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 The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me (WIP)

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Nethra Lavellan
The Inquisitor
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PostSubject: The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me (WIP)   22/1/2015, 17:47

They have to be close.

Solas is peering around the small clearing with more intensity than before, and Nethra has learned that means they are on the right track. What he is looking for she cannot rightly say, for her eyes are not keen to the nuances of magic, but she trusts Solas and so waits patiently for his signal.

Her nerves are alive with electric current as she uses all her senses to keep watch on the forest around them. She knows they are being pursued. Her small force, consisting of Solas, Sera, and Bull, has been making their way through the Emerald Graves for three days in search of an ancient elven artifact. During those three days she has heard whispers in the dark and the breaking of twigs close behind. The noises come and go, but they always return. It has everyone's nerves on end as they wait for the inevitable attack. Nethra only hopes they complete their goal before it happens.

“Ah. Here it is.” Solas's voice breaks the tense silence.

“It's about damn time! What now, boss?”

Nethra looks from Bull to Solas, biting her lip in consideration. It is a habit she has had since childhood, and one that she no longer notices happening. Now that they are here, Nethra is struggling with the decision she should have already made. This artifact – which appears to be a glossy black stone covered in runes and surrounded by a circle of similarly colored pebbles – could be both a boon and a hindrance. It will rip away some of the power of the orb Corypheus wields, but it will also alert him of their meddling. What he chooses to do then is what Nethra worries over. He could strike the moment he learns of what they did, and the Inquisition is not ready for that. He could also bid his time, as he has been doing, and end up giving them an advantage. She must decide what course of action to take, and she must decide now.

“Inquisitor?” There is a hint of frustration in Solas's voice now; he is eager is proceed.

“Yeah, Inquisitor. Better hurry up. We've got company, and it's the kind you'll probably want to stab in the face!” Sera's sudden shout from her place hidden in the trees comes an instant after Nethra hears the heavy breathing and battle cries of her enemies. The twang of Sera's bowstring cuts through her frantic thoughts and brings back an air of calm.

Nethra finds she is relived that they are being attacked. The tense, on edge feeling she has been nursing for the last three days finally passes; she no longer has to worry that an attack will happen at any given moment. She can confront it head on. While it can't have come at much worse a time, it is now something tangible that Nethra can deal with.

Even as she is breathing a sigh of relief she is readying her body for action. Her muscles constrict and her nerves tingle with the latent energy that will soon course through her. Hazel eyes, large to take in all that is around her, spot movement close by and all at once no less than eight venatori soldiers are crashing through the trees straight for her.

“Get the Inquisitor!” One shouts, pointing at Nethra in the same moment she reacts to their appearance.

Her movements can almost be mistaken for dancing as she glides across the battlefield. The balls of her feet are barely making contact with the dirt and grass, her heels never once connecting with anything but air. She moves with the grace and flow of someone who has spent a life time on their toes, as she has. Ever since she could walk Nethra has been nimbly running through the woods or leaping from one rock to the next. Her agility is matched only by her feline balance, and as she uses her momentum to propel forward it is clear she will not make a misstep.

Two daggers are pulled from their sheaths on her back and held tightly in her hands. By the time she reaches the first venatori solider they are ready; the first one sinks easily into the mans side where the joints of his armor meet while the other slices across his unprotected throat. Blood spurts from his wound and catches Nethra in it's spay, spotting her face with more than just her freckles. The solider slumps forward and the daggers are pulled from his body as quick as they entered, the only evidence they were there at all the slick coat of blood.

Another breath and Nethra is dodging the sword of a new opponent. She senses more than sees his next movement and she is much quicker than his lumbering sword arm. Her small frame allows her to duck under his attack and roll until she is behind him, daggers held out to the side in order to avoid harming herself in the process. Metal flashes as they once again find their mark: two straight in the back, between the ribs, like fangs. Another venatori crumples to the ground, defeated.

Nethra takes a second to survey the battle before she moves on. Bull is doing a fine job taking down those attacking him, his axe swinging in wide arcs that effectively keep back his opponents until he is ready for a final blow. Solas is off to the side, lightening crackling from his fingers as he directs it towards an archer hiding among the trees. Nethra spots Sera quickly becoming overwhelmed and she is immediately on her way to the other elf's side.

With a spring from the stump of a nearby tree Nethra launches herself onto the back of a large venatori that is about to lunge at Sera. He is caught off guard and stumbles, not braced for the extra weight that is now clinging to him. Sera takes the opening and aims an arrow that lodges in between his eyes, killing him instantly.

“Niiiice teamwork!”

Despite the clamor around them, Nethra gives Sera a slight smile of agreement. She hops to her feet and spins, hair whirling into her face and sticking to the smears of blood. Her left hand strikes forward at an oncoming attacker, blocking his sword and keeping it from reaching her body. A few more twirls and sidesteps and she finds a weak spot in the warriors defenses. A flick of her wrist and one of her daggers ends another life.

The area around the two elves is now clear, and Nethra looks for where she is needed next. To her surprise there is only one venatori left, and he falls at Bulls hand, adding to the pile of corpses around the Qunari.

“Nothing like killing 'vints to get the blood pumping, eh boss?” Bull is grinning and Nethra cannot suppress an amused shake of her head at Bull's enthusiasm.  She could sure use some of it for herself right now, as three sets of eyes are turned to her waiting for their next course of action.

They are graced with an interlude of relative peace, though the sound of more venatori approaching is impossible to miss. Nethra is again biting her lower lip, eyes focused into the trees. This mission wasn't supposed to be a cake walk, but it wasn't supposed to be this difficult, either. No use dwelling on it, Nethra reminds herself. They are here now, and they must deal with what ever comes their way, and they must deal with it quickly.

