Shades of Grey and Black

The Battle Joined

The fires in Denerim were visible from miles outside the city and the skirmishes with the Darkspawn became more frequent. Several times throughout the last day of their march a huge, silent shadow swooped through the heavy clouds above them. Riordan, Ffion, and Alistair tensed each time, feeling that swirl and pull of the taint, but the Archdemon never attacked. It seemed to be toying with them and this steeled Alistair's resolve. When it finally came to a head, when they were prepared to storm the front gates where the Darkspawn crawled, he addressed their armies and was more like Maric than ever.

"Today we fight for Ferelden!" He called out over the din of the both ally and foe, "We fight for Denerim! Look on the Darkspawn horde, but don't fear them! We have a stronger cause than they ever will! Today is the day we avenge the death of my brother King Cailan and most importantly, today is the day we honor those Wardens that fell at Ostagar and remind the Order that we will never forget their sacrifice! So take up your arms, place your faith in the Maker and Andraste, and fight for Ferelden and the Wardens!!"

The charge sent a shock-wave of excitement through the forces and the erupted cheers drowned out all else. Blades were held aloft in a salute to the king and shields were clattered together so loudly the Darkspawn at the city gates went still. The armies turned about at a signal from Ffion and war cries echoed through the air as they charged. Hundreds of men, Elves, and Dwarves swarmed the gates in an attack so fierce the Darkspawn retreated with shrieks of terror. When the gates were theirs, the commanders looked to Ffion. The young Warden was grim faced, but pleased and she stepped into her role with ease.

"Sweep the city!" She shouted, "Focus your attention on Fort Drakon and if there's even the smallest threat of becoming overwhelmed, turn back and regroup! The Archdemon will be lured to the Fort and the Wardens will need all the support we can get! Maker go with you!"

The forces that were chosen to make the sweeps disappeared with shouts and salutes and Ffion turned her attention to Riordan when he approached. There were small skirmishes towards the interior of the city and the Dalish and Redcliffe archers kept busy with staving these.

"The Darkspawn have generals, Ffion," The concern in Riordan's voice was less than encouraging, "If they are dispatched, the odds will tip in our favor. The Darkspawn are even more chaotic without a leader. On your way to the Fort keep an eye out. The pull from the generals is much like that from the Archdemon. Most unmistakable."

"It's... It feels like it's coming from the west and... north?" Alistair hesitated a moment and then his face got a little longer, "But that'd be towards the market place and that's well out of our way."

Riordan paused to search the taint for himself and Ffion wondered how they did it. Hers was so chaotic it seemed an impossible thing and the constant revolutions from the Archdemon overhead kept throwing her off. When Riordan finally confirmed Alistair's words, she set her jaw and gave a nod.

"Well, we'll just take the chance," She said firmly, "If this will give us an edge, it'll be worth it."

"I will continue to Fort Drakon and attempt to lure the Archdemon that way," Riordan offered, "It will not be able to defend its generals in this case and you will have more of an opportunity. May I also suggest that you split into two groups? You will have better luck and-"

He was cut off by the outrage from the companions and Ffion sent him a rueful smile and shook her head.

"The only way I'd get any of them to split from me would be to tie them up and have others physically carry them away," She answered dryly and earned smiles from those around her, "No, Riordan, I understand the sentiment, but we're staying together. A force will be here to hold the gates and the rest will converge to the Fort."

"We'll come with you if you'll have us, Ffion," Teagan offered and motioned to the dozen warriors and archers that gathered around him, "Eamon will take charge of the men that are left here."

"It will be much appreciated, thanks," Ffion said gratefully and then gave Riordan a formal Warden bow, "Maker go with you, Riordan, and be careful."

"And you as well, sister," He replied and clasped Alistair's hand briefly before slipping away through a dark alley.

Alistair turned to his uncle when Riordan was gone and took his hand. His lips parted but Eamon interrupted him.

"No good byes now, Alistair," He said gently and firmly, "Take care of the generals and we will meet at Fort Drakon. Watch after the others, make your father and I proud, and do honor to Ferelden."

Ffion smiled at the Arl, stepping forward and pressing his arm.

"Maker guide you, Eamon, and keep you safe."

