Moment of Goat
"Decent place to camp," Blackwall muttered to his beard. We'd already tossed down our packs when Blackwall gave his blessing. Smiling, I released the signal to base to send over a couple soldiers to assist and hold it should/when we wandered off.
"I don't know about that," Varric said, stepping away from his bulging pack to pace around the first decent bit of flat land we'd found in hours, "What about that spider nest Sparkles fell into?"
"I didn't fall," Dorian pouted. "The earth moved me towards it."
"I'm not really feeling it here," Varric continued, "I prefer my camp to be rift adjacent. Cuts down on time running head long into one." Blackwall glared at Varric. "What? I've got tiny legs."
"Whatever happened to the notion of sleeping indoors? With a roof, and walls, and the ability to clear the grime off our bodies," Dorian whined, then glanced over at the grey warden. "Some of our bodies." Blackwall grumbled at him, busying himself with the first tent poles so he didn't attack the mage.
Varric slapped Dorian on the back, both of them watching the man doing the work to establish the camp instead of helping, "Don't worry, Sparkles. This'll put hair on your chest."
"That would explain our man bear here. I am a bit curious, have you ever actually slept inside or would a roof cause you to combust?"
Blackwall slammed a tent pole against the ground. He made it two steps towards the mage before I sighed, "Could we please get this set up and then get to bickering?"
Dorian shrugged, "No skin off my nose." Blackwall growled at him, but that only encouraged the mage to laugh in response.
I ignored them all, fumbling through my own wad of possibly useful herbs, bits of rock that could be mineral samples, and...My fingers stumbled across a small node of wood, carved crudely in the form of a face. It was of all the options June, not the most helpful of gods to pray to unless one could only cross a bridge by repairing its guardians bow. But the thought was what mattered. Tucking my god safer into my pack, I glanced down at my boots.
"Creators, I'm going to be picking burrs off for weeks. Why did we go through that patch again?"
"Because you decreed, 'Oh look, a short cut,'" Dorian said.
Varric chuckled, "It did get us to the spiders faster."
"Too bad we were looking for demons," the damn mage and dwarf teamed up on me. But at least they weren't taking after Blackwall. After the spiders, the slide down a mountain into a river of mud, and only Dorian having a change of clothes he could wear, the man looked about ready to rip anyone's head off and jam it onto a pike. I didn't have time to wait for a mage replacement at Skyhold.
"Inquisitor," the pike man called, snagging my attention. He pointed to a quickly expanding shadow on the horizon. Shielding my eyes the horseman focused into view, a banner flapping behind him.
"It's one of ours," I said.
"How can you tell?" Varric asked standing on his tiptoes to see.
"Looking," Blackwall grumbled before returning to his duties. Pride went into his work of unfolding the canvas just flat enough it only took four tries before he could get the tent poles connected.
He'd already gotten one tent up by the time the rider thundered into camp and yanked back on the horses reins. Spittle splashed against Dorian's cheek. Wiping at it, he glared at the horse, "I'll remember you."
The rider didn't dismount, instead she twisted her horse to circle around me. "Inquisitor?"
"I did not realize you were in the area. I spotted the signal and came for help," she said. Only a silver of her eyes, nose, and chin were visible underneath the helmet. All that kept bobbing back and forth as the horse stamped its feet. I feared I'd fall sea sick from watching her speak for too long.
Shaking my head to clear the nausea, I asked, "What is it?"
"There is a situation with a mage," she said.
I glanced back to my company, who abandoned the tents for weapons. "Venatori? Possession? Blood Magic?"
"No," she glanced back the way she came across the horizon, "the mage is not the danger. It is...perhaps it would be best if you saw yourself."
Sighing, I sheathed my daggers and slipped my bow across my horse's saddle horn. "Stay here," I said to the rest, "finish building up the campsite. I'll go see what's up with this mage." The men squirmed as if they felt they should go with but exhaustion kept them from actively attempting to disobey my order.
With no objections, I slid my still burred shoe into the foot strap, and hoisted myself up onto the horse. Muscles I'd written off as long past use fired alive, clinging tighter to my horse's flank. Picking up the reins, I gestured to the scout, "Lead on to this mage."