“Ok, this is what we're going to do.” She starts, doing her best to sound confident in her still forming plan. “Sera and Bull, you stay here and guard Solas. The venatori want me – I'll draw them away so you can get the ritual done.”

“Like hell I'm staying here. I'm going with you.” Sera takes a few steps closer to Nethra, her bow ready in her hand. Nethra can see light gleaming in her eyes, light that says plainly I think your plan is shit.

“Sera, no. You're staying here.” Nethra is resolute, firm. There is no time to deal with insubordination. “I'm faster anyway, you'll slow me down.” Though true, she hates to put it so bluntly, but realizes the only way to sway Sera from her decision is to insult her.

“Fine but don't expect me to go all mushy over your body when they kill you.” Sera stalks off and Nethra knows she has made her angry, but it is the least of her worries.
Bull is already standing with his ax raised and offers no resistance to her plan. She is thankful for that, and for having an experienced fighter on her side who knows how to follow orders, even when she does not wish to give them.

She senses movement on her left and turns to find Solas, expression drawn tight. “You are sure of this? To risk your life so I may complete this?” His words are laced with a new respect, one that Nethra does not fail to miss. It is funny to her that now, after all they have been through, is the moment he chooses to accept her.

“It'll help?”

“Yes.” Solas nods, somber with his gaze that never leaves Nethra's eyes.

“Then do it.” She turns to go before a sudden thought makes her snap back to Solas. She grasps his wrist and speaks in a whisper, the words painful to form and leaving an acrid taste in her mouth. “And...take care of Keerla if-”

“Boss, you better stop running those lips and start with the legs!” Bull shouts from nearby and she drops Solas' arm, bright red spots left where her fingers had clutched him in request of a silent answer. She gives Bull a final nod, trusting him as she has trusted few, and she is gone before his eyes can focus on her movement.

Trees blur green in her vision as Nethra sprints by, legs reaching and pushing off the ground with all her strength and endurance. She hears the the twigs beneath her feet snapping and scattering – all sounds she would normally avoid if she was not trying to be noticed.

The time for being discrete is over; Nethra wants to be seen. The venatori made it perfectly clear that they are after her – for the sole reason of damaging the heart of the Inquisition, she is certain. If Solas and the others are to survive and finish the ritual then Nethra must draw off the majority of the attackers. She must use herself as bait. She considers shouting for them to follow her, but decides that might alert them to her intention of drawing them from her companions. Besides, it hardly seems they need the extra push as she hears the loud pursuit of the venatori behind her.

A split second of panic chills her blood as she realizes just what she has done. She is on her own with a number of well trained warriors following close behind, and she has no escape plan. Her only advantage is her speed and her experience navigating crowded forests, which she hopes against hope her enemies lack. The thought of imminent capture spurs her on, and she manages to dash through the trees at an increased speed.

Nethra is at home running through the thick underbrush and brambles, but even so she cannot run forever. She is not certain how much time has passed since she left her friends, but she is beginning to feel the effects of pushing her body to its limits. She is lagging despite herself, and the sounds of pursuing venatori are getting closer. Soon arrows are thudding into tree trunks as she darts past, all too close for comfort. She manages to dodge them for some time, but she is fighting a losing battle.

She feels the first arrow as it pierces through the hide of her armor and embeds in her shoulder. The pain is blinding and her vision swims before her eyes as she continues her race, knowing to stop means death for not only herself but those relying on her. Warm blood is seeping from the wound, dripping down her arm and pooling in her hand. The cooper scent rises to her nostrils and threatens to choke her. Still she sprints onward; deftly dodging more arrows that whiz by her by mere inches.

The second arrow finds it's mark in her thigh. She stumbles, the pain bursting into her brain in blinding flashes. Her leg is threatening to give out, to force her to the ground with the weakness of torn muscles. She grits her teeth and pushes on, now slower and with a noticeable limp. She cannot stop. She must not stop.

An arrow grazes the tip of her pointed ear and now blood is flowing from there, too. It follows a path down her neck to mix with the blood from her arm and forms rivulets in between her breasts. Sweat is making its way into her eyes; the stinging makes her want to squeeze them shut but she resists and lets it blur her vision.

Her breath is coming in gasps now, and it is getting harder to maintain them. Stitches start in her side and travel the length of her body. Everything is on fire within her – it burns with every intake of breath and every step. She tries to calculate how long she has been running because surely it must be hours, days, her whole life. She has never run so hard for so long, for she has never had a cause so dire to push her endurance to such a limit.

A final arrow slams into her side, just above her hips. It hits solidly and she can feel tearing and ripping from within. Her whole body gives out and she crashes to the ground, unable even to break her fall. Dirt and saliva and blood fill her mouth and she coughs, nearly choking. She manages to spit the sludge from her lips and take a breath that sends flashes of light to blossom before her eyes. With her uninjured arm she tempts to push herself up but can manage nothing more than a half hearted lift of her torso. Her wounded leg will no longer support her weight and hangs stubbornly from her body, arrow still jutting from it, tip lodged deep in muscle.

Still Nethra is determined to move on. Panic begins to edge in and she crawls forward, each movement a new torture. Has she won enough time yet? She hasn't heard anything in the distance except her pursuers for some time and it both frightens her and gives her hope. There has been no sign, though, so she must push forward as long as she is able. Soon stars show themselves in place of forest scenery, and Nethra feels unconsciousness begin to sweep over her.  Blackness rims the edges of her vision when she hears a crash of breaking branches somewhere off to her side. They're here to finish the job she thinks, and she is oddly complacent. She knows she has done all she could – given all she has for this seemingly impossible cause.

It dawns on her now that all her actions could be for nothing. How would the Inquisition continue without their leader?

