Chapter 3-…. Ah… well shit
They hurried forward. The air now had the stench of ozone, ash, dried blood and something harshly metallic. Miranda was becoming tenser and tenser as they approached the temple.
It was at the set of descending ladders that another problem arose. Elariel was swaying as she stood, her face grey and her hands shaking. There was little chance that the elf would make it to the bottom without becoming a paste on the mountainside.
“I can make it,” The she elf insisted as she tried to straighten up. Her face was set in determination but it didn’t convince either Cassandra or Miranda who stood between the elf and the ladder.
“If by make it you mean that you will make a very pretty smear. Then yes,” Miranda answered drily crossing her arms.
“We don’t have time to argue about this.” Cassandra growled at the elf. “Let one of us carry you.” She demanded also crossing her arms, an impassable bulwark.
Miranda watched the elf with narrowed eyes before she gave a weary sigh. “Oh for the love of my desk!” She exclaimed striding over to the elf. She swooped down and picked the elf up, removing the staff for her grip and slinging the slight woman over her shoulder in one smooth movement.
Elariel struggled weakly as Miranda transferred the pair of staffs to her off hand. Then, before the girl could do more than squeak in surprise, she jumped off the ledge.
Cassandra yelled and ran to the edge only to see Miranda stalking to the next ladder and disappearing over that edge as well. Scowling, Cassandra swung herself onto the ladder and expertly slid down it.
She landed with a thump and looked over the edge to the ground. Miranda waited at the bottom. Her hands on her hips looking up at her while Elariel slumped on a rock, cradling her head in her hands and her staff on the ground next to her.
In a repeat of her previous dismount, Cassandra slid down the final ladder and confronted Miranda. “What do you think you’re playing at?!” She demanded standing almost nose to nose with the taller woman.
Miranda’s calm gaze met Cassandra’s unwaveringly and her voice was reasonable as she explained. “I am able to slow my falls with the Force. Elariel is incapable of climbing those ladders as you know. Thus, I saw a solution to the problem and used it.” She paused and her gaze seemed to grow even more intense.
“If we are to succeed in this mission you will need to trust me Cassandra. I have sworn by my life and the Force that I mean you no harm. Is that so hard to believe?” She asked, her voice becoming quiet so only Cassandra could hear her.
Cassandra stared at Miranda in silence for a few more moments before she nodded. “I will trust you for now, but don’t just do things without consulting us. Trust goes both ways,” She told the other woman, steel filling her gaze.
Miranda inclined her head in a movement that seemed both agreement and apology. The pair then looked to where Varric and Solas stood watching them. Varric had a raised eyebrow and his arms were crossed, an expression of faint amusement on his face.
Solas merely looked bored as he watched them with an apathetic gaze. Cassandra snorted at Varric’s amusement and walked over to Elariel, picking up Elariel’s staff and handing it back. Elariel took it with a nod of thanks before hauling her weary body back up.
Cassandra looked behind her at Miranda who again had a concerned expression as
she regarded the fatigued she elf. “Miranda you take point. Tell us what’s ahead as soon as you can.
Everyone else stay close to Elariel. She must reach the breach.” She commanded their group, her eyes hard and her grip on her sword tightening. Strangely there was no protest from Miranda, only a solemn nod.
The Jedi held up her hand to stop them from moving and closed her eyes. Her hair fluffed itself up and began to wave slightly. The others watched her in fascination as she cocked her head to the side a small frown forming between her brows and a look of concern growing on her face.
When she opened her eyes the icy orbs were troubled. “The valley below us is filled with corruption. I can’t get a clear reading as something is emitting a low frequency pitch that is distorting my hearing.”
Cassandra frowned. “So we’re blind and in trouble?” She asked trying to clarify Miranda’s statement. The woman nodded solemnly her fingers tightening around her staff, the leather of her gloves creaking at the movement.
Cassandra bowed her head for a moment in thought before stiffening her shoulders. “Then let’s get on with it,” She told them. Miranda nodded and set off down the mountain. The others following behind her with Elariel in the center of the group.
They slid and skidded down the steep path, the snow and ice hindering their actions when Varric spoke. “So holes in the Fade don’t just accidentally happen, right?” Varric asked curiously.
