When Raven’s athletic, outdoorsy brother Rob drags her into the wilderness for a weekend camping trip, her only expectations are avoiding discussion of her recent breakup and copious amounts of insect bites. But things abruptly take a turn for the strange when they find themselves strolling up to the fictional city of Lothering, just before the Fifth Blight.
Having been the very image of the average gamer nerd, Raven has never been in so much as a fist fight in her life, and her idea of roughing it is being without Wi-Fi…and yet, with her brother’s help, she must quickly find a way to survive in one of the most dangerous eras in Thedas’ history. Harder still, the siblings have to decide how much to disclose of their story, and Raven’s knowledge of current and future events, unsure whether they might accidentally unravel the world.
Oh, and they need to figure out how to get home. If they can. And…after finding kindred hearts among the turmoil…if they still want to.
[A Dragon Age Fanfic – All canon Dragon Age characters/material remain property of the always-awesome Bioware. I have no connection to them.]
[Unless they happen to be looking for a writer in which case, I’m available.]
“I cannot believe I let you talk me into this.”
Raven grumbled, not for the first time, as her ridiculously fit younger brother bustled about, happily setting up a tent. His smirk indicated he’d heard her, but he continued unabated on his task…having the audacity – the unmitigated gall! – to whistle. Her glare could’ve stripped paint.
Rob glanced her way, and burst out laughing. “Oh, relax; it’ll be fun,” he teased, ducking to avoid any small objects his sister might throw at him.
“Fun? Fun?!?” She pulled herself to her full height (such as it was), blue eyes flashing in mock outrage. “Do you know what I just had to do? Do you??”
“You had to pee in the bushes,” Rob said mildly.
“I had to pee in the bushes!!” she continued, pointedly ignoring him. “Do you understand exactly how gross that is? No, of course you don’t, because you’re male. Let me tell you, it is gross. Awkward, drippy, and gross. Something I had to endure because we have, apparently, traveled beyond the boundary of all known maps and civilized plumbing systems.” Rob’s hand over his mouth did not disguise his shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter; she was unimpressed. “Which returns me to the original point, namely, how in all the thrice-damned levels of all the hells did I let you talk me into this?”
“Ooh, you really must be pissed; you’re busting out the nerd cursing.” Rob’s blue eyes, the match to his sister’s, twinkled with laughter as he raised his hands in surrender before she found another makeshift missile to fling at his head. “Okay, okay,” he chuckled. “How about, you agreed to the horrific ordeal of, gasp, camping, because you recognized the inevitable triumph of my boundless charm and wit?” She snorted. “No? Hmm…you gave in to the pleading of your most favoritest baby brother who was simply dying to spend time with his wonderful and loving big sister?”
“You’re my only brother,” she said dryly.
He grinned, coming to sit beside her on the grass, bumping their shoulders together. “Still your favorite, then; my point stands.” Raven relented, rolling her eyes. “See? Fun.” His broad smile dimmed, grew gentler. “The fact that you’ve barely been out of your apartment in the three months since you’ve moved back here is just a coincidence.” He glanced at her sideways, waiting for her to sigh and change the subject, as usual.
She sighed, idly twisting the end of her long, dark ponytail. “Rob, I…”
He nudged her shoulder again until she stopped trying to read the history of her relationship failures in the darkening sky. “Listen, it’s okay. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want.” He hugged her gently. “If talking will help, I got you. If not, I still got you. You know that.”
Her smile was sad. “Yeah, I know. Favoritest baby brother, so on, so forth, et cetera.”
“Damn straight,” he said with a grin, and turned back to arranging their campsite. He’d finished building the campfire and was unpacking cooking supplies when he almost missed her quiet words.
“He sent me a message, you know.”
Rob dropped the cast iron skillet in his hands and turned, his tone reflecting how quickly his protective brother circuits flared to life. “That asshole has been trying to contact you? I mean it, Rae; I can still drive up there and…”
She waved him off with a half-hearted grin. “Don’t tempt me. And no, he hasn’t tried to talk to me since…well, since. I meant…” Her gaze burrowed into the earth, as if she’d crawl in after it. “You know how I met him playing that online game, with the elves and dwarves and stuff, the one you always teased me about being hooked on…said I needed to get a life?”
Rob nodded. “I didn’t mean anything by it; you know that.”
She laughed. “Yes you did, but it’s fine. If we ever stopped picking on each other, everybody who knows us would call an ambulance.”
“Valid,” he smirked.
The brief flash of humor faded from her eyes again. “So yeah…he and I both played it. And that last time I came home to visit…we’d had, well, I can’t call it an argument, because he never really cared enough to bother arguing, but he said he was having doubts. About us. It was the first time he’d ever said anything like that, though, and we talked, and I thought…” Her mirthless laugh was bitter. “I thought it was okay.”
