She couldn’t understand why people enjoyed living in such large places. Every time you turned what you saw was some unexplored location that echoed with unfamiliar voices and unknown rooms behind locked doors. While Azaya was no stranger to uncharted territory, and usually welcomed it with enthusiasm, the idea of this all this space being confined to walled up prison and lack of freedom was almost suffocating. No wonder the mage loved it so, she silently mused with a ghost of a smile behind her eyes, as his personality was so fitting for this.
The two Crows, with Kieran’s help, had now been formally invited to spend the night in the Arl’s residence. She could only imagine how that conversation had gone, but since the outcome was in their favor she didn’t dwell on it much. Azaya and Zevran were now being escorted to their own personal rooms. Her eyes would glance around at the various artifacts that were part of the décor as they walked; taking in the history that they each supplied. A few items were from the same Blight that Zevran was a part of, as he would so penitently confirm.
It had not gone unnoted that the two of them shared a very similar, almost frighteningly too similar, past, and they had spent a good part of their time together sharing stories and difference from their trials. Azaya had found that it was easier to deal with the scars when someone understood what they stood for, and Zevran always liked to be a storyteller in his own way. She could recall nights where they wouldn’t sleep simply due to the fact they couldn’t stop talking about it. For her, she explained, it helped deal with the nightmares and hauntings that she constantly dealt with. Zevran said it was simply because he could talk to her about it and she would comprehend without a question.
Zevran was the first to depart for his room and Azaya was led to hers only a few doors down. Their escort had opened the door with a slight bow and muttered something that she quickly dismissed. She stepped inside and let her eyes drink in the room. It seems the Arl, or Isolde, was no stranger to luxury and her gaze bounced between the golds and reds that sat on plush quilts upon the bed to the tapestries that dangled from the walls. The door closed softly behind her and what came with it was all of the overwhelming thoughts and feelings crashed on her shoulders. Azaya strode to the window and flung the doors upon; her body leaning desperately on the edge, lungs gasping for air. Everything that happened today had the Crow swimming against a riptide and she couldn’t get out.
Azaya leaned forward and ran her hands through her hair; raking her fingertips through each of her locks. Her body craved to sleep under the stars and to have that comfort of the wilds just at her reach. The Blight seemed black and white compared to the last six hours of her life. She felt her cheeks flush with frustration as her lips caught the salty flavor of sadness as they fell down her face. Azaya cursed herself mentally for the weakness she was displaying. This was not the time to fall apart.
“Awake, my dear?”
When she turned to look over her shoulder at him, Zevran’s face shifted to the same gaze they had shared when reminiscing about their past travels: understanding. He slipped into the room, shut the door quietly and gracefully walked across to sit with her. Azaya had turned and slid down into the bench down underneath the window and dropped her head into her hands. Moments later she felt his palm make small and soothing circles across her back and shoulders. “Your room is much nicer than mine. I will be leaving my complaints with the Arl.”
Azaya sent out a small laugh through her fingers and learned back so that her head rested on his shoulder. “It’s not my fault he likes me better.”
“I don’t think it’s the Arl who is smitten with you,” Zevran countered and leaned his cheek on the top of her head. “His feelings for you haven’t changed.”
Inhale. Exhale. “Mine haven’t changed for him.”
She felt Zevran smile and nod his head. “I know, and I know you all too well. Those aren’t just tears of happiness, I’m guessing.”
Azaya closed her eyes. He did know her all too well, and she lost count of how many times he had called her out on things she tried so desperately to keep hidden. For so long she had kept the walls up, created barriers, to protect herself and those she loved. But with the pending adventure looming over her, Kieran’s sudden appearance and all of the answers questions she could feel the walls slowly gaining fissures and weaknesses. If this was going to happen, Azaya was going to need help keeping these walls up. “They aren’t.”
The next day.
The left at early dawn just as Kieran had said. Two Crows, a resurrected warrior prince and a mage had started their journey and were a few hours in. Azaya rode her ahead of the others; her hand absentmindedly stroking the horses’ main gently. The stable master had told her the horses’ name was Luna and the name perfectly suited the creature’s personality and looks. With a dark heather gray color dotted with cream color spots, and a gentle but unpredictable spirit, Azaya felt as if this steed was just as magnificent as the celestial object she was named for.
She slowly looked upward and took in a deep breath of the wild air. She had tossed and turned in the soft and plushness of the bed, gaining little rest, and she felt as if her mind was in a fog. Yet, she perused onward as she always did because that’s how she worked and it’s what Kieran needed her to do. She would be useless if she showed feebleness. “I believe there is a river just a few miles east of here. Maybe we should think about taking a quick rest before continuing on?”
Thank you, brother. He leapt from the tower’s edge, his sword sliding through bone and blood right in between the archdemon’s eyes. As it did, the lenses of blight drew back from the dragon’s eyes and revealed the reptilian yellow eyes. He felt the claws of the dragon wrap around him and tug him into an embrace. Flat against the cold scales, he heard the las beat of Lusacan’s heart as his own vision dimmed and blackened. She can hurt us no longer.
He never felt himself land on the ground. He was surrounded by water. Completely divulged in the wet. His mouth was filled with water, his ears were blocking out the water from getting into his skull, his eyes hurt from the cold trying to invade. But there was no surface and no bottom. It was water as far as he could see in the darkness. He tried to swim, but he did not know which way, so he just tried whichever, but it he got nowhere. There was dim moonlight, but he was unable to locate where it came from. When he pushed out air from his mouth the bubbles did not flow to the surface, they just stood still in the water, like they were frozen in time. The clothes he was wearing made it difficult to swim, but they did not make him sink, he was just still in the lifeless water. He had to breathe and his lungs started to fill. He woke up drenched in sweat, so much he could have been swimming.