“If enough magic is brought to bear, it is possible,” Solas admitted. Miranda could practically hear Varric’s frown.
“But there are easier ways to make things explode,” Varric insisted and Miranda snorted.
“Much easier ways. This must have required near god like levels of power,” She told them ignoring the calculating expression sent to her by Solas.
“We will consider how this happened after the immediate danger has passed,” Cassandra interrupted them sternly.
They turned a corner and Miranda gasped, looking at the twisted spires of jagged, oily black rock gleaming with green vines of light that grew before them. “Force have mercy.” She whispered staring at the results of the explosion.
“What is it?” Cassandra demanded of the frozen woman.
“Those stones, they are evil. I have never felt such malevolence save in the presence of truly evil dark lords. Don’t touch anything here. Even the stones. They will corrupt you.” She told them seriously, her voice brooking no argument.
The others stared at her in uncertainty but she ignored them, focusing instead on containing the growing migraine that was caused by the low frequency pitches being emitted by the red lyrium in the valley.
She began to walk more carefully. Her eyes now constantly roving. Her entire body on high alert. They continued in somber silence until the came upon the first of the bodies, twisted husks frozen in torment.
“That is where you walked out of the Fade and our soldiers found you.” Cassandra murmured sadly to Elariel as the passed through an open space near a few standing walls. “They say a woman was in the rift behind you. No one knows who it was,” She added, a hard edge creeping into her voice.
Elariel nodded weakly, running her eyes over the site of her survival, curiosity and uncertainty warring in her mind. Miranda paused in front of them. She lifted her head and appeared almost like a hound questing for a scent before she shook her head, almost as if to clear it and led them on.
Cassandra watched the Jedi closely, observing the tension in Miranda’s frame and the almost predatory gate she had begun to use as they entered the temple.
Somehow Cassandra knew that Miranda was listening hard for anything nearby.
They entered the shattered remains of a corridor that led deeper into the ruins, picking their way through the rubble. All silent and on guard. The group emerged abruptly into an open space filled with balconies and small terraces leading down to ground zero. Miranda slowed down to a stealthy prowl.
Her hair stalks fluffed up and straining to pick up the slightest vibration. Though the ambient noise from the rifts and tainted stone were causing a truly titanic migraine which served as a distraction.
They could see the rift now. A large chunk of sickly green and black crystal crunching and hissing as it convulsed and writhed at the center of the crater. A rope of thick emerald light rose twisting from the mass into the sky, linking the rift to the breach where it sat high above their heads.
Varric withheld a whistle. “The breach is a long way up,” He muttered. The others around him nodded and Elariel had a look of uncertainty.
“This may be….. Problematic.” Miranda muttered as she craned her neck to stare at the breach. Cassandra grunted in agreement as she too peered at the sky.
Footsteps sounded behind them and Miranda turned her head swiftly, her staff coming up in preparation.
But instead of enemies, soldiers rounded the corner, Leliana in the lead. Her robe had several new burns on it and a layer of mud combined with ash coated her boots. More ash settled on her shoulders staining the lavender robe nearly grey. “You’re here! Thank the Maker,” She exclaimed rushing forward, bow in hand.
When she saw the Breach, she stopped. Her gaze traveling its length to where it ended high above them. “Oh,” She breathed, her eyes, filling with uncertainty.
Cassandra broke the spell, turning to her friend with a hard expression. “Leliana have your men take up positions around the temple.” She commanded, gesturing where she wanted the men to stand. Leliana met the Seeker’s gaze, her blue eyes meeting Cassandra’s. A silent conversation passed between the two and Cassandra gave a minute nod.
Leliana seemed satisfied with the response and gave a nod of agreement in turn before turning to her men, directing them to flanking positions on high ground around ground zero.
Cassandra turned and met Miranda’s eyes. The taller woman blinked slowly, a look of solidarity and assurance in her gaze, though the Seeker noticed that lines of fatigue and pain were beginning to make themselves known around the woman’s eyes, mouth and nose. Cassandra acknowledged her with another slight nod.
Miranda straightened her slightly slumped shoulders and looked back to the center. “Let us end this.” She said, her tone quiet, yet still audible over the sound of the breach.
Elariel looked up at Miranda nervously. “I don’t know if I can reach that high,” She rasped, fear showing in her large eyes.
