GM’d and posted by Darth Krzysztof
Gheris awoke to hear a quiet tapping at her door. It couldn’t have been more than two hours since she’d finally fallen asleep after talking to Teresa. Maybe her visitor would go to bother someone else if she stayed in bed… Like most of the Banncreag, this room was heated by vents fueled by the lava deep beneath the fortress – but the vents could only do so much against supernatural winter.
The knock came again, a bit louder. Could be important, Gheris thought. And if it isn’t, I’ll make damn sure that he regrets bothering me with it.
She stumbled toward the door, gathering her blades almost on instinct, scarcely noticing the freezing stone floor beneath her feet. “Who?” she demanded.
“Caradoc,” a voice hissed, “of the Valwe.”
Gheris couldn’t be sure if she recognized the name. Even if she had slept all night (all too rare a occurrence in these times of crisis), she’d basically met the Valwe clan all at once, which made recalling names and faces tricky. He sounded Dalish, at least.
She opened the door, one dagger pointed visibly, to see a lean Dalish man with a blade at either hip. Now she remembered his face. “A message, have you?” she asked.
“I’ve been sent to retrieve Keeper Naessa’s companions. " He didn’t seem bothered by her knife. “There’s been trouble back at the camp. The Keeper has asked me to bring you all back through the mirror.”
The mirror? “Oh, Andruil… Very well. I disapprove of this magic, but very well.”
“I wasn’t… wild about it, either, but the Keeper insists that time is of the essence. Where are the others?” As if on cue, Lothaire appeared in the doorway across the hall, rubbing his eyes. Nodding gravely, Caradoc announced, “Keeper Naessa needs you. At once.”
“I should have stayed,” Lothaire grumbled. “Right, then. I’ll fetch the boy.”
The chevalier moved down the hall and pounded on a door. After a moment, Aidan appeared in the doorway, half-dressed, with Kentrell at his side. “What is it?” Aidan asked. “We leavin’?”
“We are,” Lothaire said, uncrossing his arms to stifle a yawn. “Go to Gheris’s room.”
Aidan nodded, gathered the rest of his things, and moved into the hall, his Mabari hound following excitedly. As Lothaire went to the next door, Aidan stopped. “Don’t bother,” he told the chevalier. “He’s gone.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s gone. Casidhe went back to Lothering with that redhead.”
Frowning, Lothaire headed for Simon’s door, calling, “You’ll have to explain that to me later” over his shoulder. The door opened beneath his hand as he went to knock, and light flooded the hallway as Simon appeared, holding his new staff above his head.
“Is there a problem?” the mage asked.
- – - – -
Caradoc found himself surrounded by four adventurers and a dog.
“What’s happened,” Simon began, “and how do we expect to be back in time to help?”
Aidan scratched Kent’s head. “Good question. The camp isn’t exactly close.”
“I came here through the mirrors. The Keeper wants you to come back through the same way.” Caradoc glanced down the hall. “The way to the laboratory was clear before. If we encounter any guards, I hope you can explain my presence to them…”
Simon nodded. “Do we have time to bid the Steward, or a representative of his, farewell?”
“If you think it’s important,” Caradoc said. “But where’s the duelist?”
Gheris started to answer, but Aidan was faster. “He had to go. Told me about it last night… a while ago. I was going to tell you in the morning.”
“He told you?” Gheris said, favoring Aidan with an odd look. “I don’t see why.”
“I think Teresa needed him for something. I told him to tell someone else. Guess that didn’t happen.”
Gheris scoffed. “Typical. You really have no concern. No wonder you left your lands. I can’t imagine how you’d rule them.”
Aidan shrugged. “Neither can I.”
“What about our horses?” Simon asked, a bit loudly.
“We should leave them,” Lothaire said. “We can return for them later using the same method.”
Simon nodded. “I’ll find a guard and make sure the horses are taken care of. Hopefully you won’t encounter any other guards. Go on, then. I’ll catch up.”
Aidan took Kent’s collar in hand. “No exploring bottomless pits this time, boy. I really don’t want to get wet.” The hound accepted this news graciously.
They made their way back down to the laboratory, where the image in one of the mirrors had shifted, now depicting Grandmother’s aravel. It was empty, save for three Dalish: Naessa with her back to the wall, head bandaged, staring off into space; and Syndelir, watching over Grandmother, whose back was turned.