“But…” Rob prompted gently as he sat back down beside her.
With a deep breath, Raven pulled off her glasses and tiredly scrubbed her face with the heels of her hands, pretending there were no traitorous drops of moisture behind her eyelids. “But…then I drove down here to visit not long after. And I logged onto the game one night, and he sent me a private message. Said he’d been thinking about it, and it was probably best if I didn’t come back.”
The silence dragged out as Rob groped for words. “You mean he…he broke up with you…like that?!?”
She blinked fiercely, and gave him a watery smile. “Yeah. Pretty great, huh? You move ten hours away from everybody you’ve ever known, live with somebody for almost two years, and the end result is them thinking, ‘Gee, I could break up via text, but that just isn’t quite tacky enough.'”
A small muscle ticked in Rob’s jaw, giving away his struggle to clamp down on his temper. What he probably wanted to say was something like, “Hang tight here for about two days; I’ll be right back after I rip the body parts off the asshole that hurt my sister.” Instead, he took a deep breath and settled for, “Jesus, Rae…I’m sorry. What a dick.”
“Yeah,” she replied, after a false start and clearing her throat. “Yeah, that pretty much covers it.” His arm circled her shoulders, and she let her head fall against his cheek, heavy with the immeasurable weight of regret. He rocked her gently. They both pretended to be unaware of the growing dampness on the shoulder of his shirt, where her silent tears gathered.
“You know,” he said hesitantly, “it is okay for you to cry if you need to.”
“No,” she growled, surprising him with her vehemence, her voice angry and thick with unwanted emotion. At his slight flinch, she swallowed and tried again. “No, he doesn’t deserve any more tears. I’ve wasted enough.”
They quietly watched the campfire flames for a long moment, and she added, “I think the worst part is that I knew. I knew from the beginning it was a bad idea, that it would never work. But he was so sure, so sweet about wanting to be with me, and it felt so good to be wanted.” Her teeth ground together as she fought to regain control. “God. That’s what really gets me; I should’ve known better. I am such an idiot.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Why not? It’s true. You’d think I’d have learned by now that I am just not the kind of girl who draws the eye of the handsome prince and lives happily ever after. It’s stupid to think otherwise.” He winced at the bleakness in her voice, and opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off. “You’re my brother and I love you, and I know you want to help, but please let’s skip the part where you try to convince me of what a prize I am, that I just haven’t found someone worthy, or whatever sweet but false things you’re about to say. I just don’t have the energy. Okay?”
Rob sighed. “Okay.” He paused, then added, “For now.”
“That’s fair.” With effort, she stuffed her raw feelings back into the mental box where she usually kept them sealed, and took a steadying breath. “So. Now that I’ve experienced the luxurious plumbing facilities of this vacation spot, do we move on to the fine dining? I admit I’m curious to see if the military improved your cooking skills, since the last time I checked, you couldn’t boil water without burning it.”
She knew Rob wanted to protest her putting all the walls back up, when it was obvious she wasn’t okay. But of all the traits the siblings shared, the biggest one was stubbornness. If she didn’t want to talk about it, she wouldn’t, and pressuring her would just make it that much longer before she was willing to talk again. So instead, he answered, “Oh, mademoiselle, I am zee gourmet now, you ‘ave no idea. Thees meal, she eez going to be très magnifique!”
She giggled tiredly. “I’ll be the judge of that. If you have to tell people your food is gourmet, it’s probably not gourmet.”
“You wound me,” he replied, with a melodramatic hand to his forehead.
They both laughed. For now, it was enough. And as the evening went on, she realized a surprisingly large part of her was enjoying this, the escape from the mess she’d made of her life. She found herself wishing she could just stay out here, in the peaceful forest, in the company of one of the very few people in the world she implicitly trusted.
But of course, she couldn’t tell her brother she was enjoying this nature nonsense; the smugness level would be unbearable.
Raven woke to the sound of deafening bird noises. It seemed unnecessarily early. She was rarely a late sleeper, but for some reason the light coming through her closed eyelids felt strange, until she opened her eyes and saw the dull greenish-grey material of the tent over her head. “Right,” she thought. “Trapped in the trackless wilds with my brother and eighty thousand mosquitoes. Fabulous.” At least Rob had decent camping gear, so she woke up feeling warm, cozy, and fairly rested…and only slightly like she’d slept on a body length relief map of the Himalayas. She supposed it could’ve been worse.
And then she realized she needed to get up and use the non-existent restroom, and presto, it was worse.
