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Wrath and the Maiden: a Dragon Age fanfic
ferasha
Title: Wrath and the Maiden (a one-act play for two actors and two chairs)
Rating: T, I’d suppose – no sex&violence, but dark themes abound.
Spoilers: For the entire Origins campaign (with a special focus on Mage Origin) and partially for Awakening.
Genre: Psychology, character study, drama
Pairing: Technically none, but past relationships and unrequited feelings are all over the place.
Length: ~9000
Summary: Many years after the Blight, Alim Surana, Warden Commander of Ferelden and Arl of Amaranthine, calls his old friend Leliana, now adventurer in service of the Crown, to ask for one last favour.

Disclaimer: Dragon Age isn't mine. If it were, it would include more talk and less fighting.

Beta’d by the fantastic and ever-helpful bellaknoti – the fandom’s favourite comma fairy.

As usual, thanks to my best friend (who still doesn't have her own account) for creative ideas and constructive criticism during the writing process, and to my boyfriend, for supporting me in my obsessions.

And a special nod to honorableshadow, who shares the aesthetic appreciation of m!Suranas in Wings of Velvet robes.



This was not how she remembered him.

Last time she saw him, it was at the royal wedding. He was standing next to Anora, and even though supposedly there should be nothing more beautiful than a queen on her wedding day, all of Ferelden had eyes only for him. Anora did not seem to mind; she happily paraded around with him, grateful for everything that he gave her, including her husband. Alistair was there too, still somewhat angry for what had happened, especially since Anora kept insisting on her father’s noble sacrifice, as if all of the man’s previous misdoings could be forgiven just because he had died. However, the freshly crowned king followed his newly-wedded wife and his former sworn brother around obediently, even trying to act all kingly from time to time. It was hilarious, more often than not, given Alistair’s bumbling nature, Maker bless him, but both the Banns and the common-folk found it endearing, as he reminded them of his late half-brother who was a well-liked king as few have been. The streets were covered with flower petals, and the crowds shouted their hoorays so loudly that the Maker himself could hear it. Such a wonderful thing, weddings. Such a happy ending.

She still remembered what he wore on that day, last time she saw him. He had robes of black velvet and light blue brocade with a pair of silver wings embroidered on the sleeves - a bit ostentatious, yet so elegant - and his waist-long, plum-coloured hair was meticulously combed and held by a single jewelled hairpin. (She often wondered whether he was dyeing his hair, or was it the Maker who blessed the elves with hair colours that humans could only dream of. Sometimes, she studied his head, looking for little clues as whether the roots would begin to show, but she saw none. She never gathered up the courage to ask.) On another man, all those trinkets would look ridiculous – ribbons and brooches, silks and hairpins – but he, he could pull it off. He was a ray of color in the greys and browns of Ferelden; watching him carefully choosing his garments every morning, as if he went to a ball and not to fight darkspawn, made her feel nostalgic for her days in Val Royaux. She remembered how, wherever they would appear, be it provincial taverns or noblemen’s mansions, people would stop their conversations and stare at him in awe, their faces reflecting a mixture of shock and fascination. He would always chuckle in a low voice, so quietly that no one could hear, except for her.

The good old days.

He was short of stature even for an elf – barely a few inches taller than Oghren – and in spite of all his inner strength, he appeared so fragile on the outside. Yes, he was able to single-handedly fry an entire horde of darkspawn with his magic, but with those delicate features, he looked as if he were in constant need of protection by a strong pair of arms and a quick set of weapons. So small and frail. So unlike those men who had hurt her, once. She wondered whether that was the reason she felt so drawn to him.

Once upon a time, she thought she was in love with him. But that was a lifetime ago.

Since they went their separate ways, she has had a happy life. There was nothing to complain of. She led an expedition into the Deep Roads to find out more about the nature of darkspawn; her mission resulted in findings of such importance that even the First Warden of Weisshaupt sent her an appreciation letter. She wrote two highly acclaimed ballads: one was called The Curse of Zathrian, other The Downfall of Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir, and even though the latter had been commissioned by Anora, she sincerely did her best to portray the man as a sympathetic, tragic hero, brought down by his own passion and pride. She heard that travelling theatre troupes had adapted both ballads into very successful plays. With money she earned during her exploits, she sponsored the rebuilding of the Lothering Chantry. She travelled a great deal, to Orlais and back (sometimes for private reasons, sometimes on official missions that Anora entrusted her), to Nevarra, to the Free Marches, and even as far as to the Tevinter Imperium. She had seen a lot, and heard a lot, and accomplished so many things. Sometimes, these adventures of hers, however small in scale they were, felt more intense than their campaign against the Archdemon. The Blight seemed like nothing but a distant dream, after all these years – as if it had never happened – but that’s how life went, or so she was told.

During her adventures, she often composed letters to him in her thoughts. She imagined telling him so many things about the world – things he would find fascinating, or entertaining, or even of personal interest. For instance, how the Tevinter mages still held the power in the once glorious city of Minrathous, whose slow decay was one of the most disturbing and romantic things she had ever seen; or how she enjoyed in the multitude of colours, the smell of spices and the noise in dozens of different languages at one of those famous bazaars in the Free Marches. She would write about the newest fashion follies of the Orlesian Court; or how Alistair and Anora got along just fine, in spite of their unfortunate start. Yet, she never wrote a word. She had her reasons – she was a woman of action, an adventurer, a leader, she had no time to spare on long-lost friendships.

And a lost friendship it was, of that there was little doubt. That day, at the royal wedding, when he left the Palace to be greeted by the grateful people of Denerim, watching his back as he exited the hall, she felt her heart break. She knew that their story was over, that he exited her life as well. She was on the verge of tears, but somehow, she also felt relieved, liberated. It was both a terrifying and cathartic feeling.

She wondered, quite often, whether their paths would cross again. In a way, it was amazing that it had not happened yet – he was the Warden Commander of Ferelden and the Arl of Amaranthine, and she was one of the best reputed adventurers in service of the Crown, so it would have been expected of them to meet at some point. Yet it seemed that he had secluded himself in his little fortress in the North, without any desire to participate in courtly politics or Denerim social life, and on the other hand, she wasn’t so eager to go to Amaranthine for a visit. She did not know why she avoided him, especially since they had separated on the friendliest terms. She had to admit, though, that she did fantasize about them meeting anew – about all the things she would tell him, about how hard she would hug him. In spite of everything, she did miss him.