“Now that is a very fine trick,” Simon mused as he rejoined the group.
“Naessa!” Lothaire exclaimed. He turned to Caradoc, eyes pleading.
“Like this.” The Valwe elf stepped toward the mirror without slowing down, as if to walk right through it. As Caradoc reached the mirror, he simply faded from view, reappearing in the aravel. They saw him speaking to Naessa, but couldn’t hear it.
Lothaire nodded and followed Caradoc’s lead. The sensation was alien and cold, but mercifully brief. Naessa stood to greet him, not without effort. “I am sorry, my lady,” the chevalier said.
Naessa gave Lothaire a sad, tired smile. “Me, too. Please, don’t beat yourself up about it. You wouldn’t have seen it coming. None of us did.”
Unable to look her in the eye, Lothaire didn’t notice the arrival of the others until Gheris said, “Of course it’s still hot in here. Some things never change.” She was right, of course; Grandmother’s aravel always had a sweltering atmosphere…
“Are you all right?” Aidan asked Naessa. “What happened to your head?”
The young Keeper waved her hand at the ancient one without looking. "After you left, Grandmother took me out into the woods, and tried to sacrifice me to the thing on the other side of the mirror.
“Lies,” Gheris hissed.
“I assure you it’s true. That, and the man they sent through from the other side, and not knowing what else might happen, is why I wanted you back in such a hurry.”
“Man they sent through?” Simon tacked around Aidan to get a look at Naessa. “Slow down.”
“Right,” Naessa sighed. “Okay. Sorry. There’s a man who came from the other side of the mirror. He’s got mirrors for eyes… I’ve got Hesthe and Juillah watching him in another aravel. Grandmother thinks he’s dangerous. Like, really dangerous.”
Simon rubbed at his chin. “Do you believe Grandmother? After what she tried to do?”
“You sound ridiculous, Naessa,” Gheris said. “Grandmother tried to sacrifice you, then she protected you?”
“And how can Hesthe and Juillah keep him on ice if he’s that dangerous?” asked Aidan.
Lothaire moved to Naessa’s side, growling, “Everyone take it easy. Hasn’t she been through enough?”
“It’s all right, Lothaire.” Naessa squeezed the chevalier’s arm. “Yes, I believe he’s that dangerous. No, I don’t know why Grandmother changed her tune. But she did. And she gave me a necklace that put him right to sleep.”
“That’s…” Aidan began, but found that the thought led nowhere.
Naessa told them the story again in more detail. When the Keeper finished, Gheris pointed a dagger at Grandmother and said, plainly: “It’s her we should be talking to.”
Lothaire shrugged. “Assuming we can believe anything she says.”
“Everything I told you before was true,” the ancient Keeper said, still facing away from the group. “It just wasn’t the whole truth.”
“Then it was a lie.” Aidan had rarely spoken with such conviction, and Kent whuffed his assent. “There isn’t any difference.”
Lothaire moved between the Keepers, instinctively drawing his blade. “Then face us,” he said, glaring at her, “and speak your piece.”
Grandmother wiggled in place until she faced the group. Lothaire was struck by how… old she looked. Weary. “I’ve made mistakes,” she said, “and no denying. I don’t ask forgiveness; I don’t expect you’ll understand. But there might be time to set it right yet.” Satisfied that she had everyone’s attention, she continued: “The thing on the other side of the mirror is called the Silent Lord. And he and I were close… but that was long ago. See, back when we all lived in the Dales, I started experimenting with world-walking… traveling to worlds beyond this one, beyond the Fade… outside reality as we know it.”
Gheris hissed in disbelief. “That was hundreds of years ago. You’re old, but you can’t be that old!”
To Gheris’s surprise, Grandmother ignored her insolence. “Well, I was still fairly young then.”
“Worlds beyond this one,” Simon prompted.
“Yes. In one of those worlds I met the Silent Lord. He was different… not quite mortal, but charming. We were bonded. She fixed her eyes on Naessa. “You’ve met Zareh. He’s our son.”
“The mirror-eyed man.” Naessa’s words seemed muted.