A spark of anger tears through the calm and it is gone. This is how she is going to die? Killed by shems while protecting an elf who takes every opportunity to berate her about her beliefs? Heralding a cause she was thrust into with no choice or consideration for her own life? She doesn't want to end her life away from her clan, away from the things that have made her who she is. It isn't fair – none of this is what she wanted. The whole of her life is culminating in this mess of conflicting beliefs that have started a war she truly has no place in. Her anger rises and fuels her; she will not let herself succumb this way. If this is how she must go, she will not go alone.

A final burst of adrenaline gives Nethra the strength to grasp the hilt of one of her daggers and pull it from the sheath strapped on her back. Her hand is sticky with blood as she holds the worn leather, but it feels familiar and good – like she is once again in control. With all her remaining energy she takes aim and throws the weapon, putting every fiber of her being into what she imagines is her final action.

The balanced bloodstone dagger flies straight and true, displacing the air around it with a slight hum. It catches the dying light that filters through the trees and shines like a beacon; a light that Nethra feels herself drawn to in an unearthly way. At the end of its flight the weapon makes contact with it's target and a spray of blood and brain showers the area as the head of one of her venatori pursuers explodes on impact. His body falls limp to the ground, life extinguished in one fatal moment. There are more venatori on his heels who are now drawing closer with more caution, though it is clear Nethra is no longer a threat. She has energy left enough to raise her head and look again to her side where the breaking of branches is now drowned out by a familiar sound she can almost place in her pain induced haze. It is somewhere between a growl and a shout, words almost form but their meaning is lost on her. She blinks rapidly, trying to clear her vision in order to see what is barreling through the trees straight for her. It doesn't matter, really, she supposes. It is just the final blow.

Before her eyes slip shut and her mind yields to the soft black of unconsciousness she thinks of fresh grass beneath her feet and the rush of wind through her hair, the feeling of plush halla fur on her fingertips and the smell of a crackling fire. Faces swim in the warm darkness as she recalls all those who are dear to her and she desperately does not want to die.
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PostSubject: Re: The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me (WIP)   24/1/2015, 01:23

Nethra's eyes flutter open in an unfamiliar landscape. She groans, reaching for her side and the arrow she knows is dangerously embedded there. She expects to feel the shaft jutting  from her, sticky with caked blood, but instead feels only the rough hewn leather of her armor. Her hands move to her leg, then her shoulder, searching each area for the wounds she knows she sustained. There is no sign of her desperate chase through the woods, nor is there any pain.

She stands from her supine position with caution, still fearing her leg will give out or she will all at once be struck with the pain she should be feeling. Nothing changes when she is on her feet. She is whole and apparently uninjured.

Puzzled as to why she is not currently bleeding to death on the forest floor, Nethra looks around in attempt to take stock of her surroundings. As she does her breath catches in her throat in a startled gasp. This is not the Emerald Graves. This is like nowhere she has been before, and nowhere she has ever imagined.

This can't be real.

There are thick mists swirling everywhere she looks: some hanging low to the ground around her ankles and others churning in the distance. An acid green glow seems to emanate from all surfaces and none, and lights the area around her just enough to give life to the dark corners and shadows. Pools of what may be water stand still nearby, with only the occasional ripple to mark that something may be dwelling in their depths. She spots larger shapes in the distance; towering structures of stone that shift when she tries to focus on them, and what appears to be stairs carved into the bulk of the land itself that spiral upward until they are devoured by the mist.

She has the sensation that the ground beneath her feet is suspended in endless space by a force she can’t name, that it could plummet into eternity at any moment. She places a hesitant foot forward, uncertain of the stability of this world around her. Though slick, it feels stable beneath her, and with no destination in mind, Nethra starts to walk.

Everything she sees around her is much of the same. Fog and shadows dominate, and an eerie hush makes her quiet her steps. Her senses are kept keen and alert, waiting for any sign of life besides her own. How long she wanders the desolate waste she cannot say – it might only be minutes, but it could also be days. Her mind wanders of its own volition and she is unable to reign in her dreaming.

She starts out determined to find answers and an exit back to her companions. Each footfall sends that resolve farther and farther back in her mind, until she begins to forget what it was that sent her here. She grasps at her knowledge but it is fading and being replaced with a desire only to continue on for reasons unknown.

Something moves in the haze before her, gliding along without making a sound. “Hello?” She calls out, but her voice is swallowed by the vastness of open sky that has no sun or stars. The movement ceases, and she wonders if it was ever there at all. It is increasingly difficult to determine what is real and what is not, and when Nethra tries to shake off the fog clouding her mind, it sticks like cobwebs.

As she walks the uneven ground new landscapes begin to form from the swirling mists. Shapes gain definition, turn into recognizable objects. Trees are coalescing around her, pebbles and dirt crunch beneath her feet where there was previously only a slick surface much like glass.  

The trees part and a lake forms before her eyes. It is familiar; there are tents set to the side, a dock perfect for jumping from, and the shadow of a tall peak in the distance. Nethra knows this place. She spent her childhood here. There, the last tent on the left – that was her family's. She learned to swim in that lake, and taught her sister the same. Had it always looked so green? It must have. She was probably just remembering wrong.

Her steps quicken, as she is eager to reach the tents. It has been so long since she has been home. The thought of a warm meal and soft bed spur her on as she makes her way down the path. When she nears the tent she hears laughter coming from within. Someone must be home, waiting for her. She cautiously parts the flaps of the tent, feeling  nervous and not knowing why.

“Nethra, dear, you're home already! How wonderful! Come here, come here!” Inside are her mother and father, sitting comfortably on cushions around the small table she carved her name into years past. They are beaming up at her, just as she remembers them. Her mother looks on with sparkling green eyes, her hair red as flames and flowing around her shoulders. She is beautiful and vibrant and always has a story to tell or a hug to give. Beside her Nethra's father sits, a gentle smile on his lips. Dark skinned and handsome, he is a man of few words, but much kindness. Nethra can see herself in his dark hair and the freckles that span his face and arms.

