The Fade = Your Own Personal Hell
Ffion strode down a long, open hallway of a beautifully constructed building. The walls shone in the bright sunlight with a consistency that was almost too perfect. It caught the tapestries hanging on the walls and she had to look closely at them. They depicted herself triumphing over a huge scaled and horned dragon that she figured had to be the Archdemon. Others showed Alistair at her side as they cut the head from the beast and there were Morrigan, Leliana and Sten taking their share of the glory and adoration. The scenes each picked up where the other left off and her step faltered as she looked them over.
Something was wrong. This didn't seem right. This was the outcome everyone had hoped for of course, but she couldn't remember anything about it.
Indeed, everything seemed a little off here. Soldiers in armor decorated with the Wardens' griffon passed by her, bowing or saluting on the way. Ffion didn't think much of this until she began paying attention to their faces. Every single one of them looked the same. They were all men and very handsome, with straight noses, artfully shaped cheekbones; smooth foreheads and wide-set, crystal clear blue eyes. Birds sang cheerfully and, through the open windows, the sunlight glinted off bright green tree leaves and created a glare on the distant bay. It resembled Highever and Ffion felt the warning bells start to sound in the back of her mind.
Something was horribly wrong...
She faced the hallway again and through the door ahead of her spotted a familiar figure that caused relief and a little trepidation to course through her. In the large courtyard she approached, Duncan stood at the top of a flight of steps, his hands clasped behind his back and smiling at her with the paternal fondness she remembered.
Remembered? Her head questioned. She pushed it aside and hurried to him, never thinking twice about the absence of clicking claws at her side.
"Ah, there you are," Duncan greeted and his smile grew, "We were beginning to wonder when you would rejoin us. How are you enjoying Weisshaupt?"
"Very much," Ffion's words sounded odd and out of place and she wondered why she felt like she was watching herself answer these questions; why it felt like these answers were nothing but learned responses, "This place is beautiful... but..."
"But?" Duncan repeated and he seemed to struggle to keep his deep voice soothing and calm, "But what?"
"But... there's some things that I just don't understand," She spoke quietly, slowly, trying to word her concerns so they would have some sort of order. The alarm bells were still ringing in her head, progressively becoming louder and she caught herself reaching with one hand for something to steady her; wondering why she felt a pang when nothing was there. She glanced at the floor beside her and realized quite suddenly what was missing. Tilly! She thought with a deeper pang, hoping that her hound wasn't lost in the last battle, "I don't know, really. It seems like I should remember something from the victory, but... I mean, we did win, didn't we?"
Duncan laughed and even that sounded off.
"Yes, my dear girl, we did win," He assured her, "It was a glorious triumph and you have become a legend amongst the men here, beating out Alistair, even. It was what you wanted, wasn't it? To follow in the footsteps of your parents and brother?"
The bells were closer now to the front of her head, warning her that he was at the very least lying to her. Duncan, who would never have lied to her or anyone else, unless he did so to protect and save innocents. She wasn't even sure why he was here, it didn't seem right; and with the mention of her family painful flashes centered her, brought her back to terrifying reality. She remembered the smell of smoke, her mother's drawn expression and haunted eyes, the overturned shelves, busted doors; Gilmore's touch, her father's rattling breath and gasped words, Oriana's scream...
"No," She whispered, hearing... feeling everything again like it was that night, and knowing that was what caused her eyes to flood with tears. Looking at Duncan, she remembered the sight of him leaping onto the ogre, sinking his blades into the beast's chest, killing it because it had killed 'Good King Cailan'; remembered him perching on his knees and calmly waiting for the Darkspawn to cut him down... "No, it's not that."
"What?" The Duncan imposter fixed her with that penetrating stare, making her feel exposed, and he took a half-step towards her. A vaguely familiar weariness washed over Ffion with his next words, "This isn't what you wanted? Then tell us. Close your eyes and tell us your deepest desires and we will make them come true. All you need to do... is surrender."
Ffion allowed her eyes to drift shut, thinking of Highever in the summer with the cool sea breezes. The castle would be surrounded by the rich wisteria vines and soft green willows. Marmie's magnolias would be in fine form, infusing the hallways and rooms with their heady perfume. Father's favorite pipe tobacco would be shipped in again and his library would be their evening meeting place. She would sprawl on one of the couches, taking in the vanilla and clove tobacco smells and allowing her hair to hang over the arm so Father could tug on the locks every now and then as he paced by. They would talk about their day and he would chide her gently for some of her more questionable exploits with Fergus or Gilmore. Fergus and Oriana coddling her. Oriana constantly siding with Marmie and trying to turn her into a lady; while in the next breath she would be giggling and teasing with her as though they were little girls again. Fergus, her hero-worshiped big brother teaching her his pranks, sometimes the hard way, and giving her practice tips for the battlefield, always with endless patience. And Rick, who jumped at every opportunity to take Oren to the beach with her and splash and wrestle in the water like they were all kids. Rick and his tender touch at her temple, his commanding voice urging her to run... If Howe gets you, he wins... Go, Fi!
It was like he was there with her again, protecting her from any threat as he used to do; and Ffion's spine stiffened even as terror: cold, gripping and nearly overwhelming pooled into her belly and made her knees weak. Her eyes snapped open and she forcibly pulled her mind from those memories, feeling violated. Bastards!! She thought fiercely. They had no right to poke and prod at her deepest desires and she took a step back, determined to stay clear-minded and not fall for their cheap tricks. She glanced around again, noting that two of the look-alike soldiers were inching closer, fixated on her like she was the only thing that mattered. Her hands itched for her blades and with a relief that was near debilitating, she felt the familiar weight of the swords on her back. She met the imposter's gaze and tried to steel herself. Fergus had struggled to teach her to think on her feet and it was only in the past six months that he had been really proud of her, and so she called every one of his lessons to the forefront of her mind. The soldier with the bow would have to be her priority and so she turned partially towards him even as she answered,
"Go to hell."
She whirled on the archer, pulling her blades loose and leaping at him before he got the chance to string an arrow. Reacting purely on instinct, she faced the next soldier and parried his thrust with her own sword. She ducked around and behind him, remembering her big brother telling her that everyone would underestimate her small stature. Her second sword dealt a vicious backstab and when that man fell, she was able to focus solely on the Duncan imposter. He had advanced on her while she fought the other two and was a few paces from her when she glanced at him. He threw himself at her and she repeated her tactics, forgetting that her one-time commander had been an experienced rogue. His body twisted about in midair and his blades clashed with hers in a way that made her stagger back, nearly falling to her knees. She slid one blade away and gashed it across the back of his hand, making him curse and weaken enough for her to try to gain the upper hand. Pulling her other blade away suddenly, she darted to the side and used his surprise to her advantage. He hadn't expected her absence and he stumbled forward a couple of steps before whirling about once more.
