From the Ashes We Rise

This is a Dragon Age: Origins fanfic. Warden Amell tries to rebuild her life at the Tower after Alistair got married. Main characters in this story are the mage origin warden, Alistair and Cullen. Rating M for language and sexual content. This is my first big fic so all constructive criticism is welcome because I am planning on doing a rewrite. Dragon Age belongs to Bioware, the artwork I use as a preview is not mine either but I would love to know who the artist is.

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8. For better or worse

It went silent again in the library. It had been a different kind of silence than before, when the room was filled with students. There used to be notes being passed around, the sound of several books being read at once, and muffled conversations with the occasional silent smile. The library was the heart of the apprentice quarters.

Apart from Jaleth, Helena, dog and Cullen, only Dagna was there, frantically searching for something in what looked like one of Brother Genitivi's books, not minding her surroundings at all. The Dwarf was a great asset to the Circle, he had to admit, but things were getting a bit ridiculous around here.

The presence of a dwarf was not the only thing that had changed since the uprising. Most of the sleeping quarters will still empty. Almost all the under aged students were killed during the first wave, too young to cast spells, too inexperienced to fight off demons.

Cullen saw them getting slaughtered like pigs. They never stood a chance.

He tried not remembering, some things were better left forgotten. But he heard them in his sleep, reliving the day as vividly as though it was real.

He had been on duty in the library when the screaming started, it was a single scream which echoed through the corridor, followed by a silence. He instinctively went for his sword, commanding Revan to stay back and watch the children while he would find out what was happening. He had not seen Revan until Jaleth and her companions had freed him from his cage, face down in a pool of his own blood.

Cullen had cursed himself a lot ever since that day. If he had done things differently, if he had done things faster, he wondered how many more he would have been able to safe. The ones that were left standing at the end were so few that they could hardly be called a Circle any more.

He glanced at Jaleth. She was resting her head in her hand, wetting her lips with her tongue and she... Maker forgive him. His sins knew no boundaries today, he had had at least five inappropriate thoughts in a row when Jaleth had walked in with her apprentice that afternoon.

Cullen sighed, guarding her was a curse and a blessing at the same time. He had to remain vigilant, but these two made it very hard for him to do so. The little one reminded him of Jaleth when she just got to the Tower, before she got so frustrated about pretty much everything.

They were kind of entertaining. He thanked the Maker they made Templars wear these heavy helmets when they were on guard duty, so at least the other Templars would not catch him smiling to himself now and then.

He felt like a voyeur, listening on them but there was not much else to do and Helena kept probing Jaleth for information.

She was a curious one, always sticking her nose in matters which did not concern her. This trait of hers had gotten her into trouble more times then he could count, and she hadn't even been at the Tower that long.

Obviously Jaleth was in no mood to entertain her theories about the king. She even seemed a bit agitated. And she kept throwing looks his way, like it was his fault the king thing didn't work out. What was she thinking in the first place? She was a mage, nothing could change that, not even titles and riches. It had been doomed from the beginning.

That hadn't exactly stopped him either.

It had been strange hearing her admit her affair with the King. Everyone had known the King and the Hero had been involved in activities that went beyond the call of duty and did not concern strategy planning or battlefields, but to hear her admit it was something else.

They should have smacked the King around a bit more during his chantry training.

He remembered seeing them together once, after they had released Cullen from Uldred's cage. There had been something in the way he had looked at her when she talked to Cullen about Uldred, something in the way his hand brushed hers when he passed her, when he comforted her without any one else noticing.

But he had noticed. He would have been an ill trained Templar if he hadn't.

His suspicions were only confirmed when he walked in on them embracing behind a pillar in a dark corner, after they released him and had talked about Greagoir about help against the Blight. He couldn't really blame the guy. She had reached her full potential on the battlefield, her hair seemed to shine even harder than before, her eyes seemed to be more fierce. She was utterly gorgeous even when she was dripping with Darkspawn gore. She was...

Since when did he believe it was okay to think like this again?

It wasn't fair. Who was this half baked Templar that had swept her away from him anyway? He'd only known her for six months tops. Cullen had known her ever since they were kids together. He had watched her so many times, late at night when she was way past her curfew, when he would let her remain exactly where she was, without her knowing he was right there watching, always confused, always ready, sometimes a bit too ready.

Cullen knew everything there was to know about her. He about her bad habits which he would always soften a little in his reports, he studied her gestures which were a bit clumsy sometimes. He loved the way she smelled, the way she smiled, the way she bit her lip when she read something that excited her. He knew about the trashy novels she always hid in her studying books.