Perhaps that was why she felt so confused just then, standing in the Warden Commander’s study – a huge, ugly room, with cold walls and shelves full of dusty books that no one had read for ages – staring at this strange little elf who seemed cruelly familiar but looked nothing like him. After all these years, after all the lines she learnt by heart and dreamed of saying once they finally met again, she didn’t know what to say.

“It’s been a while, Alim,” she uttered at last. She was amazed by her own trivial choice of words. Some bard.

He smiled, and for a moment she wondered whether it was really him. It wasn’t that he looked older – after all, her own face was covered by fine wrinkles that no amount of make-up could hide, and she found it progressively more difficult to fit into the last year’s dresses – it was that he looked different. He wore a shapeless woollen tunic of indeterminate colour, and his closely-cropped hair was a mousey shade of brown (so he was dyeing it). The empty, tired expression on his face was intensified by that butterfly-shaped tattoo around his eyes, which used to give him an exotic allure, but now resembled dark circles from sleepless nights. He didn’t even look like a shadow of his former self. It felt like a betrayal.

She wondered what would be the best excuse to leave as soon as possible.

“I really appreciate that you found the time to see me, Leliana,” he said. Even his voice sounded different – no passion in it, no playfulness.

She nodded and smiled – not a smile coming straight from her heart, but a dry, professional one. If he noticed it, he did not react. The man who brought her to the study – a sour-looking Grey Warden who obviously held some position of power here in Vigil’s Keep, though he had introduced himself only as ‘Nathaniel’ – bowed politely, and then left the room. The Warden Commander (was it really him?) pointed at two chairs carefully arranged by the fireplace – with such preparation, it seemed that he had a longer conversation in mind – and then proceeded to pour them drinks, without even asking her whether she wanted one. She noticed that the bottle was freshly opened and already half-empty. Strange. Many years ago, if someone asked her which one of the Grey Wardens was more likely to develop a drinking problem, she would have bet on Alistair.

The silence between them was rather awkward.

She wondered where Zevran was.

“How’s Alistair?” he asked, finally. “Haven’t seen the man in some five years or so.”

“He’s doing fine, being a good king and all,” she replied. “There are some problems with the Bannorn as of recently – some Banns keep demanding a new queen, one who could bear children, mostly fathers with daughters of just the right age – but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”

Suddenly, she flinched at the way she spontaneously used the word ‘we’. He did not seem to care – he appeared quite unaffected by that piece of Denerim gossip, sipping his drink in silence, looking so small in that carved, oversized chair. She noticed he avoided eye contact.

“Where’s Zev?” she asked. It took him a few moments to reply.

“Not here.”

“Is he coming back soon? I would really like to see him.”

Even though she thought of him as a rival once, she found herself honestly missing the other elf. In the end, not only had she managed to develop sympathy for the Antivan scoundrel, but she even found the elven couple sweet and defended them when the other party members started gossiping. With his boasting, sense of humour, and above all practical nature, Zevran would surely alleviate the tension in the room. At least, he would know how to break the silence. Funny thing, usually she was the one to chatter on and on with ease, but right now she was at a loss.

“He won’t be coming back.” The Warden Commander shook his head. “We’re not together any more. Actually, it’s been many years since we ended it. I believe he’s in Antiva. That’s where he was last time I heard of him.”

His face revealed no emotion. In a way, she knew she shouldn’t be surprised – Zevran was an irreparable pleasure-seeker who turned his inability to commit to a single partner into a mantra, while the elven mage was quite a flirt himself, she had experienced that on her own skin – yet a part of her felt disappointed. It was such a wonderful story – a womanising assassin finding his one true love in the man he was sent to kill – it simply wasn’t fair that it did not end in a happily-ever-after. Again, that’s how life went, she was aware of it all too well, but this only proved that the most important storytelling skill was knowing when to stop with your tale. Otherwise, there would be no happy endings.

“It wasn’t Zevran’s fault,” the Warden Commander suddenly said, his voice slightly less flat than before, and for a moment she was surprised by this unprovoked need to defend his former lover.

“Almost immediately after the Blight, and shortly before I would move here, Zev received a note that certain affairs in Antiva needed his urgent attention. He didn’t want to leave without me, said he’d wait ‘til I strengthened my position as Warden Commander, but I personally packed his belongings and sent him off. As soon as he arrived there, he started writing me letters – about how he missed me, how he dreamed of me, how we’d always be together once he came back, all kinds of romantic nonsense. I never replied. After a while, the tone of his letters changed. It appeared that he got pretty upset with me. Then angry. Then desperate, he actually wrote how much he loved me – can you imagine – but I burned it. Then, he started threatening how he’d come here and drag me out of my fortress by the hair, whether I liked it or not. I knew he’d never do it, yet after that letter I had my hair cut. Just because. Then, one day, the letters stopped.” The elven mage smiled sadly. “Which is good, because it means that he got over me.”

He downed his drink in a single gulp.

“I hope he’s happy, wherever he may be.”

She stared at him in shock. It was hard to believe what she had just heard.

A part of her wanted to slap him, to shout – you heartless fool, do you have the slightest idea what you’ve done to the man, how much he had to change because of you, how difficult it was for him to let go of his masks and beliefs, all for you, and in the end you abandoned him for no reason and without explanation, just because? Do you think, after what you’ve put him through, that he could trust people again, or come to love again? Maker’s breath, do you really think he could be happy?

However, they were both way too old for such scenes. Besides, there was something saddening about the Warden Commander. He looked so tired and broken, it was most difficult to imagine that once, this man wore breathtaking robes and wild-coloured hair, and bent the entire land of Ferelden to his will. Now all that remained was a small elf in a big chair.

She started wondering what kind of disaster had befallen him, that he would change this much.

She decided to switch the topic. “You said that you wanted to see me for an important reason, Alim.”

“Indeed,” he nodded. “I have a favour to ask. There is a mission I need accomplished. You are the only person I can send on such a quest, because you will understand.”

He paused, as if he needed a few instants to get a hold of himself and name the favour. She wondered what it might be, and felt her heart beat faster, just like before a battle.

“I want you to find someone for me,” he said at last.

For a second, she sensed a glimmer of hope.

“You want me to find Zev for you, don’t you?” she asked, the smile on her face now genuine. “You want me to go to Antiva and bring him back.”