Grandmother nodded. “And things were fine for a time, until the humans started crowding our borders, and the elves started becoming mortal. I asked the Silent Lord to help us, and he did. Of course, his idea of helping was to try and take over the world…” She shrugged. “I was a bit upset by that.”
Aidan reached down to pet Kent, who was falling asleep on his feet. “Sure,” he sighed. “Seems like the proper response.”
“So I had some dwarves I knew help me to craft a weapon we could use against him, and I tricked him into putting something of himself into it. The ice heart. It worked – he’s less powerful now – but the part of him that I loved ended up in the ice heart, too.” She looked away, as if gazing directly into the past. “So now, every twenty, fifty years he tries to come back and finish what he started. And we dig up the ice heart and seal him back up in the Silent Realm.” Turning her eyes to Simon, she said, “Tell me you found it.”
“No,” the mage said. “Is the name ‘Stennar’ known to you?”
“I’ve heard it. Can’t remember where.”
“As far as we know, she’s a dwarf who’s stolen the heart.”
“Dwarf.” Grandmother licked her upper lip. “She might be of the Tyher Zi Zilasic.. the group that helped me. The only one that’s left that I know about was named Batshiva.”
“Batshiva?” Gheris remembered something Casidhe had told her. “That’s Stennar’s mother.”
Grandmother nodded. “There you go, then. Chances are good that Stennar’s taking the ice heart to the Brecilian Forest to try and stop the Silent Lord herself.”
“Stop him for a time,” Lothaire said. “Isn’t there a more permanent solution?”
“No,” Grandmother said at once. “I’ve been looking, believe me. And I thought I had something this time. He contacted me… offered me a deal. Something I’d lost, in exchange for… for an innocent life.” Her gaze flicked to Naessa, then down to the floor. “I thought I could help him sunder the Silent Realm from Ferelden forever… thought I could end the conflict… but it’s too late, now. He wants us dead, now. He wants us all dead.”
“You left out the part where the thing you lost is Gialinn Clíodhna,” Naessa sighed.
“What?” Everyone turned to look at Gheris, who’d said the word very quietly.
Grandmother nodded. “It’s true, da’len. Your mother is still alive. She’s not one of the reflections. And the Silent Lord has her.”
Gheris’s hands balled into fists until every joint in her fingers popped. “If everyone will excuse us,” she said through clenched teeth, “I need a moment alone with Grandmother.”
“Gheris—” Simon began.
Everyone else shuffled out of the aravel into the cold night air, leaving the two Dalish women alone.
Gheris drew in a sudden, ragged breath. "Alive? How can – " She clamped a hand over her mouth. “I buried her, Grandmother. I sang! I sent her on her way! She died! And you LET HER DIE!”
A tear formed in Grandmother’s eye. Gheris tried to remember if she’d ever seen the old woman weep before, and came up empty. “I know, Gheris. I know.”
Gheris struggled to contain her own crying. “I raised Geoffrey practically on my own! You didn’t even help! And she’s been alive, all this time? And you never said anything? You never said! Don’t you dare pretend to care!”
“I didn’t know, _da’len.”_ Grandmother folded her hands in her lap. “Not until he made his offer to me.”
“He offered Mother returned to you, and an end to the early winter.”
“In exchange for Naessa.”
“Consider yourself lucky that Naessa’s so goodhearted. If it were me, I’d have given you to him. How dare you try to sell out another Keeper?” She stared at her blades for a moment. “I wish I’d had a mother. But I didn’t. Naessa – Naessa has cared for the clans more than Mother ever did, by anyone’s reckoning. The least you could have done is sold yourself out to bring her back. You’ve lived long enough.” She spat on the floor, right at Grandmother’s feet, but the old woman didn’t move a muscle.
“Wait a minute.” Gheris looked at her, as if with new eyes. “You’re why he keeps coming back. It’s you that keeps him…what’s the term… anchored here? Is that why he’s here? Because you still…love him?”
The tear rolled down Grandmother’s cheek. “Yes,” she sighed. “Or, at least, I love what he was. Some part of me still wants what we once had… but to restore him would also give him back all of his power. If I weren’t here… he might lose interest. Or lose the way.” Her posture straightened. “But, I’m also the only one who’s been able to keep him out all this time. It’s true; I’ve gotten too old for this. But I don’t know that I can lay the burden down yet.”