She had forgotten one in the library once, an adventure tale with a young heroine in the lead. She had forgotten about it when Greagoir had barged in looking for Cullen, surprised to find her there while all the others were already in bed. Cullen had half expected her to rush out, but she didn't. She just frowned, rose to her feet and passed them in silence.

She had looked so very much in control. Unlike him, he was a total and utter idiot, stuttering all over the place, blushing like a son of a bitch, waking from embarrassing dreams.

He remembered the speech the Knight-Commander had given him that night about duty and the Maker. He remembered the disappointed look in Greagoir's eyes. He remembered the shame, the feeling he had failed, like he had put her wants in front of everything else. Greagoir was the closest thing he ever had to a father, and he had let him down. From that point on he would do everything in his power to never let that happen again. He would avoid her whenever he had the chance, he swapped his duties, walked graveyard shifts, everything to get away from her.

He had been a young fool back then and he had overcome his infatuation with her, a mage of all things.

But he wasn't so sure now, he wasn't able to swap his shifts for they were heavily undermanned. So he watched her read, heard her speak, saw her smile...she did have the prettiest smile...and things he considered long lost were coming back to him, choking the life out of him with such force that he actually considered leaving Ferelden to serve the Chantry elsewhere.

And then she mentioned the king and he noticed Devon was listening in as well.

"I knew mages were naive things," Devon said in a low voice, "but really."

"Excuse me?" Cullen answered.

"The king used her as a bed warmer and she speaks of love. She is a mage for Andraste's sake. Like any man could lo.."

Cullen cleared his throat before the younger Templar could finish his sentence.

"It's not very polite to listen in on conversations."

"Well isn't that what we're here for Ser? To prevent them from spreading radical ideas amongst the pupils and such?"

"It would take one very stupid mage to do so with two Templars breathing down her neck."

Devon's cheeks turned a crimson red inside his helmet as he mumbled a soft apology.

Helena was silent, for now, but there was something in the way she was moving her foot that made Cullen prepare for worse. Jaleth was still feeling uneasy, he could feel her being upset. And an upset mage was a dangerous mage.

He watched her light her hands on fire. It was a beautiful sight, the light of the flame reflected in her eyes.

Cullen got pulled back to reality when Carroll tumbled in. The lad seemed to be sweating like a pig.

"Ser Cullen, the knight-commander wants you at his office this instant." Carroll gasped. He looked like he had ran all the way up there. The Knight-Commander had that effect on most of the recruits.

Before Cullen could ask what the fuss was all about the young man turned toward Jaleth.

"You too miss."

"What on earth for?" she asked, but changed her mind when she saw the look on his face.

"Fine Carroll, I will go."

She apologized to Helena, got up and watched Cullen tick his finger against his chin as they walked out. Jaleth smiled in private when Carroll burned up and wiped the remains of a chocolate cookie of his chin.

***

"Darkspawn, Sir?"

Cullen looked at Greagoir who was signing some papers at his desk. The old man was just sitting there, continuing his work while he gave Cullen and Jaleth their assignment. He seemed to be getting more distant by the hour.

"We don't know, but it seems most likely."

He rearranged a pile of papers like he hadn't just informed them about the unit of new recruits which had disappeared, like the unit before that one. He looked tired, like the days were too short and his problems kept piling themselves up in front of him, until they swallowed him whole. Cullen did not want to be in his shoes right now, or ever really.

"That is why I will send you to investigate."

"Sir?"

"Miss Amell will go as well."

Cullen looked at Jaleth, who had been awfully quiet the entire conversation. She had been watching Greagoir the entire time, observing him, like he was some kind of rare animal she had spotted in the wild and needed to catch in order to preserve his species.

"Yes, I don't like it either but Irving insists on sending a mage. Since she had dealings with Darkspawn before, she would be the logical choice. Unless you object of course."

Greagoir looked up from his paperwork and Cullen shook his head. He couldn't help but feeling he was being tested.

"Good."

"You two do realize I am actually in the room right?" Jaleth asked.

Both men continued to ignore her, each for their own reasons.

"If you think it is best, Sir," Cullen mumbled.

The room went silent.

"Well off you go," Greagoir said, waving a hand at the door.

Cullen waited for Jaleth to make a move, gesturing a 'ladies first' movement and walking out behind her. She gave him a dirty look as she started heading for the exit.

They did not speak until later that night, when Cullen pulled out his sword as Jaleth was about to release a stone fist in his direction.

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