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major system error, cassie
Posted: Apr 17 2018, 08:18 AM
‘Yes, going off to fight a dragon was a bit of a give-away,’ Cassie agreed, glad to be on some kind of tentatively even footing. She was still annoyed for the years of silence, but given they’d just been thrown Maker-knew how deep into the Deep Roads, she could put that aside until they’d found some way out, or – if they were incredibly lucky – Orzammar. She was already positive the rift had moved them out of the country, so it wasn’t impossible for them to be below Ferelden and within reach of the dwarven capital.
It didn’t occur to her that she’d stuck her foot in her mouth until several moments of quiet had passed. For all she put up a front of being perfect – either to piss off Neassa, or reassure her men – she fucked up far more often than she’d like. It was only the silence and tension she could read in the line of Neassa’s shoulders that clued her in. ‘I’m sorry, I-’ shouldn’t have, was thoughtless, was stupid, but Neassa was talking, their voices merging into each other until Cassie dropped hers, that spike of guilt shutting her up in favour of listening.
She could insist on apologising properly. She could stop Neassa brushing it off, but... that’s what Neassa did. That was her coping strategy. She should apologise, and she wanted to, but would Neassa want her to, when it would mean bringing it back up? Would she be apologising for herself, rather than for Neassa?
She still owed her it. If Neassa wanted to make light of it as well, then that was her choice and what Cassie deserved.
‘I am sorry. You didn’t deserve that.’ The temptation to explain herself was there, but she held it back. Besides, all the distraction and change of subject they could want was soon scuttling towards them.
She had cause to apologise again a few scant minutes later, this time with a wince and in advance. ‘Sorry,’ she said, giving Neassa time to turn away before crushing the spiders into a pulp.
It felt like she’d turned her legs and brain to the same as she stood, clutching her staff and praying for consciousness. She grimaced when Neassa called her on her pathetic attempt at an excuse. ‘I know. That’s partially why I’m hesitant.’ She’d be no good to them with full mana reserves if she was too nauseous to move or so dizzy she aimed wrong.
She shook her head, then stopped, feeling her weight starting to rock on suddenly insubstantial ankles as her sense of balance floated dangerously far away. She barely heard Neassa's jokes, too busy trying to locate her mouth to speak. ‘Don’t need to be carried,’ she said through fuzzy lips and a leaden tongue. ‘Just... need help keeping my balance. Get away from the burrow and I can rest for a bit.’
That was a good compromise, right? Save on a lyrium potion, gave them both a break. Her head pounded. Whatever she did, she needed to do it soon or her migraine was going to knock her out itself.
Posted: Apr 17 2018, 11:08 AM
She was already shaking her head as Cassie apologised candidly, no, please don't. There was time enough for her to respond but she didn't know how to, it was easier to turn into the wall of attacking spiders than to look back at the Warden Commander and the authenticity of her apology.
As Cassie preemptively apologised again before painting the walls with spider blood Neassa noted the difference. It was no less genuine but it was far less tangled up in words that went unsaid and lacking the same sort of weight.
After such a display of force magic, Neassa wouldn't begrudge her a little nap if she needed it. She had forgotten how draining sustained spellcasting was for mages. It had been a long time since she had even had to consider it, the Circle had a designated time for the regeneration of mana following particularly strenuous training sessions, it gave the overseeing Templars time to enjoy one of their illegal poker games while the poor little tired out monsters got some shut eye and amped up on evil powers. Or that's how she had viewed it back then. Now she found she cared how Cassie regained her mana and was quietly glad that her warning had been heeded. That had to be the first time ever.
Cassie had strength left enough to insist that she didn't need to be carried, but that seemed to be where her strength left her as she looked increasingly unsteady on her feet. Neassa leaned down slightly to put Cassie's arm over her shoulder as she helped her stand, hoping to take some of the strain off. “If that's what you want to do then that's what we'll do.” She could easily just ignore Cassie's insistence on remaining vertical and just scoop her up, it wasn't like she would have the energy to resist, but then Cassie probably wouldn't be happy about it. Then again, they would get out of the burrow much faster if she just let Neassa help her as best she was able. Hmm. Neassa mulled over the pros and cons for a good few seconds, Cassie was already plenty mad at her for past grievances, what was one more slight? It's not like it would be the worst thing she had ever done to her. “Except I'm still gonna carry you, hold this.” She stuffed the torch into Cassie's free hand without waiting.