"And you as well, my dear," He said and released his nephew's hand, "Go quickly now while there's a break in the fight."

He nodded to his brother, clapped his shoulder, and then the group slipped away. They took side streets and alleys, following the direction of one of Teagan's men who had grown up in the city and knew it like the back of his hand. Alistair and Ffion kept them informed of the Darkspawn's presence and they were able to avoid fights that would eat up too much time or ones in which victory was very doubtful. It seemed Riordan's campaign to draw the creatures to the Fort was working and as they moved further away, even Ffion could feel something more than the usual pull of the monsters. They had reached the marketplace and while Ffion turned that way, Alistair faced the south and put one hand on her arm.

"Wait," He said softly, "There's another towards the Alienage. I can feel both of them."

Teagan motioned to his men. His blue eyes hardened as his jaw set.

"Take care of this one and then head to the Fort," He said firmly, "We'll take care of the Alienage."

"Teagan-"

"There's no time to waste. The armies need their Wardens," The Bann interrupted Wynne and then gave both Ffion and Alistair a grim smile that warred with his rather jaunty salute, "We will see you soon."

Ffion watched them go, feeling torn, and Sten pulled her back to this reality.

"He is right, kadan," The deep voice told her, "Let us end this."

She shook herself and smiled at Alistair when he squeezed the arm he still held.

"Right," She said and felt rather than saw Zevran move to her other elbow, "The bastard awaits."

They left the protection of the alley and were tossed into hellish mayhem. The busy marketplace with its numerous stands had been viciously destroyed. Buildings were set on fire, canvas ripped down and trampled, displays overturned, and merchandise scattered across the square. Alistair saw with a squirm in his stomach that the low building where his half-sister's home and shop was had been completely razed and he found himself whispering a prayer for her. He kept thinking of her five mouths to feed and didn't like considering what may have happened to them. But then the Darkspawn emerged from the shadows and the two ogres were the bigger distraction.

The smaller monsters attacked at the same moment that the ogres did and Ffion rolled between the legs of one of the huge creatures. She immediately scrambled to her feet as a Hurlock bore down on her and she staggered it with a knife before dancing away. The monster was just as quick and rounded on her only to be met by Asala's gleaming edge. The Warden ducked around behind it, stabbing with one of the short swords and then breaking away as one of the ogres reached for her. She slashed her other blade along the monster's hand and shouted for Leliana. The Orlesian leaped onto a pile of rubble and shot arrows so quickly her hands were a blur. She heard Ffion's shout and released the catch in her gauntlet, sending one of the silver darts at the ogre that the Warden was battling on her own. The dart sailed through air and lodged in the monster's head as it made another grab for Ffion that she wouldn't have been able to avoid. In slow motion, the ogre toppled down and Ffion whirled to duck under another Hurlock's sword and stab it in the back as she darted for the second ogre.

Oghren and Zevran were battling it alone and Tilly joined her lady as she threw herself in the midst of their fight. Alistair had joined Sten, and Wynne and Morrigan were busy protecting them. Leliana kept the Darkspawn from distracting those battling the ogre and Zevran finally used the monster's grab to his advantage. He jumped and launched himself from the powerful forearm, his swords gleaming in the light of the fires as he sank them into the ogre's neck and held on as the beast crumpled. He rolled clear, yanking the swords free and letting his momentum carry him to the Genlocks that were making for the witch and enchanter. The little monsters didn't stand a chance and he turned to make sure Ffion was okay in time to watch Alistair duck the carry-through of Sten's swing and dive at the last of two Hurlocks they had been fighting this whole time; clearly the generals that Riordan had worried about. His attack came while the monster was still off-balance and there was nothing the Darkspawn general could do to stop the razor sharp blade from slicing through his neck. When this creature fell like the other, the Darkspawn seemed to lose focus. They scattered, trying to escape and Leliana and Morrigan picked them off easily while Wynne saw to the few injuries they had accumulated. Ffion gathered her knives and Leliana moved among the bodies and rubble to gather the arrows that were still usable.