He got out of the wet sheets and went to the nightstand to wash off. He could hear the waves crash against the cliffs under the castle. Isolde had given him his old room, overlooking the lake. It was supposed to be calming. He was not calm. He had been calm before. When he jumped off the tower and plunged his sword into the last of the old gods, he had been calm. He had known what would happen. He had been prepared. There were things he had not done because he knew how things would end. Now he was alive again, and the future was filled with possibility. Possibilities that scared him.
Not sleeping did not help either. Before he could sleep anywhere, whether it was a fancy bed or the ground, but now he only got a few hours in before the nightmare came back and he woke up in a pool of his own sweat. He did not know if being dead meant he had been rested enough to live off three hours of sleep, but it would have to do for now. He had gotten used to only sleeping a few hours while traveling with Azaya and Phoriden, but he did not want it to impact his reflexes. He did not feel like death had slowed him down. He felt strong. Maybe even stronger than before. Like death had been a good long nap and now his body as rejuvenated and ready for use. His mind was another story.
Mistakenly, the stablemaster had prepared four horses that morning. While trying to explain why, Phoriden walked out of the castle with a sour look on his face, as if called to explain why they only needed three horses. He did not respond to the prince’s greeting of a good morning, he stretched and groaned before he disappeared in a cloud of smoke and light and a large raven took off in his place. Kieran turned to face Zevran while straddling up on the white horse. “Don’t mind him, he’s not a morning person. You’re lucky if you get anything but rolling eyes out of him before ten.”
They rode fast. Not full gallop, but faster than just walking. The trip was long enough that they would have to make a stop for the night, and even if time was precious, they could only travel so fast. And exhausting the horses now would not benefit them tomorrow. He had nodded to Azaya’s suggestion and smiled when the sunlight reflected off her hair with a shimmer.
Phoriden had been keeping an eye on them from above, gliding on the winds under his wings. The sky was almost clear and the sun was hot. It was not too windy, so flying was easy. He remembered the first few times he had tried to fly, and how Kieran had laughed at him. It was not as instinctive as it looked, but eventually he had learned.
It was little later than noon when he landed in a branch in the tree the horses had been bound to, with tall grass for them to eat from. Smoke and light transformed him back into his elven form, his feet dangling from the branch he was sitting on. His shoulder muscles hurt from the flight, so he began stretching them silently.
“Phoriden, don’t you think you’re a bit overdressed?” Kieran asked with a smirk as he got the pan and some pieces of meat from the pack on his horse. He knew Phoriden liked nice things, but this was extravagant even for him. They were crafted from a tailor, who used to work for the Tevinter Magisterium. His robes were made for magister’s only, until he had to flee the imperium. The regalia was made from deep crimson silk, purple velvet and golden cord. The belt was bejeweled with emeralds and the robes were set with a large emerald over the heart. The flared sleeves had sigils woven into them, the gloves open-fingered so spells could be cast easier.
“You see this?” he asked and pointed to the jewel placed in the middle of his chest. He was not going to go into detail about why he had spent so much on such clothes. Sure, the collar was obscenely tall behind his head, and the shoulder pieces were more decorative than actual protection, but there was hidden power in these garments. Because he did not ever want to be in a situation again where he could not save someone. “This is going to save you, when you have a dragon claw dug into your stomach.”
“Can you please just go back to bird form so I can kill you with an arrow and we can roast you for dinner?” Azaya said dryly, rubbing her shoulder with her hand. The damn knot had been there since last night and the lack of sleep didn’t help. She shot her eyes up at him, sitting on a branch, and just rolled them before taking an arrow out of her quiver. “It was quieter, anyway,” she muttered, loading the arrow into her bow and pulling the string back to have her wrist sit at her cheek. Inhale. Exhale. Her fingers extended and the arrow flew fiercely though the air and jammed itself into the bark of a tree; just in the center of the knot she was aiming for.
She rolled her head around her shoulders and tried to stretch out the muscles in her neck. Hopefully just being outside tonight would help. Azaya hadn’t slept so horribly since the first night without Kieran. And even if the aches and pains were still there; they were applied far beyond what she could tolerate. The outdoors, the blanket of peace and finality, could provide some solitude. The small group hadn’t been outside enough for the idea to take effect. For now, she just lodged another arrow into her bow and shot it off without another word.
Zevran watched her as he leaned over to draw out something from his satchel hung from his saddle. The bags under her eyes were subtle but noticeable and the way she danced each arrow in her fingers before loading it let him know she didn’t sleep at all. He had offered to stay with her until she fell asleep, but she insisted that two sleep-deprived Crows were going to be useless in this situation. So, reluctantly, he retired for the night and left her to her thoughts and emotions.
Quickly, he thought of their conversation just hours ago and how much she had said. Many of the words she spoke he knew of already, but it seemed that each syllable tumbled out of her mouth at such an alarming rate. It only meant that there was too much going on; too many uncontrollable circumstances that she was reeling. Of course, he knew exactly how she felt, to some extent, and was at least able to converse with her. It had lowed her anxiety it seemed. Still, he knew her all too well and those arrows she was currently letting fly were more of a metaphor than anyone else could see.
He smiled and brought over some water that he drew from his leather bag. “Don’t be so harsh on him, Azaya,” he said handing her the canteen and looking up at the mage, “he just likes to be flamboyant.” Zevran caught a ghost of a smile from her before her eyes shifted quickly to Kieran. Above all else her thoughts would always be of him, and Zevran knew how lovely and dangerous that could be. He caught her eye again; their silent discussion resuming without fail, and his golden eyes asked if she had slept at all.
Azaya’s eyebrows had popped up, explaining and confirming that she didn’t, and she turned to let her back face everyone and her eyes focus on the tree in front of her. Life seemed easier, simpler and clearer when she could focus on one thing: one idea. That knot, where the tree bended and wound around itself, a small target that seemed impossible to it; gave her the chance to be free. “Does flamboyant mean annoying?” she asked, the questioned muttered with exhaustion and took a sip of water. Azaya handed it back to Zevran before taking out another arrow. It twirled violently in her fingers, her blue-green eyes dark and intently fixated on the bulge in the tree.
