"That's what I mean.
I believe in curses.
I believe in demons.
I believe in monsters.
Stars had begun to blanket the sky when the wardens finally made camp. It was only a mile further than their previous one, the lake still close-by.
Not too far back was the mages camp, a few Templars had come along and were now standing guard around the mages tents. Nani and Eshne made no effort to make contact with Irving that night.
Nani sat at the edge of camp, whittling notches into her staff when she noticed Zevran coming up from the lake. His hair was soaked through and he was wringing out the water. She cocked her head to the side, summoning her strength to say what she had been wanting to since they left the circle.
"Assassin." She called him over.
Zevran perked his head up, noticing Nani was looking right at him. He walked over to her and sat close so she could hear him.
"How can I assist you, Lady Surana?" He asked.
"Lady…" Nani began to grumble, then she shook away her biting comments and sighed, "I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you not killing us in the Circle."
Zevran shrugged, "Why should I? It seems you were our only hope in such a case." He smirked, "Though you do know my darkest secrets, perhaps I should kill you?"
Nani glared at him.
"A joke," Zevran gave a dry laugh, "Surely you understand with a sister like yours."
"I know it was a joke, I just didn't think it was funny." Nani frowned, "At any rate, you could have run when you saw the state of the Circle. And I wasn't in a position to stop you." She hesitated, the breathed a soft sigh, "I'm glad you stayed."
Zevran smiled, "You must know, such a thought had not quite crossed my mind. Running, I mean."
Nani sat back on her log, looking at the notches on her staff.
"I don't know if I would have stayed so calm." She admitted.
"What is this in regards to?"
Nani looked at him and raised her brow. Zevran nodded in understanding.
"It really was nothing at all." He assured her.
"You said before you never chose to be a Crow, I can see why." Nani said, "I guess it's a lot like being a mage. Taken from your home and thrust into a world where there are rules and guidelines…"
"And the outfits." Zevran added.
Nani snorted, "Of course I didn't kill people for money."
"There is that fine line." Zevran said.
"But even then...none of us decided to be wardens. Eshne and I, we were just thrust into it." She grimaced, "I think if I had a choice upon leaving the Circle, I'd try to find my old family home."
"There's nothing wrong with wanting to go home." Zevran said.
Nani looked at him, "Tell me about Antiva."
Zevran seemed to light up, "You wish to know? Well, in order to truly appreciate such beauty, one must go there." He gave a longing sigh, "It is warm, not like this Ferelden. Sure it rains often, but that's what makes the flowers bloom yes? Or at least that's the saying."
"And of course it has the assassins." Nani said smartly.
"Ah but everywhere has assassins if one thinks about it," Zevran said, "Some are just more open about it." He shrugged, "But to continue. I hail from the glorious Antiva City, home to the royal palace. My city is glittering gem amidst the sands." He looked at Nani, "Do you come from a place comparable?"
Nani relaxed herself and gazed out over the water, "The Tower is nothing like your city. But, I still recall my mother. And she truly was more beautiful than any gem."
Zevran seemed amused, "You stifle me, my friend. For I myself could never make such claims, as I have never seen her myself."
The two of them sat in silence for a moment, listening to the crickets and frogs.
"Do you know what is most odd?" He asked Nani, "For all the beautiful things I could speak of about my homeland. The wine, women, minstrels...I believe I miss the leather the most."
"Is that a euphemism, assassin?" Nani raised her brow.
"It may as well be," Zevran laughed, "But alas no. I mean the smell. For many years I had a tiny apartment in Antiva City, near the leather making district. The building itself was packed with young Antivan Crow recruits. I always heard the humans complain, but I never minded so much. To this day the smell of fresh leather is what makes me ache for my home most of all."
"Have you been away for long?" Nani asked.
"Not so long, no. This is my first expedition away from Antiva. The thought of never returning makes me think of it constantly." He chuckled, "Before I left I was tempted to spend what little coin I had on this beautiful pair of boots I saw in a store window. Fine Antivan craftsmanship. I kick myself for not buying them. But I thought to myself 'Oh, Zevran, you can buy them when you get home as a reward for a job well done.' Alas…"
"The job being killing the last Ferelden wardens?"
"The very same." Zevran sighed, "One never knows what is to come next, no? How could I ever suspect I was to be defeated by an accomplished and, if I may be so bold, beautiful, Grey Warden? Who in turn spares my life. This I could not know." He eyed Nani to gauge her response.