This time she was ready for him.
She knocked his first thrust away and drove her own blade up and into his belly. The imposter's black eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open. Ffion shoved up again and then pushed the body from her, telling herself again and again: It's not really him, it's not really him.
As soon as the imposter breathed his last, the ground gave a slight rumble and the landscape around Ffion began shimmering like a mirage. She closed her eyes, sank to her heels, and prepared herself for whatever end the Maker had in store for her.
There was a sudden soft whine followed by a very wet and familiar tongue across her cheek. With a gasp, Ffion dropped to her knees, her eyes flying open. Tilly stood before her, wagging her tail so hard that her entire body shook. Throwing her arms around the Mabari's neck, she buried her face in the soft fur and let it dry the tears that, until then, she never felt fall.
"Wh-Who are you?" A voice demanded, "Are you another trick?"
Ffion released Tilly abruptly, her hands going for the blades she dropped beside the Mabari. Her grey eyes flashed up to see a dark haired mage standing just a few yards away. His resemblance to Jowan made her start and she had to look closely to make sure it wasn't actually him.
"I might ask you the same question," She answered and heard the breathless quality in her voice.
It was entirely understandable. She was still suffering the effects of that emotional roller-coaster and she relaxed one hand enough to brush the tears from her cheeks. This mage didn't look like a threat and seemed more... real than the Duncan imposter. Ffion was suddenly exhausted and she leaned into Tilly again, easing the hold on her swords, but not putting them away.
"Then you are another poor soul that's been trapped," He replied and moved a little closer. Tilly's tail wagged as he did so and he smiled at the Mabari, "She has been waiting for you and knew that I was no threat."
Ffion frowned at him and then took in her surroundings for the first time. The beautiful fortress was gone and in its place a barren landscape. There was no vegetation and it was startling after her visions of Highever with the bright warm sunshine, the green of healthy, vibrant growth that was probably dead and burnt now... She knelt on a rough dirt path and the formations of earth that towered above were stark against the purple sky. It was a deep rich purple that extended into black and, as her eyes followed this, she realized with a start that they were on some sort of island suspended in the air. In the distance, she could make out spires and turrets of what had to be a massive city and her frown deepened as she met the mage's gaze again.
"What is this?" She asked and struggled to her feet. Her hand went against Tilly's head and she was thrilled when her fingers connected with the chestnut fur, "Where are we?"
The mage let out a hollow chuckle and allowed his eyes to wander the landscape much as Ffion's had done.
"This... this is our very own personal hell," He replied dryly, "This is the Fade."
Ffion's eyes went wide and she glanced around once more before fixing them on the mage. She parted her lips to answer and it took a moment for the words to come.
"The Fade? But how... Non-mages don't stay alert and conscious in the Fade. How did this happen?"
He frowned a little and lifted his shoulders in a shrug.
"You don't remember anything before becoming aware of this place?" He questioned and his previous destitution seemed to be put on hold. His eyes had more brown than hazel and his face more deeply lined than Jowan's, telling her that he was older than what she originally thought, "That's surprising. Lost dreamers usually have some sort of inkling as to what they were doing, or supposed to be accomplishing."
Ffion thought about that for a moment, letting Tilly lean into her. Her grey eyes went beyond the mage and she tried to remember. What had she been doing?
"I remember the loss at Ostagar, Flemeth's hut, and Lothering. We picked up Leliana and Sten, traveled to Redcliffe," She spoke slowly as each circumstance played out again, "There was the fight to protect the village that night and the next day we went into the castle with Bann Teagan... His nephew was the cause of the trouble... and we were worried about having to execute him. A ten year old whose only fault was being inexperienced and new to his magic abilities... Not to mention a victim of his mother's misguided attempt to protect him," Realization suddenly struck and her eyes went back to the mage, "The Circle! We set out to ask for assistance with Conner. Jowan told us that the First Enchanter would help in whatever way he could to save the boy and... Carroll met us at the docks, we cut a deal with Greagoir and he agreed to give us time to find the First Enchanter. I remember meeting Wynne and then, when we reached the fourth floor, we ran into one of those... abominations."
"That one was not an abomination," He said, "That was a sloth demon. They have the power to pull mortals into the dream world where they hold them captive as they feed off their life energies."
Ffion blinked at him, still reeling from the memories. She felt like she had lived through everything again and the world was strangely off balance. As the mage spoke of the leeching qualities of the demon, she wondered if this was something he felt first hand.
"So you are... trapped here, too?" She asked, "I mean, you're not another of the illusions, are you?"
"Illusions?" He repeated and then allowed a small smirk, "You must mean the nightmares. No, I'm real enough, for now. My name is Niall."
"Niall? Are you the same one that got the Litany from Owain, then?"
"The one and only," His forlorn expression returned and he glanced dejectedly around the small island they were on, "And in all likelihood the very last of my line. I fell to the same trick that you did and I can feel the life sapping from me. I've tried to leave but every time I think I'm getting somewhere there's another obstacle. I can see the path I need to take but I just can't get to it. For instance, down this path, there's a portal that takes you to the next island and from there a second portal will bring you back here. The only way I have found to leave that place is a hole that only a rodent can fit through."
"Is there a way to fight out of this?" She asked, her mind immediately going to work on the different ways to free herself from the Fade. Her thoughts were that if she could come back to herself in her own separate nightmare, it followed that there had to be some way to get back to the real world.
"There should be," Niall answered, "I think that if you were to make it to each island and defeat the demons that rule them, you could make it to Sloth and kill him as well. All the writings that I have studied speculate the same thing. If you wish to undertake this, I wish you all the luck. Maybe you will discover something I have not."
Ffion's fingers stroked Tilly's head and she glanced down at her faithful hound. The Mabari's brown eyes looked up at her with adoration and complete devotion and Ffion hated herself for what she was about to do.
"Is it..." She said and then started again, "Can she make it with me? I mean, if I find out how to fit through your mouse hole, will she be left behind?"
"I'm afraid so," Niall replied. He looked at Tilly as well and then smiled gently at Ffion, "But I plan on staying put for the time being. If you want to leave her with me, I promise to keep her safe... I'm sorry, I missed your name."
Ffion was shamefaced and she almost giggled as she thought of how out of place this whole introduction seemed. She wondered how the hell everything had been reduced to this and was more acutely aware than ever of how little sleep she had gotten in the past week. She was worn thin and about to collapse and not even her anger at this whole damn mess seemed to help much. But Niall looked at her expectantly and she felt self-conscious so she shrugged it off, with everything else, and extended her hand.
"I'm sorry, I never gave it. My name is Ffion and this is Tilly," She finally answered, "And it would be wonderful if you could keep her. I don't... I've lost too much and I don't want to risk her."