And she sighed. The arrow’s movements dulled to a small spin. “We shouldn’t stay long.” Suddenly, the woods never felt so suffocating and she wanted to move on. The faster the group got to his sister; the faster the knot in the tree was replaced by flesh.
Though he was not about to let her kill him, he did turn back into hos flying form and set off from the tree, leaving the trio to deal with themselves. Sore wings or not, he was not going to stay around and be some murderer-for-hire’s punching bag. He had done nothing to warrant that.
Kieran sighed slightly inwards. Those two. Some things surely had not changed in his absence. He had hoped they would have helped each other in his absence, but it seemed things were just as bad as he had left them. If not worse. He knew Phoriden would return once he was done steaming off, so instead he would concentrate on the other.
“Zevran, do you think you could go get some wood?” he asked the elf. He suspected the elf would catch on to it not being an order, but an excuse for him to leave them alone for a few minutes. “I think we need to cook some food.”
He put the pan down on the ground with the packaged fish in it and instead went to obscure the target practice, knowing full-well that she might decide to shoot him rather than face him. He stood there for a small moment, just looking into her eyes.
“Hi,” he said simply, his lips crocked in a half-grin. He was not going to school her or take sides. He was not a parent of neither of those two. He wanted to talk to her because he knew her animosity was not about the mage. “You look tired.”
There was a small internal flinch when she saw the puff of smoke and the flutter of wings from the corner of her eye. She never did get along with the mage, but that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t lay down her life to protect him if the time came. Her eyes closed and they felt heavy like lead; the weight of her actions causing her stomach to turn. Maybe if she had just had the chance to sleep, even an hour more, then she could have bit back her comments and save herself the apology she would have to mutter later.
Zevran rested a hand gently on her shoulder and from a distance she could hear Kieran ask if he could go gather firewood. This meant only one thing, and Azaya didn’t know if she was ready for it. Her partner gave her should one last reassuring squeeze before departing, and her heart started to race. Heat and anxiety spread through her veins like wildfire. Her eyes shifted away. She hadn’t been alone with him, not yet and not since his death, and so many thoughts had pounded through her mind with each beat of her heart.
“Hi.” She didn’t even hear him approach; her own thoughts and worries drowning out all the external noise. Azaya cursed herself silently before taking a slow and deep breath. She finally looked up at him. At the time, even though the mage said he looked the same, Azaya still saw him as a dream. His face, eyes, lips and figure were all there, standing before her, but she still had a difficult time accepting it. The woods made it seem more real because this is where they belonged.
This was where they sat together, long after the others had gone to sleep, and whispered stories of battles and booze. This was where they would steal gazes of each other from across a flickering fire as others discussed strategies for the next part of their journey. This was where they could feel the stars outlining their story but only they could see what they were telling. This was where they silently fell for each other. This was where it became real and no longer a dream.
“You look tired.” Azaya’s eyebrows popped up and her head tilted dramatically to the side as if to say: ‘you’re kidding right?’ She smiled then, from within her eyes, realizing that she only did that for him. Right through the wall, as always. Her shoulders eased away from tension, and her hands rested on her hips; her bow balancing on the bone. “I didn’t mean to snap at him,” she whispered. Azaya dropped her head, the strands of red-brown hair dangling over her eyes. The Crow sighed and looked back up at him with hair dancing at the corner of her eyes. “The lack of sleep isn’t letting me bite back my words as easily as I’d like to.”
Inhale. Exhale. Their eyes locked on each other, and Azaya found herself lost within them. “There were so many…” she started and then swiped her tongue across her dry lips. The words, questions, thoughts were not stringing together as she wanted them to. She was too exhausted to think, but who knows when she would get the chance again. Inhale. Exhale. Her fingers tingled with anticipation. “I wished every night that I could see you one more time; just so I could ask you… talk to you…” She laughed at herself. “And now that I can… I don’t know what to say.”
He absent-mindedly moved the lock of hair out of her face and fastened it behind her ear. Then he realized he had been doing it, and retracted his arm gently. He let her speak as he looked into her eyes. They looked like orbs of moving sea water the way the sunlight traced them through the leaves in the trees. He knew it was different for her. He had missed her the week he had been alive again, she had missed him for two years.
“There are things I want to say too,” he confessed. Things she probably already knew. He needed to say them anyway. “But now’s not the time. When we get back we should go somewhere… And talk…”
“You need to get some sleep,” he said as he went back to the fish and began to clean them. “I’ll be too worried if you’re not at your optimal. We don’t know what we’re up against. If you can’t sleep tonight, you should drink some of Phoriden’s sleepytime tea.”
“It’s not magic, it’s just herbs,” he added quickly and pointed at her with one of the fish before she could object. Maybe it was stupid of him to talk about magic when she was already on edge, but this was how he usually dealt with it. He tumbled his way through her defenses and dealt with the issues at the core. “How’s it going with all that? Does he know?”
For a brief moment she felt the trail of his fingers tingle along her skin long after he removed them. Internally she yearned for him to keep going, but her mind knew better than to wish for the impossible. This was not the time, as Kieran had explained, and Azaya just shrugged and followed him back leaving it all behind. She exhaled heavily and rolled her eyes when he mentioned the mage. That seemed to be the natural reaction when anyone mentioned anything about him. “If you think for one moment,” she started as she sat against the trunk of a near by tree, drawing her knees close to her so she could rest her forearms on them, “that I would trust anything that man gives me; you are sorely mistaken.”
She cast her eyes to the side to avoid making direct contact with his. “I’ll be fine,” she muttered sourly. “Besides, we are outside and I always sleep better outside.” Azaya picked at her fingers and deliberately ignored his comments about magic, especially the question that followed. This was a topic that the woman did not want to discuss- even if it was Kieran who brought it up. Her eyes narrowed as she looked back up at him and her brows knitted together.
