Chapter 3 – Divine Providence

Picture, if you will, an ornate bed that blatantly abuses your eyes with its aura of luxury. Its mere existence is an act of brutal violence upon the very concept of discomfort. A thing so infuriatingly Orlesian in its body and spirit that anyone who did not know who regularly slept upon it would be instantly obliged to render judgement upon the extravagant soul who had elected to purchase the offending item. On this bed, lay with her face up, an elf woman whose bright red hair pierced your eyes just as much as the white bed sheet when deflecting sunlight. Upon closer inspection, one would notice that while her frame was definitely smaller and appeared more delicate than the average human, it was patterned with well toned muscles that also somehow magically increased the elegance of her body. Her green pupils swat to and fro as she skims through a book she holds in her one free hand. Her other limbs appear to be restrained by ribbons attached to their respective corners of the bed. One need not do a detailed inspection to realize our elf wore only two pieces of apparel. Two trinkets. A ring of silver infused with lyrium that gave off an ever so slight whisper of magic. Those who are familiar with the Circles of Magi will recognize this as the token given to one who has successfully passed the Harrowing and thus improved their status from Apprentice to Mage. It would be safe to assume that while the ring does not grant much authority or power, it does hold great sentimental value to its bearer. The second trinket is an amulet. It appears to contain a tiny amount of mysterious blood within it. Any Grey Warden would immediately recognize it. It is an amulet that contains a drop of the darkspawn blood mixture consumed by Warden recruits during their Joining. The amulet is given to every recruit who survives the ritual, to serve as a constant reminder of their eternal vigilance against the darkspawn hordes. So, to sum up all the information we have learned about our elf, she is a mage who was most likely recruited into the Grey Wardens from a Circle. Despite being a mage, her body is curiously well built, which may be the result of a vast amount of time spent in battle. She is currently wearing nothing apart from the two mentioned trinkets and is tied to a bed that does not belong to her. Judging by her nonchalant behavior, it would be safe to assume that she is in agreement with the situation she is in and is awaiting her lover.

A young elf woman wearing a maid’s clothing walks into the scene. She takes care not to let her gaze turn in the general direction of the bed. She places a plate containing various assortments of sweets on the table nearby. “Her Holiness sends her apologies, Your Worship.” the maid says calmly. A disappointed sigh escapes our Warden Mage. She keeps the book aside and reaches for her bindings, carefully undoing them. The maid hands her a towel. “When I told Leliana she could tie me up and do whatever she wanted, this is NOT what I meant…” she says as she wraps herself and stands up. “You could at least offer me a nice egg in these trying times, Kana.” she says to the maid, who barely registers her words. “Egg? Uh! P-pardon me your worship! Should I arrange for some eggs?! Oh… your worship was making a joke.” The Grey Warden giggled and patted her on the back. “Relax, my dear. No one is going to behead you.” Kana winced. That was a reference to the first day. It brought back memories both happy and traumatic. When Kana was told that Divine Victoria had chosen her to be the assigned maid for THE Hero of Ferelden, Slayer of the Archdemon, Vanquisher of the Blight, Commander of the Grey Wardens, Founder of the Silverite Order of Vigil’s Keep, Ruler of the Arling of Amaranthine and overall best elf girl in Ferelden, her pride was immeasurable. She had squealed at the agent who delivered her the statement. She was also given detailed instructions regarding modifications to her uniform. “Although the Chantry currently openly acknowledges and supports the relationship between her and the Hero of Ferelden, Her Holiness still wishes to maintain security protocols. As such, every visit by the Warden Commander will be maintained a secret. Due to this reason, the Chantry will not cover the cost of the modifications to your uniform. You shall have to use your monthly wages.” Kana nodded with a wide smile and gleam in her eyes that bordered on mania. “On an unrelated note…” said the agent, “The records show that you were not paid your full wage last month. The balance for that shall be handed to you today, along with a bonus, for your trouble. A total of 20 sovereigns.” Kana frowned, look down at her instructions, saw the total cost mentioned at the bottom and nodded again.