They didn't waste much time with this and instead turned their attention toward the Fort. Using the alleys and side streets, they tried to keep as southerly a route as possible and when they skirted the Alienage and crossed the river, there was no pull like there had been in the marketplace. They were just about to the Fort when they ran into Teagan's force that was battling a strong battalion. The companions arrived just in time and they dispatched the force without much trouble. The Bann had lost two men in their battle with the other generals and told them that the Elves were holding their own admirably, not about to give in to the Darkspawn.

"They seemed less than concerned about the rest of the city," Teagan added ruefully as they pressed on to the Fort, "But at least we have that place held against these bastards."

"You didn't have any Elves with you," Ffion replied with a shrug, "And they have a good excuse if they want the humans to fail here... so long as they stay safe."

"She has a very valid point," Zevran answered and tossed one of his knives into the shadows when both Wardens stiffened and he caught the movement. The Hurlock never stood a chance, "We Elves are a stubborn lot, yes?"

"But you're here," Ffion said promptly and they slowed their march as the Fort came into view and the Archdemon swooped low overhead. Her grey eyes fixed on the monster as she added somewhat absently, "That's something at least."

"Ah, but, my dove, we both know that my reason for being here is a pair of lovely eyes and dimpling smile, yes?"

Ffion's cheeks flushed and she rolled those eyes, giving him that dimpling smile as Alistair spoke next and proved that their teasing could be done no matter how life-threatening their situation was.

"Yeah, that, and of course the fact that you tried to kill her and didn't. And since she let you live - why I'll never know - you owe her a hell of a lot."

"My life, in fact," Zevran said quietly and his amber eyes were a little more serious, "And all of us will be tested to the fullest today. I for one, my dearest Warden... Ffion... I am with you, to the end."

Her blush deepened and her grey eyes glowed and Alistair's breath caught. But before anyone could say another word, the Archdemon let out a shriek that made all of them jump and cower, clapping their hands over their ears. The world itself seemed to rock as the beast swooped down closer to the city than it had yet and Ffion and Alistair could only watch in horror as Riordan made his move.

The elder Warden had reached the roof of a small tower just outside the Fort itself and they only spotted him now, when he acted. The Archdemon flew low and was close enough that Riordan grabbed a long blade, ran, and jumped into the air as the monster passed. He landed on the thing's back and he looked tiny as he clung there. The blade flashed in the firelight when he raised it and the Archdemon let out a screech more piercing than the other when the sword sank into its back. As its massive wings cut through the air, carrying it high above the city again, it reached back with one front leg to knock Riordan and the sword loose and when it was unsuccessful it tucked its wings and went into a free-fall towards the Fort. Riordan was even smaller as he tugged the sword free and struck again but he was too late. The Archdemon slammed into the top of another tower, jolting him loose and redirecting the sword blade to the broad expanse of one wing. The long blade sliced through the tough flesh as Riordan fell. There was nothing solid for the sword to catch and those below gasped out collective curses and prayers as the elder Warden plummeted to his death.

Ffion's gasp was ragged and she snatched Alistair's arm as the Archdemon let out one more shriek and tumbled from the sky, flapping its useless wing in vain. It hit the top of Fort Drakon's main tower and there was a silence from it that was louder than the din from the rampaging Darkspawn. Morrigan's resigned sigh preceded a roar that shook the ground beneath them and Ffion's fingers tightened on the ex-Templar's arm.

"Say something," She said shortly, "Anything."

"He's resting with the Maker," Alistair answered promptly and looked down at her, hating the pale terror in her face. His voice was heavy with grief, "There's nothing to say."

She shook her head, shocked by the suddenness of it all and then she realized what this meant. She released a breath and set her jaw. Letting him go, she straightened herself.

"Then we finish this," She spoke firmly with a finality that made Alistair very nervous. No matter Morrigan's assurances, he wouldn't believe it until the Archdemon was dead and he and Ffion were both still standing in the aftermath. She saw his lips part, "Not now, we'll decide that later. We have to get to the damn thing first."

Teagan frowned between them and opened his mouth but Oghren was faster.

"Decide wha', boss?" He asked gruffly, "Wha's goin' on 'ere we should know 'bout?"

"Nothing," She replied sharply and the taint swirled to life, "And right now, we don't have time."