Something tugs at her mind, telling her to think about this, but she is just so happy to see them that she pushes it away. “Mother?” She asks, voice shaky with doubt but burning with hope.

Her mother bounces to her feet and over to Nethra. She is suddenly embraced, and she is home. “Are you feeling well? You look so thin! Have some rabbit. Your father caught it.”

Nethra accepts the offered plate and sits between her parents. The edges of the tent fade in her vision but that, too, seems right. There has always been an oddly sweet smell in the tent, like rotting fruit. She shouldn't think too hard on it.

“You're both ok?” She asks, unable to keep from staring at them.

“Why wouldn't we be, Neth sweetie?” Her mothers voice is like syrup: sweet and dripping and over powering. She looks to Nethra with an expression that is morphing into something unnerving. “Is it because we're dead? Because we're supposed to be rotting in the ground, decaying until we are nothing but bone and unfinished lives?”  

“No...” Nethra scrambles to her feet, backs away from the face of her mother that is turning ashen gray. Splotches are forming on the tanned skin of her father, sickly yellow and green with pus that oozes from open wounds.

“Don't you remember? You saw our bodies laid out near the road, with our blood pooling around us. Your father's eyes were picked over by the crows, nothing left but hollow sockets that still haunt your dreams. The stench of the blood mixed with mud so thick and cloying you vomited all over your own feet.”

She is rushing to the exit of the tent, stumbling backwards, unable to tear her gaze from the vision of her parents rotting before her. “You're not real, this isn't real.” It is a mantra that she speaks, over and over just as she did when she found her parents lifeless bodies. The voice that leaves her mouth is that of her thirteen year old self; scared beyond anything she has ever experienced.

“You don't think this is real? It was real then, wasn't it? It was real when the Keeper came and tore you away from us, trying to stop you from seeing. But no, not Nethra, not you. You wanted to see. You had to be sure. You shrieked and ran to us, to feel for a heartbeat you knew wasn't there. You still remember the way our flesh was cold and clammy, slick with blood.”

Nethra whimpers as she backs into the trunk of a tree outside the tent. Her parents are following her with speed she did not know they possessed. As they approach her cornered position her father speaks for the first time, and Nethra's heart shatters as she hears the voice she respected and looked up to more than any other.

“It wasn't your fault, da'len.” There is a softness in his voice and Nethra cannot help but want to run into his arms and once again be the child who loved her father to the very end. But the compulsion does not last as the next time he speaks it is with disgust.

“It was the humans fault. And now, sweet Nethra, our bright child...you're aiding them.” The look he gives her is daggers piercing her, twisting and ripping at her insides. “They killed us. They took our aravel and threw us to the ground like bugs. Their swords bit into our skin and carved gashes that wept blood onto the grounds we loved. They raped your mother like she was a common whore; she screamed until she had no breath left. And they laughed.”

Nethra tries to block him out, to not hear what he saying. She does not want to know what happened, for if she does she will never forget. Many long nights have passed where these thoughts ran through her dreams, but she forced herself to never believe the truth in them. Now she can no longer hide from them.

“The shems, all of them – they want nothing but your death and disgrace. They will use you and kill you just the same in the end. These people, this Inquisition? They are laughing at you behind your back. You are their chess piece, and soon the game will be over.”

Another thought that Nethra is not proud to admit has lived in her mind. In the beginning she did not trust any of those around her, but her views have changed. Right?

“You are even fucking one them, aren't you? You think he's different; your knight in shining armor? You are nothing to him.” How did her father know about Cullen? He couldn't be right. Cullen was different. He wasn't just another human. He wouldn't hurt her, not like other humans would.

“N-no. He-I...” She tries to speak but the words die on her lips as her parents press on.

“You have tossed aside everything we taught you! You are a disgrace. To us, and to the entire clan. You are nothing but a shem loving traitor.”

Nethra feels the force of her fathers words burn into her like acid. They hate her – she is a disappointment. All the hard work she has spent her life doing to help the clan has been for nothing. She has betrayed them and is no longer welcome. The spell her parents hold over her breaks with the realization, and she is able to move once again. She pushes off the tree with as much strength as she can muster and sprints away from the mirage of her once happy home.

She runs blindly through the mists, oblivious to the changing landscape around her.
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PostSubject: Re: The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me (WIP)   1/2/2015, 19:55

The forest around Nethra begins to thin as she slows her manic pace to a labored trot. Her lungs sear with pain as she breaths in, and the stitches in her side feel like the tips of arrows. She risks a backward glance, her heart beat an unnatural tempo in fear of what she will see.

The way behind her is clear. No visions of her dead parents trail her, no threats or accusations are shouted at her from decaying lips. In fact, there is little behind her at all. What she was certain was trees and thick underbrush only a moment before is now rolling plains and rocky outcroppings, the ground and sky a dull dusty brown. Had she run so far? While unable to determine how she reached this new place so quickly, Nethra is glad to be far from the forest and the lake she once loved so well.

She rests a moment on the flat surface of a rock, regaining what strength remains to her. For the first time since she started walking through this unfamiliar landscape she wonders how she found herself here, and struggles to recall a reason for wishing to escape. Her thoughts are becoming fuzzy again the more she rests, and she pushes up from the rock with a start. There must have been something she was doing before she encountered her parents. There is little else she can do other than press on, and so she starts again towards the distant horizon.

As she walks she can think only of the words her parents had spoken. She hears them over and over, each time chipping a piece of her heart away and leaving broken, sharp edges exposed. She must have always known the truth; leaving the clan for so long had never sat well with her, and now she can finally see why. She had abandoned them, and now she was no longer a part of that life. Leaving had been a mistake.