He looked at her, astonished. It was obvious that this was not what he had in mind. Slowly, her smile disappeared. This was the second time she felt betrayed since she came to Vigil’s Keep.

“Who is it, then?” she whispered, and only because she was a trained bard she managed to hide the irritation in her voice. “Don’t tell me it’s Morrigan.”

“Andraste’s knickers, no!” He jumped, and there was almost a reflection of his old self in the way that he frowned, but he reverted to the gloomy Warden Commander all too quickly.

“After she abandoned us, the night before the final battle, just because I refused to partake in her mother’s schemes – the same mother she had asked me to kill for her, mind you – I really couldn’t care less what became of her.”

Many years ago, when the memories of the Blight were still fresh, she saw, at the Orlesian Court, a mysterious dark-haired woman in a gown of heavy red velvet with gold embroidery. They nodded to each other, discreetly, and when the time came to meet officially, in front of Her Imperial Majesty, they pretended to be perfect strangers. They never spoke in private, and after that, whenever she had some business at the Court, the dark-haired woman would not be there, although the rumours about her influence on Her Imperial Majesty were a popular pastime among the Orlesian nobility.

However, that was not the story the Warden Commander wanted to hear.

“So tell me, Alim, who is it?” she persisted.

He shifted in his chair, poured another drink (dear Maker, how complicated was it, to get him so distressed) and then lifted his face, meeting her gaze.

“How well do you know me, Leliana?” he asked unexpectedly.

She found herself startled by this question. The worst part was that she had no idea how to answer.

She chose her words carefully. “I dare say I knew you pretty well, once, but that was in another lifetime. Besides, I’m not sure we can ever claim to truly know each other.”

“A true bard.” He laughed, and she noticed a strange undertone in that sound, the slightest hint of instability. “You’ve always had your way with words. Yet, you’re so close to the truth.”

He leaned forward in his chair, shadows from the fireplace dancing on his face, making him seem even older. Slowly, his sad smile widened into a grin, and perhaps he would have resembled his bygone self, if only the grin wasn’t so crooked. She wondered if it was the alcohol that got him.

“Allow me tell you a story, Leliana,” he whispered. “You love stories, don’t you? I bet you’ll enjoy this one. See, once upon a time, in the Circle Tower, where the mages are locked away from the rest of world, there was an apprentice named Alim Surana, who was brought there in his earliest childhood.”

She raised her eyebrows, looking at him suspiciously, and it made him laugh.

“Don’t worry, Leliana, I haven’t lost it completely, I’m not going to talk about myself in third person. I only need you to understand – truly understand – how it felt to be trapped in that sodding Tower, with the Chantry imposing its rules on us, treating us as secondary beings just because we were born with a gift. Do you have any idea how many people I’ve seen who ended up deeply hating themselves, as they believed that the Maker would never love them, just because they were 'unclean'? The Chantry did all it could to strengthen those beliefs, to kill all traces of ambition in us, to make us obey,” he sighed. “Magic exists to serve man, not to rule over him. How convenient. What about the mages, have they no rights at all? The only thing we were ever taught was a sense of guilt – as if we were to blame for everything, be it darkspawn, doom upon the world, or even the fact that the Maker one day simply decided to pack his bags and leave.”

Even though his words were so full of spite for things she held in high esteem, she was almost happy to hear him rant again. It reminded her of what he used to be. Once, they used to spend many nights awake discussing the nature of the Maker, and even if they would disagree most of the time, she remembered how she admired him for the firmness of his attitudes, and how passionate he was when he defended his opinion. Often, she would find him so cute in his outbursts that she barely focused on what he was saying, and it was difficult to resist the impulse to hug him, and giggle, and pass her fingers through his plum-coloured hair.

The only problem now was that there was nothing sweet about the Warden Commander.

“I hated it there,” he continued. “I hated the Chantry for closing us in that trap. I hated the Templars – the righteous knights, always keeping their vigil, looking for the smallest of mistakes. They were so cheerful when yet another one of us was turned into a Tranquil, or, even better, slain at the Harrowing. I hated people like Irving and Wynne – so full of themselves, so eager to play pretend with their little political games that gave them the illusion of control. I also hated those poor sods that dabbled into forbidden books and experimented with blood magic, believing that it made them cool and subversive. And I hated the outside world as well. When I left the Tower, I don’t know which was worse – the meek elven servants turning their heads away from me, as if they were ashamed that one of theirs had become a magic-ridden embarrassment, or the haughty humans with their comments such as 'since when did they allow your kind to run around in fancy dresses like that' !”

He changed his voice when he said the last line and it almost, almost made her smile.

“Every time I would hear that, I’d come up with a more extravagant outfit,” he concluded, frowning.

She remembered how sensitive he was whenever he felt that his being an elf and a mage was brought into question. There was a moment that she had left out of her ballad – in the Dalish camp, when that mabari he always dragged around started barking at Zathrian and the Warden did not react promptly enough, the Keeper (such an unpleasant man to deal with, but such a glorious literature character) called both the elf and the hound “mindless beasts, bred by humans and shaped into lethal weapons.” It was only Zevran’s begging that prevented them from siding with the werewolves.

At the time, she found his pride admirable, if a little frightening. It was certain that she saw it as a part of his charm.

Now, however, she wondered how it was possible that she had never noticed all that hatred. How, for the Maker’s sake, she could have believed it to be charming. It must be that she had been all too young as well.

“Someone else,” he carried on, after taking another sip of his drink, “would have found the Grey Wardens formidable, with their secrets and lies and scary little rituals. Someone else would resent them for never being able to live a normal life. But not me. It’s not that they offered me a way out – I had planned to leave the Tower right after my Harrowing, by any means necessary, anyway – it’s that they gave me power. All of a sudden, the fate of Ferelden depended on me. I was the one to gather armies. I was the one to make decisions. I mattered. Everybody – nobles, dwarves, even the bloody Templars – had to listen to what I had to say. It was all that I ever wanted. At the Landsmeet, it was on me – on me, an elf, a mage – to decide who got to live, who would die, and who’d sit on the throne. That moment alone was worth all the nightmares in the world.”

