This is another series of ficlets revolving around the Dragon Age universe, and will mostly involve carry over characters who appeared in Origins and carried over to Awakenings and DA:2. It's a bit of a look at the darker side of the characters, and what might hypothetically make them tick.
Series: Liquid (from minquette 's prompts "liquid edition" for Tuesday promptfest on 15/11/11)
Characters/pairing: Merril, Marethari, other Dalish Elves, vague DA:2 spoilers.
Roughly 2300 words.
It was like fire, tiny points of liquid fire. It seared her face, along her brow, down the ridges of her cheekbones, and along her jaw. Just as she thought she could take no more the pain would stop, a cool cloth would soothe the abused skin for a few precious seconds, and then the fire would begin anew. She felt a rivulet of the thick sticky ink running down her face but she ignored it, even as the liquid itself burned a thin trail down her face like a dark purple tear.
The young elf let her eyes flutter closed and concentrated on keeping her face still, breathing through the pain. This was her real rite of passage, more than the rite she went through when she came of age. This was her time to prove once and for all that she was worthy of being First. That one day she would be Keeper.
She thought back to the day that Marethari had named Merrill her apprentice. The day her training began. How proud she was to read the scrolls and learn her first words of the Old Language. She would be the Keeper of knowledge some day, passing on the wisdom of the Elvhen and in turn teaching her people their history and heritage.
She recited the tales of The People under her breath as the needles pierced her skin over and over. She imagined sitting in front of a ritual fire much like this one, her own First sitting beside her. They would drink the sacred herbs, mixed with warmed Halla milk, and enter the trance. She would recite the tale of the path to find the true self, and show her apprentice how to draw their markings out of the dream to be transcribed on their skin. She would help her apprentice to learn the way to make the sacred ink, to forage for the ingredients and grind the pigments. Under a full moon they would mix the herbs and ground mineral into a paste. She would explain how the dark wine colored syrup would meld into her skin, complementing her existing tattoos and change color over time to an almost metalic copper.
When the time was right, on the next new moon, she would then add the special ingredient to permanently engrave the special markings into their skin. Merril chuckled to herself, she would also no doubt have to endure the torrent of questions about what that special ingredient was, and why it was different to the ink that was used for marking every other elf in the clan. She still didn't know herself what that ingredient was, she would find out in time. It was a mystery, she liked mysteries.
She heard a grunt from the Keeper, and a gentle hand on her face, the cool cloth now running a deep purple from the ink mixed with her blood. She looked up at the keeper, who was smiling serenely down at her. The young elf smiled back, feeling a little light headed.
"Hold still child, the worst is yet to come but the marks are nearing completion" Marethari murmured. "The lines are almost filled, and then you will feel a sharp burn as the lines connect to make the pattern whole."
"Yes Keeper" Merril breathed.
Suddenly she was getting hot. Too hot. Her breath sped up and her pulse started to race. She could feel the viscous liquid pulsing under her skin. It almost felt alive. The needle was cold, yet her face burned. She could feel when the line was completed, connections made, both in this world and in some other. It felt like she was half in the fade and half out. With each prick of the needle, she felt the searing heat grow.
Her breath came in huge gulps, and she felt more of the syrupy liquid running down, leaving smoldering trails across her face outside the lines of the tattoo. She could see it out of the corner of her eye, bubbling like black blood from her skin, tiny wisps of smoke started to rise up from her flesh. She felt a moment of panic and looked up at her Keeper.
Somewhere inside the haze of pain and confusion she noticed a flicker of an expression on Marethari's usually serene face.
Pity... Fear... Resignation?
Then the face was gone, replaced by the blinding conflagration beneath Merril's skin, and a pin point of light pulsing under her eyelids. She was crying and even her tears were stained a pale purplish and slightly metallic. She barely had time to notice the almost bloody film over her vision, before reality shattered.
Marethari mopped up another rivulet of the sacred ink from Merril's face. She had always known that Merril was strong willed and tended to be a little headstrong, but the flash of foretelling that she saw as the first pattern on the young elf's forehead was completed combined with the power that surged through the lines was worrying. She would have to keep an eye on the young Keeper-to-be. It was only a flicker of a possibility, but it was truly frightening. Merril was headstrong to be sure but she always had the good of the Elvhen in mind and heart. The keeper simply could not see how this strong yet innocent young woman could possibly bring about that much destruction to her own people.
The older woman sighed and shook her head continuing her gentle dabbing at the freshly weeping markings on Merril's face. In the flickering firelight the dribbling ink looked like black blood. She shivered. What ever the future held for her young protege, she knew from that moment that the young woman would have a difficult and painful path ahead of her. A path that would eventually take her away from her people.
The blazing searing pain continued, narrowing to a sickening throb that sang through her body in time with the Halla horn needle piercing her skin. Time slowed to a single pin point.
She was standing in a cavern in front of a mirror. It looked vaguely Elven in design, yet it was in a cave deep underground. She wasn't sure how she knew that it was important but it was. She reached out to touch the mirror and a terrible roaring started in her head, like a thousand monsters all shrieking and clawing for her attention at the same time. Suddenly the scene washed out to black, as if bloody purple rivers were running in front of her eyes. She blinked and tried not to panic and just before her vision was completely covered, she saw a washed out reflection in the mirror. An elderly woman looked back at her, she was obviously one of The People, but her clothes were strange, she was wearing mage robes of a similar style to the ones in some of Marethari's ancient books. They had not been worn for more than an Age. She reached out to Merril, her eyes pleading.
The world disappeared and she was blind, deaf and numb. Then the pain flared white hot again.