The sleeping bag on the opposite side of the tent showed movement in response to her quiet but disgusted sigh, and Rob’s head emerged from the depths to regard her with altogether too much enthusiasm and amusement to be borne at this early of an hour. “Good morning, my dearest sister! I can tell you’re already thrilled to begin another day in the great outdoors!” His attempt to suppress his laughter failed utterly when her pillow hit him in the face.
With her grouchiness somewhat worn down by her brother’s good humor, Raven laughed ruefully as she pulled a jacket over her pajamas and slipped on her shoes. “Just you wait, Robin Joseph Richards. Laugh it up now, but in revenge for all this, I’m going to make you spend a weekend on one of my hobbies. I hope your ridiculously hearty constitution can withstand a three-day LAN party, playing whatever games I deem appropriate, sleeping as little as possible, and subsisting solely on Mountain Dew and Cheetos.”
He mock-glared at her use of his full name, which she knew very well that he hated. “Sounds rough,” he drawled. “Besides, I play Call of Duty with some of the guys on base now and then; does that count?”
Her head shake was heavy with faux-sorrow. “Call of Duty? You’re one of those? What’s next, Madden?? I’m sorry; I don’t think we can be friends anymore.”
“Oh, what; I suppose it would be better if I stuck to that ancient Aliens vs. Predator game we used to play? Or Unreal Tournament?”
She shot him a grin full of sass. “You only quit playing those because I was a better sniper than you.”
“True story,” he laughed. “Don’t tell that to any of the guys in my unit though; I’ll never live it down.”
“My ability to maintain secrecy depends on how much hiking you force me to endure this weekend.” Chuckling, she unzipped the tent flap and headed out to find an opportune tree to defile.
“You should, ah…you should look at this.”
Rob frowned at the odd tone in his sister’s voice, and leaned over to poke his head out of the tent flap. Anyone who knew the siblings would’ve sworn they were physically incapable of maintaining a silence as long as the one that followed.
Finally, Raven said, “At first I thought it was weird that I didn’t see the trail we hiked in on…but these don’t even look like the same trees.”
“No. They do not. Which is…not possible.”
“Normally I’d agree, except here we are.”
Rob stepped out of the small tent to regard the vegetation that should’ve been trampled down around the missing trail, while Raven looked around the clearing, trying to compare it to the image in her head like a “Spot the Differences” puzzle in a child’s coloring book. “I remember for sure that there was a big tree over that way and just a few yards out,” she said, indicating with a nod of her head, “since it marked the little girls’ room…lovely decor, but the nature motif was rather overdone, I thought. But, yeah, anyway…I don’t see it now…”
“Do you remember what kind of tree it was?” he asked absently.
She gave him a withering look. “Why yes, of course. With my extensive knowledge in botany and wilderness survival, I identified it as a Great North American Fir-Maple Oak, sub-genus how-the-hell-would-I-know.”
“A simple no would’ve sufficed.”
“Yeah, well, going to sleep in the middle of nowhere and waking up in a different-but-equally remote bit of nowhere doesn’t do wonders for my disposition.”
He sighed rubbing his forehead in annoyance. “It can’t be a different spot; that doesn’t make any sense. The only thing I can think of is that it was a little dark when we made camp, so…maybe we somehow wandered further from the trail than we thought…?”
Raven’s brow wrinkled in frustration as she found a new bathroom spot; weirdness aside, some things had to be taken care of. “That doesn’t make any sense either,” she called. “You know your stuff better than that, and even I am sure we weren’t that far from the path. And trees don’t just…move.”
“No shit, Sherlock. You got any better explanations?”
She was so preoccupied she forgot to complain about the lack of plumbing, a minor miracle in itself. “Well…no. I mean…maybe we ate something yesterday that made us sick, messed with our perceptions? Or…or maybe there is some kind of plant here that causes hallucinations or something? I don’t know. Woodland pathfinding isn’t exactly my area of expertise.” She finished her task, looking out at the unsettling forest, and her eye caught on a nearby bit of greenery; despite her sarcastic remarks about field identification, something about the knee-high plant and its delicate three-pointed leaves tickled her memory, but she couldn’t place why. With my luck, it’s probably poison ivy, she thought, shaking her head and heading back into the camp.
Rob was critically surveying the campsite. “Well, despite the…whatever happened…all our stuff seems okay. Playing the what-if game doesn’t get us anywhere. I’m thinking we pack everything up and head back north until we pick up the trail…or if we somehow miss that, eventually the highway we drove in on.”
“I guess,” Raven shrugged. “I mean, it’s all the same to me regardless…a big green insect haven with no air conditioning.”
“Your positive attitude continues to astound me,” said Rob.
“Hey, I’m there for you like that,” she laughed.
Next Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 2)