Why was it always about magic? First, it was Zevran bringing up the idea of blood magic and the recollection of their conversation made her fingers curl. Blood magic, beyond its enviable infamous reputation, was a very sore topic to the elven woman’s life. Then, the mage comes walking back into her life without cause and just solidifies the whispers that Kieran was home. It wasn’t as if Phoriden and Azaya were enemies, but she found better company among others in the group. His sassy and overachieving attitude just gave her more of a just cause to dislike those with magic. She was far from that line of thought and didn’t how others could share his lifestyle.
And now Kieran had to ask. It wasn’t enough that he could just ask her anything and she would willingly answer, was it? Was anything going to be enough? Azaya slipped her eyes to the side again. “Know what?” she said with her tone indicating that she didn’t want to talk. Inhale. Exhale. She closed her eyes and let her mind concentrate on her heart, the wind flowing through the trees; anything besides her own venomous ideas. “There is nothing to tell him,” she finally said with her words sounding much more like herself.
“I meant Zevran,” he answered her, but not angrily. He knew she was angry, and he knew he was part of why, but he also got the feeling there was something she was not sharing with him. How was he going to make her comfortable enough to talk to him without prying? He just wanted things to go back to the way they were before, but something had changed. It was like blinking and the whole world had shifted.
“He is the one who used to travel with my parents, right?” he asked and looked over at her. Rays of sun broke through the leaves of the tree she was sitting at as a breeze riffled through the leaves, almost like a higher power was trying to shine on her. Almost like the sunlight was trying to annoy her. So much that he had to look up and double-check that there was not a certain crow moving the branches.
With the fish cleaned, but no fire to cook them on, he put the pan down and went to sit down next her. He drew up his knees and knocked one against hers. “Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the help. It just seems oddly coincidental that two of Ferelden’s heroes end up working together.”
And now he was sounding like he was accusing her of something. That was not what he meant. “A lot of this seems strangely coincidental. You two seem close, though. Like you really understand each other. That makes me…”
He lost his words again. He usually was not this inarticulate. How did his brain get so scrambled? Somehow he could only focus on the spot where his knee was connected to hers. “Ehh… Calm, I think. Like if I went to rest in peace now, I would be more restful.”
It had been a long time, a very long time, that Azaya actually laughed. Her eyebrows popped up amplifying her amused facial features as he spoke. She had known him for so long that the way he was acting and speaking was so comically uncharacteristic that she couldn’t hold back. Azaya laughed softly and shook her head. “Zevran and I have an unusual bond.”
She looked down at their knees, slightly touching, and closed her eyes. The sensation was one she had dreamt of for so many nights. “You know what it’s like,” she started, looking over at him. “We went through very similar things, some of them we don’t ever talk about, and fought beside each other for years. We are siblings in arms.” Azaya took a breath and studied his face. The softness of his eyes with a hint of sadness and desire swirling within his irises. His strong jaw that only softened when he smiled and his hands that were chapped with the scars of a warrior.
It was then she realized that she had built up this image in her mind; a portrait of this would be king that she had shared so much with. Even when he was gone for those long two years, Azaya had never stopped believing that he this person she had always visualized would appear again. However, she did always think that would be when she met her own death and not by mysterious circumstances but she would not complain at the moment.
The Crow took in a deep breath. She was never the one to explain things accurately with her words, always depending on her actions on doing the translations for her, and defining her emotions was proving immensely harder. Suddenly she felt her cheeks flush with heat. Quickly she looked down and rubbed the back of her neck. “My father,” she cleared her throat and looked over at him again. A surge of anger for being so childish about this surged through her veins but she was able to contain it much easier. It was simpler than if had been the mage.
“My father,” Azaya began again, “in the few memories I have of him, would always tell me: ‘Life always has a path laid out before you by fate or destiny, but it is up to you to choose which path you decide to take.’” Inhale. Exhale. And, for the first time in forever, the woman built on pride, perseverance and strength did something out of her comfort zone. Turning her gaze away from him she took her hand and gently rested it on top of his knee that was touching hers. Then, without taking her eyes away from her resting hand, she delicately rested her head on his shoulder.
“I think it’s pretty clear on which path I have chosen to walk,” she said after a few heartbeats of silence. This was the only way she could show him, prove to him, that even in death her alliance and more always belonged to him. “Besides if you went to rest in peace after all of this- I would find a way to bring you back, again, so I could kill you myself,” she said with much more laughter in her voice than she’d had in a long time.
He felt his heart skip a beat when her hand touched his knee., but when it started beating again it was with the strength of a wyvern. It had not beat so hard since he breached the surface of the lake, and even if it was only a week ago, it felt the same. Like his lungs filled with air for the first time and even as he breathed in, the scent of her hair filled his nostrils as he felt the weight of her skull rest on his shoulders. It was like a key was turned in his back and the stiffness in his shoulder muscles were released so they could finally relax even as they supported her head.
He was not ignoring her, but he was too entranced by the words she was not saying to respond. The paths they had chosen was something they never spoke of. Before he had promised his life away to save Thedas, but now things were different. Now they could walk the path together. He had died for the world once already, this time around he would not go hunting for archdemons. They had avoided this as long as they had known each other. They had to because his fate had been sealed. But it was different now. Gently he shifted so they faced each other.
“I know I let you down, but it’s not like that now. This time I’ll never let you go,” he whispered as his gaze met with her swirling orbs of green and blue, but his eyes closed as his lips neared to hers.
Breathe. Breathebreathebreathe. It felt surreal, dream-like even, to have this daydream that she had played over and over in her mind suddenly come to life. It was much more simple than she imagined it, but then again she had never fathomed mentioning about her father. Somehow it made it easier; better even. She turned to look at him when he shifted; her throat dry with anticipation. Daydreams were a lot easier to follow through with.