Decision made, Neassa bent her legs and picked her up. It was slightly more demanding than she had anticipated and she realised she had forgotten to account for the staff. Fine. Fine. This was fine. She only had to make it to the end of the burrow, then they could both rest. What wasn't fine was how it looked. Neassa was regretting not opting for throwing her over one shoulder instead, or even a piggyback, just anything other than bridal style. But that was the most natural one to move into from their original position. “Maybe just...don't look at me.”
She stomped through the spider goo once more, step a little heavier than usual. The burrow continued for a further few metres, walls singed by flame. Neassa stared straight ahead but Cassie was still in her peripheral the whole time, she couldn't tell if she was scowling or had finally passed out but hoped for the latter. Less argument if she was actually unconscious. It was only when her arms started to manifest a burn that the end of the burrow came into sight. Neassa tried to listen ahead for any sound of movement but she couldn't hear anything beyond her own or the crackle of the torch. As they reached the end of the burrow and entered a small cavern she was relieved to find that there were no waiting Darkspawn or other such horrors of the deep roads. The area around the opening of the burrow was littered with various bits and pieces of debris, some she recognised as parts of a wagon, clearly the spiders had been dragging unsuspecting prey into their burrow for some time if the amount of litter was any indication.
This cavern was empty of lava flows so the air was much cooler, there were ruins scattered about the main plateau, one section looked like it would provide enough coverage that a small fire could go unnoticed so Neassa headed straight for it. As she neared, she couldn't shake the feeling that these ruins somehow didn't look old enough.
She lowered Cassie down to the ground against a fallen stone pillar. “There, now let's never talk about it again.” Her arms felt like feathers without the weight of the Warden Commander bearing down on them. A familiar ache set into her shoulders, on top of the budding bruise on one side from her earlier tackle with Cassie and she slumped down against the pillar beside her, taking a breather. Well, if she wasn't hungry before then she was now.
Neassa breathed out a heavy sigh and slapped Cassie on the knee before pushing herself back up to stand. “Get some rest. I'll keep watch.”
Posted: Apr 20 2018, 12:10 PM
She may have leaned too heavily when Neassa helped take her weight, but she couldn’t help it. Her knees kept threatening to fold. The light from the torch was painful, each flicker of flame inducing another pound in her skull as her migraine worsened. Neassa was solid, steady, and lacked the usual hardness and bulk of her plate armour. She was being unusually accommodating – in fact, Cassie thought, she sounded like her. Like what she’d sounded like when helping Neassa through the worst of her withdrawal. Patient. Caring, even.
She was too exhausted to even pretend that was the headache convincing her of something that wasn’t real.
Of course, it was still Neassa. Cassie stared stupidly at the torch in her hand for a split-second, trying to process – then she was dipping, falling back, rising – and nearly passing out.
She groaned, squinting at her newly occupied hand and trying not to set either of them on fire while her head lolled on a suddenly boneless neck. Her head thudded against Neassa’s shoulder, propping it up. Her extended arm shivered for a moment before she found the muscles responsible and stabilised them, keeping the flame a safe enough distance away.
She fought against her closing eyelids, trying to blink away the sudden bursts of black and grey in her vision. ‘If I set us on fire, ‘s your fault,’ she slurred. Her eyes slid closed, giving her some blessed relief from the light and making fulfilling Neassa’s suggestion incredibly easy. ‘’Kay,’ she mumbled, wrestling her mouth into shaping full words getting harder.
Neassa’s gait was smooth, and it was remarkably comfortable. Safe. Who would have thought? Still, it made fighting off unconsciousness harder. She managed to resist and keep their torch up until the sound of Neassa’s footsteps changed – echoing now, a larger space. Then closed in again, much smaller. The light breeze stopped, as if blocked by walls, and she began to sink.
Floor. Good. Cold floor, bad. Cloak was thick and warm though. Her head dropped back against the stone behind her, but the dull pain helped her open her eyes long enough to thrust the torch in Neassa’s general direction. ‘Deal. Jus’ take it off me ‘fore I drop it.’ Maker, her eloquence had deserted her.