He was grinning, his eyes gleaming from the shadows of the tattoo, the familiar traits of his face twisted into something she struggled to recognize. Was he really so power-hungry, back then? Was it all just a game of might and magic for him, with some youthful anger thrown in, just to serve as an excuse for all that plotting? She remembered how coy he used to be around Wynne, Maker rest her soul, always choosing the perfect gifts and patiently listening to her preaching – the old lady worshipped him, and yet, it seemed that the entire time he laughed at her behind her back.

She wondered whether he used to laugh at them all.

“I lied, I cheated, I used people like tools and discarded them the moment I did not need them.” His voice was full of pride. “And if you think I did it to save Ferelden, you are mistaken. I did it only because I could.”

“That was not how I saw your efforts, at the time,” she uttered, hesitantly. “But it appears that I was wrong.”

The elven mage shook his head, and in spite of that unsettling glimmer in his eyes, she saw traces of affection on his face, as if he truly cared for her. He confused her so much, this Warden Commander. Why was he telling her all this? Was he purposely trying to make her dislike him now? Was it a part of the plan, a necessity in his request?

What irked her the most was that she couldn’t decipher whether it was only an act, or, on the contrary, this sour little man was his true self. She could not picture this Alim laughing in the sunlit bazaars of the Free Marches, or exploring the streets of Minrathous, hand in hand with her, or provoking scandals at the Orlesian Court, just for the fun of it, or dyeing his hair. Or even bothering to read all those letters she never wrote.

They spent a few moments in silence, drinking, avoiding looking each other in the eyes.

She was the one to speak first. “Let us cut to the chase, then. Who are you searching for? It’s neither Zevran nor Morrigan. Wynne is dead, Alistair is in Denerim, and Oghren is just around the corner, sleeping in his own vomit, as that Nathaniel fellow put it. Could it be Sten, then? Or Shale? Or that blood mage of yours – Jowan, was it?”

The Warden Commander shook his head.

“No. It’s someone else entirely.”

She raised one eyebrow, questioningly.

“Someone I know?”

“Yes and no,” he sighed. “You have seen him, but you do not know him.”

“A man, then.” She nodded, trying to recall whether there were any men of importance they had met during the year they spent together, who might still be alive, and whose whereabouts were unknown.

“In the Tower, there was a man who embodied everything that I hated,” he began. “A human, a Templar, so young and idealistic, all virtuous and pious, and yet he believed himself to be full of understanding for the poor mages he was guarding. I despised that type the most. Although he was very kind – artificially, condescendingly kind to all of us – I noticed that he was looking at me in a strange way. You know, as if he were interested in me. So I decided to use that against him.”

“You seduced a Templar?” she asked, and for a moment she could see very well a young Alim pulling off such a stunt, and a young Leliana scolding him for it through her laughter. “Part of your escape plan for after the Harrowing?”

“No. It was nothing of the sort. I did not want to use him, I wanted to torture him,” he said with a happy smile. “To put him in his place, to make him question his faith and his duty, to show him how perverted and miserable he was when he lusted after me while pretending to be a model Templar. I never did a thing to provoke him directly, oh no. I was subtle in my games. I acted all shy around him, and sweet, and smiled at him innocently while looking him straight in the eyes. I asked him many questions and admired his stoicism and determination, while he struggled to answer me, his face blushing as if his head were about to explode. I made sure he’d accidentally enter the Apprentice Quarters while I was half-naked, with my hair down. He’d always apologize – even though I told him several times there was nothing to be sorry for, as we were both men – and rush out of the room, and later on I would find him in the Chantry, praying.”

The Warden Commander pouted theatrically, making the same flirty expression that used to quicken her heartbeat, but it did not suit his wrinkled face.

“His shame was triple,” he continued. “I was a mage, an elf, and a man to boot, and yet he would stare at me with such open admiration that he became the laughing-stock of the entire Tower. When I heard he was appointed to be on duty at my Harrowing, I thought – woo-hoo, whatever happens, that idiot would never have the guts to harm me, so even if I failed, I could get away with it. People were even betting whether he’d snap or manage to keep his wits. It was so much fun!”

The Warden Commander started chuckling and reached to pour another drink. In that moment, suddenly, she remembered a face, all twisted in pain, mumbling something about guilty visions and shameful desires, begging for all mages to be killed.

“Dear Maker,” she sighed. “You’re talking about that boy in front of the Harrowing Chamber.”

“That would be him, yes.” He nodded and took a gulp. “After those demons got a hold of him, the poor sod probably spent days hallucinating of doing me in every position imaginable. Must have been quite an experience for him, no wonder he went soft in the head. I heard that, shortly after the Blight, he had a complete mental breakdown and went on a killing spree. Slaughtered several apprentices before he fled – no one knows where.”

“So…” she hesitated, as the entire situation was getting too odd. “You want me to find him for you?”

“Yes. Bring him to me, alive and unharmed.”

“Why?”

She was amazed by the sound of her own voice – how quickly, yet quietly, she asked the question – but she felt she had the right to an answer.

“Let’s just say that there is something I owe him,” he answered, and then added, somewhat hastily, “I will pay you for your service, of course.”

Of all the things she heard that night, this last line made her cringe the most. After everything they had been through together, did he really believe she would ask for payment?

No, this couldn’t be him, the man she thought she loved and trusted.

She remembered how he held her that night, so many years ago, after they had dealt with Marjolaine – the woman had meant the world to her once, yet she did not shed a tear as she watched her die. It was only when they had returned to the camp that she started crying. The Warden had always looked so delicate and small, and yet when he embraced her, she felt as if his arms were the safest place in the world. He wiped away her tears, and kissed her forehead, and told her that there was nothing to be ashamed of. She was a strong woman, he insisted, a woman not made for cloistered life but for adventure – being a bard was in her blood and it was only natural for her to travel, to explore. It wasn’t before dawn that she fell asleep, her head on his shoulder, and even now she could recall the soothing smell of his hair, a mixture of road dust and perfumed oil. That night had changed her life more than anything else, she knew that. It made her the woman she was now, and helped her find her peace, and he – he turned into some sort of a personal legend to her, a strange and eternal presence deep inside her soul. Merely thinking about him made her smile. Perhaps that was why she avoided meeting him again, as if she knew that for the legend to live, the real man had to be eliminated from her life.

She couldn’t believe how foolish she was for allowing herself to accept the Warden Commander’s invitation. This man, this washed out, embittered man, so persistent with his ugly confessions she did not need to hear, had no right to soil the memory of her Alim.

She felt as if someone had died.