Her preparations complete, Kana meditated on the Warden Commander as she waited for her to arrive. A Circle mage who was recruited by the previous Warden Commander, she traveled all over Ferelden, united the various factions bound by ancient treaties to stand against the Fifth Blight and finally slew the Archdemon at Denerim. The world, it seems, has a terrible hobby of being the most divided exactly when it is required to be the most united to face catastrophe. In such times, it fell to people like the Warden Commander to slap everyone awake and bring them together. To an elf living in Orlais, the only other person in recent history who was that important was the Herald of Andraste. A Dalish mage who had lead the Inquisition to victory against an ancient Tevinter Magister and then disbanded them just as suddenly during the Exalted Council. Not to mention the several whispers in the shadows of the Winter Palace that the assassination of Empress Celene was something that the Inquisitor chose not to prevent. The current atmosphere in Orlesian politics, the placement of Gaspard as a puppet Emperor with the true power in the hands of an elf, Briala. All of this was possible because of the way the Inquisitor played her part in the Game during her brief visit to the Winter Palace of Halamshiral during the peace talks. And then there was the one who succeeded Divine Justinia on the Sunburst Throne. Divine Victoria knew exactly how, when and where to strike those who claimed to oppose her if she ever decided to erase them from existence… But she chose not to. Her many years as a bard, a companion of the Warden Commander, the Left Hand of Divine Justinia and later, the Spymaster of the Inquisition had given her an incredibly vast amount of experience with the work done behind the shadows. With a simple nod, she could drown the Grand Cathedral in an ocean of blood. But everytime she was given an excuse to do so, she consciously chose not to. Her radical changes to the Chantry had earned her many enemies. Within a short time, she had officially dissolved all Circles of Magi, given the mages their freedom, declared the Chantry open to all races and decreed that all members of Chantry hierarchy would be allowed to have relationships with anyone. And when those of orthodox disposition answered with threats and assassination contracts, she simply held fast and weathered their attempts, as if to prove them futile and impotent. And that only served to unnerve everyone. This was the magnitude of her faith. Perhaps the safer option would have been to kill everyone who had dared wish harm upon her. As the leader of the “faithful masses”, she was well within her rights to do so. But she did not. And that only made her enemies look that much more like petulant children. But the end result of all this was Kana, an orphaned elf, being allowed to serve as a maid at the Grand Cathedral and actually being paid a fair wage. Everyone conjures gratitude in their hearts when they think of the Hero of Ferelden striking the killing blow against the Archdemon or the Herald of Andraste defeating Corypheus but Kana thought it was even more wonderful how the consequences of their actions trickled down to the little people and made their lives better as well.

With an orderly clank of metal on tiles, the hero walked into the scene. Her helm was on. Her sword and shield were both resting on her back. Kana noticed a strange blue glow from the sword. Strange patterns of blue energy were inscribed on it. The metal it was made of was hypnotic to look at. It felt like something that didn’t belong to this world. Kana was so star-struck that she did not notice the hero having come quite close to her. The grey warden looked to her left and right, as if checking if the coast was clear. She was quickly satisfied that no one else was there. She took off her helm and looked at the maid with a smile. “Greetings. I am Warden Commander Athewen Surana. You must be Kana.” she said. Kana’s body sprung into action. She bowed far too quickly and blurted out, “Welcome to your room at the Grand Cathedral, You Worship! I am the maid assigned to you. Please let me know if there’s anything you need.” When she lifted her head, Athewen was giving her a puzzled look. Her heart sank. “M-my apologies if I have said or done anything untoward, Your Worship!” she said. A hand landed softly on her head. “Calm down, girl. I’m not going to eat you up, you know.” Athewen said with a grin, “Now, come. Let’s see what the bedroom looks like. I’m excited to see what Leliana has done to this place. I hope she didn’t go overboard with the shoes.” Kana was thrown completely off balance. This was the great hero who had defeated the fearsome Archdemon and saved the whole of Ferelden. Here she was, making jokes about shoes. More importantly, she had just referred to Divine Victoria by her common name instead of her Divine name. “A-ah. Yes, Your Worship! The bedroom is right this way, Your Worship!” was all she could manage to say as she lead Athewen to the room. “Oh my.” Athewen said when she looked at the bed, “Now, that is something. Is that always here?” Kana shook her head and replied, “It appears Her Holiness had it shifted from her room to yours in preparation for your visit, Your Worship.” Athewen nodded and took off her weapons and held them out to Kana, who looked at them with great curiosity as she held them. “Hmmm… she certainly knows how to hold a sword… but her way of holding the shield is a bit off…” Athewen mumbled to herself, “No, perhaps that’s just not her style…” Kana was staring at the sword. “Not your first time holding a sword?” Athewen asked. “Ah, I am just a maid, Your Worship.” Kana replied, “Might I bring you some fruit-” her reply was interrupted by a fist hurtling towards her. Metal clashed with metal as she instinctively blocked it with the weapons in her hand.