"Then consider it done," Niall replied firmly, "And Maker go with you."
Ffion gave him a single nod and then crouched in front of Tilly again. Holding the Mabari's head in her hands, she spoke quietly,
"Tilly, I want you to stay here with Niall. Keep him safe and I'll come back to get you as soon as I can. Be good, girl," She kissed the hound's head and got to her feet, "Thank you, Niall."
She didn't wait for his response and with a last longing look at Tilly; she headed down the dirt track. Her Mabari stayed at Niall's feet and Ffion heard the little protesting whine that cut straight to her heart. She resisted the temptation to look back again and instead turned the corner in the track and found the portal that Niall had mentioned. It was a shimmering wall, much like the one Wynne had constructed to protect the children and her fellow mages. This one, however, was a vivid purple, brighter than the sky, and when Ffion went through it, it felt like a cold, wet breeze.
In the blink of an eye, almost as if she had dozed briefly and was jolted awake, she found herself on a similar path but this time it extended in front of her instead of behind. And there, directly before her, was another demon. It was attacking some unseen foe and it was the same flaming shape that Wynne had been battling when they stumbled upon her. Ffion didn't hesitate for a moment, leaping towards the towering figure with drawn blades. The points of the swords slashed towards one another and the demon whirled to face her as Ffion shoved one of the blades up. The demon let out a hiss that sounded like a dying fire and collapsed into the path where it seemed to be swallowed up by the earth.
As soon as it was gone, she could see the thing it had been fighting and was shocked that the little mouse was still alive. She crouched before it, wondering why the hell a demon attacked a mouse of all things, and then nearly fell over backwards when a voice sounded from it.
"You have... done it," It wheezed, clearly coming to the end of its life, "Maybe you... will be our... redemption... I give you... my power. You do not... need great size... to be great... Good luck... my friend."
The little mouse disappeared much like its murderer did and Ffion felt a strange lightness pass through her. She opened her mouth to ask how she was supposed to use this power, but the mouse was gone and she was left perched on her heels. She glanced around only to see the exact same surroundings as the last island, only this time, around a little bend in the track, there was the small...
Rodent hole!! Ffion was suddenly ecstatic as she realized she was getting somewhere and she slid down the rise that separated her from the opening. Staring at the hole and thinking about what the mouse had told her, she felt a little tingling in her spine. Positive it couldn't possibly be this easy, she nevertheless concentrated even harder and had to close her eyes as the ground suddenly rushed up to her and she felt the morphing take place. It wasn't painful, it just felt... odd. Also, she now felt that someone could squish her without much effort and so she took the plunge down the hole before she could loose heart.
There was another quick blink, and she stood on a third island. Her concentration was immediately broken and she scrambled back, hurling her knife at one abomination and then meeting the other with her swords at the ready. The path curved away ahead of her and she retrieved her knife, leaving the two demons to fade into the dirt as she made her way around them. There was another vivid portal in front of her and she charged through it. Her heart dropped and she herself almost went to her knees in dismay and frustration when she saw Niall and Tilly standing in the same place that she had left them. But Niall was beaming at her and Tilly overjoyed and she held out hope that all was perhaps not quite lost just yet.
"I – I felt something change," Niall said slowly, "You did something that made the Fade shift. What happened?"
Ffion scratched Tilly's ears, as happy to see the Mabari as she was to see her.
"I'm not sure how, but I was given the power to become a mouse and -"
She was cut off abruptly by a crack like sharp thunder and a delicate, gracefully carved pedestal appeared to Niall's left. It glowed faintly blue and within the shallow bowl was a shimmering, silver colored dust. The mage clearly understood what this was, but he was still just as shocked as Ffion as they edged closer to inspect it.
"A Fade pedestal," He murmured in awe. Crouching, he studied the runes running up and down the pedestal's support and when he spoke again, his voice was excited, "You did it: you found a way out. This will take you to other parts of the Fade and you should be able to discover more forms to use with each one."
"More forms?" She repeated, "You mean something along the lines of the mouse?"
"Exactly," Niall stood and was suddenly hesitant, "I'm not saying that it will be easy, Ffion. The demons within this place will do what they can to keep us here and though most of our enemies will be ghosts of themselves, they will be plentiful. By ghosts I mean that you could run across humans, mages, Mabari like Tilly, even Darkspawn, but they aren't real, they are summoned by the demons with the hope that you will get discouraged."
Hearing him say 'us' made Ffion remember the others and she stepped closer to the pedestal, looking over the pretty rune-script that made absolutely no sense to her.
"Since Tilly and I are here and aware of what's going on, does that mean my other friends were trapped as well?"
"It is possible," Niall thought about that one before he answered her fully, "I don't think you would know for sure unless you defeated the demons on the other... islands."
Ffion looked at the pedestal again and felt her determination pushing the exhaustion from the forefront of her mind. If this was her next task, so be it.
"All right," She replied quietly, "Tilly, look after Niall... and vice-versa."
She took a deep breath and ran her fingers through the shimmering dust. The mirage-like sensation took over once more and when she could focus her eyes again, the Darkspawn taint within her was going wild. It was stronger than it had ever been before and almost debilitating. There were none in sight, but that didn't ease her nerves at all and she ventured further into this new location. The surroundings were very different here. There was no dirt track; instead she walked down a stone hallway. Walls towered up over her head and the various bloodstains and all-too-familiar fleshy sacks left from the Darkspawn were anything but reassuring. She moved slowly, her muscles growing more and more taut, and making her wish that something would just happen so that she could have some sort of release.
Ahead there was a single door and a mouse hole. Not sure she could concentrate hard enough to accomplish morphing, she moved towards the door, only to have the Darkspawn taint whirl even more fiercely through her. Her hands went to the swords hanging at her back and when she noticed that her fingers trembled, she went for the mouse hole instead. She hated herself for doing so, but the uncertainty killed her. She had yet to fight completely on her own. At home, the soldiers were under strict orders not to hurt her too badly, which drove her nuts, and since the massacre, she had had Duncan; and then it was Alistair and Morrigan, always Tilly, and then they recruited the others. The thought of going into the mass of Darkspawn alone terrified her and she rationalized her movements on the fact that she merely needed a moment.
She slid her swords away and took a deep breath. Allowing her eyes to drift shut, she concentrated hard and the tingling crept slowly up her spine. It wasn't as hard as she originally thought and she darted through the hole before anything could change. To her immense relief, the coast was clear and though there weren't any doors here, there was another hole down the hall. She scurried towards it, hardly realizing she had stayed in the mouse form.