“No payment will be necessary, thank you,” she said in a cold voice. “But if you really want me to accept your quest, you must offer a better explanation, especially after all that you’ve said. I can think of many things you might owe to a man who was a victim of your games, but I want to hear it from your mouth. Otherwise, I’m leaving and will never wish to see you again.”

Suddenly, she realized how liberating it felt to speak to him that harshly.

“I don’t understand, Alim.” Her voice was strangely loud – she had lost the habit of speaking at full volume. “You keep talking about how manipulative and ambitious you were, raging against everybody and waiting for the right moment to seize power, and yet, you ended up like this? Shouldn’t you be in Denerim, sitting behind Alistair’s throne, conspiring with Anora, making decisions, pulling strings?”

The real question behind those words, which she understood as she said them aloud, was “Why am I living what should have been your life, Alim?”, but the realization struck her with such horror that she dismissed the thought immediately.

“You could have done it, you know,” she continued, a little less passionately. “With your standing, no one would have said a word – on the contrary, they would have welcomed you into such position. Yet, here you are, happily isolated in your fortress, last seen in public over a decade ago. There are rumours that you are long dead, Alim, each version of how you died crazier than the last, and people claim that Alistair keeps denying it in order to maintain the Wardens’ reputation. Sorry to tell you this, but if you wanted to become a figure of influence and power, I’m afraid that you have failed. All that remains is the story of the Blight, and, thanks to Anora, people have started believing that it was to Loghain’s credit, much more than yours. As for your lifestyle here in the keep, it seems to me that you have only exchanged one tower for another.”

He stared at her in silence, the cheerless expression on his face proving that we was already well aware of everything she said. It did not feel that satisfying to yell at him, after all.

Then, to her surprise, he started laughing – it was a shrieking, muffled sound, one that could easily be confused with tears.

“But, my dearest Leliana,” he said quietly, “I am paying you as we speak. My story is your reward.”

She frowned.

“You’re not much of a storyteller, then.”

“But you are,” his smile was triumphant. “That’s the reason I have chosen you for the mission. And that’s why I really need you to understand.”

“Understand what, for Maker’s sake,” she raised her voice again. “You keep confusing me, from the moment I arrived here. Why should I bring this man to you? Don’t tell me you intend to ask him for forgiveness – it’s still too early for your Calling.”

He stopped laughing and stood up from the chair, approaching the fireplace as if he wanted to throw the bottle into the flames. Much to her dismay, she realized that he was not drunk after all. So much for blaming his behaviour on alcohol.

“In order to explain that, we have to go back to the beginning of the story, to the apprentice Alim Surana,” he murmured. “Remember, that’s the angry young man who was locked in the Tower, full of hatred, believing himself to be better than anyone he had ever met.”

“You said you wouldn’t talk about yourself in the third person.”

The Warden Commander bit his lip.

“I am not talking about myself.”

For a second, she wanted to reprimand him for toying with her again – but then she saw how sombre his eyes were.

“Maker’s breath,” she whispered, “you’re serious.”

His sad smile widened as he nodded and took a gulp straight from the bottle.

“What exactly do you know about the Harrowing?”

“Only what you told me, once,” she said quickly, trying to get a grip of what was going on, feeling the panic rise. “It’s like a maturity exam for mages. They send an apprentice to the Fade to single-handedly defeat a demon. If the apprentice fails…”

“…then the poor bastard becomes an abomination,” he unceremoniously finished her sentence. “And then the Templars slay it, and Irving gets to give a touching speech, and the failure’s name is never mentioned again, and everyone’s happy. Well, except for the apprentice, but they’re expendable anyway.”

The Warden Commander stopped smiling.

“See, Leliana, Alim failed his Harrowing.”

She froze.

“I beg your pardon?”

The Warden Commander looked straight into her eyes, as if he tried to assess the impact of his words. Then he dropped his gaze and let out a heavy sigh, absent-mindedly stroking his hair, and for a second it appeared to her that he was on the verge of tears.

“It was a shrewd little bugger, that demon. Knew exactly how to appeal to Alim – pretended to be all lost and helpless and full of admiration for the elven smart-ass, almost as if it’d copied Jowan’s behavior. A very clever thing to do. Also knew what to offer – influence and power, such a mighty formula. Always works. There was no way for that hungry-eyed go-getting little elf not to fall into the trap.”

“Alim,” her voice trembled as she pronounced his name, “what in the Maker’s name are you talking about?”

“It fooled me, Leliana,” a tear rolled down the Warden’s cheek, but she felt too relieved that he'd started using “I” again to notice. “It had me believe that I was off the hook, that I made it, you know. That I was special. Passed the Harrowing with flying colours. Chosen to become a Grey Warden for my amazing talent. Survived the Joining because I was stronger than others. Made an army, crowned a king, stopped the Blight with the best solution possible, and turned every single one of us into winners, even Loghain, without having to deal with Morrigan’s insane plans. But no. It was never me. It was all the demon’s doing.”

He was crying now, silently, and Leliana stood up from her chair to approach him. In that moment, it occurred to her that the entire evening she’d been keeping herself at a safe distance – this was the first time she had come close enough to touch him. Up close, all shabby and without his jewellery and glamour, he seemed even more vulnerable than she remembered. She reached out to put her hand on his shoulder, but stopped halfway.

“Please calm down, Alim,” she said, feeling foolish for not being able to find better words.

“But I’m telling you the truth, Leliana!” His voice sounded unusually boyish for a man his age. “You’re a bard, you should know fiction from reality! Don’t tell me you actually believed we lived in such a miraculous world that an angry, girly elf from the Circle Tower, whose only life’s joy was molesting a Templar, could really save the world and go down in history as the Hero of Ferelden, without some assistance from demonic forces?”

“I prefer to believe that such things are possible, yes,” she responded calmly, “and that’s what makes this world a lovely place to explore, and this life worth living.”

You taught me that, she thought, but she didn’t say it.

“You’re so naïve, Leliana, perhaps even more-so than Alistair,” he chuckled, through his tears. “Bards always prefer to live in their stories. Good for you. But I know. The demon told me. Immediately after the Blight, it came to me in my dreams. Started mocking me – ridiculed my rage, my ambition, my pride, even my looks. Told me how much of a failure I was: nothing that happened was my own well-earned success. Alim was only a shell, a carrier, a host: an abomination. It laughed at me, Leliana, laughed at me while pointing its finger at me, and said that it was only a matter of time before people started noticing... Like Zevran. It kept repeating how smart Zevran was, how furious he would get when he understood that I had deceived him, and tricked him into committing. It said he’d spit on me and abandon me, or maybe even try to finish his job for the Crows. That’s why I had to send him away.”