“No this rift is the first. Seal it and perhaps you shall seal the breach,” Solas interjected, certainty filling his voice as he shook his head.
Cassandra looked at him with slightly narrowed eyes. She didn’t like how certain he was of himself. It felt like he knew far more than he was telling them.
She looked out of the corner of her eyes and saw that Miranda was focusing on Elariel, her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “You can do this. We just need to seal the rift down there,” She said firmly.
Elariel looked up and nodded a small smile forming at the reassurance. They set off around the perimeter, still on the higher balcony as they wove through the shattered ground.
“Now is the hour of our victory, bring forth the sacrifice,” A deep voice murmured from the rift. It echoed and rang with fell overtones that raised the hairs on the back of Cassandra’s neck.
“What are we hearing?” She demanded looking around, trying to find the source of the voice.
“At a guess? The person who created the breach,” Solas answered grimly. Cassandra looked back at him, his face was set, looking almost carved from stone. Varric looked grim, his mouth set in a harsh frown.
Miranda was now perfectly blank. Her eyes and face reflecting no emotion as the woman seemed to be preparing herself for battle. Truth be told it was slightly eerie to see her normally expressive face so empty.
They turned a corner and Varric frowned. Glowing red spikes jutted from the ground, giving off a baleful light. “You know this stuff is red lyrium Seeker,” He growled, his gaze fixed hatefully on the stones.
“I see it Varric.” Cassandra replied testily, her voice growing sharp as the tension filled the air around them.
“But what’s it doing here?” he demanded, his voice growing urgent.
“Magic could have drawn on lyrium beneath the temple, corrupted it” Solas theorized, also eyeing the crystals.
“Ah! It’s evil. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.” Varric snarled clutching Bianca tighter.
“You are far more correct than you know Varric,” Miranda told him, the light from the lyrium making her look haggard. “It is so steeped in the Darkside that madness follows in its wake. The corruption of body, degradation of the mind and perversion of the soul is what it was created for,” She told them.
Her hair now rattling, the faint buzz drawing wary looks from her companions.
Solas opened his mouth to ask her how she knew that only for the voice to ring out again. “Keep the sacrifice still.” Miranda’s lips pulled back in a snarl as a woman’s voice, filled with fear and desperation filled the air. “Someone! Help Me!”
Cassandra jolted like she had been doused with ice water. “That is Divine Justinia’s voice,” She said, horror filling her voice. Whatever she would have said next was halted when Miranda came to a halt at the edge of where stairs had once led down to the center. The blast had sheared the stairs off leaving a twelve foot drop to the blast level. Miranda turned back to Elariel who was leaning on Varric. The Dwarf was standing next to her offering support as the exhausted elf swayed, her body clearly shutting down as exhaustion claimed her.
Her eyes fluttered and her grip on her staff was loose. It looked as if the effort of holding her head up was out stripping her strength. Miranda walked over and scooped Elariel into her arms and looked at Cassandra. The Seeker nodded and Miranda hopped over the edge, landing lightly as the elf in her arms shivered, her body no longer to maintain its temperature. In the frigid mountain air
The other three landed behind her with heavier thuds and clanking armour. They approached the rift cautiously, Miranda keeping Elariel in her arms. The mark sparked and lit up like a flare, drawing small gasps of pain from Elariel and her hand was dragged up toward the rift like a magnet. Miranda gently grabbed Elariel’s wrist and tugged the hand back.
“Someone! help me!” Justinia’s voice cried again but this time another voice answered.
“What’s going on here?” Elariel’s voice asked, sounding confused.
Cassandra’s eyes widened, then narrowed in anger. “That was your voice,” She exclaimed turning to stare at the limp elf in Miranda’s arms. “Most Holy cried out to you, but…” the rift crashed, the sound like thunder. Shaking them to their very bones.
Thick acrid smoke coalesced into two figures. One was a woman in ornate red and white robes, her face lined with age. She was suspended in a crucifixion like pose. Swirls of angry red magic curling around her arms as she struggled, terror clear on her face. Above her loomed a shadowy figure with glowing red eyes.
Where the door had once been the insubstantial figure of Elariel sprinted in, her face confused. “What’s going on here?” She asked, looking at the scene before her in uncertainty, her hand reaching for the staff on her back.