And just that quickly, they were thrown back into the fray. They fought together, making for the Fort and hearing the roars of the Archdemon. These seemed to come at some sort of pattern and it took a moment for them to realize that it was calling for its generals, and all in vain. This filled Ffion with a grim sort of pleasure and she drew strength from it, which was for the best.

Her mind was made up: Alistair would live to be king of Ferelden. She would do everything in her power to ensure that she would deal the final blow to the Archdemon and... she was ready. The exhaustion of this running around the country like a chicken without a head, the deals, the deception, the loss of Howe and that driving force, helped her make this decision.

And Rick? That voice asked and she swung her swords so fiercely at the Genlock darting for her that Leliana sent her a very surprised look before going back to her archery. It hurt to think about that and she pushed it away. Gilmore would be fine, she was sure. There would be some grieving of course, but he would find some pretty little maid to settle down with and soon she would recede to the back of his head with the other childhood memories... You know that's not true! The voice was even more adamant, but the Eleanor-like voice was stronger. Ferelden needs a king and the Couslands put the country first. This is no exception!

And then the way to the Fort's door was clear and a portion of Harrowmont's Dwarves were suddenly there. This respite didn't last long. The Darkspawn were responding to their commander's call and the waves were frequent. During another lull, Ffion drew her companions to her. She was feeling the strain of the continued combat and she let Tilly lean against her as she spoke.

"I want some of you to stay and help Teagan and the Dwarves hold the gates here, and don't argue with me," She held up one hand as they all got ready to protest, "A smaller party will get through the tower more quickly and speed is more important right now. Alistair, I think you should-"

"Not a chance in hell," He interrupted fiercely and couldn't help but glance at Morrigan who stood at the rear of the companions. The witch gave a small nod and he understood the meaning. She had meant what she said about him dealing the final blow and his insides became ice when he considered the possibility of losing his fellow Warden, "You're stuck with me, dear Ffion. I'm in this to the end and you can't split the Wardens up now. I'm not king quite yet."

She sent him a half-annoyed, half-pleased look and then her attention was diverted.

"Me too, Ffion," Morrigan spoke up quietly, "I have been with you from the beginning and I wish to be there in the end."

"You will not shake me, dove, don't try," Zevran informed her and reached out to stroke Tilly's ears.

"You all treat this like a party," Ffion muttered and then glanced up at Sten, "You'll come, too? I think the others would appreciate you being with me."

"My blade is yours, kadan," He replied, "You know this."

She inclined her head and met Oghren's unhappy green eyes.

"Take over for me, Oghren," She ordered before he could interrupt, "Keep everyone safe and give them hell. Make them wish they never left the Deep Roads and seriously question the wisdom of attacking Orzammar again."

"Ha, yeh got it, boss," The Dwarf answered and then his green eyes cleared a little and he stood straighter, looking more like the warrior he must have been in the past, "A good cap'n once tol' me ta show the enemy our heart's an' then show 'em theirs. Yeh do tha' fer me, Ffion, I don' trus' anyone else ta."

"You got it," She grinned and clasped his hand, "It's been an honor, Oghren. Orzammar would be proud."

Wynne smiled at her with the maternal fondness that reminded her so much of her mother and she extended her hand.

"Watch after them, Wynne," Ffion said quietly, squeezing the enchanter's hand.

"You know I will," Wynne's own voice was soft and her blue eyes tender, "I am proud to have followed you this far, Ffion, and prouder still to call you my friend. Your courage and honesty are inspiring and no matter what may happen, know I will never forget the influence you have had on my life."

She stepped back and Leliana twisted her bow between her hands.

"I want to come with you, my dear," She said, "I do not like staying behind."

"Your bow is needed here, Leliana," Ffion replied firmly and touched the Orlesian's shoulder, "Here is a story like all those you ever told us. You wanted to leave your mark on this world and accomplish the Maker's task: you've done this and don't let anyone else tell you different."

The Orlesian's eyes were bright and she nodded her copper head. A shout went up from Teagan's men and the Dwarves and they were running out of time for goodbyes.