With the brightness of the light away from her, seeing without the sickening pain was easier. She shrugged her pack off, pulling it around so it wasn’t digging into her spine. She rooted through it with clumsy hands. ‘When’d you eat?’ She withdrew her water-tight pouch of rations with a faint, relieved smile. She pushed it over to Neassa. There was an emptiness in the pit of her stomach that said she was hungry. There was also a knot there that said she’d throw up if she ate anything right now. But if she was hungry, Neassa was bound to be too. Right?
She nodded at the order, too tired to argue. She shoved her pack away a little, shuffling down until she was using it as a pillow.
Wonder if you’ll wake up to bear traps around the fire.
Smiling, she passed out almost immediately.
People were shouting.
A festival? It wasn’t Wintersend already, was it?
A farming village. Simple but sturdy homes. Families, all running, yelling to each other.
Cassie frowned. They were running away, looking behind themselves, parents carrying their children so they could sprint. Looking at her.
She heard the song as she started to turn.
She’d Joined during a Blight. She’d agitated every day, pressing, wanting to know why they couldn’t go and help. Just send small groups, sneak into Ferelden, they’ll thank you after the fact and not mention that you crossed borders without permission. She’d went to sleep, night after night for a year, dreading what her dreams might show her. She’d seen Urthemiel, and he’d seen her. He’d seen them all, and turned away. They were helpless to intervene, and he had a war to wage.
This archdemon was bigger. Bone protruded from its face, its neck, back. The softer flesh of its throat was putrid beneath the heavier scales of its back. Its eyes were taint-white, cloudy – but the pupils were clear. It turned its head to see her better, pupil contracting.
The earth trembled, as its jaw opened – not in a roar or snap, but a slight parting, like...
Like it was growling. Silent, but it shook the earth.
The darkspawn, unseen around its feet until then, swarmed forwards. Huge, all alphas – or else bigger than any other darkspawn she’d seen. Hundreds of them, far too many to tackle at once.
She grabbed her staff regardless – or tried. She was frozen, rooted to the spot. Everything was too heavy; like she was weighed down by her bone and muscle. She should be lighter than this, in her-
Dreams. This is a dream. Wake up. Wake up.
The darkspawn charged – and swarmed around her, past her, ignoring her. The screaming of the villagers behind her rose.
Where are the Wardens?
The dragon was watching her... studying her. She couldn’t move.
Finally the dragon snorted, taking a slow step forward. Its head lowered, until the spines protruding out of its chin gouged the ground. Its breath was fetid, rotten, a month-old corpse.
Her legs trembled. Her throat was tight, a scream trapped there, building, blocking her air. Wake up!
It assessed her, eye making minute movements, taking everything in. Then that maw opened, it lunged, and she screamed silently into the darkness.
A choked, strangled moan finally broke out of her, pitching up immediately into a full-throated scream as she seized control of her limbs again, kicking out, arms lashing, her hand cracking against something hard – tooth, bone –
Rock. Light beyond her eyes. The torch. The constriction around her the weight of her cloak, not the closing mouth.
She sat up, hair plastered to her clammy face, knuckles grazed and bleeding from the stone wall. She looked around with wild eyes, finding Neassa, trying to find her hoarse voice.
‘Blight. There’s a Blight, Neassa.’
They needed to get out of the Roads.
Posted: Apr 21 2018, 05:52 AM
Cassie gave no argument, falling easily into her arms. She spoke with a slur, tongue tripping over words and Neassa tried not to laugh then internally chastised herself for finding the whole thing incredibly endearing. When had she ever found anything or anyone endearing before? Maybe if it was shaped like lyrium, looked like lyrium and tasted exactly like lyrium and then she would give a fuck but in a person? Cassie was always the exception.
Carrying her in her time of weakness was the least she could do. It was the only way in which Neassa could be useful to her, to remain standing when she could not. It was exactly what Cassie had offered her during the deepest throes of her withdrawal, an anchor. A point of return. Something to help her find her way back from the brink. It was easy in comparison to what Cassie had provided her with. She didn’t need to lie to anyone, didn’t need to bend over backwards just to make it work, all she had to do was be strong enough to hold her weight and that was easy. Of all the things Neassa had ever lacked, strength was not one of them...at least, not in the physical sense.