There is movement in the dry grass ahead and Nethra slows to a halt. A lone figure is standing with a hand to their brow, searching into the distance. A bow is silhouetted in its hand, and there is a quiver of arrows strapped to its back. It is only now that Nethra realizes where she has been wandering. The plains around her are ones her clan had spent time in some ten years ago, and the figure standing nearby ...

“Keerla!” A wave of relief washes over Nethra as she recognizes her sister. The figure's head turns as she approaches, and Nethra is greeted by Keerla's easy smile. She wants to smile back, to gather her younger sister in her arms and just breathe, but there are more urgent matters. Instead she takes Keerla's hand in hers and grips it tightly. “Keerla, thank Mythal you're here. You need to listen to me: don't go home! There's something wrong going on there, something terrible. You've got to stay with me.” She does not want to tell Keerla about their parents, but she cannot let her leave and walk straight into the horror that she herself has just been through. It is simpler to just keep Keerla with her. She can protect her.

Nethra did not expect the reaction she got. Her sister has always been less serious than her, but she knew Nethra well enough to know when to reign in her free spirit. Now, though, Keerla is laughing, her odd purple eyes sparkling with inappropriate mirth.

“...What, Keerla, this is serious. Why are you laughing?”

“Because it's funny, eth inan.” The endearment is well-known to Nethra. Her sister has been calling her that for years; only now it sounds like a cruel joke, dripping with malignancy. “It's funny that you still think I am your dear little sister.”

There is something about the glint in Keerla's eyes that frightens Nethra more even than the vision of her long dead parents. She pulls her hand away and takes a step backward onto ground which now crunches with burnt grass. “Keerla, quit playing around!”

“I am not Keerla!” And indeed, the voice that comes from Keerla's lips is not entirely her own. It lacks the playful undertones, the innocence that she wears on her sleeve just as she does her heart. The qualities that make her voice distinctly Keerla are gone, and are replaced by a gruff, resonating harmonic that sends a tremor through the ground itself. “She is nothing now. What she may once have been is gone – she can no longer fight my control.”

Nethra takes another shocked step backward as her mind races in search for an explanation to this nightmare.

Nightmare. That's it – this is all a dream. It all clicks into place, and Nethra is never more relieved to be dreaming in her life. What had Solas said? Dreamers go to the Fade, where their consciousness walks among the spirits and demons of the land. That must be where she is now, and everything around her part of the fabled spirit world.

She raises her head boldly and faces what is masquerading as her sister. “You're lying; this whole place is a lie! You're just...you're a demon, trying to trick me.”

Keerla's body laughs again, this time the sound unrecognizable. “At least you're intelligent enough to realize that. Yes, I am a demon. A spirit that your sister let inside her mind, and her body.” The voice coming through Keerla is strong and bitter, a hint of rage bubbling beneath the surface. “This is not a lie though, you worthless knife ear. Your darling da'assan has not been alone in her mind for years. Not since you weren't there to protect her. What were you doing that day? Fucking around with some dirty city elves?”

Nethra recoils as if hit. She knows exactly the day the demon is speaking of – and it is of course correct in its assumption.

“Oh, that's right, isn't it? And all in the name of progress. Well, because you just couldn't be bothered to care about anything but your cunt, your sister was left all alone. She was practically begging for me to slide inside her, make her my own.”

As much as she wants to discard the demons charges, Nethra knows they are true, just as she knew her parents were speaking truth. This may be a world not quite the natural one, but the inhabitants and actions bleed through to the world of her own existence. The demon before her resides outside of the Fade, and within Keerla. Nethra has always suspected it, but it is now proven without a doubt.

“You've seen it: those moments she changes. That's me. That's all me!” The air around them shimmers with an abrupt flash of heat that seems to come from Keerla's skin. Her eyes – the demon's eyes – flare with a strange noxious purple glow, and its voice raises to a thunderous level. “Do you really think such a pitiful little bug such as your sister could get by without me? I am the driving force – I control her!

A rivaling anger surges in Nethra. This is not how it should be. “No! No, I won't let you. Not anymore!”

“You think you can stop me? You lost your chance to save your sister years ago. There is nothing you can do.”

The being that Nethra once thought was her sister lunges forward, and as it moves it changes. Keerla's sweet face – which is so much like their mothers – distorts, shifts into a long, thin mockery of what it once was. Its body elongates until it is towering over Nethra, whirls of flame churning within to form the loose shape of a man, but one that is nothing but smoke and fire. Long arms trail nearly to the mist covered ground, and shoulders with the span of birds wings hulk before her. She can feel the heat emanate from it's body: a searing wave of hot air that licks at her skin and burns in her lungs.

The eyes remain; eyes that Nethra has looked into too many times to count with love and care, and which are now glowing with demonic fury. It is hard for her to look into those eyes now, to know that this beast, this monstrous form, is living inside of her sister. She does not get a chance to look elsewhere, though, as the demon continues towards her, more gliding than walking.

Her hands immediately reach for the daggers strapped to her back. She finds the hilts with ease, and pulls them free to bare in front of her. The wrapped leather feels good in her palms, as it is something familiar and something she can control.

Nethra has fought demons before: the rifts dotting Thedas do not lack for beings of the fade. She knows her weapons will be less effective than on real living flesh, but they will have to do. As the demon advances she slides to the side, narrowing missing a strike of its clawed, burning hand. The flames caress her cheek as she slips by it, and she can smell the faint odor of burnt hair.

Not giving it time to strike at her again, Nethra rushes forward with her daggers drawn and ready. They make contact with the boiling blaze that is the demon, and it coils back in rage. Nethra quickly dances backward, giving it space to vent in its anger. It seems to grow in size, becoming larger still. She cannot tear her eyes away as it begins to rival the trees that were only moments before surrounding them. She has never seen a demon such as this before, never one so large and so ruthless. They are it it's domain, though, and the laws of the natural world do not seem to apply. Perhaps all demons are capable of such size, and the world limits them. As soon as she thinks it, though, she rejects the idea. This demon is just different.

