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SHORT STORY: Shara - Indistinguishable From Magic
...any sufficiently advanced technology...
sightsbeyond
sightsbeyond
SHORT STORY: Shara
Intending to rewrite this at some point and pull the two main characters and their story out of this realm. Yes, it's fanfiction... OCs written into David Gaider's gorgeous Dragon Age universe. Locations, society and characters belong to DG and Bioware, natch'.


So much now she could not remember, lost beneath the pain, the hunger. But still the whisper echoed on the edge of hearing, every surface seeming to reflect the light of his eyes.

Do this… Do this for me.

Dimly she knew that it was madness, but he burned like a beacon, this place, her life, her screams all for him. Perhaps madness was all that she had left.

Never would she forget the day that she met Galen Varyth.

She had been a scribe – yes, that was the word. A small thing, a nobody, toiling even then amongst the Memories, days passing slow and blurred between the shelves of the Shaperate. Hers had not been a life for recording, though it would be there, of course, small and forgotten and unread. No, it was for others to perform great deeds. She was merely to watch, to write.

Quiet that day had been, the shouts by the door drawing her eyes from a tome on the Grey Wardens of the second blight. It had not been her assignment and she had flushed as she pushed it aside, hiding it beneath a stack of crumbling trade manifests. But the Shaper was not looking her way. Every eye was turned to the dwarf now making his way up the central aisle.

“Where are they?”

“My Lord…” Shaper Czibor hurried along at his side. Never had she seen him harried, not by anyone. The whispers that followed the pair were angry, offended, but she could not bring herself to join them.

She knew the stranger’s face, of course; there were few who did not. Golden-haired and long and smooth of beard, the only son of House Varyth was something of a favorite amongst the women of Orzammar. Yet he never seemed to pay them any mind, preferring to spend his time in solitude, appearing only occasionally to speak in favor of reclaiming the lost thaigs. His speeches were legendary in their vehemence, but still the assembly had not been swayed.

House Varyth had once been one of the wealthiest in the empire but recent years had been less kind, their influence eroded along with their numbers. Galen’s father had had a hand in the surface trade, but the surfacer’s restrictions on Lyrium had dried their wealth to the trickle. Nor did he seem to support his son’s aspirations in the Deep, keeping silent whenever the debate was raised.

But silent he would remain, his death recorded not two days past. His wife had returned to the Stone years ago, only Galen and a handful of lesser cousins remaining of his once-proud house.

She had read their histories, though she could not rightly say why. She had been… curious, she supposed. Watching him now, she felt her cheeks flare anew.

“Shara!”

Her eyes snapped up. They had paused at her row, she realized. Stone! Had they seen her gawking, noticed how quickly she looked away?

“The histories of House Varyth? You have read them, haven’t you?” There was concern behind the Shaper’s eyes.

“I… yes… I…” She must look positively addled.

Galen, though, was watching her, expression unreadable but for the slight tilt of his head.

“See that Lord Varyth has everything that he needs. You can do that?”

She nodded.

“My Lord.” Czibor moved away with a shallow bow, but Galen’s eyes barely flickered.

It was a long moment before she realized that he was waiting for her to speak.

“I… um…” She brushed the hair out of her eyes. “What is it that you’re looking for? My Lord.”

“The location of the thaig.” So soft that whisper, surprising given his reputed temper before the Assembly. But there was an edge there, a focused certainty.

“It’s… lost.”

He smiled, thin-lipped and crooked. “Perhaps you just don’t know where to look.”

“We could start with the genealogies, some of the older trade records…” She was nattering and she knew it, but he fell into step beside her, the heavy fall of his boots calm now, almost comforting. Pausing to pull a book from here, from there, she felt him watching her.

“Shara, is it? What is your interest in my family?”

The stack of books had grown quite heavy, almost toppling from her arms as she stumbled. “It’s… uh… my job.”

His smile was bemused, playful, as he ran a lingering hand through his beard. Shaking herself, she turned away, piling the books on a nearby table.

Galen seemed to stare at them for a long moment, sinking into the chair stiff-backed and deliberate. Running his fingers along the cracked and musty spines, he chuckled beneath his breath.

“You might want to start with—”

“—I know where to start.”

“If you… need help I’ll…” She gestured vaguely between the stacks.

Still he did not look up.

Shara chewed at her lip. “I, uh… I was sorry to hear about your father.”

Pulling the first book to him, Galen only nodded.