"Beautiful is it?" Nani scoffed.
"I say this because it is true. Should I not?"
Nani felt a stirring in her stomach, she gave Zevran a hard stare but saw there were no lies hidden in his honeyed-brown eyes.
"By all means." She said, her voice betraying some hint of amusement.
Zevran grinned, "I am glad to hear it." He gently stood up, "Now if you'll excuse me, my lady. All this talk of Antiva has me mourning for a proper meal." He bowed and sauntered away.
Eshne saw Thackery at the edge of camp, looking off across the lake. She rang her hands together, walking up to him and placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Need a friend?" She asked.
Thackery shook her away, "No."
Eshne sighed, "Look...demons lie. And what-"
"What would you know?" Thackery reeled around, "You left the dalish. You don't know how much of it was true…"
Eshnes lip trembled, "I'm sorry. Do you want to talk to Mel?"
"No." Thackery began to walk away, "Especially not her."
Eshnes hands fell at her sides.
"Don't take it to heart, darling." Nennet said, coming up next to Eshne, "Some people just need alone time."
"I just thought he'd like to talk is all." Eshnes voice cracked.
"C'mon." Nennet ushered Eshne over by the fire where Melia sat, hoping the warmth would lift her spirits a bit, "Now let me ask you, Eshne...do you need to talk?"
Eshne shrugged, "I guess I just thought our returning to the Circle would be different." Her voice cracked, a lump growing in her throat.
"No one expected this," Nennet said, "And if it hadn't been for you and your sister, we'd still be dying under the sorcery of that demon."
"Nicolai is smart. He would have figured it out." Eshne waved her off.
"Maybe...but I don't know if we would have made it in time." Nennet said, "You're a capable mage, Eshne.
Melia looked up from the fire and to Eshne, "Despite what happened, I want you to know how proud I am. You handled much of it with grace."
"Yes." Melia said gently.
Eshne swallowed the lump in her throat, finally speaking her true thoughts after a few moments of silence, "I knew it wouldn't last."
Nennet raised her brow, "With that boy?"
Eshne nodded, "Demons like to make you think you can have anything you want. Tries to make up your mind. Part of me didn't want Nani taking me away because...at least there I...I could've-" She began to sob.
Nennet pulled Eshne close to her and pat her back. Melia's lips set firm, trying to hold back her scathing comments about the Templar. But Nennet voiced them instead.
"That boy doesn't deserve the ground you walk on, Eshne Surana," She said, "And I'm glad he wasn't part of the escort because he'd have to sleep with a sword in his hand with me around."
"Eshne," Melia started, "You saw everyones desires and fears. We all have ghosts chasing us, don't let him pull you back. Trust me."
"There's a whole world outside the Circle, and a whole world of possibilities, waiting for Eshne Surnana to show it a good time." Nennet said, shaking Eshne playfully, "Just imagine, we'll be running the rooftops of Denerim in naught but our knickers. I'll even get Mel to join."
"You will not." Melia protested.
Eshne laughed, wiping her tears away, "I can name a few who'd like to see that."
"Me for one." Nennet winked.
"And a certain tall and dashing young Warden who looks at you like the dawn of a new day." Eshne made kissing noises.
"Fenedhis…" Melia muttered.
Nennet laughed, "There's the Eshne I've grown to love." She bopped Eshne's nose, "Don't let boys keep you down, darling, it's bad for your skin. Melia knows."
"If making Eshne feel better is going to be at my expense I want nothing of it." Melia furrowed her brow.
The laughing subsided after a few moments. Eshne started to fall back into her thoughts when Nennet piped up.
"You really did see everyones dreams…" She said.
"Well, not Nanis. But she told me what it was." Eshne said.
"Must be nice to have someone trust you enough with their desires." Nennet said.
Eshne shrugged, "She's my sister. And my best friend. We tell each other everything."
Nennet gave a curt smile, "Must have been interesting seeing everyone so vulnerable." She took a deep breath, "For the longest time working at the Pearl, I used to dream about going off with Isabela and sailing the seas. Until I figured out that the only reason I thought I loved her was because I associated her with freedom. Don't get me wrong, she's a wonderful woman and I...I care deeply about her but." She looked at Eshne, "I could never love someone the way you loved your Templar."
Eshne frowned, "No one?"
"Some people aren't about the pomp and circumstance of love and romance. Give me the open ocean and a beautiful ship, that's what I desire most of all."
"I guess it's better than not knowing what you want." Eshne said.