It is now coming towards her again, this time moving slowly due to to its increased size. Nethra feels the pang of panic rise in her like floodwater; she cannot take this demon on by herself. With help, maybe...but alone? All she has are the daggers in her hands, daggers that, while they serve her well, are nothing but toothpicks compared to the being she faces. Even as she thinks of them she feels a slight difference in their weight. Tearing her eyes away from the demon, she looks frantically to the weapons she wields. Her almond eyes grow even larger as she watches the deadly metal begin to dissolve, smoking and dripping in molten globs onto the ground. She is transfixed, and only thinks to drop the now red hot hilts as the leather bursts into flame.

With a startled scream, a noise Nethra very rarely makes, she jumps back from the smoking remains of her daggers. Dread is in mouth her like bile, and she can taste the acidic froth of it in the back of her throat. The demon was right. She cannot do anything now, nothing at all to save her sister from this monster that has entrapped her. Nethra is faced with only two options she can see: run and save herself, or stay in a valiant attempt to vanquish the demon with nothing but her own two hands. The choice is obvious, if she wishes to live...but yet she hesitates. She would do anything for Keerla.

If there is even the slightest chance she can free her sister from the demon's grasp she must take it. She must right the wrong she had made many years ago when she wasn't there for Keerla. Her eyes blaze in determination as she raises her head and stares into the purple iris's of the demon, a silent threat on her lips.

It only looks at her and laughs before sucking in a breath, and suddenly Nethra knows what is going to happen next. She cannot turn fast enough, cannot run fast enough, before the demon exhales a vortex of flames that surge through the air straight at her. Her feet thump on the slick ground as she struggles to keep her balance and her pace and outrun the fiery death that is on her heels. The heat around her is cloying - she is covered in a sheen of sweat and feels the dull pain of burns marking her body where the fire touches.

The reality of the situation pains her more than the flames kissing her skin. She cannot stay here. Running from the demon is the only choice left, and it is a choice that means there is no hope for Keerla.

She hears the deep booming of laughter behind her as she runs, and the unmistakable voice of the demon. “You failed again, it seems. Your sister is mine, and she always will be.”
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Nethra Lavellan
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PostSubject: Re: The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me (WIP)   28/2/2015, 01:45

By the time she stops running she knows where she is.

The tall stone walls that rise high above her are sheltering and familiar. There is a stable off to the right, down a well trodden dirt path. She can hear the huffs of many horses and even the whine of a halla, as well as smell the faintly damp scent of hay. It is eerily quiet in the courtyard besides the sounds of beasts, and Nethra turns her body to scan what she can of Skyhold for hints of activity.  

No soldiers list about their tents, waiting for orders. No messengers scurry through the mud or down the stairs to deliver news. Where is everyone? She slows her pace and starts to tread the walkways she has followed countless times in the months prior, keeping her senses alert. Her feet lead her up the stone steps to the battlements, and along the wide passageways that offer a view of the mountains hugging close to the fortress. Soon she finds herself in front of the heavy oak door that leads to Cullen's chambers. She must have known that's where she was heading the moment she knew she was in Skyhold. If anyone knew what was going on, it would be Cullen. He would look at her with concern when she walked in, and take her hand gently to ask what was troubling her. Just the thought of confiding in him the troubles she has faced today brings a slight flutter to her heart.  

She pushes the door and it swings inward, allowing her room to slide into the open chamber. It is much the same as the last time she was here – weeks ago now, as her travels to the Emerald Graves have kept her from Skyhold. The sturdy desk is littered with maps and scrolls, the bookshelves over flowing with battered tomes. Cullen is standing with his back to her, bent over a letter in concentration. She wants to slink up to him in silence and wrap her arms around his middle, to rest her head on his strong back.

Something in the simmering air makes her hesitate, though. “Cullen?” She cautions, standing still in the doorway.

He turns to face her, and the usual elation that is in his eyes when she returns after weeks away is missing. He looks stern and solid, and when he speaks his voice is not laced with concern at all. “Ah, you've finally returned. It's been longer than expected.”

Undeterred, Nethra slides closer to Cullen. He must be tired, overstressed. Their reunion has come at a bad time for him, but she will do her best to change that. Her lips turn into a smile, and her hand reaches out to gently caress Cullen's arm. She can coax him out of a bad mood better than anyone; this will be no different.

To her surprise, he flinches away from her, effectively breaking contact. She watches as he really looks her over: singed clothes and ash covered skin. Burns dot her arms where the demon's fire touched, her hair tangled with dirt and blood. She must look a terrible sight.

“You didn't think to clean yourself up before coming to me?” He sneers, looking in particular at the ash smeared across her cheeks. She frowns, confused. It never bothered Cullen before when she would return from battle a little worse for wear. He would wipe the blood from her with a warm cloth, help her clean the wounds on her back she could not reach. Yet now, after weeks apart, he will not even allow her to touch him. She must look worse than she thought.

“No. I didn't think to. Maybe we can bathe together?” She teases, voice still light and playful in hope of tricking Cullen out of his mood. Again she attempts to get closer, this time wrapping her arms around him and pressing herself close. She does not get far in her movement before he bodily pushes her away. She stumbles on the stone floor and nearly falls, managing to grasp the desk for support in time.

What has gotten into him?
After what she has been through today she does not need this outburst. She wants the Cullen who will comfort her and help solve the mystery of her sudden appearance in this green tinged dream world. She steadies herself on her feet again before returning her gaze to him. “What are you doing?”

Maker, how dull can you be?” Cullen snaps at her, his voice venomous. “I grow tired of you. You've served your purpose – leave my chambers.” He turns from her and returns to his desk, crowding over the maps spread across it.