Neither of them spoke for a minute but let their eyes do the speaking and the electricity flow between them. There was only one other person who could communicate silently with her, but even she had to admit that even Zevran couldn’t compete with Kieran. Azaya listened to him as he told her he had let her down and promised never to do it again. Her brows wanted to furrow together in anger but her eyes softened instead. How could he ever think that he had let her down? The thought never crossed her own mind. He had been faithful to his purpose, she knew and accepted that, and it had been neither of their faults that they felt the way they did…
…before. That was before. Before he came back from the dead and before everything changed. That was before she had to build up the walls and have him tear them back down. What if she let him down? What if the girl behind the walls was nothing that he expected or wanted? Thoughts were suddenly replaced by emotions as the leaves rustled above them and wind swept them away. It was just them. It always would be just them, and suddenly Azaya didn’t feel so alone anymore. Together they learned in, eyes on eyes until finally they let the electricity speak for them to draw them closer.
“Oh no…” Snap. Crack. Bang!
Azaya froze. I. Am. Going. To. KILL HIM. Their lips were centimeters apart and the desire still hung in between their unfulfilled kiss. She swallowed hard and rested her head against his. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to him; though she felt as if she needed to for herself as well. Finally, reluctantly, she pulled back and looked over at Zevran dusting himself off. He clearly had not compensated for the branches weak spots, his own weight, and the undeniable bad luck that she had before crawling onto it and crashing into a moment she so desperately needed. “You,” she whispered though the tone was so terrifying she could feel the anger seep through the pores of her skin, “have three seconds to give me a good excuse of why I SHOULDN’T KILL YOU!”
Zevran shrugged with indifference and smiled charmingly. “As if I would miss this show?” he finished with a grin thinking it would disarm her. He wasn’t all too surprised when the situation wasn’t instantly diffused but he had half hoped it would work. What he got in response was a very angry Crow woman who had stood up, dusted off her knees and marched over to her bow and quiver resting on a tree trunk nearby.
He sighed. “Alright. I’m sorry,” he said mustering as much meaning as he could without sounding too sarcastic (not an easy thing if someone would ask Zevran). He shook his head as she leaned over and loaded up an arrow into the bow. “Azaya, I mean it! I just…” He looked at her; the blue and green eyes sparking with tints of red. They had spoken enough times, she had told him her suspicions, and it was an adequate indication that no amount of sass and charm was going to get him out of this. “You know why.”
Inhale. Exhale. Her fingers tightened on the bow; the string groaned with the desire to release the arrow. Thoughts of killing and red ebbed and flowed through her mind like a wild fire. Azaya closed her eyes and thought back to the feeling she had moments before and the peace it brought before her fingers let go of her weapon and it fell to the ground with a soft thump. When her eyes reopened the tingle of read had receded back into the hues of green and blue, and her lips puffed up with a sigh. She pointed a hard finger at Zevran, her nails digging into her palms with annoyance, before turning on her heel and losing herself within the trees.
Instinct told him to look at the disturbance, but when he saw the elf on the ground, he chuckled lowly, feeling Azaya’s forehead against his own. He shifted his weight back and leaned against the trunk of the tree, not having realized just how angry the crow had gotten at the interruption. He kept his tongue as he watched the interaction between the two, not oblivious to the masked words Zevran spoke.
He was still surprised Azaya pointed her weapon at him. And something in the way she looked told him she was not kidding. As annoying as the exhibitionist elf’s timing was, it was not worth killing him over, especially not if she was as close to him as she claimed. He was about to get up to calm her down when he saw. Lines of red flickered in her sea green eyes, like little sparks ready to turn into a fire. But then she stopped and dropped her weapons.
Zevran exhaled and rubbed his forehead before turning his attention to Kieran. “Well, if I go after her I will probably get killed, but if you go after her you’ll probably get laid. I think it’s safe to say you have the better odds.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a lot handsomer, that’s probably why,” he answered the narcissistic elf with a smirk as he leaned against the tree trunk to get back on his feet. “I cleaned the fish, try to get the fire working, I’ll get her back.”
She had gone further than he expected, but eventually he heard the sound of stone meeting the surface of water and he followed it to find her throwing pebbles into the river. “You know, with both you and Phoriden gone, I quite literally lost half my army.”
He leaned against a nearby tree, close enough that they could talk, but without intruding too much on her personal space. “It’s probably better like this anyway. When I said it wasn’t the time, I meant it. I want it to be done right. Not shoved in between coming back from the dead and saving my sister. We don’t need to rush, we have all the time in the world.”
He had initially decided to stay away for the remainder of the day. Not because he was afraid of her threat to shoot him, but because he was not going to get dragged into another argument just because she was unable to deal with Kieran’s return. He was not going to be her punching bag. There was nothing he could say to make her stop believing what she believed. But now his stomach was developing its own language from hunger, and while he could stay in his bird-form and peck out worms from the ground, that grossed him out too much. So he returned to the camp, he really had just as much right to be in as her, and transformed into his own self.
He was ready for her word vomit, but found the place vacant except for her friend. He rethought again if he was really that hungry. Not that he knew enough about Zevran to have anything against him, but that was also why he hesitated. The only Crow he had ever met was her, and if he was as bigoted and spiteful as her, things could get very ugly, very fast. But, he had tried to defend him with Azaya, and that spoke for something. He stepped into the clearing, waving slightly as he spoke: “Hi.”
“Do you want some help with that?” he asked as he saw the branches gathered but unlit. He sat down on his knees next to the dry branches, rubbing his hands against each other so a small glow formed that he threw on the branches. If Zevran was as much of a magiphobe as Azaya, then he would just have to get over it. Still, he smiled politely at the other elf, not wanting to seem too rude. Just rude enough. “Did they go off so they can look at each other longingly?”