“Run while you can! Warn them!” Justinia cried urgently, twisting in the magic’s grip.
he demonic shadow turned to look in the opposite direction of Elariel’s shade as if speaking to someone else. “We have an intruder,” It noted coldly. Its clawed fingers rose and pointed at Elariel. “Slay the elf,” It commanded before the scene dissolved in a flash of light that blinded them.
Miranda gently set Elariel on her feet, keeping a supporting hand at her shoulder. Cassandra shook her head, blinking the spots from her vision before she rounded on Elariel. “You WERE there!” She cried pressing forward on the weakened elf. “Who attacked? And the Divine, is she…? Was this vision true? What are we seeing?” She demanded.
Elariel tried to speak but Miranda had placed herself between them her hair buzzing in warning, shielding the elf from the enraged Seeker. The pair glared at each other and Miranda let out a faint, but still audible hiss.
“I don’t remember,” The she elf’s voice was weak, but still audible over the sound of Miranda’s anger.
Solas’ calm voice spoke over them. “Echoes of what happened here. The Fade bleeds into this place,” Cassandra and Miranda turned to look at the elf who was staring up at the rift. “This rift is not sealed but it is closed,” He added and Cassandra stalked closer to him. “Albeit temporarily.” He added now looking at the Seeker. “I believe that with the mark, the rift can be opened and then sealed properly and safely.” He told them, his eyes lingering on Elariel.
Miranda looked at the young girl in concern before turning her eyes back to Solas who was still speaking. “However opening it will likely attract attention from the other side,” He warned them.
Miranda rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Of course it will,” She muttered quietly. Cassandra didn’t hear the comment as she was busy commanding the nearby soldiers after her realization that Demons would be visiting soon. Miranda watched as a few swordsmen joined them, the men watched Miranda cautiously out of the corner of their eyes. Leliana joined them as well, her bow at the ready and her blue eyes hard as she stared at the rift.
Miranda sighed and turned to Elariel who had a look of fear on her face. The taller woman’s eyes softened as she looked down at the she elf. “Hey, don’t worry. You just focus on the Breach. We’ll handle the demons. The minute it opens I want you to retreat to a safe spot where you can continue working on the rift ok?” She told the elf putting a hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“But what if I can’t?” She whispered in fear.
Miranda smiled sadly. “You will. I’ve seen it.” She told the girl gently, squeezing her shoulder in reassurance. “Just promise me that you’ll survive it,” She commanded with a smirk. Elariel gave a quivering smile before she turned to Cassandra and nodded.
Miranda switched her staff to her left hand and drew her sword, giving it a few experimental twirls. She caught Leliana watching her out of the corner of her eye and nodded to the Bard before she breathed deeply through her nose and closed her eyes. To those watching, a soft golden glow appeared around her before it began to softly spread through the troops. It was faint but those who the light touched felt stronger, surer and revitalized.
Leliana and Cassandra stared at the woman. Her hair stalks had begun to lift and shift as if in a wind, the soft sound of them clicking together filling the air. Her face was calm and her breathing steady like she was meditating, though Leliana could see lines of effort forming around her closed eyes and mouth.
When her eyes opened, they glowed blue with power. She turned to the rift and settled into a crouch, her face still unbelievably calm. Elariel felt a wave of strength fill her and she looked back. She saw the glow that surrounded everyone and the power filled gaze of Miranda. In a jolt, she realized that Miranda was feeding her strength.
Determined not to waste it she turned back to the rift. She lifted her hand towards the rift. The mark dragged her hand up and forward as it connected. It felt like red hot knives her being stabbed through her arm and she grit her teeth at the pain.
The rift twitched, then convulsed then blasted open, throwing her back. A jagged rope of emerald light shot out and hit the ground. It rebounded up in a swirl of dust and coalesced into the form of a massive, spiked bipedal creature. It roared as it threw its arms out before landing and turning on them. Elariel picked herself up and backed away, her staff at the ready. Even with the added strength she was in no shape to fight.