* * *




Long into the night he had remained, sparing not so much as a glance on the few occasions that she had been bold enough to ask if he needed anything. She had watched him through the stacks, passing close merely by accident as she went about her work. Always that focus, that fervor, the brilliant gleam of his eyes.

One of the cousins had come by to claim him, stumbling for both drink and the hour. The argument was hushed, terse, but somehow Galen had allowed himself to be led away. He had looked to her then, grabbing her wrist as she passed to pull her face close to his. He could barely keep his feet, but that glare was undiminished.

“Make sure no one touches them. For me.”

Three days had passed in much the same way, the hours growing longer, the set of his jaw more determined. But the weariness was beginning to show, his frustration clear.

“There must be more! This can’t be all there is!”

Shara had flinched. “The thaig is lost, My Lord.”

“Well, look harder!”

It was that evening that the Shaper had threatened him, threatened to call the guards, to make him leave. But Galen had held his ground, making for the door as if of his own accord, pausing only long enough to spare her his now customary farewell.

“No one touches them.”

She had thought then that she knew what she was seeing. This was grief. Galen was mad with it.

“Lord Shaper.”

Czibor had turned, features seeming to soften as she approached. “I fear I must apologize to you, Shara. You should not be treated in such a way.”

“No it’s… it’s fine. I only wanted to ask… Please don’t send him away. He doesn’t know what he does. He’s only grieving for his father, is only trying to find some way to remember him.”

The Shaper’s smile was sad. “You always did see the best in people, Shara.” He lay a hand on her arm. “Perhaps it would be better if I assigned another to assist him.”

“No!”

“Oh, child.” He shook his head. “I wish I was not the one to tell you but there are… rumors surrounding Lord Varyth, rumors surrounding his father’s death.”

“You’ve never been one to listen to rumor, Lord Shaper.”

He chuckled. “This is true. It is nothing that can be recorded, but it is no less difficult to ignore. It is known that the Lord bore no love for his son’s ideas.”

Shara gaped. “You can’t be suggesting…”

“It is not I, but I have heard the words on more than a few lips.”

“It’s not true. It can’t be.”

“And then there is the matter of the casteless. Galen makes no move to hide the fact that he issues passes, sends them scouting in the Deep Roads with promise of a share of the treasure. But none have ever returned.”

“He… The casteless don’t get such opportunities. They have nothing else. He offers them a chance and if they choose—”

“—Shara. Galen Varyth is a dangerous man.”

“He’s upset! Grieving!”

“That is not grief, dear girl. And it will only lead to ruin.” He sighed. “But the Memories belong to us all. He may continue to study here, so long as he does not cause further disturbance.”

Shara had watched as he turned away, wondering still at the old man’s words.

* * *




“Where are they?!”

The maps scattered as Galen slammed both fists against the table. Blinking up at him, Shara found herself pinned beneath that glare.

“Aldric Varyth’s trade manifests. Where are they?”

Slowly Shara pushed the maps aside, sliding an open book across the table. His eyes narrowed but still she could not look away.

“What do you think you’re doing?” The words were flat, heavy.

“The… builder’s logs. There was a major repairs project added in 5:13, less than a year after the records speak of a flood in Varyth Thaig. And from the look of it, Lord Varyth made a substantial payment to House Maron around the same time.”

“Maron?”

“One of the Smiths. Died out long ago.”

There was something curious behind his expression as he peered down at her. “So you think these repairs were for the Thaig?”

Shara nodded. “And the logs… well, there’s a map…”

She slipped the crumbling parchment from beneath the others, jumping back as he grabbed her hand. Holding her there, he slid the map from beneath her fingers, running his free hand caressingly along its edges.

“This is it, then?” There was no anger there when he finally looked up, only boyish, uncertain disbelief.

“There’s definitely something there, something big. And it’s the right region, the right—”

Galen’s hand tightened round hers. “—You found it.” His eyes glinted manic. “You found it for me.”

“I—”

“—We’ll leave tonight. I’ll marshal the whole house.” He straightened, pacing now. “We’ll reclaim what’s ours and once we have it—”

“—No!” She flushed as he whirled, shrinking lower in her chair. “I mean… I’m not finished. I-I’m cross-referencing with the most recent scouting reports, marking the path that’s least… that’s safest.”

His scowl faded as he turned the map that she’d been marking, the route to the thaig outlined in snaking strokes of red. Moving to stand behind her, he peered over her shoulder. So close he was, his breath warm against her cheek. “You did all this… for me?”

Shara let her eyes fall closed. “Yes.”