Indeed she didn't know it until she was in the next room and two Genlocks bore down on her. She didn't hesitate in pulling her swords loose and dancing between the stubby creatures, taking them down without much trouble. A Hurlock stood a few yards away and it had just drawn back its bow when Ffion's knife found its way through the bow string and into its eye. She followed after, pulling the knife free and hurrying into the next room. There were more Darkspawn and Niall was proved right. They were easy to cut down and her fear was soon replaced by a sense of duty, not to mention urgency.
She was through yet another mouse hole and into what she hoped would be the last room here. The taint made her jumpy and the tension within her was exhausting. She left the mouse form and had to blink at the scene before her. A half dozen Darkspawn, none of which realized she was present, focused on some sort of vision. It was a wispy form in Templar armor that fought any of the Darkspawn that got close.
There was something encouraging in this seemingly hopeless fight and she hurled her knife at the Genlock that jumped at the spirit's unprotected back. This drew the attention of some of the other creatures and between her and the Templar spirit, they had the room clear in no time. As soon as it was the spirit turned to her and spoke in an echoing voice.
"You did it, you killed them," It said and there was a breathless excitement that Ffion hoped was a good thing, "I can rest now, thanks to you. I give you my power. Use it to travel to the other nightmares and defeat our tormentors."
Like the mouse, this spirit disappeared before she could ask how his power was supposed to work. There was that familiar light feeling and as the Templar faded another Fade pedestal appeared in the corner of the room. She started towards it and then spotted another set of doors in the opposite corner. If you make it to each island... defeat the demons that rule them... Niall's words teased her and she knew that she hadn't gone up against any of the demons yet.
This would have been incredibly discouraging, if she allowed it. Instead she set her focus on the fact that the mouse and spirit and who knew how many others were there to help her. She drew on that determination that had always bested the Cousland guards in the practice ring and frustrated Gilmore at every turn in their bets and duels.
When the doors didn't budge as she shoved against them she resigned herself to waiting and instead moved to the pedestal. It took her back to Niall and Tilly and the Mabari almost knocked her to the ground in her excitement.
"Nothing wrong, I hope?" Niall asked carefully and his frown deepened.
Ffion sank to her heels to pet Tilly and her face was pale and drawn, making her look younger than her years. He worried that she would fall apart before she could succeed here, but her grey eyes flickered a little as she looked at a shimmering wave of air to her right. She heaved herself back up and squared her shoulders. Her jaw set and she shook her head, assuring the mage with her obvious hard-headed determination.
"No," She said shortly.
The shimmering air fascinated her and as she studied it, the tingling started and suddenly a door appeared. Niall's quick intake of breath caused her to look down at herself and see that she had transformed into something that resembled an abomination. The shock nearly blew her concentration but she resolutely took a step to the door and was through it in an instant.
This was another island and down the path ahead of her was a purple form. It had the shape and all the... attributes of a woman, with very little covering them. Two massive horns sprouted from where the eyebrows should have been and curled like a ram's. Its head was pointed and the hair substituted with a pillar of vibrant purple flames; a spiked tail whipped through the air behind it like an angry cat's. It hissed when it spotted Ffion and the Warden didn't even think. She called whatever power her form had and hurled the near tangible energy at the demon. It staggered back, clearly stunned, and Ffion morphed, charging at the thing with her blades singing in the air.
A fierce fight followed, the demon hurling spells her way and trying to recover from the spirit form's spell. It never got a chance, and Ffion's blade sank into the demon's stomach with a finality that gave the Warden a little of her hope back. With the demon's death, Ffion was present with Niall again, and this time she didn't pause for conversation as she made for the Fade pedestal.
This next portion was much harder for her. Fires super-heated the air all around her and the Darkspawn filth made her way treacherous. Her body was quickly becoming more exhausted as she went and she had to force herself to press on. Too much depended on her to give up now.
The enemies she was up against were mostly Templars and Chantry people, all of whom burned with the same ferocity of the fires that spanned the doorways here and there. Ffion had no trouble fighting them, but she hated herself a little more each time she had to cut down a Mabari, all of which were near identical to Tilly. From the color of their coats, down to the way one ear tip drooped a little; they were all exactly the same and she killed them as quickly and painlessly as she could. With the fires across the doorways, the Fade directed her where it wanted her to go and she didn't have any say in it whatsoever.
Her only bright spot was that this was a shorter jaunt than the others. Soon she stumbled into a room where she was confronted by a burning man in Templar armor fighting abominations that bore down on him. Not that it surprised her much. At this point, she didn't think she'd even bat an eye if she came up on Alistair leading a troop of men dancing the Remigold... While wearing a dress.
Once more, she helped take care of the foes here and went through the almost ritualistic practice of the dreamer passing on his power to her. The Fade pedestal came next and Ffion's only surprise was that she wasn't taken back to Niall and Tilly. Instead she was in another section of this... utter nightmare.
This one resembled the Tower itself so closely she thought for one moment, with a leaping heart, that she had expedited procedures here. But then she could hear faint arguments coming from behind the door ahead of her. There were two mages on the verge of all-out-fighting and instantly their attention was on her. Ffion reacted just as quickly. She ducked under the spells that were fired at her and staggered one mage with her knife while charging the other. They almost collided and Ffion swung her blade at the last minute. That mage went down and she ducked, rolling across the stone floor as the other regained enough composure to attack again. He was weakened though and when she flung herself at him, he went down without much of a fight.
The other aspects of this island went smoothly until she reached one of the last rooms. It was about the size of Highever's kitchen and as she bypassed two hearths, heading for the door, two flaming abominations pulled themselves from the floor. They seemed to struggle up from the underworld itself and Ffion felt her anger rise in much the same way. She was pissed off with everything and these two were her only targets. She didn't even feel herself morph and truly didn't notice it until the power erupted from her. The demons sank back into the floor and when the next two popped up, they didn't fare much better.
She glanced down at her body and saw that she had taken on the form of a burning... abomination, she guessed. Keeping it intact, she opened the door that was immediately to her right. A line of fire sprang up in the doorway that had no effect on her, but the shouts that went up made her take a couple of steps back into the room. She decided these enemies would be easier to deal with one at a time as they came through the door and they obliged her. It was iffy at first, but she dispatched them using the burning man form and then slipped through the flames into the next room. There were only a few stragglers and they were taken care of without much trouble.
There was only one other door and though Ffion still kept her current form, she didn't need it. There were no flames here, but she stopped in the doorway anyway, dismayed by what she saw. A half dozen mages gathered here and, judging from the soft conversations, it was clearly a group of students learning from their teacher. She watched them unnoticed, wondering how the hell she was going to do this, until the teacher spotted her.
"Demon!" He shouted.
The others immediately scrambled for the staffs and started at her and Ffion stumbled back, not in the least bit prepared for this. She was desperately trying to pull the burning man's power to her when there was an explosion within the room itself that shook the entire place. Ffion was knocked roughly to the floor, banging her head hard enough that she saw stars. Her ears rang and she couldn't muster the strength to sit up just yet. The mages hadn't surrounded her and she wondered why the hell their teacher would cast a spell that would destroy his pupils.