“Now,” Cassandra cried and the archers stationed around let loose. Their aim was true but the Demon brought its heavily plated arm up, swatting the arrows away. Miranda led the charge, a feral roar echoing from her throat as she lunged forward. The other soldiers followed her, moving like a single well-oiled machine. In the back of her mind Cassandra knew that the soldiers should not be this coordinated in their attacks, but she knew not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Miranda reached it first, but instead of hacking at its legs, she leaped up. The Force in her jump propelling her easily twelve feet into the air. The demon brought its arm up but she was ready. She bounced off its arm feet first, using it as a springboard to flip over the jagged limb, her sword raised above her head. As she descended she swung, dragging the steel down its face. She missed the eyes but the cut caused the beast to rear back, roaring in pain. Her staff darted forward and rammed into a joint in its armour plating to propel herself away from the beast’s thrashing limbs.
“We must strip its defenses…Wear it down.” Cassandra cried as she dove forward, her sword slashing at the back of its knee. Varric grunted in agreement as he loaded an exploding bolt that he quickly fired at a chink in the demon’s armour. Solas held his hand high and called down lightning, aiming with his not inconsiderable will at the demon.
Miranda landed near the demon’s feet and promptly drove her blade into the inner side of its knee before she had to withdraw and roll between its legs. She stood and spun only to be forced to leap high as a whip of electricity lashed out where she and Cassandra had been standing. The Warrior flung herself to the ground as the whip passed overhead, pushing up with a growl and attacking the demon again.
Leliana stood near Elariel, picking off Shades as the advanced towards them. From her vantage, she could see Miranda performing feats of unbelievable acrobatics and speed, moving like a dancer against the pride demon as it chuckled menacingly. She could see the soldiers moving with purpose and conviction, their attacks coordinated like only the most honed companies could.
She filed that though away for later examination. She ducked under a shade’s swing and bashed its face in with her bow, stabbing it with the arrow in her hand before she spun and fired it at another shade. Both dissolved back to their realm.
Elariel picked her aching body up from where she had slumped and forced herself near the rift, lifting her hand and willing the rift to close. Her hand connected painfully again and she bit her lip, tasting blood as the rift flailed against her control. Just when she thought she had it the rift surged, knocking her hand away.
But it affected the demon, stunning it briefly and causing it to kneel. The fighters took advantage of this, Varric firing a barrage of well-aimed shots that struck true in the small spaces between its plates. Solas twirled his staff, striking the ground causing ice to begin to creep up its legs.
Cassandra jammed her sword into its wounded knee, the blade causing some of the frozen flesh to shatter, further hamstringing it. Miranda had disposed of her staff to the far right where leaned against a wall as she leapt onto its back, her sword driving deep into its back.
The demon roared in pain and straightened, trying to shake her off. She obliged it by sliding down, her sword stayed buried deep as she used her weight to drag the blade down. It screamed in both rage and pain, lashing out with twin whips of lightning that struck an archer, incinerating him on the spot. Miranda landed and quickly retreated. She used the force to hurl chunks of masonry at it, the projectiles smashing with the force of a siege engine.
Elariel shook her head to clear it of the ringing in her ears and turned her attention back to the rift. She attacked it yet again, wrestling with the squirming tendrils of magic that wrapped around it. She could feel pressure building behind her eyes and felt something warm drip from her nose. She was numb now, the pain felt distant but she pressed on.
The rift broke free again and she stumbled back, bringing her hand to her face only for it to come away soaked in blood from her nose. She felt a gloved hand force a glass vial into her hands and looked up to see Leliana standing over her, her arrows still flying and a grim expression on her face. The golden glow that had surrounded them was fading, and with it doubt began to creep in. Strength began to falter and cohesion returned to normal.
Elariel ripped the stopper from the bottle and quickly downed the ruby liquid inside. She gagged at the taste of dirt and mint and threw the bottle away, faintly hearing it shatter against stone. She felt her exhaustion lift a little and the flow of blood from her nose stopped. She struggled upright and backed up against the wall, Leliana providing cover as she tried to pull her flagging energy up for a final push.
The demon was kneeling now. Its lower half encased in ice that Solas continued to apply, thickening the sheets to glacial strength to hold it in place. Several broken and burned bodies littered the field now, archers and swordsmen felled by the demon.
