as one to the music of the stars, neither noticing the forms of Josephine, Elariel, Cassandra and even a lurking Morrigan watching the pair with awe and happiness. Their dance ended yet they did not pull apart, only pressing closer. Their eyes met and under the starlight on a balcony of a golden palace, their lips met.
Elariel managed to slap a hand over Josephine’s mouth in time to halt the woman’s delighted squeal, twisting just in time to throw a silencing spell at Cassandra and halt the Seekers triumphant cry. The pair looked at her in betrayal but the Inquisitor was having none of it. She removed her hand from Josephine with a glare.
She silenced her with the same spell before grabbing both their ears and dragging them away from the balcony, nudging the elegant glass doors closed with her foot as quietly as she could to avoid alerting Miranda who was currently kissing Leliana for all she was worth. For her part Leliana was attempting to turn into a snake and coil herself around Miranda despite her full skirts. The elf looked up and met Morrigan’s amused, catlike stare before sighing.
“This has been a long time coming,” She whispered, still conscious of alerting the keen eared Zerg. “Indeed,” the sorceress mused with an elegantly lifted eyebrow. Both of the women in Elariel’s grasp struggled, trying to free their ears, but Elariel simply shook them. It was rather comical really, the two much taller women being manhandled by a tiny slip of a she-elf. “Can you make sure no one interrupts them?” She begged and Morrigan smirked.
“I guess, ’twill be interesting to see how long it takes for them to find a room,” She mused, privately remembering all the time the bard had run interference for Morrigan and her Warden to have a moment of privacy in their very un-private camp. Elariel smiled gratefully before shifting her grip and practically frog marching her two captives out of the palace now emptying of revelers as the party wound down, aiming for the front entryway where their carriages awaited them along with the others in their group. Aitheria stood there too, to absolutely no one’s surprise.
The hind looked magnificent and drew envious glances from the various departing nobility. Her fur was brushed to a fine gleam, like silver velvet, shining bronze hooves adorned her feet and made pleasant chiming sounds as she occasionally pawed at the stone flags. But her true glory lay in the magnificent antlers that crowned her head, much like Miranda’s crown they glowed a shining true silver, as if they here actually made from the metal.
“Miranda and Leliana are indisposed for the moment,” Elariel declared still maintaining her grip on the writhing pair. “YES!” Sera cried pumping the air with her fist in triumph. Dorian chuckled. “Good for them,” He replied with an approving smirk. “‘Bout time,” Blackwall mumbled with a smile and Varric simply grinned before doing a little jig in celebration. Vivienne merely sniffed but looked vaguely pleased, even she had grown tired of the pair’s tiptoeing, that and she had money riding on them, she seemed to had guessed correctly so she was pleased to be soon collecting from the idiots who thought they could out maneuver her.
“So are they staying here or do you think Miranda will try to get them back to camp?” Bull rumbled, smugly grinning and thinking of the winnings he would be collecting from his Chargers once they returned to Skyhold. Elariel snorted. “Could go either way, but I think that Josephine will be staying in Cassandras tent tonight,” Elariel informed them, giving Josephine a meaningful look before releasing her two prisoners from bother her hold and spell.
Josephine pouted and rubbed her ear while Cassandra sniffed in disdain and did the same. Everyone turned to Aitheria who had a look that could only be described as smug. “You’re staying here just in case I take it?” The elf asked and the smug hind nodded. “Well then we should get back and make it clear where they should go should they come back. That and I want to witness their walk of shame should it happen,” Dorian told them with a grin as they all piled into the carriage.
On the balcony things were getting heated, Miranda pulled back slightly with a gasp for air while Leliana turned her attention to the Zerg’s neck. “Think we should find a room or continue in camp?” She gasped, trying to hold in a whimper as Leliana bit her neck gently.
“What ever gets us there fastest,” The bard growled and Miranda shivered, her stalks twitching slightly as a sound from the palace courtyard registered. “Aitheria is here and can take us anywhere in under five minutes,” She panted, Leliana pulled back and smirked. “Then get us to the camp,” She commanded and Miranda was only too thrilled to comply.
She swept Leliana up into her arms and sprinted through the doors, aiming for her get away hind. She barely registered a smirking Morrigan watching from a corner as she bolted through the gleaming halls. Leliana for her part was busy kissing the line of Miranda’s jaw and straining to reach everything she could from her position. Miranda skidded out of the front doors and saw a smug Aitheria pawing the ground.
With barely a pause, Miranda leapt onto the hind’s back, not caring that the move shoved her dress up to reveal a scandalous amount of sandal wrapped leg. Aitheria did not need to be told, but bolted out and away, passing the Inquisition carriages on the way. It was barely three minutes before Aitheria was kneeling to let her passengers off in camp.
They were in a frenzy, stumbling for Miranda’s tent, jewelry and hairpins scattering as Miranda wound her hands into Leliana’s hair and Leliana tearing the spiraling crown from Miranda’s stalks. Golden heels were abandoned at the tent doorway and the clasps that held Miranda’s cape and dress up were savagely undone along with the belt while Miranda tore at corset laces.
Elariel and the others startled badly when a silver blur passed them in the streets, dashing for their camp. “Well that didn’t take long,” Dorian remarked and the others snickered. When they finally rolled into camp they were greeted by a very flustered captain and a trail of ridiculously expensive jewelry and clothes leading to Miranda and Cassandra’s tent, where it was clear from the noise what was happening inside.
“Looks like we’ll be rooming in your tent,” Cassandra remarked dryly, trying to ignore the sounds coming from her tent, though her cheeks were as red as her dress. “Yes,” Josephine agreed, struggling not to blush herself. The rest hastily retreated while Elariel and Josephine gingerly picked up the evidence of their spymistress and advisor’s mad dash for their tent, trying desperately to ignore what they were hearing before they too retreated hastily to their tents.
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