A burst of energy shot off the ground next to her head, singeing her cheek and chipping the stone. Realizing she wasn't in the burning form anymore, she gathered herself, rolling across the floor as another spell shot over her. She settled into a crouch and flung one of her knives at the form that stood in the center of the next room. The mage dropped to the ground with that oddly satisfying gurgle that said her aim was as true as ever. Ffion stayed in her crouch, waiting for any other spells.
When there was nothing, she almost sat down on the floor to catch her breath and wait for the pounding in her head to stop. But that little persistent voice wouldn't let her and it was her mother's firm command. If you stop now, you'll never finish. The others need you.
"All right, Marmie, let's get going, then."
She was startled to hear herself speak aloud and wondered how severe a sign this was that the Fade was starting to drive her mad. She was talking to her dead mother and found herself capable of powers only a mage should hold. If she tarried much longer, she'd lose it completely; Tilly, Alistair, Wynne, and Leliana would be forever trapped here; Conner wouldn't get the help he needed; the Circle would be destroyed; the bastard Howe would get away with a massacre... That is until the Blight overwhelmed everything and decimated her homeland. Her next thought was that the Fade wanted her to believe these things, wanted to wear her down and create this discouragement in her heart and she shook herself. She pressed everything to the back of her mind and went through the doorway.
There were two doors here. One led up a short flight of steps that was identical to the Circle and the other was straight ahead and down a few steps. She wasn't sure which one was the correct path and when she heard the faint sounds of fighting through the lower door, her mind was made up for her. Hurrying down the steps and through the door, she suddenly had the strongest desire to go back to the big room and screw everything and lay down like she wanted.
Within this room was a fourth dreamer, a Circle mage, fighting a Chantry sister and two Golems that followed her every direction. The mage was losing, but Ffion couldn't help but stare at the monstrous Golems. She had never seen one in the flesh... or rather the stone before. They would have towered over Sten and were every bit as impregnable as they looked. Never mind their pieced-together appearance either. Her initial response was helplessness and then she figured that one of the spirit forms simply had to help.
The mouse was laughable and she wasn't sure that the burning man had enough power to make a difference. So, as the mage let out a cry of pain, she transformed into the spirit abomination. She wasn't sure how to use the correct power here, but she felt it course through her anyway. The breath of both the sister and the mage were sudden puffs of white and then the woman froze completely. One of the Golems sluggishly continued after the mage while the other turned to Ffion. The spirit's power surged again and the creature stumbled to its knees, little cracks appearing in its facade, before crumbling to pebbles and dust.
She lost the form then, but it didn't matter. The sister fell to the floor, dead, and the mage blasted the remaining Golem with fire. It weakened the creature's make-up and when the string of boulders smashed into it, the Golem slumped to the ground with a rumble like thunder.
"You are doing well, my friend," The mage told her with a wan smile, "Your tasks are nearly done. I give you my strength. Use it to go through this door. You will find the demon that rules here: Slavren. Kill him for all the dreamers he has trapped in this nightmare."
He faded and Ffion felt a prick of excitement that seemed out of place. She wondered if that meant what she hoped and studied one of the Golems with concentration. Sure enough, she found herself morphing into the hulking, intimidating shape. It felt just as invulnerable as it looked and she turned her attention to the door the mage had indicated. It was massive, locked tight against her, and so she grabbed a portion of the dead Golem and hurled it at the door. It burst apart with a very satisfying crash and startled the demon residing there.
It was an abomination that was dwarfed by Ffion's Golem form. Slavren recovered quickly from his surprise and as he got ready to fling magic at her, she slammed both fists into the floor. He was knocked off balance again and she wasn't about to wait until he got his bearings. She charged at him, but as soon as they collided, she was human again and a full on tackle was turning out to be a bad idea. Slavren's armor was hard and sharp and what skin wasn't protected by her own duster leather was stuck like a pin cushion. She fumbled for one of her knives and, in a flash, it went from her hand to Slavren's neck and the demon dropped.
She barely had time to retrieve the knife before she found herself in the same room where she'd acquired the spirit abomination's form. It hadn't taken a Fade pedestal or an obvious spell; it was like she had blinked and everything changed. The door ahead was locked tight and this time her Golem merely reached down and yanked one of the stone slabs up from the floor. It sailed through the doors and she saw with pleasure that it also crushed four Darkspawn in the process. There was another set of four that charged her, but with the Golem's rock shell, their attacks were more annoying than harmful. She tossed one against the stone wall, sent another flying away from her with a smack to the chest, and the last two were grabbed by the backs of their heads and smashed together.
The rest of the huge room was clear, other than the filth and grime left by the Darkspawn, and there was only one other door. It was straight across from Ffion and she didn't bother altering her form as she started towards it. The taint within her told her that more waited behind this door, but nothing prepared her for what came next.
The faint stomping steps that she had assumed were echoes of her own suddenly sped up and the door burst out towards her. Dust and debris flew everywhere, clouding her vision, and so she only got the briefest glimpse of the massive ogre before they collided. The impact sent them both crashing to the floor and Ffion was alarmed to hear a sickening crack of stone. She wasn't sure if it was her Golem or the floor and she morphed back before she quite realized it.
She rolled free of the ogre and then ducked between his legs, slashing both swords across his hamstrings. An awful sense of foreboding swept through her as the ogre let out a bellow of pain. The only other, considerably smaller, ogre that she had gone up against was a hell of a fight and that had been with three other people, plus Tilly. The odds were well in favor of her dying here.
Repeating the dive between the monster's legs, Ffion knew she had to rethink her strategy. Her advantage of being smaller and quicker would only last until the ogre got so pissed off he simply squished her under one huge foot. She still had the other forms at her disposal; the only trick was that she needed to be able to concentrate to morph. And having a fifteen foot ogre trying to kill you was not conducive to good concentration.
She backed up towards the wall, stabbing the monster's fingers every time he made a grab for her. One of her boots skidded on a layer of heavy gritty sand and an idea popped into her head.
The ogre was tired of her short, painful jabs and frustrated that she was so much quicker than he was. He took a couple of steps back and lowered his head, preparing to charge her, which was exactly what Ffion wanted. She danced out of the way, crouching low to grab a handful of the sand. The ogre's head cracked sharply off the wall, causing a spider web pattern of breaks to appear there, and instantly turned towards her. He didn't seem the least bit phased by the failed charge and then she threw the sand into his eyes.
The monster was momentarily blinded, making wild grabs for her, but she had already morphed into the mouse. She leaped onto his arm as he swung and dug her tiny claws into his flesh. Scurrying up to his shoulder she was human again and pulling her red steel blade loose before the ogre figured out what she was doing. His hand came up to knock her off and she plunged the sword into the curve of his neck. She tried to jump free and got smacked out of the air as one of the ogre's arms thrashed in the beginning of his death throes.