"Here we forge our own legends," Leliana agreed and she stepped forward to give Ffion a quick hug. She wrung Alistair's hand and nodded to the other companions that would accompany the Wardens, "And we will make it a good one, no? Maker guide your hands and Andraste light your way."

She darted back to the front lines with Oghren, Wynne, and Teagan's men while the Dwarves threw themselves into the fray as more Darkspawn charged the Fort.

Alistair had dubbed Ishal the 'tower of hell' all that time ago and now he knew that had been an impulsive decision. Fort Drakon was the Deep Roads rolled into the Fade and this caused him to seriously wonder if they really had any reason to hope.

They had to fight their way to the tower and the Darkspawn filth made everything treacherous. The floor was slick with grime and blood, bodies sprawled across the floor and the rubble left in the attack, and flames licked eagerly at anything that would burn. The smell reminded them of the Deep Roads and the roars of the Archdemon were louder than ever. When they gained the first floor of the tower, the roars echoed through the stone and made dust drift down from the arched ceilings. The tower's height was deceptive. The ceilings of the place were well above their heads and led them to believe that there couldn't be more than two or three floors, including this first one. Ffion wasn't familiar with this part of the Fort at all, not having seen it when she was captive, but after they slipped through the first floor and continued to the next, she saw something she did recognize.

Two Emissaries stood in the main room with a small force of Genlocks and Hurlocks. Zevran and Ffion both crouched to spring the traps that stretched before the door and the Warden's surprise at going unnoticed only lasted until she spotted what kept the monsters busy. The spells from the Emissaries were directed at a group of soldiers that were pinned against the far wall of the room and down to a last resort of hiding behind an overturned bookcase and table.

Even with the room separating them and the smoke that curled through everything, Ffion recognized a few of the faces in the group of roughly a dozen soldiers. She stiffened as the trap was made useless and felt the brand on her back tighten. You'll learn real pain now, whore. The bastard's rough voice echoed back to her and she got to her feet slowly.

While they watched, one of the Emissaries got lucky and a member of the group who terrorized Ffion suddenly ignited. His screams echoed through the room and Ffion was the last to react when her companions moved forward. She almost put one hand on Morrigan's arm to keep her from protecting the soldiers and then thought better of it. But the witch still gave her a questioning look and she only understood the Warden's movement when the room was clear.

The man who suffered the Emissary's spell had died before the Darkspawn were cut down and Ffion saw with a surge of disappointment that it hadn't been the leader of that band. That one was giving them a grateful look before he recognized Ffion and then trepidation flashed in his eyes; though he spoke with the same smug venom she remembered.

"Well, th' Maker does work in strange ways, don' he? Why woul' yeh save us af'er what 'appened?"

"If I had known it was you I would have let the Darkspawn roast every last one of you," Ffion answered, feeling Alistair and Sten's questioning gazes and ignoring the way Zevran and Morrigan nodded knowingly. Tilly growled softly, feeding off Ffion's intense distaste, "Which is no surprise and a more merciful death than you deserve."

The soldier glared at her as his fellows stiffened around him and she didn't shy away from the violence she saw in his face. If it was going to turn into a fight, she would make sure they suffered.

"An' now wha'?" He finally asked and seemed to realize that even with greater numbers his little band didn't stand a chance against hers, "Yeh takin' yer revenge now?"

"Why would you-"

"Get the hell out of here," She interrupted Alistair's question and moved towards the doorway that would lead them further into the tower, "I'll show you the mercy that you never considered showing me and the knowledge that you're indebted to the Warden will eat away at your being. Have fun with that."

They pressed on and Alistair frowned down at his fellow Warden, distracted from their mission.

"That was a cryptic conversation," He said and his voice was dry, "You want to fill us in on that one?"

"Not particularly," Ffion frowned down the hallway at the ballistae that were positioned against either wall. She felt the tug of the taint grow stronger again and a plan started formulating itself in her head, "Not now, anyway. It's not the right time for that story. Help me here; I've got an idea."

She pushed one of the ballistae to face the hallway with Sten's help and Alistair and Zevran repositioned the other. Her grey eyes were unreadable save the determination. She shifted her swords on her back and rooted through the boxes of ammunition until she found projectiles that smelled like burnt wood and charred rock. Loading both of the ballistae, she glanced at her companions and motioned to the hallway with one hand.