Melia cleared her throat, rubbing her neck awkwardly.
"Don't worry, Mel. You'll figure it out." Eshne said hopefully.
"Hmm?" Melia pretended she hadn't heard.
Nennet smiled, but didn't pry.
"I think I'm going to go relieve Nicolai for watch." Melia said, "Get some rest, ladies, you'll need it."
Melia rushed away from Nennet and Eshne, glad to avoid the eventual question about what happened in the Fade.
She found Nicolai talking to Alistair.
She didn't mean to pry into their conversation, but overheard Alistair say, "I just want you to know, I may not agree with the way you go about it. But I do appreciate your part in getting us out of the Fade."
"Thank you," Nicolai said curtly, "I suppose I dealt with my share, growing up in the alienage."
Alistair cleared his throat, "Duncan always said the Wardens use whatever means available to them to stop the Blight. I agree to a point."
"There's the Templar talking." Nicolai said smartly, "You going to make me tranquil?"
"I wouldn't dare. I respect you as a Warden. I think you're a good man, Nicolai. But if you ever use blood magic against-"
"I'd want you to be the one to run me through." Nicolai said bluntly.
"How surprisingly sweet."
"Now do you want to braid each others hair and talk about boys?" Nicolai asked, "Or girls in your case." He added.
Alistair snorted, "Well I mean-" He began.
Melia finally came out from hiding, Alistair quickly shutting up.
"Nicolai, I'd like to relieve you for watch." Melia said.
"Have you slept?" Nicolai asked.
"Well…" Nicolai looked at Alistair, "My good templar friend thought he'd give you the chance for some rest."
Alistair looked between Melia and Nicolai.
"He's right," He finally said, "I'd like to take over your watch for tonight."
Melia raised her brow, "Is that so?"
"Unless you'd like to do it together?" Nicolai suggested.
"What did Eshne say?" Melia's voice raised an octave.
Nicolai's eyes widened, "Nothing."
Melia felt the color drain from her face, "Maybe I should rest my eyes-of course if Alistair doesn't mind-"
"I don't!" Alistair piped up, "Not at all actually. Anything for you, really."
Melia looked as if she had something to add, but then decided against it.
"Very well." She said, almost confused, "Wake me in a couple of hours."
"Will do." Alistair said eagerly.
When Melia was finally out of earshot, Nicolai grinned.
"'Anything for you, really.'" He mocked Alistair, "'Please let me throw myself on a mud puddle so you don't get your feet dirty.'"
Early morning light fell over Lake Calenhad as the Wardens graced the hill that sloped down to Redcliffe.
"It seems so quiet." Nennet said.
"Almost ghostly quiet." Eshne sighed, "Let's hope we did the right thing."
The wardens, accompanied by mages and templars, crossed the bridge that led into Redcliffe Castle. Ser Perth paced outside, and the lines of worry on his face fell away when he saw who approached.
"Thank the Maker," He said, "We've been able to seclude Connor to his room, but the Bann was worried he may not stay there for long."
"Let's not waste anymore time then." Melia said, signalling for the mages to follow inside.
The inside of the castle was just as unruly as they had left it. In the throne room Isolde had been wailing madly to Bann Teagan, who seemed extremely exhausted. He perked up when he saw the wardens.
"You've returned, with good news I hope?"
"We've come with First Enchanter Irving and a supply of lyrium," Melia told him, "I just hope we've come in enough time."
"Connor is still locked in his room, but we must hurry." Teagan said, exchanging greetings with the mages and templars.
"We must begin immediately then." Irving said, the mages beginning to draw runes into the floor with white chalk, "Once we have made our preparations we can start."
Various sizes of white candles were placed around the circle, all of them lit carefully as to not disturb the chalk. Irving looked to Melia.
"The decision must be made as to which mage will be entering the fade. And I do not say this lightly, make your choice wisely. A desire demon is one of the more powerful demons in their hierarchy. Know this, it will likely try to engage whoever enters its realm. It will tempt them with thoughts and promises of what they crave the most."
"I understand," Melia said, turning to the other wardens, "It has to be a mage."
Nani and Eshne nodded. Eshne put her hand on her sisters shoulder and spoke up.
"I will go."
Everyone in the room grew silent. Teagan bit the inside of his cheek. Wynne instinctively gasped, wanting to stride forward and smack Eshne.
Nani snapped her head up, "Eshne, no."