Ffion couldn't catch herself and landed hard on her back on the stone floor. Her breath went out of her lungs and she choked a little, lying still and wondering if this was how she was going to die. Sure, she had succeeded in fatally wounding the monster, but who knew what damage had been done to her. She listened to the ogre's staggering footsteps as she tried to catch her breath again and it took her a moment to realize that they were coming closer to her. Groaning in protest, she gingerly rolled up to her heels, coughing as she did so and pulled one of the knives she had stowed in her boot. She watched the ogre warily, but didn't think of how she was going to take the thing down now. Instead she thought back on Gilmore's laughing astonishment at her penchant for arming herself to the teeth. Andraste's knickers, Fi! No wonder the men are terrified of getting too close to you. Every angle on you is sharp!
The ogre staggered another two steps, snarling at her. He collapsed to his knees and with a last gasping breath, fell forward and went still. Ffion wanted to sit down and wait to catch her breath fully, but the mirage-shimmering was starting and there was no way she would leave that short sword behind. She hurried as best she could and yanked the sword free. As soon as she did so, she was in yet another portion of the Fade. The sword weighed her wrist down in a way it hadn't since she picked up a wooden practice sword at age four. Her body ached so that it felt like one big bruise and she knew if she lay on the floor, she could sleep for the next few days.
Glancing around at the packed dirt floor and seeing only one door and two mouse holes, she thought of how nice it would be to sit for a moment, just a moment, and rest. She could put her back to the wall and still watch the door for any enemies and just rest long enough to recover some of her strength. She wiped the ogre's blood from the red steel and slid it over her shoulder, into its scabbard where it belonged. Taking a few steps towards the wall, that delicious weariness coming over her again, she was startled by another voice in her head. It was so unexpected and almost tangible that she looked around in a wild sort of hope.
Don't give in, Pup. Her father's voice was far away and rather dim, but with her insatiable desire to hear more, it seemed to comply. Not now, love. You're so close. Don't give up yet.
Ffion desperately wanted to hear more, but now that it had done its job, Bryce's voice was gone. She steeled her resolve, making sure that her prized knives were within easy reach, and then trudged to one of the mouse holes. She wasn't sure why she chose this path and nevertheless morphed and went through. Instantly she froze, barely keeping the form contained.
The mouse hole opened again beside a bookshelf and on the other side was another ogre. Anger flashed through Ffion on a tide of such deep frustration, she almost morphed again. This was beyond the last straw and she darted over the bottom shelf of the bookcase. Taking inspiration from her previous fights, she tore up the leg of the monster. By the time he realized what was going on, Ffion was herself and slashing one of her knives across his neck. This time she jumped completely clear and didn't wait to watch him die.
Through another door and a few more mouse holes, there was an abomination accompanied by two undead that reminded her sharply of Redcliffe. That reminder was what she needed. They were doing this for the village's safety, the preservation of the Circle, and for Conner, the little boy that was so much like Oren...
With that fresh in her mind, she charged through the last door and morphed into the spirit abomination without hesitation. The demon ahead of her was another that was shaped like a woman and this fight was one of the easier ones. Even with that, as she was sent to the fire consumed areas once more; she could feel that familiar shaking weakness in her limbs. It was something she hadn't been through since her first years of training in Highever and she didn't allow herself much time to dwell on it. She was just hoping, praying, that this would be the last island.
She reached the demon, another flaming abomination, and knew she was running on reserves. Even so, she morphed into the spirit, froze the demon, and then leaped at it with swords at the ready. She easily lopped the head from the abomination and when her surroundings changed yet again, she fell to her knees. Her swords dropped to the ground beside her and her breath came erratically. She wanted nothing more than to fall back on the dirt and close her eyes.
On the verge of just that, her senses alerted and her eyes opened wide when she heard the murmur of a familiar voice.
"Leliana?" She questioned, slowly getting back to her feet and sliding the swords away.
Wincing with every move and wiping at the little trickle of blood whose path down her temple was annoying, she took stock of where she was. It was a lot like where she had found Niall and then, hearing Leliana's voice again, she pressed on. Around a bend in the track, she came upon the little Orlesian. She knelt by an elderly woman garbed in Chantry robes and murmured her prayers aloud.
Ffion approached carefully. The whole scene was off and she felt chills race down her spine when the revered mother looked her way. It was like the farce with the Duncan imposter and Weisshaupt and she fixed her attention on Leliana. The Orlesian was going to have to realize where she was and what was happening on her own. Ffion got the feeling that if she forced the issue here, something bad might happen.
"Please, do not disturb the girl," The faux mother said, "She needs to find her peace."
Ffion ignored her, keeping her eyes on Leliana.
"Leliana, do you remember where you are?" She asked and her voice was firm.
The Orlesian lifted her head and blinked up at Ffion. Her usually lively blue eyes were sad and there wasn't even the flicker of recognition as she looked at the Warden. Getting to her feet and creasing her forehead in a frown, she glanced at the revered mother.
"Reverence, who is this?" She asked and her tone was such that she didn't seem to think Ffion could hear her, "Should I know this woman?"
"I cannot answer that, my dear, but if you do not recognize her, don't worry yourself," The mother's eyes went to Ffion briefly and the Warden got chills again, "Go back to your prayers, submit yourself to the Maker, and I will take care of this."
As the Orlesian turned with a nod, Ffion took the chance. She stepped forward, still trying to ignore the faux mother's cold anger and colder eyes, and spoke to her friend once more.
"Leliana, do you remember telling me that the Maker wanted you to help with the Blight? You told me he came to you in a vision and-"
"How do you know that?" Leliana breathed, whirling to face her, "I haven't told anyone out of the Chantry about that... I don't think. Where did you say you were from?"
The Warden saw the power on Leliana beginning to loosen and pushed more relentlessly.
"You were working at the Chantry in Lothering, helping the people there, and that was where we met," She spoke slowly, acutely aware of the mother creeping closer to them, "You told me the Maker meant for you to help us."
"Leliana, we've discussed this," The revered mother commented in an exasperated sort of voice, "There was no vision: that was a dream."
Ffion was encouraged by the fact that Leliana hadn't looked away from her and she smiled a little at the Orlesian.
"I believe you, Leliana," She said softly, trying to undo whatever influence, and damage, this demon had already caused, "I know you wouldn't lie to me."
"No," The Orlesian's voice was soft, insistent, "You're wrong, reverence. My vision meant something and this woman speaks the truth. I was meant to help against the Blight. The Maker did come to me and I will do all I can to fulfill his wish."