While we road away from a proper fire and meal to find an inexplicable mage, I heard Varric exclaim behind me, "Every time she climbs up on that thing I feel like we cease to exist."
Despite exhaustion wrenching my muscles, I couldn't help but appreciate the grandeur of the scenery. Whoever named it emerald graves wasn't far off; a verdant beauty growing overtop a mass grave of my people. Nugs skittered away from our horses' hooves churning up the wet ground. Even the mud in the emerald graves smelled different, sweet like clover and hay despite neither being around. Josephine whispered of a popular beauty treatment in Orlais involving ladies smothering their faces in the stuff. Knowing merchants, they were probably clearing their complexions with nug dung.
"How much further?" I called to my scout. She rounded her horse up an incline, taking us higher around the path. At least we skirted past the giants, a foe I was in no mood to tussle with. Admiring from afar was the best approach with a giant, preferably as far as Skyhold.
"There!" she shouted, pointing at the top of the edge of a cliff. A stream dribbled over the top, plopping into a shallow pool beside us. I squinted, only able to make out two human shaped shadows silhouetted by the passing sun, and one other much smaller and on all fours.
I noticed the third shadow had a rope tied around its neck and asked the gods, "Creators, what am I going to find?" Urging my horse into a cantor, I closed the distance quickly. My scout trailed behind, happy to let the Inquisitor take over for whatever madness lay before me.
My horse balked at the final climb up the rocky land. I slid off her and snatched up my bow. She whinnied for a treat, which...I patted my pockets fruitlessly. "Sorry," I said, but the scout leaned over, holding out something in her hand. She didn't dismount. Another great sign from the gods.
Using my hands to assist, I climbed up the massive rocks. A single voice spoke above me, asking for clemency with all the words available to him. My head poked up above the ground, but all I could see were boots shifting around a couple pairs of hooves. Placing my hand upon the flat ground above, I rose up to watch a mage in one of the ugliest hats I'd ever seen pacing around an exasperated man.
"Cullen?" I called. He broke away from the soppy man with one hand holding open a book and the other inserted in his own mouth.
The commander held out a hand for me, and together we tried to get me up to their level with as much dignity as possible. I slid my fingers across my bow to check for any damage then turned to him, "What are you doing here?"
He rolled his eyes skyward, "That is a very dull story. I was to assist with Fairbanks' recruits when I came across this mage."
The mage yanked his fingers out of his mouth and held them to me. I inspected the slobber covered appendage and then stared him in the eye, "I'm Finn."
"Just Finn?" I asked, glancing from him back to Cullen.
"Not just, no. My full name is Florian Phineas Horatio Aldebrant, Esquire."
"Floriant pine-ass..." I started, trying to follow his stream.
"Florian Phineas Horatio..."
Cullen stepped in, "He used to be one of the mages at Redcliffe."
"Shouldn't you be with the rest of the rebels at Skyhold?" I asked. The mage assignments were handled by whichever advisor needed one for a job, but it was rare for any to trek beyond the walls unaccompanied by a few Inquisition soldiers.
"Ah, about that. Well, funny story. Not so much funny as strange and unbelievable," Finn babbled, bouncing on his feet. He still kept the book open, the pages rustling in the wind.
Cullen glared at the mage, "He wasn't with the rebellion."
"Right, I wasn't with the rebellion," Finn copied.
I looked up and down the man still dressed in circle finery, most of the hems now shredded beyond mending. There was no cold wear save for the yellow and orange monstrosity atop his head. He was unlikely to survive more than a few days in the wild. "What are you doing here?"
"I was tracking a demon," Finn said.
"Just one?" I snickered.
"This is a tricky one."
My eyes narrowed and my muscles tightened, "Is this a demon you summoned?"
"What?!" Finn shouted, scampering back from my accusation, "No, no, I'd never do such a thing. I am a mage of the circle! We do not participate in blood magic."
"There are no circles..." I began, but Cullen ran his fingers along my arm.
"He was one of the dutiful ones," he said. But even through his assurances, I noticed he kept his fingers gripped upon his sword.
"So, you were hunting a demon and you need our help finding it?" I tried to get this conversation back on track. Somewhere back in the woods was a bed roll crying out to me.
"No, no, I've already found it," Finn continued. Cullen sighed. Leaning back on his heels, he glanced over the waterfall drop below us as if it seemed more tempting than facing whatever the mage wanted.