“The way you blocked with the shield… That’s not a shield technique. I guess that’s my fault for giving you a shield.” Athewen spoke, pulling her arm back, “You’re a dual wielder, aren’t you?” Kana nodded. “Do you know why Leliana chose you to be my maid, Kana? She knows you sneak off from your duties and watch the recruits train whenever you can. And she knows you sneak into the training grounds at night and practice on the dummies.” Kana’s face turned red. This was exactly the reason why everyone was terrified of Divine Victoria. No secret was too small for her. It was frightening just how much she knew about everyone under her gaze. “I’m not really a swordsman myself.” Athewen continued, “My actual skill with the sword and shield is laughably low.” Kana looked at her with surprise written all over her face. “Ah, but that’s a story for another time. For now, can you check if Leliana is free?” Kana bowed and left the room. She walked several steps away from the door and realized she hadn’t returned the sword and shield. “Someone please kill me right now.” she said as she turned around and went to open the door of the bedroom. When she pushed it open, all the blood in her body rushed into her face. She quickly shut her eyes and dropped to her knees. “M-My deepest apologies for this disrespect, Your Worship!” she cried, “P-please don’t have me beheaded!” Athewen grabbed a bedsheet and covered herself. “Oh Maker, I wanted to surprise Leliana but I ended up scaring you instead.” Athewen said covering her face with a palm, “Hey. Hey, Kana. Listen to me. Stop crying and listen. Maker, stop crying, girl! You’re not at fault. I should be apologizing to you! Now, stop crying and look at me. Nobody is going to behead you. I’m sorry. Oh, don’t worry about the weapons. Here, hand them to me, I’ll keep them aside. Have a glass of water. Calm down.”

That was how her first day with the Hero of Ferelden had gone. “Pardon my asking such a personal question, Your Worship.” she attempted to change the topic of the conversation, “But why do you refer to Her Holiness by her common name instead of her Divine Name?” Athewen tilted her head. “Leliana? Because we prefer it that way. We’re both carriers of such heavy titles all the time. It’s nice to be just Athewen and just Leliana when we’re together. The only time I called her Divine Victoria when I’m alone with her is when she’s got three fingers in me.” Kana’s face turned red. Athewen made an apologetic expression. “If such talk makes you uncomfortable, I promise to be more wholesome around you. Don’t hesitate to tell me.” she said, almost bowing. Kana smiled sheepishly and said, “No, Your Worship! I am not uncomfortable!” Athewen narrowed her eyes. “Well, if you say so… But I want my host to be happy. So, if I cross any lines, you must tell me. That is an order.”

“Yes, Your Worship!”

“Good. Now, tell me more about yourself. I’ve never had the time to speak to you properly before. How goes your… training? Do you wish to join the army? Or become a mercenary?”

“I… Ever since I heard tales of you, I wanted to become a Grey Warden.”

“I see… I would offer to recruit you, but I do not think that would be the best course of action.”

“I am not good enough. I understand.”

“No. You don’t understand. Joining the Grey Wardens… it’s… If times were different, if there was a Blight, I would have recruited you. But only because I would have been desperate for new recruits. It is an honor to join us, to be sure. But it is also a terrible sacrifice. One I would not demand of you.”

“I… I want to be like you. An inspiration for both mages and elves everywhere. It is a foolish dream. I could never be as great as you.”