He was moving again, the hands that closed round hers warm and soft. She found herself pulled to her feet, being turned to face him. Opening her eyes, she found him smiling.

“I never thanked you. For your sympathies. For your help.”

She swallowed hard.

With a chuckle, Galen swept a strand of hair from her forehead, his eyes straying to the map. “How long will it take?”

“I… I can be finished tonight, I think.”

Again, he smiled. “Good. Good. I have much to do.” His hand moved now to her chin, lifting her mouth to his in a fleeting kiss. “Good girl.”

* * *




Pacing the aisle, Shara’s hand strayed to the parchment tucked beneath her arm. She had checked and rechecked, gathered everything that he might need, but still there was no sign of Galen. Looking again to the door, she shook her head. If he was coming, it would be only to leave, to go and never look back. As she slumped against the shelves, she could not tell if the tightness in her chest was relief or disappointment.

“Shara?” The Shaper appeared at her side, brows drawing low as he blinked down at her. She knew what he would say, she knew what he would—

“Shara! Where is my Shara? Where is that beautiful girl?”

The doors were thrown wide, laughter pouring in from the crowd in the entryway. And there at their center stood Galen, beaming down at her, resplendent in his ornate and polished plate. The two dwarves at his back elbowed each other – cousins, by their pale hair and shadowed eyes – but she was already moving forward, the map held out before her.

“Here. It’s finished, I—”

Galen snatched it from her hands, handing it to one of the cousins for safekeeping. His arms wrapped quick round her waist, lifting her as she gasped. Together they twirled, the laugh choking thick in her throat as he grinned up at her.

“Shara, Shara, Shara…” Such light there was in those eyes as he set her down, joy and eagerness and something more.

What was it the Shaper had said? It was with difficulty that she pulled her gaze away, looking instead to the crowd of soldiers. “Where did you get the men? Varyth has no standing armsmen.”

He cupped her chin, pulling her lips to his. “So smart, my Shara.”

One of the others was beside her now, grinning down with a wicked smirk. “This crazy nug-licker spent the last of our coin on men and armor and ale. Well, not that I’m complaining about the ale.”

“Where we’re going, Dugan, we’ll have all the coin we want. And all the ale you’ll ever need.”

“Heh. Now that I like. This too.” His hand strayed toward Shara’s hair, but Galen swatted it away.

Slipping an arm round her waist, he pulled her clumsily aside. There was ale on his breath, but still she found herself grinning as he leaned close. “Don’t mind them; they’re excited. And very, very drunk.” How could his eyes be so calm and yet so piercing? “But you know, don’t you? You know the way. You found it for me.”

Shara nodded.

“Good. Good girl.” Again he lifted her, twirling her round. “You’re coming with us.”

The laughter died as she gasped.

Galen chuckled. “Not the reaction I was hoping for.”

“No… I…”

“I’ve seen you, you know. With the war tomes. Grey Wardens, wasn’t it? Adventure and all that?”

“I—”

He winked. “Isn’t it about time you have one of your own?”

The Deep Roads. Darkspawn. Danger. But he had seen. He knew. And he was watching her.

The Shaper was approaching now. “My Lord, I’ll have to ask you to—”

“—Don’t worry, old man.” He pulled Shara close, wrapping an arm possessively around her shoulders. “We’re going. Maybe I’ll come back and buy this place one day, who knows.”

But the Shaper was looking to her, making no attempt to hide his fear. “Shara?”

She could feel the fingers tangling in her hair, the kisses trailing cross her cheek and neck as Galen backed her toward the door.

* * *




With a final scream, Shara plunged her blade into the creature’s belly, the momentum carrying her forward onto her knees. A genlock. It was a genlock. But after all she had read about them, she didn’t think she would ever get used to seeing one up close. Or killing them again and again and again.

Sheathing his own blade, Galen bent to help her to her feet. “Come on. You’re alright.”

Confident, still so confident. But there were only three of them left now.

The journey had started off well enough. There had been fighting from the start, true, but their numbers had been great, the hired men eager. Many of them were casteless, rough and strange and leering, but Galen had kept her close, given her a blade, an old set of armor that they uncovered in the early tunnels. So much of it there had been, forgotten corpses, scattered crates, broken carvings. And of this Galen had given the men free choice, those rotting treasures their payment so long as they touched nothing in the thaig.

By the time they had passed Caridin’s Cross, they were still in good spirits, their losses few and their packs full. But they had been slow, the bridge narrow and crumbling. The darkspawn had been many.