"Where is this demon?" I asked, regretting the words as they left my mouth.
Finn moved to the side, exposing the animal gnawing upon a tuft of grass. A bit of rope was loosely knotted around its throat. It glanced at me with a lazy eye and bleated, spraying masticated grass everywhere.
"A goat? You brought the commander and leader of the inquisition over here for a goat?"
Finn dashed forward, about to grab my coat, but paused at the threat in my eye and my fingers drifting towards a weapon, "This is no goat. Okay, it is a goat. Was a goat. It gets complicated. It's both goat and demon."
"Welcome to my headache," Cullen said, folding his arms. I sneered at the mage's babble, but the commander snickered at my response. Misery falling for company.
I watched the goat, or not goat, chewing its way to the mage's bag. It looked as innocuous as any other animal skipping along the forest trying to not get eaten by a bear. Exhaustion yanked me from amicable to irritable at the mage's delusions. Yanking his book away, I glared into the face far too lined to be playing these games.
"If you ever disturb the Inquisition like this again, I shall have you...placed on kitchen duty!"
"But," Finn pointed to the goat, "the demon."
My voice cracked an octave screaming, "That is a goat!"
A chuckle rumbled not from Cullen or even the scout still circling below on her horse, but from behind Finn. "Typical mortal believing it knows all about the world."
"Did that goat just talk?" I stuttered. Yanking my bow into place, I reached for an arrow while Cullen unsheathed his sword. But Finn approached closer, dropping down to a knee to meet the goat eye to eye. "What are you doing?" I hissed.
"Fascinating, it hadn't felt the need to speak to me since the binding ritual and..." The mage turned back, noticing the two of us were now armed. "It's all right. I placed down a binding circle." Finn pointed to the ring of hay and herbs ensconcing the goat.
The goat/demon chuckled again with a cold menace. Lightning crackled from its nose as hardened plates rolled across the body. A second and third set of horns sprouted off its head, growing another two feet while the eyes turned blood red. Still cackling, the goat shook its body, increasing its size with each twist.
I grabbed onto the mage, hauling him away from the growing demon. He didn't fight me, but kept staring at the ground as if trying to solve a puzzle.
"Oh dear," Finn said, "it seems to have eaten through the circle."
"It's free?" I shouted at him. By now the goat was already five feet tall while still on four legs and getting bigger. Sparks sprang from its hooves every time it smacked into the ground.
Finn bobbed his head, "I fear so. Pride demons are complicated things."
My eyes met Cullen's and he nodded. The commander raised his shield, pulling the attention of the goat. I fired an arrow lancing across the armor growing across the demon's body. Two more barely nicked it, only drawing the beast's growing ire and revelry in the chase. The goat bleated, lightning flaring out of its mouth and smacking into Cullen's shield. Without waiting for the demon to recharge, Cullen reached around his shield and jammed his sword for the demon's head. It was a brutal blow, but the goat rolled its head, the horns knocking it aside.
Tossing my bow aside, I unsheathed my daggers. "Scout, find the others! Bring them back as quick as possible!" I heard a "Yes, Ser" below me and the sound of hooves disappearing into the distance.
Cullen drew the brunt of the demon's attention, hooves smashing into his shield. But this was no longer a little goat. The creature had the force of a ton and four feet long legs behind it, each kick denting the shield. Jumping forward, I slashed for the goat's flank, but the demon turned. My left arm missed, but the right slid, drawing a small line of blood down its side. It reprieved Cullen from the onslaught so he could regroup, hacking away at the creature's head.
Lightning nipped at my side as I rolled away, my footing slipping beneath. The ground smashing into me was preferable to the massive goat kicking in my bones. I twisted further away, dodging the demon goat's maniac hops. Rising to a knee, I cried, "Mage, throw a spell!"
"What should I do? I don't do this fighting stuff unless under pressure," Finn shouted.
"A demon infested goat isn't pressure?" I muttered to myself. Bouncing back up from the crouch, I watched the demon zap Cullen across the face. He reared from the sting, pawing at his face. "Try magic!" I shouted at Finn. Running at full force towards the goat, I screamed. The demon raised a leg, ready for me, but I dropped down, sliding under its belly and dragging my daggers to gut it. But the damn things could only draw a wound perhaps an inch deep.