He didn’t mind the alone time, but in fact he welcomed it at this exact moment. Zevran had spent such a long time traveling with his counterpart that these moments of silence were almost a relief. He felt guilty for thinking it, even if she would probably tell him she had similar ideas, but sometimes it was trying to keep her together when he himself was a wind’s blow away from toppling over. What was funny, he mused, was that neither of them would admit this to the other. So, here he sat, trying with extreme failure to start a fire or not put blisters on his hand.
Zevran heard the mage long before he spoke and he looked up with a small lopsided smile. Azaya had shared her stories, of course, but he always took that with a grain of salt because she was speaking about magic. It was easier for him to form his own story and he could see where Azaya could be annoyed by some of the quirks and the actions that he did. However, from his own observations, the mage wasn’t anything but a well-dressed individual who could tolerate a rather obnoxious woman and that was good in his book.
“No,” he said with a small ghost of a grin. “Well, actually I don’t know.” He shrugged and leaned back on his heels; giving up on his futile attempts at starting a flame, as the mage stepped in to help. “She’s in more of a foul mood thanks to me, and Kieran went to go and try and calm her down. So I’m sure that’s involved somehow.” He laughed to himself. “I have that effect on her sometimes. I tend to drop in at the wrong moments.” Zevran motioned his chin in the direction of the large fallen branch that sat nearby as the piece of evidence. “Literally.”
He looked to were Zevran was gesturing, but did not quite connect the dots as to what had happened. He thought they had used the fallen branches for the fire. To keep his hands bus he took the pan and placed it on top of the heating branches, and started to inspect the had been cleaned properly. “What did you do? Breathe in her general direction?”
Something was different about him. He was still smiling, but it the carefree attitude he had projected up until now was gone. Not that he expected to be flirted with when Azaya was not around to be annoyed by it, but clearly, he was not unphased by his own spat with Azaya, still he had not gone for the hills after it. Instead he had stayed, and waited for the princess to calm down. “I don’t know how you deal with all her madness.”
“You’d be surprised by how much madness we actually share,” Zevran countered with an arch of his brow. Those two were clearly black and white; polar opposites of each other, and they seemed to live to get on each other’s nerves. Still, he understood her more than the mage or prince, and these last few years they trusted each other more than any other soul currently present. It wasn’t surprising that he would stand up for her in her absence. “While I admit she is a little bit on the aggressive side, you have to admit that she has gone through just as much as you have.” He looked up and made eye contact with the mage. “If not more.”
The lack of sarcasm and sass was so unlike the male crow’s normal personality that it even stunned him. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or the previous events that caused this, and he rubbed at his eyes with exhaustion and looked back down at the crackling fire. It illuminated his face with a soft warm orange; the crackle from the burning wood caused him to think back. “Azaya will always joke and say we are siblings,” he smiled so softly it seemed almost invisible to the naked eye. “Yes, believe it or not the woman has a sense of humor. You just have to be patient enough to see through the bullshit.”
He reached over and picked up a long stick and started to poke and prod the fire to move some of the pieces of wood around. “I understand what she’s gone through, so it’s easier for me to see though it all.”
He was rolling his eyes before he could catch and stop himself. Phoriden did not presume to know what either crows had been through, but neither knew what he had been through either. And no matter the amount of shit she had been through did not excuse her biting his head off for existing. She should have seen by now that they were on the same side. Instead she acted like every mage-fearing village idiot.
“Let’s agree on something,” he said as he poked the fire with a stick he had found on the ground. “I don’t presume to know what you’ve been through, and you don’t presume to know what I’ve been through, deal?”
“And I’m not going to feel sorry for her, when she’s the one barking at me, so don’t even,” he added and threw the branch on top of the others on the fire. It was not that he had expected Zevran to talk bad about her. He was not trying to turn them against each other. He was not even sure why he was even talking to him to begin with.
He tugged the cloak closer around himself. Not because he was cold, sitting near the fire. None of them were here because life had been easy on them. He may not have been in love with Kieran the way Azaya was, but he did love him. He was the only friend he had ever had. The only true one, at least. All the others he had thought were his friends turned into blood mages and tried to kill him. Not that he was not sure the life of a crow was not filled with betrayal as well, but that did not make it okay to snap at him. He stayed quiet and watched the sparks of the fire lift into the air.
Zevran stayed quiet and continued to poke the fire with a little more aggression. He watched through the flicker of the flames as the mage spoke and pulled his robes closer. His eyes, usually filled with mirth, were expressionless. “You judge too easily,” he said slowly and lost his gaze in the bottom of the fire pit. “And just so you know, I don’t presume anything. But your body language seems you are little straightforward in your arguments.” He shrugged indifferently. “Maybe it comes with the title.”
He stopped and sighed to himself. “Have you once stopped and thought to ask what was Azaya prior to your meeting or what happened in the time she was absent in your life? Have you thought the same for me?” His fingers tightened around the stick and jabbed it so that the mound of wood became loose and crumbled so the fire would have room to grow. Much like a stab of a dagger. “You say you won’t feel sorry for her, but what would you feel sorry for? It looks to me that you presume that the weight of Kieran returning is all that sits on her shoulders, but maybe it’s something else?”
This was something that he knew well, and the words that he was speaking weren’t coming out rude or obnoxious but rather speaking from experience. He wasn’t going to fix any relationship between the two, that was not his purpose, but he was not going to be spoken to so negatively by anyone. He recalled the tug at the robe and remembered a certain someone who did something similar. It caused his eyes to fade. “Is something bothering you? You don’t have to tell me a thing, of course, but it would turn into a very boring conversation.”
There they went again with the title. His eyes almost got stuck in the back of his skull. He had to take a very, very deep breath and concentrate on the fire rather than on the man for a while. “I don’t see what either of you going through before you met me, warrants yelling at me for no reason.”