"Nani, no offense but you spent a lot of your energy at the Circle. You know I'm better equipped for fade travel. Let me do this." Eshne pleaded.
Nani furrowed her brows, but instead of speaking protests she gave in.
Eshne strode forward.
"I'm ready First Enchanter." She said.
Irving seemed uneasy, but relented, "Very well." He took Eshne by the hand and guided her forward.
"Remember your Harrowing. Everything the Circle has taught you-"
Eshne cut him off, "I know, Irving." Then she added, "Thank you."
Nani and Wynne fell into the circle of mages that formed around the rune. Eshne remembered from her lessons that circle rituals would be unbearable hot, and before stepping in she removed her robes so she only wore her long black chemise.
Her feet radiated warmth as she lightly stepped over the chalk line. She could feel the bright aura radiating from the white candles. Eshne laid on her back so that her head touched the tip of the white chalk star in the circle.
The rest of the mages fell to their knees.
"I'll be right here." Nani told her.
"I know." Eshne gave her a weak smile.
The mages chant began. They spoke quotations from the Chant of Light, and Irvings voice boomed above the rest.
"Circulus ducitur. Qui fecit me, hoc est in domo luceat lux clara est albus tibi fidus." With one hand he summoned a small sphere of lyrium to hover over Eshne, and brought it down over her lips.
Eshne's body arched up violently, the sphere of lyrium forcing its way into her mouth and down her throat.
A horrific scream raged through the castle, a thick black cloud rushing down the stairs from Connors room. It zoomed into the circle.
All at once the mages Chants grew louder, all of them forging a spherical wall of lyrium around the misty thing. The black fog was trapped inside the orb of magic energy, with Eshne inside. The blue lyrium burned away, leaving an invisible protective circle that encapsulated the demon.
Everyone in the room could now hear a low growling coming from the black cloud, presumably the demon. Isolde ran upstairs to find her child.
"Where is she?" Thackery whispered to Nicolai, who was too afraid to give an answer.
The black fog raced inside the circle, obscuring all from seeing Eshne.
A purple figure grew between Eshne's outspread legs, and only she could see him.
She built up enough strength to stand, the lyrium burning like a bright light inside of her. Eshne flung her hand out, chanting her incantation.
"Nube discussa daemonium."
The desire demon cocked his head to the side, "Can we not speak?" He said smoothly, his smile growing wider, exposing sharp teeth.
"Nube discussa daemonium!" Eshne repeated, this time louder.
The demon held his clawed hand to his chest, "I'm truly wounded that you think such feeble words will take me from your realm. You see, I quite like it here. The by showed me so many wonderful things that I can do. Like this."
The demon strode forward, one hand placing itself around Eshne's throat, the other using his magics to keep her in place.
"They may have temporarily trapped me in here. But I can still hurt you, Dreamer." He squeezed his hand. His voice distorted into that of many, the sound radiating through the sphere.
"Ye wosseri. Etsoo an esee uumezhdesi." The demon spoke in his own language, leaning in to run it's forked tongue along her jaw.
Eshne's eyes swirled black, "Itsi sist. Eksleebire. Ye non hun wesrat horri." She spoke the demons language.
The demon smiled, "Emi nebratronak nüllaan." He threw his head back, calling out loud enough so that everyone outside of the circle could hear his foul language.
"Etsi hunak non wesrati kareenkhe dünasse, khur hemitus enis. Etsi an tu formago ekse enak, mastigahra libaarkeesk, kosta atsüü, yak ye sie wesrat tahis!"
Nicolai's picked his head up, "I know that language."
"What is he doing to her?" Thackery set his hand on Nicolais arm.
Seeing Nicolai's reaction, Nani stopped her chanting and called to her sister.
"Eshne!" She cried, "Listen to me! You're stronger than the demon is! Don't listen to it!"
Inside the black sphere the demon cackled. He lowered his lips to Eshne's ear.
"Listen to them. How they try to sway you from me. I knew you were special the moment I met you at your Harrowing." He growled, "Oh the things we could do together...to each other."
Eshne's concentration broke, "Mouse?"
At the mention of the name, the demon disappeared. The black fog coalesced into a swirling rope at the top of the sphere. Everyone in the room watched helplessly at the blackness reared back and flung itself at Eshne, forcing itself into her body through her mouth.
Eshne's body slammed itself to the ground, writing with the demon inside of her.
Nicolai ran to Irving, who was still chanting.
"Stop this madness, she could be killed!"
"If the circle breaks then she will be." Irving said.