Screaming, lightning strikes lanced from its mouth across the forest. Scorch marks erupted in the grass and trees, blackening the ground. Thank the creators this place was so wet or we'd have a demon and a forest fire to contend with.
The demon twisted around, trying to smash me to pieces, but Cullen kept it distracted by smacking his shield into its face. I kept digging my daggers in, only able to get the blade an inch or two at best, which the goat shrugged off with more stomping.
"By the maker, cast something!" Cullen shouted. His exasperation twisted to a curdling scream as the goat hurtled through his shield wall and bit down on his arm.
"Ghilan'nain's horns!" I cursed, rolling out from under the goat. It refused to let go of its prize, even as Cullen bashed it on the face with the hilt of his sword. Out of ideas, I jumped as high I could, sticking my dagger into the goat's hindquarters. Using them, I scaled the goat, twisting with each dig. Ichor dribbled from the wounds, dissolving the grass below into foam.
Sliding onto the demon's back, I raised my arm high and drove a dagger deep into its spine. The goat shrieked, releasing its grip on Cullen. Ichor poured from the spine, slicking up my meager hold. Now beyond angry, the demon bucked, its head snapping around to bite me. It spun around in a circle, blood gushing from the gaping wound and across my dagger, my only hold upon the beast.
Cullen slung his shield over his damaged arm and swung again at the goat's face, smacking into his nose. But the goat was too distracted by me to notice. "I'm losing my grip!" I shouted as my fingers gave out. The demon twisted hard, sending me careening through the air. Ground shattered into my side, kicking some of the air from my lungs. I kept rolling, finishing off the rest of it.
"Inquisitor!" Cullen shouted, but I was in no state to respond.
Gasping to refill my lungs, I squeaked out a, "Mage?"
Either Finn heard or caught on that this was going poorly for us, "I've got a spell that should work, I only need a moment."
"Is that all?" Cullen mocked. Demon ichor drenched my eyes, which I tried to wipe away with my still bloodied hand. Rising up to a knee, I watched the commander perform the strangest move I'd seen. He called to the demon, causing the shaggy head to whip around to face him, then began to run a circle around it, never swinging, never trying to bash it in with his shield. Just running in an eternal loop, and the demon followed. Its hooves shattered the ground with each twist, lightning crackling up the black-blood legs. But it was working. The demon couldn't reach him as it tried to reorient the four legged body. Too bad Cullen couldn't keep this up forever.
"Now, Finn!" I shouted. Cullen's boot slipped in the blood pooling across the ground, his arms rolling to keep him upright. The goat nipped for it, almost snagging him again.
"Okay, okay, okay," Finn said. His head snapped up from his book. Parting his fingers like conducting a symphony, he waved at the goat. Metal bit the air as the mage's magic swirled around the still spinning beast.
"You might want to get back," Finn called. His eyes faded over with a crackling of red and white fog now permeating his body.
Cullen didn't need to be told twice. Taking one more twist around the goat, he broke free, running towards me. I snagged his arm, pulling him down before his momentum took him further down the hill. He folded to the ground, his breathing labored from the battle.
"Mage!" I cried.
"It is done," Finn said, snapping his book closed.
Cullen and I twisted to the goat standing stock watching us curious mortals. It snorted, sending more lightning out of its nose, but there was uncertainty behind the glowing eyes. It didn't know what to make of this. A bulge shifted below the goat's flank, then another in its leg. Suddenly, the goat grew in size faster than before. No longer five feet tall, it now towered above Cullen. An unnatural smile curled up the goat lips, a scene certain to visit me for a few weeks in my nightmares.
"What did you do?" I shouted to the mage again flipping through his book.
"I...I used an destruction spell. It should have rendered the beast inactive," Finn zipped back and forth through the same page, glancing up at the still increasing goat. "Maya the fourth even endorsed this one."
Now beyond seven feet tall, the demon chuckled. "The mage who imprisoned me, how could I forget you?" It spun around, eyeing up the mortal quickly becoming bite sized. "I shall enjoy this."
"Oh, this isn't right," Finn cried, snapping the book shut and stepping back, "I don't want to die!" The goat only chuckled more, taking a slow elaborate step towards Finn.