Slowly, cautiously, she touched his shoulder in what she thought to be a comforting gesture. He jumped as if he’d been waiting for that the entire time, leaning into her touch, wrapping her arms around himself, the way a child would do. He was so small, she could rest her chin on the top of his head, and his body seemed thinner than she remembered. She felt awkward, torn between the feeling that she had a fragile foreign object in her arms which she hoped to pass on to someone else and, in contrast, that they were at last on familiar ground.

“It just goes on and on, Leliana,” he continued, his head on her chest, the bottle still in his hand. “The blasted creature cannot seem to shut up. Every time I look in a mirror, I see its face. It plays with me, you see, never wanting to completely take over my body, but always making sure I am aware of its presence. It forces me to live in constant fear. I tried to kill myself, but it didn’t let me, oh no. So I decided that the best thing would be to close myself in the keep. Here, at least, nobody judges my moody behaviour or questions my wish for solitude. I can even receive visitors, every once in a while, although Alistair seems to be avoiding me since the last time he came. Come to think of it, even Oghren is avoiding me. Not that it is important. Nathaniel is doing a good job with leading the Order and Arling on my behalf, probably better than I would ever do. Did you know he’s a Howe? Life is full of surprises.”

Her blouse was getting wet with his tears – funny, she thought, they were in the exact same position the night Marjolaine died, only their roles were reversed. Talk about surprises, indeed. He sniffled loudly and she wanted to hug him tighter, but she felt as if his bones might break.

“But I still have my dignity, I do.” He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, and it occurred to her that his faded tattoo looked exactly like smudged make-up. “I have the right to choose the way I want to die. And I can still trick the demon. That’s why I need him, my Templar. I know he’s as mad as a box of frogs – I made him that way and that’s one of the few things I accomplished on my own – but you’ve probably noticed that I’m not in a much better condition myself, so we’d be a perfect couple. I agree that someone else could serve the purpose just as well, but I want it to be him. His hand on the sword. To do what Templars do: slay an abomination.”

He started laughing again.

“You understand, don’t you?”

“I do, Alim,” she whispered.

“I knew you would. That’s why I called you.” He pulled her closer. “See, it will be a perfect ending, like in your stories. The circle closes, the old debts get paid, the tale ends, just like it began, and it will be spectacular. There’s nothing more I could wish for, is there? Now, promise you’ll bring him to me.”

“I promise.” She kissed his forehead.

“So it’s settled, then?” he whispered, and she could hear the relief in his voice.

“It is.”

They remained like that for a while, in silence. He dropped the bottle and it fell without breaking, rolling on the ground. Carefully, paying heed not to break their embrace, she sat on the floor and pulled him with her. He cuddled into her lap like a child and she petted his sharp, spiky hair, finding it unusually pleasant to touch. The fire in the fireplace started waning, and she noticed how cold and dark it was in his room.

She had heard about it before, yes, but this was the first time she witnessed it with her own eyes. In Tevinter, they even had a word for it – but then again, in Tevinter they had many more things than just special words for mages. (It was in that moment that she realized they would never walk the streets of Minrathous together, and it almost made her cry, but she swallowed her tears.) They were creatures of such fragility, the mages, so easy to break, as if the Maker took some of their stability as a compensation for giving them the gift of magic. No wonder they fell apart so often.

In Tevinter, they said it were usually the young ones – youthful, exceedingly talented and ambitious mages who had acquired too much power in a too short period of time – who succumbed to this disease. Unable to cope with their reality, one day they would simply snap. Fantasizing about demonic possession was the most common form of the disease, or so she was told. It was easier for the mages that way – all of a sudden, they had someone, something to share the burden with, to point the finger at, to make it take the blame. Sometimes, they did horrible things with their newly found excuse – every misdeed could be easily explained with a simple “the demon made me do it”. Sometimes, conversely, they would withdraw from society, and live like hermits, and spend their days arguing with the imaginary demons inside their heads.

It seemed that Alim was of the more fortunate ones, ironically.

She wrapped her arms more protectively around him and inhaled deeply, her nose touching his skin – it wasn’t the same scent, no, the Warden Commander smelled like low-priced ale and yesterday’s clothes, but the very gesture of burying her face in his neck was intimate enough that she almost felt something like joy. Slowly, she brushed her fingers across his wrinkled forehead, pointy ears and cheeks still wet with tears. He had stopped crying, but his breathing was still heavy and somewhat uneven, and ever since she made the promise, he clung to her so tightly that it almost hurt. Such strength in those bony arms, who would have thought.

Oh, how she had loved him, once upon a time.

She would have to leave him soon, a promise was a promise. She would have to leave him alone in this dark, dusty room, way too big for a man his size, to drink from the bottle and avoid looking in mirrors, but she would return. How quickly, she could not tell – tracking down a mentally deranged Templar who had been missing for so many years was not an easy task, but she was the best. She would find this man and drag him here to Vigil’s Keep, even if she had to bring him back from the dead. How she would deal with the madman himself she could not tell, at present; she would have to think of something along the way – it mattered only that she get him into the Warden Commander’s study. Then, she would kiss Alim on the forehead for one last time (or on the lips, she was not sure), exit the room, lock the door, and leave the two of them alone. She could already feel how hard it would be to let him go, how she would crave his warmth as soon as she released him from her arms, and it became increasingly difficult to keep her tears at bay.

It wouldn’t last long. The Templar was bound to be bloodthirsty and Alim wouldn’t offer any resistance. Although, who knew; perhaps Alim was right and there was a demon, in which case the scene would turn into a genuine cathartic showdown. She found herself secretly hoping for this, as it would make the entire ordeal so much more meaningful, even though she knew the chances were slim. When it was over, she would return to the room and get rid of the witness – it wouldn’t be the first nor the last madman she had sent out of this world – and only then would she seek out the Howe boy and explain to him what had happened. She did not know how many details she could disclose, or to what extent she could trust him, but she assumed that promises of the full restoration of his family honour, and his appointment as the next Warden Commander, would secure his cooperation. In the end, everybody had a price, the only trick was to find out what to offer. Then, she would instruct him to send the late Commander’s body to Anderfels, and before she left the keep, she would write a formal letter to the First Warden of Weisshaupt, signing herself as Leliana of the Deep Roads and asking for the most solemn funeral possible, as the elven mage was not only a member of the Order and the hero who ended the Blight, but also her dearest friend.