“What’s bothering me,” he started speaking slowly, not talking down to him, but more to keep himself from raising his voice. “Is that she snaps at me for no reason. Yes, I’m straightforward, I much prefer it to people who can’t say what’s actually bothering them, and instead says they want to kill people over what they wear. She’s just so- !”
He had to stop himself again. He took another breath to regain control of himself, but moved his sight from the fire to the patch of grass he was slowly dragging from the earth. “She acts like I’m this horrible person. And I’m not going to pretend I understand why people assume mages are all evil to begin with, but it’s not like we just met. We’ve been through a blight together. We’ve battled together. We’ve gone through impossible things together. But she stills treats me like I’m some sort of villain. And I’m not, so I don’t know why she has to make me feel like one.”
And then he realized what he was doing. In his stubbornness he had tried to argue that bluntness was better, and in doing so had opened himself up to a stranger and shared something he did not actually want to share. The stiffness returned to the muscles in his face, and he looked through the fire at the other man. “I don’t expect you to understand.”
He watched him open up and then seal himself shut so quickly. If either Azaya or Phoriden took the time to realize how similar they both were than this constant drama would be at an end. The Crow didn’t say anything at first, and he thought through his words very carefully. He only had to do this for two others in his life and one of them he no longer had the pleasure of her company. “But if course I do,” he eventually said and looked up at the man through the tongue of fire. “While you have the displeasure of being known for your magic and looked down upon for such a great skill; I have the unfortunate annoyance of being a Crow and known only for killing and other unhappy endings. Which, I also do with great skill.” He poked the fire once and added, “It doesn’t make it easy to find friends.”
His thoughts were lost in the crackle and color of the fire and they brought him back to a time long ago and rarely spoken about. Zevran had gone through his own Blight, shared countless memories with his fellow warries around similar fires and had to break through barriers, and lived through fights to celebrate victory and survive losses. To say that this had become his fate was an understatement. “You know she’s afraid of magic, don’t you?” he said with a hoarse voice; his words raspy with memories. “Did you ever think of why? She shows you only one side of herself because it’s protection.” Zevran looked back up. “I’ve done the same before; a long time ago.”
Her voice hadn’t graced his mind in such a long time that it felt foreign and almost unwelcome; the recollection of her was the same. He could see her smile and the color of her hair as the edge of the fire’s flame seemed to outline her image for him. The bright eyes that kept him steady and melted away all his own walls and insecurities had looked at him through the flicker of red. The man hadn’t seen her in so long that he had almost ached to jump into the fire to be with her again. “To understand someone, a person has to look at them from all angles as if they were studying a work of art. That’s because you’re not trying to understand the piece itself but the artist’s thoughts and feelings. Who they are since they speak through their work.” He smiled sadly as the image in the flame seemed to disappear. Zevran turned his eyes away and twirled the tip of the branch in the dirt to make tiny patterns. “Someone had to teach me that lesson a long time ago.”
Why had he so suddenly opened up like this? He hadn’t made mention of her since the early years of Azaya’s and his relationship. Still, Zevran had seen a small piece of who Phoriden really was so he returned the favor. It was only fair. “I hope that you and Azaya learn to understand each other before it’s too late. You’ve been through too much together to let a friendship like that go to waste.” The words with tinted with sadness because he himself wished he followed his own words of wisdom. It was true however, that age does make the mind grow wiser. Zevran smirked suddenly, the brightness in his eyes returning. “I’ve told her all of this before as well, mind you, but she is a stubborn pain in ass after all,” he finished with a wink and went back to tending the fire.
He wanted to point out that he was not the reason she was a magiphobe. He wanted to point out that even if the Crows took children and taught them to be crows, it was not the same as being hated for something they were born with. Magic to a mage was as natural as running or breathing. It was an ability, not a profession. But he recognized that Zevran was trying to build a bridge, so he kept quiet.
And then something changed in the elf on the other side of the flames. A shapeless emotion crept into the camp like a fog. His blue eyes looked straight at his brown, but Zevran was not seeing him. He was looking at something in the fire between them. He suddenly felt a great sadness in the man, and had he been closer he would probably have tried to comfort him. But then he reminded himself that they had barely just met, and such a thing would be incredibly inappropriate and definitely unwanted. So he stayed still.
“You know, some might find stubbornness to be sort of a quirky, cute quality,” he tried to answer when Zevran had regained his composure, but the way he had looked before still haunted him. So quite unlike himself he crawled around the small fire and placed himself next to the other elf so they could look at the fire together. He did not speak at first, because he did not want to over-step. “Well, I know she didn’t teach you that. So who did? If it’s okay that I ask.”
There was an air of understanding that hung between them; as if nothing else needed to be said. In a way they were both similar in their upbringing though how their world connected was a little obscure. Suddenly he felt his hands moved on their own accord, with the branch as an extension of his thoughts and fingers, and he found himself outlining something rather odd. Eyes. They had always stuck with him and he remembered how clear they were on a night similar to this. Zevran found himself smiling through his own gaze as his imagined the person who they belonged to.
He wiped them away quickly with a flourish of his foot when he saw Phoriden approach and sit near him. It was a little bit of a quick reaction but the two hadn’t known each other for that long, and he wasn’t in the mood to reveal too much. Words were one thing, but images were another. To him they were much more personal. “Of course you may ask,” he answered, “but you already know of her.” Zevran turned his head to face Phoriden but his shoulders lacked their normal composure and confidence. “She was the Hero of Ferelden.” He chuckled slightly to clear the sadness from his voice and added, “Azaya and I have a lot in common besides bad attitudes and an aptitude to kill,” he finished with a wink.