Merril gasped, trying to get her barings in the suddenly painfully bright open air. She was in the Dalish camp, but people were running everywhere. The clan was on the move, packing belongings, and loading tents and provisions onto wagons and carts. She looked across to the Keepers tent and saw Marethari and... herself... in a heated discussion. Trance-like, she walked over to the pair, stopping just a few feet away. The Keeper looked frustrated, worried... Angry? Marethari was never angry. She had never said a heated word in all the time she had known the woman. She had been stern, yes, but the older woman's voice now verged on yelling.
"Child, you know that this thing is not safe! It killed Tamlen, and it almost killed Narla. We lost her to the Grey because of that Wolf ridden mirror, and I would ask you to consider the good of your people before you bring such an object into our midst." Marethari frowned at the other Merril, who wore a look of deep frustration and sorrow on her face.
"Keeper, how can you ask me to leave it behind? Is it not the job of the keeper to preserve the history and heritage of Elvenahn? This is the most important relic of our people to be discovered in an Age! It is our legacy from the time BEFORE the Dalish! A time when we were free..." the young woman sighed and chewed her bottom lip, trying to figure out how to make her mentor see reason.
"Merril, you cared for Tamlen. I know you did. How can you risk subjecting more of our people to his fate? The loss of so many of our clan will be felt for generations, all because of this, this thing. We do not even know for a certainty that it was crafted by Elven hands. I cannot let you do this. Let it go, child." Marethari started to turn towards her tent.
"You are making a mistake. Keeper!" Merril's voice shook with anger, as she glared at her mentor.
Marethari turned back to Merril and shook her head, with a sad look on her face.
"I can see that I can not change your mind, child. Do as you will." She pinned the younger elf with an unfathomable look. "But heed my words Merril. Legacy of The People or not, no good will come of this. If you truly wish to go down this path I cannot stop you, but neither will I help you. Bring it if you must, but do not bring it inside the camp."
Merril missed the look of fear and pity on her mentor's face as she watched her other self clap her hands in glee and skip out of Keepers camp to her own tent.
Agony washed over her again and thick bloody rivulets ran across her vision.
She blinked, and looked around. She was standing in a circle of stones with an alter at the far side. A small path led away behind her disappearing into a cave in the rock face. She turned back to the alter, feeling strangely disconnected and weightless. There was a group of people in front of her, one of whom was herself. She was talking to a woman with hair the color of clouds on a sunny day and eyes like the sea during a storm. There were others with her. A blonde man who looked to be a mage with a world of sorrow in his honey colored eyes, and a hansom dwarf with a beautiful crossbow cradled in his arms like a babe.
Merrill walked forward and watched the scene unfold in a series of flashes as if the sky was being streaked by lightning, even though there was not a cloud in sight. A pendant was put on the alter. A blinding flash of light erupted from the bauble. A great gust of wind hit her. A glimpse of a huge dragon. Snatches of conversation. The other Merril on her knees, offering obeisance to a grey haired woman with horns made of hair.
Pain flared in her head again, and red oozed over her eyes burning and itching as it trailed it's way down her face. She heard a woman's' voice echoing in the back of her mind.
"...watch for that moment, and when it comes... Do not hesitate to leap."
The pain ebbed faster this time, and Merrill felt herself kneel down. She looked up and saw a large mirror in front of her, adorned in beautiful molding and scrollwork. The mirror was dark, barely reflecting anything. She held the Arulin'holm in one hand and a shard of dark polished metal in the other. She looked back at the mirror and saw that a small piece was missing from the top. She placed the missing piece into the gap and used the tool to fix it in and remove the cracks. The strange dark material finally melded into place and she felt strangely serene.
The pain was gone from her face and she was at peace. She closed her eyes filled with the knowledge that she had saved a piece of her peoples heritage. What was once lost to the dusts of time was now whole again and in the hands of it's rightful guardian. She had shed blood for this, defied the Keeper for this, but it was worth it. The history of her people was worth any pain she would endure. This was her duty, to guard the history of the Elvhen at all costs. She closed her eyes, taking a great lungfull of air. She was at peace.
She smiled, breathing in the clean air of the forest. As she slowly opened her eyes she smiled. Looking up at Marethari her smile stretched into an elated grin. She had had a vision. She was truly meant to be Keeper some day. She couldn't remember most of it, but she remembered the way it felt to guard the sacred knowledge and history of her clan. She made a silent vow as she took her mentors hand in hers.
She would do all in her power to ensure that no lore or artifact or knowledge would ever again be lost to her people. She was the First, and some day she would be the Keeper.
In a small corner of the Fade, Pride smiled. He flitted around the manifestation of the strange object that sat at the back of a forgotten cavern near the camp of The People. The little dark haired one wasn't quite a Dreamer, but she would do. Her power was strong for him to reach her from here, bound as he was to this strange device. The ritual of the Ink had given her the boost of power from the fade that let him touch her mind. She was more than herself now, and how sweet she tasted. It had been an age since he was able to taste the heady buzz of power that heralded a magic wielder from the other side, but once he had bathed in it. Oh it was a delicious feeling. He was alive again, and this little creature would free him. He just needed to... nudge... mold... What was the phrase he had heard from the other side so long ago? "Nurture the seed".
Pride was old. He had waited here an age. Pride may enjoy instant gratification, but he could be patient. Oh yes, for this one, he would wait.
A/N: I've made a few assumptions about the strength of the link between the Demon in the artifact on Sunder Mount and it's connection to the Eluvian. I don't think I'm too far off the mark, but I did use artistic liscence.
As always, enjoy and remember... Constructive comments are like a lyruim potion to a depleted mage. Well, they may not let me thrown fire balls, but they will make me dance like a mad thing :D