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The bar was almost empty. It had been raining all night, and although the rain had driven some customers in for shelter, the company had quickly driven them back out. The bartender, hovering near the hatch, had been studiously polishing a glass for the last half hour. Nervously, he peered up at his last customer.

“Shut it, you damn crow! Ah’ve had it wit’ you, y’know? Forever nagging and nagging at me…”

He looked down at the glass again. She was still swearing at her ornate broadsword.

“Yo, barkeep!”

He gulped. She was talking to him.

“Ge’me ‘nother whisky.”

His throat had suddenly gone exceptionally dry. Unable to speak, he just nodded, and reached for the whisky bottle. Usually he’d refuse service to somebody so obviously drunk, but with the broadsword lying on the bartop next to her hand, it didn’t seem wise. His hand shook a little as he poured the drink.

“Damned hag,” the woman looked over her sunglasses at him. “Jus’ cause shessa sword now. She won’ shut up. Y’know wha’ Ah’ve done today?”

He handed her the drink and shook his head nervously. Ohgodohgodohgod, he thought, she’stalkingtomenowwhatdoIdo?

“Ah fought ‘Rachnos. Ah fought Council. Ah fought Hellions. Ah fought them damned tickytocky clockwork bastards… Ah rescued some damn fool reporter, An’ saved som homeless people an’… An’ she still won’ shuddup. Wha’m Ah s’posed to do?”

He stared, dumbfounded. He’d assumed she was one of those villains he’d heard about. After all, she was dressed in black leather, wearing sunglasses at night, and had spent the last three hours sinking whiskies and swearing. Not exactly what he’d expected from one of Paragon’s finest.

“Ah din’t ‘spect all this, y’know.” She gazed down into her glass, just as dozens of drunks had done before. He felt on safer territory now, and picked up a glass and his cloth and started polishing, wearing his best ‘I’m Listening’ face.

“M’daddy used t’tell me Ah wus speshal. Momma wanted me t’be ordnary. Wanted me t’get married ‘n have babies. Ah don’ like babies.”

He nodded. This was a familiar story. Women told him this story almost every night. A lot of the time, those women ended the night with him in the bed upstairs. He looked at her. She was attractive, he thought, in a kind of scary way. Her pale skin, although smudged with motorbike oil, was clear and radiant, and her dark hair fell in glossy waves over her shoulders. Admittedly, she was a clear foot taller than him, which was pretty intimidating, but she didn’t look like she’d be standing up straight any time soon. She knocked back the whisky and he found himself admiring the curve of her neck.

“Bikes,” she said, slamming the glass down. He blinked, shaking himself out of his reverie. “Bikes’s where it’s at. Ah love mah bike… Loved mah bike. Had t’sell it…” She hung her head down.

“S’all your fault!” she snapped viciously. Startled, the bartender jumped backwards, slamming his back painfully into a fridge full of beer. He started to bring his arms up protectively in front of his face, then suddenly realised that she was looking at the sword.

“If you… Y’had to bloody choose me, din’t ya? Ah wus happy where I wus. I din’t want to come here and be a bloody hero…”

The sword seemed to shimmer on the bartop.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Heard it, y’damn crow.” She looked up at him. “Whassa matter wi’ you? Damn fool. Gimme ‘nother whisky.”

He relaxed a little, and poured her drink. That was the last of the bottle. He’d only opened it for her first drink. He thought about saying something, but again thought better of it.

“I was mindin’ me own business,” she continued, taking the drink from him, “We wus in the forest, me ‘n the gang. We wus havin’ a party out there, nobody t’complain about the bikes ‘n the shoutin’. Wus good fun. Good times. Ah fell asleep by th’ fire. Nex’ thing Ah knew, Ah wus talking to this…”

She paused and gazed into the whisky. He leaned forward, intrigued by her story.

She held the glass up, swirling the golden liquid around as she sought for the right word. “Goddess.”

She knocked back her drink.

“She told me Ah was goin’ to bring her name back. She told me Ah was going t’bear her sword an’ her name.”

She ran her finger along the edge of the sword. He stared as sparks flew from her fingernail.

“Now… Ah can’t turn back. Ah’ve got to fight, when she says fight.”

Her voice began to take on a new tone. The drunken slur faded and a strange ethereal note crept in.

“She’s me, and I’m her. We are Andraste…”

Outside, the rain stopped. The sky turned a sickly kind of green and alarms rang out across the city.

“Ruh.. rih.. Rikti invasion!” The bartender gasped, stuttered, and hid underneath the bar.

“That’s more like it,” said Andraste, as she took her sword in hand and strode out of the door.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: Struggling for a story tonight, so once again I fall back on City of Heroes fan fiction. This is Andraste – and yes, the character had the name before Dragon Age Origins – who is something of a reluctant heroine.)