“I am honored to hear that. But you can do great things even without being a Grey Warden. I am sure Leliana kept you around for so long because she plans to have you join her agents.”

“Actually… I was offered a chance to join her agents. I… turned it down. Working in the shadows and striking from behind… I am sure any action taken in the name of the Divine is sure to be work of the utmost importance… But I was not comfortable with it.”

“I see… The heat of the battle is what you prefer?”

“Yes. Even though I’ve never actually been in a proper fight, I know I want to fight in the front lines.”

“Do you want to experience a fight? I can help you with that.”

“Your Worship?”

“Come. Let’s head to the training grounds. I need to see if my skills have improved too.”

“Y-you want to fight me?!”

“Don’t worry, Kana! I’ll hold back. No magic. I just want to see how I hold up against someone who has trained. And don’t worry about hurting me. I can completely heal from any hit that doesn’t outright knock me out or kill me.”

“Forgive me, Your Worship! I don’t think-”

“Oh, come on! Don’t you wanna see where you truly belong? This will be a good opportunity for you to experience a proper fight.”

“……. As you command, Your Worship.”

“That’s the spirit!”

Kana took off her maid’s clothing to reveal the “modifications” underneath. Pitch black leather armor that sleekly covered her body and two hilts hanging from the side. She reached for the hilts and pulled them out. The moment she held them in position, magic shot out of them. One, a blade of flame. The other, a blade of lightning. Athewen widened her eyes. “High Dragon Hide… The highest quality there is for light armor.” she thought as she put on her helm, “And those swords… Leliana invested this much in her? Oh boy… I can’t take this lightly, now.” She tried to remember the countless times she had fought beside those of her companions who had mastered the use of swords and shields.They had this particular stance called the Shield Wall. Back then, she did not have any skill with actual sword and shield techniques. But the years after the end of the Fifth Blight had given her plenty of time to actually train. This was a good time to see if she had picked up anything. She held her shield up in front of her and positioned her sword according to what she recalled. In her past battles, she had always relied on her magic to mitigate the damage caused by enemy attacks. Now, with nothing but a shield between her and her enemy, she felt a slight tinge of vulnerability. Not wishing to give Kana any more time to prepare, she rushed forward, intending to perform a shield bash. And then, the person in front of her eyes disappeared. There was no Kana. It was any entirely different person. Her bash was evaded with an effortless sidestep. “No good.” Athewen thought, “Alistair, Justice, or Loghain would have definitely landed that bash. I’m far behind them.” Not wishing to allow her opponent to being a counter, Athewen swung her sword. Kana blocked it with her lightning sword without even looking at its path and jumped back.

“Clever girl… She’s doing the obvious thing… Getting me to wear myself out because I’m wearing massive armor.” Athewen thought as she rushed her opponent again, intending to swing her sword down on her with all her might. Kana blocked her sword with her flaming sword. Then, in a movement that almost looked like a dance-step, quickly circled around to her back and pierced her in the back. A gasp escaped Athewen as she felt the sharp pain of the blade of lightning impale her from behind. “Oh! I’m so sorry, Your Worship! Are you alright?!” Kana shouted as she pulled her blade back and moved to hold Athewen. To her surprise, her concern was unnecessary. “I told you, don’t worry about hurting me. Ah, that packed quite a sting. That blade ignores all armor and goes straight for the main body. A trained warrior could still block or evade it but I’m a different story. Even with your current level of skill, you could definitely do a lot of damage to me with it if I don’t use magic.” Athewen said, touching her armor in the place where the blade’s tip had exited, “Okay, Kana. I’ve decided. When Leliana returns, we’re going to get you some proper training. Even if you don’t have a solid idea of where you want to go, it would be a travesty to let you waste your potential.” Kana bowed and was about to thank her when she saw a slight stagger in her step. “Your Worship!” she said as she rushed forward. Athewen held up her hand and stopped her. “Calm down. You just hit me in a vital spot with that blade, that’s all. It wouldn’t have been possible with a normal sword but your stupid sword completely ignores armor. But as far as injuries go, I’ve had far worse. This is nothing I can’t handle.” As she said that, she cast two spells on herself. In a few seconds, her breathing stabilized and she stood smiling as if nothing had happened.