"There are more of the bastards down there," She said and her face was set into those hard lines that meant she would be impossible to argue with, "I'll go and give them an invitation to our little party here. Be ready."

"I will assist you, Ffion," Morrigan offered and sent Alistair a particularly pointed look.

The ex-Templar understood her meaning and as soon as the women disappeared with Tilly, he turned to Zevran and Sten.

"Whatever happens when we face the Archdemon, make sure that Ffion doesn't give the killing blow," He said quickly, not sure how much time he was going to have to get his point across, "It has to be me."

Sten's brows furrowed over his violet eyes and he looked more intimidating than usual while Zevran merely faced Alistair with a cool, indecipherable expression.

"What do you mean, Alistair?" The Qunari asked, "What is the difference?"

"It's life or death," Alistair replied bluntly and then added, "Or it usually is. There are... special circumstances that Ffion can't know about and one of the most integral components is making sure that I kill the Archdemon. So, please, neither of you want to lose her; just trust me in this and keep her from it if you can."

There was only time for Zevran to incline his blond head and Sten to give him another frown before there was the scrambling of footsteps and hoarse yells from the Darkspawn. Alistair rushed to one ballista while Zevran manned the other and Sten stood between them with Asala clasped in both hands. Morrigan, Ffion, and Tilly came hurtling around the corner with the witch in the lead. She darted between the ballistae and whirled to stand shoulder to shoulder with Sten. Tilly was the next to reach the companions and Ffion signaled while she was still in the cross-hairs of the ballistae.

"Now!" She shouted when Zevran and Alistair hesitated.

The force hot on her heels was too big for the six of them to beat and she knew what she was doing. Trusting her because she had seen them through so much already, the men fired the weapons and their Warden waited until the last moment. She threw herself to the floor, rolling across the hard, unforgiving stones as the ammunition buzzed just over her head. She got an extra boost when those projectiles exploded on impact with the Darkspawn and she was springing to a crouch just in front of Tilly. Nearly two-thirds of the force was destroyed in the attack and she flung her knife at the Hurlock that was closest to Alistair. Sten pushed up in front of her as Tilly's barks boomed through the hallway and Zevran loaded his ballista again. He aimed it further down and took out the rear of the Darkspawn ranks. The others didn't stand a chance. Morrigan summoned a firestorm and the companions watched as the remaining monsters were ignited in the aftermath.

"Well, that was exciting, yes?" Zevran asked and stepped away from the ballistae.

"These things are... ingenious," Sten inspected one of the weapons more closely, "In Seheron we depend on the strength of our forces, never on these sort of tricks."

"'Tricks?'" Ffion repeated and started down the hallway when the firestorm cleared away, "Strategy, Sten, we aren't... less than desirables in a back alley."

The Qunari's lips quirked and Zevran grinned fully while Alistair glanced quickly at Morrigan and away again.

"Most unfortunate, yes?" The Elf answered and was rewarded with a brief dimpling grin.

The light-hearted teasing didn't last long. Ffion and Alistair both stiffened as they entered a hall with three doors on either side of them. They continued cautiously, Tilly hampering her lady's legs and Morrigan was the one to get the biggest surprise.

She was just ahead of Sten and the second door flew open in front of her as Ffion and Alistair both whirled about, feeling the taint pull at them. The witch, shocked by the suddenness of it, reacted on instinct when the Darkspawn tumbled from the room. She smashed her staff into the face of one and then swung it about and caught the other in the chest. Her power erupted then as well and the creature was suddenly a living bomb.

"No!" She said sharply and caught Sten's arm, "Do not touch it! Stay clear!"

She sent a blast of pure energy at the monster and sent it staggering into its fellows. Ffion, Alistair, and Zevran heeded her warning and Ffion grabbed Tilly's collar, pulling her close as the Darkspawn tumbled into the open room, running into its comrades, and exploding with a blast that took care of the others as well. The only downside to this was that the other doors burst open and the monsters swarmed them. Zevran and Ffion had the same thought, dropping those little distracting clouds of smoke and Morrigan repeated her energy blast, staggering the enemies once more. Alistair, Sten, and Tilly fumbled without being able to see and they couldn't do much damage for fear of hitting one of the other companions. But Zevran and Ffion moved through the smoke with ease and Ffion silently blessed her fellow Warden for staying still. It was easier to sense where he was when he didn't move.