Then, she would return home, to Denerim, lock herself in her room alone, and cry, for hours, days, weeks, it didn’t matter for how long, until her tears dried out.

And after all was over, she would write a story.

She could already hear the lines forming inside her mind. It would be a love story, of course, it had to be, as people had always preferred romance to any other genre of fiction. In her story, the Templar would not be mad, only burdened by the Chantry’s duties and guilt for forbidden love, and the mage would genuinely love him back, head over heels, before life and the Grey Wardens carried him to his fate. It would be one of those star-crossed romances that happened so rarely in real life, a true archetype, one of those whose sheer fervour could move the world, inspire dreams and make impressionable ladies faint of too much passion. There would be a demon as well, why not – an inner antagonist, the audience seemed to worship that plot device these days – but it would be a real one, a Wrath demon, all spiteful and wild, and it would rant and rave and take the mage into temptation for every decision he had to make along the way. Yet Alim would resist, all wise and strong as a true hero, relying on his own wits and advice from his companions, and eventually he’d always win, mercifully sparing the nation’s former saviour, crowning the true king, defeating the Archdemon, changing Ferelden into a better place. The audience would love it.

In the end – and she would have to shift the ending in time a little bit, to put it closer to the Blight as to avoid these sombre years in the keep – the Templar would still have to confront the mage, out of duty, but at their reunion, the two of them would finally confess their love (she could see the ladies’ eyes glittering as they come to this part), and join their forces against the demon. Nevertheless, the story could not remain at that, not with some trivial happy ending. Tragedies touched hearts most directly and portrayed heroes in a more memorable way – like Aveline the Brave, or Alindra and her soldier, or, as of lately, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir. Therefore the tale of Alim the Mage and his Knight Templar would have to end in tears, with a glorious scene in which they defeat the demon, but get mortally wounded in the battle, and breathe their last breaths in each other’s arms (or even better – Alim died, while the Templar took his own life, professing his love), all accompanied by a tragic tirade on the cruelty of mages’ fates. (She could already tell that this last scene would raise controversy, but she was willing to take the risk, and she considered herself sufficiently influential to handle the Chantry’s censure.)

It would be a long story, longer than all those unwritten letters put together. She would arrange for it to be translated into all languages imaginable, and she would send it to Orlais, to the Free Marches, to Tevinter, to all those places they’d never been together, so that in every corner of this world people would hear Alim’s name. After that, she had already decided, she would make a play out of it herself, just to make certain that the tale was properly split into acts, and that the finale provided enough emotion for the spectators to leave the theatre in tears. She would personally choose the actor who’d portray Alim, even if she had to turn over every stone in Thedas to find the right elven boy. She would teach him how to speak and walk and flip his hair, and he would be beautiful, even more beautiful than Alim was on that day, at the royal wedding, and all of Ferelden would fall in love with him just like she had, a lifetime ago. She could already hear the applause, the cheers and the sobbing – oh, she would break their hearts like few writers had done in years past, she would make them remember him. Alim the Mage would become the nation’s greatest and most tragic hero, whose beauty and strength would turn into a thing of legends, and whose bravery would inspire the generations to come.

As for her, well… Sometimes, the truth simply did not matter. Sometimes, the memories themselves could be modified. Surrounded by her own rendition of Alim’s splendor, repeating her story over and over, perhaps, given time, she would start believing in it herself. If she could choose, that would be the fate she would pick – but already, now, in this dark room, with the Warden Commander’s head on her chest, she had a feeling that she would not be given that choice.

He shifted a bit, moaning quietly. She planted a kiss on his temple, and then slowly leaned against the wall so that he could rest in her arms more comfortably. The Maker worked in mysterious ways, indeed – when she came to the keep that evening, she thought it was her biggest mistake since the first smile she had given to Marjolaine. Yet here she was, sitting on the floor, listening to his heartbeats, wishing for the dawn not to break.

“Sing to me, Leliana,” he whispered.

And so she did.


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(followed this here from dragon_age)
;_; I am almost in tears here... this was so absolutely heartbreaking and destructive and excellent. I love how you write Leliana, it's very true to her 'hardened' character. And the ambiguity about whether there's an actual demon is brilliant as well - there would definitely be the potential for mages to think they've been possessed, what with the constant paranoia and all.

Thanks! The only thing I like more than reading tear-jerkers is writing tear-jerkers, and it's good to know that the story works as such :)

It was a pleasure to write from Leliana's POV - she is a character I like A LOT, and especially her hardened version, as I enjoy seeing a strong and determinate woman who is at the same time also warm and feminine.

About the mages' paranoia - I totally think that it's possible for a poor mage to go bonkers like this, even without an actual demon. The power and the pressure can do stuff to your mind.

And even I don't know is there a demon or not. :)

Wow.

That was really amazing and heartbreaking (poor Zev!) The idea that mages could develop this particular type of psychosis (if he is actually delusional) was so interesting and plausible. I loved how the stories in Leliana's mind offered catharsis and a way to fulfill her final obligation to him, and the idea of a manipulative Surana, dressing flamboyantly to outrage those around him and leading on Cullen in that way were quite delicious.

Poor Zev, indeed - even though, given the circumstances of their parting, Alim was as much of a victim as Zevran was.

And poor Cullen.

Come to think of it, poor everybody.

And yes, I tried to emphasize, through Leliana's words, something that I believe in myself - true catharsis can always be reached through stories. Glad that you liked it :)

And... thanks for adding me as a friend! :)

This was fantastic. I love the possibility that there are multiple sides to the truth--and that for the purposes of history and legend, it doesn't matter which is the real one.

Thanks!

I don't think that it actually matters whether Alim is actually crazy or there's a real demon at work - the only thing that is important in the end is the story that will remain.

Abababa...;A; <3 That was dnasldas fff no words. (Though I will admit, it is kinda funny to picture this fic since our M!Suranas are physically similar. But that kinda makes it a little more sad to imagine too D8.)

And hell yeah for M!Suranas in those awesome robes. They should totally be models.