As Cassie held out the torch Neassa took it automatically. She held it aloft, watching as Cassie shuffled through her pack and made herself comfortable only after insisting Neassa eat some of her rations.
“You’re too good to me.” She figured there was no harm in speaking plainly, the chances of Cassie remembering this would be slim...right? Wait. She might sound drunk but she wasn’t actually drunk. Neassa stared at her, horrified, her mind slow to form one of her half arsed excuses to cover up her honesty but by the time she had come up with something, Cassie was already hugging her pack and half way to snoozeville.
Well. Hopefully she hadn’t heard her.
She eyed the rations, hesitant to take Cassie up on her offer, wondering how long they would be lost down here and how hungry Cassie might be upon waking.
Neassa left Cassie and the rations alone briefly to head back to salvage some wood from the broken wagon she had seen outside of the burrow. When she returned she wasted no time on sorting out a small fire for the pair of them. Once it was going there was little else to do but wait for Cassie to wake up. Her eyes wandered countless times to the pack the woman carried and was currently lying on. A place where she knew there were bottles of lyrium stashed away and soon that became her focus.
She looked at it for long enough that she could almost hear the blue stuff whispering to her, asking to be taken.
“Shut up.” Neassa hissed quietly, tearing her eyes away. Fortunately fate offered a distraction as her ears picked up the distant sound of shuffling. She peered through the dark beyond the ruined structure they were hidden within and spotted a Nug near the edges of the cavern. It pottered about out in the open and from its slow gait, she decided it wasn't the source of the original noise she had heard. Neassa looked back at Cassie to check in before slinking away from their small, impromptu camp to investigate.
As she grew closer she picked out a few more creeping forms honing in on the oblivious Nug. Deepstalkers. A pack of them.
Neassa carefully pulled her sword from her belt and moved with a kind of stealth that had often escaped her in full gear as the Deepstalkers launched their ambush finally. One had it pinned in seconds but before it could tear into it, Neassa came running up and kicked the thing back against the rock wall. She didn't have time to mock it as it’s brethren flew at her with claws trained on her unguarded skin.They were quick things but she wasn't weighed down by a full suit of armour and a shield. Neassa matched their speed where she could, striking until their numbers dwindled and only two were left. The surviving pair had sense enough to flee.
Phew. She blew hair out of her eyes and straightened up, working to regulate her breathing once more. The felled bodies of five Deepstalkers laid scattered around her. Her arms were torn to ribbons as if a large and vicious cat had used her as a climbing post but the wounds were superficial at best. Neassa glanced down, finding the Nug was only now moving away into the safety of its small burrow. “Don’t mention it.” She muttered, shrugging and collecting the Deepstalker bodies one by one., Cassie could keep her rations.
She had never cooked Deepstalker before but considered them the overgrown lizard, worm-faced rabbits of the Deep roads. So, it wouldn't be long before it was cooked. She had killed five but one had been beyond salvage, the Nug would have made a more substantial meal but it was so docile she would have felt bad afterwards...ugh. She was getting soft.
Now that all the excitement was over and all she had to do was watching meat cook or Cassie sleep, the whispers came back to her on a wave of temptation. Neassa sighed and held her head in her hands as she watched the fire, ears covered despite knowing the whispers were imagined. She began a familiar mantra, shut up, shut up, shut up.
There was movement from Cassie, slight at first and then violent as she screamed and struck out at nothing. Neassa was quickly at her side, arresting the hand that scored itself against the stone pillar as Cassie sat up.
Neassa blinked, trying to make sense of what she was saying. Was she still asleep? No, her eyes were bright. Awake.
A Blight? “No.” That was crazy. “There can't be a Blight as well as rifts, that's too much to win on the shit luck lottery at once.” No one was that unlucky, not even her. “Isn’t it?” Fuck…everything she knew about Wardens she had learned from Cassie and if Cassie said there was a Blight then...there was a Blight.
"Shit..” Neassa slumped back against the pillar, dazed. She was a non Warden stuck in the Deep Roads during a Blight. How could things get any worse?
She was still holding Cassie’s hand, that was one way things got worse, and she could smell something burning. Just kill her now.
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