I grabbed onto Cullen's hand, hauling him up. Together we raced towards the goat, ready to impale it as best we could, when the demon paused. It took another step, then leaned back.
Glancing towards Finn, I shouted, "What's it--?"
Innards exploded out of the demon, guts and blood splattering into trees, grass, and across the three of us. Something in the mage's spell must have finally caught as the demon blew apart, decorating everything within a radius with its innards. Small bubbles of magic popping across each organ left dangling in the branches. Black ichor coated the once verdant landscape, foam hissing where it chewed through foliage.
Finn nodded his head, a rictus of a smile yanking back his lips. He continued to bob and weave as the blood drained from his face and the mage swooned, his falling head slapping into the pile of gigantic goat intestines. Cullen grumbled, but pushed the mage over so he didn't drown in demon blood. It was enough to revive Finn. He screamed about going blind before the commander wiped at his eyes.
Glancing once more to make certain the demon goat wasn't about to reassemble, I sheathed my daggers and hunted through the gore for my bow. "Just for my own sake, mage, how did a pride demon wind up in a goat?" I asked, eyeing up Finn.
"I am curious as well," Cullen said. He picked up the mage's hand, hauling him up but didn't release his hold. The templar armor might be gone, but the tenets still glimmered.
Finn swallowed his bottom lip a few times, "I was traveling with a caravan when a green wiggly bit in the sky split open."
"A rift," I said. Explained the pride demon at least, less so the goat.
"Is that what it is?" Finn asked.
"Did you not notice the massive breach in the sky?" Cullen asked, pointing upward. Finn followed along and twisted his head in surprise. I caught Cullen's exasperated eye and couldn't bury a laugh. Only a mage.
"So that explains the increase in thaumatic activity," Finn said. He reached inside his robe and pulled out a green leather book and a quill. Without any proper ink, he dipped it in the demon's ichor and began to write. "Do you know how long this 'breach,' as you so call it, has occurred?"
"Creators preserve me," I stepped back so I wouldn't throttle the man.
Cullen increased his pressure on the mage, "How did a demon wind up in a goat?"
"Oh, that. Well, the pride demon fell out of your breach thing and attacked the caravan. I was the only mage in the area and couldn't possibly defeat it on my own."
"Obviously," Cullen agreed, despite the fact it was Finn who finished the monster.
"So I thought to bind the demon to keep it contained. Without a supply of lyrium it had to be into a living being because of...mage reasons that aren't worth going into, and someone happened to bring a goat along on our journey. I'd only ever heard the spell in theory and had no idea it could actually work. This'll make for a fascinating paper."
Cullen glanced around the abandoned forest, trees pressing too close to allow wagons through, "Where is the caravan?"
"Probably hundreds of miles away by now. After I cast my spell, they spooked and ran. Quite pointless really, I had it all under control."
The commander blinked slowly at the mage, then turned back to me. His face begged for someone to explain this because the facts refused to add up. Stepping towards Finn, I confirmed what we both suspected, "You're saying after you bound the demon into the goat you then brought it with you for days?"
Finn nodded, "I asked around for someone to finish it off, but everyone either slammed the door in my face or looked at me strange. It was a lucky thing you happened along Inquisitor. You remind me of a warden I once traveled with and a dalish elf too. Maker was that more trouble than it was worth. Do you know a fellow elf named I think it was Ariana?"
Cullen's fingers slackened from around Finn's wrist. He twisted his head, trying to lodge the mage's idiotic truth out of his ears, "Andraste's breath." It was the closest I ever heard of him cursing. Released from his grip, Finn approached the goat carcass, prodding it with a stick to see if anything worthy of research rested inside.
I watched him for a moment while Cullen walked past to land ass first onto the grass. "You'll be fine," I said to Finn, ignoring his doddering comments as I joined the commander.
"At least you picked the least bloody spot." I slid down beside him, my calf muscles spasming from the sudden lack of exertion. "How's the arm?"
He held out the one the goat demon bit into. His gauntlet was warped, jagged sections ripped back or pinched in. "I'll need someone to cut the armor off me, but I don't think the demon got to my skin."
Smiling, I twisted my head to Finn, "We got a mage that could probably heal you up."