Half their number they had lost that day, those who fled unable to run far beneath their burdens. Why they had not left their extra gear behind, she still did not understand.

Not two days later and the food had begun to run out. Shara almost believed that they would lose even more of the men to each other. Fights had broken out early on, but never before had they been like this. One of the casteless had even attacked her, pressed a blade to her throat as he growled for her to empty her pack. But Galen had been there then. She had watched his blade spring from between the man’s ribs, watched the blood spread cross his chest.

He had killed a man. For her.

Then had come Maynor. The youngest cousin had been marshaling support amongst the casteless, tried to steal the map from beneath Galen’s bedroll in the night. They must have intended to sneak away and leave them behind but Galen had wakened, hands wrapping round the boy’s throat. She and Dugan and those few who were loyal had taken care of the rest.

She had killed many men. For him.

But Maynor had been defiant to the end. The struggle had brought them close to the low-burning fire, the map falling into the flames. How Galen had screamed. He forgot Maynor, diving after it, the skin of his hands hissing and cracking. It had been she who saw the boy begin to rouse behind him, she who plunged her blade deep into his chest.

But Galen was beyond consoling. The map was ruined.

Shara had been proud then. She had committed the path to memory all those weeks ago. The anger had faded as he looked to her, that gleam returning, burning, searing.

She had shared his bed that night.

But still their food had dwindled, the others falling as they encountered more and more darkspawn. Only she and Galen and Dugan now remained.

As she straightened, Shara gasped. The stitch in her side was more than she had realized, her hand coming away wet and red.

“It’s only a scratch.” Galen smiled for her, brushing a kiss cross her forehead. “You said we were close?”

She nodded wordlessly. Stone, this hurt.

“You alright, there?” Dugan bent to her wound, but Galen pulled her roughly away, putting himself between them.

“She’s fine.”

“You sure?”

Hissing between her teeth, Shara bent double. But there it was, the final marker, the great doors looming carved and dark ahead. A thaig, and a wealthy one. Just another bridge between them and the end. With some difficulty she lifted her arm and pointed. “There.”

Galen whirled, that crooked smile spreading wide. “Yes.”

He had been eager, so eager. It had been Dugan who carried her, slipping an arm beneath her shoulder. But she had made him happy.

Galen paused before the doors, blinking up and the crest carved there. Varyth, yes. She had done it. He slipped through without a backward glance.

“Come on, now. Easy. I’ve got you.”

She and Dugan had followed behind, but Galen’s tracks were easy to see, the dust thick enough for her boots to sink deep. Again he had stopped, the doors to the vault thrown wide, a strange light spilling free.

By the Stone… Gold, gems, jewels, all the fabled wealth of Varyth. It was real.

Beside her, Dugan had gasped. “We did it. I don’t believe we actually—”

Galen whirled, the sword plunging deep into Dugan’s belly. He staggered in disbelief but Galen bent low, keeping their faces level as he sank. “No, cousin. I have done it.”

Shara screamed.

It was almost as if he had forgotten she was there. Those eyes were strange as he let Dugan fall, taking her face between his blackened hands. “Shh. Shh, it’s alright now.”

Tears. And she had been so strong. For him.

“Shara, Shara, Shara…” So scratching, so rough that touch. She almost sighed with relief as he stepped away, bending to one of the nearby chests. “Ah. Here.”

The necklace was beautiful, glittering and rich beyond anything she had ever imagined. As he clasped it round her neck that old smile returned, growing as he stepped back to admire the effect. “There. Beautiful.”

He had turned her, slipping behind her now. Even in the dim she could see the mirror, but it took her a moment to recognize the reflection there. Sallow-cheeked and filthy, her hair hung lank and dull, eyes almost hidden beneath their tired shadows. And still behind her Galen was beautiful, eyes aglow, his fingers trailing along the finely worked chain.

“More. You’ll need more.”

Rings and bracelets and jewels he had found, her flush deepening as he slipped them over her arms. Soon he was stuffing her pack, stuffing his own, donning jewelry himself as he laughed. It was only then that his expression had darkened, gaze sweeping round the room in disappointment. There was more than they could ever carry, more than a dozen men could, a hundred.

“Back. We’ll come back.”

Turning to her he lifted her pack, helped her shrug it over her shoulders. Something in her side seemed to give, the wound flaming anew.

“Oh!”

He caught her as she stumbled, again stroking her face. “There. There’s my girl. Good girl.”

“Galen, I-I can’t!”

His lips had trembled as they brushed against hers. “Just a little further. For me.”