“I hated her at first: the hero,” he said turning back toward the fire and looking at growing flame. He half hoped she would walk out of it. “Since she was a noble and I despised most nobility. They always carried the air of entitlement with them. Well, the ones I dealt with anyway,” he said lifting a shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “I judged her far too quickly and I just simply kept up appearances so I could have my hand in the Blight. I had to since she did ruin my attempts to kill her. Not a moment I am proud of, as it did take a hit to my ego, and it doesn’t happen often. But with her, well, with her it happened all the time.” Zevran dipped his head downward and looked at this dirt-caked hands. He spread his fingers wide and closed them into a fist. “She saw past everything and saw me. It took me a while before I let myself see her.”
He smiled then, not a charming and self-confident grin, but an emotion that he just couldn’t place. Was this because he didn’t feel like this for such a long time that he couldn’t place the name? The Crow’s head lifted again and turned to look at the man sitting beside him. “She was my best friend and I miss her every day.” The words barely escaped his lungs, and Zevran realized it was probably because he had never admitted it out loud before. Not even to Azaya. Not even to himself. So why now? He cleared his throat again and turned his head so that he could rub the back of his neck. “My apologies. I did not mean to bore you with the tales of my past.”
He did not have to tell him these things. He did not know why he was telling him these things. But as he did the carefree, joking, slightly annoying façade melted away and in case he was seeing the deep, hurt, slightly broken man behind it. He was not going to say he could relate. Even if he had lost someone to the grasp of death, all he saw when he thought of her was the betrayal.
Part of him wanted to wrap his arms around him to try and make him feel better. Another part wanted to cry over the sadness in his voice. But both would be wildly inappropriate and selfish. Instead he took his hand and gave it a light squeeze. “Don’t say that.”
He had expected the skin to be softer, though he realized how dumb an assumption that was. Obviously his hands were marked by his life as a crow. It was not soft, but it was slim and strong. He could slightly feel his heartbeat through the palm. He noticed the dirt on them, but it did not make him retreat his hand. Instead he squeezed it again. He wanted to say something, but he did not know what to say. He was not bored, but he also knew that as sympathetic as he could be to Zevran’s pain, he did not really understand it. Not the same way someone who had gone through the same thing could. Not the way Azaya could.
But then the bushes ruffled and he heard the steps he instinctively knew belonged to Kieran and he retreated his hand to himself, beginning to dust the dirt from them. He was not sure Zevran wanted the whole camp knowing he had a vulnerable moment, and thus he pretended nothing had happened.
“All right, I think we’re ready to eat now,” Kieran spoke. Personally he was glad the third elf had gotten over his pouting and decided to eat, but he knew not everyone was as happy about his return. And there was an odd tension in the air now. He knew his friend, and there was definitely something odd in the air. “Phoriden, are you ok?”
“I just got some smoke in my eyes, would you relax?!” he answered quickly, rolling his eyes like never before. “It’s not going to kill me.”
“All right then,” Kieran answered a little taken back by the reaction. But he shrugged it off and put the pan on the fire to start frying the fish. He looked over at Azaya to make sure she was still within hearing range. “There’s something we should probably discuss.”
“I know this having someone return from the dead-thing is not without its drama,” he said as he looked to the girl in the armor. “So, I think when we get to the Turnoble estate, I should be under an alias. The woman leading the rescue mission is called Cassandra Pentaghast, but I suggest someone other than me talk to her. We get in, save Juleeya, then we can figure out how all this happened.”
When Azaya approached a few steps behind and instantly felt something was not where it should be. Out of instinct she looked over at her partner sitting just by the fire. His eyes were very down cast and they seemed to be locked on his fingers and palms. She had seen that look once or twice before and knew that it meant something was amiss, but Azaya kept her distance and walked on the other side of the flames. Zevran looked up to meet her gaze and has always they just did what they did best. His eyes were lost somewhere beyond where Azaya could follow but she did have a sneaking suspicion of what he was reliving. She had similar gazes.
It was almost as if it was in slow motion. Their eyes locked and she asked if he was alright through her irises. It took him a moment to respond but he gave her a slight nod of his head. She responded with her own nod and time resumed its natural speed. Azaya went and sat on the ground near the fire, while Zevran’s eyes went back down to his hands.
The male Crow’s fingertips grazed over the place where he felt the mage’s smooth touch. It lingered there and he still felt the warmth sitting on his skin. The overall aura of this tiny army was one of disarray and Zevran mused to himself how all adventures of his seem to start off this way. It wasn’t until Kieran mentioned Cassandra’s name did he snap out of his fog-like daze. “Cassandra?” he asked out loud and looked from the young prince to Azaya who had the same shocked look on her face.
“It wouldn’t surprise me given the situation,” Azaya said looking at Zevran and giving him a tilt of her head. “She would be the best person.”
“Mm,” he responded and looked at Kieran. “I can be the one to speak with her.” His eyes then looked at Phoriden and he smiled softly. “I’ve known her for quite some time and so as has Azaya.” He sent his eyes over to the woman who nodded in agreement and he spoke back to Kieran. “I don’t mind. Besides she always says she’s a fan of my accent,” he ended with a flourish of his hand but Azaya noticed the lack of joy behind his eyes.
This was better. No in-fighting, focusing on the task at hand. Even if he had been side-tracked and lost his focus for a moment, he still feared for his sister’s life. And they should not spend more time than necessary. The food was frying, and soon they would be done eating and could get moving again. There was just one issue. “I should have a cover name. Like Argus Deathblade.”
“You don’t really look like an Argus,” Phoriden intervened as he was cleaning his nails with the pointy end of a stick. He looked momentarily over at the resurrected prince as if he was trying to assume his height. “You look more like a Schmoopie.”
“Schmoopie Deathblade?” Kieran retorted back in disbelief. He most certainly did not look like a Schmoopie! He was fairly certain that was not even a real name, not even ancient elven would have such a name in it.
“Maybe more like Schmoopie the Mute,” Phoriden added casually, but the smirk on his face gave off just how amused he was with himself.
“You’re getting the smallest fish.”
“It was worth it.”