As soon as this hallway was clear, they crossed through another and found a doorway whose door had been ripped from the hinges. The stairs leading to the next floor were slick as the first floor had been and they proceeded carefully up them. The taint was very strong at the door that had been battered on the way in and then shoved roughly shut.

Ffion studied it silently, her stomach full of butterflies in spite of her determination. She would see this through; she wasn't afraid of dying, she wasn't afraid of striking that killing blow. She had wanted to see her family for far too long to let something like that stop her. She just worried that it might hurt and was too ashamed to admit this.

"I don't suppose there's a way to open this without drawing unwanted attention?" She asked, speaking to the grain of the wood.

"Sorry, kadan," Sten replied and stepped forward to give the door a mighty shove.

They collectively cursed when they saw what they were up against and Morrigan was the first to react. She conjured her lightning storm and then morphed into that huge spider that barely fit through the door. She scurried toward the Emissary that stood between the two enormous ogres with a horrifying speed, and swarmed the monster. Ffion and Tilly bolted after her and the men fell in behind.

The Warden wasn't sure what the hell she was going to do. Especially when the ogres roared with fury as their Emissary fell under Morrigan's massive spider body. The witch morphed back and Sten gave her the chance to gather herself and regroup for another attack. She flung lightning at the ogre that the Qunari was darting around and then froze the other.

Ffion slashed her blades across the frozen ogre's hamstrings and then darted away when it tore itself from the witch's magic and grabbed for her. She stabbed its broad fingers, rolled between its legs, and almost collided with Tilly. The ogre proved alarmingly quick and it whirled about for her. She had another of Zevran's tricks in her hand and Alistair was caught in that disorienting dust when the pottery ball shattered on the floor. Sending the ex-Templar a brief, apologetic look that he never saw, Ffion threw herself at the ogre. She mimicked Zevran's moves in the marketplace, leaping onto the monster and letting her blades finish it off.

Jumping clear, she ended up knocking into Alistair and he was back to his old self. He grabbed hold of her waist and held her against him as she got her balance again. As usual, it was like gripping a stone wall when he was steady on his feet and she gave him a grim smile as the others were successful with their ogre. The honey eyes lit with that fire for her and she had to speak before he went back on the agreement they made at Eamon's estate ages ago.

"Sorry about that," She told him and her voice was breathless for more than one reason, "But that was the only way to get rid of the bastard."

"Don't apologize," He replied and the words were husky. His hands tightened on her and his expression was as determined as hers, confirming her suspicions and successfully muddling her thoughts, "About that confession, Ffion dearest, can I-"

"No," She implored and tried to step back; Alistair moved with her. It was ridiculous to attempt to keep her voice stern, "It's not a victory and there's no sunshine... and I still don't think I'm ready."

"I'll take all but that last," He said and bent his head until her breath puffed against his lips, "This may be-"

"Don't," Her tone was fierce and her fingers pressed against his mouth, "You want me more ornery, use that argument, but don't-"

"What am I supposed to do, beg?" He demanded and his fingers bit into her waist rather painfully. The honey eyes were dark with desire and she didn't think she could resist him anymore, "You're a bloody frustrating woman, Ffion. I want you and you treat it like it's unimportant. If you don't love me, just tell me that, don't keep teasing me like this. I can't do it any longer and if I try it, it'll break me in two."

She smiled gently and it was his smile and his grip was rough now. The other companions had moved to the last door after Zevran's signal and were waiting impatiently.

Studying the ex-Templar's expression, Ffion slid her hands down until they took his wrists and she pulled them loose, never looking away from him. Her heart was breaking into smaller pieces as she knew what she had to do. She held his hands in one of hers and then reached up and mimicked the same brush of his temple that she gave Gilmore.

"Oh, Alistair, my dear Alistair," She murmured and heard his breath catch, "You know I care for you, but... life being as it is, Wardens can't afford love. This is something that's abundantly clear and I won't make things even more complicated by crossing a line into a situation that will never last."