Even her party were not unscathed. Varric had a long gash on his shoulder, the blood had been stopped by a quick spell from Solas but the barely scabbing slice was still visible. Solas had a large bruise on the side of his head but he still fought, staying close to Varric so the dwarf could bayonet any who came too close.
Cassandra was spitting blood from her mouth as she charged forward again the beginnings of a bruise forming on her face. She had been knocked away from the demon by its fist and, though her shield had protected her from the blow, her arm was now numb. When she had landed, she had bitten her tongue and now she was spitting to clear her mouth.
Miranda stood on a small knoll a little way from the battle, her face absolutely blank, though her skin was now so pale she was almost grey. Her eyes glowed and similarly coloured vapour poured from them. Her sword lay near her feet as she hurled boulders torn from the mountainside at the demon with gestures.
Blood poured down her face the multitude of tiny scratches from the chips of rock that rebounded from her target and a magnificent black eye was becoming visible. Her left glove was shredded, blood oozing from where she had grasped one of the demon’s spikes.
The Demon was in bad shape though. Its thick armour plates were cracked and it was bleeding a thick black ichor from several large wounds and hundreds of smaller ones. Its left leg was useless from where Cassandra had nearly severed it and the large spike that had decorated its left arm lay shattered on the ground. Miranda bent down and scooped up her blade and sprinted back into the fray.
“Cassandra up!” Miranda barked as she neared the demon. Cassandra saw what she wanted and ran to join her, throwing her shield away as she did so. Miranda picked the warrior up with the Force and boosted her onto the demons back, leaping up to join her. The pair scampered up to its neck where the clung determinedly to the spike on its shoulders.
With a concerted effort, they both jammed their swords into the back of its neck. They jerked their blades to the left and right as they work to sever its spine. The demon screamed in pain as Cassandra withdrew her blade and rammed it deeper, Miranda following the action. They sawed their blades against bone and sinew till suddenly the demon froze, then went limp.
Its huge bulk crashed forward as the two women rode it to the ground. The demon dissolved and they fell the rest of the way. Their swords clanging as their temporary sheath vanished. The two blood spattered women heaved themselves upright, turning to Elariel. “Now, Seal it!” Cassandra yelled as she and Miranda leaned on each other for support.
Elariel took a deep breath and struggled upright again. She directed her hand at the rift and attacked it with all her will. The rift fought. It writhed and convulsed, bolts of light shot out from all directions. Pressure built inside her head as her nose bleed returned. She bore down harder, refusing to let the rift win.
Darkness was eating at her vision but she held on grimly. Miranda and Cassandra could only watch where they swayed as the tiny elf trembled and bled against the rift.
The centre grew smaller and smaller, tightening until it exploded in a flash of green light. The watchers were flung back as the rope that connected the rift to the breach evaporated, though the breach still remained high in the sky.
Miranda and Cassandra picked themselves up and stumbled forward. Leliana also stood, coughing and trying to recover her wind. They rushed forward to where Elariel lay. She was still, far too still. Miranda lunged forward and pressed her hands to the elf’s neck. A pulse was there but thready and weak.
“I need potions NOW!” She bellowed, fumbling her gloves from her hands, pressing the rapidly sealing but still wounded palms against Elariel’s neck.
Cassandra forced a vial into her hand and Miranda wasted no time pouring the liquid down Elariel’s throat Miranda closed her eyes in concentration, faint ripples of air, like a heat haze vibrated off her as she worked to repair the damage.
She was not the best Force healer but she could at least help. She pushed her aching mind forward, already strained from maintaining battle meditation in a high stress environment while in motion.
But despite her fatigue, she managed to push Elariel into a healing trance. The elf’s body slowed, conserving energy needed to repair the damage. Miranda sat back on her heels and wearily held out her hand.
Her staff and sword floated slowly over, barely making it into her grasp. She sheathed the blade and gripped the staff tightly. “Sleep now” She commented as her eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed limply to the ground.
Cassandra rushed over and checked her pulse. It was strong and slow indicating deep sleep.
“Let’s get back to Haven,” She told the others. There were some nods and Cassandra knelt down, checking Elariel’s pulse as a few soldiers came forward.
With some ropes and the generous donation of Solas and Elariel’s staffs they were able to rig up a litter to drag the two women out of the temple. Once arranged they made their way down the mountain.
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