Terror crossed his weary eyes, "He'd be more likely to bind me to a rabbit." The laughter of exhaustion burst from me, echoed by Cullen but with less force.
"Think he'll do requests?" I said, still watching Finn who was now squatting above the ground and trying to use his legs as a table. "If my body ever becomes unrecoverable, have him bind me into something new."
"I fear it does not work that way," Commander Killjoy said, killing the conversation. A southern breeze weaved through the grass. Its kiss wiped away the sweat rolling across my arms and also dried the demon blood sticking to every part of my body. To our left, the sun glimmered just a peck above the horizon. It wouldn't be long before night fell upon this small grotto, leaving us exhausted and blind. Not an appetizing prospect, but moving seemed as impossible as defeating a dragon.
"I would pick a bear," Cullen said, throwing off my thoughts. "If I had to choose an animal," he continued at my look. "What would you do?"
"Hm..." I tapped my finger against my chin, scratching off the caked on blood, "I believe I'd go with a nug."
He laughed at my earnest tone, then paused. "A nug? Why a nug?"
Shrugging, I said, "I like nugs. They squeak adorably, have ridiculous ears, and drive Vivienne mad. What'd you think I'd pick?"
"Something majestic like a...halla," he turned away with the last word, afraid to say something offensive.
But I only smiled and ran my fingers along his non-damaged hand, "If you'd spent any time around a halla you'd know why I go nug. Those things stink, especially when they're in heat."
It was probably my imagination but I swore a blush bloomed beneath the black ichor across his cheeks. He twisted his body to face me and traced the side of his finger along my cheek. "You're beautiful."
Laughter gurgled in my throat from a mix of embarrassment, uncertainty, and joy. I raced to cover my confusing outburst, "I bet you say that to all the girls covered in demon goat's blood."
Sliding his hand behind my jaw, he leaned his face closer to mine. I followed him, walking down this new and uncertain path but savoring the moment. Cullen's brows rose as he paused millimeters from my face. Taking the initiative this time, I twisted my head and smashed my lips close to his. He dipped to the right, lining it up for a proper kiss. His mouth parted, the tongue exploring new terrain. Lust overcame the metallic taste of demon blood slipping into our connected mouths, but it wasn't wise to eat too much of the stuff.
Breaking away, Cullen's smile could launch singing bluebirds into the air. He ran a finger across my filthy hair, trying to tuck it into place. "I will only tell one demon blood coated girl that she's beautiful."
"Why, Commander," I purred, trying to stampede over the awe shucks guffaw digging out of my throat. "You say the nicest things." Sliding my hand along his shoulder, I leaned closer for another kiss.
"Where is this monstrous demon?!" Blackwall's heroic grumble echoed below us. Cullen's eyes widened and he jumped up, scrabbling away from me. As subtle as his performance was, the blush blanketing his pale cheeks gave him away.
I wiped my hands along the rare bit of clean grass and rose up. Below, the three goofs sat upon horses I couldn't remember them having. "I'm afraid you missed it."
"What?" Dorian asked. He sat precariously upon his steed as if he didn't want any part of himself to touch it. "And after that mess it took to procure these things to get us here in time."
"Sorry," I shrugged, "giant goat demon and you guys were too late to see it. Even grew to like seven feet tall in the end before exploding."
"Wait, wait," Varric called, "I've got to write this down." He unearthed a book from inside his coat, "Start at the beginning."
Sighing, I glanced towards Cullen who still found a tree not in my direction fascinating. "How about I tell you back at camp?" I shouted down. "Would you care to join us, Commander?"
"We hadn't finished setting it up," Blackwall added.
"It has all the amenities of sticks and canvas on the rocky ground," I smiled, "impossible to pass up."
He broke away from the embarrassment tree and shook his head. But a whisper of a smile belied his discomfort at our complicated liaison, "No, I think I'll continue on to Fairbanks, get this arm looked at, and find someplace to put Finn."
"Huh?" the mage looked up, broken away from his notes. "Oh good, good. Will it be indoors?"
"I hope so," Cullen said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Did someone say indoors?" Dorian asked, "May I go with them?"
"No," I shouted down. "We have our own demons to kill, remember."
He groaned, "This is why no one likes you, you know."
Chuckling, I caught Cullen's eye and nodded, "Oh, I know."