"I'm not asking you as a Warden and you know it, bloody little minx," Alistair said roughly and moved closer, pulling his hands free and reaching for her again.

She stepped out of the way and shook her head at him.

"It doesn't matter," She replied mournfully and it was a near whisper. The desire in his face was destroying those walls she had erected and she wasn't positive she could keep herself from his arms, "There is a code in the Wardens and even though you're asking me as a woman, the Warden is all that's left of me now. But know this, Alistair, before the end: I adore you; my brother in the taint and my strong protector, and you would've kept my nightmares away... You're so very dear to me."

She saw the storm of emotions cross his face and the way his eyes lit more deeply. His hands clenched into fists and his breath was ragged when he released the gasp. Not able to help it, she stepped forward onto her tiptoes, and pulled his head down to kiss his cheek. He grabbed hold of her again and she could feel his fingers bite through her armor. He turned his head to kiss her on the mouth and she ducked her face against his chest. If she let him kiss her now she would never see this through. His lips landed on her hair instead and it was her turn to let out a shaking gasp.

"You can't get away this easily, my little minx," He whispered against her cinnamon smelling curls, "One of these days you'll find out just how thin those walls are."

"But not today," She replied and her words were muffled in his chest, "Alistair, promise me something."

"Anything," His answer was automatic.

"Look after Rick... He will need someone, after everything is over and... Just promise me you'll look after him."

He frowned and would've looked her in the face if he wanted to let her go.

"Of course, but-"

"It's too late for buts," She slipped away from him and started towards the others, "We hardly have time for good byes."

Confusion and frustration battling for supremacy in his head, he frowned at his fellow Warden and was horrified by the hard, resigned expression on her face. For the first time he doubted that they could keep her from the Archdemon. But she was looking at Morrigan and smiling again, the gentle smile that meant she wasn't sure if she would have another chance at this opportunity.

"Morrigan, I wanted to thank you," She began rather uncertainly, "You came with us under some duress and guided us to safety. You've been more loyal than I had reason to expect and there is nothing now that I can give you for repayment."

The witch refused to so much as glance at the ex-Templar. His heart revealed itself each time he looked at his fellow Warden and she didn't want to over shadow it. Her gold eyes stayed on Ffion and she allowed a small smile.

"And you are welcome. Though I see little point to this," Morrigan kept her aloof superiority alive and well and she didn't bother with any discretion in this matter. Though her heart was warmed by Ffion's sincerity and she realized that, annoyed as the girl's inherent compassion could make her, she was going to miss the little Warden, "We will either die out there now or live through the circumstances and I am not sure which is better."

"Way to keep the faith, Morrigan," Alistair said dryly and his eyes were still on Ffion.

The Warden turned to Sten and her cheek dimpled.

"No good byes, kadan," The Qunari spoke gruffly, turning Asala point down and keeping just one hand on the hilt as he leaned on it, "Let me simply say that it has been an unexpected honor to follow you to the end. You are the most surprising human woman I have ever met and truly have become basalit-an and basvaraad. I am with you to whatever end we may face."

"And I'm sure that the Qunlat for those words is much more beautiful than the common translation," She pressed his arm, "You've been wonderful, Sten, with the exception of a few moments, of course... Like me, I suppose. It's been an honor and I'll never forget you."

Reluctantly she turned around and met Zevran's gaze, hating this good bye almost as much as she hated Alistair's. The Elf's amber eyes were gentle and before she could say a word, he swept her a bow and then took one of her hands in his.

"Little dove, I would follow you into the beyond and there is no need to state this again," He said, "And good byes only make me teary. You do not wish to see me weep, yes? Then let us treat this battle as the others, hold our heads high, and end this monster's reign before it begins."

Ffion appreciated this attempt at the old irrelevancy and more than any touching words and she stepped forward, kissing his cheek and giving him a brief hug. There was a catch in her throat that made speaking impossible and she pressed a hand to Tilly's head.

The door ahead was strongly reinforced and the pull of the taint stronger than it had ever been and she straightened herself, pushing all of her doubts and fears away and welcomed this fate with open arms.

She was ready.


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