The revered mother's face was ugly in its fury. Her once kind hazel eyes were livid and her mouth contorted into a grimace. Ffion involuntarily took a step back while Leliana inched forward, her hands going for the bow at her back.
"Worthless bitch," The faux mother snapped, her voice deepening and showing her true colors at last, "She is ours and I will not let you have her without a fight."
"Brilliant," Leliana muttered.
The fight that followed was fierce, but quick. The faux mother became the demon that Ffion knew she was and Leliana was more willing than ever to take her down as soon as the deception was made clear. The demon went down and the Orlesian slid her bow away again. She looked at Ffion, still rather baffled as to who she was, but willing to listen.
"I... I think I remember now," She spoke slowly, rubbing at one temple, "It's faint, but I believe it is coming back to me... Ffion, no? Thank you."
Ffion's exhaustion didn't prevent the elated smile from crossing her features. It was a heady thing to know that she wasn't alone here anymore and the relief was so thick it was tangible.
"We need to find the others and see if we can get out of here," She replied and moved beyond the Orlesian to head down the path, "There should be-"
"Wait, where are you going?" Leliana demanded, fear obvious in her voice.
Ffion turned back and saw with alarm that the familiar shimmering was coming over Leliana. She instantly went on the defensive, wondering with a sinking heart if this was just another illusion. Niall's hopelessness was a little more understood and Ffion almost felt like crying. She thought she'd been done! Her hand went to one of the knives, watching the Orlesian warily, and waiting for her to become the demon.
But it didn't happen.
Instead the Orlesian simply disappeared. Behind Ffion, a Fade pedestal popped up with a sharp thunder-like clap and she hesitated. Somehow she knew Leliana was gone from this island for sure, but she hated the idea of leaving alone. Well, it won't do you any good to linger here. The little voice told her and she reluctantly agreed.
She used the pedestal and found herself on another barren island. There was a mage standing at the edge of a small rise, apparently looking at the view. Scattered around her were a few bodies of mages that didn't look to be much older than Ffion herself. As the Warden walked down the path, a small scattering of stones preceded her, startling the mage. Her face lifted from her hands and Wynne's blue eyes looked at Ffion with such accusation the Warden was alarmed.
"Wynne," She said softly, hoping the enchanter would recognize her more readily than Leliana. Magic was harder to defend against and, in the same way she had known the Orlesian was gone, she knew that her spirit forms were also gone, "What happened?"
"I couldn't save them," Wynne replied, her voice trembling, "I was too late... They didn't stand a chance. This was my fault."
Ffion looked around at the island and felt her anger start up again. This was a low blow, to attack the enchanter in this way, and she made the decision to be a little more brutal. Wynne would understand the Fade better than Leliana and of course, she knew more about the way demons worked than any of them.
"Wynne, they're not real," Her voice was firm and uncompromising, "None of this is real."
"Not real? Look around you. They're all dead, how can you say that it isn't real?" The enchanter waved one hand to encompass the whole and then turned on Ffion, "And where were you during all of this? You promised to help and in the time of our greatest need, you are nowhere to be found. You are as much to blame for this massacre as anyone."
"Open your eyes," Ffion's tongue ruled now and discretion be damned, "You're not in the Circle, Wynne, we've been trapped within the Fade. I haven't left your side since we tried to make it through that hellhole that was your home. You have to remember the demon, falling asleep, and waking up to this nightmare. Damn it, I came out of it on my own, why can't you?"
"The demon?" Wynne blinked and shook her head, "What do you mean, trapped in the Fade? That's not... oh, Maker! You're right... Ffion, Alistair and... Leliana... Maker!"
Ffion's anger wasn't eased yet and she crossed her arms over her chest, looking at Wynne coolly.
"Glad to see a change of heart. Can we get out of here now?"
"Enchanter, no, you can't leave us," A breathy voice broke in and one of the dead mages was getting up, "Please, you're the only one that can help."
Wynne's staff was in her hands and she glared at the young man standing before her.
"Be gone, demon, you can't have me."
Without a word, the mage attacked. Wynne threw her shield up and Ffion faced the other mages that had stood as well. Her blades flipped back into her palms and she dove at them. They weren't expecting this sudden, physical, altercation and by the time the Warden looked at Wynne again, they were alone.
"I'm sorry, Ffion," The enchanter was ashamed of her previous accusations and she smiled gently at Ffion. The young woman was exhausted, deep shadows smudged usually bright grey eyes and it was clear she was barely hanging on, "I should have known. You wouldn't abandon anyone, not if it was within your power to prevent it. I had no – wait, Ffion? Where are you going?"
Wynne disappeared in the same instant that a Fade pedestal popped up and, this time, Ffion didn't hesitate.
"All right, Alistair," She muttered, running her fingers through the pedestal's contents and thinking for the first time it might have been worth it to allow the Right of Annulment, "What do you have?"
She found the ex-Templar and instantly felt guilty about that thought. He was beaming at her, his honey colored eyes happier than she'd ever seen them, and she knew she couldn't have betrayed his trust in her like that.
"There you are!" He exclaimed jovially, interrupting her thoughts, "That's so weird. I was just thinking of you and here you are."
Ffion was about to answer when two young children darted from around a bend and then disappeared up the path. A woman followed. She was maybe seven or eight years older than Alistair and had his hair coloring and eye shape. It was such a striking resemblance and judging from the ages of the children, Ffion knew this was most likely supposed to be Alistair's...
"Oh, Ffion, I want you to meet my sister, or well, half-sister, Goldanna," The ex-Templar's voice cut through her train of thought again, answering her unasked question, "Goldanna, this is my good friend, Ffion."
"Well, invite her to supper and then go wash up. The children just went to fetch some fresh water," Goldanna's voice was cheery and pleasant; "You're welcome to stay, my dear."
Ffion watched Alistair's face and saw with a sinking heart that this was going to be much more difficult than Leliana and Wynne. The ex-Templar badly wanted this to be real and damn anyone who tried to convince him otherwise.
"Alistair, I need to speak with you," She said and then glanced at Goldanna, "Privately, if it's no trouble."
"Don't wait too long," Goldanna replied, "Supper will be getting cold."
Alistair looked at Ffion expectantly. His eyes were clear, but it was quite obvious he was too enthralled to sense the danger. She sighed and rubbed at her forehead before going on.
"Do you remember how you met her?" She questioned, trying to tread carefully while showing him his misstep in the same instant.
"Of course," He answered promptly, like it was some sort of quiz whose answers he'd memorized, "I was walking down the street here, not paying any attention to where I was going, and nearly knocked the laundry basket from her hands. Sounds like me, doesn't it? Anyway, she recognized me and told me that I was her half-brother. We have the same mother."
Ffion bit her lip, hating to hurt him. Her grey eyes flickered to his faux-sister, knowing she was listening closely, and she switched tactics.