“Okay. Now, let’s try again.” Athewen said, putting her helm on again, “It looks like I could use a lot more practice-” her words were cut off by a sudden burst of energy behind her. A rift opened up at the centre of the burst. Athewen instinctively activated the one magic that she always activated in battle. Kana widened her eyes. The hero’s body- armor, weapons and all- began to shimmer and glow. Soon, she could see right through the glowing white form. Both of them readied their weapons and waited. Nothing happened. The rift stayed open. Nothing exited it. Heavy footsteps were heard in the distance. Soon, the place was filled with guards. Athewen deactivated her magic and turned around. Kana immediately knelt. Divine Victoria walked towards them. Athewen knelt as well. As soon as the Divine neared them, the rift reacted. It projected images of the Nightmare demon and its interactions with Hawke. “Who is that woman in the vision?” Kana whispered, “What does she have to do with this rift? And… is that a demon she’s fighting?” The projections stopped. Athewen stood and crossed her arms. “As Warden Commander, I have a responsibility to the Grey Wardens. I cannot simply rush off into matters unrelated to Darkspawn.” she said, “However, if it is a request from the Divine, my compliance will be more than acceptable. You have but to ask me… Your Holiness.” The Divine’s face sank and she looked away. “Absolutely not. You are not going in there alone.” she spoke with a voice heavy with concern, “But I cannot simply abandon Hawke to her fate. Were things different, I would have accompanied you in there. But-”

“Yes, yes. No need to explain. Thedas already lost one Divine to rift-related shenanigans. If that happened a second time, the Chantry would crumble like a house of cards. But you must send me in, Your Holiness.”

“I do not intend to abandon Hawke. We owe her that much. But we must wait until we can mount a proper rescue mission. If Cassandra was here, I could have sent her with you.The Herald-”

“Is too far away. Time is precious. Do contact her. But do not hold me here until she can reach us. Besides, I won’t be going alone. Kana here is pretty good. She will be coming with me.”

“W-what?! I-I mean! I would be honored to accompany the Warden Commander, Your Holiness!”

“Very well… Then, as Divine, this is my request to you. Warden Commander. Kana. Please enter the Fade and rescue the Champion of Kirkwall.”

Athewen and Kana walked into the rift. It did not close. The Divine sighed. She wrote messages on pieces of paper and stretched her arm out. Two ravens flew down from the dark of the night and perched on it. She attached her messages to them and released them back into the darkness. “Stay safe, my love” she said as she faced the rift, “I shall provide you with more help as soon as I am able.” She then turned to a cleric behind her. “Contact the College of Enchanters. We must know how long this rift will stay open and our alternative options in the event that it closes. Keep watch over the rift at all times. Lock down the training grounds.” Let us leave the Divine to give her commands and turn our attention to the Fade. Athewen and Kana are crouching behind a large rock. In the distance, they can see the giant, grotesque form of the Nightmare demon. “Now, listen to me carefully, Kana.” Athewen instructed, “I’ll be honest with you. In the upcoming battle, you will be useless on the front lines. You simply do not have the skill and experience yet. Stay hidden and watch the battle. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. The Fade is treacherous in how it can change at any given moment. If you slip up even once, that will be the end. So, do not attract attention to yourself. But you are not without purpose. Like I said, watch the battle. You might notice something I don’t. Now, I’m going to show you what an actual battle is like. Our target is that huge demon there. I’m going to show you one of my favorite tricks when dealing with opponents who have a large amount of mana. There is a spell in the School of Spirit called Mana Clash. I expend my own mana in a wave-like attack and target a large area, clashing with every other source of mana in that area. Every being that holds mana will find their mana being instantly depleted and used as fuel to damage them. The more mana the target has, the more damage is dealt. I always loved using it on large groups of enemy magic users. They’d usually drop like flies. If all goes well, I will able to deal massive damage to that demon even before our battle officially begins. Ready? Here we go!”

Next chapter (Party Time)

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