There, there... *hands out a tissue*

I can imagine how awkward it must have felt, given Rhys and Alim's unbelievable physical resemblance. It's good at least that their personalities are different. :)

And about the Wings of Velvet robes, not only that they're pretty as hell, but they can also make your mage ridiculously overpowered at a relatively low level, which comes pretty handy when you're on your nth playthrough... And far as I know, the mod's author made the robes especially for her own m!Surana, so there...

This was delightful. I'm not normally a fan of elves (maybe I OD'd on them early in my fandom life or maybe I'm just tired of angsty Tabrises), but you caught me with that off-line "a play for two actors in two chairs" thing because weirdly, those are some of my favorite sorts of plays. They're always deeply deeply emotional, something about a complete lack of other things to distract you so that you're just LISTENING and WATCHING and if they're good speakers (like your Leliana and Alim are) they just pull you in.

(And for some reason I'm recalling vividly the student production I saw of Paula Vogel's "How I Learned To Drive" which to this day is one of the most emotionally traumatizing things I ever saw, and the protagonist never actually breaks into any epic emotion, yet elicits it from the audience...)

Fantastic narrative. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you for such an insightful comment.

I'm glad to see that the story works as that type of a chamber play. I was ridiculously happy when my beta told me that the fic felt "very dynamic", because it is a huge compliment for a story in which nothing happens but two people sitting and talking.

I haven't had the opportunity to see Paula Vogel's play - in the part of the world where I live, we mostly have dusty classics, nebulous avant-garde plays and domestic writers of dubious quality on stage. And given that my personal "area of expertise" is French literature, I have to admit that I'm lagging behind a bit on contemporary American authors. However, you certainly got my curiosity piqued.

I'm generally deeply interested in drama theory, literature studies and laws of storytelling, and I'm trying to toy with these when I write, even when it's fanfiction.

And I am very happy to see that someone out there enjoys this type of stories. :)

It's so sad I was almost in tears.

But I really like the way you depainted the thougths of Leliana, makes me think she is a greater character that I thinked.

The whole idea is coherent with the universe of dao, also.

I trully love that story, even if it's one of the saddiest I read about this game !

Thanks for leaving a comment :)

Leliana is a totally GREAT character, especially when you go beyond the masks she usually displays.

And what can I say... I love making readers cry... :)

You're welcome ^^^
Aha, so you're a sadist! lol

Icon, icon says how much I wish to hug you cause ooh~, so awesome! :D

B'awwwwwwww! How do you do this?! Write such wonderful stories and make me feel even more inferior of my writing skill than before? D:

I loved all the little twists best of all, because just when I thought I had figured it out, it'd surprise me again, and I had to keep reading to know more more more, or my curiosity would NEVER be sated. :D
(At first I though it was similar to your other story, but then I saw all the little layers and oh~, my world turned to skittles and rainbows cause I just hit the fic jackpot! Kaching~)

And the fact that Leliana thinks that him being possessed by a demon is all just an elaborate illusion, one brought on by his own psychosis (and then hoping it isn't, so she can keep the fairytale version of him she's carried with her so long alive and well...). Marvelous!

The fact that Leliana's version of Alim's and Cullen's tale is a wonderfully done rendition of Romeo and Juliet (but maybe even, more twisted than the original) is one of the coolest things ever!

....I wish my charries could have purple hair. :( (You play the PC version don't you?)

I feel bad for Alistair though, being both King and married to Anora. :P
Heck, everyone had it bad didn't they? Zev got his heart broken, Leliana lived the life and dreams of one of her dearest friend's and ex-crush and had her world turned on its axle so drastically she may never recover from it, Loghain was made out to be a hero even though his actions were generally despicable and he should only have gotten redemption at the LEAST, Wynne died never knowing how the man she chose to follow really just despised her thoughts and ideals, Cullen was turned batshit crazy, and oh gosh...so much drama, portrayed in such a way that it works so well to such a degree that few can successfully pull off. Amazing, truly amazing.

If you like mentally unstable characters and dark gloomy craptastic worlds may I suggest the game Bioshock (you have have HAVE to play the first one if you haven't, the second is ok, but the first is an absolute MASTERPIECE. :D)? It's so wonderful that you'll replay it over and over and over again one playthrough after the next! So yeah, if you haven't already played it, add that to your list. :3

Leliana is so awesome, I can't get her that darn nug though. :/
She's just so sweet and compassionate, and yet totally kickass.

Geez woman! Where do you get so much awesome? (Save some for me...?)
*pouts* I have fic I have to write, maybe reading your wonderful fic will get the juices flowing again. :D

I really need to finish DA too....it's so long~. D:
Really wonderful but really really LONG~. XD
Mmm, you're going to be hearing a lot of feedback from me missy, you have me hooked now, and I'm never going away! >D

And wow, another set of 9000 words, the most I've done so far is bit over three thou I think, and it wasn't all wonderfully dark and spectacular like yours are, but smutty and maybe a bit silly stupid (or at least that's what I was going for. :I).
So yes, jealousy rampant, green monster grr rawr. ;D
Mmm, I sound like Alistair. XD

Either way the long and short of it is I loved your fic, and when you write more I shall be on like a hound on jerky....or some other way more clever simile. :P
*stares at the pretty pretty fic*

As you suggested I've come to have a look at your stories and... You almost got me in tears (I would normally be in tears, but this is my lunch-break and if I come back with puffy eyes people will start to wonder), this is brilliantly written. It is so dark, so twisted and yet so nostalgic... I was totally pulled into the story.
I like how you see the evolution of Leliana's perception of what's happening. And I am so sad for all of those characters, I don't know who's got it the worst: Alim et ses désillusions (ou le fait qu'il soit possédé), Zevran qui a eu le coeur brisé sans savoir pourquoi, Cullen le naif qui se sera fait manipuler jusqu'au bout, ou Leliana qui voit la dechéance de son héro...
Une histoire poignante!

I want to read your other story but it's rated M and yeah I'm still at work, so no can do. Also, if you're interested to know, my own computer still refuse to work if I'm not playing DA2. Which (the game, not my computer being an a..), I think, is really good. Different from the other games but really good. I just finished Act 1 last night, and indeed I can already see the consequences of my actions... I can't wait to do another playthrough to see how different stuff can be... Is that bad?

I hope work is not too hard and that you have time to enjoy the US!

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