Nethra has only heard him speak in such a way on a handful of occasions, and never directed at her. She recalls his battle with lyrium, and how he nearly took her head off when he unknowingly aimed a hurtled box near where she stood. Could he be in the throes of another addiction fueled episode? She is more concerned now about him than she is about the constantly swirling sky visible out the window. “Cullen.” She calls out gently, not wanting to further his annoyance. “Why are you acting like this? This isn't like you.”

“Do you think I truly care for you? That I could love some dirty knife ear?” He spins from his position behind the desk and rounds on Nethra. He towers over her, and for the first time she does not feel safe looking up at him. His expression is so full of revulsion she takes a step back. She can hardly believe what she hears – was he playing some game? The tender looks he has given her, the nights spent held in his arms; surely they cannot all be lies.

“In what world would I stoop to caring for the likes of you? You are little more than an elven whore who has been placed in a position of power to be used by your betters as a pawn. You deserve no better.” No. He is saying these things. He is saying them with conviction.

Her father was right. She was being used, and is now being discarded.

The pain in her chest is like nothing she has felt before. It threatens to bring her to her knees, to devour her whole. For the third time since she woke in this place her heart breaks. This time there are so few pieces that remain together it is near impossible to imagine it ever being whole in the first place. She bites down hard on her lip to stop tears from forming; she refuses to show weakness.

“I merely needed a distraction from the work I do for the Inquisition. You proved useful for a time. Now that time is ended, so kindly let me get on with my business.”

She stands tall, raises her head evenly and stares into Cullen's eyes. “I should have known.” It is all she says, all she can say. What a child she has been. Had the horrors she witnessed taught her nothing? Every shem is the same. Not a one cares for her people, and the plight they endure. The thought that she loved Cullen, that even still she does, sickens her. She wants to rid her skin of the memory of his touch, rid her mind of the dreams she shared with him. Her expression remains inscrutable, though: it is mask hiding the disgust and heartbreak that mix in her like poisonous fumes.  

“You are no better than any of them; I was a fool to put my trust in you.” There is no emotion to her words. The man standing in front of her is no longer worthy of it. “You say I don't deserve you – but it's you that doesn't deserve me.” Even as she says it she believes it. How did it take her so long to see the truth? It should have have been so clear as to hit her like a fist, and yet she let her hope shadow the hate.

It was hope, she realizes now, that led her into Cullen's arms. Hope that maybe she was wrong about humans, and many other things. Nethra wanted to believe there was good in a person independent of their origin, and of the consensus of the rest of their people. Time and time again, though, it proved untrue. Now, with Cullen scowling at her, nothing but distaste in his eyes, she sets the idea aside. There is a time for hope and bright eyed belief in others, and that time has passed.

Her words have no effect on Cullen. He simply continues to glare at her, lip pulled up in an uncharacteristic sneer. He looks mean and ugly and how could she ever love him?

“If you return to Skyhold things will not be the same,” he threatens, and Nethra knows it is truth he speaks. The fortress was once a safe place, full of life amidst ruin. She learned to lead there, to be brave and strong. She loved within its stone walls laced with frost. How can she face it now, when all the warmth will have faded away? Every face she sees will be a face that reminds her of her naivete, that she is alone due to her own failings. She should never have agreed to lead the Inquisition – it is a human endeavor, and she has no place in it. But can she turn her back on it, now that she is involved? Nethra has always been nothing if not determined to see things through their course. Bitterness roils in her, and she knows she cannot simply leave. She will continue to be the face of the Inquisition, and she will save Thedas in spite.

“I know,” she spits out, refusing now to look away from man in front of her for fear her anger will dissipate. “Do you think just because I can't fuck you whenever I want that my life is ruined?” She can no longer maintain her cold demeanor, nor does she wish to. She is no fragile maiden, and she will not let Cullen make her feel as such. “All you shems think so highly of yourselves, yet you're just as bad as you claim I am. At least I can function without pumping myself full of lyrium. At least I haven't killed innocent people just because they had the gift of magic! Why would I ever want to be with someone as hateful and broken as you?”

Nethra does not wait to see his expression. She turns on her heel and stalks toward the door, righteous anger pouring off of her like ripples of heat. It has been years since she has been this angry – longer than that, even. Perhaps she has never been this angry. It feels like a physical force tearing through her, setting her blood aflame until it boils under her skin. Her heart is shattered, but she coats the shards in steel and fire so it cannot hurt her. It can only burn until nothing is left but twisted metal.

The walls of Skyhold dissolve around her, and soon the entire scene fades out of focus.
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PostSubject: Re: The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me (WIP)   1/3/2015, 21:15

Her eyes are blinded by the reflection of cold light on snow as she stumbles through drifts that now dominate the landscape. Wind whips at her, blowing her cloak out behind her and stinging every inch of exposed skin. She is reminded of her harrowing journey from the ashes of Haven to where what was left of the Inquisition was waiting. The thought only hurts her further, as she recalls that Cullen was among those who found her dragging herself up the mountain. He had gathered her up in his arms and carried her to a warm tent and refused to leave her side until she had recovered enough to fall into a restless sleep. All of that had been a ruse, though. He did it so she would trust him enough to get what he wanted.

In the distance Nethra spots the glow of a fire and the faint silhouette of a tent. If she can reach the safety of its cover she can wait out the storm, however long that may take. She sloughs onward, each step more difficult than the last.

Again she notices the distortion of time in this strange place. What passes for daylight is now disappearing all at once – there is no gradual darkening of the horizon but a single instant where the sickly gray green of the sky turns to black. All the light she can see is coming from the tent which is miraculously now only a few steps away. She does not think to wonder how her destination is within reach when a moment before it was still taunting her on the horizon; by now whatever rules govern this land seem nothing but natural.