Eshne's convulsing ceased, and she laid quietly on the floor of the Arls throne room. Her eyes were clouded over by the thick black mist. Her head lolled to the side as if she were dead.
"Esh." Nani said quietly, tears running down her face. Her hand began to move forward, but Irving pushed it back.
"The demon has taken a new host, Eshne must banish it to the Fade on her own now." He said.
All at once the chanting ceased.
"You knew it would possess her?" Nicolai asked.
"This is now her second Harrowing," Irving said, "And if the occasion rises, the Templars must fulfil their duties."
"Maker preserve us." Teagan whispered, running his hands madly through his hair.
The mages backed away from the white chalk circle. Before the templars moved forward, Alistair stepped in.
"Wait," He said, "If the demon takes her, it'll be my blade that meets it."
He got to his knees next to Nani. A gutteral sound issued from Eshne throat, followed by a high pitched cackle that chilled the room.
"Such a good little templar boy," The demon spoke through Eshne, "Are you willing to risk being hated by your fellow wardens for running through their sister?" It laughed.
Eshne's body arched upwards and she let out another scream.
"Itsi sist. Eksleebire. Ye non hun wesrat horri." Eshnes voice overpowered the demons.
"Stop." Nicolai put his hand on Alistairs shoulder, "She's fighting it with it's own words."
"Eshne doesn't know the demonic vernacular." Wynne pointed out, wiping away stray tears.
Eshne's head snapped to look at Nani, "Do you regret this now, sister? This body will die and it's all because you were too scared to face me."
"Lies." Nanis lip curled into a snarl.
The demon laughed, slamming Eshnes body back to the floor. Eshne's voice broke through the demons chants.
"Itsi sist. Eksleebire. Ye non hun wesrat horri. Itsi sist. Eksleebire. Ye non hun wesrat horri. Itsi sist. Eksleebire. Ye non hun wesrat horri…" She repeated over and over. Her body convulsed side to side, sweat beading onto the floor.
Eshne dug her fingers into the ground, her stomach heaving with long laborious breaths. The lyrium inside her twisted and turned, drawing the demon back to the fade as Eshne fought it was all of her might and stamina.
Her body came to a sudden stillness, and the demon spoke in Eshne's voice.
"Foolish little girl. Always playing with things she could never understand. I will break you in the end." The voice distorted into the demons deep guttural sound, "I will drag you back into the Fade. This body will die, but your soul is mine. everything you do will be on my say and my command. Fear me. Love me. Do as I say. Etsi an Nebratron hamatas kwairegem."
Eshne's legs violently spread apart, a collective gasp coming from all those who had the stomach to look. All along her bare legs finger sized bruise marks trailed up to between her thighs. An invisible hand lifted the chemise, revealing her small clothes. Bleeding bite marks circled her inner thighs, dark red blood seeping onto the floor.
Eshne slammed her head into the floor defiantly. Once more she dug into the ground, knuckles turning white. She gritted her teeth and spoke.
"Get out of my body, you shitty little rat."
Her entire torso heaved upwards, a demonic screech rang through the castle. As the scream began to die down, a ball of light traveled up Eshnes stomach and back to her throat. Eshne rolled onto her hands and knees, giving one last hurl before spitting out the solidified ball of lyrium, swirling with black mist on the inside.
The protective circle dissipated. Eshne fell over with a loud thump.
A templar rushed over and bottled the lyrium sphere. He observed the blackness inside and looked at Irving.
"Then it is done." Irving said.
Nani ran over to her sister and held her in her arms.
"Eshne," She gently stroked her sisters cheek, "Eshne, wake up…"
Eshne was drenched in sweat, her entire body heated as if riddled with fever. Wynne bent down and laid her hand upon Eshnes forehead. A beam of light drew itself from her hand into Eshnes body, and the fever subsided.
"She needs rest, Na'Nalia." Wynne said, looking up at Bann Teagan, "Have you a bed for her?"
"Of course." Teagan rushed away to have a suite prepared.
Nani hugged Eshne close to her body, but was startled when Eshne used her hand to push herself away.
"You know I can't breathe in those things." Eshne said quietly, a weak smile growing on her flushed face.
"I hate you." Nani said, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I know." Eshne said, her head lolling to the side, "Is Connor okay?"
Irving came to her side, "The boy is fine."
"Good." Eshne closed her eyes once more, "Good…"
Demon Translation credits go to the Verbis Diablo from Penny Dreadful