"Where do you think we are?"
"In Redcliffe, of course," Again the answer was automatic, but Ffion's disbelieving look seemed to have the desired effect on him and for the first time, he was unsure, "Or... It is, isn't it? Where else would we be? But wait... That doesn't quite make sense, does it? I was raised in Redcliffe and I wasn't ever told about a sister; half or otherwise."
"Yeah, you'd think someone would blab, wouldn't you?" Her voice was pitying, frustrated, and she didn't try to check it. Grey eyes meeting honey; she went on, "Do you remember the Circle Tower, Alistair? Wynne, Greagoir, and the other mages? Do you remember agreeing to help Conner?"
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Goldanna edge even closer and one of her hands went to the knives in her belt of its own accord. Alistair looked at her in the same baffled sort of way that Leliana had; kind of like he was a child being scolded for something he didn't do. Ffion was tired beyond belief and in no mood to coddle him anymore. She opened her mouth to continue, but he interrupted her.
"I... I don't..." He spoke slowly, shaking his head a little as he tried to think back, "Well, I think I... Oh, shit! The Tower... Teagan...! We promised to help, didn't we...? Maker's breath! What the hell... Then who's she? And the children?"
"I'm your sister, silly," Goldanna chided and her voice was sharp, too sharp to be pleasant, "What do you think me to be?"
Ffion stepped closer, laying one hand on the ex-Templar's arm. She forced him to look down at her, not at his faux-sister, and she hoped this was enough to protect him from the demon's snare.
"Alistair, we have to get out of here," She said, "If we don't, your uncle doesn't stand a chance."
Goldanna's 'children' had returned and watched them with fiery eyes while she started forward, her expression hardening.
"No," She said harshly and then tried to control her voice, "I lost him once; you cannot take him from us again."
Alistair was just as surprised by this as Ffion thought he'd be, but he didn't hesitate in helping her out as she turned on one of the 'children' that had been sneaking ever closer. They became the undead quite suddenly and the fight was over before it started. Alistair had just enough time to say her name questioningly before he disappeared and this time there was no Fade pedestal that popped up for her to use.
Instead she found herself on a fourth barren island, alone, until she spotted the demon that waited for her further down the path. It was the same abomination that had trapped her in this hellhole and she slowed, reaching for her blades. He made no move to attack her though and she stopped several yards away, watching him warily.
"So," He said softly and the weariness poured from him, tugging at Ffion in a way that was near impossible to resist, "So."
"Oh, there you are," Alistair's voice startled her and she nearly flung her knife at him in her fright. He successfully broke the demon's spell, "You just disappeared and-"
"So tedious," The demon returned the ex-Templar's favor of interrupting him, "Why can you not be happy? I have given you what you wanted and yet you scorn me, throwing my gifts back in my face."
"Don't!" Ffion's anger finally found its outlet and she gave it free reign, "I am so damn tired of you bastards jerking me one way and then the next and I mean to put a stop to it now. So save your strength, you're going to need it."
She hadn't even considered the possibility that the others might not agree with this and if they hadn't... Well, it would've sent her over the edge completely. But luckily, Wynne stepped up to stand at her shoulder.
"She's right," The Enchanter added, "We found each other in spite of what you were trying to accomplish and you won't separate us again."
"So be it," The demon sighed, "If you want death, it is what you will receive."
He transformed quite suddenly into a towering ogre and Ffion cursed underneath her breath, rolling between his legs and slashing her blades across his Achilles. Alistair drove against him, trying to keep him on the defensive while Wynne looked out for everyone. It was Leliana that took the monster down though. One of her green fletched arrows sank into the ogre's eye and he dropped.
As soon as he did though the body disappeared in a painfully bright flash of white light and in its place was a flaming abomination. This time it was Alistair that knocked it senseless with his shield and then lopped the head from it. Next came the abomination form that Ffion's knife dispatched and they all took out the next one that kept diving at them like an over-sized raven. The final form was one that looked exactly like Ffion's spirit abomination and she would have given anything to be able to use it one last time. Especially when the thing cast a spell like a small explosion.
They were all flung from him and Ffion had the worse luck. She tumbled down, cracking the back of her head off a rock. Everything went black and when her eyes blinked open a moment later, it was to meet the elated gaze of Tilly and put her hands up just in time to avoid the Mabari's wet tongue. Niall crouched beside her and she could feel Wynne's healing spell again. She reluctantly sat up, letting out a groan and wishing she could have just closed her eyes and slept.
"You, my friend, are one amazing young woman," Niall told her, one hand going to her shoulder to help her sit upright, "Congratulations, you've won."
"Not sure if I feel like celebrating," She replied dryly, rubbing the back of her head and wincing as her fingers hit the beginnings of a substantial goose egg.
The mage chuckled softly, but still looked forlorn.
"I suppose you're right," He agreed, "And besides, you're not quite done yet. You still have to face Uldred."
Ffion got unsteadily to her feet, using Tilly's body as a crutch of sorts. Her fingers were deep in the thick chestnut fur and she looked at Niall as though she wished he was joking.
"Thanks for the reminder," She said, "Shouldn't we be getting out of here now?"
"I can send you back," Niall's face grew longer, "When I do, take the Litany from my... from my body. You will need it to defend against whatever Uldred has planned."
Leliana frowned at him, knocking a lock of copper colored hair from her eyes and slinging her bow back over her shoulder.
"Don't be silly," She told him, once more her usual optimistic self, "We won't leave you here."
Niall stood, glancing around the barren island. His brown eyes were sad and his face grew longer. When he looked at them again, he seemed resigned to whatever came next.
"I am a dead man already, I'm afraid," He said slowly, "I have been trapped here with the demon feeding off of me for far too long. Even if I did survive the trip back to the real world, I wouldn't live for long. I can't return with you."
Ffion felt a wave of sadness sweep through her. She studied Niall closely, noting that he seemed to shimmer a little in a way that she recognized. If she wasn't so exhausted, she'd be pissed off again. Here she had gone through all of the hoops, killing the demons, and not pausing for rest so that she could save them, and Niall was telling her in no uncertain terms that he couldn't be saved. Without the strength for anger, she felt sad enough to start crying.
"Surely there's something we can do?" She questioned softly, burrowing her fingers further into Tilly's fur, "Niall, we can't just-"
"You're the hero, Ffion," He interrupted and stepped back so that he could cast the spell over all of them, "I tried and wasn't successful. It seems I wasn't meant to survive this."
"We won't let you be forgotten, Niall," Wynne cut in gently, "You helped Ffion accomplish this and you will be remembered."
Niall smiled wanly, his hands cupping and a bright blue light focused there. He nodded to Wynne and then met Ffion's gaze.
"Remember the Litany and good luck, my friend."