“I don’t know, Grandmother. The solution seems pretty clear to me. If you’re the anchor… untether him.”
She looked up at Gheris and sniffed loudly. “Is that what you think?” she asked, without a trace of contempt.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she hissed. Guilt writhed in her veins like a poison. It was the logical thing to do, surely! Yet Grandmother… looked pitiful. Unless it was some kind of machination, some trap? A trick? Did she really want to know what Gheris thought? “How can you live hundreds of years and let this go on? How selfish do you need to be? Gialinn wasn’t there… but I was. Geoffrey was. The clan was.”
“Sending her away was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, believe you me. But I did it. For the good of the clan. Everything I’ve ever done was for our people… that’s what I told myself, anyway. But I was just fooling myself. And now, being strong in the clan’s name has cost me everything.”
“Yes, Grandmother. Yes it has. And I don’t suppose you’ve told anyone in the clan why we starve and grow sick and our children grow up alone and why our elders are stolen by magical wolves.”
“Not until now.” Grandmother’s voice was barely audible.
“Of course not.” Gheris shook her head and wiped her eyes. “Would killing you stop all this?”
“In the long run, yes. Right here and now, no. He’s still got to be stopped.”
“…Would it bring back Gialinn?”
“No. He’s holding her in the Silent Realm. You might be able to cross over at the Silver Tree… you know the one I mean… and bring her back.”
Gheris remembered it well, an ancient oak with silvery leaves, deep in the Brecilian Forest. The children were told to stay away from it. She’d always been caught before she could get very close. “What does it do? Why would that help?”
“It’s where the border between our world and the Silent Realm is thinnest. You could use the ice heart to cross over… you might be able to sneak around without being noticed. If you could find her… or Falenath… you could bring them back, _da’len.”_
“I will.” There was no softness in her voice. Just fact. She would, or would die trying. “But after… if there’s anything left…I’m not coming back to the clan.” She paused and looked away. “I know where I’m not wanted. And I’m not sure I want to participate in a society that lives on a lie like that.”
Grandmother nodded, the hint of a smile on her lips. “We’ll see where the future takes you. You should let the others back in now.” As Gheris turned toward the door, Grandmother added, “I know it’s not much, but… I’m sorry, Gheris.”
Gheris shook her head. “That doesn’t give me back anything.” She opened the door and let the others back inside, retreating to one corner of the aravel.
Aidan broke the silence, counting off his fingers. “So: we still have the Reaver to deal with, the Old God, and now this. We need a plan. Preferably a good one. Also on the list, something to eat.”
Naessa sent Syndelir out to bring the group some food.
Simon sat near Grandmother. “You wouldn’t be nearly this helpful if you didn’t have plans for us. You mentioned the Brecilian Forest?”
“The dwarf, or the dwarves, will take the ice heart to the Silver Tree. That’s where the Silent Lord can be stopped.” Pointing at Gheris, she added, “She can lead you to it. Tell me something, though: you told me before about the reflection posing as the mage you once knew. Have you encountered any others?”
“The Templar-Commander’s the only one we know about,” Simon said. “He’s out to single-handedly make our lives more difficult, if not much shorter.”
Grandmother frowned. “That also puts a small army at the Silent Lord’s command. Which means that he knows the ice heart’s been found. He’ll try to keep anyone from reaching the Tree.”
“Well,” said Naessa, “the Adra will be here soon. Three Dalish clans together are a small army themselves.”
“True, true.” Grandmother nodded. “Way I see it, you have two choices. You could travel with the clans, which guarantees a battle – and a big one – or you could try to sneak in on your own.”
“I’m open to any other ideas,” Naessa said.
Aidan looked up from scratching Kentrell’s head. “I say we sneak in. Look, if Stennar got the ice heart when she was at the Banncreag, then she’s probably at this Tree already. Or dead. We need to move, and fast.”
“But Templars have good practice at finding people,” said Simon.
“All right,” Naessa said, holding up both hands. "Obviously we need to – "
A massive grinding noise boomed from somewhere outside. Pushing toward the window, the group saw an aravel on the far side of the clearing burst into flame and split in half like a sliced melon. Standing within the remains, wreathed in black energy, holding Zareh up, was the sneering form of Gervais Fèvre Lorrain d’Armagnac.
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