His own pack he had shouldered, leading the way back to the main gates, encouraging her gently but firmly to hurry. Back to the bridge then, old but fine and sturdy and—

She felt it before she heard the rumble, saw Galen fall hard to his knees. His hand closed round her ankle, pulling her down as the stone crumbled beneath him. The force of it smashed her cheek against the ground, sparks flashing before her eyes as her hands scrambled for purchase. They found it – thank the Ancestors – in the rutted remains of the road.

“Shara!”

Her leg wrenched painfully, Galen’s nails biting into her flesh. He was trying to pull himself up. Shara muffled her scream against the stone as her knee gave a loud crack.

“Galen! Galen, stop!”

“Hold… still…”

Her grip had begun to slip, the rings and bracelets sliding cross the stone. Wriggling her fingers, she worked the first of them free, heard them clatter tinkling over the edge.

“What are you…?”

If only she could free her arm, lose the pack. It might be enough… if only… yes! She swung her leg with a hiss of pain, angling Galen out of the way as it fell.

“You stupid, sodding bitch!” His grip tightened, clawing.

“I’m sorry… I… It’s too heavy.” She was able to twist round now, see him dangling beneath her.

“Pull me up. Now.” There was nothing but those eyes, flashing as he sneered.

Shara was able to clamp a hand over his, pulling with all her might as she tried to lift her leg. But the knee was useless now, the weight too much.

“Galen… your pack…”

He barked a laugh. “Try harder.”

And she had. Oh, how she had. She felt as though her leg would rip clean away. “Galen… I-I can’t.”

“You can. For me.”

She couldn’t say how long she had been crying. “I… can’t. Please, it hurts.”

He snorted. “I should have known. I should have sodding known. You don’t care. I fall, you get the treasure. Is that it?”

“No, no I—”

“You’re just like them. Like Dugan. Like my father.” His features twisted, unrecognizable now and she had no doubt of the Shaper’s words. “Just in it for yourself.”

“I-I never… Galen, please I—”

“—Useless cow.” He gritted his teeth, hissing as he shifted. “Fine. I’ll just… do it myself…”

Galen hesitated only a moment, grip tightening as he swung himself toward the ledge. The pain broke behind Shara’s eyes, something in her leg seeming to tear, the scream burning in her throat. It drowned the breaking of the stone, Galen’s surprised grunt, the ripping of his pack as its contents spilled into the darkness below. And with it he followed, glaring up at her still.

Relief. She had felt relief. And guilt. And pain. Sliding away from the edge, Shara had wept, curling round herself in the middle of the bridge. She did not see the shadows, hear the scuffle of ragged boots, the strange and rasping laughter. She did not feel the hands until they dragged her from that place.

* * *




“We’re lost. We are very, very lost.”

Bending to the road, the Warden ran her fingers through the dust. “Darkspawn. And recently.”

“Great. Just great. And we have no idea where we are.”

“Alistair, hush.”

“I had heard that the Grey Wardens had no fear of the Deep Roads. Your old stomping grounds, are they not?” The elf paused beside the man with a grin.

“Just because I might end up here one day don’t mean I was to be here now.” He shook his head. “And, you know, fear isn’t looking so bad. I’d say it’s pretty appropriate, actually.”

But their leader had already roamed ahead, her boots echoing hesitant on the broken bridge. “It’s another thaig. But which one?”

“How should I know?” The last member of their party, a dwarf, moved to her side. “No one’s been this deep in years.”

“Someone has.”

There were tracks here, clear in the rubble. Following them, the Warden slipped through the doors. Oghren was right, the thaig was long abandoned. And yet there was light ahead, spilling out from an ornate set of doors.

“This way.”

Her companions followed, eyes roaming the darkness.

Running his fingers over the gilded carvings of the walls, Zevran grinned. “Marvelous.”

“See? Told ya. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Alistair sighed. “No one else thinks this is just a bit creepy?”

But the Warden had reached the doors now.

“Maker’s breath…”

“Well, shave my back and call me an elf.”

Zevran, for once, was speechless.

But something moved beneath the coins and jewels, shifting, slithering, massive. The Warden raised her eyes as the broodmother swelled, tentacles breaking from beneath the surface.

“Not another one.” She ducked behind a pillar, Alistair crouching beside her as he peered round.

“Is it wearing a—”

She followed his gaze. “—a necklace.” The Warden grinned. “What say we take it from her?”



Intruders. Strange and small and noisesome. But it wasn’t theirs. No. Not theirs.

She would defend it. Defend it for him.


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