The flap of the tent is secured by a knot which her frost numbed fingers have trouble untying. When it finally slips free the interior of the tent revels itself to her in a welcoming rush of warm air. She takes what breath she can into her chilled lungs but it is immediately frozen as she spots the tent's other occupant.  

“T-Taeven?” Her teeth chatter audibly as she speaks but all thoughts of warming herself by the fire have vanished. Given her previous encounters this day it should not surprise her to find another one of the people dear to her heart standing before her, yet it does. Seeing him standing near the flames weakens her spirit and it is all she can do to remain on her feet. She cannot take another onslaught of guilt and shame – not from Taeven. He is watching her, standing tall and lean with the fire casting shadows onto his dark skin and playing in the near black of his eyes.

“Nethra, ma vhenan.” Elven words wash over her stupor and they are familiar even if she has not heard them spoken for many months. He calls to her as if she had never left him, as if time has not ravaged the love they once shared.

Slowly she raises her eyes to his and speaks, this time with more conviction. “You...you're here? It's really you?” Her parents weren’t really her parents, and Keerla was nothing more than a demon...was Taevan another trick?

“Yeah, Neth. I am. I'm here.” The smile he gives her brings so many memories rushing back to her she nearly stumbles, as if physically hit. That smile had been her solace during many hard times. It strikes her deeply that he can still smile at her after all that she has done.

“And, and you're not going to tell me I don't belong or that I...I failed you?” Again, the words her dead parents and the demon spoke ring in her ears.

“Why would I do that? You could never fail me, Neth. Come here, come on.” He opens his arms for her, wide and inviting. Just yesterday she would never have imagined herself wanting to be in those arms again, nor would she even be compelled to think of it. Now, though, she does not resist. The last of her weariness takes over and she falls into Taeven's arms, which wrap around to embrace her.

Being held in his arms is like muscle memory. Nethra moves instinctively until her body is comfortably nestled close and rests her head on his shoulder. Even his smell makes her relax: herbs and roots hidden in his pockets and the faint odor of dirt beneath his finger nails. He feels so real and safe. He is not rejecting her, not using her as Cullen did.

“Oh, Taeven. I'm sorry,” she starts mumbling into the fabric of his shirt, not daring to meet his gaze. “I didn't think joining the Inquisition would ruin everything; I didn't mean to let the clan down. I didn’t-”

“Shh. It's ok, emma lath. You didn't do any of those things.” He whispers soothingly into her ear, his hand rubbing the small of her back in comforting circles.

“I did!” Nethra raises her voice in dismay and all the emotional trauma she has sustained today spikes her words until they tremble. “I let my parents down and its my fault Keerla has that demon inside of her! I should have been there to protect her!” Her hands curl into fists at her side at the mere thought of her failure, but quickly go limp when she finally looks into Taeven's eyes. “And you...I slept with a human. I thought he cared for me me but they were right and I should never have let him fool me like that.”

The truth has defeated her, and repeating it out loud does nothing to ease the pain or humiliation she feels.

“That's all in the past now. It's done and over with and now that you know the truth, we can move on. Together.” Taeven is not denying any of her claims, nor is he telling her that she is over reacting. He merely accepts, for he must know the truth. That he did not toss her aside or look upon her with disgust was incomprehensible. Surely he must understand the terrible things she has done, and yet he speaks to her of moving on.

“We can?”

“Of course.” He kisses the tips of her ears in a way that used to make her heart melt. She is surprised to find it still does, and a twinge of guilt burrows into her stomach as she thinks of Cullen and what this may mean. Then she remembers that no longer matters. She is free to feel whatever she wishes. “Just stay here with me and I'll fix everything. You don't need to worry anymore. You can finally relax. Let me take care of everything.”

Let me take care of everything. Those are Nethra's words, spoken countless times to countless others – family, friends, and strangers alike. She shoulders everything that is asked of her without complaint, and often times takes the responsibility of things that are never intended for her. Most of her life has been one responsibility after another with very few instances of anyone else taking over.

Maybe this is what she needs. She can trust Taeven. He has always been there for her, and even now he is watching her with the eyes of a lover. What's the harm in letting go for once? Everything has been moving so fast since she arrived here; all the people she has come across and the pain they have caused her happened in a whirlwind of motion. Now, here with Taevan, it is still. Nethra cannot shake the dreamlike quality his presence exudes, yet at the same time she cannot say it doesn't feel right.

“...Ok. Yes.” She gives in, hesitant at first but fully committing when she watches Taeven's goofy grin transform his face.

“There's the Neth I love. Why don't you just lay down for a bit? I'll get you a pillow.” There is a bed to her right that she is certain was not there a moment ago. She does not question its appearance, however, and instead stretches out, savoring the soft mattress that feels to be made of feathers and down.

“What? Oh, thank you.” Taeven places a pillow under her head and she is suddenly exhausted again. A content sigh rushes past her lips as she struggles to keep her eyes from closing. This is going to be good for me, she thinks. I deserve a break.

Soon she notices the light in the tent has changed: the fire is now embers and there is a glow soaking through the canvas, as if it is being hit by sunlight. Was it morning already? She can swear she has been laying down for minutes only. Her eyes take in the tent around her and it has changed slightly without her noticing. There is now food laid out on a nearby end table, and soft cushions surrounded by furs. A bottle of wine is open and Taeven is pouring her a glass, holding it out to her from his position near the bed.

Her movements feel slow and surreal as she reaches for the wine, as if she is floating in a pool of something viscous and warm. It does not feel unpleasant, exactly, but neither does it leave her completely settled. When she puts the glass to her lips Taeven is by her side and kissing her neck, the sensation sending welcome chills down her spine. It has been too long since she has felt the slightly minty tingle of his lips, and much too long since she has had time to fully enjoy such small luxuries.

Nethra gives herself over to the immediacy of the moment, letting all her worries and pains fall from her like her discarded armor and it feels good.
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